Abortion is Wrong…but What About…?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

 

“I would never get an abortion myself because I couldn’t do it. But I can’t judge what another woman decides to do.”

As I listened to a brief YouTube interview that a celebrity political conservative had with a UCLA student, I remembered myself in college, touting a similar message. When I was younger, I agreed with the woman in the video that I wouldn’t want to have an abortion. In my logic, abortion was ending the life of a child in its mother’s womb, since I believed that the fetus was a viable human life. But I wasn’t ready to account for abortion as murder and felt scared to make the judgment call on another woman’s case, especially since I didn’t know her circumstances. I felt like I did not have enough information, whether medically, scientifically, or socially to make that call.

Maybe you feel like this reasoning reflects your thinking, or maybe you have taken the time to develop a politically or scientifically-informed philosophy on the issue. I have appreciated listening to pro-life arguments, such as those provided by LiveAction, PragerU, and Living Waters, that have helped me to consider perspectives from both the political and medical views. However, for the Christian, the abortion debate needs to go beyond purely scientific or political realms. Our argument regarding the terror of abortion must be informed by theological truths – that is, our understanding of who God is and of His creation, as we see in Scripture. Over the years, as I’ve learned more about the value and sanctity of life, as well as grown in my understanding of the condition of the human heart, I see that Scripture is clear about abortion: it is an act of murder, the taking of innocent and voiceless life.

But why can someone say this with such firm conviction? How do we discuss with others the realities of our society, the reasons women give for being pro-choice, the incidences of rape and incest, and even the situations where a mother’s pregnancy has put her life at risk? I believe one of the main reasons we have found ourselves confused or unsure when we encounter these questions is because we have allowed our thinking of self-love and preservation to be exalted above the will and ways of God. In a culture where commercials, memes, jokes, and even cute artwork to place on your desk encourages the messages to think of yourself, pursue what you want, care for yourself, and put yourself first, or you can’t help anyone else, we have come to bow down at the shrine of self-centeredness. Even as women who profess to worship the Creator, we can subconsciously allow those little lies of worshiping self above God to enter in. This posture puts us in a weak position to fight the lies of the world, and we see an example of it with the confused opinions many in the American church have on abortion. Many women feel unprepared to respond to what some might call gray-area scenarios involving unprepared teen mothers, babies who are diagnosed with a genetic disease in the womb, and impregnation by rape. When we think about these situations, we feel unsure because the life of the woman has been sold to us as a higher priority than the life of the child. Yet, Scripture informs our thinking about these scenarios, no matter how dire they are, and it is best to have a foundational understanding of God’s creation and sovereignty over it in order to address these questions and other questions biblically, gracefully, and consistently.

God as Creator

Scripture narrates that we were created by our Creator and that each life He creates has been fashioned intimately and purposefully in His hands. Psalm 139:13 tells of God’s direct care over making each person, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb,” and continues on in verse 15 with, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…”.

In Job 31:13-15, when Job was discussing his servants, who in society would have been considered lesser-persons, “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant when they brought a complaint against me, what then shall I do when God rises up? When He makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? Did not He who made me in the womb make him? And did not One fashion us in the womb?” The manservant is created by God just as his master Job is, and so Job recognizes that both he and his workers share the same value.

Both passages explain that God fashions, knits, and creates each human life with intrinsic value, which is not dependent on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gestational age, or life circumstances. Furthermore, they affirm what we are taught in Genesis 3, with the creation of the first man and woman. Both Adam and Eve were made in God’s image, the only creatures of creation to be given such a fashioning, and are subject to God.

From Scripture, we can conclude that every pregnancy is a life that is formed intentionally and intimately by God and that he or she is a person who is made in His image, who is known even before biological conception. Therefore, even from the first trimester, though this little life in the womb might not yet exhibit personality traits, he or she has personhood. Though he or she cannot contribute to the family or society in the womb, this person still has immeasurable value. And even though we may know nothing of a child during gestation, this little person is of the same made-in-God’s-image worth as a fully grown adult.

God is Sovereign

God is the Author of life, and therefore He rules over it. As Psalm 139 continues in verse 16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The Lord ordains and knows of all that has and will happen in our days, even before we are conceived. His plan for His kingdom here on earth and in heaven includes all of mankind and will work in the best interest of the believer.  We cannot have a proper view of God and His care for us in our circumstances without the doctrine of divine sovereignty. As is taught by the Institute of Biblical Counseling and Discipleship, “[Sovereignty] provides hope that [God’s] in charge and you are not a victim of circumstance. When we talk about abuse, it can be a challenging doctrine to grapple with… ultimately God is in charge of whatever happens to you even if you don’t like it. And it’s not yours to be angry with God, but to trust Him in His sovereignty to ultimately work all things together for good even though right now it doesn’t seem so good.” Scripture supports this definition of sovereignty, as we see that the Lord governs both the good and the calamity that His people and the world experience (Job 2:10, Ecclesiastes 7:14), and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

Considering pregnancy in view of God’s sovereignty, we can see that in all circumstances, God is in full control of what takes place. There is no instance in which God is not aware of a woman or child’s situation, experience, pain, health, difficulty, trial, need, or fear. And though sin has marred even our physical beings, God is glorified as His works are displayed through children with physical or cognitive disabilities.  Furthermore, it is He who closes and opens the mother’s womb, and He who provides for and sustains the life of every living thing (1 Samuel 1, Matthew 6:32, Job 12:10).

What Does This Mean?

How do these truths inform, or even change our philosophies about abortion? Just like Mary in Luke 1 who understood she was a servant of the Lord, Christian women must know that the greatest joy and freedom is not to live for themselves, but to live in obedience to God and to honor His ways.  If we understand that God is sovereign over all pregnancies, then we can have confidence that He sees the suffering of the woman who was brutally raped, the fear of the family who cannot conceive how they can afford another child, the need of the young teenager who hasn’t even finished high school, the concern of the middle-aged mother who is told her child tested positive for a genetic disorder, the angst of the twenty-something-year-old working wife who wasn’t planning on having a family just yet, and the anguish of a woman who is battling cancer and is told she should have an abortion immediately in order to prevent delaying her treatment.  

Yet in each of those cases, and all others, God also sees each child in the womb. He knows each baby by name, and carefully fashions them for His glory and purposes. Though they are being nurtured and developed within her body, the baby is a separate being and body, a creation of the same supreme and full value of his or her mother. What every carrying mother needs is not simply the hope that it will all turn out alright or even the confidence that a person will provide exactly what she thinks she needs. She also does not need to be told the lie that her child is not a human yet, to falsely believe that aborting this child will restore her freedom, or to be convinced that preserving the child’s life will steal her joy. The life of any woman will include suffering, and our aim in counseling one another in the church and outside of it should not be to look to unbiblical solutions as we look ahead at potential or imminent difficulties, but rather point her to the One source of confident hope.

What these women and mothers need is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the true hope that the One who died for them because He loves them has already paid for their greatest need, and will never forsake them. He can be trusted and will address every earthly need according to His will, and not abandon them in their dire situations. God sees their anguish, just as He saw Hagar’s in Genesis 21, and the little life developing inside of them is a gift from God, not an unfortunate accident nor a mere consequence of circumstance. God will show His power through their suffering, and provide grace for their trial. And though the ending may not be as planned, He can be trusted that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The church can serve as the hands and feet of Christ to bring the gospel of peace to women who are considering abortions, or even struggling to worship God in the midst of their pregnancy. Let us seek God in prayer, asking Him to lead us to serve the women who are immediately around us and share of the hope we have in our Savior and the truth that they need to hear in their circumstance. Even if we don’t live near a pregnancy crisis center, there are people in all of our lives who are hard of heart, and whose thinking has given way to selfish living and pride against the ways of God. We are called to share the gospel with them, teach them of the Creator and His love for each life. We can consider how we might use our time and home to care for those women who might be in need, donate to a crisis pregnancy center near us, learn the implications of “reproductive health” legislation and exercise our right to vote, examine our own hearts towards children and their value, and above all, pray for the for many to be convicted and repentant. As we trust our Creator God and sovereign Lord we will be well equipped to point women considering abortion to do the same!

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Learning to Love the Hard-to-Love Person

The winter holiday season is just about over, and it is very likely that, in these past few months, you interacted with a fellow neighbor, member of your church, coworker, guest, or family relative that you consider…er…um…should we say, disagreeable.

We all have that first person who comes to mind when we think of someone who is complicated, difficult to be around, too critical, or just rubs us the wrong way. And maybe for you and your situation, there is a whole list of people who you think could be labeled as dampers for your holidays, or even your life.

In all reality, their very presence may well leave little room for you to enjoy your day. A challenging person can be difficult to love, and time around them can turn a simple and sweet moment into a tense or emotional event. We all like to be around people who make us feel good: those who are fun-spirited and light up the room with their sense of humor and joy, those who encourage us to look to Christ for hope and don’t judge our actions or words too quickly, and those who are slow to speak and patient to react in anxious situations. But in spite of the reality of difficult people, we are called by Christ to always humbly examine our own hearts, even as we respond to those trying relational moments.

And God is gracious to reveal our own sin when we are confronted with that of others. No person exhibits the fruit of the Spirit wholly and consistently in every situation because we are at constant war with our flesh. Often, in our sin, we choose to live our lives in the flesh and ignore the Helper that God has provided us through His Spirit to walk by faith in His ways (Galatians 2:20). This reality has caused me to evaluate my own fleshly temperaments, responses to stressful situations, and various attitudes I carry in life, according to the fruit we see that is of the Holy Spirit. It has been humbling to think that, despite these manifestations of my sin, there are still those that care deeply for me, guide me patiently, and are willing to point out my sin when I am too proud to acknowledge it. It is even more humbling to know that God, in his perfect holiness, is still so patient with His people – His loving-kindness and steadfast mercies we do not deserve. And He invites us to draw near, repent of our sins, and be renewed in Christ so that we no longer act according to our flesh (Galatians 5:16).

With this mindset, how should we respond to those who we feel are challenging to love? Is it really right to push away people who we might consider to be too difficult, troublesome, or annoying? Ask yourselves these questions:

  • Am I consistently praying for this person and the things about them that are difficult for me?
  • If they are are not a Christian, have I considered their need for salvation? Who in their life is able and willing to share the gospel with them and model the works of God’s grace to them?
  • If they are a Christian, have I prayed for the Lord to sanctify them in their words and actions through His sanctifying grace, and asked Him for opportunities to graciously and lovingly express my concerns?

A prayer you might pray to grow in your love for someone is: Lord, please help me to examine my own heart before your truth. Help me to love this person that is made in your image, not because I can find a reason to love them, but because you already do love them, and desire for them to know more of you. If it is your will, please teach them to trust in Christ alone, to walk in your ways, and to honor you in all things.

Let’s kneel before the Lord and ask for help to do the very thing that seems impossible at times for us to do: to love people we feel are unlovable. After all, our great God is the perfect expert on this, for He loved us though we were once His enemies. He gave His Son over to become sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God, His children, and His beloved. Let us trust in Him for this, since He can certainly teach us, sanctify us, and move us to love as He does.


1 John 4:7-12

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

🎶 Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus 🎶

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

One of the most distinct aspects of the Christmas holiday is that wherever you go, you will hear familiar jingles and carols playing. Though some are less enthused with the overflow of Christmas music that seems to take over our malls, car radios, and restaurants starting essentially November 1, I am always so excited to hear a song that reminds me about Christmas, and even happier if it reminds me of the truth to reflect on this holiday.

I especially love Christmas hymns because I have begun to notice the rich poetic praise found in them. I did not grow up in church, but I do remember singing hymns that we all know so well, such as, “Joy to the World,” and, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” So, it’s now funny to me to look back and wonder, how in the world did I not learn something about Christ from these hymns? How did the true story of Christmas, of the Savior of the world coming to this earth in the form of a baby, pass me by for so many years?

I think one of the reasons was just that, that the story and songs of Christmas were well-known recounts of a baby, and I had never considered them deeply. I never understood the rich allusions to God’s glory; the peace that Christ brings through reconciling us with God through His life, death, resurrection, and reign; nor the joy that we are to find in Christ. But by God’s grace, now as a believer and follower of Jesus, I find myself hearing and learning so much truth in the Advent hymns, truth that is found in scripture, and that reminds me of who God is, what He has done, and what the purpose of this life should be!

My favorite Christmas hymn for 2018 has been “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” It’s not as well known, but it was written by Charles Wesley who also authored “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Wesley was an English minister in the 1700s, and committed much of his life to proclaiming the truth of Christ through poetic praise, or hymns. He wrote approximately 6,500 hymns in his lifetime, and published “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” in “Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord.” Today, many evangelical churches throughout the world sing or have sung one or more of Wesley’s hymns, and much of his work has shaped the theology of the modern church.

In the first verse, we sing of anticipating the birth of our Savior, and profess that He was born to set His people free. Consider what the Lord has set His people free from; and the next line tells us: from our fears and sins. Christ came to set us free from the slavery we had to sin (John 8:34-36), and from the fear of being condemned for our sins. We are now free because of the gift of God in Christ, and by trusting in Christ, God has removed condemnation from us (Romans 8:1-2). This reminds me of the deep, powerful love of God, that He would love us so much to send His Son to die for us. And in the last two lines in the first verse share of the truth that Christ is the satisfying Savior to all throughout the earth; moreover, that His salvation is the joy that we celebrate this Christmas season!

In the final verse, I love to reflect on the last two lines, “By thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.” Jesus’ sufficient merit tells of His perfect life here on earth – from His birth, He lived righteously, honored God, and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. He earned what none of us never could – a righteous standing before God because He is righteous in deed, spirit, and mind (Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Corinthians 5:21). When He died, He suffered for our sins. When He rose from the dead, He defeated the dreaded consequence of sin – death. And we see the love of God in that when we confess our need for Him and His salvation, He graciously and joyfully imparts His righteousness to us and we are forgiven. So, now, by the grace and power of Jesus, we will be sustained to the end and raised to His glorious throne. One day soon, come, thou long-expected Jesus.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us,

Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,

Hope of all the earth Thou art;

Dear desire of every nation,

Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,Born a child and yet a King,

Born to reign in us forever,

Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit

Rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit,

Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

By Thine all sufficient merit,Raise us to Thy glorious throne

Adopted as Sons: Thinking of the Fatherless on Father’s Day

Growing up, Father’s day wasn’t really a time of celebration for me. My parents’ marriage fell apart as my mom was pregnant with me, they divorced, and my mom raised my sisters and me on her own. As the years passed, my routine for the holiday was to simply consider it a second Mother’s day and to make my mom another card or write her a note. I had always considered myself to be a girl without a father, as my dad had moved on, and my mom never remarried.

My father passed away when I was sixteen, and the probability of one day reconciling our relationship fell from slim to zero. It was difficult, but in an existential way; my life looked every bit the same practically, but the weight of being without a father felt heavier. I carried the embittering burden of believing that he had never cared for me to be his daughter, and now there was no way I could refute it.

I moved along in life, letting each year that passed serve as a compacted wall covering the hurt and even the shame of fatherlessness. It was not until God revealed the truth of the gospel to me, though, that I even began to consider everything in my life in light of God’s sovereignty. I began to ask, could it be that God would allow for a father to not want his children or family? What did salvation have to do with a human’s love for another, and especially a father’s love for his daughter?

I don’t have the perfect answer to all my questions yet, but in my prayers, I have asked God by faith to give me an understanding of how great His love and care are for the fatherless. Psalm 68:5 calls God, “A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.” Our Father in heaven looks upon those in need with special care, and calls for His church to do the same (James 1:27). But we also see the Father heart of God in His adoption of all who believe in Jesus Christ; whether or not you have a good relationship with your earthly father, there are truths about your relationship to your Heavenly Father. Paul explains to the church of Galatia that Jesus came to redeem us, who were under the law, and Galatians 4:1-7 reads,

“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Paul shows us that our adoption is both legal and costly, but secure. Our adoption as children means that we have the standing of sons of God, and now fully belong to God’s family. Furthermore, the Christian’s identity as a child of God is one that exists for God’s glory, was predestined by God, and is sealed by the Holy Spirit.

God calls you His child for His glory

I am thankful for God’s great love for us, and for the gift of being able to cry out to Him, “Abba, Father.” It is a blessing to depend on our faithful God, who is the Creator and the Holy One; however, we must not take this idea lightly and forget that it is for God’s glory, and not simply our own, that He bestowed such an inheritance on us. In Romans 8:16-17, Paul explains that “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” The idea that God is glorified in calling those who have rebelled against Him His children awes me. In considering this truth, we see more clearly His great kindness and vast love; however, we cannot comprehend these realities apart from His mercy and justice. The price for our adoption was not cheap because our God is a holy God who cannot look upon sin, and therefore, cannot casually accept us as we are. Though we like to consider ourselves worthy of being loved and made His children, we only bring forth our own sin and rebellion to God and are deserving of His wrath. Jesus Christ is the Messiah who died in our place and rose to life again, paying the price for our sins, clearing our guilty stains, and justifying us through His righteousness so that we might stand worthy before the Father. But when we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and we repent of our sin, we come to God not because of ourselves, but because of His great kindness. We see that we claim no merit to His love, and yet He willingly gives it to us. God not only forgives us through Christ, which is already so much more than we deserve, but He also adopts us as His own, provides for us, and works in us so that we would walk as His children.

God chose those who are His from the beginning of time

God’s care for those He calls His children was premeditated. Just as a loving father anticipates the arrival of his children from the moment of conception and after 9 months in the womb, Scripture teaches us that God chose us long before we came into existence. Ephesians 1 reads, “In love [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” This promise makes known to us the certainty of God’s salvation and adoption. At no time will we be sent back from God, and we can never be separated from His love (Romans 8:39). Our election is based on Him and His faithfulness to His word, and not our own (2 Timothy 2:13). In light of the sin-stained fickleness of human love, we may look upon God erroneously, fearful that His love might mirror that of our own father’s, or even our own. But I challenge you to believe in God’s word and pray to Him by faith, that you would have the assurance of your salvation and adoption.

The Holy Spirit seals our adoption as Sons

So the Father chooses us according to His perfect will, the Son sacrificed Himself for and shares His inheritance with us, and the Spirit seals our adoption by leading us and bearing witness that we are God’s children (Romans 8:14-16). What a beautiful act of love in which we see the work of the triune God that sustains us in every part of God’s plan. And we cry out “Abba, Father,” just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane because the Holy Spirit moves us to depend fully on our Heavenly Father, just as Christ did. Whereas before professing and following Christ you would look to yourself or other idols for wisdom, power, and joy, you are now led to see how much more you need the Lord for what once seemed to be simple choices and pursuits. The Spirit compels the believer to act, worship, pray, and even cry out to the One in whom He loves and trusts for all things. You may know that God is your Father and that you are His adopted child, but do you experience in your heart the dependence, comfort, peace, trust, and expectancy that your Father will act according to His will and for your good? Do you turn to Him as you would have your own parents when you were a child? Let us look to God as our provider and leader, by the power of the Holy Spirit; He is the one who knows what is best for us, what we need, and what will bring glory to His name.

Even though for years I did not know how to celebrate Father’s day, I now rejoice with others on this special day. It is a blessing to look around and see the many men who strive to submit themselves to the Lord and walk in His ways. Their desire is God, to know Him, love Him, and glorify Him in every area of their lives, which can include fatherhood. I am thankful for their example and blessing to those like me, but because they are still subject to their sinful flesh, they may, and probably do fall short of what is required of them. So on Father’s day, I also rejoice in the Lord, who redeems the lives of those who come to Him in repentance and truth. And I celebrate God’s perfect love for the all who believe, including the fatherless, which is a secure love that cannot disappoint nor fail.

How do I rest in Christ?

Friday morning I jolted awake, my mind subconsciously aware that the sun had risen and I wasn’t out of bed. I quickly turned over and grabbed my phone: 6:22 am. It was your standard flustered morning scene: I threw off the covers, ran to the bathroom to get ready, dressed, and out the door at just about 7am. I habitually wake up at 5:30 am, with the help of my iPhone foghorn alarm, but I suppose, too tired the night before, I simply forgot to set it for the next morning.

As I was driving down the 10 west, I was grateful for the extra near-hour of sleep I had gotten, and that, by God’s grace, I had woken up with enough time to be ready for work. I gave thanks to the Lord for physical rest, since I had been disciplining myself to get more sleep over the past few months. My heart was also full of gratitude because being physically tired had made me acutely aware of my need for spiritual rest, something I had prayed for as I studied a familiar invitation from Christ in the New Testament. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus, preaching to the crowds of the disciples’ cities, declares, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This invitation from the Lord Jesus is comforting but almost surreal. His promise that we will find rest for our souls can easily be misinterpreted as comparable to well-intended words from a friend that have no bearing on our real lives. Though we might not want to admit it, we can often misunderstand God’s word this way, as an encouraging phrase or cheer to get us through a hard time, while missing the character and nature of the One we should long to know and love through Scripture. I have found that I need to consider the theological implications of each word God providentially includes in Scripture, especially with verses that might be too familiar to me. As I have reiterated this passage to myself over the past few months and prayerfully contemplated if I believe that true rest is to be found in Christ by faith, a few key things have stood out to me based on how He is described in this passage:

  • Jesus will give you rest – To trust in Christ is to be at rest, true rest. There is no need to be anxious, for He sovereignly supplies for all things (Philippians 4, Matthew 6). Salvation is purchased with the price of His blood, and He gives it to us as a free gift (Romans 3). The Lord provides us every spiritual blessing to walk rightly in the Spirit, and to be holy and blameless before God (Ephesians 1, Galatians 5). What a joy to no longer fear that our works are insufficient for God, because they are. Only the work of Christ on the Cross can save, because His death and resurrection atones for our sins, and raises us up to new life in Christ, in order that we might honor God.
  • Jesus is gentle – The Lord Jesus is a kind and gentle teacher. He is patient and longsuffering, knowing that our minds need to be renewed from the infiltration of our sin. Though He disciplines us, Jesus is never excessive or forceful like a human parent might be, but knows how to instruct each person accordingly. We do not need to be afraid of Him.
  • Jesus is lowly in heart – The Lord is humble, having condescended Himself to take on human flesh and walk this earth that He might know every temptation and yet live a perfect life unto the Father. He is the great High Priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4).  Understanding Him in this way helps us to see that His teachings are empathetic, applicable and attainable – we are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), and He provides the strength and grace to walk accordingly.
  • Jesus’ yoke is easy, and His burden is light – He further reminds us that His yoke, or His Lordship and instruction[1], are simple, manageable, and embody rest, unlike the choking rule of sin and the law, and the heavy burden of false self-righteousness in our lives.

Three Specific Actions:

We are tempted to passively read Jesus’ words of invitation without considering whether we are going to respond to them or not. But we cannot be passive nor choose to ignore His commands just because we don’t want to take up the offer – this is a lack of faith that Christ is who He says He is, and that we are self-sufficient. As I’ve meditated on this scripture, I’ve focused on these points as imperatives or urgent calls-to-action, knowing that by doing these things I will find true rest from the fear of finding myself walking in flesh and in sin.

  • Come to me – I must turn from whatever busy work I am doing or thinking about, and purposefully go to Jesus. I do this in prayer and reading the Word, mostly, but it can also include listening to and singing praise hymns. But the key action is to go (or come) to the Lord; He is my authority, my God, and my Savior, and I go to Him constantly in need, knowing that I am invited to be before Him.
  • Take My yoke – Similar to the call in Luke 9:23 to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ, the Lord has greater things to offer me than what the world has, but there is still a cost. We must, by faith, turn from our previous master, sin and Satan, and believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior. Matthew 11:28 also emphasizes that those who come to Christ are weary and heavy laden and He offers them to be under His submission.
  • Learn from Me – after submitting yourself to the Lordship of Christ, He calls you to learn from Him. It is a beautiful reality that we can learn directly from Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, and that He desires to teach us to depend on Him and follow His ways. But notice how He didn’t say we can just learn about Him. Jesus specifically said to learn from Him, and this requires faith, relationship, trust, and humility.

There is still much more to learn from Christ as I study this passage, such as the humility required to learn. But I treasure taking my time with this passage, studying the reference verses to gain a better understanding, and asking the Lord to teach me that I might know His gentleness as I learn from Him in this season. If this is a time that feels non-stop and rushed, exhausting and without end, consider the words of Christ. Not only are you physically tired, but you might even be running dry spiritually. Remember this invitation from our Lord, and do not reject it, but fight your flesh to bring yourself before Him as one who needs Him. Only there will you find true rest for your soul.


[1] MacArthur, John. Grace to You Ministries, Sermon 2289.

 

We Can’t Love Jesus Without Loving the Church

Last week, I shared with my mom that I didn’t go to church while I was in college, even though I became a Christian in my second year. “No way. Really? You?” Her incredulity made sense since, by God’s grace, I now make every effort to not only be at church, but also to not miss. Yet I remember the things I used to say when other believers would invite me to Trinity Baptist, Church on the Rock, or other church congregations near campus. “I’m going to pray and read my Bible in the library by myself today, so no thank you,” or, “I’m not sure I’m ready to go there this week, but I have visited a few times.” Sometimes, I would sit in my room, hungry, until about 10 am when I knew that I wouldn’t run into any of the Christians headed to church in the dining hall. I had no desire to be committed to a congregation of people I felt I didn’t connect with or to spend a perfectly good Sunday morning in a pew when I could listen to a sermon from the comfort of my room. Most importantly, I didn’t realize that Christ saved me to need the church, and for the church to need me.

Sadly, this view is shared by many professing Christians throughout the United States. In 2016, the Barna Group surveyed 1,281 American adults in all 50 states to gather a sample perspective of those who self-identify as Christians but who are de-churched or have not attended a church in the past six months or more. Barna’s findings show that of the de-churched, nearly 90% of individuals had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still relevant to them today, and so they consider themselves to be followers of Christ. If you’re interested in reading about some of their other findings, be sure to check out their study.

Why is it that these individuals have chosen to walk away from the church, even though they still consider themselves to be believing Christians? Barna provided a possible explanation by sharing that some individuals have been hurt by the church, whereas most simply don’t see a meaningful reason for the church’s existence. “While many people in this group may be suffering from church wounds, we also know from past research that Christians who do not attend church say it’s primarily not out of wounding, but because they can find God elsewhere or that church is not personally relevant to them. The critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all.”

This critical message that Barna proposes is addressed in Scripture, and the results of this study support a possible correlation between biblical literacy and church commitment/attendance. To the point quoted above, it seems that many professing Christians who do not attend church are either unaware or unconvinced of how the Bible establishes the relationship God has to the church and gives reasons for our need of it. There are many reasons we see in Scripture for why the church is not only important to the believer, but of supreme importance to God: the church is not a man-made institution, but is divinely ordained and built by God (Ephesians 2:19-22); the church is composed of the people God has chosen to redeem for His Son, to His glory (2 Timothy 1:9 and Hebrews 10:4-9); and the church is so highly valued and precious to God that Jesus Christ was willing to condescend Himself, suffer, and die for her redemption (1 Peter 1:18-19).

I think so often we talk about salvation in a personal way, forgetting that though Christ does die for each individual, he redeems them into the Body of Christ, for His glory and for our good. If God loves the church and has deemed organized worship to be acceptable and pleasing to Him, if that is communicated clearly in His Word, could it be that we as people are wrong in saying that we don’t love the church or want to be a part of it? We need to order ourselves and the working out of our lives according to how God ordained it, and that is through His church, under godly leadership and the teaching of God’s Word, with believers from various walks of life and with mixed levels of spiritual maturity. The church is a means of God’s blessing, protection, preservation, and sanctification for the believer, as well as her edification.

It is easy for me to look back at my time in college with sadness and wonder what a blessing it would have been had I loved the church. Sometimes I question if I was even saved at that time, but I now know that the Holy Spirit was at work in my proud and independent heart, patiently disciplining me and gently teaching me in my youthful thinking. Upon graduating, the Lord provided an opportunity to join a church with some friends near and dear to me, and I am so grateful for all that I learned in that local congregation. And Lord willing, as God’s word is faithfully preached and goes forth, many more de-churched Christians will be convicted of their pride to deny what God has ordained. I hope you will continue to persistently pray for and encourage those around you who profess faith in Christ to also love the church because Christ died for her, God is redeeming her and sanctifying her through the Holy Spirit, and it is for the believer’s good.

Reflections on Racism, Reconciliation, and Redemption

Recently, some popular Christian evangelical leaders that I follow on social media have been highlighting issues of race and ethnic oppression as ones that Christians must take an active stand against. They have indicted Christians as reprehensible, and even in sin, for their lack of activism. Many of these initiatives for justice stem from experiences that individuals have had in their own churches or communities where someone was offended, and even racism was overlooked, which in fact is terrible. But for others, there seems to be a strong emotionally-rooted reasoning to push forth an agenda that doesn’t align with a biblical worldview. Matt Chandler, the pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, is one example of this. He has become a hallmark preacher for the reformed millennial generation and is increasingly outspoken about racial reconciliation on social media and at conferences. Chandler, as well as many others’, teachings have been wading in the waters of social justice, blurring the lines of scriptural truth and social action. More and more, well-respected pastors and teachers are ever-so-slightly manipulating biblical language to support an intersectional social justice ideology. But as Christians, our view of the church and our fellow brothers and sisters cannot be rooted in the philosophies of the world, because if we are saved, we must commit to honoring the words and ways of God above that of the world’s.

The Intersectional Understanding of Race

As we continue our study on the social justice worldview of intersectionality, we will be taking a closer look at how race plays a role in comprehending this ideology. For this, we need to consider a principle of intersectionality – Critical Theory, which argues that our identities as individual people are fundamentally tied to categories such as gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. For example, it is understood that one group, typically of one race, acts as the dominant oppressor because it holds the majority of power, forcing the other group or groups consisting of one race or several different races into a lesser position or role in society.

What does the Bible Say About Oppression and Race Relationships?

We see in both the Old and New Testament that the very people of God were persecuted: the Israelites were enslaved and harshly treated by the Egyptians (Exodus 1:13-14), Haman and King Xerxes desired to wipe out the Israelite people because one Jew offended Haman (Esther), and Emperor Nero burned and murdered professing Christians for sport.  How do we understand God’s definition of justice in light of these realities, when the very people He calls His own were, and still are, cruelly despised and persecuted? We see God’s love for the brokenhearted and provision for the oppressed most clearly in the Cross of Jesus Christ. The perfect picture we have in all of human history of injustice is seen at Calvary, where our Savior died for sins He did not commit. He suffered silently and was persecuted, beaten, mistreated, mocked, and ultimately murdered in our place, and all of this was a part of God’s perfect plan for salvation (Isaiah 53:7). We are to keep the gospel at the forefront of our thinking, understanding every evil and injustice we see in this world in light of what Christ has done, because His sacrifice is sufficient for all people, and all situations. Furthermore, Scripture promises suffering (2 Timothy 3:12), teaches us to endure in suffering (1 Peter 2:19-21), learn from suffering (James 1:2-4), rejoice in suffering because it causes us to look forward to when we see Him in glory, and to not be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12-19). While biblically we are not called to fight for our own justice, we should certainly seek to act justly ourselves and reflect the just nature of God in the context of our local churches.

As Bible-believing Christians, it is critical that we call racism what it is, which is hatred and sin.  All of mankind was made in the image of God, given full dignity and value as image-bearers of the Most High (Genesis 1:27). For those who are in Christ, Paul teaches in Galatians 3 that there is no distinction. “[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The Jews of Jesus’ time did not understand God’s mystery of salvation for the Gentiles. Even Peter foolishly was ashamed of being seen eating with the Gentile believers in the church of Galatia, before Paul rebuked him. We are not to view any brother as inferior because of their ethnic or cultural makeup; if we do, we must be quick to repent and to joyfully obey God’s commands to love our brothers in Christ. Scripture is clear that we are not to show partiality, but instead, that we are to love one another in purity, and the Lord God shows no partiality, but desires that all might come to Him. In Acts 10:34-35, we read, “So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’” Additionally, James commands us to show no favoritism or discrimination among the brethren of the church (James 2:1), and Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:28 further addresses the matter that we are all one in Christ Jesus, so, therefore, there is no distinction in our belonging to Christ.

How Can the Church Handle Race Issues?

As I mentioned previously, it is becoming popular for evangelical leaders in public ministry to call for a corporate repentance from the so-called “white evangelical church” (a category so broad it almost lacks any meaning at all) to repent of their ancestor’s enslaving, racism, and ethnic prejudice, and what they believe is a form of systemic oppression that persists even today. However, it’s very difficult to defend this idea of corporate repentance, particularly on the basis of systemic oppression, because many white brothers and sisters in Christ are not engaging in racist behavior. If we are to corporately repent, when should the repentance for all injustices stop? What of abortion and how we continue, as a nation, to fund the murder of millions of image-bearers each year through our taxes? Or what of other races that are oppressed in smaller communities, like the Hispanic farmers working throughout the western United States who regularly die in the fields or en route from southern borders, with no appeal to their humanity? To stand for certain causes can be good and God-glorifying, but we must be careful to call others to repent of a sin that they did not commit or take no part of today. A lack of social justice action is not the same as a lack of compassion for the plight of the hurting and oppressed. While there is indeed much about our country and the world’s history that is worthy of mourning due to the reality of sin, our present commitment must be to share the Gospel faithfully in our current contexts and to love all in purity, unto the Lord.

Either as the victim or the aggressor, which all Christians are capable of, we must consider biblical mandates for overlooking and addressing sin in the church. And just like any other sin issue, we must remember that we, too, are sinners, and have hurt many in our private (hearts and minds) and public (actions and words) sins. By God’s grace, we can come to Him in repentance and be washed clean. Furthermore, because of this, there are often times when we are able to patiently discern a situation when our brother sins against us, and forgive him in our hearts without needing to approach the matter (Psalm 19:11). But when the situation must be addressed, Scripture teaches that we are to deal with it in private, per the individual, and point out their fault. As brothers and sisters in the body, we cannot harbor bitterness in our hearts towards a brother’s offense, but instead are called to confront our brother in love, or correct him in a spirit of gentleness (Matthew 18:15, Galatians 6:1). This is necessary to restore ourselves to one another, to forgive, and to truly dwell in brotherly love, not just tolerance. A caveat about offenses, though: just because I am offended does not mean that someone has sinned against me. The Pharisees were offended by Christ, yet Jesus never sinned against them. It was their own pride that kept them from understanding the truth of God. We need to guard ourselves against jumping to conclusions, letting our emotions determine right from wrong, and giving in to a group identity mentality when it comes to the church of Christ. If we don’t, we might find ourselves guilty of the very prejudice we are decrying against our brother.

Concluding Thoughts

Race and racism have been heavy topics that have weighed on my and Amanda’s hearts for quite some time, and I am glad to have had the chance to write about it. But, more importantly, my prayer is that we would be encouraged to take hope in the redeeming work of Christ, to exalt the truth of what Scripture teaches us above our own feelings and experiences, and to share the Good News of the Gospel of Christ with every person in every season. When we encounter those who are hurt by racism, or anything else, we are to comfort the afflicted (1 Corinthians 1:3-4), weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), seek justice and defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17), and that God is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). We are called to exalt the truth that all men were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), that racism is treason against a Holy God who made all image-bearers, and to humbly display the grace of God and the unity that we have in Christ with all those who believe, regardless of their heritage, language or nationality. ∇