Luke 18:17, Proverbs 16:19

Childlike Humility!

The kingdom of heaven and Christmas are for children. In Luke 18:17, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” In thinking my way through the characteristics that God desires in us adults that reflect a child like faith, I think we need to consider the idea of untutored humility. What I mean by “untutored” is that children don’t need to be taught to be humble. It’s a part of their characteristic of living in a grown-up world. When you live in a world where you have to look up at everyone around you, where you are fed by others, clothed by others, cared for when you’re hurt by others, and just about every necessity of life is provided by others, you come to understand your place in the overall scheme of things. But grownups get tall, strong, self-sufficient, competent, and learn how to take care of themselves in life. That leads to confusion in our overall lot in life.

There was an interesting article in the Omaha World Herald some time back about saying grace and praying in public in general. Several people interviewed argued that it wasn’t necessarily a public display of religious pride on the part of those who prayed, but rather it represented a sincere desire on their part to reflect an honest attitude of gratitude to their maker for the many daily blessings in their lives. I like to think that’s the reason I do it. We become confused by our grownup economic system. It’s easy to believe that we deserve what we have, and that we’ve earned everything we have, and that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and we all have to pay the price, etc. But the bottom line in it all is that we have been blessed to live in a country where we have the freedoms we have, the opportunities we have, the resources we have, etc. A truly childlike humility looks up at those who’ve gone before them and paid the price for the great freedoms we have. It looks to the maker of heaven and earth as the supreme provider and acknowledges its helplessness to provide and sustain all these blessings by itself. None of us would enjoy this life if it weren’t for others who came before us and for the God that made us and sustains us.

Proverbs 16:19 tells us “It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Someone said, “If you are too big for a little place, you are too little for a big place.” A. W. Tozer wrote, “Humility pleases God wherever it is found, and the humble person will have God for his or her friend and helper always. Only the humble are completely sane, for they are the only ones who see clearly their own size and limitations. Egotists see things out of focus. To themselves they are large, and God is correspondingly small, and that is a kind of moral insanity.”

Luke 18:17, John 5:24

Receiving God’s Gift at Christmas

Christmas and the kingdom of heaven are both for children. Jesus made this very clear in Luke 18:17 when He said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” The conversation in which this comment was made was with the rich young ruler. He had it all and wanted to add to his account by meriting his way into heaven. He asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus went through the list of things he could sacrifice until he got to the ultimate point. There’s nothing one can do to earn or deserve admittance into God’s kingdom. If you wanted to buy your way into heaven or earn your admittance ticket, the cost would be very high. As a matter of fact, the cost was always more than anyone could pay. When the rich young ruler got this point the Bible says, “When he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”

It can’t be bought or earned but it can be received as the great gift that it is. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”  John teaches us that whoever “receives” Him has been given the right to become God’s children. It’s not those who understand Him (I don’t think we ever will!) It’s not those who master the doctrines of the Christian faith. It’s not for those who are wealthy, educated or sophisticated. On the contrary, it’s for those who accept God’s gift by faith – it’s for children! Paul tells us that it’s not by works (or wealth) we are saved, but by God’s grace through faith. “It is a gift of God” and the only thing that can be done with a gift is to receive it, accept it. If we attempt to earn or deserve or buy it, we’ve missed the point entirely.

Receiving the gift of eternal life and believing in Jesus are the same things. John’s gospel makes that clear to us. It is saving faith that brings eternal life and opens the doors to the kingdom of heaven and makes Christmas what Christmas is really all about. John mentions eternal life about 35 times in his gospel. The one who believes in Jesus has received Jesus and has in their possession the gift of eternal life. John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life…” Only Jesus gives the gift of eternal life and to receive Him is to receive that gift, because Jesus is God’s greatest gift of all. Christmas time is the celebration of God’s great gift to us – – His only Son.

Matthew 11:25

The Faith of a child!

Christmas and the kingdom of heaven are both for children. Jesus made it clear that we must all be born again as little children and embrace as adults the faith of a child. God’s ways are filled with paradoxes. You must die if you are really going to live. You must give if you’re ever going to get. You must become last if you’re ever going to be first. You must be the least if you desire to be the greatest. God’s ways are much different from man’s ways. The world seeks people with power, influence, education, socials status and wealth. God seeks little children. God is building His kingdom on the characteristics most frequently found in children: love, innocence, lack of power, sincerity, without pretension, and most of all complete trust. God doesn’t look for power brokers he wants children who simply trust Him. Adults have to unlearn a lot of things to become like children. That’s why Jesus told the wise and seasoned Nicodemus that he had to born again.

A rebirth is necessary because grownups who put confidence in themselves can’t ever grasp the true meaning of the kingdom of heaven or Christmas. They have become blinded to the spiritual reality all around them. When His disciples finally grasped this truth, Jesus exploded with praise to God. He said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children…” (Matthew 11:25).

Maintaining childlike faith in the midst of hurt, pain, suffering and loss is not an easy matter. Christmas time for many can be a time of sorrow and suffering. We hear so much about perseverance and biting the bullet and staying strong and facing the giants and it almost seems like it’s all about our grit and courage. I don’t think God wants us to demonstrate our strength in the face of trial and tribulation. That makes it all about me. I think He wants us to demonstrate our faith. I sometimes hang on, during suffering and trials, out of devotion to duty, or deep moral resolve, or some misplaced manly ability to endure pain. God wants me, as He did all the saints of old, to stand firm in my faith during times of testing. Like an innocent child, He wants me to stand firm in the fact that God loves me and has my best interest foremost in mind, regardless of my circumstances. It’s holding on with childlike devotion to God’s promises, not my strengths. Our obedience shouldn’t glorify us, but the God of Grace.

Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:5

Childlike Faith!

Christmas and the kingdom of heaven are for children. I think this is why Jesus told Nicodemus that he “must be born again.” As the wise old teacher, rabbi, Pharisee that he was, he needed to back off all the adult learning and philosophy of the day and just have faith. It’s often true that when children grow up and leave home, they lose their faith. The secular world resists and often rejects anything beyond what can be scientifically demonstrated or proven. But most of the important things in life are not a matter of science or math. They are matters of faith. There are some things science cannot reproduce: origins, historical data, or matters of the heart. Many of these truths must be taken as a matter of faith. This is why the kingdom of heaven is also a matter of faith. Paul makes it clear that we are saved “by grace through faith, not of works.” I believe this may have been Jesus’ focus when He said in Matthew 18:3, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The disciples repelled the children who were brought to Jesus, but Jesus insisted they be brought to him because the kingdom of heaven consisted of such as these. In Luke 18:15 we read; “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them…” At a time when the infant mortality rate was so high and childhood diseases often meant death, many children and infants were brought to Jesus for healing. In his commentary on Luke, Butler writes, “This marks off God’s ways from men’s ways. God deals always with the little ones, the unknown ones, the powerless ones. The world seeks people of power, influence, and wealth. God seeks the children. God builds his kingdom on childlike characteristics: trust, love, innocence, lack of power, lack of pretension, lack of credentials. God wants children whom he can make into disciples, not power brokers whom he has to steer away from political and military expectations.”

But you will notice that Jesus took this teaching further. He did not suggest that childlikeness was one possible way; he said it was the only way! Butler goes on to say, “Being like a child is the only way to kingdom living. If you cannot do away with your pretensions, your greed, your claims to fame, your need to dominate and control, your grasp for identity and power, you cannot be part of Christ’s kingdom. Christ constantly seeks those who have no hope of power and position: the poor, Samaritans, women, children, blind, crippled, lame, tax collectors. These lack the vanity and self-assurance that keep a person from entering the kingdom.” Jesus said in Mark 10:15 “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Mark 10:15, Psalm 34, Romans 5:6-7

Undisputed Helplessness!

I have argued in previous devotions that both Christmas and heaven are for kids. If so, what are some of the characteristics that make kids more suited for Christmas and for heaven? Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15).  It is interesting to me that Jesus talks about “receiving” heaven. It is like receiving a gift at Christmas. The Apostle John said that the Word became flesh and lived amongst us, referring to Jesus. He added “to as many as received him” God gave the power to become children of God. The kingdom of heaven must be received the same way children receive a Christmas present.

God is making a list and He’s checking it twice, but it has nothing to do with who’s naughty or nice. We’ve all been naughty and we know it. I remember wondering every Christmas if the fact that I had done some pretty naughty things that year would negatively impact my gift getting at Christmas. It never did! It seems that I’d sometimes be threatened by it. Grown-ups would sometimes say “Santa Claus is watching you!” but by the time I was 10 I knew that there would be lots of gifts under the tree for me. I also knew by that time that there wasn’t any such thing as Santa Claus. I also knew I could never dispute my level of “goodness” or argue my case. I was indeed helpless with regard to the attitude of my parents toward me at Christmas time. It had nothing to do with my naughtiness or my niceness. It had to do with their love. And I would receive their love gifts with great enthusiasm. By the time we were done there would be toys and paper scattered everywhere. That’s the way it was for my sons as well. They were my children!

That’s the way the kingdom of God is. It has nothing to do with our goodness, we all have our own share of naughtiness and that makes us helpless. That’s a good place to be. That’s where David was when he wrote Psalm 34. He says, “I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.” Our helplessness and God’s greatness makes for a great Christmas celebration! I really like the way the New American Standard Bible translates Romans 5:6-7. It says, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” If we want to enjoy God’s greatest gift of salvation along with the promise of eternal life, we must simply receive Jesus as children receive a Christmas gift.

Matthew 18:3, John 3:3

Christmas is for kids!

Some years ago, I did a series of sermons during the Christmas season on the nostalgia of Christmas and entitled it “Christmas is for Kids.” I came up with that title myself, believe it or not, and then I did an internet search and found that there is an entire foundation with that name, established to make sure that all kids have a very merry Christmas. Their website explains it this way: “We are an all-volunteer run, gift-giving program that assists children who would otherwise go without a gift on Christmas Day.”  We have always supported the “Angel Tree” program which is Chuck Colson’s initiative to make sure that the kids whose parents are in prison receive gifts at Christmas time also. It does seem that the focus of Christmas is children. But it’s for children of all ages.

In my web search for the phrase “Christmas is for Kids” I had over 1 and a half million hits. There are many organizations which have been using that phrase for a long time. There are also many songs with that title. One was by Marty Robbins, one of my favorite western singers from the 60’s, and another by George Jones. The lyrics of Jones’s song were really cute:

Uncle Joe threw snowballs till his fingers froze
And how the snowflakes tickled melting on your nose
There goes daddy down the hill riding on my sled
Well, I guess nobody told him that Christmas is for kids

Momma’s popping popcorn that we’ll put on a string
To wrap around the Christmas tree while everybody sings
Grandma’s telling stories about the things that Jesus did
And grandpa’s telling everyone that Christmas is for kids

Christmas is for kids from one to ninety-nine
And the kid comes out in everyone each year about this time
So as we gather ’round the tree let’s all bow our heads
And thank the Lord for all we have but most of all for kids.

Christmas is for kids, and so is heaven. When his disciples tried to prevent children from coming to him, Jesus said to knock it off because heaven was populated by children. He later went on to emphatically say in Matthew 18:3 “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” When Jesus was talking to one of the leaders of the Jewish nation, he told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  John 3:3

John 3:16, John 15:13

The Perfect Gift!

One of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received came early in December of 1970. It was our son Chuck! We were in Greenville, South Carolina with my family in Omaha and Kathy’s family in California. It was just the two of us for over a year. But God gave us a great present on our second Christmas together. It made our Christmas 1970 very special. It was a difficult adjustment. We lived in a one bedroom duplex and the baby slept in a basinet in the living room most of the time at nights, then in the middle of our double bed during the daytime. Our landlord really fell in love with the baby, but Chuckie (as we called him) didn’t care too much for her. He’d scream bloody murder when she tried to hold him. Marie would wrestle with him for a few minutes and then hand him back to Kathy. We thought it was funny, but she didn’t.

He was the best Christmas present I ever received, or the greatest gift, because he taught Kathy and I how to love.  He was helpless, messy, hungry, and demanding at times, but that never stopped our love for him. In 1 Corinthians Paul gave an expose on the Spiritual gifts but he concluded with “Faith, Hope and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.” I’ve always found it interesting how Paul put “love” amidst his discussion on the Gifts of the Spirit. Love is the greatest gift we can give or ever receive. During the days when our first son was born, Love was the only thing we really had to give, but it was more than enough. I was reminded of that on my 50th wedding anniversary last year when Kathy gave me a card. She said I’ve given her many things over the years but the “greatest and most treasured of all is your love!” And nothing can be truer than this! The greatest gift anyone can ever give or receive is the gift of love.

Jesus is God’s perfect expression of His love for us. It’s the greatest gift of all. My prayer for myself and all is that His great gift will be our focus this year! And that all our gifts, tied and wrapped, will also be accompanied by love. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved that he “gave….” Then in John 15:13 we read, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Christmas is all about the perfect gift from the perfect giver of all good gifts.

Romans 5:8, John 3:16

Loving and Giving!

Richard Hatch was the winner of the first Survivor game show back in 2000. I never liked the guy very much and after he won, he started doing the talk show circuit. He was on all the big ones: Letterman, Leno, etc. He was arrogant and obnoxious (I guess it takes one to know one!) The most memorable thing about him is what he said that always makes me think about the Christmas tradition of giving. He said, “selfishness is a virtue.” He said, “For example, if you give somebody a gift, it’s because you want that good feeling that comes to you from the act of making someone you care about happy.”

Well, that’s the truth in many ways. I remember shopping as a little boy for my mother and father and wanting to get them something that they would like. Dad always got excited over the handkerchiefs and the socks. Mom loved the cheap perfume. Well, they sure acted like it. It was interesting that as I look back, I realize that there sure wasn’t much for them to get excited about at Christmas time but they sure did act like it. I didn’t fully understand it until I had my own kids and got the joy of giving to them and acting like the pencil drawing of a tree was the greatest gift I could have ever received.  It really does feel good to give to those we love! We truly do have a selfish motive in our giving. We love to make those we love happy and we usually go to some expense to make that happen.

But what if the one you loved most was what you had to give away? Do you see any selfish motives in that? God so loved the world that He gave his “only begotten son.” Jesus is often referred as God’s “beloved son.” Jesus is the one God loved above all others and it was this that God gave up. Instead of pleasing the One He loved, He gave Him up for us! And He gave Him up for us when we were His enemies.  In doing this He “demonstrates His Own love for us in that: that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Someone once said that the only purely motivated gift of love was the one God gave us in the person of His only Son. When we look at all the presents under our trees this year, let’s remember the greatest present of all. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved us, you and me, “that he gave His only begotten Son.”

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