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Parkland...Violence and Debate. Repeat. Violence and Debate. Repeat.

All the while we are losing our children.

 

At our Awana home office we try to practice what we preach. We feel it’s important that as we disciple others, we ourselves are practicing that discipline. How can we encourage children and youth to memorize scripture if we don’t ourselves? And so for 68 years everyone at Awana, from the person in the CEO/President’s office to the youngest toddling Puggle out there, memorizes scripture.

Our ministry meetings begin with corporate recitation.  Plowing through with determination, leaning into each other as our minds go blank from time to time, together we recite the passages we are  learning. Currently we are learning Romans 12. Some memorize from the King James Version and others prefer the English Standard Version, the ESV…so we recite in both versions. I am one who memorizes from the King James. I admit it is a curious language, but somehow I find the rhythms of these centuries old words more memorable; thou and ye substituting for you, all those eths suffixes… exhorteth, giveth, and ruleth for example, and then there are all those non-contracted negatives…And be ye not conformed to this world. These archaic words, though odd to our modern ears, come back to me like childhood whispers, speaking to me from my Sunday School and Vacation Bible School days. They are old friends.

Recently, while flying back home from Johannesburg, South Africa, I thought I would use my long flight time to memorize a few more verses in Romans 12. And I was doing fine until I came to verse 9. “Let love be without dissimulation.” I confess. I had to look it up. Dissimulation. It means don’t fake love, don’t pretend, don’t act like you love, don’t just go through the motions, but really love each other.

I thought of the children who come through the doors of our churches. Do we really love them, or are we just going through kidmin motions, filling a couple of hours each week with children’s programming because it’s compulsory in church life? Are we caring or just there?

Wess Stafford, the President Emeritus of Compassion Int’l, is a new Awana board member. He said something recently that struck a chord. “Maybe the most important thing that can be written in the handbook some weeks is not a checkmark for completing a memory verse, but words like “I am so glad you came. You are so precious to God and to us. We love you.”

I know it’s a radical suggestion in Awana culture, but radical love is what this achy world is crying out for. Radical love can heal a child’s life. It could keep a kid who lost his mother and father too early, a boy who is bullied, a young man who is lost and alone from picking up a gun and using it to fire randomly his pain into the world until innocent schoolmates lie bloody and dead at his feet. Oh Parkland! How we long to love your precious 17 children, but it’s too late to hug, comfort, or shield them now.

Sadly, our country seems unable to address the random violence lashing out at our most innocent ones. Our nation is experiencing a painful reoccurring loop:

 Violence and debate

Repeat

 Violence and debate

Repeat

All the while we are losing our children.

But there is something we can do, no matter which side of the gun control/political debate we take.

I believe the heartbreak of Sandy Hook, Columbine, Parkland is crying out to the church saying “Let your love be without dissimulation.” Really love us! This violent world is in need of real lovers and the church is IT! God’s people can love a child until the pain stops. We already know how to do this. God’s love made real to a child through the presence of caring adults who love radically week after week is the answer to violence, hatred and sin. We know this way of love. It is the Jesus way and in America it’s never been more needed than it is now.

What if we committed ourselves to making sure that every child within the reach of our churches knows he or she is loved by us and by God? I mean wanted, and celebrated, and really loved. Let’s commit to more than grudgingly showing up. It is the wrong time to drop children’s ministry. (Yes, we know it is getting harder to get volunteers.) It is the wrong time to settle for time-filling programming instead of  “I-know-this-child” discipleship. Our world desperately needs us to understand the times in which we live. If we make a love for children our priority and the mark of our presence in our communities, our churches will grow in influence and numbers. We need no other church-growth campaigns. We need to love and reach every child…the ones from our Christian homes and the others.

Pastors I have to say this to you: Awana is your biggest fan. We are so for you. Would you think about preaching this love for children to your people? Will you consider talking about Parkland this way? You don’t have a more timely or critically important message than the love of God shining from your people to the children and families of your community.  

 Real love. It’s more powerful than legislation or politics or Facebook debates. This loving, self-sacrificing Jesus way is the most powerful change agent the world knows. And it doesn’t matter if you are a mega church, an urban storefront church or a congregation struggling to get by… now is the time, this heartbreaking, seemingly unsolvable time for real lovers to say, “No more. Not another Sandy Hook. No more Columbines. Parkland is the last. We will address this pain in the bud. We will love until the anger subsides. We will advocate for every child within our reach.”   

The church. If 10,000 Awana churches dedicated themselves to this real love mission, it could change everything.

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Let’s be transformed by letting our love be real. Let’s go the Jesus way, not the world way. This is my prayer dear God. Let it be.

Romans 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (KJV)

Viral Vietnam

Viral. That was the word they used to describe what they are seeing. When I attended Awana’s International Summit in Korea recently, our internationals were full of viral stories. They weren’t describing the movement of a super bug or spread of disease, but rather the movement of God’s spirit in the world…revival starting with children.

What did they report?

·       In Africa 1,366,955 kids are coming to Awana clubs. That’s a 38% growth over last year.

·       South Asia, including India, has nearly a million clubbers with also a 38% FY growth.  

·       China is experiencing a 41% FY growth.

·        Latin America is up 51% over last year.

If these were stocks experiencing this kind of growth, we would be rushing out to buy them. From my vantage place in the kingdom growth is approaching revival levels in some parts of the world.

Let’s talk about Vietnam for a moment.

 

In just four years Vietnam has gone from no children to 47,500 clubbers. The leaders from Vietnam told us it is common for a club to run 500 kids with all of them coming to Christ.

“Are they coming as individuals, or en masse?” I asked.

“Both.” they said but then added, “It’s the strangest thing. When they come to Christ, they fall down on their knees…not something that is usually done in the Vietnamese Culture.”

“Why do you think they are doing that?” I wondered.

They answered. “After years of communism the hope they are finding in Jesus is just overwhelming.”

 

What are we seeing? What are the reports indicating to us? We may not know what to call it, but the Spirit of God is alive, moving and well as children all over the world are coming to know, love and serve Jesus.

Whatever your vantage point is in the kingdom, we hope this viral report gives you great encouragement and hope in your own world.

This week . . . across my desk. . . Four and five year olds in the news.

There was a lot of clutter noise in the world this week: pampered American Olympic swimmers behaving badly in Brazil (and lying about it,) political noise so consistently childish that most of us hoped the Olympics would drown it out for a blessed while, firestorms in the west and dust storms in Arizona, flooding in Louisiana.

And buried beneath this global noise, news surfaced –at first far from the front page and the international press corps convened in Rio—news from the four and five-year-old world.

His five-year old face stares out beneath a mask of blood. He is obviously in shock, past crying, rescued after an hour of digging to free him from his Syrian home turned rubble by bombing.  His face looks unsure . . . as if his deliverance into a world gone war-mad might not be such a good thing after all.

Omran. You break our hearts. You are too young to carry the weight of our insane adult world on your small dust and blood covered shoulders! We cry out for the children of the world caught up in our adult hatred and wars. Oh God! Omran is every child. We want to take him in our arms as if he were our own and comfort him. We want his innocence restored. We want him safe and protected. Still, I thank God for giving us this image. Omran, stunned and covered in blood, woke us up to the fragility of a child’s life in a war zone.

Then a friend, Pastor Shawn Thornton, sent me this news report. The headline from the Washington Post shouts domestic evil if ever I’ve seen one:   A 4-year-old found beaten and abused said she thought her name was ‘Idiot,’ according to police.

Covered in bruises, a black eye and ligature marks on her wrist from being zip-tied for punishment, this little girl suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. When this wounded child was asked by police her name she actually told them, “Idiot.”

The boyfriend said he thought calling her Idiot was a joke.

In 2012 child protective services report 3.4 million children were abused or neglected. 80 percent of the perpetrators were parents.

Oh God! This is the American child. A vulnerable little girl (not much more than a baby) in the merciless hands of sadists, awakens us to her unthinkable every day horrors. We want to rename her Cherish, or Precious or Jewel. We know this child. She is a neighbor, a school mate; the child we sometimes suspect is not OK at home, the child attending an Awana club with a friend.

That’s the sad, sad news from the four and five-year-old world. The world should pay more attention. It should care more and stop the madness that costs thousands of children’s lives or well-being.

The news from the four and five -year-old world this week was not good. But if we are paying attention it will drive us to our knees. It is a week to say a prayer, to cry a tear. It is a week to take the disgust, anger and repulsion you feel and reach out to a child in need somewhere in the world or right next door.