Friday, July 31, 2009

Acting Out


Cheryl and I were driving some teenagers to an exciting youth rally. One of the girls had become like a member of our family ever since she moved to our congregation three years before at age twelve. We visited with her parents and grandparents and she was a frequent fixture in our home.

But something was different on this day as we drove to the yearly youth event. Instead of the usual laughter and pleasant talk, our friend was rude. If I asked her a question she was sarcastic and sharp with her reply.

At the motel my wife said to me, "She is being so rude I’d like to just turn around and take her home. She had no right talking to you that way."

I had to agree. Even though my feelings were a bit stung, though, I knew there was something operating beneath the surface level. This behavior and speech was so out-of-character for this girl, I knew something had to be eating at her heart and soul.

Through years of working with youth and three kids of my own, Cheryl and I have learned that children act out for several reasons. One is that acting out is fun. There is a certain thrill that comes with crossing forbidden lines.

A second reason is that young people are sinners. Why do any of us sin? Before we give ourselves to Christ we have an unregenerate nature that exerts its will and pushes us into rebellious behavior.

Thirdly, kids act out because they want attention. It is horribly chilling to feel we are all alone. Kids see others in what appear to be genuine relationships and they die to be in one themselves. If you add to this desire any estrangement with their family at home, they are doubly lonely. So, they may act out just to get recognized. In Blind Spots author Bill McCartney notes this tendency in kids who act out, and says that they "are often comforted just from the fact that their parents care enough to get angry and come back at them" (p.74). Taking the time to engage with your kid through sports, music or whatever interests them can prevent much heartache later on.

Finally, kids can act out because they are carrying a terribly heavy burden. In the case of our young friend, we learned shortly afterwards that she had an abortion just before the youth trip. The baby’s father, a church leader’s son, had gotten the girl drunk and then used her. When he found out she was pregnant he yelled at her and said, "Get rid of it! Get rid of it!" Her parents thought she was too young to have a baby, so they supported the abortion as well. Everyone seemed to want it except this sweet girl. Now, weeks after the abortion, her heart was bursting with sadness, shame and guilt. That is why she was so verbally offensive in the vehicle. She was crying out to Cheryl and me, "There is something horrible in my life that I need help with, but I can’t tell you! I’m too ashamed! Instead, I’ll act like the terrible person I feel right now, and I hope you can pick up on it. Please don’t be put off by my mean speech. Read beneath the lines and help me, please!"

It is hard for a teenager that is lonely or carrying a secret sin to make themselves vulnerable to anyone. Being vulnerable may be why they are hurting now, so why risk any further ridicule or rejection from an adult? Acting out with offensive behavior or speech seems a better option for them, since it now places the burden to act on the adult.

The Bible warns that our speech should be wholesome and our behavior thoughtful of others (Eph. 4:29-32). Improper talk and behavior must be addressed. But, remember that lurking underneath the offending words and actions may be something more than a mischievous or sinful heart. There may also be a heart that is lonely and broken, one crying out for healthy attention from a concerned adult.

If a teen has singled you out for some uncharacteristically sharp words, resist responding too quickly. Pause and look beneath the surface. There may be a heart crying out to you for help.

Warren Baldwin

Friday, July 10, 2009


I will not be posting anything here for at least 2 more weeks. Thanks to all of you who stop by this site! Any posts I make for a while will be on Family Fountain. Warren

Wednesday, July 8, 2009



As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man. —Proverbs 27:19

Samaria was off-limits to self-respecting Jews. The Jewish population there mixed its blood with Gentiles, rendering it unfit for the covenant people to spend time there. Most Jews traveling from Judea in the south of Israel to Galilee in the north took a lengthy detour around Samaria rather than soiling their feet in the dust of Samaria. But Jesus was different. He traveled into the heart of the country.

Jesus met a woman there steeped in her Samaritan heritage. She told Jesus, "You Jews say we should worship in Jerusalem, but our people worship on this mountain." She stood up to Jesus. She knew the Jewish disdain for the Samaritans, and she was willing to share some of her own with Jesus.

You can get angry reading this story in John 4. There may have been people with credentials to stand up to Jesus, but this woman didn’t have them. First, her moral life was a shambles. Jesus pointed out to her that she had five husbands, and the man she was living with now wouldn’t even share his name with her. Secondly, her spiritual life was barren. She brazenly admitted that her worship was as adulterous as her personal relationships: "Our people worship on this mountain," she said.

I read ignorance and brashness in the Samaritan woman’s demeanor and speech. I don’t know if I would have continued the conversation with her. But Jesus is on a spiritual mission. What kind of candidate is this woman for becoming a disciple?

Jesus read something different in her brashness. He read honesty. Underneath the repeated rejection by men, the shallow spirituality, and the vanity of her nationalistic pride was a purity of spirit that even many of the religious leaders lacked. Preachers were often rebuffed by Jesus, challenged, even attacked. But not this woman. Jesus stuck in there with her, countering her objections, and disclosing his own heart.

Jesus revealed something to this woman that he refused to reveal to the arguers and debaters of the law. Risking personal disclosure Jesus told her, "I who speak to you am he" (the Messiah, John 4:26). Crowds pursued Jesus. Pharisees pestered him. The court interrogated him. Everyone wanted to know, "Jesus, who are you?" The woman never asked, but Jesus told her, "I am the Messiah?" I wonder, "Why tell this woman?"

Paul said that God chooses to place the treasure of the gospel in clay pots (2 Cor. 4:7). People are those clay pots. We are the vessels that carry the message of salvation to lost and dying people. We take the message of hope to a homeless man, a pregnant teenager, a crippled vet. We embody and proclaim the message of forever to people who can’t see past today.

But certainly, there are some vessels more worthy of bearing that message than others! In Jesus’ day and ours, there are people who are bright, moral, and decent. They surely qualify as the fine china that should bear the treasure. But Jesus picked the five-time divorced, spiritually confused woman at the well to disclose his nature and bear his message to the rest of her Samaritan village. Into this common clay pot Jesus poured himself.

"As water reflects a face, so a woman’s heart reflects the woman." Jesus can read the hearts of people. He could read the heart of this woman; and behind the pride, ignorance, and degradation, he saw something redeeming: honesty. Jesus read this woman without judgment or condescension. He knew her story and still offered her the opportunity to bear the treasure of the Gospel. She did. Every person we meet, even a woman at a well, is a potential vessel for God to store his treasure.

Warren Baldwin
From "Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and other Gems from Proverbs." Due out hopefully in August.