Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘children’

This is a letter I wrote a colleague in 2007. See also Scriptural teaching on ministry to children

I appreciated your question about the meaning of the phrase – “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” I wanted to say a bit more about what this phrase in Mark 10:14 means and also, more generally look at the central assumption of the presentation, that children are a part of the kingdom. And hey, this gives me an excuse to write out this stuff. I realize that there are some who say that Jesus is speaking somewhat metaphorically here so that they would be hesitant to say that children literally belong to the kingdom. This is my response. I welcome your comments.

In our text Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” – Mark 10:14 (par. Matthew 19:14; Luke 18:16)

As I said before the age of the children in this story can be discerned based on two clues:

  • The first clue comes from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15.
  • The second clue comes from the word that Jesus uses for “children.” – Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children from birth (e.g. Luke 1:59 – 8 days old) to puberty (e.g. Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child below 12 or preadolescent children.

Also, it should be noted that Jesus is talking about children in general, not a specific kind of children. The text is generic. Given the age range of paidion – infant to 12 years old, and Luke’s – “even infants,’ it is not talking about children as those who have a childhood faith or understanding. It is simply dealing with children as children, wherever they might be found.

The crucial phrase is “to such (as these) belongs the kingdom.” Who are these “such” ones? The word for “such” is toioutos. Its use is a bit ambiguous. So we have to ask, does toioutos refer:

1) to the literal children as belonging to the kingdom (and other children as well – and also possibly along with them childlike adults – v. 15) or,

2) only adults who are like these children in some way or another (that is, not these literal children but those like these)?

In the former case this teaches that children belong to the kingdom. In the latter case this saying is really not about children or their status with regard to the kingdom. It is about adults.

Those who have dealt with this text and it parallels are split between these two options. I looked at 27 treatments: 15 of them opted for position #1; 12 were ambiguous (I couldn’t tell what their view was!) or outright took up position #2. Often, on both sides, there was little reasoning given for the choice.

Here are the considerations that make me choose option #1:

  1. By the time of the New Testament toioutos was often weakened to mean “this” or “these.” It may well be that Jesus is simply saying “for to these (literal children) belongs the kingdom of God.” (Beasley-Murray – Baptism in the New Testament, p. 327). An example of this interchangeability comes in Jesus’ statement about receiving a child. Mark 9:37 has “whoever receives one such (toioutos) child . . .,” whereas Luke has replaced toioutos with outos (this) – “whoever receives this (outos) child.” For Luke the two words were interchangeable in this case.
  2. When Jesus uses the word toioutos along with paidion (child) in Mark 9:37 it has to do with a literal child – this child or any such child, not someone like this child. (As we just noted Luke makes this point even more clearly). This would certainly condition the reader of Mark in terms of how toioutos is used with paidion (children) a chapter later. If the phrase “one such child” means this child or any such child in Mark 9, then it is likely that the phrase “such as these (children)” means these children and other such children in Mark 10.
  3. Position #2 poses a logical problem. It would indeed be strange to say that group A belongs to the kingdom because they are like group B, but then maintain that group B is not a part of the kingdom. At a minimum “such” would need to include the literal children, the point of reference in this story. It can apparently also include others – “these children and those like them” – other children for sure, but also adults who are childlike (which is what v. 15 picks up). But it doesn’t seem possible to exclude children as the point of reference of this saying. (Ben Witherington, in his Commentary on Matthew 19:14 makes this point with reference to how our key word – toioutos – functions in this verse. He asserts it “cannot simply refer to adults who are childlike to the exclusion of those who are actually young children being brought to Jesus.”)
  4. To maintain that Jesus is speaking of childlike adults to the exclusion of the actual children standing before him makes nonsense of the flow of the narrative. The disciples are being told by Jesus why the children should be allowed to come to him. He says, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” To say that the children should be allowed access because childlike adults belong to the kingdom doesn’t make any sense. But it makes perfect sense to say that the children should have access to Jesus – the representative of the kingdom – “because to these children belongs the kingdom of God.” (Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, p. 327).
  5. In the story itself Jesus blesses the children without requiring anything from them. No repentance in relation to the kingdom, no faith from them or their parents. Just as they are – they are blessed. This happens nowhere else in the gospels. This matches well with the idea that Jesus saw them as already belonging to the kingdom.
  6. That children belong to the kingdom matches well with what Jesus teaches about children in Mark 9:37. This says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Par. Matthew 18:5; Luke 9:48). Like the disciples, children represent Jesus and the kingdom to others. So when the reader of Mark comes to the next chapter and sees the statement “to such as these belongs the kingdom” this would make perfect sense. Children can represent Jesus and the kingdom precisely because, like the disciples, they are a part of the kingdom – Mark 10:14.
  7. Finally, the idea that children belong to the kingdom makes sense with regard to Jesus’ other statement about children – that adults can learn from them how to enter the kingdom (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3-4; Luke 18:17). Children can teach us this because they are a part of the kingdom. If they were not, how could they teach us how to enter?

 

 

Read Full Post »

This is a presentation I gave to a ministers’ meeting in Franklin Mennonite Conference in 2007. See also Scriptural teaching on ministry to children

Seven reasons why we should not baptize children

1. Children are already a part of the kingdom of God. In Mark 10:14 Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

In the last part of this verse Jesus says of children, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” This teaches us that we do not need to worry about the destiny of children. They are a part of the kingdom of God; the realm of God’s blessing and salvation.

If we ask, “What is the age of these children who came to Jesus and who are a part of the kingdom?” I think there is an answer. The first clue is from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15. The second clue is the word that Jesus uses for “children” = “paidion.” Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children between the ages of birth (Luke 1:59 – 8-days-old) and puberty (Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child 12 and below, or below the age of puberty.

Although children certainly are born with “the flesh,” our natural desires that lead us to do what we want and not what God wants, they are not considered to be “sinners” like adults who do what is wrong. So this calls into question the fundamental assumption of the child evangelism approach: that children are just like adults who sin and need conversion and baptism (that is, the adult pattern should be applied to children.) Jesus teaches that children are already a part of God’s kingdom

2. Children, by definition, are unable to make the kind of adult choice that baptism requires. A “child” in Scripture means one who is not mature. Along these lines it is used figuratively to refer to adults who are not mature in some way (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:1).

Literal children are not mature in many ways, but the focus here is on their inability to fully discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves.

  • Deuteronomy 1:39 talks about “ . . . your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil . . ..”
  • Isaiah 7:15 speaks of maturity in these terms: “when (the child) knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”
  • Hebrews 5:13-14 defines maturity in this way, “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Now there is such a thing as childhood faith, as we all know. This is when children express genuine and precious faith in God. This faith is loved by God and should be honored by the church. As Jesus said, God accepts and loves the praise of children – Matthew 21:15-16. But my point here is that we dare not make the mistake of confusing childhood faith with adult faith.

Childhood faith is dependent on what parents or others teach them and influence them to do. This is appropriate to their situation. Adult faith is a choice based on a person’s own discernment of what is right and wrong. Even though an adult’s faith will continue to grow and mature, the ability to discern for oneself and choose is what makes adult faith fundamentally different than the faith of a child.

Baptism calls people to adult decisions, to hear and choose for oneself faith and repentance in response to the gospel and to accept the hard teaching of Jesus – loving enemies, submitting to church discipline, sacrificing our lives for the kingdom. (That this is true can be seen in that Jesus connects baptism with discipleship, or “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28:19-20)

So baptism calls people to adult decisions. But by definition children are not able to make these very kinds of choices, even if they have childhood faith.

3. The symbolic meaning of baptism does not apply to children. The symbolic meaning of baptism involves, among other things, leaving the world and sin behind in order to enter into the kingdom of God (like when Israel left Egypt and went through the Red Sea and became the people of God).

But children are not counted as sinners by God since they are not fully able to discern and choose for themselves. And children are not a part of the world who then enter the kingdom, they are already a part of the kingdom of God

So baptism is not an appropriate symbolic statement about where children are in their status before God.

Baptism is meant to be the marker of adult faith in Jesus, for those who have chosen sin for themselves, who are not a part of the kingdom of God, and it then becomes a symbol of transition from sin to forgiveness and from the world into the kingdom of God

4. A practical concern: Childhood baptism is often connected to a fear of losing our children if we let them wait. We fear that if we aren’t proactive we might lose our children to the world. We have to act before our influence over them wanes. As pastors we get caught in this fear and pressure. So we accept childhood faith for adult faith and baptize. We accept the smallest markers of childhood faith as sufficient for baptism. And the age of baptism gets younger and younger

But this is little different than infant baptism, in that we are trying to make the choice for them. We can’t make the choice for them, God doesn’t work that way. God wants each one to choose for themselves.

Each of our children will choose for themselves one day whether they will commit themselves to Jesus as adults. And they will make this choice regardless of whether we acted to give them childhood baptism.

Our task as parents and pastors is to prepare them for the day when they will make the choice for themselves, not to make the choice for them. And we should not act out of fear, but rather faith in God, entrusting our children into God’s hands.

5. A practical concern: Childhood baptism deprives people of the full meaning and experience of adult baptism. At least some have publicly lamented that they feel like they have never had a real baptism because they were baptized before they really knew what it meant or before they had an adult faith in and commitment to Jesus.

6. A practical concern: Childhood baptism creates confusion in church order. This happens when those with childhood faith grow up and choose for themselves in adolescence not to follow Jesus. We now have a person baptized based on childhood faith, who as an adult repudiates this childhood faith. (While it is true that adults can have a change of heart after baptism, at least here they made the decisions with full ability to discern and choose; with adult faith and unbelief.)

Do we exercise discipline in this situation? This would seem to be in order since baptism is connected with accountability and submitting to discipline. But is it really fair or right to hold them to this, since they were only children and didn’t fully understand what they were getting into?

What if this person later comes to an adult faith in Jesus. Should the person be re-baptized? If we say yes, then we acknowledge that their childhood faith was not an adequate basis for baptism; that it wasn’t a real baptism. If we say no, then the person is, in effect, left without a real, meaningful baptism.

7. Final thought: Childhood baptism dilutes the meaning of baptism and the Christian life. If we can baptize those who are not even able to understand, much less accept Jesus’ discipleship demands, it conveys a clear message: discipleship is not a necessary part of the Christian life. This is all the more true as the age gets younger and we baptize children who have just the smallest sign of faith.

 And this logic works its way into our criteria for adult baptisms also. All you need is a glimmer of faith to be baptized.

Conclusion: Baptism should be reserved for those who are able to have adult-faith; for those who are (roughly) 13 or older; for those with childhood faith, baptism should be looked forward to as the symbol of transition from childhood faith to adult faith.

The scriptural pattern of ministry to children

There are two Scriptural admonitions that are given to guide our ministry to children.

1. We are to train our children. Given that children are not mature morally and have an inborn tendency not to do what is right,  the task of parents and the people of God is to train, shape and form them in the way of the Lord. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, Christian parents are to raise their children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The church also has a role in this training of children given its commission by Jesus to “make disciples” of all peoples (Matthew 28:19). We do this through equipping parents and, more specifically, by offering programming to all children that teaches them the way of the Lord.

The goal of our training is that when our children are past the age of childhood acceptance before God they will be ready to begin to discern and choose to enter the kingdom of God for themselves. For those with childhood faith this may well be a smooth and seamless transition.

2. The blessing of children. Jesus is very clear that we are to “receive” children in his name. Jesus said in Mark 9:37 – “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Jesus is also very clear that we are to “let the children come” to him – Mark 10:14. We are not to be like the disciples who tried to hold back the children from Jesus – who made Jesus angry.

But if baptism is not the way to do this as a church, what is? The Gospels answer this question by telling the story of Jesus blessing the children.  “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.. . . And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” – Mark 10:13-16.

 To “let the children come” to Jesus is defined in this story in verse 16, it means to pray for them and bless them. What it means to receive children in Mark 9:37 is explained here in Mark 10:16.

When Jesus ministered to children he did not baptize them or even give them the Lord’s supper, he took them, prayed for them and blessed them. He took the time to receive them and care for them and to minister God’s blessing into their lives.

This is also what we should do:

  • At birth, when our children are born and then presented to God, we should pray for God to bless them.
  • At the Lord’s supper, whenever we receive it we should provide a place in the service to recognize them and pray for God’s blessing to be in their lives.
  • Whenever a parent or child seeks it, we should take the time to minister to their need and pray for God to bless them.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Jesus deeply loved and cared about children. He was concerned that they be honored, taken care of and ministered to (Mark 9:35-37).

Mark 10:13-16 recounts the story of when people brought them to Jesus, ranging in age from infants to preadolescent children. It says,
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

Children are safe in God’s hands. Indeed, as Jesus said, the kingdom of God belongs to them. And because this is so, they too, not just adults, should be able to have the attention of Jesus. They too should be able to receive of what God is doing through Jesus.

How to provide this for children today is modeled for us by Jesus. When the children came to Jesus, he laid his hands on them and he blessed them. He prayed for God to watch over them and to care for them. This is how he ministered to them.

And so, as our adult followers of Jesus come forward to receive the bread and cup of the Lord’s supper, we invite all children to come forward to the front platform to be prayed for, in the name of Jesus, in order to receive a blessing from God.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

God & Dating

I think it’s good that we talk frankly in the church about sex and dating. Because apart from parents teaching these things (and I certainly hope that you are!) the only places young people learn about these things are from school, friends and Hollywood, none of which are really trusted conduits of Christian values.

Besides, with today’s TV and internet it has never before in history been easier to get involved in sexual immorality. And so the need to speak out is all the more urgent.

Now, Scripture doesn’t talk about dating. It tells us that some marriages were arranged and some weren’t. All it talks about is “betrothal” – which is more like what we call engagement – but a bit more serious. We don’t really know what courting rituals were involved in any of this, and no specific instructions are given. So we will look at some things Scripture says about different topics that relate to what we call dating.

Only date fellow believers

Scripture teaches that we are only to marry Christians. And since dating is a form of courtship for marriage and is a serious relationship, this certainly applies here too.

Paul tells the widow who is considering remarrying, “She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” – 1 Corinthians 7:39, that is to another believer.

Paul also says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15. Although he isn’t just talking about marriage, this does pertain to marriage and by extension to dating.

To be married to an unbeliever is to yoke yourself together in the most intimate way possible with someone who does not share your faith; your deepest life values. It is to be “unequally yoked.”

It is to partner yourself with or to become one with someone who is, spiritually speaking, on the other side. Paul asks, “what fellowship has light with darkness?” And this is true even if they aren’t openly hostile to your faith.

Indeed the difference is so great between the Christian and the unbeliever that in 1 Corinthians 7:12 – Paul classifies these marriages as something less than ‘what God has joined together.’ And they are governed by different rules than Jesus’ teaching on Christian marriage.

The danger for you in all this is that they will pull you away from your faith. This concern is expressed in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 – “You shall not intermarry with them (that is, those outside the faith of Israel), giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” The issue is that they will be a stumbling block for you.

Even short of open disapproval of your faith, you know, if they are ‘tolerant of your faith they will most likely put implicit pressure on you to tone things down; to be lukewarm, as opposed to full devotion and commitment to Jesus. And they will not be particularly interested in giving you encouragement in your Christian faith

So, if you take your faith seriously, you are signing up for a life of disappointment. Think of two oxen yoked together who are trying to go in different directions. It won’t be pleasant.

Here are just a few examples from married life:

  • When there is a life crisis and you need to look to Scripture for help, will they encourage you in this? Not likely.
  • When there is a question of where to send extra money will they like it that you want to give it to mission work? Probably not.
  • When there is a death in the family will they be able to comfort you with Christian hope? They will not.
  • When you are struggling with temptation will they be able to give you wise Christian counsel? They will not.

And perhaps most seriously, how will you raise your children? Whose values will be taught? One of the purposes of marriage, according to Malachi 2:15, is to raise godly children.

Will your unbelieving spouse consent to this? And if they say they will, will they change their mind later? And what will it mean to the child to see that one of their parents doesn’t accept Christian faith?

These tensions are real, and at least in part, they are why such relationships don’t last as long. The divorce rate for mixed-religion marriages is three times higher than the average. (The Washington Post, June 10, 2010)

In terms of dating the fundamental question is – Do you value your faith more than any potential relationship? Another way to put it is – Do you love God more than any person who has caught your attention? If you don’t, you have already begun the journey away from your Christian faith.

Look for someone with real faith and commitment. I don’t mean the rationalizing that we so often do – he went to church once; or she said her family used to be Christian. I mean someone who is a solid Christian, who will be able to encourage you in your Christian faith and walk with you in this for a lifetime. Pray for someone like this and trust God for an answer

A word of advise here. To put this teaching into practice, you have to make the decision up front. If you allow yourself to get emotionally involved with an unbeliever, it’s going to be really hard.

Maintain your sexual purity

We talked about this last week, so just a bit of a reminder. Yes, premarital sex is sexual immorality, even if our society doesn’t think so or all your friends don’t think so.

And like all sexual immorality we are to flee from it, not run to it and embrace it as the world does. Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his/her own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5.

Speaking of lust, let’s talk for a minute about making out. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is this not being sexually active outside of marriage, which Jesus forbids?
  • If we are not even to look at another with lust (Matthew 5:27-28) can this possibly be acceptable?
  • Is this an expression of the fruit of the Spirit of “self-control” as Paul talks about in Galatians 5:23? Or is this an expression of “the passion of lust” as Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians 4:5?

Receive these words from 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Choose someone according to the values of the kingdom of God

– not the values of the world. Who does the world exalt? Those with power, status and wealth; those who make you feel good; those who look good. I will just focus in two examples.

Look for true love – that is, according to the Biblical definition. The world portrays love in a distorted way. And we often get caught up in this. But love is not lust, and love is not emotion, although it involves this. And so much dating is about these two things.

But emotion and sexual attraction can fade. And in the world this means it’s time to move on. Just this week I saw a celebrity that said she was getting divorced because it wasn’t fun anymore.

But scripturally love is fundamentally commitment to someone; to their well being; caring for them whether you feel like it or not, whether they turn you on or not – Matthew 5:44-47.

And so if you date you need to think:

  • Is this someone I can love for the rest of my life?
  • And is this someone who will love me for the rest of my life?

Even after the romance fades? Even when the ‘honeymoon’ is over and you are both acting more like your true selves with each other?

Find someone with true beauty. The world emphasizes outward beauty. The kingdom of God emphasizes the inner beauty of godly character.

Peter says this to women, “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4.

So gentlemen, listen up. Outward beauty by itself is useless. Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” It’s a waste and it’s not what you want.

And also outward beauty fades with age.  Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Ladies we could say the same for men. Their handsomeness, physical strength and yes, their hair is fleeting over time.

Both men and women need to look for the true beauty of a godly heart that fears the Lord, and not get caught up in the glamour culture that we live in that worships outward beauty. And in turn you need to focus on being beautiful within, and not outward beauty.

Finally

Having said all this about dating, let me end by saying that you are perfectly fine if you don’t date. You have to remember that Jesus was single and so was the apostle Paul. And remaining single for life is always an option. And it can free you up to have more time to serve the Lord – 1 Corinthians 7. You can be both fulfilled and faithful to God without marriage.

But even short of this, you don’t need to feel pressured to date, just because everyone else seems to be dating. It is fine to wait until you are older; to wait until you are ready; to wait until there is someone you truly want to date, for all the right reasons.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

First of all, I just want to say again how grateful I am for all who came out to work and support our VBS this year. It is encouraging to me to see how many of you came.

It is also a blessing to me to see you working in ministry and using your gifts to work for the kingdom. That’s what its all about, right? I don’t want to mention names, but we have some really gifted, creative, dedicated, hard working people here. And it is a blessing to see you in action.

It is true that we had a lot of kids this year. Wow! Perhaps you too are experiencing a bit of ‘post-traumatic VBS stress disorder.’ At times it seemed pretty chaotic and I wondered if the kids were going to take over and we would have to run for cover. And perhaps we will have to address what our capacity is.

But whether we have more or less, what I would like to say today is: When we see the kids running all over, and you’re trying to keep track of them, and keep them quiet and focused to teach them – you can wonder – “Are they getting it?” And closely behind this question you might ask, “Is it worth the work – all the labor and the stress?”

So I want to encourage you this morning by affirming to you that – Yes, it is worth it!

Lets look at Mark 4:26-29, the parable of the growing seed.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

This parable teaches us some lessons about the kingdom of God and I want us to apply them to what we have just done in VBS, although they apply to all kinds of ministry.

1. Our role is to scatter seed – v. 26. That is, we are to share with others the good news of Jesus; to spread the message of salvation and new life through him.

  • We did this by teaching and singing Christian songs, telling Bible stories, learning Scripture verses.
  • We hopefully also did this by how we treated the kids – welcoming them, caring for them, loving them – so that they could see the love of Jesus in us.

We want them to come to know and trust in Jesus, as a foundation for a life of following Jesus.

This is what we are called to do – scatter seed. And this is what we did. So we can feel good about that.

2. We don’t know how to make the seed grow – vs. 27-28. As the parable says, the sower “sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself . . ..”  With agriculture, especially in that day, you don’t know how a seed comes to life and grows, you just know that if you pant it, it does.

In the same way, we plant seeds for the kingdom. But the growth of the seed is something that is beyond us. Especially in the realm of the things of the Spirit, it is beyond our understanding or power to force those seeds of the kingdom to grow.

It is like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6, perhaps reflecting on our parable in Mark 4. He planted seeds, but “God gave the growth.” God is the one who works to  make the seeds of the kingdom come to life.

  • In one way this can be frustrating because we want people to get it; to make the seed grow; to make them receive it.
  • But it is also liberating to realize that it is in God’s hands. We don’t have to take on the weight of the world.

We are successful when we are faithful to plant seeds for the kingdom. The growth, the numbers – what the world would focus on as “success” – is in God’s hands.

We fulfill our role and then we leave it to God as he works in the person to receive the message and act on it.

3. We have to remember that there is a process involved in terms of the seed growing – vs. 28-29.  I’m not sure that this is the point of the parable, but there is a lot of emphasis on this. Jesus talks about:

  • first the blade
  • then the ear
  • then the full grain
  • then the ripe grain and the harvest

Paul certainly picks up this idea, once again, in I Corinthians 3:6. He says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” There is a process, with different stages. We can take two things from this:

  • First, we shouldn’t expect someone to get it all at once. We are a part – perhaps small or big – in what God is trying to do in each one of these kids’ lives.
  • And second, from I Corinthians, God uses different people at different stages to further the growth. There is a team work part to this in the broader body of Christ.

We have done some work here this past week, and later we or others will come along to do more work in their lives, watering, tending, pulling weeds – to stretch the metaphor.

4. There will be a time of harvest – v. 29. As this verse says, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Now, in this parable the same man both plants and harvests. But often in kingdom work one will plant, others will work with the growth, and still others will harvest. There are lots of people involved.

So often we plant seeds in faith not knowing what will come of it. We have to trust God to use our efforts; to bring about the growth. And we will see the full results of our labors on the final day.

We just never know the real effect of what we are doing when we sow seeds for the kingdom.

It might seem to us, from the point of view of what our eyes can see, that nothing is happening. But from the point of view of the eyes of the Spirit, God is doing and will do an amazing thing with our labors.

What I am saying is that our efforts in planting seeds have an eternal significance, in these kids lives – those who come to church all the time and those from the neighborhood.

Even the one who is misbehaving badly, who appears to be not listening, who is acting out in rebellion or disrespectful. We are planting seeds for the kingdom in their lives.

I have heard a number of adults from the neighborhood talk about how they attended our VBS, some many years ago. One woman, maybe 60 years old, came in this week and asked to use the phone. When she found out that Cedar Street was having VBS she wanted to call her daughter to have the grandkids come. Why? She had come here when she was a kid. She remembered it. And she wanted her grandkids to receive as well.

Another woman, who is now a local pastor, told me that she came to Cedar Street’s VBS. Here she is, now a pastor – bearing fruit for the kingdom in lots of ways. Now, of course, many people sowed into her life, and she had her own home church. But we had, at least, some small part in that; the privilege of sowing kingdom seeds.

Which ones of the kids that you worked with will be touched, will have their lives transformed, might become a pastor or in some other way do great things for the kingdom?

And you know, it isn’t just the quiet one who is well behaved that God reaches. It is often exactly that one that is hard to deal with whom God will use in amazing ways in the future.

So as we think of the kids we have just interacted with – those from our congregation, those from the neighborhood – know this: we have planted seeds for the kingdom. Be encouraged! We are a part, whether small or big – in what God is doing in their lives; in making a difference in their lives.

May God work in each of them to bring about the growth. And may God use us and others in the process still to come.

And I encourage you to keep praying for them in the weeks and months to come.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Jesus had a lot to say about children and we have looked at some of this – especially Jesus’ blessing of children. Today we look at Mark 9:33-37, a story that teaches us about the importance of ministering to children. Lets dig into this and see what we can learn from it.

Who is the greatest?

Our story begins with an argument – vs. 33-34 – “And they came to Capernaum. And when Jesus was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.”

This was not just petty vanity, you know, saying, “I’m smarter than you,” or “I look better than you.” Jesus is preparing for the kingdom of God and the disciples rightly expected to have a big role in that kingdom.

Jesus himself talks about greatness in the kingdom in several places. He talks about:

  • Those who will be the greatest in the kingdom – Matthew 23:11
  • Twelve thrones and those who will sit on these to rule over others – Matthew 19:28
  • Some sitting at his right and left hand when he is on his throne in the kingdom – Mark 10:40

So the disciples did think about these things and, of course, we find them arguing about this in several places.

In our story, no doubt, the fact that Jesus had just picked Peter, James and John to witness the transfiguration not long before had something to do with this debate about greatness.

The nine might well say, “Hey, are they better than us now?” The three may well have said, “Obviously we will have a higher place in the kingdom than you guys!”

And then add to this that the nine had failed to cast out a demon while Jesus and the other three were gone on the mountain of transfiguration. You can see how there could be tension.

When Jesus calls them on debating about this our text says, “they kept silent.” They apparently knew better than to be so openly ambitious; each putting themselves forward as the greatest.

By way of background, what we are dealing with here is a contrast of social standings on an honor/power scale:

  • You have those who are the first – in charge, with power – who are honored
  • And then you have those who are last – the lowly, the powerless – who are not honored

At the top of the scale – you are served. At the bottom of the scale – you serve.

Although it is a bit different today (we are not so hierarchical) it is still true today, just like back then that no one wanted to be a servant; to wait on others; to be lowly; to be at the bottom of this scale.

If you ask, how do you get honor & power? Well, according to the world you exalt yourself, put yourself forward, accumulate power and if you need to, put others down in order to lift yourself up.

And this is what the disciples were doing arguing with each other about who was the greatest. Maybe one said, “I’m have more spiritual gifts than you!” And another would say, “Oh yea, I’m more faithful than you!”

The true path to greatness: lowly service

Jesus confronts all this in v. 35 – “And Jesus sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’”

It says that Jesus “sat down.” In the culture of that day teachers sat to teach. He has something important to tell them.

The disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest, but Jesus says – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (see also Mark 10:43-45 and Matthew 23:11-12).  Notice that Jesus doesn’t challenge looking for greatness, just how to find greatness. Although the world works one way, a different path is required if you want to be great in the kingdom.

What Jesus is saying is that:

  • To be great in the kingdom, you have to be lowly right now
  • To be first then, you have to be last now
  • To be honored then, you have to lower yourself before others now
  • To be powerful then, you have to learn to serve others now

Its a paradox: You find greatness in the kingdom by being the lowest here on earth. The kingdom turns things upside down, at least as with regards to how the world works.

So our first lesson from this scripture is – If you want to be great, lower yourself to serve others. To get to the top of the kingdom honor/power scale, you have to go the bottom of the world’s honor/power scale and serve others.

In the rest of this passage, Jesus fleshes this teaching out with . . .

An illustration: Ministering to children

v. 36 says, “And he took a child and put the child in the midst of them, and embracing the child, he said to them . . ..”
 Now the word “child” here refers to anyone between the age of an infant to a 12 year old. Basically below the age of adolescence or puberty. This is how the word is used in the gospels.

A little background here on children. Today, we think of childhood as an age of innocence and we give great value and honor to children, more so than other cultures today, and certainly more than what prevailed in the ancient world.

In biblical times children were way down the honor/power scale, if not at the very bottom. They were often seen as no more than slaves, until they grew up. You can see this in that the word “child” in Aramaic (the language of Jesus) is the same as that for “slave.” Also, in Galatians 4:1-2 – Paul talks about how, until a child grows up (even a rich heir), the child is not different than a slave.

Basically, children had no power, status or rights. They were non-persons being non-adults, and were under the complete authority of their parents.

So Jesus picks out a child, an example of lowliness and one who is a servant, and he says in the first part of v. 37, “’Whoever receives one such child in my name . . .’” “One such child” is a reference to the child next to Jesus (Luke 9:48), as well as other children.

What does it mean to receive a child?

  • The word “receive” means giving welcome. Jesus does this here by embracing the child.
  • Also, remembering that this is an example of v. 35, “receive” equals being a “servant of all,” which means taking care of their needs.
  • At least a part of this receiving is illustrated for us later in Mark 10:13-16. In contrast to the disciples who do not receive the children, Jesus receives them by giving kindness, attention, and ministering God’s blessing to them.

We do all of this serving “in Jesus’ name” as his representatives, doing what he would do in the situation.

Putting this all together, Jesus is saying more specifically, and this is our second lesson – If you want to be great – lower yourself even below children – and serve them. There are many lowly ones we can serve, but here he focuses on children.

The last part of v. 37 says, “’Whoever receives one such child in my name . . . receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’” We have here the “shaliach principle,” a well known idea in Judaism – “a person’s representative is as the person them self.” So how you respond to the representative is how you respond to the one who sent him.

Jesus uses this principle several times to talk about how it works when he sends out the apostles as his representatives. For instance Luke 10:16 teaches, if you receive them, you receive Jesus, if you reject them, you reject Jesus.

What is amazing here is that not only apostles, but also children are Jesus’ representatives! The disciples saw ministering to children in worldly terms as serving nobodies, doing what is menial and insignificant.

But Jesus puts this in a new light, and this is our third lesson – When we minister to lowly children, we are doing what is truly great – serving Jesus and indeed the Father. When we receive them, care for them and bless them, we are really doing all this to God. But, when we do not receive them, or mistreat them, this is really how we are treating God.

This speaks to how important it is to care for children’s needs and also to the fact that this is how we can be great in the kingdom. There is nothing greater than ministering to God.

Some words of encouragement

We have lots of opportunities to interact with children and minister to their needs. As parents, grandparents, those who work with children in their careers, children’s Sunday School workers, children’s church and nursery workers, workers in our two girls’ clubs, and our vacation bible school workers this week – we have many opportunities.

In all of these situations, when the children are acting up, when they are impatient, when they are difficult and even worse – remember, when you are serving children in Jesus’ name you are doing something great, ministering to Jesus and the Father. And you are doing what it takes to be great in the kingdom. William Higgins

Read Full Post »

Jesus was very concerned that children be valued and ministered to by his people. I’m not sure there is anything more important than tending to the children among us – from our own families and from the community as well.

Yet among Christian groups there are different, even conflicting ways of approaching ministry to children. So we are called to discern how we will sort  through these issues; how we will minister to the children of this congregation.

As Elders we have been working on this, and we now invite you to enter into the process. That’s what this meeting is all about. I will give a presentation tonight on our understanding and our recommendations. It is our intention to move toward common understandings and practices on these issues – policies if you will.

We invite your feedback. Think of this as a Sunday School class. Stop me and ask questions or make comments. Some of this may be controversial or maybe not. I don’t know. What is important is that we let the Scriptures guide us in this.

The first thing I want us to look at, and what underlies much of what follows, is that Scripture teaches that

1. Children are a part of the kingdom of God

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” – Mark 10:14. This comes from the story of Jesus blessing the children. In the last part of this verse Jesus teaches that children “belong to the kingdom of God.” This teaches us that we do not need to worry about the destiny of children, at least in terms of their immediate status with God. They are a part of the kingdom of God; the realm of God’s blessing and salvation. Or to put it plainly they are saved; they are safe in God’s grace.

But what is the age of these children who are a part of the kingdom? The first clue comes from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15. The second clue comes from the word that Jesus uses for “children” – “paidion.” Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children from birth (e.g. Luke 1:59 – 8 days old) to puberty (e.g. Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child 12 or below – preadolescent children.

This is cruical for what follows. Jesus teaches us here that we should not think of our children simply as small adults:

Unlike adults, who need conversion to enter the kingdom, and are thus baptized as a sign of their conversion, the kingdom already belongs to children.

2. Children are not mature

A child in Scripture means one who is not mature. Along these lines it is used figuratively to refer to adults who are not mature in some way (e.g. I Corinthians 3:1). Literal children are not mature in many ways, but the focus here is on their inability to discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves.

  • Deuteronomy 1:39 talks about “ . . . your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil . . ..”
  • Isaiah 7:15 speaks of maturity in these terms: “when (the child) knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”
  • Hebrews 5:13-14 defines maturity in this way – “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

3. Children are born with “fleshly desires”

Not only are children not mature in terms of being able to make moral and religious choices, they have an inborn tendency to resist righteousness. As we know, they often do not do what is right. Like all humans, no matter what age, children must struggle with the desires of the flesh; our natural desires that lead us to do what we want instead of what God wants.

  • As Jesus said, with regard to doing God’s will – “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38.
  • Paul said, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law – Romans 8:7.

4. We are to train our children

Given the condition of children, the task of parents and the people of God is to train, shape and form them in the way of the Lord. Moses said to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:7 – “You shall teach my commandments diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, Christian parents are to raise their children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

In practical terms this means teaching them:

  • what is right and wrong according to God
  • the contents of Scripture
  • about faith and helping them to learn to trust in God
  • about repentance and forgiveness when they do wrong
  • how to pray
  • how resist temptation

We are to teach them all this and more through both word and perhaps most importantly example – as they see us live out the Christian life.

The church also has a role in this training of children given its commission by Jesus to “make disciples” of all peoples (Matthew 28:19). We strive to do this through our various programming for children, especially Sunday school.

5. Childhood faith is good and should be honored

When we train our children in the way of the Lord they will most often come to have a childhood faith in God and Jesus. Even though the faith of children is different from adult faith (see below) it is loved by God and should be honored by the church.

  • Samuel served God as a child – 1 Samuel 3.
  • At age 12 Jesus knew God’s way better than the adults – Luke 2:42-50.
  • As Jesus said, God accepts and loves the praise of children – Matthew 21:15-16.

6. Adult faith is different and is the goal of our training

A child’s faith is dependent on what parents or others teach them. Since they are not fully able to discern and choose for themselves this is appropriate to their situation.

Adult faith, however, is different. It is a choice based on the person’s own discernment of what is right and wrong. And even though an adult’s faith will continue to grow and mature – the ability to discern for oneself and choose is what makes adult faith fundamentally different than the faith of a child.

So the goal of our training is that when our children are mature (past the age of childhood acceptance before God – see #1) they will be ready to begin to discern and choose to enter the kingdom of God for themselves. As Paul writes to Timothy– “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” – 2 Timothy 3:14-15. Our training is meant to equip our children so that when they are ready and able they will choose salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. For those with childhood faith this may well be a smooth and seamless transition.

7. Children and baptism

That baptism is for adults can be seen in several ways:

The symbolic meaning of baptism involves, among other things, the choice to leave the world and sin behind in order to walk in Jesus’ way. Or, to use the similar imagery of Romans 6  – baptism has to do with dying to your old life of sin and being raised to a new life of righteousness. But children are still a part of the kingdom of God, not the world. They have not yet even entered this adult world of choosing and discerning for themselves – along with culpably sinning before God. To apply this symbol to them is inappropriate in that it doesn’t properly reflect their status before God. They aren’t leaving the world and sin behind. They are already in the kingdom.

In Scripture, baptism is uniformly connected with adult kinds of responses: hearing the gospel, understanding it, and choosing faith and repentance in response to the message. But by definition children are not able to discern and choose to have faith in Jesus for themselves. The faith that they have is dependent on what parents and others have taught them.

Finally, Jesus connects baptism with discipleship, or “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28:19-20. But children are not able to make the serious, adult kinds of choices that Jesus requires of all disciples. Jesus calls us to obey his hard teachings, to submit to church discipline and to sacrifice our lives for the kingdom.

Given this, baptism should not be applied to preadolescent children – even those who have a childhood faith in Jesus. Baptism is meant to be the marker of adult faith in Jesus. It is the way that Jesus chose for adults to publicly identify with him as a Christian and as a disciple. So baptism should be reserved for those who are able to have adult-faith; for those who are (roughly) 13 or older.

For those with childhood faith, baptism should be looked forward to as the symbol of transition from childhood faith to adult faith.

What we need, and are proposing, is a ritual for those who come to childhood faith, to affirm and support their faith, allowing us to reserve baptism for its proper role with reference to adults.

When our child matures to the point of making adult choices in relation to God – they may well be ready for baptism, or their childhood faith may continue on for a while, or they may discern and choose not to follow Jesus. We should be careful in this transition time not to pressure them into baptism. To be genuine, it must come from their own initiative, discernment and choice, although it is always appropriate to invite them to make this decision.

8. Children and the Lord’s supper

Symbolically the Lord’s supper represents much of what baptism represents.

The bread, coming from the Passover meal, speaks to leaving behind our old lives of bondage and despair in the world (just as Israel left Egypt behind). As was noted above under baptism, this is not an appropriate symbolic statement about where children are in their status before God. The bread also assumes an adult type choice to leave behind the world and sin in order to follow God. Each time we partake we remind ourselves of this commitment that we made to God at the time of our baptism.

The cup, coming from the covenant ceremony of Exodus 24 (where Israel agreed to obey all that God commanded), has a covenant context. It assumes that we have covenanted with God through baptism and it calls us to remember this adult type commitment – to do all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19).

So the Lord’s supper is a meal for those who have made the adult kind of commitment that is required to be a disciple of Jesus – baptism. Those with childhood faith should be taught to look forward to their baptism, when they too will be able to take part in this discipleship meal.

9. The blessing of children

Jesus is very clear that we are to “receive” children in his name. Jesus said in Mark 9:37 – “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Jesus is also very clear that we are to “let the children come” to him – Mark 10:14. We are not to be like the disciples who tried to hold back the children from Jesus; who made Jesus angry.

But if baptism and the Lord’s supper are not the way to do this as a church, what is? The Gospels answer this question by telling the story of Jesus blessing the children.

“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.. . . And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” – Mark 10:13-16.

So, to “let the children come” to Jesus (Mark 10:14) is defined in this story in verse 16. And what it means to receive children in Mark 9:37 is explained here in Mark 10:16.

When Jesus ministered to children he did not baptize them or give them the Lord’s supper. He took them, prayed for them and blessed them. He took the time to receive them and care for them and to minister God’s blessing into their lives. This is also what we should do.

10. A summary of practical outcomes

1. We should have a continued focus on training our children: Sunday school, bible school and girls’ clubs. And we should seek to equip and support our parents as teachers of their children.
2. We should continue to have a service of blessing for our babies upon their presentation to the church and we should be ready to pray for God’s blessing for children, whenever they or their parents seek it out.
3. We should reserve baptism for adolescent young people and older.
4. We should provide a public ceremony to affirm and support the expression of childhood faith in our children.
5. We should reserve the Lord’s supper for those who are baptized.
6. We should provide a special time of blessing for children each time we celebrate the Lord’s supper so that they are included and are able to be ministered to by Jesus.
7. For the preadolescent children among us who are already baptized, we would like to walk with them, invite them to catechism classes, as needed when they are ready, and in general encourage them to own their faith as young adults as well.

Read Full Post »