God’s Not Dead and the Myth of the Militant College Professor

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Let me qualify everything I’m about to say by first saying that I have not seen the movie God’s Not Dead yet. This is not a movie review nor is it meant to discourage anyone from going to see it. From talking to some friends who have seen it, I understand there are some redeeming things about the movie and the story it presents. Amongst them is the fact that the main character is willing to stand up for what he believes in and takes the time to research and find answers to difficult questions posed by the antagonistic philosophy professor. I find it interesting that Focus on the Family’s movie review website, Plugged In, had this to say as the negative elements of the movie “Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.” As much as that bothers me and could be topic in and of itself or a blog—the portrayal of non-Christians in Christian movies—that is not the issue I have with this movie.

Surely there are professors that are antagonistic towards Christianity and organized religion in general. Many of them have published works that provide their explanations of why they think faith in a deity is intellectual suicide. I don’t doubt that many of them don’t shy away from sharing their antagonistic attitude in class. That being said, they are still professional. In any philosophy class you are not tested and assessed the same way you are in a math or even a science class. The field of philosophy does not require that you subscribe to the worldview of your professor. It does however require you give a rational support and or explanation of the worldview you’ve chosen. Thus the premise presented in the movie of a professor demanding that students deny God or gods completely at the outset of the semester is extremely far-fetched. Still that is not what bothers me the most.

For a number of years we’ve been warned that philosophy and professors of the sciences pose a major threat to Christian college students. We’ve been told that these cunning men and women are the main ones responsible for the often quoted statistic of somewhere between sixty to seventy percent of young Christians leave the church by their second year of college, a third of which never return. Yet in all my years of doing youth ministry—as a student, volunteer, and a pastor—I’ve yet to know of anyone who walked away from following Jesus Christ because of what they learned in a college philosophy or science course. On the other hand, I know a multitude of persons who have walked away from Christianity, all of whom walked away for one of three reasons.

The first is that they went away to college and eventually the guilt and shame from having premarital sex and or getting involved in alcohol and drug abuse became too overwhelming and thus it was easier to abandon faith than deal with their junk. Many of them feared being left out of all the fun everyone else was having and wanted to belong with their peers. They had been handed a faith that was primarily about behavioral modification and proved to be shallow and without roots. Some quite simply can be described by John 3:19 in that they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

The second reason is that they encountered some sort of tragedy or crisis, often the divorce of their parents or death of a loved one, and became either disillusioned with by God’s seeming disregard for their troubles or angry with him. It became easier to walk away than wrestle with what the Bible says about the present age and the age to come, namely the paradoxical reign of Christ on earth (the paradox of Jesus reigning on earth while there is still evil and suffering in the world) while yearning for the overflowing reign of Christ on earth where pain and suffering will be no more, and death will be defeated. Often times they’ve been handed a faith that says you suffer because you’ve been bad and God is punishing you. Ironically enough, this is where some adopt the Anosticism which says, “if there is a God who created the earth he or she is now totally uninvolved in the affairs of the earth”.

My point in bringing this to the table is this… Let’s stop blaming liberal college professors for the failures of the church, youth ministries, and parents. Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity summarizes the problem quite well, “it remains true that most churches are strong on teaching about conversion, but weak on teaching about how to live after conversion.” If anything college, or more to the point independence, is the testing ground of faith and the gospel message young people have been taught to believe. A gospel that primarily teaches you to modify your behavior is usually heavy on guilt and light on grace. A gospel that primarily teaches you that Jesus came to make your life better is light on hope for a world that is perishing and the cost of discipleship. A youth ministry primarily focused on having fun is going to yield young adults in search of more fun and entertainment. Sermons on how you’re blessed or claiming your blessing are light on telling the story of how God set out to bless the entire world and why it needed to be blessed in the first place. Parenting driven by fear of what could go wrong is light on talking about how the world went wrong and what God does about it in the past present and future.

We need to present our young people with a robust gospel that fosters disciples instead of converts and well-behaved kids. We need to own our failures instead of blaming them on people and institutions that weren’t around for the formational period of young adults lives. Otherwise, God’s Not Dead will be wholly accurate in their depiction of a young adult who has to go search for answers to tough questions in isolation, instead of in loving community, or abandon their faith all together.

Why Do We Perceive Sex As So Gross?

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“Why do we perceive sex as so gross? Most people think its gross.”

That is one of the questions I received last week from one of my students anonymously on a 3×5 card. Last week we talked about myths and lies about sex from culture. Ironically enough we will be addressing the question this week when we talk about myths and lies about sex from the church. It is actually the third on my list of church myths under the title of, “Bodies and sex are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant.” However, if we’re being fair the lie of sex being gross is perpetuated by both the church and culture at large (I feel I should clarify that when I refer to the church in this case I’m referring to the Christian subculture as a whole in America. It’s not just a generalization of local church bodies but also Christian pop-culture of books, movies, and bible study curriculum).

I believe the reason why so many, probably not a majority, but a sizable amount of people, thinks sex is gross is because of the fear tactics meant to discourage us from having sex when we’re young. One of the buzzwords of our sex talk is ‘formational’. There are so many aspects of our culture that is formative in how we think about our bodies and sex. Given some of the messages we receive early on about sex from what is said and also what isn’t said has a way of teaching us that sex is gross.

Given how sex saturated the culture at large is some I assume many disagree that it actually uses fear tactics to scare us out of having sex when we’re young. I would point out that most of my students were apprehensive about having a sex talk to begin with because the sex talk they would have gotten at school was extremely awkward. Think back to the sex-Ed portion of your middle and high school health class curriculum. If you remember nothing else you probably recall being shown pictures of genitalia with rashes or worse due to sexually transmitted diseases, and video clips of a childbirth. Why would our culture, which tends to be fairly reckless with their depiction of sex on the opposite end of the spectrum use fear tactics to discourage young people from having sex? Above all else our American Western culture values individual autonomy. One sure fire way to threaten your autonomy before you even reach adulthood is to get pregnant, get someone pregnant, or get an STD. More to the heart of the issue if any of those things happen before you reach adulthood you’ve sent a shot across the bow of your parent or guardian’s autonomy (and their insurance premium). So if scaring you doesn’t work they’ll gladly teach and instruct you in the proper use of birth control and contraceptives. Also I think we would be amiss if we didn’t give some credit to the pervasiveness of hardcore porn to the belief that sex is gross. Most pornography is completely and utterly dehumanizing.

As for the church its uses fear tactics to try and scare you into obedience to God. Often the unintended overwhelming message from the church in regards to sex is that it is not allowed. Well that is until you get married. In the church premarital sin is treated like the unforgivable sin. I’ve read books and heard talks from Christian sources that would have you convinced that if you have premarital sex, you’ll be haunted by ghosts of your sexual past for the rest of your life, that you are used and soiled goods. Whereas the Bible teaches that purity is as much about sex as it is how we treat widows, orphans, and foreigners, the church has created an entire market around sex being the be all end all of purity from purity rings to the “True Love Waits” campaign. One of the most egregious examples of the church using fear tactics about sex, is Kay Arthur’s book The Truth About Sex where she likens sex to a can of Drano. That’s right, she likens sex to a toxic cleaning chemical engineered to clear out a clogged bog. She highlights the cautions and warning labels where it says “May be fatal or cause permanent damage if swallowed. Causes severe burns to eyes and skin.” I get what she’s trying to communicate. Being reckless with you sex life and misusing sex can put you at risk. However, what are the chances that a few teenagers hearing or reading that illustration is ever going to want to have sex even when they get married? In extreme cases they’ll only ever want to have sex in order to procreate or occasionally begrudgingly appease their spouse.

It is likely that both the culture and the church is to blame for why so many parents feel inept to talk to their kids about sex. Sex either becomes part of a child’s null-curriculum leading to curiosity suspicion and at time the assumption that it is wrong to talk about. Some parents feel awkward using technical terms when talking about sex and create code words for body parts and intercourse. Not only does this have the possibility of teaching kids at an early age that sex is always naughty, but it could have even more devastating consequences. I spoke with a psychologist once who told me they and many of their colleagues were witness to failed child abuse cases because the defense attorney seized on the fact that the child referred to their body parts with code words they learned from parents like “flower” and “butterfly” instead of an anatomically correct term.

At the end of the day the fear tactics from both camps fail because sex is good. Sex is designed for us, and in our sinful brokenness we have turned it into something it is not. Despite all the ridiculous illustrations and disgusting pictures of STDs people keep having sex because sex is a tremendous gift that God has given to his image bearers to experience the peak of companionship and oneness. And as with any great gift some people just can’t wait to open it. As with any great gift it can be misused and abused. None of that changes the fact that it is good.

 

Why I Won’t Be Giving My Daughter A Purity Ring

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with purity rings. I have no idea who started the trend and if it is even as popular now as it seemed to be when I was in High School and college. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. I’m quite positive purity rings have been effective in being the reminder they are meant to be to young people to order their bodies and sex lives to a higher standard. I just wonder if it might be a very well-intended thing that misses the true mark. This post is meant to be less criticism and more food for thought.

The true mark of the Christian pursuit of sexual purity (cause after all biblical purity encompasses much more than our sex lives) is worship of the God of heaven and earth, architect, creator, and definer of human bodies, and a living understanding of the gospel. A living understanding of the gospel entails a full comprehension that the gospel is a message that begins with all of creation, including human bodies and sex, declared as good and ends with creation being consummated by and to God.  In particular we have scenes described and doctrine expounded that human bodies of the redeemed being resurrected and made new.

My apprehension with purity rings concerns subtle shifts in thinking that I think they could create, that while not entirely bad miss the point of Christians ordering their lives under God’s grace and love.

 

  1. Locus of Relationship: The pursuit of sexual purity is to be encouraged and ordered in response to our standing and relationship before God. I can’t help but wonder if purity rings subconsciously shift the ordering of sexual purity as a response to the standing and relationship before parents. The difference is that one is ordering their life under a holy, life-giving God, and the other is ordering their life under a guardian who is just as subject to God as they are. Put simply the desire to please and not disappoint parents becomes the primary motivation to be chaste as opposed to pleasing God.
  2. It’s Not Just Sex: There have been whole books and lectures dedicated to purity and holiness that only scratch the surface of what it really looks like to live a pure and holy life to God because they only talk about sex. They really should be called “sexual purity rings” because that is the only aspect of purity that they are encouraging. Purity in the Bible, the kind God has freed us to live and Jesus gave the perfect example of encompassed every aspect of how we interacted with our neighbors and this world, not just the sexual aspect.
  3. It’s Not Pass Fail: I’ve met people who once they had crossed a certain line decided they would no longer wear the purity ring. Not that they wouldn’t aspire to continue to pursue sexual purity after their “transgression”. The first problem with this is in most cases sexual purity had already gone out long before “the line” was crossed. Secondly, the purity ring in their mind had gone from being a reminder to a badge of honor, and thus when they transgressed they could no longer claim this status and stripped themselves of their standing. When something like that happens it demonstrates that they are struggling to remember and live out the redemption component of the gospel story and instead focus on the fall.

 

Closing Thought: Why is it I can’t think of a single dude I ever knew who had a purity ring bestowed upon them? Why has the only purity rings I’ve seen exclusively been adorned by girls? Honestly, shouldn’t there have been just as many guys wearing them as girls? Anyway, as I said in the beginning I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. Whether you do or not I think those three things should be things you should be intentional to address with your child when encouraging them to live a life of purity.

Go Beyond Affinity: Finding Real Community In Church

189594_712152423977_1757242_n            This past Sunday I was at the memorial service for a friend who has passed on. It was a lovely service because quite simply she was a lovely person. All four of her children took turns speaking and everything they said was beautiful, full of love and gratitude for having her as a mom. I had never met any of her children, all of whom are just a little bit older than me if not the same age, but none of what they said was at all illuminating. It was not illuminating because all the wonderful attributes of compassion and investment of time they described had been experienced by myself and pretty much every adult sharing the same pew, all of whom are young enough to be her child. When I think of Christ centered community I think of Tom and Jeanne Gould.

When I was a college student at Spring Arbor University I served in the worship ministry of a local church as a vocalist and volunteer in the youth ministry. This church didn’t have a college or young adult ministry and yet I felt right at home as a young adult college student because families of students, other volunteers, and fellow worship team members showed an interest in me, and welcomed me into their homes. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Andy, Trish, Janine, Taryn, and Scott.

The first church I began going to without my parents started with getting involved with the youth ministry as a Senior in High School. They had a college ministry, but that’s not where I felt most at home. I felt most at home with Vaughn and Marilynn, so much so that most Sunday afternoon’s and evenings were spent in their home. A good number of Friday nights were spent hanging out with them as well as going to the movies and getting something to eat. Sure they had two kids my age, but our friendship deepened when their kids where away at college and I was still in town. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of the Lipperts.

All of us are looking for community. Many leave churches because they can’t seem to find community. I’ve heard many people lament the absence of a college ministry, or young adult ministry, or a young married ministry, or you name it ministry. There isn’t a ministry where they can get easily plugged into and get community. Then there are others who find the ministry for them, their demographic, and still leave because real community evades them even within the group.

Even though I wasn’t a student at the University of Michigan (I went to the local community college) I was looking for community and thus began attending Campus Crusade meetings with friends who were students. I never quite got plugged into that group even though there were some friends I made that I could hang out with probably because I wasn’t a student and though I lived in town I didn’t live on campus. Oddly enough the place where I did find community was also on the campus of University of Michigan, Athletes in Action, which was basically Campus Crusade for the athletes. Not only was I not a student at UofM, but I certainly was not a division I athlete. Yet just this weekend I connected with a friend that I know through AIA that was in town on business because we’ve been friends ever since we met thirteen years ago. When I was in Chicago two years ago on a Conference I was able to catch up with a friend who lives there for coffee that I met through AIA. I was invited to go on my first overseas mission trip with AIA in 2001. My reply was, “but I’m not even a student here much less an athlete.” The reply I received was assurance that despite those things I was definitely a part of that community. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Donte, Robyn, and Bruce.

The point I want to make with all of these stories and illustrations is this… If you want to find and be apart of Christ-centered community you have to be willing to go beyond affinity. If you’ve grown up in the church you’ve probably been conditioned to settle for affinity. From the time we are infants to when we are Seniors in High School our community in church is shaped around primarily being with people who are the same age and life-stage as our self. We unconsciously look for the people like us. It’s no wonder that most college students and young adults won’t even consider attending a church that doesn’t have a ministry for their age group and will eventually leave a church if they age out. Affinity is not bad it just has a way of robbing us of true community if we’re not intentional. It’s comforting to have “likeness” but we may find that something is missing without some diverseness and depth. Moreover, if we refuse to take a risk and invest relationally in someone else because they aren’t the same age or life-stage as us we could seriously miss out on some beautiful relationships. Even amongst those who are the same age and life-stage as us we often discover that there can be a disconnect because we haven’t discovered the deeper more significant and lasting affinities we have with people. And there is no deeper more significant affinity than having Christ in common. How else could I be friends with a raging Ohio State Buckeyes fan like Tom Gould?

When I first came on staff at Church at Charlotte I tried to help breath some life back into the 20s-30s group. It worked for a little while before things fizzled out again but when I think of that group I think of the couple who were well past their 20s and 30s by about twenty to thirty years that invested in that community. Even after the group fizzled out Tom and Jeanne continued to invest in many of the disbanded members. Tom led a Bible study with many of the guys, and together they went out to eat with and hosted many of the women in their home. Therefore there was a whole pew of people with whom the words of Jeanne’s children at her memorial service resonated with because they experienced the same kind of relational investment.

If you’re someone who is struggling to find community in a local church it might be time to go beyond basic affinity of same age and life-stage. If you’re someone who is well connected in a local church within a homogenous group it might be time for you to start going beyond affinity so that others can find community. Go beyond affinity and go deeper to find meaningful and lasting relationships

Five Tips For Christ Following College Freshmen

August is upon us which means another crop of incoming college freshman are about to descend upon their college campuses all over the country the next few weeks. The summer after graduating from high school before my freshman year of college may have been the best summer of my life (the summer after graduating from college right before starting my career and the summer I got married rank up there too). As the summer weeks wound down closer to the time I would be leaving for college I tried to recall all the things that people told me to expect when I went to college. For the most part I could remember all the encouragement, warnings and things I could expect for how college was going to be different than anything else I had experienced.

I appreciate that people tried to prepare me, but honestly nothing they said made that much of a difference because the information in advance paled in comparison to the actual experience. Simply put the information gave me an awareness of what to expect, but in a lot of ways it didn’t prepare me because it was just so different from High School. I remember thinking I won’t bother telling incoming college freshmen all the things I was told cause it just didn’t prepare me. Well now that I’m a youth pastor I feel a little obligated to give some advice or heads up. So here are a few things for you all to keep in mind before you go off to college.

“You’ll Have Way More Time On Your Hands”—This is the one thing that no one told me that I wish they had. If there is one thing that I failed at in my first few years of college it was time management. The best way I can describe college is that you have way more time than you know what to do with. This is especially important to note if you are a procrastinator because you’ll have more time to do just that. Interestingly enough a student I had coffee with this summer had the opposite problem, “I got so used to being in school seven hours a day, and doing homework until at least ten o’clock at night that the first few months of college I never left my room because I thought I should be putting as much time in as I did in High School even though the professors didn’t assign much in the way of homework.” First things first, is the key principle to practice regardless of which camp you fall into. When I finally figured that out, with the exception of the occasional project, I never did homework and studying past eight o’clock and had plenty of time to hang out with people without having it in the back of my mind that I still had work I needed to finish.

“Free T-shirts Are the Doorway to Debt”—most schools that I know of have an orientation at the beginning of the year where you can find out about all the different student organizations on campus. Inevitably there will be one booth set up with the offer of free t-shirts. Well free if you fill out a no obligation application first. More than likely this is a credit card company getting a bunch of broke unemployed college students to sign up for a credit card by baiting them with a free t. Personally I think it’s kind of unethical for credit card companies to prey on college students who don’t have a real job will have an enormous debt awaiting them upon graduation to get into even more debt before they have the means to handle. But they can do it because you all are technically adults so just no what you’re getting into before you sign up to get the free t.

“Find Christ-Centered Community Immediately”Over the years most of the students I know who maintain a vibrant growing faith in Christ through college are the ones who don’t waste time getting plugged into a on-campus Christian ministry. I know of very few colleges and universities that don’t have either a Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity. Both ministries have a great reputation nationally. One recommendation I would give though is to go a step further and find a local church to get plugged into. Look for a local church where you can form healthy adult relationships and serve. You’re going to be with people your age and life stage all the time. The local church is a great place to branch out and go beyond homogeny. In all likelihood there’s bound to be a church near your campus that does a great job of recruiting families to ‘adopt’ a college student. During my college years the churches that I felt most connected to and a part of were not the ones that had a college ministry but the ones that I served and formed relationships with other adults.

“Drunkenness is a Moral Issue. Underage Drinking Is A Legal Issue”—So just don’t do it. Even if you have the discipline not to abuse alcohol and become drunk you are taking a risk with the law when you choose to drink as a minor. If you get caught your parents aren’t going to be around to smooth things over with the authorities, and you can actually be kicked out of school if it becomes a problem. [Sidenote–It goes without saying that I’m not condoning it, but girls if you choose to drink at a party I strongly advise you get your own drinks and literally eye ball your drink into the cup to assure that it hasn’t been tampered with]

Don’t Rush To Rush—The only Christians I have known that entered the Greek system and didn’t compromise their morals and lose their identity to the identity of the fraternity or sorority are those who approached it with the mindset of doing ministry; to be salt and light. I don’t want to come across as completely bashing the Greek system because they still do good things, but let’s just call it what it has largely become; a place where you can get easy acceptance and identity as long as you can pay the dues, and become a part of a community that for the most part is about partying, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity with the occasional service project thrown in. Sure they’ll have made connections that often prove to be advantageous when they enter the workforce, but at what cost? Not to mention that similar connections can be gained by getting to know at least one professor or administrator and a handful of fellow students in the department you’re majoring in. What was once a culture of developing and nurturing future leaders has become a culture of recklessness. I believe the culture of the Greek system can and should be redeemed but it will require people who enter it with a missional mindset (And if that is your aim I know some people I can refer you to for mentoring on how to do it and what to expect). So if you’re going to rush, rush for the right reasons.

In ClosingAs a youth pastor I want to give students the opportunity to take ownership of their faith. In a lot of ways the college years is the proving ground of whether or not they’ve done that. I can’t take too much credit for how they turn out because there are so many variables. That being said, no matter what ups and downs they encounter at college and university over and above all that stuff above I hope my students know where they can find me.

Food For Thought: Trending Amongst Young Girls… Running & Track Shorts

“In the ten plus years I’ve worked at the food kitchen the groups who come with girls the most inappropriately dressed are white girls with church groups.” That is what two men, independent of one another, told me at the food kitchen in Baltimore last week during our mission trip. I was informed that most food kitchens in the city wouldn’t have even allowed our girls to come in and serve dressed in the attire they were wearing. The attire in question was their shorts. This conversation was had after I was asked to go and discretely get two of our ladies away from a gentleman, though appearing harmless in his wheel-chair, was a registered sex offender. “They are here to serve and should not be displaying that much skin”.

Sure enough, the next day our group of students who were about to leave for the soup kitchen was an all girl group. Every single one of the girls had on a pair of the running shorts. I instructed them to go upstairs and put on a longer pair of shorts or pants due to the feedback I was given yesterday. I received a little push back when I suggested that if they didn’t have a longer pair of shorts they could borrow some from the guys. That is when I told them the rest of what the men who work at the shelter told me, “They need to realize that for many of the men who are coming in here off the street their response and what is going through their head would be no different than if we were to walk those girls through a prison wearing those shorts.” I got no further argument and they immediately went upstairs and changed into something a little more appropriate.

I’m not about to start cracking down on the girls for wearing the running shorts (unless I noticed they’ve rolled up the waistband to make them even shorter). This got me to thinking. Take what I’m going to say, and do with it what you will. Consider it food for thought.

  1. When these girls are home they aren’t in environments where they are going to be around a lot of men, and boys whose response to them is going to be similar to walking them through a men’s correctional facility or prison. However, when considering how rampant pornography has become amongst adult men and adolescent boys the chasm is probably not that wide.
  2. That being said, and as mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t think that women should be made to feel totally responsible for making sure that the men they come across maintain a pure thought life. We don’t want to send a message to young women that if a man makes unwanted sexual advances or worse that they somehow asked for it.
  3. I definitely think that there is a time and a place for short track or running shorts, but all the time? However, the track shorts are longer than many of the shorts that are featured in retail stores with about an inch of fabric beneath the crotch inseam.
  4. Though longer than shorts yoga pants worn with a shirt that doesn’t cover up the rear end is displaying… a lot. One men’s magazine had a little blurb a few months ago about how great it has been for men, but don’t tell the women cause it will “ruin it for the rest of us.”
  5. Shorts of a modest length and still flattering are available without having to special order them or go to great lengths to find them.

We could go back and forth all day about modesty. Having spent a good number of years in retail I am all for women looking good and feeling confident. The difficulty is do you ignore people’s perception of you, fair or not, in the name of looking cute and being “in style”? The best example I can give from my own life was the decision I made to cut my hair and no longer sport corn rows going into my last year of college; knowing that I was going to be interviewing for jobs, and wanted to look professional. I didn’t think it was fair (still don’t) that in many circles, in particular those I would be applying for jobs, where cornrows would likely be viewed as a negative. However, getting a good job out of college was more important to me than keeping my hair-style, nor was my identity wrapped up in it. Granted I wonder if I would have made the same decision if I had known that I was going to be balding in a few short years afterwards.

Revelation That Calmed My Fears About Adopting: A Father’s Day Reflection

_DSC8298I never imagined that infertility would be something I would have to navigate. It’s safe to say that no one imagines walking through the painfully indiscriminate and out of our control ways the curse of sin can touch our lives. Whether it be infertility, cancer and other illnesses there is just some things that invade our lives with indescribable grief and massive amounts of pain.

As a man of faith in God and Christ I prayed about it for a time, but eventually became resigned to the fact that if I was ever going to be a father then it would be by a different route. So many become parents, in some cases so “easy”, that we all take it for granted how amazing conception is, and how difficult it can be. As much as it sucked to not be experiencing the blessing firsthand that God gave to mankind to “be fruitful and multiply”, that I may never have a child that is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, or as my wife and I used to say, “have a child with my big nose and her high forehead”, I decided I wasn’t going to be mad at God for the ripple effect into my life of Adam and Eve rejecting God in Eden.

Any adoption agency that is worth their salt will make you go through the gauntlet in order to be put on their wait list for a child. Amongst the many prerequisites we had to go through with our adoption agency we had to read four books on adoption. Three of the four books we read were terrible. Honestly they really were depressing. The main thrust of those three books was that in adoption everybody is wounded. The child is wounded, the birth parents are wounded, the adoptive parents are wounded. Everyone involved is wounded and grieving. So there’s a good chance that adopting a child is going to bring its fair share of difficulty and misery into your life (to which I thought, “Isn’t that the case with having kids in general regardless of them entering a family biologically or via adoption?”). The fourth book however was profoundly different.

First of all let me say that Russell Moore’s Adopted For Life is a book that any Christian should read. Even if you are done having children cause you’ve already conceived and raised ten of them you should read that book. I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with him via Twitter to let him know how profound his book was for myself and my wife by simply including in the tweet a picture of the two of us holding Isla that first day we met her. I’ve never been prouder to make someone’s day, as his reply said, because that book made me aware of something that I had never noticed or been taught prior in all my years of being a Christian.

Those of you who know me well know that I don’t worry about much. I’ve trained myself to be concerned but not worry about things, and it times it can unnerve others around me. Honestly though, I had my concerns about how quickly I would become attached in the very depths of my heart to the child I would hopefully be made the father of. A child who was not mine. The other three books spent a lot of time preparing you for struggling with the fact that your adopted child in all likelihood will not have a lot in common with you (Like I said earlier, it’s not as though it never happens with biological children). They labored that point excessively. I wasn’t concerned as much about whether or not I’d be a good father. However, there was some concern as to whether or not I’d have that overwhelming depth of love that all parents have for their child from the moment their born since I would be receiving a child that wasn’t flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. A child who I not only hadn’t procreated but I also wasn’t there for their birth.

Emma and I were headed up to Michigan for our friends Lauren and Andy’s wedding. Emma had been reading the books before me, and early on she told me I needed to read Adopted For Life first. At one point headed somewhere in the car she turned down the radio and read to me a portion of the book that had her absolutely floored. We don’t have the book anymore because we passed it on to someone else, so I can’t place an excerpt here, but I don’t need to because it was five simple words. Jesus was adopted by Joseph.

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In all my years of being a Christian it had never dawned on me or been taught that Jesus was adopted by Joseph. It’s as though it’s so obvious that we completely miss it. Or if we’re being honest we don’t realize it because we don’t see much mention of Joseph being on the scene in Jesus’ life past the age of twelve, the church has cloaked Joseph in a cloud of mystery and suspicion. However, how was Jesus often referred to in the gospel accounts by the people of his time? He was often referred to as the “son of a carpenter”, which is deeply profound if you know anything about first century Jewish society and culture. I knew enough about it to start filling in the blanks. Good Jewish fathers taught their son their trade. Good Jewish fathers taught their sons (and their daughters) the torah or God’s word. And what were the two things Jesus was well known for? Being the son of a carpenter, and even at the age of twelve, having a mastery of the sacred text (Luke 2.46-47). Surely having the fullness of the deity of God indwelling his flesh probably had something to do with it, but there is no reason to doubt that Joseph took the charge of Deuteronomy 4.9-10 & 6.20-25 to heart, because to him Jesus was his son (In other words, in a mysterious and dare I say weird way that boggles my mind Joseph is the one that simultaneously introduced Jesus to his heavenly father, and by doing so introduced Jesus to himself. Let that roll around in your brain for a second).

Although Joseph obediently stayed after previously considering to divorce Mary quietly due to his non-involvement in her pregnancy, I’m sure he was likely troubled by the thought of raising a child who people knew wasn’t his own just like I did. I can’t help but believe that God did the same thing in Joseph’s heart as he did in mine. From the first time I saw Isla and heard her cry she was undoubtedly mine. Instantly my heart was fixed and bonded to that girl to the very depth of my being, no less than any parent who went through 10 months of pregnancy. There was no need to worry or be concerned anymore. From that moment on I am her father.

I stepped out for a moment as I was writing this to tell Emma what I was doing (and get her blessing to share these things). She summed up my reflection best, and I’m not ashamed to say it makes my eyes well up with tears even as I type it. I’m a Joseph. The grief and dare I say wounding of unexplained infertility, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy if I had one, set me on a path that eventually led to me being bestowed with the legacy of Joseph. Maybe that’s why there’s few things I treasure in my heart more than the first time while praying with Isla before putting her down to sleep for the night she said before I could, with that sweet voice and articulation of a toddler of not quite two just beginning to string sentences together, “Dear God, thank you for…” I get to be Joseph to Isla who is by no means Jesus, but we certainly won’t hold that against her. Because after all one day I’ll get to tell her that she was adopted just like Jesus was. Though she isn’t flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, I have something far greater to give her than my big nose.

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