Today I am turning 40. The Lord has given me 4 wonderful decades of life on this earth that He has created. At this point in my life I am more blessed than I would ever have imagined. He has filled my years with good things: an excellent wife, 4 precious children and new mercies every single day.
The Lord has given me the desires of my heart. But by His grace He has consistently given me new desires. I think that, had you described my life at 40 to my 20 year old self, I might have wrinkled my nose. But I am so thankful for the unexpected blessings that God has brought me. My plan would have been inferior in every way.
I am thankful that the Father saw fit to open my eyes to my sin and His gracious provision to cover that sin. I am thankful that Jesus Christ humbled Himself as a man and died a shameful death on a cross for the glory set before Him. I am thankful for His resurrection so that death has lost its sting. I am thankful that He lives to make intercession on behalf of those who belong to Him. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ to me and opens the eyes of my heart so that I can see wonderful things from the Word.
If you are reading this I want you to know that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. He takes the initiative on behalf of His people. His promises are true. And I am thankful.
It’s been a while since I’ve written an update about our adoption. The actual process of adoption is complete but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting going on. I’d like to say something about adopting an older child. Once upon a time I was scared to death at the thought of adopting an older child. When we went to adopt Gus we spent several days visiting with him at his orphanage on our first trip to Ethiopia. Gus was just a baby but there were tons of older kids running around ranging in age from 3 to the early teens. They loved practicing their English and playing pretty much anything.
One day as we were leaving the orphanage after a visit with Gus a little girl was leaving for the last time with her new mom. On our way back to the guesthouse we all stopped for lunch. It was very interesting and fun to watch her experience the outside world. The kicker was watching her eat ice cream for the first time. After that I said to Erika, “We’re totally doing this.”
I can’t adequately explain you the joys of adopting an older child. These first few weeks together have been precious. This little boy needed a mom and dad so bad. When we picked him up on that first day he sat close to me silently with big tears running down his face. In our first few days together he didn’t know that when you get hurt you can cry to your mom and dad and they’ll try to help make it better. On the one hand he’s strong and self-sufficient and on the other he’ll lay in my arms and look up into my eyes like he’s a newborn trying to figure me out.
This is not always easy. The language barrier has been tough. We’re still learning how to care for his special needs. He’s really particular about where his things go. And, shocker, he’s everything you would expect a 5 year old boy to be in terms of naughtiness. He needed a mom and dad…real bad. And there are tons more just like him. I saw them. We visited his orphanage and he marched around like he owned the place showing us where he slept and where he played. There was room after room filled with children with various special needs, sentenced to an institution because they weren’t born perfectly healthy. As he took us around he told everyone we were Mom and Dad. He was happy be there to show us around but he was clear that he wasn’t staying.
It took us a couple of days but we did take him for ice cream. Ice cream parlors aren’t all over the place in China so we had to settle for McDonald’s. I’m not positive it was his first but he loved it so much his eyes rolled back in his head after each bite. On the way home he tripped and hurt his knee. He cried, Erika picked him up and kissed it and we went back to the hotel and cleaned him up. Ice cream and kisses for skinned knees may seem pretty normal to you but for Archie it’s all still brand new 6 weeks later.
I thought it would be good to give a little explanation about this new fundraising project. One of the biggest roadblocks to adoption is the cost. It’s hard to imagine coming up with tens of thousands of dollars. Lots of people have huge questions about the price tag. But if you’re using a reputable agency (which we are) you can see clearly where every dollar is going.
A reasonable question to ask at this point would be, “How did you plan to raise this much money?” Our plan has always been to pray and trust God. But I don’t think we were presuming upon God. I definitely had in mind the way I thought God was going to provide. When we adopted Gus in 2011 we were able to claim a dollar for dollar tax credit up to $13,000. Since so many people helped us adopt Gus our plan was always to put that money into another adoption. We actually filed our amended tax return for 2011 about the same time we started the process of adopting Archie. That was almost a year ago.
The moral of this story is: depend on God not on the US government. You may have heard that the IRS isn’t excited about paying money to conservative causes right now. Our amended return has been audited and as of the current government shutdown I don’t see us getting our return on this side of 2014.
It’s God’s money and He can direct it where He pleases. We see this as an opportunity to trust Him through prayer and faith. His ways are not our ways. He may choose to move the IRS to process our return. Or He may not. In the meantime, we need to raise about $15,000. It seems crazy but our God distinguishes Himself as a God who demonstrates His glory by providing in the midst of crazy circumstances.
So this t-shirt thing is a way to let our friends know the need. We need to sell 50 for the project to go forward. But we’d love to sell 2,000. Will you help us by praying and sharing the website? As Facebook continues to decline in use we’re looking for other ways to get the word out. As always, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation (and not receive a t-shirt) you can do so at our Adopttogether site. Or you can buy a t-shirt here: Archie Cleland Adoption Fund.
It seems like we always receive good adoption news on evenings with good friends. Monday night after dinner and sweet fellowship we were notified that we had received our Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from China. Sun Zhang Yu will soon live with us and have all the rights and privileges of membership in the Cleland family. Conservative estimates have us traveling to China in 10-12 weeks. If things go well, he could spend Christmas with us.
We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel on this long journey. For months we have prayed for a boy we don’t know. Not only does he not know us but he doesn’t even speak our language. Lord willing, in just a few months he will live in a home with two brothers and a sister AND be receiving the medical care he needs.
I thought I knew how God was going to provide for this adoption. In His providence He has chosen not to work in that way. But to this point God has always provided. I’ve written checks for thousands of dollars and each time the money has been there. I have no reason to believe that he will not continue to provide.
We need to raise about $15,000 more for our trip. We hope to be rolling out a t-shirt fundraiser soon. Or you can give to our AdoptTogether account and have your contribution be tax-deductible. As always we covet your prayers.
What were your parents doing the day you were born? This is what we were doing the day Harry was born. I was out in the backyard teaching Lucy to play golf (she really hasn’t improved a bit since then.) It was some time later that we looked at the date on the picture and discovered that is was taken on September 15, 2007. We had no idea our little Harry was coming into the world just a few miles away. 6 years ago today I had no idea that a huge blessing was about to come into my life.
It’s not enough these days to say that we are committed to biblical preaching. Few self-respecting evangelical pastors would say, “At our church we don’t preach the Word.” And yet, in many worship services, the Word of God is sprinkled onto the sermon like sprinkles on an Ice Cream Sundae. You may choose to add them in but the ice cream is the star of the show. We need to be clear about how and what we preach. At Cornerstone Church we are committed to expository preaching.
What is expository preaching? Mark Dever, in his little book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church says, “Expository preaching has as its goal to expound what is said in a particular passage of scripture, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation.” We believe that the faithful ministry of the Word of God changes lives. Week by week we work verse by verse through books of the Bible. The scripture drives our services and not the felt-needs of the congregation. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to convict, encourage and admonish. He moves the affections and emotions of the hearers, not some well placed punch-line or visual aid.
Expository preaching does not have to be boring. It should not be a running commentary on a book of the Bible or an opportunity for a well-read pastor to show off his knowledge of biblical languages. Expository preaching does not have to consist of just a few words of scripture per week. A good expository preacher should be able to preach larger sections of scripture so that his hearers can understand the context and flow of a book. He will add helpful illustrations and may even be funny. But the primary goal of expository preaching should not be to entertain.
It is not uncommon for pastors to think of the people in the pews as consumers. From this perspective, they must be kept happy so that they’ll keep coming back. We see the church as the household of God. The church is both a body and a family. We are saints and the goal of preaching is that the saints be encouraged, edified, and equipped for ministry.
“We have all heard preachers like this, preachers who are clearly gifted speakers but who have failed to work hard at the study of their text, or neglected the necessary time for reflection on how to present their material in a manner that will communicate the truth well. Such preachers will one day have to give an account to the Lord for their failure to acknowledge their gift as a call to be good stewards of what has been bestowed on them.” Jerram Barrs, Echoes of Eden, p. 56