The Glory of Christ in Fostering Children (or I Am Mephibosheth)

“So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons. . . . Now he was lame in both feet.”
(2 Sam 9.11b, 13c)

“While we were children, [we] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son . . . so that we might receive adoption as sons. . . . So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
(Gal 4.3-4a, 5b, 7).

We woke up one morning last week with one child. We went to sleep that night with three. God is taking us on our first and most-thrilling ride of being foster parents. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, but it is more glorious than we ever imagined.

We’re thankful for what God is teaching us about children, the State, welfare and depravity. However, we’re infinitely more thankful for what he’s teaching us about the gospel. We’re all grandsons of Saul, lame in both feet, and dependent on the King’s mercy.

I’m certainly no expert on foster care, but I didn’t want to waste these first impressions. So for posterity’s sake and posthumous disposal, here are my initial thoughts. They are subject to change without notice.

1. There is a world of darkness and depravity out there that my middle-class, white, suburban mind only knew about in pictures. Hell is real and gleefully torments the least of those among us. All the while, churches debate oak versus pine hardwood floors.

2. Our process has revealed a strange misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty among Christians. Many have said, “I don’t think I could foster children because you put so much into them only to have them leave one day. I couldn’t take that pain.” To that I’ve considered several thoughts.

One, it will and should be painful if it happens. We trust God will meet us with strengthening grace then. We believe God will help understand more and become more like Jesus through it.

Two, why not have the same perspective with biological children (or anything else for that matter)? Does God owe them another day simply because they’re genetically yours? As certainly as God may send our foster children back home tomorrow, can he not call your biological child home all the same? We must hold all God’s gifts loosely. Thankfully and joyfully, but loosely.

Three, God did not temper his commitment to us by the amount of pain that commitment might cause. If we only did those things that carried little-to-no risk of pain we’ll never know the abundant life of Christ (Phil 3.10).

3. The State is God’s gift for restraining evil and rewarding good (Rom 13.1-7). But it is not a parent. God intends the State wield the sword, not a rattle. More Christians need to be involved in fostering and adoption. I say that as a recovering pious snot who who not so long ago thumbed his nose at “those people who need to get a J-O-B.”

Christians spend much time complaining about the welfare system. We argue that its the secular government’s fault that kids are wasted and schools are dangerous. While that may be true in part, our inaction has demonstrated faithlessness in the gospel to remedy social ills. We’ve buried our heads in the sand, refusing to put God on display to the world. Fostering and adoption provide a tremendous opportunity to prove that the gospel-centered worldview can and will do far more than “the system” (much like Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship initiative in prisons).

This is not a political issue, but a spiritual one. You want to see public schools change in fifteen years? You want to see children who know more about God’s glory in creation than man’s glory in XBox? Don’t look to a secular government for help. By faith, foster and/or adopt. Multiply that perpsective throughout the church and our communities look much different in a decade.

Is our faith in the government or the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Do we believe King Jesus to be a far better caregiver than Caesar?

Not all Christians should foster and/or adopt children, but more should than do. Let’s not rush to couch this in terms of “calling.” We often justify disobedience to Scripture by claiming we’re not “called” to this or that (see Jas 1.27). There is one “Calling” and that’s to Christ (Eph 4.4). All efforts thereafter are outworkings of faith in that Calling.

Is fostering/adoption something you’d like to do? Do you have opportunity? Refuse to look on paper and calculate all the possible outcomes to all the “what ifs.” Don’t overthink it or you’ll never do it. Step out on faith, start the process and see if God prospers it. Be willing to put God on display for all your world to see. What better picture of the gospel could we paint for our communities than reaching into darkness to rescue helpless children from condemnation? This leads me to the next thought.

4. Fostering/adopting have helped us understand the gospel better. We have a small, but real, taste of God’s compassion for us. Staring into the eyes of abused children is to stare into a mirror. Children otherwise stuck in hellish situations is no different than all of us born slaves to sin. As bad as an abusive home is in this life it’s nothing compared to hell’s eternal abuse. To pity wards of the State is to understand God’s pity for me, otherwise a ward of Satan.

Fostering/adoption is making a child in fact what he/she is not by nature. God makes us in fact what we are not by nature: his children with all the rights and privileges of heaven. We are lame children who sit at the King’s table and feast on his finest menu. We don’t call him “Mr. God” but “Abba, Father” (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6). Therefore, fostering/adoption are means to an end–evangelism. They are living tracts, living parables.

We also understand a little better that for there to be redemption, God must tolerate (in fact, sovereignly allow) abuse. Our joy in fostering has come at a huge expense; the disruption of a family and abuse of children. Likewise, God’s joy came at the universe’s ultimate expense: the death of his One and Only Son (see Acts 2.23; 4.28). It’s a hard truth to stomach, but God must let sin takes its course so that grace can be, well, grace.

While I’m thankful for two new children in whom we’ll invest all we can, I’m more thankful for two children through whom God has invested in me. They’ve helped me understand that I was born on the other side of the tracks, too.

I am Mephibosheth.

14 thoughts on “The Glory of Christ in Fostering Children (or I Am Mephibosheth)

  1. Thank you for such a beautiful post! My husband and I are just beginning our journey to become foster parents; we have our first meeting with the agency this week. We are also involved in a ministry to foster/adoptive parents and children that is just launching at our church … I will share your post with our founders as well! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you, Renae, for your kind words and heart for this ministry. May God greatly bless your efforts and call some of his own through them.

    All grace to you.

  3. Barry,
    Very thoughtful and encouraging post. Glad to hear of your journey into this new and exciting ministry. I perfectly agree with your thoughts on not holding anything from God with a tight grip. Everything must be held in an open palm, even our own children. May God richly bless you and Amy as you serve Him in this much needed capacity.

    Darryl R.

  4. BJ,
    Thanks for this post–it was so encouraging! We are praying for you guys. You all have been on my mind a lot since I got Amy’s email last week. We will continue praying.

    And, we’re getting there! Our homestudy is coming up soon.

    Blessings on you and your sweet wife and childREN!

    -glenna marshall-

  5. Darryl,

    You and Cathy have been tremendous examples to us. It’s been an honor to share similar joys and sorrows with you in these areas. We pray God’s richest blessings on you and yours as well.

  6. Glenna,

    God be praised for you and William, your faith and perseverance. Your homestudy will undoubtedly demonstrate what we’ve known all along: the Marshall’s home is a haven of grace and worthy of this privilege. We’re so thankful to walk this path with such precious brothers and sisters.

    All love to you and William.

  7. Brother,

    You have tapped a river that must spill into the vision and hearts of God’s people. Our potential to influence the culture is right in our community. The cry of the helpless has never been louder. What will we do about the born who need hope?

    May the Church hear and respond.

  8. Your article is beautiful in several ways–how fostering shows comfortable middle-class families the reality of Satan, and how all Christians are Mephibosheth. That’s a beautiful Idea I’d never thought of before.

    I don’t, however, understand the first paragraph. In what way did you go to sleep with three children and wake up with one? Did the state take them out of your house in the middle of the night?

  9. Thanks, Milton, for your kind words. I pray you feast at the King’s table all the more.

    I can see how that first paragraph might be confusing. This is BLIND Man’s Fancy after all, so I often dim the lights more than I should. The “night” to which I refer followed the morning rather than vice versa (they way you’ve interpreted it, I think, as though I meant “night before”). For example, we woke up Monday morning with one child (our daughter), but went to sleep Monday night with three (our daughter and 2 foster children).

    Hope this helps, my friend. Thanks, again!

  10. Thanks BJ! You put to words my heart. The state is a terrible daddy. Oh for the Family of God to step forward and take home some of His kids. You have my respect and prayers. God bless you and Amy.

    Rick Larson

  11. Rick,

    Be assured that it is your heart that helped encouraged my words. Blessings,my brother.

  12. BJ,

    It is good to hear the truth that God has spoken into our hearts echo through the state of Texas and your circle of friends. Stay fervent in championing the cause of the orphan, for in it is true religion (James 1:27).

    We love you guys and are thrilled for God’s grace poured out in your family. Remember brother, Mephibosheth had a son…Mica. We can only imagine how the grace of God in his father’s life affected him. Keep living out grace in front of your three “Mica”s…who knows how it may change their lives.


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