When the Wicked are Winning

One of the hard lessons of this present epidemic is the fact that it will come and go. The last couple of weeks saw a resurgence here in Arizona and with at least one known case among us (although his was during our original two-month quarantine and so very unlikely to have affected anyone else in the congregation). So, out of an abundance of caution we are not meeting for two Sunday’s. BUT we can still all be praying and reading God’s word, can’t we? Take advantage of this time to get closer to God!

When the Wicked are Winning

Have you ever had a discouraging day when it seems that the whole world has gone crazy and evil is winning no matter what? Oh, wait! Was that yesterday, the day before, and even today? I guess when it comes right down to it, we all will get exactly where David is coming from with one of Psalms.

Psalm 109 is a prophetic Psalm that is used by Peter referring to Judas Iscariot in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:20). The Judas in David’s life was his close friend and advisor, Ahitophel. Once renowned for his wisdom, when Absalom revolted,  he deserted David and supported Absalom. So David, like Jesus, understood betrayal at its greatest (cf. 2 Samuel 15 – 17).

Equally interesting is Jewish tradition that says the Psalm originated in David’s advice to Solomon as Solomon takes the throne. Much like Peter’s sermon reminds those who would be Christians of God’s curses for betrayal, so too, does David council his son and newly crowned king.

David is old and feeble now. His time on this earth is rapidly growing to a close. He’s seen much of both good, faithful friends and those that seem so but are not. God’s lessons are meant to be shared that others might learn too. The preface to this Psalm tells one more important point to remember. The story of God’s ultimate victory over betrayal and sin is to be sung. In addressing the Psalm to the “chief musician” David places it among the worship songs for the temple services.

Now put all this together. In this world, there is always wickedness, betrayal, false friends who will bring harm and not blessing to God’s faithful people. How are we to see them? Yes, we cannot hold a grudge and hate them, for that brings the illness of sin into our own hearts. It’s not our place to judge them for vengeance belongs to God.

And yet, God does not expect His faithful children to be ignorant, sweetness, and doormats to Satan and his minions. Not only does God bring His harshest judgments to the ungodly and sinners (cf. Proverbs 11:31 and 1 Peter 4:18) but God expects His people to take comfort in knowing that this is so!

So with all this background in mind, let’s consider God’s inspired words and David’s advice to his son, the young king:

Psalm 109   

  • O God of my praise, Do not be silent!
  • For they have opened the wicked and deceitful mouth against me;
  • They have spoken against me with a lying
  • They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without. In return for my love they act as my accusers;
  •  But I am in 5 Thus they have repaid me evil for good And hatred for my love.
  • Appoint a wicked man over him, And let an accuser stand at his right hand.
  • When he is judged, let him come forth guilty, And let his prayer become sin.
  • Let his days be few; Let another take his office.
  • Let his children be fatherless And his wife a widow.
  • Let his children wander about and beg; And let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes.
  • Let the creditor seize all that he has, And let strangers plunder the product of his labor.
  • Let there be none to extend lovingkindness to him, Nor any to be gracious to his fatherless children.
  • Let his posterity be cut off; In a following generation let their name be blotted out.
  • Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, And do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
  • Let them be before the LORD continually, That He may cut off their memory from the earth;
  • Because he did not remember to show lovingkindness, But persecuted the afflicted and needy man, And the despondent in heart, to put them to death.
  • He also loved cursing, so it came to him; And he did not delight in blessing, so it was far from
  • But he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment, And it entered into his body like water And like oil into his
  • Let it be to him as a garment with which he covers himself, And for a belt with which he constantly girds
  • Let this be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, And of those who speak evil against my

The fact is, the wicked of this world follow Satan and his will. It is evident in every one of their misdeeds and their hatred for what is good and right before God. And God will NOT allow them to get away with it. They ARE going to be punished and stripped of every good thing. But that is not the end of the story…

  • But You, O GOD, the Lord, deal kindly with me for Your name’s sake; Because Your lovingkindness is good, deliver me;
  • For I am afflicted and needy, And my heart is wounded within
  • I am passing like a shadow when it lengthens; I am shaken off like the locust.
  • My knees are weak from fasting, And my flesh has grown lean, without
  • I also have become a reproach to them; When they see me, they wag their head.

Yes, God’s people will struggle with evil that seems to be winning. It will bother us that the wicked seem to get away with everything. But that is not the end of the story…

  • Help me, O LORD my God; Save me according to Your lovingkindness. 27 And let them know that this is Your hand; You, LORD, have done it.
  • Let them curse, but You bless; When they arise, they shall be ashamed, But Your servant shall be
  • Let my accusers be clothed with dishonor, And let them cover themselves with their own shame as with a

God’s people need to understand that God is always in control. God’s people need to hang on to the fact that the righteousness of God is going to destroy evil and all those who practice it (read what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8). And God’s people need to stand proudly, forgiving, blessing even when cursed. Just let God do His job and take care of them. Because God will judge harshly and rightly even as He glorifies His people. But that is not the end of the story…

  • With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the LORD; And in the midst of many I will praise
  • For He stands at the right hand of the needy, To save him from those who judge his soul.

You see, our job is to stand firm with God. We must not only acknowledge His righteousness but obey and follow it. Let’s lift up our voices in praise to God that He has found us worthy to endure, to face the test of a wicked world that seems to be winning.

Let’s sing the song of victory, not despair. Let’s praise the Lord for He delivers us and saves us. Let’s live like it!

—Lester P. Bagley

Sunday 8/11 ~ The Gift of Love

Image result for animals hugging

From the Preacher’s Pen… As we conclude our look at some of the many gifts that God has given us, it’s time to see, realize and appreciate…

The Ultimate Gift, the Gift of Love

Think back at the many gifts that God has given us — given us that we might learn to be like Him here on Earth and eternal life might be truly meaningful in Heaven. God gave us the gift of labor, not as punishment for sin, but rather that we might grow and learn the true value of all things.

Friendship teaches us to be a part of a team, to work together that we might accomplish much more than any individual ever could. Money is a gift to teach us what we may accomplish in doing for and helping others rather than selfishly doing only for ourselves.

The gift of family gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly relationship envisioned by God for His people, while gratitude helps us to be truly thankful and enables us to count our blessings as we realize how rich and numerous they really are. The gift of laughter gives us a view of God’s own real joy and the gift of problems allows us to experience and truly see the challenges of growth.

God’s gift of learning shows that He treats us like adults as we mature to better know, understand and teach others. Dreams teach us of the beauty of hope and faith that we might aspire to greater things. The gift of a day, today, the time that God gives us that must not be wasted. Last, we saw the gift of giving that allows us to see the joy of sharing as we help others.

Each of these gifts helps us build more than just a passing knowledge or even a passing relationship with God. Each gift helps mold us into those that not only appreciate God’s grace and gifts but into those that reach out to others with the same joy that they might also be a part of God’s family.

cover-hands reaching each other

All this brings us to the ultimate gift. That is NOT just the gift of experiencing God’s love, but of becoming like God in caring for others more than we care for ourselves. Living in God’s love is not living for ourselves but for others!

Consider how God shows us the ultimate gift: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16) We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Did you notice how God moves from showing and teaching us about the ultimate gift to challenging us to do the same? We can never be stingy recipients. God’s gift is NOT for us to hoard; in fact, it becomes useless that way.

You may recall that the New Testament word most used for God’s love is actually about commitment. God LOVED us, was committed to our salvation even when we were unlikable, unlovely, contaminated by sin.

And He calls us to LOVE in exactly the same way! A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34). And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2). By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another (John 13:35)

Let me suggest that you read two longer passages carefully: 1 John 4:7-12 and Ephesians 3:14-19. Why? Because without showing this love you will never see Heaven, you will never even really know God and His infinite love, grace, and mercy. Moses puts it like this: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Jesus says it this way: If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12). And John summed it all up like this: Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).

We are surrounded by God’s wondrous gifts. Let us learn and practice the lessons that we might live as heirs of the King, as those whose responsibility here on earth is to declare the glorious deeds of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

— Lester P. Bagley

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Sunday 2/17 ~ “Destroy them, O God”

Image result for lightning in noah's flood

From the Preacher’s Pen… You have probably noticed that God says some things that are hard. Let’s take a brief look at one of those hard sayings of the Bible and see just what God is talking about:

“Destroy Them, O God”

Many of the Psalms ~the songs of God’s people ~ contain “imprecations.” These are prayers that call for God to bring His promised curses on those who willingly do evil, especially toward God and His chosen people. A good example, and the first occurrence in the Psalms, is Psalm 5:10, Hold them guilty [the KJV says, Destroy them, but more about that in a moment], O God; By their own devices let them fall! In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out, For they are rebellious against You.

The word “imprecation” is today more used by the media to describe someone’s hatred of a political figure. In reality, it is an old term for a spoken curse, especially of someone. And it is an important term in studying God’s word!

Why? While there are those imprecatory Psalms (some 20 of them) that sometimes startle people, the fact is that imprecations, curses from God, are an important part of the Bible, God’s word to us. You might recall that God, through Moses demanded that the Israelites stand before Him on the Mount of Blessing and the Mount of Cursing in order to hear not only the promises of God’s blessings for obedience but also His curses for disobedience (cf. Deuteronomy 11:29).

The prophets, especially Hosea, Micah, and Jeremiah, would frequently remind God’s people of the curses that awaited them for disobedience. In the New Testament Jesus (cf. Matthew 23), Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9; 5:12; 2 Timothy 4:14) and even the martyrs before the throne of God (Revelation 6:10) pronounce or request imprecations of God.

We have to remember that the God of love and mercy is also the God of justice and all that is right. He explained it to Moses like this: The Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7).

God ~ to BE God who is just and fair ~ must judge sin and especially the sin of rebellion, rejection of God to the point of no return. It is one thing to commit sin when we are overcome by temptation. It is much different to deliberately reject God and rebel against Him.

So, let’s return to Psalm 5:10 and get a little better appreciation of something that is NOT at all simple human vindictiveness but rather is a part of the will of God.

As we noted above, the King James translates the beginning of Psalm 5:10 as destroy them while most other translations say something about holding them guilty. The Hebrew implies both as it calls on the Lord to declare a guilty verdict and to judge them with an appropriate sentence, in this case, death and destruction. Of course, all of Scripture teaches us that this is exactly the penalty for sin. Those who stand before God as guilty have no hope!

So ultimately, David’s prayer is for God’s will to be done! “God, don’t allow the wicked, the rebellious sinners to even imagine that they are getting away with sin.”

We, like our Heavenly Father Himself, extend the mercy, the forgiveness of God to all who will repent and obey Him. When sinners accept that gift and live in obedience to the Lord, our prayers need to always be with them. But for those who would rebel against God and harm His people and His work here on earth, there remains an imprecation, a curse, a horrible price that they must pay.

Like the Israelites of old, we must choose… blessing or curse. Where will you take your stand?

— Lester P. Bagley

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10/28/18 ~ The True Story of Satan

Lucifer Morningstar [Tom Ellis] by BeMyOopsHi

From the Preacher’s Pen…

Inquiring minds want to know! That made a lot of money for a magazine, but over the years most people have realized that the articles were pure fiction. People have always enjoyed fiction. Adam and Eve enjoyed (however briefly) the fiction that eating from a certain tree would make them just like God. But fiction is still false and never has the lasting enjoyment of truth.

We’ve all heard a lot of fiction about the Bible and one of the greatest subjects is Satan. There are some imaginative stories about his name and where he came from. So, let’s check out a bit of fiction and replace it with truth:

The True Story of Satan

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he discusses hearsay (Matthew 5:21-48). His ultimate point is that people often misrepresent what God has actually said and that God expects His people to truly know and follow the real teachings of God. The Jews had made up so many stories, so many myths and fables that they often confused what God had actually said with what they thought or imagined on a subject.

The Apostle Paul dealt with much the same issue as he gave instructions to his fellow preachers Timothy and Titus. To Titus (1:13-14) he says that, because human lies are not trustworthy, those who teach them are to be severely reproved so that they may be sound in the faith not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.

Likewise, Timothy is commanded to point out these various sins to Christians (1 Timothy 4:1-6) and (verse 7) to have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. Paul goes on to describe this as self-discipline for the purpose of godliness.

Now, after all that, let’s get to Satan. What is his story? Where did he come from? Is he a fallen angel? Was he actually God’s chief angel? Oh, and very important, what about his name: Lucifer?

As far as what Scripture actually says… There is today no such being or person as Lucifer!

Wait a minute! Doesn’t the Bible say that Lucifer is the devil’s name? In fact, one of the frequent claims of the King James Version worshipers is that other Bibles leave out the name Lucifer and so they are frauds!

The King James Bible frequently consulted the Latin (in plain English, the very manuscripts most often corrupted by the Catholic church and used for their frequent false teachings) and from them chose to use a Latin word rather than the Hebrew. One has to suspect, though it’s hard to trace, that Lucifer was perhaps an early medieval name and myth about the angel that fell and became Satan. But in reality, no such story exists anywhere in Scripture.

The KJV turned a fairy tale into a wild story that’s repeated by “everyone” today. There are two “proof” passages. First is Ezekiel 28. Verses 1-10 are usually accepted as being about the human king of Tyre (after all, it says that in verse two). But verses 11-19 are claimed to be all about Lucifer. Just for reference, verse 12 says almost the same thing as verse two. The discussion in God’s own words is all about the king of Tyre. If you actually read it, there is nothing about Lucifer or Satan actually there at all!

The second “proof” text is, of course, Isaiah 14 and especially verse 12 where God this time applies the term to the King of Babylon. The KJV is the first to use the Latin term as a proper name and totally invent something that is never in the Bible.

The Hebrew has: “heleyl, ben shachar” which is literally “shining one, son of dawn.” This phrase means, again literally, the planet Venus when it appears as a morning star. In the Septuagint it is translated as “heosphoros” which also means Venus as a morning star.

The Latin word lucifer is first used in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. In Latin at the time, lucifer actually refers to Venus as a morning star. Isaiah is using this metaphor for a bright light, though not the greatest light to illustrate the apparent power of the Babylonian king which then faded. The KJV translators took an old Latin adjective and made it a proper noun to agree with their mythical beliefs. That’s neither good linguistics nor good theology!

As for Satan, we know absolutely nothing from God about where he came from! Is he actually a fallen angel? Scripture never says that. It DOES say a few other things on the subject:

2 Corinthians 11:14 says that Satan DISGUISES himself as an angel of light. Revelation 12:9 says that Satan was/is cast down (out of heaven presumably) with his angels at the crucifixion. And Matthew 25:41 says that the eternal fire (of hell) is prepared for the devil and his angels.

So, honestly, to say anything about Lucifer and Satan as being the same, or anything about where Satan came from is to indulge in either medieval fairy tales or sheer, ignorant speculation without a leg to stand on.

As God’s people, let’s make a point of NOT paying attention to myths and worldly fables… just like God tells us! Let’s stick with and place our trust in the firm foundation of God’s word as our God commands us to do.

Where Scripture actually speaks, let us speak boldly. Where Scripture is silent, let us keep the silence of God.

— Lester P. Bagley

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12/17/17 ~ Into the Night

From the Preacher’s Pen…

Image result for light of world

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

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

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

Into the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

10/8/17 ~ Wrestling & Boxing

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

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

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

Wrestling and Boxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lester P. Bagley

 

9/24/17 ~ 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

8/27/17 ~ DARKNESS

From the Preacher’s Pen… 

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

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

Darkness

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

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

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

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

And darkness fell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The darkness is gone

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

— Lester P. Bagley

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