11/3/18 ~ Degrees of Punishment and Reward

Image result for judgment seat of God

From the Preacher’s Pen…

A few weeks ago a dear brother and fellow preacher and I were looking at what the Scriptures say about degrees of punishment and reward. It is an interesting study and one that, like everything God teaches us, points us directly to the importance of handling God’s word correctly.

There is really no point in giving the false arguments and wishful thinking of those who disagree with God. So, let’s look at what Scripture actually says about…

Degrees of Punishment & Reward

Reward

To begin with, degrees of reward has virtually no real support. 1 Peter 4:18 is not so much a comment on degrees of reward as it is on the difficulty of salvation, much like Jesus’ lesson of the broad vs narrow ways. It is thus fitting that Peter is also the one to remind us (2 Peter 1:11) that, because of our Savior, our entrance into heaven is NEVER just “barely making it into the pearly gates” but rather is an “abundant” entrance.

Yes, there are several times that Jesus refers to varying rewards. “The five talent man received five more but the two talent man ‘only’ received two more,” you say. On the other hand, Jesus plainly provoked the ire of those who believe in degrees of reward with his lesson in Matthew 20:1-15. There He tells of the one working only the last hour of the day as receiving the same reward as the one that worked longer hours.

The balance between teachings that seemingly suggest greater rewards is offset by those teaching equality of reward for all. So we must conclude, as with any other imagined contradiction in scripture, that the idea of greater rewards is our misunderstanding of God’s point. John describes many of the eternal blessings of heaven (Revelation 21:1-4). But never does he suggest that anyone in heaven receives only some tears wiped away or only some pain removed or only some eternal life. Like Jesus’s example of the talents, the real reward is the gift of God and not to be measured.

Yes, there are plenty of people that see various rewards, some rich and happy in heaven and some miserable, or even temporary punishments to further qualify one for heaven. Since those positions take a lot of work at misunderstanding what God says they rightly belong to the study of denominational doctrines and other false teachings.

Punishment

Degrees of punishment requires a bit deeper study, but again, we have to be careful about the meaning inserted by false teachers. Matthew 12:41–42; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 11:31–32; 20:47 are all passages in which Jesus speaks of “greater condemnation” for some people. Note that it’s not always the same people, so the exact reason for the comparison (hotter seats next to the fires?) is not really stated. We must be careful not to make more than is actually said, since in each case Jesus’ point is that it is worse for you (His subjects) than for everyone else in general.

Two further passages make an interesting lesson as they are often seen as in opposition to each other: James 3:1 is used as a “popular excuse” NOT to teach the Gospel. In contrast, Hebrews 5:12 counters that interpretation by saying maturity in Christ requires ALL to be teachers. Is James perhaps using some of the same sarcasm Jesus often used to suggest that those rejecting Him felt that they “needed” less forgiveness than the “common” sinners? Certainly, James knew that failure to actually obey the “Great Commission” as part of our obedience to the whole of Christ’s teaching would NOT result in salvation!

2 Peter 2:21 is often used to “prove” a worse punishment for those that once were faithful. While they “could” have one of those “seats closer to the fire,” it certainly could also remind us that eternal punishment will certainly be a self-inflicted “worse” for someone knowing for all eternity that they had no excuse of ignorance to fall back on, while that same “ignorance” defense might allow others to feel a bit less tormented.

That last discussion also leads to the oft-debated “ignorance” plea. Will God actually condemn those that do not know His word? God never has accepted the “ignorance” plea as Leviticus 26:14, 18, 27; Deuteronomy 28:15; Romans 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17 all show. His standard has always been much like that of a parent, “did you DO what you were told” and unaccepting of the “I didn’t hear you” excuse.

Jesus made an interesting observation and gives us a bit more to think about in the explanation of a parable dealing with being prepared for Jesus’ return (Luke 12:39-40). When Peter asks about the target of that preparedness parable, Jesus responds with a lesson contrasting faithful servants and unfaithful servants thinking they can get away with something (Luke 12:41-46).

The conclusion Jesus draws is three-fold. First, the slave that willingly fails to obey will “receive many lashes” (Luke 12:47). Second, the slave that did wrong out of “ignorance” will receive “few lashes” (Luke 12:48). Third, the Lord’s final comment on the matter is the reminder that the more we know and are given by God, the more God requires of us (end of Luke 12:48).

Putting all this together brings us to two important lessons:

1) Our reward is based on grace. Our “merit” is that of Jesus who gave His life for us. Thus, the abundance of that inheritance is enjoyed by all because they gave their all. Without giving God our ALL, there is no hope of heaven.

2) Punishment is dealt out to those who do not OBEY the will of Jesus, whatever the excuse. One might well receive a technically lesser punishment for ignorance, but it will never be anything like the reward for obedient service. Spending eternity cheering partial failure is no more a win than any other loss.

There is no second-place finish when it comes to salvation. Either we “fight the good fight… finish the course” and “keep the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7) and receive the same crown prepared for all, or else there is no crown, no win. God’s promises belong to those that faithfully DO His will. What are you doing when it comes to obedience to the Gospel?

— Lester P. Bagley

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9/30/18 ~ Worship In a Nursing Home

Worship In A Nuring Home

          Some shuffle, some lean on walkers, some are pushed in wheelchairs.  Arthritis-laden legs bend, backs strain, and with the aid of shaking hands, they sink down now into their chairs.  Racing heartbeats ease to a slower pace.

            After a little rest, some are given songbooks.  The others cannot see.  The first song is announced.  Quivering lips part, cracking voices begin, and heaven opens.  A chorus fit for the King of Glory rises through the ceiling of the little room, bursts into the universe, and swirls into the Divine throne room.  The voices of gallant warriors, torn and broken in body.  The voices of strong warriors, courageous to the very finish.  The halting voices of conquerors boldly reaching for the crown.

            A little later they hear the words, “We are gathered around this table to once again commemorate our Lord’s death.”  Once again.  Yes, once again as many times as it takes until the victory is reached.

Bent hands, stabbed still by throbbing arthritis and shaking with palsy, reach out to touch the first symbol.  The bread has already been broken for them.  Yet it is with determination that each forces fingers to close around the little fragment representing that crucified Body.  Slowly, slowly it is taken up to the lips.  Some fingers fumble at this point and the fragment drops into a lap.  The painful procedure is again repeated until completed.

          Next, the cup is brought.  Blood symbol.  Symbol of death and life.  The little glass is so small it could embarrassingly spill.  A kind friend picks it up and places it into the palm of the awaiting cupped hand.  It is still shaking.  So two hands are used ~ one folded under the first to steady it.  The drink successfully reaches the lips and its contents triumphantly sipped.  Oh, what glory to still be able to honor the dying Savior after all these years!  The glass falls out of tottering hands.  It is caught by the tray.  But the mind has already started transcending this room for another far above.

            “Each week we give our contribution to a worthy cause,” they hear explained.  Presently the collection tray is brought around.  Dimes and quarters are brought out of coin purses, shallow pockets, envelopes, Bible leaves.  Some are wadded in cold hands.  Ever so slowly coins and dollar bills are carefully placed into the tray.  Not much?  It will help someone in need.

            The preacher now stands.  Many shift.  Seats are harder, circulation cramped, arthritis continues to distress aged joints.  He reads about being taken home to Glory some day.  Some watch him, some gaze at the floor.  He speaks of heaven.  They begin to feel left behind.  They think of those they ache to see again.  It has been so long.  They’ve fought so many battles.  A few tears slip down as due drops.  They dream of heaven in the morning….

            The sermon over, the last prayer said, they begin to leave.  Slowly….The room is nearly empty now.  They make their way down wandering halls to little rooms and resume their wait for the Mansions.  They sigh.  Battles of life have been met and fought.  Mountains climbed.  Desolations conquered.  So now it is a matter of waiting and encouraging those left behind to do the best that they, too, can do.  Tired.  Waiting.  But willing to go on until they touch the mark.  And then…. 

          And then….  they will start all over.  Only this time it will be different.  For this time there will be no pain, no foes, no failures, and never again will they grow old!   

~Katheryn Haddad

8/12/18 ~ A new body like Jesus’

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

A couple of Sunday’s ago we looked at Mark’s record of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) and noted the fact that Jesus’ appearance was changed. Likewise, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him and Luke says (Luke 9:31) their appearance was said to be “in glory” or “splendorous.” It appears that what the Gospel writers are trying to tell us is that, for a brief time, Peter, James, and John saw something of the eternal “body” of eternal beings with God.

We obviously understand very little about eternity, being presently confined to this temporal world. At the same time, God does make several attempts to tell us more about what we are to be in eternity. So, let’s take a look at just what it means to have…

A New Body Like Jesus’

Let’s begin with Luke’s account of Jesus’ Transfiguration. You can read the entire account in Luke 9:28-36, but for the moment let’s focus on the appearance of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in verses 28-32: Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.

God tells us several significant things. The appearance of Jesus’ face and clothing changed. Matthew 17:2 describes it as His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. Mark simply sums it all up as Jesus was transfigured or literally that He metamorphized before them (Mark 9:2). Both Matthew and Mark describe the change to Jesus’ clothing into being extremely white (Mark remarks that no laundry on earth could make them that white while Matthew says they were as white as light).

Luke, however, explains that Jesus’ face became different (literally, became another face) and His clothing white and gleaming. While most translations simply combine the two words Luke uses to make it extremely or dazzlingly white, the precise word Luke used means to flash like lightning!

Luke also tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared in glory (splendor) using the same word that he uses for the apostles seeing Jesus’ glory in verse 32.

A safe conclusion is that the general appearance of Jesus was much like that of Moses and Elijah who are now eternal beings.

So what does all this have to do with us and our eternal bodies? For that, we must look at some later lessons from the apostle Paul. In Philippians 3:20-21 he reminds us of who we as Christians really are, and what we are going to be when Jesus returns: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

As citizens of that eternal city, we look forward to going home to live. But our home is not a temporal, time-bounded place. Rather it is beyond time; it is eternal and that requires a body like God. So how do we get that new body of glory like His? By the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Our present bodies are described by Paul (verse 21) as humble (NASB), lowly (NKJV) or vile (KJV). While some may find the KJV term extreme, it is actually the one closest to Paul’s actual word! The term he used for our current body is literally the body of humiliation! He’s not insulting what God has created but rather recognizing that a body made perishable by the humiliation of sin and death, a body that will return to the dust from which it was made, is unfit for an eternal heaven.

Our new body will be transformed, remodeled, the outward form changed into a body conformed (sharing the likeness) to Jesus’ eternal body. Where humans were originally created in God’s image or likeness, now we are to be recreated into His image again. Just as Jesus created us before so now He will re-create us like Him for eternity!

Paul would give an extended lecture on this transformation process, its necessity and its implications to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:35-57). Apparently, from Paul’s forcefulness (You fool! of verse 36), some Christians were inventing all kinds of nonsensical stories much like today.

Changed we must be in order to belong to Christ on this earth. And changed we will again be in order to belong to Christ for eternity in heaven. That change will be just like the change He went through to return to heaven.

What does this all mean for us? Paul says it this way, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

So, knowing who you really are as a Christian and who God intends you to be for eternity, how will you live your life this week?

— 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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March 5 ~ Selling Heaven Short

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Isn’t it wonderful that brother (or sister) So-and-so is in heaven? They must be playing golf every day with all their old friends!

How many times have you heard (or been involved in!) a conversation like that? Do we realize what an outright lie that is? Do we really know what heaven is and what it is all about?

Take a few moments to consider how often we cheapen and outright pervert God’s great promise:

Selling Heaven Short

Heaven is a place that everyone talks about and everyone hopes to go to… provided they don’t have to actually DO something to get there!

The reality of heaven is that it is a prepared place for a prepared people. Unless we “store up treasures there,” unless we obey our Lord and God, then we will never live there. Let’s take a look at heaven as God presents it and see how that compares with the nonsense that people often imagine is heaven.

Heaven is NOT golf, hunting, fishing nor is it about visiting with friends and loved ones!

That is NOT to imply we won’t know or care about friends and loved ones: In the Old Testament, when a person died, biblical writers said he was “gathered to his people” (cf. Genesis 25:8; 35:29; 49:29; Numbers 20:24; Judges 2:10).

In 2 Samuel 12, when David’s infant child died, David confidently said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (v. 23). David expected to see his child again – not just a nameless, faceless soul without an identity, but that very child.

Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. Even though it had been centuries since they’d walked this earth, they still maintained a clear identity (Matthew 17:3) – Peter, James, and John evidently recognized them (v. 4), which implies that we will somehow be able to recognize people we’ve never even seen before.

We will be able to have fellowship with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Moses, Joshua, Esther, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, David, Peter, Barnabas, Paul, or any of the faithful. For that to be possible, we must all retain our individual identities, not turn into some sort of generic beings.

Describing the Lord’s appearing and the resurrection of the saints who have died: 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. and thus we shall always be with the Lord’.

Paul’s purpose was to comfort some of the Thessalonians who thought their dying loved ones would miss the return of Christ. He says in verse 18, “Comfort one another with these words.” The comfort comes from the prospect of reunion. Little comfort this would be if in the reunion we could not even recognize one another. Paul’s promise that we will all be “together” forever implies that we shall renew fellowship with all whom we have known.

We will be reunited not only with our own families and loved ones, but also with the people of God from all ages. In heaven, we will all be one loving family. The immense size of the family will not matter in the infinite perfection of heaven. Our eternity will be spent in just that kind of rich, unending fellowship.

If you’re worried about feeling out of place in heaven, don’t. Heaven will seem more like home than the dearest spot on earth to you. It is uniquely designed by a tender, loving Savior to be the place where we will live together for all eternity and enjoy Him forever.

But we will NOT remember the lost! This is an eternal home for victors NOT losers (also take note of Revelation 21:8):

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Heaven IS all about our God and our Savior!

Back to that first point above.  While heaven includes God’s family and all the joy that is a result of that blessing, the real purpose of heaven is NOT family, friends and loved ones. The real joy and purpose of heaven is being with our God and Savior!

Every vision of heaven that John or any other prophet had of heaven is ALWAYS centered around God.

If God is not your priority here on earth, if He is not your first and greatest love, then you won’t have to worry about not enjoying heaven. You won’t be there!

Yes, that is shocking to many human beings, but the least of heaven’s blessings are about us. The priority of heaven, like our lives here on earth, is the focus on God.

Don’t imagine heaven as the place where God will wait on you and give you your heart’s desire.

Make God your heart’s desire, serve Him and learn the real blessings that God has in store for His family.

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/11/18 ~ Three things sin will always do

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

In spite of what some people think, sin and death are not a preacher’s favorite things to talk about. That idea is akin to believing that doctors just enjoy seeing blood, guts, and disease because that’s what they often have to work with. The reality is that we do this job to alleviate suffering and hopefully prevent death. And that is the real reason that our Great Physician deals in these same issues with us.

Consider an illustration that I’ve used several times in sermons and articles before:

Three Things Sin Will Always Do

In life, there are two major ways that we learn. Some things we learn the hard way from personal experience. Some things we can hopefully learn from seeing the experience of others. We’ve all noticed that the lesson of personal experience is often far more effective at staying with us.

When it comes to the seriously deadly things in life, though, it is obvious that the lesson would be far better learned from the experience of others. That simple point brings us to much of God’s reason behind numerous lessons that He includes in His word.
Consider three lessons about the dangers of the things that sin will always do.

1) Sin will always… take you farther than you want to go!

The Hebrew writer (Hebrews 11:24-26) reflected that Moses made a grownup, adult choice not to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. That intentional choice meant that he lost the prestige, power, and authority of an Egyptian leader. That choice meant he would spend the majority of his adult life fleeing Egypt in the desert.

It would be easy and convenient for us to see his loss and miss the larger picture. Verse 25 reminds us that Moses made another choice: choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. Why? Because he considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

Look at that last thought again. Reproach is literally the word for disgrace or insult. The worst thing that comes from faithfully following Christ is greater than the greatest riches of the treasures of this world!

Jesus put it this way, For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26) I believe Moses would have said, Amen!

Clearly, the pleasures of sin for a season may yield a long and worthless harvest!

2) Sin will always… keep you longer than you want to stay!

Beware lest God gives up on you! One of the most frightening things that God may do to us is too simply allow us to have what we think we want. In Romans (cf. 1:24-32) the Apostle Paul repeatedly points out the consequences of God rejecting and abandoning those who choose sin over obedience to Him.

By choosing sin we force God to put us where we deserve. The result is dishonor (verse 24), degrading (verse 26), depravity (verse 28) and getting exactly what we earn with our sin. Our earnings (our wages of sin in Romans 6:23) include being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful (verses 29-31).

Having made that choice to live in sin God further declares that we are both ignorant and worthy of eternal death (verse 32). Remember God uses exactly the same word for eternity in Hell that He does for the duration of Heaven. Eternity is a long time to stay where neither God nor any of His goodness exists!

3) Sin will always… cost you more than you wanted to pay!

If you really insist on choosing sin, then you have to pay for sin. Paul reminds the saints at Thessalonica that, if you don’t choose salvation, then you choose for God to help you believe any false thing that will lead to eternal death (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). That’s an astronomically high price to believe what you want and enjoy wrong instead of right!
As we’ve already noted, the well-deserved earnings of sin (Romans 6:23)… is death! But there’s also one more part to that same verse and to the story of sin. There is the gift of God!

That brings us to one important final lesson about sin, and that is the one thing that God can do if you let Him. He will save you from your sins! Romans 6:23 says, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Did you catch all that? Sin will actually do all these horrible things for and to you. But God offers a choice. He offers hope and another way.

Yes, it IS a FREE GIFT! But don’t let the price tag confuse you, as so many have. That gift, that promise is ONLY to those IN Christ Jesus. And the only way that you can be IN Christ Jesus today is to be born into the family, the body of Christ.

If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:5). There is NO promise for those of us living on this side of the cross for salvation from sin without baptism! Without that uniting with Christ in burial (baptism!) and death (to sin), there is NO uniting with him in resurrection (cf. Romans 6:3-7).

Without freedom from sin, there is no life! Remember those three things that sin will always do for you. And make the choice to unite yourself with Christ in His way as the one thing that can save you.

— 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

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

 

8/5/17 ~ Persistent or Weary

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingHow are you doing as a saint? How are you doing in truly honoring God with your life, with your worship, with your service?

Those are hard questions, aren’t they? They make us stop and consider. And sometimes they make us want to just give up.

God understands that and His understanding explains why so many of His words to us are all about encouragement. That explains why there are so many lessons on faithfulness and endurance. So let’s ask ourselves the question: Are you…

Persistent or Weary?

Like most people, I get tired of doing some things over and over again. Mowing the lawn (especially in the summer) makes me weary.  Do you find that washing the same dishes you washed yesterday (or even five minutes ago sometimes) makes you weary? Parents, does picking up after your children ever make you weary? I guess most of us can identify with the problem, can’t we?

When we get tired of some things we find it easier to just quit doing it. Unfortunately, that makes many things worse, doesn’t it? If you think the lawn is hard to mow after two weeks in summer, try letting it go for six weeks. If you think that mountain of dirty dishes looks daunting after only two days, what would it be like after a week? We all get the point: in so many things in life, persistence pays off in the long run.

In the business world, successful sales people are those who keep going back, those who are persistent. Check out some intriguing statistics: 48 percent of the sales people quit after only one call; 25 percent quit after two calls; 15 percent quit after three calls.

Together, these three groups account for 88 percent of the sales force and 20 percent of the business. (You can see the point coming, can’t you?) That’s right, the remaining 12 percent of the sales people keep on calling, and as a result, these do 80 percent of the business!

Generally, in the church these same statistics hold true. Some 10 to 12 percent of a congregation does 80 percent of the giving, the personal work, the teaching, the outreach, etc.

Look around you, see the vacant seat where just last week (month, year, or whatever is appropriate) someone was sitting. Today it’s vacant because they got tired, weary of doing the right thing for God. That’s sad. Sadder still is the fact that many of them will be content to remain unfaithful until the judgment day and then try to beg, lie, cheat or cry their way into heaven. And we know, as they do in their hearts, that will not work.

So, what do we do? Let’s face it:  Isn’t faithful Christian living a lot of weary work? Well, yes and no. Ask the successful salesman if that first, or second or third call isn’t a waste of time. What you will hear is something like this: “Every “No!” answer I get just means that I’m that much closer to the” Yes!” that is a sale. And this job is all about every “Yes” not every “No”.

Are you, as a Christian, as bright as a salesman? Listen to what your Savior had to say about that weary feeling we all sometimes get:

Come to Me,

all who are weary

and heavy-laden, and

I will give you rest.

(Matthew 11:28)

Hear the preacher of Hebrews challenge us to…

Consider Him [Jesus] who has endured

such hostility by sinners against Himself,

so that you may not grow weary

and lose heart

(Hebrews 12:3).

Listen to the encouraging things Paul had to say to you:

And let us not lose heart in doing good,

for in due time, we shall reap

if we do not grow weary.

(Galatians 6:9).

Which kind of Christian are you determined to be: the shirker or the worker?

We are blessed with many rich opportunities to serve, to tell our friends and neighbors about the Savior and show our love for Him who died for us. Things like worship and Bible studies are not there to fill up or waste our time. They are opportunities to praise, honor and serve our God, opportunities to show Him our thankfulness and opportunities to enjoy the encouraging time together with His family.

So come!  Let us have a congregation that’s 100 percent workers and see what 600 percent success for the Lord looks like!

But as for you, brethren,

do not grow weary

of doing good

(2 Thessalonians 3:13).

— Lester P. Bagley

5/21/17 ~ On Guard

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingThe wisest man that ever lived warned us that every word of God is proven as trustworthy (Proverbs 30:5). And Jesus, himself, reminded even the Devil that we live by every word that comes from God (Matthew 4:4). It would seem that God is trying to get us to diligently examine exactly what He says to learn what Peter called “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Words of eternal life! Should we not love to dig deeply into what God says and how He says it that we might appreciate His rich lessons? Consider one such example:

On Guard!

In fencing (the sword fighting kind) there is a French term, en garde, that serves as a warning to prepare to defend yourself. It translates very well to the English language as on guard.

In the New Testament, there is a similar word that the Holy Spirit uses some two dozen times with a very similar meaning. As a military term, it carries the sense of urgency in paying attention or being alert to deadly threats with the understanding that failure means certain death. The lessons that God uses it for are well worth examining and heeding.

In the Gospels, the word is used by Jesus to warn the disciples especially about the dangers of the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees and other false teachers (cf. Matthew 7:15; 16:6, 11). The grave danger of false prophets or teachers is obvious when you see God comparing the situation to a soldier guarding dangerous prisoners or on watch while at war.

In a beautifully positive sense, Lydia is described as having her heart opened by the Lord to respond (literally, be on guard) to the words spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). Certainly, this is an important way for us to be on guard to the truth of God’s word, too!

The lesson is similar to how Paul would some years later remind Timothy of the importance of devoting himself, paying attention to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). Here again the actual word used is the be on guard term. Clearly,  your attention to reading God’s word as part of our worship together is as important as a soldier being watchful in hostile territory.

Again, the urgency is obvious when Paul warned the Ephesian elders to “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). We too must be “on guard” for both ourselves and those souls that the Lord entrusts to our care.

Failure to be on guard can also be subtle in that it causes us to gradually drift away from the truth (Hebrews 2:1). Thus Peter urges us to keep paying attention to guarding until the time when Jesus comes again (2 Peter 1:19).

The real question is: Are we truly on guard with our Lord for the truth of His word and for that which is right before God?

Knowing the threats and dangers we face in this world and knowing the power of Satan… are you ready at all times. Now is the time to be… en garde!

— Lester P. Bagley