Have you heard the story about the 68-year-old bus monitor from Greece, New York? Her name is Karen Klein. Back in early 2012 she was the bus monitor who was bullied and harassed by junior high students. She was bullied and harassed to such a point that she broke down in tears. The event was caught on video and that video went viral. Many were upset at what happened to that lady, and rightfully so. A fund was set up to send her on vacation. People across this country—this generous country—donated over $700,000. Southwest Airlines went to bat for her and sent her and nine of her friends to Disneyland; all-expenses-paid. I am so thankful that people stood up for this lady who was so humiliated and bullied.
Shortly after that event went viral, I watched a video blog by a noted national speaker. His focus is on developing character in youth. In his video blog he asked the question, “Who owns this problem?" He suggested five areas of ownership: the parents, the bullies, the bus driver, the school, and the bystanders. I agree with his reasoning in each of the five areas of responsibility. However, I take issue with his solution for the young people bullying the 68-year-old bus monitor. It was the same age-old solution that never seems to work. Here is what he said, “Take these kids out of school and home school them. Keep these kids away from the other kids and adults who are making good choices, until they can demonstrate that they have learned to be kids of good character."
Now the truth of the matter is I really have no problem with specialized and separate processes. This is especially true if youth hurt themselves and others. Throughout his video blog, however, this national speaker demonstrated the heart and soul of the problem. This problem is an attitude that could only come from his character. Over and over again he berated these youths who had been bullying Karen Klein. He called them “Thugs,” “The 5%,” “Rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, little brats,” “Jerks,” and “Zeros”. He said of himself, "I am hopping mad. Flames are coming out of my eyeballs. I remember my hockey days of taking someone in the corner and only one comes out."
I respect this professional man. I even use some of his material when I teach young people about making responsible choices. I understand his feelings. I despise the despicable behavior—and its results—by the kind of young people I work with every day. These junior high students from Greece, New York were rude, obnoxious and disrespectful. But the answer isn't anger. The answer isn't to “take them in the corner and only one comes out." In my experience this is how troubled youth think. Simply separating young people from society has never made a difference. Just hoping they somehow magically learn how to behave will never make a difference. Separating youth from people of good character won’t make any positive difference!
So what is the answer?
What do we do when parents fail?
The professional with the video blog was correct about the parents owning part of the problem. He made it clear that these kids had to have been raised in a wrong way. He called the parents to task for allowing those youths to act that way at home. The family had already failed.
How will home schooling help?
How will separating them from adults and others who are making good choices help?
As a community, what do we do? When families have failed to instill moral character in the lives of children, what is the answer? Traditionally the answer has been to lock young people up in juvenile detention centers. Some have the idea to punish them until their behavior changes. Most add some kind of classroom and other group experiences for these incarcerated youth. But this misses the whole concept of punishment.
God’s plan throughout history has been that children are to be raised in families. Ideally, in families where there are adults who sacrificially invest their lives in the lives of the children. Parents must be willing to walk through life with their children. In this way, they show them by example how life is to be lived. In God’s plan, punishment becomes a part of that investment. It is part of the training that takes place on the walk through life. It was never intended to be a separate entity in and of itself.
Character is generally never gained through punishment alone. It very rarely can be taught in a classroom.
Character is built in relationships with people of moral character.
The most effective punishment is when punishment is part of a process. This process must be initiated by those who are willing to walk the path of life with our youth. In this way they will be instilling our youth with the moral character. They will be instilling the character they themselves learned from others who walked the path of life with them.
The community, i.e., the local government, can punish behavior. However, this kind of punishment in and of itself will rarely, if ever, produce moral character. National studies have shown that young people placed in juvenile detention have nearly a 74% rate of reoffending. When they reoffend they generally return to the system. They return to a system with a 74% rate of failure. This wrong attitude toward punishment is the core problem in our attempts to transform behavior. Moral character is the precursor to moral behavior. If we want moral behavior, we must instill moral character through ________________. (What would you fill in here?)
If punishment in and of itself is not the answer, if classroom training is not the answer, then what is the answer? One simple phrase forms the basis for changing character in the lives of people—sacrificial personal investment. Here however is the rub. In today's culture sacrificial personal investment is a rare commodity. In fact, most people will never understand it. One example of this is when a troubled youth is taken to a professional. Professionals are encouraged to keep a “professional distance” between themselves and their clients. It makes sense to do that in a professional setting. However, troubled youth today are surrounded by people who are keeping their distance from them—professional or otherwise.
What about this?
People who understand the story of Jesus will understand sacrificial personal investment. They will make it the anthem of true worship and praise. You see, it is the story of Jesus Christ that is the story of sacrificial personal investment. We are told in the Bible that Jesus emptied himself of His comfort zone in heaven. He identified with us in spite of our sin. He did this even though that sin was a stench in his nostrils. He became a servant meeting our practical needs. Through this, he demonstrated to us the love of God. Finally, He sacrificed himself that we might live in relationship with Triune God.
This is the story of Jesus Christ. It is also the very sacrificial attitude all followers of Jesus are commanded to have. This sacrificial attitude is the real answer to bringing change in people’s character. It is the REAL answer to bringing change to people’s behavior. This is the answer for people who did not learn moral character in their homes. It is the gift of God to our troubled communities. This gift of sacrificial personal investment was given through placing true followers of Jesus Christ in our communities. These are people who live a life of sacrificial personal investment.
Unfortunately, there are very few followers of Jesus who are willing to follow the sacrificial example of Jesus. There are very few followers of Jesus who are willing to have the sacrificial attitude of Jesus. This is true even though we are commanded to have it. Too often that command is considered optional or worse yet, simply ignored. Instead of denying ourselves of our comfort zone, we have built huge structures in which we are very comfortable. Self-righteously we stand in them and invite the community to come to us. We even try to make those structures more inviting. Often ministry is something we enjoy doing or we feel comfortable doing. Our focus is on how we do our ministry. Often, it does not focus on the needs of the people we are called to sacrificially serve. This, my friends, was not the sacrificial attitude of Jesus Christ. He did not stand in heaven and say, “Come to me.” He denied himself the comforts of Heaven and came to us.
Often we follow musicians and speakers who entertain us, maybe even inspire us. Yet do we become servants sacrificially meeting the needs of people around us? Do we sacrificially meet their needs in order to demonstrate the sacrificial love of God? Do we become servants to the end that we can enter into a redemptive relationship with them? Sometimes we may do an act of service to people in our community. We may give them clothing. We may give them food. We may do a myriad of good works. Yet these deeds are similar to what any moral community group or other religion could do. They are very rarely sacrificial in nature. Often they come out of our excess, not our need. Yet this goes even further and deeper. Do we use those acts of service to identify with people caught in the devastating power of sin? Do we sacrificially invest our lives in them through committed relationships? Or do we just hand them food and clothing? We speak about the evils of sin and the importance of living holy lives. Yet do we sacrificially identify ourselves with people surrounding us in our community. Do we sacrificially identify with people who are being devastated by the power of sin?
What is the answer to changing behavior in young people who do such rude, obnoxious and disrespectful things? What is the answer for those of poor character who berated Karen Klein in Greece, New York?
It can only be found in sacrificial personal investment.
Followers of Jesus Christ hold the clearest picture of sacrificial personal investment that has ever been given. We also have been given the gift that enables us to live a life of sacrificial personal investment. That is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. This, my friends, forms a strong “one-two punch.”
Yet it is not a fast fix however.
It is not an easy solution.
It is not economically prudent.
The question is, will we remain comfortable?
Will we remain entertained and inspired?
Will we simply perform a myriad of acts of kindness any person or organization can do?
Or will we have the same sacrificial attitude that Jesus had?
Will we leave our comfort zone?
Will we identify with people even though their sin may be a stench in our nostrils?
Will we sacrificially invest our lives in them through redemptive relationships?
Will they see and experience the good news of Jesus Christ through our lives?
Only when we do this will they be able to hear the words that we speak.
Only then will they hear the very words that bring life and produce true moral character.
How about you?
Will you choose the path of tradition or the sacrificial path of your Lord and Savior?
These young people and many adults just like them will only change when we do.
We can only change in one way. That is by allowing the Spirit of God to replace our attitude of comfort and self-gratification. We must allow the Spirit of God to give us the sacrificial attitude of Jesus Christ.
The sacrificial attitude of Jesus Christ is the attitude of sacrificial personal investment.
Leave a Reply
Click on the picture below to watch an important message from Jim Warren about the content of this weeks blog
SIGN UP FOR UPDATES ON THIS BLOG AND MORE AND GET YOUR FREE GIFT!
An audio version of this blog has been added below for your convenience. You may also download this audio by clicking on the download button.
Jim Warren highly recommends these books to go along with this weeks blog. When you click on them and purchase them from Amazon a portion of the sales goes to help provide scholarships for the youth and young adults we serve. Thanks for considering this purchase.