Texas Planned Parenthood Decision and a Christian Response

Before I begin this post in response to the indictment decision of the grand jury in Texas against the anti-abortion activists instead of Planned Parenthood I would like to make two points very clear.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

  1. I am against abortion. I was adopted at birth in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, and have a personal stake in the decision not to abort unplanned pregnancies. I am also a father of four and cannot even conceptualize having ended any of their lives before they had a chance to live.
  2. This is one response, not the only response, a Christian can have to this news. Obviously I believe I am correct, otherwise I would not be posting this piece. Yet I am not narrow-minded enough to think that my opinion is the only one that matters in the world.

So, now that I have made those two points, here is my take on what Christians ought to do in response to this issue.

STOP trying to have the government regulate everyone in the country to follow a Christian outlook on life! Abortion is morally reprehensible. That is a given. Any society that would willingly kill its own children is a weak and selfish society. It is a barbaric practice that we sterilize by performing it in a medical setting and calling it a procedure. It is infanticide, plain and simple.

Yet we Christians would not have to bring legal action if we would spend more time discipling the people we have to live by a higher standard than what is legal in our country. We would not have to bring legal action if Christians took seriously Thou shalt not kill and Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. And We would not have to bring legal action if we not only lived this way, but encouraged others to convert and live this way with us. Planned Parenthood would disappear if there was no market for their services because there was no demand by potential patients and customers. It would not matter that abortion is technically legal in the US if our society did not avail themselves of the procedure.

We need to quit trying to have the government, at whatever level, try to force us by law to live a certain way. If something is morally wrong and sinful, convert others and train ourselves to live to the higher standard God calls us to live. This is how the Church functioned in the first 300 years of its existence. We did not petition the Roman government to change laws. We simply lived according to God’s vision of life. And at that time we were persecuted, had our property confiscated, our rights revoked, imprisoned, and killed. Yet we never led a legal drive to change the laws of the Empire. We simply lived as Christ taught us. That was what converted the Empire, not law suits.

Just a thought.

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Hebrews 10:39 and Christian Courage

faithsignI really don’t like the image of Jesus that some people have of a meek, mild man (who tends to look like a woman with a beard in paintings) and went around just talking about love.  Its an image of a hippie Jesus I would expect sitting around a campfire singing kum ba ya with flowers in his hair.  That is not the image of the Jesus who made whips and beat the people in the Temple as he overturned the tables and chased everyone and everything out of it.  Nor is it the Jesus who confronted hypocrisy with harsh words and stern rebukes.

I also don’t like the image of the Church as a fortress of saints huddling together for protection from the evils of the outside world.  Its an image of a weak group of people whose purpose is to watch out for each other and separate from the rest of the world.  If someone else happens to hear of the Church and what she believes, that person may join, but the bulk of the Church’s efforts is on keeping evil out and protecting who it has.

This image of the Church does not line up with Scripture.  Take this verse from Hebrews as a prime example:

But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved.

Christians are on the move, not timidly retreating from the world as it gets darker around us.  Paul writes about the armor of God and in it the main protection we have is a shield and breastplate–neither of which protect when armor-of-godsomeone turns around to retreat or run away.  They only protect the front of the body as the person is moving forward.  Jesus said as well that the Church would be so strong the gates of hell will not be able to withstand it.  This is an image of the Church marching against the strongholds of evil in the world.

If our understanding of the Church is meek and loving–and ultimately helpless in the face of evil in the world, this is not the biblical understanding of the Church.

Whether it is social issues or terrorism, the Church is not helpless, nor should it be afraid.  We have the presence of the Living God with us and nothing can change that fact.  Actually, that is not entirely true.  We can leave God’s presence when we do not live into the reality of the Church that God has created.  When we shrink back from our faithful witness in the world, we leave the power of God and we will be overcome.  Short of that, though, nothing can inhibit God’s power among us.

What is it that we are afraid of, then?  My suspicion is that we are afraid of losing the comfort and security we have.  It is a dangerous thing to stand up for Jesus in the face of a hostile world, but the only weapon the world has against us is fear.  To that we have a ready answer from Paul (Romans 8:35-39):

Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake.  We are treated like sheep for slaughter.  But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.  I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.

Do not be afraid.  Do not timidly draw back and be destroyed.  Stand fast.  Christ is with us and no one can change that fact.  Thanks be to God!

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Christian Polarization

extremes_mIn America, we are witnessing an increasingly polarized country. Whether it is over the issues of politics, race, economics, orientations, or some other one, we are seeing an increasingly divided society that cannot find common ground. Interestingly enough, this kind of polarization is not new to us. Paul experienced it in his ministry:

14 But thank God, who is always leading us around through Christ as if we were in a parade. He releases the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere through us. 15 We smell like the aroma of Christ’s offering to God, both to those who are being saved and to those who are on the road to destruction. 16 We smell like a contagious dead person to those who are dying, but we smell like the fountain of life to those who are being saved.

You cannot get much more polarized than this–he smells like a rotting corpse to one group of people and the fountain of life to another group. Paul’s ministry and message had a polarizing effect on the people that heard him. This is true if you read the Book of Acts and see that almost everywhere Paul went and preached he encountered people who joined him and people who wanted to kill him.

Jesus said his followers would experience as much when he told his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household (Matthew 10:34-36, quoting Micah 7:6). The choice to follow Jesus creates a division and a tension between people. It polarizes them.

Why?

Because the message of Christianity is that we are not truly who we are supposed to be until we are in a relationship with the one, true God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No amount of success in this world can cover over that fact. No amount of sincerity of belief in a different god can cover over that fact. There is only one God. As well, the Triune God is very concerned with how we live our lives here and now. It is not enough to go through the motions and feign devotion. God wants a real relationship with us. Religious actions will not cover over that fact. Only offering all of ourselves to him will work.

To those outside of this relationship and who are committed to staying outside of it, this sounds horrible. It sounds like a group of people who would give up all the good of this life for something that cannot be proven about a potential next life. It sounds like people who are convinced there is something deeply wrong with them and need an invisible friend to fix it. It sounds like lunacy and they want nothing to do with it. In fact, the mere suggestion that people are not whole without God is an insult to them that reeks of manipulation, control, and a weak mind.

To those inside this relationship, it sounds wonderful. It is an ever-deepening and growing relationship with One who truly loves us and gave up everything for us. It is a life being continually transformed and bettered. It is the ability to become the people we know, deep down inside, we were created to be. And it is a reminder that this life is not all there is in creation. It is Good News.

The Gospel message polarizes people. If you are a Christian, you may have experienced this in your own family or circles of influence. Yet one thing we need to keep in mind is that if there is going to be polarization in our lives, let us make sure it is because of the Gospel of Christ and not something else. Let us not be self-righteous and judgmental. Let us not confuse some political platform for the truth of God. Let us not elevate anything in this world to the level of divine.

Let us make sure we are living according to the Gospel. In order to do this, it requires that you know the Gospel. Become familiar with it by reading it every day. Blogs like this one are another way to supplement what you read on your own in the Bible, but this is one opinion among many and it is no substitute for the Bible. If you have never read anything in the Bible before, get a translation you can understand easily. You can go to any bookstore and there will be a wide variety of translations from which you can choose. Some of the easiest to understand are the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Common English Bible (CEB). Then begin to read the New Testament.

I would suggest reading Mark, Matthew, John, Luke, Acts, and then the rest in order. The reason for taking the Gospels out of order is simple. Mark is the smallest and quickest of the Gospels. It gives a good overview of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew gives a lot more to what Mark recorded. John has a completely different perspective. And Luke echos a lot of Mark and Matthew, but he also wrote Acts, so reading those two back-to-back makes sense.

Remember, if Christians are going to polarize the world, let’s make sure it is because we are following the Gospel.

Matthew 5:11-12 and Persecution of Christians

PrinceOfPeaceIf you have been following the Daily Bible Reading Schedule, you will know that we finished the Old Testament over the weekend and began the New Testament once again. (For those of you who do not know what this means, follow the link above.)

In Matthew’s Gospel, we have Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Right at the beginning of the sermon, Jesus gives several Blessed statements. Almost all of them are from different places in the Old Testament, but Jesus brings them all together here. One that is new, though, is this one:

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Notice here that Jesus says we are blessed when we are persecuted or ridiculed for his sake. This is a big distinction. We are not blessed when we are reviled because we did something bad or wrong. We are not blessed when we are persecuted because of our own wants and desires. We are blessed when we are persecuted because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has called us to do and who he has called us to be.

This is also one of those points in the text where Jesus equates himself with God. The prophets were persecuted because of their commitment to God and to God’s truth. We are persecuted because of our commitment to Jesus and to Jesus’ truth. Never let anyone fool you into thinking Jesus never made any claims to being God. This is one of them.

Joel 3:9-16 and It Gets Darkest Before the Dawn

119163Most people who are somewhat familiar with the Bible will at least have heard of the beautiful prophecy in Isaiah 2 that talks about peace in the future:

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
    and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

This is a wonderful description of what the world will be like when the Messiah, Jesus, truly rules over all.

Not many people are as familiar with this passage in Joel which comes after the prophecy about Pentecost that Peter quotes in Acts 2:1-21 (Joel 2:28-32). Here is what the Lord says through Joel:

Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
    stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
    let them come up.
10 Beat your ploughshares into swords,
    and your pruning-hooks into spears;
    let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior.’

11 Come quickly,
    all you nations all around,
    gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations rouse themselves,
    and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the neighbouring nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the wine press is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their wickedness is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth shake.
But the Lord is a refuge for his people,
    a stronghold for the people of Israel.

All the nations of the earth will use whatever means they have to make war on God’s covenant people. The warning for us is to have faith and find refuge in the Lord. Being a follower of Christ does not mean that life will be easy or bountiful. It means that we will have a refuge in times of trouble, and then at the end we will find peace.

Psalm 47 and The Joy of the Lord

Many of the psalms are very depressing. They cry out to God about being persecuted or forgotten or trampled under foot. Then there are other psalms that are absolutely joyous and wonderful and celebratory. Psalm 47 fits into this latter category.

Clap your hands, all you people!
    Shout joyfully to God with a joyous shout!
Because the Lord Most High is awesome,
    he is the great king of the whole world.
He subdues the nations under us,
    subdues all people beneath our feet.
He chooses our inheritance for us:
    the heights of Jacob, which he loves.    Selah

God has gone up with a joyous shout—
    the Lord with the blast of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God! Sing praises!
    Sing praises to our king! Sing praises
    because God is king of the whole world!
    Sing praises with a song of instruction!

God is king over the nations.
    God sits on his holy throne.
The leaders of all people are gathered
    with the people of Abraham’s God
    because the earth’s guardians belong to God;
        God is exalted beyond all.

This psalm really captures the attitude of the messianic age, when all peoples are united with the descendants of Abraham in worshiping the one, true God. This is the vision of the Church, which has people redeemed from every tribe, nation, and language all worshiping the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–the Trinity, the one, true, Living God. When this happens, we can do little else but sing praises!

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Deuteronomy 28:38-41 and Prophecy of Desolation

sow-seed-irri-images-2-flickrWhen I read much of the Old Testament prophecies concerning judgment and desolation, I usually think how grateful I am not to be living in Israel during that time.  I look forward to the recorded blessings after they come back from exile, but the foretelling of punishment and destruction are not my favorite reading material in the Bible.  Much of this is because I know these do not pertain to me in my current situation.  They are not relevant.  Or are they?

You might scatter a lot of seed on the field, but you will gather almost nothing because the locusts will eat it all.  You might plant lots of vineyards and work hard in them, but you won’t drink any wine or harvest the grapes because worms will devour them.  You might have many olive trees throughout your territories, but you won’t cover yourself with their oil because your olive trees will fail.  You might have sons and daughters, but they won’t be yours for long because they will be taken away as prisoners.

This comes in a large section of curses and judgment on Israel for falling away from the covenant and worshiping false gods.  Usually I gloss over these sections, but the imagery in these four verses struck me as very relevant for the Church, especially the Church in the West (the First World nations).  Jesus uses the metaphor of scattering seed (Mark 4:1-20).  The vineyard is a typical image of the covenant people in God (Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 20:9-19; John 15:1-8, 16).  Olive trees symbolize leaders in the fellowship (Zechariah 4:11-12; Revelation 11:3-4).

In other words, every part of this warning could be applied to the Church today.  If we fall away from the Lord, ignore his call to the holy life, and worship false gods: our evangelism will fail, our discipleship efforts will not produce disciples, our leaders will be ineffective, and as a result we will lose our children to those outside the Church.

Is this not the state of Christianity in the West?  Yes, I know there are many individual congregations to which one can point in order to say God is at work.  Thank God for them!  But the history of the Church and the example in the Bible is one of much more power and success in spreading the Good News.  These faithful congregations ought not be the exception, but the norm.  In America the Church is losing her children and it is shrinking.

Yet this curse and prophecy of desolation is not without hope.  There is always a message of redemption and restoration–if we repent and turn to the Lord with our whole being in love.  Perhaps the time has come to ask ourselves seriously how we have corrupted the message of Christ or abandoned it all together, to ask God honestly what false gods we have gone after in our worship and devotion, and to cry out for his forgiveness and mercy.

The Church in many parts of the world, often the parts that are the most hostile to the faith, is growing and thriving.  Their scattered seed produces thirty, sixty, and one hundred fold harvest.  Their vineyards produce fruit that lasts.  Their oil from their olive trees anoint followers and bring healing and health to the community.  Their children and grandchildren grow in the faith.  May they pray for us in the West, that we would have the same singular devotion to the Lord that we had long ago and they have now.