The Significance of Adoption

In our Western 21st Century culture we often have little idea of the importance of various customs which informed Jesus’ words. For example, our concept of adoption is so very limited  . . .

Possibly the most famous adoptee, Augustus Caesar

Did you know the ancient Greeks and Romans were most fanatical about the idea of male heirs? If a couple didn’t have a male child they would adopt a boy, generally one who was almost grown up, and give him all the rights as their heir. The term ‘adoption’ refers to giving someone adult status with full rights of inheritance.
In the Roman Empire during the first century, a son automatically held his father’s power of attorney. For business purposes, the son was legally equivalent to his father in his authority to transact business on behalf of the household. He could hire and fire employees, he could buy and sell slaves, he could enter into contracts, and all his acts were as binding as if his father had performed them.
Sometimes if a man had a trustworthy slave with a good flair for business, he could adopt the slave as his son. The adoption automatically gave the slave a full power of attorney to manage his adoptive father’s business affairs. So it was not uncommon in those days for slaves to be adopted as sons for business purposes.
So strong was the idea of adoption that some people adopted their own offspring. A family with a number of sons sometimes adopted their second or third boy so as to make him their heir if they believed the oldest would not be a good manager of the family property.
Adoption in the NT
It is with this background that we can begin to appreciate the strength of some of the statements in the New Testament. Take for example John  gospel where it says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12, 13).
When we accept Jesus as our Saviour, God gives us the right to become his children. In other words, we receive authority and an inheritance. As Paul says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
This is why God call us sons (whether we are males or females) because he wants us to receive the full rights of being sons.
What ‘being adopted’ means for us
This has significant implications for our living. If we are adopted sons of God, with all the authority of our father, then we should start living like it. On the last day, the New Testament tells us, Jesus will reward us according to how well we have carried out our Father’s business. (Matthew 16:27)
Knowing we are sons should cause us to live up to the family name by being kind, honest, true, loyal and pure. Knowing we are “full heirs” along with Jesus Christ should give us a confidence and assurance of our place in the world. Knowing that all those who profess Jesus as Lord are members of God’s family should motivate us to treat one another like brothers and sisters.
No doubt God is pleased when we live up to what it is to be his sons and live like spiritual adults and future kings. Conversely, I’m sure God is distressed when we act like spiritual infants or hapless paupers. So often in church life our actions seem to demonstrate immaturity rather than maturity. God wants us all to continue to grow and live in the authority and responsibility of being his sons.
Let us pray for ourselves and each other that we may all be worthy of the calling to which we are called (Ephesians 4:1).
Stephen L Baxter

Can God Trust you?

The paradox of trustworthiness
It has been said that without trust there is nothing. I well remember my father saying to me when I first got my driver’s licence that he wasn’t worried about my driving, it was the driver coming towards me on the other side of the road he worried about.
He was giving me a compliment, of course, yet highlighted the reality that every time we drive we place a lot of trust in the total stranger behind the wheel of the oncoming car. Sadly, for my sister-in-law, that trust was betrayed in 2009 when an oncoming vehicle moved onto the wrong side of the road. She ended up in hospital, fortunate to be alive.
Here is a video of the crash site. It was devastating.

Trust is Foundational
When you think about it, trust is foundational to the way the world works. We trust our doctors, our nurses, hospitals, administrators, and sophisticated testing machines to deliver safe medical procedures. Marriage is built on trust, it’s in the vows. Families too are built on trust, as well as sports teams, schools and kindergartens. To say that ‘without trust there is nothing’ is indeed true.
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, many suggest at the heart of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 was the collapse of trust. Many expressed moral outrage at the behaviour of leaders in both banking and business. Words like “greed” and “selfishness” are still used as the fallout continues to linger in many parts of the world. And Governments ploughed billions of tax dollars into financial institutions in an endeavour to restore that trust.
Trust is Multifaceted
But what is trust? It has many facets. For example, credibility is associated with trust and is often concerned with the quality of words spoken. Trust is also about reliability and the integrity of our actions. Intimacy is linked to trust and feelings of safety and security with others.

Trust and trustworthiness go hand in hand.

But ultimately, trust is about relationships and whether or not we believe another has our interests at heart rather than their own. It is about being trustworthy.  And here trust is profound. For not only is trust about trusting another, but it asks whether you are worthy of their trust in you. Trust and trustworthiness go hand in hand. Both are essential ingredients in any relationship. We not only trust the other, but we need to be worthy of their trust and vice versa.
It’s the same as our relationship with God. He is trustworthy and so we put our trust in him.  This is the heart of the gospel. We trust that God loves us and has our best interests at heart, and he sent his son to re-establish a lasting relationship with us. We trust that he has done all the work and so accept his work on our behalf. We trust God because he is trustworthy.
God trusts me?
But, like any relationship we can ask the questions, “Can God trust me? Am I trustworthy?”
The Bible is full of examples of people in whom God trusted. Consider Mary the mother of Jesus. As a young woman she is selected by God for the privileged task of birthing Jesus. But what was it about Mary that caused God to choose her? We know nothing about her appearance—her hair, her stature, her shape, the texture of her skin or even the attractiveness of her personality. Yet she was “highly favoured” and “blessed . . . among women” (Luke 1:28).
I wonder if God chose Mary because she was trustworthy. God knew He could trust her with the birth of his son, and to stay with him right until the end.
Then there is Abraham. Have you ever wondered what made him great? The Bible says he trusted God even though he couldn’t have imagined what God had in mind. That’s what made it possible for him to go so far as to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice when God asked it of him (Genesis 22). He even trusted God’s promise to make him into a great nation, and bless all other nations through him even though he never saw it (Genesis 12).
The trust Abraham displayed was enough for God to establish a special relationship with him (and it was credited to him as righteousness).
Can I be trusted?
Just like Mary and Abraham, God calls each one of us to be part of his ongoing plans to save the world. You and I have been given gifts, opportunities and talents. How have we used them? Have we proved trustworthy? Here we strike the heart of trust and trustworthiness. And lurking in the heart is a paradox.
Like Mary and Abraham, God often calls us to be involved in things we could never do by ourselves. He asks us to be involved in the impossible (giving birth to the Son of God) and the incompressible (making one man into a great nation).
When God calls us to do something, often we don’t feel big enough, or strong enough, or experienced enough, or skilful enough, or ____? You can add your own excuse.
Yet when God calls, he knows our circumstances and knows what we can and can’t do and what we can achieve only with his help. So God promises to be with us and to help us.
When he calls us to a task, his concern is not whether we can do the task or not, but whether we are willing to trust him to bring it about. It is not a matter of whether we have the skills, experience, or strength to do it. It is matter of whether we are willing to trust.
This is the paradox of Christian trustworthiness. It is not a question of whether we are able to do the task, but whether we are willing to believe God can be trusted to work in and through us.

It is not a question of whether or not we are able

In the final analysis, the question, “Can God trust you?” turns around and emerges as a new question, “Do I trust God?”
Trusting God
The stories of Mary and Abraham help us appreciate this critical point. They were trustworthy not because of their ability to do the task but because they trusted God to do it through them. It was in their trust in God that he would make it happened that they showed they were trustworthy.
We live in unsettled times and our churches are facing great challenges. God still calls us to be his witnesses and to be salt and light in our community. Such a task is by nature beyond us and we lack the resources to achieve it. Yet, we need to remind ourselves that we have one in whom we can put our total trust. God is worthy of our trust. He will achieve his purposes through us if we are willing to trust that he can do his work through us.
Like Job of old we can declare, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Or like David we can cry out, I will “trust in Him at all times” (Psalms 6:8) or with Solomon say, “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5). The Bible encourages us to trust God, for in doing so demonstrate we are trustworthy.
This has been the experience of God’s people throughout history, and like them we too face the question, “Will we trust God to do through us what is seemingly impossible?”
Mother TeresaMother Teresa was such a person who God trusted. She once remarked, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” I wonder if you could say they same.
I’d love to know . . .  Do you think you are trustworthy?
Stephen L Baxter

Holidays have come . . . and Gone!

Jenny BaxterIt’s been school holidays in Tasmania these past couple of weeks and I’ve just come back from a week away with my family. Consequently, I’ve had a deliberate break from blog writing this week.
However this evening, Jenny – my lovely wife and blog editor – has uploaded quite a few editorials and another article from my Alive Magazine days. Perhaps you might enjoy reading about my thoughts on the emerging Aussie church back in 2001/2002 (which incidentally haven’t changed a whole lot since then). Or what about some ideas about the nature of pilgrimage?
All good reading I trust.
I’ll be back with some fresh thoughts next Monday!
Stephen L Baxter

Celebrate with those who Celebrate . . .

Sunday was Mother’s Day, a day which this year we celebrate between observing Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
Mother's Day
But unlike Christmas and Easter, Mother’s Day sits on our church calendar with no apparent meaning or context. It is much more part of our Western culture than it is part of following Jesus. Yet, there is no reason why we can’t join with our culture and honour mothers and motherhood.  After all, it gives us the opportunity to fulfil, if only in part, God’s commandment to honour our father and mother.
So on Sunday, I trust you took the opportunity to do just that, whether your mother is living or deceased. Yet, that will be easier some than for others.
Delights vs Realism
Sadly, for many in our community and churches Mother’s Day is a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand it conjures up memories of wonderful family life; of loving marriages and happy children. Thinking of our mothers brings warm and positive emotions to the surface. And when we think of our own children we remember the delights of motherhood.
In an ideal world all of us would have these feelings. In reality, it is true only for some. We can too easy fall prey to the idealised motherhood of TV, greeting cards, and gifts when the reality is that most women, if not all, do not fit these soft-focused fantasies.
The Bible shares this realism. Rachel, Hannah, and Sarah were infertile and experienced great heartache. Eve and Mary lost sons. And Ruth was childless and widowed at a young age. Far from fantasy, the Bible brings sober perspective to motherhood that is much more aligned with the realities of our world.
Today many women will experience motherhood as motherhood deferred due to late childbearing; or motherhood disrupted through divorce; or motherhood lost by infant/child death or miscarriage; and even motherhood unrealised due to infertility or undesired singleness.
Still others, male and female will experience the absence of motherhood due to distance, death, divorce or neglect. Many carry a scar or wound caused by the nurturing they failed to receive. Others will face again the suspicion that there is a link between their current emotional difficulties and their relationships with their mothers.

It is a day for celebrating with those who celebrate, and mourning with those who mourn

Moving on
So despite the ideal of Mother’s Day, there lies close to the surface the reality of a broken world. It is a great day for honouring and celebrating our mothers, but it is good remember this is easier for some than others. It is a day for celebrating with those who celebrate, and mourning with those who mourn.
It is also a day to remember, that despite our experiences and memories, we all have the opportunity to know and experience the love of God. It is as we accept his forgiveness and forgive others, mothers included, that we can move on from the pain and hurt of the past and be part of God’s worldwide family. Here everyone is loved, acknowledged, respected and cared for.
What does Mother’s Day mean to you? Are you able to celebrate with genuine joy and thankfulness? Or have you been scarred by  a difficult past? Either way, may I encourage you to move foward with hope and an attitude of acceptance and forgiveness.
Stephen L Baxter