The World Needs More Foster Dads

With our journey into foster care, I’ve stepped into the social media pond of foster parenting to find resources and make connections with others on the journey. One thing I’ve noticed is that there are a whole lot more foster moms on social media than foster dads.

We could assume that these moms are simply more media-engaged than their counterparts. Yet, it’s been my experience that many of these are single foster moms or ladies who lament that their husbands aren’t more engaged. In my face to face experiences, I’ve found the latter to be far from universally true, but you still hear the stories.

I don’t have hard and fast numbers on this, but based on the above experiences this seems a safe general observation: Women are more eager to engage in foster care than men.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post called The World Needs More Foster Parents. I want to add to those thoughts, this time talking specifically to my fellow men.

One of my favorite passages on manhood in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, where Paul wrote, “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous [or: “act like men” as in the ESV], be strong. Do everything in love.” (CSB) I think these admonitions by Paul can serve as a foundation for why we need more men eagerly involved in foster care.

Be alert and stand firm—our faith drives our fostering. Old and New Testaments, the Bible is replete with calls to put our faith into action through helping those in need. James calls caring for widows and orphans in their distress “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27). Jesus said his sheep will be the ones who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned; and how we treat such is how we treat Jesus (Matthew 25:31-40). Jesus also told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The neighbor we are meant to emulate is the man who actually went out of his way to help a stranger in need.

And that doesn’t even touch on all the Bible says about us being adopted into God’s family through Jesus.

Now, the way that we engage in such social ministries will differ from person to person and context to context. Not every man is under obligation to be a foster dad, though we are all obligated to help the disadvantaged in some way. But given the vast needs in the foster system, I’m willing to bet that God desires more Jesus-loving men to enthusiastically embrace foster care than currently do.

Men, will you pray about whether or not God is leading you to be a foster dad?

Be courageous, be strong—a child’s need for strong adults drives our fostering. All parenting is filled with various challenges. Foster parenting is filled with its own unique challenges. Trauma is a word that gets talked about a lot in foster care. Some kids go into care because tragedy has robbed them of their parents. Most kids go into care because adults have failed them in some way through neglect, abuse, or abandonment.

And those situations usually have been growing and festering for quite a while before the children are removed from the harmful environment and placed into care. These realities have many negative impacts on the kids.

These kids need strong adults who can help bear the weight of their traumas. These kids also need strong adults who will fight to get them the help they need in life.

The strength here is not our own, it never is. Let’s face it, most of us don’t like to wade through another person’s mess. It is God’s Spirit that gives us the strength and patience to take on bad situations of someone else’s doing, and the wisdom to understand that small positives in the now can lead to much greater twenty years down the road.

And it takes a sense of courage to welcome a stranger into your home, even if that stranger is just a little child. Because of the traumas, you don’t know what they’ll bring with them. It could be something as simple as a perpetually bad attitude. It could be something as complex as threats and attempts at harm against self or others.

We shouldn’t have to live in a world where ten-year-olds are suicidal, but it happens and they need your courage to help stare down their darkness and find light. And again, this courage is not our own. It is God who makes us courageous.

Men, are you willing to step out in courage to give strength to these kids in their times of need?

Do everything in love—loving others drives our fostering. God’s love for us in an amazing thing. He gave himself up that we might have life and a glorious eternity. When we experience his love, God, in turn, calls us to love others in a self-sacrificial manner.

We foster because we believe that every child deserves someone to love them well. In foster care, this might only be for a short time, but it remains true.

Love is happily seeking the best for another. With the traumas and causes mentioned above, so many of these children have seen the worst from life. Feeling loved tends to help us flourish. Lacking love causes us to wither.

Now, we must be cautious here. Putting a child into a safe and loving environment will not make all their traumas and related issues disappear. There will be battles against figurative demons for weeks, months, and years, and sometimes even a lifetime. Often counseling and ongoing therapy is a must.

But being in a loving environment will give them a better fighting chance as we help them learn to cope.

So, men, I ask a final question: Are you willing to show love to kids who aren’t your own and be their “dad” as long as they’re in your home?

After all, the world needs more foster dads.

You can check out Mike’s blog about being a foster dad at fosterdadadventures.com

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A Sober Reflection on Paige Patterson: We Must Fight to Finish Well

It was in college that a long-fledgling faith was endowed with a greater love for Jesus through the word of God and I began in earnest to grow spiritually. At the same time, I was introduced to the Conservative Resurgence by men who had worked in the trenches. They painted pictures of Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, and others that inspired a young man in his early twenties to love the Bible and understand its importance as truth.

Many of us younger pastors were in underoos, diapers, or not yet born when the conservative resurgence began and battles were fought. And even if now we question some of the methods, we don’t doubt the necessity. Regardless of whatever the present struggles, the Southern Baptist Convention would be a shell if not for the “battle for the Bible.”

We place a high priority on Scripture because we are the children of the resurgence.

Yet, over the past several weeks we have witnessed the stumbling of one of our resurgence fathers. No doubt, some of what we have seen has been the result of planned attacks from unsavory sources (a certain “Baptist blogger” comes to mind). But when a man of integrity like Bart Barber speaks to the necessity of Patterson’s removal, then there is no doubt that real problems exist. It would seem that power and entitlement got the best of a man once used mightily by God to help right a listing ship.

As children of the resurgence, we have not only to learn from the positives of Patterson’s life, like his great passion for inerrancy; we also must learn the lesson from this moment—we must fight to finish well.

The same thing defines Paige Patterson as defines you and me: We are sinners in a fallen world. Now, yes, through Jesus we are sinners saved by grace, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and children of the living God. But within us remains the potential “root of bitterness,” the stubborn dying remnants of our sin-nature that seeks to easily entangle us. We can see powerful moves of the Holy Spirit in our lives yet in our same lives both quench and grieve the Spirit. It’s the same reason why within the span of a few words in Scripture, Peter went from being called “blessed” by Jesus to being told “get behind me, Satan!”

We must live with the tension that we can be faithful sons and daughters of God as well as those who don’t finish well. And it’s not just Patterson that we’ve seen in recent days, but also Frank Page and others.

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul reflected on a life that would soon be finished on earth. He was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul finished well, but he was driven by the reality of the fight.

This must drive us as well.

But the enemy we wage the war against isn’t another person. Others might influence us, but we bear the ultimate responsibility for our actions. So, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that he disciplined and brought himself under subjection so that he might not be disqualified. To fight this battle and finish well, there are a few things necessary:

First, we must crucify our sense of entitlement. Jesus said that to follow him we must deny self and take up our cross (Luke 9:23). The only thing we are entitled to in life is death and hell. Everything good we receive is a gift of God (James 1). Every good we experience is an act of God’s grace. We don’t escape hell and eternal death because of our own faithful acts, power, or position. We escape it and find eternal joy because of Jesus and Jesus alone. Grace is our cake and grace is our icing, too. Remembering this keeps us humble and drives us to be faithful.

Second, we must surround ourselves with encouragers but not “yes men”. We know the Proverb—iron sharpens iron. We need people in our lives who will speak often of the grace of God and point us to Jesus. We need people to remind us that even though we were children of wrath, by faith in Jesus we are now children of the King. We need people to help lift our drooping hands and spur us on to faithfulness. We need people who will encourage our strengths, giftings, and passions.

But these people cannot at the same time be yes men or women who refuse to challenge us. We need people who will speak honestly into our lives and rebuke us when necessary. We need people who love us so much that they value our holiness over friendship, that they’re willing to lovingly offend us rather than let us walk in error or pride.

Third, we must have friends who are free to probe the depths. This goes with my previous point: We need people to whom our lives our open books. These are brothers or sisters free to ask us anything with the anticipation of an honest answer. And I mean anything. These are friends to whom no dark crevice is off limits. These are the people we trust to help us dig deep to root out secret sin.

Fourth, we must remember that the story only has one hero. There are many men and women of faith who have lived gracious lives and have done noble things to whom we are indebted and for whom we must be thankful. But we can’t make them our heroes. The men and women listed in Hebrews 11 weren’t named to remind us of their greatness but to remind us their deeds of faith came from looking ahead to the eternal promises of the One Hero.

It’s easy for us to put men like Paige Patterson on pedestals for the many good things he has done. It’s easy for us to exalt others for similar reasons. It’s easy for us to want to one day find ourselves on a pedestal for others to admire.

And it’s wrong.

People fail. Jesus doesn’t. He, alone is the hero. Which leads to my last point…

To fight well to finish well, we, fifth, must daily fix our eyes on Jesus. We must keep our Savior-King and the good news about him forefront. With Jesus, we have everything. Without Jesus, we lose everything. With Jesus, we can move mountains. Without Jesus, we get crushed under foot (Revelation 14). He, alone, is our strength, our hope, our stay. He is the anchor to our soul.

Temptations come. We stumble. We get distracted. So, we must keep looking forward, reaching out, and resting in the strength of Jesus. This must be a daily reality, a constant renewal of the soul. This will fuel our faithfulness until our final breath.

Do What You Do Well

We’re always trying to figure out how to “do church better.” We have, after all, communities of people surrounding us many of whom have little to no connection to a church (other than, maybe, “oh, I attended VBS there as a kid!”). My shelf is filled with books and conference notes that talk about visions, pipelines, revitalizations, etc., ad nauseum.

Most of these are written by or led by men who pastor large churches, run large organizations, or live in large communities. Maybe, at some point, they pastored a tiny church in a small or rural community, but those days are long in the past.

This is not to criticize them or their ministries. The great majority of them are faithful men who love Jesus and whom God uses to make a Kingdom impact. But, as a small church, small community pastor, there seems to be a disconnect between what they suggest and what can be implemented and successful in such a setting as mine.

Recently, however, I picked up a copy of Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters, and it has been a breath of fresh air. He’s not a guy who started in a small church but has been in a larger church / organization for the last two decades. No, he’s a guy who has pretty much always been small church. And he, too, has been frustrated by the calls to cast some vision, implement this paradigm, and follow that pipeline.

Perhaps the piece of advice that I have found that resonates the most is: Discover what your church does well and focus your energy on doing that.

Though we all serve a God of unlimited resources and power, God does not grant each church unlimited pools of money, people, time, or gifts. And this reality can appear even more prominent in small churches that struggle week in and week out. So, we must wisely steward what we have.

Ever wonder why when you read the list of spiritual gifts in Romans and 1 Corinthians, they don’t exactly match up? God, in his infinite wisdom, knows better than us the needs of each church and community. Perhaps, then, he gives different gifts to one church over another because what works in Rome won’t work in Corinth and vice versa. Instead of seeking everything the other has, we should be faithful with what God has given us in our time and place.

Some examples that Vaters provides in his book include:

  • If your church is small enough, and great at fellowship and teaching, then maybe instead of having a traditionally ordered main service and small groups at another time, you treat your main “service” like a small group. Arrange the chairs in a circle, sing together, pray for each other, and then open up Scripture, read it, and dialogue together instead of having a typical sermon.
  • If your church is good at reaching the de-churched, or formerly-churched, then put most of your energy into reaching them, helping them re-connect and get spiritually healthy, and then send them out to do ministry.
  • If your church is good at children and family ministry, then make sure your facilities scream “kid friendly.” Hang banners and balloons. Deck out the main lobby and hallways with artwork from the kids. Do weekly basketball for kids and backpack ministries.
  • If your church is good at preaching and teaching, then rearrange the order of service to make it one of the first things you do instead of one of the last, where visitors have already formed a first, second, and third opinion based on your announcements, music, and greeting.

This is one of the great things about church—what Francis Schaeffer referred to as “form and freedom.” There are certain elements essential to a church—the Bible, prayer, communion, fellowship, praise, and mission. But the Bible gives no sacred “order of service.” There are no specified ways to design and decorate a church building (or even a requirement to have a church building). There is no demand for a use of a pulpit over a chair or a table. There is no requirement that every church focus on kids ministry, Sunday School, or mom’s night out.

But God has brought us together as groups of Jesus-loving people, placed in communities with different spiritual, physical, and relational needs. So, discover what you do well in your limited resources to impact your community for Jesus. Then make that your main thing and keep doing it well.

We don’t need the latest trends, programs, or ministries. We don’t need the most well-crafted vision statements. We need men and women who love Jesus, love each other, and love their communities being as faithful as they can.

From the Voice that Matters Most – Ephesians 2:11-22 “Tear Down This Wall”

Text

So then, remember that at one time you were gentiles in the flesh—called the “uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, he made no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.

He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-22 CSB

Exposition

During my childhood, I spent a lot of time as an outsider. Being shy and awkward resulted in me not having many friends. Lacking athletic talent resulted in me often being picked last for games at school. I had a hard time feeling like I belonged. Another vague memory from my childhood: One day I was watching TV and the cut in with a news break—the Berlin Wall was coming down. This about two years after President Reagan proclaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Both these childhood realities of mine relate to our text at hand. Writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote to a gathering of believers who, primarily, were former idol-worshiping gentiles. That is until the gospel of the Jewish Messiah fell upon their ears with the power of the Holy Spirit and they believed.

When we read through Acts and the spread of the gospel beyond the boarders of Judea, we find countless non-Jews coming to faith in Jesus along with some of the Jews. Because of this the early church, including its Jewish leaders, faced the dilemma: What do we do with all of these gentiles who are trusting in Jesus, receiving the Spirit, and wanting to have a part with us when they know nothing of our laws and customs?

Perhaps no one in the early church addressed this problem more frequently and deeply than Paul, the one called specifically to take the good news of Jesus to the gentiles (while also not neglecting his fellow Jews; Galatians 2:8, Acts 9:15).

And what was his Spirit-inspired solution?

Paul said to the gentiles who had once been excluded because of their spiritual condition and still sometimes felt excluded because of their ethnic background, “I know you’re uncircumcised. I know some of my kin like to use that as a pejorative. I know you feel like outsiders. But Jesus changed everything. And you’re not even the last-picked for the team. You’re a part of Israel, you’re fully a part of the family, and those marks of the skin don’t matter anymore.” Paul pointed back at the crumbled ruins of the dividing wall and said, “Jesus Christ tore down that wall!”

The only thing that mattered was whether or not they had Jesus. If they were “in him” by faith, then all the ways they used to be excluded were now reversed. With Christ, they were citizens, children of the covenants of promise, with hope, and with God in the world. They became the holy ones—a part of God’s household, standing on the bedrock of Jesus through the prophets and apostles, and a part of the holy temple, the house of God’s Spirit.

Paul called this peace. What was once divided had been brought together and what was once two had been made one. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul wrote to all Jesus-followers individually that we are new creations. Here, Paul wrote to us corporately that this new Jew-Gentile family is a new creation. Even with our differences of backgrounds and ethnicities we are one.

And this was no mere implication of the gospel either. Paul called the gospel or good news the “good news of peace.” Paul said that this union of two formerly divided people was brought about “by the blood of Christ.” The gospel unites because Jesus unites. Yes, there is a division between those without Christ and those with Christ. You’re either a part of the family by faith or you’re not. But if we live in Christ, then by default we are to be reconcilers and peace-makers, seeking to tear down walls of hostility that divide.