Metaphors in the Bible

Metaphors

Whether we realize it or not, we are all familiar with metaphors. A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers to one thing by giving an example that helps illustrate the deeper meaning. The Bible frequently uses metaphors to illustrate God’s lessons for us. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!

There’s also a special form known as a simile that generally uses the word “like” to highlight the illustration. It’s important to note the obvious mistake in taking these illustrations too literally. Since nearly every single book of the Bible uses similes and metaphors we must understand how these important illustrations are used and not miss God’s lessons.

A couple of quick examples are in order: First, Solomon’s bride describes him as like a gazelle or a young stag (Song of Solomon 2:9). No one should mistakenly picture Solomon as a four-footed animal with antlers! Second, many of the voices that speak to John from heaven in his book of Revelation are described a like trumpets, like many waters, like loud thunder and like many harpists (cf. Revelation 14:2). Nothing in this should lead us to picture heaven as filled with actual trumpets, white-water rapids, thunder or harpists… unless we are deliberately missing the point of figures of speech.

All of this reminds us to read carefully and not miss the illustrated lessons of God. So let’s take a quick look at a few of the metaphors or word picture illustrations of the New Testament that are applied to us.

In John 10 Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd and sheep. He is the good shepherd that loves His sheep to the point that He will actually lay down His life for them (John 10:14-15). We are His sheep, called to follow Him, known by Him, protected by Him and obediently listening to Him (cf. John 10:27).

The lesson, of course, has nothing to do with us eating grass or being shorn for our wool. Rather it has everything to do with our relationship with our Savior.

Jesus call us both salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt both enhances flavor and is one of the oldest known preservatives. The New Testament world was well acquainted with salted meats, fish and pickled items. Salt was commonly bought and sold and there were salt mines and salt “farming” (at the Dead Sea, for example) all over the region (and world-wide, in fact).

The illustration of Jesus to compare His people to salt is a perfect one since it relates to everyday life. By the way, Jesus’ comment about salt becoming “tasteless” is interesting when you realize that the only way for that to actually happen is for it to be either so contaminated with something else that the taste is lost, or else it must be chemically changed into something else. Either way, it becomes useless by being changed into something else!

Jesus’ second illustration here is also easily understandable and relatable. Light is only useful when it is on and shining where it can be seen. Interestingly for this illustration is the fact that in John’s Gospel Jesus specifically says that, while He is IN the world, He is the Light of the world (John 9:5).

When we put these two lessons of the Light of the World together, we see the responsibility that Jesus is putting on us as His family. Since He has returned to Heaven, we are called to BE HIM in this this world. Paul, of course, comments on this very illustration when he says, It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). If Christ is alive in us, then we are responsible to BE HIS light in this world.

Putting God’s metaphors together makes a powerful lesson and helps us better appreciate our job, our responsibility in this world.

Next week we’ll look at a few more examples of these word pictures. In the meantime, may we as good sheep be good salt and good light for Jesus!

— Lester P. Bagley

Colossians 1b

It is ALWAYS a great day to read and study God’s word! Have you got anything better or more important to do than to spend time with God today? Don’t leave out the essential things and end up focused on the least significant ones.

Colossians 1b

Last time we were about ready to go into Colossians 1:15 but noted a bit of just who it is that Paul is about to describe. So let’s pick up with that thought…

Paul is about to go into a discussion of Jesus Christ (sometimes noted as Jesus the Christ for reasons soon to be evident). Jesus is from the Latin form of the name his parents called him (cf. Luke 2:21). In Hebrew the name is Yeshua or in English, Joshua, and it means: Yahweh (God’s formal name, sometimes rendered Jehovah) is Salvation. Christ is a title rather than a name (and thus sometimes spelled out as Jesus THE Christ) meaning anointed or chosen one. Such anointing and choosing was typically done of kings, emperors and similar rulers over great kingdoms. You may recall the events leading to David’s anointing as king in place of Saul. The Hebrew word is usually translated in English as Messiah and typically refers to those anointed or chosen by God.

It is important to take a moment to appreciate this term and you may wish to do a bit more study of Biblical usage of this idea. Specifically, how does it relates to us?  First, there are many Messiahs. David was selected by God and thus was, like many others of God’s Old Testament leaders, a Messiah.

Peter, in Acts 3:20, specifically designates Jesus as the Messiah appointed for you! In context Peter is speaking of Jesus and His new covenant now in effect. While Jesus lived on this earth, He was the Light of the world (read John 9:5). But that job was always to be passed on. In Matthew 5:14 Jesus calls His followers, disciples, the light of the world.

As Christians, we are those called and chosen by God for this holy position. Peter expressed it like this:  Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble     (2 Peter 1:10).

What’s that word for the called, chosen, anointed by God for His service? Messiah! The ultimate Messiah of God has called us to be His representatives here on earth. Those baptized into Christ have put on Christ (cf. Romans 6:3-7). As such,  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus was called by God to bring salvation to the world. His family, Christians, are called to carry on that work here on earth until Jesus comes again. And all that brings us right back to the last half of Colossians chapter 1.

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Just who is this savior of ours, really?  Here’s Paul:

Colossians 1:15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16] For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.

[17] He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [18] He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. [19] For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, [20] and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Did you catch all that? One of the dumbest things people have ever dreamed up is trying to separate Jesus from God. Yes, I know that the labels for Jesus, the Son, etc. point out Him here on earth even as the label, the Father, is in heaven. The prophet Isaiah says of the Son that was given, And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and Matthew (1:23) cites this very prophecy as referring to Jesus.

Even while here on earth Jesus pointed out their unique oneness (cf. John 10:30). And Paul now doubles down on what God has always been telling us. This is what God looks like if we could see Him as a human being!

The term firstborn of all creation trips many into imagining that Jesus was created by God. In legal terms, both Greek and Hebrew refer to the firstborn as the one deserving of extra honor, inheritance and authority. Psalm 89:27 uses this very concept in prophecy of Jesus as the one made or appointed as having the highest honor. None of this is to imply that Jesus is either created or less in authority than God, but rather He is creator of ALL things, just as John also said in John 1:3.

If ALL the fullness of God is IN Him then He, Jesus our Christ is both our God and our Savior. Note that this term is actually used by Paul in Titus 2:13 and by Peter in 2 Peter 1:1. Even greater than who Jesus is, is the fact that He Himself makes peace between us and God by His own bloodshed on that cross. Is it any wonder that Paul pours all this out in wonder and amazement?

We possess in Jesus both the greatest gift ever given, and the greatest job ever assigned! This is the one that calls and chooses US to take His Good News of Salvation to this world that is dying in sin! How are we realizing that great Commission?

Now that Paul has set the unimaginable parameters of our unlimitedly great God and Savior, he then returns to what He has done for us with all that greatness:

Colossians 1:21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, [22] yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — [23] if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

Remember that budding Gnosticism problem? The idea that God has called us to either extreme of sin without measure or avoid everything in life here on earth as sin, is dangerous. We are called, chosen by God for the very purpose of holiness! Yes, it is a constant struggle to keep holy but that NEVER is an excuse to settle for anything less.

How do we keep holy, blameless and beyond reproach? Well certainly NOT by failing to be faithful nor by moving away from the Gospel. God’s word and God’s way are the same. If we go searching anywhere else, then we are moving away from God.

As Paul challenges others to keep holy, he admits to both working in that direction with them and facing the same challenges:

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

  • Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
  • that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, [27] to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [28] We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. [29] For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within

Just like grazing animals seem to always think that the grass on the other side of the fence is better, so do we often imagine how easy it is for others to be Christians while we have to struggle. God gives us all a burden and the help and strength to bear it. The hardest part for us to see, as God sees, is how much we really can bear.

When it comes to Christian burdens and Christian living, it’s really all about the Gospel. God has entrusted to us His precious promises. We are, in so very many ways, the world Bible. An old poem (and song from it) reminds us well of this:

  • Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;
  • He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way;
  • He has no tongues but our tongues to tell men how He died;
  • He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.
  • We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
  • We are the sinner’s Gospel, We are the scoffer’s creed;
  • We are the Lord’s last message, Given in deed and word.
  • What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?
  • What if our hands are busy with work other than His?
  • What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
  • What if our tongues are speaking of things His lips would spurn?
  • How can we hope to help Him And hasten His return?

The message of salvation contains a great mystery that God’s people have longed to understand in ages past. God’s great mystery, however, is not a mystery any longer and it is certainly not some vague, unidentified, unknown thing that only crazy people can know. God’s great mystery is that salvation is in Christ for all.

Our job is to share that Good News, that Mystery of Old that is clearly seen and fulfilled in Christ’s church.

That takes us back a bit to Paul’s concept of his own work and that of all Christians in verses 24-25 and tied to verses 28-29. As strange as it may seem, our job of taking the Gospel into all the world is NOT about the lost!

Yes, we are calling the lost to Jesus but that is ever only the beginning of the job! The Great Commission (also echoed by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9) is all about bringing the lost into Christ’s church and keeping them there. Jesus did NOT make the Great Commission just going and baptizing, there’s more!

After Matthew 28:19 your Bible continues to verse 20: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

We make a huge error in trying to separate our preaching, teaching and Christian living. They are NOT three things but, in God’s eyes, ONE.

Paul, the “preacher” to the Gentiles was really a servant, minister, deacon of the church and the Gospel (Colossians 1:23-25), as we all are. Our job is to fully preach the word to the church, the called-of-God, the being saved ones.

Where do we get the absurd idea that getting people baptized is a job we are called to do? Our job is to finish the job! It does no one any good to get wet or hear the Gospel if we don’t keep on teaching and encouraging them until the end. Christians are often good at starting the job but not finishing the job.

We are called to proclaim Him, admonishing every human being and teaching every human being with all wisdom, so that we may present every human being complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). The job is not done until we cross the finish line.

And the best way to cross the finish line is in working together with fellow saints and with Jesus. Let’s do it His way!

—Lester P. Bagley

 

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….

9/22/19 ~ What We Share in Christ II

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Relationships are always a challenge. Being friends with someone takes effort and so, too, does being family. Many times we take those relationships for granted and end up estranged, no longer close as we once were. For those family and friends that we really consider important to us, we make the effort to keep close, to not only maintain, but grow that relationship. The same lesson applies to our relationship with our God and Savior.

What We Share in Christ – 2

As Christians we enjoy a very special relationship with each other and, especially, with Christ. Like any especially close and important connection it is important that we not only maintain but grow that rapport. Let’s look at a few more of the snapshots that God gives us of just how special that connection is.

To begin, we must first remember the constant New Testament lesson that all God’s promises and spiritual blessings are only available to those that are IN Christ. Last week we noticed some of the many lessons of Romans 6 so let’s begin with another important passage on this subject, this time in Ephesians:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

As Romans 6 pointed out, our transition from death to life begins with baptism. So now in Ephesians we again see that, once in Christ, we are made alive (verse 5). In Christ we are raised together with Him (verse 6, again the echo of Romans). The point of all this is to be seated with Christ in Heaven as part of God’s eternal family (verse 6).

It is worth noticing when comparing Romans 6 and Ephesians 2 that God’s marvelous grace is the key to making this transaction complete. Often we hear the nonsense that “if grace saves us, then baptism is not important.” The words of the Holy Spirit in both of these passages makes that a lie. Our baptism is NOT an ACTION we take in saving ourselves by our own power. Our baptism into Christ is entirely a submissive action to God and His will.

We do not baptize ourselves as the Jews did under the Law. Baptism into Christ is ALWAYS in the subjective, we submit to, we allow ourselves to BE baptized. And, in so doing, we die and are buried, and are raised anew, just as our Savior was.

Because we submit to His grace, we are made alive, raised and seated together with Him. This changes everything!

Colossians 3:3 says that our life is now hidden, literally concealed by the life of Christ. Romans 8:17 tells us that this change makes us heirs, co-heirs with Him. As such, we have, again only IN Christ, ALL things, ALL blessings, ALL hope given to us (Romans 8:32).

When we realize all the greatness of God, when we see all the treasures that He possesses, only then do we see how much He freely gives us in Christ.

The real question for us is, Are you IN Christ so that all these promises might be yours?

— Lester P. Bagley

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Sunday 9/4 ~ What We Share in Christ

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Relationships are always a challenge. Being friends with someone takes effort and so, too, does being family. Many times we take those relationships for granted and end up estranged, no longer close as we once were. For those family and friends that we really consider important to us, we make the effort to keep close, to not only maintain but grow that relationship. The same lesson applies to our relationship with our God and Savior.

What We Share in Christ

As Christians, we enjoy a very special relationship with each other and, especially, with Christ. Like any especially close and important connection, it is important that we not only maintain but grow that rapport. Let’s look at a few of the snapshots that God gives us of just how special that connection is.

To begin, we must first remember the constant New Testament lesson that all God’s promises and spiritual blessings are only available to those that are IN Christ.

In Christ, we are crucified together with Him. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20). Crucifixion was the ultimate capital punishment of the New Testament world. On the rare occasion that someone survived they were forever horribly disfigured, mutilated for life. It is no wonder that Peter (2 Peter 2:17-22) describes how much worse it is in God’s judgment for those that once were in Christ!

In Christ, we die with Him. In Christ, we are buried with Him. In Christ, we are raised with Him to a new life. Romans 6 is a great lesson about how and why we are united with Christ. And it all begins with/in baptism! How could anyone ever believe that baptism is not a vital ingredient in our salvation?

Romans 6:1-14: 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Our real accomplishment is in losing ourselves, our will, our lives in a total change of priorities. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

It is never a partial thing with God. Either we are fully IN Him or we are outsiders. So, are you truly IN Christ?

— Lester P. Bagley

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September 8 ~ The Place of Mankind: Psalm 8

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From the Preacher’s Pen… 

When we think of David we tend to first think of him as the King and source of the lineage that would lead to Jesus. But we also need to see him as a prophet and a teacher of God. Notice an important psalm that shows us both of these attributes:

The Place of Mankind – Psalm 8

One of the lessons that we must learn about God and prophecy is that He often teaches more than just one lesson to His people with a seemingly single prophecy. Isaiah (7:10-17) offers one of the great examples of this as a prophecy is made to king Ahaz. We tend to only see the second lesson of Mary giving birth to Jesus in the New Testament, but the lesson promised to Ahaz was an equally powerful lesson in God’s power to control human events.

Recognizing God’s ability to teach more than one lesson through prophecy, let’s take a look at David’s Psalm 8: 

O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?

Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,

All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field,The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

First, we notice the powerful lesson of praise of God. His greatness is beyond human understanding. His power is mightier than our utmost imagination. His majesty compels us to bow before Him in awe.

Second, it begins to dawn on us that as great as our God is, and as tiny and insignificant as we are in comparison, that is NOT His view of us, His creation! He sees His people as only a little lower than God, Himself! He crowns His human creation with glory and majesty. What an amazing idea!

Notice something here. The Hebrew behind all English translations (whether King James, American Standard, New American Standard or any other English translation) actually says (verse 5) that God has made mankind a little lower than God! The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament from before the time of Jesus) introduces the word “angels” and it is this translation that is used by the writer of Hebrews (2:7) in application to Jesus.

So, David the prophet has declared mankind to be made a little lower than God. Recall that we are made in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27 and 9:6), yet evidently, we are not equal to God (a lesson also taught throughout the Bible). And, apparently, by the book of Hebrews’ comment, we are actually a little lower than the angels in current status. But that is not the end of the story.

As we begin to compare the extension of the lesson by the Hebrew writer (read Hebrews chapter 1), we begin to see God’s purpose in placing us (for a time) as lower than Him, lower even than the angels. God is showing us His real power, His greatness. All of creation is for the purpose of elevating His people, qualifying them to be with Him as His family. Just as God displayed His greatness by elevating Jesus, so He makes His creation, us, His people to be that chosen family, that royal priesthood, that holy people, that are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10).

God, as great, powerful and majestic as He is has always planned to make us, His creation, a part of His own family. Just as Jesus was “made” for a little while to be lower than God or the angels, so we too are now. But, just as God planned and did restore Jesus to His glory as God, so too one day we will be elevated to be with our God, our Father.

This raises an interesting question. If God has made all the plans and provisions for us to enjoy this greatness, this honor, then how will we respond? Will we accept the honor, do His will and faithfully serve Him? Or will we reject it all? The choice is ours to make. What will you choose?

— Lester P. Bagley

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Sunday 8/25 ~ Psalm 3

 

 

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

One of the hardest lessons for us to accept as human beings is that we are not unique. The struggles, worries, and doubts that we have are actually common. We all struggle, we all worry and we all doubt. The answer to these and all the other challenges in our life is to look to God for our help.

Let’s consider a man of God who appreciated that lesson:

Psalm 3

Have you ever made a mistake? Ever done something really wrong and known that you were going to be punished for it? Have you ever thought that your punishment was worse than the crime?

Certainly, as children, most of us have been caught and punished for doing something wrong. And we very possibly have thought, at least at the time, that the punishment was unfair and more than we deserved.

David, a man that truly loved and tried to obey the Lord made such a mistake. Years earlier David had taken the wife of one of his soldiers and gotten her pregnant. To cover up his first sin he murdered her husband and then for some months continued to hide all his sins. But God sees and knows our hearts and our sins.

Nathan the prophet exposed David’s sins and in doing so had David pronounce the King’s own sentence on the criminal. Yes, God forgave David’s sin and allowed David to live and not die, but there were still consequences and David was told that there would be a fourfold payment made in his life for that sin.

One of those consequences of David’s sin would come years later as his son Absalom stole the throne and sent David fleeing for his life. So what do you say to God in such circumstances? Does God really even love us enough to be with us in such times of self-made distress?

Listen in on David’s prayer to God:

1 O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me.

2 Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.”

3 But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.

4 I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain.

5 I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.

6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about.

7 Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.

8 Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be upon Your people!

Notice how David and God address our questions, our doubts? Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.”

So many times we hear input from the ungodly on spiritual things and just accept it as true. The fact is, God so dearly loves those that possess His Spirit that He is reluctant to abandon them. The Holy Spirit stays with God’s people to encourage and keep them on the right track. Oh, yes, we can choose to shun God’s spirit and sin so as to cause God to abandon us (cf. Saul the King), but it has to be our choice.

David then moves from the accusations of the ungodly to the confidence that God provides: But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.

Ultimately, for those that truly belong to God, there is nothing to fear from the ungodly: I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about. Of the multitude of lessons we as God’s people still need to learn and treasure, the confidence of God’s salvation is certainly one of the most difficult. Salvation belongs to the Lord!

No, that does NOT mean God’s going to save you regardless of how you live. Yes, David still faced many dangerous days in the years ahead and yes, those dangers were the result of David’s folly. But those who belong to God, those who continue to reshape their lives even in failure to the pattern that God provides, they are guaranteed that the Lord will continue to walk with them, bless them and keep them from even greater evil.

The only real question for us is, Do we love God that much? The New Testament defines that status as being IN Christ. It’s not enough to like God, to do a little of His will and a lot of our own. Being IN Christ requires a lifestyle of obedience to the Lord. Failures are only fatal when we allow ourselves to give up, give in to Satan and quit living in Christ.

Have you ever made a mistake? Welcome to the club! Now get up and get busy serving the Lord because He still loves you and blesses you!

— 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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2/10/19 ~ The Key

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Have you ever forgotten or lost your keys? Whether it’s being locked out of your house or unable to get in and drive your car; having the keys–the right keys–is very important. And if that is a true lesson with house keys, or car keys, how much more so is it vital with Heavenly keys?

The Key

During the reign of King Hezekiah, Isaiah the prophet of God made a prophecy about the head of the royal household, Shebna. Apparently, from the context of Isaiah 22, Shebna was leader of the party that advocated an alliance with Egypt. God had repeatedly commanded His people to have nothing to do with compromise. Egypt represented all that was against the will of God. Agreement with them would never be right.

Before we continue, do we today sometimes have trouble understanding that same lesson?

God’s decree through Isaiah to Shebna was that Shebna had no right to even serve in the house of the king (Isaiah 22:15-16). God planned humiliation, deposition from his office and death as the shameful punishment for his compromise (Isaiah 22:17-19).

All this is the lead-up to a great lesson and prophecy of Jesus the Christ. Eliakim (meaning God will establish), son of Hilkiah (the faithful high priest) is to take over as head of the royal household. He will be faithful: Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder.  When he opens no one will shut; when he shuts no one will open. I will drive him like a peg in a firm place, and he will become a throne of glory to his father’s house. (Isaiah 22:22-23)

If some of those words about Eliakim, the one whom God would establish, sound familiar, there’s a good reason. In Revelation 3:8-12 God addresses one of the two truly faithful congregations, Philadelphia, and says:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie — I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”

Paul reminds us that whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). So the whole purpose of us learning about Eliakim is to see the lesson for us today. And God goes to great lengths to make sure we see that lesson by repeating it to faithful saints!

Jesus has the authority and the keys to heaven. He used those keys to open the door for us. And He shares those keys (if we use them properly) with us to teach others the Good News of salvation (cf. Matthew 16:19).

Eliakim was given the keys to do the job that God needed done for His people. Jesus was given the keys for the same reason. The Christians at Philadelphia saw the value of those keys in keeping God’s word so that no one would take their crown. Do we?

Eliakim was also called a peg or nail in a firm place for being a reliable, faithful servant of God. But his work would one day fail with the fall of Judah (cf. Isaiah 22:23-25). Jesus, however, becomes the ultimate keeper of the keys and His promises are still faithful, His doors still open: This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil (Hebrews 6:19).

Have you got the key?

— Lester P. Bagley

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Creeping and Drifting…

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From the Preacher’s Pen… I once heard of a mayor who firmly believed that traffic warnings were overdone. He was elected just because he felt it excessive to always be telling people how to run their lives and what not to do. So, his solution was to get rid of all the traffic control in his city. No more stop lights, no more stop signs, no more yield signs, no more signs preventing people from driving however they wanted.

As you might expect, things didn’t go well in that town. As traffic snarled and accidents abounded, pedestrians were increasingly run down and people eventually became so angry that they replaced their mayor with one that promised to put the rules back in place and restore order.

Hopefully, you realize the lesson has important parallels for us in God’s word. Let’s look a moment at…

Creeping and Drifting

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about the salvation we share, I felt the necessity to write to you urging you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)

Jude presents an important reminder of the fact that sin does not appear to us dressed up with horns and a pitchfork. Satan and his false-teaching followers know how to creep in without our notice. The warning from God is clear; we must always be on the alert, watchful lest the Devil and his ungodly companions sneak in and cause us to also do wrong.

The NIV renders verse 4 like this: For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Watch out for the dangerous, unnoticed, secretly slipping in ungodly people who are perverting God’s will! Do we get the point?

What is amazing in light of God’s clear teaching is how often someone will suggest that we “let them talk and have their say. After all, won’t everyone recognize false teaching?” Do we really have a God-given responsibility to protect those babes and immature ones in Christ? Let’s check with God on that: Reject a factious [divisive, Paul literally calls them a heretic] person after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11) Paul also warned the elders of the Ephesian church that savage wolves were going to be a threat to the church and that they would be leading people away from salvation (cf. Acts 20:25-30).

God’s lesson for us is important: There is danger out there and it will sneak in and destroy our lives and the Lord’s church if we let it. Be careful, always watchful, always devoted to the truth in God’s word! Okay, as soon as we observe the big bad wolf huffing and puffing at our door, we will immediately stop him and never allow ourselves to be led astray!

The problem with this boast is that God also warns us of another danger… that of drifting. The Hebrew writer warns: …  we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3a)

Danger does not always come with a sign and a warning. Indeed, it is especially deadly when it creeps in. We miss the signs when they are almost unnoticeable. We drift ever so slowly away. It is dangerous simply because it is insidious, easily missed until it is too late.

All the warnings in the world are useless without us first knowing God’s will. Reading your Bible daily is a beginning. Studying intently on your own and with your fellow Christians will help even more. James puts it like this: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22–25)

Be careful not to allow either creeping or drifting into your life for the Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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low either creeping or drifting into your life for the Savior!

— Lester P. Bagley

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