Providing gospel-centered resources to mobilize the church for global orphan care.


If Not for You — A Birthmother Story

by Dan Cruver Published Apr 20, 2015

Austin Stone’s Story Team just released its latest film, If Not for You. This is a story of Janice Moody, a birth mother who placed her baby for adoption and after twenty two years, she had the opportunity to meet him face to face for the first time. It’s a powerful story of adoption that shows the painful, yet redemptive journey of a birthmother.

Synopsis: For a pregnant twenty-year-old trying to decide what to do, the world does not offer much hope. After the harsh reality of a trip to a Planned Parenthood clinic, Janice Moody bravely carried her son to term and placed him for adoption, without knowing what the future held.

If Not For You from Austin Stone Story Team on Vimeo.

This sermon jam is a 3-minute excerpt from a sermon I preached a few years ago at a Covenant Care Services‘ event. My sermon was on Psalm 36:7-9. You’ll find those verses below the sermon jam video.

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”
—Psalm 36:7-9, ESV


by Dan Cruver Published Apr 16, 2015

Simple - small decisions

Dr. C.F.W. Walther, a pastor who lived in the 1800’s, wrote, “Every Christian may apply to himself the declaration of God: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!’” Don’t miss what Walther just said! The only thing I would change to what he wrote is swap out the word “may” with the word “must.” Every Christian must apply to himself or herself that very same declaration of the Father. Because of who Jesus is for us, what he did in our place, and on our behalf (i.e., by receiving John’s baptism of repentance and the confession sin, he who knew no sin repented and confessed our sins in our place, on our behalf), the words that his Father declared over him that day He also declares over us — the children of the Father — today and everyday hereafter!

I hope you’ll be spiritually encouraged and refreshed by this sermon jam on The Good News of the Baptism of Jesus for us. Read Matthew 3:1-17. More thoughts below the video.

Note: Sermon Jam created by Brendon Parker.

“In Jesus God Himself descended to the very bottom of our human existence where we are alienated and antagonistic, into the very hell of our godlessness and despair, laying fast hold of us and taking our cursed condition upon himself, in order to embrace us for ever in His reconciling love…The Gospel tells us that at His Baptism Jesus was baptized ‘into repentance’, for as the Lamb of God come to bear our sins He fulfilled that mission…in a way in which He bore our sin and guilt upon His very soul which He made an offering for sin. That is to say, the Baptism with which he was baptized was a Baptism of vicarious repentance for us which He brought to its completion on the Cross where He was stricken and smitten of God for our sakes, by whose stripes we are healed. He had laid hold of us even in the depths of our human soul and mind where we are alienated from God and are at enmity with him, and altered them from within and from below in radical and complete repentance…Sin has been so ingrained into our minds that we are unable to repent and have to repent even of the kind of repentance we bring to God. But Jesus Christ laid hold of us even there in our sinful repentance and turned everything round through His holy vicarious repentance” (Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ).

Orphan Care as Protest and Resistance

by Dan Cruver Published Apr 2, 2015


Given the ever present complexity and systemic challenges of the global orphan crisis, how do we keep laboring for orphan prevention, orphan care, and family reunification when we see so little substantial change happening? In his book Rejoicing in Lament, J. Todd Billings offers this perspective: what if we viewed our continued efforts as protest and resistance? Todd writes:

I worked on the staff of a homeless shelter for five years; during that time my illusions about heroically “rescuing” the poor were exposed and shattered. Many of our residents struggled with addition, mental illness, and an economic system that seemed against them. If I had been motivated by the instrumental outcome—seeing visible transformation in our homeless residents—I would have lasted only a few months rather than five years…I faced [this] question: Was I willing to serve the poor “for nothing”? Was I willing to serve the poor even if I couldn’t “fix” or “rescue” them?

My chaplain friend responded to [a nurse suffering burnout and compassion-fatigue] in a striking way: he suggested to her that rather than serving only if she could “change the world,” she should continue her service as an act of protest. How do we respond to a world with dying children? He said she should continue her compassionate action as a lament that witnesses that things in this fallen world are not the way they are supposed to be. How do we respond to a world that enslaves women in sex trafficking? We protest, lament, and act with compassion even when we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problem. In the words of Paul, we are in a “struggle” against “the powers of this dark world” (Eph. 6:12 NIV) that deal death and alienation from God and neighbor. We struggle to “stand firm” (v. 13) and bear witness to Jesus Christ, the victor over sin, the devil, and the powers. His victory is secure, but his reign of peace and shalom has not fully come.

From this standpoint, the point of compassionate action is not to “change the world.” It is to be faithful and bear witness in word and deed to a different kingdom: that of King Jesus. As our lips say, “Thy kingdom come,” we pray—and act— as revolutionaries who protest against the darkness in this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4)…We are to “revolt and fight” against “the disorder which inwardly and outwardly controls and penetrates and poisons and disrupts all human relations and interconnections.” Christians have “a binding requirement to engage in a specific uprising,” for in “sighing, calling, and crying ‘The kingdom come,’” Christians enter into a “revolt against disorder” (Rejoicing in Lament, p. 76).

Let’s engage in orphan care as protest and resistance against the fallen world order.

What “in the world” is the Apostle Paul doing with the term adoption? Realize it or not, this is a very important question. Stop for a minute and think about how you would answer it…

One of our 2011 conference speakers, Tim Chester, recently shared on his blog an excellent answer to the question of how Paul is using the term adoption in Ephesians, Galatians, and Romans. It comes from Marcus Peter Johnson’s book One with Christ, and it’s so very, very good! Marcus’ answer to this important question is basically what I’ve argued on this blog and in Reclaiming Adoption, chapters 1-2. Here it is:

One with Christ

“The term translated ‘adoption’ in the New Testament is unique to Paul’s letters. The Greek term is huiothesia, which Paul uses five times (Rom. 8:15; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). It is a compound of huios (‘son’) and thesis (‘placing’), and could be literally rendered ‘placed as sons,’ although there is some disagreement among biblical scholars about how best to translate it. (157)

“There may indeed be some merit in attempting to understand Paul’s use of huiothesia against the cultural-linguistic backdrop of his day, but there is compelling reason to think that his use of the term was influenced far more my theological considerations than cultural ones. In other words. when Paul speaks of Christians as ‘placed as son,’ he has at the forefront of his mind our being place in the Son, Jesus Christ. (157)

“As such, Paul is not ‘reaching’ for cultural analogies as conceptual bridges to explain what it means that we are adopted by God; rather, he is working with a more basic theological notion: the Father-son relationship that is intrinsic to God’s own being, and which we come to share by incorporation into Christ. (157)

“The fact that God adopts us and we thereby become children of God is based in the reality of God’s own relationship with his Son. It is not a reality that is derived from God external to himself – a category of blessing that God creates outside of the Father-Son relationship internal to his being – but an existence that is derived from within God’s communal being as Father and son. That is exactly what is so stunning about adoptive sonship – it is sharing in the Son’s own relationship with the Father: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father.’ (John 14:21) There is no adoption, no other way to be children of God, no experience of the fatherly love of God except through the Father’s love for his only begotten Son.” (150)

One with Christ is available at Amazon.

Adoption is placement and reunificationWhen I spoke on “Adoption as Reconciliation and Family Reunification” at T4A’s October 2014 conference, I received a good bit of push back. Most who pushed back believed I had changed positions and weren’t pro-adoption any longer (i.e., pro-adoption: placing fatherless children into families through adoption). Many thought my position was now somewhat anti-adoption.

I sympathize with those who believe I’ve changed my position due to outside influences, but that simply is not the case. In the opening comments of my talk I said, “My goal today is to challenge evangelical’s current adoption paradigm. There are very significant differences between how adoption is understood in the 21st Century and how the Bible itself uses the word adoption. [If the evangelical adoption movement is to continue to grow], our adoption-paradigm must shift if we are to navigate the complex global crisis.

Notice what I did not say: “our adoption-paradigm must change.” I said shift and not change. But for whatever reason(s), that’s not what some individuals heard. Rather, my words were interpreted to mean I was no longer pro-adoption. That’s most definitely not the case. I am very pro-adoption! No, I was simply very careful to say that our current adoption-paradigm must shift.

To Switch or to Shift, That Is the Question

In my thinking, on the one hand, to change positions is to switch position. On the other hand, to shift is not to abandon your previous position but to realize that it’s broader and more expansive than you originally believed. Hence, the shift. About 5 years ago my position shifted from adoption as family placement to also include adoption as family reunification and reconciliation as well. The diagram to the right better represents the view I’ve held for several years now.

As I emphasized in my 2014 talk, “Adoption is not a one-time, one-off act. Biblically, adoption is an ongoing story—an unending story. Adoption forms a story-arc. It’s not merely a single point in time (see this diagram).”

Theologically, adoption is both (1) placement into the family of God and (2) reconciliation and reunification. We’re certainly not looking for a complete paradigm switch or change away from child placement. No, we are looking for a paradigm-shift to include and stress reconciliation and reunification. The adoption paradigm I’m presenting is not an either/or but a both/and paradigm. I believe making this shift to include reconciliation will actually strengthen the practice of domestic, indigenous, and international adoption.

Family Reunification

I’m convinced that adoption is first about family reconciliation. According to Luke 3:38, Adam was created to be the human son of God (see scholar Sinclair Ferguson’s explanation). Man’s family of origin was God’s family. God’s family was man’s original family.

So strongly did John Calvin believe in God’s fatherhood of man from the very beginning that he wrote, “We should note God’s fatherly love to humanity in the very order of creation. He did not create Adam until he had enriched the world with full abundance of good things…He shows his wonderful goodness to us by assuming the burden of a prudent and conscientious head of the family” (Inst. 1559, 1.14.2; emphasis mine). God not only was Adam and Eve’s Father from the very beginning, but he went to great lengths to demonstrate his fatherly care for them. God the Father was certainly not a deadbeat father. No, he was as caring and loving as a father could possibly be—a father of which this world has never seen since.

The Downward Plunge

But as the biblical story unfolds, we discover that Adam rebelled against God as his Father. The entire human race, as a result, became “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). They (we) became the estranged children of God. We became human beings in need of reconciliation and family reunification.

From that point on in world history, humanity’s great need was to be reconciled to the Father, not placed into a another family by way of adoption. Rather, the gracious work of God by which he reconciled his estranged children to himself is what Scripture calls adoptionBiblically, then, adoption is first about reconciliation and family reunification. 

What Influences Your Understanding of Adoption?

We western Christians, and American Western Christians in particular, tend to go at this upside down. Because of how we understand adoption—our understanding of adoption being influenced heavily by Western practice—we unwittingly think that adoption is first about finding families for fatherless children, so we often look first to international or domestic adoption as our primary option (if not the primary option). When this is the case, we can be sure we are interpreting and applying Scripture’s teaching on adoption from our cultural biases.

My talk at our 2014 national conference was to challenge this way of thinking. If adoption, biblically, is first about family reunification and reconciliation, then our first concern should be uniting orphans with their families of origin if possible. Don’t fail to see that I wrote if possible. Granted, it’s often not possible. As a matter of fact, it’s most often not possible (95% or more of the time) because of the complexity and corruption in the child’s home country.

But that should not prevent us from considering it as the first option.

Although family unification or reconciliation is not a viable option for the vast majority of orphaned children, the theology of Adoption requires that we think family of origin first, even if the child’s family of origin is not an option for a variety of reasons.

But even if it’s not an option, we should strive for  some type of family permeance—whether that means indigenous adoption, international adoption, or a healthy fostering relationship in a home that’s lovingly and wholeheartedly committed to family permanence for that child.

By now you are deeply feeling the vast complexity of the global fatherless crisis. If you’re feeling its complexity, that’s good.

Scalable Orphan Care

But when facing the complexity of the global orphan crisis, what we really need is a scale of orphan care that’s approachable, that’s solvable. We want powerful ideas and effective solutions that are especially beautiful because they are simple. Big problems are generally solved by a series of small, actionable solutions.

When looking at the complex meaning of adoption biblically, as well as the complex global orphan crisis,  it’s wise to take a step back to see whether or not we can “shrink the change” to smaller solutions we can get our minds around. Global problems are generally solved by a series of small, actionable solutions. Small victories often trigger a spiral of larger victories. Shrinking the change often lead to larger solutions.

Believe it or not, working from the paradigm of adoption as reconciliation or family reunification makes it easier to shrink the change as we work toward larger solutions to systemic problems.

That’s what our theme for our 2015 conference is: Simple.

A series of simple actions can make a world of difference.

Our 2014 conference theme was “Urgency & Complexity: Biblical & Ethical Approaches to the Orphan Crisis.” We needed to engage with just how complex orphan care has become as a global issue.

It’s time for simplicity. The reality is that, even though orphan care and adoption are tough and complex at times, people all over the world are discovering simple steps that can lead to truly transformative solutions.

Especially in a time like ours, complexity can lead to discouragement and even to analysis-paralysis.

We need simple.

Please join J.D. GreearTony MeridaJohn Sowers, and Johnny Carr (as well as others we’re excigted to announce soon) for our 2015 conference to be held November 5-7 (Thursday evening through Saturday Noon) at 8,000 member Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. As always, you can expect our commitment to creating the kinds of spaces where you can enjoy conversations among friends about issues and actions that matter. This year, you can also expect even more elegant simplicity.

You can listen to the audio of my talks and Q & A’s here: and my manuscript:

To register and/or learn more, visit our pre-launch registration site. Super early-bird registration is just $69 per person.

Simple for blog post




Super Early-Bird Registration Now Open

by Dan Cruver Published Mar 9, 2015

Simple for blog post

Simple action can make a world of difference.

Our 2014 conference theme was “Urgency & Complexity: Biblical & Ethical Approaches to the Orphan Crisis.” We needed to engage with just how complex orphan care has become as a global issue.

It’s time for simplicity. The reality is that, even though orphan care and adoption are tough and complex at times, people all over the world are discovering simple steps that can lead to truly transformative solutions.

Especially in a time like ours, complexity can lead to discouragement and even to analysis paralysis.

We need simple.

When facing the complexity of the global orphan care crisis, what we really need is a scale of orphan care that’s approachable, that’s solvable. We want powerful ideas and effective solutions that are especially beautiful because they are simple.

Please join J.D. GreearTony MeridaJohn Sowers, and Johnny Carr (as well as others we’re excigted to announce soon) for our 2015 conference to be held November 5-7 (Thursday evening through Saturday Noon) at 8,000 member Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. As always, you can expect our commitment to creating the kinds of spaces where you can enjoy conversations among friends about issues and actions that matter. This year, you can also expect even more elegant simplicity.

Learn more.

The Other Side Of Adoption

by Dan Cruver Published Mar 4, 2015

AFTER-COLOR-460_300-459x707David Murray of Head, Heart, Hand reviews Brian Borgman’s After They Are Yours: The Grace And Grit of Adoption. He writes:

If you don’t want to cry, don’t read After They Are Yours: The Grace And Grit of Adoption. What a powerfully moving, deeply personal, and transparently realistic story about the challenges of adoption.

With the permission of his now 18-year-old adopted son, Alex, Pastor Brian Borgman narrates the struggles and successes of adopting Alex as a young child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

The beautiful glory and grace of adoption is present throughout; but so is the grit and grime that the devil often throws in and stirs up in adoptive families. It reveals “the other side of adoption” that some adoption advocates and some adoption books ignore, minimize, or gloss over.

Read the entire review.

Redemptive-Adoptive History at a Glance

by Dan Cruver Published Feb 21, 2015

*Click on the image below to download the PDF.

Adoptive History Chart - The Big Picture jpeg

Quiz: Assess your spiritual maturity

by Dan Cruver Published Feb 18, 2015


*This is a guest post by Tony Merida.

Can you name an orphan?

That’s the only question on this quiz, but I failed the test.

I was never opposed to orphan care or being generous to the poor. I was just very indifferent. Sure, I had a sense of sympathy toward those who were weak and powerless; I saw the pictures and was moved. But I rarely acted.

Inevitably, I had to face the fact that sympathy is no substitute for action. My sporadic, momentary experiences of sympathy (for Ukrainian orphans and enslaved girls in the Philippines) didn’t help vulnerable children one bit.

Worse yet, I considered myself spiritually mature. I could name a lot of authors and famous preachers, and even knew many of them personally, but I couldn’t name an orphan.

Bad maturity metrics

In light of my orphan-less lifestyle, I began to reevaluate how I evaluate spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity isn’t merely something you do with your mind. It’s not about the books you read. It’s not about the conferences you attend or speak at. It’s about the life you live.

It’s possible to listen to ten podcasts weekly, and to sing with the hottest bands, and be in four Beth Moore Bible studies, but miss the call to care for the least of these—and all the while live in a deceived state of thinking you’re mature.

Shouldn’t we be looking at the life of Jesus and the heart of God as revealed in Scripture, instead of whether or not we are keeping up with the Christian subculture?

“The highest privilege that the gospel offers”

The doctrine of adoption is the Cinderella doctrine of Pauline theology. Books about salvation often emphasize justification, redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation, but speak cursorily—if at all—about adoption. This is unfortunate, because the doctrine of adoption is, in the words of J. I. Packer, “the highest privilege that the gospel offers” (Knowing God, 207).

When we fail to ponder the privileges of adoption, we miss so much. It provides incredible hope and assurance to God’s people. The doctrine of adoption also inspires prayer and worship to God. And it reminds us of how we should relate to one another in the church: as adopted brothers and sisters.

Paul uses the word “adoption” in Ephesians, Galatians, and Romans, though the concept is taught elsewhere (including in the Old Testament—Israel was “God’s son”). Paul shows us that God the Father administered our adoption, God the Son accomplished our adoption, and God the Spirit applied our adoption, giving us a new nature, a new position, and the indwelling presence of God that enables us to cry, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6).

God is an adoptive Father—by choice. Adoption was never Plan B for God. It wasn’t an alternative solution. It was Plan A. Before the universe existed, God planned on adopting us into His family (Eph. 1:5).

Why did God adopt us?

Because He is gracious and merciful. God didn’t adopt us because of our attractive merits, but because of His amazing mercy. Therefore, when Paul tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children,” part of that means reflecting the adopting love of God to a world in need (Eph. 5:1).

Certainly, not everyone is called to adopt, and not every orphan is available for adoption; but every believer is called to imitate God.

More hard questions

Considering all of this led me to take a more honest look at my own life. If God is a father to the fatherless, and I am to reflect Him in every way, then doesn’t that mean I should care for the fatherless too?

If “true religion” involves caring for orphans in their affliction, as James 1:27 says, then what kind of religion am I practicing if it doesn’t involve some measure of orphan care?

Am I neglecting “the weightier matters” of doing justice and mercy like the Pharisees that frustrated Jesus (Matt. 23:23)?

Have I turned into a polished professional pastor whose public life is far more impressive than my own personal life?

These questions haunted me. I began to see that in many ways the poorest of the poor were orphans, and there are millions of fatherless kids, not to mention the “functionally fatherless” in our neighborhoods.

This reality, coupled with the weight of numerous passages on the subject, led me to repentance and some life-altering decisions.

True religion

Long story short, my wife and I set out to meet some orphans. We ended up bringing a few home with us.

Sometimes people look at me funny when I’m with my Ukrainian son and my Ethiopian son, since they both call me “Papa.” Observers often have questions. As I talk with them, and eventually share that we have five adopted children, the most common question is “Why?”

What moved my heart the most was the doctrine of adoption. Of course, this isn’t what most people expect to hear. They expect to hear about infertility. But my wife and I were led to adopt because of theology not biology.

We’ve now passed on “the adoption bug” to our kids. Recently I was taking my son Joshua to baseball practice. He said, “Papa, when I get old, I want to adopt from every country. I want to adopt from Ukraine, Ethiopia, China, and Kentucky.”

He doesn’t understand everything about adoption, but Joshua already has a sensitivity to others in need. His little heart has already grasped the idea that those adopted should extend adopting love to others.

I don’t tell every Christian to adopt children. I do tell them to elevate their view of adoption, and to seriously consider it. Here’s my simple application: Every Christian must do something to care for the orphan.

Whether you’re involved with adoption, foster care, respite, or simply caring for the functionally fatherless in your community, the question every Christian must ask is, “What can I do to practice James 1:27?”

We all are not called to become adoptive parents, but we are all called to care for orphans. Orphan care is not for the exceptional Christians. It’s for the ordinary ones.

Get to know an orphan and get to know the God who adopted you.

For more on this topic, see Tony Merida’s new book Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down.

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. Tony is the author of Ordinary, Faithful Preaching, co-author of Orphanology, and serves as a general editor and as contributor to the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series along with David Platt and Danny Akin. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five adopted children.


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