The Grand Plan
“So, I can go and play basketball now?”
This question hit me hard that night as I came to grips with the failure of MY grand plan. I was hoping to teach Deon a lesson about grace, with the expectation of seeing immediate, tangible change. Just moments before, we had wrapped up another 10:12 league night, one in which Deon disrespectfully distracted other participants by talking for most of the program. As I approached Deon afterward, I could see on his face that he knew a consequence was coming. Deon was quite familiar with consequences, having received his fair share of disciplinary actions because of issues in school. This time was going to be different though—I had decided to use this opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace by modeling sacrificial love. I planned to take on his “punishment” myself, as if I were the one who committed the offense. Surely this would have a lasting impact on him and leave him with a sense of conviction about his actions, accompanied with a sincere sense of feeling loved and appreciated.
The Great Letdown
“The consequence for your actions is 50 sprints. Up and back counts as 1,” I said.
“Do all of that tonight?” Deon asked, in astonishment.
By this time, the other teens had begun playing 5-on-5 basketball games on the other court.
“But here’s the thing, I’m going to take on your consequence, and run ALL of the sprints for you, as a sign of sacrificial love.”
Then came the famous question that Deon had asked: “So………. I can go and play basketball now?”
“If you feel in your heart that is what you’re supposed to do, then go ahead,” I said with a deep sigh.
Panting deeply, I had just run sprint #20. On the way back in every sprint, I was looking over at Deon’s game to see if he would glance over with conviction…nothing…not even for a second.
Discouraged, I would start the next sprint, counting down in my head from 50. I was tired physically, but this scenario represented something bigger. It reminded me of the frustrating lack of change that I generally saw in a few of my “more difficult teens.”
The Unlikely Vessel
Out of nowhere, I heard footsteps catching up to me. It was Nassir, one of my 14-year-old players who joined me in running.
“Why are we running for?” Nassir asked.
I explained to him that one of the other guys had made a tough choice that carried a consequence, and that I had decided to take the consequence for him. We talked a little more about how this was the God-honoring thing to do. The conversation was short-lived, as Nassir made a quick exit from running with me after 3 measly sprints. I was back on my own.
I was hitting the home stretch, having just completed 42 sprints, when Nassir called out to me. 10 minutes earlier, I had yelled out for another teen, Malcolm, to do 25 push-ups for saying a curse word out loud. Nassir was gladly shouting to me that Malcolm could only do about 10 push-ups, so he went ahead and did the rest of Malcolm’s push-ups for him.
Those last 8 sprints were a breeze. As I ran, I couldn’t help but to think about how grateful I was for the way that Nassir had ministered to me. From a pure heart, he modeled what it looks like to sacrificially love a brother. He wasn’t caught up in seeing “behavior change” or thinking “this is the right person who needs to learn this lesson”; instead, from a place of seeing sacrificial love being modeled, he immediately modeled it himself. It was as if he understood in that moment that this love was the very thing for which he was created.
There are many more stories like Nassir’s–stories where we are both the teachers and the students of God’s grace, taught THROUGH these young men.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. ~2 Corinthians 4:7-9
YOU have the opportunity to help us in creating more spaces for the Nassirs of West Baltimore to thrive in living out God’s PLAN for their lives, and fully becoming who God has called them to be. Prayerfully consider financially partnering with us today!