The following is the text of a sermon I recently delivered while on a brief visit to the US. It concerns the orphan spirit that I suggested is not only responsible for the tremendous problem of orphans in Russian, but goes throughout society as a whole. Moreover, I suggested that it is a deep and growing problem in the US as well.
Presbyterians love to exegete the Bible. I love to exegete people. Before I moved with my family to Russia 5 years ago, I was a Christian counselor. Understanding what the Bible says about how we tick, and how to pick the ticks off of us, as it were, has been a quest of mine for about 20 years now. When you move to another culture, you see your new culture at first through the eyes of your home culture, but eventually the follower of Christ has to start evaluating what he observes against a biblical grid instead. And so we find that every culture has aspects of it that are more or less God-honoring, and those that are not.
What originally drew us to Russia was one of its most glaring sore spots: the tremendous problem with orphans. There are of course many countries who suffer with large numbers of uncared-for children, and I began to ask myself what it was that created the spiritual conditions necessary to allow Russia to have a problem so large today, that it actually rivals the numbers of orphans present after WW2. And this despite the numbers of institutional orphans going down. 95% of Russian orphans are what are called “social orphans,” which is to say that they may have a living parent, but parental rights have been terminated or even voluntarily given up.
Foster care is quite uncommon, though growing slowly thanks to some government initiatives. Neither adoption nor foster care is a cultural value to Russians, and those that do, sadly enough, fail to manage the challenges all too often: Russians love to criticize Americans when they hear of abuse, neglect, or the famous case of returning a boy back by plane. Little do most of them know that in one two year period, 2008-09, 30,000 children were returned back to the system.
You can’t have these kinds of problems in a vacuum. For every family that cannot or will not raise its own children, there must be many more who are barely managing. There must be many more who manage, but with various levels of dysfunction. So I began to see that there was a biblical explanation for this trend: the orphan spirit.
Now of course there is no such exact term in the Bible, but it comes close enough. What we do find is:
• a spirit of fear or timidity (2Tim. 1:7)
• a spirit of slavery (Ro. 8:15)
• a spirit of adoption (Ro. 8:15)
Of course the first two are not from God, and the latter is. What ties the spirit of fear and the sprit of slavery together is found in Heb. 2:15. Fear of death subjects you to slavery. And all fear at its root is a kind of fear of death. Chemically, the brain has two classes of chemicals: fear based and love based. Every emotion and every thought related to those thoughts are driven by one or the other. The one is quite destructive to our bodies, and the other is not only healthy but actually regenerative in power – an amazing confirmation of biblical truth.
Paul develops the whole theme of slavery starting in Romans 6, and concludes his argument in chapter 8, verse 17, by saying that “if we are children, we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we may also share in his glory.
So putting all this together, we see that we may share in God’s glory by sharing in his sufferings, which comes from being an heir, which comes from being his child, which comes from renouncing a spirit of slavery, which comes from rejecting a spirit of fear. I say this not to give you a formula, for God’s grace is much more mysterious than that, but to help you understand that the essential nature of the person outside of Christ, is one of fear, which makes him a slave to those fears. This is what I am calling the orphan spirit.
Why indeed does God insist so many times throughout the Old Testament, and repeat it in the New, that our care for orphans is a critical indicator of our love and devotion to God? Is it because God is a bleeding-heart liberal who just feels bad for the kids? Well, I think God’s heart does break for the kids, but the real reason seems to go deeper than this. It’s because we were all orphans, dominated by fear before turning to Christ, and God’s heart is for us. This is why John says you can’t say you love God and not love your brother. You literally can’t love God and not love orphans. God told the Israelites to care for the resident aliens in their land because they were once resident aliens in Egypt. So therefore we care for orphans because “there but by the grace of God go I.”
And America can’t say it’s got all that much grace going for it right now either. I don’t need to quote to you statistics on abortion, divorce, and absentee fathers to remind you how far we have fallen in the last generation. These are all direct signs, in our culture, of the orphan spirit. Orphans overwhelmingly reject their own children. And abortion is a rejection of your own flesh and blood, and fathers who sire a child without remaining through thick and thin have rejected their own flesh and blood. Only an orphan can do that. Why? Because fear drives them to do it. Fear of the future, fear of finances, fear of commitment, fear of rejection, etc. etc.
In Russia, it’s much worse in many respects. In my counseling training just a few weeks ago I witnessed an amazing session where a woman named Irina came face to face with the fact that her mother had had 26 abortions. She couldn’t see how she could possibly forgive her for being such a person, especially considering that she herself was supposed to be one of those victims. But by the end she did forgive, and the freedom it gave was as powerful as the bondage she had been in to fear and condemnation beforehand.
Do you think Russia is free of its Soviet legacy? How could it be when even today people have parents and grandparents that were torn away in the middle of the night by the secret police for no reason at all, other than to feed a slavery economy unknown before in world history called the Gulag, because of the wild aspirations of one demonically inspired man named Joseph Stalin. Fear was THE main driving force of Soviet society for over 70 years, although most particularly during Stalin’s rule from 1924-1953. Families were destroyed systematically, and men in particular have never recovered to this day. Alcohol is not called spirits for no reason. It is a substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in Russian society. Seeing drunk men lying unconscious or even dead on the streets is not something we were eager to expose our kids to, but they now have a good picture every time it happens of why we are there.
Our ministry is about restoring the hearts of the fathers to their children, which is the great promise of the prophet Malachi. And this requires restoring a sense of the Father heart of God. Let me read our main passage today and discuss it briefly as a way of understanding my mission in Russia more fully.
Gal. 4:1-7. Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything,
2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.
3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
From verse 1 we see that the only difference between a slave and a son is the fact that the son has something coming to him; he only doesn’t have access to it yet. The child is an heir, present tense, but he doesn’t really know it. Or if he does, it makes no practical difference to him. It’s not that the child is a foreigner and then becomes an heir. His parents knew his destiny from day one. Score one point for the Calvinists.
But the point is not about God’s foreknowledge, but rather about His goodness in providing a means of access to the goods. The guardians and managers of verse two refers to the law and the prophets, which Paul later calls the tutor to prepare us to be aware of our need for Christ. Our problem, as children, is that we are under bondage to the ways of the world. We are born into a culture, a time and space place, and we inherit the baggage of our environment. We are not to blame for this fact, but we do bear one, but important, responsibility: will we receive our adoption papers?
God didn’t just stamp our heavenly passport. He actually sent a Special Envoy, uniquely qualified for the job, to go through all the red tape that getting entangled in a sinful world entails, so that he could file the paperwork necessary to buy our freedom from slavery, from the orphanage, if you will. And in the process, just for wanting to give us that freedom, just for coming to show his Father’s love for us, just for wanting to buy us back from the auction block, when we were sold like mere livestock to slavery to the Massa, just for wanting to call us his Sons and Daughters, that Special Envoy from the King was not only rejected, but brutally killed for what he came to do – for us.
The ministry God has called me to do over these past five years has so far been largely about helping to reverse cultural and personal lies that say that God is not that good. We who grew up in America don’t even realize all the blessings we have from inheriting a country with many Judeo-Christian assumptions about life and God. The typical Russian view of God is a very distant OTHER, who is capricious and harsh, ready to punish with little to no provocation. The result is a self perception that is full of shame and devoid of hope. Americans talk of feeling guilty over something. Russians talk of feeling shame. The difference is that guilt relates to behavior. Shame relates to identity. Of course we should feel guilty over sin, and shame is an appropriate response of one who has utterly turned away our Father’s love. But our earthly Massa doesn’t want our guilt and shame to work to our benefit, helping us to see the need for forgiveness and a new identity as a son. So I have been training leaders in biblical counseling and in the use of prayer to uncover and invite the Holy Spirit to replace lies with truth, which is the only foundation of real change. It is a complete work of grace, initiated and consummated by God, and we get to be co-laborers with Him.
Once we have a person secure in their position with the Father as a son or daughter, then change accelerates. Until then, orphans can have really unhealthy attachments, or lack of attachments, to others. Blessed are the adoptive parents who get their child at a young age – usually before the age of three. For those raised in an orphanage in Eastern Europe or Russia, psychologists have come up with a diagnosis called Reactive Attachment Disorder. According to Wikipedia,
“The core feature is severely inappropriate social relating…. This can manifest itself in two ways:
• Indiscriminate and excessive attempts to receive comfort and affection from any available adult, even relative strangers (older children and adolescents may also aim attempts at peers)
• Extreme reluctance to initiate or accept comfort and affection, even from familiar adults, especially when distressed”
This is the phenomenon that makes Russian adoptive kids in America when they become teenagers so volatile and difficult. As I have considered this phenomenon over my several years in ministry, I have concluded that Reactive Attachment Disorder is the essence of the orphan spirit. I say this in literal terms as it relates to orphans, for it is unheard of outside of an orphanage background. It is also apt as a description of fallen humanity’s hopeless attempts to manage life apart from a relationship with our true Father.
And praise God, we are finding that these empty strategies simply vanish in the lives of both the literal and spiritual orphans that we work with in Russia. I think of Ludmilla, who has suffered all her life under the burden of shame and guilt about her family life, feeling responsible for a host of problems outside her control. When we found the root in how she perceived her father’s rejection of her, and she finally saw Jesus as giving her strength, love, and purpose, she threw off everything that was hindering her, and the sin that had entangled her, and she began to run the race with energy. Now she wants to start offering herself and her artistic gifts in ministry to teenagers to help them connect with the heart of the Father.
Verse 6 is the key verse. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” First, we see that God, from His eternal perspective, sees who we are before we see it. He calls us sons, and acts because of that fact. So based on who we are, who He has determined and called us to be, he sends the Spirit. If only we would recognize the power of this one fact – that we have the Spirit already in our hearts, how many questions, doubts, and fears would vaporize in an instant. But we try to talk God into doing something on our behalf, of giving us the Spirit, of blessing us, of hearing our prayers (for crying out loud), when he has already given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness – according to 2Peter 1:3.
Biblically, the heart is the seat of our spirit, and when we are born again, we are given a new Spirit, since our spirit was completely dead, which is to say, cut off from all hope of communication or communion with God. The word crying, from krazo (κραζο), signifies “a loud and earnest cry,” or “a public announcement.” Both of these meanings are actually significant. That the Spirit is making an announcement of sorts is attested to by the interesting connection with Roman adoptions, where the presence of a witness was required. And the Holy Spirit was traditionally associated with bearing witness to something. The more interesting aspect of this word is the loud and earnest cry, which literally derives from an onomatopoetic word describing the croaking sound a raven makes. That is to say it’s a deep guttural cry that comes from the core of a person’s being. A young woman, Yana, was sitting by merely witnessing some of the amazing transformation that was taking place in Ludmilla’s heart just before I left to fly here, and something deep within just broke, and she began to weep like I have never seen her weep, crying out to God for a restored relationship with her mother. She had never even really wanted to be reconciled with her mother before that moment. But being in the presence of the Spirit’s activity was enough to cause the fountains of the deep to open up, and the girls surrounded her in hugs and prayers for many minutes in a beautiful moment of shared thanksgiving and intercession.
I had heard before that Abba is an informal term for Father, but I had to check it out, to see if it wasn’t some sort of post-modern spin, but multiple sources confirmed to me the amazing, almost too-good-to-be-true meaning of this word. Abba really is the Aramaic for the intimate term that we would translate best as Daddy. Why this is so incredible is seen in the contrast with Jewish usage, where it was acceptable from child to father, acceptable from adult father to his aged father, but never acceptable in reference to God, although the more formal term for Father was used for God. Jesus called God Abba, and Paul uses the term himself, as though to confirm and underscore its significance.
So God sends His Spirit to those who are His children, and this Spirit gives them the ability to have a heart-felt connection with Him that is so deep and profound that out of our inmost being can come a cry of “Daddy.” This can happen for those who had no daddy. This can happen for those whose father was or is a terrible representation of God the Father. If you have a piece of paper, write down the following word pairs:
1. potter – clay
2. shepherd – sheep
3. master – slave
4. father – son
5. friend – friend
6. bridegroom – bride
You should recognize that all of these are biblical metaphors for our relationship with God. Notice also that they are listed in order of growing intimacy. Somebody should do a 6 part sermon series on each of these. I list them to show that there are various levels of intimacy with God, and that not all of them come naturally to each person. Even though our ultimate place is that of the bride, a point most strongly underscored in Ephesians and Revelations, the most frequent analogy used, and that by a long shot, is that of Father to son. My guess is that once you really can say, “Daddy” from your heart (like a crow!), then the rest will come. My ministry is focused like a laser beam on bringing a revelation of this core truth to everyone in Russia who will receive it. My own growing awareness of God as my Daddy has impacted my personal walk with Christ, my sensitivity to my wife as a husband, my love of my children as a father, and my depth of interactions with people in ministry. May you start to connect more and more deeply with the Spirit within you that is already crying, passionately crying, Abba, Daddy.