Reading: Matthew 18:1 – 5
”At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18:1-3
God make me great! I want to be first! Look at me world!
At times this has seemed to become the cry of our world. It is true in The West and it is true here in Ethiopia. Bigger. Greater. More Powerful. Newer. Shinier. Brighter. My position is better than yours. These messages unfortunately can be found inside the walls of the church every bit as often as outside the walls. It is the problem of our human quest for power and control.
Sometimes we like to think that it is godly to think this way. Big. Successful. Our Team Winning. Our people in office. Our influence being made known. However, when I look at my own life I see nothing but old fashioned pride.
Rewind back to Jesus’ coming. Humble. Simple. Straw. Donkey poop. Feed trough. Smelly. Dank. Simple. Humble. If this is how The Master came to the earth, why would we as His followers expect that there is any other way to see His Kingdom truly break in?
Yet, my pride calls out and says, “I want to be somebody.”
Now fast forward in Jesus’ ministry to the passage from today. The King of Kings who made His first bed in a feed trough has the authority and the capacity to speak to a topic like greatness. The Truly Great One, yet One who never flaunted it, but rather was continually becoming The Servant of all. In this passage the disciples have asked him an important question that we see asked in a couple of different places in The Gospels in different ways, “Jesus, who is the greatest?” “Who do you like the most?” “Who is the one who is going to hold the most power among us and get to have the greatest influence when You establish Your Kingdom?”
Jesus pulls the rug right out from under any quest for power, control and pride. He used a child to make His point. Powerless. Simple. Helpless. Humble. This child did not yet know that he needed to vie for power and jockey and politic. Here is a powerless, needy child and Jesus sets him up as an example of what it means to follow Jesus. Hear the strength behind Jesus’ words, “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I acknowledged this verse when it was time to come to Christ. I saw my need. I humbled myself and said Yes to His redemption that I could not do it on my own. I acknowledged that I was in need and could not save myself.
Yet, then those powers and politics come creeping in. I became like a little child, but did I stay like one? Did I really change? Did I really embrace humility in the pursuit of Jesus and the Way He set out? The truth is that the forces are powerful that we battle against, and the corrupting force of power and success is like no other.
How do we fight back? It would seem that Jesus calls us to take the lowly position of a child. A powerless child who has need. A child who doesn’t expect to grab the bull by the horns because he is so far down the power chain that he knows he will only get what is given to him. Taking the lowly position of the child – giving up my need to control, gain fame and have power over.
At the same time it seems that Jesus calls us to fight for the child. The powerless. The forgotten. The one who stands at the back of the line without any means at all to change his or her situation. None. They need a voice. They need welcomed. They need justice. You and I are that voice.
Will you join me today in this two pronged quest? On the one hand to become like a child and hand over my quests for power and control while embracing humbleness. And on the other to do all I can to see that those who are at the back of the line are no longer trampled under the feet of the forces of the world (including the part I play in it) , but rather that they are welcomed in The Master’s Name?
Reading: 1 John 5:1 – 12
“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:2- 5
How is it with your soul? I loved how a friend of mine could look over the top of his glasses and ask that question that cuts straight to the core. That question created a piercing moment of forced self-examination to consider how I was really doing in my walk with Jesus. It gave me time to let down my guard, drop the “everything is fine” comments and really consider for a moment how I was doing.
Let’s face it, today is December 27th and you are probably feeling a mixture of emotions. There is always a bit of a let down after Christmas has finally passed. You went at breakneck speed cooking and cleaning and shopping and wrapping and partying and now a bit of you is hopeful that life can get back to normal. Of course for some of us, there are still a number of family obligations, office parties and special meetings that will continue for weeks because we just can’t cram enough into the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and we now need to overflow into mid January before we can put the Christmas season behind us.
Today’s scripture passage shines out to us like a search beacon in the middle of the night. Let’s face it, if we don’t settle ourselves with this passage today, we will have let another celebration of Jesus’ birth come and go without really examining our souls.
There are three places I would like to draw our attention to in this passage.
First, is the question of “What have I done with Jesus?” “Do I really know The Son and have life as a result?” “Have I responded to Jesus as the One who has come to save me from my sins and restore me to relationship with The Father?” If not, choose to follow Him now by responding to His gift of salvation for you. Turn toward Him rather than away from Him.
Second, is the question of loving God and obeying His commandments. One of the biggest deficiencies that I have seen in different places in the world is a lack of discipleship. All over the world we have prayed prayers giving our hearts to Jesus, but we never really became students and followers of Him with our all. Here John calls us to love God and obey His commandments. Love God, love others. But notice, He says that these commandments are not burdensome, but rather because we are born of God, through Jesus, we conquer the world. As we follow Jesus we are not loaded down with more and more oppressive weight, but rather we walk in freedom, saying Yes to Him. Does that characterize your life? If not, give Him your full attention this morning and ask Him to show you the way to follow Him. He has set you free to follow Him fully.
And third, ”what is the testimony that is in our hearts?” Today, if you have chosen to follow Jesus, John tells us that there is a testimony in your heart hrough The Spirit. There is a testimony that we know that we know that we know who Jesus is. This testimony is that God has given us eternal life. This kind of testimony makes us conquerers of all that comes at us. We hold on to the fact that there is an eternity for us in God’s Presence as followers of Jesus, but also that there is life to live today through The Son. We are not defeated. We are not rejected. We are not forgotten. Life is here today and we live it fully for Jesus in His Presence as we wait that future day to be with Him in Paradise.
How is it with your soul? Grab one last glass of egg nog for the season and allow Jesus to ask that question of you.
Reading: John 7:37 – 44
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” John 7:37 – 39
A few months ago a group of men from the church we attend set off for a day to visit a national forest about an hour outside of Addis Ababa. It is home to a beautiful centuries old cypress forest that has been preserved for over 400 years. But the real highlight of the forest is not the trees, but rather the mountain, Suba Mountain.
We hiked hard to get the top of that mountain (at least I did being as out of shape as I am and the altitude was wreaking havoc on me) . I was relieved when we reached the top, but my friend looked at us and said, “There’s an impressive mountain over there, let’s hike to it.” Up for the challenge I said yes and we started off at a pretty quick pace. I was dying. My legs were becoming rubbery. My head was killing me. I thought I was going to die. You think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you that I am not.
And then it hit me that I had not brought water with me. I was on the hike of my life and I didn’t have any water. I was becoming dehydrated and my body was rebelling against this activity. I eventually landed in a heap and let the rest of the group hike to the summit while I sat and tried to muster enough strength for the hike back to camp.
This is not only how I climb mountains (unsuccessfully) but also how at times I try to live life. Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice (I love the emphasis), “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Anyone who is thirsty? Let’s be real, most of us are thirsty today. At some point in time we started doing life on our own power and our own strength and we find ourselves burnt out, exhausted from life and needing a break. Jesus’ loud voice calls us back, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”
Then He continues to talk about the Spirit being rivers of living water that flow in us as His followers. Isn’t that an amazing image. A flowing river that continually flows in and through those who trust in Jesus. We don’t need to be thirsty. As we come to know Jesus and as The Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, there is a river flowing through us. All of the time.
But wait. I’m a Jesus follower and I still get thirsty. I thirst deep inside of me and I keep trying to fill it, but it isn’t full. Where is the Holy Spirit, then?
Could it be because we forget about His Presence and being present to Him? Could it be that like my journey where I set out without my water bottle, we often set off forgetting that He is present to us? Or could it be that we even forget that He has accepted us and we start to prove our worth ourselves on our own strength? Could it be that at times we say that Jesus has quenched our thirst with our mouths while deep down we have other thirsts that we haven’t yet given Him access to?
Jesus calls out to you and I today in a loud voice – “Are any of you thirsty? If you are, come to me, sit with me and let me fill you with all you’ll ever need.”