January 21, 2008

Blue Eyes Like Janey's

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Monday Morning Message - Life Is Precious

The good news is that the abortion rate in the U.S. is slowly declining. Consider the following statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood.

  • 1990 - approximately 1.6 million babies were aborted (that's 4300 every day - almost twice the population of my fair village).
  • 2000 - approximately 1.3 million babies were aborted.
  • 2005 - approximately 1.2 million babies were aborted.
    • This number translates into...
      • 100,000 each month.
      • 3333 each day.
      • 138 each hour.
      • 2 each minute.

The news is good in that the number of abortions is declining but it is far from glorious good news. In the time it takes us to brush our teeth properly (according to the ADA guidelines) four unborn children will have lost their lives. What of these unborn lives? Should they have a voice? Are those "masses of cells" in a womans womb anything more than biological garbage? Does Scripture give any information that is useful to us? To each of these questions I believe the answer is a resounding "Yes".

In Psalm 139:13-16 David speaking to God says,

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I than you, High God - you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration - what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.
(The Message)

The overwhelming and inescapable teaching from Scripture is that life is precious to God. From beginning to end this message never changes. What is startling and informative for this discussion is that even pre-born life is precious to God. God tells Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you." (Jeremiah 1:5). Isaiah 44:24 speaks of the "redeemer who formed you in the womb."

It is interesting to note that not even a trained geneticist can tell the difference between the DNA of an unborn child and the DNA of a fully grown human being. All the stuff of life is present from the moment of conception. Even taking the traditional/clinical definition of life, a heartbeat and brain activity (when you don't have these they declare you to be dead), an unborn child has a heartbeat at 21 days and brain activity is detected at 40 days. Most women don't even discover they are pregnant until this time! If we define life outside the womb as having a heartbeat and brain activity should we not define it similarly inside the womb?

One writer puts it this way, "Whatever you wish to call the result of human conception, it is human: it is not animal, it is not plant, it is not mineral. If it is just “matter,” it is human matter. If it is just “tissue,” it is human tissue. It has never existed before, it will never exist again. It is undeniably distinct, irrepeatable, independent, living human life."

It is my firmly held conviction that this life, which is precious to God and which should be precious to us, must be protected. According to the 1996 world almanac 27% of pregnancies worldwide end in abortion. That is 1 out of every 4. I readily acknowledge that this number is skewed by the government mandated 1 child per family law of China but this will reap it's own harvest of social problems in the coming decades as increasing numbers of men find decreasing numbers of women as boy children are valued more than girl children.

There are various arguments raised in favor of abortion such as for victims of rape or in cases of fetal abnormalities or the health of the mother is compromised by a pregnancy. Again, the Guttmacher Institute's findings are instructive.

  • Less than 1% of abortions are for victims of rape.
  • Less than 1% of abortions are for fetal abnormalities.
  • 4% of abortions are Dr. recommended because the health of the woman would worsen if the pregnancy was carried to term.
  • 96% of abortions are, to some degree, for convenience.
"Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute." Proverbs 31:8 If ever there was a group unable to speak for themselves it is the unborn.

January 14, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Pruned

After a hiatus during the holiday season (Thanksgiving - Christmas - New Year) the MMM is returning. Looking forward to catching up with many of you soon.

It looked good, was a haven for birds, and was, to all outward appearances, thriving but it wasn't fulfilling it's purpose. The plum tree we planted 4 years ago needed pruning, badly. Armed with hand snips, lopping shears, and a small bow saw I set about to change this little fruit tree's future. Little did I know I was the one about to be pruned.

Jesus stated, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:1-2)

This particular tree was full of redundant growth which literally was sucking the life out of it. As a happily overgrown tree it would have carried on famously without any attention from me. I'm sure this year would have seen it greener and more grand in stature than ever before. However, a plum tree is not supposed to "look good," it's supposed to bear plums. I know the work I did on that little plum tree has caused stress. Little sprouts were removed, parallel limbs were cut, weak wood was excised, a superfluous trunk was ousted. At the end of the process I looked with some astonishment on the amount of wood I had removed from this little tree. It should make a nice little fire soon.

Even as I took sharpened tools to the wood of this tree I sensed the Lord taking the sharpened tools of His Word and Spirit to the wood of my soul. I too am full of redundant growth which sucks the life out of me. I too would have carried on happily without any attention from the vinedresser. However, as C.S. Lewis has famously stated, "[God] has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense." (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain) He loves me too much to let me run wild and not fulfill my purpose. Sure it is painful when He begins stripping away the things I think are important but because of His love for me and His desire to see me bear much fruit He prunes away those things which are unfruitful.

I was stunned by the intimacy of the act of pruning. It is an intensely personal engagement. It's not something that can be done from a distance. I would literally trace each limb examining and evaluating as I went. Likewise the Father intimately, personally examines our lives. Examining and evaluating every facet. He knows us well. The only difference between the plum tree and me is the plum tree had no say in what I cut away. Very often God waits for us to surrender those areas of life robbing activity. He works with us.

But not always. There are times of intense stress or pain that come into our lives uninvited and unexpected. We often view these as cruel twists of fate but we can recognize them as God's hand at work in our lives, personally pruning away unnecessary or obtrusive involvement. I assure you, I didn't savage that little plum tree because I was angry with it or capricious about it's fate. No, I was intimately involved with it because I know what it is capable of becoming. In it's overgrown existence it would never achieve it's potential or purpose. Likewise, God knows and is involved to see me fulfill that for which I was designed. Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God told His people who were in the midst of a severe pruning, "I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)

As I pruned that little plum tree I discovered that an un-pruned life is an unproductive life. Extraneous growth may look good but it serves no purpose. This is a deadly trap in a society obsessed with looking good. I also recognized that an un-pruned life is a neglected life. It's easy to just keep rolling along without ever really thinking about what belongs and what doesn't. God loves me too much to leave me that way. He knows what my life is capable of becoming. He's even got plans for me! His pruning work may be painful but it is purposeful and always loving.

How about your life? Got anything that needs pruning?

January 8, 2008

The Man With No Hope

I was in a convenience store the other day getting my wife's coffee (hers is green, comes in a 20 oz. bottle, and is made by Pepsi) and as I was standing in line to check out I overheard the following conversation between a gentleman in line and the cashier.

"Happy New Year!"

"Happy New Year to you too. Yours has got to be better than mine."

"Why do you say that?" (as she scans the the things he is purchasing)

"I just found out I have cancer."

"I'm so sorry to hear that. What are you going to do?"

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do, I'm gonna' party my ass off." (pays for his items and walks out the door)

I groaned inwardly for this gentleman and silently lifted a prayer for him. I deal regularly with sickness and death. Often it is up close and personal as I sit in hospital waiting rooms with family or as I stand by bedsides with hospice nurses hovering nearby. However, most often I am alongside members of my church family; people who have hope. Hearing this man's desperate declaration reminded me that many in this world live without hope.

I wonder about this man who is now "partying his ass off". I wonder how he will deal with his hopelessness when he finds moments of sobriety. I wonder how he will face the reality of his situation in those mornings when he finds himself alone and still facing the specter of death. I wonder what happens when the dull ache of emptiness presses through the haze of alcohol or drugs.

Dallas Willard accurately observes that "loneliness is loose upon the landscape. In haunts the penthouse and the rectory, the executive suite and the millionaire's mansion, as well as the barren apartment, the assembly line, the cocktail bar and the city streets. It is the leprosy of the modern world." (from Hearing God, emphasis added)

"So remember your Creator while you are still young, before those dismal days and years come when you will say, " I don't enjoy life." That is when the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars will grow dim for you, and the rain clouds will never pass away. Then your arms, that have protected you, will tremble, and your legs, now strong, will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to chew your food, and your eyes too dim to see clearly. Your ears will be deaf to the noise of the street. You will barely be able to hear the mill as is grinds or music as it plays, but even the song of a bird will wake you from sleep. You will be afraid of high places, and walking will be dangerous. You hair will turn white; you will hardly be able to drag yourself along,and all desire will be gone.

We are going to our final resting place, and then there will be mourning in the streets. The silver chain will snap, and the golden lamp will fall and break; the rope at the well will break, and the water jar will be shattered. Our bodies will return to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life will go back to God, who gave it to us. Vanity, vanity, says the preacher, all is vanity.

After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God and obey his commands, for this is the whole duty of man."

(Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 and 13 GNB)

January 2, 2008

Happy New Year

During the Christmas celebration I took a break from all things electronic in order to focus on all things relational. Time with family and friends has been sweet and difficult. I have also encountered some most unusual people along the way - the cat food man, Rog the banjo making janitor, and a lady who drives for a living. I am now wondering who I'll meet next...

My first moments back in the office opened the never ending doors of shepherding opportunity. A lady dealing with terminal health issues but doesn't want anyone (including her pastor) to know about it (but I do know, what now?), another lady whose life is a general mess, a young man who is not a believer but whose family is praying for him fervently, sermons to prepare, committees to meet with, and plans to make for the year. It sounds burdensome but I have found that "His yoke is easy and His burden is light."

Another cup of coffee, a few moments of prayer, a couple of visits to make, and a world of wonder to experience as I follow the one who has called me.