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The Child at the Back…

Once upon a time, a small troop of people drudged along an uphill road, and found they’d arrived at their destination. They sought the Kingdom of God, and had reached the front gates.

Together they paused in silence, rapt in wonder, awe, worship, gratitude, and… honestly… fatigue, yet aglow with their sense of accomplishment. Most, but not all, were middle aged or older. Most were well dressed, some in ornate robes, others in business attire, some in Sunday best. There were both men and women.

An ancient man, apparently the porter, appeared outside the door and greeted the group cordially.

“Welcome to the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is wonderful to see all of you. Now, why have you come?”

At this, there was some milling about and muttering. None was quite sure what to say. Finally a man stepped forward and said, “Sir, we seek to enter. We have have traveled long hard roads, seeking to enter in to the Kingdom of God.”

The old gatekeeper nodded, “that’s marvelous. Well done. Now, good sir, why should I admit you? What is your qualification?”

The man pulled out a neat scroll and handed it forward. “I have sought this gate all my life. I have lived a righteous life, always doing right as I could. I’ve never lied or defrauded anyone. I fear God, and seek to obey His commandments with all my heart.”

The old man nodded approvingly, took the scroll, and said, “Well done, my son. You are very near indeed to the Kingdom.”

Turning to another petitioner, he asked the same questions. This man was mighty in worship leadership and had led thousands of believers in singing the praises and glory of God. He, too, was congratulated on his efforts and assured that he was very near.

The next was a woman who had spent her entire life in prayer and encouraging others to spend time with the Lord. She offered up all sufferings to the glory of God, and sought His will in all things. She had raised her children to fear and reverence God, and do what was right to honor Him. She too was congratulated, encouraged, and assured of her nearness.

This went on as one after another, everyone named their accomplishments and sacrifices in God’s name, and declared their honor and worship of Him. Each had done wonderful things, including one who had studied their whole life acquiring great academic honors and mastering all the sacred languages. He sought admittance through his efforts to teach the world of the wonders of the words of God. The last, or nearly last, conversation was with a mighty pastor who had built a magnificent cathedral, led many thousands to relationship with God, and trained many hundreds in their own lives of ministry and service. When asked why he had done all this, he said that Jesus was his Lord and his model, and he sought to live as Jesus had lived, in honor of God.

Everyone thought, “Ah, certainly THIS man… with all THAT to say…. all THAT he has done…. surely, this man, will pass through the gate.”

Yet, he received the same response, including the great approval and encouragement, from the Porter.

A quiet scuffing sound was heard from the back of the group, as a small child in quite nondescript clothing had turned around and began to shuffle back down the road away from the gate.

The Porter stepped forward, raised his cracked voice, and addressed the child. “You there!” as he stretched his arm towards the child and all the adults made way. (The wee one had been hidden at the back of the group where no one had seen.) The shuffling steps stopped, as the downcast figure slowly turned.

“Mm… me? Sir?” the child responded in a voice nearly too soft to hear.

The old man smiled warmly, “Yes, youngster. You. Why are you here?” The Porter’s eyes shone with friendly light as he encouraged the child to speak. “Don’t be afraid. Please tell me why you’ve come.”

“Well, sir. I came to find this gate, and to pass through into there, into the Kingdom.” The sibilant voice grew a bit, as the child’s eyes rose to meet his.

“Very good, little one. Why then, do you seem to want to leave before we’ve even spoken?”

The gaze and voice quickly dropped again. “Because I see now, I realize… I haven’t done any of the great things all these fine people have done. I have nothing to show you, good sir. I’m not even properly dressed, being a bit ragged and dusty like this. I have no business here. I’ll go quietly, sir.”

“Wait, little one. How did you find the path to here?”

“Oh, that. Well, sometimes, I seem to hear Jesus’ voice calling me, leading me. Sometimes I think I can see His footsteps, or I catch a glimpse of Him up ahead. I think I’ve heard Him call to me, saying ‘Follow Me’, and so, whenever I’ve thought I had the direction right, or I could see the steps, I’ve tried to follow. One day, I met up with all these people, who had maps and books and things. And together, here we are….”

“I see,” nodded the old Porter. “So you followed. Now, granted that you don’t yet have a big list of mighty deeds or works to show, tell me WHY you want to enter these doors? What do you hope to gain?”

The child was a long time before answering, but no one broke the silence. All the elders found themselves thinking about the question for themselves. What did they really seek, hoping to enter in?

Finally the child answered, “Sir, I just want to get in to find HIM. I’ve heard Him. I’ve seen Him from time to time. But I just want to find Him, grab Him, and… and… hug Him.”

At this, some of the elders repressed a snort. How silly did that sound? Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The Great Majesty of All Creation. And here this child speaks of grabbing… and hugging…  psh.

The Porter came close up to the child, dropped to one knee so they were face to face, and nearly whispered… “And why, child… Why do you so seek to hug Him that you’ve come all this way and dare even this?”

Tears welled as their eyes met, and the child whispered simply,  “because, sir, I love Him. I don’t know very much. I haven’t done very much, certainly nothing great. I’ve just heard His voice, seen Him now and again, and I love Him. That’s why I’ve come.”

The old Porter hugged the child, as the great gate door dissolved. There, to the astonishment of all, stood Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Joyfully He laughed as He dropped to one knee with His arms wide open for the child.

“Finally! You’ve arrived! I’ve been waiting. Together we will see everything. I cannot wait to show you.” Jesus had lifted the child up in His arms with a mighty heave. If a little one could fly, that’s how it seemed as together they shared a moment of sheer joy unspeakable.

Turning to the others, the Lord said, “I am so glad you are ALL here. You are so very close. You have all done so well, My good and faithful servants. As soon as you are ready, come in and join Us. You lack only one thing…” and, carrying the child in His arms, He passed through the gate back into His Kingdom.

Astonished, all the elders were left standing with the Porter, who had gently arisen and strode back to his post. Everyone was reviewing these amazing events in their mind, pondering heavy to understand.

The eldest and wisest of the lot, suddenly smiled and nodded. He exchanged glances with the Porter, who realized that understanding had dawned. Quietly he walked up to the Porter and whispered in his ear. The Porter stood aside as he passed in.

Everyone left standing there wondered what he had understood, and what he had said.

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Posted by on October 5, 2017 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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How to be Great!

‘At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”‘ [Matthew 18:1-6]

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When I was younger, this text mystified me a bit. I mean, on the surface its meaning is obvious… innocence… simplicity… yadda yadda. But when you know children, I mean really get to KNOW children… they can be a real pain. Hence, my confusion.

I mean, frankly, while this seems like a lovely image… have you honestly ever met a “humble” child? Really? I haven’t. Children can be brutal. They clamor for status and primacy. Some of the cruelest people on the face of the earth I’ve ever known have been children.

So… what is Jesus saying here, really?

I’ve finally resolved that for myself, but if your ponderings lead you to a different place, that’s fine, too. Just thought I’d share this.

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The disciples are in the time where Jesus is preparing them for His crucifixion. He has told them He is going to be killed, but that He will rise again three days later. He is extremely clear about who He is… Son of Man, Son of God. So, in the midst of sorting these confusing things out, they ask a question only someone in His unique position could answer…

“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Pretty big question. Pretty bold question. I suspect they were expecting a pretty big bold answer. What about you? If you had been standing there listening, or even if you had had the chance to ASK this question, what answer would you expect?

Something like, “He who does the will of the Father, He is the greatest…”

Or, “He who upholds the Kingdom in righteousness, He is the greatest…”

Or, “He who speaks the truth of God, He is the greatest…”

Right? I would. Or perhaps they were thinking of all the history… the patriarchs, the prophets, the judges, the kings, King David. Perhaps they expected Him to name one of those.

But no. As per usual for Him, He does something totally unexpected. He calls a little boy to Him from among the bystanders, and has him stand in front of the disciples like an artist’s model. He answers them in a very odd way. He does NOT tell them WHO is the greatest in the Kingdom. Instead (again consistent with how He usually does things), He tells them HOW to BECOME the greatest in the kingdom. (Perhaps that’s really what they wanted to know in the first place, bless their competitive little hearts.)

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

WHAT?

I bet they didn’t see THAT coming! Remember, they’d just shortly before been at the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appear before their very eyes, and take counsel with Jesus. Peter wanted to make a shrine on that mountaintop. So I am more than certain that when they inquired about heaven’s greatest soul, they weren’t expecting some little kid in the street!

So what was so special about kids? Or… what was so special about THIS little kid? What do kids have, that we don’t have? Why does Jesus use words like “converted” and “become like” as He points to this boy? How did this boy so dramatically “humble himself” that Jesus uses him as a model for the greatest in heaven?

Only in recent years have I figured it out. What do kids have, that we don’t? What did this little boy show, that we lose over time and must be transformed to recapture?

Trust

Children raised by loving healthy parents, learn “Trust” from the cradle. At least, trust of their parents. They learn to trust that they are provided for… mom and dad will make sure they have something to eat. They learn to trust that they are safe and protected… mom and dad will make sure others don’t hurt them, that they don’t get lost or injured. They learn to trust that they are valued, treasured, affirmed… they will carry on the family legacy, delighting the heart of their father, bringing joy to their mother.

As trust grows, obedience grows apace. When a child is secure that mom and dad seek only their good, their provision, safety, and security… parental directives are far more likely to be seen in that light. The child may wonder, or even ask, “Why?”. But the question is more likely to come even as the child is assenting and obeying, as opposed to the suspicious argument and immobility of the child who has learned NOT to trust.

Are there such children? Untrusting children? Those who have learned to be insecure, suspicious, perhaps rebellious and disobedient? Oh, yes. Both kinds of children surround us all the time. We adults, parents and others, can send a child down either of these two paths. Jesus tells us how in the lament that follows:

And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus didn’t pose as His model just a “little boy”, but rather a “TRUSTING little boy”. Why do I say this? How do I know this? Because the text says Jesus “called a child to Himself and set him before them“. Let’s see… Jesus calls on a stranger boy in a crowd, as He talks Kingdom-of-God-stuff with His disciples… AND HE COMES!

[Pause]

Think that through a minute. So… imagine yer a kid in the street. Maybe you’re alone. Maybe you’re passing by with mom and dad. Maybe you’re standing there with them listening to this (now) notorious or famous Preacher-Guy everyone’s talking about… and He looks your way with a simple, “Please come here a moment…” What do YOU do?

Ever been called up onstage for a Magician… or a hypnotist? Ever been there when this happened to a friend? It’s SCARY! But this kid COMES!

Why? Because the kid trusts Him and obeys Him. OR… perhaps it’s more accurate to say… this kid obeys Him BECAUSE he has been taught to trust adults in the first place.

This boy obeys, yielding to Jesus’ invitation and will, TRUSTING that nothing bad will happen to Him because of that trust. Or, he may have trusted that his loved ones nearby would make sure nothing bad happened to him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gentle Reader, I believe we’ve lost that capacity. I think the disciples, like ‘most all adults, had lost that capacity. We have to weigh the alternatives, look at it from both sides, consider the pros and cons, and come to a reasoned decision about what to do.

Want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Want to attain greatness there?

Gotta find another way to live. Gotta rediscover “trust”. Gotta get “reborn”, and then “grow up all over again”, reestablishing the sort of trust for God that we once knew as little one’s with our loving parents. When we do, we discover that God will ALWAYS provide for us, ALWAYS keep us safe, and ALWAYS cling to us as the delight of His heart and apple of His eye.

When we honor that trust in one another, dealing uprightly, sacredly, honestly with one another… we fulfill the promise of His last words on this. Sometimes, our trust is abused and we are betrayed. Sometimes, even though we walk  in trust honoring Him, we will be hurt by others. It is not our role to protect from that, or avenge it. Our part is to forgive. But Jesus is unmistakably clear that when we honor our Kingdom citizenship, living in trust and transparency, the King Himself, Our Father, will deal with those who abuse our trust.

Jesus closes with His lament of such foolish people…

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Good news? Bad news? Well, it is certainly unexpected news… do you aspire to greatness in the Kingdom? Then aspire to Trust and Reliance on the unknown will of God. Trust Him enough to obey. Treat others as equally sacred children. And as gradually our trust transforms us into yielding to Him (as we lose our self-protective fear), watch what happens!

 

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Because I say so…

244px-messier-42-10-12-2004-filtered-e1401834586474While working on some projects over the past few weeks, I was struck with an amazing realization…

Are you a parent? Were you a parent? Or… do you remember your own parents? Imagine, if you will…

  1. You tell your child to do something or other that they don’t particularly want to do.
  2. They (predictably) ask, in a whiny voice, “But… but… WHY?”
  3. And you say? (fill in the blank here) (Psst! Hint: Check the title of this post!)

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Have you ever noticed how often God Almighty, when faced with parallel situations with His Old Testament children, identifies Himself thus…

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

Time and time again, He identifies Himself this way. And one day this realization just stopped me cold, as I thought… “Waitaminute! Why does God EXPLAIN Himself? Is He coddling His children? I mean, why doesn’t He say… ‘Because I am the Lord your God who could squish you like a bug?’ or “I am the Lord your God who created heaven, earth, and you?’ or even the tried-and-true…. “Because I say so!”?

It started me looking up one passage after another, and I saw this pattern repeated over and over. And this confused me. After all, if ANYONE has the right to pose an argument from authority without qualification, it must be Him, no? And yet, He doesn’t. In fact, He NEVER EVER does.

I was stunned.

We do it, we humans, all the time. Certainly with our children and subordinates. We claim our authority by position and rank, not by our actions and history. At least, not usually we don’t.

It all started me thinking… Why? Doubtless God is more emotionally secure than we are. We have greater need to massage our egos and pride, true enough. But still, does it make sense that we tend to point to ourselves when we assert authority, while God points to the children when He does?

So, I pondered, “Why?” Clearly, God gets it right more than I do. So, He has a method to why He asserts His authority in these terms rather than mine. As I pondered, I came to a conclusion.

I’d like to know what you think about what I thought… which was…

It seems that God defines “authority” in terms of His own commitment to the care and welfare of the other.

Perhaps that is a critical key. Perhaps “authority” only has true meaning in relationships of care, and it is directly related to the degree of commitment one has for the nurturance of the other. Like when God placed Adam into the garden to “protect and to serve” the plants, THUS exercising dominion. Is it possible that God always intended Adam’s “authority” and “dominion” to extend only to the limits of his caretaking?

Could God’s authority be infinite in that His caretaking is infinite? And the reverse? God’s caretaking is infinite in that His authority is infinite? Is the assertion and exercise of authority only godly and legitimate to the extent that we are committed to the well-being of the other? Is such assertion without commitment nothing more than the haughty posing of the self-righteous whitewashed tombs?

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That’s where my ponders led me. What do you think?

Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader! — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Ripples and Birthdays

WisdomIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2]

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,  in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [Luke 2:4-7]

While I know that technically it is “Christmas Day” as I write, Gentle Reader, for me it is the ending of Christmas Eve for I’ve not yet slept. These several days, I’ve yet been struck with the awesome power of “silence’ and “waiting”. I know there are those who decry the customs and traditions of the Liturgical Year, and the cycle of holidays such as Christmas and Easter in the Christian Church. I realize, with all educated theologians, that the decisions to select the dates we have are more dependent on the incorporation of customs by pagan peoples into Christian practice, than any scriptural seasonal basis. But it has always seemed more to me an apt unification of God’s people, rather than any denial or wrongful compromise.

Paulfg (Just me being curious) speaks often of dropping pebbles and watching the myriad ripples that follow. So much of grace is like that. God, or one who follows Him, drops a pebble, and the Holy Spirit echoes and reverberates among many others like variations on a theme of music. I was recently struck by the rhythmic nature of reality, of the necessity of opposites. In order to know true freedom and choice of good over evil, we MUST of logical necessity, have the capacity to choose evil. In order to know light, we must have the ability to apprehend darkness. For me, limited as I am by my own culture and upbringing, I’m coming to consider this the nature of yin and yang. Even Paul’s ripples have peaks and troughs, a zenith and nadir to define them.

This “silence”, this “fasting”, this preparation for the annual commemoration of the Great Events of the Nativity and the Resurrection that comprise Advent and Lent… these are important, and can do much to enrich our experience of God. Why? Because they are, in and of themselves, some sort of “magic times”? No. Because God takes special note of those who are devout enough to honor these penitential periods, and rewards the faithful with special Brownie Point Blessings? No. Because we have to “purge ourselves of our worldliness and sin”, in order to benefit from these sacred feasts? Well, such exercise may well bear some fruit, yes… but not in such a transactional way, no.

Now, I know you’ve heard this before, but let me say it again. I write from my own experience and subjective perspective. My opinions and conclusions are my own, and if they do not agree with yours I am NOT implying that you are wrong. For you, in your life, your world, your walk with the Lord, these ideas may not fit at all… and if that is the case, please cast them aside without hesitation. But perhaps these reflections will spur a new thought or idea to explore with Him, and that may bring additional grace or blessing. I share to expand our sense of the Possible in the realm of the grace of God.

This night, I’ve been struck with the Ripples of the Nativity. With this transition from Advent into Christmas. From pregnancy to parenthood. I was struck with those TWO texts quoted at the beginning of this post. All of “Not-Yet-Created” waited silently and darkly for “Creation”. The verb there for God “formed” is a word that means “brought forth from nothing at all”. This is not like a conjurer’s trick, the magician who unveils and releases a dove from a handkerchief and his “empty” hand. No, this is vastly more profound. This is God the Father and God the Son and God the Breath of God speaking, extending, and hovering over the expanse of darkness to bring forth… EVERYTHING. Birth!

And then, much later on, we see this scenario play out into our world, our time and space, as the Father sends forth Gabriel and speaks, the Son extends, and the Holy Breath overshadows Mary in her home. Nine months later, according to the rules of biology established in our lives, we have… Birth!

In my own life, this is a night each year when the universe itself holds its collective breath and gazes upon THE miracle of birth. It is God’s glory, God’s act, God’s love, God’s grace. It is entirely and wholly His, and it could well be said that He alone has the right to rejoice in it. But… just as He invited the shepherds and the maji so long ago to take part, to come, to witness, to celebrate… so too, He invites us. Isn’t that wondrous?

But watch this, it gets better! It is not only the celebration of the Birth of Jesus that is going on here.  Jesus said, “you in Me and I in you and together we in the Father.”  John the Apostle calls you a “Child of God”. Paul the Apostle waxes eloquent about “joint-heir with Christ,” including the training and discipline involved. We never see any of these texts grovelling in any sort of “worthless worm theology”, as so often undermines Christians in the name of humility.

The Nativity is not only Jesus’ Birthday… but ours as well. We are here to commemorate a birth… your birth, my birth… as sons and daughters of God… joint heirs… princes and princesses of kingdom… called to do the works of Jesus and greater yet because He is risen to the Father.

God Alone creates something from nothing. God Alone chose to lay down His divinity and become a man like us in all things but sin. God Alone moves the Holy Breath Spirit to dwell within us and among us. Why? Because He chooses to. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

And God Alone could make royalty of you and me. “Holy and Royal Priesthood” is all well and good as long as we speak of it in some vague corporate collective of “The Church”. But people become vastly less comfortable when one points out that means that YOU, are a sacred prince/princess priest/priestess. *I’m* not saying that… Scripture says that.

So… for tonight… let us continue to be silent, waiting, and ready. For, tomorrow, there will be Birth. And there will be a Gift. And the Gift will be an entirely new life… not just a “getting by” life… but a holy and royal life. A life filled with life, love, joy, truth, beauty, goodness, power, authority, and duty. Life that gives itself away and pours itself out for others…

Why? Because that’s what God has chosen to do. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

Happy Birthday, Your Highness.

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in Advent Devotions, Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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“That’s What Kids Do!”

At that time the dlogo-Mcdonaldsisciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:1-4]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

True Story:

I know these two little kids, 5 and 7, from a Christian home of two young-ish parents… (of course, almost EVERYONE looks “young-ish” to me these days… but anyway…) Good home, folks do youth ministry at their church when they can attend, though the dad has been having to work Sundays for much of the time lately.

Anyhow, these two very normal, boisterous, get-in-trouble-their-fair-share-of-the-time, loud, active, fun, kids found themselves at a McDonald’s Playland one day with their mom after a doctor’s appointment. (You know, those “Gerbil-Run-Pipe-Tunnel-Bounce-House” affairs set off with sound proof glass in some McDonald’s Restaurants?)  This is a massive treat for those kids, and they were there in mid-afternoon, well between the lunch and dinner rush hours, so they had the whole room to themselves… almost.

Sitting on the padding near the “entrance” to the tunnels and slide, was a little boy about kindergarten age, just playing quietly with a couple of the plastic balls from the bounce house thing. He didn’t look at them, pay any attention to them, nor was he in their way as “Loud” and “Cheery” (we’ll call them) raced past him to jump into the equipment. “Timid” (we’ll call him) was just quietly playing on his own, despite his mother’s gentle attempts to encourage him to enter the equipment and play in the apparatus.

After a few minutes of racing through the maze at the top of their lungs, Loud and Cheery noticed that their playmate had not joined into the fun, despite his mother’s permission and urging. (This was fundamentally incomprehensible to them… how could ANYONE resist the allure of a McDonald’s Gerbil Run?) All through, they’d been careful not to bump into Timid as they reran the maze time and again, and didn’t even scream near him (rare for them, trust me on that).

So after a few minutes, Cheery (the 7-year old) approached Timid and said, “Hey, do you want to play with us?” (His mom nodded encouragingly to him, but he seemed unsure of himself). Then Cheery said, “You can DO this. Don’t be afraid. We’ll go with you if you want!” as she held out her hand to him, and her younger brother held out his, adding… “Yeah, we can DO this! Come on!”

Timid, bolstered by the companionship and encouragement, took their hands and dared his way into the maze, climbed the stairs, used the slide, and generally set about to have a very good time with Loud and Cheery. Eventually, after fatigue started to slow the pace a bit, my friend called a halt to the mayhem, and had Loud and Cheery come and sit for their Happy Meals. Timid headed off to his mom to eat as well. A few minutes later, all having caught their second wind, the kids all headed back into the maze for Round Two, and Timid’s mom came over to my friend’s table with tears in her eyes.

That mother came to say three things:

  • Timid is autistic, and other children make fun of him or tend to go out of their way to frighten him.
  • Therefore, they come at this “low-traffic” time, so that the youngster has a chance to play without anyone else around, but before today he had never entered in, though he enjoyed being here and sitting with those plastic balls.
  • She had never seen children respond to him as Loud and Cheery had, and she wanted to thank my friend(s) for being the parent(s) they are… noting that the kids were extraordinary.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, Loud and Cheery’s mom called and told me this story, not to brag… but to share a laugh over the Title of this Post. She received this praise from Timid’s mom with pleasure, of course (who ISN’T pleased when our kids’ behavior is praised?), but also with a bit of puzzlement. She thanked Timid’s mom, but added that she and her husband really weren’t “working at it” all that hard (in her view). It was more just a Golden Rule thing. Her kids didn’t like it when others teased them or made them feel small, so this was a “discouraged behavior” among their family. No big deal. But she received the comments graciously and the kids went on playing.

When it was time to go, she called over Loud and Cheery and thanked them for how nicely they had played with Timid. Timid’s mom had commented that they had been very kind, and that was a good and nice thing, and she thanked them for it. (She and her husband “try to catch them doing something right”, as Ken Blanchard says… not just when they do wrong.)

The 7 year old just acknowledged the thanks with a casual “OK, he was nice,” and continued putting on her shoes. But the 5 year old stopped as he had listened to her intently and a puzzled look seemed to come over his face as, very deliberately, he took her hand, looked at her (as if explaining something to someone slow-of-wit), and said… “But, Mom… That’s just what kids DO!” (Play nicely with other kids and have fun doing it.)

It about knocked her out of her chair as she laughed and hugged him. She said he was absolutely right, thank you, she wasn’t thinking… and he went on to put on his shoes, nodding with satisfaction at having cleared up this mystery for his mom. I also roared with laughter, knowing these kids and readily picturing Loud’s earnest intent expression as he taught this lesson. He can be very serious at times.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As this episode echoed through my heart, two passages of scripture echoed with them. One I will discuss here now, and it’s quite simple. The other came more strongly later in another prayer time as the Lord brought this event back to my memory, and we’ll look at that in the next post.

But the Kingdom of God passage that surrounds “lest ye become as this little child” is a rich mine of varied and diverse nuggets of truth. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone preach, teach, or write the “definitive exposition” of Jesus’ teaching there. Certainly not I.

But this 5 year old, boisterous, normal, (somewhat hyperactive), little boy just so illustrated something I think Jesus meant right there. He didn’t do what he did because of what people would think. He didn’t do it to get an ice cream sundae with his Happy Meal. He didn’t do it for a story to tell in Sunday School. He didn’t do it out of duty or guilt.

He just did what he did because it seemed the “right thing to do”. He followed his sister’s lead, trusting her judgment. He gets afraid of things sometimes, too… and when she offers her hand and he takes it… he feels less afraid and he sometimes tries new things. That just made sense to him.

He saw a small fearful boy. He thought the boy might have more fun with them than without them. His sister offered support, he backed her up, they all had fun. Simple as that. No double clutch to it.

Kindness, faith, encouragement, trust… and an offer to trust them for the benefit of the other. A whole Sunday sermon in the affirmation of a simple 5 year old.

I’d like to be more like that…

 
12 Comments

Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Whose House? – Part One – The Fall

A comment in another great Christian Blog (Life Reference) yesterday, has moved me to discuss something I find to be a great “tension” both in the lives of the Church as a corporate body, and in the hearts of individual Christians now and again. The topic is really too big for a single post, so I’ll probably address it in pieces across some time. The poster made the following statement in his response to the comment:

If we feed, clothe and wash, it is for the purpose of reaching them for Christ. If we serve others it is for the purpose of reaching them for Christ, and if they are already in Christ, it is for the purpose of helping them to grow in their faith so that they, too will come to the point where they reach out… None of this “reaching out” is just to look good and be thought nice, it is always for the cause of Christ! [Don Merritt – Life Reference]

What I want to address here is an “Implied Conflict”, an apparent dichotomy or contradiction, seldom ever explicitly named and examined, concerning “Evangelism”. The tension exists between such phrases as “sharing the Gospel”, or “teaching the Word”… and “ministry”, or “community ministry”, or “meeting needs”. I sense this tension all the time, since I am a “Contemplative/Active”, and I live my life FULLY in both states at the same time. That has taken a lifetime to be able to say as a true statement. Most of my life was spent “trying to balance” the two, looking like a newborn foal trying to find their legs and how they work, or like a child on ice skates for the first time. *Truly, not a pretty sight at all*

But then, through the grace of God, and the unspeakable patience of those He placed in my path to teach, correct, coach, and encourage me, there came that wonderful day. “The Day I Gave Up”. I kid thee not, it was a wonderful day. I discovered, admitted, then finally embraced as a fact the truth  that… I didn’t get it… I couldn’t get it… and I never WOULD get it! And when I finally gave up… really on ministry itself… it’s as if I flopped down exhausted, disheartened, maybe even dead.

And THEN… FINALLY… it was as if God whispered in great joy… “At LAST, Little Monk… We’ve waited So Long!” and He just breathed into me, and resurrected me, and it’s never been the same. I cannot balance my life, my mind, my heart, my spirit, or my ministry. As long as I embrace that truth, HE CAN, because I stay out of His way. Yes, Gentle Reader, the day I died was a wonderful day.

One would think that Truth, grace, lie on one alternative or the other. That God is an “either/or” proposition. “Life OR Death”. When I find so often, it’s simply not so. It’s in the dichotomy itself… the seeming contradiction itself… where Truth lies. It’s not “either/or” as much as it’s “both together”. “Life AND Death”, or “Life THROUGH Death” God seems not so much “Yes, BUT…” as He is “Yes, AND…”

So here we are, with this apparent contradiction between “Gospel Sharing” and “Ministry” or “Meeting Needs”…

And, quite true to form, I’m not gonna argue this or propose a white paper about it. I’m gonna tell a story. It’s a story of one of my most glorious failures, and what I learned from it, through the grace of God and godly counsel.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was quite young in my ministry. Fresh out of training, arrogant, omniscient, determined to “straighten out everything wrong” with Kingdom, the Church, and Christians. Oh, Yes, Gentle Reader… I was indeed, God’s Gift to Christendom! A Legend in My Own Mind. *You have no IDEA, you will NEVER know, the grace-filled patience of those among whom God nested this little life in that time! lol!*

But God had sent me to a new place, in a strange city where I knew no one. I had a ministry of my own to tend, and God placed me on staff of a local church within a tradition I was not familiar with. God made me accountable to the pastor of that church, both as to “staff service” (he became my “boss” in a work context), and as my Spiritual Director, coaching and guiding me in deepening my walk both as God’s child and as God’s servant. He was a Master Minister, well integrated in grace, and my task was to learn from him (among other things) how to allow the grace in my mind and heart to flow all the way through me and my life… to let grace flow through my hands, my lips, my tongue. For in my heart, in my head, in my prayer life and prayer closet… there was abundant grace, yes. BUT, in my ministry, my expression… well, not so much. So, I struggled with “balance”.

My outside work and ministry, were among “unchurched” people with what were often deeply broken lives. One weekend, at the home of an Elder Deacon couple who had sort of “adopted” this waif in a strange city, we were discussing some of the challenges of my apostolate. He, this wonderful warm and loving man, became very serious and earnest…

He said, “You know? You have to be careful with what you do…”

I looked at him a bit quizzically. Yes, my work was not the safest, but I seldom felt vulnerable at risk of violence, and I said so.

“No, no. I don’t mean that. But I mean you have to maintain your Boundaries. You always have to be aware, when you serve, of whether this is a ministry moment, or a fellowship moment. “Fellowship” is something you do with Believers. We fellowship in church. We’re in fellowship now. We both surrender our lives to Christ, and so we can have Fellowship.

“But OTHER people, Non-Believers, or sinners… you can ‘Minister’ TO them… but you cannot ‘Fellowship’ WITH them.

“You always have to hold yourself apart, hold your standards as a Christian. You can’t let sinners drag you down with them. You must always be trying to raise THEM up!

“You see?” he looked hopeful…

And, unfortunately, I DID see…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

OK, so scene changes… Narrator speaks for a moment…

Now, it’s important to note right here that the pastor (we’ll call him “The Pastor” for convenience)... was a bit of an odd duck. He lived, managed, administered, taught, fathered, husbanded… only as he could discern Jesus willing him to, as expressed through the Gospels. Now, did he have all hs right “ologies” covered, and wall paper? Sure he did. But years before, God had branded on his heart that ministry was much simpler than all that.

Example: When I first began to work as part of Staff, The Pastor called me in, sat me down and said, “Let me explain something a bit different here, than you may be used to in other churches where you’ve served…

“This,” and he indicated all around us, “this building, this church, this staff, all of this… is NOT mine. I am NOT the one in charge of this. It does not belong to me. BUT, now here’s the unusual part, it does not belong to the people either. It is not ‘the congregation’s’. We work here by a simple principle… and I’d like you to adopt this as you work here.

“This is NOT ‘Our House’… this is ‘God’s House’… but treat that literally. We are not a staff with a hierarchy, and I am not ‘on top’. We are ALL jointly, Children of Our Father, and we all exercise our gifts, talents, and training in whatever way we are called. But we are ALL ministers, servants, bond-servants living out our lives in His service. Therefore, you are to treat the Church Secretary, or the Bookkeeper, or the Custodian, with the same regard and respect that you do or would me. I do so, I expect you to do the same, as all the staff.

“Second, we are but ‘household servants’… footmen, butlers, handmaids… to God Our Father and King. We maintain this house, His House, in His Name on His behalf, as we are called and equipped. We are accountable for that. And He will invite whomever He chooses, whenever He chooses, however He chooses to come interact with us as His Family and keepers of His House.

“That is, whether it is a ‘stranger at the door’, a ‘walk-in’, a ‘call out for visit’, or a ‘phone call’… there is NO SUCH THING, in this house, as an ‘interruption to your day’. Every person, at every moment, who encounters us is to be considered an honored guest, personally invited by God Himself from before the beginning of time, to come to His House and encounter Him through one of us in this moment. All such moments are sacred. All such people are sacred, and that is NEVER an ‘inconvenience’ or an ‘interruption’.

“Any questions?”

Uhhhh… nope. That about summed it up, what?

Now… is that a “conservative”, or a “liberal”? I always loved watching people trying to label him. Now, before you answer that, let me tell you… loose cannon that I was, wild child of ministry that I was, if YOU were so unfortunate to have been assigned me as your intern, what “rules” would you have posted around my life, my training, my schooling, my apprenticeship, my ministry? Well, I’ll tell you, he gave me, basically, just One. I call it, (and we’ve discussed it since), his “One Rule”. He argues that in this One Rule, are contained all other right rules.Here it is:

The One Rule: Hear the clearly discerned and scripturally consistent will of God as expressed by the Holy Spirit through conscience, and obey that without argument, hesitation, or remainder.

When I “messed up” (frequently), THIS was the only issue that mattered. If I had not violated conscience, then the issue was one only of “education”, and he would teach me. Sit down, go through Scripture, show me where Jesus handled a parallel situation in a way differently than I did, send me off to pray and ponder, and then affirm transformation once God had renewed. Simple, gentle, painless…actually I found that process rather fun! Certainly it was exciting!

BUT, if I had done what I did in violation of conscience, that was an entirely different matter. Something of my heart was resistant to God and grace, and there was rebuke leading to conviction, contrition, and repentance. Equally, this was always simple and gentle… but never painless. There was always that “remorse” thing. This happened exceedingly seldom, for I truly serve (and served) out of love, not fear, and sought to be pleasing to God almost always, no matter how clumsy the effort.

But Now we return you to your regularly scheduled story…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anyway, the week after this conversation with my “Uncle in Christ Elder Deacon”, I was invited to a birthday party for one of the folks I minister to. It was in the afternoon, I walked to the house, people gathered… and “stuff” started. Music was loud, people paired off in couples in corners, and “uncomfortable stuff” started happening.

Now, people “knew me”… Knew who I was… Knew I was the Assistant Chaplain at the workplace we labored and lived… so they tried to be “discreet”. But, it was a really small apartment, without a lot of room for “discretion”. And then “more stuff” started happening, and people began following one another, in quick succession, into and out of the bathroom.

This was a major metropolitan area, very urban, and not in the best part of town, and lots of this “stuff” started making me twitch vastly beyond discomfort. I had to go! I had to leave! I had to get out and go home! This was wrong, this was sin, and it was all around me! I needed to DO something! I needed to SAY something! I needed to ACT!

And God said… “No.”

WHAT? I had to FIX this!

And, in His calmest, clearest voice, God said, “No. You need to simply sit still and let people be people around you, while you be you in their midst. You don’t know it, but you’re making a difference, and you simply need to keep Me there, this way, and sit still.”

Long story short (or at least short-ER), Gentle Reader. When “stuff” started happening right in front of me, at the coffee table, I… had had… enough… of THIS! God would not give me leave to speak or to act, so I would simply LEAVE. I’d been there long enough, it wouldn’t be impolite… I needed to go!

God repeated, “No, sit still…”

But I didn’t. I arose, said my goodbyes to my host, got to the front door.

As my hand touched the door handle, God was intense, clear, unmistakeable, saying… “NO! Do NOT leave yet! Go back and sit DOWN!”

And I shook my head. This made no sense. I could not fellowship here, I could not minister here, so I didn’t need to be here. God was clear, my conscience had clear awareness that this was defiance, but my pulse was racing so… my fear was so great…. I’d like to say I was simply overwhelmed, but that would not be true. I was not overwhelmed. I was in charge of the hand that turned the nob and closed the door, and of the feet that carried me hurredly down the block.

All the way down that sidewalk, my spirit protested, “Stop! Go back! You’re NOT supposed to leave yet!” But I studiously ignored and defied it, until it stopped when I reached the next corner and crossed the street. I paused, considered, breathed, prayed… and repented, saying, “Shall I go back?”

In a somewhat sad voice, God said, “No, the moment has passed. It is over now, I only needed you there those few more minutes. You’re done.”

And I felt the crash of conviction and remorse. I can’t explain it, I won’t try to describe it. You’ve either been there or you haven’t. I was WRONG. I trusted my own judgment rather than God’s direction, and a moment of grace had slipped through my fingers, with fruit that would never come to be.

I apologized to God, asked His forgiveness and He gave it. But, He said, this had been straight up defiance, and I did not know or understand fully where my error was. I knew WHAT I’d done wrong, but not WHY. This would be opened the next day, to The Pastor. And so it was…

So, I went home, wrote this up for the following day of “Supervision Study” (we did about an hour of that one-on-one each weekday… (*imagine that, if you can, Ministry Brethren! That’s what God had of us, and it grew us both, but 5 hours a week of “ministry tutoring”… tremendous gift of grace!*)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anyway, looking at this word count, I am going to stop here, ask you to imagine how you would deal with your own intern disclosing such an “adventure”… and pick this up in a Part II. I suspect the results will surprise you a bit.

Lol.. I don’t do “Cliffhangers” as a rule, but this story has to be split!

Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader. From your Oh-So-Frail-But-Blessed… Little Monk

 
 

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Order from Chaos

Rofl… Confession: I’ve been accused in my life, of “Spiritual Hyperactivity Disorder”, and I don’t deny it at all. But I have to love a God who can not only “keep up with it”, but is always ahead of me! Another commentator’s blog post, “Getting Started” by Don Merritt, used a marvelous illustration of the coming year as a “blank canvas”, upon which God allows us to paint our coming year. Looking at this post again, and the comments made about his “canvas” illustration, I was flashed back to a memory from my extremely young childhood…

Before I could write or draw or even color, I used to love playing a game with my father.

I would get a pencil or pen and a clean sheet of paper… and I would scribble. Just those large loops, and little squiggles that small children make when faced with a clean surface and a writing implement. I would then run my masterpiece to my father, crying… “Look what I drew, Daddy!”

He would take the work, examine it carefully, and “edit” it… filling in some of the “mosaic tiles” that result from random scribbles, shading others, reinforcing some lines… and he would make an actual “Picture” out of it… A dog, a house, a plane, a tree, a fish, or an entire scene. It was like magic. (He was a scary-smart guy, and it had to do with how his brain worked that he could ALWAYS see patterns in what appeared utterly random!)

But to my little ham-fisted self of the time, I could just go “Wow!” as I watched him bring forth order from my personal chaos.

When he was done, he’d always just hand the picture back to me, saying, “You drew that. You just didn’t see it yet. You’ll learn, though. All you have to do is see it. And until you do, I can help. Well done, Little Monk.”

I think God’s still doing that with me… maybe with all of us?

Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader!

 
5 Comments

Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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