Foster Care, Jesus, & Living Out the Gospel

May is National Foster Care Month in the United States, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services.

Our Story

Something you may not know about me and my family is that we foster parented, and ultimately adopted the child we had in foster care. He came to us at age 14 and is now grown, living on his own, and pursuing a career. We’re very proud of him.

A Picture of the Gospel

Foster parenting is something very near to my heart, and I believe it is one of the most profound ways in which we can live out the gospel: choosing to make someone family, placing your love on them and caring for them, not because you have to, but because you choose to. That is what God has done for us in Christ! He took us who were strangers, and in Christ he makes us full-fledged sons and daughters. He adopted us into his family! (Romans 8:15).

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Did you know that Jesus was adopted? Joseph, knowing that Jesus was not his biological son, chose to raise him as his son – to provide for him, teach him, and love him, and be a father to him.

A Profound Need

Foster parenting and adoption are some of the greatest ways in which you can make a real, substantial difference in the life of another person. Does it come with risk? Absolutely! But is it worth it? Most definitely.

Take a look at this infographic from Together We Rise, a non-profit which helps families get into foster care, and foster-to-adopt. It shows the number of children in foster care waiting to be adopted in the United States.

Image result for together we rise children waiting to get adopted
Children in Foster Care Waiting to Get Adopted in the United States

I challenge you to pray about if God might have a role for you to play in this important and life-changing endeavor, of living out the gospel by welcoming a child-in-need into your home.

A Counter-Cultural Approach

Many people think of parenting in terms of what a child will do for them, such as give them a sense of fulfillment, companionship or the promise of posterity and an heir. The gospel causes us to think differently about parenting, however, in light of how God has parented us. Rather than thinking about what parenting can do for me, my focus in parenting becomes what I can do for the child, to give them the love, provision and instruction that they need; pouring out myself for their sake.

Further Reading

Our church is involved in two annual initiatives, one at Christmastime and the other in the summer, when kids are preparing to go back to school. You can read more here about Project Greatest Gift and Project Back to School.

Advertisements

Is Life Really Worth the Pain and the Risk?

photography of person walking on road

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

My question is the following: What is the benefit of God’s human project?

If all of history since creation to the final day of judgement is in fact a great tragedy in the sense that there are souls which will ultimately be lost despite the absolute best intentions of God. Based on Revelation, the number of God’s children is only a fraction of the lost ones. Therefore what could represent such value for God which is worth this risk? I can’t name or imagine anything worth the sacrifice of eternal human souls. So why were his plans not “cancelled” after the first sin?

Personally, this is important to me because my wife and I are thinking about having children, and I can see no reason why I should take part in exposing another human to the possibility of damnation, even if the chances are minimal. I simply do not want to risk such a thing, regardless of the odds. And to be honest, even without the eternal perspective I would not force existence on Earth to anyone.

I can see however that this reasoning inevitably leads to the conclusion that God is evil and human existence should end as soon as possible in order to avoid further damage, and it is contradicting to the picture we see from other parts of the Bible (however, maybe this problem is somehow connected to issues such as the genocide of other nations like philistines or amalekites).

Are you aware of something which could provide some insight about this problem?

This is obviously not a merely theoretical question for you, and I appreciate the thought you’ve put into it.

Here are some thoughts:

This Life Matters

We must not diminish the goodness of this life. Sometimes Christians, in their focus on eternal destiny (which is appropriate and right), can forget the fact that when God created the world, he looked at it and said, “It is good,” and he looked at the human life that he had created and declared that it was “very good.” Although sin has led to cracks and fissures in the fabric of that good creation, it has not lost all of its original goodness, nor have we as humans ceased to bear the “image of God.”

What this means is that the joys of this life are indeed joys. The Psalmist says, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

In other words, this life matters and we experience goodness, beauty and truth in this life, despite the fallenness of this world. Life, the Bible describes, is but a mist, but it is a good mist, and a gift from God.

The difference is this: for the person who does not have eternal life, the joys of this life (which are legitimate joys) are the best they will ever experience, whereas for the person who has the hope of eternal life, the sorrows of this life are the worst they will ever experience.

“The Tears of God are the Meaning of History”

You asked the question: Why didn’t God just end it all after the first sin?

That’s a great question which gives us some deep insight into the character of God. I actually have taught on this subject several times. My favorite passage to go to in this, is Genesis 6:5-6, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”

That word “grieved,” as describing God’s feeling, is only found in one other place in the Bible: in Isaiah, where it is used to describe the pain that a woman feels when her husband abandons her. Isaiah 54:6, “like a wife, married young, only to be deserted, and your spirit was filled with pain.” This word describes bitter anguish, deep, unfulfilled longing, and profound frustration.

In other words, God not only created us, but he is emotionally invested to the point where he experiences joy and sorrow based on how we are doing. What that means is that the brokenness of the world causes God pain. When people are lost forever, it causes God pain, grief and sorrow.

The question is, like you asked: Why didn’t God just end the whole thing after Adam and Eve sinned, and save himself (not to mention: us) all the pain and heartache, some of which will last for eternity?

This question has been answered with this phrase: “The tears of God are the meaning of history.” (coined by Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book, Lament for a Sonin which he writes about his grief over the death of his son, and considers why God allows pain and suffering in the world)

In other words, God decided to weep, rather than to save himself from the grief. He decided to allow himself to suffer the pain of sorrow and grief, continually. WHY? Because, as you alluded to: there was something which he believed made it worth continuing…

(For more on this, check out a sermon I preached on this topic called: “The Sigh to End All Sighs“)

Which leads us to our next point…

The Treasure Hidden in a Field

One of my favorite parables that Jesus spoke was Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

This parable involves three elements: a treasure, a field, and a man. The questions are: what is the treasure, what is the field, and who is the man?

Some interpret it this way: The treasure is the kingdom of God and its benefits, and we are the man who must sell everything in order to take hold of the treasure.

I don’t believe that’s the correct interpretation, for a few reasons. One is that in the parable prior to this one, Jesus also uses an example featuring a field, and explicitly states, “The field is the world.” (Matthew 13:38)

The correct interpretation (and the one which fits best with the biblical narrative and the gospel message) is that the field is the world, the man is Jesus, and the treasure? The treasure is us! We are the treasure, which Jesus saw in the field (the world), and sold everything he had (his life), in order to take hold of us.

This changes the thrust of the parable to be from what we need to do to take hold of the kingdom of God to being about what Jesus has done in order to take hold of us.

The other thing it tells us, though, is that God views us as “treasure” – meaning that to him, we have great value, a value so great that he was willing to give everything to take hold of us.

Similarly, Hebrews 12:2 says that it was for the joy that was set before him, that Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame.

In other words, the prospect of saving some was so precious to God, that he considered it worth the pain.

(Here is a sermon I taught on this parable: “Lost and Found“)

The Ultimate Judgment is When God Gives You What You Insist On

In Romans 1:18-33, God’s judgment is described in interesting terms: as God essentially giving people what they insist on. The phrase “God gave them up” – i.e. stopped resisting them and let them have what they wanted, is repeated three times: 1:24, 1:26, 1:28.

CS Lewis and others have posited that when God judges someone, even eternally, he is essentially just giving them what they have insisted on. Having insisted that they do not want a relationship with God, God does not force them to spend eternity in relationship with him. Having stated that they want autonomy from God, God has given them what they desired.

There are indeed examples in the Bible of times when God seems to have intervened against the will of the individual, in order to “open their eyes” (such as Saul in Acts 9), which leads to a change of heart and attitude and a different approach to God. However, these acts are acts of grace, and grace – by definition – is not owed to, or deserved by anyone. In other words, God is under no obligation to show grace or mercy in order to be fair, right or just. Justice is giving someone what they deserve. Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve, and Grace is giving someone something they don’t deserve. The only one of these which we deserve, is justice. If God gives us what we have earned, then it is only fair.

Beyond fairness, however, God offers grace and mercy freely to all who will receive it. May we be those who receive it gladly and eagerly!

Is It Worth Bringing a Life Into This World?

I respect the fact that you are thinking about the well-being of this child as you make this decision. Many people only think of children in regard to themselves, so that is commendable. I wish more people would think of the child first when planning their family.

Personally, I think that it is worth the risk to bring a child into this world, and I believe that God thinks it is worth the risk as well.

Thanks for your question, and may God bless you!

Why Gossip is Like Pornography

man wearing white shirt holding out hand in front of woman in white lace top

I listened to a great podcast the other day featuring Scott Sauls of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, about his new book, Irresistible Faith.

One thing he said really stuck out to me: that gossip is a form of pornography, because when you gossip you are essentially “undressing” a person, exposing things about them which are intimate, vulnerable and private — in order to get a cheap thrill out of them, and to gratify yourself by feasting upon them in your mind.

Scott went on to say, that when we gossip, we are objectifying a person — turning them into a thing in order to gratify yourself at their expense, without making a commitment to them.

I think Scott is right. But that brings up a few other questions which people often ask when it comes to gossip:

What Constitutes Gossip?

Since many of our personal experiences involve other people, it would be really hard to say anything without talking about somebody else. How do we differentiate between healthy forms of mentioning or talking about other people, and unhealthy forms, which constitute gossip? What exactly is gossip?

One dictionary defines it as: “Unconstrained conversation or reports about other people.”

The word “unconstrained” is key.

Another definition is: “The sharing of sensational facts about other people.”

The word “sensational” is key here, because it shows a motivation: the key is to titillate, to impress, to entertain. The problem is, it is done at someone else’s expense.

Hurting Rather than Helping

Looking at Bible verses which talk about gossip (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 5:13), gossip clearly is linked to slander, thus it comes from a negative spirit bent on hurting rather than helping.

None of Your Business

Gossip is excessive interest in someone else’s affairs, for the purpose of entertainment. Paul calls it being a “busybody” (1 Timothy 5:13), i.e. someone who is involved in something which is none of their business.

Why is Gossip Wrong?

Besides the self-gratifying nature of it, what is so bad about gossip?

1. Gossip is Divisive

A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)

2. Gossip is Poisonous

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)

Many times I have observed people’s minds being poisoned in regard to how they think about another person because of gossip.

3. We Will Have to Answer to God for How We Use Our Words

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” – Jesus (Matthew 12:36)

Some Guidelines for Talking About Others

1. Use Words that Build Up, Rather than Tear Down

One of the reasons people tear others down with their words is because they feel that by making other people look bad, it makes them look good in comparison. In fact the opposite is true: when we speak poorly of someone, it makes us look bad, even if we are too foolish to realize it.

‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’ (Ephesians 4:29)

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

2. Let Your Speech be Motivated by Love for the Other Person

People often talk about their children, but they almost never gossip about their children. Why? Because people love their children, and love protects rather than exploits someone’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

‘The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. ‘ (Proverbs 10:20-21)

The Prodigal Mom: What Eunice and Lois Teach Us About Motherhood

remembering_mothers_shutterstock_1600x500

In his second letter to his protégé, Timothy, Paul mentions Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who played a formative role in his life and his faith:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)

Timothy’s mother and grandmother are also alluded to in the third chapter of that same letter:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

Here’s what we know about Timothy’s mother and grandmother:

Eunice Wasn’t Always a Woman of Faith

Timothy’s mother was Jewish, but Timothy’s father was a Greek pagan, and as a result, Timothy was not circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). This tells us two things: that at the time of their marriage, and during Timothy’s early years, his Jewish mother was not practicing her faith. Married to a Greek, she would have been “unequally yoked”, and going against Jewish custom and God’s instructions in the Old Testament that Jewish people should not marry people of other faiths.

Perhaps more interesting, is that “Jewishness” is passed down through the mother, and yet the fact that Eunice never had Timothy circumcised indicates that she was not actively practicing her faith during his childhood.

However, what we know is that Eunice at some point became a Christian and joined the church in Lystra. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey when he visited the church there. Timothy was likely in his teens at the time, and Timothy then left home to join Paul in his missionary work.

Eunice: A Single Mom?

The fact that we don’t know much about Timothy’s father, and the fact that his grandmother played an active role in his upbringing could indicate that Timothy’s father died or left at some point, leaving Eunice a single-mom raising her son. At very least, it seems that Timothy’s father was not involved in his spiritual upbringing since only his mother and grandmother are mentioned as contributing to his faith by acquainting him with the Holy Scriptures.

Lois as the Mom of a Wayward Daughter

We can only imagine what must have gone on in Lois’s (Timothy’s grandmother’s) life in regard to her daughter Eunice marrying an unbelieving Greek pagan. Perhaps she grieved to see her daughter not living out the faith that she had raised her to have in the God of Israel, or perhaps Lois herself had been a nominal or non-practicing Jew and had raised her daughter in that same way.

Either way, we know that Lois also came to put her faith in Jesus, and then together Lois and Eunice poured into young Timothy, introducing him to the Scriptures, taking him to church, and sharing their faith with him.

The Best Gift Mothers and Grandmothers Can Give Their Kids

We don’t know what kinds of birthday presents Lois and Eunice gave young Timothy, or if they ever took any family vacations, or if they ever bought Tim a pony or an iPhone. The one thing we know is that they gave him the most important gift a mother and grandmother can give to their children and grandchildren: a knowledge of the Word of God, and a heritage of modeling what it looks like to love him, obey him and seek him. This is what changed the trajectory of Timothy’s life.

On this Mother’s Day, may I encourage you mothers and grandmothers that whatever good gifts you give your children and grandchildren, the very best gift you can give them is to point them to Jesus.

Teach them the Word of God. Present Jesus to them in all of his goodness and beauty. Explain to them how you came to surrender your life to him, and why you love him. Help them to see Jesus and his gospel as the most desirable, wonderful, source of joy and hope – as he indeed is!

The Impact on Kids of Dad’s Faith and Church Attendance

Dream Lake landscape  Rocky Mountain National Park

According to LifeWay Research Group, Fathers Day is the holiday with the single lowest average church attendance – statistically lower than Labor Day, Memorial Day and even the Fourth of July.

This is interesting, especially when you consider that Mothers Day tends to be the day with the third highest church service attendance, after Easter and Christmas.

So, Mothers Day is one of the most highly attended Sundays of the year, and Fathers Day is one of the lowest. What does this tell us?

Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, gives this assessment:

“Clearly, mothers want to be present for the affirmation that is typically offered in most churches, but families also are present knowing their attendance will honor their mother.

The attendance difference between Mothers Day and Fathers Day is telling,” said McConnell. “Either churches are less effective in affirming fathers, or families believe Christian fathers don’t value their participation in worship services.”

Surely there are other factors involved, including travel and the time of year. On Mothers Day school is still in session, on Fathers Day it isn’t – so families travel to visit relatives, or go on vacation.

But all these factors and statistics aside, here’s what’s really striking: when you see the research on the impact of a dad’s faith and practice on their families.

According to data collected by Promise Keepers and Baptist Press, if a father does not go to church, even if his wife does, only 1 child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of what the mother does, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will attend church as adults. If a father attends church irregularly, between half and two-thirds of their kids will attend church with some regularity as adults.

If a mother does not go to church, but a father does, a minimum of two-thirds of their children will end up attending church. In contrast, if a father does not go to church, but the mother does, on average two-thirds of their children will not attend church. 

Another study, focused on Sunday School, found similar results on the impact of fathers:

  • When both parents attend Bible study in addition to the Sunday service, 72% of their children attend Sunday school when grown.
  • When only the father attends Sunday school, 55% of the children attend when grown.
  • When only the mother attends Sunday school, 15% of the children attend when grown.
  • When neither parent attends Sunday school, only 6% of the children attend when grown.

Another survey found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability everyone else in the household will follow. However, when the father is first, there is a 93% probability everyone else in the household will follow. 

Here’s the point of all these statistics: Dad’s impact on the kids’ faith and practice is HUGE.

Dads, let me encourage you with these words which Moses spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the dads of the new generation in Deuteronomy:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

Promises and Proverbs

Take the few minutes to listen to this audio from John Piper. He’s addressing something that I think a lot of people are confused about.

The issue is: what constitutes a “promise” in the Bible, and what constitutes a “proverb”?

The issue in question is that of Proverbs 22:6, which says: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Many people consider this a “PROMISE” from God – that if you raise you kids up right, they will be good people who do right things. In particular, many Christians come to this verse in the hope that if they raise up their children to walk with God, then their children are guaranteed to grow up to share their faith – and if that doesn’t happen, then it is “user error”, i.e. the parents didn’t do a good enough job raising their kids up in the right way.

The problem is, there are plenty of kids who come from great, loving, Christian families, who don’t follow their parents’ faith nor their moral/ethical values.  What are we to make of this?

John Piper answers the question well – concerning the nature of proverbs versus the nature of promises, and how we should understand this verse.

The American Religion of Parenting

A few days ago I was scanning Twitter and was intrigued by the title of an article: How American parenting is killing the American marriage

The article is a very insightful critique of the culture of parenting – or “religion of parenting”, as the author calls it – in our society, and the results of it.

Of particular interest to me was how the author points out that there is an unspoken understanding in our society that the value of a human life peaks out at birth and diminishes from there.

The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the “baby on board” placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter. A toddler is almost as precious as a baby, but a teenager less so, and by the time that baby turns fifty, it seems that nobody cares much anymore if someone crashes into her car. You don’t see a lot of vehicles with placards that read, “Middle-aged accountant on board.”

Today I talked with a great lady from our church who heads up an outreach called “Project Greatest Gift”, in which we provide Christmas gifts for children in foster care. Weld County told us that many of the children in foster care are living with elderly people, and they asked if we might be willing to provide gifts for the caretakers this year as well.
This seems like a great opportunity for us to show that we value all human life, both young and old.

Another important insight of the article is how this religion of parenting has led to a quickly rising divorce rate among empty nesters:

In the 21st century, most Americans marry for love. We choose partners who we hope will be our soulmates for life. When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soulmate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out into the world to find partners and have children of their own. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose. Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?

I think that one of the things the Christian church has done well is championing marriage. The writer to the Hebrews says: “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” (‭Hebrews‬ ‭13‬:‭4‬ ESV) I have had the privilege to see successful Christians marriages that thrived even after the kids left the house, because they made their marriage and not their children the center of their family.

Marijuana Legalization and the Effect on Kids

One of my most popular posts on this blog so far was one I wrote about marijuana legalization and Christianity.

In that post, I mentioned that one of the greatest concerns I have with legalizing marijuana is NOT that I want to legislate Christian moral values on people who aren’t Christians (read more about that issue here) – but that it will make it more accessible to children, something that no one on either side of the discussion wants.

It seems that my concern is legitimate, and that this is already happening. The Denver Post published an article this week titled: “Pot problems in Colorado schools increase with legalization”. Here are some quotes from that article:

  • [Mike] Dillon… a school resource officer with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, said he is seeing more and younger kids bringing marijuana to schools, in sometimes-surprising quantities.
  • school officials believe the jump is linked to the message that legalization (even though it is still prohibited for anyone under 21) is sending to kids: that marijuana is a medicine and a safe and accepted recreational activity. It is also believed to be more available.
  • “Kids are smoking before school and during lunch breaks. They come into school reeking of pot,” “They are being much more brazen.”
  • when school officials were asked to identify the reason for students’ expulsions. Marijuana came in first. It was listed as being a reason for 32 percent of expulsions.
  • National statistics also point to marijuana being more prevalent in schools. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that marijuana use has climbed among 10th- and 12th-graders nationally, while the use of other drugs and alcohol has held steady or declined.
  • “They need to know how destructive it is to the adolescent brain,”

I remember when I was in high school, kids brought pot to school and smoked it at school. I certainly don’t want my kids doing it though, and it seems to me that legalization will only make it more accessible – the facts show that is already happening.

What do you think? Is this something we should be concerned about?