November 2009


This past Sunday was both the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and Orphan Sunday. God has been working on my heart in both of these areas, so we spent our teaching time at youth group last Thursday discussing these issues. In my preparation, I assumed the only link between the two was that they are horrible results of the Fall which God has called us to redeem through prayer, action, and, ultimately, the gospel.

I had spent most of my preparation time thinking about orphans and the need for the church to be active in adoption and orphan care as a reflection of His adoption of us (Galatians 4:1-7). I had not thought as much about the doctrine of our adoption in Christ as something like justification or sanctification, so I was struck by J.I. Packer’s statement in Knowing God stating that adoption is the “highest blessing of the gospel” (207). He explains that justification is the “primary” or “fundamental” blessing, in that all the other benefits of the atonement flow from the appeasing of the wrath of God through Christ’s death and resurrection, but that our adoption as sons and daughters of God, making us siblings and joint-heirs with Jesus, is the highest and deepest expression of the love of God that we can know. Packer is very clear on this point:

You sum up the whole of the New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. (201)

It was in contemplating my adoption in Christ that God helped me see the link between the persecuted church and orphan care. Again, the link to orphan care is obvious: we care for orphans and adopt them as an expression and overflow of God’s love for us seen in His adoption of us, always with the hope of making children a part of our physical families and, in God’s sovereign grace, our spiritual family.

In the same vein, we pray for the persecuted church around the world, Christians we have never met and will probably never meet until eternity, because they are our brothers and sisters. We care for them and about them because they are our family; we have the same dad. If one of my biological sisters was suffering or being persecuted because of her faith in Jesus, I would be constantly concerned and actively seeking her deliverance every day… every hour! So should my heart break for my spiritual family around the world. Though I do not know their names or faces, we are blood relatives through our common faith in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Our love for the orphans and the persecuted is driven by our adoption in Christ and, ultimately, by our desire to see God glorified in all things.

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For more information about the persecuted church, check out www.idop.org and www.persecution.com.

For more information about Orphans, Adoption, and Orphan Sunday, two good sites are www.orphansunday.com and www.togetherforadoption.com.

I have spent the vast majority of my life in the Midwest, barring a 4 year stint in Louisville, which I would describe as having a wonderful southern/mid-western feel. One of the things I appreciate about where I’ve lived is the presence of all four seasons – in winter, snow falls and my breath becomes magically visible. In summer, the sun scorches and the formerly hibernating pools open for business. In fall, the leaves explode with color and crunch underneath my feet. And in spring, the flowers bloom, the birds sing, and I sneeze a lot. That’s what the seasons should be like.

Of course, my understanding of what the seasons “should be like” is conditioned by my residency in Ohio, Illinois, or northern Kentucky – and in the northern hemisphere, for that matter. As far as I can tell, my friend, Todd, who grew up in Hawaii, associates 60 and 70 degree weather with all the seasons… which is how many people, including my father, think it should be. But not me – I love my seasons (no offense Todd or Dad). I’m sure that part of the reason is the beauty found in all four: huge snowflakes floating to the ground, illuminated by moonlight or the look of an autumn hillside, not to mention the sight of tulips springing from the earth or the sound of crickets singing the day to sleep. God’s beauty is displayed in all of the seasons, and I appreciate the constantly changing canvas of this region.

However, I think much of my affection for the change of the weather is tied to the emotions and events that I associate with those changes. I am keenly aware of that mental tie during this time of year. The crispness in the air awakens in me the need for apple cider, a hike in the woods, s’mores, and a high school football game. As the crispness sinks into cold and the final leaves release their grip, I can almost smell the turkey and pumpkin pie, and I begin preparing for backyard football and family conversations around the fireplace. A deep sense of nostalgia and the recognition of new memories being made both settle in simultaneously. Of course the beginning of winter, the breaking of spring, and the onset of summer cause other feelings to surface and countless memories to flood my mind. But fall, for some reason, is unique.

Yet the weather and its semi-predictable changes are just one of the many triggers our Creator has given us. Smells and tastes, sounds and sights often cause our minds to flood with memories long forgotten or deep emotions we have felt in times past. And beyond the often unsolicited onslaught on our senses, God, in His wisdom, has called us to engage all that we are in our walk of faith – our heart, soul, mind, and strength, which surely includes our senses. Throughout the Old Testament, wells and altars, feasts and sacrifices, stones of remembrance and even circumcision, forced the Israelites to tie their understanding of God to physical markers that would constantly remind them of His presence among them. They would see, smell, taste, touch, hear, and thereby know that the Lord is good, faithful, and holy. Such is the nature of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as the God-centered elements of our celebrations of Christmas and Easter.

My love of fall has reminded me that we should fully engage our senses for the glory of God. That we should rejoice in hot mugs of coffee and the rustle of leaves as gifts from Him. That we should delight in a song from childhood that fills us with a sense of peace and joy as a mark of His grace. That we should keep picture albums handy, and rejoice in the countless blessings of our Father. That we should fully engage in the celebration of Christ’s birth and His resurrection, allowing our senses to log the importance of such events. That our churches should make baptism and communion a priority in worship, fully embracing the tangible nature of them both.

That we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.