Reflecting God's Heart for the Orphan

Last Sunday I gave a message about how believers are called to reflect God's heart to orphans and the fatherless.  Here is the transcript of that message with links to the videos we showed.  

...As the Church we are called to reach orphans and the fatherless with the love of Christ, yet the vast majority of us seemingly live oblivious to this call and to this need.  I think the main reason we do this is because, though we know loving and caring for the fatherless and the orphan is a good thing to do, we don’t believe/feel that it is something that God expects all of us to do. 

I want to address that assumption.  Does God expect every believer, every follower of His, to reach out to, defend and love the Fatherless and the orphan?   

I’ve wrestled with this question all week.  And to be honest I think the answer is yes, though I am not sure to what degree.  And though I am not sure to what degree, there are some things that I have become quite convinced of as I have studied this and so I want to walk you through those things this morning and simply ask you to ask God for Him to make it clear to you what you should do as a result of what you hear this morning.  In fact I want to give you a minute to do that right now.  Please take a minute and pray that God will show you how He wants to use you to show His love to the orphan/fatherless.  Pray…

Okay, here is the first thing I have become convinced of is that there is a Crisis to Reveal.  Meaning, there is a real need and huge problem.  Here is a video I found that illustrates this...  (Click on the one titled "The Facts")

Currently there are more than 140,000,000 children in the generation that is coming next living without fathers or  as orphans.  That is equal to the amount of people living in NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and the other 43 largest cities in the US, plus the entire population of Ireland, Nicaragua, Norway, Denmark, Costa Rica, Greece and France combined. 

Currently there are 500,000 orphans in America.  About 27,000 of them live here in Texas. There are about 24 million kids in America growing up without a father, 4out of 10. There are more than 150 fatherless kids at Wieland Elementary alone.  100s and 100s of kids right in our backyard in PISD.  

Each one of those numbers represents a child that woke up today, or will wake up today, without parents to love him or her, take care of them, know them, feed them, support them or advocate for them.  Each one of those numbers represents a child that God says was fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in their mother’s womb and died for by Jesus. 

What I have been convinced of is there is a crisis and this crisis should compel us to action.  It makes me sick that I can sit around while this is the case and go about my normal day.  It makes me sick that I can live in a way that shows no sign that there are 140 million orphans in the world. 

The second thing that I have become convinced of is that as Christians we have a Command to Reflect God’s Character.  And this is really a theological understanding of our purpose as Christians that is built out of Genesis 1:26-28 and commanded throughout Scripture.  Genesis 1:26-28 says...

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

I use to think that when the Bible said we were created in the image of God it meant that we looked like God.  As if we were made in the physical image of God.  Now I know that God is Spirit and we are flesh and bone and therefore we don't look like God.  We are not made in God's physical image.  Instead, what God is saying in this verse is that he made man in his moral image.  Meaning, we were created to reflect the character of an invisible God to a physical, created, universe.  As the bearers of his character we would fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the water covers the sea. 

But then we sinned.  And sin messed this all up.  We failed to reflect his character, we distorted His image.  You would think God, at the point, would have just gotten rid of us or destroyed us at the point as we had failed in our purpose.  But He didn't, because that is not who God is.  He is a God of grace and a God whose plans do not fail.  So instead of destroying us He came to rescue us.  He sent His Son, Jesus, God the Son, to bear our image.  Not our moral image, but our physical image.  God put on flesh and was born as a baby and grew up to be a man.  But this man, Jesus, did not sin.  He perfectly reflected the character of God in human form.  And then He was killed.  He laid down his life on our behalf, dying for our sins, our failure to reflect the character of God.  And then He rose.  He rose again showing His death was sufficient and our debt had been paid in full.  In doing so he made a way for there to be reconciliation, restoration and ultimatly adoption (Ephesians 1:4-6) between mankind and God.  So that if anyone would simply place their trust in Jesus' death alone for the forgiveness of their sins God will forgive them for distorting His image, adopt them into His family and indwell them with His Spirit so that we can once again reflect His character.  

Because of what Jesus did for us and as a result of the Father's adoption and the Spirit's indwelling we can once again fulfill the purpose of our creation, to reflect the character of God.  On this side of Heaven we will not do it perfectly, but we can do it.  In fact we are commanded to.   See: Ephesians 5:1-2, Philippians 2:4-5, 1 Peter 1:14-16

We are to reflect the character of God not to earn God’s favor, we cannot do that, and not out of our own power, we cannot do that either.  We are to reflect God’s character because of what God has done for us and so that others can know Him by His power that He has given us. 

I find this to be a fascinating and very clarifying truth.  We are to reflect God’s character.  Which means what God does we should do.

I share all of that because another thing I have become convinced of is that God has tremendous compassion for the orphan and the fatherless.  In fact, throughout the Bible this character of God is revealed.  See Deut. 10:17-18; Proverbs 10:14, 17-18;  Psalm 68:5

And so since our purpose as Christians is to reflect the character of God by the power of God and since God is a God who is a defender of the orphan and the father to the fatherless we have the responsibility to represent His character. 

Since this is who God is, we must represent that or re-present who He is to the world by how we live.  Fittingly he calls his people to do this.  See Deut 24:17-24, Isaiah 1:16-17, Zech. 7:10, James 1:27.

In fact it is such a big deal to God that we reflect His character in this way that in James he tells us that "pure and faultless religion that God accepts is to look after widows and orphans in their time of distress..."  It is a big deal to God.  I don’t know how you would have finished the sentence, "pure and faultless religion  that God accepts is….I know I would have said something like avoiding sin, loving your neighbor, sharing the Gospel or a number of other things before I would have ever gotten to looking after widows and orphans, but that is what God says.  It is a big deal to Him.  This is who He is, we are commanded to re-present who He is to His created world and so we are called to defend, love, look after, care for the orphan and the fatherless. 

And I have become convinced that this applies to all of us.  To what degree?  I don’t know.  But to some degree?  Yes. 
So that the world and the generation that is coming next can know that this is who our God is.  For how are they to know unless we show them? 

I saw a great video that illustrated this perfectly.  I want you to see it.   (You can watch the entire thing, however I just showed to the 2:14 mark.  Sorry, there is commercial at the beginning.)

Did you hear it?  "My friend asked me, 'Why do you believe there is a God?'  I turned to my mom and said, there is my proof that there is a God.  She is sitting in the front seat."  She could have said, "How do you know God is a God that defends the orphan and is a Father to the fatherless?"  And she could have responded the same way... my proof is sitting in the front seat. 

As Christians we are commanded to reflect the character of God. 

All of this has led me to the last thing I have become convinced of: We need to react..

I don’t know how God wants you to react.  But I do know that you and me and our church as a whole must react.  So what I want to do is to get real specific with some ways you can reflect God’s character to the orphan and the fatherless...

You can pray for them.  Pray specifically by names.  Visit the or the heart gallery to get names and find out their story. 

You can build Awareness.  Learn the stats and tell people.  It is not okay that there are 140 million orphans in the world.  Start telling people.

You can financially support them or people desiring to adopt. This is a huge need and opportunity.

 You can provide for their physical needs.  Two places right in our backyard where you can do this are AngelHeart and the CPS Rainbow Room…

 You can visit them where they are.  Three places you can do that in Pflugerville and Round Rock are: AngelHeart, Texas Baptist Children’s Home, Starry

 You can support those who support them.  Throw baby showers for families that have just adopted.  Provide babysitting or respite care

 You can become a mentor to a child soon to age out of the system.  This is a huge need.  22,000 children age out of foster care every year.  40% never finish school, 65% become homeless or end up in jail.  You can become a mentor  through local agencies or our school system.  We have schools in PISD approaching us and asking us to mentor their fatherless and at risk students.  On November 12th we will host along with Connally High School a mentor training orientation and pair people with a 9th grade student.  Curretnly I have 3 people from our entire church signed up to do this.  3 people.  30 minutes every other week 11:30 to 12:00 with the freedom to do things outside of that time if we would like.  We must react.  (NOTE:  We had 26 people sign-up to mentor the Sunday of this message.)

And of course you could become a foster family.  In Texas alone we have 26,789 orphans.  Our church has a support system for you, we can point you to trainings we want to help you take this step. Compassion Connection on November 15th. 

Or you can Adopt. Around the world there are millions of children in need of adoption.  Research shows that at least 1/3 of families consider adopting at some point or another.   Yet only 2% ever follow through.  Today perhaps God is urging you to reflect His character in this way.  If He is, please have the courage to do it.

Deut 10:18, Psalm 68:5, A defender of the orphan the father to the fatherless is our God.  How will they know unless we act. 

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling."  Psalm 68:5

But how will the world know, how will the fatherless know unless we show them?  Let us in mass respond to the call.  Begin to pray, take a step to foster or adopt, begin to support, give, visit, provide for, love... Reflect.

Collaboration of Church and State

God is big.  He can create galaxies simply by speaking.  So it makes sense that if He wants a church to impact a public school district He could make it happen.  Yet, as it is happening for our church, it feels hard to believe. 

For example, over the last three days I have had three amazing conversations that clearly only happened because God is doing something amazing. 

The first was with Charles Dupre, the Superintendent of Pflugerville ISD.  We were talking in our church sanctuary as 100 high school students from the four high schools in the district were entering our church building.  They were there because our church was letting them use our building for a leadership development day.  As the students entered Mr. Dupre thanked me and our church for all the ways we were serving and supporting the district.  In our conversation he made the comment that almost on a weekly basis he hears from a teacher or administrative faculty how great our church is.  I told him we love getting a chance to serve them as it gives us a great opportunity to communicate that they all matter deeply to God.  To that he said, "That message is being heard."

The second conversation happened that same day.  I received a call from Vicky, the lead social worker of Pflugerville ISD, asking if I could meet with the Principle and the 9th grade Principal of Connally High School some time that week.  She said that the Principal at Connally, Daniel Garcia, had run into her a couple of weeks back and had asked her if she had any connections with Hill Country Bible Church.  She told him she did, as we have partnered with her on a couple of projects over the last six months.  Then Vicky told me Daniel made the comment that he had heard about all that Hill Country is doing in the district and wanted to know if there was any way he could get some people from our church to mentor their 9th grade students.  Then Vicky said, "Jake, he wants people specifically from your church.  Do you think you could recruit some mentors for Connally?"

Two days later I had the third amazing conversation.  I was in a conference room at Connally High School with the Principal, Daniel Garcia, the 9th Grade Principal, Scott Ford, and the Lead Social Worker of the district Vicky.  We were meeting to discuss the 9th grade mentoring program they had designed specifically with the volunteers from our church in mind.  In the meeting they said that the commitment to mentor would simply be 30 minutes, from 11:30 to noon, every other week.  I commented that I felt like that wouldn't be enough time to make much of an impact on a 9th grader.  Then Scott said, "Our hope is that the mentor would build a relationship during that 30 minutes with the student and then the mentor could begin to spend time with them outside of school.  Our dream would be that the mentors from your church would get to know their families and hangout with them during the weekend or after school."  So I clarified, "You mean y'all will give us the student's contact information and allow us to meet with them on our own time?"  He reiterated, "That is exactly what we want.  In fact to kick off this mentoring program we are going to facilitate a time for the mentor from your church to meet the student they will be mentoring and at least one of the student's parents so they can begin a trust relationship with the parent.  This will allow them to get together at any time." 

God is doing something ridiculous in our school district and through our church.  He has used a couple of offers to host events in our building, volunteering to tutor elementary students and serving teachers before school starts to swing the door wide open to influence an entire district for Christ.  Since we have been serving we have had teachers, principals, and a Superintendent begin attending our church.  Who knows what God is going to do next.  I do know what I hope He does next.  I hope he raises up 30 mentors from our church to begin mentoring students at Wieland Elementary, Kelly Lane Middle School and Connally High School. 

Let me know if you are interested. 

An Awesome Story

Three weeks ago I mentioned in a blog that our church had the opportunity to give a woman and her three kids a glimpse of the coming Kingdom, where people are loved by one another with the love of Christ, no strings attached.  We had the chance to do this by providing them a hotel room for a week which allowed the mother to be able to get her kids enrolled in school and for them to sleep somewhere else other than the parking lot of a Walmart in her mini-van.  Giving them the key to their hotel room for that week was a cool moment, but over the past three weeks God has continued to work through our church to turn that moment into an incredible story of His love.  So I thought I'd share the rest of it...

During their stay at the hotel some things began looking up for them.  They were sleeping through the night, the three kids (11,13,17) were enrolled in a Pflugerville ISD school and began attending classes, and the mom, whose name is Monet, interviewed for a managerial position at Ross.  However, they were still facing some pretty big obstacles.  They still didn't have a permanent place to stay after their week at the hotel and their van had begun to break down.  In fact, that week their van began to overheat anytime they drove somewhere.  As a result it took Monet over two hours to get her kids to their school in the morning because she would only be able to drive for five minutes before the van overheated and then she would have to wait for awhile before it would start again.  Not only did this make the trip to school long and tedious but while the kids where in school Monet would stay in a parking lot all day instead of driving back to the hotel because she wasn't sure if the van would be able to make it back to the kids if she were to drive somewhere else. 

Then the time came for them to have to check-out of the hotel.  Unfortunately, once again they had not place to go.  For the next four days they slept in the van outside of a Walmart.  The kids were still going to school, but each day when all the other kids in their school went home they went to Walmart and then to their van. 

But God had not forgotten about Monet and her children.  During this time He was at work in the lives of people within our church developing in them His heart of compassion and orchestrating events that would create an awesome story. 

First, He moved in the heart of a woman within our church, Jamie Williams.  As a result, Jamie invited Monet and her kids to come live with her.  She called Monet, invited her family out to dinner, bought them a great meal and invited them to live with her for awhile.  As a result, for the past two weeks, Monet and her family have been living with Jamie. 

Then God provided a temporary working vehicle for Monet.  Adam Brunson was headed out of town for five days, which meant that his super sweet Volkswagen Van would be sitting in his driveway.  So instead, he gave it to Monet to use while he was gone.  Now they had a place to stay and a reliable vehicle.

Now that Monet had another means of transportation God compelled a man in our church, Darrell Whatley, to take a look at Monet's van.  Darryl, who serves on our Helping Hands ministry team that serve single moms in our community, brought a friend of his who is a certified mechanic and they took a look at Monet's van.  Then, right there in the Walmart parking lot where she had left it, they inspected it, worked on it and fixed it.  All of this at no cost to Monet.  In fact, they paid for it themselves. 

That Sunday, September 27th, Monet and her family attended our church.  That night they dropped off Adam's van and picked up their now working, but no longer their home, mini-van. 

Through all of this they have each heard the Gospel.  Through all of this they have each been given a picture of the love portrayed through the Gospel. 

God loves Monet and her family and it has been such an honor for God to use our church to remind her of that. 

On Tuesday, October 6th, Monet was offered a managerial position at Ross.  She starts her training today, October 7th. 

What an awesome story God is writing. 

Time Tells

It seems to me that our time primarily goes to the things that are important to us.  For example, being able to provide for our family is important to us so we go to work.  Or, getting to relax is important and so we make time to do it at the end of the day or on the weekend.  For many fathers getting one-on-one time with their son or daughter is important and so they make time to do breakfast with them on a regular basis.  I could go on with examples, but all of this is to say we make time for things that are important to us. 

Currently I am reading through the book of Acts.  I'm struck by the amount of time the apostles spent giving people an opportunity to say "yes" or "no" to the Gospel.  The Apostle Paul uprooted, left his home town and spent his life doing this.  In fact, helping people trust Christ was so important to him that he went so far as to say that, if it were possible, he would go to hell if it meant all of his fellow Israelites would be saved. 

"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel."  Romans 9:2-4a

There is no doubt that people's salvation was incredibly important to Paul.  Important enough to give his time, give his comfort and even give up eternity in heaven if it were an option. 

Today the level of importance most Christians place on pointing people to Christ stands in stark contrast to the Apostle Paul.  If our time primarily goes to the things that are important to us then our calendars declare how little we actually care about seeking and saving the lost.

However, over the past few months there have been a number of people within our church who have begun to make time to do some seeking and, God willing, some saving.    Currently we have eight couples that have begun reaching out to their neighbors for the purpose of building relationships with them so they can build a bridge strong enough to bear the weight of the Gospel.  Soon all eight couples will begin a six week study in their home for their neighbors.  In the study they will discuss life, God, the Gospel and seek to point their neighbors to Christ. 

Krista and I are one of those couples.  We have no idea how this is all going to play out.  We feel very stretched and clumsy as we seek to build friendships with our neighbors.  But we have committed to make time to do this because we know that the people on our street need the grace of our God through the person of Jesus.  We know Jesus died for all of the people on our street and we know that means they are all very important to Him and therefore should be important to us as well.  And so like the other seven couples in our church, Krista and I have gotten out our calendar and have blocked out evenings or afternoons for us to interact with our neighbors.  We are all trying to at least set aside a day a week every other week to interact with the people on our street.  Last Friday we had a bunch of them over for a cookout on our back porch.  Two weeks before that we had them over for Bluebell at the Boxes.  It is not fancy, but it is time we are giving to reaching them.  And we are giving that time because where they spend eternity is important to us. 

If you want some help in thinking intentionally about giving every man, woman and child on your street or in your workplace an opportunity to say "yes" or "no" to the Gospel please let me know.  I'd love to help you begin to reflect our Father's heart for them. 

The Way Things Are Supposed to Be

The most emotional moments in my life have come as a result of either experiencing something I know God never intended or experiencing something so good I know it is exactly what God intended.  I find these moments incredibly heavy as they seem to confront me with the truth that we live in a broken world and something vastly better awaits. 

We see this in Jesus' life in John 11 when He weeps as a result of being confronted with the death of His friend Lazarus.  He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead and yet He was still moved to tears.  You can see it in the emotion of God the Son, things are not as they are supposed to be.

But sometimes, even in this broken world, we get a picture of the way things ARE supposed to be.  We get a glimpse of the coming Kingdom when "God will restore everything, as He promised long ago through the prophets" (Acts 3:21).  These moments are so good.  They stay with me, giving me hope and encouragement to persevere.  I never grow tired of these sneak peeks.  They just leave me hungry for more.

Over the past week I've had the joy of getting three of these rare glimpses of the way things are supposed to be as a result of our church being the church.  

Sneak Peek #1: 
Saturday 22 people sacrificed their own comfort to serve 21 kids who are currently living at the AngelHeart Foster Shelter.  These kids lives shout the truth that things are not the way they are supposed to be.  Abused, molested, neglected, sick, orphaned...  But on Saturday each of them got a glimpse of the way God intended things to be.  Twenty two people gave seven hours of their Saturday to fix up their house, hang out with them and communicate through words and action that they matter.  They matter to God and they matter to us.  For seven hours everyone there got a taste of the Kingdom.  A glimpse into a place where people are loved with a supernatural love, where people are served as if their interests are more important, where people are treated like they are worth dying for. 

Sneak Peek #2:
Later that day I had the opportunity to meet-up with a social worker from Pflugerville ISD and a new client of hers.  This client was a single mom with three teenage children.  For the past two weeks they had been living out of their Ford Aerostar van, moving from one Wal-Mart parking lot to another in order to sleep.  They had just recently arrived in Austin from Baton Rouge and she needed to get her kids into school.  All the shelters they had tried in town were full.  Like the AngelHeart kids, their lives shouted that the world is not as it was intended to be.  But on that day things were different.  For the people of our church had given their money for times like these and so I was meeting them outside of a hotel.  I got there early and reserved a room for her family for an entire week.  When they arrived and I handed them the key to their room the looks on their faces said it all.  They had gotten a glimpse of the Kingdom.  A social worker from Pflugerville ISD had given up hours of her Saturday to help them find shelter.  She had called our church because we have a reputation of wanting to help those in need.  We were able to provide them a place to stay because we had given our money so we could be ready to meet these kind of needs.  As a result this family felt like they mattered.  They experienced a supernatural, no strings attached kind of love.  The kind of love that one feels and just intuitively thinks, this is the way things are supposed to be. 

Sneak Peek #3:
Monday night we had our final registration night for our new ESL semester.  That night we had seventy three non-english speakers at our building registering for the free classes we are offering.  We had eight volunteers there who run this ministry because they love these people.  While the students were registering they asked, "Why is it free?"  Our volunteers were able to tell them, "It is free because you matter to God.  You matter to God so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die in your place for your sins."   That night everyone there got a picture of the way things are supposed to be.  Where we look out for the immigrants in our country and bless them by loving them, treating them like they are home and bringing them the Gospel (Lev. 19:33-34).  Tonight, (Wednesday 9/16) we will have over seventy people in our building learning how to speak English and ending their class reading from the Gospel of John.  This is the way things are supposed to be. 

This week let us make these sneak peeks less rare.  Let's give people a picture of the coming Kingdom and a glimpse of what the King is like by how we live, love and serve.  And let us do this while looking for and praying for opportunities to bless people by also telling them how they can be assured of an entrance into this Kingdom where everything is as it is supposed to be. 

The Church Scattered

Over the past nine months God has been changing the perspective of many within our church. As a result we have begun thinking more about how we can serve the people that currently do not enter our doors. We have begun moving out of the walls of our church building and into the community as the church. The result of this work of God in our lives has led to great life-change in us and exciting life and community change in our city.

As God continues this work more of the church is getting it. More people are intentionally engaging their community, their neighborhoods and their workplace. More people are being blessed by the church than ever before. More people than ever are getting a glimpse of the coming Kingdom and taste of the love and compassion of our great God. Yet, because all of this is happening outside of the walls of our building we are having a hard time collecting stories and telling the stories of what God is doing.

Thus, the birth of this blog.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage the church to live out our faith in our community so that every man, woman and child will have an opportunity to say "yes" or "no" to the Gospel. I hope to provide that encouragement by using this venue to tell the stories of what God is doing through us as we engage our city. Let this inspire you, remind you and propel you to take your next step to reduce the lostness of greater Austin.

God is at work moving us to join Him in His mission. This year He has helped us take pivotal steps towards reaching EMWC, but there is a lot of work still to do. Let's stay encouraged and up our personal participation so all can hear of His amazing grace.