Friday, June 17, 2016

The Judgment of Perfect Parents

Image this headline in your Facebook feed: Missing Child: “Mother discovers him missing a day later.” You click on the link and read the story. You feel for the parents of this child. He has been missing for quite a while. No one seems to know of his whereabouts and his parents didn't notice he was missing for a whole day. You decide to read the comments to see what others are saying. Of course you already know what you will find there, maybe you have even thought some of those things yourself. It seems most of the folks commenting on the story are perfect parents. They seem to think very highly of themselves as they assure fellow readers that this could have never happened to their child. They criticize the mother, accusing her of all kinds of things, making assumptions about what happened and declaring she should never be a parent. It seems that child would have been better off in your perfect little abode.

I have seen similar things play out over the last couple of weeks, particularly in three different tragedies. The first was regarding the child who fell into the gorilla exhibit at the zoo in Cincinnati. Almost immediately folks who weren't even there to witness the event and having no idea what actually happened, suddenly became experts in both parenting and gorilla behavior. “What was that mother doing?” “Shame on her for not watching her child!” “I watch my kids and that would have never happened to us.” When I read the story I was thankful the child was ok and I was thankful that my child hadn't climbed into a gorilla exhibit. Either of my children very well could've.

A second story was of a child that was killed by an alligator at a Walt Disney World property. Same old thing. The comments section was filled with remarks by expert parents decrying what was, obviously in their eyes, negligence of the parents. “How could a parent let that happen?” “How does any mother worth her weight in salt allow that to happen?” A mom and dad had just experienced a horrific tragedy and to make matters worse those who see themselves without sin are throwing stones.

A third story was closer to home for me. A foster child in our area drowned in a swimming pool. He had apparently gotten out of the house while his foster mom was sleeping. Now, those expert parents are expert foster parents, sitting at home behind a computer screen or staring at their phone typing away venomous words. On a side note, if those expert foster parents would actually become foster parents there wouldn't be such a tremendous shortage of foster homes, but that's another story.

Any of those things could have happened to me and my children and it could've happened to your home too. Only pride declares otherwise. Instead of throwing stones at the parents when such things happen we should “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Imagine if the time spent commenting venomous and hurtful words on a thread had been spent in prayer for that family who is experiencing unspeakable tragedy. Perhaps instead of rushing to judgment with an air of superiority we should humble ourselves and “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James‬ ‭1:19‬). This is particularly true of professing Christians. We should be the first to respond with humility. We recognize that we too are fallen human beings who have sinned against God countless times and made more mistakes in every arena of life than we could ever number. We recognize our only hope is in Jesus Christ. We have no stones to throw. We know that we are far from what we ought to be, even as Christ is renewing us day by day. We certainly aren't perfect parents. There is only one perfect parent and He is the Heavenly Father, who sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world on our behalf. He lived a sinless life as our substitute and then went to the cross bearing our punishment. He was buried and raised the third day and this Jesus saves all who come to Him by faith. He saves the lost. He makes us children of God. He mends the broken. He comforts the grieving. He loves with infallible love. He sympathizes with those parents who are receiving condemnation. In fact, Jesus was born to an earthly mother, a mother who lost track of him when he was just a boy and didn't recognize he was missing until the next day (Luke 2). And to those perfect parents who may have commented about her parenting fail, remember this, God chose that young lady to be the mother of His only begotten Son.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Few Thoughts About The Public Restroom Debate

            Every once in a while I find myself addressing topics I never imagined addressing. For instance, 10 years ago I never imagined having to address the topic gay “marriage.” However, as our culture continues to deteriorate morally, I find myself in a position of spiritual leadership that requires addressing things that were once unimaginable. Os Guinness noted that ours is “an age of advertising and political correctness that will put up with unbelievable levels of nonsense.” There is no better picture of that than our current debate over the use of public restrooms. Specifically, at issue is whether or not one can reject his or her God-given gender, self-identify as the opposite sex, and then enjoy all of the privileges publicly afforded to the opposite sex, including use of that gender specific restroom.  Those wishing to do so have found a cultural environment ready to champion the cause. Even as I type that out Romans 1 rings in my mind, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. (Rom 1:21-22, ESV).
On the one hand, I am shocked that we are in this position of having these conversations, but on the other I am not because I know what the Bible says about moral depravity. The question becomes how do we, as Bible believing Christians, respond to this? While I certainly cannot give an exhaustive response in this format, let me give you a few thoughts.
First, we should pray for our culture as well as our response to it. I cannot over emphasize the importance of this. Prayer is very key. We should pray both for those who consider themselves transgender, as well as the society that champions that cause. We should pray in a gospel centered way, recognizing that all are individuals every bit as in need of Christ as we. We should pray privately concerning these matters, and we should pray corporately as well. In that, you should make the church’s corporate prayer gatherings a priority in your life.
Second, we should stay in the Word of God. We should not be getting our cues from the culture. The Word of God should inform and dictate what we believe about these things. Paul said in Romans 12 that we are to “abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good.” Good and evil are defined by God and do not change as the culture changes. The culture may call “good” that which God has said is “evil,” but it will always be what God has said. This is one of the reasons we are in constant need of having our minds renewed by the Word of God, so we can discern what is the will of God, what is good (Rms 12:2).
Third, use wisdom when in public. If you are a parent, take your child to the restroom and do not send them there alone. Lots of public places have family restrooms. Take advantage of those when possible. If you find yourself in a situation in which someone claiming to be transgender is in a restroom, make every effort to politely remove yourself from the situation.
Fourth, let your voice be heard. As we have seen, businesses have begun to jump on board with this agenda. It is good to politely express your concerns. Remember, that while it is fine to express that to a local branch of a big retailer, the management of such a store, like Target, receives orders from a corporate office. It may be better to express your concerns in written form, and again politely. Also, it is good to express your concerns with your wallet. Thankfully, we are still in a position to do business elsewhere.
Finally, remember who we are. We are ambassadors of Christ. This world is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are here on mission for Him, to make disciples of all nations. We are to be a people of great optimism. Why? Because even as the cultural climate darkens and becomes more hostile towards us, we know Who wins in the end and we are His! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Speak up!

On Saturday I participated in the nation wide protest of Planned Parenthood. I was pleased to see around 400-500 people gathered there in Lawrenceville to protest that place of death and its evil practices. I have stood out there several times with so very few that it is hard to express how thankful I am that there seems to be an awakening in our country in regards to the issue of abortion. It was great to see so many people holding signs and praying. And it was great to see our brothers, Bobby McCreery and Alex Burt boldly preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are both pro-life and pro-eternal life.

Many days Bobby has stood on that sidewalk by himself preaching the gospel and calling attention to what happens in that place. By God’s grace, he has withstood the summer elements and the winter elements, the heat and the cold and the rain. He has also endured the criticism of fellow believers, who even though seem to be absent a lot, find time to assure Bobby that he’s doing it wrong. I have even been criticized for being friends with Bobby and for standing with him there, not by abortion rights advocates, but professing believers and pro-lifers. Yet, as I write this (Monday), tomorrow Planned Parenthood will be open again performing abortions and the 400-500 people will not be there to protest. But Bobby will be there. He will put up his signs, plug in his microphone, pray to our Sovereign Lord, open his Bible and begin speaking. He will talk about the horrors that are happening inside. He will plead with young women and men to not kill their babies, offer them other options, and he will preach the gospel, that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. He will be cussed at, given the middle finger, and probably threatened by pro-abortion folk. And, he maybe even be visited by a professing pro-lifer, not there to protest, but to correct Bobby. And the next time Planned Parenthood is open doing abortions, Bobby will be there again. The other day a lady told me that the Planned Parenthood protest was not the place to preach the gospel. Read that sentence again, slowly. She then told me that we need lots of voters. I told her what we need is Jesus. She then said Bobby was hijacking the event by preaching. I tried to graciously inform her that Bobby is there every time Planned Parenthood is open. I then said, “Maybe you are hijacking his event.”  Bobby continued to preach, even as a couple of ladies tried their best to shut him down. Thankfully, his strength comes from the Holy Spirit.

I pray the Lord would raise up an army of folks like Bobby. I pray that Planned Parenthood would be defunded. I pray that they be prosecuted for their evil practices. I pray that abortion would end. I pray all that work in those places of death would repent and run to Jesus for forgiveness of sin and acceptance by God as one of His children. The Bible says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs‬ ‭31:8‬.‬

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Our Foster Sons

            As I write this, my wife and I have been spending our week packing up the belongings of our foster sons for their big reunification day with their mother. Our hearts are filled with mixed emotions. On one hand, we are glad that their mom has met the criteria to have her children back. I mean, this is one of the main reasons we do foster care. We want our home to be a godly and safe place for kids in foster care, in hopes that they can be returned to their family. Yet, on the other hand, we are extremely sad. We have had these kids most of their lives, a total of 18 months. We love these kids. When I look at them I see them as my kids. We took them in when they were hurting. We prayed for and with them. We fed and clothed them. We potty trained them. We cared for them when they were sick. We picked them up when they fell and kissed their wounds. In reality, I don’t feel in the least like I am about to deliver over another woman’s kids to her. I feel very much like I am about to deliver over my kids, kids I love and whom I may or may not ever see again. My heart aches and my stomach hurts even as I type that.
            Yet, I signed up for this didn’t I? I knew entering into foster care that I was subjecting myself and my family to possible probable pain. I know that on that day there will be one family rejoicing as my family grieves. It will affect all of us. In fact, I watched as my little girl hugged one of those boys the other day and exclaimed, “I love my brother!” There’s not one of us who will escape hurting.
            It has been attributed to Queen Elizabeth II as saying, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Grief is exactly what I feel, very deeply. Sure, I will do my pastoral duty of putting on my smile and masking my hurt, but reality is I (we) have been cut very deeply. Know that we are not ok, even as we try to assure you we are. 
       Perhaps, as you are reading this you are thinking, “That is why I could never do that!” The idea is that we should avoid pain at all costs. Reality is, that is very selfish and unlike Christ. Doesn’t the Gospel compel us to run towards the hurting, even at great cost to ourselves? Did Christ look down upon the earth and exclaim, “Well, I could redeem them, but it will hurt so I won’t?” Did Christ run from the pain or did love compel Him to run towards it? This one passage of Scripture really summarizes it all for me,  For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). The fact is, God never called us to play it safe. He has called each and every one of us, as believers, to deny ourselves and carry a cross.
            And so, we will pack up those boys and we will drive them home. We will hug them and kiss them and say goodbye. We will watch a happy mom and grandmother and try to be happy with them. We will pray with them. And then, we will get in our car and we will drive away, looking back in the mirror and aching. And if God so wills, we will do it all over again. Why? The Gospel! You see, when we were down and out and lost in our sins, Jesus Christ ran towards pain and rescued us, bringing us into his family as his own children.  Yep, that’s why.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You Probably Don't Know!

          The couple pushed their shopping cart full of goods to the front of the store and began to look for a cashier that appeared the least busy. They began to lay out their items on the belt in groups. Inevitably, others began to get in line behind them. The young lady reaches into her diaper bag and pulls out a booklet of coupons. Each group of items represented a different coupon in her booklet. It was clear that those who had followed her into the line were not pleased when they discovered that the young lady was getting WIC for what appeared to be multiple children. Their looks of disgust could only have been more obvious had they expressed with their lips what they were thinking. One might argue that they were simply in a hurry and suddenly realized the couple’s groceries were going to take some time. However, the looks communicated a certain disdain.
            As the cashier began checking out the goods, she stated that the couple had gotten the wrong juice. The husband told the cashier that the coupon simply noted that he was to get a certain amount of juice and did not specify a brand. The cashier told him it was to be a certain name brand. He told her that he got the generic because it was cheaper and thought that would be fine. Instead, the cashier called in customer service to exchange the juice. As they waited for him to return, the air was getting thicker around them as the tension grew.
            After the customer service representative returned with the correct juice, the cashier noted that the couple had also gotten the wrong bread. The wife explained that she looked at the bread for about ten minutes trying to make sure she got the right loaf. The cashier called customer service once again to exchange the bread. As they waited the husband pulled out his Iphone and began checking his messages. Suddenly, he hears whispers about the fact that he both has an Iphone and is standing in line getting WIC. He tries to ignore the folks as the tension grows and grows. Finally, he looks at them and apologizes that it is taking so long.
            Finally, the bread is exchanged and the couple is ready to head out the door. They walk out of the store and get into a new car. It is quite a site, a man with an Iphone loading WIC into his new car.  Perhaps some think, “Why does he not get a job?” “It must be nice to have Obama use our money to pay for his groceries so he can have a new car and an Iphone.” “Maybe they should stop having children if they cannot afford to take care of them.” “Don’t they know what causes that?”
            If only they knew that the couple was very uncomfortable getting WIC in the first place. If only they knew that the wife went through a very uncomfortable experience at the WIC office. If only they knew that they dreaded going to the store. If only they knew that the couple went to the store, away from their town, in order to keep people from talking about them. If only they knew that the couple really does have several kids (6 to be exact). If only they knew that the couple knows EXACTLY “what caused that.” If only they knew that only two of their kids are biological. If only they knew that two of their kids came to them by adoption and two others are foster kids. If only they knew that the WIC was given to them in order to provide for their foster children. If only they knew me and my wife, that we are a ministry family, seeking by God's grace to love the least of these. If only all of us wouldn’t be so quick to assume that we know. 
           I would love to say that I am exempt from such poor assumptions. But the fact is, because of remaining sin in my heart, I am not. I too often come to quick and wrong conclusions.The fact is, I am reminded that like those in the check-out line, I am constantly in need of Jesus. Like the hymn writer said, "I need Thee, O I need Thee; Every hour I need Thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dear Parent(s) of My Foster Child

About a week ago I was compelled to write this blog in which I plan to address some things that foster parents would say in a heart to heart conversation with their foster child’s parents. I surveyed several foster parents and compiled a short list of things that I will elaborate on here. I wanted to say before I begin that these statements are very general and not directed towards any one individual. Also, the things reflected upon will be my own thoughts, and since I am a Christian that will play a central role in what I write. This will be written as a Christian foster parent to the child’s parent(s). I understand that situations vary and not everything that I write can be applied to every case. With that said, here goes . . .

Dear Parent(s) of my foster child,

Until recently, you and I did not know one another. Now, our paths have not only crossed, but we have a new and very awkward relationship. Your children, whom I will assume you love very deeply, now live in my home and you don’t even know me. Because you love them, I am sure this is something that has caused you to lose sleep. I wanted to take a little time to say a few things that I pray will comfort you and be helpful to you as well.

1. The love of Christ compels me. I do what I do motivated by this one great thing. The Bible says, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
            I do not do this for the money. In fact, there is not really much money involved. Depending upon the age of the child, foster parents receive a small per diem which averages out to between sixty to eighty cents per hour.
            I do not do this for the accolades. In fact, there really aren’t any. In many ways foster care is a pretty thankless job. In fact, many people think we are crazy for doing this and some of them even tell us we are. It is also not uncommon for the parents of a foster child to show no appreciation, and to even treat the foster parent as an enemy.
            I have countless social workers make visits to my home. Your child’s case manager comes to my home, sometimes scheduled and sometimes by surprise. In addition, we are visited by your child’s CASA worker and the director makes occasional visits as well to inspect our home. We do not enjoy all of that. I mean, who really enjoys having government social workers in their home regularly?
            Again, the love of Jesus for us and my love for him is what compels me to take children I do not know into my home for foster care. It reminds me of the Gospel. When I was down and out and lost in my sin, Jesus Christ rescued me and brought me into his family as his own child. He will do the same for you if you will turn towards him by faith, acknowledging Him as lord and receiving Him as Savior.

2. I am not your enemy. In fact, I hope you will consider me both a friend and a partner. I am not trying to replace you. In fact, I talk about you often to your child and when I do I speak positively.
            Chances are you are angry at several people. Whether your anger is justified or not I do not know, but it is not justified towards me. You see, I am a volunteer. Because of the love of Christ, I went through the burdensome process of becoming a foster parent. I did not select your child. I was called to see if I could take your child in and I agreed to do so. When the social worker called and gave me a brief description of your child, I was torn between the knowledge of the extra responsibility that I would be taking on and the reality that this child needed someone to love him during this time in which his world has been torn apart. So, I decided to let that someone be me.
3. I love your child and you. I really try my best, by God’s grace, to love your child as my own. Because of the love of Jesus, I loved your child before I ever met him. At first, he was skeptical of me. He did not know who I was, but found himself suddenly in the home of a stranger. But, just as my love for him has increased more and more, he has discovered that I really care about him and he loves me too. I have tried to make life as normal as possible for him. In addition to making sure that all of his physical needs are met, I try to make sure that he knows he is safe and loved. Over time, we have become pretty good friends.
            Because of the love of Christ, I also love you. I hope that even through the awkwardness of our relationship we can become friends. It would be nice to be able to have such a relationship that you could trust that I am going to provide the best care possible to your child and I could trust that you are going to respect the position which I have been placed into as a foster parent.

4. Foster care is not my life. That simply means that I have a life that extends well beyond foster care. In fact, I have my own family. We are often very busy just doing life. As a part of my family, temporarily, your child will also be included in our family activities and will be living according to our schedule. I believe that constant communication with you is very important as it keeps you informed about what is going on in your child’s life. But please do not abuse that. I have to put boundaries in place to protect my family and our time. I do ask that you respect those boundaries.

5. I want you to succeed. I believe that the best place for a child to be is with his parents. I want your child to be reunited to you. I do hope that can happen. It is not my goal to keep your child permanently. You have some things to accomplish before reunification will be possible. I want to see you succeed at that. I do hope that you will work towards fulfilling the goals of the case plan laid out for you. By God’s grace, you can do it. You have been told what you need to do to get your child back. It is up to you to get it done. I know that some of it will not be easy. Some of it you might even consider to be unfair, but when I look into your child’s sweet eyes I know that he is worth your best effort. I will be in your corner cheering for you and hoping that you make it to the finish line. I will pray for you, that God give you strength to make it and that ultimately, you find in Christ the true victory you need.

Your child's foster parent

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pain, Snow, & a Ladybug

            Some of the sweetest fellowship we have with our Lord comes in times when we are hurting the most. Our Father is loving and compassionate and certainly does not leave nor forsake us when we hurt. Instead, He is right there to hold us and comfort us. 

            A couple of years ago, my wife and I experienced a particularly rough season. We were praying about whether or not we should adopt again. It was then that my wife became pregnant. We were excited and began to make appointments with a doctor. Shortly into the pregnancy my wife miscarried. That was tremendously painful. It was very deep and very personal. We had suffered the loss of a baby. I cannot remember ever watching my wife grieve so deeply. We had a ton of questions for God. We did not understand why. God seemed distant. Since we could not, in that moment, sense God’s presence we began to recall what we knew to be true about Him. We knew that he promised to never leave nor forsake us. We knew that He promised nothing could separate us from His love and that He causes all things to work together for the good of conforming us to be more like Jesus. Reminding ourselves of who He is, through His Word, helped us in those moments when the pain created a fog around our hearts and we could not sense Him. 

            We healed a bit and shortly thereafter my wife became pregnant again. Again, we made appointments with a doctor. We were certainly a lot more fearful with this pregnancy. Only a couple of months had passed since the miscarriage. However, we started making plans, thinking about names, a boy name and a girl name. We couldn’t help but walk through the baby section of stores and talk about what we liked. Then, it happened! Another miscarriage! Again, we were wading through what seemed to be an abyss of hurt and confusion. All of the pain from losing the first baby was so fresh and now it was compounded with grief of losing a second baby. These were our children, and though we had not seen them we loved them. Again, even though some days we did not want to, we reminded ourselves of who God is and of His promises. 

            On one of those days, it was snowing outside, a rare Georgia snow storm. My grieving wife was looking out the window at the snow. Suddenly, a bug landed on her. My wife would normally scream and swat a bug. But this was a lady bug, a lone lady bug. I guess all of her friends and taken cover for the winter. This one was certainly out of place. It was then that my wife heard from God. He reminded her again that He was there, that He had not gone anywhere. He reminded her afresh of His unfailing love for her. He reminded her that he wants her to run to Him, to draw near to Him. Like that little lady bug, he had not left but was right there in the storm. God sending that little lady bug was the beginning of tremendous healing for my wife and I.

            I thought about that this week during our recent snow storm. Especially, as I stood outside and watched my wife play with our little girl (our youngest child by adoption). Lydia’s name is filled with significance. Her middle name is Hope. It is a reminder that the Lord Himself is our hope, even when we feel hopeless. Her first name, of course, came from the Bible. Most of the time, however, we don’t call her Lydia. We call her Lydie-Bug. Yep, she is our lady bug. She reminds us of God’s faithfulness during the storms. And it was a glorious moment with the Father this week as I watched my wife and our Lydie-Bug laugh as they sled down the hill in our yard. He is good, folks!