Reflections of a Grateful Adoptive Dad

Not many husbands get to tell their wives, “Guess what!? We’re having a baby!” On January 13, 1998, I had that privilege.

Gayla and I had been approved to adopt a child a few months before. We had survived the stress of social workers inspecting our house to make sure it was kid friendly. We had completed a scrapbook for the adoption agency to share with birth mothers (imagine making a sales brochure to persuade people they should give their child to you, and you’ll have an idea of how nerve-racking that was). We were solidly in the mode of waiting, spending half of our energy trying to remain optimistic and the other half of our energy not letting our hopes get too high.

On that January day that changed our lives, I got word from the adoption agency that a birth mother had decided to place her child with us, and he had been born, and we could bring him home that evening!

I went home and informed my wife that she was going to be a mom. We drove to the adoption agency. I was so full of joy and adrenaline and anxiety and who knows what else that I drove over the curb at the adoption agency. I also failed to turn off the headlights when I got out of the car, requiring a jump start later that night for our son’s first ride with his new parents, no doubt reassuring the little bundle of joy that he was in responsible hands.

I’ll never forget the moment Justin was placed in our arms – the moment that two people intensely longing for a child received a little boy who desperately needed a family. I had wondered how long it would take for an adopted child to feel like he was really mine. The answer turned out to be .00000001 seconds. Adoption Pic - Justin.jpg
Gayla and I had awakened that morning wondering when and if we would ever be parents; we went to bed that night with our son sleeping in a bassinet at the foot of our bed.

Justin became a big brother two and a half years later. We got to repeat the intense experience of welcoming a child into our family a few hours after we learned that he existed (Gayla got the news first that time). Caleb was all skin and bone and ears. We fell in love with him instantly.
Adoption Pic - Caleb.JPG
Those two cute babies aren’t babies any longer. They are 19 and 17. But they are still mine. And I didn’t think it was possible, but I love them more today than I did when I first held them. Raising them hasn’t always been easy. They are the source of most of the gray hairs on my head. They have both made their share of mistakes, and I’ve made more than my share of mistakes as their dad. But I can’t even count the blessings that I have experienced as their dad. I may be a tad biased, but I think they are two of the most amazing humans on the planet. It is an unspeakable privilege to be their father.

I’d like to share a few semi-random musings from this blessed adoptive dad.

1. Family is more than a matter of biology. If you have friends who have adopted children and you want to see smoke come out of their ears, ask them who their kids’ “real parents” are. Shared DNA is not the primary ingredient in the divine recipe for families. Chromosomes are not nearly as important as bedtime stories and games of catch and hugs and punishments and Christmas mornings and mundane Mondays. Gayla and I had the surprise and privilege of welcoming Sarah to our family 8 years after Caleb, and she came to our family in the more traditional way. I am uniquely qualified to verify firsthand that adopted kids are no less a part of the family than are biological children.

2. We have told our boys from the day we brought them home that they are special because they have parents who chose them. I grew up with some good friends who are adopted, and I know that many adopted kids struggle with the painful feeling that they were rejected and “given up” by the first person who was supposed to love them. My prayer for my boys from before I even brought them home was that their experience of chosenness would outweigh their experience of rejection. I want them to know that they were wanted, and in some ways they were wanted in a deeper way than even a child raised by biological parents could experience.

(An aside: I think birth mothers who place their kids for adoption are heroes. They somehow tune out the many voices telling them that the child growing in their womb is an unfortunate choice that they can undo with a simple procedure. They choose to go through with the emotional and physical struggle of pregnancy. And they selflessly choose to put the child’s needs above their own and release the child to someone equipped to provide the child with a better future.)

3. The most important person B.C. (Moses) and the person who defined A.D. (Jesus) were both adopted. Evidently God doesn’t consider adoption to be a deficient way to grow up!

4. Adoption is a reminder that God is never defeated by difficult circumstances. We live in a broken world where infertility is a painful reality that leaves hurting couples with empty arms, and where unplanned pregnancies leave children in need of a family. God beautifully solves both of those problems with the one miracle of adoption. His creativity and compassion are limitless! God specializes in turning messes into masterpieces.

5. I’m blown away that God chooses the image of adoption to describe his love for us. He tells us in Ephesians 1:5 that his plan has always been to adopt us into his family. He wants us to know that we are wanted. We are orphans, but he chooses to make us his kids! We are nobodies, but he gives us a name. We are wandering around lost but he gives us a home. We are hopeless, but he offers us a future. When I think of the depth of my love for my boys, and I consider that my love for them is just a feint echo of the deep love our heavenly Father has for us, his adopted kids, it becomes difficult to keep the tears off of the keyboard with which I type these words.

I am deeply grateful for the privilege of being Justin and Caleb’s dad. And I’m honored to be God’s adopted child.




The Inexcusable Evil of Racism

I was shocked by what I saw in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. I thought Nazi salutes and swastikas were supposed to be tucked away shamefully in history books, not paraded in broad daylight in an American city.

I’m appalled by the blatant racism of the KKK, white nationalists, the “alt right” movement, and all of their sick cousins. I’m also appalled by the number of people who don’t seem to be adequately alarmed by the mindset of that movement. This weekend I’ve read way too many comments from people, many of whom identify themselves as Christians, who seem to be defending the racist protesters or at least downplaying the offensiveness of their views. I’ve also been frustrated by political leaders and spiritual leaders who have failed to use their influence to clearly, unequivocally denounce the vile assumptions of white supremacy.

If I’m going to be bothered that others aren’t using their platforms to address this issue, I need to use the platforms God has given me to speak clearly. So I shared my perspective from the pulpit in church this morning, and I’ll share it in this online venue.

White supremacy is wrong. It is evil. It is satanic. It is a sin from the pit of hell. Any Christian who would endorse it or tolerate it has completely missed the truth of the Gospel.

If you believe you are better than another person because of that person’s ethnicity or skin color, you need to be reminded that you are a sinner who is so fallen and broken that the death of Christ was required to make you whole again. Who are you to think that you are supreme over anyone?

If you believe that another person is worse than you because of that person’s ethnicity or skin color, you need to be reminded that that person is someone God treasured so highly that he sent his Son to rescue and redeem them. Who are you to question their worth and value?

Racism is anti-love, anti-Gospel, anti-Christ. May it be exposed as the ridiculous, arrogant, malevolent thing that it is.

And, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

(Extra) Ordinary

Ordinary couple. Young people. Nearly married. Expectant parents. Gentle Mary. Pregnant virgin. Pregnant virgin!? Round stomach. Faithful heart. Concerned Joseph. Compassionate eyes. Confused smile.

Ordinary road. Long journey. Rough ride. Clip clop. Clip clop. Clip clop. Destination ahead. Good timing. Labor pains! Very soon!

Ordinary town. Bethlehem Ephrathah. Normal buildings. Normal people. Nothing special. Labor pains. Need room. Crowded inn. No vacancy. No luck. Try elsewhere.

Ordinary stable. Barnyard animals. Barnyard sounds. Barnyard smells. Rugged lodging. Labor pains! Hurting Mary. Worrying Joseph. Why here? Mary cries. Baby cries. A boy!

Ordinary child! Feeding trough. Improvised cradle. Wonderful Counselor!? Baby noises. Normal crying. No halo. Mighty God!? Looks normal. Acts normal. Feels normal. Everlasting Father!? Tiny hands. Tiny feet. Peace’s Prince!?

Ordinary pasture. Grassy field. Starry night. Many sheep. Ordinary shepherds. Working people. Not prestigious. Not famous. Not religious. Counting sheep. Counting sheep. Counting sheep… Sudden disturbance! Angel appears. Glory shining. Scared senseless. “Fear not!” (Scared anyway.) “Good news. Wonderful news! Savior born! Lord Christ. Swaddling clothes. Feeding trough.” Skies explode. Heavenly concert. “God’s glory! God’s peace!” Angels depart. Shepherds amazed. “Unto us!? Our Savior!? Let’s go!”

Ordinary stable. Holy place. Barnyard sounds. Christ crying!? Little baby. Swaddling clothes. Feeding trough. Straw throne. See him! Many shepherds. Many sheep. One Lamb. Joseph beams. Mary treasures. Mary ponders. Shepherds proclaim. Shepherds praise. Baby sleeps.

Ordinary child. Extraordinary child. God’s Son. Fully human. Fully divine. God comes! Why thus? Why there? Powerless baby. Omnipotent God. But how? Holy Lord. Human child. Infinite God. Finite baby. Infinite infant! Sounds impossible! Baby Messiah. Little Lord. Newborn King. Our Savior. Can’t be! Must be! God born. Be thankful. Be amazed. Adore Him! Adore Him! Adore Him!

Your Candidate Is Not the Messiah

Your favorite presidential candidate is not the Messiah.

That truth is obvious to many people. After all, it is quite a stretch to hold up one of the major candidates as a paragon of Christian virtue. There seems to be widespread dissatisfaction with our options in the coming election. A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook: “Is your refrigerator running? If it is, I will vote for it in November.”

But some people do passionately support one candidate or another. And it can be easy to have a devotion to a political candidate or a political party that could only be described as religious. We begin to count on a politician to be our rescuer, deliverer, and savior. I’m sure you already know this, but I’ll remind you of a fundamental fact shared in Scripture:

“There is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” -1 Corinthians 8:6

Donald Trump will not save you. Hillary Clinton will not save you. Neither will Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or Evan McMullin. The position of Messiah has already been filled. There will never be a vacancy for that office. Jesus holds that office as long as he lives, and he lives forever. There is but one Lord.

Perhaps you should take your candidate off the pedestal.

Based on the opinions I see expressed online, it seems that many people are blind to the negatives that their candidate brings to this election while believing that the other candidate is the devil incarnate. The theme of most political posts is that my guy/gal is the noble hero, and the other candidate is the sinister villain who will probably outlaw ice cream and puppies if elected to office.

We tend to be blinded by political allegiance. We gravitate to stories that make our candidate look good and the other look bad. We don’t care if those stories are credible – we just want to make sure they confirm our suspicions that our side is all good, and the other side is stupid and evil. We superimpose a halo over our candidate and horns over the other one.

I don’t know which candidate you support, but I can tell you this: your candidate is flawed. There’s not a spotless one on the ballot. So go ahead and vote for the person you believe is best suited for the presidency. But maybe you could ease up on flooding social media with hymns of praise to your party’s nominee.

Your candidate is not capable of rescuing you. That’s ok, though, because they aren’t running for Messiah anyway. They are only running for the presidency of the United States.

The position with real authority is not up for election. Not this year. Not ever.

There is but one Lord.

Voting as an Exile

I wonder if there is a different way to think about our identity as Christian citizens of the United States in this election season.

We have the huge privilege and heavy responsibility of having a voice in shaping our nation’s future. In November we will participate in a presidential election and in the choice of other elected officials on national, state, and local levels. These decisions are extremely important. Of course, we should vote. And of course, our Christian convictions should shape way we vote. But let’s keep some things in perspective.

Remember what the Bible says about citizenship:

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 3:20

That verse reminds us that our Savior doesn’t come from Washington D.C. It also clarifies that if you are a follower of Christ, your identity as an American is secondary to your identity as a citizen of God’s kingdom. You are a permanent citizen of heaven who temporarily resides in the United States.

Sometimes we get our patriotism and our faith wrapped a little too tightly together. We come to view Americans as God’s chosen people. So we read promises given to the people of God in the Old Testament and try to claim those promises for our nation. We envision the United States as playing an indispensable role in God’s plans for the world.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the United States is a great country. I wouldn’t trade it for any other place to live. But Americans are not God’s chosen people. God has no preference for the United States over other nations. God wasn’t watching the Olympics a few weeks back chanting, “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

The US is not God’s chosen people. But there is a Biblical parallel that can help us understand our situation as followers of Christ in the US today. We are similar to the ancient people of God in exile. If you have studied the Old Testament, you may remember that after generations of ignoring God, the Israelites found themselves taken from their land by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They found themselves living with a kind of dual identity: they were God’s children, God’s chosen – but they were also residents of Babylon and other cities. They were Israelite, but temporarily they were Babylonian, too. Our situation is similar: we are forever followers of Christ, and temporarily we are American, too.

God’s instruction to those exiles applies to us, too:

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” -Jeremiah 29:7

God wanted the exiles to know that while Babylon was not their ultimate home, it was in their best interest for Babylon to thrive. Likewise, though the United States is far from perfect, and though it is not the place of our most important citizenship, we need to seek its peace and prosperity. While we reside here, we need to pray for this nation, because if it prospers, we too will prosper.

For the Christian, a healthy America is not the ultimate thing. But it is a good thing.

American Christians must avoid two temptations. The first temptation is to abandon the American political process as a hopeless mess, justifying our dereliction of duty by reminding ourselves that our fundamental citizenship lies elsewhere anyway. The second temptation is to make an idol of America and its political process, assuming that God NEEDS America and that his hands will be tied unless the right party is in power.

So don’t stop looking for candidates who reflect the character and priorities of Christ as closely as possible and love people like Christ does. And don’t stop using political means to work toward the goal of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But at the same time, remember that God is too creative and powerful and good to be thwarted by election results.

We Christians sometimes pine for a day in which our government is completely in line with our understanding of the Kingdom of God. But it is neither in America’s plans nor in God’s plans for the American government to issue in a Christian utopia. This isn’t our ultimate home, anyway. America will never be perfect, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. But we should strive for it to be better.

God would have you vote and work and pray for the good of our nation. He wants you to do these things not because America is the most important thing in the universe. After all, long after the USA falls, the kingdom of God will still be alive and well. Do these things because if America prospers, we too will prosper.

We are responsible as Christian citizens to participate in the political process and to work for the good of our nation. But our primary citizenship is in God’s kingdom, not in the United States.

A Word for My Politically Active (Politically Obnoxious?) Christian Friends

Are you a politically active Christian? For our purposes, let’s say you qualify as politically active if you have shared between 1 and 247 emails or social media posts with political themes in the last week.

For those of you who are closer to the 247 end of that range, those whose water cooler conversations and Facebook posts are all about selling your candidate or bashing the other one, we’ll start with a practical political observation. Take a close look at this photo:


That sheet of paper includes the complete list of all the people your posts and emails have persuaded to vote for your candidate.

You might have to look really close to see the names. You have never crossed paths with a human who decided to vote for a candidate because they were wowed by a social media barrage. Your posts might even push people away from your candidate.

But there’s an even bigger problem: your posts about politics can push people away from Christ.

Here’s the thing – when you wade into politics with huge passion and loud volume and heavy certainty, you are going to offend somebody. And once you offend somebody, it is hard to get them to listen to you. The Bible warns us that “an offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city” (Proverbs 18:19, NLT).

If you offend people over politics, you may lose the opportunity to talk to them about something much more important – the love of Christ.

If you wear people out talking about your candidate, they won’t want to hear about your Savior.

When I offend someone, I want it to be over something that truly matters. I don’t want to push my agenda about some side issue (and no matter how important politics may be, it is a side issue) and lose the right to be heard about things of eternal significance.

The current nature of political discussion in our nation increases the level of risk. Politics in the United States right now is very much an us-versus-them endeavor. We don’t have Democrats and Republicans fighting side by side for our country; they are fighting each other. We don’t have political leaders working together to attack our nation’s problems; they are attacking each other.

In most political conversations, both sides spend the bulk of the time screaming at each other. If you tuned in to the most recent Presidential debate, or if you have glanced at your Twitter feed since then, you know what that screaming sounds like.

When we who follow Christ add our voices to the screaming, when we jump into the us-versus-them fiasco with Jesus on our side, we do something dangerous. Intentionally or not, we communicate to those who disagree with us that they are against Jesus, and that Jesus is against them.

A passionate Christian Republican says, “I’m about cutting taxes, securing our borders, the right to bear arms – and Jesus.” It is strongly implied that Jesus is for all the things that Republican is for, and if you want Jesus, you have to have him as part of a Republican package.

A passionate Christian Democrat says, “I’m about healthcare for all, gun control, addressing climate change – and Jesus.” It is strongly implied that Jesus is for all the things that Democrat is for, and if you want Jesus, you have to have him as part of a Democratic package.

When you passionately spew your political opinions, at the very least you cause nonbelievers who disagree with those opinions to question your reliability. They will be less likely to consider you to be a credible source regarding matters of life and death importance. At worst, you lead them to decide that if they have to have Trump and Jesus together, or Clinton and Jesus together, that they guess they just won’t have Jesus.

Are you free to speak your mind about political matters? Absolutely. Should you speak up when political decisions have ethical and spiritual ramifications? Absolutely. But be careful about how you discuss politics, and how often. Realize that your political talk can have unintended consequences in the spiritual lives of the people who hear you.The more obnoxious you are talking about politics, the more people will tune you out in matters of faith.

The next time you are about to corner your neighbor or forward an email or post a rant, pause to think about it first. Your attempts to lure people to your political party can push them away from Christ.


Election Perspective

An important election season announcement: If Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, Jesus Christ will still be Lord of the universe. If Hillary Clinton is elected President of the United States, Jesus Christ will still be Lord of the universe. If Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein, or Evan McMullin, or Mickey Mouse is elected President of the United States, Jesus Christ will still be Lord of the universe.

My presidential election memories go back to my sixth grade year in 1980, with Jimmy Carter squaring off against Ronald Reagan. That year and in every election since, I remember hearing people screaming that the coming vote was the most critical in our nation’s history. Every time around, I’ve heard people calamitizing that if (insert candidate’s name here) gets elected, we won’t even have a country four years from now.

Perhaps you have been sucked into all of the election hype this year, and you are now convinced that the future of the world, and the future of God’s kingdom, hinges on the result of November’s vote. You are persuaded that if your candidate does not win, we are all doomed!

If that is what you feel, I have to ask you a question: is your view of God really that small?

If you could look back in time to the first century, do you think you would see Jesus wringing his hands over who was going to be the next Caesar? Can you picture Paul or the other fearless early believers getting worked up over who would be in charge next in Rome? No – they knew that even if it was a batty Christian killer like Nero or Domitian, the Kingdom of God would not be threatened. Do you really think God is pacing around heaven right now, saying, “Oh Me, if this election doesn’t work out, what am I going to do?”

No. What God says is, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Jesus Christ is Lord. Those words were originally a political statement. People in the Roman empire were required to acknowledge the authority of the earthly king by declaring, “Caesar is Lord.” But Christians came along and said, “Nope. He’s not. We can’t say that. Because Jesus Christ is Lord. He’s the one in charge. I pledge allegiance to Jesus, and to him alone.”

Jesus is the one in whom we place our hope. He is Lord! And no matter how many states go red or blue in November, he will still be Lord.

No matter who is in the oval office, Christ is on the throne!

The Presidency looks like a big job. But the position of real authority is not up for election. Not this year. Not ever. Jesus is Lord.

If you have deep fear over this election, I would suggest that you have a theological problem. You are counting on the wrong thing. The Republican party will not fulfill your hopes. Neither will the Democrats. Your savior is not named Hillary or Donald. His name is Jesus. That’s the name every tongue will confess. He’s the one before whom every knee will bow.

This election is a big deal. But it’s not the biggest deal in the world. It’s not even the 15th biggest deal in the world. Our salvation does not come out of Washington DC.

We don’t follow the elephant or the donkey – we follow the Lamb.