Loving the Lord

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Have you ever been in love? Do you remember what it is like to be in love? One of the greatest difficulties for us as human beings is remembering to really keep our love alive and not grow tired of someone.

A simple illustration: The first time you held your newborn child, remember that feeling of love, that care and concern, that desire to protect and care for them? Now, fast forward six months. Check out the sleep-deprived parent of that same child with a cold and cutting their first tooth. The frustration at a given moment may well seem to overshadow the love you once felt.

The fact is, like the Apostle Paul said so well in 1 Corinthians 13, we must constantly remember what real love is and how it acts. So, let’s take a moment to reflect on God’s lesson about our love for Him:

Loving the Lord

Let’s begin with Romans 8:28 where Paul said, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Two things we must keep in mind here: First, God’s “good” is promised for those that love Him. Second, God defines loving Him as how we live in obedience to Him.

Without obedience, we don’t really love Him and we cannot expect His blessings. You can easily check that fact with John’s words of 1 John 5:2, By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and observe His commandments.

This has ALWAYS been God’s definition of really loving Him! Deuteronomy 6:5 states the basic standard: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

From that passage forward God corrects numerous misunderstandings. Deuteronomy 11:1 emphasizes keeping all of His requirements, statutes, ordinances, commandments. As Jesus reminded Satan (Matthew 4:4), every word of God is important!

In Deuteronomy 11:13 and 22 God reminds us that all our blessings are contingent on faithful love and service, our obedience to Him.

Deuteronomy 13:3 is one of the many times God underscores the reminder that false teachers are NOT to be followed. In fact, they are a test that God uses to find out if we really love Him!

To simplify all this, Deuteronomy 30:16 tells us that loving God to the point of total obedience is the absolute basis of all blessings and life. That’s actually the same concept as Paul stated in Romans 8:28.

The songs of God’s people carry the same lessons:

  • O love the Lord,
  • all you His godly ones!
  • The Lord preserves the faithful
  • and fully recompenses the proud doer.

(Psalm 31:23)

  • Hate evil, you who love the Lord,
  • who preserves the souls of His godly ones;
  • He delivers them from the hand of the wicked

(Psalm 97:10).

Just in case you’ve forgotten, Jesus also echoed that same great standard of loving God in Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27. Real love is, for God is the all-consuming passion of faithful service to our Lord.

Leave it to the Holy Spirit through Paul to state the boldly obvious negative: If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. The Lord has come! The Lord comes! (1 Corinthians 16:22) Consider for a moment the force of what Paul says there. Even as he pronounces a curse on those that do not love the Lord, he offers a double blessing that the Lord has already come and that He is coming again (the Aramaic term Paul uses translates to both meanings).

So, how’s your love? Are there difficult times? Certainly! Are there events that make you question your love? Things that make you question His love? We all face these challenges and it is worth remembering that Jesus did, too! But keeping the faith, truly loving the Lord our God and Savior means that we must also remember the whole story!

Yes, a parent of a six-month child with a cold that’s cutting teeth will certainly struggle. But we remind them, we remind ourselves of what love really means. And we keep on loving and caring for that child. We treasure the precious moments as they grow, even when they are a challenge to us. Why? Because that is love, real love!

Do you love the Lord? Are you aware of all He puts up with in our lives? And yet He goes on loving us, encouraging us, blessing us, patiently waiting for us to show our love for Him.

Do you love the Lord?

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/25/18 ~ I can sing of heaven

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Worship is about honoring our God, remembering His promises until our Savior comes again, teaching and encouraging one another. We see that principle in our singing, in the Lord’s Supper, in our prayers and in our reading and study of God’s word.

Because of this purposeful service to our God and our fellow Christians, we remind and encourage each other to be faithful as long as we live. That goal ought to be clearly remembered in the Lord’s Supper, in prayer, in Bible study, and in song.

Let’s consider for a moment the importance of singing the lesson and encouragement of heaven.

I Can Sing About Heaven

Yes, heaven is our goal! Heaven is much more than just a reward or treat for being good. Heaven is often compared to the Promised Land, and rightly so. It is home for the weary homeless, it is the ultimate safe place that is free from danger and worry. But above all else, it is the home to share with our Heavenly Father and Savior.

So what do we know about heaven? Well, as we so often remind ourselves, it is a prepared place for a prepared people. Okay, but what is it really like? And it is here that both language and our knowledge fail us completely.

One thing that God clearly tells us about heaven is that there will be singing! John speaks of the singing in heaven, especially of the joy of the “New Song” (cf. Revelation 5:9; 14:3; 15:3). The songs tell of our Savior, the Lamb of God that was slain, and the praise for all the works of the Lord.

There’s an old earthly song that begins with these words:

  • There’s a promised land untouched by man 
  • Prepared for the saved and the blessed
  • A city built four square far away somewhere
  • As a home for the saints to rest
  • So many have tried but they couldn’t describe
  • All the beauties on that bright shore
  • For it’s never entered in to the hearts of men
  • What the Father has in store

Wait! I’ve read chapters 21 and 22 of the book of Revelation and I know exactly what heaven looks like and what it will be like!

The only problem is that we are depending on a mortal man seeing an eternal city prepared by our eternal God (cf. John 14:2)… and we are mortal with no understanding of what we will be like! John says it like this: Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2)

Yes, we have many passages telling us of a robe and crown, of being changed, of being just like Jesus… but nothing in our vocabulary can describe what that really is, and certainly not what all it means and implies!

Consider a simple illustration: Imagine that you have a friend who was born blind and has never seen anything at all. They don’t know what the world around LOOKS like because all they have to go on for looks are their other senses. Now, describe to them color. Describe a rainbow or a field of tulips in a multitude of colors. Describe the spectacular view of autumn leaves as they are ablaze with color.

See the problem? Without a common frame of reference, you simply cannot describe something that is completely outside their understanding.

Another example: Take someone out of a stone-age culture, say one of the isolated tribes from the Amazon. Remember that they have never seen anything of technology and they think only birds can fly.

Now, describe for them a modern jetliner. Tell them how it works, how they and dozens of other people can safely fly inside of it. Do you see the problem?

One final example: Remember that song? The chorus goes on to say:

  • I could sing about Heaven for a million years
  • and never get the story told
  • Of the jasper walls and the gates of pearl
  • and the streets made of pure gold
  • Even John the Revelator in a heavenly vision
  • could never really say what he saw
  • I could sing about heaven for a million years
  • and still, I could never tell it all

You see, John is not really telling us what Heaven is really like. He is simply telling us some words that we as backward, ignorant, temporal beings can understand from our experience.

Look at those songs about Heaven that we sing. They all remind us of its beauty, it’s eternalness, it’s appropriateness for our God and His now transformed eternal family to live in for all eternity. In 2 Corinthians 12:4 Paul confesses that he couldn’t even share the words he heard! John was commanded to write what he saw much like Ezekiel and still, we can never tell it all!

Because of our Savior, His love, His sacrifice, His mercy, and His grace all freely shared with us… we can not only sing about heaven but look forward to being there for all eternity.

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/18/18 ~ Mission Support for Children At Home

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Missions Support

Do you support mission work? Yes, I know it may seem a strange question for some of you, but let me ask again: Do you support mission work? Many of the congregations that we read about in the New Testament were active in their support of missions, missionaries and of fellow Christians in need in other congregations. You can read about some of these in passages such as Philippians 4:15-16 and 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

The fact is Christians support other Christians in both preaching the word of God and in time of physical need. James (cf. 2:15-16) reminds us that it is not enough to just talk about helping, but rather we must be active in helping. James (1:27) also reminds us that as a part of “pure religion” we must take care of widows and orphans in their time of need. [An important Bible study is found in learning what God considers “widows indeed” (cf. 1 Timothy 5:3-16). As with all Biblical definitions, it is what God says that is important!]

We do a pretty good job as a congregation supporting missionaries and those in need but now we have another opportunity, another work to step up and help do God’s will.

As you know, Jorge and Chantelle Mora and their family have begun a new work as “house parents” for a cottage at New Mexico Christian Children’s Home. Yes, we as a congregation support the home and several individuals in the congregation here also do even more. That support is vital and should NOT be diminished in any way!

However, there is an opportunity to do more and specifically help Jorge and Chantelle and their new family of girls. Last Sunday night the men of the congregation committed to an additional $100 per month going specifically to Jorge and Chantelle’s “Teague Cottage” fund. This is still overseen by the Home and is not in any way “luxury” money. Rather it is a fund that is used to give the girls the opportunities we normally give our own children to go and do a few special things together; the opportunity to live as a part of a normal, Christian family.

One of those “special things” they are getting to do is to come as a family for a visit to Casa Grande. That is the reason for our get together in the Fellowship Hall on November 24th at 4 pm. So please sign up (the sheet announced is in the foyer, so we have a count for food) and come meet and visit with Jorge, Chantelle and the family!

Now, what MORE can you do to help these young people have a broader Christian family life than just a place to live? Since each month the congregation here will be sending a check just for the Teague Cottage fund, you are welcome to add something extra to it!

Envelopes labeled for this use are on the table in the foyer. Put whatever you would like to add to this month (cash or check) in the envelope. Either put the envelope in the plate with your regular contribution or hand it personally to Ray Ochoa or any of the men counting the contribution on a Sunday morning. With the proper designation, they will make sure it gets sent to the right fund.

Let’s continue to DO the Lord’s will in not only financially supporting this and other works of the Lord’s church but also by keeping all such efforts in our prayers!

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/11/18 ~ Armistice Day

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in the capital of the Roman Empire reminding them to not only pay their taxes but to give honor to all those to whom honor was due (Romans 13:7). The peace that Rome had brought to the world of the New Testament times translated into freedom that allowed the rapid spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world.

That peace was purchased at the cost of countless lives of brave soldiers. Many of those Veterans would go on to become followers of Jesus and thus serve in both earthly and eternal ways.

Today (Sunday) is a very special day. It is set aside for remembering the sacrifice of our Savior. And it is also a special date set aside for remembering the sacrifices of all those veterans who have served us. Let’s take a moment to remember this…

Armistice Day

One hundred years ago today the First World War ended. The designated time was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The day would become known as Armistice Day. The war was called the War to End All Wars. It was not.

Slightly less than 21 years later the second World War would “officially” begin (September 1, 1939) with Germany’s invasion of Poland. In 1954, following the Korean War, Armistice Day in the USA was renamed Veterans Day to honor all veterans.

While Memorial Day honors all those who died in military service, Veterans Day honors all who have served, and currently are still serving in the Armed Forces. That means this day is host to a range of emotions from the sadness of lost lives to the joys of victory, even if that victory has never been fully realized in world peace.

As Christians, we of all people on this earth can understand and share the feelings of such a day. For us, it is not 11-11-11 but One.

The first day of the week brings to our remembrance the most horrible battle in all of eternity when Satan seemingly triumphed in the death and burial of Jesus.

The first day of the week brings to our remembrance the real victory of Jesus’ resurrection.

And, perhaps above all else, the first day of the week brings to our remembrance that another day is coming. That day will bring the only real, eternal peace that we have ever known. That day will begin with the triumphant return of our Savior to escort His own to eternal life and it will never end.

So for now, we remember. To those who have faced the horrors of war and the losses of friends and family, there is no forgetting. But there is something special in taking this unique moment of remembrance. There is something that brings a momentary comfort to the pain, the distress and points us to a more joyful memory of faithfulness in service.

Those words, those thoughts, those emotions are true for both our earthly remembrance of Veterans as they are for our weekly spiritual remembrance. May we remember, this day and always, the sacrifices of those who serve us with honor on this earthly plane. May we remember, this day and always, the sacrifice of our Savior who served and died for us that we might be with him throughout eternity.

~ Lester P. Bagley

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11/3/18 ~ Degrees of Punishment and Reward

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

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

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

Degrees of Punishment & Reward

Reward

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

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

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

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

Punishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting all this together brings us to two important lessons:

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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