Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ballet In The Kingdom

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, recently told of meeting a wonderful little girl named Ella Mae.

Read on...you will be inspired.

The Kingdom of God in the Life of Ella Mae

Our eternal life does not begin on the day we die; rather, it begins on the day that we meet Jesus and it alters the course of our life. It then ushers us through this life into something called the kingdom of God. Ultimately, that’s our eternal destination according to the teaching of the Bible. And today in Luke 17:20–37, Jesus is addressing the issue of the coming of the kingdom of God. And it’s a big idea that’s predominant and prevalent throughout much of the Scriptures. And lots of people debate over how Jesus is going to come back and when Jesus is going to come back and exactly how the details will play out. And lots of arguments rage about the nature and essence and details of the kingdom of God.

And so I thought it might be helpful to make it a little bit more practical and introduce you to my newest friend, somebody I had the privilege and honor of meeting yesterday and looking at the kingdom of God in the life of one little girl. Her name is, fantastically enough, Ella Mae, best name ever.

My son, Zachariah Blaise Driscoll, buddy Zac, had a baseball tournament yesterday in eastern Washington over in Wenatchee. So buddy Zac and I drove over and while hanging out at the baseball fields watching him, the Acts 29 church planter from that town came to visit and hang out for the course of the day. Great guy, wonderful guy with a great church.

And if you’re new, the Acts 29 Network is our church-planting network. We give 10 percent of all of our dollars to Acts 29 and we help plant churches. So there are four hundred Acts 29 churches in the U.S., five hundred potential church planters being assessed continually, and we love church planting.
And so this young man came to hang out for the day and he brought his daughter, Ella Mae. She’s about five years old with brown hair, big eyes. She’s really smart. She’s hilariously funny and exceedingly cute. And if the guys have got the photo, I’ll show her to you. I snapped this on my iPhone. As you can see, she’s got a walker because she has spina bifida.

And I’m not an expert on this by any stretch of the imagination, but as I understand it, that means her spine is external to her body. There are some serious biological, neurological complications and implications for her condition. The lifespan is into the teens or twenties. I guess in part because a lot of fluid collects in the brain. She showed us over dinner last night as we were eating chips and salsa that she had a shunt put in with a drainage cord that goes down her neck. Her daddy, with tears in his eyes, explained that that will perhaps extend her life course into her thirties, if Jesus doesn’t heal her, something that we’re praying for.

When I first met her, she had her little walker and was at the little league field and she’s just really fun and really cute. And I noticed she had a brace on one leg and she had a pink cast on the other. And she has no functionality below the waist, so bowel movements, standing up, walking, is not possible for her. But she’s the most happy, conversant, pleasant little girl you could ever meet. And I wanted to buy her candy. So I got down on one knee, “Ella Mae, my name is Pastor Mark.” And she said, “Pastor Mark, you are more handsome in person than you are on the computer.” So she has the spiritual gift of discernment, obviously. And I looked at her, I said, “You need candy.” So I picked her up and I carried her over to the snack shack and gave her some money and we got her some candy. And I just got to visit with her and she is a wonderful little girl.

And now what’s interesting about Ella Mae is that she’s already experienced the kingdom of God. The theologians, when they talk about the kingdom of God, they’ll talk about the already but not yet. That the kingdom of God is started, but it’s not yet concluded. It’s in process, but it’s not fully done. And she’s experienced the kingdom of God. Ella Mae’s a Christian, she loves Jesus. She’s been born again, she has a new heart, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit radiates joy through her in a remarkable way. Her countenance and her disposition are a compelling sermon.

Buddy Zac and I took her and her family out to dinner last night and afterward I asked Zac a question that I ask my kids a lot, “So what did you learn today?” And buddy Zac said, “I learned that if you love Jesus, you don’t have to be bitter even if your life is hard. You can still have joy.” Now that’s a great lesson for an eleven-year-old boy to observe from a five-year-old girl. And he really liked her. She told him, “Zac, you’re very cool.” So Zac thinks she’s pretty awesome too.

And it was interesting as we were having dinner with her, you can see that the kingdom of God has begun in her life, her sins are forgiven, she belongs to Jesus, she’s filled with the Holy Spirit, she has a daddy who’s a pastor. And he absolutely adores and loves her. And in the providence of God, she has a wonderful, believing mother who’s a nurse by trade. And so she has the best physical and spiritual care that perhaps a little girl in her condition can have.

And as we walked into the restaurant, I noticed that everyone came to her. She knew all of the workers, all of the servers, and the owner. And she, with her walker, would put it out, and then drag her legs along because they’re not functional. She holds herself up by her arms and then would reach up with one hand and hug everyone and greet them. She’s a citizen of the kingdom of God, she’s a servant of the kingdom of God, and she brings the presence of the kingdom of God with her. She’s lovely.
She’s still waiting, though, for the conclusion of the kingdom of God. That one day she, like you and I, will die. And her body, your body, my body, will go into the ground and our soul will go to be with the Lord in a place called heaven. We don’t reside there forever. There is a day upon the second coming of Jesus, the return of our King, when our body and soul reunite and as Jesus resurrected from death, so we too rise in a new body to live on a new earth, free of sin and all its effects. Just like Jesus rose. And that will be the culmination of the kingdom of God and that’ll be the final experience of the children of God, including Ella Mae.

So the kingdom of God has begun in her life and there is still more to come. And in the meantime, she’s journeying, she’s venturing toward the kingdom of God. And she has trials and tests, as we all do, along the way. The most recent was not long ago. Her daddy, with tears in his eyes, explained that—she said, “Daddy, my hands are very tingly,” and then all of a sudden, they became paralyzed. “And Daddy, my arms are very tingly.” And they became paralyzed. She’s already paralyzed from the waist down, and now she’s having neurological complications from her spine that are causing her arms to become paralyzed as well.

Well, her daddy, obviously terrified, put her in the truck and made the almost-three-hour drive to Seattle in an hour and twenty minutes to get her to Children’s Hospital, where they performed an emergency surgery on her. And she reported to me, she was telling me the story. She came around to sit near me, which was my day’s highlight. I said, “Well, what did you do?” She said, “I was very scared. But then when they did the surgery, I woke up, I could move my hands so the first thing I did is I stretched them out and I said, ‘Praise the Lord,’” as an act of worship. That’s Ella Mae.

And so as we were visiting last night over Mexican food, she started telling me that one day she plans on being a ballerina. A ballerina. Now God could heal her in this life, but no matter what, in the kingdom of God, upon the resurrection of the dead and the full healing of the body, Ella Mae is going to be a ballerina. See, that’s the full unveiling of the kingdom of God. And I already asked Jesus, “Can I please have a front-row ticket? I want to see Ella Mae dance for the first time.”

And as a further evidence of the kingdom of God, in telling that story today, a gal at Mars Hill who loves Jesus and is a ballet dancer for the Pacific Northwest Ballet said, “Next time Ella Mae is in town for a surgery,” which will be shortly, “we’d love to have her come to the ballet and meet all the ballerinas.” So that’s going to be her little treat.

Ella Mae is one story of one little girl who’s wonderful. She has Jesus as her King, she’s a citizen of the kingdom, she’s on a kingdom mission to share the love of Jesus. She’s experienced the kingdom of God already, but it’s not yet completed in her life. There will be a day that Ella Mae rises from death and dances with Jesus as a ballerina.

And it’s important for us when we think of the kingdom of God to think of people whom Jesus loves and lives that he changes and eternities that he alters. And sometimes it becomes massive theological conjecture and speculation, as opposed to the simplicity that when we get to Jesus, everything’s going to be okay. The world as we know it is going to come to an end and Jesus is going to remove sin and all of its effects and usher in a perfect world that never ends, the kingdom of God.


In this week’s sermon, Pastor Mark told us about meeting Ella Mae, a young pastor’s daughter in eastern Washington. Ella Mae has spina bifida, but has always dreamed of being a ballerina. When Pastor Mark mentioned this in an early sermon, a young woman who was in the service and is a ballet dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet came up afterward to say that they would love to have Ella Mae come meet all the ballerinas next time she was in Seattle.
So Pastor Mark wrote her dad to let them know the good news. This was Ella Mae’s reaction, as told in her dad’s reply:
Dude. Huge. I don’t even know what to say. I read your note to her this afternoon. Ella Mae’s eyes got big and she exclaimed, “Really??!! Truly? I get to meet a REAL BALLERINA? Mom, Mom, guess what Pastor Mark did for me!” Oh man, I should have videoed it … it would have put gas in your tank for miles. Her face was priceless. Good stuff.

We’ve sometimes wondered whether or not we should “encourage” the whole ballerina thing, for obvious reasons. And then I overheard her telling Levi a couple days ago driving home, “Levi, do you know what will make heaven so wonderful?” “What?” he said. “Heaven will be wonderful because there won’t be any walkers, braces, wheelchairs, or Spina Bifida, which means I’ll finally get to run and play with you like I’ve always wanted to do,” —said in her excited voice, as only she can— “and I’ll be able to dance for Jesus too. He’ll love it. He’s amazing you know, and he really likes ballerinas. I can’t dance now because my legs don’t work, but he’ll fix them in heaven, and then I’m gonna dance my heart out. He can’t wait to see me dance.”
Word for word, from her mouth. My eyes watered and I almost drove off the road.
So bring on ballerinas. One day, here or there, my daughter’s gonna dance. So thanks for blessing our family with this gift. It’s a little like Christmas in April. Seriously, we’re overwhelmed, humbled, and grateful. God is so good.
You can watch the sermon here:

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