The Inconvenient Truth about Abortion

Abortion.

Roe v. Wade.

Supreme Court leaks.

Protests.

All of it is so emotionally and politically charged that it is hard to sort through, think through, or discuss without an argument.

But if you step back for a moment… if you separate yourself from the political crowds… if you try to take the emotion out of the issue… then you are left with one inconvenient truth.

Whether you like or not, when we are talking about the issue of abortion, we are talking about the taking of a human life.

Perhaps one can debate when “personhood” begins (which itself is a sticky debate with major philosophical implications), but, scientifically and medically, there is no question that a unique human life begins at conception.

As Dr. Maureen Condic, professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah, notes:

The conclusion that human life begins at sperm-egg fusion is uncontested, objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other and on ample scientific evidence (thousands of independent, peer-reviewed publications). Moreover, it is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos. Indeed, this definition does not directly address the central ethical question surrounding the embryo: What value ought society place on human life at the earliest stages of development?  A neutral examination of the evidence merely establishes the onset of a new human life at a scientifically well-defined “moment of conception,” a conclusion that unequivocally indicates that human embryos from the one-cell stage forward are indeed living individuals of the human species; i.e., human beings.

When the sperm and egg fuse together, a unique human individual is formed. All the chromosomes and genetic information needed for the rest of that unique individual’s life are immediately and entirely present. The human embryo that is formed at that moment also has the inherent ability to direct its own development, powerfully and amazingly forming all the tissues, organs, systems, and eventually the heart and brain to sustain ongoing human life.

This is basic science if one truly follows the science.

It also reflects the beauty and sanctity of life expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures:

For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
My soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

If nothing else, step back and be amazed at the wonder of life and the incredible information packed into the single cell of the embryo.

Just 1 gram of DNA is theoretically capable of holding 455 exabytes – enough for all the data held by Google, Facebook and every other major tech company, with room to spare. (The New Scientist)

Now I realize that this reality alone does not solve the debate or make it any less emotional. In fact, it makes it even more emotional because in talking about abortion we are talking about the most important thing we can be talking about–human life.

What value is there in human life? When can a human life be taken? Is there a difference between human life and human “personhood”? Is there a fundamental change in the status of the fetus when it develops its own heartbeat? What role and decisions does the mother (the one supporting the human life in her own body) have in this process? Are there exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother? 

These questions can be more difficult to answer.

Roe v. Wade was one answer given by our own Supreme Court.

But instead of solving the issue, Roe v. Wade inflamed the issue.

Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that Roe v. Wade went too far and created more of a mess than it resolved. She also argued that it was based on the wrong premise.

Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable. The most prominent example in recent decades is Roe v. Wade. A less-encompassing Roe, one that merely struck down the extreme Texas law and went no further on that day … might have served to reduce rather than to fuel controversy.

The point is not to argue whether Ginsburg was right or not but to say that many legal scholars on both sides of the aisle see the glaring weaknesses of Roe v. Wade. As Dr. Solomon Stevens, a teacher of constitutional law at Boston University, observes:

Roe is vulnerable because it is a weak case based on weak precedent.

Columnist George Will, in a recent article in the Washington Post, concurs:

Intelligent people of goodwill disagree vehemently about the morality of abortion; defenders of Roe’s reasoning are, however, vanishingly rare.

Thus, whatever your view on abortion, the main role of the Supreme Court is to decide whether a law is constitutional or not, whether it honors our God-given rights and upholds justice for all. If Roe is indeed based on weak judicial reasoning and a poor interpretation of the Constitution, then it should be overturned. To react with emotional anger and protests against the Supreme Court says nothing about the merits or the constitutionality of the case. That’s the only thing that the Supreme Court should be deciding and the only thing that people should be debating when it comes to Roe itself.

But I am not a legal scholar. I understand that. I am also not a woman who has been put in the position of carrying a child in pregnancy. I can’t imagine the difficulties that a woman might face in certain circumstances, such as an unwanted pregnancy. Compassion, understanding, and grace are always in order. And sometimes answers are not easy.

But the inconvenient truth remains: abortion is the taking of a human life.

Jean Garton was an abortion advocate faced with her own unwanted pregnancy. She was a firm believer in abortion until one night, while observing the medical slides of an aborted two month fetus, her three year old wandered into the room and asked innocently, “Who broke the baby?”

Her three year old saw what she didn’t want to see.

And it changed her perspective… and her life.

She went on to oppose abortion not only because it ends a human life but because it also harms women.

When one studies the history of abortion, oftentimes the person who wanted the abortion the most was the man who fathered the child. Abortions in the Roman Empire were almost always forced on the woman by the man and most of the children aborted or killed right after birth were girls. Thus, the ratio of males to females in the Roman Empire was estimated to be as high as 140 males per 100 females. In the nations of China and India today, the ratios are similarly skewed because of the prevalence of abortion against females.

In many cases, the women who are having abortions are doing so because the father is not only unwilling to be involved or to be a help but also actively pressuring the woman to abort. These are the men who want to gratify their sexual desires but not be responsible enough to love the woman they impregnated or raise the baby they fathered. This is the side of abortion that is rarely talked about. What a pregnant woman wants is often not an abortion but the commitment of a husband and a father and the support and love of a family and community around them to help them be a mom.

Thus, a culture of abortion not only devalues human life but also reinforces the irresponsibility of men. And often the biggest victims of this kind of culture are women.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, then it will not be the end of abortion…nor the end of the difficult debates and choices that face us as a nation. It will merely put the issue back in the hands of the States where the issue can be debated among legislators elected by the people they represent.

Ultimately no law can solve all the issues. Only changed hearts and a society bent on acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God can bring about the best solutions which not only honor the life of the child but also honor and support the life of the mother.

But perhaps it is fair to ask: “Who are you to speak?” I am not a woman. I am not a mother. I am not the one facing some of the difficult realities that a woman might face during pregnancy.

That is true. I cannot speak as a mother.

But I can speak as the child of an unwanted pregnancy.

In 1968, my mom found out that she was unexpectedly pregnant with her sixth child.

She had been on the birth control pill when I was conceived.

I was not in her plans.

With the overwhelming stresses of five kids ranging in age from 12 to 5 years old… living in a new city far from her own family… and being in a marriage that left much to be desired at the time, she was not wanting another child.

She was devastated with the news.

As my mom tells it. She sat down and cried in the doctor’s office. She was not shedding tears of joy but rather tears of sorrow… tears of frustration… tears of disappointment.

I don’t know all that went through my mom’s head the day that she discovered that I was in her womb. She doesn’t remember everything either.

The age of Roe v. Wade had not dawned yet. Abortion was certainly known and becoming more accepted but it still wasn’t legal in most of the United States nor ingrained in the minds of the culture.

Transport my mom into a different time period… into a different context with a different mindset… and there is a good chance that I would not be here today.

Based on common reasoning today, she had every reason to abort.

I am thankful that she didn’t.

I am thankful that she sacrificed so much to give me life.

I am thankful that her tears of sorrow eventually turned to tears of joy.

I am thankful that I have the mom that I have today.

I don’t take any of it for granted.

She sacrificed. She loved. She bore the pain. She gave me life.

That’s why deep down I think we all have such profound gratitude for our mothers.

We know that they did what no one else could do.

And we know that they love to an extent that few humans ever do.

No one in your life will ever love you as your mother does. There is no love as pure, unconditional and strong as a mother’s love. And I will never be loved that way again. (Hope Edelman)

So on this Mother’s Day, I praise my mom.

Because she faced the inconvenient reality of an unwanted pregancy, the inconvenient truth of another human life inside her womb, and she made the inconvenient choice to give me life.

And such love is the most beautiful choice that any person can make.

Posted in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments

What’s the Deal with the OT Laws on Clean and Unclean Food?

Preaching through Romans, I have encountered the issue of clean and unclean foods (chapters 14-15). Apparently this was a major issue and a big point of contention between the Gentile and Jewish believers in the early church.

It had to be.

Imagine something as simple as a men’s breakfast on a Saturday morning. Not only was it on the Jewish Sabbath… a big hurdle for any Jew to overcome. But it also had bacon and eggs on the menu. How could any Jew eat pig’s flesh? He had grown up his whole life eating only kosher food. It was not only part of his religious training but also an identifying mark of being a Jew. During the Maccabean period, when the Greeks tried to erase Judaism, it was the Jews’ strict allegiance to the rite of circumcision and to their dietary laws that made them distinctive and identified them as “true Jews.”

So the move from avoiding unclean foods to being free to eat them had to be a major paradigm shift in any Jew’s mind. And some could never make that leap.

Which raises the question: Why did God establish clean and unclean foods in the first place? What was the point? And why did Jesus’ coming suddenly end all of these dietary distinctions?

The laws regarding clean and unclean food are found in two primary passages: Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21.

Among the clean animals which a Jew could eat: animals which chew the cud and have cloven hooves; fish that have scales and fins; flying insects which have jointed legs to leap on the earth; and most birds except those specified on the unclean list.

Among the unclean animals: all those animals with paws or don’t chew the cud, including the camel, badger, rabbit, and pig; all those fish without fins or scales; all flying insects that creep on the ground; all animals which creep on the ground; and a list of birds including the eagle, vulture, buzzard, raven, and owl.

There have been several theories as to why God makes these distinctions.

  1. Hygiene. This theory believes that the Jewish diet is just plain healthier than any other diet. It is an attractive theory…and the kosher diet does have some health advantages…but it does not explain all the animals. Camel meat is considered quite low in fat and healthy and is enjoyed by many Arabs. Rabbit meat is also considered to have some nutritional benefits and my family enjoyed eating them growing up. Even pork can be considered a good meat if it is cut right and cooked thoroughly and who doesn’t love a good piece of crisp, lean bacon. Plus, if hygiene is the major issue, then it doesn’t explain why suddenly these meats are okay to eat in the New Testament. Does health no longer matter because Jesus died and rose again? Our bodies are now even more important since they are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Pagan Associations. Since the dietary laws were part of what made Israel distinct, the thought is that the unclean animals must have been associated with pagan worship. “Pig’s flesh” is associated with pagan worship in Isaiah 65:4 and camels, dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, and rats were known as sacred animals in Egypt and other Canaanite nations. But the bull was also considered sacred and yet was on the “clean” list. Plus, this view doesn’t explain the long list of other animals which were unclean.
  3. Carnivores. When it comes to the list of unclean birds, it does seem like all of them are carnivorous birds with claws and beaks designed for eating flesh. Jewish tradition also affirms this. Animals with paws are also typically carnivorous. So there does seem to be some association with an animal being “unclean” because it eats blood or touches dead things which are “unclean” activities. But, again, that explanation doesn’t cover every animal since camels and rabbits are herbivores. Pigs eat anything, which could make them unclean, but so do goats and they are considered clean. Plus, this reason doesn’t fully explain why these animals are suddenly okay to eat after the institution of the new covenant.
  4. Symbolic. One of the more recent theories is that the “behavior and habits of the clean animals are living illustrations of how the righteous Israelite out to behave, while the unclean represent sinful men” (Wenham). In other words, the “clean” animals function in a way which matches the way they are supposed to behave within their original creation category. Animals are supposed to eat herbs and run on hooves. Fish are supposed to have fins and scales. Birds are not supposed to eat flesh. Reptiles are not supposed to squirm on the ground. It is a little bit of convoluted theory but it does seem to have some merit. If nothing else, it points to the fact that there is a symbolic meaning behind the clean and unclean animals that we shouldn’t miss.

Just as the OT world had a division between the priests, the Jewish nation, and the Gentile nations, even so the animal world was divided into sacrificial animals, clean animals, and unclean animals. Israel was to recognize that distinction in everything they did. They were to be a holy nation, set apart for God’s purposes, distinct from the pagan nations around them. Every time they sat down to eat, they were to be reminded of this fact.

You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:25-26)

Just as God chose Israel out of all the nations for His own purposes, so God also chose certain animals out of all the animal world for His purposes. The clean animal was the symbol of Israel. The sacrificial animal was the symbol of Israel’s coming Messiah.

When Israel’s Messiah came, everything changed.

All the law pointed to Christ.

And Christ fulfilled all of the law.

He was the perfect King. He was the final sacrifice. He was the display of the moral law in human form. He was the fulfillment of all the feasts. He was the Year of Jubilee. He was the Sabbath rest. And He was the One who made the unclean clean.

In the OT, if someone clean touched something unclean, then they would become unclean.

But, in Christ, this was reversed.

When Christ touched the unclean, He made them clean.

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:40-42)

Christ broke down the barriers.

The sacrificial Lamb healed the division between the clean and the unclean.

The Messiah bridged the gap between God and humanity.

The Messiah abolished the barrier between Jew and Gentile.

Everything was changed…even down to the food laws.

What was once unclean has now become clean.

What was once untouchable has now become redeemable.

What was once held at a distance has now become near.

The messianic kingdom has invaded this present world.

Israel (the clean animal) gave birth to the Messiah (the sacrifical animal) to open the kingdom gates to the Gentiles (the unclean animal).

This was God’s plan all along.

This was the purpose of the cross.

This was the picture of the kingdom.

Where the Jew and the Gentile are united as one.

Where the child plays with the serpent.

Where the lion lays down with the lamb.

Where the Messiah makes all things new.

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Is the Russian Invasion of Ukraine Revealed in Prophecy?

Russia invaded the nation of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

It has certainly shocked and shaken the world.

Shocked…because of the sheer audacity of Russia to snub its nose at the entire free world and launch a full-scale military attack into another sovereign nation.

Shaken…because Russia’s aggression and Putin’s hubris could potentially escalate into another world war…a war which many feel could signal the end of the world as we know it since the technological advance in weaponry could unleash unparalleled destruction.

In the midst of the fear and uncertainty, it is natural to wonder what the future will bring. It is also natural for people to wonder if the Bible says anything about it.

Let’s face it…prophecy is a big attraction.

Pat Robertson came out of retirement to announce that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the beginning of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38.

Other prophetic teachers have followed suit.

And their prophetic speculations will gain a boatload of listeners, garner lots of headlines, and goad on more prophecies from others looking for similar attention.

That is not to say that prophecy is not real.

The Bible is filled with prophecy. God is sovereign and He abides in the Eternal Now so He not only sees the future but He controls the future and ordains the future as well.

In Jesus’ first coming, He fulfilled over a hundred prophecies of the Old Testament.

And there are many more prophecies to be fulfilled in Jesus’ second coming.

History is moving toward a climax and Jesus Christ will reign on this earth.

So my concern is not with biblical prophecy but with the quick reaction to every news headline and the readiness to fit it into a Bible passage with almost 100% confidence.

I have seen this far too many times in my short lifetime.

88 Reasons Why Jesus Is Coming Back in 1988. Mikhail Gorbachav. Ronald Reagan. The rebuilding of Babylon. Saddam Hussein. The Gulf War. Y2K. The four blood moons. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. COVID-19. And now Vladimir Putin.

I’m sure if I was alive in 1939, I would have definitely thought that Adolf Hitler was the Anti-Christ and that the end of the world was around the corner. How could you not? But eighty years later, we can look back and see that World War 2 may have been a foreshadowing of the end times but it wasn’t the real thing.

One of my favorite issues of Christian History magazine is its history of the End. In it, they cover all the dates and events that have been pegged as the end of the world. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Of course, all of them were wrong.

When the disciples wondered when Jesus was going to bring His kingdom to earth, Jesus responded to them very clearly:

It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. (Acts 1:7)

It is not for us to know. We have a more important thing to focus on.

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

So what do we make of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

I don’t know.

I do not think it is the beginning of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38.

Ezekiel 38 is a favorite passage of prophetic teachers. And rightfully so. It does point to a future war against the nation of Israel (probably at the mid-point of the Tribulation). But the mystery surrounding the names and the places in Ezekiel’s prophecy makes it a perfect place for people to insert their own opinions and speculations about its meaning. Of course, they won’t call it their opinion and their speculation but they will instead proclaim their viewpoint as the obviously correct one.

Gog and Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, along with the coalition of Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and Togarmah, may refer to modern-day Russia and the nations around it including Iran, Turkey, and Ukraine, but that is an exegetical interpretation that is open to debate. Associating the names from the English translation to modern Russian towns (Moscow and Tobolsk) is a stretch. What we know from the text of Ezekiel 38 is that the nations mentioned are coming from the “far north” of Israel (38:15), attacking Israel during a time when Israel feels safe and is without need of defense (38:8, 11, 14), and that God will supernaturally intervene to protect Israel and to destroy these invading armies (38:18-23).

In this present crisis of Russia-Ukraine, Israel is certainly not dwelling safely in the land with all of their defenses down. They are on high alert and ready to defend themselves if need be.

So I don’t believe Ezekiel 38 is being fulfilled at this time. At best, this present invasion could signal the rising power of Russia in the far north. But, on the other hand, this invasion could end up diminishing Putin’s power, unifying Europe as never before thus leading to a revival of the Roman Empire, and enabling another more potent power to arise in the world.

Or it could be another war that just reminds us that the human heart is desperately wicked, that nations rise up against nations, that hatred, cruelty, tragedy, and death exist in this world, and that Jesus Christ could come back at any moment to rapture His church.

Yes, I do believe in the rapture of the church before the Tribulation. It is not a belief that I am going to wall on but it makes the most sense to me in God’s grand redemptive story. And by holding this view, I also believe that the Bible teaches that Christ’s return is imminent, that there are no particular signs immediately preceding it, and that it will happen like a “thief in the night” when people are proclaiming “peace and safety” in the world and not expecting it.

Thus, I also believe that the signs that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24 will follow the rapture of the church not precede it.

Does that mean that there are no signs of Jesus’ imminent return?

No, not necessarily. I think there are general signs that we are nearing the end of the story. Israel is miraculously back in the land as a nation again. The world is more connected than ever with the very real potential of a one world government. Deception has never been more difficult to discern since technology has made even reality hard to discern. Nuclear and military arsenals can literally destroy the whole world. And people are desperately looking for “political messiahs” to save the day.

That sounds a lot like the world is being primed for a deceptive leader to step onto the political scene, resolve the conflict in the Middle East, unify the world politically and economically, promise peace and safety to all, and then reveal his true intentions.

And the nation of Israel will be at the center of it all.

So how do we respond to this current crisis in Russia-Ukraine?

You do exactly what Scripture says you do in light of the imminent return of Christ.

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the multifaceted grace of God. (1 Peter 4:7-10)

You keep your head on straight. You don’t panic or overreact. You think soberly and wisely. You pray fervently. You love one another. You show grace and give forgiveness. You open up your heart and your home. You bless others. You take the resources that you have and you use them to help others in need. You serve the Lord as you have opportunity. And you speak the good news of Jesus Christ to a broken world.

In other words, whether Christ comes back today or one hundred years from now, you fix your eyes on Him, you love your neighbor, and you live faithfully each day.

In this particular case, pray for the leaders and the people of Ukraine, pray for peace, pray for God to protect life, to avert the plans of the Russian army, and to point people to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray for the church in Ukraine. Give to ministries which are on the ground helping refugees. Find ways that you can help your local church minister to people locally and around the world.

Stay informed but also stay on your knees.

Watch and pray.

Love and give.

Be sober-minded and zealous for good works.

And fix your hope on Jesus Christ.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

Posted in Tough Questions of Faith | 1 Comment

Going Back Home

I just returned from a trip back to my hometown (Green Cove Springs, FL) to see my parents.

They are getting older…moving slower. Life is changing.

While there, I was able to explore my hometown for the first time in many years.

It too has changed. Some parts of it are hard for me to recognize…or to remember.

As a kid, Green Cove was a small rural town. It had a Pete’s Hamburgers and a KFC. Pizza King was the only place to get a pizza. Winn Dixie was the only grocery store. In the middle of the city was the towering Bank of Green Cove Springs. Towering because it was two stories high, a rarity in the town. My mom worked there and so I can still picture its large lobby with the rows of tellers with the little bars over the counter. The loan department sat in the middle with its desks and office workers. In a second floor room above the lobby was the office of the bank’s president, J.P. Hall, who seemingly sat at the darkened window overseeing the whole bevy of financial activity below.

I remember the first time that a McDonalds opened in town. It was like heaven had visited earth in my kid’s sized mind. On Saturdays, I used to ride my bike from our home on County Road 16-A all the way to the bank (where I would grab a few dollars from my mom) and then finish my journey at McDonalds with a cheeseburger (specially ordered with ketchup only which always took a lot longer but usually gifted a much fresher burger), a small order of fries, and a vanilla milkshake.

A feast for a king…or at least for a hungry elementary schooler.

Across the street sat Orange Avenue Baptist Church where I started going to church in the sixth grade. The golden arches on one side of the street and the wooden cross on the other. It seemed like the perfect combination to me at the time. Youth group followed by soft serve ice cream cones. What could be better?

Green Cove sits right on the St. Johns River, a beautiful, expansive river that flows north toward Jacksonville. I don’t remember ever being particularly drawn to the river. I didn’t really like the water too much. Most of my memories of the river are sitting on a pier in the middle of the night and watching my dad throw a shrimping net into the water to catch the shrimp as they were “running.” Picking up shrimp on the pier without getting stabbed by their sharp pointy heads was the only thing I was worried about then.

Johns Manville picnics. Family Frolics in Spring Park. Playing Little League baseball games. Watching Clay High Blue Devil basketball games. Going to the Christmas parades.

All those memories are there, filed away in my mind.

Green Cove was nothing special. Just a small town with a small community feel. Most people talked about leaving Green Cove for bigger cities and greener pastures.

But as I walked through Spring Park and along the River this past weekend, I realized how beautiful the city really is. Apparently a lot of money is moving into the area, restoring some of the waterfront properties and making the city a desirable destination. There are even expensive riverboat cruises that have a stop in Green Cove for a tour of its historical buildings, “healing mineral springs,”  and its charming and quaint “small town feel.”

It almost made me want to book a cruise! To visit my own hometown!

I did think about buying a house in the area and wondering if I ever might retire back home someday.

Back home.

I am a sucker for nostalgia, I guess.

Deep down there is a strange sense of longing, ache, joy, and sorrow as I think of home.

Time passes so quickly.

I miss simpler days.

I am becoming one of those older people who talks about “the good ol’ days.”

It seems to come with the territory of growing older…seeing life change…watching time fly by…feeling the lessening of days.

Sometimes I want to stop a moment…bottle it up…and never let it go.

But time affords no such opportunity.

It only moves in one direction…and its pace keeps marching forward…one minute at a time…one day at a time…one year at a time.

I hate seeing my parents grow older and battling more aches and pains.

I hate visiting the grave of my sister and realizing that she has now been gone for 26 years.

I hate the reality of death and the relentlessness of time.

I want time to stop, for cancer to be no more, for sin to be gone, for death to be defeated, for peace to reign.

I am longing for home.

But it is not behind me but before me.

I don’t need to fear the future but embrace it. Because time is moving forward toward a climax, toward the end of the story, toward the fulfillment of my deepest longings.

C.S. Lewis once said:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

When I walk along the roads of my hometown and feel the ache of the past and the longing for home, I am actually feeling the ache and longing for something beyond this life. It is the echo of Eden. It is the sense of eternity in my heart. It is the hope of the kingdom.

It is the still small voice of my Savior.

Reminding me of Heaven.

Encouraging me to rest in Him.

Holding my hand.

Comforting my heart.

Calling me home.

Posted in Random Thoughts | 3 Comments

A Few Thoughts on Fear & Anxiety

How do you deal with fear and anxiety?

It is certainly a relevant question since all of us deal with fear and anxiety in some form or another, whether we recognize it or not.

And the pandemic has only increased that reality.

A recent article in Scientific American noted: “COVID has posed a threat to body–and mind–for all people on the planet.”

There has been a dramatic rise in anxiety and depression, not only in America but around the entire globe, since the start of the COVID pandemic.

This rise has particularly impacted younger people whose lives have been perhaps the most disrupted and who are also perhaps more connected to the constant media attention (almost always negative) given to COVID.

Even though the mental health side of the pandemic is often ignored, it is not surprising.

The pandemic has reminded us all of our vulnerability, fragility, and mortality.

We are weak.

We are mortal.

We are not in control of the universe…and something as small as a microscopic virus can quickly spread around the world, infect our bodies, and make us all vulnerable to sickness and possibly death.

This is the reality of the human condition.

We can’t escape it…no matter how many VR headsets we may buy.

The Bible identifies fear as the first emotion that humanity felt after sinning against God and being separated from Him.

And “do not fear” is the most frequently given command in Scripture…indicating that it is a command that we all need to hear.

So how do we live a life free from fear?

Well, to be frank, we can’t live totally free from fear. And if we did, then we probably wouldn’t live very long before we did something stupid that killed us.

Fear, in some ways, is good.

We need to know that we are vulnerable, fragile, and mortal.

It keeps us alive!

It is the fear-free antelope that is the dead antelope.

The “flight or fight” response is built into the core of our brains as a safety mechanism. And for that, we should be thankful.

What the Bible wants to deliver us from is the “spirit of fear.”

For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

The “spirit of fear” is what I would call persistent anxiety or panic attacks or an over-activated adrenal response that puts a person in a perpetual state of feeling “flight or fight” even in the normal course of life.

And this spirit of fear does several things to us. It paralyzes us, isolates us, and makes us think irrationally about the threats around us. In other words, it does the very opposite of having a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.

It kills our power, our confidence, our sense of security inside ourselves.

It kills our love, our relationships, our sense of connectedness with others.

It kills our thinking, our discernment, our sense of sanity in this world.

And, in the context of 2 Timothy 1, it also kills our purpose and our ability to live the life that we were created to live.

Paul gives this verse to his young protege, Timothy, who appears to be prone to anxiety to the point that it affected his stomach and his ability to use his gifts in ministry.

Fear (if Timothy let it) could keep him from fulfilling his calling.

I can identify with Timothy.

I was a pretty “nervy kid” growing up. I put more pressure on myself that I needed to and often found myself with tension headaches and stomach problems, even as young as eight, nine, or ten years old. I can remember taking an Excedrin pretty frequently, almost daily, when I was in junior high and high school.

I was trying to be perfect in school…and just about every other area of life…and I just couldn’t do it.

As I got older, I carried some of these same tendencies into ministry.

Later, I developed panic attacks which would paralyze me and make me want to escape in any way possible.

Some can relate…others can’t.

Personality plays a role…as well as upbringing and experience…in how we handle fear.

Some turn to alcohol or other addictions to numb any feelings of fear. Some manage to distract it through endless activities, pleasures, or pursuits. Some become angry or cynical, not realizing that behind most anger is fear.

But fear is still there.

It lingers under the surface.

It cannot be denied any more than our mortality can be denied.

So how do we deal with it?

As a lifelong recovering fear-feeler, here are some things that have helped me.

  1. Trust in Jesus Christ. Okay, maybe this sounds like a cliche or a “bait-and-switch” gospel message wrapped in an article about fear. But that is not my intent. I am just stating the facts. If at the root of our fear is a sense of our separation from God, our vulnerability in a sin-cursed world, and our mortality, then the only real solution is going to come from reconciliation with God, a security in a sovereign Savior, and a hope beyond the grave. That can only be found in Jesus Christ. It is not a “magic pill” that eliminates all fear but it does give a person a foundation for dealing with fear.
  2. Learn to breathe. I can remember reading a book on anxiety when I was in the midst of dealing with panic attacks. It recommended sitting down and learning to breathe. I thought it was crazy. I couldn’t even sit down…much less gain control of my thinking and breathing. But over time, I have realized the wisdom of this advice. It is a daily discipline not a quick fix. The results come slowly over time. The Hebrew word for “be still” in that famous verse, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), means “to sink down, relax, let drop.” It pictures a big exhale. A dropping of the tension in the shoulders. A relaxing in the arms of God. This is not empty meditation…this is an intentional resting in the sovereignty of God.
  3. Limit media intake. There is no question in my mind that much of the increase that we are seeing in anxiety is directly related to the increase of media consumption. We are literally addicted to our smartphones, to 24/7 news, to scrolling through social media, to trying to know everything about everything. Study after study has shown that these things, especially social media, increase our anxiety, our depression, and our anger (which is fear masking as strength). Yet we keep going back and consuming more. We say we want peace but we won’t put down our pieces of technology to experience it.
  4. Start your day right. In concert with the two points above, I have found that one of the best overall strategies to reducing anxiety is to reserve the first one or two hours of your day to a media-free time of reading, praying, meditating, walking, and/or exercising. I know everyone is different and their schedules are different, but somehow we must gain control of the first moments, minutes, and hours of our day if we are going to maintain the best mindset throughout the day.
  5. Take medication, if needed. Christians often wonder if taking medication is somehow contrary to “having faith in God.” Short answer. “Nope.” We are body, soul, and spirit creatures. Our bodies can play as much a part of our battle with anxiety as our soul and our spirits. Paul told Timothy to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). Wine, in moderation, had medicinal effects in ancient days. Today, Paul might say something like, “Take a little medication for your frequent battles with anxiety.” Medication is not the cure-all and it certainly can be over-prescribed and over-used but if medication can help break the cycle and cut the edge off a panic attack, then take it. At the same time, take an inventory of your regular diet and your physical condition and make adjustments to a healthier lifestyle. It will be good for your body and your soul.

In the end, anxiety is a battle…and a journey. It is learning to take one day at a time, realize your limits, and trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.

I am reminded of the first line of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Peace comes in knowing what you can control and what you cannot. And if we are honest, we will realize that there is not much under our control! The entire creation, along with every creature under the sun and your neighbor down the street, are beyond your control. Your own body even functions mostly outside your control.

What you can control is where you put your hope, where you fix your focus, and on whom you put your faith.

If your faith, focus, and hope are not built on the eternal Rock, then you have every reason to fear.

But if they are, then you have every reason to rest…and to rejoice!

He is in control.

And the One who upholds the universe can certainly uphold you.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

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