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

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Predestination or free will?

Which is it? Are we saved because God chooses us or because we choose God? Well, let’s see what the Bible says. . . OK, it looks like the evidence is conclusive for free will: Num. 14:11; Deut. 30:11-15; Josh. 24:15; Rm. 2:10-11; 10:13; 1 Tim. 2:4. Only problem is, the case is just as strong for predestination: Mt. 22:14; Jn. 15:16; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29-30; 9:11-22; Eph. 1:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:10-13; Jude 4. That means the only logical conclusion is that both are true. In other words, it’s not a case of either/or but of both/and. I know; that doesn’t make sense. But when did God ever say his purposes make sense to us? Sounds like a little humility is in order here.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Faith and works

Today’s words are hard to fit into a soundbyte-sized dose. But let’s see what we can do.

It’s tough to preach faith and works the right way through all the noise of people preaching it wrong. Some folks say works are as important as faith (they’re not), while others preach that works don’t matter at all (they do). Without faith you still can wear yourself out doing Bible things in Bible ways, but you’ll still be on the way to hell. With real faith, though, you’ll be amazed at how much work you’ll accomplish, and enjoy the effort.

So faith matters most, and it’s a matter of the heart. That’s why the Bible, from start to finish, focuses more on what’s happening with the heart than with the hands. Of course, only God reads our hearts. We can fool people into thinking we’re working from faithful hearts when we’re really only serving ourselves. We may even fool ourselves. That’s why most of us would do well to join in the prayer, “Lord, I have faith; help my faithlessness!”

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When were you saved?

Some people make a cottage industry of arguing over what moment a Christian is saved. I’m not talking about teenagers what-ifing around a campfire. Christians are building brick walls of fellowship over whether a believer who dies of a heart attack while climbing the baptistry steps goes to heaven or hell.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things. First off, choosing Heart Attack’s final destination is not our call; God’s the only one who assigns those seats. Second, it’s clear from reading the New Testament that baptism is intimately involved with the forgiveness of sins, new life in the Spirit, and membership in the body of Christ. Beyond those truths, most of what passes as baptismal doctrine (including the strange phrase, “contact the blood of Christ”) comes from somewhere besides the Bible.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

So let’s stop arguing over things God has not chosen to tell us. He expects believers to be baptized at the threshold of faith. Isn’t that enough?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Sabbath

In his day, Jesus gave the Jewish leaders fits with his radical approach to the Sabbath. In our day, Christians aren’t bound to recognize the Sabbath day at all. Still, Jesus set aside time for rest, retreat, and prayer. It’s a good idea for us to do that too.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Not peace, but a sword

Living in a Christianized culture makes it easy to look at discipleship as one of the steps to getting our lives in order. Going to church is on the same list as going on a diet, paying off the credit card and giving up smoking. It’s what respectable people do.

Except that it isn’t--at least, if Jesus and the apostles are any indication. Everywhere they went, the first disciples caused trouble. They started arguments over religion. They disrupted business. They went into peaceful, pagan cities and caused riots. People wanted to kill them, and sometimes they did.

And Jesus wouldn’t have it any other way. “If you were the world’s,” Jesus said, “the world would love you as its own. But because you’re not the world’s, but I chose you out of the world, then the world hates you.” In fact, Jesus said, the world will hate Christians like they hated him. There’s really no way to avoid the fight. The only question is, whose side are we going to be on?

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Peace

Picture this: A group of Christians are sitting together, chit-chatting in a living room where an elephant is stomping around, smashing the furniture. One man finally jumps up and begins shouting, “There’s an elephant in the room!” Everyone then proceeds to smack the man with sofa cushions till he shuts up.

It makes sense, I suppose: it’s easier to shut up the man than the elephant. In the church this shoot-the-messenger approach to conflict grows from the false notion that Christians are always unconfrontational and nice, even when sin or false teaching are smashing the church to pieces. But that’s not peace. It’s pretend.

Real peace isn’t nice. Real peace arises from violence: the murder of Jesus Christ on the cross. That’s where Jesus wrought peace between God and mankind by paying for our sin. Believers are no longer enemies of God. We’re his representatives now, working with his authority and protection behind us. It’s amazing how much trouble we can avoid simply by remembering our mission--and that an attack on a brother or sister is an assault on the King. At the same time, let’s remember that Jesus didn't come to bring peace but a sword. But that’s tomorrow’s dose.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Gospel and the Kingdom

I’m convinced that what passes for the gospel makes disciples, but self-centered ones: Christians who confess Jesus Christ but don’t do much to serve him. But what should we expect if we preach the gospel as nothing more than a way for an individual to be saved from hell? Hear-believe-repent-confess-be-baptized is true and good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. If we preach the gospel only as a way for individual souls to be saved, why should we expect Christians to think about more than their own individual souls?

Matthew’s Gospel gives us a clue: Jesus proclaimed “the gospel of the Kingdom.” Our Lord didn’t come to save a collection of individuals. He came to establish his Kingdom. That Kingdom is not only a place we go when we die. It’s a new heaven and a new earth, and it’s already begun breaking through the battle lines of darkness all around us. Jesus didn’t come simply to save you and me. He came to rescue all creation from rebellion and bring it under his rule and authority. And here’s the wonderful truth: he’s inviting us to share in the struggle today, and in the victory celebration tomorrow.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Working harder

All my life I’ve heard about working harder. You know what I mean: “Well, you’re doing great; you just need to work a little harder.” Work harder. It’s as American as Wal-Mart or Microsoft. But you know something? As many times as I’ve read the Bible, I can’t remember a single time God tells somebody to work harder. The Scriptures have a lot to say about good works, but none of it in the language of motivational management. It’s never, “Good job, Israel! Now let’s kick it up a notch!”

The Bible doesn’t make such fine distinctions as good-but-not-quite-good-enough. No, the language of the Bible is relentlessly black-and-white: good or evil, in or out of the Kingdom, new life in Christ or death in sin. It seems that from God’s point of view how much work we do doesn’t matter as much as whether or not our hearts are turned to him. We can work ourselves to death in the name of God and still die in our sins. But if our hearts are filled with repentance and a living faith in Jesus Christ, then our works take care of themselves—to the glory of God.

(c) Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley