Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas?

Merry Christmas?                                                                                                     
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What do we mean by "Merry Christmas"? What does "merry" mean? What people mean today is not exactly what was meant when the greeting "Merry Christmas" was coined. It was more like in the  carol: "God rest you merry, gentlemen," where the term is closer to the Old English, meaning "pleasant" or "pleasing." In today's English, this would be, "May God find you pleasant (or pleasing),  gentlemen." We can take this as pleasant to each other and pleasing to Him.
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How about those who replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays"? (This greeting was  originally intended to also include New Year's and Hanukkah.) Don't they know that "holiday" means  "holy day"? The irony is that so many persons' celebration of Christmas is anything but holy. Also,  "happy," like "merry," does not mean today exactly what it used to. Today it usually merely means  "feeling good." In the Declaration of Independence, the meaning of "happiness" included "fulfillment of purpose" and "virtue," and "meaningfulness." About 400 years ago, "Happy Holiday" could just as well have  meant "Blessed Holy Day."
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Perhaps it is good that our traditional, habitual greeting has become such a controversial issue. It  causes us to not take it for granted, but consider what it means. For some time, "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" have been said carelessly without regard for their real meanings. Hopefully, we will now say "Merry Christmas" like we know what it means - and really mean it.                                         
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From my heart to yours, 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Context of Genuine Thankfulness

An Attitude of Gratitude
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Ephesians 5:4, 18-21; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:17  (all Scriptures ESV)

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:21).
You’ve seen it, heard it, been there. Mr. A finishes something for Mr. B, who nonchalantly says, "Yeah, thanx," and walks off. Or a child dutifully thanks her aunt for the gift, but later tells her sister, "This is not what I wanted!" Or some other scenario of thankless thanks.

What constitutes the context of genuine thanksgiving? Is it the giver? Is it the circumstance, the occasion, time or place? Is it the gift? These things may be part of the context, but the key ingredient is the heart and mind of the recipient. Genuine thanks comes from genuine thankfulness, which comes from an attitude of gratitude.

For example, God rescued the Israelites from oppressive slavery and genocide in Egypt. Their thankfulness was short-lived, even after crossing the Red Sea on dry land. They mumbled and grumbled their way through the wilderness, even as God miraculously led them and fed them along the way. For forty years they dined and whined. Psalm 78 recalls this account; here is a portion:

Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?"
Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.
         Psalm 78: 17-22
In the Old Testament God’s people are urged several times to "give thanks" to God (1 Chron. 16; 2 Chron 20 & 31; Neh. 12; and many of the Psalms). The Law does not command thanksgiving, but makes provision for the person who wants to make an offering of thanksgiving (Lev. 7:11-18; 22:29-30). This offering was to come from the heart, not from duty.

In the New Testament thanksgiving flows from thankful hearts. In Luke 17:11-19, thankfulness is linked with thoughtfulness. Ten lepers ask Jesus to heal them. He told them to show themselves to the priests. On the way they are healed, but only one turns back and thanks him. Only one out of ten was thankful enough to think about thanking the healer.

Paul expresses his thanks many times in his letters, mostly for the salvation and spiritual growth of his readers (for example, Eph. 1:15-16). There are times when the apostle interrupts his message with an outburst of joy and praise:

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 4:20-21).

If we find it hard to be genuinely thankful, how do we get this attitude of gratitude? First of all, we need a change of heart. The original heart transplant was planned, promised and provided by God: "And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 11:19). Many, if not most, of the readers of this paper already have this new heart, which comes through the new birth. If you do not yet have this new heart, ask God to change your heart. Ask him to forgive your sins and accept Jesus as your Savior and you will become a child of God with a new heart and a new nature. "But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17).

Even when we have the new heart, the attitude of gratitude has to be cultivated. It is there, but we need to feed it and exercise it. One way is by considering and following the example of others. In the Gospels, Jesus expressed thanks when he fed the crowds (Matt. 15:36; Mark 8:6; John 6:11) and at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22: 17,19). Paul thanked God on a ship during a long, terrible storm (Acts 27:35) and when he met other Christians in Italy (Acts 28:15).

Then there are Paul’s admonitions and advice:

Thankfulness ought to be characteristic of our speech. "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving" (Eph. 5:4). Certainly, thankful speech rules out grumbling and complaining. This is not to say we cannot be truthful about things as they really are, but if we speak of difficulties, temper it with thankfulness to God, because he is in charge and in the end will right all wrongs.

Thanksgiving is in contrast with anxiety: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil. 4:6). God already knows what we need. He causes all things to work for our ultimate good by shaping our character (Rom. 8:28-29). Jesus said that if we put God’s righteousness first, then he will take care of the real needs (Matt. 6:33).

We are to be thankful in all situations, whether our skies are blue or gray. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). I admit it, this is not always easy. How many times do we have to catch ourselves and say, "There has to be something to be thankful for in this"? This calls for feeding our minds with God’s goodness, then exercising our attitude of gratitude when in God’s weight room. Habakkuk learned to be thankful because of God’s righteousness, even when facing a national disaster. "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength" (Hab. 3:17-19a).

Thankfulness characterizes a Spirit-filled life. "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:18-21). Uh oh! There it is: being thankful for everything!" Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit to help us with this.

Finally, our attitude of gratitude is to be part of every activity. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17).

The fourth Thursday of this month is Thanksgiving Day. The harvests are in, so we thank God for his provision. This is the anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing, so we are thankful for national independence and our freedoms. There are many other reasons to be thankful. One of our songs says, "Count your many blessings, see what God has done." Our country is known to the world as the land of freedom and plenty. It is easy for us who have much to lose sight of our blessings and begin complaining and grumbling about what we don’t have or don’t like. It is also easy for our thankfulness to become casual, offhanded, insincere, meaningless. In the spirit of this holiday, let’s thank God in the context of genuine thankfulness with an attitude of gratitude.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Wesleyan Theology of Holy Living for the 21st Century

A Book Review
 A Wesleyan Theology of Holy Living for the 21st Century by Victor P. Reasoner,
[Evansville, IN: Fundamental Wesleyan Publishers, 2012], ISBN: 978-0-976003-2-4.

Today, teachers, speakers and writers are advised to "Put the cookies on a lower shelf." Accessability of knowledge by a semi-literate public is stressed in this current generation. Publishers want books and articles with a sixth-grade or lower reading level. This may be called the "dumbed-down generation."

Making the product of our studies available and understandable to the man or woman on the street or in the pew is important. But drawing on the analogy of the advice above, what are we giving them? Is it solid and nutritious? Or is it junk food—unbalanced, over-processed, and filled with empty calories or harmful substances? When it comes to Christian doctrine and its application, this is more than important—it is vital. We should be putting the undefiled Bread of Life in the hands of those who depend on us. What ingredients and recipes are we using?

In A Wesleyan Theology of Holy Living for the 21st Century, Vic Reasoner examines the ingredients and recipes of the doctrine of holiness as they come from the Bible and as they have been prepared through two millennia. From ingredients to the end product, this is an essential guide for the "bakers" and the "servers." Regarding his own experience, Dr. Reasoner says, "I came to a crisis where I had to decide whether I would preach the Word or what I had heard" (p. 13). This work is the product of his quest to preach holiness as it comes from God’s Word. His two-volume study is organized into three parts: Biblical Theology, Historical Theology and Practical Theology. It has 794 pages of text,1598 footnotes, an eighty-page bibliography and an index of Scripture references.

Regarding the place of holiness (sanctification) in Christian doctrine, the text begins with a quote from Nazarene theologian Mildred Wynkoop: "‘Sanctification’ cannot stand alone in theology. It cannot be lifted up out of the complex of theological doctrines to be separated from them. The interlocking relationships of all Christian doctrines are integral to the life and meaning of every other one" (p. 16).

Throughout Biblical Theology, Dr. Reasoner includes John Wesley’s handling of the biblical texts. And in Historical Theology, John Wesley’s writings, especially Christian Perfection, hold a central place. Two questions are addressed along the way: "How biblical was John Wesley’s teaching on holy living?" and "How ‘Wesleyan’ is today’s teaching of the ‘Wesleyan’ doctrine of holiness?" Vic Reasoner shows us that John Wesley endeavored to be as biblical as possible in his teaching and practice, but the Wesleyan Holiness of succeeding generations has strayed from both Wesley and the Bible. He uncovers both the need and the justification for a corrective.

A corrective is provided in Part III, Practical Theology. For those not ready (or inclined) to wade through systematic theology or to follow in detail the historical development of doctrine, this concluding section may be read first. In fact, Dr. Reasoner even encourages readers to do so. A college education is not necessary to read and understand the final chapter. For ministerial students this is extremely important, since they must make the doctrine of holy living understandable to the person in the pew.

A Wesleyan Theology of Holy Living for the 21st Century meets a critical need of the church today in knowing how "to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (Titus 2:12). It is not hard to foresee this becoming a standard reference on holiness.

To order A Wesleyan Theology of Holiness for the 21st Century, Please contact

Dr. Reasoner is President of Southern Methodist College in Orangeburg, SC, member of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, Editor of Publications for FWS, and Editor of The Arminian, a quarterly journal. Besides A Wesleyan Theology of Holy Living for the 21st Century he is also the author of A Fundamental Wesleyan Commentary on Revelation, A Fundamental Wesleyan Commentary on Romans, The Hope of the Gospel: An Introduction to Wesleyan Eschatology, and co-author of The Wesley Workbook.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Biblical View of Labor

A Biblical View of Labor
by Wesley G. Vaughn
© 2012

Text: Ephesians 6:5-9 

             Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is the last holiday of Summer.  It was established as a national holiday in 1894 to recognize the contributions of industrial workers.  It now celebrates all those who work, no matter their field of endeavor.  As we observe Labor Day, let’s consider what the Bible says about labor.

Labor is Worthy 

            Many people see labor as a curse, the result of sin.  The basis for this is Genesis 3:19, which says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  According to this view, God sentenced Adam (and all who follow him) to work.  But is labor itself really the curse?  It is NOT the Curse.  There was Labor before the Curse.  God Himself labored.  Creation was His work, the fruit of His labor.  On the seventh day of Creation God “finished his work that he had done, and he rested . . . from all his work that he had done” (Gen. 2:2).

Labor is Ordained by God  

            “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).  Before the Fall, humans were to work, to labor.  They had a job to do.  The angels, the Host of Heaven, have work to do, too, and they have not sinned; they are not under a curse.  There is work to do, and there are angels and people to do it.  God works, and we work too.

Labor is a Blessing 

            It is the Gift of God.  Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.”  (See also Eccl. 2:24) 

Labor is Honorable 

            Proverbs is full of statements about the honor of honest work, such as, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23).  On the other hand, slothfulness is seen as dishonorable (Prov. 21:25).  Throughout history, Jewish rabbis have associated labor with honesty and integrity, while they consider laziness (sloth) as sin.

Labor is Beneficial 

            It provides needed exercise.  Exercise is needful for good health: it builds and tones the muscles, improves circulation and breathing, and produces an overall feeling of well-being. 

            It produces needed things.  Good work is productive, supplying food, fiber and other things for living.  Psalm 128:2 says, “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.”

            It helps others.  Beyond supplying ourselves, we can help others with their tasks or give to them from what we have produced.  The Apostle Paul taught this as the opposite of stealing: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28).

            It satisfies.  Accomplishment is a good source of satisfaction, especially when we see the fruits of our labors.

Worthy Examples of Labor

$          God worked when He created the universe, and He is working now sustaining the world, ruling, judging, listening to His children.

$          Solomon labored, even as the king.  In Ecclesiastes, he lists many of his ccomplishments.

$          Nehemiah worked as the Cupbearer to the King of Persia.  This was an administrative position with much responsibility.  He was probably in charge of all the buying and preparation of food and drink for the palace.  He took a leave from this job to go to Jerusalem to serve as governor and repair the walls, then returned to the palace to resume his duties.  Obviously, Nehemiah was not afraid of work.

$          Jesus worked as a carpenter before becoming a traveling rabbi.  The nature of His labor then changed to teaching, mentoring and healing.  Before this, as the Son of God, He had labored through Creation.  As the Angel of the Lord, He had guided the Old Testament saints.  His earthly labor culminated with the work of Salvation on the Cross, where He announced, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  Now, in Heaven, His duties include interceding for us and being the CEO of the Church.

$          Peter labored as a fisherman before Jesus called him to be a disciple.  Then his job description changed to “man fisher” (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17).

$          Paul was a tentmaker.  When he became a missionary, he continued tent making to support himself and his ministry team (Acts 18:3; 1Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9).

Labor Balanced with Rest

            Labor is to be balanced with rest.  The natural cycle is to work in the daytime and sleep at night, though in some jobs this order is reversed (John 9:4).  The Old Testament law also prescribes a weekly day of rest.  “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:9-10).  This day of rest is for our benefit.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). 

Labor is Worship

            Labor is obedience to God.  He put us here to work (Gen. 1:28; 2:15).  Paul told the Thessalonians that they should work (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:10, 12) and gave himself as an example (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8).  Furthermore, we are told that whatever our labor may be, we are to do it as though we are working for God (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3: 22-25; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 2:18-20). Therefore, in our labor we serve God.

Labor is Witness

            Finally, our labor is a witness of our faith:  a witness to those we serve, a witness to those we work with, and a witness to our families.  Those who know us through our work judge us by our work.  They judge not only us, but our faith.  The testimony of our words carries more weight if our labor shows honesty, diligence, and a good attitude.

All Scriptures from the ESV