Bless the Teacher Who Blesses the Child

Background Passage: Mark 10:13-16

It is to me one of the most endearing passages of scripture recorded about Jesus. God’s son journeys from Galilee toward Jerusalem in his final days on earth, bearing the burden of the cross and all it means both physically and spiritually. The cross and all its meaning rests as a dark shadow in his heart and mind. Nevertheless, as he goes, he teaches any who would listen about the kingdom of God and the faith required to experience its grace.

On this day, he sits in the courtyard of a home, speaking to a group of Pharisees who relentlessly question him, hoping he might somehow incriminate himself. The area is jam packed with people listening to the developing debate on divorce.

As the conversation intensified, a group of parents walked up to the house carrying babies and walking hand in hand with toddlers. More than anything in the world, these parents wanted Jesus to bless their children. These were parents who recognized the strength and power of his preaching and teaching. Parents who cared for the future of their little ones. Parents who wanted their children to know God and to be blessed by God.

Yet, they were blocked from entering, not by the Pharisees, but by Jesus’ own disciples. Rebuked in a forceful and misguided way for wasting the time of the teacher on such trivial matters. Children in the first century, you see, were deemed insignificant in spiritual matters. Conventional religious teaching centered on the need to earn your way into God’s grace by the things you did or did not do. The philosophy ran counter to what Jesus taught.

Jesus heard the commotion, recognized what was happening and became indignant and irritated with his disciples. He called to the parents, waving them inside with a cheerful voice and a welcoming smile.

Ignoring the crowd of onlookers and Pharisees, Jesus spent precious moments with each baby and child. Cradled the littlest of them lovingly to his chest, peeking through the swaddling clothes, letting them grasp his calloused fingers. He wrapped the toddlers in his arms, hugging them tightly. Tickled them. Made them giggle with silly faces. Then, with each child, he drew the parents into a small circle, prayed quietly and purposely for the cherished ones among them. Offering God’s protection and blessing upon their lives. Praying that they one day would come to understand in a personal way what it means to be a child of God.

As the parents left, he used this “interruption” to explain to the disciples and Pharisees that the key to God’s kingdom required childlike faith, not legalistic adherence to rules and law. It is a valuable lesson to all who would believe.

I find another truth in this familiar, but lightly regarded passage. This story popped into my mind about this time every year for the past 30 years. Despite my recent retirement from public school work, I thought again of this passage with the start of this new school year.

Without delving into separation of church and state issues or the frequent plea for a return of prayer into our schools, I believe no law has ever or will ever remove God from our public school systems. There are simply too many Christian educators calling upon God’s presence in their lives as they work with our children and young people. I know how much they care, how much they love, how much they do beyond teaching to meet the needs of children.

I watched for three decades as dedicated public school teachers, counselors, principals, and support staff, each committed to a personal faith in Christ, became the voice, the hands, the heart of Christ for the children and young people they encountered during the day. I know these amazing people prayed intently in the moment for those who were struggling in the classroom or hurting in their personal lives.

During the course of a day, they are heard as the voice of instruction to those who must be taught. A voice of encouragement to those who need strengthening. A voice of discipline to those who need correction. A voice of counsel to those who need guidance. A voice of praise to those who succeed.

They offer a hand to those who must be lifted up. A shoulder to those who need comfort. They offer their heart to those who need to be loved.

If you take the time to visit with them, they will tell you they look upon their work in public schools as God’s calling in their lives…their place of ministry and service in his kingdom. By living their faith each day they proclaim Christ’s love and blessing upon the children through the relationships they build with them.

In quiet and hectic times, Christian educators and Christian students pray. As a result, lives are blessed and changed. Lives are won to Christ through the daily witness of these amazing educators.

These Christian educators pray for Godly wisdom and discernment as they teach and interact with their students. They pray for our children and grandchildren as they learn and as they grow and mature into the people God wants them to be.

So, in turn, please pray each day for Christian men and women in our schools…whether they are public, private and home school teachers. Pray for strength, energy, compassion, insight and opportunity to bless the lives of the children and young people they encounter during the year.

Just as Jesus paused from his teaching to bless the children, pray for our Christian educators to find time to do the same with the students they teach.

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Author’s note: If the message speaks to you, share it with a friend who teaches. They will be encouraged to know you are praying for them.

A Tribute to Kingdom Builders

Background Passages: Matthew 20:26; Matthew 25:14-30

I belong to a church that began its ministry in 1954. Since its doors opened, South Main Baptist Church, Pasadena, TX, two pastors have served the congregation. The late Dr. B.J. Martin pastored the church for 27 years before giving way to Dr. Ron Lyles in 1981. In a few days, Dr. Lyles celebrates his 35th anniversary with our church. Six decades. Two pastors.

This stability of pastoral leadership is certainly not a record for service at the same church. Other pastors served their congregations for longer periods. Yet, I think it says something about these two men of God.

What is the measure of a great pastor?

People look at a number of metrics to determine the vitality of pastoral ministry. We are, after all, a performance-driven culture. Some might look at church membership, Sunday School attendance, outreach totals, the number of baptisms, or the amount of congregational giving. Those should be important inputs. They are not, however, the important impacts.

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, said you measure the impact of a pastor, not on metrics as those above, but on his ability to be a “kingdom builder.”

A kingdom builder, according to Warren, is someone who…

  • lives for his great purpose,
  • lives by great principles,
  • lives on great power and
  • lives with great people.

Warren says our purpose for living as Christians is two-fold. First, our purpose is to spread the gospel of Christ to a lost world, bringing others into a saving relationship with God. Great pastors internalize that purpose and lead a church in a mission-minded focus, not just within the walls of the home church, but by establishing and supporting mission work at home and abroad.

Secondly, that great purpose calls us to move beyond evangelism to make disciples of those who place their trust in Christ. Making a commitment to Christ is a simple matter of faith. Living the purpose-driven life he requires daily is difficult unless someone teaches us how to live and relate to the world as God’s people.

In B.J. and Ron, I found men with equal zeal and commitment for spreading the gospel of Christ and for growing those wish to walk with the Father. Their passion proved in what they proclaimed from the pulpit and what they practiced as the daily pattern of life. The ministries they established in our church and our community shared the love of Christ in word and deed, touching not just the soul, but also meeting the physical, social and emotional needs of life.

Great pastors draw strength and wisdom from the foundational principles set forth by God in his scripture, according to Warren. A great pastor lives by these principles, letting them guide his every word and action. Both of my pastors made deep theological study an essential part of their preparation for ministry. You sensed their fidelity to scripture when they preached and taught. Yet, they made sure they grounded their heavenly theology with an earthly purpose…always rooted in the practical matters of life.

These gifts of teaching and preaching would have made limited impact if they are not wrapped in a cloak of love. For 35 years, Ron has lead our church to make to promises to all who join our congregation…to love them and let them love us in return. It is not a trite slogan, but a real promise of congregational fellowship designed to ensure that we care of each other in every way.

Warren said the power by which a pastor moves and serves rests in the presence of God’s spirit in his life. It is this Spirit who provides the discernment needed to guide, lead and counsel a congregation. Both men who have served as my pastor allowed the Holy Spirit to speak and work through them. Their ability to understand the needs of our congregation testified to the way the Spirit moved in their lives. They spoke the right word at just the right time. Provided new ministry outreach to fill a void. Comforted the hurting when they needed it most. It seemed God always put them exactly where they needed to be with the right word and touch.

Finally, Warren believes a pastor is a kingdom builder and a great pastor when he worships beside and with his people, holding himself and others accountability for the work of God in the church and in the community. He provides spiritual encouragement, building up the body to face a world that more often than not turns its back on God.

I have been encouraged by the studied approach taken by my pastors over the years as we dealt with contemporary social issues. Our church, under the leadership of our pastors, always tackled thorny issues of the day, but it was done after much prayer and acted upon with thought, compassion and grace.

Powerful sermons delivered in the past by both men resonated as a gospel of conviction and not the gospel of convenience often proclaimed from other pulpits. God’s people need to hear spiritual truth that makes us squirm a little in our pews. Both men spoke the Word of God with such passion that it dared their listeners to pick up the cross and carry it further down the road toward Christian maturity. I have been challenged, confronted, forgiven and encouraged. I have been allowed to serve and find my place of service both in my church and my community. I have been given opportunities to participate in mission outreach activities at home and abroad, allowing God to use me in whatever way he sees fit.

Yes. Without a doubt. My pastors, Dr. B. J. Martin and Dr. Ron Lyles were and are kingdom builders. Physically, they could not be more different. Spiritually, they could not be more alike. Both could preach. Both could teach. Both could take God’s word and translate it into a practical pattern for living in ways that even I could understand.

What is the measure of a great pastor?

If your measure is kingdom building, toss out the statistics and look to the heart. I can point you to two men made a difference in my life. Two men who encouraged me and countless others to think and live as kingdom builders.

My kingdom builders.

My pastors.

My friends.

“Well done, good and faithful servants. You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Matthew 25:21