A Fresh Perspective of the Christmas Story: through the Lens of Adoption

This is an older post that you might find helpful as you prepare for this Christmas. It is an abbreviated text of my 2009 Christmas message I gave during our annual Christmas program.

Note: our entire Christmas program was written by our church’s worship leader. It follows the story of a girl named Emma who was given up for adoption at birth and her search for her birth dad. It takes place on the set of a community acting troupe performing a version of the play ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Also, this text has not been proofed for perfect grammar.

Pastors always feel a bit anxious when Christmas comes around for this reason. We wonder how can we bring a fresh take on the Christmas story. The program you are experiencing tonight gives us fresh lens through which we can see the Christmas story—through the lens of adoption.

Adoption is big in our culture. Sandra Bullock starred in the movie, The Blind Side that has as its theme adoption. A new ABC reality show called Find my Family, reunites families separated by adoption.

The bible often speaks about adoption. Of the three examples in the OT, the most tender one that pictures the love and grace of God when He adopts someone into His family is seen when King David adopted a crippled boy as his son. The NT mentions adoptions several times as well.

In the ancient Roman world where the Christian faith began, adoption was common and primarily for the parents sake unlike today when the purpose is for the benefit of the child. Then adoption occurred primarily to carry on the family’s names, pass on the inheritance, and have someone to take care of parents in old age. The common person understood the concept. The Apostle Paul writes about it here.

Rom. 8.15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

A Roman slave owner could adopt a slave. The result was that the slave was freed from the bondage of slavery and the fear of his master. Now, no longer a fearful slave, but a son. The Scripture I just read says that this new relationship was so intimate the term Abba was used, an endearing term for father, papa. You don’t call someone you are afraid of, papa.

This practice in Romans days parallels what happens when God adopts us. Because of sin we are alienated/separated from God (slavery to sin). When God adopts us he makes us his son or daughter, frees us from this bondage to sin and fear and addictions and we now have this new warm relationship with him so close we can approach Him as PaPa without fear. We then experience his love just like adopted children experience the love of their new parents.

Also, if I lived in that day and had no son I could adopt the son of in another family if they had two sons (and they gave permission). In doing so, I would release from that son any future debt he would be responsible for from that family. The adoption would wipe away any debt.

This practice illustrates spiritual adoption, God’s adoption of us. The bible says that sin puts us in debt to God and this debt carries with it eternal consequences—eternity apart from Him. Yet, when God adopts someone, the debt of sin and penalty of that sin is wiped clean, done away with. When God adopts us, he removes this debt of sin.

So just as a Roman through could free someone from the bondage of slavery and remove their debt through adoption, from a spiritual perspective, when God adopts us, he frees us from this slavery to our sin, fears, and addictions, removes the debt of sin that eternally separates us from Him, and gives us a new intimate relationship with Him, our PaPa.

So, how does God adopt someone? That’s where Christmas comes in.

I did some research on adoption and learned this. Those of you who have adopted already know this: it is expensive and time consuming—background checks, home visits by adoption agency, applications that must filled out and on and on.

Adoption is also one way. 100% the work, effort, and cost is born by the parents who want to adopt that child. The orphan does not earn adoption nor perform to get it or pay for the privilege of it. The power and the reason for adoption is all bound up in the heart of the parents to be.

Parents will go to literally the ends of the earth to adopt a child, pay tens of thousands of dollars, invest thousands of hours of effort so that they can adopt a child… for one reason: love. A parent wants to give away the love in their heart to a child.

That same reason has motivated God to make a way for us to be His child, only God’s love is so deep that it’s difficult to fathom what He did to make our adoption possible. The bible puts in this way.

Gal. 4.4 But when the right time came, (Roman world was like U.S., advanced civilization, but in moral crisis) God sent his Son, (Christmas-Jesus birth, God becoming a man) born of a woman (fully human, He knows what it’s like living with  pain and hurt and sorrow, he’s not aloof from it) subject to the law.  5 God sent him to buy freedom for us (remember that parents pay the full price, not the orphan) who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

One of the privileges of adoption is that the adopted child will eventually share in the inheritance as if he were related by blood. But for an inheritance to be put into effect, usually death has to occur.

A death, a payment had to happen in order for God to make spiritual adoption possible.

God took the initiative to graciously and lovingly seek out unworthy humanity (you and me) to offer to us the greatest gift possible—to become God’s child, to be adopted into His family, to be freed from the slavery, penalty, and debt of sin, to be free from our fears and our addictions, not on the basis our merit (remember an orphan doesn’t earn adoption but must simply receive it), but on the basis of what God has done out of his love for us. We must receive God’s offer to become His child.

Just as a parent goes to great lengths to adopt a child, God went to the unfathomable length of sending his son Jesus to earth (Christmas) to go die on a cross to pay for our sins (good Friday) and then to be raised from the dead to give us life eternal (Easter).

God did that so that we might be his child, have our sins forgiven, and share in this wonder spiritual inheritance-a bounty of blessings in this life and the next.

God made us to want this relationship with Him. Pascal, one of the most brilliant scientists who ever lived and a follower of Jesus said that there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of all of us.

Emma’s search for her father reflects the desire in all of us to belong, have a family that accepts us, a father who loves us, a place of safety, security … a place our hearts can call home.

Jesus makes this possible.

At Christmas, at least for a moment, the word tunes to the spiritual. For many people at Christmas hearts and souls warm up to God a bit.

I hope that your heart will open up tonight and that you will consider becoming a child of God, being adopted into His family because of what Jesus did.

How to Overcome Spiritual Vertigo

My friend Dwayne Mercer, pastor of CrossLife Church, one of the largest churches in central Florida, just released his book Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo. He writes from the perspective of a seasoned pastor and a believer who has faced personal challenges in his life. Today he is my guest blogger. I highly recommend reading his book.

It was the middle of a typical hot summer night at our home outside Orlando. My wife, Pam, and our two younger children were visiting family in Georgia while our oldest son and I stayed behind. We were sound asleep after a long day of golfing in near 100-degree temperatures when I suddenly woke up in a cold sweat. The room appeared to be spinning. I tried to get up but each attempt made me feel sick to my stomach. To make matters worse, my brain felt like it was moving around inside my heard and my eyes seemed to be dancing. I had lost all perspective of direction and I was scared. I thought, Am I dying? Should I call for help? I tried to cry out to my son, who was sleeping in his bedroom, but my voice wouldn’t carry. Every time I tried to reach for the phone, I felt like the ceiling was attacking me.

Eventually, I mustered the determination to turn, grab the phone and dial 911. By the time the paramedics arrived, I was so disoriented that they had to wake my son to unlock the front door because I couldn’t move from the bed. They immediately strapped me to a gurney and whisked me away to the hospital. When I got there, the doctors administered intravenous fluids to hydrate me. They diagnosed me with a severe case of vertigo due to dehydration.

The high temperatures during our golf outing earlier that day left me exhausted by the end of the round. I’d also been drinking diet soda all day instead of water, which caused me to become extremely dehydrated. That night, I experienced vertigo because of it. The best way I can describe this condition is that your brain and eyes have a functional disconnect and your brain is unable to process what your eyes are seeing.

You may have never had physical vertigo, but most of us have experienced spiritual vertigo. This is a condition of severe doubt, when our faith cannot process what we see, hear, or experience. We know what the Bible says but we feel real life does not match what our faith teaches us.

As a result we live in a world of doubt and often discouragement. We are challenged by sermons and books to be a giant-killer, a lion-tamer, a conqueror in Christ. However, we cannot seem to gather the faith we need to meet the everyday challenges of life.

How do we reconcile life and faith? How do we win over our doubts? That’s why I wrote Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo.

You can follow Dwayne’s blogs here.

Related posts:

How to to Give Effective Staff Evaluations

For years I’ve used this form below when I perform my twice-annual staff evaluations. I have every staff person complete the form on themselves and attach their goals for the previous and upcoming year.  These documents provide the talking points for the eval. Afterwards, I compile a one page written evaluation I give to them.

Staff Self-Evaluation/Annual Review

Employee name: _________________________ date:______   review period: ____________

MINISTRY ROLE

  • Do you know what is expected from you in your role?
  • Do you know what is most important in your role?
  • Do you have the materials and resources you need to do your work right?
  • Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best almost every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor or someone at work seem to care for you as a person?
  • At work do you feel like your opinions seem to count?
  • Does our mission make you feel like your job is important?
  • Are your fellow staff members committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year have you had the opportunity at work to learn and grow?

STAFF VALUES

How would you evaluate yourself in the following staff value areas (10 being the highest)?

  • Integrity                                       1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Attitude (positive, coachable, servant-like)      1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Volunteer appreciation/development            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Holistic health (body, soul, spirit)                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Simplicity                              1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Authenticity                              1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Teamwork (loyal, resolves conflicts)            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Continual growth/learning                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Health work ethic (excellence, hard worker, fun)      1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Risk taking (bold steps of faith)                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Other areas
  • Budget (wisely manages budget)                        1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Evangelism (invests in and shares w/seekers)            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Creativity                                                             1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Leadership                                                            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Comments about staff values:

 

Describe your overall job performance?

Strengths:

 

Areas in which you’d like to improve:

I believe that my spiritual gifts of____________________________________________are being: __Maximized       __Moderated       __Minimized       __Unused

Comments:

 

GOALS (please attach a current copy of your goals with progress notes included)

For______ ______ through _______ ______

(month)  (year     (month)     (year)

Communication

1. Do you feel your area of ministry has been well identified and/or communicated to the:

Staff?             __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

Church body?             __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

Within your area?            __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

As a staff:

2. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?

 

As a church:

3. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?

 

In your area of ministry:

4. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?

 

Staff Relationships

1. With how many people have you experienced significant frustration this past year?

__Some           __One or Two            __None

2. What attempts have you made to improve these relationships? Are the issues still outstanding?

 

3. Any thoughts or ideas on how we can improve staff relationships?

 

4. Any thoughts on how to improve relationships with church leadership?

5. Are all your relationships consistent with biblical standards of sexual and moral purity?

Comment(s) on any of the above:

Energizers and Stressors

1. In what area of ministry are you most productive, energized, or fulfilled?

 

2. On what do you spend most of your work time?

 

3. Are there areas of work or ministry in which you spend too much time?

 

4. In what area of ministry do you experience the greatest amount of stress and frustration?

 

5. What area of ministry do you find difficult to resolve?

 

Team Development

1. How would you describe the current status of the ministry teams you lead?

 

2. Who are the names of new leaders/volunteers you have brought into ministry during this last year?

 

Personal and Professional Development

1. In what area would you like additional development or skill training?

 

2. How can your supervisor help you in these areas?

 

3. What do you believe you can do to develop in these areas?

 

4. Does someone hold you spiritually accountable?  __Yes     __No

How would you describe the effectiveness of that accountability?

Other areas

Anything else you’d like to discuss with your supervisor:

Any suggestions on how to improve this review process?

What kind of staff eval has worked for you?

Related posts:

5 Signs You’re a “Bounce Back” Leader

Inevitably all leaders face disappointment, setbacks, and difficulty in their roles. As a pastor, I’ve faced my share at times: significant budget deficits, losing crucial staff members, people leaving the church in a huff, programs that didn’t meet expectations, and painful conflict. This side of heaven we can’t avoid the pain that leadership sometimes brings. Some leaders bounce back quickly from such adversity. Some don’t. So what does a “bounce back” leader look like? As you read the following list, ask yourself how many of these qualities would characterize your leadership when you face adversity.

The term often used for this ‘bounce back’ quality is called resilience. So we could actually call this list “The Resilient Leader.”

Resilient leaders…

  1. Don’t lead from perpetual caution.

     They take reasonable risks, but don’t “bet the farm” on risky leadership options.

  2. Admit they hurt when they face setbacks. They are honest about how much it hurts. However, they don’t wallow in their pain. The more we ruminate over our disappointments, the more we actually strengthen the fight-flight-freeze-appease parts of our brain which in turn dampens our ability to think clearly.
  3. Seek to learn new insights from their setbacks. Often a setback can be a blessing in disguise, for without it we would not be open to new learning. Resilient leaders are perpetual learners.
  4. Keep a long haul perspective through difficulty. Failure is never fatal nor final.

    Rather, it prompts resilient leaders to step back and refocus on their long term goals, objectives, and core values. Read my post here that explains how we can discover our true north values.

  5. Refuse to let their devotional life slip. In fact, such leaders recognize that in tough times they must draw closer to Him for strength and wisdom.

When you’ve observed great leaders face disappointment and setbacks, what qualities have you seen in them?

Related posts:

5 Leadership Insights I Wish I Knew 25 Years Ago

I just finished six months as a lead pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario and I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here at a great church. This summer also marks 34 years in ministry that has included my role as singles pastor, discipleship pastor, associate pastor, teaching pastor, church planter, and lead pastor. Although I’ve earned two seminary degrees and I appreciate what I learned in seminary, I’ve learned many key lessons that seminary never taught me. I wish I had known these 5 key lessons when I began  ministry.

  1. Silence from your team does not mean they agree with you.
    • Early on when I’d lead either staff, board, or volunteer meetings I tried very hard to sell ideas I was excited about. I would often present the idea in such a way that hindered honest input from the team. I’d enthusiastically share the idea, ask if their were any questions, and when none came I assumed everybody agreed. I learned the hard way that silence often did not mean they agreed with my idea. Rather, the team was simply reluctant to share their concerns. Only later would I find out that the idea was not a good one and lacked support. My overbearing “sell job” actually stifled feedback I needed to hear.
  2. Collaboration will get you further down the road.
    • This insight stands as a close cousin to number 1. I once thought that to prove my leadership mettle, I had to originate all major ministry initiatives and ideas. If someone suggested an idea, although I may have appeared to listen to them, mentally I would often dismiss their idea if it didn’t jibe with mine. Why? Because it didn’t originate with me. I’ve since learned that if I use a collaborative process to determine vision and major objectives, I got more buy-in and in the long run make greater progress.
  3. You probably can’t over-communicate.
    • Most people in our churches don’t spend the hours we do in thinking about church ministry. Because we spend so much more time thinking on these issues, I often fell into a subconscious trap assuming that if I felt I was over communicating about something, others must feel the same way. I’ve learned since that it’s almost impossible to over-communicate issues like vision, values, and core strategies. Although we created banners, book marks, and cool graphics to communicate our church’s current theme (Unified yet Unique), when I asked our church this past Sunday to quote that simple phrase, few could repeat it. That experience reminded me that although I thought I had communicated it effectively, I still needed to communicate it even more.
  4. Others mirror a leader’s emotional temperature.
    • The term for mirroring another’s response is called emotional contagion. Teams actually ‘catch’ the emotional state of their leaders. Early in ministry I felt that I had the leadership right to get angry, pout, or emotionally cut myself off from others if things didn’t go well. It was being authentic, or so I thought. While not discounting the importance of authenticity, I’ve learned that I must bring a positive and hopeful tone into the office each day. When I experience something painful and it’s appropriate to share it, say in a staff meeting, that sharing builds trust. But if I regularly bring negative emotions into the office, I set up a tone that others often catch and mirror, even though that emotion may have nothing to do with their circumstances. Such negative emotions can hinder a team’s effectiveness.
  5. Less is more.
    • I’ll never forget my first elder’s meeting almost 30 years ago. I had started a church in the Atlanta, GA area and we had just elected our first slate of elders. I planned the agenda for the first meeting. It was three pages long. I am not kidding. I actually still have memory traces of me racing through the agenda at a breakneck speed so we could check off all the items. The meeting was a flop. I’ve learned that less is more applies not only to meeting agendas but also to sermon prep as well. People in general absorb a few key ideas (or idea) much better than when we use the proverbial firehose approach.

What key lessons in your ministry do you wish you had known when you started?

INVITATION to a LEADERSHIP EVENT: Today, June 10 (2014), at 11 am PDT/2pm EDT I am privileged to join Brian Dodd and Greg Atkinson in a live broadcast on leadership. We’ll be talking about innovative leadership, avoiding people pleasing, and indispensable practices to help you grow. Here’s the link if you’d like to join us.

Related posts: