Monday, November 23, 2015

Gifts That Really Do Make A Difference In The Lives Of Others


Looking for Christmas gifts that will make a difference in the lives of others?  

Here are some suggestions that go beyond the retail-fueled frenzy that tends to, unfortunately, drive this holiday season. More importantly, buying from any of these organizations can truly help others around the world.

1. "Piranda" is Romanian for "gypsy girl" and this was started by Robin Bruski to help change the lives of impoverished people in Romania. Above is a photo of one pair of their shoes. You can find more and learn more about this wonderful organization at: http://piranda.org/


2. Another is the jewelry made by women in Uganda that can be found at Amazima's website. Whenever you buy something from them, you are not only helping employ women, but also feed hungry children from the slums of Masese. Here is the link: http://www.amazimastore.org/


3. Noonday Collection works in fair trade with artisans from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. They help to not only provide jobs for people but also no-interest loans, scholarships, and more to impoverished people to help them earn dliving wages to get out of poverty. They are at: http://www.noondaycollection.com/


4. Bridgewater Candles takes part of their proceeds to help feed orphans around the world through Rice Bowls. Already they have provided over 5 million meals. You can go to their site at: 


5. Got someone in your family that loves coffee? Buy from Gobena Coffee and 100% of the proceeds goes to orphan care. They also support Fair Trade and Direct Trade growers. They have roasts from Colombia, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. Here's the link to their site: http://www.gobena.org/

When you purchase your Christmas gifts from any one of these organizations, you know that you are not only getting a unique present for a family member, but that you are also helping someone in this world improve their lives. 

If you know of any more that we can spotlight during the Christmas season, please feel free to comment or e-mail us. 











Sunday, November 22, 2015

National Adoption Month: Jen Hatmaker On Adoption


Is adoption easy? No it is not. Is this simple? Nope. Complicated and long-term. Will bonding be immediate and seamless? Maybe, but probably not. Will you struggle with guilt and fear that first year? Yes, but you shouldn’t. You’ve agreed to partner with God in some difficult, heart-wrenching work, and it’s no kum-by-yah party. Give grace to yourself; God already has.

Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting through, and adoption is one of them. I can hardly think of something closer to God’s character, who is the “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy.” Certainly, we are his difficult children who spaz out and pull away and manipulate and struggle. We distrust His good love and sabotage our blessings, imagining our shame disqualifies us or that God couldn’t possibly be faithful to such orphans.

But He is. We are loved with an everlasting love, and it is enough to overwhelm our own fear and shame and humanity. In adoption, God is enough for us all. He can overcome our children’s grief. He can overshadow our own inadequacies. He can sweep up our families in a beautiful story of redemption and hope and healing. If you are afraid of adoption, trying to stiff-arm the call, God is the courage you don’t have. If you are waiting, suffering with longing for your child, God is the determination you need. If you are in the early days of chaos, God is the peace you and your child hunger for. If your family feels lost, He is the stability everyone is looking for. If you are working hard on healing, digging deep with your child, God is every ounce of the hope and restoration and safety and grace.

In Him, you can do this.

He is enough for us all.

(from "The Truth About Adoption: One Year Later" from her blog at: http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2012/08/21/the-truth-about-adoption-one-year-later)


To learn more about Jen Hatmaker, go to her website at:



Thursday, November 19, 2015

But If I Have Not Love . . .


Awhile back, I was reading the prophets and what struck me was how whacked-out a group they were. You have Isaiah preaching naked in the streets and Hosea marrying a prostitute. But what I learned most from them was that social justice wasn't a political principal, it's a biblical one. Now it's been hijaked by modern politics, but the basis is rooted in God's concern for the poor, the broken, the sojourner, the orphan, the widow, the refugee. Social justice in the Old Testament always started with the internal act of repentance before God and then a call for the nation to do likewise and to take care of the least of these. The Psalmist writes in the seventy-second one in which, more like a prayer than a song, for God to help the king "judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice." Later he adds, "defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and him who has no helper." Wow! Shouldn't we be praying that for our leaders today? (I can't help but wonder if we spend more time complaining about them than praying for them anyway).

After the prophets, you think, "It can't get any crazier than them?" when out pops John the Baptist followed by Jesus, who really stirs up the mix with his Sermon on the Mount. Reading that recently, after the prophets, made me realize how far I am from Christ's call for his followers. Certainly this shift has been happening with my blog and I know that it will probably mean I lose people who have been reading it for some time now. It's not easy for me because I like being liked. That said . . .

The Syrian Refugees are all over the media. I know I will fall into the minority on this, but, here goes.

Someone I know in passing, another Christian, started a discussion with me on the subject of the refugees. It got heated (on his part, not mine).  He did not like my I simply stating that, "I cannot follow a savior who identified himself so completely with the poor, the outcast, and the forgotten if I am not willing to do the same myself."

At one point, he angrily asked me, "But I'll be you wouldn't take some of them in your home now, would you?" Sadly, he referred to the refugees as "those people" quite a bit. My answer surprised him, "Yes, yes I would."

"Really? Then you're more naive than I thought."

Probably so.

He paused before asking me, "And what would happen if you did take some in to your home and they killed you and your family?"

My answer shocked him even more, "Well, at least we would have died showing them the love of Christ."

Apparently not what he wanted to hear and, by the end, he stormed off with, "Hope you enjoy living under Sharia law then!"

I did not intend to anger him. I don't want to anger anyone now. I will admit, I don't have all the answers. But what I do know is that I am called to love the refugees because Jesus told me to. Yes, love can hurt - just look at Christ or even Martin Luther King, Jr. They gave their lives for love. There are missionaries all over the world who do the same. How then can we send missionaries to countries like Syria, where they could die, and then claim to be Christians and say, "We don't want those refugees here?"

And don't think those who aren't Christians aren't watching. A British newspaper, The Guardian, even wrote a piece on how politicians who like to reference the Bible are now promoting ignoring the vulnerable. Yet Jesus said the world will know his followers by their love. Can they see it in us?

Right now I'm reading a parenting book by Dr. Laura Markham entitled Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids in which she wrote, "Every choice we make, at its core, is a move towards either love or fear."  From choices I've made in my own life over the years, I know all too well how correct she is in this assessment. And this issue is no different.

There are those who argue against the refugees because they say, "We should be taking care of our poor first." I agree, but are we? And I have to ask myself, "Am I?" If I'm being honest, I have to painfully acknowledge, "No, I haven't. Not really." Still, I think many who offer up this argument are using it as an excuse and Christ has not called us to excuses.

So what's the real reason?

Are we basing our decisions from fear and security rather than the Bible? We have to remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of sound mind. We must walk in the beauty, strength, and courage of the love of Christ.

When I think about the refugees, I can't help but think of the verse in Leviticus, "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt" (19:33-34). Are we willing to do this? Are we striving to reach beyond race, culture, and religion to not only share the gospel but to be the gospel to these refugees in desperate need? Writing this, I am not judging others, but turning the microscope on my ownself and, through the lens of scripture, looking to see if I have properly aligned my life and my actions to the Bible and the savior I claim to follow.

The Bible demands that we not think only of ourselves, but to come to the end of ourselves for that is where we will come into communion with our Creator.  Afterall, when Jesus got up and read in the Synagogue, he read these words from Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives. . ." He comes to those "crushed in spirit" by the exile. He still wants to do this and do it through us. We are the whacked-out radicals he is calling now to step up. We are called to stand among the prophets, dreamers and visionaries of the Bible. The call to love is never and easy one, but it's an eternal one.

Am I up to this?

No.

But God is.

So I will fumble and stumble my way into obedience. And I will try to be a light in the darkness of all this uncertainty.  Do I think this will be easy? Definitely not! This is not in my wheel-house - at all! But, if there's one thing the prophets and Christ have taught me is that it's never easy to love, but that, ultimately, suffering and all, love is always worth it.


Some really good articles on this subject at Christianity Today:

Love The Refugee With The Compassion Christ Has Shown You
http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/november/love-refugee-with-compassion-christ-has-shown-you.html

A Church Welcome For The Tired, the Poor
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/november/church-welcome-for-tired-poor.html


(As a sidenote, for those who have been following my blog and don't like the shift in focus, it's been there since the beginning. From the start of this, I have always believed that orphan care is just one part of what it means to take care of the least of these).

"He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:18-19




Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Craziness Of Christ


I am scared of the craziness of Christ that prefers the poor and outcast to the religious establishment. I am frightened by him saying that the first shall be last. I am uncomfortable with a savior who parties with sinners. I am really anxious around a Jesus who identifies himself with the poor and not the powerful.

I cannot read the Sermon on the Mount and not be shocked, confronted, frightened, and asking myself, "Does he really mean that? If he does, does he really expect me to follow him in that?"

Christ's kingdom is more topsy-turvy than Alice's Wonderland.

I do not understand a Messiah who comes not as a king but as a servant, a homeless man, and wanders about loving the outcast, the forgotten, the abandoned, the prostitute, the broken, the lonely, and those I would not invite to my home for a party.

No, no, I don't care for that Jesus. Like Will Ferrell in Taladega Nights, I prefer the baby Jesus. The sanitized one. The one who lets little kids sit in his lap. The one with sheep. Meek and mild. A Mister Rogers Jesus.

I don't want the one who starts off his most famous sermon with, "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . ."

What???

Like the Jews at that time, that is not what I expect from a Messiah. Like them, too many of us are nationalistic and militaristic in our theology and political policy.

You are too dangerous in your teachings, Lord. It goes against conservative and liberal alike. It's like having surgery without being anesthetized. I feel the cut of those words of yours.

I don't want to be "poor in spirit" becasue that means I have to be reliant on him and I definitely don't want to be that if he is calling me to be a servant, to take up my cross, to do as he does and identify with the actual poor. I mean, they smell really bad, they are addicts, and will most likely rob me if I do. Is that really what you want Jesus?

Or to love refugees?

Who knows if they are really even refugees and not terrorists?

What instead of the parable of The Good Samaritan are you going to tell me about The Good Syrian Refugee? I don't want to identify with them.

Or that race of minorities that I'm not too fond of. I know all lives matter, but . . .

You can have them, Lord, I am much more comfortable in the company of the rich young ruler. I am far too satisfied with the money lenders in the temple.

Blessed are who?
Those who mourn? No thanks.
The meek? Really?
Those who seek righteousness? The merciful? The pure in heart? Pass.
The peacemakers? Too liberal for me.
The persecuted for righteousness' sake? Most definitely skipping that one.
And I am to believe that I am blessed when others revile, persecute, and falsely accuse me? Jesus, are you kidding me?  This is what you are calling me to do to follow you? I'm surprised you can keep even 12 disciples with that line of thinking. You'll never have a megachurch preaching that kind of stuff.

No thanks, I would rather sit in the pews, bored and complacent than in recklessly, risking and following you, the unsettler of all my pious virtues that I hold dearly and cling to over you. I don't want to sell all and give it to the poor. They'll just waste that money on alcohol or cigarettes or drugs anyway. Isn't it enough that I do that shoebox at Christmastime for the poor kids in other countries?

You want me to love and pray for my enemies?  Do not resist? Turn the other cheek? Wow. Not going to happen. Retaliate! Revenge!  Eye for an eye. Didn't you see what they did?

I'm sorry, Jesus, but your ways are just too hard to get sometimes.

Don't you know how the world really works? I mean, that stuff may be okay in heaven where everything is peace and love, but we are talking about reality here, the real world.

Why make the gate so narrow?

You're not going to get a lot of "likes" on Facebook with this or retweets on Twitter.

"Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me" is a lousy PR slogan. No one will want a bumpersticker or a t-shirt with that on it.

Don't challenge. Don't confront. Don't ask me to choose.

Couldn't you be more tolerant?

Couldn't you just help me be a better me? You know: healthy, wealthy, and secure.

I don't care for what you're saying. It doesn't make me feel good. It makes me question. I don't want to do that. I like the status quo. Isn't it enough to just be a good guy?

But if I say yes, if I follow you . . .

What about my comfortable world?

What about the American dream?

Why won't you allow me my illusions, my excuses?

This is costly. This is unsettling. This is uncomfortable. And this is your kingdom?

Don't you see what this would do to me?

People will think I'm crazy.

My world will be turned upside down.

Is that really what you want?


"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule."
- Eugene Peterson, The Message










Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Meet The Grahams


Since it is National Adoption Month, I thought I would spotlight a family who was in the beginning of the adoption process: Phillip and Celeste Graham.

Too often, Christians who adopt children are met with indifference. Even among others in the church, they find deaf ears to their financial need and it is a big one when adopting internationally. Too many Christians think this is a personal decision that, if a family wants to adopt a child then they should have to pay for it by themselves. What they don't understand is that this is missional work and it's bringing the mission field into their homes. I have stated many times that we are not all called to adopt, but we are all called to take care of the orphans of the world. This is one way that people can step up and help a wonderful family adopt a special needs child from Eastern Europe.

The scriptures repeatedly reminds us that God is a Father to the fatherless and that His heart is with the orphan Phillip and Celeste Graham have had it placed on their hearts to adopt, their hearts are beating as God's does, and they are moving according to His call for their family.

While we can join with this family in prayer, we should also do so financially. As I said, international adoption is expensive and those expenses don't end once you bring the child home.  Certainly God wants His church to help meet the needs of others, as 1 John 3:17 tells us, "But is anyone has the world's goods and see his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" One can see this again in the book of Acts how believers "sold property and possessions to give to anyone in need." (2:45).

Please prayerfully consider helping this family as they live out the gospel, make one less orphan in the world, and show a child the love of not only a family, but also God's love.

To learn more about the Graham's story, they have a blog that can be followed at:
http://tobelongtobeloved.blogspot.com/

To help support them in their adoption go to:
https://www.youcaring.com/phillip-and-celeste-graham-457917

Their adoption t-shirt can be purchased at:
https://www.booster.com/tobelongtobeloved

They also found a local coffee company who is donating part of the proceeds of coffee purchased to their adoption fund:
http://enderlycoffee.com/grahams

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Awakening Wonder In An Overwhelmed World


When Benjamin was younger, we went with some of our friends to South Mountain State Park. As we hiked the trail, the kids began to whine and complain about the ever-sloping trail. All of the parents kept encouraging them to keep going so that they could see the magnificent waterfalls. We promised them that it would be well worth the physical exertion, but they weren't buying it. Their whining and complaining began to effect our mood and we went from encouraging them to keep going to snapping for them to just be quiet and "suck it up." (Yeah, we are clearly not Caillou's parents). The joy of being together began to fade and we started to wonder why we even began this trek up the mountain. Then, as we came around a bend in the trail, we came upon hundreds of butterflies dancing about in beams of light around large flowering bushes next to a small stream. Instantly, all of us gasped in wonder. We just stood there in amazement at the beauty of this moment. 

How many of us get this way in our daily lives?

Where is our sense of wonder in this age of distraction?

Psalm 145:5 says, "Oh the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate." But do we meditate on the wonder?  

Do we do as Job 37:14 states, "Listen to this . . . stop and consider God's wonders?"

I know in my own life I get too caught up in other things and lose sight of the wonder. In scriptures, the word wonder translates from the word "mopheth," which means "a splendid or conspicious work, a miracle" or from "teras," which translates into "marvel." We tend to reserve these words for grander things.

Sure, it's easier to have that sense of wonder when we see hundreds of butterflies, or waterfalls, or mountains, or oceans, but what about when we are in dead-stop traffic during our morning commute? Or when we are having to clean the house and it seems like the laundry basket magically creates piles and piles of dirty clothes that need to be washed even though we are sure we had already done it this week?  It's easier to have that sense of wonder when a baby is born than when the baby is wailing in the middle of the night and we are losing sleep. Or when that child decides to throw a tantrum in Target. 

Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote that, "The perception of glory is a rare occurence in our lives. We fail to wonder, we fail to respond to the presence. Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder."

It is too easy to lose the wonder in the monotony of our daily life with all of its committments with work and children and responsibilities. We get so focused on our work that we lose site of the wonder. And wonder is the beginning of faith. Like a child reading a book, we should be excitedly asking, "What happens next?" 

God tells us in Isaiah 43:19, "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"

That verse tells us that God is asking, "Don't you see it? Aren't you aware of what I am doing?" He asks so that we can, like children, delightedly ask Him if we can join in this "new thing" like children do when they see someone making bubbles or playing a game outside. I remember taking Benjamin, Cava, and a couple of their friends to a park. We started playing "Red Light, Green Light" and the kids were having a blast. This drew other kids to us and they asked if they could join in. We should, first, be like those kids and approach God with, "Can I play too?" and then we should be drawing others to him with the same desire to be a part of our play.

One of my favorite writers, G. K. Chesterton said in his book Tremendous Trifles, "The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder."

The world is so full of distractions meant to entertain us but they don't fill us with real wonder. As Chesterton so aptly says, we can get so caught up in those things which will never satisfy us, never meet our needs, that we end up starving from "want of wonder" that is in God.

The more we know of God, the more we trust in God, the more we say "Yes" to God, the deeper the sense of wonder fills us. God is so much bigger than we ever imagined or could imagine. When we said "Yes" to adoption, we never dreamed that one small act of obedience would open our hearts to the world and all of the opportunities to create in us a holy curiosity, an awakening to childlike wonder because such is the kingdom of God. When we let go of our dreams, God gave us new ones. Grander ones that were greater than any we had imagined on our own. It has awakened in us a new sense of appreciation and awakening to the things of God.


Jesus put a child among his followers and told them, "Truly, I tell you. Unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3).

Wow!

Jesus is unquestioningly telling us to become like little children to even enter the kingdomm of heaven.

Why?

Because children don't come with their doubts but with their sense of wide-eyed wonder. Jesus wants us to have that child-like heart of acceptance and belief.  And to look at God as a Father who will take care of us and meet our daily needs as a loving parent will. Too many adults are so filled with doubts and concerns and worries. We are not children who are content, joyful, playful, and full of abandonment. That's why Jesus is telling us to become as a little child. It is the faith of a child that can move mountains. I like what Rich Mullins once said, "A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder."

That is why wonder is defined as "a feeling of surprise mingled by admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable."

How true that is. When we allow ourselves to be awakened to wonder, we allow ourselves in on something beautifully unexpected. God is inviting us into that.

I am learning that the more I say "Yes" to the things of God and abandon myself to them, the more I am filled with a sense of wonder at not only how God works in this world, but that He allows me to be a part of it. He doesn't need me to do what He wants accomplished, but He offers me the opportunity. I think we too often approach His will as if it were another chore or another thing to put on our to-do check-list than the gift it really is. It's not about achievement, it's about awakening.

Too often we are afraid to say "Yes" to the will of God because we are afraid of what He is going to ask us to do. What we don't realize is God is not always calling you to do something, He often is simply calling you to love someone. When we were called to adopt Cava, we did not realize the pure joy that would come from this act of love. And if we had not stepped out in faith, we would have never known it.


Eugene Peterson said, "Wonder can't be packaged, and it can't be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagment."

To be filled with wonder means we have to stop in the midst of our hectic, busy lives and just be present, to be engaged with the God of the universe by whom all were created. In Him came the wonder of creation and the wonder of resurrection. Both of those mighty acts are gifts of love to us. He wants us to join in them with Him.

God does not want us to be overwhelmed by our responsibilities but overwhelmed by Him. By His love, by His mercy, and by His grace. His burden is light. When we stop and say "Yes" to Him, we will wonder why it took us so long to do it.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ignoring Rahab


Not too long ago, my wife and I attended a conference in another city. One morning, as we were leaving our room to catch the elevator and go down to breakfast, we were met with a sight we did not expect to see - a young prostitute waiting for the elevator. She was in her early twenties and looked very tired. Her makeup was smudged and smeared. Her long brown hair was a bit dissheveled. It was clear that she was not given the time to fix herself up before she left. While we stood there, she did not look up from her cellphone. Perhaps she did not want to meet our gaze.

 I must admit, I stood there with my wife and felt very awkward and unsure. Something inside of me said to acknowledge this young woman with at least a "good morning" but I didn't. I remained painfully silent. The elevator doors opened and we all got on it. Nothing was said by anyone. When it reached the main floor, she got off and then so did we. She was gone. So too was my opportunity to just treat her like a human. To acknowledge her as a person.

Even now, over a week later, I still feel ashamed. Not for her and what she was, but for me and what I wasn't. I was not the least bit Christ-like. Jesus loved prostitutes. They were drawn to Him. Why? Because He offered them grace, mercy, and love not silent judgment. Where was my compassion? Scriptures tell us that the world will know His followers by their love, so where was mine that morning?

In Matthew 21:31 Jesus even states, "Truly I tell you, the the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." He loved the repentant over the religious. I wonder how many religious people will get their holiness in a bunch when they see prostitutes entereing the kingdom of heaven before them?

Jesus even has a prostitue in his genealogy. There in His family tree was Rahab, who was described in scripture as a "zônāh" or harlot. Yet she is worthy enough to not only be listed in the lineage of Christ but she's also mentioned three times in the New Testament. She is spoken of for her faith (Hebrews 11:31), her hospitality, and her mercy towards Joshua's spies. She even converted and her statement of belief was, "For the Lord your God is God in heaven and on the earth below."


While I know some of Rahab's story from the Old Testament, I knew nothing of the young prostitute on the elevator. I have no clue as to how she ended up where she did. I don't know of her childhood, though it probably involved some sexual abuse and shame. It could also stem from poverty. I don't know the details that made this young woman vulnerable to prostitution, but I do know that she is now caught in a cycle of sexual violence and assault. 40 million women worldwide are caught in some form of sexual trafficking including pornography and prostitution. The average age of a prostitute is 14. Orphans are also 50% more likely to get trapped in sexual trafficking than non-orphans. Pornography fuels this industry that now brings in billions of dollars and makes more in profit than those of Google, Nike, and Starbucks combined. (A side note, anyone who says that pornography does not hurt anyone is deceived. We can choose to be either a protector or a predator. Choosing to look at pornography makes one that latter).


I did not speak to the young woman and, for that, I am ashamed. But I do pray for her now. I pray mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. I pray that others will. I pray that loving, Christ-like people will be there to show her His tender mercy and grace. She will have to be seen as a child of God, made in the image of God, loved by a God who gave His only Son for her, and not just as something shameful and sinful. I pray that someone is the gospel for her in a way that I was not. I pray that, if there is a next time, and I encounter another young woman like this one that I see her as Christ sees her, love her as Christ loves her, and that I don't remain silent in my fear of reaching out to someone who is lost, broken, hurting, and desperately in need of Christ.

How much could one small act of grace make in another's life?

I truly believe that God had put her in my path for a reason. I didn't do what I was called as a follower of Jesus to do. I did not step outside my comfortable box. But I learned this lesson: I cannot be silent to those who need a Savior.


Ministries that work to end prostitution, sexual and human trafficking:

International Justice Missions (https://www.ijm.org/)
Agape International Missions (http://agapewebsite.org/)
Compassion 2 One (http://www.compassion2one.org/)
Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (http://faastinternational.org/)
Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings (http://www.caritas.org/resources/Coatnet/Coatnet.html)
Covenant House (https://www.covenanthouse.org/)







Finding Place In The Desert


In 1971, America released their song "A Horse With No Name" (originally entitled "Desert Song") in which the chorus goes, "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name . . ." Other than aging myself with this classic, I couldn't help but think of that song when I read Psalm 68 and it said, " . . . lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord . . ."

But as I really thought about this verse, what really struck me was this image of Jesus riding through an arid desert. I pictured him in flowing white robes, majestically riding his horse through the desert like Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. I can visualize the great sweep of desert with its mounds of sand and nothing but the desert and sky as far as the eye could see. It's a majestic image worthy of David Lean epic on an Imax movie screen with a grand, sweeping score by Maurice Jarre.



But the question remains: Why would He be there? Why is the Lord riding through the desert?

Searching for those who are solitary and alone (two of those mentioned are orphans and widows). He is in search for those who most need Him to, for those who have no one else to look for them, especially in the bleakness of the desert landscape.

Imagine being alone in such a desert, with nothing to provide shelter for you, or to meet your basic needs (such as water or food), and you are not only vulnerable to the elements and the creatures that inhabit a desert (jackals, scorpions, snakes) but you are already the most vulnerable: widows and orphans. You already couldn't provide for yourself. Imagine how desperate, terrified, and overwhelmed you would feel and thinking that the only future ahead of you is death.

Then imagine being that widow or orphan who has given up and suddenly sees something small off on the horizon.

What is it?

Friend of foe?

Life or death?

There would be that mixture of fear and hope.

You long to cry out by your voice is too weak from the lack of water and from the sand that has gotten in your throat and nostrils.

What must it be like to see a royal figure riding up over the dunes with confidence, majesty, and assuredness of power?

He comes right to you.

And you look up, with fear and reverence, and His eyes are filled with such compassion, mercy, and love that you have never seen in someone's eyes before towards you. Then He speaks and says, "I was looking for you."

Imagine what would be running through your head as you hear those words: He was looking for me?  No one looks for me. No one even cares about me.

Seeing the tenderness He has for you, you would weep if you could but the desert has even dried up your tears. Instead, you fall onto the sand before him. Christ has found you and now tells you that He will settle you in a home. He is giving you place.

John Sowers, president of The Mentoring Project, said, "We find place through the love of Christ and give place by loving others."

A home for someone who had no home. With the loss of a spouse or parents, identity was taken from you. You were no one. You were nothing, owning nothing. You had no value or worth. You could easily be taken advantage of. But now you are no longer alone, no longer a wandering nomad lost in this bleak environment. He is giving you a home, an identity, and rootedness. He is giving you all that you lack and more. You are no longer a widow or an orphan, but His family. You who were worthless in the eyes of the world, cast out, and abandoned are now being brought into royalty.

Verse thirty-one of this Psalm says, "He hears the voice of the needy . . ." Even when we could not speak, he heard the secret cries of our hearts and Jesus came to the desert to claim us. "You," He says, "You are mine."

Jesus gets down from his horse and tends to you. He gives you drink, this "father to the fatherless, defender of widows" (68:5). It goes on to say that He "daily bears our burdens" (68:19). To have Him take those burdens that you carried through this barren wilderness. The shame, the sorrow, the guilt, the hurt, and the anger are now being lifted off of you. "These are no longer yours to carry," He says, "They are mine." Just as Christ says in Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." He is taking you to a place where you will finally know rest, repose, and peace. As Jeremiah 31:25 says, "I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint."  Those burdens that made you wished you had never been born aer now gone. He is now your shelter from the wind and the storms.

He lifts you up onto His horse, climbs on and holds you close to Him.  For the first time, you now feel joy, and love, and peace. There is also something you have had not had in a long time: hope. Jesus takes the reigns in hand and speaks. The horse responds and you ride out of that dry and parched desert and from Him "comes escape from death" (68:20). He is making a way "straight in the desert" and a "highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3).

In the desert of your need, the Lord will come.




Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Glaciers & Coffee Cups


What's the media buzzing about these days?  The war on Christmas. This focuses on two things: malls that are replacing Christmas trees with glaciers (which resemble less  a glacier than Mork's egg-shaped spaceship) and Starbucks' seasonal coffee cups.


First, let me say that I don't think most Christians are really getting upset about these non-issues at all and, if they are, they need to refocus that energy into being upset about the things that Jesus would have been (such as taking care of the poor, the orphans, the widows, the refugees, the marginalized, and immigrants).  Besides, why are we surprised that the secular world is not embracing a Christian Christmas?  Christmas is about consumption, not Christ. That is why we don't just have a "Black Friday" but a "Gray Thursday" and a "Cyber Monday" and so on so that we can go into debt to buy stuff we don't need and sometimes don't really want. But I digress, that is a whole other blog post . . .

Of course, as the holidays approach, we will also begin to see bumper-stickers and car magnets and posts on social media about putting "Christ" back into "Christmas."   First off, let me just say that the image above is ridiculous to me. 

Secondly, the truth of the matter is we need to put Christ back into the "Christians" (or those who claim to be).  If Christians truly lived out their lives and their faith in the manner that Jesus called them to, then all of these other non-issues would be irrelevant because we would be in this world loving others with a gut-level compassion as Jesus did. Our hearts would love others as He did. 

Lately I have been reading the Gospel of Luke and I love that he writes these words right before Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Him . . .

Wow!

Isn't that how it should be with all who follow Jesus?  

And I had to ask myself: Do I draw sinnners near to me or do they avoid me like a Pharisee?

Isaiah tells us that "the Lord waits to be gracious to you" (30:18).  Are we, who have experienced this graciousness first-hand then extending that to those around us?

Earlier, I mentioned the word compassion.  In Hebrew, compassion is derived from "raham," which means "womb." The compassion of Christ is like being in the mother's womb. It is all encompassing, all nurturing, all providing, and is what sustains our lives. And we are called to love as Christ loved. To have compassion as Christ did. 

We should be doing this because as Romans 8:14 tells us, "For whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons and daughters of God." This is because when we are led by the Spirit, we are led by "caritas." This is the Latin word for the kind of love Christians are called to have for humanity and means "love for all."

Christmas is about "For God so loved the world" and we should reflect that kind of love because His Son is within us, transforming us by His grace and His love. So I need to ask myself: Am I?

As a Christian, I need to let go of the checklists  and credit cards that dominate this season in a retail-fueled frenzy and focus on what Christ focused on: people.  

Like Christ, I need to be connected, communal, and relational. 

Perhaps if we stopped complaining about the stupid coffee cup and buy someone around us one and share conversation over that coffee, then we would see real change.

I need to walk in the true Spirit of, not just the season, but of my life (love, joy, peace) and then see how it will not only change the Christmas around me, but within me. Only when we, as believers and followers of Christ, do this will we begin to truly change our culture and our Christmas season. 







Monday, November 9, 2015

What Next? Where Next? What's Up?



Not that long ago, I prayed a prayer where part of what I asked God to do was:

Pour Your passion for the poor, your compassion for the children, and your love for the lost into my heart so that it beats as Yours does, Lord. May I be open to the outcasts and the oppressed.

After I prayed it, I wondered if I really wanted Him to answer that prayer. There is that anonymous quote that goes, "Be careful what you pray for because He just might give it to you."

I must admit, I thought, "I am terrified of you, Jesus, because I am afraid of what you are going to ask me to do now." (Am I the only one???)

I know all too well that we are called to a revolution of love and grace where we must dance and sing among the minefields of this world.  One of the things I have and continue to learn from following Jesus (and heard repeated again at the Together For Adoption Conference) is that "Risk is right." As Christians, we are called to significant risk and to go forward boldly in that.

We had done that when we went to Ukraine to adopt.

And we did that when we hosted a teenage girl from Ukraine this past summer.

But what would God call us to next?

Were we going to host again? If so, from where?

Adopt again? And if so, from where?

Or did He have some other plan for us?

Or were we to just wait for now until He led us to move.


I did not know and in that unknowing, I awaited with fear and trembling. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegard (author of a book entitled Fear and Trembling) wrote:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.  How would I would ever get on in the world? Here in lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

Those words are not comforting, but they are all so very true. (But don't you just love it when someone whips out a Danish philosopher like that on a Monday morning?)

I was learning that God was not interested in me living a life of comfortable consumption.  I knew that I, and my family, were no longer going to pursue the "American dream" which the world can no longer afford. I should no longer seek out the company of the rich young ruler but abandon my desire for things and stuff to follow Christ.  But what was that following to look like now?

As I wondered and, admittedly, worried, I read Psalm 66:12 that said, " . . . we went through fire and water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance."  We did. We went through those trials with Cava, but I look at the abundance that our family is blessed with now (not monetarily or in terms of things) but in terms of how much closer our family is to each other and to God. 

Before Danelle and I left for the conference, we were in the kitchen and I just found myself asking, "Do you think we are supposed to become foster parents?" 

"I was just waiting for you to ask," she replied. Apparently she, too, had been praying for direction and, like me, had foster parent placed on her heart.  

We were thrilled to find out that our church will be having foster care training beginning in January. 

That is the answer to the question that I have been asked sooooo many times of, "So what now?"

We are finding that we are once more being called to step out of our comfort zone and to love those who need it most. We know that it won't be easy, we know how hard this could be, but that when we move as God has called us to, He is with us and that we can trust what Joshua 1:9 says, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."




We continue to thank you for your support, your prayers, and your love.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dude, What's Up With Your Shirt?



Today is Orphan Sunday around the world. Our church was a part of this growing movement to do what the Bible has called the Church to do: take care of the orphan.  While my wife had on her Orphan Sunday t-shirt that she got from the Together For Adoption Conference we just attended, I had on my "Be A Story Teller" t-shirt. 

As I handed out brochures about our Hands of Hope ministry(http://www.parkwoodonline.org/adoption), there were those who paid attention to my t-shirt and asked, "What does that even mean?" 

My favorite was one young man asked, "Dude, what's up with your shirt? What's that got to do with Orphan Sunday?"

I was glad they asked because it gave me the opportunity to tell them.

"Be A Story Teller" means to be a voice for the voiceless. 

Speak up for them. 

Tell their stories. 

These kids in orphanages and foster homes are children.  Kids with stories, painful stories that need to be heard.  When the Church steps up and becomes truly involved in orphan and foster care, they help reveal the character of God to the world.  Jesus said that the world will know His followers by their love.  Do we see that in our churches in regards to their doing as He commanded to take care of the least of these?  Are we reflecting the character of the "Father to the Fatherless" in the communities in which we live?  

By loving orphans and foster children as our own, we are giving snapshots of the kingdom of God.

Fred Rogers once said, "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.  Then there are those who see the need and respond."

Does the body of Christ see the need and respond?

Do we reach out to the orphan and foster child with the same radical generosity and compassion that Jesus reached out to us? If He has reached out to us in radically profound grace then we should be motivated to do likewise.  

Do you the name of one orphan or one foster kid?  Do you know his or her story? Do you take the time to see these children as children and not issues or social problems?  These kids have names, have stories and their stories need to be a part of our own.  They need to be embraced and welcomed into our homes and into the family of God.  


I love that our orphan and foster care ministry is called "Hands of Hope" because, as Walter Wangerin, Jr. wrote, "the Hebrew word for "hope" contains a fierce element of tension between hoping for a thing and possessing it."

We need to be hands of hope to these kids. They are hoping for forever families. We need to help them possess that.  And to do this, we need to step up. We, all of us, need to be story tellers for these kids. 




Thursday, November 5, 2015

When Love Breaks Through


When I took this photo of Cava at school on his birthday, I didn't notice how much his eyes sparkled until I posted it on Facebook.  What that sparkle showed me was the difference love can make in a child's life. You can see the light and joy of his life in them.  This was no small feat, but the collected efforts of not only us, his family, but also our friends, our church, and Cava's school. By showing him not only love but that he was lovable, Cava's life changed.  This is not the same child we met back in Ukraine. Those eyes show the transformation of love on a child and I am grateful that God has allowed me the privilege of being a part of this. He gave me the gift of being Cava's Papa, of being able to love him and be loved by him.  

There's a Sara Groves' song entitled "Loving a Person" that begins:

Loving a person just the way they are, it's no small thing.
It takes some time to see things through.
Sometimes things change, sometimes we're waiting.
We need grace either way.

Love isn't easy, especially when it involves a child who has lived so much of their life without it, but when that love begins to make a difference, to change, and transform that child it is so worth all of the difficulties and hardships. You also see how miraculous love really is.  

It is a gift to see the joy, the laughter, the delight Cava experiences.  It is just as precious to be there to comfort him, hold him when he's sad or scared, and to let him know that it's okay, that we are there for him.  
It is a sacred moment to see when a child finally begins to understand that they are loved for who they are, as they are, and that, no matter what, that that love is a forever love.

Jesus became a child to show us what love looked like and I have never been more aware of that, of the fragility and power of that act then in adopting Cava. 

Mother Teresa was spot-on when she said, "We can do no great things, just small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it."

We have seen that when you pour love into a child, the light begins to shine through, at first through small chinks and cracks, but then it begins to glow from their eyes, their smiles, and in their ability to return love, to trust, and to feel safe enough to be themselves around you, even in all his craziness and silliness.

I cannot stress how overwhelmed I am that God allowed us to adopt Cava and to be his family.  This small act changed not only Cava, but our family and have taught all of us the awesomeness of  a God who loves us with such extreme, scandalous grace that the steadfast love He has shed for us in His Son has transformed all of us through the power of adoption into the kingdom of God, as His sons and daughters. As 1 John 3:2 begins, "Beloved, we are God's children now . . ." What a God of holy tenderness.

So I come, in a month where we celebrate National Adoption and Thanksgiving, with gratitude. I am grateful for this child I call my son and for a God who loved us enough to call us His own, and for a love that transforms us all.






Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Happy Birthday, Cava!


I cannot believe another year has passed and that we get to celebrate our third birthday with Cava. It is an amazing gift to watch as love took the brokenness of this child and turned it into something beautiful. He truly is a wonderful, awesome, and incredible kid.  Not a day passes that I don't thank God numerous times that He gave me this marvelous opportunity to be Cava's "Papa."

I love watching how much Cava has changed in such a short period of time.  Seeing his interests change and develop. One of those is his great love of birds.  I asked him once, "Did you love birds this much back in Ukraine?"

"No, I didn't pay any attention to them," he replied.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I was too busy watching out for myself."

This answer saddened me that he could not even have a moment to simply notice birds or flowers. But now that he's part of our family, he feels safe enough that he can stop and notice things in nature and to make sure that we stop and notice them, too. He also feels safe and secure enough to be able to burst out in loud, uproarious laughter (something else he said he could have never done back in the orphanage system). So many pleasures and joys that we take for granted are real gifts and treasures for him.  Cava has helped me to see that.

I have watched him go from a child who could not go through a week of school without getting suspended to having weeks of all "green" days, making "A's" and "B's," and was be elected to student council. I have watched his school embrace, love, and encourage him (especially those who knew him when he first arrived here and have seen the miraculous change that has taken place in him).  This is all so new to him. For eight years, he never experienced the love of others and now so many people love him. They see how truly unique and special he is.

My heart only expands when I think of Cava. And Cava has such a big heart. A compassionate and caring heart. He is sensitive and gentle despite the harshness of his past.  There is a generosity of spirit and a real love of life in him that I admire.

And I cannot help but smile when I think of him - especially when I think of his own big Cava smiles.  His smile entered my heart and has made its home there.  He brings joy and laughter to my days.

I love that he greets me every morning with a big Cava hug and a, "Good morning, Papa. I love you." He then likes it when I sing:

Good morning, Cava. How are you today?
I love you Cava,
in each and every way.

And I do love him in each and every way. Good and bad. Ups and downs. I love Cava as Cava is. And that love, shown by our family and friends, is what has brought him to where he is now.

There are just so many reasons to love this amazing boy.

He sees the world as so much bigger now and, because of him, so do I.  Part of this is because Cava has sense of wonder and takes delight in seeing flowers or finding a bird feather. With the latter, he takes them home, goes through his bird guides, and tries to identify what bird came from.

He has helped me to be a better, more understanding, and patient Papa.

He has helped me see God more fully and get a better understanding of God as Father, especially an adoptive Father.

I love Cava deeply and, in so many ways, he is a hero to me. He is brave, funny, kind and tender-hearted. He has a strength and a fragility.  He is full of cocky insecurities.  Yet he doesn't let anything stop him from trying harder, working harder, and wanting to be more.  His dreams are not just that but goals that he strives towards.

I cannot imagine my life without him in it. Nor can anyone else who has met him.

Happy birthday, my son. You life is truly a gift.

I love you more than you will ever know.

Your Papa


(Cava is on the first row, second from the left)







Monday, November 2, 2015

5 Contemporary Novels About Adoption & Foster Care

Since it is National Adoption Month, here are five contemporary novels that deal with either adoption or foster care:


Digging to America by Anne Tyler is about two families in Baltimore, Maryland and their different experiences with adopting from Korea.  This is a story about belonging in not only a new family, but a new country as well.  


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak deals with a nine-year-old girl, Liesel Meminger, as she adjusts to living with her foster family, Hans and Rosa Hubermann during World War II Nazi Germany.


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline deals with the real orphan trains that ran between East Coast cities and the farmlands of the Midwest between 1854 and 1929.  It focuses on the fictional Vivian Daly and her resilience against the harshness and loneliness of her life as the novel weaves between past and present.


Run by Ann Patchett tells the story of Bernard Doyle, a former Boston mayor, and his three sons (one biological and two adopted African American brothers, Tip and Teddy). After an unknown woman saves Teddy from being hit by an oncoming car, the family is then forced to deal not only with her identity, but also their own and the complexities of interracial adoption.


Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff is a Newberry Honor Award winner. It deals with 12-year old Hollis Woods, an orphan girl, who constantly runs away from foster homes. The artistically talented girl bonds with Josie, her new guardian, who is an eccentric, retired art teacher. The novel portrays with honesty and sensitivity a foster child's fears, regrets, and longings, as well as her desire to find a home where she belongs. 

And you can order any of these books from great independent booksellers like:
Powell's 

Parnassus Books

Malaprop's Bookstore:

If you have any you would like to suggest, please message or e-mail me.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Does Our Heart Reflect His?


How much does God's heart grieve that another year has passed and another National Adoption Month has arrived?  How much does it hurt the Father to the Fatherless that His Church is not embracing the orphan as a son or a daughter?  Does His heart break that His people don't have His heart for the orphan?

How have we, as believers, not taken His call for us to take care of the orphans seriously?

We want the gifts of grace, love and mercy for ourselves without taking on the responsibilities that our faith requires.

There should not have to be a National Adoption Month.  Christians should step up and say, "Because I was once an orphan, adopted by God through His Son Jesus, I will be moved by His love to care for the least of these, for the orphan, because not only has Jesus demanded that I do it, but because, in so doing, I will truly come in contact with Him."


To look into the face of the orphan is to look into the face of Christ.


To embrace an orphan is to embrace the kingdom of God.


To distance ourselves from the least of these is to distance ourselves from the very Savior we claim to follow. If He so closely identified Himself with them then why don't we?  

What will we say when we stand before God and He asks, "What have you done for the least of these?"  


We can either settle for our own comfort or be moved by holy compassion to do as we were called to do and love these children as our own.


Let's step up and make it so that there is no reason to have a National Adoption Month.