Thursday, August 15, 2013

Let the Little Children Come to Me

Today is the fourth day in our 32nd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Hosea 11-13; Matthew 19.

The sanctuary at Bethel, decorated for Vacation Bible School
This has been an amazing week at Bethel Baptist Church.  Our Vacation Bible School has been such a blessing!  We've been learning that God's Word, family and friends, and prayer help us to stand strong.  I've watched tiny children talk about their "God-sightings," when they've seen God in little things like the beauty of a tree or when one person helps another.  The wonder, obedience, and innocence of childhood is an inspiring thing.  That's why Jesus loved children so much, and held them up as a paragon of faithfulness.

In Matthew 19:13-14 (ESV), Jesus welcomes little children:

Miss Kirsten (AKA Nehemiah) teaches the children 
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 
Not only did Jesus say that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to childlike people--He also said that "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 NIV)."  We MUST encounter God with obedience, innocence, and wonder--without these things, we can never have a "God-sighting," much less a close relationship with Him.

In the book of Hosea, God uses many metaphors to describe His relationship with His people.  At the beginning of the book, God describes them as a wayward spouse.  Toward the end of Hosea, the metaphor changes, and we see once-faithful people turning away from God, even as rebellious children reject their parents.  In Hosea 11:1-11, the Lord says:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.
The sword shall rage against their cities,
    consume the bars of their gates,
    and devour them because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.
10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.

God desires nothing more than to see His wayward children return to Him. When they were young in the faith, He taught them how to walk.  He took them in His arms and healed their hurts.  He led them, He fed them, and He grieves when they leave Him.  He knows the pain and suffering that can come when His children reject Him.  They bring suffering on themselves.  But He will never reject His people.  He will have compassion on them, and draw them again to Himself.

When I look at the childlike, innocent faces of the kids at our church, I'm blessed by their attitudes of obedience and awe toward God.  But I also know that some of them will wander from God's path at one point or another in their lives.  Like Israel, they may seek other gods or distractions.  They may forget their upbringing and reject God's ways.  But I cling to the hope that Hosea had, that when God calls them, they will return to Him.  I hold fast to the promise of Proverbs 22:6 (ESV), which says:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

It's up to us now, to instill in our children the godly virtues that they will need for the rest of their lives.  We do this by taking them to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, by regularly engaging in times of worship, of family devotion and prayer.  We do this when we find opportunities in the middle of the day to show them our own "God-sightings."  With words of wisdom and peace, we serve as the arms of God.  We teach them to walk, take them in our arms and heal them. We lead them and we feed them and we grieve when they leave God's truth.  But then with patience we lovingly call them back.  "Let the little children come to me," Jesus said, "For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."  Today we teach them.  Tomorrow we'll trust Him.  Together, we'll see them come home to His Kingdom.

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