Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

The Moral Imperative of Afghanistan

The scenes out of Afghanistan these past two weeks have been nothing short of horrific. Scenes of Afghan civilians clinging to the side of a C-17 as it took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, desperate to escape the predations of the Taliban, are now seared into our collective consciousness. Stories of people hiding in the wheel wells of U.S. military planes, and then being crushed by their landing gear, are jarring reminders of just how quickly this nation is deteriorating as the U.S. ends a 20-year mission there. So many people’s lives are under threat from Taliban extremists – from U.S. citizens who have not been able to leave to Afghanis who have served, often valiantly, assisting the U.S. military. Already, there are stories of the Taliban beheading Afghanis who assisted the U.S. military and fears that the group will sexually enslave women who do not follow the organization’s strict interpretation of Sharia Law.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. launched a military campaign against the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks and was assisted by the Taliban, which provided safe shelter for Al Qaeda. In the decade prior to this, the West lived largely under the philosophical influence of Post-Modernism and its smug amoralism. Universal standards of right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness were largely relegated to outdated and culturally embedded categories from a religiously superstitious era. The modern world had no need for such sanctimoniousness.

But then, planes were plowed into the tallest towers in New York City, sending them crumbling to the ground, and thousands of people lost their lives in an instant because of 19 terrorists, and the amoralism of Post-Modernism shattered. There was no way around it – what happened that day was evil. We needed the categories of morality to describe the gravity of what we all experienced that day.

In the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Nico Jacobellis was charged with two counts of possessing and showing an obscene film at a theatre he managed and was ordered to pay fines according to State statutes. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Jacobellis’ was Constitutionally protected under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. In Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence to the ruling, he famously wrote of obscene material, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Though I may quibble over how well Justice Stewart knew obscene material when he saw it, his broader moral argument is an intriguing one. How do we know when something is obscene or not? How do we know when something is wrong or not? It is possible to make an argument that we just do. We just know it when we see it.

The apostle Paul identifies the source of this innate moral compass when he writes of people who are not believers in the true God:

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)

The reason we all have an innate moral compass that knows evil when it sees it is because we are hardwired that way by God.

On September 11, 2001, we saw evil – and we knew it. The question was: how would we react to the evil we saw? We chose to go after the terrorist organization that attacked us and, in the process, made many friends in Afghanistan. As we now bring our mission there to a close two decades later, we are seeing threats of evil from the Taliban and desperation among many innocent and threatened Afghanis – and we know it. The question is: how will we react to the evil that we see?

That’s a question that, politically and nationally, we have yet to figure out precisely how to answer. But it’s a question that demands an answer – for the sake of what’s right and for the sake of people’s lives.

August 23, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What Is Lost Is Found…Finally

In a story that could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, after a 24-year search, Guo Gangtang of Liaocheng, which is in northern Shandong Province in China, was reunited with his 26-year-old son, who was kidnapped when he was just two. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Guo’s son, named Guo Xinzhen at birth, disappeared on Sept. 21, 1997. He had been playing at the door of his home while his mother cooked inside, according to interviews the elder Mr. Guo has given over the years.

A frantic Mr. Guo and his wife, along with family, neighbors and friends, fanned out across the region to search for the boy. But after several months, the effort waned. That was when Mr. Guo attached large banners printed with his son’s photo to the back of a motorcycle and set out to find the boy on his own.

“Son, where are you?” the banners said, alongside an image of the boy in a puffy orange jacket. “Dad is looking for you to come home.”

But now, after crisscrossing China on ten motorcycles for nearly two-and-half decades, Guo did come home. Through tears and hugs, the family reunited.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

Jesus spins a touching story of a shepherd who refuses to give up his search when one of his little lambs becomes lost. But this story is not really about sheep. It’s about us. Jesus explains:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:7)

When we wander off in sin, we have a loving heavenly Father who doesn’t just crisscross a country, but crisscrosses heaven and earth in His one and only Son, who searches for us so that He can reunite us with God.

Guo’s story and Jesus’ parable invite us to ask: who do we know who has wandered away from our family or from God’s family? Even if they’ve been away for a long time, all hope is not lost. A call, a note, or a conversation over coffee may be just the thing needed to invite them back into the fold. People are always worth searching for. How do I know? Because God searched for you and me.

I’m thankful I was found.

July 19, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Searching for Meaning in a Condo Collapse

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images via Newsweek

I first heard of the news about the collapse of Champlain Towers South, a condo complex on the beach in Surfside, Florida, early Thursday morning while staying in a condo complex on the beach in Port Aransas. The reports sounded ominous. The pictures that have emerged are dolorous. The number of people still missing is tortuous. And the reason for the building’s collapse remains mysterious.

When a tragedy like this strikes, it is natural for people to ask: Why? We have an intractable need to find meaning, even in the midst of what appears to be a desultory disaster. In our minds, a disaster is never just a disaster. There is always a reason behind it. There is always something we can learn from it.

This desire to find meaning in disaster is nothing new. The specific meanings we derive from disasters may change, but our search for some kind of meaning – any kind of meaning – remains. This search for meaning is what Jesus addresses when He references a tower collapse in His day and the meaning people had assigned to it:

Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:4-5)

In Jesus’ day, there was an assumption that if a disaster befalls you, this indicates an especially grievous sinfulness had engulfed you. Jesus says that deriving this kind of a meaning from this kind of a disaster is wrongheaded. But just because this meaning cannot be derived from this disaster does not mean no meaning can be derived from any disaster.

So, what meaning can we rightly find in disaster?

Near the end of his life, Solomon, one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel, reflects on all he has done, experienced, and accomplished and compiles his thoughts in the book of Ecclesiastes. After much reflection, he arrives at this conclusion:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Though these words are quite famous, they also represent one of my least favorite translations in the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, the word translated as “meaningless” is hebel, which does not denote a lack of meaning, but instead describes transience. Hebel is a “vapor” or a “mist.” Solomon’s point, then, is this: just when we think we’ve taken a hold of something, it slips through our fingers. Solomon continues by offering a litany of things that slip through our fingers: wisdom, pleasure, hard work, and riches. And it is here with hebel that we find not meaninglessness, but some much-needed meaning in disaster. Disasters remind us that this life and everything in it is like a vapor or a mist. It slips through our fingers – sometimes when we least expect it, like when a tower shockingly crumbles. This life can be shorter than we care to admit.

So, what are we to do in light of life’s transience? On the one hand, Solomon says, this kind of transience should lead us to live joyfully in this day because we do not know whether another day awaits us:

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

On the other hand, life’s transience should also lead us to search for something that is not transient – something that lasts. This is why Solomon says in the next verse:

I know that everything God does will endure forever. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

This life may not last. But what God does will. This means that when God sent His Son to bring life, He brought a life that lasts – a life that is eternal. Tragedy may remind us that this life doesn’t last. But God gives us hope for a life that does – a life that extends far beyond this one. And that’s not just meaning we can take from a tragedy like the Champlain Towers collapse; that’s hope we can have no matter what tragedy we may face.

June 28, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

More Than a Memorial

Credit: Chad Madden / Pexels.com

Today is Memorial Day. Today’s observances continue a tradition that began on May 5, 1868, when General John A. Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance at the end of that month for those lost in the Civil war:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.

Because General Logan called for the decorating of graves, his observance was called “Decoration Day.” Over time, Decoration Day came to be known as Memorial Day and was moved to the last Monday in May by an act of Congress in 1968 and has been celebrated on this Monday ever since 1971.

As Memorial Day encourages us to do, remembering those we have lost is critical. And like its predecessor, Decoration Day, reminds us, using physical objects – from crosses to pictures to flowers to flags – to help us remember can be healing.

The night before Jesus goes to the cross, He gathers His disciples to celebrate a final meal with them. As in Decoration Day, Jesus presents His disciples with some physical objects:

Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My body.” Then He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)

And as in Memorial Day, Jesus also encourages His disciples to remember Him:

“Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)

But this meal is more than simply a memorial with some tokens that help us remember a person we have lost. The apostle Paul writes that, when we partake of this meal with its objects of bread and wine, we are not only remembering with Christ, but communing with Christ here and now:

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

But how do we commune with Christ – indeed, even with His very blood and body – here and now?

If Christ had shared this meal with His disciples before He died and then remained dead, this meal would simply be a memorial. But He did not stay dead. Three days later, He rose. So we do not just remember Christ with bread and wine, we truly commune with Christ in the meal He has given us. He is our risen and living host.

Paul also writes:

We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16-17)

Paul reminds us that Jesus’ resurrection is only the beginning of something even bigger. Because Christ has risen, those who die in Christ will rise, too. And we will all be together again. Children who have lost parents in battle, parents who have lost children, husbands who have lost wives, and wives who have lost husbands will all be reunited. And Memorial Day will be needed no more. For on the day Christ returns, we will not just remember our lost loved ones, we will commune with them – and with Christ.

Today, let us take a moment to remember those who have given their lives in battle to protect and defend this nation. But let us also hope for the day when we will need to remember no more because we will be able to see those we have lost face-to-face. The headstones we visit today will one day give way to hugs we enjoy forever.

That’s a promise worth remembering.

May 31, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Hard Way to Rest Easy

Credit: Maria Orlova / Pexels.com

According to Jesus, salvation is hard. A narrow way constricts entry into God’s kingdom:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

According to Jesus, salvation is easy. He invites us to lay down the hard and harrying burdens of this world and pick up His designedly light mantle:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Salvation is hard, Jesus says. And salvation is easy, Jesus says.

This, of course, begs a question: what is salvation, really – is it hard or is it easy? The answer is: both.

These two sayings of Jesus teach us that the hard road of salvation is the one that takes up Jesus’ easy yoke of rest. The human assumption is that, in order to be saved, we must not rest, but must instead work our way to salvation with our good works and noble character. In our day and age, we see this assumption play out in both the utopian delusions of progressive societies and in the repristination efforts of traditional ones. In both cases, we are the ones who can set our society and ourselves straight, or, to put it negatively, save our society and ourselves from those who are wrong. But, as the old apothegm goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Our good intentions and good works, when they are employed to save our society and ourselves, seem to have all sorts of unintended consequences that often do little more than further a cycle of decay and, ultimately, destruction.

The hard way of Matthew 7 is to lay down our fiercest fights and best efforts that constitute the common way – or, as Jesus calls it, the wide way – of our world’s attempts at salvation and instead walk in the narrow way of faith, trusting that Jesus has done the hard work of salvation for us on a cross and, in exchange, has provided us the easy yoke of rest in Matthew 11. This way of faith is humbling because it declares that we cannot save our society or ourselves. Instead, we are called to rest in the One who can.

Yes, we can still work on ourselves and for the good of our society. But salvation – that’s up to Jesus. And if we find ourselves tempted to try to save our society or ourselves because things seem so bad, let us never forget that the very moment when things looked the worst for Jesus – the very moment when it looked like He could not save anything or anyone, including Himself – was the very moment at which He was “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

All is not lost. We are not lost. May that promise help us rest easy.

May 10, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Anger and Forgiveness

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A new study published in the Oxford Journal of Gerontology finds that those who work to resolve arguments quickly – or avoid arguments altogether – improve their long-term health. Researchers from Oregon State University found that the longer a person lets an unresolved conflict linger, the heavier and more significant it begins to feel. Robert Stawski, the senior author of the study, explains:

Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. You aren’t going to stop stressful things from happening. But the extent to which you can tie them off, bring them to an end, and resolve them is definitely going to pay dividends in terms of your well-being. Resolving your arguments is quite important for maintaining well-being in daily life.

The study found that, if possible, it is best to resolve a conflict the same day it arises. Dr. Stawski added:

The extent to which you can tie off the stress so it’s not having this gnawing impact at you over the course of the day or a few days will help minimize the potential long-term impact.

Of course, this insight of resolving conflict within a day is not new to this study. Long before there was this study, there was the apostle Paul who wrote:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Unresolved anger is dangerous, Paul writes – not only emotionally, but spiritually. It gives the devil himself a foothold in your heart.

As a pastor, it is not uncommon for me to have a conversation with someone who is nursing a grudge and stewing in anger. And, to put it bluntly, they’re miserable. The problem is it’s difficult to stop a feeling. When I become angry, I don’t consciously choose to become angry. Anger just, well, happens. But even if I don’t consciously choose to become angry, I can consciously choose to calm down. I can talk to a friend who I trust to give me perspective. I can talk to myself and remind myself that my anger solves nothing. I can talk to the Lord and ask Him to bring me peace. And I can forgive. To quote the apostle Paul again:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

In other words, even if you can’t stop anger from bubbling up in your heart, when it does, you are called to get rid of it as fast as you can. But how? Paul tells us in the very next verse:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Anger, Paul says, is nothing forgiveness can’t fix. Yes, forgiveness is hard. Choosing to release a grudge against someone when they have hurt you is a heavy task. But anger is dangerous. And it’s heavy, too. So, choose what is better for them – and for you. Choose forgiveness.

April 26, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

New Discoveries of Old Scrolls

Last Tuesday, researchers unveiled newly discovered fragments of some Dead Sea Scrolls. These fragments represent the first discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls in over 50 years and contain verses from Zechariah 8:16-17 and Nahum 1:5-6. And there’s plenty notable about these discoveries.

First, the text of these fragments is written in Greek, the language of the New Testament, instead of in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, even though Zechariah and Nahum are Old Testament prophets. This is because these scrolls were written in the first century AD when the world spoke Greek. This is a reminder that the Jewish people treated their Hebrew Scriptures as eminently important, so they translated them into the lingua franca of the ancient world so that as many people as possible could read them and learn from them. They believed their Scriptures were good for the world and needed by the world.

Second, these fragments seem to indicate that there was some debate over how certain passages should be translated from their original Hebrew into the contemporary Greek of their day. The translation work in these fragments represents a revision of an older Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. So, for instance, in Zechariah 8:17, the older Greek translation renders a Hebrew word ish as “each other.” The verse reads, “Do not plot evil against each other.” This fragment, however, notices that, in the Hebrew manuscript, ish is the first word in the sentence and therefore leaves it there, and translates it using its most common meaning of “man.” It translates: “As for a man, do not plot evil against his neighbor in your heart.” This shows that, dating all the way back into the first century, people took translating the Scriptures seriously, even debating how to best translate various verses and difficult grammatical constructions. Their goal was to provide as accurate a rendering as possible of the original language texts they had because they held the Scriptures in such high regard. They wanted to be supremely careful in how they translated these holy documents.

Finally, these fragments also, quite uniquely, use the personal name for God: Yahweh. The scrolls leave the name of God in Hebrew with Hebrew letters, even though these are Greek manuscripts. Traditionally, in an attempt to avoid coming even close to misusing God’s name, translators would address God formally as “Lord” instead of invoking God’s name personally as “Yahweh.” But these manuscripts get personal. These translators seemed to have wanted to emphasize that there is a personal God who cares about people – personally.

A discovery like this reminds us that people have long revered the Scriptures and treated them with the utmost care. These were always considered to be sacred documents. They were not exalted to such a status later. This discovery also provides us a window into the faith of our forefathers, who trusted in a personal God and His personal concern for them. From them, we have learned the faith. From them, we have learned the Gospel. And for them, we should be thankful.

March 22, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Texas Snowstorm

That was interesting.

I’ve lived in the Lonestar State since the mid-90s and I’ve never seen anything even close to what Texas just experienced. The snow in San Antonio – where I live – was beautiful. The power outages, frozen pipes, icy streets, and water pump failures that followed were not. An arctic air mass pushed way south and brought Texas record-shattering low temperatures that, in many areas, dipped into the single digits. The rock bottom temperatures managed to freeze out coal and gas power plants, a nuclear power plant, and a host of west Texas windmills, which forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power for the state, to quickly ration power in order to prevent a catastrophic blackout that could have stretched on for months. Everyone who was not part of a grid that provided power to critical services like hospitals was left in the dark – and in the cold.

A natural disaster like this is certainly perspective-shifting. On the one hand, this kind of weather, and the havoc it brings, can make you feel powerless. Human ingenuity can constrain – but it cannot restrain – the effects of the natural world. On the other hand, a disaster like this can remind you of the things for which you should be thankful, but that you also usually overlook. Reliable power. Running water. Climate control. You don’t notice these things until you don’t have them.

Of course, a time like this can bring out the best in people. Neighbors did help neighbors. People who had power opened their homes to those who did not. The long line I waited in to buy groceries at a dark H-E-B that had only enough generator power to operate a few checkout lines was full of generally chipper and friendly people who were thankful that the chain was doing everything it could to provide Texans with the staples they needed.

In Acts 27, the apostle Paul is sailing for Rome when he encounters a massive storm. For fourteen days, Paul and the crew on the ship hang on for dear life. They finally wash ashore on the island of Malta, where they encounter some friendly residents:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. (Acts 28:2)

I’ve come to appreciate a good fire when it’s cold.

But just when it looks like Paul’s luck is finally changing, tragedy strikes again:

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (Acts 28:3-6)

Of course, Paul is neither a murderer nor a god. But he does serve the one, true God – the God who saw him through this terrible storm. And this is what Christians still believe – that for every crisis, every storm, and every difficulty, there is a God who sees us through. And even though He doesn’t protect us from every tragedy, He is present with us through every tragedy.

As Texas’s power grid continues to stumble back online, there will be changes to the grid that will need to be made, officials who will need to be held accountable, heroes who will need to be thanked, and people who will need our help. But through it all, we can be thankful that the God who made the world – and us – cares for us. This is why He sent the One the prophet Malachi called “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2) – Jesus Christ – to us.

The “sun” sounds awfully nice right now.

February 22, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A March for Life

This past Friday was the 48th annual March for Life. As with many other events, this year’s march looked different from every previous year. It was held virtually in response to the continued spread of COVID-19. The virtual nature of the march, however, did not mute its message. Since abortion was legalized in 1973, an estimated 62 million babies have been lost. And though the number of abortions is going down overall, there have been some pockets of increases.

The fierce fights over abortion show no sign of abating. Sadly, the topic has often been treated more as ammunition in a culture war instead of a pressing moral question with life and death consequences. So many pay a hefty price each time an abortion is performed.

First, there is a baby who pays the price of his or her very life. The heartbeat of a child in utero can usually be detected between the third and fourth week of development. This means that any abortion performed after this stops a beating heart. Scientifically, there is a broad consensus that the life of a human organism begins even earlier – right at conception. In a recent study at the University of Chicago, 95 percent of biologists surveyed, many of whom self-identified as pro-choice, agreed that life begins at fertilization. Many Christians believe that life begins at conception because, Scripturally, life is celebrated and sacralized throughout a child’s development in utero. As the Psalmist says to God about his own creation and gestation:

You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Second, there is the mother who pays a price. For every high profile incident of people celebrating abortion, there are other instances of women who struggle with regret or outright emotional trauma. And these struggles can present themselves long after the event – often 10 to 15 years later. The price of a broken or guilt-ridden heart cannot and must not be overlooked.

Third, low-income communities pay a price. Half of all women who get abortions live below the poverty line, and 75 percent of women who get abortions are low-income. Many of these women choose to abort because they know they will be single mothers if they carry their babies to term and they are scared that they will not have the resources or support needed to raise a child. Their decision to abort, then, is less of a freely-willed choice and more of a perilous predicament that forces the hands of already hurting women.

We must count the cost of abortion. We must stand up for those who bear the burden of abortion. We can stand up for children in utero and advocate for their lives. We can stand up for women who struggle and lovingly present alternate ways forward if they are considering an abortion or offer grace and support to those who are struggling with the decision they made to have an abortion. We must stand up for impoverished communities by promoting the value of families, by holding men who would run from their responsibilities as fathers accountable, and by offering what we can in the way of financial resources, friendships, and modeling to demonstrate different and more hopeful paths forward for at-risk women who become pregnant.

For me, abortion is personal. I have two children because of the choice of two incredible women to put their babies up for adoption. I have a family because two women chose life. To them, I offer a teary-eyed “thank you.” Your choice for life changed my life. And the chain can continue. More choices for life can change more lives.

What a great choice to make.

February 1, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Stinky Sacrifices and Sweet Offerings

When God is giving Moses instructions for the tabernacle, one of the things He instructs him to build is an incense altar:

Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the LORD for the generations to come. (Exodus 30:1, 7-8)

This incense altar served a couple of different purposes. On the one hand, it was used in worship. When the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, famously receives word from the angel Gabriel that he will soon be a father, even though he is well past his child-rearing years, he is stationed at the altar of incense while “all the assembled worshipers were praying outside” (Luke 1:10). On the other hand, this altar served a much cruder purpose. With all the sacrifices that were made at the tabernacle and later at the temple, the fetor from the dead animals would have been overwhelming. The incense helped cover the stench of death.

The stench of death, as offensive as it may have been, was a reminder to the Israelites that sin came with a cost. As the apostle Paul explains: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The question was: is there anything that can stem the stench of sin and death?

In Ephesians 5, Paul writes about a unique sacrifice:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Sacrifices were stinky! But when Christ gave Himself up as a sacrifice, it was “fragrant.” Why? Because Christ was both an “offering and sacrifice.” He was the sacrificial “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) as well as “an aroma that brings life” (2 Corinthians 2:16). He was slaughtered as a sacrifice and sweet-smelling like incense, all at the same time.

I’ve had more than one person tell me that life stinks right now. Nationally, culturally, and personally, we have our share of struggles thanks to sin. And yet, the fragrance of Christ can still overwhelm and overcome the sin of this world. This is the hope we have. And this is the message we are called to share:

Thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

May we spread Christ’s aroma and make someone’s life sweeter with Him.

January 11, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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