It is fascinating to study how God called various people in the Bible. We have the accounts of Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges, the prophets, the disciples and Paul. What is so interesting is that each one was called in a unique way for a specific work. As we ponder the various ways that God called, we can only conclude that He is infinitely innovative. He always operated within the bounds of His revealed nature, yet His methods defied human expectation and predictability. And He is still doing the same today!
Think of your own calling to serve where you are today or even your salvation experience. Have you met anyone else who was called in the exact same way? God refuses to let man confine Him to a box or pour Him into a mold of our choosing. Thus, His calls to individuals for salvation or service are as unique as the individuals themselves.
When God called Jeremiah He said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Since God has created us and kept us in His providential care, He suits each call to the personal traits and circumstances He has created for us.
In John 21 Jesus reaffirms Peter’s call to be the “rock” upon whom He would build the church, even after his disastrous betrayal. I am sure that after Peter failed His Lord in such a monumental way, he doubted there was any chance that Jesus could use him. And yet we see Jesus lovingly restoring Peter by asking him three times, “Peter do you love me?” Jesus finishes up their dialogue with the words, “Follow me.” What does Peter do? He immediately looks around, sees John and asks Jesus, “What shall this man do?”
Oh, how often do we look at our brother or sister and ask that same question? When we feel that God’s call is too heavy for us to bear we are tempted to look around at our brother or sister and ask as Peter did, "What about him or her?"
How secure are you in the calling God has placed on your life? Do you look at your brother or sister and think they have it so much easier? Remember, God’s call on your life is unique just as your personality and life experiences are unique. God's call dovetails perfectly with how you were created.
Esther was created and called “for such a time as this” and was faithful to her calling, even willing to die in order to be obedient to the calling God placed on her. And she received a great blessing for her faithfulness.
Consider Samson who is listed among the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. The last day of his life, he cried out to God for strength to be avenged for his eyes. God answered his cry and the enemies he destroyed in his final act of obedience were more than the enemies he had destroyed while he had his eyesight. It seems to me that God had so much more for him to do and greater blessings for him to receive if only he would have been faithful to his calling.
Consider your own calling. Have you fully embraced God’s call on your life? It may look so different from anyone else's calling, it may seem so unconventional, or it may seem rather dull. Are you okay with that? Are you willing to lay it on the altar for God’s honor and glory? It is His desire to name you as a hero of faith. Have you fully embraced His calling on your life?
Written by: M.A.
Every life story reads differently, with its own foreshadowing, plot twists, and outcomes. Yet in the stories God writes, themes often emerge across very different storylines. These common threads show us what matters to the heart of God. Among many other themes, we recognize that God cares about the fatherless and vulnerable.
The Mast family of South Carolina is currently waiting to bring three new children home to join their family; the Coblentzes of Ohio already brought their adopted son home. Although the two families share a vision for adoption, they came to this place by different routes.
The Mast Family Journey
Davy and LuAnn Mast are the parents of five biological children who joined their family in quick succession. Although the Masts had talked of adoption early in their relationship, the idea was shelved as their young family grew. “Then we started praying for more children,” LuAnn shared. “Because of some health issues, our prayer was that God would grow our family His way and according to how He made us.”
Conversations about adoption surfaced again, but doors didn’t seem open quite yet. “Then God brought us to Light of Hope [DNI’s orphanage in Mexico] to visit a brother,” wrote LuAnn. “[God] spoke to our hearts and brought several encounters with three different children to us. We were faced with the decision of walking forward in trust or walking away and forgetting His voice. We chose to walk forward and allow Him to direct through opening or closing doors.”
Four years of waiting have followed the initial decision as paperwork and bureaucracy have repeatedly slowed the process. Even with the costs, trips back and forth, and piles of paperwork, the Masts can’t imagine missing this journey. “I have never had a sense of working hand-in-hand with God as much as I have with this decision to grow our family this way,” said LuAnn.
The Coblentz Family Journey
For Phil and Elsie Coblentz the path to adopting their son, Joseph, took a different route. The Coblentzes never thought they would adopt. They had seven biological children and were content with their family. But then their children started doing terms of service at Light of Hope Orphanage in Mexico. Three of their children have completed terms as caregivers and one son is currently serving.
“Elsie and I made numerous trips to visit [our children],” wrote Phil. “We witnessed firsthand some of the challenges the staff faces as well as the desire of the children to belong and to have a family. We also witnessed … children going through numerous caregiver changes and how difficult that is … We began to see that although this is a great orphanage with many faithful, committed servants, it is still an orphanage. [It is] there to serve a definite need, but what God ultimately wants for all children is a family.”
Like the Masts, the Coblentz family wouldn’t want to have missed this part of their story. “It has been a long journey, and we know it is a lifetime journey. Yet, it has been a blessing. To just watch God do so many times what we can’t do has been a joy.”
The Family of God on a Journey
Looking at the stories of others, it’s easy to appreciate God’s leading and admire their willingness to follow Him. It’s harder to imagine God could lead us in the same direction. But why wouldn’t He?
Orphan care is a topic close to the heart of God. Over and over again, God instructs His people to care for the fatherless. In the first chapter of his book, Orphan Justice, author Johnny Carr explores some of these passages and informs us that, “Jewish scholars point out that God’s care for orphans flows directly from His position as king over all the earth. God’s people are commanded to care for orphans as a direct result of who God is.”
Although not every family should adopt, both the Coblentz and Mast families believe more families should be pursing adoption. “I look around our Mennonite communities and see so much blessing,” remarked Phil. “Put into that same picture six million orphans … There seems to be something missing.”
Davy Mast agrees. “I believe it is time for us as a church, as followers of Christ, to be willing to … open our homes to these children. Imagine how many children could be reached if there would be a waiting list of Christian families ready to adopt as soon as a child is placed into an orphanage or foster care! Adoption and foster care are hard work and the adoption process can be painfully slow and tedious, but if we delay or do nothing, these children continue living without a family.”
The statistics surrounding orphans and at risk children are daunting, but for these families statistics aren’t the motivating factor. The motivation is more than a nameless, faceless mob – but rather individuals. “We are adopting,” explained LuAnn, “because I saw a question in a boy’s eyes asking if I had room for him, and because the hugs and eyes of a girl haunted me for a month, and because the boy with dimples just had to be loved. When I said good-bye, he peeked up at me with tears in his eyes. … There are a dozen children I could tell you about who desperately long for a home. They ask us to pray for families for them because they are praying for a family.”
“Each family must look into God’s heart and make [a] decision for themselves,” wrote Phil. “I would simply encourage each family to open your eyes and heart to the cry of a child that simply wants to belong … and then ask God what He wants for you.”
God writes our stories in many different ways, but since His heart is for the vulnerable and oppressed, we can expect that He will lead us to be His hands, His arms, His home, His family reaching out to the fatherless.
Written by: H.L.
1 For example - James 1:27, Psalm 10:16-18, Psalm 68:4-6, and Isaiah 1:17
2 Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr is published by B&H Books. Copyright 2013. Quote taken from page 17.
A decision is the act or process of deciding. We are faced with decisions daily, some are bigger and more important than others. Although each decision comes with consequences, based on our decision whether the consequences will be good or bad.
Often times when we are faced with challenging situations, our first response is to make a quick decision based on the best understanding we have of the situation, especially when others are waiting on our reply. We should develop the habit of asking God’s direction first like David did.
The beginning of 1 Samuel 23:4 says, “David enquired of the Lord yet again.” We can find nine different times in scripture where it says “David enquired” of the Lord or of God. Each of these times that it says “David enquired” was after he became a great leader. David proves to us that great leadership results from being a great follower of God. Even in the small and mundane things of life, we must seek God’s direction.
Maybe you have been seeking God’s guidance, but a new challenge has presented itself--seek His guidance once again. There is no such thing as being too dependent on God. He never wearies of our questions and we never out-grow our inadequacy without Him. God always answers those who inquire of Him. When we can surrender our challenges to God and be at peace about it that is when God speaks to us.
So often we do really well at making life seem complicated. Every area of life has its own challenges. Decisions about education, careers, family, relationships and many other things can seem very complicated at times. Jesus simplifies our complicated decision-making considerably in Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” Should I buy this car? Seek first the kingdom of God. Should I pursue this relationship? Seek first the kingdom of God. Should I move to a foreign mission field? Seek first the kingdom of God.
Seeking first the kingdom of God does not give us a direct answer to every problem, but it does help to narrow down the options when making a complicated decision. The verse says to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to you. What are these things that will be added to you when you seek God’s kingdom fist? Everything that is good and necessary to help you in reaching your goal of advancing the kingdom of Christ. This is an amazing gift from God when we seek and follow Him.
Paul reminds us to rely on the power, love and sound mind that God has given us. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” This is the only way to make God-honoring decisions. As children of God we don’t need to worry about the future, current circumstances, or what other people may think. In Christ we know we will be given the strength to do whatever He requires of us.
What are you basing your decisions on? Are you most concerned about your social status, your financial security and your selfish pleasure? Or are you walking a path that is guided by the power of the Spirit, being motivated by a love for Christ in faith? When we are making a decision, let’s remember to inquire of the Lord, seek His kingdom first, and use the power and love and sound mind that God has granted us.
Written by: R.L.
Many times seemingly impossible pairs of words are pitted against each other:
- Legalism vs. love
- Law vs. grace
- Faith vs. works
- Heart vs. behavior
- Love vs. command
- Heart vs. mind
But what if pitting these against each other is creating a false dichotomy? (at least in all of the above except the first pair)
Jesus' own words from His conversations with the disciples should clear things up for us...
"If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15).
"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10).
"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed" (John 8:31b).
"For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven...Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken to a wise man who built his house on the rock...But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand..." (Matthew 7:24,26).
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore and make disciples...teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always..." (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus said about Himself: "But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do" (John 14:31).
Who is willing to accuse Jesus of "legalism" because He obeyed His Father's commands?
Jesus' closest earthly friend, the apostle John, adds these words on the topic:
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:2, 3).
I conclude from the quotes above that:
When we love the Lord, we really do want to obey Him.
Obedience both expresses our love for Him and ushers us into deeper relationship with Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit who make their home within us.
The commands of the Lord are designed for our blessing, protection and reward.
Obedience to His commands is a step of faith. Consider Jesus' command to love our enemies. Obedience could result in death. It is a calculated risk based on His promises, example and character.
Greatness (or smallness) in God's Kingdom is determined by our obedienceto His commands and by teaching others to do the same.
Obedience to Jesus' commands results in stability during the storms and trials of life and ministry.
Obedience to His commands opens the way for fullness of joy and for growing friendship with our Master.
Obedience to His commands results in continually abiding in Christ and experiencing His gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The Great Commission is a mandate from Christ Himself to invite men and women worldwide of all people groups to voluntarily surrender to the Risen Lord in wholehearted obedience to all of His commands.
Obedience to His commands protects us from being ashamed when He comes back again.
Treasuring His words and obeying His commands anchors our lives and ministries to the eternal.
Obedience to God's commands demonstrates that we genuinely love our Christian brothers and sisters.
Obedience to His commands is not burdensome to those who are true children of God.
An example of this connection between love and duty is clearly seen in the life of a mother who wakes up in the night to care for her crying child. She gladly experiences discomfort and loss of sleep to care for her child...because she loves him/her. In her weariness, she does not consider her sacrifice to be a burden.
The more we love Christ, the more gladly we obey Him. And the more we obey Him, the better we get to know Him and the more we experience His presence, power, protection, blessing, fruitfulness and reward (though we don't obey Him for that purpose). We obey Him because we love Him!
Blessings as you lovingly, deliberately, trustingly obey Him this week...and invite others to do the same.
--Written by: A.R.
The disciples had an important question for Jesus. They were anticipating an earthly kingdom, freedom from the Romans, victory for the Jews. Jesus was going to be the hero and they were going to be his special inner group. Thus the important question that weighed heavily on their minds: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Instead of giving an up-front, logical answer, Jesus decided to use an object lesson and a few stories. Matthew 18 is His response, which, in my opinion, is one of Jesus’ most powerful discourses on interpersonal relationships.
Be like a child
He starts out with the object lesson. He calls a little child to Himself and says, if you’re going to be in My kingdom, you have to be like this little one. You must be a child at heart. You must be humble. You must get down to this level. Then you’ll be great.
In the world, you climb to the top of the ladder to be great. But Jesus says, you descend the ladder to become great. Serving is better than being served. Giving is better than receiving. Others are more important than oneself.
Humility is the first ingredient to healthy interpersonal relationships.
Hate your own sin
Jesus takes the object lesson further yet and says, it would be better to lose a limb than to intentionally harm one of the least of these. Within the kingdom of God, hurting the person at the bottom of the ladder is serious business. In fact, it may incur the wrath of God (vs. 10).
Looking at our own shortcomings, judging ourselves before anyone else, hating our sins against our fellow teammates, seeing the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck…that is the next ingredient to healthy interpersonal relationships.
Jesus recognizes that all relationships will have their rough spots. Put two sinful people together long enough and they’ll sin against each other. Sin is not to be taken lightly. It is not to be ignored. It must be dealt with.
First, we are called to deal with our own sin and to treat it as serious. But it doesn’t stop there. We are responsible to share with our brothers and sisters when we see clear sin in their lives. I don’t take this to mean that one must point out every shortcoming and flaw in the lives of others. Jesus is talking about sin issues.
If the individual does not heed input, eventually it becomes necessary to involve others in the situation. This sequence is important. Go to the person first before pulling others into the issue.
Jesus continues with a story. He tells of a king who calls his debtors to account. They owe him lots of money—money they don’t have—and he forgives all the debts, both big and small.
Then he finds out that one of his ex-debtors, one who had owed him LOTS of money, goes and throws someone in jail for a small debt they owed. The king is furious and calls this man to account. He reminds him of the HUGE debt he owed and could not pay. He reminds him of the forgiveness he received, yet would not extend to another fellow debtor. Then he calls him to full account, which results in a lifelong prison sentence.
Jesus ends the story with “So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matt. 18:35, NKJV).
For any organization, any church, any team, any relationship to be healthy, there must be forgiveness. Again, this does not downplay the seriousness of sin. It simply means we recognize how much God has forgiven us and extend the same grace to others.
In summary, Jesus calls us to:
--Written by I.M.
by Davy Mast
According to Show Hope, an organization founded to care for orphans, over eighty-one million Americans have considered adoption. If just one in five hundred of these adults actually adopted, every waiting child in America would have a permanent family. Every year more than 23,000 children age out of foster care, leaving them without families of their own.
Why is this subject not given more attention in our churches and why does it seem that non Christians are more enthusiastic about adoption than professing Christians? Why are there so many cautions given when parents start considering adoption? Are there things we believe about adoption that are not accurate? What is God's heart in connection with adoption? I believe that God is wanting us as a church and as individuals to become actively involved in providing homes for His children.
Recently, I spent a day with Strong's Concordance and read every verse in the Bible that refers to the fatherless. According to Strong's the word fatherless appears in the Old Testament forty-two times. The law teaches that His people were to take care of the fatherless, the widows, and the stranger or aliens. Based on Old Testament Scripture, God has a special place in His heart for the less fortunate. On the other hand, the only place the term fatherless appears in the New Testament is in James 1:27.
Here are three of my favorite Old Testament references regarding the fatherless:
Psalm 10:16-18 “The Lord is king forever......Lord, thou has heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: to judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
Psalm 68:4-6 “Sing unto the Lord, sing praises to his name, extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH(Lord) and rejoice before him. A father of the fatherless and a judge of widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”
The Hebrew word for solitary as it is used in this passage is yachiyd, which means “united, sole by implication, beloved, also lonely”.
Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Then we have the New Testament Scripture reference in James 1:27. "Pure religion before God and and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world".
The Greek word for visit as used in this passage is episkeptomai which means “to inspect, (by implication) to select; by extension to go to see, relieve”.
Is James just encouraging us to visit orphanages, nursing homes, and widows, or should we be doing more? Based on the Old Testament law and examples in Scriptures, I believe that orphan care should be done by the church and by families. It is easy to say and even believe that we should take care of the fatherless and widows, but it is much harder to take action.
We would rather keep orphan care at a distance. It is too messy and disrupts our schedules and life style. Instead of having this nice little Christian family, we are afraid we will be seen as dysfunctional and out of control. It is easier to support and send money to orphanages or other organizations and let them take care of the orphans.
While it would be easy to say all Christians should be involved in orphan care in order to live out “pure religion”, there are other Scriptures that tell us additional things we should be doing. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and others, not just orphans and widows. However, in Matthew 25, Jesus says he will judge us based on how we gave food, water, and clothes to the needy and how we visited those in prison. There is no question that God asks His children to be actively involved in caring for the vulnerable.
In his book, Orphan Justice, Johnny Carr makes the following statement: "Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children." I agree. Orphanages fill an important role in caring for the fatherless, but they should only be providing temporary care. The goal should be to get these children into homes. Not just any homes, but Christian homes. Both orphanages and the foster care program are designed to help and protect vulnerable children. What they do is necessary to orphan and foster care. I believe we, as Christ followers, should then step up and be willing to provide homes for these children.
The only orphanage I have had direct contact with has been the Light of Hope Orphanage in Choix, Sinaloa, Mexico. This orphanage is under DestiNations International and directed by Lenn Miller. Lenn says the following on their website, and I think he says it well:
"Here's an analogy that I believe puts it in perspective. What we are doing as an orphanage is like trying to care for fish out of water. Over the years we have tried to improve our care of the fish. Maybe before, they were flopping around on the cement, so we improved our care by moving them onto grass so they wouldn't damage themselves as bad. Then we figured out that they do even better by pouring water on them and keeping the grass moist. But we've still found that they aren't thriving.
"We're still trying to improve our care, and we should. But I'm convinced that they won't truly thrive until we find them little ponds. The ponds are homes. Not just any pond will do. They need ponds with the elements that will enable them to thrive. Those would be Godly homes. Christian homes. Many of these children are broken. They don't need broken homes. They need wholesome homes."
Our foster care system is trying to take care of the orphans and other abandoned or at-risk children. While it is easy to criticize Social Services and what they are doing wrong, they are doing a lot of good in protecting children and providing homes for them. However, Social Services is a government organization and they have a different belief system and point of reference than we have as Christians. This is why we need more Christian families to be involved in foster care.
I believe it is time for us as a church, as followers of Christ, to be willing to risk and open our homes to these children. Imagine how many children could be reached if there would be a waiting list of Christian families ready to adopt as soon as a child is placed into an orphanage or foster care! Adoption and foster care is hard work and the adoption process can be painfully slow and tedious, but if we delay or do nothing, these children continue living without a family.
Here are some questions we hear when we discuss or pursue adoption. These are only a few, but I would like to give some input on how I believe these questions have influenced and kept us from action.
1) Do you have any idea of what you are getting into? Maybe we don't know what we are getting into. This is not a decision we should make lightly, but we do this out of obedience and a love for God and His children. We need to count the cost and be prepared to work with hurting children, but if God calls us to adopt or foster, He will also supply our needs.
2) Why would you adopt when you have your own children? It is easy for us to see adoption as a second choice. Many couples adopt when they can't have biological children. We applaud them for adopting, and rightly so, but we start believing that adoption is the last resort or a secondary option. I personally believe that existing families with children are excellent candidates for adoption. What better environment for the abandoned child than an existing family with an established routine, culture, and identity?
3) I don't think I could handle adopting a child and then watching them rebel and not making a decision for Christ. I think this idea has paralyzed many of us from seriously considering adoption. The truth is if we don't adopt these children most of them will never have the opportunity to even know of Christ and therefore choose Him as their Savior. God is not asking us to make Christians out of anyone, including our biological children. When you adopt and foster, you are opening your life and heart to pain and possible rejection. But you are also opening your heart and life to so much more. Most adoptive parents I speak to today will verify this.
4) What if one of our biological children loses out spiritually because of adopting, especially if we adopt an older child? I believe that is the wrong question. The question should be, “Is God calling us to adopt, and if He is, can we trust Him with our children?” The same thing can be said for those who are called by God to live in the inner city or on the mission field.
5) Why are so many adoptions not successful? Let's re-define success. A friend of mine who works with troubled boys defined success this way: “Our job is to show Christ to these boys and if we do that, that is success. Their outcome doesn't determine our success.” My prayer for all of our children is that they all become Christians and embrace our beliefs. But their decision alone does not determine success. When fostering and adopting children, we love them as Christ loved us and trust God to help us do it well. We all know this, but it is sometimes hard to separate the outcome from success.
Early in our adoption process we attended an adoption seminar. One of speakers at the seminar was adopted as an older child and is now married with sixteen children, two by birth and fourteen by adoption. One of her teenage daughters was sitting in front of us. She was from Ethiopia and I couldn't help but notice the dyed streaks in her hair. I immediately wanted to put her in the "definitely rebellious and not successful" category.
After the talk, I spoke with the daughter and was blessed by her positive attitude and the way she related to both me and her mom. Here was a child who didn't have much chance of a successful and productive life, but someone invested and took the risk of adopting. This girl has now grown into a respectful and productive individual who belonged. I could not label this as “not successful”. This is an example of where I initially allowed my preconceived ideas to judge unfairly.
The Psalmist creates a beautiful picture of family in Psalm 127, when he writes:
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
God is the one who designed children to be in families. He designed the father to be the mighty warrior who protects and guides the arrows.
God is still in the business of building homes. Some children are in orphanages or the foster program because their parents died or were killed. Others have been abused or abandoned by those who were supposed to protect them. Some are handicapped and need extra care. Some are HIV positive or have mental handicaps.
These children are the arrows and are waiting for someone to pick them up. If we as Christians don't pick them up and take them into our homes, someone else will. Satan has people watching for these vulnerable arrows. He will use child traffickers, prostitution, gangs, drugs, alcohol, and many other tactics to further damage these arrows. God wants us Christians to pick up these arrows and give them homes.
God has called all Christians to be a part of building His kingdom. One of those ways is caring for the fatherless and widows. Is God calling you to be involved in adoption and foster care as a way of building His kingdom? Building His kingdom requires obedience. Obedience requires faith. Faith begs us to risk and step into the unknown and trust God. As Christians, God has adopted us into His family. God doesn't ask us to do this perfectly and He allows us to make mistakes. And while we wait and do nothing, the homeless are still homeless, and the orphans are still orphans. Is God asking you to step out in faith and risk for “one of these”?
All Scriptures quoted from KJV
Show Hope statistics from www.showhope.org
Carr, Johnny, Orphan Justice, p. 63
Miller, Lenn, “'Fish' out of Water”, http://www.dnimexicoteam.com/adoption.html
Picture Jesus with His twelve disciples. They had left the comfort of Galilee, the comfort of family and friends, of the like-minded (Jewish) and friendly, to trek twenty-five miles north. They walked away from Capernaum, the hub of Jesus’ ministry, bound for the city of Caesarea Philippi on the border of the Gentile world. Philippi was a city that Phillip built for one of the Caesars. It sat at the base of Mount Hermon and claimed one of the largest springs that fed the river Jordan.
The abundant water and fertile land attracted many religious sects who built temples in the area. In fact, the spring emerged from a cave which became the center of pagan worship. It was in this place that Jesus asked two very important questions. The first question is found in Matthew 16:13:
"Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" On the surface this seems like a benign question. I can imagine them just outside the pagan temples, possibly surrounded by many pagan worshippers. Perhaps some of them were even listening in on the conversation?
And so His disciples started answering, "Some say you are John the Baptist. We remember King Herod propagating that myth! Others say you are Elijah, the great prophet! Others say that you are Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets." The twelve did not just imagine this. In Luke 9 we see that Herod had also heard all these things and was questioning them.
Brothers and sisters, fellow laborers for the King, in our world today if we ask this same question about Jesus, we will get just as many varied answers as Jesus got! My question is, how do we respond?
I love what Jesus did. He did not leave them “hanging.” He did not let their answers go unanswered. He asked them the most important question we can ask people. "But who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15) Jesus wasn’t satisfied with them quoting others' opinions; He went to the heart. He made it personal!
More and more I am seeing that when I deal with people and issues, it is very helpful to have them verbalize the issue at hand. Once they do, it seems to internalize and settle whatever is going on inside. And I believe that is what Jesus is doing here. He wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they understood who He was!
And Peter did not disappoint. "Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (Matt. 16:16). The Christ, Anointed One; the Messiah! Not a prophet; not Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist, but the Messiah! A very clear, concise answer!
I wonder how many people will miss Heaven because I did not “close the sale.” Maybe it was fear that kept me from pressing in; maybe ignorance, feelings of doubt or insufficiencies. Whatever the case, I left them hanging and can only trust in the grace of the Father.
Fellow laborers, let’s not faint in the task that we have been called to. Let us be as bold as Jesus and as confident as Peter! Let us not fear man, but keep pressing in until the harvest is complete!
Planting a church is an adventure, a journey, a process, a series of steps one after another. Jesus encouraged us to count the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:28). Surely this principle applies as well to the vision of planting a new church.
The following is an attempt to outline the steps a church planter often encounters in the journey of planting a new church. It is not an exact template that we can mechanically follow in the process. God loves and uses a variety of personalities, gifts and ideas as He pleases. At the root of everything is total surrender to the will of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Without that continual surrender, nothing “works.”
May God guide as you “survey the terrain” and “count the cost” of planting a new church. May He fill you with hope, courage, vision and faith to dare and to do for His pleasure. May He wonderfully demonstrate through you His ability “…to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” for His glory” (Eph. 3:20 ESV).
When I was much younger, my friends and I would often drive our motorcycles at dangerous speeds, seeing how low we could get as we went around curves in the road. I wrecked my bike one time, with only minor injuries. Some of my friends were not so fortunate however, and experienced serious injuries. Some are still suffering today from the injuries they received back then.
There I've finally introduced the topic - suffering. All of us have suffered from ill-made decisions, be it relationships, how we spend our money, extreme sports, cheating at school and in our taxes. I think most of us would say there is little merit in suffering for the causes we mentioned above, other than helping us learn valuable life lessons. It does little to help point people to Jesus and to see His kingdom advanced.
The next tier of suffering is one most of us are also familiar with. It is suffering from the hard things that life brings: death, sickness, loneliness, etc. These sufferings are often difficult for us to understand because we can't quite see how this could be part of God’s good plan for us. And so we struggle to understand how God could be good in the midst of our suffering.
But there is yet another tier of suffering that I think we need to keep in mind. So far, both kinds of suffering I have mentioned are experienced by both believers and non-believers alike. In fact, the believer has the advantage over the unbeliever when experiencing these kinds of sufferings.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 says: “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.” We grieve, yes, but in the midst of our grief we can still have hope. Not only do we have hope, we have a loving Father that uses these painful situations to refine us, to make us more like Jesus. When we respond to these extremely difficult things with hope, the world takes notice; it can be a powerful testimony to point people to Jesus.
But unfortunately, many believers stop right here. We are grateful that Jesus walks beside us in our sufferings, but we don’t often ask ourselves how we might walk alongside Jesus in His sufferings. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
These sufferings seems to be different from the first two types of suffering in one main way – they come as a direct result of choosing to follow Jesus. Somehow, we have come to think that simply trusting in God’s goodness despite the hardships we face, is taking up our cross and following Jesus. But we have already seen how that following Jesus actually gives believers a distinct advantage over the unbeliever. Can we call having an advantage in life, cross-bearing?
What if the kind of suffering that is precious in God’s sight looks a lot more like Jesus’ own journey? J.H. Yoder in The Politics of Jesus writes: “The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus’ constantly reiterated free choice. He warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs (Luke 14:25-33)” (p. 129).
What is our view of suffering? Do we follow Jesus mainly for the help He provides us to get through the hardships of life (and He does!), or do we, like Jesus, like Paul, see the way of the cross as the means by which His kingdom advances? How we answer that question will dramatically affect the course of our lives.
Imagine that overnight all Christians became expert evangelists. The next day, all of us went forth boldly proclaiming Jesus to all of our friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. Surely, it wouldn’t be long until every person on the face of the earth had heard the gospel, right?
Unfortunately, no. Although it might be hard for us to imagine, there are some people so removed from the Gospel and isolated by barriers of language and culture that they still wouldn’t hear the Good News even if every Christian actively shared Jesus with everyone they know.
These people are Unreached People Groups (UPGs). Although other, more technical, definitions exist for UPGs, I like this one because it helps us see people and places rather than just numbers and statistics. The majority of UPGs live in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. However, surprising numbers of these people have moved west to North America.
If it’s hard for us to imagine a village in the mountains of Nepal having no contact with Christians, it is much more difficult to imagine that, behind the drawn curtains of the apartment building beside Walmart, lives a woman who is just as unreached as her relatives in the Himalayans.
THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR
When immigrants or refugees move to the United States and Canada, they inevitably come with high hopes for a new life. They want something better for their children, and they are determined to do what they can to make their dreams a reality. Some of them press on courageously for years – overcoming tremendous hurdles. Others gradually lose hope that their own lives will ever be rich and meaningful. They abandon language study and throw themselves into working hard to provide for and protect their children. They spend years in jobs that most of us would barely endure for a season, going only from home to the workplace and back again.
Still others seek out friends from their homeland and sequester themselves in communities where they can shop at an Indian grocery store, eat at an Indian restaurant, and work at an Indian-owned hotel. These people enjoy their lives and surround themselves with friends, but like the others, they remain unreached unless someone reaches across the barriers of language and culture to bring them the Gospel.
COMING TO US - GOING TO THEM
These unreached peoples in North America do have one advantage over their friends in the homeland. They could decide to go to church if they wanted to. However, even if I can imagine myself a refugee in Egypt, I cannot imagine myself walking into a mosque with an open, seeking heart, much less finding anything in the Arabic words and unfamiliar rituals that would draw me back again. No matter how sincerely I went, without understanding, I would never embrace Islam. Plus, I wouldn’t go to a mosque if I were spiritually seeking, anyway. Even if I had wandered from my Christian upbringing, in a foreign land and already uprooted from everything familiar, I would go back to my roots. I would search out a church. I would try to fill my hunger in the ways familiar to me.
How can we expect anything different from the refugees in our towns? Their lives have been shaken, and though they seek peace and truth, they will tend to look for it in the places they have been taught to look. Does this mean their ears are deaf to the Gospel? Not at all! Even while they turn back to the religion of their childhood, they may realize that this religion has disappointed them. But where else can they go with their questions?
They can go to a Christian friend who has extended generous love and hospitality. They can go to a church that speaks their mother tongue. They can seek for answers in a Bible translated into their own language. They can find truth in a Christian home.
But they will not have these opportunities unless the Christian friend extends love and hospitality, opening their home to someone different from themselves. They cannot go to a church that worships in Arabic unless Arabic-speaking Christians haven’t been isolated as single converts in English-speaking churches. They can’t pick up an Arabic Bible unless it’s there on the shelf beside the English one.
It’s clear, then, that our responsibility as English-speaking Christians in North America is great. We have been passive for too long, hoping they will come to us. They have come – to our neighborhoods – but it is up to us to invite them into the Kingdom of God. We must actively seek ways to befriend and help the foreigners among us. This isn’t as hard to do as it sounds. We must open our doors, move out of Christian enclaves into cities, study a new language, and order Bibles in Hindi and Turkish and Arabic and Cantonese.
If we wait for the day we all wake up feeling unusually evangelistic, we’ll be waiting a long time. And even that won’t be enough. The Great Commission has always required action, intentionality and sacrifice. Go. Preach. Disciple. Do it in the uttermost parts of the earth. And do it here – in Ephrata and Mechanicsburg, Sarasota and Warsaw.
--H.L. (from a recent Near and Far issue)