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Any Christians out there have the “following Christ” thing down to perfection? No? Didn’t think so. Every honest Christian I know goes through the despair of ever getting it right. Our best laid plans…

 

We are klutzes. Stumblebums. We slip on banana peels. Our spirits are willing, our desires pure, but we mess up trying to carry them out.

 

banana peel

 

I freely admit I’m a klutz, both in physical coordination and in my spiritual walk.

 

dock pile

 

One particularly embarrassing incident occurred in high school involving a dinghy on a romantic little inlet off the bay one lovely autumn afternoon. As we pulled up to the private dock, my date (let’s call him George to protect his identity!), realized he didn’t have a rope so he could moor us to the post. “Just stand in the boat and hold on to the dock till I get something,” he told me.

Seemed simple. As he headed toward a nearby shed, the boat began to pull away, and my weight and strength were not enough to pull it back against the dock. I had to make a choice: let go of the post and drift away with the boat or hang on to the pile and fall out of the boat.

I’m sure George disagreed with my decision. Remember, I’m a klutz. I didn’t trust my own rowing abilities to get me back to the dock. In my defense, I did try to hang on to the boat to the very end with the tops of my feet as my five foot five inches stretched between the dock and the dinghy.

George returned to find me hanging on to that post with my lower half submerged. Always a gentleman, he hauled me up on the boards first, then jumped in the water to chase down his boat. That might have been our last date.

 

photo credit: clarkjbrooks.blogspot.com

photo credit: clarkjbrooks.blogspot.com

 

I’ve observed two reactions from Christians who are disappointed in their efforts to follow Jesus. Either we hold on to Christ for dear life like a man dangling from a cliff holds onto a rope (having fallen off said cliff in our klutziness), or we give up, say, “I’m not trying anymore,” and live whatever way we please for the moment. To continue with the word picture, we let go of the rope, drop a few feet to a God-provided ledge, then spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out how to climb to the top of the cliff all by our lonesomes.

Meanwhile, God remains at the ready if we would just ask.

By now you can surmise I have dangled from many cliffs, and each time Jesus hauls me up. I can’t imagine giving up and letting go of my only possible means of safety.

 

photo credit: snowaddiction.org

photo credit: snowaddiction.org

 

If you have let go and given up on God, do you feel your life is better for it? And if you find yourself in even more despair, remember: God will still throw you a rope and pull you to the top. If you ask.

 

 

Last week we left Junior prancing down the street with balloons of love and goodness bouncing along behind him. He knows God loves him, blesses him, and he’s learned that he can share those blessings. The more he shares, the more joy for everybody.
I’ve enjoyed creating these theoretical conversations with a kid all summer, and today’s is the final segment. The last part of the last verse of Psalm Twenty-three. How will Junior put the whole thing together?

 

CS-Lewis-Quote-Living-Forever
Theoretical Conversation #12

 

You: And what happens next as goodness and love follow you?
Kid: I dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I go to heaven!
You: Right. All those good balloons for your whole life and then heaven forever.
Kid: Yeah, and all I have to do is good stuff.
You: Whoa! You’re forgetting the other five verses. The last verse is just what happens because of the others.
Kid: But you said goodness will follow me my whole life and the more good stuff I do, the more good stuff that follows.
You: I did say that. And where did all that good stuff come from to start with?
Kid (has to think back as he mumbles the entire psalm): The Shepherd prepared the table for me.
You: So the Shepherd’s the one who gave you all your blessings. And how come He gave you blessings but not everybody?
Kid: I don’t know.
You: Keep going backwards through the psalm.
Kid: He uses the rod and staff to comfort me…
You: Keep going.
Kid: I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…
You: And you fear no evil. Keep going.
Kid: He guides me in paths of righteousness…
You: Ah, now you’re getting somewhere. Keep going.
Kid: He restores my soul…
You: And?
Kid: He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters…
You: And who is doing all this for you?
Kid: The Shepherd.

 

green pastures

green pastures

You: And why does He do all that – the pastures, the water, restoring your soul, comforting you?
Kid: Because I’m a sheep?
You (triumphant): Yes! Because you’re a sheep! A sheep follows the Shepherd. That’s why you go to heaven.
Kid: Because I follow the Shepherd, because I follow Jesus.
You: That’s it.
Kid: So it all goes back to the first verse? I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever because the Lord is my Shepherd.
You: The Shepherd starts it all. We get to go to heaven because of the Shepherd. Beautiful, isn’t it?

 

 art by toia Thompson

art by toia Thompson

 

 

I’ve always pictured Junior at approximately eight years old. Soon, my four-year-old granddaughter will arrive for a visit. I’m going to try the same kid conversations with her and see how she responds. If she comes up with some adorable insights, I’ll share them with you.
In the meantime, I’m ready to return to creating spiritual metaphors from the physical world as such thoughts come to mind. I would appreciate feedback on this: if you look in the archives to see other types of blog posts I’ve written, would you prefer to see them as a Conversations-with-kids format? Or do you prefer the original style? Thanks for any help you can offer.

Long, long ago in a town far away from where I live now, my oldest son chose to share his blessings on Christmas Eve. Anonymously. He planned the gift, paid what he could for it, and I supplemented the rest. We wrapped it together.

 

 

snowy front porch

 

 

The recipient was a boy from his first grade class. Eric knew the boy was poor, often dirty, and not known to be kind. At seven years old, my son knew how to be a blessing.
After dinner, he and I drove a few blocks from our home, parked several houses away from our destination, and walked the rest of the way. He stole up on the porch, laid his gift in front of the door, and rang the doorbell. Then he ran down the block as fast as he could to remain out of sight.
We never found out how the boy felt about the gift or the giver. The subject never came up in Eric’s classroom, but we experienced the joy of sharing, which far outweighed the desire for a “proper” thank you.
Since Kid Conversation #10, Junior wants to share his blessings as his cup overflows with them. What an opportunity for you and your kid to purposely plan ways to share those blessings!
And on your way back from your good deed, the last verse of Psalm twenty-three might be appropriate for conversation.

 

Theoretical Conversation #11
You: We did it! How do you feel?
Kid: Great! I bet Josh is really happy.
You: Congratulations. You have just helped someone’s cup to overflow. And now do you know what happens?
Kid: We think of another blessing to share?
You: Good idea. But that’s not what I meant. I was thinking of verse six in Psalm 23 – “Surely goodness and love shall follow me all the days of my life.”
Kid: Goodness and love will follow me? How can they follow me? They’re not alive. They can’t move.
You: You mean like when puppies follow you down the street?
Kid: Yeah.
You: Maybe goodness and love are more like balloons on a string. You hold the strings when you’re sharing blessings. The blessings are already good and loving, and the balloons of love and goodness bob along behind you.

 

 

balloons on a string

 

 

Kid: Cool. I can walk around and do good stuff and know they follow me everywhere. Can I have more balloons to hold?
You: Like what?
Kid: Like some more fruits of the Spirit. Patience and kindness, stuff like that.
You: Sure. I guess they’d keep bobbing along behind you, too.
Kid: So if I do bad stuff, do bad balloons bob behind me?
You: You know kids who always do bad things. Does goodness follow them around?
Kid: No. Fighting follows them all over the place.
You: Guess you have your answer.
Kid: I wouldn’t want bad balloons to follow me.
You: I don’t blame you. Keep holding onto the strings of good balloons and don’t let go.

 

 

goodness and mercy

 

 

Would you be willing to share things that you and your kids have done to share blessings? I love learning about what other people have done and adapting those ideas to my own life.

You never know where a conversation is going to end up once you ask for a child’s point of view on a topic that adults have taken for granted. Last week, who could have guessed that the banqueting table in Psalm twenty-three would end up in a discussion about insecticide?
The rest of verse five continues the picture of a feast from ancient times. Feast and fragrance. Let’s see what opinions Junior has to offer.

Theoretical Conversation #10
You: Now that you’ve taken care of the enemy with bug spray, what comes next in the psalm?
Kid: “You anoint my head with oil.” (He puts a hand on top of his head) The Shepherd puts oil on my head? Like what you put in a car? Yuck!
You: Not car oil. More like olive oil.
Kid: You cook with olive oil, right?
You: Right.
Kid: But if He pours oil on my head, I’ll be all greasy. You’ll make me wash my hair.
You: I think in Bible times, they put olive oil, maybe almond oil, on their faces. It worked more like lotion to keep your skin soft.
Kid: So you went to a party and someone gave you face cream? Weird. Why didn’t the psalm writer just say, “You anoint my face with oil?”
You (hug him and sniff the top of his head): That would smell better than your sweaty scalp! Besides, they massaged the oil all over their heads so it spread and made the hair shiny, not greasy. Just like the shampoo commercials: “beautiful, glossy sheen.”
Demonstrate on Junior’s head – without oil, of course! He squirms away.
Kid: I don’t want to smell like a girl.

perfume bottle
You: Well, just remember that verse is in there because the person giving the party wanted to give his guests anything they might need. And since this is Jesus’s party, the oil also means the Holy Spirit. Jesus pours His Holy Spirit on us.
Kid: The Holy Spirit’s a lot better than perfume!
You: At the same party, the psalm says your cup “overflows.”
}pic of overflowing cup}
Kid: I’m supposed to spill my drink at the party?
You: Nope. God does. He fills up your cup so much it spills over.
Kid: And that’s a good thing? I get in trouble if I spill my milk all over the table.
You: You have to look at what it means if God lets things overflow. When He fills your cup, that means He fills your life with blessings. So many that your soul just spills out happiness.
Kid: I thought the food on the table was all my blessings.
You: And the drink is even more blessings.
Kid: Wow! More blessings than I know what to do with. Don’t the blessings get wasted if they spill on the table and the floor?
You: Yes and no.
Kid: Can’t be both.
You: Yes, because God expects you to share those blessings. Other people can enjoy them, too. And no, the blessings aren’t wasted because God chose to give you so much more than you ever thought to ask for. What if you asked me for one Lego set, and I brought you ten different sets? How would you feel?
Kid: Lucky!
Legos
You: So doesn’t it make you feel lucky, feel like God loves you so much, when He gives you great surprises even better than Legos?
Kid: Yeah, and if I share the blessings like I share my toys, it would make people feel happy.
You: I think you’re onto something…
blessings shared
What ideas can you come up with to share blessings?

For the last several weeks, your favorite kid has been providing some great insights of his own as you and he pick apart the 23rd psalm. You’ve gotten through the valley of the shadow of death. What might Jr. think about the Lord’s table?

courtesy of goodfoodie-keith.blogspot.com

courtesy of goodfoodie-keith.blogspot.com

Theoretical Conversation #9

 

You: So now you see why we don’t have to be afraid. Jesus has everything under control. The next thing that happens is the Shepherd “prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies.”
Kid: He prepares a table? If my teacher says, “Put your books away and prepare for lunch,” then I have to get ready to go to the cafeteria. How do you get ready for a table?
You: The shepherd doesn’t get ready for a table. He gets the table ready.
Kid: Ready for what?
You: For a big party. For you. He puts all kinds of good things on your table.
Kid: Like spaghetti and chocolate cake and pecan pie, and cherry Popsicles?
You: A lot more than that.
Kid: Must be a big table!
You: It sure is. He puts everything on that table that you could ever need or want.
Kid: So food, and plates and glasses and forks and spoons and –
You: You can picture it like a fancy dinner with candlesticks and everything, but remember there’s always a deeper meaning to what the psalm talks about.
Kid: If I’m the sheep and Jesus is the Shepherd, then what is the table?
You: I think the table is your life, and God has put all these good things on your table, lots of blessings in your life.
Kid: Cool!
You: And you know what? He sets you up with wonderful blessings in the middle of a bunch of your enemies.
Kid: Why would he do that?
You: I’m not sure. Maybe to show you that even when the enemies try to hurt you, your table of blessings is still there. They can’t steal any of the wonderful things God gives you. God won’t let them.
Kid: But I don’t have any enemies.
You: Everybody likes you, huh?
Kid: I think so.
You: Doe the devil like you?
Kid: He doesn’t like anybody!
You: So you do have one enemy.
Silence while he considers this bombshell.
Kid: But God won’t let the devil hurt me, just like the psalm says?
You: God promises you still have his blessings on your special table that he prepared. I think I would be mistaken if I said he never lets the devil hurt you.

 

UH-OH. Jr. is getting upset.

 

Kid: But you said before that He keeps me safe.
You: And He does. That doesn’t mean you never get hurt.
Jr. is not consoled.

mosquito

You: Look. If you get a mosquito bite, does it hurt?
Kid: A little, then it itches even worse.
You: What about a bee sting?
Kid: That really hurts.
You: Does it kill you or hurt you so bad that you have to stay in a hospital for the rest of your life?
Kid (starts to relax): No. It swells up and hurts for maybe a day.
You: Well, that’s all Satan can do. He might hurt you, but when you know you’re going to spend forever with Jesus, the most Satan can try to do is sting you.
Kid: (pounds the table): Yeah! I’m getting the bug spray. The devil will be sorry if he tries to sting me!

wasp spray

The-Valley-of-the-Shadow-of-Death
Last week we left Junior dangling in regard to his confusion over how God’s idea of protection is different from ours. How can we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil? People are tortured and killed by evil men every day. That’s terrifying!

Let’s see how one possible conversation with a kid could progress.
Theoretical Conversation with a kid #8
You: The last part of the verse says, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Remember the staff, the candy cane stick?
Kid: Yeah! He hooks the sheep around its neck and drags it away from danger.
You: And you thought that would hurt.
Kid: It would.
You: But you also agreed it’s okay for the Shepherd to hurt the sheep like that.
Kid: Sort of. That doesn’t hurt as much as a wolf bite.
You: The shepherd has a rod, too. What’s it for?
shepherd's rod
Kid: He spanks the sheep?
You: A lot of people think the shepherd hits the sheep with his rod, and I can see why. But the sheep doesn’t get much more than a tap on the side from the staff. The shepherd won’t beat the poor thing.
Kid: So what was the rod for?
You: To fight off enemies. If the shepherd saw a lion or a wolf, he could use it as a slingshot or a club. The rod was for the sheep’s safety, not for its punishment.                                        Kid: So Jesus beats up the devil with His rod?
You: I guess He does!
Kid: And He protects us all the time?
You: Yes.
Kid: Then why do bad people hurt good people and Jesus doesn’t do anything about it?
You: I know it looks like that sometimes. All you have to do is watch the news. But we forget the most important thing.
Kid: What?
You: Jesus already did do something about it that will last forever.
Kid: What??
You: You know. What is Easter all about? And don’t tell me eggs and bunnies and candy!
Kid: Jesus rose from the dead on Easter.
You: What’s Good Friday all about?
Kid: The day Jesus died on the cross.
You: I’ll bet people thought the devil won that day.
Kid: Yeah, all the disciples gave up.

spiritual warfare

spiritual warfare

You: But they didn’t realize what was going on. They thought evil men had destroyed Jesus. Then on Easter they saw Him alive again, and He showed them why it was good for the whole world that all those bad things had happened to Him.
Kid: And they were so happy!
You: Yes, they were. I think it’s the same kind of thing now. We see bad things happening, but we can’t see what Jesus is really doing. We can’t see what happens between angels and devils. We can’t see the future. But Jesus can.
Kid: And that’s why I don’t have be afraid. Jesus already knows how He’s gonna make it good. I get it!

I didn’t make it to verse four of Psalm twenty-three last week after all, so this week and next you and Junior will be walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Does that sound like a horror movie? It doesn’t have to be.

nightmare

Theoretical Conversation with a Kid # 7, Part 1

You: You know, sometimes that path of righteousness might take us through some scary things.

Kid: Why?

You: I don’t know all the reasons, but if a shepherd wants to get his sheep to the best pasture, he sometimes has to cross dangerous territory. He watches out for wolves and wildcats, and he fights to keep his sheep safe.

Kid: Can’t he just take another way around that’s safer?

You: Maybe, but that might have other problems like too many miles between watering holes. So no matter what, the trip can be difficult.

Kid: Why don’t they stay in the green pasture next to the still water?

You: What if nobody makes a trip to the grocery store at your house?

Kid: We run out of food. That’s got nothing to do with green pastures.

You: Sure it does. If the sheep stay in one place, they eat up all the grass, and they’ll starve just like you would starve if nobody brought home food. It’s not a green pasture once all the grass is gone. They have to keep traveling.

Kid: So…go through dangerous places or starve to death.

You: That’s about it.

Kid: That stinks.

You: That’s life. If we want to stay healthy and well-fed in our spirits, we can’t sit where we want if Jesus moves on. We have to follow Jesus and keep growing as a Christian, but we don’t have to worry about the dangerous places.

The-Valley-of-the-Shadow-of-Death

Kid: We don’t?

You: What comes after “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death?”

Kid: “I will fear no evil.” I’m scared of evil. I get nightmares.

You: Buy why didn’t King David fear evil when he wrote Psalm 23?

Kid: I don’t know.

You: What’s the rest of the verse?

Kid: “I will fear no evil… for you are with me.”

You: If Jesus is with me, I know He’ll protect me.

Kid: Well, I know that, but it’s still scary.

You: Why?

Kid: Because good people get hurt every day. Seems like Jesus didn’t protect them.

You: Yeah, seems like it. Maybe that’s because His idea of protection is different from ours.

Kid: I don’t get it.

And next week, hopefully, this kid will get the answers he needs.

What possible answer would you provide to clear up his confusion?

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