Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Giving My Son a Voice - An Adoption Reflection

I have a son whom I've never met. He lives on the other side of the globe. My wife and I have pieces of his life, patched together through doctor's reports, photos, and video snippets.

He weighs forty-six pounds, stands forty-five inches tall, and goes to the bathroom on his own. He follows rules, plays with others, kicks a ball, and completes puzzles. He waits in line, feeds himself, and takes his medication.

Our son does not speak English. Nor does he speak his native tongue. Our son does not speak much at all. His lost voice grieves me. I didn't know the extent of my sorrow until a recent breakdown in front of my biological daughters. It was bedtime, and I was reading them a story.

E.B. White's classic, The Trumpet of the Swan, tells the tale of a Trumpeter Swan named Louis who was born without a voice. His loquacious father, the cob, tries to assure his "dumb" son:
"Remember that the world is full of youngsters who have some sort of handicap that they must overcome. You apparently have a speech defect. I am sure you will overcome it in time. There may even be some slight advantage, at your age, in not being able to say anything. It compels you to be a good listener... The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens...

Some people go through life chattering and making a lot of noise with their mouth; they never really listen to anything--they are too busy expressing their opinions, which are often unsound or based on bad information. Therefore, my son, be of good cheer! Enjoy life; learn to fly! Eat well; drink well! Use your ears; use your eyes! And I promise that someday I will make it possible for you to use your voice. There are mechanical devices that convert air into beautiful sounds. One such device is called a trumpet. I saw a trumpet once, in my travels. I think you may need a trumpet in order to live a full life. I've never known a Trumpeter Swan to need a trumpet, but your case is different. I intend to get you what you need. I don't know how I will manage this, but in the fullness of time it shall be accomplished."

My reading had stuttered and stalled, coming out in chokes and tears. Claire and Margot laughed at me; they live with a fullness that makes laughter come naturally.

My son whom I've never met, who lives on the other side of the globe, has not experienced such fullness--the kind that comes from having a family and a voice. He may be "frightened" and "scared" like Louis, the "dumb" swan, wondering "why he had come into the world without a voice." Perhaps, like Louis, he thinks "Fate is cruel to me."

Mostly, I hope my son finds the comfort Louis found when "he remembered that his father had promised to help..."

I want to help my son whom I've never met, who lives on the other side of the globe. I want to give him a voice.

See Sprankle Adoption information and financial need at Village to Village International.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Who's Afraid of Success?

The fear of failure likely affects more people than the fear of success. But the dark side of success has touched many. Those who have tasted success, or watch others experience it, have noted themes that emerge from Gideon's life. After gaining confidence from God of certain victory over the Midianites (Judges 6:11-7:23), Gideon gives chase to his enemies. In the following narrative (Judges 7:24-8:35), we find three reasons to fear success: it breeds critics, feeds conceit, and leads to change/corruption. While we cannot control our critics (and we better not be one), we can fight conceit and resist corruption, so that our work retains its virtue. For true success is leveraging our work for God's glory, not ours (Psalm 115:1).

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, June 1, 2015

Overcoming the Fear of Failure by Embracing Imperfection

I used to grade weekly reading response papers for a college professor. He viewed these assignments as a "grade booster." He told me to grade leniently. I awarded most students As and Bs, but rarely gave a student 100%. On almost every paper I found a typo, grammatical error, or incomplete answer.

No one was perfect, not even one.

Their reactions underscored their imperfection. Many of the students complained and wanted justification for a missed point. Some lamented and asked for extra credit. Most labeled me strict.

I was strict: I never backed down.

These students demonstrated a dangerous thought pattern: they equated a minor flaw with failure. Imperfection and failure may be distant cousins, but that doesn't mean they should be married (not even in West Virginia). We do ourselves an injustice when we chaff at failure and imperfections.

Imperfection implies room for improvement. Imperfection gives opportunity for growth. Imperfection suggests a standard to mark future progress by. Imperfection may be the result of cut corners, hasty editing (e.g., this blog), and half-hearted efforts, but it does not spell failure...unless.

If in the face of imperfection one makes excuses, shifts the blame, or quits the task at hand, then failure it births.

Fortunately, many professionals excel at imperfection without resigning as failures. A great baseball player fails to hit the pitch three out of five times.  A great preacher may fail to reach two thirds of his audience on any given Sunday. A great salesman fails to close a deal four out of five times. A great inventor will fail on a new product ninety-nine out of one hundred tries.

What makes these individuals great is not their perfect records, but their persistence in the face of failure. The batter adjusts his stance. The preacher modifies his content. The salesman finds new clients. The inventor constantly tweaks her design. Imperfection is a spur inspiring forward motion.

Perhaps more of us would overcome the fear of failure if we embraced our imperfection. God knows: He accepts all this way. He grades on a curve.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12, NIV)

Who's Afraid of Failure

The fear of failure haunts us all. We may fear failing as parents, spouses, workers, or Christ-followers. We may fear failing in a project, task, or commitment. Fortunately, we can overcome the fear of failure.

Gideon serves as our model. He was a Hebrew leader during a dark time in Israel's past. Foreigners routinely attacked them and devoured their harvest (Judges 6:1-10). God uses reluctant Gideon to fight of the Midianites and model courage (6:11-7:23). Like us, Gideon is not a fast learner, but requires a series of tests (smashing altars, shrinking armies) and proofs from God (laying fleece, spying) to march forward. Ultimately, Gideon illustrates a big God, clear goals, and strong group can diffuse the fear of failure

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, May 25, 2015


The resurrection of Jesus is the Christian reason for faith, joy, wonder, and hope. The gospel of John reports the resurrection through the eyes of John, Mary, Thomas, and Peter, who embody these responses. The risen Jesus, who walks through walls, fries up fish, and speaks sweetly to His followers, gives His followers a glimpse into their new, glorified bodies. This sermon is the last in the Our Spiritual World Series. It takes great pains (and fifty minutes) to detail the deeper magic of Jesus' triumph over death and ours.


God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spiritual Knowledge

Followers of Jesus do not need to divorce reason and faith. A good deal of knowledge supports Christian convictions, including evidential, experimental, and experiential forms of knowing. The Bible itself asserts God has revealed Himself (in various forms and times), and we can know Him relationally. Sadly, many have rejected this knowledge of God, exchanging the Creator for the material world and a false sense of autonomy. This sermon encourages Christ-followers to own what they know and know the One who owns them.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hearing God by Organizing Our Prayer Lives - Part 5 of 5

"What is an area of your spiritual life that needs work?" I asked. A forty-plus year old man, rugged and tender, sat opposite me.

"My prayer life," he replied, adding, "I'm not sure I've ever understood prayer."

"Join the club," I said.

As we continued to discuss prayer, it became clear what was lacking in our prayer lives was actual time praying. We could define prayer, explain prayer, model prayer, and validate the centrality of prayer from the pages of Scripture. Unfortunately, our knowledge of prayer did not translate to the practice of prayer.

Praying is a challenge. It is the hard work of turning our anxieties into pleas for dependence and deliverance. It is the difficult task of making others' worries into our concerns, which we present with empathy and zeal before God. And it is the discipline of quieting our fears so we can hear from our heavenly Father.

This last aspect of prayer is critical, because I want more than the assurance of God's ear. I want the encouragement of His voice.

The simple (but not easy) solution to hearing God better results by creating space for conversational prayer. And creating space is not the same as finding space. We can all discover an extra twenty minutes in traffic, on the toilet, or in between meetings. Rather than sinking our faces into mobile devices in these margins, we can turn our eyes to the heavens. Without a doubt, discovering prayerful moments is a great habit. Better, however, is disciplining a prayerful life.

The organized prayer life sets aside times and seasons for deliberate prayer. It creates patterns and liturgies to guard against distractions. Over time the structured prayer life results in spontaneous moments of prayer.

For a more thorough discussion the matter, I suggest purchasing and reading Timothy Keller's recent book entitled Prayer. The final chapter offers detailed steps to crafting healthy prayer patterns. To remain blog-friendly (i.e. concise), I'll suggest a few organizing principles.

  • Daily Prayer: Pray through the Lord's Prayer daily (Matthew 6:9-13). Take time thinking through the various aspects, so its not the mindless repetition Jesus warns against (6:5), but worshipful reflection on God's character, kingdom, our needs, our sins, and our threats. Let the Lord's Prayer start or close your day.
  • Weekly Prayer with Others: Whether your prayer partner is a spouse, mentor, or friend, establishing a time to intercede together weekly is a bonding experience. My wife and I have a Saturday night prayer date.
  • (Bi-)Monthly Prayer Retreat: In my monthly schedule, I devote the first Thursday afternoon to prayer. My routine includes journaling, singing, reading psalms, petition for my family (biological and church), and listening.
  • Dedication Prayers: Mix short prayers of dedication into everyday situations, asking God to bless Bible reading, meals, work day meetings, school day interactions, personal projects, and extracurricular events. These prayers make every moment sacred, and provide a natural window to pray with others.
  • Use Prayer Guides: While my love for novelty has make me skeptical of liturgy, I have come to appreciate prayer guides, such as Kenneth Boa's Drawing Near or the Book of Common Prayer. These works organize Scriptures to serve as prayer prompts for each day of the month.
An organized prayer life lends itself to hearing God. When we create space for conversation with our heavenly Father, He will greet us at the beginning of the day and bless us in our closing hours.