March 12, 2008
Last Sunday we celebrated our newly adopted daughter, Maria! We pulled out all the stops and made as much of it as possible. This is how we all felt – overjoyed that this little girl was part of our family. After I prepared for this and then experienced the glorious celebration, I became convicted of something regarding the church, and specifically our church. You could say it is a vision, or maybe just a clarifying of what God has called us to.
First a question. Why has the church in Europe dwindled down to nothing? Perhaps 1 or 2% are evangelical Christians in most western countries. The numbers are dwindling here in North America as well. Why are we losing the younger generations in our churches? Statistics say that a high percentage of high school students stop church attendance once they graduate. Most churches have few young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. I would argue that the answer in part is that we have lost our passion for adoption. Certainly, my desire is that the evangelical church would become the champions for adopting children who need homes and families, but I am talking about the bigger picture of adoption into God’s family. The biblical explanation of those who belong to Christ is rich with adoption language. God calls himself our Father, and we are his children.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1John 3:1, NIV)”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph. 1:3-6, NIV)
God’s passion is for adoption – he sent his Son, Jesus, for the purpose of adding us as children to his family. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13, NIV) Thus we who are adopted into God’s family use the term “born again.” I think that the vision that I had is just a clearer understanding of God’s heart for those who don’t belong to him – those whom he has chosen, but because of human will, haven’t “received” him. What would our church look like if we shared the same passion for adopting them that we all did with Maria? What would my actions look like if I looked at people in my community who are outside God’s family with the same desire to bring them in? Let me reflect on how we all felt about Maria and then I will make some parallels to what this would look like in our church family.
My heart has been broken for children who are orphaned, neglected, abused and mistreated. I weep the moment I hear a story or see a picture of these kids. I long to take them all into my home and family. I agonize over them and pray for them. With Maria, we were willing to pay any price to secure her position in our family. We counted the cost, the changes that this would eternally make in our family, and we considered them way worth it all. We began to skip meals to get down on our knees and pray for her. Our desire for Maria to join our family was transferred to many others. Hundreds of people, many from our family and church family were praying for her too. We all wept when we thought that we were going to lose her. We persevered in love even though it took a long time and the outcome was not guaranteed. We were convinced that what we had to offer her was the best, and we wanted her to have it all – all our love, access to everything we possess, sharing in our joy of life, loved by everyone who loves us, and having all of this forever. Now, doesn’t God feel like that about us, especially about those of us who are outside of his family? Doesn’t he feel the same joy when someone who is outside, confesses him as Lord and “receives” him, gaining eternal life with him? Jesus said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over 1 sinner who repents than over 99 righteous.
Here’s what’s happening to the American church. We are tragically focused inward on the family – let’s make it comfortable, clean, and spend a lot of time fulfilling our needs, making everything just right for us. We even put some big security fences up to make sure we are safe from those who are unlike us – economically, racially, and even generationally. We talk like we want them, but we are unwilling to take the risks and change our ways to go after them. We forget that we should be a family that is always passionately going after those who need to be adopted in. And we must realize that these people are broken and will cause us to get messy. In reality, we are the same, we just spend a lot of our time, energy and money to cover up our brokenness and avoid messiness. Also, bringing them in will most certainly change the makeup of our family forever. We will have to have a love that perseveres even during hardship. Yet we must be open to the goodness that they will bring to us. Here’s what it might look like if we shared God’s heart for adoption.
It would deeply affect our hearts, our values and our behavior inside and outside of our church gatherings. First, what would it look like in our day-to-day lives? We would begin to have broken hearts for those who are outside. We would sign up for God’s program and realize that he existed to ‘seek and save the lost.’ We would exist for the same purpose. We would seek to understand how he works, sign up to join him, and then let everyone know that’s what we’re about. We would also involve ourselves in consistent and regular training so that we can be effective. We would realize that the health of our family is of utmost importance and we would guard that carefully. We must be a great family and be convinced that we are a great family to be a part of – where the fruit of the Holy Spirit abounds and even overflows. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control should define us. Now that’s a healthy family! Then we would agonize in prayer for people by name, sparing no expense to bring them in. Shamefully, I feel it lacking in my own personal prayer life and even in our pastoral staff meetings. We don’t want these people enough. We are self-consumed. We are more concerned about our programs than seeing the lost be saved and the saved be transformed. We must agonize over these people, especially those who have joined the family, but are in danger of leaving. We must get back to the basics of brotherly love for our family members and for our neighbors at all costs. By this will all people know that we are followers of Christ!
What would this look like during our family gatherings? We would look at everyone who walks on our campus and into our buildings with a longing for them to belong, feel at home and thrive in our family. We would delight in bringing in new people. Finally, we would rejoice sparing no expense when we gain a new son, daughter, brother or sister. All of the above is severely lacking at Trinity Church and it begins with me. I think we’re pretty comfortable as is and that is a very dangerous place to be. Trinity Church excels at building up our own. I think that we care well for our own children, and we must not lose that. However, we must be a “both and” kind of family. We take care of our own, but we join with our Father who is always seeking to see his family grow with new children. Does anyone want to join me in being this kind of family?