An Odd Request

I got this email the other day. I found it to be quite an odd approach to requesting a book. While it wasn’t offering any criticism, it certainly seems like it’s waiting in the wings. Even so, I’m not that concerned about a critique, but more so, just curious about the odd form in which this request has come. I would love your thoughts. In all seriousness, how would you handle this?:

I came across an excerpt from your book Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture and was impressed by what little I read.  Could it be that in this commerce driven, fame orientated, country club christian culture, there is someone who is attempting to embrace the response to the question, asked so long ago, ”What do I still lack?” (Matt 19:20).  I have been praying and searching ardently to know God and his path for me.  I would like to read your book.  Would you please send me a copy?

I am asking you to send it to me w/o charge.  I am not asking for a free book, after reading it, I will pay you what I think it is worth.  In my search to understand the bible and contemporary christian life I have quickly exhausted current christian literature.  For the most part it is poorly written, repetitive, poorly researched and parochial.

I warn you that my library consists of books by men like St Augustine, Blaise Pascal, John Donne, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, C. S. Lewis.  If it cannot sit with these other books and be a source of continued inspiration, I will return it.  If it is not worth the postage to return it, I will throw it in the trash.  If, however, on the other hand — Matt 13:45

As an author, you have to come to grips that not everyone will like your work. That’s just part of the game. But, what do you think is going on in the brain of this person? How would you respond? Or would you?


The Church: Are we “Good News”?

I love that the word Gospel means Good News. While it’s too easy – even dangerous – to oversimplify the Gospel, it’s just as easy to over-complicate how we live it out in our daily lives. Especially as the Church. I’m convinced we need to spend more time asking, “is what we’re doing really good news” and if so, to whom is it good news? If we’d let the answer drive our agenda, we’d probably be a lot more effective in reaching and impacting our community.

We’ve noticed a pattern at ANC; whenever we serve those in need, people seem to take note. We first noticed it on Easter when we canceled our regular scheduled Easter services to organize a community wide food drive. We had hundreds of unchurched take part (on a Sunday morning) and two out of the three local network news stations featured our efforts as a part of their Easter evening newscast. The same thing happened the next year when we moved our Easter service downtown and outdoors, sharing worship and communion with the homeless of Austin. Two more news segments and a front-page newspaper article entitled “A New Kind of Easter for a New Kind of Church.”

I’m not writing this to brag about our news coverage. And although I’m proud of the path our church has taken, I’m not writing this to draw attention to ANC. I’m writing this because I hope we’ll take note of what others are taking note of.

About a year ago I was tweeting a few thoughts on the church being more socially concerned when I got a surprise tweet from a follower who lived in NYC: “I just wanted you to know that if I wasn’t a backslidden Jewish atheist, I’d want you as my pastor”. You couldn’t offer me a better compliment.

If you know me or my family at all, you know that last week I brought my 7 year-old adoptive son home from Ethiopia. With over a dozen families at ANC in the middle of the adoption process, it’s been a journey our entire church has been a part of. During a layover in the Detroit airport I got a call from Fox News asking if they could capture the story when we arrived. They wanted to do a live segment at 5 o’clock and a longer version at 9pm. They committed nearly four minutes to the segment that aired on both the newscasts, and within hours the web link to the video had been re-posted to over 700 Facebook pages. The reporter claimed on twitter that it was one of her favorite stories ever.

In a moment of curiosity I checked my Blog stats today. 8 out of the 10 most read posts over the last year where related to serving the poor. Not my leadership. Not my theological insight. It wasn’t even close. People are interested in mercy and justice. They are drawn to these things. Christians are seeking to learn how to be good news and our onlookers are hoping to see it played out.

A socially active church gaining media attention is no coincidence. It’s an indicator. In a world screaming out for the church to be the church, it makes sense. People are looking for some Good News, yet too often we’re no news at all.

Jesus told us to serve the least. Here’s what I know, when we do, “it works”. I’m not going to try and explain what “it works” means, because it works in so many ways. Give it a shot and see for yourself.


The AND of Church: Genius v.s. Reality.

Something interesting has happened at Austin New Church. Although we are a church that values equally gathering (exaltation) and the sending (incarnation), our onlookers often assume as a service-based-missional-church, that we value mission, service, and community OVER worship, teaching, and discipleship. This is not true.

In fact, our intention is to be a church where our reality is a balance between the two. I believe not only in the “Genius of the AND”, but also in it’s biblical value. I truly believe that one validates the other. But I also understand completely why people make this assumption about ANC. And it’s our fault.

We do it on purpose.

Let me explain: I’m right-handed. And I play basketball. My natural bent is to dribble with my right hand and to shoot with my right hand. I don’t have to work very hard to do that well. My left, however, is another story. I have to force myself to go left. I have to work extra hard, do left-handed drills, and honestly… I’m not nearly as good at it.

So I have a choice. Always go right, which eventually becomes predictable and even ineffective in certain situations. Or LEARN to go left… be willing to work hard, willing to do something that makes me feel uncomfortable or even make me look a little awkward at times, willing to even fail trying, but do something I know is not only necessary but something that can be a difference maker.

But go and LEARN what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mt 9:13

LEARN to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Is 1:17

The gathering of the church has become our “right hand”. We intuitively (and culturally) do it well. Honestly, we do it so well… it easily becomes rote… so we spend extra time trying to keep it creative, always seeking to push the envelope to the next level. This – in itself – is not a bad thing.

The sending of the church is often our “left hand”. We know it’s there for a reason. But we tend to use it only when we have to. And it’s certainly a difficult task to improve. It’s hard work. And often takes sacrifice.

So we have a choice. Do we settle for doing one well and neglect the other? Or do we work hard on our weakness, shooting for a balance between the two? I’m not trying to oversimplify the conversation, but I believe this is part of our problem. We get whatever we put into it. In fact, I believe we must work harder – possibly twice as hard – at the missional elements of church to come even close to the middle. This is our strategy at ANC. We lead with mission and our hope is that worship is the overflow. So far, so good.

We can’t minimize this to being just a functional move. It’s more complicated than that and there’s a reason it works. There is certainly a biblical purpose. But as church leaders and practitioners we must recognize that the GENIUS of the “AND” is a reality that very few of us actual find. And that the REALITY of the “AND” is found in identifying, working on, and playing to our “weakness”. It’s not only about what we do well, it’s what we neglect. It’s certainly more of an art form than a science and often requires an over-compensating of sorts in the direction of mission. A move not everyone is willing to make.

Even as Christ followers, many of us fail at finding the balance of the “AND” in our personal faith journey. We barely give equal treatment or value to mission. Even when we do, since our natural bent is towards the gathering… we don’t land anywhere near to the middle.

This is a good conversation to have. And I’m glad so many are having it. With this in mind there are two things I’d recommend to anyone seeking some answers. The first is the book “AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church” written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. And the second is the “AND Conference” held at Granger Community Church this fall.


The Orphan Crisis: 7 ways to “Learn to do Right”

A little over a month ago I was visiting an overseas orphanage with a friend when I was given a reminder as to why we chose to adopt.

I’ll never forget walking into that first room. It was about 20 feet wide by 25 feet deep. It was packed with 27 cribs, each crib holding two infants. Among the 50+ crying infants were three caretakers feeding, changing, then switching to the next child. I was as overwhelmed experiencing it as they were trying to maintain the rotation.

 

We were told the orphanage averages having at least one infant dropped into their custody a day. The week prior to our arrival, 5 babies were received in just one day. On the day we visited, there was a pair of twins they were nursing who couldn’t have weighed more than 3 lbs each.

In the next room I counted 39 toddlers with shaved heads. Not a single adult in sight. They had obviously just received benefit from an overstocked supply of neon colored sunglasses from the 80’s. At the time, they were their prized possession all pining for me with outstretched glasses to help them put them on. The moment I put them on, they would turn around and take them off, then come back for me to help them again. For a moment I was stumped why they would do this. Then it became obvious they just wanted my attention.

One stood in the corner crying. His glasses were broken. I’d have paid $100 to magically have another pair appear. Heartbreaking.

Last week, in seven days, seven babies died in that orphanage. It wasn’t the fault of the caretakers. The babies that come into this place are often overwhelming malnourished, sick, or both. They do what they can. However, “what they can” is often not enough.

It was a reminder that in a world with more than 150 million orphans, there are only thousands adopted each year. It was a reminder to me that I cannot sit idly by. While none of us can single-handedly solve the orphan crisis of our world, we must do something.

Scripture makes it clear that the orphan is close to the heart of God:

 “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” – Psalm 10:14

And Scripture is clear what we are to do:

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:17

 

What I love about this passage in Isaiah is not only our call to defend, take up the cause, and plead the case. But we are given the permission to LEARN how. This assumes one really big thing: That we don’t already know how. This is good news, because that’s what usually paralyzes us… the fact that we don’t know what to do or where to start.

Here are a handful of things I’m LEARNING about caring for the orphan. I believe all are necessary and appropriate as we consider the orphan crisis today:

  1. Adopt and/or pray for or provide for adoptive parents: This is the obvious one. But there are thousands of families right now considering adopting. Maybe you’re one of them. Keep praying. There are thousands more in the middle of the long and laborious process of adoption. Maybe you’re one of them. Keep praying. One thing I know about the long process: We needed prayer during this season like we needed air. There are many who are willing and want to adopt, but cannot imagine finding the resources to do so. Helping provide the resources for a family to adopt is a bigger deal than you know. For us, it was critical. If you don’t know an adoptive family to help, check out the ABBA Fund. We’ve partnered with ABBA at ANC and have a fund set up to specifically help adoptive families financially. It’s great organization doing great things providing resources for adoptive families: www.abbafund.org
  2. Provide care for birth parents: While many children are orphaned because of the death of their parents, there are many parents who would choose to keep their children if they could. I have friends in Ethiopia who have literally intercepted a young mother (and many others) attempting to abandon her child at the orphanage. If anything, just to find out if their situation is indeed redeemable. Not only did they step in to help this young mom, they provided a home for her to live in, and a job to move forward in life. Both mother and child are now like a part of their own family. Obviously, not everyone can invite a family into their home, but there are ministries and missionaries out there working to help single moms and poor families so that they don’t have to give up their children. We should find these people and orgs and seek to help them. Here’s the website of my friends in Ethiopia: www.noordinarylove.org
  3. Sponsor a child: Sponsoring a child has been around for as long as I can remember. In the last few years the process has evolved from partnering with organizations only seen on national TV (leaving us wondering what’s really happening) to some very personal opportunities with ministries on the ground that you can not only know their leadership, but also be a part of their ministry on many levels, and even see first hand where your resources are going. These sponsorships are literally changing the paths of orphans. They provide better living conditions, clothes, food, care, and education. One of my favorite orgs is called “Help End Local Poverty” and is directed by my good friend Chris Marlow. For more info on orphan sponsorship through H.E.L.P check out www.helpendpoverty.org
  4. Fight to improve the process: I’m a rookie at this, but I know it needs some reform. It’s a crazy balance between due process (and we DO need due process) and unnecessary red tape and politics. We don’t want to lower the bar, but we do want a more effective process. What I do know is that EVERY CHILD DESERVES A LOVING FAMILY. One of the leading orgs in not only educating but also fighting for the orphan through seeking to improve the process is called Both Ends Burning. Find out more at www.bothendsburning.org
  5. Educate the Church: This one is on us as pastors. I’m amazed at how often scripture is clear that we are to fight for the fatherless, yet we do so little. And this isn’t just for the American church. My hope is to somehow add to our global pastor training a heart for the orphan. The answer for adoption in third world countries is not international adoption alone. America cannot save the world, but we can lead. We need a culture shifting movement of Christians willing to see the issue in their own land. And to see it as apart of the Gospel lived out. We need to use our influence and leadership to equip the church to be the church. (Anyone know an org already doing this? Please let me know.)
  6. Improve orphanage conditions:  The adoption process takes years at times. I’m not sure of the numbers, but with millions of orphans in some countries and only thousands adopted, that leaves thousands if not millions spending their entire childhood institutionalized.  Recent studies show in America that 1 in 4 orphans who age out commit suicide. This statistic is staggering to me. What this means is that we must care for the un-adopted orphan. My friend Caroline Beaudreaux at the Miracle foundation is doing just that in India, a place where adoption is difficult yet the orphan crisis is massive. Their focus; making the conditions the best they can. Improving nutrition, healthcare, education, etc… To find out more check out www.miraclefoundation.org
  7. Orphan Prevention: There are many ways to get involved in a holistic way towards orphan prevention. Almost all of them have to with poverty reduction. One of the most creative and effective ways I’ve seen is through an organization called The Eden Reforestation Projects in Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Haiti. Through environmental stewardship, Eden is creating jobs, restoring communities, educating children, and planting churches all through the seed of planting trees and addressing the issue and impact of deforestation. It’s amazing. And it works. To find out more check out www.edenprojects.org.

This is just the beginning for me. As I said, I’m a rookie. And I’m taking seriously the call to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless.”

Join me as we learn.


Hatmaker Adoption on Fox News

What a great moment at the Austin airport. Thanks to everyone who came out to welcome Ben home. Thanks also to Fox 7 News for capturing our story:


Coming Home

Yes I’m in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Yes Ben was cleared by Embassy today. We pick up his passport and visa tomorrow. And yes, we fly home Saturday. There are no words to capture the moment I held my son for the first time knowing I wasn’t leaving without him. But there is a video:



Adoption is Hard

Adoption is hard.

That’s what we’ve learned so far. I truly believe that a call to adopt is a call to suffer with the orphan. It begins the moment you decide you’re doing it. The fear and insecurities jump all over you as you begin to doubt, second-guess, and pick apart your ability to parent. The paperwork is no walk in the park (although typically delegated to the more capable spouse). And due process often feels like swimming upstream. On top of all these things lies the emotional task of helping your family process something you’re not sure you’ve processed yourself yet.

Although the journey to adoption is remarkably difficult – we’ve certainly heard – and are experiencing first hand that life after the adoption has it’s own set of challenges as well. Strangely its as if adoption unlocks a new set of emotions you’ve never experienced before. Honestly, I never knew they existed.

This is when real life kicks in. When you’re back at your house and you have new little people living with you, and they’re yours. Reality.

So far the most difficult time for me has been Remy’s difficulty “attaching” to me (I’ve written on this in depth in prior posts). According to the psychiatrist at the orphanage, this is normal.  She’s learned in her past that daddy’s are not “safe”. It will take some time for me to break that paradigm.

Although in the first week she decided she wanted nothing to do with me, a few days later we began to have some break-through moments. As I think back now, each at a time where she felt physically insecure. Once at the pool she magically decided (after rejecting me for a week) that she wanted daddy to be the one to hold her while she played in the water for about an hour. It was daddy she wanted to help her ride her bike the next day. And it was daddy whom she wanted to lift her up into the air to do cheerleader moves.

And it was daddy who bought her the pink bike, not the purple: “Ah yes, doddy… ‘dis one please, doddy. Pink. Ah no purple. Please doddy.” She affectionately held my hand skipping to the checkout line singing a made up little song about daddy.

Later that night (after an afternoon of “doddy push bicycle. Doddy again.”) We decided that I would attempt to do the bedtime routine alone. Everything went great until I was about to say goodnight and I decided to push the envelope, “Goodnight Remy Matawi… I love you.”

She looked at me and softly said, “Doddy….” Crinkled her nose, pointed to the door, “Goodbye”. She turned her head, plopped it on the pillow, and pulled the covers over her face. It was so close, yet so far away (At least she went to sleep).

I’m a bit proud of myself. I think in a good way. I’m thoroughly enjoying the special moments. And the not-so-special ones? The ones that don’t go my way? I’m learning not to take them too personally. I can get pretty insecure when I think someone doesn’t like me… so this is a good thing.

I’ve said this before, but I mean it more now than ever, when I look into her eyes I see hope. Hope of a restored life. Hope of healed heart. Hope of a future with a family who loves her. And hopes of Remy becoming a healthy, emotionally sound, mature young woman one day.

The other night when Jen was out of town, Remy was having a pretty rough time going to sleep. It was quite an evening. After trying every trick in the book, and out of desperation I asked if she wanted to lay down with Daddy. She nodded yes and took her place on the bed next to me (Yes!). I was scratching her back lightly trying to get her to settle down when she reached over with her little hand and started scratching mine. It was precious. No words were exchanged… I didn’t want to make a big deal about it… and make her think too much about what she was doing. just. avoid. eye. contact. After about 5 minutes she said, “Doddy… I love you”. Then she plopped her head the other direction, pulled the covers over her face, and fell asleep.

Something happened in that moment that has stuck. And we’re doing even better now. And while I’m selfishly happy for me about this moment, I’m even more happy for her that she is feeling a bit more safe with her “Doddy”. Ah yes, a huge step forward.  The call to adopt is indeed a call to suffer with the orphan… in many ways. But so far – one moment like this – with the hope of many more –  make it well worth it.