what does it mean to be “pro-life”?

For a good number of us in the United States, the recent video of the Planned Parenthood official giving details about organs to be used for donation highlights for us the evil of abortion. Best case scenario in terms of the videos themselves, we consider this to be the taking of human life, the death of a baby in a womb which otherwise would have come to birth.

Last evening a Facebook share from an esteemed friend who seems often conservative in their politics, I found striking (as well as a bit surprising), and I shared it since I’m more in line with this way of thinking:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would you think that I don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there.

That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

—Sister Joan Chittister
Benedictine Nun, Author and Speaker

Kirk Whalum on Instagram

I understand profoundly that there is a basic problem and issue with this statement. I know friends who are conservative Republican, some libertarian –and there are surely many– who do care about the poor. And many good works come from such. So this statement is a non-starter with them. And arguably the entire discussion may fall prey to the political issue before it even gets off the ground, which would be a shame.

What we need to grapple with is just what we’re facing as a nation and the factors involved. Of course the sexual revolution of the 1960s preceeded by a morality based on majority opinion with the blip being the needed resolve and sacrifice during World War II is undoubtedly an issue here. People think they can engage in sexual activity with no consequences as in no births. And the lie that the fetus is nothing more than a woman’s tissue in her body which she should be allowed to do with as she pleases. Of course there is mercy and forgiveness for all who have had abortions in and through Jesus.

There is the issue of how the poor should be helped. Some insist that the government should not be involved at all. In the United States, “we the people” are supposed to be the government. I’m afraid that has been no longer the case for some time due to “special interests,” the lobbyists, and to get more specific: corporations and banks. It seems to me that politics too often has become as much or more about getting wealthy as in serving the interests of the people who elected the politician.

But to the issue: I would argue that churches can’t do it all. And in fact overall seem to be doing not enough in their own neighborhoods. Many conservatives would likely argue that if the government would step aside and fulfill its calling, limited to Romans 13, than the church could step in along with private entities to help the poor. I think it’s not a question of either/or, but and/both. It seems to me that God judges every human society on how its people treat each other and especially how they treat the poor. Certainly for the church helping the poor among us as well as in society is a high priority on what we’re called to do.

If the poor are helped, then arguably there would be less abortions, which historically since Roe V Wade has supposedly been the case. And not only should the women in difficult places be helped so that they can give birth to the baby, but they should be helped to give the child a life in which the needs of the child along with opportunities to do well in life are in place. Encouraging as well, responsible choices on the part of everyone.

When I hear of pro-life as in some organization or candidate, I know it refers to abortion. That’s good, but not good enough. As someone aptly shared with me recently, if the money and effort to get “pro-life” candidates elected and Roe V Wade overturned would have instead been directed to efforts to help curb and eliminate underlying factors contributing to abortion, we may have reduced actual abortions significantly.

At any rate we should have this conversation. Even if we agree in the end to disagree. As followers of Jesus and as his church, we have the same goal: to see lives saved and people flourishing through the gospel to the glory of God.

refusing to worry or fret

It’s a broken record for me, and anyone reading this is welcomed to lift up a prayer for me. But as I’ve said before and hopefully won’t say too many times again, I have had a strong propensity to worry, to fret, to be anxious over the years. In fact I think that was a tool of the devil (meaning demons, though the devil is one of them, the one in charge) to hinder me and keep me from simply fitting well into whatever God would have had for me to do. Of course there were other issues swirling around that, as well. It’s not that I couldn’t have overcome all of that by faith, because I certainly could have and in some measure I did. But to a significant extent I think I failed to step into all God had for me because of that.

I remember years ago, Pastor Herb Vander Lugt, a man of God who I am grateful to know as a friend, now with the Lord, had a radio call in program. At the time I was frustrated over sin, the sin I had in mind surely must have been the sin of worry. Of course I knew that we can’t be sinless in this life, that we invariably do sin from time to time (I would clearly say now, during the course of a day). I called in and asked the naive question, which was more from the heart and not much from the head, born out of frustration- if we could simply choose not to sin in this life. I don’t think at all I meant be sinless, though I may have not explained that when I asked the question. I had more in mind what John says here: “I write these things to you so that you will not (commit an act of) sin. But when we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.” (1 John 2, partly my paraphrase)

Pastor Vander Lugt wisely and succintly gave me a good answer. Of course we stumble along the way. Even Moses who struggled with a hot temper early on, but by and by became the meekest person in all the earth, later succumbed again to anger, his actions from that keeping him from entering the Promised Land with the rest of the Israelities.

I’m back though, now after these many years from that phone call (some twenty to twenty-five years ago?), hopefully with a more mature perspective and view of things. But wanting to not only honor, but put into practice the idea of a commitment to refusing to worry, fret, or be anxious, come what may.

This has to be with the need of ongoing grace in confessing my sin of not trusting in God entirely in any given matter. There is no doubt that in this world we do have responsibilities, which may seem mundane in themselves, but are inescapable if we’re to be good stewards. We are indeed fallible, and important matter do slip through the cracks for us. We want to do the best we can.

The bottom line for me here though, along with that, is the importance of keeping faith in God in the sense of trusting in him regardless of what is happening or what I’m up against. This can be nothing short of spiritual warfare, as I’ve said again and again before. I have often went from one obsessive worry to the next, thinking in the midst of that and afterward that it was surely an attack of the enemy. They can more or less last for a day and be a distant memory completely gone. The next one being perhaps around the corner, completely unexpected and usually largely unanticipated. I assume those will continue to come. Paul speaks of confidence that God will deliver him from every evil attack and carry him safely into God’s eternal kingdom. He may well have included physical attacks to which he was no stranger, but surely he especially meant spiritual ones which we all as God’s children experience.

And so, this is one of my immediate goals. There is much more to be said around it, or at least I could say more, but I’ll stop here for now.

Does anyone have a thought you’d like to share here? Of course I’m always happy to receive that on any post, but it seems especially apt on a post like this.

the love we need and are to offer to others

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Matthew 5:7

The new life in Christ has one sure sign of existing: love for God and love for God’s children (1 John 5). And this love is evidenced in our obedience to God’s commandments. Love and truth are always together in scripture. We also must remember that final, thorough, infallible judgment belongs to God alone. And that in fact we’re called to embrace the mercy which triumphs over judgment in extending that mercy to those we instead could judge (James 2).

If we’ve experienced God’s mercy and grace, then we should be extending that to others in little as well as big ways. We must be friendly. There is no such thing as truth apart from the love which accompanies it. Truth is nothing more than falsehood apart from that love. In fact such “truth” is a lie, an illusion and I’m afraid often a facade for the real agenda.

Truth exists first in the Trinity of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And that is a communion of Love. Grace and mercy extended to us in and through Jesus to enter into that very Communion.

On the flip side, love strictly speaking does not exist at all apart from truth, ultimately the truth that is in Jesus. Not to say there isn’t genunine love in existence through creation. But the love from which that comes from will bring us face to face with truth. The farther apart love is from truth, the less genuine that love is.

In all of this we need God’s mercy and grace. Each of us need that just as much as the next person. A mercy and grace we’re to extend to others, always, no matter what– in the truth that is in Jesus.

anxious about nothing

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

A theme of faith I keep coming back to again and again is the command -yes, as  loving directive, but still a command- not to be anxious or worry. By the way, Amy Simpson has written a most helpful book on this subject, well worth the read: Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry.

Yesterday a new matter which greatly bothered me at first was coming to my attention so as to bother me again, as has often been true about various things in the past. And the thought hit me: we’re not only not to be anxious or to worry, but we’re not to be anxious about anything at all, period.

That seems so counterintuitive, but goes along with another passage that has been impressed on my heart and mind:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yes, it’s important to be aware and do the best we can given the responsibilities and situations present. But first and foremost, we’re to pray, in this context to pray about whatever is a concern to us, before it gets to us and becomes a bother and burden. If it gets that far, we’re to cast that burden or care on the Lord, knowing that he cares for us, and that he will sustain us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22).

Easy words to say, but hard to put into practice. But that’s the call to faith in this world we’re to live out. That hopefully more and more will become second nature to us. Potentially freeing. Confidence in a loving, wise Father who oversees everything and is at work in the world through his Son, our Lord Jesus, in the power, presence and person of the Blessed Holy Spirit. When we are tempted to or actually do become unsettled, we need to turn to him. And yes, not be anxious (or worry) about anything.

one’s focus

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12

Sometimes we can get off course terribly because our focus is wrong. We may be not only distracted from our faith in God through Jesus, but we may actually be focused on an issue we can’t resolve and in the process lose all of our joy and peace. The telling part is the misery that accompanies this, to put it mildly. Even a kind of brutality can set in against us with a sense of fear and condemnation, easy tell tale signs that what we’re receiving is not from God. It could be partly from ourselves, but it is more the work of the enemy who will take us for this ride as long as they possibly can, and after we’re off of it, will arrange another such ride in the not too distant future.

What we have to learn to do is to come what may keep our full attention on God, even in the midst of other things we have to see to. What we’re seeing to is just an occasion to learn to focus on God through Jesus, yes to do so by focusing on Jesus himself all the more, even while we go about the necessary business of everyday life. We do this by meditation on scripture, by prayer which is specific to what is needed at the time with faith in God and in his promises that he will see us through.

Our focus. It’s a vital part of our faith.

review of *Black Triangle*, by Patrick Davis

Black Triangle, by Patrick Davis

Usually when I do a book review I know the author- at least as an online friend. This is especially the case with this author who actually is married to my youngest sister. I respect him as a good brother in the Lord, exemplary in his life of faith. And a true friend. And I found out that he is an exceptional writer. Ordinarily I don’t read novels (to my loss). But I finally got around to reading his at least twice (maybe also in the distant past). That this is historical fiction helped and that it touched on the explorations and conquest of Spain into the new world caught my attention since I was once an avid reader of that part of early American history.

The book has much to commend. Yes, it is very well written. A movie could easily be made out of it, not having to add between the lines, because the book is quite detailed. I think for some readers that could get a bit daunting since so many asides are given. But the thrust of the narrative I think is sufficient to make up for that. Nevertheless I counted it a good exercise in making me a better reader. I also found myself at a loss over some of the language, a good example being nautical terms and phraseology. Perhaps the book could have provided a glossary or footnotes. However that would break up the flow of reading. Probably best that it didn’t. My reading in such places reminded me of some of my Bible reading in which even to this day I’m more or less dense, for example the layout of the temple and priestly practice. I found that the essence of the story was not missed by simply reading on, trying to understand as much as possible what I was unsure of. This was not throughout the entire book, but here and there, military terms and phraseology being perhaps the other prime example. Of course one does have recourse to the Internet. Still I do not see this as a major issue in reading the book. And in fact I counted it as a good education. There is no doubt that the author spent considerable time in research as is the case in many novels, and in fact, he told me that was the case.

Now to the story itself. The focus is on one Hernandez Pizzaro (who is a historical figure) and his venture in tearing himself away from his home in Spain on the farm against his parents’ wishes under the influence of his Uncle, Captain Martinez Pizzaro, in pursuit of “the Grand Pizarro Military Tradition.” And we find that he’s in pursuit of something more which no matter how many times he may achieve it, could never be satisfied. A black cloud of guilt hung over him since at the age of nine he had watched his eight year old brother, Francisco drown, Hernando unable to swim himself so that all he could do at the time was to run to his father. He vowed to his dead brother never to let that happen again, death being preferable to that. So we find a troubled young man with great promise, ability and heart, but unable to do what was expected in the very thing he excelled in due to this darkness with which he struggled most any and every day.

The gospel is interestingly and adeptly woven into the story and from within and many would say -the author included- in spite of a Roman Catholic Church religious perspective. The story showed that the gospel is powerful enough to penetrate even through a religion whose ritual is often without a living faith, yet in itself carries something of the seeds of that faith, whatever errors may be present (for the author –and myself– transubstantiation being one such belief: the teaching that the bread and wine become the actual physical/material body and blood of our Lord).

Romance is in the story as well as Hernandez finds that he and Nahuaxica, the daughter of an Aztec high priest share a strong mutual attraction. That along with some good, lasting friendships is a pleasant part of what is often a less than pleasant experience, graphically told throughout the book: the aspect of conquest by the Spaniards in their exploration of the New World, what they called New Spain (Cuba) and beyond. What also stood out to me, encouraging as well as instructive was how Hernandez and another man of the military expedition come to respect each other with some degree of friendship whereas once they were nearly enemies.

In the story two other historical figures are prominent, the leader of the Spanish military expedition, Captain Hernando Cortes and Montezuma, ruler of the Aztecs. The whole idea of claiming the new world for Spain as well as bringing Christianity and the gospel to “the heathen” in a peace backed by the edge of a sword, not to mention a penchant especially on the part of some (sea Captain Gonzalo Serrao being the prime example in the story of that) for material wealth which the Aztecs had in abundance in their gold- makes one cringe. The reality of what the Aztecs did in regularly sacrificing humans to all kinds of gods on the top of grand pyramids, something practiced by other peoples in that land as well, points to the idea of something of the depravity and evil the Spaniards were facing, not to gloss over their own evil.

War is brutal, awful and nothing to glorify in and of itself, as Hernando Pizzaro soon found out. How he is at long at last even in the midst of that set free from his deep darkness of guilt is fascinating. And in the twist and turns of a narrative that is not predictable at all. The way the story is told, one almost feels like they’ve been a part of it. What I see over and over again is grace, grace and more of God’s grace in spite of what the “Christians” were doing. And in a context which reminds us of the need to try to understand in full the complete historical narrative insofar as that’s possible. There is no doubt that for all the evil the Spanish did in their military expedition against the Aztec nation, they were to stop arguably a greater evil, the sacrifice of humans to strengthen and appease “gods”- young and old humans alike- some from their own people, many from other peoples of their land. A zeal for tearing down the idols with a hate for the deplorable practice is prominent, seen in Captain Cortes himself.

Again the gospel, the power of God for salvation is wonderfully woven into the story. I also identified with what Hernandez Pizzaro did and what he needed to do instead, which the gospel wonderfully set him free to do, which actually spoke powerfully to me. Indeed Hernando Pizzaro’s spiritual journey is fascinating and so true to life.

I found reading the book an enriching experience. As one of the best reads, one is wise to read it slowly and thoughtfully. There are thirty-seven chapters, some nice breaks to gather one’s thoughts. But the story compels one to keep reading. So I commend this book as worthy in itself. I am grateful to have read it. Definitely enjoyable and so much more.

prayer for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

God’s judgment — the book of the Revelation

In my slow reading of scripture I’m currently in the Revelation with all of its striking, often symbollic images. The Revelation (commonly called Revelations) ends what is called the corpus of scripture and closes the canon, the completion of the inscripturated or written word of God. And so in a sense it is the end of the story, the climax and closing of the Book, the Bible.

For those who think the New Testament is a radical turn from the Old Testament, they had better think again. The Revelation is filled with allusions to the Hebrew Bible. God’s judgment and wrath comes always before his salvation, one can even say as part of his saving work. God must judge the evil in the world, giving time and opportunity for repentance, but in the end letting people have their way. I believe God’s wrath in scripture is shorthand for judgment. But God does get angry at evil. However God’s anger is not like ours in that it is entirely righteous, without sin. It’s always in keeping with his love. Whereas our anger all too often is not, and as James says does not bring about God’s righteousness.

I have to admit, the Revelation is a head scratcher in some ways to me along with other parts of scripture. But I don’t have to get every part. I simply accept by faith what I can’t understand and keep prayerfully studying so as to better understand.

In the end all is well and good. All the good this old creation points to is completely fulfilled in the new creation in and through Jesus. The world system judged and the new world in the new Jerusalem from heaven brought in. Our Lord making all things new.

And we’re to live in the light of that coming judgment and salvation. Knowing our works (from faith, hope and love) do matter, an emphasis in this book. And that there is a good ending no matter what we face now.

pressing on

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3

No matter what happens or what we’re up against, we in Jesus have to take the attitude that we are going to press on, come what may. That is often not easy at all. But instead of caving into the pressures, we need to thank God for the promise of his presence and love and final salvation.

Paul is referring to the goal perhaps of Christ-likeness in a cross-shaped life as we consider the context of that passage (see link above). Ironically the troubles of this life can contribute mightily to the goal of being like Christ in his death and so knowing the power of his resurrection in our lives now. Therefore we can take heart and gather strength even through our weakness by the troubles and problems which beset us.

Admittedly, Philippians 3 (although we need to consider the entire book) does not deal with trials. What is talked about there is the new life in Christ by the Spirit as opposed to the old life in the flesh. We leave behind all that we held dear of the old life apart from Christ and press forward to all that God has for us in the new life in our Lord. And we keep pressing on. Not content with anything less than God’s high calling for us in Jesus.

the battle

Life sometimes gives one setback after another. Think of the story- epic in this regard- of Job. Not only one problem after another, but life seemed to fall apart right before his eyes. In the end God doesn’t tell Job Satan’s role in the story which really would not have satisfied Job anyhow I wouldn’t think, but makes it clear that God’s ways are beyond him and therefore that he should not think he can charge God with evil over the evil that had befallen him. Job not only accepted that insight from the broken silence of God, but seemed to embrace it. And go on. Seven new children did not actually replace the seven lost ones, though in the resurrection none would be lost.

The battle might lie in us refusing to be moved from our fundamental position of faith. Faith in God through faith in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, in his coming as God in the flesh, fully human; his proclamation, mighty works and teaching of God’s kingdom come in him; his death for our sins and resurrection for new life and new creation; his ascension at the right hand of the Father in power to reign even now through his church; with the promise of his return when heaven and earth become one in him and he rules over all. I stand on that and stake my life on it along with others in Jesus. With the goal of seeing others, really everyone come into that same faith.

And so come what may we hold on. Sometimes for dear life, hardly knowing what else to do and not knowing or wishing for any other place to turn. We do so in prayer and silence before God, along with carrying on as we have to in our daily responsibilities. As we await the good to come in the end, in and through our Lord Jesus.