Leadership

The rise and fall of societies and institutions has depended almost exclusively upon the quality of their leadership. George Barna, who has spent years researching the church in America, claims that the most serious weakness he has found within the church in the last fifteen years is the lack of leadership. Few would disagree that strong, bold, innovative, and godly leadership is in short supply.

During the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee said, “I believe our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. These men will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. There is the difficulty of proper commanders.” Lee knew that ultimate victory rested on the quality of leaders who led the troops. He wanted men with administrative skills, diligence, imagination, initiative, resourcefulness, and the ability to elicit the best in other men. Like Lee, people everywhere are looking for leaders. So, what does one look for in a leader?

Don’t put too much stock in outward appearance. Externally leaders often appear very different. Hitler, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and General George Patton would all be excellent subjects for a study in contrasts, except for the one thing they had in common—they were all leaders. God has used uncultured farmers, crude fishermen, and simple shepherds, as well as gifted scholars, astute politicians, and military tacticians to lead His causes. While most of us look at the outward appearance, God looks at the core of the person’s character. He looks for certain inner traits that will turn a lad into a leader. As a matter of fact, research shows that internally leaders have certain characteristics in common. Let me list them for you:

Leaders have clear-cut objectives. Leaders know what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, and how they are going to achieve it. They know that you will only achieve what you aim for, and so they keep focused on their goals and objectives.

  1. Leaders know themselves. Leaders know their strengths and weaknesses. They lead from their strengths and bring the right people around them to help where they know they have weaknesses.
  2. Leaders are persistent. They have staying power. They will sometimes give a lifetime of dedicated service just to see their objectives fulfilled.
  3. Leaders are learners. They never stop learning and growing. They have an insatiable appetite to expand their knowledge and learn how to lead more effectively.
  4. Leaders have the ability to attract and energize people. Leadership is influence. Leaders have the ability to influence others to accomplish a common goal.
  5. Leaders are risk takers. They don’t fear failure. They are willing to fail if they can learn something from it. They aren’t afraid to take risks with resources, ideas, and change if they believe good can come from it.
  6. Leaders are followers. No true Christian leader is a law unto himself. He asks others to follow him only as he follows Christ. He lives in obedience to the Word and those to whom he is accountable.

Some who are reading this right now are looking for a leader for your church or organization. Look for these core traits. Don’t be too caught up in outward appearance, or you may miss a David, Israel’s greatest king. Don’t be deceived by a hesitant speaker, or you may miss a Moses, Israel’s greatest leader. Don’t be turned off by a “thorn in the flesh,” or you may miss a Paul, the church’s greatest missionary. But look inside. Look for the right kind of heart. That’s where you will find a true leader.

The Book That Stands Alone

I am a lover of good books and highly value many that are on my shelves! But the Bible stands alone from all other books in my life! I believe it to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible and authoritative Word of God. It is the single most important source of my understanding of God and all of His creation. It shapes my faith, guides my life and gives me a lens in which to view and understand the world around me. It is the book that God has chosen to reveal the way to Heaven. I agree with the venerable John Wesley when he said, “O give me that book!   At any price, give me that book of God”.

The Bible stands alone in its origin. It was written over a span of 1500 years by 40 different authors from all walks of life (kings, philosophers, fisherman, poets, statesmen, farmers, physicians and scholars). It was written on three different continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) from palaces, dungeons and wilderness haunts, during times of war, peace, prosperity and famine. Composed on stone, clay, papyrus, and parchment, those original manuscripts were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit without contradiction or error – thus providing for us God’s holy Word.

It stands alone as the mind of God. Scripture is indeed the revelation of God’s mind. It is certainly not His entire mind but it is all that He has chosen to share. If we are to think as God thinks; if we are to see life as He sees life; then we must saturate our minds with scripture. The Apostle Paul admonished the Roman Christians to readjust their thinking by the “renewing of your mind” using the Bible as the means to do so.

Scripture stands alone as the source for absolute truth. The Bible is the only reliable moral compass that we have. We are moral and spiritual creatures living in a world that is controlled by moral and spiritual values. The concepts of good and evil are innate in our human psyche; yet sin has distorted our understanding of truth as well as disabled our ability to live it. We cannot, either individually or collectively, decide what truth is or what is to be accepted as a true standard for moral behavior without the transcendent absolute truths that are given to us in Scripture. To deny Scripture as the standard for absolute truth is to remove any absolute standard for moral behavior and reasoning.

The Bible stands alone in its ability to change the course of history as well as the lives of those who live that history out. A simple verse of scripture, quickened to the heart by the Holy Spirit, can radically alter the course of a life and a nation – writing a new future for both! No other spoken word has such impact. No other book has such power. “Oh, give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God”.

Kingdom Economics

I think it is safe to say that neither the Chairman of the Federal Reserve nor anyone on Wall Street is going to look to the teachings of Jesus to find the secret to personal calm during these days of financial storm. But for those of us who truly believe in Jesus and are committed to obeying his word it ought to be the first place we turn. A vital part of good stewardship is to care for what God has given us so that we might care for those who are dependent upon us. But we should not let the passing treasures of this world consume us with fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, we have in many areas blindly and unwittingly embraced values and ideas that are common in our culture but are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus – none more than money.

Jesus knew the subtle snare that money can be despite the amazing fact that He owned very few earthly possessions – “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” For all practical purposes Jesus was homeless! I can’t say with absolute certainty but it appears that he never actually possessed any real money of His own. When He needed to pay His taxes He sent Peter to the sea with a line and hook to catch the coin ladened fish to get the bill paid. Yet He spoke abut money more than He did about heaven or hell.

Jesus recognizes that we need material things to live. The drive and desire to acquire a certain amount of material things (food, clothing, shelter, etc…) is not only proper but it is a vital part of caring for ourselves and those we love. To save and plan for the future is good (Proverbs 21:20). Actually His words are not condemnatory toward the possession of money but rather a strong warning against the power and influence it can have over us. To place your trust in it is to embrace a false security that will cause you to live in a state of fear and anxiety. To let it captivate your heart and mind is to turn you away from the true God. In all four gospels, it is the only rival god that Jesus mentions!

Whether you are one of those that just worries about money or one of those that worships it, the cure is the same – believing and obeying the teachings of Jesus. I call it Kingdom Economics!

Kingdom Economics doesn’t store up or value the wrong kind of treasure (Matthew 6:19-21). A treasure is what we value and protect. Jesus teaches us not to value (set your heart upon) the wrong kind of things (things that rust, fad away, or can be stolen), but to value those things that are eternal. When Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to “sell everything” that he had and give it to the poor, he did so in order that this young man might have “treasure in heaven.” Jesus was not trying to strip this him of all pleasure and happiness He was trying to loosen his hold on the lesser in order to give him something greater – something infinitely more satisfying – treasure in heaven! It was not just good for the poor that he do this, it was good for him.

            Kingdom Economics is living live with an open hand rather than a closed fist. It practices generous giving (Matthew 6:22-23). The passage speaks of a bad eye and a clear eye. This is a cultural idiom that we understand better when we change the illustration. The bad eye is a person with a “tight fist” or a closed hand – a stingy person. The clear eye is a person with an open hand – a generous person. Jesus is teaching us to practice generosity that results in systematic giving. God knows that we will potentially have an ongoing struggle with materialism and as such we will need an ongoing antidote. The antidote He has given is generosity. By prescribing generous systematic giving, God isn’t turning into the IRS but a physician. He knows that by telling us to give our money freely to others we will break the control that money has over us. And so while we are experiencing individual freedom through our generosity, the money we give will fund the things that God is passionate about: making disciples, changing lives and caring for those in need.

            Kingdom economics trust in God rather than the things that He made (Matthew 6:24,32). The child of God can trust in the benevolence of his Heavenly Father who, “knows that you need all these things.” As we seek Him first and put Him first all “these things will be added unto you.”   Real freedom from anxiety is found in simply trusting God for our needs. Yet there is the ever present temptation to trust in money. Why? There is because money has some very dangerous “god like” qualities. Money can outlive us, it has a wide circle of influence (everyone respects it), and it pretends to give us what only God can give – security, comfort and happiness. But money is only a false god. It gives false hope, false security and false happiness. To bow down and worship the god of money is to live in fear, despair, and emptiness.

Kingdom Economics embraces not poverty but simplicity (Matthew 6:25-32, Luke 12:15). The Kingdom solution is not to live in poverty. Nor is it stinginess or carelessness. Rather its solution is to embrace simplicity. Simplicity is an attitude of the heart that will ultimately result in an outward lifestyle. Simplicity is adopting the right narrative about wealth and earthly treasure. It is a conviction about how to live rather than a set of rules that I use in order to gauge my life and to judge others. Simplicity ask questions like: Do I really need this?; Will it bring me real joy or just momentary happiness?; How much of the money I would spend on this particular item can I free up to invest in heavenly treasure if I choose this other less expensive item?

Living in this world as a citizen of another requires great wisdom. Being submerged in a culture whose values are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, mandates constant carefulness. Having need of the “coin of the realm” while storing up treasure of a different sort in another kingdom is challenging. Yet it is something Jesus asks us to do. I have not perfected all of this yet, but as I grow in Christ I am improving. I understand better what Paul meant when he admonished , “. . . buy, as if it were not yours to keep; use the things of the world, but do not be engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (I Cor. 7:30-32). The more I embrace Kingdom Economics the more I am liberated from the slavish fears of the financial storms of this present world!

A Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement

by the President and Faculty of the Division of Ministerial Education,

God’s Bible School and College, Cincinnati, Ohio

INTRODUCTION. Deeply concerned for the future of the Holiness Movement, and especially of the Conservative Holiness Movement of which we are a part, we issue this call for the full and vigorous recovery of our heritage as Christians of Wesleyan conviction. We share the distress of those who warn of “historical drift,” spiritual apathy, and surrender to the depraved secular culture that surrounds us. We submit that a renewed commitment to the essential principles of scriptural Christianity which we have received in classical Methodist belief, piety, and mission will prepare and strengthen us for the challenges that confront us. We appeal, therefore, to our entire movement to unite with us joyfully in this commitment, pledging uncompromising faithfulness to God’s Word and to creative relevance in our ministry. Upon the original foundations of our movement, therefore, we must build determined, effective, and contemporary witness to God’s unchanging summons to holy hearts and holy lives.

Implicit in this recovery are the following specific themes:

A CALL TO BIBLICAL FIDELITY

As Wesleyans we affirm that the Holy Scriptures, as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, are the basis of authority in the Church, normative for all our faith and practice. We declare with the English Reformers, “Holy Scripture contains everything that is necessary for salvation, so that whatever is not stated in it, or cannot be proved by it, must not be required of any man as an article of belief or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

Yet we have often focused on issues and made demands which we cannot legitimately establish from the Scriptures. As a result, trivial notions and speculations at times have marred our witness. We call, therefore, for renewed submission to the absolute authority of the Bible, not as a revered icon, but as the touchstone for both our personal lives and our public proclamation. For in every age, the Church must submit itself unconditionally to the Word of God, interpreting it in harmony with itself, in keeping with the best insights of historical and literary study, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with respect for the historic understanding of devout Christian scholarship.

A CALL TO HISTORIC ROOTS AND CONTINUITY

 We gladly affirm our allegiance to the classical Christianity of the centuries, confessing its faith, sharing its historic witness, living out its godly discipline, and claiming all of its treasures as our own. We give God praise for our legacy of evangelical Christianity magnificently set forth in the heroic lives of ancient Christians, the faithful witnesses of the Middle Ages, the stalwart testimony of the Reformers, the biblical proclamation of the Wesleys, and the earnest piety of the early Holiness Movement. We rejoice in the lives and ministry of earnest followers of Our Lord from every branch of orthodox Christianity.

But too often we have smugly disconnected ourselves from our Christian past; and in so doing we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, and blind to the work of God in the lives of others. We have withdrawn ourselves into protected enclaves, congratulating ourselves on our superiority over other Christians, sometimes refusing fellowship with them because of our disagreement in doctrine or in practice, and ignoring the continuing work of the Holy Spirit throughout all the universal Church. At best, this is lamentable ignorance, and at worst, sectarian bigotry. We call therefore, with John Wesley, for a “league offensive and defensive with every soldier of Christ,” reclaiming the richness of our Christian heritage and our essential unity with all who truly confess Him as Lord.

III. A CALL TO CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

Union with Christ establishes membership in His Church, the community of the faithful, in all times and places. It is founded by Our Lord and established upon Himself, and we claim His infallible promise that the gates of hell shall never withstand it. As we live out our faithfulness to Him, we must also live in faithfulness to the Church, which is His body and bride, living and dying in its communion. We affirm the traditional Protestant insistence that the visible Church is the congregation of the faithful in which the “pure Word of God is preached and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance.”

Too often, however, we have adopted a narrow and individualistic approach to our Christian Faith. Sometimes we have so emphasized personal spiritual relationship that we have forgotten that relationship must be realized, strengthened, and advanced within the company of God’s people. At other times, we have imagined that we were the Church, or at least that the Holiness Movement was its most significant component rather than only a tiny segment of its fellowship. We call, therefore, for renewed understanding of the biblical doctrine of the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” reverence for its orthodox confessions, submission to its holy discipline, and faithfulness to its common life. As a coalition of holiness believers within its communion, we gladly but humbly offer our gifts to the universal Church—gifts which center in our historic focus on holiness of heart and life.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN HOLINESS

Holiness of heart and life flowing out of love for God, as we believe, is the “central idea of Christianity,” for this is God’s redemptive purpose for our fallen humanity. Holiness is both His gift and our pursuit, and as the writer to Hebrews reminds us, without it none of us shall ever see the Lord. Negatively, holiness is separation from all that is sinful and unlike Chris; and positively, separation unto godliness, righteousness, and full Christlikeness. It begins in regeneration by the Spirit, flourishes in the work of entire sanctification, and advances throughout our lives. As Wesleyans, we reassert the biblical passion of our forebears “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands.”

We confess, however, that our passion for holiness of heart and life has sometimes been reduced merely to external codes and prohibitions, and “holier-than-thou” attitudes toward those who differ from us. As such we have become shell without substance, and betrayed the Scriptural mandate to be holy, because the Lord our God is holy. We therefore call our movement to a renewed love for God from which will blossom consistent and winsome lives of holiness, first in motivating purpose, and second, in outward conduct. This means that we must continue to accentuate both of the definitive moments we identify as works of divine grace, conversion and entire sanctification, all the while giving proper attention to the progressive growth in grace by the Spirit and the increasing separation from the world which our Methodist forebears so firmly stressed.

A CALL TO METHODIST PIETY

Our Methodist heritage has underscored the necessity of devout personal piety grounded in sincere love and profound reverence for God. This implies binding and lifelong covenant with Him, living faith in Christ our great sin-bearer, allegiance to the inner principle of “jealous godly fear,” commitment to disciplined discipleship, faithful obedience to His holy Law, dynamic growth in grace, and faithful use of the means of grace. All holiness of heart and life must be grounded in sober and steadfast love for God.

Sometimes, however, our emphasis on external regulation and dutiful performance has ignored the principles of authentic piety. Our appeals to holy conduct, which are both legitimate and necessary, have often been based more in the impulse to preserve the taboos of our religious subculture than in allegiance to the Word of God and its demands. The heart of all Christian obligation is loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then “to fear Him and keep His commandments.” Not only are we called to do what is right but also to love what is right, for this reason abstaining from all that He condemns and embracing all that He enjoins. We will never stop the “historical drift” among us merely by enforcing traditional legislation but by vigorous and renewed insistence upon authentic relationship with God and passionate pursuit of Him. Gladly we reaffirm our traditional emphasis upon simplicity, modesty, stewardship, separation from the world, and conscientious lifestyle, but all this must be within this warm and gracious context of loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

As Methodists, therefore, we call our movement to return to our originating commitment to principled covenant with God, which, according to the General Rules of 1743, demanded these commitments: (1) the renunciation of all known sin; (2) the embracing of all positive virtue, and (3) the faithful practice of the means of grace, especially “the instituted means of grace,” defined as the Word, prayer, fasting, Christian fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper. This demands disciplined life within the community of the Church, a renewing of our historic pattern of spiritual formation through small accountability groups, such as the class meeting, and faithful submission to healthy and holy discipline, while at the same time we are altogether dependent upon the gracious work of the Spirit who changes us “from glory to glory” into the likeness of Our Lord.

A CALL TO AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH

Christ Our Lord has delegated the powers of government to duly-appointed officers in the Church, and we are mandated to obey them faithfully. All Christians are to be in practical submission to one another and to these designated officials in the Church. The edifying and equipping of God’s people and the administration of church discipline are committed especially to faithful pastors who are called not as “lords over God’s heritage,” but as examples and as shepherds of His flock.

We therefore deplore the spirit of autonomy and even anarchy which so often has marked our movement. Too often in our congregations and denominational life we have exhibited rebellion against the authority structures which God Himself has established, boasting our independence of them, and refusing to submit to their godly discipline. This has been evidenced by continuing divisions among us, often over matters unconnected with allegiance to Scriptural truth. As the heirs of classical Christianity, we have not so learned Christ. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable to you” (Heb. 13:17).

We call therefore for renewed exposition of the Scriptural qualifications for leadership within the Church, corporate exhortation to beware the deceitfulness of sin, and biblical obedience and submission to those whom God has made under-shepherds over us. God grants no Christian autonomy from mutual submission and accountability within the Body of Christ. We must therefore repent of our oft refusals to exercise the Scriptural means of restorative discipline within the Church and commit ourselves to loving one another even as our Father loves us in chastening and scourging every son whom He receives.

VII. A CALL TO CORPORATE WORSHIP

Corporate worship is the exalted glory and central pulse of every Christian congregation. At its core, worship is the adoration of God, Holy, Blessed, and Undivided Trinity, and by apostolic mandate, it is to be conducted with decency and order. In the public worship of the Church, as the old Methodist communion service reminds us, we join “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven [to] laud and magnify” the Lord of hosts, joining in their eternal hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”

As Wesleyans we have a two-fold heritage in Christian worship. On the one hand is the warmth and earnestness of fervent and joyful devotion. On the other is the sober restraint of form, dignity, and tradition. Both are essential. Too often, however, we have emphasized the first and neglected the second. We need not neglect the subjective emphasis so characteristic of our services, but we must ground our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving in the great objective acts and truths of God Himself.

We call therefore for the renewal of our corporate worship, based in the mandates of Scripture and in the tradition of evangelical orthodoxy, centered in the faithful ministry of Word and Sacrament. Our preaching must be based in conscientious interpretation and earnest proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, and our administration of the sacred ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be meaningful and faithful. We lament our neglect of baptism and the Lord’s Table, for this is to slight the Saviour who so kindly has established them to fortify our faith, calm our fears, and nourish us with grace.

VIII. A CALL TO CONSISTENT DISCIPLESHIP

Christ commissioned His followers to make disciples through Trinitarian baptism and instruction in all His commands. The early church responded to Our Lord’s call to aggressive evangelism by taking the gospel to every corner of their world. Yet they realized that the central thrust of the Great Commission was discipleship accomplished through baptism and teaching, so they largely invested their time and energy in systematically teaching new converts the whole counsel of God and equipping them for ministry. This same emphasis elevated Wesleyan Methodism to towering stature in the kingdom of God, while without it Whitefieldian Methodism proved “a rope of sand.” We confess that, despite our heritage, evangelism has languished among us. We have largely abandoned our Methodist system of spiritual formation and forgotten how to fulfill our Lord’s command to make disciples. We have sought revival without preparing to preserve its fruits. We have emphasized spectacular conversions and neglected the biblical necessity of disciplined growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. We further acknowledge that where evangelism is taking place among us, a systematic plan for incorporating new converts into the visible Body of Christ through baptism and instruction is largely non-existent.

We call, therefore, not merely for a reaffirmation of the importance of evangelism and discipleship, but for a commitment to equip our laity for the work of the ministry, for the establishment of solidly Wesleyan curricula for systematic discipleship, and for the implementation of these training methods in all our churches. This will necessitate a concerted effort on the part of our leaders to reclaim the skills of discipleship, reinstitute regular systems of accountability and affirmation, and to resume obedience to Scripture’s mandate to teach faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. We shall begin again to bear much fruit when our disciples themselves become disciple-makers.

A CALL TO CHRISTIAN SOCIAL WITNESS

Our Lord’s call to take up the cross and follow Him is a call to Christian social witness, for everywhere the Master went He ministered to both the spiritual and physical needs of people. We have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10), indeed, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6), first in meeting the needs of fellow believers, and second in doing good to all men. Love for Our Lord and passion for holiness should impel us to minister compassionately to the sick, the suffering, and the forsaken, and to resist courageously societal structures that oppose divine purpose and degrade human dignity. “Whenever the Christian lives an authentic life, the world around is permeated with God’s presence…,” as Dr. Leon Hynson has written. “[He] raises the quality of life, makes social justice, equity, and integrity work. The pure in heart not only ‘see’ God, but become the letters through which society sees Him.”

Unfortunately, we have sometimes withdrawn from that society into the cloistered walls of a narrow and narcissistic piety. But this was not the pattern of our spiritual forebears who raised Christian consciousness in all the forums of public life and who filled their land with works of grace and mercy. Their stated mission, “to reform the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands,” asserted God’s sanctifying purpose to transform lives and in consequence to transform culture.

We call therefore for renewed commitment to Christian social witness. This means that we will lovingly and forcefully proclaim Christ’s power to liberate from sin, both public and private, asserting the claims of His Kingdom against all that militates against it. This commitment will also lead us to minister compassionately in His name to the imprisoned, the needy, and the oppressed.

A CALL TO RESURGENT HOPE

All Christian life is centered in the resplendent hope that we have through Christ’s victory accomplished in His incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection. The sure and certain anchor of the soul, this hope has given gladness and assurance to faithful believers all throughout the centuries of the Church’s struggle with the forces of entrenched evil. It assures us of present victory in our personal lives and corporate ministry, but it also points to the final triumph when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Never have we so needed a renewed sense of the hope that we have in Him. We know the power and devastation of sin, and we acknowledge the increasing degradation of our culture. We are Wesleyans, however; and as our theologians have said, the keynote of our theology is not the “pessimism of [fallen] nature” but the “optimism of grace.” We therefore call our movement to the joyous expectation of victory which so motivated our spiritual forebears to claim the American frontier for Jesus Christ. We cannot cower before the darkness, paralyzed by “the encircling gloom” which continually we must confront. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The same power which brought the Roman Empire to bow before the cross, renewed the Church in the days of the Protestant Reformation, and reshaped the culture in the Wesleyan Revival is also ours as we encounter the moral depravity and sneering secularism of our times. Let us be joyfully faithful, then, creatively relevant, and utterly confident that Jesus’ victory is our own. With gladness we do the work which He has given us, even as we await the consummation when all the earth shall echo with the song of conquest, “Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns!”

 

The Incarnation

Famous radio and television personality, Larry King, was known for his ability to ask the one question that would not only define the interview but the one being interviewed as well. On one occasion King said that if he could land an interview with God he would ask Him just one simple question, “Did you have a son?” King, who is Jewish, understands that the answer to that question carries with it profound even eternal ramifications. It has to be one of the most significant questions any seeker of truth could ask. If the answer is yes (and of course it is), then all history, all reality and all true faith come to focus in the incarnation of Jesus Christ – the eternal Son of God!

The word incarnation means in-flesh” and denotes the act whereby the eternal Son of God took to Himself an additional nature, humanity, through the virgin birth. The result is that Christ remains forever unblemished deity, which He has had from eternity past; but He also possesses true, sinless humanity in one person forever. The purpose of the incarnation can be expressed in three key ideas:

Explanation – John 1:18

he hath declared him” (KJV); “He has explained him” (NASB) “he has made him known” (ESV)

The Greek word (translated by the words declare, explain and made known) is the word in which we get our word “exegesis”. It means that Jesus came in human flesh to explain God or make Him known. Though God has revealed Himself in various ways, only the Incarnation of Jesus Christ clearly revealed the essence of God. So now when we “see” and “know” Jesus (read the divine revelation about the Son in scripture) we can “see” and “know” the Father.

Redemption – John 1:29

“behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

Without the Incarnation we could have no redemption. Sin requires death for its payment. But the one dying had to satisfy the demands of God’s holiness and justice and that required a sinless sacrifice – one which only God Himself could provide. Since God does not die, the Savior must be human in order to be able to die. However, the death of an ordinary man would not pay for sin eternally, so the Savior must also be God. We needed a God-Man Savior, one without sin, who could die for our sins. That is exactly what we have in the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:1-10).

Identification – John 1:14

“became flesh and dwelt among us”

Dr. H.C. Morrison spoke about this aspect of the incarnation like this,   “God created man but had never been a man. He had seen men suffer but he had never felt pain. He had seen men bleed but he had never bled. He had seen men toil but he had never blistered his hands with carpenter tools. He had seen men die but he had never spread his omnipotent shoulders on the bottom of a cold sepulcher”. So He became one of us! From the womb of His mother to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, he identified with every aspect of our lives. He was hungry, weary, needy and fearful. He has faced every battle and felt every temptation that you and I face …yet without sin. This means that we have a God who fully identifies with us and can help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

A father put his four-year-old son to bed. Having finished prayers, stories, and all the little bedtime things, he kissed his son and turned off the light. The boy started sobbing, “Don’t leave me. I’m scared and don’t want to stay here alone.” The father tried to encourage the little boy by reminding him of God’s presence that was always near. The little boy said, “I know that but I want somebody with skin on.” What God could not accomplish through any other method, He was able to accomplish through sending His Son as the God-Man. This is the great message of the Incarnation!

 

God’s Wonderful Gift of Life

The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern, is a story about a man who wants to accomplish something in his own life but is so busy helping others that life seems to pass him by. Despondent over what appears to be a very ordinary, if not a wasted life, he wishes he had never been born. He gets his wish, and through the help of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he never lived. After viewing life from such a unique perspective, he concludes that life is indeed a wonderful gift. Though Stern never found anyone willing to publish the story, it finally found its way into the hands of filmmaker Frank Capra, who turned it into the all-time Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

I have not had a life-changing visit from a kind guardian angel, but I have had my perspective on life altered in recent years. I have always thought that because of our fallen condition in this fallen world that life, as we know it now, was quite pitiful in comparison to the life that is yet to come. Hence, it has not been very tempting for me to sink my roots too deeply in this present world.

I do not at all mean that my life hasn’t been enjoyable and blessed. To the contrary, I have had a good life, a happy marriage, wonderful children and adorable grandchildren. I have been privileged to meet some of God’s choicest saints in places all around the world. I have been able to work in a very rewarding ministry and develop some wonderful friendships. I feel that what I have done has had tremendous meaning and value. I feel I have had a truly full life! So any time God is ready for me to go, I am ready. I have no sad stories, no regrets about leaving, and no struggle to grasp a few more fleeting moments of time here on earth. It’s been a great journey! (For those who are shocked by this, no, I am not depressed; and, yes, I would like to see my grandchildren grow and have children of their own.) But earnest Christians live with a very loose grip on this present world. Right?     We are only pilgrims passing through this land of shadows headed for the real world – the eternal one. Right? This life is inferior at best, and the sooner we slip the bonds of mortal existence and are clothed with the eternal, the better. Right?

Some time ago God began to speak to me about the wonderful gift He has given us in our earthly physical life. It should not be minimized or demeaned. It shouldn’t simply be endured until we are liberated by eternal life. Rather, it should be lived with deep gratitude and respect as a wonderful gift from God. It is good, not because I make it so, but because He has made it so.

God created life and declared it good. God gave Adam and Eve each other and the created world around them to enjoy richly. He considers this physical life sacred and reserves the severest penalties for those who destroy it. The first promise attached to a commandment was the promise of a long life. God often promised length of days as a way of honoring His faithful servants in the Old Testament. All of this is still true, despite the fall of man and the curse of sin.

Obviously, God sees the life He gives us as very good! Don’t confuse God’s gift of life that is good with what the world calls the “good life.” The two are polar opposites. The citizens of this present world chase after the “good life”; grabbing all they can get and holding it as tightly as possible. They generally succeed in keeping it long enough to make themselves thoroughly miserable before losing it all. Christians, however, have given up the “good life” so that they may enjoy a life that is truly good.   They do not grab for what they can get but rather hold everything they possess in an open palm. They clutch nothing to themselves. Thereby they can enjoy all things without those things affecting their joy.

If God views our earthly life as good, then His perspective ought to become our perspective. We should see every moment of our life here as a blessed gift to be richly enjoyed. A glorious journey marked by His grace. I don’t need health or wealth or popularity or beauty or anything else to make my life good. All I need is to walk with Him and remain in Him moment by moment. Such a view of life is neither a shallow optimism nor a refusal to acknowledge the deep darkness that life can bring. It isn’t ignoring the curse of sin and its awful physical consequences. But it is refusing to let those things blind us to the ultimate goodness of this life. It is acknowledging that every day is a gift from God—a gift that when received gratefully can transform the most common and ordinary moment into joyful living. It is a statement of faith that says pain, sorrow and trouble do not define my existence, determine my happiness or have the final word!

It is doubtful that anyone was ever influenced toward the life to come by someone who despised the one he or she was living now. Life is good, and as Christians we should demonstrate that goodness to those with whom we interact.

As we celebrate God’s unspeakable gift in Christ this Christmas season, it would be good also to celebrate another of His wonderful gifts—the gift of life. Important celebrations require planning and thought. One Christmas morning, before my family and I opened our gifts, we read the Christmas story, prayed together, and then I read some prepared remarks about how good God had been to our family and how grateful I was for each of them. I then mentioned some specific things about each one that I deeply appreciated. After I finished, each family member did the same. At times we were so overcome with emotion we couldn’t speak. When it was over, we embraced each other and realized anew how wonderful life really is! If you’re alone, read a prepared letter to God and thank Him for the life He has given you. You will not be alone for long! Whatever your circumstance, don’t miss an opportunity this year to celebrate all of life. Because it really is wonderful!

 

Saving Our Kids

Too many parents think in terms of “getting their kids saved” rather than “saving their kids”. One carries the idea of evangelism and happens in the miracle of a moment, while the other involves an extended period of character formation (instruction, discipline, etc. . .) and lays the foundation for the kind of person and Christian it is possible for them to become. The former is obviously crucial to the well-being of their eternal soul, but so is the latter! As Wesleyans, we believe that prevenient grace covers the hearts of our children until they reach an age of accountability. So when it came to children, John Wesley strongly advocated that an emphasis be placed on Christian instruction, discipline and training rather than childhood conversion experiences. He was not implying that we should not give our children an opportunity to appropriate and experience the love of God for themselves, but rather he was stressing the importance of the kind of childhood character formation that makes for great saints and responsible citizens.

I have watched this play out in real life. Parents, who by willful negligence or by ignorance, fail in their role of parenting and then pray desperately for a miraculous conversion are in for a bittersweet moment. Even if “bad boy Brad” does finally get converted, he will so badly lack the necessary character needed to be a real man of God and a productive citizen that he will have to face life with a certain level of dysfunction.  In the last 30 years I have preached to and counseled with thousands of teens and young adults in camps, conferences and schools. I have yet to meet any that had Solomonic wisdom or angelic perfection, but I have been privileged to meet many wonderful kids. The kind of young person that made me say, “Your parents did something right!”   I have also met some kids along the way that lacked the basic character training necessary to be responsible, respectful, truthful, and productive. In comparing the two groups, and all the individuals that fall in between, I have searched for the single most significant reason that has made the difference. I am convinced that a large part of the answer is parenting.

It is not my intention to put parents on a guilt trip, or to blame them for behavior that is clearly the result of the exercise of free will. But I do want to remind parents of the responsibility that belongs solely to them in the child rearing process. There is a period of time in the growing up process that a parent can shape the character, attitude and behavior of a child. If that formative work is missed, it is next to impossible to “insert” it later on! I am keenly aware that not all children are endowed equally with the same temperament, learning ability, and giftedness. But the ground is level when it comes to building character. Character and subsequent behavior is a personal responsibility that begins with Mom and Dad in the very early years of a child’s life. Character is molded and developed in the home and cemented by the choices one makes every day. One’s peers do not mold one’s character. They may well influence one’s decisions, but they do not form one’s character; they can only test and reveal what is there. Character is not really an environmental issue. I have watched as quality parenting has raised quality kids in situations that were far from ideal. I have also watched as poor parenting has produced problem kids in environments that offered every advantage.

If in fact this period of character formation is so important, shouldn’t there be certain well-defined traits that a parent should focus on? I think so! The list will no doubt vary from person to person but I believe that list must have the following “Big Four.”

Obedience

In a recent search for Biblical passages on parenting, I discovered that the passages that do speak directly to parenting were divided equally among the subjects of discipline and instruction. What I also found was that all of these passages pointed to one thing: obedience! The formation of character through discipline and instruction is for the purpose of obedience. Once a child understands that he must obey and that he must do so with a willing attitude, then you scarcely have to teach him anything else! Once he knows he must obey, you can simply “ask” him to do whatever it is that you need or want him to do and he will do it. When a child has learned to obey willingly, then your discipline will be cut to a minimum and you can spend the vast majority of your time teaching, nurturing and forming that little one into the kind of man or woman you want them to be!

Personal Responsibility

Responsibility slides off children like water slides off a duck’s back. There is no real mystery to this since the idea that you are responsible for things is not native to children. The realization of responsibility comes only with much training as children develop. Furthermore, children like to engage in fun things. Responsibility is tedious and boring to a child. The parental commands to, “clean your room, make your bed, put your things away and do your homework” are certainly not exciting or fun. It takes a lot of discipline and maturity to learn how to manage doing what is not fun and staying on task until the job is completed – this is where good parenting comes in.

Most parents tell their children the things they ought to be doing on a daily basis. However, the most important part is not just about giving the commands; it’s about how the parent responds when the child doesn’t do what they are told to do. In other words, the parent has to make sure the child does what he is told. This promotes accountability. You have to hold kids accountable for not meeting their responsibilities. Being held accountable requires that the parent make the consequence for not meeting the responsibility less pleasant than if the child had completed the task in the first place. And that act of being held accountable promotes a willingness to meet the responsibilities next time. Failure to hold the child accountable teaches the child that his complaining, whining, blaming others, excuse making and even lying works for him in his effort not to take responsibility for himself or his behavior.

Work Ethic

Dr. Ruth Peters, psychologist and author of Overcoming Underachieving says: “Daily in my practice I see parents who have made the mistake of not taking the time and attention to teach their children to be workers and achievers. These kids have learned to settle for less rather than to face and challenge adversity, to become whiners rather than creative problem solvers, and to blame others for perceived slights and lack of success”.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the intentional investment of our time in teaching them how to have a healthy work ethic. As someone has said, “the job fairy isn’t going to come in the middle of the night and sprinkle work ethic dust on your child”. A love for work must be taught as well as caught! This means we set the example of showing them what a love for work looks like but it also means we let them learn by trial and error. The old adage that says, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” will have to be permanently banned from your thinking if you are serious about teaching your children how to work. Every mother knows that it takes less time to clean the bathroom herself than it does with her “helpers” working alongside. But little helpers can only learn by watching and doing!

Developing a healthy work ethic by the time our kids are adults, means that we must start at an early age. One way to do that is to assign our kids age appropriate regular chores. Young children can put away laundry, make a bed and pick up toys. Older kids can vacuum, rake leaves, take out the trash, wash the car, cut the grass, etc. . . . When kids see work as a normal part of life, they spend less time grumbling and more time learning to enjoy the jobs assigned to them. Holding our kids accountable to complete their assigned task and to do those task well, is extremely important. It lays the groundwork for the kind of person that not only does good work but exceeds the expectations of a teacher or an employer.

Parents should be generous with praise for a job well done but should never give false praise for a job poorly done. If the job is done well, praise them for the job done. If it is done poorly, but with great effort, praise them for the effort. If it is done poorly and little effort was made to do it right, no praise should be forthcoming. Furthermore, parents should never say to their kids, “Johnny you can do anything.”   Why? For the simple reason they can’t. Be real with your kids. Let them know that it takes time and experience to accomplish some things well.

Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” By offering our kids a healthy perspective on work, and teaching them how not to fear it, we free them to succeed in almost anything they do.

 Respect

Respect is an attitude of admiration or esteem towards others, oneself and one’s possessions. In today’s world, where disrespect is so pervasive, we cannot expect our children to learn how to respect others through normal social interaction at school and play. Nevertheless, we can teach our kids this critical value. One of the most effective ways to do so is to model it. But beyond walking the walk, there are plenty of simple strategies you can use to instill in your kids crucial lessons in kindness, consideration, honesty, open-mindedness, and gratitude – all of which grow out of respect!

One of the most fundamental ways to show respect for someone, and to let them know you value them, is to give them your time and full attention. This is easy to model and teach. Setting boundaries is another way to teach our kids how to respect authority and to let them know the world doesn’t revolve around them. Making sure their actions have consequences is a way to teach our children to consider how their deeds and words impact others. Teach your child basic social interaction skills. It may sound old fashioned, but it’s very important to teach your child basic manners like saying “please” and “thank you.”

Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but it can also be one of the greatest joys a man and woman can experience. To willfully not do our best, is to commit a terrible wrong that can cripple a child for the rest of their life. There is a story in American literature that tells of a little girl whose mother had died. Her father would come home from work and just sit down, read his paper, and ignore the child. The little girl would come in and ask him to play with her for a little while because she was lonely. He told her he was tired, to let him be at peace. He told her to go out into the street and play if she wanted to play. So, she played on the streets. The inevitable happened. She took to the streets. The years passed on and she died. Her soul arrived in heaven. Peter saw her and said to Jesus, “Master, here’s a girl who was a bad lot. I suppose we send her straight to hell?”   “No,” said Jesus gently, “let her in.” And then His eyes grew stern as He said, “But look for a man who refused to play with his little girl and sent her out to the streets and send him to hell.”