Sunday, November 24, 2013

Stop, in the Name of Love!

What is this hesitation, reluctance, this near-repugnant feeling of some (including me), to approach the subject of abortion?  Is it because, in some part, because of a feeling that we are being intrusive, telling women what they can/can't do with their bodies, that it really is only their business?  Even though I know that babies lives are being abruptly, often cruelly, ended before they even begin outside the womb, which is a severe wrong and injustice, I still have this unwillingness. 

It seems very rude and in-your-face to tell people that they must take responsibility for their actions instead of trying to escape from the consequences.  It even seems unloving.  If someone doesn't want to deal with pregnancy, which nearly lasts a year and can have much emotional and physical hardship even when the baby is wanted, who am I to tell someone they must choose to carry the baby to a natural birth?

However, there is an additional view on abortion.  I can take the approach of love, realizing that there are even greater spiritual and emotional consequences for those who end their developing baby's lives than for the innocent baby.  Walking in the Spirit I can be moved with concern for these expectant women and couples to do all I can, with grace and love, to convince them that abortion will cause them more long-lasting emotional and spiritual damage than they can even imagine.

This verse is a common one used among pro-life:

 "Rescue those being led away to death;

    hold back those staggering toward slaughter,"  Proverbs 24:11.

We typically think of this verse as the unborn being led away to death.  Maybe if we think with compassion of the expectant parents as being included in this rescue, focus on rescuing them (along with the baby), from emotional and spiritual death, that may help end our reluctance to act.


Friday, November 22, 2013

The Greatest Gift of All

John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. “
The wonder of Creator God inhabiting flesh—it is too much for us to grasp!  Motivated by His love for us, Jesus, “who being in very nature God”, humbled himself and came into frail, sin-ridden human form so that He might show the depth and breadth of the Father’s awesome love for us.  How can we doubt His love? 

He did not come in power and majesty, as befits a King, but as a servant to all.  He revealed Himself not to the powerful, but to the humble and needy—those who acknowledged their want for Him.  He could have come demanding His rights since as Creator God He alone is worthy of praise and worship.  Instead He was entirely selfless, pouring out His life in service and sacrifice for His creation, for those He loves.

Before Jesus came to the world God’s people could only worship Him with a reverent fear—the Almighty God, whose holiness requires an impossible holiness from us.  In the presence of Almighty God Isaiah cried 6:5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”  Who can stand in Holy God’s presence without being destroyed by the stark comparison of His holiness to our abject sin?

When the Son of God made his residence in flesh, coming to live with us, He became touchable and approachable.  Jesus became “the one who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), the One who “calls us friend” (John 15:15), and the One who remains constantly in us through the Holy Spirit (Heb. 13:5).

Now His children have access through Jesus to our Father, Holy God.  The writer of Hebrews proclaims, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.”

The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”,  Hebrews 12:18-24.

This season let us join in praise with the angels who observed Jesus’ departure from Heaven and appearance in the flesh on earth, proclaiming with wonder and great joy, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  Jesus, lover of our souls, the spotless Lamb of God and King of glory, came to live with man, becoming one of us.  Could there ever be a greater gift?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Judgment of Mercy

Perhaps it's a knee-jerk reaction to be critical and judgmental towards those who have been entangled and overcome by sin. We sometimes tend to forget  that we are all sinners saved by grace.  Responding with self-righteousness and condemnation is easy.  However, God rarely calls us to do what's "easy".  He demands un-natural and other-worldly actions from us such as mercy and compassion, and modeled it Himself.  Jesus is all-merciful. Why does He extend mercy to sinners?  Why should we?

While sitting in the temple teaching his disciples, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees  thrust the disheveled woman at Jesus, in order to test Him. Her disorderly hair streamed around her face.  Her downcast eyes broadcast guilt and shame.  "This woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”


Jesus responded by deliberately bending over and silently writing on the ground.  They angrily demanded an answer to their accusation, so He stood up and said to them, “ 'Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.' Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' "


 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11)

On the floor of the temple was written these words: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and compassion on whom I have compassion."  (Exodus 33:19.)  Actually, that's just part of my flight of imagination.  We don't have a recording of what Jesus wrote on the ground.
 It's a bit puzzling why Jesus reacted to her the way that He did.  The Jewish law was clear. She had been caught committing adultery, so she must be stoned.  Why then did He discourage her accusers from doing so?  Why instead did He have a merciful and compassionate response towards her?

Instead of spurning sinners, Jesus had a history of spending time with them.  So much so that He was criticized for his behavior.  "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13
Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice",  to the Pharisees, which is a verse with which they would have been very familiar.  He wanted them to respond with mercy, not scorn, to tax collectors and sinners.  Why did Jesus invest His time and energy in sinners?  Luke's gospel fills in the answer for us.  Jesus declared, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32)

The fundamental reason He came to Earth was to call sinners to repentance.  When tempted and snared by sin, He woos us to Him with loving kindness and mercy.   By extending mercy (instead of judgment), His loving-kindness is meant to draw us to Him and lead us to repentance. (Romans 2:4) Showing mercy is the means to calling sinners to repentance.  Our Father God loves us so dearly.  He wants His children to have a close relationship with Him, with no barriers.  Because He is holy God, sin creates a barrier between Him and His beloved.  Repentance enables us to be in right relationship with Him, which is His ultimate goal.

After rescuing this woman from an awful death, Jesus didn't stop there.  He didn't tell her, "You messed up but that's OK.  Go and be blessed."  He gave her mercy and kindness to draw her to Him.  Then He gave her a command, "Go and don't commit this sin anymore."  He wanted her to turn from her sin and repent from it, so that she could come to know Him as Savior.
We don't know what happened to this woman, but what if...
The woman fled, incredulous and in shock that she was still alive. In the midst of the accusation she'd stood immobile with fear, waiting for her accusers to pick up stones and start pelting them at her. It was so odd how they'd all left instead. When the strange rabbi had told her with such gentleness that she had escaped judgment and was free to go, she'd gathered up her robe and run home.  She would never see her married lover again.

She couldn't stop thinking about Jesus and how He'd treated her with such compassion and mercy.  The next day she found Him again teaching in the Temple.

She sat down to listen, and stayed.  From that day on, she never left the presence of the One who'd given her a judgment of mercy.

Or... she may have simply gone home, been glad she'd stayed alive for another day, never repented of her actions and never turned to God.

If we reject His mercy and refuse to repent, we are "storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed....for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger." (Romans 2:5)

Father God wants His children to extend mercy and compassion towards fellow sinners, and to stay in the awareness that we are all sinners and all have need of a Savior. When we inevitably fall into sin, He doesn't turn His back on us. Instead His loving kindness draws us to Him. His mercy is meant to lead us to turn away from our sin and give our lives over to our Holy, compassionate and merciful God.

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy..."  (Micah 6:8)  Jesus wants us to extend the same mercy and compassion we have received from Him, to others who fall into the pit of sin, thus helping to lift them out and set their feet on solid ground.

Jude 1:22-23 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Adam, where are you?

Genesis 3:8-9 "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'"

 God is sovereign.  He is over all, knows all things, and nothing and no one can be hidden from His sight.  He knows exactly where we are each second, knows our thoughts, knows what we are going to do and say beforehand.  He knows us intimately. He encompasses us all around; He hems us in behind and before; He "girds" us.  He is our holy girdle!  See Psalm 139.

Knowing this--why then does God ask, "Adam, where are you?" 

My Mom was on heavy painkillers the last month of her life.  Much of that time she was not "with" us.  Her body was there, lying in the hospital bed.  But who she was, her essence, was imperceptible-- buried under soul-altering drugs. 

One day I went to see her.  She'd been "gone" for several days.  Looking into her eyes it was instantly apparent that today she was "there"--she was herself, the Mom I loved.  I was overjoyed.  "You're back!", I exclaimed.  (She didn't have a clue what I meant, but that's OK.)

God created Adam; body and spirit.  He was intimately familiar with and adored every facet of Adam's character. God delighted in their close fellowship, mutual love and trust.  

He gave Adam one "Don't".  When Adam disobeyed, he betrayed God.  He distrusted the One who made him, and broke their flawless fellowship. 

With that act of disobedience, he changed from a trusting, innocent man to a sinful man with a newfound knowledge of evil.  Adam was, in his very essence, changed. Adam's sin was soul-altering. 
Many times possibly we've been deeply disappointed by those we love dearly. Someone we thought we knew intimately and had a strong soul/heart connection with, may act in a way that is incomprehensible to us.  We feel betrayed.  We don't just feel betrayed by their contrary actions, but also betrayed by our own understanding of them.  We wonder if we ever really knew them at all. They seem changed to us.  Where did the person we loved so dearly "go"? It's heart-breaking!

God was very aware of Adam's location in the garden, his hiding spot behind some trees.  He was constantly surrounded by the Spirit of God.  Because Adam was now a vastly altered man, God may have been deeply mourning for him when He called out, "Where are you?"

"Where is my beloved child, the one with whom I had unbroken fellowship and constant delight?"  The Adam whom God created and adored was no longer the same Adam.  He was gone.

However, God is the way-maker.  He made a way to restore His original creation.  After
the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God He was able to look into Adam's eyes, see that he was himself once again, and say with elation, "You're back!"