Like a Child

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:25-30 (NIV)

This year our country was reminded that even though it has been 157 years since President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation, the issue of race equality in the United States is not resolved. We have witnessed a season of civil unrest unlike many others since the 1960s. During this time I have seen many memes and videos on social media utilizing the images and actions of children as a lesson. The lesson being taught is hate and discrimination are not something we do from birth but something we are taught to do.

Throughout Jesus’s teaching moments, he would also use children to teach lessons. (See Matthew 18:3, Matthew 19:4, Luke 18:16, Mark 9:36-37) In the passage from Matthew 11, we get to hear Jesus praying to the Father. He points out that in order to see the true nature of him, and therefore the Father, we need not an approach of academia but one of a child. Children come at life with great curiosity and an openness that is accepting instead of closed and discrediting. For those who approach Jesus as a child, Jesus offers rest from the weariness of the world and a promise of helping carry the burdens.

The lesson here is our approach to discovering the nature of our Lord is key to what will be revealed to us. If we come to the Lord with all our learned views of the world and life, we will miss the true Jesus. But if we adopt the curiosity and openness of a child, we will find a Jesus who offers rest for our souls.

Feed the Birds

One of my favorite songs from the Disney classic, Mary Poppins, is the song Mary sings to Michael Banks entitled, Feed the Birds. Mary is trying to communicate with Michael about the importance of taking care of others with the resources he has been given. In this song, Mary tells of a lady who is on the steps of St Paul’s who calls to people to purchase bags of seed to feed the birds. Michael has a few tuppences which his dad, a banker, is trying to convince him to place in a bank account. Mary gives an alternative option for at least some of Michael’s tuppence.

The main story line in the movie is about relationships. If you have read any of my other blog posts previously, you know that I often impress upon others the importance of relationships. I believe that the whole of Scripture is about relationships. All of Jesus’ ministry was about relationships. Maybe this is why the melodic song which Mary Poppins sings resonates so strongly with me. This song speaks of relationships and the importance of using what we have for the well-being of others.

Some of you are aware that I enjoy having many bird feeders in my backyard. It brings me pleasure to see the various types of birds who come by throughout the day to eat some of the seed which I place in the feeders. I also have hummingbird feeders which contain sugar water which I change every few days. It thrills me immensely when I get to see a hummingbird come and spend time at one of my two feeders. Every time that I fill those feeders I am reminded of the passage of Scripture where Jesus is telling his disciples not to worry about so many things. (See Matthew 6:25-34) He reminds them that the birds of the air do not labor for food and yet God feeds them. When I watch the birds eat from my feeders, I believe I am one of the ways in which God feeds the birds of the air.

This concept also translates well in regard to caring for other people. I think Mary Poppins was wanting to make this point also with Michael and his sister, who was listening in. A major theme throughout Scripture is the Lord’s desire for us to care for one another, especially those who struggle to care for themselves due to society, health, or other circumstances. We are called to care for the orphans, widows, hungry, sick, poor, outsider, and aliens. Jesus tells us that when we care for others, we are caring for him. (See Matthew 25:34-40). Mary’s song might easily be entitled, Feed the Others.

In the movie, Michael Banks takes the words of Mary Poppins to heart. May we all listen to her song and not only feed the birds but care for one another as well.

Shining

I am sure that every generation feels like they are living in dark times. We even named a whole era in human history as the Dark Ages. Right now we can feel like there is a lot of dark around us with all the changes in our lives which have accompanied the Corona-19 virus. The numbers of deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise. In addition, we have been living in a very volatile political environment for years as human decency has left most civic discussions and legislative debate. Truly feels like a dark time in so many ways.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have wondered how to respond to the surrounding events during this dark time. I have followed all the practical advice of the medical community regarding the virus. I have listened to the conversations in the political spectrum and attempted to avoid engaging in hostile debates. But there seems to be something more which I can, must, do. Then I am reminded of a song which I sang in Sunday School in my small church while growing up, This Little Light of Mine. The song is a reminder of Jesus’ words, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV) Jesus tells us that we are to be lights in the world. The question this begs is how do we go about being lights?

Clearly for me, being an example is the way I can be a light in the world. I can wear a mask when I am in an indoor public setting or one where social distancing is a challenge. I can listen to others who have a point of view which is different from my own and not judge that viewpoint. Taking the time to educate myself on the experiences of other individuals will be an example.

Another important way for me to be a light in the world is by sharing compassion and hope with others. Jesus showed compassion even to those who were engaged in his crucifixion. Compassion is not attempting to better others. Using words that build up and not tear down another’s self is compassion. Being present with others even when you do not understand what they are experiencing is compassion.

Sharing hope is reminding each other that we do not walk alone but together and with the Lord. Identifying the positive of each day shares hope. Putting the events of our lives in perspective with the history of humanity and God’s children can produce hope. Sharing the promises of God as identified in Scripture leads to hope.

We are called to share our light with a world experiencing darkness. How are you choosing to shine your light? Let your light shine and do not let anything blow it out!

Telling Your Story

Throughout time, I have had the pleasure of reading some amazing books regarding faith and faith journeys. A few of my favorites are The Chronicles of Narnia, The Shack, and Too Busy Not to Pray. Each of these books have given me wonderful insights and amazing motivation. A key aspect of these books is that they are each told in creative ways from the perspective of a person on their own faith journey. This journey is revealed in the pages of their stories. Through this, they have demonstrated the meaning of evangelism.

Many people are resistant to the term, evangelism. Much of this resistance stems from negative experiences which they have had in life when a person tries to aggressively communicate their beliefs to the one listening. Within that communication there may exist words that are easily perceived as threats or attempts to generate fear in order to get the listener to adopt the beliefs being presented. Many Christians do not wish to be associated with this type of behavior, so they shy away from the term evangelism or evangelizing.

In truth, evangelism is actually sharing the good news found in the message of Jesus Christ. The best way of communicating this good news, the love of God extended to everyone as exemplified in Christ’s death and resurrection, is by sharing a person’s own faith journey with another. This is exactly what the authors of the books I mentioned above did for various reasons. In this manner, there is no pushing beliefs on others since each person decides if they read the book or not. There is no fear or threat found in the pages of these books. Instead, they share a story and in the process invite others to explore and discover the Good News.

Here we have an excellent example of what every believer is called to do in their life. Every believer is asked to share their own story. The manner in which the individual may choose to share the story is based on the gifts and talents of that person. There is no special formula which must be followed. Just share. In each of our faith stories there is inspiration and motivation.

Planting Seeds

Having grown up in an agricultural state, I became very aware of the changing of the seasons and what those changes meant to the growth cycle of creation. Living in a Midwest state where over seventy percent of the state’s gross income is linked to agriculture, you become accustomed to seeing advertisements for seed brands, fertilizers and farming equipment throughout the winter months. All of these advertisements anticipated the early months of spring when life in a small, rural community would shift to applying anhydrous ammonia, tilling the ground, and then eventually planting the corn or soybean seeds.

Much like the farming community in which I spent the early years of my life, I anticipate spring and the planting season every year. While I do not plant crops over acres of land, this year I participated in this cycle of life by planting flowers and trees as part of the landscape of our new home. Just as farmers spend time researching seed varieties, my husband and I researched different plants which grow well in our location. We discussed what types of plants, where we would place them, and what care was necessary to help establish them. Then we went to a variety of locations searching for exactly what we wanted in our price range, purchased them along with pots for some, and brought them home to be planted.

With spring and thoughts of planting, I remembered a truth which I was told and experienced as a spiritual leader… we plant seeds which we may never see grow to full maturity. The Apostle Paul summarizes it in this way:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9

One of the most difficult aspects of being a spiritual leader at times is realizing that your work may not result in an end product. This is often due to a pride struggle and external demands. What I mean is that you want to be proud of the work which you are doing. In our world, success is often measured in a numerical sense based on observable criteria. The work of planting spiritual seeds does not always result in some observable fruition. Yet, ecclesiastical bodies and most church members look for those results in determining the effectiveness of a ministry since in the rest of the world this is how we rate an individual’s success.

The other interesting item in regard to planting seeds is that it is not the sole responsibility and privilege of spiritual leaders. Every believer is called to plant faith seeds. Jesus makes this clear in his words prior to his ascension to the Father recorded in what we now refer to as the Great Commission:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

Here Jesus tells his disciples (followers) to go and make other disciples and teach them Jesus’ lessons. This is planting spiritual seeds. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have received this commission and been made a planter in the world. These seeds can be planted through a variety of methods, most often without using words. St Francis of Assisi is attributed as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” St Francis refers to planting seeds as preaching but not in the oratorical sense we usually consider.

Planting time is upon us. During this time of year, we plant seeds for plants to grow. However, it is always planting time for followers of Jesus. Each of us should spend every day living in a manner which plants the seeds of God’s love and faith in that love. Just remember that you may or may not actually see those seeds spring into the fullness of life. After all, as the Apostle Paul tells us, only God makes these seeds grow.