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The Right Order Matters for Cookies and for God’s Promises

DCF 1.0

For many decades, my mother was famous for her chocolate chip cookies. When the sign-up list to provide food for the youth group made its rounds in church, we often found our name already filled in to provide the cookies.

The cookies seldom lasted more than a half-hour at functions, no matter how many dozens my mother made. People raved about them. And many people asked for the recipe.

When Mom graciously shared the recipe, people were often amazed to learn it was the same recipe they used. But what made my Mom’s cookies superior to theirs? Was it some bit of magic? Just all the love she put into it?

The secret was that Mom used specific brands of ingredients and mixed the ingredients in a specific order.

People scoffed. It shouldn’t matter what brand of margarine they used, or whether they used butter instead of margarine. It shouldn’t matter when in the process they added the sugar or flour, or whether you stirred the flour in by hand.

Maybe it shouldn’t, but it did. It wasn’t that you couldn’t get results from using other brands of ingredients or mixing it up in a different order, but if you wanted to get the best results – Mom’s results – then you had to do things in the proper sequence.

We as Christians often try to do things out of God’s order, yet think we’re going to end up with His results.

I’m not writing this to brag on my mother (well, maybe just a bit) but to make a point about how we as Christians often try to do things out of God’s order, yet think we’re going to end up with His results.

God makes many promises to us – but there’s a catch. We have to do things in the order he tells us to.

For example, in Matt. 6:33 we have a great promise: God will provide everything we need! But there is a proper order to reaping the benefits of the promise: Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and God will provide.

In Prov. 3:5-6, God promises to guide us along the right paths – but this promise comes after we are told to trust in the Lord with all of our heart, to not rely on our own understanding and to submit and think about Him in all ways.

In Psalm 37:4 God promises to give us the desires of our hearts – after we are told to delight in the Lord.

And on and on it goes. God promises an extraordinary amount of wonderful things when we commit ourselves fully to Him and to doing the work He has called us to.

But how often do we try to take that out of order? How often do we try to bargain with God to reverse the order?

“God, if you give me the desires of my heart, I will delight in You.”

“God, help me see the right path this situation and I will trust in You.

“God, provide this for me and I promise I will seek Your righteousness.”

We want to change the order of things but still expect the same results. But if you want the best results – the best God can give you – then, like with Mom’s cookie recipe, you have to follow the right order.

And it requires the right ingredients. God is requiring all of your heart, not half of it. He asks you to seek his Kingdom and His righteousness, not throw a couple of extra dollars in the offering plate. He asks you to delight in Him, not grudgingly get up early enough on Sunday to make it church on time.

The priests were still expecting God to honor their half-hearted attempts with His full blessing.

This lack of full effort with the expectation of full results is nothing new. In Malachi 1, God takes the priests to task for offering injured and unhealthy animals as sacrifices, instead of the perfect, unblemished animals that God requires. Yet the priests were still expecting God to honor their half-hearted attempts with His full blessing. In the next chapter, God says He’s so upset by this that He’s going to take the manure from these imperfect animals and wipe it on the faces of the priests.

God still requires a perfect sacrifice – you. In Romans 12:1, Paul urges us to present our bodies daily as a living sacrifice to God. By that he means that you are to sacrifice your will, your ideas of what’s important, your way of doing things or thinking about things, and instead seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness, giving Him your whole heart, acknowledge Him in everything you do and taking more delight in Him than in anything the world has to offer.

In other words, do things in the proper order, even if it seems illogical to the rest of the world. In Romans 12:2 Paul explains what the proper order is – do not be conformed to the world view you currently live in but transform your mind. That will lead to discernment of the perfect will of God.

It always starts with us humbling ourselves before God, submitting all of ourselves to Him and focusing on Him and His purpose for our lives.

When we follow the “recipe,” we’ll find that, just like with chocolate chip cookies, when we do things in the right order there will be a great reward waiting for us.


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.

Reading All the Pages

How many pages are in your Bible? I have one I carry to church that has more than 1,500 pages. The study Bible I read every morning has more than 2,300.

Unfortunately, though, many Christians could condense their Bibles down to about 50 pages. They’d keep many of the Psalms, some of the Proverbs and the Gospels – at least the birth and crucifixion of Christ, the Sermon on the Mount and some of the miracles. They’d add a selection of their favorite Old Testament stories – Joseph and his coat of many colors, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions den – then toss in a couple dozen of their favorite verses, mostly from the epistles of Paul – and viola! they’d have their personal abridged edition of the Bible.

The sad truth from my observation is that most Christians don’t really read their Bibles. They just read selected portions of it.

While that may seem like a drastic oversimplification, the sad truth from my observation is that most Christians don’t really read their Bibles. They just read selected portions of it. They tend not to want to read the Old Testament because, well, it’s old. They want the “fresh” stuff of the New Testament, especially when Paul talks about warm fuzzies like peace, love and joy.

It’s understandable in a way because the Bible does seem compartmentalized. It’s divided into an old and new section, further divided into 66 books – 39 Old Testament, 27 New – and further broken into chapters and verses. Because it was written by dozens of people over the course of about 3,500 years, (the freshest of it more than 1,900 years ago), it’s easy to see why some people find it less than a must-read.

In reality, though, the entire Bible is one seamless piece. Yes, it was written by many people over many years, but it is seamless because all of it, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, is about one person – God. God was and is and always will be, so a story about Him will always be seamless, no matter how many centuries it takes to tell it.

But surely that doesn’t mean all of the Bible needs to be read, right? Who needs all of those genealogies with the unpronounceable names? Or those Levitical laws about sacrifices and diseases? Or the prophets with their bad attitude about everything and everyone, always calling down God’s wrath? And Revelation? That’s just plain weird. Surely reading those is just a waste of time when we could spend more time reading the great love chapter in 1 Corinthians.

Back in January I received a birthday card from my 85-year-old mother that included a letter. In the letter she told me about the weather (it was foggy), that she had to get her glasses repaired, the death of a cousin (which I’d already known about) and her plans to attend the funeral, with a final comment that she didn’t know when she’d get her glasses back.

All in all, it was not an exciting letter or particularly informative. But I read every word of that letter with interest. My interest and enjoyment of reading it had nothing to do with the content – no, I read every word because it came from someone who loved me and who I love. It was the person writing the letter that made the content interesting.

That’s the same way I approach reading the portions of the Bible that seem less than interesting, like genealogies and Levitical laws. Do I gain a lot from reading them? Not usually, but I can enjoy reading them because they are the words of the God who loves me and who I love. Besides, there are some really cool names in the genealogies, like Zerubbabel.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul tells us that all Scripture is theopneustos – God breathed. It comes from the very breath, or spirit of God, the same way he breathed life into Adam. The Bible is not just words on paper but the very breath of God. And notice that Paul said all Scripture – all would include the genealogies and all the other “boring” parts. And, note further that when Paul wrote that statement he was referring exclusively to the Old Testament, since the New Testament was still in the process of being written and not considered Scripture yet.

So I challenge you to read your entire Bible, all 1,500 or more pages of it. You’ll be surprised how many great stories, insights and promises are hidden there, and you might even gain a new appreciation for the genealogies. After all, it’s a lot of fun to say Zerubabbel.

Leaving Egypt Behind

Pyramids of Giza, Cairo

I don’t ever want to go back to Egypt.

I’ve never been there, so that may seem like an odd thought. But the Egypt I’m referring to is not the modern day one of traffic-clogged streets and cheap tourist trinkets but the one of 4,000 years ago with mud bricks and a baby in the bulrushes. The one that the Israelites left behind as they headed off to the Promised Land.

A quick recap of the situation with the Israelites and Egypt: The original Israelites (old Israel himself and his 12 boys) entered Egypt as a place of safety. But after a while (if 400 years can be considered ‘a while’) the Egyptians, who had earlier been their saviors, began to oppress the Israelites, making them slaves, requiring heavy labor and creating general havoc.

The Israelites cried to God for relief and He miraculously set them free. Miracles were seen abundantly by the Israelites – plagues on the Egyptians, parting of an entire sea, a pillar of cloud and fire, a voice from heaven. They were ecstatic.

For about five minutes.

Then they began to complain about how long the journey was taking.

Israelites: Are we there yet?
Moses: No
Israelites: Are we there yet?
Moses: No.
Israelites: Are we –
Moses: Don’t make me pull this caravan off the road and come back there.

Before long, they were reminiscing about how wonderful their lives had been back in Egypt, where they had plenty of fish, leeks, cucumbers, onions and garlic to eat, all for free (hopefully someone also kept them in a steady supply of mouthwash and breath mints). Sure, there was that annoying slavery issue, and death, but man, remember how sweet life was then? So God sent them manna, enough to fill them. They complained about not having meat, so God sent quails.

Not long after that, the Israelites reached the Promised Land. It was a land flowing with milk and honey (so much better than cucumbers and leeks, especially if it was also flowing with peanut butter). All they had to do to claim this gift from God was to enter the land and enjoy it. They might have to fight a few battles but God guaranteed victory, so there was no reason not to march right in the front door, full of confidence.

What, they cried? There are giants there. We’ll look like grasshoppers they can squash under their feet. Let’s go back. Remember those wonderful Egyptians? They had leeks!

Of course, by that time God had had enough and sentenced them to wandering around the wilderness (i.e., hot desert) for 40 years until the original whiners died off.

It’s pretty easy to look at this story and think, what a bunch of ungrateful boneheads. How could they so quickly forget how the Egyptians had treated them? How could they so quickly forget the miracles? Why would they lack the confidence to enter this new land God had specifically guided them to and guaranteed victory in? How could they prefer leeks to milk and honey?

But yet how different are we today?

We’re quick to cry to God when we’re in trouble and feeling oppressed. This is a fine thing to do – God repeatedly tells us to do that. And he promises he will answer.

We see his miraculous rescue. We rejoice. How awesome is our God!

And then, things aren’t perfect right away. We get hungry, we get some sand in our sandals, and the complaining starts. Oh how nice we had it before when we didn’t have sand in our shoes and we had plenty to eat.

Really? We had it nice before? Weren’t we oppressed and crying out to God for deliverance? Yep. But with a little distance and a little rough going, our brains suddenly trick us into remembering the few good things we did have, the leeks and garlic, and forgetting about those awful things we suffered under, like slavery and whips and death. In our warped minds, we equate leeks and garlic with filet mignon and cheesecake, and the slavery suddenly seems far less onerous than a little grit between the toes. We look at God’s miracles with a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude.

And then when God brings us to a land that He promised and that we asked to inhabit, we look at it with fear and trembling. Oh, sure, we really could have the filet mignon and cheesecake in this new land, but what if life there is even worse, with grasshopper-squashing giants, than what we left behind? Better to hold back and play it safe than to take the risk.

This leaves us in a horrible position of not being able to enjoy the enormous blessings God has in store for us while longing for a past that was far more horrible than we now want to admit. Obviously, we can’t go back in the past and have what we once had – which we didn’t really have anyway, it just seems like it now – and if we aren’t willing to move forward in boldness and claim the victory God has declared is ours, then we are doomed to wander around in a no-man’s land, unable to enjoy anything.

We have a choice to make. We can wander around the wilderness, unhappy, wishing we had what we never really had, or we can choose to move forward, leaving the leeks and mud bricks and chains in Egypt and pushing forward into the Promised Land where we can enjoy milk and honey (and peanut butter). There will be battles to be fought, but God has promised us victory if we keep our eyes on him. If we look at it realistically and in faith, the Promised Land is obviously far better.

Razing the Old and Raising the New

Caution Suit

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

A few years ago I went to see a client in a small town. When I walked up to his store, I noticed yellow caution tape strung across his front door, partially covering a sign taped to the glass. Thinking perhaps the door didn’t work, I walk around to the back door. Or, where the back door should have been. It wasn’t there because part of the building lay in a heap of rubble.

I walked back to the front and took a closer look at the sign on the door. CONDEMNED, it said, signed by some official. I had expected to sell this guy an ad, not have a brick fall on my head. Which was in danger of happening, apparently, so I quickly removed my bald head as a target area.

A few days later I went to the storeowner’s home. He told me that a support pillar in his store had collapsed, the one that for reasons unknown the builders had decided should carry the entire weight of the building. Fortunately, a beam had caught in the collapse and the main part of the store was saved from instant pulverization, allowing the storeowner to dash in and remove his merchandise before the condemnation sticker was slapped on the window. Now he had to wait for (homophone alert!) the building to be razed and another raised before he could re-establish his store.

The word condemn has several meanings, none of them happy. The word derives from Latin, meaning to cause intense harm. Today it can mean to express extreme disapproval (I condemn his choice to wear stripes with plaids), to sentence a criminal (I condemn you to death by a thousand paper cuts) or, as in the above example, to declare unfit for use or service (I condemn this building from future use by anyone wishing to remain alive). Condemnation, of course, is the act of condemning.

So living under condemnation is not a pleasant experience. But Romans 8:1 states unequivocally that we are no longer under any condemnation. Yay! Great news. But why?

Paul starts chapter 8 (although when he wrote it, it was just the start of a new paragraph in the middle of a letter that would have required lots of extra postage) by saying, “There is therefore….” Whenever you see therefore, you have to ask, what is it there for? It usually refers to what has been said immediately before.

Paging back to chapter 7, we can see that Paul was in a quandary. He wanted to do what was right, to obey the spirit of God, but his flesh kept trying to obey the law of sin. In 7:24 Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

No master of the dramatic pause, Paul immediately tells us the answer in the next verse – God, through Jesus Christ, will deliver him. That is the therefore he refers to in 8:1 – because Jesus delivered us from the body of death, there is no condemnation.

Paul explains this further in the next few verses, telling us that because of Jesus it is not us, but sin in the flesh, that is condemned. People who are no longer living under the flesh – those who have the Spirit of God – are no longer condemned. The same God who raised Christ has also given us new life (8:9-11).

My guess is that Paul used condemnation or condemn in the context of a criminal sentence. After all, as sinners, we should have been sentenced to death (by something even worse than a thousand paper cuts). But I don’t think it’s wrong to look at this condemnation in relationship to my client’s building. It was a death trap that was threatening to literally hit me like a ton of bricks. It was unfit for use or service.

Like that building, our old sinful flesh was unfit for use or service for God. We had become a death trap, threatening to collapse within ourselves at the slightest strong breeze of temptation. We could cause intense harm to ourselves and to others around us. We should have been wrapped in yards of yellow caution tape.

But when we accepted Christ as savior, God razed the sinful flesh and in its place raised a spiritual dwelling, one that is completely sound and fit, no longer a threat to collapse or cause harm, but one that is ready for His use and service.

Whichever definition we choose for condemn – a death sentence or unfit for service – the good news remains the same: We are no longer under condemnation. We don’t have to hang our heads in shame for what we’ve done in the past, we don’t have to feel inadequate when we see our own weaknesses, we don’t have to sit on the sidelines wondering if God could ever use us for his kingdom work. We are not condemned!

That doesn’t mean we’re perfect – we won’t be this side of heaven. But God’s Spirit who dwells in us now is perfect. He has built a new building through His spirit that He can now put into service.

This is a critical thing for Christians to understand if we are to be of service to God. At the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote, “Marley was dead to begin with…This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” Likewise, we must understand that we are no longer under condemnation or nothing wonderful will come of our story.