Honest Questions and An Answer…

“And it came about that after three days, they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. Matthew 2:46 (NASB)

They big questions we grapple with as children sometimes end up being the same questions that haunt us for the rest of our lives.

Matthew tells the story of 12 year old Jesus who ditches his family on a visit to Jerusalem, only to be found three days later, safe and sound in the Temple, questioning and being questioned by the teachers. I wish that I could have been a fly on the wall for that conversation. There is, of course, no record of it anywhere. But I would love to know what questions young Jesus posed to these teachers.

I wonder if those questions posed by this child who always had rumors about his parentage swirling around him, this child who was never really accepted as “Joseph’s child,” had anything to do with the kind of “questions” he tackled in his adult ministry?

“Let the children come to me…”
“If anyone harms one of these…”
“And he placed a child in the midst of them…”

I’ve spent some time in the last couple of weeks visiting juvenile detention centers, listening to young people’s questions.

I’ve got a question: are children poorer today than they were when I was a child?

I think the answer is a double YES! They are poorer in terms of cash resources. And they are much poorer in terms of “adult gold.”

What is “adult gold?” Poverty today is not just about not having shoes to wear to school, although that may be the case for some. Child poverty today is also about the wholesale abandonment of children by the only resource of value they should be able to count on: their parents, the adults in their families and in their communities.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem with his family give us the impression that Jesus is the one who “stayed behind” and his parents did not know where he was. His parent’s thought he was lost and it cost them much anguish.

I don’t think today’s children are lost. I think today’s adults are lost. And, it’s causing children much anguish.

How is it that children can have costly sneakers, costly jeans, a cap for every outfit and more technology than any one person would ever need — and not have one adult in their lives who will eat dinner with them, enforce curfew, insist on seeing homework, approve or disapprove of friends, get up early in the morning and jack them out of bed to make sure that they get to school on time, accept no excuses about behavior, insist on kindness as a mark of character and ask them about their dreams?

Adult Gold.

We are unwittingly conspiring with the failure of systems, with racism, inequity and injustice by also failing to provide the children in our own community with the kind of “wealth” that only we can give them. We can give them “us.”

From everything I’ve heard in my conversations, they want that more than jeans and sneakers.

Meeting with a group of boys in detention, I said to them, “I know that it is hard just to live in our city. It’s hard for parents to try to make ends meet and to care for their families.” Then I asked, “if there was one thing that we could do to help support your families so that they could better support you, what would that one thing be?” A young boy, who admitted that he had problems with anger management, said this: “Help my family learn how to show love. We don’t have that closeness (he said as he hugged himself), we don’t have that.” Another boy chimed in, “yeah, intimacy.” And yet another, “yes, that’s true, my family needs counseling.”

For all who are working with children:

1. Find the mental health and counseling resources in your community. Work with them to offer parent counseling and family support for the families of the children under your influence. They will be resistant. Keep trying, be creative, keep pushing….

2. Figure out a way to send some key messages to parents through your programs that will support this truth: children need love, guidance, boundaries, discipline, love, love, love — so much more than they need caps and technology. You won’t be popular and it will be hard to be consistent, but that’s the definition of parenting.

3. Send the message and make it happen for parents and adults who are caring for children — parents need to talk with others who are there or who have been there. Children are supposed to cause adults “anguish and worry.” That is a part of their job description. They are supposed to push the envelope, try your patience, test the boundaries. That is what healthy, well-adjusted children do. However, parents and adults are not supposed to cause children “anguish and worry.” That is not a part of our job description. We are not special if we are being patient. That is our job. We don’t “deserve credit” if we establish boundaries and keep children from crossing them. That is our job. It’s hard and few of us can do it consistently without support. But it is our job.

4. Tell parents to stop thinking that a child is supposed to show you “gratitude” right now for all the things you do to “sacrifice” for them. Children learn to be grateful as they grow into maturity and that learning is a mark of maturity. They don’t learn to be grateful because we yell at them for not being grateful. Talking with professionals, with others will bring some of this into perspective and will keep us from causing our children “anguish and worry” over adult madness; from giving up on them because they can’t handle adult madness; for throwing them out of the house because in our “adult madness” we don’t have time to deal with children who make stupid, youthful decisions.

We are God’s children and we make incredibly stupid decisions everyday. And God does not throw us out. God doesn’t expect us to be God. God gives us a place to bring our questions, our doubts, our fears, our irrational thoughts — all the things that are truly a mark of our own spiritual immaturity. And God holds those things in trust and loves us enough to talk with us about them, loves us enough to walk us through them. In God’s presence we find forgiveness, grace, mercy, understanding, unconditional love and safety.

The question many of our young people are grappling with is indeed a very heavy one: does anybody love me enough to really parent me? My prayer is that our children will find the answer that the psalmist found:

“For my father and mother have forsaken me,
But the LORD will take me up.”
Psalm 27:10 (NASB)


Something Bigger and Beyond Ourselves

Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work.

Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.” I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” Mathew 4: 18 – 19 (The Message Translation)

There is something so amazing to me about the calling of Peter and Andrew. They were just doing their regular work — and Jesus came by.

“Vocation” is much like that. Coming from a Latin word (vocare), vocation is what we do with God’s call. It is the life we live that goes bigger and beyond ourselves — bigger and beyond what we were doing before Jesus came by.

What you “were” doing may have made a life for you. But what you “can” do after an encounter with Jesus and by yielding yourself to God can witness to new life bigger and beyond yourself.

What does that mean?

For me, it was 30 years ago when I was pulled, called to follow. Sure, I was already a believer for several years before that. I was a really good “believer.” And I was incredibly fortunate to have an adult in my life who took my young faith seriously. He challenged me to think, read, question, to listen to people as they asked the questions of faith, to look beyond….

One day as I was just doing what I did, nothing special, Jesus called.

“Don’t just believe me — follow me.”

I’ve never looked at what I did the same way again. Before I heard that voice, what I did was about how it made me feel, the gratification it brought me, and how it satisfied my needs. After hearing that voice, what I now do is not just about me, but about something so far beyond the smallness of my needs.

It is incredibly amazing to be used by God to “fish.” I don’t mean just getting people to join church. I mean using my life, which is really all I have — all the good, bad and ugly, all the insane comedy and madness of it — to share the power of the lifesaving, concrete gospel with people who are drowning.

I keep fresh in my mind what it felt like for me to be “drowning” — to be disconnected, feeling insignificant and empty.


I was a believer — and still drowning. It wasn’t until I committed myself to following…walking with Jesus through the crazy places that Jesus walks….that I found myself connected to something bigger and beyond myself. Jesus walks down some very interesting roads: never the places I would have chosen to walk myself. Jesus gets into battles and fights — conflicts I know that I could not face were I walking alone. And I have followed Jesus into some pretty good parties – celebrations I certainly would have missed on my own.

To get connected to this “bigger and beyond,” don’t think “I need to do something different.” In stead, think “I need to do what I am doing for a different reason.”

“I will make you a new kind of fisherman.”

Come on.


The Blessing of Elders who Bear the Burden of the People

So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there, and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that that you will not bear it all by yourself. (Numbers 11: 16-17 NRSV)

A young mother and father were in the grocery store, in the cashier’s line next to mine. The father was desperately trying to calm their little boy whose cries were growing louder by the moment. The mother had that familiar wearied look of young mothers — little sleep and much worry. I looked from father to mother to child and I knew who was in control — that child! The mother and the father had long given up trying to soothe the child — they were now just trying their best to get through the grocery line and get out of dodge! Those around were quite sympathetic — but not helpful!

As the boy’s cries grew louder and more frantic, up walked an elderly man. “Grandpa!” Instantly, squeals of delight. The Grandfather gathered the boy up into his arms, “I know exactly what you need.” He put the boy in a stroller and headed for the parking lot. I think I actually saw relief cross the mother’s face for a hot moment before she turned her attention to haggling with the cashier about a grocery item whose discounted price was not registering.

Anxious to see just what Grandpa’s remedy was, I hurried through my own purchases so that I could get to the parking lot as well. As I was packing my groceries, I spotted the mother and father packing their own groceries in their car. The Grandfather and boy were no where to be found. I looked all around the parking lot, growing more curious by the minute. And then I spotted them — the father had strolled up and down the street and was talking a mile a minute. As they got closer to the car, I could see that the boy was sound asleep, contented by the Grandfather’s voice, the motion of the stroller, and the briskness of the air.

I’m sure that in that moment, I saw something that these parents in their weariness and focus on the struggles of the moment might have missed altogether — that is the sheer blessing of the availability and the spirit of the Grandfather.

Many children grow up without the benefit of extended family. Our society is so disconnected. But even if there are cousins and aunts around, there really is a dearth of connected grandparents – people who know when to show up in a child’s life with the spirit of liberty.

The Lord told Moses to find some elders. God’s plan was to share some of Moses’ spirit with these elders. Moses had the spirit of Liberty, the spirit of Freedom. He had the spirit of courage. The Lord granted these elders this spirit. Coupled with their life experience, they were prepared to help Moses bear the burden of the people.

Granted, there are some elderly people that you don’t want anywhere near children! They are cantankerous and mean-spirited, for sure. But there are many, many more who have reflected on their life experiences, have owned the spirit of liberty and freedom, and have much to offer to another generation.

If the children in your life, in your care, don’t have a grandparent — find one for them.