The difference between an orphan slave and a child of a king

This past Sunday I preached at a little red church in Los Osos, California. A few days prior, as I was preparing the sermon on Romans 8:12-17, a passage I’ve preached on many times, I realized that a lot of what I gather and teach on is self-evident. A simple text that is so profound.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

I asked the congregants at the church what the difference is between an orphan slave and a son or daughter of a king. Their answers put flesh and bone on what Paul was describing in the text.

Freedom. Acceptance. Family. Unconditional Love. Joy. Self-worth. Authority. Belonging. Hope. Safety. Privilege. Inheritance. Grace.

Lost. Rejected. Bondage. Withdrawal. Insecurity. Oppression. Anger. Fear.

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The chasm between these two realities is vast. The beautiful thing about the gospel is that God takes us from one extreme to the other in an instant. It’s passages like this that capture my heart and imagination for the spirit of adoption.

In any journey, whether it takes an instant or a lifetime, it has to start at the beginning. Our beginning was as orphans. I often reflect on Jesus’ words in John 14 when He says that he will not leave us as orphans. Jesus knew that the life of an orphan is dire. He knew the realities and the feelings that such a slave endures. He wasn’t content to leave people in this state.

In our redemption, we go from death to life. Enemy to friend. Slave to free. Orphan to son. Orphan to daughter. Yet, as much as that’s our reality, our discipleship takes a bit longer to turn into Christ likeness.

Discipleship, is monkey say, monkey do. It’s follow the leader. Discipleship is we love, because He first loved us. It’s be holy, just as the Lord your God is holy.

Discipleship is we adopt, because He first adopted us. >>tweet this<<

From my experience as a family-man, I’ve learned that the relationships that God’s given me play the most critical role in my discipleship. I’ve led street evangelism in Newport Beach, I’ve worked at churches and non-profits, I’ve preached in English and Swahili and yet all of these play such a truly minuscule role in my discipleship. I learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus by being a husband and father.

It’s not merely understanding the theological parallels to being the bride of Christ, God being our Father, God adopting us. Much more, it’s the fact that the people in my family bring out the best and worst in me. For me to become like Christ, the worst and deepest sin of mine is going to have to come out if it’s going to be changed. Adopting my son has brought out the worst in me at times. That’s just being honest. His insecurity has scratched, clawed, beat and pulled out my own insecurity. His trauma has traumatized me. His orphan spirit has brought out all the areas in my life where I still feel like an orphan. Somehow, Melissa and I stepped out in adopting an orphan and in the process feel like we’re worse people because of it. There are many times when we feel we have ruined ourselves and wrecked our lives.

The craziest things is that through Kingdom Families, we’re trying to lead people down this same path. What would drive us to do such a thing?

As I preached Sunday, the passion for the fatherless stirred up in me and the understanding of the difference between an orphan slave and a son or daughter shed light on why we keep going. Thank God for hope. I have hope for my entire family that God will bring us forward.

As difficult and traumatizing as the adoption process has been, we know that our son is better off for it. One of my favorite bloggers, Jason Johnson, says it well when discussing the difficulties. “Let’s not talk about what it will cost us if we do foster or adopt without also considering what it will cost these kids if we don’t.”

The truth is that at this point, my love for my son Moses only drives me so far in pursuing orphan care. Because Moses isn’t an orphan anymore. My drive is motored by my love for the orphans still back at the orphanage or on the street. I’m thinking about Justice, I’m thinking about Maria, I’m thinking about Awadhi. These orphans with faces, stories and personalities. Faces that are blurred, stories that are untold and personalities that are suppressed. Orphans that up to this point have been left as orphans. Children that are waiting for

Freedom. Acceptance. Family. Unconditional Love. Joy. Self-worth. Authority. Belonging. Hope. Safety. Privilege. Inheritance. Grace.

 

Keep building.


I’ve been putting together our website for Kingdom Families over the last month. I’m nearly done and I’d love for you to check it out. Just follow the link – www.kingdomfamiliestanzania.org

An Orphan Care Perspective on Psalm 127

Over the last few months, Psalm 127 has been on my mind and is deepening my theology on orphan care. At the end of July, I was blessed to teach out of this passage at our Kingdom Families Conference and frame the orphan care conversation in a new lens.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
Behold, children are an inheritance from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

You have the power to build something. Everyday I see people striving to build some sort of legacy. It’s really a part of our nature as beings created in the likeness of God. He is the Creator so we inherently want to create as well. This desire to build has led to the entirety of human progress.  What the psalmist is saying here is that it is actually possible to build something apart from God’s design. We are able to build things and not have God involved in it whatsoever. He states such labor is vain. It’s useless.

As I was studying this text I couldn’t help but think about all the houses that have been built for orphans throughout the world. Houses that don’t have God’s design and don’t have the child’s best interest in mind. Even those with good intentions that build an orphanage or run a group home fall short. That’s not even to getting into the houses that exploit these vulnerable children for sinister purposes like sex slavery and child armies.

Throughout every society, orphans are the most susceptible and disadvantaged populace. As Christians, we must determine what kind of house it is that God’s building for them. Is an orphanage, even a Christian orphanage, the end-all design that God’s given? Is it foster homes or group homes where children often last short periods of time only to be passed on to the next house and then the next after that? Or is the house that God’s building something else?

I’m reminded of a quote by Johnny Carr speaking specifically about orphanages: “Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.” (Orphan Justice, pg. 65)

I’m overwhelmed with this understanding that we can pour ourselves into orphan care ministries and make sure that kids get fed and get a bed and we can smile at them and say “Jesus loves you” and yet, they remain an orphan. They remain disconnected because they received our best material resources, but never had the couple that went to bat for them and said “you are our child.”

When I see children that have been adopted, I see how they transform and meld into the family and I see the family evolve as God adds to their number. The child not only knows that they’re loved, but they are finally free to be the fullest expression of who they are in Christ. I can’t help but realize that this is the house that God is building. God is building families.

Adoptive Family that has two children through adoption, one from Kazakhstan one from Azerbaijan Source
Adoptive Family that has two children through adoption, one from Kazakhstan one from Azerbaijan Source

As God allows us to build our families through both procreation and adoption, we are saying yes to receiving our inheritance. Inheritance is normally associated with what children receive when their parents pass away, but that isn’t the meaning of this verse.

My children don’t receive my inheritance, they are my inheritance. >tweet this<

The legacy that we leave behind is our children. For the twenty years they’re in our home and all the years after that, we are investing in our own inheritance. We get to delight in our inheritance when we see our children succeed in their vocation, raise our grandkids or even when they mess up and we are privileged to be the ones to pick them up.

In Tanzania, adoption is not common. One of the reasons for this is because people understand that if they adopt, especially a boy, then they will have to split up their inheritance. This often involves family-owned land. For this reason, many people are hesitant to make an orphan their son. They view this is as reducing their inheritance, but this scripture says just the opposite. When we adopt, our inheritance actually increases and we have another arrow with which to advance God’s Kingdom.

What are you building? Are you satisfied with a house that is less than or totally other than what God is building?

I’ve come to this realization that at almost thirty years old, my life is going by and my kids aren’t getting any smaller. Next thing I know, another thirty years will go by and I’ll be sixty and still another and I’ll likely be dead. If this is the one life that I get and it’s over like a vapor in the wind, I don’t want to waste it building something apart from God’s design. Lord, let not my life be in vain. God has a special inheritance and a house in mind for me and for you, will you receive it?

Keep building.

The Epidemic of Fatherlessness

“The AIDS epidemic in Africa is huge, but it’s led to an even worse epidemic and that’s children growing up without fathers.”

The words left his mouth and immediately found their home in my heart. With that single sentence a purpose for my life was birthed and a series of profound events in my life were initiated.

Can you imagine a world without AIDS? Can you imagine all the families and communities that have been devastated by this terrible disease becoming fully restored? Can you imagine every person ever infected with HIV being completely healed? I have loved ones that are HIV+ and know people that have passed away from AIDS-related issues. I can tell you the world would be a far better place without HIV/AIDS, immeasurably so.

Yet, if that opening quote is true, there is actually something worse than even a ravaging disease like AIDS. There’s a devastation more horrendous. There’s something that doesn’t just kill the body, but something that kills the soul.

Fatherlessness.

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Perhaps it wouldn’t take much imagination, but consider a child that grows up fatherless. A father speaks identity over his children. A fatherless child grows up not knowing who he is or what purpose he is to serve on earth. A father protects his children. A fatherless child is susceptible to all types of danger and threats. She is insecure, because there is no father there to secure her. A father delights in and takes pride in his children. A fatherless child is pining for attention and to know their value and to know that they are desirable. A father guides, corrects and lays down his life for his children. Without a father, children are inherently meandering around lost; sheep without a shepherd.

Part of our human condition is to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we stop recognizing the needs of others around us. Days, weeks and years go by and we’re consumed with the everyday demands of life; paying the bills, getting the kids to school and having dinner on the table by 5:30. Any moment of pause gets focused on our own needs or those of our closest family. Stopping the grind and considering someone else’s needs or lending a hand is often out of sight, out of mind and hence left undone.

It’s no wonder that over and over in scripture God had to break through and tell his people directly that caring for the fatherless (and widows) was something that they are mandated to do.

“Take up the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17)
“Acceptable religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27 paraphrase)
“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan” (Exodus 22:22)
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless” (Psalm 82:3)
“The aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 14:29)

What do these scriptures really mean to you though? If you ever have an “orphan care guy” roll through your church, they always make sure everyone knows the biblical basis for orphan care. My fear is that they just get glossed over though. We understand that the cause of the orphan is important to God, but typically have no tangible work among them. Nor do we desire to begin one, or adopt a child in need. But if we are merely hearers of the word and do nothing with it, what do we profit?

What if the orphan care guy instead walks in with an actual orphan? What if in a Sunday service, he’s able to show the child’s heart to the congregation? He shows the insecurity, the fear, the directionless. He shows that the child, just wants to be wanted. He shows that the child is needing a name, needing an identity. Would our hearts then be moved?

The thing about epidemics is that they spread organically. Someone coughs, spits or bleeds and those around them are now at risk. One person’s sickness leads to another person’s sickness. That’s how it works among the fatherless as well.

Fatherlessness begets fatherlessness. It spreads and can devastate entire populations. tweet this

That’s what’s happened in Africa and in complete honesty has happened through the entire world.

What is it that ends an epidemic? Intent. Caring people draw a line and say it ends here and from that point, they push back the tide. Such intent is indeed costly. It may cost you everything you have. You might have to throw out all the plans that you had for your life. You might have to empty your bank account. You might have to take that perfect little family picture that you had and go to great lengths just to wreck it.

But in so doing, we stamp out this devastating epidemic that has claimed far too many lives already.

Can you imagine a world without fatherlessness? Can you imagine every child in the world with a last name that means something to them? Can you imagine every boy and girl being secured within the love of a father that went to great lengths to claim them as his own? Can you imagine children off the streets, out of orphanages and into homes where the head of the family loves, guides, corrects and trains the children up in the way that they should go? Can you imagine a world without fatherlessness?

 

Keep building.

 

 

*The opening quote was from the preacher Mike Pilavachi in a sermon he gave at my church on Father’s Day 2007. This was the day that I first felt called to work among orphans in Africa.

the things we seek

Do you ever wonder what other people think of you? Yeah, so do I. For most of us our social media profiles, posts, blogs and all that often have a lot to do with what we want other people to see and hence think about us. The last couple days, I’ve been wondering how people perceive me just going off of what they see on Facebook and our email newsletter chain.

I like to think that my focus is on the Kingdom of God. I’m kind of obsessed with talking about the Kingdom of God or at least mentioning it. Our orphan care program is called Kingdom Families, I just renamed this blog “Build This Kingdom,” I want people to think of me that I’m someone seeking the Kingdom of God and yet, I personally am unconvinced myself.

There are a lot of things that I feel I’m seeking ahead of the Kingdom of God. Money, security, reputation, you know, stuff like that.

I’ve been in a little bit of a funk the last couple days and my wife has known it. I’m generally an even keel person, don’t get too high or too low. But a few circumstances that arose yesterday before church kind of brought me down a few notches. A few moments before I sat down to write this, I hugged Melissa and asked her “What are we seeking?” In my mind, she was going to encourage me by quoting Matthew 6:33, “Bran, we’re seeking first the Kingdom of God,” but instead she was honest and just said “I don’t know.”

Here’s what’s got me down and honestly I hate to talk about it. It’s actually my least favorite thing to talk about in the public arena. I’m down because of money. I know, I know, another missionary talking about money that they need, I apologize. I’m not going to make a plea for your money in this blog, I promise. Just sharing my convoluted thoughts on the matter.

Last week, I was talking with Ryan about our plane ticket situation and we really need to buy them, but we’ve been holding off so that we can get the round trip tickets and save money. He told me that I should do some short little video of Promise being cute and just tell people that we still need money to buy the plane tickets. Great idea.

So we did it. We shared it on all three of our blogs, each of four Facebook pages and an email shout-out. Promise was cute. She showed everyone how smart she was as we read the story Bible together, we kept it to 90 seconds and haven’t received a single donation since it was posted.

It kind of got me down and now I’m just wondering if that, coupled with putting our giving information in our newsletters and making a status update about giving on Facebook has people thinking that we’re seeking money. I guess we are seeking money.

Now, I just share all that because it’s on my mind and this is my blog where I share what’s on my mind. I’m sure that there are ways that you are also seeking money. Maybe just to pay the bills or maybe to get you to the next financial level in society. I would also like the security that I perceive that it brings. I want money so that I don’t have to worry about money.

I wish that I would come to a personal resolve on the matter. I don’t want to talk about money anymore and I really, really don’t want to ask for it anymore.

What about you? What are you seeking after first? Lately, for me it’s been money, security and reputation. That’s not good, I confess. When I worry about these things and seek them above God and His Kingdom, that’s sin. When I seek money first even for plane tickets, that’s sin. When I seek the security of my family first, that’s sin. When I seek after the praise and good reputation among other people first, that’s sin. Because even if those aren’t bad things I’m not seeking the Kingdom of God first.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That’s our directive. That’s what we do. Anything short of that is missing the point. If there was no further promise in that scripture, it wouldn’t change our directive to seek His Kingdom first in our lives.

Yet there is a promise from our gracious God “…and all these things shall be added to you.” God knows our needs, Jesus only asks that we seek Him first of all and let Him worry about the other stuff.

I told my wife that I’m not going to be sad anymore. Melissa will deliver in California, we will spend the holidays with family and we will return to Tanzania at the start of 2015. My job isn’t to seek the things that secure that path. My job is to seek first the Kingdom of God.

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Found this cool piece of the verse here: http://artbybritt.blogspot.com/2011/07/matthew-633.html