In the gospel God says, “I see you where you are and I’m coming after you.”
This is the whole redemptive story of scripture – a God who sees the distress of His people and moves towards them, not away from them. Hovering over His people like a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night – God was close, but out there. Engulfing the tabernacle with the glory of His presence – God was closer, but in there. Wrapping Himself in the flesh of humanity as the Immanuel, God who is with us – God was even closer, right here. To now, sending His Spirit, not to hover over us, be enclosed to a small space near us or even walk along beside us – but now to live inside us – God is now as close as He can get, in here.
We began meeting as a core group in a north Houston suburb in the spring of 2008. I was 28 years old at the time with almost 10 years of ministry experience and a clear yet uncomfortable call to do something I never thought I would - plant a church. I recently turned 38 and often find myself thinking, "If I knew 10 years ago what I do now, how different would our church planting experience have been?" Of course much the past always looks much clearer from a present perspective, and I hope to always be able to look back on a younger version of myself and see a growth and maturing into a better version of me as the years go on.
Stories are redemptive. They humanize powerful messages and help people personally internalize transformative things through the lenses of someone else's experience. It's important that your foster care, adoption and orphan care ministry is consistently sharing stories of how God is moving in the lives of families in your church. It's even more important that your use of stories is helping, and not unintentionally hurting, the broader vision of your ministry. When using stories – whether video, print or live interview style – to undergird the vision and mission of your ministry, ensure they are reinforcing your message and deconstructing false paradigms of your people.
When speaking of the widow's small offering in comparison to that of the rich, Jesus says, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had...." (v.3-4)
What a provocatively encouraging statement - that somehow, the value of her offering was not measured in quantity but in humility; not by size, but by sacrifice. Jesus doesn't discredit the offering of the wealthy, He simply redefines that of the poor. In that moment He stops and essentially says to all those around, "Hey, there's something truly profound going on here that I want to make sure you don't miss."
We recently found one of our daughters crying in bed. She seemed fine the last we saw her before going upstairs, so this took us a bit off guard. In a home with four daughters there always seems to be something to cry about, but when she calmed enough to share with us what it was this time, we were shocked. Hitler. That's right, HITLER was on her mind, and apparently had been for the past several weeks. What?! She told us her class was doing a research project at school and each student could select any topic they wanted to learn more about.
I travel often for work. Enough that the whole experience is a fairly routine one for me. Airports, car rentals, hotel rooms, even long security lines and flight delays - I'm fairly numb to it all now. It's just a means to the end of getting where I need to go. However, a recent trip to Chicago was anything but routine. My oldest daughter came along with me and it changed the entire dynamic. In the months leading up to the trip she checked out and read at least a dozen books from the library about Chicago's history. She researched museums, parks and famous sites she hoped to see and visit.
The questions, comments and curiosities about foster care come with the territory when you bring a child into your home. They're an ever-present part of the whole experience. While most encounters are hugely encouraging and civil, some are not so much. Yet even in those, although it may come across as such at times, I'm convinced the majority of people are not intentionally malicious or insulting. I believe people are wondering - wondering what they are seeing, how to make sense of it and if they can go on with their normal lives as if they did not know what they have now seen to be true.
It's virtually impossible to fully prepare someone to become a foster parent. It's too nuanced and complex of an issue to prescribe a certain formula to it. This doesn't mean parents shouldn't be properly trained and prepared; it just means that while certain things are universally true and can be anticipated, most things are not when it comes to the messy and hard and raw of real peoples lives. You simply can't script it; you can only live it - discover it - piece by piece, a little bit at a time.
Foster parents: God is using you to love in some of the hardest places and through some of the most difficult situations. In the midst of all the uncertainties and unknowns that surround what you're doing there are promises and truths in scripture that are constant and sure and worthy to be held onto. Here's just a few...1. It won't be easy. Jesus is not unclear about the implications of what it will mean to follow Him: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) Very little in life that's worth much of anything is easy.
Foster care is just as much about us pulling a child out of a broken story as it is about us being pulled into one. Every story of abuse, neglect and brokenness dismantles a piece of the dividing wall that once separated their normal from ours and extends the opportunity for both normals to be radically redefined forever. Their normal exchanged for ours, and ours for theirs. Now an entirely new normal being written together. In April of 2012 we were pulled into a story that would forever change ours. What would have been just another normal Wednesday ended up not being normal at all...
Ask many church leaders and they’ll tell you, announcements sometimes feel like a necessary evil – most don’t want to do them but know they have to. For many church leaders, announcements are the “Achilles heal” of their worship services. But perhaps they don’t have to be. In the first post of this series we discovered Five Ways to Make Announcements a Powerful Part of Your Worship Service. Now, let's talk about how, with some simple changes, announcements can be strategically used to cast the vision and reinforce the core values of your church in powerful ways.
The stories are often horrific, the statistics are daunting and the problem so massive that it's often hard to know what to do or where to begin. Yet, at the core of who we are as the Church, we believe that even in midst of the hard and the broken and the overwhelming there can be a hope and a truth is that far more compelling. That as the Church we have both the duty and privilege to speak on behalf of and stand for the sake of those who cannot speak and stand for themselves - because that is exactly what God has done for us through Jesus.
I spend a lot of time in a lot of different churches around the country - from small, medium and large ones to rural, suburban and urban core ones. The worship services and styles vary greatly, but there is one consistent aspect of every church I spend time in that more often than not feels like the weak link in the whole experience. The dreaded announcements. Ask many church leaders and they’ll tell you, announcements sometimes feel like a necessary evil – most don’t want to do them but know they have to. Is there really a good place to do them?
It was only a few years ago. We had three young daughters, a new church plant and a conversation one night that will forever change the course of our family. She was ready for us to become foster parents. I was not. It had been an on-going discussion for months. A very cordial one. We were on the same page, just different timelines. While I had been dismissing it in the name of it “not being the right time” she had become prayerfully convinced that in fact it was. The conversation that day was a carbon copy of the many other discussions we had on the subject up to that point. She believed now was the time.
Every day you and I are counting the costs of things. We do it with clothes, food, cars, homes, extra curricular activities, the way we spend our time and energy, how many times we hit snooze on the alarm clock, the friends we hang out with and even the ones we don’t. We do it intentionally; we also also do it subconsciously. In the economy of our daily lives, we are perpetually assessing the value of things, relationships and opportunities by determining whether or not the benefit of having those things in our lives will be worth the costs required of us to get them. This constant evaluation of costs, worth and ultimate value are a part of our normal daily rhythms of life.
To all those foster parents that are daily learning to navigate everything they need to do and everything they have to be for the sake of these kids…here’s three things you don’t have to be for them today, or tomorrow, or ever: 1} Perfect. You don't have to be perfect parents to be perfect foster parents. Kids in foster care don’t need you to be perfect; they need you to be present. They don’t need pretty and polished foster parents; they need growing and repenting ones. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give children from hard places is the hope that broken things don’t always have to be final things.
Suppose you asked me to help you lose 15 pounds. The problem is, however, you have a disease. That disease is called "Chick-Fil-A"! You're addicted to the #1 value meal which includes a sandwich, fries and a drink. You're eating it almost daily for lunch. As part of my motivation I inform you the meal deal you always order is a total of 1,020 calories. Sounds like a lot of calories, right? Yes, because it is, but probably not enough to cause you to think twice about ordering that meal again. It tastes too good not to. As a matter of fact, this one value meal constitutes a vast % of annual revenue for Chick-Fil-A.
In a counterintuitive way, the goal of your church is not to make orphan care special; it’s to make it normal. It’s relatively easy to make caring for orphans or kids in foster care a “special” thing because in many ways it is special. It’s a uniquely difficult yet rewarding place to engage a broken world with the heart of God. Yet for as special as it is, we don't want it to be a peripheral side-show in our church - we want it to be a normal, regular, consistent thing our church does – any time and all the time. That's a bit more challenging and requires a more thoughtful, strategic approach.
Christmas is the story of a good Father going to extravagant lengths in order to adopt those who have been separated from Him. It is the celebration of God seeing the plight of His people and responding with the greatest gift of love this world has ever known - Himself. Not merely for us or near us in theory, God now put on flesh and became one of us in humanity - entering the darkness and brokenness of our story to bring us a brighter and better one in Him. In what we now know as the Christmas story, scripture consistently speaks of the incarnation, the act of God wrapping Himself in the flesh of an infant child, in beautifully vivid and forever-altering terms.
Imagine three friends come upon a raging river. They see children in the water rushing down the rapids towards a waterfall. One friend immediately jumps into the river and begins pulling as many children out as he can. Knowing there’s a waterfall downstream, the second friend runs down river and tries to catch as many children as he can before they fall to their deaths. The third friend, however, wonders why these children are in the river in the first place. He runs upstream to find out how these kids are getting thrown in and to stop whoever is doing it. All three friends are running in three different directions, but all of them are right and necessary places...