Keeping the Sabbath?

In the midst of ten life rules – we call them the Ten Commandments – we read about “keeping the sabbath.” Let’s read it…

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Many have made this commandment into a legalistic nightmare. When I was growing up in a traditional, non-born again, church family we had separate rules for Sunday. Special clothes we wore to church. Special and fancy lunch in the dining room (only time we ate there), and no friends over to play and definitely no cards. 

A bit legalistic? Perhaps, but you should have known the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They actually crunched the numbers on legalism, and came up with 1,521 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath Day. That sounds like the title of a book no one would want to read.

Among the 1,521: no rescuing of drowning people; no wearing of false teeth (reinserting them, should they slip, would be work); no looking in the mirror (plucking a white hair, also work). If your friend grew ill, you could do certain things to forestall the illness, but actually trying to cure him — too much like work. At the beginning of a famous revolt, many Jews stood and let themselves be killed rather than risking work by defending themselves (1 Maccabees 2:29-38).

Men made a bureaucratic nightmare out of Sabbath-keeping, but it wasn’t what God wanted. This commandment shows a deep affection for us. The word sabbath means “rest.” God knows we grow weary in the cycle of work, so He established a day for us to regularly disengage from toil and refresh ourselves. God cares about both our labour and our leisure.

The Sabbath was also to be a day to turn from the material to the spiritual, to connect in a deeper way with God. Before Christ, people worked toward the Sabbath, resting on the last day of the week (Saturday). Since the Resurrection, we work from the Sabbath (Sunday), living in the power of the risen Christ. 

The early Christians began to worship on the first day of the week because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9). By the time we get to Act 20:7, we see the disciples coming together on “the first day of the week” to pray, break bread, and listen to the teaching of the Word of God. By the beginning of the second century, Christians universally understood that the Lord’s Day was to be on Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. And in AD 321, the Roman emperor Constantine, by royal edict, proclaimed Sunday a special day of worship throughout the entire Roman world. It is remarkable to realize that every Sunday from the day of Christ’s resurrection until today, somewhere in the world the church of Jesus Christ has come together to worship.

When I was growing up, Sunday was a special day. And, back then, even those who chose not to attend church still reserved a certain respect for Sunday and how the day should be treated.

We need to accept the wonderful gift of God’s day. We can do this by recognizing its special purpose: to honour Him by resting and reflecting on His goodness. As we do that, we’ll want to find ways to return the gift to Him with gratitude — through ministry, through worship, and through avoiding anything that makes Sunday just another day.

The two command here are to remember it and to keep it holy.

The story goes that when Africa was first being explored, native guides were taking their visitors through the region. After six days of pushing through the jungle, the natives refused to walk. They explained, “We need a day to let our souls catch up with our bodies.”

God has given you a gift to get your soul back in alignment. Will you accept it?

Consumed By Heaven 

Have you noticed that Christians do not talk about heaven anymore? We used to preach about it and sing about it in our churches. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I spoke about heaven. I do remember the last time I was asked a question about what heaven is going to be like and it was almost a decade ago.

Perhaps today we focus more on the present life because we are self-indulgent and lack vision. Just a thought. Or perhaps we are self-indulgent and lack vision because we don’t focus enough on heaven. Either way there’s a reason the Scriptures instruct, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). Our citizenship is in heaven, and our hearts should yearn for our true homeland. 

Some people don’t talk about heaven because they don’t like to think about death.Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard tells the story of a woman who refused to take about life beyond death because she didn’t want her children to be disappointed if it turned out no afterlife existed. As Willard points out, if no afterlife exists, no one will have any consciousness with which to feel disappointment! On the other hand, if there is an afterlife, whoever enters that life unprepared may experience far worse than mere disappointment.

In an article in the Lakeland Ledger, Cary McMullen mulls over the abandonment of heaven by the contemporary pulpit: “Among mainline Protestants,” McMullen writes, “it was thought that speculation about the nature of a personal afterlife was anti-intellectual and belonged to the realm of red-faced, sawdust-floor evangelists. And too much talk of the next world might distract from efforts to relieve suffering in the present.” And it’s not only mainline Protestants; we hear little of heaven from Roman Catholics or evangelical preachers. Interestingly enough, the subject is more popular than ever with novelists and filmmakers. 

Most preachers have been approached by members of their church who questioned the point of focusing on heaven in this life. “We’ll have all of eternity to think about that,” they say. “Shouldn’t our focus be on making this life better?” And we have all heard people say, “If you’re too heavenly minded, you’re of no earthly good.” They figure that you can be so consumed with heaven’s golden streets that you neglect to fix the potholes on Main Street.

A. W. Tozer would beg to differ. He wrote that Christians of the mid-twentieth century had become so comfortable, so well-situated, that heaven held little appeal for them. Why live in hope of eternity, when you’ve got everything just the way you want it now?

In his book The Wonder of It All, seminary president and author Bryan Chapell tells the story of a young African seminary student who preached a sermon in a preaching class. His subject was the joy Christians will experience when Christ returns and ushers them into heaven. He, too, wondered if prosperity has caused us to neglect the reality of heaven:

“I have been in the United States for several months now. I have seen the great wealth that is here — the fine homes and cars and clothes. I have listened to many sermons in churches here, too. But I have yet to hear one sermon about heaven. Because everyone has so much in this country, no one preaches about heaven. People here do not seem to need it. In my country most people have very little, so we preach on heaven all the time. We know how much we need it.”

It seems that the more consumed we are with the love of the world, the less we will be consumed with the love of God represented by heaven. In his classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explained: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

God’s love stirs my heart to care deeply about heaven — and yes, the thought of heaven energizes me to live in the current moment with deeper joy, as someone for whom the best is yet to come. The bottom line is this: God love you, and He wants to share all eternity with you. Christ has gone to prepare a special and lovely place where you can come and live with Him forever. It’s called heaven and we need to know as much about our future home so we can make our present home here on earth better than it is. 

Hyper-conquerors

God’s love is so amazing. It is constant and unfailing. And, amazingly, it is also triumphant. Not only will it endure all circumstance, it will overcome all circumstances: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). We are not merely conquerors; we are more than conquerors. What can this mean?

The Greek word for “conquer” is hypernikao, a compound word made up of ‘hyper’ (“more, above, beyond”) and niko (“to conquer or prevail”). The term is a unique one, occurring nowhere in the Bible but this particular verse. It has no single-word counterpart in English, so we must cobble together two or three words to get the sense of what it means. Scholars have tried such phrases as “overwhelmingly conquerors” and “beyond conquering,” but my favourite by far is “more than conquerors.” Many of the more recent translations contain that familiar phrase. 

But let’s try another one: “hyper-conquerors.” If has a modern ring to it and suggests the idea of a new league of superheroes — “The Hyper-Conquerors”! I think I like it. Let’s try it out on what Paul is telling us:

    • In the midst of all these things that try to bring us down (tribulation, distress, persecution, you name it), we are hyper-conquerors.
    • When facing any problems that life can dish out — you are a hyper-conqueror.
    • In struggling with that problem you’re worrying about this very day, which is ____________ (fill in the blank), you are a hyper-conqueror.

The very term lifts our spirits and seems to infuse us with a ray of hope. But there’s more to being a hyper-conqueror than just emotional hype. If we were merely conquerors, we would have nothing to complain about. We would neutralize the forces that opposed us. We would prevail. But as more than conquerors, whatever comes against us actually ends up working in our favour. Every difficulty that challenges us finally serves to prove the love of God, from which nothing can separate us. When those evils lie in chaotic rubble, God’s love stands high and unfazed like an immoveable monolith.

How does this work in real life? Here’s a story that gives us the answer.

During his reign of terror, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini turned his war machine on Ethiopia and expelled all the Christian missionary there. Christians everywhere began praying immediately. The answer came in two waves: first, in the protection of the expelled missionaries; and second, in reopening the doors of Ethiopia to the Gospel after the military pride of Italy lay broken in the dust and Mussolini was executed by his own countrymen. 

But during the missionaries’ absence, the Word of God multiplied in Ethiopia, and the returning missionaries found a larger, stronger church than the one they left. One group, the United Presbyterian Mission, had only sixty believers when the missionaries were expelled. On their return, the sixty had grown to thirty churches with a membership of sixteen hundred! These believers were more than conquerors.

With God’s love holding us when evils attack, we don’t merely prevail; we turn every dramatic event to our advantage. We feed on adversity and grow stronger. The greater the problem, the more we gain wisdom, spiritual power, and maturity. That’s what it means to be a hyper-conqueror. 

Nothing is meaningless in the world of the believer. Everything has a purpose; and in a world ruled by a loving God, the purpose is always to use every encounter to shape us into the perfect image of our Lord. Every difficulty will be turned to our favour and help us to become “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4). Or, in Paul’s words, to become more than conquerors. 

The Gospel in 25 Simple English Words

John 3:16 has long been regarded as our greatest, most direct, and most concise statement of the Gospel. With almost miraculous precision, it places the good news of the love of God in the smallest and simplest of packages. When you say “John 3:16,” even many unbelievers either know what it means or know the verse itself. It is the most famous book-chapter-verse reference in the entire Bible. You’ll see it on a banner at a sporting event, emblazoned on a T-shirt, or scrawled in graffiti on an underpass. It’s a shorthand way of saying, “God loves us all.”

Tim Tebow famously placed the reference on his eye black (the tape strip beneath a football player’s eyes) before a national championship game in college, and the broadcasters frequently identified it as his favourite verse. Immediately afterward Google received more than thirty million hits from people looking up John 3:16. And that was only the beginning. Three years later, after leading the Denver Broncos to a rousing playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, someone noticed he had thrown for precisely 316 yards. The Associated Press reported that he also averaged 31.6 yards per completion. Those who didn’t “get it” again went to the internet, and by Monday afternoon John 3:16 was once again the most searched item on the internet.

It’s often been said that the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Some may think that finding significance in a quarterback’s passing yardage borders on superstition, but it may show us that God will use almost any means to tell us how deeply He loves us. When was the last time any of our efforts succeeded in getting ninety million people to hurry to the Internet and look up the Gospel?

Throughout history, millions of words have been written about John 3:16. Yet none of them are necessary to grasp the meaning of the verse. God communicated the heart and meaning of the Gospel — the most profound, far-reaching message of all time — in only twenty-five simply words of English text. When translated into any language, this verse is supremely easy to understand.

All we need in life is packed into those twenty-five words. Your Bible is the essential library of life, and every verse is profitable for wise living. But if worse came to worst, and we could only retain one of its 31,103 verses, this would be the one we could not let slip from our grasp.

I have many ways of sharing this verse but recently read of a new way to experience the truth of John 3:16. It is interesting to note that not only is the entire Gospel contained in the message of the verse, but there word gospel is embedded in the verse itself. 

                                For God so loved the word

That He gave His Only

                      Begotten Son, that whosoever believes

In Him should not Perish 

                     But have Everlasting

                                      Life

John 3:16 is thoroughly and essentially the Gospel in one verse. A statement of the Gospel so simple that a child can understand it and so profound that a scholar can never fathom its depth. It needs to be inscribed permanently on every heart.

John 3:16 is preached, studied, and cited more often than any other biblical passage, yet it never becomes yesterday’s news, never loses its majesty or its freshness, never loses one microvolt of emotional power. It is so inexhaustible that over a period of many years, one obsessive preacher compiled from it more than six hundred preaching outlines. Talk about a month of Sundays! That’s enough sermons to keep a church fed for almost twelve years.

The Gospel is found in this verse … “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There are two things you need to KNOW

1> God loves

2> Like all people in love, God gives gifts

There are two things you need to DO

1> Believe (means to totally trust in)

2> Receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life

As I said, simple but profound. And a message that is seriously life changing. 

People Are Watching

People are watching, and they watch more closely when they know we are people of faith. It has been said that we are the only Bible some people will ever study. They have the right to expect our walk to reasonably match our talk even though consistent love and compassion don’t come easily.

Dionysius, a second-century bishop in the city of Corinth, wrote letters describing how Christians behaved in the grip of a rampant plague:

Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease. Many who nursed others to health died themselves, thus transferring their death to themselves … The heathen were the exact opposite. They pushed away those with the first signs of the disease and fled from the dearest. They even threw them half dead into the roads and treated unburied corpses like refuse in hopes of avoiding the plague of death, which, for all their efforts, was difficult to escape.

The world is watching how we treat each other. Will they see a difference?

The biblical standard for love is simply to love one another. But now we come to the difficult part. If we stayed with the basic standard to love each other, our faith would be little different than any belief system in this world. But there is a higher standard of love, and Jesus came to give us the definitive expression through His life and teachings. In the words of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, He said, “If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody, can do that” (Matthew 5:46 MSG). Paul builds on this and tells us we are to love everyone when he uses the phrase “one another” and the the higher standard when he adds, “and to all.”

1 Thessalonians 3:12 “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all”

Loving loved ones is a good start. If we can’t do that, we definitely have a problem. The higher standard, on the other hand, sends a strong, clear message that we, the people of Christ, are not your average, everyday human beings. Those who are watching us don’t weigh the size of the Bibles we carry. They don’t keep a calendar for totalling the number of Bible study meetings we attend, nor do they give us a test on mastery of biblical trivia. But they watch with intense interest to see how we treat others; first, those close to us and then – the championship round – everyone else. Paul writes “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and to all” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Those final three words are the tricky part.

For the Thessalonians, ALL was a difficult word. ALL constituted certain people who were abusing and persecuting them. “As you abound and increase in love,” Paul is saying, “Don’t forget these!” We don’t like that at first because we know we can’r individually get it done. Just as Jesus said, we can love our families, our buddies, and our friendlier neighbours all by ourselves. So can those who don’t know God. But if we are going to love beyond those comfortable boundaries, if we’re going to advance this love into hostile territory — well, we’re going to need to rely on a greater source. We’re going to need the power of the Holy Spirit. And of course, once we realize that, He has us right where He wants us. We need to call upon the love that He deposited in us (Romans 5:5) when we were first born again. We need to love others like He loved us – unconditionally. And, we can, with His help and His love.

C.S. Lewis helps us with this in one of his writings. He says that an unbeliever makes his choice as to whom he will show kindness, but a Christian has a different secret. He writes that we shouldn’t waste our time worrying about whether we love our neighbour — just act as if we did. The difference between worldly people and Christians is that the worldly treat people kindly when they like them; Christians try treating everyone kindly and thus find themselves liking more people — including some they’d never have expected to like!”

Christians, in other words, let their actions lead and their feelings follow. Human nature feels its way into acting (which can be a long wait). Christ-centered faith acts its way into feeling (which is quick, powerful, and liberating). To put it simply, we followers of Christ are realists. We understand that, naturally speaking, we are never going to like certain people. We know we’re not prone to doing the right thing when left to our own devices. But for the sake of Christ, we’re going to walk in the Spirit and treat others well because it’s the very nature of who Jesus is. Therefore (if we’re living as we ought to), we treat our enemies as benevolently as our friends and soon enough discover we have no enemies anymore. 

 

Just Do Something!

Did you know that showing compassion has measurable therapeutic value for our lives? Doing good for others does good for us. One of the benefits of showing compassion to others is that it reverses the destructive process of self-absorption, moves us into the healthy arena of seeing the need of others, and ultimately opens us up to the reality of God and His destiny for us.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was passionate about showing compassion, especially for the downtrodden of the London slums. One day his son Bramwell entered the room early and found his father furiously brushing his hair, brushes in both hands, as he frantically finished dressing for the day. No time for “Good Morning”; Booth looked at his son and cried, “Bramwell! Did you know there are men sleeping outdoors all night under the bridges?” He’d been in London late the preceding night, and this had been a shocking sight on his way home.

“Well, yes,” said Bramwell. “A lot of poor fellows, I suppose.”

“Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself for having known it and done nothing for them,” answered William Booth,

Bramwell began constructing elaborate excuses. He could never add such a complex project to all the things he had going on in his life, which he now began to name. His plate was full.

His father simply barked, “Go and do something!”

That moment of resolve and compassion was the beginning of the Salvation Army Shelters, a special ministry that changed the lives of hundreds of homeless men during the early days of the Salvation Army work in London.

Have you ever had a Booth moment, when suddenly you saw some person or situation through God’s eyes and developed a fiery determination to see it change?

That is almost always the start of an amazing adventure with the Lord as you move forward out of self-centredness and begin to respond with compassion and meet the needs of others. Reminds me of an old saying I heard when first saved: “Find a need and meet it!” 

So many believers sit and wonder what the Lord has called them to do. They want to know what their ministry is. It’s simple: “Find a need and meet it.” In doing so the Lord can then direct you and reveal to you your unique calling and personal ministry. Just sitting and waiting for a revelation does not work. It is much easier to steer a moving car than a car that is parked. So, “find a need and meet it” will get you moving and then God will steer and reveal. 

Good advice: “Go and do something!”

The Titanic

In 1912 the Titanic, the largest, most luxurious, and most advanced ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, taking the lives of 1,514 passengers. Though the disaster occurred over one hundred year ago, several movies, documentaries, and books have kept the horror of that night alive in our minds. We’ve all heard of passengers such as “the unsinkable” Molly Brown and the entrepreneur John Jacob Astor IV. But one of the most astonishing stories from the Titanic has received little press.

It’s the story of Pastor John Harper, a widower who was travelling with his six-year-old daughter at the invitation of the great Moody Church in Chicago. Not only was he to preach there, he intend to accept the church’s offer to become their next pastor. His hopes were high, and it seemed he had a brilliant future ahead. 

After the ship hit the iceberg and it became apparent that it would sink, Harper got his daughter safely aboard a lifeboat. It’s likely he could have joined her, being her only parent, but he chose to stay aboard the sinking ship because he knew that with this disaster, God had given him an urgent message.

Harper immediately began to go from one person to another, telling them about Christ’s love and urging them to accept Him. He shouted for Christians to let the unsaved fill the lifeboats so that would live to come to belief. When one angry man rejected the message, Harper removed his own life vest and gave it to him, saying, “You need this more than I do.”

Harper was still actively pressing his urgent evangelism when the ship tipped upward, wretched in half, and slipped beneath the frigid North Sea. Even then Harper did not stop. Seeing the many passengers struggling in the water with little chance of rescue, he swam to as many as he could, urging them to accept Christ’s loving offer until hypothermia finally overcame him.

Four years later, at a Titanic survivors meeting in Ontario, one survivor told the story of his own encounter with John Harper. He was clinging to a piece of flotsam when Harper swam to him and urged him to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The man rejected the offer and Harper swam away. But soon Harper came around again, and this time, knowing death to be only minutes away, the man gave his life to Christ. Moments afterwards, he watched the near-freezing waters finally take Harper’s life just as a returning lifeboat approached to rescue him. At the conclusion of his story, he said simply, “I am the last convert of John Harper.”

The titanic left England with three classes of passengers aboard. But when accounting for their fate, the White Star Line set up a board listing two classes: KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. These categories provided a fitting analogy for what John Harper already knew. There are only two classes of people in this world: those who have chosen to accept Christ and will spend eternity with God in heaven, and those who have not chosen Him and will not.

Which class are you in?

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part Two)

Being somewhat up in age (nice way to say I am getting old) it is interesting to look back and see the subtle but definite changes that have taken place over the past two or three decades bringing us to the place where we live in a day of cheap life and disposable pregnancies. A day when abortions are simply taken for granted as a woman’s right over her own body and a means of birth control. I am not trying to be offensive – just wanting to note the somewhat slow but definite change that has taken place in society in general. 

A generation ago, everyone referred to an unborn child as a baby. And pregnant women had no doubt that what they were carrying was a baby — a human person. It is hard for anyone to think positively about killing a baby. So to get around the distastefulness of the idea, the word baby has been replaced by terms such as “fetus,” “embryo,” or even a “clump of tissue.” These are impersonal, clinical terms easily associated with tumors or growths. These words, completely devoid of the tender emotions associated with baby, have allowed people to treat pregnancy as something like an unwanted disease instead of the exalted privilege it is — the privilege of creating beloved beings with eternal, God-given possibilities.

A side note: It is important to note that Psalm 139:16 contains the only use of the Hebrew word for embryo found in Scripture — translated as “my substance, being yet unformed” referencing a human life being watched over by God because He loves even the unborn and even yet to be formed ‘life’ that has been conceived.

To make matters worse, a new term emerged almost a decade ago in this battle for human life: “after-birth abortion.” Previously known as infanticide, after-birth abortion allows babies to be killed after they are born. According to a World article by Marvin Olasky, “The core of the argument isn’t new at universities like Princeton, where ethicist Peter Singer has long approved killing one-year-olds with physical or mental disabilities. But authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva push the argument further by defending the killing of any humans incapable of “attributing any value to their own existence … Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

The possibility that this attitude could become accepted presents a peril of almost unmatched significance. One writer explains: “The so-called ‘quality of life ethic’ is deep down more dangerous than nuclear war, for it destroys the very soul of our civilization, not just bodies. It says a human person’s value is not infinite and calculable, that it varies with health, intelligence, and social utility. That is exactly what Hitler believed.”

In my studies in the past few days here is what I have discovered:

    • God loved you before you were born (Job 10:10-12 MSG)
    • Before you were born, God knew your identity (Psalm 139:15-16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your complexity ((Psalm 139:13-14)
    • Before you were born, God knew your individuality ( Psalm 139:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your dignity (Colossians 1:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your destiny (Jeremiah 1:5)
    • Before you were born, God knew your possibility (Genesis 1:26-27)
    • Before you were born, God knew your legacy (Jeremiah 29:11)

Wow! God knew and loved you as a fully human person before He even made you. Before conception. He loved you as He prepared you for this world in the beauty of human pregnancy. And all along, He had a life, a purpose, and a legacy planned for you, suited to your unique individuality and personality. ALL life has dignity and value in God’s sight. We need to remember that all things were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16) so Christ is the source of all life in creation. And, all life came into existence through Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. This means every child (baby) conceived is highly valuable to Him and should be to us as well. 

Just part of my journey these past few days. Thanks for listening. 

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part One)

I have been reading up on how God loves us even before we are born. And that God has a plan and a purpose that is unique for each one of us, again, planned out before we were even conceived in our mother’s womb. It has led to some fantastic reading in the Bible (like Jeremiah, chapter one) and even some scientific and medical understanding of life, conception, and babies which then led me into rereading some material on abortion. Let me share a true story I reread today sitting outside a medical clinic waiting for someone….

There is a woman named Norma McCorvey. Norma was twenty-one years old in 1969, unmarried, and the mother of two children — one in the custody of the child’s grandmother and one given up for adoption. While working at whatever jobs she could find — including being a barker for a travelling carnival — she discovered she was pregnant for the third time. When she sought an abortion, she found they were illegal in Texas except in cases of rape or incest. So she lied and claimed rape, but the claim was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Two attorneys used Norma’s desire to have an abortion as a reason to file suit against the state of Texas. To protect Norma’s privacy, they gave her the fictitious name of “Jane Roe,” a name immortalized in the now famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case (“Wade” was the local district attorney in Dallas County, Texas). In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Norma McCorvey’s favour, and abortions on demand have been legal in America ever since. (Norma’s third child was born before the case was decided.)

But Norma McCorvey had a change of heart. In the early 1990’s, she professed faith in Christ and has written two books affirming her pro-life, anti-abortion position. In her second book, Won By Love (1998), she described her sudden awareness that the life in the mother’s womb is a baby, a child whom God loves:

“When my conversion [to Christ] became public knowledge, I spoke openly to reporters about still supporting legalized abortion in the first trimester. The media was quick to use this to downplay the seriousness of my conversion, saying I typified the “general ambivalence” of our culture over abortion. But a few weeks after my conversion, I was sitting in [Operation Rescue’s] offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them.

I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me, “Norma,” I said to myself, “they’re right.” I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if the blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth – that’s a baby!”

As I kept researching for a good part of a day I found that modern technology now allows us to see the astonishing complexity of a developing child (baby – not ‘fetus,’ ‘embryo,’ ‘clump of tissue’ … see Part Two of my processing) with our own eyes. In a 2010 TED presentation titled Conception to Birth — Visualized, Alexander Tsiaras, mathematician and chief of Scientific Visualization at Yale University, presented a series of incredible images of a child’s development in the womb. In his production you can see never-before-viewed videos and photos of the very first cell division, the development of the heart at only 25 days, the development of the arms and hands at only 32 days, and the development of the retinas, nose and eyes at 52 days.

Clearly astonished by what he witnessed in his own images, Tsiaras concluded his talk with these words: “The complexity of the things, the mathematical model of how these things are indeed done, [is] beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician I look at this with the marvel of, ‘How did these instruction sets build that which is us?’ It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.”

“For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 

Marvellous are Your works;

And that my soul knows very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

 

Oh, that marvel of conception…

What a miracle of skin and bone, muscle and brain.

You gave me life itself, and incredible love.

You watched and guarded every breath I took.

(Job 10:10-12 The Message version)

More next time…

Do You Really Believe God Loves You?

In his book With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, Skye Jethani tells of his meetings with college students from the House of Despair, an “underground safehouse” for those struggling with the difficult issues of life and faith.
 
Around their Christian campus, these students were known for numbing their pain with alcohol, drugs, sex, and, most curiously, raw conversation. When they met with Jethani, he insisted that they recognize only three rules: be honest, be gracious, and be present. Their range of subjects had no limits. One week it might be the doctrine of hell; the next about the pressure to find a spouse.
 
One night the subject was destructive habits. One student told his story, which turned out to be typical of many: “My parents were students at a Christian college in the early 90’s when a revival broke out … A bunch of grads that year became missionaries and pastors. They were on fire for God. And here I am consumed by sin day after day. I don’t feel like I’m suppose to be here. I know I’m not who God wants me to be.” Other students shared similar stories, often through tears, about how disappointed God must be with them.
 
After listening to these stories, Jethani asked, “How many of you were raised in a Christian home?
 
They all raised their hands.
 
“How many of you grew up in a Bible-centered church?”
 
All hands stayed up.
 
“This in incredible!” Jethani said, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’ve all spent eighteen or twenty years in the church. You’ve been taught the Bible from the time you could crawl … but not one of you … said that in the midst of your sin God still loves you.”
 
Jethani concluded: “I did not blame the students for this failure. Somewhere in their spiritual formation they were taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that what mattered was not God’s love for them, but how much they could accomplish for Him. That night I finally understood why they called it the House of Despair.”
 
The real issue for you today: How deeply do you believe that God loves you? And that is love for you is unconditional – not dependent on what you have done, are doing, or who you have become at this point in your life?