Out of Step With God…

How easy is it to be out of step from God and his mission? Can a disagreement begin the seed of causing our hearts to wander from the Lord? One jealous thought? One angry rant? I have not meditated enough on how easy it is for myself to quickly get far off course from joining God in his mission to redeem this world. 

If I were really honest, there are certain passages of scripture that I started reading and hearing about so much from a young age that when I get to that section in my bible reading plan I can almost skim through it faster then I can digest. I know what is coming because I have practically memorized the passage, but I don’t sit and let the words soak deep in my spirit and convict my soul. It is sort of like turning the corner to drive down the street to my home. I have driven that home stretch so many times; I often don’t stop to notice the details on my neighbor’s houses.

The “fruits of the spirit” passage is one of those sections for me. Whenever I get to Galatians 5 and know the fruit of the spirit passage is coming, my mind immediately summons up images from early childhood Sunday school classes of fruit trees with cartoon sketches of apples and oranges with the words: love, joy, peace, and so on written on the inside… Of course, I love this passage of scripture, but it is so familiar that without even realizing it I often read so quickly and then jump to praying for more fruit of the spirit in my life.

But I was convicted to slow down and really meditate on this passage this week. Of course phrases and words jumped out and ignited my soul like never before. Galatians 5:16-26 is so rich & full. As I read through this section again and again, I felt like I was drinking from a deep and fierce fountain of joy and truth. At the end of this passage, Paul exhorts us to “keep in step with the spirit.” I noticed this after reading a very long list of the many ways I often get “out of step” with the spirit: idolatry, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…and things like these.

 It is powerful to connect “the works of the flesh” that Paul warns his readers about in Galatians 5:19 with actually causing us to be “out of step” with God’s movement and work. I realized how often I do not even know what to pray for, because instead of being led by God’ spirit I am being led by my fleshly idols. Where there is jealousy, anger, rivalry, and dissension in my heart, life, or ministry: I cannot be in step with God and his work. In fact, to really have any fruit of the spirit in my life, I must accept that all those “works of the flesh” were nailed to the cross with Jesus. I have no rights to my anger, offense, or hurt that would seek to cling on to the works of the flesh as a vehicle for nursing my wounds. 

This is deeply convicting. How beautiful that all things that motivate a wicked and fleshly heart were crucified in Christ. How amazing that the Lord speaks to us even in the midst of our wandering hearts. Oh what grace God has lavished upon us that we should be called children of this great God! 

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Days Like These: Is International Adoption a Lesser Call then Foster Care?

“Days Like This” is a Q & A series about foster care and adoption. I would love to hear your questions! Email me at: azfosteradopt (at) gmail (dot) com
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Dennae,

I was moving in the direction of international adoption for a lot of different reasons, but my church is currently pushing strongly for local foster care and adoption and now I’m not sure what to do? Am I missing what God wants for our family? I have been so discouraged and feel like everywhere I go people keep asking why we are raising money and not just taking in a foster child? I have had such a burden to adopt from China since I was a little girl and first heard a missionary speak of baby girls being killed, but I feel like everywhere I turn my church community questions my motives.

Katie

Dear Katie,

I’m glad you felt enough courage to ask the person who is constantly talking about foster care and local adoption these questions!  I hope my answer will help encourage you as well as challenge those of us who ever discourage international adoption.

Here are the two common objections I hear from local foster/adoptive families who criticize international adoption:

Objection #1: It’s free to adopt through the state or foster care and it can cost $20,000-$50.000 to adopt internationally…. Why would you spend that money?

My Answer: Adopting a child is nothing like buying a car. You don’t make this decision based on what is the “greatest bang for your buck.” These are children without family. Internationally they may be living in poverty with no hope of their basic needs being met & locally they are at-risk of spending their entire lives alone, wandering, and entering adulthood at risk of never being able to be self-sufficient. How can we encourage people to chose which child to remove from misery based on the cost??? And while we are talking about cars…why can you drop $15-35,000 for a car and no one in our church questions that decision, but I seek to drop that amount for a child and I get raised eye brows for not taking the “free” option?

It can also cost $20,000+ to adopt privately. If private adoption did not exist then women who had crisis/unplanned pregnancies would have 2 options: abortion or raising that child. We need families who are willing to adopt these children and sacrifice financially to do so.

Lastly, implying that foster or adoptive families chose the local route only because it’s free or because they get financial help is a TOTAL insult. So your critics are insulting you and insulting local foster & adoptive parents!

Objection #2: Our city is full of children who need homes, why are you going overseas?

My Answer: Actually, our city is not full of children. The 14,000 children who need homes in Arizona can easily (yes, EASILY…do the math and figure out the ratio of churches to children needing homes) be met by the church stepping up and becoming foster or adoptive parents. And even that high number of 14,000 children could be reduced if Christians chose to enter into relationships & break bread with societies most vulnerable. There are ways to prevent these children from needing homes all together!

But our world is full of children who need to be adopted. There are 140+ million orphans and there are hundreds of millions who need families. Does every orphan need adoption? No. Do we need to really be careful and take the time to engage in just practice of adoption? Yes. So why are you going overseas? Two answers: because there is a great need and because God called you to go.

As terrible as it is for foster children to not have homes in America, the global situation is incredibly bleak. All over the world there are children languishing in orphanages and on the street. These children are starving, dying from disease and illness, being thrown out because they have a disability. These children need families too.

In summary, there are good motivations and bad motivations for adopting internationally and locally. Adoption (or foster care) should always be motivated by a calling from the Lord to provide a family to a child in such a way that he gets great glory. We don’t do this because we need to be mothers or fathers. We don’t do this because we want our family to look colorful. We don’t do this because it earns us merit or favor before the Lord. We don’t chose one route over the other because of finances or birth family contact. We do this because God calls us and God has called his people for thousands of years to go out into all this world.

My only encouragement to you is to guard your heart from resentment or discouragement (both are from the enemy). Don’t read into the church’s passion for local foster children and isolate yourself because you are doing something different. Be thankful they care about vulnerable children (thankful enough to show grace when they say dumb and hurtful things). As your church welcomes in foster children and you an international child, you will all be able to benefit from a supportive community that welcomes children with trauma & loss into their lives.

I hope and pray as churches take up this burden to care for our city’s foster children that there is no criticism or discouragement to families who chose to adopt internationally. Don’t criticize the ones the Lord has asked to sacrifice greatly in order to love the “least.” Don’t judge or discourage someone from raising funds to bring home an orphan living in horrific poverty and disease to make them their own child.  For the global orphan crisis to be addressed, we all need to be in this together.

DP

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Christian Family Care Orientation @ Roosevelt Church

Roosevelt Community Church, Whitton Avenue Bible Church, Church on Mill, and Life Connection Church have partnered together for the month of May to share the needs of Arizona’s foster care system with our people. Our state is currently in crisis. There is an overwhelming need for foster and adoptive parents. We are boldly praying that the Lord would call 6 new families between our churches to become foster or adoptive parents.

Take the first state required step by attending a Christian Family Care Orientation May 22nd for an introduction to foster care and adoption. Hear more about our state’s foster care crisis and what it would be like to provide a home for Arizona’s foster children. 

What?  Christian Family Care Orientation
Where? Roosevelt Community Church 924 North 1st Street
When? 6:30-8:30 (light snacks provided)
Why? To learn about Arizona’s foster care crisis & take one step toward seeking if the Lord would have you become a foster or adoptive parent 

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Days Like This: Visitations Causing Problems

“Days Like This” is a Q & A series about foster care and adoption. I would love to hear your questions! Email me at: azfosteradopt (at) gmail (dot) com
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Dennae,

I have had my foster son for six months now and am having trouble with the caseworker.  I completely disagree with her decisions related to my son’s case and believe the mom should have no contact with our son. Birth mom still has no job and is living in a shelter; I can’t imagine that reunification is possible.  It is really upsetting to see him go to visits and come back hopped up on sugar and so angry and sad. The caseworker says this is normal, but it feels like we are torturing our child. What should we do?

Louanne

Dear Louanne,

It sounds like you are really discouraged and having a hard time, I am so sorry. Visits are a very emotionally draining time for everyone: the child, the birth parent, and foster parents. I don’t know that there is ever a visitation situation that does not complicate a foster parent’s life. Your little paragraph was full of many common problems for foster families and there are a few different angles I would like to answer your question from.

Let’s start by taking a look at disagreeing with the caseworker’s decisions. There are a few important key things to remember. First, the caseworker has certain procedures they have to follow, so what happens when it comes to visits is not always up to them. Second, the caseworker may be keeping details that you are unaware of to herself because of her requirement for confidentiality. Third, remember God placed your caseworker in your life. It does not matter if your caseworker is 100% wrong, if you are called to foster care then you are called to love, encourage, and be respectful with that caseworker. That does not mean if your caseworker is truly doing something that is hurting the case (such as not returning phone calls for 3 months) that you do not talk to their supervisor, but it does mean that no matter what we need to be kind, patient, gentle, and gracious with our very over burdened caseworkers.

As far as visitation goes, it is important to remember that visitation is a parent’s right. Do we really want the government taking away the rights of parents prematurely? Prior to the legal severance of the birth parent’s rights, it would be alarming for the government to take too many measures without a trial or hearing that prevent a parent from seeing their child. Severing a parent’s rights is a big deal. As time drags on, it can be frustrating, but try to free yourself by accepting this is completely out of your control. The judge decides and God is never surprised by the judges decisions.

As far as sugar goes, you can do your best to encourage birth mom not to load their child up on sugar, but pick your battle. This mom is feeling incredible guilt and shame. For whatever the reason, she lost her child to the state government. She is only seeing that child for a short period of time each week and may not be emotionally healthy enough to even use that time to parent or pay attention to her child. But deep down, she has parental instincts and what parent does not want to see their child happy? In her limited capacity due to her own upbringing, drug/alcohol addiction, recovering from domestic violence, or whatever landed her in this situation—sometimes the only way she knows how to make her child happy is by giving them everything they want. I think this just has to be one of those things you overlook, withhold judgement & endure.

Regardless of whether reunification happens or not, birth mom/dad/grandparents are part of your life too (even if you never see them again-they become part of your families story). In fact, I bet God put them in your life as an opportunity to show them grace and love. Perhaps God chose you to be their foster family to not only provide safety and love for their child, but for you to be a loving testimony of the good news of Jesus to the adults involved. It is easy to love children. If that is all there was to foster care then we probably would not have a foster parent shortage, but it is challenging and sometimes painful to deeply love the adults involved. It will cost you your pride, your opinions, and sometimes your reputation, but in exchange you gain an opportunity to proclaim and live Christ crucified. Hard work, no doubt, but possible when we look to the wonderful example of Jesus Christ.

So if you want a short answer to your question, “What can you do?” I guess all I can say is step back, be slow to speak, and love, love, love. I know that may not be practical or helpful, but it is the only way to endure the many challenges of being a foster parent in a way that brings great glory to God. Make sure you reach out to other foster parents and supportive friends for prayer and encouragement as you walk through these challenges.

Blessings,

Dennae

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The Humiliation of Christ: Comfort to Discouraged Souls

Reflecting on the humiliation of Christ has profound impacts in our personal lives. Having an intellectual grasp on theology that does not shape our thoughts, attitudes, and relationships with others leads to lives void of deep communion with the Lord and others. If we are struggling with rejection, pain, or suffering and respond in sinful ways then there is no sweeter solace to our sous then meditating on the humiliation of Christ. Both in the death of Christ and the life he lived, we find the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, becoming nothing and enduring great humiliation for the sake of his Father’s mission: to redeem, adopt, sanctify and glorify his children.

Each of us has seasons of discouragement and despair. We experience agony, pain, suffering, and turmoil. We each know heartbreak, disappointment, and betrayal. This happens as a result of others sin, often as a result of our own sin, because we live in a fallen world full of broken bodies and creation, and because we have an enemy who rages and prowls like a roaring lion. How do we process this? How do we stop looking inward at our pain and start looking outward to our God?

For me, it starts by meditating on the God-ness of Christ. We should be filled with wonder when we think about God dwelling with man, consider how far humanity has fallen. Then we have to really understand the humanity of Christ. It is easy to minimize the difficult and painful life Christ lived because he was God. We think he somehow was more resilient to pain, suffering, and hurt since he is the creator of this universe. But it is precisely because Christ is God that the suffering and pain he experienced was felt exponentially more then we have ever felt.

Think of it this way: We experience rejection and are sinned against, but rarely are we sinned against without quickly getting our own sin up in the mix. Christ experienced rejection as a complete victim and his rejection came at the hands of the ones he loved enough to die for. Christ should have been exalted and worshiped by everything on earth that contained breath, yet instead he was humiliated beyond all imagination. But it is because of Christ rejection, sorrow, and humiliation that Isaiah 53:3-4 tells us that we have a Savior who can comfort us. In Christ rejection, he knew no sin and it is by his side that we learn to resist the temptation to sin against others in the midst of experiencing our own rejection.

 If you are discouraged, take heart in knowing you have a Savior who deeply sympathizes in your weaknesses. If you are rejected, know you have been accepted by the only one who truly matters. If you are full of shame, know that Christ hung bloody and naked on a cross, humiliated, so that he could become shame for you. 

 

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Thoughts on the homosexuality disussion…

Note to reader: I only had time to write this post because I happened to be up late last night and was able to quickly jot down some unfiltered thoughts. I closed the comment section for this, only because I don’t have time right now (having a baby in 7 weeks, just added a teen to our family, working overtime, etc.) to engage in an online discussion. With that said, this is a topic I am more than happy to talk about in-person and at anytime. 

I’ve been in the social advocacy arena for the last decade. I started out with homeless teenagers living on the street, then a shelter for women and their children leaving domestic violence, and now I am deeply involved in all aspects of foster care and child-welfare. This has meant that the bulk of my adult relationships have been with liberals of various religious – or no religious – beliefs. My past decade has been spent with youth care workers, social advocates, and social workers. These people are eager to see poverty addressed, drawn to advocacy, and despite their higher levels of education, they ignore student loan debt to embrace careers characterized by long hours and little more than minimum wage. Their passion for people drives them, and I have been blessed to work alongside so many passionate individuals, even in the presence of big differences in our belief systems.

That is the backdrop of me saying I am tired that the only “face”  many of my liberal, social activist friends see of Christianity is constructed from sound bites on Comedy Central, Fox, and NPR, which usually involve an evangelical saying something incredibly insensitive. Name the topic: race, gender, poverty…and homosexuality. Hear me loud and clear: I am not blaming the media for this being the “face” given to Christians; when it comes to communicating on issues that divide the political parties, I wish Christians could be more articulate, compassionate, educated, and loving.

I am not afraid of talking about my God or what I believe the Bible tells me about life & living, and I want everyone to know the Christ who has completely transformed my heart and soul. However, the honest truth is this: Sometimes I am afraid of people meeting my Christian brothers and sisters, and I find myself anxious thinking of what words may cause unnecessary offense. I’m okay with Jesus and all that he stands for creating offense, but I struggle with his followers creating offense where Jesus doesn’t.

Yet, This anxiousness and fear of my two worlds colliding is ridiculous, because the truth of it is, the evangelical church is where I have met the most giving, generous, and self-sacrificing men and women. I actually think the friendships I have developed in both groups would enjoy each other greatly.

It is in the local church where I have seen people sacrifice financially – not just be generous, but forgo a vacation, their home, an upgraded vehicle their kids can all fit in, all for the purpose of meeting the needs of someone else. I have seen mothers willingly welcome a constant battle of loss and depression into their heart and home as they faithfully take children into their families, become attached, then have the children leave (sometimes knowing it was what was supposed to happen, while other times knowing the child is still at great risk).

I’ve seen black men have to filter through the ignorant statements of their Christian brothers and sisters who are in the white majority, willingly choosing to show grace and keep no record of wrong for the sake of maintaining a diverse church community…even though they would probably feel more comfortable in an all black context. I’ve seen people show incredible vulnerability and openness about their addictions, past child abuse, current broken marriages, depression, anxiety, and worthlessness. I have seen people who were not suffering choose to take on the suffering of others in order to provide love, comfort, and relief. And I could go on and on…

I have seen all these things in my Christian community. Being a part of this spiritual family has been extremely challenging and painful at times, but for the most part, humbling and beautiful, as well as something I have never come close to experiencing in any other setting. I hate that liberal churches demonize the evangelical church, turning them into the whipping boy for all that has gone wrong in this world. I love the local church, and I believe in the church.

But a lot of the world we live in doesn’t get to experience this face of Christianity, because their only encounter with Christians is someone who tweets about gay marriage or posts about how “stupid” and “un-American” Obama is. Due to the fact they only see a distant sound bite of a “Christian” congressman demoralizing people in poverty, so many of my friends have never gotten to experience the beautiful, sacrificial, self-giving, loving community that can occur within a local church.

And I think this problem has surfaced – yet again – with this new Arizona bill, which I find poorly written and completely unnecessary.

Christians need to move the homosexuality discussion away from social media platforms and to Starbucks, over a good cup of coffee with a liberal or gay friend. Your position and opinion may remain the same, but I really believe your tone, reasoning, and message would be different if you actually walked alongside and developed relationships with people who are not conservative Christians.

Scripture tells us that we are known by our love, but in fact, I keep hearing Christians talk about the world hating them as if it is something to be proud of. 1 John 3 says, “Do not be surprised brothers and sisters if the world hates you…,” but that verse is sandwiched within a paragraph that is talking about our deep, deep love for one another. I am not so convinced it is our love that is causing the world to hate us right now, but maybe there is a lot about how we communicate our message that actually prevents the world from seeing the incredible love that truly exists in Christian community.

Little love is communicated via regurgitating political sound bites. Let’s have Christ’s love eminate so richly from our lives that we cultivate a safe place to engage in real relationship with others, for it is through real relationship that you can truly understand and be understood by another.

And to my liberal friends who just can’t relate to what you see and hear from Christians in the media: To you, I ask for grace, and to please move beyond the sound bites to get to know some Christians. I’m not going to apologize for Christians as a whole or judge the evangelical church in a way that somehow acts like I stand outside of it. I will just say Christian community is so much more than what the political parties have hi-jacked it to be. The Republican Party doesn’t care about introducing people to the amazing person of Christ, but simply wants more votes. Unfortunately for now, the more passionately divided Republicans and Democrats are, the better it is for those leading each party.

Christians may engage in politics, but engaging in a particular political party is not a religious mandate. Christian community has been life-changing for me, and I love it and the people I do life with. I hope you too can get to know some Christians in a deep enough way to overlook and challenge the hurtful ways issues get discussed at a broad, popular level.

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Proverbs

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When I was in high school a wise man named Steve Woods challenged me to read a Proverb a day…since there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, it seemed like a book ready-made to read a chapter each day. Now, over a decade later, I figure I have read Proverbs over 100 times. I wish I could say that about the entire Bible, but Proverbs is deeply soaked into every crevice of my heart and brain. When I do something foolish I am completely aware which Proverbs I am contradicting. It is always a sin of commission when I tempt Vermon to move up to a rooftop (Proverbs 21:9). In other words, I know exactly what I am doing and that Godly wisdom tells me to do a 180.

In the ways I still reject wisdom and pursue folly and foolishness, I am broken. Broken that I reject truth that is literally seared into my mind and memory. I don’t write the above paragraph with pride trying to show off all that I know from the Scriptures, but to say I am more guilty then most in failing to live according to beautiful words of instruction again and again. If I have read a passage of Scripture hundreds of times, then I am more guilty for not submitting to these words then someone who has heard it once. I am thankful that the Lord is ever gracious and forgiving despite my continual disobedience. I am thankful for his wonderful grace to continue to mold me and shape me and bring me closer and closer to his heart of wisdom. I am thankful for a loving Father who gives wisdom generously to all who ask (James 1:5).

But on the up side, there are things that the Lord has breathed into the depths of my bones from the many Proverbs I have read and for that I am EVER thankful. My heart for the poor, speechless, and vulnerable was born in studying Proverbs. A desire to fight laziness and work hard, beliefs about money and not living in debt, the type of wife I strive to be, how short life is, and a constant awareness of my terrible tongue that needs to be reigned in at all cost has all come from studying Proverbs.

I have also seen Proverbs seep through all aspects of my parenting. I am constantly borrowing the language as I talk to my children, “path of foolishness vs. path of wisdom”…are they hearing from “folly” or “lady wisdom”…are they choosing the path of “life” or “death”? I hope to train my children to think constantly in these terms because the reality is, every choice we make is either for or against life, for or against wisdom, for or against Christ. Is that an intense thought for my 3-year old as he stands with a cup of milk in his hand weighing his decision to give it to me or throw it at me? Perhaps, but it is one lesson he must learn because sooner rather than later that same choice to ignore wisdom and choose folly will have consequences much, much greater than milk on a floor. It will be a mess of his life and the lives around him.

Recently, I have started reading it nightly to Thomas (13 years old) and Marcel (11 years) and I am shocked at how relevant this is for young boys. On the 5th of each month I get to talk to them about adultery, on the 31st we talk about what type of woman to marry, on other days we discuss pornography and the importance of guarding and bouncing their eyes (yes, dad has all these talks too…but I never shy away from sharing my perspective as a wife and woman)…and almost daily we can talk about what friends they choose, what they do with their money, what their prayers should look like, and what will happen if they do not become hard workers and fight against the cultural siren of the day to be lazy.

So it is important to speak and teach the gospel constantly to our children, but it is also important to teach them everyday biblical wisdom. Integrating Proverbs into your parenting will provide you endless opportunities to tie their motivation for wise living to the gospel and remind them this is a gift they must beg the Lord for. I hope and pray that Marcel and Thomas will soon be adding a daily Proverbs reading to their morning routine and pray that it will bear much, much fruit in their lives.

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