Spare Thoughts

Recently, I have been preaching through the gospel of Mark. This week we will look at Mark 2:13-17. It’s a familiar story to those who have grown up in church. The problem with familiar stories is that they are familiar. We have grown comfortable with them and if we aren’t careful our familiarity will breed something eerily close to apathy. In this particular passage, Jesus calls a tax collector to be one of his closest followers (you might know him as the author of the gospel of Matthew). Not only does Jesus call Matthew to follow Him, but He proceeds to attend a big festive meal with a bunch of sinful, despised-by-culture people. The religious people of the time ask Jesus’ disciples why He is eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus responds that physicians attend to the sick and not to the healthy. That is why He came, for sinful people. I want to share John Calvin’s commentary on this event as I think he hits head on our tendency to evaluate the value of other people:

He [Jesus] came to quicken the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were polluted and full of uncleanness, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, to renew a blessed immortality those who were debased by disgusting vices. If we consider that this was his office and the end of his coming,–if we remember that this was the reason why he took upon him our flesh, why he shed his blood, why he offered the sacrifice of his death….we will never think it strange that he should gather to salvation those who have been the worst of men, and who have been covered with a mass of crimes.

He whom you detest appears to you to be unworthy of the grace of Christ. Why was Christ himself made a sacrifice and curse, but that he might stretch out his hand to accursed sinners? Now, if we feel disgust at being associated by baptism and the Lord’s Supper with vile men, and regard our connection with them as some sort of stain upon us, we ought immediately to descend into ourselves, and to search without flattery our own evils. Such an examination will make us willingly allow ourselves to be washed in the same fountain with the most impure, and will hinder us from rejecting the righteousness which he offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation which he offers to the lost.

Calvin’s Commentaries, Translated by Rev. William Pringle, “Harmony of the Evangelists, Volume One” pp. 402-403

Who do you deem to be unworthy of God’s grace in Christ? The kingdom of God will be full of undeserving sinners whose only hope is a crucified and risen Savior. May many more undeserving people find their way into the banquet through the cleansing blood of Jesus!

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Fatigue Under the Sun

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What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 

If I’m honest, the repetitious cycle of life gets wearisome. At times it is like changing my kids’ diapers. I am changing them only so they can be soiled and changed again…and again…and again. The frustrations, struggles, arguments, and sinfulness of life is being played on shuffle so that those things that currently stand resolved will be sure to fall unresolved in a short amount of time. 

I get weary of seeing the same destructive patterns of sin over and over again in my life and in the lives of people that I love and care for deeply. I grow faint in finding myself in the midst of theological arguments that I have not chosen but which I cannot ignore. They are not new and yet they are found fresh in our day and time. 

The frustration of things under the sun leaves me tired, weary, worn, and dependent. Dependent upon the One who has broken the cycle of sin and death. Dependent on the One whose mercy is new every morning. Dependent upon the One who took my sin, guilt, shame, frustration, and death upon Himself as He was nailed to a cross for you and for me. It is because of His help and His provision that there is hope in the midst of a sea of hopelessness. 

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 121

 

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Here I am…Send Him

This post tags off of Jasa’s from earlier today. You can find it here. The process of deciding to go overseas with the International Mission Board was not necessarily a natural one for us. To date, I have spent a little over 4 years in pastoral ministry. After departing from our previous church, we began to seek what God would have us to do next. I began to feel a familiar burden (or call) for missions that I had already “worked” through during seminary. It had not been the right time at that point and yet three years later, I found myself with a renewed thought that we might be looking at missions. At this point, I was terrified to tell Jasa…she is a Utah-girl: born and raised. Her family is here and so are my parents. I didn’t know how I was going to transition a conversation about our next steps for us and our son Isaiah (at that time, Micah wasn’t even a twinkle in his mama’s eye) into telling her that I thought we should move to another country. A couple of weeks later, we went for a walk at the local park–and to my surprise–Jasa said, “I’ve been thinking that maybe we are supposed to look at going overseas as missionaries.”

At that point, we put a hold on any other searches for ministry positions and began to pray and focus specifically on international missions. God continued to lay it on our hearts and we began this process. What is probably unseen on the outside (save for a few people with whom we have gotten especially vulnerable with…which will include all of you now) is that there have been many opportunities to waver in following the course that God has called us to. We found out that we would invite another son into our home, we were able to serve (and continue to serve) on a transitional basis at our home church in working with young adults and youth, and have–for a lack of better words–grown comfortable in the midst of the process.

This makes me think of Isaiah 6 where Isaiah has this awesome vision of God in which his own sinfulness, and the sinfulness of his people, is clearly shown as is God’s righteousness that is given to Isaiah. Verse 8 is where it gets serious:

“And I heard the voice of The Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’ And He said, ‘Go….'”– Isaiah 6:8-9

If you are like me, you have heard this passage of Scripture preached more than once. It usually boils down to being willing to go wherever it is that God might lead. I wonder how often we present ourselves as willing to go, do, or say whatever/wherever God might lead us to without ever following through on that willingness once God shows us where and when. The problem for Jasa and I is often not in the willingness….it is in the resolve to see it through. This is especially the truth when we look at our boys cuddling in the arms of their grandparents, or when we are able to laugh and cry with our church family, or when we have opportunities to see our home (Salt Lake City) changed.

Deep down, we want our willingness toward God to be honored more than our action in following where He leads. We are not, however, called to be willing only but to actually do that which we have been led to do. Inevitably, if we present ourselves as willing and able to go, we will be presented with a God-ordained opportunity to follow Him outside of our comfort zone. Remembering God’s call and God’s provision in light of knowing Him through Christ is what keeps us going on the tough days where it would be easy to do something, anything, else. That is what sustains us from looking in the rear view mirror and congratulating ourselves on our willingness rather than on our resolve to follow. Even on those days when it would be easier to say, “Here I am…send him!”

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Another Year of Hope?

Most of my life, I have heard people say the age-old line, “If you think time flies now, wait a few years”. Traditionally, my thought has been that they are a classic case of “one-upmanship”…you know the people who always have a story to top yours. Like the time I told my friend, John, that I had given a cordial “hello” to two of our hometown MLS players, Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales, only for John to tell me how he had given David Beckham a cordial “hey”…on three separate occasions. Yeah…deflating.

It turns out, though, that those people who said that time goes faster the older you get are more right than I might like for them to be. Over the last year (and a half) the world was supposed to end twice, our country continues to find it wise to drive close to the edge of cliffs, a hurricane rocked our eastern coast, a bunch of states created petitions to secede from the United States (oddly asking permission by signing petitions…somehow I think the southerners of old would be baffled by this) Russia banned U.S. adoptions, and the Miami Heat won an NBA title.

Isn’t it funny that in the midst of turmoil and in the midst of uncertainty, we continue to expect good things for ourselves and our loved ones? The expectation of better things to come is natural for us. Maybe more than at any other point in history, we have an expectation of blessings. Where does this audacity of hope come from? On what basis do we have reason to hope? Very clearly, trouble and rumor of trouble encompasses us on every side. And yet we hope…

The basis of my hope for the year to come remains the same as that of my past year…it is God alone. I cannot hope in people because ultimately I know what is held in their hearts; for I know my own heart, thoughts, and desires. People will disappoint. My hope isn’t in plunging into or in avoiding a fiscal cliff. My hope is not bound in the weather today, the location of my home, the stability of my life, or any other ideal (whether real or imagined). No, my hope for 2013, beginning with my hope for tomorrow, is in the God who holds all things together. The One who redeems that which seems beyond the point of hope. The One who takes hopelessness and turns it inside out. The audacity of my hope comes from a God who had the audacity to make His light shine in the midst of the darkness. May 2013 be the year that you see His mercy more clearly than ever before. May He and He alone be your rock, your refuge, your salvation, and ultimately the source of your bold, unwavering hope in the midst of trouble.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. – Psalm 62:5-7

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The Ramblings of my Mind on Election Day

It is a crazy thing to witness half of our fellow countrymen being pitted against the other half and for the verbiage of this divide to be filled with hate, fear, and slander. Tomorrow, we have to learn to get along again…only to be ripped back apart (if, indeed, we are ever “put back together”) in 3 year years.

The crazier thing is to realize that this divide worms its way into the church and affects the fellowship of believers, one with another. There are legitimate issues at stake and issues on both sides that we need to be concerned with.

Maybe the Pilgrims were thankful to not have to worry about voting…they found the freedom that they were looking for. It wasn’t enough. Later, they (Americans) needed political freedom and representation (not a bad thing). They proceeded from disappointment to disappointment or dissatisfaction to dissatisfaction. When our hope is rooted in a place, in people, or in our politics; our hope will be fleeting. May our hope ever be found in Jesus Christ and the promise of our hope be established in His life, death, burial, and resurrection. He is our hope who will endure natural disasters, sickness, death…and yes, even presidential elections.

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Adoption Pet Peeve #97

As adoptive parents, we love hearing from people about how they feel about adoption….well, most of the time.  Most of the occasions that give us pause have been dealt with in previous posts. Here are a few more statements/situations that might cause conflict with adoptive families.

Pet Peeve #97- “How much did your kid cost?”

While I’m not sure that this one deserves explanation, it seems profitable (no pun intended) to address it. We have sacrificed emotionally, psychologically, and (yes) financially in order to adopt. As has been previously established, if you wouldn’t ask the question of a biological child, it might be best to re-think asking it of an adopted child. My first question/series of statements regarding your biological children isn’t (generally), “You have a cute kid…I bet the hospital bill was outrageous…was he/she worth it?” Or, “Did you think of a more cost-effective route…like buying a cat?”  Adoption is, for the most part, not cheap. We prefer not to discuss our finances with strangers…or to discuss the fact that we put our car up for collateral in order to bring our child home…or to discuss how we have structured our retirement (still not sure what “retirement” is…sounds french…).

The real bottom line is that our kids are human beings and not objects. The process of adoption is costly on a variety of fronts but so is natural, biological childbirth. Our children’s worth is not in how much or little they have cost us financially but in who they are, intrinsically as humans. 

When one of the first questions that we are asked by a stranger is how much the adoption process costs, don’t be surprised if we seem uncomfortable. After all, how much money did your parents pay for you?

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Adoption Pet Peeve #4

It’s been a while since my last rant relative to adoption pet peeves. I dealt with most of the big faux pas in previous posts. If you are still trying to find a way to have a conversation with an adoptive family in a positive way, I would highly encourage you to avoid the following phrase:

What’s wrong with his real mom?

Adoptive parents understand that adoption is not the “usual” way of coming across children. Furthermore they understand that people will struggle to understand why they have undergone great lengths to adopt said children (usually, the adoption process is not an easy one). Some of these adoptive parents have been given the amazing opportunity to meet and build relationships with the biological parents of their adopted children. As a result, we (adoptive parents) tend to take it personally when you ask us what is wrong with our children’s biological parents. This happens for a couple of reasons:

  1. Apart from biological parents making the unimaginably difficult decision to place their child for adoption, we would never know the joy of having said child in our home/family.  Adoptive parents and families are forever indebted to biological parents who have made the loving, unselfish decision to place their children into our homes. There are no words to say to thank you for the being entrusted with someone else’s child with the understanding that they are now your child. I know…I tried to find adequate words and I am still trying.
  2. Lambasting the biological parents of our adopted children does nothing to benefit our adopted children.  We, as a family, are not better off after having you question the integrity, health, or well-being of a biological parent. Our kids will always have a special place in their lives and hearts for their biological parents, even if they have never met them. I never met my biological dad because he died during my mother’s pregnancy with me. I still wonder what he was like and what he might think of my life and my decisions. I am forever aware that he is my father. This doesn’t mean that I de-value my step-dad whom I have known nearly my entire life. He has been my dad…period. It is the same for our adopted children. Their thoughts, opinions, and love for their biological parents is not an affront to their adoptive parents. It is natural and most of us encourage them to ask questions. At the end of the day, we would love to tell them about their biological parents rather than them being informed by the countless questions of “what was wrong with their real parents.”
  3. We are jealous for our children’s biological parents. They have become a part of our family tree. Biological parents made the decision to place their children in our homes and we are forever grateful (I think I made this point already but it can’t be overstated). We are grateful regardless of the issues in their lives. We care deeply for them and we want the best for them. We love our children deeply and as a result you will find no greater advocate for their biological parents than us…their adoptive parents.

Takeaway Advice

Feel free to speak highly of our adopted children’s birth parents. Feel equally free to swallow any harsh words about them needing to figure out what causes pregnancy, how to keep their legs closed, their need for higher education, or anything else that might cause our adopted children to undeservedly question their life and self-worth.  Don’t take offense if my wife goes mama bear on you when you speak poorly of our little man’s birth mom. We love her and we can never repay her for her act of love toward our son (and by “our” I am including his birth parents).

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