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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hope Revisited

Took a trip down memory lane to see where we have been over the last few years and was encouraged by reading a post from August 2011.  Considering some step of faith?  Maybe this will be an encouraging story of hope.

When a person decides to adopt a child, each has their own special reason or conviction for doing this. With this decision comes our own unique personal challenges that need to be addressed in order to proceed on this adoption journey. For me, it was without a doubt trusting for the financial part.   In 2011, my wife and I decided to adopt two children from Ukraine.  It wasn’t because we needed more children; in fact, we were well on our way to being empty nesters and happy parents of four grown children.  We adopted because we overwhelmingly knew we were called to do it.  But even with this inner knowledge and confirmation from other sources, could I put my faith and trust in God to provide?  Well, that was a different story.  Faith requires action and so we took a step and little did we know at the time, the journey it would launch us on.  Like the saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

The beautiful thing about a blog is the way you can step back in time and see what inspired you and what has happened since.  As I reflect on this post, written after finishing our adoption, I realized a couple of things: One, it doesn’t end when you get your child home.  Two, if you’re willing to keep pressing forward in faith, your journey is really just beginning.  Our adoption lasted six weeks in Ukraine with over 4000 miles driven in a taxi between our son and daughters orphanages. It was a mix of many emotions and challenges, but in the end, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

Original Post from August 2011

        I like to say that adoption won’t give you stretch marks but boy will it stretch you and boy has it ever!  When Monique and I started this journey, we knew we were entering uncharted waters but we told God that we would walk in faith and if He closed a door, we would persist regardless, try a window or two but if there was no path forward, we would know we had been obedient and had done our best.  When we started, our number one challenge was the financial piece.  I have spent many a night freaking out unable to sleep and waking up in a pool of sweat.  Oops, I mean prayerfully reflecting upon Gods scriptures about his faithfulness and resting in His presence and provision. I know it's not a very American thing to do to talk about our personal finances but I have felt I should for awhile now.  Like many of us, we enjoy our accomplishments and material gains and look to them as signs of success and prosperity.  I have no major problem with that.  All of us want to provide good things and experiences for ourselves, families and friends.  We as fathers and parents work very hard to provide for our families.  We have always tried to do the same and I am proud of what Monique and I have as a family and the success of our children.  We have always worked hard and when that wasn't enough, we worked harder and when that wasn't enough, we found ways to cut back and keep things within our means.  That said, we always seem to just make enough week to week. We are a pay check to pay check household.  I say this because I want to encourage those who are contemplating adoption or some huge leap of faith.   Step out of the boat!  I love that scripture!  Remember Peter stepping out of the boat and walking to Jesus on the water in faith?  How many of us are willing to get out of the boat in some very scary weather conditions to walk with God.  Sure Peter sank in the process but Jesus reached out and rescued him during this act of faith. In my opinion, who cares if you freak out and start to sink!  You got out of the boat!  Many many many times my faith lacked and lacks and I sunk and I sink in fear but God continued to send his word through scripture or people and pull me/us close to His presence to continue the walk.  Very little of us consider the fact that Peter accomplished his goal and that was to walk with Jesus on the water.  So what if he got a little wet!  Besides, he continued to grow in faith because he was willing to get wet in the first place.  
          To come up with over half our combined yearly income to adopt two children and then add more expense to an already very tight budget is, as I have already alluded to in past posts, irresponsible and reckless.  It has been uncomfortable, painful and faith building, to step out and walk the seemingly impossible.  Yet, two children as a result, are rescued from a life without a loving home and security.  Aren't children worth risking it all for?  Which one of us fathers and mothers would not give up everything and their very lives for one of their own children!  Should we not risk the same for others who long for safety, love and a roof over their heads as well?  But reckless foolishness is more than just adoption, it comes in all forms.  What does stepping out of the boat look like to you?  Where do you need or desire to venture in this life? Is it missions or starting a business or what about giving a sum of money to some worthwhile cause?  What does it look like to you to step out and enjoy the life that God desires to take you through?  What or where will you need to go to completely rely on Gods provision to take you through it?  If we are trusting in our own self then our trust lies in the wrong place.
          Some might think our accomplishment in rescuing two wonderful children from an unknown and perilous life extraordinary or amazing and I would say you are absolutely right!  It is and was extraordinary and an accomplishment that by ourselves and in ourselves we could not have done!  Walking in faith is hard, especially when your faith is small and you’re forcing yourself to stretch it.  I can say with complete honesty that this is a God thing and we are no one special or extraordinary.  I have said before that I don't feel like anyone special and that is true.  It took me a long time to figure why that was.  Why shouldn't I feel special?  Here we are sacrificing everything for these children.  Every dollar we have has been spent or borrowed to pursue this rescue. Our comfort and leisure in life has been risked in pursuit of these two lives.  Why shouldn't I feel special? It finally hit me why and it looks like this.  The word clearly commands followers of Christ to take care of the fatherless and the widows.  What we did is obedience to scripture nothing more and nothing less.  What I feel though, is honored that God would call us to this level of caring for the fatherless.  I believe with all my heart that adoption is not for everyone but taking care of the fatherless is everyone's responsibility.  
        It's so nice to be able to write these things from the other side and confidently speak of Gods provisions, it's another thing to not see his provision and take a step out of the boat.  What a great journey it has been and continues to be for us.  What's your journey going to look like when you take that first step out of the boat?

"Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."  Romans 8:24-26

Vision for the Children International

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Christian Unity: a matter of the heart!

I have to believe that the overall unity of the body of Christ has to be an ongoing priority of our Lord’s heart. As a husband and father it is one of my pleasures to come home and see my family living life and working together in common love and respect for each other. It is a beautiful and special thing to behold but the flip side is not. When the kids are disrespecting Mom and there is bickering and fighting among the siblings and Mom has had enough, well you get the picture. It doesn’t take any theology to know that our heavenly father desires the same of His family and bride. I think it must be human nature to complicate or over think things, so my desire in this post is to try to simplify how we can easily begin to take first steps to being a part of the change.

Setting the stage of Jesus’ time on earth, we find Him walking the earth and communing with a people governed by a religious body that had so complicated the Word of God that it had lost its original intent and purpose. God’s chosen people had begun to focus more on a person’s outward appearance. So we find in the record Jesus spending a significant amount of time, on Earth, bringing awareness to purity of the heart versus outward appearance.

Now this was not to say that outward actions were not a major part of his ministry teaching; however, the difference was the motivation was behind it. In the famous scripture passage 1 Corinthians 13, we see over and over that unless our actions are based out of love, then it is nothing.

Jesus confronts this outward piety head on by healing on the Sabbath and speaking and dining with tax collectors and Samaritans. His teachings began to refocus people to the heart and spirit of the law, instead of the letter of the law.

They had forgotten that even in the writings of the Old Testament, the people were challenged to think more like God – to think with their hearts.

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." - 1 Sam 16:7(b)

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus simplified all of the Law down to one sentence, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your entire mind: and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

Imagine the weight of this legalist world falling from their shoulders as the revelation of this began to sink in. No longer was it a huge list of “dos and don’ts” but it was instead about a changed heart and a life lived motivated from Godly love. When you begin to realize that God’s desire for His people is to simply love Him completely, well, it literally changes everything! It is when we really begin to seek God first and to love Him, with everything in us, that things naturally begin to change for us.

Now lest you are tempted with the thought of throwing out the Bible and singing “All you need is love”, remember it is the Bible that shows us what love is. If you’re like me, you might be confused with what true love looks like, especially when our culture has perverted its meaning so completely. The Holy Bible, written on the foundations of love, is the teaching that begins to renew our mind on how we are to think, respond and act in our world.

Why does Jesus’ response to this question, “What is the greatest commandment?” end with the statement, “…and love your neighbor as yourself”? I believe it is because it is the natural byproduct of wholeheartedly loving God with all your heart. When the heart of God begins to permeate our being, then we naturally begin to respond to our world in the way He would. Remember, He willingly laid his life down for us. It was the ultimate show of love. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13)

It is when this kind of love begins to take over, that our selfish tendencies naturally begin to change and we begin to be filled with Joy, we begin to sacrificially give to others, the hurting of this world begins to prick at our hearts, our world views begin to change and we start seeking to live in peace with each other. Now imagine the Body of Christ focusing its whole heart, strength, and mind on loving God. You would begin to see the Body of Christ naturally acting together in oneness of purpose and filled with the presence of God. Our God is not divided on purpose or mission and when we know Him perfectly, we too will not be divided on purpose and mission.

David Platt in his book Radical, states it this way: “All He (Jesus) wanted was a few men (and women) who would think as He did, love as He did, see as He did, teach as He did and serve as He did. All He needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world.”

As I continue to grow and understand this powerful vision for Unity in the church, I find myself often overwhelmed by the obstacles in its path but then I am reminded that with love, all things are possible. It has been exciting to see God opening doors as I have begun to build interdenominational bridges.

Recently at the request of the Arcángel Film Festival in San Gabriel, I was invited to California to take part in a special film documentary highlighting our journey from adoption into ministry as well as co write an article* on unity and the challenges we face in Eastern Europe. In the process of all this, it was especially exciting to see the heart and passion of so many I met share their hope and desire for a more unified Body of Christ.

Their love of the Lord crossed the boundaries of our differences in doctrinal beliefs and all that mattered to them was the hope of serving together to reach a lost and hurting world. Let me encourage you to take the first step and love the Lord with all your heart and second, begin sharing that love with others.

Mother Teresa summed up “love your neighbor as yourself” when she said,
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by - 'I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.'”


Vision for the Children International