Throw-away kids

"Steven" had another bad day. That's what the school administrator told me as I sat in a comfy chair across from her desk. This young man, barely halfway through his elementary education, would be spending the next couple of days at home. Again. And no, she didn't break confidentiality by telling me his name - I actually guessed.

I was there to discuss with her ideas about using high school students after school to tutor and mentor elementary students and, before I rose to leave, I told her that if there was an immediate need that I could help with, please let me know. That was when she mentioned a student - whom I guessed to be "Steven" - who was really struggling and was facing yet another suspension from school. She called him a "throw away" kid, not because she didn't see his value (she did and she showed him much love), but rather because the rest of the world around him didn't seem to recognize it. 

Hearing this story literally broke my heart. Since I knew who he was, I asked if I could speak to the young man briefly before I left, and she called him out of class to come down to the office. I pulled "Steven" aside and told him how much worth and value his life had and that, if he even needed another advocate in his life, to please call me. I then gave him a big hug because the tears in my eyes were preventing me from saying anything else. As I watched him walk back down the hall to his class I felt a burning rising up within my soul. This young man was not a throw-away kid. He is an incredible creation of God who had yet to discover just how great he could be.

Look around you. There are these so-called throw-away kids everywhere. And the reasons for this are many. Some come from families that either cannot or will not support them, and that is tragic. Others have no role model in their lives and so they have no idea how to grow up to be a responsible man or woman. Tragically, many of these young people will continue to struggle until they either drop out of school or find themselves frequent fliers within our penal system.

If you are reading this, then you are probably envisioning a throw-away kid that you know about. Maybe you've looked upon that child with pity and tried to help or perhaps you shake your head in disgust and wonder where his or her parents are. Regardless of what your perspective is, the bigger question is, "What are you going to do about it?"

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." Some see this verse as a guarantee that if you raise your kids right, then they will turn out right. I wish that was always true! What this verse is actually telling us is that if you instill the love of God and a heart for Jesus in a child, whether or not he/she grows up to follow after Him, the truths that you have seeded into their lives will never go away. They may be able to run from God's truth but they can never hide from it.

When I think about kids like "Steven" and others like him, I am compelled to do more. I want to be a part of the solution in his life, not one who condemns him for his problems. I hope you feel the same way. Now more than ever young people need mentors to pull alongside of them and show them the better path for them to take. It can be as simple as volunteering to help children with homework after school or as deep as becoming a foster parent. But regardless of what you choose, please know this - you have what it takes to be an advocate for these young people what will allow them to shed the throw-away label once and for all.

Love-Fueled Propulsion

Lately I've been reading a book entitled Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those Who Help and How to Reverse it. While this book certainly isn't new on the scene, it is for me, and it comes a pretty pivotal point in my life and my way of thinking. Giving to the poor, helping those in need, offering emergency assistance - all of these things are essential and have been amply demonstrated to us by the example of Jesus Himself. Yet all to often churches and other religious groups have turned missions into nothing more than "religious tourism", pouring money into communities where there is no real outlet for sustainable change. In fact, if we were truly honest with ourselves, we often see missions as more for us than it is for those we are going to help.

All of that aside, the message of missions got me to thinking about what the world truly needs to see and hear from those who are followers of Jesus. There are several options vying for that top category:
  • Hard nosed theological teaching, making sure that the rest of the world knows that we are right and they are wrong
  • Stripped down services and sermons that welcome everyone into the fold with a "don't ask, don't tell" agenda that seeks to offend no one
  • Easily accessible ministries and services that allow the needy to come to us so that we can give you God-inspired hand outs
  • Flashy and catchy events that will bring in the big numbers so that we can show the rest of the Christian world what God is doing through our church and ministry
  • Or, we could do what Jesus did and love people
If you can't tell, I'm pretty partial to that last one. Yeah, I know, guys who write religious books and blogs about love often forget that love paid a price on the cross for real sin, and in doing so they ignore or even deny the reality of an eternal separation from God. So this isn't me telling you to just love everybody and the world will be a better place. I mean, the world would be a better place if we all could just get along, but for the sake of the discussion at hand, the love that I am talking about is the kind that propels us, not obligates us.

You see, if you are a follower of Jesus then you already know that throughout the New Testament He commanded you to love others, both your neighbor and your enemy. What happens to so many is that, when they see this command from Jesus, they go into obligation mode as if loving others is something that they have to do in order to prove to Jesus that they really have been saved by His grace. Surely there is nothing sweeter than being given a cup of cold water by someone claiming to be a Christian who wouldn't be caught dead being seen with you beyond the facade of ministry that they are hiding behind.

Love, the kind that binds our hearts to Jesus and overwhelms us with its beauty and audacity, is not a love that makes us feel obligated. No, it's a love that compels us. I mean, how in the world can we not love others as Christ loves us when we grasp even just an inkling of how outrageous that love is?

This means that we are propelled by love in all that we do. We are excited about helping the poor and take delight in pulling alongside those who are desperate in need. It means that we are stoked about reaching out to the lost and broken, joining them in their journey to find hope and peace in Jesus. Being propelled by love means that we GET to love others, not that we have to. 

Who's got your back?

As I have gotten older I have grown to truly appreciate history. Not that I didn't enjoy history when I was in school, it's just th...