How Would Jesus Weigh In?

At this moment in history and American culture, the topic of Roe v. Wade impacts any conversation in which it is dropped like water hitting hot oil. So instead of arguing for one side or the other, perhaps a better use of “blog ink” is to address some of the hard questions that have been bubbling to the surface in the last few days. For instance…

WHO HAS VALUE: MOM OR UNBORN BABY?
Jesus’ answer is BOTH,
or rather, ALL. Mom, the unborn baby, the father, and every other human being is made “in God’s image.” (Genesis 1:27) Some measure of the essence of God is encapsulated in every person, no matter their age, ability, potential or perspective relative to the birth canal. As human beings, we are God’s crowning creation. God declared all other parts of creation, “Good.” However, when He created the first humans, He declared them, “Very Good.” (Genesis 1:31)

The Bible makes it clear that babies have value – born or unborn — and that Jesus loves them. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5a) Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) Finally, scripture speaks to the very Hand of God being involved in a baby’s creation. “For 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)

Jesus, Himself, highly values women. What is often overlooked is that Jesus did a lot to elevate women during His life on earth as recorded in scripture, despite living in a completely male-dominated time and culture. Jesus stood between the woman caught in adultery and men who wanted to stone her, eventually rescuing her from that fate. (John 8:1-11) Jesus broke cultural norms to actually speak with the outcast Samaritan woman at the well, and even revealed to her His true divine identity. (John 4:7-27) The woman, Mary, is not only given the honor of being named in the Bible, but she is notably praised by Jesus who reprimands his male disciples for condemning her gift of perfume. (Matthew 26:6-13) The privilege of first discovering Jesus’ empty tomb was given — not to his male disciples — but to women with whom Jesus then personally and compassionately interacted. (John 20:11-16) If the Bible had been written by men apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, they certainly would have overlooked women (whom they considered mere property). They definitely would not have recorded their own chastisement by Jesus. The Holy Spirit of God inspired men to write the Bible in a way that elevated and honored women.

TO IMITATE JESUS, WE VALUE AND CARE ABOUT BOTH WOMEN AND BABIES. BUT HOW?

HOW NOT TO RESPOND: Attack Mode
How not to respond is clear. Arson attacks on places offering abortions are wrong, not to mention illegal. This is not how Jesus would respond; He respected human law unless it conflicted with His divine law. Similarly, verbal attacks with an “I told you so” tone are insensitive, inflammatory and also just plain wrong. Jesus was the most “right” or righteous person ever to walk the planet. He encountered people with radically opposite views and ways of thinking daily. His response? He initially met each one with compassion and the offer of gentle, hope-giving truth. He truly cared for the wholistic wellbeing of each person He met, especially their spiritual wellbeing. Jesus hated evil, which He also called sin, but He did not hate sinners. These things need to be true of Christians today as we respond in this moment. We are all sinners; some are just saved by grace.

RESPECT: CRITICAL TO ANY RESPONSE
Christians are quick to point to “Imago Dei,” every person being made in God’s image, when speaking about unborn babies. We need to be equally quick to stand on this truth when interacting with people who already have birthdates, regardless of their stance on issues. People who disagree with us are still made in God’s image. Women who have had abortions and others who pressed them to do so are still made in God’s image. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been disturbed by TV images of young girls — themselves only 10-12 years out from being babies — holding signs about abortion being a “right.” Consider that these girls have grown up in a world that idolizes sex and pressures them to be “sexy” at younger and younger ages just to fit in. The only “norm” they have known in their lifetime is that many women see babies as inconvenient and that it is no big deal to end a pregnancy. These girls are also made in God’s image. All of these people all need compassion and gentle truth offered in love, not emotional rants of criticism. It is difficult to respond in healthy ways if we do not first choose to respect every individual made in God’s image…which means…every individual.

ESSENTIALS: ACKNOWLEDGE AND EMPATHIZE
It is also arrogant, if not ignorant, to assume we are personally aware of every kind of situation that leads a woman to consider abortion. As caring Christians, we need to open our minds and hearts to women who do not have the resources to prevent pregnancy, but are trapped in relationships with men who want intimacy when they want it and take no responsibility for the ramifications. This may not be the norm in your community, but your community isn’t the only kind of community. We need to empathize with families who are fearful about bringing another child into the world when they are already struggling to support and care for those they have. Yes. Research shows that the majority of abortions are the result of babies simply being considered “inconvenient” and that abortions performed in the case of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life are less than 2% of all abortions. (www.gotquestions.org/abortion-Bible.html; What Does the Bible Say About Abortion, accessed July 1, 2022) In no way do I want to give the impression that I condone abortion. It is murder. However, neither can I condone turning a cold, uncaring shoulder to women who now feel an added burden of fear because of a life situation over which they do not have control, or perceive they do not have control.

ACTIONS: Tangible Responses
What can Christians and or churches do? Keep fostering and adopting children. Statistics show Christians are more active than the general population in both areas. (www.goodfaithmedia.org/christians-more-than-twice-as-likely-to-adopt-a-child-cms-21267; Nov. 8, 2013; accessed July 1, 2022). Gather information about resources (foster care and adoption agencies, homes to support pregnant women and young moms, etc.) in the community so we’re ready to help those in need. Churches across metropolitan areas can link arms to offer education and counseling on both prevention and support options. And perhaps it is time for pastors and Christian fathers, brothers, neighbors and mentors to speak boldly into the lives of young men. Women need to know their options; men need to know their responsibilities.

This is not a time to point fingers and say, “I told you so.” This is not a time to say, “We won,” and walk away from women whose life situations right now make them fearful or feel trapped. For years, we Christians have accused abortion advocates of discounting the wellbeing of the unborn baby. Going forward, we must act on the truth that it’s no less wrong to discount the wellbeing of women. Jesus cherishes them all. Let’s be an extension of His love and compassion.

Got Fruit?

The apostle Paul was knocked off his feet by the voice of Jesus, was taken blind into the nearby city to be healed at Jesus’ direction, surrendered his life to Jesus, and then got clear marching orders to tell gentiles (people who were not Jewish, because the Jews already knew) how Jesus loved them and saved them. Without a doubt — Paul knew his life purpose. However, Paul knew something else about meaningful work that applies to all of us, whether we get a supernatural job description or not. Look with me at Philippians 1:20-26.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Paul says quite matter-of-factly, if I’m alive, I’m to be doing “fruitful labor.” (Phil. 1:22) He doesn’t say, “If I’m alive, I’ll be sleeping in everyday, lounging on the couch, and eating bon bons.” Nor does he say, “I’ll be fishing, golfing, and drinking beer all day.” Instead, Paul assumes that if he’s alive, he’ll be working at “fruitful labor,” at things that matter, at things that make a difference.

Our modern mentality tends to focus on getting out of work, finding reasons to leave early or coming up with excuses not to go in at all. We are prone to tread water through work days and work years, looking forward to the mystical utopia called “retirement,” where we’ll have no commitments and can finally enjoy unlimited free time. The thing is, so often, empty schedules leave us feeling, well… empty. That takes us full circle to Paul’s assumption — we were made for fruitful labor as long as we live.

What is fruitful labor? As if Paul knew we’d be scratching our heads as to what that is, he kindly defines it for us. First, fruitful labor is “other focused.” Peek back up at verse 1:24. “but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” That’s Paul’s way of saying that while he’d love to be in Heaven with Jesus, he feels compelled to stay and keep encouraging his churches. (Staying or going is not actually his choice, by the way. Life belongs in the hands of God and, as Paul writes this, he is under guard at the mercy of a fickle Roman justice system.) Regardless, Paul has his mind set on continuing to be there for the people in his churches. He is determined to guide, teach and encourage them to understand Jesus’ teaching and live like Jesus says. By the way, living like Jesus says is (to borrow a contemporary phrase) your best life because Jesus created you and knows exactly what you need to thrive. Verse 25 tells us that Paul has discerned from Jesus that he will remain in this world a while longer and that he will “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” There it is! Fruitful labor is coming alongside people — wherever God has planted you — and supporting their progress and joy in faith in Jesus Christ. And what follows seems like the crown jewel of Paul’s ministry. He says in verse 26, “so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

The big, fat, juicy fruit for Paul is seeing people he cares about, people he has poured teaching, training, truth and encouragement into, be overjoyed because they are living in relationship with Jesus. I felt what Paul describes when I led a Bible study for about 300 women and heard different women year after year see for the first time how much Jesus loves them. I could not help but smile when a woman would share how Jesus’ Words in the Bible revealed an exciting realization of His personal care or provision for her. Now I’m working with children and the joy I experience as they get excited about Jesus is no less. The highlight of our recent study for me was hearing that one of our little boys had declared His belief in Jesus to his parents and asked to be baptized. Oh, the thrill of being part of THAT!

Of course, not everyone is called to the labor of teaching or preaching, but every believer in Jesus is created and gifted for some kind of fruitful work that has value reaching into eternity. Perhaps you are a believing caregiver, lawyer, builder or (you fill in the blank). How can you use your gifts and training for fruitful labor? If you diligently seek out that understanding from God, He will show you. And if you are not a believer, you were still created and gifted for meaningful work, but you will have a difficult time finding your way into it without the freeing, empowering, soul-saving relationship with Jesus. THAT is the main point of life and the starting point for fruitful work.

So what steps do you need to take to enter into the fruitful labor God has planned in advance for you? To what questions do you need answers? What obstacle or barrier between you and God do you need to lay down or break down? If you’re reading this, you’re alive. And if you’re alive, you are to be engaged in fruitful labor…helping others experience an overflow of joy in Jesus. Want the joy that comes from living a life that matters? Point others to the Only One who matters — eternally. Jesus.

One Way to Pray

Dear Lord, Jesus –

We turn to you as the God of compassion & the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from You.

We lift up the Uvalde families & the brokenhearted across our land.
In our pain we ask for Your healing.
In our sorrow, we ask for Your strength.
In our crisis we ask for Your comfort.

And in this nation, we ask You to help us each
overcome hurt and hate by sharing your infinite love and kindness.

Amen.

True Confession: What I Prayed for Ukraine

My heart grieves over what is going on in and against Ukraine. Yes, I was one of many who naively thought that civilization was beyond this…beyond rogue leaders being able to mobilize a national army to destroy a peaceful nation with brutal disregard for all human life. The Ukrainians have faces and families, connections to my world, to our world. My friends have taught in Ukraine. My sons’s best friend is Ukrainian; though he lives in the United States, he has family there, or perhaps had family there. When disturbing war images first invaded my television, I had a hard time falling asleep at night; when I did fall asleep, I woke up thinking about the women and children trying to flee, the men — and women — staying behind to fight an army that far outnumbered them. These days, I often fall asleep praying for God to intervene in the attack on Ukraine.

I pray because this is spiritual. We see the physical attack in 3D on the news, but this is just another round in an invisible spiritual war that has raged since the Garden of Eden when Satan first tried to destroy God’s most prized and precious creation — people. This is spiritual. At Ukraine’s National Prayer Breakfast held before Russia’s invasion, event Coordinator Pavel Unguryan said more prophetically than he knew, “Ukraine has become the epicenter of a global spiritual battle.” According to Christianity Today, “Two-thirds (65%) of the population identify as Orthodox Christians (split across three groups), 10 percent as Greek Catholic, and a further 8 percent as ‘simply a Christian.'” There are lots of people seeking God in Ukraine. On the other hand, Putin prefers to stamp God out, increasingly oppressing Christians. Russia adopted a law in 2016 making it unconstitutional to be a Christian, despite the Russian constitution saying that all are free to profess any faith. The law specifically increases regulation of evangelism, including a ban on the performance of “missionary activities” in non-religious settings. Under this law, anyone who declares Christian belief, publicly invites someone to church, or shares an invitation to a Christian conference on Facebook can receive a huge fine or be jailed for up to 3 years. Sometimes even attending church brings these penalties and punishment is worse if you are a pastor or church leader. Putin has set Himself up against God and aligned himself with Satan, evidenced by the Russian ruler carrying out his plan to steal, kill and destroy in Ukraine. Unequivocally, this is spiritual.

So I began to look in scripture at how God intervened in His peoples’ battles and started praying accordingly. In 2 Chronicles, Chapter 20, men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir were coming to attack God’s people. So King Jehoshaphat, representing God’s people, prayed fervently. “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (Does an unfair invasion by an outnumbering army sound familiar?) Well, in a nutshell, here’s what happened. God sent directions to the King saying (paraphrased), “Don’t worry, just go out there and face them tomorrow. I will be with you.” And, in fact, God went before them. Scripture tells us God, Himself, set ambushes for the ungodly men who were coming against His people so that the attackers fought against each other! “The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.” (2 Chronicles 20:23)

And that is what I started praying. “Lord, you know that an army of godless men are trying to destroy people in Ukraine. Please throw the invading army into confusion and cause them to destroy each other. Please bring relief to Ukraine, go before them and fight for them.” Recently, I was scanning headlines (admittedly looking for any good news on the conflict) and saw numerous publications reporting that Russian troops had been “shooting themselves in the leg” in March to avoid fighting and allegedly even shot down their own aircraft by accident. In late April Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence reported intelligence saying that two groups of Soldiers of the Russian Federation (one from Chechnya and another group from Buryatia) shot at one another in occupied Kyselivka. Over 50 soldiers on each side took part and the exact number of casualties and fatalities was unknown.

Now don’t get me wrong. It is not my habit to pray that anyone would “take someone else out.” All life is given by God and only He has authority over life and death. His plans are right even when I don’t understand them and history shows that God is able to use even evil things people do for good outcomes. Perhaps God is opening people’s eyes to our need for Him or awakening skeptics to the fact that Satan is still roaming the earth looking for people to devour. Also on the side of good things, we certainly see the free world uniting against this Russian campaign of terror in an unprecedented way. I don’t know all the good that God will bring from this, but my heart longs for the evil to stop.

By the way, before I prayed for the invading soldiers to fight against each other, I prayed that God would grab hold of the hearts of Putin and his soldiers. I prayed God would turn these men from evil to good, moving them to see their actions as sin against God and the humanity He created. Yes, I prayed that Putin and his soldiers would repent, be saved, and be transformed into people who follow Jesus Christ to His glory and who love and care for people. I know that nothing is impossible for God. I still pray that, but I also pray that God would intervene for His people as He did in biblical times. I don’t have any influence over Putin, but I know the God who has influence, even total authority, over all things. I know He hears my prayers. So I’m going to keep praying for an end to the suffering, however He chooses to do it. Nothing is impossible for God.

How are you praying today?

You Are Loved

Whether you have a human “Valentine” or not…You Are Loved.

With the purest kind of love…You Are Loved.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Whether or not you feel worth it, by One who gave everything for you,…You Are Loved.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
(John 3:16)

To an extraordinary depth…You Are Loved.
(Jesus) “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
(Philippians 2:6-8)

Whether or not you are the best, the biggest, the strongest…You Are Loved.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Romans 5:6

Though you do not love back perfectly…You Are Loved.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
(Romans 5:7-8)

Aside from any earnings or performance, any qualities you developed…You Are Loved.
“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”
(Deuteronomy 7:7-9)

With an infinitely dependable love…You Are Loved.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 8:38-39)

With an eternal love…You Are Loved.
” ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
(Isaiah 54:10)

My prayer for you is to know that….You Are Loved.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:14-19)