How Motherhood Begins, Continues, And…

Recently, I went through a study with some friends through the book of Nehemiah. I was reminded during the study of our journey to adopt and bringing Nehemiah into our family. Two years ago today, our lives changed with a simple phone call. We often joke how you never know what a day will hold when you wake up and this day is a reminder of that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Josh was preaching though Nehemiah when God changed the beating of our heart from {we will adopt someday} to {God is calling us NOW to adopt}. Our prayer through this time echoed that of Nehemiah: Break our hearts for what breaks Yours. And our hearts broke for the marginalized and orphaned…

After 6 months the initial paperwork was completed and we were accepted into our agency’s Ethiopia program, our desire was for an infant, just like everyone else. As the wait times increased we decided to pursue a concurrent adoption of an domestic infant.

We met a young birthmom, it would have been easy, she had been under the care of her aunt, had never missed an OB appointment, we fit right in with her and the family, and could imagine ourselves at BBQ’s with them all.

But she did not choose us.

A week later, we got a call telling us, “Come to the hospital, bring a car seat and some clothes because we have a baby boy for you!”

This situation was messy and would require so much more from us than we had imagined.

For our son, Nehemiah, God’s hand has been on him from before he was born. Literally, God saved his life. His birthmom was wandering the streets, she had decided to take her own life and the life of her unborn baby. Yet, God in his love planted a love in her heart for that unborn child which saved her own life and his.

The moment of adoption is surreal. So many things go into that moment that moves so quickly.

We found ourselves at the hospital, signing papers to become the parents of a child we had never met.

After we arrived at the hospital, Josh and I sat for hours in the cafeteria just waiting. We couldn’t talk, read or do anything, our hearts were pounding, just wondering what this boy would be like and how our lives would change. They were excruciating hours. Where all you can do is wait some more. You are so close, but you are just waiting some more.

We don’t know how he entered the world, in a fit of screams or a quietly and observant, he would be two days old when we got that call. He was little, born at 5 pounds and who knows how many weeks. Josh always joked that he looked like Benjamin Button because of how wrinkly his skin was and how he hadn’t grown into it.

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The birthmom’s first words to us were, “do you want to hold him?” The emotions in that moment were overwhelming. The answer was yes, but it was also so sad. We learned again in that moment the heartbreak that goes into adoption. Someone places a child for adoption. All situations are different, but adoption always has hurt in it at some level.

We talked with the his birth parents, took some pictures and just adored this little bundle. The birthdad left in a fit of tears, Birthmom went to another room to be discharged. And we were discharged with our newest son. We were in shock, and felt like we were taking someone else’s baby. Yet we were in love and knew that he was entering our family now.

Nehemiah entered our family and community seamlessly. He was little, but overall healthy.

It was the spiritual warfare that we felt during that time that was so hard. I remember waking up at night with him laying in the bassinet next to me seemingly terrified of him… the times of sensing someone else was there.

The tears that flowed after the endless meetings with birthmom the first few months, hearing her story of abuse and neglect, the oppression and demons that she had fought and was currently fighting. The birthdad spent time in jail, he only made it to one or maybe two visits. It was not clean.

The visits tapered off, partly because of our covenant and presumably because it was too hard for her to keep up her end of the agreement.

We have continued to pray, “Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours.”

We are living that, though it is easy to forget and whitewash our Nehemiah’s journey. I wonder now what to do for Birthmom, she lives in squalor, without a proper kitchen. What is our role in her life right now? But I don’t have answers.

I had huge prayers for her to turn her life around to see and cling to Jesus. Those prayers have not been answered as I hoped. In all, you are reminded that you don’t save anyone. This is what people often say to us, “You saved him.” They mean well and we understand, but we didn’t save Nehemiah. We can’t. He’s a precious child that God loves dearly and has great plans for us, but only Jesus can save him.

When Josh and I are asked why we adopted 2 kids, our simple answer is, “God adopted us. This is the best way we know how to show that the world around us.”

Our lives have changed a lot in the last 2 years. We’ve brought Judah home, Nehemiah is now a tank of a kid and into everything as he’s grown. He brings a smile to our face and loves kisses and trailing after his siblings. We pray that as he grows, he will be like Nehemiah in the Bible. That he will grow as a leader, to be a man, that has a heart that breaks for the things of God. That he in some ways, lives up to the name we gave him.

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Thom Rainer on 4 times when you should not respond to a critic.

As a general rule, leaders should respond to criticism. I do my best to do so, or at that very least, ask someone in my organization to respond. Critics, more often than not, deserve a response. They need to hear from the leader who can give them his or her perspective. They need to hear from a leader in the event the response can be an opportunity for reconciliation. But there are times when leaders should not respond to critics.

Cristina Fox on When distractions keep us from our kids.

One of the biggest drains of our time is technology because of the access it gives us to a virtual life. Our lives revolve around this access and its pull on us is strong. There’s always email to check, texts to respond to, statuses to update, images and videos to see or post. And they must be done right away (or so we think) — putting everything else on pause.

Ed Stetzer on Whether you should stay or go at church.

I, too, found I don’t get much out of sermons, even the good ones. Honestly, there is not much new content I learn at church. Finally, I am easily distracted and the slow pace of sermons let’s my mind wander, so I’d rather read a good sermon than listen to one. So, I could’ve just stayed home. But, I didn’t. And neither should you because our church involvement is not just anticipated (1 Corinthians 12:27), but commanded (Hebrews 10:25).

Donna Jones on 15 things you did when you were dating that you should not stop doing when you get married.

What what if celebrating Valentine’s Day didn’t cost you a dime and could actually re-kindle the flames of romance?  What if you could re-ignite the sparks in your marriage and make them last?  It might be as easy as taking a trip down memory lane and doing what you should have never stopped.

Mike Cosper on Giving up on church and the culture of contemporary worship.

I wonder, though, if Miller’s thoughts don’t say as much about our contemporary worship culture as they do about Miller himself. His description of a church gathering is two-dimensional: we listen to a lecture and sing songs that connect us to God. Miller says he stopped attending because he doesn’t learn from lectures and doesn’t feel like he connects to God through singing. This description of the gathered church is anemic and shabby, but it’s also the description that many American evangelicals would use to describe Sunday mornings. Rather than a robust engagement with God’s people, God’s word, and God’s Spirit through interactions with one another, songs, prayers, scripture readings, and the Lord’s Supper, we think of Sundays as merely preaching and music.

Love this song

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Top 12 Posts of 2012

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It’s that time of year again, time to share my top lists of the year. Tomorrow I’ll share my top 12 books of the year and on Thursday, I’ll share my top 12 albums of the year. Today though, it is the top 12 posts I wrote in 2012:

  1. Before You Criticize Your Pastor
  2. Accountability
  3. How a Wife Handles Her Husband’s Sexual Addiction
  4. Kingdom Man
  5. Q: Preaching to Believers & Seekers
  6. What “Be Still” Means
  7. Is Love a Choice or a Feeling (And Why it Matters)
  8. Responding to the Same-Sex Marriage Debate as a Christian
  9. Letters to a Young Pastor
  10. Meet Nehemiah James Andrew (Updated)
  11. One of the Most Misquoted Bible Verses
  12. Why We Worry
  13. Happy Birthday to my Beautiful Wife (Bonus Post)

[Image Credit]

Sermon Recap || Being a Child of God

Yesterday at Revolution Church, I preached from Ephesians 5:1 – 14 about how God being our Father is a good thing and what it means for God to adopt us into His family. How that happens and why that is one of the most beautiful things in Scripture.

We also personally dedicated Nehemiah in the service and I was able to talk about why we adopted Nehemiah and what that means for us as a picture of the gospel in our world.

If you missed it, you can listen to it here.

At the end of my sermon, I talked about a practice I do of writing letters to our kids. When they were born and each year at their birthday, I write them a letter. This letter chronicles the life of our family in the past year, what happened to them, what new things they did or discovered, how I see God moving in their life and some prayers I have for them.

My plan is to give them these letters when they turn 18 as a way of telling their life story through my lens, a history of sorts. My prayer is that it helps to give them an identity and ground them.

I wrote a letter this week to Nehemiah because of the dedication, but also because this morning we finalized our adoption of him. I wanted to let him know of this special day. I had a hard time not crying as I read the letter.

Here it is:

Nehemiah,

Today is a special day. You are 5 months old and today your mom and I dedicated you at our church. The purpose of this moment is very important to us, it signifies our desire to raise you in a way that honors God, praying that he will turn your heart towards his and you will follow him.

This is an overwhelming task to be sure.

It is also special for a personal reason. On the day that we did this, I had the opportunity preach on the topic of adoption. Not just adopting you to be a part of our family, but how and why God adopts us to be a part of His family.

I know one day, you’ll have a lot of questions about who you are. While this is normal for every teenager, you will have an added layer because of being adopted. My prayer for you is that Jesus will change your heart in such a way that your adoption is not a negative aspect of who you are. I know one day you’ll wonder why you had to be adopted, why we adopted you and not another child.

It is easy we’ve been told for adopted children to carry a chip on their shoulder towards their parents. Wondering if they need to perform to gain their love, keep their love, because they are adopted. I can tell you this is normal, but you don’t need to worry about that. As I was thinking about the sermon I gave at Revolution the day we dedicated you, we do the same thing with God. He has adopted us, yet we wonder if we need to perform to gain his love, to keep his love, because he has adopted us.

At Revolution, when a parent dedicates a child, they read a passage that is their prayer for their child or signifies something about the child.

We read Ephesians 1:3 – 6 that says:

Blessed the be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption, as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

The reason we chose that passage for you sums up our prayer for you and God’s plan for each person who follows him.

You may one day feel like an accident, feel like you were unwanted, wonder if your adoption was real, if the love your mom and I have for you is real. In the same way, many times, people who follow Jesus wonder the same things. Is my salvation real? Does God really love me like he says he does? Wondering if they are wanted or if they need to perform for God to love them, to keep on loving them.

Ephesians 1 says no. It says that your life is not an accident. The circumstances that surrounded your life are not accidental. Instead, they were planned by God to bring you the place he wants you, the place where you can bring the most glory to Him. First, through our adoption of you, and one day, God willing, through your adoption into his family.

The 2 key words in that passage besides the word adoption, is “in love” and “predestined.” Our adoption for you is out of love, not pity. We didn’t feel sorry for you. Instead, your mom and I know we are adopted by God and because of that, see how in Scripture we are called to live out this beautiful picture of his love by adopting. This is in love. I know as a parent, there will be a time when you are 16 that I will go back to this verse and remind myself that God adopted me out of love and I adopted you out of love. That’s okay, I signed up for that. I’m ready and as long as I’m bigger than you, I’ll win.

The other word, right after we’re told that God acts out of love is that he predestined us. He chose us. This passage says that before God created anything, he began a plan to redeem you Nehemiah, began pursuing you before you were born. Your life, the circumstances surrounding it are not an accident.

Finally, Nehemiah, my prayer for you has to do with what I said that morning. That you would be an imitator. I’m sure a piece of you will want to blaze your own trail. I’m that way so I’m confident I’ll raise you the same.

I told our church on the morning of your dedication that as a follower of Jesus, as a beloved child of God that we are to be imitators of our Father in Heaven. I pray that you grow up knowing you are a beloved child of God, a beloved child of your mom and I and that this love, this grace, this pursuit by your Father in Heaven defines who you are. Not your past, not your circumstances, not what you feel you are, but what Scripture says you are. That not only did we pursue you to join our family, but God pursues you to be a part of His family.

Love,

Your Dad

November 18, 2012

Have a Higher Expectation for a Man

Last night, Katie and I went out for our weekly date night for dinner and a movie. Before doing that though, we went shopping at Katie’s favorite story H & M. There was a younger couple (feels old saying that), but they were probably 19 or 20. She was walking around looking at clothes while he walked with her, talking to her from time to time and all the while he was listening to his iPod. Literally, he had his headphones on and periodically he would take them out.

I was struck by a few things. One, the low expectation she had for herself and the kind of man she should be with. And two, her low expectations of him and the man she was willing to be with.

At Revolution, one of the hills we have chosen to die on is calling me to be men. You can listen to some of the sermons I’ve preached on this here and here. For me, this is one of my soap boxes, her self image and expectation.

The expectation our culture has for men and our churches is incredibly low. It rests somewhere above our expectation for a household pet. Here is what I mean: I will hear women all the time refer to their husbands as one of their children and then they turn around and wonder why he acts like one. Or, wives will lead their families spiritually, emotionally, relationally, keep their families on track and balanced in terms of their calendars and then wonder why their husbands don’t lead (I’ll blog on this in a few days).

Here is one thing I’ve learned about men, whatever your expectation for them is, typically, they will reach it. No matter how high or how low. They will not shoot too low or too high, many men don’t like that risk. They will hit what you expect. If you call your husband one of your kids, he will act that way. If your expectation is for your husband to not pursue, not pay attention to you, he will.

Is it as simple as changing your expectations? No. If it were, then a whole host of “experts” would be out of a job. But our expectations feed our lives. Think about Monday’s. It is just another day, but most Americans dread Monday because they are going back to work, didn’t get enough done on the weekend, etc. Most people don’t have a great Monday, but they love Friday. Our expectations often feed our lives.

In churches, our expectations for men are so low they don’t come. And then we wonder why they don’t want to be involved in churches. We haven’t given them a reason to die. You read that right. Buried within each man is a desire to find something to give his life to. Carting a wife and kids back and forth is not enough. Ushering is not enough. He needs a mission that will cost him. In most churches, a man who reads his Bible stands out. A man on mission for Jesus is immediately told he should be a pastor. Why? It is so extraordinary, we don’t want to lose him.

Again, our expectations feed our lives. If we only expect men to show up because they drove their family to church, that is all they will do. If we expect men to serve, be on mission and die for something bigger than themselves, they will step up.

Have a higher expectation for a man.

I Actually Hear the Bible at Church

It’s funny what people will say about their church. Sometimes it is downright mean, other times it is nice.

I once had someone tell me they were leaving our church because “we used too much Bible.” I wanted to take them out front and show them the sign that said church on it, but it was 110 out.

One of the things we love to do at Revolution is preach through books of the Bible. One of my goals as a communicator is that in my lifetime at Revolution that I would preach through all 66 books of the Bible. A lofty goal I know. I’m sure I’ll save Leviticus and Numbers until I’m about to retire.

The other day I heard someone say, “At my church, I hear the Bible. We get into what it actually says and how it relates to life.”

That is awesome.

In the last 2 years at our church, we have preached through the Song of Solomon (a great way to launch a church), Jonah, Hebrews, The Sermon on the Mount, Nehemiah and we are in 2 Timothy right now.

In the next year, we will go through Philippians, Esther, Revelation, and 1 – 3 John.

I’m excited to see what God continues to do in our church as we continue to make the Bible the guide for all that we do. Sadly, as I meet more and more pastors, there seems to be a lessening in belief in the power of Scripture. It seems that fewer and fewer guys want to stand up and say, “here is what the Bible says and here is what you and I are called to live like.” There is power in that.

What I Learned about Life & Leading from Nehemiah

Last week, I shared 6 things I learned about life and leadership from preaching through the book of Nehemiah. If you missed them, here they are:

  1. Vision
  2. Prayer
  3. Calling
  4. Endurance
  5. Integrity
  6. Calling Sin a Sin

Being Like Nehemiah Part 6

We wrapped up our series on Nehemiah this past Saturday at Revolution. It was an amazing 22 week experience for me personally and for our church. I thought I’d share a few things that jumped out to me over the last year of preparing for this series and actually preaching it. A lot has been written about Nehemiah as a leader, so this might duplicate some of that, but I wanted to share some personal applications from the story of this man.

One thing that stands out about Nehemiah is his ability to call sin a sin.

In our culture where relativism and pluralism have gained more and more steam, many pastors seem afraid to stand up and say, “Here is what Scripture says about the way we are living.” No one wants to step on anyone’s toes. Now, I am not suggesting that we are to become the preacher on the street corner shouting about everyone going to hell (I’ve always found it interesting that when I walk by one of those guys I get condemned, he doesn’t even know me).

Anyway.

The book of Nehemiah ends abruptly by pointing out the sins of the people. We get this beautiful, idealistic picture of a church. Yet, chapter 13 takes place roughly 12 years after chapter 12. We do not get the hollywood ending. We get the brutal facts of being human. Men have started marrying women who don’t believe in the God of the Bible, people are worshiping idols, working on the Sabbath, having bad business practices, giving their kids in marriage to the wrong families and no one is doing anything about it. The key verse for me is 13:24 where it says the kids no longer could speak or understand Hebrew which means when they went to the temple, they couldn’t understand the words of the songs or the scripture. The men were no longer pastoring their families.

Nehemiah calls this out. He even goes so far to scorn the men, pull out their beards, beat them and curse them. For many, this is a part of the Bible they would like to cut out and while I’m not suggesting we beat up people who are sinning, I think we can take away the hatred that Nehemiah had for sin. Many of us no longer hate sin, at least, not enough. We have become passive and accepting of sin.

I talk to countless people who start with this question, “I have __________ problem and I want to be free, how can I be free?” The underlying issue of why they will never be free is that they don’t actually want to be free. They don’t hate it enough to find freedom. To live a life that is free, we must hate sin to the point that we are willing do call it out, and beat it into submission. Like Nehemiah.

Being Like Nehemiah Part 5

We wrapped up our series on Nehemiah this past Saturday at Revolution. It was an amazing 22 week experience for me personally and for our church. I thought I’d share a few things that jumped out to me over the last year of preparing for this series and actually preaching it. A lot has been written about Nehemiah as a leader, so this might duplicate some of that, but I wanted to share some personal applications from the story of this man.

One thing that stands out about Nehemiah is his integrity.

What sets any leader apart is their integrity over the long haul. Are they the same person at all times? One of my goals is for my kids to be able to say that I am the same person when I am at church and when I preach as I am at home. It is so easy to put on a face, but I want to live by the mantra, “What you see is what you get.”

I think integrity gets into whether or not a leader is comfortable in their own skin. Too many people want to be someone else. This is especially true for pastors. We see a pastor, hear what another church does, and we want to emulate that thinking it will be the magic pill. If I can yell like Driscoll, have the mannerism’s of Chandler, sit on a stool like McManus and have an accent like Perry Noble. The masses will come. The problem with this is that God only created one of them and he created you to be you. Nehemiah fulfilled the calling God had on his life.

So, what calling has God given to you? Not someone else’s, but yours. Be you, fulfill your calling.

Being Like Nehemiah Part 4

We wrapped up our series on Nehemiah this past Saturday at Revolution. It was an amazing 22 week experience for me personally and for our church. I thought I’d share a few things that jumped out to me over the last year of preparing for this series and actually preaching it. A lot has been written about Nehemiah as a leader, so this might duplicate some of that, but I wanted to share some personal applications from the story of this man.

One thing that stands out about Nehemiah is endurance.

It seems every leadership book, every pastor’s conference, even the Bible talks about leadership, discipleship, ministry as a marathon. Yet, every pastor and leader seems to think that it is actually a sprint. I understand the tendency. It is easy to focus on today, tomorrow or the next day instead of the next decade or two.

I think the culture in churches has become that if something becomes difficult, leaders start to discern that God wants them to move on to some place that looks easier. This gets back to calling. If you are truly called to something, endurance will be easier. Not easy, but easier. If you are called to something, finishing it becomes less of an option and more of something you have to do. When you set a goal of running a marathon, it makes it easier to finish when you hit the wall than if you think it might be fun to do.

I meet a lot of guys who act as if pastoring or church planting would be a fun thing to try. Those guys don’t last, it is too hard.

Nehemiah seemed to have the sense that he was giving his life to this endeavor. He had to have this attitude because the wall had been destroyed for 141 years and many other teams of people had tried to rebuild it to no avail. You don’t take on a task that daunting without knowing that you have to finish it. He gave up too much to think, “This might be fun.”

If you are a pastor, leader or church planter. Ask this, “Can I give my life to this thing?” If you can’t give your life to it, get out of it. We need to find something worth giving our lives to. I feel like if we do something that is not worth our lives, we are settling.

When Katie and I moved to Tucson we moved here with the idea that we would give our life to Revolution. From the time I was 19 I have prayed two prayers and one of them is that I would retire from the church I started (Revolution). Missionaries used to pack their stuff in coffins when they went to the mission field because they planned to come back to America that way. Imagine, what if Christians, pastors and leaders had that same attitude when it came to endurance. You will have to kill me, because I will outlast you.