Colossians 4b

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Colossians 4b

Paul always closes his letters with greetings from those with him and to other Christians known to the recipient. It is easy for us to neglect these endings as unimportant personal notes. To do so is to miss much of the richness of Christian fellowship with God’s family, our family! One preacher friend of mine many years ago highly recommended a diligent study of just these closing remarks as a sermon series and important lesson for us all.

Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also  Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); [11] and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.

Aristarchus is no stranger to the Christians of this region having been (apparently) one of the converts in Ephesus and working with Paul ever since (cf. Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Philemon 1:24), even to accompanying him to Roman imprisonment. While there is no record to suggest he is a literal prisoner with Paul, his faithfulness to stay with and work with Paul even in prison is acknowledged.

The next faithful co-worker is John Mark. The last we’d heard of him (Acts 15:39) was when he caused the split between Barnabas and Paul at the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. While Scripture is silent over their contact during the intervening years, the lesson is plain: Do NOT allow disagreements, even harsh ones, to keep coming between faithful members of God’s family! Forgiveness and reconnection may take time, but if both parties are really faithful, it’s always worth the effort.

Jesus who is called or also named Justus is sometimes a shock to people. It is worth remembering that the name Jesus is another form of the Hebrew name Joshua also often transliterated as Yeshua. It was then, as it is today, a popular name among god-fearing people. The uniqueness of our Savior’s name is often (as Paul has done frequently in this letter) spelled out as the Jesus who is the Anointed (as King) one of God (Christ). This Jesus or Joshua is also a fellow preacher and brother known sometimes by the name, Justus.

Notice, too, something that Paul tells us here. Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus/Justus are the only ones currently with Paul that are Jews (from the circumcision). That becomes important when you continue reading and learn that Epaphras, Luke and Demas (verses 12 and 14) are in the other (Gentile) category. People often ask why we would think Luke was a Gentile and the answer is: Because Paul said he was.

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. [13] For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. [14] Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.

The New American Standard calls Epaphras a bondslave while the King James uses  servant (as does the NIV) and the New King James uses bondservant. What is interesting is that Paul uses the exact same word (doulos) that he’s used in Colossians 3:11, 22; 4:1 where the word is nearly always translated as slave (KJV and NKJV use servants and bondservants). Since this word most often refers to slaves the reminder is again given that we all choose a master to serve, either God or Satan. Which one do people see you serving? Epaphras has already been introduced (Colossians 1:7) as apparently the preacher that started the work in Colossae and perhaps Laodicea and Hierapolis as well.

It sometimes surprises Christians in today’s world that preachers feel such a strong spiritual connection to congregations that they’ve worked with. After all, we hire and fire preachers today without much thought that they might have actually been something much different than simple employees for our whims. And we certainly don’t imagine that after all the problems we’ve caused for them that they might actually be laboring earnestly for us in their prayers, do we? After all, we know that New Testament preachers were greatly concerned about congregations, even those that had done wrong (cf. 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians). Perhaps it is high time we as preachers and congregations both get back to the Bible in ALL our attitudes and actions.

Next, Paul mentions his close friend Luke. It is certainly possible that Luke’s Gospel has already been circulating among these congregations and they are either eagerly awaiting his follow up book of Acts, or have already received it.

Finally, Paul includes the (then) faithful preacher Demas. What a sad footnote he becomes in the history of the Lord’s church. A once faithful preacher, fellow worker with the Apostle Paul and brother in Christ that would go on to become forever after known as a deserter (2 Timothy 4:10). Above all else, we need to remember NOT to be a Demas!

Colossians 4:15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church  that is her house.

When we have joint singings and fellowships with neighboring sister congregations do we realize that such actions are actually scriptural? Colossae and Laodicea (about 12 miles apart) seem to know and interact with each other in a similar way.

Nympha, a feminine name, is changed to the masculine name Nymphas in many later manuscripts (especially those used for the King James translation) and there are also some early manuscripts that use their house rather than her or his house. Also difficult to know is the location of this person/group of Christians. Are they at Laodicea or perhaps just part way between Colossae and Laodicea? In the end, we are left wondering about details that everyone in the these two congregations understood perfectly.

Worthy of note, too, is the designation of the church being IN the house or the equally probable idea that a Christian home with a Christian family actually constitutes a group of the Called Out People of God (the New Testament meaning of church). We may well be adding something to Scripture to make all the unfounded claims about the New Testament House Church Pattern as advocated by many twentieth century writers when all God is really trying to point out that a family of Christians is a special thing without reference to the place of worship. We certainly KNOW that this is true of the church at Corinth as Paul specifically  mentions  their  coming  together  for  worship  and  the  Lord’s  Supper  (cf.    1 Corinthians 11:17-22 where Paul makes this clear) is something other than someone’s home or House Church.

Colossians 4:16 When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. [17] Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”

Since the earliest copies of Ephesians lack the destination city, it is carried by Tychicus who is also coming to Colossae, and the letter lacks the usual personal greetings to a destination congregation, most conservative scholars have concluded that the letter was intended to be shared among the congregations in the area of Ephesus. That makes it  likely that the letter coming to Colossae for their attention is what we call the Ephesian letter. Also, Paul makes it clear that Colossians is intended for other congregations. After all, God’s word and His dealing with both problems and concerns is really for us all!

Archippus is also mentioned in Paul’s accompanying personal letter to Philemon (Philemon 2) where Paul says that letter is to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that is your house. That has led many to conclude that Archippus is the son of Philemon and known to the congregation as a faithful Christian, perhaps a deacon or preacher in the congregation.

It is easy for us to become comfortable with the denominational idea of a single preacher / leader / pastor for a congregation that does all the work. Such is NOT the case in the New Testament church. Those with elders (the actual Biblical “pastors” of the church), were equipped with preachers by definition (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9) and oftentimes one or more of them filled the full-time role of “preacher” (cf. 1 Timothy 5:17). Nearly every New Testament “missionary” was a team effort so it should be no surprise to us that preaching and teaching in a congregation is also a team effort.

Having noted these facts, whatever the exact details of Archippus’ status, as a preacher and thus leader within the congregation, he is (like all such) deserving of utmost encouragement in the job! Just like elders, we have the responsibility to make their job easier by the service we give to them and the Lord (cf. Hebrews 13:17).

Colossians 4:18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

Since Paul often used a “secretary” to write (called an amanuensis, cf. Romans 16:22), he adds his own personal greeting and concludes with the Christian blessing of God’s grace. Never forget who you are and what you have to share that is so precious in God’s eyes!

—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….

Joy to the highest degree

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Are you still reading your Bible? This year has certainly been a good reminder that we all need to spend time with our God. Let’s put it a different way. If you miss brushing your teeth for a day, would you just give up and never brush your teeth again? If you miss reading your Bible for a day, be sure to get back to doing something far more important than brushing your teeth. Take care of your eternal soul!

Joy

Let’s begin with a silly question or two. Do you prefer to be joyful or blah? Do you like being so joyful that you just can’t contain yourself? The simple fact is that this is likely one of the spiritual qualities that shines through even in our human forms.

It seems that people have often associated joy, real joy with God. Moses promised true joy to God’s people in celebrating the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 16:15) and offered God’s curses on those that failed to serve the Lord with joy and a glad heart (Deuteronomy 28:47). As David made the preparations for his son Solomon to build the Temple, he blessed those preparations with joy at the willingness of God’s people to make offerings to the Lord (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:17).

When God’s people returned to the Lord after the Babylonian captivity, Ezra observed the joy of restoring the house of the Lord and all the resulting blessings of faithfulness to God (cf. Ezra 6:16, 22). Nehemiah would outright say that their joy came from God (Nehemiah 12:43). And Zephaniah the prophet would remark how, when God’s people obeyed the Lord that, He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (Zephaniah 3:17).

Look back at that passage from Zephaniah. The Hebrew uses three different words for God’s joy. The first two, He will exult over you with joy and He will rejoice over you are terms of an ecstatic, joyful dance. God simply cannot contain Himself and dances for joy. The final shouts of joy is a single word of jubilation and triumph as follows a successful battle or the winning of a war.

Apparently, God knows all about joy and not only shares that attribute with His people but actually feels that joy to the highest degree when His people are faithful. What a picture of our God!

The New Testament Greek is a bit more similar to the English in almost understating the idea of joy. Chara is variously translated as joy, gladness, rejoicing, cause of joy, occasion of rejoicing, bliss, gladness, happiness. You get the point, but God still manages to let His lessons be seen through.

When the Wise Men visit the young Jesus in Bethlehem, the KJV, NKJV and NASB all say that they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. The Greek is literally, they joyed (rejoiced) with very much mega-joy! It seems that the joy in seeing the Lord is almost beyond the terms of human expression! It seems to harken back to Nehemiah’s statement that the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The joy of the Lord. Now THAT is joy worth possessing and sharing.

But let’s move on a bit and also note how joy takes on some very special meanings as the New Testament moves into the lives of God’s people now. Paul reminds us that the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

Joy is something that belongs, not only to God, but to Christ’s church, the Kingdom (from Acts 2 onward). In Galatians 5:22 Paul lists joy just after love as part of the fruit of the Spirit. You may also recall that joy and rejoicing are favorite terms for Paul to use as he writes to the always faithful and encouraging congregation of God’s people in Philippi.

Peter, in discussing Jesus our Christ says, though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). He goes on to say in verse 9 that the result or outcome of such joyful faith is the salvation of our souls!

There is one other form of that New Testament word, sugchairō, and it very specifically means joy that is shared. Luke uses this word for Elizabeth when, in her old age, her son, John, is born and her neighbors and relatives are all rejoicing with her (Luke 1:58).

There’s an old saying that is found in many languages and cultures around the world. It says that sorrow shared is halved and joy shared is doubled. God’s people have known that to be a fact all along. Paul told the Corinthians if one member suffers, all the members suffer with them; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with them (1 Corinthians 12:26). He goes on to define love as not rejoicing in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).

Joy is a trait, a power, a gift of God. Satan and sin have no joy but rather come to steal our joy. And joy shared with God and His people is even more powerful!

Before we finish, though, consider one more Bible verse about that marvelous gift of God. The elderly Apostle John would write, I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4). What greater joy can there be on this earth than to love, be with and work alongside God’s people? What greater joy can there be than to share God’s love with another and watch them go to heaven with us?

Be faithful. Be prayerful. Be IN God’s word. And be joyful in all, for that is God’s gift to us!

—Lester P. Bagley

 

 

 

Singing in the Old Testament

So, how’s your Bible reading going? Oh, no! Not that again! But seriously, how’s your love for the Lord going? Are you still listening to Him and what He says to you in His word? Should you be spending more time on other things than on God? Is there REALLY any greater priority in life than your soul and your relationship with your Savior?

Singing in the Old Testament

When we think of singing to the Lord we probably think most often of a few New Testament verses: Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19). Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). And perhaps, Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. (James 5:13)

Yes, those are all good verses (in case you are wondering, there are another 11 verses in the NT that also deal with singing) and they tell us much about what God wants us to do as we serve Him. But what about the background? Since so much of the Old Testament is written to point us to Christ, what about singing there?

MOST people only think of singing in the Old Testament to try and recycle the old arguments for instrumental music. I’m not sure why they don’t use the same flawed logic to advocate for animal sacrifices, but then people are not really being logical when they demand their way over God’s way, are they? So…

…what CAN we learn from singing in the Old Testament?

To begin with, there are well over 200 verses in the OT that refer to singing! That’s a LOT of singing and a lot of songs! So, can we learn something from all this? Let’s see.

The first of the songs to God is recorded in Exodus 15. When God led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage things looked very much like it would be a very brief time of freedom as the mass of people suddenly found themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s now pursuing army and the Red Sea. God, of course, delivers them by parting the Sea and crossing His people on dry land before closing the Sea again over the Egyptian army.

It was then that the singing began: Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said,

  • “I will sing to the LORD,
  • for He is highly exalted;
  • The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.
  • The LORD is my strength and song,
  • And He has become my salvation;
  • This is my God, and I will praise Him;
  • My father’s God, and I will extol Him.

     (Exodus 15:1-2)

You have to admit that must have been one rousing song of joy. And how could God’s people ever NOT sing of the strength, salvation and deliverance of our great God? Can you imagine someone sitting out the song while grumbling and complaining that someone splashed water and mud all over their new shoes?

That’s ridiculous, you might say. And rightly so! For as the song continues there’s a women’s solo as the people are urged to, as we might say, “sing it again!” Miriam answered them,

  • “Sing to the LORD,
  • for He is highly exalted;
  • The horse and his rider
  • He has hurled into the sea”

       (Exodus 15:21).

As the people travelled on into the Wilderness there were many times that they forgot their God and rebelled against both Him and their leader, Moses. One such rebellion came when, in the book of Numbers, the people again grumbled about their food and water. That grumbling led to the fiery serpents being sent among the people until they repented (Numbers 21:4-9). Apparently, the people had enough food and water, they were just complaining about what they had as not being up to their standards.

Now speaking of water in the desert, we tend to remember Moses performing a miracle to bring water from a rock. But do we remember when the people sang for their water? As Numbers 21 continues: From there they continued to Beer, that is the well where the LORD said to Moses, “Assemble the people, that I may give them water.” Then Israel sang this song:

  • “Spring up, O well!
  • Sing to it!
  • The well, which the leaders sank,
  • Which the nobles of the people dug,
  • With the scepter
  • and with their staffs.

” And from the wilderness, they continued to Mattanah. (Numbers 21:16-18)

Re-read that and notice what God is saying. The Lord calls the people together and the people sing as they dig! Have you ever heard the saying to “pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on you?” Apparently, there’s some truth to it. God is giving them water in the desert; they are singing for the miracle of water and they are also digging! There are some pretty important lessons in that for us, aren’t there?

Many years later, Moses’ work was done and God called him to make preparations for his death. Among those preparations was a transfer of authority to Joshua who would take over the job of leadership of Israel (read Deuteronomy 31:14ff). One of Moses’ great concerns had always been the faithfulness of God’s people.

Pause and think a moment about those preachers, teachers and elders that spend many years faithfully trying to urge God’s people to follow the Bible and God rather than worldly people and Satan’s whims. Many struggle valiantly to keep others faithful and often, when they are no longer working with and teaching those people, the work seems in vain.

One of the hardest jobs we have as Christians is to realize that, having done all we are called by God to do, we then have to let others make their own foolish decisions to rebel against God. Could there really be a place for song and singing to God in times of sadness like that?

As Moses and Joshua, the retiring and incoming leaders of God’s people, present themselves before the symbol of God’s presence, the Tabernacle, God tells them: Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:19).

The song is a hard one: Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore. So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the sons of Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:21-22)

God’s song taught to Israel as he prepares to die and hand over leadership to Joshua is a song of the price of unfaithfulness. And Moses and Joshua obeyed God’s command: Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were complete:Then Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he, with Joshua the son of Nun. (Deuteronomy 31:30, 44)

In a desert land he found him,
    in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
    he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest
    and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
    and carries them aloft.

 The Lord alone led him;
    no foreign god was with him.

He made him ride on the heights of the land
    and fed him with the fruit of the fields.

He nourished him with honey from the rock,
    and with oil from the flinty crag,
with curds and milk from herd and flock
    and with fattened lambs and goats,

with choice rams of Bashan
    and the finest kernels of wheat.
You drank the foaming blood of the grape.

Jeshurun grew fat and kicked;

filled with food, they became heavy and sleek.
They abandoned the God who made them
and rejected the Rock their Savior.
They made him jealous with their foreign gods

and angered him with their detestable idols.
They sacrificed to false gods, which are not God—
gods they had not known,
gods that recently appeared,
gods your ancestors did not fear.

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth.

 

Sad songs obviously have their place in God’s lessons. But I would dare say that most folks prefer happy, joyful songs. I know David did. When he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to eventually be housed in the Temple his son Solomon would build, David not only did a lot of singing but called on all of God’s people to sing with him: Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders (1 Chronicles 16:9).

  • Sing to the  LORD,  all  the  earth; 
  • Proclaim good tidings of  His salvation
  • from day to day. 
  • (1 Chronicles 16:23).
  • Then the trees of the forest will sing
  • for joy before the LORD;
  • For He is coming to judge the earth
  • (1 Chronicles 16:33).

As the history of God’s people continues through the Bible there are many more songs. Psalms is, of course, the song book of Israel and one of the most frequent phrases of the songs of God is about singing praise to God. Many of the other OT songs are good and positive in praise to God for salvation, deliverance and countless other blessings. And there are also a few of those sad songs that remind us of wickedness and sin.

People sing, more than any other reason, to tell a story. Today we sing a song that says, Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word. Some of the songs of Jesus, too, are filled with sadness such as

  • Almost persuaded…
  • Almost… but lost.

Because we are happy, we sing praises to God just like James said. And, sometimes, we sing of sadness and loss. But above all else, we sing!

Why? After all, some of us don’t sing as well as others. Some of us have voices that crack and croak and can’t hit all the notes. But we sing because God made us to sing. He’s always done so with His people. And one day, may it be sooner rather than later, we’ll join Him in the New Song in Heaven (Revelation 5:9; 14:3; 15:3).

Keep singing brothers and sisters!  Keep singing!

—Lester P. Bagley

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Persistence

Are you tired of being confined? Are you ready to get out and be with people? Are you missing seeing and being with someone? Do you remember that the Lord has been right there with you every moment? Are you still reading His word and listening to His direction? Never give up on the one who loves you most!

Persistence

Speaking of giving up, are you a stubborn person? Or are you persistent? Or perhaps, are you faithful? We sometimes associate the exact same traits with either a negative attitude or with a good and positive one. It’s important for us to realize that God does the same thing.

The New Testament talks a good deal about persistence and illustrates for us how it can be either a wrong attitude or a right one. The word epimenō means to continue, to stay, to persevere, to adhere to, continue to embrace, to persist in something. If you want to check all of its usages it is used in: John 8:7; Acts 10:48; 12:16; 15:34; 21:4, 10; 28:12, 14; Romans 6:1; 11:22–23;  1 Corinthians  16:7–8;  Galatians  1:18;  Philippians  1:24;  Colossians  1:23  and 1 Timothy 4:16.

Paul uses it in the negative sense when he asks, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1) For a Christian to persist in sinning can never be a good thing. Paul goes on in that chapter to point out that in Christ we are to live or persist in Christ rather than in being like we were in the world.

Later in Romans Paul calls us to observe both the good and bad, the positive and negative of “continuing” or persisting in God: Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Romans 11:22-23)

If we persist, are stubborn about staying with God and following His word then God’s blessings will be on us. If we persist in being stubborn about disobeying God, then there is no hope for us. The choice is ours to have holy faithfulness or to have the unholy persistence that is sin.

The New Testament frequently uses this same word for an extended stay with someone. When Peter baptized Cornelius and the other first Gentiles of the church, they asked Peter to stay with them. On several occasions Paul stayed an extended time in one place to preach or with those he’d recently converted to Christ. If someone staying and living in your home with you and your family is persistence, then do we see God’s picture of Him staying and living with us in our lives?

In Colossians 1:21-23 Paul tells Christians that, although once unholy apart from Christ, we are now holy and blameless and beyond reproach 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. That kind of persistence is what we also call faithfulness, the kind that lasts and is truly stubborn in the right way.

One last passage to note is 1 Timothy 4:16. As Paul encourages his younger co- worker to stick to the job of serving Christ he says, Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Being faithful to God is not an easy task for us here on this earth. The history of humanity is strewn with those who gave up, the quitters that failed God. We need the positive stubbornness that persists, keeps on following Jesus no matter how hard, no matter what happens. We are called to be faithful until death (Revelation 2:10) in order to receive that Crown of Life.

Paul sums up this persistent, stubborn, faithful way of life like this: Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

—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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“Religion”

How’s that Bible reading going? If you find something “better” to do, either thank Satan for what he’s given you… or get back to reading God’s word… EVERY DAY!

Religion

One of the most important reasons to keep reading and studying God’s word is the simple fact that this world is filled with opinions of God based on ignorance. God has NEVER accepted ignorance nor opinion as a substitute for Godly knowledge, and THAT can only come from knowing God’s word!

Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet, Priest and final Judge of Israel, would dedicate her firstborn son to the Lord with a prayer that reminds us, There is no one holy like the LORD, Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God. Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the LORD is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed. (1 Samuel 2:2-3)

As the northern Kingdom of Israel faced destruction for their unfaithfulness, two prophets of the Lord would expose the sin of “lack of knowledge” as the reason for that failure before God (cf. Isaiah 5:13 and Hosea 4:6). It is not just evident but imperative that we actually know what God says before offering an opinion or, especially, an attempt at obedience.

We are acquainted with the lame expression of some people that they, “love Christ, just not the Church.” Paul destroys that false teaching in Ephesians 5:25-32 as he asserts that Christ’s Church is by God’s definition the very thing He died for and the very thing He saves. If you despise His Church, then you despise Christ. Just as there is only one Lord, He only has one church (cf. Ephesians 4:4-5). If you are not the church of Christ, then you are not saved… according to God.

That brings us to another expression many people love to acknowledge without knowing God’s position on the subject. This one involves religion. Is religion good or bad? Is it right or wrong? It turns out that, just like the ONE church there is only ONE religion in God’s eyes.

A recent popular post on social networking says: Many turn from Jesus because of a bad experience with “Religious” people. We must remind them that Jesus also had a bad experience with “Religious” people: He was crucified by them.

Religion Will Not Save You. Only Jesus Saves.”  Okay, some people claim religion will not save you! What does God say? Let’s begin by understanding that a word, a title, a description may be used to refer to something good and right yet may also be used in a bad sense to refer to the exact opposite. We often use the words true or real when referring to the good sense and fake, or false or bad to point out the opposite meaning. Paul uses this procedure in 1 Corinthians 5:11 to reference the so-called brother that blatantly sins.

In the same way, there is God’s religion and there is false, man-made religion. They are not the same and the fact that people have invented a fake version of what is right does not change the fact that we are saved by religion… as God defines it!

Let’s go to the New Testament where the words for the concept of religion are used very specifically. First, Acts 17:22: So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.” Paul uses the word  deisidaimōn which means reverencing the gods and divine things, religious; in a bad sense, superstitious. By this he is complimenting their careful and precise discharge of religious services. A seeming compliment that he then shows to be wrongly based.

Acts 25:19 uses a form of this same word to refer to a Roman discussion where Christianity is labeled simply a faction of Judaism. Again, the word can refer to, depending on context, either a real religion or a superstition. In this case Festus, the Roman governor, is labeling both Judaism and Christianity as just another superstitious religion while missing the point that this is really the true religion of God.

Second, is the word used in Colossians 2:23 where Paul writes, These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. His word is ethelothrēskia and is a compound word that means rather specifically a self-imposed religious piety. It certainly makes clear Paul’s attitude toward false or fake religion, doesn’t it?

The third word is used first in Acts 26:6: since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. Here Paul is using thrēskeia, a common word referring to worship or religion. As used here it is clear that Paul is claiming to have been a part of the true religion of the old covenant.

Paul will use this same word in a warning in Colossians 2:18 in a negative way: Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind. But he makes it very clear that the opinion of worship of angels and other false things is NOT the worship or religion of God.

Finally, James brings us the ultimate point of the lesson about religion and whether it has any place in our lives as he says, If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27) There are plenty of religions in this world. People can, and do, worship all kinds of things including themselves and their own ideas. But there is also the one true religion that worships and obeys the Lord.

We sometimes only read the first half of James 1:27 and miss the rest of the lesson. Just as vital as caring for those individuals in need, pure and undefiled religion in God’s eyes is keeping oneself unstained by the world. Yes, Jesus saves! But His salvation only comes with obedience to Him. You must BE the Church of Christ. You must live and teach the pure religion of God or you will not be saved.

—Lester P. Bagley

 

4/26/20 ~ A Child is Born

A new year begins with resolutions and hopes of doing better. But those resolutions often see a precipitous decline as other things crowd our time. This year we have been blessed by God with extra time to acknowledge Him, read His word and go to Him in prayer. How are we using that blessing?

A Child is Born

While December 25th is perhaps one of the least likely times for the birth of our Savior, many other times have drawn speculation as appropriate times for such a momentous occasion. One of those times is around this time of year. At Bethlehem the fields would have been filled with newborn lambs as preparations for Passover were underway. Wouldn’t it be interesting if God chose to bring the Lamb of God into the world at the same time? That would put Joseph and Mary at the Temple near Passover to offer thanks to God for their first-born child.

It is, of course, a futile speculation. However, in spite of us NOT knowing His birthday, we do know that God and His faithful people anticipated that momentous day for centuries before it finally came. And in that promise and hope there is an important lesson for us.

It began with a world that had just lost its hope, its reason for life. Adam and Eve had just brought sin into the world and in so doing destroyed their relationship with God. Even as God pronounced sentence on them for their sin, He gave a promise of a child being born that would change everything (cf. Genesis 3:15).

In the centuries to come God’s people repeatedly looked forward to a child being born. Abraham was a century into his life before his son of promise was born. Amram and Jochebed would see a son born at a dangerous time who would survive to lead God’s people. That son would prophecy shortly before his own death that God would one day bring another into this world that would supplant Moses as the great lawgiver.

Under Moses God’s people would be brought to the land promised as the home for that ultimate Son of God. As the people of God moved in and filled the land, they wavered between worshipping the true God and forgetting all His promises. In the coming years a child would be born that would lead God’s people as an exceptional king and his son would rule in an extraordinary time of peace. Solomon would build and dedicate a Temple to God that would be filled with praises and the promise of a coming child. But the time was not yet.

Following Solomon’s death the nation split and dark days reigned for the northern kingdom as they were led for the most part by unfaithful kings. The southern kingdom wavered between faithful and unfaithful kings as they watched their northern brethren approach their destruction. It was in those darkest days that a child would be born and grow up to be the great prophet… Isaiah.

Isaiah would, under God’s direction, write of the dark days and the hope to come:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. (Isaiah 9:1-5)

And then, even in the midst of dark days would come a child:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

A child is born, but not just any child. This one would be so much more than just one of us. For this would be God Himself coming to live and ultimately die for us, to reconcile us all to God, for our salvation. Consider a song that highlights this moment in time:

When A Child Is Born

  • A ray of hope flickers in the sky
  • A tiny star lights up way up high
  • All across the land dawns a brand new morn
  • This comes to pass when a child is born
  • A silent wish sails the seven seas
  • The winds of change whisper in the trees
  • And the walls of doubt crumble tossed and torn
  • This comes to pass, when a child is born
  • A rosy hue settles all around
  • You got the feel, you’re on solid ground
  • For a spell or two no one seems forlorn
  • This comes to pass, when a child is born 

And all of this happens, because the world is waiting. Waiting for one child; Black-white-yellow, no one knows…But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter, Hate to love, war to peace and everyone to everyone’s neighbor, And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten forever.

  • It’s all a dream and illusion now,
  • It must come true sometime soon somehow,
  • All across the land dawns a brand new morn,
  • This comes to pass when a child is born.

With all of our failures and sin, of all the lessons that God shares with us, one of the most stunning, the most precious, is hope.

There is never a time when God has forgotten us. He always remembers and His promise always stands. For He is the author of hope.

We have so often turned away from God. We have imagined that there was not time enough in our lives for God. We have forgotten He is the author of hope.

So whether you are filled with joy and doing well, or you are struggling and miserable, remember the promise of God. For that child was born. He came to be your savior, to die for you. He came that you might one day go home with Him forever. He came that you might always have hope!

—Lester P. Bagley

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11/24/19 ~ The Unused Cup

Blog-Unused Cup

From the Preacher’s Pen…

Hopefully, we’ve all noticed that frequently our visiting preachers remind us of the importance of God’s “Great Commission” to His church, His family. All the things we do as God’s family to encourage each other, to honor and praise God, to help those with physical needs must be focused on saving souls!

If we feed the hungry but fail to point them to salvation in Christ, we’ve wasted our time. If we praise God with our lips in “worship” but fail to bring the lost to Him, we’ve wasted God’s time. If we make each other “feel” better without drawing closer to God in obedience then we are merely serving Satan, not the Lord.

If we would actually accomplish God’s will we must do God’s will! One of my favorite stories is a great lesson in keeping our priorities right. Let’s remember…

The Unused Cup

James A. Garfield, twentieth President of the United States, resigned as an elder of the church of Christ in 1881 to take office. His statement to the congregation was, I resign the highest office in the land to become President of the United States.

Thirty years earlier at age 19, he was planning to take a riverboat trip with friends but injured his foot while chopping wood. While his friends were on their trip a preacher came to town and James Garfield, as he put it, surrendered my heart to the Lord and was baptized into his kingdom at the age of 19.

Eight years later in 1853, he began preaching and continued to faithfully serve the Lord. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1862 and, in 1880, became the first sitting member of Congress to be elected to the presidency. He remains the only sitting House member to gain the White House.

The first week after his inauguration as President of the United States, a member of his cabinet insisted on an urgent meeting at 10:00 Sunday morning to handle a threatened national crisis. Garfield refused to attend because he had a more important appointment. The cabinet member demanded to know what it was. The president replied, I will be as frank as you are. My engagement is with the Lord to meet Him in His house at His table at 10:00, and I shall be there. He then left with Mrs. Garfield and went to Sunday morning worship.

President Garfield’s appointment at the Lord’s table was a reference to the Lord’s Supper, the memorial of the sufferings of Christ observed by Christians every first day of the week (Acts 20:7). The Apostle Paul gave the following instructions to Christians concerning their appointment at the Lord’s table:

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

An invitation has been extended to each one of us as humans to come in obedient faith (Acts 16:30-31), confessing Jesus as Lord before men (Romans 10:9-10), turning away from sin in repentance (Acts 17:30-31) and being immersed for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38) so that we, too, may take our reserved seat at the Lord’s table with those who will inherit eternal life. 

Consider the declarations of your “Unused Cup”…

“I am an unused cup for communion… left last Sunday from the worship service, giving testimony of an appointment unkept, a trust broken….”

“I was filled in anticipation… that some Christian would drink of my contents and be reminded of the price of their redemption.”

“Here I sit— unused… Yet I bear witness of a love extended, a fellowship desired, and a grace made available. This is the NEW covenant in my blood, Jesus said.”

“Here I remain… reminding one and ALL that God’s gift MUST be claimed. He forces neither Himself nor his blessing on anyone — but He eagerly awaits acceptance.”

“There is a cup for YOU each Lord’s dayand no one else can ever use it! It is a sacred appointment that each of us has with the Lord to do this in remembrance of Him (cf. Hebrews 10:24-29).”

Yes, there IS an appointment to be kept for the child of God at the Lord’s Table AND there is ALSO a seat reserved for YOU! The Lord’s Table is set… Will you keep YOUR appointment?  (Or will you betray him?)

— Lester P. Bagley

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11/10/19 ~ Thanks to God

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Do you give thanks to God? At first glance that seems a silly question for Christians. Should we not always be thankful to the Lord?

A great Bible study is to look at the passages in the Bible (over 80 of them) that express the lesson of giving thanks to God. Let’s take a look at some of Paul’s thoughts on this subject:

Thanks to God

As Christians, we truly have countless blessings and unlimited reasons to be thankful to God. Indeed, the point of one of our hymns is that in counting our blessings we come to appreciate just how many and great they are.

On five occasions Paul specifically commented in his writings that there was something special to remember as an exceptional reason to be thankful to God. Each one presents a lesson in what impressed Paul as a blessing deserving of our thanksgiving.

The first occurs in Romans 6:17:

  • But thanks be to God
  • that though you were slaves of sin,
  • you became obedient from the heart
  • to that form of teaching to which you were committed.

Do we remember to be thankful to God for our hearing and our sincere obedience to the Gospel? For every single one of us, there was at least one person (and perhaps several people!) that loved the Lord enough to share the truth with us. That blessing leads directly to real freedom as we obey the commands of God that free us from sin and transfer us into Christ’s kingdom (see Colossians 1:13). Thank you, Jesus, for taking us from slave to brother or sister!

The second thanks to God is Romans 7:25:

  • Thanks be to God
  • through Jesus Christ our Lord!
  • So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God,
  • but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Paul is discussing (Romans 7:14-25) the fact that the Law, while it exposed our sin and the need for forgiveness, could not really free us from the consequences of sin. Only for those IN Christ is there true freedom from sin (cf. Romans 8:1).

The third thanks to God comes in 1 Corinthians 15:57:

  • But thanks be to God,
  • who gives us the victory
  • through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here Paul’s lesson (1 Corinthians 15:50-57) reminds us of the change that is coming to our bodies when Jesus returns. This is the final great victory as the old fear of death is literally swallowed up by victory. Paul’s very next words challenge us to truly live as those that are genuinely thankful as he says, Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

The last two expressions are in 2 Corinthians. Let’s look first at chapter 8, verse 16:

  • But thanks be to God
  • who puts the same earnestness on your behalf
  • in the heart of Titus.

Here Paul is challenging the Christians in Corinth to willingly and generously participate in financial aid to other Christians that are in need. Titus, one of Paul’s young coworkers, has offered to go to Corinth to bring their generous gift to Paul. Thankfulness for fellow Christians and their work for the Lord is an important part of our who we really are as children of God!

Finally, Paul uses this phrase of thanking God in 2 Corinthians 2:14:

  • But thanks be to God,
  • who always leads us in triumph in Christ,
  • and manifests through us the sweet aroma
  • of the knowledge of Him in every place.

Paul has faced criticism from some for disfellowshipping blatant, unrepentant false Christians in the church at Corinth. In spite of human criticism, the Lord blesses not only Paul but all those who faithfully serve God. Paul’s words follow the language of the Roman military parades as the true victors are led in triumph to the disgrace of the losers that can only criticize. Yes, God expects us to be thankful that He gives us victory over those who would degrade and destroy His precious Kingdom.

Thank you, Lord, for making us part of your incredible, eternal family. Thank you for all that means in saving us from sin by the gift of your own life. Thank you for giving us an important job in your kingdom to be your light in this world. Thank you for our family in Christ that we might work together to do your will. And thank you for victory in Jesus. May we never forget to thank you for everything and the certain knowledge that you are our God!

— Lester P. Bagley

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