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