That one statement was what introduced my great grandfather to the gospel and is a big reason why my mom was raised in the church and why I was, too. A “Campbellite preacher” (so named because of Alexander Campbell, a leading figure of the 19th Century who pleaded with people to throw off the division of denominationalism and restore simple New Testament Christianity) was in their Mississippi community, preaching at the local school house. Several teenage boys, including my then 19-year-old great-grandfather, conspired together to stand outside and throw rocks at the preacher. The big talk apparently came to nothing harmful, but standing out there my grandfather was convicted by the preaching. As the result, he studied more deeply and carefully the Scriptures and found that the denomination he was a part of did not teach the same plan of salvation he read in the New Testament.
Plain, New Testament teaching and preaching, which faithfully and accurately handles the Scripture, has a profound effect on an honest heart. One who is already persuaded that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, who is convicted that it was faithfully transmitted through time, can see from gospel preaching what God’s will is for “matters of life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). Such allow the powerful Word to operate skillfully upon their hearts, being persuaded of its penetrating truths (Heb. 4:12). Even one who may start out angry at the messenger but who is “fair-minded” (cf. Acts 17:11) will “receive the word with all readiness, and [search] the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things [are] so.” Such an unprejudiced, open-minded attitude will serve such individuals well not only in learning how to become a Christian, but also in how to live the Christian life. We must keep an honest and good heart if we will be the “good soil” Jesus praises in His parable of the soils (Luke 8:15).
Whatever your age, position in life, race, education level, or physical address, are you teachable? Do you receive the word in humility (Jas. 1:21)? James says that your soul’s salvation is ultimately at stake. Whether it regards becoming a Christian or living the Christian life, keep an open and tender heart! You’ll be eternally grateful that you did. So may many of your descendants!
There is an old episode of Father Knows Best where Bud, the Andersons’ son, has a glowing write up in the local newspaper for his star performance as his High School’s placekicker. Success goes to his head, leading Bud to break the team’s training rules and stay out past 9:00 P.M. His father finds out and urges him to tell his coach. Bud begrudgingly does so, and he becomes convinced that his doing the right thing and being honest would lead the coach to let him off with a warning or look the other way. When he’s told he cannot play that week because of his violation, he sulks and even blames his dad for giving him bad advice. Eventually, Bud takes ownership of his misdeed, has a more humble attitude toward his importance, and even appreciates the decisions of his dad and coach to help him excel as a person more than a player.
Perhaps personal ethics have eroded to the point that many find such advice and subsequent actions preposterous and wrongheaded. The lesson was that actions have consequences and that honesty should be practiced, not for reward but simply because it is right to do so. Trustworthiness and responsibility are the fruits of integrity and uprightness.
These principles, though unstated in that old television show, are thoroughly biblical in nature. Broadly, the Bible praises those of upright heart (Ps. 7:10; 64:10). Psalm 15 says those who walk uprightly, work righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (2). It is often more difficult to do the right thing than the easier thing, but the path of least resistance does not usually lead us in the right direction. We made each of our boys read Alex Harris’ Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. An overarching principle is that your choices should not be made based on what’s most convenient or least demanding. Character is built when we have the courage of God’s convictions and do what is right, whatever it may seem to cost us in the short-term. Ultimately, we will be better for it and so will the people in our lives!
If you did not know the source of this quote already, you might be hard-pressed to guess it. This was said by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, two weeks before he was executed in California in 2005 for four 1979 murders he committed while the apparent leader of The Crips gang in Los Angeles. Though he vehemently proclaimed his innocence in these deaths to the very end, he freely admitted that drugs, robbery, gang- violence and other crimes were very much a part of his life before prison. Redemption, as he understood it, “is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background. It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it” (interview with Amy Goodman, WBAI). Williams, who became a prolific author of anti-gang books while on death row, has left behind enough writing to indicate he did not have a biblical understanding of redemption, which is truly tragic because the ideas quoted are certainly biblical.
The word “wretched” is used “of a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state” (New Oxford American Dictionary, online). The New Testament uses the word twice. Interestingly, the first time it is used by one who was all-too-aware of his wretchedness, but who rejoiced at the possibility of redemption (Rom. 7:24-25). The second time it is used by a church, Laodicea, who didn’t know they were wretched but were told by Christ they were (Rev. 3:17). A form of the word is also used in another place, where Christians struggling with worldliness are told to be wretched over their sinful lifestyle (Jas. 4:9, see ESV). The common thread between these verses is that wretchedness is related to redemption. One must recognize their unfortunate state if they hope to be redeemed.
One of the great ironies of life is that so many are racked with guilt but are also skilled in justifying and defending the very behavior that produces it. Many others rest in their confident belief that they are, overall, good and moral people who don’t really need redemption. To deny or rationalize the sin in our life will cause our most imposing problem to remain unresolved. To humble ourselves and admit our wretchedness apart from Christ can lead us to redemption. It doesn’t matter your race, color, income level, or background. Redemption is tailor-made for the wretched!
To borrow the words of our own Mike Bennett, “Excuse me?” An AP story published this morning is so thick with irony it is palpable! Two people were arrested and put in jail on Tuesday in Washington, Pennsylvania. They were two community organizers “with a local Stop the Violence group” and they “severely beat a former roommate with whom they had a property dispute” (via FoxNews.com). They “allegedly jumped the man as he was walking down the street on Tuesday. Police say the defendants kicked the victim as he was unconscious…” causing injuries too gruesome for me to describe here. The female defendant “was still wearing the same ‘Stop the Violence’ T-shirt that she had on the night before when she led a march in the city protesting two recent shootings” (ibid.). “The victim remains in critical condition” (ibid.).
Could there be a clearer example of hypocrisy from the world? We have seen or heard of the environmentalist driving the gas-guzzling SUV and the televangelist having an adulterous affair, but the peace protestor beating up somebody? That’s very unattractive!
It is also a reminder to us as Christians about practicing “true religion…unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27). Not only are we ineffective, we are counterproductive when we claim to wear the name of Christ and then defame it by our words and deeds. What about mouths praising God in worship on Sunday profaning man at work on Monday? What about hands shaking hands or embracing fellow Christians one day then typing in ungodly websites or texting someone not our spouse in sexually suggestive ways the next? What about words of kindness to each other when we meet followed up by slandering speech about each other or those in the world when we are away from the assemblies?
The Bible warns against hypocrisy, saying “beware of it” (Luke 12:1), “let love be without it” (Rom. 12:9), “don’t be carried away by it” (Gal. 2:13), “eliminate it” (Jas. 3:17), and “put it aside” (1 Pet. 2:1). It’s easy to see why. Few things are more repelling and disgusting than to witness hypocrisy. Let us consider that as we conduct our own lives before the watchful eyes of the world!
Would you believe that not everyone always agrees with what I teach and preach? Of course, I may not always know—at least directly—that someone disagrees with my message. Yet, my greatest respect is for that brother or sister who has a problem with me and tells me so! When they address that to me in kindness and love, I am left with much greater admiration for them. The same respect is reserved for those who handle those occasions when my words or behavior might come across hurtful with gentle directness. Perhaps it is because subtleties like pouting, passive aggression, silence, and withdrawal are easily missed by one so slow of wit as myself. Perhaps it is because of the great disdain I, and most others, feel for sharp-tongued tactics like gossip and slander. “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed” (Pr. 27:5). This challenges me to follow such good examples and pursue active peace than passive aggression.
Talking out our problems is a sign of the church understanding the family aspect of its nature. Happy is the physical family who finds functional ways to work through its problems, knowing that each member is imperfect and prone to do what offends. The church is no different, though the blood that binds us does not course through our veins but poured forth from the cross of our Savior. Together, we comprise the “house of God” (1 Ti. 3:15). What a precious relationship, meant to be treasured!
Talking out our problems is the best way to clear up misunderstandings and misperceptions. It is possible to misjudge the heart, motives, words, and actions of others. Avoiding the problems or persons may work to avoid unpleasant conflict, but it leaves the problem to fester and grow worse.
Talking out our problems is the biblical pattern. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus lays out the way to resolve “internal problems” within His body. To choose a different route is to deviate from the way He has chosen.
Another great proverb says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (Pr. 28:23). May God help me to embrace that truth and pursue it, all while we “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). That does not mean avoiding the unpleasant or saying the difficult. Some times tackling the unpleasant and difficult is our surest way to “make for peace…”
One of the stories coming out of the much-publicized memorial for Nelson Mandela is of a man who passed himself off as a language interpreter for the deaf. The unidentified man, who stood beside international dignitaries including the president of the United States, was confirmed to be a charlatan by sign language experts. His hand motions were meaningless, but his apparent attempt to make a quick buck outraged the deaf all around the world. Apparently, this is the second time this man has pulled the wool over official’s, um, ears. Driven by greed and taking advantage of the ignorance of the ones who hire them, people like this man have duped quite a few people. None of them ever pulled off a hoax of this magnitude, though.
Perhaps words like audacious, covetous, or callous may come to your mind, hearing about this event, but a far greater travesty happens routinely around this nation and around the world. Men (and women) pass themselves off as experts, but what they allege to be a truthful message is patently false. Sunday after Sunday, they pass off error as truth. Because too many do not study their Bibles or think for themselves, they are duped by those they trust. The greatest tragedy is that the consequences of such dishonesty are infinitely greater in these scenarios. Souls will be lost and not just the souls of the teachers. The hearers will have believed a lie (cf. 2 Th. 2:11; 2 Tim. 4:4). The preachers and teachers will “receive a stricter judgment” (Jas. 3:1) for scratching their itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The challenge in preaching is for both classes, the speaker and the listener. The speaker must declare only what is right and the listener must hear with discernment (cf. Heb. 5:14). God will not allow any “fakes” to escape His notice.
Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters. Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation. How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?
Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12). Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust. Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort. Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right. Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).
How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text? So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions. Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views. Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind. How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live! That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”