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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Greatness Measured in the Simple and Elemental

2-5For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me.
(Matthew 18:2-5)

The disciples have just finished asking Jesus the "important" question that had been in the back of their minds:  "Who gets the highest rank in God's kingdom?" This was probably eating at them for quite some time - being as competitive as we humans are by nature, it was only natural that they would want to know about status in the kingdom.  Then we are told that Jesus uses an "object lesson" to convey the answer - the child is called over.  Why a child?  Why an object lesson?  Couldn't Jesus just have answered this question straight on without the object lesson?

Certainly, Jesus could have simply said, "Look, this is how it is..." - proceeding to answer his disciples without any object lesson.  There was something that helped "connect" the words Jesus was speaking when they were looking face-to-face with the small child.  That child conveyed innocence, displayed enthusiasm, and was probably more than a little curious to see what the teacher was going to do that day (especially since he had been chosen to be the center of that day's lesson!).  

Jesus knows exactly what it is that we need in order to best understand the concepts he is teaching us.  Sometimes it can be said straight out - grasped without any "challenge" in our spirit.  At others, we need that object lesson to help us "connect" with the concepts taught - it makes sense when we compare what is taught to what we know about the object lesson.  Jesus tells his disciples that there is an attitude of spirit, mind and will that helps us to "connect" with him - that of a child - elemental and simple.

Some of us have walked with Jesus just long enough to want to be a little "weightier" in our study of the Word - we want something that will "dazzle" and will show our "maturity" as we dig into our study.  We forget that Jesus is all about helping us connect with him in the simple and elemental.  The "simple" side of God is his ability to be straightforward with us - he doesn't beat around the bush, but gives it to us head on.  In other words, what you see with God is what you get with God!  The one who is always looking for something "deeper" often misses the things that are right there before their eyes.

The elemental side of God's character reminds us that his plans for us are not complex - they are, in fact, simply twofold.  First, love him with all our heart - in other words, all your passion, prayer, intelligence, and energies.  Second, love others as well as you love yourself.  A child understands these principles - everything they do is done with a passion and with energy.  I have two grandsons - both engage with life like there is no end to their energy reserve and enthralled with the next thing they will encounter like their will always be new stuff just around the corner.  That is what God wants of his kids.  That is the purpose of the object lesson.

We often make our Christian walk way more complicated than it needs to be - expecting things of ourselves that really end up holding us in bondage instead of helping us be free to experience Christ with passion, energy, understanding and enjoyment.  The next time we are tempted to think we need to "show ourselves mature" - we would do well to remember our object lesson of the little child.  God looks for us to approach with innocence - because a heart and mind that is renewed is a freeing thing.  He invites us to experience us with enthusiasm - boundless passion - because he has a specific purpose for our passion.

So, it is not the question of who is the greatest - who shows themselves the most knowledgeable or the deepest in their insight.  It is really about the one who reveals a mind willing to be engaged in the process of discovering who Jesus really is, a spirit that is willing to take the time and energy to connect with our Lord, and a will that is eager to respond to the direction of his voice.  Don't underestimate the privilege of living simply and engaging life elementally. The benefits of that kind of walk cannot be measured in "stature" or "position", but rather in the depth of the connection we come to experience in Christ.