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.