Someone For Kids to Latch on to

A few weeks ago, I read a Facebook thread complaining about the “state of our world.” Wars, violence, greed corruption. We create policies and host protests, write articles and share moving/inspiring/shocking pictures and Youtube videos on all the evils in the world, but I believe this focuses on the symptoms, not the cause. What if we focused instead on creating long-term change by getting involved in the lives of hurting, neglected, abused, and/or abandoned kids? What if we, as parents, were diligent about teaching love, generosity, compassion, and community involvement? What if we spent more time getting involved in the lives of people–one-on-one?

There’s an old saying, “Each one Reach One.” Imagine a church of 300 members. Imagine if each member found one person–a single mom, an addict or alcoholic, a troubled teen, a hurting child–to consistently and diligently reach out to. Now, say there are 20 churches in a community. Multiply this by 300. That’s 600 lives changed, only it doesn’t stop at those 600 lives. Each child and teen grows up to be a mommy or daddy or aunt or uncle who then impacts the next generation, who then impacts the next generation who then …. You get the idea.

After you read the following “Reach Out” story, I challenge you to spend a moment in prayer asking God whom He’d like you to reach out to. Not for a day, or a week, but who does God want you to pour into, on a consistent basis. Because the next generation depends on the one-on-one involvement of the church today.

SOMEONE FOR KIDS TO LATCH ON TO: JESUS

By Ada Brownell

      “The police came to our house last night to get Daddy,” the little boy announced. “He hid in the back on the shelf in the closet and they didn’t find him!”

His eyes sparkled with triumph.

The report came during our opening moments at the Dunamis Academy, an after-school and summers program where I heard similar stories. Dunamis means supernatural power.

I started the program at our church daycare after retirement. A number of the elementary children in the class were Social Services children who didn’t attend our church.

When I had the idea for the after-school program, I was concerned about latch-key children because I’d written about them in my work as a daily newspaper reporter in Pueblo, Colo. I prayed about it and thought God would raise up a pastor with the vision to use the church’s empty spaces to reach youngsters who needed the gospel, bring the congregation’s children into deeper knowledge of the Word, and help children not doing well in school with tutoring. I hoped spiritually mature teenagers and other volunteers would help.

Then I spoke to the daycare director and she also caught the vision because the older children already enrolled in the daycare after school and summers needed something constructive to do.

The first summer the director taught the lower grades and I took upper elementary. We continued the program after school and summer for two years. We charged a nominal fee to children not enrolled in day care. There was no charge to students already enrolled.

Summers for three hours Monday through Thursday we sang, prayed, played, studied Bible stories, memorized scripture, did skits, saw object lessons, participated in discussion, listened to guest speakers, did crafts and learned how to operate puppets in ministry (the children’s pastor taught puppetry).  Daycare children stayed for a leisurely afternoon.

On Fridays we went on all-day field trips to ministries in Colorado Springs to show children some of the ministries for which they could prepare. We watched a Christian radio missionary who was broadcasting the gospel around the world. We visited Focus on the Family. At David C. Cook we saw how artists create illustrations for their publications. We visited the Navigator’s castle and others. The next year we visited soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other charities in our city.

We had guest speakers, two I’d like to mention. The teenager emigrated from Africa, told about the differences in freedoms there and America and taught a song in Swahili: “Hold on to Jesus.”  The other was a public high school teacher through playing a game called “Virus X” taught how quickly sexually transmitted diseases spread.

According to the last statistics I gathered, five million elementary-age U.S. children grow up with no supervision after school. Twenty-two million adolescents are unsupervised between 3 and 6 p.m. on a typical day, according to the U.S. Department of Health’s Child Care Bureau.

At the same time, thousands of large church buildings are unoccupied except for a few people working in the office.

Large numbers of America’s youth have never heard the gospel. The church is losing young people to secularism.  Some churches have eliminated Christian education, thereby carelessly dropping their sterling silver youth down the garbage disposal. Churches that emphasize discipleship often have only a small percentage of children and youth receiving training.

The first summer of the Dunamis Academy, the two daycare assistants in my classes put the date they accepted Jesus as Savior during that time. Most of the children also invited Jesus into their hearts.

It was a great deal of work, but also gave great spiritual reward to me. If I were young again, I’d love to help establish more programs like it.

One note I’d like to add. Quite a few churches have after-school programs, but the ones I’ve seen don’t emphasize the gospel. We informed parents we would teach undenominational Bible classes and had them sign their permission. We didn’t have one parent opt out. In fact, we had great feedback, with parents coming to awards ceremonies.

I imagine they were like my dad when our family started going to church. He said, “Let them go. I heard they teach children to obey their parents.”

Ada’s Book, Swallowed by Life:

A retired medical reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain in Colorado, the author looked into evidences w in medicine and the Bible that show we’re more than a body.

The book is about serious matters, but truths are introduced in an easy to read and interesting manner with faith-filled illustrations, quotes and anecdotes.

The book discusses the wonder of who we are, how we know we’re more than a body, how we determine truth about the eternal, the wonders of life itself, discoveries of regenerative medicine, the dying process and how brain death is determined, where we go at death and why we still will participate in the resurrection, along with what we will do in heaven.

 Each chapter has a question and answer section for discussion or contemplation. The book is a good Bible study guide not only for grief support groups and those who have a serious chronic or terminal diagnosis, but also for those curious about the future, those who fear death, those who need their faith strengthened, people who don’t know Jesus, and individuals who give them counsel.

Ada Brownell is the Author of Swallowed by LIFE: Mysteries of Death, Resurrection and the Eternal. She is a free lance writer, former daily newspaper reporter, wife, mom and granny. Music has always been part of her life and erupts because of the joy Jesus gives.

***

We are to be Christ’s hands and feet, His instruments of love to a hurting world. Can you share a time when God called you to mentor or build a relationship with someone else? Or perhaps you were once a troubled youth whose life was changed by the consistent, positive interaction of someone else. Share your story with us and may we all spur one another on toward good deeds.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free book, and submit your “Reach Out” story for a chance to win a gift basket.

April’s donors include Mary Ellis with An Amish Family Reunion, Deborah Raney with Almost Forever, Cara Putman with A  Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, Vannetta Chapman with Falling to Pieces, Rebecca Lyles with Winds of Wyoming, and Gina Holmes with Dry as Rain. (Read more about all these great books here, and show your appreciating by clicking on their names to visit their websites.)

You might also enjoy reading: The Trickle Effect Part I, Part II, and Part III, and Create Family Not Converts.

And for those of you who believe you’re too busy to get involved in someone else’s life, I challenge you to read this story. The Bible tells us anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. Don’t put off until tomorrow what God’s calling you to do today. Tomorrow might be too late.

Reaching the Next Generation

You might remember my post a while back about doing what we love, whatever that is, for the glory of God. There are countless ways we can do that, but today I want to highlight an author who’s reaching an audience near and dear to my heart–teenagers. This morning Shellie Neumeier, author of Driven, sent an email through the ACFW writer’s loop and I asked her if I could share it here. (And if you know anything about author royalties, you’ll understand that a dollar per book is a hefty chunk! Way to go, Shellie!)

Young Adult Novel Driven Helps Fund the Edge

Shellie: I love Sunday mornings, but before I dive into mine, I wanted to let you know about a special place that’s near and dear to my heart. A few years ago, a small church decided to ask their community how they could serve them. This community had been hit hard by the economy. So hard, that the busing to the local high school had been stopped and many of the lower grades were left without busing, too. BUT in many cases both parents needed to work, so how were parents to pick up their children from school (the ones who were too old for daycare)? What were the teens to do for the hours before their parents came home?

In answer to that need, Wellspring Community Church decided to open a teen center. The Edge soon found itself filled to the brim and within two years, serves to feed and provide for more than 100 teens every afternoon (yup, that’s 100 teens every day…imagine the amount of food they go through:D). Volunteers come to serve the snack bar, mix with the kids, and just love on them. Most volunteers are local youth leaders, some are fantastic parents, and others just have some time to spare and want to serve. There are small groups and classes. I get to  teach a writing class there once a week and these kids are so grateful! I wish I could do more. That’s when it hit me…

During the next two months (until Jan. 31, 2012), for every paperback copy of DRIVEN sold $1 will be given to The Edge so they can continue to support and serve these kids. DRIVEN can be found on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. com (those are probably the easiest sites to pick it up at). At amazon, the PB is only $6.01. If you decide to pick up a copy as a gift for a teen or just for yourself, first Thank You! and second, please send me a note letting me know where you picked up the book, the price it sold for, and when it was purchased (so I can keep track of the monies to be sent to The Edge).

Choosing Your Battles

Sometimes when I think of all the things I want our daughter to learn by the time she hits adulthood (in four short years) it can get overwhelming. How do I know if I’m doing enough? Too much? Perhaps not the right thing? Ultimately, it comes to prayer, surrender, and trust. Each day, as I lay our daughter in God’s hands, asking Him to speak to my heart, to guide me as I seek to guide our daughter, I commit to following His will, no matter where that leads.

This hasn’t always been easy. In fact, there’s been times when it’s been very painful. Our family has been through many difficulties. I’m sure you all could say the same. As a mom, how I wish I could shelter our daughter from every struggle…but without adversity, what kind of adult would she grow to be?

Here’s the thing. Our sinful nature centers around ourselves and our children. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way advocating parental apathy or callous. God is a God of love and mercy and if we are truly followers of Christ, our actions will be dominated by love.

But…God came not to be served, but instead, to serve and to give His life as ransom for many. As parents, our first goal is not to raise up the next CEO or billionaire. Our goal is to train fully devoted followers of Christ. A daunting task at times, especially when those teen years hit and you’ve gotta grit your teeth and hand off the baton.

The cool thing is, God’s got it covered. He’s responsible for training, raising, guiding and equipping your child. You’re responsible for one thing: obedience. And if you are continually following God’s leading in surrendered obedience, when your child rebels, they aren’t rebelling against you. They’re rebelling against God.

It’s important that you convey that. And it’s important that you live that. Meaning, bring it back to the Scriptural level and choose your battles very carefully. If God’s Word doesn’t take a clear stand on an issue, maybe you shouldn’t either. But when God gives a clear command, instruct it with diligence, taking care to explain why. You want your child to be respectful not because it makes you happy, but because God commands it and because your child’s behavior has an impact on their witness.

Otherwise the issue, whatever it is, becomes about you and your child. And since most parents know absolutely nothing until their child hits about 30, that’s a losing battle. A subjective battle. It comes down to one person’s opinion vs. another.

But…step out of the ring and point your child back to God…now that’s a different story.

They still may rebel, but again, when they do, they’re rebelling against God, not you.

And consider throwing most of the other battles away. Here’s an example. About three years ago our daughter came to us and asked to get her ears pierced. I really struggled with this, primarily because I am very opposed to the whole appearance-oriented thing. We want our daughter to focus more on her inner qualities than her outward…and perhaps I went a bit overboard.

So how did our daughter convince us of her position? She respectfully pointed out that there wasn’t anything in the Bible that said she shouldn’t. After listening, I realized she was right. So, I stepped off my battle mound and took her to the mall.

What battles are you facing today? What does the Bible have to say about them? And how might the interactions with your child change if you brought everything back to the Scriptural level, explaining not how you feel about the issue, but instead, what God says?

And before you go, hop on over to Reflections to find out how to curb the “its-all-about-mes” in your child.

Short Story Saturday~Put the Superheroes Away by Andrea and Adam Graham

Perhaps I’m eating my words today. A while back I wrote a post about how the teen years didn’t need to be painful. Still true, (sort of) but today that truth is colored by an emerging revelation: I’m annoying. And smothering. Yep, somehow overnight I’ve gone from humorous to teeth-gritting irritating.

Now, I know this is a phase, and likely a normal one as our daughter moves from dependency to indepence, but it still hurts. And if I’m not careful, I’ll allow my heart to lead, turning into her friend rather than her parent. Only that would not be an act of love. That would be an act of selfishness. Love takes the hard route, does the hard things, says the hard things, regardless how the other person will respond.

This is especially true in parenting.  Oh, how we long to have special, giggly moments with her our children. How we long to be their friends. But we’re not. We’ve got a God-given responsibility to raise them with diligence and excellence. And at times, that may make us look like the enemy. But love looks past the present and the emotions involved. Love looks for the good of others and does whatever it takes to see that person succeed and grow closer to their Savior.

I found today’s story almost comical. It’s a snapshot into a father’s life where this friendship thing is taken to the extreme, but hopefully the humorous extreme will encourage us to evaluate our parenting. Are we doing everything we know to do to see our children grow, or are we seeking the path of least resistance?

Excerpt taken from Tales of the Dim Knight by Andrea and Adam Graham

Superman fell from the sky, collided with a skyscraper, and bounced off as it toppled. The action figure crashed into a green stegosaurus grazing at the foot of the sky blue leather sofa.

Mild-mannered janitor Dave Johnson set the cardboard skyscraper upright again in the model city erected on his steel gray living room carpet.

He tugged down his Spider-Man pajama top and sent a scolding glance at his dimpled nine-year-old. “Derrick, you shouldn’t have dropped him like that.”

Derrick scratched his head. “But, Dad, you said Superman got hit with a missile.”

When would his son ever learn?

At least Derrick still cared, unlike Dave’s eldest. “A missile isn’t going to knock Superman out of the sky, son. He’s invulnerable. He might be fazed, but he’d pop right back up.”

Derrick nodded. “That makes sense.”

“All right, so get him back in the sky.”

Derrick lifted Superman back above the cardboard model of Metropolis.

Naomi called from the kitchen, “Dinner!”

Derrick wrinkled his nose. “Aw, Mom—”

“—now, son.” Dave wagged a finger. “We’ve talked about this. You need to eat.”

“But what’s going to happen to Lois Lane?”

Dave mussed Derrick’s bushy hair, black like his own. “We’ll find out tomorrow, Champ.”

He glanced to their chipped oak entertainment center. The DVD player’s clock read 4:37 p.m. Time to get ready for work. He jogged into the master bedroom, stripped off his vintage Spider-Man PJ’s, and changed into the stone gray coveralls Naomi had laid out for him on her girly yellow comforter, which covered their Queen Anne style bed.

Where was his government-issued, navy blue baseball cap? He usually left it on the stack of red milk crates filled with the newer additions to his comic book collection. He spotted it atop his collection of every superhero DVD box set known to man. Grinning, he snatched the hat up. Aha. No lowly work accessory could outsmart Mild-Mannered Janitor Dave Johnson.

He set the cap askew on his head, patted his breast pocket, and hit thin plastic. Good. Not only would it be embarrassing if he lost his security pass a third time this month, he’d incur another $25 fine, and Naomi wouldn’t let him buy the Wonder Woman action figure he needed to complete his Justice League collection.

The door flung open. Naomi stood outside it in a perfectly pressed navy pants suit, her sharp, side-parted ebony bob curling a bit under her chin. Trouble brewed in eyes the same color as her favorite Starbucks brew: a half-caf, non-fat grande latte with sugar-free chocolate syrup and exactly four packets of Splenda. “Dave, we need to talk.”

Oh no. Mount Naomi was about to blow. “What about?”

She folded her arms. “How about our life and supposed marriage?”

Dave brushed past her into the living room. “I don’t have time for this.”

“You never have time!” She stomped up alongside him. “You get up after I leave for work. And you leave a few minutes after I get home.”

“Wait up for me, and we’ll talk when I get in.”

“At two a.m?”

“That’s as good a time as any.” Dave fled to the kitchen and sighed at the dining nook’s empty claw-foot pedestal table. Naomi had the boys eating dinner in their room again? Funny how that always coincided with the flow of lava. He grabbed his X-Men lunchbox from the stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator. He headed for the door to the attached two-car garage.

Naomi ran ahead and blocked his getaway. “We talk now.”

He looked at his silver bat signal watch. She was making him late. “Fine, two minutes.”

“I’m concerned about the kids.”

Dave stiffened. “What? You don’t think I’m a good father?”

“You’ve been great teaching them to be little boys, but you can’t play Superman with them forever. They need someone who can help them through difficult times. Someone who can show them how to be men.”

 “And why can’t I?”

“Look at yourself, Dave! You make me pack your dinner in the same lunchbox James used in kindergarten! You don’t buy all that superhero stuff for the kids.”

Dave crossed his arms. “I work hard for this family!”

Naomi flicked her index finger at Dave. “You’ve been at the same job a decade. You’re not twenty-three anymore. You need to grow up for the kids’ sake—and for me.”

“And for you?”

“Yes, and for me! Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve been together? Nine months. It’s like, all you wanted were James and Derrick, and, as soon as you got them, you forgot all about me.”

“I’m the same man you married. You’re the one who’s changed.” He glanced at her pink polished nails. A sandy-haired Mary Jane met him at the altar twelve years ago. So how did he end up married to Lois Lane?

“What’s happened to you?”

“I grew up, Dave.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She took the hint and moved out of his way. “This isn’t over!”

Dave slammed the door behind him. Why couldn’t she understand? Superheroes did things he could only dream of. He wasn’t playing silly games; he was sharing his dreams with the kids. It wasn’t like his hobby kept him from working. He always brought home his paycheck, and he never complained about the tight hold Lois—er, Naomi—kept on the purse strings.

He climbed in his pick-up truck and backed out into traffic. He glanced at the empty seat. “You don’t want to talk.” He returned his gaze to the road. “You want to scream at me until I change into some boring Ken Doll in a suit who golfs and does all the things the big bosses do at your work. You say I don’t listen, but at least I let you talk. The only time I can talk to you is when you’re not here. When you’re here, I can hear you, but—”

Dave swallowed. He’d rather be beaten up by a tag team of the Rhino and Doctor Octopus. It’d be less painful.

A freckled little boy on a bike darted out in front of him. Dave slammed his brakes hard.

The truck stopped inches from the kid. Dave lowered his head onto the steering column. The boy cursed and rode away.

Calm down, or you’ll kill somebody.

“This looks like a job for Superman.” Dave pressed the play button on his CD player. The old time radio crackled over his truck’s speakers. From a crowd in Metropolis, a woman shouted, “Look, up in the sky!” 

By the time the narrator said, “And now for our story,” the pain had eased.

Order your copy of Tales of the Dim Knight now!

Their Hearts Cry Out

Last night I helped out at an area youth rally ran by the Fellowship Christian Athletes. Sweaty, giggling, bouncing teens swarmed the halls, filled the auditorium, and clamored around the concession stand, while others, faces hard with scowls, lingered on the outskirts. As I passed one couple in particular—a tall guy in high tops and a red jersey followed by a blonde at least two feet shorter, face caked in make-up—my heart rejoiced to see God’s grace trickle over these broken teens. Which is what they are. Sure, they look angry. They act angry, and their mouth may spew a thousand ear-blistering, hateful words, but that’s all a mask.

As adults, its easy to watch them from afar, lumping them all into one “rebellious heap”, but those who take the time to dig a bit deeper catch a different picture. A picture of isolation, of trying to fit in, of hearts broken from rejection or abandonment, of hearts crying out for a Savior.

Praise God that He sees past the exterior to broken heart hidden beneath. Praise God for His patience, as He woos these precious children to Himself, breaking through their defenses and winning their trust with His faithful love. Praise God that He not only sees the pain, but provides the soothing balm able to set them free.

Cultural Transformation From the Inside Out

Taylor Blunt, Lifebook President Carl Blunt, Northland Baptist Youth Pastor Joe Nelson, Lifebook VP Adam Malanga

If this post appears to be a bit scatter-brained, it is only because of my excitement. Bear with me, and if you see an occasional typo or a misplaced adjective, shovel a little extra grace my way. Hopefully you’ll be able to weed through all the “Wow, God you amaze me!” enough to get a jest of what I’m trying to say. And if not…I have a feeling God’s got this one covered anyway. He is pouring His transforming, healing, bondage-breaking love into our local schools even as we speak.  And if you listen closely, you just might hear Him ask, “Are you coming, child? Jump aboard.”

I just left a luncheon hosted by the president and vice president of the Lifebook Movement, an innovative evangelistic organization that is mobilizing teens around the world. These teens are saturating their schools with the gospel. And you thought teens were only interested in texting and playing video games. Ha! Hardly! All across the United States our youth are impacting their culture in a history-making way.

It’s amazing, really. Not so much what they’re doing, but how God is using their obedience to transform high schools–to transform lives. And the kids are eating it  up. Because they’re hungry. Starved, really. But not for MTV or the latest Wii game. They’re starved for relevance. They’re starved for truth. They want to matter, and to know that their life isn’t worthless. That it counts for something. And they want to belong to something bigger than themselves. In countless highschool halls and lunchrooms, these hungry youth are finding their answers in the Lifebook, a shortened version of God’s Word presented in a culturally relevant way.

What I find most phenomenal about lifebook is their ability to get into the teen’s heads. Okay, so that sounds a bit creepy, but what I mean is, instead of expecting the youth to adapt to them, they’re adapting to the youth.

Isn’t that what Christianity is all about–adaptation. Demonstrating the relevance of God’s Word to the listener, whether they’re a preschool student or a retired school teacher? Where would we be if God hadn’t adapted Himself to us. Wow, now that’s a scary thought.  Luckily it’s one we don’t have to think about for long because the Creator of the universe did adapt Himself to us, taking on human flesh so that He could meet each one of us right where we are.

I always find it funny how much time we Christians spend discussing politics, economics, and the depravity of society when the solution, the only solution, is staring us in the face. In fact, sometimes I wonder if those other things are merely distractions. I don’t want to get myself in trouble here because I know many of you are politically minded, and perhaps God is even moving you into the political arena. But what I do know is that God changes lives. If we want our country to change, if we want our youth to change, we’ve got to bring them to the only One who can truly change them. Everything else will just be a band-aide.

So how can you help?

1) Donate. These books cost money to print and Lifebook gives them to local youth groups for free.

2) Pray. For lifebook, for the youth involved and for the youth who will be receiving the books.

3) Spread the word.

4) Look them up and “like” them on facebook and invite your friends to do the same.

Visit the Lifebook movement’s website to find out more.

I’m jumping on this train and inviting you to join me.

Hopefully I’ll have more pictures after our church’s youth rally tonight.