Can We Hear Them Now?

Can We Hear Them Now?

Facebook, 2018: A young father shared the moment he felt his daughter in her mother’s womb.

“I’d only briefly felt this baby move before. I tried to feel her move again and again to no avail. But finally, lying there last night next to her mom, snuggled up close because of the cold, I felt kick after kick. Long after my lady had gone to sleep, there was our little one still kicking away. There ain’t words to truly describe what my heart felt.”

I read that post and smiled, remembering what it was like to be a young father many years ago, when before my daughters had voices they spoke to us with kicks.

Another story I saw this week took me back even further, to the moment the world stopped hearing the voiceless words of children in the womb.

Dr. Richard Selzer, an enlightened surgeon, fully committed to the latest medical philosophies, and desiring to learn the best techniques, wanted to watch a new procedure. He’d heard of it, but never seen one performed so he asked a fellow physician if he could attend.

The patient was 19 weeks pregnant, lying on the table, prepped for the procedure. The surgeon took a syringe filled with a prostaglandin solution, sank the needle up to its hub into the woman’s belly, pushed the plunger down and left it there for a few moments.

Selzer described what happened next. ““I see something other than what I expected here. … It is the hub of the needle in the woman’s belly that has jerked. … Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.”

Slowly, the desperate fight for life faded. The needle stopped jerking. The voiceless screaming ceased, but not in Selzer’s head. “Nothing can argue against the truth of what I saw that day.”

That story, “What I Saw at the Abortion,” originally appeared in Esquire in January 1976, and appeared most recently in Marvin Olasky’s World Magazine interview with pro-life feminist Frederica Matthews-Green.*

The trajectory of Green’s life was changed by that brief paragraph in Esquire. Up until then she sported a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t labor under a misconception. Legalize abortion.” Now she is known by her most famous quote: “No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

Would that the trajectory of the world had changed with her.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet says, they also have victims. The two greatest victims of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s were women, who lost the protection long afforded to them by traditional mores and the covenant of marriage, and children, who lost the protection not only of a two-parent home, but of the womb. Both suffer in abortion. Both need our help.

The women were voiceless until 2017, stifled by fear, or powerful men, or both. Now they are speaking and the nation is listening. Maybe in the context of so much truth-telling those other heretofore voiceless victims will also speak.

Can we hear them now?

*Marvin Olasky, “Path to Pro-Life: Overcoming Pro-Abortion Peer Pressure with Facts.” Interview with Frederica Matthews-Green by Marvin Olasky in World Magazine, January 20, 2018. https://world.wng.org/2018/01/path_to_pro_life

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

John Donne famously wrote,

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Nevertheless, everyone feels isolated, everyone feels alone now and then, perhaps especially during the holidays. It’s part of the human condition, a result of the fall. Eve caved to the serpent’s song followed closely by Adam, each seeking to be like God, only to find that they lost connection with God and each other. Loneliness began in the garden.

From that day to this every man, woman and child knows the ache of loneliness, the pain of separation from his fellows and his Creator. Loneliness assails us especially on significant anniversaries when we feel the loss of loved ones long gone. The divorced also feel the pain, with the added grief that separation was by choice rather than by chance.

It was with such melancholy mental meanderings that I turned to meditate on John 14:1-4, a passage so familiar that the words felt lukewarm on my tongue as I recited them back to God. Lukewarm that is, until I spoke verse three: “And if I go and prepare a place for you,” said Jesus to his downcast disciples, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

… that you also may be where I am. That little phrase lit a pale flame on the horizon of my soul that grew in magnitude like the sun rising in the porch window, filling it with warmth and banishing the night.

… that you also may be where I am, is Jesus telling us that he is just as unsatisfied with the separation as we are, that he knows the ache in our hearts, and that he is doing something about it.

… that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us how much he wants to be with us, even more than we want to be with him.

…that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us that we are welcome at his table no matter how inadequate we may feel about being there. It is he who prepared the way, not us, for he was the only one who could.

…that you also may be with me where I am, is Jesus telling us that we are not alone.

I don’t know where this meditation finds you today, perhaps full of joy and good fellowship. But if you are experiencing that existential ache, if you are feeling deeply the losses of life, Jesus offers the way home.

How? Funny, that’s the same question Doubting Thomas asked, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

THE MEMORY TREE

THE MEMORY TREE

The tree appears like magic every year, the day after Thanksgiving. Rising from the floor to its full seven feet, strung with lights and nothing else, a green canvas of branches waiting to be adorned by the master artist I married.

From old boxes emerge simple ornaments, each a reminder of years and blessings past. First the forty, communion cup ice cream sundaes, created the year we met.  Then twenty-five Nut Cracker characters, crafted from clothes pins our first year of marriage when we were poor as church mice. Twenty decorative fans follow, formed from folded Christmas cards and glue-on lace that second year of seminary poverty. Cross-stitched frames with our girls’ names find their favorite branches, gifts from Grandma’s hand. Miniature presents from the “My Gift is Me” story, wrapped in metallic green, red, blue, silver, and purple are accompanied by popsicle-stick sleds the girls made with Mom.

A starfish Santa that came from the lady who had a Christmas tree in every room – “Can we do that?” my dear decorator asked.

“NO!”

But she could make driftwood Santa’s to keep the solidified starfish company, and she did, along with thirty of our fifty-odd nativities, made of cloth, flower pots, fabric, wooden spoons, and everything you can think of. An angel from our missionary friend, a star from Sandie, in our then-new pastorate. And finally, on winter’s first whisper, sixty hand crocheted snowflakes, gifts from another pastor’s wife, because snow can’t fall till it gets cold.

I gaze with greater wonder each year. How does she do it? There is no plan, no scheme, no blueprint or photo of where to place each ornament. Even if I had one I couldn’t do it, not without her. She has the eye, the perspective, the balance of all the elements in her head. By themselves in a box they are just pieces of paper, thread, and popsicle sticks. Stuff other folks would throw away. But in her hands, they come together to form something money cannot buy: beauty.

Simple, lovely, one-of-a-kind, a memory tree never exactly the same from year to year, but always a powerful visual aid that the Creator-Redeemer can take whatever we give him, no matter how plain or simple, and arrange it into something beautiful.

Merry Christmas!

FRANCIS COLLINS FINDS THE LIGHT

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

(John 1:4 NIV)

We call Christmas the season of light in no small part because of the meaning of this verse. But what are we to make of this mysterious word? How was Jesus the light of men?

Famed geneticist Francis Collins’s journey to faith is a good example.

Collins’s credentials and accomplishments are legendary in the scientific community. He headed up the Human Genome Project before serving as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. In 2007 he wrote a New York Times best-seller, The Language of God, which weaves together the story of his work as a world-renowned scientist and his journey from atheism to faith in Christ.

As a young doctor and atheist at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, Collins cared for many desperately sick people who, in spite of their illnesses, had profound faith. He wondered, “why were these people not shaking their fists at God and demanding that (their families) stop all this talk about a loving and benevolent super power?” After all, most of them were dying from illnesses they had done nothing to deserve.

That’s when an older patient, suffering from untreatable angina, asked a question for which he was not prepared, “What do you believe?”

“I felt my face flush as I stammered out the words,” he wrote, “I’m not really sure.”

Collins was in the dark and knew it. He began to question his integrity as a scientist and realized that, rather than consider all the evidence and come to a rational conclusion on life’s greatest question, he had engaged in, “willful blindness and something that could only be properly described as arrogance … Suddenly, all my arguments seemed very thin, and I had the sensation that the ice under my feet was cracking.”[1]

After a long period of searching, which included a review of the world’s great religions, grilling a pastor with questions, and reading C.S. Lewis’s classic, Mere Christianity, the light dawned:

“On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.”[2]

Perhaps you can identify with Collins. You know something is out there, something true, and good, and powerful enough to give dying people hope and peace, but you have been avoiding it. That something is really Someone, the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Maybe you are ready to begin your journey into the light today, or you know someone who is. If so let me recommend C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, the book that helped Collins so much. Then there’s Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith, a modern classic. And finally, if you are of a scientific bent, The Language of God is a great place to start.

[1] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 20.

[2] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 225

TIME FOR A NEW REVOLUTION: Thoughts on Rampant Sexual Assault

My dad, Schafer J. Skelton Jr., never played flag football. That puzzled us because we knew he was on three Conference and two State championship teams in high school, earning all-state guard honors in 1950. Mom asked him once, when the men at a church outing were dividing into teams, why he wasn’t joining in the fun?

“I play football for keeps,” he said. “If I go out there, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Dad understood himself well enough to know that once on the field, in the heat of competition, his natural aggression and fierce competitiveness would likely send somebody to the hospital. I wonder if we understand our sexual selves that well.

What does this have to do with the epidemic of sexual assault?

The Bible is clear that from Noah’s son Ham to Harvey Weinstein, men have been guilty of sexual harassment and assault. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s, however, tossed out every warning the Bible had to give. It said that sex is like flag football; everybody has fun, and no one gets hurt. But the headlines tell the tale. Sex is one of the most powerful forces within us.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet likes to say, they also have victims. The sexual revolution kicked the referees off the field, pitched the helmets and pads that once protected the players, and produced predictable fruit: millions of women, children, and men have been hurt.

But the men are the primary perpetrators, so allow me to speak directly about them.

As a pastor, my exposure to some of the grimier parts of life is limited. So, I did an informal survey of my wife, mom, three daughters, and two female cousins, asking, “How bad is it out there with men?”

It is very bad, much worse than I imagined. Some of the things men say and do are too foul to print. Combined with the reports we’ve all read about high profile abusers and rapists my first reaction is profound grief. My second is deep anger.

Schafer would have broken their teeth out.

A word to those men, and the ones like them. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.[1] You may imagine that you are too smart to be caught, but no one gets away with it. I urge you to repent and ask Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness. If you refuse, do not imagine that you will escape the wrath of God.

But what about the rest of us? The climate is so charged with rancor and suspicion that some men are wondering if they should ever ask a girl out on a date, and some women are wondering if they should accept.

I had in mind a list of practical guidelines for men and women to help cultivate virtue and curb our baser instincts, but anyone can come up with a list of do’s and don’ts. Here at the nasty end of the sexual revolution we need a reason to follow the list in the first place. Rod Dreher reminded me of one in The Benedict Option.

Scripture gives us a reason to respect the bodies of others and refrain from sex until marriage that is much more powerful than the fear of punishment. Our bodies, the complementarity of male and female together, bear the image of God and are thus sacred. Using another human being for sexual gratification without the protective covenant of marriage is, at the very least, to undermine their dignity. Abusing or assaulting another human being for sexual gratification is to desecrate the sacred.

Bottom line, when we see other human bodies as sacred, the rules about how we should treat them, the respect we owe to them, become self-evident and internally energized.

Dreher writes, “… man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal.”

“Anything we do that falls short of the perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule breaking but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself.”[2]

We have been living contrary to the structure of reality now for over fifty years and the results are obvious. Isn’t it time for a new revolution? Isn’t it time to turn around?

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Pr 15:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option. Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York, 2017. P. 200.

JUSTICE FOR JACK: Religious Freedom in the Furnace

JUSTICE FOR JACK:  Religious Freedom in the Furnace

While sexual assault charges dominate the headlines, destroying careers and political prospects alike, the results of an assault on every American’s freedom of conscience are being weighed in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Jack Phillips’ Colorado bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is named after his favorite Bible verse, Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (NLT) Jack’s dream was to use his artistic baking skills not only to provide for his family and serve his community, but also to bring honor to God through his every day work.

Because of that conviction, Jack made it a policy not to create artisan cakes to celebrate things that ran contrary to his religiously informed conscience. All his customers were able to get custom made cakes for their celebrations with Jack’s nearby competitors, so Jack’s convictions were never a problem until two men asked for a custom-made cake for their wedding ceremony in 2012.

Jack’s legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom, explains what happened next.

“Jack offered to sell the men any pre-made cake in his shop, but kindly explained that he could not use his artistic talents to custom-design cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Like millions of people across the globe and throughout history, he affirms the biblical teaching that marriage is the sacred union of a man and a woman. Designing a cake for them would force him to violate his conscience.

The men swore at Jack and stormed out. He endured weeks of threatening phone calls and emails. His family and his employees have also been abused.

But that was only the beginning. Jack received notice from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC). He was being sued, accused of violating the state’s nondiscrimination laws.

The commission ruled against Jack, fined him, and tried to force him to violate his conscience.

“I haven’t singled out that one issue as something I won’t do,” Jack says. “I don’t make cakes for lewd bachelor parties; I don’t make cakes to celebrate divorce; I don’t make Halloween cakes, or anything involving witchcraft.”[1]

The CCRC also ordered Jack and his staff to design cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations, go through a ‘re-education’ program, implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and file quarterly ‘compliance’ reports for two years to show that Jack has completely eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

In response, Jack stopped baking custom cakes, losing 40% of his business and laying off employees as a result.

Jack’s story is reminiscent of the biblical Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel chapter three. As Jack refuses to bow to today’s politically correct sexual orthodoxy, so those men refused to bow before a political ideology that exalted the creature above the creator. As Jack faces the loss of his livelihood and life-savings, Daniel’s friends faced the loss of their lives. As Jack stands on his biblically informed conscience before the most powerful court of our time, they stood resolute before the greatest power of theirs, saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”[2]

Yet Jack does not stand alone; we are in the furnace with him. His fate is ours. If the Supreme Court rules against him, then religious freedom will cease to exist in the United States. Your freedom to obey your religiously informed conscience in your business, your profession, your education, your children’s education and associations, your affiliations, and yes, even your church, will be confined to the dictates of the new sexual orthodoxy. You will be forced by law not simply to tolerate, but to celebrate things that conflict with your conscience before God.

What can you do? Four very important things:

First, pray. This is first and foremost a spiritual battle.

Second, take a stand. Let it be known that you support Jack. Write if you are able, share this post or posts from the organizations listed in the notes[3], or at the very least go on social media and say, “I stand with Jack.” Supreme Court Justices are human too. They read and your voice matters.

Third, give money. Order brownies from Jack’s bakery. Send him cash. Or send money to ADFLegal.org to help them fight.

Finally, be informed and informative. Share the sermon podcast, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE FURNACE, listed here: http://www.fccsobo.org/files/fccsobo/Podcasts/September%203,%202017%20.mp3. Become knowledgeable on these subjects and learn to give a sound-bite on why the biblical worldview of human sexuality is good for everyone and why religious freedom is the fundamental freedom.

[1] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Da 3:16–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story

REMOVING HISTORICAL GLOSS: Metaxas’ Enlightening Luther Biography

Johann Tetzel was being robbed. The Dominican friar and Grand Commissioner for indulgences in Germany was on his way from one very profitable preaching crusade to another when a German nobleman, one who had made a great point of asking whether all future sins could be forgiven if only the right indulgence was bought, cashed in on his prior purchase and relieved the preacher of his purse.

At least, that’s how the story goes.

Yesterday, October 31, 2017, was the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which, according to the 2000 edition of LOOK magazine was the second, behind the invention of the printing press which enabled it, greatest event in the last one thousand years. The story of Tetzel and the robber baron, which is probably mythical, is one of many that Eric Metaxas covers in his excellent work, MARTIN LUTHER: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.

Although I am only halfway through the book, listening to the audible version, I am totally sold on Metaxas’s ability to make a complicated story not only accessible and informative, but entertaining.

Mailed Not Nailed

For example, everyone knows that a theologian and monk named Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting 95 theses opposing the sale of indulgences on the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. (An indulgence supposedly draws on the merit of the good works of Christ and the saints to deliver a sinner from punishment on earth or in purgatory). But most do not know that Luther may or may not have personally nailed the document to the doors, the bulletin board of its day. It could have been a clerk that swung the hammer. What sets October 31st apart, according to Metaxas, is that is the day Luther mailed his theses to his presiding bishop, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg, with a proposal to call a conference of theologians on the abusive sale of indulgences.

Gutenberg’s Internet

Metaxas also illuminates the fact that, in those early days of the printing press, Luther had no intention of igniting a revolution and no idea of the part he would play in it. He was simply a pastor / theologian and faithful Catholic trying to do his job and protect his parish from oppression and heresy. The 95 theses, written in Latin, would have been indecipherable to most Germans who passed the church doors. They were meant for a limited audience of theological scholars who would have had thoughtful discussions and sent their conclusions and recommendations off to higher authority for approval.

But the printing press was to the sixteenth century what the internet is today. Information transfer went from snail’s pace to light speed almost overnight. Further, with no copyright law in place, Luther could not prevent publishers from pushing his ideas far beyond the boundaries of Wittenberg and Mainz. He was soon embroiled in a battle that he had not planned and could not have anticipated. (He also never made a dime from his writings). Ultimately, Luther saw this series of unfortunate events as providential and embraced his calling as a reformer. But Metaxas removes the gloss of history and helps us see that Luther, like many of us, was a man of his times driven as much by circumstance as by conviction to take up the work which God had prepared in advance for him to do.

I’ve only brushed the surface of Metaxas’s latest, but I hope you will read it. It will give any Christian a greater comprehension of the treasures of grace we possess, the place in history we occupy, and perhaps help us see our calling as well as Luther saw his.