Unborn Lives Matter

baby holding adult hand

I had the honor of offering a prayer during the dedication ceremony for a new Life Centers location in Plainfield yesterday. And, tomorrow, I have the joy of celebrating my son’s tenth birthday. What do these events have to do with one another?

The common thread is my conviction that unborn lives matter.

My conviction isn’t abstract. It’s personal. Kelly was 18-weeks pregnant when we heard the dreadful words every parent fears: “I’m sorry. There’s something wrong with your baby.” In the span of 30 minutes, we went from excitedly anticipating the discovery of the gender of our first child to anxiously huddled in a genetic counselor’s office being told that our son had a slim chance of being compatible with life.

We prepared ourselves to be told that we had the choice to terminate the pregnancy, to avoid all the pain and difficulty that would certainly come our way. But we chose life.

The last decade has brought its share of hardship, fear, and doubt. However, it has also brought immeasurable blessing, laughter, joy, growth, and wonder. By God’s grace, here we are!

Why do unborn lives matter?

We live in a culture in which the short journey from the womb to the delivery room is all that separates life that doesn’t matter from life that does matter. Isn’t that madness?

There are a number of truths that underscore why unborn lives matter:

1. We are made in God’s image.

When God created the cosmos, he placed man and woman in it as his crowning achievement. He created us in his image and we are, therefore, different in essence from anything and everything else in the universe. We have intrinsic worth. Our value is not earned by virtue or maintained by our capacity to make a valuable contribution to society. It is invested in us by the mere fact of our existence. We reflect God’s capacity for rich relationships. We long to create and witness beauty. We yearn for knowledge and wisdom, for purpose, and for life.

Unborn lives matter because all human life bears God’s indelible mark.

2. God is involved in the details of conception and development.

Life is a miracle. I still find myself stunned, in awe of the fact that a man and a woman can create new life. It’s much, much more than a mere biological process. It’s wonder. Beauty. Art. And, God is involved in even the tiniest details. In fact, it is so wonderful, only poetry can come close to doing justice. [biblegateway passage=”Psalm 139:13-14″ display=”King David writes”]:

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. 

Unborn lives matter because they are the special concern of God the Father.

3. Every human life has potential for good.

Did you know that over 57 million abortions have occurred in the US since abortion became legal in 1973? I often wonder about what those 57 million lives could have become. A little girl aborted in 1973 would be 42 years old right now, in the prime of her life. Might she have discovered the cure to cancer? Could she have been raising a few beautiful children? What if she was writing music or creating art to inspire and thrill the world? Could she have been leading a company? Might she have been holding elected office and helping to shape the laws of our nation?

Every human life has the potential for great good, to make the world a better place. The [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 2:10″ display=”Apostle Paul”] says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Created for good works. Prepared in advance and known by God.

Unborn lives matter because of their positive potential.

4. How we treat the weak reveals the heart of our culture.

Do you want to know what is at the heart of a culture? Look at how it collectively treats the marginalized: the unborn, the sick, the elderly, the poor, the foreigners, and the imprisoned. Nothing is more revealing of the decay we see all around us than the legal holocaust that has been taking place since 1973. Do those sound like strong words? Do they startle you? They are. And, they should. They are true.

Unborn lives matter because they reveal the heart of our culture.

What about you?

For those who have had an abortion or who know someone who has: I pray you know that you’re not beyond the forgiveness of your Heavenly Father. He knows your past and your pain. He values you and he wants you to cling to him. Do you know him?

For all of us: Do you value life? Do your actions and attitudes reflect your answer to that question? What can you do, both now and in the future, to value life?

To Please God’s Heart

to-please-gods-heart

As a believer, my greatest opportunity and responsibility is to please God’s heart. There’s nothing I should want more.

Recently, I was asked to speak at a fundraising banquet for an awesome new organization located here on Indy’s west side. (If you haven’t heard of Active Grace, here’s your chance.)

As I prepared for my short devotion and thought about Active Grace’s mission to display the grace of Jesus by meeting the needs of people in our community, Micah 6:8 popped into my mind. And, I realized—of all the wonderful things we could attempt to do to please God’s heart—there is one thing in Scripture that seems to rise to the top of the list.

The following is my outline from that night. As you attempt to please God’s heart, I hope this is an encouragement to you.


What can believers do that most pleases God’s heart?

Is it heartfelt worship? In Psalm 100, the psalmist exhorts Israel to come before the lord with gladness, joyful songs, thanksgiving, and praise. Certainly, God is pleased when his people worship him and glorify his name. In fact, he wants us to live the entirety of our lives as a personal act of worship to him. He is worthy of praise.

Is it doctrinal precision? In his first letter to his protégé, the Apostle Paul told Timothy to apply himself to his life and doctrine and that by persisting in that effort he’d save himself and his hearers. God has revealed himself to his people in the Scriptures; they are God-breathed. The Scriptures reveal all we need for life and godliness. If he has revealed himself to us, it stands to reason that his people should invest the mental effort to know him with great precision and to prevent doctrinal error.

Is it personal purity? In the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his disciples that unless their righteousness surpassed that of the religious leaders of their time, they wouldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven. God, who is holy, created us to bear his holy image. Without a doubt, God wills his people to put off sin and to put on his holiness.

Is it possible that all three of these—whether separate or combined—somehow fall short when it comes to pleasing our Heavenly Father? Almost in exasperation, [biblegateway passage=”Micah 6:6-8″ display=”the prophet Micah”] reflects this struggle:

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The answer to these rhetorical questions, of course, is that none of these (in any amount) will suffice for one who desires to stand in the Lord’s presence. Not glad, heartfelt worship alone. Not doctrinal precision alone. Not even a spotless heart.

Well, then, what can believers do that most pleases his heart?

Micah continues with the answer to the question:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Justice. Mercy. Devotion. God is most pleased when his people worship him by showing justice, by being merciful, and by walking humbly with him.

Over and over again, in God’s Word, he demonstrates his love for people on the margins of society, those who are oppressed by the powerful, those who are systemically deprived of justice, the poor who cannot provide for themselves, the sick who are in need of healing and hope, widows with no one to care for them, and orphans who are abandoned and alone.

Why is God so interested in these people? He created them. They bear his image. And, they are precisely the people who most easily recognize their need for him, for his provision, and for the salvation that can only come from him.

And, these are precisely the people God consistently urges believers to protect, to provide for, to honor, to welcome with glad hearts, and to love. This truth is so pervasive in Scripture that Micah can equate the act of providing justice to others with true worship, the showing of mercy with doing God’s will, and both as central to a thriving relationship with him—as devotion and as worship, pleasing to him.

To exploit the fatherless is to invite God’s wrath:

Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 23:10-11″]).

God defends those who are most defenseless and calls his people to do the same:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing, ([biblegateway passage=”Deuteronomy 10:18″]).

God calls us to be active in showing his grace:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow, ([biblegateway passage=”Isaiah 1:17″]).

He wants us to show kindness to the needy:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 14:31″]).

Providing for the poor is tied to spiritual blessings and curses:

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses, ([biblegateway passage=”Proverbs 28:27″]).

Perhaps all of this is so true of our heavenly Father because of what he did in and through Jesus Christ:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich, ([biblegateway passage=”2 Corinthians 8:9″]).

It’s no coincidence that James, Jesus’ own half-brother, summarized this issue so well. What is most pleasing to the Father?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world, ([biblegateway passage=”James 1:27″]).

When I first heard about Active Grace, I became so excited. I immediately thought of Micah’s words. And, I knew that God would continue to do amazing things in and through this organization because I could see that what was so close to their heart is precisely what is closest to God’s heart: caring for the poor.

Once again, let’s hear Micah’s words:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


Do you want to please God’s heart?

God is most pleased with his people when we’re most focused on bringing justice and mercy to those who most need it and when we humbly walk with him.

Reflections on the RFRA Ruckus

reflections-rfra-ruckus

I know it’s been a few weeks since this issue took over the news cycle, social media, and the blogosphere. I’m tardy to the party. But, in contrast to virtually all of the loudest voices that have weighed in on the issue, perhaps that qualifies me to say something of substance.

Four things I believe

Here are a few of my own random reflections on the RFRA ruckus.

1. All the propaganda, fear tactics, and false logic—from all sides—are killing the conversation.

Enough already!

It doesn’t matter which side of the religious, social, or political spectrum on which we stand, we each have a choice. We can either buy into the rhetoric and demonize “those people” who don’t share our favored philosophy, or we can listen, learn, discover common ground on which to stand, and then engage in constructive conversation.

Even if we have to agree to disagree, isn’t this posture preferable to what we’ve all been experiencing?

The moment we decide to dig a trench, make allies with any like-minded people we can find, and begin to hurl grenades at the other side, all progress ends.

And, as a Christian who understands my role on this earth as an agent of God’s redemptive plan for his creation, I simply cannot choose the satisfaction of merely being right over the unique opportunity to be salt and light to the people around me, people who are all dearly loved by their Creator.

2. Christians must become better at communicating what we’re for than what we’re against.

Pop quiz. You don’t need anyone to remind you what Christians are against. What are we for?

Exactly.

Where are the voices painting a compelling, biblical picture of the Imago Dei, the beautiful, complementary design of men and women, the covenental nature of marriage, the wondrous mysteries of married sex, the high and precious calling of parenting, and the latent redemptive power that the elevation of the institution of marriage would have upon our fractured and desperate culture?

As a Christian, I am convinced we need to change the narrative. We must tell such an evocative story—and live such a faithful example of that story—that we earn a hearing in the broader culture. There’s no reason to state what we’re against until we have expressed what we are for.

3. Christians must decide if we’d rather model our actions and words after Jesus or the Pharisees.

It should be no surprise, but Jesus perfectly embodied grace and truth.

Jesus continually courted scandal by his willing association with any and all of the notorious sinners who came across his path. A quick glance at the Gospels makes this abundantly clear. From partying with embezzlers, to touching the diseased, to conversing with adulteresses, Jesus was perpetually in proximity to people who were sinful and lost. This is vital: while Jesus faithfully demonstrated love to each and every one, he never missed an opportunity to challenge them to move beyond their sin and into his plan for them. The love he demonstrated and the truth he communicated, together, were transformative.

On the other hand, Jesus also spent a lot of time with the proper, righteous, upstanding members of his society. And, lest we fool ourselves, Jesus was dead set against allowing them to retain their smug, self-appointed position of religious superiority. He didn’t commend them for being against all the right social ills. He didn’t urge them on in their hypocritical bluster. He didn’t allow them to comfortably get by with the stereotypes they cast on sinners. He didn’t mince words. His judgment was clear.

Christians must make better decisions with regard to our approach. We must look more like Jesus—loving all and speaking God’s truth in love—than the pharisees—failing to see the sin in which they themselves were dwelling as a result of their own ill-conceived attempts to be perceived as morally superior.

4. The Church’s pursuit of political power is an adventure in missing the point.

Too often, it appears as if Christians believe that our hope is that we could change the bad laws, get the right politicians in office, or gain a greater amount political influence. That becomes all too clear in the midst of the RFRA ruckus that took place in Indiana this March.

Let’s just be clear on this point: the right politicians, in the right offices, creating the right laws is not the hope of the world.

The hope of the world is the Gospel of Jesus: the message that God became human, entered into the muck and mire of this sinful world, took on the worst it had to offer, and triumphed over sin and death. And, in so doing, he paved the way for all of us to be reunited with our Creator.

That is the hope of the world.

Where do we go from here?

If you’re a Christian and you’re reading this blog, I hope that you understand that the onus is on us. It’s up to us to form genuine, redemptive relationships with the very people we’re so quick to demonize. It’s up to us and our churches to hold high the transformative truth of the Gospel. It’s up to us to conduct our own lives with so much tangible grace and truth that the world is changed everywhere we go. It’s up to our families to exemplify the kind of faithfulness and love that God intended. And, it’s up to us to rely on prayer and the Holy Spirit—not any secular, para-church, or political institution—to produce the kind of heaven-on-earth world in which all of humanity would flourish.

The Bible and the Immigrant Experience

the-bible-and-the-immigrant-experience

I’ve recently written that the issue of immigration is provocative to me. A big cause for this is the fact that the immigrant experience is a central theme in the Bible.

The immigrant experience in the Bible

At the core of the Patriarchs’ identity was the experience of being foreigners in a foreign land.

God called Abraham from his native land with the promise that he would go before him and that he would lead him to the land he would one day inherit (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham obeyed and went. God then entered into a covenant with Abraham. In doing so, he promised he would “give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God,” (Genesis 17:8). The only small parcel of land Abraham would own was the burial ground he purchased for his wife (Genesis 23:4). Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. They owned nothing else. Eventually, God would lead the entire family from their campsite in Canaan to what would become bitter slavery in Egypt. Certainly, next to the Promise, the immigrant experience was the most defining feature of life for the Patriarchs.

When God formed his nation, he formed it from a nation of aliens and slaves.

God’s own people toiled in slavery in the land of Egypt for over 400 years (Exodus 1:1-14). They lived in the land as aliens. They were oppressed. Demeaned. Beaten. Without representation. They spoke a different language. Had different customs. Had no formal institution in which to gather and forge an identity. They were prohibited from carrying out their religious ceremonies. They had no rights. Only the faint memory of a promise. Generations came and went until God sent a deliverer, Moses, to wrench them from Pharaoh’s hand and to guide them to freedom. The defining moment of the Exodus, the event that symbolized the birth of the nation of Israel, was the Passover. Whom did Moses include in that first Passover? The children of Abraham, of course. Whom else? Any foreigner living among the Israelites who was willing to identify with the nation (Exodus 12:48-49).

At Sinai, God made provision in the Law for the foreigners who would inhabit the Promised Land beside his people.

God’s instructed Israel to deal fairly with foreigners. Why? Because “you know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 23:9). He even included them in religious activities (Leviticus 17:8). God commanded his people to treat foreigners well and to include them in the life of the nation precisely because they understood and could identify with their plight. They knew what it meant, how it felt and all that was entailed. That empathy was to fuel goodwill and provision, justice and fairness, mercy and compassion.

The Bible is the story of a nation of exiles who are delivered by God himself.

As the story of the nation of Israel unfolds, through a long, looping spiral of devotion and betrayal, repentance and rebellion, eventually God’s people ended up, once again, as foreigners in a strange land. The Old Testament records the sad story of the destruction of the nation, most poignantly seen in the destruction of the Temple, and the deportation of the people. And the New Testament tells the story of how God once and forever provided an end to the exile and oppression under which his people groaned.

He did this by creating a brand new nation, a nation made entirely of aliens and immigrants.

How did he do this? He purchased freedom for all who would depend upon him in faith by means his own death, burial and resurrection. He returned us from exile and created a new nation. This nation isn’t exclusively comprised of people from the nation of Israel. The Church is a gathering of foreigners from all nations, people who are welcomed not as “strangers and foreigners” but as brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 2:19). Then, as Christians go about their business in the world, they do so as “temporary residents and foreigners,” (1 Peter 2:11).

There are several biblical principles—principles that we might be bold enough to embrace—that emerge:

  • To be a Christian is to be a foreigner. Therefore, we ought to be uniquely suited to understand the plight of the foreigners in our communities.
  • To be a Christian is to welcome foreigners because we understand what being a foreigner is like.
  • To be a Christian is to join God, working to bring his justice, mercy and provision to the dispossessed and disenfranchised.
  • To be a Christian is to have a heart that swells with the kind of compassion that leads to action.

If you and I follow Christ, we pledge our allegiance to the highest Authority. In so doing, we alienate ourselves from the world. We look, think and act differently. (If we don’t, we must examine ourselves.) From that humble position, the Church can be the Church and Christians can be Christians—and act in good conscience—no matter what public opinion states, no matter what laws are passed or not passed. If we are living for Christ, we know what it is to be aliens. And, we should be willing to do whatever we can to put that biblical worldview to action for the benefit of those around us.

This is a big challenge to me, personally. And, I hope it’s a challenge my fellow immigrants will take more seriously as well.

The State of Immigration

the-state-of-immigration

Last night, during the State of the Union, President Obama delivered the following words about the state of immigration reform:

Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. … Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year. Let’s get it done. It’s time.

I can’t remember a State of the Union address that didn’t include similar comments about immigration reform. The pessimist in me says that it’s simply rhetoric designed to win approval. (And, to be fair, I’ve had this perspective no matter who has been President.) Although I know he’s not a moralist or theologian, I find his statements to provide an interesting cultural commentary. Let’s fix the broken immigration system because it’ll help the economy. OK. I guess. Aren’t there more compelling reasons to fix the system?

I’ve had strong feelings on immigration for some time. They were probably present when I was a teenager, but they certainly solidified when I lived in Mexico City for three months in 1998. While serving at a home for orphans on the outskirts of that massive city, I saw firsthand why our Mexican neighbors are flooding our borders. Many of the families I met (families living in squalor) were being supported by husbands and fathers who were forced to flee to America in search of jobs. After returning to America, I’ve met many men in similar situations who work incredibly hard to sent the vast majority of their earnings to families back home in Mexico.

They don’t call America “the land of opportunity” for nothing.

I’ll be happy when politicians finally agree on how to fix our broken immigration system. But, until then, I’m more challenged by the concept of my role and the American Church’s role in fixing the problem for individuals who have immigrated or who will soon immigrate. What should we do about the issue beyond voting for the right representatives in November. Certainly, there’s more that we can do. I wonder what would happen if the individuals, church leaders and whole congregations would wrestle questions like:

  1. What does the Bible teach about immigration?
  2. What could churches do to help the immigrants in their communities?
  3. What would happen if churches developed direct partnerships with other churches  in places like Mexico, Africa, Eastern Europe or elsewhere?
  4. What thoughts, biases and attitudes are present in my heart that are keeping me from having a godly perspective and taking godly action on this issue?

To me, these are compelling questions, questions to which I intend to return in the near future. I believe they are a massive social justice issue of our time and that churches and Christian individuals have an opportunity to act in a way that redeems the situation and makes God’s glory evident to everyone—no matter where they came here from.

What is Your Dream?

what-is-your-dream

I’m so glad that America has Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream.

I was born nearly 10 years after his tragic assassination. I wasn’t there to watch reports of the marches on the evening news. I didn’t read about legislative struggles in the newspaper. I wasn’t around to see others’ reactions. I wasn’t able to talk to my parents and grandparents to get their feedback as they processed all that was happening in our nation.

I only know the America that Dr. King helped to forge. And, I’m grateful for the work that he and countless others did to help our nation move forward.

I’m glad I live in a nation in which segregation isn’t the law. I’m grateful I have had the ability to live alongside black friends and neighbors. I cherish the opportunity to worship beside black men and women. I’m glad my parents refused to perpetuate the subtle bigotry and overt racism that I’m positive they witnessed when they were young. And, I’m blessed—so blessed—that my son is growing up in a world in which he doesn’t have any reason to be concerned about the fact that several of his best friends have darker skin than him.

We owe a lot of this to Dr. King and his dream.

It is important that I qualify my statements. I do not want to be another privileged white man who either naively or hypocritically pretends that there aren’t still appalling racial and socio-economic injustices in our nation. There are. And, they are calling out for our time and attention. Nor do I want to pretend that some of the filthy residue of the hateful racial words attitudes I have witnessed hasn’t sloughed off on me. Embarrassingly, it has. I’m aware of it. By God’s grace, it is in check.

Every person and institution has the opportunity and, I think, the obligation to oppose the injustices that still exist, both within and around. As we do so, we’ll become more and more the nation and people about whom Dr. King dreamed.

Today, my son brought home from school a worksheet with a clumsy line drawing of a dove. Along with it, came this assignment:

Tonight, in your child’s folder, you will see a dove … The students created their own dreams doves in class today. … Please follow your student’s example and come up with a dream for your entire family. It can be any kind of dream!

What a great assignment! (Thanks, Mrs. Rowe!) We did take some time to sit down and talk about our dream as a family. It is written down. It’s now up to us to do it. Who knows what God might accomplish in our family, our hearts and our community if we dare to act on our dream.

What about you?

In the spirit of the day, what’s your dream? And, how might your dream make a difference?