The Lord’s Supper

 

The more we struggle to have fellowship together the more with either grow stronger or die. It all works just like bodily exercise and that’s exactly what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8. If challenges make you work harder at prayer, reading and studying your Bible, and appreciating your dependence on God, then you will grow stronger. Are you working out and growing?

The Lord’s Supper

As designated by Jesus, the Lord’s Supper is made up of two parts or components. Let’s take a moment to think about those parts and how they relate to God’s word.

The first part of the Lord’s Supper

The bread that reminds us of Jesus’ own body given for us on that cross. In John 6:48ff Jesus taught even before His death about the association of His body and blood with salvation. In a discussion about the Manna as the original Bread-of-Life Jesus extends the comparison to His own body being the new Bread-of-Life for those who would live forever.

The picture that Jesus puts forth causes many of His disciples to reject Him (cf. John 6:60- 66). Certainly without the rest of the picture of Jesus’ atoning death it was a difficult concept.

Jesus’ final night before His death is spent with His disciples celebrating the Passover feast. Passover was instituted as a memorial feast to remind the Jews of God’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage (cf. Exodus 12 and especially note verse 15). Jesus uses this occasion to fulfil and renew the Old Testament picture by instituting a new “feast” for us to remember God’s deliverance of His people from the bondage of sin.

Luke 22 sets the stage for that night as it tells usNow the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching (verse 1). Following the events in Luke 22 we come to that night of the actual celebration of Passover and Jesus showing the New Covenant fulfilled meaning.

So, what kind of bread does Jesus use for that institution of and demonstration of the New Covenant fulfilled Lord’s Supper? Go back and check Exodus 12:15 again. There was NO leavened bread in ANY Jewish house in all of Jerusalem the night Jesus instituted this Supper! The ONLY possible conclusion is that Jesus used and demonstrated for us the use of unleavened bread for that commemorative supper.

What’s the big deal? Strangely enough, one of the early changes to New Testament practice seems to come as some churches began using leavened bread. By the sixth and seventh centuries it appears to be common practice in most churches.

Why? Apparently (from early Christian commentators) they wanted it to symbolize the risen Christ, so they used raised bread. Their reasoning also extended to the expressed desire to differentiate the Lord’s Supper from the Jewish Passover. Remember those “Judaizing” teachers Paul dealt with (cf. Galatians 5)?

Let’s back up a minute and ask a different question: Was there a purpose or meaning for Jesus using unleavened bread that might be important to God?

(6) Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? (7) Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. (8) Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

Paul seems to give us a few good reasons to do it God’s way. First, Christ IS our Passover. He’s the fulfilment of the Old Testament example. It was, as so many other things there, pointing us to Jesus.

Second, while the primary focus of the bread we share is the body of Christ sacrificed for us, it is also a reminder of purity.  As God’s children we are called out of this world to BE God’s light, God’s family, God’s example in this world. If we are contaminated by even just a little of the world does it matter? The Holy Spirit seems to think it does!

Finally, the impurities themselves of malice and wickedness that Paul cites, we are purified and made sinless by Jesus. We cannot be half and half. We must have the right ingredients of sincerity and truth. The right ingredients matter!

So the bread we partake of is a picture of Jesus, the ultimate Bread of Life (better than Manna!). It is a reminder of our salvation from sin by Jesus’ sacrifice. It is a foreshadowing of the ultimate Passover when those purified by Jesus will be eternally passed over by eternal death. And it is a reminder of our call to holiness in being pure as we live for Him who died for us.

Do we appreciate how all this is tied into the Bible? Without time spent in reading and study of Scripture, we would never possess the information to see the big picture of what God is showing us in that little piece of bread.

So what about the cup?

Let’s begin with a few minor details. Again, does it matter if we use fruit of the GRAPE vine or could we use watermelon juice or something else. Should we just casually call it wine, if grape juice is the right thing, as many people do?

You may recall that words matter. They always have and they always will. No one bakes a chocolate cake by claiming that onions mean the same thing as chocolate. So what is the Bible telling us?

A little digging into the Jewish world of the New Testament shows us two things to answer these questions about Jesus’ words. First, “fruit of the vine” is a term that always, only means “grape vines.” While it is true that other things grow on vines, that’s never what this term used in the New Testament refers to. So we have to go with God’s definition.

The second problem is also simple. There is NEVER a single reference in the New Testament to the liquid used as “wine.” No Greek copy ever uses the specific word for wine, always and only the generic term “fruit of the vine.” In Jewish references to the Passover, comments are made regarding use of fermented or unfermented as being up to individual families’ taste or desire. The only specific set forth in Scripture for the Lord’s Supper is that it is juice of the grape. That’s what God says so it must be important.

Yes, but what does it MEAN? Certainly, like the bread, there are some lessons of importance that God is trying to get across to us!

Paul gives us a starting point: (23) For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; (24) and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (25) In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (26) For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

The cup (to be more specific, the fruit of the vine contents as the vessel itself has no significance) is the representation of Jesus’ blood of the new covenant. But what does THAT really mean?

To understand and appreciate where God is coming from we must go back to what He told His people beginning with Noah after the flood. Genesis chapter 9 begins with God’s blessings to Noah and his family as they begin their lives again on a renewed earth. He tells them that both plants and animals are for their use and food. But, in verse 4 God begins a short lecture about the blood of those animals.

Blood is life! There are many body parts and organs that you can live without. But without blood you are dead. In Genesis 9:5-6 God tells them that human lifeblood is so precious that He requires it as the ultimate payment for taking a life.Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:6).

Many years later God would give what we now know as the Old Covenant or the Law of Moses. In Exodus 24 Moses shared with the people of Israel all the law and words of the Lord and then offered the first sacrifices of that law. The blood of those first offerings was saved and half of it sprinkled on the altar with the sacrifices. But the other half of the blood was sprinkled on the people as Moses spoke: Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words (Exodus 24:8).

God actually went into some further detail with the priests and all of Israel about the importance of this picture:  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement (Leviticus 17:11).  For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:14)

That was the blood of life, the blood of the old covenant. Centuries later Jeremiah the Prophet would proclaim that a new day and a new covenant were coming (read Jeremiah 31:31-34). That New Covenant would be better, greater, stronger and more powerful as in it the Lord would forgive sin and remember it no more!

Jesus’s words (cf. Matthew 26:27-29) as He institutes the Lord’s Supper harken back to all that history. This cup is the picture, the new reminder of that new Covenant as Jesus had been teaching. Remember John 6?  So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:53-54)

Here it is, the blood of life, of Jesus’ own life and not just some animal. And he gave it, not on a human altar but on that cross as He died in our place for our sins.

Is it any wonder that Paul would continue in 1 Corinthians by saying: Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27)? How on earth could we ever be worthy of such a gift, such a covenant?

The honest answer is that we cannot! But it was God’s gift to us to make us worthy. Paul continues: A person must examine themselves, and in so doing they are to eat of the bread and drink of the cup (1 Corinthians 11:28).

Paul’s exact words are important. We must examine ourselves! And we MUST eat and drink! It’s not an option but a God given requirement to partake and do so correctly each time!

After all, Jesus did it and did it right for you, to make you a child of His family, bound by His covenant to be with Him forever. And that’s why John would later tell us: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

It’s not about us, for none of us could ever be worthy. It is ALL about Jesus our Savior who has given His own body and blood to purchase us and redeem us from sin and death.

May we all join in partaking, in sharing this gift, with each other and with our Lord and God. May we remember the price He paid for our sins. And may we remember that in Him we all together walk for eternity in light.

Let’s celebrate this greatest of all announcements!

—Lester P. Bagley

There’s a stirring deep within me.
Could it be my time has come
When I’ll see my gracious Savior
Face to face when all is done?

Is that His voice I am hearing?
“Come away, My precious one.”
Is He calling me? Is He calling me?

I will rise up, rise up,
Then bow down
And lay my crown
At His wounded feet.

I will rise up, rise up,
Then bow down
And lay my crown
At His wounded feet.

There’s a stirring deep within me….

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

Worship

Have you read your Bible today? Several people have said that they’ve gotten ahead in their reading schedule with all this extra time at home. Is there really such a thing as spending too much time with someone you love? Most of us have loved ones that are no longer living and would dearly love a bit more time to talk with them again. Don’t let God ever be the one you miss like that! Keep reading and keep praying… always!

Worship

We use the word worship in a lot of ways. When we are assembled together to sing, pray and study God’s word, we call that worship.

But we also recognize that worship is how we live our daily lives for God. Worship can also involve our remembrance of our Savior in the Lord’s Supper or in our financial giving. And worship is certainly involved in sharing the Gospel with others.  How else can we truly honor our God and commitment to Him? The Bible has a lot to say about our worship, both the right kind and the wrong.

What we sometimes miss with our English language is that often God uses different words to speak of worship that help us see His lessons. Without a bit of extra study we may even miss God’s point and confuse ourselves. So let’s do a little digging and study about this word.

To begin with, we’re not going to get the whole point of worship in a brief study. The Old Testament uses some five different words (and 14 forms of those words) that are all commonly translated as something to do with “worship” over 100 times. So obviously there’s a great deal of study to be done there in preparing us for the New Testament. But let’s set that aside for a bit and move on to the New Testament.

The New Testament writers use seven different Greek words about 70 times that are all translated into English as something involving “worship.” So obviously there’s something going on here that we should dig into.

The first reference to worship in the New Testament comes from the Wise Men and it (proskuneo) refers to the kind of honor we usually see in a movie. This is the most used term for worship in the NT. It means to do reverence or homage by falling down and/or by kissing the hand. This is an overt act of recognizing someone else as your unreserved superior, as in your king.

In Matthew 2:2 this is the worship that the Wise Men have come to offer the “King of all the Jews.” But it’s also the word that Herod the Great uses (Matthew 2:8) to tell them to report back to him the location of this King that Herod might also go to, bow down and thus swear allegiance to the one greater than him. Of course we know that was not Herod’s intention at all, but that is what he said.

Interestingly, this is the very word next used by Satan as he comes to tempt Jesus (cf. Matthew 4:9-10). Satan is offering to give up to Jesus and turn everything over to Him if only Jesus will “fall down and worship.” Do you see what Jesus heard Satan demand? If Jesus completely surrenders and acknowledges Satan as His Lord and Master. If Jesus acknowledged Satan as His God, then Satan’s won!

Of course Jesus quickly reminds Satan that kind of allegiance and worship only belongs to God! Luke echoes this same important lesson in Luke 4:7-8. Evidently Satan does not deserve any honor, any allegiance from us, either!

John 4:20-24 also uses this word for worship. It begins with the Samaritan woman trying to trap Jesus into an argument that began with Sanballat and Nehemiah (Sanballat opposed rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls because God rejected the Samaritan false worshippers and he went on to institute the worship on Mount Gerizim). So the woman is claiming to truly honor God in a place God had forbidden (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:6 and Psalm 78:66-69). Is it any wonder that Jesus goes on to explain that TRUE worship is about really honoring God as God by doing what He says and with His Spirit in control?

The most frequent use of this word is in Revelation (cf. Revelation 4:10; 9:20; 11:1; 13:8, 12, 15; 14:7, 11; 15:4; 19:10; 22:8). You will notice that most of these verses are talking about how God is honored in heaven by His people. If we cannot acknowledge God as our one and only master here, we will never be allowed to worship Him there!

The next common word translated worship in the New Testament (sebo) means to stand in awe, to be devout, pious, to adore. The term is used of proselytes (Acts 13:43; 16:14; 18:7; 13:50; 17:4, 17), converts to Judaism from the Gentile world, in reference to their faithfulness. When you see what a Gentile had to give up to fully embrace the Law of Moses it certainly says something about their faith!

Interestingly, this is the word Jesus uses for His rebuke of supposedly religious people who teach human beliefs rather than Godly doctrine. Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7 both show Jesus citing them as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of vain or useless worship.

The word is also used by Jews that rejected Jesus in an accusation against Paul (Acts 18:13) that he was persuading people to dishonor rather than honor God. Then in Acts 19:17 its used by the pagan silversmith Demetrius to accuse Paul of causing people to not worship the false goddess Artemis. Apparently, when you worship God in His way you will catch criticism from all sides for not pleasing them rather than God!

There’s one other word that’s used several times that we also need to look at. In Romans 12:1 Paul says, Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. The word (latreia) Paul uses is frequently translated as service or work. It is used to refer to both the duties, work of a slave and for the work of priests in offering sacrifices and other parts of a worship service. Paul is clearly saying that a part of our worship of God involves giving ourselves completely to God for His use.

The writer of Hebrews uses this word (Hebrews 9:6) to refer to the physical acts of worship of the Jewish Priests of the Temple, Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship. But there’s one other use that is important to appreciate, too.

One of the foolish things we are sometimes told by so-called Christians (those who have no wish to actually obey God), is that there really is NOT any pattern of worship in the

New Testament. It ought to be considered such a ridiculous argument that we immediately switch off even listening to it. But sadly, many do not do so.

So, is there really anything that God expects us to do as worship to Him? Or are we really free to make up anything we wish and claim it’s okay with God? As foolish as that seems to obviously be (God’s never, ever, suggested that people do as they please to serve Him), some will still claim that there are no regulations, no rules of how to worship God either in our assemblies or in our lives.

Well, as always, the most important voice to listen to is God. Read Hebrews 9. It begins with these words in verse 1: Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. The writers lesson is about the fact that regulations, rules of how to serve God are always a part of serving God. Now he’s going to talk about the specific work of Jesus, but he’s left us with a reminder that God has always had things that have to be done in the right way, at the right time.

In a very real sense, you are not worshiping God unless you give Him your all. It can never be a grudging; here I’ll follow You if that’s what I have to do. We must honor Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. And we have to follow his rules, obey Him rather than sin, self and Satan. Nothing less is true worship by God’s definition… and that is all that matters!

—Lester P. Bagley

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Focus on God

How’s your Bible reading going? Many people have said they are eating too much while basically confined to home. But has anyone ever read and studied too much of God’s word? Ever heard of anyone spending too much time with God? Now’s a perfect time to catch up with the one who loves you most!

Focus on God

Focus is something that is important to all of us. Recently the young man working on our air conditioner commented that he had to stop and put his glasses on so he could focus on and read the tiny print on the unit. Many of us appreciate the problem! The tiny print that I once could easily read is an illegible blur now. And if it’s something important to see, then we are willing to do whatever is necessary to actually be able to see and read it!

Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, that’s focus! Peter would echo the challenge (1 Peter 1:13) as he tells us, 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. Without being focused completely on God here and now, we will never be ready to focus on Him when He comes again.

Jesus commented on the negative side, the failure to focus on God, by reminding us of Isaiah’s prophecy, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 quoting Isaiah 29:13) If we fail to focus on God and honor Him with our all, then we are nothing more than bad actors (cf. Matthew 15:7).

Have you ever noticed that when you are focused on one thing you cannot really focus on something else? The same is true of God. When we focus on Him, we cannot be focused on things that don’t matter!

The Psalmist (Psalm 46:10) tells us that God says, Cease striving [be still] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10). The word we translate as cease striving or be still is the word for surrender, to give up and Jewish commentary (Targum) renders it as cease from war [with God]. Do you see the Psalmist’s picture? God wants us to stop fighting Him, arguing with Him and just focus on Him, put our trust in Him.

And when we do it God’s way, here’s the result: Because he has focused [KJV, set] his love on me, I will deliver him. I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls out to me, I will answer him. I will be with him in his distress. I will deliver him, and I will honor him. (Psalm 91:14-15)

When we are focused on God, They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7). And we can say, My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises! (Psalm 57:7)

Paul offers this challenge for us as Christians, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking [set your heart on, keep focusing on] the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on [focus on] the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4) Our focus has to be kept on Christ, on things above or we miss being who we are called to be.

Focus is something we repeatedly have to do. Every time we get distracted, look somewhere else, we must refocus to return to the important task at hand. Paul also understood that. We have not arrived! We must consciously, consistently return to the job. Paul says it like this: Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do [focus on]: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to [focusing on] what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

When we are not focused on God, we make mistakes. Peter warns, Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Satan is always focused on us. If we take our focus off of Jesus then we can no longer resist, our faith is in danger! That’s why the Hebrew writer keeps pointing us to Jesus as superior in every way, including faithfulness (focus!): Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, keep your focus on Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1).

Focus is vital to us all and spiritual focus is eternally important. When we keep our focus on our God and Savior we do more than just survive. With the correct focus, we are completely victorious super-conquerors (cf. Romans 8:37). Indeed, we can do all things through him [Christ Jesus] who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

Never take your eyes, your faith, your hope, your focus off Jesus!

—Lester P. Bagley

Sunday 11/17/19 ~ Wonderful Peace

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Do you enjoy reading and/or hearing a good story? Many of us learn to love stories as we hear them, perhaps at bedtime, growing up. Many of us have sweet memories of sharing stories with our children as they grew up. Let me ask a slightly different question now. Do you enjoy reading and/or hearing a good poem? Many poems are really just good stories that carefully use language to form pictures for us and have a particular flow to them.

Most songs are really just poetic stories. Some are simple and some are incredibly intricate and detailed stories. In fact, this is exactly where most of the songs of God’s people come from. The Old Testament book of Psalms is often referred to as the “Song Book of Israel” and, of course, many of the Psalms form the basis of a large number of our songs as Christians.

Consider a song ~ an old song that’s not in our current song books ~ but nevertheless tells a beautiful story that’s worth remembering as we both praise our God in worship and live our lives on this earth.

Wonderful Peace

On the night Jesus would be betrayed, John records some of the lengthy discussions that Jesus had with the apostles. Knowing how the night would end and the sheer terror that His disciples would feel, Jesus sought to comfort them. Perhaps even more important, since they would soon be commissioned to share all these lessons with Christians, was our own appreciation of how the very Spirit of God would continue to be with His people in order to strengthen us in the face of earthly challenges we all must face.

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I give to you not as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27). While the people of the world face difficult times and great challenges in life and despair often overwhelms them, God promises something that the world cannot even offer: real peace. Paul would later describe it as, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, the peace that will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

So let’s look at the poetry, the words of that song:

  • Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
  • Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
  • In celestial-like strains, it unceasingly falls
  • O’er my soul like an infinite calm.

The refrain then says:

  • Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
  • Coming down from the Father above!
  • Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
  • In fathomless billows of love!

The next two verses remind us:

  • What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace,
  • Buried deep in the heart of my soul,
  • So secure that no power can mine it away,
  • While the years of eternity roll!
  • I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace, 
  • Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
  • For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
  • And His glory is flooding my soul!

It is perhaps easier at this time of year to recall how often we’ve failed to be thankful and how very much we have to be thankful for. Just as we need to be reminded to “count our many blessings” so, too, do we need to remember just how much God is with us, overseeing, protecting and guiding us all the time.

The song continues with this thought:

  • And I think when I rise to that city of peace,
  • Where the Author of peace I shall see,
  • That one strain of the song which the ransomed will sing
  • In that heavenly kingdom will be:
  • Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
  • Coming down from the Father above!
  • Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
  • In fathomless billows of love!

Finally, the song concludes with this challenge:

  • Ah soul, are you here without comfort and rest,
  • Marching down the rough pathway of time?
  • Make Jesus your friend ere the shadows grow dark;
  • Oh, accept this sweet peace so sublime!

Often we go through this life feeling alone and in despair over its challenges and our poor ability to face them. The problem is, we face them alone, without the very God who created us, who loves us and wants to walk with us that the problems might be lessened so as to be bearable.

Don’t face this week without Jesus and His wonderful peace!

— Lester P. Bagley

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Sunday 11/3/19 ~ Psalm 51

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From the Preacher’s Pen… David was a warrior. That fact would eventually make him unfit to build the Temple that he longed to build for the Lord. But that same fact also led to peace and allowed his son, Solomon, to build it.

It would be a grave error to conclude that David was wrong to be a warrior; for, much like the Judges before him, that was the very reason he was called by God to be King. It is also wrong to imagine that God slighted David or failed to support him in that warfare.

All this being true and verified by God’s word, that is not to suggest that David’s life of warfare was easy. As with all warriors, there would be many close friends lost in battle and many, many dark days. And those dark days would lead to many songs to the Lord such as…

Psalm 61

The story begins with Psalm 60; a heartbreaking song as David laments in the very first verse, O God, You have rejected us. You have broken us; You have been angry; O, restore us. Unlike many Psalms that begin with despair, this one seems to almost end with a plea for God to please be there. The final two verses read: O give us help against the adversary, For deliverance by man is in vain. Through God, we shall do valiantly, And it is He who will tread down our adversaries.

Reading Psalm 60 you get a sense that the issue is not fully resolved as David writes again. The balances have not yet settled to see the final end. And yet the positive tone, the faith of a man of God still shines through.

We do both God and all the previous heroes of faith a major disservice when we imagine they always had it easy and faith never really took any effort, even in their darkest days. And, in many ways, we also do ourselves harm when we think that faith is so unrealistically easy. Faith is hard! It is a challenge, perhaps the greatest challenge we will ever face, to keep the faith in those dark days.

God doesn’t give anyone all the answers nor does He ever suggest that it is easy to face temptation, difficulties, and challenges, even when they are not our fault! Often, like David in Psalm 60, the concept of hanging onto our faith in dark days is a serious challenge that must be met… day after day and many times year after year!

That lesson leads us to the next Psalm by David, Psalm 61. Listen to the plea to God and the challenge to self to listen and remember God has always been faithful and we must trust Him even, or especially when we are weak:

  • 1 Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer.
  • 2 From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
  • 3 For You have been a refuge for me, A tower of strength against the enemy.

And that lesson should make us realize that God IS there. He HAS heard, even when we’ve struggled to keep our promises; He and His promises are faithful!

  • 5 For You have heard my vows, O God; You have given me the inheritance of those who fear Your name.
  • 6 You will prolong the king’s life; His years will be as many generations.
  • 7 He will abide before God forever; Appoint lovingkindness and truth that they may preserve him.

Yes, those great promises are made to us, to you as God’s child. Oh, I’m not a king you might say. And yet you are the child of the King of Kings!  Your future home is with God forever and He has appointed lovingkindness and truth to preserve, to help you, to keep you safe in Him.

So how do we respond to these twin opposing certainties: God SEEMS to have deserted us; yet God has PROMISED to be with us and help us through everything?

Real winners, real heroes are not those that do the right thing when it is easy, when there are no challeges, no difficulties. Real winners, real heroes are those that keep on fighting through the dark days, through the deepest despair. Real winners, real heroes are those that keep the faith and face the challenges to sing the song of victory even in seeming defeat!

David concludes Psalm 61 by saying:

8 So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may pay my vows day by day.

So, when the road of life is hard, when the challenges abound, when darkness clouds your way, what will YOU do? Quit? Or Sing praises to God?

Do you remember what James said? Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. (James 5:13) Do you see how David and James complement and amplify each other? Pray and sing to be a victor in Christ! And never give up! That is faith, real faith.

— Lester P. Bagley

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Sunday 9/1 ~ Psalm 13

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Last week we looked at a song/prayer of David as he struggled with the consequences of sin. While that struggle is common to all honest Christians, it is probably not (at least it should not be) a frequent problem.

In contrast, most of us struggle regularly with questions about God, where He is, and if He is really in control. It is intriguing to me that so many claim to have never had such struggles. It seems we are ashamed to admit that we are weak and imperfect especially when everyone else pretends to be so strong.

The reality is that God’s word is filled with examples of REAL saints that truly love the Lord and yet have these struggles. If we would find God’s strength to deal with them, we must first admit that we all share in this weakness.

Consider the example David sets for us in…

Psalm 13

Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can fool ourselves into believing that the common temptations, trials, and struggles are just unimportant, minor sins that are hardly worth mentioning or we can learn from the heroes of faith that actually penned the inspired words of Scripture that these are the serious challenges of faith that real saints really have to deal with.

Consider one of David’s many prayers for help with the faith-challenging struggles of real life for a real person that honestly loved the Lord and yet often found himself a failure.

For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4 And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

6 I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

If you never faced times of despair and desperation, then you need to check carefully. It may well be that Satan is not attacking you because he already fully owns you. Satan’s attacks are against those who love the Lord. Satan’s desire is to make you feel forgotten and cause you to miss the true joy that belongs to God’s people.

Of all the lessons we desperately need to remember at times like this, it is the fact that obedient trust (faith) in the Lord is ALWAYS rewarded by God! And 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).

Faithfully serve the Lord this week! Praise Him with joyful song! Rejoice in His salvation for He has and always will richly bless us in Christ!

— Lester P. Bagley

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6/23/19 ~ The Gift of Gratitude

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at several of God’s gifts to us as human beings. The gift of labor helps us to find value even as we grow and learn. Friendship teaches us to be a part of a team that we might accomplish more together than separately. The gift of money teaches us what we may accomplish in doing for and helping others rather than selfishly doing only for ourselves. And the gift of family gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly relationship envisioned by God for His people.

Next, we consider a gift that teaches a lesson that goes beyond simple politeness to something even greater…

The Gift of Gratitude

The concept of gratitude can be a difficult one for us to appreciate. The word itself comes from the ideas of good will, thankfulness and pleasing. But it is all too easy to confuse selfishness with gratitude. In fact, much of the unhappiness of people comes from making that mistake.

Gratitude is really the ability to humbly be thankful or grateful. Real gratitude brings joy, meaning, and purpose to life. The person who feels they deserve every good thing never experiences true gratitude. And, of course, genuine thankfulness, like true humility, is a godly trait best understood and appreciated by knowing the Lord.

Psalm 50:23 says, Whoever offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors [God]. Psalm 107:1 puts it like this: Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! For us to honor God or anyone else we must be thankful. There is no such thing as accidental gratitude.

Even when things go wrong and we are suffering we must choose to cultivate gratitude. And, in doing so we find meaning and purpose. After his sin with Bathsheba, David longed to again experience the joy of gratitude. In Psalm 51 he would write: Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.… Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. (Psalm 51:7-9 & 12-13)

In order to be whole again, David needed to have gratitude for the right things. Only then would he ever be complete.

Paul commanded the Colossians: Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7). And the Hebrew writer adds: Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe (Hebrew 12:28).

Always remember that gratitude is an active verb, not a passive attitude and it does its best work when in the company of God. Only when we recognize our pride, arrogance and consequential failure before God can we begin to develop the humility from which comes true gratitude, true thankfulness and the genuine appreciation of God and His gifts.

It is impossible to take a person seriously that lacks gratitude. Are you working to acquire and use God’s gifts and blessings?

— Lester P. Bagley

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5/12 ~ Blessed are the pure in heart

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

  • Purer in heart, O God,
  • Help me to be;
  • May I devote my life
  • Wholly to Thee.
  • Watch Thou my wayward feet.
  • Guide me with counsel sweet;
  • Purer in heart,
  • Help me to be. 

 

  • Purer in heart, O God,
  • Help me to be.
  • Teach me to do Thy will
  • Most lovingly.
  • Be Thou my friend and guide,
  • Let me with Thee abide;
  • Purer in heart,
  • Help me to be. 

 

  • Purer in heart, O God,
  • Help me to be;
  • Until Thy holy face
  • One day I see.
  • Keep me from secret sin,
  • Reign Thou my soul within; 
  • Purer in heart,
  • Help me to be.

Have you ever read the beatitudes expressed in Matthew 5:3-12 and thought to yourself that Jesus was naming a bunch of different people with different characteristics that God appreciates? Well, He’s not! Rather, God expects us all to be those people and possess those characteristics as His children. Let’s take a look at one of those qualities and see how we can measure up:

Pure Hearts

What is purity? While we realize that the New Testament frequently admonishes us to be pure, we may not be quite sure just what is meant by that purity. Sadly, we live in a world that also has trouble with either defining, understanding or living up to any standard of purity. As Christians, we might imagine that purity means being perfect and thus sets a standard beyond our reach. Certainly, we would all struggle with being expected to have some superhuman characteristic that we simply do not and cannot possess.

The fact is, the purity that God calls us to have is not some mythical, superhuman trait. Let’s consider three important passages that deal with our call to pure hearts and see just what it is that God expects of us.

First, is the beatitude expressed by Jesus in Matthew 5:8: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The word that Jesus uses here is katharos. This word means free from impurity, without blemish, spotless. It refers to those who are pure because they have been cleansed (rather than being inherently perfect). Notice Ephesians 5:25-27 where Christ “having cleansed” (katharizo, another form of the same word) His church by the washing of water and 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. Thus, Jesus is telling us that we who are pure in heart (i.e. cleansed from sin by His blood) are to see (know face to face) God.

Second, Paul says, But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5). Paul uses the same word here that Jesus used in Matthew 5:8. We are then told that the goal of what we are taught is to build love. This love is the kind that comes from hearts that recognize they were made clean by the sacrifice of Jesus. That leaves no room for any arrogance on our part, but rather we must realize that we owe our status to Him who died for us all.

Third, one of Paul’s last letters challenges us, like Timothy, to Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22). Again, there is this beautiful reminder that we serve God, growing in such qualities as righteousness, faith, love, and peace, as those who are made clean by the blood of the precious Lamb of God. Indeed, we serve together with fellow saints who are pure in heart by virtue of that same cleansing which gives us a pure heart. There is only room then in our hearts for great humility and love for one another as we stand together before God.

No, God does not ask of us a purity we are unable to achieve. Rather, He asks that we allow the sacrifice of Jesus make us what we ought to be, to instill in us a pure heart.  Let’s make that effort to have and maintain those pure hearts! Together, we can encourage each other to be what we ought to be this week.

— Lester P. Bagley

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4/21/19 ~ Grace: God’s Marvelous Gift

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Many years ago, a fellow preacher commented: “We’ve allowed the denominations to steal grace, the cross, and the Holy Spirit from us. It’s high time we got up a posse and got them back!”

He certainly makes an important point as many times Christians can seem bothered by someone wearing a cross or mentioning grace or the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is time for us to remember that those things belong to God and His people and NOT to the false teachers of the world.

Let’s begin with Grace as it is one of those Bible terms that sometimes cause us to cringe. Why? Because, like the cross, we see it misused by others. But to fear God’s grace is to miss out on a marvelous, precious gift that God Himself gives to His children:

Grace: God’s Marvelous Gift

Most of us have treasured memories of a special gift. I still remember the Christmas I got my first bicycle. When morning finally arrived, I couldn’t wait for everyone to get up so I could try out my bike. That gives us a starting point for one of the most amazing and precious, but misunderstood, gifts of God.

What is this thing called grace? God is called a gracious God and we are supposed to show grace to others. In Romans, the word is used 21 times and includes the idea of mercy and kindness. It also includes the concept of freeing from harmful, offensive or sinful things. OK, so much for the dictionary, what does it really mean?

Remember that bicycle? I couldn’t earn it since I had no money. You can be sure my parents were not into buying bikes for all the kids in town. I didn’t receive it because I was so handsome and intelligent. I was given it because of our relationship. My parents bought me what I could not get for myself; they did it because they loved their son.

What saves you? Paul says we are “now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). In saving us, God takes us into His family and as family members, He gives us gifts, the greatest being the gift of salvation (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

Sounds great, but aren’t we saved by baptism or by going to church or by doing lots of religious things? Look back at Romans 3:24, which says redemption is in Christ. How do we get into Christ? Romans 6:3 says we are baptized into Christ. Baptism makes us a part of Christ and thus a part of God’s family. Once we are in God’s family, He gives us gifts.

Can we separate salvation into several steps then isolate one single item as the magic ingredient that saves us? Once isolated can we make it our pill, swallow it and instantly be saved? No, salvation is not like that at all.

Baptism of just “getting wet,” never has and never will save anyone. It’s only useful when combined with the other ingredients that make up salvation. Going to church or living a good life will never save anyone. Only God’s grace can save, and He only gives that to those who accept and obey His will. In so doing they become a part of His family also known as “the church” (see Acts 2:47).

What if I don’t accept? A brother attended a denominational funeral where the preacher claimed that the anyone who is “saved” is going to heaven and there was nothing that they could do to prevent their salvation. Suppose I had run away from home before Christmas and never returned. Would I have still received my present? What if I stayed at home but told my parents that I didn’t like the bike and simply never rode it? You and I do not have to accept God’s gifts. We can refuse to come into His family or, once in it, choose to run away. We could even pretend to be a member of His family while accepting none of our blessings. God forces no one to be saved. Since salvation is a gift, you must want it, accept it, make it your own, or else lose it.

For me? We all need to belong. None of us can survive very long without a sense of belonging; be it to a family, a sports club, a gang, a religious group, whatever. Nothing is worth belonging to more than God’s family. When we are a part of that family, God gives us His grace. No one is ever a second-rate member of His family because all are important to Him.

So let’s get with it. If you don’t belong, then you need to get into the family. If you do belong, you need to act like it and so remain in it. Then you’ll find His grace begins to grow in you. And when His grace grows in you, it will overflow and be shared with others.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (Romans 16:20). Let’s make a point of enjoying and sharing our rich blessings this week!

— Lester P. Bagley

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