At that time the disciples came to see Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said:
"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will
never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my
name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned
in the depths of the sea." Matthew 18:1-6
I'm a preacher's kid, so I've been in church since my first Sunday on the Cradle Roll (yes, I know that dates me). I've seen beauty and love there, and I've seen ugly. One Wednesday night, after a particularly hateful business meeting, I left the sanctuary and swore I would never set foot in church again. Life was hard enough without that kind of drama, and frankly, it was worse in church than it was at work or school. I was done with church and Christians, and though I wasn't done with God, I was mad at him for letting that kind of ugliness go on. I'd been a Christian for almost 20 years at that time and it still sent me into a time of spiritual struggle that included, at one point, me actually asking God to take "those people" on out. Just get rid of 'em. Yes I did. And no, he didn't. I'd like to think I would handle it differently now if I had to. I'm a more mature Christian now, but it would still be a battle for me.
Have you ever heard someone say, "If that's what a Christian is like, I don't want any part of it?"
Hate, bitterness, anger, a critical spirit, those things are not from God, and if we are out in the world as Christians, representing Jesus, they better not be in us, either. We are to be in the world as lights in the darkness, giving hope and drawing people to Jesus because his people love people in his name. Instead, we are sometimes out there like a toxic gas cloud and the only choice people have is to run from it.
If we struggle with this as believers, imagine what we must look like to those who don't know Jesus. How are we any different from the rest of the world? And why are these people who are preaching the love of God, not showing it?
God loves us like little children, not childISH and spoiled and selfish, but childLIKE: open-hearted, trusting, joyful in little things and living in the moment, not worried about tomorrow or how the rent will get paid, accepting of others because we haven't learned to discriminate and judge, just happy to have someone to play with and talk to. Little children are forgiving when their friends make mistakes or get it wrong. They don't spend a lot of time rehashing things, because there are frogs to catch and butterflies to chase, and puppies to play with. When a friend cries, they give a good hug and pat tears from plump little cheeks and share their cookies. When they are scared or hurt, they run to a parent for comfort and safety because they trust.
It's hard to walk a line between being a mature Christian and being childlike, isn't it? The two sometimes seem mutually exclusive. We so badly need to get this right. Someone could die and go to hell because of our attitude and behavior. It's that serious. I don't want that on my conscience, do you?
We may not be worried about who is greatest in heaven, but we may be on a mission to get people to see things the "right way", i.e. my way. We may be so convinced that our beliefs and convictions are the right ones, that we have no patience for those who see things differently, and so, we judge them as somehow less than ourselves. It comes across in our words, and in our Facebook posts, and comments, and in Tweets, and every other form of expression.
We forget that the person holding those other beliefs is a precious soul whom God loves with his whole heart. Just like me. Just like you. God doesn't wait for them to "get it right" before he loves them, or us, and we need to be eternally grateful for that. We are all in this together, at different places and stages, but no one is less than, just because they are different.
The more people seem godless and profane, the more broken they are, and the more they need to feel the love of Jesus from us, not our condemnation or proclamation that they are going to hell. That is rarely said without the implied satisfaction that they are "getting what they deserve". Jesus died to save us ALL from that.
Today, ask God in your prayers to show you anything that might turn someone away from him. Ask for forgiveness and a way to make it right. Let him shine a light into every little corner of your life.
Prayer for today-
Jesus, I am so thankful that you love me just the way I am. I hope I show that to everyone around me every day, but if I don't, please help me to see myself honestly, as you do. Help me to let your Spirit be so free in me that I act and react in ways that make people know I know you. Let me love like it's the most important thing, and make my heart soft for people who are so broken and without you that they mock you and say hateful things about you. Love is the greatest thing, you said so. Let your love be so strong in me, that it breaks down the hate in others. Let me be a safe place for people who are hurting. I don't want anyone to turn away from you because of me. Help me learn to love you more today. You are my best friend.