Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"IF I were GOD!"

By Loyd Naten

There are many experiences in life that we have not experienced and, therefore, we are unable to understand how those experiences will impact our lives. Yet, God understands them all. In fact, His love for us is such that He is aware of every emotion, every pain, or anxiety that any issue or challenge produces in our heart.

It is at these unexpected moments when we are caught off guard that our faith and confidence in God is tested. It is in these times that we tend to forget who God is and the promises He has made to each of us. Promises such as “I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5, NKJV). Or His statement which says, “There is a friend who sticks [to adhere or cling to] closer than a brother” (Pro. 18:24, NKJV).

Sometimes I’m surprised at my own lack of faith in God when confronted with the unexpected. I have a lapse of memory concerning what Paul told the Thessalonians:  that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this” (1 Thess. 3:3, NKJV). What often happens is that we start living our lives from the circumstances we’re dealing with rather than from our position in Christ. We start looking at what the outcome will look like rather than how we’re dealing with the process, which really defines who we are and what we’re made of.

Depending on our level of faith in God, we will either turn to God for peace and assurance, or we start questioning God as to why He allowed these issues to come our way. We then set ourselves up as God by verbalizing how things should have been handled, as if we know better than God. Just a word of caution: there will be those times when your experience will contradict your theology . . . times when you come to realize you don’t know God, nor His word, as well as you thought you did.

Jesus knew His disciples failed to understand all He had just said to them—the news of His departure and of His approaching death; the announcement that one of their own would betray Christ (it pierced their hearts like a sharp arrow); or to hear that Peter, their spokesman, their rock of strength, their most prominent and boldest brother, highly beloved and trusted by the Master, part of Christ’s inner circle, would commit the deadly sin of denying their Master three times. It was unsettling to their spirits. The thought of these events was enough to scatter the disciples to the four winds.

Jesus knew that not only His disciples, but also each of us would be educated in the university of troubles, trials, difficulties, and adversities. To the disciples whose world was about to be turned upside down, Christ says, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). God is saying that to each of us who are being tried by fire—who have been caught off-guard by heart-crushing circumstances—who are overwhelmed with loneliness, fear, and doubt—and whose dreams, hopes, and future have seemingly been shattered by the unexpected. We lose sight of life and the truths of God’s Words.

So, as with the disciples, Christ seeks immediately to fortify our hearts, to strengthen us against impending trouble, and to shelter us from every sorrow and perplexity that wastes no time in impacting our lives. How does Christ accomplish this? The fortification comes through faith in God. Christ says, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe in Me.” We will all, on many occasions, be placed in a position where our faith in God is tested; it will be our faith that sustains us when it seems our world is falling apart.

Job’s perspective on life didn’t change until he beheld God as He truly is. Then you hear him say, “I know that you can do all things” (John 42:2, NKJV). Listen, God is trustworthy at all times no matter what the circumstances are.

Friday, June 20, 2014


By Randy Lawrence 

Having four children under the age of 6, the most popular question in our household without doubt is: 


Young inquisitive minds are continually voicing (sometimes at a very high frequencies) their curious petitions to my wife and I as they try to figure out this thing we call life. On some days, my mind races with the exact same questions. Honestly, there are many days when I want to stand on my tippy toes and scream at the top of my lungs as my 3-year-old Cali does and yell, "WHY? DAD WHY?" 

Have you ever had those moments? Why this? Why that? Why did he have to die? Why this report? Why now? 

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, "To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven." While this principle of God's Word at times might not be the most preferred method of human comfort, as believers we must hold on to the promise that God has a purpose and a season for all of life's "Whys". 

In 1 Kings 17 the prophet Elijah finds himself in an interesting season of life. After obeying the Lord's instructions to proclaim a drought to King Ahab, Elijah finds himself down by the Brook Cherith drinking from the brook and being fed by the ravens (as God has instructed). Life is going GREAT! Until we get to verse 7, "And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land." Boom! All of a sudden Elijah is thrust into a Why? moment. Just what do you do when the creek runs dry and the ravens won't fly? To seemingly add insult to injury, why is Elijah out of water? Because he followed the voice of the Lord instructing him to proclaim a drought, thats why! 

It's in these precarious season and moments in life when we are essentially faced with two options: we either can run TO GOD, or run FROM GOD. Spurgeon said, "The same sun that melts wax, hardens clay." The choices and decisions we make in these difficult, sometimes unbearable season in life often have the greatest impact on our unforeseeable future. In the face of the Whys that are staring us in the face, screaming at us in very high decibels, we must be sure that God will not leave us alone. The same voice that instructed Elijah to proclaim the drought is the same voice that comes to him in verse 9 instructing hime to "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." God hadn't forgotten about his boy Elijah. Likewise, while we are never guaranteed to have the answers to all of life's Whys, we do have the guarantee found in Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." 

Let me ask you an important Why? question, "Why go through these seasons alone?" In the difficult season of life, the enemy would love nothing more than to push us into isolation! He will use the Whys to try and isolate us from, God's Word, the voice of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship and support of believers. We will all face difficult seasons in life, and it is absolutely crucial in these moments that we refuse to take the somewhat attractive advice of the enemy to slip into isolation. So when the enemy comes with his deep dark suggestions of isolation, remind hime of the words of Christ in John 14:18, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." 

You are not alone. We are not alone. We have all the help and support we need to face the all the Whys this life could possibly throw our way. To me, that is relevant. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

How long?

By Teena Skiles

I remember June 3, 2003 as if it were yesterday. I stood over my brother as he took his last breath on this earth. Alongside me were my sister-in-law, my uncle, and my husband. To this day I feel so privileged to be a witness of God’s divine presence in that room.

It was just moments before my brother’s passing that I had excused myself and frantically headed into the guest bedroom to hyperventilate—a first for me. With hands on my knees, heaving violently, the walls were crashing in. I could not control what was happening. My husband, Joe, had followed me into what felt as a dungeon. I remember him taking my hands and saying my name over and over, “Teena, it’s okay. Just breathe.” My eyes focused on his breathing routine, and I eventually mimicked a calm pattern of inhaling and exhaling. I really don’t know what triggered this reaction: maybe it was the fact that my parents had just left to purchase my brother’s, their son’s, burial lot, an unimaginable trip for a mom and dad.

I collected myself, opened the door, and stepped into the most beautiful presence of peace and serenity I have ever felt in my life. My spiritual eyes saw angels hovering in every corner. One angel was divinely assigned to our 8 ½-month-old baby girl and miraculously swayed her to sleep. Parents of babies “wired for sound” know a miracle when they see one. Was this the feeling of death? Peace? Stillness? Calmness? Quietness? Restfulness? If so, by faith I chose to accept what the Holy Spirit was showing me.

I stepped back into my brother’s room a different person than I was when I left. Whatever happened between my exit and re-entry validated my true belief. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14, NKJV) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1, 2, NKJV); “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4, NKJV); The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, NKJV).

Now, rewind seven years. It was a typical fall day in Missouri in October 1996 when I received the phone call that my brother had suffered a massive seizure. Days of testing proved he was the recipient of a fairly rare brain tumor. I was not there when he and his lovely wife had to ask his physician the questions, “How long will it take me to get better?” “How long will I have to stay in the hospital?” “How long until I have another seizure?” “How long will I have to take treatments?” “How long can I walk without using a cane, walker, or wheelchair?” “How long can I work and provide for my family?” “How long do I have to spend with my wife, my daughter, and my son?” “How long do I have to live?”

Maybe you have heard your loved ones ask the same question; or even, maybe you have had to ask. “How long?” I count myself blessed not to have had to roll such words off my tongue. But I must admit, I have asked my own painful “How long?” questions through the journey of losing a loved one.

1) How long do I grieve? How long do I question? These two subjects are a natural process and a natural response. Each question depends upon each individual’s season of life and season of spiritual life. For some, their “How longs?” may last for days, weeks, months, or even years. These questions can create an unhealthy dynamic, if not put to rest in due time. Grieving does not come by a play-by-play book or a prescription of, “if applied three times a day for four weeks you are cured.” In fact, I passed with flying colors on my college psychology test that listed the stages of grief defined by author and psychiatrist, Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I wasn’t expecting to experience these stages; I was satisfied with just having the head knowledge. This death was my first close loved one. I had it in my mind that possibly a “Dances With Wolves”-moment would transpire. The chief of our family tribe would walk up to me and tell me that my mourning days were over. Fights with a fist seemed to accept the instruction well. This wasn’t the movies, which meant I had to rely on Someone higher than myself to write my healing script. Survivors that have loved ones depending on them most likely take their thoughts captive and strive to work through this process/response in a timely manner. We get into trouble when we believe we know ourselves better than God. His timing is perfect if you will allow Him to direct the grieving process.

2) How long do I feel guilty? This question has been my number one struggle. It tries to rear its ugly head still, all because I am the only child left. Why did this have to happen to my brother, the namesake of our family? He was a husband, a father, a provider, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, and a man who loved God with all his heart. The enemy saw a chance to pounce on my vulnerability. Never did my parents or sister-in-law portray this thought to me. This was a self-induced fight. I felt guilty for being healthy, for having a wonderful marriage, for laughing, for playing, for traveling, for living. Why is it that we listen to those voices in our head rather than the breath of God? Guilt began to build a wedge in my relationships with my family. One-sided, that is. The wedge was entirely in my mind, and the enemy would fabricate lies and stories and nonsense that I would actually believe! “Your parents would much rather have your brother on earth than you.” “Your sister-in-law doesn’t want you around; you’ll just remind her of what she doesn’t have anymore.” Lies, all lies. I allowed Satan to use the silence that sometimes is a result of loss against me. “Now you don’t have anything to talk about with your family.” “They don’t care; why should they?” I know I lost some precious moments with God because I didn’t believe and follow His Truth, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

As a survivor, I chose to capture my thoughts and renew my mind as Romans 12 instructs us. There’s healing in being together (even if there is silence); there’s healing in laughter; there’s healing in conversation; there’s healing by being present. When Jesus hung on the Cross and died for mankind, He took every ounce of guilt with him; guilt of sin, and for me, guilt of living, for it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).

Once I overcame that guilt, Satan began to throw a different guilt dart at me: the guilt of not doing enough. “You should have been around more.” “You should have offered to help more.” “You should have done this . . . you should have done that.” Don’t think because you have overcome one hurdle in your race that the enemy will leave you alone. He will try every angle he can to keep your thoughts, your emotions, your spirit off of the One and only true God. It’s time to capture those thoughts! Don’t even crack open that door. Of course, there are a ton of things I would have done differently. But, our love and faith in God goes deep. When you remain in Him, He remains in you (John 15). When you go through grief, sometimes the only thing you know to do, or the only thing you can do, is just remain. And remain, we did. Our blue-collared family roots were and are anchored in the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, for we know His ways are higher than ours.

3) How long do I celebrate? Yes, I said celebrate! This year we will celebrate the 11th anniversary of my brother seeing Jesus face to face. Every June I am reminded of the atmosphere my brother made us promise we would create as we remembered and honored his life. “I don’t want a bunch of sobbing; it’s my life and I want it happy,” he said. My big brother taught me graciously throughout his sickness, even in his last days, of what life is truly about. We celebrate the fact that we have the opportunity to choose Christ as our Lord and Savior and, therefore, heaven as our eternal home. What exactly is there to celebrate? A future reunion. Birthdays (it just so happened God demonstrated His love toward our family by allowing our baby girl to share the same birthday as my brother). Every 21st of September you will see a bouquet of blue balloons sailing toward the heavens, delivering a message of love and perseverance. A celebration of life.

4) How long do I remember? One of my most favorite times in church is when we take communion. God knew we would forget; that’s why he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” How can we forget the most sacrificial love given to mankind? But we all do. We intentionally remember through the sacred ceremony. In that same way we intentionally remember my brother—the boy, and my brother, the man, throughout the year, every year. I “tell on him” to my parents (my joke is that he can’t hurt me now); I listen to music we would blast through his 1970 blue Chevrolet truck speakers; I relive moments of playing snow football and Army soldiers; I stare at our childhood and grownup photos; I picture him sitting by the beach, meditating; I reminisce about him, his best friend, and Joe helping decorate for our parents’ 25th wedding anniversary (what was I thinking?!); I remember with my parents and my family what a precious man of God he was as we change the seasonal flowers on his tombstone. I want to always remember, so I must be intentional.

5) How long do I share my experience? Allow me to use Deuteronomy 11 from the New Living Translation as a guide for this answer. Beginning with verse 1, “You must love the Lord your God and obey all his requirements . . . Keep in mind that I am not talking now to your children, who have never experienced the discipline of the Lord your God or seen his greatness and his strong hand and powerful arm. They didn’t see the miraculous signs and wonders . . . They didn’t see what the Lord did . . . Your children didn’t see how the Lord cared for you . . . They didn’t see what he did to . . . But you have seen the Lord perform all these mighty deeds with your own eyes! . . . Teach them to your children. Talk about them . . . .” (verses 1- 7, 19).

As long as you have breath, share what you know about God and His strength during your weakest, loneliest, saddest, angriest, and heart-broken moments. Your experience will provide the help someone else may need to make it. A new family friend, Daren Lindley, prophetically exclaimed at a recent event, “The bread to feed the city is in the house.” My family and I had to rely on the Bread of Life, God’s Word, to get us through our painful experience. The Bread that fed us, can feed other individuals and other families that are struggling with the same “How long?” question. We must be an example to the next generation. My girls did not see what I saw, but they will because I will paint the picture for them to the best of my ability through celebrations, by intentionally remembering, by conversations, and by sharing the solid verse I stood on from Lamentations 3:19-25:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.’

The Lord is good to those, whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;"

The faith journey you walked through or are walking through allows the glory of God to be prevalent in all generations. We must include the next generation in our experiences with sorrow, pain, and death. It is by the word of our testimony that we are made overcomers (Rev. elation 12:11). Death is a part of life, but it’s not the end of life. We must remember who gave His life and that He is the giver of life.

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalms 13:2)

Death may have sent you into a dungeon and saturated your mind with fear. Your hands may be on your knees; you’re bent over heaving in and out; you are spiritually hyperventilating. Breathe in; breathe out. Breathe God’s Word in; breathe God’s Word out. It’s going to be OK; you are going to make it. You are going to be a different man and woman of God than you were when you entered this day.

C. S. Lewis wrote in his work, A Grief Observed, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” For those of us who have sat or are sitting in death’s courtroom, Christ strikes the gavel and declares that it has been long enough.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pentecostal Messenger Wins AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

The 2014 Evangelical Press Association awards were presented at the EPA annual convention in Anaheim, CA, on May 4-6. The awards honor the best work done in the industry during the 2013 calendar year. We are excited to announce to our Pentecostal Church of God family that The Pentecostal Messenger received the Award of Excellence in the Denominational Category, recognizing it as the top denominational print publication for the year 2013! The publication also received the Award of Merit in the category of Most Improved.

As you know The Pentecostal Messenger is and always has been an integral part of our history from our very inception in 1919. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in the publication process over the years and special thanks to you our readers who help make our publication what it is today. These awards belong to us all!

For a full list of EPA Awards for 2013, click here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Focusing on Foster Care

By Steve Archer

My ability to write a catchy introduction dwindles with each interruption by my young children. And yet, this topic is of such importance to me, I feel the need to juggle “daddy duty” with writing. My three biological children are old enough that each one is off doing his or her own thing, but the foster children in my care take our home back to the days of reading children’s books, watching cartoons and navigating through toys on the living room floor. I could have a quiet place to work (or just relax) this Saturday morning, but my wife and I felt the pull a few years ago to become foster parents. We have since foster parented up to four children at a time, which is how many are with us now. When friends ask how it’s going, I smile and say, “We are never bored!”

From a spiritual standpoint, I’m reminded of several verses one can apply to foster parenting. For example, Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord” (NCV). Notice it doesn’t distinguish that some children are a gift from the Lord. Just because they were born into unhealthy situations does not negate the fact that all children are gifts from God. James 1:27 tells us, “Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help” (NCV). While children in foster care may have parents who are still alive, they do not have a safe place to live. Loving them when they need a family who can provide care seems, to me, like the spirit behind James 1:27.

While I try to recruit good potential foster parents at every opportunity, I believe it is important for those who enter this important role to understand there are many aspects to consider, including the children themselves, their parents, one’s own family, the foster system, and the local church body.

Focusing on Children. 
Children are generally placed in foster care as a result of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or significant parental neglect. The goal of Children’s Services is to protect children, and where possible, reunite them with their parents. If a child comes into care, she or he has likely experienced circumstances no one should ever face. Yet, children respond differently to their trauma.  There is a stereotype of foster children as destructive and out of control. We should ask ourselves how we might respond to some of the circumstances these children have faced before we judge them too harshly. In addition, there are different “levels” within the foster system. Children who are in need of intensive supervision and therapy are placed at higher “levels” with families who are specially trained to address their needs. Our experience is that foster children are just that: children. They throw the same tantrums, test the same limits, play with the same toys and crave the same love as any other children.
All children want stable adults to love them and be in charge. Sometimes, though, children struggle to allow foster parents to be in charge for a couple of reasons: (1) The child may have been in charge of taking care of himself or herself and even younger siblings; and (2) the child does not know the foster parent. Imagine trusting a stranger when the adults who have raised you have been inconsistent your whole life.

Yet, even when biological parents have been unable to provide care or protection, children’s first love is naturally for their birth parents. It’s important to keep in mind that for all children, the homes from which they come are likely the only homes they’ve ever known. They don’t know that all families are not like theirs. It can be hard to understand why they still love their parents after abuse or neglect, but think about friends and family in your life. Do you reject them because they have some undesirable trait? Or do you tend to tolerate certain characteristics because you love them, perhaps hoping they will change one day? The same is true of children and their biological parents.
For this reason, fostering cannot be about meeting emotional needs for the foster parents. The children will always love their parents, and it is important to speak respectfully about birth parents, despite what may have happened. Failure to do so only hurts the children and lowers their self-worth. It may also drive a wedge between foster children and foster parents if children feel they must choose loyalty to one family or the other.

Another reason fostering cannot be about meeting the needs of foster parents is that we have little to no influence over when or if children will be returned to their biological parents. Rather than throwing up our hands in frustration, my wife and I choose to see it as an opportunity to love children and teach them about Jesus while they are in our home. Not long ago, a child in our care asked me, “Can we still call you when we go back to our mom?” Of course, I said, “Yes,” not knowing if or when this would happen. Kids need to know they are loved, and that our love for them won’t end even after they leave our care.

When foster children are placed with us, we treat them as our children. Whatever rules apply to the Archer children, apply to them. Behavior that would be unacceptable for our biological children is unacceptable for our foster children. And whatever privileges our biological children enjoy, our foster children enjoy. However our biological children are dressed, our foster children are dressed comparably.  We hang pictures of current and former foster children in our house, because we have pictures of our biological children, too. Right now, I’m working to reinforce that we don’t ring the doorbell or knock on the door at our own house. Foster children are not guests in our home; they are our family. This important message helps fill the need for belonging we all have. Imagine being pulled suddenly from your home and placed with complete strangers—then living with them for months or years. It would be terrible to feel like a guest, rather than a family member!

Focusing on Parents. A key understanding for our family where foster care is concerned has to do with the birth parents. While there are parents who harm their children deliberately, this is not typical even of children placed in foster care. Most parents care for their children to the extent they can at the time. Don’t we all? The difference is that, in cases where children must be removed, parents’ abilities fall short of providing adequate care and protection for their children.

It is natural for birth parents to love their children, even while they may be struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or lack of a support system. When parents are undereducated, they may also lack the skills necessary to get and maintain a steady job. If they, too, have come from a background where their parents were not positive role models, they likely are parenting the way they have seen it done before. The point is not to excuse parents, but to understand what factors led to placement of their children in foster care.

Where possible, it is helpful if birth parents understand their children are in a safe, loving home that is not trying to take their place, but trying to meet their children’s needs until they are returned to the birth family. Foster parents must keep in mind that reunification is always the initial goal. Termination of parental rights only occurs if/when the biological parents—and perhaps even extended family—are unwilling or unable to meet standards established by Children’s Services or the courts over an extended period of time.  Federal law directs that, after a child has been in foster care at least 15 out of the preceding 22 months, states are required to move forward with termination of parental rights.

Focusing on My Family. Fostering is a family commitment. My wife and I are partners in all our foster parenting decisions, just as we have always been with our three biological children (who are now 18, 16, and 12). An added layer, though, is the involvement of our older children. Their lives are impacted by the foster children who come into our home. They share their home, their rooms, and their belongings.  Most of the time our schedule is impacted by what our foster children need. When talking with our children about foster placements, we are careful to draw the distinction between input and decision-making; we ask for our children’s opinions, but ultimately our home has two parents who make the final call.

Due to confidentiality requirements placed on foster parents, we do not tell our biological children all the details we know about children placed in our home. There are, however, things they need to know to help them understand our foster children’s needs. When children have experienced trauma, their emotional and/or intellectual age may not be the same as their chronological age. We all have to work hard to remember we should treat a child according to her or his developmental level, not according to how old he or she is, with the goal being to close the gap between the child’s emotional/intellectual age and her or his chronological age.

My biological children are not complainers. They don’t tell us if they feel neglected, so we have to be mindful to pay special attention to them from time to time. This may be as simple as making sure we attend their church and school events—even if that means bringing along several small children. It may mean giving extra hugs, reminding them of how much we love them, and thanking them for their help with the younger children.

Fostering gives us the opportunity to see characteristics from our biological children most parents do not have the chance to see as their children grow up. I see generosity as they share their rooms with foster children in our care. They rearrange or even vacate their rooms to make space for the other children’s belongings. Of course, with more children, money for Christmas gifts, clothes or where we go for dinner gets divided among more members of the family, so they share in these ways, as well.

My children hug our foster children, play games with them, help watch them for us, and refer to them as “my brother” or “my sister.” They show love to children who have nothing to give, understanding we are blessed, and it is our privilege to share. This is where I see my children living out James 1:27, and I couldn’t be more proud. Imagine how our heavenly Father must feel when He sees their love and generosity!

Focusing on the Body. We are extremely blessed to attend a church (Northland Abundant Life Worship Center) that loves children. Our pastor enjoys telling the story of early members praying to hear a baby cry in a service. That’s not a problem anymore. Well over 100 children attend our church each week, some with their parents, some on the bus or van, and some with their foster families. We are not the only foster family in our church, and our church welcomes and loves them all. Some families in our church have adopted, too, so it is not strange to have different races represented in one family in our congregation . . . and we love it!

I am keenly aware not every church is like ours. Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o'clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America." While this remains true in many places, our church is an exception largely because of our pastor's vocal stance on issues of race over many years. As a result, the children in our care will likely see someone of their race among our congregation. The value of this type of church family cannot be overstate. 

While I do encourage friends to consider fostering, I realize not everyone feels drawn to this area of ministry. It’s important to recognize our gifts and follow them, and not everyone should be a foster parent. But as I write, I think of a generous lady in our church who has blessed our foster children repeatedly with gifts of clothes and diapers. She, too, is ministering in the spirit of James 1:27. She wants no recognition, but sees children in need and wants to bless them. According to James, this is pure Christianity!

Focusing on the System. Although handled differently from state to state, foster parents go through specialized training, both prior to becoming licensed, and through on-going learning opportunities.  Monthly support to subsidize children’s needs is provided, but this, too, varies by state.  Someone told my wife they heard foster parenting is a good way to make extra money. Clearly that person is not a foster parent. Children typically come into care without many clothes or toys. Acquiring beds, strollers, etc., can lead to a variety of expenses that take several months to recoup. And making money should never be the motivation for serving in this role anyway.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, at any point in time, there are over 400,000 children in foster care. More than 100,000 of these children are available for adoption, but 40 percent of them will wait more than three years for a “forever family.” It is sad that minority children are harder to place than white children, and the larger the sibling set, the more likely the children will be split up, intensifying their trauma. As children grow older, they become increasingly hard to place for foster care or adoption. Many families who are willing to foster only want babies, but the average age of children entering care is over 6 years old.

According to the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections, each year about 27,000 “age out” of the system without reunification with their families or adoption. The prospects for teens in foster care are not good, with 17 percent of girls being pregnant at the time they “age out” (and therefore potentially repeating the cycle of abuse and neglect). Sixty percent of boys who “age out” are convicted of a crime, and 40 percent of both boys and girls become homeless at some point.

The need for foster families is evident, and we have the best Good News children in crisis could use. It’s news many of these children have never heard—let alone seen lived consistently. What a tremendous opportunity we have to change a child’s eternity, just by showing the love of Christ! I encourage you to consider serving as a foster parent or finding out how you can help someone who is fostering.

After several months in our care, the night before one of our foster children was to leave, her bedtime prayer included, “And thank you, Jesus, for letting me meet Steve and Tonya, because I didn’t know about you before I met them.” We can’t control where this child’s future will lead, but we were able to pour into her while she was in our home. Because of this, she now knows she has a Father who loves her unconditionally and will never leave her. Could there be a greater reward?

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Healthy Culture

By Randy Lawrence 

It was not your typical Saturday morning around the Lawrence household. While entrenched in some video projects, our videographer Ryan had asked if I knew of any families with young children that he could come get some footage of.  Busted! Having four children all under the age of 6, the lot fell upon our home. So by 8 am our house was transformed into a mini studio—lights, camera, action! After the shoot, I was helping Ryan out to the car with his gear when we heard the pitter-patter of small steps behind us. We both turned to find my 2-year-old daughter, Cali, running after us. Stopping at the end of the walkway, she yelled at the top of her lungs, “Romans 10:17 says, ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God!’ “ She grinned from ear to ear, laughed, and then turned abruptly, and ran back inside! We both looked at each other and laughed hysterically!

As I said goodbye to Ryan and walked back inside the house that day, my heart was absolutely racing.  Why? Not from the walk back to the house (I’m not that out of shape), but from the joy of knowing that the culture that my wife and I had been working to establish in our home was working!  That’s right; I said the “culture” of our home.  Dr. Samuel Chand says, “Culture, not vision or strategy is the most powerful factor in any organization.” I would suggest that you could replace the word “organization” with “home” and the sentence would still ring just as true. Let me ask you a simple question. What is the culture of your home? I love the Message translation of a popular verse, Romans 12:2, "Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking." How easy it is today for secular culture to invade and dictate the culture of our own homes! 

How can we create a healthy culture in our homes?

1. We must be intentional.

The word “intentional” means, “done on purpose; deliberate.” A healthy culture in your home will NOT happen by accident. You must intentionally create the culture that you desire in your home. As parents (especially husbands) you must commit not to be the cultural thermometer of your home, but to be the thermostat! Too often we simply go with the phrase, “Know what is going on in your home and with your kids.” However, I’m afraid we’re selling ourselves short. Don’t just know the climate; set the climate. 

In the chaos of our family dinners (remember, four kids under the age of 6) two things are guaranteed to happen. First, we will hear from everyone on their “highs” and “lows” from the day, and secondly, we will work on our memory verses (henceforth, the dramatic presentation from Cali of Romans 10:17). This is one simple but yet intentional way we work on setting the atmosphere that we want in our home.

2. It is better caught than taught.

The best way to teach the desired culture of your home is simply to live it. Some of my favorite memories of childhood are walking into the living room to find my mother reading her Bible. I’ll never forget opening my father’s door on many occasions to inquire of why he was crying, to find him on his knees in prayer. If we want a healthy culture in our home, don’t just teach and talk— reach and walk! Live it out! 

3. It will not be easy.

While speaking to thousands of young leaders, noted author and minister Chuck Swindoll said this simple yet powerful statement: “It’s always hardest at home.” There are no shortcuts in creating a healthy culture for our homes. It is hard work, but it must become our priority. 

Jeanne Mayo said, “It is precisely the people and the values that are the most precious in your life that the enemy will try to make the most common.”  As this year comes to a close, may we commit to evaluate the priority and culture of our home. To me, that is relevant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Our House

By Charles G. Scott

Honestly, the topic of this issue, “Healthy Families,” is not a personal, strong area of ministry. While the subject has been the focus of Married Couple’s Retreats, pastoral sermons, and some special speaking occasions, it remains less studied and pursued than many others. So, instead of writing about a theoretical context from someone else’s perspective, please take a few moments to read what it would be like to come over to our house and visit for a while (emphasis on  “a while,” because you don’t want to wear out your welcome!

Our house is reflective of who we are. It is not pretentious but designed on function. It is casual and relaxed. There are no works of art, but plenty of family photos. Our house centers on our family. The timeline of years gone by bring back precious memories and delightful stories. Our 4-year-old granddaughter, Baylee, was looking at family photos and asked her dad, “Dad, why did you wear those great big glasses?” She was looking at me and thought it was Eric. Some of the photos in our house need updated.

Our house is designed for conversation, with several sitting areas. We like to dialogue, a fancy word for talk! We like to discuss ideas, concepts, take positions, and try to prove our points. For some, this would be arguing, but in our house it is sharpening the mind and seeking better thinking skills. Chassity (Eric’s wife) seldom joins in these family discussions. Josh (Michelle’s husband) fits right in.

Our house has two tables, for eating and playing games, two of the most important things in life. Our family traits score high in competition, and “ruthless” would describe most of us when it comes to board games. OK, cutthroat? The competition seldom gets out of hand, but is indicative of people who are passionate and driven.  We like to be together and do life together.

Our house is reflective of our loyalty. It is easy to see our faith in Jesus Christ by the symbols of our faith. A copy of The Pentecostal Messenger usually adorns the coffee table. Yes, Arkansas Razorback memorabilia can be seen in the family room. No matter how bad the team, our hearts remain steadfast and unmovable. There is always next season.

Our house is our sanctuary, an escape. It is a sacred place to us where we shut out the things of distraction and focus on what really matters most—each other. It can be quiet most days with the rich aroma of fresh ground dark roast coffee filling the air, and loud when we are all gathered for a family event.

The thing I love the most about our house is that the focus is always outward, on someone else. It is the guest being hosted, the friends visiting, or the grandkids playing that is the focal point. The priority of our house is serving. Hopefully, serving is the focal point of our life. Hopefully, your house sees that eye to eye.