Almost Heaven

Almost Heaven

Almost Heaven

Matthew 18:5-6: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” 
“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

It is probably no surprise to any of us that children in this life are frequently in danger.  All over the world, children are exploited, used, molested, abused, taken advantage of, injured and even killed, all through no fault of their own. Such treatment rightfully outrages us and most of us work hard to protect and nurture the children in our care.

I have been thinking about children a great deal this summer, largely because I spent two weeks with a lot—and I do mean a lot—of children.  Now, working with children is not one of my talents. I much prefer teenagers, which is mystifying to many, but to me, the miracle workers are the ones in our midst who work with the children.  I saw them at work in Lynchburg at Eagle Eyrie during the state music camp and right here during our summer music camp.  It’s amazing how small children who can barely walk or talk can be led to sing and dance and play instruments. I have the greatest admiration for those who work with children and lead them to do marvelous things.

Christians have a special charge to make sure that children and the vulnerable are led and nurtured and not exploited. Jesus said in Matthew 18,   “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

It occurred to me that these two weeks were a picture of the kingdom—one in which the young are led by shepherds to safe pasture.  All of us can do this for each other and when we do, there is something of God’s Kingdom on earth.  Now, I am not suggesting that the children are totally innocent or that those who work with them are angels.  But they come as close as we’re likely to see in this world.

William Blake, the English Romantic poet, wrote about much the same theme  in his poem, “Holy Thursday” in 1789.  It was the custom then to dress children from the charity schools in London in bright colors and have them process to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a service celebrating the ascension of Jesus 40 days after Easter. As I watched the children do their musical last Friday evening, they were dressed in their red camp shirts, singing as they were watched by parents and friends, and I thought of this poem.

Holy Thursday

‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two & two, in red & blue & green,
Grey-headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames’ waters flow.

O what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.


Multipliers and Encouragers


Acts 4:37: Barnabas, “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

I spent a couple of days last week at a satellite feed for the 2013 Global Leadership Summit sponsored by Willow Creek Church located near Chicago.  Our church was a “Premier Host Site.” which we have been for several years. The summit brings together  leaders not only from religious institutions but also people with proven track records in encouraging excellence and achievement in their field while at the same time they nurture the human element in these groups.

The speakers were uniformly excellent, with incisive insights into their topics. I could focus on the learnings from any one of them, but I was particularly impressed with Liz Wiseman, who talked about “diminishers” and “multipliers” in organizations. We all have known both in our experience. Diminishers try to lead by belittling, withholding information, scolding, gossip and a dozen other strategies we all know too well. As a result, the people they are trying to read do not put their energy into the process or product: Wiseman’s research indicated that their energy level was around 43% of what they could contribute. On the other hand, multipliers work by sharing power, knowing their people as human beings, keeping them informed, praising and offering help when needed. People are willing to give 91% of their effort to people like this.

We were invited to think of both kinds of leaders, and I’m sure you can do this for both. I had had (mercifully very few) teachers who should not have been teaching. They made me hate their subject; I didn’t put much effort into it and I didn’t do well as a result. I have been blessed to have many more multipliers, including numerous excellent teachers who cared for me and for their subjects, and a long string of principals who were some of the most phenomenal multipliers on the planet. I hope the same had been true for you.

It occurred to me in listening to these leaders that the Bible has been there first.  Jesus spoke of the importance of treating others as we would be treated, in knowing the each others’ needs, of being there for each other. If I had to put the lessons of the Summit into one word, it would be encouragement. Speaker after speaker spoke of the difficult times that come to every organization and every individual and of how important it is to keep pressing on, to not grow discouraged and to encourage each other.

I pray that we might indeed do all these things.