18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 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. 7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] 12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” [Matthew 18]
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This morning I listened to a wonderful sermon on this passage. The very gifted preacher is a terrific man, husband, father, son, neighbor, servant, and teacher. His sermon “grew me”, “fed me”, “enriched me”. What’s more, like almost everything True that rings of God in my heart and spirit, this sermon prompted “further echoes” and harmonics, as God carried on with grace beyond the words. And I’d like to put some of that extension down here.
That pastor’s message centered on godly parenting. Their church is going through a time of examination and renewal on Christian families, and raising blessed children. This morning’s message looked at some of the duties of parents towards their children in and through Jesus’ word(s) in the passage above.
The Three Points of the Sermon were:
- Parents need to provide “humility” for their children
- Parents need to provide “protection” for their children
- Parents need to provide “stability in relationship with God” for their children.
THERE, is that gifted man’s Rose for today. He embraced it, highlighted it, shared it with his congregation. That is WONDERFUL. That is TRUE. That is TRUTH and straight from the heart of scripture and Jesus’ words and heart. I want to be very clear here about all of that. Those of you who follow this blog very much, understand what I mean about the Lord giving each of us our own Rose, our own view of Him, truth, grace, in the garden of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. Each of us see our own Rose, and can describe the experience of that to others, so that they may enter into their own gardens and look upon their own Rose.
The spotlight this gifted pastor threw onto these reflections, prompted me to look upon my own walk in parenting and reflections on these points and insights. My Rose included his petals… our spotlights twinkled in much the same way. My reflections though, included an additional point I would like to share here. And it is important to me that you, Gentle Reader, not see this as “critique” by any means. Especially if you are a casual, or unaccustomed reader of this blog. I’m going to say something here that is a bit different, a bit additional, to that wonderful sermon… and it is, indeed, intended only as “enhancement”, not “correction”… which would be very out of order for me. OK? Fine then. Here we go.
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The pastor read the text (cited and printed above), and began his exposition saying…
“The first thing we need to do for our children, the first gift we need to provide for them, is ‘humility’.”
The pastor pointed out, correctly and accurately, that the first words of Jesus here show the need for the disciples to humble themselves like the child, and that the child must begin from a posture of humility. He then went on to comment on our culture, and the pitfalls of raising youth with the all-too-common sense of entitlement and immunity from correction, accountability, or criticism that we see far too often in these days. It was a well made, well thought out, point.
The pastor spoke of the experience that he and his wife had bringing their children home from the hospital when they were born… that sense of responsibility for another human life… and the overwhelming sense of need of God’s grace and guidance in such an awesome endeavor. As he spoke so movingly, so deeply and sincerely, about his experience in those moments… it threw me back to those parallel moments in my own life and heart, 28 or so years ago…
(* Insert Flashback Here *) My beloved and I stood hand in hand, staring at our three day old daughter sleeping in her infant bed. Wordless… just staring… pulses racing… as the same realization hit us both at the same moment… Conversation (sort of), starts…
“Little Monk? We don’t know what we’re doing…”
“She’s a person! I mean, a real live human being!”
“God has given her to US! I mean, we are supposed to RAISE her. We are her PARENTS! As if we knew what we were doing…”
“Little Monk? How are we supposed to DO that? I mean, God is trusting us with this whole… this… this real… this BABY! This HUMAN! This PERSON! What do we DO? How do we DO this? I mean, we’re gonna mess this UP! Is God crazy? How could He trust us with something so precious as… HER?”
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Don’t know if you’ve been there, Gentle Reader. In that you’re reading this at all… if you are a parent… you probably remember a moment or two like this. God led us, in the next few hours after that, in some serious “together time” with Him, that I’ll not try to recount, but just summarize here:
- God had entrusted to us as parents, a sacred child of His… wrapped in His love, whose angel stood ever before His face, having fashioned her down to the smallest atom of her being in His mind and heart. He was TRUSTING us, to “foster” her, to “care for” her, as “stewards” for her life… until she stood on her own before Him.
- We realized… ACCURATELY… that we, of ourselves, were not up to the task, and hadn’t the slightest clue how to do this.
- We, in this moment of her brand new life, stood in the “shoes of God” for her. Her very survival depended on our care. WE at the moment, represented GOD in her world. Over time, as she grew, as she formed relationships, ideas, thoughts, awareness, our “godhead” would diminish, and her “hand would transfer” across 18 or so years, as we diminished to “merely human” in stature, and God took over His own identity in and to her.
- In that… in that period of our “Temporary God Permit” of 18 or so years, WE were responsible for laying down the template, the relationships, the principles, of Truth, Love, Trust, Provision, Authority, Protection… that would pave the way for God to fill those channels with His Own Being in her adult life. Right now, at her birth, our “Divinity” (in her consciousness, her universe) was “total”, nearly “absolute”. At 18, it would be utterly gone. Life from now til then, would be a progress of ours diminishing, as His directly increased as His own relationship in her.
When we saw this, as we prayed and pondered through this, when we fully grasped this and its gravity… we were utterly terrified. We both counseled. Both of us were already painfully aware of the devastation in the lives of sacred people, of parenting that maimed and twisted the souls of children. Both from our own lives and from our work, the prospects of “error” here, terrified us.
In the face of that terror, God led us to:
- Humbly embrace this realization, that she was a “temporary trust in His Name”, and that of ourselves we didn’t know how to do this.
- Trust Him in faith, that if we would rely on Him and His Spirit and Word(s) for guidance, He would bless this and bring forth the fruit He intended.
- Understand, that this is and has ever been His design for family, and that it was the journey together that bore the fruit, not just the arrival at the destination of her adulthood.
- Realize, with great gratitude, that as long as we truly sought her good in Him, He could and would, “redeem and indemnify” even our frailties and errors… bringing about blessing to her and to us, even if in the limitations of our finite wisdom, we were “incorrect” in one call or another. (In other words, we did not have to “get it all perfect”, in order for Him to bless us and her as if we had.)
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Now, all that may seem like a roundabout way to get to what is a fairly simple and straightforward point, but I wanted you to get the context here, because this point is critical…
My colleague, the pastor there this morning, began his parenting observations from the point of Jesus spoken words… at verse 3. That’s fine, that’s well and good, that’s where his Rose petals led him.
But when we, 28 years ago, prayed SPECIFICALLY before God as to “what does our child need, First and Foremost from us!?” God was extremely clear and detailed. The pastor this morning started with verse 3, saying “children need us to give them humility”. The Lord, with us so long ago, started with verse 2 (a petal earlier on the Rose), saying, “More than anything else, Little Monk, I need you to teach her to TRUST YOU, that she learn she can trust ME.”
Look at verse 2 there for a moment.
“And He called a child to Himself and set him before them..”
This is “scripturally unusual”. Jesus seldom EVER “makes a display of others”. PEOPLE tried to do it a time or two, and Jesus does not approve. In Mark 8:22-26, some villagers grabbed a blind man because they wanted to see Jesus do a miracle. The villagers wanted a “show”. Jesus takes the man away, heals him in private (with some difficulty) and tells him to go home without even passing back THROUGH the village. People tear off roofs to get to Jesus, they reach out through crowds to touch His garments, they get friends to carry them there, they climb trees to see Him. All this! But how often do we see Jesus call someone to Him, simply to display them? This may be the only time.
So… put yourself there for a moment. There’s Jesus. There’s the Disciples. There’s a crowd. The Disciples ask their question, “Who’s greatest?” The crowd leans closer to hear this answer. After all… who WOULDN’T want to hear this answer? Now, there’s this little kid there. (Ever notice how often there’s a “little kid there” for Jesus? Anyway…) here’s this little kid. Are his parents there? Dunno. Has he ever seen Jesus before? Dunno. Do his parents believe? Dunno. Is he “friends with Jesus?” do they have some prior relationship we know nothing about? Dunno. Jesus and scripture make no reference to any of that, so let’s use “conservative interpretation” and not assume anything not there. No crutches, eh?
Now, it’s one thing for Jesus to say to a grown man, “Follow Me!” and be followed. But imagine being a little kid, in a crowd of gawkers, with Peter and all the rest of the guys hanging on His every word there, and seeing Jesus… “beckon you”… call you out from the crowd to go stand by Him, after someone has just asked a question like THAT, and the whole crowd hushes to lean in like someone just said, “E. F. Hutton says…”
What would that be like? Would you go? Would I? Would we walk away from our parents, our chores, our lunch, the safety of the crowd, to go stand in THAT spotlight? Wouldja? Would *I*? I dunno.
Well, that little kid did.
(I’d love to know what that child turned into as an adult. I intend to see, when I get to heaven. One of those “To Do” list elements I have… lol.. my “Beyond the Bucket List”.)
That boy trusted Jesus, and fearlessly came when Jesus called.
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And THAT is what Jesus said was the FIRST thing, the MOST IMPORTANT thing for us to teach our daughter.
We were to teach her to TRUST us, so that, in time, she could TRUST HIM.
Jesus was extremely clear and specific as to how to do this, and without much discussion, I’ll set some of His rules to us on that here:
- Trust to His Provision – we were to “meet her needs… always… immediately”. He asked that we trust HIM on this, but that (contrary to LOTS of advice we were given), we were to understand that the only means an infant has initially, to express a need, is to cry. Children do not cry for “no reason”, they NEED something, but unfortunately, they cannot tell us what that is, yet. Jesus challenged us, when we heard her cry, to GET TO HER, and comfort her by touch and voice, assuring her of our presence and our love… IMMEDIATELY, OR WITHIN 60 SECONDS. He assured us, this would bear delightful fruit. (And, of course, He was right. From 6 months old on, we could stop our child from crying with our voices alone… even if we were unavoidably delayed in getting to her directly. She LEARNED, she KNEW, she could trust that we would address her needs once she let us know she had one, and could trust that we would not ignore her or her suffering.)
- We were never ever to lie to her, deceive her. Always be honest. Now, subject to “age appropriate context”, and with due regard for “privacy” or “what we may choose not to answer or discuss”. “Honesty” is not the same as a “Top Secret Clearance Pass”, or total access to all information.
- We were never EVER… to Call Her to Us… and then Hurt Her. Not physically, emotionally, or spiritually. There are times in parenting, where one inflicts “hurt” in any of those areas. But, in such moments… WE were to approach HER. Never were we to call her to us, say or imply “Trust Me”, and then betray that trust with pain. If she was in trouble, she would know it, be sent off for “cool down” (both us and her) and THEN we would meet as we went to her, not the reverse.
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It is this last rule… the “Call to Trust”… that is the “Petal for Today”. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a mentor, a friend… should you be called to “speak forth in His Name” in whatever role you play at that moment… ask Him if this is a principle He writes in your life and spirit. If so, grace to thee… if not, just cast this aside.
But the single greatest challenge I know in this broken fallen world… (Redeemed already by the Cross… yes… but not yet aware of that Redemption… yet “groans and suffers” for ITS adoption as Paul says (Romans 8:21-23))… The hardest hurdle to surmount for broken children to grasp the rescue and healing of Jesus… is MISTRUST of Him. Fear of Him. Fear that to touch Him will hurt, will bring pain, will bring punishment!
Such heartbreak for Him!! Who can imagine its magnitude!
How wondrous is it for Him, on the other hand, simply to BECKON a child… and have them joyously trust Him and come to His call?
Original sin did not leave us with a trusting nature. Eve did not trust God. That is buried DEEP within our hearts. Parents, pastors, teachers, mentors, friends… WE are the key in healing this “congenital defect” we have inherited in our DNA from Adam and Eve.
Give children humility? Yes! (Most effectively by EXERCISING it… especially TOWARDS them! But that’s for a different post.)
Give children protection? Yes! Stand in the gap for them. Let them know always that you are there to preserve them from harm, even when they are sure you are wrong.
Give children the gift of relationship with God? Yes! Be the exemplar of a Child of God, before the Father, alongside the Firstborn! By all means!
And see that ALL of this rests on a necessary foundation. FIRST there must be “Trust”. Teach that you can be TRUSTED, and that God can as well. Without knowing that your children can trust you… they will not learn “humility”, or “safety”, or “godliness” from you. For they will always reserve something behind a wall of their heart, waiting for “the other shoe to drop”… waiting for the “inevitable betrayal”.
Trust is the hardest thing. And, once attained, it is the most precious thing we could ever have!
Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader. Trust Him! He is Safe! Honest!