At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.- Matthew 18:1-5
This morning, six images have been lodged in my mind, just under the surface, as if they wanted to work their way into my writing today.
At first I couldn’t see the connection between them, but then I remembered what this tree (right) looked like the day we planted it 16 years ago. It was a pencil. Seriously, the twig was maybe 18-inches tall and certainly no thicker in circumference than a #2 pencil.
Rebekah’s mama gave us the cypress sapling when we moved in, and we planted it right in front of a stump from what must have been a huge oak tree at one time. Eventually the stump rotted out and our new baby cypress began to take off.
So this past weekend, when I paused under the cypress with the lawnmower, I looked up and realized how amazingly it has grown, and continues to, and so I captured the image on my iPhone.
THRIVE: Just a few hours later, during our Sunday morning Praise Service, I was listening to Rebekah’s “children’s moment” and caught this view of possibly the youngest “young-disciple” ever to be so completely captivated by Rebekah’s words.
Nora is one of those “I have to be where the action is” babies. Her motto seems to be, “Why spectate when you can participate?” Her modus operandi is, “Did I miss anything?” “What’s happening over there?” “Why can’t I go to youth group yet?” and, “When’s the school-bus coming to pick me up?”
NOURISHMENT: And I couldn’t help but think about the tree. Receiving nourishment all these years and growing, growing, growing.
My niece, Hannah, works with Social Services. She deals with young moms, and families, and small children who are often languishing under the “failure to thrive” label.
The contrast between those “failure to thrive” kids and children like Nora (and like our grandson, David) is like the difference between our amazing cypress and one of those neglected trees you can find, mostly forgotten, in the corner of a parking lot at the shopping plaza.
SPIRIT: Later in Sunday’s service the children’s choir offered a boisterous performance, and our youngest kids were involved in almost every element of the worship experience. I couldn’t help but think about all those biblical images of trees planted by the water, and of Jesus’ constant words of encouragement toward children, and his repeated admonition that we all need to approach God with the receptivity and open hearts of the very young; and I wondered about the long-term consequences of a spiritual “failure to thrive.”
OPEN HEARTS ARE NEVER STAGNANT: So much of the adult experience of faith is stagnant. I’ll go a step further: so much of the adult experience of life is stagnant.
- Life is about growth;
- life is about exploration;
- life is about struggle;
- life is about coloring outside of the lines;
- life is about adventure;
- life is about learning, a constant learning curve that challenges and reevaluates and moves forward.
Life is about being planted by the water.
“And [Jesus] said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven….'” (Matthew 18)
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1)
Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.
Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.