Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pictures from Adoptions - II

One of the things that happens when an orphan is adopted, is that the child becomes an heir to the father.  As if having a new home, new parents to love them, and all the blessings that come from being in a family were not enough, he is made to share in all that the father has, both now and in the future.  

I have two boys that we adopted from Russia when they were twelve and thirteen.  In Russia the boys in the orphanage have two basic career paths the Russian Army or crime.  Given the current state of the Russian economy and the Russian Army, neither is a very good choice.  One day we were talking about the future, and we were talking about what they were going to do.  They kept asking about what the American Army was like.  I kept explaining to them that “if” they went into the Army it would be like so and so.  The word “if” kept confusing them.  Suddenly it dawned on them what I was saying; they were not required to go into the Army.  They began to realize that, with their new father, not only had their present life changed, but their future as well.  They suddenly had a new hope in life.  

Much more so ought we to realize the eternal blessings that are ours because of our adoption.  Our hope is not in material blessings such as better jobs, houses, and other trinkets.  Our hope is in the Lord and the glory of His presence and that we have a home with Him forever.  Do we really know and understand what that means? Do we recognize the infinite value of it? Oh, that we may know and understand the riches of our inheritance!  

Rom 8:14-18      For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.     For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Pictures from Adoptions - I

One of the things I intend to do from time to time is to post images from our adoptions that mirror some spiritual truth.  I will call them Pictures from Adoptions.  This is the first installment.

When we adopted our kids out of the Russian orphanages, one of the things that the kids could not take with them was their clothes.  They belong to the orphanage.  So to the older orphans, the new clothes are a symbol of the fact that they are now part of a family and that they have a new home.  The father comes and gives them new clothes fit for living in their new home.  They are the first gift the father gives to his children when he adopts them.

Likewise in the book of Zechariah we see the picture of God giving Joshua the high priest new garments.  The old garments are filthy, a symbol of Joshua’s iniquity.  The new garments show that God has taken away Joshua’s iniquity.  This then makes him (and us) fit to be members of God’s family and fit for our new home in heaven.  All are a gift from the Father through Jesus Christ.

Zech 3:2-5  And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?"
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel.
Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, "Take away the filthy garments from him." And to him He said, "See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes." And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the LORD stood by.

Jennifer Grace - Part II

Continuing on with the story of Jennifer…

When last we left we were stuck on the ground after 9-11.  I must admit that we really were not very concerned about getting on the plane, assuming one was going to fly.  It seems that God had confirmed the trip in so many ways that we were to go, no matter what the outcome was to be.  That is not to say that those around us were not concerned.  Both our moms were scared to death and I guess from a purely human standpoint it was probably pretty ridiculous.  However, in the end, we cannot live one day more or less that God has planned, and so we went forward knowing that our lives our in His hands.

So we took a 6am flight out of Tulsa the day the airlines started flying again.  I don’t know if it was literally the first flight to fly, but it was the first on the schedule for Continental.   In the mean time, we had been unable to find out whether Aeroflot was flying from Chicago.  So we got on the plane not knowing whether our connecting flight was going to fly.  When we finally got to Chicago, it turned out that the Aeroflot plane had landed in Montreal when all the planes were grounded.  They then flew a 767 wide body jet back empty to Moscow.  So we were stuck in Chicago.  So we spent the rest of the day trying to find an alternate flight.  No luck.  The entire airline industry was in chaos with the terrorist attacks.

So we had to decide whether to use our round trip ticket to get back to Tulsa and see what we could do from there or find someplace to stay while we tried to get someplace to stay in Chicago.  Part of the problem was that, with the job loss, the impending move, $15,000 for the adoptions, we were getting strapped for cash.  By God’s grace someone in the church offered to pay our hotel bills in Chicago.

We spent the next several days trying to find a flight.  Finally, Aeroflot flew a flight into Chicago.  After five days we were off to Moscow.

Once we left US air space things were pretty uneventful.  The trip was long.  A twelve hour flight to Moscow, an over night stop in a hotel, get on the plane another long trip to Irkutsk, change planes in an airport where no one speaks English, and arrival at 3 am, all just normal stuff for such travel.

It was about 4 am when we got to our flat and we had to be up at 8am to meet the kids.  Whew!  

So at 8 we are up, the ever entertaining Russian car ride (do they even know what a lane is), and we get to the orphanage.  We got shuffled into the orphanage director’s office.   We had an interview, I think so that they could make sure we had the right answers for the judge.  Almost no one in Russia has eight children, no one home schools, and we were doing both.  They seemed to really want us to get the kids, but I think they thought it was going to be hard for the judge to understand what we were about.

I remember during this time trying to convince them that we had enough room for eight kids.  Discussions of how many square feet, two acre yard, and all of that made little difference.  What really convinced them was the fact that we had three bathrooms!  After you think about it, it makes sense.   In their culture every home is a flat in a big apartment building.  And every flat there is one bathroom.  So having three bathrooms means that we have the equivalent to three flats!  Ahh, cultural context is everything.

Then we got to meet the kids.  I frankly don’t remember much about that meeting.  We were going on about eight hours sleep in about 72 hours of travel.  And, they wanted them to go with us!  I can’t say that we were thrilled.  At that point we really just wanted to crash for a few hours.  Still, it would have looked really bad it we had not taken them.  So off we went, eight hours on the ground, the same amount of sleep out of 72 and three teenagers that didn’t speak English.  

From there things went fairly well, given the circumstances.  Jennifer (Veronika at the time) was the oldest.  She kind of kept the other two in line.  They were very intimidated by us and were on their best behavior.  

We had several adventures shopping for clothes, and getting food for the five us.  The kids offered to clean up after the food was fixed and were generally helpful.  

Then the day for court came, it really was somewhat anticlimactic.  There was an interview with the judge who really did not have many questions.  Everyone seemed very happy that the kids were getting homes.  I guess the fact that we had adopted before from that court helped get us through quicker.

From there we had to get passport pictures, finish paperwork, and start the trip home.  We had to stop in Moscow for several days while we got their visas.  We did a little sight seeing.  We took them to Red Square and to the Arbat(marketplace).

Finally, the flight home began.  The plane was filled with other parents who had adopted, mostly small children.  It was nice not to have to fight with a toddler or infant that suddenly had new parents.  Our kids even helped some with the little ones.

Finally, after more than three weeks we arrived back in Tulsa.  Three days later I left to go to Alabama to start my new job.  However, that and the move don’t really come into this story.

Now Jennifer has been with us four years, and seems like it has been forever and no time at all.  One of the bittersweet elements of adopting teenagers is that you have them for so little time.  Jennifer turns nineteen in a few months and will legally be an adult.  Though she will probably stay with us a few more years as she completes her education, it still seems like such a little time.

Jennifer has been such a blessing to us and she is such a testimony to the grace of our God.  She has come to profess faith in Christ and is working out her faith with fear and trembling.  We are excited to see her grow in faith and thank God for every day we have had her.

To Him be All the Glory forever.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bumper Stickers

I am teaching Jennifer to drive right now and we have gotten to the stage where I really am not teaching as much as just sitting in the front seat while she practices.  So being the ADD/ADHD type I am looking for something for my mind to do while she is driving and still keep myself aware of the traffic and her driving.  So I end up reading the bumper stickers I see in traffic.

Personally, I am not a big fan of bumper stickers.  They tend to turn into labels, and I really don't want myself labeled with one, often humorous idea.  I also don't like Christian bumper stickers, because they don't contain enough room to explaining a truth in any depth and so end up being a caricature of the actual truth.  I also see too many people combine them with others that cause the message they do have to be confused.  Or is it just the people thatput them on their car that are confused?  In honor of that point I present the one I saw today.  These three bumper stickers were on the same car:

Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, Hold On.

DON’T TELL ME what kind of day to have

Smile God Loves you.

Of course there is still my all time favorite.  I once saw these two on the same car:

Real Men Love Jesus

I miss my ex-wife, but my aim is getting better.

So if you are of the tribe and clan of bumper sticker users, think about the message you are sending.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not a Chance

There is a lot of talk in the scientific world about how things happen by chance. However, all chance really means is that we are ignorant of the laws that cause an event.

Take for instance the flipping of a coin. We say that whether it lands heads or tails is a matter of chance. We will even say that there is a 50-50 chance of it being either heads or tails. However, if we analyze things closer, we realize that we really could predict how the coin would land. If we knew the exact weight of the coin, the initial position, the exact shape of the coin, the force applied, the direction of the force, any wind currents, the exact shape of the surrounding area, and all other necessary factors we could calculate with certainity the exact position of the coin when it came to rest.

So in reality when we say something happens by chance, we are simply saying that we are ignorant of the underlying processes. We can predict the frequency of the possible results with some certainty over a large number of trials, but we cannot predict the outcome of a given trial.

Remeber this the next time someone says that something happened by chance.

Chance = Ignorance


Current estimates of the number of stars in the Universe run to about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Consider that our sun, a rather mundane star, produces the equivalent of 3 trillion atomic bombs every second. The amount of power required to create and maintain such a Universe then is completely beyond our imagination. How then does the Bible describe this unimaginable creation event:

Gen 1:16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. (NKJ)

The creation of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars is described as almost an after thought. What then does this say about the One who created those stars, Ex Nihilo (out of nothing)?

If there is not an aspect of abject terror somewhere in your soul when you consider such a God, you have not considered Him enough.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Excuse me sir, can you tell us which way to Normal?

One day Sheshe and I were driving along discussing some crisis that was going on in our life. She was complaining that she “just wished things could be normal for awhile.” I pointed out to her that she was driving down the road in her fifteen passenger van with her eight (at the time) kids, three of whom were having a conversation in Russian. How exactly are we to get to normal from here? I am not sure she completely appreciated my comments.

Jennifer Grace

From time to time I am going to feature one of our kids in this venue. Not as much to honor them, but to tell of God’s marvelous grace in their lives. With that in mind, let me introduce you to Grace, Jennifer Grace that is.

Jennifer was born in the Russian Far East, in the Amur Oblast. Her parents died when she was young and she went into orphanage around the age of nine. There she stayed with her two brothers Sergei and Zhenya. Jennifer did what she could to keep their family together. This was not always easy as Sergei was, shall we say, not the best of little brothers. Hanging out with the older boys he seemed headed for real trouble.

During this time she met a Russian believer named Tanya. Tanya worked with the orphans and Jennifer formed a real attachment to her. Jennifer started asking Tanya to help them find a family. I say ask, pestered is probably a better word. According to Tanya, Jennifer called almost every day asking if she had found a family for them.

Tanya knew of a couple in America who had been medical missionaries in the region. This couple had been helping the orphanages to find homes for some of the children in America. Tanya got in contact with them to see if they could find a home for Jennifer and her two brothers. Not many people want to adopt an older child, even fewer want to adopt three older children. Still the couple (Barbara and Darwin Olsen) said they would try.

This is where we first entered the story. We had adopted a brother and sister through the
Olsen’s a couple of years earlier. In the process we had become one of their prayer partners for their work with the orphans. They asked us to pray for these three. Some time after that a couple came forward who wanted to adopted them. After several month of working through the process, a snag occurred. The wife became pregnant even though they though they could have no more children. The child would be due about the time the adoption would be completed and they decided that they could not manage both.

We were heart broken. We had come to love these children even though we had never met them. At this point, we asked a simple question: “Could God actually want US to adopt these three children?” The question sounded almost absurd. At the time we had five children, a very large family by most people’s standards. Could God really be asking us to adopt more? We did the only sensible thing that someone in our situation could do. We tried to find someone to talk us out of it.

So we went to the elder board of our church and asked for their advice. They asked us a number of questions, listened to our replies, and as we had hoped rebuked us for our foolishness. NOT! The actually offered to help including the finances. OH, MY! At that point we were kind of stuck. Funny how, when you are unsure of whether you are following the path He has set before you, God often confirms it through the unified voice of His people.

Well after that, things went perfectly smoothly; sure there were lots of bits of paperwork to be done, and things to arrange. But God was in this so there couldn’t possibly be any thing bad that could happen along the way. If you believe that, you need to reread your Bible. Has it ever occurred to you that when Jesus calmed the storm, it was God that brought the storm! God brought the storm so that the Glory of Christ could be manifested in the calming of the storm. On July 31, 2001 our storm came.

I went into work that Friday, just like any other Friday. However, that day we were notified that the company I worked for was closing the Tulsa office and we would no longer be employed. If you were thinking that might be a problem, you were right. Not only was I out of a job, we were due any moment to get the call to go to Russia. As you might expect, not having a job would disqualify us from being able to adopt these children.

So we prayed, and I went to work looking for a job. Unfortunately, I had been working in the telecom industry, and we were right in the middle of the telecom bust. Since telecom was a major industry in Tulsa, needless to say there was a glut of talent and a dearth of jobs.

One week after I lost my job, on Friday Sept 7, 2001 we received the call to go to Russia and we had to be there in less than two weeks. Any of you who have ever traveled to Russia know how hard it is to get your Visa’s. When you adopt you do not get the letter of invitation to get your Visa’s until the court date is set. So we had six days to get our Visa’s and get on the plane to be in Russia in time for our court date, and I did not have a job.

At this point we did the only sensible thing a couple in our situation could do we panicked. After a few minutes we settled down and I went to pray and my wife called our church to ask for prayers. She got a hold of a wonderful man by the name of Jim. Jim is one of those men who knows from whence he was saved, and always exhibits an annoying amount of faith when faced with a crisis. Fortunately, for Jim he was on the other end of a phone when he responded to my wife’s panicked plea for prayers with “I can’t wait to see how God works this one out!” She probably would have wrung his neck. You see she was in the mode of “If you can keep you head, while others about you are losing theirs, you probably don’t understand the seriousness of the situation my son.” Still, I think Jim introduced a much needed godly perspective to her.

About, this time I came back from praying. While praying I had decided that I would do what I could and leave the rest to God. At that point there was one avenue I had not pursued with regard’s to looking for a job. The first week had been spent looking in Tulsa since we really did not want to move. I had one quick possibility left, but that required us possibly moving. I took it.

I called an old friend in Huntsville, and asked if he knew anyone who might have work for me. He offered me a job over the phone! Less than two hours after receiving the call to go to Russia I had a new job in Huntsville, Alabama and we were on our way to Russia again. Things were hectic the next couple of days, we got the Visa paperwork FedExed and made a run to Oklahoma City on Monday to get the last of the paperwork apostilled.

On Tuesday we were packing and waiting for the FedEx truck to arrive with our Visa’s when a friend of mine called. He asked if we were watching television. We turned on the television just in time to see the second plane crash into World Trade Center. The date was September 11, 2001.

As the day wore on we realized that all planes had been grounded, including those to Russia. The FexEx guy delivered our Visa’s and the last of our needed paperwork. He said we sure were lucky that our stuff had gotten in before everything was grounded. We explained to him that luck had nothing to do with it. Still all the planes were ground, including the ones to Russia.

To be continued…

Friday, October 14, 2005

Welcome to Sheshe

My wife has decided to start posting here from time to time.  She is posting under the name of sheshe.  The name sheshe has special meaning to us as it is the Kazakh word for mother.  Three of our daughters were adopted from disruptions.  Because they already had someone they had called mom and dad and those people had rejected them, they had a real hard time calling us that.  So we decided to accept other terms that they recognize as terms of endearment and respect, thus they call her sheshe.  They also call me “Old Man”, we may have to work on that one…

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Are We Scandalous Enough?

I said I was going to post tomorrow. Well several tomorrows later, I am finally going to do it.  Somehow, with eleven kids life just seems to happen fairly often.

My question is “Are we scandalous enough?”

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that He was scandalous in several different ways.  As I look at myself and my church I think we do a good job of confronting error and standing for the truth.  At times this makes us scandalous.  

Where I think we fail is that we do not reach out to the kinds of people that Jesus did.   It seems that, when we confront the seeker friendly, purpose driven, or emergent churches for their unbiblical methods, we stand for the truth but miss a valid criticism of our ministry.  That is that we are not reaching people that we should.  Perhaps we should rename ourselves the Reformed Church of the White Middle Class.

When I look at our community I see those of other races and nationalities.  I do not see the same demographics represented in our church.  When I look around our community I see many “tax collectors and sinners,” yet I do not see many of them in our church.  I see mostly middle class intact families who have a basically Christian background.  Not that we never see the others just that they are far less common than they are at our workplace, the gym, or the other places we frequent.  Our church is made up of people mostly like us.

So why is this?  This is one of those areas where there is not an obvious particular sin of an individual or group, but the net cumulative effect of all our actions appears to be something wrong. It is certainly worth examining to see what it is we are doing wrong.

First, I do not think is comes from bad doctrine.  Those who teach in our church are sound and would confront someone who was actively sinning in this regard.  Nor do I think it something wrong with the leadership.  All the members of the church are to be making disciples, and if they all look like us, whose fault is that?

I cannot answer for all the others in my congregation, but if I examine my own heart I find at least three particular sins in this regard.

  1. I am too in love with the things of this world.  I get distracted by all of the things in my life that are of little importance.  Thus I do not seek out others to who I could witness? Do I get out into my neighborhood and meet the neighbors, or do I sit inside working on my computer?

  2. The fear of man.  I am more afraid of the rejection and persecution of man than I am the displeasure of the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.  Do I speak the truths of the Gospel to my neighbor or co-worker or do I, out of the fear of man, hold back lest they think I am weird.  Of course they already think I am weird with eleven kids.

  3. I am lazy.  I would rather sit and rest than take the time that is required to get to know my neighbor.

May God grant us the Grace to take the Gospel into the uttermost parts of the earth, including the guy in the next office at work!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Scandalous Behavior

Paul Lamey at lameworldview made some critical remarks regarding popular preacher Joel Osteen. Joel’s ministry seems to mirror many in the church today who are constantly trying to make the Gospel more relevant, user friendly, or attractive. There are several Biblical reasons this is wrong and Paul and others have made those points.

However, it got me to thinking about one thing that I have not heard discussed. That is the scandalous nature of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus often ran afoul of the religious leaders of His day at times calling down curses upon them and calling them names. He associated with the local riffraff and crime elements. He claimed that He was God. He even appeared to have recommended cannibalism (John 6:53).

Were it not for his miracles, we would label Him a dangerous lunatic. However, even the miracles were not enough to keep the people around as some of the strange things He said ran off many of the people who some because of the healings, free bread, and fish.

How are we to take the teaching of such a man, the message of the cross, the resurrection, etc and pretty them up so as to be inoffensive, particularly, if we are dealing with those steeped in the modern and post modern disbelief in the miraculous? The answer is that we cannot. The Bible says that the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing.

In the end, we must recognize that God has not only given us the message, but the methods of spreading the Gospel. They do not involve slick marketing and production values they involve prayer and the preaching of the Word.

Tomorrow: Are we scandalous enough?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Space Aliens

Many teenagers probably think at some time in their life that their parents are from another planet. When your family consists of eleven kids of various races and nationalities they do start to notice that your family is a little different than the ones around them. This adds to the impression that maybe mom and dad really are aliens from outer space.

At times this makes it hard for them to believe that some of the things you say are true, particularly when it comes to the things of the Bible. Obviously, most people around do not live this way, so it must just be these weirdos who have kidnapped them and brought them to their home.

Over the last couple of weeks our pastor went on mission trip to Russia. His wife asked if our girls could come over and spend some time and help with their two small boys while he was gone. So we rotated them through in two girl shifts and they all got to spend some time with her.

This had a unexpected side benefit for us. They got to spend some time with someone who seems pretty normal. In the process she reinforced through her life and her words the things we teach every day. They may still think we are from another planet, but at least it is a few light years closer than they originally thought.

I love how God uses others to bless us when we are only seeking to help them.

Cultural Relevance

Phil Johnson over at PyroManiac has been having an interesting discussion on the Christian being "culturally relevant." Much of the discussion there has been good, pointing out the difference between being culturally relevant and being mired in the culture and its sinful practices.

However, I sometimes have to laugh at the notion of being culturally relevant. My family consists of children from five distinct cultures. Having adopted most of them as preteens or teenagers, they come with the imprint of their native culture upon them. Thus we have a mixture of the prior culture, American culture, and several subcultures as some have come to us via disruptions of prior adoptions. How do we untie this cultural Gordian Knot and preach the Gospel to them?

I can tell you it is not by trying to immerse ourselves in their culture. We simply explain to them what the Bible says with regard to the Gospel in terms they can understand. Sounds too simple does it not. Well let me give you an example.

Our most recent daughter came to us at fourteen from Communist China via a disrupted adoption from an atheist couple who sent her to a Roman Catholic school. In China she was also introduced to some degree to Buddhism. First I have no idea how to be relevant to her cultural context as I can barely conceive of what that is. Second, it does not matter. I simply explained to her about what God says.

We talked about a Holy God and how she was in rebellion against him.

She would tell me she did not believe in God. I would tell her that God’s Word says she knows there is a God and she is simply denying what she knows is true (Romans 1).

She would ask me why what I believe was better than what the Buddhists or the Catholics believed. I told her that because God’s Word says these things are true.

She would ask me about the fact that the Catholics use the Bible too and they believe different things. I told her that if she could show me that the Bible says what the Catholics say, then I would believe it too.

We talked about Christ and His atoning sacrifice. How she could be made right with God by putting faith in Him and repenting of her sins.

We talked about how He was God and how He lived a sinless life and how He died to pay the penalty for our sins and how He was buried and He rose again the third day.

In all of this I quoted very little Scripture because her English was too weak for her to understand the verses as they were written, but explained them to her in terms she could understand and I pointed her to her Chinese Bible, and she read, and the Holy Spirit used His Word to change he heart and she believed.

I have known many believers whose lives changed drastically after they were saved. However, I have never seen such a drastic change in an individual. This girl who literally cursed me when she first came into my home, who left scars on my arms from scratching me, is now my beloved sister in Christ. She now abounds in love for God, His Word, and His people. Today she is not quite sure who she is. All of her old affections are gone. But, she is learning what it means be a child of the Living God.

Two things we can learn from our little example about cultural relevance (assuming we have not already learned it from God’s Word itself).

1) The Gospel speaks to something beyond culture that crosses every boundary and every construction of man.
2) The Gospel is supernatural. God is the one who gives it the power, and He has said that it comes through the preaching of His Word. There is no greater miracle than the changing of a wicked human heart.

Certainly, we may use cultural artifacts as a way of communicating the Gospel such as Jesus did in His parables, or Paul did on Mars Hill. However, that does not mean that we have to become like the culture wallowing in the mire of worldliness so that we can somehow make the Gospel more attractive. He has promised us that the Gospel is offensive to those who are perishing. We cannot make it less offensive without making it less than the Gospel.

In the end, we must obey Him. We must preach the Word and He will save souls through it.