Vision For The New Millenium: Capturing The Children
Just recently I came across a fascinating list that carried this intriguing title: “Great Truths About Life That Little Children Have Learned.” Let me share a few of these great truths with you:Just recently I came across a fascinating list that carried this intriguing title: “Great Truths About Life That Little Children Have Learned.” Let me share a few of these great truths with you:
- When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair.
- Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato or an egg.
- You can’t trust dogs to watch your food for you.
- School lunches stick to the wall.
- Don’t sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair.
- Never wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts no matter how cute the underwear.
- You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
- No matter how hard you try, you cannot baptize a cat.
Those children obviously learned those great truths and arrived at those bold new insights after some dramatic, eye-opening experience in their own lives. I mean, can’t you just see some children trying to baptize a cat and learning from painful experience that that’s not a very good thing to do? The point is clear: Experiences in life teach us our greatest lessons and that is why it is so important to me that the children, the hundreds and hundreds of children who are a part of the life of this church will have experiences here which will teach them the great truths they need to lead triumphant, victorious, significant Christian lives.
My desire is confirmed by this wonderful little slice of the Gospel found in Mark 10. Jesus had come to the region of Judea and enormous crowds were flocking to hear him. In the crowds were parents- mothers and fathers who were pushing their way through the masses trying to get their children to Jesus. You see, it was the custom in that day for parents to have a distinguished rabbi touch their children just after the child’s first birthday. It was believed to bring the blessing of God into the lives of those children. So it was an important thing to do, at least in the minds of those parents. So here came these parents pressing their children upon Jesus. Now, the disciples, perhaps caught up with their own importance as followers of the great teacher, saw these children as a nuisance, an annoyance, a disturbance. So the disciples began to bark out orders: “Get back, kids. Parents, take hold of your children. Don’t bother the Master. Jesus doesn’t have time for this kind of thing. Get back and keep quiet.”
When Jesus realized what they were doing, He was most unhappy. He cried: “No, no, no, don’t do that. Let the children come to me. Don’t hold them back. Remember, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.” Quite clearly, Jesus was referring not to childishness, but to child-likeness. He was referring to the qualities of trust and openness and affection and energy and enthusiasm and joy and wonder. These are all characteristics of children and Jesus wants us to understand that they are all characteristics of the Christian lifestyle as well. That’s why Jesus was so forthright in declaring that children, better than anyone or anything else can teach us the things of God. And that’s why Jesus was so deliberate in demanding that we bring our children to Him. Put simply, we are to learn from our children about Christ and we are to bring our children to Christ. Let me try to spell that out for you.
First, we are to learn from our children about Christ.
We have between 600 and 700 children on this campus every day of the week, and I want more. The reason I want more is that because the radiant faith of children is so infectious and I want all of us as adults to catch it. Think for example, how children teach us about trust. A child is instinctively independent. And just as instinctively, a child trusts parents to meet the basic needs of life. When we are children, we cannot secure our food or our clothing or maintain our home and yet, we never doubt for a moment that we will be fed, clothed and sheltered. It never enters our heads to doubt that our parents will meet our needs and secure our safety.
There was a family who had moved to a military base and the little boy was in the first grade. The first day in class, in response to the teacher’s question about where he was living, the little boy said that they had not been able to find an apartment yet. The teacher responded: “I’m sorry that you have not yet found a home.” The little boy immediately declared: “O teacher, we have a home. We just haven’t found a house to put it in!” That child is sensitive to the love of the home and never doubts it. Children, you see, do not question the love of a parent, and thus they teach us what faith and trust in our heavenly Father ought to be.
Think also how children teach us about truth. They see things and they say things as they really are. Like the four-year-old who embarrassed her mother as they were leaving church one Sunday. She said: “Mommy, why don’t you just leave your Bible here. That way next Sunday morning you won’t have such a hard time finding it.” Children do deal in truth, don’t they? I’ve always loved James Dobson’s great story about a 3-year old named Adrianne who had a 5-month old brother, Nathan, whom she dearly loved. However, the mother worried about the little girl picking up her baby brother and dropping him, so she forbade Adrianne from carrying Nathan. One day the mother was busy in the kitchen and suddenly realized that both children were gone—down the long hall to the bedroom she went, concern mounting with every step. She found the two children playing happily on the floor in Adrianne’s bedroom. Relieved but upset, the mother said: “Adrianne, I told you not to carry Nathan. He could get hurt if you dropped him.” Adrianne replied: “I didn’t carry him.” The mother, understandably suspicious, then demanded: “Then how did he get all the way from the kitchen to your room?” Adrianne said: “I rolled him.” Can’t you just see that? Rolling him over and over and over until they got there. Ah yes, children tell it like it is. They deal in truth. Would to God that we could heave away all our hypocrisy, finish off all our fakery, and act with the openness, the honesty, the plainness, and the purity of children. They teach us about truth. When Jesus said in Mark 10 “there will be no grown-ups in heaven” and that is in essence what He said, He was telling us that the language of faith is the language of children. He was telling us that unless our lives are marked by child-like trust and truth, unless you have the kind of pure faith that we find in children, then you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I love what someone once said about the great theologian, Dietrich Bonnhoffer. They said: “He was a giant among men because he was a child before God.” Isn’t that wonderful? That is why we can learn from our children about Christ.
But also we ought to bring our children to Christ.
A story, sad but true. On September 13 , 1987, two unemployed young men in search of a quick buck entered a partly demolished radiation clinic in Goyanoya, Brazil. They removed a derelict cancer-therapy machine containing a stainless steel cylinder about the size of a gallon paint can, which they then sold to a junk dealer for $25. Inside the cylinder was a cake of crumbly powder that emitted a mysterious blue light. The dealer took the seemingly magical material home and distributed it to his family and friends in the neighborhood. His six-year-old niece rubbed the glowing dust on her hands, her arms and her face. She then danced about, eerily glowing in the sultry darkness of the tropic night like an enchanted elfin sprite. Tragically, it turned out that the dust was cesium 137, a highly radioactive substance. The little girl’s dance of joy turned into a nightmare of suffering and soon she was dead. Because the blue, glowing dust had been spread so widely, others died as well or became grievously sick. In fact, more than 200 people, most of them children, were contaminated. The beautiful refulgent dust, stolen from an instrument of healing had become an instrument of death. So many of the children had rubbed the cesium on their skin like carnival glitter and the image of those luminous children will not leave me. Their story is a parable of our time, a haunting story touched with dream-like beauty and ending in death. Let the weight of that story lean against you for a moment. Have we given our children the kind of faith and values they need to make right decisions in a world filled with danger and difficulty or have we simply given them the glittering, magical things which money can buy, but which turn out to be every bit as poisonous or toxic or fatal as radioactive dust? Dear friends, when we commit ourselves to the Christian faith, we promise to pass that faith along to those who come after us. We promise to give them a faith to live by and a faith to die in. But are we keeping that promise?
Did you read in the newspaper the other day…front page? An exhaustive new national survey reveals that nine out of 10 Americans say they believe in God, but they want to make up their own moral code. Only 13% of the American people still believe in all ten of the Commandments. Nine out of ten lie regularly. A third of all married Americans regard faithfulness as passé. A fifth of the nation’s children have lost their virginity by age 13 and 2/3 of America’s parents don’t see that as a problem. Tell me, do you want the children of this church to be shaped by that kind of world? If that is what we are passing along to our children in this country, then we might as well give them radioactive dust, for at least then death would come more quickly.
Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew that if anyone causes a child to sin then it would be better for that person to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned into the depths of the sea. You see, when it comes to children having what they need to become all God wants them to be, Jesus wasn’t joking. He was deadly serious. I’m just as serious. In this church, we are to be for our children and for the children of this church and for the children of this city, not millstones, but milestones. We are to lead them into the paths of righteousness for the sake of Jesus Christ. We must stand in this church for Biblical principles which are lived out in personal convictions and those convictions need to be passed on to the children who are following after us. Here are some of those principles:
- We must teach our children to honor the name of God. His name is far too wonderful to ever be taken in vain or casually or disrespectfully or blasphemously. When you take His name casually you take Him casually.
- We must teach our children to avoid racial slurs, even in jest. It is pathetic to engage in such innuendo and since our children are going to live in a multi-ethnic world we had better get them ready for it.
- We must teach our children that you always lose with booze and drugs. Given the disastrous consequences of substance abuse in our society, I believe we should teach our children to refrain.
- We must take an uncompromising stand against the ravages of pornography and simulated violence. Children are being exposed to the most base and bizarre aspects of human activity on the Internet. It is the single most dehumanizing force at work in our society and cries of censorship are just a smokescreen to allow the evil to spread.
- We must teach our children the elements of Judeo-Christian morality with regard to sexual practices. True love waits. And we must teach them never to place personal desire or convenience above the protection and preservation of human life.
- We must teach our children the stories of the Scriptures so that they can learn what it means to live by the faith and to make decisions in life under the influence of that faith.
Yes, my beloved, we must bring our children to Jesus Christ. He said: “Do not keep them from coming to me.” We must pass on the faith to those who are coming after us.
The other evening I was walking through the courtyard of this church, headed toward the fellowship hall for the Wednesday evening meal. Suddenly, a little boy about six years old ran up beside me and said: “Hi, Dr. Edington” and then he put his hand out, wanting to hold my hand. Happily I reached down and grabbed his little hand as we continued to walk and suddenly I felt warm, sticky ooze in my hand. I looked down and his hand was covered with candy that had melted. Let me tell you something. The most important thing about that moment was not that his hand was sticky, but that his hand was in mine. I was holding the hand of the future. And I can tell you that in that moment I vowed a vow for him and I vowed a vow for my own children and grandchildren. I vowed a vow for all the children of this church and all the children of this city. I vowed that I am going to spend my energy and my money leading all the children I know to Jesus Christ. I call you to do the same. More to the point, Jesus calls you to do the same.