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A recent article I wrote on the late-term abortion controversy in our culture began trending and subsequently led to a wealth of feedback. Although it’s impossible for me to answer every individual question and critique, I have some follow up thoughts that I think are warranted, particularly as the abortion debate continues to intensify and is sure to be a central issue in the 2020 elections.

As I started writing my response, three separate ones began to emerge. Rather than releasing them separately, I’m going to put them all in one article. Even though some of this may not apply to you, it may help you to read how and what I have to say to people with a different perspective than yours. Thus, I’m organizing this response with a word to three different groups: Those impacted by abortion, those who identify as pro-choice, and those who identify as pro-life.

To Those Impacted by Abortion:

Whenever I speak or write on the issue of abortion, it is never fear of controversy that gives me pause. Instead, I am burdened by the countless people bearing the personal pain, guilt, and shame of abortion, and I know that discussing the topic, perhaps even simply mentioning the word “abortion,” has a way of reopening past wounds.

One person humbly confessed that a decade’s old choice to abort her pregnancy still haunts her to this day and has a way of paralyzing her sincere desire to stand in opposition to abortion. The “who am I to speak” syndrome is very real.

This is an underappreciated dynamic to the public debate, particularly when it comes to the cavalier and callousness with which the debate rages. I cringe at the way our culture disputes this sensitive topic as I imagine silent sufferers personalizing all this incivility. 

To those impacted, I have two the thoughts.

First, God’s ability to forgive is much greater than your ability to sin. With grace deeper than our deepest shame and wider than our furthest wanderings, the gospel of Jesus Christ can handle anything any of us have ever done, and yes, that includes an abortion. If not, I’m in as much trouble as you, because I, like you, have past regrets that haunt me to this day. But God’s grace is so amazing that not only are these forgiven, they are forgotten. That is to say, God chooses not to remember the failures we cannot forget. To him, they are gone. So may they be gone to you as well.

Secondly, once you can accept your abortion as forgiven and forgotten, we need your voice more than any other. Male voices like mine are easily dismissed, female voices who have never struggled with an unwanted pregnancy also hold little weight, but it is impossible to ignore the prophetic stories of those who have gone through the trauma, pain, and shame of an abortion and are willing to speak. I don’t want to bind your conscience as though you must share, but I do want to dispel the lie that your regrets are telling you. You are not disqualified; you are actually uniquely qualified if you so choose to bless this cause with your story.

To Those Who Identify as Pro-Choice:

Not surprisingly, I received a lot of criticism from Pro-choice advocates. Some critiques were very fair and need to be owned (more on that below), but some I would take exception with. However instead of engaging in argumentation that continually gets us nowhere, I would like my response to be less of an argument and more of a plea. A plea to see how well the unborn actually fit your noble cause. There are many things about the progressive movement I admire and have learned from, but the more I learn, the more I am baffled by the lack of advocacy for the unborn. Allow me to explain:

Progressives pride themselves as advocates of science. The problem, however, is the more advanced prenatal science becomes, the more it affirms the humanity of an unborn child. What was once an unseen mystery inside the womb has become a masterpiece of scientific discovery. We know at the very moment of fertilization a separate DNA has been created; we know when the heart starts beating; we know when ears can hear and eyes can see; we know when organs develop and muscles are used; we know when pain is felt, thumbs are sucked, and dreams begins; we know every single part of a child’s development in the womb. The archaic clump of cells and parasitic lump of tissue distinctions have been replaced by crystal clear 4-D images. Add to this the fact that science is increasingly enabling wanted babies to survive premature births, and what we have is mounting scientific evidence that is challenging the way we have historically denied life of the unborn.

Progressives, we have much to thank you for in your advocacy of science. My humble request is that you not become science deniers when it comes to the humanity of the unborn.

Progressives pride themselves as advocates of the helpless. I genuinely admire your passion to advocate for those who have no advocate; to defend the weak against the powerful; to give voice to the voiceless; to do justice for those suffering injustice; indeed, to do exactly what Jesus calls us to do—to care for “the least of these.” More than anything else, this is what my more progressive friends have helped me see as a glaring deficiency in my own faith.

Conservative Evangelicals have a notorious blind spot in our disproportionate emphasis on orthodoxy (right thinking) at the expense of orthopraxy (right actions). Our church recently hosted a conference on Neighbor Love, and I was deeply convicted at the disconnect between my beliefs and actions, and it has led to some significant steps of repentance in my own life. Having said that, I struggle to understand why progressives do not view the unborn as fitting their passion for justice. What group is more vulnerable, voiceless, and the victim of violence than the unborn?

Progressives, you are leading the way in your advocacy for the helpless. My humble request is that you see the unborn as a demographic in desperate need of your advocacy.

Progressives pride themselves as advocates of cultural diversity. They rightly point out the domineering tendency of white western culture to look down upon other cultures as inferior, or even imperialistically impose our culture upon others. You have helped us to see that we need to humbly listen and learn from a diversity of perspectives rather than simply assuming our way is the only way. Diversity is the key to dismantling the echo-chamber temptation within us all. The problem, however, is I’m not sure many progressives want to hear non-Western opinions on abortion, because, quite frankly, other cultures view our practices as barbaric.

Even by Western standards, America is very radical when it comes to abortion policies and practices, with some states rivaling China and North Korea. When you step outside Western culture, abortion is viewed very differently. A compelling example of this took place at a United Nation’s panel discussion on the topic of maternal health in Africa recently. The clip begins with a European woman lamenting colonization by attempting to colonize her maternal beliefs and practices upon female Africans. Oh the irony! The applause of other Westerners is interrupted by a brave speech from an African woman, and I’ll let her words speak for themselves. 

 
Best practices for maternal health in Africa Q& A Session (United Nations Side Event) - YouTube
 

Progressives, thank you for your advocacy for cultural diversity. My humble request is that you listen and learn from views of other cultures on the topic of abortion as well.

Progressives pride themselves as advocates of public opinion over special-interest power. Polling consistently shows the majority of Americans favor at least some form of stricter gun laws; so why does that public opinion not translate into legislation? Progressives’ response: the NRA. Polling has consistently shown that the majority of Americans believe prescription medication costs are way too expensive; so why do prices continue to increase? Progressives’ response: Big Pharma. Polling shows most of Americans see climate change as a pressing issue; so why is it not being addressed with equal urgency? Progressives’ response: Oil and Gas.

I am really not trying to make any statements about any of these issues and certainly don’t want to derail this conversation by adding controversy to an already deeply controversial topic. But with the examples above, I believe I’m representing what progressives see as a deep flaw in the system—special-interest money reigns over public opinion.

But let us then consider public opinion on the topic of abortion. Recent polling is showing a major shift in public opinion toward pro-life positions. For example, consider the recently released Harvard CAPS/Harris poll on the most debated issues facing American voters. Here are some conclusions on the topic of abortion:

  • A majority of Americans (54%) believe Roe v. Wade should be modified or overturned.

  • A great majority of Americans (70%) believe abortion should only be allowed in the case of rape or incest or during the first trimester.

  • Only a small minority (6%) believe abortion should be allowed up until the birth of the child

So how is it possible that a position with such little public support could be so legislatively protected? How is it possible that a bill that only represents 6% of American support could be passed with a standing ovation in the state of New York? How is it possible that same 6% position must be held by 100% of DNC presidential candidate in order to be considered viable for the primary? In fact, why is it nearly impossible at all to successfully run as a pro-life DNC candidate in any race? Why? Money. The DNC is owned by the special-interest money of the abortion lobby as much as they claim the GOP is owned by their own special-interest groups.

Progressives, thank you for your advocacy of science, for your advocacy of the helpless, for your advocacy of cultural diversity, and for your advocacy of popular opinion over special interests. My humble plea is that you rise above partisan dogmatism and consider how perfectly the unborn fit the cause of your advocacy.

To Those Who Identify as Pro-Life:

The most feedback I received was from fellow pro-life advocates, the majority of whom seemed overwhelmed and wanting to know what, if anything, they could be doing. And in most cases, the question was posed from a posture of desperation, perhaps even skepticism that anything could be done at all. I understand. The sheer pervasiveness of abortion combined with the seeming impossibility of any real change can feel insurmountable.

In some ways, the article was written to get us to that place. Not so much to guide us, but to disturb us. I believe the “wake up” effect is itself a step forward. But I also recognize the deficiency of the article in unmasking the issue without providing a way forward, a common deficiency in the pro-life movement. As one progressive friend said to me, “Don’t come with your critique if you’re not prepared to give a better solution.”

Fair enough. Allow me to address this issue as practically as I know how. But first, I feel the need to state upfront what my practical answer is not: It is not a legislative one. I will suggest that the politicization of this cause has unwittingly crippled, perhaps even paralyzed, the cause itself. We need to think outside the bounds of legislation and courts in order to reimagine and reframe our advocacy. Here I suggest a three-part strategy that requires the work of us all, not just those we elect. Here is my A. B. C. way forward against abortion: Apologize, Broaden, Change.

Apologize

First and foremost, we must lead with our apology. Unless we have the audacity to claim our movement is perfect, then it must begin with humbly searching for our imperfections and owning them. In fact, even more than searching ourselves, we must actually listen. Our pro-choice friends are telling us where we have fallen short, but do we have the humility to listen? If so, I can tell you what they desperately want us to admit. The pro-life movement, in essence, tends to be a pro-birth movement. What rightfully irks them is our duplicity—a passion for unborn life with what seems to them an indifference to other lives. Until we apologize for this, our voice will continue to be drowned out by the noise of our own hypocrisy. 

I know conservatives will want to rush to defense. And to be fair, the angry callous caricature of conservatives is extremely unfair and inaccurate. In my experience with many conservatives, I have found them to be compassionate, caring, and generous people. However, if we lay down our defenses and examine the measure of zeal, sacrifice, and certainly our politics, I think conservatives must admit that we have cared far more for the life of the unborn than the lives of the immigrant, poor, orphaned, discriminated, and otherwise marginalized people in our community.

“Until we apologize for our indifference to life after birth, our voice will continue to be drowned out by the noise of our own hypocrisy.”

There is certainly room to debate the best way to care for the hurting (I happen to agree the government is not the most effective system of care), but I think progressives are right to say, “At least we care!” I once asked a pro-life Democrat about aligning himself with the pro-choice party, and I think his response is worth consideration: “It seems to me that Democrats care more deeply about injustice in every area except one. I’m fully pro-life, all of life, and Republicans just don’t seem to care about anyone I care about, with the one exception of the unborn. And conveniently, the unborn are the easiest to care for, because you don’t actually have to care for them. The mother does.” Ouch. Resist the partisan knee-jerk reaction and ask: Is there any truth to this? Put policies aside on the best way to care, and genuinely ask the question: Do I care? Personally, I know I was convicted by my answer to that question. Are you? Are you fully pro-life? If you detect hypocrisy, it really is okay to just admit it and ask forgiveness. What you will find is the power of an apology to disarm this heated debate and create space where dialogue and common ground are actually plausible.

So it starts with breaking the number rule of our polarized and partisan culture: An apology. That does not mean you apologize for your passion for unborn life; rather, it means admitting that it is not matched by an equal passion for all of life. And then our apology must be reinforced by our actions

Which brings us to point B.

Broaden

Apologies are important, but only so far as they give way to change. The pro-life movement needs to broaden its actual advocacy such that our protest against the taking of life is accompanied by a proactive care for life. Simply put, pro-life must truly mean pro-life. Nothing would be more compelling and convincing to our cause than the care of unwanted children who were not aborted.

One pro-choice advocate reached out to me with this feedback, “So will your church be paying for full maternity healthcare for the duration of these pregnancies? Will you pay for maternity leave for these women that work hourly jobs? Will you pay for or provide daycare that costs more than an average worker makes in a month? Will you provide diapers? Will you provide formula? Will you pay for the 18 years of medical care, medication, vaccinations, and then contribute to their college funds?”  

Could you imagine if the Church of Jesus Christ could (in good conscience) say, “Yes. As a matter of fact, we will.” Too idealistic? If so, then we must concede the dream of ending abortion as likewise idealistic.

“Simply put, pro-life must truly mean pro-life. Nothing would be more compelling and convincing to our cause than the care of unwanted children who were not aborted.”

One of the unique marks of early Christianity was the stark contrast between the Christian conviction of life’s sacredness as opposed to Roman culture’s cruel indifference to life, most notably in Rome’s practice of “exposure.” Unwanted children were simply discarded and exposed to the elements until death. This was anathema to the early Christian community, and their solution was as effective as it was simple: They started picking up the discarded babies and adopted them as their own. If a small, impoverished, and persecuted movement had the gumption to solve Roman Empire infanticide, then surely the enormous, wealthy, and free American Church has the ability to take on the epidemic of unwanted children in our land.

A telling statistic in America is the number of children in foster care roughly equals the number or children aborted each year. One could easily argue that the seriousness of our pro-life stance toward the roughly 600,000 aborted children in our nation could be measured by seriousness of our pro-life stance toward the roughly 600,000 children in foster care.

Our own Commonwealth, in particular, is an interesting test case. Typically in Kentucky there are just over 3,000 abortions performed each year. At the same time, we are nearing a record 10,000 children in foster care. So Kentucky Christians must ask ourselves whether we are truly pro-life. Because a poverty-stricken state with 10,000 unwanted children is an epidemic of injustice that needs to come to an end. And legitimately, the KY church community could bring it to an end. That may seem hopelessly naïve, but I suggest it is as tangible and possible—if not more so—than ending abortion in our state, and we’ve never let idealism stop us from trying that.

Unlike abortion, there are no laws to be changed, no resistance to overcome, literally nothing standing in our way of ending this crisis except, of course, personal sacrifice. Which is precisely the Pro-choice talking point. But what if that talking point was nullified by our actions? What if churches across our Commonwealth united together for the common good of foster care and adoption? Suddenly the Pro-life voice becomes too legitimate to disregard, too loud to ignore.

This is only one example to consider in the broadening of life’s advocacy, but the greater point is that until our cause is broadened, our cause will continue to be viewed as shallow.

We Apologize, we Broaden, and then finally we Change.

Change

When I speak of change, I speak of strategy. It is time to reimagine how we advocate for the unborn.

The pro-life movement has largely been politicized, making it predominantly a partisan movement. In fact, I would suggest it has become the issue that determines the very battle line of our polarization. Because of this, it is constantly being leveraged for votes by politicians that never deliver on their promises (the cynic in me can’t help but think there are political strategists that don’t want to deliver because it compromises their hold on one-issue voters). So my contention is that we desperately need to rescue the cause from its enmeshment with toxic partisanship and reclaim it as an issue of justice that transcends our political divide.

I understand that now, more than ever, the legislative fight seems obtainable and likewise more tempting than ever. Yet ironically, I’m not certain that these bills being passed in conservative states will amount to any significant victory for life. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and sympathize with the strategy, but I’m suggesting that it will likely prove a failed strategy in the end. Consider the potential outcomes.

Worst-case scenario: State legislation is ruled unconstitutional, challenged at the Supreme Court, and when the SCOTUS actually reconsiders Roe v. Wade, it is upheld. I do not have as much confidence in the makeup of this court as many conservatives do, and if I had to wager, I do not believe the landmark decision would be overturned. If not, then what? Overturning Roe v. Wade has been the central focus of the pro-life agenda for decades, so what will become of the movement if it is upheld? That is to say, what becomes of our strategy when our singular strategy is defeated?

Best-case scenario: The Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. If so, then what? That doesn’t make abortion illegal in our country, it gives the decision back to the states. So in essence, conservative states will ban it, liberal states will protect it, and women will simply seek abortions in states where it is legal. For example, under Kentucky’s current state leadership, I have no doubt abortion would be banned. However, I also have no doubt that Illinois to the West and Virginia to the East would protect abortion to the furthest extent. So, although abortion would be eliminated in Kentucky, I suspect it will only increase in other areas. Is that the victory for life we imagine?

In addition, we will have a new crisis of life on our hands. The ones who will not be able to seek abortions elsewhere will disproportionately be the poor and underprivileged. As I already stated, Kentucky is nearing a record number of children in foster care, and if abortion were banned, then this problem would become an all-out epidemic. To be clear, I much prefer that humanitarian crisis to the option of death, but it will be a crisis nonetheless, and I believe the pro-life movement under its current strategy is woefully ill-prepared to take up that challenge.  In short, putting all the proverbial eggs in the basket of overturning Roe v. Wade is a deficient strategy, and we need to reorient around a new way forward.

But what does that even mean? That question itself is problematic and reveals how much politicization has crippled this movement. Thus far, pro-lifers have primarily conceived of legislative solutions when there are so many other ways to address this issue.

What if all the resources, time, and energy devoted to making abortion unconstitutional was directed toward making it unthinkable? To be clear, I’m certainly not opposed to changing laws; I just happen to believe that changing the narrative is far more effective and obtainable.

“What if all the resources, time, and energy devoted to making abortion unconstitutional was directed toward making it unthinkable?”

I believe our culture is primed for a new way forward. Without a doubt, the radical far-left position held by DNC leadership is wildly out of touch and unpopular (again, only 6% percent hold the same view that every DNC Primary candidate holds). The problem, however, is people don’t view the current pro-life approach as a compelling alternative. Our country is ready for a new narrative to emerge, one that rejects both the Fox News and MSNBC ethos and invites the public to embrace solutions that are refreshingly novel. A truly..

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To Harry Potter, or not to Harry Potter: that is the question.

Or to state it more plainly, how should Christian parents engage the world of myths, fantasies, and fairy tales? I understand some parents feel the need to protect their children from worldly myths, but I want to suggest that in so doing they may unwittingly be training their children to embrace the world’s greatest myth of all.

Allow me to explain.

The lie that will be repeatedly told to your child, both overtly and covertly, is that the physical world and natural order is the exclusive reality. This is the essence of the secular age we inhabit. That “this” is all that there is. That what is true is only what can be evidenced by the physical senses.

That, my friends, is the greatest myth of all, and we must learn to train our children to renounce this heresy of secularism. But how? There are many answers to that question, but one of the most effective is to let your children get lost in a world that is not secular, whether that be “Hogwarts” or a “galaxy far, far away.”

Believe it or not, it was myths that converted C.S. Lewis from his staunch atheism. His fellow Oxford professor, J.R.R. Tolkien, asked him to consider that fairy tales were only partly wrong. Tolkien claimed that fantasy is indeed untrue but not completely untrue.

These stories we tell ourselves—stories of supernatural battles, of good triumphing over evil, of escaping death and living forever, of tragedy giving way to victory—are not merely a way of coping with our reality but instead speak to a far greater reality that we are all a part of.

In other words, our fairy tales are of course untrue, but they point to something that is absolutely true. Tolkien convinced Lewis this was the case, and that the story of Jesus was not just one of many myths, but the one true myth to which all other myths point. That’s what eventually led C.S. Lewis to believe in Jesus and become one of Christianity’s greatest apologists.

“In other words, our fairy tales are of course untrue, but they point to something that is absolutely true.”

Do you see Tolkien’s wisdom when it comes to our parenting? Allowing our children to encounter and even “believe” (children don’t cognitively believe like we believe. They have an ability to get lost in fantasy without detaching from reality) in fantasy is one of the greatest ways to prepare them to believe in the true and better story to which all other stories point. Or to put it negatively, to deprive them of fantasy is to reinforce the lie of our secular age that there is no fantasy.

What if our novels and films were both untrue and true? Untrue because they are fantasies of human imagination, true because they are portals into another reality, a greater reality of which our physical reality is a part not the whole.

What if we love to tell stories because we are made in the image of a God who Himself is telling a story that we are all a part of? We certainly cannot see this God any more than Harry Potter can see J.K. Rowling, but there are signposts everywhere that we exist within a story written by an author.

So then the question of questions becomes this: Who is this author, and what is this story? Now we come to the utterly exclusive and compelling story of Jesus Christ.

He did not claim to be a character within our story; He claimed to be the Author entering into his own story. And not only did He claim it, He proved it.

Do you know what Easter is? The cosmic display that his is the one true myth. It’s not that all myths are mere fanciful, rather it’s that all myths point to the one true myth, the story of Jesus Christ.

What if fairy tales weren’t necessarily fairy tales? Would it not be the greatest news of all to discover that the cruel world as we know it is going to give way to the beautiful world we read of in our stories? Well this is precisely the promise of Easter. Jesus is risen as the invasion of a new story, a story that’s going to actually end happily ever after.

So let your kids indulge a bit in myths that point to the true myth, and tell them with audacious certainty that the story they want to be true will indeed one day come true.

Allow me to conclude with Tolkien’s conclusion in his famous essay On Fairy Stories:

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true…The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind…But this story is supreme; and it is true…Legend and History have met and fused…The gospel has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.”

- Robert

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Mark 15:1-15, Matthew 27:11-22

Today is Friday.

Jesus has been convicted of high blasphemy by the Jewish courts—claiming to be the Son of God.  The penalty is death.

However the Jewish courts operated under the authority of Rome, and only the Roman officials had the right to carry out executions.  For this reason, the Jewish authorities bring Jesus to the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, requesting His death.  Pilate examines Jesus and is unable to come up with one good reason why He should die.  Understandably so, he is deeply burdened by the idea of condemning an innocent man.  But at the same time, Pilate’s jurisdiction is heavily populated by Jews so he also cares deeply about the Jewish opinion, particularly the Jews in charge.

Pilate is torn.  He doesn’t want to kill an innocent man, and He doesn’t want to upset the chief priests.  Ever the politician, he comes up with a solution—Barabbas.  Barabbas was a notoriously wicked Jewish criminal with a death sentence, and he would become Pilate’s loophole.

During the Passover celebration, the Roman authorities would release a Jewish prisoner as an appeasing gift to the Jewish crowds.  So Pilate’s plan was this: he will take the worst criminal he has, Barabbas, and then take this Jesus guy, and let the crowds choose who should go free.  Of course they will pick Jesus over Barabbas, and then Pilate could say to the chief priests, “I’m sorry, the crowds asked for Jesus to be released and I had to give them their prisoner.”

But then came a shocking development.  The crowds choose Barabbas.  Pilate has no cards left to play and consents to a guiltless man’s death.

Today will bring death to the innocent One and freedom to the wicked one.  Imagine it from Barabbas’ perspective.  Surely he was up all night wrestling with the reality of his death sentence.  He had been counting down the months, then he started counting weeks, then days, then hours, and now it was moments.  The Roman soldiers open the door to his cell.  This is it.  They’re here to crucify him.

They lead him out to what he expects will be Rome’s notoriously brutal pre-crucifixion torture.  Then they unchain him, and say to him, “You’re free to go.”  This has to be a cruel joke.  “The soldiers must be mocking me,” he thinks.  But they insist, “You can go, Jesus of Nazareth is set to die in your stead.”

It’s impossible for us to imagine what it would be like to come to the last hour of a death sentence and suddenly be set free.  But those who trust in Christ will experience it for themselves.

You see, there really is a God, and that God is just, and there will indeed be a day of reckoning.  We will all give an account for every thought, word, and deed.  That is a reality.  And that reality is coming.

What will you do when you are laid bare before almighty God?  What will you do when you face down the prospect of righteous judgment for all that you have thought, said, and done?  I don’t care how good you think you are.  You have to admit that it would be a terrifying ordeal to be utterly exposed and then expected to give an account for everything uncovered.

You can ignore it all you want, you can try to explain God away by science and philosophy, or domesticate God into a god who is not righteous and just.  You can do whatever you feel like you need to do to make yourself feel better, but I know you are deeply unsettled about this whole issue.  And probably deep down you’re afraid.

Do you want to known when those fears will rise up and seize you?  When it’s time to find out.  In those last moments of life when you are about to discover for yourself whether there is indeed divine judgment waiting for you on the other side.  You will feel much like Barabbas felt when his jail cell opened that day.

Would you also like to feel what Barabbas felt when they loosed His chains and set Him free?  That can be yours as well.  The same Substitute is available to us all.  Jesus did it for Barabbas, and He’s willing to do it for you too.

The Christian will cross over into death and be met with words so amazing that they will compel us into an eternity of worship.  “Jesus has died in your stead.  You are free to go.”

I pray your reckoning day will be like Barabbas’.  I pray you will trust in the innocent One who died on behalf of the shameful ones.

If so, your day of death will become your day of freedom.

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John 13:1-17

Today is Thursday.

Jesus and His disciples gather to celebrate the Passover, but Jesus is about to change the meal forever.  He is to be the true Pascal Lamb, and tonight He will pledge to offer His body and shed His blood for the salvation and deliverance of His people.  Henceforth this meal will celebrate a new covenant—a covenant fulfilled and marked by the works and sacrifice of Christ Himself.  But first, Jesus will prepare His followers with a very unbecoming act.

As a prelude to the cross, the Prince of glory kneels down at His disciple’s feet to perform the requirements of a common household servant.  Culturally this was wholly unacceptable.  It’s not the dirt, grime, and filth of the task as much as the position.

This is the Lord as a slave.  This is God serving people.

Not surprisingly, Peter refused to accept the service of Christ.  “How dare you Lord?  I should be washing your feet!”  That sounds virtuous, even noble.  But you know who would become the hero that story?  Peter.

Of course Peter couldn’t articulate it, but that’s what is going on.  He’s proud.  He wants to be the man. Hidden behind his well-meaning protest is a deep seeded self-sufficiency.  Peter thinks He doesn’t need anyone to serve Him; in fact He thinks Jesus needs his service.  That’s a lie.  Peter desperately needs Jesus, and Jesus needs nobody.

Jesus says to Him, “It has to be this way.  In fact, I won’t do it any other way.”  Then at the prospect of loosing the Savior He loves, Peter responds, “Then not just my feet, Lord, but my hands and my head as well!”  (Don’t you just love the extremes of Peter)

Jesus will have no part of you if you won’t let Him do the work.

Every other religion demands your service to God.  The image of God washing the feet of His people would be unthinkable, even blasphemous.  We serve God, they would say, not the other way around!  But in this way, every other religion exalts the strong (by their ability to perform) and humbles the weak (by their inability to perform).

The Bible proclaims a kingdom where that paradigm is flipped—the proud are humbled and the lowly are exalted.  How does that happen?  Jesus comes to serve.

To the proud, the service of Jesus says, “You aren’t as great as you think.  In fact, you are in such desperate need that God has come to serve you.”

To the lowly, the service of Jesus says, “You aren’t as worthless as you think.  In fact, you are so loved that God has come to serve you.”

This foot washing ceremony was an important moment for the disciples.  If they couldn’t accept Jesus on His knees, then they certainly wouldn’t accept Jesus on the cross.  Jesus is preparing His disciples for His ultimate act of service, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Are you able to admit utter dependency and repent of all self-sufficiency?  Are you able to be served by Jesus?  If not, you can have no part of Him.

He doesn’t need you.  You need Him.  And it will be that way forever.

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Today is Wednesday.

After the uproar of the past two days, the religious leaders have had enough of Jesus and His antics.  He was a threat to them in every way.  If He was right, then everything they had believed and practiced was wrong.  The implications were just too much to accept.  It would mean a total reorientation of their religion as they knew it.  It would mean they had fundamentally misunderstood the Law and prophets.  It would mean the loss of popularity and control.  Indeed, to accept Jesus would be a death of sorts—a death they were unwilling to embrace.

And so instead, they conspire His death.  But it won’t be easy.  They will need an insider to join them, someone willing to participate in the deepest form of betrayal.  They found their man in Judas Iscariot.  Judas was a follower of Jesus in word and deed, but his words and deeds were empty.  He never truly loved Jesus; He saw Jesus as a means to an end.  Perhaps it was wealth, or power, or fame, we’re never told.  But whatever the reasons were, Judas Iscariot saw Jesus as a means to serve his selfish purposes.  And not surprisingly, Jesus had let Him down.

But for Judas, the last two days in the Temple had provided a glimmer of hope.  Perhaps Jesus was going to use some of that power He was always wasting on the blind and deaf, to take over Jerusalem after all.  Maybe He actually was intending to rule, reign, and conquer the world (and of course this would mean fame and fortune for Judas as well).

But here they were, fellowshipping in the house of a leper, Jesus intently enjoying the anointing of a random woman when He should be conquering.  Apparently Jesus has no plans of grandeur after all.

Judas was done.  He sneaks away, joins together with those already plotting, and the plan is sealed.  Jesus will soon be crucified.

Do you know what all these conspirators had in common?  Unmet expectations.  If the Messiah had come to do what they wanted Him to do, they would have gladly embraced Him.  But He didn’t align with their Messianic expectations, He refused to be a Savior after their own likings, and so they killed Him.

Expectations have to die to embrace Jesus.  He simply won’t be what you want Him to be.  Jesus is going to let you down.  It happens to all His followers.

He let Peter down, and Peter was devastated to the point of betrayal as well.  But Peter recovered from crushed expectations, because in his heart of hearts he loved Jesus more than his selfish wants and desires.  Nobody follows Jesus without ulterior motives and vain expectations, but what will you do when He inevitably deconstructs these expectations?

He is good, and He will always give you what is good, but it won’t always align with your visions of goodness.  It’s in these testing moments where love for Jesus is revealed as authentic or not.

What do you want from Jesus?  If the answer to that question goes beyond Jesus Himself, then rest assured, He will disappoint you.  When that happens, will you still want Him?

Judas didn’t.  I pray you will.

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Mark 11:27-13:47, Luke 20:1-21

Today is Tuesday.

Jerusalem is still frenzied over yesterday’s drama and controversy, but Jesus isn’t done.

He returns again to the Temple, Monday’s epicenter of commotion.  While yesterday was the day destruction; today is the day of instruction.  The divine Rabi stands in the Temple courts and begins to teach.  And the words of Jesus will instigate as much controversy as yesterday’s violence.

He can no longer be ignored.  His actions on Monday and his teachings on Tuesday have placed Him front and center of the Passover week activities, and now everyone must decide what to do with Him—reject Jesus and His claims, or embrace Jesus and His claims.

The religious leaders of the day try their best to stir up rejection.  The wisest, the most educated, the most religious, the most gifted debaters, each take their turn trying to confound Jesus.  Clearly they are desperate to discredit this Man, to gain back their religious hold, and to convince the masses that Jesus of Nazareth is not who He claims to be.  But unfortunately for them, He is.  Every single one of their attempts only becomes an opportunity for Jesus to re-enforce His claims.

And every answer and lesson He gives that day share a common theme, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  This quote from Psalm 118 is how Jesus has chosen to describe Himself.  The imagery was familiar to the audience. The cornerstone was the key to architecture and construction in that day.  As the focal point of the structure, it would bear the weight of the other stones. The cornerstone had to be perfect.  If it could not stand, then neither could the building.  And so builders were meticulously exclusive when choosing this stone, rejecting many other stones because they were not worthy to be the cornerstone.

Everything Jesus said on that day conveyed the same thing: you reject me, but I will become the cornerstone of all things.  All who reject Jesus will severely regret that choice, because in the end they will discover that He is the only thing that can bear the weight of their hopes, longings, desires, identity, indeed their very life.  Conversely all who embrace Jesus will never regret that choice, because they will find in Him the one thing that can hold them and not fail.

That was His claim.  And then what Jesus taught in the Temple that day, He would soon demonstrate.  In three days He would become the ultimate display of rejection—forsaken by man and God upon the cross.  And yet the discarded One would then rise from the ashes of rejection and on Easter morning take His rightful place as the cornerstone of all existence.

Centuries have passed and He is still as divisive as that day in the Temple.  The reasons, arguments, and accusations against Him change with the tides of cultures, but His rejection carries on.  To this day, so many fail to recognize Him for who He is.  They search in vain for a stone that can bear the weight of their desperate needs, but there is no other stone—only Jesus, the chief Cornerstone.

But to those who embrace what is foolishness to so many, they have found their Rock.  They that trust in the despised and rejected One have discovered an unshakable Fortress of salvation and life.

Indifference is off the table.  Jesus of Nazareth is simply too significant to ignore.  Today we face the same challenge that was before the people on that Tuesday in the Temple, reject Him or embrace Him … choose your stone wisely.

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Matthew 21:12-16

Today is Monday.

Yesterday Jesus fulfilled what the prophet Zechariah had long ago promised, “Rejoice! … Your King comes to you, humble and riding upon a donkey.” His disciples are elated, the religious establishment is panicking, and Jerusalem is buzzing with the news of his arrival. The Nazarene is here! The One who speaks and acts as with the authority of God, the One who redefines the Kingdom of God, the One who is loved by many, hated by many, but ignored by nobody, Jesus of Nazareth has come to town.

But what is the purpose of His visitation? Nobody is entirely sure. Could it be as harmless as Jesus making his pilgrimage to the holy city to celebrate the Passover feast? Probably not … conventionality has never been his style. He’s up to something, and everyone’s waiting to see.

Jesus does not disappoint. Today He will be a spectacle. Today is His day of purging, and Jerusalem’s holy Temple will be His victim.

Jesus is righteously incensed at the sight. The once sacred Temple has become a spectacle of greed and pride, and this is most apparent during the Passover week. Vendors sell souvenirs and animals for the sacrifices, profiting on the pilgrims’ religious longings and need for atonement.  The religious elite parade about, basking in their celebrity status and the adoration of the onlookers. To Jesus, the scene is hideous and His zeal for the house of the Lord consumes Him.

He violently drives out the moneychangers, overturns their tables, spills their profits across the floor, and then in impudence He dares to call the Temple His own house shouting, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Jesus cleans His house.  He drives out all impurities and then reestablishes the heart of the Temple. It becomes a place of renewal and restoration. The desperate file in and Jesus heals them all. The children are euphoric with their excitement, praising Him with that Messianic cry they have learned since birth, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The desperate and childlike welcome the purging of Jesus. But others did not.

The prideful are furious. How dare He? This is an assault, not just on their beliefs and practices, but upon their very identity. Jesus has cost them their control, popularity, and religious assurance. He has confronted all their vain trusts, stripped them of what they know and hold dear, and instead of turning to Him in their now vulnerable estate, they harden their hearts toward Him and plot His destruction.

For Jesus, today is a death sentence. He has cost the greedy their profits, He has humiliated the proud, He has overturned the established order, and His fate is sealed.

So be it.

Jesus has come to Jerusalem to die. His actions on Monday have set the plan into motion, and He knows His cross is near. And it is for this cross that He has come—the true instrument of God’s purging in all our lives.

The Temple purification is a paradigm of what He has come to do to us. He has come to cleanse us of all evil and to take up residence inside us for the purposes of renewal and healing. The childlike and the desperate will welcome His purging. The self-reliant and prideful will be insulted. Monday was a day of cleansing. Some loved it and received Him. Others hated it and rejected Him.

What will be your response to the purging intentions of Jesus?

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“You had to have known. You had to have smelled the stench.”

These are the words from a gripping scene in HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers. It’s near the end of WWII, and the allied forces have moved into Germany. As they make their way through German towns, what becomes striking is the otherwise normalcy of life. German citizens are going about their days seemingly oblivious to the atrocities all around them.

One town, in particular, has a concentration camp located just far enough on the outskirts of town to allow for convenient indifference. But when the soldiers discover the camp, their indignation turns toward the village. They enter a local bakery where the owner is going about his normal baking routine, and they begin to take his bread to feed the famished prisoners of the camp. The baker is furious, screaming at the soldiers to leave his store, until one soldier shoves him against the wall and shouts,

“Shut up you Nazi!”

“Ich bin kein Nazi (I’m not a Nazi),” the baker replies aghast.

“You’re not a Nazi? OK, how about a human being? You had to have known. You had to have smelled the stench.”

The Third Reich is a fascinating look into the nature of evil, because it was a modern, developed, educated, and affluent culture that allowed for barbaric atrocities. The “banality of evil” is how Hannah Arendt famously described it in her essay from the Nuremberg Trials. Otherwise normal people, like you and me, indifferent or even complicit in widespread carnage. Indeed, evil could no longer be called unthinkable; it had become banal.

Well, take heed and be not naïve, America, for the banality of evil is among us too.

The United States is one of only seven countries that allows for elective abortions after 20 weeks (the point where it is conclusively proven that unborn babies feel pain). In fact, our federal law allows for abortions through the stage of viability (22-24 weeks) all the way up to the birth canal of a full-term mother. In America, it is only after the baby has exited the mother that a child is granted human rights by the Federal Court. Individual states are certainly allowed to restrict abortions themselves, and most do, but there are others that do not.

And this past week, in particular, the often-ignored reality of late-term abortion became front and center for all to see.

First came the chilling eruption of applause as the New York Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act, allowing for abortion up to the point of delivery “in cases of risk to mother’s health”. That language is standard in states with no limitations on abortions, but what many fail to realize is that on the same day of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court released the lesser known Doe v. Bolton, which reads, “medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” In other words, Doe v. Bolton allows for “health” to be defined any way an abortionist and mother choose, i.e. any reason under the sun.

Then shortly after the action of New York’s Senate came another viral video of Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran defending similar legislation, explicitly stating that her bill would allow for an abortion even while a mother is dilating in active labor. Shortly thereafter, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam publicly defended Tran’s proposal, and in so doing took the debate even further, into the very realm of infanticide: “So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mothers.”

Friends, if this is not evil then what is?

I personally believe life begins at conception, but I also understand why those who do not share my Christian worldview disagree. I also accept the fair critique that the pro-life movement is too often a mere pro-birth movement. Fair enough. The disposition I see from many conservatives toward the lives of immigrants, minorities, and the poor does not seem very pro-life, and I recently wrote about the noticeably selective outrage of the pro-life (and social justice) causes. All to say, I understand the arguments, I hear the critiques, I see the hypocrisy, and in many cases I agree.

But this. Surely this we can agree upon. Surely this we can call evil. Or do you even know (or want to know) what ‘this’ entails?

After the Nazi concentration camps had been liberated, the Allied soldiers chose to do something very powerful. They gathered German citizens from those surrounding villages and forced them to tour the death camps. They took them through the ovens, showed them the decomposing corpses, and even gave them shovels to dig the graves of victims they had conveniently ignored.

I would like to give you a tour of late-term abortion. I’m warning you, you’ll want to turn away and get back to your normal life, which is certainly your choice. Just know it’s a choice to disregard evil.

Because the baby is so developed, the late-term abortion process lasts several days. The first step is a large needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen and into the baby’s head or chest. A lethal dose of a drug called Digoxin is then administered to the baby causing cardiac arrest. The mother is sent home with the dead child inside her, while laminaria dilates her cervix for 2-3 days. The mother then returns to deliver the stillborn child, however in many cases a Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) is necessary. At this stage, a D&E requires the use of surgical tools to crush the skull and dismember the body of the baby for removal.

All that I just described—from lethal injection to body dismemberment—is perfectly legal in these United States of America.

And now you know. Now you have smelled the proverbial stench. Now ignorance is no longer a luxury to claim, indifference no longer an option to choose. Now you know, which means now complacency is complicity.

During the rise of the Third Reich, a German named Dietrich Bonhoeffer rejected the path of comfortable ignorance and valiantly chose instead to stand against the banality of evil in his land. May his words haunt the collective soul of our country:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

- Robert

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When American churches gather this Sunday, it will be a unique window into our cultural divide. Being MLK weekend, many churches will decry the prejudice in our land. But in this year’s calendar, Sanctity of Life Sunday is also this weekend, and many other churches will decry the killing of the unborn. But very few churches, I’m willing to bet, will do both.

One of the most disheartening trends in American Christianity is the way it seems to follow the predictable lines of our partisan divide. Progressives worship together, Conservatives worship together, and never, it seems, the twain shall meet.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with the injustices our churches choose to condemn. But as MLK himself famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He learned that from Jesus, who will not allow us to pick and choose our injustices.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction that Jesus was not a product of culture but the insertion of a transcendent culture from on high. The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, couldn’t figure Jesus out, because He simply didn’t fit the normal profile of a revolutionary. And Jesus told Pilate why: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

The kingdom he was referring to is the Kingdom of God, a perfect kingdom transcending all earthly kingdoms. The necessary implication is that the Kingdom of God cannot fit neatly into the prevailing paradigms of any culture, and in our culture those paradigms have been defined by political beliefs. The call of Christ’s Kingdom cannot be reduced to the platform of the left or the right; instead, it simultaneously affirms and challenges both.

Can this be said of American churches in our day?

Some churches this Sunday will recount the magnificent legacy of MLK, and rightfully so. The work of this great prophet of justice remains as indispensable as ever. Rooted in King’s robust doctrine of imago Dei, we labor still for that great vision of equality where all men, women, and children are revered for who they are: glorious image bearers of God worthy of highest dignity.

To these churches, I say thank you. Thank you for your passion to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, to defend the weak against the powerful, to protect the most vulnerable and exploited of society at any and all cost. Thank you. I only ask you to look past tribal dogma to see how well the unborn fit your noble cause.

On the other hand, some churches this Sunday will recount the horrific legacy of abortion, and rightfully so. Recent data from the World Health Organization showed that abortion ended more life than anything else last year. To be specific, more than 41 million unborn lives died last year from abortion—more than cancer, malaria, AIDS, smoking, drinking and automobile accidents combined.

To these churches, I say thank you. Thank you for your unwavering fight for the value of life, to speak for those who have no voice, to combat desensitizing semantics and pragmatic excuses by relentlessly calling us back to this one simple truth: we are a talking about a life, and that life is eternally sacred. Thank you. I only ask you to look past tribal dogma to see how well the plight of immigrants, minorities, and the poor fit your noble cause.

The Kingdom of God has a message for American churches that we desperately need to heed. We must rise above our culture’s demand that we choose between MLK Weekend and Sanctity of Life Sunday. Instead, let us follow the much greater demand of Jesus, who is asking us a simple yet profound question: Why not both?

- Robert

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Should Christians participate in Halloween? It's a question many struggle with. After all, it feels like a celebration of evil, a holiday devoted to the demonic. But what if I told you the opposite is true. Halloween isn't a celebration of evil, but a mockery of evil. It's actually a humiliating night for the devil, and he would much prefer you turn off your porch lights, stay hidden inside, and save him the embarrassment.

In the Christian tradition, November 1 is All Saints Day—a day set aside to honor and celebrate the triumph of saints who have gone before us, especially our martyred brothers and sisters. A more historic word for ‘saint’ is ‘hallow’, and so the day was originally known as All Hallows’ Day. An important part of the celebration involved the night before, All Hallows’ Eve. Thus the contraction "Halloween" came to be.

The tradition of Halloween is a celebration of our confidence over the demonic realm. Ephesians 6 lets us in on the truest nature of our fight: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So on the eve of the day we remember those who fought the good fight, it is appropriate to celebrate that in Christ they actually won that good fight.

Unlike what we see in Hollywood, Satan’s terror is not haunted houses or possessed children. It's something much scarier. Accusations. He is our great accuser, and there is much to accuse us of. We have fallen shamefully short of God’s law, and God’s justice demands our punishment. In this way, our failures serve as Satan’s ammunition against God, because hell can now justly demand from God what God cherishes the most, His beloved people. Satan temps, we sin, Satan accuses, God must condemn, and that, in essence, is the ploy of the evil one.

“Go have some fun tonight at hell’s expense and talk a little trash to the devil”

And yet All Hallows’ Day celebrates the triumph, not the condemnation, of the saints. How can this be when there is seemingly no escape from the Satan’s accusations and God’s condemnation? 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

It’s the great exchange we celebrate in the reformation (by the way, the tradition of All Hallows’ Eve is why Martin Luther chose October 31 as the day to post his 95 theses). Jesus takes our sin and is condemned as such, we receive His righteousness and are accepted as such. Therefore, God in the gospel of Christ has stripped Satan of all ammunition, leaving him nothing to accuse us of.  

Colossians 2 says it perfectly: “Having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Jesus.”

The cross of Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities of evil, and in this way put them to shame, so that Calvary is simultaneously our victory and Satan’s mockery. And that’s exactly what we do on All Hallows’ Eve—we mock Satan. So confident are we in the triumph of Jesus, that we literally have a holiday set aside to ridicule Satan. We will take what should be scary—devil, demons, and death—and turn them into an occasion for a neighborhood party. In fact, we're so confident in Christ that we will actually dress our children up as a mockery of evil, because for the Christian, Satan is as scary as a kid in a mask. 

As an aside, Halloween is a great opportunity to teach your children that the gospel is so powerful that we can laugh at what should be terrifying. As a practical suggestion, before going out to trick-or-treat read Luke 4:31-37 or Mark 2:2-7 with them and ask this question: Who’s scared of who in this passage?

Halloween is not something Christians should be afraid to celebrate; quite the opposite. Halloween is a night of gospel surety and hell’s mockery. What should scare us is scared of our Jesus. So go have some fun tonight at hell’s expense and talk a little trash to the devil.

- Rev. Robert Cunningham

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