What Jesus Meant by Entering the Kingdom as Children

Boy with Bible Laughing

I am convinced one of the most misunderstood Bible passages is where Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4) Why would Jesus say we need to enter the kingdom of heaven as children?

I’ve heard many explanations about how children are obedient and respectful, and so we should be the same way towards God. At the risk of sounding like a terrible parent, this simply isn’t how I’d describe my parenting experience. Being a father is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes it’s downright painful. Kids have a way of knowing they’re not in control but they keep grasping for authority.

Don’t we do that same thing to God? We know we aren’t in control, but we grab every opportunity whenever a window cracks open to exert our authority and try to grab control over life. Like the child who wants a suitable explanation for every decision, we keep asking God, “Why? Why? Why?” And if his answers are unacceptable (or if he simply says, “Because I said so.”) then we stomp our feet and look for someone else to tell us what we want to hear.

We don’t enter the kingdom of heaven as children because we have become so gentle and obedient. We enter as children because of our Heavenly Father. To boil it down is this: Christians have been adopted as children of God. This is why Jesus said you must be like a child to enter the kingdom.

When the disciples tried to keep the children from coming to Jesus, I am convinced that Jesus was urging his disciples to remember their status as disciples had nothing to do with their own importance. The disciples believed they were more important than those kids. But Jesus rebuked them and set them straight. Only those who are children of God will enter the Kingdom of God. It depends on their relationship with the Father, not because of their own value.

Remember, in the ancient world, children had barely any status – their value and importance came from their daddy. The good news of the gospel is this, “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Those who lay down their status and declare their only entrance into heaven comes from Jesus Christ their Savior (remember, the end of Mt. 17 emphasizes Jesus as the Son of God)… those are the people who will be given entrance. Salvation isn’t a result of works, it is a gift of grace because you have been adopted as a child of God (Eph 2:8-10).

So next time you hear someone talking about how Jesus wants us to be gentle and cuddly little kids, you can smile to yourself and say, “Yes, we should be that too. But we aren’t. In fact, lots of times we’re pretty disrespectful children. Praise be to God that he’s a gracious Father!”

Two Reasons My Family Won’t Buy an Elf on the Shelf

My son is the only person in his school who doesn’t have an “Elf on the Shelf.” Well, not really. But if you heard him talk, that’s what you’d believe. By now he’s accepted that it’s just not going to happen in our home, but for the first years of elementary school he felt like everyone else had one.

Wikipedia describes the Elf on the Shelf book and accompanying figurine like this,

The story describes how Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in people’s homes to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides. By hiding in a new spot each morning around the house, the scout elf and the family play an on-going game of hide and seek.

The book tells how the magic might disappear if the scout elf is touched, so the rule for The Elf on the Shelf states, “There’s only one rule that you have to follow, so I will come back and be here tomorrow: Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won’t hear all I’ve seen or I know.” Although families are told not to touch their scout elf, they can speak to it and tell it all their Christmas wishes so that it can report back to Santa accurately.

The story ends on Christmas Day with the elf leaving to stay with Santa for the rest of the year until the following Christmas season.

This has become an incredibly popular addition to the Christmas season. Hiding the elf can be fun for parents and fun for kids. It can also be another way for parents to leverage the “magic” of Christmas into having well-behaved children for the month of December.

Is the elf evil? no. Will I stop being friends with you if you have an elf? Maybe. Ok, no I won’t. But I don’t recommend it, especially for those who are Christians and celebrate Advent as the season of anticipation of Christ’s return as we remember his birth.

There are two main reasons my family has not and will not purchase (or accept one if given as a gift) an Elf on the Shelf.

elf-on-the-shelf Continue reading

Be What You Want To See

One of the most important things I’ve ever read about parents came to me through the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Teenagers. After conducting the most extensive study on the religious beliefs of American teenagers, Christian Smith and his team concluded, “We’ll get what we are.”

By and large, when it comes to parenting, we will get what we are. This isn’t always the case, and sometimes that’s a really good thing, sometimes it’s not.

If this is true (and I believe it is, though I’m not interested right now in defending it), then as parents we all need to take a look at how we are living and ask, “If my kids become me, will I be happy with who they’ve turned into?”

My wife and I were talking last night about our concerns that our son has been watching too much television and that he likes playing on his Kindle Fire too much. Meanwhile, he has bins of toys and shelves of books which aren’t getting the attention we’d love them to receive.

And yet, I consistently have my iPhone with me as I walk throughout the house and we almost always have a television on in the house.

So… we need to ask ourselves what example we’re setting. We need to become the change we want to see.

One of my friends and mentors, Walt Muller, coincidentally wrote the following blog post which is perfectly timed. My family will be taking the challenge issued in Walt’s post, I encourage you to consider it too.

Social Media Enslavement… What I’m Going to Do… and a Challenge… 

So. . . I’ve decided to lay out some rules. Initially, I thought they’d be great rules to pass on to parents, teachers, and teenagers themselves. Reality is, I can’t pass them on unless I’m already gripping them tightly in my own hands. Here are the rules I’m going to enlist in my own life. I want to invite you to try them out as well. . . for a week maybe. . . and then let me know if you’ve seen any benefits.

1. Don’t engage with your smartphone as long as you are present with and/or in conversation with real flesh and blood human beings. They deserve your full attention.

2. Don’t bring your smartphone or screen of any kind to the table. Converse with others over the meal. . . using your eyes, your voice, your ears, and your full attention.

(there’s more good stuff in this post, click the link to read the rest)

Love Your Children Well

A friend of mine lost his three year old son this week. He went to sleep and simply never woke up. It is a tragedy beyond my understanding, and one I pray that I would never fully comprehend. As I pray for God’s comfort and peace and hope to surround my friend and his family, it’s only natural to feel a new layer of love for my children grow. 

I want my son and daughter not only to know that I love them. I want them to feel loved. While we should not live by our “feelings,” God gave them to us, and feelings are not inherently bad or shallow or trite. 

This is something I struggle with, because I’m not much of a “feeler.” Most people who know me know I’m not a particularly emotional person and that I tend to be fairly matter-of-fact. But with my family, it is one of my greatest prayers that they would not simply know that I love them… I pray that they would feel how much I love them. 

The greatest thing a parent can do for his/her children is to love them well.  
If my kids are well-behaved but don’t feel loved by me, then I have failed them. If my kids are ridiculously smart but they believe my love for them is conditional, depending on how well they are “performing,” then I have failed them. I could almost picture the Apostle Paul including this type of scenario into 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

In the midst of discipline, does love reign?
As a Christian dad I do not have the “luxury” of neglecting to discipline my kids because it’s easier (in the short-term). Loving your kids doesn’t mean there is no “law” or that rules are absent. But it does mean that love is freely given despite my kids’ worthiness or unworthiness. Instead, I love my children unconditionally because I know I am loved by my Heavenly Father. Personally, I think I learn more about love when I’m in the throes of discipline than when I’m laughing with my kids – because that’s when I need to remember how uniquely God loves me. 

Questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few days:

  • Do I discipline out of love and desire to see my children desire faithfulness to God, or out of a heavy-handed authority that demands law-abiding, rule-keeping children?
  • What if God treated me the way I sometimes treat my children? 
    That thought should terrify me…
  • What if I loved my children the way God loves me? 
    That thought should bring joy to my children…