Monday, October 22, 2012

Into the Family

In 2008, Leah, Thaddeus and I began a journey towards adopting a new family member.  We went to informational sessions and sought God's will in choosing whether to adopt domestically or internationally.  Then we asked God's guidance in selecting the right agency to guide us through this journey.  Then we had to attend training sessions and then fill out paper work, more paper work and much more paper work.  We had to complete a home study and our agency then prepared the study to be given to county social workers in California.  Then we began the "child search" process which was going to be more lengthy for us because we could only have one child, we had a specific gender and approximate age range.  In December of 2010, we were contacted about an eight month old boy who was needing to be adopted.  This was definitely not what we were expecting because we had hoped to adopt a boy closer to Thaddeus' age.  I was not ready to change diapers again and seriously had to look at the age issue.  When this child graduates from high school, I would be in my late 60's.  Was it really fair to this child for his father to be as old as his friend's grandparents?  We spent the Christmas vacation praying about this and had serious discussions about the next step.  So in January, we met the little fellow.  My age played a big factor in my hesitancy in meeting him, but he certainly had personality to spare and was so loving.  As we prayed, we felt God's leading to follow through with this child and so we began to spend more time with him.  In March of 2011, we took the step to have him become our Foster child and move into our home.  The next month, he celebrated his first birthday with us.  The wheels of a domestic adoption can move slowly and it wasn't until October of 2012 that we finally had the clearance and court date for adopting this child.  Many of you knew something was happening, but we couldn't share on-line about his or our progress because of privacy rights within the Foster Care system.  On Thursday, October 18th at 11:15 AM, Caleb Goslen legally joined our family.  His birth certificate will have us as his parents.  He is now a member of our family and there is no turning back.  Now, we begin the journey of raising him in the way the Lord wants Caleb to go.  We are now stewards of this life for the next sixteen years as we prepare Caleb to be the man God wants him to be.  Quite a tall order.

I have learned a lot in this journey called adoption.  I have learned that God's timing is usually slower than mine, no matter how hard I push it.  I am having to learn continuously to trust God heart when I cannot see His hand.  I have been reminded that God's plan is usually different from mine.  There are nights when I put Caleb to bed that I wonder how an old guy like me is supposed to be the active father he needs.  I have asked God numerous times during this process if I was being selfish or trying to be faithful to Him.  I have learned to be weak and let others help me because there are times I am overwhelmed.  I have learned to listen to God's Word and allow Him to comfort me through His Word and those who are close to me.  I have learned that I need to keep myself in good shape so I can run and play with Caleb as he grows up.  I have learned that there are a lot of hurting kids in our country who need loving homes.  We purposely chose to not adopt overseas because we saw such a great need in our own country.  I have learned to listen to my wife more than usual because I have a tendency to do my own thing and do it my way.  I have watched as the Goslen, Boggs and Huyhn families have embraced and also adopted Caleb.  I have watched as Thaddeus has gone through the peaks and valleys of being an older brother.  I have learned to be grateful for a loving church family who is just as excited about Caleb joining our family as we are.  The lessons are much deeper and personal than this, but this will have to do for this Sip.

People have asked us why we wanted to adopt:  Our response is that we wanted Thaddeus to have a brother so that he would have a life-long sibling in which he could share, learn and grow.  When Thaddeus met Caleb for the first time, he prayed "God, please let Caleb be my brother".  Beautiful and touching!  Of course, he doesn't always enjoy having a brother now because that's what happens with siblings.  But we thank God that these two boys will grow up with a connection they will have with no one else since they will be brothers.  

But I must tell you, there was another deciding factor in us choosing to adopt.  When I was ten years old, I was adopted.  I was not adopted into my earthly family because, if you know the Goslens of Greensboro, you know that I am genetically and socially a Goslen.  I was adopted into God's family on the day I gave my life to Christ.  The number of siblings I have is in the billions and growing daily.  I have lived in North Carolina, Kentucky, Hawaii and California.  In each of those places, I have met dear friends who are life-long friends because we shared Jesus' blood.  There is no other reason we would be friends, except for Jesus.  We are family.  Jesus had made us family.  He adopted us as His children.  John 1:12 says, "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave them the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."  Fifty-one years ago, I was born again into God's family.  I am now a child of God and Jesus even calls me His friend.  I didn't deserve it, but God is generous.  Do you remember the day you were adopted into God's family?  Do you remember who was instrumental in bringing you to that point?  Why not take a moment today and thank God for your new life in Christ?  Why not take a moment today and thank those people who were instrumental in leading you to this decision.  I am thrilled to be brought into God's family.  Aren't you?!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Hanging Lamp and a Deceived Life

We have a wonderful volunteer who is painting the church classrooms in his spare time when he is off from work.  He is in the middle of painting our three preschool rooms and bathroom.  So this morning, he came to do a little painting.  When we opened the door to the nursery, we found the light had come out of the ceiling and was only being held on by the electrical wiring.  Upon further inspection, we found the reason it had fallen.  It seems that when the light was hung, the screws went into the dry wall of the ceiling, but not into a stud.  It was also hung with regular screws instead of toggle screws which would have allowed the screw to hold in the dry wall.  It was just a matter of time before the weight of the light would cause the light to pull out of the dry wall.  Gravity would eventually win this battle.

This seemed like a parable for many people who claim to be Christians.  They grew up in a Christian home, attended a Christian school or went to church when they were younger.  They will tell you they are Christians.  But when their lives are examined more closely, their lifestyle is more reflective of our culture than of Christ.  There is no discernable difference between John Doe down the street who has never been to church and this one who claims to be Christian.  Sometimes, the sad truth is that John Doe actually is a much more moral person.  This one who claims to be a Christian is like that light in our nursery:  He has plugged himself into something that will not last.  They have become institutional Christians, but not dedicated followers of Christ.  In other words, they are Christian in name, but sadly separated from God because they have never had a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  Jesus warned His followers in Matthew 7:21-23,"Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord,, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'  Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!"

Jesus gives us this warning:  just because we use His name doesn't mean that we are part of His Kingdom.  That would be like me running around telling everyone I am an electrician.  I could buy all the tools and learn all the jargon, but the moment I had to actually work on electricity, there's going to be trouble.  I'm not really an electrician.  I haven't had the training, the work or the mentoring the qualify me for electrical work.  I believe there are a lot of Americans who have prayed "the sinner's prayer", but have never had a saving encounter with Jesus.  They have fooled themselves by simply adding Jesus to their lives rather than giving their lives to Jesus.  When they stand before God, they will hear those words of Jesus.  You may be reading this blog and thinking that I am being very judgmental, but I would rather have many people think me judgmental while a few actually examine their eternal destiny that write something trite which will feed a lie.

The ultimate question we must answer:  Does my life reflect the life of Jesus?  This means there is a qualitative difference between our life and values when compared to the culture.  The Church in America has become weak because the Church in America wants to be accepted by a pagan culture.  This also means that many churches in America are filled with people who have fooled themselves into thinking they are saved, when they really are not.  Jesus told us this in John 3:19-2, "This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  BUT whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that is may be seen plainly what what he has done has been through God."  Jesus says that we play games and continue to wallow in our sin, dreading to come into the light of Christ.  We don't want Jesus to ruin our good time.  We want to be able to continue to follow our passions.  We don't want Jesus to change any priorities or to make us feel uncomfortable.  The Church doesn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable, so she tries to justify sin in peoples' lives to they can be happy while they are still in the darkness.

Not the happiest blog for a Monday morning, I know.  However, I hope and pray that the words of Jesus will cause each of us (Me included) to honestly evaluate what we say we believe and what we actually do with our lives.  I would hate to think that any of my friends would be lights hanging on by screw in the dry wall rather than being hung with screws in the stud.  Come into the light of Christ, confess that sin, repent and allow Jesus to radically alter your life.  You'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Living an Alternative Lifestyle

Following Jesus as a dedicated Christian is truly the most alternative lifestyle one can choose to live in America today.  Following Jesus means we are going against the flow of conventional wisdom, cultural norms and societal expectations.  We have chosen to focus on eternity rather than on the earthly.  Our focus is not on things but on obedience.  We value people more than our own position.  We died to being in control the moment we received Jesus as our Savior.  We forgive rather than holding a grudge.  We stay pure rather than following passion.  We show grace rather than run people over.  We have peace in stressful situations.  We have joy when others only find sorrow.  We look at the heart of a person rather than their actions.  We take time to listen rather than spend our energy making sure we are heard.  We don't waste time and money on those movies, TV shows, DVDs, etc which glorify sin, swearing, sex and violence.  We don't laugh at other's pain, but comfort them.  We reach out to those who have been forgotten and shunned by society.  We have kind words for those who speak abusively.  The list goes on and on, but if you are walking with Jesus, you know what I'm talking about.  Followers of Christ are radicals and rebels who have chosen an alternative lifestyle which flies in the face of the cultural values around us.

I say all that as a lead in to Sunday's sermon.  If you were at Hillcrest on Sunday, I would encourage you to go to our web site ( and listen when it comes on-line.  Also, you will want to read I Corinthians 9:24-27 if this blog is to make sense in the context of what I am about to say.  This passage has two areas of focus: (1) Care for the physical body and (2) Care for our faith.  I want to spend a moment reminding us of how our alternative lifestyle should affect our care for the physical body.

Today, 15-20 of Americans of all ages are obese.  USA Today states that by 2030, 42% of Americans will probably be obese unless there are some radical lifestyle changes.  In the church, we probably have even more obesity than in the rest of culture.  We spend a lot of energy talking about the care for our faith, but neglecting to talk about the care of our bodies.  My own thought on the reason behind this:  Most pastors aren't taking care of their bodies, so they avoid the subject.  However, this should not be the case.  Unfortunately, whenever there is a sermon or Bible study lesson on caring for the body, we make a huge mistake.  We set the wrong goals, which simply lead to guilt and unfulfilled expectations.  Some of these goals are...
-"I will lose x amount of weight"
-"I will go to the gym x amount of time per week"
-"I will exercise x amount of minutes per day"
-"I will stop drinking...sodas, coffee, energy drinks. etc."
-"I will stop eating fast food"
-"I will only eat salads until I get to x weight"
-"I will stop smoking cigarettes"

All of the above mentioned goals are fine are secondary goals, but are miserable as the primary goal.  If our primary goal is to lose twenty pounds, what happens when we gain one pound?  Or what happens when the weight doesn't come off?  When losing weight is the goal, we can develop unhealthy habits which could lead to things like bulimia or taking dangerous supplements.

Let me offer an alternative primary goal.  This goal fits hand-in-hand with living an alternative lifestyle.  I submit that this should be our primary goal in caring for the body:  Our goal is to develop a healthy lifestyle which will honor God.  With this as our goal, we are freed from the pressure of the scales, calorie counting and gym-hour counting.  This allows us to focus on our bodies allowing us to be effective in ministry, while taking away the cultural pressure of having the perfect body.  Ultimately, I am out to honor God, not a societal value, my spouse or even my own warped way of looking at my body/health. 

To accomplish this primary goal, I have found four secondary goals to be effective as an overall lifestyle, rather than just managing the minimal goals of losing weight, times at the gym, etc.
#1 - Exercise with disciple and faithfulness
Exercise is the key to a healthy lifestyle because exercise builds our most important muscle - the heart.  We make exercise a daily habit, in which we push our bodies to an elevated heart rate.  You can research the best way to do that for a person of your age, weight and physical shape.  One size doesn't fit all.  The key is to be consistent, which requires discipline.  Good thing self-control is already given to us by the Holy Spirit.

#2 - Eat Healthier
Notice, I said healthier, not healthy.  This takes into account where we are physically and allows us to transition to more healthy eating.  Some people can totally change their eating habits, but most of us would fail to cut out all fast food, snacks, junk food, etc. in the first week.  We usually can't go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables.  Our bodies actually crave the nutrients from fruits and vegetables, but we have program our brains to eat junk food when we sit in front of the TV.  Maybe we need to start taking a lunch to work instead of eating out.  Maybe we need to eat five small meals per day rather than three large ones.  Maybe we need to stop eating food after 8:00 at night.  Maybe we need to start eating breakfast rather than grabbing a cup of coffee or sucking down an energy drink.  The goal is to develop a healthy lifestyle by honoring God.

#3 - Drink healthier
Too many of us drink coffee, sodas and energy drinks and don't drink enough water.  Water is the best drink for us.  It also helps to wash out some of the toxins we take into our bodies which are contained in the foods we eat.  Drinking more water will radically alter our bodies.  At first, it may seem like our bodies are listless and tired, but remember, we are developing a healthy lifestyle - The exercise we are doing will give us energy and focus.

#4 - Not mastered by anything
We call these things addictions.  We can be addicted to cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, sodas, fast food, laziness and a number of other unhealthy addiction.  If we cannot go six months without something, we are addicted.  We also need to beware of rationalizing our unhealthy choices.  I know people who try to convince me that alcohol is good for them by saying studies show a glass of wine per day is good for the body.  That may be true, but the benefits of that glass of wine can be found in so many other places.  Also, I rarely find anyone who actually only drinks a glass of wine per night.  We simply try to rationalize away our unhealthy choices.  We all do this.  Make a decision to not be mastered by anything but be a servant to Jesus.  Cigarettes are destructive task-masters!!  Most addictions are.

I share these thoughts with you because I want us to have bodies which will allow us to effectively minister for Christ for the duration of our lives.  So rather than focus on secondary goals, let focus on the primary goal of developing a healthy lifestyle which will honor God.  The results won't show overnight, but in a year's time, you will see God giving you more opportunities to serve because you can physically handle that opportunity.  May God bless you as you seek to follow an alternative lifestyle which is pleasing to God.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Will Appeasement Work?

In 1937, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain began a program of appeasement aimed at ending the threat of armed conflict with Germany through mutual negotiations and treaties.  Many in Europe were still struggling with the impact of the War to End All Wars and wanted to avoid conflict at any cost.  On September 30, 1938, Chamberlain returned from signing the Munich Agreement stating, "I have returned from Germany with peace in our time."  Ironically, the next day, German forces marched into Sudetenland.  No resistance was given by the British for this breaking of the Munich Agreement, hoping to avoid armed conflict by avoiding any conflict.  This proved futile because in less than a year's time, Germany invaded Poland plunging Europe into World War II.  Peace in our time by appeasement proved to be a futile pipe dream.

Many see the foreign policy of America towards Muslim aggression in the same light.  It appears that many in Washington feel if we can only give aid and negotiate that the moderate elements in those countries will rise up to end the senseless slaughter and bombings that we read about on a daily basis.  Whether you agree with this view or not, it is obvious that Muslim aggression towards those with a different world view has not lessened but increased.  Even Buddhists in Bangladesh have been attacked and homes burned down by irate Muslims.  Iran seems more and more bold about making nuclear weapons with the intent to destroy Israel.  It would appear that appeasement will not work in this setting either.

The one country that has no policy of appeasement is Israel.  They witnessed the results of appeasement as six million of them were brutally slaughtered by Nazi Germany as a result of European appeasement.  Today, if an Israeli is taken hostage, he/she knows that the country will not negotiate to gain freedom.  The government will treat the hostage situation as an act of war.  They are surrounded by countries who want to exterminate all Israelis, countries that are unafraid to state this publicly.  So survival is not based on appeasement, but on a strong defense.

Once again, I am not making a political statement but preparing to make a spiritual application from a real world situation. The Church in America today is in an appeasement mode.  By that, I mean, we want to be so accepted in our society that we have compromised the standards Christ set forth in the Bible.  We don't want to appear judgmental or bigoted, so we affirm the corruptness of the world, turning a blind eye to it.  In some cases, we have even embraced that which the Bible calls wicked, evil or sin.  The Church believes that if she just makes herself more accepting of the world, then people will flock to her doors.  We have forgotten passages like...
II Timothy 3:12-13  - "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

John 15:18-20 - "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember, the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.'  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also."

John 16:33 - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."

II Corinthians 10:3-4  "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Many in the Church today have forgotten that we are in a war.  We have compromised on so many levels that the Church has the same level of sin as the world.  We have the same divorce rates, rates of cohabitation, substance abuse and ethical failings as the world around us.  A reformation needs to take place in the Body of Christ.  It has very little to do with the structure of the Church, the music she has or her involvement in the political process.  It has everything to do with a radical transformation of the mind and the heart.  It has to do with confession and repentance, concepts foreign to many of us.  We have a decision to make:  Appease the world and compromise our standards or honor God and face exclusion and persecution by our neighbors, political leaders and community.  This is an individual decision which will have a dramatic impact on the larger Body of Christ.  Romans 12:2 tells us, "Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  

Appeasement has rarely ever worked.  Appeasement is destroying the testimony and power of the church.  Will you simply do the right thing today and let tomorrow take care of itself?  Will you stop appeasing and start living for Jesus?  We do this, not by making some grandiose statement, but by intentionally and humbling living out our faith with a Biblical ethic.  Our culture is starving to see something authentic from the church and has mocked our efforts at appeasement.  Let's seek to honor Jesus in our thoughts, words, deeds and life choices today.