Get there First!
The commanding officer was furious when nine GIs who had been out on passes failed to show up for morning roll call. Not until 7 p.m. did the first man straggle in. “I’m sorry, sir,” the soldier explained, “but I had a date and lost track of time, and I missed the bus back. Being determined to get in on time, I hired a cab. Halfway here, the cab broke down. I went to a farmhouse and persuaded the farmer to sell me a horse. I was riding to camp when the animal fell over dead. I walked the last ten miles, and just got here.”
Though skeptical, the colonel let the young man off with a reprimand. However, after him, seven other stragglers in a row came in with the same story—had a date, missed the bus, hired a cab, bought a horse, etc. By the time the ninth man reported in, the colonel had grown weary of it. “Okay,” he growled, “now what happened to you?”
“Sir, I had this date and missed the bus back, so I hired a cab .”
“Wait!” the colonel screeched at him. “don’t tell me the cab broke down.”
“No, sir,” replied the soldier. “The cab didn’t break down. It was just that there were so many dead horses in the road, we had trouble getting through.”
Maybe, when it comes to this building we’ve begun, you’re a little like this Commanding Officer with his GI’s: you’ve listened to the story, seen the building excitement of all this building, but you’re still a little hesitant. You may have even voted for us to proceed with the project, but, in the back of your mind, you’re still asking some questions like:
Where will we get the money?
Do we really need more space? Why can’t we just make adjustments and avoid all this expense?
Or you may be asking on the other hand, “Hey, even though I believe we need more space, how can we take on this debt load right now the way the economy is?
Or maybe you’re here this morning and you’re asking, “Hey, why are we spending all this cash on space when other ministries around the world or even right here in Wilson could put this money to use and have much more immediate needs?
Well, this morning, I want to take some time to just remind of us of the reason and I want to do that by taking us to a very familiar passage of Scripture. Its found in Mark 10:13-16
13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.
Now if you understand the time in which the disciples lived, you won’t be so hard on them. In that day, children were thought to add nothing to the family’s economy or honor and really did not count. If you had a child and didn’t want them, you just threw them out. Seeing your neglected baby, stingy wicked men would collect them and raise them to be gladiators or prostitutes and even disfigure their faces so that they could collect more money while begging. So, with such an attitude in society, you can hardly blame the disciples for their dismissive attitude. It was ingrained.
But not so with Jesus. He opened his arms to them. You can’t read this passage without coming to one very obvious conclusion: Children matter to Jesus. So much so that this is one of the handful of times you read of Jesus becoming angry. They mattered to Him and, if they mattered to the master, they need to matter to us as well.
Now, I’m sure that you probably agree with me, but you might also be saying. “Yes, Rusty, I know that children are important, but that still doesn’t explain why you have to have a new building to house them. Well I believe the application of this passage of scripture to our situation can help explain why all of this is so necessary. You see children matter to Christ and they must also matter to us for a couple of reasons. First, Children must matter to us because:
DIV 1: THEY ARE VULNERABLE
Now the reason many give to explain why Jesus was so concerned for children is often, I believe, wrong. A lot of people explain His concern by supposing that childlikeness has some inherent quality that children possess that make them more appealing and more likely to be saved, like humility, trustfulness, transparency, hopefulness, modesty or willingness to believe. But one commentator counters that children can also be demanding, short-tempered, sulky, stubborn, thankless, and selfish. That’s why they call it, “childish behavior.” I don’t think that the reason Jesus was so concerned for these children because of their goodness, for like you and me, they too were sinners. He, I believe, made such a great deal of them because they were vulnerable, and they were vulnerable in at least a couple of ways.
Notice in v 13 that it says that these children were being “brought” to Jesus. The term for “child” here speaks of pre-adolescence between the ages of 0 and 12. These children were being brought because they could not come on their own. Their littleness contrasts sharply with the overbearing disciples, who want to assert their own power and influence. Jesus is angered by this injustice and commends the children. They were commended because they were dependent. They had to be.
They are also vulnerable, not only because they could not bring themselves, but also because there were adults (the disciples) who actually stood in their way! Now we don’t know what caused them to have such an unwelcoming attitude. It may have been that they were exhausted and trying to save time, or it may have been that, because the society so looked down upon children, that they didn’t think it proper for Jesus to be bothered with them either.
Whatever the reason, they were not the first to hinder children from believing and they will not be the last. Now, our society doesn’t devalue children in the same way that the people of that day did, but our society does hinder children from coming to Christ. Some of it is unintentional, some of it is very intentional. There are at least a couple of ways in which our society seeks to bar children from the presence of Christ today. They first attempt this through innundation . What our kids face today makes us wish for the “good old days” when kids watched four hours of tv per day! They can spend hours in front of their video games or youtube without restraint if their parents do not take concrete action to stop it. And the impact is predictable.
One report says that research on media violence and its relationship to real-life aggression is substantial and convincing. Young persons learn their attitudes about violence at a very young age and, once learned, those attitudes are difficult to modify. Conservative estimates are that media violence may be associated with 10 percent of real-life violence.
Several longitudinal studies have linked exposure to sex in the media to earlier onset of sexual activity. they air unprecedented amounts of sexual situations and innuendoes in their primetime programs.
And, when it comes to substance abuse, witnessing smoking scenes in movies may be the leading factor associated with smoking initiation among youth. In addition, young persons can be heavily influenced by alcohol and cigarette advertising. More than $20 billion a year is spent in the United States on advertising cigarettes ($13 billion), alcohol ($5 billion), and prescription drugs ($4 billion).
Media use is also implicated in the current epidemic of obesity worldwide, but it is unclear how. Children and adolescents view an estimated 7,500 food advertisements per year, most of which are for junk food or fast food. Contributing factors to obesity may include that watching television changes eating habits and media use displaces more active physical pursuits.
The media are a major contributor to the formation of an adolescent's body self-image. In Fiji, a naturalistic study of teenage girls found that the prevalence of eating disorders increased dramatically after the introduction of American TV programs.
Just the sheer amount of media our kids experience at the very least, distracts them and can even actively prevent them from coming to faith by presenting a one-sided, negative picture of Christianity.
So, how can a children’s building help with this? Well, it can help us fight innundation with saturation. On Sundays our teachers will stand before our children in that new building and proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ in an environment that is conducive to learning. And we hope to take it beyond Sundays to the rest of the week. We hope that, sometime in the future we can offer either daycare of mother’s day out to afford us an opportunity to counter the negative message so prevalent today. We want to fight innundation with saturation.
But the problem goes beyond innundation to actual indoctrination. Make no mistake about it: Our culture is out to reprogram our kids. May I give you an example? 33 years ago, when I was in high school, homosexuality was just on the fringe of acceptance. I graduated in South Florida, a fairly politically liberal area, but even there, it was limited to back alley bars. But 30 years of a drumbeat of indoctrination has changed that. Just a couple of weeks ago it began to be debated whether or not military chaplains will be required to perform ceremonies for openly gay couples in the service when they are serving in states which permit such unions. How did we get here? Indoctrination listen . . . of our YOUTH. I found this video clip which was taken at a private school in Massachussetts.
Now I will be the first to admit that our area of the country may be a little better when it comes to this, but, make no mistake about it, the indoctrination is coming, even here. How do we fight it? Well, we fight indoctrination with information. The instruction we will offer in God’s Word not just on Sunday, but throughout the week will help us offset the attempts our culture makes to indoctrinate our children.
I know you may think that the odds are against us. After all, how can we hope to compete with a culture which is “well-heeled,” and coming on like a freight train?
Well, regardless of the odds, I still believe that the Holy Spirit illuminating the truth of God’s word can so connect with the heart of a child that, against all odds, they can be reached.
Sofia Cavaletti tells of a three-year-old girl who grew up in an atheistic home where no one ever spoke of God. One day, as three-year-olds will do, she asked her atheistic father, “Where does the world come from. Her father launched into s long materialistic discourse on the big bang, and the natural explanation for it. Then, when he was done with his explanantion, he added, "However, there are those who say that all this comes from a very powerful being, and they call him God."
He could not believe the reaction he got. When her father told her that some believed it was God, the began to run like a whirlwind around the room in a burst of joy and exclaimed: "I knew what you told me wasn't true; it is Him, it is Him!”
Listen, this new construction affords us the opportunity like never before to make those kinds of connections in the lives of our little ones. Yes, children matter to God because their weakness makes them vulnerable, but it is that very vulnerability which, when it is illumined by the Word of God and enlivened by the Spirit of God, can defy innundation and indoctrination and find a genuine relationship with Christ.
Children should matter to us because they are vulnerable. They also matter to God because
DIV 2: THEY ARE LOVED
I don’t suppose anything can make me as mad as if you mess with my daughter. Mess with me, and I can let it go. Mess with my wife, and you and I have a problem. Mess with my daughter, and I am ready to fight. Why? Because she is my child. I love her in a special way that you can only love your children.
That’s the feeling you get when you read about the reaction of Jesus to the dismissal of these children. V 14 says that “When Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased . . .” You know He really cares about these kids. Now when it says that Jesus was “greatly displeased,” I don’t think you get the picture. The word in Greek literally means to be greatly grieved. It was an indignation and pain that went down to His very soul. It was the pain that can only come to the heart when the person that was being hurt was very dear to you. You see, the disciples were not just turning away bothersome kids; They were turning away His very own loved children.
That love is reflected in His reaction and then you see it in His gentleness with them. V 16 says, And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them. Jesus wasn’t just going through the motions here. He would not have been in the camp of those who, when informed that it is their Sunday to work the nursery, reply, “Really . . . Do I have too?” He genuinely valued them, not as an obligation, but as an opportunity.
That’s one reason why I so love Ms. Rae Manning. In case you don’t know who that is, Rae Manning is our Children’s Director. She came to us right out of this church. She didn’t take the job because it was her “career.” As a matter of fact, coming on this staff was a career switch for her. She took it because Ms. Rae has an absolute passion for kids. It’s not just a job to her, it really is a calling and a ministry. She knows how important it is. It is not an obligation; it is an opportunity.
By the way, how we view children really says a lot about us, did you know that? Someone has said that children are like canaries in the mine shaft. Their plight warns us that we and they live in a toxic environment that desperately needs cleaning! It is the church which must step into this toxic environment and contribute to this cleaning. As one commentator said:
Jesus commits children to our loving protection, and the church must be in the forefront of helping to care for children and helping parents to care for children. Some today may consider children to be liabilities, but the church recognizes that Christ is revealed to us through the child in our midst.
You see, God knows the importance of the child. He has given us a sacred trust to reach out to these little ones because they are the apple of His eye. It is not enough for us to simply refrain from hindering them. No! We must aggressively go after them.
How? How will we do that. Well in the first place, we must accept this privilege of loving them The church should be the child’s greatest advocate. We cannot afford to take this for granted or to shirk our responsibility. The future of our faith depends on our evangelism of the children.
And when we accept this privilege of loving them, then we must accept the responsibilityof fighting for them. It is so powerful to see the reaction of Christ. He was willing to fight for the kids. In fact, the Greek construction of the last phrase of v 14 is very direct, to say the least. The best manuscripts do not have a connective between the last two phrases, so instead of saying “Let the little children come to me and do not prevent them;” it would read “Let the little children come to me; do not prevent them.” This suggests great indignation and impatience. Jesus was, in effect, drawing a line in the sand here. You almost get the feeling He is saying to the disciples, “How dare you stop these children!” He was fighting for them.
That’s what we must do. We must take a stand for the children and that stand will lead us to do this third thing: We must not only accept the privilege of loving thema nd accept the responsibility of fighting for them, we must accept the sacrifice of providing for them. And you know where I’m going with that. If we really value these children. If we really think that they are the future of the Kingdom of God. If we really think that our responsibility goes beyond these walls into the community, we must have the space to minister to them. And providing space will require sacrifice.
But there is always a danger that, when we start talking about dollars and cents and bricks and mortar, you get all caught up in the cost or the excitement of building and forget the purpose. The purpose is for us to love and reach children. Can you see it? Can you see the vision?
One guy who saw it is Caz McCaslin. He is the founder of Upward Basketball, and I thought, in the context of what we are doing today, you might enjoy hearing from him.
When you get right down to it, you see, it’s all about life-change. It’s all about seeing children come to know and serve Jesus Christ.
The great evangelist D. L. Moody was once asked, “How many converts did you have last night.” He answered, “Two and one-half.”
“You mean two adults and a child?”
“No,” he replied. “Two children and one adult.”
A child converted is an entire life converted