Women and Babies: Let’s Choose Both

adult-baby-blur-1667578.jpg

It’s been a watershed week for abortion law in this country.  Last week, the state of Alabama passed legislation outlawing abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life is endangered.  Just three days later, Missouri passed a bill that outlaws abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy.  These restrictions follow on the heels of a series of “heartbeat bills” passed this year in Ohio, Georgia, and Mississippi, which ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable.

These bills have sparked angry debate as a yawning chasm has opened over the issue of abortion.  Governor Kay Ivey, who signed Alabama’s bill into law, tweeted last Wednesday:

Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act.  To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God.

On the other side, progressive firebrand and New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted shortly after Governor Ivey:

Ultimately, this is about women’s power.  When women are in control of their sexuality, it threatens a core element underpinning right-wing ideology: patriarchy.  It’s a brutal form of oppression to seize control of the 1 essential thing a person should command: their own body.

The talking points for both sides are set.  The arguments are entrenched.  The legal battle is being staged.  And there’s plenty of animus to go around.

Personally, I uphold the value and dignity of life, whether that life be in the womb, out of womb, young, or old.  So, when a third-world despot subjects his people to disease and starvation, I shudder.  When another story of another school shooting makes headlines, I am angered.  And yes, when a child’s life is taken at the hands of an abortion doctor, I am grieved.

All of this does not mean, however, that I am unsympathetic to women who, when they darken the doors of an abortion clinic, are often confused and scared of what having a baby will be like.  Neither does this mean that I am unsympathetic to women who, after having and abortion, often struggle deeply with feelings of guilt and regret.

As with many debates in our current culture, caricatures that fall largely along “either-or” lines have been developed for the sake of simplicity and tribal identity – either you care about the wellbeing of women or you care about the life of the unborn.

I care about both.  And I have a hunch you might, too.

The Psalmist calls us to “defend the weak” (Psalm 82:3).  Babies in utero are most definitely members of the weak.  It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to defend them and to speak up for them.  But women who are pregnant and scared, along with women who have had abortions and are ashamed, can also feel weak.  It is critical, therefore, that we love and help them by offering hope for joyful lives beyond their most frightening moments.

We should care about both babies and women, for, ultimately, we are called to care for all.  In a political moment where anger burns hot, loving both babies and the women who carry them may just be the one thing that is hard to hate.

Advertisements

May 20, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

When Your Family Becomes Your Enemy

abandoned-argue-argument-50592.jpg

Jesus proffers plenty of tough challenges over the course of His ministry, but one of His toughest moments comes when He warns His disciples:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)

Jesus’ words here make me grimace every time I think about giving a sweet wake-up kiss to my daughter or hoisting my son up over my head as he squeals with delight.  I love my family fiercely.  I would guess that you do, too.  Jesus’ words sound harsh.  And yet, Jesus’ words are also needed.  Here’s why.

Part of the background for Jesus’ teaching comes from God’s instruction to Moses:

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. (Deuteronomy 13:6-8)

God loves families.  But He also knows that family structures, like everything else in creation, are marked and marred by sin.  Even family members can lead us astray.  Some family members can lead other family members into idolatry.  God’s worship, Deuteronomy 13 reminds us, must trump even our own family’s wishes.

Sometimes, then, as Jesus warns, we may fight with our families.  Our own family members may, at times, feel like our enemies.  We may put faith first while other family members do not.  We may declare, “Jesus is Lord,” while other family members live as if they are their own lords.  Such faith divisions can cause relational frictions.  And yet, fighting with our family over such transcendent questions can, ultimately, prove to be fighting for our family.  Because we love our family, we want our family members to experience true hope.  Because we love our family, we want our family members to experience true peace.  Because we love our family, we want our family members to experience God’s promise of and invitation to life.  And so, even when it’s tough and even though rejection is a real possibility, we are called to carry the gospel to everyone – including our own family.

Over my years in ministry, I have had to encourage more than one parent who had a wayward child to draw boundaries and demand accountability.  Yes, this would mean that a parent might have to fight with their child.  But this would also mean that a parent was fighting for their child because they love their child and want what is best for their child – even if the child doesn’t want what is best for their own self.

Over the course of His ministry, Jesus was willing to make a lot of enemies.  The religious leaders hated Him.  The Roman government was suspicious of Him.  Even one of His own disciples betrayed Him.  Yet, Jesus was never afraid to speak tough truth to His enemies – not because He wanted to fight with them, but because He wanted to fight for them.  Jesus loved His enemies and wanted what was best for them – even if they didn’t want what was best for their own selves.

Jesus’ words about family continue to be challenging.  No one likes to fight with their family.  No one wants their family members to become their enemies.  But even if our family members’ response to our commitment to Christ is rejection, our response to them can be drawn from our commitment to Christ:  “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

Just because someone is mad at you doesn’t mean you can’t love them.  And love, after all, is what being a family is all about.

May 13, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Venezuela’s Long Fight for Freedom

SEE IT: Armored military vehicle plows into protesters as violence breaks out in Venezuela

Credit: NTN24

In a scene reminiscent of the slaughter at Tiananmen Square, last Tuesday, a Venezuela National Guard vehicle ran over a group of protestors who were supportive of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, after he called upon members of that nation’s military to rise up against President Nicolás Maduro.  Nicholas Casey reported on the situation for The New York Times:

It was the boldest move yet by Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader: at sunrise, he stood flanked by soldiers at an air force base in the heart of the capital, saying rebellion was at hand …

In the streets, anti-government demonstrators clashed with forces loyal to the president amid reports of live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas. A health clinic in Caracas took in 69 people injured during the day. An armored vehicle rammed protesters, but it was not immediately clear how many people were hurt … 

Since January, Mr. Guaidó has run what amounts to a parallel government, counting on support from more than 50 countries, including the United States, even as Mr. Maduro remains the country’s leader. Despite Mr. Maduro’s low popularity, however, the opposition’s momentum has been sapped as Mr. Guaidó has failed to depose the president or solve the shortages of food, medicine, water and power that plague the country’s 30 million people.

Venezuela is in trouble.  And anyone who has been watching knows that Venezuela has been in trouble for a very long time.

President Trump has been a strong supporter of Mr. Guaidó’s opposition movement, decrying Mr. Maduro’s authoritarian rule.  As news of the protests broke, the president tweeted:

I am monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely. The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom! 

The freedom of the Venezuelan people is indeed critical.  How to attain such a freedom, however, is complicated.  When President Maduro first came to power in Venezuela in 2013, some people saw him as a national savior, following the disastrous presidency of Hugo Chávez.  They were most certainly wrong.  His crimes against his people are many and well-documented as he has continued his predecessor’s legacy of economic and humanitarian oppression.  As is often the case, politicians who promise to save a nation often only wind up becoming authoritarian and crooked.  To use the famed axiom of Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt.”

Ultimately, freedom cannot be given by any man, whether that man be Nicolás Maduro or Juan Guaidó, for freedom is not the property of any man.  But freedom can be celebrated and protected by every man.  This is why the framers of our Constitution were not so interested in enumerating the powers of our government as they were in limiting the powers of our government.

Venezuela’s struggles remain.  And it will take humble people who hold power lightly – instead of dictators who wield power recklessly – to begin to truly address the country’s ills.  The exercise of power must yield to the practice of compassion.  Venezuelan lives depend on it.

May 6, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Sri Lanka, Persuasion, and Resurrection

There is this telling line that describes the way in which the apostle Paul conducted his ministry: “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).  Paul, when it came to sharing the gospel, sought to persuade.  And, by all accounts, he was quite successful.  What began a small group of hundreds of Christians in the first century now numbers 2.18 billion.

The Christian faith has always had an affinity for persuasion.  There is a whole subset of Christian teaching categorized as “apologetics,” which is meant to defend the faith against those who would attack its integrity and persuade those who question its credibility.  Indeed, persuasion is critical to the Christian mission.  Christians are called to make winsome, reasoned, intelligible arguments as to why Jesus is the Messiah in the confidence that God’s Spirit will bring people to faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

Not everyone, however, operates in this way of persuasion.

Last Sunday, as Christians in Sri Lanka were celebrating the resurrection of Christ, a spate of coordinated, terrorist attacks were launched by nine suicide bombers at three churches and three hotels in the island nation’s capital, Colombia, killing around 250.  There were warnings in the days and weeks before the attacks, which Sri Lankan officials failed to heed.  One of the suicide bombers had been previously arrested, but was then released.  ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, although the extent to which the terror group was involved remains unclear.

Tragically, these kinds of attacks have become unsurprising.  In 2017, 18,814 people were killed in terrorist attacks worldwide.  This represents a whopping 27% decline in deaths from the year before.  Many, many people have lost their lives in these acts of evil.

Behind terrorism lies an ideology that those who disagree with you, whether their disagreement be theological, philosophical, ideological, or political, cannot and are not to be persuaded.  Instead, they are to be defeated and destroyed.  This way of thinking is as horrifying as it is frightening.  But it is also, ultimately, unsuccessful.

At the dawn of the third century, when Christians were being severely persecuted by the Romans, a church historian named Tertullian famously wrote to the Church’s persecutors:

Your cruelty, however exquisite, does not avail you; it is rather a temptation to us.  The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.

And seed it was.  When Tertullian wrote these words, there were around 19,000 Christians in Rome, about 4% of the city’s population.  50 years later, that number had grown to 78,000, around 17% of the city’s population.  By the year 300, there were nearly 300,000 Christians in Rome, which constituted over 66% of the city’s population.  Christians were killed.  But the Christian Church could not be stopped.  The persecutors’ terrorizing overtures were unsuccessful.

As it was in Tertullian’s day, so it is in our day.  The threats of those who despise Christians are simply no match for the persuasive and attractive truth of Christianity.  Those who lost their lives in Sri Lanka while worshipping the risen Savior on Easter are not extinguished.  They are simply now waiting – waiting for the One who, on the Last Day, will call forth their bodies from their graves.  To quote Tertullian once more:

The resurrection of the dead is the Christian’s trust … Life is the great antagonist of death, and will in the struggle swallow up for salvation what death, in its struggle, had swallowed up for destruction.

A terrorist may be able to take a life with a bomb, but he cannot extinguish that life for eternity.  Just like some soldiers, a long time ago, were able to take a life with a cross, but they could not extinguish that life for longer than three days.  Of this we are called to persuade people.  Of this I am fully persuaded.

Christ is risen.  And because He has risen, Sri Lankan Christians will rise.  And so will we.

April 29, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Rebuilding of Notre Dame and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 5.57.47 PM.png

The world watched in horror as a medieval Gothic treasure was wrecked last Monday when flames ripped through Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  Parts of the building, the construction of which began in 1163, still stand.  But much of the roof, which was made out of timber and original to the structure, along with the cathedral’s grand spire, also made out of wood and iron and rebuilt in 1844, is no more.

Reports indicate that many of the cathedral’s priceless relics, including what is claimed to have been the crown of thorns Jesus wore during His crucifixion, were rescued from the blaze.  Other relics, like a supposed piece of Jesus’ cross, may not have been so fortunate.  Its status is still unknown.  Parisians, Catholics, Protestants, and countless others across the world are still coming to terms with how a landmark as staid and majestic as Notre Dame – which withstood everything from the French Revolution and its virulently anti-Theist cult of reason to Hitler’s invasion of Paris and his order, thankfully disobeyed by one of his generals, to trigger explosives placed inside the grand façade – could come crashing down due to an accidental fire, likely triggered by an electrical short circuit.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to rebuild the cathedral under an ambitious timeline. “We will rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years,” the president said in an address last Tuesday.  This is indeed a highly aggressive timeline and one of which many experts are skeptical, suspecting that the rebuilding may take decades instead of years.  When the structure was first built, it took 182 years to complete.

Jesus, as He began His public ministry, gazed upon the temple in Jerusalem, which would have been the ancient Jewish version of Notre Dame, and declared, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).  Apparently, President Macron’s ambitious building timeline has nothing on Jesus.  The temple had already been rebuilt once after being destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.  Herod the Great had begun a restoration and expansion of the temple in 20 BC, which continued into Jesus’ day.  So, you can imagine the incredulity of those listening when Jesus declared that He could rebuild the temple from the ground up in three days.  This is why the people responded, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days” (John 2:20)?  But, of course, there’s a secret that the people listening to Jesus do not yet know or understand that John happily lets us in on: “The temple He had spoken about was His body” (John 2:21).

Yesterday, Christians all over the world celebrated the truth that Jesus’ building project was a stunning success.  He did at the end of His public ministry precisely what He said He would do at the beginning of His public ministry.  His body was crushed on a cross.  But in three days, He was not only rebuilt, He was resurrected.  Because of Him, even as the storied nave of Notre Dame sat sadly empty yesterday as a house of worship, hearts across the world were full of joy in celebration of the One who is to be worshiped.

When Notre Dame burned, the world lost a precious space.  But Christians did not lose their Christ.  And Christ did not lose His Church.  In the words of the old hymn:

Built on the Rock the Church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.

Work on Notre Dame began 856 years ago because of this promise.  May work begin again on this grand old lady for this same reason.

April 22, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“I am thirsty.”

File:Gerard de la Vallee - Longinus piercing Christ's side with a spear.png

Credit: Gerard de la Vallée, “Longinus piercing Christ’s side with a spear,” 17th cent.

This Friday, Christians around the world will commemorate the death of Jesus Christ.  At the church where I serve, we will hold services centering around the traditional seven final phrases that Jesus speaks from the cross.  Many of these phrases are extraordinarily well-regarded and famous.  For instance, when Jesus prays for His executioners, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), we are treated to a tour de force in what true forgiveness looks like.  When Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) we hear in His words both an ache for God’s presence in suffering as well as a separation from God because of sin.

One of my favorite phrases from Jesus on the cross is one that can sometimes be overlooked:

“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

This hardly seems like a profound statement.  It seems more like a mundane request.  A man who is baking in the hot ancient Near Eastern sun while hanging exposed on a cross has developed a case of cotton mouth.  And yet, these words represent not only the cry of a parched mouth, but the yearning of a scorched soul.

The Psalmist once said:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?  (Psalm 42:1-2)

The Psalmist describes his desperate thirst for God.  And how does God respond to his thirst?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)

God not only gives the Psalmist’s soul spiritual water, He offers the Psalmist a superabundance of this water in the form of waves and breakers.

Jesus invites anyone who has a thirst like the Psalmist’s:

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink.  Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  (John 7:37-38)

But this takes us back to Jesus’ words from the cross.  For when Jesus, who offers all men refreshment for their souls, Himself complains of thirst, how do men respond to Him?

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  (John 19:29)

God responds to human thirst with refreshing water.  Humans respond to God’s thirst with bitter vinegar.  What a contrast.

And yet, the incredible thing about Jesus’ death on the cross is that sin’s vinegar never quite manages to strip Him of His life-giving water:

One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  (John 19:34)

The water of life stubbornly remains, flowing from the side of the One who died.

This week, as we reflect on and remember Jesus’ death, may we drink deeply from the water of His life.  For the water of His life gives us eternal life.

April 15, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Better Root For Human Intimacy

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 4.09.27 PM.png

Two stories recently hit the headlines, one which made a big splash and one which went largely unnoticed.

In the story that made a big splash, last week, the nation of Brunei enacted new penalties for certain sexual acts.  Amy Gunia reports for Time:

Despite international condemnation, Brunei enacted new Islamic criminal laws Wednesday, including harsh anti-LGBT measures that make gay sex punishable by stoning to death.  The implementation of the draconian penal code is part of the predominantly Muslim country’s rollout of Sharia law …

Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei, but it was previously punishable with prison time.  The new legislation mandates death by stoning for gay sex and a number of other acts, including rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sex and insulting the Prophet Muhammed.

The new penal code also punishes lesbian sex through whipping and theft with amputation, and criminalizes teaching children about any religion except Islam.

The second story that made headlines, albeit in a much more modest way, was last month’s repeal of some anti-adultery laws, still officially on the books, though not enforced, in the state of Utah.  Paulina Dedaj explains for Fox News:

The governor of Utah signed a bill repealing a 1973 law that criminalized sex outside marriage … The offense, which was not enforced by police, was classified as a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

These two stories pull in two very different directions.  But both of them point to just how contentious questions concerning human sexuality have become.

It must be stated that the new penalties in Brunei are nothing short of appalling.  Stoning people is inhumane as a matter of course, regardless of the reason behind it.  But, especially for Christians, stoning people for crossing sexual boundaries should have a special kind of cringe factor to it when one stops to consider how Jesus, in a story from John 8, advocates for a woman caught in the act of adultery by sending her accusers, who wanted to stone her, away.

The repeal of Utah’s law banning sex outside of marriage, though certainly not as flashy as the story out of Brunei, is also worthy of our attention and consideration.  Using legislation to uphold the kinds of sexual mores Utah’s law did, even if those mores are laudable, strikes me as a recipe for corruption and selective enforcement.  Corruption and selective enforcement are certainly endemic to the story of that woman caught in adultery.  Her interlocutors are unquestionably corrupt and selective in how they enforce their penalty of stoning, considering that they bring only her, and not the man in the tryst, in front of Jesus to face the death penalty.  Though I am a wholehearted proponent of traditional sexual morality, I’m not sure if what is moral always requires codification by what is legal.

I am thankful that there are certain pieces of sexual legislation on our books.  The criminalization of pedophilia, for example, is wise and needed for the protection of our most vulnerable.  I also wish we had more legislation bearing down on the pornography industry, which makes its billions by flagrantly degrading the dignity of human beings and, as with pedophilia, by preying on society’s most vulnerable by enticing them with money to humiliate themselves on camera to churn out a never-ending stream of smut.

With this being said, however, the larger debate over sexual mores will take something more than legislation to solve, especially when it comes to the hot-button sexual debates of our day, which often center not so much around widely agreed upon boundaries to sexual activity, but around deeper contentions concerning sexual identity.

In the West especially, views on human sexuality are broadly rooted in two things:  the sentimental and the carnal.  The sentimental root of sex is what we generally think of as romantic love.  Two people fall in love and express their love for each other sexually.  The weakness in this root however, as countless broken marriages and relationships can testify, is that the feeling of love can dry up with time or, as many who have affairs will argue, can even shift to another person.  This root by itself, therefore, is not sufficient as a foundation for human sexuality.  This root is simply not rooted enough.

The carnal root of sex is usually conceived of as the uninhibited expression of desire – or, to put it more bluntly, as lust.  This root of sex is what drives the pornography industry’s ubiquity and the hookup culture found on many college campuses.  The weaknesses in this root are manifold.  People are objectified.  Some are even raped.  And relationships rooted in carnality have literally no chance – and that is not an exaggeration – of lasting.  Such relationships are fundamentally selfish.  And selfishness is a sin that sexual commitment and wholeness cannot endure.

One of the unique gifts that Christianity brings to today’s debates over human sexuality is that while it celebrates the importance of love in sexual relationships and readily acknowledges and makes provisions for the reality that people struggle with carnal lust, it offers human sexuality another – and, I would argue, better – root.  It adds to the sentimental and to the carnal the aspirational.  This root sees human sexuality as something that reaches beyond the private love of two individuals and certainly beyond the fleshly lusts of one individual and seeks to reflect something of God’s love and His created order in its expression of human love and our relational order.  This aspirational root, rather than self-righteously condemning people who fall short of it, grieves over sexual sin and gently invites sexual sinners to turn from their sin and aim higher, just as Jesus does with the woman caught in adultery when He invites her to, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  The Christian aspirational root of sex trades the brutality of Brunei for the blessings of rightly ordered relationships and the legislative problems of Utah for the redemption won by Christ.

The best picture of aspirational sexuality can be found in Christian marriage, which is itself an aspirational picture of Christ’s love for the Church – a love so deep that it led Him to lay down His life on a cross.  On the cross, perfect righteousness and infinite forgiveness meet.  May we, as those who follow Christ, aspire to hold forth to sexual sinners what Christ first held out to us from the cross.  He is our way forward.

April 8, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Older Posts


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,992 other followers

Questions?

Email Icon Have a theological question? Email Zach at zachm@concordia-satx.com and he will post answers to common questions on his blog.

Archives

Calendar

May 2019
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

%d bloggers like this: