I was just under four years old in 1973 when the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade mandating the legality of abortion in all 50 states. Since that landmark decision, the American landscape and culture have witnessed over 63 million reported abortion cases. Yet, during that same time, countless followers of Christ have been praying and working to help women with unplanned pregnancies find a better option than the termination of their child. They have worked for hope.
Today the High Court has reversed this ruling. Since a politically motivated leak of the initial decision last month, we have experienced a tsunami of media outpouring and emotion. I, too, have had to sit with my thoughts and feelings and the surrounding ramifications. Yes, the emotions are high right now. But what are the simple facts when we take a deep breath and calm down to think through the issues rationally? One thing is clear; the ultimate answer is much deeper than the legal opinion of nine human judges. So while I could write a tome on today’s announcement, here are six quick truths below the media hype.
1. The Legal Truth.
Despite the avalanche of liberal media, the overturning of Roe v Wade will not outlaw abortion in the land but instead send the issue back to the states. I won’t get bogged down in legal discussion here as others who are more versed in this area have already done so, and those looking for honest research can find them.
2. The Scientific Truth.
The crux of the matter is defining the object of abortion. While many proponents of abortion will refer to the baby as a mere fetus, the basic science dictates that this is a human being. Several years ago, I came across the work of Dr. Jerome Lejeune of France, an expert in genetics. In 1959 he discovered the genetic cause of Downs Syndrome and was hailed for his work early on. However, once Dr. Legeune furthered the conclusions of his findings, that the logical progression is that life begins at conception, he began to experience a cold shoulder from his colleagues because of the implications of what abortion truly is. The simple reality is that the object of abortion is not the mere excising of tissue but the termination of a living human being. With advances in ultrasound technology and other science, the evidence is clear. This is life.
3. The Moral Truth.
If the science is evident in the data that this is life, we are forced to move into the moral category. What we know of God is that we are created in His image. David affirms that it was God that “formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV) Without trying to be harsh purposefully, the reality is that abortion is the taking of innocent life. The Biblical and legal term for this act is murder. I will unpack this a bit more in point 6 below. But part of the issue here is how our present culture looks at children and humanity in general. We no longer see people as being created in the image of God but rather as property to be arranged for convenience.
4. The Grace Truth.
Grace is something that I sorely need in my life and continue, and will always, praise God for his grace on me. Jesus died on the cross for my sin and rose again. I need HIS grace. We need to know that this same grace is available to women who have had abortions and to men who have been involved in decisions for abortion. David repented of his murder of Uriah to cover up the affair with Bathsheba and received grace and restoration. Paul repented of his murder of Stephen for preaching the gospel and not only received grace and restoration but a new call on his life.
5. The Hope Truth.
HOPE is the operative word here. One reason women go into an abortion clinic is that they feel cornered and without hope. But there is hope. There is hope for the baby and hope for the mother. Care-Net is one such ministry of hope that Debi and I, along with our local church, support regularly. It is one thing to speak against abortion. It is another to get involved in loving these women and their babies and helping them find hope and purpose at this unexpected fork in the road. This message of hope is not something new but found back in the early church and seen in the times of the Roman Empire when followers of Christ would rescue unwanted babies who were left in trash heaps.
6. The Heart Truth.
The mere changing of legal structures will not alter a nation’s makeup in the immediacy any more than Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, or the conclusion of the Civil War changed the hearts of racists in 1865. In short, slavery was abolished, but some white people still cursed black people and hated those who supported the freedom of blacks. In our present debate, the struggle is spiritual, as it was then and always will be at the root. It is a spiritual wrestling match to see that every human has value. But this reality is not easily seen by those with an atheistic and humanistic worldview who do not believe that these unborn children are human. The core cause for this blindness is a hard heart. Thus the real issue is one of a heart awakening and revival.
We need more than righteous laws of the land; we need the mending of broken hearts that can only come through Jesus Christ. In describing this eternal struggle, Jesus stated that: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Jesus has healed, changed, and continues to change my heart. That is the answer that I continue to pray toward. Yes, I believe that this is a good day in the ongoing history of the United States. However, I firmly believe that we must do more; we must acknowledge our sin and repent, walk in His grace, and love and pray for those who continue to see no evil in abortion. The answer is in Real Revival, which first begins in me and then spreads to the hearts of those around me.
What is it about Psalm 23? The emotion of the ancient text is somewhat like the old hymn, Amazing Grace, written by a former slave trader, John Newton, in 1772. Amazing Grace, or at least the last the first stanza, tends to show up in movies and television programs during a funeral scene even when there is absolutely no other overt Christian theme at all in the storyline. The old hymn conveys hope in death and dire situations. So, what is it about Psalm 23? It conveys hope in dire and hopeless situations.
Few can quote the entire psalm. Yet many have heard how the prayer opens with the emotional outpouring, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” Then, near the psalm’s conclusion, we are taken through the painful feelings of “walking through the shadow of death.” But yet, we begin to rise a bit with confidence, declaring that we will “fear no evil.” Finally, with a crescendo of hope, the psalm concludes with our eyes turned heavenward in the affirmation that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 23 is a prayer song of King David from some very dark days where he owned his ragged emotions, yet he was able to find Hope in God and then press forward.
Recently I officiated a funeral service in which Amazing Grace was sung and I, at the request of a family member, centered on Psalm 23 in my sermon. After addressing some of the ever-present soul questions that quietly rise to the surface of people’s minds at a funeral, I was able to point to the work of Christ on the Cross and his resurrection, which gives assurance of where we will be on the other side of eternity.
Then I was able to share this ancient prayer of hope for those left behind until they, too, step into eternity.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Notice the offer of rest from a chaotic world and media that never shuts off. See the hope of renewal for the depleted soul. Feel the relief offered to those oppressed and told that there would be a day of judgment when all things would be made right. Hear the offer of reliance from a God who comes through in a world where trust is in short order. Yes, Psalm 23 conveys the truth of a God that can be trusted even when we feel like all of creation has fallen apart – that somehow, God is faithful at the end of the day.
Though this is all encouraging, which it should be, the greatest fulfillment of Psalm 23 is found in Jesus Christ, who in John 10 noted that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus accomplished the greatest hope of all. He died for my sin and rose again, defeating the greatest enemy of all, the grave. Sin and death destroy, but for those who know Jesus, the most excellent shepherd, there is hope.
John Newton found hope and grace in Jesus despite his former sinful life as a slave trader. David sought and found hope and recorded his prayer journey in Psalm 23. Yes, even today, this hope can be realized for you. The author of Hebrews declares to all creation that the ultimate shepherd, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Are you looking around at our present world and wondering if there is hope? Yes, there is hope, and this is the greatest message from Psalm 23. Today, this is the psalm and song of hope we need.
This is not what I had in mind. My original intent was to pick up where I had left off when I returned after a summer break. Then last Thursday afternoon, I accidentally stumbled into President Biden’s address regarding the chaos in Afghanistan, and then it happened; I strayed into waters I usually don’t swim in by sharing some political thoughts in social media outlets.
While I have my opinions, my point here is not to offer political commentary. Partly because I recognize I am not all that brilliant in this realm, but mostly because I am convinced that the hope for humanity lies in a changed heart by Jesus and not a political debate. Instead, the significant angst and cause for my concern had to do with the most botched Biblical connection I’ve seen used by a President for political gain.
The past few years, I saw several people blast President Trump for his use and misuse of scriptural passages, holding up a Bible, and then infer his insertion of the sacred text was merely a political stunt. They may be correct. While I have seen a sprinkling of responses to President Biden’s complete disconnect of Biblical context, such as here, most of the media waves have been silent or focused on the political.
Biden likened God’s call of the prophet Isaiah to the American Servicemen and women responding to the nation’s call of sacrificial service for those who missed the blunder. You can read the text here or watch it here. As I heard those words, which were inserted probably by a speechwriter, I was not only shocked but wondered how in the world anyone beyond a pre-school education could believe that such a disconnected interpretation would fly.
Does Biden or his staff not see this? Do they not actually grasp the error themselves, or maybe believe no one will check up on them? I assume that someone merely inserted the phrase for Biden with the hope that his address would pull some Christian or Hebrew religious people to his side.
In short, the context of Isaiah 6 is that of God sitting above the throne of human affairs when Isaiah is confronted with God’s holiness. In this exchange, Isaiah sees the evil of his nation and his own sin and responds with fear and trembling. The Steve Hinton interpretation? – “Wow – You’re big and Holy, and I’m small and sinful – I’m dead, please have mercy on me.” From here, God extends grace and mercy toward Isaiah’s heart of repentance. God then calls for someone to carry this message of repentance and hope to the nation, and Isaiah responds. You can read the entire text here.
So why do I bring this up? To merely point out the error of those in public leadership? I have done that before. However, my drive here is to show that we will find hope for today if we correctly receive God’s Word.
As noted, the immediate context was God’s coming judgment on Israel and his prophet, Isaiah, extending an offer for grace to those who would repent of their sin. If we are to make an application today, then we must do what Isaiah did. Instead of blaming others, we must humbly acknowledge our own sin. Therein lies the big rub; we don’t like the words repent or sin when they must be applied to ourselves. But yet, repentance is what we must do.
God is indeed full of awe, and the mere insertion of the Bible periodically in our lives does not impress him. If we are going to do business with the divine, then we must come on his terms. God is both perfect in his holiness and his love, and for us to genuinely grasp grace, we must see the seriousness of our sin. We must own it and confess it.
The call of repentance also reminds me of another passage that is superficially quoted from time to time by many Christians and Jews in America and the West. In the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14, as Solomon dedicated the ancient Hebrew temple, God promised him that if “my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The immediate context for this passage was for Israel, but if we are to apply it today, it would be for the Church and not the nation of America. Prayer is often the main thought here. However, an attitude of humility and turning from our wicked ways must accompany that prayer for deliverance. Hope for America, for any land, begins first by a revival among those who know God and then an awakening among the populace to see their need for God’s grace and respond accordingly.
That is why I have jumped back into a season of writing today on this topic. There may indeed be hope for our confusing time, but it will only come in restoration from God, not our politics. The mercy which God extended personally to Isaiah came right after his confession and repentance. For us, God’s greatest act of mercy and grace came in the sacrifice that Jesus gave us on the cross in his death, burial and resurrection. That healing grace is available for all who would come to God. For that grace to mean anything, though, we must first see our need for it.
I have no problem with politicians using scripture as long as it is in the appropriate context. In truth, I do not know their most inner motive. But when the disconnect of scripture is so apparent, it is clear that abuse of God’s word has taken place. On the other hand, healing can happen when God’s word is properly expounded to the world, and an appropriate response is realized.
Interestingly enough, while clearing out some old files in the garage yesterday, I came across some notes from my first preaching class in college that seemed so relevant. I glanced at a quote given by my professor and immediately took the providential cue from the statement knowing its application for our day. The topic dealt with clear teaching from scripture in times of need, and the quote came from the German theologian Karl Barth as he was being forced out of his home in 1935. In a final address to his students, he noted that the only hope their country had was proper “exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!” The theological term exegesis is simply the study of appropriate interpretation and application of scripture, which is needed today.
So the call here is not merely for President Biden or other politicians, though that would be good, but rather for all of us to take up and read and head the word of God and follow Jesus with all our hearts.
One of the reasons I pray and ask God to spare America is not actually for my comfort, but that we might continue to send out missionaries to those across the waters that need Jesus and the Bible. So, yes, I do pray for awakening and revival. Yes, I believe it can happen.
I’ve heard it a lot over the years and even more so of late. Divine name dropping. Jesus is referenced. The Bible is quoted. The god of our making is inserted into conversation so that all will know the divine endorsement of our position. After all, how can you argue with God?
When it comes to the person of Jesus, people usually bring Him into a discussion when they believe He can lend added weight to their argument. Socially and politically speaking, conservatives will bring Jesus up regarding a pro-life position, and liberals will enter the Jesus card to support their call for immigration reform or taking care of the down and out. Good Samaritan type talk. Sure, it’s easy to like Jesus when he does what we want him to do and say. But what about the passages where Jesus doesn’t always comply with our wishes? Do we cherry-pick the verses we like and find tools to rationalize away passages that make us uncomfortable?
Therein lies the tension. Are we willing to take all of Jesus or only what makes us feel good? This is the ultimate question. Are we going to follow him totally, or not? Are we going to force Jesus to fit into our worldview, or will we allow Him to change us and mold us into his Kingdom worldview?
In launching this question and series of posts, I’m thinking of one occasion where Jesus connected both the past and the future for a present truth we must all wrestle with. In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus drew up Old Testament history and connected it to the future judgment of those who refuse to repent of their sin. Noah and the ark are the object of Jesus’ teaching, and he spoke of the account as though it was just as authentic as Caesar Augustus.
In teaching on the end times and final judgment, Jesus went back to the Old Testament book of Genesis, treating it with the same authority of an actual history lesson. Jesus taught that the flood account was the real deal. In this context, Jesus was responding to the disciples who had asked about the end times and possible signs that might accompany them. Jesus noted that just as people in Noah’s day had heard the message of God and rejected it, thus bringing judgment upon themselves, so people would similarly respond today and likewise perish.
People don’t talk about judgment these days. The implication is personal sin and accountability to a Holy God, which is uncomfortable and inconvenient to our egos. No, we like the gentle and gracious Jesus. The God of which we must bow down to, well, that’s another story.
Yes, Jesus came full of grace. However, he came full of truth as well. Jesus also spoke of eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46, and Luke 21:27 records Jesus speaking of His second coming on the clouds with power and great glory. In describing the word picture of a grand banquet in Matthew 22:13, Jesus noted that there would be those on the outside being cast into darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In a crescendo of conviction, the apostle John shares the end of all things when those who have rejected the grace of Christ are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death.
If we examine the facts of his resurrection and choose to call him Lord, we must also acknowledge the day of judgment. To deny Noah and the coming judgment is essentially denying Jesus. The ramifications are enormous. Those who are outside Christ must wrestle with their need in great humility. For those who know the grace of Christ, the call to share his love with the world is paramount. For the child of God, there is peace in knowing the day of judgment will finally bring an end to evil. The day will indeed come when the King of Glory will settle the score and finally bring justice for those who have followed Him.
Yes, Jesus is love, gracious and kind. He is also Lord and we must reckon with this reality. Because he is Lord, we have this assurance that he will come again someday for his children. His lordship is both a convicting and an encouraging promise to take to the bank.
It’s been said so many times; “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over with!” I can feel the pain. But I’m also a realist on this occasion. The truth is that many of the issues that cause us angst may not simply go away with turning the calendar page. Yes, there are some promising signs with COVID vaccines. The political drama is really up for grabs depending on what your bent is on that one. Regardless of present feelings of hope, we just do not know the certainty of the next 12 months.
Along these lines, I am reminded of an outstanding documentary about the Civil War by Ken Burns. The connection here is with the narrator highlighting hope-filled words in late December of 1863 from people looking forward to the new year. But we know now that the war tarried on until May of 1865 with horrendous days they could not have imagined in those quiet closing moments of 1863.
Sure, it’s not a bad idea to pause and consider the journey into a new year. However, if we entrust our hope to external circumstances, we have no complete assurance that anything will be different. So how do we move forward?
Coming not only to the conclusion of 2020, but also to this study on fear, I want to give some hope. The starting block for the race begins in our hearts and minds – in our thinking. For those in Christ, we can and must choose to think differently. Those who are still circling the field on Jesus, consider how God has called us to live differently in His eternal Kingdom and ask yourself if that’s not how you would truly desire to live. While there are more, here are five quick pro-active ways we can shift our thinking from fear to faith and courage.
1. We must Remember Past Victories
It’s easy to fall into despair when surrounded with sorrow. The problem is our focus, though. The antidote to the fear pandemic begins when we deliberately turn our attention from the worldly situation to something above. The first step is to remember what God has already done in the past. We can take courage when we remember the past victories that God has already carried us through. David noted in Psalm 77:11 that, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” In seasons of anguish, the psalmist encouraged himself by recounting and thanking God for his past provisions.
Praising God for past victories is also something Paul picked up on in Philippians 4:6, where he urged the first Christians to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It is so easy to forget and come to God only with our asking. Yet, in our deliberate remembrance of God’s past faithfulness and thankfulness for them, we are encouraged to keep on going forward.
There is an old appropriate church hymn that carries a refrain of, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings and see what God has done.”
2. We must Reprogram our Thinking
At first, this may seem redundant. But the point is to purposefully and regularly monitor what is going through our hearts and minds. Paul notes that we must not “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” We are constantly bombarded by the “pattern of this world” due to the 24/7 news feeds available to us through our modern media. The constant negative feed from these sources is a superb breeding ground for fear.
By contrast, the call is to pursue the positive deliberately. Again we can learn from the scriptures which, state that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” One practical option here would be to daily write out 5 to 10 things that are indeed grand and glorious in our lives whether that be something in nature to the simple smile of someone who loves us.
3. We Must Rely on the Team
The blessing I have in life, next to Jesus, is that of being committed to a local church family and some brothers in Christ, all of whom are committed to me. God created us for community, and we need each other. The answer in this mix, though, is not so much what encouragement we can get from others, but what encouragement we can give. Again, going back to the old apostle Paul, he urged the first church to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are doing.”
By team, I mean the local church family. A great example of how this plays out is a football team. The difference between a football team and a track team is their interdependence on one another. Regardless of how well a quarterback throws the ball and how fast the wide receiver catches the ball and runs, they are doomed to defeat unless they unite with the other players who are all working together. When they function as a team and encourage each other, they run the ball down the field together and win the victory — kind of unlike what the Dallas Cowboys did this year.
4. We must Resolve to Do
Action is the principle here. It is easy to clinch one’s fist and shout at other people, policies, and forces that stand against us in this life. It is quite another thing to get up and do something to help others. This is especially true when no one sees what we are doing. Serving with no attention. One verse that I have submitted to memory this year is Romans 12:21, in which we are urged to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Imagine what 2021 would look like when more people are concerned with helping others rather than expecting others to serve them.
5. We must Recognize the Big Picture of Eternity
I don’t want to come across flippant on this one, but the harsh truth is that we will all die sometime. The ancient scriptures noted in Hebrews 9:27 that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” The text tells us two firm facts. The first is that death is inevitable and we need to face it, and the second is that there is something after death. Yes, Heaven and Hell are realities. What we do now has eternal ramifications when our hearts stop beating.
So the better question deals with the manner of our life rather than preserving more time on the planet. If there is no eternity, then people rightly should fear death, dangers, and dreads of this world. After all, there is nothing left. Paul got that and even noted that if there is no resurrection, then Christians are to be pitied above all people. Yet, because Jesus did rise from the grave proving not only his divinity, but the veracity of all he said, we can cling to what the Bible shouts about eternity as well.
So many times this past year, I have been drawn back to the first followers of Jesus. The original Christians in the book of Acts and those in the early centuries come to mind. Quite often in the Roman Empire, while others fled the plagues of death, many Christians remained behind to serve those who suffered. They physically and practically overcame the evil around them by doing good.
Is that not what we need more of today? Regardless of what 2021 brings, how can life not be better when regular folks, like you and me, live with faith above fear in our sphere of influence?
For me, yes, I am looking forward to 2021 and am attempting to map things out on my wall calendar with hope. However, real hope is with Christ ruling in our hearts regardless of what is unfurloughing around us. Yes, there have been many reasons for fear in 2020, and there will probably be many more to come. But we can live differently, and that is my hope for you and me.
As we wind down this study on fear, I am reminded of another Civil War illustration. While fear reigned in so many during those years, one General stood out as an example of courage. His troops began to refer to him as Stonewall after one early battle because he would not flinch in the face of danger. Thomas Jackson was from the south though not a supporter of slavery. He was a man of deep faith, which influenced every area of his life. Shortly after the battle of Bull Run, where his courage shined, an adjutant asked him for this source of bravery. The short exchange went as such:
“General, how is it that you can keep so serene with a storm of shells and bullets raining about your head?”
Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all men would be equally brave.”
Wow – that is the way all Christians should live. When our hope is placed first in Christ, we can live differently from the world around us. The Bible notes that perfect love casts out all fear. There is no greater love than what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Because of that, we can indeed journey into 2021, turning our fear into faith. That is my hope for the new year. So be strong, my friend, be strong!