Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Generous People

The confused angst of my youth regarding the Church has caught up to me.  As a teenager, I heard of all the hurting in the world without any of the healing.  I arrogantly thought it was just Jesus and me.  It wasn't that I struggled with why God allows, causes or permits bad things to happen... it was: why can't we see the Church among the rubble?

In our nonprofit's work to awaken the Church to the biblical mandates to care for orphans and the families they come from, I have encountered a handful of churches whose only missional output is funding short-term mission trips with the sole objective of evangelism.  Responses such as, "Orphan care?  Seems like the trendy thing for churches to do these days." send me into a blind rage until I remember that was my response at one point too.

I tripped on orphan care as a ministry as I was maneuvering through my own preconceived notions of grandeur in God's kingdom.  It was a simple prodding from my wife, and an invitation from a woman who had no real reason of her own to get involved.  These two women virtually invited the filth at the root of foster care into their lives... and I was initially just along for the ride until the Holy Spirit moved me.

So, I've been guilty of joining in with the critics.  "The Church is an institution... a religion... full of hypocrites..."  I played both sides of course attempting to appease my cynical conscience along with the faithful one knowing all along there was something deeper happening I wasn't privy to.  At some level, I've come to believe the Church is only as sanctified as its members.  No matter how active, compassionate and knowledgeable leadership or others may be, if some remain complacent, we will always be limited from the fullness of blessing and influence.

I was reminded of this by a new friend, Alex Krutov, who came to our house for dinner one night.  Alex is a former orphan from Russia now working to sustain a multi-faceted transition center in St. Petersburg that serves at-risk mothers, orphans and emancipated youth from orphanages in that city.  He's incredibly passionate... so much so that after about 2 hours I was done listening to him and started cleaning the dishes.  But he quoted a passage that re-awakened me.

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.  I will shepherd the flock with justice. - Ezekiel 34:16

Since hearing that passage I have thought of it often.  Every time someone brings a need to my attention that pales in comparison with the real desolations of poverty, human trafficking, war, slavery, and the litany of others that exist in the daily routines of children and adults in the world I am reminded of it.    The more I think of it the more my cynical side is outraged.  We worry about our investments and depreciation in the market, we struggle with internet pornography, and we complain naively about our first world problems while families across the railroad tracks would give anything to trade those for their own.

And after my cynical side has had its say... my faithfulness waits patiently and is emboldened by the countless number in the flock of the Shepherd who could be sleek and strong but rather sacrifice daily on behalf of the lost, injured and weak.  These doers of good who lack the time or energy to promote their good works due to the ongoing needs around them stay focused on the task at hand.  They aren't walking the elderly across the street... they are involved in very tangible, very real trench warfare.

I was sitting in a poverty coalition meeting a month back, and one man from a prominent organization asked, "we need more churches around this table... where is the Church?"  An elderly gentlemen raised his hand representing more than forty local congregations and said, "We are here... and we were here when we built the facility your organization runs to provide housing to the homeless, and we've stuck around to ensure the maintenance of those facilities remain in good working order through ongoing financial and volunteer support."

There is nothing quite like the local church taking ownership of Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.  It is in our DNA as a body of believers to not only speak the Gospel but live it out as well... however there are still many of us growing sleek and strong while the lost, injured and weak are left to the world.  If you are reflecting on your faithfulness as I have, I want to challenge you.

Opportunities like this take place everyday, but this day is North Texas Giving Day where over 900 non-profit organizations have been vetted and are collaborating to raise funds for their various causes.  My particular cause is Embrace Texas, and we'd be blessed to have you financially partner with us by giving $25 at  Tomorrow will be another unpredictable opportunity with an unpredictable price tag.

If we feel guilted into action... good.  There should be a sense of humility that comes along with realizing we've ignored divine appointments to live out our faith.  If foster care, adoption, and orphan care isn't your thing, no love is lost, but God has created us for something, and it isn't to store up treasures and then complain about how unreliable our storehouses are.

I pray this challenges us.  Discipleship in God's kingdom requires us to be faithful and give generously.  In coming full circle, I've found an answer to my initial question... why can't we see the Church among the rubble?  Because in many cases, not all but many... the Church has been there all along refusing to come out, get cleaned off, and be recognized when there is still work to do.  The Church is indistinguishable in many cases because they're covered in the dust and ash of the trenches.  Just as Christ took on the sinfulness of the world, the Church jumps in to bear the burdens of the afflicted and encourage the hopeless.  And so, may God continue to bless you, so you may bless others.

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Your Grass!

I've known a few men in my life who have taken great pride in their lawns, and it was interesting to see their attention to detail as they carefully removed weeds from flower beds, trimmed hedges, edged sidewalks, mowed, watered and so on.  I've also known many more men who hired companies to come do all of that for them or who did it themselves with little enthusiasm.

I am a 50/50 guy myself... I do my own planting, weeding, trimming, fertilizing and watering, but I leave the general mowing, edging and weed-eating to a guy who does it for a living.  I don't take  particular pride in the meticulous details of my landscaping, but at the end of the day, I get that if my grass is yellow, thin or dead, I'm gonna have to do something about it... because it's my grass.  And, yard work is hard, tedious and time consuming.  It leaves you sweaty, sunburned and spent, and a week or two later, it's time to do it all over again.

Recently, I've overheard one too many instances regarding a foster or adoptive family where the husband decided he was done being a husband.  Apparently, the grass on the other side was greener.  I don't know all the details of every situation.  I'm not in their home 24/7.  I don't know their history or the intricacies of their marriage.  I'd like to take some politically correct route in espousing a notion of shared blame... and I've tried.  I've retyped some idea of how you both have to work at it, and there's something each side could have done differently, and surely a man wouldn't just up and leave his wife and family for no reason, and on and on and on.  Finally, I just had to call it...


If it's yellow and dying, you have to take ownership of it and do something to restore it!  If that doesn't work, you try something else!  And if that doesn't work, you try something else!  You have to love your wife well, love your kids well, tend to your family's health regularly, provide financially, lead spiritually and start all over again the next morning.  As a father, you are the first to wake up and the last to go to sleep, and when you add foster or adopted children to your family, it only heightens the stakes.  You no longer get to just be a "good dad".  You have placed yourself in the trenches with an abused or neglected child and welcomed the crosshairs of the enemy often requiring you to be the best version of yourself possible.

I get that is a lot to take on, but in becoming a husband and a dad, you are making your vows as a stalwart for faithfulness and stepping into what can be the most incredible adventure of your life.  Yes, you will make mistakes.  Parts of the yard will flourish seemingly without your help while other parts struggle year after year.  You will need a break from time to time... but YOU are responsible for making sure you (and your wife) get the break you need!

In Scripture, before God creates Eve from Adam's side, He calls her Adam's helpmate or suitable helper.  The Hebrew is ezer kenegdo.  This particular title only reoccurs when God references himself being the only help man can turn to.  But as you know, rather than protect her from the deception of the serpent, he idly stands by while she eats the forbidden fruit and then has a bite himself. It appears men have been apt to idly stand by ever since.

Some could say, "Well, Bruce, you've never been divorced, and your parents aren't divorced, so how can you pass judgment?"  My response, "I've never done a lot of things, but that doesn't mean I need to get divorced to tell someone else how to not get divorced."  We've become so excuse-oriented and self-indulgent to the point that when we feel like we've been too sacrificial we decide it's time to abandon ship.

Whatever is potentially contributing to your mental, physical, emotional and relational destruction has to meet an abrupt end... TODAY!  If you're looking at porn and thinking your wife should somehow be more like her, punch yourself in the face real quick for me.  Quit it!  Get accountability, confess what needs confessing, and move forward.  For the love of all that's holy... it's a future version of your foster daughter on your computer screen because the dad in her life was too self-absorbed to tell her she was better than that!  At the very least, the inundation of erectile dysfunction ads on radio and television should give you some pause as to what effects pornography has on the male anatomy.

If your wife has become overwhelmed with the needs of your children that she has lost whatever attracted you to her in the first place, it may be time to take a break, get some respite, call in the reserves, take a vacation or stop foster parenting altogether.  Of course, if the issue is that you're a schlep of a husband and your wife is carrying the load of two people, you're back to the man in the mirror.  Wives, listen to your husbands and follow their lead.  Be patient when their leadership contradicts the Lord's, and wait on the Holy Spirit to be the Holy Spirit.  A special note here: you are not the Holy Spirit.

Again, I don't know the details of yours or any specific situation.  I'm just reacting to the fallout of it all.  If you're a husband out there reading this, and you're looking around at all the dirt in your yard wishing someone would come fix it for you or wanting to scrap it and move onto the next yard... no one but your wife is coming, and if you couldn't care for this yard, what do you think will happen to the next one?  There is no HOA for your marriage.

Your wife... I repeat, YOUR WIFE, your suitable helper, is probably sitting across the room from you or within a phone call's reach right now.  Stop reading this tirade of a post, talk to her and assess the condition of your grass, and get her help.  You may just need a tweak here or there, or you might need to tear up everything you have, and lay down all new sod.  But don't put this off!  The first step may literally be heading outside to work in the yard together... after all, it is your grass.