Church Leadership

April 17th, 2014

The Church of Jesus Christ is always in the need of leaders. A local church will never rise higher or grow beyond its leadership. Too many Christians let too few Christians do all the work and take all the responsibility. The New Testament implies that recognized leadership is essential to the church’s development and spiritual health. Careful and detailed instructions are given concerning the qualifications necessary for leadership in the church. Having the right leaders was considered a number one priority (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Leadership is necessary for the responsible running of the church, for guidance and decisions to be made (Acts 15:6; 21:18-25). When a crisis arises, someone has to take action. Cohesion and coordination depend upon leadership. Leadership is important if God’s people are to be cared for spiritually, because they need shepherding (1 Peter 5:1ff.).

“To aspire to leadership is an honorable ambition” (1 Timothy 3:1). What are the basic qualifications for leadership in general.
First, there must be a distinctive character inspiring confidence and loyalty.
Second, there must be a capacity for work and for decision.
Third, there needs to be an element of drive, energy and enthusiasm.
Fourth, there should be a readiness to assume responsibility and the recruitment and direction of others.
Fifth, there needs to be an ability to convey vision to others, and to work with them in its realization.

Spiritual leadership is not determined finally by any one of these factors but by a factor which influences each of these qualities for good. The early church in Jerusalem was called upon to appoint leaders at a time of growing responsibilities. Administration was part of the task to be delegated by the apostles, and people of spiritual wisdom were needed. But more than those qualities were required: they had to be followers of Jesus Christ who were “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3).

The distinctive feature and requirement of Christian leadership is that the person should be “full of the Holy Spirit.” To exercise Christian leadership God requires that a person’s life should be so yielded to him in dedication that with that life the Holy Spirit may do what he wills to accomplish his purposes.

When a Christian is filled with the Spirit there is a power about her life which makes useful every natural ability she has for leadership. Being full of the Holy Spirit such a person’s character is transformed after the pattern of Christ’s. Within her is a desire to work hard for Christ’s glory; in the decisions that have to be made, she draws upon the wisdom the Holy Spirit gives. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is drive and spiritual enthusiasm. Not only is there vision but also the capacity to impart it to others. Responsibility, rather than being irksome, is accepted willingly through the grace and help of the Holy Spirit.

This distinctive spiritual requirement brings about the dissimilarities of spiritual leadership from leadership of other kinds, such as in a business or a club or a community association. The Christian leader knows himself to be under God. In other spheres a leader may be under no one, and may be a law to himself. The Christian leader is always under authority. He does not act to please himself but with the counsel of others who are all under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Christian leadership involves following another leader – Christ. It means being an example to the church and a servant, as Jesus was. Christian leadership has many qualities in common with other kinds of leadership; nevertheless it is distinctive in that its major requirement is that the individual should know experimentally the power of the Holy Spirit.

How do you know is a person is spiritually equipped for leadership in the church? How are you able to recognize the person who is filled with the Holy Spirit? St. Paul knew that the person whose life is under the control of the Holy Spirit exhibits definite characteristics (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-11). These are the prescribed qualifications.
1. Has he a good reputation?
2. Is she of blameless character?
3. Is his life marked by self-control?
4. Is he a man of spiritual maturity?
5. Is her homelife well ordered?
6. If married, is his spouse one with him in the Chrisitan faith?
7. Does she already give of herself willingly in the life of the church?
It is not without significance that no reference is made to either intellectual ability or social status. Spiritual qualities are the priorities.

What do you think are the qualities most needed in church leaders today?

Bubba Watson

April 15th, 2014

A Bubba With a Passion for the Gospel and Golf
The Story: On Sunday Bubba Watson, one of the most untraditional golfers on the PGA Tour, was the winner of the 2014 Masters Tournament. But golf isn’t Watson’s top priority. What he considers most important can be gleaned from the description on his Twitter account, @bubbawatson (“Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer.”) and his website, BubbaWatson.com (“Loves Jesus and loves sharing his faith”).
The Background: In an interview with Trevor Freeze of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Watson tells how he uses his Twitter account—along with his PGA platform—to share about his faith in Christ.
“For me, it’s just showing the Light,” said Watson. “There’s people who want to put down Christians. I try to tell them Jesus loves you. It’s just a way to be strong in my faith.”
After his first Master’s win in 2012 Watson’s Tweeted: “The most important thing in my life? Answer after I golf 18 holes with @JustinRose99. #Godisgood.” Later that day he posted on his account, “Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf”
“Lecrae said it the best,” Watson said of the Christian rapper he listens to on his iPod. “He doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He doesn’t want to be a superstar. He just wants to be the middle man for you to see God through him.”
Why It Matters: Christians have always been involved in professional sports, so why is the faith of superstars like Watson suddenly worthy of the public’s attention? Because athletes like Watson show that it’s still possible for athletes to be open and unapologetic about their willingness to share the Gospel. Also, Watson may be one of the best in his sport but he understands the importance of keeping his priorities in order, winsomely admitting that their life’s callings are secondary to serving the Creator who has called them. To a culture that is both obsessed and disillusioned with fame and fortune, this centered perspective provides a refreshingly countercultural witness.
Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

C.S. Lewis on Aging and Death

April 12th, 2014

I have been reading C.S. Lewis, Letters to An American Lady. Both of them are aging and experiencing pain and suffering. His comments about their stage in life and the prospect of death are worth pondering. Here are some of them

Surely the main purpose of our life is to reach the point at which “one’s own life as a person” is at an end. One must in this sense “die” become “naught”, relinquish one’s freedom and independence. “Not I, but Christ that dwelleth in me” – “He must grow greater and I must grow less” – “He that loseth his life shall find it”. But you know all this quite as well as I do.” (March 28, 1961)

I am sorry they threaten you with a painful disease. “Dangerous” matters much less, doesn’t it? What have you and I got to do but make our exit? When they told me I was in danger several months ago, I don’t remember feeling distressed. I am talking, of course, about dying, not about being killed. If shells started falling about this house I should feel quite differently. An external, visible, and (still worse) audible threat at once wakes the instinct of self-preservation into fierce activity. I don’t think natural death has any similar terrors. (March 19, 1963)

What in Heaven’s name is “distressing” about an old man saying to an old woman that they haven’t much more to do here? I wasn’t in the least expressing resentment or despondency. I was referring to an obvious fact and one which I don’t find either distressing or embarrassing. Do You? (April 22, 1963)

Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hairshirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.
Remember, tho’ we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round – we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you “Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?” (June 17, 1963)

Tho’ horrified at your sufferings, I am overjoyed at the blessed change in your attitude to death. This is a bigger stride forward than perhaps you yourself yet know. For you were rather badly wrong on that subject. Only a few months ago when I said that we old people hadn’t much more to do than you make a good exit, you were almost angry with me for what you called such a “bitter” remark. Thank God, you now see it wasn’t better; only plain common sense. Yes: I do wonder why the doctors inflict such torture to delay what cannot in any case be very long delayed. Or why God does! Unless there is still something for you to do, as far as weakness allows, I hope, now that you know you are forgiven, you will spend most of your remaining strength in forgiving. Lay all the old resentments down at the wounded feet of Christ….You say too much of the very little I have been able to do for you. Perhaps you will soon be able to repay me a thousandfold. For if this is Goodbye, I am sure you will not forget me when you are in a better place. You’ll put in a good word for me now and then, won’t you. It will be fun when we at last meet. (June 25, 1963)

Lewis died on November 22, 1963, a week before his sixty-fifth birthday and the same afternoon on which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

What do you think of Lewis’s attitude to aging and death? He regarded himself as an old man in his sixties. Today he would be thought still in his prime. When do you think of yourself as old and haven’t much more to do here? Do you fear death? If so, and you are a Christian, why?

Why I Read Fiction

April 5th, 2014

Mark Tooley, President of the Institute of Religion & Democracy, has written a blog of Why I Don’t Read Fiction. His bottom line seems to be that he doesn’t have enough time, that he used to read fiction but he is now too busy. There are a number of internet articles on this subject. Women are supposed to read more fiction than men – but women read more anyway. Men are supposed to read more thrillers, and military action fiction. Some people seem to prefer fact to fiction. So, I ask myself, why do I read fiction?

The first reason is that it is relaxing to read for pleasure. I read so much theology, philosophy and technical non-fiction for my job that it is a luxury to be able to read a novel. After final exams as an undergraduate I used to reward myself by reading the latest P.G. Wodehouse novel. It is like having dessert after the main course. And I love dessert! Too much seriousness in life makes for a very dull person.

The second reason is that I read what interests me. I love historical fiction. I majored in English literature and European history at the University of Canterbury. Historical fiction combines both interests and fields of knowledge. Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series are factually accurate novels of the career of the Duke of Wellington. Patrick O’Brian’s and Captain Marryat’s nautical novels cover the same period of history but follow the career of Thomas Cochrane, Lord Dundonald. Eleanor Catton’s, The Luminaries, is a murder mystery set in my home town in 1866.

The third reason is that fiction gives me an insight into the human heart and condition from the perspective of an author of her time. William Shakespeare’s plays paint a picture of human tragedy, history, and comedy that illuminates the human heart and all its passions. The drama of novels, plays and poetry serve as a catharsis for our own trials and tribulations, our own hopes and our dreams.

The fourth reason I read fiction is that it enriches my vocabulary and understanding. I can learn from the point of view of the writer, and improve my ability to express my own thoughts. The author provides a corrective to my own subjective experience.

The fifth reason I read fiction is that I value the Western European culture in which I was raised. Each generation needs to learn from our inheritance of great literature. Not to read the great works of our culture is to live impoverished lives and to repeat the mistakes of the past. Our authors are observers and commentators of our history. How ignorant we would become if we did not know of the work of Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Charlotte Bronte, Anthony Trollope, William Thackeray, George Orwell, Daniel Defoe and numerous others.

It has been the habit of earnest divines over the years to discourage the reading of novels. I do not mean to encourage an addiction to reading fiction. I ration myself so that I do not make myself sick by eating too much dessert or candy. No doubt some readers of novels need to expand their diet beyond the latest confection. A balanced reading program will include all kinds of written work. I record every book I read so that I can see with whom I am spending my time. What do you like to read? Do you have a balanced diet? What is your favorite genre? Let me know.

Critiquing Timothy Keller

March 29th, 2014

Engaging with Keller: Thinking through the theology of an influential evangelical, edited by Iain D. Campbell and William M Schweitzer is a critique of the theology of Timothy Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City. Tim has been very successful in planting a series of congregations in Manhattan and reaching a section of the population: the young, educated, artistic and financial city center residents. He has been prolific in his writing and has been an attractive model for ministry throughout the country. I have admired his work over the years and have shamelessly used his thoughts and writings (attributed of course) in my own teaching and preaching.

The contributors to this volume are mainly British Presbyterians. Kevin Bidewell is planting a congregation in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Iain Campbell is minister of a church on the Isle of Lewis, D.G Hart teaches at Hillsdale College and Westminster Seminary, California, C. Richard H. Holst and Peter J. Naylor have ministered in Wales, and William M. Schweitzer is minister of Gateshead Presbyterian Church in Durham. They are all serious theologians who respect Tim Keller but wish to dispute some aspects of his teaching. They state their case in this way:

The problem comes in the way he chooses to express his orthodox faith. Keller seems to have assigned himself a very demanding project: to package Christianity for the contemporary unchurched and largely postmodern audience. It almost goes without saying that such a project comes with a very real danger of overreach. Early drafts of such a project could easily outstrip the bounds of confessional teaching without realizing it…. We are concerned with the way Keller conveys some specific doctrines, such as a teaching on creation that seems to legitimize theistic evolution; as teaching on sin that seems to overemphasize the impersonal effects of sin in this life and underemphasize sin as disobedience to the law of God; a doctrine of hell that seems to minimize God’s role in condemning sinners to hell or meting out wrath; a ‘divine dance’ teaching on the Trinity that seems to undermine the eternal begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit; and a teaching on the mission of the church that seems to say that our given task is to transform the culture. We think that the church would be better off not emulating Keller in these specific teachings.

I found the chapters to be fascinating and thought-provoking in their treatment of the subjects. They scored some good points for discussion but at time appeared to be nit-picking. They reminded me of debates that critics had of my approach to ministry in the 1960’s and 70’s when I was trying to reach the flower children, Maoists and students in London. When you are trying to reach people in the secular culture you have to engage them where they are, just as St. Paul did in Athens and Ephesus. You may overreach at times in order to be relevant to your audience but I believe that is the biblical model of evangelism. You have to take risks. One of the problems some evangelical British churches have in reaching their contemporaries is a tendency to prefer theological debate at the expense of incarnational ministry, which is often a reaction against the social ministries of many of the liberal and charismatic churches.

The contributors are not only critical of Keller, but also of his mentors, C.S. Lewis and John Stott. Their perspective is the Westminster Confession and a narrowly defined understanding of the mission of the church. They fault Keller for not being sufficiently Presbyterian, as though that denomination’s doctrine and polity is to be regarded as infallible and the final word to the world in terms of ecclesiology. I personally think that Keller’s promotion of the Gospel Coalition with its emphasis on Reformed theology across denominational lines and to independent churches is the way to go in today’s culture. Having attended one of their conferences I am impressed and encouraged by the vitality and breadth of the movement. Charles Haddon Spurgeon would be delighted – but he was a Baptist!

What do you think of Tim Keller’s approach to ministry?

Reading Thoughtfully

March 22nd, 2014

John Piper, in his book, God’s Passion for His Glory, on the impact Jonathan Edwards had on his spiritual development, urges his readers to study books which appear difficult at first sight. He cites Mortimer Adler in his classic How to Read a Book, who “makes a passionate case that the books that enlarge our grasp of truth and make is wiser must feel, at first, beyond us. They ‘must make demands on you. They must seem to you to be beyond your capacity.’ If a book is easy and fits nicely into all your language conventions and thought forms, then you probably will not grow much from readings. It may be entertaining, but not enlarging to your understanding. It’s the hard books that count. Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds…. This means that we should want to become clear, penetrating, accurate, fair-minded thinkers, because all good reading involves asking questions and thinking. This is one reason why the Bible teaches us, ‘Do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature’ (1 Cor.14:20). It’s why Paul said to Timothy, ‘Think over what I say for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything’ (2 Tim.2:7).

Adler underlines his plea for the ‘major exertion’ of reading great books with the warning that such mental exercise may lengthen your life, and television may be deadly.

The mind can atrophy, like the muscles; if it is not used…And this is a terrible penalty, for there is evidence that atrophy of the mind is a mortal disease. There seems to be no other explanation for the fact that so many busy people die so soon after retirement… Television, radio, and all the sources of amusement and information that surround us in our daily lives are … artificial props. They can give us the impression that our minds are active, because we are required to react to stimuli from outside. But the power of those external stimuli to keep us going is limited. They are like drugs. We grow used to them, Eventually, they have little or no effect.

It is my conviction that Christians are often being spoon-fed pabulum by their preachers. The public gets even less from the media. The bookstore bestsellers pander to the sound-bite culture that has little substance and provides no defense to the challenges of life. We have little depth and less perspective on mortality and eternity. Piper quotes C.S. Lewis’s injunction to read old books as a corrective to our “chatty, humorous, entertainment-oriented, cartoon-illustrated spirituality.”

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones…. We all need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books… We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century… lies where we have never suspected it… None of us can fully escape this blindness… The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

(John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory, Crossway, 2006, pp.28-30)

One of the reasons I include quotations from other authors in my writing, teaching and preaching is to acknowledge my debt to those who have gone before me and whose knowledge I am sharing. I make no claim to know-it-all but I can point to those who have enriched my understanding. They have expressed the truth much better in their own words than I could ever attempt. In my SOUL FOOD: DAILY DEVOTIONS FOR THE HUNGRY I provide an index so that the reader can easily access all the quotations and subjects that are covered in depth.

Have you read any good books lately? Are any of them old classics? How have they given you a perspective on the mistakes of our current period? What do you think of Adler’s and Lewis’s point of view?

Soul Food Volume 2

March 15th, 2014

My second quarter SOUL FOOD: Daily Devotions for the Hungry, is now available. It covers a variety of topics The first ten April devotionals are on the subject of Easter and the Resurrection as we enter into that season of the Christian year.

Beginning April 11 is a series on the Gospel application to different forms of emotional pain, which people responded to so positively when I gave them over the years. They include devotionals on hatred and peace, anger and forgiveness, shame and mercy, guilt and grace, worry, anxiety, fear and panic, coping with depression, loneliness and doubt.

On April 23 I turn to prayer, first of all in the Old Testament: Abraham’s, Jacob’s, Hannah’s, Hezekiah’s, and Daniel’s. There are twelve meditations on our Lord’s Prayer, unanswered prayer, and the conditions for answered prayer.

Then there are several devotionals on the Ascension of Christ which occurs forty days after Easter according to the New Testament and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which, as its name implies occurs fifty days after Passover. The subjects of knowing God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the unique authority and inspiration of the Scriptures follow.

In these days of so much international conflict and civil wars it is important that we understand what the Bible says about these realities. There are three devotionals on the themes of Memorial Day and the problem of war on May 25,26 and 27. Then each one of the Ten Commandments is given a devotional.

Finally, the last twenty-two devotionals reflect on the different aspects of love as seen in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s hymn of love. We can never pray enough for the love of Christ to be deepened in us and through us by the Holy Spirit.

I have included a comprehensive index of sources and subjects from Abel to Zechariah so that the reader can locate a quotation or topic.

All in all it is an attempt at a balanced diet for the soul, covering most of the spiritual food groups so that we can build ourselves up in our most holy faith.

Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:2)

On the back cover of SOUL FOOD there is a QR code which when scanned gives you a video interview with me on my personal experience of a relationship with Christ, and the importance of evangelism and witness as reflected in our Chapel vision statement: To love, to learn, to worship, to witness in Christ.

SOUL FOOD is designed, not only for your use but also as a means by which you can share the Gospel with others. Please buy one for each member of your family and any friends you may be praying for to influence for Christ. It is proving to be a blessing to many people who need the encouragement it communicates.

Lent

March 8th, 2014

We have begun the season of Lent, the forty days before Easter in the Christian calendar. Different church traditions observe Lent in different ways. Mine emphasized self-examination, extra spiritual disciplines such as fasting, denying oneself something such as alcohol, meat, desserts, candy, chocolate, or television, contributing to a missionary mite box, and attending midweek services and programs with guest speakers. Many churches do not observe Lent at all. Some celebrate Good Friday and Easter as well as Christmas, but little else in the Christian calendar.

In Christianity Today, December 2013, there was an article on New Life Church in Colorado Springs by Patton Dodd, who was on their staff during the fall of their Pastor Ted Haggard. He writes that at New Life Church Easter arrived without spiritual preparation – no Lent, no Palm Sunday, no Holy Week. The Gospel at New Life was triumphalistic – celebrating the power of their Christian influence. It was arrogant and unrealistic. It was unbalanced because it muted the need for humility, self-examination and repentance, the themes of Lent. The Christian calendar gives us a comprehensive and balanced curriculum of the Faith. Observing it from Advent to Pentecost and Trinity Sunday gives us a framework to build a year-round vision of the Christian life.

The staff of New Life Church had to go through some soul-searching to discover what it meant to be the church. The downtown church branch now teaches the liturgical calendar. During Lent they anticipated the Resurrection through fasting, repentance, and sacrificial giving. Easter was preceded by a Good Friday service at the main campus. There the Pastor, Daniel Grothe led a service of mournful prayer before dismissing the congregation in hushed darkness. This is part of the new language of New Life Church. For the first time in its three-decade history it offers Communion every Sunday. Embracing Christianity’s past is key to New Life’s future. Its elders recently voted to adopt the Nicene Creed as the church’s statement of faith.

As I grow older in the faith I become more and more aware of my own failings. I am a flawed human being. Original sin is a disease that infects us until the day we die. The sins of our fathers and mothers, and those who have influenced us, continue to afflict us. The flesh lusts always contrary to the Spirit. The devil prowls around seeking to test us and wound us. I need to read Psalm 51 and to apply it to my life. The litanies of penitence in our liturgies can help us to examine ourselves. Lent is a good time to use them in our devotions. The Southwell Litany is particularly helpful. Look it up on the internet: callrob.com/RAC/SOUTHWELL%20LITANY1.pdf

What are your thoughts on observing Lent? How important is it for you to examine yourself? Do you think more churches should emphasize the themes of Lent? If so, how should they do it?

In Memoriam: Frances Johnston Nash – A Southern Saint

March 1st, 2014

This past week I said goodbye to an old friend. Frances Johnston Nash (1925-2014) came from an old Atlanta family. She met her beloved husband of 66 years, Emanuel William (Bill) Nash Jr., at Wheaton College, and they spent their working life in Georgia, Texas, New Jersey and Florida where Bill retired as President of the southern office of Prudential Insurance. I first met them when they joined my church in Orange Park, Florida. They led an adult Sunday school class that everyone raved about. They were supportive of my ministry, came to Texas for my institution in San Antonio, and lent us their condo at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for vacations. I was privileged to officiate at the wedding of their son and daughter-in-law.

On my return to Florida I helped Fran get two books published. LORD, I’M LISTENING…BUT SOMETIMES I SQUAWRK! A Personal Devotion of Christian Growth, came out in 2006 and was reprinted twice. I still get orders for it. The second, FROM MY WINDOWED CORNER, Poems, was published in 2008. She illustrated her devotional work with beautiful pen and ink drawings. Both books are gems of Christian spirituality.

My wife, Antoinette, met Fran and Bill years before me. When she was an undergraduate at Emory University the Nash’s hosted the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at their lovely home. They were always encouraging younger people. Antoinette wrote this poem in her memory.

FRANCES JOHNSTON NASH

A thousand kindnesses
Delivered like an elegant invitation
On embossed paper
Slowly
In a southern drawl
Never in a hurried
Out-of-breath catch-me-if-you-can pace.

A soft presence
Stately like the columns on Peachtree
Lofty as the church spires
Ever seated in the courts of the Lord
Contemplating His Majesty

When she spoke, she spoke wisdom
Carefully constructed
Like “apples of gold in a silver setting”
And we listened
To the sweet spill of her experience
Like children sitting on the back steps of her fertile imagination
Spinning yarns and sharing laughter.

Where has this pied piper gone?
This entrancing friend we called Fran
Who kept before us
The Savior she so ardently loved.

Has she disappeared into the sunsets she watched from her terrace?
Has she taken off with Uncle Remus
Singing – “Zippety Do Da, Zippety Ay –
My, oh My, what a wonderful day!”

None of the above.
She has simply changed her address.
She no longer resides with her beloved Bill at Lancaster Terrace
Although I am sure that she is nearer to him than ever before.
She’s decorating a new home in heaven
And filling it with likenesses of you
The ones she loved and lived for here on earth.

And if you are so inclined
You might hear her slight chuckle and warm invitation –
“Y’all come too!”

Antoinette Bowie Schroder

Little Children

February 19th, 2014

The disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

I have been giving some thought to what it means to be like a little child. When I look at my grandchildren a number of ideas come to mind.

Jesus mentions humility. Little children are aware that they don’t know everything so they ask questions, “Why? How? When? etc.” To be a little child in the kingdom of heaven is to acknowledge your ignorance and that you have so much to learn. We are to grow in the knowledge of God, in faith, hope and love.

Little children have a vivid imagination. They see the invisible and the unseen as real. There is a real world that is parallel to this world which can only be seen with the eyes of faith. We can be certain of what we do not see – angel and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Little children have conversations with imaginary friends. We can speak with the Lord at any time, and he is not imaginary but real. We are never alone. Jesus said that he is with us always.

Little children live in the present. They do not worry about the future and do not fret about the past. They live in the now. They enjoy what is in front of them. Can we do that?

Little children turn everything into play. They learn by playing. All too often we are far too serious and have lost the art of play. We need to make time to play. If anything is worth doing then do it, whether we can do it well or badly. We don’t have to be an expert before we try something.

Little children trust their elders to take care of them. They put their hands in ours and let us lead them. We are called to trust in the Lord to lead us in the paths of righteousness. We put our hands in his and trust him to take care of us.

Little children have no concept of the value of money. One dollar is as valuable to them as twenty dollars. Money has not power over them. They cannot be bribed. In the kingdom of heaven the currency is love and no money can buy it.

Little children are not impressed with pomposity, power or position. They put you in your place very quickly. The world of the child is democratic, neither snobbish nor hierarchical.

Little children are loving. They sit on your lap and give you hugs and kisses. They are generous with their affection. We are meant to be generous with our appreciation and affirmation of one another.

Little children have no fear of death. They have no consciousness of dying. They believe that life goes on forever. So should we.

Can you cultivate your inner child? Hugh Missildine wrote the book on it: “Your Inner Child of the Past” that influenced many therapists over twenty years ago. I like the image of the new heaven and the new earth where “a little child will lead them [the wild animals]” (Isaiah 11:6).

What does it mean to you to be as a little child? What do you think Jesus meant when he said whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? How does this teaching help you to enter more deeply into the kingdom of heaven?