Receiving the Kingdom like a Child

I was mentioning to someone yesterday that my blog has become a book review site. This is extremely embarrassing for a self-proclaimed non reader so I felt compelled to write a bit about the passage we will be looking at during the Living Stones gathering today, Luke 18:15-17.

In the passage, people are bringing their kids – even infants – to Jesus. The disciples around him seem to think the kiddos are a distraction from important work or something and try to keep them away but Jesus tells them to knock it off. But He doesn’t stop there. He uses the presence of the kids as an object lesson for a couple of really important points about following Him.

First, he says the Kingdom belongs to “such as these.”  The NLT captures the idea when it translates the phrase “For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” Jesus is not saying that the Kingdom belongs to these actual kids, but to people who resemble them in some way.

He explains it further in his second statement, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Jesus is saying that the only chance to receive a place in His Kingdom is to do it like a child. How does a child receive stuff? I don’t think any of my kids ever was skeptical about a gift. I don’t think any of them ever suspected that when I offered to take them for ice cream that I was secretly going to take them to a trash dump. On Christmas morning not one of them ever pulled out the FBI’s bomb threat checklist to inspect the presents we had prepared for them. They received the gifts with joyful expectation and trust.

This passage is more than that though. When we look at where it is – placed right between the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector and the account of the rich young ruler. Luke wants us to see that part of receiving the Kingdom as a child is that we receive it consciously knowing that there is nothing we did to contribute to it. Unlike the pharisee in Luke 18:11-12 and the rich young ruler in Luke 18:20-21, these little children wanted Jesus knowing they added nothing to the process. Luke paints the picture vividly by telling us even infants were being brought. What did the 9-month old contribute to his encounter with Jesus? Nothing. And that’s one of the big takeaways from Luke’s presentation here. There is nothing the pharisee, the rich young ruler, or anyone else can do to make themselves good enough to deserve the Kingdom of God.

This is great news. It means that no matter how bad someone is, the grace of God in Jesus Christ is greater. Since we contribute nothing to the Kingdom equation, nothing we do can eliminate us. There is perhaps no better example of this than the Apostle Paul who called himself a violent persecutor of the church that hated God. God not only saved him from his sin, but raised him up to write half the New Testament. Why did God do it? Was it to show everyone how good you could be if you just put your mind to it? No, according to Paul. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim 1:15-16)

The God of the Bible is patient with those who refuse His rule and opens His Kingdom to all those who will put on the humility and empty hands of a little child. If it sounds too good to be true, you need to know that it is really that good.

Jesus our Example

I’m getting ready to preach on Sunday December 19 on the practical impacts we should see in our lives based on the fact that Jesus came in the flesh as a person. My emphasis is not going to be as some have done on the theological importance of the incarnation or how we ought to be the body of Christ today – showing mercy as He did. It will be how His example should alter how we perceive and respond to life’s issues.

I am amazed to see all of the ways I should be affected by His life and how little I am. He gave up comfort, perfect fellowship with the Father and Spirit, peace, the praise of angels, and so much more. If Jesus was God and gave up all this for me, how can I not also be ready to give up all that I hold dear for Him?

I hope to add several more posts on my meditations as I prepare.

Establish the Work of Our Hands – II

In my last post I talked about Psalm 90:17 as it relates to my current situation and some of what it means that Moses prayed that God would establish the work of Israel’s hands. This time I’d like to talk a little about how that plays out in the lives of people like me and others who have lost a job, seen income reduced or are otherwise affected by the economy right now.

To me the most important thing to remember here is that Moses looked to God to establish the work of their hands. He had a nation of 2,000,000 people at his disposal and he still turned to God to establish the work of their hands. I am reminded of the verse “Unless the LORD builds the house the laborers labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Moses knew that to be true and he trusted God who is completely trustworthy to be the one who directed their steps and established their work. I am a very proud guy and I am often very tempted to think my success is up to me rather than trust God in this way.

More than that, I think it’s important to remember that God is not impaired by economics. Things can be very bad in the economy and God can do what He wants anyway. Do you remember the story in 1 Kings 17. God sends Elijah to meet a woman who is supposed to feed him. This occurs in the middle of a terrible drought and things are so bad for the widow she plans to use all she has to make one last meal so she and her son can eat one last time before they die. Her economic situation was much more desperate than almost anything anyone with America, Canada or Europe’s safety net permits. Yet God provided for her so that her flour and oil did not run out (even though she KNEW there was only enough for one more cake left).

Why did God do this? It wasn’t to be nice to the widow. I presume there were other families equally desperate during this time and we don’t have any records of God being so merciful to them. The reason He did it was to feed Elijah in a way that brought Him glory. God established the work of the widow’s hands to promote His glory.

This is where I start thinking about Job 42:1. After seeing the error of his thinking, Job confesses “I know that you (God) can do all things. No plan of yours can be thwarted.” God does have a plan. His plan might not have anything to do with our economic prosperity or America’s re-emergence as the single global economic superpower. But whatever His plan is, it will not be thwarted under any circumstances.

Are you out of a job as I am? God’s plan for you will not be thwarted. He has promised to provide for your needs and He will do it. You much be humble enough to accept the means of provision He decides. In the New Testament, that seems to be one another love shown by members of your local church.

Are you okay for now but worry about the future? God Himself will establish the work of his faithful servants and there is no cause to worry. There is nothing unemployment rates or national debt or the “wrong” president or Congress can do to stop that.

Are you comfortable living in the generous welfare the country has provided? With extended unemployment benefits, discount health insurance, food stamps, mortgage reductions and so many more things it can be tempting for even a believer to get content in his or her laziness. Remember that Moses prayed that God would establish the WORK of their hands. Paul said those who didn’t WORK shouldn’t eat. One of the very first commands in the Bible was for Adam to WORK in the garden. God invented work and we should seek to glorify Him in whatever work He gives us to do.

Establish the Work of Our Hands – I

I was meditating on Psalm 90 recently. It is the psalm where we get the fairly well known verse “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” What caught my eye this time was the final verse (verse 17).

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

I have been praying (and ask you to pray) that in light of my new self-employment, that I would wholly trust not in my skills or my smarts or my contacts but in the Lord Almighty who loves me and has promised to take care of me. For my personality and temptation patterns, this idea of self-sufficiency is a huge current struggle with sin. It is interesting to me that Moses – a guy who had led two million people out of Egypt and defeated nations – would be asking the Lord to establish the works of their hands rather than rely on themselves. He was much more “qualified” to rely on his resume than I am.

Perhaps you have never faced that temptation of self sufficiency. As I’ve shared my prayer request with others, the vast majority tell me they are much more likely to be tempted toward either anxiety or inferiority, believing that God would not do anything through them. If this is your life, I have two reminders for you.

Remember that God Himself has promised that you will do things for Him. Ephesians 2:10 says “For you are His workmanship (literally His poems), created in Christ Jesus for good works He has prepared in advance for you.” The same God who promised to begin the work He began in you, promised that He has prepared work for you to do. What an encouragement! The sovereign god of the universe who could simply accomplish every goal with one word from His mouth has invited you and I to do good works, and more than that has prepared them especially for us! WOW.

The second thought is that all this happens inside the context of God’s majesty being shown to us. Verse 16 makes that clear:

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

God does want us to do good works but the goal of them is neither simply our prosperity nor our popularity. God’s special purpose in inviting our work is to show Himself as a majestic God able to work even through such weak and fallen vessels as us. If anything, this makes it even more amazing – we have the chance to be used by God as He establishes the work of our hands in work He has prepared in advance for us. He has promised to succeed in completing the work He began in us. He wants men to see our good works and glorify Him. We can have confidence in that promise because that same God raised Jesus from the dead to show the world that nothing – not even death – can get in the way of his mission.

As humble servants we can echo with Job, “I know that you can do all things, no plan of yours can be thwarted.” (Even his plan to work through us to establish His kingdom both now and forevermore.)

This Fathomless Love

Our small group has been studying how much God loves his children by watching and discussing a video series by Elyse Fitzpatrick based on her book “Because He Loved Me”. It really has been a rich time. The morning of our kickoff one of our people signed to this song, which was the perfect tone setter for me. It’s a wonderful song and you can listen to it at Sovereign Grace Music (http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Resources/Music/SFTCCL.aspx) .

Lord, what moved Your heart to love lowly man
Before any star could herald Your praise?
And why did You come, abasing Yourself,
Veiled in a robe of frail human clay?
Why would You, the pure, give Your life for the vile –
The innocent seeking the guilty
To be reconciled?

I can’t comprehend this fathomless love!
I’m gripped and amazed at what You have done!
Why would the Adored become the despised
To bear all the furious wrath that was mine?
How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me.

Why would You adopt and take as Your own
Those who had crushed Your one precious Son?
Why mercy and grace towards Your enemies?
Your name they have cursed and Your throne they have shunned.
Oh, how could You choose to show kindness to these –
The ones who would mock You and hate You,
The ones just like me?

I can’t comprehend this fathomless love!
I’m gripped and amazed at what You have done!
Why would the Adored become the despised
To bear all the furious wrath that was mine?
How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me