Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me

So I have a new person I want to be when I grow up – Dr. Karyn Purvis. She’s a precious, lovely, brilliant child-development guru who wrote The Connected Child and spoke at the Empowered to Connect Conference this weekend that Justin and I attended. She has spent the last 15 years of her life helping adoptive parents and adopted children heal and connect and I just fell in love with her heart for children from hard places.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a poser when it comes to the adoption thing. I love it, know we are called to it, but also know that our time has not yet come. So we go to these conferences and we’re surrounded by people in the trenches who are giving their lives, time, money, energy, and hearts to adopted and foster kids in the room, and there we sit with our two bio kids and a dream. And sometimes I feel a little foolish, frankly. But I also know that there is purpose in waiting, and that our vision for adoption has shifted even in these 3 years we have waited. I know that I am a better mom now than I was even a year ago (partially because of the amazing parenting strategies taught at conferences like the one I attended today). I know that the Lord is realigning my priorities even this week to focus on my family and He continues to shave the rough edges off the crazy woman that is Jen Wells. I know that this past few years, while we’ve waited, I’ve identified pretty unrealistic expectations in my heart of how this will all turn out, and I’ve watched those expectations die. I’ve learned to trust my Father more this past 3 years. I’ve become more of a person my kids can trust. So I can see that this wait has definitely served a purpose.

But still we wait. And we pray. And we read books and blogs. And we attend conferences. And we try desperately to be a light for our friends who have adopted, and be a safe person they can vent to and turn to when they need to take off their capes and be human and frustrated for a second.

He must become greater, I must become less. John 3:30

Now that verse sounds holy, right? But in recent weeks the life of John the Baptist, who made that beautiful statement of faith, has come up time and time again in my personal studies. This guy had spent his life predicting and proclaiming the coming Messiah. And He comes! John gets to baptize Him and hears the voice of God proclaiming that this is His Son. All of this is a huge mountaintop event – John is rare in humankind in that even while he is touching the shoulders of the flesh-bearing manifestation of the Son, He is seeing the Holy Spirit come down from heaven and hearing the voice of God the Father. So in essence – He experienced, with human senses, the Trinity. And that’s pretty amazing.

But then he’s sent to prison. While in prison, He sends Jesus a question – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Basically John is suffering, and he wants to make sure he’s got it right. And Jesus sends a message back confirming miracles that have been prophesied about the Messiah – but He leaves one really important part of the prophesy out. He leaves out the part where the Messiah sets the prisoner free. And at the end of His message, He sends a note to John, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I’m not an expert on the Bible – but basically if I’m reading this right, Jesus’ message to John says something like this: “I am the Messiah. But I’m not going to free you from prison, my plans for you are different from what you expect. But you’ll be blessed if you still love and trust Me even unto death.”

That is some crazy deep stuff. I’ll be honest, that is hard stuff for me to wrap my mind around. But in so many ways – this idea of living unoffended is the message of people I admire and respect, was the message of this conference, and is the message I think the Lord has been trying to teach me during the last 3 years of my discomfort (it’s hard to call what we’ve experienced a trial after being in the room I was in today with people who have experienced real trials and who are parenting kids who have come from unimaginable trauma). We can choose to not be offended by Jesus in those places of pain and suffering, and because of that choice, we will be blessed. It isn’t natural and it isn’t easy to experience suffering and remain unoffended. It kind of makes you an oddball in this comfort-driven world, actually. But by God’s grace, we can choose to live that way. We can find joy, peace, and grace in the absolute middle of impossibly hard places and we can choose to love Jesus with every pitiful ounce of strength we have left in the midst of trial and pain – and when we do, we are blessed.

Today I sat in a room full of people who have counted the cost, and who have joined widows and orphans in their distress. They get this concept. They live unoffended while they live out James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” That verse took on new meaning to me this weekend. I think in my mind I saw adoption as rescuing orphans from a world of chaos and bringing them into our world of safety and love. But today I was taught that James 1:27 says we’ll visit them in their distress – so more often it is us entering into their pain, their suffering, and their trauma so that we can walk with them to safety and healing. It’s messy and beautiful and holy.

I don’t really know how to wrap this blog up, as I so often like to do. I just know that I want to love and encourage people who are doing their best to be faithful, even in suffering. Jesus said it, and I believe it – “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” God please help us to live unoffended.

Kisses from Katie

Oh my friends – I just finished a book that absolutely shook me up (in the best way possible). Kisses from Katie – the story of a girl who followed the Lord to Uganda at 19 years-old. I had heard about this book, and this girl, for a while. So I came to the story with expectations and assumptions.

And they were blown out of the water.

Katie’s perspective on life and ministry is unbelievable and yet absolutely right in every way. She takes the Bible and Jesus seriously and she is changing lives as she follows Him and says “Yes”. I actually cried reading it (and that’s unexpected for me), I highlighted more than half of it, and followed Justin around reading parts. It’s the kind of book you have to put down and process because it so changes the way you think and relate, and it makes you want to do something meaningful with your life.  She says over and over (and I believe her) that she is an ordinary girl saying yes to an extraordinary God, and He is working extraordinary miracles all around her. It’s not just about justice or mission, although it certain is one of the best books on justice I’ve ever read. It’s about faith and life and possessions and purpose and motherhood and pain and how God intends us to live our days on this earth.

Please get this book.

I struggle to know a passage to share, because truly, so many were absolutely precious and profound, but here’s an example of why this book will forever be one of my favorites:

“I learned that I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred school children and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year-old. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for. 

Many days, I am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need and the incredible number of people who need help. Many days I see the destitute, disease-ridden children lining the streets in the communities I serve and I want to scoop up every single one of them, take them home with me, and feed and clothe and love them. And I look at the life of my Savior, who stopped for one. 

So I keep stopping and loving one person at a time. Because this is my call as a Christian. I can only do what one woman can do, but I will do what I can. Daily, the Jesus who wrecked my life enables me to do so much more than I ever thought possible.” 

And another passage I loved here:

“I do not know my five-year plan, even tomorrow will probably not go as I have planned. I am thrilled and I am terrified, in a good way. Some call it courage; some call it foolish; I call it faith. I choose to get out of the boat. Sometimes I walk straight into His arms. More often, I get scared and look down and stumble. Sometimes I almost completely drown. And through it all, He never lets go of my hand.

Lord may we choose you every moment of every day. We want to be fully committed to You. We want every day to become a day we say “yes” to You. We repent for lukewarmness, from mediocrity, from normalcy. We want to shine so brightly for You that others can’t help but see and feel Your love. Let us look at every encounter as an opportunity to show Your love. Lord, on the days where helping just one more person seems like too much, help me to choose You. on the days when Satan whispers, “You can’t save everyone, why are you trying?” let me choose You. On the days when it would be too easy to pop in a movie for my children instead of reading Scripture with them, let me choose You. When harsh words are easier to find than kind ones, let me choose You. Father, like Paul, I know what I want to do, what I should do, and yet I find myself failing and discouraged. Thank You for Your grace. Thank You that You who sit so high would look low upon people like me and use us as a vessel for You. How blessed we are to even be called servants, to be able to share in Your kingdom and share Your love with others. Thank You for the cross, where You have given us peace and holiness. Father, we long to say Yes to You.”

Here’s the video trailer of the book: 

Brace yourself friends… this one is beyond challenging. I pray we will be changed.

Bloodlines & Adoption

This video speaks to my heart and I adore it. In it, John Piper tells the story of his life growing up in the south and his adoption of his daughter, Talitha. Please watch it – it will touch your heart.

I was, because of God’s grace, raised in a home with a mom who got the importance and beauty of diversity, and taught it, and lived it. I pray my heart for people honors her as I try to live this out. And I am grateful I get to fight for the same cause in my life. I ask Him to allow us to be loving parents of children from all races and nations. Because it’s important and it’s right and it’s beautiful and it’s God honoring.

Here’s my favorite quote:

“God did a remarkable work in us. He taught me this. He said, “Look. If you act consistently with your convictions about interracial marriage and the nobility and beauty of diversity, this choice will commit you to this issue until you are dead. And that swung it for me. Love for my wife, love for this little girl, and love for this cause. The cause of Christ-exalting racial harmony and racial diversity, because if I lock in to my family, the issue, this beautiful little woman created in the image of God and say “You are mine” then I won’t ever be able to run away from this, and I wanted to draw that line in the sand…

When I look at her I’m going to see a human being created in the very image of God, and then secondly, down the line, I’m going to see a particular kind of skin or hair. That’s huge. The Bible brings the image of God to bear on this issue and it is massively important. The second way the Bible brings it to bear is it talks about there being one Father of us all.  All the nations came from one Father according to Acts 17, which means we’re all related. You can’t look with disgust or dismay or dishonoring on another human being as if they’re not in the same family. They’re in your family. You try to demean them, you demean your family.

It is fundamentally a cross issue, a blood issue, a gospel issue that is at play here and what is so amazing is how the Gospel, by faith alone, having our sins forgiven, triumphs over these sins that militate against racial harmony and racial diversity.”

Love it.

Streamlining

I have read that when the body has endured trauma, it automatically shuts down organ systems that are unnecessary to survival to conserve energy for the ones that are. Because of the way the Creator formed us – the body instinctively knows that it can’t do it all when it isn’t in optimal condition, so it streamlines – cutting the excess and focusing on the essential until it knows it will survive and can heal.

In small measure, this is the lesson the Lord has taught me the past couple of months. Despite our challenging circumstances, for many months I still tried to do it all. And I was unsuccessful. I became exhausted and depressed. I kept expecting our circumstances to get better overnight and so I was just trying to hold it all together until that happened. But as the months turned into a year, holding it all together became an impossible task.

During this time, the Lord began to teach me that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Freedom to say no. Freedom to get help. Freedom to shut down the things in our life that caused unnecessary stress so that we could function better for our kids, for each other, and for the things that Jesus said were truly necessary. Freedom to fail. Freedom to fall apart for a while and then allow the Lord to put me back together while my husband guarded over our family.

It was a tough time – but highly necessary. The Lord was teaching me the lesson of how He created our body. He was teaching me to streamline.

So one day, not so long ago, I let go of trying. I fell apart. I went to a doctor and got some help for depression and for the ulcers that have made me sick for the past 18 months. I turned down a few events and work opportunities that were causing me stress. I made some decisions to streamline our finances. I even streamlined my Facebook friends and Twitter connections, eliminating people or causes that were sources of anxiety.

I wrote down what was vital: Justin, my girls, loving the Lord my God with all my heart, feeding the hungry and caring for the orphan and widow, my friends and family who love us, the work relationships that enhance our lives.

Six things. That’s it.

And everything else I shut down.

I battled with guilt (especially over walking away from relationships), but the Lord confirmed my decision with His Word. My Baptist upbringing conditioned me to see everyone, even the difficult, as a mission field. So to walk away seemed like choosing my good over their eternal destiny. But in this season time and time again the Lord confirmed this idea with His Word. Even Jesus took time to walk away and commune with His father or with the 12 who He loved when facing difficult challenges. So I asked the Lord to take care of those who I couldn’t – and I walked away.

I am living a streamlined life  – hiding in the shadow of my Father’s (and my husband’s) entirely capable wing until I can recover. And frankly, I like this so much, I may hang out under here for far longer than is necessary.

Because the streamlined life is the passionate life. This streamlining has brought me a new boldness for the things that do matter. I now have energy to fight for my six things that are truly important. I believe, for the first time in a while, that the Lord will use me to accomplish the work He has given me to do.

Streamlining. I’m grateful for it. I hope some of you will join me in it. I truly believe it has saved my life.

Team Sims Rocking the World

The Lord is doing a GREAT work in the Sims family (my side of the family), and I am so grateful – so I thought I’d share for those of us who love us and pray for us.

First – My brother, Joe, and sister-in-law, Lori, are expanding their family through adoption! I cannot TELL you what an encouragement it has been to see the Lord call them to this, confirm this call in them, and begin to fulfill it. It has knit my heart with theirs even more to share this calling and to understand the urgency of caring for precious children that the Lord loves. They have faced the opposition we are all warned comes with obedience to this call – but I have loved seeing them handle it with grace and assurance that Jesus is bigger.  So – allow me to “cyber” introduce you to them, and if you can, check out their blog and if the Lord leads, give them some encouragement through comment love. It’s a hard road, and in times like this support from the “church-at-large” becomes invaluable.  http://teamsims.blogspot.com/

Second – my sweet sister, Jess, is coming home from the World Race! If you don’t know what that is – it is an 11 month mission trip through 11 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.  I’ve written about her before – when she began her journey 11 months ago, and I’m so proud of how she has finished strong.  She returns home next week and if you would, keep her in your prayers. She has big decisions to make, and wants to follow the Lord in courage wherever He leads her. I am so excited to again be able to pick up the phone and call her whenever I want to! She is my best friend – and I have so missed being able to share my days with her. But I am also so proud – she followed the Lord in obedience (like Joe and Lori have) and I know He is going to continue to use her to change the world.

Third – my parents are doing better than I’ve ever seen. The Lord has done a HUGE work in both my dad and my mom’s heart, and consequently in their marriage and our family. They are very active at Gateway Church and I have seen the Lord use that church to do a new thing in their hearts (Isaiah 43:19).  It has been amazing to experience and it has confirmed what I always have known to be true (but so easily forget) – the Lord pursues our hearts and when we surrender, the blessing of His Spirit flows to bring life into death and light into darkness beyond what we ever imagined possible.

He’s a good, good God. We’re blessed and I am very very grateful.

Depraved Indifference

It is so easy in the world we live in to see up as down and down as up.

I think we as the church need stuff like this – reminders along the way of the TRUTH.

Please take 7 minutes and watch.

Modern Day Amos

I am taking a class this semester, History and Literature of the Bible, from a secular university.  For my class, I had to study the Book of Amos and report on how I thought the world today would receive a modern-day prophet with a message similar to what Amos preached, and if I believed there were any modern-day prophets like Amos.  It was a fascinating study that I very much enjoyed, and since I do my studies online, it was great to know that my class of 60 people from around the country could also see the essay.  I pray it was an encouragement.  My professor loved it (he gave me a 100! 🙂 so I thought I’d post it here as well, if anyone is interested.

Amos was a shepherd, a common man, who was called by God to deliver a message both to Israel and to her neighbors.  To Israel, Amos prophesied judgment for turning away from the Lord and for forgetting the poor and needy: “They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.  They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.”  Amos 2:6b-7

The book of Amos is so interesting because it could have easily been written to the church in America today.  There is a large evangelical cultural and even political Christianity that is seemingly complacent to true righteousness and to the care for the poor.  When Amos wrote in chapter 6, verse 2; “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!” he could have been writing to any number of Christian leaders of our day.

If a modern-day Amos was to appear (which in my opinion the Lord has sent several which I will address later), I believe he would be disturbed by the amassing of wealth in our society, and even by the large elaborate church buildings and churches giving 3% to the poor.  Churches filled with members who seem to be numb to the fact that they live in a world where 8.1 million children die each year before their fifth birthday (one.org).  Just like in Amos’ time, there is a sense where the religious of today have largely ignored the covenantal obligation to care for the poor, the widows and the orphans in their distress.

Like other prophetic works, the purpose of the prophecy was a warning to return to the Lord or face doom, and that only in returning to the Lord is hope found.  Amos’ message was a warning what would happen if covenant abuse continued (Hauer, 140).  This is why the end of the book is a hopeful picture of the restoration of Israel after her repentance.

I believe there are four modern-day prophets, or “Amoses,” calling the church to wake up and address the needs of the most needy:

  • First is David Platt, Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills and author of Radical, who has called millions of people to take seriously the commandments of Jesus to care for “the least of these.”
  • Second is Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution, has challenged the assertion that most Christians actually follow Christ. “I asked participants who claimed to be “strong followers of Jesus” whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question, I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time with the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” (Claiborne).
  • Third is Richard Stearn, President of World Vision and author of The Hole in our Gospel, who leads an organization that cares for millions of children in over 100 countries around the world and who calls churches and Christians to examine whether their giving to the poor lines up with their claims to care for the poor.
  • Finally, although he is not often given the credit he deserves, is the work Bono has done to call churches and governments to fulfill their obligations to the most innocent.  In an interview with Bill Hybels, a noted Christian leader and the Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Bono called out church leaders who have not led on the issue of caring for the poor ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grBByc7t3Fs).

These four are considered fringe, or liberal, or even heretical by a great majority of evangelical Christians, and are not taken seriously.  Like the prophets in Biblical times, they are criticized and ostracized.  The news media does not pay attention to them because they are too busy selling politicized visions of doom. But these prophets have remained faithful to their message and for those with the ear to hear, they have called us to a Christianity that seems more like the way Christ actually lived than most of what we see in the world today that passes for religious behavior.  Their message gives me hope for the church, because I believe that if we continue to get this wrong, and to build up treasures for ourselves instead of following the clear commandments of Scripture, we are as surely doomed to judgment as the nation of Israel in the time of Amos.  Only in getting this right and caring for the least of these will we actually see the Kingdom of Heaven, both here and in the life to come.

Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Zondervan, 2006.

Hauer, Christian E., and William A. Young . An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds. 7th ed.  Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2008

“Maternal and Child Health.”  One.org.  Accessed 23 Feb 2011.  http://www.one.org/c/us/issue/15/.