Reflections on a Planned Parenthood Protest

For the first time I went to a protest of Planned Parenthood this morning with about 20 people from Desert Hills. The announced crowd at the Glendale protest was 1,000 people. Throughout the day, I’ve had some opportunities to reflect on the protest.

The morning was more emotional than I expected. I knew it would be charged, especially with the videos that have been released and the large crowd that was anticipated. I typically only go through the emotions of these events after the fact, feeling a bit numb while I’m in the midst of them. But this morning my eyes welled up with tears a couple times. Standing so close to a building where babies are butchered was sobering, and seeing the passion of so many people to invest their time and money in bringing these atrocities to an end was moving. Seeing a woman hold up a sign that said “I will adopt your baby” caused me to reflect on all the lives that are senselessly slaughtered when people wait so long and desire so deeply to adopt. Rep. Trent Franks’ speech was not a typical political speech in tone. He was visibly shaken as he spoke about the horrors of Planned Parenthood. He did not mince words when he described Pres. Obama, calling him “the greatest enemy to the most helpless” in our society. I often say things like that, and the response is often that I need to be a little less extreme. It was encouraging to hear one of our elected officials be so bold. Recognizing the truth about the evil in the White House is not extreme. Cutting babies’ faces off with scissors so you can extract their brain is. It’s time we get that figured out.

I anticipated that the protest would be ecumenical. It was. There were many Roman Catholics present at the protest. I willingly stand with other human beings made in God’s image to protect the lives of the most helpless and vulnerable in our society. To do so does not affirm their religious beliefs, nor should we pretend we share the same Gospel just because we both value the lives of preborn babies. I think we can go to a protest and affirm the value of human life together while maintaining a distinction from those outside the Gospel, even if we are protesting abortion with them. It does become problematic, however, when a Roman Catholic Priest is chosen to pray, or the opportunity arises to break into small groups and pray but you’re not sure if the people who might be in your group are actually Christians. To resolve that dilemma, we went back to the church and prayed as a group there after the protest was over.

I also was disappointed by the lack of a Protestant presence at the protest. I did see two friends who are pastors at the protest, but I had hoped to see others. Perhaps they were just at different locations (I know of some who were). While I keenly understand the busy schedules pastors keep and the constant demands of the ministry, it seems that something like this should have been a greater priority for pastors and their churches. I was thankful Desert Hills had so many people turn out for the protest. Nevertheless, we who are doctrinally sound should be leading these efforts in our communities, not sitting on the sidelines or simply posting about it on social media.

IMG_1715 (1)This afternoon I was brought nearly to tears again watching my daughter play. Her demographic is the target of Planned Parenthood: an African-American baby, the result of an unplanned pregnancy with a birthfather who walked out and left her birthmother high and dry. Her birthmother could have chosen to murder my daughter. But she didn’t. She chose life. As my daughter hid from me in her tent in the family room, laughing and smiling, I had to fight back the tears. Then again, as she jumped unbelievably high on the trampoline, I fought them back again. That happy, jumping, sweet, fun, vivacious, wonderful little girl is mine because a woman didn’t kill her, because a woman loved enough to give birth and then place her for adoption, because a woman chose our family to be her birth-daughter’s parents, and because God had chosen to give us such a precious gift. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that her birthmother chose life, that Planned Parenthood and their genocidal hordes lost that battle, and that love and life won.

Children are a gift. All children. A precious gift of God. Planned Parenthood exists to murder God’s gifts. They must be stopped. It’s not time to pat ourselves on the back for attending a protest. It’s time to realize a holocaust is happening in our back yards, and we are letting it happen. It’s time to cry out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord?”

Defunding Planned Parenthood and ending legalized abortion is not the Gospel. It can’t supplant the Gospel focus of the Church. But if we love the Gospel, and if we love the Lord of life, we’ll stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. We’ll defend the orphan. We’ll seek justice for the oppressed. Pro-life is not the Gospel, but a gospel that does not invigorate us to stand for the lives of those mercilessly, brutally, and unjustly slaughtered, with no voice of their own, abandoned by their father and mother, is at best a defective gospel and, perhaps, no gospel at all.

Toward Greater Faithfulness in Evangelism

As I looked back over 2012, one of the areas I wanted to improve in the new year was engaging in evangelism outside the confines of pastoral ministry as such. While I regularly have opportunities for evangelism in church ministry, I wanted to be more pro-active about looking for opportunities in my normal, day-to-day interactions with people who have no plans of ever visiting a church. The Apostle Paul gave Timothy this very charge when he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:5, “Do the work of an evangelist.” The Scriptures are clear that we all have this privilege and responsibility, but how can we be more faithful to it?

One of the reasons why I sometimes hesitate to begin a Gospel conversation is that the task can seem overwhelming. I don’t mean that I’m not sure how to start or how to explain the Gospel. I mean that many times I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to explain the Gospel adequately, or perhaps the person I’m speaking with seems in a rush or even disinterested. Is there a way to overcome the time crunch, or to break through to a person who initially is disinterested or seems hurried?

The problem that looms in each of these scenarios is the feeling that every time I share the Gospel I have to get through the entire message. This wrongheaded thinking creates two problems. First, it turns me into a lecturer and ends all meaningful conversation. The other person usually ends up listening politely, nodding now and then, and then changing the subject when convenient. This isn’t fruitful or enjoyable for either of us. Second, it prohibits me from understanding what the person with whom I am talking is really thinking. When I am doing all the talking, I’m not listening. The reality is that every unbeliever has a worldview that conflicts with the Gospel and that can be used to turn a lecture into a meaningful and engaging discussion. I will never know what that worldview is, though, if I’m the only one talking.

In his helpful book Tactics, Gregory Koukl suggests a more modest goal than conversion in evangelistic encounters. He wrote, “All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want to give him something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.” Setting your goal on poking a hole in an unbeliever’s worldview makes Gospel conversations much more manageable and fruitful. It eliminates both problems mentioned above. You don’t have to worry about the clock, because your goal isn’t to get through an entire Gospel tract. That may not be what God wants you to do in a certain encounter. You also avoid becoming a lecturer, because your primary objective is to put a stone in your discussion partner’s shoe. That means you need to listen first to understand the contradictions in the other’s thinking. People are usually more interested in a conversation when they’re doing the talking. Once you understand the other person’s point of view, you’re in a position to gently but boldly show how it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and show them the truth of the Gospel. They might even be interested now, since you’ve shown a genuine interest in them and what they believe.

If, like me, you want to be more faithful in evangelism this year, setting your sights on a more modest goal might be helpful. Some people plant, some people water. Don’t feel like you have to do it all. At the end of the day, God causes the growth. Just get in on the process, and let God do His work.

Christmas Eve Meditation

One of the realities we face as people living in a fallen world is that tragedy and sadness surround us. This reality seems especially true this Christmas as we all mourn not only the loss of many lives in Newtown, CT, but also what such acts of violence say about our culture and the spiritual condition of our nation. It seems like lately one tragedy has barely ended before another one begins. This morning in Webster, NY, four firemen were shot, two fatally, while two others remain in the hospital. The gunman set a fire to lure the first responders to the scene, and when they arrived, he opened fire. It’s gut-wrenching to think that people have lost loved ones on Christmas Eve of all days because of the wicked acts of a wicked man.

The sad reality, though, is that our world is not any different than the world that Jesus was born into. In Matthew 2, we read about a wicked ruler, Herod, who put to death all male children two and under in and around Bethlehem. He committed this atrocity out of fear of losing power, for the sake of his own ego and pride. The world into which Jesus came was a world far more brutal than our own. It was a world where slavery was legal, and millions of people were treated as no better than cattle. It was a world where women were often treated as property. It was a world where homosexuality was rampant. It was a world filled with idolatrous worship and religious persecution.

In the midst of all the evil and chaos of the surrounding world, God made a promise that He fulfilled at Christmas. Matthew 1:23 says that the birth of Jesus took place to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.” Matthew reminds us that Immanuel means God with us. Jesus came into a world filled with evil and violence and hate as Immanuel. He came as God with us.

The promise of Christmas is that, no matter what happens in our world, no matter what befalls us personally, if we have faith in Jesus, then God is with us. He is with us to save, to deliver, to rescue, to comfort, to strengthen, to care for, to give peace, to carry, and to sustain us. In a world filled with darkness, Christmas stands as a burning and shining light that in Christ, God is with us. It might not always feel that way. From a human perspective, it might not always look that way. But the promise of God is sure. If we know Jesus through faith in Him, trusting in His death and resurrection, believing His promise to forgive our sins because of what He has done, God is with us.

Jesus came into our broken world as Immanuel, God with us. Our world has not changed. It is still broken. But neither has our God changed. He is still with us in His Son. May His promise give you comfort, peace, and joy this Christmas, and throughout the year.

Step One: Show Up

Every Christians wants to be used by God to bring honor to Christ, but many Christians don’t know where to begin. They come to church and look around at all the ministries, but they’re not sure where or how they might serve. They don’t know what their gifts are, and in many cases they have not been trained to use them well. In some churches, especially churches near seminaries, many qualified people fill the most visible openings, and it might even seem like there aren’t any needs to fill or meaningful ways to serve. Does this mean that some disciples are destined to be relegated to the sidelines of ministry and only marginally honor Christ?

Two women in the New Testament refute such a notion: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. These two women were used mightily by God, and they probably didn’t know it at the time. They only appear briefly in the crucifixion and burial narratives in Matthew 27, but they are of vital importance. After Matthew describes all the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ death, he identifies “many women” who were witnesses to these events, including these two women named Mary. Later, in Matt 27:61, the two Marys are there again when Jesus is buried. The verse is so innocent a casual reader probably wouldn’t even notice it in the text. “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.”

These two women most certainly had no idea how important their presence at these events would be. Why does Matthew bother to include these seemingly meaningless and extraneous details? The reason is because the most powerful proof of any claim in the ancient world was eye-witness testimony. Deut 19:15 says, “On the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” As Matthew chronicles the events surrounding Jesus’ death and burial, he is careful to identify key witnesses to confirm his testimony. Mary and Mary were no doubt motivated to observe these events not to establish a legal basis for believing they were historical events; they were motivated simply out of their love for Christ. Their love for Jesus compelled them simply to show up and follow Jesus wherever He went, even to the grave.

It’s fascinating that none of the disciples are named. None of the high-profile New Testament leaders were there. It was simply two women who had been transformed by Jesus’ love and loved Him in return. God used these two women in a mighty way, to provide unimpeachable evidence that the faith once for all delivered to the saints is not fiction but history.

Mary and Mary teach us one very important lesson: the first step in being used by God to honor Christ is simply to show up. Show up to Sunday school. Show up to corporate worship. Show up to prayer meetings. Show up to business meetings. Show up to the church potluck. Show up as often as you can. You don’t know how your presence among the saints might be used of God in ways you never imagined.

Do you want your life to count for the glory of Christ? Step one: Show up.

Sin Is Not a Sitcom

Recently, Jesse Johnson and Stephen Altrogge have written about Decision 2012, and both of them have referenced Psalm 2:4, which says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.” This verse speaks of God’s response to the kings of the earth and its rulers who unite to rebel against God’s authority. Both writers have specifically picked up on the term laugh. Johnson wrote, “The nations may rage and the people may plot an evil thing, but God still reigns. In fact, he must look with amusement at our attempts to overthrow his rule.” Altrogge entitled his article “God Is Laughing Especially Hard Today,” and concluded with this thought: “As the politicians plot and rage, God chuckles. They can’t stop God. They can’t stop his plan. Jesus has already been elected, and in the end, every knee will bow before him, regardless of political party. Today, vote, pray, then laugh along with God.” While I’m sure that I would have more in common than not with both Johnson and Altrogge, their articles are troubling because they seem to portray the rebellion of humanity against God as a laughing matter, something amusing, almost as if it were a sitcom. Was this the Psalmist’s intent? It seems unlikely. The problem with this idea of God “chuckling” and being amused is borne out in three ways.

First, Psalm 2:4 uses a common Hebrew poetic device called parallelism in which the second line interprets the first. In Psalm 2:4, the lines read:

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.

The parallelism demonstrates two things. First, the one who sits in heaven is the true ruler of the earth since he is adonai, the Lord. Second, and more importantly for our purposes, the term ‘laughs’ is parallel to the term ‘scoffs’ and therefore has the same nuance. The term scoff basically means ‘to deride’ or ‘to show contempt toward.’ The parallelism thus indicates that God is not amused or chuckling at ungodly kings and rulers. Rather, He holds them in contempt. He finds them detestable. His laughter is not the laughter of amusement; it is the laughter of contempt. God is not chuckling; He is disdaining the wicked.

Second, the Hebrew concept of laughter, like our English concept, has more than one nuance. In Proverbs 31:25, Scripture says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.” The word translated “smiles” is the same word translated “laughs” in Ps 2:4. The meaning in Prov 31:25 is that the godly woman is not worried about the future. She is not concerned about it because she has a plan for it and is prepared to execute that plan. She does not find the future funny. Rather, the contrast is with the person who is wringing her hands about the future because she has no plan for a crisis. This concept fits much better with Ps 2:4 than any indication of frivolity or joviality. The one who sits in heaven laughs at the rulers not because He finds them amusing, but because He is not concerned about their plans and their plots. The Lord has a plan, and He will execute it despite their attempts to thwart Him. The Psalmist thus conveys that when the rulers take their stand against God’s rule, God is not worried, stressed, or anxious. He can laugh in the face of apparent danger because it poses no threat to Him. He can deride and treat the rulers of the earth with contempt without fear of being defeated or mocked because His plans will prevail.

Finally, the context of the Psalm leaves no doubt about how God feels about evil. The very next verse does not speak to God’s amusement but to His wrath. “Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury.” Are we to make of this that God is bi-polar, one moment bent over laughing especially hard, and then the next moment flaring up in a fit of rage? May it never be! It is God’s wrath that permeates the first section of Psalm 2 as well as that which brings the Psalm to a close. God’s wrath through the mediation of the Son is close to being kindled (Ps 2:12). When the New Testament quotes this Psalm, it indicates it was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. The rulers of the earth took counsel to put to death God’s Messiah. Was God looking on in amusement as His beloved Son was being beaten beyond recognition and nailed to a cross? Was God laughing especially hard when He forsook His one and only Son as Jesus bore the sins of the world? It’s unthinkable! God was full of fury, as all of the miraculous signs surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion bear out (death, darkness, earthquake, splitting rocks, torn veil). The context of this Psalm will not allow us to find God chuckling or enjoying something amusing. Simply put, God neither chuckles at the sin of the wicked nor looks on in amusement at humanity’s rebellion. He is full of wrath toward it and pours out His judgment on it.

While I appreciate my brothers in Christ reminding us that elections are not a cause for us to sink into unmitigated worry or have anxiety attacks, it is equally important that we understand God is not amused by America’s rebellion. Sin is not a sitcom.

Decision 2012: Handling the Emotional Fallout

If, like me, you’re a follower of Jesus, chances are good you’ve spent most of today experiencing a wide gamut of emotions, most of them complex and at times contradictory. As I’ve read through my wife’s Facebook news feed and my Twitter timeline, I’ve seen Christians express their emotions in a wide variety of ways, all of which I think I’ve experienced. But I’ve also seen a disturbing trend amongst these various responses: oversimplification. The oversimplification usually looks one of two ways. Either it boils down to, “Jesus is still the King, so everything will be all right,” or, “Barack Obama is still the president, so we have to honor him because of his office and teach our children to honor those in authority.” I don’t take issue with either of those statements. I agree with them, actually. But what troubles me is how passive they are in light of the complexity of emotions we should be feeling. If we look at what Scripture says, today we should feel multiple emotions. Here are a few examples:

Deep sorrow. In Psalm 119:136, the Psalmist lamented, “My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law.” The fact that our country voted for a man who favors murdering babies on demand, suppresses religious freedom, and supports homosexuality should move us to deep sorrow. That sorrow should be deepened by the passing of gay “marriage” laws in four states and legalized drug abuse in two others. To overcome this sorrow with a cliche is not spiritual; it’s shallow and self-centered. It’s akin to Hezekiah taking comfort that life would be fine for him even though God’s horrible judgment would come on his children. Don’t numb yourself to the wickedness we witnessed our nation choose yesterday. God isn’t numb to it, and you shouldn’t be either.

Torment. In 2 Peter 2:8, Peter tells his readers that Lot was tormented day after day by the lawless deeds of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. Note that: day after day. The idea of “torment” in this verse is being in severe distress or harassed. In legal parlance, the word indicated torture. Lot felt horrified and oppressed by the unrighteousness of his neighbors on a daily basis. Lot obviously knew God was king and ultimately would overrule men’s wickedness, but that knowledge did not lessen the distress he felt every single day because of the sin he saw all around him. As Christians, if we are not distressed every day by the evils around us, we need to start paying attention. If we dismiss these lawless deeds as what need not trouble us, we might examine ourselves to see if we really love the law of God in our own hearts.

Determination. Greco-Roman culture was no better than ours, and in many cases was worse, but Paul did not allow that to discourage him or to allow his readers to feel resigned. He told the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling to show themselves to be lights in the midst of a perverted world (Phil 2:12-16). Far from being discouraged, the Philippians were to use the wickedness around them as motivation to hold fast to God’s Word and never give up. If you feel resigned that this is the new normal, and America (and the world) is too far gone, you need to renew your determination to be a light in a dark world, knowing that God is still at work.

Submission. Yes, Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-15 mean that we submit to governing authorities inasmuch as their laws do not violate God’s Law. Even when our rulers are wicked men and women, we are still called to submit. Even when their lawless deeds torment us, we still must submit within the bounds of God’s Law.

Self-Control. God laid down this principle in Exodus 22:28: “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” Paul shows the abiding nature of this command in Acts 23:5 when he is being tried by a self-righteous, hypocritical high priest. No matter how evil the governing authorities are, we must not curse them. They will give an account to God for their deeds, including how they govern and rule those under their authority. As a caveat, this also does not mean we ignore their wickedness or pretend they are honorable and upright. John the Baptist was not timid when he confronted Herod’s sin. Calling sin what it is must not be confused with cursing a governing authority. Our speech must be under the control of the Spirit, who leads us always to speak the truth in love.

Prayerfulness. The Apostle Paul commanded believers to pray for their rulers (1 Tim 2:2) so that Christians may live dignified, peaceful lives that model godliness to a watching world. Such conditions evidently conform to God’s desire to save sinners. We are to pray for our enemies, even for those who torment us with their wickedness, especially when they are in positions of political power.

Hope. Romans 8:18-25 reminds us that the creation is subjected to futility in this present age, but that it won’t always be this way. In the midst of any sufferings in this life, we should be hopeful because Jesus has been raised from the dead and someday will raise us up to His glorious, immortal life. Even creation itself will be set free from its futility and be made new. We have a glorious hope that transcends politics, elections, and every earthly institution. We need to wait eagerly for it with perseverance.

As Christians, it is right for us to feel all of these emotions at the same time. The Christian life is not meant to be a simple, one-dimensional, happy-clappy experience. God uses all of these feelings to refine us into the image of Christ for His glory and our good. When we jettison one or more of these feelings because they are uncomfortable or, perhaps, because they seem unspiritual because of poor understanding of Scripture, we short-circuit our own sanctification. God wants us to hate sin and persevere in hope. God wants us to weep over lawlessness and keep our speech about evil rulers in check. God wants us to grieve over sin and pray for sinners.

The Christian life is complex and profound; when we simplify away the complexity, we become shallow and defined by cliches that never really satisfy our deepest longings for Christ. But when we let the tension within us remain, it drives us to Christ. In His presence we find a peace that surpasses any cliche and, indeed, all human comprehension.