Categories
Life

“Hands”

I have a goal to write and post something for 90 straight days. I’m on day 4 and today was a packed day. My wife and I also recorded a new podcast episode tonight that just released a few minutes ago.

Whew.

So here I am at 10pm to write something.

But I’m cheating. I’m not writing something new or original.

I’m reposing a Christmas poem I wrote a few years back. It takes the perspective of Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ adoptive father.

I hope you enjoy it.


“Hands”

Open on your mother’s chest
or after a bellowing belch.
Taut when you’re tired.
Slurp slurp, tick tick,
your tongue tackles
each knuckle and cuticle.
Somehow that helps you fade
away to never-never-land.
Mine are calloused, crusty, tired.
Splinters are their wages.
Blue veins bursting.
Palm lines peeling.
Bleeding.
Grab the balm and bandage.
I’ll too visit never-never-land soon,
only after watching you there now.
For a moment I remember
the memories we will make.
Brush and comb. Throw and catch.
Shave and wash. Swing and saw.
Eat and write. Push and pull.
Mine will train yours?
That baffles me.
Yours built clouds and stars,
birds and seas.
Mine build yokes and stools,
locks and keys.
Yours rest so peaceful,
so perfect, so calm in your crib.
I reach in. A twitch.
Yours clutch mine
with a tiny might.
I worry one day you’ll be
ashamed to do the same.
Frail, weak, scarred mine are.
Made from and destined for dust.
Yet yours now
fit in mine.


This poem was originally posted on December 24, 2015 at https://jamespruch.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/a-christmas-poem-hands/

Categories
Life

Tasting Heaven in the Backyard

Our 20 month-old Titus, a brute of a boy, was churning his chunky legs up the grassy hill with a determined, yet jovial look on his face. He was on mission to find a Black and Decker toy drill. He is a boy’s boy. Tools, balls, trucks, tractors, dirt, collisions. He was in heaven.

We were hanging out with close friends of ours in their backyard. As we watched Titus, and the other five kids in the backyard, I said that I love seeing my children happy. Titus prowled the backyard for balls and rocks and drills. And he was happy. My daughters were rolling down the hill with old friends and swinging and sliding the evening away. And they were happy. And in that moment I found my happiness in theirs.

I told my wife and our friends that seeing my kids’ uninhibited, unadulterated happiness (you might use the word “joy,” and that’s a good word, too; I’m using them interchangeably here) reminds me of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven, A World of Love.” At one point in the sermon, Edwards says that in heaven we will “all rejoice in [other people] being the most happy.” Edwards is saying that in heaven our happiness will be in the happiness of others. For example, in heaven, if someone has a greater amount of rewards than you, you will not be envious of them. You will enjoy their enjoyment of what God has given them. Can you imagine?! In other words, you’ll not just be happy for them, you will find your happiness in their happiness. This is true love. This is how God designed human relationships to work.

Yet this is very often not true in this life. In fact, it’s too easy to become crotchety and cynical when others are happy. I might be happy for them. “Oh, I’m so happy that you got the credit for your hard work.” This might actually be a prideful reflex masked with a token gesture. What’s really going on in my heart is that I wanted the credit!

With my children last night in the backyard, it was another story. I delighted in their delight. I am giggly, smiley happy when they giggle, smile, or express their happiness as they only know how. It’s not mainly because in those moments they aren’t screaming about a toy, whining about being hungry, or fighting over who gets to brush teeth first. It’s something deeper that God has embedded into the hearts of human beings, Christian or not. It’s a signal to us that we were made for another world, a world of love where we will actually, truly be happy because others are happy. It was a foretaste of heaven right in our friends’ backyard. It was a small, gracious gift meant to remind us there is much, much more to come.

Categories
Life Ministry

We Are Going to Be Foster Parents

Six years ago this spring I interviewed to be a child protective services investigator for the State of Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. I knew next-to-nothing about the job or the field. It had only been three months since I entered the child welfare world, working for a private human services agency tracking youth on house arrest and supervising visits with parents and children who had been removed from the home. In God’s wisdom, however, I got the job.

With Nebraska DHHS, I investigated child abuse and neglect allegations. When I tell people this, most of them cringe, close their eyes, stay silent, or say, “Man, that must have been hard.” It was. I was exposed to seeing, hearing, and reading things no one should ever have to see, hear, or read. Most days, my work was not newsworthy. But sometimes—to often, of course—my work was heartbreaking, whether it was my case or a co-workers.

I couldn’t see what God was doing then. I was a newly married man without kids and quite clueless as to what Carly’s and my life and ministry together would look like. At the time, I knew I wanted to be a pastor. Now that I am a pastor, I realize that in the short time I was a CPS investigator God was preparing me (and my wife) for a significant step of obedience we need, and want, to take.

Before that job, my heart was like a frozen piece of meat when it came to the well-being of children and families. It’s not that I intentionally frozen my heart. I was oblivious. But through my job with the State of Nebraska, and being involved with TRAC, a camp ministry for foster kids, God was thawing and tenderizing my heart. He opened both of our eyes to see the plight of orphans—children who either have been abandoned by their parents or who have functionally been abandoned by them.

Over the past few years, God has increasingly burdened our hearts to care for children, either through fostering, adoption or both. It pains us to say, “We will when we are older!” as if the obstacles now are somehow greater than what will face us then.

If we want to live our lives for the glory of Jesus, then there is no sense waiting. We can, and should, be concerned about not wasting our future. But what about now wasting our lives right now? This has led us to pursue foster parent licensing in the State of New York. We are in the midst of training right now and hope to be licensed later this summer.

This is risky. Why would we do something like this? Because it is imitating what God has done for us. Because of sin, we came into this world spiritually fatherless. We were orphans. And yet, by the grace of God through the work of his Son Jesus, we have been adopted into his family. He became our Father. He took care for us when no one else would.

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:5).

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).

We are risking much. But Jesus didn’t merely risk his life. He actually gave it up, for us, that we might become children of God.

Now, as Christians, we are called to tangibly display this spiritual reality by caring for orphans, abuse and neglected children, and widows. “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 them world” (James 1:25).

The early church understood this. They distinguished themselves from the world in several ways, most notably in their sexual chastity, caring for the sick, and caring for orphans as well as other vulnerable people in society.  Listen to two early accounts written about the community of believers:

But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty (Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, c. AD 110).

Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another; and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother” (Apology of Aristides the Philosopher 15, c. A.D. 125

Friends, this is our heritage. Carly and I alone can’t do everything. And neither can you. I do not believe all Christians should be foster parents or adopt. But we can all do something. Recent data shows there are only 400,000 kids in foster care. I say “only” because the number of Christians (even churches!) in this country dwarfs that. The Church could single-handedly end the foster care system as we know it without everyone needing to foster or adopt. Might the gospel spread and awaken the hearts of many if the church testified to the grace of God in this way?

I’ll be writing about our journey on this blog and Carly will on hers. When you read this or visit our blogs or think of us, would you pray for the child(ren) we’ll care for, their parents, and for us to be a tangible expression of God’s adopting love through the gospel? We would greatly appreciate it.

Categories
Disciple-Making Life

Everyday Talk, Everyday Discipleship

My wife and I live with two non-Christians, and a third is moving in this fall. These people don’t know much about Jesus. Their affection for Jesus is, practically, non-existent. When we talk about Jesus or pray or sing, they do not fall on their faces confessing their sin and praying for God’s Spirit to rain down mercy on them. Still, we’ve welcomed them as genuine members of our family. There are good days and bad days, but we love these people. Their journey to Jesus is a process. They have stony hearts and rebellious wills hell-bent on seeking their own glory, not God’s. They seek their own good, not that of others. We pray that someday they believe in Jesus and see transformation. But man alive, right now it’s not pretty. In fact, it can be downright unbecoming some days.

Can you imagine living with people like this?

Chances are, you do.

If you are a parent.

Our two, soon-to-be-three, non-Christian housemates are our beloved children. They are full-fledged members of our family, cherished and treasured above all else. Yet they did not come out of the womb singing “Just As I Am.” They aren’t Christians yet. They are members of a covenant household—Carly and I belong to Jesus—but they need conversion, just as we did at one point.

Having the perspective that we don’t just have two children but two non-Christian children (and another ready to move in), changes everything. Everything becomes evangelism and discipleship. Every conversation is a gospel conversation. Every failure or success is a moment for correction or instruction or encouragement or training. If and when our children do cross over from unbelief to belief in Jesus, this everyday and everything discipleship will not stop, but continue on quite organically.

If Carly and I are going to lead our non-Christian children to Jesus, it’s going to happen in the mundane, average, everyday stuff of life. A conversation here, a conversation there. While we walk and play and talk and read stories and watch movies and eat meals and drive and kiss ouchies and wipe away tears. Over and over and over again. It’s not going to be a one-time event or a once-a-week lesson at Sunday School. Those things can help, but it’s the everyday talk that will be the primary influence in our home. Deuteronomy 6:4-25 shows us the power of “everyday talk” in the home.

As parents in a big and fast society this is hard to handle. We want Chia Pet discipleship: after a few weeks gospel seeds start to sprout, the shekinah glory comes down, and our children are changed on the spot.

The reality is that it happens over a long period of time with lots of short, meaningful, gospel conversations that produce a lifestyle of discipleship

It happens on the way to Sunday worship, when Bailey asks me if God hears loud noises. I say he hears everything, so Bailey asks, “Is God in my heart?” Perhaps Bailey knows, deep down, there are things going on in her heart that no one knows and if God is in her heart, surely he’d “hear” those “noises,” too. Whatever the case, I say, “God is in your heart if you trust Jesus and love him.” Back to the radio. “Can you turn it up?” And we drive on.

It happens at the grocery store. Bailey makes a comment about the color of someone’s skin, simply noticing she looks different—a little darker—than we do. Everyone is made in the image of God and Jesus died for all people, not just the white ones. Back to veggies and ice cream and bread. And we walk on.

It happens when I’m unbecoming and selfish and hell-bent on seeking my own glory, and I turn to my blonde 24-month-old Hope and say, “Sweetheart, what Daddy said and did was not okay. Please forgive me. I need Jesus just like you.” Kiss. Hug. And we play on.

This is how discipleship happens. Look at the birds of the air. The grass of the field. Notice the sower. Consider this mustard tree. Do you see that mountain? Carly and I aren’t great at this. We probably aren’t even good at it. But we are learning and growing. We—the disciple-makers—are also being made, being changed. And it’s our prayer that, over time, by God’s sovereign grace, our everyday discipleship makes a few everyday disciples of Jesus right in our home.

Categories
Life

Making the Most of the Mealtime Prayer

In our home, spiritual formation and instruction happens “along the way.” We have a three-and-a-half year old and a 20-month old. Our oldest is not quite old enough for a formal “family worship” time. Yet she is old enough to comprehend some spiritual disciplines, particularly prayer. Our youngest even sometimes has the awareness to stop what she is doing to pray with us. In our home, we pray all the time. We pray spontaneously for needs that arise in our family or in others. We pray on our way to worship with God’s people. We pray at bedtime. We pray when there are meltdowns. But one of the most advantageous times to form and instruct our children in prayer is, of course, at meals.

Most mealtime prayers for Christians, I would guess, are simply rote prayers, offering up our “duty” to God. We say the same thing over and over because we are either really hungry or, if we are honest, we don’t really know what to say when people are around–especially squirmy, chatty children.

Parents (especially dads), I want you to rethink your mealtime prayers. Dads, I especially want to challenge you here: this is prime opportunity to lead quietly, humbly, and simply in the mundane moments–before a meal. Mealtime prayers can lead our family to feast on the goodness and beauty of the Triune God, not the food on the table. These prayers do not have to be long. In fact, your kids (and maybe your spouse) will probably resent you if they are. A short prayer can be just as formative and powerful as a long one. (Let’s not forget: the Lord’s prayer is pretty short!)

So, let me suggest a few simple mealtime prayers to say with your family:

Father in heaven, thank you for another day of your mercy. You did not have to sustain us until now, but you have and any more moments we have together will be because of your sovereign grace. We praise you for your providence in giving us food to eat. Help us glorify you in our eating and drinking by remembering this food comes from you. Remind us as good as this food is, your Son is our true soul food. Only he can satisfy us and make us whole. No amount of meat, bread, milk, or even ice cream can do that. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Father, you are glorious and good. This food reminds us that we are dependent on you, but you are dependent on no one. We must eat and drink to have energy, but your energy is self-contained and you never get tired. May we never forget our need for your constant help, whether we feel tired or not. We live ultimately not on food alone, but on every word that comes from your mouth. We are thankful for Jesus, your ultimate Word, who died and rose from the dead to redeem us so that we might live through him. In his name I pray. Amen. 

Father, there is no one like you. Before we eat this great meal, we want to recognize that you have created every flavor, designed each smell, and assigned certain textures for this food and drink. Help us enjoy our meal and remember that you have kindly given it to us because you are good. Most importantly, would we remember that your Son Jesus became a part of creation and took on texture, flesh and blood, so that he might do for us what we could not do for ourselves. May we feast on him today. In his name, I pray. Amen.

It’s not important to use these exact words. But for the joy and progress of your family, we parents need to exalt Jesus and his good news, and do it often–even before feasting on macaroni and cheese.