Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pastor's Perspective - Saying Goodbye to Baby D



I once heard someone say, “Every day above ground is a good day.”

I disagree.

Today was a bad day.

Today we had to say goodbye to Baby D.

Baby D, as my family and I affectionately called him, was our foster baby of six months. His name is really Dominique, but who wants to call him that when you can call him Baby D, or as many called him lightheartedly - D Money!

Since moving to the Bay Area a decade ago, my wife Michelle and I often talked about reengaging something we loved doing for years back in Florida, becoming foster parents. Though we are people of meager means, as followers of Jesus, we see everything we have as belonging to Him, ultimately from Him and for Him, to share. We also believe, and have found personally to be true, what He said about finding real and abundant life by losing ours -giving our lives away to others sacrificially. So, after many years of talking about it, we tagged back in and became certified foster care providers here in California through a wonderful local agency. Little did we know at the time that the first child that would come into our home and family back in April would grab our hearts so firmly – a beautiful little innocent boy with a big hair, and an even bigger smile, with dimples on top of dimples – a child with no control over his circumstances, his life, or his future, in a bloated and fractured system.

For over half a year Baby D was as a 100%, fully-vested, card-carrying member of the Kiefer family! It is our personal family policy that every foster child in our home know that they are one of us, not different, but loved, valued and accepted – that family is so much more than genetics. Likewise in those six months, our amazing church family and wonderful neighbors rallied in heartwarming ways lavishing the baby with love and providing him clothes and toys. One sweet sister in the faith hand-made with love and great skill his own personal quilted blanket with his name embroidered on it. Baby D was our family and family to many.

As I reflect upon it, trying to focus on silver linings, I realize how kind  the Lord was to entrust one of His little ones to us for a season. We got to witness many ‘firsts’ that we will always treasure in our hearts. For instance, God kissed us as a family by allowing us to see Baby D rip into and disassemble his first Easter basket! We were the ones privileged to see him eat his first bite of semi-solid food, to see him grow in stature, to turn an odd little bear crawl into actual steps then into a funny unbalanced jog. The Father’s grace allowed us to witness him enjoy his first camping trip, his first birthday party, and the crown jewel of all firsts – his first Giants game! Baby D brought immeasurable joy into our lives and the lives of countless others in such an abbreviated span of time.

Personally and transparently, I had many talks with the Lord privately about Baby D. I would have been honored to adopt him, raise him and be his father if that was God’s will and circumstances allowed. It wasn’t. They didn’t. Instead it was decided that Baby D move on – a reality that didn’t shock us – but still stung us deeply.

As foster parents we knew what we were getting into. Nobody held a pistol to our heads and made us do it. Over the years, we participated in several uber-rewarding reunifications with parents – always the ideal objective. Many times we received children, lavished them with love, protection and care and let them go with a combination of real heartache and joy. In one beautiful instance a blonde-haired tiny foster baby, born the day after September 11, came into our care and we adopted her eighteen months later!

 Today, in our pain, and yes, confusion, all we really know is that each foster child and placement is a gift – an endowment – a blessing - a miracle. Baby D was no different.

Though I’m employed as a teacher and communicator in a church, I could never communicate as well as my wife did as she beautifully articulated what we’re experiencing as a foster family today as the baby moves on - and we try to also. My prayer is that the truth of her words will encourage a reader – maybe even you – to say ‘yes’ to foster care. Here’s the guarantee, with it will come heartache and frustration. Bank on it! However, with it also will come an eclipsing, immeasurable and indescribable sense of fulfillment and satisfaction through the sacrificial sharing of your life with a child – something we as a family hope to continue experience over and over together in the future. Michelle wrote:

There will never be another Baby D. But there are countless children who need to be safe and loved. Every child is priceless and deserves to be held too much and rocked to sleep. They deserve to be treasured and valued so much that you can’t imagine facing tomorrow without them…and you grieve them when they leave. So…we hang on to Jesus and get through this. Then we move forward…In His perfect will for our lives... Knowing that He led us here for our good…and for the Kingdom. We’re grateful. Jesus is more than enough…for Baby D..and for us.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Pastor's Perspective - Write Your Verse!



ONE VERSE!
Shamgar got only one verse.
Sure, he gets a glancing mention a few chapters later, but his contribution is described in just one verse.
Gideon got THREE chapters!
Samson got FOUR!
ONE verse!

Stuck scripturally between an obscure left-handed guy who shanks a fat king on a toilet, and a woman - Deborah (who by the way got TWO chapters); Shamgar only gets one verse – ‘After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel’ – Judges 3:31.

So, who was this guy – this ‘one-verse-wonder’?

His name is foreign. Some hold that he wasn’t even an Israelite. ‘Son of Anath’ indicates that he was from Beth Anath (Judges 1:33), a wicked Canaanite city the tribe of Naphtali couldn’t drive out. Some believe that his family worshipped Anath – the evil pagan goddess of war – Baal’s kid sister. Yet others believe that ‘son of Anath’ was a military term meaning Shamgar was a great and proven warrior. This is for certain, whoever this guy was, his background was highly unorthodox. Great! ONE verse and AMBIGUITY!

All we know is that on one day ‘Johnny-One-Verse’ (whoever he was!) took an oxgoad (a long wooden rod used to drive draft animals) and killed fifty dozen Philistine men with it – and according to the author of Judges (Samuel, Nathan, Gad, or D. All of the above) – ‘saved Israel.’

Here’s what I want you to get.

Shamgar played a part in the story God was telling. It was a bit-part, but, a part no less. Even though his background and family was a bit embarrassing – HE PLAYED A PART! Even though he is mentioned in the most abbreviated way – HE PLAYED A PART! He is forever remembered and memorialized in Scripture (one verse out of 31,000!) for doing something unreasonable and impossible for God’s glory – for doing something in his life and with his life he could never accomplish apart from God.

So, how about you?

Listen. God is STILL telling His story! From before the creation of the world when His lamb was slain (Revelation 13:8), He has been telling the epic story of all epic stories – the story of a King of Kings and Lord of Lords who went to scandalously loving lengths to rescue his subjects and make them His children! A true tale far greater than ‘Braveheart’ on its best day! And here is the amazing thing – God is inviting you to be in it – to be a name in the rolling credits as His redemptive masterpiece continues.

Here’s the big ticket question: Will you allow Him to include you – even if it’s a verse or two?

Maybe like Shamgar, your background and past are a bit sketchy – GOD WILL WRITE YOU IN!

Maybe like Shamgar, you don’t have a lot to contribute – GOD WILL WRITE YOU IN!

God isn’t looking for a pristine resume.
God is looking for faithfulness.
God is looking for availability.
God is the Master of taking little and making much!
He took six days and made a universe we’re still discovering.
He took one stone and killed a taunting giant.
He took five fish and two loaves of bread and fed thousands.
He took bread and wine and made a covenant meal and memorial for millions.
He took three nails and one cross and gave the entire world eternal hope!

Shamgar proved that one faithful and available life can make a big contribution.

Be a Shamgar and write your verse!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pastor's Perspective - Stretching for Christ

The following is from Bill Pirie, a partner at First Christian Church (www.1stchristianchurch.org)



My name is Bill, and I would like to tell you my story of stretching for Christ.

I had just come from another church that frowned upon divorcees and excluded me from serving in any meaningful capacity.

A few years ago the Holy Spirit led me to First Christian Church in Suisun City. I was welcomed with wide-open arms and hugs. I was becoming a regular attender when Paul Johnson, an elder at FCC, turned to me and asked me to hand-out bulletins to guests as they were entering the church. I was blown away! Here I was divorced, broken, hurting in many ways, when I was given a task to serve the Lord – yep me, a wicked sinner. So, from that day till now I continue to hand-out bulletins and shake hands. The best part is expressing my love to them each and every week. This was in fact an easy and wanted stretch for Christ.

My next stretch came a few months later, when we as a congregation were going through the ‘GO’ message series. In this series Pastor Steve Kiefer was trying to get people off their backsides and go do something for Christ; like serving at the Leaven (a place to help impoverished children learn to read and write), become more missional, or volunteer in keeping the church in order – “But don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to come around before you do something.” Pastor Steve just wanted us to become more of what God wanted us to become.

A few weeks after the ‘GO’ series started, John Johnson got on stage and asked for help with feeding the homeless on Monday nights. So I showed up the following Monday not even sure of what to do. I asked a hundred questions! I’m sure I was an annoying thorn in John’s side for the first few months as I figured out all the details. After about a year and a half, John stepped down to start his Tuesday and Thursday homeless ministry. Suddenly Candy Hanratty and I were the new Monday night leaders!

The next stretch came in July 2013. The Kingdom Kids Sunday school ministry needed a few teachers for 5th & 6th grade. This one, like the other stretches, required prayer. One Sunday I walked up to the Children’s Director Maria in the parking lot to get more information from her. One of the Elders, Chad Ward, yelled across the parking lot, “Over here Bill! Come help me with the 5th and 6th graders!” The Children’s Director pointed at Chad and said to me, “There you go Bill. Go have at it.” I somehow went from asking for more information to becoming a full-fledged Sunday school teacher in just a few weeks!

And now to my most current stretch at FCC. In September 2013, Paul Johnson (the same guy who started me out with bulletins!), came to me and asked me about becoming a Deacon in the church. He told me to pray on it and give him an answer in nine days. He gave me the responsibilities of the role, most of which I was doing already! I made an appointment with Pastor Steve and asked him why me. He responded that the Elders liked what they saw in me and that they wanted me on the team. He answered my many questions and then we prayed. The following Sunday I said ‘yes’ .

Isaiah states, ‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..’ (64:6)

In all of the stretching, I learned that when we do something good, our most noble works are ‘filthy rags’ when it comes to somehow earning us a place in Heaven – they are useless and good for nothing. They are certainly not enough to bring us into a right relationship with God – for that, we need Christ.

So, what I hope you all get out of this is that all of you are stretchable and should GO and get involved somewhere, anywhere for the Lord! Even if you have one talent and mission, stick to it and pray every day for it. God gave us all hands and feet so we can serve others. So GO and get out there and do what you can. But, be sure you’re doing it for HIS glory and not for yourself.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pastor's Perspective - What DO You Do?



In the early 80’s when MTV was barely standing up in the crib, and actually played music videos, a rather bizarre British music artist named Adam Ant had a popular video for his song ‘Goody Two Shoes’. The catchy chorus included the lyric, ‘Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. What do you do?’ Barely out of high school, admittedly I liked the hip beat and pretty girls in the clip the best; but, the chorus stuck with me – always has.

I could have been one of the Flying Wallendas! I literally grew up on the balance beam. I lived in the middle tension of being the oldest son in a liberal, fun-loving, stein-rocking Germanic family. On the other side I was a staunch allegiant to a highly conservative channel of Christianity. Polar opposites! But, both somehow scratched a certain itch in me. I became really good on the beam. I adored and took great pride in my European heritage, along with its openness to all things fun and the people who would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints (Joel). Yet, on the other side of the beam, and somehow equally enjoyable, was my engrainment in a channel of faith that took pride in its Spartan adherence to discipline and rule-following. I lived and walked in the daily tension of both – without a net! I was a sinner and a saint. I was a louse and a legalist. In one way I was the drunkard scandalously eating with Jesus. In the other, I was a snazzy-robed Pharisee, mocking Jesus’ choice of dining partners. Simply put, I was a hypocrite –legalism had blinded me to my ominous and metastasizing spiritual condition.

Christianity, in my earliest experience and understanding, was about following God’s ‘Pool Rules’ meticulously, even when the rest of the screaming kids were running around the water’s edge without an adult. Being somehow pleasing to God, was about laws; that He loved the obedient people who read the Bible and color only inside the lines. For me, because I was such a good fair-haired ‘church boy’, in my prideful opinion, I only needed a Nyquil cap of Jesus’ forgiving blood. However, the other people who didn’t know what I knew, do what I did and worship the way I worshiped, all those hell-bound folks, well, they needed the hydrant! Religion was about appearance. It was about impressions. It was fluency in Christianese! It was about knowing the ‘No’s’ – like don’t drink, don’t smoke – including, don’t chew tobacco, and don’t dance with girls who do! Thankfully, through God’s patience, grace and numerous humbling valley experiences throughout my life, I no longer base my righteousness in my flawed efforts and self-imposed righteousness; but instead in something so much better.

As a local pastor trying to help real people like myself, I find that we in the clergy and in nice churches peppered throughout Solano County, are known too prominently for what we say ‘No’ to, than what we say ‘Yes’ to. It’s abundantly clear what we Christians are really against; we’re professionals at making that crystal clear; but, do the people around us know what we are really for? I’m spit-ballin but, could this be why so many hurting people, hemorrhaging from real wounds, avoid the help and message the church was created to offer? Could it stem from the fact that we preach only from the “Anti” side of the ledger?  “Why would I darken the door of a local church? I know what they think about me – my struggles – my attractions – my propensities – my less-than-stellar past. I don’t fit neatly in their box of standards. Why bother?” Could it be that we’ve specialized in what we’re against and have forgotten what we’re for? That somehow beating the ‘Thou Shalt Not’ drum and extending a sturdy Heisman Trophy stiff arm shows the world the open nail-pierced hands of the Savior? Instead, it keeps us in a defensive posture – the bad guys out – the good guys in – and an unraveling world from seeing our own personal and congregational flaws and challenges up close. Recently I shared this quote I heard, “As Christians we despise people who sin differently than we do.” I agree.

If you’re a fundamental Christian reading this, I read the 66-book memo from headquarters too. I know what you’re against. Some of those things are very clear. Some of those things are founded in very gray areas of Scripture. But, my question is, what are you for?

I know I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one (John). I think that if the blood-washed would speak more discerningly, more articulately, more humbly, more gracefully and more lovingly about what we’re for –Who we’re for – What He is for – then perhaps more would see our churches not as cold iron-shrouded bastions of regulations and judgment – but instead what Jesus wants them to be – welcoming hospitals for the spiritually sick.

Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. What do you do?  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pastor's Perspective - Who You Gonna Call?



This past Monday evening, my community group and I studied the passage in Acts about  Eutychus – a boy in ancient Troas who for the past two thousand years has been immortalized in Scripture (Acts 20:7-12).

For those unfamiliar with him, he was sitting in a window sill late one evening while the Apostle Paul taught the church till midnight. Luke, the author, tells us that as Paul went on and on because he was leaving the next day, Eutychus became drowsy, fell from the three-story ledge and died. Paul casually called a time-out, went down to the dead boy, threw himself on the corpse, assured everyone that Eutychus was okay, then went back upstairs and continued teaching. Talk about a wild church service! (I have a similar story from years ago while I preached that I’ll write about someday).

As we looked for practical applications in these six verses our minds raced. In our imagination, we saw an elderly Eutychus telling his awed grandchildren about the night the infamous apostle visited his church. We made observations about the importance of proximity when it comes to our relationships with God, and, the call to ‘stay awake’ during perilous times as Christ’s return looms closer. Lastly, in a very practical way, we saw together the importance of having faith-filled friends when an unanticipated crisis strikes. Eutychus was simply a kid falling asleep in church, a phenomena I witness weekly; but, without warning, tragedy struck! Crazy how tragedy does that.

In the New Testament we read about four faith-filled friends who creatively and selflessly took their lame friend to Jesus – literally vandalizing a house to do it!

When everything suddenly goes wrong in your life – who you gonna call? When tragedy cruelly strikes, the Ghostbusters are useless.

Do you have a friend or two, maybe a team, that will call out and trust the God of the impossible on your behalf when you’re in crisis? Those who will carry you to Jesus? Those in your life who will throw themselves on top of whatever you’re facing – no matter how ugly? Those who won’t freak-out, but will respond in sincere and authentic faith?

Eutychus had Paul.

Who do you have?