Joseph: Discovering God’ Plan through Suffering

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” 

When we read that God intentionally permits—even plans—for His children to suffer, we struggle.

Jesus went about doing good, but suffered an excruciating death because God willed it. Jeremiah has been called the “weeping prophet” for a reason. 

I naturally want to protect my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I’m concerned when they are ill and would be angry if they were abused. So why would a good God—a loving Father—permit His children to suffer? Since God is all powerful and loving, why does He prescribe suffering? 

In last week’s post, I offered Joseph as an example of unjust suffering. He was the eleventh son of Jacob, but the first born of Rachael, the love of Jacob’s life.

The record of Joseph’s suffering began when he was 17. The favored son was hated by his half-brothers—and it certainly didn’t help when his parents honored him with a special robe. Was Joseph being arrogant—or just naïve—when he told his brothers about his dreams that they would someday bow down before him.? Whichever the case, his siblings began to plot his murder. 

I encourage you to read the story and try to experience it from Joseph’s perspective. He didn’t volunteer to be cast into a cistern to become a bleached skeleton. Nor did he suggest the alternative, being sold into slavery. In fact, he resisted and begged them not to sell him. Imagine his brothers’ guilt at every family gathering and knowing their father assumed that a wild animal had killed Joseph, but they were the predators.

Joseph would be sold again. Imagine him standing with shackles around his legs, waiting to be auctioned like an animal. Gone was the glory of his special robe. After being purchased by Potiphar, Joseph earned his favor and was eventually entrusted to manage Potiphar’s entire estate. Although young and handsome, he resisted Potiphar’s wife’s seductive invitations. Falsely accused, he was imprisoned. His integrity and diligence were rewarded, but he would remain a prisoner.

Joseph’s gift of interpretation provided a glimpse of hope that was dashed when Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot about Joseph. Years passed until one morning, Pharaoh was troubled over dreams that seemed ominous. When none of Egypt’s elite could interpret the dreams, the cupbearer remembered Joseph. He was summoned before Pharoah where he credited God for his ability to interpret dreams.

Pharaoh’s dreams predicted seven years of severe famine. Joseph became Pharaoh’s right-hand man with all the fringe benefits. However, back home in Canaan, the famine had become so desperate that Joseph’s brothers were sent to buy grain in Egypt.

Imagine Joseph’s emotions when he saw his brothers standing in line to purchase grain. His brothers had prostrated themselves in fear before him, just like his childhood dreams. He remembered their crude laughter when he was sold as a slave. They spoke through an interpreter, but Joseph heard them claiming to be “honest men.” Their report about their younger brother’s tragic death rang hollow. 

When Joseph heard them admit, “We are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us,” he turned away and wept. 

Later, when they discovered the money in their sacks, they trembled and said, “What is this that God has done to us?” Can you not hear the depth of their guilt? Simeon was imprisoned; the others returned to Canaan.

Back home, they reported about Simeon’s incarceration and the “harsh” Egyptian’s command to return with Benjamin.

When the food ran low again, Jacob finally relented to let them return to Egypt with Benjamin.

The second encounter between Joseph and his brothers is one of the most tender moments in Scripture. When Joseph entered the room, they bowed prostrate before him. 

After purchasing grain, they departed but were soon arrested and accused of stealing Joseph’s favorite silver cup. Once again, they “fell before him to the ground.” Joseph could no longer control his emotions. Weeping and struggling, Joseph—no longer through an interpreter, but in their mother tongue—said, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” 

Dead silence!

He invited them to come closer and said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold to Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry” (Genesis 45:5–9*, emphasis mine).

Notice the four strong statements about God’s sovereignty. They had sold Joseph, but God had sent him to preserve a remnant.

Years later, after Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers again feared that he would retaliate. Note Joseph’s response: “Joseph wept when they spoke to him and fell down before him and said “’Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones’” (Genesis 50:17–21*). 

If ever a person experienced undeserved suffering, it was Joseph. Trafficked by his brothers, and forced to live all but 17 years of his life in a foreign country. Falsely accused and imprisoned. Forgotten by the cupbearer. Year after year suffering pain and injustice for something he hadn’t done. Yet, there is no record of Joseph’s bitterness. No angry laments against God: “Why? How long!?” No attempt to seek revenge.

It was not the life that Joseph had anticipated as a teenager. Every painful day was the direct result of his brothers’ hatred. Yet he could say, “You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good…” 

I wonder, what if Joseph had remained at home as the favorite son with the colorful cloak? Would he have become a man of integrity? Would he be remembered for his deep faith in God? We don’t know, but we can be confident of this: Because Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, his family not only survived the famine in Canaan but multiplied into a great nation. Living in Goshen, they maintained their distinctive culture and religion. When I read the story, I am amazed how God used evil men and painful circumstances to accomplish something so profoundly good. 

So yes, God does love His children and has a wonderful plan for them. He forgives. Redeems. And one Day, He will welcome them into His glorious home forever!

That road to glory passes through the valley of suffering because it is in the valley of suffering that our faith in God grows, and we learn to trust Him and discover that our Father knows what is best. 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, wrote these comforting words: “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:31–33*) 

In a sermon about the potter’s wheel, I shared a line from a song: “When you can’t see Gods hands, trust His heart.”

Jacob could have written those lyrics from experience.

So can I.

My life has been saturated with God’s goodness and grace, but it has also been seasoned with suffering. It was through those darker times, when I wondered what God was doing, that I experienced the Father’s love most intimately.

Thank you for reading this post; if you found it helpful, please pass it on to your friends. Perhaps you have a story about discovering God’s heart when you couldn’t see His hand.

*All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.

Look Westley, It’s a Watermelon

The demise of Roe v Wade has not ended the public debate over abortion. In fact, it has motivated those who favor abortion. Millions of dollars have been invested to influence elections in several states. Some are trying to place “abortion on demand” as a guaranteed right into their state constitutions.

My concern is that the debate over the issue of abortion has been derailed. It seems that the most basic issue regarding abortion is no longer being debated in the public forum, or for that matter in the halls of justice: “When does an embryo or a fetus become a baby—another human being?” That is the question. Or should be.

The metaphor below is written by a great grandfather that has two great grandsons, Calin and Westley. Both are filled with life and curiosity. But great grandfather has used Westley in the story because his name begins with a W as does watermelon and because his mother is pregnant with Westley’s baby sister.

Imagine, my great grandson, helping me plant a watermelon seed asking, “Papa, what is that little black thing? Why are you putting it into the dirt?”

“Westley, it’s a watermelon seed.”

“But, it’s so little! It doesn’t look like a watermelon.”

“Just wait, you’ll see. Inside that little black seed is something that’s alive. It’s just waiting to grow into a watermelon.”

Several warm, sunny days pass. Westley and Papa go out to the garden.

“Papa, look. What is that little green thing?”

“Westley, remember when we put that little black seed into the ground? It was alive. Look at those little green leaves popping out of the ground. It is a watermelon plant. It will grow bigger and bigger and become a long, winding vine.”

Weeks pass. Westley comes to visit again.

“Papa, look! There’s a big yellow flower on the watermelon plant.”

“Yes, Westley. That flower will become a watermelon. Just wait, you’ll see.”

Weeks pass. Days filled with sunshine and plenty of water. “Westley, come look at our watermelon plant.”

“Papa, what is that little, round ball where the flower used to be?”

“Westley, that’s a watermelon.”

“Papa, you’re teasing me. It’s too small to be a water melon. It’s no bigger than a pea.”

“Yep. But, just wait. It’s a watermelon. It’s going to grow and grow, and one day it will be a delicious watermelon.”

The melon is now big and green. Ripe and ready to pick. Westley comes to visit again.

“Oh, Papa, look at that watermelon! It’s so big!”

“Yes, it is big, Westley. Remember that little, black seed that we put it in the ground and covered with dirt? Those first little green leaves pushing their way up out of the soil. Remember that first big, yellow flower on the vine and that tiny little pea-sized ball? Now, here it is a big, round watermelon. It was always a watermelon. Even when it was a little, black seed buried out of sight in the ground. Later, when it was a flower and then a little round ball it was always a watermelon.”

“Westley, this watermelon reminds me of what is happening in your mommy’s tummy. One day your daddy helped plant a seed inside your mommy’s tummy. In a very special way that God has planned, your little sister began to grow like that watermelon seed that we couldn’t see because it was in the ground. But it was alive and was growing until one day we saw the first leaf of the watermelon plant.

“Now your tiny baby sister is growing bigger and bigger inside your mommy. Her tummy will get bigger and bigger. One day your mommy and daddy will go to the hospital and when they return, they will bring your baby sister home with them. You’ll get to see your sister for the first time. She will finally be your little sister to hold and to love. But, Westley, remember she was always alive. She was always your little sister even inside your mommy’s tummy.”

Today, the debate over the issue of abortion has been derailed. We have changed the narrative to a woman’s right over her own body or reproductive health, but the question remains: is it ethical to ignore the plight of the innocent life within a womb? Is it right—not whether it is legal—to take the life of another human being?

That raises a greater question: If an embryo or fetus is a living person, or a potential person, can it be just or moral to premeditatively take another life? I realize that I will be accused of being crude and insensitive to use the word, murder. But isn’t that what our legal system calls the premeditative act of taking another person’s life?

So, the narrative ought to return to when is a baby really a baby? Does passing through the birth canal suddenly make it a baby? Does the first gasp for air make it a baby? The first cry?

Was it a baby at 26 weeks gestation when in some states, just three days ago it was legal to kill? Did something magical happen on the 182nd day to make it a person? A person deserving legal protection?

That’s the true narrative! Not “women’s health care” or the right of a woman over her own body while ignoring the plight of another little body—a living person.

That should be the debate.

Standing on the promise

If you grew up in church and sang out of a hymnal you may have read the above title as Standing on the Promises (plural). Remember that old gospel song? However, the singular word “promise” is not a typo.

There are many, many promises in the Bible. Not every promise is ours to claim, but some are meant for everybody.

I have chosen the very first promise in the Bible as the focus behind the title of my revised blogsite. (Standing on The Promise was also the working title of another book that I had begun to write a few years ago.)

Bible scholars have attempted to isolate the biblical concept or truth that unites the Bible. Some have suggested the word “covenant”. The Bible contains covenants that God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David as well as the New Covenant introduced in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and shared by Jesus with His disciples in the Upper Room. The New Covenant is also referred to by Paul and the author of Hebrews. So, an argument can be made that covenant is the unifying truth in the Bible.

Other scholars have suggested that “redemption” unites the Bible. Redemption by blood, beginning in the Garden of Eden, flows like a scarlet stream throughout the Bible.

“Promise” has also been offered as a theme that unites the Bible. The promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 is repeated and expanded in chapters 15, 17 and 22. God’s promise to Abraham provides the framework for almost every major promise that follows in the Old Testament. In fact, God’s promises to Moses and David are anchored in His promise to make Abraham a great nation and to bless all nations through him.

However, I believe the promise recorded in Genesis 3:15 provides both the foundation and the focus behind every story recorded in the Old and New Testaments. I like to describe this promise as the thread that stitches every book in the Bible into one grand story—one holy book.

Let’s consider “promise” as one side of a coin that contains what is being promised. Flipping the coin over, there is a subjective response to the promise that has been made. If the promise has been made by someone who is trustworthy and also has the ability to keep their promise, the natural response is to experience hope and expectation. Biblical hope is not wishing on a star. Biblical hope is confidence that the God who has made the promise WILL keep His promise. That’s the kind of faith defined in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Such confidence in God’s promises and His character is illustrated throughout Hebrews 11 by Old Testament people who chose to claim God’s promises.

As support for hope serving as the thread that stitches all the Bible stories into one, consider Romans 15:4. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Now, let’s consider the promise God made to Adam and Eve because it is still relevant today. It is one of those universal promises.

The first three chapters in Genesis set the stage for everything that follows. The Bible begins with a simple statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That one sentence refutes atheism, polytheism and naturalism.

Genesis 1 and 2 answer the big questions like “Is there anybody out there? Does God really exist? What is God like? Can we know God? Who am I? Why am I here? Is there anything after this brief experience we call life?” In these chapters in Genesis we also discover that our first parents lived in paradise. Life was good. The most anticipated moment each day was the evening visit with their Creator- the protagonist throughout the biblical narrative.

That sets the stage for meeting the antagonist—Satan, the great serpent and enemy of God. His misquotations of God’s words seduced Eve to doubt God’s goodness and to disobey God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit. That decision changed everything and still does. Everything was broken. Ruined. Paradise was no more. New words entered their vocabulary. Words like guilt, shame, mistrust, alienation and death. Life was dark and hopeless. They were escorted out of Eden and forbidden to attempt to return. But God graciously gave them new words like grace, reconciliation and especially the word hope. God pronounced judgment upon the man, his wife and the serpent. Within these curses God also added a promise: The seed of the woman would ultimately crush the serpents head and the serpent would only bruise the seed of the woman.

That seed of the woman is Jesus Christ. His life capsulized by this description, “He went about doing good.” However, His cruel death on the cross and the burial of his lifeless body in a tomb seemed to be a deathblow. All hope seemed lost. Everything would remain forever broken.

But the best was yet to come. Jesus burst out of the tomb. No longer bound by grave clothes. The same Jesus, but in a new kind of body not bound by time or space. Death had been conquered forever! Evidence there truly is life after death.

Jesus’ promise that He would rise again was true after all. Hope bloomed anew.

Prior to returning to heaven, Jesus added another promise: “I will come again!” That is our blessed hope today. We wait with anticipation because He, who has made the promise is trustworthy and has proven Himself to be competent. He is the great promise keeper.

In the meantime, our world is filled with injustice, pain and inevitable death. Throughout history people of faith, who have clung to the promise that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent, have survived hardships, endured persecution and even faced martyrdom because they had hope. Today, the promise of Jesus’ return to rule with justice provides hope to sustain us through life’s hard times.

That is why the title, “Standing on The Promise.”

The Offensive Cross

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are begin saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, NASV)

The cross has become the almost universal symbol for Christianity. But should it be? Are there legitimate alternatives that are less offensive in our post-Christian culture?

Whenever I see a building that looks like a house of worship, I can quickly distinguish whether it as a church, a synagogue, a Mormon stake, a mosque or a Buddhist or Hindu temple by one visible symbol. A cross.

Christian churches aren’t the only organizations that use the cross to identify themselves. Hospitals are often marked with a cross as are first aid stations and emergency vehicles. Even the landing pad for a medical emergency helicopter is marked by a cross.

How about the Red Cross, a international institution known for its blood drives and for providing assistance after natural disasters? (I find it interesting that another biblical symbol, a snake wrapped around a pole, is also used by the medical field. You may see it on the next ambulance that passes you with sirens screaming. But have you ever wondered why a snake is used as a symbol for saving lives? Check out the story of the brass serpent in Numbers 21:5-9.)

So, lately I have been wondering.  Are there other legitimate Christian symbols less offensive in our post-Christian culture?

We love to sing about the cross. Consider these familiar lyrics: I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain… So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross...”

What’s not to be grateful about the message of the cross? It was there that the “dearest and best”, the innocent and pure Son of God suffered and died in our place. It was there he shed his own blood to purchase my salvation. It was there he paid the debt I could never pay through my self-efforts. It was there on the cross he declared that his mission to seek and to save the lost was completed. There on the cross, he had paid the debt of my sin in full, so that I will never face condemnation again since he was condemned in my place. I am free! Forgiven!

Sadly, some have chosen the cross as a symbol of conquest and supremacy. The cross has been used to justify violence and oppression—a fact that can only please our adversary.

Consider the crusades. “Christian” armies (now there is an anomaly) from mediaeval Europe invaded Turkey and the Holy Land to resist the spread of Islam and to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim control. The crusades were sanctioned by the State Church and considered holy wars to justify their mission. Subsequently, every piece of territory won by the crusaders was eventually lost to the Turks. The greatest defeat was not the lost battles or lost lives but the violence that discredited the name of Jesus Christ. It was He, after all, who taught us to not seek revenge, but to trust God. The Crusader Cross not only brought disgrace but created a visible offense that remains a barrier to Muslims o this very day.

Closer to home and our modern era, how about the cross of the Klu Klux Klan? Following the Civil War, so-called  “Christians” hiding behind masks and hoods torched churches and homes to intimidate and retain control over recently “freed” black slaves. Under the banner of a cross blacks were lynched. Certainly these villains in white sheets were not following Christ, nor was their cross a legitimate reflection of the cross of Christ. Sadly, some professed Christ-followers still justify oppression and intimidation in order to preserve their privileged positions. Strangely, both klan members and the black church members sang the same hymn about the old rugged cross. I suspect only one of them really cherished the cross and the savior who died there.

Both noble and ignoble- praiseworthy and shameful- deeds have been done under the banner of a cross. So do we abandon the cross as our symbol? Do we remove the cross from our church buildings, as it is being done in China by the Communist party? Do we exchange the cross for something more palatable?

I could offer a few biblical symbols that describe Christians. Jesus called us “The light of the world” and the “Salt of the earth.” So, how about a lamp or a salt shaker? (I think not.)

Early Christians (given that title of derision by their critics) wore the name proudly but preferred to call themselves “followers of the way” or “brothers and sisters.” But those titles would be difficult to portray with a symbol.

 Christians in the first and second century did adopt a rather creative symbol to declare their allegiance to Christ. Jesus had invited his disciples to follow him and he would make them “fishers of men.” These early Christ-followers took Jesus seriously and adopted the symbol of a fish to declare their identity. Today, some contemporary Christians still use the fish symbol to declare their identity. You see the fish on a bumper sticker or in a business advertisement or on a letter head or as a piece of jewelry.

Skinning and filleting the fish (sorry, pun intended) we discover deeper reasons for our First and Second Century brothers and sisters to choose the fish symbol. The Greek word for fish is transliterated into English as ichthus was an acronym, stating Christian teaching or belief. Each letter of the Greek word declared their belief in who Jesus was and what he accomplished through his life, death on a cross and resurrection from the dead.

The first Greek letter, iota, is also the first letter in Jesus’ name. The next letter, the Greek chi, is the first letter in the word Christos or Christ. Early Christians believed that Jesus was the Christ, or the promised Jewish Messiah. The third letter in the word for fish, theta, our English dipthong th, is the first letter in the Greek word for god, theos. The next letter in ichthus is the Greek letter upsilon– the first letter in the word uios, ttranslated “son.” Finally, the sigma or our English “s” is the first letter in the Greek word sotor or savior.

In that one simple Greek word for fish the early Christians subtlety- yet- boldly professed their belief that “Jesus Christ- Iesous Christos was God’s  son -Theou Uios  and their savior-Sotor” That simple profession—tucked away in the symbol of a fish—distinguishes Christianity from all other world religions.

There is nothing offensive or militant or aggressive about the fish symbol. Nothing that smacks of superiority or of privileged position. Just an innocent fish that provides food and sustenance for all who will eat (believe). That was a wonderful picture of the early Christians, persecuted and considered unworthy of life, yet by their godly and unselfish lives won the day and turned the world upside down. That remains the mission of the church today—to transform the world one person at a time, not with swords or militant banners or political clout—but by living such unselfish lives that people ask the reason for our hope in a seemingly hopeless world.

So, should we tear down the cross from our steeples? Should we refrain from singing about the cross? Remove the cross from our preaching?

Never! God forbid!

We can and ought to remove all unnecessary barriers that prevent people from choosing to follow Jesus. Denominational names, although important, are not sacrosanct. Some teachings or practices that divide Christians need to be relegated from essential to preference. But, one truth, one stumbling block—the cross—cannot be tampered with or removed if we are to remain Christ-followers.

Paul was willing to discard cultural and religious traditions to improve the odds of winning a person—Jew or Greek—to Christ. One thing, however, was not up for debate. The cross of Christ was core to his message. Although the cross might offend a Jew or be considered stupidly foolish to a Greek, Paul told it like it was. (See 1 Corinthians 1:17-25) Christ crucified, buried and raised again on the third day was the Christian message.

It still is!

Remove the cross from the message and Christianity becomes just another world religion, encouraging its followers to “try a little harder to please God (or the gods).” It doesn’t work, because that kind of religion has removed the supernatural power to change human nature.

In the words of a contemporary Christian song, “O, the power of the Cross!”

So, I will continue to look for a cross on a church building. I will pray that the symbol on the steeple is more than a symbol. I pray that the message of Christ’s death on the cross remains the core of the message preached and taught in that building.

I choose to continue singing about the old rugged cross, and someday anticipate exchanging that symbol   for a   crown.

How about you?

Missing Words

Every year new words are added to our English language. Other words fall out of the vocabulary and become archaic.

Words like algorithm, Facebook, email, blog, Google and the Internet—all part of our computer age—were not part of our vocabulary a few decades ago. Can you imagine the look on a person’s face, thirty years ago, if I said something like, “I wanted a recipe for gluten free bread so I googled it?”

People might think I had just arrived from another planet.

New words are also added in our religious vocabulary. The church growth movement of the last half of the twentieth century introduced words like “mega church” (“large church” had always been sufficient). Virtual worship entered our vocabulary after COVID19. There is no such thing as virtual worship or praise. Biblical praise requires verbal boasting about God so that a listener can respond or affirm. How, then, can I praise God if there is nobody to listen and respond? Does praising God via Zoom ciunt as corporate worship? I’ll leave that one with you.

It’s the words that seem to be missing in some contemporary Christian churches that trouble me most. Biblical words that were frequently heard from the pulpit (there’s another word we used to hear.) only a few decades ago but seldom heard today.

I realize there are exceptions. There are churches and pastors that still tell it like it is written in God’s Word. And they are lighthouses on a darkening landscape.

I suspect the move toward “seeker friendly” church services has influenced this choice to avoid words that might offend—hell, sin and blood don’t sell well today.

The movement away from expository preaching toward homilies—offering three secrets to a happy marriage or a larger bank account can’t replace what Paul called sound teaching. (Sound or healthy teaching  is the Greek word used in the New Testament. )

Another casualty from this dearth of biblical teaching has been the break-up of the family and the spiraling rate of divorce and remarriage in our churches. Children have grown up in homes, far too often, without sound parental instruction of how to live morally and uprightly. I wonder, have youth ministries—trying to compete with the secular culture—failed to teach biblical ethics and sexuality?

The secular culture is a major influence on the changing values and ethics of professing Christians. We are inundated with messages encouraging instant sexual gratification. While our youth are receiving little or no instruction about biblical sexuality, they are consistently receiving messages—through music and movies and television—that sex before or outside of a committed marital covenant is normal and safe. Seldom are we reminded that there are serious consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases, inconvenient pregnancies and emotional scars.

My chief concern is that these cultural changes in sexual mores have infiltrated the church.

I share a few statistics about the practice of co-habiting among professing Christians taken from an article in the April 2021 Christianity Today. According to a Pew Research survey in 2019 58% of white evangelicals and 70% of black Protestants believe cohabiting is acceptable if the couple plan to marry. A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 43% of evangelical Protestants ages 15-22 said they would definitely or probably cohabit in the future. Only 24% said they would definitely not.  53 percent of evangelical Protestants that are currently in their first marriage have cohabited with each other prior to marriage. COVID19 has apparently increased this cohabiting without marriage.

Our views as professing Christians toward divorce and remarriage have also changed. Divorce for almost any (or no) reason is becoming accepted in the evangelical church.

It seems to me that instead of being authentic Christ-followers we are morphing into “cultural Christians.” Culture, not the Bible, is shaping our values and mores. We sing that we love Jesus, but far too often our actions deny it. Didn’t Jesus say, “If you love me you will obey me?” The proof that Israel loved God, in the older testament, was that they obeyed him.

Let me share a few words that are apparently vanishing from our evangelical vocabulary. Words like holy matrimony, adultery, fornication, incest, polygamy and pre-marital sex. None of those words appeared the nearly five-page-article about co-habiting in the magazine article I mentioned above. I realize the article was specifically about the increased acceptance of co-habiting, but where were the biblical terms: adultery or fornication? Is “co-habiting” becoming another euphemism like “an affair” or “sleeping with” or “hooking up” to avoid using the more offensive biblical words to describe sin?

 By the way, the argument some use to justify cohabiting in order to see if the couple is compatible prior to entering into a marriage covenant doesn’t seem to work. In fact, the risk of divorce among married couples that cohabited prior to marriage actually increases.

As a pastor of almost five decades I have witnessed the increase in cohabiting prior to marriage. The greatest shock to me has been the apparent ignorance that it is actually called fornication in the Bible. I suspect that some young people have never even heard the word, fornication, let alone been taught that it is wrong—not to mention harmful.

How can we defend this biblical naiveté in our so-called evangelical, Bible-believing churches? I wonder how many young people passing through our children and youth programs are biblically literate. Would they know where to locate the Ten Commandments? The Sermon on The Mount?

I believe the causes of this gap between what we profess and how we live are manifold, but the primary blame lies on our spiritual leaders. It’s our responsibility as pastors and Christian parents to teach God’s Word. We are not called to follow the shifting winds of culture. We are not called to be popular but to live holy lives in a “crooked and perverse” generation. We are called to lead by our example.

Yes, we must continue to preach grace, practice love, offer encouragement and to seek to comfort and help the broken and wounded. But we must also exhort them to obey God. Otherwise, we are teaching them to build their lives on sand. The only difference between the two home builders—the two houses— in Jesus’ parable is one word: obedience. Both men had heard the truth, but only one had applied the truth to his life. Jesus taught that it is not enough to know or to claim to love God’s Word, we must do what it commands. Anything less is building a shack on the shifting sand of our culture.

We may not be called to be judges, especially of the culture around us, but we are called to speak the truth, the whole truth to those whom God has placed under our leadership.

Because the Church has been following culture rather than leading, our culture is rapidly disintegrating. Today we deal with gender identity issues, women competing against men in sports, the State permitting a child to change their gender without parental permission and a host of problems that we couldn’t imagine thirty years ago.

The Congress and the Supreme Court have perverted the institution of marriage. A few years ago the issue was whether two men (or two women) could legally marry each other. But that was yesterday. Just recently a parent on the east coast has filed a legal challenge to be able to marry their adult child. That was once called incest and forbidden in almost every culture and religion. Definitely forbidden in the Bible.

Soon, if not already, someone will be seeking legal permission to marry and have sexual intercourse with their pet dog. I am not kidding. That is the risk once we have replaced God’s Word with whatever the changing winds of culture demand.

I remember this phrase from the musical, Fiddler on The Roof,” Pull out a thread and when will it stop?” Traditions had kept the small, Jewish community intact, but times were changing, just as they are today.

When will it stop? Probably never! Have we crossed the line of no return?

One thing is certain: The Church, God’s people on earth, have the thread and the needle to help stitch the hemorrhaging wounds in our culture. God has also provided the pattern for healthy sexuality, healthy families and a healthy church.

It is not ours to re-imagine a new, better world.

 But It is ours to simply trust and obey.

Taste and See

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8 (ESV)




I love pie. All pies, with perhaps the exception of mincemeat. Those of you who know me best may have heard me respond to the question, “What is your favorite pie?” with a simple, “yes.”

At this moment, our home is filled with the aroma of two rhubarb custard pies baking in the oven. Mary and I agree that rhubarb custard is one of our favorites.

I can hear somebody responding, “Ugh, I hate rhubarb pie!” My response is, “Have you ever tasted rhubarb custard pie?” The sweet custard blends with the beautiful red blush and tartness of the rhubarb. You have to taste it to see for yourself.

“Taste and see!” That was David’s invitation to seek God.

That is also the title of the seventh and final chapter of my newly released book, God in His Own Image: Loving God for who He is not what we want Him to be.

What can we expect if we accept the invitation to taste and see if God really is good? To actually discover God as revealed in the Bible? I believe it will be the most transforming experience anyone can make. That was also Jeremiah’s conviction.


This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom

Or the strong man boast of his strength

Or the rich man boast of his riches,

But let him who boasts boast about this:

That he understands and knows me,

That I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

Justice and righteousness on earth,

For in these I delight.”

(Jeremiah 9:23,24) 


Jeremiah declares that the highest calling—the noblest pursuit in life—is to know God as He truly is. Every other pursuit is a dead-end street. Our culture considers wealth, educational achievements and athletic prowess to be success. We often challenge our youth to discover their identity in these pursuits. (Some wealthy parents have even paid exorbitant amounts of money to bribe their children’s entrance into a more prestigious university.) Truth be told, money, intellectual or athletic achievements are nothing more than ladders leaning on empty space—destined to disappoint those who clamor to reach the top rung and discover no true satisfaction.

Jeremiah’s culture was no different. That is why he wrote the above challenge to the people of Judah. Because they had chosen to pursue lesser deities, they were facing imminent invasion of hoards of Babylonian troops. Then exile for the survivors.

The question we are considering today on the Front Porch Swing is “What’s the endgame if I ignore the challenge to know God as He is?”

First, we would miss the incomparable experience of enjoying eternal life. On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus linked the concept of knowing God with eternal life. Listen to an excerpt from His prayer recorded in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Can it be stated any more clearly? To know the one true God, as He has been revealed, is to experience eternal life! When we ignore Jeremiah’s clarion call to find our identity and our greatest passion in knowing God, we miss out on experiencing an incomparable life that never, ever ends. That is as serious as it is meant to sound.

Eternal life is more than simply living forever. I believe Scripture teaches that everyone will live forever. Obviously, we will not live forever in our decaying bodies but in another dimension of life than we know today. Eternal life is not only about the location where we will ultimately spend eternity, but it is also about experiencing eternal life here and now. Eternal life is quality life, not simply quantity. To know God is to love Him and to enjoy a relationship with Him. I realize that may sound a little too theoretical or mystical. How can I, the sinner and mortal that I am, even dream of experiencing a relationship with the holy and transcendent God? After all, who do I think I am?

Consider the first and greatest of all the commandments; it was an invitation as much as a command to love (to know experientially) God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. That sounds very intimate, doesn’t it? Jeremiah didn’t call for us to simply know about God. Instead he said, “understands and knows me, that I am the Lord.” Created, as we have been, in God’s image, we have an inherent passion to know our Creator. Our soul is hungry for God. Nothing less will satisfy.

With so much at risk how did we ever get into this rat race of trying to fill our soul hunger with wealth, fame or any number of substitutes? Paul described it in the first two chapters of Romans. They had the truth about God but suppressed it. They enjoyed all of the Creator’s benefits but forgot to be thankful. The fall, having begun in the heart, has affected their intellect and will. To fill the void, after voting God out, they created gods of their own choosing. The rest is history.

Listen to Paul ‘s description in Ephesians 4:19: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Emphasis mine.)

Can you imagine any more tragic, more haunting words than being “separated from the life of God…?” What began in their hearts and minds became a lifestyle resulting in a death sentence, and not just physical death but what the Bible calls the “second death”—to be separated from God forever. To know God is the greatest challenge and most fulfilling experience in life.

That is why I have written the book.

Syd Brestel on Pastor resources

News and Updates 


Loving God for Who He Is

For the past five weeks I have introduced the book, God in His Own Image. Now that the book has been officially released for sale on May 7, some of you have or should soon receive copies that you pre-ordered. Feedback from friends who have already begun to read the book has been encouraging.

Thank you for your support if you have already purchased the book. I trust you will enjoy the book, but more importantly that you will be stimulated to meditate upon the sheer majesty of God. I pray that your love for God as He is will increase. In fact, that is part of the sub-title of the book: Loving God for who He is, not what we want Him to be.

The first part of that subtitle, “Loving God for who He Is,” is where I’d like to focus for a moment or two. What would it look like to understand and love the REAL God?

It would begin with a passion or hunger to know God personally. If knowing or understanding God sounds a bit too brash, you are correct. Who am I, or we, to think we are up to such a task? Can I trot up to the “Burning Bush God” chattering like a child waiting in line to sit on Santa’s lap? Of course not!

Consider the adjectives we use to even begin to try to describe God. Words like holy and sovereign and transcendent are reminders of the incomprehensible gulf that separates us from the REAL God. Remember how Queen Esther risked her life to approach her own husband, the King of Persia, without an invitation? If that was hazardous ground for her, then who am I, a guilty law-breaker, to dare approach the holy, almighty God of the universe.

I wouldn’t or couldn’t. Unless, of course, I had been invited!

That’s the starting point in our pursuit to know God. We have received invitations from the very King above all Kings to approach. Consider these unmistakable invites from the holy, but hospitable God:

  • Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)


  • Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)


  • “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come.” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)


How I love that word, “come!” It may be one of the most tender and welcoming words in the Bible: “Come!”

The pursuit of God begins with the choice to accept His invitation to come. In the Garden of Eden, God called out, “Adam, where are you?” These words weren’t part of a search and rescue mission seeking information from His “lost” couple. This wasn’t a childish “hide and seek” game. The all-knowing God hadn’t lost them. These words were more rhetorical, intended to drive home a truth. Something had changed. Everything had changed. The relationship had been broken. Fear replaced intimacy. Guilt had severed them just like divorce decapitates the one flesh relationship.

But God, the great reconciler—the great lover that He is—invites us to taste and discover a relationship that will satisfy our soul hunger.

So here’s a question for us: What can we expect when we accept and worship God for who He really is, not what we want to make Him? I believe we will face challenges. We will be swimming upstream against the current of our secular, post-Christian culture. But that’s nothing new, is it? Didn’t the early Christians face persecution when they worshipped this unseen Deity in a pagan culture saturated with idolatry?

What is more disconcerting is the challenge of swimming against the current of our contemporary Christian culture with its pop theology and a safe, politically correct God. That is why I have written the book.

Sometimes, in our pursuit of God, we may struggle with disappointment. None of us enjoy waiting for much of anything. But God doesn’t operate on our schedule, nor is our agenda always His. When we can’t make sense of God’s silence, let’s trust His character. In the lyrics of a song, “When you can’t see His hands, trust His heart.”

Remember the three young men who were threatened with death in the blazing furnace because they refused to bow to the government-sanctioned, manmade image? Remember their reply to the king’s threat? “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even He does not, we want you to know, O King, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17, 18). These men loved God for who He is.

I believe that setting out to know and love God will result in personal blessings:

  1. We will discover the soul satisfaction that Augustine wrote about. Our hearts will experience joy and peace. We will learn to say, “It is well,” no matter what life throws at us.
  2. We will discover and enjoy an extended family. No matter where we may travel in the world, we will meet brothers and sisters.
  3. We will discover purposeful living. Nothing that we do will be in vain.
  4. We will experience enduring hope, because we know the God who knows the endgame. No matter the life situation we can sing, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O, what a foretaste of glory divine!”

I love that word, “foretaste.” Having accepted the invitation to taste and see the Lord is good is like enjoying a tantalizing appetizer while waiting for the lavishly wonderful main course.

In other words, the best is yet to come.

Syd Brestel on Pastor resources

News and Updates 



I Should Have Missed It All

In the next few months, our calendar will be spilling over with exciting events. Some are first time happenings. One, at least, is a once-in-a-life-time kind of event. God permitting, I plan to enjoy each one.

Here is what I anticipate when I look at the calendar:

  • On April 27, I will officiate the wedding of our oldest granddaughter, Keyara.
  • On May 7 my book, God in His Own Image: Loving God for Who He is Not What We Would Like Him to Be, is slated for release from Moody Publishers.
  • On June 8, Faith, our youngest granddaughter, graduates from Bend Senior High School.
  • On July 23, I celebrate my three-quarters-of-a century birthday.
  • On September 7, our youngest grandson, Kordell, will be married.
  • Meanwhile, we anticipate the birth of our first great grandchild. Kendra, our middle granddaughter, recently announced that she and Jacob, her husband, are expecting a baby in October. I can hardly wait.

Frankly, any one of these happy events would be enough to make 2019 a very special year. But what makes all this even more exceptional is that I could have—possibly should have—missed all of them.

When the scaffolding collapsed at Powellhurst Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon on August 25, 1984 and I fell approximately 30 feet, I could have been killed—or at the least permanently paralyzed. Six weeks in the hospital, several surgeries, and months of therapy followed.

It was a life-changing experience on several levels. I have been reminded of that event literally every day of my life since 1984. After 35 years, I continue experiencing physical problems as a result of the fall. In fact, that is why I had another spinal surgery a few weeks ago.

Although less obvious than the physical complications from the accident, I was also deeply impacted emotionally. Being more of a stoic temperament—a “just do it” kind of guy—I was always able to control my emotions. Especially the more tender ones.

I first realized how deeply the accident had also affected me emotionally when we were attending our oldest son’s high school graduation. As I watched Dan cross the platform to receive his diploma, tears slipped down my cheeks at the thought I could have missed this precious moment.

The birth of Keyara, our first grandchild, was another one of those events that gutted my strong exterior to expose deeply tender emotions. After her birth I went home from the hospital to compose a poem about my new granddaughter. The birth of one’s first grandchild is, and ought to be, one of life’s greatest moments. It is as if life has come full circle with the emergence of the next generation. It’s as if this was what marriage and life was meant to be.

Looking back, I realize I would have (should have) also missed the birth of each of our grandchildren as well as seven graduation ceremonies, counting our two sons and five grandchildren. Then there are the marriages—and now the birth of our first great grandchild.

When I shared a rough draft of this blog with my son, Dan, he commented that had I not survived the accident almost everything listed above would not have happened. It was during my six month recovery that a friend visited me while I was still in a full body cast; Jim brought one of his friends, David, with him to meet me. The result was that David began to attend Powellhurst Baptist Church along with his wife and daughter, Tammy. Short story is that Tammy met Dan in the youth group; they dated and eventually married. Their four children probably would not exist today had I died in the accident so scratch the all the births and the weddings and the future great-grandchild. Had I died, we would not have moved to Bend and Faith would not be graduating in June because she would not exist.

Back in 1984 gravity thrust me to the floor near the spot where I had once stood to preach. It would be six months before I would again preach from that spot, but this time in a wheelchair.

My accident wasn’t anything as dramatic as the blinding light that dismounted and blinded Saul of Tarsus, but it certainly changed the course of my life. Looking back, I see events as Before and After. By the kind and gracious will of God I survived the fall. Just a few weeks afterwards, I read how a man had fallen ten feet off of a loading dock, killing him. I realize that every breath, every day, every year and every special family event has been a gift to enjoy to the glory of God. Graduations, weddings and childbirths are always special, but for me they have been extra special because I could have missed them.

My story may not be your story. You may never have dived off a scaffold or been severely injured in a tragic accident, but we are all facing the same event. Unless Jesus returns first, we will face death. The challenge is learning how to live life in the interim. How to experience every precious moment in this brief journey called life.

Moses, having ground out 120 years (most of them rather lonely and difficult), composed a song about the brevity of life. We know it as Psalm 90. Moses presents a beautiful and mind-stretching contrast between our eternally existing God and His mortal creatures. God is more enduring than the mountains; we are as fragile as wildflowers that wilt under the summer sun.

Listen to Moses’ song:


All our days pass away under your wrath;  

            We finish our years with a moan.

            The length of our days is seventy years-

            Or eighty, if we have strength;

            Yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,

            For they quickly pass, and we fly away.


What a realistic description of our fragile human lives. Another wonderful poem about life, death and aging can be found in Ecclesiastes 12.

Both Psalm 90 and Ecclesiastes conclude with a similar reminder. Life is brief. Death is certain. Judgment follows life, so live wisely. Invest every moment, enjoying it to the glory of God, because someday the fragile crystal plate will break. Someday, the soul, like a bird, will fly away to meet its Maker.

That is why Moses prayed (and I pray), “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

I don’t profess to have aced the exam on living life wisely. I still fritter away opportunities to glorify God. I can still treat something very special as mundane. I can still allow Midwest stoicism to overrule the emotions that I could and should express. But each of the events I mentioned at the outset call me back to express thanks to God, because I could have, even should have, missed them all.

Come to think of it, the book, God in His Own Image, would never have been written. I would not be anticipating May 7, nor would this blog have ever seen the light of the day.

But God, in His sovereignty and great kindness, has allowed those events to be.

I intend to make the most of them.


By the way, I am still reading The Essential Jonathan Edwards  and The Storm Tossed Family. Both are good reads, the latter is easier and very relevant. I have just concluded reading Ezra and have begun Nehemiah today. What amazing men these were! Their prayers of confession on behalf of their nations is a model for us today.

Why not share what you are reading with rest of us on the front porch?

Also, have you an experience that has influenced your perspective on  life?

Telling Your Story

Why do we struggle with evangelism?

Notice I said “we.”

I was raised in a church where I was taught that I needed to share the gospel, and grew up with almost constant guilt over my negligence. Perhaps you’ve also felt or still feel the same way.

Just a quick reminder from last week’s visit on The Front Porch Swing: Jesus left one specific command for His disciples: “Make disciples.”  Jesus’ game plan hasn’t changed; we make disciples by sharing the good news about Jesus and by baptizing those who choose to follow Him, teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded.

So I ask again, why is it so difficult? Why am I silent when I ought to speak? If I lived in North Korea or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, I would have reason to be cautious. But living in America I have no legitimate reason for remaining silent.

Is it fear of rejection? Is it because “people may not like me anymore”? Perhaps, but when you think about it, that’s a pretty anemic excuse. That’s especially true if I believe that those who reject Jesus face an eternal separation from Him in hell. What kind of friend would I be if I failed to warn my neighbor that his house is on fire? I would wake him out of his slumber anyway I could.

Another reason (excuse) I have fallen back on is that I may not know what to say. I may not have all the answers to their questions. So rather than risk sounding stupid, I act stupidly by remaining silent.

Frankly, I believe we have tended to make evangelism far more cerebral than necessary. Over the four plus centuries of serving local churches, I have offered evangelism training. We have brought professional trainers to teach evangelism techniques. Within weeks, however, after the excitement of the evangelism training nothing has really changed.

Every freshman student at Moody was required to take a Personal Evangelism class. We had to memorize scores of biblical verses. I passed the class with an A, but I wasn’t an A student in personal evangelism. Sure, I handed out Christian literature on the city buses and the el trains. I preached “at” intoxicated men in Chicago’s Rescue Missions. Quite candidly, I was more comfortable preaching at these captive men, sitting through another sermon about hellfire so they could finally enjoy a hot meal and a warm place to sleep.

If you still struggle with sharing your faith with friends and neighbors, I offer a few insights:

  • Be familiar with the gospel story. Know what it is and what it is not. The gospel means good news. It’s good news about Jesus Christ—who He was and is, and what He has done for us. He is God in a human body living the perfect life we have tried always failed to live. He voluntarily died in our place—paying the death sentence we deserve. He was buried and raised from the dead, demonstrating that He truly was God and that His death satisfied the righteous demands of the holy God. (There is one more item in the gospel story that I want to save till our conclusion.)
  • Be familiar with a few key verses to support the above truths. Write the location of these verses in the fly-leaf of your Bible (or in the “notes” app on your smartphone) to alleviate fear of forgetting them. Choose verses that explain our need for salvation because we are sinners. The consequence of our sin is that we are spiritually dead and separated from the holy God. Consider Romans 3:10, 23. Be prepared with verses demonstrating that Christ has paid our debt and offers forgiveness and justification by grace through faith—not though working harder or a merit system. Consider Romans 5:8 and 6:23 as well as Ephesians 2: 8-9 to help make this point. Maybe some other key verses will come to mind. John 3:16 and John 5:24 have been used to move hearts down through the centuries.
  • Create or adapt your strategy for sharing the key points of the gospel. Over the years there have been several specific plans for sharing the gospel message. I introduce three:
    • I am most comfortable with the “Romans Road” because the verses are part of the context in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. He writes to present a systematic, biblical understanding of the gospel; beginning with man’s lost condition in Romans 1-3. Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf means we can be justified (pronounced righteous in God’s sight) through faith. If you have never heard of the Romans Road approach to sharing the gospel, ask your pastor or look it up on the Internet.
    • CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) developed the “Four Spiritual Laws” as a way to share the gospel on college campuses.
    • More recently, “The Bridge” approach is so simple that one can share it on a napkin over a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
  • Finally—and perhaps most importantly—tell your personal story. Share why you are excited to be a follower of Jesus. Share how He has made a difference in your life. Has He delivered you out a life of crime like a man who now calls me Pops? Perhaps your life has been quite tranquil so you feel like you have no amazing conversion story. That’s okay. Tell what it is you love about Jesus. Tell why you decided to follow Him. Has Jesus brought peace to a convicted worrier? Has he brought joy to a baptized sourpuss? Just share your story.

How did a small group of early Christ-followers turn the world upside down while experiencing persecution? They told their stories about meeting the resurrected Jesus.

Peter and John boldly defended themselves for healing a man crippled from birth. Arrested by religious leaders for the crime of healing the man “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” they were incarcerated overnight and put on trial the next morning. Peter and John answered their accusers by sharing that Jesus, having been crucified and rising again, had healed the lame man through them. Listen to Peter’s boldness, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Contemplate those words. “No other name under heaven….”

Note Peter’s conviction that apart from Jesus Christ, every person is hopelessly and forever condemned. Believing that simple statement ought to provide motivation to evangelize. After threatening Peter and John to speak no more about Jesus, they responded, “…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Peter and John had a story. A story so grand and life-changing they would gladly lose their lives rather than remain silent.

If you are a Christ-follower, He has given you a story. He has given you purpose and hope. So why not share your story? Perhaps God will use your story to naturally turn the conversation into an opportunity for sharing the good news about Jesus.

Oh yes, I promised one more truth that is part of the gospel. We agree that the good news about Jesus dying for our sins and rising from the dead. But the gospel doesn’t stop with Jesus walking around Jerusalem in His glorified body. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. No more exalted place can even be imagined. Jesus also sent the Holy Spirit to empower people like you and me so that we can also boldly share the good news like Peter and John and Paul.

Speaking of Paul, Wow! Consider his story about meeting the resurrected Christ. Knocked off his mount and fearing for his life. Blind three days. Then through the power of the Holy Spirit Paul could see once more—and much, much better than ever.  No matter what they threw at him or hammered against him—whether stones or wooden rods or whips or the threat of beheading in a Roman dungeon, Paul always responded by telling his story about meeting and being transformed by Jesus.

So can I. So can you.


What am I reading? I am still reading The Essential Jonathan Edwards but for a respite from Edwards I have also begun reading  The Storm-Tossed Family  by Russell Moore.

The Silence for the Lambs

No, that’s not a typo.

It’s a play on the title of a very intense movie starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. But I wanted to grab your attention, because our topic today is truly a matter of life and death.

I write, first of all, as a confession that my voice on behalf of those without a voice has become very passive. Almost a half century has passed since Roe vs. Wade opened the door for legalized abortion in America. Back in the 70s and 80s, the issue of abortion was front burner in the Christian media and in many churches. Every January on the anniversary of that Supreme Court decision (at least in Christian periodicals), the issue of abortion is still revisited. Otherwise, with the exception of a few protests near Planned Parenthood facilities, there is little discussion about abortion in Evangelical churches.

In some cases, this silence may reflect surrender to a perceived lost cause, but I fear that more often it is a desire to be politically correct—or simple acquiescence to a corrupt status quo. One thing seems certain: the issue isn’t going away, and may very well have arrived at a tipping point.

First, the positive news: The number of reported abortions in America has been dropping consistently since 1996 when 1,225,937 abortions were reported. Today there are almost 25 percent fewer abortions being reported. I believe this significant drop is to the credit of those who have consistently and carefully stood in the gap defending those who have no voice. Pregnancy Resource Centers and the use of ultrasound have helped turn the tide by changing public awareness to the fact that fetus in the womb is not simply a mass of tissue. Everybody agrees that something alive will die in every abortion. And I would say someone, not “something.”

Even with a more conservative lineup in the current Supreme Court, we are witnessing a surge in efforts to preserve or even advance a woman’s “right to choose” if and when to abort. The line dividing those who recognize the life of the unborn as human, deserving protection, and those who display little or no concern for the innocent is becoming wider than ever before.

On January 22, 2019 (the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade) New York State passed the Reproductive Health Act, allowing for late-term abortions, in specially defined situations, even up to the child’s birth. There are discrepancies over the details of what the law permits. It seems the national debate is now entirely about a woman’s right to choose to end a life. Where, I ask, is the debate over an innocent child’s right to live?

Regretfully (no, rather shamefully) Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, not only endorsed the bill but celebrated its passage by directing One World Trade Center to be lit in pink the day the bill passed!

Meanwhile, illustrating the chasm over abortion, conservative States such as Louisiana have passed laws severely restricting abortion only to have the laws struck down.  The volume and the vitriolic spirit of the debate over a woman’s right to abort will only increase. Many are shouting at each other; few are listening. Even fewer are speaking compassionately for the unborn.

We don’t need people screaming at each other while angrily waving signs. We don’t need divisive words like “murder” to win the debate. It is, after all, a simple question of justice. Everybody should want justice for the vulnerable, whether they have a voice or not. We value those like Martin Luther King Jr. who cried out against the injustice of segregation, even losing his life in the struggle. We write books and make movies of men like William Wilberforce who fought for justice on behalf of men and women trapped in the chains of slavery.

The dispute over abortion should not be a debate between liberal and conservative, or Christian and secularist. It really shouldn’t be a struggle between Democrat and Republican—but here I tread lightly because one party has made abortion part of its platform.  Abortion is a struggle between justice and injustice.

The challenge today is this: Who is crying out for justice on behalf of the innocent? Why this silence for the lambs in many of our churches?

I regret my silence. While it’s true that I no longer serve on the board of our local Pregnancy Resource Center, and no longer have a Sunday morning platform, I can still write and speak out in defense of the defenseless.

Let’s stop shouting at each other over the abortion crevasse. Perhaps our voices will be stronger and more effective when we gently but firmly pursue justice for those without a voice. Let us speak with integrity, compassion, and courage while offering support for the woman struggling with an unwanted pregnancy. Let every local church, like Foundry Church in Bend, have an adoption ministry that supports families seeking to adopt a child.

The truth is, no child is unwanted. Let’s volunteer to support efforts to place foster children in Christian homes. While seeking justice for the unborn, let’s continue to offer God’s grace and mercy for men and women who struggle with residual guilt and pain from an abortion.

It’s time to break out of our passivity, demonstrating through our deeds and words that we believe all human life bears God’s image. In place of silence, let’s use our voices to speak on behalf of the innocent, the silent lambs among us.

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.

Before you were born I set you apart.”

(Jeremiah 1:5, nlt)

Have you considered ordering a copy or two of my book, God in His Own Image? It is available as pre-published through several sources including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I have been advised that it is advantageous for an author when books are ordered prior to actual publication. I would appreciate your support in this way. Thank you.

What I am reading: The Essential Jonathan Edwards