Trying to Make Them Lovable

We’ve addressed many topics in our adoption series. We’ve been raw on here, slicing our hearts wide open in order to expose our weakness with the hopes of exposing Christ’s power. And it’s been painful–painful to say it all in such a public manner, painful to be rejected by those who disagree, and painful to have more and more layers pulled back in my own heart.

In the final post of this series, I want to write about my latest reflections, several months after typing my first words on the topic.

The second post of the series was titled “Loving the Unlovable.” Every adoption resource we’ve seen out there seems to have a mutual goal in mind–to make adoption easier by helping you see your children as lovable. This is done mainly by helping you understand how your child thinks so you sympathize with them. The conclusions they draw almost always end with “proving” how their reactions to situations aren’t their fault: it’s a brain disconnect because of their past.

And when parents like me–who know the truth of Scripture and are shocked when I see what a struggle it is to love a child from hard places–hear this, I think, “Thank goodness!!! That makes them far easier to love now that I see them as innocent.” And I cling to words like that because I have my answer and feel so much better.

But this makes a whore of the adoption story of Scripture: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.(Rom 5:10-11)” God doesn’t adopt us as his children because we were good enough or we somehow convinced him we were. No, we’re adopted while still his enemies, dead in our trespasses and sins.

He didn’t first say, “Well, she’s just a child, so sweet and innocent,” or “She can’t really help it because she’s been harmed in the past,” or “She doesn’t know any better” first so he could have the ability to love me. He said, “You’re my enemy, and you know it. There’s nothing good in you. Nothing. You don’t even want me to save you. And I’m going to show my great mercy by saving you anyway, giving you life and love you’ve never deserved. And I’m going to make you my child, because my love for you has nothing to do with how much you deserve it, but everything to do with how covered you are by the blood of my one and only Son. You’ll take my name, and when you do, you’ll be able to love people who are even as bad as you.”

I know this last story personally, though not deeply enough. And it makes me tear up to know how hard we work to try to make our children look lovable instead of how hard we work to reflect on the truth from the last paragraph. The former feels so much easier because none of us know the truth deeply enough. We all believe we’re more lovable on our own than we are. We believe we were loved by Christ because of how lovable we are. We forget that we “were dead in our trespasses and sins”. We forget that there was “no one righteous, not even one”. We forget that “every inclination of the thoughts of our heart was only evil all the time”. When we see absolute depravity in our kids from hard backgrounds, we can’t accept that we’re that awful, that we were loved when we were in that stage. So we can’t love others either, unless they first look more lovable.

The things that happened to my children aren’t their fault, but the way they respond is. The same is true for you and me and anyone else in the world. They have no more good in them than I do. And it was when I was this evil that God in human flesh gave his life for me and adopted me as his own. Even when we display more and more grace to children in situations of correction and guidance, their responses are still their responsibility and will be judged by a holy God.

Adoption is the central point of the gospel, because it’s where we find ourselves a new family, a new hope, and a new inheritance. Our new family redefines our future and sets a new course for our lives. In adopting children, we take them in with all their sin and unloveliness and problems and trauma and issues. Sometimes we even take them in as enemies, pitting themselves against us in rebellion and anger. They’re not lovely–they’re a mess. Just like we were. Just like we still are, save for the righteousness of God we are in Jesus. The kids we adopt are no different than our biological children–they’re born in iniquity, without hope and without God in the world. They’re just like us. No amount of rationalizing or psychologizing or normalizing can change that.

Through the past few months, this is the hardest pill I’ve had to swallow, and yet the most freeing. My “unlovable” children are nothing more than a mirror to own unloveableness. And I don’t want to see that ugliness in me any more than I want to see it in my children.

But the good news of Jesus tells a better story. It gives a better answer to our dilemma. The answer to loving the unlovable is still to know that “we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable
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The Therapy Our Children Need

Like most kids from foster care, our adopted children had encountered some terrible events that put them into the state’s care in the first place. And the state, seeing a problem, prescribed therapy to treat the horrible things in their past. My then six-year-old was already set up with two therapists to help her understand/deal with her emotions. I cannot tell you how important the therapists were to our family. They each became my friend, someone I trusted, and basically my resource for all things adoption-related.

Much of my daughter’s therapy sessions were spent trying to make her feel great about herself, having her record all the things she was good at, talk about her awesome features, giving herself much praise. But almost every time the therapists left after a session, I found myself revising some of what my daughter had been taught.

I say I revised what she was taught because I agree that my daughter’s a pretty cool gal. She’s great at coloring, running, has some of the most beautiful eyes in the history of ever, and gets along well with her siblings.

But none of that is because of her. In fact, all of that is because of God working in her.

The therapy she was receiving was one of a cheap worth, putting our hope in us. That’s fine for about two minutes. Until we fail. Again. Then our hope is crushed. It’s like putting your hope in a chair made of crackers. Every time you trust it to hold you up, you’ll just find yourself hurt lying on the floor.

The therapy our children need is a hope better than a reinforced steel chair: solid and strong and sure. The hope is this: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

If my daughter puts her hope in her own accomplishments, she’ll find herself falling short every time. It’s a treatment that won’t last. But if her hope is in Christ’s work, she’ll understand she’s a daughter of the king, a princess who is higher than the angels, receiving God’s inheritance. She’ll not care as much about her failures because she’ll know Jesus was perfect in all the ways she’s imperfect, and his blood covers her imperfections in such a way that nothing will be able to separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Now that’s a therapy that’ll last.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Broken-Hearted Parents

In light of Court’s last post, I wanted to give an example of a friend—a brother—stepping up in our need and loving us when all we could see was our own failure. In a particularly low moment, I sent my pastor-elder Dan this text late at night as I was struggling with my own failures in trying to help direct this child after an especially challenging series of weeks with her. Here was my text: “Man. How do you love a kid who despises you and has only one life mission of worshiping herself–and thus continually coming up with new and varied ways to rebel? How can I love her when I despise her? What do I do when it feels like her heart is harder than the hardest stone and will never ever be turned to flesh?”

Dan heard my pain—not just this time, but every time I’d shared with him—and didn’t pounce. He didn’t latch onto my angry frustration at not being able to make a dent in steering my kid’s heart toward Jesus. He didn’t attack my clear self-righteousness and finger pointing. He saw the hurt and failure, and instead, emailed me this shortly thereafter (lightly edited):

My heart breaks for you, bro, really. I’ve hated that we haven’t been able to help you guys. I know things come up but also, we don’t know what to do and feel so ill equipped to really help. (Please don’t take that as us not being willing because we are completely willing to step in even though we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing.)

So first of all I want you to know that your daughter’s rejection of you is not a reflection of how “good” of a dad you are. Heck, look at Yahweh. Perfect Dad, providing just the right amount of “spoiling” vs. chores in the garden. The perfect amount of “family time” vs. free time. Perfect in EVERY way… boom! Rejection!!!  With Cain, God provided perfectly loving and wise counsel  which Cain rejected. Yahweh chose a people. Not a spectacular people of greatness but to the contrary and He adopted them to be His (see where I’m going with this ;)). He set His love on them and cared for them and provided for them but the norm for that people was rejection of their Father. But He kept pursuing them… HE would bless them with a good crop or pregnancy or some other blessing and they would run and praise Baal for it! The “dad” that used them and abused them and only took from them! The bastard that would leave them naked and beaten and he’s THE ONE THEY LOVED!!! Not the good Dad, the One that chose them for no other reason than to bring them in to be part of His family. But He didn’t give up on them. You know the  story… The cycles over and over… The relentless pursuit… The repetitive rejection… The ultimate rescue…

You know who we are in the story, bud. So the only way you’re going to love YOUR child that despises you is to be overwhelmed by Jesus’ love for you. I’m praying that for you right now as I type and my screen is a blur through my tears as I sob for you. Please, Holy Spirit, fill my brother with your love. Overtake him with the depth and width and height of your love. Help his heart break for his little girl who is rejecting him but far worse is rejecting YOU! Give him a love for her that is beyond comprehension because it’s rooted in a love that he received first. Use that love to melt her heart of stone.

I’m here for you brother, even if I don’t really know how to be. Please tell us. If it means taking the kids away sometimes or a combination of certain kids.

I love you. Be encouraged. You have not thwarted God’s plans and in fact He is working this for good. Hard to believe, right? Well, it’s true. Our Daddy’s electing love proves it day by day!

One final thought… Your little girl has had unthinkable things done to her by the people that were supposed to protect her. I’ve not dealt with abuse like that but my guess is that she has a mangled concept of trust, love, family, fun, etc.—a bunch of things we probably take for granted. I just say that to say that it could be a VERY long road but your hope is not in your daughter getting better. It’s that one day this will seem like a VERY light affliction because of the glory that will be revealed…

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Loving the Unlovable

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

The richness of this passage is one of the main reasons Bill and I began the adoption process. While were still his enemy and completely deserving his righteous judgement, Christ died for us. After his death was the resurrection, giving life to those who put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. With that life comes almost the most unbelievable part–we are now joint-heirs with Jesus, adopted as sons and daughters of God himself. So now, the enemies of God inherit the very kingdom of that same God, as his beloved children.

If that’s been done for me, how can I possibly not turn around and adopt children far more innocent than I am? How can I not give them an inheritance, a family, and a true belonging they wouldn’t have otherwise?

So we adopted. We were excited. We love children, wanted more, and couldn’t wait to add to our numbers. It was going to be great.

Except it wasn’t.

As much as we love children generally, we quickly realized just how much we prefer our bio kids to other kids. Our two new children looked different, smelled different, sounded different, and acted very, very different. And to be completely honest and put myself out there in a terrifying way, we didn’t and still don’t love them in the same way we love our original six.

I hate saying it more than almost anything else. Because they’re beautiful. Because they can’t help the way they were raised or the terrible things that happened to them. Because I should be able to extend the same grace and love to them that’s been extended to me. But as of today, my heart still isn’t there. I’m a sinner who doesn’t really believe the truth of the passage quoted above. I think I deserve my inheritance because I’ve worked so hard to earn God’s love, and in the same way I expect my children to work hard to earn my affection, too.

It’s despicable, and I have no defense.

But I want to be real. I want to let those of you who are considering adoption in on the secret I didn’t know beforehand–most of the adoptive parents I’ve talked to feel the same way in the beginning, some for years. The biggest exception here seems to be newborn adoption or adoption before the couple had biological children. Otherwise, most (not all) have struggled in this area at least for a time.

Honestly, though, even if I’d known, I’m sure in my pride I would have believed I was better than all of them. I know the gospel, unlike them. I have a ginormous heart for children, unlike them. I’m a better parent than they are. I have more experience. Yada yada yada. Once again, I’ve gotten to eat a big slice of humble pie.

My love for them is growing on the graph. You know the graph that dips and rises all over the place but is slowly rising over all? That would probably best describe it. At one point early on, I almost wouldn’t have been upset if something had fallen through and they wouldn’t have ended up as official Bells (yes, I’m determined to keep it real as hard as this is to type), but now I’d be devastated. Some days I feel like I could eat them up or hold them for hours on end. Some days mama bear comes out if one of them has had their feelings hurt. All this is confirmation to my heart that God is still working and perfect and loves them and loves me and won’t stop knitting us together.

But it’s a daily battle. Truly the hardest thing I’ve experienced. I can’t stand loving them differently. I’m impatient and want all the lovey dovey feelings to come now.

But I’m also more grateful than I can say that those feelings have yet to come.

I’m grateful because the passage above has hit me harder than ever before. If I’m having this difficult of a time loving little ones who have done nothing to be my enemy, how much greater of a love have I received from a God I have denied, spit upon, hated!? He made me his beloved child, adopted me as his own, while I hated him. He’s lovely, I’m unlovable, yet he loved me in a far deeper way than is possible to imagine. And he did it according to the pleasure of his will.

And because of that vast unfailing love, I can trust that he won’t abandon me, won’t stop growing me up to look more and more like him, won’t let his girl continue in sin. I can trust that he loves all my children perfectly where I love imperfectly, and he’ll grow them, too, in spite of their mother’s failures. He’ll even use my failures they see to show them more and more to never put their hope in anyone or anything besides him. And he’ll continue to show all of us that even the sin that stops us from loving well has been paid for on the cross, that we’ll never be able to do it on our own, and he’ll give us reason to rejoice in him once again.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Getting Real About Adoption

A year and a half ago, God placed two new children in our lives to adopt. A true answer to prayer, even prayers the Spirit was praying on my behalf that I didn’t know about.

Adoption is beautiful. Incredibly beautiful. And many books, articles, blogs, sermons, and conferences talk about it–the need for it, how Christians are called to it, the redemptive glory. All true.

There’s also the other side of adoption–the ugly brokenness. I figured I would have the courage to talk about this side a few years down the road, looking back giving wisdom.

But that’s not real. It’s not now. It doesn’t fit the theme of this blog. I’ve been silent because I’m scared. Scared to be too open, scared my son and daughter may read this in the future and be hurt by things I may say, scared to be corrected, scared of exposure.

Oh faithless woman! I forget so quickly how God is most glorified in my weakness because he gets to show off his strength. How the more sin I expose, the more his grace abounds. How God may use my struggles to encourage the heart of those mamas and daddys out there who are treading in the same waters we are, barely able to keep their noses above the surface. How he’s able to use the words of a sinful mother to teach and grow her precious children, that their hope won’t be in her but in Christ alone, that these words may even help them through their own adoption journey years down the road.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to expose my heart, failings, and opinions about our adoption thus far. I’ve not read a single book on the topic in entirety, not attended a class beyond what was required for certification, and have barely even spoken to other adoptive parents for advice. This is simply a woman who had children she didn’t know thrown into her lap unexpectedly, who’s been struggling to survive the last year and a half as a result. This is me being real.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

A Letter to a Daughter of God

I wrote this quick note to Bill: “So blah today. This is the part that makes me feel like things will never get better. And that’s just it. Things won’t til Jesus comes back. So how do I make it until then with hope and joy?”

After three other lengthy and encouraging emails speaking truth, this was a fourth he wrote as though it was a letter from God to me:

 

“My child, my daughter, I made you and I know you and I love you. I know you hurt and struggle. I know you are crushed by the darkness around you. I know your life is not the life you planned for yourself nor the life you would’ve picked. But it’s the life I’ve given you because I love you. And you’re weak. Oh so weak. I know. I feel your weakness. My own son knew that weakness, too. And I shared that weakness along with him, just as I do with you. I’ve never left you, even on your darkest days. And I never will, no matter what. You are mine. You always have been and always will be.

 

“But I am jealous for you. Jealous for you to truly believe deep in your heart that everything that has happened to you, all of the things I’ve allowed to happen, all of the things I’ve orchestrated—all of them were for your good. And the pain and the weakness and the loneliness and the darkness, it’s for your good. Because you need me now more than ever before. You thought you knew me when you were younger—ha! You knew the edge of my pinky toe! But there’s more to know, there’s more to see, there’s more glory to find. Infinitely more. And I want to show it to you, to give you more of myself, to let you experience the joy of your master. But it’s hard for you, because as you’ve known me more, you’ve known more sorrow and darkness and sin than you ever knew before. Those things are distractions, shrouds that keep you from looking at me with the young eyes of faith. You have older eyes of faith now and they’ve been blurred by the worries of the world and the battles of the flesh. But I can heal eyes. I’ve done it before.

 

“Don’t be afraid. I am with you, all the time. I’m your daddy. And I’m letting you toddle along, watching you stumble and fall. But I want you to get up and try again. And again and again and again. I’m right here with you, ready to catch you, ready to help you. But I also want you to grow. And part of growing is learning the new steps, the new way of walking. And I’m teaching it to you, because I want you to walk on your own. But bumps and bruises always go with learning. I can heal those, too.

 

“I want you to remember something: I gave you that womb and those eggs. I gave you that husband. I gave you those children. I want you to know the love of a mom for her children, that wants to comfort them in their worry and hurt and fear. Because I have that same love for all of my children. I have that same love for you. I want you to know what it’s like to love someone else that way because I want you to know that you are loved that way. And yes, I’m still loving you even when you turn from me, when you chase after other things, when you fight for independence from me. It doesn’t please me. But I chuckle at it, too, because I know you’re struggling on the path toward maturity. It’s a long path, but I made the path and the footing is sure. And I can chuckle even when I’m displeased and I have to discipline you because my love is far bigger than your disobedience. There’s nothing you can do to change that.

 

“I gave you that house. I had it built 100 years ago in preparation for you. I had it ruined and burned for you. And I had it rebuilt and restored for you. I want you there. I also brought all of your neighbors, the black ones and the white ones, the poor ones and the rich ones. I knit this tapestry and I’m looking right at you in the midst of it. I know you love my creation—the trees and the hills and the birds and the sky and the rocks and the rivers. I did make all of those things and it fills my heart with delight to see your joy in them. But they don’t bear my image, they don’t carry my glory. But all those people who live around you, who drive around you, who are loud and different and scary to you—I made them, too. And I put them around you, because they’re in a deeper darkness than you have ever known. And the glory I gave them, the glory I gave all mankind, is more radiant than anything you’ll see in a mountain or a valley or a stream or a storm. Rejoice that you are surrounded by my creation. And let your light shine before them, because they need to see that light. There is much darkness there, much death and sin and decay. It’s as ugly to me as it is to you. Uglier, even, because I know fully what could be. But I love transforming ugliness into beauty. And I love letting my children help me in the kitchen to get my work done. I want you to help me, too. It’ll be hard, but you’ll never be alone. You’ll be doing my work and I will not forsake you.

 

“My daughter, you are mine. Nothing will change that. I want good for you, more good than you could ever ask for or even imagine. But it’s a joy that comes in trusting my methods and my ways, not a joy that can be bought or fashioned or found somewhere else. You are my daughter. I am your dad. Nothing will change that. Nothing will stop my love. Besides, your brother is right here with me, constantly pleading with me on your behalf. He is right now. I am doing everything for you, for your good. I always will.

 

“I love you.”

Looking Beyond the Bricks

To start, let me give you an example of a guy that totally misses the point and is horribly guilty of what I talked about in the last post.  (Be warned that while this guy is seriously preaching this, it’s painfully funny and also just plain painful.  And no, that’s not Foxy.)

In a sense, my last post was a bit autobiographical, because I wanted to tell the process, the story, of how I get from there to here.  And not just because I want to tell stories, but because I’ve found story to be far more important than I ever imagined.  You see, I grew up seeing the Bible as a source of rules and principles to live by.   After college, I learned that it’s far more than that–it’s literature that needs to be mined as such.  I should understand genre and context and authorship to get the full scope of what each book of the Bible is trying to say.

The thing is, I don’t disagree with either of these ways of viewing the Bible: it does have rules and it is a work of literature.  But neither was…enough.  Because the Bible can’t be reduced to rules or literature.  It is the narrative about our redeemer and how he has slowly revealed himself to his people and to the whole world.  To say it differently, it’s a story.  One big story with lots of small stories that all feed back into the one big story.  Both views I had before always fell short in viewing the Bible as something to go to when I needed something, when I was trying to figure something out.  I viewed the Bible selfishly and used it selfishly, childishly.

I’m not sure I’ve reached adulthood, but I am growing up to see the Bible as something way outside of and far bigger than me.  And it doesn’t need me to interpret it or understand it or do anything to it.  In all it’s weirdness and surprises, it’s exactly what it should be.  And now my job as a disciple of Jesus is to view and read and use the Bible as the source that helps me understand by the Spirit who my King is, what he’s like, what he wants, what he did, what he said, what I am because of him, what he offers to a dying world.

And that’s the overriding idea I want to bring to the Bible and particularly so with this blog.  I say overriding, because it’s not the only thing.  Of these three levels (the sound bite, the whole letter/speech/book, and the entire story of God), which one is the most important for how we read the Bible and let it inform us today? Sorry, folks, but it’s all of them. The part informs the whole and the whole informs the part. It’s not about which way, but how to integrate the different approaches.  And I want the story of God to hang over how I understand the components.

And why is that so hard?  This is probably obvious, but it’s because the Bible is long, old, diverse, multicultural, multilingual, and just downright confusing.  It’s so, so much easier to just know a verse or maybe even a chapter or an entire book (probably a shorter one, like, ya know, 3 John or something).  And God is infinitely infinite, unfathomable in all that he is.  And besides, it’s easy to focus so much on the Bible that we love the Bible itself instead of our God whom the Bible is all about.

To be frank, I think this is really, really hard. Court and I are constantly wrestling through how best to do this.

But I bring it up because we’ll use the Bible all the frickin’ time to help understand the things we’re talking about. Sometimes we’ll focus on a sentence or a paragraph, understanding how that fits into the greater whole. Other times we’ll come at it the other way, focusing on the whole stream of thought through the Bible without landing in a particular chapter or verse. Many people I’ve had contact with (in recent years even) would feel a little uneasy with that. But I hope we can demonstrate how this is not only workable, but good. And right. I never want us to be guilty of parading our One Big Theme Verse™ to explain anything and everything.  We also never want to be accused of generalizing so much that nobody can tell why we believe what we believe.  We invite you to interact with us as we do this, whichever way we go. We very well may need to be corrected. But I wanted to lay this out as a guiding principle before someone starts charging us with “where in the Bible does it say that?” or the such.

One final note: Reading the Oz books to find out how to lay yellow bricks is inane not just because it’s not what the book is about, but because the book never even attempts to help the reader understand the best way to do that. Sometimes the Bible just has nothing to say about buying an iPhone or what skinny jeans say about someone (hello, Jonas Brothers) or whether one should live in the suburbs. Sometimes we can take principles and inferences to help us work through issues that aren’t clearly laid out. But sometimes–get ready for it–sometimes, it’s just not there. And that’s okay. Sometimes we make decisions by faith knowing that there’s not a moral high ground. And trying to appeal to the Bible for these things not only gets one into dangerous waters (cuz you starting making laws out of things that aren’t laws), but you usually end up dragging others into your new land of faux laws. Those would be the burdens that get laid on others’ shoulders.

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If you want some resources for this, here are some I highly recommend (and yes, I’ve actually read all of them):

According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm

My personal favorite for all ages: The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

An excerpt:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they’re downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne-everything-to rescues the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is-it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling on Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.