See What God Has Done

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to Orphan Sunday. In case you didn’t know, Orphan Sunday is an annual “event” intended to make/keep the Church conscious of the cause of the fatherless. By participating, we are joining many churches around the world who have chosen to highlight God’s heart for, and commands regarding, the most vulnerable among us.

Under that banner, and in light of James 1:27, I have two main goals for this sermon. First, I want to answer a simple and straightforward question: Why is pure and undefiled religion defined (largely) by caring for orphans in their affliction? Of all the things James might have said (or God might have inspired James to say) about the true essence of a life pleasing to God, why is orphan care at the heart of his answer? My prayer all week has been that you’d leave this sermon confidently able to give a biblical answer to that question.

The second main goal and prayer I have for this sermon is to get you to ask (and answer!) a second question: In light of the Bible’s answer to the first question, what should we be doing to better care for the cause of the afflicted orphan? In other words, I want us generally, and each of you individually, to figure out how, specifically, to better care for the fatherless as an act of pure religion.

To accomplish these two goals, I want to start high up and then gradually work down. That is, in keeping with this year’s theme for Orphan Sunday, I intend to help you see what God has done (for orphans) in the Bible, what God as done at Grace Church, what God has done in my life, and finally, what God might do in your life. Let’s pray and then dive in.

SEE WHAT GOD HAS DONE IN THE BIBLE

Once again, the theme of this year’s Orphan Sunday is “See What God Has Done.” Our aim is to spend some time together considering and celebrating the marvelous works God has performed on behalf of the fatherless. We’ll begin by looking at several aspects of this recorded in God’s Word. To truly appreciate what God has done regarding orphan care in the Bible, we need to move from God’s heart to God’s commands to God’s Gospel.

God’s Heart

First, and above all, what God has done for the orphan, is to love them with a special measure of love, leading to a special measure of protection and provision. Consider these straight-forward passages.

Deuteronomy 10:18 [God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.

While many seek to exploit the fatherless, God executes justice, feeds, and clothes them.

Deuteronomy 27:19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Not only does God fight for the orphan, He curses those who fight with the orphan.

Psalm 10:14, 17-18 [God has] been the helper of the fatherless… O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed…

Of course, God hears all prayers in one sense. But this passage says that God hears and responds to the prayers of orphans in a special way—helping, strengthening, and protecting.

Psalm 68:4-5 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! 5 Father of the fatherless… in his holy habitation.

Sweetest of all, this passage tells us that God Himself is a Father to the fatherless!

Psalm 146:9 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless…

Hosea 14:3 In [God] the orphan finds mercy.

Grace, we are meant to love what God loves and care for what God cares for. God loves and cares for orphans in unique ways. Therefore, if we are to ever think, feel, and act rightly toward orphans, we must begin by giving serious thought to God’s special heart for, and actions toward, them. See what God has done!

God’s Commands

I’m about to name a few of God’s commands for His people regarding orphan-care. At the end of this sermon, I’m going to ask you to recall them as you seek to care well for orphans. Here, however, my main aim is not to call you to obey them, but to consider what God has done through them. In other words, I invite you to first consider these as further expressions of God’s heart for the fatherless. That God would choose not only to set His own heart and direct His own actions toward the orphan is great and marvelous. That He commanded His people to join Him in those things is greater and more marvelous still. Grace, hear the expectations of God for us and in them see what God has done!

We saw in Deuteronomy 10:18 that God “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” It should be no surprise, then, to find the following command in the following verse, “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

Do you see that, Grace? Do you see what God has done here? In issuing this command to His people concerning the orphan, God has further established care for the orphan. Because I love the fatherless, I command you to love the fatherless too!

Exodus 22:22-24 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

In promising burning wrath and death for all who mistreat the fatherless, God has done more great things!

Deuteronomy 22:3 Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Isaiah 1:17 … learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless…

People of God, see what God has done for the orphan: He has commanded the entire army of His people to unrelentingly work for justice, righteousness, deliverance, and protection for the orphan.

And, of course, in our passage for this morning, God cares for the orphan by commanding His people to not only work toward these things on behalf of the orphan, but to do so in the context of a relationship. We are not merely to serve as impersonal advocates, but to do so while pursuing fellowship with them. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”.

Again, these are just a few of the many commands God has given to His people concerning the manner in which He expects us to develop and live out His heart toward the orphan; for their good and His glory. See what God has done in commissioning people from every tongue, tribe, and nation to direct their strength to the fatherless!

God’s Gospel

The final, and most significant, way we see what God has done for the cause of the fatherless in the Bible concerns the relationship between orphan-care and the gospel. We might ask ourselves why God is, and calls His people to be, particularly concerned for the cause of the orphan. This is a really good, even critical, question for us to ask. In simplest terms, it’s because there are few things in this life that are able to provide a clearer picture of the gospel than orphan care.

Romans 8:14-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

We see a similar idea in Ephesians 1.

Ephesians 1:5-6 In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

There is an unmistakable, God-designed connection between orphan-care and the gospel of Jesus. In that way, physical orphan care provides a visible picture of the invisible saving work of God.

It is this last point, God’s Gospel, that gets us right to the heart of the answer to the question I asked in the beginning, “Why is pure and undefiled religion defined (largely) by caring for orphans in their affliction?” The answer is because it is such a clear picture of the gospel. Just as our relationship to money is one of the clearest indicators of our true love, our approach to orphan-care is one of the clearest indicators of our understanding of whether or not we need or deserve the grace God offers us in Jesus.

In other words, God has designed the Church to care for physical orphans ultimately as a means of teaching us about our own spiritual condition and needs, and His provision for them in Jesus. When we care for orphans, then, we are gaining gospel categories, as well as demonstrating the goodness of the gospel and our hope in it.

What does the Bible tell us has God done for the cause of the fatherless? He has set His love and protection on them in a special way, He has commanded His people to set their love and protection on them, in a special way, and He has sent His one and only Son to die in the place of every spiritual orphan who would receive Him. How awesome is that?!

SEE WHAT GOD HAS DONE AT GRACE CHURCH

I hope to have helped you see the prominent place orphan care plays in the heart and work of God, both physically and spiritually, in the Bible. In the way of encouragement, let’s zoom in a little closer. That is, I’d like to share with you a few remarkable things God has done through this conviction at Grace. The Orphan Sunday Team has put together a video for this. It doesn’t cover everything God has done at Grace, but it does give you an idea. Please reach out to anyone you see in the video and ask them to tell you the fuller version of their story. Thanks, Ethan, for creating this.

On top of all of that, let me give you a few concrete numbers to help you appreciate what God has done here.

Over $25,000 has gone directly from Grace to orphan care; from your offerings into caring for particular kids who are fatherless or on the edge of losing their families. I have no doubt that in addition to that, you all have given at least that much directly to orphan care on your own.

More directly still, we have together hosted around 35 orphans through the foster care system.

Similarly, as a church we’ve served around 20 kids through Safe Families and Together for Good, and many more through Global Fingerprints and Compassion International.

Further, over the years I’ve been here, the people in our church have adopted eight children domestically and internationally as a means of honoring God and loving these kids.

Most significantly of all, God has adopted each and every one of us who have called on the name of Jesus. Since I have been here, we have baptized around 50 people, adopted by God into His family.

On top of all of that we’ve shared the gospel with hundreds more spiritual orphans, giving them the words of eternal life and inviting them into the family of God.

Do you see what God has done, Grace?!

SEE WHAT GOD HAS DONE IN MY LIFE

Before putting the spotlight directly on all of you, I want to highlight one more way for us to consider what God has done. I invite you to consider what He has done in my life. Now let me make something clear: I am not doing so because I am an especially good example, but precisely because I’m not. I was exceedingly apathetic and then reluctant before God began making changes to my mind and heart. And even now, the reality of orphan care often feels more overwhelming than natural. Why, then, would I ask you to consider what God has done in my life? I do so for one main reason: To encourage you in the fact that if God can change my mind and heart in this matter, He can change anyone’s.

To highlight what God has done in me, and therein, hopefully, encourage you, I’m going to answer three questions concerning God’s transforming (ongoing) work in my life.

Why Was I Apathetic and Reluctant, and Why Am I Now Overwhelmed?

There are three reasons that I can put my finger on. The first reason isn’t all that bad on the surface. I’m trying to spend my life well on things that matter and orphan care often feels like it would derail those things. The fact is, I know I am finite and can only do so many things in a day. That means I must necessarily leave hundreds and hundreds of good things undone every day. It is good that I want to protect the good things I have committed to by not saying yes to so much that they would suffer. The fault in that logic is that I was allowing some good things (and some not so good things) to crowd out some better things. Orphan care is among the better things.

The second reason for my orphan apathy, reluctancy, and overwhelmedness is that I’m selfish and foolish. I want my peace. I want my quiet. I want my comfort. I want my sleep. I want my money. I want my best life now. And unchecked, I make my wants higher than God’s. That’s selfish and foolish.

And the final (and ultimate) reason, is that I lack God’s heart and mind. Earlier, I shared God’s love, commands, and gospel concerning orphans. I argued that genuinely God-honoring desires and actions toward the fatherless come directly from rightly appreciating those things. I don’t rightly appreciate those things and so I have never rightly engaged in orphan-care.

As far as I can tell, for those three primary reasons, I was (and sometimes still am), apathetic, reluctant, and overwhelmed by the thought of orphan care.

What Has God Done in my Life?

Again, I’m not suggesting that I am a model of unparalleled orphan sanctification. I do not run an orphanage in a third world country. I have not sold all that I own to establish a grant agency for adoption. I do not spend hours a day (or even minutes some days) in fervent prayer for the fatherless. I’m not sharing my home with dozens of kids who have no family of their own.

In simplest terms, God has brought about three noticeable changes in me. First, He changed me from complete unconsciousness to the cause of the fatherless to slowly growing consciousness. I spent much/most of my life unsanctified enough that I never even thought about orphans, much less understood God’s heart and commands or felt a right kind of love and conviction. God is changing that in me. By God’s grace, I am increasingly aware of God’s perspective on orphans and His expectations for me. Pretty simple and unimpressive on the surface, but an awesome gift of God nonetheless.

Second, God changed me from conscious, but indifferent, to conscious and increasingly concerned. It’s one thing to be aware of what God has said concerning orphans, and another to care about it. Even in my consciousness, I lacked burden. I am still far away from fully sharing God’s heart, but it’s easy for me to see real changes in my prayers, affections, and actions. Again, unimpressive in one sense, but truly miraculous in another.

And third, slowly, but recognizably, over years (not weeks or months), God has moved me from needing a really good reason to say yes, to needing a good reason to say no, when Gerri asks for another human to come into our home each week.

I really do know that none of those things are particularly impressive. But that really is why I’m sharing them with you. God may set your heart on fire for the fatherless this morning, and have prayed that He would, but more likely and more humbly, He will simply and graciously make you conscious of your indifference. That may not seem like a lot, but in my case, it allowed me to simply get out of the way enough for God’s work in Gerri to flourish—such that by opening up my dam just a bit, Gerri’s God-given current led two adoptions and dozens of kids living with us over the years. Again, it is my hope that my baby steps—and baby steps that I needed a lot of help to take—will encourage you to take your own baby steps of faith. If God can work these changes in me, He can work them (and more) in anyone.

How Did God Bring About this Change?

As far as I can tell, God brought about these simple changes in me primarily through His Word, good books, and Gerri’s prayers and prodding.

He broke through some of my bad thinking, selfishness, and sin by helping me to gain a deeper understanding of His Word concerning orphans. And He did that largely by placing good sermons and two good books in front of me (Adopted for Life and Crazy Love). The other main way God has brought about whatever sanctifying work He has in me, is through Gerri’s persistent prayers and prodding.

In all honesty, God has used Gerri more to shape my life and the trajectory of Grace Church in the way of orphan care more than anyone and anything else. If you want a real example of godliness in this area, look to her. From the time we first started dating, it was clear that God had given her a special love for those who especially needed it. She always talked about wanting to care for kids that not everyone would be able to care for. God used Gerri’s love for the vulnerable, prayers, and persistence, to change my heart in many ways. Many if not most of the things God has done for the fatherless that I’ve seen throughout my entire life are directly tied to God’s work through Gerri.

SEE WHAT GOD MIGHT DO THROUGH YOU

To land this plane, then, I want to close by asking you to prayerfully consider what God might do through you, keeping in mind that this is Orphan Sunday, but there are orphans and ways to care for them all year round. Our Family Care Corner is meant to keep you aware of the various needs and works of God.

  1. Worship. Carve out a time each day to read God’s Word, pray, and worship him. The more you fall in love with God, the more you’ll care about the things God cares about—including and especially the fatherless.
  2. Evangelize. The more the gospel is able to take hold, the fewer orphans there will be—because the gospel produces godliness and godliness produces healthy homes and people with a heart to invite others into them.
  3. Help. Work to prevent kids from being orphaned by helping with Together for Good. Talk to Gerri or Lauren to know more about the many ways you can do so.
  4. Pray. Pray for orphans. Pray for specific children to receive specific love, justice, and families. Pray for Christians to pursue God’s mind and heart. Pray for Christians to obey God’s commands.
  5. Give. Give lots of money to adopting couples, godly grant and adoption agencies, and those who are engaged in orphan care. Specifically, please consider giving to the adoption fund at Grace to help the Nelsons with their adoption costs.
  6. Talk. Seek out one of the many families at Grace Church who have adopted or are fostering. Hopefully we’ll be able to share our heart, describe the reality of the process, and answer any questions you might have. It might help overcome some of the scariness. But even if it helps you realize that adoption/fostering isn’t for you, at least you’ll better know how to pray for and support those who do.
  7. Care. Care for orphans through a godly organization like Global Fingerprints (who will be giving a brief presentation tonight at G2g).
  8. Seriously and prayerfully consider becoming foster or adoptive parents. Obviously, the most direct way to care for an orphan is to bring them into your home.

CONCLUSION

Do not feel guilty about not doing more. Do not cast your head down as a result of your failures. Thank God for a church that helps you to see God’s Word plainly on this matter, for the sufficiency of the cross of Jesus to atone for your sins in this matter, and the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen you to grow in this matter. Think, pray, and then, in faith, take a baby step toward better caring for the fatherless in Jesus’ name and for His glory.