All posts by Jason Hill

Jason and Jennifer Hill are members of Wycliffe Bible Translators. They, and their sons Josiah and Isaiah, are serving with Wycliffe to bring the Bible to one of the 300+ languages in Papua New Guinea without scripture. Their passion is to see people from every nation, ethnicity, and language praising God in heaven, just as in John's vision in Revelation 7.

First Newsletter from the Hills

Dear Friends and Family,

For those of you who don’t yet know, Jennifer and I have felt for some time that God might be leading us to serve as foreign missionaries. We have had the opportunity to go on two mission trips together (India in 2007, Haiti in 2011) and both felt that God was leading us to commit to more than just the occasional mission trip. We have been praying that God would make his will for us plain, and we believe that he has answered that prayer.

This January, we had the opportunity to go to Dallas for a one week “Taste Of Translation And Linguistics” (aka–“TOTAL it up”), which allowed us the opportunity to have a unique peek into the life of missionaries with the organization Wycliffe Bible Translators. While there are many great missions agencies out there, Wycliffe was a perfect match for us. Hearing the stories of how lives were changed when people finally had God’s Word in their heart language for the first time was exciting. We both have a passion for God’s Word and for unreached peoples, and God has planted a desire deep in my heart to take the gospel to those who have never heard (Rom. 15:20-21). Furthermore, the nature of Bible translation plays to my spiritual gifts and talents and was a perfect fit for the type of work I would most enjoy. The week that we spent at TOTAL it Up confirmed that God was calling us to serve as missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators and we are excited as we take the next steps forward.

But, becoming foreign missionaries is no easy task! Amongst the many obstacles we have to overcome is debt reduction. As many of you already know, Jennifer and I have been taking some drastic steps to meet the debt requirements that we must attain before applying to Wycliffe. In April, we held a huge yard sale where we sold quite a few of our valuables. God blessed us immensely in that we were able to raise over $1,800 in one day at a yard sale! (Talk about a “God thing!”) Next, we moved to a smaller, more affordable place in Jacksonville, cutting our rent budget in half. These steps have allowed us to make some great leaps forward towards our debt reduction goal, but we still have just over $2,500 left to pay off before we can apply. While that may sound like a lot, we are actually quite close to being able to accomplish that goal. In short, if we can sell my truck (2003 Dodge Ram 1500) and bike (2009 Fuji Aloha 1.0), then we will have reached our goal and be ready to apply! If we were to accomplish that this month, that would put us on track for becoming Wycliffe members by November, just in time for a mandatory training session in January at the Wycliffe HQ in Orlando. But, in order to make that training in January, we have to apply by the end of June!

So, here’s how you can help. First of all, please pray for us! While that may sound cliche’, it’s anything but! Paying off $2500 of debt in less than a month is a BHAG (Big Holy Audacious Goal), and is something only God can pull off! (Kind of like making $1800 at a one day yard sale!)  Since I started writing this, I’ve already had one person contact me about buying my bike and another about buying my truck! So please remember us in your prayers! Secondly, please pass the word that we have a truck and bike for sale! You can view my ad for the truck here, and the bike here or here.  Hopefully, by the time you read this they will no longer be for sale, but just in case, spread the word!

Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. We will keep you posted as we make progress in this journey. Please consider becoming a follower of our blog, so you’ll receive our periodic updates and prayer requests in your inbox.

In Christ,

Jason, Jennifer, and Josiah Hill

A couple Q & A’s:

Q: Where will your assignment be and what language will you be working in?
A: In short, we don’t know yet. Once we are accepted with Wycliffe, we will spend the next 2-3 months collaborating with missionaries in the field to determine a good fit for us. If we’re able to apply in June, we should know those details by October.

Q: If you do apply by July, when will you be moving overseas?
A: Once accepted, we will have to attend a two week training session called “Equip” which will train us on raising support. Then, we will have to raise our support. There’s no set time on that process, but it often takes around a year to become fully funded. After we are fully funded, we will move to Dallas for one year of training at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (GIAL). Upon completion of that one year program, we will be “deployed” to our initial assignment. In short, the process takes about 2 years or so after acceptance to get to the field.

Q: You have a wife and small child. Why would you move to some dangerous third world country when there’s people here in America who need Jesus and it’s much less risky?
A: There are over 1,900 languages left without any portion of God’s Word in their heart language. In short, that’s not “OK.” While it’s true that ministry is desperately needed here in America, and it’s perhaps true that America may be generally safer than, say, the DRC, those people need Christ just as much as Americans do. Furthermore, they have NO scripture, NO ministers, and NO hope of ever hearing the gospel unless someone goes and tells them. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Rom. 10:14-15, ESV Meanwhile, Americans have a plethora of English Bible translations to pick from, churches on every street corner, and prepackaged gospel presentations available at the click of a remote control. We cannot sit back in comfort and relative safety while the world burns. Some are called to ministry here, some there. Regardless of location, all Christians are called to be involved in missions–some are primarily senders, and some are primarily “goers.” (Though I think all of us have a duty to both.) We have been called out to go, so all we can do is joyfully “trust and obey.”

Where is your treasure?

When we lived in Louisville, I delivered pizzas part time to help make ends meet while I was taking classes at Seminary.  I got to meet all kinds of people and it was, oddly enough, a pretty enjoyable job!  But, let’s face it–pizza delivery isn’t going to make you rich.  After paying for tuition and books, I usually felt like the little boy with two fish desperately hoping God would somehow multiply my meager earnings so we could just pay the bills.

So, over time I began to struggle with jealousy.  I often delivered pizzas to homes that were quite extravagant.  And while I couldn’t always tell whether or not the owner was a believer, sometimes it was quite clear that they weren’t!  (Or at least weren’t acting like one at the time!)   Here I was trying to serve God and follow his lead, and it was all I could do just to pay the bills!  I remember one house that was especially lavish.  It had all the custom trimmings, a perfectly manicured and landscaped lawn, and you couldn’t help but be intimidated by its grand entryway.  Yet for all its extravagance, it sat in the shadow of the house across the street.  Literally.  The neighborhood was in a hilly area of town and the house across the street sat up much higher on the hill, so when the sun set the home literally sat in the shadow of the castle across the street.  It kind of made me chuckle a bit.  These folks had spent who knows how many years accumulating their wealth and saving up to build their dream home, and then along comes the Jones’ who build an even bigger house on the hill!  Every time they walk out the front door, they have to crane their neck upwards and block the sun with their hand just to see their neighbor’s home.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being rich.  Job was rich, and he was a godly man.  Furthermore, there’s not necessarily any spiritual benefit to being dirt poor.  There’s nothing necessarily unspiritual about owning stuff–as long as your stuff doesn’t own you.  And, on the flip side, there’s nothing necessarily spiritual about NOT owning stuff, because your NOT owning stuff CAN own you.

Just take a look at the warnings Jesus gives in Matthew 6:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [Mat 6:19-25, 31-34 ESV]

Jesus’ warnings here don’t only apply to the wealthy.  In fact, who is more likely to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or what they will wear tomorrow–the rich or the poor?  Jesus isn’t only warning against piling up treasures on earth, but also against coveting such treasures.  Jesus’ focus was on what< you treasure, not on how much treasure you have.  I’ve met relatively poor people who treasure material possessions and worldly comfort more than some rich people!  (And I have been such a person, too.)

The reason that Jesus spends so much time talking about money is because money and material possessions betray our true passions in life.  The way we spend our time and money reveals a lot about what we value, or “treasure,” here on earth.  It reveals our perspective on life.  Many people skip over verses 22-23 , because they’re difficult to understand, but they state exactly that:

The eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.

How many of us walk around filled with worldly darkness with our spiritual growth stunted because our “eye” is bad?  Oh that God would open our eyes to see the way he sees!  Why do we treasure money and material comforts which will all be destroyed instead of treasuring the eternal God?  We ought to treasure him and the things which he treasures, namely, human souls!

As Jennifer and I are preparing for service with Wycliffe, one of the obstacles we have to overcome is our debt.  Some of our debt is from educational loans, but some of it is from chasing our own little American dream.  After years of praying for God to reveal his will to me for my career path in ministry, God finally revealed it this January at Total it Up (A weeklong Wycliffe “orientation” of sorts).  Unfortunately, because of my “bad eye” in the past, our ability to move forward with Wycliffe has been delayed until we can pay down our debt.  Suddenly this passage came to life. I began to hear God asking me, “Jason, what do you treasure? Do you treasure me and following my will, or do you treasure your gas-guzzling four wheel drive truck? What about your comfort–could you live in a smaller place if it meant being able to get the gospel to those who have never heard sooner?” My accumulation of worldly treasures was preventing me from inheriting the eternal treasures God had promised. I wrestled with it it for a while, until I read this:

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:15-21 ESV]

I don’t ever want to face God and hear the words, “You fool!”  Could we get to the field without having to sell our possessions?  Perhaps eventually, but how many of the people to whom we will be sent would perish without having heard the gospel in that time?  If my soul is required of me tonight, do I want to be still clutching to my stuff when I face God, knowing that I treasured money instead of God?

… 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. [Luke 12:31-32 ESV]

Over the last couple years, God has slowly replaced the worldly treasures in my life with himself.  It’s been a slow, and at times, painful process.  But the difference is astounding.  Once I finally let go of those possessions that possessed me, the jealousy that had consumed me was replaced with a fiery passion to see the gospel go to the nations. It was so freeing!  The idea that years from now I might possibly have the privilege of handing a completed New Testament to a people who previously had no scripture is beyond my capability to express in words.  Now, my passion is God, his Word, and his Kingdom.  I think that were I able to trade lives with those whom I coveted before I would find myself saying, “This is it?  This is what I wanted?  I’m supposed to be satisfied with this?!?!”  I don’t want to settle for the American Dream.  I want God’s Dream.  The American Dream is too small.  I’ve been given a taste of God’s passion for the nations and I can’t imagine settling for anything less. But, it took God prying away those idols from my life so that he could change my unwilling heart into a heart that he could use. Please don’t misunderstand–I had nothing to do with this.  God alone deserves the credit.  But by God’s grace, I now treasure him–not as I should, of course, but more than I once did.

God has a purpose for your life, and it’s not for you to fulfill your American Dream.  He has bigger plans for you than that.  He wants to give you the Kingdom!  Don’t settle for fool’s gold.  He alone is the true treasure, the only thing worth living for.  What’s your treasure?

 

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Suffering Well

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Job 1:20-22

This Thanksgiving, we take time to be grateful for all that we have been blessed with.  But for many, the holiday season is not such a joyful time.  Many people around us are suffering through tragic losses and difficult times.  Each of us, at some point in our lives, will go through similar experiences of suffering.  All of us will, most likely, suffer financial difficulty, health problems, and the loss of loved ones.  It’s not really a matter of “if,” but “when.”  But isn’t it interesting that we don’t all react the same way, even when our problems are basically the same as everyone else’s?  Why is it that some people seem to collapse when tragedy strikes, while others blossom?

There’s a few things from the story of Job in the Old Testament that we can learn about suffering.  But first, let’s take note of a few of the most important details in the story.  First of all, notice that Job’s suffering was not a result of sin that he had committed.  Job is described as being “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (v. 1) We shouldn’t assume from that truth that our own suffering is never a result of our sin—oftentimes it is!  Take a speeding ticket, for example.  Ultimately, all suffering is indirectly caused by sin, because sin has ravaged the perfect creation that God made.  But suffering is not always caused directly by our sin.  Sometimes bad things happen to godly people.

Secondly, notice what Job lost.  First, Job lost his oxen and donkeys.  Oxen were the combines of that day, so this loss would be similar to loosing one’s livelihood and food source simultaneously.  No oxen, no food.  Secondly, Job lost his sheep.  Sheep were used for sacrifices to God, clothing (from the wool), and perhaps for food as well.  The third thing Job lost was his camels—his primary mode of transportation.  Last, and most importantly, Job lost his family.  All seven sons and three daughters were killed when the roof over their head collapsed during a feast.  And, while he was still mourning the loss of these, he was stricken with boils on his skin.  In the span of just moments, Job lost his job, his food, his clothing, his transportation, his children, and his health.

Thirdly, notice that there were things going on “behind the scenes,” in the spiritual realm, that Job was not privy to.  Now, we don’t know for sure why God allowed Satan to afflict Job.  Certainly God could have prevented Satan from doing so, but for whatever reason, he decided to permit Satan to afflict Job to a certain extent.  Perhaps God was trying to grow Job’s faith.  That certainly is one of the outcomes of this whole ordeal.  But while that may be the case, I tend to think that the purpose of Job’s afflictions was for our spiritual benefit.  We get a behind the scenes look at suffering that we don’t get anywhere else in scripture.  So perhaps one of the greatest lessons we learn through Job is that sometimes our suffering is the means God uses to encourage others during their suffering.  Because of the introduction of sin into the world, suffering is an inevitable part of life.  But when Christians endure suffering well, we show through our testimony that there is hope in the midst of crisis for those who are in Christ.

But how do we “suffer well?”  The answer lies in Job’s response to his suffering.  Job’s first reaction to suffering was both grief and worship.  Now Job’s grieving comes as no surprise to us, given all that he had lost.  But worship?!?!  God had just allowed unspeakable disaster to strike Job, and all Job had ever done was live a godly life!  Of course, Job wasn’t without sin, but even God himself describes Job as “blameless and upright.”  How could Job resist the incredible urge to blame God for his suffering?  Job was able to suffer well because he had developed a godly character long before tragedy struck.  Job didn’t wait around for disaster to hit and then look in the “What to read when you are suffering” appendix in his Bible.  Job didn’t have to frantically scramble around asking advice from godly people on how to endure suffering.  Job didn’t wonder what kind of God would allow such suffering.  Job didn’t question God’s character because Job already knew God’s character.  The time to figure out how to handle suffering is not when you’re in the middle of it—the best time to figure that out is when things are good.  Job could worship God in the middle of suffering because he had made up his mind long beforehand that he would do so.  Job had a faith “emergency fund” that he’d been saving up for years, funded by the realization that every blessing was a gift from God.

Job recognized that “the Lord gave…” When times were good, Job didn’t take it for granted.  Job realized that his oxen, sheep, camels, servants, wealth, health, and family were all gifts from God that he didn’t deserve.  That’s why Job prayed for his children after every feast—because he realized that his family’s health and wellbeing was simply a product of God’s grace and mercy.  Job was able to weather the storm because he practiced a lifestyle of thanksgiving.  Job didn’t worship God because God had taken all of these blessings away from him; Job worshiped God because that’s just what Job did—he worshiped God.  Every day.  Continually.  Every blessing that Job received he praised God for.  Every ox, every donkey, every sheep, every servant, every penny of his wealth, every son, every daughter, every moment, every hour.

You see, when we stop taking things for granted and start praising God for every blessing we have, then our attitude changes.  Instead of feeling that God owes us all these things—that we’re entitled to God’s blessings—we begin to see God’s blessings for what they are: grace.  Blessings from God are his grace—unmerited favor.  Suffering is not when God steals things from us that belong to us (our health, family, wealth, etc.), it’s when God simply takes back what was rightfully his to begin with.  If the Lord gave, then the Lord has the right to take away.  And it helps to keep in mind the truth of Romans 8:28—“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  God never takes back his blessings just for the fun of it.  There’s always a purpose, and it always works together for our good.

So how do you suffer well?  You start right now—especially if things are going well.  You live a life of thanksgiving—not just one day every year.  You suffer well by making every day Thanksgiving Day.  And then when tragedy strikes you simply repeat what you say every day: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

My new blog name, and what it’s all about

So, you’ve probably noticed that the last blog post you got from me wasn’t from “Jhillinlouisville.”  That’s because I’ve changed the name of my blog, along with its design and focus, to reflect what I want my ministry (and my blog ministry) to be focused on.  So, I owe it to you–my subscribers–to let you in on the what, why, and how of Acts 1:8 Ministries.

The “What” (and “Where”) of Acts 1:8 Ministries:

“Acts 1:8 Ministries” is a description of the focus of my family’s ministry.  It comes from the famous verse in the Bible often called the “Great Commission,” which is Christ’s last recorded spoken words after his resurrection before he ascended into heaven.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Acts 1:8 (ESV)

So, in short, the “what” of Acts 1:8 is that we are all called to be “witnesses” of what Christ has done for us and, as Matthew 28:19-20 states, we are to “make disciples”  in our hometowns (“Jerusalem”), in our region (“Judea”), and to “the end of the earth.”  I believe that that verse, as well as many others, teaches that every Christian has an obligation to share the gospel and make disciples in those three areas.  Some will be called to spend more time witnessing locally, and some–like my family–will be called to primarily serve overseas.  But all of us are required to spend some time in each of these areas.  I cannot forsake sharing the gospel with my neighbor simply because I’ve been called to foreign missions, nor can someone who is called to serve locally forsake foreign missions.  We are all called to serve in “Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Acts 1:8 Ministries is one of the means by which I aim to be a witness and make disciples.  So, some of my blog posts will be “witness” posts–telling of what God has done in or through me–and some of my posts will be “disciple making”–engaging my readers in critical thinking of practical issues based upon biblical teaching.  Occasionally, I will also give status updates of our progress towards the mission field.

The “Why” of Acts 1:8 Ministries:

Why in the world would someone leave what is arguably the greatest nation in the world, move to some third world country where they know absolutely no one, can’t speak the language, and don’t know the culture simply for the hope of making disciples?  Paul explained it well in his letter to the Romans:

For”everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Romans 10:13-15 (ESV)

The simple truth is that there is no hope of an eternity in heaven without repentance from your sins and belief in Christ.  (See my pages on The Gospel for a full explanation of the Bible’s teaching on salvation.)  And, as Paul states, those who don’t know about what Christ has done can’t believe in him.  They can’t learn what Christ has done for them unless someone tells them.  And we can’t tell them without going to meet them where they are.  So, as Christians, WE MUST GO.  It’s tragic enough that there are people who have rejected the gospel after hearing it, but it’s simply unacceptable that millions would perish without ever having heard the gospel.  It’s our responsibility as Christians to make sure they have the opportunity to accept the gospel.  And that is what Acts 1:8 Ministries is all about.  Why would people pack up and move to a third world country to share the gospel?  Because…

the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

II Corinthians 5:14-15

As far as the specific “why” of Bible translation, consider the following statistics from Wycliffe.  Of the approximately 6800 spoken languages in the world, just under 2,000 have no portion of the Bible translated into that language.  That amounts to about 209,000,000 people who have no access to the Bible in the language that they understand.  We’re not just talking about the number of people who haven’t heard the gospel, we’re talking about the number of people who have absolutely no hope of ever hearing the gospel because it’s not even in their language!  We can’t hope to see successful church plants in these cultures if God’s Word is not even available to them.  God’s Word is powerful and has the ability to transform entire people groups.  (Check out this story for a great example.)  The foundation  Wycliffe’s “Vision 2025” is their goal to begin a translation project in all of those remaining languages by the year 2025.  Due to technological and strategical advances, combined with people who are willing to count the cost and share the hope of Christ, they are on track toward meeting that goal.  I, for one, would like to be a part of that.

The “How” of Acts 1:8 Ministries:

Well, obviously my blog plays a part in how I carry out the Great Commission.  But since I’ve already talked about that, I’ll concentrate on our progress towards going on mission with Wycliffe.  (I’ve learned through experience and Biblical teaching not to assume that I know what the future holds, so I will offer this disclaimer: “If the Lord wills,” these are our plans for the future.)

Before we can proceed any further with our plans with Wycliffe, we need to confirm that Bible translation is, indeed, where God wants us.  In January, Jennifer and I will be going down to Dallas for TOTAL it Up (TOTAL= Taste Of Translation And Linguistics).  TIU is a one week crash course on translation, held at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (GIAL), designed to help aspiring translators discern God’s calling to the field.  Jennifer and I would certainly appreciate your prayers for that week, both for our spiritual discernment and for God’s financial provision for the cost of tuition and travel.

In the meantime, Jenn and I are focusing on paying of our debts and getting me through seminary.  Seminary is not required for service with Wycliffe, but will certainly be helpful in missions.  Getting rid of debt, however, is a requirement.  So, we could certainly use your prayers in that area.  We have just completed Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey, and that has helped us a lot.  Pray that God would provide in abundance so that we can use that money to pay off debt and get on the field sooner.

Once we have paid off enough of our debt, we can begin the application process with Wycliffe.  That process will take a couple months, and once accepted we will counsel with Wycliffe to determine which language and people group we will have for our initial field assignment.  After six weeks of online orientation and a two week training session in Orlando, FL, we will then begin the process of raising funds.  We hope that you will prayerfully consider supporting our ministry if/when that time comes.  “How are they to preach unless they are sent?”  Just as important as the missionaries who take the gospel are those who send them.

Upon completion of raising the funds we need for our assignment, we will move to Dallas to attend GIAL for one year, where we will be taught the basics of language acquisition and translation.  Then, it’s off to who-knows-where.  We will work for two years on our initial field assignment.  During that time, we will work on learning the language and building relationships in the community we live in.  Then, we will come back to GIAL for another year of more specialized training before heading back overseas for our final field assignment, which will culminate with the release of a new translation of the Bible in a language that didn’t have one before.

You may or may not be called to a career in foreign missions, but we hope that you will partner with us and support us in prayer as we pursue our calling to take the gospel “where Christ has not been named” and to those “who have never heard.”  (See Romans 15:20-21)  Thanks for your dedication and support!  We will keep you posted!

The Jig is Up, Ms. Williams: If It’s Human, It’s Murder

If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, you’ll know that there’s been quite a stir regarding abortion in the last few weeks. Having just passed the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion has been the hot topic lately–even more so than usual. One particular TV commercial celebrating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade seems to unashamedly declare what many pro-life advocates have said all along–“women’s rights” is nothing more than a clever catch phrase to afford the right of abortion to those who are sexually promiscuous. (To their credit, however, many abortion advocates are equally disgusted with the commercial’s blatant chauvinism and callousness towards the subject of abortion. Kudos to those of you who find it repulsive.) But one article seems to have broken out of the traditional arguments for abortion and, at least in my opinion, finally revealed what some abortion advocates have secretly believed this whole time and have, for good reason, kept secret.

The article I’m referring to is the one by Mary Elizabeth Williams entitled, “So What if Abortion Ends a Life?” In case you don’t have time to read her article in full, I’ve highlighted some of the important parts for you.

Let’s address a few quotes from Williams’ article:

…Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice…

Well, I suppose at least Williams has finally conceded that an unborn child is, in fact, a human life. On the other hand, how in the world does Williams concede that a fetus is a human life and still justify abortion?

…All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always…

Here’s the thrust of her argument: Women’s rights trump baby’s rights. Williams’ is willing to concede that a fetus is a human life but yet also willing to deny said life its “inalienable rights…to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I’m not sure the constitution affords you the privilege to deny the basic right of life to another human being solely on the undemonstrated basis that they have less rights than you. That’s circular reasoning: “I can deny my baby its right to life because my rights are more important than his.” Really? On what basis does another human being have less rights than you? Sounds eerily similar to the kind of logic that fueled slavery in the 1800’s and genocidal maniacs like Hitler and Stalin. (And we thought that kind of racist, genocidal thinking was confined to slave traders and Nazis…hmmm) Yet somehow abortion is championed as the path to the future and those of us who believe that “all life is created equal” are labeled as “backward” and “stuck-in-the-past,” or to use Williams’ words, “bullies, archconservatives, and wingnuts.” As a matter of fact, that’s the purpose of laws–to ensure that my rights don’t infringe upon yours. How ironic that pro-life advocates are labeled as “anti-women’s rights.” Perhaps I’m forgetting, but I don’t recall the right to an abortion in the list of inalienable rights.* I do, however, recall the right to life. And if Williams’ concedes that a fetus has life, I don’t see how she can logically deny the most basic right–the right to continue living–from her baby. Defending her belief that a fetus is a human life, Williams says:

When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory. I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born…When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?

Agreed. Bravo, Ms. Williams. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Ironically, in this much Williams’ opinion seems to be perfectly in line with God’s. (See this former post of mine regarding what the Bible has to say about the life of an unborn child.) In an attempt to justify her decision to deny the right of life to her unborn child, Williams states:

…[We] make choices about life all the time in our country. We make them about men and women in other nations. We make them about prisoners in our penal system. We make them about patients with terminal illnesses and accident victims. We still have passionate debates about the justifications of our actions as a society, but we don’t have to do it while being bullied around by the vague idea that if you say we’re talking about human life, then the jig is up, rights-wise. It seems absurd to suggest that the only thing that makes us fully human is the short ride out of some lady’s vagina. That distinction may apply neatly legally, but philosophically, surely we can do better.

I will assume that by “men and women in other nations” Williams’ is referring to victims of war. I will start by pointing out that only under certain circumstances are any of the people on this list denied their right to life and only then under careful deliberation. Not all murderers are executed, not all enemy combatants are killed, and we don’t pull the plug on every terminally ill patient. We don’t have time to discuss the intricacies of all these situations. So, conceding that there are some situations in which people of other nations (i.e.–enemy combatants, terrorists, etc.), criminals, and patients with terminal illnesses might be justifiably killed (or allowed to die), let’s think about this: enemy combatants, death row inmates, patients with terminal illnesses, babies…Which one of these is not like the others?!?! Seriously? Are we really at the point where we can compare the execution of an unborn child with that of a death row inmate? An unborn child has not “attacked” your nation, murdered anyone, and–in most cases–is not terminally ill. Mind you, Williams’ is not merely arguing for the right of a mother to abort in situations in which the life of the mother or baby is at risk–she wants unrestricted access to abortions under any circumstances–including mere inconvenience to the mother. We don’t even do that to murderers! Even murderers are given a trial first, and relatively few of them are executed. Usually, only those committing certain types of murder that are considered especially heinous are executed, and even then, many states have outlawed executions outright or rarely ever practice them. Why should it be ok to kill an innocent baby–which Williams has admitted is a human life–with less restrictions than convicted murderers? And why are we even comparing the two?!?!
But, Ms. Williams, let’s apply your reasoning further. If 1) an unborn child is, indeed, a human life every bit as much as two-year old toddler (and Williams concedes this point), and 2) I have demonstrated that the law does not afford the privilege to one human to infringe upon the inalienable rights of another human (except under the circumstances of war, executions of murders, etc.), and 3) we can reasonably say that an unborn child is not in the same category as murderers and enemy combatants, then what is the difference between the abortion of an unborn child and the killing of a toddler who is inconveniencing his mother with a temper tantrum, except, to use Ms. Williams’ words, “a short ride out of some lady’s vagina?” (Please pardon the crudeness–I would not have used that terminology except to demonstrate a fatal flaw in her argumentation.) Williams has already conceded that the unborn child is a human life, so as far as I can tell, if Williams wants to include fetuses in the exception to the right of life along with criminals and enemy combatants, why not include a toddler as well? Or your rebellious teenager? If you’re willing to grant the status of “living human being” to an unborn child, you MUST also give that human being its inalienable right to life. Rather, you don’t grant that right–it’s already there. You may not infringe upon it.

I can say anecdotally that I’m a mom who loved the lives she incubated from the moment she peed on those sticks, and is also now well over 40 and in an experimental drug trial. If by some random fluke I learned today I was pregnant, you bet your *** I’d have an abortion. I’d have the World’s Greatest Abortion….And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.

I imagine that a great many abortion advocates will cringe at Ms. Williams’ article almost as much as I. I don’t think that Williams represents the vast majority of pro-choicers when it comes to her conviction that an unborn child is a living human being. And that’s somewhat of a relief. Williams’ brazen disrespect for life sends chills up my spine. That a mother could so callously disregard what she knows to be life inside of her on the mere basis of inconvenience is just disgusting. It make me want to puke. I can understand the argument against granting an unborn child the status of “life.” I disagree with it, but I can at least understand it on a rational level. But to acknowledge that life and blatantly argue for its extermination? Unthinkable.

Humans were created in the image of God. And if that unborn baby is human and has not committed a sin worthy of death, YOU SHALL NOT KILL. Period. You may argue against the “humanity” of an unborn fetus, but if you agree that an unborn child is a living human being created in the image of God, then yes, Ms. Williams, “the jig is up.”

*Some may argue that the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness gives the basis for the right to an abortion. I’m not convinced for two reasons: 1) the law never affords you the privilege of exercising your pursuit of happiness at the expense of another’s rights and, 2) the inconvenience to your “happiness” that is caused by pregnancy is the direct result of your pursuit of another kind of happiness. You can get yourself locked into prison for joyriding and then whine about the police taking away your rights. Similarly, you can go around having sex whenever and with whomever and then whine about getting pregnant. (I am NOT talking about rape or incest–I’m merely talking about the vast majority of pregnancies, which are caused through consensual sex.)

Audio Sermon Files

Below are some links to audio files of the sermons I have preached recently. Feel free to download, copy, and distribute them freely, but please do not alter the content of any of these messages.

“Father’s Day Sermon” 6/17/12

“Don’t Waste Your Life,” Father’s Day Sermon, 6/9/2013

“The Good News of the Gospel,” 6/9/13

Mini-Series on the Book of Ephesians:

“The Spiritual Blessings of Salvation,” Ephesians 1-3

“Living as a Gospel Centered Church,” Ephesians 4

“The Gospel on Display in Marriage,” Ephesians 5

“The Gospel and Spiritual Warfare,” Ephesians 6

11 Apps every Christian should have

While these apps won’t instantly transform you into Christ-like perfection (there’s not an “app for that”), having these apps on your smartphone or tablet is a great way to transform what could otherwise be a stumblingblock to your relationship with Christ into a powerful weapon against the enemy.  I like to think of these apps as my phone’s “sword” and “shield.”  Some of these will protect you from attack by the trash in our culture, while others will help you hone your spiritual “sword” and add weapons to your armory against the devil.  Hope you like them!

1.  YouVersion Bible

Price: Free

Pros:  Installed on more than 60 million devices worldwide and with a 4.5+ out of 5.0 star rating, YouVersion is hands-down the most popular Bible app of them all.  It’s easy to use and comes with hundreds of different translations–all of them free!  Want to read the Bible in Korean?  No problem.  Prefer the original Greek or Hebrew?  Got that, too.  Or, you could be a normal human being and read any of the more popular modern translations, including the KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NLT, and so on.  Almost all the modern English translations are available for downloading for offline use, also.  By far the coolest feature on YouVersion, however, is the audio Bibles.  That’s right–as long as you have an internet (WiFi or 3g) connection, you can stream most of your favorite versions of the Bible for FREE.  So, now you have no excuse for not reading your Bible–you can listen on your way to work!  (Just watch out for those data charges from your wireless provider!)  Also, YouVersion comes with a plethora of Bible Reading plans to choose from.  YouVersion also can sync with your Blue Letter Bible (BLB) reading plans.  Available on iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Windows 8, HP/Palm, Java, Symbian, Mobile Web, Kindle Fire, and online through any web browser.

Cons:  Not many.  But, compared to some other Bible apps, like Glo Bible and BLB, YouVersion is lacking in supplemental study materials.  It’s great for use on the go or for the audio features, but it won’t replace your study Bible or commentaries.

2.  Glo Bible

Price: Free (or $35 for the Premium version)

Pros: This is an awesome app for serious Bible study and lesson preparation.  Available for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, the free version comes with the KJV and NIV available for offline use.  Plus, Glo Bible comes with all kinds of study aids, like interactive maps, historical contextual information, photos, videos, and even some animated tours of famous Bible locations, like the first century Temple or Mosaic Tabernacle!  It’s like study Bible meets IMAX theater.  Also, your YouVersion notes will sync with Glo Bible.

Cons: Unless you purchase the in app upgrades, you’re pretty limited on what you can do with this app.  All of the “good stuff” is locked for premium users only.  For instance, you can take a tour of the tabernacle with the free version, but only the premium version grants you the high priestly privilege of peeking into the Holy of Holies.  (Yeah, I know, you’re not supposed to go in there anyways, but if you’re like me, the curiosity is just too much!)  $35 is a hefty chunk of cash for an app, and I imagine that there are few who will pay it, but–in my opinion–it’s totally worth it if you’re a teacher or really enjoy in-depth Bible study.  That $35 opens up a couple more translations (ESV, NIV 84, and The Message) as well as the NIV study notes (like a study Bible would have) and over 3500 additional media options, including more maps, more videos, and expanded virtual tours.  Your premium upgrade gives you access to the premium material on your Mac, PC, iPad, and iPhone.  Currently, the number of available translations is limited, even for premium users, but I imagine they will be posting more translations with time.  Lastly, because Glo Bible has much more content to it than does YouVersion, it’s not quite as user friendly or intuitive to navigate.

3.  Blue Letter Bible

Price: Free

Pros: BLB is another great Bible study app designed for iPhone, iPad, and online web browser use.  It comes with quite a few translations to choose from, including the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT, and many others, including the Greek and Hebrew.  BLB also allows you to perform a range of functions on any verse in the Bible, such as viewing it in other translations, referencing each word in the verse with its Strong’s Concordance reference number, and viewing the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or Commentaries associated with that verse or passage.  BLB’s search function is also much better than either YouVersion or Glo Bible’s search functions, making BLB best suited for those who prefer an in-depth word-study approach to  Bible study or frequently reference commentaries.  BLB also has several daily Bible reading plans to choose from.

Cons: There isn’t much negative about the features that this app has, though some might complain for lack of features.  BLB doesn’t have the fancy media of the Glo Bible, and it doesn’t have the plethora of translations or audio versions of YouVersion, but what BLB does have–in depth word study resources–it does quite well.  This won’t be an app you use every day, but it’s great to have handy when you need it.

4.  Desiring God

Price: Free

Pros: This is, simply put, my favorite Christian app–aside from the Bible, of course–for iPhone and iPad.  Desiring God is the ministry of John Piper, one of my favorite preachers.  This app gives you access to literally thousands of sermons, articles, books, conference messages, poems, biographies, etc.  Piper has almost all, if not all, of his sermons of his available for downloading or streaming dating all the way back to 1980, and even one sermon from 1971!  In addition, Piper has posted free PDF versions of 79 of the books he has authored or co-authored.  That’s right…79 books…completely FREE.  I don’t know of any other author–Christian or not–who has done that.  When I’m driving to work or school, I’ll pull up a sermon or message from Desiring God and listen to on the way.  Piper has tons of knowledge and wisdom to impart from his many years of ministry, all there for the taking.

Cons: Frequent app crashes are the only problem with this app.

5.  Fighter Verses

Price: $2.99

Pros: This is a great app to help you memorize scripture.  It comes preloaded with several sets of verses, each set being enough to last you for a year.  Or, you can simply add in your own desired memory verses.  There’s even a set of memory verses specifically suited for children, with symbols to aid in memorization.  To help you memorize your memory verses, Fighter Verses gives you quizzes: fill in the blank, recite aloud, multiple choice, etc.

Cons: The only obvious con is the cost.  But, $3 is a small price to pay for the help in memorizing scripture to grow closer to Christ.

6.  K9 Browser

Price: Free

Pros:  Let’s face it–in today’s society, it’s difficult to avoid all the images and junk that the internet throws at you.  But, with K9 Browser you can filter out most of the junk.  It’s a great way to keep yourself or your children safe on the internet.  There are other filtered browsers that you can download, but man of the others are so limited in their functionality that they hardly even serve as web browsers.  While K9 Browser has its own search engine and will not play videos, its filtering is much more efficient than most other filters/browsers and it looks and operates almost just like Safari.

Cons:  Of course, with any internet filter or filtered browser there are sacrifices.  K9 Browser will not play videos of any kind–even those which aren’t inappropriate.  So, YouTube will not work on K9.  Also, many of the features native to Safari browser are not on K9, most notably the “open in” feature which allows files to be opened in other apps.  Lastly, since K9 is a separate browser (there is no filter “add-on” for the native Safari browser), Safari must be disabled in the Restrictions section of the Settings in order for it to serve its purpose.

7. Crossway

Price: Free

Pros: Very similar to the Desiring God app, this app is a great resource on a wide variety of topics that concern Christians.  It has blogs from various pastors or Christian writers, book reviews, music reviews, movie reviews, articles on contemporary events, and articles on various topics of interest.  The authors are mostly well published and esteemed Christian authors, such as John Piper, Russell Moore, R.C. Sproul, and others.

Cons: There are better apps (see below) for media reviews.  There is no audio component to this app (unlike Desiring God).  But, otherwise, this is a great app.

8.  PURE

Price: Free

Pros: PURE is an app to facilitate your accountability with your accountability partner.  Having an accountability partner (someone who will regularly ask you the tough questions about your walk with Christ and “keep you honest”) is invaluable in your growth in holiness.  Even the great Billy Graham has an accountability partner, because he realizes the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17–“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  PURE helps you do that by allowing you to input your accountability questions (“Have I read my Bible daily?”  “Have I shared the gospel this week?” etc.) and then, through an on screen notification, reminding you to answer your questions every day/week/month (depending on your desired frequency).  It then generates an email to send to any email address you want.  It’s a simple and effective way to facilitate accountability.

Cons:  The biggest downside is simply that your answers must be either “Yes” or “No,” so you must phrase your questions accordingly.  However, PURE overcomes this limitation partially by allowing you the option to edit the email report before its sent, so you can add in an explanation if necessary.  Also, there’s no in-app security feature, so your personal questions are not secure if someone has access to your phone.  Of course, you can always work around that by simply using your iPhone’s built in security–just set a lock screen password in your settings.  Lastly, downloading this app won’t get you an accountability partner, of course!  🙂  You’ll still have to find one on your own.  Overall, though, it’s a great app which I plan to keep on my phone until I can find a suitable accountability partner.  lol

9.  Audible

Price: Free

Pros:  “Wait a minute, Audible isn’t a ‘Christian’ app!”  No, it’s not, but it is an app that every Christian ought to have.  Why?  Because with audiobooks there’s no longer an excuse for not reading good Christian books!  Audible makes it possible for even the busiest soccer mom to get in some reading.  Listen while you’re driving, doing dishes, mowing the yard, etc.  Just make sure you pick good books!  Audilbe allows you to change the playback speed, place “bookmarks,” and even track your book reading stats and earn badges.

Cons:  Aside from the obvious–books aren’t free–there is currently no way to search for or purchase new books in the Audible app.  The app is simply a player–you’ll have to browse for and purchase your books online, then download them into the app.  It’s a little clumsy, and I’m not sure why Audible hasn’t figured out a way of doing all of that in the app, but so far, no luck.  Still, it’s a great audiobook player.

10. FamilyLife Audio

Price: Free

Pros:  Family Life is a ministry based out of Little Rock, AR which seeks to minister to–you guessed it!–families.  (Not to be confused with “Focus on the Family” or “American Family Radio (AFR).”)  With a plethora of biblically sound teaching and advice on marriage and parenting, FamilyLife Audio is a great resource for any spouse or parent.

Cons: None that I have discovered yet.

11. Plugged-In

Price: Free

Pros: This is a must have for the movie goer.  There are other good apps for movie reviews (such as Movie Guide Lite), but the special features on the Plugged-In app make it the winner in my book.  Plugged-in not only gives you a Christian perspective on the movies you might want to watch, but also reviews music, DVDs, and video games based on their spiritual, violent, sexual, language, and other content.  It also gives you an “average user rating.”  It provides detailed explanations of the ratings in every category, including specific information on what types of language, violent, or sexual content viewers may find offensive.  You can view the video review for many of the movies or the theatrical trailer as well.  Also, if you’d like to purchase tickets, Plugged-In provides a link to the websites of nearby theaters for purchasing tickets.

Cons: Unlike Movie Guide Lite, Plugged-In does not give content ratings for each individual category (i.e., violence, sexual content, etc.) and does not provide a rating for the quality of the film.  The only ratings given are simply for “Family Friendliness” and “Average User Rating.”  Also, many users–myself included–may find Plugged-In’s reviews to be overly critical of content.  Typically, very few movies which have a high “Family Friendliness” rating also have a high “Average User Rating.”  In other words, most of the movies which get a high rating from Plugged-In are, well, a little cheesy.  But, on the other hand, Plugged-In does an excellent job of providing a full description of the movies’ content, so the user ought to be able to make an informed decision with or without reliable ratings.  Lastly, the links to view showtimes and purchase tickets are unreliable, and work through Safari.  So, that particular feature won’t work if you’ve disabled Safari to use K9 Browser.  But, you can always use another app like Fandango to purchase tickets.  Personally, I recommend downloading both Movie Guide Lite and Plugged-In so you get the best of both.

Bonus: iSingWorship

Price: Free (But each song costs $1.99)

Pros: Since this is not an app that “every Christian should have,” I’ve made it a Bonus app.  Not everyone will have use for this little app, but if you do–it’s the best at what it does.  This app allows you to lead a small group worship or worship at a small church from your iPhone or iPad.  It’s also great if you like to pretend you are your favorite Christian artist rocking out in your living room…but I wouldn’t know anything about that…  All of the songs ($2 each) on iSingWorship are formatted in such a way that allows you to customize the arrangement of each song.  Want to repeat the chorus?  Want to skip the chorus between the first and second verse?  Want to mute the drums, guitar, or vocals?  Would you prefer a scenic mountain vista, or abstract art for the background to the lyrics?  Would you like to have a soft music interlude during the invitation so the preacher can speak?  Do you want your iPad or iPhone to display the guitar chords for you to play along?  The options are (almost) unlimited.  iSingWorship allows you to customize the arrangement of an individual song, and then arrange several songs together into a playlist–perfect for Sunday morning worship or family worship at home.

Cons: The app itself is free, but each song costs $2.  Compared to the price of buying the same song on iTunes (usually $1-$1.29), $2 is a steal considering what you get in iSingWorship.  But yes, it can add up after a while.  Also, currently there are only 45 songs available, so you’re limited on your worship selection.  However, when I got the app, there were only 22 songs, so they are making progress and adding new songs all the time.  The biggest drawback, however, is that in order to display the songs on an external monitor, you’ll need a CCLI license number.  Most churches will have one of those, but if you are just wanting it for in-home use, that could be an issue.

The Hidden Meaning of Marriage

You can hardly turn on the TV without seeing something about the debate over marriage. As we speak, there is a culture war going on over the very definition of marriage. Is marriage only between one man and one woman, or is that just an outdated notion based upon stereotypes and bigotry? And even if it is between one man and woman, the questions don’t end there. What are the roles of a husband and wife in marriage? Are they different? Should the be flexible? Finally, why even bother with marriage nowadays? What is the purpose for getting married, anyhow? Many Christians have fought hard for their concept of marriage, but have often fought with little understanding of what the Bible even has to say on the subject. Before we can answer these difficult questions, we must first lay a foundation of the biblical concept of marriage.

In this three part series, we will seek to answer the question of the purpose of marriage from a biblical perspective. What does the Bible have to say about marriage? What is marriage, and what is its purpose? After answering these questions, we can then turn to the practical applications of these truths to our everyday lives.

Click here to begin the series : Part 1–Marriage: The Gospel on Display

Women’s Rights and Election 2012

Being a pastor, I usually try to give a wide berth to the topic of politics. I have seen far too many pastors ruin their reputation with their congregations and with outsiders by spewing uninformed political bias from the pulpit. Ironically, there is probably no more controversial a “political” topic which I could have chosen to engage! Nonetheless, this is an issue on which I simply cannot remain silent, for it is not merely “political.” No, this debate–regarding abortion–is far more spiritual than political, and it is an issue on which the Church cannot afford to remain silent.

I try to keep up with the news online, especially the news surrounding the upcoming election. One of the biggest issues that keeps reappearing is the issue of “women’s rights.” Now, let me begin by saying that I’m all for women’s rights. I have no intentions or desires to see women’s suffrage repealed nor do I think that women ought to be paid less for their work. I’m not against women. I like women (one woman in particular!). But, I think that–as usually happens in politics–this issue has been posed in such a way that it disguises the truth. Should we really base our vote this election on who is most supportive of women’s rights? Or, a better question might be this: “Is the issue of abortion best described as an issue of women’s rights?”

Let’s rewind history about 150 years for a moment. You are an African American slave on a Southern Plantation. You work hard for 12-14 hours a day picking cotton in the hot summer sun while men with bullwhips stand over you ready to come down on you at the slightest demonstration of weakness. Day in, day out, this is your life. An election comes around in which you, of course, are unable to vote. You are not human, after all, you’re just a slave. All around, you see political banners from the opposing parties. One party says, “End slavery!” The other, much to your dismay, says “Support farmer’s rights!”

(History lesson over) “Wait a minute!” you say, “He’s not really comparing abortion to slavery in the 1800s, is he?!?! They’re not even comparable!” I agree. Abortion is worse. Much worse.

The issue in this election is simply NOT women’s rights. In the story above, after reading the last political sign which read, “Support farmer’s rights!” you were probably shocked and outraged. How in the world could people be so blinded as to think that the issue of slavery was fundamentally an issue of a farmer’s right to grow crops, be free of the burden of paying employees, and pursue unbridled success in his career? The issue of slavery was not “Farmer’s rights” but “African Americans’ rights!”

Here is my fundamental presupposition: If an unborn child is a living human being in the eyes of God, then abortion is murder.

That first “If” phrase deserves attention, which I will give in a moment. But first, lets examine this argument from this side for a change. Obama is championed as a proponent for “Women’s rights.” Romney is (as are other pro-life advocates) degraded as a “Woman hater” who desires to move society backwards into the fundamentalist 1950s. If, indeed, unborn children are human, then how ridiculous and insulting would it be to label pro-life advocates “Women haters” and champion pro-choice advocates as proponents of “Women’s rights?” “But,” you say, “Not everyone agrees that unborn children are fully human, while everyone agrees that African Americans are fully human.” That is (mostly) true–in today’s society. But, it was not true in the 1800s. In the 1800s, it was not uncommon to find people who believed that people with black skin were “subhuman.” They were wrong, but that notion was common. Thus, I propose to you that it is ever bit as absurd and offensive to label abortion an issue of “Women’s rights” as it is to label slavery in the 1800s as an issue of “Farmer’s rights.” This is not an issue of rights, but an issue of personhood. I have heard it said that “Your right to swing your arm ends at my face.” How true. Our rights are not absolute. They extend only so far as they do not cause harm to another. Thus, I conclude, that if an unborn child is a living human being in the eyes of God, then abortion is murder.

Some may be troubled by the phrase “in the eyes of God.” But, imagine trying to reconcile the two groups in the 1800s over the moral status of African Americans! It took a civil war and thousands of dead bodies to reconcile the two parties, and the job wasn’t even complete for another 100+ years! Some would say it is still not complete. Thus, I don’t see how we can ever solve this issue objectively on our own. Science can’t solve it. The scientific method is not capable of answering questions of morality. It can determine that the baby’s heart is beating by 18 days and that it has fingerprints by 3 months, but it cannot determine that the baby ought to receive the same moral status of a human being. Politicians can’t determine that, either. They can pass laws declaring abortion “legal” or “illegal,” but their laws don’t change the morality of the action. Furthermore, politicians seem incapable of producing legislation that is even morally consistent, much less morally acceptable! How ironic it is that many who are “pro-choice” will call it a “baby” when it is a desired pregnancy and be willing to prosecute any who would cause it harm and then turn around and call it a “fetus” when it is undesired and toss it in the garbage.

Take a look, for example, at the laws regarding the unborn child in my state, Kentucky:

Ky. Rev. Stat. § 507A.010 et seq. (2004) define “unborn child” as a member of the species Homo sapiens in utero from conception onward, without regard to age, health or condition of dependency. The laws define fetal homicide in the first, second, third, and fourth degrees. These laws do not apply to acts performed during any abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman has been obtained or for which the consent is implied by law in a medical emergency. (2004 HB 108)

(To see your own state’s laws, click here)

Interesting. So, in Kentucky, an unborn child is usually considered human. But, it suddenly becomes less than human when its mother decides she no longer wants it. And she is free of any fear of legal prosecution.

So, clearly neither science nor the legislature is qualified to answer this question. The question of the moral status of the unborn is a question only philosophy and religion can answer. I do not intend to deal here with the philosophical arguments (though it should be noted that many secular philosophers have made persuasive arguments against abortion), but the religious ones since they are more important to me (and incorporate some philosophy, anyhow). Further, in my personal experience, philosophy tends to create more questions than answers and is often a frustrating and fruitless endeavor if one seeks a solid answer! Thus, because science, law, and–to an extent–philosophy, cannot determine the moral status of the unborn, we need an outside, objective source to determine it. God must answer it. “But,” you may object, “Americans do not share the same religious affiliations, so how can religion help us?” That is true enough, but for every religion you find that deems abortion morally acceptable, I bet I can find ten that don’t. It doesn’t really matter which one you pick, most of them conclude the same on this issue. Furthermore, we are a democracy, so why not examine first what has been the clear teaching of the religion with which the majority of Americans identify themselves?

The clear teaching on this issue which the majority of Christians through history have accepted is that only God, the One who gives life and creates the baby, has the authority to give the final say on when life begins. If God says life begins at birth, then abortion is wholly acceptable. But if not, then it is morally contemptible. We don’t get to decide when life begins based upon what is convenient or politically acceptable, we must use the objective truth God has given us. So, let’s look to see if/what God has to say about the moral status of an unborn child.

“And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”” (Genesis 25:23 ESV)

“Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”…Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.” (Genesis 30:2, 22 ESV)

“You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” (Job 10:11, 12 ESV)

“Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15 ESV)

“Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Psalm 71:4-6 ESV)

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3 ESV)

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:13-18 ESV)

“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5 ESV)

“Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.” (Isaiah 44:2 ESV)

“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…” (Isaiah 44:24 ESV)

“”Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”” (Isaiah 49:1-3 ESV)

“And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him…” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV)

“”Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15 ESV)

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 ESV)

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”” (Luke 1:26, 27, 31-33, 35-37 ESV)

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”” (Luke 1:39-45 ESV)

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25 ESV)

Children are a gift (“heritage”) from The Lord. Children are “knit together” in their mother’s womb. A child’s destiny is prepared for him/her by God while they are still in the womb. God determines whether or not a child is conceived. God grants life and “spirit” to a child while in the womb. It is assumed that a mother could not–or should not–“forget” her child or lack compassion toward him/her. The example of the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist demonstrate that God’s Holy Spirit is actively working even in an unborn child. And, lastly, Old Testament Law treated unborn children as “persons” who could be avenged in the case of an assault on their mother which caused their death. Such assault was punished as murder.

Of course, I understand that some may still be hesitant to accept a “life at conception” view, for the Bible does not tell us explicitly that life begins at conception. But it doesn’t tell us that life doesn’t begin at conception, either. When there is a possible life at stake, should we not err on the side of caution?

Lastly, there are a couple common objections. First, what about rape/incest? First of all, these are horrendous crimes. I cannot imagine the emotional, physical, and mental trauma which these crimes cause in their victims. They are crimes and they ought to be punished. But if someone is to die, why is it the child? Let’s execute the rapist! I understand the objection that a woman doesn’t want to have a living, breathing reminder of the tragedy, but if an unborn child is human, then killing that child only worsens the situation. To quote the old adage, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Added to the tragedy of the rape, this woman now has to deal with the emotional and spiritual guilt of having taken a life. That can’t be the solution. It’s a horrible, unfathomable situation, but killing the child only makes it worse.

Second, what about instances where the mother’s life is in jeopardy? First, let me say that as a husband and father, I take this issue very seriously. To be honest, I’m not at all sure how I would handle this particular situation. But let’s be clear on one thing–if faced with this decision, my choice is not between the life of my wife and a “fetus” or some cancerous growth in her uterus. My decision is between the life of my son or daughter and the life of my wife. I view this particular situation differently than an abortion of convenience and of rape/incest because in this situation, another’s very life is threatened by the life of the child. In the vast majority of abortions, the mother’s life is not at stake. Perhaps her career, her emotional stability, and her finances are threatened, but not her life. In the case of a life threatening pregnancy, it is literally a choice between two lives. That is a choice I hope I never have to make. So, because I feel this to be a separate circumstance, I will reserve judgment on its morality and simply say, “I don’t know.” Thus, I am neither for nor against abortion in this particular circumstance.

In conclusion, let me challenge you to vote this year based upon your convictions on this subject. For those who accept that an unborn child is a human, this is not an issue of “women’s rights” but of the rights of the unborn. Much like African Americans in the 1800s, unborn children can’t vote for themselves. But even worse, they can’t stand up for themselves at all. They can’t flee their persecution or plea for help. I have heard some say, “I don’t believe in abortion, but I’m not going to force that belief on someone else.” Let me ask those who would take this stance, “Do you also not believe in murder? Are you still willing to force that belief on those who have murdered?” If an unborn child is a human being in the eyes of God who formed him/her, ordained their future, and loves them, then abortion is murder. In fact, it is the worst genocide that has ever taken place on this planet. To those who would say, “I don’t believe in abortion but there are other issues we must consider when we vote,” I would say, “Would you have said the same thing regarding slavery if you were voting in the 1800s, or regarding civil rights in the 1960s? Would you really vote based on economics and your financial stability while the same candidate for which you voted advocated the mass murder of an entire generation?” As Christians we have a duty to defend the cause of the oppressed, of the fatherless, and of the widows. I propose that if we are willing to champion the cause of the civil rights movement of the 1960s–and as Christians, we should–then we ought to also champion the cause of the unborn, who cannot defend themselves. This is our Christian duty. I hope you will consider that when you vote tomorrow.

Your Problem is Worse Than You Think

“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’ He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”(Mark 7:6, 7, 20-23 NIV)

Today as I was reading Mark 6-7, this passage where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their traditionalism jumped out at me. The Pharisees have just criticized Jesus and his disciples for ignoring the tradition of ceremonial hand washing before eating, which symbolized spiritual cleanness. Jesus responds by rebuking their philosophy of traditionalism and their propensity toward substituting their traditions for the commands of God. He also states that it is not what one brings into their body which defiles a person, but what comes out of their body which defiles a person.
Since this passage mainly deals with the errors of traditionalism, I have often missed a more subtle but profound truth hidden in these verses. Jesus says that sin–and he cites the examples of adultery, sexual immorality, murder, greed, etc.–comes from the heart, not from things external to oneself.

This reminds me of a very helpful sermon illustration that I believe John Piper once used. I have adapted it here. Imagine going to a doctor because of a fast heart rate. You tell the doctor, “Doc, I think I may have high blood pressure or something. I just can’t seem to get my heart to calm down.” The doctor reviews your symptoms and takes your blood pressure. He replies, “Well, your blood pressure is a little off, so why don’t we run an MRI just to see what we can find.” You feel that’s entirely unnecessary–you’re guessing that you just have high cholesterol and need to eat better and exercise more–but you consent because the doctor says so.

A few days later, the Doc calls you into the clinic to discuss the results. Imagine your horror to discover that it’s not high cholesterol, but a deformed, diseased heart which is causing your symptoms. Most of us would agree that this discovery is very bad news.

Here’s the thrust of what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, and to you and me: we have a dangerous tendency to downplay the severity of our sin. We tend to think, like the Pharisees, that we can simply perform a few ceremonial rituals (i.e., go to church, tithe, etc.) and be declared clean in God’s sight. Or, like the cardiology patient, we tend to self-medicate our sin with diet and exercise in a futile attempt to lower our blood pressure or relieve the symptoms. If we are willing to admit that we have sin–and often we are not–we usually fail to see its severity and, therefore, resort to inadequate means of dealing with our sin. We go to church, read self-help books (even Christian ones!), and we try to eliminate external temptations for our sins. All of these things are good, but they fail to address the root of the problem of our sin. By themselves, they’re no more effective than taking ibuprofen for a brain tumor or changing your diet to fix a deformed heart.
Jesus said that our sins cannot simply be washed off in a ceremonial cleansing. The horrible news is that our condition before God is far, far worse than we could have ever imagined. We have a sinful, deformed heart. We don’t need medication, we need a heart transplant. Without such a transplant, the result of our sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Do you struggle with “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly?” Jesus says “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” You and I struggle with sin because we have sick hearts and we are in desperate need of the Healer.

While this is decidedly bad news, there is an element of hope in it. At least now that we know the severity of our true condition we can properly treat it! At least now we know better than to expect diet and exercise alone to fix our heart. What you and I need is for God to give us a new heart. We need new desires, new passions, new eyes to see and new ears to hear.
The good news? That’s exactly the business in which Jesus thrives.

When we give our lives to Christ, Jesus gives us a new, restored heart with new desires and longings. I was, at first, puzzled by the name of John Piper’s ministry: Desiring God. I used to think it was an odd name for a ministry. But, I’ve since come to realize that a burning passion and desire for God is exactly how you and I can live our lives in such a way that brings us the most happiness and God the most glory. Why? Because we desire sin least when we desire God most. But, unfortunately, that heart is still often plagued by sin. We live in a fallen world, and until we are reunited with Christ in heaven, we will always struggle with sin. But, rather than give up, we ought to pray for a renewed heart every day–a heart for God and His glory.

I struggle with sin every day. I battle it. And, I need those external temptations removed; I need diet and exercise for the soul. But that alone will not suffice. Washing my hands won’t clean my heart. My external religious observances are necessary and good, but they are worthless unless they proceed from a clean and pure heart. Let us recognize the severity of our state before an almighty and holy God, lay aside our futile efforts to wash away our sins externally, and pray as David did when he had sinned:

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me … You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:9, 10, 16, 17 NIV)

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart… (Psalm 24:3, 4 NIV)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25, 26 NIV)