The Gospel of Adoption - a personal testimony
WHY WE ADOPTED
There are 2 ways we use Scripture
1) We go over to the Bible and study it in its own context to understand what it means, what it teaches us about ourselves, about God and about what He expects of us.
2) We bring the Bible over to our context and we apply it to our lives. We let those truths help us interpret our circumstances and transform our lives.
In this session, I want to use the Bible primarily in this second way – not to take you to a passage and tell you what it means in its own context, but to bring biblical truths over to our context and particularly the adoption context and help you see how it applies to our context.
The Bible teaches that to know and not to do, is not to know. So in a very real sense, we only come to fully understand biblical truth as we begin to apply it to our lives. Our desire and prayer is that as we share with you how God has used His Word to illuminate and transform our own hearts, that you will be encouraged and enabled to see how these same truths apply to your lives as well.
About our family
So, how did we become a family?
· Born and raised in JHB
· I met my wife, Megan in highschool, went to the same university and got married right after university.
· Been married 18 years, have 7 children - 3 biological children and 4 adopted children.
· Our pre-marital counseling lasted all of 2 hours and the only thing I remember about it was that the minister stressed that we need to make sure we agree on some important foundational issues before we get married, like the number of kids we are going to have.
· Megan and I both agreed that we were not going to have any...
· We had become Christians at university and almost immediately had a desire to serve the Lord as missionaries in some unreached part of the world.
· To our mind, children seemed like a hindrance to that calling. We thought we can better serve the gospel and God's plan of redemption by not having children.
· The first thing we had to realize is how central the family is to God's redemptive plan.
LESSON #1: GOD DESIGNED MARRIAGE FOR REDEMPTION
· Turn with me in your Bibles to the first book of the Bible: Gen 1:28 – “and God blessed them. And God said to them be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” The first command we find in Scripture seems easy enough to understand. Use the earth for my glory, have children and teach them to use the earth for my glory.
· The fall happens in Gen 2 and the first declaration of the gospel comes in Gen 3:15 when God says, through the seed of a woman, will come one who will crush the serpant. God's plan of redemption is closely connected with His plan for families.
· Turn to Deut 6:4-7. The next major stage in redemption – God delivers Israel from bondage in Egypt. Gives them the law in Deut 5, tells them who He is, commands them to love Him completely and proceeds to tell them how – to put the law on their own hearts and to teach it diligently to their children.
· Again, what God is accomplishing in redemption is closely connected to the family. God has designed the family for discipling children, the next generation!
· So when we come to the Malachi, as the Old testament closes out, Israel have failed as God's people, they have failed to realize God's redemptive plan, they have returned from exile, they are foreigners in their own land and not experiencing God's promised blessing and God tells them why not...and what is the problem – the family has failed.
· Malachi 2:13 And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
· God's desire to fill the earth with redeemed worshippers is not only accomplished by the proclammation of the gospel through the church, but also by the proclamation of the gospel through the family.
· Not only by the demonstration of God's love in the church, but by the demonstration of God's love in the family, not only for the glory of God in the church, but also for the glory of God in the family.
· These are not competing but complementary programs which find their fulfillment in Christ.
· That is why after laying a gospel foundation in Eph 1-3 Paul goes on to talk about how this gospel is lived out in the church in Eph 4 and in the family in Eph 5 and 6.
· That is why marriage is held up as a picture Christ's redemptive love in Eph 5 and fathers are told to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord in Eph 6.
· God designed marriage for redemption
· We would never have considered adoption or having any childen for that matter, if we hadn't began to see how it is so wonderfully linked with God's plan of redemption in Christ. Marriage is so much bigger than our own personal happiness!
◦ If we merely are asking the question, “How can I maximize my own comfort and pleasure?” If we are simply seeking what, “Is good for me and my marriage” then we have missed God's redemptive purpose for marriage. Marriage is not just for us!
◦ We should be asking – how can my marriage maximize the glory of God and serve His purposes and to that question the Bible is clear... raise godly offspring.
· So, we decided that having children was a good idea after all. We were married quite young, so we planned to wait 4 years and then have our first child in our fifth year of marriage.
· That's when we discovered that you don't order children like you order MacDonalds burgers – 2 medium sized with extra sauce.
LESSON #2: GOD SOVEREIGNLY GIVES CHILDREN
· After trying for a year, we had some tests done and the doctors said we have less than a 1% chance of having children by natural means.
· I guess that is when we began to think about adoption. We still had a desire to go into missions and in the countries we were considering the children are often neglected and in need of home, so we could see ourselves basically raising the communities children.
· Turn to Ps 127:1-5
◦ vs 1 No amount of human cunning and scheming and planning and power prevails against the Lord's plans.
◦ Vs 2 No amount of human effort is able to provide even our daily food unless the Lord supplies.
◦ How this truth came home to us as we tried and tried in vain to do what only God can do...to create life.
◦ I don't think its an accident that vs 1-2 introduce vs 3
◦ Children are from God – and every child is a gift from him, a special blessing from Him. I believe this to be true whether He supplies them by way of procreation or adoption.
▪ God is absolutely sovereign in this. He gives a certain child to a certain family and a certain family to a certain child and nothing we do or don't changes this ultimate fact.
▪ Yes we might made adoption applications and sign various forms, and we can use contraceptives or not use contraceptives and God works through those means – but we have no control over the final outcome, no means to ultimately thwart God's sovereignty or God's timing in either procreation or adoption. God alone gives life to a child and God alone gives that child to a family and a family to that child.
◦ When we finally tried to adopt our first child, we heard all the statistics about these 2 million or more orphans and we visited home after home and saw all these children, but do you think we could get one?
◦ We almost gave up a few times as we struggled as hard to get our first adopted child as we did to have our first biological one. Looking back, I have no idea why we struggled so much to find a child who was available for adoption, but we did and I know of many other parents who did.
◦ Children are from God... we must look to God to provide them in His way, in His timing and receive them from His hand as His good and perfect gifts – however they come and with whatever personalities or disabilities or baggage or issues they come.
◦ We must receive our children, from God as a gift, or we don't receive them as we ought.
· So God gives to his beloved in his sleep, as vs 2 says, and while we slept, God was creating life in the womb of my wife and 9 months later we were blessed with our first child – Matthew.
LESSON #3: GOD DESIRES OUR DEATH
· What a shock to our system! Everything that could go wrong with the birth did, we eventually had to have a forceps delivery and they grabbed him on the face and damaged his face, so they had to send for a pediatrician to make sure they hadn't done any permanent damage. Meanwhile my wife couldn't deliver her placenta and had to go in for surgery and I was left with a screaming baby without the “hardware” to do anything about it.
· The damage to his face meant he didn't want to latch and after 2 days of trying we had to concede to bottle feeding with formula. I remember rushing through Cresta shopping center shopping for milk formula while my son was crying at home for food – because we had planned to breast feed and had nothing in the house.
· Matthew cried almost every waking moment for the first year. I have never met a child ever before or since, who cried so incessantly and then my mom told me about me...
· I share this because the transition to parenting is not always an easy one. Sometimes adoptive parents are having a difficult time adapting to their new role and they can easily think that the difficulties are coming from the fact that they have adopted.
· Sometimes there are unique challenges relating to adoption, but parenting is not an easy transition for many of us, however that transition comes. Too often we put adoption problems in a category of their own when they are nothing more than parenting problems and too often parenting problems are seen as a problem with children, when really it is a problem with parents! We are the primary problem, not our children!
· And often what lies at the heart of our struggle is simply this – we have not died enough to ourselves, to our own desires and comforts and routines and preferences.
Dietrich Bonhofffer said this, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
Where did He get this from? Undoubtedly from
Mk 8:34 "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
· This is the cost of discipleship and the nature of discipleship – we are on a road that leads to our own death, that Christ's life might be more clearly revealed in us.
· Megan and I gradually realized that if we want to enjoy our children and enjoy serving God's purposes in our lives, then we have to die to ourselves. Die to our right to 8 hours sleep every night, die to our right to a warm meal, die to our right to hobbies and sports and “me time.”
· Now God might bless us with those things, but if we are going to fight for them, we are going to find ourselves fighting against our children for them...
· Parenting, adoption, the whole of the Christian life is a slow and painful walk down death row – my death and Christ's life. In my experience, many of the struggles we, as adoptive parents face are really struggles with dying to self – the adopted child is not really the problem at all, we are the problem, our attitude is the problem, our selfishness is the problem, our pride is the problem, our unwillingness to serve is the problem
My wife, Megan, was awake at 3am one morning burping Matthew and said, “Lord I just can't do this again.” But we did, we had another two girls, Hannah and Megan while we were studying in the States and then when we returned to South Africa, we decided we would like to adopt.
Why did we adopt?
ESV James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
· God has told us that faith produces good works like caring for orphans, we could see the need, we understood that God has designed the Christian family to be the primary vehicle for the redemption of children.
· As much as they try, an orphanage will never be a home, care-givers will never be parents, and fellow orphans will never be brothers and sisters. God has ordained the family for the raising of children and there is no substitute for the family.
· It seemed to us that the best things we could do for an orphan is to adopt him or her.
· We had the desire, we had the means and the opportunity – it didn't seem like such a big decision to us.
· But we had not really come to terms with our context and that is when we began learning our 4th lesson.
LESSON #4 GOD LOOKS AT THE HEART AND FASHIONS THE WHOLE
..but man doesn't.
Racism out there
· We live in a society that doesn't really understand adoption – why adopt when you can have “your own children” as people often say.
· We live in a society that is blinded with racism. This is not only a South African problem, we have seen it in America, in Europe in Africa – in fact its everywhere because it is a product of our fallen, sinful nature.
· South Africa had legalized and legitimized racism, we had taught it in our churches and promoted it in our laws. I am still of the generation that grew up calling 60 years old African men and woman “boys” and “girls” because that was viewed as more polite than calling them by the other more derrogitory terms that were commonplace. We never went to school with them, mixed with them, learned their language, went into their homes, their neighbourhoods, or had anything to do with them. They worked in our homes, but were not allowed to use our bathroom, to eat with us, or to even use the same eating utensils. They had an outside toilet and a metal cup and bowl just like the dogs and to be honest, we never saw them as far different. It was always “us” and “them.”
· If something got broken, it was always “these blacks,” if something was stolen, it was “the blacks.” They were lazy, ungrateful, dirty, rude and could not be trusted – because they were fundamentally different from us, they were black.
· So we obviously knew that we would be going against the grain to bring one of “them” in our homes and to call them our son. Our unsaved family and friends still have many of these attitudes.
◦ I cannot repeat some of the things we were told...
◦ That has probably been one of the more difficult things about adoption for us... the persecution.
◦ If you are going to become involved in cross-cultural adoption, then you had better be prepared for the persectution.
· That's the bad news, the good news is found in 2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”
◦ God has ordained persecution to be a part of the Christian life.
◦ We can't run around trying to avoid pain and hardship and persecution when God has designed this for us as a sharing in the sufferings of Christ,
◦ SV Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
· Not for nothing, not for sin, for his sake, for His glory, to serve His purposes and show His grace.
◦ We have been more persecuted for the good work of adopting children than for any of the wicked things we have done. Somehow adoption seems to confront people with the heart of the gospel and they don't always like what they see.
The racism in here:
What really shocked us was not the racism out there, but the racism in here.
· When my wife and I became Christians, we soon saw the wickedness of racism.
◦ We are all children of Adam, we are all made in the image of God, that is our primary identity and our differences beyond that are minimal.
◦ Rom 10:12, Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11 all teach the same basic truth, SV Colossians 3:11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
· There is no place for racism in God's world and certainly not in Christ... and yet, there it was in the recesses of our heart.
· We went to one of the baby homes to see one of the little boys available for adoption.
◦ What we were hoping to see, I have no idea. I mean, when we look at a person, we see their faces, their features, their proportions, maybe we pick up something of a demenour – what we see is only a fraction of what makes that person who they are.
◦ Cast your minds back for a moment to that day that Samuel went to annoint the future king of Israel in 1 Sam 16. He has the sons of Jesse line up in front of him and what is he looking at? At all that man can see, a fraction of what makes a person who they are so
▪ ESV 1 Samuel 16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed is before him." 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
◦ God doesn't see people, children, orphans as we do – we can't see what God sees...
◦ In the case of a baby, we can't see their intelligence, we can't see their personality, their giftedness, the ambitions they will one day have. Who they are is vastly different from who they will become as an adult and we can't see that.
◦ Even in the case of biological children – the variety that can come from the same genetic stock is almost endless so we have no idea what kind of child we will be having. Will they have health issues, will they have learning dissabilities, will they have an outgoing, bubbly personality or will they be reserved and keep to themselves more?
◦ We can't see those things, we can't determine those things – we just accept our children as they come, as God delivers them.
◦ So, what exactly were we going to the baby home to see?
◦ I'll tell you what we did see...his big nose. As I held this little boy in my arms, his nostrils seemed so wide I was sure I was seeing all that way up into his brain. And all I could think was, how can I take this little boy home and show him to my parents...he's so ugly. Surely there must be one with a smaller nose.
· No Christian should be having those kinds of thoughts. I was a pastor at the time – definitely not the way a pastor should be thinking...but there I was, unable to look beyond the outside.
◦ On the way home, I never said a word to Megan. Thoughts like those are best kept to yourself, I didn't want to cause her to struggle or raise doubts in her mind, or show her how superficial I really was.
◦ We both raised a few concerns and were basically not sure. Eventually it came out – the real struggle we were having – he looks so ugly.
◦ It took us another 3 months for us to finally decide that we could love a child with a nose like that.
◦ We knew the truth, we knew what God's word says about what matters, but our hearts don't always align with the truth.
· Even after we brought him home, there was this almost subconscious struggle to come to terms with his blackness. Our differences are not just in the colour of our skin.
· Turn to psalm 139:13 Gradually we came to feel the truth of Psalm 139:13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.
· That this little boy was not only different, but was wonderfully different. That he was beautiful in God's sight and specifically handcrafted by God and good in His sight.
· We learned an important lesson through that process – that God doesn't see as man sees – what is important about our children biological or adopted, goes way beyond whether they were breast fed or bottle fed, what the circumstances were surrounding their birth, what their colour of physical features are. What is most important about a person is what God alone sees and can see.
· So decision to have a child is a decision of faith – to trust God. To trust that God knows best, God knows who we are and who He made our child to be, He knows what is best for us and for this child and He doesn't make mistakes...
Then came our fifth child and our 5th theology lesson
LESSON #5 GOD LOVES SINNERS TO THE UTTERMOST
We adopted Paul for totally different reasons and under different circumstances than Stephen. We kept contact with the lady who ran the baby home from which we got Stephen and occassionally went to visit the home. So we watched many of the kids come and go, except for this one little boy. He was getting older and older and had anything but a winsome personality, so we knew that his chances of getting adopted were diminishing by the day.
· God gave us compassion for him, for this one specific little boy, whose life-story we had been watching unfold from a distence. By that time we had made most of the adjustments and were really enjoying being adoptive parents. Stephen was the cutest little thing, with a bubbly, outgoing personality – really easy to love.
· So we decided to adopt again. We felt like a million dollars, having another adopted son and not having all the baggage that we had to work through with Stephen.
· Were we in for a surprise.
◦ Paul's biological father had left him with the neighbour and simply dissappeared. Nobody knew where he came from, what nationality he was, how old he was, what language he spoke or anything about him.
◦ He was later removed from the neighbour and hospitalized for 3 weeks to recover from the physical abuse. The scars on his body were still visible, but what was not as evident were the deeper, internal ones.
◦ Paul was the hardest thing we have ever done.... If we had known what we were getting ourselves into, we would never have done it.
◦ He could hardly speak or understand English so we could hardly communicate.
◦ He was effeminate and only ever wanted to sit on an adults lap, we had to force him to go and play with other kids.
◦ He would want to go home with whoever visited us and would cry and try cling to them. He had no sense of family or belonging to one.
◦ He had these weird haluscinations – one night I had to physically restrain him from running away from imaginary snakes and he derived no comfort or assurance from having us around.
◦ Nobody liked him and we were struggling to love him.
◦ My oldest son, in particular, was old enough to be aware of some of the problems and was struggling to accept his new brother.
◦ Is there no way we can just take him back?...
◦ Turn to : And that is when we learned in experience the truth of ESV Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
◦ God loved us by giving us His most precious, beloved Son – while we were yet sinners, before we loved Him, before we cleaned up our lives, before we ever got our act together, while we were still shaking our fists at God, living contrary to His will, while were were still soiled in sin and a stench in His nostrils – God demonstrated unconditional love toward us and His love is what has transformed us.
◦ It's by God's loves that we, rebels, have been turned into sons and daughters, that our sin stained garments have been replaced with radiant, righteous ones, its by his love that our wretched lives have been redeemed....and God has poured that same love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us.
◦ How can we only love those who are loveable? Does not the gospel teach us to love, espeically those who are not easy to love because that is how we were loved? Does not the gospel give us the confidence, the hope that God's love can make something beautiful our of something vile?
· So we lived with this verse for years and we taught it to our children and demanded it of ourselves and our children.
◦ Did we feel love? Did we feel warm fuzzy feelings? Was there some kind of personal, parental bond? No, just the opposite.
◦ It's difficult to feel those kind of warm fuzzy feelings toward someone whose very behaviour, demenour and words offend you.
◦ But even while God's wrath was upon us as sinners, He demonstrated His love toward us by sending His Son.
· And you know what, there are times when you don't like your biological children, when they are obnoxious and rude and they go through these stages when they are anything but likeable – but you love them in anyway.
◦ God doesn't call us to feel love, He calls us to demonstrate love... and the amazing thing is that as we consistently demonstrate His love, by His Spirit working within us...that we start to feel love.
So after 2 years, we adopted Rebekkah just for fun. By this stage, we had very few criteria except that we wanted a little girl and we wanted to call her Rebekkah.
· Within 2 weeks of informing our respective families, we got a call from a children's home about a 3 month old girl called Rebekka. I remember Megan's absolute shock when I got off the phone and said, you will never believe what her name is! Her biological mother had named her Rebekkah.
And everything about Rebekka's adoption was a breeze and we thought we had these lessons down and boy were we wrong.
· Megan and I were in two minds. We are not getting any younger and realized that we are getting to the point where we need to either have another child, or come to peace that our family is complete.
· We spoke to our kids to guage how they felt and they were all very much in favour of more. So we enquired among the various homes we have contact with and went to visit some of the kids – but how do you choose, should we even be choosing?
· And then, while we were still deliberating we received an e-mail about little Joseph – a 2 years old boy with cerebral paulsy in desperate need of a home.
· We hadn't been especially looking for a special needs child, but neither were we opposed to it. I think we had began to see a pattern in God's dealings with us that often the greatest difficulties are used by God to bring about the greatest blessings – so off we went to look at little Joseph.
· That is when the realities began to dawn on us and we were brought back to these self same lessons all over again.
1: What will this do to our family? God designed marriage for redemption
· What is the purpose of family? Do we still believe that God's purpose for our marriage is not just our personal comfort, but God has a glorious redemptive purpose to accomplish through our family?
2: Fear of the unknown and fear of the known? God sovereignly gives children
· One of the things with cerebral paulsy children is that you never can tell how severly they will be effected. They might be vitually blind, they might never talk or never walk, or they may be able to do all those things and live fairly normal lives. We could have no certainty about what we were getting ourselves into.
· But do we believe that God is sovereign in giving children to families and families to children – that if we adopt this little boy, that God will give us the grace we need to raise him, whatever the cost, whatever the implications?
· We might not know all the answers – but do we believe that what is not known to us, is known to God?
· Ps 139 took on a whole new significance for me – Joe was fearfully and wonderfully woven together in his mothers womb – did I believe that even his handicap was by God's design and for God's glory?
3: Are we willing to pay the price? God Desires our Death
· We had a taste of the suffering of adoption, and we were struggling with what it might cost us, about how much more we would have to die.
· Yet what did it cost Christ to set His love on me?
· If death to self had always been so gloriously good for us in the past, why were we so afriad of more death to self?
· We had no doubt in our mind that we could not do this, but could we trust Christ to do this in us?
4: How can we love a child that gives us nothing back? God loves sinners to the utthermost
· The hardest thing for me, was getting no feedback from him. On our first visit he just hung his head, he never made eye contact, never looked at us, never responded to any of our talking or interacting with him, he just had this blank stare.
· One morning as I was speaking to the Lord about Joe and I said to Him, “Lord, how can I love a child who will give me absolutely nothing back, no interaction, no recognition, no expressions of love in return – how is it possible to love someone like that.” All at once I realized that this is exactly how God loves me in Christ. What does God get back from me really, how is God enriched by me, how pathetic and insignficant is my love for God compared to His love for me.”
· I started to listen to the parents around me and how often we speak about the accomplishments of our children, in how we delight in what our children can do and what they have achieved (this soccer award, this academic achievment, this ability in music)
· All the Christmas letters were coming in filled with all the families achievements that year – and I thought what I might put on the next years card, “We are so proud of little Joe this year who learned to clap hands.”
· I realized how performance orientated our love is... in contrast to God, who loves us for who we are, despite who we are...
So we were having to learn these same truths all over again, coming to appreciate them in a new and deeper way and the gospel came alive for us....
Somtimes we thought – this is madness...and other times we thought, how can we not do this?
So we often turned ourselves to 2 Cor 5 and I'll close with this:
2 Corinthians 5:13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
Our family has nicknamed Joe – GI Joe, it stands for Great Impact Joe – because wherever Joe goes he makes a great impact on people. I would not be exaggerating if I said that God has taught me more about the gospel through Joe than anyone else, dead or alive...and he is yet to speak. How dare I define someone's worth by what they can accomplish, or whether they can walk and talk? God doesn't need us to speak to use us for His glory!
Conclusion (Phil 3:10)
· that I may know him
· that I may know the power of his resurrection,
· that I may his sufferings,
· that I may become like him in his death,
· 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.