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Life Ministry

We Are Going to Be Foster Parents

Six years ago this spring I interviewed to be a child protective services investigator for the State of Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. I knew next-to-nothing about the job or the field. It had only been three months since I entered the child welfare world, working for a private human services agency tracking youth on house arrest and supervising visits with parents and children who had been removed from the home. In God’s wisdom, however, I got the job.

With Nebraska DHHS, I investigated child abuse and neglect allegations. When I tell people this, most of them cringe, close their eyes, stay silent, or say, “Man, that must have been hard.” It was. I was exposed to seeing, hearing, and reading things no one should ever have to see, hear, or read. Most days, my work was not newsworthy. But sometimes—to often, of course—my work was heartbreaking, whether it was my case or a co-workers.

I couldn’t see what God was doing then. I was a newly married man without kids and quite clueless as to what Carly’s and my life and ministry together would look like. At the time, I knew I wanted to be a pastor. Now that I am a pastor, I realize that in the short time I was a CPS investigator God was preparing me (and my wife) for a significant step of obedience we need, and want, to take.

Before that job, my heart was like a frozen piece of meat when it came to the well-being of children and families. It’s not that I intentionally frozen my heart. I was oblivious. But through my job with the State of Nebraska, and being involved with TRAC, a camp ministry for foster kids, God was thawing and tenderizing my heart. He opened both of our eyes to see the plight of orphans—children who either have been abandoned by their parents or who have functionally been abandoned by them.

Over the past few years, God has increasingly burdened our hearts to care for children, either through fostering, adoption or both. It pains us to say, “We will when we are older!” as if the obstacles now are somehow greater than what will face us then.

If we want to live our lives for the glory of Jesus, then there is no sense waiting. We can, and should, be concerned about not wasting our future. But what about now wasting our lives right now? This has led us to pursue foster parent licensing in the State of New York. We are in the midst of training right now and hope to be licensed later this summer.

This is risky. Why would we do something like this? Because it is imitating what God has done for us. Because of sin, we came into this world spiritually fatherless. We were orphans. And yet, by the grace of God through the work of his Son Jesus, we have been adopted into his family. He became our Father. He took care for us when no one else would.

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:5).

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).

We are risking much. But Jesus didn’t merely risk his life. He actually gave it up, for us, that we might become children of God.

Now, as Christians, we are called to tangibly display this spiritual reality by caring for orphans, abuse and neglected children, and widows. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from them world” (James 1:25).

The early church understood this. They distinguished themselves from the world in several ways, most notably in their sexual chastity, caring for the sick, and caring for orphans as well as other vulnerable people in society.  Listen to two early accounts written about the community of believers:

But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty (Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, c. AD 110).

Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another; and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother” (Apology of Aristides the Philosopher 15, c. A.D. 125

Friends, this is our heritage. Carly and I alone can’t do everything. And neither can you. I do not believe all Christians should be foster parents or adopt. But we can all do something. Recent data shows there are only 400,000 kids in foster care. I say “only” because the number of Christians (even churches!) in this country dwarfs that. The Church could single-handedly end the foster care system as we know it without everyone needing to foster or adopt. Might the gospel spread and awaken the hearts of many if the church testified to the grace of God in this way?

I’ll be writing about our journey on this blog and Carly will on hers. When you read this or visit our blogs or think of us, would you pray for the child(ren) we’ll care for, their parents, and for us to be a tangible expression of God’s adopting love through the gospel? We would greatly appreciate it.

Categories
Life

Rescuing Little Ones with Jesus-like Love

I’m preparing to lead a discussion later this month on abortion as part of our summer Culture & Theology series at Grace Chapel. In my research, I ran across this article on Biblical Ethics in the ESV Study Bible. Here’s a snippet of that article discussing abortion in early Christian literature.

Against the bleak backdrop of Roman culture, the Hebrew “sanctity of human life” ethic provided the moral framework for early Christian condemnation of abortion and infanticide. For instance, the Didache 2.2 (c. a.d. 85–110) commands, “thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” Another noncanonical early Christian text, the Letter of Barnabas 19.5 (c. a.d. 130), said: “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.” There are numerous other examples of Christian condemnation of both infanticide and abortion. In fact, some biblical scholars have argued that the silence of the NT on abortion per se is due to the fact that it was simply assumed to be beyond the pale of early Christian practice. Nevertheless, Luke (a physician) points to fetal personhood when he observes that the unborn John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth came into the presence of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus at the time (Luke 1:44).

More than merely condemning abortion and infanticide, however, early Christians provided alternatives by rescuing and adopting children who were abandoned. For instance, Callistus (d. c. a.d. 223) provided refuge to abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes, and Benignus of Dijon (3rd century) offered nourishment and protection to abandoned children, including some with disabilities caused by unsuccessful abortions.

The second paragraph is particularly intriguing to me (and my wife, I’m sure, though she doesn’t know I’m posting this!). What Christians did in the first century was actively seek to provide a better alternative than killing babies. They fostered and adopted abandoned children. As Carly and I anticipate our third child (a boy!) journeying from the waters of the womb to the air of earth, we are beginning to think and pray about how we can be a 21st century Callistus and Benignus. Christians must keep exposing the works of darkness, like abortion, because we know the true Story. But if we truly want to make an impact, we must live the true story by rescuing the most vulnerable among us.

This is not just an individual Christian endeavor—a James Pruch “thing.”. This is an all of us endeavor—a gospel thing. This is an all of us thing because, after all, this is exactly what God, in his mercy, did for all of his children. If you are a Christian, the Apostle Paul writes, you have been adopted through Jesus (Eph. 1:5). God has rescued you from the darkness and into his family of love (Eph. 2:4). Later in that same letter, Paul calls his readers to “imitate God as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).

How might we imitate God in our cultural context, as it relates to rescuing babies, the most vulnerable among us? What will we do as local churches and as a global church to praise the glorious grace of God for our adoption (Eph. 1:6)? What will you do? Adopt? Foster? Respite care for other foster parents? Disciple women who go into pro-life pregnancy centers? Donate money to people who adopt (adoption is expensive!)? There are an abundance of possibilities!

When we rescue little ones—in any number of ways—we give ourselves up in Jesus-like love. Make no mistake, this is a call to die. But we are not calling little ones to die. It’s a call to die to ourselves. When Christians live like Callistus or Benignus, we are actually living like Christ. We are not saying, “You for me,” like abortion. We are saying, “Me for you,” like Jesus. We are saying, “I’ll give up my comfort, my convenience, my money, my time, my schedule, my reputation, my everything for you.”

Sounds like a better alternative. Doesn’t it?

Categories
Life

Five Reasons We Want to Be Foster Parents

My wife wrote earlier this week that we are starting the process to become foster parents. She said, “We are both well aware of the children out there who are abused and neglected, and in need of good, loving homes who can teach them about Jesus as well as care for and protect their little hearts and minds.” I love this woman, and I love her passion for Jesus and the “least of these” in our city and world.

Why would a husband and wife in their mid to upper 20s, with a two-and-a-half month old daughter want to be foster parents? Here are five reasons:

  1. The gospel has invaded our life and Jesus reigns over us. We have tasted what God has done for us in Christ and so we cannot help but show that same grace, mercy, kindness, and love to others. Foster care will be a small, but significant way to “point” to what God has done for us: he loved us while we were unlovable, wounded, broken, and alone.
  2. We want to adopt, not just because it’s the hip thing for Christians to do, but because God, in Christ, has adopted us into his family (Hos. 14:3; Eph.1:5). This is the only reason adoption on earth exists. Foster care will serve as a prologue to adoption, but not a “trial run.” It is something we can do now while adoption is not a possible.
  3. We are commanded in Scripture to seek the welfare of widows and orphans (James 1:27; 2:14-26). We aren’t doing this to “get God on our side,” for we are already perfectly accepted by in the gospel based on Jesus’ obedience, death, and resurrection. Rather, the gospel compels us to obedience. We are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves (Isa. 1:17; 58:6). Foster children are some of the most underrepresented people in society. Obviously, we cannot do everything and help every foster child. But we can do something.
  4. Foster care will give us close relationship with non-Christians. We will rub shoulders with biological parents, therapists, case workers, foster care specialists, lawyers, judges, and scores of others, most of whom will not know Jesus. We will be able to share the gospel, and our biblical worldview. Furthermore, we will be able to provide spiritual insight for a child to families and professionals who regularly neglect this aspect of a person’s life, in favor of the behavioral and mental aspects.
  5. I so often preach about doing hard things for the Lord, forsaking middle class comfort in pursuit of true discipleship. This is practicing what I preach. Carly and I want to be an example to other Christians, our church, our family, and our friends of what a gospel-shaped life looks like.
I want to thank my wife, Carly, for pursuing this so gracefully and with passion, determination, and zeal. You are my crown, and beside Christ, you are the treasure of my life. “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.”

When you think of us, or stop by this blog, would you pray for us on this adventure? We would appreciate it.

Categories
Ministry Theology

Foster Kids, Joseph, and Jesus

Before I was a pastoral intern at my church, I worked for the Department of Health and Human Services in Omaha. Though the work was not always a delight, God grew my heart for abused and neglected children. He grew my heart to help these kids–not to help them overcome past hurts with therapy or rehab–but to help them overcome through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is a huge mission field, even in Nebraska. To give you an idea, there are usually well over 6,000 calls a month to the abuse and neglect hotline…in Omaha. Not all of those are “substantiated” abuse/neglect cases, mind you, but it is alarming nonetheless. A foster child battles emotional, psychological, physical, and, above all, spiritual issues (and I would add those spiritual issues are often magnified by demonic influence). A foster child’s road is arduous, burdensome, and confusing.

But there is hope for the foster child (or “orphan” or “fatherless” as the Bible calls them).  The Jesus we see in Scriptures who reveals the perfect heavenly Father  is the only solution for these kids. Despite all the obstacles for one of these precious ones coming to Jesus, God overcomes. I know a foster boy at my church who was baptized this year.  He declared that he has a new life in Jesus: he’s been forgiven of the sin he’s committed against God and that he’s been cleansed of all the sin committed against him. He still has fits of rage and sadness. But God is in the process of changing this boy.

I believe Jesus wants to do this very thing in the lives of thousands of other foster kids in Nebraska, and around the country.

One small way for me to be a part of God’s work with foster kids is that this summer I will be the camp speaker at Teen Reach Adventure Camp for the boys camp.  This camp provides an alternative, Christ-centered setting for foster kids who might not thrive at other summer camps.

I will be speaking on the life of Joseph. What a privilege to preach the gospel through this story! Joseph was a man who was abused and abandoned by his brothers, was falsely convicted and sent to prison, practically saved the region when famine came, and eventually had mercy on his abusive brothers.

Ultimately, this story finds fulfillment in Jesus, the true and better Joseph. Jesus was abused and abandoned by a nation, his family, and closest friends; he was falsely accused, unjustly condemned, and crucified despite being sinless; he saved the world through his death on the cross; and he had mercy and grace on his worst enemies when he made them friends by purchasing their lives with his blood. He came on the ultimate rescue mission, sent by the Father, to bring unworthy orphans into his family by grace through faith. This is the good news, and oh what news it is for foster children who are in desperate need of a true family.

Would you begin to pray with me that God would soften hearts, break down barriers to resistance, and anoint me to preach the gospel so it is truly embraced. O Lord, would you change these young lives by your resurrecting power? Bring into existence the things that do not exist and raise dead hearts up to life. Preach your gospel, make Jesus plain, and draw these boys to yourself. 

Categories
Life

Bringing Up Bobby Review

From time to time I receive family-oriented and faith-friendly movies to review on this blog from a Christian marketing company. I have done a terrible job of writing reviews, so I’m attempting to catch up.

Today, I saw Bringing Up Bobby, a comedy about a weird family twelve years after their parents death. The four kids are James, Andrea, Dennis, and Bobby. James and has served as both big brother and surrogate parent for the last dozen years and he’s ready to start a relationship. Andrea is greedy, and a controlling wife to her husband Walter. Dennis (or “The Dennis” as he so fondly calls himself) is a deranged, eccentric (and funny) cocaine addict who wants to keep his distance from “the anarchists.”  Bobby, the youngest, is a Gothic 16 year old searching for an identity.

James and Bobby live together in their deceased parents’ house. Andrea and Dennis both come to town because on Bobby’s 16th birthday their parent’s will finally goes into effect. While all the kids are cleaning up the house, James finds an enormous stash of cash in the attic. James doesn’t tell anyone about the money and he hides it in a garbage bag. Greed has long been dividing the family when a new (highly powered) attic fan blows the money out of  the bag, down the steps in front of everyone, staring a huge family fight.  As it turns out, the parents’ will splits everything evenly, and even the house must be sold.

James and Bobby both have love interests. James falls for Andrea’s attractive lawyer, Terry, and Bobby is willing to change everything — even his wardrobe — for Liz, the new girl in school. Some of those interactions are classically awkward and make me glad I’m no longer looking to date. James also wants Bobby to take God seriously.  They have many conversations about life and spiritually. At one point, Bobby notices some glaring mistakes in James’ life and he says, “You should be the last person to tell me about Jesus.” James replies, “If I didn’t make mistakes, I wouldn’t need a Savior. That’s why I’m the perfect person to tell you about Jesus.”

As James, Bobby, Andrea, and Dennis sit at the table with the lawyer and a judge to figure out what to do with their parents’ will, Bobby reads a note from his friend Eric. Eric’s mom is an alcoholic and almost daily, Eric needs to pick up his drunk mom from the bar and put her to bed. Eric calls child services to be picked up and placed in foster care. He leaves a note with Liz to give to Bobby. When Bobby reads the note, he realizes that money and stuff is not what life’s about. It’s about people and sacrifice and love. He and James quickly run to Eric’s home just as he is about to leave with the social worker. James offers to be considered as Eric’s foster placement.

The movie ends with James searching through the shed at home, which he alone received as part of the will.  Evidently no one had entered the shed in a very long time, because as James and Terry search through the rubble, they find dozens and dozens of fifty and one hundred dollar bills stashed away.

Bringing Up Bobby was explicitly Christian: within the first five minutes, the words “Jesus Christ” had been spoken — and not in a vain way. I don’t have a problem with that at all; more power to the directors. There are two theological issues I have with the film. First, James told Bobby that “life is not about being happy.” My wife pointed out that he was probably saying, “Life is not about being happy in the way the world thinks of happiness.” That may be true, but it wasn’t explained that way. Life is about being happy — the happiest we can be in God. Secondly, the big cash stash in the shed at the end seems to communicate that, in the end, God will repay us for our efforts. Of course, that isn’t true. He owes us nothing. Sometimes, most times, our story doesn’t end happily-ever-after here on earth. We can be sure that once in heaven the story will be happy because our treasure will be with Jesus.

The movie is definitely “low budget”: The video and audio quality is low, over-acting is common, and there are the run-of-the-mill Christian cliches. Finally, it was unmistakable a “Christian” directed film, which is its greatest downfall.  Considering that God calls his people to do work well and with excellence, it is unfortunate that another Christian film falls short on quality and skill. Bringing Up Bobby is a good story in theory, but in execution and production, it is sub-par at best.

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Disclosure: I received on more more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention in here. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”