Adoption, the Gospel, and Fairness

Nearly 2 years ago I received a call from my wife that I had received many times before. She told me that DYFS called and they want to place a foster child in our home.  We’ve said ‘yes’ to 7 children previously, but this one seemed different.  4 month old baby boy.  Undernourished.  Almost definite we could adopt if we wanted to – truth be told, we had been hoping we’d find a child we could adopt someday. We said yes immediately.

As I drove home from work that day, I was anticipating a cute, cuddly baby boy.  When I walked in the door and saw him, I was shocked.  Sticks for legs and arms, oversized head, sunken eyeballs.  I was angry…I was trying to not be self-righteously angry.  “How could anyone starve a child in this day and age?”

Baby S quickly started to thrive, mostly because of my wife’s status as a SuperMom.  We started our journey with him – as he started to grow and change.  His smiles, his laughs, his first crawling (more like Army crawling/sliding/dragging), first standing up, first walking, first foods…first words. His obsession with balloons and YouTube Kids. The “not-so-fun” stuff like poop filled diapers, a seemingly constant need for schedule modifications and baby sitters, the countless nights of interrupted sleep, screaming, dinners with friends cut short by projectile vomiting, an awesome case of coxsackie virus on vacation…and the introduction of the full blown 2-year old fit when you do not draw the letter “S” to his exact requirements, or “dit” (sit) when and where he’d like you to. In all that he became our son.  A part of our family.  He had a brother and a sister, grandparents, pets…and an extended family at church that adored him.

img_0028Now, 2 years later we held each other as the DYFS van came back, this time to take him away and reunite him with his birth parents. I snapped this picture standing with the van door open in the awkward, and seeming 45 minutes (in reality probably 2 minutes) it took the driver to strap S into his carseat, while Mel and I cried our eyes out. I didn’t know what else to do, I felt stupid for just standing there. The “impossible” had happened, and it seemed to happen fast.  The trajectory turned quickly from adoption, to him being removed from us and reunited with the situation that put him with us in the first place. Shock.  Pain.  Loss of words. Anger. Disbelief. Fear of the future. Then today…just numbness and grief.  I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

The thing that comes to mind most often is “this isn’t fair.”  And that would be correct – but it points to a greater truth.  This world isn’t fair.  It’s broken.  It’s chock full of unfairness.  It’s that way because of sin.  We were all created to be in perfect relationship with our good and perfect Heavenly Father, but we chose to reject him – and in so doing fractured the perfection of this world and opened the door for sin, pain, hurt, sickness, unfairness to charge in and take over.

But there is a greater reality that sin hasn’t taken over completely – because it can’t.  Our loving Heavenly Father knew that we would reject him, and despite the stupidity of our choice, he had a plan that he enacted at the perfect time to reconcile us, forgive us, heal us, and conquer sin and unfairness, forever.

Today, we receive this thru repentance and faith.  We turn (repent) from our choice to reject God, and believe (faith) in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to he sent to absorb his full wrath for our sinful choice on the cross.  He then was resurrected from the dead to prove that the sacrifice was accepted and also to allow us to be united with him in new life.  We live this new life here on earth by his power, and one day he will return to permanently banish sin, sickness, unfairness, and death.

While human relationships will always be flawed and full of sin, and occasional unfairness – thru Jesus our relationship with God can be one of perfect grace, healing, hope, and fairness.

While we won’t always know why things happen, we do know that God is always good and always fair, most profoundly because of what he demonstrated to us in the cross of Jesus.  Fairness in treating sin the way it needs to be treated, and overwhelming grace to give us something far above we could ever earn.

So in that, we press forward.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

(Romans 8:32 ESV)

 

 

Walking in Thankfulness

man-with-boots-in-dirt-road

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

(Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)

Paul is writing to the church, Christians, reminding them of the gospel and encouraging them.  As you are Christians – then WALK in Him.  Biblically speaking, to “walk” is to “live.”  So then, as Schaeffer said – How then shall we live?

First way is “rooted and built up in Him.” This means to be a Christian, our hope, our lives, our purpose, our mission is centered around Jesus.  We are to be “rooted” in Jesus, like a tree’s roots go deep into the soil, so the roots of our lives should go deep into Jesus getting our nourishment from him.

This world tempts us to sink our roots into other soil – We must be careful to see what sold our roots are actually in.

That brings us to the second way – we are to walk “established in the faith”.  We are to live as those who are confirmed, sustained, strong in the faith.  Note we also see that this is “just as we were taught.”  It’s the faith that we were taught. We learn this in His word, the Bible.

These two things, living rooted and built up in him; walking established in the faith as you were taught – should then result in something. 

So what’s the result?  Thankfulness.  Not mere thankfulness – overflowing, abundant thankfulness.  This is something that is ours to do, ours to recognize.

We can live in abundant thankfulness because of what Christ has done in our lives.

We were dead in sin, unable to save ourselves, alienated from God, objects of His wrath, broken and needing healing and we can’t fix ourselves. God in his mercy and grace, gave us Jesus.   We then live transformed lives and we then abound in thanksgiving.

This gospel-based thanksgiving can transcend circumstances because it’s based on what Christ has done.  This Thanksgiving, let’s abound in thankfulness for what Jesus has done.

Dark Valleys

lightstock_62663_xsmall_user_1188538 (1)

It’s been one of those times where we see lots of suffering around us.  People passing away, marriages stuck in cycles of pain and disfunction, hopes and dreams not coming to fruition, chronic illness and pain not getting better, people reaping the consequences of very bad decisions, innocent children caught in the crossfire…the list goes on.

I found on my desk a copy of Be Still My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering and have read through a few pages.  One in particular struck me it was Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter titled “Dark Valleys.”

We will all indeed go through dark valleys, but in those times we need to remember the truth is that if we are trusting in our Savior Jesus, he will lead us and he is there with us – even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)

What is the greatest evidence of this?  The gospel of course.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32 ESV)

Ferguson writes – “I cannot imagine living the Christin life on any other basis that this. If the Father loves me so much that he did not spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and to my blessing. 

Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fears may become realities. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? What I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Rom 5:8). If he has done that, will he not work all things together for my good? Will he withhold anything that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?

Adoption and the Gospel

My family has been a licensed NJ Foster Home for a while now, in that time we have seen many kids come through our door.  Some only needing to stay a short time, others several months, and maybe one day (perhaps in the near future) we will be faced with the very real question of adoption. Will we consider making this child a permanent part of our family, we officially become “Mom” and “Dad,” our kids become “Brother” and “Sister,” and we get to call them our “Son” or “Daughter” – with all the rights and privileges therein.  Let’s be straight up – that is a big deal.  Huge.  Perhaps in this life there is no bigger commitment or responsibility than becoming a parent.

The concept of adoption is that a child who has been rejected or orphaned from their birth family can be fully accepted as a member of another family.  In that is actually a beautiful picture of the gospel. Let me explain.

Spiritually, we are all orphans – alienated from our Heavenly Father by sin.  Sin that is in us from the Fall and sin that we have willingly committed in rebellion against God’s authority in our lives.   Just like there is nothing a child can do to make themselves be adopted by another family, there is nothing that we can do spiritually to make us adopted by God.  It is an act of his jaw-dropping grace that he adopts us.  He pursues rebellious sinners and chooses to lavish his love on us in Jesus thru the cross.  Let’s look at a few elements of our spiritual adoption:

  1. God pays the full adoption price in Jesus.  Adoption is costly financially.  Those of you who have adopted internationally are well aware of this.  Then there is the normal expenses of providing for a child.  Adoption is also costly in other ways as well – we give a part everything we have with another child – our time, our emotional energy, our comfort…our sleep! Likewise, the price of our spiritual adoption is extremely high – it is the life of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.  This is an infinitely high price, one that no one can pay except God alone.  He pays it, and we receive adoption. Galatians 4 helps us understand this more deeply – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5 ESV)  Theologian and author J.I. Packer wrote if he had to summarize the message of the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”  God adopting us by providing a wrath-bearing sacrifice (“propitiation”) in Jesus.
  2. We are adopted with all the rights and privileges of God’s child.  When a child is adopted into a family, they assume the family name and everything that goes along with it. This is an astounding fact.  We become children of God.  I heard a Pastor say the other day “We are all God’s creation, but not all His children.” We become His children by faith in Jesus Christ.  John 1:12 tells us clearly – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12 ESV)  Becoming a part of our family is cool and all, but has limited rights and privileges (we aren’t all that famous or wealthy…)  BUT, when we place our faith in Jesus, God adopts us into His family!  Check out Ephesians 1:1-14 for a more detailed list of our blessings of being adopted.
  3. Through adoption, we have direct and intimate access to God as our Father.  Children have (or should have) unrestricted and continuous access to their parents. Kids should have that feeling that they are special and dearly loved by their moms and dads.  They do not need to go thru anyone else to be with mom or dad.  We do not need to go thru a priest, a prophet, or any kind of middle man.  We do not need to be at a certain spiritual level in order to be accepted by God. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Galatians 4:6 ESV)  The great Dr. Ryan Boys said that there is no evidence of any ancient Jewish prayers where they called God “Father”  – now thru adoption by faith in Jesus we can!
  4. By adopting us, God makes us heirs to Himself and His kingdom.  Let’s pretend for a moment that my family had amassed a fortune worth billions of dollars, and I had no children.  By adopting a child, they would become heirs to everything I had as my “official” child.  Here’s the crazy thing – is there anything of more supreme worth than God himself?  This is mind blowing even more.  We will inherit God himself.  The joy of being with God is God himself.  Again, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is helpful in understanding this concept more:  “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:7 ESV)  Pastor and Author CJ Mahaney spent over an hour plunging the depths of this mystery at the 2015 Sovereign Grace WorshipGod conference, I would say that will be an hour worth your time.  (To see that message click here).

All of this is grace and all of it should amaze and astound us with the blessings that God provides in us.  When others notice that we are caring for the widows and orphans and praise us, it is an immediate opening to briefly share that this is the picture of our spiritual adoption in Jesus.  As we show grace to others, let us remember the grace of God in adopting us in Christ Jesus.  Dustin Kensrue sums things up well in his song “Grace Alone”  –

I was an orphan lost at the fall
Running away when I’d hear your call
But Father, you worked your will

I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near your throne
But Father, you loved me still

And in love before you laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as your own
You have raised me up so high above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone

You left your home to seek out the lost
You knew the great and terrible cost
But Jesus, your face was set

I worked my fingers down to the bone
Nothing I did could ever atone
But Jesus, you paid my debt

By your blood I have redemption and salvation
Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown
And you rose that I might be a new creation
I am born again by grace and grace alone

Jamaica 2014… T-Minus 2 days!

Jamaica_flag_grunge_wallpaper_by_The_proffesional
Last year, it was Haiti…this year we’ll be a mere 119 miles away in Jamaica.

This Sunday, we are taking 19 people (13 high school students, 5 leaders, 1 local expert) to Annotto Bay, Jamaica to support the Annotto Bay Gospel Chapel with some building projects and hopefully help with evangelism in the local area.

The team is very excited to go, some of us are traveling outside the country for the first time so this is an exciting event – one that we hope will open the eyes of many and also provide invaluable faith-boosting experience.   We have much to be thankful for already – God has provided all of our financial support, all of our supplies are purchased, we have been meeting together regularly for prayer and preparation. We have a great group going this year.

One of the things we did to prepare was go through the book, Let the Nations Be Glad, by John Piper.  In it, Piper writes, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, worship is.  Missions exist because worship doesn’t.”  The gospel message is literally “good news” – but, not only the good news of salvation from sin in Jesus, but the good news that we have a King.  A loving and sovereign creator God and our purpose is a life of passionate, joyful, obedient worship of Him.   This is a life that transcends circumstances and brings fulfillment, peace, and hope.

We would love for you to pray for us.   Please pray for….

  • Safety in travel and no hiccups thru customs
  • Protection as we work
  • Group unity, patience, humility, servant hearts
  • Opportunities to share Jesus
  • For the local church to be built up
  • That according to God’s riches of glory, he will grant us to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith…
  • Pray also for Pastor Ryan and another Green Pond Bible Chapel group traveling to Israel at the same time.

I cannot guarantee daily summaries as wifi may not be available, but I will try my best.  Stay tuned!

 

 

The Massive Importance of His Sacrifice

lightstock_2343_xsmall_user_1188538

The bottom line is that what today traditionally represents, the sacrifice of Jesus, is massively important.

Everything hinges on who Jesus is and what he came to do.  There is much confusion – some say Jesus was a good teacher, a kind man, even a “perfect man” – and the usual answer to the question of what he came to do was “die on the cross for our sins.”  Why did he have to do that?

I’m thinking of (at least) our reasons why this day is massively important:

 

  1. Jesus’ sacrifice saved me from God.  Ephesians 2 tells us that we were all at one time, objects of God’s wrath because of sin.  God is justifiably angry with us because of our willful rejection of Him.  The amazing thing is that God makes the first move to reconcile us to Him by Jesus. We were saved from God by God.  As Propaganda says, “let that one bake your noodle.”
  2. Jesus’ sacrifice satisfies all of God’s wrath for my sin.  Jesus’ sinless life and sacrifice in my place, satisfies ALL of the wrath of God against me – IF I have understood this by faith and live a life of worship and submission to God.  That’s a big IF…because until you turn from your sin and to Jesus, your sins are not forgiven.  As John 3:36 says, “His wrath is still on you…”
  3. Jesus sacrifice took my sin AND my shame.  With sin comes shame, sometimes huge shame, guilt, grief, pain. Isaiah 53 says that the Messiah will bear it all.  Jesus is both fully man and fully God, therefore he understands all of the hurt and he bore it on the cross, and has the power to atone for it.
  4. Jesus sacrifice paves the way for life.  Without His sacrifice, there is no payment for sin, if there is no payment for sin, then there is no way to be forgiven.  But God just doesn’t merely forgive our sin – he takes our sin and in exchange gives us new life.  As Christ rose from the dead, we too – by faith – obtain a new life.  This is tremendous HOPE that goes beyond any seemingly hopeless situation – nothing can take that new life away.

Maybe this is the season when you make the most important decision you can ever make, one with eternal significance.  Turn from your sin and embrace what God has already done in Jesus by His sacrifice.  If you have already done so then dwell.  Consider.  Soak in the depth of this amazing, loving plan of God.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1–4 ESV)

What Did Jesus Come To Do?

Jesus-Wall

If someone asked you to tell them in one word “What did Jesus come to do?” what would you say?

 Maybe “die on the cross” or “help people”?
 I want to read 1 verse from Luke 4:18 which may help answer this question.  To set the scene a little, this is Jesus himself speaking publicly probably for one of the first times in the synagogue on the Sabbath…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,”
(Luke 4:18 ESV)
Do you see any common ideas in this passage?  Liberty – literally a ‘release from captivity’ or a ‘release from a punishment or guilt’
I would suggest that this passage is telling us that the one word we could use to answer the question of what did Jesus come to do is “freedom.”   Jesus came for freedom.
The undeniable fact is that since the Fall, since sin entered the world, everything here is under the curse of sin. We are totally unable to fix the situation by our own power, and are only trapped in it. Trapped.  Prisoners.  Captives.  In need of being released – whether we realize it or not it’s true. Christmas is a great time, usually a happy time with family and presents – but for some it highlights the brokenness of this world – family drama happens a lot around Christmas, conflicts, hatred, bitterness, sins against family. Maybe you have been sinned against by your family and friends and being forced to be with them on Christmas just makes you more aware of that.
Will it ever be fixed? Can we just encourage you — all along, it has been God’s plan to provide freedom in the Messiah – the one who came on a mission to be the payment that is required to purchase our freedom.   You see, this verse, even though it’s in the gospel of Luke, it is really Jesus himself quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah – who hundreds of years earlier wrote about the Annointed One, the Messiah, the Christ will come for freedom. Jesus himself makes a bold claim and says “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled…”  meaning – “Hello…I am Him — – The Messiah.”  Talk about your controversial statements – the crowd was so angry after hearing him say this, that the Bible tells us they literally wanted to throw him off of the nearest cliff. (Luke 4:28-29)
The message that we celebrate at Christmas is the message that the long foretold Messiah has come to bring us freedom from sin, guilt and shame and live the abundant life he created us to by finding our true joy and purpose in our Creator – God.   You can be free this Christmas, and wouldn’t that be the greatest gift ever?