Children’s Hour

Kids are cute? Who says? Kids cry. They argue and fuss and fume. Kids are often dirty, often impatient, often demanding. Honestly, the only thing worse than kids is the adults they grow into!

A church that I attended early in my adult life, during years that I had small children at home, used to have that “kids are cute” mentality etched onto their brains. Mostly this attitude was maintained by grandparents and other people who didn’t have kids at home. These people didn’t attempt to teach kids in Sunday School, they didn’t sit with kids during service, and they didn’t struggle to coax cooperation out of kids 168 hours during the week. Those people would smile and parrot back a particular teaching of Jesus without giving much thought to the paradoxical nature of it.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child and had him stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.–Matthew 18:1-4

I can remember people from the “Kids are Cute” Church stroking their chins and affecting a look of profound wisdom. “And why are children great in the kingdom of heaven?” they would ask. They’d pause for effect. “Because children are humble.” Then they’d look at you as if they’d just imparted the most amazing truth. Never mind that the idea of humility is right there in the passage.

The people at that long-ago church were nice enough, but they were a little too enamored of their own learning. They knew better than all these foolish teachings of the old fashioned Christianity. They tended toward the “Serene Jones” view of the gospel. And that fact gets me to my takeaway for this teaching on the kingdom of heaven.

  • The kingdom does require humility and a childlike level of dependance. Just as a child would have a very difficult time surviving without adult help, the child of the kingdom cannot hope to survive with God’s provision.
  • The kingdom, on the other hand, does not require a great deal of knowledge.

As a person with many years of education, with a number of letters stringing off behind my name, I’m eager to believe that you really have to know a lot to enter the kingdom. But if a child can do it, then the knowledge must not be the key. Children know very little. They can’t read. They can’t explain the difference between free will and predestination. They certainly cannot intelligently discuss the concept of penal substitution.

Yet there they are in the front row of the kingdom.

When we seek the kingdom, we are not primarily seeking knowledge. Knowledge is good, and Jesus never suggests that His followers remain as unknowledgeable as those children. You can learn a great deal, but when your learning causes you to move out of childlike dependance on God, you’ll be drawn to that former church of mine.

Chicken or Egg?

I’m inventing a new word: sci-spaining. Just as man-splaining is the tedious explanation that women supposedly get when asking men certain questions, sci-splaining is the sort of condescending answer from self-proclaimed science experts. Google “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” and you’ll be treated to some very self-important sci-splaining. Think of it as WWDS: What would Dwight say?

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Without getting into a whole evolution/creation thing here, I’m going to insist that the sci-splaining answer to the question is not particularly satisfying. Anybody who has ever raised chickens knows that the sort of chickens that people raise today are not the precise varieties that might have gone on the S.S. Ark with Noah. The question might be “Which came first, the Rhode Island Red or the Rhode Island Red egg?” The answer is that the egg existed before the chicken variety.

If Dwight is correct and birds evolved from dinosaurs, then the question could be, “Which came first, the T-Rex or the T-Rex egg?” Ultimately, we need to regress back to the ultimate question:

Which came first, the first egg-born and egg-laying creature or the first egg?

That’s not quite as elegant a question as the one with the chicken, but it creates the same sort of logical bind. How did some creature way back in the murky depths of unrecorded ages gone by transition from “doesn’t lay eggs” to “does lay eggs”?

Did it happen in a single generation? My limited scientific mind would assume that it absolutely must make that transition in a single generation. After all, it wouldn’t do for a partially evolved egg to emerge in generation 1 since generation 2 would never get the chance to continue the work.

I had intended to take this post in a different direction, but once I encountered the sci-splaining, I had to follow this path. The sci-splainers sometimes have a lot of letters after their names. They tell us that there is an infinite number of parallel universes or that our minds are strictly materialistic, chemical operations. They have learned a good bit within their field of study, but then they assume they know everything about everything.

Frankly, I have no idea of whether the chicken or the egg came first, and I’m not at all ashamed to confess that. What I do know is what Psalm 104:5-6 tells me about what brought about that chicken and that egg:

He established the earth on its foundations;
it will never be shaken.
You covered it with the deep
as if it were a garment;
the water stood above the mountains.

Granted there’s no poultry in that verse, but the implication is clear.

Which came first–before the chicken, before the egg? It was God. That answer doesn’t make the sci-splainers happy, but I can live with that. After all, to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.

Crashing the Helicopter Parents–Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

Do not be overrighteous,

    neither be overwise—
    why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked,
    and do not be a fool—
    why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
    and not let go of the other.
    Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
—Ecclesiastes 7:16-18
Bubble wrap parent
The most careful parent on the planet hovers over the child like a helicopter, spawning the term “helicopter parent.” This parent invests in every piece of protective gear for junior, effectively wrapping her in bubble wrap for every activity. This parent carefully rations the child’s television usage and ensures that the little one does not sit too close to any device that might emit harmful and as-yet-unidentified radiation. Don’t even ask about vaccination, because this parent won’t take any chances, lest an MMR booster kick junior over into the autism spectrum. Smoke alarm batteries are changed religiously when daylight savings time begins, and background checks run on each and every adult who crosses junior’s path. This is a careful parent.
How surprising then when that child became the victim of a freak, unpredictable accident.
When Solomon speaks of someone being “overrighteous” or “overwise,” I think he might be speaking of the helicopter parent. The overrighteous person is obsessed with doing the right thing in absolutely every situation. The overwise person thinks things through perhaps a bit too much and believes himself possessed of all the right answers.
Solomon doesn’t suggest ignoring the right thing. He doesn’t think that the helicopter parent ought to land, hand the kids a box of razor blades, and tell them to play on the Interstate. Instead, he’s pointing out the uncertainty of human life and the inability of individuals to control that life.
Happily as stewards of our own bodies and as guardians of the growing bodies of our children, we don’t have to be perfect. We—or our children—can eat a little bit of junk food, engage in a  bit of dangerous play, and expose ourselves to a moderate amount of contagion without utterly ruining our lives.
Both obsession and neglect destroy life, in Solomon’s view. In between those extremes lies a wide swath of acceptable and healthy behavior in which we can be happy and make the best of things.
We’re all going to die, he continues to remind us. We might as well enjoy matters and please God until then.

A Strong Man Enters–Psalm 5:7

But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.–Psalm 5:7

Although I am primarily a runner–and recently a bike rider–I do now and again lift weights. Years ago, when I was in high school, I really got into lifting weights. During my junior year, I quit the wrestling team when faced with the choice between suffering through Thanksgiving break or making weight. I opted for turkey. After that, I started going to the gym each day rather than to wrestling practice, and through months of work, I saw some very good outcomes.

Today, when I’m on the machines at Planet Fitness, I see the weight lifters. They’re in the squat racks performing unusual exercises. They carry clipboards to record their routines. My limited weight lifting is simple enough that I can keep track of my routine in my head.

Weight lifting can be addictive. You get that rush of blood to your muscles without making your lungs and heart feel as if they’re going to explode. Your muscles swell up after the workout so you feel like Arnold, plus, over time, they get bigger. You get stronger. Strong is good.

Strength is good, whether it be how much you can bench press, how fast you can move a bicycle, or how far you can hit a golf ball. It’s good to be strong in front of the buffet or when tempted to squander your money. But as useful as strength is on this earth, it does absolutely zero good when we come before God.

You think you’re strong? God can out lift you, out run you, and out jump you. His self control, His wealth, and His skill can make yours seem puny. Come before Him saying, “I am strong,” and He may very well show you that you are not strong.

In this world, I possess some strength, but only when I come before my God in reverence, only when I bow, can I enter His house. And frankly, if I cannot enter that house, then all the strength in all the other places of this world isn’t worth a five-pound dumbbell.

Don’t be a Frog (Psalm 8:3)

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3)

There’s an old Chinese story about a frog that lived in a shallow well. The frog, who apparently never left the well, considered himself the greatest creature anywhere. After all, he had this great place to live and pretty much had the run of it. Who could want more? A sea-going turtle tried to explain what the frog missed in his well-bound existence, but the frog didn’t appreciate the limits of his existence until a drought dried up his world.

Have you ever been that frog? Have you ever found yourself as the top dog in the pack only to realize you’re surrounded by undernourished chihuahuas? Perhaps you’ve been the best singer in a small church, the top salesman in a country car dealership, or the most valuable player on a minor league baseball team. I’ve seen people get very impressed with themselves regarding a homeowners association or a school board. I’ve listened to academics present mediocre papers on obscure topics, thinking themselves awfully important.

It would be interesting to know when David wrote Psalm 8. Was this before or after Goliath? Before or after Saul’s death?  Before or after Bathsheba? David had good reason to think highly of himself, yet he looked at the sky and realized that his greatness was trivial compared with the God who placed him on earth.

It is tempting for us, in the midst of hundreds of Facebook friends, in a swirl of advertisers all telling us how deserving we are of the finer things, to become the frogs in the well. But step back a bit and we realize that even the most important and powerful people are little more hiccups in the span of history.

If only that Chinese frog had been able to look up and see even a narrow span of stars above his well. Maybe then he would have seen what David saw.

 

To Be Acceptable (Psalm 19:14)

May these words of my mouth
and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

We have come to the end of Psalm 19, time to look back for a moment over the preceding verses and consider what we might learn from them.

At first glance, verse 14 seems to be an add-on, the sort of thing you throw in at the close of prayer when you have no idea of how to get out of the thing gracefully: “And bless all the missionaries. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I’d like to suggest, however, that this isn’t the case with the end of Psalm 19.

Let’s remember that the Psalm began with the image of the largest, the most distant element of Creation praising God. It ends in this verse, after a prayer to be kept from sins, intended and unintended, with a humble contemplation of the smallest and nearest element of creation, the Psalmist himself.

The heavens, being unfallen, have no problem singing God’s praise and declaring His glory. The individual, on the other hand, a fallen creature living in a fallen world, can only sing and declare these things with great effort and difficulty. How natural is it, then, that he concludes this hymn and request with the prayer that his words and thoughts will be pleasing to the God for whom they were intended.

How opposite is this prayer from the way that people too often approach the presence of God. You’ve seen them on Sunday at church. Perhaps you’ve even been one of them now and again. They come into the building with the air that they’ve done God some great favor by showing up. They sit smugly through worship, confident that God truly appreciates them for blessing the other benighted souls in the room with their presence.

And lest you think this is a caricature that couldn’t possibly apply to somebody as spiritual as you or me, let me point out that David himself felt the need to close his Psalm with this prayer of humility. David knew to do this because of his closeness to God and because he began his contemplation by noting the glorious heavens proclaiming the grandeur of the Lord. Can we do less?

Truly, may the words of our lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in God’s eyes.