Adoption Update

Update: My friends, Gavin and Lorraine are in China now! As they pick up Joylyn, please pray for their travel, the family transitions and bonding and God’s grace to abound in everything. 

Bring Joylyn Home

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These are my friends, Gavin and Lorraine Kajikawa and their daughter, Brielle. After seven long years, they have been matched with their daughter, Joylyn and are preparing to adopt her from China in the very near future.

Adopt_Product_Shot_largeThe cost of adoption is steep. I can personally attest to that. But the Father loves to provide lavishly for the things near His heart. I can personally attest to that as well. One of the ways He provides is through the giving of His people. One of the ways that you can help is by purchasing a T-shirt. But not just any T-shirt. A cool-looking T-shirt with a great message on the front designed and produced by Zoe Clothing Co.

This is a rare fundraiser in which 100% of the donation for the T-shirt will go directly to helping the Kajikawas bring Joylyn home. This has been made possible by the owner of Zoe, a kingdom-minded friend of mine as well. If you would like to read more about the Kajikawas’ story and purchase a T-shirt (or two or three), you can click on their photo above.

What better way to celebrate the Father’s love in Christ’s resurrection this weekend than to support those who are seeking to be like Him through adoption!

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Seeing Christ in All the Mess

Last few thoughts on the book of Ruth…

This is a video that I showed to our church a few weeks ago. Sometimes life may feel the same way. Random. Disjointed. Single events or even entire years in our life feel like chaotic splatters of paint. God is in control but we don’t understand what he’s doing. We can’t make sense of the picture he’s painting.

At times, this is what it must have felt like for Naomi and Ruth. Living in a time of little justice and a great famine, they both lost their husbands, their security and provision. Random tragedies all strung together in a matter of a few years. In chapter 2, there is a reprieve. A man named Boaz provided for the widows generously. Naomi’s hope was that her daughter-in-law could marry this noble man and so concocted a messy plan to have Ruth propose marriage to him. The plan was risky and appeared risqué but it all worked out and Boaz agreed. Someone else still had the right to marry Ruth but he stepped aside and Boaz fulfilled the role of a redeemer.

Such a mixed bag of events. Hopeful ones and hopeless ones. Ones that offer safety and ones that are extremely risky. Ones that provide abundantly and others that take away viciously. How does it all work together? Is there meaning and is there purpose? Or is life just a series of random events? Some good and many bad?

According to Romans 8:28, God works all things together for the good of those who love him. All things, whether good or bad, God uses for his glory and in that our blessing. While the details of each believer’s story may vary, the hope for God’s good is always rooted in the same source. That hope is always in Jesus. All things lead us to Christ. In Christ, all things will be reconciled whether in Heaven or on earth. Even the seemingly random events of Naomi and Ruth’s life ultimately led to Jesus. For Ruth gave birth to Obed who eventually fathered Jesse who fathered Israel’s greatest king, David. That is until, Israel’s ultimate King, our Lord Jesus, was birthed from David’s lineage generations later.

Whatever you may be going through, know that the details of your life are not random. God has a good and glorious purpose that he is working out. It may take longer than you’d like but as you wait by faith, hope in Jesus as the guarantee that God’s love will prevail.

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Learning to Lament

A few more thoughts on the book of Ruth…

While Ruth is the primary focus, in many ways her mother-in-law, Naomi, is actually the one many of us can relate to. Naomi suffered great loss. She lost her husband and then she lost her two sons. This was devastating. The family name, land ownership and personal inheritance was carried on through the males in the family. So in a matter of a few years or less, Naomi lost her entire family, her housing, her financial security and her social security. She was utterly ruined.

If Naomi’s story feels familiar, it’s because we all know that tragedy is real. We see it everyday in the news and experience it personally on small and large scales. Ruin, loss and suffering is part of life. As Christians, we live in a broken world but we still have hope that God is in control. At times, this can be comforting but often times, it can create tension. How do we respond to a sovereign and loving God when we live in a world of ruin?

What does Naomi do? She laments. Naomi was a hometown girl and Bethlehem was excited to see her. Yet, when she arrived, they had a hard time even recognizing her. Life had been hard on Naomi and it showed. Naomi means “pleasant” but she no longer looked “pleasant.” Grief had taken its toll on her and she no longer cared. Naomi left town as the homecoming queen and the most likely to succeed but returned with nothing to show for it. It was humiliating but Naomi didn’t care. In response to the women who greeted her, she said,

Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?

Can you imagine going to your high school reunion and telling everybody this? Naomi didn’t bother to cover up her shame. She didn’t make excuses or put on a good face. She’s deeply honest. She said, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara.” Mara means bitter so in essence, she said don’t call me pleasant but instead call me bitter. Naomi’s words make us very uncomfortable. Laments usually do. Partly because they’re so raw. Partly because they sound apostate. Naomi was brutally honest also about her feelings about God – “God has dealt very bitterly with me, the LORD has brought me back empty, the LORD has testified against me, the LORD has brought calamity upon me.”

Rather than criticize Naomi’s lament, we should simply listen, for her honesty is revealing. Naomi still believed that God was in control. She was not happy about what he was doing but she still knew that God was sovereign and good. The tension between reality and faith was the cause of her inner turmoil. Her pain would not let her pretend life was peachy. Her faith would not let her deny God’s presence.

Through lament, Naomi was wrestling with God about her circumstances because she had no where else to turn. After many of Jesus’ disciples turned away from him (John 6:66-69), he asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter’s response? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” As hard as Jesus’ teaching was, where else would Peter turn? His faith would not permit him to turn his face from Christ. As hard as Naomi’s life was, where else would she turn? Her faith would not allow her to turn her face from God.

In his book, “The Hidden Face of God,” Michael Card writes,

He will take away what you perceive as your last hope, whether it is your place (land), your authority (king), or whatever might be the delight of your eyes (Temple). He will drive you to the wilderness where all your hopes will die. Only there can a new hope be born. To lament is to mourn the death of your last hope, to cry out, to complain, to wrestle with the One who promises to be your only hope.

Lament is deeply honest and it’s deep in faith. Some of us don’t want to go there. We don’t want to be honest about our situation or our feelings about our situation or our feelings about how God is directing our situation. Hoping to sound holy and faith-filled, we fail to express our true feelings in prayer. We want our faith to be neat and tidy, not messy. But lament is messy. It expresses honest feelings about our situation and about God that are uncomfortable because they’re so raw and unprocessed. We want to sanitize our prayers before we offer them. But that is not right. The Father wants us to be honest with him. Lament allows us to do so. Lament allows us to express the sorrow of our suffering AND stay engaged with the God who loves us.

Learning to lament has given me the freedom to express my frustration and my faith when things go awry. Rather than feed my sorrow, lament has helped me move past it quicker in hope of the unseen good that He is accomplishing through all things. If you haven’t ever offered a lament, give it a try. You might find it helpful and hopeful!

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World Down Syndrome Day

I didn’t realize today is World Down Syndrome Day nor did I know there was even such a thing. Either way, I am glad there is.

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Love is Foolish

Last month, I shared this story of the “Little Red Hen” with our church family. I think most of us can appreciate this familiar fable because of the important life lessons it teaches. Work hard. Don’t be lazy. I like it because there is a sense of justice. You get what you pay for. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

This story reminded me of Naomi and Ruth. In Ruth 2, both widows were confronted with a practical need: food. They had none and they were hungry. We’re not told explicitly but all things indicate that Naomi was depressed. She lost her husband and sons and returned to her hometown empty-handed. Even if she was hungry, Naomi had no desire to go out to get food. Rather than sit around and do nothing, Ruth acted. She traveled into the fields and gleaned whatever grain she could. Reaping grain was hard work. It involved endless hours bent over in the heat of the day gathering stalks of wheat. It was dangerous work. As a single woman with no husband to cover her, Ruth was vulnerable.

In some ways, Ruth was like the Little Red Hen: working hard, with no help. Naturally, we may wonder, “where was Naomi?” Naomi was older but probably only 45-50 years old. She was still capable of working especially in such desperate times. Like the Little Red Hen’s friends, she was doing nothing. At this point, I want to shout, “But, that’s not fair!” When it comes to things like this, don’t we always have a scale in our minds? I know I do. Minimally, the give and take should be equal. If I can give less and take more that’s called a profit. It’s not fair but when it’s in my favor, it’s a positive thing in my mind. But what happens when I give more and take less? That’s called a loss and when it’s not in my favor, it’s a negative thing.

The scale was totally imbalanced for Ruth. She sacrificed everything for Naomi: her identity, her gods, her safety, her comfort, her entire life without even a “thank you” in return. Then Ruth worked in the fields to provide for Naomi while she stayed home.

How would we feel if the story of the Little Red Hen ended differently? When the Hen asked, “Who will help me eat this bread?” and all her friends said “I will!,” what if she not only let them but also gave them so much bread that they had leftovers to take home? How would we feel about the story then? That’s totally unfair?! You betcha! Yet, that’s exactly how the story ended for Ruth.

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah  of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied.

Hesed is unfair. It’s totally unbalanced. It gives with no return. In fact, hesed is foolish, really foolish. If bankers managed their investments according to hesed, they would be bankrupt within minutes. Hesed is a foolish investment. Love, especially lavish love, always is.

Maybe that’s why I am afraid to love in this way. If I keep giving with nothing in return, what will happen when my love runs out? The reserves in my love tank can barely get me out of the parking lot let alone down the highway of hesed. If I love this way, I will lose everything. I will lose myself. It feels like a really short-sighted investment. It will and does feel foolish.

So why even try to love? Because this unbalanced, unfair, uncanny way of relating is the way of the gospel. Jesus literally gave us everything and got nothing but our punishment in return (LOSS). We literally gave nothing but got everything in return (PROFIT). His loss in our gain. Totally imbalanced. Totally the heart of God.

Because of Christ, the scales are totally tipped in my favor. In relationship to God, I have all profit and no loss. So when it comes to loving others, why wouldn’t I be able to suffer some loss for their sake? Why should I worry about the balance of the scales lest I be like the unmerciful servant who was forgiven everything but could not forgive (Matt. 18:21-35). God made a foolish investment when he showed me hesed yet I’m so grateful that he did! Thanks be to God that his foolish ways are not my ways!

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The Crucible of Love

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At our church, I am currently preaching through the book of Ruth. It is primarily a love story but not just about any kind of love. It’s all about the Hebrew concept of hesed. OT scholar, Daniel Block, defines hesed this way,

A strong relational term that wraps up in itself an entire cluster of concepts, all the positive attributes of God-love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, benevolence, loyalty, covenant faithfulness; in short, that quality that moves a person to act for the benefit of another without respect to the advantage it might bring to the one who expresses it.

Deep down inside, don’t we all long to experience and express this kind of love? This is something that I’ve been asking the Father for in my own heart. But, little did I know what I was getting myself into! For some reason, I naively thought it would be a simple and pain-free process. I thought it wouldn’t take long. That somehow, I could just swallow a “love pill” and God would instantly produce compassionate feelings within me. But that’s not how it works.

“Suffering is the crucible for love,” says Paul Miller, author of The Loving Life. Love is not created in a vacuum. It always has a context and most often that context is pain. Ruth’s story of love is spread across a landscape of suffering. Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, both lose everything, literally everything (Ruth 1:1-5). They lose their husbands. They lose their families. They lose their financial security. They lose their hope for the future. Yet, it’s within this real-life tragedy that hesed begins to take root and blossom. Out of the ashes rises God’s love for two widows and Ruth’s love for Naomi.

The way of love is the way of the gospel. If the cross of Christ was the crucible for God’s love to be revealed, why would the pattern be any different in our own lives as followers of Jesus? Ever since I started asking God to make me more loving, life has gotten harder rather than easier. Relationships have become more prickly than pleasant. My comfort has been disrupted and my confidence has faded. I am trusting that this is the context for hesed to be produced in my life.

Why is love produced out of tension? Because suffering reveals the log in my own eye that blocks compassion. Because pain highlights that apart from the love of God, I don’t have what it takes to truly love others. Because tension forces me to anchor my love in the riches of God’s covenant faithfulness rather than the fair-weather intentions of my waning feelings.

Naturally, most of us are adverse to suffering and seek to avoid it at all costs. But in doing so, we might miss the opportunity to grow in love. Yes, we avoid the sting of pain but we also miss out on the joy of love. After all, it’s through the valley of the shadow death, not apart from it, that God’s love is with us. I am slowly learning this lesson in my own life. It’s slow and at times, I wonder if anything is really changing. But by faith, I am learning to follow Jesus through the desert to learn to love like he does.

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