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!

 

It’s About the Destination, Not the Journey

journeyIt’s one of those little fluffy kerfluffles of human philosophy, one that at least has the honesty to face the reality of we’re not home yet and try to make peace with it.

“Maybe it’s about the journey, not the destination”.

I say bogus.

I say the Christian life is about the destination.

(WARNING: Scripture ahead. I know some of you experience an instinct to kinda “check out” and skip Scripture because it’s too dense, too preposition-heavy, too hard to understand, it’s something you just plain don’t like, etc. DON’T. If you’ve honored me by clicking on this post, I urge you to fight that instinct. Read through the Scriptures. There are treasures waiting.)

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The 3 Lies Our Media Tells About Evil

rainI’m almost sick to my stomach right now.

Not from an illness, unless you count human depravity an illness.

No, I’m sick from seeing evil.

For some reason, the evil in this world has really decided to wave itself in my face the last couple days. I just got done telling our students in youth group how their generation was having a harder time escaping anxiety and finding peace than any in human history, and that part of the reason was how easily their Facebook news feeds bring evil right to their eyes. It seems that evil was all too eager to prove my own words to me.

Every evil from apathy to foolishness to desperation to sadism. Everywhere on the spectrum.

The cyclist who runs a red light on his bike, across a corner he can’t see around, and then stops to pick a fight with the motorist who calls him out.

The creep who prowls online dating sites looking for someone to scam out of their entire savings, leaving them to pick up the pieces.

The drunk who gets behind the wheel and barrels down Main Street with no thought to what lives and families he might shatter.

The company who afflicts their workers with terminal disease because they’re too cheap to offer occupational safety.

The mother and boyfriend who torture and kill their child.

The pimps who traffic girls of as young as three months old – yes, months – in the sex trade.

It can get really discouraging really quickly.

And on top of that, we have to deal with three very subtle, almost subconscious lies being told by our media and entertainment industries on the nature of evil.

1. It’s winning.

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4 Ways to Glorify God in a Dead End Job

fryerAs long as the lost are working in dead-end jobs, God will be sending his people there.

That should be encouragement – and an alarm bell – for those of us who think that God’s “callings” end in cushy white-collar jobs, or even in sweltering, malnourished foreign nations. You want to get out of your comfort zone? Some of us are far more bugged working the Taco Bell drive-thru than building houses in Mexico. At least Mexico feels like a mission. Service-sector jobs feel like a waiting room at best. Leftovers. And for those who somehow keep circling back around to the same jobs, they can start to feel ominously like destiny. Like the best it’ll ever get.

The glorious reality is that they’re an opportunity. Fertile ground for the gospel of Jesus.

Dead-end jobs are stacked with struggling souls. Some of God’s most inspired evangelists are needed in dead-end jobs. The debt-wracked, the terminally ill, the criminally marred, the addicted, the newly divorced, the ostracized…there are booming, famous preachers who couldn’t begin to understand this stuff. They make their money at a safe distance from the streets. But you’re a different story. You could reach where they couldn’t dream of reaching – and don’t really want to.

Here are four things that a Christian can do to bring the light, and please, don’t let me overstate my own success in these areas. I’m still learning.

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Never Assume

When I read that Robin Williams had died of suicide, a thought went through my mind that is probably shared by many.

“I had no idea”.

Perhaps at some point I’d fleetingly read that Williams was in rehab from substance abuse, but I had no idea that his addictions were an attempt to fight off depression.

I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest people-reader, and 99% of what I saw of Williams was a performance of some kind. But I have trouble connecting the manic, happy-at-all-the-wrong-times boom of “Aladdin”‘s Genie to a depressed soul. The man’s calling was to cheer people up. He was so gifted at it. He had so much admiration from people. It was hard to guess what was under the surface the whole time, that the great well of humor and compassion from which he enriched others belied a different internal reality. I so wish I’d known him; I wish I’d had a chance to build him up.

It’s a reminder to me that we must never assume.

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Nine Prophecies in Two Chapters

starI read Matthew’s Christmas story last night. It took no less than two chapters to blow me away.

Reading God’s word is never a chore, for we always uncover something fresh and unexpected. This time, for me, it was the sheer number of prophecies being fulfilled about Jesus before he could even walk. You can’t swing a dead cat in Matthew 2 without hitting a prophecy. These events were seemingly random, sometimes tragic, and it’s difficult to imagine that the prophets who described them even understood how they would unfold. In just the first two chapters, there are a whopping nine prophecies fulfilled, making the likelihood of fulfillment almost astronomical without even accounting for prophecies in other books.

Let’s get into it.

 

#1: The virgin birth fulfilling Isaiah 7:14

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (1:20-23)

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