Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Adoption: Co-Heirs!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have an unlimited amount of money? Perhaps, you could be the child of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet? Both of these multi-billionaires have three children, so both Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffet know what it is like to be a father. And the six children know what it means to live in a wealthy family. As children, they are the heirs to their father’s wealth. But these two, along with 166 other billionaires, have pledged to give away more than 50% of their wealth to a foundation designed to provide much needed help around the world. The help comes in the form of education, refugee aid, medical research, environmental stability, etc. For Gates, this amount reflects a personal commitment of more than $40 billion. For Buffet, more than $35 billion. I don’t need to tell you that represents a lot of money. And they may be among the top five richest people in the world, but again over 160 other billionaires from around the world have made a similar pledge.

But here’s the thing – my Dad has more resources than all of those billionaires put together. And He is willing to share it with me, with you, with anyone who will simply love His Son. The truth is that Jesus came as the Son to make it possible for us to become sons and daughters of God. If you understand what that means, you realize that Jesus came that we might share in the glorious riches of the Father. These riches are not measured in gold or silver, but in the blessing of knowing God as Father, because of receiving God the Son, and thus having the God the Spirit dwelling within us.

That statement is magnificent – not necessarily for the words, but for the meaning behind them and because it is true. Today’s passage is from Galatians 4 where we will learn of the most magnificent gift we can be given – a gift that we have because of Jesus.

The Wait (Galatians 4.1-3)

In Galatians 3, Paul contrasts living by the Law or by faith. Now, in the fourth chapter, he argues that those who claim that living by the law is necessary may be positioning themselves as the ones with understanding and maturity. But in chapter 4, Paul shows his readers that such a thought process is really like that of a child. In Paul’s day, a child had no legal standing. And, if a child was due an inheritance, it would only be given at a certain time. Until then, what the father had was available to all, with a promise it would one day belong to the child.

Therefore, the child must wait to receive all that is promised. It will come, but only when the guardians and managers (or in the case of God, the Father), deem(s) the child ready. Paul then calls any other teachings elementary and worldly.

Recall the parable of the prodigal son which we looked at in depth a few weeks ago. In that story, the son deems himself ready for his portion, but upon receiving it, immediately squanders all he was given. Now, imagine all that God has for His children. If we were to get it all at once, or even a part of it, we would squander it. So, God has us wait. And we will wait until He deems us ready to receive all that He has for us. And while I cannot know for certain all that He has for us, I can certainly believe that what lies ahead will be worth any wait we must endure.

The Test (Galatians 4.4-5)

As we move to the next couple of verses, we must establish that the wait is not for everyone because not everyone is a child of God. In the previous verses, Paul initially compares a child and a slave neither of which have any rights. However, the child will eventually grow and receives rights and privileges, the slave will not. Likewise, those who live according to the Law will remain slaves and never become a child of God, but those who receive God’s gift will eventually receive all the privileges of that statement.

So, what must we do to become a child of God? Effectively, nothing. You cannot do anything to become God’s child except receive what He has offered you. That may be hard for you to believe. Perhaps you believe you deserve to be God’s child or perhaps you believe you could never deserve to be God’s child. Either way, consider the following questions.
  • What did you do to be the child of your biological parents?
  • Did you choose what day you would be born? Did you choose where you would be born? 

Of course, the answer to these questions is no. So, why should it be difficult to understand you did nothing to be adopted as a child of God? Let’s look at these verses and see what we find.

v4 – When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son – God did this.
v4 – Born of a virgin – Mary did not even do anything – God made that happen as well.
v4 – Born under the law – Jesus came to set us free from the law, so He had to live by it first.
v5 – To redeem those who were under the law – All mankind was under the law, so Jesus died to redeem all mankind. What did we do? Nothing. What did Jesus do? Everything.
v5 – So that we might receive adoption – Ok, so we have to receive something. But we can only receive what is offered. We didn’t go to God and say, “adopt me.” He came to us, and said, “You are adopted...but only if you wish to be.”

We have the right to become children of God if we will simply receive what He has done (see John 1.12). And when we do, we become the brothers and sisters of Jesus – not by anything we do or don’t do, but because of what He did for us. And because we are now children of God, we become heirs as well. That is, we are co-heirs with Christ.

The Benefit (Galatians 4.6-7)

Last week, I mentioned that God’s offer seems quite unfair in my mind. You can probably relate. Think of your siblings, or if you have none, think of a friend or a coworker who received a reward that really was because of something you did. Now, think about Jesus. Jesus died and we receive the blessings of being God’s children. These are not my words, these are Paul’s (and as we saw last week in John 20, they are Jesus words as well)! No, Jesus is not really losing anything, but He did all of the work and we receive the benefit. Let’s look at the next two verses.

Notice Paul’s statement here: Because you are sons....

This is a foregone conclusion. It is true because it has happened. Because is a word that correlates two ideas – one thing is true due to something else being true (which could involve multiple possibilities). For instance, you eat because you are hungry...or because you are stressed...or because others around you are eating...or because food is available, etc. The reality is that “just because” is not a valid reason. However, if anyone had the right to use those words, it would be God, but not even God uses those words. For instance, in Job, God could have responded to all of the questions with “just because,” but instead gave Job several examples of who He is as God and let Job make the determination for himself. Here, in Galatians 4, Paul makes God’s correlation clear. First, because you have received my Son, I have adopted you (v. 5). Second, because you are my children, you are an heir with all the benefits of being my child (v. 7).

Paul turned the word order around, but his point is no less clear. Because God considers you His children, He has done something for you – He sent the Spirit to live within you. We saw that Jesus promised this very thought last week when reviewing John 14. Here Paul says it is done. And the Spirit is that of the Son which causes us to cry out to our Father. Again, the words here represent a Jew and a Gentile crying out to the same Father in their own native tongue. That is, the family is definitely blended (see last week’s message), but through God’s Spirit we can be united as one.

Think of the benefits in these few verses. I find seven explicit benefits in these seven verses.
  1. We no longer have to consider ourselves as slaves.
  2. We are no longer bound by the elementary teachings of the world.
  3. We are no longer bound to live a perfect life under the Old Testatment law.
  4. We have an option to receive a great gift – the gift of Jesus.
  5. We can receive the Holy Spirit.
  6. We can call God our Father.
  7. We have an inheritance waiting.


I realize this is not a traditional Christmas message. But those who know me well, know that I am not always traditional. However, during a season in which gift-giving is prominent and families are often together, having a deeper appreciation of our place in God’s family because of the gift He has given to us could not be a more appropriate topic.

And, having completed this series, I can firmly say that I believe the greatest gift God has given is not our salvation; rather, it is our adoption. Salvation is important, but not as significant as adoption. And as inconceivable as it may be that God might adopt us, it is truly mind-boggling that we might have any inheritance as a co-heir with Christ. Let me explain by expanding the analogy I used the first week of this series.

Each person is saved when God declares us not guilty of sin because of the blood of Jesus. Please understand, we are guilty, but God declares us not guilty because of Jesus’ work on the cross. So, like a human judge who declares the defendant not guilty leaving the person free to leave the courtroom free to live life, those God declares not guilty are free to live their lives for Him.

But God is not like a human judge because He not only announces the verdict, He then invites the person to live with Him. And, as if that is not enough, God, as Father, then makes His entire estate available to this new child – remember, this is the person who was just declared “Not Guilty” – sharing what rightfully belongs to Jesus. And what does Jesus do? I am certain He just smiles and says, “Your welcome.”

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is:


Everything we have talked about today, and really over the last seven weeks is due to Jesus. He came as a baby to die as a man so that we might live with Him forever. Our salvation is based upon the work of Son, our adoption is based upon the love of the Father, and our lives are to be filled with the Spirit. What a Christmas present we have been given by the great triune God! Merry Christmas, indeed!

NEXT STEP(S): LIVE. I encourage you to continue to focus on memorizing 1 John 3.1. But this week, take time to LIVE in light of the truth that you are a child of God.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Adoption: My Father = Your Father

In modern times, the idea of blended families has become all too frequent. But the idea is nothing new. In fact, the first blended family in the Bible would belong to Abraham. Two generations later, Jacob would epitomize the idea of a blended family as he had twelve sons, and at least one daughter, by four different women.

Many television shows have tried to depict the challenges of the blended family. Some of these shows have been very successful in their ratings and some endear themselves to our hearts. One of my wife’s many favorite all-time shows is The Brady Bunch. She still desires to live in their house, and, at one time, she wanted to have six children because of the Brady family. As you likely remember, Mike and Carol each had three children of their own, so when they married, the family had eight, plus the housekeeper Alice. Although the show depicts many of the challenges of the family coming together, it is only in the pilot-episode that the boys refer to their new mother as Carol and the girls calling their new father Mike.

The reality is that calling a parent by the title mom or dad is a big step for a child who is not the biological offspring. Natural-born offspring may resent a stepbrother or stepsister for making such a statement. A formal adoption of a step-child may make this idea easier for some natural-born siblings, but certainly not for all of them.

Adoption – there is that word again. Adoption is the focus of this sermon series, and we have seen that God has truly and formally adopted us. But is it truly right to call God by the title of Father? After all, this is the God of the universe – a mighty, awesome, and holy God. Dare we call Him by a term such as Father? Even if He agreed, what might Jesus, as our big brother, think? Might some exist jealousy on His part in sharing His Dad with us?

Of course, you are likely quick to answer, “No. Jesus is not like that.” Ok, but are you sure, or just hopeful about that statement? Yes, Jesus taught us to pray the words, “Our Father” but most everywhere the term Father is used in the New Testament is either with Jesus talking specifically about “my Father” or referring to His Father in heaven OR is mentioned in one of the New Testament letters. So, have we been misled by Paul, Peter, and others in thinking we can rightly refer to God as our Father?

Absolutely not. Again, Jesus told us to call Him Father in the Lord’s Prayer, but more specifically, in John 20.17, He gave explicit permission to use the term Father for everyone who follows Him.

The reason Jesus does so is love – a trait we will see He gets from the Father, that is, our Father – a Father that wants to be known.

The Only Son Wants Us to Know God As Our Father (John 20.17)

John 20 is the account of the resurrection of Jesus. After the women go to the tomb and then report what they have found (or Who they didn’t find!), the two disciples run to check. When they find the tomb empty, the disciples return, but Mary Magdalene remains weeping when she hears a voice. She soon realizes that she is talking to Jesus.

Jesus says that He has not yet ascended to the Father, and then says to go to His brothers and say, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Now Mary and the disciples would have had no problem with referring to Jesus’ God as their God. Most, or maybe everyone here might say the same. But what Jesus does here is two-fold. First, He makes it evident that the one true God is the Father, and second, that His Father is their Father. This statement cannot be rightly interpreted any other way. But does Jesus statement apply to the disciples (brothers), or to Mary and the disciples (those who lived with Him during His time on earth), or to all believers for all time?

That is a good question. So, let’s stay within the book of John, and go back to a key verse from the first message of this series. John 1.12 says this, “But to all who did receive Him” (that is, Jesus), “who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (If you need further clarification on this passage, I encourage you to see the post on that message here.)

So, the answer to the question about Jesus intentions relates to the word all. And, as I understand the word all in this context, the answer is all who receive Him – past, present, or future – or, in other words, his disciples, Mary, and us. Jesus invites us to share His Father with Him. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” may be a good song, but truly what a brother we have in Jesus!

The Only Son Promised Us the Holy Spirit So We Might Better Know the Father 
(John 14.15-31)

So, having seen that Jesus has opened the door wide for us to call God as our Father, let’s turn to the middle of the of John to get a little more clarity. In John 14.17, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, and then a few verses later in verse 26, Jesus says the Father will send the Spirit as Jesus has promised.

The language in this section is beautiful, but it can get a little confusing if you don’t pay close attention. Let me break it down for us.
  • In verse 17, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will dwell within believers.
  • In verses 18-21, Jesus says that He must leave, but He, and the Father will dwell with those who know and keep the commands.
  • In verse 22, Judas (not Iscariot, he is already on his errand of betrayal), asks how Jesus will be with them.
  • Then, in verses 23-31, Jesus answers that it is through the Spirit that He and the Father will be with them, teaching them, guiding them, bringing them peace.

So, Jesus promised the Spirit because will serve to guide us on behalf of the Son and the Father. In fact, the Spirit will indwell us (verse 17) to prove we are the children of God. That sounds good, right? I was planning on making that exact point during this part of the message, but then something caught my eye. I have to admit, I have read this passage at least one hundred times, but one word jumped off the page this time – a word I vaguely remember having read here before, but not with the importance it did this week. Look at John 14.18. What does Jesus say?

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Do you see what Jesus is saying? Right here, in this great passage on the coming of the Holy Spirit, in the midst of preparing His disciples for His death and subsequent return to heaven, Jesus wants His disciples to know they are children of God. Effectively, Jesus says, “Dad will not leave you to fend for yourself. I/We will be here – in the Person of the Spirit.”

So, not only does Jesus want us to be able to call God our Father, but He wants us to make sure we know we will not be abandoned – ever, once we are a part of God’s true family. And that leads us to our final verses for today. We now move from the gospel recorded by John, to the first of his letters, where we see him referring to his readers as little children.

One Day We Will Be Like the Only Son Because We Know the Father (1 John 2.28-3.3)

John addresses little children in this section. These are not small, young, and undeveloped individuals physically; rather, John is addressing those who are young in the faith and still developing as children of God.

In these five verses, John addresses several important aspects of growing in our faith. Briefly, he says we can have confidence in Jesus and His return. We can know that all who are righteous are born of God – that is, they are His children, and should be known as such. We all should still be growing as one of God’s children because until Jesus returns, our development will not be complete. We must do our part to purify ourselves because we know Jesus is pure.

We could, and perhaps should, flesh out each of these aspects a little more, but today, I want to focus on the simple, yet profound, idea that we are children of God – little though we may be. Take a moment to read 1 John 3.1, if you have not done so recently.

John says, “See what kind of love the Father has…” He is referring to the idea that those who believe – that is, they receive Jesus (John 1.12) are born again – into righteousness. These children – little or big, immature or giants in the faith – become children because of the love of the Father. It is God who initiates the adoption and makes us children – see what kind of love He has! Therefore, we should be called children of God. It isn’t a mistake to consider yourself a child of God. After all, you are born again. What does that mean if it doesn’t mean you have been born into God’s family?!?!?!!! And so we are, John says! And so we are, indeed!!!!!

Some may not believe it or know it, but John says a reason exists for that. They did not/do not know God, and specifically Jesus, as the only Son of God. Again, this takes us back to John 1. I hope you are not tired of John 1.12 because within the sovereign plans of God, that verse is how we are adopted. But we cannot overlook John 1.11 which says many did not receive Him and thus are not God’s children. Consequently, according to 1 John 3.2, because they are not God’s children, they do not know us as His children. They may make fun or ridicule us. The may treat us unfairly and persecute us. We may not like this idea, but we are aware of it because we all know the kids in school who were teased because of any number of things including, INCLUDING, the family to which they belonged. John is saying here, little children, don’t be ashamed (2.28) at who you are, for who you are is a child of God.

Again, so much more could be said about these verses, so I encourage you to read through the rest of chapter 3 and 4 to see how we should respond as God’s children. It all boils down to one four letter word – love. As we love, we represent God and guess what, we become a perfectly blended family.

At the beginning of this message I mentioned the idea of blended families. In essence, marriage creates a blended family as we add in-laws. I remember a conversation when Linus and Liz (friends from Africa) were here about the term in-laws. He thought it was disrespectful for my daughter’s husband Sam to call me Andy. He told Sam, “You should call him, Dad.” Then he told me that I should call Sam my son. In further discussions, he told me a bit about their culture’s understanding of this aspect (much of which I do not remember). Sure, some people in America call their in-laws by these endearing terms, but should we? Ultimately, I think it is up to the individual, but I can say with some assurance that from a biblical basis we shouldn’t prevent it. God says the two become one, which means if I am the father of my daughter, and she is one with Sam, then I am his father too.

Actually, that is another reason that we can use the term Father for God. Yes, all those who do the will of God are the brothers and sisters of Jesus as we saw last week at the end of Matthew 12. But for all who know Christ, we are the Church, and the Church is the Bride of Christ. Thus, as we become one with Christ, not only are we adopted as individuals, but we are collectively presented before the Father as the spouse of the Son, giving us further right, and reason, to call our God, Father.

Before I reveal our JOURNEY letter today, I want to make one comment about the three points of the sermon today. The important part is that we know God, not that we know about Him. None of the points mention what we might or do know about God, but that we need to know Him – and know Him better. As we know Him better, we should want to know more about Him. But facts should never take the place of intimacy. I have said more about this on my blog the past two weeks, and will wrap up that series this coming week, but I want to make sure we, as a church, do not miss that point.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is:


We are to unite together because we are all a part of something far bigger than ourselves. We saw today that the Son and the Spirit are as involved in the adoption process as the Father, and, of course, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, represent what we call the Trinity – or, tri-unity. If God is perfectly united within Himself, it only stands to reason that He wants His children to be united with one another even as we unite with Him. So we attempt to unite. And we can do so realizing, as John says that we ARE the children of God.

NEXT STEP(S): LEARN. Once again, our step this week is to memorize 1 John 3.1. The overall goal will be not only to memorize the verse, but to LEARN to understand it, so we might LIVE in light of its truth, LOVE others because of it, and ultimately LEAD others to embrace it as well.

Next week, we will conclude this series by reviewing the benefit of being adopted. Let me just say that I do not think the reward is fair, but to turn it down would be truly be foolish.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Adoption: Living As Family

We should know that a major difference exists between the words house and home. Many people live in a house, or an apartment, or some other type of dwelling, but it isn’t the structure that makes it a home, it is the atmosphere – good or bad. Likewise, a difference exists between living in the same house with others and living as a family with others. This statement is true whether the people in the house are related or not.

When we think of some houses, we get a little nostalgic. You likely remember a certain house you visited as a child where you always felt at home even if it wasn’t your house. You likely remember watching a television show and sensing a love. But in our nostalgia, let us not forget that in a show like The Waltons even John and Olivia had their spats, as did their children such as John-boy and Mary Ellen.

As humans, our selfish nature will not allow us to perfectly get along with others. You might recall a few weeks ago when I preached on the passage of the prodigal son, the title was “Living as Orphans.” That story, of course, is about two brothers and a father who may have lived together but certainly did not live as a tight-knit family. First, the younger son wanted nothing to do with the father, then when we returned, the older son wanted nothing to do with the younger, and questioned the father’s decision to celebrate his brother’s return.

The reality is that the dissension represented in that story is far more normal than what God calls us to as His children. And God knows that. It isn’t what He designed, but it is what sin desires. Sin makes us desire our wants and needs over anything, or anyone else. In a family setting, this creates tension among husbands and wives, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, etc. Thus, God had to show us what it means to live as part of His family.

So, what does it mean to be a part of the family of God? Well, first, it means that it is His family, not mine and not yours. He is in charge. But it also means that as His children, He wants us to represent Him. He wants us to get along. He wants us to be like Him. To do that, let us return to the Sermon on the Mount, beginning in Matthew 5 to find some principles for living as a part of God’s family.

As I mentioned last week, we will begin a series on the Sermon on the Mount and what it means to live in God’s Kingdom on December 31. Today, however, I want to focus on a few verses from Matthew 5 from the mindset of living as a part of God’s family.

Our Father Wants Us To Be Blessed (Matthew 5.1-12)

Jesus begins by teaching that God wants His children to be blessed. The blessed are poor in their own spirit, instead yielding to Dad. They mourn when they do wrong. They are powerful as a child of God, but don’t wield that power without humility. They want to be like Dad. They show mercy to others. They keep their hearts pure and promote peace. And they stand up for all Dad has taught them no matter what.

Again, we will review these ideas in a bit more detail next month, but at first glance some of these ideas do not look so rewarding. Persecution, for instance, would be less than appealing. But Jesus does not teach that we are to seek to be persecuted, He merely states that it will happen if we live like a child of God.

But notice the promises affiliated with each of these blessings. The kingdom of heaven (living with Dad), being comforted (by Dad), inheriting the earth (from Dad), being satisfied (by Dad), receiving mercy (from Dad), seeing Dad, being His children, and receiving a great reward.

Again, next month, I will elaborate on the idea of being blessed and how we often misuse that term. But make no doubt, according to Jesus, being a child of God has significant benefits for those who fit these characteristics. Our Father truly wants us to bless us.

Our Father Wants Us To Bring Him Glory (Matthew 5.13-20)

The next part of this passage is likely becoming more significant to us as a church. Verse 16 is our church’s verse for our vision statement. Matthew 5.16 answers the question of what He wants from us. Truthfully, it answers the “Why” for our living – to bring God glory.  First, Jesus tells us that our Father wants us to season the earth with salt. Most people get used to certain foods tasting a certain way. Then, someone adds a different spice or seasoning. And, voila, a new taste sensation is born. Or perhaps, you are used to a certain taste and a certain seasoning is left out making the food so bland you can barely eat it. Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus is saying that His followers are that new seasoning for some and the missing seasoning for others. But if we don’t live as the salty children of God, then how will He, our Father, get the glory we are to bring Him?

Jesus then changes metaphors and says to let our light shine. Really, it is His light shining. The light is not to be hidden, it is to light up the world. And, as His light shines through us, people can more clearly see God – the Father. As they more clearly see who the Father is, and what He is doing through us (making our dark lives, light), He will receive glory.

In verses 17-20, Jesus made it known that the rules our Father has given must be followed – literally to the letter and even every stroke of every letter. Let’s hold this thought for a few minutes and I will return to it after our next point. For the moment, let us just realize that if we follow His commands and live and salt and light, then we will bring our Father glory. Furthermore, the glory will not only come from us, others will join us in giving Him glory as well – which, in our context, may mean they are becoming His children as well.

So, we are to bring Him glory by letting our light shine and following His commands. But how do we do this practically? How should this impact our relationships? Well, that leads directly to our next point.

Our Father Wants Us To Get Along With Each Other (Matthew 5.21-48)

So far in this post we have seen that the Father wants to bless His children and that God wants us to bring Him glory. But how are we to do that? By acting as His children should act – culminating with being perfect, which we talked about last week – we show ourselves to truly be a part of God’s family. So, how should God’s children treat one another?
  • You shall not murder with Jesus equating being angry with our brother as murder. (v. 22)
  • You shall not commit adultery with Jesus equating lusting after another (coveting) with adultery. (v. 28)
  • You shall not commit adultery which is the result of many divorces. (v. 32) And, in that culture, divorce was often a disgrace so you were not honoring your mother or earthly father, let alone your heavenly Father.
  • You shall not lie, instead say what you mean. (v. 37)
  • You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (vv. 42, 44)

The point is that God is not just saying that people should live this way. He is saying that His children should live this way because these ideas represent the very nature of the Father – one who is loving, faithful, and truthful. Yes, the Bible speaks of God’s anger and wrath, but it also speaks of Him being just. Usually when a person is angry, at least two things are true. First, they do not have all the facts. Secondly, they lose perspective. In contrast, God always has all of the facts, and His perspective is always that of being holy. Thus, He never plays favorites and never misappropriates judgment. And, and as His children, He wants us to do the same.

Consider what the world would be like, that is, how much glory our Father in heaven would receive, if Christian brothers and sisters:
  • did not murder one another by tearing each other down when we talk.
  • were as faithful in marriage as God is to His people.
  • were always truthful – in word, in deed, AND in our intentions.
  • loved others in the same way we love ourselves.
  • truly lived as God calls His children to live.


The truth is that very few choose to live this way not because they do not know what the Father wants, but because they do not appreciate the Father enough. For instance, in the Lord’s Prayer, when you say, “hallowed be Your Name” what does that mean to you? If we truly believe Him holy it will change our behavior. It should change our behavior.

The fact is that Jesus own words say that His true brothers and sisters and mothers are those who do God’s will (Matthew 12.46-50). In other words, the people who do not murder, or lust, or divorce, or lie, etc., are the ones that truly represent God’s family. We can say that we are in God’s family, but Jesus says, it isn’t just about what we say, it is evident by what we do.

Now, please understand that I did not say, we become a part of God’s family by what we do. I did not say that. We become a part of God’s family by grace. We become a part of God’s family because Jesus did what we could not. (Take a moment to read Matthew 5.17-20.)

Our righteousness comes from what Jesus did, not what we can do. And the righteousness that has been given (imputed) to us empowers us to live as God’s children, to represent Him as family members, and to bring Him glory as we do.

So, we do not become members of God’s family by what we do, but for those who are a part of God’s family, we have much to do. But for all we have to do, our JOURNEY letter for today is not about our need to Observe as it was last week. Last week, I said we should Observe because the focus was on our relationship to our Father. This week, the focus is on what the Father wants for His children and, ultimately, the commands and the blessings are about being in fellowship together with one another as we are in fellowship with God. Thus, our letter for today is:


Not murdering others, not lusting after others, honoring our marriages, being truthful with one another, loving our neighbors, and similar commands are about making and maintaining bonds with mankind. As John wrote in 1 John 4, we cannot claim to love God if we do not love our brothers and sisters, so let us better unite with one another, so that we better reflect our God and allow others to truly glorify our Father who is in heaven.

NEXT STEP(S): Learn. Once again, our step this week is to memorize 1 John 3.1. The overall goal will be not only to memorize the verse, but to LEARN to understand it, so we might LIVE in light of its truth, LOVE others because of it, and ultimately LEAD others to embrace it as well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

“Adoption, Foster Care, and Mentoring,” A Closer Look by Tiffany Miller

I work for Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that pairs children from one or no parent homes with mentors. I want to share about a boy I met in foster care six years ago. I was contacted by his case manager about enrollment in our program for a mentor. I went to the home visit to meet him and his foster mother. When I interviewed her, she told me that he was a horrible child. She said he lied, he stole, he would not shut up, he was over-active, and he was the worst child she had ever fostered. I took notes and then went to meet the child for our one-on-one interview.

In his room, the child immediately asked if he could show me something. Being deathly afraid of snakes and any reptile, really, I started to get ready to make a dash for the door. Before I could get up off of the floor, he had pulled something out from under his mattress. It was a picture. He said, “This is my mom. If you let me live with her again I promise I will never be bad again!” My heart broke. I explained that was not my job and that I was there to meet him so that I could match him to a friend. He was crushed. I almost cried. Right then I knew that I was going to be his Big Sister and my husband would be his Big Brother. He just didn’t know it yet. I told his foster mother privately as I was leaving that day, “I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure my husband and I will be his big couple.” She looked at me in disbelief and asked, “Why would ANYONE pick him?!” My heart sank. That was exactly why. He desperately needed love in his life.

Throughout the following months, I become an advocate for him, going to his case meetings and meeting with him every week for a few hours. When I dropped him off at home and walked him to the door, I could hear his foster mom’s biological daughter saying, “He’s back.” He would walk in the door and I would tell her how great he was. She would say to him, “You know where you are supposed to be,” and he would head to his room. He was grounded to his room for up to two months one time for his “behavior.” After many months of that scenario and regular contact with DFS over concerns of his living environment, he was finally removed from that home and sent to another foster placement.

About six months after meeting him, he mumbled something in the back seat as I was taking him home. He said, “Ma Mo Moo.” I said, “What?” He said, “My Mo Mooo.” I said, “I’m sorry honey, I still didn’t hear what you said.” He cleared his throat and this time very clearly said, “I love you.” It took my breath away that this child, who I had only spent two hours a week with and had done very menial things with (things I would be doing with my own kids anyway) would convey something he felt and say something that was surely not being said to him. I told him I loved him too and that I would always be there for him.

Since that time, he has been in six different foster homes. We were asked to be his guardian the year that my younger son got cancer and oldest son needed open heart surgery. Needless to say, it was not great timing and we were living minute to minute, not even day to day. I know there are thousands of kids like our "little brother" living in the United States foster care (around 500,000 and over 13,000 right here in MO). I know that God has put him in my life and compassion in my heart for a reason. I will forever advocate for children in our foster system until the day when I become a permanent part of the solution, becoming a foster parent.

I was blessed to be able to attend the Family Matters Conference last month on fostering, adoption, and mentoring. It is no surprise that during that week I found out Pastor Andy would be talking about adoption this month and how according to the Bible, we are all adopted: “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT)

When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, we are adopted into the family of God. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we who experienced the blessings of adoption by God should in turn reach out to those who need to be adopted or sheltered? James defines the quality of our faith by how we care for those without families, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27 NLT)

So, what does that mean? Does that mean that everyone should adopt, foster, or mentor? Well, yes. But there are other ways to help too. Everyone just breathed a sigh of relief (most of all my husband) but God has a plan and we do not always get to know what that plan is. We only have to say yes to it when He asks.

Here are ten ways to help children without families:

1. Pray.
Pray for foster parents. Pray for adoptive parents. Pray for the children in foster care. Pray for the judges, the social workers, the therapists, and the teachers. When you access the God of the universe on behalf of another, it is the most loving and powerful thing you can do.

2. Donate or host resources for families caring for these children.
Kaden’s Kloset provides a care package for a fostering family on the day they receive a foster child. Typically, there is no warning when they will receive a child. With notice of an hour or two, they could receive a newborn. The fostering family will need diapers, bottles, wipes, a sleeper, a place for the baby to sleep, formula, and a carseat…all within two hours! The next week, they may need everything to care for a six year old. It sounds impossible! I talked to the lead Volunteer in St. Joseph and asked, “You probably don’t serve the Fairfax, MO area?” And you know what she said? “I’ll meet you halfway! And we are looking for a church to host a Kloset, so if you know of one, please let us know so we can serve your area too!” This organization gives everything needed for the first twenty-four hours based on the age of the child. Then they will help find more resources if the child stays longer. This is a huge bridge to an unbelievable obstacle that could easily keep families from fostering.

3. Be willing to babysit.
Aside from providing respite care for the child being fostered, the foster child will need several medical appointments in the first few days and weeks in care. Many times, it is simply well-child checks. For foster families with their own children, taking multiple children to medical appointments is unneeded stress. Having a handful of people available to babysit their own children will help relieve that stress.

4. Volunteer for a foster family.
Having another child adds a lot of responsibility. Offer to bring a meal or pick up missed grocery items. For long-term foster placement, offer to mow the grass, help with laundry, or make a meal – whatever the family needs when you have an extra hour a week.

5. Mentor children in foster care.
As an individual, as a family, as a church. Come alongside the child in care and give them the family they need when they need it most. It could be as simple as playing a board game with the foster child in their home while the foster parent cleans or catches up on laundry. You could help the foster child with homework, reading, or whatever else they need. You could mentor the child while you help the family at the same time.

6. Come together as a community.
Gather resources available to foster families within your church and in your community. Give this information to case workers that place children in your area (currently done through the Maryville DSS office).

7. Become a respite provider.
If you have a heart for foster kids but don’t have the ability to do it full time, you can become licensed to be a respite provider. This is basically a short-term babysitter for the child in foster care, who only says “yes” when it works for their schedule. You could offer to watch the foster child in your home one weekend every other month or whatever works for your schedule, even if it’s only twice a year.

8. Become a foster parent to one of the 13,000 children in care in Missouri.
Stories like the one I shared above do not have to be the norm. We as Christians can take on the role of caring for orphans and giving them the love and kindness they need, when they need it the most. Not to mention, you may introduce them to our loving Father who can never be taken away from them, no matter how many times they move.

9. Adopt one of the 127,000 children in foster care waiting for their permanent family.
You do not need to buy a plane ticket to adopt a child: there are 1,200 children in MO waiting to be adopted in our foster care system. You can even see pictures and descriptions of these children online.

10. Keep praying.
Pray for Him to show you what His plan is for you. Pray for you to be open to His plan.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Adoption: The Home Life

Video games have changed the way children play games, but a similar theme exists to yesteryear. Games of war, rescue, racing, or sports still dominate. When I was growing up, if I was with friends, I was either playing sports or cowboys and Indians or war. While we were playing for dominance of a kingdom or territory, many of the girls I knew were on the inside of their kingdom pretending to be a princess or even queen. Again, the forms of games have changed but the basic premise remains – conquer something or someone. Or play a game to save the princess or something similar.

The goal for the boys was never to pretend what it was to live inside the kingdom. Sure, we might have been knights with a king to direct us, but it wasn’t about living in the walls. The only time we gathered with the king was to hear the game plan for attack and then go attempt to defeat our enemy. The reality is that the girls may have had the better idea. I am not suggesting I want to dress up like a princess, but rather, we cannot always be out in the battle fighting, we must know how to live when the battle is not raging. We must understand the expectations of the king when we are living as his subjects within the walls of the kingdom or even the castle.

And such is the case with God. But God is more than king. As we have seen so far in this series, God is our Father. Thus, we should want to know how our Father wants us to live as He welcomes us into His home. At a minimum, we should be curious how He wants us to respond to Him – and why.

If God is our Father, then what does that mean for us? What should that mean for us? Well, the answer to those questions has, at least, two parts. The first part must consider how we should respond to the Father for having adopted us. That question will be our focus this week. The second question can then consider how we should treat others because we have been adopted by our Father in heaven. That question will get consideration next week.

The reality is that the Bible covers both questions in much detail. We will only scratch the surface over the next two weeks. Our primary passage today will be from the Sermon on the Mount which will be our focus for the first several months of the coming year beginning December 31. Today, however, I want to focus on a few verses from Matthew 5 and 6 from the mindset of living with our Father in His home rather than with Him as the King and us living in His Kingdom. The principles are largely the same, but as I mentioned last week, the idea of God being Father is deeply intimate. God, as King, does not reveal intimacy at all.

So, if God has adopted us, how might we live as His people? How might we live in His home? And specifically, how are we to respond to Him as our Father? To gain a little perspective, we can begin with the first verses from one of the most famous passages in the Bible.

God is a Personal Father (Exodus 20.1-2)

In Exodus 20, God speaks to all the Israelites and gives the The Commandments. The commandments are not our focus although they could serve for part of my point today. The focus we need to see is two-fold:
  1. God brought them out of slavery and made them His people. This is adoption language. Last week, in Romans 8.15, Paul wrote that once adoption takes place the fear of slavery should be gone. We are now God’s child, made so by the Spirit, and thus we can call Him Father.
  2. God did not just give commands, He gave them a relationship. This is extremely important. In fact, it is the single most important part of the Ten Commandments yet most people miss it. How do I know it is missed? Because people say, “Well, the Bible is just a bunch of rules.” Wrong. I would suggest that it is the foundation of a relationship. Notice how this passage begins. First, Moses is not up on a mountain my Himself (like Charlton Heston taught so many – see Ex 20.18-21). God is speaking to all the people, but it is the first words He says that are important. The first words were not the first commandment – “You shall have no other gods before me.” No, His first words were “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” In other words, “You know me. I am the same God. You can trust me. And since you can trust me, here is what I expect of you.”

Again, this point is extremely important. It means the Ten Commandments is not a set of rules by which we must live; rather, they are the basis for a healthy relationship with God (the first four) and with others (#5-10). In other words, they mark how we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and how to love our neighbors as we do ourselves.

So, with that as our background, let us know look to the premier teaching of the New Testament to understand what our home life will be like with our Father.

God Is a Demanding Father (Matthew 5.44-48)

While God is personal, His expectations are high. In Matthew 5.48, Jesus says that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an impossible standard to meet. Perhaps, if we look at the context, we can get a little bit of a break. Maybe Jesus’ words don’t quite mean what they appear to mean at first context. Well, this teaching began with what we call Beatitudes. Then, we are told to be salt and light. Then Jesus says that the Law is permanent (at least until someone lived it perfectly,which He did). And then, Jesus goes through a list of commands and shares that we should overcome anger, lust, marriage issues, while keeping our promises, and not retaliating when we are wronged. Then, in the words immediately before He says we are to be perfect, Jesus says that loving our friends is not enough – we must love our enemies too. So, I guess when Jesus said we are to be perfect, He did not mean some watered-down version of perfect – He meant absolute perfection, which shows just how demanding God is. We are not only to act perfectly, but we are to be motivated perfectly. What we do matters, but who we are matters even more. Is it possible to be perfect?

With Jesus, the answer is yes. Now, I do not mean that we will not make mistakes or that we will not sin. What I mean is what Jesus meant – we can be perfectly righteous. In Matthew 5.18, Jesus said that not one stroke of the Law would pass until it was perfectly completed. Jesus did that, and thus all who place their trust in Him will be found righteous – perfectly righteous (see John 19.30, Romans 2.13 with 3.26 and 5.19 as well as 8.4).

Why must we be perfect? Because that is how we bring Him glory. We have reviewed this verse in part many times, but Matthew 5.16 is the verse which supports our Vision to be “a large church in a small town.” Again, the premise of that is not how many people are a part of this church, but how much influence we have within the community. If the people of a church are not filled with righteousness, then the Father will not be glorified by what they do. Thus, we need to be perfect – we need to live righteously – not for our sakes, but for God’s. And we need to live righteously not just because He is God, but because He is our Father. That means He not only commands us to be righteous through some set of rules as our God, but desires the best from His children as Father.

And that leads directly to our next point.

God is a Trustworthy Father (Matthew 6 and 7)

Throughout Matthew 6 and 7, Jesus constantly gives reasons why the Father is trustworthy. In the beginning of this portion of His sermon, He says you can do things for the accolades of others or you can be truly rewarded by God. In Matthew 6.1, we see the benefits of being perfect. Notice these words are the next words that Matthew records for us. The chapter break might make us miss this, but Jesus gives us the how to be perfect in the verses that follow the command to be perfect. Jesus says specifically that some pretend to be righteous by doing things others will see, but we cannot fool the Father. However, when we are authentic, He will reward not only our efforts, but also reward us for our efforts. That is, we can trust that God will provide for us.

Later in Matthew 6, Jesus says we need not be anxious about what we have or how long we will live. His point is that God is a caring Father. Just as a loving earthly father provides and protects his children, so too the heavenly Father will provide and protect His children. Again, we can trust Him. Remember, Jesus made a statement elsewhere about having the faith of a child. Well, little children aren’t worried about getting a job so that they have food to eat. No, they trust that their parents will provide for them. Human parents may struggle to provide due to any number of reasons, but God has innumerable resources at His disposal.

So, as God’s children, what are we to do? How are we to respond to our heavenly Father. Let me share ten responsibilities we have to the Father as revealed in Matthew 6 and 7. Besides each of our responsibilities, I will share why we should respond to God in this way. It has to do with God being personal, demanding, and trustworthy.

  1. Give to those in need. (Matthew 6.1-4) Because God will provide.
  2. Pray with intention, not with empty phrases. (vv. 5-13) Because God really listens.
  3. Forgive others. (vv. 14-15) Because God forgave you.
  4. Fast to keep yourself pure and seeking God. (vv. 16-18) Because God is sufficient.
  5. Focus on your eternal home, not worldly goods. (vv. 19-24) Because God stuff is eternal.
  6. Trust God to take care of your needs. (vv. 25-34) Because God cares for His Creation.
  7. Make sure you are clean before judging others. (7.1-6) Because only God knows all.
  8. Know that God has your best interest at heart. (vv. 7-11) Because you are His child.
  9. Treat others as you desire to be treated. (vv. 12-14) Because God made you free.
  10. Beware of those who try to deceive you. (vv. 15-20) Because God died for you.

These ten points are the crux of the rest of Jesus’ sermon. He concludes by saying that not everyone who calls Him Lord is truly a part of God’s family, and ends with by showing that trusting in the Father is like building on a rock, not sand.
So, why do so many people struggle with God being their Father? Many do not have any experience with having a father or at least not a good experience with a father. They do not know the personal, trustworthiness of a father. They may know what it is to have a demanding father, but not one that makes demands because of love. But God is not just a father, He is the Father. And as the Father, He sets the model for what all fathers should be. Remember, Jesus said to be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. We may not be perfect as fathers (or mothers), but we can be thankful that we have a Father who truly is.

Again, I realize that the Sermon on the Mount is truly about kingdom living, but if our King is also our Father, then it is about home-life as well. We are to live righteously because we are His children. In fact, you may remember a verse that received a great deal of attention when we did our series on Spiritual Disciplines a couple of years ago. The verse is Ephesians 5.1 which says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” As we imitate God like a small child imitates a parent, we will indeed become more like Him – even to the point of perfection. We are to be perfect because God is perfect. But we cannot be perfect on our own, thus Jesus died so we could be. Again, this isn’t perfection as we usually think of it (perfection in doing), it is being perfect in righteousness (perfection in being) which is only possible through Christ. That is, it is only possible when we are adopted into God’s family, which is made possible through Christ (John 14.6).

Just like little boys and girls used to pretend to fight for a kingdom or live in a castle, as followers of God, as children of God, we must consider what it means for us to live with according to our relationship with God – not just as King, but also as Father. As Father, God is intimately personal as well as being the standard of truth. While He may also be extraordinarily demanding, we can know that His demands are made not to us as slaves; rather, He demands much because He loves His sons and daughters so much and wants the absolute best for us.

That is why the JOURNEY letter this week is:


Jesus taught the first disciples that they were to teach others to observe. It is not enough to know what God wants or expects from us. We must be doers of the Word, not just hearers only (James 1.22). We have all seen fathers get angry when a child does not behave. God is no different, except that His anger, and even wrath, is perfectly just. God doesn’t take out His anger on you because He had a bad day at work. However, the Bible promises that He does discipline those whom He loves (Heb 12.6). In fact, that verse also say He chastises every son whom He receives. That is, every child He adopts as His own.

So, we must observe, but not out of fear. Instead, we are to observe because of love. And that leads us to our Next Step that we might understand this verse so that we might know how much our Father truly loves us.

NEXT STEP(S): Learn. Once again, our step this week is to memorize 1 John 3.1. The overall goal will be not only to memorize the verse, but to LEARN to understand it, so we might LIVE in light of its truth, LOVE others because of it, and ultimately LEAD others to embrace it as well.