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Preaching on Social Issues in Our Communities

Wade through the murky waters of contemporary social issues with wisdom, grace, love, and passion.

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Commentary by Matt Woodley, Editor of Preaching Today

Spirit of Adoption—Found

Just as we have been adopted by God, adoption and foster care of vulnerable children is a calling of the church.

Introduction

I. The Fairytale and the Reality

II. The Bible on Adoption

III. Adoption into the Family of God

IV. Living Out the Spirit of Adoption

Conclusion

Introduction

So it’s 11 in the morning, and a little boy is called to the head teacher’s office. Sadly, this little boy knows the way very well because he’s been to the head teacher’s office quite a few times. He’s five years old. He’s knocking at the door, and the head teacher opens it, and this time she has a really soft and gentle voice. She asks him to sit down because she’s got some difficult news for him. “At the end of the day, I’m really sorry, you’re not going to be able to go home; you’re going to go with this lady. She’s called a social worker, and she’s going to take you to another family.” “But how long am I going to be there?” “Well, we’re not sure but just until it’s safe.” “Can I go and say goodbye to Mom and Dad?” “Well, you will see Mom and Dad again but not today.” “Can I go and say goodbye to my sister?” “Well, you will see your sister soon but not today.” “Can I pat the dog?” “No, not today.” “What about my stuff?” “Well, your stuff will be brought here.”

So this little boy, five years old, gets taken by the social worker, and she does a great job of trying to calm him down and make him feel okay. She puts him in her car, and she drives him to my house. And there he is on the doorstep. All he’s got is his swimming kit and his lunch box. Around his neck, there are some kind of visual tags that tell him to sit nicely and watch the teacher and do what she says. And he is not happy; he is not at peace. Every sinew in his body seems to be taut. He’s angry and confused.

Sadly, this little boy is not alone.

Every 22 minutes in the UK, a child experiences something like that—they’re taken into care. Most of the kids that have come into care, something catastrophic has happened to them. Seventy percent of the children in care in the UK have experienced neglect, physical abuse, or sexual violence. Most children that come into care, 60 percent, never go home again. The situation at home is often really difficult and chaotic, and often circular, actually. A lot of the people who have children removed from them have themselves been in care and therefore haven’t had the best experiences in life.

Now, why do I tell you that story? That’s the story that’s going on right across the nation. It’s happened here in Witness; it’s happening right across the UK. The stories don’t have to always end badly. Maybe you know this story from a galaxy far far away.

The Fairytale and the Reality

Two children are born into a family where there’s rife domestic violence, and it’s so dangerous for them that they are separated and adopted into other families. One, the girl, gets brought up in a well-to-do family and actually enters public service because she wants to make a difference after the bad things that happened in her life. The little boy, he grows up in a farming family and eventually enters military service, and actually becomes a hero, saving not just his planet but the galaxy. Does it remind you of any story that you might know? Anybody? It’s the Star Wars story, isn’t it? In the Star Wars story, orphans can become heroes. We believe that a child’s difficult start does not need to write their future. We think they can actually become resilient. We think they can change the universe. We think their bad experiences can actually equip them for a life making an impact. And actually think of the number of stories that you know from the cinema. Harry Potter was an orphan and he was raised up in foster care and yet he goes on to save the world. Frodo is brought up by his uncle in Lord of the Rings. Spiderman was orphaned and brought up by his auntie. Batman was orphaned and somehow brought up by his butler. James Bond was an orphan and yet somehow saves the world. Our culture believes that your history does not need to determine your future. Our culture believes that people from the most difficult backgrounds can come and make an impact.

Sadly, the reality is often different. That little boy standing in my lounge, the statistics are against him. Calling to the best results and surveys we’ve got, most children that leave care don’t enter education, employment, or training. In some areas, it’s 30 percent—in other areas, it’s 70 percent—of sex workers in the UK are young women that have aged out of care. In the UK prison situation, we have 50 percent of the under-25 male prisoners are young men that have aged out of care. Care leavers make up 1 percent of the population but 25 percent of the homeless population.

Now, church, we believe that God has compassion and care for those who are most vulnerable and most marginal, and I’ve been astounded as I look to the church across the UK. We care about people in prison, we care about people that are homeless, and we care about people that are caught in sexual exploitation. But I say, church, why do we wait? Why do we wait to help until these people are older, until they’ve been through the system, been churned up by it and spat out the other end? Why do we wait then? Why don’t we help that five-year-old that’s standing in my lounge? Why don’t we help his life to be different because of grace and compassion and love and permanence? Wouldn’t that make a difference?

So church, I have a simple thing to ask you: Would you at least examine your heart and see if God might be prompting you to provide a home and love and hospitality to vulnerable children in your city? That’s all we are asking. You might say, “Oh, that’s interesting, Krish. That sounds interesting. It’s about social justice, and I do care about that sort of stuff, but is it really important? We are in church. Does this really matter to God?”

The Bible on Adoption

I want to show you from the Bible why it really matters. If you’ve got a Bible, you can open up at Galatians 4. Now, let me give you a bit of context. Paul is writing to a church in modern-day Turkey. Back then it was called Asia Minor, which I really like because I’m Asian and I’m quite minor, so I feel kind of connected with this part of the Bible. Paul is trying to explain to a church that’s getting confused about the Good News. You see, some people have come along and said, “Well, to really be part of God’s family you have to either be Jewish or act Jewish. You have to obey all the Old Testament laws and then you’ll be okay.” Paul uses this metaphor to explain why that isn’t quite the case. Let me read it to you.

Paul says, “What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father” (Gal. 4:1–2). So Paul is saying this: In the Old Testament there are these incredible promises. They are like an inheritance. And when you come of age, you have just incredible riches at your disposal. But while you’re underage, those promises can feel like guardians are pushing you down. They’re a bit like the Old Testament law is holding you captive rather than giving you what God intended. So Paul says, “Look, it’s great being Jewish. You have all these wonderful promises, but until you know Jesus, you’re going to feel enslaved by the laws rather than released into an inheritance.” Then he extends it a little bit. Look what he says.

Verse 3: “So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.” So he’s saying, “we.” In other words, whether you’re Jewish or not, all of us have experienced some form of slavery. Maybe you can think back to a time before you became a Christian, or maybe you are currently on a journey to think about Christianity. Well, are there things in your life that are holding you captive? It could be a relationship, it could be a substance, or it could be habits you can’t seem to break free of. Paul says actually all of us are enslaved. And it wasn’t just the stuff that was going on in our bodies or in our communities; it was something spiritual going on there. We were all in slavery, either to the Jewish law or to the spiritual forces. But God did not leave us like that. That could have been the end of the story, couldn’t it? We were enslaved, got ourselves in this mess, and tough luck. We’ve got to have tough love here. Bad things happen to bad people. No, God does not leave us like that. Look where it goes next.

“But …” I love it. I love when God tells how bad things are and then he introduces a “but.” Ephesians 2 does the same: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins,” but God is going to do something. What’s he going to do? “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Redemption is the idea that you were in slavery and someone buys you to set you free. That is a beautiful picture of what it means to become a Christian. Once I was a slave; now I’m free. That’s amazing. But that is not where this Bible passage finishes. It wasn’t enough for God to free you. He wanted to do more.

Here’s a little question, church, I’ve got for you. I’ve done this in other churches. I’ll be honest, the last church I did it in was an Anglican church, okay, and they did quite well at this. I’m going to watch you to see if you can kind of meet their abilities. There’s no pressure, just the reputation and honor of the church in this particular area, so don’t feel any pressure about this. When people explain the Good News to you, the gospel, they often talk about forgiveness or freedom or rescue, and all these are wonderful things about being a Christian. You’re freed; you’re rescued; you’re forgiven. That is wonderful. But we very rarely talk about being adopted.

Adoption into the Family of God

What does adoption give you in your relationship with God that you don’t get just from being forgiven, freed, and rescued? That’s the question. Here are four ways that our adoption changes and deepens our intimacy with God.

First, adoption gives us a new birth. You get a brand new start. That is true. Adoption gives you a new family, doesn’t it? Not just maybe a new identity. Think about it this way. Before I came here this morning, you didn’t know me. So relationally, we were at zero. Is that fair? If you never met me, never knew anything about me, relationally we are at zero. And then I turn up at this amazing church, and I’m wearing a secondhand jacket that I got from a charity show and secondhand shoes. Now, you might feel a bit insulted that I didn’t dress up for the occasion. I’m using thrift store stuff to come to you. You might think this is a crime against fashion as well. You’d be right, actually; I think the shirt is secondhand too. So if we were at zero and then I insult you with my clothes, we are now at minus ten. But you look like a friendly bunch. So you might choose to forgive me. If you forgive me my wrongdoing, we are back at zero again, aren’t we? Now, when we talk about being forgiven from God, it is amazing, isn’t it? If God was keeping a list of your sins, it’s like he burned it and threw it away because of what Jesus did for you. God says, “Never mind all the sin.” But that’s not where God leaves it. We’re not at zero relationship-wise with God, are we? We are now his. We have a new status. We’re his sons and daughters that we weren’t before. You only get that through adoption. You don’t get that from forgiveness. Does that make sense? That’s really good. Okay, you can have one point for that.

Over here. Is there a reply? Belonging. That’s right. Think about this. One of my favorite movies of all time is called The Shawshank Redemption. I don’t know if you’ve seen that film. It’s an amazing film. You do need to be 18 to see it or have really good ears because it’s got quite a lot of bad language, so I can’t recommend it to everybody. But in the middle of the film, it tells a story of a guy called Brooks. Brooks has grown up in prison. He was arrested at a young age. He spent most of his life in prison, and then one day, because he served his time, Brooks is allowed to go free. He goes out into the public. They give him a terrible job bagging groceries for people, and his manager is terrible, and he misses being in prison. So he thinks about robbing the shop he’s in, just so that he can go back with his mates and he can stick it to his manager. Well, in the end of this mini story, Brooks actually ends his life because although he’s free, he doesn’t belong anywhere. Does that make sense? Friends, you were set apart to be freed from our addictions and our slavery, but that wasn’t enough. It’s not enough to be free. You were freed to belong to God forever, to be part of his family. He’s never given up on you. He’s never letting you go. No matter how bad things get, God is going to stick with you.

Do you know why so many kids that leave care end up homeless? It’s because, look, if something disastrous happened to you—say all your money ran out, say you got ripped off, say you got addicted to something, say you got ill—there are people in your life, I’m betting, who would pick you up and take you in, no matter how bad it got on them. There are people that would pick you up and stop you ending up homeless. Kids in care don’t have that. When stuff goes wrong, they’ve got nowhere to go. And that’s why they end up homeless. Friends, you were born to be set free from sin but to belong to God’s family forever. Brilliant.

That’s one all. We’ll see if there’s a winner. Anyone else got anything else we could say about adoption? Yes, freedom from sin, freedom from our past, that’s right. Freedom in ability to belong, that’s good. Anything else?

Guidance. Yeah, God wants to be your Father. He wants to take responsibility for you. He wants to make sure that you’re going to be okay. Look, let me ask you this. Has anyone here ever been rescued by an emergency service? It could be an ambulance, fire brigade. You have? Was it a pretty difficult situation you got out of? Yeah. Are you really grateful for what happened to you? Yeah? Okay, we won’t go into the details. Was it an ambulance or was it a fire brigade? It was an ambulance. And was it a long time ago? Two and a half years ago, living memory. Okay, not meaning to put you on the spot. What was the name of the paramedic or the ambulance driver that came to rescue you? Gary. Good. Are you still in touch? No. This was a life-changing experience where you were rescued from something terrible. It’s great you know his name—most people don’t know the name of their rescuer—but you’re not really in touch. So Christmas cards, no. Sunday lunch, no. Christmas dinner, no. Interesting. I did this once at a conference and someone put their hand up and said, “Yeah, I was run over and then an ambulance man came to rescue me and I am still in touch. In fact, here he is. I married him.” That’s unusual, and you’ve done well remembering his name. But listen to this. Rescue doesn’t always lead to relationship, does it? We want rescue from God. “God, I’m in a mess. I’m in the miry pit. I can’t get out. Help, God.” And God lifts us up, picks us up, and then takes us home. He wants us to belong to him. He wants to take responsibility for us. He wants to be our Father. He wants to guide us and shape us in life.

Do you see how precious adoption is? Absolutely beautiful, isn’t it? It gives you all the things that you value most about a relationship with God actually, doesn’t it? It gives you intimacy with the Father. It gives you Jesus as a brother. It gives you the Holy Spirit confirming your identity. It gives you belonging into church. It gives you security.

There’s one that you missed that was up here. Did you see it at the bottom? Verse 7: “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” You have an inheritance.

I met a family in South Africa. They are lifers; they’re going to live in South Africa for the rest of their lives. South Africa has millions, sadly, of orphans because of the AIDS epidemic. And this family had birth children, but they decided to adopt a child. Not to bring them to the UK but to bring them up in South Africa. They got a letter from their parents, the father’s parents. It said, “We’ve worked really hard. We’ve scrimped and saved to make sure that we were building an inheritance for your family. I want you to know that only your birth children count. We’re giving none of that money to this child that we’ve got no connection with.” Can you imagine how heartbreaking that was for this young father? He feels he’s showing the compassion of God, but his own family doesn’t get it. Thank God that God does not think of you in that way.

Who is the rightful heir over all creation? It’s Jesus. But Jesus is delighted to share with you his inheritance. Think about it this way. When I was first married, pizza night was a good night. It was just me and the wife, we had one oven, one pizza, in went the pizza, out it came. And my wife, I don’t know, by the grace of God, she had this tiny appetite. She would have this thin sliver of pizza, and I would get the reflex angle of the rest of the pizza. Good times. And then we started having kids, and our oven is the same size—we might be able to fit two pizzas in. But three kids later and my slice of the pizza is getting smaller. And then we started fostering and adopting. We normally have seven children that live in our house. My slice of the pizza is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And sometimes at dinnertime I go, “Why did we get into this fostering malarkey? It’s not working. My bit of the pizza is getting smaller and smaller.” Imagine if Jesus had thought like that. “I’m the rightful heir of all of creation. It’s all mine. Every knee will bow.” But Jesus lays down his life so that you could be welcomed into the family and treated as a son and daughter alongside him. He is delighted to share his inheritance with you. Isn’t that wonderful? Absolutely beautiful.

Living Out the Spirit of Adoption

So hear this, friends. Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel gives us. When God adopted us, what motivated him? Was he lonely? Was he bored? Did he not know what to do with himself? God did not adopt us because he needed it. He was happy and fulfilled in himself. God adopted us because we needed him. Do you see that?

Here is the thing. In the UK right now, there are over 4,000 children waiting to be adopted, and we need about another 7,000 foster families to be up to capacity so kids don’t have to be separated, they can go to their old schools, and the right carers can look after the right children. We need loads of people to get involved. But most people think adoption is only for people that can’t have their own birth kids. That’s the reason most people come forward. And when most people come forward because of infertility, we as a church, we need to be better at walking with and standing alongside those wrestling with this huge challenge. There is a lot of pressure. Totally get that. But when infertility is your driver, guess what you want. You want a baby. You want a cute, gorgeous little baby all to yourself. You don’t want the hassle of social workers and visitors. You just want this baby. But the kids that are waiting to be adopted are more like that five-year-old in my lounge. Kids with trauma in their lives. Kids who have additional needs. Kids with brothers and sisters. That’s not what most adopters are looking for. Are you with me? So they wait and they wait and they wait. I say, what would it look like if we the church demonstrated the adopting grace of God? If we demonstrated the spirit of adoption to our world. Think of the impact it could have to the kids. They’d get the family they were designed for, to belong to and be loved just as they are. They’d have the opportunity to thrive and become all God created them to be. Think of the blessing it is to the church.

Friends, I love your worship band; they are amazing. But you know what, when God tells his people what worship looks like, it doesn’t actually look like singing. James 1:27 says, “True religion—true worship—that God our Father accepts as pure and blameless is to care for widows and orphans.” We get to bless kids, we get to offer God the worship that he desires, but more than that, we get to model to the nation the grace of our God. We get to show the world what’s happened to us can happen to them. And we get to live it out at the school gate day by day and show people what the grace of God looks like in practice. Does that sound fun? Does that sound exciting? Yes, it’s challenging, but I tell you there’s nothing like it.

Conclusion

I want to show you a little video that summarizes some of the stuff we’re trying to do. And maybe as it’s showing ask yourself these two questions. The first is, “Do I know personally that I’ve been adopted into God’s family?” You might have wandered into church, might be brought here by a friend, and you thought it was just about the singing and the Bible study. And that matters, but God wants to welcome you into his family. Even today that could happen. If that’s you, brilliant, we’ll talk in a minute. But for the rest of us who know where we are with God, is God saying to you, “I want you involved?” Maybe to consider fostering or adoption yourself.

A friend of ours made that video for us. He’s not in a position to foster or adopt, so he brought his skill as a video maker, trying to help us spread our message. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’ve got a skill that you’d like to add to this campaign that we might speak up for children that are in need right now.

Just before we move into a time of response, I just want to show you one last picture. It’s a picture from my back garden. You see him with his white T-shirt on and his hand to his mouth, and he’s got a little cup in his hand? He ended up with us for about nine months, and during that time, we found out that he could never go home again. He always wanted to go home. The closest he ever got to his home was on Google Maps. You know how you can put it on satellite view and you can zoom in and zoom in and zoom in? And he zoomed into his back garden, hoping to see his dog or his parents. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his parents had actually moved, and we didn’t know where they live now. But he longs for home. And he was going to get to live with his brother in a long-term foster place. We were an emergency placement. He ended up living with us for nine months, but we were an emergency placement.

We made a little book for him that tried to tell the story of his life, tell the story of the people that had loved him in his life. And I think his mom and dad really did love him. They just had chaotic stuff going on that meant they couldn’t show him the love that he needed. So we had pictures of his family. There weren’t that many pictures from before, but we tried to do as best we could of just honoring the past. But we had thousands of pictures of him with us around the Christmas table, on his birthday, the day the teachers had a strike and we went down to the beach in November and he went into the sea for the first time. Amazing pictures. A time when he got to unwrap a bike because someone in the church had helped him out. It was great. But I wanted a picture of church. We haven’t got a fancy building. We rent; we use a school. We’ve got a band. I didn’t take a picture of them. I took this picture. These are men and women that love this little boy as if he was their own flesh and blood. They couldn’t foster, but they could be foster aunties and uncles to him.

There’s a lady just in the middle with red hair. She wants to foster, but her situation is not making that possible right now. But she was the first to greet him every Sunday. She remembered details about his week. “Oh, you had school this week. I know you were a bit worried about that. How did that go?” She sent him postcards when she went on a holiday, sent him an Easter gift at Easter time. She made sure he knew that he was loved. And the church wrapped around him.

There’s a bloke here. He’s an engineer. This little boy was never going to sit still in church, but with our permission, the engineer would sit near him and say, “What’s it going to be this week? A bike, a car?” And he would draw this most meticulous picture of a bike or a car, and it would last just the right amount of time for him to be occupied until it was time for the kids to go out. We stuck a few of these pictures in this book too.

So we make this beautiful book, we put it in the bag, and I’ve got this little boy and all his stuff in the boot of my car. He’s been to visit his forever family before, but this is the final handover. They’ve done their best; they’ve made him feel welcome. Somehow—I’ve no influence over this, I’m sure—he became a Liverpool supporter while he was with us. And there above his bed, they put up a picture of Liverpool FC. It was beautiful. So I’m driving him in my car and we are nearly there. And he says, “Krish, I’m a bit worried. How’s it going to work out? Will it work out okay?” And I’m telling him how great his foster family is. He said, “Do you think it’s alright if I call this new family Mom and Dad? Do you think they’ll be okay?” And I’m going, “Yes, that will be amazing. I know how much you wanted to go home, but that will be amazing.” And I just thought of how he turned up in my house so angry, so defensive like no one was going to get near him. It was like a hedgehog—nothing was going to get near him. And somehow, by the grace of God, he was open again and ready to be able to love again. And I thought, “God, thank you. Thank you for the privilege of playing a part, just a small part, in this little boy’s journey.”

Friends, is God calling you to get involved in those kind of journeys? The impact you can make on a young life. We know how it will turn out if the statistics are true, but when it’s factored on the grace of God and his church, we can see a turnaround. I don’t know if you know this, but it’s really hard driving a car when you’re crying. But it was my privilege to be able to drive him to his forever family. He is thriving now. What is God saying to you?

Dr. Krish Kandiah is the founder of Home for Good a fostering and adoption charity. He is in demand as a speaker, writer, and theologian. His latest book is God is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places, IVP ( 2017).

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