Archive for November, 2013
Timely, helpful, and free. That’s how we can describe a new book by John Piper, Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent. It’s available here as a free download. Print it out, staple it, and set aside 5 minutes a day to read and pray.
Here’s the reading from December 16, “God’s Most Successful Setback”:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” —Philippians 2:9–11
Christmas was God’s most successful setback. He has always delighted to show his power through apparent defeat. He makes tactical retreats in order to win strategic victories.
Joseph was promised glory and power in his dream (Genesis 37:5–11). But to achieve that victory he had to become a slave in Egypt. And as if that were not enough, when his conditions improved because of his integrity, he was made worse than a slave — a prisoner.
But it was all planned. For there in prison he met Pharaoh’s butler, who eventually brought him to Pharaoh who put him over Egypt. What an unlikely route to glory!
But that is God’s way — even for his Son. He emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Worse than a slave — a prisoner — and was executed. But like Joseph, he kept his integrity. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9–10).
And this is God’s way for us too. We are promised glory — if we will suffer with him (Romans 8:17). The way up is down. The way forward is backward. The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks. They will always
look and feel like failure.
But if Joseph and Jesus teach us anything this Christmas it is this: “God meant it for good!” (Genesis 50:20).
You fearful saints fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.
Click here to download a fee copy of Good News of Great Joy.
Here’s a nice video from Crossway answering this question:
[RSS and email readers, click here to view this video]
The following is a prayer adapted from the pastoral prayer from Sunday, November 17, 2013.
Great Father of glory, we rejoice as we ponder your salvation.
Salvation is yours and you are on your throne. And one day we will know this salvation in its fullness in the new creation: a place without sin; a place without competing and false gods; a place without the proud human opposition to your throne, which though futile is everywhere around us, and in us; a place without sin, sadness, and death.
While we wait, we pray now for those caught in a fallen world.
We want to pray for those who have been devastated by the winds and waves in the Philippines. Rows of bodies are even now being collected and staged for burial in mass trenches. The body count is devastating. The heartbreak of parents and of children is unlike anything most of us here have known. This Typhoon was not beyond your jurisdiction. It was a part of the world you cursed because of Adam’s sin. It is a reminder that the entire world is under judgment, even if this tragedy is not a specific judgment for the specific sins of a specific people. Father, as your Word says, the creation groans. We have heard it grown this week. We pray that these dark days would lead to great light and hope for the people of the Philippines. May your work through your people with your Word bear great fruit. We pray for help, and comfort, and safety for those sleeping under the stars even now, perhaps especially for women and for children without the protection of the husbands and fathers they have lost. And most of all we pray that this shake up of everything familiar to these precious people would mean a shake up of their lives at levels deeper than they could imagine. We may not be able to track it and trace it, but perhaps you would be pleased to grant salvation to many through the doors that this tragedy will open for the gospel.
And Father, we pray for the unborn sons and daughters in the wombs of mothers in our city. Specifically, in light of the ordinance brought before our city this week, we pray for the restraining grace of human government to be more closely aligned with the reality of human life in the womb, and the reality that all human life is valuable as such, and not just certain kinds of human life. We are a people in history uniquely privileged and accountable with our hand on the wheel here, not only governed but governing through our political process. And so we pray for the day when we will look back on these years as a nation with great contrition and embarrassment at what our laws taught, approved, and even promoted, and with great joy at how you have answered our prayers.
We pray for the witness of the church and for many conversations to take place this week. We pray for conversations this week with those who are considering an abortion, that our words and our lives would clearly and beautifully demonstrate the preciousness of human life. We pray for conversations this week with men and women who have committed abortions, that we may offer the hope of the gospel to them, which forgives all of our sins. We pray for conversations with this week with those who approve of abortion, that their minds and that their hearts may be changed.
Father, we remember that the New Testament Scriptures were written in the midst of the great darkness that is this world, in the midst of persecution, and in a world filled with great evil. And yet they were written with resilient hope and a certain confidence in your wise purposes centered in Jesus Christ. We thank you for bringing us into this hope. We thank you for opening our eyes and calling us into the light. We pray that you would do that for many in our city through the preaching of the gospel this week.
Gracious Father, we need your Word. We are dead without it.
In Jesus’ name we pray these things,
On November 19 a very important ordinance will be brought to ballot in Albuquerque. It’s called the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance.” It does not represent everything we might desire for the protection of the unborn, but it appears to be a significant and politically achievable next step in the direction of justice.
That’s the specific occasion for this blog. But let’s back up a bit first and consider a Christian framework for thinking about abortion and acting in behalf of the unborn.
And lest this step be thought unnecessary, let us remember that as with many things that we can take for granted, if we do not self-consciously rehearse the deepest reasons for our opposition to abortion, we will grow vulnerable to bad arguments, unimpassioned indifference, and even quieted embarrassment for our position. There is even a term coined to describe those with pro-life convictions who have grown weary of speaking and acting for the unborn: “fetus fatigue.” Clearly, the question, “Why are we against abortion?,” is a question we need to answer with persevering conviction and persuasive clarity.
So, why are we against abortion?
First, we love babies and believe that abortion is the murder of an infinitely valuable human being.
There are two questions that every person has to answer in determining the moral acceptability of abortion. We do well to ask them and answer them for ourselves and those we seek to persuade. These two questions make the issue of abortion surprisingly simple.
The first question is this: when do human beings begin? The answer is straightforward from the Bible and it is clear in nature. In Psalm 139, David reflected on God’s intimate knowledge of every part of his life, even his life in the womb. With David each of us can say, God has “knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (139:13). Biology teaches us that Homo sapiens begin at the meeting of egg and sperm with the creation of an entirely new organism, unique with its own DNA. Given a proper environment and time, that organism contains within itself all that is needed to direct its own growth from that moment until death. In other words, embryos are human beings. Standard biology text books agree, and even many in the pro-choice community are happy to grant this view of human life.
But if many in the pro-choice community are happy to grant the basic humanity of unborn life, then how can they also be for abortion?
It is for this reason that a second question is especially important: What makes human beings special? We step on ants and we eat cows. Why not human beings? One view says that human beings are valuable for the kind of thing we are as human beings. This is what Christians hold, and we believe it to be so because, as Genesis 1:27 reads, “God created man in his own image.” A two-year-old girl, a handicapped boy, and an accomplished violinist share the same humanity and, thus, the same human dignity. To understand the alternative view, the acronym, “SLED,” will come in handy. This view holds that human beings are more or less valuable depending on their size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. When an argument for abortion is made on the basis of viability, for example, the logic of dependence is at work. An argument for partial birth abortion will assume an argument from environment. These are what separate a human being in the womb from a human being outside the womb. But there’s a problem that must be acknowledged. It’s precisely this logic that leads Princeton Professor of Bioethics, Peter Singer, to advocate for the infanticide of young children. Thankfully, most abortion advocates do not live according to the logic required by their position. And that is precisely why a conversation about the nature of humanity and human dignity is a good place to start in persuading our neighbors concerning the status of unborn human life.
But not only is abortion the murder of an infinitely valuable human being, abortion is the violent murder of an infinitely valuable and defenseless human being. For Christians, the utter dependence of a human being in the womb is actually a cause for a special measure of care.
We are against abortion because we are for human life, and especially human life in its most vulnerable stage.
Second, we fear God and are captivated with his life-knitting glory in the womb.
Listen to what David believed and how David felt about the scope of God’s sovereignty over his life:
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
That human beings are made in the image of God is one of the Bible’s especially significant doctrines and one of the most practical realities in the world, as we have considered. But it also represents how God has chosen to reveal his glory in the world. Meditation on God’s pervasive knowledge and care for us is a reason for wonder and praise. And so it should be no surprise that across the story of the Bible we find the violent death of children standard fare for God’s enemy, the Devil. We can’t help but think of Pharaoh’s order for the Hebrew sons to be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:22). Yet, as the story goes, “the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them” (Exodus 1:17).
What happens in the womb of a woman isn’t just about her. It’s not even just about her and the baby. It’s about her and the baby and the hand of God. When our hearts are in the right place, we revel at God’s masterpiece in humanity and revile the assault of abortion on his handiwork.
We are against abortion because we fear God, and we are for the display of his life-knitting glory.
Finally, we love our neighbors and long for sinners to come to repentance.
Yes, this is an important and not a peripheral reason to be against abortion.
Heaven will be populated with abortionists, with those who aborted their children, and with people like you and me who looked to Christ for forgiveness and for righteousness. But no one will be there who did not first see and confess the reality their sin and guilt before God. So, telling the truth about abortion is about repentance.
We do not help our unbelieving neighbors by speaking only of sins most decent people are comfortable denouncing: lying, cheating, spousal abuse, and child trafficking, for example. Just read some of the stories of 26 women who committed abortions, published this week in New York Magazine. Some of these women have been hardened. Many of them are haunted. All of them, we know, need the grace of God, grace which is greater than all of our sin. Satan assaults the glory of God through abortion, and through abortion he tortures those whom he has enslaved. Being honest about the evil of abortion is an important first step toward knowing the love of Christ for those who would commit an abortion.
Yes, preaching against abortion will mean that some—even many—will harden in their opposition to our cause for the unborn, and even our Savior. But such is the case with any sin, no matter how gracious our presentation. Jesus’ own preaching blinded some while it gave sight to others. That’s God’s way.
We are against abortion because we are for babies, we are for the glory of God, and we are for the salvation of sinners.
So, how does this look practically in our lives as Christians?
It looks like many things. We pray for the unborn. We organize ourselves for strategic practical and gospel ministry through the establishment of crisis pregnancy centers. We start adoption agencies and open our arms, our hearts, and our homes to children through adoption. We befriend our neighbors and love them with truth and help when they are in a crisis pregnancy. We seek to persuade our neighbors by writing, speaking, educating, and engaging in the public square, in the academy, and in our little spheres of influence wherever we find ourselves. And, of course, as the Lord grants us children, we love them, protect them, sacrifice for them, and enjoy them as gifts.
We also vote.
Which brings us to the occasion for this article.
Human government is an indispensable God-given means to human flourishing and voting is a means by which we help to bring our leaders and our laws into alignment with what is just and good and true. It’s a way we love our neighbors, born and unborn. While politics and our part in it can never meet our ultimate needs, it does meet truly significant needs and is an expression of our worldview as Christians.
Writing for the elders at Desert Springs Church, we encourage you to read up on the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance” and participate in the political process by voting on November 19.
Fatigue, Faithfulness, and the Faithfulness of God
Thankfully, as evangelical Christians, we aren’t the only people who are for life and, therefore, against abortion. As an evidence of God’s common grace in humanity, still forty years after Roe there is in our own nation a broad and persistent resistance to abortion, of which this ordinance is a part. But as Christians who seek to defend the unborn, we should want to answer the question, “Why are we against abortion?,” in a way that reflects the mind and heart of God and in a way that promotes his gospel.
Yes, there are reasons to be exhausted, but there are reasons also to be encouraged. And there are even better reasons to keep speaking and acting for the unborn: Human life is precious, God’s glory is great, and God’s grace saves sinners like us to love life instead of death.
The Jews in Berea, it is said, were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). How telling–for them and for us–that nobility is measured not by titles, land, parentage, wealth, or degrees, but by how we handle the word of God. Our approach to the Scriptures sets us apart as riff-raff or royalty.
So how do we become better Bereans?
That’s the question I recently posed to my congregation and the question I want to explore this week. How can we be more like the noble Bereans and less like the rabble from Thessalonica (Acts 17:5)?
Let me suggest ten ways . . .
Here are Kevin’s ten points:
- Listen to the sermon with an open Bible
- Don’t rush on from the Word of God to the rest of your life
- Get in the Word as a way of life
- We must approach the Bible with eager expectation
- Be prepared to study the Word deeply
- Be confident that you are able to study the Bible and discover the truth of God’s Word
- Recognize that some things which claim to be from the Bible are not
- Test difficult doctrines against the Scriptures before simply discarding them
- Be humble enough to take the Bible at its word no matter who you are
- Give the Bible the final say in every matter on which it means to speak