Feasting with the Fatherless

Exhausted. That was one of two words you could use to sum up how I felt. Exhausted—and completely happy. It happened this way every year. Ten days of Christmas programs, feeding people, helping elderly women with their coats, and helping them on and off of buses. Singing, laughing, working. Food and dishes and more dishes and more food and…I’ve never seen so many mashed potatoes or so much beet salad in all my life!!! But, oh, how blessed I was to have the joy of blessing others.

Over the ten years that I lived in Moscow, I only spent one Christmas back in the States. Every other year, I stayed at the orphanage and participated in our unusual Christmas tradition. Ten days of busing in retired educators for a meal and a Christmas program. Nearly 3,000 people came every year, mostly women who were widowed and incredibly poor. We weren’t able to follow up with all of them between Christmases, but in some cases we could, and that just extended the blessing.

It was a feast for them: soup, potatoes, soda, beet or carrot salad, a piece of chicken, bread, bananas and mandarin oranges (both of which at some point ended up in purses, secreted away for the journey home), all finished off with tea and a light dessert. It was a time to talk, to fellowship, to sing, to laugh—a time to forget the dark loneliness and oppression of life.

Our goal, of course, was to bless them and to share Christ with them. But in reality we received as much of a blessing from what we were doing as they did. Blessing others is not a joy simply because we’re making someone happy. Blessing others brings joy because it is God’s plan. Blessing others is important to God, so it should be important to us.

Samovar

In last week’s blog, I mentioned that the Old Testament specifically speaks of inviting the fatherless to certain feasts. This week, I want us to look a little closer at what God says about this.

In Deuteronomy, God laid out specific times when His people were to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite by including them in their feasts as well as in their harvesting and tithing. (Today’s passages are lengthy. To save space, I have provided links to each reference.)

  1. A time of tithing – Deuteronomy 14:22-29; 26:12,13
  2. The Feast of Weeks – Deuteronomy 16:9-12
  3. The Feast of Tabernacles – Deuteronomy 16:13-17
  4. In the course of Harvest – Deuteronomy 24:17-22

From reading these passages, we see that God clearly wanted His people to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite. In doing so, not only were they allowing them to participate in the solemn feasts and worship that God had ordained but they were also providing for them.

God didn’t just give them this command and leave them with what might have been a burden. He also promised His blessings upon His people for their obedience in this matter. Blessings which, unless we’ve studied them out, might get hidden in our apprehension of trying something new and possibly overwhelming. Here are just four areas of blessing:

  1. God will bless the work of their hands – Deuteronomy 14:28,29
  2. The feasts will be a time of rejoicing – Deuteronomy 16:11,14
  3. This practice provides a reminder of their redemption from bondage – Deuteronomy 24:17-22
  4. It gives them the confidence that they are in right standing before God and can seek His blessing upon themselves – Deuteronomy 26:12-15

Even as He promised to bless them for caring for the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite, He had some promises in store for when they did not care for them. In a blog post from several years ago, I referred to them as the “bookend” promises because one comes at the beginning of God’s conversation about these people in the books of the law, and the other comes at the end. Both are important:

  1. If you afflict them, I will kill you with the sword – Exodus 22:22-24
  2. If you pervert their judgment (i.e. deal unjustly with them and their cause), I will curse you – Deuteronomy 27:19

Gulp. I enjoy stories about knights in shining armor, wielding their swords on the behalf of the weak, but something tells me that being on the pointed end of the sword wielded by God would not be enjoyable. We know, we all know, that when God says something, He means it. But does any place in Scripture play out the seriousness of keeping these feasts with the fatherless and their counterparts?

Consider Isaiah chapter 1. Here God specifically deals with Israel’s feasts, which He has come to hate. Hate is actually a soft word. They are an abomination to Him. His soul hates them. They trouble Him, and He is weary to bear them. When Israel spreads their hands in worship, He will hide His eyes. When they pray, He will not hear because their hands are full of blood. So what does he tell them to do about it? (Isaiah 1:16-18)

  1. Wash and make yourselves clean.
  2. Put away the evil of your doings.
  3. Cease to do evil.
  4. Learn to do well.
  5. Seek Judgment.
  6. Relieve the oppressed.
  7. Judge the Fatherless.
  8. Plead for the widow.
  9. Come and reason together with the Lord – though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Later in the book of Isaiah, God deals with their fasts. Here the Lord does not specifically mention the fatherless, however, He does mention the oppressed, which are a counterpart of the fatherless. He also mentions the hungry, the poor, and the naked. Since the fatherless are four times as likely to be poor they will most definitely fall into this category. Here’s what God says in Isaiah 58:5-7,

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”

God is not pleased with their fasts anymore than He was pleased with their feasts because their focus is so far off. In their time of fasting, He wants their focus to be on others, specifically on those who are suffering.

But again, God does not throw that out there and leave it as a weighty burden. He promises blessings with it (Isaiah 58:8-14):

  1. Your light will break forth as the morning.
  2. Your health will spring forth speedily.
  3. Your righteousness will go before you.
  4. The glory of the Lord will come behind you.
  5. You will call, and the Lord will answer.
  6. You will cry out, and He will say “Here I am.”
  7. The Lord will guide you continually.
  8. He will satisfy your soul in drought.
  9. He will make your bones fat.
  10. You’ll be like a well-watered garden.
  11. The waste places will be rebuilt.
  12. You will delight in the Lord.
  13. You will ride upon high places.

That’s a lot of blessings compared to the sorrow of meeting the tip of God’s sword!

It might be easy to look at this, consider that it is written in the Old Testament and say that it does not apply to us today. But we would be remiss in doing so. God did not spend a lot of time on this in the New Testament. He didn’t need to, after all He’d laid ALL this ground work in the Old Testament. It only took one well-placed verse, James 1:27

James didn’t need to go into great detail. He was writing to Jews who had the background already laid out for them, and Jesus had set the example practically throughout His earthly ministry. James simply needed to remind his readers, “Hey, look back over history, look back over God’s establishment of the law and the carrying away into captivity. This is what God was looking for, this is what GOD deems to be pure religion (worship).”

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

In reality, James 1:27 is just a summary of Isaiah 1:16-18. We’re not talking about salvation here. We’re talking about pure religion, the purest form of carrying out our worship. It has two points:

  1. Visit the fatherless and the widow,
  2. Keep yourself unspotted from the world.

That’s it. But that is the importance of blessing the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and in our case those who are serving in ministry. It’s a command that is met with a sword if not kept and with great blessing when we obey it.

It isn’t Christmas (even if Hallmark does want us to celebrate Christmas in July). It isn’t Easter. But we are nearing the harvest, and it is always a time of tithing. So let me ask you this: What can you or your family or your church do to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and even those who have given up everything to go out and serve the Lord. How can you “feast” with them? The events I shared about at the beginning of this blog are unique. Most of us cannot put on such an elaborate affair, but we can do something. Which of these people sits in your pews, lives on your street, works at your job, or is supported by your church? That is your sphere of influence. These are the ones within your gates. How can you bless them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, and I’d love to hear what you do as you carry out this last Growing Together challenge of blessing the fatherless. We don’t have to do this alone. Conversation is one of the best ways to grow in an area that is new and challenging to us. Please feel free to share via our blog, our Facebook group, email, or even by phone. We want to learn together.

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A Single Mom’s Greatest Asset

If you met her at a grocery store, you would never know. You would never know that she is a widow, that she has adopted children out of desperate situations, and fostered still dozens more. She is joyful, strong, and her blue eyes flash with a courage that is rare in our world. She is a single mom, not because she set out to be one, but because she became one with the loss of her husband. She is a single mom because she saw the needs of the children whose parents had cast them aside or were unable to care for them. She is a single mom because she had the courage to do for others what many will not. But when I interviewed her for the Growing Together campaign and asked this woman about her greatest personal assets in facing the struggles that single-parenting, -adopting, and -fostering brings, she said this,

“God putting the right people in our lives at the right time.”

In other words:

You.

You and I are her biggest assets, whether we (or she) knows it yet or not.

Channels of Blessings

A few days after our conversation, I spoke over the phone with another single mom. She was busy, waiting for an appointment to begin. Our conversation was a bit rushed at first, but before we’d gotten past the first question (Can you tell me a little about yourself and your story?) she was saying, “Sometimes, I just need someone to do boy things with my son.” A few minutes later, she was saying, “I need to have that older woman who can teach the younger women. You don’t realize how much you need that until you don’t have anyone.”

Sure she mentioned juggling finances and time and schedules. She even said she needed eight arms! She mentioned the struggles of homeschooling as a single mom. But more than anything, she emphasized the need for godly people in their lives. People who can encourage, be just a phone call away, even if it’s just so she can talk things through.

And so my friends, once again—YOU and I placed in her life by God are her biggest assets.

As I talked with both of these ladies, the greatest need they face is also the greatest need we face at FTN—the need for people to walk with them. People who will follow God’s command to step out of their comfort zone, out of sleeve-brushing distance, and right smack into the middle of their lives—no matter how messy.

They mentioned the need for mentors, for someone to help with yard work and house repairs and car maintenance, for men to do boy stuff with the fatherless and women to do girl stuff with the motherless. They mentioned the need for those who can give solid, Biblical financial guidance, people who would be willing to help with back to school shopping (Not the paying for it, the logistics of getting it all done!), the need for babysitters, tutors, and even for just a note of encouragement.

Often we look at the needs of the fatherless, of the millions of orphans, of the hundreds of thousands of children in foster care and we think, “What is the answer? What will make a difference?” The answer is simple.

It’s you.

It is God living His love, picturing His redemptive plan through you and through me.

Perhaps you don’t feel you have much.

God used a little boy’s lunch to feed a multitude!

Perhaps you don’t feel qualified.

If you survived childhood, you must have some wisdom to impart!

Perhaps you don’t know what talents you have to offer.

God will show you! He is the giver of talents after all.

If you have followed our blog, emails, or Facebook group for long, you know there is a need. If you have followed Scripture very long, you know we are responsible to meet it. Change is possible, and it may require sacrifice on our parts; but in considering the earthly sacrifice let us not forget the eternal reward. We have shared many things over the last two months, ways that you can minister to the fatherless and even ways that you can help us minister to the fatherless if you are unable to get involved personally. We have more to come over the next two weeks, but the question is this, you’ve seen the need, you’ve seen that it’s our responsibility, we’ve shown that change is possible, and we’ve seen that we—each one of us—are the biggest assets to this ministry…

Are you ready to step out in faith and obedience?

This week’s challenge, once again, is a simple one. But it’s a great place to start obeying God in this area of worship and ministry. In the Old Testament, God set up several feasts when the people were to gather together and celebrate what God had done for them. At those feasts, God required the people to invite the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, and the Levites that were within their gates. These guests who had little or nothing to give in return were to enjoy the feast with those who had plenty. So my challenge for you this week is this,

What can you do to bless a fatherless family, a foster family, or a family of non-parental guardians raising minor relatives?

It doesn’t have to be big. It might just be a note of encouragement or a small gift to commemorate a memory you share with them, or it might be something more. Maybe it will be a feast. Let the Lord lead you, but whatever you do, don’t be afraid. God always gives us the grace, courage, and resources to obey Him.

May the Lord make you a channel of blessings.

A Time For Praise

It’s easy to get discouraged in this life, and no less in this work that God has called us to. The constant pressures, difficult situations, uncertainties, and heartache of watching the struggles others are facing can wear a person down pretty fast. To be honest, I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately. Little discouragements here and there added to bigger discouragements or disappoints all pile up to a cloudy perspective even on our beautiful 100 degree days.

Purple Umbrella

Every Thursday morning, Marta and I meet for a special time of prayer. Of course, we pray separately for various needs across the ministry and in our respective churches throughout the week, but Thursday mornings are special. This morning, as I was rushing across town to get to the office, I was thinking about our prayer time and about the heaviness in my heart, and I realized today needed to be a little different.

Sometimes, we need to make a conscious effort to praise the Lord for what He is or has been doing in our lives and ministries. Today we decided that our prayer time would be a time of praise. Rather than making a prayer list, we made a praise list, but it didn’t quite go as we planned.

We would write down a couple of items, and then one of us would kind of groan and say, “Did I tell you about this?” And our spirits would drop as we discussed a serious situation that has come up in the past few days. We’d forge on, write down a few other things for which we are truly grateful, and a text message would come, describing a horrible situation, which seems to be heading in all the wrong directions. We’d write a few more things, which led to discussion of some of the personal struggles that stem out of the choice to follow the Lord in this ministry. Then we’d get back to our list and try once again to focus on the abundance of things God has done for us. This pattern just kept repeating itself until finally Marta said, “It’s really hard to focus on praising when we keep getting ourselves down again.”

It might sound laughable. In fact, it sounds like something I might say if I were trying to lighten up a situation, but there was nothing funny in the statement. We both sat there in tears having just heard of children who have been abused and neglected, hurt emotionally, physically, and spiritually, children whose parents chose abusive partners over the wellbeing of their little ones, and a system that moves so slowly that weeks go by without solutions. Instead of bringing joy, our time so far had just made everything raw.

But then we finished our list, began to pray—and the room changed. Oh, not physically. The furniture didn’t move or anything. No, the spirit in the room changed because stepping into God’s presence and verbalizing our praise is a mighty weapon against discouragement. By the time we were finished, our hearts were much lighter. Prayer changes things, but so does praise! What were we praising Him for? Here are just a few of things from our list:

  1. Earlier this week, the Lord allowed me to reconnect with a single mom that we have ministered to in the past!!!
  2. We found out this morning that a spot may be opening up at a live-in facility for a single mom in desperate need of a safe home and a community that will point her toward Christ!!!
  3. Yesterday, we had 16 new members added to the Faceboook group, which always excites us!
  4. One of the women we have been working with has just had the adoption of her first child reversed and now has custody of her daughter.
  5. In reflecting on what God has done over the past few months, we looked back at the Green Bean Project and how God took this little ministry and channeled over $1700 to three missionaries and their works in other countries as well as providing $500 for the local single moms ministry!
  6. We looked back at how God led and provided in the planning and carrying out of the Forum on Fatherlessness. It was amazing!!!
  7. We reflected on the fact that God has given clear direction in the weekly Bible studies, so often making the topic of discussion exactly what was needed for some situation or another!
  8. We thanked Him for the joy of the study that Marta, Yvonne, and my mom and I have been doing each week. We have all learned so much and grown in the way we approach ministry.
  9. We praised Him that we still have an office and a real presence in this building. (I no longer have to move all of the ministry stuff from my bed to my desk to my floor and back again.) All of our bills are paid! We’ve made all of our reserves but one! And in the last couple of months, God has brought in a set of shelves, an office chair, and several unexpected gifts of office supplies!
  10. I praised Him for His provision for me. It’s been eleven months since I left my job and stepped out by faith. I had one month’s worth of living expenses saved up, but God has met every need for eleven months!
  11. God has burdened the hearts of two people to partner with the ministry!
  12. We praised Him for the volunteers who have helped in the clothing exchange, in gathering resources for developing courses, and in helping us transport various items that won’t fit in my Swift from one end of town to the other!
  13. We praised Him for the opportunity to walk alongside of a family helping a girl who had been cast off by her own family and to maintain the relationship when the Lord moved her to another part of the country.

SO MANY THINGS for which to praise Him! Sometimes it feels like we are making so little progress, like things are not moving as we would like—but God is always working. When we stop to praise Him, we realize how much He has done.

Are you feeling discouraged? How can you praise the Lord today?