July 1, 2018 ~ Bless the Lord

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Are you thankful? Do have blessings? Are you a blessing? The first two questions seem perfectly normal to all of us. But that last question about being a blessing is both a bit more challenging and a bit more important. Let’s do a bit more study as we…

Bless the Lord

The dictionary says that the word bless primarily means a religious term to confer (give to someone else) or invoke (request from someone else) the favor of God. We pretty well understand that we can ask God’s blessing on ourselves, or we can ask God to bless someone else. God, after all, IS God and His blessing really means something.

The power of God’s people when faithfully doing His will is nothing short of amazing! Jesus taught us that as we go out to share the Gospel that we are to give our blessing of peace to others. It’s not really our power, our gift to give because we are human, but rather the power and authority of God’s commissioned “light of the world” that can extend God’s own peace as a blessing to this world.

Likewise, James (James 5:15) reminds us of the awesome power of prayer possessed by the faithful. The prayers of God’s people have the power to bring God’s healing to the sick and forgive sins! Certainly in all these ways we ARE a powerful blessing to this world.

But let’s go back to the dictionary and look a bit further down at a third (in my dictionary, at least) and therefore somewhat lesser meaning. There it says that bless also can mean to express or feel gratitude to, to thank.

It may well come as a bit of a surprise to us to realize that we can actually bless God! Yes, when we actually DO God’s will and live as His faithful children on this earth we have great blessings to give to this world. And yes, we can also by that righteous living cause others to turn to God and thus we are a blessing to Him.

But we also have the ability, the power, the right, the honor to extend to God our own blessing as thanksgiving. In so doing we bless the Lord both by living as His faithful family members here on earth and by being appreciative of the great honor and power He has given to us.

The Bible uses the specific words “bless the Lord” or refers to blessing God more than two dozen times. Consider just a few of those:

Moses, in some of his final words, reminded God’s people that as they entered and lived in the Land that God had promised them to eat and be filled and then to bless the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Deborah, the Judge, and her general, Barak, sang of God’s deliverance and that the people blessed the Lord as Godly leadership served God (Judges 5:2). [Note that the NKJV and others correct the KJV’s erroneous translation of “praise the Lord” to “bless the Lord” since the Hebrew is not hālal but bārak, not praise God but bless God.]

As David crowned Solomon as king to succeed him, he directed the nation to “bless the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:20). In the Psalms, David and the other writers frequently reminded themselves and all the faithful to bless the Lord (Psalm 16:7; 26:12; 34:1; 103:1; 104:1; 115:18; et.al.).

The concept of blessing the Lord is also seen in Jewish prayers. The blessing for bread is: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth. Various foods have similar blessings including this one: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine. There’s even a generic blessing for all other foods: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, by Whose word all things came to be.

What we really need to see, appreciate and imitate is the lesson that God’s people have a responsibility to bless God. In the things we say and do in this world, in the way we deal with our fellow saints, in the way we are faithful, in the way that we respect and appreciate our God we must always BE a blessing.

— Lester P. Bagley

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July 1, 2018 ~ Bless the Lord

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Are you thankful? Do have blessings? Are you a blessing? The first two questions seem perfectly normal to all of us. But that last question about being a blessing is both a bit more challenging and a bit more important. Let’s do a bit more study as we…

Bless the Lord

The dictionary says that the word bless primarily means a religious term to confer (give to someone else) or invoke (request from someone else) the favor of God. We pretty well understand that we can ask God’s blessing on ourselves, or we can ask God to bless someone else. God, after all, IS God and His blessing really means something.

The power of God’s people when faithfully doing His will is nothing short of amazing! Jesus taught us that as we go out to share the Gospel that we are to give our blessing of peace to others. It’s not really our power, our gift to give because we are human, but rather the power and authority of God’s commissioned “light of the world” that can extend God’s own peace as a blessing to this world.

Likewise, James (James 5:15) reminds us of the awesome power of prayer possessed by the faithful. The prayers of God’s people have the power to bring God’s healing to the sick and forgive sins! Certainly, in all these ways we ARE a powerful blessing to this world.

But let’s go back to the dictionary and look a bit further down at a third (in my dictionary, at least) and therefore somewhat lesser meaning. There it says that bless also can mean to express or feel gratitude to, to thank.

It may well come as a bit of a surprise to us to realize that we can actually bless God! Yes, when we actually DO God’s will and live as His faithful children on this earth we have great blessings to give to this world. And yes, we can also by that righteous living cause others to turn to God and thus we are a blessing to Him.

But we also have the ability, the power, the right, the honor to extend to God our own blessing as thanksgiving. In so doing we bless the Lord both by living as His faithful family members here on earth and by being appreciative of the great honor and power He has given to us.

The Bible uses the specific words “bless the Lord” or refers to blessing God more than two dozen times. Consider just a few of those:

Moses, in some of his final words, reminded God’s people that as they entered and lived in the Land that God had promised them to eat and be filled and then to bless the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Deborah, the Judge, and her general, Barak, sang of God’s deliverance and that the people blessed the Lord as Godly leadership served God (Judges 5:2). [Note that the NKJV and others correct the KJV’s erroneous translation of “praise the Lord” to “bless the Lord” since the Hebrew is not hālal but bārak, not praise God but bless God.]

As David crowned Solomon king to succeed him, he directed the nation to “bless the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:20). In the Psalms, David and the other writers frequently reminded themselves and all the faithful to bless the Lord (Psalm 16:7; 26:12; 34:1; 103:1; 104:1; 115:18; et.al.).

The concept of blessing the Lord is also seen in Jewish prayers. The blessing for bread is: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth. Various foods have similar blessings including this one: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine. There’s even a generic blessing for all other foods: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, by Whose word all things came to be.

What we really need to see, appreciate and imitate is the lesson that God’s people have a responsibility to bless God. In the things we say and do in this world, in the way we deal with our fellow saints, in the way we are faithful, in the way that we respect and appreciate our God we must always BE a blessing.

— Lester P. Bagley

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6/24/18 ~ Proof of Obedience

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

When I leave the USA to travel overseas, and again when I return home, I am required to show proof of my citizenship. Apparently, I can’t just claim to be Superman from the planet Krypton and get away with it!

Is the same thing true with serving God? Does what we actually say and do matter? Let’s consider God’s requirements for…

Proof of Obedience

We all understand those simple facts about citizenship when it comes to earthly matters. What’s sad is that many people assert you can just fool God by claiming (perhaps very loudly as Elijah once suggested to the followers of Baal in 1 Kings 18?) to be a Christian even if you never actually do and prove the things that really go into making a Christian.

When the world says, “Just accept or welcome Jesus into your heart and you will be saved” they are NOT quoting from Scripture but rather are contradicting everything God actually says! In Matthew 7:21 Jesus flatly states, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. In the next two verses (22 and 23)

He expands their complaint to the Judgement Day: Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Without proof, without obedience, we are NOT saved and we are NOT Christ’s family! So the urgent need becomes a question of HOW to prove our claim. The answer from God is that our obedience to God is our proof!

The doctrine of faith alone (the more accurate meaning is: wishful thinking!) resulting in salvation is never taught by God. Jesus demands that we understand this: Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46) If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (John 14:15) If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)

The Apostle John obviously faced the same false teaching and attitude as he repeatedly told Christians that the proof of their faith was in the obedience: By this, we know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments (1 John 2:3).

And if we need it more clearly explained, John continues: The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:4-6)

Walking in the light (1 John 1:7) is never just doing our own thing, our own way. God tells us that the very definition of loving God is obedience: For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

As God pictures the story of salvation in Revelation, He reminds us that Satan is enraged by faithful obedience: So the dragon was enraged with the woman and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)

Finally, God reminds us that real faithfulness is obedience: Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Revelation 14:12).

What we DO is the proof of who we are: Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:7-8a).

When you put it all together the real question is simple: Who do YOU belong to? We can claim until the cows come home that we are God’s people, but unless we actually obey Him and live like it, we are deceiving ourselves but not fooling God in the least.

So, how shall we live and act this week?

— Lester P. Bagley

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6/17/18 ~ What is past

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Are you a time traveler? Many of us enjoy the past for the lessons it provides us for both now and the future. Hopefully, all of us learn from the past or else we are doomed to repeat those same mistakes over and over again.

In spite of learning from the past, there is an important fact that we must remember. We can never time travel to redo or undo the past and, while it can be a lesson (good or bad), it can never be undone…or can it? That is the beginning of a vital lesson for us as Christians about…

What is Past

Human beings living on this earth are bounded by time. Time is linear, a straight line that moves from the past to the future; yet only today actually matters. What is past is fixed forever and we can never redo it.

When we consider those simple facts, we are left with discouragement and despair. It is only when God is brought into the equation that there is any reason for hope!

Paul has a great discussion of those facts: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

As failures without God, we are spectacular failures! We were enslaved to the things of this world (Galatians 4:3) and blinded by Satan to the Light of Life (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Fortunately, Paul also tells us of the hope that only God brings: But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in
kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that [grace is] not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

The past, OUR past, is failure! Living in a fallen world of sin every single one of us has made the fatal choice of sin over obedience to God. Now we either give up in despair or find the only possible way forward that is in Christ!

Paul reminds us: For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

The change or transformation that God uses to correct our failures is nothing short of a spectacular miracle! The Holy Spirit chooses an interesting word for that transformation that God does (and continues to do) to/for us: But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)

The Greek word “transformed” (metamorphoō) in those two verses gives us our English word metamorphosis. In the insect world that change is seen as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The only other use of this word in the New Testament is at what we usually call the “transfiguration of Jesus” in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. Jesus did NOT just sparkle or change to white robes for the occasion, but rather he was “transformed” by God’s power! When we are baptized, when we are born again by the water and the Spirit of God we are changed, transfigured by the power of God into the image of Christ.

Paul challenges us: Now because we are fellow workers, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he (God) says, “I heard you at the acceptable time, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, NET)

Today is NOT the past. Today is the time for transformation. It’s time to move on and keep moving on from being a sinful, ugly worm to the beauty of being Christ! May we live today and into the future with the proud proclamation: I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20)!

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Lester P. Bagley

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6/10/18 ~ Faithful People

 

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Far too often we become guilty of making excuses instead of doing what it right. Catch a child in some misdeed and listen to the countless, creative excuses as to why they had to do wrong.

God points out this very lesson along with our responsibility to grow up and do right: Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature (1 Corinthians 14:20).

So let’s examine just how far God takes this responsibility to be…

Faithful People

Don’t you love hearing and learning wise counsel? Good advice that is really useful and meaningful is a treasure! God, of course, has a lot of that treasure to share and, if we would be faithful to Him, so do we!

Listen to some of Paul’s final words, So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

Now consider what he’s saying. An Apostle of Jesus Christ is facing his final days here on earth. He had a commission from his Lord and Savior to take the Gospel ~ the whole of the Gospel ~ to others in this world. Not only does he bring words of FORGIVENESS OF SINS AND SALVATION but he also brings the message to keep it going by teaching them to teach others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Paul is passing the torch to Timothy (as he did to others) in order for Timothy to pass it on himself. Consider again Paul’s actual words.

Be strong and not timid. God has constantly reinforced His people with this reminder to be courageous. He reminds us because we are apt to forget and let courage get away from us under severe trials.

The grace that is in Christ Jesus. Being strong is only real strength and only really useful when it is in the Lord. Paul had written many times to encourage strength in the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:10) because real power only comes from the Lord (cf. Philippians 4:13). Strength enabled and empowered by God is going to be successful.

Entrust to faithful people the powerful truth that you have learned. It is not opinion or ideas that we have to pass on, but rather the truth that was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3) by the Apostles. What we have is so precious we must not just keep it but pass it on. And we pass it on, not to just anyone, but to those faithful ones that will continue to pass it on.

The qualification to TEACH is cited by Paul as a requirement of Elders (1 Timothy 3:2) but is, in reality, a requirement of all who would be worthy of God’s Good News.

Entrust to faithful people is a great honor and responsibility. The word Paul uses for faithful people (anthrōpos) is the generic term for human beings. Faithful (pistos), can only be defined by God as it refers to those that are reliable and trustworthy in God’s eyes.

People who will be able to teach others also is an absolute requirement for God’s people! We can never say that we just can’t do it. God calls us to do it! God not only says we can do it but empowers us. Notice the four generations Paul mentions: Himself, Timothy, faithful individuals and others. The chain of faithful teachers is one that reaches from the purity of the New Testament to us. And God calls on us to ensure that the chain continues into the future.

This is God’s vision of spiritual reproduction. Faithful Christians beget faithful Christians. If the Lord’s church is to be faithful in the future, it begins with us taking up our responsibility now.

Somehow, somewhere many supposed Christians have gotten the idea that they are without responsibility. Every real Christian owes a debt to those who taught them and a responsibility to teach others.

Without taking up our responsibility, we are not faithful.

— Lester P. Bagley

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6/3/18 ~ Hebrew words all Christians should know.

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Are you multilingual? Most of us would immediately say that we don’t know any language except English… and we would be completely wrong! Ask an English teacher how many words in our language are actually foreign words and you will be a bit surprised at the answer!

Have you ever ordered a filet mignon steak? That’s a French term (although we technically use it incorrectly as the French use it for pork tenderloin!). I suspect that, living in the Southwestern USA, you’ve also ordered tacos, enchiladas, and a lot of other Mexican foods and probably never once called them sandwiches or rolled flat-bread filled with… well, you get the point! English, like most languages, is made richer with the addition of words that, while technically foreign, are commonly used and understood by almost everyone.

Have you thought about the fact that as Christians our language is made richer by the use of words belonging to God and His people? Throughout the centuries, many of these terms and customs have been identified by God as special to us. If we lose the language of God then we lose the language of our family and our heavenly home! Let’s look at a few important terms that we should treasure and use if we really belong to God:

Hebrew Words All Christians Should Know

One that immediately should come to mind is Hallelujah. Every time we sing a song with the words “praise the Lord” and/or Hallelujah we are simply repeating the exact same thought.

Hallelu is the Hebrew term of encouragement to praise that is addressed to several people. Yah is a short version of YHWH, which is the personal, Covenant name of the Creator God, traditionally translated as Lord (English translations sometimes use Yahweh or Jehovah for this never pronounced sacred name).

So put together in English (in Hebrew it is actually a two-word phrase) it becomes Hallelujah. However, it really means much more than simply “praise God” as the “encouragement” in Hebrew carries the force of joyous praise in song or boasting in God. And when you remember that it is addressed to more than one person it becomes a direct command for us to together praise or boast in the Lord in song.

When we sing “Hallelujah Praise Jehovah” we are making a thoughtful statement about who we are and what we are doing as we acknowledge the one and only God!

Since Hallelujah includes “jah” or “yah” as God’s name, let’s also consider both El and Yah as they are important names and descriptions of God. El is a generic term used in several Middle Eastern Semitic languages. It can refer to any “god,” whether the one true God or a false god. Yah, on the other hand, is a very specific personal name (see above).

You should notice that MANY names in the Bible are compound words that include either of these two terms for God. For a few quick examples consider El-i-jah (my God is YHWH), El-isha (God helped), Dani-el (God judges or God is judge), Jo-el (YHWH is God, Jo being an alternate version of YHWH).

Since many names in the Bible were given with a special purpose or lesson in mind via God, it really helps to see the whole picture God is giving us when you use a good Bible dictionary to fully appreciate the names!

Every time a name in the Bible begins or ends with one of these forms of God’s name, there is a lesson waiting to be discovered. And seeing that lesson will enrich your understanding of what God is trying to tell you in His word!

Let’s look at one more word that’s very important to God and His people: Amen. In the Old Testament, it is used about 30 times and usually translated as amen or as truth. In the New Testament, it is used some 129 times and usually translated as verily or truly when used by Jesus in the Gospels and amen elsewhere.

In the New Testament, the word is borrowed directly from the Hebrew so it’s meaning is intended to be the same. The fact that the Holy Spirit repeatedly uses this specific Hebrew word in all languages and for all God’s people of every age ought to tell us that something important is going on. The Hebrew in its simplest meaning is, “so be it.” But it is used with much more force as an absolute affirmation of trustworthiness and certainty!

When God required His people to acknowledge all the curses that would befall them for failing to obey His commandments, this is the word that they had to use to acknowledge both the righteousness of God and their acceptance of it! (Read Deuteronomy 27:15-26)

Where today people might swear to solemnly affirm something, God’s people say, Amen. Where today people might cheer and clap to show approval of something really important, God’s people say, Amen.

When we would show approval or want to underline the importance of something in a sermon, a song or a prayer, we say, Amen.

Let’s make a very important point here with this word and its meaning to God’s people. If you attend a secular wedding or graduation ceremony, the people of the world tend to whistle, clap, stomp their feet and yell all kinds of things.

Should we make the Lord’s church conform to our modern world? Should we show approval of Godly things by acting like the friends and followers of Satan? Or should we follow the pattern of God’s people for at least the last nearly 4,000 years?

Should we scream, whistle, clap and stomp for a Godly point made in a prayer or sermon? Should we do that for someone who has just put on their Lord in baptism? Seriously? Is THAT the response of God’s people or are we just imitating Satan?

No, we don’t have to follow Jesus. We don’t have to use God’s words… unless we really want to imitate God instead of Satan. Perhaps by serious Bible study and learning God’s words, terminology and meaning, we can learn to do things God’s way!

Yes, it’s that important!

— Lester P. Bagley

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