Monday, April 30, 2012

Church Wars

Recently there was a debate on Facebook that I (Adria) decided to dip my toes into.  Normally I don't engage in debates on Facebook.  People are not at their most cooperative when sitting safely and confidently behind the glow of their computer screen.  A glow I think sometimes feels like an angelic spotlight, in which we bask self-indulgently.  However, this debate was about church--a topic that's heavily on my mind these days. 

Now that I have taken a role as a church planting coordinator, I think it's important I have something to say about church.  So, I commented on the thread which said, "I think satellite churches are lame." I agreed on the grounds that I feel satellite churches are a little too reliant on ONE individual rather than discipling leaders who could lead each church location themselves, and tend to have a very speaker-focused culture which doesn't reflect certain Biblical standards I think are important.  Within hours there were 67 comments; after two of my own I decided it was time to sit out the rest of the debate.  Obviously this topic had struck a nerve.  Not surprisingly the ones arguing for satellite churches attended them and the ones that argued against didn't. 

Assertions that the "Spirit is at work" at particular satellite churches were vehemently made.  It was wondered allowed why people had to "dog on" a certain style of church.  I felt the cyberspace tension rise as people were obviously taking things personally.  The author of the original post assured people she had not meant disrespect but had made the comment out of a place of frustration.  I, and others, assured the Pro-ers that we had no intention of limiting the places and ways that the Spirit works, but that, perhaps, there are ways we can create a culture that is more or less conducive to allowing Him to work. 

In the end there was no middle ground found.  I imagine people clicked away feeling as dissatisfied as I did.  And, yet, I think this is such an important discussion to have.

As someone who is thinking a lot about what Biblical churches look like and how they can be structured to best let the Spirit move I found this conversation frustrating and a little depressing.  There seemed to be a lot of justifying and very little critical evaluation.  I mean, I'm not saying that satellite churches are satanic or anything, I'm just looking at literature and testimonies of church planting movements around the world, where hundreds of thousands of people are coming to know the Lord, and I can't help but wonder if satellite churches are just one manifestation of some things we've gotten twisted as the American church.  Sure, the Spirit is present in the midst of God's people and, sure, there are some wonderful churches doing the Lord's work all over America, but what our churches look like is a little like the established, wealthy church has looked like historically.  Stale.  Unempowered. Sluggish.

The church of the New Testament (which by no means was perfect) harnessed the power of the Gospel in people's lives.  You didn't have to have four years at a seminary to lead God's people, heck, you didn't even have to be anyone who had ever been anything, if you were then a child of God. The early church (and current church planting movements) rushed through people groups, winning people to Christ and incorporating them into the Church. Granted, we cannot have churches that look just like the New Testament church because we are in a different time and culture, and I don't mean to idealize a season of the church that was also filled with flawed people, but Biblically and historically (and currently) the most dynamic and effective church bodies don't look like the American church.

I don't want to sit back and self-indulgently critique ideas from behind the glow of my computer screen like I have all the answers...I feel I have very few.  I don't want to cast stones at people, many of whom are doing their utmost to follow the Lord's call and live a life for Him.  I CERTAiNLY don't want to believe that I know what work God is doing in the world.

I do, however, think it's time for some difficult discussions.  I think "Is God moving in our church?" is not the only question that should measure our success.  God is always at work.  We might want to ask ourselves, "How much more could God be working if we allowed Him too?"  If that's the standard, then none of us have "arrived."  Because there's the truth: the strange, awful, beautiful truth.  God has chosen us to be His agents in the world, and for some strange reason he has placed a lot of weight and responsibility on our very flawed shoulders.  It's both terrifying and exhilarating. We can be on mission with God!  Don't think I'm saying it's us doing the work.  It's not.  It's only God!  But, He chooses to use us as His vessels.  Are we open and malleable and ready to adapt when needed?

What do you think?  I'd challenge you to take a little time and read this Church Planting Movements booklet.  It rather blew my mind when I first read it, but even the things my very American mind felt resistant to pale in the light of the Gospel burning through entire people groups.  We, the American church, could stand to ask ourselves if we're getting it right.

Monday, April 23, 2012

10 Things Adoptive Families Want You to Know

When you adopt, you become part of a community.  You meet other adoptive families and you feel a connection because you know they have shared some of the same highs and lows you have.  They get it.  But, sometimes other people don't.  So, if you're not an adoptive family, here are 10 things I'd like you to know about the adoption journey:

1.     Just because we adopted doesn't mean our names are now Brad and Angelina! (Yes, I've actually had that reference made to me). Adoption was a part of God's plan before celebrities made it cool. These references belittle the challenging and beautiful journey we're on.
2.      Sometimes the adoption journey can feel lonely. It's hard to understand what adoptive parents have to navigate unless you are intimately involved in the process. Hundreds of pieces need to fall into place. You put your future in the hands of multiple people, from hospitals/orphanages, lawyers, state or country systems and agencies, some whom you will never even meet. It is a very long and emotional process that tests your faith on a minute-by-minute basis. We need your encouragement...even if our metaphorical pregnancy stretches beyond the usual nine-month attention span. If you're not sure how to support us, just ask! Treat our adoption like the birth of a child: get crazy, be excited, throw us a party. When we cry, cry with us, when we go nuts with excitement, go nuts with us.
3.      Our adopted children are our "own." It's not uncommon for people to refer to biological children (and not our adopted) as our "own" children. What makes a child your own?  Do you nurture and love them and clean up their puke and hope you didn't make too many life-ruining mistakes in a day? So do we! Our adopted children are every bit ours as our birth children. Parents and kids alike can feel offended by this term. Since what you are most likely asking is, "Are these your birth children?" perhaps think first if the moment is right for such a personal question, and then if it is, ask the right question. Try to educate yourself on positive adoption terms (ex. birth or biological parents, not "real" parents).
4.     Our adopted children are some of the strongest and most resilient people we know! Our children have challenges many other children do not and sometimes are stereotyped as broken and needy. They have experienced trauma and loss and transition that takes a toll on their hearts and minds and sometimes their bodies, but, in the face of all of these things they survive...and many of them thrive. God blessed us with our child as much as they are blessed by us! Children who have experienced so many challenges deserve our honor and love. It is not always an easy journey, but we have so much to learn from our strong and beautiful children. They deserve, not pity, but concern and love and awe!
5.     Family has a whole new meaning for us. It feels safe and simple to think about family as a mom and dad and kids. It is that, but it's also so much more. Welcoming a child into your family means you welcome the people that come with them (both the physically present and absent ones). Birth families, foster families, care givers, they all have had a part in our child's life, they are important to our children and that makes them important to us. This is complex and challenging (as all real-life relationships are) but it is also special to acknowledge the many people and events which shaped our children and family. It makes our family look a little more like the family God has created for Himself.
6.     Adoption is not a synonym for buying children. Please don't ask "How much did he/she cost?" Having children is always a financial investment! Refrain from asking details like this in public settings or in front of our children. We'd love to talk about what it takes to adopt if you are interested, but please respect our privacy.
7.      Not all adoptions are horror stories.  Sometimes adoptions fail. There is nothing easy about navigating the adoption process, but, we don't need to be constantly reminded of worse case scenarios. There are just as many risks when a family makes the decision to have biological children...some are different, some are the same. We worry enough on our own, help be a voice of encouragement!
8.     Birth parents are not bad people. They are brave, loving, broken, fearful, lost, but no one plans to live a life that is unfit for raising their child. There are so many reasons why birth parents make adoption plans for their children. Many birth parents make brave and excruciating decisions to let someone else raise their precious child because they believe it will be best for them. Some have less choice in the matter, but the process is excruciating none-the-less. As adoptive parents we are forever indebted to the beautiful gift our children's birth parents have given us. We respect their decision to give our child life and and want to help our children honor them, even while they process some of the difficult truths about their birth parents.
9.     We want to share our story with you. But, please, be sensitive.  Please don't ask questions just to satisfy your curiosity. When we announce that we have plans to adopt, understand our desire or ability to have birth children is a very personal part of our family journey. I was asked once, "Oh, are you just swingin' and missin'?," which would just be calloused if we were. I don't ask about your procreative activities...don't ask about mine. It also implies that adoption is a second best choice, instead of an equally beautiful option for growing your family. While I'm walking with my adopted son (who clearly does not look like me), I don't appreciate being asked, "Is that YOUR son?" or "Is he adopted?" Or, "Where is he from?" I want to reply, "Oh no, I just saw him outside and thought he was cute so I picked him up!" But I smile and nod. It feels invasive but mostly I hate it for my son's sake. One day he'll hear that question and be old enough to feel the unintended barb..."You don't belong together." I hurt for that day. From wherever we came from, however God orchestrated it, we were meant to be together as a family. We love that we have a unique story to tell and could talk to you all day about why we chose to adopt, how the journey has been, and how awesome our kids are! We just prefer to answer your questions because you want to know about our family, not just because you are curious. (And, please be sensitive about what you ask in front of our kids.)
10.  We're different but we're not that different. Adoptive families experience unique challenges and joys, but at the end of the day we are people doing our best to love and support each other just like your family. We may have different skin tones and backgrounds than our children, but we wake up to each other's faces each morning and are committed to a future together. As all parents experience, our kids drive us crazy and make us laugh and when we look at their sleeping faces we are so thankful for the gift God has given us. So thankful.
If you're looking to be more informed on the topic, a great place to start is by reading THIS and then get this BOOK.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Redeemed

This Sunday we celebrated the second Sunday of the Easter season.  One thing I love about following the church calendar is the way our Christian holidays are stretched into seasons, allowing for preparation and reflection.  The season of Lent causes you to be more attuned to the joy we gain through Christ's resurrection and the Easter season lets it linger in our minds even after the left-over ham has been eaten and family photos have been exchanged.

When preparing for worship I came across the song "We the Redeemed" by Hillsong.  On Easter we often remember what God saved us FROM but we don't often pay much attention to what God has saved us TO.  We have been saved into a life with Christ and we have been saved into a community on mission for Him.  We are the redeemed.  Dwell on that.  God did not save us from the bondage of our sin just because He loves us, He saved us so that we can be adopted into His family, the body of Christ, to be agents of His Kingdom here on earth.

2 Peter 2:9-10 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

Take a moment to dwell on what it means to be "Easter people," redeemed for the glory of God.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Resurrection in the City

One less.  As we made a right hand turn on Grand Boulevard in front of our ministry building there were remnants of the crime scene from the night before.  White ash dotted the black asphalt where the flares had warned off traffic.  Crime scene tape hung without purpose, now that the light of day had brought back regular activity.  One less.  The thought of there being one less person in the world, in our neighborhood, weighed heavily on me as we rounded the corner, our day proceeding as usual.  For another family this loss of life will leave a gaping hole that will make it impossible for this to be another day as usual, and for one forty-year-old man an eternal destiny, of either life or death, has been decided.

No doubt there will soon be a memorial erected on a sign or light pole beside the street, flowers and teddy bears marking the loss of his life.  We see it many times here in the city, pillars of stuffed animals charting an all too familiar path, winding its way through city streets toward eternity; violence abruptly ushering souls from their bodies, some prepared to meet their Savior, and some not.  If I let myself dwell on it pain tightens my chest.  Too many, Lord.  Too many lives lost in life and in death.

Death and brokenness are daily realities in the city.  It can be overwhelming sometimes, but I find both anguish and mercy for those of us who remain.  The loss of life will always bring pain, but facing it regularly keeps us focused on the frailty of life.  Death provides an urgency that usually wanes in our complacent hearts.  As followers of Christ we are here with a purpose, one that we must not take lightly.  There are lives that hang in the balance. 

With the prevalence of death in the city, it is easy to let discouragement creep in, but this month as we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord, I am reminded that we serve a God who conquered death.  He is a living God, with the power to breathe His resurrection into any and all who accept it.  What a gift of freedom for the city, locked in the bonds of death and brokenness.  Ministry in the city can feel a daunting task at times, but Christ’s freedom and power are unleashed in the world through His people.  That is why the only answer in the face of death and brokenness is to invest in the expansion of God’s Kingdom.

I cannot reach everyone, but if I disciple even two people who each disciple two people, who each disciple two more we will soon have the resurrection power of Christ rushing through the city streets.  Churches of the lost, who now are found, will multiply with eternal force bringing the hope and freedom and healing and power of our Savior.  This is our prayer; this is our mission. 

Praise God, death has no hold on us in Christ!  He has risen!     

Monday, April 2, 2012

Batman Could be Jesus

I read an article about a man who dresses up like Batman and spends thousands of his own dollars to buy batman memorabilia to visit hospitalized children and encourage children to fight bullying at schools.  The journalist detailed a visit to a children's cancer ward, where "Batman" held and encouraged and offered gifts to suffering children and their families.  Now, I have no idea what "Batman's" spiritual position may be, but as he was described holding a small toddler who was soon to be discharged, tenderly whispering "I'm so glad you're feeling better" I thought, that's one time that Batman could be Jesus.

When you're on the mission field it's easy to start to think you can only be Jesus on the mission field.  Sometimes you take yourself too seriously.  There is a spiritual war going on and, yes, it is serious, but there are so many ways to be Jesus in a broken world.  Sometimes being Jesus means preaching the Gospel in a hostile land, and sometimes being Jesus might mean dressing up as a superhero and wrapping your arms around suffering children. 

But, hey, let's be real. most of us don't have $5,000 Batman costume lying around.  So maybe being Jesus looks like buying coffee for your neighbor, being a Big Brother or Big Sister, or finding a family in your church who doesn't have transportation and making sure they get to church with you each week.  Maybe it looks like cleaning toilets or telling some jokes or sending an encouraging text to a friend or sharing your hobby with others or hugging someone you don't particularly want to.

Our friend "Batman" didn't become Batman over night.  He spent time and money and made plans to invest in people's lives.  So it is, as we are called to be like Jesus.  It takes time.  It takes investment.  And, most importantly it takes intentionality.  It's easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of life and lose all intentionality.  It's easy to stop being intentional even on the mission field. 

We must fight against this.  We must wake up each morning and ask Jesus how we can be more like Him that day.  You never know where He may take you, but wherever you go as Jesus, you take the Kingdom of God with you and that is what we were made to do. 

Holy, Kingdom work, Batman!