Category Archives: At-risk Children
“Be imitators of GOD, therefore, as dearly loved children”
Ephesians 5:1 (emphasis added)
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
I am a simple man, not a great theologian, and I tend to read and understand scripture in a straightforward way. The Bible makes plain that, when we are reborn in Christ, we are called to be “imitators of GOD,” that is, imitators of his communicable character attributes, those attributes GOD “shares” with his adopted children. We can know the character of our GOD because it is clearly revealed in scripture. God is loving, patient, kind, good, joyful, faithful, forgiving, generous, courageous, and holy just to name a few. These are traits we should strive to imitate.
As “dearly loved children” we are also to imitate the things the Father does. Jesus says in John 5:19, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” Does this carry over to the adopted sons (believers) as well? Jesus implies that it does when he goes on to say in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
A GOD size assignment
Be “imitators” of GOD. Now, if you are like me, that is an amazing and yet frightening command. To be honest, at first glance it sounds like yet another impossibly high bar to jump and frankly a little burdensome. For me it ranks right up there with, “Be holy as I am holy,” in terms of potentially discouraging expectations. But at closer examination, it really is the promise of living in the presence and power of our Father, enjoying his company and learning while working at his side.
Notice what Jesus did not say. He did not say, “anyone who has faith in me will be required to do what I have been doing. Or be required to do even greater things than these.” Instead, Jesus uses an affirmative statement, saying that anyone who has faith in me “will” do what I have been doing and “will” do even greater things. The idea here is that, as adopted children of GOD, walking in the Spirit, we will want to be imitators of our Father, not forced, and that we are empowered by Christ himself, to do these things. That should be exciting and encouraging news. What dearly loved child doesn’t want to imitate dad?
Dad is at your side
Let’s look even more closely at part of that statement. Jesus said, “Whatever the Father does the Son also does.” If you were blessed with a good relationship with your father perhaps you recall “working” alongside him in the shop or singing with him in the choir or pushing the lawn mower with him. You might remember that no matter what you did, Dad always seemed to make the work you did together turn out well. You might recall the sense of being stronger and more capable with Dad by your side.
If you’re a dad then you’ve seen the other side of the coin. One spring Saturday several years ago, I stood preparing to stain the deck and backyard fence of our townhouse. I had borrowed our neighbors paint gun to make things move along a little faster. All was going according to plan until my oldest son Michael, then just four years old, showed up and, with his most earnest and eager face on, asked if he could help me paint. I was all too familiar with this kind of “help” and I knew it was going to make my job a lot more difficult, but I couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to say no. I wanted to give my son a chance to work with his Dad just as I had with mine. So, after several hours, we succeeded in painting the fence, the deck, the grass, part of our aluminum siding and one of my neighbors’ trees. Was it the easiest way? No. Could I have done it better alone? No doubt. But it was a day that neither of us has forgotten.
Be of good cheer, GOD isn’t loading another expectation on you; He is inviting you to participate with Him at his work. It’s a heavenly “take your child to work day” invitation.
So how does all of this discussion impact the knock-down drag-out fight for the souls of the worlds children?
After reading Psalm 68:5-6, the answer should come into focus.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is GOD in his holy dwelling.
GOD sets the lonely in families”
There is a place beyond our church walls where the fight is even more intense, a bare knuckle place where the potential for heartbreak and frustration are only off-set by the enormous blessings to be enjoyed. It is a place of a most Christ-like sacrifice where the object of your gift is powerless to give anything in return.
Prepare your Heart
We have analyzed the dire situation the children are in and developed intelligence regarding our enemy and the damage he has been able to inflict, now what? If you are committed to the fight, you must equip yourself for the confrontation, because, make no mistake; Satan will not give up this ground easily. Thankfully, in addition to the Bible, there are some excellent resources available to us. The following books have influenced my journey profoundly and I trust that they will prepare your heart as well.
For the man who is seeking to become what GOD designed him to be, I recommend, “Tender Warrior” by Stu Weber as a great place to start. For parents and church leaders wishing to do better at raising a generation that knows the Lord, I would suggest, “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” by George Barna, “Sacred Parenting” by Gary Thomas, “Shepherding a child’s heart” by Tedd Tripp, “Bringing up boys” and “Bringing up Girls” by Dr. James Dobson and “Parenting Beyond your Capacity” by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof. These are just a few of the many amazing books, written by gifted, godly men who have looked deeply into scripture regarding these subjects. I have read them each at least once and recommend them all highly to those of you who are now awakening to some of the shocking information we’ve just reviewed together.
From here on out we are moving into uncharted territory. As I have said before, it isn’t enough to simply care for, physically and spiritually, our children and the children in our church family. These roles of course, are biblical, foundational and well established throughout Christian literature and the Church in greater or lesser degrees since the resurrection of Christ. But is that where our responsibility ends? I believe GOD’s answer is no.
The fact is that the fatherless outside the church far outnumber our own children and the majority of the children born in the world today are born into non-Christian homes.
Everything we have learned about children in our families and the church leads us inevitably to the children in our community and the world. Circling the wagons to make a stand leaves the majority of the world’s future generations outside the circle. Are you willing to give them up without a fight? Is that how we operate, as the Church of Jesus, the “Last man standing?” I hope the answer is no because if you think Satan puts up a fight when we start spiritually leading our own children, you haven’t seen anything. The moment we move beyond the boundaries of the church family we enter into hostile territory indeed. But that is exactly where I believe God is calling us. If not us, then who?
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From Chapter Four of, “Last man standing”
“You are coming to fight against me with a sword, a spear and a javelin. But I’m coming against you in the name of the Lord who rules over all. He is the God of the armies of Israel. He’s the one you have dared to fight against.
1 Samuel 17:45
Let’s come up and take a breath for a moment. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Take heart, I have been where you are. It’s a lot to take in. We have learned of the special place children hold in the heart of GOD and how He has commanded his people to take seriously the task of teaching them. We have explored the very unique way we as GOD’s creation are “wired” and why that “wiring” makes it critical as parents and the church to reach all children early with quality, relational discipleship. We have exposed Satan’s strategy for leaving the children in your family, church, neighborhood and around the world vulnerable to his plans by tying up the “strong man.”
So now is the big moment when we should be asking ourselves, “What do I do with this information?” Will I reorder my priorities so that I am fully engaged in discipling my children? Will I engage my church leadership to encourage them to make our biblical instruction and treatment of children more robust and effective? Will I get more involved in encouraging other men in the church to follow me in this? I pray that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “Yes!” But there is more. There is a place beyond our church walls where the fight is even more intense, a bare knuckle place where the potential for heartbreak and frustration are only off-set by the enormous blessings to be enjoyed. It is a place of a most Christ-like sacrifice where the object of your gift is powerless to give anything in return.
to be continued…
“By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my GOD on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.” Nehemiah 2:13-18
Our assessment is complete and the news is not good. It is downright discouraging to be exact. I echo Nehemiah when I ask, “Do you see the trouble we are in?”
You may be asking yourself now, “Why did I pick up this book? There is enough bad news in the world to wallow in and now this!” That could not be further from my intention here but I believe it is important to not understate the gravity of the situation, and to make clear the truth that the answer lies with us, the body of Jesus Christ, the Church.
The body of Christ is the “last man standing”
While leading a team from a church in Brazil on a mission to work with children in a neighborhood that had grown up around the city trash dump, one of our team members and a dear friend, upon seeing the poverty, unsanitary conditions and widespread fatherlessness, commented, “Where is our government!? Why is this allowed to go on?” My answer to him, and others that might think that the government, or any other institution, holds the key, is this, “The root of the problems of fatherlessness, poverty and crime are not only, or even primarily, physical, educational or financial, but spiritual, and the church of Jesus alone is capable of answering all of these needs.”
Civil Servants of the Kingdom
The responsibility for addressing these needs does indeed belong to the government, but not the earthly one my friend had in mind. The job belongs to the civil servants of GOD’s Kingdom and that means you and me. If you are a man reading this you might be thinking, “Here we go, another thing I am responsible for.” But let me assure you, this is not another hammer to pound men over the head with. We have enough of those today. These are GOD sized problems that no one of us alone, man or woman, can completely remedy. The answers lie with the whole family of GOD empowered by the grace of God through Christ. Nehemiah did not call only on the men to stand in the gap and rebuild the walls, but rather for the men to lead their families in this great endeavor.
“Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.” Nehemiah 4:13 (emphasis added)
We have done it before. Just consider this excerpt from an article written by Timothy Larsen for the web site Christianhistory.net about the early Sunday school movement.
“By the mid-19th century, Sunday school attendance was a near universal aspect of childhood. Even parents who did not regularly attend church themselves generally insisted that their children go to Sunday school. Working-class families were grateful for this opportunity to receive an education. They also looked forward to annual highlights such as prize days, parades, and picnics, which came to mark the calendars of their lives as much as more traditional seasonal holidays.
Religious education was, of course, always also a core component. The Bible was the textbook used for learning to read. Likewise, many children learned to write by copying out passages from the Scriptures. A basic catechism was also taught, as were spiritual practices such as prayer and hymn singing. Inculcating Christian morality and virtues was another goal of the movement. Sunday school pupils often graduated to become Sunday school teachers, thereby gaining an experience of leadership not to be found elsewhere in their lives.”
Far from gloom and doom, my hearts desire is to hear the Church of Jesus Christ say with gusto, “Let us start rebuilding,” and begin the good work of reestablishing our defenses and going on the offensive for the hearts of children in GOD’s Kingdom.
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land…” Ezekiel 22:30a
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We are losing ground in…
Where should we find a bulwark against the plan of Satan to take down the “Strong man” defense system? Who is the “last man standing,” that GOD put in place if not the Church of Jesus Christ? The Church and its men should be an impenetrable fortress, protecting their children from the enemy of their souls. Beyond that it should be a source of reinforcements for the families and communities who are losing their fathers. Certainly in the Church we should find men, followers of Christ, committed to fulfilling their role of provider, protector, teacher and friend.
So where are they? Again, some recent sociological research provides less than encouraging news for those children suffering on the front lines of fatherlessness. It is not my purpose here to theorize on the causes (that is one bull’s-eye I do not wish to paint on my back), but the reality is stark as it regards men in the Church.
“Are males really less religious than females? Most of the studies made on the question seem to indicate that they are, and this appears to be true for all the Christian churches, denominations, and sects in western civilization.” – James H. Fitcher,
“women are twice as likely to attend a church service during any given week. Women are also 50 percent more likely than men to say they are ‘religious’ and to state that they are ‘absolutely committed’ to the Christian faith.” – George Barna,
“Church attendance in the United States is about 60 percent female and 40 percent male. The more liberal the denomination, the higher the percentage of females.” – Leon J. Podles,
“Women, more often than not, take the lead role in the spiritual life of the family,” “Women typically emerge as the primary — or only — spiritual mentor and role model for family members. And that puts a tremendous burden on wives and mothers.” – George Barna
The news out of Western Europe is much the same, and in Brazil the numbers are almost identical, with the ratio of Christian women to men at roughly 57/43% according to the IBGE – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatístic in their 2000 census report.
While good people can disagree as to the cause of the masculinity deficit in the church, whether it is the feminization of sermons, worship and teaching in the church, liberal theology, a lack of vision driven churches or a generally feminized view of Christ and Christianity dating back to before the Reformation, there can be no disagreement over the plain fact that many Christian churches in the world today are not producing “strong men,” and those that are, by and large, are not sending them out into the world to stand in the gap for children who have been left defenseless by Satan’s schemes.
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We are losing ground in…
What happens in a community where adult men, fathers, are absent? In poor or “high-risk” communities elevated rates of drug abuse and incarceration among the male population lead to a downward spiral of community disintegration. As adult men disappear from the community there is an increase in “street activity” where traditional community structures are replaced with informal ones such as street gangs and other criminal organizations. These groups further promote the drug culture leading to even more incarceration and violence, and the further fragmentation of families and community structures. This leads to a mostly misplaced distrust of police among children who watch their fathers and neighbors arrested. This in turn grows in to a general distrust of community authorities. Convicts are less “employable” upon release, further stimulating the economic sub-culture of drugs and prostitution. Rather than counting on the community to assist in rearing and disciplining children, parents that remain are forced into a protective stance. In her paper entitled, “Bearing the Burden: How Incarceration Weakens Inner-City Communities”, Joan Moore, Ph.D. of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee writes about these special challenges.
“There is a voluminous body of literature on the perils of child-rearing in communities with high levels of street activity. Parents in high-risk neighborhoods expend an enormous amount of effort sheltering and protecting their children (Williams & Kornblum, 1994). Constructive neighborhood networks become very important for effective parenting. In their absence, parents “must be super motivated, that is, exceptionally adept at working the system and unusually diligent in monitoring their offspring . . . avoiding the omnipresent dangers [rather] than cultivating scarce opportunities” (Furstenberg, 1993, p. 255). Effective parenting is quite different in such communities compared with low-risk neighborhoods.”
In communities where fatherlessness is rampant, or in other words, where the command and control structure, the defensive systems, have been compromised, those left behind have to fend for themselves in an “every man for his self” struggle for survival. This is a cycle that, if not broken by some outside intervention, will continue and grow unchecked. A playground for Satan’s plans to kill, steal and destroy.
If you are a dad, I ask you, have you let personal tragedy, work demands, selfishness, or any number of other distractions cause you to drop your guard? Have you left your wife and children unprotected? Men, we cannot let our guard down even for an instant. Our enemy the devil is just waiting to land a sucker punch….
We are losing ground in…
Carol is the oldest of three siblings. She has two younger brothers; half-brothers to be more precise. They all share one birth mother but different biological fathers. Carol’s father is married and has another family across town. She doesn’t ever see him but she is perhaps the lucky one. The father of her next youngest brother went to prison for drug trafficking and was drowned there in the toilet. Her brother now receives a small pension but he’d rather have his dad. The father of the youngest boy never made it to prison as he was executed at home for an outstanding drug debt. Carol carries a large portion of the responsibility for the care of the boys and has, ever since she was about 9 years old. Her mother holds jobs on and off and they live with their maternal grandmother and an Aunt. In this one case we see three common causes for the absent male in poor families; promiscuity and general unwillingness to take responsibility for offspring, incarceration, and violence. In all three cases the results are the same. Children are raised in female led homes, older siblings are pressed into child rearing responsibilities, and the entire family sinks into a mode of survival where healthy connections to community institutions, like the church and schools, are weakened as the family’s focus turns to meeting basic physical needs.
As recently as the 1960’s, the vast majority of children still lived in dual parent homes. Contrast that with the current situation where 50% of all children will experience a single parent home for at least a portion of their childhood. This number is significantly higher in poor communities where incarceration and violence are added on top of the divorce and out-of-wedlock birth epidemics as causes of fatherlessness. Our organization, Open Arms Worldwide, works in communities in Brazil where 80-90% of the families are without an adult male in the home. These families are most often led by what I will call, “functional widows,” women who are not technically widowed, but by virtue of abandonment are in fact functioning as such. Sadly, even when the family is blessed to have a present and employed father it is not always much better. The modern urban socio-economic structure, in which we live, different from the days of old, requires that the father work long hours some distance from home, leaving him less present in the daily life of his family and the community. He is fulfilling his role as provider but not the other three pillars of protector, teacher and friend. The bottom line is that across the world and across so called class lines, but more acutely in poor families, fathers are falling fast under a barrage of body blows from our enemy.
Continued from previous post…
Early one morning in my sixth grade year my mother answered the phone just as we were heading out the door for school. It was my grandmother who lived nearby, calling for help because she was having trouble waking Grandpa. My paternal grandfather, Frank H. Meyers, had died peacefully in his sleep. We were all hit hard by his unexpected passing. I cannot ever recall feeling such terrible loss or sadness before that time or since. But despite the initial shock of losing the patriarch of our family, what would unfold as the months and years passed, would dwarf it in terms of shear destructive force. My grandfather took very seriously the commands to “love justice, seek mercy and walk humbly with your GOD” as well as to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He was one of 237 souls who had given his life to Jesus Christ one evening at a Billy Graham crusade held in September of 1952 at the old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and, for as long as I knew him, was a wonderful man of GOD, a rock in his church, always available to lend a hand to a neighbor in need. I never heard him utter a negative word about a soul. He was the glue that held our family together. What I absorbed from him was his belief that life was simple if we would just let GOD’s Word be a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” He exercised his moral authority in our family in a gentle but powerful way and we loved him for it.
It is never easy for a family to lose such a central figure so unexpectedly and my father never really recovered. The close relationship I had had with my dad in my early years, the moral teaching and good example he was for me were fond memories that seemed to begin to slowly erode away in my teen years as his own foundation was shaken. I love my dad very much and cherish my childhood memories. Just remembering these events and imagining his sadness and pain at the loss of his father brings tears to my eyes. It seemed like he began to lose his moral compass and bearings as a father and a husband. His crisis, which eventually led to the breakup of his marriage, could not have come at a worse time for his adolescent son. Even though I had asked Jesus to be my savior five years earlier, I was now at a critical time in my development when I needed more than ever a strong godly male role model to keep me from going off track. I was entering adolescence. The hormones were flowing. I was trying to define myself as a young man and at the same time questioning my own faith. This was a crossroads moment where I needed a father to talk openly to me about what it means to be a man of GOD, how to take ownership of my faith, how to think about and treat women, how to develop self-control and so many other lessons. My dad, in his sadness over the loss of his own father and what I perceived to be a moral and spiritual crisis, was effectively taken out of the game, leaving his own children vulnerable to our enemy’s schemes.
I was left to find my role models in older “popular” kids, old NFL films and movies. I sought out other young men I could identify with. The model I found there was the “man” who had a girl on each arm, was in the middle of every fight, could drink into the wee hours and still win the big game the next morning. Within a year of my grandfather’s death I was experimenting with alcohol, sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night, getting in to fights and “dating” one young lady after another. In my mind I was becoming a “man.” I was twelve years old. I take full responsibility for my poor decisions during those years, but the fact remains that, by my father not taking the standard from grandpa Frank and carrying it for his wife and children, the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy had succeeded in tying up the “strong man” in our family. It would be nine long years of wrestling with GOD and my own conscience before I would return to my heavenly Father and many more years after that before I would fully reconcile my relationship with my dad.
If you are a dad, I ask you, have you let personal tragedy, work demands, selfishness, or any number of other distractions cause you to drop your guard? Have you left your wife and children unprotected? Men, we cannot let our guard down even for an instant. Our enemy the devil is just waiting to land a sucker punch.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
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Jesus, when explaining how it was he could expel demons, said,
“How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” (Matthew 12:29)
In the same way, how can Satan enter the house of a strong man and steal the hearts of his children if he doesn’t first tie up that strong man? The answer is obvious, He can’t. The father is Satan’s target number one in his attack on the family, civil society and the Church. Knowing that the father is the main line of defense, we must now have an honest assessment of the condition of those defenses. In much the same way as the biblical leader Nehemiah set out to inspect the walls of Jerusalem, we now need to mount up together and ride out to inspect the condition of GOD’s ordained defensive structures.
“By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem” Nehemiah 2:13a
Holes in the Wall
Sadly, across all levels of society, but especially among the poor, Satan has had great success in eliminating the strong man. He has used a wide variety of tools including addiction, pornography, popular culture, liberalized divorce laws, the modern feminist movement and government welfare programs that seek to replace the father and encourage out-of-wedlock births. In this way he has effectively removed the strong man from many families, communities and even the church.
According to the US census bureau, some 24 million children live in fatherless homes. That is nearly 48 million American children who are without their major protector, provider, teacher and friend. Today 40% of all children in the United States are born to single mothers. Outside the US the picture isn’t any better. In Brazil, where I work with at-risk children, 700,000 children are born each year without a father figure. Roughly 30% of the entire population of Brazil doesn’t shop for a gift on Father’s Day because they don’t know the man. These children are incredibly vulnerable. Just consider for a moment the pounding they are taking –
Incarceration Rates. “Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families…those boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated — even when other factors such as race, income, parent education and urban residence were held constant.” (Cynthia Harper of the University of Pennsylvania and Sara S. McLanahan of Princeton University cited in “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.)That is not of course including the millions of children with unengaged, abusive or negligent fathers that live at home.
Suicide. 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of the Census)
Behavioral Disorders. 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (United States Center for Disease Control)
High School Dropouts. 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.)
Educational Attainment. Kids living in single-parent homes or in step-families report lower educational expectations on the part of their parents, less parental monitoring of school work, and less overall social supervision than children from intact families. (N.M. Astore and S. McLanahan, American Sociological Review, No. 56 (1991)
Juvenile Detention Rates. 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988)
Confused Identities. Boys who grow up in father-absent homes are more likely than those in father-present homes to have trouble establishing appropriate sex roles and gender identity.(P.L. Adams, J.R. Milner, and N.A. Schrepf, Fatherless Children, New York, Wiley Press, 1984).
Aggression. In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households.” (N. Vaden-Kierman, N. Ialongo, J. Pearson, and S. Kellam, “Household Family Structure and Children’s Aggressive Behavior: A Longitudinal Study of Urban Elementary School Children,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 23, no. 5 (1995).
Achievement. Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes. (One-Parent Families and Their Children, Charles F. Kettering Foundation, 1990).
Delinquency. Only 13 percent of juvenile delinquents come from families in which the biological mother and father are married to each other. By contract, 33 percent have parents who are either divorced or separated and 44 percent have parents who were never married. (Wisconsin Dept. of Health and Social Services, April 1994).
Criminal Activity. The likelihood that a young male will engage in criminal activity doubles if he is raised without a father and triples if he lives in a neighborhood with a high concentration of single-parent families. Source: A. Anne Hill, June O’Neill, Underclass Behaviors in the United States, CUNY, Baruch College. 1993