Tuesday, May 08, 2007

If we are children...

In my last post to you, I intimated that Matthew 18 calls us "to be converted and to become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven." This was not, however, my original inspiration for my next post. The first message that came to my heart was Mark 10 which states: "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these."

This verse came to my heart after speaking to one after another after another "hurt child," we'll call them - believers who want to seek God's call in their life, but who have felt hindered, held back or turned away by the church and other Christians. Legalistic views, egos and snobbery have made these believers feel that "If that's what being a Christian is all about, then I don't want any part of it."

It was in the search for this verse in Mark 10 - I knew it by rote, I just couldn't remember where it was - that I discovered the verse in Matthew 18. This verse spoke to me. God spoke to me that this verse explained the transformation that I had just undergone. Sure, I still have adult responsibilities, but I am reliving my childhood in the Trust, Obedience, Joy and Rest in my Father in Heaven. I have never been this happy in all my life. God showed me that I was a child again - His child, and furthermore we are all called to become "as children." It was then that it was revealed to me that if we are children, or supposed to be children, then the verse, "Let the children come to me... " does not pertain solely to those under the age of 18. Jesus was speaking of all of us - especially those "beginner Christians" - those who know only that they believe in Jesus, but have yet to learn more. We are not to hinder them, and yet we do it all the time.

Just as my last post celebrated childhood or being a child of God, we all know that there is a negative side to being a child. This shows us the difference between being child-like, and being "childish." We're all quite good at being childish. Often words that describe children include: immature, selfish, egocentric and spoiled. Children often lack tact. Their feelings are easily hurt. They lack understanding. Sometimes, they are downright mean. Certainly we as grown-ups don't act like that.

These "children" that I was given the opportunity to share my faith with are in their 30's, 40's and 50's. They are all hurt. You can hear it in their voices. You can see it in their eyes. As much as I try to minister to their spirits and remind them that sometimes Satan uses church people and Christians to tear apart God's kingdom from the inside out, they reiterate their pain.

Who are we hindering? How are we hindering them? How are we hindering ourselves?

In recent weeks, my spirit has grieved the pain of this world - children in Africa and the epidemic of AIDS; devastation in New Orleans and the families still uprooted and without homes; the ever-swept-under-the-rug REALITY of Racism in our country; inner-city youth whose hope lies in living day to day - boys knowing that they'll end up in jail by the age of 18, girls who will get pregnant because that will give them someone who will love them, or so they think. Even the little honey bees that are dying off from some unknown force which is bound to have an impact on our agriculture have left me wondering, "God what will you have me do?" But when a friend, co-worker or acquaintance comes to me and says, "I can see that you know God, because I can see His spirit in you. I wish I could know God, but I can't find a church where I feel welcome," I have to wonder, "What are we doing wrong?"

I have learned in recent weeks that we, as humans, are easily offended. I have learned that I, unknowingly, easily offend. The other Saturday I was standing in line at McDonald's, trying to keep my four kids in order, and I don't know what happened. I must have "butted" in line, or something. Next thing you know, I'm there eating with my kids and some other customer calls the manager and they're pointing at me and talking about me, obviously disgruntled. A couple days later, Derek and I are driving south on Route 15 and the car in front of us slows down abruptly. Derek quickly moves into the passing lane. For some reason, the driver gave us a lovely hand gesture out the window- and it wasn't the "Hi Sign" from the Little Rascals, I can assure you.

We are called to act like children, but we act childishly. Someone in church unknowingly offends us. Weeks later we find out there's a Bible Study on a subject that we really want to explore. We find out who's leading it and say to ourselves, "I'm not joining any class that she's involved with," and we hinder ourselves. A Sunday School teacher says something to our child that we don't agree with. What is our reaction? "My family will go to the 11 o'clock service. My kid won't go to Sunday School if that person is the teacher." If this spirit of bigotry and hatred plagues us among fellow believers, then how are we to reach out to the world or receive new believers when they make our lives easy and just show up?

My study brought me back to Matthew 18. Matthew 18 continues on to say:
"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."

Now I don't know about you, but I would hate to have to take this scripture literally. We'd be a bunch of hobbling, handless, blind fools, now wouldn't we?

Maybe - let's give ourselves the benefit of the doubt - we have never meant to offend anyone. We see a new face and of course we run right over to them and give them a hug and a "Praise God that He brought you here today." We make everyone feel welcome and warm and fuzzy. Maybe it is because the newcomers are not spiritually mature that they are so easily offended - maybe. But we are called to be greater than that. We have a huge responsibility on our hands - those souls that need us most. We need to reach out and lift up that very world that we refuse to be a part of, but yet we were called to heal. We need to find those lost sheep and bring them back to the fold.

The other Sunday, Pastor Bond mentioned this blog during one of his sermons. I was overjoyed to hear that. I got the tape and listened to it and again was overjoyed how my blog related to his sermon. One point that he made was that we are not to come to church to get all spiritually built up just so we feel good for the rest of the week. We are supposed to take what we get at church and put it to use - minister to the world. I thought it hilarious that when he mentioned the name of my blog - The Naked Turtle - he said "Don't ask. I don't know where she came up with that, you'll have to ask her."

Well, I'll tell you.

I started this blog one year and 8 days ago - on April 30, 2006. You'll see from my first post, I didn't really know what I was doing when I started it, but God knew what He was going to do with it. All I knew is that I wanted to start doing devotions and reading the Bible more. I wanted to practice writing, because I truly forgot that I could write. I was planning to go to Seminary in August of 2006 to become a Pastor, but God revealed some other things I still needed to take care of, and so in the interim, I thought, "I'll start doing my devotions and write about the discoveries in this blog as mini-sermons that maybe I'll build on later when I begin preaching." I started e-mailing them to you so that someone would hold me accountable. If I stopped, I needed someone out there to say, "Hey, what happened to your blog?"

My favorite animal is the turtle - long story of how my godmother's children both had an animal to collect and needed me to have one, too. Through Native American folklore and a lot of other treasures I've collected since infancy, I settled on the turtle as my favorite animal. Symbolically and across cultures, the Turtle is a variety of things. To me, she symbolizes the need to continuously stick my neck out and take risks. The only way for me to grow is to strive for "nakedness" before God and before my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is my hope that by sharing what I am going through, I will somehow encourage you. I also want to be "pure and blameless in His sight."

But here's another interesting thing: Many people think that a turtle can come out of its shell. This is wrong, no matter how many Bugs Bunny Cartoons depict otherwise. The turtle's shell is its spine. A turtle without a shell is a Dead Turtle. But this turtle - me - is called to be a Naked Turtle, because with God, all things are possible. And I am stepping out of my shy comfort zone where I soak up all the church and all the messages and come back next Sunday, and I am finding a way to minister to those who are hurting, whether it is through this blog or standing in the middle of Wal-Mart.

There are people hurting all over this world, even sitting in the pew next to you. We need to shrug off that attitude of, "Look at me, what a great Christian I am" and reach out to those who are searching. When we see people leave the church or refuse the church, we need to call them up and say, "Hey, can I pray for you?" It isn't comfortable. But neither was death on a cross.

Let the children come to Him today. Do not hinder them, whether they are 8 or 98. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

START Acting Like a Child

If you ask a child, "What color is the sky," they'll tell you plainly, "blue." If you ask a child, "How do you know the sky is blue," they'll typically answer, "My Mommy told me," or, "My teacher told me." Children tend to have blind faith. They believe what they are told. Children, for the most part, do not worry about tomorrow. They simply rest in being a child. They can play all day. They know there will be meals. They know that Mom or Dad will clean them up and tuck them in at night.

I don't know about you, but I've spent my life trying to grow up - sometimes even being told to grow up. I'll admit I used to suffer from a Peter Pan complex. I never wanted to grow up, or old, I just wanted to rest in being me.

But then, something changed. Suddenly, at the tender age of 17, I had a dorm room, and then my own apartment in college. I had to decide when to eat, when to sleep, when to study, when to work, and when to play. I had to clean up after myself. I had to take care of my own bills, purchases, and groceries. Next thing you know, I'm out of college, having graduated, and I again, got an apartment, eventually a husband, and soon after that, my first child. And of course, with all of these milestones into adulthood came more bills and responsibility. I was officially an adult. Ouch.

When you officially become an adult, it is hard not to worry. There was a time in my life when I got down to my last 10 dollars five days before my next paycheck. I would go buy a carton of eggs, a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread and live on french toast for the week. If I got tired of french toast, I could just eat eggs and toast, or a fried egg sandwich. You can do a lot with eggs, milk and bread. That explains why a central Pennsylvania snow storm sends people flocking to Weis Markets for these three items. All this time I thought I had missed the invitation to the French Toast Festival celebrated every day it snows.

But now that I have children, living on three staples for a week doesn't quite work. I have to provide. I have to be the grown-up.

There is a time in childhood around the age of three when suddenly our children start testing their independence. It is the "I-can-do-it-myself" stage. We, as parents, hold our breath as we watch our children try to brush their hair by themselves, dress themselves backwards by themselves, and Zoe's latest - pouring a drink by herself. We stand back and watch knowing this is not going to end well. But yet, how will our children learn if we don't grant them some independence?

My question to you this morning is what are you struggling to do "all by yourself" while God sits back knowing that this will not end well? Now I'll give you the answer to your struggle: Stop trying to do it "all by yourself." Stop trying to be the adult - the "man of the house," or "the liberated woman." It is time to be a child again - a child of God.

The Bible says in Matthew 18 - "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." Now there are many things in the Bible that once rang in my ears as poetry, rather than to be taken literally. But something has happened since March 11th - the day I was baptized. This particular verse, among many that I have been studying, has taken on new meaning. I have been "converted." Now "how to become as a little child so that I may enter the kingdom of heaven" has become my internal discourse, if you will. Yes, I admit I talk to myself - A LOT. I ask myself questions and I answer myself. To answer this question, let's again, examine children.

First, children trust. As I said before, children will believe anything you tell them. One night, Zoe didn't want to go to my grandmother's overnight and I had to work. She told me she wanted to stay home with Shadow, our dog. I said, "Oh honey, you can't stay home with Shadow. Daddy and I will get into trouble and we'll go to jail." What not to say to a two year-old. Next thing you know, Zoe was telling the whole family, "My Mommy and Daddy are going to jail."

Children trust. Unfortunately, it is why they are so easily victimized. They often cannot discern what is right or wrong for them. But when they know someone loves them, they trust them. The song says, "Jesus Loves Me." Why do we find it so hard to trust Him?

The Bible says in Psalms 18: "The Lord is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God my strength, in whom I will TRUST: my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my hightower. I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies." Last time I checked, I was not a rock or a fortress. I cannot protect myself from anything. I cannot deliver myself from anything. I am not strong. How can I trust myself to save me from anything? I cannot do it "by myself." My only hope is to Trust in the Lord.

Secondly, children learn to obey. Now I know some of you are waiting for that to happen. But most of you have seen the process. As soon as an infant can pull themselves to stand and start reaching for things, you firmly, with a pointed finger and raised eyebrows, say "no-no." You turn your head and you see out of your peripheral vision, the little hand reaching for the forbidden object. You catch them in the act and again say, "I said, No-no." This game goes on a few more times and maybe you have to tap the back of their hand so that they finally get the idea of what "No" means, but eventually they do. Suddenly the child is eight years old and you realize that they know the rules. They understand your expectations. Children learn to obey. As we all know, obedience brings forth rewards. There are times I'm at the store and I think to myself, "Ellen has been so good this week, I think I should do something special for her." God does this too. We have all been blessed tremendously by our loving Father.

1 Samuel 15 says:"Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

We cannot deny when God is speaking to us. Often we try to fool ourselves. "That wasn't God's voice. He didn't just ask me to do that." But then things start going wrong, and we realize we've grieved our Lord. The only way to make it right is to repent and obey. We should want to obey. Just like the way in which our parents loved us and therefore demanded RESPECT - my dad's word for obedience - Jesus said, in John 14, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." If we love Him, we will obey.

When we learn to TRUST and OBEY, the third lesson we can learn from children comes easily - Find Joy. Children love to laugh. Their whole lives revolve around whether they are having fun or not. My eleven year-old Darianne is absolutely beside herself when Ellen isn't home. She mopes around the house - and her favorite two words are "I'm bored."

Have you ever tickled a child? A child will continue a tickling game for hours if you let them. Children love Joy. And when you learn to trust and you start to obey, suddenly, you're smiling all the time. The world might be looking at you like, "What is her problem?" People may even start asking you "Why are you so happy all the time?" Well, what a great opportunity to answer, "Jesus."

Psalms 5 says, "Let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee."

Be Joyful. For the first time in a long time, you'll have a pep in your step. You'll find yourself laughing at traffic. Find joy and rest. Resting is like trusting - you basically throw all your worries to God and live full of joy in your obedience. It is like a chain reaction and when it happens to you, you'll find yourself giggling inside, like the first time you drove a car with no one sitting beside you.

Finally, go to Daddy for everything. Mommies can kiss it and make it better, but Daddies do so much more. Julian, my son, will drive me crazy with this. He can be home with me all day and not ask for anything. As soon as Derek walks in the door, Julian asks him, "Daddy, can you get me a drink," "Daddy, can we go play outside?" The questions continue with the repetition of a machine gun before Derek even has a chance to change out of his uniform.

Jesus went to His Daddy. In Mark 14, He cries out, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." Abba means "Daddy." He is our Daddy, too.

Romans 8 tells us,"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" Galatians 4 goes on to say, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

As I was looking for more information on the word, "Abba," I came across an interesting website - Fathers.com. It paints a biblical perspective to being a father. The website listed these qualities of our Father's Heart:

He is the Father who is faithful and never changes (Heb 13:5, Mal 3:16).
He is the Father that is the embodiment of love, who loves us at our worse (1 John 4:8, Rom 5:8).
He values us and carries a picture of us on His hands (Isa 43:16, 49:16).
He is the Father who will commune with us (Exod 25:22).
He knew us even before we were born (Jer 1:5).
He is the Father who is available day and night because He doesn't even sleep (Eph 2:18, Ps 122: 1).
He is so closely involved in our lives even our hairs are numbered (Matt 10:30).
He is the Father who provides our needs for provision and security (1 Tim 6:17, Ps. 91:14).
He also just blesses us with good gifts (Matt 7:11).
He is the Father who trains us in righteousness.
He disciplines for our own good because He loves us (Heb 12:7-12).

Today, I give you permission to start acting like a child. Trust and Obey. Find Joy, and Rest. Go to your Daddy for everything. You can't do it all by yourself. You're not supposed to do it all by yourself. It is when we completely abandon all to God that "a life hid with Christ in God" is revealed.

I found the scripture that sums up this entire message in Psalms 37:

"Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.
And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgement as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

Stop acting your age and start acting your shoe size today and stand back and watch what God can do if you'll only be His child.