Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

Expectant Mothers and Workplace Pressures

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Last month, The New York Times published a disturbing exposé on the treatment of pregnant employees by Planned Parenthood.  The article chronicled the journey of one employee, Ta’Lisa Hairston, whose experiences were particularly harrowing:

As a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood, Ta’Lisa Hairston urged pregnant women to take rest breaks at work, stay hydrated and, please, eat regular meals.

Then she got pregnant and couldn’t follow her own advice.

Last winter, Ms. Hairston told the human-resources department for Planned Parenthood’s clinic in White Plains, N.Y., that her high blood pressure was threatening her pregnancy.  She sent the department multiple notes from her nurse recommending that she take frequent breaks.

Managers ignored the notes.  They rarely gave her time to rest or to take a lunch break … Ms. Hairston’s hands and feet swelled; the clinic’s plastic gloves no longer fit. Her blood pressure got so high that her doctor put her on bed rest when she was seven months pregnant.

She returned to work on strict orders to not work more than six hours a day and to take regular breaks.  One day in March, she worked a much longer shift.  She soon became so sick that her doctor told her to go back on bed rest.  A few days later, on March 23, she went to the hospital.  Doctors performed an emergency C-section.  She was 34 weeks pregnant.

When she had been on maternity leave for eight of the 12 weeks guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act, Planned Parenthood’s human resources department called her multiple times and urged her to return to work early, Ms. Hairston said.  She emailed the department and said she felt “discriminated against.”  She resigned in June.

“I didn’t get into the medical field to be treated like this,” she said.

The last she heard from Planned Parenthood was a letter asking her to donate money. She threw it in the trash.

Sadly, it is not just Planned Parenthood that struggles with treating pregnant employees appropriately.  The article cites examples of employees at both Avon and Wal-Mart who have had similarly disturbing experiences.

The very first command God gives to humans is, “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28).  According to Scripture, pregnancy is not a corporate liability, but a great blessing that fulfills one of the callings God has given to humanity.

Part of the problem with Planned Parenthood in particular is that, at the core of their mission, is a very different view of pregnancy than that of the Bible.  For Planned Parenthood, pregnancy is not a gift to be stewarded, but a choice to be made.  And, in certain cases at least, it seems as though some in Planned Parenthood wish their workers would make a choice of “no.”

I have written many times about the tragedies involved in abortion.  Abortion hurts the women who choose themAbortion destroys the babies who are lost because of them.  But this story presents yet another tragedy.  Abortion can hurt even those who carry little lives in them and bear little lives from them because they cannot work as long and as hard as their supervisors might want.  How inconvenient for the supervisors.

But, then again, perhaps there are things more important than convenience.  Perhaps life is more important than convenience.  And perhaps, if all this is true, how Planned Parenthood treats its pregnant workers is only the beginning of its problems.

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January 21, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why Pray, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”?

Credit: Wikipedia

It seems as though the wording of the Lord’s Prayer will soon be changing in the liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church.  Charlotte Allen reports for First Things:

On November 15 the Italian Bishops’ Conference announced that it plans to change the wording of the Lord’s Prayer in the Mass liturgy. The bishops want the current Italian equivalent of “lead us not into temptation” to become “do not abandon us to temptation.”

The bishops have now petitioned the pope to approve this proposed alteration – a petition he is almost certain to grant. In a 2017 interview with an Italian Catholic television channel, the pontiff expressed his distress with the current Italian wording – non c’indurre in tentazione, a literal translation of the Latin ne nos inducas in tentationem that is part of the Lord’s Prayer in the Vulgate versions of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

I would hasten to add that the traditional translation of “lead us not into temptation” comports not only nicely with the old Latin Vulgate, but with the Greek of Matthew and Luke.  So, why is Pope Francis so concerned with this translation?  Ms. Allen continues:

Francis opined that “lead us not” might confuse the Catholic faithful, because “it is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell.”

On the one hand, the pope is right in claiming that God does not lead us into temptation.  No less than Jesus’ brother declares:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:13-14)

James is clear that it is not God who tempts us to do evil; it is we who tempt us to do evil.  We, as the saying goes, are our own worst enemies.  God, on the other hand, does not and will not tempt us.

So, this begs the question:  why would Jesus teach us to pray to God that He would not lead us into temptation if the Bible says that God doesn’t tempt anyone?

Martin Luther, in his explanation to this line in the Lord’s Prayer, writes:

God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and gain the victory.

Notice that Luther begins his explanation of Jesus’ words with the promise of James 1:13.  This is the crux of Luther’s explanation of this line in the Lord’s Prayer because when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are praying a promise of God.  In other words, we are simply praying back to God what God has already sworn to do for us.

One of the wonderful things about the Lord’s Prayer is that the whole prayer is composed of God’s promises.  When we pray, for instance, “Thy kingdom come,” we know that God’s kingdom has certainly come in Christ, even without our prayer.  As Jesus Himself says, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9).  This is why Luther writes, in his explanation of this phrase, “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself.”  Or, when we pray, “Thy will be done,” we know that God’s will is always done, even without our prayer.  As Job says to God, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).  This is why Luther writes, in his explanation of this phrase, “The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer.”  God always says “yes” to the Lord’s Prayer because before the prayer was a prayer, it was a series of promises made by God.  And God always keeps His promises.

What is true of God’s kingdom and sovereign will is also true when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  God most certainly will not lead us into temptation because of His promise.  Praying this petition, then, can remind us of God’s promise.

What the pope suggests we pray about temptation – that God would not abandon us to temptation – is certainly a fine and needed prayer, but it is not the Lord’s Prayer.  It is good to pray Francis’ line, then, in addition to what Jesus says.  We should be careful, however, praying Francis’ line in place of what Jesus says.

For centuries now, Christians have prayed the Lord’s Prayer as they have received the Lord’s Prayer.  Perhaps, instead of trying to revise it, we should be content with just receiving it as well.

January 14, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Christ, Culture, and Witness

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A perennial question of Christianity asks:  How should a Christian relate to and interact with broader culture?  In his classic work, Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr outlines what has become the premier taxonomy of the relationship between the two as he explores five different ways that, historically, Christ and culture have corresponded:

  • Christ against culture: In this view, Christianity and broader culture are incompatible and Christianity will inevitably be at odds with and should retreat from the rest of the world.
  • Christ of culture: In this view, Christianity and broader culture are well suited for each other, and Jesus becomes the fulfiller of society’s hopes and dreams.
  • Christ above culture: In this view, broader culture is not bad per se, but it needs to be augmented and perfected by biblical revelation and the Church, with Christ as the head.
  • Christ and culture in paradox: In this view, culture is not all bad because it is, after all, created by God, but it has been corrupted by sin.  Therefore, there will always be a tension between the potential of culture and its reality as well as between the brokenness of culture and the perfection of Christ.
  • Christ the transformer of culture: In this view, because Christ desires to ultimately redeem culture, Christians should work to transform culture.

The categories Niebuhr outlines and the tensions he teases out in his taxonomy are just as salient today as they were when he first posed them in 1951.  Indeed, they are perhaps even more so as America slides into what many have christened a “post-Christian age.”

In my view, the first two categories won’t do.  To pit Christ against culture, as the first view tries to do, overlooks the fact that there is much good in culture.  It can also easily lead Christians into a self-righteousness that spends so much time trying to fight culture that it forgets that Christians are part of the problem in culture, for they too are sinners.

Conversely, to team Christ with culture and to use Christ to endorse your zeitgeist of choice also will not do.  As Ross Douthat explains, when this happens:

Traditional churches are supplanted by self-help gurus and spiritual-political entrepreneurs. These figures cobble together pieces of the old orthodoxies, take out the inconvenient bits and pitch them to mass audiences that want part of the old-time religion but nothing too unsettling or challenging or ascetic. The result is a nation where Protestant awakenings have given way to post-Protestant wokeness, where Reinhold Niebuhr and Fulton Sheen have ceded pulpits to Joel Osteen and Oprah Winfrey, where the prosperity gospel and Christian nationalism rule the right and a social gospel denuded of theological content rules the left.

Though I would take issue with Douthat’s characterization of Reinhold Niebuhr and Fulton Sheen as torchbearers for Christian orthodoxy, his broader point about what happens when Christ is made to mindlessly cater to culture is absolutely true.  Culture, it turns out, is a much better line dancer than it is a two-stepper.  It likes to dance alone and will humor Christ only as long as it needs to until it can find a way to leave Him behind and strike out on its own.

In my view, Niebuhr’s category of “Christ and culture in paradox” best explains the difficult realities of the Church’s interaction with culture and the biblical understanding of how to relate to culture.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul opens by writing:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:1-3)

The Corinthians prided themselves on being enlightened and educated.  Paul sardonically jibes the Corinthians for their arrogance, teasing, “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored” (1 Corinthians 4:10).  To a church that prided itself in being intellectually and socially elitist, rather than engaging in rhetorical and philosophical acrobatics to impress the Corinthians when he proclaimed the gospel to them, Paul came to them with the rather unimpressive, as he put it, “foolish” message of Christ and Him crucified.  Paul cut against the culture of Corinth.

And yet, at the same time he cut against the culture of Corinth, he also declared his love for broader culture and even embedded himself into broader culture in an effort to proclaim the gospel:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

Paul was not afraid to appropriate culture in service to the declaration and proclamation of the gospel so that as many people as possible might be saved.

So there you have it.  Paul eschews cultural sensibilities at the same time he employs them.  Because Paul knows that Christ and culture live in paradox with one another.

We would do well to follow in Paul’s footsteps.  As Christians, we must not be afraid to cut against culture’s sinfulness and brokenness.  But at the same time, we must also not be afraid to embrace culture’s creativity and respect its sensibilities as often as we possibly can.  And we must have the wisdom to know when to do what.  Otherwise, we will only wind up losing the truth to culture or losing the opportunity to share the truth with culture.  And we can afford to lose neither.

Let us pray that we would faithfully keep both in 2019.

January 7, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Carol Turns 200

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200 years ago, on this night, the modern Christmas carol was born.  A small church in Oberndorf, Austria had an organ that was in need of repair, and the parish priest there, Joseph Mohr, wanted a Christmas song he could sing with his congregants sans the usual stops and pipes.  He composed some lyrics that a local teacher, Franz Gruber, set to music, and the two of them performed the song, accompanied simply by guitar, for the first time during their Christmas Eve service on December 24, 1818.  The name of the song was “Silent Night.”

The song’s appeal is indisputably enduring.  It was sung in the trenches as a part of an unofficial Christmas truce in 1914 during World War I by German soldiers to their British enemies.  It was sung again during World War II in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in the Rose Garden of the White House.  When Bing Crosby recorded the song in 1935, it became the third best-selling single of all time.  And, of course, tonight, millions will gather across the world to sing the song by candlelight with warm hearts and, by God’s grace, lively faith.

Part of the song’s appeal is its utter simplicity.  Both the tune and lyrics are extraordinarily unassuming.  But the song also tells the story of Christmas extremely well.  Everything from Jesus’ birth to the angelic announcement to some nearby shepherds to the truth of Jesus’ identity is contained in this carol.  The last verse is my favorite:

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Here, in just this one verse, we find who Jesus is, why Jesus has come, and what He has come to do.  Jesus is the Lord who has come as a baby in a manger out of love to bring redeeming grace.  That’s more than a verse in a carol.  That’s the gospel.  That’s why, 200 years later, this is still a carol worth singing.  Because it tells of a birth that, 2,000 years later, is still most definitely worth celebrating.

Merry Christmas.

December 24, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Dating Apps For People Who Don’t Want To Date

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Dating isn’t what it used to be.  In fact, in some circles, dating just isn’t.  Apps like Tinder and OkCupid have begun to admit as much in their advertising campaigns.  Lisa Boons explains in an article for The Washington Post:

If you’ve seen ads for OkCupid or Tinder recently, you might notice something conspicuous: There’s little mention of love or partnership.  Instead of trying to convince users that their perfect match is just a click or a swipe or a wink away, OkCupid and Tinder are touting the joy of meeting new people yet remaining unattached…

 Appearing amid ads for Etihad Airways and Hulu, Tinder’s shows a gaggle of diverse young people throwing their hands in the air and roller-skating under dreamy pink and blue neon lights – as if footage from a night out has been put through the Amaro Instagram filter.  “Single is a terrible thing to waste” is superimposed over the carefree images.  They skate in single-file, alone together – no one holding anyone’s hand…

The dating app’s other ads proclaim: “Congrats on your big breakup”; “Single does what Single wants”; “Single never has to go home early.”

In other words, Tinder, along with OkCupid, are dating apps for people who don’t want to date.  That seems strange.  But it is also dangerous.

Last month, The Cut, which is the fashion blog of New York Magazine, published a heartbreaking letter sent to its advice columnist:

I feel like a ghost. I’m a 35-year-old woman, and I have nothing to show for it…

I have no family nearby, no long-term relationship built on years of mutual growth and shared experiences, no children.  While I make friends easily, I’ve left most of my friends behind in each city I’ve moved from while they’ve continued to grow deep roots: marriages, homeownership, career growth, community, families, children. I have a few close girlfriends, for which I am grateful, but life keeps getting busier and our conversations are now months apart.  Most of my nights are spent alone with my cat (cue the cliché)…

On top of that, I’m 35 and every gyno and women’s-health website this side of the Mississippi is telling me my fertility is dropping faster than a piano falling out of the sky.  Now I’m looking into freezing my eggs, adding to my never-ending financial burden, in hopes of possibly making something of this haunted house and having a family someday with a no-named man…

I used to think I was the one who had it all figured out.  Adventurous life in the city!  Traveling the world!  Making memories!  Now I feel incredibly hollow.  And foolish. 

It turns out the carefree, single lifestyle apps like OkCupid and Tinder are promoting is the same lifestyle that leaves many with hollowed souls and deep regrets.  OkCupid’s advertisements, which these days are emblazoned with the acronym “DTF,” referring to commitment-free promiscuity, don’t actually deliver the carefree joys and ecstatic pleasures they promise.

God’s words to history’s first single man were: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  So, for Adam, God fashioned Eve, who became his wife.  Though this is certainly not a mandate that every person should marry – Jesus Himself was, after all, single –  it does testify to the reality that the very order of creation cries out for companionship.  And it does mean that ripping certain experiences, like sex, out of the companionship and covenant of marriage by declaring that one is “DTF” is a recipe for disaster.

Make no mistake about it: marriage and family come with many burdens.  An adventurous life in the city and traveling the world are often out of the question for those who spend their days baking chicken nuggets, doing dishes, administering baths, and reading Goodnight Moon for the ten-thousandth time.  But, for all the burdens marriage and family present, these burdens, when they are carefully considered, have a funny way of beginning to feel like blessings.  A family to spend your life with and to give your life to fills your heart in a way that a life sans this often cannot.

Keep this in mind the next time you pick up your phone to swipe right.

December 17, 2018 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Happy Thanksgiving

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Credit: Max Pixel

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  So much of my day-to-day life centers around what I must do.  There are tasks to complete and errands to run and bills to pay and conversations to have and decisions to make and Bible studies and sermons to write and preach.  These things to do are often, even if not always, joyous, but Thanksgiving reminds me that I must never get so caught up in what I have to do that I forget about what has already been done.  God has done great things for me.  He has given me a family I adore, a church I love, and a forgiveness I need.  And for these things, I am called to be thankful.

Thanksgiving keeps me humble.  When I am tempted to boast in all I have accomplished, Thanksgiving reminds me of all I’ve been given.  Even my life itself is a gift of God’s grace.  This is why I must continually and humbly rely on Him.

Each year, I make it my tradition to read a Thanksgiving Proclamation from one of our nation’s founders.  This year, I came across George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.  In it, he thanks God:

…for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

President Washington rattles of a list of the many blessings for which, he believes, a newly minted nation should be thankful.  And he’s right.  These are things for which our nation should still be thankful.  But what I love most about his proclamation comes in what he says next:

May we then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.

President Washington was under no delusion that our nation’s blessings were somehow the product of our nation’s – or her individuals’ – intrinsic merit.  This is why he offers not only a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer of confession.  For he knew that God had blessed this new nation in the same way He has always blessed every nation:  by grace.

When God chose Israel to be His people and gave to her a Promised Land, He made sure she knew her blessings came by His grace:

It is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the LORD your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD.  (Deuteronomy 9:6-7)

God did not bless Israel because of her righteousness, but in spite of her unrighteousness.  God works this way with every nation and every person.

Ultimately, then, to be thankful is to be repentant, knowing that we have what we have not because we’ve earned it or deserved it, but because God has willed it.  Thus, each Thanksgiving, I am called to make little of myself and my accomplishments, which are few, and much of God and His blessings, which are bountiful.

As this long weekend draws to a close, my prayer is that the holiday of Thanksgiving becomes a habit of thanksgiving.  After all, I have plenty to be thankful for.

You do, too.

November 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Tragedy in California

They are the worst wildfires in the history of the state of California.

Nearly 250,000 acres have burned.  79 people have been killed.  Sadly, that number will likely climb as first responders continue their search through the rubble these fires have left behind.  The town of Paradise, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been especially hard hit, with nearly the whole town being destroyed.

California has had a rough go of it lately.  Just two weeks ago, the state endured another tragedy as a gunman opened fire at a country bar filled with college students in Thousand Oaks, killing twelve.  The shooter was a Marine Corps veteran who appears to have had all sorts of mental health issues and was, at one time, on the cusp of being committed.

The sheer number of tragedies that roll in through each news cycle can begin to feel overwhelming.  For each town that is charred and person that is shot, we ask, “How can we stop this from happening?”  Answers to this perennial and pressing question seem to elude us.  When tragedies do strike, we are thankful for firefighters who risk their lives on the frontlines of massive and unpredictable blazes and officers who run into hails of bullets rather than away from them.  Proactively, we are instructed to keep dry brush away from homes in fire zones and guns out of the hands of mentally disturbed people.  But despite our best efforts, the tragedies keep coming.  Tragedies, even if they can be somewhat mitigated and managed by us, cannot be successfully stayed by us.

On the surface, the California fires and the California shooting seem to be two different types of tragedies.  One is a natural disaster.  The other is man-caused carnage.  Below the surface, however, these two tragedies share a common core:  sin.  The fires remind us that the sin that came into the world with Adam and Eve has disordered and distorted the world in profound and frightening ways.  The mass shooting reminds us that sin is not just in the world.  It is in us.  It’s not just that we cannot eradicate the sin that distorts creation; it’s that we cannot even kill the sin in ourselves.

The message of Christianity reminds us that, even as societies scramble to address sin, we need a victory over sin that we cannot gain for ourselves.  Sin needs not only our noble actions and timely reactions, but a perfect transaction that exchanges our sad sin for a better righteousness.  This is the transaction Christ makes for us on the cross.

Tragedies are sure to continue.  And we should be thankful for those fighting on the front lines of those tragedies.  But we can also be hopeful that tragedy’s time is short, for sin’s defeat is certain.

November 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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