Release Concert Jitters

freshly-tuned-pianoLest anyone think that this album release  stuff is just one high point after another (as the heavy promotion I’ve been doing over the past week may imply), here’s an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote earlier today.

The Dwelling Place Project release concert is less than 24 hours away. I’m so excited! I’m so terrified!

Crazy thoughts flying through my mind. What if nobody comes? What if we don’t sell any CDs? What if I blow the songs? What if I say something stupid and make a complete fool of myself?

I can try to ignore these feelings, but if I do that, they’ll invariably just come out sideways at the ones I love. I need to get drain away this swirling vortex and find peace. I know it’s there for the taking. Jesus said so.

I read a great article by Bob Kauflin yesterday about leading (music and worship) to impress people versus leading to serve them. This piece is oh so timely, and I am finding it a balm to my nervous soul.  Here are some direct applications.

  • If I’m leading to serve, it doesn’t matter how many people come to the concert. We’ll do our very best to engage, inspire, and challenge anyone who is present.
  • If I’m leading to serve, it doesn’t matter if we sell any CDs. We’re doing this to support something much bigger than me and my puny little album anyway. And God is faithful to fulfill His calling to us; He will provide (and is providing) the funds we need to adopt.
  • If I’m leading to serve, I’ll chose my words to edify those who are listening, not to try to make myself look funny or like I’ve got it all together. I’ll be vulnerable and authentic, and I’ll be grateful to God and to the people who are generous enough to spend their Saturday evening on my family and our story.
  • If I’m leading to serve, I’ll keep in mind that it’s not about me. This will take the pressure off, and I’ll be free to relax and enjoy playing and singing, which means that I’ll be more likely to do a good job.

Deep down though, I’m afraid that a lackluster release concert with low attendance and marginal sales will mean that I am a failure. This is a hard one to battle. In my mind, I know it’s not true, but this success-equals-value mentality is something I’ve wrestled with for my whole life. How do I live out the truth in my head so that it fills my heart?

Maybe it just comes down to this — I need to do my very best with courage and honesty and joy, and trust God to work out the rest according to His will.  It’s out of my hands anyhow. I want to be fully present in each moment of this event; it’s what I’ve been waiting for, dreaming of, praying for. And I know are others who are just as excited and looking forward to it, and we can celebrate together, whether there are 20 or 200 of us.

Prayers appreciated.  And I am SO looking forward to seeing you – well, hopefully a bunch of you – tomorrow night!

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Stuck – Why International Adoptions Have Dropped by 50% in the Past 5 Years

My family just finished watching Stuck, a documentary that highlights the problems of international adoption.  The film tells the stories of several adoptive families as they move through the long and arduous process of bringing their children home.  Each family faces large financial hurdles, bureaucratic rejections and set backs, and waves of discouragement as they watch, hope, and wait for their little ones.  Here’s the film’s trailer.

The documentary, which was released in 2013, shares some harrowing statistics about international adoption.

  • It costs on average $28,000 to fund an international adoption.
  • It takes on average 896 days (almost two and a half years) to complete an international adoption.
  • In the last 5 years, the number of international adoptions has declined by 50%.
decline of International adoption
Graph courtesy of a CNN article on the decline of international adoption.

Stuck is critical of the policies and procedures that both foreign and domestic governments put in place which slow down international adoption.  Some of these delays are appropriate, or at least well-intentioned, to ensure that children and their adoptive families are a good match for one another, and that there or not prospective families in-country who might adopt the children.  However, things that look good on paper don’t always work in reality. One family in the movie fought red tape for over three years to bring  their son Nate home from Hanoi, Vietnam.

While measures like the Hague Convention are meant to promote and protect the best interests of children, Stuck asserts that they have largely had the opposite effect — drastically increasing the difficulty of the process, and thus decreasing the number of inter-country adoptions, even as the number of orphans grows. The film calls for change in such regulations to expedite international adoptions, though it’s short on specific suggestions and recommendations.

For my own family’s part, we have already encountered resistance in our adoption journey from foreign governments, even though we are still relatively early on in the process.  Several countries’ restrictions on BMI and legal blindness have kept us from considering them as potential places to adopt from.  It can be disheartening to think that these are only the first obstacles we will face in our endeavor.

In light of this, it’s helpful to remember that it really isn’t the government’s mission to care for orphans.  According to Scripture, that’s the Church’s responsibility. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” writes  the apostle James.  And this is what my family is finding in our own journey.  Our church family is where we are consistently finding the encouragement and support we need to keep moving forward.  When someone in our congregation asks how the process is going or how they can be praying, that really is caring for an orphan because it inspires and spurs us onward on the long path to bring our little girl home.

Have you or someone you know experienced setbacks in adoption efforts due to government bureaucracy? How did these work out? Where did encouragement (if any) come from?

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Confidence in Our Calling: Reflecting God’s Image through Adoption

(This post is part of the Confidence in Our Calling series.)

The process of adopting a child paints a physical picture of how God saves people and brings them into His family.  Consider how themes such as new life, transfer of identity, intimacy with our Father, and waiting for our complete salvation, highlighted in the Scriptures below, are also evidenced throughout the adoption journey.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:15-17

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:22-25

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he[ predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.  And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Ephesians 1:3-10

Adoption is a living sign of how the Lord redeems.

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Confidence in Our Calling: God’s Commands Regarding Adoption

(This post is part of the Confidence in Our Calling series.)

The Bible contains numerous commands regarding adoption and orphan care.  God makes it clear that showing mercy to the fatherless is not optional for those who would follow Him.

God’s law admonishes the Israelites not to deprive the fatherless of justice. Instead, God commands His people to show compassion to orphans when they harvest their crops (see Deuteronomy 24:17-22) and when they bring their tithe to the Lord (see Deuteronomy 26:12-13).  These instructions are meant to remind Israel of their own ongoing dependence on the Lord. “Remeber that you were slaves in Egypt. This is why I command you to do this.” (Deuteronomy 24:22)

The sages of the Old Testament agree.  “Do not…encroach on the fields of the fatherless,” urges the wise man, “for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you.” (Proverbs 23:10-11)  The prophets cry out for the orphan’s justice. “Learn to do right!” shouts a frustrated Isaiah. “Seek justice…Defend the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17). Jeremiah and Zechariah echo this call (see Jeremiah 22:3 and Zechariah 7:8-10).

Jesus illustrates how caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the sick – characteristics which surely apply to orphans — is basic to following Him and keeping His commands.  In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats recorded in Matthew 25:31-46, He foretells how the Son of Man will address His confused disciples at the end of time. “’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (verse 40)  The same criteria will be used to judge the wicked. “’Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (verse 45)

So while the Bible does not state that all believers are meant to adopt, it does command followers of Christ to care for orphans. This ministry can take a myriad of forms, but for many, it does in fact mean considering, praying about, and pursuing adoption. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

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Confidence in Our Calling: Stories of Adoption in the Bible

(This post is part of the Confidence in Our Calling series.)

Scripture tells of God’s adoptive actions for His people on a grand scale.  But what role does adoption play in the stories of real people in the Bible?  Does God use adoption in the lives of particular saints to show His love for them and further His kingdom?

Consider Moses. Here is a baby who is saved from Pharaoh’s massacre of infant Israelite boys when the king’s own daughter takes him into the royal family (see Exodus 1:15-21, 2:1-10).  Moses’ adoption into Pharaoh’s household juxtaposed with his own half-forgotten and misunderstood Hebrew heritage creates a tension that God uses as He forms the life of this leader (see Exodus 2;11-15, 3:1-6, 10, 4:24-26).

Ruth is at once a widow, a foreigner, and an orphan.  When this Moabitess’s husband dies, her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi decides to return to Israel, exhorting Ruth to stay with her own people and god (see Ruth 1:1-15).  Yet Ruth pleads to join Naomi’s family and the people of God. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17) Later in the story, Boaz acts as kinsmen redeemer, and by marrying Ruth, adopts her into God’s household and into the very lineage of Jesus Christ (see Ruth 4:1-13 and Matthew 1:5).

Speaking of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God is adopted by an earthly father.  Joseph probably sacrificed his reputation and livelihood to marry the Virgin Mary who “was found to be with child” rather than “divorce her quietly.” (see Matthew 1:18-25).  And in a series of events eerily and providentially parallel to those in Moses’ day, God uses Joseph to rescue Jesus and his mother from Herod’s massacre of the baby boys in and around Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:13-18).  Joseph’s care and protection of Jesus is a depiction and reflection of God’s adoption of His people.

And God weaves adoption, both physical and spiritual, into the stories of other heroes of the Bible – for instance, Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1-3) and Timothy (see Acts 16:1-3, 1 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Timothy 1:3-6).  Can you think of other Biblical characters whose lives God shaped through adoption?

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Confidence in Our Calling: God’s Adoptive Action for His People

(This post is part of the Confidence in Our Calling series.)

Scripture proclaims how out of His adoptive heart and promises, God acts on behalf of His orphaned people to gather them into His family.

Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord declares how He adopted the people of Jerusalem as an abandoned and dying baby and raised them up “to be a queen.”  The graphic imagery here likens the city to an aborted fetus wallowing in its own blood before God comes to the rescue.

This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.  On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths.  No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.

Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.

Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.

I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you.  I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments.  I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.  So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.  And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD.

Ezekiel 16:3-14

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains at length how God’s adoptive endeavors have expanded to encompass all who know Christ.  The believer’s standing in God’s family does not depend on observing the law; it is based on faith in Jesus (see Galatians 3).  Paul uses the language of adoption to sum up his thesis.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Galatians 4:4-7

John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, also recognizes the Lord’s adoptive work for humanity, encouraging his readers to consider the magnitude of God’s love made manifest in this action. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1)

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Thoughts on The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthyI just finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy, after reading how it inspired a new song by one of my favorite artists. This book received a Pulitzer Prize a few years back, and I checked it out of the library looking forward to some good recreational sci-fi/fantasy reading.  Boy, was I in for a shock.

The Road tells the story of a nameless father and son as they journey through a wasted and barren post-apocalyptic world looking for food, shelter, and hope.  It is a bleak, disturbing, brilliant tale, and not for the faint of heart.  I’m serious – I couldn’t sleep after reading parts of this book.

Yet within its horror-stricken and despairing pages, The Road wrestles with some very familiar spiritual themes – the bond between father and son, what it truly means to be human, the plight of a self-orphaned race living in a reality in which “nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave” (p. 143).

And adoption.  The book concludes with one of the most moving pictures of adoption I’ve ever encountered.  It left me weeping, thinking of my own children, including Sonja Ruth – in orphan’s bed, or mother’s womb, or wherever she is today. It strengthened my resolve to stay this calling and this course, to “carry the fire” for her.

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Confidence in Our Callling: God’s Promises to Adopt

(This post is part of the Confidence in Our Calling series.)

Out of His heart for adoption, God makes commitments throughout Scripture to provide for those whom He calls from afar off.  These pledges come with the imagery of a Father gathering orphans into His home, and they are made to those without a place to belong.

Through Isaiah, God proclaims that He is the Savior of Israel, summoning them by name, delivering them out of the flood and the fire, and giving nations for their ransom (see Isaiah 43:1-4).  In the midst of this declaration, God promises to add to His people those children He has chosen from far away lands.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, “Give them up!”
and to the south, “Do not hold them back.”
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

Isaiah 43:5-7

The night before His crucifixion, Jesus shares the Last Supper with His disciples.  Knowing the events that are about to unfold, and how hard His departure will be for His followers, Jesus uses the language of adoption to comfort them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18)

And one of the most famous promises in the New Testament, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) is immediately followed by the reason behind this guarantee – a reason rooted in God’s adoptive heart. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)

Where else in the Bible does God make promises regarding adoption?

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Confidence in Our Calling: God’s Heart for Adoption

(This post is part of the Confidence in Our Calling series.)

How does God feel about adoption?

All throughout the Bible, God reveals Himself as a Father who cares for His children. (See Psalm 103:13, Matthew 6:9-13, 25-34, and 1 John 3:1, just to name a few instances.)  Moreover, Scripture shows us that God especially desires to be a Father to those without earthly families – orphans, widows, and foreigners.  God expresses strong paternal feelings in His Word to those who do not belong, who are abandoned or estranged, or who have wandered away and are lost.  Since I am trying to unpack God’s perspective on adoption here, I will pay particular attention to His heart towards the orphan and the fatherless.

Consider how when Moses is instructing Israel in the fear of the LORD (see Deuteronomy 10:12-20), he describes God as One who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).  These attributes are at the core of how God wants to be understood by His people in their Law.

The psalmists echo this acclamation of God’s character over and over again.

  • But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
    you consider it to take it in hand.
    The victim commits himself to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.

    You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
    defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.Psalm 10:14,17-18
  • A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
    God sets the lonely in families,
    he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
    but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.Psalm 68:5-6
  • The LORD watches over the alien
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,Psalm 146:9

The prophet Hosea, calling out to a rebellious Israel, exhorts them to return to their God, and to admit that “Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion” (Hosea 14:3). Hosea asserts that even in their idolatry, God’s people still know their true Father’s forgiving and adopting nature, to “heal their waywardness.” (See Hosea 14:1-5.)

And Jesus, immediately after calling a little child to Himself to illustrate what greatness in the kingdom of heaven looks like, warns His followers sternly not to look down on these little ones or cause them to sin. (See Matthew 18:1-10.)  He then compares a child who wanders off to a lost sheep, whom God will leave the entire flock to rescue, because “your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:12-14).

These passages plainly demonstrate that the Lord cares deeply for the orphan and the fatherless. He loves to be the Father to those without families, and to adopt them into His household.

What other Scriptures come to your mind that shows forth God’s heart for adoption?

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Further Beyond Coincidence

Shure SM81 Condenser MicrophoneA couple weeks ago, I phoned my church’s music director to inquire about the list of equipment he planned to submit to a donor in our congregation who plans to make a substantial contribution to the church’s music ministry.  (I have posted previously about the origin of this list.)  In particular, I was interested in whether or not the director had included some microphones suitable for recording instruments for a professionally produced album in this list.

The music director indicated that the list had already been delivered to the would-be benefactor, but that the microphones were not present in it.  The director explained that the list was comprised of “big ticket” items that the church could not ordinarily afford, since a significant donation was in view.  The microphones, while not cheap, are much less expensive by comparison, and might feasibly be included as a line item of our church’s music budget — perhaps as early as this year.

This made perfect sense, but was still a bit disappointing to me.  I was able to let go of it pretty quickly, though.  After all, if God wants an album recorded to help support our adoption journey, He’ll provide the means to get it done, church microphones or no.

About half an hour later, I noticed a new voicemail message on my phone from the music director. My heart did a bit of a cartwheel as I listened to it. Evidently, right after he hung up with me, the director found a new email from the donor saying that the list of desired equipment had been received and looked good. However, there was still money that the donor wanted to give beyond the cost of the listed equipment. Was there any additional equipment that could be of use to the church music ministry, the donor wanted to know.  At this, the music director called one of the church’s sound technicians and commissioned him to put together a second list of recording equipment for our church, including the microphones I had asked about.

This is the second case of more-than-ironic timing regarding funds for church recording equipment and my improbable adoption-supporting album.  Again, I am still unsure how all of this will work out – the music director ended his message by indicating that the funds to be donated probably won’t be available until November of this year.  Even so, my faith and hope are growing, as the Lord seems to be afoot in this matter.

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