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Raphael the fearless…Shark Wranglers continued

Raphael the fearless

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

Early on in our work in Brazil we made a lot of rookie mistakes.  One in particular led to a wonderful story of the fearless faith of a child.  I think it might just encourage the shark wrangler hidden within you.

We had begun our first outreach using a building belonging to a little church.  As we reorganized the space to make space for our material we encountered a room full to the ceiling with used clothes.  Clothing had been collected for a bazaar and these were the leftovers. The clothes were in good condition, but no one was quite sure what to do with them. So after getting permission from the pastor, we set a date to take the clothes and distribute them in a favela (slum neighborhood) adjoining the neighborhood where the church was located.  On a typically balmy Brazilian summer afternoon we loaded the clothing into the back of our pick-up truck and headed out.  My two boys, Michael (9) and Raphael (7) were riding along, as well as Pastor Tiago, my friend Marcelo, and another boy from the outreach, Adriano. dnfr

A Just Cause

As we pulled to a stop in the neighborhood we were immediately approached by curious children and then adults asking what we were doing.  When they realized we were giving things away, the word went out and in an instant a sea of humanity surrounded us.  People pushed and shouted as we tried to distribute the clothes in some semblance of order.  About that time the door of the pick-up opened (I had forgotten to lock the door in the confusion) and some children jumped in and started grabbing at whatever they could find.  My soccer ball went first and then one of them grabbed my handsaw and took off up the street.  My youngest boy Raphael saw the whole thing and yelled to me, “Dad, that boy stole your saw!” I told him we had bigger problems and that we just needed to lock the doors now so that my wallet wasn’t next.  He insisted, “But that wasn’t a donation!  That’s stealing and it’s wrong!” Again, I told him to forget about it.  Next thing I know, there goes by little boy, barefoot, up the street, through the favela after the saw.  He didn’t hear me when I called to him so I asked Adriano to tail him and make sure he didn’t get into any trouble.

After a few minutes I was getting worried.  The throng began to subside as the last of the clothing was carted off. Where was my son?  I looked up and my heart jumped as I saw Raphael walking back toward the truck…with a triumphant look on his face and my saw in his hand.  As scary as that was for a dad, I learned a lesson that day. When our mission is just and godly we cannot let fear stop us.  

Shark Wranglers continued

see previous post...https://lastmanstandingchurch.com/2014/02/21/shark-wranglers/

Substitute “Strong Man”

Brothers, we all know it is our GOD given duty as men to care for our own children, to protect them, to fight off the sharks of this world and guide our children on the narrow path that leads to life.  But as Christian men we have a call that goes beyond just our own little ones.  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16.  It is not enough to hide with our children, or the children of the church on shore, within our homes, our safe neighborhoods or the walls of the church building, when there are still children in the water with the sharks.

Ladies, are you laboring with the men in your life as a team to pull more children away from the sharks, like the aunt in our story, binding up the wounds of one child while he goes back for more?  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, as a substitute.  When the “strong man” in the life of a child has been removed we, as Christ imitators, the last men standing, have the privilege to step into the gap, in the name of the Savior, as a substitute and sure up the walls in the life of that young person. bridgingthegap

Does that sound scary?  Sure it does.  But “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  If this is a mission from our Father, and it is, then we must trust in the words that GOD said to Joshua and to all those warriors who would follow, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your GOD will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).

 

Shark wranglers

Continued…(click HERE to read previous post)

Sound Scary?

“At-risk children in my house?  Drugs dealers and thieves?  Juvenile detention centers?  Are you crazy?  That is the kind of thing best left for professionals, missionaries or folks without their own family to care for.  Besides, in this country you can get sued for looking the wrong way at a child. The risks are just too great.  What if I just write a check?”

As the President of a non-profit organization that survives on the giving heart of GOD’s people, I would say, yes, please do.  Better yet, you, your family, your business and your church could purpose to become regular financial partners with an organization, like Open Arms Worldwide (www.openarmsworldwide.org), that is working to get more “bull elephants” out into the places where children have been left most vulnerable.  But, if you stop there you are missing out.  Is it dangerous and risky? Absolutely. But with great risk comes great reward.

Do Not Fear

That leads me to my second animal story.  This one took place in the warm gulf coast waters of Florida in 2001 and was picked up and reported by most major television news networks at the time.  A man was relaxing at the beach with some relatives when he heard screams and looked to see a pool of blood forming around his nephew who was standing in the shallow water.  A seven-foot long, 250-pound bull shark had a firm hold on the boy and wasn’t letting go.

Shark Wrangler

The uncle jumped into the water, as most of us would, and, taking hold of the sharks’ tail, pulled the animal away from the boy.  The shark released, but had taken the child’s arm just below the shoulder. He was losing a lot of blood as his aunt began caring for him onshark finshore.  At that point the uncle would have been perfectly justified in releasing his hold on the shark and returning to the safety of shore to care for his nephew, but that would have to wait, there were other children still in the water.  Holding on tightly to that tail, he wrestled the beast, which was all the while trying to turn on him, up on to the beach where a park ranger shot it with his 9mm service pistol. The boys’ arm was retrieved and reattached, and the immediate danger to the other children in the water was removed.

Is there a lesson for us here?  Stay tuned…

Bull Elephants and Shark Wrestlers

continued from  https://lastmanstandingchurch.com/2013/12/14/being-imitators-of-god-continued/

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

In the following chapters we will explore what this might look like in your life.  We will hear testimonies of men and their families who are engaged in the fight in very real and practical ways and hopefully encourage you to step into the fray.

Chapter 5 – Of Bull Elephants and Shark Wrestlers

To begin unpacking Psalm 68:5-6 we need to first explore what it means to be a “Father to fatherless,” the critical role the church can and must play as the last man standing.  We will see how that is reflected in the life of a godly man and, should he be blessed to have one, his family. We will also examine the role for the godly woman and the local Christian congregation in what at first may seem like mostly a “guy thing.”

Elephants behaving badly

Those who know me well know that I love a good story, especially a true one and extra-especially one with dangerous animals involved.  My mother would tell you that not much has changed in that regard over the 42 years of my life.  I am hoping that you like them to because I have a couple I’d like to share with you. This first one made headlines back in 1999 when it appeared in a report by CBS news.  The tale goes something like this,

In South Africa’s Pilanesberg Park, white rhinos began turning up dead in astonishing numbers, nearly forty to be exact.  This was alarming and confusing: alarming because it represented 10% of the whole population of white rhinos, and confusing because the deaths hadn’t been the result of poaching.  The latter was made clear by the fact that the highly valuable ivory horns had not been removed.  A little bit of investigation led the park rangers to the culprits, juvenile male elephants. But why?  This was not normal behavior for juvenile elephants at all. What could possibly have led them, as was subsequently observed, to form into violent groups and rampage through the park, molesting, tormenting and eventually killing white rhinos?  The answer to the question can be found by looking at the history of the park as well as elephant social structure.

For the sake of full disclosure, I am not an expert on elephants, but this story intrigued me so I did some reading.  In elephant “culture” the young are raised by the females of the herd until a certain age.  We’ll call that age adolescence.  At that point the male elephants are pushed out of the group and will seek out the older bull elephants of their family (grandfathers, father and uncles presumably) in the wild where they will essentially, “learn what it means to be a bull elephant,” which, by the way, does not include murdering rhinos.

Street Thugs of the Savannah

So what went wrong at Pilanesberg?  For that answer we need to travel back some twenty years from the time of the rhino killings.  In those days another large reserve in South Africa, Kruger National Park, was having an elephant over-population problem.  A government veterinarian (it just had to be the government right?) developed the ingenious plan to sacrifice the adults, because they were too difficult to move, and instead relocate only the babies. Where to?  To Pilanesberg of course.

When these now “fatherless” baby boy elephants reached adolescence; they went out into the wild to look for their male “kinfolk.” When there were no bull elephants to be found these youngsters stuck together and formed gangs.  Yes, gangs.  Interestingly enough, one of the things older bull elephants do for their juvenile counterparts is to discourage them from mating too young.  This keeps their testosterone in check and, as a result, diminishes some of their more aggressive impulses.  Without older bull elephants to lead the way, the young bulls began mating and seeking to mate at a very young age, stimulating their testosterone levels through the roof and, just like that, dead rhinos and other such mayhem.  Sadly, several of these delinquent elephants were put down before someone finally had a stroke of real genius.

 

Elephant Big Brother Program

Using modified trucks, larger, older bull elephants were trucked in from Kruger Park by rangers.  What happened then must have seemed like a miracle.  A new hierarchy almost immediately emerged as the older bulls quickly established themselves as dominant over the younger, smaller bulls.  Through sparring with the younger elephants, the older bulls successfully discouraged them from being sexually active. This, predictably, lowered testosterone levels and the rhinos, once again, were safe to roam the savannah.  In fact, since the big bulls arrived on the scene, not a single rhino has been molested.

Taking a page out of the playbook

Is this so different from what is happening with fatherless children in communities all around the world?  It is precisely what we described when we talked about “street activity” and the missing “strong man” in our communities. So what is the lesson here?  Fathers are important?  Yes. Youth, and boys in particular, are trouble if left alone without supervision?  Clearly.  We’ve already established that the “strong man” has been tied up and what the ramifications of that are for our children and society.  But this is more than a wild kingdom mirror image of what is happening in our communities and around the world, it is a road map for how the last man standing, the church of Jesus Christ, could and should respond.

Our neighborhoods are overflowing with fatherless children, both boys and girls, who are in desperate need of interested adults: in need of a provider, protector, teacher and friend.  Remember what we said previously, it cannot be just any old mentor but a godly father figure, one who is committed to modeling a Christ centered life, is equipped for the battle and one who is engaged in actively teaching the truth within the context of a loving and safe relationship.

These children are waiting for the old bull elephants to come and put things straight.  Whether they realize it or not, these “youth gone wild” are desperate for an old bull to come along and say, “Whoa there boys, not the rhino’s. That’s not how we roll. You follow me and I’ll show you the way it’s done.”

Fatherless girls need to hear an old bull say, “Sweetheart, you are precious in GOD’s eyes. You are loved. Don’t let those young bulls fool you into giving away your heart.  Don’t throw yourself at them. Give them time to mature.  Stick with me and I’ll protect you and value you for who you are, not what you can do for me.” 

Several studies published over the last twenty years have focused on children identified as “students at risk” for behaviors ranging from out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drug use, and alcohol abuse.  The students who did not get involved in those behaviors identified one common reason; someone took a personal interest in them in such a way that they felt loved and connected.  Children at-risk are in need of some old bulls to ride in and say to Satan and his workers, as Jesus did in Matthew 18:6, “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Can it make a difference?  Can you make a difference? Let’s see.

Being Imitators of God (continued)

If our Father GOD is a “Father to the fatherless” a “defender of widows” who “places the lonely in families,” then we, as his children, his imitators, should be mimicking these traits in our lives.

Is this line of reasoning born out elsewhere in scripture?  I believe it is.  GOD gives specific instruction for treatment of the fatherless and the widow.  His law, as laid out for us in the Old Testament, is chock-full of commands to care for the fatherless and the widow among us.  James repeats these calls in the New Testament when he makes this radical statement.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

In the following chapters we will explore what this might look like in your life.  We will hear testimonies of men and their families who are engaged in the fight in very real and practical ways and hopefully encourage you to step into the fray.

More posts @ Reston Bible Church Blog

http://blog.restonbible.org/2013/11/remembering-god-part-1-introduction/

http://blog.restonbible.org/2013/11/remembering-god-part-2-his-word/

http://blog.restonbible.org/2013/12/remembering-god-part-3-in-song/

 

 

 

Strong man down (the conclusion) – “Who is the last man standing?”

“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

Strong man down, continued (part 3)

We are losing ground in…

The Church

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.” [1]– 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.”[2]      – 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[3]

 

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.


[1] James H. Fichter, “Why Aren’t Males So Holy?”Integrity (May 1955): p. 3.

[2] Leon J. Podles, “Missing Fathers of the Church”

[3] George Barna,Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators(Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996),p.87.

 

Stong man down, continued part 2

We are losing ground in…

The Community

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.

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