Sovereignty and Prayer

Thursday, June 24, 2010

This will run in our bulletin in a few weeks. Sorry to spoil the surprise for the CF peoples. I'd love to hear some thoughts on this.

“If God is sovereign, then why pray?” Most Christians at some point have wrestled through this question. It’s natural, right? If God is in control, then why does he need my prayers? If He has already decreed the way things will be, then what are my prayers actually accomplishing? There are certainly answers to these questions, not the least of which is simply that God commands prayer. That should be reason enough. Besides that, the Bible gives us so much insight into prayer and the effects it has. Prayer produces joy for the Christian (Jn 16.24), prayer honors God as the giver (Ps 50.15), and prayer helps to protect us from sin (Mt 26.41). Prayer is essential but not so God’s hands may be untied. Believers benefit from prayer and ultimately God is honored through prayer.

There is another angle on prayer that I would like for you to consider. Have you ever wondered: “If God is NOT sovereign, then WHY would we pray?” Think about it. Prayer assumes sovereignty. You ask God because you believe He can do something about the situation. You pray that God would heal — because you think He can control bacteria and immune systems. You pray for someone to be converted — because you believe God saves and He is able to send someone with the gospel. You pray for safe travels — because you believe God is in control of the roads (which means He controls the people on those roads).

There are many presuppositions packed into a simple request. Indeed, you already believe in sovereignty, otherwise you would not pray at all. In Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer says it well: “The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgment of helplessness and dependence.” He goes on to say: “In effect, therefore, what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the Lordship of his God.”

God has given you access to Him in prayer. Enjoy His Lordship and remember the words of 1 Peter 5.7: “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

Adoption News

Friday, June 18, 2010

In two weeks from now, my wife and I will be in some sort of confused state of what time is it as we find our way through international airports. China is a long ways from here, and it seems like it’s already taken forever to get here. We began a process to adopt a little girl about a year and a half ago. After mountains of paperwork, lots of prayer, and even some laughs along the way, it’s go time. Tickets are bought and money is flying around like it’s from a Monopoly game. We can’t wait.

I have to admit I’m not a real “keep up the adoption blog” type of guy. Though there are many of them out there with lots of great information, we haven’t done much publicly that details the ups and downs of this process. That said, since we’re at this point in the game and continually seem to have people who are interested in our story, I thought it was a good time to write a bit about adoption in general and our story in particular. We’ll start with the former.

One of the questions we are continually asked is why do you guys want to adopt?

It’s pretty simple and deeply rooted for us. We want to adopt because there is a little girl in China right now who was left on the side of the road when she was 6 days old. Ok, that’s just too emotional, right? Seriously though, we’re adopting because there are lots of kids who need a home (143 million orphans). We have 2 biological children and no reason to believe we could not have more. But having more children isn’t necessarily our motivation. James 1.26-27 gives us the marks of genuine Christianity. In a representative sort of way, James pulls the two most helpless groups and says a real believer serves the helpless — those unable to repay. Just as it was then, these 2 groups are the widows and orphans. I think a distinction is worth making here. James isn’t giving a command, he’s giving characteristics. The response to James 1 isn’t go care for an orphan or widow, the response is go check your heart if you don’t care for the marginalized and helpless of the world. Every Christian doesn’t have to adopt a kid to be obedient. But every Christian should have something inside of them that desires to serve the hopeless and helpless.

Adoption is a such a great picture of the gospel. God adopts us into his family despite our pedigree — not because of it. He took those who were his enemies and of another family, and He makes us fully functioning members of His royal family.

Another question we get asked is why China?

I wish I had a super-spiritual answer for you. The short answer is we want to. The longer answer is, well, I guess there’s not a longer answer. But, I can tell a story, how about that? It was almost 2 years ago now that I went to a meeting with Lifeline Children’s Services. Backing up even more, Mindy and I had discussed adoption off and on since we were first married. Though we never really settled the issue and had a ‘plan,’ this was certainly open for discussion. We attended a meeting while living in LA that introduced the Fos-to-Adopt program. We decided we would see if we could have biological children first and then revisit this issue. That’s what happened.

Back to 2 years ago. Our church was contacted by Lifeline to see if we’d consider having an information meeting. I got a website and started poking around to make sure these people weren’t looney. (They aren’t, at least most of them.) I wasn’t able to attend this meeting, but ended up going to another Lifeline meeting hosted at another church. We thought we’d go the domestic route when we finally got around to adopting. After attending this meeting, we became very open to the idea of international adoption. Lifeline had agreements with a few different countries.

Between the finances, in-country stay, and age of eligible children, we decided to look further into the China program. So we began the process and away we went.

I wish I could tell you some fantastic feel good story about why China, but really that’s it. We made a commitment to adopt from China early on and haven’t looked back since.

Plenty of people have also asked us, how did you get matched?

This part of the process is probably the most emotional, difficult, and strange. We decided to go the special needs route out of China because of the way special needs children are really desperately hopeless after being ‘labeled’ and also the wait is substantially shorter. Special needs can be a birthmark or a heart defect. All sorts of things can land a child on that list.

We were in the process of getting our Home-study completed and waddling through the rest of the paperwork when we receive word that we may have a referral soon. Basically there is a list of names released by China and the various agencies each get a portion. They take our file and ‘match’ it with a child eligible for adoption. Prior to referral there is a necessary and painful form called the “desired child form.” This is where you get to go through a checklist (literally) and indicate what you’d be willing to take. Everything from missing limbs, to severe handicaps, to cleft lips and palettes are on this list. I found this incredibly difficult and heart exposing.

I kept thinking about my two children and how I would gladly accept any health problem they have as being from the hand of God. We would walk through any and every trial with them. Yet here I am with a pen and seemingly arbitrarily deciding what we want in a child. It had to be done. Obviously there are no guarantees that other problems are not present or will not develop.

One day, really ‘out of the blue’ we get an email that has two pics of this adorable little girl. The first line says something about being found at 6 days old. I really didn’t have to read anymore. We had 48 hours from that point to give the answer on this referral. During this time we had medical opinions to get. She has something called hip dysplasia. As we learned this isn’t all too uncommon but if it hasn’t been properly treated while young, it may require surgery later. We do not know how severe this is right now.

As you’ve guessed by now, we accepted the first referral we received. Since then, it’s been an eternity of almost 9 months till we got our approval to go halfway around the world and find this little person who will be the newest Cagle.

More or our story later...

The Oil: It's really here and still coming

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

For 43 days now we've been hearing about a spill in the Gulf. In my optimism, I kept thinking, it just won't be that bad. They (whoever 'they' are) will get this thing stopped and they will come up with some magic solution to make all of this oil go away. My optimism was starting to wane in the past week or so and yesterday was a turning point for me in my view of this thing.

June 1 marked the opening day of red snapper season in the Gulf. This is a day that I thoroughly enjoy. I love offshore fishing, though I really don't have the opportunity to go all that often. I took a vacation day and we made our plans to fish about 20 miles south of Dauphin Island. Then we learn that the fishing has been closed from the Gulf Shores pier all the way over the Louisiana. We debated whether we go out or not but ultimately decided to go ahead and fish out of Perdido Pass, well east of Dauphin Island.

As we were fishing our first spot about 7 miles out, we see what we thought was a grass bed (not uncommon to find). As we get closer, we realize it's a floating glob of oil about 12 feet in diameter. At that moment, it got real. We caught a few fish not far from there. The fishing slowed for a while so we decided to head out another 10 miles or so.

When we go out there, we started seeing more and more oil. It wasn't like a gigantic slick, just little softball size patches all over the place. We began to catch fish (lots of fish!). As our lines went in and out of the water and the fish were hoisted overboard, the oil began to accumulate on everything. The boat was a slimy mess and so were we. This stuff is nasty. It has the consistency of thick chocolate syrup and is just as impossible to get off of your gear and skin.

When this hits the beaches (not if it will) we are in trouble. Tourism is shot. Seafood is virtually done for. Charter boat captains are through (except those working with the clean-up). Though we had a great day fishing, it was somber for the three of us on that 20 foot boat. We knew this may very well be the last day of snapper fishing for a long time.

It's sad but real. Christians need to respond in a Christ-like way. It's a trial just like a hurricane, earthquake, war, or any other catastrophe. The market will have to reset and our economy will have to retool. But these things don't just happen. This means people go out of business and lose their incomes, this means hotels sit empty and someone now holds a bank note they can't pay.

I pray that as this disaster continues to unfold Christians would be mindful to respond in a way that pleases the Lord. This is what will set up apart. As everyone else is complaining, Phil 2.14 comes to mind to not complain. As others are in despair over the impact, we realize our ultimate hope and provision is in the Lord. In short, may God be glorified in the believers who are affected by this catastrophe.

Friendship Killers

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Everyone has friends. We were created to be social creatures. I saw some amazing stats recently about Facebook. If Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest in the world, behind China and India. Why is a social media site so incredibly popular? It's because God has hard-wired man to live in community. We were never intended to be islands. God knew is was not good for Adam to live alone, so he have him one like him - a human.

The same idea is certainly even more pronounced when we consider the New Testament. We are called the body of Christ. Each one is like a particular part of the body. No part of the body functions independently of the rest. It can't. The hand has no life if it is detached from the arm. The same is true for Christians. As a child of God, you were created to be connected to the body, specifically the local body of believers - the Church.

As we consider our relationships and their ultimate purpose (to move one-another to love and good deeds - Heb 10.19-25), we know that sometimes things can go wrong in these relationships. Even 'Christian' friendships can fall short of this purpose of helping each other grow into Christlikeness. Below we have noted a few things (sins in reality) that tend to be friendship killers.

1. Gossip. Perhaps nothing can tear friendships apart faster than gossip. Either being gossiped about or participating in spreading gossip can be equally devastating. As my grandmother used to say: A dog that will bring a bone will take one. Meaning, if someone is telling you about somebody else's business, please don't be naive and think they are not also telling someone else about you. Gossip erodes trust, promotes disunity, and dishonors Christ. We are to be people who help the gossip fire go out as we refuse to supply new fuel (Prov 26.20-22).

2. Jealousy. Jealous people are not good friends. Jealousy is one of those 'little' sins we tote around and tend to not take very seriously. If you find envy in your heart, identify it as sin and confess that to the Lord. Don't allow this sin to fester. One of the diagnostic questions that helps identify envy is this: How do you respond when a friend gets something you really wanted? Maybe they get the promotion you were hoping for, they get the new gadget you wanted, they buy the house or car you have long desired. In those moments, are you able to rejoice with them, or does it anger you. Identify jealousy and root it out of your heart.

3. Laziness. The reality is it is hard work to have good friendships. They take time and many times we're just lazy and don't put any effort out. Don't be lazy in your relationships.

4. Not Forgiving. You will be hurt by a friend. You will be sinned against, and at some point in time, you will be sinned against by someone you care for deeply. This hurts. You have a choice in these moments. You can allow that to grow into full grown bitterness or you can forgive and appreciate God's forgiveness in your own life. We are called to forgive just as we have been forgiven (Col 3.13). The number of times you have sinned against God should remind us that our forgiveness of others should not have limits. Peter once asked Christ if you should forgive someone up to 7 times for an offense. Jesus' response is shocking, not just 7, but 7 times 70. Does that mean keep a spreadsheet and stop at 490? Absolutely not. The point is you forgive - always.

5. Careless Joking. You often times hear the phrase, with friends like these, who needs enemies? This is usually said after someone is being picked on for something. Friends like to joke around and give each other a hard time. That's fine and good and usually in good humor and nature. But sometimes it can go too far. Our 'joking' around can become a weapon with barbs. These little supposedly innocent jokes can hurt. Proverbs 26.18-19 says that one who throws around hurtful comments then says "I'm just joking" is like one who plays with dangerous weapons and expects no one to get hurt. Your words convey information. They change situations and impact people. Words are not neutral.

Wrath and the Gospel

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If you don't understand something of the wrath of God, you don't understand the gospel. As Christians, we tend to focus on the immanence of the Lord and on attributes like mercy, love, and grace. These are incredible realities that demand our attention.

But think about the back story of the cross. If we remove God's wrath, why was the cross necessary? Yes, focus on the love shown at Calvary, but remember why Calvary had to be. His mercy is only meaningful when we understand what He's withholding.

God required blood to forgive (Heb 9.22). The whole of the OT sacrificial system points us to the ultimate sacrifice that would be made (Heb 10.14). The sacrifice was necessary because God in His wisdom set up a system that required atonement. His wrath must be satisfied, or propitiated.  

We tend to ignore or discount the stories of God's wrath, particularly in the Old Testament. But in reality, the work of Christ in the New Testament is the story of ultimate wrath being poured out on Christ. As Isaiah 53.10 says: It pleased the Lord to crush Him. We also must remember that this Jesus who exercised the ultimate humility and meekness will come back to display a wrath of his own. Read Rev 19. This "meek and mild" Jesus comes back with a robe dipped in blood, swords coming out of his mouth, and promises to treat the earth as His winepress. The promise of His coming wrath is just as outstanding and fantastic as any display of wrath we've ever seen before.

Allow your mind to be drawn again to the work of Christ today. And remember God has saved you not simply from yourself; He has saved you from Himself.

What's Your Excuse?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I am always challenged when I see people with a true passion for the unsaved. Below is an update letter from a missionary friend. Names and locations have been taken out.

So what excuse do we really have for not telling others about Christ? 

Just to close, I wanted to share something that convicted me the other day as I was talking to our teachers here in J.  We were discussing the language group beside us called B.  Since there are several men that are believers here in D and Q, it will be just a matter of time before they will want to take the gospel there.  As we talked, I  was reminding them to think beyond the initial teaching and consider all that would have to be done.  Also, since they have no translation, I told them it would be hard to do the translation.  One of the men said to me, “You are right, the translation is a big thing.  But the biggest thing is their souls and we have the message that will keep them from hell!”  Praise the Lord for such an desire to see the gospel preached!  Please be praying with us for a door to be opened to the people right next door to us!

Digging In

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This article will be in our Student Ministry camp booklet next week. I thought some of you may enjoy.

Digging In: Enjoying this Thing Called Quiet Time
You will never mature in your faith if you never prioritize spending time with God. It’s just that simple. Imagine an olympic athlete who only trained once a week. Not possible, right? If you find someone who demonstrates maturity as a follower of Christ, you will find someone who has carved out regular time to renew their minds. We live in a privileged day with the Bible available to us. I have multiple copies of God’s Word, and you probably do too.
One of the reasons we usually give for not taking time to focus on the Lord and spend concentrated time in His Word is the busyness of our lives. I know you’re busy. You have practice, essays, homework, chores around the house, not to mention an intense social life, facebook, and TV shows to watch. Seriously, I know you are busy. One of the beauties of camp is we get to set the schedule. In our schedule we’ve built in time to be still and quiet before the Lord with our Bibles open and pens in hand.
Please know this isn’t a time filler. We have plenty of other things we could do with this time. This is not designed to be some torture device to see if you can stay awake. 
Here are a few tips to make this time useful:
  1. Actually read your Bible. Don’t assume you know the verses mentioned. Read. You’ll be surprised at what you notice
  2. Answer the questions. Obvious, right? Again this is not just buffer time to get us to something else. 
  3. Don’t lay down. Let me give you a math equation. Not a lotta sleep (+) quiet room (+) laying on floor (+) words on a page = sleeping student.
  4. Write, write, write. I know writing may not be ‘your thing’ but that’s irrelevant. Writing down your thoughts, prayers, and ideas from a passage helps keep your mind engaged and your eyes open. It will help you focus, especially when you pray. This isn’t an essay contest and it’s not for anyone else. If you’ve never tried this, give it a shot.