“It’s surreal, living like this,” I said to my wife Clarissa one day after she had passed the 37 week mark of her pregnancy. I was referring to the fact that our baby could come anytime (although it wasn’t likely).
It made me think of the times we are living in. By all appearances our Lord Jesus could come any day. Life is a mixture of knowns and unknowns, the definition of surreal. We know that Jesus will return in His glory but we don’t know when. Many of us believe and no one can disprove that Jesus could come any day. The anticipation is real. The fact that Jesus is returning is as real as was the fact that my wife was pregnant and was going to have a baby.
It made me stop and think.
There was a lot of preparation work to do when the baby’s due date was approaching. And even from the first day that we knew we were going to have a baby, there were changes to our lives. As the day approached the anticipation was high. Friends were often inquisitive and we eagerly awaited signs that the little one was ready.
There is also a lot of preparation to do for the day of our Lord. What am I doing to prepare? I think of three areas of focus. First, how is my relationship with the Lord? Second, how are my horizontal relationships? And third, how am I doing at telling others about my Lord?
In Matthew 22 Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast. The king had the feast for the marriage of his son all prepared. He invited the guests, those he knew, friends of the king. But they were busy with their lives, their farms and businesses. Some even killed the messengers. What about me? Do I get so busy with my life, with good endeavors, that I fail to respond to the Master’s invitation to commune with Him? If I don’t prioritize His invitations to daily relationship in the busyness of life will I be invited to His final Feast?
In Matthew 25 Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Day of Judgment. There will be a separation of all the nations and people. There will be those whom He will invite into the prepared kingdom with all its glory--no one will turn down that invitation. The reason for their inclusion given here is based on how they treated those around them. The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. And it goes without saying that how husbands live with their wives (1 Peter 3:7) and how Christians treat one another (1 Thess. 5:14, 15, John 13:35) are also important preparations for being invited to the Kingdom.
There will be others on that day of separation who will not receive the kingdom because of their failing to serve the ‘least of these’. Even he who causes a little one who believes in Christ to sin is deserving of death by drowning (Matt. 18:6). How well am I serving those around me?
And finally, as John 13:35 implies, our love for one another is a witness. There are a multitude of ways that we can share the love of Jesus with those around us. I am often held back by my own insecurities and defenses. Help me Lord to find my security in You!
Jesus said that whoever is ashamed of Him and His words, He will be ashamed of that person on the final day, when He returns in His own glory (Luke 9:26). Jesus said many things; He spoke about my identity in Him. There is a lot to hold on to, many blessings. There is also a lot not to be ashamed of. There is not a word Jesus said that I should fear to believe and live out.
I pray that I will prepare for the coming of our Lord by prayer and communion with God, by service and love to those around me and by being a faithful, Spirit-filled witness.
Written by: E.B.
As a boy growing up I remember a phrase that was often repeated when my family and the members of my community came into contact with unbelievers. The phrase was, “Let your light shine.” The idea that was contained within that short phrase was that all we needed to do was live righteous lives in front of unbelievers. If they were serious minded they would be drawn to the Gospel and then hopefully become Christians. I look back at my growing up years and realize that was the predominate idea that was engrained in my mind about evangelism.
Ideas and beliefs have the power to change us and cause us to act certain ways. What we believe about the way the Gospel goes forth and transforms people is what shapes the way we live and act in real life. Belief is never passive; it always results in actions.
I found out years later that the Scriptures actually taught that “faith comes by hearing.” In fact, the spoken word is the primary way that God chooses to activate faith in an individual (there are, of course, exceptions such as sign language for the deaf). As we reflect on our own journey of faith, we will realize that somewhere on that journey of faith we where exposed to the Word of God through its proclamation. It was the continued exposure to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that eventually caused us to commit our lives to Christ.
It is the spoken word that has the power to bring to faith the very ones we love and hold dear in our hearts, the people that God has called us to reach. God’s desire is to work in and through us by the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:12-13). It is the Word spoken by the believer that gives faith to the unbeliever.
If God has reduced the salvation of others to having them hear His Word, then it certainly has implications on us believers. With apostolic boldness, passion, and confidence we should speak the word everywhere, at anytime, to whomever God brings across our path. We should speak the word in cafes, gas stations, among our friends, in church and on the streets. We should speak the Word in any situation. There are hardly any situations where it is not appropriate to speak God’s Word, whether indirectly or directly. We should share it with whoever we happen to encounter.
I wonder what would happen around us if we lived this way. I wonder how many people would come to living faith in Christ. I can hardly remember a situation or encounter in life where I walked away and wished I hadn't shared God’s Word. Most times it has been the opposite.
Within the phrase “faith comes by hearing” is a promise. The promise is that faith will come! It will come when someone speaks the Word and another hears. This is an amazing promise! We can proclaim the Word faithfully knowing there will be a harvest. Although we don't know when or who will bring it in, the harvest is coming.
Romans 10:14-15, NKJV
"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!'"
Written by: E.K.
In John 19:21 we read, “Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, 'Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate refuses and at first glance, it seems as if he were saving Jesus a little bit of dignity. His being reluctant to consent to the crucifixion in the first place, offering Barabbas in His place, and then washing his hands of the matter, appears sympathetic to the plight of Jesus. To me, this text seemed to imply that Pilate believed. Is he (Pilate) saying he believes Jesus is King? In studying the context of the story the resounding answer is "no."
The cross was a scandal, a punishment reserved for slaves and rebels. It was not talked about in polite society. Therefore, Pilate is inferring that Jews were inferior to the Romans and that crucifixion is what one could expect for a Jewish king. He is mocking them, by juxtaposing the regal splendor, authority, honor and wealth of a king, to this naked, suffering, pitiful Jew who claims to be God. How spiteful, then, is his refusal to grant their request.
Now let's go back and notice a few things about the request. The chief priests were granted a certain civil power by the controlling Roman government and their power was challenged by this Jesus. They beg Pilate for His crucifixion, something that is not lawful for them to carry out, yet they are offended that he besmirches their nationality with the sign above Jesus' head. Beggars can't be choosers. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
Ok, enough with the clichés.The sign served to tell the passersby what crime the malefactor had committed. The chief priests wanted Jesus crucified, sure, but they also wanted to preserve national honor.
1 Corinthians 2:7-8 says, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
As the priests squabbled over the minor details of what they thought was a victory, and as the rulers of Rome made their point and breathed a sigh of relief that the oft-violent and rebellious Passover week was finished, both groups, using the world's system to monopolize power, had no idea that they had crowned Jesus as King. Later, Rome would fight valiantly to extinguish the quickly-growing movement. The Jewish leaders would fight it, too. In retrospect, how ironic that sign. "The King of the Jews."
Throughout Acts we see the apostles struggling against incredible odds, yet one senses their faith in the sovereignty of King Jesus. Jesus said that all power had been given to Him in heaven and earth. Yet He uses the weak of this world to show His power. If Jesus is willing to empty Himself of power, how much more should we? In closing I leave you with Jeremiah 9:23-24:
"Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord."
--Written by T.F.
Today many people think life is all about me. They compare themselves with others and they push others down in order to try to pull themselves higher. Quotes like, “Look out for number one; if you don’t no one else will”, or “Be the you that you want to be” or “Don’t try to be useful, try to be yourself” are common.
I doubt we’re in this group, but let’s bring this closer to home. Do we take credit for success in ministry? Do we compare ourselves with other team members and swing back and forth between “I’m pretty good” to thinking, “I’m a failure”? Is this focus on ourselves biblical? Is this life really about us or were we created for something greater?
In Scripture it tells us that this life is not about us but we were created for Christ and for His will. Revelation 4:11 (NKJV), "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created."
How can we get to the place where we can really say, “It’s not about me; whatever happens in my life has been allowed by God and is ultimately to bring glory to God”? I see at least three things that must be part of our daily lives if we are going to respond in this way.
Worship – Falling at Jesus’ feet and recognizing Him as Lord of our lives. I have been reading through the book of Job recently and have been impressed again with the whole dialogue and “contest” that was going on in the spiritual realm of which Job had no idea. At first glance, it seems that Job was a helpless pawn caught in the cross-fire between two battling opponents. Without warning he was stripped of his wealth and his children. His response? He fell to the ground and worshipped (Job 1:20). He recognized that this life really wasn’t about him. His position and wealth were given to him by God and He had the right to take it away if He so chose.
For Job, when bad things happened, his worship wasn’t an unusual response – it was what he normally did. I don’t see him trying to twist God’s arm to get himself out of this situation. He worshipped when things were going good as well as when things were going bad. He recognized that this life really isn’t about us – it’s about God.
Reflection – Realizing that we were created to reflect God’s glory to those around us. This life isn’t about us but about the one who created us. John Piper says, “The great sin of the world is not that the human race has failed to work for God so as to increase his glory, but that we have failed to delight in God so as to reflect his glory. For God’s glory is most reflected in us when we are most delighted in him” (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Reader p. 66). Do I delight in God? Am I reflecting His glory the way He desires?
Praise – An unwavering commitment to praise God regardless of our situation. It is easy to praise Him when things are going well. It is altogether different to praise Him when things are difficult. When Paul and Silas were unjustly accused, beaten, and thrown into the inner prison they sang praises to God. The result? God brought them out of prison; the jailor and his family became believers, and they gave a tremendous testimony of praise in the midst of adversity.
May God help me to recognize this life is not about me. I want my daily life to include worship, reflection and praise.
Written by: J.Y.
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