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Strong man down, continued

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….

Continued

We are losing ground in…

The family

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.

Strong man TKO continued…

Continued from previous post…

Grandpa Meyers

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

Where will the wind blow next? A video from Open Arms Worldwide

The “Strong Man”

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

A Child’s God-given Defenses

So, what or who constitutes the defense system GOD has put in place for children? Let’s look to scripture. There we see that Biblical defense, provision, rescue, and strength giving is provided by Abba, Father.  As children of GOD we pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven…” and trust in Him to protect, provide for, teach and guide us. David calls the Father “my Rock”, “my strong tower”, “my salvation” and speaks of being hidden in the “shadow of His wings.” David proclaims about his heavenly Father, “He set my feet on a rock and gives me a firm place to stand,” in Psalm 40:2.

GOD in his wisdom created the family and placed at its head an earthly father whose role as defender, provider, teacher and friend were meant to reflect those same qualities found in our heavenly Father.

“For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother. Then he taught me, and he said to me, “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live. (Proverbs 4:3-4, emphasis added)

Does GOD’s design work?  Many of you who suffered under disengaged or abusive fathers would say no.  But that kind of father was not GOD’s design at all.  The fact is that when a child lives in the presence of a godly father, one who is committed to modeling a Christ centered life, one who is being equipped by God’s Word, one who is actively engaged in teaching the truth within the context of a loving and safe relationship, he or she is at nearly zero risk for things like drug or alcohol use, violence, and suicide.  The power of a committed, equipped and lovingly engaged Father, living out his faith before his children, is not to be underestimated.

So then, if you are planning an attack with the goal of creating chaos…

(The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;(John 10:10a)

…then you would surely want to eliminate or otherwise neutralize this very powerful defensive mechanism we call the godly father. Removing him from families, from communities and from the church would be a critical first phase in any well-planned attack on those institutions and the children in general.

How does this occur?  Continued…

Satan is “shaping” the battlefield

Whether we are discussing a street fight, modern military tactics, ancient city defenses or home protection, certain principles apply.

 Definition:

Shaping the Battlefield: Eliminate your adversary’s capability to fight in a coherent manner before committing forces. Set the conditions for success in decisive operations.

On March 19th, 2003 the second Persian Gulf War began when American Stealth bombers and Tomahawk missiles struck “leadership targets” deep within Iraq, opening the door for a massive and rapid infantry assault that would quickly overwhelm Saddam Hussein’s forces. Interestingly, heavy bombing has preceded most great invasions since the dawn of the cannon. In the military jargon, artillery bombardment “shapes” the battlefield giving infantry the greatest chance for decisive victory. It just makes sense that any well-conducted military assault would begin with taking out, demoralizing or otherwise incapacitating the targets defenses and leaders.  Removing leadership, jamming radar systems, eliminating air defense systems, destroying command and control structures and disrupting supply lines are all keys to causing confusion and overthrowing a kingdom.  Even before the age of modern warfare, cannon bombardment broke down castle walls, allowing foot soldiers to spill through the gaps and inflict untold damage on those seeking protection within.  When leadership is gone, the chain of command is broken and the defensive walls have been breached, it’s every man for his self. Chaos ensues and those left go into survival mode.  In physical war this tactic is obvious because of the “shock and awe” nature of modern weaponry and speed with which things happen.

Spiritual war is not so different. Our enemy’s use of this same tactic, however, can be so subtle to those not paying attention that by the time we realize an attack is under way, we have already been overrun. As mentioned earlier, Satan’s objective is clearly laid out by Jesus in John chapter 10, verse 10 where he says, “The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” If your aim were essentially to cause chaos and confusion, promoting everything that is contrary to GOD’s Kingdom, it would make sense that the first strategic initiative would be to remove or render useless that Kingdom’s defenses. As a predator Satan seeks out the weak, the young, those separated from the herd and defenseless.  The children of the world are part of this group.

So, what or who constitutes the defense system GOD has put in place for children?   Next post we’ll look to scripture to answer this question.

Defenses Down – How our enemy has exposed children to his plans

Chapter 3

Defenses Down

 “But my eyes are toward you, O GOD, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!” Psalm 141:8

                    So now we should understand the truths that GOD commands us to teach children, and that He has hardwired them to respond to and embrace this teaching when done well and in the context of loving relationships. We have stated that Satan also recognizes this and thus targets the children in an attempt to steal away a generation. We now understand that the Church must refocus its time, talent and treasure in response if we are to raise a generation that knows and fears the Lord.

“Only an estimated 3% of church budgets are dedicated to reaching and teaching children”

We know much more about ourselves and the way GOD has wired us as human beings. Next, if we are to be victorious, we must understand a bit more about the tactics of our adversary.

Why has Satan been so successful at getting to the children?  What weakness of ours is he exploiting, what gaps in our defenses have been compromised?

As the Chinese General, Sun Tzu wrote in his classic, “The Art of War,” “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.”

 (coming next…)

Satan is “shaping” the battlefield

Whether we are discussing a street fight, modern military tactics, ancient city defenses or home protection, certain principles apply….  To be continued

Failure is not an option (continued from Children & the Church)

Failure is not an option

I recently visited the Smithsonian Institutes Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport in Virginia.  While browsing through the gift shop I got a kick out of an interesting shirt being sold.  It had the following phrase emblazoned across the front, “Failure is NOT an option.”  Next to that was written, “Apollo XIII Lunar Mission.”   A truer thing has never been said.  If they had failed it would have meant an awful death for the astronauts onboard and a great national tragedy.

That shirt got me thinking. What if we fail?  What if the “best we can” isn’t good enough?  What if we don’t invest appropriately in teaching our children and reaching the children around us with the gospel?  The good news is we don’t have to theorize or guess about the repercussions of failure because it has happened before.  Joshua, the great and faithful military leader of GOD’s people Israel, who led them into the Promised Land and defeated their enemies, failed in one very critical area as a leader.  The tragedy unfolds in the book of Judges.

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the GOD of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various GODs of the peoples around them. They aroused the LORD’s anger” Judges 2:10 -12

            The consequences of failing to adequately teach the children is that they will “not know the Lord” and because of that lack of knowledge they will fall into the hands of this world system, turning their backs on the living GOD.  The outcome for their families and communities is predictable.  All of the time, talent and treasure we have invested in so many other important ministries directed toward adult people will be lost as the last member of that generation joins their ancestors. Is that the spiritual legacy we want to leave?  Who will disciple the children, the people of GOD or the world?

Failure is not an option.  The stakes are far too high.

Basic Truths about Children and the Church

So what is it exactly that the church has forgotten and needs to remember?  I would submit the following statement for your consideration;

“It was he who gave…some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare GOD’s people (not just adults) for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” Ephesians 4:11-12.

All people, in all stages of life, are loved by GOD unconditionally.  It is GOD’s will, as is clearly and emphatically stated in scripture, that children be taught the deeper things of GOD by GOD’s people, primarily but not exclusively, the parents.  From this we can draw some basic truths.

  • People, in all stages of life, are of equal value to GOD
  • Children who have trusted in Christ are NOT only the church of the future, they are the church of the present
  • Children of the church need to be recognized as people of faith
  • Children need to both contribute and receive as members of GOD’s family
  • Children must be invited to participate as the church in fellowship, worship, prayer, learning of the Word and service.
  • Children need to be changed by the love of Christ and share the Gospel in their context.
  • Christian nurture and growth are for all and are the responsibility of all.
  • Parents must be equipped within the church to fulfill their role as primary spiritual leaders of their children.
  • Children respond in much greater percentages to the gospel than their adult counterparts and therefore should command at least as much attention in our missionary efforts (I will touch more on this in Part II)
  • Our investments in time, talent and treasure should reflect our commitment to these truths.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34
  • Our success can only be measured by the spiritual growth of the children in our sphere of influence

“Both and” (continued from “Imbalances in the Church”)

“Both and”

So which is it? Is it the parents’ job or the church? The answer is yes to both. Consider this question. Can you really have too many godly people pouring into the life of a child?  We are all in this together.  You, the parent, are commanded to teach, instruct, and model Christ to your children and this will look different in every family. That is a beautiful thing.  The command is clear, but GOD allows for the very different gifting of each of us.  He also has built His Church so that all parts of the body work together and have the benefit of the others. Reggie Joyner, in his book, ”Parenting beyond your capacity,” summed it up perfectly,

“When you combine the light from a faith community…with the heart of a caring family, you exponentially expand your potential to make a difference in the life of a child.  These two influences will make a greater impact than either influence alone.”   

Friends, we are willing to spend untold thousands of dollars to give our children the very best in secular education. We hire experts because we want our children to have every opportunity for success.  At the same time many in the church today are satisfied with coloring pages, cartoon videos and yet another superficial telling of Bible stories as the sum total of their child’s Christian education.

Consider just a few of George Barna’s findings regarding the grades the church and parents are getting in their task of helping children grow spiritually.

  • 72% of parents say they’re doing well in providing spiritual experience and instructions to their children, yet only 10% of church households spend any time at all during a typical week reading the Bible or praying together.”
  • “Most churches have very simple but ultimately debilitating descriptions of success: growing numbers of students enrolled, consistent attendance, completion of the curriculum in the allotted time, parental satisfaction, and minimal discipline problems.”

We’ve been better 

This is not what the church of Christ throughout history has been about.

The West Minster Shorter Catechism was completed in 1647 with one of its chief uses being the education of children.  This is no lightweight document.  With such questions as “What do the scriptures principally teach?” and “What offices does Christ execute as redeemer?” I wonder how many adults in the church would be completely stumped. If only we as the Church would return to that standard for excellence.  What a difference it would make in the lives of our children and in our congregations.   Wouldn’t it strike fear into the heart of our old adversary to see that the Church of Jesus had not abandoned the battle for the hearts of the children?  That our children were fully armed with GOD’s spiritual armor? I can almost feel the darkness tremble just at the thought.

So what is it exactly that the church has forgotten and needs to remember?  We’ll get to that next time.