Great Wall of China

I want to tell you about Joanna Grace.  That is not her real name, at least not yet. Her real name is… No, that’s not important because that is part of who she was. What is important to us is who she is becoming.

Our daughter and son-in-law are in the final days of adopting a 3 year old from China. It has been a long, frustrating process for them, but in just a few days we will welcome our newest grandchild, Joanna Grace. I am sure that little girl has no comprehension of what will become hers in a few days with a new name and a new inheritance.

I have been adopted into the family of God. Therefore I have the rights and privileges of a son, just like Jesus. The intimacy that was broken by Adam’s sin has been restored through the blood of Jesus. Just as Joanna lived the first three years of her life with no knowledge of my daughter’s family, so I had lived my life apart from Christ. But now I have been adopted into a new family with the rights and privileges that come with that adoption.

Just as Joanna did not seek out my daughter’s family, I did not first come to God seeking salvation. He first sought me out offering it to me. I may not be the choice of the world but I am the choice of God. When someone asks me who I am, I can say, “I’m one of the chosen.” “Oh, chosen by whom?” “God.” “Really, when?” “Forever.” “Why?” “It had nothing to do with me. There was no me when God decided it.” I am temporarily living in the earth but I am a citizen of heaven.

Ephesians 1:3-8 (NLT) – “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” Let’s take a quick look at some of the key spiritual blessings referenced in this passage:

  • Chosen: My daughter looked through hundreds of profiles from dozens of countries before choosing Joanna. God had you and me in mind since before the creation of the world. No one is a mistake or an accident, despite what someone might have said. My mom was 42 when I was born. A surprise, yes, but not a mistake. It doesn’t matter what a miserable life we may have had: rejected by family, abandoned by loved ones, betrayed by friends. In Christ each of us is chosen.
  • Adopted: I have been brought into a new family with its rights and privileges. Through adoption, I am a son of God. This is not a relationship of “Oh, Heavenly Father, high above the earth in unapproachable light!” but it allows me to cry out “Daddy!” and run into His arms. That is the meaning of “Abba” in Romans 8:15b (NLT): “You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”. Let’s not pass by that statement without thinking about it. To the first century reader it was a radical concept. God had never been addressed in such a personal way.
  • Grace: One of the translations of the Greek word for grace is empowerment. In Christ, I am empowered to live a new life, empowered to break the bondage of sin and empowered to impact those around me with the Gospel.
  • Purchased: Other translations use the word redeemed. That means bought out of slavery to sin and given freedom through Jesus’ blood. When my future was the hopelessness of death and damnation, God picked me up and set my feet on a new course.
  • Forgiven: Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for my sin so that I can stand before the Father holy and without fault. In other words, righteous. Because of His sacrifice in my place, I am forgiven.

2Corinthians 5:17 declares that I am a new creation. What do I receive as a new creation?

  • A new name. In Biblical times great emphasis was placed on the meaning of a name. Hosea named his children as a means of prophesying against Israel. He named one Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”); the next he named Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”). Just as Joanna received a new name so also Revelations 2:17 promises those who are victorious will receive a new name. “I don’t feel very victorious.” The Bible tells me that in Christ I am victorious. (Romans 8:37(NIV)) The walk of faith means I believe the promises of God regardless of my feelings.
  • A new family. Colossians 1:13 (NLT) tells us, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Just as Joanna is being brought into a new family, in Christ, I too have a new family in a new kingdom. I am no longer in bondage to the bitterness and defeat of the past but I now come to the Father as my daddy. Who I was before is gone, wiped out.
  • A new inheritance. Romans 8:17a (NLT) promises, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” Joanna is entitled to an equal inheritance with her new brothers and sister.  I may not receive a great inheritance of money or land, but my inheritance as a joint heir with Christ is untouchable, unchanging, and inexhaustible.
  • A new destiny. I once was destined for hell. My destiny now is heaven. Ahead of Joanna lies opportunities that could not be imagined in a remote Chinese orphanage. I can get far too focused on the here and now and lose an eternal perspective. Life comes with trials. “We must pass through many troubles to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22 GNT)  Endurance is based on perspective. If I focus on just today, I can become discouraged and defeated. An eternal perspective reminds me that the present troubles fade in the view of heaven.

Has Joanna’s past left scars? Certainly, and they will take time to heal: scars of loneliness, rejection and hopelessness. The promised land was a land of rest where God promised His people would receive “large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant”. (Deuteronomy 6:10–11 (NKJV)) but the scars of their life as slaves kept them from having the faith they needed to enter.  I have a new destiny, a new relationship with my Heavenly Father and the family of God. I can choose to enter or, like the Israelites, wander in a wilderness of despair and hopelessness. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11 NIV)

My heart breaks for the thousands upon thousands in orphanages around the world, many in abject poverty and deprivation. The problem is overwhelming but the life of one little girl will be changed forever because our daughter is willing to make a tangible sacrifice. There is a story of a little boy who came across thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. He began throwing them back into the water when an old man came by. The old man said, “Look at all those starfish. Do you really think you can make a difference?” The little boy picked up a starfish and said as he threw it into the water, “I can make a difference for this one.” Where can I make a difference today? I may not be able to impact the world but I can impact one life.

Let me tell you, my daughter has become an amazing mom. I know of no one more dedicated or self-sacrificing: home schooling four kids, laundry, meals, ball games and practices, constant demands and constant stress. And she always does all this with a cheerful attitude? Well, I said she was amazing, not perfect. God isn’t looking for perfection; He is looking for growth. At the end of the day, can I say I’ve grown closer to God that day? Has it been a day of progress or retreat? Have I pressed toward the goal of His high calling?

Hebrews 12:2 describes a great cloud of witnesses that is cheering me on in my earthly race. That is my family, not just my mother or father, but the family of God, the one I was adopted into when I made Jesus Lord of my life. That place is secure.

“The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18 NLT) Joanna is beginning a new path. I too am challenged to continue my pilgrimage through this life fulfilling God’s purposes and drawing closer to Him each day, knowing that I am a son of God, a joint

Get Ahold of Hope

There really is something worse than being poor, sick or in jail. It is living without hope. We need to get ahold of hope. The Israelite nation was delivered out of slavery in Egypt. They saw God perform great miracles, even parting the Red Sea. Yet, when they came up to the border of the Promised Land, they faltered. They had not grasped the vision of their possessing the land.

I am not going to spend my life talking about the Promised Land; I am going to go in and possess it. I have decided that I am going to have everything Jesus died for me to have. Sure, that is a big goal but Ephesians 3:20 says that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that Gill can ask or think, ACCORDING to the power that works in Gill (emphasis added).” What is the source of energy in my life? I had better not be looking for energy from Starbucks or Red Bull or meth. My energy does not come from what I smoke, snort or shoot. I seek to be plugged into the power of Holy Spirit.

Our Christian walk cannot be just a Sunday morning ritual, fulfilling our “obligation” for an hour once a week. If we want constant victory, we need to take God out of our “emergency only” box and invite Him into our everyday lives on a minute by minute basis.

If we believe the right thing, we can live the way. God transferred all of my sin onto Jesus’s record. It was put on the MasterCard of heaven. Romans 4:8 promises, “Blessed is Gill because the Lord will by no means charge him with sin.” The more I focus on past sin the more I am drawn back to that behavior. Does a butterfly consider himself a recovering caterpillar? If I stay focused on my righteousness in Christ, victory is inevitable. The devil can’t stop me.

Have you ever had your cell phone battery go dead? When that happened to me, my wife complained, “I’ve been calling and calling but you didn’t answer.” Well, God is calling but if I am not plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m not getting the call. Is your battery down to 10% in the red and dropping? Better get to the power source. God is working in me energizing me.

I remember an incident when my wife and I were dating. I was driving a 1961 VW Bug. It had no gas gauge but it had a reserve tank so that when the main tank went dry, you flipped a lever by the accelerator to reserve and you had another 30 miles you could drive before empty. We were driving across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco when the car started to cough and stop. I told her, “We’re out of gas. I need you to flip to reserve.” Well, all she heard was “Out of gas” and she pictured traffic jams, tow trucks and huge fines. I flipped to reserve myself and on we went, but it is a reminder that we need power to keep going. Without it, the fun of serving God becomes labor.

It is not something out there that will make life better but it is what is going on inside. When I need to recharge, where am I going to go? Red Bull? Philippians 2:13 in the Message says, “Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you.” 1Cor 13:8 reminds us, “Love never fails.”

Guilt is tiring. Trying to live with religious guilt and condemnation instead of grace will wear you out. There is not enough power in guilt to get me to live right. But grace brings energy and drive. The world is trying to find the right drink, the right pill to energize. The reality is that power, energy and grace come only from God. Acts 1:8 promises God’s dunamus, His dynamite power to the believer. Embrace the Word of God and receive it.

On a recent trip we were on a number of airplanes. An airplane flies only when it has enough energy (speed) and the right attitude (flaps, wing position, etc.). God’s Word will lift you above the circumstances. Allow His Word to energize you and correct your attitude so you won’t crash and burn.

Isaiah 43:18-19 declares, “Gill must not remember the former things, and he must not consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing. It springs forth now. Doesn’t Gill know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” Get your mind off the past. Think about God’s blessing. He is doing a new thing. Thinking about the past pulls us right back there. The Israelites had a bad attitude when they faced the Promised Land. It wasn’t the Cananites or the Hivites or the Jebusites. It wasn’t something “out there”. Their attitude stunk. You will never live in the Promised Land with a bad attitude. Nelson Mandella said, “If I am thinking small, I cannot do big things.”

Who do I blame for where I am today? An abusive father? Over stressed mother? Corrupt politicians? As long as I blame others I have no power to fix it. According to Bishop TD Jakes, “If you are disciplined in your perspective you will be victorious in your outcome.”

I cannot erase failures from my past. There is no rewind button. So how do I start over? It begins by admitting my mistake and experiencing God’s forgiveness. “If only…” Yea, I know. We all have regrets. Romans 3:23 tells us we have all sinned. Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world. We were all born prone to mess up. And sometimes it seems like I will pay the consequences  for messing up for the rest of my life. We need to remember we are justified children of God. Psalm 103:12 promises, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed Gill’s transgressions from him.” Think of sin like a stain that keeps coming back, but Jesus’s blood is the eternal stain cleaner.

I love Psalm 118:6: “God is on my side.” When I get discouraged or frustrated I go back to that verse. The Israelites let their future be determined by their past. They had a slave mentality, a poor self-image, a grasshopper mentality. They wanted to go back to Egypt, because they had no positive vision for their life. They knew where they had been and they knew where they were and they didn’t like either one. But they had no vision of where they were going.

We talk about our problems way too much. We need to glance at our circumstances but stare at God. How can I overcome any bondage, addiction, or broken past? Get ahold of hope; get ahold of vision. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith gives substance to things hoped for. Faith is important, but it first must have hope to work with. Without hope, faith is aimless. With hope, faith can produce our future. In Romans 4:18 we are told the story of Abraham and how he continued to hope for the fulfillment of God’s promise even when his situation looked hopeless. Hebrews 12:2 tells us how Jesus faced crucifixion: for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.

If you have no reason to hope, still hope. If you don’t have a positive vision for your future, go to the book of hope, the Bible. Look at the Word and say, “That can happen to me.” And if you get ahold of hope it can.