5/27/18 ~ Baseball and the Christian Life

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

The Apostle Paul often used the sports and games of his world as lessons for Christians. While I doubt that everyone in New Testament times was a sports nut, they still made important lessons. Let’s take a look at a modern sport with a similar spiritual lesson for us:

Baseball and Christian Life

Manny Trillo had a 17-year Major League career with the A’s, Cubs, Phillies, Indians, Expos, Giants, and Reds. In that time he was a repeat All-Star and won multiple Gold Gloves for his defensive play. He set a Major League record (since broken) with 479 consecutive errorless chances. Think about that a moment: 479 straight times he could have made an error and did not.

The most amazing thing about this story is not that he didn’t make a mistake but rather his attitude. As great as Manny Trillo was with his glove, he knew there were always errors. A bad throw. A bad hop. Broken double plays. In baseball, there are (currently) 162 games a year. A minimum (usually) of 1,458 innings in the regular season. That’s not counting pre- and post-season games. Baseball is an every-day-of-the-week game.

In baseball, perfection is technically (just like in Christian living!) non- existent. True, there are tons of statistics kept to see how close you get to perfection. But Manny Trillo lived and played by the philosophy, “The best thing about baseball is you can do something about yesterday, tomorrow.”

If you make a mistake and want to actually fix it, there’s always tomorrow’s game. Next time, you have the opportunity to undo the mistake and do it right.

This holds true on defense and just as well on offense. If you follow baseball you will quickly notice that everyone’s batting average is measured in three decimal numbers. What that means is if you get a hit every single time that you come to bat you would be batting 1.000. But no one ever does that!

In fact, no one ever comes close! In a single season of baseball, the great Ty Cobb hit .420! (For you trivia fans, Nap Lajoie holds the record average with a .426 season.) Ty Cobb’s lifetime career average was .366.

The best players in baseball history missed hitting the ball 1½ to 2 times for every time they hit it. Their mistakes totaled one and a half to two times their successes and they were the best! The best of most players is closer to the twice as many whiffs for every hit!

So what does all this about baseball have to do with us as Christians? The New Testament is constantly advising us as Christians to take the same approach to our “game,” our lives. The very use of the words repentance and forgiveness are God’s reminders that we can have another chance. How we use that next chance will always be what shows our real character, our real spirituality!

I believe the Apostle Paul, with his interest in sports, would have appreciated this analogy. After all, he wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). And John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

God is very clear in telling us that we are not perfect. Just as “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and need Jesus to save them from their sins, we all continue to be imperfect.
Certainly, this doesn’t mean we stop trying to be perfect. No baseball player is worth anything if they are a quitter and the same is true of a Christian! But when you do and try and fail, then the answer is not to give up. The answer for saints is always found in keeping on keeping on, in trying our best to do better tomorrow!

The best thing about a mistake we make now is that we can do better. That sounds a lot like resolve, a stubborn faith in God that with His help we can always do better!
Persistent faith is what made each of the Old Testament heroes of faith (cf. Hebrews 11 and the events of their lives in the OT). Persistent faith is what makes us.
Will you be better tomorrow?

— Lester P. Bagley

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4/22/18 ~ Spiritual Ugliness

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Beauty is something we all appreciate. A gorgeous sunset will cause us to whip out our cameras or call others to see. And how can anyone fail to appreciate a beautiful baby?

But what of our spiritual souls and lives? Are we beautiful before our Heavenly Father or are we covered in…

Spiritual Ugliness

Matthew 23 is Jesus’ vicious attack on false religion. Consider verses 27 and 28: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Today the word hypocrite usually means someone who pretends to be good and yet is inwardly or secretly bad. Our English word hypocrite is not an original word in our language. Rather, it is simply an anglicized word just like baptism. It only exists at all in English because of Jesus. He used the word some 18 times in the Gospel accounts and translators simply borrow the Greek word.

Just as people misuse baptism by pretending it has an English meaning apart from the Greek biblical usage, so, too, do we misuse hypocrite by taking it out of context and attempting to give it our own meaning.

The word Jesus uses is the Greek word for a stage actor. But to appreciate what He is telling us we must appreciate, like all statements in scripture, the context. In the old Greek world, actors had been respected. But by Roman times they were considered to have the same social status as a criminal or prostitutes. They were often foreigners, captives or slaves whose job was to entertain. While they performed some “classical” Greek plays and poetry, much of the stage was devoted to rude, vulgar and tasteless.

It appears that in New Testament times there was little or no “clean” comedy or theater. Much was essentially what we today would consider the lowest “X” rated kind of entertainment. It is accurate to say that Jesus is labeling people as the modern equivalent of a porn star!

With that ugly picture in mind, re-read Jesus’ words above. The degree of spiritual ugliness is important in seeing how God sees sin. Sin is never just a minor flaw or a tiny blemish on our character. It is always a fatal ugliness that God cannot ignore.

There is something disconcerting about us missing true ugliness and mistaking it for beauty. Have you ever picked up something without knowing what it was only to find out or realize that it was something truly disgustingly awful?

God gives us many examples. Solomon would illustrate it like this on one occasion, As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion (Proverbs 11:22). It’s not the beauty that appears on the outside, it’s the ugliness hidden within. Samuel was taught the lesson by God like this, God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Hypocrisy and iniquity, sin or lawlessness are identified by Jesus as attributes of the utmost ugliness. When we are unclean before God we are ugly! When we use sin to deceive others as a false teacher we achieve God’s ultimate in spiritual ugliness!

Recall that the Pharisees were often admired as some of the most sincerely religious of the Jewish people and many times were among the most “conservative.” Yet God demands much more than sincerity and outward conservatism.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would say it like this: “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. 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.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Paul would tell Titus: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11–14).

With all the love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and hope that God provides to us, we should be the most beautiful people; fit to be the bride of Christ. Whatever you do, do not allow spiritual ugliness to ever be seen in you!

— Lester P. Bagley

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3/11/18 ~ Children Leaving the Church

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the greatest concerns for any Christian parent is the faith and salvation of their children. It was true for God our Heavenly Father and it’s true for us all. After all, the younger generation is going downhill, isn’t it?

Let’s take a moment to consider these issues a bit more.

Children Leaving the Church

Children began to be the tyrants; they no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offenses against good tastes; they tyrannized their teachers.

Those words represent the thoughts of people like Socrates and Plato (and probably a lot of others) over 300 years before Jesus was born. Some 1100 years earlier than that, Moses and God told the people: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

If you fast-forward to the dividing of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, you realize that the Hebrews as a nation also failed in teaching their children.

Failure! It sounds so awful and it is! It began with Adam and Eve failing to instill godly behavior and attitudes in their child, Cain, just as they had failed to obey their Heavenly Father in the Garden of Eden. The sad fact is that we don’t do much better. No matter what we try, we seem to always see a younger generation that, in rejecting the wrongs and failure of their parents, go on to do even worse. Good intentions for stupid, sinful behavior is worth nothing either when we do it or the younger generation does it!

Jesus loves the children. How are we doing as parents? Are we stealing the love of Christ from their hearts by simply putting the wrong motives there? We can give our children all the physical richness in the world but if we are not giving them CHRIST then we are giving them nothing!

Do we really wonder why the majority of children grow up and leave the church? Consider the harsh realities of a few facts: This week your children will spend 30 hours in a school being lectured by godless, immoral people. They will spend more time with their friends than they do with their family. As they grow up the time spent with Satan’s world steadily increases.

To offset this, they will spend less than 4 hours in church each week, with only about half or less of that time actively studying the Bible. They will also spend an average of less than 15 minutes in family prayer, mostly at mealtime. At most, only 3 percent of teens read the Bible daily and less than 20 percent of all those attending any “church” do so. Are you really going to act surprised when they choose the world over God?

Since this problem has been around for so long, we know a number of things that do NOT work. Sadly, most of those things are the very things we insist on trying again and again. Doing what you and I think, instead of what God says, will NEVER work. Judges 17:6 and 21:25 serve as a constant reminder that doing what is right in our own eyes is certain failure.

Let me suggest that trying all the methods of the denominational world is imitating Satan and therefore foolish. Many Christians are still enamored with “Children’s Church” or countless other ways to get the kids out of worship into fun. What makes it so interesting is that denominational leaders are increasingly pointing out how wrong those kinds of programs were. They actually make things worse! (I just have to add here that the same thing has happened with “special holy days,” and instrumental music, and nearly every single change in worship, doctrine or practice for the last several centuries.)

Isn’t it just a tad ironic that parents claim a 5 or 6-year-old can’t sit through a half hour of Bible lesson? Doesn’t Satan just laugh at us when that same child sits through more than that every day at school… and learns what this world wants him or her to know? Every day in school our teenagers sit through hours of false teaching about sin, sex, and denial of God. How do you counter that much filth? There are countless things that both don’t work and actually make matters worse. So what DO we do?

Go back and re-read that very first scripture. There are the words of life!

We begin by being 100 percent committed to God ourselves! God doesn’t get 20 percent of our time. If you are not willing to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might, you are just playing with religion. What is your very first priority from the moment you awake until the moments before you fall asleep?

Is God’s word really “on your heart?” No, that doesn’t mean you “like” God so much that you are going to get around to Him someday. Do you read and study God’s word daily? Do you talk to Him about everything?

Only when we begin to put God first will we ever be able to teach our children (or anyone else) the truth! And when we teach, we teach diligently as well as teaching with every single aspect of daily life.

All those great Bible facts that Curt shares with our young people every Sunday morning? Why not reinforce that at home? How many of us can count to 100? That’s a part of kindergarten studies. How many of us can name the 66 books of the Bible in order? It’s time to get to work and be serious about learning and teaching God’s word!

Yes, our children will leave the church, they will go out and live in sin, sexually and otherwise. They are possibly going to do that in spite of everything we do. But if we do NOTHING, if we allow the world and sin and Satan to control every part of their lives, then we have willingly given their eternal souls away.

Make every effort to live like a child of God so that you share both words and example with your children and everyone else!

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/25/18 ~ Playing Legal Games With God

 

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

I guess we’ve all noticed that there are some games we like to play and others that really don’t interest us. One of those games that many play and enjoy is the “game” of perverting God’s word.

Recently in a conversation, I was told that God will save even those that are disobedient to His will, so we have nothing to worry about. I quickly checked my Bible to see if God had perhaps changed His will. But, no, 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (and a host of other similar scriptures!) was still there. When Jesus comes again He will come taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So how is it that people can twist and pervert God’s word like that? Let’s consider the subject of…

Playing Legal Games with God

Back in 2012 an 81-year-old woman with a sore jaw died just weeks after a hospital in Detroit mistakenly performed brain surgery on her. A jury awarded her family $20 million. But appeals courts and the state Supreme Court reversed the decision claiming that it was simple medical malpractice and not negligence. Yet the hospital had admitted that the surgery was an error of negligence!

What was shocking to nearly everyone involved in this case is that, in an amazing display of legal gamesmanship, the courts reversed the actual evidence and facts. What the judges did allowed a crime to be committed and the criminals to be declared innocent with no hope of any future justice in the case.

As appalling as this case is, it has become relatively commonplace in the American legal system. Right and wrong are no longer decided by facts and laws but by who can play the best game.

Again, as appalling as all this is in the world, it is also a favorite game for people to play with God, His word, and His laws. For, you see, in spite of all the nonsense we attempt to use to cover the facts, God has clearly defined right and wrong and people have felt free to play legal games!

Solomon faced the problem in his day and declared, He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 17:15).

Many years later this same legal game was being played in Isaiah’s time and caused God to comment: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)  Do we disobey God, commit some sin, then either declare that it’s okay or imagine that God has to forgive us so we are free to do wrong? Even under the Old Law God recognized and forbade His people from playing legal games. The word He often used for this sin of playing legal games with sin is presumptuousness.

Many translations use this same English word but some translate it as

  • premeditated
  • contempt
  • arrogance
  • willful
  • flagrant

Do you see God’s word pictures of His view of our legal games?

Consider some specific examples: The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again. (Deuteronomy 17:12-13) Paul would echo this command to Timothy in dealing with elders (or any other Christian by implication) who sin like this (read 1 Timothy 5:19-20).

The term false teachers (or prophets) is used for those teaching or advocating playing legal games with God, and they deserve the same treatment by those faithful to God: But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die (Deuteronomy 18:20). Again the New Testament echoes this lesson (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Peter 3:14-18; 1 John 4:1-6, etc.)

 David, even as he wrote of his praise to God, would also remember to ask, Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression (Psalm 19:13).

We as Christians face a world that loves to play legal games, even with God’s own words and commands.

  • You will be told that God doesn’t care how you worship and serve Him.
  • You will be told that all you have to do to be saved is pray a “sinners prayer” that’s never found in the Bible.
  • You will be told that God has nothing against homosexual behavior or that sex outside of marriage is okay.
  • You will be told a million things by those playing legal games with God.

And they will all still be lies that will cost you your soul if you believe them for God still says that the soul that sins will die (cf. Ezekiel 18:20).

So how about it? Are you smart enough NOT to play legal games with God? Are you smart enough to actually obey what God says? It is a choice we need to make right now!

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/18/18 ~ Drawing Near to God

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the great failures of many Christians is their failure to seriously read and study God’s word. Several preachers ask how many have read their Bibles daily at the beginning of their sermons. While that offends some people (apparently, we think it is okay to take offense at someone pointing out our sins!), perhaps an even more pointed question would involve how many actually study and understand God’s word.

Understanding what you read, just like the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8:26-39, is VITAL to our salvation. One of the helpful ways of studying the Bible is to follow God’s use of words, how He chooses to communicate important lessons to us.

To study like that requires more effort than simply reading. Putting more effort into an actual understanding of both what is read and how that fits the context of all God says is exactly what brought salvation to the man of Ethiopia. And that same effort will bring understanding and salvation to us.

So let’s do a little digging, a little bit of serious study into one of God’s lessons that will help us come closer to Him and to understanding what He says to us.

Drawing Near to God

One of the many rich lessons of the book of Hebrews involves a word picture that the author repeats seven times. The word is proserchomai and, especially in relation to coming to God, is translated as draw near or approach or come to (cf. Hebrews 4:16; 7:25; 10:1, 22; 11:6; 12:18, 22). This same Greek word is usually used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew qērab, which means come near or approach but also includes the idea of closeness to what or who is being approached.

Outside of the Bible, Greek writers use this word with more force than simply going somewhere. It is sometimes used in a hostile sense as going to a fight or battle, but usually in the sense of being concerned about someone and going to someone or something of great importance. It was also used in the religious sense of going to or before a deity. Just as in our world a word might be reserved for a deeper meaning rather than just being a simple synonym, so, too, the New Testament writers and the Holy Spirit chose words with richer meaning for special lessons.

This is the word that Matthew uses (Matthew 4:3) for Satan coming near to Jesus in order to tempt Him. It is also the word chosen later for the angels as they came to minister to Jesus. Both uses portray an incredible lesson for us. First, that Satan would dare to come so close and appear so intimate with Jesus. Isn’t that also a warning to us about how the Devil will try to get close to us? And second, the important job of angels in providing aid and comfort to Jesus. They did for Him just as they are sent out to be “ministering spirits… to render service” to God’s people (Hebrews 1:14).

On many other occasions, God reminds us of both the closeness of the wrong things and the intimacy of our right relationship with Him. Paul commands that we reject those and withdraw ourselves from those that (literally) do not draw near to the words of Jesus and godly doctrine (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Contrast this with Peter’s command that we come to Jesus as our living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 2:4).

Clearly, God calls His people to be more than just friendly with both God and His godly people! Just as we are never to be intimate with sin, wickedness and the worldly, so are we called to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Why? Simply because He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). We draw near to God, become intimate with Him and our family in Him here on earth so that we will be a part of the family for eternity in Heaven.

Will you draw near to God and His family here on earth so that you will be together as family for eternity? The choice really is up to you. Choose wisely!

— Lester P. Bagley

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12/17/17 ~ Into the Night

From the Preacher’s Pen…

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We’ve all noticed how a phrase or idea can be good or bad depending on how it is used. In looking up a word in a dictionary recently I ran across a discussion of words referring to things that can be good or bad. Something that is “six of one and half a dozen of the other” is one such description. Another one would be something that “cuts both ways” or had both good and bad aspects.

It shouldn’t be surprising that God in His use of language also uses words that can be good or bad depending on the setting. Love is an excellent example. Loving like God loves is good. Loving your husband or wife is good. But loving wealth or any earthly thing more than God is wrong. Likewise, loving sin is wrong.

Let’s look at another term that God frequently uses so that we can see both lessons, the good and the bad, that He illustrates with it:

Into the Night

If you ever need to get out of town secretly, night can be a perfect cover. That was actually the case with Joseph and Mary as they left Bethlehem for Egypt under the protective cover of night (Matthew 2:14). They wisely used God’s time of darkness to preserve the life of the King of kings.

Many years later the Apostle Paul would work, presumably at his tent making trade, both night and day in order to aid the Thessalonian congregation (2 Thessalonians 3:8).
On the other hand, Jesus would warn His disciples of the importance of working for the Lord while we have the light of life since the time after life gives no such opportunity (John 9:4). Notice, too, that in saying that Jesus reminds us that there is no second chance in death. We must do the Lord’s will now, in the light of life, or miss out on the very life that leads to salvation.

Like many of God’s lessons, there is a good and positive lesson where we see night and darkness as a help, a blessing to God’s people. At the same time, nighttime and darkness can be associated with a more negative lesson and many times with the ultimate negative of death, sin, and evil.

That same cover of darkness that once brought safety to the infant Jesus, would later hide the deeds of Judas as he instituted the chain of events that would bring about the Savior’s death (see John 13:29). And once again a good night would be turned into evil.

Paul would praise those Christian widows that faithfully serve the Lord “night and day” in spite of having no earthly relatives and family to aid them (1 Timothy 5:3-5). They would be the ones that God commanded His congregations to assist.

Paul would also use both night and day to pray for his younger fellow preacher, Timothy (2 Timothy 1:3). How well do we use the time God provides to us?

Of course on many occasions, God would use night and darkness to illustrate the realm of Satan, evil and wickedness. The greatest contrast would then be with the light or day of God where righteousness lives. Just as light overwhelms and shines out of the darkness, so our Savior overwhelms the darkness of sin to shine in us (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).

Light and dark cannot truly partner together, as one or the other will always win. That fact is used to remind us as Christians that we cannot be partnered with either sin or those who persist in sin (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Yes, we were once in darkness, but now, as those who have accepted the call to be God’s light of the world, we must live exclusively as God’s people (Ephesians 5:8). There should be no going back!

We are rescued from darkness (Colossians 1:13) and, as heirs, sons and daughters of God, we are not to participate in darkness (Ephesians 5:11) for that is the kingdom of Satan and his forces (Ephesians 6:12). Instead, we are to live and walk exclusively in the light (1 John 1:5-6).

Only in that exclusive walk may we truly have fellowship with God’s family and the ongoing cleansing of all sin (1 John 1:7). Only in the light do we become and remain the chosen people of God (1 Peter 2:9).

With this final use of light comes the end of night with all its pitfalls and dangers. Our eternal city in Heaven will see no night and no need for the protections against the menaces of darkness (Revelation 21:25). And the ultimate reason for the end of night and darkness will be that our eternal Lord and God is the light of Heaven.

The difference between right and wrong, between good and evil is as plain as day and night. Will we wisely use the time allotted to us here on earth? Will we prepare for the coming of night when this physical, earthly life is over? Will we prepare ourselves for an eternal, terrifying, horrible night? Or will we prepare for the eternal day of blessing?
The choice, our choice, your choice should be as obvious, too.

— Lester P. Bagley

10/8/17 ~ Wrestling & Boxing

From the Preacher’s Pen… One of the hardest lessons of our Christian walk and life is RacineBuildingto remember its true seriousness. We get tired and want to quit. Nothing exciting happens and we want to quit. It all seems to require that motivation that we so often lack. How can we do this?

Reality is not kind. We face the same difficulty in almost every area of life. While many would like to win the prize or be the best, few are willing to put in the hard work that makes it all happen.

Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of this serious contest that we are involved with:

Wrestling and Boxing

As you might well expect, the ancient Olympic sports were based on skills used in warfare. Of course, it didn’t take long for the sports to develop to the point that the combatants were no longer soldiers but specialists in their sport. By New Testament times there were three combat sports and they were both highly popular and well developed with specialists in each area.

The apostle Paul was evidently a sports fan and used both sporting fights as well as real warfare as examples of important lessons for those he taught. We can best appreciate those spiritual lessons for us with a bit more appreciation of what he was actually talking about.

Wrestling was the first sport added to the ancient Olympics that did not involve running. It quickly became the most popular organized sport in ancient Greece. You scored a point by making your competitor touch the ground with his back, shoulder or hip. Points were also awarded for forcing them out of the wrestling square or by conceding defeat. Three points were necessary to win. A popular position was to be on top of your opponent and strangle him!

The word for wrestling (palē) is only used once in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:12 says, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Boxing is nearly as old as wrestling and also immensely popular. The boxer wrapped leather thongs around his hands to protect them. There were no rounds and no weight categories so the two men typically hit each other in the head until one could no longer continue. The Romans added metal studs to the leather wrappings and later made the fights to the death! (In 393 AD boxing was abolished as excessively brutal and did not return to popularity until the late 1500s in London.)

Since the rules prevented any kind of fighting other than punching and the most effective way to win was hitting the head, Paul makes the point of boxing, in such a way, as not beating the air in 1 Corinthians 9:26. When we fight the good fight of faith we always go for the win!

Pankration was the ultimate fighting sport of the Olympics and had almost no rules. The Greek term literally means all of your power, strength, might. It was a combination of boxing, wrestling, kicking, holds, locks, chokes. The only things banned were biting and gouging out your opponent’s eyes. Some contests were actually won by breaking bones or disemboweling the opponent!

While the formal word for the pankration is not used in the New Testament, the concept words are employed to remind us of just how vicious and savage is our spiritual warfare.

Paul says, This command [to be faithful] I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight [wage all-out war as a soldier] the good fight [a military campaign or battle] (1 Timothy 1:18). And a little while later he also says, Fight the good fight of faith [literally, strive, fight, struggle, do what is necessary to win the great contest]; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12).

Finally, Paul brings up the subject again in some of his final words as he says, I have fought the good fight [the same words he used in 1 Timothy 6:12], I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-27; Colossians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 12:1-4 and remember how serious this is! Our fight for Christ against Satan and his followers is not a “police action,” it is not a skirmish or a dispute. It is all out war to the eternal death! The devil has declared all-out war on us… and we must do the same to him.

— Lester P. Bagley

 

9/17/17 ~ Warrior Songs

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingAs the Apostle John tells of his vision of the new, eternal, holy city (Revelation 21), he specifies not only those that will be there (verse 7) but also those that will be excluded (verse 8). In that list of exclusions, God places the cowardly at the top of the list.

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher that was born in 535 BC and died in 475 BC. During his lifetime Ephesus was part of the Persian Empire, but events were building up to the expulsion of the Persians. Five years before his death, 300 Spartans become the symbol of courage against overwhelming odds in the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). Their sacrifice would contribute greatly to the road to freedom for the Greek nation.

There’s a military quote attributed to Heraclitus that is well appreciated for its accuracy:

  • Of every 100 men, 10 shouldn’t even be there, 80 are nothing but targets,
  • 9 are real fighters and we are lucky to have them for they make the battle.
  • Ah but the one, one of them is a warrior…
  • and he will bring the others back.

The observation is true not only in the physical world but also in the spiritual one. So it is fair to ask: Are you a coward or a warrior when it comes to serving Jesus Christ? Consider God’s lesson of…

The Warrior Songs

Over the centuries many cultures were famed for their great warriors, and one of the great tributes to those heroes were songs. Songs of their fame. Songs of their great deeds. Songs of their immense courage. Songs of their sacrifice and death. Heroes are not born, you see, but they are motivated and trained.

It should come as no surprise to us that God calls His people to such a great challenge. The Apostle Paul reminds us,

  • Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
  • Put on the full armor of God,
  • so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
  • For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
  • but against the rulers, against the powers,
  • against the world forces of this darkness,
  • against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
  • Therefore, take up the full armor of God,
  • so that you will be able to resist in the evil day,
  • and having done everything, to stand firm.
  • (Ephesians 6:10-13)

The fact is, once sin came into the world, this has always been an important part of God’s message to His people. After 40 years of working under the leadership of Moses God challenged him to encourage Joshua to do the job he would soon take over. And when Joshua begins the job the first thing God calls on the elders and all the nation to do is to encourage Joshua to the work he is called to do.

Throughout the years of the Judges, there were many songs to commemorate and praise the strong men and women who faithfully followed God. But perhaps David, the Sweet Singer of Israel, would set the tone for the warrior songs of God’s people for all time.

Psalm 18 begins with this ancient attribution: For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said…

David goes on to sing the song of His Lord and God as the great warrior, the great victor in saving David from all harm. What a beautiful reminder of what his son, Solomon would observe years later that victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31).

One of the great Messianic Psalms (Psalm 91) is often referred to as the Warrior Psalm or as the song of comfort to military families. Again the reminder comes that God is the great deliverer and reason for our victory. Satan would apply the promise of God’s angels guarding God’s warriors to Jesus as a challenge to throw Himself from the Temple (see Psalm 91:11-13 and Matthew 4:5-6). Is there any greater comfort for “Soldiers of Christ” than to realize how God controls every single detail to protect and bring victory to His people, His warriors?

Years after David died his son Solomon would sing a warrior’s song of a victorious reminder that

  • Unless the Lord builds the house,
  • They labor in vain who build it;
  • Unless the Lord guards the city, 
  • The watchman keeps awake in vain
  • (Psalm 127:1).

Yet it would be David himself, perhaps the greatest warrior of God’s people, that would sing what is often thought of as the ultimate song of all God’s warriors:

  • Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
  • Who trains my hands for war,
  • And my fingers for battle
  • (Psalm 144:1).

He would go on to praise the God of salvation who brings not only deliverance from the dangers of battle but the ultimate joy, peace, safety and blessing for the victor. And David’s ultimate conclusion in verse 15 would be:

How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!

Let’s return to Paul’s application of this lesson for us in Ephesians 6. Preparation, conditioning, training are the vital things a warrior does to get ready. If we lack the time to be in the study of God’s word and in prayer to prepare us for the fight we will never win. And no warrior ever imagines for a single moment that they are perfectly prepared. That training goes on every moment you are not actually in combat. The goal is to develop that keen edge of readiness to instantly do the right thing when the time comes.

How serious is the battle that we face? It is literally deadlier than any flesh and blood battle ever fought! Our enemy is Satan himself with all his spiritual powers. Without God’s own help, without His full armor, we cannot face the murderous attacks of the evil one. But with His help, with God’s own Spirit within us, we can truly accomplish all things.

In the end, that’s exactly what saints really are: the most magnificent, well trained, confident, deadly warriors that fight the good fight of faith and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12)! This is our calling! And this is the very purpose of our “good confession” as we put on our Christ.

This is our life in Christ! As we serve, as we live for Him, as we destroy the power of Satan in the lives of those we turn to the Lord we join the chorus of those who sing the warrior songs.

And one day we will complete the good fight. We will finish the course. We will have kept the faith and be ready for the crown (2 Timothy 4:7-8)., the crown that is reserved for us all as victorious Soldiers of Christ. And then we sing, not the warrior’s song of fighting the good fight, but the eternal song of victory in Heaven.

  • I have fought the good fight,
  • I have finished the race,
  • I have kept the faith.  
  • From now on there is reserved for me
  • the crown of righteousness,
  • which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day,
  • and not only to me but also to
  • all who have longed for his appearing.

Without the warrior’s song, there is no victor’s song. So, are you ready to sing the warrior’s song with God’s people that you might also join in the victor’s song one day?

— Lester P. Bagley

8/27/17 ~ DARKNESS

From the Preacher’s Pen… 

RacineBuildingThis past Monday we saw here in Casa Grande a partial eclipse of the sun. For a short time, the moon covered a portion of the sun. While it never got completely dark, it did make for an eerie orange color to the daylight.

Of course in other areas to the north of us, there was a strip across the continent of totality, total darkness. It was a good time to remember a bit about the subject of darkness and light and our God…

Darkness

This world began in darkness (Genesis 1:2) but with the actions of God, light was created and God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:4). As creation continued God created the sun to govern the day and separate the light from darkness… and it was good (Genesis 1:18).

As human beings experienced life on this earth they understood that night and darkness were more dangerous times. Harm could hide in the darkness and be unseen until too late. But they also learned that with God it was not so. The Psalmist would write: If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. (Psalm 139:11-12) And darkness would increasingly be associated with sin, Satan and the wicked (Proverbs 4:19).

When Israel, the northern kingdom of God’s people, was destroyed for their sin the prophet Isaiah would continue to preach to the southern kingdom of Judah about the dangers of that darkness (Isaiah 8:22). But there was always hope, always the promise of God that one day… The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them (Isaiah 9:2). And, On that day the deaf will hear words of a book, And out of their gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind will see (Isaiah 29:18).

Even as the storms gather and difficulties seem to take over, the promise would always shine through: For behold, darkness will cover the earth And deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you And His glory will appear upon you (Isaiah 60:2). Years later as the darkness overwhelmed the nation Jeremiah would echo the same lessons.

And darkness fell

Yes, there would be a return from captivity for many of God’s people but even then they recognized that their real hope, their real light was still to come.

And then one day the light came into the world… and they missed Him. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4-5) God would even explain it to them (Matthew 4:12-16) and yet they would not see.

They refused to see the light until one day it was extinguished again: Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. (Matthew 27:45)

Darkness! Darkness over all when there should have been only light for you to see, it was NOT an eclipse. By the laws of nature that the Creator Himself had hard coded into His creation there simply cannot be an eclipse of the sun at Passover. Never. Not going to happen. And yet there was darkness… and fear… and wonder… and then it was over.

The darkness actually failed as the Christ was seemingly extinguished, the light of the world supposedly gone out.

In so many ways darkness seemed to almost win. For three days a unique spiritual gloom seemed to reign. And then the Great and Glorious Day of the Lord came (Acts 2:20). The light was victorious!

In the coming years the sermons of God’s spokesmen would ring with the reminder:

The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12)

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (Ephesians 5:8).

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:5-6)

The darkness is gone

The light, the Light of the world is here. And He has called you to live for Him… now and forever.

— Lester P. Bagley

8/20/17 ~ Things We Cannot Do Without

RacineBuildingFrom the Preacher’s Pen… Over the years there were a few times that I had to undergo a process called survival training. While the goal is teaching you and giving you the confidence to accomplish things even in dangerous circumstances if the course is really worth anything the ultimate test is really a question of “pass” or “fail” at surviving.

In a very real way, this world is that kind of course. Either we learn and properly practice the things that enable us to live forever with God or else we fail and face eternal death.

With that sobering thought in mind, let’s consider some…

Things We Cannot Do Without

If you’re ever stuck out in the wilderness, remember what survival experts call ‘the Rule of 3s’: You can live 3 minutes without air. In a harsh winter environment — it’s snowing, say — you have 3 hours to survive without shelter. Without water, you will die in 3 days (note that in the Arizona summer you may not last that long!). Finally, you can make it 3 days without food (but it won’t be easy!).

God’s word also has some lessons about things a Christian simply cannot survive without. Let’s consider seven things that are vital for us:

1) God — Paul spoke of the time before Christ when the heathen nations were outsiders, strangers to God’s covenants of promise with Israel. He says that they had no hope and were “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

2) The Precious Shed Blood of Christ — The writer of Hebrews reminds us that, “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). And Peter challenged us to remember, “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

3) The Sinlessness of Christ — Our “high priest” understands and sympathizes with our weaknesses because He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The fact that He was perfect and sinless allowed God to accept His sacrifice as the price for our sins, or as Paul puts it: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

4) Faith — “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Of course “faith” here is God’s definition of true, obedient hope and trust in Him; rather than contemporary man’s idea of just wishful thinking.

5) Works — James reminds us that in God’s definition of terms faith and service or works are inseparable (James 2:18-20) and plainly says that faith without works is just dead, useless faith.

6) Holiness — Like so many other words in Scripture we are required to use God’s definition and not Satan’s perversion of God’s will. Hebrews (12:14) reminds us that if we lack that holiness or sanctification we will not see the Lord!

7) Birth into God’s Family — Again, the world is quick to follow Satan’s definition of God’s commands and terminology. In doing so they reject God’s blessings and promises just as Adam and Eve did. To gain God’s promises and blessings today requires that “new birth.” Baptism can never be just getting wet (1 Peter 3:21). It is submission to God and obedience to His commands and will. Baptism is uniting with Jesus in His death, burial AND His resurrection (Romans 6:4-7). Without it, we are not free from sin and we will never see heaven!

Yes, there are many things that are vital to our Spiritual life and health. In addition to the survival ‘Rule of 3s’ there are countless poisons, wild animals, falls from cliffs and innumerable other dangers out there that we must avoid to live. But hopefully, we also understand that without the basic important things we face no hope at all.

How about your spiritual life? Have you begun with the basic, vital items? Because, if you are lacking any of these you are starting out by dying. If you would live then seek Christ… this week and always!

— Lester P. Bagley