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

 

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9/24/17 ~ Concentrate Me, Lord

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingSome years ago I was talking to a young person about the concept of God making us holy. Misunderstanding the word “consecrate” they replied that they understood the idea that God was concentrating us.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes our young people better understand and express difficult lessons? Let’s dig a little deeper into those words.

Concentrate Me, Lord

The Old Testament several times uses the word “consecrate” to describe the procedure of making the priests ready for their service to God (cf. Exodus 30:30; 32:28-29). The word comes from the concept of “cut off” to imply that those that serve the Lord are completely set aside to that task. They were not to be like other people but rather holy to the Lord.

Most of us are perhaps more familiar with the word concentrate. Take concentrated orange juice for example. You understand what it is. Fresh orange juice has most of the water removed (that’s why you add water to re-constitute it!) and you are left with very strong, thick, pure orange flavor and solids (vitamins, minerals, pulp, etc.) that make up orange juice.

Now, put that in a spiritual perspective. If we allow God to distill us, remove the things that make us impure then we are left with the most Christlike parts.

Consider James’ recommendation: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4) Isn’t that God concentrating and consecrating us?

Or Paul’s thought: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:3-4). God has chosen us to be concentrated, holy and like Him.

That’s exactly how God views the church, the bride of Christ: So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:26-27). Set apart, distilled down to be pure essence of godliness.

Peter advises us to: Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “you shall be Holy, for I am Holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16)

Do you see the point? We have to be changed from that old person of sin, selfishness and ignorance into the holy people of God’s own family. Our consecration, being made holy by our holy God boils us down, distills us into a concentrated form that is more powerful and more precious than anything we could otherwise be.

I’m often amused at the degree of nonsense that many people will believe. You can find great discussions about why concentrates like orange juice are bad, evil, wicked and unhealthy. In reality, the ONLY difference is that the water is removed and EVERYTHING else is still there.

Likewise, it is often amusing that we forget that CONSECRATION in a Christian is just removing the ungodly parts. The result in our lives is that ALL the godly, useful, spiritual parts are still there. They are just stronger for having less of the unspiritual mixed in with them. We are CONCENTRATED with Christ for God’s use!

We need to ask ourselves what we really are. Do we still retain the contaminants of the world? Or are we allowing God to change us into the consecrated, holy, concentrated, pure body of Christ that we are called to be?

— 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

8/20/17 ~ 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

6/25/17 ~ Watch Your Lips

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingOur Vacation Bible School was a great week. Our teachers did a wonderful job of presenting lessons from God’s word and our students had a good time learning about God’s power. The hard part, as we all know, is to continue both the interest in God’s word and the excitement of serving the Savior.

Every honest child of God knows the struggles, the challenges of keeping our faith, our hope, our joy alive and active in serving the Lord. And speaking of challenges, here’s a reminder of our practical practice from one of our children’s songs for us all to think about and work on:

Watch Your Lips…

“…For the Father up above is looking down in love, Watch your lips, Watch your lips, What they say.” Remember that children’s song? It’s as good a reminder to us as it is to our children: As Christians, we must constantly practice our Christianity.

Most parents have had the experience of hearing their children learn “words” from some playmate or school friend. Christian parents hasten to explain to their children that “we” don’t talk like that.

We as Christians (parents or not) have a grave responsibility to “watch our lips.” We live in a world that says, “You have a right to your feelings and a right to express those feelings.” God disagrees!

Read Ephesians chapters four and five and you will see what I mean. Paul says that your old, corrupt self is laid aside (4:22) and, as Christians, we are a new self with renewed spirit; we are like God (4:23-24). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such as is good for edification according to the need, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29).

Surprise! This is not about just cursing and swearing. (We DO need to keep reminding ourselves frequently about our “bad language,” though, don’t we? How many times each day do you hear or say something that brings disrespect to the name of the Lord? To be blunt about it, how many OMGs and similar words do you use each day?)

We must do better if we truly love the Lord! As Christians, we are to guard each and every word that comes from our mouth. Now that’s a hard challenge! (Remember James 3:1-10?)

Christianity a hard challenge? Haven’t I heard that becoming a Christian was so easy anyone could do it? What is easily understood, may well be difficult to practice. Many things (perhaps your job?) take only a short time to explain, but a lifetime to master. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to describe what you want and how challenging it is to actually do it? If Christian living and entering heaven were easy, everyone would do it! But, like all really worthwhile professions (that’s what Paul calls our Christianity in Ephesians 4:1), it takes a lifetime of hard work to master. Need more challenges?

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But do not let immorality or any impurity [emphasis added] or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (5:1-3).

Now there’s a professional challenge worthy of heaven. Let’s take up that challenge together, shall we?

— Lester P. Bagley

6/11/17 ~ Look Around, Act, and React

wings-of-timeHave you ever wondered why so many churches are relatively inactive out in the world? Perhaps we have overlooked something: Inactivity is what we in our classrooms were taught years ago and what we, in turn, teach when we become the teachers ourselves in the next generation. How?

 We teach by our actions that Christianity is (1) going to worship services, (2) listening, (3) discussing, (4) going home. For all the world knows, they see us entering a building and coming out again; and that’s the end of that! We are not any different and they are not any different. No wonder people of the world think Christianity is boring. If that is all we do, then it is.  But it doesn’t have to be.

 Studying alone is not Christianity ~ never was and never will be. Faith alone is not Christianity either. They are both dead by themselves (James 2:17). Christian worship services are spiritual feasts where we eat of the bread of life. But if all we do is eat with no exercise, we get spiritually fat and lazy. Now, who wants that? No one, really, of course.

RacineBuilding The purpose of the worship assemblies is specifically spelled out in Hebrews 10. It is ironic how we use the first half of verse 25 by itself to reprimand those who do not attend all our worship gatherings when they could if they wanted to. By putting this with the rest of verse 25 we condemn many so-called “active” Christians also who are missing the whole purpose of the assemblies. Notice:

 [WHO?] Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. [WHAT?] Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. [WHEN/HOW?]  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another ~ and all the more as you see the Day approaching. [WHY?] If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

 Let us show each other how to love and be filled with good works, and then encourage each other to do them. Otherwise, we sin willfully; there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sins but rather a terrifying judgment. Remember, the devils know all about God and believe and tremble (James 2:19), and it does not benefit them anything. Let us put behind us always being a learner by just “being there every time the doors are open;” for that only makes us a hearer of the word and not a doer…like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was (James 1:23,24).

 Do not misunderstand. Being at the worship services and Bible classes is extremely important and should not be minimized for one moment. In fact, Hebrews 10 states that we should assemble ourselves together “all the more” as we see the day of judgment approaching. Actually, the early Christians met daily (Acts 2:46). But as the old popular song asks, “Is that all there is?” No, of course not.    

 As important as these times of study and worship are, as important as eating is, this is only the beginning, not the end in itself. This provides the spiritual bread of life so we can go out with spiritual energy and be able to do our Christian daily works. In fact, it creates a cycle. The more Christian works we do, the more spiritual food we need, the more we want to attend Christian assemblies so we can get more spiritual food to go out and do more work.

 Actually, once you become vitally involved with daily Christian works, the worship hours will develop a new meaning to you. Suddenly you will realize that it does not matter that much if the song leader drags the songs, the Bible reader stumbles over a word or two, the preacher preaches the same sermon again. For while you are doing all your Christian works during the week, you are loving in action, you are showing people God (who is Love), you are Love’s ambassador. Thus you learn to love your Christian brothers and sisters so much that you do not even realize they are not perfect. 1 Corinthians 13:5 states that love is not provoked by the weaknesses of others, or by anything else. Love does not notice, but prevails.

 Out in the world day by day you will be loving others so much that you will be overwhelmed by the tremendous capacity of love you feel from God through those around you. And you will want to adore and sing praises to him and thank him, and learn more and more about him all the time ~ all the more as you see the day approaching. It will no longer be a matter of HAVING to go to worship, but LOOKING FORWARD to going because your very heart would burst if you could not.

 In the Old Testament, sacrifice was the center of worship. In the New Testament era sacrifice is still the center of worship. Hebrews 13:15,16 states, Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Not only do we sacrifice the fruit of our lips in worship, but also the incense of prayer (Revelation 8:4) and the incense of giving (Philippians 4:15,18).

 Perhaps you do not need any encouraging to do or keep up your good works; but maybe those others who do need it will be there at the assembly waiting for you to come and encourage them. On the other hand, there will be times when you will be needing encouragement; this happens to everyone. According to Hebrews 10:25, we encourage one another when we assemble together. We must never let the other person down. That is God’s plan, God’s way.

 The worship period is only the beginning of our worship, the beginning of our service. In the worship assembly, we offer the sacrifice of our lips, our ears, and our minds. Notice carefully Romans 12:1. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God ~ which is your spiritual worship. The King James Version states that it is your reasonable service. It is only reasonable to expect a Christian to be full of good works and to encourage others to be. That is the fulfillment of worship to God.

Matthew 7:16,20 both quote Jesus as saying, By their fruits you will recognize them. John 15:16 recalls Jesus explaining to his disciples, I chose you to go and bear fruit ~ fruit that will last. Romans 7:4 tells us what our purpose in life is once we are born anew as Christians. So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

 Are you bearing fruit? Are you a Christian in every way? Do you claim to be Christ-like? Jesus said in John 15:5, I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. Are you apart from Jesus? Have you been doing nothing? Jesus went on to warn in verse 6, If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. Jesus said we must bring forth fruit. He commanded it.

Let us not be one of those to whom he said, And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I say? Matthew 7:21 gives this warning: Not everyone who says to me, “Lord!” “Lord!” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

 We often use the above verses to illustrate that, if some religious groups do not organize themselves according to the instructions in the Bible, do not become Christians according to the Bible, and do not hold worship services according to the examples of the Bible, they should question their salvation.

 This may be true. But we must not forget that it applies just as strongly to those who call out, “Lord!” yet do not go into the world around them and bring forth some fruit. 1 John 3:18 gives this gentle warning, Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth

 Today, dare to put your Christianity in to practice. Today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and every day until it has spanned the rest of your life. Make the decision for today, and for tomorrow’s today, one day at a time. You will soon find that such practice becomes a driving force in your life which you cannot stop. You will become addicted to it! 1 Corinthians 16:15 speaks of a family who had Addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints (KJV). Yes, this can happen to you, and It isn’t that hard to do.

 How can you get started if you have not been used to doing daily good works and bringing forth these fruits? Again, go back to Hebrews 10:22-27. Assemble yourself more and more with other Christians so you may give and receive encouragement. This is the first vital step. Your Bible classes and worship services are two forms of assembling.

 Other forms of assembling include setting aside one or two days a week to get with someone you can work with and spend time visiting people. Have class projects, and take some of the work home with you to do before the next class time. Have a quiet time set aside each day at home for private works if not employed outside your home.

 Try to do as much as possible by twos or more. We need each other. This will help you not put things off you know you should be doing and deep down really do want to do. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins James 4:17). Jesus recommended it. The disciples practiced it. This is God’s wisdom. Do not depend on yourself alone. The early Christians were always together doing some sort of good work. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46,47).

 You can’t miss it! If you are daily teaching and doing good works with each other, there will be many conversions to Christ, for people will notice the church (kingdom of Christians) think favorably of it, and want to be a part of it so they may have the happiness and peace you have. That’s how it works. It did in the first century; it does now.

 Even the contribution at your congregation will go up automatically, spontaneously. Not because someone told you and the other Christians to, but because you will be so involved in good works, you will see more and more needs even in a monetary form. You will want to give so you through your money, as well as time, will be able to accomplish those good works.

 We too often think of giving as something we have to do or the preacher will harass us. (Sometimes, though, if a preacher preaches on it twice a year, we think of it as harassing. Guilty consciences?) After you get to work, you no longer think of giving as putting some money in a cold impersonal plate, and it going to pay for just the building, the utilities, salaries, and class books. Your money will be doing many good works and you will be glad.

 Giving of our money is just one part of the giving and seed planting involved in your Christian life.

 Remember, you are to offer your body as a living sacrifice. Everything you give is just a part of that sacrifice. And the more of one thing a person gives – such as time – the more of other things that person wants to give. Our whole way of thinking changes.

 Every time you buy something, you will catch yourself thinking, “How can I use this for God?” After all, everything we have is God’s anyway (James 1:17). You will find you can use your new house to entertain in. You can use your new stove to new refrigerator for cold drinks, storing fruits, vegetables, etc. to share with those you enjoy being with and enjoy helping. You can use your new car to pick up people to go to Bible class, to take to the doctor, to take shopping, etc. When you get new clothes, you can give your outgrown ones to someone who needs them. When your children buy new toys, they can share them with their friends. And, of course, everything we have been blessed with through the years -not necessarily recently ~ we can share with others. After all, God is sharing them with us!

 In another sense, Jesus said in Matthew 25:34-40: Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of these brethren of mine, you did for me.”

 In the midst of beginning your new life of service, you must be aware of subtle and not-so-subtle forces to stop you. There will always be those weak Christians who may criticize you for all your good works. Or shall we call it persecution? They may claim all kinds of things about your motives for doing the good works. They might even make up a few things about you that are false. As hard as it is to say – it is harder even to do – you must never let this discourage you and stop you. Instead, turn it around and use it as a spiritual thermometer to see how well you are doing as a Christian. Remember, the more good David did to Saul, the more Saul hated him and tried to kill him. And the more good Jesus did, the more the “faith-only” religious people hated him and tried to kill him.

 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:10-13a). See there? It’s your thermometer. Worldly Christians or weak Christians (same thing) certainly criticize you. The more you work, the more Satan will try to get you to stop – even through your own friends and family.

 Perhaps it is that those who shout the loudest are those who deep down envy you the most. so take note of those people. Get better acquainted with them, and invite them to do some of these Christian works with you. After awhile, they will probably say that you have changed and aren’t so overbearing and all those other things they perhaps used to call you. Actually, what it really will be is that they will have changed and will see you now through the eyes of love and brotherliness, a fellow worker. This has happened over and over through the history of the world, and is probably the best way to get rid of a critic ~ make them a participant.

 Lastly, be careful of your motives. At first your motives to do good works will be good, but as more and more people begin to condemn or praise you for doing them (they will do both), your motives may change you into being a people pleaser rather than a God pleaser. Always keep in mind 1 Corinthians 13:3: If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 Whenever you go out to do a good work, refer to yourself as so-and-so from the church or the body of Christ. Your motives will not be as easily misunderstood, and you will always be reminding even yourself of your purpose in doing these things. Christ is your purpose. You are a fellow worker with him (2 Corinthians 6:1). By glorifying his church, you will be glorifying Christ, the Head. And this is what you want above all else on earth.

 Now take the challenge! Of course you can do it! 

 

6/4/17 ~ Boldness

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuilding“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” (Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh)

Those are touching and thoughtful words from a Disney classic but there is also a spiritual lesson worth remembering: God’s people are braver and stronger than anyone that does not belong to God… and if we keep this in mind we will certainly be smarter than those outside of Christ!

Boldness

Should we as Christians be bold or humble? I’m not sure why this puzzles some Christians because the correct answer according to God’s word is both!

Unfortunately, we sometimes equate humility with weakness. While we understand that Jesus was meek and humble we also know that He was never weak, He never watered down the truth, never failed to stand up for what was right, never failed to speak the truth.

Now certainly we can be boldly wrong. There are several ways that we can be aggressive, brazen or presumptuous as the negative or wrong way to behave. But that should never deter us from what is essential as a holy boldness that God demands of His people.

The Greek word used in the New Testament for this positive, confidence is based on what is right or holy boldness is parrēsia. To appreciate the importance and God’s lesson for this attitude, let’s look at how the Holy Spirit uses the term.

On the day of Pentecost Peter announced that he could boldly (or confidently in many translations and freely in the KJV) state that David died and was buried (Acts 2:29). Peter could assert this without fear of being wrong and even reminds the audience that David’s tomb is still there to see for proof.

As the early church continued to grow that confidence or boldness was seen as both a sign of knowing Jesus (Acts 4:13) and something worth praying for that they might continue to exhibit it (Acts 4:29). When challenging events threatened the saints their prayers were answered by the Holy Spirit filling them with yet more holy boldness (Acts 4:31).

As years passed the Apostle Paul would find himself imprisoned in Rome and yet still teaching and preaching with boldness and confidence (Acts 28:31).
In each case the word used is parrēsia, that holy boldness that belongs to those who speak for and serve the Lord!

As the church grew and spread the New Testament writers continued to use this term to encourage and challenge them.

To the Corinthians Paul reminds Christians of their great holy boldness in speaking God’s word. We, unlike Moses with the fading glory of God, continue to use God’s boldness in what we say (2 Corinthians 3:12). Later Paul would speak of boldness in his fellow saints as they serve the Lord together (2 Corinthians 7:4).

The Ephesians were reminded that our holy boldness and confidence is through faith in and gives us access to our God (Ephesians 3:12). Later Paul asks for prayers on his behalf that he might continue to preach the gospel with that same holy boldness (Ephesians 6:19 and a similar request to other Christians in Philippians 1:20).

Paul, in writing to Timothy about those that served well as deacons, says they gain great boldness in the faith (1 Timothy 3:13). And so great was Paul’s boldness that he could have even ordered Philemon to do what is right (Philemon 8).

The Hebrew writer repeatedly challenges Christians to hold on to their holy boldness (Hebrews 3:6) and use it to draw near to the throne of grace for our needed help (Hebrew 4:16). It is that very boldness that allows us to enter the holy place through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19) and we cannot afford to throw it away with our reward (Hebrews 10:35).

Likewise, the Apostle John calls us to live in Christ now that we might have that holy boldness to welcome His return (1 John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17). It is the secret ingredient that brings us a resplendent “Yes” answer to our prayers and requests of our Heavenly Father (1 John 5:14).

Certainly, we need to always be humble as God’s ambassadors to a world that is lost in sin. At the same time, we must remember who we are in God’s eyes and boldly serve Him and share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are, after all, those who are entrusted with the power (check out some of Paul’s great lessons about that!) and grace of Almighty God.
Do we perhaps fail to serve God as we should because we mistakenly leave out our holy boldness? Never forget that your Savior gave His life for you to cleanse you from your sins. This is personal! This is His love, His gift and we must never hide it, never be ashamed of it, never fail to boldly go forth to serve our God and King!

— 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

Do and Do-Not-Do

From the Preacher’s Pen… 

RacineBuildingDo you actually belong to God? It’s easy to claim anything you want, but others will eventually see through the false claims and recognize the fakes, the frauds that are out there.

Do you actually belong to God? It’s easy to claim anything you want, but others will eventually see through the false claims and recognize the fakes, the frauds that are out there.

So how do we tell? God has a very simple standard: Those that actually know and do His will belong to God. Those that fraudulently teach, misrepresent the truth and do something that is not God’s will do not belong to Him and should never be listened to or fellowshipped.

Consider this lesson a bit further:

Do and Do-Not-Do

One of the earliest lessons that we learn as human beings involves right and wrong; things we do and things that we should not do.

Sometimes those lessons are learned by making mistakes such as when we burn ourselves on a hot stove. Other times we can learn those lessons by listening to instructions and obeying them. And sometimes we just fail to learn at all and end up making the same mistake over and over again.

The Apostle John as an elderly preacher had both learned that lesson himself and taught the same to literally generations of Christians. Earlier in his life, as one of the “Sons of Thunder,” he was anxious to call fire from heaven to destroy a city (Luke 9:54). But with years came knowledge and as he writes the letter of 1 John to younger Christians he repeatedly advises them of the importance of love.

Unlike many people, John (and God, too!) understands that love, real love involves teaching obedience. Because that is true we find that while 1 John contains some 46 references to love, the letter also contains a multitude of direct references (some 50) to obedience, what to do and what not to do.

Let’s consider a few of those lessons: John begins (1 John 1:6) with the blunt reminder: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” God is never going to be fooled by what we claim when it is repudiated by how we act. The word that many versions translate as “practice” is actually the verb “to do.” So claiming to be a child of God (have fellowship with Him) and yet failing to walk in the light means that we are failures. As we fail to actually do God’s will we fail to actually be God’s family.

In case we missed that point John repeats it in 1 John 2:4: “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Say whatever you want, claim whatever you desire but without obedience to God, actually doing His will, you are nothing but a liar.

So how much failure can we “get away with?” That is the wrong question and God’s answer is none! In Scripture, the very concept of “what can I get away with” is always contrary to obedience. The very idea of “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7) contains the attitude, the desire, to do only what is right and never what we can get away with.

Just in case we missed that point, John underlines it with several specifics that we might try to get away with. Hating our brother or sister is defined as “walking in darkness” (1 John 2:11). Loving the world or the things in/of the world is to miss out on God’s love (1 John 2:15)!

In some ways, the most severe criticism from God comes in 1 John 2:21. With God’s word as our guide, we cannot claim ignorance! We can never tell God, “I didn’t know better.” If we fail to know the truth the fault is ours, not His. There is never any excuse for ignorance because it always means that we chose not to learn, not to obey.

Wait, can’t I just get away with doing a few things wrong? 1 John 3:10 points out that failure to do right, failure to practice or work at doing the right things is proof… proof that we are children of the Devil and not of God.

Well, I’m sure that I can find someone that believes and teaches that I can get away with what I want! Actually, you can! There are countless “teachers” and “preachers” out there that will tell you what you want to hear. So you really do NOT have to do all this hard work of knowing and doing right! Unfortunately, for those that wish to live this way John labels their teachers as false prophets that we should never listen to, never believe (1 John 4:1).

One of the earliest lessons that we learn as human beings involves right and wrong; things we do and things that we should not do.

If we would be family members of the King of Kings, if we would actually belong to the Royal Priesthood of God we must actually do the things He calls us to do. In spite of all the religious claims out there, we must get it right and do only what is God’s will or else we are wrong (read 1 John 5:12).

In the end, we only fool ourselves when we fail to truly know and do God’s will.

— Lester P. Bagley