Jesus loves the little children

It’s interesting to think about what makes Jesus get hot under the collar.

Apparently it didn’t happen often, because the gospels only mention it a couple of times.

He got mad at some hard-hearted folks who didn’t want him to heal a disabled man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5).

He was angry with a group of swindlers who were using the temple to turn a profit (Mark 11:15).

But only once does the Bible say he was angry with his apostles, and it was over the way they were treating a group of kids.

Here’s the story:

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 (Mark 10:13-16).

Most people ignored children in Jesus’ world.

Especially men.

Especially important men like Jesus.

That’s probably what the disciples were thinking.

Don’t they know who this is?

Don’t these women know what kind of schedule he keeps?

Don’t they see that they’re bothering him?

So they fussed at them and told them that Jesus is waytoo busy to bother with their babies.

They again misjudged Jesus’ priorities, and he wasted no time letting them know.

Many of us grew up singing “Jesus loves me, this I know,” so the image of Jesus’ blessing children isn’t strange to us.

But it must’ve shocked the apostles.

It might’ve even embarrassed them.

They might have worried that some of the Jewish power brokers would be turned off by such undignified behavior.

Adding to their incredulity, Jesus told these grown men that they themselves should pay more attention to children.

They should learn to be humble and innocent.

They should accept the kingdom as a gift from God. Depend completely on him.

Picture Jesus with a couple of smiling babies in his lap, and the disciples standing nearby with their mouths wide open.

Then watch a young child the next time he’s given a precious gift. Notice his wide-eyed gratitude.

Watch his innocence. See his trustfulness.

Jesus tells us, be like that.

A different kind of love

The word love will be tossed around a lot today.

Somewhere a second-grader will give his secret sweetheart a pink card with a few mints taped inside. He’s loved her forever . . . since almost the beginning of the school year, if not longer. He’ll discreetly watch her open it, and hope nobody sees.

A couple of sixteen-year-olds will exchange cards and candy today as well. Deep down she thinks he may bethe one. She’s pretty sure she loves him.

A young married couple will celebrate their first Valentine’s Day, and their affection will be deeper, more meaningful, than it’s ever been.

Millions of other couples at different life stages will say “I love you,” and most will mean something slightly different when they say it.

Love for some has endured challenging times: career struggles, health problems, loss of loved ones, empty nests.

Love changes over time, doesn’t it?

The love we share now isn’t the same as it was when we were younger. And it won’t be the same a year from now, a decade after that.

Shared experiences add a depth, a vitality, a genuineness, to love . . . these qualities mature over time.

What we’re searching for, stretching toward, is genuine love.

Not the cards-and-candy, Hallmark kind of love.

Not the warm fuzzy feelings kind of love.

We’re aiming for love that’s truly self-sacrificing, other-focused.

We never quite get there, at least not all the way.

But as believers we know what it is, and we try to feel it, practice it, live it.

It’s perfectly demonstrated only in God’s love toward us, of course. When he lived for us, when he died for us, we get a glimpse at what love really is.

Valentine’s Day may be over-romanticized and too commercialized, but at the root of it is a longing in each of us.

To love and be loved. To experience a kind of love that’s not tied to what we deserve, and love that we extend even when it doesn’t feel good.

Especially when it doesn’t feel good.

In the midst of all of today’s cards and chocolate, think again about what love really is. Let it cause you to get on your knees and thank God for loving you when you were rebelling against him.

And let it remind you that the love you’ve received is the love you’re to give . . . to spouses, children, parents, to fellow believers, co-workers, the unlovable, everyone.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).

For life

It’s a beautiful thing when a man and a woman commit to live together as husband and wife for the rest of their lives.

It’s also tough.

With 72-day celebrity marriages and a culture that’s confused about commitment, we need these words from the Lord:

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:2-12).

We’re all flawed, and when two imperfect people live together in the intimacy of marriage, conflict comes.

Maybe a few of these Pharisees had storms brewing at home. Some of them could’ve already placed a call to their divorce lawyer.

After all, God wants us to be happy, right?

Of course he does.

But more importantly, he wants us to be like him.

He wants us to learn the meaning of true commitment.

He wants us to work through problems and love each other no matter what.

I’ve read many books on marriage, and I’ve never found the magic pill to prescribe to struggling couples.

But again and again, I come back to what Jesus says here.

Please don’t miss his main point by dwelling on when he allows divorce.

Jesus’ intent here was for us to recognize that marriage is a commitment for life.

Through the fun stuff, the tough stuff, and the daily stuff.

One man, one woman, one life.

A world without Christians?

What would the world be like if there were no Christians?

You’ve probably heard of Professor Richard Dawkins, the unofficial leader of the so-called New Atheists and author of The God Delusion. He’s never tried to hide his disdain for all religions, particularly Christianity.

In an article for the New Statesman, Dawkins wrote something quite chilling, but also revealing.

“If we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, . . .”

Destroy Christianity?

Is that what they want?

It’s frightening to think of what that world would look like.

It’s a world we don’t want to see, and Jesus points to that here:

Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50).

“Salt is good,” Jesus says, and you don’t have to look far to see that.

How many hospitals and children’s homes in the world exist because of Christianity’s influence?

How many millions of dollars have churches sent to Haiti, Japan, and Indonesia in the last few years?

How many Christians responded with compassion when tornadoes ravaged the southern United States last Spring?

Hurting people are glad their world has Christians in it.

But it goes beyond that.

Wherever true Christians go, they lavish the world with joy, love, mercy, and kindness.

They help divorcees get back on their feet.

They help addicts get past their addiction.

They bring joy to the sad, healing to the hurting, and grace to the abused.

They’re beacons of light in their communities, markers of hope in a world gone wrong.

Do we have problems? Of course.

Are we perfect? Nowhere near it.

Have we sometimes brought harm? Unfortunately, yes.

But Christians—genuine believers—shower the world with incredible good.

It’s not from us, of course. We have no self-generated influence and we have no light to shine.

But as we walk with Jesus, we reflect his goodness to a world that needs it so badly. The closer we are to him, the more good our salt accomplishes.

I’m not even slightly worried that Dawkins’ dream will come true . . . God won’t let that happen.

But even then, thinking of a Christian-less world is scary.

And I suppose it ought to motivate us to do a little more today to let the world see all the good Jesus does through his people.

An unpleasant topic

Hell.

Most of us prefer to avoid the topic because it’s not exactly a bring-in-the-crowds kind of subject.

And let’s be honest: who likes to think about a never-ending place of suffering where everyone is separated from God and all that’s good?

I don’t.

Apparently I’m not alone, because a well-known author sparked a firestorm last year when he published a book arguing that hell—at least in the traditional sense—doesn’t really exist.

Part of me wishes he was right. I’d like to believe that hell is nothing more than a scare tactic created by pulpit-pounding preachers to manipulate their hearers.

But then I read again what Jesus actually said.

Here’s a sample:

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” For everyone will be salted with fire (Mark 9:47-49).

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33).

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes . . . And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame” (Luke 16:22-24).

The truth is, Jesus taught it, and we’ve got to be very creative to get around it, and then we never really do.

Instead, we ought to reflect on what it means to us.

Hell is somewhere we don’t ever want to go.Nothing in this life—no matter how fun or exciting—is worth it. We should remind ourselves of that daily.

Hell is somewhere we don’t want people we love to go. Is there a friend or family member you need to talk to about the Lord? Sure, it may be hard and uncomfortable, but this really, really matters.

Hell is somewhere we don’t want anyone to go.We’ll never regret doing something to help save a soul. Maybe the Lord has opened a door for you to help a missionary, or send correspondence courses, or encourage a soul-winner. How is God leading you to reach a lost person in his name?

Maybe sometimes we wish that we’d overlooked some obscure verse that sheds new light on everything Jesus said about hell.

But that verse isn’t there. No interpretation—no matter how creative or novel—can undo the words of Jesus.

And really, in the end we have no choice but to submit to God’s sovereign will in all things, even things that are emotionally and intellectually difficult.

Hell is real, and our view of God ought to include our conviction that he’s prepared a place for those who live and die in rebellion against him.

Taking serious things seriously

I heard about a guy a few years ago who cut off his hand because he thought the Bible told him to.

Or worse, Origen, one of the early church fathers, couldn’t control his lust, so he mutilated himself.

Both of those poor fellows completely misunderstood how to apply what Jesus said in the passage below.

But they did understand that the Lord wanted us to take him seriously.

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48).

So the Lord is again causing us to scratch our heads in confusion.

Is he serious?

Self-mutilation?

Dismemberment?

This is one of those passages that it’s easier to talk about what it doesn’t mean than what it does.

It doesn’t mean self-mutilation, of course. After all, sin comes from the heart, not from the body, and Jesus would never tell us to hurt ourselves. Dismemberment won’t keep you from stealing or lusting.

But what did he mean?

He meant that we’d better not have a flippant attitude toward the sin in our lives.

Our culture laughs at everything, including stuff that’s not funny.

You can’t watch 10 minutes of your favorite sit-com without hearing a gay joke, a sex joke, or some other sin-of-the-week joke.

Jesus isn’t laughing.

What sins do you struggle with?

Don’t dare be flippant with them.

A man I knew traveled a lot with his job and struggled with filthy pay-per-view hotel movies, so at check-in he started asking the front desk to cut off his access to satellite programming before he ever got to his room.

If your hand causes you to sin . . .

Are you struggling with porn?

Install monitoring software and give the password to your wife, or cut off your Internet service. Whatever you do, do something.

Are your friends dragging you down spiritually, causing you to be cynical, judgmental, and negative?

Get a different set of friends.

Is work pulling you away from God?

Maybe it’s time to polish off your resume. For some folks, a pay cut at a different job might save their souls.

We’re saved by grace, but grace never means taking sin lightly.

Deadly temptations demand drastic measures.

Is there a persistent sin in your life?

It’s time to cut it off, whatever “it” means in your situation. Do what you need to do.

Shocking words from Jesus

Jesus said a lot of things I wish he hadn’t, or at least things I don’t like to think about.

Has he ever made you squirm?

Has he offended you lately?

If not, you should read the gospels again, maybe more introspectively than you have in the past.

Never one to understate how serious his subject was, Jesus shook up his audience again when he dropped this shocker:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42).

Not exactly the way any of us want to die.

Jesus had just used a child to make a point with the apostles, so “little ones” probably refers to children.

But he’s not talking about children literally here. Instead, he’s likely referring to what they represented in his world: weakness, vulnerability, immaturity.

Jesus is saying that it’d be better to die a horrible death than to do or say something that causes a weak believer to stumble.

By the way, Jesus’ illustration is both clear and graphic. The “great millstone” refers to the huge kind that was turned by a donkey.

In other words, you’re going straight to the bottom of the lake. Fast.

Not pleasant, is it?

But it ought to make us think seriously about what he’s saying.

Live your life so that you help the people around you do right.

Or, to put it negatively in the way Jesus did, don’t do anything that’ll put an obstacle in anyone’s path.

You’ve got two kinds of friends, probably even at church: people who help you follow Jesus, and people who make it harder.

Which kind of friend are you?

Kids in the world have two kinds of parents: moms and dads who want more than anything to help them honor God, and those who want something else more.

Which kind of parent are we?

Sure, there’s some shock value to what Jesus said, and that’s what he wanted.

He wanted us to listen.

We’ve got people around us who are weak in their faith.

Are we making their walk with Jesus easier or harder?

My biggest problem

Most of us have confessed thousands of sins to God over the years, usually in private: lust, gossip, dishonesty, impatience, unkindness, . . . it goes on longer than we’d like to admit.

Have you ever asked God to forgive you of pride?

I haven’t either.

(At least not until I studied the subject more intensely this past week . . .)

Yet it’s behind almost every sin we commit.

Pride is self-absorption, self-obsession, self-centeredness, selfishness.

We like self, don’t we?

We get irritated when people don’t give us the proper credit.

We choose our clothing, housing, and cars to portray a certain image.

We speak the way we speak to shape the way others perceive us (ever tried to sound smarter, wittier, or funnier when you were around someone who was smart, witty, or funny?).

Most of our relationship problems come from pride.

My wife just doesn’t respect me.

My husband doesn’t treat me right.

My boss doesn’t appreciate what I do for this company.

My siblings are mean to me.

People at church don’t like me.

Key ingredient?

Me.

If you have kids, listen closely the next time they fuss.Get your foot off my side of the couch. Why do you always get to choose where we eat? I was playing with it first.

Satan knew he had us if he could convince Adam and Eve that God’s restriction about the fruit was an insult to their independence, and we’ve lived in a fallen world ever since.

God hates what pride does to us. Here’s a short sample:

The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” (Obadiah 1:3).

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God (2 Chronicles 26:16).

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom (Proverbs 11:2).

But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him (Daniel 5:20).

Here’s a challenge:

Today, or longer if you can stand it, notice how many of the decisions you make and words you say flow out of an unhealthy concern for self. You’ll have to try hard, because pride will lie to your face and tell you it’s not one of your problems.

Try it today anyway.

It might not be pretty, but it’ll almost certainly be eye-opening.

Bridges, not fences

It’s easy to get caught up in an us-against-them mentality, even when the “them” aren’t necessarily enemies. It even happens among Christians, who occasionally get confused about whom we should actually oppose.

Apparently in the Lord’s time there were some believers who were doing good works in his name, but they weren’t part of his immediate band of followers.

So the apostles did what they thought was right: they decided to put an end to these good–but “unauthorized”–deeds.

Here’s the whole story:

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward (Mark 9:38-41).

I wish we had more information about who this man was, and how many more there were like him.

We know that he must’ve been a disciple of Jesus, or else the Lord wouldn’t have supported his work.

For some reason the disciples thought they needed to shut him down.

Maybe they believed that anything done in Christ’s name needed to have direct approval from them, or from the Lord. Maybe they thought their group included all of those who were doing the Lord’s work.

But whatever their motivation, they were wrong.

And Jesus quickly put an end to their witch hunt.

There’s an important lesson here for us.

Though some use this passage to justify open fellowship with groups who deny fundamental tenets of Christianity, the Lord’s response here should open our eyes to the very real possibility that we might sometimes draw our circles too tightly.

Some Christians think they’re doing God’s will by actively opposing any believer who holds a different position on almost any topic, however peripheral.

We must avoid that kind of thinking.

There’s room for disagreement within the body of Christ. That’s not to suggest that all differences are acceptable, or that we should give up hope of understanding God’s will.

But it does suggest that we pray fervently and study diligently before we presume to turn away any fellow Christian.

Shortly before he died, Jesus prayed that all of those who believe might be one in him so that the world may believe that God sent him (John 17:20-21).

We haven’t always done a great job of modeling that unity before this world of unbelievers.

But perhaps we can commit ourselves in the future to building more bridges between those who are committed disciples of Jesus.

And maybe we can spend less time quarreling and more time sharing the gospel with the millions who need to obey it.

My Dad vs Your Dad

Stick two boys of roughly the same age in your front yard, and within 10 minutes they’ll be arguing.

“I’m way faster than you.” “No you’re not.” “Yes I am. Come on, let’s race.”

“Look how far I can hit the ball. I’m probably gonna play in the big leagues one day.”

“Wow—is that as far as you can throw? Give me the ball. Watch this.”

We’ve seen it happen so many times that we created a modern-day label for childish arguments like this: My dad can beat up your dad.

But at least we grow out of it, right?

If only that were true.

Mark is brutal in his portrait of the apostles. Here’s another quite unflattering story about one of their arguments:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he 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. And he 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.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).

Incredible, isn’t it? No wonder they were too embarrassed to tell Jesus what their subject actually was.

“Hey guys, what were you talking about back there?”

“Oh, nothing really. Just sports and politics, mostly. Stuff like that.”

To make it worse, their silly argument happened right after Jesus had reminded them about his approaching crucifixion.

Apparently they were too busy jockeying for position in the soon-to-come Jewish Empire to focus on unpleasant things like death and crosses and tombs.

“I’ll be closer to Jesus’ seat in the kingdom than any of you guys,” one said.

“No chance. He practically promised me that I’ll be his right-hand man.”

And so it went.

It’s funny because they’re acting like playground show-offs.

It’s not funny at all because it shows they had absolutely no idea about what it meant to follow Jesus.

It’s funny because we’ve witnessed kids doing this.

It’s not funny because we act just like them.

We might be more subtle, but we’re often no less concerned about personal advancement. Name-dropping, expensive toys, a car that makes a statement . . . we’ve got lots of ways to impress people with our success.

So often our sense of self-worth is tied to human measures of accomplishment, like position or power, instead of our acceptance with God.

Jesus wants us to know it can’t be this way in his kingdom. Following him means sacrificing self-interest and embracing an other-focused mentality. It means radically abandoning our pride and obsession with self and learning to put others ahead of us.

Discipleship has no place for I’m-better-than-you arguments, whether stated with a playground-like bravado or expressed in less obvious ways.

In the end it doesn’t really matter who’s got the tougher dad.

What counts is whether we got serious about thinking about others more than we do ourselves.