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Where Can I Go With My Shame?

Where Can I Go With My Shame?

I was standing in a group of people I love and I couldn’t hide or deny my hurtful behavior. Everyone saw what I did. I couldn’t make excuses or suppress the truth. There was no justification for it. I was caught and stood there with my shame exposed. 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you did or said something that you wish you could take back? Have you lashed out at someone you love, said something you regret, or wished you could go back and try it over again? Your face turns red with embarrassment, your shoulders tense up with anxiety, your heart races, and you feel warm and clammy. 

These are the kind of moments I try desperately to avoid. And I don’t think I am alone. I think most of us try our best to hide our shame. We would do anything to not be seen and exposed for how bad we actually are. Often the cover up or scrambling to cover your tracks can be worse than the mistake you made in the first place.

What surprises me the most about the scrambling is how instinctual it is for me and how desperately I cling to it. Oftentimes I don’t even have to think about it before I lie, or twist the truth to others and myself so that I don’t have to see my sin for how ugly it is. And then I double down. I make excuses. I justify my actions. I would do anything to not have my shame exposed. 

 

Could Shame be a Gift?

But what if having my shame seen by others could actually serve as a gift? What if the thing I am working so desperately to keep hidden is an opportunity to receive grace, love, and forgiveness? Hold that thought while we jump back to the story. 

Here I am standing in front of my extended family, trying to gather their attention so that I can pray. They are all looking at me with shock and indignation. It was quiet for a few moments before my mother-in-law walked over to me. 

What should I do? What can I say? I don’t have the opportunity to hide, suppress, or deny what just happened. I did the only thing I could with my shame exposed. I looked at her and said, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” 

This was scary. This was embarrassing. This was vulnerable. I did not know what would happen next. She graciously looked at me, gave me a hug, and said, “I forgive you. I love you.” 

Now I have made mistakes and needed to be forgiven more times than I can count. But this one meant so much to me. She didn’t have to forgive at that moment. She had every right to be angry but she showed me mercy. 

 

A Taste of Grace

I tell this story to highlight the taste of grace I received from my mother-in-law that day. Yes, my mother-in-law is a saint, but more importantly, the same gift she offered that day is the same gift God offers us every day. 

Every day we make mistakes. And every day we are tempted to hide them. When our sin is exposed it leads to our shame. And while shame is such a powerful emotion which can lead to scrambling and hiding, because of the gospel, shame can also be a gift. Shame is an opportunity to run to God with our sin exposed and receive his grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Here are two verses that have been meaningful to me when I think about wanting to hide my sin and shame instead of running to the One who has borne our shame.

The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.  Proverbs 28:13

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  I John 1:9

 

Having it all Together

I spend most of my life trying to act like I have it together. What if instead, when I mess up and my shame is exposed, I run to God? In his loving arms I receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness. This is when I receive the reminder of the gospel, that on the cross, Christ died for the penalty of my sin and shame. And he also credits to me his righteousness. Let me say it again, my sin is replaced with his righteousness. 

This is why shame can be a gift. Because the gospel means that I am both deeply flawed and deeply loved. At the same time.

My challenge to you and to myself everyday is to take our shame and use it as an opportunity to run to God who sees us, knows us, and loves us. I pray your shame can be a gift that leads to a deeper experience of his love for you. 

Hitting the Refresh Button on Grace

Hitting the Refresh Button on Grace

Many of us have heard of one famous German theologian who stood up to the Nazi party. But did you know there was another famous theologian beside Deitrich Bonhoeffer who did the same thing? Yes it’s true, and his name was Paul Tillich.

Paul Tillich

The Nazi party wanted Tillich to renounce his published political views in order to keep teaching in Germany, and the legend is that Tillich laughed at the SS guards, and was of course, swiftly banned from teaching in any school in Germany. Hearing of his situation, and with admiration for his work, Tillich was invited to teach in the United States by two famous public theologians, the Neibhur brothers. He lived the rest of his life teaching in the United States at various famous universities. Martin Luther King did his doctoral dissertation on Tillich, and in fact, his fearless intellectual inquiry and diagnosis of culture took the United States by storm, causing him to grace the cover of Time magazine in 1959.

Hitting the Refresh Button

Tillich is undoubtedly a controversial figure in theology, and he and I disagree on a number of key realities, but one of things I can appreciate about Paul Tillich was his effort to take Christian concepts and symbols that felt stale to cultural and societal conversation (a conversation that was increasingly growing more secular), and hit the refresh button on these concepts so that they could make a renewed impact. He didn’t want society, the world, or the church for that matter, to leave behind Christian concepts or symbols simply because they were thought to be outdated. In the midst of secularization, Tillich was certain that the Christian faith was valuable to modern people and society. For example, he hit the refresh button on faith by calling it “the state of being ultimately concerned: the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man’s ultimate concern.” Even more, he hit the refresh button on God by calling God the “ground of being.” And though this appears to be an impersonal term, for Tillich, it avoids the idea of God being a “being,” which would mean God is subject to finitude and bound to some form like all other ‘beings,’ or unable to transcend even the infinite.

In a famous op-ed column in The Saturday Evening Post he wrote this: “If we define religion as the state of being grasped by an infinite concern we must say: Man in our time has lost such infinite concern.” The Christian faith is relevant for every generation, but Tillich wanted to figure out how to reach a new generation.

Sin

Another one of the simple ways Tillich hits the refresh button on Christian concepts is how he talked about sin. Tillich would say that we don’t understand the word sin anymore. The power of sin has largely been lost to us, and by that he means we don’t understand the depth and breadth that term embodies.

Whenever he spoke of sin, he would only use that word briefly. Instead, he would speak of separation. He would say that we should understand sin is really separation or even estrangement. Because of sin we are estranged from one another; we are separated from how relationships really should be and work. Because of sin we are estranged from ourselves; and we are separated from who we really should be. And because of sin we are estranged from God; we are separated from whom we actually belong.

Grace

The Christian concept that answers the malady and tragedy of sin is grace. Grace, like sin, is difficult to describe, and Tillich again would say we don’t really understand the word grace anymore either. Is grace just forgiveness? Is grace some kind of ethereal force, or magical power of God?

For Tillich, grace was neither of those things. Instead, grace is how God overcomes the separation and estrangement of sin. In other words, it is through grace separation from God is overcome. The grace of God through Jesus breaks into our lives in spite of separation. Essentially, grace is the acceptance from God of that which is formerly rejected by God. Grace is the reunion of God’s life to our life.

Here is what Paul Tillich says about grace in one of his sermons titled You Are Accepted:

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you…Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.”

The Courage to Accept Grace

As Christians, we should be confident that we are rooted in God’s grace. We have a complete, immediate, and total reality of acceptance from God through his Son. In his book, The Courage to Be, Tillich says that it takes courage to accept that you are accepted by God. He has a different Christology than I am inclined to adopt, but I still agree with him.

It takes courage to believe, live into, and embody a hope that flies in the face of existential despair and anxiety. As Christians, we understand we are wholly accepted through Jesus.
When we courageously accept our acceptance from God, then we can also courageously reject the other words, things, or realities that seek to strip us of our rootedness in God’s grace. When you are lonely and in a place of despair or darkness, through God’s grace your light can be remembering that you are forever accepted by the One who matters. When you are struggling because you receive harsh words from co-workers or your boss, through God’s grace the final word spoken to you and over you is that you are accepted by him. And when you have made decisions that make you fear rejection from others and you struggle to even accept yourself, through God’s grace you have no reason to fear, you are always accepted.

This is God’s grace: his grace through Jesus has the power to overcome all separation. Do you have the courage to believe him? Do you have the courage to live out of his grace?

God’s Face Is Toward You

God’s Face Is Toward You

When my kids were little, one of the best parts of my life was when I’d walk in the door at the end of a long day. They’d run to me, squeeze my legs, squeal with delight, beg me for piggyback rides, the “dragon game,” or other ridiculous forms of roughhouse. Their faces could practically light up the entire room at the very sight of me. I was a hero, a celebrity, the most loved human on the planet and the source of one of their greatest delights. It felt pretty good. 

I have teenagers now. Needless to say, I’m not even sure they notice when I get home (or that I ever left). While I choose to believe they’re still glad to see me (after all, according to Hebrews 11, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…), I do miss those little faces lighting up like that at my very presence. You know the feeling, right?

 

A face that is glad to see you

Does anything feel better than seeing another human light up when they see you? You show up at a friend’s house that you haven’t seen in years. You return home from a long and tiring business trip and your spouse greets you at the door. You arrive home after your first semester in college. Your grandkids finally pull up after a long road trip. Even as I write this, I can literally feel my face lighting up just at the very thought of these situations.

We also feel this in the small and subtle things. When you walk into church and you can just tell the people you see are glad to see you. Their faces light up, which makes your face light up, which makes their faces light up even more, which makes your face…. It feels good, doesn’t it?

We now know that there is brain science to back this up. Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks, in their brilliant little book, The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation, write:

Our brains desire joy more than any other thing. As we go through our day, our right brains are scanning our surroundings, looking for people who are happy to be with us.

God designed facial recognition circuitry into our brains and linked it to our joy center. My wife’s face lights up when she sees me, and this initiates a joyful chain reaction in my brain that I can feel in my body. Brain science reveals that this joy sensation is crucial for emotional and relational development. Our brain looks specifically to the face of another person to find joy, and this fills up our emotional gas tank. The face is key.

They summarize joy in three points. 1) Joy is primarily transmitted through the face (especially the eyes) and secondarily through voice. 2) Joy is relational. It is what we feel when we are with someone who is happy to be with us. Joy does not exist outside of relationship. 3) Joy is important to God and to us.

Of course, I didn’t need to quote these experts for us to know this to be true, nor do we need science’s confirmation for the things we already believe so deeply. We feel this deep in our bones! We know, even in our own bodies, that this is true.

It shouldn’t surprise us then that God has also known this to be true, for this is how he made us. Long before any of these scientific studies were even imagined, God imagined humans, and he made us to light up at the faces of one another. He made us for joy—joy with him and joy with each other. 

 

“The Lord make his face shine on you”

It even comes out in the “original” benediction or blessing in the Bible. It’s the oldest we have and it has long been my personal favorite of all the benedictions we give at church. In seminary, our pastor used to sing it over the congregation at the end of the service. We say it over every child in our dedication services, I try to work it into every one of my weddings, and I love using it on Christmas Eve and the start of every new year. It’s also become one of my favorite songs we sing from Elevation Worship, The Blessing.

Thousands of years before we knew anything about brain science or interpersonal neurobiology, God knew, and our brilliant Creator God gave us this benediction. I memorized it first in the NIV, Numbers 6:22-26: 

 The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

 “The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

 the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

 the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”

 

The original blessing, the blessing God commanded, perhaps the highest blessing we can receive, is that God’s face would light up when he sees us. That he would continually turn his face toward us. For this is the ultimate blessing, the ultimate protection, the ultimate act of grace, and the greatest source of peace. If you want real joy, here is where it is found—seeing God’s face light up when you walk in the room. Knowing that God is glad to be with you.

Reflecting on this passage, Wilder and Hendricks write: 

God designed our brains for joy, and He wants us to live in the glow of His delight. This blessing expresses a joy that can be paraphrased, ‘May you feel the joy of God’s face shining on you because He is happy to be with you.’

 

How can God possibly be glad to see me?

However, if I’m honest, I often wonder, does God’s face really light up when he sees me? He knows me. All of me. He knows the ways I tried to run from him in high school. He knows the mistakes I made in college. He knows my failures as a husband, as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a friend, as a pastor, as a colleague, as a boss, as an employee, as a neighbor, as a citizen, as a human. So many mistakes, so much sin. Every one of my faults is in his face, even the failures I’ve been unable to admit to myself. He sees.

You can’t hide anything from God’s face. And I imagine that disappointed look, like the one your mom or dad used to make. Or worse, I imagine him turning away from me, and walking out on me. If YOU really knew me, dear reader, YOU would turn your face from me and walk out on me. Each of us has felt this happen way too many times. Nothing destroys our joy quite like this.

And yet….

The good news of what Jesus has done for us means our God will never do that to any of his children. No matter what. Ever. You see, Jesus already died the death we deserve, and when he was forsaken on the cross, the Father did turn his face away. That is what we deserve, but Jesus experienced that for us, so that we never will.

Jesus also lived the life we could never live—perfect, holy, righteous, just. He took our shame and gave us his goodness, so that when the Father looks at us, he sees all the good that Jesus is. All of his beauty and righteousness and love. We are given credit for that.

This means, if you are one of God’s children through faith in Jesus, his face is always toward you. It’s always shining when he sees you. For our God is always glad to see you. Do you believe that?

Like lovers who have been separated for months. Like a parent who hasn’t seen their child for a whole semester. Like your grandkids when they finally show up for a long awaited visit. Like your closest college friends at an unexpected reunion. That’s how God feels EVERYTIME he sees you. And he always sees you! His face is always toward you. Can you see his eyes lighting up?

Now I realize this is hard to believe. The gospel of Jesus usually is hard to believe. So how do we actually experience this? I want to feel this—how can we? Let me quickly and inadequately suggest two things.

 

Turn your face toward him

First, if you want to experience the joy of God’s face toward you, you have to turn your face toward him. It’s mutual. He also wants to see your face light up when you see him! Like any relationship, the joy is best experienced by prioritizing time for that person, and mutually enjoying one another.

When you open your Bible, when you carve out time for prayer, when you quiet your life enough to listen for him, when you show up to church each Sunday, when you sing songs of praise to him, when you go on a walk alone in the woods. These are the spaces we are most likely and most often to experience his face and his joy, and he experiences it from us, too. If we want joy, we have to make these things a priority. Like the old hymn says:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace

 

Turn your face toward others

Second, if you want to experience the joy of God’s face toward you, you have to turn your face toward others. So often our experience of God’s love comes through the love we feel to and from others. When you show up at church or your community group or Bible study, does your face light up from the people you see? As yours lights up, theirs will too, and you’ll get a taste of the joy of God’s face. If we want joy, we have to make each other a priority.

As we do these things, with faith in Jesus as our deep hope, we’ll experience joy, and we will live out the fulfillment of the greatest benediction. 

Let these words again wash over you—not simply as a wish, but as a truth that is fully yours in Jesus Christ. Read them this time from another translation:

“May the Lord bless you and protect you;

 may the Lord make his face shine on you

and be gracious to you;

 may the Lord look with favor on you

and give you peace.”’  Numbers 6:22-26 CSB

These words have already come true for all who believe. Amen and Amen!

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Humanity.

I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought humankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true…I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation….

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Humankind is so fallen that no one can be trusted with unchecked power over his or her fellows.

“Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses* by C.S. Lewis

 

Political Partisanship

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you are frustrated and perplexed by the political partisanship that only seems to increase with each passing election cycle. Whether it be disagreements over abortion, inflation, student loan forgiveness, public school curriculum, or anything else, thoughtful and charitable debate is hard to find. In spite of these divisions, there is one thing almost all politicians, pundits, and activists agree on: “most Americans want what is right and good, and they agree with me.” Both sides of our political discourse will creatively redefine what “most Americans” means to make this statement true. You would be hard pressed to find a public persona who asserts “Most Americans disagree with me on this, but they are profoundly mistaken.” In our contemporary political culture, the voice of the people is considered the voice of God. 

 

Sin and American Democracy

I recently had the pleasure of reading We the Fallen People: The Founders and Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Professor of History at Wheaton College. In this deeply thought-provoking book, McKenzie explores the relationship between the Christian doctrine of sin and American democracy. He argues that the founders, who were by no means perfect, had a robust view of the brokenness of human nature that coheres with the biblical view. They designed our constitution with that view of human nature in mind and created built-in checks and balances to guard against the tyranny of the majority. However, within a generation, this view of fallen humanity fell out of favor with the function of American politics. The will of “We, the People” gained the moral high ground simply because it reflects the majority of people who consider themselves essentially good. 

Biblically, this is not true. Humans were created good but were broken and tainted by sin when Adam and Eve fell. God sees “that every intention of the thoughts of (humanity’s) heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The prophet Jeremiah locates this corruption deep within the human heart as it “is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). The apostle Paul, summarizing and combining much of the Old Testament, concludes that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Even Jesus himself declares “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

 

Fallen Image-Bearers

Now this does not mean every human being is as wicked and evil as they could possibly be. Each human still bears God’s image even after The Fall (Genesis 9:6), and God’s goodness and common grace prevents humans from being absolutely evil. Also, Christians are not completely exempt from brokenness and sin from the moment of their conversion. Though sin is defeated when Christ redeems us and gives us the Holy Spirit, sinful desires and inclinations still remain within us. This is why Paul commands believers not to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). Moreover, the reality and depth of human sinfulness should lead even saved Christians to maintain a posture of humility toward others because we are all broken (Ephesians 2:1-9). Gospel-centered Christians can’t divide the world neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys.” Instead, we confess we are all the “bad guys”, and our only hope of being made new is the one Good Guy who died in our place.

Does our broader political engagement and faith in democracy embody this view? McKenzie says no and details major events in Andrew Jackson’s presidency that are emblematic of the opposite shift that still persist today. Notably, Native Americans were removed from the southeast portion of the United States during the “Trail of Tears” in order to distribute more farmland to white settlers. Though there was dissent to this egregious violation of justice and disregard for ratified treaties, such opposition was labeled as ‘elitist’ and wrong because it went against the “populist” will of the people. Jackson would say “the great mass of the people cannot be corrupted” in defense of these policies. This perspective prevails in the present day with our democracy functioning as though humans are individually good and collectively wise.

What should faithful Christians consider in our democratic process in light of this? 

 

Bearing Witness to God’s Kingdom

McKenzie does not argue that returning to the founders’ style of democracy, where only white, property-owning males could vote, would solve our problems. A tyranny of the minority is no better since all are affected by The Fall. He does point to the C.S. Lewis quote noted above and claims our motivation for pursuing democracy must reckon with the reality of human depravity. We should be cautious of assuming a certain perspective or policy is right merely because “the majority” believes it to be so. We should take care to protect the rights of minorities, practice restraint when our preferred “team” is in power, and advocate for principles of justice to be followed, even if they are unpopular. This is because victory for Christian values over our culture should not be the church’s goal, but rather to be faithfully present in the midst of culture to bear witness to God’s kingdom, no matter if the majority accepts or opposes our view.

Our engagement in politics ought to flow out of our virtue formation. One of the most commonly repeated quotes during election season is “America is great because she is good.” McKenzie explains how this is falsely attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, a French author who wrote about American democracy when visiting Jacksonian America. De Toqueville’s actual perspective was the opposite. He said “I cannot regard you (Americans) as a virtuous people.” He recognized a profound individualism in American culture that is antithetical to virtue, in that true virtue seeks the good of the whole at the expense of one’s self. A democracy that elevates the will of the majority, when there are not sufficient structures in that culture to instill the character of self-sacrifice for the betterment of others, will inevitably lead to tyranny and oppression.

Where Is Our Dependence?

As we enter into another contentious election season, let’s keep this in mind. American Christians have been given an immense privilege to have a voice in how our government is run. Engaging politically is potentially one of the most powerful ways to love our neighbors, while simultaneously also being an avenue that can bring immense pain and suffering to them. Let’s use that privilege virtuously to serve others. Let’s engage those we disagree with in a posture of humility. Let’s ask God for guidance and wisdom because we are dependent on him. Let’s interrogate our own political ideals as much as we question the “other side”, knowing that “We the Fallen People” includes ourselves.

Further Reading

McKenzie, Robert Tracy. We the Fallen People : the Founders and the Future of American Democracy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021.

Lewis, C. S. “Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. First HarperCollins edition 2001 [revised]. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

*Lewis’ quote has been adjusted to reflect contemporary norms for gender-inclusive language for human beings.

How Does the Church Value Them Both?  

How Does the Church Value Them Both?  

I have always admired much about the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A couple of years ago while in Atlanta for a conference, Liz and I carved out an afternoon to visit Dr. King’s longtime faith community, Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was baptized, ordained and served as co-pastor with his father until his tragic assassination in 1968. Standing in the historic sanctuary, the words of Dr. King pressed into my mind and heart. Dr. King said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” [1]

Dr. King’s insight as to the church’s timeless role in the world has guided my understanding when it comes to the church speaking out on injustice and compelling moral issues. While Christ Community has sought to avoid any hint of partisanship or political co-opting of the local church by any party, we do not abdicate the proper and right role of being the conscience of the state when the cultural moment calls for a graceful, but prophetic word of biblical truth.

In the midst of our grief for the unborn, we are called to share Christ-like love for every person…. With great compassion, we recognize the unique challenges and difficulties unplanned pregnancy often brings, especially for the mother. We care deeply about those impacted by unplanned pregnancy…

 

Image-bearers of Christ

Legalization of elective abortion-on-demand [2] is not only a moral issue, but also an issue of justice that compels the church to lovingly, but boldly speak up as the conscience of the state. The arguments, justifications, obfuscations, and massive economic gains of the elective abortion-on-demand industry are powerfully similar to the legalized slave trade in our nation’s past. Then and now, we are called to defend the lives and rights of our fellow image-bearers of Christ.

Looking back at the evils of the slave trade we are shocked and ashamed that it was culturally and legally legitimized. We are incredulous that a nation, as well as many churches and Christian leaders, could so willfully be blind for so long. We currently face the evil of legalized elective abortion, which destroys the life of an unborn child, a person made in the image of God. Dr. King and his niece, Alveda King not only prophetically spoke out against the evil of slavery and racism but also about the evil of abortion. Alveda King declared “How can the dream survive if we murder the children. Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother.”  

It is hard to imagine what Dr. King would say had he lived to see an estimated 63 million [3] babies aborted following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. What would he say to learn that the babies aborted in this country are disproportionately minorities? We cannot ignore the explicitly racist and eugenic roots [4] of the abortion industry. The impact on the Black population is well documented on both sides of the issue. Where are the Dr. Kings in our nation today? As Edmund Burke said when he called out the perils of passivity and indifference in the presence of evil: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  

This [Value Them Both] amendment would not ban abortion outright. Instead, it would overturn the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that mandated a “right” to abortion and thus permit our elected state representatives to enact limits on abortion.

 

Affirmation of Life

Holy Scriptures are authoritative for Christ Community not only in doctrinal matters but also for all of life. The Scriptures give us moral clarity and an unwavering commitment to the sanctity of every human life from the moment of conception. If we view the Holy Scriptures as an authoritative and guiding moral force, then we can see from the earliest chapters of Genesis that the Holy Scriptures speak with consistent clarity about the intrinsic value of every born and unborn image bearer of God. In Psalm 139, David declares, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” The prophet Jeremiah declares the revelation of God saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you.…” The Scriptures prohibit the premeditated taking of another human’s life, declared unambiguously in the Decalogue, ‘You shall not murder.”

Both morally and scientifically the unborn are human persons with rights and any human reasoning of viability, ensoulment or other justification for an unborn person to be destroyed is arbitrary. Every human life, from the moment of conception, shares the same human rights, the first of which is the right to life. Our society rightly protects other young children, adults, and senior citizens. Are we unwilling, under the cover of legalized legitimacy and the right to choose, to protect the precious and vulnerable lives of the unborn who are given no voice? Who could be more vulnerable and in need of protection than an unborn child? The moral goodness of a society is best seen in how it protects and cares for its most vulnerable people.

In addition to the Holy Scriptures, advances in science and medicine continue to affirm the life of the unborn. We now know that the unborn child’s heart begins to beat a few weeks after conception — her body, along with sections of her DNA are unique and distinct from her mother’s. By 12 weeks, the child is fully formed. She has arms, hands, fingers, and toes. Many of us have seen this on an ultrasound. Yet in the second trimester, dilation and evacuation abortion (called “D&E,” or dismemberment abortion) is still lawful and performed in Kansas, by tearing the child’s body apart and removing her from the womb piece by piece. These truths are painful and difficult to hear, but we cannot turn a blind eye from the science of life in the womb and the grim reality of elective abortion procedures. Euphemisms obfuscate the moral and scientific truth.

In the midst of our grief for the unborn, we are also called to share Christ-like love for each and every person affected by unplanned pregnancy and abortion, including those who have chosen abortion. With great compassion, we recognize the unique challenges and difficulties unplanned pregnancy often brings, especially for the mother. We care deeply about those impacted by unplanned pregnancy, and we recognize the many wounds that legalized abortion on demand has had on so many. The church is to be a people and place for healing and hope for each person, including those who have chosen abortion. As the hands, heart, and feet of Jesus who welcomed the little children to himself we want to provide support for women who find themselves in the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy. And we do so with love, grace, and generosity.

 

Neighborly Love

What does neighborly love require of us? As a church we avoid partisanship or endorsement of any political party or candidate, and we welcome people into our church body of any (or no) party affiliation. However, in matters of moral injustice, we continue to speak biblical truth and work toward ending injustice. The church’s response to abortion is to be the vocal conscience of the state. How will we respond as Christians and people of good will? Who will stand up and give voice to the voiceless?

The overturning of Roe v. Wade at the federal level does not change the state abortion law in Kansas. The law in Kansas, as pronounced by the Kansas Supreme Court, currently gives less protection to the unborn than Roe v. Wade ever did. Kansas residents have the opportunity to be salt and light by addressing (through the August 2 vote) the possibility of a future of virtually unrestricted access to abortion from conception to delivery.

Prior to 2019, Kansas was one of the most pro-life states in the country. But in 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling that gave protection to what was termed an “inalienable” right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution. In other words, the court declared an almost limitless right to abortion in Kansas — one even stronger than the “undue burden” standard from Roe v. Wade. This ruling went beyond Roe v. Wade to remove protections from the unborn. Kansas Courts have used this ruling to strike down a ban on dismemberment abortions. [5] [6] [7]

Because of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling, the rest of Kansas’ pro-life laws protecting the unborn are at risk, including restrictions on abortions up to the moment of birth. The 2019 ruling provides the legal framework to strike down pro-life laws once they are challenged in court. As the abortion industry continues to bring lawsuits challenging pro-life legislation — as it did with the dismemberment abortion ban — Kansas’ laws limiting abortion will continue to be struck down under the law set forth by the Kansas Supreme Court. This puts the unborn of Kansas in greater peril now than ever. Misinformation about this issue is rampant and we must not be distracted or deceived by lies that seek to make Kansas a legalized abortion-on-demand destination for our nation.

Every Kansas law with abortion limits has always safeguarded medical intervention for women who may experience things like ectopic pregnancies, septic uterus, miscarriages, and other health issues.

 

We must be informed and discerning 

Support for the Value Them Both amendment would reverse the Kansas Supreme Court’s abortion decision. This amendment would not ban abortion outright. Instead, it would overturn the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that mandated a “right” to abortion and thus permit our elected state representatives to enact limits on abortion. Every Kansas law with abortion limits has always safeguarded medical intervention for women who may experience things like ectopic pregnancies, septic uterus, miscarriages, and other health issues. The Value Them Both Amendment does not in any way prohibit these exceptions.

If passed, this amendment to the Kansas Constitution will allow democratically elected representatives to determine abortion law in Kansas, not the Kansas Supreme Court. The amendment would effectively undo the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that enshrined a false “right” to abortion in the Kansas Constitution. If passed, the amendment would also protect the pro-life laws that already exist in Kansas, which are at risk of being struck down by courts in light of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling.

 

Be the Church

For such a time as this, we are called to be the church. Through programs and partners, such as Advice & Aid and CarePortal you can come alongside and help women and their families make educated decisions. These partners offer various programs and counseling options that bring emotional, practical, and spiritual support to what can be a very stressful situation.

Please pray, be informed, get involved, and make your voice heard on August 2. Visit ValueThemBoth.com to learn more about the amendment. In this challenging and sobering cultural moment, let’s remember Dr. King’s compelling words, “The church must be reminded it is not the master, or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”  

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1 A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967

2 Every Kansas law with abortion limits has always safeguarded medical intervention for women who may experience things like ectopic pregnancies, septic uterus, miscarriages, and other health issues. The Value Them Both Amendment does not in any way prohibit these exceptions.

3 The Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC publishes yearly, but relies primarily on voluntary reports from the state health departments. The Guttmacher Institute contacts abortion clinics directly for data but does not survey every year. Because it surveys clinics directly and includes data from all fifty states, most researchers believe Guttmacher’s numbers to be more reliable. Their numbers yield an estimate of over 63 million. [source NRLC.org]

4 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/nyregion/planned-parenthood-margaret-sanger-eugenics.html

5 Appeal No. 114,153: Hodes & Nauser, MD, PA et al. v. Derek Schmidt, et al. April 26, 2019

6 https://www.ksrevisor.org/statutes/chapters/ch65/065_067_0009.html

7 District Court of Shawnee Hodes & Nauser v. Norman, 2011-CV-001298, December 3, 2021

Are We Building the Altar?

Are We Building the Altar?

In 1 Kings 18 we find one of the most dramatic Old Testament accounts. Elijah, the prophet of the one true God of Israel, challenges the prophets of the Canaanite god, Baal, to a contest to demonstrate whose God is real. 

 

The terms of the contest were simple. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would each prepare an altar and each would sacrifice a bull on the altar. But neither would set a fire on the altar. Instead, each would call on the name of their god and whichever god answered with fire, that god was the true God.

 

Tim Keller in his recent article “The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 3 — The Path to Renewal” points out that many Christians have seen this Old Testament account as a helpful metaphor for how God brings about renewal in the church. Keller defines a revival or renewal this way: “Revivals are periods of great spiritual awakening and growth. In revivals, ‘sleepy’ and lukewarm Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and many skeptical non-believers are drawn to faith.”

 

Only God can bring the “fire of renewal.” Human technique and effort alone cannot produce renewal. Nor can the church compel or manipulate the means or timing of God’s work. However, this does not mean there is nothing we can do as we long for a fresh work of God in our lives, churches, and culture. We can build the altar. As noted by Keller,  “Christians looking for revival, they are ‘building the altar,’ praying that God will use their efforts to bring a fire of renewal with a movement of his Spirit.” 

 

In the first two installments of his four-part series of articles, Keller gives an account of the decline of both mainline and evangelical Christianity. Both articles are lengthy and nuanced and well worth careful reading. Keller’s point in both articles is summed up this way: 

 

Virtually everyone agrees that something is radically wrong with the church. Inside, there is more polarization and conflict than ever, with all factions agreeing (for different reasons) that the church is in deep trouble. Outside the church, journalists, sociologists, and all other observers either bemoan or celebrate the church’s decline numerically, institutionally, and in influence.

 

While the church is always in need of reforming and refining, it seems like this moment in American Christianity is in need of something more than refining. This seems to be a moment when something like renewal or revival is needed.

 

Over 30 years ago Christ Community was founded with the longing and prayer that this local church would be a catalyst for spiritual renewal in Kansas City. That longing and prayer still endures today.  

 

How can Christ Community build the altar?

Keller suggests three altar-building practices. 

 

Recovery of the gospel

It is all too easy for pastors and congregation members alike to functionally forget the radical good news of grace. This is the news that in Jesus we are completely known and loved — not because of anything we have done — but because of what Jesus has done for us. 

 

Theologian Kelly Kapic in his wonderful book You’re Only Human invites his readers to consider two questions. First, do you believe God loves you? He suggests that most Christians would say of course, God loves me. But then he poses a second question: does God like you? How would you respond? He writes: 

 

Have you ever felt that your parents or spouse or your God loved you, and yet wondered if they actually liked you? Love is so loaded with obligations and duty that it often loses all emotive force, all sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Like can remind us of an aspect of God’s love we can all too easily forget. Forgetting God’s delight and joy in us stunts our ability to enjoy God’s love. Forgiveness, as beautiful and crucial as it is, is not enough unless it is understood to come from love and lead back to love. Unless we understand the gospel in terms of God’s fierce delight in us — not merely a wiping away of prior offenses. Unless we understand God’s battle for us as a dramatic, personal rescue and not merely a cold forensic process, we have ignored most of the Scriptures as well as the needs of the human condition.

 

It is this understanding of gospel love and grace that is the keystone in the rebuilding of the altar.

 

Corporate prayer

The second altar-building practice is corporate prayer. While private individual prayer is vital, a quick survey of the history of renewal moments shows a common thread: Christians gathering together to pray for God to work and move.

 

As we seek the renewal of our churches and communities, prayer is critical. And not just corporate prayer within Christ Community but with other like-minded Christians and churches, especially across racial and socio-economic dividing lines. 

 

Creativity

Finally, altar-building is marked by creativity. No two renewal moments have looked exactly the same. Building the altar isn’t a matter of simply trying to reproduce the methods from previous moments. It is about looking for fresh insights into this particular moment, discerning how the Spirit is working. A fantastic resource for understanding this cultural moment and sparking creativity is Mark Sayers book Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture. Get a copy and read it with a group of other believers.

 

Conclusion

In the story of 1 Kings 18, not only does Elijah build the altar but he saturates it with water. The more soaked the altar is, the more dramatic the demonstration of God’s work and word. As we approach deeply contentious election seasons in 2022 and 2024, and face violence, war, and economic challenges in our nation and world, it is obvious; no mere human can light the fire. 

 

But we trust the resurrected King Jesus who, when He had ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in Acts 2 appeared as flames of fire above the heads of those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

This is my prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray, we ask, we plead: do it again! For your glory and our good, make yourself known to us, renew us, heal us. Make us faithful to build the altar. We trust you and your timing for the fire. Amen.