Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Playing it safe

The Bible has plenty to say about people who do evil. But what about folks who play it safe, do no harm—what one writer called “good, honest, inoffensive folk”—people who lay low and don’t bother anybody? Well, if we can believe Jesus, the safe players are anything but safe.

Jesus told about a rich man who went away and left small fortunes with three of his workers. Two of the workers took chances and doubled the boss’s money. The other one played it safe and simply gave the boss his money back when he returned. Only one of the workers ended up getting fired; can you guess which one? (Read Matthew 25:14-30 if you still don’t know).

Jesus wasn’t teaching a lesson in money management. He was talking about God’s Kingdom. The King doesn’t call us to get saved and get comfortable. He calls Christians to take up our crosses and follow Jesus—into suffering and into death. And the amazing irony of the Kingdom is that dying to ourselves is where the real treasure is.

(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fame and shame

What’s the deal with turning the other cheek? By telling his followers not to resist an evil person (Matt. 5:39), is Jesus saying we should all be pacifists? Maybe. But notice he’s talking about face-slaps, not sword-thrusts; one kills you, the other mainly just humiliates you. Of course, in Jesus’ day, humiliation could be worse than death. Honor was worth more than money, and shame was just as powerful the other way.

In short, Jesus says when someone humiliates you, invite him to do it some more: “You trying to make me look weak? Come on, humiliate me again!” Of course, welcoming humiliation is almost as hard today as it was in Jesus’ time. After all, why would anybody just stand there and take being humiliated? It’s totally upside-down to common sense.

Exactly. But that’s what happens when the Kingdom of God slams into the powers and values of the world around us. The rules are 180-degrees opposite each other, and neither set makes sense from the other side. But deciding which set of rules to follow really comes down to a very simple decision: who are you trying to impress—everybody else, or God?


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Success

North Americans are fond of success, and Christians here are prone to think of how to make our congregations successful. We measure success with different numbers: doors knocked, baptisms done, new members welcomed, service rendered, dollars donated, posteriors planted in pews. ╬čur standards of measurement vary, but no one seems to doubt that the church ought to be successful.

Isn't it interesting, then, that the New Testament never uses the word “success” in relation to the church? In fact, the NT writers aren't nearly as concerned about measuring success as with simply going about the life of discipleship: glorifying God, encouraging one another, and growing in Christ. Sure, you can make a case that whatever we call it, doing those things all add up to success. But in our quest for success, let's not forget something more powerful than success: victory. And Jesus already has that one under control.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dirty work

Let’s face it: we don’t need special glasses to see how apathetic, inconsistent, and hypocritical the church can be. The problem, of course, is that it’s made up of people like you and me. Some things God does himself, flawlessly. Everything else he leaves for his people to do the best way we can. The best way, of course, is through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Even with the reality and power of that Spirit, Kingdom work can sometimes seem fitful and messy.

But don’t let the messiness blind us to the blessedness. Jesus sometimes compared the Kingdom of God to seed, and of course seeds grow in dirt. The seed of God's Word is the power of Jesus Christ himself. And something unique happens when Jesus touches dirt: instead of getting dirty himself, Jesus makes the dirt clean.

So Christians, let's be encouraged in the church. At times we may see mainly dirt, but God sees what's growing underneath—for our blessing and his glory.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Grace and truth

Discipleship requires balancing truth and grace (as a sister in Christ recently explained), but each Christian usually leans too far toward one or the other. If we’re truth tellers we may gush out truth for the benefit of those around us, but they may end up being swept away by the torrent. These truth tellers are sometimes called legalists.

If we’re all about grace, we may spare feelings by never speaking hard truth, but those around us may never know how far they’re wandered. These gracers are sometimes called wimps. But if truth and grace, both good qualities, can cause trouble if unallayed, how do we balance the two?

In Christ. When Jesus came into the world he was “full of grace and truth. . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14, 17). Finding just the right balance between grace and truth may not be easy, but if keep our eyes on Christ, we won’t wander too far out in either direction.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When Jesus just couldn't do much

He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. – Mark 6:5 (NET)

Did you catch that? In this situation at least, Jesus couldn’t do a miracle. Not wouldn’t, but couldn’t. Somehow the Almighty faced limitations while in the flesh. Why is that information important?

In this case Jesus' limitations tell us something about God’s interaction with human beings. As far as we can tell from the Bible, God doesn't force anyone to believe in him or receive his blessings. No doubt God has the power, if he wanted, to make everyone believe and be saved. But God doesn't work that way. He wants us to obey and co-operate willingly.

Why? Maybe because God shared his own image with us, he expects us to share in some of the work as well. And here’s the scary part: if we don't do our part in that work, it may never be done.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

David and Goliath

Too many sermons on David and Goliath rattle on about secondary issues. If you’ve ever heard a lesson on D&G, you know what I mean: be brave, be strong, God gives us power to overcome the giants in our life.

That approach misses the point completely. As someone has said, when Christians read about David and Goliath, we aren't David. We're the Israelite army, cowering back, too scared to so much as take a step in the giant's direction.

In this case David, anointed one of God, is a foreshadowing of Jesus, who single-handedly beat the giant of sin and death. Praise God that we not only don't have to beat the giant alone, Jesus has already beat him for us.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Old or young creation

One of the most useless subjects for believers to argue about is how many years old the earth is. A lot of Christians believe the Bible can be true only if science comes up with the same number of years as Genesis from creation to now. But here's the problem: If science can “prove” the authority of the Bible, then science, not the Bible, is really the authority. Either we believe the Bible is true or we don't. If it is, then whatever science tells us doesn't matter at all.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Friday, February 8, 2008

A man after God’s own heart

What does it mean that David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), was also a liar, adulterer, and murderer (2 Sam. 11-12)? By today’s standards, David wouldn’t even qualify to serve as a church elder, but the Lord made him king of all Israel whose royal line would last forever. How could that be?

The very place to find the answer may be in David’s failures. For all his weaknesses, David’s strength lay in knowing where his real power came from. No matter how impetuous or unwise he may have behaved, David never worshiped another god or wavered from his faith in Jehovah. As much as behaving ourselves does matter to God, nothing matters more than this one.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, January 28, 2008

Greed and grace

Have you ever noticed what poor businessmen God expected the Israelites to be? The Lord told them not to harvest the corners of their fields or to pick up the fruits and vegetables that fell on the ground (Lev. 19:9-10). That’s not the way to maximize profits, especially in the days before tractors and combines. The owner’s put his own money and sweat into that field. He’s taken the risk—why let someone else reap the fruit?

It’s the difference between greed and grace. One’s the way of business; the other’s the way of God.

(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Which kingdom?

“Let my people go.” Those words from God to the king of Egypt are some of the best known from the Bible. All kinds of folks—abolitionists, labor organizers, civil rights activists—have used them as a rallying call for getting out from under some kind of oppression.

But getting away is only half the story. The Israelites weren’t cut loose from Pharaoh so they could go running around on their own. They were freed from serving Pharaoh so they could begin serving the Lord. The Exodus wasn’t so much slaves breaking free from their master as it was a transfer from one master to another.

The same thing’s true today. No matter how much we think we’re on our own, we’ll always have a master, the one we’re ultimately serving. The big question is: which kingdom, and which king?

(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, January 21, 2008

Saints

We’ve all heard the word, but do we know what it really means? Saints are not necessarily the super-Christians, the spiritual elite. “Saints” literally means “the holy ones,” the ones set apart. The idea goes back to God’s instruction in Leviticus: “You be holy, for I am holy.” God is totally separate from sin and wants his people the same way.

Of course, there’s only one way to be a saint: in Christ. Saints are made holy by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. That means every Christian who believes in Christ, repents of sin and is baptized into his death and resurrection is a saint. In other words, saints are Christians—no more, no less.

God calls the ones he makes holy to live holy. A big part of Christian discipleship is learning that we are, really, saints, and that in Christ we have the power to live that way.

(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More on knowing God’s will

You can’t know God’s will without knowing God’s Word. You can’t know God’s Word without knowing God’s people. You can’t know God’s people without knowing God’s love. You can’t know God’s love without knowing God.

(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Monday, January 14, 2008

Open doors?

Why do so many Christians think “open doors” are a sign of God’s will? You know what I’m talking about: you're wondering what to do and suddenly, there it is—an open door! No need to think any more, just walk on through the open door; it must be God's will, right? On second thought, I think I see the appeal: God makes the right way not only easy to see, but easy to walk.

Too bad the Bible paints a different picture. Think about Jonah, for example. He found some wide open doors in Joppa: a boat going in a direction he wanted, money to pay his way, calm seas, and a bunch of guys willing to take him on board. Only thing was, taking that boat was exactly opposite of what God wanted for Jonah. So the Lord closed a door or two to get Jonah’s attention.

If we can’t know God’s will by looking at open doors, what can we do? For a start, how about looking at that picture we just talked about?

(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's hell

Reconciling the idea of a loving God and an eternal hell is an old problem. The Apostle Paul wrote about those who don’t obey the gospel: “They’ll suffer punishment, eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). That sounds pretty unfair: suffering unlimited hell for choices made during a limited lifetime.

But is it really? When you think about it, aren’t the lost getting exactly what they’ve spent their lives trying to have—life without the encumbrance of God’s mastery. In a sense, hell is God’s way of giving the lost what they’ve wanted all along. Tragic, yes; unfair, no.


(c) Copyright 2008, A. Milton Stanley