Here and Back Again: Reflections on being a Foster Parent

Southern Fried Faith:

It was about this time 3 years ago that we said “Goodbye!” to Lulu and Jo-Jo in the parking of Target in Lexington, SC. We still proudly display our family portrait taken at Lake Murray Baptist Church with those incredible girls. We love them, miss them, and are reminded to pray for them and for foster kids everywhere.

Originally posted on Southern Fried Faith:

At noon on a Thursday in mid-May 2010, we received a phone call that our foster care license was active.  With significant limitations placed on the agency with regard to the kinds of kids we could take, I was extremely skeptical that we would ever receive a placement.

At 3:30 that same afternoon, we received another phone call asking us to pick up two African-American/Hispanic sisters, ages 2 and 3.

446 days later, we now know they will be returning home very shortly.

They are leaving as quickly as they came.  They were here, but now they are back again. It’s a new reality worthy of a few reflections.

First, blaming foster kids for how God is using them to refine you is a pretty horrible way to be a foster parent.  At the peak of my frustration as a foster parent, I was an angry, bitter, mean dad…

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Sometimes It’s Easier to Believe We Are Better Than Other People Than to Believe the Gospel

I don’t have a file cabinet in my office at the moment, so inside of a cardboard file box in my home is file labeled “notes of encouragement.” There are dozens if not hundreds of cards and letters that I received over the last 15 years or so of church ministry. Every now and then, I will pull those notes out and read them again in order to be encouraged or inspired during difficult times.

I don’t have a folder for all the notes and letters I received from people expressing anger, frustration or bitterness. I eventually trashed those. If they were sent anonymously, I didn’t read them at all. If they were signed, and if church members wrote them, I tried my level best to deal with the issues in a biblical fashion. Because sinners and unbelievers were involved (including me), results varied. Some conflicts were resolved beautifully in a way that truly glorified Jesus. Others, like the following conflict, ended sadly.

Less than two months into one pastorate, I received a relatively long, typewritten letter from a member that detailed all of the reasons three of the other ministers on staff should have been fired. The allegations were not broad or generic, but specific and detailed. With the letter in hand, I met individually with each staff member and went through his or her version of events. Each of them agreed to meet with the accuser, so I took my notes and the letter back in to my office and called the church member.

The conversation that ensued was not a pleasant one. This person had no interest in resolving the issues, nor did they desire to live in biblical community with church leaders. The purpose in writing was to equip me with the “truth” so that I could do their bidding. This individual was aggressive in writing the letter to me, defensive when confronted, dodged every attempt I made to reconcile, and pretended like nothing happened for a few weeks before leaving the church.

We have all been there. Sometimes it’s easier to believe that we are better than other people than it is to believe the gospel.

Read more in Southern Fried Faith.

Five Insights into Idolatry

Great stuff here from J. D. Greear.

1. An idol is anything that promises a life of security and joy apart from God.

In Acts 19, Artemis is described as the “protector” and “prosperer” of Ephesus. With her, the Ephesians believed, they were guaranteed security and joy. This false hope is precisely what makes an idol an idol. Idols are not usually bad things, but good things that have become ultimate things—things you believe guarantee you joy and security.

What is that in your life? About what do you think, “As long as I have this, I’ll have happy”? What do you so desperately need that you can’t imagine a fulfilled life without it?

What makes these idols so dangerous is that they are nearly always goodthings. I have seen the good of desiring marriage become a false god. I’ve seen the good of wanting to provide become the idol of always needing to achieve one more financial benchmark. The problem isn’t the money or the marriage. The problem comes when we trust in those things to satisfy.

2. Idols engage the deepest emotions in our hearts.

When idols are challenged, people get violent. That’s what happens in Acts 19, when Artemis’ prowess is threatened. And it’s what happens in our lives when something we love is threatened, because many of our deepest emotions are connected to idols. Some of my deepest emotions are connected to worshipping the idol of success.

What is that in your life? About what do you think, “If I ever lost this, I’d never survive”? What possible loss makes you not only frightened, butdespairing?

The irony here is that idolizing something ultimately keeps you from being able to enjoy it at all. You panic and fret about losing something so vital that you can never rest. For instance, many of the wealthiest people are the most paranoid about their money. Gaining more of an idol only heightens that sense of fear, because nothing other than God can sustain the weight of your soul.

3. Idols need to be protected.

One of the craftsmen in Ephesus, Demetrius, was making a fortune on Artemis statues, coffee mugs, and bobble-head dolls. He wasn’t about to stand idly by while Paul undermined his entire financial enterprise with his “Gods made with hands are not really gods” message. So he gathered up an impromptu group of thugs to force Paul out of town.

Don’t miss the humor in this: Artemis was the protector of Ephesus. Yet when Demetrius’ skin was in the game—his cash flow—he immediately jumped up to defend her. That’s the absurdity of idolatry: what is supposed to protect usbecomes something we fiercely protect.

What is that in your life? What do you feel obsessive about protecting in your life?

Charles Spurgeon said the Word of God is like a caged lion. If someone threatens the lion, you don’t have to step in and defend the lion; you just let it loose and it will protect itself. The God of the Word can protect himself, but our false gods always need to be protected.

4. Idols demand sacrifices to keep them happy.

The whole system in Ephesus was built on appeasing Artemis and keeping her happy. That was no accident: idols will always make you sacrifice for them.If business is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your integrity to climb the ladder of success. If acceptance is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your honesty and lie to get affirmation. If romance is your idol, you’ll walk out on your spouse as soon as the “spark” seems to fade.

But an idol is like a fire. It never says, “That’s enough.” Instead, it just keeps asking for more. The altar of idolatry is terrifyingly insatiable: the more you sacrifice for an idol, the more it will demand.

What is that in your life? What part of yourself have you sacrificed on the altar of an idol? Where do you feel that “pull” to keep cutting corners or making excuses? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this sacrifice will be the last one.

5. The gospel overcomes our idolatry.[2]

The idol of money says to us, “If you don’t do enough to obtain me, I’ll make you miserable.” The idol of family says, “If you lose me, life won’t be worth living.” The idol of comfort says, again and again, “Sacrifice your honesty, your integrity, your closest relationships, for me.

Idols are harsh taskmasters. If you fail them, they make you pay. But in the gospel Jesus says to us, “You did fail me. But instead of destroying you, I’ll let myself be destroyed for you. Instead of demanding a sacrifice, I will become a sacrifice for you.” In Jesus, unlike idols, we find the only God that—when we obtain him—will satisfy us, and—when we fail him—will forgive us.

My Children Taught Me How Stupid Relativism Is

There is a kind of intellectualism that asserts there is no final Truth that can be eternally enjoyed, but that the search for truth IS the truth to be enjoyed. This is, of course, a self-defeating statement, but when you’re talking about relativism or any other “-ism” that argues against the existence of any absolute morality, they fail to see that to make such a statement is to appeal to some sort of absolutely morality.

Indeed, some might argue that belief in an absolute standard of right and wrong is childish.

Have such people ever spent time with a 3 year-old?

  • Why is that man’s skin darker than mine? (answer involving melanin, genetics, culture, etc.).
  • What’s that big red spot on that kid’s face? (answer explaining port wine stains, blood vessels, and candela lasers)
  • What’s that man doing in his yard? (answer involving lawn mowers, weed-eaters, power-blowers, and HOA regulations)

No child is satisfied with the answer, “I don’t know.” They know there MUST BE AN ANSWER to why things are the way they are. They inherently know that there must be something ultimately and finally true about whatever it is they are observing. And they don’t revel in an answer that says nothing is finally true. They HATE IT when we even remotely imply there are no final answers to their questions.

In other words, there are no relativistic children. There are no children who find it settling to never have answers.

No: children seek answers to their questions because they know that those answers will bring them joy and satisfaction. They REVEL in explanations! They REJOICE when we can confidently bring resolution to their dilemmas.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was referring to in Luke 18:16-17. ““Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 

Maybe Jesus is referring to humility (a tie back to verses 1-4 in the Matthew account of this story); maybe he’s talking about a doubtless faith. The text isn’t explicit, so I’ve got a little liberty to suggest maybe Jesus is pointing out that adults tend to be quite cynical and/or prideful, even to the point of challenging the existence of an absolute moral authority (which is to make oneself a moral authority). This cynicism and pride makes it extremely difficult to come to him like a child … knowing that He is the answer to all their questions.

So we need to be like children … with the humility to know we can never have all the answers. With the humility to know that it’s self-defeating to say, “The answer is that there are no final answers.” With the humility to say, “Jesus is the answer.”

My Wall of Gaylord

Meet-the-Fockers-wall-of-gaylord1

 

In the not-as-good sequel to “Meet the Parents,” movie-watchers get a glimpse of Gaylord (Gabe) Focker’s upbringing. His parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand) could not be more opposite his in-laws (Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner). Whereas her parents are tightly wound, prim and proper … always with high expectations for themselves and others … Focker’s parents are emotional and affectionate, eager to heap praise on their son for the most minute achievements.

The best example of the latter comes when we see the Focker Wall of Fame … or the Wall of Gaylord: an astonishingly gaudy display of all Gabe’s accomplishments.

His rather paltry accomplishments.

9th place ribbons (“They’ve got ribbons that go all the way up to 10!”) and a trophy for excellent regional nursing are particularly cited.

Clearly the Focker’s were more concerned about passion than achievement.

Clearly their future in-laws were more concerned about achievement than passion.

In the economy of the United States, the Wall of Gaylord loses every time. In the economy of the gospel, everybody’s wall is the Wall of Gaylord.

Take a look at this astonishing statement from Jesus explaining just how perfect we have to be (Luke 17:1-4).

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

You and I are to be so holy that we never cause anyone to sin, always properly call out the sins of others, and always fully forgive every person who sins against us. The disciples instantly recognize that they could never do this, ad cry out to Jesus to “increase their faith” so that they can. Jesus validates their appeal to faith: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).

But faith in what? Whatever the answer might be, the next few verses point out that it’s not “faith in our duty.”

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

It’s a rather offensive parable to us hard-working southern Americans. As Bryan Chapell has written in his awesome book, “Holiness by Grace,” God does not open his heart and extend his power to his people simply b/c they have done their duty (as if we could even do our duty!).

So what can our faith be in that will move mulberry bushes and grow them in the ocean? What happens next in Luke 17:11-19 illustrates it well. Like a leper who has lost everything he has, we must cry out desperately for the grace and mercy of God.

This is the person God responds to: one who has faith in His grace and mercy and despairs of any other thing to help him. He’s proud of nothing he has done or accomplished.

He knows his wall of accomplishments is a “Wall of Gaylord” at best.