Friday, January 30, 2015

While we wait and the sanctity of human life

Our church followed last Sunday's sermon by singing "Glorious Christ" as the congregational song of response. What a glorious song, and what a glorious way to close that time of corporate worship. The final line of the final verse says: "And all will be made right when You appear."

It was a wonderful truth to proclaim and to remind ourselves of after two weeks of sermons on how we are to live as Christians in an age that does not embrace the sanctity of all human life. Abortion, racism and human trafficking will all "be made right" when King Jesus appears.

But in the "already/not yet" tension of Christianity, those evils continue to exist and wreak havoc on countless human beings. So we have responsibilities as ambassadors of our coming King to bear and share His name, His truth and His love while we wait for the day when "justice [will] roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24).

In these two sermons, I pointed to two primary themes of Rom. 12:9-21:

1. Loving others made in the image of God begins in the church;

2. Blessing others made in the image of God extends to all people.

As we saw in this passage, we do not genuinely love if we do not hate evil. At the same time, we are to bless and not call down condemnation on those behind evil. They also are made in the image of God. So the unborn babies killed, the women trapped as sex slaves and the people oppressed because of their skin color or ethnicity are image bearers of God, but so are the abortion doctors, the human traffickers and the racists. God will mete out justice, we saw in this passage. Our responsibility is to bless our enemies and persecutors and let God act justly in His time and His way. Because He is merciful toward sinners, He will save some out of their evil ways. In all cases, He will punish evil -- either in His judgment on sinners or His judgment on His Son in the place of sinners.

The first proving ground for true love on the sanctity of human life issue is the body of Christ. Paul tells us in Rom. 12:10 we are to "give preference to one another in honor" or to value one another greatly. Even in a small church like ours, our fellowship increasingly demonstrates diversity. With it, we have a growing opportunity to show to one another and the world that every brother and sister, every human being, is valuable. By the way we live together, we can attest to this non-negotiable truth: Each human being – regardless of location, development, age, gender, size, mental or physical condition, ethnicity, religious belief, social standing, appearance or popularity with the ruling government -- is made in the image of God.

Being a pro-life church means loving one another.

* -- Photo attribution.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A future America and the sanctity of human life

(Today is the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. That ruling ushered in a culture of death that not only has taken the lives of 57 million unborn children but looms over the beginning of life, the end of life and the span in between. Below is my look at what kind of America we may live in a few decades from now. I used this, with only a couple of slight differences, to introduce a sermon in 2009 about Christians living in a culture of death.)

It is April 19, 2041. I am 89 years old, and today is the day I will face the last enemy, as Paul describes it in I Corinthians 15:26. I am rolling down the hospital hallway in a wheelchair. A pleasantly acting young woman is walking beside me, and an equally pleasant young man is pushing my chair.

I should have known better than to come back to the hospital. I should have just stayed at home and waited there. It was foolish of me to think I could go to the hospital and come out again. After almost nine decades of life, I am saddened to say I am still doing foolish things. Well, at least this appears to be the last foolish thing I will do. I don't have to go in a wheelchair, but I don't want to walk voluntarily, as if I agree with the system. Besides, my lungs are so damaged I'm not sure how far I could walk. And I sure couldn't run far, if I wanted to make a dash for it. Of course, 89 year olds don't dash anyway.

There's no deliverance for me at this point, unless God miraculously intervenes. I realize that. My family realizes that. My lungs are shot. The doctors can't explain it. This is the way it is.

This time when I entered the hospital for therapy, word came from the Board of Responsible Care that further treatment for me could not be justified. No more treatments, no more oxygen, certainly no transplant. This is life in an age of rationed health care. Caring for me would take away treatment from someone younger and more capable of benefiting society. I am no longer a productive citizen, the board says. I am no longer of use to others.

So we roll on. We reach it. Above the double, sliding doors are the words: Life Passages. I am rolled into a reception room that may be the most inviting I have ever seen. A few others are already there. I pass on the punch and cookies. Others follow me into the reception room. Most are in wheelchairs. Most have family members with them. I don't, because my family and I oppose this whole regime, and the people in charge don't want anyone in here making a scene.

Soon someone else is rolled into the room without any family -- someone I know. She's a fellow member of Covenant Community Church, someone I've shared Sunday worship and a church covenant with for more than 30 years. She's 10 years younger than me, but she has Alzheimer's. I greet her, but there is no indication she recognizes me. Then, behind her, another person I know is pushed in. He's a 22-year-old member of our church, the victim of an automobile accident that left him severely brain damaged. They say he's in a persistent vegetative state. After all these decades they still haven't come up with a more accurate name for it. They probably haven't tried -- makes it easier to do what they're getting ready to do to my young friend. I think about their families and mine, and ask for God's grace for them.

Soon, all 20 of us are gathered. We are told it is time, and they begin moving us toward the doors at the opposite side of the reception room. We enter a huge, circular room with a high ceiling. Twenty chairs that look like the ones in the dentist's office face outward toward the wall in a circle. I am helped into the chair, and I assume everyone else is. We have three options -- take a pill, take a drink or take an injection. I have chosen the injection. I don't want to start being cooperative now. They say it works slowly, taking about 5 to 6 minutes.

I look to my right and my left and realize I can't see the person on either side, though each is only 15 feet from me. They are viewing the scenes they have chosen to be the last images on their minds. I can't tell what they are seeing -- maybe waves soothing the sand on the seashore or majestic, snow-capped mountains. I don't know how they do it, shooting images onto thin air. I'll never know. They are listening to the music they have chosen as well. There is a little bleed-over. I can hear some faint strains. Me, I don't have a scene or any music. It's that resistance thing again. Besides, I couldn't find any music I liked on the list anyway.

I'm starting to get tired, my eyelids heavy. Then I hear a voice I recognize but have not heard in a long time. It's my friend, my sister in the faith. And she's singing. Maybe the drug made her lucid. Maybe God is going to let her go out singing. It's a song I know, one we have sung as the church of Christ many times over the years. I join in with her. Then I get too tired even to sing. Yet, she goes on. The last thing I hear is her voice, like balm to a weary soul. The last words I hear are: "One with Himself I cannot die; my soul is purchased by His blood; my life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God."

* -- Photo attribution

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'Selma' and the sanctity of human life

Linda and I saw "Selma" in the movie theater yesterday. There is much to be said about it: It is disturbing, yet inspiring; the Christian roots of the civil rights movement come through; the courage of downtrodden people in the face of great evil shines; David Oyelowo gives a powerful, multi-layered performance, portraying Martin Luther King Jr. as a brave, sensitive, flawed leader with doubts who received needed encouragement from others.

But "Selma" also is a pro-life movie. It is a movie about the sanctity of human life. It is a movie that demonstrates the truth made known by God's words in the first chapter of the Bible -- every human being is made in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Here are some ways the sanctity of human life is reflected in the movie:

-- The focus of the movie -- as with the focus of the civil rights movement -- is that all human beings "are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," to put it in the words of the Declaration of Independence.

-- Dr. King and his fellow leaders are portrayed as being unwilling to compromise their movement's core principle that every human being, regardless of the color of his or her skin, is equal in value to every other human being.

-- MLK is shown reacting in pain when black men and women are beaten for peacefully protesting and with deep grief when people are killed by racists for their willingness to stand courageously for equal rights.

-- He is depicted as deeply concerned about the lives of those marching with him by being unwilling to lead them into a possible ambush.

-- Dr. King is characterized as being committed to live with the "fog of death" that engulfed him and his family in order to uphold the sanctity and equality of black human beings -- and therefore all human beings.

In His providence, God raised up Martin Luther King Jr. and used him, despite his sinful failures, to proclaim in a long-lasting way this reality -- every human being is made in the image of God.

* -- Photo source.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A missed opportunity on Christmas eve

We had the privilege of all being together as a family for Christmas. We were all in one home in Montgomery, Ala., for most of Christmas eve and Christmas day.

One of the highlights of our 30 hours or so together was to participate in Christmas eve worship at a local church. The church our son and his family are part of did not have a service that evening, so we gathered with a full house of others at a nearby, gospel-centered church. It was an unprecedented opportunity for all nine of us to be together on the same pew. It was a blessed experience to sing some great songs of our faith about the coming of our Savior and to hear Christ exalted from the pulpit.

And yet, one element of the service fell short of what it could have been. A family -- father, mother and five children -- gathered around an advent wreath and candles at the front of the auditorium. They lit the four advent candles, as well as the Christ candle in the center. The father then read about the lighting of this final candle. It was good. It was meaningful. But it was a missed opportunity.

I have nothing against families observing Advent by lighting candles. We did it in our family when our children were much younger. And I think it was good to have such a ceremony at the beginning of a church's Christmas eve service.

But a different group of people gathered around the Advent wreath would have made the ceremony far better -- and would have far better symbolized what the church was doing in worship. This was the family of God gathered, not just a nuclear family gathered. The church was together as those who are united through the life, death and resurrection of the One whose birth we were gathered to celebrate.

How much better it would have been to have a group something like this gathered together to light the candles -- a young married couple, a widower, a single mom, a middle-school boy, a college-age female and a 40-something, mentally impaired man. A mixture of different skin colors and ethnicities among these seven believers would have made this sight even more beautiful.

The church is not a collection of blood-related tribes. The church is the new, peculiar people united by the gospel that cuts across families, genders, ethnicities, ages and social classes. We are the family created by Jesus and His finished work. This is who the church is, and this is what we should remember as we gather together each week.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Praying God's words back to Him

One of the things I have not done well is incorporate God's words into my prayers. Don Whitney appears to be doing the church a great service with a new book scheduled to be released in July. The book from the professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is titled Praying the Bible. I hope to read it. If I do, I am sure I will benefit from it.

For a change, however, I did pray God's words back to Him today. I am using a Bible reading plan this year that consists of reading from a different genre of Scripture each day of the week. Wednesdays are for Psalms.

Since this is the first Wednesday of 2015, I read Psalms 1 and 2, as called for in the reading plan. Here are the first three verses in the English Standard Version of the first psalm:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
I had not planned on using my Bible reading in prayer this morning. But when I read these first three verses, I began petitioning God. I prayed something like this:
God, please don't let me walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers, but help me to delight in Your law, in Your Word. And help me meditate on Your law, Your Word, day and night. Please help me to bear fruit and prosper, becoming more like Christ.
May this kind of Scripture-infused prayer be more common in my life. May it be so in all of us who are following Jesus. We can have strong confidence that the prayer that originates with God has power with God.