“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my loyal child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So begins the first letter of Paul to Timothy. The words “my loyal child in the faith” leap out at me. Paul had adopted Timothy spiritually. He had taken upon himself a commitment to Timothy as if he were Paul’s own child. He felt a commitment to pray for him, instruct him and hold him accountable. How many Timothy’s do you have in your life? I am asking myself the same question.
Many churches are trying to create disciples via curriculum and program. We are looking for an automated magic formula of education that will transform people into whole-hearted committed disciples. Most the programs though lack discipling. They lack a component of people adopting people as either their children in Christ or brothers and sisters in Christ. Whom have you adopted?
You may feel inadequate to that task and that is okay. Adoption is more about love than expertise. Many years ago, when I was in early college I was passionately involved in youth ministry. I had a simple mission statement for myself. “I will love these kids, so that someday they will realize God loves them.” We did all sorts of programs: dinner clubs, lock-ins, retreats, Bible studies, etc. I used to tell people that youth ministry never happened in the program. The program was just an excuse to get together. The real youth ministry happened in the 15 minutes before and after youth ministry while we waited for parents or ate meals. That’s when I loved them. That’s when I asked them about what was going on with school. That’s when they raised some tough question of faith that they were reluctant to voice in front of everyone else. That’s when I affirmed and encouraged them. Real ministry often happened when I gave them a ride home from taking them roller skating and they were the last one to be dropped off and we had a few minutes to ourselves to laugh, cry or whatever was needed.
This past week I saw one of those “kids” for the first time in almost 20 years. She isn’t a kid anymore. She is a full grown mature godly woman with a great family. As I meet and get to know her husband and her children I feel my family circle expanding. I can’t think of her anymore as a daughter, but more a sister and that makes her kid’s my niece and nephews. In some way she is part of my spiritual lineage. I doubt she remembers too many lesson plans, but we both remember vividly car rides and meals shared. We both remember vividly stopping at McDonald’s and playing on the play ground that we were way to big for. She still has in a box somewhere a little paper frog I folded from a McDonald’s placemat. I still have treasures she made for me as well. Somewhere in those moments and little treasures. she got the message that I loved her and that God loved her. It wasn’t the only place she got that, but I like to think that it was one of the critical places.
That’s how spiritual adoption works. It isn’t some big fancy program. It’s time spent and invested in people. It’s time laughing and celebrating when life is good. It’s long phone calls and warm hugs when life stinks. It’s gabbing openly about what God’s doing in your life. It’s challenging someone when they are being stupid, but loving them anyways. It’s asking, “How are you?” when they have the big break up. It’s calling on a birthday. It’s listening when they blow it and get grounded by their parents. It’s staying up really late and talking about everything and nothing all at the same time. Adoption is loving someone so that they understand God loves them too.
Lastly, adoption isn’t something you put on your calendar with start and stop dates. When you adopt, you are in it for life. Your spiritual children will grow up and change, but you will always be committed to them. You may have phases where you wander apart. That is part of what kid’s do. Nevertheless, the commitment of heart is still there. My “kid” who is now my friend can count on me to be there. As her children grow, if a time comes when they are in need and I can help, then I’ll be there. Who knows, may be someday I’ll even get to take them roller skating like their mom.
Can you see that adoption isn’t a five point program that lasts for six months? It’s a life long commitment to someone’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well being. Adoption isn’t thinking of someone as a fellow member at your church, but as a member of your family. So, who are your “kids” right now? They don’t necessarily have to be children. You can adopt someone as a brother or sister. If you are not sure, then whom do you think God is calling you to love right now in a way that they will someday understand God loves them?
Blessings to you my extended virtual family of faith.