My Concern with the Adoption Movement

Since the title of this post is sure to lead to assumptions and possible misunderstandings let me begin with my affirmation of adoption.  Adoption is central to understanding the gospel.  Christ died, not simply to secure my ticket to heaven, but to reconcile me to God; that is to restore my relationship to God through adoption.  In Christ I am a son and as a son a co-heir with Christ.  The adoption of orphans is a beautiful picture of this, much like marriage is a picture of our relationship with Christ.

Furthermore, though I did not grow up in a Christian home my parents were foster parents and provided a safe home for many children over the years.  They eventually adopted both of my brothers out of foster care and provided them the same upbringing and opportunities they provided their biological children.  For this reason I have financially contributed to friends who are seeking to adopt.  As you can see, I am a fan of adoption.

After reading the above you may be thinking, “What possibly could this guy be concerned about rescuing orphans he’s seen the need and fruit first hand?”  This is true, but I have seen something else firsthand.  You see, I lead a ministry that plants churches among the global poor.  I’ve seen poverty up close and personal; desperate poverty.  The type of poverty that leads, primarily women, to do the unthinkable; to abandon or even sell their children.  Our immediate response to this is shock and horror because we’ve never been that desperate.  Rest assured, if you spend enough nights listening to the children you love so dearly crying from hunger and seeing other children die of hunger, as a mother, you might gain a different perspective.  You might begin to see this as the height of sacrificial love.

This brings us to my concern.  Maybe I have just missed it but I don’t hear enough talk from adoption advocates (primarily international adoption) regarding the building up of poor families among the global poor so that we can reduce the need for adoption.  I hear much about the need to make great sacrifices to rescue children, including the great financial cost, but I don’t hear much about making the same sacrifices, including financial, to aid poverty stricken mothers and families so they can raise their children.  I won’t speculate as to why.

Please don’t misunderstand, there is and will continue to be great need for the Western church to adopt children.  The AIDS epidemic and other diseases as well as wars and natural disasters will always create orphans.  I praise the efforts of those championing the cause of orphans globally.  I’m just asking the leaders of the movement to consider two things.

  1. Take a balanced approach and advocate for poor mothers and families to care for their children.  Call on the Western church to take this aspect of the orphan problem seriously and to demonstrate their seriousness with financial investment.
  2. Consider the importance of indigenous Christians in confronting this humanitarian tragedy.  The church is growing by leaps and bounds in the global south and they too care about orphans.  We have realized the significance of working with indigenous pastors as we seek to expand the kingdom of God globally.  We need to consider the potential of unleashing the church in the global south to care for the orphans among them.  It has been my experience that the willingness is there but what is often lacking is the financial resources.  We can help with that.  What if we began to equip indigenous Christians with the necessary discipleship and financial resources to care for the orphans among them.

After we have done these two things the numbers of children needing to be adopted by Westerners might be drastically reduced and, long term, far more children could be helped.  Maybe I’m out of touch and we are already doing what I have described above.  Do you think my concern is valid or am I just worrying for no reason?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Wrestling with God Interview

Below is an interview I did with Scott Blair from Grapplers Church.  We discuss church planting, missions, discipleship, getting punched in the face, and much more.  I hope you find it helpful as you seek to serve King Jesus.

To learn more check out Living Bread Ministries.

 

Church Planting Among the Global Poor

In this video Barbara and I discuss Living Bread Ministries and our vision for missional church planting among the global poor.

To invest in missional church planting among the global poor, click here.

 

Interdependence Requires Vulnerability

At Living Bread Ministries (LBM) one of the values we hold dearly is interdependence.  In the world of global missions you hear a lot of talk about dependence and independence, but not so much about interdependence.  This a comprehensive issue but the discussion almost always boils down to money.  The basic premise is that for indigenous church plants to be considered “successful” they must be financially independent (not dependent on outside sources of financial support).

The problem with this long standing rationale is that it curbs generosity and has stifled church planting efforts among the global poor.  Since poor communities are not able to be financially independent and Western agencies are unwilling to invest financially for fear of creating dependence, church planting movements are rare among the global poor.  There are very effective house church movements in poor communities around the world.  However, in these areas the house churches are primarily only able to deal with spiritual needs while Western humanitarian groups deal with the physical.

The net result often is a divorce of social ministry from the local church, and to what end?Yes the house church may avoid “dependency” but only because the Westerners are funding the social ministry through other entities.  If the local church is “independent” in its worship centers, but very much “dependent” for social ministry, which is the responsibility of the church, then we have not avoided this issue.  We have only traded one problem for another.  As if Western led and executed humanitarian programs to provide food, healthcare, education and housing for the poor are perfectly acceptable, yet helping a local church with local leadership implement their own program as they see fit is wrong because some financial resources are given to them directly.

In reality, interdependence is the best solution to the difficult problem of dependency. Think of the body.  Each part of the body is interdependent on the other parts.  The foot needs the leg as much as the leg needs the foot.  It’s the same with the body of Christ.  All of the parts of the body must work together for it to function properly.  This is the case with church planting among the global poor.  When everyone brings what they have to the table and invests it, churches can be planted among the poor and they can minister in a comprehensive way as the local leadership sees fit.  Neither side is independent or dependent, rather they are interdependent.  They need each other.

This type of partnership is hard and risky.  It is often messy.  It requires a level of vulnerability that most are unwilling to accept.  As a practical example, this week I prepared a comprehensive monthly income and expense report for LBM and our partner ministry in Brazil.  Since we value interdependence we shared this report with the national leadership in Brazil giving them complete access to our monthly budget including individual salaries, benefits, etc.  In doing this we are seeking to foster interdependence.  We know their budget and it’s only right that they should know ours.  We hold them accountable and they hold us accountable.  There may be other Western organizations that do this, but I do not know of any.  However, I believe this is the best approach to a very complex issue.

 

Portrait of a Christian

What does a Christian look like?  This is a question all of us must answer as we seek to follow Christ.  The short answer of course is we are to look like Jesus.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ( John 1:14).  He manifested himself to us and revealed his image, thus showing us what our lives as Christians should look like.

He made himself our model (John 13:34-35, 20:21).  However, it is often hard to translate the life of Christ into our context.  Recently I was reading a biography on John Wesley, who is one of my heroes in the faith.  While I disagree with him on some secondary issues of theology I greatly respect him as a practical theologian.  As such, he was very much concerned with living out what we believe.

In light of this, the book I was reading dedicated the entire first chapter to a tract that Wesley had written in the mid 1700s which I have found to be exceedingly relevant today.  It is entitled The Character of a Methodist.  The term Methodist was given to the group Wesley founded as a derogatory name mocking the methodical way in which they approached life and Bible study.  Thus Wesley is not writing a denominational statement, but is simply making it clear that a Methodist, indeed all Christians should look like Jesus.

I encourage you to read this tract and meditate on what it really means to be conformed to the image of Christ.

The Magnificat

Why did Jesus come to earth?  What was the purpose of the incarnation?  Certainly, the incarnation of Christ was a complex event, having many effects that have rippled throughout history.  However, often we grasp at individual aspects of the result of Christ’s life, ministry, vicarious death, and resurrection.  In this case, the incarnation often becomes nothing more than a means to an end; Jesus had to be born so that he could die on the cross.  Christmas is the means to Easter.

In no way do I mean to diminish the cross, it indeed is the lynch pin that all of history swings on.  Without it we have no hope.  Rather, my point is to elevate the life and ministry of Christ, the incarnation, to its rightful place in our understanding of the Christian life.  Jesus was not randomly roaming around for 30 years waiting to die and performing a few miracles along the way simply to prove who he was.  The incarnation is much more significant than that.

To begin to fully grasp the significance of the incarnation it will be helpful to see what Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood it to mean.  This becomes abundantly clear in a passage of scripture referred to as The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56).  However, the key to understanding this text comes a little earlier in the chapter.  In Luke 1:26-38 the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she will bear a son, but not just any son.  She will give birth to the Son of the Most High; the long anticipated heir to the throne of David.  As promised, his kingdom (reign) will be eternal (Luke 1:31-33).

To grasp the magnitude of this promise it is essential to understand the Old Testament concept of new exodus.  In the first exodus God delivered the Hebrew people from the bondage and oppression of the Egyptians.  Through this process the nation of Israel was birthed to be kings and priests mediating God’s reign on the earth (Exodus 19:4-6).  They were a corporate Adam whom God would work through to bring all of creation under his sovereign reign; as He originally intended (Gen 1:26-28).

Unfortunately, Israel continued in sin and, like Adam, was exiled from their Eden.  They were taken into captivity in Babylon, however the prophets spoke of a new exodus that would be more comprehensive than the first (Is. 35; 43:16-21; 51:9-11; 65:17-25).  God’s people would be delivered from captivity and would return to the Promised Land where the presence of God would dwell among them in the Temple.  Further, with this exodus the curse on creation would be lifted, death and disease would be defeated, and bondage in all its forms would be eradicated; including bondage to Satan and sin as well as physical and political oppression.

When God’s people were released from captivity and returned to the land, what they found was nothing like what the prophets had promised.  They found Jerusalem in ruins and faced great opposition in their efforts to rebuild the Temple and the city.  They also faced famine and as a result suffered greatly.  Furthermore, though they were in the land, they never possessed it like they once had.  As a result, they saw their return as only a partial fulfillment of the new exodus the prophets had promised.  Their return from exile was not complete and they longed for the fullness of the new exodus deliverance that would come when the son of David once again sat upon the throne in Jerusalem.

For hundreds of years Israel waited for their promised deliverance.  They suffered under political and demonic oppression.  They longed for the righteous reign of God to manifest itself in their lives.  This was especially true of the poor and needy who suffered worst of all.  It was in this context that Gabriel visits Mary.

When she heard that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High who would finally bring the fullness of the new exodus that had been prophesied, Mary could not help but rejoice.  This is exactly what we see in Luke 1:46-56.  Mary knew that God was intervening in history and that the new creation Israel had longed for was finally coming to be!  Christmas was about God’s kingdom invading earth and all things being made new (Is. 43:18-19).

Thus Mary begins her song of praise by reflecting on who God is, her Savior (vs. 46-47).  In light of what has been discussed above, God as Savior must be understood in a comprehensive way.  The salvation Mary envisions is the fullness of the new exodus; the restoration of creation, defeat of Satan and the overturning of his kingdom, deliverance from sin and death, and restoration of fellowship with God.  It is for this that she magnifies the Lord and rejoices will all of her being.

One of the key things to understand in this passage is that the kingdom of God turns the kingdom of the Satan (the world) upon its head. They are polar opposites of one another.  In reference to the kingdom, Jesus repeatedly makes it clear that in his kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last (Matt 19:16-30; 20:1-16, 20-28).   This is demonstrated by the King himself as he humbly serves humanity (2 Cor 8:9, Phil 2:5-8).  In Satan’s kingdom the powerful and the strong are exalted while the weak are oppressed.  Under the reign of Jesus the meek and humble reign with him while the mighty are brought low.  This reality is seen throughout Mary’s song of praise.

It is seen first in vs. 48 when Mary makes reference to her “humble estate.”  This term not only reflects the humility of her spirit, but it also reflects her social status.  She was not from an important family with power and prestige.  Quite the opposite, she was a poor peasant girl.  One might imagine the Son of the Most High would be born to a great family in a beautiful palace; not to a poor couple in a stable.

Mary never seeks to rob God of his glory.  She knows that the favored position she will hold is only because mighty God has chosen to bless her (vs. 49).  She will be called blessed forever because of the special blessing the Lord has given her.  It is sad that the blessing of God has been twisted and led to two differing false views of Mary.  The Catholic Church has misunderstood Mary’s role and venerated her to a position she never belonged.  The Protestant church, going to the other extreme, has marginalized her into oblivion so that she is only occasionally mentioned in a Christmas sermon.

In the second half of her song Mary switches focus from what God has done for her to what God has and will do for Israel.  She quotes or alludes to numerous Old Testament passages about God’s work for Israel.  However, the context of her praise is the in breaking of the kingdom of God into history, the fulfillment of the new exodus.  Though she speaks in past tense, quoting scripture, she is also prophesying in new exodus language about the coming kingdom of God.  Thus, we see in the remainder of the song not only what God has done, but what he will do.

Here we see how the kingdom of God turns the kingdom of Satan upside down.  God will show mercy on the meek that fear him (vs. 50).  He will bring down the proud and will humble the mighty, while exalting the humble (vs. 51-52).  The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty (vs. 53) (Luke 16:19-31; 18:18-30).  This is what the kingdom of God looks like.  It is indeed good news for the poor (Luke 4:18; 14:12-24; 19:1-10).

To be sure there are spiritual aspects to these verses.  We are to be humble in spirit and hunger for God spiritually, but we dare not rob Mary’s praise of its full intent.  A proper understanding of new exodus and the kingdom of God will not allow it.  We want to spiritualize what she is saying and rob it of all physical/temporal implications because it makes us uncomfortable.  After all, we are the rich and powerful that may be humbled and sent away empty.  The kingdom of God turns the world upside down and it must likewise turn our worlds upside down as well.  We can’t marginalize Mary’s words; we must do the hard work of applying them to our lives today.

The kingdom that is coming through the birth of Jesus is the result of the promise that God made to Abraham and his offspring (vs. 54-55).  Through the sovereign reign of Jesus the Israel of God will be delivered and all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  This is the hope of the incarnation!  This is what Christmas means to Mary.  The kingdom is here like a mustard seed, but like leaven it will spread until the long awaited promise of new exodus is fully realized.

Worship that Pleases God

I have long been intrigued with Isaiah 58.  It’s a very interesting passage because it seems to view the worship of God in a way that is very different from what is often considered the norm in the western Church.  In the first verse we see God commanding the prophet to “cry aloud; do not hold back” (ESV) in declaring the sins of the people.  Then the Lord goes on to describe them as people who “seek me daily” and “delight to know my ways”.  They ask for “righteous judgments and delight to draw near to their God”.  To put this in our terms you might say these are people who have a daily quiet time; reading the word and praying.  They desire to worship and attend church regularly.  These things are considered synonymous with someone who has their act together as a Christian; someone who faithfully loves the Lord.

Yet in this case these seemingly faithful followers of the Lord are complaining because he is ignoring them and their religious practices, specifically fasting.  Why is God ignoring these people who seek him and desire to know him?  As the prophet said in Is 29:13 and as Jesus described the Pharisees in Matt 15:8-9 “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”.  While they were faithful to practice spiritual aspects of their faith, they were neglecting, or even ignoring, the practical outworking of the word of God in their lives.

While daily quiet time, prayer, and even fasting are essential to the Christian life, when they are done in a vacuum and do not penetrate into our daily lives they are displeasing to God.  According to this passage that is sin and results in God’s judgment.  Jesus summed up all of the law and prophets in this “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Matt 22:37-40.  This is exactly the problem for these people; their one-sided religious practices revealed that they did not sacrificially love others and thus did not love God.

The people fasted to seek their own pleasure and beyond neglecting the needy actually oppressed them further (vs.3).  They would declare a fast day in order to win God’s favor and blessing, but would not allow their workers to participate.  Instead, they were forced to make up for the lack of productivity resulting from the masters fast.  Further, they would visibly humble themselves, which Jesus warned against in Matt 6:16-18 “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others”.  This is not normative of a heart that has been transformed by the gospel of grace, but illustrates legalistic religion being practiced to somehow please God and earn the praise of men!

In reply to the people’s question of why the Lord had not responded to their fasting the Lord explains the type of worship he will respond to.  In vs. 6-14 he gives several if/then statements that make it very clear what moves his heart.  In vs. 6 God says he responds to worship that will “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke”.  This refers to God’s people actively working to see that those who are marginalized or oppressed are freed from those bonds and treated fairly.

In vs. 7 he goes on to say worship that pleases him is to “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house” and to care for your fellow man by clothing the naked.  He also says “not to hide yourself from your own flesh”.  When the people turned a blind eye to their fellow Israelites who were oppressed, hungry, homeless, and naked they were hiding themselves from their own flesh, or people.  They didn’t want to deal with them so they avoided them.  When we see the oppressed, hungry, homeless, and naked who are members of the global body of Christ and ignore them, turn a blind eye, or rationalize how their condition is their own fault are we not doing the same thing?

So God is looking for worshipers who have their eyes and hearts open to the hurting.  People who will free the oppressed, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked.  Are these aspects of our faith things that we normally think of as equally important to a daily quiet time or going to church?  Romans 12:1 says “present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”.   These acts of sacrificial love for others are indeed acts or worship!

Having shown the people the type of worship he desires the Lord proceeds to give them a glorious promise.  If they will worship him in this way then God will bless them abundantly.  He promises that their light will break forth like the dawn.  We are the light of the world and when we love others sacrificially God will cause that light to shine in such a way that the world will not only see it, but they will respond.  Like with the early church in Acts 2 and 4 when they worshiped God in this way “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33) and they had “favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day” (Acts 2:47).

Lovingly and sacrificially caring for the hurting not only results in the poor and needy coming to Christ but our middleclass neighbors as well.  When our neighbor the moral businessman, who though not a Christian is honest, faithful to his wife and loves his family, looks at us often he sees no discernable difference between our lives and his apart from the fact that we go to church.  He simply believes that we need to go to church, but he is able to live like us without religion.  On the other hand when that same neighbor sees us forgoing the things of this world, sacrificially caring for the hurting, and generously investing in the Kingdom of God he will ask why.  When we explain we are motivated to live this way, because of the gospel of the grace of God our “light will burst forth like the dawn” (vs. 8) and our “righteousness will go before us” (vs. 8).  God will move and our neighbors, friends, and families will be saved.

Further, the Lord says if his people will worship him in this way he will answer when they call.  God does not respond to those who practice dead religion, but when those whose hearts have been transformed by grace sacrificially love others God is moved to respond to them.  He no longer closes his ear to their cries, but answers their prayers.  Are your prayers not being answered?  Is it because you are practicing self-centered religion; seeking your own pleasure?

Next the Lord reiterates this teaching.  In vs. 9b-10 he says that if his people will “take away the yoke” that is work to remove oppression and will stop the “pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness” or being judgmental and “pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted”, then he will indeed bless.  To pour ourselves out on behalf of the hungry means to deny self and faithfully love them as we love ourselves.

Again, the Lord promises that if we will worship him in this way he will guide us and satisfy our needs and desires.  He will strengthen us and we will be like a refreshing spring of water to the lost world around us.  We will be the “repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (vs. 12).  That is to say we will be agents of transformation and restoration to the fallen world.

Finally, in the last if/then series the Lord promises that if his people will honor the Sabbath by not seeking to gratify self then he will cause us to delight in him.  Our true worship, as described in this passage, will result in satisfaction and resting in the Lord.  This transition to the Sabbath is interesting because up to this point one could get the impression that God is only interested in mercy ministry, yet here he specifically says to honor the Sabbath.  We see a balance here where God is showing the fullness of what it means to worship him.  Just as it is wrong to focus on the physical (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.) and neglect the spiritual (church attendance, daily quiet time, prayer) it is equally wrong to focus on the spiritual to the neglect of the physical.

The focus on one over the other is an indication of a deficiency in our Christian faith. This is demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus.  In Matt 23:23 Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees were extremely faithful in their religious practice of tithing to the point of giving 10% even of their spices.  Yet they neglected the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness”.  It would be as if you were so committed to tithing that when you found a dollar on the street you were faithful to give a dime, yet when you walked by a hungry man you refused to give him the remaining $0.90.  What good is your commitment to tithe if you have no mercy for the hungry?

His solution was not to stop tithing and start helping the poor, but to do the former without neglecting the latter.  In other words true followers of Christ would worship God in word and deed.  They would spend time in God’s word; reading, praying, and fasting.  They would gather together to worship and learn from the preaching of God’s word.  However, those things would not be done in a vacuum.  The word of God would penetrate their hearts and be obediently applied to their lives.  It would result in righteous action not passive complacency.

How can we live this way when our hearts and our culture are sinfully self-centered?  The answer is the same for us as it was for Israel.  In chapter 59 God said that his “hand was not shortened, that it cannot save” (vs. 1) and he promised the people that a redeemer would come to Zion (vs. 20).  That redeemer is Jesus Christ and he came to free us from the bondage of self-love and sinful complacency by denying self and laying down his life for us while we were self-centered sinners.  He came to give us a new heart that loves God fully and thus loves others sacrificially.  He saved us that we might worship God fully by fulfilling the good works that he prepared for us (Eph 2:10).