Thursday, September 6, 2007

Not so daily anymore

I began this blog as a way to highlight my thinking for congregations looking for a preacher. After beginning work with the North Penn congregation, I continued writing here because I enjoyed it and found the daily format to be a good way of focusing my thoughts. But as I get back into the swing of full-time congregational ministry, I need to focus my attention more on face-to-face work. I may continue to post occasionally, but not daily. It's been fun, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Nothing today

Commitments prevent me from posting a new dose today. I hope to be back soon, and in the mean time, there's plenty of previous days' doses to go around. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sitting with Christ

Paul told the Ephesians that God had raised Christ up to heavenly places and given him a seat of honor “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in the one to come; and he put all things in subjection under his feet and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:21-23).

We’re also told that Christians have been lifted up by grace through faith to sit with Christ and in Christ in those same heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). I have a feeling that a large part of Christian discipleship is coming to understand just how awesome our position in Christ really is.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, August 31, 2007

The day of the Lord

In the Bible, “the day of the Lord” is when the bill comes due. When a people’s sins became too great for God to put up with any longer, a day would come when God settles things. Israel’s prophets had proclaimed a day of the Lord against surrounding nations: Babylon (Isaiah 13); Egypt (Jeremiah 46); and Cush, Put, Lud, Arabia, and Libya (Ezekiel 30).

Israelites looked forward to the day of the Lord. They thought their enemies would all be destroyed and they would end up on top. So imagine the scene when prophets began telling God’s chosen people that they weren’t immune from punishment on the day of the Lord. “Why would you have the day of the Lord?” Amos asks, “It is darkness and not light.”

God has promised never to reject his chosen people completely. But he will punish when he has to, and that’s never a pleasant event. It might be a good idea for the church to remember that.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, August 30, 2007

God's will

Around 2500 years ago Hadassah was a Jewish girl who found herself married to the King of Persia. When the Jews were facing genocide at the hands of the Persians, Hadassah’s cousin Mordecai urged her to act, even if it meant risking her life.

“Don’t think that in the king’s palace you’ll escape any more than the other Jews will,” Mordecai told her. “For if you keep silent now, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from somewhere else, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows whether or not you’ve come to the kingdom for a time such as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

The story of Hadassah, better known as Esther, gives insight into the workings of God’s will. God uses human beings to bring about his purposes. If we cooperate with those purposes, we’ll be blessed in the process. But if we insist on going against God’s will, he’s perfectly capable of using someone else.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bearing burdens

The sixth chapter of Galatians offers lessons on helping others and setting limits. In Gal. 6:2, Paul urges Christians to “bear one another’s burdens.” Then, in Gal. 6:5, he turns around and writes, “for each one will have to bear his own burden.” So which one is it? To bear or not to bear?

Both, of course. Christians need to be humble, think in terms of others, and help where needed. But helping others is never an excuse to neglect the things we ought to be doing for ourselves.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Kingdom

Matthew and Luke both record Jesus’ words about seeking the Kingdom of God before looking out for our everday survival. If we seek God’s Kingdom, Jesus said, then God will go ahead and give us food and water and clothes too. Luke then goes on to record these words of Jesus: “Don’t be afraid little flock, for it’s your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

Did Jesus really say, “Give you the Kingdom”? Well. What exactly does that mean? It’s pretty safe to say that none of us fully understand right now. But it has something to do with Christians being adopted, with having an inheritance in Christ. In other words, it’s blessings beyond our wildest dreams.

So, are we seeking?


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, August 27, 2007

Adopted

It’s not possible to give many gifts greater than adoption. When a family adopts a child they give him love, protection, membership, inheritance, and a name. Adoption dramatically changes the life not only of the adopted, but the adopter. It’s almost too much to comprehend.

Imagine, then, what’s involved when God adopts someone: “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians 1:4,5). Oh, my. It’s one thing to be Christians, servants, or disciples of God. But adopted as God’s own sons and daughters, seated with Jesus in heavenly places? That’s definitely too much to comprehend.

But that’s how it is, Christians. Let’s pray we get used to that reality.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Be angry . . ."

Nice people don’t get angry, right? Isn’t that in the Bible somewhere? No, it’s not. Although the Bible is full of warnings about how dangerous anger can be, it's clear that anger itself is not a sin. For one thing, God himself is sometimes angry. And Paul tells the Ephesians, “Be angry, but don’t sin. Don’t let the sun set on your anger” (Eph. 4:26). Paul is probably quoting Psalms 4:4, where David talks about being angry enough to tremble.

In fact, there are times we very well ought to be angry—and not just for wrongs done to others. There’s nothing wrong sometimes with being angry for what people do to us. The trick, of course, is learning how not to sin when we are.

A truly biblical view on anger helps us be obedient to God without struggling to hide or deny the very emotions given to us by God. God gave us anger for a reason. For Christians, our job is learning how to use it wisely.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The King

In the old days, Israel had something no other nation did: The Lord God Almighty as their King. But that wasn’t enough. They wanted a human king, just like every other nation. God warned them that a human king would bring hardship, but they insisted. So the prophet Samuel anointed Saul, and sure enough, what the Lord had forecast came to be. Saul was a poor ruler, and God took the royal line from him (1 Sam. 8-16).

God chose David to be the next king and promised that the royal line would never pass from his descendants. Sure enough, the Lord kept his promise. Nearly a thousand years later Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was born from David’s line.

It’s ironic, really. The Lord wanted to be their King, but Israel insisted he give them a man. Somehow God managed to do both.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"I am against you"

It’s hard to imagine a more dreadful announcement from the mouth of The Lord: “I am against you.” If the Lord spoke those words against a people—Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Sidon, Tyre, Mt. Seir—they were in for serious hurt.

Imagine how it must have hit God’s chosen people to hear those words aimed their way. Both Jeremiah (21:13) and Ezekiel (21:3) told the Israelites that God was against them for their disobedience, and the people definitely ended up paying the price.

What about today? There’s no greater gift than to be numbered, by grace, among the Lord’s chosen ones. But we’d better be careful not to turn that grace into a ticket to do as we please—unless, of course, we don’t mind turning our greatest ally into an enemy.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More pronouns

In the Lord's Prayer, the second-person pronouns (Thy and Thine) are not the only ones with special significance. Let's look at the first-person pronouns, too. Notice anything about them? "Our Father," "give us this day," "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive. . ." That’s right; they're all plural. Most of us probably think of prayer as a personal communication between each believer and God. But when Jesus taught us how, he expected Christians to pray together.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thee, thou, and thine

Some English translations of the Bible still use the older second-person pronouns when referring to God. You can sometimes hear them in public prayers, too, when Christians talk to God about “Thy will” and how “we love Thee.” In most people’s minds, it seems, addressing God as Thee or Thou is formal and dignified.

Isn’t it funny that when Jesus taught us to pray, he intended the very opposite? Back in the days when English speakers actually used thee, thou, and thine in everyday conversation, those words were saved for the very closest friends and family. You would say “thee” to your dad, but never to your boss. How ironic that language too informal and familiar for addressing the mailman is the very way Jesus expects us to talk with God.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, August 17, 2007

Instruments

When the Jews’ sins became more than God could take, he sent the Babylonians to defeat and scatter them. The Lord intended for it to happen. He made sure his chosen people lost in battle, and he even called the Babylonian king “my servant.” No doubt about it: the Babylonians were on top.

Does that mean the Jews were now the bad guys and the Babylonians the good? Not at all. Almost as soon as Babylon did God’s will in punishing the Jews, God punished Babylon for its wickedness too. And he went on to punish just about every other nation nearby. The Lord said in effect, “Did you really think I’d demolish my own city and leave you other wicked nations in peace?” (Jer. 25:11-29). So everybody suffered, but after seventy years God brought the Jews back home.

What’s the point? For a time it looked as if the Lord had forsaken Israel in favor of another nation. But in reality Babylon was only a hammer God was using to reshape and refine his real treasure.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Clay

In Jeremiah 18 God takes the prophet to a potter’s shop and gives him a lesson on prophecy. Basically, God tells Jeremiah that the boss is free to change his mind. If God says judgment is on the way but a nation repents, then he won’t do what he intended. If God says he’ll prosper a nation but they turn against him, he’ll repent of blessing them.

We see God has done that very thing, most famously at Sinai (Exodus 32) and Nineveh (Jonah 3). Those and other examples are clear enough, but Bible scholars still debate exactly what prophecies God may have changed his mind on.

The fact that God changes his mind makes biblical interpretation a little harder. But thank the Lord it also offers hope for our lives.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Knowing God

Preachers like to say that Christians should not know only about God; we ought to know God. But what’s the difference? What does knowing God really mean? Well, if we dig into the Bible a little bit, we see that people who know God
  • understand God’s nature (Jer. 9:24)
  • recognize Jesus’ voice (Jn. 10:7-16)
  • have forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:33-34)
  • abstain from immorality (1 Thess. 4:3-6)
  • have God’s protection (Jer. 24:4-7)
  • have God’s Spirit and law in our hearts (Jn. 14:7; Jer. 31:33-34)
  • keep God’s commandments (1 Jn. 2:3)
  • love one another (1 Jn. 4:8)
  • take care of the poor and needy (Jer. 22:15-16)
  • are born again (1 Jn. 4:7)
  • worship God (Is. 19:21)
OK, then. That’s a lot more intense than simply knowing about God—and a lot more rewarding.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bridegrooms and wells

In the Bible, whenever an Israelite goes to a foreign country and meets a woman at a well, the woman usually ends up marrying the man or his master. That’s what happens with Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah: meet, draw water, run and tell, eat, become engaged.

So what’s going on in John 4 when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at a well? The encounter has all the elements of a good betrothal scene—except, of course, the engagement.

Or does it? Maybe there is a betrothal happening here. John the Baptist has just called Jesus the Bridegroom (John 3:29), and the woman may be a stand-in not only for Samaritans, but all Gentile believers. Jesus’ kinfolk certainly wouldn’t approve of his engagement to a foreigner. But praise God he’s not as interested in pleasing his brothers and sisters as in pleasing his Father.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, August 13, 2007

Small groups

The only thing funnier than thinking small groups are a new trend is thinking they’re a fad that’s passed its prime. The fact is, small groups are at least as old as the church. Jesus spent most of his ministry moving around with his band of twelve disciples. Other times he was in an even smaller group of four. Before the early church developed its edifice complex and started assembling in halls, Christians gathered in small groups to eat and worship in houses (Acts 2:46).

In fact, throughout the history of our species, most of human life has been spent in small groups: family, tribe, band of brothers. It’s a part of being human.

In a sense, it’s also a part of being God. Before anything else was, God existed as Father, Son, and Spirit. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” God said. And it wasn’t long before human beings were gathering into small groups, too.


(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, August 10, 2007

Swords

Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus had made it easier for us to know exactly what to think about each specific issue of politics and social engagement? Take pacifism, for example. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and not to resist an evil person (Mt. 5:38-48). But John the Baptist allowed soldiers to stay in the army (Lk 3:14), and Jesus allowed his disciples to go armed (Mt. 26:51; Lk. 22:35-38; Jn. 18:10).

So what should we do? Should Christians ever fight, either in self-defense or in war? Should we oppose all military action or should we become involved in it ourselves? There’s plenty of truth in God’s Word to help us make these kinds of decisions, but it looks like God expects us to figure these kinds of things out for ourselves.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Trinity

For nearly two millennia the church has been struggling to explain the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. We’ve tried all kinds of figures and philosophical categories, from a three-leaf clover to the Athanasian Creed. If the church is really honest with ourselves we have to admit two things about our doctrine of the Trinity: 1) for all our centuries of effort, we’ve done a thoroughly inadequate job of explaining it, and 2) the doctrine we have is about as good as we’ll ever have this side of the Resurrection.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Gearing up

Thanks for stopping by. Well, the turmoil of moving and settling in is beginning to subside, and I'm beginning to feel the need to offer up daily doses once again. It will take a few more days to build up enough stockpile that I feel confident to keep up the pace, but please come back soon for more daily dosage.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Swamped

Thanks for stopping by, but I'm afraid I don't have anything new to post here. With the upcoming move, I've got more than I can do, so I'm taking a break from posting here till at least July 1. I still have enough backlog to keep posting, though, at Transforming Sermons.

The world

Is the church trying to look good to the world? Yes, we ought to try not to give offense, as long as we don't compromise the truth. But let’s remember that the world will turn against us because we proclaim the Truth (Jn. 7:7; 15:18-19; 17:14-25; 1 Jn. 3:1-13).

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Translations

I’m one of those Christians who like to compare Bible translations. In English today, there’s certainly no shortage of translations to compare. But we need to be careful. In looking at the words, we need to not lose sight of the Word. Exactly how a given translation describes an idea is not nearly as important as taking the Message to heart. Except for one or two quirky translations, the Word comes through loud and clear in most of the common translations. Someone said it best years ago: What’s the best translation? The one you’ll read.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, June 18, 2007

Transition

My family has begun the process of moving to Pennsylvania. We've been in our new location this past weekend but are going back to Virginia today. In the process I've neglected two days of doses. I hope to be back online tomorrow. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Good man, good king

There’s a wonderful simplicity in the books of Chronicles. The Chronicler evaluated the quality of each king of Israel or Judah by one standard: did he worship Jehovah and only Jehovah?

Why such a one-dimensional standard—why no consideration of success in battle, justice at home, or a strong economy? Maybe because if a king got the One Big Thing right, everything else followed.

Are we paying attention?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Jesus wept

You may know the words of the shortest verse in the Bible (Jn. 11:35). But have you really thought about what’s happening here? Jesus doesn’t get a little teary-eyed and sniff once or twice. He bursts into tears and boo-hoos. Anyone nearby knows the man is crying hard. That’s weeping. If you look back through the Bible, you’ll see that most of God’s men weep, and not only in graveyards.

Why do Christians in my native country think a man is emotionally disturbed if he weeps? When was the last time you saw a grown man weep in public? What would you think about a man who started boo-hooing in a worship service or church business meeting? Would you want him to be a minister or elder in the church? The fact is, most of us think there’s something wrong with a man who cries in public. And if that’s true, what do we really think about Jesus?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Steadfastness

Not every day is time in The Zone. Some days all eight cylinders just aren’t firing. That’s when it helps to remember the value of simply keeping on. Steadfastness is one of God’s own qualities, after all. And it’s one that makes a difference over the course of a lifetime.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Communion

Why are fellowship and communion so important to Christians? Isn’t it enough that when I’m saved I won’t be going to hell? Why make such a big deal about Christian community?

Lots of reasons, actually. The most earth-shaking is this: In loving fellowship Christians are sharing the essential nature of God. Before anything else was, the Father, Son, and Spirit existed in loving communion. In creating the world, God began sharing that love with us. When Christians gather to commune with God and one another, we express and proclaim the same love that flows in the heart of God. That’s a whole lot more than simply being nice to other people.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, June 11, 2007

Reason

Reason is a wonderful tool, and we constantly use it in everyday life. But for some matters, reason fails us.

For example, nothing is more reasonable than cause-and-effect: whatever happens is caused by something else. But cause-and-effect—and most other rules of logic—break down when we start talking about God. Too many questions aren’t answered reasonably: If God created everything, then who created God? How can Jesus be both God and man at the same time? How can Christians be both predestined for salvation and held accountable for faith and obedience? How can the Bible be both the Word of God and the product of human hands? We can spin in logical circles for centuries and never answer those questions adequately.

Reason is good and useful, but there are places where it simply won’t run. That’s where we have to quit depending on our own minds and trust in God.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Attendance

It’s a shame so many Christians talk about church attendance as a drudging obligation, like brushing your teeth before bed. Yes, of course attendance is necessary for the life of discipleship. But is that as far as we go: “Attend the assembly every Sunday and Wednesday or attend hell for eternity”? If we never learn the joy of assembling together, we miss out on refreshing food and drink for the soul.

Being part of the assembly is important for two reasons. First, we gather to worship. In worship, we first and foremost glorify God. And in the process we ourselves are built up through fulfilling the highest purpose for which we are created. There is no higher win-win situation than worshiping the Lord. Second, we gather for fellowship. In fellowship we encourage, support, correct, instruct, mentor, and generally build up one another. That’s win-win, too.

In worship and fellowship Christians learn something vital: how to live as children of God. Studying the Word of God on our own is important for growing in Christian maturity. Only God’s Word, after all, can really change our hearts. But some lessons we learn only through worship and fellowship with one another. That’s because when two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, he's there with us too.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, June 8, 2007

Facing the truth (John 8:31-47)

You won’t find “The truth hurts” in the Bible. The truth of that popular proverb is so obvious that human beings came up with it on their own, without a special revelation from God. But nobody knows how true it is more than God does.

Just ask Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke nothing but the truth and was the Truth. But precisely because he told the truth, people hated him. And because they hated him, they killed him. If we’re his disciples, we’ll do what he did and, as Jesus told us, should expect to be treated as he was (John 15:18-20).

So the truth hurts. But it also sets us free.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, June 7, 2007

More on doctrine

Why is it that Christians today argue about the finest points of doctrine and divide into factions over issues the early church seems not to have cared about? Even those of us who claim to be “New Testament Christians” use the Bible to build theologies and doctrines that are mostly true and good but sometimes become dumping grounds for our own factionalism and prejudice. Why do we demand that every Christian agree on doctrines the church got along fine without for centuries?

It should be clear from reading the New Testament that God doesn’t mind for his people to have different opinions on a wide range of topics. It’s also clear that God wants Christians to be of one mind when it comes to turning from sin, denying ourselves, and following Jesus Christ.

It’s human nature to focus our attention on the shiniest trinket along the path and forget the ultimate goal. Christians will spend time arguing about a thousand issues of opinion and in the process do nothing to glorify God. Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians he made up his mind to preach nothing but Jesus Christ crucified.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Theology and doctrine

In Churches of Christ we’re suspicious of theology but absolutely in love with doctrine. That’s ironic, really, because they’re pretty much the same thing. Strictly speaking, theology is studying about God and his will, and doctrine is teaching about them. If the church is doing both faithfully, you can’t have one without the other.

Sound doctrine is essential for the church. If you read the New Testament epistles, you’ll see the many ways bad doctrine sickens the church, and how the simple teaching of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is the cure. Good doctrine is the map that keeps us on the narrow path of following Jesus Christ.

We also need to remember that doctrine is the map, not the path itself. In every generation the church struggles to keep its doctrine in line with both the Word of God and the world around. Over the past twenty centuries the church has accumulated stacks and stacks of doctrine. A lot of it has been faithful and true, and a lot has been foolish. But however much we tweak or revise the map, the church must always, always keep the True Destination at the center.

(c) Copyright 2007, A Milton Stanley

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Congregational evangelism

As Moderns, we’re tempted to see evangelism as mostly an individual activity: one Christian working one-on-one with an unbeliever. That’s certainly one means of evangelism, as the New Testament shows us (Acts 8:26-39).

But the book of 1 Corinthians shows another approach. The Apostle Paul, writing to Christians in Corinth, spends most of his time addressing problems inside the church. Paul doesn’t tell the Corinthians to go out and beat the bushes for converts; he shows them how to get their own act together. But there is a place where building up the body and saving the lost come together. In 1 Cor. 14, Paul explains that when the church gathers for worship, prophecy builds up and encourages believers. At the same time, if an unbeliever hears those words of prophecy, “the secrets of his heart are revealed, and so he will fall on his face and worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).

The church today doesn’t have to wait for another prophet to come into our assemblies to build up, encourage, and convict. There’s plenty of prophecy in the Bible to do the job just fine. If our churches are proclaiming the Word of God faithfully, then we’ll not only bring new believers into fellowship with God, but all believers will grow in fellowship as well.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, June 4, 2007

More on obeying God

Last week we looked at the source of obedience or disobedience to the Lord. To a very great extent, our actions reflect what we believe. The more we truly believe the Good News of Jesus Christ, the more we will obey God—and vice-versa.

Sin problems, then, are ultimately faith problems. We may not admit it, but sinful actions in Christians reflect our lack of faith in God. So if unbelief is the underlying problem, what does it take to have more faith?

A couple of things. One is prayer; if we ask God for deeper faith, he will honor that request (Mt. 7:7). The other is the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). If we submit ourselves to the Word in humility and prayer, our minds will change. And once our minds truly change, our lives will show it.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Go and tell

In Churches of Christ we aren’t usually fond of personal testimonies. In a way that’s good, because testimonies all too easily put the emphasis on “Me, me, me, me!” instead of Jesus Christ. But personal testimonies have a place in the Kingdom. The apostles were not shy about sharing their stories, and Jesus instructed the man he saved from a demon to “Go to your home and tell your friends what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he’s had mercy on you” (Mk. 5:19).

I don’t think I ever had a demon, but the Lord still rescued me once I quit running from him. What changed my mind were a couple of student-led Bible studies at the college I attended as a young unbeliever. Every week Devon and Lucy invited me to their Tuesday night Bible study, and every week I caused trouble. I asked embarrassing questions, badgered the Christians to defend their most basic assertions, and generally made everyone uncomfortable. As an unbeliever I was listening to Satan, of course, and enjoyed disrupting things. But at the same time I was seeking the truth and daring Christians to prove that the answers are found in Jesus Christ. What finally broke my heart was not their factual answers, but the simple fact that they kept inviting me back every week. As much trouble as I was causing them, there was no way they would want me around unless they really believed what they proclaimed and didn’t want me to be in hell one day.

Praise God for how those people put Christ’s love into action. They’re living proof that Christians’ best testimony to the lost is not only what our words say, but what our lives proclaim.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, June 1, 2007

Rights

In the U.S.A., rights rule. Everyone has a right to do this and a right not to do that. Children learn to stand up for their free speech rights before they can even talk. Every man knows his rights, or at least thinks he does. Rights are the moving force of our legal system and our social identity. Rights have found their way into the church, too. Christians learn to look at discipleship in terms of rights—the right to draw near to God, our right to worship God as we see fit, etc.

Only problem is that rights are not a biblical concept. You won’t find human rights mentioned in the Old or New Testament. True, the word “right” has found its way into some English translations in the past sixty years or so. But that’s a recent thing. The fact is that human rights have no place in the Bible.

What does the Bible talk about instead of rights? Faith. Obedience. Service. Dying to self. Love. The difference is far, far, more than simply a choice of words.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Source of action

Obeying God is simple. We do what we desire. We desire what we put our hope in. We put our hope in what we believe.

Think about it.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The hammer

Not long after good King Hezekiah ruled in Jerusalem, the Jews went back to serving false gods. Finally, God caused the Babylonians to destroy the Temple, break down the walls of Jerusalem, kill many of the Jews and send the rest into exile. God had had enough.

Jehovah is patient and slow to anger, but a time comes when he slams the hammer down. How sinful can God’s people be before God quits showing patience and starts punishing? Do we really want to find out?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Optimist and pessimist

Today pretty much everybody understands the words optimist and pessimist. But for Christians the terms are not only nonbiblical; they’re not entirely useful, either.

When considering ourselves and our fellow human beings, Christians might be called unshakable pessimists. We’ve all sinned, and we all deserve death. Sin has so infiltrated human life and society that everything’s polluted by it. Jesus went so far as to call the whole lot of us evil.

But in terms of God’s grace, we ought to be overflowing optimists. Jesus Christ conquered sin and death on the cross, rose again, and opened a pathway to the Father in Heaven. The Big Story has an amazingly happy ending, not only for Jesus, but for Christians, too. In biblical terms that’s called not optimism, but hope. The more hope we have, the more it transforms all our thoughts and actions—even about ourselves and our fellow human beings.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, May 28, 2007

Seeking God

The Bible tells us Hezekiah was a good king. He destroyed the pagan shrines in Judah and cleaned out the pagan pollution from the Temple of Jehovah. He restored right worship in the Temple and brought back celebration of the Passover.

Only problem was, his religious reforms came so suddenly that the priests weren’t ready for the job. Thousands of animal sacrifices had to be made, and not enough priests had gone through cleansing ceremonies. So Hezekiah bent the rules. He celebrated the passover a month late, allowed the people to eat it in ways other than prescribed, and apparently allowed the Levites to do some of the priests’ work. These decisions seemed right in the eyes of the king and the people (1 Chron. 30:4). After years of false religion in Jerusalem, Hezekiah was so eager to worship Jehovah that he was willing to do it almost right. But what did God think about these changes?

God was OK with it, at least in this case. The hand of God was with Judah (1 Chron. 30:12). The Lord heard the prayers of Hezekiah and healed the Jews (30:20). None of this is to say it’s OK to ignore God’s rules. No doubt both Hezekiah and God would have preferred the people follow the rules more precisely. But Hezekiah knew that even more than God cares about strict obedience to rules of behavior, God wants his peoples’ hearts turned to him in humbleness and love.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Understanding

Don't let the title of this weblog fool you. My name may be on it, but the truth is not my own. If you’re looking for me (or anyone else) to answer the big questions, you’ll be disappointed sooner or later. The more we plunge into the Word of God, the more we see how little we understand apart from God's wisdom. The more we try to figure out how to live, day-to-day, minute-to-minute, the more it becomes clear that we need to trust in Jehovah with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5).

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, May 25, 2007

Examples of love

Everybody seems to agree that love is the highest good. But what, exactly, is love? We can fall back on the definition in 1 Corinthians 13, but those words go only so far in helping us see what love looks like in practice. Deep down I think most of us understand love as whatever we got from our family growing up. Those ideas, of course, vary widely from person to person. Some parents harass their children like Marine Corps recruits while others allow theirs to do whatever they please. Both Drill Sergeant and Lazy Faire, I believe, sincerely think they're treating their children with love. But what is really the most loving approach? Understanding life in the Kingdom of God depends on having a clear answer to that question.

There's only one sure-fire place to find what love really looks like: the Bible. Seeing how God dealt with the Israelites and the Philistines, with Abraham and David and Peter; learning how God dealt with the kings of Judah and the apostles--that's the purest source for learning about love. Most clearly, we see love in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Learning about love from the Bible is not a quick solution. In fact, the process takes years. But it just might be worth the effort.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley



Thursday, May 24, 2007

Erring brethren

If we pay attention to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, it’s not hard to see the Corinthian church had serious problems. They’ve questioned Paul’s authority as an apostle and broken into competing factions. They’ve developed strange ideas on sexuality and approved of sexual immorality. Some of them have even denied the resurrection of the dead or joined themselves to false gods. But notice what Paul calls these erring believers: “saints” (1:1), “brethren” (1:10), and “my beloved” (10:14).

As messed up as their doctrines and their lives may have been, Paul hadn’t given up on the Corinthian Christians. They were deeply polluted with sin and false teaching, but Paul never lost sight of their common calling as saints, brothers, loved ones.

We’re surrounded today by those who take the name of Christ but miss the mark in honoring him with their lives. Some of them may even be as bad off as the Corinthians. How do faithful Christians respond to those people? Do we simply write them off as “the denominations,” or do we show them the same love Paul offered his own erring brothers and sisters?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Watershed

The Word of God is not a magic potion. God’s Word goes straight for our hearts, but what happens when it gets there is usually up to us. There’s good reason the Bible describes the Word of God as dividing like a sword (Heb. 4:12). Whenever God’s truth goes forth, it requires a left-or-right turn in every soul it touches. We see examples of this division over and over in the Scriptures. The choice is always there to be made whether we face up to it or not. When we hear God’s Truth, we're forced either to deny ourselves and follow Jesus or to justify ourselves and follow Satan. Well, which one will it be today?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, May 18, 2007

Away message

I'll be away from the computer for the next five days. Thanks for stopping by, and I pray you and I both come back Wednesday.

Resisting temptation

First Corinthians 10:13 has got to be one of the most comforting and challenging passages in the New Testament: "No temptation has overtaken you but one common to mankind. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted above your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." The good news of that passage is that, even when we're tempted, Christians don't have to sin. The hard news is that although God gives us a way out, he leaves it up to us to take it. We still have a part to play, and there's no getting around the hard work of actually resisting the allure of temptation.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Saved

The good news is that even though the world and every man and woman is fallen, God through Jesus Christ is making everything clean and good. Because Jesus did not sin, he was able to pay the price for ours, and now human beings can have the hope of fellowship with God. That’s the gospel, and that’s grace.

We come into that fellowship of grace through faith, repentance, and obedience. Jesus Christ has opened a pathway into the very presence of God. And just because we have to step onto that pathway doesn’t mean we have the power to save ourselves. Some Christians seem to think grace means we now have to obey only five or six commandments to be saved instead of the 613 or so in the Old Testament.

If we think that way we miss the point. We are fallen and cannot save ourselves. Period. It’s Jesus who made the way and is the Way.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fallen

The first thing we learn in the Bible is that God created everything, and it was good. The second thing we learn is that human beings disobeyed God and messed everything up. We call that first sin The Fall, and humanity has been sinning ever since. That means we’re still fallen, and our fallenness has consequences. Because we’ve all sinned, we’re out of fellowship with God, and that means we’ve earned nothing but death and punishment. Once we sin, there’s nothing we can do to put our shattered relationship with God back together. We’ve had our chance and, like the first man and woman, we blew it. Praise God that Jesus didn’t.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Male and female

Maintaining a biblical view on manhood and womanhood is difficult at any time. It’s especially hard in the twenty-first century West, where our cultural sickness includes a serious misunderstanding of men’s and women’s roles in God’s creation. So what has God told us about our respective roles?

On the one hand, we’re different. God created us male and female, with distinct roles, purposes, and punishments for the Fall (Gen. 1-3). These differences are expressed in marriage, where God expects a woman to submit to her husband (Eph. 5; Col. 3; 1 Pe. 3). On the other hand, we’re the same. Both men and women are created in the image of God, each one of us has sinned, and each one needs a savior. In a very important sense, there is no male or female in the Kingdom of God (Gal. 3:28).

So how do we explain both hands? The best I’ve heard is in comparison to Jesus and the Father. In essence, the Son and the Father are one (Jn. 1:1; 8:58; 10:30; 2 Pe. 1:1). On the other hand, the Son is subordinate to the Father (Jn. 8:16; 14:10, 24; 1 Cor. 15:28). Something similar is at work in men and women. We each have our distinct roles to play, but at a deeper level we’re the same.

Full disclosure: The central idea in this dose comes from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, May 14, 2007

Gentleness

These doses are administered six mornings a week. Mornings mean before noon, and that gives me less than half an hour to post something worthwhile. But nothing new and punchy comes to mind this morning. Looks like it's time to put the fruit of the Spirit into practice and be gentle to you and me both.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Putting off sin again

Being right with God is a matter of the heart. But the Bible shows that if our hearts really are right with God, we'll stop sinning. In his letters to young churches, the Apostle Paul over and over urges Christians to put off sin. In fact, gives lists of them for the Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians to get rid of (Gal. 5:16-24; Eph. 5:1-21; Col. 3:1-17). Those early Christians did well to take these exhortations to heart, and so should Christians today.

But here's something important. In each one of these cases, Paul doesn't simply tell Christians to clean up their acts and be good boys and girls. If that's all there was to it, Christians wouldn't be any better off than moral pagans. In every case the Apostle presents our moral choices in light of Jesus Christ. "Walk in the Spirit," he tells the Galatians. "Walk in love, just as Christ loved you," the Ephesians hear. "Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is," Paul reminds the Colossians.

You see? True obedience is a matter of fellowship with Jesus Christ. If we want to be obedient to God we have to make the effort to put off sin. And that happens not when we keep looking at ourselves, but to the Savior.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wine

It’s fascinating to compare Christians’ attitudes toward alcoholic drinks with what the Bible actually says. Folks who talk about this topic the most fall into one of two camps: those who say all drinking is wrong, or those who try to justify drinking too much. The Bible doesn’t support either one of those views.

So what does the Bible actually say? Wine is a gift from God to gladden our hearts (Ps. 104:15). Jesus made it (Jn. 2:7-9) and drank it, too (Lk. 7:33-34). Paul told Timothy to drink wine for his health (1 Tim. 5:23). So those who say all drinking is sin are going way beyond what’s actually written. But so are those who try to use the Bible to justify getting drunk. Read Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 23:20-21; Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10; Eph. 5:18 and a bottle full of other passages if you think it’s just fine to drink all you want. According to the Word of God, wine is like sleep or rich food (Prov. 6:9-10; 23:20-21). Too much will damage not only your body, but your soul.

And not only is drinking too much alcohol sinful, so is thinking too much about it. If we have our minds and hearts in the right place, drinking shouldn’t become a problem. Trouble comes when we try to use alcohol, or anything else, to feed an appetite that only God’s love can fill. As the Psalmist shouted to the Lord: “You have put joy in my heart, more than their wine and grain when it abounds!”

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Carrying the cross

Jesus told his disciples to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily and follow him. Contrary to popular opinion, diabetes, arthritis, or a nagging spouse are not our crosses. But how we live with them may well be.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Reading the Bible for ourselves

In Churches of Christ we put a big emphasis on telling everyone they ought to read the Bible for themselves. The reason for this emphasis, really, is that everyone ought to read the Bible for themselves. We start having problems, though, if we think that’s the end of the process. When a Christian has read and begun to understand the Bible, it’s tempting to start trusting in one’s own interpretations rather than in the Word itself. That’s why some Christians have goofy ideas about what parts of the Bible mean: they lean upon their own understanding without learning from thousands of other Christians who have studied the Bible as well. In fact, every Christian ought to study the Bible not only so we ourselves are made stronger, but so we can take part in the church's great work of hearing and living the Word of God together. As the Preacher said, “a threefold cord is not easily broken.”

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Swinging for the fence

It’s tempting to swing for the fences in preaching. I suspect I’m not the only preacher who looks for that perfect point, that ideal illustration that sends the ball over the centerfield fence and the congregation jumping up and down about the preacher’s Very Memorable Message. There’s certainly nothing wrong with aiming for hard-hitting preaching.

But realistically, we don’t always send the ball out of the park. While we ought to see dramatic results from our preaching, at least sometimes, the real benefit for a congregation comes over the long haul. Whenever a preacher holds up the Word of God, that Word will do its work in the hearts of listeners, whether the words themselves are memorable or not. Over time, the Word will make dramatic differences in the lives of those who open themselves to its transforming power.

None of this is to say we ought not to swing hard. It’s just a reminder to take hope in the power of steadfastness. What ball team wouldn’t rather have nine bloop singles an inning than one towering home run and three big K’s?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, May 7, 2007

Hope and trust

Hope for Christians is much more than wishful thinking. It’s high octane fuel for the life of discipleship. In the Bible, hope is closely associated with trust. That means it’s something we can choose. Wonderful benefits fill our lives when we do choose to hope in Jesus Christ: the past no longer has its hands around our throats, the present becomes a place where we can endure and thrive, and the future becomes a field of victory and glory. In a sense, hope is its own reward. But it’s sure not the only one.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Interpretation and tradition

If we want to agree on doctrine and interpreting the Bible, the first step is mutual prayer. The second is tradition. We may well be suspicious of tradition, but we ought to be even more suspicious of ourselves. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, tradition is sharing decision-making with members of the church in previous generations. Looking to tradition doesn’t mean we have to accept all the biases and shortcomings of earlier generations. It does mean that Christians in earlier centuries knew at least as much about discipleship as we do, and that every Christian need not start from scratch in trying to know the will of God. It also requires humility to admit that Christians in centuries past may have understood the Bible and discipleship better than we do today. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why tradition is so unpopular now.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, May 4, 2007

Interpretation and prayer

If we really want to be obedient to the New Testament, the church will always be evaluating our doctrines and practices. That’s good, because it reduces the risk that errors will arise or persist. It’s also bad in that it gives us more to fight about.

Let’s face it. The most important truths of God’s Word are clear; but knowledgeable, sincere Christians may disagree on a number of peripheral matters. In Churches of Christ in the United States today, those issues include divorce and remarriage, roles of women, and styles of worship. When sincere Christians disagree on these issues, sometimes within the same eldership, how can we come to consensus?

First of all, by prayer, especially among those who disagree. When we bring our disagreements and limitations before God, we’re reminded of our own weakness, share a common work of prayer, and develop a little humility. Even better, if we sincerely ask for God to help us in resolving our problems, he’ll show us how.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tradition

“Tradition” is a dirty word in some, uh, traditions. Ironically enough, those who cry loudest against the traditions of men are usually the ones holding most tightly to their own. But a tradition in and of itself isn’t bad or good. It’s simply something handed down from generation to generation. The church has to determine whether or not a tradition is true and helpful.

Plenty of newfangled traditions have found their way into the church in the past two or three centuries: Manishevitz matzos and little plastic cups of Welch’s grape juice, wooden tables with DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME carved into the front, in-house baptistries with river scenes on the walls behind. Many of our traditions are the nonbiblical phrases we use to describe things: “rolled the sins forward,” “authorized in the New Testament,” “gospel plan of salvation,” “contact the blood of Christ,” “five acts of New Testament worship,” “this loaf which represents his body.”

How can we tell which traditions to keep and which ones to ditch? By considering them in light of the Apostles’ tradition. We usually call that one the New Testament.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Update: I've corrected a word in the second paragraph, from "unbiblical" to "nonbiblical."

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Talking about love

Love is the most critical element of Christian discipleship. It’s also one of the most abused and misunderstood words in the English language. To avoid misconceptions, we can find lots of ways to talk about love without using the word itself. “Concerned for,” “care about,” “patience,” “kindness” are some of the ways we can express the idea of love without using the word itself. We don’t always have to say “love.” But if ever forget to love, we’re in serious trouble.

Recently I went through a phone interview about myself and my ministry. I talked for the better part of an hour, but looking back can’t remember once saying “love” or any of its stand-ins. I hope my memory's the problem. If not, then I’m afraid all those other words were as empty as outer space.

Update: For what it's worth, I've thought back over the interview and remember talking about love several times. But the point's the same.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Prophecy and wisdom

Two rivers of truth flow through the pages of the Bible: prophecy and wisdom. The prophets revealed the deep truths of God and his relationship with humanity, while wisdom literature reflects the more everyday truths of the sages.

Sometimes the two rivers look like they’re flowing in opposite directions. Psalm 127, for example, tells us that children are a blessing from God, but Jesus says we have to hate our own children to be his disciples (Luke 14:26).

In truth, both streams are essential for a life of discipleship. Each flows from the same source and helps us set limits on our thoughts and actions. Without prophecy, we would be tempted to love our families as much as we love God. Without wisdom teachings, we might convince ourselves that “hate” is more than a comparison. Drinking from both streams, we learn to love our families on earth, but our Father in heaven more.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, April 30, 2007

What do you say?

Christian, what do you say when events go your way unexpectedly? When bad news turns out good, when you suddenly get the break at work you've been praying for, when more money comes in this month than you expected, how do you respond? Do you say, "I got lucky this time!" or do you thank God that "All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purposes"?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Living with clarity

The Bible does contain a degree of ambiguity. At times the Scriptures convey the mystery of God and his Word, and human beings do well to practice humility in the face of that mystery.

But the truths that matter most are too clear for reasonable debate. For example: There is one true God. He is holy and just and merciful. He reaches out in love to mankind and calls us to obey him. Humanity, on the other hand, consistently and universally rejects that love and chooses instead to sin. But Jesus Christ is the hope for salvation. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He was crucified, died, and arose—literally and bodily—alive from the grave.

Yes, some truths in the Bible are open to interpretation and debate. But the Truth that matters most is firm enough to stake our lives on.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, April 27, 2007

Living with ambiguity

Ambiguity in the Bible is tough for many of us to face. We go to the Bible for answers, and if we have ears we’ll certainly find them. But sometimes the Word leaves us with more questions than when we came. How should Christians deal with that ambiguity?

Not, I hope, by writing another permutation of 5280 Bible “Contradictions” Explained. The temptation is strong (especially for preachers) to file off the rough edges and shut down discussion on the Word. But doing so may cause us to forget that God’s Word is not so much something we handle as something that handles us.

Let’s take time to read the Bible. Let’s get to know its overall themes and patterns and sweep. We’ll see how God’s people mess up again and again, but the Lord has mercy. We’ll find how Jesus Christ makes new. We may even catch a glimpse of how God’s loving grace is bigger than our own little conceptions, or even our language, can express.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Being strong

Early in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul makes a point of telling Christians about his own weakness, fear, and foolishness. By not-so-subtle implication, he lets us know we ought to be that way, too. For Christians focused on the world’s wisdom, strength, and respectability, Paul turns our attention to the Savior. Jesus Christ chose the weakness and shame of the cross over the riches of the world, and so should we.

But later, near the end of the letter, Paul has more advice: “Be strong. Act like men.” What? After urging Christians to choose weakness over strength, why is he saying the opposite now?

Because of what he’s written in-between. Paul has shown Christians where our real strength comes from: Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. After telling Christians to be strong, Paul gives one more instruction: “Let all you do be done in love.” For Christians, strength and love go together. But love-strength doesn’t look like world-strength. Love doesn’t brag or demand its own way. It’s patient and kind. It endures. And it’s strong enough to vanquish death.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Coming to a knowledge of the truth

First Kings 3 is another one of those ambiguous Bible chapters. It begins by saying that Solomon sinned by making offerings at the high places (1 Ki. 3:3). And yet at one of these unauthorized high places God appears to Solomon in a dream and offers to give him whatever he asks for. Why doesn’t the Lord mention that Solomon is, technically, being disobedient simply by approaching him at that high place?

In any case, Solomon asks for wisdom and receives that and more from God. And after he wakes up, Solomon does something significant. He goes to Jerusalem and makes offerings where he’s supposed to.

It’s a good thing the Lord is patient and merciful. As we learn elsewhere, he desires for everyone “to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Good thing he wants us to come to that knowledge. Even Solomon would have been in trouble if God expected us to be there from the start.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Nadab and Abihu

If you’ve been around Churches of Christ long, you’ve heard the story from Leviticus 10 of Nadab and Abihu. They were two sons of Aaron killed by God for offering “strange fire” before the Lord. As the story is traditionally taught, Aaron’s sons fail to follow the pattern of worship given by the Lord, so Bam! God sends down his own fire and fries them in their place. And so it goes, we’re taught, for anyone who goes beyond what’s written.

Only problem is, we see in the very same chapter of Leviticus that God doesn’t always zap those who fail to follow the pattern. Aaron’s two remaining sons, along with their father, refuse to eat the offerings commanded by God. Aaron explains their reasons, and Moses, at least, is satisfied.

God must want us to consider, meditate on, and even speculate on the Scriptures. Otherwise he wouldn’t give us the kind of ambiguity we find in Leviticus 10. But problems appear when we go beyond what’s written and teach our speculations as facts.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, April 23, 2007

Growing to maturity

One of the most challenging tasks in ministry is helping disciples grow to Christian maturity. Why do some Christians move from a getting to a giving faith while others never show signs of maturing? If we see our brothers and sisters stagnating in the faith, how can we help them grow?

The easy answer, of course, is giving them a job in the church. If we ask Pat to teach the preschool class, maybe Pat will grow up a little bit, too. That answer is good to a point, because at least Pat is now attending regularly and being exposed to fellowship and the Word. Still, if attendance is all we have, then our preschool teacher may not be much more spiritually mature than his or her pupils.

The real answer comes from inside. Maturity problems are faith problems. If we want mature actions and attitudes, we have to have a mature faith. And how do we develop that faith? I know of only one way: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”

(c) Copyright 2007. A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Let everything praise the Lord

Psalm 148 calls on everything to praise the Lord. And it’s not just calling human beings to sing praise, but also angels, wild animals and cattle, birds and reptiles, sea monsters and trees. Even what people nowadays don’t consider alive—the psalmist calls them to sing hallelujah, too: sun, moon and stars; lightning, clouds, wind, and hail; mountains and hills. God created all of it, and it’s right that everything in heaven and earth praise him.

Of course, modern thinking explains why all these things aren’t really praising God: the psalmist was merely imitating songs of pagan nations; the hymn simply reminded ancient Israel to worship the creator rather than his creation; the psalm uses personification for poetic effect.

I’m not buying it. We may not understand the language of deer and hawk and carp, of the dirt and the wind and the stars. But that doesn’t matter. When we lift up our voices to praise Jehovah, we’re never singing solo.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sabbath

Saturday is a day off for my other blogs. I think I'll start taking it off on this one, too. Hope you come back soon.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Knowing the will of God

Romans 12:2 shows us how to make another choice: whether or not to know God’s will. We can read the Bible all we want. We may even memorize big chunks of it. Still, if we let our hearts and minds be shaped by the values of the world, we shouldn’t expect to understand what God wants for us or anyone else.

But if we have ears and allow the Word of God to reshape us, then we can figure out what God wants. That may not seem like a big deal when things are running well. But once we get in a pinch, there may not be a lot of time for reshaping.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Shaped or reshaped?

In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul writes, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you all may discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The choice is clear enough. The church has only two options: be shaped by the world or reshaped into what God wants us to be. Which direction are our actions taking us today?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Knowledge and love

These messages are daily doses of truth. No doubt we could all use a little more of it. But let’s remember that this kind of thing is dangerous, to both you and me. The truth dispensed here is aimed at building knowledge—good, helpful knowledge, I’d like to think—but knowledge, all the same. As the Word of God tells us, knowledge puffs us up. We can know everything about discipleship, service, and the Word of God and still be useless to the Lord.

If you’ve been to the source, you know what else we need: love. Smashing idols and looking hard into the face of truth helps clear our minds of misconceptions that keep us separated from God. But without love, all the knowledge in the universe won’t do anyone any good.

Here’s the point. Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6), and God is love (1 John 4:8). Somehow, it seems, love brings us closer to the truth than knowledge does. My prayer for you and for me is that we know enough to pray to love.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Joy and sadness

In the heart of every Christian is a gift from the Holy Spirit: joy. Joy is to happiness as gold is to brass. Even in an atmosphere that tarnishes and corrodes, a Christian’s joy keeps shining. That means we can rejoice when we’re sad. Losing someone we love, suffering with sickness, or staring into the face of outrageous wrong will make us grieve—sometimes deeply. But sadness doesn’t steal our joy. Our souls are at peace with God and the new, flawless creation he’s bringing about. As the Psalmist said, “Weeping may last for the night—but in the morning, joy.”

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, April 16, 2007

Faith and fear

There’s good fear and bad fear, and both are closely connected with faith. The good kind is fear of the Lord. Fearing God simply means respecting him for who he is: holy and merciful, maker of heaven and earth. If we fear the Lord we have faith that he knows what he’s talking about, and we follow his instructions. Good fear leads to all kinds of blessings, like knowing God and having his approval.

The bad kind is pretty much everything else. But here’s where the blessings begin to pile up: if we fear the Lord, we have fellowship with Love himself. We walk with Love, and he lives inside our hearts. And as much as we’re in fellowship with Perfect Love, the less we’re afraid of anything else: shame, assault, suffering, even death. The Love of God makes every other kind of fear go away.

(c) Copyright 2007. A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Contextualizing the gospel

Jumping into a pond to bring the Good News to frogs and scaling a cliff to reach eagles—that’s what it means to contextualize the gospel. Contextualizing means we learn as best we can to tell the Good News in Frogish or Eaglish. It doesn’t mean we eat flies or rip small animals apart with our toes.

The church should always look for new ways to present the gospel so that everyone can understand it clearly. But understanding doesn’t mean liking. Tenderizing and dressing the gospel to make it easy to swallow isn’t contextualizing; it’s sin. From any worldly context the gospel will always be foolishness and hard to swallow. But the church still proclaims the words of Jesus: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

See what I mean?

(c) Copyright 2007. A. Milton Stanley

Saturday, April 14, 2007

War and peace

Why does some evangelism insist on presenting Christian discipleship as something that will make our lives run smoothly? As Jesus and the apostles told us, the ruling powers of the world are at war with the church, and Christians had better expect to be hated and attacked if we really live our faith (Jn. 15:20; Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Tim. 3:12). A spiritual war is raging more powerful than any bombs-and-bullets conflict the earth has ever seen. That’s what we sign up for when we become Christians—and our new enemy is furious that we’ve switched sides.

But at the same time discipleship is about peace, and Christians have the only kind that really matters: peace with God. The more our faith takes root, the less we’re afraid of failure, suffering, and death. Jesus has already been through all that. The next time he comes down to the earthly battlefield, he’ll wipe out the enemy. And when that day comes, the ones who’ve died with him will reign with him.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, April 13, 2007

Both wings of the Great Commission

Jesus instructed his followers in the Great Commission not only to baptize disciples, but to teach them everything he’s commanded (Mt. 28:19-20). Every congregation, it seems, is tempted to honor one part of the Commission at the expense of the rest. Some churches turn their attention inward and build comfortable nests for themselves while multitudes outside pour into hell. Others make evangelism their main focus while ignoring their own lack of spiritual maturity; new converts seldom see Jesus in that setting and usually fall away.

So how can a congregation fulfill the whole Commission? The Apostle John tells us that keeping Jesus’ commandments is evidence of knowing him (1 Jn. 2:3). The answer, then, lies in the second wing of the Great Commission: Jesus is with his disciples even now, and will be forever. Once that reality begins to sink in, we’re on the way.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Putting off sin

Faith may be a gift, but putting off sin is a choice. We can argue all day about how much faith is our doing and how much it’s God’s. Yes, God sometimes hardens a person’s heart to disobedience (Ex. 11:10; Dt. 2:30, Josh. 11:20, Jn. 12:40; etc.). But the whole scope of the Bible shows that each of us chooses whether or not to hold on to sin. So what will it be? Holding on to sin may give us pleasure right here, right now. But putting it away opens up a whole new reality.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Having ears

“He who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus said it over and over. Why do some people accept the good news while others don’t? According to Jesus, it’s whether or not we have ears. He wasn’t talking about the flaps on the sides of our heads, but about ears of faith. But why do some people have faith ears while others don’t?

Having ears for the Word is like having an ear for music. To an extent, it’s something we develop through practice. If we put off sinful habits and submit ourselves to the Word of God, we’ll develop better spiritual hearing (Rom. 12:1-2).

But just as an ear for music is also a gift, so are ears of faith. Jesus said some folks couldn’t hear his words because they didn’t belong to God (John 8:43-47). Faith itself is a gift (1 Cor. 12:9; Eph. 2:8). Without it no one can expect to hear God. But why would God give some better ears than others? That’s one of the truths God has not revealed to us. But let’s remember this: if God has given us ears, we ought to stand in awe of the One who has, in the mystery of his grace, given us the gift of hearing.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Believing the Word

Why should anyone believe the Word—in the sense either of the Bible or of Jesus Christ himself? How can Christians, in a world of competing religions, convince unbelievers that Christ is the one true way to the Father? How can we prove to doubters that the Word of God is true, dependable, and worth staking life and eternity on?

We can’t. No matter how well we present the evidence for the Word’s truth, it’s not our evidence or persuasion that changes hearts. So what does? How does anyone ever come to saving faith?

Only one way: through the Word itself. When Christians proclaim the Good News, the transforming power of the Word goes forth into the world. The Word is its own evidence and proof. Opening ourselves to that Word allows faith to be born and grow in our hearts. “Belief comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ”—but only if we have ears to hear. And how do we have ears? That’s tomorrow’s dose.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Word

Old Testament writers called God’s prophesies, commandments, instructions, writings, promises and interactions with human beings by a simple term: the Word of the Lord. As the Word came more and more to be contained in written form, the Israelites became a people of the book. Whatever challenges confronted Israel, they had the Word to guide them. Christians have inherited that Word, along with the inspired writings of the New Testament. And so we refer to the whole Bible as the Word.

But not the whole Word. The same writer who said the world probably isn’t big enough for all the books that could be written about God’s actions also wrote some earth-shaking truths about the Word. First, John said, the Word was God—of the same nature as the Father. Even more earth-shaking was this: “the Word became flesh and took up residence among us” in the form of Jesus Christ.

Christians do well to depend on the written Word of God. It will never guide us wrong. But even more than the written Word, we have the embodied Word of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has taken us, transformed, into the very presence of God.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Shame

As someone has said, in Jesus’ day being crucified was as shameful as seeing your name on the sexual predator’s list today. You wouldn’t find any gold crosses on chains around the necks of the first disciples. Jesus died shamefully, and anyone who dared claim allegiance to him joined in that shame. In a culture where honor got you further than money, shame was no small problem.

But on the third day, something changed. The empty tomb swallowed all shame—not in the eyes of the world, who heap shame on Christians to this day. But in the eyes of God, the shame of the world’s sin stayed behind in the tomb. On Resurrection morning Jesus rose alive, free of the shame and death he bore on the cross. And here’s the wonderful truth for those who believe: We’re free now, too.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, April 6, 2007

Hope

“Hope” has got to be one of the limpest words in the English language. People slip it out to describe the weakest possibilities: “Think VISA will just forget about this $25,000 credit card bill? Well, I hope so.” In everyday talk, hope is about as weak as a pot of one-cube bouillon soup.

But in biblical terms, hope has power. It’s country ham with red-eye gravy and biscuits. It’s an anchor to the soul. Hope is affirming that the lies and injustice of this world are not all that’ll ever be. Christians hope in a Savior who died and rose again to bring us into the very presence of God. Hope is knowing that however bad things may look to our eyes, God sees what’s really going on. He has things under control, and us in his arms.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Baggage

All of us have baggage. The trick is knowing when to lay it aside and get to work—and where the strength to do that comes from. Consider Israel. Their first king, Saul, was tall and handsome with great personal strength and charisma. But when the time came to put on the crown, where was Saul? Hiding in the baggage (1 Sam. 10:22). Saul, it seems, knew his own strength wasn’t enough for the job, but he never could quite trust the Lord enough to do it with God’s power.

Then there was David: young, obscure, disrespected. But when the time came for action, David gave his baggage to the baggage keeper and ran to the battlefield (1 Sam. 17:22). David didn’t look like a king, but he had something Saul didn’t: an unshakable faith in the Lord. And that was enough to kill giants.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Grace

For Christians, grace has nothing to do with beauty, charm, or being a good dancer. Those are, quite literally, pagan ideas of grace. In the Bible, grace is a free gift from God. It’s not something God gives us for following his instructions or being his friend or taking an afternoon to go look at resort properties. It’s a gift we haven’t earned and don’t deserve.

It’s also how Christians are saved—as a gift, unearned. Christians sometimes argue about when we’re saved: when we believed, when we repented, or when we were baptized? Here’s the answer. We were saved, by grace, when Jesus died on the cross. We were saved, by grace, before the foundation of the world. By grace—I still don’t fully understand what that means. But I know beyond a doubt it’s true.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Welcoming the foreigner

Do I really need to give examples to show what most human beings think about foreigners? Consider the words we use to describe them: alien, stranger, gringo. In the Old Testament, foreigners were unclean as far as Israel was concerned. But the Lord told Israel, over and over, to treat the alien by the same laws and standards as the Israelite. Later, in the New Testament, Jewish Christians answered the call to welcome Gentiles into the Kingdom of God.

It’s a good thing God cares about strangers. There wouldn’t be a drop of hope for any of us otherwise.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Unclean and clean

In the Old Testament, being ceremonially clean was part of being holy. Being clean in the eyes of the law was a fragile thing, because touching anything unclean made the one who touched it unclean. That’s why a leper in Israel had to live away from everyone else--so nobody would touch him and become unclean. We’re not talking about actually catching leprosy. Touching a leper made you unclean, even if you didn’t catch the disease. In other words, uncleanliness itself was contagious.

And then Jesus came along and changed everything. When Jesus touched a man with leprosy, the leper was healed and Jesus didn’t become unclean. It seems that when Jesus is involved, it’s cleanliness that’s contagious.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, April 2, 2007

Holiness

The Bible is very clear: God is holy. What’s not so clear is what, exactly, holiness is. When the Scriptures show an image of God’s holiness, it’s usually fire or incredible brightness. Those images imply an aspect of God’s holiness we can understand: his righteousness. The impurities and darkness of sin can’t survive the fiery light of God’s holiness. In fact, as Moses and Isaiah learned, coming into contact with too much of God’s holiness would destroy human beings. And that leads us to another aspect of holiness: something separate, set apart. If we know anything about ourselves and our fellow humans, doesn’t it make sense that if God is completely righteous, he’s different and set apart from us?

So why does holiness matter if God is separate from us? Well, it matters because God said he expects his people to be holy, too. God gave the ancient Israelites a complex set of laws to show what holiness looks like. Today, he offers something even better: God shares his holiness directly with Christians through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. That’s right. God gives holiness to Christians, and we have it, already, right now. We have a hard time believing it because our lives don’t really look all that holy. But God’s promises are more real than our perceptions. Christians have been made holy in God’s sight. The challenge, of course, is learning to make our actions match.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, April 1, 2007

God's description of himself

When God describes himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:6-7), he mentions his role as judge. But the Lord spends more time telling about his mercy and compassion. Not only that, but he later revokes a major element of his judgment (Ezekiel 18). The Lord’s words to Moses are quoted over and over again by the prophets and writers of the Old Testament. But here’s the interesting part: whenever they remember God’s description of himself on Sinai, it’s typically the words of blessing, not judgment, that they proclaim: “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faith.”

Are we listening? Yes, God is not mocked and will judge us if he has to. But his nature is mercy and grace, patience and steadfast love. The Lord is not the angry type. He's not testy or cranky. He’s not looking for an excuse to punish us. He wants to show us his mercy and love, and he’s far more faithful to us than we are to him.

Are we listening? Our ideas about God, right or wrong, affect everything we do. If we see him as an angry father, a distant dad, or a control freak, we’ll behave accordingly. But once we come to know him as he really is, everything—everything—changes.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Don't judge"

Someone has called Matthew 7:1 “America’s verse”: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” In popular talk, “Don’t judge” is an excuse to do whatever we please, with a vague sense of divine approval. By that standard, if we want to do something we know is wrong, all we have to do is trot out the old “Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge’” line. Works great.

But let’s be clear. You better believe God does judge. Some actions and attitudes are right, and others are wrong. And God not only judges, he assigns blessings and curses based on what he decides. But only he decides. So yes, let’s not pretend to judge another soul’s eternal standing. But God has made a point of showing us what actions and attitudes are right and which are wrong. He’s even shown us where judgment ends. So doesn’t it make sense for us to learn the judge’s thoughts on the matter?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, March 30, 2007

Which is it?

Prov. 26:4Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, or you might also be like him.
Prov. 26:5Answer a fool according to his folly, or else he may consider himself wise in his own conceit.

Hmm. So which is it: answer or don’t answer?

Exactly. That’s what reading the Bible is for. Studying the Word isn’t only about learning what to think. The Bible also teaches us how to think. And we don’t learn how to think by dipping our hands in and pulling out verses here and there to use as we please. We learn by letting the Scriptures use us, by diving in deep day after day so that sometimes we feel like we’re about to drown. But if we keep at it, then talking to fools is only one of the things we’ll learn how to do.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Interpreting the Bible

In the Bible we come face-to-face with God’s Word to mankind, so it’s a good idea to understand what we read. But how do we study the Bible with understanding? As anyone who’s tried to read through the whole Bible can testify, some parts are simply hard to understand. And if you’ve tried discussing it with others, you know that five people can read the same passage and find six different interpretations.

So what’s the key? The church. When we’re trying to understand a passage, we should be asking how the saints of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, have interpreted it through the years. And I don’t mean our little corner of the church over the past twenty, thirty, or a hundred years—or even the past five hundred. The key is how the whole church has interpreted the Bible from the beginning.

Of course, doing that kind of interpretation takes work. It also takes humility—to admit that our own individual minds may not be enough, and that Christians need one another for the most basic act of discipleship—hearing the voice of God.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Worldliness

Worldliness is leading a church the same way you lead a company. Worldliness is setting goals for the Holy Spirit. It’s drawing a crowd with videos, music, and a cutting-edge auditorium and then hoping they’ll somehow give their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Judging our congregation’s success by the number of backsides in seats—that’s worldliness. So is following the “New Testament pattern” for worship while keeping our hearts as pinched and stony as a pagan’s. Worldiness is working to find joy and self-worth in what we do for God, instead of what Jesus Christ has already done for us.

You see? Worldliness is the easiest thing in the world. And the deadliest.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Marriage and divorce

Like it or not, marriage says something about God. The New Testament tells us that in a marriage the man and woman represent Christ and the church. That’s why God expects a woman to obey her man and the man to go to the cross for his woman. The church is the bride of Christ, and Jesus loves her like a groom---passionately, completely, and forever. A faithful marriage proclaims and celebrates that love, especially between Christians.

When Christians divorce, or even fool around, they’re saying something about Christ, too. A woman who cheats on her husband is telling the world that Christ’s love isn’t enough. When a man is unfaithful to his wife, he’s shouting from the rooftops that Jesus Christ is a liar. And divorce says both at once.

Too much burden to lay on one couple? Maybe so. That’s why the church is supposed to be helping us stay faithful to our vows. And when we do, not only are our own lives blessed, but Jesus Christ himself is lifted up.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, March 26, 2007

Changed

Being a disciple of Christ is not the process of adding one more item to a well-ordered life. It’s a process that re-orders everything in our lives. Discipleship is more than being saved. It’s also being transformed: from sin to holiness, from darkness to light, from death to life, from the realm of sin to the Kingdom of God. Transformation is evidence of salvation. If we’re not in the process of becoming more and more like Christ, then we’re fooling ourselves if we think we really belong to him.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Church growth and goals

No matter how much we may try to help it along, church growth is God’s doing, not ours. When we set goals for how many new members we plan to add this coming year, we’re really setting quotas on God. We may think it’s time for growth in numbers when really it’s time to grow in heart so that our members are ready for the next level. On the other hand, we may think it’s time to grow when God thinks it’s time to explode. Consider the first Pentecost. If the church in Jerusalem had “cast a vision” of doubling in size that year, they would have been short by almost eight thousand souls. So what should we do? Trust in the Lord and serve him with gladness and singleness of heart. He’ll provide the growth when it's time.

I’m going out of town again for a few days but hope to be back here Monday. Hope you are, too.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lord's Supper

In theory, the Supper is the heart of Christian worship. In practice, it’s become a platform for our biases and worldly thinking. Don’t think so? Consider the words we use to describe it. Finding fault with terms like “transubstantiation” and “consubstantiation” is easy. But do we, the Bible-things-by-Bible-names crowd, consider our own language? How many times have you heard a brother stand at table and give thanks for “this loaf which represents his body” and “this fruit of the vine, which represents his blood”? If Jesus ever said “represents,” none of the Gospels record it. “Oh,” you protest, “the bread couldn’t really be his body, because his body was sitting there holding the bread. It only represents his body.”

Listen. Jesus was no idiot, and neither were the apostles. They all knew he was sitting there, but the Lord didn’t mention symbolism or real presence or any other philosophical category. Jesus simply said, “This is my body.” For some reason Christians feel the need to explain what he meant, and that's where our biases creep in. But Jesus didn’t command us to explain, or even to understand. He simply said, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

No-clap zone

When it comes to worship, I’m one of those people who like to be carried away in the emotion. I like to lift my hands over my head, shout “Amen! Hallelujah!” and maybe even start clapping. You wouldn’t know it from watching me, though, because for the past few years I’ve been with congregations who don’t like that sort of thing.

And here’s the great part. Not being able to do all those things has brought me closer to God. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with getting excited. It’s because not being able to do what I want has forced me to take my focus off Milton and turn it toward God. Worship isn’t about getting what we want. It’s about giving God what he deserves.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fellowship and love

Christians gather together at least once a week for worship and fellowship. Let's look at fellowship first.

When it’s real, Christian fellowship is much more than hey-how-ya-doin'. In real fellowship we love one another as Jesus Christ loved us, and the world sees that we belong to him. If there’s anything more comforting, exciting and joy-making than being surrounded by people who love you, I’d like to know what it is.

Well, there is one thing: being in the presence of Love himself. Jesus told us that when even a few of his disciples gather together in his name, he’ll be there with us. That’s comforting in more ways than one, because the world knows whose we are. And they won’t like us any more than they liked him.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, March 16, 2007

New life in Christ

Becoming a Christian doesn’t make you a better person. It makes you a new person. Discipleship isn’t about self-improvement; it’s about dying to ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus.

I’ll be out of town this weekend and won’t be administering any more doses for a couple of days. Hope you come by again on Monday.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Weakness and strength

God isn’t looking for strong people. He wants disciples weak enough to lean on his strength, not our own. The apostles argued about who was tops among the twelve, so Jesus showed them that God is looking for little children to populate his Kingdom. Christians in Corinth thought they were strong and wise, so the Apostle Paul made a point of telling them how weak and foolish he was. When we’re weakest in our own eyes is the very moment we can be strongest in God’s. It’s been true for a long time: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding.” That’s the kind of strong God wants.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More than "applying" the Bible

The real power of the Word doesn’t come by gouging out bits and pieces from the Bible and “applying it to our lives.” Application is, by definition, a thin, surface contact. We come to know the Word’s power by throwing ourselves into its depth, taking it into our hearts, and allowing it to do its work on us from the inside out. That transformation requires deep, sustained interaction with the Scriptures and God’s people. I want my heart and mind to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18), and I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Standing on the world or the Word?

Here are a couple more drops of yesterday’s dose. If the Word of God is really where the church looks for authority, then we need to let the Word be that authority. It makes no difference if science or scholarship appear to support the Bible. In fact, if we look for history or geology or archaeology to verify what the Bible says, then our real authority isn’t the Bible--it’s history, geology, and archaeology. It all comes down to whether we find our foundation in the World or in the Word.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, March 12, 2007

Inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy

The Bible says that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV). That’s simple enough. So why do Christians use unbiblical words like “inerrancy” and “infallibility”? Those terms imply a standard of truth outside the Word. Inerrancy suggests the Bible is true because it contains no factual errors. Infallibility implies that history and science don’t contradict it.

But here’s the problem with that approach: the Word of God doesn’t need any outside verification. We don’t need history, archaeology, geology, astronomy, or any other human undertaking to “prove” the Scriptures are true. “The Word of God is living and active.” That’s proof enough.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sound-byte discipleship

I hope you’re enjoying reading these little doses as much as I am writing them. There’s nothing wrong with trying to compact God’s truth into swallowable doses, but let’s remember that the Truth is much bigger than anything our words can describe. Sound-byte discipleship is fine as far as it goes, but real transformation of soul comes over the long haul. It’s a journey under the direction of the Word, and it leads to the cross.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Going and coming

The Great Commission’s basic command is “Go!” Christians today are looking for methods of taking the gospel outside the church building to where the lost are. That’s exactly what we should be doing. But let’s remember that Jesus also said, “Come.” In some circles inviting people to church is considered an inferior method of evangelism. But the church is the body of Christ. If we’re living and loving as the church should, then inviting unbelievers to our assemblies is welcoming them into the presence of Jesus Christ.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, March 9, 2007

Premillennialism or amillennialism?

Who cares. Let’s stop arguing over which doctrinal position employs the Official Decoder Ring for the book of Revelation. Can’t Christians all agree on the book’s big idea? Satan is going to hammer God’s people right up to the end, but the Lamb and his own will triumph at last. Jesus told his disciples that we’ll know it when he comes back. And when that moment arrives, I have a feeling we’ll see clearly enough what to do next. In the mean time, Christians, let’s live like we really believe he’s coming.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley