Adoption Update

The last update I gave on our adoption was way back in September of 2019 and I find it interesting that only one of the things on the list of what needed to happen has been completed because SO much has happened since that last update.

The News

So the last update I gave was actually published on our daughter’s birthday. We weren’t legally a family yet, but that was the day that she opened a gift from an American family introducing themselves to her. Her caretakers recorded the moment and it was beautiful; an emotional culmination of her 10+ years of waiting and our nearly 2 years of wading through paperwork, background checks, stress and anxiety! Not long after that we were given permission to have our first video chat with her, but it would still be a long road ahead.

We received the news that our court date was scheduled for early December (the 5th, I believe). That day came and our case was pushed back 2 weeks. We had another video chat as we anxiously waited for the hearing, but again our case was pushed back another 2 weeks. Finally in January the judge heard our case and determined that because we were an American family trying to adopt an older child with special needs that we needed to appear before him.

The Trip

Now I’ll give more details on this once all is said and done, but here’s the quick version. We had a few weeks to get everything in order and to get to India for our court date, and what a wild few weeks it was. It was simultaneously painfully long, and yet incredibly fast paced. Our boys ended up staying with their grandparents for the nearly two weeks we were out of the country (thanks again GiGi and Popi!) as my wife and I boarded a flight from Orlando to Dubai, and then moved on to Delhi.

Side note, if you’re planning a trip overseas I would recommend flying Emirates. The rates were reasonable, the seats were comfortable even for someone as tall as I am (6’4″), the food was good, and the in-flight entertainment options were excellent for both adults and kids.

India itself was a whole different kind of experience than I’ve ever had. The only time I’ve been out of the States before was going to Mexico and Belize but those were on vacations and only in country for a day for , so I don’t think those really count. This trip was far from a vacation. It had purpose, a mission, to go before the judge an plead the case for allowing our little girl to come home.

The day before court we were finally able to meet her face to face for the first time! We were all nervous, but once she came into the room, we all embraced and the next hour or so was full of God’s grace. After two full years of pressing and fighting against all sorts of odds, God had brought us to the other side of the world to hold this child who had spent her entire life longing for her parents, having to watch as child after child was adopted, and having to keep on waiting. We laughed, we cried, and we just snuggled together.

The next day, we all got dressed up and went to the courthouse. The judge called us in and had me take the stand. Going into the hearing I was super nervous. We’d heard reports of families being called to court where their presence in the room was all the judge wanted, and others where the families were interrogated to the point where they broke down or lashed out. By God’s grace, our experience was closer to the former. I was sworn in and was asked if we were Scottish or American because of our last name, and then he spoke solely to the lawyer. A few minutes later we were adjourned and being told by our guide that we had passed court; though to be honest, it all happened so fast we were struggling to really believe it had happened.

At this point we had been out of the country for nearly two weeks and our boys were really struggling. With another week or two needed in India to wrap up the legal stuff, we had to make the difficult decision to return home and come back for a second trip. It was a difficult decision to make as we wanted to stay and be able to bring he home this trip, but we felt strongly that it was important to come back and it was by God’s grace that we did as the day after we returned from India the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Delhi.

Prayer Needs

While we have been able to video chat with our daughter every week since we’ve gotten back, it’s still been difficult. It’s emotionally draining for us, and we can see in her eyes that she just wants to come be with us. By far the biggest frustration has been the shut downs and quarantines caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The plan was to return in mid-May, after she was able to get some medical testing done, but with India shut down, that has been put on hold. Once the testing is done, we still have to wait 8 weeks for the results.

Please pray with us that the effects of this pandemic get under control and that she will be able to get her medical work done. Pray with us that we will be able to travel back to India when the time comes and for God’s protection over all of us as we make our way there and back again.

Thanks again to everyone who is praying, and who has been for the last two years (or however long you’ve followed these updates). I cannot wait to share the full story once all is said and done.

Citizens – “Illusion”

Lyrics

In an empty room
Inside a haunted house I waste, away
Nothing getting in
There’s nothing coming out I fade to grey
All the memories I’ve been pushing out of my head
I need to face the pain, I never did
But if I open this door I won’t really know what’s ahead
I don’t know how to feel, afraid to live

I wanna shut my eyes
I wanna live inside the dream, awake
But when I close my eyes
It’s just a twisted mess I can’t escape
All the memories I keep pushing out of my head
I want to face the pain, I never did
But if I open this door I won’t really know what’s ahead
I don’t know how to feel, afraid to live

Running from the heartbreak of the night
It’s an illusion of a life
I tremble with desire
Strangling the grief out of the light
It’s an illusion of a life
I long to feel the fire
All the memories I keep pushing out of my head
I need to face the pain

Thoughts

I hadn’t really given much thought to this song until just the other day. I’d heard it before, but had never really listened to it. It had been a long day and my wife and I were sitting outside talking about where each others hearts were at and how we were doing in our relationships with the Lord. It was a good talk, but it brought up a lot of past hurts that I was not expecting. I thought I had moved past them, but as the conversation continued it became evident that I had repressed those feelings rather than actually dealing with them. Looking back, I don’t think it was a conscious decision; I just didn’t want to have to deal with that junk and I didn’t want the stress of a confrontation. I wanted to move on as if it was no big deal.

I went inside and took a shower; putting on some worship music as I did so and spent a little extra time in the shower praying and asking Jesus to truly deliver me from the anger I’d been suppressing and the pain I had buried. It was at this moment that God spoke to my heart through this song (as He does so often). It was one of those moments when the veil lifts and God uses something you love to speak directly to you. He’s done this for me many times in the past, but to me it’s always a special experience. This song, to me reflects perfectly the feeling I’ve struggled with for the better part of 2 years in an ongoing battle for heart.

Heart Healing, or an Update

Hello again, one and all! It’s been a long time (nearly 7 months) since my last post and I apologize for my absence. As many of you who have followed this blog over the years have seen, my family and I have been on quite the journey as we’ve sought to follow the Lord in whatever He’s called us to. I’d like to say that it’s always been easy to trust and obey, but that would be a lie. I’ve already talked about the struggle of giving up the (foreign) mission field and the fallout of coming back home. I’ve talked about the difficulty of trying to fit back in at our church and the difficult decision to leave and seek a new church family; a search that took about a year to complete. The fact of the matter is that the last few years have been a time of real struggle in our relationships with God and with others around us.

I’ve tried on and off to devote the time and attention to this blog that it deserves, but truthfully I’ve lacked the motivation. I’ve lacked the desire to write about God because in a way, my faith had been shaken. I struggled, and to an extent still struggle, with trusting Him. I know He is good and that He loves me, but a lot has happened in our relationship and it’s been painful. Now before I start sounding like someone who is blaming God for all of my problems, let me be clear that part of this has to do with a series of expectations that I had come up not being met; and that’s on me.

The biggest problem, as far as I see it, is that I never really dealt with it. I buried the hurt and the anger because I didn’t want it to bother me. I wanted to be the kind of Christian man who trusts fully, and walks in complete obedience and in doing so I never gave myself time to lament everything that had happened. If I’m being really honest with myself and with you, I didn’t want to deal with all of those emotions. I just wanted to forget about it and move on because it was easier. It’s the way that I’ve coped with pain and struggle my entire life. I don’t want to live that way anymore, and I’m sorry that I haven’t been more open with those of you who have been following this blog from the start. By the grace of God, and with the help of my wonderful wife I feel like God is finally getting through to my heart, and mending the wounds that I’ve ignored for way too long.

With all that said, the point of this blog was (and has always been) to share my experiences with you as genuinely as possible and to build a platform where we, as believers, can walk and grow together. It was always meant to be a place where both believers and non-believers could come together to ask their questions about the life, current events, and the Christian faith without shame or judgement. It’s meant to be a place where we can consider the sacred (and the profane) things in life and how we approach them in a practical way. That is the mission that I want us to pursue together.

I’m hoping to start writing more frequently again. If you haven’t already subscribed to Ancient Abandon’s email updates, I encourage you to do so. Links to the social media accounts are at the top of the site if you want to subscribe there too. Let’s get back on track with why we’re all here, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus be with us all forever and ever.

Adoption Update

Hey everyone, I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything and that may continue for a while longer. I’ve had a lot going on personally and with work, but I wanted to drop in and give you all an update on our adoption.

I know that many of you reading this have been following Ancient Abandon for a while now and many of you have seen me write about the adoption we are pursuing. I haven’t written too much about it because there are a lot of rules about what you can and cannot share publicly so to be safe I’ve only offered a little bit of info here and there. Well today was a great day!

We’re still waiting on a number of things:

  • A court order from the Indian court system which typically takes a couple of months
  • Some medical work for our daughter which will take several weeks to finish
  • Gathering her Indian passport and other documents which takes time, and finally
  • Traveling with her to Delhi to get her visa from the US Embassy

Even with all of that left to do, we were super excited today because we are finally far enough along in the process that we were able to FaceTime with her! It was our first time ever seeing her face-to-face (you know, through a screen, but still…) and it was an absolute delight. She was so happy and so excited, it filled this father’s heart with tremendous joy; and seeing how much she and our boys got along, even for that hour or so made my wife and I very happy.

When all is said and done, I will share more with you all and I will catch you up on all that has been happening. For now, I still need to wait until we are through so as not to break the rules and jeopardize the process. I just wanted to take a quick minute to let you all know what’s been going on as I know many of you have been praying for us through this journey. Please continue for the needs listed above, as well as for peace and patience for the months of waiting ahead.

War & Fatigue, or A Lesson from Captain America

For any of you who have been following this blog over the last few years, you may have noticed that it has been one crazy, whirlwind of an adventure. I’ve highlighted a lot of the major developments from our time in Lake Wales and Sarasota, Florida as well as Asheville, North Carolina. However, as there are many new readers here these days, allow me to catch you up for the sake of context.


DISCLAIMER & SPOILER ALERT:
This is going to be a long post, but I feel like it’s important to get all of the details out there. Also, if by some miracle you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame, this will contain a few spoilers from that film. You’ve been warned… but seriously, go watch it.


There & Back Again

The Back Story (Abridged)

Way back in 2005 I was an ambitious 19-year-old college freshman. I had become a Christian the year before and not long afterward found myself called to ministry. I volunteered with the youth group that I had been with when I was saved and felt called to full time ministry as an international missionary. So after a gap year following high school I applied to and was accepted to Warner Southern College in Lake Wales, FL (now known as Warner University). It was a Christian liberal arts college affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, not Cleveland for those who are curious). It was during this first semester that I met my wife and began truly seeking the Lord’s direction on where he wanted me to go as a missionary, and after one particular night of intense prayer and petitioning I was walking through an empty parking lot toward the library when I heard a loud, booming voice from behind me say the word Uganda. Now, I had no idea what that meant or that it was a country in sub-Saharan Africa but that one moment would shape my life and the lives of my wife and kids for the next 10 years.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2014 and after years of praying and waiting for the chance to go, we finally got to it. We had started through the process with our home church at the time to be considered “sent missionaries”, but as the process was being redesigned we didn’t really get anywhere. However in late 2013 (I think, though dates are all a bit fuzzy at this point) we were appointed missionary candidates with Africa Inland Mission. Realizing that while we’d lived in South Carolina for nearly 5 years at that point, most of our friends and family were still in Florida; so after a time of prayer and contemplation we sorted through our belongings, rented out our house, and moved back to the sunshine state.

Our first stop was going back to Lake Wales. We returned as interns to the HEART Institute where Abby and I received our first taste of missionary training. HEART is a simulated 3rd world village where you live in plywood huts, pump your own water, go without plumbing, and learn how to do things like gardening, animal husbandry, and build things out of whatever you have available. It is located on the campus of Warner University and we first went there in 2006. In some ways it was much the same as we remembered it, yet in many ways it was completely different. The huts were all as they had been, the animals and the garden were still there, and of course it was still ridiculously hot. However, what had once been a place to focus on preparing missionaries to thrive in an environment that so starkly contrasts with the American way of life now seemed more focused on providing youth groups and the like a unique experience. Whether that change was good or bad is subjective I suppose and not mutually exclusive. It was during this time that we started support raising for our first year in Uganda.

A number of not-so-pleasant situations arose in Lake Wales. Because we hadn’t finished the candidacy program we were informed by a representative from our home church back in South Carolina that they didn’t want us reaching out to members of the congregation for support even though we had been reaching out to people who had told us that they wanted us to do so. At the same time, we began to butt heads with some of the new HEART staff about expectations and the ways that our kids were being treated and before long we knew that it was time to move on. Let me be clear, I wholly believe in the mission of HEART and if you ever have the chance to spend some time there you should totally do it. I only bring it up because it is a big part of my story and while I know it may sound crazy, or even naive, it was the first time I had really experienced real, actual, significant conflict with other believers.

Back to the Suncoast

Only a few short months after leaving our home in South Carolina we realized that our time in Lake Wales was coming to an end. On the heels of our experience at HEART and struggling with feeling abandoned by our church my wife and I again prayed about the next steps. We were only a little way toward our support goal and we had gone through our savings faster than anticipated, so it was time for me to get a job.

We received confirmation to continue on to Sarasota which was part of the original plan. Shortly thereafter I went back to work for Starbucks and we continued to meet with pastors and share our story, however after nearly a year of support raising we were still only at 10% of our goal. Now I know plenty of people who take a long time to raise support, but when in the course of doing what you believe God has called you to do, it is important to check back in with Him to make sure nothing has changed (and to amend if necessary). It was at this point that we realized everything had changed.

You see, not only had we been unable to raise enough support, but every proverbial door that we knocked on remained firmly shut and every open door closed as we approached it. We were pushing hard to be faithful, but something just felt off about the whole thing. The passion and desire to go to Uganda had left us. Now I would have been critical of that “feeling” if it were just something we wanted to do, but going to Uganda was what we had been working toward since before we were married. It was a part of who we were and what we did. Nearly every life choice we made was oriented toward the mission of pouring ourselves out for the people of Uganda, and suddenly that purpose was gone. Not trusting ourselves because of the emotions involvement, we asked several brothers and sisters we knew to be faithful and trustworthy to pray through our next steps and all of them came back with confirmation of what we already knew: God had taken Uganda off the table.

The Fallout

Jump ahead several more months to the spring of 2015 and we found ourselves living on a lavender farm in Asheville, North Carolina. After realizing that we were no longer going to Uganda I started taking classes to finish up my bachelor’s degree which I had put on hold after my second child was born, and we realized that we couldn’t really stay in Sarasota (it’s really expensive there). This was the start of a really hard season that would last for the next 5 years. After everything we had been through over those last two years, my wife began to suffer from adrenal fatigue leaving her on bed rest for several months. I found myself working 2-3 jobs at one point to make ends meet while taking classes as I got closer to graduation, and on top of all of that we found out that our oldest son had been suffering from an autoimmune disorder that was effecting him neurologically.

Now I don’t want it to sound like everything was bad. There were some great and amazing times interspersed in all of these stories I’m sharing with you, and perhaps some day I’ll share some of those. But the fact is the overarching theme of this season has been that trial and perseverance. Devastation and reform. Spiritual war and fatigue.

Now I admit that I am not the best when it comes to dealing with emotions. While I like to work through and resolve problems, I have a tendency to try and roll with the punches. I don’t like to make a big deal out of things that might really bother other people. While I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing it can lead to suppressing things that are legitimately upsetting, even if it’s not on purpose which is exactly what happened to me. I felt like if I shouldn’t be upset or mourn what happened with Uganda, or what happened at HEART, or the response we had from our home church but really what was happening was suppressing and not processing. While I forgave and moved on from all of that in my mind, I was never able to fully reconcile that in my heart until now.

The Endgame

Jump ahead to the fall of 2018. We’d been in the process of adopting our daughter since March of that year and little progress had been made (if you are interested in that story, I’m planning to write more on the adoption process and our adoption story once it’s all done and she is home). It was in November that we got a call that left us completely wrecked. While we were still waiting for our adoption agency and the government agencies to process our paperwork another family had reserved the file for the little girl that we had been pursuing, meaning they had 30 days to decide if they would adopt her or not. Now it may not sound like a big deal, but for us it was. I had been uneasy about adoption at the start of the process, and even more so when it came to special needs adoption; but God changed my heart. We’d been praying for her as a family, making life changes to accommodate her, and making a special place in our hearts for her, and suddenly there was a possibility that this child whom we had come to love as part of our family might not get to be a part of our family. In the end that other family decided to pursue another child, but for that month we had to really wrestle with some extremely difficult thoughts and emotions. This was probably the first time in the 15 years of being a believer that I really felt like my faith had been shaken. First you took away Uganda, now this? I thought. I honestly hadn’t struggled like that before, but as the dust settled, no harm had been done so I just tried to move on as I prepared to start a new career after having to wait over a year after graduating to land a job.

And now we’re here, in the middle of 2019, still waiting. We’ve made progress in the process, but we’re likely still a few months away from getting to travel. I’ve had my head buried in my work as I’ve been getting acclimated to my new position which has kept me pretty distracted from the heavier things that I’ve mentioned here until the last few days. We recently found out that it’s possible we may have to go back (again) a few steps in the adoption. While it’s not likely, there is a possibility that in doing so we could still miss out on bringing her home. We thought the hardest part was behind us and this is when I hit my limit. My mind was racing. Again? Why has every step of this process been such a battle? Why do you keep doing this? Why can’t we ever have something like this be easy? Why do allow others to have such an easy time and we have to fight for every inch? Why are you making us suffer when we’re trying to do the things that you told us to do?

Believe me, it was much more intense and angry than that reads. There were some not so kind or appropriate words in there too, and I acknowledge that it was wrong; but I’m thankful that we worship a God that we can be brutally honest with, who is faithful even when we push back against Him. After 5 years of intense, nearly non-stop struggle and trials, I’d had enough and for the first time I seriously questioned if it’s worth it. Hadn’t my family and I been faithful to everything he’d called us to? I’d invested in relationships that many people that other Christians wouldn’t feel comfortable around. We’d opened our home to a woman and her child that we barely knew because they had no where else to go. I’d given up my plans and my dreams in order to go to Uganda like He’d told me to only to have it taken away at the last minute. And now, after everything my family and I had gone through we were once again being faithful to something that He told us to do and now there is a chance that even that could get taken away. I had to be honest with myself; even though nothing bad had happened yet, could I still follow God if He was willing to take this away too?

The Lesson from Captain America

While I know that there are plenty of examples of men and women in the Bible who have struggled in similar ways and beyond (Abraham, Job, Daniel, John the Baptist, Jesus himself, etc.) I’m not going with their stories even though I could. As many of you know, I love music, movies, and games so for years God has often revealed Himself and spoken to me through various songs and scenes, which is just what He did yesterday.

As I stood in the kitchen with my wife, both of us discussing where we were emotionally and spiritually the Lord brought to mind the following scene from Avengers: Endgame. In the scene, the mad titan Thanos has knocked out Iron Man and temporarily incapacitated Thor. After a spectacular flurry by Captain America (Steve Rogers), Thanos turns the tables not only beating him back, but breaking his shield in the process. Alone and beaten down, Cap wills himself back to his feet only to find himself face to face with Thanos’ army of Chitauri, Outriders, and the Black Order.

This video clip below cuts past it, but in the film there is a moment where Steve looks over the invading army and senses the hopelessness of the situation. It is in this moment that he has to make a choice. He’s already done so much, and fought so hard. He’s stood up to enemies bigger and stronger than he is and has always pushed through to victory, but even the legendary Captain America has his limits. His choice is simple: lay down his shield and wait for death to come, or keep fighting for what is right no matter what happens. Steve then grabs the strap of his shattered shield, cinches it tight over the deep cut on his arm, and slowly moves toward the enemy ready to fight until the end.

This was God showing me what I needed in that moment. While I am no Captain America, one thing that God has made me is firm in conviction and resolve but just like Job we all have our breaking point. We all have a point – whether we all hit that point or not – at which we are confronted with the choice of choices. “Am I willing and able to do the hard things?” It’s not, “Will I suffer for Christ?”, but, “How much am I willing to endure to remain faithful to Him?” Sadly, as we’ve seen lately with a number of our more well known brothers it was not enough, but I cannot judge them as harshly as I might have in the past. That doesn’t mean it’s ever okay to walk away from Jesus, but perhaps a little more grace and understanding is in order because being a Christian can be really hard sometimes.

It was in this moment of sorrow and struggle that I remembered something I used to know quite well. It’s important to worship through the pain and the suffering… so that’s just what I did. I poured my heart out to Him, continuing our “conversation” from earlier in the day (in a more respectful and genuine way) and the Spirit reminded me of some things I had forgotten or been blinded to.

  • God is good, and just, even when our circumstances aren’t.
  • God isn’t here to fix all of our problems and to give us all of our rewards. That comes at the end of the age, not in this life.
  • When I chose to follow Him, I committed myself to Him no matter what.
  • These are things that may not always make sense to our fallen minds, but that doesn’t change His love for us.

It was then that I realized that perhaps we are also too critical of past generations that took God more seriously. Some of us, if not many of us, see them as more primitive because of their technological capabilities; however, they had to really contend with God. They didn’t have the luxury of being an atheist or agnostic, or walking away from God because things got too hard. Of course, some people did, but most often you’ll find people who were religiously devoted even if there religious merits weren’t up to par.

I am a Christian. I was never promised an easy ride. Thomas Hobbes rightly described life on this sin filled planet as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, and we are called to live according to God’s Word, not our own ideas of fairness. In tears I came back before my Father, broken and repentant, and ready to face down the enemy no matter what the outcome is. This is who I am meant to be. This is who we are all meant to be. We are sojourners and exiles passing through this planet with one job: to love God, and to love others. But as harsh as this world can be, we have a God who loves us enough to walk through it with us. And as I repented in worship, He spoke one more line to me from my favorite Marvel film:

Stand Firm in the Trials

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:12 (ESV)

The idea of persevering in the midst of hardship and persecution is pretty much a universal theme of the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular. While struggling and suffering are not fun or pleasant, and no one in their right mind would want to actually suffer we must acknowledge that suffering and persecution is a part of living in a fallen and sinful world. It’s the reason loved one get sick and die. It’s the reason disgusting terrorists blow up places of worship (Sri Lankan Easter Bombings). It’s the reason we fight wars and lives are ripped apart as civilians become “collateral damage” (Documented Civilian Deaths from Violence in Iraq since 2003 Invasion) and people on both sides are left with PTSD (PTSD Fact Sheet). It’s the reason racism and bigotry exists, and it’s the reason people turn away from God.

Life on earth is hard. In his classic treatise Leviathan (chapter 8, section 4: The Incommodities of Such a War), English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes described it as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” While in the developed West (aka, the 1st World) we don’t usually see hardship in the same way as much of the rest of the world’s population, life is still difficult. Most of us have access to the conveniences of modern life such as a refrigerator, electricity, easy access to food, and reliable transportation but we – like our developing neighbors – still suffer from disease, anxiety, and depression (ADAA Facts & Stats). However, despite the bleakness that is portrayed by the evil intentions of man’s heart, the Children of God are called to persevere.

For Christians in the West, we have very little to fear as we celebrate Jesus and seek to follow Him faithfully. Sure, there are people who don’t like it and some of us do face persecution at our workplace or -in rare cases- violence by extremists in our communities. But the thing that Christians in the West tend to face in terms of hardships are the struggles to not stray from God when everyone we know and love are pressuring us to give in and go with the societal flow. Others of us on the low-end of the economic spectrum may also struggle with the fairness of being poor even when people who hate God and who live and act selfish and sinful lives prosper.

These trials, and many more that I’m sure I’m overlooking, may be less violent and in our faces than those of our brothers and sisters mentioned earlier, but they are trials none-the-less. In my human eyes I am often hard on myself and other Western Christians when we complain about our “first world problems”, and while I don’t necessarily think that view is wrong, I’m also not convinced it entirely biblical. Other people have it worse than I and many of us do, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about our trials just as much as He cares about theirs.

After saying all of that, the big idea is quite simple. No matter what you’re going through, no matter how big or small your problem actually is, your Father in heaven cares. He is involved in it and is walking with you through it all, the good and the bad. And walking with Him, leaning into Jesus in spite of your suffering, will bring a blessing and a peace that surpasses all understanding (Matthew 5:10-11; James 1:12; Philppians 4:7).


Rich and Poor (part 1)

“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.”

James 1:9-10 (ESV)

James has a lot to say about the relationship between the rich and poor, and **SPOILER ALERT**, he’s not too fond of the former. When reading James, like any book of the bible we can read it and take away a good understanding of what God is wanting us to know for our lives. However, a deeper study of the language can also sometimes prove helpful as we strive to better understand the fullest meaning of the text.

I wanted to tackle this particular section in this way because we have a tendency to read our situation into the bible, especially when it comes to something that affects our lives the way that money does. I have heard and read people who abuse passages such as James 1:9-10 and use it as a weapon to bludgeon the rich “upper class”, and likewise people have tried to explain it away in order to excuse greed and a fear of loss. Our job as faithful Christians is to understand and accept the Word of God for what it is and to apply it to our lives as it stands. With that said, let’s get started!

Regarding the Poor

“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation…”

James 1:9

In this verse there are three words to focus on: lowly, boast, and exaltation. The word used here for lowly is tapeinos which means low in position, lowly in spirit, or humble. It is used in other passages such as Matthew 11:29, Luke 1:52, Romans 12:16, James 4:6, and 1 Peter 5:5.

The word for boast in this verse is kauchasthō; to boast, to exult, or to glory in. Other passages where this word is used include Romans 5:2, 1 Corinthians 1:31, and 2 Corinthians 5:12.

Finally, the word exaltation comes from hypsei meaning height, eminence, and dignity.  Hypsei and its grammatical variants are also used in passages such as Luke 1:78 and Ephesians 4:8 when referring to God being “on high”, which is a common phrase used to describe his preeminence.

The brother referenced here is described as someone who lacks the material possessions that would make him “rich”. Instead, his faith is strengthened because of his lack of worldly wealth and he is exalted by God in the midst of his humble circumstances. Now in English, the word “boast” may not be the best phrasing to use because it has essentially become synonymous with arrogant bragging or even narcissism which God is very much opposed to (as we will see later on in James). Boasting in this modern sense is in line with the biblical concept of sinful pride and “haughtiness” which views oneself as superior to others for one reason or another. It may seem counterintuitive to see someone who is “poor” as arrogant or haughty, but it makes sense when we understand that the arrogance is rooted in the sinfulness of the heart and not in the balance sheet.

Instead, James gives us an image of a brother who is poor by worldly standards but whom has grace, delegated authority, prestige , and prominence in his humble circumstance as a sinner who is saved by the grace of God. We boast not in our own position, but in the God who placed us in that position while maintaining a humble understanding that every good and perfect gift we have has come from the One who set us free.

Regarding the Rich

“…and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass, he will pass away.”

James 1:10

Two words in verse 10 that jump out at us are “rich” and “humiliation”. The word for rich used in this verse is plousios which means abounding in wealth… so literally rich in terms of money. I bring this point up because I don’t want there to be any mistake as to who this verse is referring to. We sometimes use rich to talk about quality of life or vibrancy in relationship, and while those don’t make sense here I have heard seen people do some serious mental gymnastics to try to make this passage mean something it doesn’t.

To drive the point home plousios can also be found in verses like Matthew 19:23 as Jesus is speaking to the rich young ruler, and 2 Corinthians 8:9 speaking of Jesus’ abundance in heaven being given up for our sake to become poor on the earth. The word is also used in places like Ephesians 2:4 referring to being rich in mercy, however because James 1:10 does not apply a subject (i.e. mercy) as that verse does, the assumption is that of material wealth.

Finally consider the word humiliation which comes from the Greek word tapeinōsei which means to behave in a way that belittles or degrades oneself and ones spirit, or low condition in circumstances. This word is similar to and shares the root of tapeinos which we looked at a little earlier, but in this form it carries a much more negative connotation with it. Other passages where we see this word include Luke 1:48 when Zechariah belittles his own position in the presence of the angel in the Temple, and Philippians 3:21 referring to the inferiority of our bodies as compared to the glory to come when Jesus returns.

The point of this post is not to dump all over rich people because, like so many things in life and the bible, it’s complicated. In the coming weeks as this series continues there will be more discussions of the rich and poor as well as the treatment of each and we will tackle each of those as we get to them. We will also attempt to put them into context with the rest of James as well as the rest of the bible as a whole to try and build a biblical view of the relational dynamics between rich and poor in the kingdom of God.

With that said, the takeaway of this section is threefold. To those of us who live in poverty, our lack of worldly wealth is a blessing to our souls. When we don’t have financial security to the level we would like we are forced to depend on God for even the most basic of needs.

For those of us who have been blessed with an abundance of wealth and financial stability, let this be a warning. The money you have is not your own; it belongs to God and the expectation is that you will manage it well for the glory of God and the good of others. Place your dependence and security on God, not on your wealth because “like the flower of the grass, it will pass away.”

And for those like me, who have lived in poverty for years and who are moving into a more middle class economic bracket let this be an encouragement to avoid the pitfalls of wealth and power, and to live in a way where our newfound wealth can be used to serve God’s kingdom in new ways that we previously couldn’t afford to.

30 Day Prayer Challenge Final Thoughts

With everything going on over the last few weeks I realized that I never touched on the rest of the 30 day prayer challenge, and so I thought I would do so now.

The challenge, which was aimed at seeking God for every decision we made, “officially” came to a close on Monday (2/11/19). Going into it I really thought it was a simple task that we ought to be doing anyway, and while I agree that we should be doing that the truth is that it was actually quite difficult to remember. I, like many of you I would assume, have grow accustomed to a certain level of autonomy and self-sufficiency. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to seek God in those decisions, it was that I am so used to just figuring things out that praying through the small and mundane choices took me being intentional.

One example of this choice came while I was at Walmart. My oldest son came with me to pick up some new storage bins for our Christmas decorations as the old ones were falling apart. Standing there in the middle of a crowded store with him asking how many we should get, I told him that we should pray about it and so we did. The answer didn’t come right away, and to be honest I felt a little silly for “wasting God’s time” with such a trivial thing. I mean normally I would just pick up however many I thought we’d need and return any extra, or pick up another one if I didn’t get enough. But wanting to do this right and wanting to set a good example for him we prayed. After a few minutes and several times of him asking how many we should get I gave up and said, “Four… we’ll just get four.”

We grabbed the containers and made our way to the Garden checkout because, let’s face it, the normal checkout counters are always crowded and slow. It was while in line that I felt very convicted about the decision that I’d made. I prayed silently once more and clearly heard, “Put one back.” and so we did. A week or so later I finally packed up our Christmas stuff and sure enough everything fit perfectly without being too heavy or packed too full.

I know it’s a small thing, but I think that’s the big take away from this entire challenge. I wasn’t perfect and there were some days where I utterly failed in remembering to seek God in even some bigger decisions, but God met my family and I where we were and gently guided us through each day. God wants each of us to grow in intimacy with Him, and for us to truly understand what it means to pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) – to seek His will and be sensitive to His leading. I think this is something that I will try to do several times a year, which I’ll keep you all updated on when I do; and I invite you to take the challenge for yourself.

Asking in Faith

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”

James 1:5-6

I remember early in my Christian walk memorizing this passage and committing to it as a lifestyle. At the time I don’t think I fully understood what James was saying, but the Spirit called out to me and placed it as a burden on my heart. However, as time went on I grew deeper in my relationship with Jesus and the Spirit continued to illuminate this passage.

When the bible refers to wisdom, we first need to understand what that is. The Greek word used in verse 5 is sophias, from the root sophos meaning skill or wisdom. It displays not only understanding, but a level of competency and insight into a particular subject or idea. This idea of wisdom is in contrast to the idea of knowledge which expresses recognition and a knowingness of a subject or idea. A good example of this contrast could be taken from a high school history class. Most people know that the Allies prevailed in World War II, however it requires wisdom to truly understand the war’s causes, it’s effects, and the price paid by everyone involved as well as it’s impact on subsequent generations up to this very day.

Therefore, when James writes that we should ask God for wisdom, he’s not referring to knowledge about God, but insight into His thoughts and nature. We should each seek to have a deeper understanding of not just the things we are to do and not do as believers, but to seek God’s divine wisdom as to why we do those things. Why does God tell us not to get drunk (Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:21; Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35; Romans 13:13; etc.)? Because we say and do stupid things and get into trouble when we are not sober minded (1 Peter 5:8). For some that means not drinking, and for others that means enjoying alcohol in moderation – the Spirit will highlight that to each of us based on what He knows is best for us.

It also means that we ought not simply make decisions based on data points and proven strategies, but to put that knowledge into the context of God’s call on our lives. This means that sometimes, when God wants us to join with Him in something that seems crazy or irrational, we can understand Him well enough to trust Him. It doesn’t always mean we get some earthly reward for our obedience, but we have the benefit of joining with God in His work in our lives and in the lives of others as well as the benefit of growing closer with Him.

However, while verse 5 is a promise that God will give us wisdom if we ask, verse 6 explains the conditions of this promise. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…”. This is where a lot of us get caught up, and ultimately it’s where we can begin to grow in wisdom with God. We live in a postmodern world that does not love Jesus or believe the bible, so already we have an uphill struggle. Many of us went through a public school system which teaches from a secular humanist perspective. This period of education and indoctrination (not meant as a pejorative as that is essentially what most forms of academic education are) do make it difficult to some degree to have the kind of faith that we can ask God and trust that He will do it. That may sound wrong, but there’s a reason that God grants faith as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:9) and that’s because we are prone to doubt.

However, faith is also grown by experience. By growing deeper in intimacy through obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit we are able to discern what He is saying to us and to be in line with God in what we ask for. It allows us to ask for wisdom from our good and generous Father and to trust that He will provide what we need.

The Purpose of Hardship

The first section of James (1:2-4) deals with the way we should respond to trials, tribulations, and suffering as children of God. In it James gives us insight into what true faith looks like, even when things aren’t going well for us.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”

James 1:2

The word trials that James uses in this verse is translated from the Greek peirasmos. However, in our commonplace Christian understanding of “trials” we may lose sight of what James is getting at. When we speak of trials, we often focus exclusively on suffering or struggle with a particular sin, however peirasmos in itself is not inherently negative. When translated literally it can mean a temptation which is negative, however it can also simply mean a test.

Just like when we are in school or playing a sport, tests are meant as a way to challenge our understanding and competency at a particular subject. They are meant to reinforce what we have learned by using the skills we have gained to solve and overcome problems placed before us.

To be clear, in the context of James 1 he is referring to the suffering and temptation that our 1st century brothers and sisters were facing. I simply think it is worth noting the choice of words which lends both to understanding verses 3 and 4, as well as the general way in which this chapter as a whole applies to our lives.

Nevertheless, whether speaking about trails in terms of positive or negative testing James encourages his audience (which now includes us) to respond in faith and righteousness. The godly response to the various trials we face on a daily basis, and even the major calamities that may come on occasion, is find joy through the pain – a joy that only Jesus provides as we draw closer to Him. No one is saying this is easy… I’m just saying it’s right and it’s what’s best for us.

“…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

James 1:3-4

The reasons we suffer and endure struggles, temptations, persecutions and more are many and they are complex; but a purpose can be found. Just as running regularly and doing aerobic exercises builds up your stamina and the overall health of your cardiovascular system, undergoing “trials of various kinds” will build spiritual stamina. When we choose joy in the midst of suffering and hardship we are deepening our faith and building up our endurance to resist the works of satan, his demons, and the effects of living in a fallen and sin-filled world.

The more we allow God to work in us and build up our faith by turning to Him in the midst of trials and tribulations, the more we become like Jesus. Theologically, this is a known of the act of sanctification or when God purifies us and helps us to be more like Him as He commanded (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16).

The big idea of these three simple, yet profound, verses is that there is purpose to suffering. We should respond with joy, and while on the surface this sounds (and often is) difficult to do, it’s often because we have failed to see a perspective outside of ourselves. What we may see as a no good, very bad thing, is not always as one dimensional as it seems. Sometimes a bad thing is just bad; but quite often we can ask God to help us see the testing of our faith as an opportunity to grow rather than an attack to tear us down. Regardless, God is sovereign and can use all of this to perfect our faith.