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(Part 9) Rooted in Purpose

The crisis affecting children and families in our community is distressingly close. A simple search reveals headlines that emphasize the extent of their struggles and suffering.

From bad to worse:

U.S. judge deplores conditions for Texas's foster kids sent out of state.

As Texas' long-running struggle to find enough placements for foster care children persists, more than 100 kids were sent out of state last year.

  • The Texas Tribune: January 12, 2022

Idaho's foster care crisis:

Children now staying in hotels and Airbnbs

  • CBS2 News Staff: January 26, 2022

Broken Adoptions:

For tens of thousands of children in the U.S., their "forever family" doesn't last long. USA TODAY investigates: Why do adoptions fail?

  • USA TODAY: May 19, 2022

Over the last twenty-five years, the church has set out to rectify these crises with a response that answers the "W" questions.

What: There is a Crisis

Who: regarding Children and Families

When: Now

Where: in our Community

How: We will respond with Action

Why: because Jesus commands us.

When a church starts a foster care, adoption, or family advocacy ministry, they will usually define it like this:

152 (what) foster children (who) in our community (where) are currently (when) in need of a safe and loving home. Our church desires to support them by doing these activities (how).

Despite Jesus being the final component of our response, it is still possible to construct ministries with visions and missions that seldom acknowledge his name.

Did we build a whole model centered around a crisis rather than Christ?

What would happen if we flipped the entire thing upside down?

Why: Because Jesus commands us

How: we will respond with Action

Where: in our Community

When: Now

Who: regarding Children and Families

What: who are in Crisis.

Crisis says we need a Response. Christ says we have a Responsibility.

So, how did we shift from Christ to a crisis? Theologians could argue this point for days, but for us simpletons, one answer led to two significant changes. Ultimately, we live in a post-fall world, and by that, we have gotten further away from how we, as the church, were designed to live.

In this post-fall world, the influence of societal pressures, distractions, and the pursuit of worldly desires has gradually overshadowed our focus on Christ. Our priorities have shifted, and we find ourselves entangled in the chaos of daily life, often neglecting the core principles that should guide our actions and relationships.

As we navigate this crisis-ridden world, we must reflect on our journey and realign ourselves with Christ's teachings. By returning to the fundamental values of love, compassion, and selflessness, we can reclaim our identity as the church and positively impact the world around us. Let us remember that even amidst the chaos, the message of Christ's love and redemption remains unwavering, offering hope and transformation

to all who seek it.

During the second great epidemic, Dionysius wrote in an Easter letter around 260 that a substantial number of church members had lost their lives caring for others:

Most of our brothers, Christians, showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy .… Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead. The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fed from their dearest, throwing them onto the roads before they were dead…

The early Christians were renowned for their compassion and benevolence towards others. Despite facing persecution and martyrdom for their unwavering commitment to Jesus, their faith attracted multitudes who sought to experience the same joy. As a result, the church flourished and grew rapidly.

Furthermore, as time has progressed, we have come to view the well-being of children and families as a civic obligation that lies within the realm of the government's responsibility. While acknowledging the authority of the government, we continue to collaborate with local agencies in carrying out the work of God.

According to Romans 13:1,

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God."

With time, we have deviated from living as Christ intended and instead fallen into a state of complacency and slumber.

A.W. Tozer put it this way:

"If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference."

Does your tree have leaves or fruit?

A crisis-oriented approach toward assisting suffering children and families can profoundly impact the community. Your church has the potential to serve as a guiding light, setting an example for others to follow. The crucial distinction lies in the outcome, whether we prioritize crisis management or align our focus with the teachings of Christ.

Do we desire to be seen, or do we desire to see lives changed?

In Mark 11: 13-14, the Bible tells us:

"Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it."

In verse 21, Peter observes the plant and remarks on the withering and demise of the fig tree that Jesus had cursed.

Jesus employs the plant as a metaphor for Israel; remarkably, we continue to witness its relevance in contemporary times. This metaphor vividly portrays a church that boasts an impressive exterior yet fails to possess the essential spiritual vibrancy within its members.

How can we get caught up by counting leaves in Family Advocacy Ministry?

1) We narrow the vision.

The Bible contains numerous verses that emphasize the importance of loving others. But why do we constantly need this reminder? Because we often forget the immense love Jesus has for us and the sacrifice he made on the cross to redeem our lives. Sadly, we sometimes overlook others who don't align with our narrative in our pursuit to reach a specific group. This omission allows us to avoid the responsibility that comes with this work. By narrowing our focus exclusively on areas like foster care or adoption, we need to acknowledge the broader biblical definition of orphan and widow. Let us strive to embrace the true essence of these teachings and extend our love and care to all children in need of protection.

Furthermore, we might inadvertently overlook or fail to acknowledge individuals who show care differently simply because they are not actively participating in the work as we have defined it.

2) We prioritize comfort.

James 1:27 is one of the most highly quoted scriptures in the Bible regarding orphan care.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

Visiting can also be understood as "caring for," which necessitates action and engagement. However, as a church, we provide options for individuals to support organizations through automatic withdrawals financially. Over time, we tend to forget this contribution as it doesn't cause any noticeable financial strain. We have implemented systems allowing us to address needs through Amazon, all from the comfort of our homes. Ultimately, true and untainted religion cannot be reduced to a mere checkbox, and our care for orphans and widows should not be driven by a desire to feel better about ourselves.

3) We measure the wrong data.

Counting leaves is a straightforward task, but quantifying fruit, especially in the biblical sense, can be pretty challenging. We find joy in tallying leaves; the more remarkable they are, the greater our satisfaction.

In 1 Samual 16:8, Samual has been sent to anoint the next King over Israel. He immediately begins to judge the sons of Jesse on their physical appearance.

"But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

We strive to create significant economic impacts. How many thousands of diapers can we contribute? How many toys can we deliver at Christmas? Once again, all these endeavors are commendable. However, we must reflect on our intentions—did we perform these acts to gain recognition from the world, or did we undertake this work solely to showcase and share the love of Jesus with others?

Making Christ the Focus

In contrast to a crisis-centered model, let's reconsider the upside-down model from earlier.

Why: Because Jesus commands us

How: we will respond with Action

Where: in our Community

When: Now

Who: regarding Children and Families

What: who are in Crisis.

Now we can clearly define the purpose:

In light of Christ's love for us, the Family Advocacy Ministry enables local churches to empower, support, and protect children and families needing care.

1) Christ-centered models have a broader purpose.

A Family Advocacy Ministry serves children who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in society. We can no longer focus solely on the unborn. We must include families and children who cannot defend themselves or seek help. They may face the risk of abuse and exploitation, tragically resulting in their enslavement or separation from loved ones.

Family Advocacy Ministry declares 1 John 9:11 to your church.

"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

Even in our darkest moments, when we may have harbored resentment towards God, He still sent His Son to proclaim His unwavering love for us, making the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. In return, we strive to extend the same love to others, recognizing that, like us, they, too, cannot repay the immeasurable gift we have received.

It sets apart the purpose of your ministry from its objectives and actions. While we provide donations and address the tangible needs of others, our foremost aim is to show love to others and spread the message of The Gospel to those unfamiliar with it.

This inclusive language serves as a reminder to the church that no one is exempt from the command. It prompts us to consider other focus areas and activities within the church and how they may align with the broader scope of a Family Advocacy Ministry. By defining the ministry in this manner, we become an extension of the church's mission, working to transform the culture from within.

2) Christ-centered models are messy.

Serving like Jesus requires a lot. The Bible tells us time and time again that we will experience suffering. Romans 8:17 says:

"Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

There is an unparalleled power in suffering that compels us to introspect and confront our most significant challenges and flaws.

Jesus does not call believers to Family Advocacy Ministry only because the children need us. Additionally, it is an opportunity to discover how much we need him.

In the 1986 movie, "Hoosiers," Coach Norman Dale puts it this way: My practices aren't designed for your enjoyment.

The same principle applies to Family Advocacy Ministry. We invite individuals to extend a love that may seem unattainable, step outside their comfort zones, and embrace the struggles of others, even if it causes them to question their identities. This approach starkly contrasts with seeking temporary satisfaction, aligning precisely with what Jesus expects of us.

Furthermore, there are other options besides outsourcing the work. However, we can establish partnerships with community experts or utilize collaborative models with local or national non-profit organizations. These partnerships must provide opportunities for our members to contribute and engage within our area of focus actively. We must be willing to roll up our sleeves and dive in, getting hands-on and fully involved.

3) Christ-centered models redefine success.

I firmly believe in the power of data. Let me put it this way: Numbers may not seem significant, but they hold tremendous importance. The real question is, what drives our pursuit of data? Is it to impress others with our work or better serve the Gospel and provide love and support to those in need? Are we focused on quantifying tangible needs, or do we take the time to inquire if families feel genuinely cared for and supported through our ministry? Are we asking our church members if their love for others deepens their relationship with Jesus?

The data we gather serves a vital purpose - it helps us gauge the impact of the Family Advocacy Ministry and identify areas for improvement, if necessary. By examining the data, we can assess whether our ministry is bearing fruit and, if not, what factors may hinder its effectiveness.

When we focus first on a crisis, our typical response is to focus on the solution. Instead, if we focus first on Christ, his love for us becomes the solution. Looking only at crisis gives us a pass to say, I don't feel called to work there, whereas when we center on Christ, it reminds us that we all are commanded to protect those who cannot defend themselves. Changing the focus changes our hearts and lives, transforms the church, and makes an eternal impact on the community.

The graphics and images we use to share about our work often focus on the crisis. They revolve around children and sometimes fail to mention the name of Jesus entirely. Additionally, they often overlook the importance of volunteers growing closer to Him. Through many conversations with other leaders facing the same challenges, God shared this vision.

The Family Advocacy Ministry of our church is an example of how we live out this calling. We know that vulnerable children need more than resources; they need relationships, and at times, it requires us to step outside of our comfort zone to provide them with the care they deserve. Our goal is to serve and share God's love through tangible acts of service.

As we work to meet the needs of vulnerable children, we must not forget that God works through us - in our prayer, presence, and compassion. We have the privilege of partnering with Him to bring transformation and healing. The Church is uniquely called to serve vulnerable children by providing a safe space where their voices are heard and respected.

Let us be the light in the darkness. Let us take a stand for those who cannot defend themselves. Let us bring hope and healing to children in situations of crisis.

It starts with each one of us - by responding with faith-filled action. We can reach more children when we come together as The Church to complete this calling.

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