Monday, October 20, 2014

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these...

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:13-14

  Since I became a parent, and a parent in full-time ministry, these verses have started to mean something new and different to me.  I've heard them discussed countless times in my life and have always found deep meaning, challenge, and motivation in how I treat and love all children, and how 'child-like' my own faith is.  And while all of those thoughts still hold very true, God is helping me see them in a new light.

Our life is busy, like most people.  But sometimes being in the ministry is a different kind of busy, and it can have great impacts (positive and negative) on our children.  While we don't feel obligated to be at every single event that happens at our church, we're involved in most of them.  And while we try to protect our family time and our boys' needs, our boys end up being at church and church events a lot.  For the most part, they love it... and we're very thankful for that. :) But this last Sunday was one of those days where there were many things going on.  And honestly, I wished that only Brian had committed to go to our evening activity.  But we rsvp-ed for the whole family, so I put on smile, told the boys how much fun we would have, and we got in the car, even though they would get to bed late, it was a school night, I still needed to go shopping for school lunches the next day, etc. etc. :)

There are five other Japanese Nazarene churches on Okinawa (ours is the only English-speaking), and a few times a year they host events for people from the different churches to have fellowship together.  This Sunday night was one of my favorites - a really delicious bbq on the beach... yes, why in the world did I have any hesitation to attend? ;)  We have attended almost every year since we moved to Okinawa, and it's usually the same small group of young adults from three or four churches.  So we know each other, but we only see each other a few times a year.  But our friends have watched the boys grow up over the last 4 1/2 years of occasional interaction.  Some speak English, but most of the conversations are in Japanese (sometimes the conversations are very short when we are a part ;) ).

So, on the way to the park, we had the usual talk in the car... 'Boys, our friends are going to be at the beach tonight.  Please say hello or konnichiwa when someone says hello to you.  This is a good time to practice your Japanese.  These are our friends.  It's okay if you don't talk a long time, just smile and be friendly....' etc., etc.  Our boys love being with friends, but they can also be shy in new or different situations.  So they stuck pretty close to us for the first 30 minutes as we started eating and saying hello.  After a while, they were getting restless, so I encouraged them to go watch the food being cooked, and they decided to watch a nearby soccer game instead.  I was talking to a friend and didn't notice that some of our friends from the other churches were sitting and talking with the boys.  And my boys were beaming. They kept talking, occasionally coming to me for more food or drink, but then eagerly returning to the steps where they were hanging out with 'their friends'.  

And then I watched them all go down to the beach and play soccer together... soccer the way our boys like to play it.  And I remembered Jesus' words in Matthew... and I realized I was watching it happen right in front of me..."Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  Our friends welcomed, loved, and 'received' our children, and I was a witness to the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
As we said our goodbyes later, the boys didn't want to leave.  The whole way home they kept talking about 'their friends' and asking when we would see them again.  Thank you, Jesus, for giving us glimpses of your kingdom here on earth.  Thank you for giving us friends who love our children in small ways that have very big meaning.  And please help me to do the same.

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