While I often have my bones to pick with the Southern Baptist Convention, I could not be more proud of their 2009 resolution on Adoption and Orphan Care. May we be resolute!
Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I . . . was a stranger, and you invited me in” (Mt 25.34, 35c).
A recent Tennessee Baptist & Reflector article provoked me to consider whether or not the church takes Jesus seriously. It seems the 118-year-old Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes (TCBH) was forced to cut ministry staff (14 positions) due to a budget shortfall of $700,000. I make no concessions about the particulars of this decision or those making them. It’s one being made by hundreds of social ministries nationwide.
My argument is as follows. (1) There is a systemic problem that would lead to such a decision at all. I’ll assume Tennessee Southern Baptists represent at least a national Southern Baptist trend. (2) This systemic problem cripples the church’s pro-life efforts. And (3) churches should facilitate fostering/adoption as a far better pro-life strategy than political lobbying.
First, there is a systemic problem or spiritual blind spot that would lead Tennessee Baptist churches to cut ministry to estranged children. Tennessee Baptist churches undoubtedly and collectively spent billions of dollars on new facilities, technology and equipment in 2008. Yet, they cannot seem to find a (comparatively) mere $700,000 to take care of orphans. Jesus never commanded his people to manage property but did command the care of widows and orphans (cf. Jas 1.27).
Ironically, dozens of churches spent tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary flat-screens, playground sets, summer camps, children’s wings, and classroom amenities all in the name of “children’s ministry.” Yet, they neglect responsibility to the “least of these” in the name of the Cooperative Program, which is supposed to care of “those” people.
Jesus regularly passed by all the pretty people to get to the ugly people. He is not impressed with our Vatican-like compounds, despite how much of God’s “glory” we attach to them. He welcomes those who share their lives with hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, sick, imprisoned people (Mt 25.31-46). Jesus doesn’t suggest “social” ministry is necessarily gospel ministry. Jesus does suggest Kingdom people are not proud, nose-thumbing, money-tossing people but are humble, merciful, compassionate people who feel more at home with the homeless. In fact, he goes so far as to say the difference between them equals that between heaven and hell.
I’m afraid Jesus might very well pass by most of our churches to embrace the very folks our churches keep at arm’s length. I’m sure he’d pass by our children’s “ministry” complexes to find the children we don’t want.
Second, this systemic cancer hinders the church’s pro-life effort. Jesus and the world have something in common. Neither takes kindly to hypocrisy.
We parade around with our well-funded powerful pro-life agenda. We publish our videos, pamphlets and voter’s guides. We hassle our congressmen and boast that we’re “doing our part” to save the unborn. Then we cut funding and attention from the very sort of children we’re attempting to save!
Why would an abortion-minded mother bring her child into a world when the church who convinced her to do so will just turn its back on them? How can we boast of “saving” otherwise aborted children if we’re going to later restrain our support of them? It’s far easier to throw a few dollars at and spend a little time on a cause than to commit 18 years to a child. It’s easier being pro-life as long it doesn’t infringe on my life.
This leads me to the third argument.
Jesus does not prepare heaven for those who contributed money to organizations who feed, clothe, house, heal and care. He reserves heaven for those who – in his name – fed, clothed, housed, healed and cared themselves. You fed me. You gave me a drink. You invited me in. You clothed me. You visisted me. You came to me. He does not commend those who lobbied government toward better services. He commends those who assumed those services to themselves as expressions of the God of all grace and mercy. The church doesn’t farm mercy ministry out. It is the world’s mercy ministry!
I fear many will say when Jesus confronts them about their care for “these brothers of mine” (Mt 25.40), “Jesus, as soon as I saw that unwanted child I went straight to my computer and wrote a letter to my senator. Then I ordered an armband to prove my solidarity with the cause. And, I didn’t stop there, Jesus. I even passed out flyers for the pro-life candidate.”
Churches will say collectively, “Oh Jesus, when we heard about the TBCH’s need we immediately budgeted an extra $5,000 for better games in our children’s annex. We knew you ‘called’ us to do our part for needy kids so we stepped up to the plate.”
And I fear Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, accursed ones” (v41).
I submit the church’s dollars and attention are not well spent on political lobbying. It’s better spent on equipping its members for foster care and adoption. We may moderately impress the world with our protests and pamphlets. But we will get the world’s attention when we commit to fostering/adopting otherwise aborted, abandoned and/or estranged children.
We’ll prove how committed we are to the pro-life worldview when we go beyond platitudes and protests to the proactive long-term care for the children we strive to save at birth. We just don’t want children to be born, but to thrive and grow in the knowledge of the Life-giving God. What’s the point of saving their life if we’re not committed to helping them live?
If Tennessee Baptist churches don’t want to fund the TCBH then then Tennessee Baptists should show up at their doorstep ready to take one of the children home. You invite them in. Don’t expect someone else to do it. Don’t boast of your pro-life position when caring for that life long-term is an imposition. Otherwise, don’t complain about “kids these days.”
So rather than spending untold millions of dollars on pseudo-children’s ministry and pious political lobbying, churches’ dollars are better spent investing in parents seeking to foster and adopt. Hassle your pastors, not your congressmen. Lobby parents, not senators. Don’t budget any more money for goofy gadgets and powerless paraphernalia. Put your money where your mouth is and bring children home. Show the world that the church doesn’t have an abstract, lifeless agenda to push but a life-giving Jesus to share.
Jesus put his life on the line for the children God gave him (Heb 2.10-15). How can we not do the same?
For the first time in world history, we introduce to you Byron Dacus (DAY-kus) Maxwell and Abigail Faith Maxwell:
Only God is rich enough to repay all of you who participated in this glorious day. We pray he does so soon and with immeasurable grace.
But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent for the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4.4-6)
There is a fraternal relationship among those in the “adoption community.” Someone who is adopted is not generally readily forthcoming with that information. But when they hear that we adopt children they say, “Hey, I was adopted, too!” They’re glad to find company with others in the world of the “unwanted.”
That said, I venture today into the Gal 4.4-6 room. Adoption describes more than how I relate to God (or better, how God relates to me). It’s primarily that, but it’s not entirely that. Adoption also describes how I relate to my other adopted brothers and sisters in the family of Christ.
Paul uses precise language in Gal 4.5: we (1st person plural apolabomen) receive the adoption (singular huiothesian). We all share together in the same adoption. The gospel is the great equalizer despite our Christian classes (born-again, Spirit-filled, emergent, fundamental, contemporary, etc.). We don’t all receive our own specialized adoption that we hoard and share alone with God.
There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Eph 4.4-6); and might I add “one adoption.” We’re all born equally estranged from God and equally desperate for God’s grace to declare us in fact what we’re not by nature – his sons and daughters. When I meet another believer I meet an adopted brother or sister in Christ. We may not share the same sanctification progress, but we can joyfully say, “Hey, I was adopted, too! Wasn’t the day of our Father’s justifying grace a sweet day!” As vines vitally connected to the same Branch we’re also vitally connected to one another (Jn 15.5; cf. Rom 12.5; Eph 4.25).
Our oldest (and adopted) daughter Lydia understands this better than I even though she doesn’t know all the fancy language. She has two new siblings who showed upon our doorstep one day (literally!). She knows she’s adopted and she knows we’re soon to adopt her brother and sister. Adoption is a no-brainer to her as though that’s the way it’s suppose to be. She doesn’t care from whence they came or that people have to come “see” her siblings from time to time. She shares the same last name and that’s all she needs to call them brother and “Sissy.” Oh, to have the same childlike love for one another within the church!
Adoption is not a nice doctrine to describe God’s work of salvation. Adoption is the outworking of the gospel by which we all cry out to our common Father. Adoption is the gospel’s power to make otherwise estranged, unrelated people into one glorious, harmonius, peaceful family. Risking extremism, I dare say we can understand the nature of the church apart from the theme of adoption.
This came into sharper focus one night last week. We were sitting in the van waiting for Mom to come out of a store. Out of nowhere (from where all kid’s questions come) Lidi asks, “Dad, has Mom gone to get us another brother. We need another brother.” It’s just that easy for her! Moisty-eyed I said, “No, honey, Mom’s not gone to get another brother. That’s not exactly how it works.” A few minutes pass when another woman came out of the store with a son in tow (it was dark, mind you). Lidi exclaimed, “There’s Mommy with our new brother!” before she realized it was someone else. She caught herself and then asked, “Dad, whose belly is our brother in right now?” I know, pass the Kleenex.
I pray for the same eagerness for adoption in the family of Christ. “Our Great Heavenly Father, where is our new brother and sister right now? Where are you preparing them and when will you send us to get them? Please send us to them soon so we can welcome them into the family?” Maybe Lidi can teach me about that some day.
“. . . we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8.23).
New Year’s Eve 2008 will be much different for us this year. We would otherwise join most in an afternoon watching BCS also-rans and wiping Rotel dip from our chins. We will, however, squeeze into family court where a judge will declare our two foster children Maxwells. What God has done to orchestrate this so quickly is beyond explanation. It would be like trying to describe the thrill of the world’s greatest ride by explaining how the ride works. Even we are not quite sure of all the secret things God has done on our behalf. We only know he’s done it and He owes no further explanation.
If adoption were a house there are a thousand rooms to open. Each room has its own theme and contribution to make to the whole structure. We and our children will spend the rest of our lives opening new rooms and enjoying the Light each room provides. In so doing, we will see and enjoy more and more of Jesus. For readers of this blog, I’m afraid you might be in for a long season of adoption-themed meditations. You may grow quickly bored, but I pray you’ll remind my children to read them when they get older.
The room I open this morning is the “Romans 8.23 Room.” It’s a suite, really, with windows on every wall peering dimly into the glories of heaven. Paul declared that we are already adopted (Rom 8.15) but that we still await our adoption. The apostle is not schitzophrenic or contradictory. He’s helping us understand the already/not yet principle of redemption. Christ has redeemed us and will consummate that redemption in the last day.
In this life and age, those in Christ are indeed sons of God (v14). But we’re not yet home. We live in various places under various conditions. The church is a “sibling group” split up and under the earthly care of national boundaries, oppressive rulers, wealthy democracies, economic classes, sinful appetites, language barriers, and a million other “parents.”
Though we may share nothing else there is one thing we all share: we all groan to be home. We all wait eagerly for our adoptive Father to take us home. He’s long promised to do so. He’s paid the ransom, applied the downpayment for our souls and has prepared our eternal home (Jn 14.3). But our bodies are not fit for such a glorious place so they must die first and be raised. So we wait until that cosmic “New Year’s Eve” when the Judge of the Universe says, “Dear children, you’ve spent enough time in “the system;” it’s now time you come home and be with me forever.”
We can hardly stand waiting two more weeks for an earthly judge to make an earthly ruling. How much more eager should we be for the eternal reality behind it all!
While sitting on the window sill of this Romans 8.23 Room, I daydream about what God might be feeling as we groan and eagerly wait. We must tread softly and carefully here. We must never assume that because I feel a certain way then God must feel the same way, too. Too often we assume the “If I were God” mentality to can help us understand who God is. In fact, it was precisely that mentality that got is all in eternal trouble in the first place! We’re not free to trust our interpretation of our Unchanging, Infinite God through our fickle emotions.
But . . .
From time to time, Jesus does appeal to our experience as image-bearers of God in order to draw our minds to the nature of that image. This appears in some form as the formula “If you/it are/is like x then how much more must the Eternal, Holy God be like x.” For example, if Jonah would’ve died over a plant he had nothing to do with creating how much more should God care for the Ninevites he had everything to do with creating (Jonah 4.10-11). In Mt 7.9-11/Lk 11.11-13 Jesus said that if we evil parents inherently desire to give our children good thing, then how much more must our Holy, Heavenly Father desire the same. If God takes so much care to feed ravens and grass, how much more does he care for his children (Lk 12.24, 28). If a (biblically-minded) husband does not inherently hate himself, but knows to nourish and cherish his wife then how much more must Christ nourish and cherish the church (Eph 5.28-29).
With all humility and fear, I cannot fathom what God must be feeling toward those for whom he crushed his son. If I feel what I do toward my two new adopted children – for whom I did not die and who will die themselves one day – then how much more must God feel toward his blood-bought sons and daughters!
I cannot imagine eagerly awaiting anything more than our adoption finalization on New Year’s Eve, 2008 (of course, my wedding would be included but that’s another biblical metaphor for another time!). If I feel so soul-busting full towards a finite, earthly event how much more does God anticipate our eternal redemption? If God feels toward his adopted children to the an infinite degree what I feel toward mine then how can I stand one more second away from home?
I could spend all day in this room, but there are many more to explore. I’ll leave the door open, though, in case you want to want to wander around.
We love adopting children. With one adopted daughter (Lidi) we look forward, Lord willing, to adopting her aforeblogged brother and sister next year. Amy and I would’ve loved to have children biologically but God custom designs our sanctifications; therefore, we’ve increasingly delighted in his Maxwell-specific plan. Natural childbirth carries with it a glorious thrill found nowhere else. The same holds true for adoption. Both biological parents and adoptive parents can rightly exclaim, “You don’t know what you’re missing!” We’re thankful that God ordains both so all his children can glory in the gospel. Which brings me to the reason for this post.
I now pay more attention to adoption themes in Scripture. The gospel is a fabric richly woven with a thousand threads. You can follow one thread for a lifetime and would still not see the whole tapestry. And God has woven those threads in and out of our experience so we can touch, see, smell, taste and hear the incarnate gospel. Every good gift is sacramental and designed for the exaltation of Jesus. God has ordained we adopt children, so I love the biblical “thread” of adoption, so I can exalt Jesus more.
In human experience natural childbirth and adoption stand as mutually exclusive means of building a family. You either birth a child or adopt one (or both). But you don’t adopt a child you’ve birthed and you obviously don’t birth a child you’ve adopted.
So how does God build his family to exalt Jesus? Is one born into his family or adopted, because human experience tells me both cannot be true. (Seriously, these are the things I think about at red lights. . . please pray for me!) Yet in Scripture, both themes (new birth & adoption) explain how one becomes a son of God.
The answer to the question “Is one born into God’s family or adopted?” is “Yes!” Both are necessarily true. We are born again with a spirit of adoption. In Jn 3.1-8, Jesus explained to Nicodemus that he must be born of the Spirit to be God’s child (cf. Jn 1.12-13; 1 Pt 1.23). You must be born into the family to bear God’s name.
In Rom 8.9-17, Paul explained that the sons of God are those indwelt by the “spirit of adoption” (cf. Gal 4.4-5; Eph 1.5). You must also be adopted (i.e. have received the spirit of adoption) to bear the family name. Is the “spirit [or Spirit] of adoption” a different spirit than that of new birth? Does the Holy Spirit regenerate us than another spirit (of adoption) live in us? Of course not, they are one in the same Spirit. The Regenerating Spirit is the Adopting Spirit. New birth gives us life and adoption helps us live. New birth makes us sons and adoption makes us live as sons. Understanding both themes helps us glory in Christ’s gospel more.
I wonder if the “lost son” of Luke 15 illustrates this principle. He was born into this father’s family but disowned his father and natural standing. Years of hedonistic estrangement squashed any future claim on sonship (v19, 21). But his father “adopted” him back as a son with full rights and privileges thereof (an act of sheer grace because no law compelled to do so). Interestingly, the father explained his son’s return as being born again (v24)! The reborn, adopted son then knew the glory of sonship and cried out, “Abba, Father!” The older son, conversely, knew what it was like to be born but not adopted because he never knew how estranged he really was from his father.
What joy there is in being adopted! Whatever kingdom privileges we’re born with are quickly squandered with loose living (Lk 15.13). Like the lost son, we’re born dead. Our father, Satan, lied to us and abandoned us like slaves in the orphanage of sin. Before long, we like living in the orphanage and see no reason to leave.
But Jesus was born in the orphanage (Gal 4.4) and told us about his Father who adopts every child given to him. He told us that his children are not treated like slaves, but friends (Jn 15.15). He told us that God’s house is not a place to stay, but home (Jn 14.3). He told us that his Father sent him to lead slop-loving strangers home. Then Jesus broke the brain-washing power of the orphanage over us and gave us his Spirit of Sonship. And we forever honor our Father when we act like adopted sons, not merely redeemed slaves.
We have a court order saying Lidi is a Maxwell daughter. However, I pray she never sees it (although she knows she’s adopted). She doesn’t honor us if she obeys because a judge says she has to. And we will never appeal to the court order to force her obedience. She honors us most when she behaves like a Maxwell, when she acts out of the “spirit of Maxwell” that indwells her.
Further, we did not start loving her as our daughter when the judge signed the order. The judge signed the order because we already loved her as our daughter. She was ours long before the legal transaction was ratified. What a beautiful picture of God’s electing love and Christ’s atoning sacrifice! Our Father did not start loving us when Jesus made us lovable (at the cross). Jesus made us lovable because the Father had already loved us from the foundation of the world (Jn 3.16).
The cross was the Eternal Judge declaring what he knew was true from all eternity: he loves the children he’s chosen and he will stop at nothing to adopt them.
Thankfully for you, the light has turned green.
“While we were children, [we] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son . . . so that we might receive adoption as sons. . . . So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
(Gal 4.3-4a, 5b, 7).
We’re thankful for what God is teaching us about children, the State, welfare and depravity. However, we’re infinitely more thankful for what he’s teaching us about the gospel. We’re all grandsons of Saul, lame in both feet, and dependent on the King’s mercy.
I’m certainly no expert on foster care, but I didn’t want to waste these first impressions. So for posterity’s sake and posthumous disposal, here are my initial thoughts. They are subject to change without notice.
1. There is a world of darkness and depravity out there that my middle-class, white, suburban mind only knew about in pictures. Hell is real and gleefully torments the least of those among us. All the while, churches debate oak versus pine hardwood floors.
2. Our process has revealed a strange misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty among Christians. Many have said, “I don’t think I could foster children because you put so much into them only to have them leave one day. I couldn’t take that pain.” To that I’ve considered several thoughts.
One, it will and should be painful if it happens. We trust God will meet us with strengthening grace then. We believe God will help understand more and become more like Jesus through it.
Two, why not have the same perspective with biological children (or anything else for that matter)? Does God owe them another day simply because they’re genetically yours? As certainly as God may send our foster children back home tomorrow, can he not call your biological child home all the same? We must hold all God’s gifts loosely. Thankfully and joyfully, but loosely.
Three, God did not temper his commitment to us by the amount of pain that commitment might cause. If we only did those things that carried little-to-no risk of pain we’ll never know the abundant life of Christ (Phil 3.10).
3. The State is God’s gift for restraining evil and rewarding good (Rom 13.1-7). But it is not a parent. God intends the State wield the sword, not a rattle. More Christians need to be involved in fostering and adoption. I say that as a recovering pious snot who who not so long ago thumbed his nose at “those people who need to get a J-O-B.”
Christians spend much time complaining about the welfare system. We argue that its the secular government’s fault that kids are wasted and schools are dangerous. While that may be true in part, our inaction has demonstrated faithlessness in the gospel to remedy social ills. We’ve buried our heads in the sand, refusing to put God on display to the world. Fostering and adoption provide a tremendous opportunity to prove that the gospel-centered worldview can and will do far more than “the system” (much like Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship initiative in prisons).
This is not a political issue, but a spiritual one. You want to see public schools change in fifteen years? You want to see children who know more about God’s glory in creation than man’s glory in XBox? Don’t look to a secular government for help. By faith, foster and/or adopt. Multiply that perpsective throughout the church and our communities look much different in a decade.
Is our faith in the government or the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Do we believe King Jesus to be a far better caregiver than Caesar?
Not all Christians should foster and/or adopt children, but more should than do. Let’s not rush to couch this in terms of “calling.” We often justify disobedience to Scripture by claiming we’re not “called” to this or that (see Jas 1.27). There is one “Calling” and that’s to Christ (Eph 4.4). All efforts thereafter are outworkings of faith in that Calling.
Is fostering/adoption something you’d like to do? Do you have opportunity? Refuse to look on paper and calculate all the possible outcomes to all the “what ifs.” Don’t overthink it or you’ll never do it. Step out on faith, start the process and see if God prospers it. Be willing to put God on display for all your world to see. What better picture of the gospel could we paint for our communities than reaching into darkness to rescue helpless children from condemnation? This leads me to the next thought.
4. Fostering/adopting have helped us understand the gospel better. We have a small, but real, taste of God’s compassion for us. Staring into the eyes of abused children is to stare into a mirror. Children otherwise stuck in hellish situations is no different than all of us born slaves to sin. As bad as an abusive home is in this life it’s nothing compared to hell’s eternal abuse. To pity wards of the State is to understand God’s pity for me, otherwise a ward of Satan.
Fostering/adoption is making a child in fact what he/she is not by nature. God makes us in fact what we are not by nature: his children with all the rights and privileges of heaven. We are lame children who sit at the King’s table and feast on his finest menu. We don’t call him “Mr. God” but “Abba, Father” (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6). Therefore, fostering/adoption are means to an end–evangelism. They are living tracts, living parables.
We also understand a little better that for there to be redemption, God must tolerate (in fact, sovereignly allow) abuse. Our joy in fostering has come at a huge expense; the disruption of a family and abuse of children. Likewise, God’s joy came at the universe’s ultimate expense: the death of his One and Only Son (see Acts 2.23; 4.28). It’s a hard truth to stomach, but God must let sin takes its course so that grace can be, well, grace.
While I’m thankful for two new children in whom we’ll invest all we can, I’m more thankful for two children through whom God has invested in me. They’ve helped me understand that I was born on the other side of the tracks, too.
I am Mephibosheth.