Perhaps you have had a chuckle at the “chimney corner Scriptures”–those things that sound like or we think that are in the Bible but are not (“Let your conscience be your guide” or “confession is good for the soul” or “God works in a mysterious way”). It is not as funny when our hearts and minds are not adequately protected from a teacher or preacher who promotes something as biblical that is not. It may be someone who touts a thing as acceptable to God which the Bible teaches is not. It may be someone who asserts that something must be believed or done, though the Bible does not bind it. Either way, God holds each of us accountable for knowing His will. We are cheating ourselves and our souls who allow a teacher or preacher to dictate to us how we should feel or think about a given matter. I am not saying we should be suspicious or distrusting. Instead, I am saying we should be like the Bereans. One of the most powerful, positive statements made about any group of people is said of them in Acts 17:11: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” You have likely read that passage before, but what is the Holy Spirit saying about them?
They Were Characterized By EXCELLENCE. They were noble-minded. Notice that it began here. All else positive that is said about them began with their mindset. Jesus praises people who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt. 5:6). These people were predisposed to accept God’s Word. What higher praise can be lavished on anyone?
They Were Characterized By EAGERNESS. The antithesis of this would be apathy and indifference. These were “word-receivers.” They were sponges, anxious to know God’s Word. The Bible, from cover to cover, touts itself as the message of salvation. Doesn’t it deserve our greatest enthusiasm?
They Were Characterized By EXAMINING. But, they were not uncritical, undiscerning students. They were listening to one of history’s greatest Christians, borne along by the Holy Spirit, but they still checked after him. Every man who purports to be God’s proclaimer deserves that same level of scrutiny.
They Were Characterized By EVERYDAYNESS. They were not content to wait for the next Bible class or sermon. They were daily devourers of these Divine dictates! Aren’t there things you feel compelled to do on a daily basis (eat, sleep, brush your teeth, check your Facebook)? We prove to God we are serious about the blessing of having a relationship with Him by constant, consistent consultation of His revealed mind and desires–we only find that in His Word!
How can we tell whether something is just a man’s conviction or is God’s command? How do we know that some strange, new doctrine is true or false? Do not be content to let somebody be your sole source of gauging that! Be a Berean!
As one who has been possessed of gray hair since college, I was particularly intrigued by the article I ran across from Popular Science. A cream developed for a skin condition called “vitiligo” helped to restore lost pigment in the skin of some of those suffering from it. Researchers believe it might do the same thing for those with gray hair. The theory is that those with gray hair have too much hydrogen peroxide in their hair follicles and shafts. They believe this cream could reduce that and restore a person’s natural hair color (via FASEB Journal, http://www.fasebj.org).
Reversing gray hair, restoring bald hair, shedding those extra, stubborn pounds, and similar ambitions appeal to our vanity, but they are not necessary for our souls. Millions try product after product to address such perceived needs, willing to spend money and make sacrifices in such pursuits. After all, we want to do what we can to look our best.
Yet, the greatest need of every generation has a 100% success rate for every one who has ever obtained it. It goes beyond skin deep. It reaches to the soul. It may not change the outward appearance, but it renews the inner person (2 Cor. 4:16ff).
It is baffling that so many more do not move heaven and earth to address this true need. Many are unaware they suffer from it. So many more are in denial. Still others are not dedicated to doing what it takes to have it. The reasons are varied, but the majority do not want this cure.
Jesus’ blood. It cost Him His life to make it available (John 19:34). But, it is the unfailing cure (Eph. 2:13; Heb. 13:12; 1 Jn. 1:7; etc.). Long after these bodies have decayed and disappeared in the ground, it will be working for us. It has an eternal guarantee. You cannot beat that, but you definitely must have it! If you would like to know how to obtain this cure, read more about it here.
Amos writes Israel to warn them of the captivity to come, yet he writes to urge and warn them to repent for as long as God will forbear. In Amos five, God gives them a three-fold encouragement to preserve or regain spiritual life. All three required Israel to “seek” with the promise that they would find. What was God’s prescription for life in this chapter?
“SEEK ME” (Amos 5:4-5). In these verses, God contrasts Himself with Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba, three prominent cities in the northern kingdom. Ward and Smalley show the extreme alliteration about Gilgal (“Gilgal shall surely go into exile”), considering it a literary device to drive home the fact of their punishment (cf. A Handbook on the Book of Amos, p. 102). Bethel means “house of God” but they had made this and their other dwelling places “Beth Aven” (the house of evil). Beersheba, along with the other two cities, were sites for worship. Yet, their worship and their lives had turned from God. The point with all three cities is that they represented the people turning somewhere else for help and purpose rather than Him. All generations should mean what we ask in song–”Where could I go but to the Lord?”
“SEEK THE LORD” (Amos 5:6-7). Amos ends this short section by adding his inspired echo to the Lord’s. Instead of exposing false alternatives, now Amos is warning of spiritual consequences. Punishment awaited those who did not recognize and submit to the rule and authority of God. He warns against twisting justice and perverting righteousness.
“SEEK GOOD AND NOT EVIL” (5:14ff). It seems Israel was saying the right things, but they were not living the right life. Their mouths professed, but their lives denied. An omniscient God was not fooled, and for that reason He could reject their pleas for help and deliverance. Repentance means truly reaching for right and rejecting wrong from the inside out, heart and actions. If we truly want life, our heart and lives will tend toward God. Otherwise, whatever our lips say in worship or in trouble, God knows the truth.
Many have suggested that “seek” better means “come back” in the case of Amos five. Today, one may be seeking for the first time or seeking to come back to God again. Either way, God and good are the ways to life!
I have fond memories of many preachers, living and dead, but elders have been some of my best friends. On Friday, I received word that one of the first two elders to shepherd me as a full-time preacher died of a sudden heart attack on Friday, April 26. He was 91.
Perhaps I have never met a more diverse and interesting man in my life. He knew John Wayne and was friends with Alvin York. He did archaeological work, and some of his finds are housed at the University of Tennessee. He was Tennessee’s middleweight boxing champion in his youth. He ate lunch with J. Edgar Hoover and assisted him on numerous classified projects. He was extremely well-read and as good a historian as any I have met. He was manager of government communications in Washington, D.C., a post that helped him to meet and work with eight presidents (Kennedy-Bush I). He was a veteran of World War II and Korea, serving in both the U.S. and Australian armies in WWII and as a marine in Korea. He fought in the Pacific theatre and spent time as a prisoner of war. In his career at AT&T, he helped to avert at least one serious international crisis with the Soviet Union. He authored a book on the history of AT&T. Truly, this just scratches the surface of his achievements in the world.
But, I did not get to see him in these venues. He regaled me with story after story the first five years I worked as the preacher for the Cold Harbor Road church of Christ in Virginia, about some of these incidents, but I knew him as my elder, a man for whom and with whom I worked in Christ’s vineyard. His influence in the community led him to study with a man from whose conversion literally dozens more have come. I sat in with him on other successful Bible studies. He had a rare ability to plainly tell Bible truth to people in a way that convicted and persuaded, rather than angered, them. He knew the flock. He gently corrected those members in error and led them back home. He led the congregation to lovingly, consistently practice church discipline. He counseled with Christians and non-Christians. He and Ann were as benevolent and giving as any couple I have known–who knows how many people they helped. They were neither afraid of nor strangers to hard work, from work days to cleaning the baptistry monthly to helping the elderly and the sick. If he ever missed a major surgery of a member, I cannot recall it. He had boundless energy which he apparently used non-stop to the very end. He established congregations in Australia and Virginia, and he was a major force behind the early growth of the Cold Harbor congregation. He served as an elder in at least two congregations.
Russell Young was a Renaissance Man in the noblest sense of the word. He symbolized what made his the “greatest generation.” But, he challenges us with his example. If a country boy from the Sequatchie Valley of Tennessee could achieve so much in a long, full life, what about you and me? The church can have great and numerous leaders to guide it to great heights, if there is a will within the men among us. For now, those of us who knew Russell will long for the endless day of reunion with him in heaven! Praise God for “mighty men” like Russell Young!
When Epaphras reported to Paul about the church at Colosse, he must have told him not only of their loving nature but also about a strange, new teaching bothering them. It claimed to be a philosophy (2:8), had elements that sounded like Judaism (2:11,14,16-17), insisted that certain mystical powers were to be worshipped rather than Christ (2:15,18-19), taught the body is evil and must be abused (2:20-23), but claimed to be Christians (2:3-10). How do you respond to such a complex, multifaceted teaching?
The Holy Spirit though Paul exalts the supremacy of Christ. He taught Jesus as the absolute supreme and sufficient One throughout the epistle (read through and see how many proofs of this you can find in these four short chapters—I found 13 in just the first two chapters). But I want you to notice seven great works of Christ, found in Colossians one, which point to His matchlessness.
- REVELATION (9). As opposed to the false knowledge of the ones condemned by Paul in this epistle, Paul points them to “the knowledge of His will” (9) for “understanding” (9) and “increasing in the knowledge of God” (10). Such allows us to walk right and bear fruit. The written revelation strengthens us with His might. He did that work through the Spirit (Jn. 14:26; 16:13).
- SALVATION (14). Paul tells us we have redemption and forgiveness in Him! He did that work at Calvary.
- CREATION (16). There was no creative act without Him. “All things” were created by Him. That’s exhaustive in nature.
- INCARNATION (19). Though coming in the flesh was not necessarily an act performed by Christ, He did the work of being a human flawlessly. No one else ever did. In Colossians 2:9, Paul completes the thought implied here, that the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus “bodily.” It also connects the statement in verse 19 to the thought in the next several verses. This work was completed at Calvary (cf. Jn. 19:30).
- RECONCILIATION (20-22). His death at Calvary, called redemption and forgiveness earlier, also involved bringing mankind back to God. Sin separated us. When we favorably respond to His offer, Jesus brings peace and makes us presentable (22).
- EXPECTATION (27). What was long a mystery is now known: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” His successful atonement gives us hope in the most hopeless circumstances.
- FORTIFICATION (29). God left us a work to do, nothing more important than the evangelization of the world (cf. 23,28). Jesus strengthens us for that task, causing us to have supreme confidence (cf. Ph. 4:13).
Nobody can compare to Jesus. Not the mystery cults. Not materialism. Not world religions. Not atheism. Jesus is supreme because His work is sublime! May this help us never surrender!
Prayer is an area in which all of us can grow. How beautiful it is to be led in prayer by a godly man who seems obviously seasoned in the practice of prayer! If we are discerning, we can see some marks of a mature, developed prayer life. While there are many characteristics of such, one has to be the practice of praising God in prayer.
David was a man who modeled effusive praise in his prayers to God. The Psalms teach us praise through David’s writings, and at least 25 of the 150 have been catalogued as psalms of praise (or one out of every six)! Take just one of these, Psalm 40, and notice how David lavishes praise on God as he prays to Him. The maturity of his prayer here is in stark contrast to some prayers, noted for the abundance of the requests and petitions while notably omitting praise to God.
In Psalm 40, David praises God for deliverance (1-2), bringing joy (3), and His works (5). Though the middle of the Psalm is a petition for help, David cannot help but return to the theme of praise before he concludes his prayer. I love the ending. He says, “Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; Let such as love Your salvation say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified!’ But I am poor and needy; Yet the Lord thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God” (16-17).
May I encourage us, beginning with our personal prayer lives, to give forethought and be intentional in this regard. Find ways and reasons to praise, exalt, and magnify God. Think of His nature, His power, His love, His concern, His majesty, and His holiness. Tell Him how great He is! See yourself in stark contrast to His perfection and sovereignty. What will flow from that will not be a desire to be helped, but a gratitude that will show up in your prayers. You will feel the need and desire to thank Him specifically and at length for all He has done, is doing, and will do.
Let us be powerful people of prayer! Let us praise!