Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Faith Like a Child (Part 6)

Continuing with Matthew 18:1-6, now we arrive at one of the most intense teachings concerning children and faith. Jesus deals directly with the great responsibility we have when it comes to guiding children. He doesn't play word games or speak in abstract terms. He is as clear and to the point as anytime in his whole ministry. He says, "It is better to be drowned than to lead a child astray!"

I have watched a video about this teaching that was filmed in the Holy Land. The presenter showed a "large millstone" like what Jesus is referring to in this verse with a sea in the background. He demonstrated how vivid this warning would have been for the people listening to Jesus. It left quite an impression on me.

In context, this passage leads into some more verses explaining the devastating dangers of sin and how it is to be avoided at all costs. There is nothing light about this passage no matter which Gospel you take it from. And clearly, Jesus seems to be just fine with letting the immensity of it lay heavy on our minds and hearts. In sum, Jesus argues that the children are the greatest in the kingdom and becoming like them is really good, and causing them to go away from God is really, really, really, really, really BAD!!!

So, that leaves us with the responsibility of evaluating our own beliefs. What are we passing on to the next generation? How are we shaping their belief systems? What are we communicating about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Are we interfering with God's will or contradicting God's word? Are we passing on the gospel of peace or our own tradition? Are we handing children and youth a vibrant faith that accompanies true discipleship, or are we programming their lives with the religion of Pharisees? How honestly and willingly are we analyzing these issues?

If nothing else, we are at least left with a sense of burden from these verses.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Faith Like a Child (Part 5)

Before reading my thoughts today, you should check out Matthew 18:1-6.  Here we reach another popular, often quoted passage of Scripture. I only want to look at the first part now and save the last part of it for the next post.

A couple observations. First, this is one of the places the Bible records that people are to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Interestingly, for as much as we talk about maturity in the church, there is no verse instructing children to become like adults, but Jesus explicitly says that entrance into the kingdom is dependent upon adults changing and becoming like little children. Now, I do believe we need to talk about spiritual maturity and growth in the church (more precisely, as the church) because I think there is plenty of biblical warrant for that, but let's not dismiss the profundity of Jesus' statement in this text.

I believe the issue here is what kingdom we are focused on. I submit that much of our rhetoric may be about getting children ready for the world. There is tremendous attention given to making them "better disciples" by being more responsible. Questions usually asked are: How can we help them do better at school? How do we get them to behave more appropriately in society? How do we teach them the importance of going to college, getting a good (aka. high paying) job, pick the best marital partner, raise a family, etc.? Obviously, there are necessary aspects to all these questions that I don't mean to diminish. However, my concern is that we could have become too preoccupied with the kingdom of the world...maybe we are too focused on "earthly things" at the expense of setting our "minds on things above." The truth is that we are "aliens", foreigners in this world, and that children are the best human representatives of the kingdom that we should be more concerned about.

What I need to be reminded of is that our identity as the church is in the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. It is this reality that flips our understandings and priorities completely. Suddenly, our emphasis is on how to become not the first, but the last; not how to gain status and income to be served, but to serve; and NOT how to raise children up, but how to bring adults down. In other words, the kingdom in which Jesus reigns as King has an interesting admission requirement. It is not about how we have raised children into better grown-ups, but it is how we have raised grown-ups into better children! After all, the kingdom belongs to the children. I mean, think about that truth for a moment. Do we really believe that? In all other arenas of life, if we totally believed that something we wanted belonged to someone else, then I bet we would go to that person or group to find out more. So, if we really care about the kingdom of heaven, then doesn't it make sense that we might want to spend some time with the very people it belongs to - the children themselves!

My second observation is simple and from the mouth of Jesus:  greatness is associated with the humility of children.