Children Like Angela and Ben Lead Us in Following Jesus

 

FullSizeRenderAs a children’s church teacher I never gave an “altar call” when presenting Bible stories. Rather, I preferred planting spiritual seeds. Once, however, thanks to five-year-old Angela and seven-year-old Ben Feazel, my children responded to a story in a way I had not intended. It turned out to be the best timing.

Brought to church by a neighbor, little Angela, with wavy brown hair and blue eyes, came only occasionally to Bible club. There was nothing outstanding about her. She was quiet, and therefore, didn’t get extra attention, good or bad.

Like the other 50 pairs of eyes watching me that night, her gaze seemed curious about my story-telling props: a plastic town, bucket of mud, bowl of water and two little plastic people.

“Hey, are you going to play with those toys?” inquired a boy with a toothless grin.

“Yup,” I replied, as I picked up the figurines. That brought howls of laughter. Then I added, “But I’m also going to tell you a story.”

Holding the toys, I told the kids their names were Adam and Eve Wanna Bees, and they lived long ago in the village Eden. Because they disobeyed God, they became very dirty.

FullSizeRenderQuickly into my mud I plopped the dolls. The children groaned as I pulled out the dirty toys.

“After that,” I said, “All the Wanna Bees were dirty, and they didn’t even realize it.”

From the muddy bucket I pulled a dozen plastic figures.

There were more groans.

“Then one day someone came to the village. His name was ‘Clean-As-He-Can-Be.’ He looked at the dirty Wanna Bees and declared, ‘I know the way to make you clean.’

“Some Wanna Bees were insulted, ‘How dare you accuse us of being dirty!’  they snarled.

“Others thought he was crazy.

FullSizeRender“But some looked at him and then at themselves. They knew he was right.

“‘Come with me, and I will show you how to be clean,’ he urged.

“‘Maybe another day,’ a few said.

“Some, however, said, ‘Okay, let’s go!’

“Clean-as He-Can-Be led them to a beautiful pond and told them to jump in. Since they couldn’t swim, he caught them.”

Into my water pitcher went a few Wanna Bees. I wiped them clean with a towel.

“Oh!” sighed a number of kids, including Angela.

“Can you imagine how good that first bath felt?”

Angela nodded. I continued.

“The Clean-as-They-Can-Be-Wanna-Bees shouted, ‘We must go tell the others!’

“‘Yes!’ said Clean-As-He-Can-Be. ‘I will stay here and wash the Wanna Bees when they come to the pond.’

“So the clean Wanna Bees ran to the village. Some thought they were crazy, and others didn’t care. But some Wanna Bees believed and they, too, became clean.”

The children knew I was almost done with the story. “Wash them all,” they pleaded. “Wash them all.”FullSizeRender

So I did, telling them that Jesus was like Clean-As-He-Can-Be.

Then I said, “And just like some people didn’t want to follow Clean-As-He-Can-Be, some people today don’t want to follow Jesus.”

I opened my mouth to give a final thought when little, quiet Angela jumped up and shouted, “I’ll follow Jesus!”

Before I could respond, Ben Feazel stood up, “I’ll follow Jesus!” Then there was another child standing, and another. They each declared, “I’ll follow Jesus!”

It was a powerful moment. Flabbergasted, I mumbled a closing prayer that the children would make this story their own.

I planned to speak with Angela the following week, but a few days later, Angela’s neighbor called and told me Angela had collapsed in her mother’s arms at a recreational swimming pool. Her defective heart, unknown to us, was a condition she had lived with since birth.

The second child to stand that evening, Ben Feazel, died at age 18. A car ran a stop sign and hit him on his motorcycle. He was wearing his helmet. Ben was a few weeks short of high school graduation and Marine boot camp.

Whenever I think of Angela and Ben I see them determinedly standing before me declaring, “I’ll follow Jesus!” Indeed they had.

These children taught me at least two lessons: 1) that we should not take any encounter for granted, and 2) God moves mightily among the youngest of us.

 

 

 

 

Ruth Koch on Healthy Assertiveness

Not too long ago I had some tea and conversation with
counselor/writer/speaker Ruth N. Koch. I also participated in two of her “healthy” assertiveness training sessions. Ruth and Kenneth C. Haugk co-authored the best selling book Speaking the Truth in Love: How to be an Assertive Christian. This book is a tool for followers of Jesus to discover the healthier balance between being a pushover and a jerk. It is part of the official training of Stephen Ministers—lay people who care for hurting people.

Ruth Koch, left, and me
Ruth Koch, left, and me

With Ruth’s permission, I want to share with you a snap shot of her teaching on assertiveness. Perhaps something here will help you to better “love your neighbor as yourself.” These notes are just a taste. For further help, I highly recommend Ruth and Ken Haugk’s book.

What does assertiveness look like according to Ruth Koch:

–It is intentionally aware of the influence of others. An assertive person will not be manipulated into feeling guilty. Instead, he or she will claim, nurture, and even protect the skills and talents God has given.

–An assertive person will pray: “Lord, help me to think about this.” Thinking produces our feelings, and sometimes our feelings mislead. Ask God’s help to think his thoughts. The Holy Spirit can lead us into the truth of a matter.

–An assertive person will not focus “out there,” depending on others for approval. David Augsburger in his excellent Caring Enough to Confront gives this word picture of people pleasers handing out gavels for others to judge them. Remember, the first audience we play to is God. The end of Psalm 139 has a prayer that expresses, “Lord, point out to me everything about me that breaks your heart.” This kind of prayer shatters allusions that keep us from being effective in our relationships with others.

–An assertive person is not reactive but proactive; moving ahead of events, taking time to anticipate and plan possible responses.

–An assertive person behaves deliberately and decisively.

–An assertive person has non-anxious leadership. You cannot lead people who intimidate you. A negative example is of King Saul who made faulty decisions because scripture says he was afraid of the people.

–An assertive person is aware of the mission and ministry God has given.

–An assertive person lacks defensiveness. Defensiveness can be a stumbling block. We say, “Mistakes were made, but not by me.” When we are defensive we cannot admit we are wrong. Why do we not take ownership of being forgiven sinners covered by the blood of Jesus? Martin Luther says we are both saints and sinners at the same time.

–An assertive person stands up for self without undue anxiety. If we don’t stand up for ourselves we are often in a victim stance of “frozen anger.”

–An assertive person exercises rights as well as respecting the rights of others.

–An assertive person has a lifestyle that is open, honest, direct.

–An assertive person demonstrates self-control, which is the fruit of the Spirit. As a follower of Jesus you have this fruit from Galatians 5. Call it forward in your daily life.

–An assertive person talks about self appropriately.

–An assertive person believes one has options and is not a victim. David Augsburger coined it: “Response Able.”

–It is true we may be victimized in this life, but how we respond can be powerful in recovery and moving forward.

–An assertive person accepts his or her limitations as well as the limitations of others. There is no perfect world.

–An assertive person in word and actions chooses to say yes to a holy life.

–There are times we put aside assertiveness for the sake of others. We understand the limitations of others and humble ourselves for their greater good. This is in the model of Jesus, who made the beautiful, terrifying sacrifice of love.

 

 



Ani DiFranco, Healing Memories and Places

Singer Ani DiFranco performed in my city recently. Curious about her, my internet surfing led to some of her great music. Ms. DiFranco is a political activist/artist in the mold of Peter Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. I am quite certain if we drank Fair Trade coffee together we would have lively conversation.

press photo of Ani Difranco
press photo of Ani Difranco

What intrigued me about Ani was the mess this New Orleans’ resident inadvertently got into last year when she booked the Louisiana Nottoway Plantation for a “Righteous Retreat.” The goal was to have a four-day songwriting and creativity workshop. Some of her activist colleagues, however, were appalled she picked a place built by slaves and now owned by a billionaire. They demanded Ani cancel the retreat, and she did. On her website she wrote, “I did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness.” This apology wasn’t strong enough so she had to apologize a second time!

To Ms. DiFranco’s credit she went the extra mile to make peace with her critics. But it felt sad that an opportunity to gather artists for a “Righteous Retreat” was squelched. It is a difficult balance to honor the past, work fruitfully in the present and envision a better future for both people and places. Can you think of places personally and in community that experienced grief and have been transformed? For transformation to happen there usually are some unselfish people behind the scenes envisioning something better and committing themselves to the labor. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth!”

FullSizeRenderRecently, my octogenarian friend Belle told me a sweet story that is connected to this theme of healing places and people. For years, Belle’s large family had gathered at her home for special events. On one of these occasions, Belle went to the door to be greeted by her little granddaughter, who had so much fun picking all of grandma’s tulips. Belle’s spontaneous reaction resulted in three generations of females suffering heartache that day. Their collective memory was a mess.

But here is the good ending: their memory was redeemed. Belle said just this past Easter–as at many other family gatherings–her now grown-up granddaughter presented her with a tulip bouquet. Smiling, the young woman said, “Remember, Grandma, when….”

Wherever you can, work to heal collective memories and places.