3 tips for pastors engaging their people in foster care

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson reached out to faith leaders in the state to join him for the Restore Hope Summit. This event was intended to address prison re-entry and the foster care crisis happening in Arkansas and I must say that it was a very well organized and successful event. I am grateful to report that there was a great turnout of faith leaders across the state, including pastors and non-profit leaders. I appreciate not only the work of our states governor but of my friend and State Representative David Meeks on this matter.

It was during this event that we were able to hear the stories of multiple people who had been through the foster system and a few who ultimately found a place that they now call home. I was also reminded of just how many opportunities the church has to serve those in foster care. Often, it’s hard for people to get past the stigmas of foster care and even more difficult for them to come to a place where they are willing to serve.

I have been involved with The CALL for nearly two years and foster care is something dear to the heart of my home. So when our state director, Lauri Currier, called and asked if I would serve on a panel of pastors at this event, I was honored and eager. She told me that my objective was to share practical tips and encouragement with other leaders in the room as it pertained to engaging and mobilizing our communities in the area of foster care. I shared the stage with three other men who are powerfully and successfully leading ministries who are seeing great response from their people in the area of foster care.

I want to share my three part response to the question I was asked in regards to educating pastors on how to encourage their people to be involved in foster care.

1. Identify those who are already involved.

More than likely, you have someone in your church who already has a connection with adoption or foster care. If not, you have a person, or a group, who wants to know more about how to be involved in foster care. Approach those people and be willing to lead through following. Give them the responsibility of familiarizing themselves with the need in your area and connecting with other churches and organizations who are already doing things well. Then, schedule a meeting with those people to hear about what they learned. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Be humble and be willing to ask for help. Encourage your people to take charge and then offer them the resources you have to see this become a successful ministry in your church.

2. Break down the big numbers.

It can be overwhelming for the person not involved in foster care to hear that there are 4,000 foster children in their state. Find someone in your church or community who is fostering or who has adopted and put that family in front of your church. Introduce that family and communicate to your people that this crisis may be bigger than you, but that you can make a difference in the life of one child. No one person can effectively minister to 4,000 individuals, but put them in contact with a few, and big things can happen.

3. Envelop the rhetoric in your theology.

I know, that sounds too complicated. But let me break it down: remind your people that they have been adopted. When you preach the Bible, it’s pretty easy to make a bee line to the story of our own helpless state before we were adopted by our Father. Crazy, right? If you are faithful to preaching the Gospel and your people believe it, their hearts are already softened and geared to the fact that these children don’t belong to the state, but to the church.. because they belong to God. When you preach about being pro-life, communicate the connection of the value that all humans have in the eyes of God. When you share your testimony, communicate the connection of you pre and post conversion and the victory you experienced though the loving act of God adopting you.

So, pastors, how will you encourage your church to act?

Will you ask the sweet ladies to make meals that can be stuck in the freezer for foster families? Will you approach the handy men and offer to lend a weekend a month to help the foster families in your church? Will you finally set aside a few minutes out of your busy schedule to meet with families who want to see your church involved?

I have heard it said “not everyone can foster, but everyone can do something.”

Why your kid was possessed before “Charlie-Charlie”

If you have not yet heard of the latest social media craze, you soon will. Young teens and bewildered adults are going nuts over what is believed to be the summoning of a malignant Mexican spirit named Charlie. The “Charlie Charlie Challenge” is being played out mostly in 15 second Instagram bits and collecting above average response from the social media world. You may be sensing a lackadaisical response from me to something that seems very serious. Well, you are wrong.

I do believe that what our young people are venturing into with this sort of thing is extremely dangerous. The interaction they believe the are having and the lengths they are going to for their friends approval is something they should avoid. Now the challenge itself, which involves a sheet of paper, a sketched cross and two perfectly balanced pencils, really just boils down to our friend “gravity”. There is nothing inherently evil in that. Two perfectly balanced pencils are eventually going to give. That being said, anytime we make light of this sort of darkness, something needs to be addressed.

So, here is my address. And it happens to be directed to parents:

Between all of the things teens are involving themselves in and many parents seeming lack of concern for those things their kids are involved in, there should no surprise that a social media craze like “Charlie-Charlie” is going on.

While dangerous and to be avoided, “Charlie-Charlie” is only a temporary distraction for parents and leaders to think they are on top of monitoring what their kids are doing. Well, we are not. The only difference in this one is that it’s creepy. The battle has existed long before this phase began and will continue on when it’s gone. It’s actually when Charlie-Chalrie dies that the real battle begins.

The battle begins where it left off before Charlie-Charlie became popular. It will continue with things your kids are not only seeing but sharing on Instagram and Snapchat and the friends you allow your child to spend too much of a certain kind of time with.

Parents, the battle will pick up where it left off with you thinking your kid is not involved in anything that could possibly tarnish their(or your) reputation. The battle will pick up where we are convinced that our kid is “awesome” and not at fault for anything they might actually be guilty of. The battle will pick up where we thought it wasn’t important to address our child for something we know they did wrong, in order for us to be cool.

It’s so easy for us in the comfortable church culture of the South to believe that “possession” is limited to those “Exorcism” type movies where a short chubby priest walks into the room only to leave as a bowl of soup. On several occasions, God’s Word talks very differently about what it means for us to meddle in wickedness without repentance and salvation: sexual sin, gossip, self-suffiency. If that is a list we work off of and our children aren’t living in repentance, we don’t only have kids meddling in what they shouldn’t but already possessed by what the enemy is doing in their life.

Charlie-Charlie is a fad that does need to die. But what is more demonic than this “fun” activity is the conversations our kids are having over text and through social media. And what is even more demonic than that? Parents convincing themselves that our homes are bullet-proof to those things and failing to have the right conversations in their home.

Parents, there is a battle going on and we are the watchmen.

Pro-choice advocate: you’re not revolutionary. You’re Lazy.

I have made peace with the fact that the convictions of others will not always line up with my own. Not everyone will go about certain items of business in the same manner as me, even if our convictions align. I have recognized that no matter how hard one works to come across gracious, there will be blame for being a bigot-filled hate monger.

While I fall short and have many less than proud-of-myself-moments, I have a deep longing for others to know they are loved and valued. At times, I believe that part of what contributes to someone recognizing that they are cared for is for someone else to step in and confront what not only is immoral but also illogical. In those situations, some have to be treated with delicacy and some need someone to get in their face.

There is a particular group of people that I believe need to be dealt with in a little more direct way. Not in a hateful way, but a stern way. In fact, in a way that they tend to deal with others when it concerns what they are arguing for. That group of people are those who are fighting against pro-life: the pro-choice advocate.

Even if stern, direct and fair is not the way you would prefer being dealt with, lets at least deal with these things in an honest way. A way that pro-choice advocates across the globe have avoided for too long now.

Now before I get into it, I recently wrote a Note to the mom considering abortion. To me, there are not many groups of people who need as much love, grace and delicacy as the single/abused/raped/fatherless woman who bears a child and is considering ending it’s life. The church cares for you, mom. Yes, you are responsible, but yes I care for you and there is hope beyond the bleak future. More than likely(statistically) you have been used and abused and those who follow Christ should take only the position of fighting for you and for your soul. I expound on this in the link above.

Back to the pro-choice advocate. In the link shared above, I also shared some strong words for you. You are guilty of abuse. You are in the wrong for taking advantage of the vulnerability of an abused woman and responsible for the murder of nearly 1.3 million human babies in the U.S. each year.

More than that, the nature of your argument has so drastically evolved over the last decade that at best, makes you and your argument a joke. At worst? Incites you more surely as a murderer with the lives of millions on your hands.

This is not a conversation I am unwilling to have face to face. In fact, my journey with face-to-face dialogue with others on this topic began in high school. I had the privilege of serving with an organization who opened up and welcomed dialogue with those who were in disagreement with the convictions I held. It has been since that time that I realized even the most uneducated of people can hold ground against the faulty pro-choice arguments. And over the last decade, I have evaluated and observed the evolution(or devolution) of the pro-choice argument:

1. Began with the pro-choice advocate making medical and scientific claims that, seemingly and for the time, supported abortion thus argued from those perspectives.

2. Medical and scientific claims were eventually ruled out making it impossible to medically or scientifically support abortion thus placing the pro-choice advocate in a conundrum. (Some of the world’s most prominent scientist and physicians testified to a U.S. Senate committee that life begins at conception… nearly 35 years ago!) From nearly every angle, there is no intellectual way to argue this fact.

3. Medical and scientific support is no longer a valid argument, let’s fight this out arguing about the woman’s right to kill that thing that science has clearly proven bears life.

Conclusion: It boils down to intellectual laziness. At least put in half the effort as your forefathers to come up with some sort of valid argument that fools you and the circle of people around you for a little while. While biology has ruled the baby IN, you’ve ruled the baby out- based on your opinion of rights. You’re unwilling to do the hard work of at least acknowledging what secular science has proven. You’ve jumped from one disproven argument to the next and then, for pete’s sake, resorted to arguing FOR the autonomy of others who are vulnerable and in need of counsel. Even you and I can’t be trusted with autonomy.

Pro-choice advocate: you’re not revolutionary, you’re lazy. You’re not progressive, you’re a murderer. What is even scarier is the fact that you will acknowledge what science has proven and shrug your shoulders to it. It’s no longer an intellectual argument, it’s simply a failure for you to have any concern for murdering another human being.

The guy in this video may not be the most well-spoken of pro-choice advocates but it’s a pretty close representation of how quickly said argument crumbles.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. For Baltimore and for me.

I’ve seen celebrities speak to issues at hand who are natives of places like Baltimore and Ferguson after a riot filled stint… Oklahoma, Arkansas and the coast after being wiped out by a natural disaster. Celebrities who, for the most part, are unwilling to enter the real mess and get involved in restoring what is broken. Celebrities who, for the most part, are interested only in going viral. Celebrities who are generally accepted by the public for their contributions to entertainment.. despite their continual profanity-filled rants, promiscuity and bone-headed decisions in the public eye.

Now, whether it be the author of this article or the eyes of the one reading, no one is perfect. So rather than this serving as my soapbox against the unbelievable ignorance of many of todays celebrities, I just want to take this opportunity to share something remarkable with you.

The world has always been a mess. It has always been one filled with riots, wars, mind-blowing sexual promiscuity(see 1 Corinthians 5), and evil. It would seem that this world is no place for a king to visit, much less call home.

In John 1, one of the most bizarre scenarios that is above anything you or I could have ever made up is described. A king who was present in the beginning as he and the Father created a perfect and beautiful world and then witnessed the greatest act of treason anyone has ever known stepped down into the mess. John introduces skeptics, doubters and intellectual cretins to the Glory of a perfect and all knowing God who has virtually been out of reach for two millennia. These readers minds are blown and maybe even discouraged to know that there is someone who has such control of the chaos of their present world and yet an avenue doesn’t exist for their ceremonially unclean souls(Gentiles) or overly self-righteous behavior(Jews) to reach him.

Then, John changes the game. Verse 14 says: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..” God. God became man. Not to visit us and ascend back to his sweet gig in heaven, but to dwell. To live with us.

And as we will see at the end of John, not only to live with us but to die for us. Die for a people who would riot against him. To die for a people who want His stuff but not Him. To die for people who would claim to be natives of His grace but unwilling to enter in completely.

This sounds pretty great right? Ironically, 1 Corinthians also tells us that to many, this story is the most offensive and intrusive story ever told. That a man would enter their mess, live among them, die for them, and then require them to do the same by following Him and abandoning worldly pleasures. He’s not setting all of us up to lose our physical lives, but he does demand that we give our lives to Him.

The mess of Baltimore and the natural disaster prone areas is all of our mess. It’s brokenness that we are all contributing to and being affected by. A king chose to enter that mess and invites you to bring the baggage into the relationship He wants to have with you.

That’s the Gospel. That’s Good News in the middle of the mess.

National Sibling Day

I open this up acknowledging the danger this poses to my social reputation and the many negative feelings and responses I may receive from it. But, what would a big day like today be without some naysayers, right?

Regardless, I feel that what I have to say is valid. Not only valid but a hard hitting truth that you can either acknowdlege and confess of, or one that may be irrelevant to you because you actually do well with what I am saying most do not do well with.

In regards to National Sibling Day: I found myself preparing one of those crafty picture collages earlier this afternoon. In the midst of that, I felt an urge to drop it. Not only did I feel an urge to drop it, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt as I prepared to share what I honestly had only planned on receiving tons of likes and interaction from. 

When was the last time I called my sisters and told them I loved them? Encouraged them in their marriages? Their parenting? Expressed my gratitude?

Honestly, I don’t know. I talk with my sisters a lot. We have great relationships. They are better at letting me know they love me than I am with them. But do they know how much they mean to me? Will they only know that on a day where a little red notification is on their screen all day as it accumulates traffic?

I want to pause here and commend those of you who are doing a better job at this than me. You’re the real mvp.

I got word today of the passing of a friend I had growing up. I went to church with Jacob and the only reason he was at church was because a bus would show up at his house, rain or shine, and bring him. I was the pastors kid and he was a kid who by the age of 18 had lost both of his parents. Normally by the age of 13, kids would stop coming to church on the bus. Jacob was different. I remember Jacob losing some consistency, but hanging around beyond 13. Jacob was a year older than me and had a brother in my grade named Michael.  These two kids didn’t have the best homelife. In fact, I’m not sure you could even refer to what they had as a homelife. But the love these two brothers shared is a love that challenges me today. They were rough. They were involved with kids that got them in trouble, but Michael and Jacob loved each other. They were outspoken about it… It was sort of awkward. Today, the younger brother Michael has no family left. His parents are gone and this week, he lost his best friend. 

What Michael would give to hear Jacobs voice. What Michael would give to drive across town and hang out with Jacob. How insufficient it feels for Michael today to speak to Jacob in any way except to his face. 

These things challenge me. I didn’t share this in a public forum(i.e. Facebook status) because it’s something I am truly challenged by and something we should all be challenged by. I’m thankful for the fun that days like this bring where appreciation and love can be shared in the public social marketplace. Im thankful for the viral hashtags that bring and attention to others. I would rather avoid the negativity this may draw but at the same time feel burdened for myself and for the nature of what communication has become.

In a few weeks, Mother’s Day will be here. In years past, I have flown that banner of posting a collage on social media loud and proud. Each year knowing deep down that I had done very little lately to show appreciation to my mom. Simply paying her the courtesy of calling her to express my gratitude had been nearly non-existent only  proving to myself that my heart was selfish. 

In addition to the fun that social media creates with days like this, take the opportunity to call, FaceTime, face time(real time with face)someone and tell them you love them. Get over being annoyed at me for pointing it out and dig deep to see the truth we all need to hear. 

I love my sisters. I’m thankful they are good encouragers. My soul needs that from them and theirs does too.

Abortion: Slaves to Silence.

This a follow up post to an article I wrote last week entitled A note to the mom considering abortion. The response from that post has been overwhelming. From those who disagreed to those who were in full support of what was said, it was encouraging overall to see the dialogue continue.

Upon writing my previous post, I have evaluated and walked away with something that has seemed to overwhelm me over the past week. There is this sense of being a slave to the silence we offer in having discussions and confronting the wickedness that abortion is. I could take this “slave to silence” mantra about a hundred different directions. I could continue to discuss the holocaust going on inside the womb as babies are ripped limb from limb in what should be the safest place on earth. That should be on the forefront of our discussion as we continue to fight for those who are unable to fight for themselves. And, that will remain something I am vocal about.

However, these “slaves to silence” are another group of people who are damaged by our staying silent: mothers who have had an abortion.

In our churches today, overall, we have chosen to remain silent in regards to these discussions. I believe the reasons for staying silent stretch from an idea that it’s just much easier to avoid such a controversial topic to pastors who don’t know how to address it to pastors being afraid of coming across as judgmental. We often assume that being quiet about this will create more comfortable environments to those who have experienced abortion.

In turn, those who have had an abortion become a slave to her silence. They are our sisters, fellow church members and friends.They have been called to repentance in a way that will press them to share dark parts of their past. What we are actually enabling in them when we neglect to share with her the Gospel message through the lens of what she has done is her temptation to not press in, lean in and find grace in community and in Christ.

I cannot endorse the organization who published this but found a strikingly true statement released by Pulpit & Pen: “Future historians will make much of the fact that the pastors who possessed the widest influence and biggest stages were the most silent in all of America during its abortion holocaust.”

I have no interest in painting the Church in a bad light. Admittedly, it is imperfect, full of messed up people, and not perfect(did I mention that?). But, there is truth to the statement released by Pulpit & Pen. I am guilty of it. Honestly, I am more guilty of fearing what other Christians will think of me than what the world will think of me.

My goal and objective in this post is to share with you the story of a lady who has had an abortion. For the sake of context and full understanding of what she has shared, you will need to read my previous post. This girl’s experience outweighed every single response I received from last week’s article. It also did much to confirm my thoughts and feeling towards what I wrote. She courageously reached out to me after she read it and was in so many ways broken but ultimately free because of her faith in Christ’s love for her. She was also kind enough to allow me to share this.

“You hit the nail on the head with this. I don’t want to comment publicly, because I don’t really feel like I am in a place to share my experience. But in college, I had an abortion. I had both: people who told me that I was making a grave mistake, and that I would regret it for the rest of my life; also those who said “it’s your choice, your body, and you’re too young to have a baby.” I can say, from first hand experience, that those who offered the latter may have had good intentions, but those good intentions did not come from a place of love…I now understand they came from a place of not knowing Jesus, his endless grace and mercy and that the life inside me-no matter how small-was in fact LIFE. I now know it’s life because that decision has haunted me ever since. Now, ultimately the choice was mine. The choice was like being trapped in a cage and having to gnaw off your own arm to be set free. I had my mind made up and NOTHING would dissuade me. However, until you have been in those clinics and seen the disregard for human life, including the life of the mother; until you have sobbed from the deepest place inside of you because you finally realize what you’ve done, AND have heard other women who were “empowered” by their choice, you don’t fully understand. My husband and I miscarried this past year. I grieved two losses, (there is no word to describe what that pain feels like) and one was my “empowering choice.” Many other women made that choice that day, and you could hear them weeping through the curtain that divided us during recovery as a nurse laughed and said ‘it’s just the anesthesia wearing off.’ It affected all areas of my life, and to this day, I suffer the consequences. Even with Jesus’ mercy and love, you still have to live with your actions. Might I also add, that the church is the one place I have found refuge and don’t feel judged. Never ONCE did I feel like the church would judge me or condemn me…it was the people I feared and the shame that I felt. Part of the problem is that people can’t come forward with their stories. I only wish I had thought through adoption and that my little one was living with a family who cares for God’s children.”

I don’t know about you, but my heart breaks reading her story. But even more so, I rejoice in the way she has experienced grace and freedom in confessing what she experienced. What I can tell you based off the discussion I had with her is that she has never been more free. If there was ever a moment of torment, slavery within herself, it was in those moments where the horrifying topic of abortion wasn’t welcome. She obviously isn’t sharing her story with the world but God is beginning to place courage within her.

A note to the mom considering abortion.

You are tired of hearing from people like me. You are tired of hearing from Christians who seem to be judging you. Your inkling is that I am here to lambast you. But, let me comfort you with this: you are loved. You are created in the image of God whether you want anything to do with Christ or not. You are valued and grace is available to you.

I will not remain silent on the horrifying topic of abortion. Abortion is wrong and it strips a human being of it’s dignity and right to life. However, when I speak so boldly and strongly on the subject of abortion, you are not the target, per se. While you are in danger of doing something you will regret, you are valued, treasured, and loved.

You are also vulnerable. Vulnerable to what you feel you will actually lose or miss out on if you have this child. Vulnerable to what you think you will gain by getting rid of this child.

I fight against those who want to take advantage of your vulnerability. Jesus cared for vulnerable people.

Those who seem to be on your side are actually not on your side at all. Where it may seem that they are fighting for you, you are merely another project that can help them with an agenda that they believe will give them more freedom, more liberty and more voice. They don’t care for you. You may be saying “I don’t need your sympathy. I’ll make my own choice!” I believe the choice is yours and for that choice, you are the only one responsible. But, the voices of those fighting for “liberty” are aware of your place of despair and worry. The ones who got on a camera and lied to you about being void of regret and full of health and vitality, they contribute to your decision. They believed a lie and are believing a lie that it will all get better.

You are correct in that if you have this baby, you will have to make sacrifices. Life may not go exactly the way you had planned it out back when you were a dedicated, hard-working, goal oriented high school senior. You may really not know how you will care for this child or how you will feed yourself and them. You may be right in that you can’t afford this baby. The day a boy took advantage of you and gave you something that wasn’t in your 10 year plan has virtually ruined your life.

These concerns you have are legitimate.

I don’t stand for or beside your ensuing decision but I stand beside you as a friend who cares about the long term effects this will have on your mind, body and soul.

While you feel that the abortion doctor, the nurses, those encouraging you to “make your own choices based on what is best for yourself” are standing hand in hand with you, they will soon be done with you. They will move on to their next patient, their next income opportunity, and their next “project”;  anything that will contribute to their overall agenda. The way they speak to you empowers you and justifies a terrible decision. They make you feel that it will all be ok. They make you feel that you are fighting for something you will gain when it is something that will ultimately rob you of joy, happiness and sanity. To them, you are worth nothing more than a breathing, walking, pregnant billboard that will help them succeed.

Here’s the thing, Jesus stood alongside a bunch of people who were vulnerable. In your mind, Jesus doesn’t care for you. But the truth is that you are not a shock to Him. Nothing about your dilemma surprises Him and He already knows what decision you will make. In fact, even before you spent 9 comfortable and safe months in the womb of your mother, He chose to make grace available to you.

Jesus is with you now and in the tragic instant you decide to proceed with this decision, He will be with you then. But I’m begging you, don’t. When you run across someone who tells you that hell is your destiny, know that that is not the voice of Christ. Turn to Him and He will embrace you, provide for you and love you.

If you have had an abortion, the offer of God’s grace still stands. Additionally, I am upset with those who would make you feel worthless and hopeless based on a decision you made. Again, your decision didn’t shock Him. But the grace and rest and peace you will find in Him will shock you. Run to him.