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.