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