Category Archives: Spiritual
Abortion and the Christian: Given the Mood of the Country, We’ll be Called on to Defend What We Believe
With President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice, we’ll soon be hearing a lot more about abortion, the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 and when life begins in the womb.
As Christians, we’ll be in the thick of things, whether we speak up or are merely linked by association. So here are a few key things to know as the debate about Kavanaugh heats up.
A Brief History of Birth and Abortion
First, let’s look backwards. Throughout most of the world’s known history, abortion has either been illegal or so rare as to go unmentioned. Even though abortions took place in clandestine areas, they were mostly sought by prostitutes or by those attempting to hide illicit affairs.
Child birth itself killed a fair share of babies and mothers.
A few historical societies have allowed abortion, but before modern scientific breakthroughs, the goal was to keep as many kids alive as possible. Child birth itself killed a fair share of babies and mothers, and childhood diseases that are now eradicated or easily treatable killed many other children in their first few years of life. Just 100 years ago, a flu epidemic swept the nation – and most of world – decimating the population. In one family I personally know of, three children died in a single week.
In agrarian societies, more children meant more workers for the farm, so there was no incentive to limit the number of children being born. If you had 10 and six or seven lived to adulthood it was great news.
So killing babies through abortion was a ridiculous idea for most of history.
The Roe v. Wade Decision
It wasn’t until the Free Sex Era of the 1960s and ‘70s that the easy access to abortion became a growing concern. In 1970, a Texas woman named Norma McCorvey – who became infamous under the pseudonym Jane Roe – became pregnant and sought to end her pregnancy. But the illegal abortion center she went to had been shut down. She then falsely claimed she’d been raped, thinking that would get her access to a legal abortion. It didn’t.
McCorvey sought the help of two female lawyers, who filed a lawsuit to declare the Texas law prohibiting legal abortions to be unconstitutional. It eventually reached the Supreme Court, and after being argued and reargued over more than a year, the Texas law was declared unconstitutional on Jan. 22, 1973.
While the Left makes this seem like purely a women’s issue, the ruling was a relief to many men at the time.
That ruling, in effect, struck down any state laws prohibiting abortions. The ruling was based on a somewhat liberal and convoluted interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (That amendment deals primarily with voting rights and the selection and removal of state senators, but it does have a clause that says states cannot infringe on people’s individual rights. Because of this, Roe v. Wade is often cited as granting the right to abortion. While the Left makes this seem like purely a women’s issue, the ruling was a relief to many men at the time who no longer had to face either marrying the women they got pregnant or paying 18 years of child support.)
Roe v. Wade did allow states to prohibit abortions after a fetus is deemed to be “viable,” meaning that it can survive after birth. At the time this was considered to be the third trimester, meaning states could stop abortions only after the first two trimesters, at about 26 weeks or so.
A subsequent 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, acknowledged that modern science has pushed the viability date back, meaning that babies in the second trimester could be viable, but the decision left a rather vague guideline to follow in determining an exact date. Most states, to avoid drawn-out court battles, dropped most abortion laws for many years, although recently some conservative states have again brought them into play.
While people on the Left have raised the specter of Kavanaugh’s appointment leading to making abortion illegal in the United States, at best all it could mean is a reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision. If that happened it would leave it up to individual states to decide on the legality of abortion. Probably even the most conservative states would allow some form of early abortion while liberal states like California could build a Planned Parenthood abortion facility on every block if they chose to.
Planned Parenthood and the Rise of the Abortion Industry
Which brings up the next part of our look backward: The prominent role of Planned Parenthood in the abortion debate.
The group’s name sounds like it’s a nice organization, helping parents make wise decisions about parenting. In reality, it is primarily an abortion facility with some very dark beginnings.
The roots of the organization are generally traced to Margaret Sanger, who was a birth control advocate in the early part of the 20th century. Her stated goal was to liberate women from the “slavery” of motherhood. But she was also in league with leaders of the eugenics movement.
Eugenics was the basis for Adolph Hitler’s belief in a superior Aryan race and the inferiority of the Jews.
Eugenics was a pseudo-scientific belief that some races – those primarily from Northern Europe – were superior to other races. Those “feeble-minded” inferior races, as Sanger called them, included Negroes and undesirable immigrants, especially South European Catholics. (Eugenics was the basis for Adolph Hitler’s belief in a superior Aryan race and the inferiority of the Jews.) Sanger was also said to have had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
At least a part of the early idea behind eugenics was that undesirables like the black population could be controlled or even eliminated by birth control, abortion and forced sterilization. Although Sanger later disavowed her prejudice against people of color, it was from these roots that Planned Parenthood began.
Currently, Planned Parenthood claims it offers women a range of contraceptive services and even mammograms. But we know from former Planned Parenthood employees and pro-life research that most clinics only offer abortion services. A few offer contraceptives, but few if any offer more than that.
Medical Research and the Beginning of Life
Bringing things into the present, we can look at the medical research regarding a baby’s development in the womb. As the Supreme Court acknowledged in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the age of viability keeps changing as medical technology and research has increased the ability to keep babies alive at a younger age. Doctors now even have the ability to do surgery on babies in the womb.
The age that life begins varies depending on who you talk to. Those on the farthest conservative side say that it begins at fertilization, since everything is in place for the formation of a human at that point the sperm hits the egg. Those on the farthest liberal side generally believe that life doesn’t start until the baby is fully delivered (allowing for the controversial partial-birth abortion).
Even a definition that life begins with a heartbeat or brain function places the beginning of life within the first month and a half.
A baby’s heartbeat can be detected by about day 22 or 23 after fertilization. Brain waves can be detected at 40-43 days. So even a definition that life begins with a heartbeat or brain function places the beginning of life within the first month and a half. It is hard at that point to call it simply a mass of tissue or a part of a woman’s body, as pro-abortion advocates describe it.
The Question of Murder
The question then arises, is abortion murder? The answer is yes, no, maybe – again depending on who you ask. The pro-abortionist will say that it isn’t, that it’s simply removing an unwanted growth, as you would a wart. They claim it won’t be a baby until it is birthed.
For those advocating for abortion, the deciding factor to call something murder or not depends on the woman’s choice.
Ah, but what happens if someone kills the mother and the baby dies in the womb? Or hurts the mother in a way that causes the baby to die inside the womb? Then it is considered murder, or in the first case, double murder. So it seems that for those advocating for abortion, the deciding factor to call something murder or not depends on the woman’s choice. If she chooses to end the life of the child, it’s not murder. If someone else ends the life of the child at the same stage of pregnancy, then it is murder.
Staunch pro-lifers will say that killing the baby, whether by making a choice of abortion or at someone else’s hand, is always murder. But there are also the maybes – those who believe abortion is murder, except if the baby was conceived through rape or incest, or the mother’s life is in danger.
Statistics show (depending on the wording of the question on surveys) that the number of Americans who think abortion is wrong is growing, and is now more than 50 percent of the population.
The Christian Perspective on the Value of Life
So what does the Bible say about abortion? Surprisingly, the answer is: nothing.
But this hardly means the Bible condones it. As I mentioned at the beginning, in earlier times abortion was at such odds with the goal of keeping children alive that it hardly warranted a prohibition against it.
The Bible does, though, make frequent mention of the value of life, even in the womb. All life is created by God even when human means of conception are used (Jer. 1:5, Ps. 139:13-16).
Murder is almost always defined in the Bible as the taking of innocent life.
Murder is wrong by God’s standards, which He stated in the Ten Commandments and which Jesus re-emphasized. Murder is almost always defined in the Bible as the taking of innocent life. Nothing could be much more innocent than a baby in the womb.
Children are considered a blessing from God (Ps. 127:3-5, John 16:21). All human life is considered valuable and made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26).
Given the value of human life, in the womb and beyond, there hardly needs to be a specific prohibition on abortion to see that it is not part of God’s will. In other words, there is no doubt that abortion is wrong.
As Christians we must stand strong on this – in love, of course, not in condemnation (if you have had an abortion, please read this message of hope). When confronting other Christians who believe that a woman’s right to choose trumps the life of the baby, we can use the life-giving message of the Bible as our God.
Non-Christians, though, will put little trust in what the Bible says. Then we will get better traction by speaking of the medical science.
We mustn’t be afraid to speak up.
Many times, we as Christians try to avoid controversial subjects such as these. But when something is clearly so wrong as abortion, then we mustn’t be afraid to speak up. And, given the current emotional state of our country, Christians will become part of this narrative, whether we want to or not. Knowing the facts, and what we believe, is an important part of standing up for what we believe.
The Bible is full of promises for those who honor God and follow Christ. Christians are urged to cling to those promises – eternal life, an abundant life, peace, love and forgiveness are among the favorites.
Yet there is one promise that is now being fulfilled that few of us are eager to cling to – being hated.
All four Gospels record Jesus’ promise that the world will hate us for following him. Here are a few examples:
Matt. 24:9: “Then they will hand you over for persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
Mark 13:13: “And you will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.”
John 15:19: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.”
We don’t cling to those promises because no one wants to be hated. It’s human nature to want to be loved and admired. And until the past few years, we as American Christians didn’t worry much about that.
For most of our country’s history, strong adherence to Christian beliefs was admired and pointed to as a positive example.
Sure, we knew hate and persecution were taking place in other countries – China, for example. Muslim nations. Most recently in Nigeria. But here in the USA, we could count on indifference as the worst consequence. In fact, for most of our country’s history, strong adherence to Christian beliefs was admired and pointed to as a positive example.
All that is changing, though. Hate has been the common theme of those on the left of the political spectrum the past two years, primarily directed at President Trump and those associated with him. But increasingly in the past year, Christians are becoming the targets.
Evangelical Christians (the world’s definition of evangelical is a bit murky, but generally means those who believe the Bible is true and that God is a part of daily life) are castigated if they voted for Trump, accused of lacking compassion if they support only legal immigration and vilified if they believe that killing unborn babies is wrong. We are accused of being a hate group when we don’t agree with and support ideologies that go against our beliefs.
It looks as if Jesus’ promise of 2,000 years ago is finally coming true here.
John, in 1 John 3:13, says we shouldn’t be surprised that the world hates us. As true followers of Christ, we shine light and the world loves darkness to hide its deeds.
So how are we to respond to all this hate? The knee-jerk reaction is first a vigorous defense or to give back as good as we get. After all, it’s easy to recognize the hypocrisy in the hateful actions and hateful words in those accusing us of hate.
Yes, the world’s hate is a blessing.
First of all, we need to recognize the blessing we’re receiving in the hate. Yes, I said the world’s hate is a blessing. I say that because Jesus said it first. At the end of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus utters this line: “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So our first response is to be glad and rejoice in this persecution because we’ll receive great heavenly rewards.
A bit later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus adds this about those who persecute us. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44)
So our second response is to pray for those who are saying all these awful lies about us. While we’d much rather call for their destruction, as David frequently did in Psalms, Jesus calls on us to respond in love to them and pray for their salvation.
We don’t compromise our beliefs just to escape the persecution.
And thirdly, we endure. When Jesus said in Mark 13:13 and other places that the world would hate us, he also told us to endure to the end. That means we don’t compromise our beliefs just to escape the persecution.
Some Christian groups and denominations are already doing this. They are changing the gender of God, allowing gays and transsexuals to lead the congregation and even joining in on the hateful speech against those who don’t compromise their values.
Enduring the hate is harder than rejoicing in it or praying for our enemies. The hate wears us down emotionally and physically, and eventually spiritually. It not only doesn’t stop, it often gets worse. But Jesus promises deliverance and, in Revelation 2 and 3, promises great eternal rewards for those who endure to the end.
Fortunately, Jesus gives us another promise that we can cling to in these hate-filled times: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
This is how we rejoice, how we pray and how we endure – resting in the peace that Jesus has already conquered the world. Enduring the world’s hate cannot compare to the abundance of Christ’s love for us, a love so great that he endured the horrible fate of our sins so that we can have eternal life and eternal peace.
The world hates us and will express that hate even more strenuously in the days to come. But for those who follow Christ that only means more blessing and peace. Those are promises worth clinging to.
A long time ago, in a beautiful land, a man and woman both had clearly defined jobs to do. Both failed in their roles, and chaos resulted.
This isn’t the beginning of some tale told by Aesop or the Brothers Grimm, or even Marvel, but the story of Adam and Eve. And a retelling of the tale seems to be taking place in America today.
Back in the beginning of the world, God had created both man and woman with clearly defined roles to play in His creation – Adam was to be the caretaker and leader, Eve was to be his helper. Neither was designed to be independent of the other. Adam may have been the engine but Eve was the gasoline that kept the engine running.
One day, though, those roles broke down. A slick-talking snake (Disney didn’t invent talking animals; the Bible had them from the beginning) sidled up to Eve and hissed, “Did God really tell you that you can’t eat from any tree in the garden?” What ensued was everybody twisting God’s words to suit themselves, Eve ate from the forbidden tree, gave Adam some and he ate, and everyone has suffered from sin nature ever since.
Both Adam and Eve failed in their God-defined roles.
One of the most significant parts of the story, though, is how both Adam and Eve failed in their God-defined roles.
Eve, instead of calling on Adam to deal with the snake (as she should have, since God had given the instructions about the forbidden tree to him before Eve was created), decided to take the leadership in the situation.
Well, perhaps Adam was out of town on a business trip and she had to. But no. The scriptures say that after Eve took a bite, she handed the fruit to her husband who was with her.
Adam stood there and heard both the devil and Eve twist God’s words without saying anything, without stepping into his leadership and caretaker/protector role, and killing the snake. He didn’t even take on Eve’s role – he simply didn’t take any role.
So how does that relate to today?
For the past 30 or more years, American culture has been bent on making men superfluous – not only can women do everything a man can do and probably better, they don’t even need men to live happy, successful lives. Thanks to sperm donors, they don’t even need more than a miniscule bit of maleness in their lives, ever.
And for the past decade or more, that attitude has been increasingly creeping into the church. While not as overt a takeover as is seen in culture, there is still a shift in thinking about the roles of men and women.
Husbands are being told to “man up” and take the leadership-caretaker role that he was created for.
Thankfully, there are some Christian leaders who have recognized this and are pushing back in trying to return to the roles God created. Husbands are being told to “man up” and take the leadership-caretaker role that he was created for, especially in the home.
This is indeed an important role. Research shows that the greatest predictor of a child’s success in America has nothing to do with skin color or financial resources, but having an intact two-parent (male and female) family. Other research shows that the biggest predictor of children following Christ and being involved in the church is whether they saw their father’s involvement in the church.
In light of today’s American culture, though, many men have found it is far easier to sit back and do nothing. Leading is a hard task, one that requires constant vigilance and assessment. When criticized for doing that, as culture often does, it becomes hard to stay motivated to continue in that role. But since it so important, and a role that God clearly expects Christian men to hold, then it is vital that Christian men “man up.”
It is also important for Christian women to “woman up.”
At the same time, though, it is also important for Christian women to “woman up” (doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but the idea is the same). But too often women’s ministries focus on “empowering” women with instruction on how to be bold, dynamic and to be all they can be. There is nothing wrong with this in itself – all Christians, male and female, should be bold and strive to be everything God desires of them – but this empowerment can sometimes degenerate into little more than Christianese for some of the world’s principles.
Within a marriage, God’s role for husbands and wives is clear – the husband is to take leadership and be a caretaker/protector and the wife is to protect the integrity of his leadership with support, encouragement and prayer. Culture has falsely declared the wife’s role as inferior or not valuable, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
As the husband seeks to discern and follow God’s will, it is critical that the wife support and pray for him in that pursuit. It is the fuel for the engine – an engine can’t do anything without fuel; it is an absolutely essential ingredient. The wife’s role requires boldness and is dynamic.
As both husband and wife work together symbiotically in their roles, they will discover God’s direction for their lives. When the husband leads according to God’s will, then it will be the will of God for the wife, too. If that isn’t true then why is the devil working so hard to reverse it? He’s wanted to do this since the beginning of time because his express purpose is to turn people away from following God’s plan. Using culture to disrupt the roles of men and women is a key piece of his strategy.
The design of God cannot be changed because of the whims of the culture. The Bible is consistent on these roles from Genesis to Revelation. They were created by God for a purpose – His purpose. To change them in any way can have devastating results. Just ask Adam and Eve.
When my wife and I decided to purchase life insurance policies, we filled out the basic paperwork and had some bloodwork done to prove that we didn’t already have one foot in the grave. After a few days of waiting, we were approved to have insurance policies.
Since then, we’ve given it little thought: The policies renew automatically and the premiums are deducted electronically from our bank account. We know we’re covered if we die and nothing else is required of us.
Unfortunately, many Christians live this way in regard to their salvation. They made a salvation commitment to God. Now, they’re covered when they die and nothing else is required of them.
Except God does require more from them – much more. He expects them to do the work he created them for.
Oh no, you might protest, grace is free. We don’t have to earn it. Works are dead. And you’d be absolutely right. There is indeed absolutely nothing we can do to earn salvation. The grace that saves us is only a free gift from God. Eph. 2:8-9 makes this very clear: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.” (HCSB)
But the discourse about this salvation doesn’t end at verse 9. We also have to read verse 10.
“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (HCSB)
Salvation isn’t only to keep us out of the flames of hell.
God has extended His grace to us for more than just after-life insurance. Salvation isn’t only to keep us out of the flames of hell. God’s grace is for a purpose, and that is for us to do good works. As Paul says, God prepared these good works ahead of time for us. We have been saved for a purpose.
The good works, then, aren’t to achieve salvation, but come as a result of salvation. And they aren’t our works – God prepared them for us, so we are only fulfilling the works He wants us to accomplish.
The “grace is free, works are dead” mantra of the past several decades has had the unfortunate effect of allowing many Christians to lead uneventful, unfulfilling Christian lives. They aren’t lazy, and they aren’t intentionally disobeying God’s word. They’ve just been allowed to live under the false assumption that salvation is basically in the same category as my life insurance policy – it renews automatically and the premiums are withdrawn in the form of church attendance. Nothing else is required.
The good news is that God has created so much more for the Christian life and desires so much more from us. The works he has created for us aren’t contained in a do’s and don’ts rulebook and aren’t grim tasks that can only be accomplished through gritted teeth. Instead, since he created you specifically for the works, you will be uniquely equipped to not only accomplish those works, but to do so with a joyful heart.
The vital thing is that it’s the work God created for you.
This doesn’t mean you’ll land your dream job, or that the work will be something grandiose. In fact, it may be something small and almost unnoticeable. It’s not the type of work or the size of that’s important; the vital thing is that it’s the work God created for you.
It’s also not work to be undertaken grudgingly, with an “I guess if I have to” attitude. Remember, when you were dating and fell in love, how you did the things your loved one liked – even if it inconvenienced you – with an attitude of joy because of your love for them? That’s the attitude we approach our appointed work – with an attitude of pure joy and pure love for God.
One of the great benefits of our salvation is that we have a fantastic after-life insurance policy with an eternal renewal. But it is also a great benefit that our eternal life doesn’t start when we die – it begins at the moment of salvation and allows us to do great things for God.
What is the most important Christian holiday? Based on the amount of time and money spent on it, you would think the answer is Christmas. But according the Bible, it’s Easter.
While the Christmas story is mentioned briefly in two Gospels, the resurrection is referenced dozens of times, in all four Gospels and in most the epistles. Paul makes it the central theme of his writings. He insists that if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17).
Even Good Friday, which celebrates the death of Jesus on the cross, is meaningless without the resurrection.
Why should the resurrection mean so much to Christians? Here are a few reasons.
It validates everything Jesus said and did. The son of God came to earth to show us how to live a completely new life. But if he had simply taught a new moral code and then died he would have been no better than any other religious leader. It was only by his rising from the dead – conquering death – that everything he said and did took on significance. Otherwise, as Paul says, we have no foundation for our faith.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:14, HCSB)
Through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
It gives us new life. When we commit to following Jesus, he doesn’t just make our lives better. We die to the old life we had and through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” (1 Peter 1:3, HCSB)
It sealed God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to all humanity. Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit came only to a few people who God selected. But the plan all along had been to send him to all people. The resurrection made it possible to fulfill that plan. Jesus revealed this at the Last Supper.
“’Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.’” (John 16:17, HCSB)
It gives us eternal life. Jesus’ death on the cross meant the punishment for our sins had been fulfilled. His resurrection meant that he had conquered death, and through him, believers have also been granted freedom from eternal death. While our mortal bodies will die, our souls will live on in eternity in God’s presence.
In John 14:19, Jesus himself proclaimed this. “’In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live too.’”
Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal.
It is our source of power. The Christian life should be lived with great power through God (2 Tim. 1:7). Paul speaks repeatedly of the power of the Gospel, and the point of the Gospel is Jesus’ resurrection. It is by God’s power that Jesus lives. Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal, as it was Paul’s.
“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection….” (Phil. 3:10, HCSB)
It is our source of joy. The resurrection is a historical fact; nothing can take that away. When we find our joy in that fact, we will always be able to experience joy, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. That is how Jesus approached the cross because he knew what was to come afterward.
“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Heb. 12:1-2, HCSB)
I have rarely talked to a fellow Christian who hasn’t expressed a desire to improve the amount of time he or she spends reading the Bible. And that is a worthy goal – we should continually be devoted to reading the Scriptures.
Reading God’s word is important, as Paul tells us in 2 Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” It also keeps us from being led astray, as Jesus warns in Matt. 22:29: “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Acts 17:11 echoes this, where we read that after hearing Paul’s teaching, the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily to see if he was telling the truth.
The Bible is written is such a unique way that even devout Christian scholars who have been reading it for 50 years delight in finding new insights in it.
It seems increasingly rare, though, to find a Christian – even one who has spent decades in the faith – who has read the entire Bible. Some have admitted that they’ve never read the Old Testament. Many have haphazard reading patterns of a few days of intensity followed by a month of never cracking the cover. For many Christians, it seems, their entire Bible reading plan consists of the Verse of the Day from a Bible app and reading along with the pastor on the handful of verses he projects onto a screen during his sermon.
Why do so many Christians not make Bible reading a regular part of their day?
So if the Bible is important, if it holds decades’ worth of insights and most Christians desire to know more, why do so many Christians not make Bible reading a regular part of their day?
There are several reasons, one of the biggest being that reading in general has fallen out of favor with most Americans. Many people say, some with chagrin and some with pride, that they’ve only read one book in the past year – or maybe none. Christian comedian John Branyan says, in a hilarious retelling of the Three Little Pigs, that Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 55,000 words; the average American has a working vocabulary of 3,000 words. So we’re much more likely to look for a theatrical version of a story on DVD than picking up a book.
But on Jan. 1, many well-intentioned Christians will select a Bible reading plan, determined that this year they will read all the way through the Bible. I can tell you when most of them will be waylaid – in about the middle of Leviticus. Some will get bogged down by the middle of Exodus, some will dutifully, possibly with glazed eyes, fight their way through Numbers and even Deuteronomy. But the majority won’t make it into April with their Bible reading.
But if you really want to achieve your goal, here are a few tips, and a link to my own Bible reading plan.
Set aside time each morning: Yes, mornings can be chaotic, especially for those with school-age children. But getting up just 20 minutes earlier can give you some peace and quiet to read God’s word before the chaos commences. Giving up sleep is hard but, believe me, that time reading will be more refreshing than the extra bit of shuteye.
You can try other times of the day, but I’ve found that it is far easier to put off the reading later in the day than getting up earlier intentionally to read.
Just read: Often people assume that they need to discover deep meaning in every verse they read, so they plod through them slowly, pondering each one. Soon they’re consuming an hour to read three chapters. Instead, just read. You may read three chapters and go, “Huh, I didn’t get much out of that.” That’s perfectly OK, because there will be plenty of mornings when you find juicy nuggets.
Just reading also helps you see the broader picture of the Bible.
One thing I’ve found is that each time I read through the Bible, I notice new things. That information had obviously been there the previous year when I read the Bible, but my mindset a year later is different, and different passages will mean more to me.
Just reading also helps you see the broader picture of the Bible, and how it all forms a complete narrative, rather than just seemingly random sections of words.
Find a readable translation: Many readers get bogged down by feeling they have to read the Bible in the King James Version. There is nothing wrong with the KJV; it’s just harder for the average American to grasp (remember, it was written at the time of Shakespeare, when people had a much broader vocabulary, plus used words that didn’t mean the same as they do today). There is a wide array of translations available today, ranging from word-for-word translations to ones that merely translate the meanings, with many variations in between. I personally feel the Holman Christian Standard Bible (recently renamed the Christian Standard Bible) is a great mix of readability and accurate translations. The New International Version (NIV) is also popular for its readability, although I find it is sometimes a bit loose in the translation. The English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) give more word-for-word translations that are still relatively easy to read through.
Give yourself some grace: Most reading plans break the scriptures into 365 sections – read one section per day and you’ll make it through the entire Bible in a year. But what if something unexpected happens – a hospital stay, out-of-town guests for the weekend – or even planned events like a vacation keep you from reading? Often, a day or two or even three or four can pass without getting to your daily reading plan. Then once you return to it, you’re faced with the daunting task of reading eight or 10 or more chapters to catch up. You fall behind, and then further behind, and soon you give up.
My reading plan offers a little more forgiveness – it is based on 338 days. You could miss almost a whole month of reading and still finish in a year. You could even start in the middle of January and still easily finish in a year.
If you miss a couple of days, there’s no catching up to do.
It is also not based on the actual calendar date. If you miss a couple of days, there’s no catching up to do. Just pick up where you left off.
I also tried to base the daily reading on a similar number of verses. Sometimes that means reading just one chapter but other times it could be six chapters – although the most common amount is three chapters. But it is essentially the same length of reading per day, about 20 minutes. That allows you to easily slot it into your daily routine.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect plan, and there are many other good Bible reading plans available. But I do think it’s a good way to get started that makes reading the Bible a bit of an easier task.
It’s the beginning of December, the time of year to remember the suffering of our Lord.
Wait, what did I just read? Did this guy accidentally post an Easter column by mistake? This is the season of joy to the world, of peace on earth, of angels and shepherds, gold, frankincense and myrrh. It’s the season of the birth of a beautiful baby, not of a grown man being cruelly crucified to a cross.
True. But let me ask this question: When did Jesus’ suffering begin?
Before answering that, let me start with a sort-of parable – suppose you have been selected to be the savior of the earthworms. You are zapped into the body of an earthworm, although you still have access to all your human senses, thoughts and memories. Your mission now is to tunnel daily through the dirt, bringing the words of salvation to the earthworm population. Eventually you are sacrificed on a cruel hook and dropped into the water, where a large fish swallows you, and the earthworms have their salvation.
At what point do you think your suffering would begin? Only when the hook pierced your body?
No, I think your suffering would begin the moment you left the world of humans and entered into the earthworm body. Still being fully aware of your humanity, it would be humbling and true suffering to now be confined to a body that had so little mobility and ability.
He entered the confines of not just a human body, but an infant human body.
Jesus was fully God, a partner in the creation of the world, with all the power, omniscience, glory and other aspects of the Father. And then he entered the confines of not just a human body, but an infant human body. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t walk and he had to depend on someone to change his diaper. We can’t begin to imagine what kind of suffering that was for him.
Even when he became an adult, he was still shackled to the most basic of human needs for food, shelter, sleep and bowel movements. He was tempted in every way we are, with pride, lust, anger and fear, yet successfully overcame succumbing to any of them.
Jesus had to endure the plodding simplicity of the humans around him – even the wisest, most educated human being was little more than a doddering fool in comparison to his wisdom. Even in his last hours on earth, he had to face the inevitability of human death, even though he was immortal God.
This is how Paul described Jesus’ sacrifice in Phil. 2:6-8:
“(Jesus), existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” (HCSB)
There is no doubt that Jesus’ birth, eventual death and his resurrection gave us the opportunity to experience joy and peace on earth. We can celebrate that birth with joy. But I think it is good for us to remember how much that joy cost God the Father and God the Son. It’s when we realize that Jesus willingly placed himself in a position of suffering in human form because of his great love for us that we can truly rejoice in the true Christmas spirit.
For the past few months, our nation – our world, really – has been reeling from one tragedy after another. A mass shooting in Las Vegas, shootings in churches in Tennessee and Texas and trucks driven by terrorists plowing over people in New York City and Barcelona.
But it isn’t always a deliberate attack causing tragedy – back-to-back hurricanes hit the United States, while at the same time an earthquake caused mass death tolls in Mexico, and fires burned homes and took several dozen lives in California. All the while, car accidents, home mishaps and life in general exerted their toll.
In the wake of these tragedies, people around the world – including many Christians – ask, “Where is God in all of this? How can a loving God allow tragedy like this? If God is really love, wouldn’t he have stopped this?” Others have asked, “Is this God’s way of punishing our nation (or world) for all the sinful acts we allow?”
This generation is hardly the first to ask those questions. In fact, the oldest book in the Bible, Job, asks this question. Many of the Psalms resonate with us because the writers ponder these same questions. And in Luke 13, we find Jesus confronted with these questions as well.
Some people, who aren’t identified, asked Jesus about what must have been a relatively recent tragic event in Jewish history. Pontius Pilate, the same man who would later condemn Jesus to the cross, had killed some Galileans. The incident is not recorded in history, but the Jews at that time had a history of revolt and we know from Acts 5:37 that at least one of the revolutionaries came from Galilee. It is probable that the incident mentioned was the Roman response to such an insurrection.
We aren’t told the specific question the people asked Jesus, but based on his response, it was probably along the lines of, “Why would God have allowed that to happen? Is it punishment for their sins?”
According to the people who questioned Jesus, Pilate had killed a number of Galileans, probably including a number of innocent people, as a warning statement, then had mixed their blood with the Jewish sacrifices. This not only defiled the sacrifices, but went against God’s prohibition of offering humans or blood as sacrifices. Pilate did this as a way to demoralize the people, not unlike terrorist attacks we face today.
We aren’t told the specific question the people asked Jesus, but based on his response, it was probably along the lines of, “Why would God have allowed that to happen? Is it punishment for their sins?” Perhaps even, “You say God is a loving God, but how could a loving God allow this to happen?”
They certainly asked the right person; if anyone could give the right answer, it would be the Son of God.
But Jesus’ response not only doesn’t answer the question, it doesn’t really come across as very comforting.
“Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”
The questioners must have wondered how this got turned around to be about them.
Then he brings up another incident, possibly some type of construction accident.
“Or those 18 that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed – do you think they were more sinful than all the people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”
Jesus does seem to answer the question about whether this is punishment for sin – no – but then he calls on the questioners to repent before the same thing happens to them. The questioners must have wondered how this got turned around to be about them.
What Jesus is saying here is that we shouldn’t spend our time worrying over something that happened, how it happened or why it happened to those particular people. We should instead make sure our hearts are prepared for eternity so that if physical death happens we won’t also die spiritually.
Death is inevitable. Except for Jesus and a couple of Old Testament saints (Enoch and Elijah), everyone who has ever lived has died or will die. Even Lazarus, after being raised from the dead, eventually died again.
Is the tragedy any less real for parents who lose a child to brain cancer than those who lose a child in a shooting?
Jesus seems to be saying that the method of death is not what’s important. And, in some ways, that is true. Is the tragedy any less real for parents who lose a child to brain cancer than those who lose a child in a shooting? Is death any less real for the loved ones of someone killed in a car accident than for those of someone killed by a terrorist driving into a crowd?
Jesus’ point is that, death is death and it is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable, though, is where you will spend your eternity. You have a choice – accept the loving forgiveness of Jesus’ death on the cross and the new life he provided through his resurrection, which leads to eternal life, or reject him and receive the wrath of God, which is an eternity of pain and dying without relief.
Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, and we grieve for these losses as well.
This doesn’t mean we’re callous toward these tragedies – Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, and we grieve for these losses as well. We don’t become foolish, either. We take measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and take steps to prevent such tragedies from happening to others. But we also can’t let tragedy alter our belief in God. Instead, these should be wake-up calls to examine ourselves, our own relationship with God, and serve as an impetus for Christians to reach out with Jesus’ love and salvation to those around us.
We may never be able to answer the question of how a loving God can allow such tragedies. But we can state with joy and confidence that a loving God has provided a way to not only transcend such tragedies, but to transcend death itself.
As I mentioned in a previous post, lately, I’ve recently seen a number of memes along these variations: “Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic” or “Jesus spoke more about money than (three or four subjects) combined.”
The implication is that if Jesus thought money was important enough to devote so much of his time to, then it’s important to us and we are justified in thinking about it.
His parables, though, aren’t about money; he just uses money sometimes as an illustration of a heavenly concept. Read my previous blog here.
Jesus does, however, speak pretty plainly about money – it’s just not anything we really want to hear, because he doesn’t often speak of it favorable terms.
When actually speaking about money, and not using it as an illustration to make a point about a different issue, here are the things Jesus had to say: the poor will be blessed, but woe to the rich; don’t take any money or provisions on a mission trip; give away everything you have so you can follow him; that only through God’s miraculous intervention can the rich enter heaven; and don’t worry about money, because it is God’s job to provide for your needs. Then he also went on a rampage in the temple against those who were selling animals there, including dumping the money all over the ground.
Did he speak positively about money? Sort of. He defended the woman of ill repute who anointed him with expensive perfume; he praised Zacchaeus when he decided to give half his wealth to the poor and repay those he’d cheated, with interest; and he honored the faith of the poor widow who gave the only two small coins she had to the temple treasury. He also approved the paying of both the temple tax and the government’s taxes.
Then there was his enigmatic story in Luke 16 about the shrewd money manager, where Jesus appears to be telling people to use money to win friends and influence people (16:9). In context, though, he probably meant something a bit different, since he designates worldly wealth as unrighteous and the Pharisees, who loved money, sneered at his teaching (16:14). I believe he is illustrating the importance of the true riches of heaven as opposed to the money the world reveres, and that we can’t misuse something of the world and expect to then be trusted with the real riches of the kingdom.
“You cannot serve both God and money.”
The bottom line for Jesus, though, can be found in Luke 16:13 and in Matthew 6:24, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. He says quite clearly that we have a choice to make when it comes to our wealth: “You cannot serve both God and money.”
The word translated as money is the Greek word mamona (translated in the KJV as Mammon). But more than money, it can mean wealth or assets. It has a sense of being an animate object, of being almost godlike. You could call it Mr. Money.
Mr. Money is a nice-looking guy, with a $200 haircut, Armani suits and Italian loafers. He has promised to care for your needs, to give you all the happiness and comfort you desire. He even gives you some nice bonuses, like the occasional filet mignon dinner and a cruise to the Bahamas. However, he is a demanding taskmaster, requiring your exclusive services or you don’t get the things you desire. He has no patience for you having outside interests, like God.
Before long, you find yourself in the exact situation Jesus described – choosing which master to serve.
Does God ask you to be more involved in church? Mr. Money says, no, you need to work overtime or you won’t be able to take that Disney World vacation. Does God want you to help someone in need? Mr. Money says, no, you won’t be able to make the monthly payments on your 4,000-square-foot house, that shiny new car and the jet skis. Has God asked you to take a stand on an issue? No, Mr. Money says, that could cause you to lose your job and then you’ll have to take your kids out of the private Christian school.
Before long, you find yourself in the exact situation Jesus described – choosing which master to serve.
You think, I could still give time and money to the church and have money for myself, right? It just wouldn’t be as much money and as much time for God, but still, it’s better than nothing.
No, it isn’t. Because Jesus calls us to give all our allegiance to the Father, and partial isn’t all. We really do have to choose between God and Mr. Money, two beings who require our full devotion. We can’t split it.
Jesus has little to say about earning money. In fact, he says virtually nothing about having a job or making a good income, and storing up treasure for the future, like retirement, is viewed as foolish (Luke 12:13-34). He does, however, talk about the importance of relying on God for our needs and storing up treasure in heaven, the kind of treasure that is gathered while following Jesus rather than anything monetary.
And, for the record, I don’t believe that Jesus spoke more about money than anything else.
I don’t believe that Jesus thinks earning money is wrong, or that he doesn’t want us to have jobs. And I do believe God does reward some Christians with wealth, knowing that they will use it for the greater good of the kingdom rather than greedily for themselves. The bottom line always is, where is our allegiance? With God, or with Mr. Money?
And, for the record, I don’t believe that Jesus spoke more about money than anything else. Without quantifying it numerically, I would guess that the majority of his teaching revolved around the theme of what is inside a person – the heart – matters more than outward appearances. He also spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and the radical lifestyle it requires. And he spent a good bit of his time talking about faith – praising those who exhibit it and criticizing those who don’t.
Money was a frequent subject, but more often than not, he spoke of the benefits of ridding ourselves of its influence, and never about making or having more of it.
Instead, Jesus commands us to be fully devoted to serving God and God will take care of providing for whatever physical needs we have. Mr. Money can take a hike.
As a Christian, the post-Charlottesville rhetoric may have your head spinning. The klaxon of fear from the left-leaning mainstream media was expected, but there are many blogs on Christian websites as well decrying racial injustice along with unctuous homilies on white privilege.
How should the clash between a group of self-proclaimed white supremacists and violent self-proclaimed moral authority Antifa make you feel? Which side are you supposed to choose?
My answer is, neither side. Just because there are two sides doesn’t make one side right and one wrong – they can, as in this case, both be wrong.
Still, there are all these stories. I’ve seen articles, some from Christian leaders I respect, that say we should acknowledge and apologize for our white privilege, that we are responsible to right the wrongs suffered by blacks (especially black young men), that non-racism isn’t enough and that we can’t be colorblind because that means we’re stripping away the identity of blacks (especially black young men). I haven’t had time to read them all and the (il)logic used in some of them is dizzying.
Christianity has played a huge role, and in some cases deserves the majority of the credit, in creating the racial equality we have now.
There is one huge fallacy running through many of the narratives that equate Christians with white, privileged, upper middle class people, primarily men. Christianity, of course, is not an exclusive white club and acting as if it is completely ignores the many brothers and sisters of other races and ethnicities. It also ignores the fact that Christianity has played a huge role, and in some cases deserves the majority of the credit, in creating the racial equality we have now, from before the Civil War through the Civil Rights marches. Without the impetus of Christian churches, both black and white, we may still not have equality today.
So, beyond that fallacy, here are a couple of things I know:
- God created a human race. And Jesus came to save the human race. If the creator and savior of universe didn’t distinguish between races, neither do we need to.
- Christians should not feel shame or guilt for the color of their skin. As Paul says in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those in Christ have already had their sins removed as far as the east if from the west.
- White Christians do not have to atone for any sins or atrocities committed by their ancestors. Hundreds of years before Christ, God said, “The person who sins is the one who will die. A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him.” (Ez. 18:20) In fact, this is so important that God gives a long example of how the actions of one generation will not affect the other.
- It is not the responsibility of white Christians to “solve” or “correct” the problem. This is saying that the only way black people can make their way in the world is if white people give them special privileges. This is arrogant and insulting. Not only that, it is tantamount to making blacks an inferior race who can’t help themselves. White Christians and black Christians must work arm-in-arm as equal brothers and sisters to address any issues.
- We must pray for the white supremacists and the Antifa groups. As appalling as that sounds, Jesus made it very clear what our response should be to enemies. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45). “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
- We must strive to see each other as individuals, not as members of a group. This was the lesson of Jesus when he healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, healed the servant of the Roman Centurion and spoke to the Samaritan woman – all members of groups the Jews hated or saw as inferior. In fact, the overriding lesson of the story of the Good Samaritan is that it is an individual’s right actions, not his or her skin color, ethnicity or group that makes him the neighbor we are to love as we love ourselves.
We must pray for the white supremacists and the Antifa groups. As appalling as that sounds, Jesus made it very clear what our response should be to enemies.
The news is still filled with stories about last weekend’s events, and will be until the next tragedy or hot item rises to the forefront. Reading the stories and social media blurbs can produce anxiety in Christians. But we can read something that will produce peace – the Word of God.