Thinking It’s Up to You: Another Wave We Mustn’t Look At

christ_walking_on_the_waters2c_julius_sergius_von_kleverThe lesson of Matthew 14:22-33 should be rote for us by now. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, gets out of the boat, and walks out to meet him – until he starts paying more attention to the waves instead of Jesus. That’s when he starts to sink.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, the lesson teaches us (echoed by Hebrews 12:1), and not on the wind and waves of your circumstances.

Great lesson.

Unfortunately, we’re all still rather bad at it.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s because we don’t realize all the many forms that “looking at the waves” can take.

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Getting Safe with God

father-and-child-walking-at-sunsetI hate the title of this post. It feels like the weakest, least eye-catching title for one of the most important things I could possibly learn about God.

This week, our church hosted a seminar by a social worker discussing how to reach “difficult kids”. Youth leaders were amongst those encouraged to attend, so I went. The speaker had a winning, wonderfully self-deprecating way of presenting these oh-but-of-course truths about why kids pull away, why they shut down, why they act out against even the people who love them the most and are trying to help them. Her insights were sobering. Oh, the damage that abuse and neglect can wreak upon the human body and soul. I never experienced either, but by the end of the seminar, I still felt like needed a therapist.

One of the recurring motifs of the evening was safety. This you probably all know: that in order to reach a child, they need to be placed in a physically and emotionally safe environment where trust can be built, and that can take years. Only then, once they’re convinced that they’re safe, will you finally meet the young person deep inside.

Common enough advice.

But it wasn’t until my prayer time that night that I realized something truly devastating.

I don’t feel safe around God.

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We Might Have Missed Something in “Faith Like a Child”

father-and-child-walking-at-sunsetFor as long as I remember, I’ve heard that my faith should be like a child’s. That 1) it should be “trusting” and “unpretentious” (pulling from my study Bible here), not tarnished by life’s disappointments, and that 2) it’s a good verse to apply to the life challenges we bring to God’s feet.

But imagine my surprise when I looked up “faith like a child” in Scripture recently and couldn’t find it. That phrase doesn’t exist in the Bible, at least not in that form.

And when I examined the passages from whence it supposedly springs, I found a different lesson – different enough, at least, that I’d never heard it.

Jesus called a little child to stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4)

I’m betting that if a million bucks were on the line and we were asked exactly where we derive “faith like a child” from, this is one passage that would spring to mind.

But faith isn’t mentioned there.

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:4)

It’s humility that Jesus is putting at the forefront here.

At first I thought, well, there’s plenty of interweave between faith and humility. “Trusting” and “unpretentious” require humility. But step back three verses and it gets deeper:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1)

Realizing that the backdrop of this passage is one of the disciples’ infamous superiority squabbles (Luke indicates there were at least two) changes the game for me. It really does seem to be about humility now, specifically.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but when I think of children, I think of a lot of things, but humble isn’t one of them. Here’s one Bible blurb offering the typical lesson on the supposed meekness of children: “A young child is destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness and is therefore a good example for us.” And I’m like, since when???! Has this guy been in a classroom? “Children are characteristically humble and teachable. They aren’t prone to pride or hypocrisy.” Oh, come on. Some kids are bullies. Raucous, boastful, stubborn, volatile. And notorious for having their own double standards go shooting as far over their heads as the International Space Station.

But some children can be absolute angels. The one Jesus was showing off obviously must have fallen into that meeker category.

(Meeker, meeker, meeker. That’s fun to say. And now it’s in your head.)

I was also reminded of something in another passage from which people might get “faith like a child”:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:13-15)

Here, the disciples rebuked parents who brought their children to Jesus.

Where else did people set themselves up as Jesus’ gatekeepers, start screening his visitors? Earlier in this very chapter, the crowds tried to keep blind, begging Bartimaeus from getting time with Jesus; same with the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15, an outsider to Israel. Both were considered undesirables. The Pharisees, of course, thought a prophet was above eating with sinners (and therefore labeled Jesus, who did so, a fraud).

So why did the disciples treat the parents of the children the same way?

One possibility is something I did find (here’s one example) in my research: that children were not quite admired in ancient Israel as they are here and now. Outside their own families, Jewish children were seen as something closer to burdens, and not particularly virtuous (e.g. Prov. 22:15, 29:15), without the veneer of rosy innocence our modern society gives them. The Romans even had a practice of leaving sickly children on the roadside to die! While the Jews weren’t that bad, those disciples probably saw children in the same light as they did the blind men – beneath Jesus’ attention. A conquering king, in their minds, did not stop to kiss babies.

Jesus obviously doesn’t share their view; he shares his kingdom. He welcomes those who humbly confess their lower station. Jesus is telling his disciples that if they want the kingdom, they must become like those they look down upon.

That, after all, is his refrain every other time the disciples start jockeying for position in his kingdom:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48-49)

It’s not that “faith like a child” for our everyday lives is a falsehood. It’s just that we have to go to other verses for that (Luke 12 is great). Context matters, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard Matthew 18:2-4 taught with the humility element. It’s a great treasure to uncover, because it teaches those who are children in their own eyes are heirs to a kingdom. “Do not hinder them!” Jesus fiercely orders to anyone who would bar the humble from coming close.

Unhindered.

For this child, it just became Christmas.

 

 

If you know someone who might be blessed by this post, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

Just Drop the Pen

penEver had one of those moments when you’re sitting on something you think someone needs to hear, and finally you say it – and it isn’t until the moment it escapes your lips that you realize how needless and stupid it was all along?

Yeah. That’s probably happened to me more times than I can remember. I’ll think someone needs to hear something, and it will inevitably turn out that I had neither the timing nor the right information, and my comment comes off as flippant and insensitive.

I apologize, ask for forgiveness, turn to God as best I could. And God usually comes through in my relationships.

But you know what? That’s not enough. I don’t want this sort of thing to happen anymore. At all.

So I asked myself, where did that come from? What well of muck deep in my soul even spews forth such things?

The answer came from God via a friend who was examining her own heart: a “critical spirit”.

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The Sin of Deflection

deflectionAnother year, another incorrect prediction of the world’s end.

I often wondered how these predictors interpret their constant misses, until I went on the internet and saw for myself.

They deflect.

Instead of acknowledging their error and apologizing to those they mislead, a lot of these people simply hide behind the sins (or perceived sins) of others. They accuse you of unbelief. They speak of the “mockers” and “scoffers” outside the kingdom who will get their “just reward” when Christ returns. As if any of this somehow ameliorates their own false prophecies. Deflecting.

A coworker responds to correction by pointing out how awful X and Y are at their jobs, and thus how unfair the criticism is. Deflecting.

Teachers spreading poor doctrine complain of being attacked. Deflecting.

Political candidates play down their own flaws and talk about those of their opponent. Deflecting.

And I?

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Wait Gracefully

horse“Wait gracefully”.

This truth bomb was dropped on my head by Sarah over at Love/Power/Strength in response to a discussion here on my blog, and my ears are still ringing from the impact.

It’s just such a deceptively great phrase! And it applies regardless of what you’re waiting for.

Because there’s so many directions you can take the idea of “graceful”, at least in my mind. And because there’s an alternative: to wait gracelessly. I’ve done my share of that.

What could “wait gracefully” mean?

 

1. Graceful appearance

The outward appearance of our lives can be staggered, jerky, tumultuous and ungainly, or it can be smooth, tranquil, flowing, and confident – pleasing to the eye.

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The Second List Singles Should Make

listIf you’re single, you’ve probably been advised at some point to make a “list” of qualities you want in a spouse.

If you’re a Christian single, you’ve probably gotten this advice even more often, given that we Christians have added spiritual criteria to consider (must be in the Word, must be committed to church, etc.).

Lists are fun to make; they make that future feel right around the corner. And they’re valuable, with caveats. Having to sit down and ponder what really matters in a partner, what would best fit our soul and personality, and how God might want to sanctify our list – all good stuff.

But there was a pastor I once followed for about a year whose congregation consisted of singles of varying ages, and he suggested this:

Make a second list – of things you can live without.

Like, actually sit down and write that second list with the same pencil and paper.

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