In a world of approximately 153 million orphans and vulnerable children, the church is uniquely called and equipped to care for these. Having received the love of God and having been adopted by grace into His family, we are now to reflect that love to others––particularly to those who are weak and vulnerable. Based on 1 John 3:1, David Platt encourages us to consider how God might be leading us to care for orphans, whether through adoption or through a variety of other ways.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to open with me to 1 John 3. But before we dive into the Word and an emphasis on orphans and vulnerable children specifically, I want to pause on this Veterans Day weekend to thank the many men and women across this church who have served or are serving now in our Armed Forces. Obviously Veterans Day is a recognition of those who have served, but I know that this congregation is full of men and women who have paid and are daily paying a big price to defend and promote the freedoms we enjoy. For that reason I want to ask those of you who have served, as well as those of you who are serving, to stand so we can thank God for His grace in you. [Cheering and applause.]
The funny thing about asking you to stand is we all want to stand while applauding for you, especially in light of a week like last week when we thought about our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. We are thankful for all you have done and all you are doing. We want to honor you, especially those of you who are part of this church family, as well as those of you who may be visiting with us. Thank you!
We are now nearing the end of a journey through the book of 1 John. We have one more week after today, which means we have one more verse to go in our attempt to memorize 1 John 1 together. So today we are about to review 1 John 1:1-9. This is the final tune-up before the big day next week. I want us to say these nine verses together. If you don’t have these memorized, feel free to read along with us in the Bible. If you do have them memorized, then feel free to resist the temptation to look down. Here we go, all together, 1 John 1:1-9:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Boom! Well done. Nine verses down, one more to go. And what a great verse to memorize—1 John 1:9. God “is faithful and just to forgive you of all your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” That’s good news. That’s worth hiding in your heart.
Much like we focused on the persecuted church last Sunday, today I want to lead us to focus on orphans and vulnerable children on what among many churches has become known as Orphan Sunday or Stand Sunday. Specifically, I want to think about how what we’ve seen in 1 John over the last nine weeks affects and directs our lives in a world where there are 153 million orphans.
Technically, this means these children have lost at least one parent, but included in that number are about 18 million children who have lost both parents. Not included in that number, though, are millions of effectively orphaned children, many who live on the streets, many who—even if a parent is alive—rarely if ever see that parent or experience life in a family. In short, only God knows how many children are without a family in the world right now.
It’s not just in the world far from us, but also right around us—hundreds of them. These are children who are separated from their families, without a stable, permanent home with their mom or dad. What I want to show you in God’s Word today is that the church is uniquely created and called by God to care for orphans and vulnerable children. . In showing you this, I want you to see that God is calling us, McLean Bible Church through all our congregations around Washington, DC, to care for these children.
I want to start today by leading us to pray, asking you to pray with me, that God would speak to our hearts in the next few minutes and that He would show each of us what part He wants us to play in caring for these children. In just a moment I want to ask us to bow our heads together. If I could be so bold, I’m going to ask you to pray a prayer out loud with me. This is a prayer Heather and I are praying coming in to today. I want to challenge every follower of Christ, every member of this church in particular, to pray this as well.
So in just a moment, here’s the prayer I’m going to ask you to pray with me; “O God, my Father, I will do whatever You call me to do to care for orphans and vulnerable children.” That’s the prayer. “O God, my Father, I will do whatever You call me to do to care for orphans and vulnerable children.” To be clear, this is not you committing in this moment to adopt a child or to foster a child. This is committing in this moment to doing whatever God calls you to do to care for these children.
Last week we talked learned that in order to live, you have to die. Today, God is calling you and me to die to our plans for our lives and families, living with His plan for our lives and families. This is a prayer basically saying, “I’ll do whatever You want me to do in that kind of plan, in light of orphans and vulnerable children around me and around the world.” I want to invite you to bow your heads with me and I’m going to start praying. Then I’m going to ask you to repeat after me, if you’re willing to pray that prayer, before we open and listen to God’s words. Let me pray.
O God, we are asking You right now to speak to our hearts all across Metro Washington, DC. We are asking You to make clear to us what You want us to do—individually, in our own families and as a church family—to care for orphans and vulnerable children right around us and all around the world. We offer this prayer together to You right now. (I invite you to repeat after me, if you would be willing to say this.) O God, my Father, I will do whatever You call me to do to care for orphans and vulnerable children. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.
Church, we are uniquely created and called by God to put that prayer into practice. So let me show you two simple truths, starting in 1 John and then resounding all over the Bible.
#1 – We have received the love of God the Father.
This is the passage we studied a few weeks ago: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). To be clear, this is not what we were. We were separated from God by our sin. That is what we were: spiritual orphans, so to speak.
It’s interesting that when people start talking about adoption or care for orphans, it can quickly become a romanticized, almost glamorized picture in people’s minds of sweet, calm, cute children just waiting to be cared for. That’s actually not the picture we have in the Bible which describes us in our sin, separated from God as spiritual orphans. Ephesians 2 describes us, not as sweet, calm or cute, but as rebellious sinners following Satan, the ruler of this world, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, living as objects of wrath.
Russell Moore wrote an excellent book about adoption called Adopted For Life. In it he wrote:
Imagine for a moment that you’re adopting a child. As you meet with the social worker in the last stage of the process, you’re told that this 12-year-old has been in and out of psychotherapy since he was three. He persists in burning things and in attempting repeatedly to skin animals alive. He acts out sexually, the social worker says, although she doesn’t really fill you in on what that means. She continues with a little family history. This boy’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather all had histories of violence, ranging from spousal abuse to serial murder. Each of them ended their own lives.
Think for a minute. Would you want this child? If you did adopt him, wouldn’t you watch nervously as he played with your other children? Would you watch him nervously as he looks at the knife on the kitchen table? Would you leave the room as he watches a movie on TV with your other kids with the lights out? Well, he’s you—and he’s me.
When we read 1 John 1, we need to realize we do not deserve to be called children of God. Ephesians 2 calls us children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. We’re rebels against God with nothing in us to draw God to us. We were separated from God by our sin, deserving eternal separation from Him forever. Yet in spite of our sin, God chose to pursue us. Beginning in Ephesians 1:3, we read this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Though there was nothing in us to draw God to us, brothers and sisters, we have been pursued and adopted by God as His children. God has pursued and adopted us in our sinfulness against Him. Let me remind you: adoption doesn’t happen by accident.
Heather and I, in our family story, didn’t just show up one day in Kazakhstan or China by accident and think, “Huh, maybe we should bring a child home.” No, before Caleb or Mara were ever even born, we were working to adopt them. Anybody who has ever been through an adoption process knows nothing happens overnight. People describe it as a paperwork pregnancy, complete with home studies, getting fingerprinted by every government and civic organization in the entire country to make sure the Rotary Club has nothing against you. You need a physical with a totally clean bill of health.
I remember with Caleb’s adoption we were trying to meet a deadline, so we needed to get our physical in right before that. If we missed this deadline, it was going to postpone us a long time. So we knew we needed to ace the physical. We got in there and there was an eye exam part—I still maintain it was a dimly lit hallway. So I was up first. I got one hand over an eye and I got through a couple lines, but then I was struggling. “C D G…no. C G, no…”
I was getting nervous. I can’t mess this up and postpone this whole thing. I was sweating. The nurse could tell I was flustered, so she said, “Calm down. Why don’t you just try the other eye?” I thought, “Good idea.” The problem was I was so nervous, I was pressing down on that eye. So I took my hand off it and everything was blurry. I couldn’t see a thing from that eye. She said, “Sir, why don’t you just step aside and let your wife go until you get things under control.” I stepped aside and was trying to get my eyes back while Heather was examined. I was looking with both eyes and memorized the chart. I stepped back to the chart, “Oh, yeah. E C G…” Inside I was thinking, “I can do this with both eyes closed. I’m that good.”
You have to meet all these qualifications, then once you fill everything out, you wait and wait and wait. I remember distinctly the day, with both Caleb and Mara, when we first received a picture of them with their information. This is a proud dad thinking back to the day when I first saw Caleb. I remember where I was sitting when I first saw that picture, when I first opened up that email—and similarly with Mara, our daughter from China.
When we saw these pictures, we started the process of planning to go to them. We arrived in the country, we west to visit them, in totally traumatic scenes. I had a pretty romantic vision, of what that first meeting would look like: a little child running up, “Mommy! Daddy!” Not so much.
Put yourself in the shoes of a one-year-old baby being taken from the only place you’ve ever known, placed in the arms of people you’ve never seen, speaking a language you’ve never heard, who look totally foreign to you. That’s very traumatic.
It’s also dramatic. I remember with Caleb that Heather and I went before a judge. I was all dressed up in a suit and tie We had been thoroughly prepped on what would happen in the court proceedings. Heather had one main line that she was supposed to say at the very end. I looked over at her that morning and she was drawing on her hand with a marker. “What are you doing?” She said, “I’m writing down my line so I make sure I get it right.”
So we went to the courthouse on this day that was 17 months in the making for us. The pressure was thick. We walked in with our interpreter. We took our seats. We had a judge, a prosecutor and other court officials in front of us and around us. I stood when the judge asked me to. He asked me questions and I answered them. The prosecutor asked me questions and I answered them.
Then Heather stood and basically had a couple of yes/no questions to answer at that point. But then the judge threw her a curve ball. After she answered a couple yes/no questions, she was supposed to sit down. The judge said, “Do you have anything to add?” The answer was supposed to be no, but I heard her pause, so I looked up and she was panicked. She was looking around. The prosecutor was staring right through her amidst the silence. So I saw my wife in her panic look down at her hand and she started reading her line. It wasn’t time for that line, but she read it anyway. The judge said, “You can sit down now.” We moved on.
Finally, we get to the end. I’m supposed to give a minute-long speech, which I did. [I know that’s also hard for you to believe.] Heather gave her line—again—and the judge made this pronouncement: “We grant this application for adoption of this little boy in Kazakhstan. He now officially belongs to David and Heather Platt.” And he became our son. It was awesome.
I share all of that just to remind you, right where you’re sitting, that the God of the universe has done this for you. Before you were born—not 17 months in the making—before creation, God on high was pursuing you. That’s what Ephesians 1 teaches us. He pursued you far more than just going to the other side of the world—God crossed the border and boundaries of all your sin. He came Himself, in Jesus His Son, and He laid down His life on a cross to adopt you as His child. You have—we have—been adopted by God as His children. It’s not just something that happened in the past. This is the reality we experience now.
That judge’s pronouncement in Kazakhstan and those papers we signed in China were not the end of the story for Heather and me and Caleb and Mara. That was just the beginning of life together as a family, where I get to pour out my love on these kids every day in every way I can.
This is what it means to be adopted by God. It’s not just that Jesus died for you on a cross 2,000 years ago. No, God lives to pour out His love on you today as your Father. We who were once separated from God by our sin have been adopted by God as His children—all possible because of Jesus. Our greatest problem is that we are separated from God, our greatest need is to be reconciled to God and God has done it in the gospel. The gospel is the solution to our crisis.
If you are not a Christian but are exploring Christianity, please hear this. This is the greatest news in the world: God loves you. Though you have sinned against God—we all have—and you deserve separation from God like a spiritual orphan, God has pursued you. He’s come to you in the Person of Jesus. He’s paid the price for all your sin against Him. He has made the way for you to be adopted by Him. So we invite you to believe in and receive that love today in your life. You can become a child of God today by faith in Jesus.
I remember our interpreter in Kazakhstan with Caleb. This is a country marked by Muslim mosques, cold orthodoxy and the remnants of atheistic Russian Communism. On the first day we got there, our interpreter—who became a friend to us in this journey—found out I was a pastor. She was a really smart intellectual. She picked us up at the airport and during our first cab ride she asked, “What do you do?” I told her I was a pastor and she said, “Well, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God and I think God is for the weak. Again, what was your name?”
This began numerous conversations over the next three or four weeks, as we sat at lunch or as we were hanging out in different places. We would dialog about faith in God. “How do you know God exists? How do you know the God of the Bible is the one true God? How do you know Jesus is true? Why would I even need God? Why would I need Jesus?”
I remember one night after she left from a late-night conversation, Heather and I just fell on our faces, pleading for God to open her eyes to Who He is and how much He loves her. We came to our last night. We were standing in the airport, about to go through security before leaving. In those last moments of good-bye, she pulled me aside and said, “David, I just want you to know that two nights ago I decided to place my faith in Jesus.” She had tears coming from her eyes. She said, “I know there is a God. He loves me and I want to love Him.” It was an amazing moment.
A few short minutes later, as we headed toward the plane holding our newly adopted child in our arms, we looked back and waved goodbye to God’s newly adopted daughter there in His arms. The gospel is the solution to our crisis. We have received the love of God the Father.
#2 – We now reflect the love of God the Father.
The second simple truth flows from the first—here in 1 John and all over the Bible. We’ve received the love of God the Father, so we now reflect the love of God the Father. Receive—reflect. We see this over and over again in 1 John. Those who receive God’s love reflect God’s love. Isn’t this what John camps out on in the rest of chapter three, which we studied a few weeks ago? Look down at verse 11: “This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
Then it’s even clearer in verse 16: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Do you see it? Receive His love—He laid down His life for us. Reflect His love—we lay down our lives for others. It’s the same thing we studied in John 4. Look at verse 11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Receive love— reflect love. Verse 19: “We love because he first loved us.” We reflect His love because we’ve received His love. It’s evident in the way we live.
Look back at 1 John 3:17-18: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” The picture is clear all over 1 John. God’s love causes us to give in love out of our resources to others in need.
What is the need? Look around us and see right now multitudes of children separated from family and safety. When you picture orphans and vulnerable children, picture separation from family and safety. There are kids in our counties right now who want and need a mom and dad, who need a home where they are safe, but don’t have anyone willing to take them right now.
Some of them just need a night or two somewhere else, some a week or two, some much longer. Many of them have been neglected due to drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse. Thousands of kids in Virginia, Maryland and the District fall into these categories right now. I know that at least in Virginia, over 850 of these children are waiting, which means they are legally available for someone to adopt them right now. That’s just Virginia—850 kids in need of a home right now who are legally available for adoption. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I know there are hundreds more in Maryland and in the District. That’s in addition to kids far from here.
One of the reasons we have been working as a church in Ethiopia over the last couple years has been because of the orphan crisis there. There are four to five million orphans due to HIV/AIDS, untreated illnesses, hunger, poverty and other causes. They live on the streets. I stood in the middle of them—boys and girls the age of my kids—on the streets, on their own, scraping by, many caught in child labor or sex trafficking rings. The orphanages are not equipped to care for them.
We’re talking multitudes of children here and around the world at this moment, while we sit here, who are separated from family and safety. The reason we need to pause in 1 John and think about this reality is because, brothers and sisters in the church, we have been commanded and equipped by God to care for them. I want us to feel this. God has commanded and equipped us to care for them. This is all over the Bible. Let’s take a quick journey and we’ll see how we’re commanded by God. This is Who our Father is, Who our God is, the God we worship.
- Psalm 68:5, “Father of the fatherless…is God in his holy habitation.”
- Psalm 10:17-18, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed.” This is Who our God is.
- Deuteronomy 10:17-18. “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless.” It only makes sense for this God to say to His people in Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless.” He commands His people, “Bring justice to the fatherless.”
- It’s not just an Old Testament, old covenant, command. In the New Testament, James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans…”
Now, that is a fascinating word there: visit. It’s used 11 times in the New Testament, plus a few times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It’s not just to come and visit someone like saying hello to them and then moving on. It’s deeper than that. It’s to come to someone with the responsibility to care for them. This word is translated in different places in the Old Testament, speaking of how God came to us to save us and how Jesus came to us to redeem us.
At the end of Matthew 25, Jesus says, “When I was poor and in prison, you came to visit Me. When you came to visit people in prison and care for them, you came to care for Me.” The whole picture is going to someone with the responsibility to provide and care for them. This is religion that God accepts. Let that soak in. This is His Word. The religion that our God accepts is not good services with good songs and good sermons. It’s not what James 1:27 says. It’s when My people are visiting, caring for and taking responsibility for orphans. That’s huge. We need to hear this word from God.
That word visit has a couple antonyms—opposites—in the Greek. The opposite would be to forget, to neglect, to ignore, to bypass or disregard. Not to visit is to neglect. What that means is inaction is action. If we do not act to care for orphans and vulnerable children, then we are acting to neglect orphans and vulnerable children. Which leads to the question, “What are we going to do in response to this word from God? Brothers and sisters, what are we going to do as a church? Visit? Care for? Take responsibility for? Or neglect, ignore, disregard the multitudes of children separated from family and safety? We have been commanded by God—and equipped.
This is the beauty. This is not “one size fits all.” I want to be clear. I would not say every follower of Jesus in this church has been commanded to adopt a child. In fact, I would say some of us most definitely do not need to adopt a child. Likewise, I would not say that every follower of Jesus in our church has been commanded to foster a child. In fact, I would say some of us definitely do not need to foster a child.
I don’t have a verse I can go to that says everyone should adopt or foster. But in fact, we have a whole Book that makes clear that our God is Father to the fatherless, Who wants orphans and vulnerable children—every single one of them—to know His love and we all have a part to play in this.
So let me just give you a picture from experience that I’ve walked through with a church before. In the church family I was a part of before I came here, we were walking through James 1. We called up the state department for foster care and adoption and asked, “Do you have any needs?” They just laughed. “Of course we have needs—so many needs.” We asked, “How many families would it take to care for all the kids in our county, to meet all the needs you have?” They laughed again and said, “That would take a lot.” I said, “Just give me a number.” They said, “150.”
We walked through the Word, then we had an informational meeting where we said, “Who wants to help care for these 150 kids in our county?” People started streaming in. That afternoon, over 150 families said, “We want to take care of every child in our county.” So families started fostering. But that was just the beginning, because we quickly realized those families needed help. So we started foster care support groups for those families. We mobilized entire small groups to come alongside those families. We organized small groups to provide meals, run errands, help with tutoring, transport kids to home visits or counseling appointments, create goody bags for long court dates—and a host of other things.
Along the way we realized it’s not just the kids who are in need—it’s parents who struggle to care for their kids, which has led to having kids in foster care in the first place. So we began creating avenues to help those parents get healthy in a way that they could hopefully be reunited with their children. When that wasn’t possible, the child was placed on a list to be adopted. We had families who were ready to do exactly that.
We realized that the church is designed for this. We are designed by the Father to the fatherless for this, in a way that the government is not. I want to be careful here, because I have great respect for women and men who work in this area of our government with long, tireless and oftentimes lonely hours, trying to care for these kids. As the church, we want to tell these workers they are not alone.
I remember at informational meeting, a woman from the state department came to me in tears. She asked, “What made you decide to do this?” I said, “I didn’t decide to do this. God decided these kids are valuable and we’re just an expression of Him. He gets all the credit for this. This is His doing.” We want those government workers, those kids and their parents to know that God is with them. We want to be His hands and feet toward that end, in any way we can. There are so many opportunities and parts to play in this—here and around the world.
Heather and I adopted from Kazakhstan and China. At one point we had started an adoption process from Nepal. We were heartbroken when it fell through at the last minute, when the country closed for adoptions after a long time in that process. We were totally discouraged, because we knew God had put that country on our heart for a reason. So we started working with and giving to a ministry that is helping children all over that country. Our plan was to adopt one little girl from that country, but God used our plans to lead us to care for multitudes of little girls and boys across that country.
So the point is this: you can be sure that when we individually and all together as a church take seriously caring for orphans and vulnerable children, we will have the backing of almighty God, because He is the Father to the fatherless.
I was thinking about this last week when we were talking about Korea. I was reminded that Compassion International and World Vision both started because individual men had a heart for orphans and vulnerable children when they were in Korea. Today, because of what a couple of individuals started, there are billions of dollars going every year to help millions of children around the world.
I think about Naomi and Dr. Z, here in our church. They have a heart for orphans in Ethiopia, they start leading our church’s efforts there, and a year ago three to five kids were dying in that governmental orphanage every single week. Now over the last six months only one child has died, because of what God did in the hearts of a couple in this church.
I want you to be encouraged. Because of how you give on an ongoing basis, there are literally tens of thousands of children right now who are being cared for in all kinds of different ways—not just in Ethiopia, but in different parts of Latin America, in Uganda and different places in the world. I want to encourage us to press in all the more, realizing the gospel is not just the solution to our crisis. The gospel is actually the solution to the orphan crisis.
You’ve got to see this—this is huge. When men and women, separated from God by sin, are pursued and adopted by God as His children, we receive His love—a love that transforms our lives and our families. We are now uniquely compelled to show this kind of love in a world where so many other kids are in need. This is where I want us to see that the greatest care for orphans and vulnerable children is distinctly driven by the gospel. This is not just mere humanitarianism or trendy altruism. I say that, because sometimes people start a process of adoption because they think it seems cool or attractive based on something they saw.
People aren’t saying it out loud, but basically what they’re saying is they like the idea of having an adorable family picture with a cute child to send out in their Christmas cards. Here’s the problem with that. What are you going to do when the child you adopt or the child you foster in your home is not as cute as you were planning? What happens when that child has fetal alcohol syndrome and can’t even sit still in your family picture without having a tantrum? What happens when that child’s mom was addicted to crack cocaine and as a result that child has permanent brain damage that affects their behavior for the rest of their life, and their teenage years are a nightmare for them and for you and your family?
What happens when the years that child has spent in an institutional orphanage or going from house to house to house cause them to not know how to even begin to receive love? So every time you show it, they resist it, because they just don’t know what to do with it? What happens when the child you adopt or foster is dangerous. Mere altruism won’t help in most of those circumstances—but the gospel will.
You know, there was a day when you were a child of wrath, filled with evil desires, unable to control your sinfulness. You were desperately in need of a Savior Who would love you to the depth of your wickedness—and He did. And by His grace, He adopted you as His child. So now when you see a child whom nobody else wants, because nobody else can begin to handle some of the issues found there, you care for that child. Why? Because of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Don’t miss this. In all this talk of care for orphans and vulnerable children, we do not care for orphans and vulnerable children because we are rescuers—good, altruistic people out to be saviors for orphans and vulnerable children in Greater Washington, DC, and around the world. That is not what drives this. We are not rescuers, brothers and sisters. We care for orphans and vulnerable children because we are the rescued. We’re the ones who found ourselves in the mud and mire of sin and death, with nothing in us to attract Jesus to us. Yet He reached down His hand and saved us. He pursued and adopted us.
So now it makes sense for us to love the unlovable, to care for the uncontrollable. It makes sense for us to persevere through long hours, long days, long weeks and long years in the challenges that foster care and adoption might bring. I’m not intending to paint an unnecessarily hard picture here. Around the world, some foster care and adoption processes are as smooth as can be for both the family and the child. But I know families—I can picture some in our church family right now—who can testify that this is not an easy path. I know kids who have grown up as orphans in difficult circumstances and adjusting to a new family has not been easy.
The point is this: regardless of where we were born or what our family background is, we all need the gospel. Not one of us in this gathering today is a rescuer. Jesus is the Rescuer and we all need to be rescued by Him. When He rescues us, it changes everything in a world of orphans and vulnerable children. Because when you’ve been rescued by Christ, you now love very differently from the rest of this world. In the cross, you find power to love when it’s not easy to love, when it costs you financially, emotionally, physically, relationally to love. You love because you’ve been rescued.
So you now hear the cries of children who are unable to sleep tonight because their stomachs are distended with hunger. You now hear the cries of babies shaking in addiction to cocaine in the arms of hospital workers all around the United States, including Virginia, Maryland and the District. You hear the cries of teenagers who are about to be put on the streets for a life of drugs and prostitution. You hear the cries, then everything changes.
For me personally, I had read all the statistics and they’re staggering: thousands, millions of orphans and vulnerable children. As overwhelming as those numbers are, they were still just numbers for me, until we went to Kazakhstan and everything changed. We went to that orphanage and saw children playing outside. I walked past the rooms inside and heard them. All of a sudden, those numbers on a page came alive in our hearts. We realized it was Caleb sleeping in one of those cribs. It was Caleb who was included in those numbers. They became real and personal very quickly.
I didn’t just have a number—I now had a name. I learned that orphans are easier to not think about until you know their names, until you see their faces and hear their voices. They’re easier to forget until you hold them in your arms. But once you do that, everything changes. People of God, church family, God is calling us in His Word to get to know their names, to look into their faces, to listen to their voices and to hold them in our arms.
This is why I believe God is calling all of us, individually and together, to pray, “O God, my Father, I will do whatever You call me to do to care for orphans and vulnerable children.” No matter how old or young we might be, He is calling us to pray that and then just see what the Father to the Fatherless does. I want to invite you to watch this story with me of a family who has walked and is now walking this journey.
Clinton: We are Clinton and Missy and we’ve been going to McLean for about ten years. We live in Tysons. I help run a software business.
Missy: I did the marketing, up until more recently when I became a stay-at-home mom, a foster mom. We started trying to seek fertility treatment, but literally it was like each month something was wrong.
Clinton: I just had this idea in my head that within a year Missy would get pregnant and we’d start the family. When it didn’t work out that way, it was like, “What’s wrong with me? Is there something wrong?” We both came together and said, “You know what? We’re supposed to have a family, we believe. If not, and that’s the Lord’s will, then that is going to be fine with us. But we think we’re supposed to. Even in the midst of that, one of the hard things we went through is Missy got pregnant. I can remember her coming to me saying, “I think something’s wrong.” I didn’t know what to do.
Missy: After that, though, the Lord was so close to us through the miscarriage.
Clinton: As far as how I used to think about foster care and adoption and folks who did that and were parents, I thought they were awesome heroes. I had a huge heart for them, but I never thought, “Oh, that’s my burden. That’s something I should be doing.” It wasn’t until Missy came to me and opened my eyes up to saying, “Hey, we’re not moving. We are standing still and we need to be moving.”
Missy: We felt clear God was moving us this way, but we weren’t doing anything active to either learn more about the process or pursue anything because we didn’t know anything. I remember at the time there were a few countries we were sort of thinking about and through that, Uganda was really put on my heart. At the time, we had not set foot in Uganda or anywhere in Africa. We didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like or where we were going to end up. We didn’t know where our kids were or even if they were born yet, but we really started to see the Lord move and guide us when we started to take action.
As it was becoming clear that the Lord was closing the door to Uganda, the next place we felt the strongest about was actually foster care. Honestly, the more we learned about foster care and kids in foster care, we started realizing they’re often overlooked or even seen as undesirable. I mean, that’s not Jesus’ heart for them, and it was becoming not our heart for them either.
Clinton: We just kept going through the time period, just waiting, knowing I could get a phone call at work and life would change. We got a phone call last year.
Missy: There was a baby girl at the hospital who was in need of care. I mean, I’m trying to remember what details we were given in that call. We were trying to listen to the details, but at the same time we were also trying to pray, “Lord, just guide our steps.” I don’t even know how many details we knew, but we said, “Yes.” Two hours later—it was probably 7:30 or 8:00 that night—we were suddenly parents of a two-month-old.
Clinton: We were doing the night shift that night. Life completely changed for us. We’re working through it with the county. We have placement workers in our house on a monthly basis, along with social workers and court case workers. That’s foster care.
After we had our daughter for a few months, we got a surprise call that her biological brother— who was already in foster care—was in need of a home and they wanted to get the family together. They wanted the brother and sister to grow up together. They actually called and said, “Hey, would you be willing?” We’re like, “Yes!” We became parents shortly thereafter of a three-year-old, which was a whole ‘nother experience, learning what it’s like to get thrown into parenting a three-year-old.
Missy: We’re just a normal couple and God put the desire in our heart to have a family. We had a plan for that, yet He had a much different—and so much better—plan. We can now look back and say infertility was actually a blessing in our life because otherwise He would never have led us to the kids we have right now. I just can’t even imagine anything different. Through hardship and struggle, God is good through all of it and He’s with us through all of it.
David: That’s one story of God’s leadership. I just can’t help but wonder how many other stories He is weaving together. My only hesitation in that story, because it’s similar to mine and Heather’s, is for us not to think, “Okay, so adoption or foster care is for those who can’t have children biologically or who struggle with infertility.” That’s not what the Bible says. I praise God for that difficult road in our family’s journey, and their Clinton’s journey, that led to this—but that’s not the only way to get to this. Here’s what I want to invite you to do. Hopefully when you came in you received a card with Stand Sunday on the back of it. There are seven days of prayer, during which I want to call us as a church to pray specifically for orphans, vulnerable children and for whatever part God wants us to play in this.
So pray on a daily basis, “God, my Father, I will do whatever You want me to do to care for these orphans and vulnerable children. What do You want me to do?” Just see what He does. We’re going to have an informational meeting here in a couple weeks. If you come to this meeting, it doesn’t mean you’ll be walking away with a child or multiple children. This is a meeting for you to ask, “Maybe adoption—what would that look like? Maybe foster care—what would that look like? Or maybe we can support families who are adopting or doing foster care?” How many families would love to sign up on a list to bring Pampers over on the night that a family like that gets a call, saying, “We’re here to help.” There are so many different ways this could play out. Here’s what I want to invite us to do right now. During our time this summer in Ethiopia, one of our members wrote a song—and Thomas put music to it—which depicts some of the thoughts and emotions connected to serving kids in the orphanage there. I asked Thomas if he’d be willing to lead us in that and to lead us in a time of prayer. I want to invite you to look at the lyrics here, but let them drive you to prayer as you just say, right where you are, “God, what do You want me to do? I’ll do whatever You want me to do. Are You calling us to adopt, to foster, to care in any number of ways?”
How can we apply this passage to our lives?
How is it true that we all were once spiritual orphans?
Why is the temptation to romanticize adoption unhelpful?
What does it mean for us to be adopted by God? How have we been given the right to be His children?
Why must the love we have received in Christ compel us to care for the vulnerable?
How are you prayerfully considering what role God has for you to play in caring for the parentless?
The church is uniquely created and called by God to care for orphans and vulnerable children.
We have received the love of God the Father
1 John 3:1
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” We were separated from God by our sin.
Ephesians 1:3 – 6
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
We have been pursued and adopted by God as His children.
The gospel is the solution to our crisis.
We now reflect the love of God the Father
1 John 3:11
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
1 John 3:16
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
1 John 4:11
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
1 John 4:19
“We love because he first loved us.”
1 John 3:17 – 18
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Multitudes of children are separated from family and safety.
We have been commanded and equipped by God to care for them.
“Father of the fatherless . . . is God in his holy habitation.”
Psalm 10:17 – 18
“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed . . .”
Deuteronomy 10:17 – 18
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless . . .”
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless . . .”
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans . . .”
“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’”
“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
“Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them.”
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people . . .”
“Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’”
“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.”
“Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.”
“And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’”
Matthew 25:31 – 36
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”
The gospel is the solution to the orphan crisis.
We do not care for orphans and vulnerable children because we are rescuers. We care for orphans and vulnerable children because we are the rescued