Adoption isn’t ultimate. God is.

The last nine months have been some of the most unsettling months of my life. These months have brought about difficult and trying circumstances and situations that have been outside of my ability to directly influence or make decisions about.

The situation that has been at the top of that list has been adoption. About seven years ago we began doing foster care with our county. As a cop I saw just how often kids needed to be removed from homes in which their well-being was in jeopardy. We also decided to begin pursuing international adoption from Haiti sometime after that.

After several years of waiting to have a placement from Haiti, we wondered if we would ever adopt from that country. However, God saw fit to bring about a situation in which we faced the decision to adopting both locally and internationally at the same time. Both situations came to head in the last 9 months and we’ve been faced with the question as to whether we have the capacity to take on both. (This is a whole other story)

Through prayer and seeking advice we decided to say yes to both. That “yes” has brought about a testing of my faith. Adoption and the adoption process brings with it trials and suffering that only people who have gone through the process can really understand the uniqueness of. Yet, I am told in Hebrews 4:15 that I have a great high priest that can sympathize with my weakness- Jesus Christ. He knows.

As I have gone through this testing of my faith I have meditated on Hebrews 11 which has been an anchor in a stormy sea. I’ve gone back to these verses time and again, and through it I have seen six things that God has been teaching me.

  1. I have seen that what is more important to God than me having a heart that wants to adopt a child, is a heart that wants to trust in the promises of God. Adoption isn’t ultimate. God is.
  2. I have seen that more important than having things work out the way I think they should, is a heart that has in faith in a God who works all things together for my good. He even works out mistakes, regrets, and problems for my good.
  3. The sovereignty of God abounds in the inefficiency of the adoption process. Adoption is unbelievably inefficient, expensive, and slow. I have learned that my joy should not be tethered to circumstances working out the way I want them too. My joy is to be grounded in the fact God reigns supreme over adoption and nothing can thwart his plans.
  4. I have seen that my money is not mine but belongs to God. If we lose money because of problems or inefficiency, my heart ought to still rejoice in God’s plans and purposes. God’s bank account is never depleted.
  5. I have seen a growing awareness of my dependence on God which has caused me to pray more.
  6. I have seen more of the complete brokenness of this world, and the affects of sin on it are more of a reality to me. Red tape, paper work, and inefficient processes exist because this world is fallen. Corruption within adoption has created hoops to jump through which affect the people who rightly care about the orphan. Scripture tells me that in this world I will have trouble. It’s not weird. All the saints who have been obedient to God and have done great things for him have experienced significant, confusing opposition.

Hebrews 11 (and the first 2 verses of chapter 12) has given me the eyes to see these six things. Below, are some of the verses from that chapter that have given me this lens. What is invisible (God) is more powerful that what is visible (my situation). Whatever is ahead for us, may our faith be like that of the men and women in this chapter.

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Hebrews 11:3

”For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13

“He (Moses) endured as seeing him who is invisible.” Hebrews 11: 27

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

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Dear Taylor

March, 18, 2018

Dear Taylor,

Tonight we were on our way home from church. Sunday nights are when we have our children’s discipleship program. You were in the backseat of the SUV singing along with the children’s catechism songs that were playing. I love hearing you sing.

“Do you have a spirit, as well as a body? Yes, I have a spirit that can never die.”

This lyric repeated itself several times and you sang along with every word. You then said, “My spirit will probably go to heaven when I die because I want to be with Jesus.” I turned the music down and told you that the Bible tells us we can know for sure if we are going to Heaven or not. We don’t have to say “probably”. We can know for certain.

I explained to you that if you have a heart that is sorry for sinning against God and is trusting in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins you can be with him forever in Heaven. You told me that you were trusting in Jesus and wanting to obey him. I asked if you had every actually prayed this and told God that this is what your heart wants. You said you had not yet.

I told you that a prayer doesn’t magically save you, but if your heart is sorry for sin and trusting in Jesus, it would be pleasing to God to tell him that. You said that you were going to do that “right now, but I want to say it silently.” I told you that I would love to hear your prayer out loud and it would make me happy to hear you tell these things to God. After a little coaxing, you agreed to say it out loud.

“God I want to be with you forever in Heaven. I want to be a part of your kingdom. Jesus I’m sorry for my sin. I want to be in your kingdom forever.”

I don’t remember the exact words you prayed, but it was similar to this. It was a beautiful 3 or 4 sentence prayer. The words coming out of your mouth weren’t your salvation. The words were only a reflection of what I hope is truly in your heart- that you are a sinner and Jesus is a wonderful Savior.

Cling to this all the days of your life. This isn’t mere sentiment. As you grow older your understanding of salvation will grow more fully. I pray that you will know more fully how awesome the gospel is. Jesus really lived. Your sin really separates you from God. And Jesus really saves by grace through faith.

I sing this song to you many times as you go to sleep. May you embrace it all your days.

Love,

Daddy

ALL I HAVE IS CHRIST

VERSE 1
I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still

VERSE 2
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace

CHORUS
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

VERSE 3
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
O Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You


Pierce The Veil

The act of suicide has perplexed me. The unanswered question in my mind has been how could someone be in such a bad circumstance that the only hope they had left was to end their life. I have stood on the doorsteps of houses or made phone calls to parents, children, and family members, giving them the news they do not want to hear. I’ve seen blank faces, watched tears roll, and heard shrieks that will echo in my memory forever.

As I looked at another dead young man, the question came to my mind again. He had dressed himself in his suit, sat down on a chair next to the fire pit in his backyard, and shot himself. His roommate had found him that morning. The entire look and feel of a suicide scene is cold and hopeless.

As I walked through his room, I found the artwork of an album cover leaning up against the wall on the floor. The image on the album had a house collapsing in on itself. The walls were crumbling in and the roof was falling down. Above the house there was the image of a woman. It looked like she was coming up through the roof and ascending into the sky. Finally, in bold, capital letters at the top of the picture was the phrase “PIERCE THE VEIL.”

That image helped me understand the mindset of a suicidal person more clearly. The hope that he had was that by pulling a trigger, he would escape the veil that had been covering him, restraining him, holding him down. Maybe he didn’t kill himself mainly because he was hopeless, because he had a hope in piercing the veil.

I felt the heaviness of that. I wished I could have been able to talk to him 24 hours ago. He didn’t need to pull a trigger to pierce the veil. He only need to turn his heart to Jesus Christ who removes the veil. His freedom didn’t lay on the other side of this life. His freedom could be in Christ.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed…And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being  transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this come from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16, 18)

Jesus was the one that pierced the veil of sin and removed the judgement of sin and hell. Our biggest problems are solved at the cross, through the gospel.


Grief With Hope: An Exhortation on Death

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17)

Psalm 116:15 says that the death of his saints is precious in his sight. This past week, God beheld a beautiful sight in the death of Jan McDonough. It is good for us to experience the sadness and grief of the loss of our dear friend and sister in Christ. Yet, that is not the end of our emotions. Mixed with it is a sense of wonder that she is now seeing Jesus face to face. This is a beautiful thing. She left her cancer ridden body and awoke to her faith now made sight.
We grieve, but we do not grieve without hope. What is our hope in now? It is not shallow sentiments by saying that she’s in a better place. Our hope is not in merely saying that we are glad her suffering is now over. Our hope is in God’s Word. We take hope in the fact that Jesus died and rose again and because of that we who trust in Jesus; though we die, yet will we live.
The gospel of Jesus Christ does not only forgive us of our sins, although that is amazing. Paul reminds us here that because of Jesus’ perfect life, agonizing death, and glorious resurrection, we have a hope that we will be with him forever in heaven. Heaven! A place where there will be no more cancer-ravaged bodies or souls that have to fight sin. Heaven! A place where we will have no more pain and we will be in the presence of Jesus.
Jan McDonough sat in these rows. She sang with us. She prayed with us. She heard the Bible preached with us. And now she is seeing Jesus face to face. Yes, we are to grieve with Ed in the loss of Jan. Yet, we are to hope because the best is yet to come. And our hope is not because of something we’ve read on a nice Hallmark card. Our hope is in the unshakeable truths of God’s Word. The truth that we have in I Thessalonians 4:13-14 is unshakeable.
Come before God this morning and confess your sins. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension paid the debt of our sins and conquered the grave. This is not earned. This is given to those who trust in Jesus. Those who trust in Jesus can sing (as we will soon) it is not death to die.

IT IS NOT DEATH TO DIE

VERSE 1
It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

CHORUS
O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

VERSE 2
It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore


Access By Faith

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2

Consider the word access. Access is the the ability you have to approach or enter a place, to see someone or to receive a benefit. What right do you have to come before God this morning and enjoy peace with him, experience his grace, and rejoice in his glory?
Consider this scenario, which will be familiar to most of you. You are driving down the freeway, late for a very important meeting. You usually always obey the speed limit but this time you are definitely speeding because you need to make it to this appointment on time. As you come up over a hill your heart drops. You see a squad car in the median just waiting for someone like you.
As you pass him you look at your speedometer and realize that you were even going faster than you thought you were. He pulls onto the freeway and begins following you. The squad car lurks menacingly in your rearview mirror as you know what is coming. The blue and red lights flip on and you pull over as your hands start sweating and your heart starts beating.
Now, consider this scenario. The same squad car and the same law enforcement officer returns home at the end of his shift. He pulls that same squad car into his driveway as his three little children come bounding up to him. He puts the vehicle in park, and they run up to the car ready to give their dad hugs and kisses. They are happy to see him in his uniform and delighted with him being home.
What was the main difference between those two experiences? Why was the driver fearful and the children happy? The children had access to come to him as a father, not as a punisher of their wrong doing. The same is true with God.
We can experience God’s peace, his grace, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God because we have access to him by faith. Don’t ever miss that or get numb to that! We have access to a gloriously holy, sin-punishing, wrath-avenging God that would make a volcano look like a wax candle. God’s children don’t experience that. They experience the peace that passes all understanding which he gives to them. They experience the the all sufficient grace which helps us in our weakness. They experience the overflowing hope of his glory.
The only reason we can experience this is because of the faith that we have put in the work that Jesus Christ did. When his body was ripped apart, the curtain in the temple ripped in two. This symbolized us no longer having to go to priests to gain access to God. We can go to him directly, confess our sins, repent, and rejoice in Jesus Christ because he died and rose again and conquered death.


Death by Tradition

Each week our church has a part in the service where the congregation is exhorted (an urgent reminder) to remember and cling to the gospel. Below is my exhortation for November 20, 2016.

Grace Church, the exhortation is the part in our service whereby we remind ourselves that we are acceptable to God and forgiven of our sins only because of our trust in Jesus, and him alone. This part of the service is meant to remind you of your need for the gospel, your need to confess your sins before God, and the joy we have in right relationship with God because of the gospel.
Yet there is a danger here. The danger is that which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of in Matthew 15. They were obeying God’s commands and even doing right things yet they made void the word of God. You could write a check to me for a million dollars, but if you write “void” across it, the check is worthless. What they were doing didn’t matter because it was voided out by their cold hearts.
The danger is that you can see this exhortation as a voided tradition. You can see it as just something we do every week and miss out on the riches of it. You can do and say the right things yet have them mean absolutely nothing if your heart is far from God. If you are feeling coldness or numbness right now, in this exhortation, ask God to change your heart. The Pharisees didn’t care that their hearts were cold. They preferred their dead traditions over the living God. Don’t be like them!
If you heart is cold or numb this morning, that is bad news. The good news is that you can’t change it on your own. Come before God and ask him to set your heart on fire with a renewed passion and love for the gospel. I can’t do any better than reading to you Titus 3:4-7. Take this into our time of confession and plead for God to plunge you deeper into the truths of God that abide still.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”


A Mighty Prayer

One of my favorite hymns is Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The strength and power of the lyrics make me want to love God more deeply and hold this life more loosely. I took the song tonight and turned it into a prayer to share with my church on Sunday morning.

O God, you indeed are a might fortress. You are an everlasting bulwark that has never failed and will never fail. You help us amidst the floods of battling sin, job loss, financial hardships, miscarriages, marriage discord, and a thousand other dark times in our lives.
There is no enemy like Satan. He is armed with cruel hate and no military might compares to his power. So we can’t confide in our own strength this morning, but thanks be to you O God that the right man is on our own own side. The man that you chose- Christ Jesus. It is he! The God who is Lord over earthly and heavenly armies. You King Jesus, will win the battle.
Now, though we are embattled against sin and Satan which threaten to undo us, we have no need for fear. Your will God, is to have your truth triumph through us. That is incredible. Through us! Even though our enemy is this dark, grim prince, we have no need to tremble or fear. His rage we can endure because his doom is sure. Your word in your time, heavenly Father will cause him to cease his work in this world.
That little word is greater than all earthly armies, kings, and nations. Your Spirit and the gifts we have through your Spirit are ours. In response to this may we joyfully let money and possessions and family and friends go. May we hold loosely our very lives. Because our bodies may be killed by cancer, car crashes, bullets, heart attacks, earthquakes, hurricanes, or old age. Yet when our hearts beat their last breaths, your truth abides still. Your kingdom will never end, and this is our inheritance. We will see your glory.