Lessons from an Ostrich

Several weeks ago I asked my friend, Larry Libby (he also volunteers as my editor, for which I am deeply grateful), what he thought about working on a post about frogs and ostriches. He was game to try, so here goes.

Two familiar sayings—“the frog in the kettle” and “bury your head in the sand”—illustrate two potential responses to our rapidly changing secular culture. I have discovered that both frogs and ostriches are listed among the unclean foods in Leviticus 11:13-19. You’d never find frog legs or an ostrich drumstick on a Kosher menu. A practicing Jew would never say, “Frog legs taste like chicken.”

The fourth plague in Exodus 8 was an infestation of frogs. The sixth bowl judgment in Revelation 16:13 is described as “three unclean, demonic spirits, like frogs.”

The ostrich doesn’t fare much better in Scripture. Their meat, like that of vultures, ravens and birds of prey, was considered “detestable.” These giant birds are included among hyenas and jackals and other assorted creatures that inhabit deserted places (Isaiah 13:19-22; Jeremiah 9:39, 40; Job 30:24-31:1; Micah 1:6-9). 

In the last few posts on the Front Porch Swing, I have challenged my readers to invest in projects like providing safe drinking water in developing countries. I have encouraged you to pray for those suffering religious persecution and become an advocate for the unborn at risk in the womb. 

Living as we do in America, or in almost any Western nation, most of us are wealthy compared to millions of people struggling in abject poverty. Many people will go to bed tonight hungry. Some live in tin shacks. Some will sift through garbage dumps to tomorrow. Others will be arrested and imprisoned for having a Bible in their possession.

Currently, like many of you, I am frustrated by not being able to gather as a church family on Sunday. More tragic are the millions who dare not even gather quietly in their own homes, in fear of arrest or martyrdom.

I could go on and on about our affluence. My purpose is not to bring shame or guilt, because we live where we do. But my goodness, we—of all people—ought to be lavish in our praise and gratitude toward God, the giver of all good gifts.

That’s a very good start. But if I all I do is offer thanks, I would be remiss. The Bible frequently calls for getting involved. Jesus illustrated it so well in His famous “Good Samaritan” story. Two religious leaders, probably quite well off, passed a wounded man lying in the middle of the path. Both recognized the man was in desperate straits and would undoubtedly die without assistance. Both passed by anyway. Did they whisper a prayer for the victim as they passed? Probably not, or Jesus would have said so. Bottom, neither got a hand dirty or lost valuable time or spent so much as a dime to help him.

A third man, a despised Samaritan, soon came upon the bloody scene. Seeing the victim lying in the path and hearing his barely audible groans, the Samaritan felt compassion. Ignoring the risk that he too might be victimized on that dangerous stretch of highway, he stopped to offer assistance. He got involved. After cleansing the wounds and making bandages from his own clothing, he placed the man on his donkey and hastened down the path to the nearest lodging place. Before continuing his journey the next morning, the Samaritan gave the host money—essentially his Visa card—to care for the victim.

That’s why we call people who stop to help others in trouble, “Good Samaritans.” You may have met some of these good people along life’s pathway. Perhaps you were stuck in a snow bank or parked on the shoulder in a disabled car in the middle of the night as vehicles roared past. Then, to your vast relief, a car stopped and the driver offered to help you—or call for help—to get on your way again. I’ve been there. I’ve even been the Good Samaritan a few times. More often than not, however, I drove on by. Somebody else will stop and help them, I’ve told myself. Everybody has a cell phone.

Life in today’s world is filled with suffering and wounded individuals. She may be curled up on the sidewalk on a cold night wrapped in cardboard. He may be huddling in a thin blanket on a concrete floor in a North Korean prison. She may be widow in India, grieving her husband’s death at the hands of militant Hindu terrorists, wondering how she will feed her children. She may be pregnant, married or not, considering a lethal option.

You get the point; people are suffering and dying and living in fear. There is no shortage of opportunities to be a Good Samaritan. Nor is there a shortage of resources. 

The question is, how will I respond? I can’t really say that I have nothing to offer. We all have something to offer. Nor can I claim ignorance. To do so makes me either a frog or an ostrich.

We’re all familiar with the famous frog-in-the-kettle story. Put him in a large pan of cool water and he is right at home. Put the pan on a kitchen range and turn the fire on low to gradually, almost imperceptibly, heat the water. The environment changes so slowly that the frog doesn’t notice—until it’s too late.

Have I become too comfortable with contemporary culture? Do I watch on TV what I once would have walked out of in a movie theater? Do I justify purchasing what I once considered excess? Am I being conformed—molded like lime Jell-O—by the culture, rather than being changed by the living Word of God?

You’ve heard of culture shock? It’s a real experience. It isn’t easy dropping into an underdeveloped country and witnessing the abject poverty of the people, or perhaps the scars of severe persecution. For me, however, the greater culture shock was in coming back to America after a lengthy global mission trip. It takes weeks or longer to adjust to what it means to live in a nation blessed with over-the-top abundance of everything. But those feelings eventually, almost imperceptibly, fade. Life returns to normal, in our world of safe highways, newer autos, supermarkets and medical clinics everywhere. It’s what we expect.

Am I a frog in the kettle?

Or maybe I have a greater resemblance to the ostrich, with my head buried in the sand. But I really can’t plead ignorance about the injustices and evil around me. Our culture seems hell-bent on discarding traditional morality. Evil has too often elbowed out good. We may adjust our vocabulary, but wrong is still wrong by any name. The assault on the institution of marriage has been relentless. Less than a quarter of a century ago, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, and President Clinton signed it into law. Even Barak Obama ran on the defense of traditional marriage, before “evolving,” once in office. Today, that good law has been trashed. The once sacred covenant of marriage has been defiled. Anything goes. Except, of course, insisting that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman intended to remain intact until death.

Words like fornication and adultery are rarely heard in today’s era of sexual freedom. Restrooms are in danger of no longer being gender specific. Men, supposedly “transformed” into women, unfairly compete against women in sports.

A female ostrich, when compared with jackals, receives an even poorer rating, because of her careless maternal instincts: “Even jackals offer the breast; they nurse their young, but the daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness” (Lamentations 4:1-5). 

The legend of the ostrich sticking its head in the sand isn’t really true. Some believe the ostrich, seeing danger, may hunker down and duck its long neck and head to disguise itself as a bush. 

An ostrich may not immerse its head in the sand, but do we, if we know something is wrong but fail to respond? We plead ignorance. We are like children hiding behind a blanket. 

To know there is another person, created in the image of God, living in the womb, but call it a “mass of tissue” is to put our heads in the sand. To know there are children starving to death and not respond is putting our heads into the sand. To know Christians are being persecuted and slaughtered and remain silent is putting our heads into the sand. Like children, playing peek-a-boo, we pretend (by our actions or lack thereof) that we didn’t see anything. 

One thing is certain, Someone saw! 

We will stand before Him one day. It won’t be a Zoom call or on FaceTime, it will be face-to-face, and we will give an account of our lives. In that day, however, it won’t be about frogs and ostriches. We will be identified as a sheep or a goat, based on our response to the injustices around us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Let’s be sheep, following our Good Shepherd through a broken world…and all the way Home.

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)

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What I am reading: The Essential Jonathan Edwards