By / Mar 10

As we observe the anniversary of the United States’ dramatic shutdown due to COVID-19, there are many things we could not have predicted at this time last year. 500,000+ deaths, long-term shutdowns, virtual schooling, and a prolonged lack of contact with loved ones were certainly not things I expected. But on March 11, 2020, when I checked my phone after a women’s Bible study to discover the NBA had suspended its season and Tom Hanks had tested positive, I got my first glimpse. The dominoes continued to fall with aggressive speed in the following days. 

While most of us couldn’t have predicted those aforementioned circumstances, we couldn’t have predicted the speed and efficacy of vaccine development either. Yet by the grace of God and the efforts of many, the vaccine for this terrible virus is effective and increasingly available to many who need it most. 

Our varied experiences with COVID-19

In the early days of our nationwide quarantine, I heard someone say we were all encountering the same virus but we were experiencing it differently. I have thought of this often in the past year. For my family, quarantine meant making space for each other as my husband transitioned to working from home, and we began homeschooling our children. Our proximity to high-risk family members meant more caution and care on our part so that we could see them. But compared to many, our life change has been minimal. We have experienced the past year quite differently than have many others. For a lot  of people, a return to a “normal” life is impossible without vaccination. 

My friend’s aunt, a resident in a nursing home in Georgia, has not left her room for eight months, except twice a week for bathing. With nursing homes closed to visitors and often short-staffed, there is little accountability for care. Patients are regressing socially, physically, and emotionally. 

A family member living in a lower-income community in Midwestern Indiana paints a picture of the past year that is vastly different from our experience. The lifestyle of her community does not often allow for virtual work, social distancing, or proper hygiene. Outbreaks are high, and the community suffers more than most from closed schools and lack of employment. 

Light at the end of the tunnel

These are just two examples of millions who will not live anything close to a normal life without the vaccine. Older people, those with pre-existing medical conditions, and caregivers for both the latter and former will be greatly served by vaccination availability. Some racial and ethnic minority groups are at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Vaccination is a light at the end of the tunnel for those living in isolation and fear for the past year. 

In my more myopic moments, I easily forget that my experience of the past year is not universal. Because I do not see how others live, I can’t fully appreciate the sorrow and fear they have felt. But I have seen the relief on friends’ faces as they take their aging parents to be vaccinated. As my parents receive their first doses, I am thanking the Lord for sparing their lives and giving them a chance to hopefully return soon to a semblance of normalcy. 

For the good of others

I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy and encountering many passages in which God calls His people to care for the vulnerable in their midst—orphans, widows, sojourners, immigrants, and others. Many of these calls to compassionate care are still relevant to us, but the vulnerable in our midst also include those who are more susceptible to sickness and death. The principles of care that required the Israelites to sacrifice for the vulnerable in their community find ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. He sacrificed His life for the sake of those vulnerable to death because of sin. 

We must emulate this example as we look for ways to help those in our communities access the vaccination and consider what neighborly love requires of us in the coming days. We may be called to sacrifice further, in all  kinds of ways,  but we follow a Savior who willingly laid down His life for us. Greater love has no one than this, and this is the love that compels us to serve our neighbors. All of us may not have experienced the past year in the same way. But by God’s grace, we can experience the same joy as we set aside our preferences and desires and act for the good of those around us.

By / Jul 1

In recent years, the #MeToo movement and other high-profile public scandals have increased public awareness of the incidences of sexual abuse and assault in our society. The Church has not been immune to this trend, and some of the worst instances have occurred in faith-based communities where unsuspecting parents and children have been preyed upon by predators who, in some situations, had a prior history of offending.

The series in the Houston Chronicle brought light into some very dark places and revealed widespread abuse in our churches. In many of these stories, the Church failed in two ways: (1) by not protecting against abuse and (2) by not responding well to abuse. The hope is that the Houston Chronicle series has put a microscope on the need and call for churches to respond to and care well for survivors of abuse, as well as look for direction on how to protect individuals in their congregations from those who seek to do harm. We must heed the call in Proverbs 31:8 to “speak up for those who have no voice; seek justice for those on the verge of destruction.”

Focus on getting educated

As churches consider measures to prevent abuse, they must first focus on educating themselves about abuse dynamics and perpetrators. While abuse at the hand of a stranger is within the realm of possibility and should be guarded against, the greater danger is the person that the child knows. Research shows that in 90% of child sexual abuse cases, the child knows the perpetrator. Offenders use relationships, positions of authority, trust, and sometimes threats in order to gain access to their victims’ lives in order to harm them. By leveraging their role as a “trusted” authority figure, perpetrators may not even have to use physical force. Rather, they rely on intimidation, threats, and a child’s fear of not being believed in order to keep the victim compliant. 

While the Church has no control over the evil intent of the perpetrator, the Church does have control over its ministry areas, how they operate, and who is eligible to serve in those ministries. The Church must do everything in her power to lower the risk of sexual abuse and assault by reviewing ministry operations involving children and youth, screening of employees and volunteers, and mitigating risks associated with opportunity and isolation. 

Protecting our children and youth through policies

Law enforcement and military use the term “harden the target,” which means making the target more difficult to reach or impact. Children’s and youth ministries are prime targets for perpetrators, and churches must evaluate ministries in order to make them less attractive and accessible to perpetrators. By (a) creating policies that protect children and youth, (b) screening out potential risk, (c) educating our congregations about abuse, and (d) responding to reports of abuse in ways that are informed and thoughtful, we create ministries that are safer for our members and less appealing to offenders.

As allegations of abuse surface across denominations, churches are seeking to create safer places of worship and regain trust. Whether you are a church with robust policies or you are just beginning to think through what policies your church needs, this series will give insight on how to think about child protection policy, develop your own policy, or revise existing policies to better promote safety and trust in your congregation. 

Church leaders spend hours preparing for church events and sermon series; whereas,  policy and procedures are seen as necessary mundane things that have to be in place, but careful thought and attention is not given to this process. Thus, churches end up with borrowed, pieced-together policy in order to check off a box. Policy is, ideally, not something that is created and sits on a shelf. Policy is your guide and what you live by; not what you aspire to, but what you actually do. It is who you are. 

Churches should use great care in formulating policy because it can be a double-edged sword. Because churches often see policy as the avenue to protect their organizations from liability exposure, there is a great temptation to simply “cut and paste” found policies without considering whether they are the best fit for the individual church. Other churches will often avoid detailed policies because the policy could be used against them to establish a standard of care in legal proceedings. However, good policy in the area of child protection is meant to protect the individuals in your church, not just the church as a whole. In protecting individuals, you are protecting the entire church.

The motivation for good policies

As God’s people, we should prioritize protecting the vulnerable over risk management. In Matthew 18:1-6, Jesus gives value and high priority to children. Churches must follow his example and value people over the organization. Liability exposure should not be our motivation in creating and maintaining good child protection policies. We must change this mindset and understand that policy is a way to love and care for people well by keeping them safe from harm. 

Making and following good policy is God-honoring and a way to steward the trust that our congregation and the community puts in us to be watchful and protective of those who may not be able to protect themselves. Formulating good policies, requiring compliance with these policies, addressing violations of policy, and responding well to disclosures of abuse are all ways that you protect and shepherd your congregation well.

Forming a team

No matter where you are in the process, it helps to start with some sort of committee that oversees the policy process. This committee should be made up of individuals who work with children and youth, both inside and outside the church. No matter the size of your church, the following types of people could be instrumental in formulating and reviewing policy: children’s director, youth pastor, a parent, a seasoned volunteer, a social worker, a member of law enforcement, attorney, counselor, medical professional, and school teacher. 

Form a team that is adequate to cover multiple areas of expertise and share the workload, but keep it small enough that the group can take meaningful steps toward creating a robust policy of protection. Members of your team should understand abuse dynamics, have a strong desire to protect children and make your church a safe place, and be logical and practical in the way they seek to implement their ideas.

Child protection policies should address the following areas:

  • Main objectives to be met by the policy;
  • Definition of terms;
  • Recruitment and screening of employees and volunteers;
  • Code of conduct for employees and volunteers;
  • Supervision and interactions with children and youth; and
  • Responses to disclosures of abuse and mandated reporting.

While policies don’t check all the boxes to prevent abuse and care for those who have been abused, they are essential to the process. Churches can protect and care for individuals in their churches by taking these initial steps to be educated about abuse, to protect their targets, to be rightly motivated, and to form a team to oversee the policy process.

Visit to learn more about the Caring Well Challenge and help make your church safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 

The content of this post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice. Please seek legal counsel from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

By / Oct 2

Remember when you needed your parents for so much? We used to ask our parents everything. How to build this volcano for a science project or make a solar system out of coat hangers and styrofoam. I remember my dad helping me build that infamous volcano and my mom helping me cook homemade french fries for a French class project.

You have those stories too. Maybe it’s your dad showing you how to cut the grass or change the oil in your car. Maybe it’s your mom helping you quiet your own newborn child. Maybe it’s figuring out what mortgage insurance is or how to read the stock market. When we have questions, we ask our parents or those older than us. It shows dependence on them. It shows trust. It opens the door for another bonding moment or brief time for them to be, you know, our parents and mentors. It keeps the relationship going. At least that’s how it used to be.

Technology: Our new parent

Thanks to the internet and our handheld devices, we don’t ask our parents much these days. I mean, why would we? We have everything at our fingertips. Every dinner we could possibly want to make is featured on Facebook, thanks to those fast-speed short videos on how to make pizza cake or Oreo churros.

Yet, those of us who grew up without the prevalence of technology remember what it was like at college, when we got married, or when we became a parent. We usually picked up the phone because we needed to ask our moms or dads a question, like how to make the famous family macaroni and cheese. And sometimes we just wanted to call them and talk.

We need to depend less on our phones and more on each other.

A few months ago, my wife and I were discussing the issue of Watergate. To be completely honest, neither of us could remember entirely what it all was about. I knew Nixon was involved and that from the movie’s narrative, apparently Forrest Gump was the one who called down to the front desk of the hotel. We both were dumbfounded. How did we not know this? As one of us picked up the phone to dial home, the other picked up the phone for another reason: Google. Why don’t we just search for it?

We were both glad we chose the phone for what it used to be used for: calling people. We called home and got to have a conversation where we asked my mom and stepdad what Watergate was all about. They told us. We laughed about the fact that none of us could remember who took over the presidency after Nixon. All the good things of a phone call home to your parents.

But I am afraid the internet and technology are robbing us of conversations with our parents, cheapening our relationships with them. We don’t call and ask questions much because we don’t need to ask anyone anything. We can just ask Siri or call out anywhere in the house to Alexa. These are vital conversations that, before technology and Wikipedia, took place between mother/daughter and father/son, between grandparents and aunts and uncles, those older and wiser. For parents, I imagine it’s not easy to know you’re being replaced by a device that knows more than you and is easier to consult during our busy schedules.

More than knowledge & busy schedules

Sure, it might be easier to ask your device something or search for it on the web. There is a greater chance you’ll find the right answer the first try, compared to asking your mom or dad. Because frankly, your parents don’t have fields of data servers all over the world to pull information from in a millisecond. But are we losing something more personal, more important to who we are, by chasing efficiency and accuracy over relational investment?

We need to make room for those conversations. We need to depend less on our phones and more on each other. Siri may know what time it is in China or how many windows are on the Empire State building, but it doesn’t know how to comfort us when we’re lonely or encourage us when our job is tough. It doesn’t have the years of investment our parents do.

And we need to be less about accuracy and efficiency and more about intimacy and investment. We need to close out the Safari app, open up the keypad, and start letting our parents be parents again. We need human interaction, and we need to fight against losing our parents to the ongoing surge in technological advance.

There’s a passage in Deuteronomy that describes God bringing Israel over the Jordan River, stopping the river, and letting them pass by on dry ground. When they get through, the Lord commands them to build an altar of remembrance to commemorate all the Lord had done for them. He said, in a sense, put this memorial here because in the future your children are going to ask what the stones mean and you are going to tell them what I did for them and for you.

When your children ask their fathers in times to come, What do these stones mean? Then you shall let your children know, Israel eased over this Jordan on dry ground. For the lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the and of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.

Unlike our parents, Siri can’t tell us about God’s grace and mercy and how he’s acted wonderfully for his people. It’s not just about clay volcanoes and baking soda, it’s about God’s faithfulness and his love for us, his children. As children, we need to know these things.

So, let’s reach out to our parents and mentors with our questions. And let’s teach our children the value of doing the same. Let’s keep our phones close, not to search and surf, but to call and invest and talk and cultivate these vital, God-ordained relationships.

By / May 2

Parenting is hard. But it is even more difficult for Christian parents to raise kids in today's changing culture Join us for the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, TN, this event will welcome key speakers including Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Todd Wagner, and Jen Wilkin.

Register by May 12th and receive a FREE Austin Stone Kids Worship Album. Learn more here

By / Jul 8

Although I live only 10 miles from downtown Dallas, I’m rarely there. But last night, of all nights, I was. I was just a couple of miles south of Dallas when the shootings took place and had to make my way back through the city to return home as the situation continued to unfold.

The city looked unlike I had ever seen it. The streets were shut down, blue and red lights reflected off the buildings, and the sky was filled with helicopters. I listened to the reporters on the AM radio trying to make sense of the events that had just occurred. It wasn’t until I returned home and turned on the TV that I began to fully understand the reality of what had taken place in this city that I love.

It’s truly overwhelming. I feel a sense of the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus felt as he looked out over the multitudes and saw them as sheep without a shepherd. I feel it for the families of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I feel it for the black community as they try to make sense of the last few days. I feel it for the 12 officers shot last night and their families. I feel it for the families of the five officers killed. I feel it for our Dallas police officers who will continue to protect our city and its citizens. I feel it for our nation that seems to have somehow reverted back to the racial tension of a previous generation.

As a pastor in this community, I’m thinking about how to respond. I must respond. Not just because I live in this community, but because this is what pastors do.

Pastors shepherd the people of God. They help God’s people navigate moments like this. Pastors lead their people in prayer. Pastors encourage their people in hope. Pastors put these situations into a gospel perspective. Pastors lead their people in how to lovingly respond. The church must respond and the pastors must lead them. Even if, at the moment, it is a call to prayer, we must respond.

Today, as we wake up to the reality of these horrific realities of senseless killings and deeply rooted racial tension, our first response might not be to act—but rather to feel. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” The reason God gives us that command is because he knows we do not naturally do this. God knows that every response to someone’s suffering is easier than this one; it’s easier to act than to feel. It takes less time. It takes less energy. It takes less listening.

It’s not that we do not feel badly for people. We are sad for their circumstances and wish they were different. But we do not often set our own circumstances aside and ask God to allow us to enter into someone else’s suffering and pain. After all, we all have enough of our own. But this is the gospel in action.

Today, among the many good and gospel-centered responses that the church will have to this situation, let’s not miss the most basic one—to feel. The glory of the incarnation was not that Christ simply felt our pain, but that he took our pain and suffered and died for it. But one without the other does not give us much hope. We run to Jesus not only because he can help, but because he understands.

Our response cannot end with grief—but it seems that it must start there. We cannot bypass Romans 12:15 in order to jump to our sermons and action plans for racial reconciliation. We must pray that God, in his grace, will allow us to weep with those who weep. That somehow, in the midst of our own griefs and sorrows, God might allow us to understand and feel the grief and sorrow of those around us. That somehow, their grief might even overshadow ours. We must pray that we, as the church, might not only reflect those actions of Christ, but the heart of Christ. That the world around us would see the Jesus of the Bible, the one who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isa. 53:4). That Jesus is hard to ignore.

By / Jul 8

They swore to protect and serve. Now they lie dead and wounded.

Last night five law enforcement officers in Dallas were killed and six more were wounded. They need our prayers, as do all the men and women who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe on our streets and in our homes.

Here are eight ways we can pray for the police in America:

Pray for their safety

Ask our heavenly Father to protect those who protect us. Ask him to stand guard over them as they watch over us. Pray on their behalf:

I run to you, Lord,
for protection.
    Don’t disappoint me.
You do what is right,
    so come to my rescue.
    Listen to my prayer
    and keep me safe. (Psalms 71:1-2)

Pray for their peace

Pray that they may be anxious for nothing, and that the peace of God will guard their hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Pray for their wisdom

Pray that they may not be wise in their own eyes, but that they will gain wisdom through fear of God (Proverbs 3:7).

Pray for those who they may harm

As representatives of authority, police officers may be called to be “agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). Pray for those who the police may justly punish as well as those who, through error or evil, may be unjustly harmed by their actions

Pray for those who may harm them 

The enemies of the police are the enemies of society. But as with all enemies, we must pray for those who would do them harm (Matthew 5:43-45a).

Pray for their families

Pray for the wives who lost husbands, the sons and daughters who lost father. Pray for every family member who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Mourn with them and pray that God will remind them of his promise to “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Pray for their salvation

Our Lord “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). We should therefore express our desire that every law enforcement officers who does not yet know Jesus might be saved.

Pray for those the police protect  

Say a prayer of thanksgiving for their sacrifice and pray also for the people the police dutifully protect and serve, that in this time of tragedy God will heal the brokenhearted in our nation and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).

By / Aug 5

Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania have sponsored legislation, The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, protecting faith-based adoption and foster care agencies from discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

The legislation was introduced to protect agencies within states such as California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington D.C. (and any state choosing to join them in the future), all of whom have withdrawn funding from religiously oriented adoption and foster agencies because, in keeping with their sincerely held beliefs, these agencies place children in homes with a married mother and father. States have withdrawn funding in the name of equal opportunity (or, what opponents of religious liberty see as preventing discrimination). The problem, however, is that such action merely serves to hasten the end of adoption and foster services for these ministries.

There is no good reason why any of these care providers should be disqualified from working with their government to serve America’s families simply because of their deeply rooted religious beliefs,” Representative Kelly said.

The states claim to be protecting same-sex and unmarried couples. They claim to be preventing agencies from discriminating, but allowing agencies the right to only place children in traditional homes does not deny lesbian, gay, or unmarried couples the opportunity to adopt elsewhere. There are other agencies that have no objection to same-sex or unmarried couples adopting a child.

The bill isn’t about same-sex or unmarried couples’ rights at all. The opportunity to start a family is still intact through other agencies. But states and same-sex marriage advocates should not drown out faith-based agencies from taking care of orphans by coercing such agencies to actively support something in conflict with their convictions.

No, this isn’t about the couples. It is about the agencies’ right to uphold their beliefs. In the interest of a thriving pluralism that allows diverse viewpoints to operate within America, policy should honor the rights of organizations to care for orphans in a way that honors religious liberty, not chip away at it.

As The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson and Sarah Torre comment:

Protecting religious liberty in this instance takes nothing away from anyone. Couples who do not wish to work with faith-based agencies because of a difference of belief are free to work with another private provider or directly with the state offering foster care services. A diversity of providers only increases the chances more children will end up in permanent, loving families.

And what about the children? According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, there were around 399,546 children in the foster care system on September 30, 2012. Of those children, 24 percent had a goal of adoption. Actions taken that reduce adoption and foster care services harm children.

Faith-based charities and organizations do an amazing job of administering adoption, foster care and a host of other services. Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together,” Senator Enzi said.

Echoing Enzi’s sentiment, Representative Kelly called the work of faith-based agencies “unparalleled.” And yet, governments in some states are now discouraging such selfless work.