Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Christmas is Love

I think the Incarnation is loving.  If you're not familiar with the term, Incarnation is a technical theological term for God coming in the flesh in Jesus Christ.  The second person of the Trinity actually became a human.  The equation goes something like this:  100% God + 100% Man = 100% Jesus.  It's a little mind-boggling, but so it goes with God.

And I think that's an incredibly loving thing for God to do.

Here's why:  the Incarnation was loving because the Crucifixion was coming.

If God, in Jesus, didn't take on flesh, then no human could be saved.  There's an old theological maxim that goes like this:  what is not assumed cannot be saved.  In other words, God had to become a human to save humans.  That's reflected in the passage I preached Sunday - "He had to be made like his brothers" (Heb. 2.17).  Another translation says, "It was necessary for Him..."

Beautiful.  God became one of us to save us.

The Incarnation was loving because the Crucifixion was coming.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 12.22.13, on Hebrews 2.14-17

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, 12.22.13, the last Sunday of Advent.  You can get these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  You can also download the audio via our podcast on iTunes.

Love at Christmas
Hebrews 2.14-18



Christmas shows God’s love.
·      You cannot separate the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus
·      God’s love gets focused at the cross
·      The cross is God’s permanent answer to the ongoing question

Christmas means the fear of death is destroyed (v.14-15).
·      Because of the cross, we can live forever
·      Death is no longer a curse – it is release
·      The cross is God’s permanent answer to the unknown of death

Christmas means the distance is spanned (v.17).
·      The high priest mediated the relationship between God and His people
·      Propitiation:  turning away God’s wrath by just destruction of the offense
·      The cross is God’s permanent answer to the question of forgiveness

Christmas means help is certain (v.16,18).
·      There is nothing you go through that Jesus doesn’t know
·      The cross is God’s permanent answer to the question of care

He loved us so much that He…

Destroyed our greatest fear
Dealt with our greatest problem

Decided never to leave us alone

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Irony of Affluenza

If you have had your head under a rock for the past few days, you missed the Affluenza Defense set out by the defense attorneys of 16-year old Ethan Couch, who was found guilty of going for more beer (they had already stolen some from Walmart) in his dad's pickup whereafter he crashed and killed four people.  Here's a NY Times piece on it.

It's terrible.

Here's what's worse.  The judge in the case bought the defense's argument for a lesser sentence because poor Ethan Couch hadn't had a mommy and daddy who snatched him up and busted his tail every so often when he got mouthy or out of line.  Because his parents didn't set boundaries, they argued, Ethan Couch didn't know how to act in society.

And the judge bought it.  Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to probation and a stay at a long-term rehab facility.

And the irony:  by letting the kid off with probation and rehab, the judge has participated in and perpetuated whatever state of stupidity and irresponsibility Ethan Couch lives in.

And that's just wrong.  Four people are dead.  And a rehab facility has another celebrity-ish client.

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Praying for Adoption Stuff

We have some great friends.  Seriously.

I have a couple of friends in the doctoral program I'm in that have emailed to say they're praying for us and how to pray more specifically.  Tons of folks on Facebook have prayed, bought shirts, and asked how to pray specifically.  People at church who aren't on Facebook have done the same.  Ministry friends from Kansas and Missouri have jumped in on the prayer and support thing.  Friends, family, and friends who pretty much are family have rallied and prayed and shared.  The adoption community has shared our situation and opportunity and many have emailed to say they're praying and some have bought shirts.

On and on I could go.

So just in case you're wondering, here are some specific prayer requests:

1.  We're waiting on a key piece of paperwork called the Letter of Acceptance/Approval (I've heard it both ways, but the key is LOA).  The short reason why it's important:  it readies us to begin the visa and travel process.  We've asked for expedited everything.  It's a mountain.  But God moves mountains.

2.  We're praying for health for Maggie Mei.  Her diagnosis is pretty severe.  But heart conditions bend to the authority of Jesus.  Even now, God can send forth His word and heal her (Psalm 107.20).  It's a mountain, but mountains were formed by and they relocate at the Lord's bidding.

3.  Monday the Queen is meeting with a cardiologist.  You can pray we get good information and get answers to any number of questions we have.  Again, a mountain.

4.  We're praying and invite you to pray along with us for a travel date for January 17th.  If not, we get stuck behind Chinese New Year and offices being closed and so forth.  This is an Everest.  But since we're asking for big things, we figured we go ahead and put that out there.

Thanks for praying.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sermon Notes for Sunday, 12.15.13, on Hebrews 12.1-3

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, December 15th, on Hebrews 12.1-3, as part of the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy.  You can get these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  You can also download the audio via our podcast on iTunes.

Christmas 2013
Third Sunday of Advent:  Joy
Hebrews 12.1-2

God is after our JOY
·      God desires your JOY for His glory
·      God commands JOY for all sorts of people
·      God pursues JOY for all sorts of people – Beatitudes

Jesus acted for His JOY
·      Jesus made the trade of heaven for earth in the Incarnation
·      Jesus endured the trial of the cross in His crucifixion

Application

The promise of joy helps us make good trades (v.1)

Two Good Trades:
1.     Trading for something we need (whether or not we know it)
2.     Trading for something we want

Two Good Reasons:
1.     What He Promises
2.     Who is Promising

The promise of joy helps us endure hard trials (v.2-3)
·      With Jesus as our example, we are called to endure trial
·      Staying faithful in the trial is possible because we know the joy promised

·      Joy of Lord is strength

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fear, Accountability, and stuff like that

I'm writing a paper for my most recent class on the theology of accountability in Jonathan Edwards.  Sound like a snoozer?  It's not.  Frankly, it's scared me more than a little bit.

I believe (and I think Edwards did too) that we must give an account to God for our lives.  It's not that we won't be covered by the blood of Jesus for our sin.  It's that we must give an account.  Edwards' last official sermon to his people at Northampton after they fired him was about how they and he must stand before God on Judgment Day to give an account for how the ministry was done and how the minister was treated.  That's courage.  Or conviction.  Or both.

Consider these verses, see if they place an appropriate amount of fear in you:

He who made the ear, does He not hear?  He who made the eye, does He not see? (Ps. 94.9)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5.10)

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account (Heb. 4.13)


And there are many, many more.  Sin is tempting, but remember that accountability is real.  And that kind of fear is good in preventing us from sin and pushing us toward holiness.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Raising Funds for Our Adoption

To all faithful blog readers and lovers of our family:

We have great news on the adoption scene and it is moving forward as fast as things move like this.  Paperwork is being processed and we hope to have even more news in the coming weeks.  Unless God intervenes in a New Testament Miracle kind of way, it doesn't look like our Maggie will be home by Christmas.  There's some hurt in that but some trust too.  Hopefully the latter outweighs the former in our hearts.

Because things are tracking on along quickly, we're asking for anyone who wants to help out to help out.  There are two basic reasons we're reaching out like this now:

First, with our Peanut, we had 18+ months to work to save.  That allowed us to more or less pay cash for the fees, etc., that went along with the adoption.  We obviously don't have that luxury of time here.  We're at 18 weeks in the process with about 8-12 more to go.  But that doesn't add up to 18 months.  Our capacity to work and save is hindered by the calendar.  As a brief aside, some may want to know why are we pushing so hard on getting her home.  The answer is because of her heart condition, she needs immediate medical attention.  We could burn through our savings to get her, but we also anticipate needing substantial money for her medical needs.  So we're asking for help.

Second, we want to invite people into the process with us.  So many celebrated Peanut's homecoming and dedication in 2009.  But not many got to participate in the earlier stages.  This is an opportunity to do so.  The things we have done and are doing (like the garage sale that many of our friends and neighbors jumped in on) are designed to help people feel like they are working with us, participating with us in the project to Bring Maggie Home, our rallying cry.

So, the calendar and participation.  That's our heart.  So here are the details:

Our estimation of total expenses for the adoption is around $35,000.  We're about $12,000 into that already and have been able to meet all our expenses from working, garage sale, and a few donations.  We're not trying to cover all the rest, but as much as possible.

One big way you can help is purchase a t-shirt.  You see the link in the top right of this blog and here is a link to my wife's post about it.  Husbands, it's a great Christmas idea for the wife.  Trendy and stylish and with a good cause attached.  Again, we're about participation - we want you to know (and others to know too!) that you're helping do something that changes the world.

The other big way you can help is by sharing the info about it.  If you run a blog, you can copy the code in the text box and put that in your blog.  Please tweet info about it.  Please share it on Facebook.  Everything you can do to help is a huge blessing to us.  100% of the proceeds go to Bring Maggie Home.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thoughts for a Thursday

Quotable:
"Sweeping generalizations about the poor act like a a cancer that destroys our compassion and generosity...Often, we figure they don't deserve our help, but that is not the issue.  After all, Jesus loves us and died for us even though none of us is deserving of it...Here's the irony:  we judge families who get government help while we fail to help those very same people.  On top of that, we often advocate shutting down the very social programs that keep their kids from starving.  If the government discontinued all welfare programs tomorrow, I'm not sure we would be ready, willing, or able to help all of the people in need in our communities."  ~ Johnny Carr, Orphan Justice, p. 93
Something worth thinking about.


P.S.  As a quick note, I am finding that posting thought-provoking quotes like the one above out of a book or article I'm reading or have read is a worthwhile conversation starter.  Agree or disagree with anything in the quote, I hope it provokes thought and conversation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A boring part of the Bible

Admittedly, not every part of the Bible is miracles and awe-inspiring.  I'm currently in the part that's not.  I use the M'Cheyne reading plan and I'm plowing through the Chronicles right now.  The first several chapters of 1 Chronicles are genealogies and, if I can be honest and still remain a pastor, ridiculously boring.

And so I was laying out the boring nature of these genealogies for God and reminding Him of how good a Christian I am that I don't skip these parts and He reminds me of two things...

First, the genealogies are roots.  They locate the story among a people.  Real people.  Real histories.  Real families.  Real happenings.  Real connections.  Real stories.  This is not some disconnected, golden tablet, angel revealed craziness.  The events happened in a real context with real people.  All of the stuff following in 1 Chronicles happens, at least in part, because Shimea met and married a nice Jewish girl and had Berechiah.

Second, the roots remind me that God uses real people.  None of them were perfect.  All of them failed the good and faithful servant test at some point.  But these were the people who perpetuated the Jewish lineage.  And, more specifically, these were the people who perpetuated the Messianic lineage so that another Jewish boy would meet and marry another nice Jewish girl, and though it didn't look like they thought it would, Joseph and Mary would be earthly parents to the One who would rescue us all.

When God reminded me of that, I had a little less attitude and a little more perspective.  Here's hoping you do too.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Comments on happenings (nothing profound)

So much is happening!  It's hard to comment on it all...


As bad as plagiarism is, letting yourself (if you are a journalist) become the story instead of telling the is pretty bad too.  Janet, are you listening?

If you can find a better ending of a football game on any level by any team than the Alabama v. Auburn game from this past Saturday, please send it to me.  Are you kidding me?  All they needed was for that Chris Davis kid to take out a guy playing trombone in the end zone.

My alma mater, Baylor, needs a mind-jarring, fog-clearing, confidence injection.  Ever since Bryce Petty got tripped up by that piece of turf and Shock Linwood tried to do something only a freshman would do, they're heads are not screwed on tight.  And Texas is coming to town.  Please, wake up Bears.

Advent is here.  It's my favorite church season.  Don't get me wrong, I love the message of Easter.  But I love the season of Advent.  There's a rhythm to it that helps people connect to something bigger than themselves if they let it.  And as a Baptist, we didn't do that as a kid nor until I really came to pastor at Heritage Park.  Honestly, I think we did it on a whim the first time.  We'll call that divine intervention.

This is an interesting piece of satire from Stephen Smith regarding some popular preachers and how hard and fast they draw the lines on men's and women's roles in the church.  An interesting piece, indeed.

I had a theology professor completely misrepresent another theologian in an email.  What the professor didn't know was I was sitting with someone who knew the other's material so well that there was chapter and verse quoted about just how wrong the professor was.  Dang I hate it when that happens.  It's like an academic beatdown.

If you haven't seen or heard the Christmas stuff from Pentatonix, you're missing pretty cool stuff.

That's all.  Enjoy.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Spot it! Game - family fun

If you haven't encountered the Spot It! game by BlueOrange games (what are they, Florida Gators?), you need to.  And now.

It's crazy affordable. ($12 or so)

It's hilariously fun.

My 6-year old has dominated both of her brothers and dad at some point.  Genuinely.

You get to play about a billion different games with it.  Tower is our favorite.

Did I mention it's fun?

Go grab it, and grab it now.  And laugh hysterically tonight as you enjoy hot cocoa and getting whooped by a 6-year old.

Enjoy - and you're welcome. :-)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thoughts from an Adoptive Dad who's doing it again (Part 3)

Don't lose your kids.

I'm not talking about accidentally trading them in for a 94" LCD LED flat-screen TV in Walmart.  And I'm not talking about being separated from them as you rush in to get ahead of everyone else for stuff that you will probably not use in a few years.

I'm talking about losing them.

This is one thing I'm uniquely and purposefully focusing on this time around in our adoption process. I don't want to lose my kids.  Our family is currently made up of two biological boys, an adopted princess, and a foster son.  I don't want any of them to miss out on the process.

I'm trying to talk to them about it.  I'm trying to encourage them toward thinking about it.  Especially the soon-to-be big sister.  I want this to be formative for them too.

I'm not sure they'll get the opportunity to travel to China with us.  I kind of hope they can, but the timing has to be there (along with the extra money to make it happen - frankly I'm more worried about the timing with school and other medical needs of our current roster).  With Maggie's health situation, I'm not sure there will be a huge chunk of time to sit around and celebrate when we get back.

But I don't want them to miss it.  And I don't want to lose them along the way.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts from an Adoptive Dad who's doing it again (Part 2)

As I stated in my last post, I'm writing mostly to adopting dads, though if the shoe fits you may certainly wear it.  And adopting moms, you can check out our family's journey and info and story at the Queen's blog.

What am I supposed to do with all the frustration that comes with adoption, especially overseas adoption?  Can I name a few, so you can identify some that might be rolling around in your heart?

Warning, gut-level honesty ahead...

If I'm doing something I'm supposed to be doing, why in the stink is it so hard?

And not marathon hard, but stupid, ridiculous, box-didn't-get-checked, hassle x 10,000 hard?  It's one thing, at least for me, if I accomplish something that was hard but had purpose behind it.  Some of this adoption stuff just seemed asinine.  Ridiculous.  Why was it hard like that?

Why does my wife keep looking and checking when the next set of matches is going to come out?  Doesn't she know it'll get here when it gets here?  It goes into the cycle of Check -> Disappointment -> "Nothing can comfort me so don't try" -> Get better just in time for the next set of matches to come out.  In her defense, the Queen has not checked even a single blog or forum this time around.  This is not me griping but identifying things that have been or could be frustrating.  Part of the difference, I learned last time, was with a pregnancy both husband and wife know (more or less) when the baby will be here.  With adoption, not so much - which is brutal on a mom's heart.

Why if other agencies don't follow "the rules" does my agency not play along by the actual rules instead of the printed ones?  If everyone is being unethical, is it unethical to play along? (especially when it could rescue a little one sooner)

Speaking of rescue, if I'm doing this and it's going to be spiritually beneficial, can't some other things in life break my way?  Hello?  God?  Are you noticing that I'm a pastor and work for YOU and yet I get my tires changed and the guy breaks one of the studs so that I need to get it replaced with time I don't have?  Just a little help here would be nice.

We read our little one's medical report.  But why did it have to be worse than what it said?  Were we duped here?  Or were those people just too overworked / overrun / overstupid to notice?  For the record, Peanut had more involved than we knew that we didn't figure out until we were there but we obviously wouldn't trade her for anything.

So yes, dear reader, you can ask those questions and let them expose your entitlement and weak-kneed, bite-sized, always happy faith like they did mine.

And then you do something about it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thoughts from an Adoptive Dad who's doing it again (Part 1)

My wife, the Queen, over at our family's blog is telling the story of how God has led us and has moved mountains for us in our current adoption process.  I want to piggy back on that this week to help out any adoptive dads (or moms) who might need another voice cheering them on in their process.

Today, I want to take just a moment to encourage dads not to be passive in this.  Typically, one person drives the process and the other is along for the ride.  In our first adoption (2009) and our foster care parenting (2013), the Queen drove the process.  I did my necessary paperwork and agreed with the direction, but it was a ride-along and not participatory - in my honest moments, much more so for the foster care than the adoption.  It took God rattling my cage with both to make me a willing participant in the truest sense of that term.

For the adoption, it was a picture.  For foster care, it was a story of a kiddo.  Both were heart-wrenching, what I call Divine Heart Surgery on me.  Until then, though, I think the Queen would say that she very much felt alone in the process even though I was accomplishing things that needed to get done.  Up until Surgery, she was flying solo emotionally.

Even if you don't necessarily feel connected to a piece of paper or a concept of a child, I encourage you to jump in.  Disconnection in the process is easy to do for men who have other kids, have demanding jobs, and who have this sense of a wife who's not content with the state of the family right now.  Jump in.  Even if you don't feel it at first.  Discipline yourself to ask questions.  Ask for ways to help out.  Make sacrifices to move things along.

On the other side, wives need to give some room for their husbands to come around.  That was a gift from the Queen to me.  She never quit the process, but she also didn't demand I be where she was (though she might have wished it).

Here's the outcome.  Adoption was such an incredible experience for our family that I wanted to adopt again from overseas (I thought Africa, though God had different plans).  In this particular process, I think it's fair to say that I've been driving as much (or maybe more) as the Queen has.  And I think that's part of the reason God is moving mountains, because we're both so earnest and zealous for this.

If you're an adoptive mom or dad who might need some help with this or another issue, by all means find a phone or an email account and make contact.  All of my information is accessible at Heritage Park [dot] org.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sermon notes from Sunday, 11.24.13

Here are the pre-Thanksgiving Sunday notes from Psalm 111.  You can find these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  You can also get the audio on iTunes via our podcast.

Thanksgiving 2013
Psalm 111


We give thanks to God in His congregation

Question of structure v. spontaneity

We give thanks to God for His works

The works of the LORD are great (v.2)
They are so great they invite study
Studying His works leads to understanding His character
His works capture our attention

The works of the LORD are majestic (v.3)
They are so great they inspire awe 
Unless our head is so far buried, they will inspire us
His works capture our affections

The works of the LORD are remembered (v.4)
They are so great they impact consciences
God has willed this to be so and has called many to account because of it
God’s story is His demonstration of “gracious and merciful”.
Throughout the story, He’s working redemption for His people (v.9)
His works capture our allegiance



Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

There were plenty of people who died on November 22, 1963.

The President of the United States was one of them.  John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.  In public.  In the open air.  On film.  Next to his wife.  Brutal.

Who knows what the world would have become had he lived?

On another continent, another guy with the nickname Jack also died from complications related to kidney failure.  His brother found him.  No film.  No public.  No bullet.  No wife.

The world knows what it has become since he died.  Because he lives on his writings.  His life and his writings have pointed people to a better place.  His life and writings pointed to the importance of fidelity in marriage and joy in suffering.  His life and writings pointed to the importance and influence of friendship.  Narnia.  Miracles.  Abolitions and Great Divorces.  Mere Christianity.  Reflections on songbooks and meditations on four kinds of love.

And this leads me to conclude, with no disrespect to the former President of his family:

Clive Staples Lewis > John Fitzgerald Kennedy