9/16/18 ~ Serious Bible Study

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the greatest failures of many so-called Christians is their failure to seriously read and study God’s word. A number of preachers ask how many have read their Bibles daily at the beginning of their sermons. Perhaps an even more pointed question would involve how many actually study and understand God’s word.

Bible Study: The Text Matters!

Understanding what you read, just like the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8:26-39, is VITAL to our salvation. And an important place to begin your reading is found in the front of most Bibles!

Since we read a translation made by fallible humans we are responsible to God for knowing the limits of their work. Don’t bother arguing with that since God never, ever promised that the denominational translators of any century and of any translation into any language would be inspired by God. If they were actually inspired by God they would have forsaken the erroneous teachings of their denomination!

All this leads us to a serious error intentionally promoted by the King James translators and perpetuated by most English translators since. The translators did NOT translate a word used by God in the same way every time God says it. What they did do is to make the Bible more interesting (their concept) to read by varying the words in the original inspired text, or by adding words or thoughts to better explain the original meaning. That goal, that attitude (actually stated in the original preface of the KJV translators to the reader) can seriously obstruct and obscure what God is saying and makes at least part of the translation a commentary rather than an accurate copy of the text.

Difficulties in Translating Word for Word

Now, to be fair, it must be noted that ALL translations into ANY language have some difficulties in exactly translating every word and/or thought from the original texts. Three examples illustrate this difficulty and help us appreciate the difficulties involved in translating the Bible:

First, the word order is often different with different languages. Thus a statement that is very clear in the original requires some modification (or even the addition of some words) to convey the same meaning in the translation. For example: John 1:1 in a word–for–word translation ends with the phrase and God was the Word. But the subject has the article and the predicate does not, thus the English meaning is the Word was God.

Also, notice a word-for-word translation of Acts 2:36 would say: Assuredly, therefore, let know all [the] house of Israel that both Lord him and Christ made God, this Jesus whom you crucified. The meaning is NOT that Christ made God but rather that God designated Jesus as THE one; both sovereign, ultimate or supreme ruler and savior, messiah, anointed one.

Second, sometimes a literal translation makes no sense to someone outside the original culture. For example, The philosophers in Athens asked about Paul, “What would this spermologos [literally ‘seed–picker’] say?” The meaning of their sarcastic term used in the query in modern English is better rendered as “babbler” or “gossiper” (Acts 17:18), and even then we may be missing the force of the insult.

Third, one cannot always translate the same word uniformly in each occurrence. For example, the Greek word splanchnon literally means “intestines, bowels, entrails.” Acts 1:18 is easily understood when it says the body of Judas fell and “his bowels gushed out.” But Philippians 1:8 talks of Paul longing for you “in the bowels of Christ.” Only when we understand that the Greeks used splanchnon for the seat of the emotions (the heart to English speaking peoples) can we really translate the meaning of the words into English.

The choices that translators use to move from one language to another can help or hinder our understanding of the inspired writer’s words. And all this reminds us of the importance of continued diligent study and digging into God’s word rather than just a quick and simplistic reading!

Can We Trust the Bible?

If the text as conveyed by God Himself, and our making a great effort to study and understand exactly what the Holy Spirit said is so important, then the real question becomes can we trust our Bibles? Let’s look at a few facts about the text itself.

People questioning the accuracy of the New Testament may quote a figure of some 200,000 errors in the text. This large number is obtained by counting all the variations in all of the manuscripts. Thus, if a given word is misspelled in 4,000 different manuscripts, it counts as 4,000 “errors.” In reality, it was only one slight error that was copied 4,000 times!

Such error counting is a ridiculous attempt to undermine our faith in the Word of God. Indeed, our large number of “errors” is in direct proportion to our large number of manuscripts and, in the end, increases (not decreases) our certainty of what the New Testament says. Even a brief examination of a work such as Metzger’s A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament shows that we have 100% certainty of every doctrine and major teaching and, what’s more, nearly that same degree of certainty of the minutest details of the entire text of God’s Word!

Accuracy? The total textual variations (does not include such things as Greek vs Roman spelling of names, etc. which are of no consequence) exist for only 40 lines out of about 20,000 lines (about 400 words). None affecting any doctrine or teaching not duplicated elsewhere.

The facts say that God has delivered His inspired word to us. It is there for us to learn from and obey. But, and this is the important lesson, we must study and work to understand and handle correctly what God has said. No simple, easy solution without diligent effort will substitute. The question for us is…

What do we do with it?

Do we read our Bibles to begin with? Do we go to our Bible to learn God’s will for us? Do we accept what God says and obey Him? Or do we learn just enough “proof texts” to get by? Do we abide in the word or are we just passing through?

If we DO diligently read our Bibles do we understand it? Apparently from the example of that man of Ethiopia some more serious effort for learning and study is necessary.

If that is true (and God says it is!) then how serious is our study? Could the Ethiopian have learned as much studying with, say, one of the Sadducees? If not, how do we ever imagine that some denominational false teacher is just as good as a New Testament believing and obeying Christian teacher?

If we are diligent, conscientious, hard-working students of God’s word like Paul challenged Timothy to be (2 Timothy 2:15), then we are right with God. Anything less means that we stand before God as embarrassed by our failure.

Reading and seriously studying your Bible, God’s inspired word, CANNOT be done by attending one or two Bible studies a week. It cannot be achieved by briefly remembering your favorite verse or letting your Bible fall open to read an occasional verse.

The question comes from God: Are you seriously in the Word, studying, learning and talking with the author (in prayer to God) every day? If not, your Heavenly Father is offended so don’t bother being offended at the question. Why not begin seriously reading and studying God’s word today?

— Lester P. Bagley

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9/2/18 ~ Who Will Go?

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From the Preacher’s Pen… One of the important lessons that parents are supposed to teach their children is to grow up, get a job and stand on your own two feet. If we fail in teaching them to mature and be able to go out on their own, we have failed them in the worst possible way as they will never attain that independence necessary to survive in this world.

In much the same way God teaches us to do likewise. Paul explained this concept to Timothy this way: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:1-2)

Because this is true, evangelism or sharing the Good News of Jesus is the defining characteristic of every mature Christian. God should never have to ask the question…

Who Will Go?

While many of the prophets were given glimpses of the coming of the great King and His Kingdom, few were shown as much detail as the prophet Isaiah. Like the other messianic prophets, Isaiah would be shown practical comparisons between the people and the events of his day and the fulfillment of those lessons in Christ. Consider one such lesson of Isaiah 6:1-11:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. (2) Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. (3) And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” (4) And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. (5) Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

(6) Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. (7) He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (8) Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

(9) He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ (10) Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.”

(11) Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate.

Isaiah both learned and taught us several lessons that day. First, when we really begin to comprehend who God is and compare that to who we are we are not just in awe, but we are humbled. Our failure and unworthiness before the Lord leave us without hope.

Second, it is the Lord who extends the offer of salvation to us. Forgiveness of sins seems so trivial until we measure it to with eternity. Only God can change eternal death as our earned wage (Romans 6:23) into eternal life.

Third, while God many times uses the unrighteous to accomplish His will, the job of sharing the Gospel is reserved for the cleansed, the saved. No one else can carry the truth but God’s own people (note 1 Corinthians 1:21).

Fourth, for those unwilling to be saved, God will utterly reject them and even help them to be lost. As severe as this sounds, God repeats the same lesson today. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 and realize that God means what He says!

Fifth, how long will God let this all go on? Isaiah shows the negative side of the answer: until all the lost that want to be lost have lost everything. The Apostle Peter would remind us of the positive side of that same answer in 2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Jesus, in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, would complete the circle. No one can carry the truth of salvation but the saved! The Apostles were to go proclaim the message, to teach and then to baptize those who would accept the gift of forgiveness of sin. Then the forgiven are to be taught everything that their teachers knew; they are to be trained to do the same that others may hear and live.

So, who will go? Only the saved! Only those that understand and appreciate the gift will seek others to share in it.

The lost are going to reject God, fail God and keep on being the losers that they have chosen to be. They will never share the Good News because they are ignorant and proud of it.

The question for us is simple: Which one are you? Who will go?

— Lester P. Bagley

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8/26/18 ~ Misuse of the Bible

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Have you ever noticed and read those warning labels on things? There is a national center for poison control that tells people what to do if they’ve not read or obeyed the poison warning labels. Likewise, there is a center known as CHEMTREC that handles emergency information for hazardous materials in general. Unless you are a parent, a person who fails to read warning labels or a HAZMAT specialist you may not show much concern for such labels.

While your Bible may not have a big warning label on the outside, it does have a lot of warning labels inside. Why? Like all those other warnings one of the primary reasons is to help us avoid…

Misuse of the Bible

Hopefully, we appreciate the danger of NOT using the Bible. If we make ourselves God and feel we have the right to make the rules to live by we become nothing less than a fool (Proverbs 12:15). When God’s people tried it (Deuteronomy 12:8) God told them that it was forbidden. Sadly, years later during the time of the Judges, it became the norm, the standard of failure by which God’s people were known (Judges 17:6 and 21:25).

When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, everyone is wrong. Okay, so ignoring the Bible, ignoring God’s word is always wrong, but what if we just misuse or twist or pervert something God says. Is that also wrong?

Peter gave some instructions about such things in 2 Peter 3:14-18: (14) Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, (15) and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, (16) as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (17) You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, (18) but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

From the beginnings of the New Testament church, some people have attempted to twist what God says into their own way. In changing what God says we fail the tests of peace, spotlessness, and blamelessness.

Think about that for a moment. In trying to hold fast to the truth that God has revealed we are often accused of being the ones who disrupt the “peace” in not accepting what is wrong. Yet God says just the opposite! Those who fail to hold fast to God’s way upset God’s peace and are described by God as ignorant, unstable and headed for destruction. That really does NOT sound like a good alternative!

God’s word is our only real authority. Paul reminded Timothy: (15) and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (16) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (17) so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

Once again it is only in God’s word that we find wisdom and salvation. Scripture is what is both inspired by God and useful for us in every way.

Consider a further statement from Peter: (19) So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (20) But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, (21) for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

Pay attention! Make certain that you follow what is right by God’s definition! Peter’s statement that no prophecy, no Scripture is a matter of singular interpretation actually implies two points. First, you are not allowed to interpret what God says in the way you want! The old accusation of, “That’s just the way YOU see it but I see it in my own way” is nonsense. There is a right way to understand what God says without putting our own spin on it! Second, no Scripture is to be spun and “interpreted” out of the context of the whole of God’s word. Making God contradict Himself or finding your favorite Scripture to believe in while ignoring the rest is mishandling God’s word!

Distortion of what God says has long been a popular technique of Satan. Remember what he did with God’s words to Eve in the Garden of Eden? Doing this is just as dangerous as ignoring God’s word completely.

God’s lesson to us is to remember that many people twist the Scriptures to make them fit some opinion, some idea, some doctrine of their own. After all, making something sound Biblical is the basis of most false and erroneous teaching. Jesus quoted Isaiah as evident of the ongoing truth that: (8) This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. (9) But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (Matthew 15:8-9)

While some seek to pervert, misapply or mis-teach what God says, others would claim to have received a new revelation, a new command from God. Again, this is something that God anticipated and forbids. Deuteronomy 4:2 is a direct warning against this: You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

Proverbs 30:6 provides a similar reminder while many of the Old Testament prophets pronounced God’s curses on those who falsely claimed to speak for the Lord. In much the same way, it seems appropriate that the final book of the New Testament would conclude with a similar warning: (18) I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; (19) and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19). Given that this has always been God’s position on changing His words, the prophetic warnings seem to apply to all of the Bible.

One final case should be considered. What about a new revelation, a new prophet, a new way of salvation? Couldn’t God make another change? Actually, God has already addressed that question. The New Testament refers to this current time of Christ’s law as the LAST days. This is the end, the final plan of God. The Hebrew writer says it like this: (1) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (2) in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).

So, NO, there is no other way to see it. There is no other way to obey, please and serve God and there never will be another way for people here on this earth. We either do it God’s way, see things the way He says to see them or we are wrong.

Our faithfulness is measured by our obedience to God’s word without any room for our own opinions. Failure to believe and follow this pattern results in us being carried away by error, losing our faithfulness and thus our salvation. Don’t be a loser and misuse or mishandle God’s word!

— Lester P. Bagley

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4/22/18 ~ Spiritual Ugliness

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

Spiritual Ugliness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would say it like this: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/25/18 ~ Playing Legal Games With God

 

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

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

Playing Legal Games with God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • premeditated
  • contempt
  • arrogance
  • willful
  • flagrant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/18/18 ~ Drawing Near to God

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

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

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

Drawing Near to God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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2/4/18 ~ Traditions, Customs, Habits – Part II

 

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Last week we began a look at God’s view of traditions, customs and habits. We found that God objects to His people serving Him without intentional thought or consideration of what they are doing. There is no accidental faithfulness! Habits may help us head in the right direction, but if we forget why we are serving the Lord or do them for the wrong reason, it becomes a bad habit.

Inventing our own traditions that contradict God’s will or imitating the wrong customs of false teachers is considered by God as a direct path away from Him. We cannot use the world’s “good ideas” to improve on what God wants us to do.

Consider a bit more of God’s view of this lesson and some important positive lessons for us about…

Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 2

Some of the things we do, the habits or customs we keep, have no real right or wrong value. They are just part of our family or cultural tradition, the norm. But some of the seemingly common traditions, customs, and habits in Jesus’ own life are much more important for us to imitate. They help us realize what it truly means to be a part of God’s family.

Consider some of Jesus’ traditions, customs, habits and the positive lessons for us:

Mark 10:1: And rising up, He went from there to the region of Judea, and beyond the Jordan; and crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. What a powerful lesson in evangelism! Is it normal and habitual for us to share the Good News?

Luke 2:27: And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law. The fact that God’s Law demands our worship, obedience, and service doesn’t make it easy or convenient. We are the ones responsible for making it a habit of our’s to do the right thing.

Luke 2:42: And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast. Of all the lessons that we can teach our children, none is better than doing what is right together as a family.

Luke 4:16: And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. Many years ago a friend commented that he envied me growing up in a faithful family simply because he had no tradition of obeying and serving God in his early life. And yet we all work hard to learn and keep customs that are important to us! How important is your faithful service to God? Important enough to work hard at making it a habit?

Luke 22:39: And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. Jesus found strength in regularly taking time out to pray, to cultivate holiness. How often do we take time to be holy?

Jesus also found Himself wrongly criticized for his attitude toward customs. In Acts 6:14 Stephen is rebuked: “for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” In reality, Jesus had said just the opposite! (Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”) While Jesus kept many traditions without criticizing them, He was also discerning enough to reject those that were meaningless (cf. Matthew 15:2).

Traditions, customs, habits can lead to good, positive religious practices:

Esther 9:27, 32: the Jews established and made a custom for themselves, and for their descendants, and for all those who allied themselves with them so that they should not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation, and according to their appointed time annually. (32) And the command of Esther established these customs for Purim, and it was written in the book.

The “unnamed feast” that Jesus attended in John chapter 5 appears to be Purim and, like so many other Old Testament events He would show that the great fulfillment of them was found in Him.

Luke 1:9 shows a time when God carefully used tradition to bring about fulfillment at exactly the right time. In this case, a priest “just happens” to be in the Temple to learn of God’s preparations for the coming of the Savior (according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense). A similar instance occurs in Luke 4:16 when Jesus reads the Sabbath reading at the beginning of His ministry… and it “just happens” to be fulfilled in Him!

Of course, you realize that there are no “just happens” with God and His purpose. Traditions, Godly traditions are part of God’s purpose to accomplish His will!

Traditions, customs, habits can have a positive context for our Christian practice:

Acts 17:2: And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 11:2: Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by a letter from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.

Hebrews 10:25: not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.

Once again we are reminded of the many good customs and traditions but also notice how the writer of Hebrews carefully reminds us of both good and bad habits. Let’s face it, according to God, there are some “traditions” that we as Christians should never forsake!

Are you spiritual enough to appreciate the fact that some customs are good, positive and right in God’s sight, and, just as important, that some are wrong?

May we never be found holding on to those things that are not good for our souls just because we’ve always done it that way. Likewise, may we never be found forsaking and making fun of those things that bring us closer to God.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us, Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

— Lester P. Bagley

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1/28/18 ~ Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 1

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Do you have any bad habits? I guess most of us do. It seems that in religious matters whenever we talk about habits, customs or traditions they are always bad. Perhaps that is just a bad habit?

In real life, we begin to appreciate the fact that many times those habits are not only good but actually things we work hard to develop! We teach our children to brush their teeth at regular times because we need to instill in them the good habits, the tradition of automatically doing the right thing!

Let’s consider a bit of God’s view of this important lesson:

Traditions, Customs, and Habits – Part 1

In so many jobs and hobbies in life, we work very hard to develop the right and good ways to do things. One such technique involves a subject known as “muscle memory.” Simply put, that involves practicing a skill until your automatic reaction is to do it the right way without consciously thinking about what you are doing.

A person skilled in missing or bending every nail that they hit with a hammer doesn’t have much future in carpentry! But with consistent practice, you can have that skill. At that point doing the right thing becomes a good habit.

God uses this same lesson for us in both positive and negative ways. Consider some of the bad or negative traditions, customs or habits of His people he has commented on:

Isaiah 29:13: Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” Doing the right things for God as His people is so important that God actually commanded us to teach these things to our children, to hand down to them the right traditions, the customs and habits that God wants us to have (cf. Deuteronomy 11:19). But as important as it is to DO the right things, we must also understand why we do it for it to be beneficial.

Leviticus 20:23: Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them. Learning to do all the wrong things is never going to help us. There is no competition for the best nail-bending carpenter!

Matthew 15:2-3, 6: “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” (3) And He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”… (6) he is not to honor his father or his mother. ‘And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.’” Traditions that complement obedience to God’s will are good. But those customs that lead us away from what is right are worse than useless!

Colossians 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Traditions that belong to the ideas, philosophies, or plans of people that lead us away from God’s will are always destructive and wrong!

What are some dangerous customs for Christians today? How should we go about avoiding these bad customs? Do you see how a tradition could appear good but really lead us away from or become a substitute for the truth?

Traditions, customs or habits can refer to ordinary cultural practices without regard to God’s Law:

Ruth 4:7: Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. Many things in God’s word are better understood and appreciated if we take the time to learn more about that world, it’s customs and culture. As with Psalm 23, we can easily completely miss God’s rich lessons if we fail to take the time to appreciate the traditions, customs and habits of the world where the lesson is set.

John 19:40: And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. An understanding of what this verse and others like it tell us in the context of the New Testament world would prevent people from believing in a hoax like the Shroud of Turin.

We all have them! What are some customs of your family that fit this category? Are there other good customs that you’ve seen in other families? How well do we do with the traditions of others that differ from us?

Okay, so we hopefully see a bit more importance in God’s lessons on traditions, customs, and habits. They are NOT always wrong. They CAN be very helpful to our understanding and next week we’ll see just how far God takes that important lesson for us.

— Lester P. Bagley

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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

 

8/12/17 ~ Just Who Are Your Spiritual Heroes?

From the Preacher’s Pen…

RacineBuildingWe live in a world that is so proud of perversion that it has made evil its hero. Sadly, for those that belong to the Lord, this has been the challenge throughout history. The hard part is to maintain our purity and faithfulness even as we are surrounded by the filth of sin.

Consider the reminder that we need every day, every moment of our lives here on this earth:

Where Do You Find Your Inspiration?
Who Are Your Spiritual Heroes?

Social media seems to be telling us a lot about our hearts! Frequently Christians post from websites whose very names brag about their disdain for God or are filled with curse words.

Yes, most of us are well aware of the depths of sin and depravity that are in this world because of Satan. We are probably aware of the filth in a cesspool, too. But why on earth anyone would want to take a bath in one and brag about it is more than a little perverse.
So, are you certain that as a Christian you want to be advertising that you, just like the rest of Satan’s followers, are filthy in thought, talk, and deed? Or are we actually called by God to come out of the world and not be like them?

Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “and do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you

And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)

In a similar vein, it is increasingly common for Christians to post regular quotes from various religious personalities.

Someone comments about the inspiring words of a former preacher who has renounced the teachings of Jesus. Another person brags about how wonderful it is to “fellowship” with a false teacher. And yet another finds their daily “inspirational quote of the day” in the writings of those false teachers that lead people away from God’s truth.

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. (3 John 11)

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (2 John 9-11)

Are you certain that the person you quote and admire actually is teaching the whole truth and counsel of God? Or are you, like God says, just participating in their evil deeds?
If you regularly draw your inspiration from pagans and false teachers what does that say about you and your heart?

Yes, I know that the Apostle Paul sometimes quoted secular or even pagan sources but it was always to make a point about God. And it always led to a lesson about God’s truth. A few moments spent in God’s word will remind you that these non-spiritual sources constitute the tiniest fraction of Paul’s lessons and were used only to address common thoughts before turning to God as the real authority.

Here’s a reminder from Jesus. It is not only a pointed lesson about the character of those we quote, but equally a lesson about what really resides in us!

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)

Be careful where you find your inspiration and what you advertise about yourself! Examine your heroes, examine your authorities, examine who inspires you to love and serve God.

But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

Make certain that all you say and do is fitting for a child of the King!

— Lester P. Bagley