Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Not Political, Week 3 - “Ambrosian Walk ”

  Well, this week certainly was interesting. You know, when God brings these sermon series to me, I jot the basic overall structure of it down with working titles and Scriptures. I do this so that I can go back and be reminded of what God wants. This week I thought I knew what we were going to talk about, but then when I sat down, I read the bare bone structure of the series, and you know what the working title for week 3 was? Submitting and standing against leaders. I read that Wednesday afternoon and just laughed to myself. What God has planned out matched with the events of that day.

This has been a politically charged week, but really, what week hasn’t for the past several, can I say years at this point? Now with the protests, and riot that broke out at the capital, we as Christians must condemn the violence. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but those thoughts are not on the docket today. In fact, I try to separate and share with you, as best I can, not my feelings or thoughts on any one topic, but rather what God is calling us to. 


Its for this very reason that we are doing this Not Political sermon series. I have my thoughts on politics, which I am willing to share with anyone that would listen, and it can seem, with those that do not as well. But as Christians, we are called to, in a sense, be beyond politics. That’s not to say that we are not to involve ourselves in the political sphere, I think that if we don’t, it is to our determinate, especially here in the US. Yet, we must realize the difference between those issues that are solely political and therefore finite in there application, and those issues that move beyond the political realm and speak to eternal realities. 

That’s why in our first week of the series, we talked about the reality that every issue we discuss whether with an eternal or finite application, has at its root a spiritual war. Behind the scenes in our lives, there is a spiritual war that rages. Every interaction we have, every thought that crosses our minds, every response we act on, and every problem we encounter has a spiritual battle that’s being fought. And so, we must realize that as we talk, we’re dealing with that battle and we must be prepared for it. This is why the Scriptures in Ephesians 6 tell us to to put on the full armor of God, because the battle is everywhere.

Then in our second week, we began to discuss these issues, tackling the controversial topic of abortion. We not only went through the biblical stance and historical precedent, but we showed how we as Christians are called to make a stand against the act of abortion as have our predecessors in the faith.

But let’s not stop with the controversy yet, instead let’s talk about what we as Christians are to do in the face of a government that we may or may not like.

Here is the reality of the situation, most attenders of our church body are on the more conservative side of the political isle. We do have several that I know of that are on the more liberal side as well, but more so than not, our congregants tend to be more conservative. I won’t bore you with all the intricacies of my political beliefs, but I am, in the wide scope of things conservative myself. And in the last presidential election cycle, more often than not, conservatives voted for President Trump. Now, some didn’t and I can understand their reasoning, and I can understand why, even now, those that voted for Trump believe that he should still be the president. 

But as of Thursday, President Trump has said that he would transfer power, meaning  that Vice-president Biden will be the president, unless an act of God happens from now until January 20th. And then we’ll see how long until Harris becomes president, that’s a joke. 


Now here’s the thing, I know the beliefs of what many of you believe a Biden-Harris presidency means. But the reality is, and one of the first things we talked about in the opening of our sermon series is that, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven. And no matter what happens in the next four years, or eight years, or a hundred years, we have been called to specific actions by our Savior, and it doesn’t matter what type government we live under or who is leading that government.


So let’s see what the Scriptures say about how we as followers of Jesus are to respond to government.


In the oppressive, sometimes it would seem sadistic, rule of the Romans, the Jews wanted nothing more than to rebel. Playing off this, some Jewish leaders came to Jesus as recorded in Mark 12, starting in verse 14, and asked “…‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’ But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. ‘Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ And they were amazed at him.”


Here, Caesar represents the government, any government, and the question, what should we do in response to a government we don’t like, is a natural one for us to have. Because within us, there is a tendency towards rebellion due to sin, in which we first rebelled against God. But also, if we are truly citizens of heaven then how do we work within a system that might be counteractive to the ways of God?

So in this question, Jesus gives us two sides to the answer, we must give to the government what is the governments and we must give what is God’s back to God. 

Let’s look at the first side of the answer, giving back to the government what is the government.


Romans 13:1-7 reads, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”


Peter follows this up in 1 Peter 2:13-17, “13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”


And so, even in the oppressive Roman government, submission to authority was required by all who followed Jesus and call on him as Savior and Lord. And it’s in times when we are called to submit, even to those that we do not want to, that the Lord aspect of who Jesus is in our lives really comes home. But that’s not the last word on the subject.


Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:7-12, “7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. 9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”


How we respond in times such as these, whether in violence or in peace, reflects how our testimony among non-Christians is received. Take the COVID-19 situation, if we as Christians run around fearful of the possibility of getting the virus; if we respond to the situation as many in the world do, then what is the difference between a believer and a non-believer? It is the same with submission to government. If we run around constantly rebelling against government, then how are we really different than the world? David Barton, the founder of WallBuilders which is dedicated to showing how the US was founded on the Bible and Judeo-Christian principles, has said that the average constitution lasts only about eleven years. There’s a reason why the US has been under the same constitution for almost 250 years, though we have had our share of wars and problems, believers have sought to deal with a lot of those through peace.

It is because of verses like Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God…”, that Christians throughout the centuries have done as much as they could to seek peaceful resolutions to situations, and we should as well.


This is why the early Church writers wrote things like this, “Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins. [...] For he that is made good by compulsion of another is not good; for he is not what he is by his own choice. For it is the freedom of each one that makes true goodness and reveals real wickedness (https://books.google.com/books?id=aS88AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA581#v=onepage&q&f=false).” That was written by Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd century, still under Roman rule. 

Other early church writer, Lactantius (lack-tan-tea-us), lived through times such as the Diocletian persecution, which has been called some of the worse persecutions the Church faced in ancient times. He wrote this, “God might have bestowed upon his people both riches and kingdoms, as he had given previously to the Jews, whose successors and posterity we are. However, he would have Christians live under the power and government of others, lest they should become corrupted by the happiness and prosperity, slide into luxury, and eventually despise the commandments of God. For this is what our ancestors did.”

And so this early understanding that it is not so much the place of the Christian to change governments, but rather to live within those governments and while there, to show the goodness of God, through our sacrificial and holy living.


That’s the first side of the answer, give to Caesar what is Caesar. Now, let’s look at the second side of the answer Jesus gives, give to God what is God’s.


A common response to the first side of the answer of Christians living within a government that is antithetical to the Gospel is, what if we try to live peaceful lives but because of our faith, they try hurt us in some way?

It’s to this that we get passages such as Matthew 10:26-33, where Jesus says, “26 ‘So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’”


And in other places like Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus says, “11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


Persecution due to our faith is bound to happen. The first 300 years after Jesus death and resurrection, saw the Church in and out of persecution. Even when Christianity became an accepted religion, those that stood on biblical truth have always been persecuted, even by those that claim to be Christian. Right now, all over the world, the Church is persecuted. We in the western world have had it easy for hundreds of years, and it is becoming ever more clear that our time is coming. We need to stand as our brothers and sisters have throughout the centuries and throughout the world. And it’s at our faith that we must draw the line. The same apostle Peter who wrote, “3 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…” also spoke these words as recorded in Acts 4:19-20, when standing before the Jewish council after being arrested for preaching Jesus, “…‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”


Our faith must be the thing that distinguishes us, and it must be the thing that causes us to be persecuted. If our persecution comes at the hands of not living peaceful under our governments, then our testimony will not be one that brings glory to God, but to ourselves. 


In speaking of his own trek towards martyrdom Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ (https://books.google.com/books?id=fyUMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA75#v=onepage&q&f=false)."


And Polycarp, following after him several decades later, was recorded as saying, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt (https://books.google.com/books?id=fyUMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA41#v=onepage&q&f=false)." This, was after he was told that all he had to do was deny Christ and he, an old man at this time, would not have to suffer a horrible death.


It’s living within both sides of this issue that I think the life of Ambrose of Milan is a life that we could look towards as an example. Ambrose was a man that was hurled by the populace to become the Bishop of Milan around the late 300s. He was a Christian and a politician, but not a theologian, nor a person who had as his goal to become a full time minster. But Ambrose was so loved by the people because he was a seeker of peace, honest and forthright man, that when the bishopric of the city became available, the people chanted for Ambrose to take the role. Though he wasn’t a theologian, Ambrose took the position, studied theology, and became a giant in the faith. Ambrose is my favorite early church father because he wasn’t a man that sought to be the head of the churches in Milan, but was chosen because he was a faithful man of Christ. The peace of his life showed through. In addition there were two moments in his bishopric that can teach us what it means to stand firm in our faith against governmental authorities.

The first one came when Ambrose stood for the orthodoxy of the faith. And what I mean by the orthodoxy of the faith, is that Ambrose stood against those that would change who Jesus was from fully God and fully man, to a created Demi-god that was less than God the Father. This unorthodox belief was called Arianism, and it came to a head when the Roman Emperor of the time, who was in favor of these Arianists, ordered Ambrose to give two of the church buildings in Milan to the group. Instead, Ambrose and a handful of his congregation stood against these calls, going to the point of locking themselves in the buildings and refusing to leave them. And so, Ambrose stood against the government in light of holding true to the faith.

But that wasn’t the only time Ambrose stood against an Emperor. In 388 AD, the third Emperor that Ambrose dealt with, was named Theodosius. A riot over a chariot race had broken out, and Emperor Theodosius had quelled the riot and in doing so, had slaughtered many people. In response, Ambrose barred Theodosius from partaking in fellowship with the Church. Mind you, Theodosius sided with Ambrose in areas of theology, especially against Arianism. Responding to Ambrose’s barring, Theodosius came to the church to remove the Bishop from his post, and Ambrose famously tells the Emperor to come get him. Ambrose told Theodosius that what the Emperor did was wrong and he, Ambrose, will stand by his decision until the Emperor repented.

In Ambrose we see the working out of what we as Christians are called to do. On the one hand we are called to a peaceful life that shines in front of all people, and on the other hand we are called to stand against that which not of our faith. We did this last week when we talked about standing against abortion. We did this several weeks ago when we talked about standing against the Progressive teachings that are seeping into the Church. So we must do both. If we are then persecuted for living godly lives, then our persecution will be a light for other people, but if our persecution comes because we are doing wrong ourselves, then it will be a deterrent for others.


We are called to live in such times as these. When we feel like things are against us, we must ask the question, are they against me because I rebel and do not seek peace, or are they against me because I live as Christ does?


The words of 1st Peter 2:16 speak volumes here, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”


For us as Christians, freedom does not come from a document. I love the constitution of the United States, because I believe it best represents the closest thing we can get to a human government based on Scripture. But my freedom does not come from it. No, my freedom comes from Christ himself. That freedom is lived out when I hold tightly to Jesus. To his commands, and his decrees. In the face of those that desire me to bow the knee to any other Emperor, my freedom is walked out even in man’s shackles. To echo Polycarp, twenty years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.


But we can only say this when we are living a life seeking peace as much as we can, so that our testimony is unblemished by the strife of this world.


So my challenge to you this week is this, has your testimony as a Christian been blemished by the politics of this world? If you took a step back and asked yourself, has my language and action reflected a peaceful response to the political world, or not? If not, we need to repent. There are things I have personally said, that I have had to repent about in this election cycle. Does that mean we can’t speak out and hold political views? No, but the question we must ask as we do so is, do I express those views in a way that brings or takes away glory from Jesus?

And as we move into the future under a new representative government, we must make a commitment to be known for our dedication to peace and righteous living as we follow after God. Does that mean we don’t take biblical stands, of course not. Does that mean we do not speak up when we see injustice or bad things happen, no. But it means that we drench our words and actions in the blood of Jesus, so that in all things we bring him glory.


This should be our goal, whether we like the government or not, to be ambassadors of Christ to a dying world. Because he has sent us out to a world that once reject our Savior, but to which he responded on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 32:34).” Let us have that same response as well. Amen.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Not Political, Week 2 - “Craftsman in the Womb”

  Last week we began, what will probably be our most controversial sermon series of my entire tenure as the lead pastor of our church body. I have talked many times on the topics that we’ll cover in this series with our youth, and so, because they are topics that are rooted in our faith, we’re going to talk about them here. 

This series is focused on those topics that the 21st century Church tends side stepped because our society tells us that they are political topics and therefore should not be talked about in a congregational setting. Instead, we’re told that we should just worry ourselves with singing and reading the Bible. But the reality is, God has called us to a holistic faith, which means that we do not just talk about the theology of God, but how that theology works itself out in our lives and society. Jesus states in Matthew 7:24, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” And James follows this in the first chapter of his letter, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (v.22).”


And so, we are talking about these issues that have been wrongfully regulated to the political sphere, instead of their rightful place as issues to be dealt with, by us as Christians, through our faith.


Last week we laid a foundation for this series by recognizing that every issue we talk about, in fact every conflict we encounter, is rooted in the spiritual war that surrounds us. It’s because of this spiritual reality that we must approach every situation with a desire to stand firm in our faith and face these issues and conflicts with a biblical mindset, putting on, as the Scriptures say in Ephesians 6, the whole armor of God. And we must remember that our goal is to not cause unneeded division, but to deal biblically with the issues, drawing closer to God, and standing stronger and more faithful in our faith.


And so let’s get into our second week of the Not Political series, by talking about our first topic. And let’s start this off with a bang shall we? Let’s talk about abortion. Just the word will probably tune some people out. So I want to say this before we really get into it. The purpose of talking about abortion is not to condemn anyone who has had an abortion. If you have had one, or you have encouraged someone else to have one, I want you to know that I believe what God speaks through his word, Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And in Romans 8:1-2 it reads, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

So as we speak about abortion, this is not a talk about how people who have gone through it or have helped others attain one, are going to hell for the sin of abortion, because the reality is, all the sin we do condemns us, but when we accept Jesus as our Savior, repenting of our sin and seeking God’s forgiveness, our sin is placed on him, and we can be fully embrace by the love of God. 

But if we shy away from speaking about abortion, then shouldn’t we shy away from talking about all sin? Should we then not speak to the drunkard, or the one who lusts, or to the abuser, or the idolater? We are called to recognize sin and call each other to the ways of God. And so, though we are talking about abortion today, we are not elevating abortion over other sins in an enteral perspective.


With that understanding laid down, let’s talk about the basis of why every Christian needs to reject the act of abortion, and indeed, needs to stand against it in every way. First off, the word abortion does not occur in the Scriptures. But if we take the argument, because it doesn’t use the modern word abortion, therefore it does not prohibit it, this becomes a slippery slope of throwing out other applications of God’s word in the modern world. In fact Jesus’ own application of the ten commandments would have to be thrown out, and if we can can throw out Jesus’ application of God’s Word, then nothing can be kept. 

And so we must understand our topic within the ideas put forth by the Scriptures. In doing this, we must start by asking questions of the Scriptures and see how it would address the issue.


First, how does the Bible look at those in the womb?


Job 31:15 reads, “Did not he who made me in the womb make them?

    Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”

That is followed by what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:13-16, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

This is then followed by what the prophet Jeremiah famously wrote about what God said of him in the fifth verse of his first chapter, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (1:5).”


And so we can see that from the Scriptures, that God is intimately involved in the making of children within the womb of a woman. 

So then what about the injury to such a child? Let’s look at the famous passage that is most associated with the abortion topic which is Exodus 21:22-24, where it reads, “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…”

Here, the phrase “gives birth prematurely” can be translated as miscarriage. Meaning the act of causing the child to, at the least be injured and the most to die, would be grounds for punishment. Depending on the injury, whether an early birth or death of the child, the punishment then follows. What is clear though, is the fact that if the child is killed within it’s mother’s womb, the punishment is death for death. The same punishment the Old Testament gave to any other type of murder.

But is that all the only verse in connection to the death of a child? No, in 2 Kings 15:16, we get this insight into the Israelite king Menahem. It says that, “He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women.” He does this specifically to kill the children. And we’re told what God thinks of this king two verses later, “And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…”


There is a very specific trend within the Scriptures that place a heavy emphasis on children from the womb on up in age, being very dear to God, and acts against children of all ages being condemned, in most circumstances. In fact Jesus states this in Matthew 19:14, “…Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Why? Because they are innocent in the eyes of God. In fact, commenting on the idea of abortion the Zohar, a Jewish writing from the 12th century AD, states, “…a person who kills the fetus in his wife's womb desecrates that which was built by the Holy One and His craftsmanship (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/abortion-in-judaism).”

Therefore abortion is a sin because it destroys that which God creates. In fact, this destroying of what God creates is the basis of the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.” And which is expanded on by passages like Proverbs 6:16-19, where it states there are seven things that are detestable to the Lord, and the third thing that is detestable are “…hands that shed innocent blood…”

Okay, but maybe we are looking into the Scriptures from a modern view, and trying to justify a position against abortion that the Bible doesn’t actually take. It’s to avoid this modern day incursion into the Scriptures, that we are looking to the early Church writers to help us see that the issues we are covering are not modern political ones read into the text, but ones the Church has talked about and has taken position over from it’s beginning.

 

In the writing called the Didache, which if you are familiar with a prayer book or a catechism, this would be an early version of those, it has two statements on this issue, “…thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide…(2:2h)”, and the way of death includes “…murders of children, corrupters of God’s creatures…(5:2)”

Now what’s interesting is that another early writing titled, the “Epistle of Barnabas”, makes the exact same two statements. It’s statements read like this, “… Thou shalt not procure abortion, thou shalt not commit infanticide…(19:5d)”, and “But the Way of the Black One…murders of children, corrupters of God’s creation…(20:2)”

This is interesting, because in translating the “Epistle of Barnabas” Jackson Snyder, in the footnotes of his translation, makes the observation that the Greek word phthoreus (f-th-or-e-us) translated as corrupters, is as he states a “vulgar title referring to a promiscuous person seeking casual relations with the intention of aborting if necessary (“The Epistle of Barnabas: Revised Greek with Hebraic-English Translation,”) (https://books.google.com/books?id=Rt48AgAAQBAJ&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=phthoreus&source=bl&ots=ChmnypX-Sa&sig=ACfU3U1pCGfmzrBqWC7FoyTk5WdgDCBHyw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwit-p6c6fPtAhXRqZ4KHbRMDAsQ6AEwBHoECAEQAg#v=onepage&q=phthoreus&f=false).” Meaning, a person who seeks out sexual encounters, and uses abortion to kill the child, corrupts God’s creatures.

In addition, the word procure, has two parts to it. The first part is the person who seeks out the procedure, and the second is a person who helps to connect someone else with that procedure. Meaning, both writings make it clear that we as Christians are not to be the one who seeks the abortion, nor the one that helps with getting an abortion.

In other words, both the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas come against those that would seek out or help with an abortion, and both use a word to call the act, a corruption of God’s creation. Which we have already seen is in line with both a biblical and Jewish understanding of the harming of the child in the womb. 

But that’s not all, quote after quote from many different early Church fathers write on this subject. One of these writers is Tertullian, who wrote two statements on abortion in the first ten years of the 200s AD. He first writes of who Christians are, “In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed (Apology 9:8, AD 200).”


Ten years later Tertullian writes, “Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery… There is also a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its infanticide function, the name of…‘the slayer of the infant,’ which of course was alive…They all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive… Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does (On the Soul 25, 27; ca. AD 210).”


It is clear, from biblical teaching and the application of that teaching by the early Church, that the issue of abortion is not a modern day political one, but something the Church has dealt with since it’s inception. And the Church’s stance has been, that abortion is the murdering of an innocent life. A life that was formed by God in the womb, and that the destruction of that life is a sin because it destroys the creative work of God himself. 


And Jesus says in Matthew 5:19, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

As Christians, we must come and make a stand against abortion, just like we must take a stand against every sin. We must seek to never engage in any activity of sin, and when we do, we must repent of it. Because we should be seeking to not set aside even one of the commands of God.

Now, I want to take several moments and address a few arguments that are usually presented, even by Christians, who allow for abortion. The first is this, “I wouldn’t have one, but I can’t stop someone else from having one.” That’s not true, because we do seek to stop sinful acts that come out in our society. Don’t we seek to stop the physical abuser? Don’t we seek to stop the murder rampager? Don’t we seek to stop the drunk driver? Don’t we seek to stop the molester and rapist? If we seek to stop these others, we must seek to stop the killing of children in the womb. The argument does not hold up in light of the Scriptures and their application in other areas of our life.

The second argument is this, “There are not enough people to adopt all these kids.” Let me share the abortion survivor Josiah Presely’s words with you. Josiah was from South Korea. When his biological mother found out that she was pregnant, she tried to have an abortion. It failed, and she put Josiah up for adoption in the U.S. Josiah still carries the scares of the abortion in a deformed left arm. Josiah writes, “I would like to point out a few things. First, do you think that I would have wanted my mother to have that abortion and try to terminate me? Heck no! In fact, when my parents told me that my mother had had an abortion it built up some malice towards my birth mother in me. But I have since gotten over that and come to a place where I have forgiven her, thanks to the Lord. But it also gave me an appreciation for life. God saved me from dying a horrible death before I was even born…I was adopted by a family living in a completely different country. This is for those of you saying ‘well what will happen to the children if we don’t abort them? Their mothers don’t want them.’ Trust me, they will be adopted. My adopted family has twelve children, ten of which were adopted! They will be adopted! I mean, if we would stop funding the stuff to do abortions and put it towards making adoption fees lower, many would adopt because many who want to adopt can’t afford the high adoption fees and therefore can’t adopt. So those children will be adopted. (https://abortionsurvivors.org/josiahs-story/).”

I agree with Josiah’s point, if our adoption laws were changed to be as open as our abortion laws, there would be thousands upon thousands of homes open for the children lost to abortion. Especially as our rates of infertility rise in the western world. A side note here, though the word abortion is not used in the Bible, the word adoption is used several times and all in connection to what God does with us, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.


The third argument I want to address is this, “What about those that are raped, or get pregnant through incest, or what about the health of the mother?” Let me divide that into two parts. First the rape and incest. In 2018 in Florida, the state released the reasons given by the 70,083 people to why they had an abortion that year in the state. If you combine both the rape and incest reasons, the percentage was .15%. To put that into numbers, out of the 70,083 abortions, only about 105 abortions were from these two categories. That’s very very few in the grand scheme of things. If we allowed for these two reasons, could we then not allow for the rest? But to save even those 105, is it right to condemn someone for the sinful acts of another? Ezekiel 18:20 reads, “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”

So why condemn the innocent child, to a death for the evil acts of another? Yes, it will be hard to look at that child’s face and be reminded of the rapist and that moment in time. But every moment of life that child breathes in, is a moment for them to correct the wrongs that brought them into this world. 

The second part of that argument about the health of the mother. Again in 2018 in Florida, 3.42% of the respondents gave the mothers health as being the reason they went in for an abortion. That means out of 70,083 abortions, 2,396 were connected to the health of the mother. And out of those, only .27% were due to the actual life of the mother being in jeopardy. That means If we allowed abortion for rape, incest, and the life of the mother being in jeopardy, we could have saved 69,789 children from death just in Florida in 2018. And if we took that to a national level, we could have saved approximately 858,698 children from abortion in 2018 out of the approximately 862,320 that died because of abortion (https://abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/). 

Now, if you’re in a situation where you have to make a decision between the mother’s life and the child’s, I don’t think anyone can make that decision for you, nor I do not think anyone can look down on you which ever way you go. And there are discussions within the early Church writings concerning this very thing that gives leeway in these decisions. But in those difficult decisions we must seek after God, and trust in him to guide us. I personally have had a talk with my wife and what my decision would be, and that’s between me, her, and God. 


One more argument and this one I have heard several times over the years directed at me personally, “You’re a guy and wouldn’t understand.” There are three problems with this argument. First, it’s sexist. To say that a man cannot understand the moral imperative of not aborting a child, speaks to a dismissive attitude that does not want to deal with the sin that abortion is. Secondly, if abortion is wrong, which the Word of God shows it to be, then whether a person is male or female does not matter. Because God’s truth is true whether we want to believe it or not. And thirdly, all I would actually need to counter that argument is to ask a woman to come before us and share that abortion is wrong. Which there are many out there that would, both those that have survived abortion and those that have gone through with an abortion. So all four of these arguments do not hold up in the light of the Scriptures, and the reality of the world around.


But what can we do right now as believers in Christ? What are some real life applications? 

First, on an individual level, we must point others away from abortion. We must talk to our kids and grandkids, both boys and girls, about God’s desire for sex within marriage alone, where the children will grow in the best environment they can. If we want to talk about a pandemic, let’s talk about the 85% of abortions happening by unmarried women and 87.9% of those happening by women between the ages of 20 to 39. 

Then if these women do get pregnant, and cannot raise a child, we must direct these mothers to adoption agencies. We must support these mothers when others do not. And if they decide to keep the child, we must give support for these mother’s needs, and help them deal with the strains of children. We should be helping each other like this anyway, but it is more needed in situations like this. We must get rid of the stigma within our Christian community of unwed mothers. We must encourage men, who are the fathers, to take ownership and support these mothers. We must be a community open to single mothers, single fathers, adoptive families, and grandparents raising their grandchildren. Was the child most likely conceived in a sinful act, probably, but we must extend grace. We must love them as Christ does, because we want every child to be born and every person to know Jesus as their Savior.

Secondly, as Christians we must apply our biblical calling to our vote. We must vote in those representatives that will hold to a biblical view of the sanctity of life. Now if you just got mad because I said that, do you think I am asking you to vote for a particular political party? If you heard that, which one? Because that might automatically tell you which candidates and which parties you shouldn’t vote for. But hear what I am not saying. I am not saying vote Republican, or Democrat, or Libertarian, or Green Party. In fact, in the decision of Roe v. Wade, which basically allowed for abortions in the U.S., six of the justices were appointed by Republican presidents. The decision was made seven for the legalization to two opposing it. Five of the six Republican appointed justices voted in favor (http://nelsoncountygazette.com/?p=45590). I am not saying we need to vote for Republicans, or any other party, instead, we need to vote for representatives that believe in the biblical understanding of the sanctity of life and will hold to it. That means we need to do our research. We need to know where a representative stands on this issue and reject them if they stand against what God calls us to. This is where the rubber meets the road; this is what we meant when we talked last week about being first a citizen of Heaven.


And so my challenge for you this week, is to first, repent. If you have ever had an abortion, or have ever encouraged someone to have an abortion, or have voted for someone that sought to write laws promoting abortion, or you have condemned a person who has had an abortion dismissing them as not being worthy of Christ’s love, we need to repent of such actions. I say we, because I once held a pro-abortion stance before I came to Christ and I have had to repent of it. But when we repent, we must believe what the Scriptures say. 1st John 1:5-10 states, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

All but one sin is forgiven by God when we confess it to him, because they were dealt with on the cross by Jesus. The repenting and confessing act, simply brings it to the forefront of our relationship with him so that it can be dealt with, which will move us closer into fellowship with him. So we must first repent of the things that God says are sin.


The next part of the challenge is this, pray for the women that are considering an abortion this week. Pray for God’s intercession, that they would be pointed to godly outlets and not sinful ones. And if you can, find a Christian pregnancy clinic and support them prayerfully and/or financially. I did a quick Google search, and found more than 20 just in the Phoenix area.


Being a follower of Jesus, means having our faith work itself out in the world around us. We cannot downplay sinful acts, nor can we simply tell people something is wrong. We must provide for their needs and a righteous pathway that includes pointing them to Jesus as their Savior. 

I want to end with this quote from an abortion survivor. In the article “Victim to Victor”, Melissa Ohden writes, "I’ve chosen to find peace with both what I know and what I may never know about all of the circumstances surrounding my survival and adoption. I’ve chosen to find joy amidst the winding, twisting turns of my life that have not always been easy or without suffering. I’ve chosen to love and forgive those who attempted to harm me, regardless of how they feel about me in return. I’ve chosen to walk out purpose from the pain that I have endured. I’ve chosen to be brutally transparent with the world about who I am and what I’ve experienced. I’ve chosen to embrace who God made me to be (https://melissaohden.com/victim-to-victor/).”


Let us truly be lights in this dark world, loving as Christ loves, no matter the decision of people that we meet, for we were once lost in ourselves, and so we must do all the more to point people back to Jesus, the only Savior and Comforter of the world who calls dead things to life, and people out of darkness into his light. Amen. 




_____________________________________________________________________________________


Some more statistics:


Statistics - 2018, 85% of all abortions came from unmarried women. Girls 19 years and younger accounted for 9%. Women 20-29 years old accounted for 57.9% of all abortions. With Women ages 30-39 accounting for 29.5% of abortions.


In 2018 in Florida, which is some of the most up-to-date numbers for reasons given for having an abortion: .01% resulted from incest, .14% happened due to rape, .27% was due to mother’s life endangered, 1% was due to fetal abnormality, 1.48% was due to the health of the mother’s health being threatened, 1.67% the mother’s psychological health being threatened, 20% due to social or economic reasons, 75.4% no reason given.

In other words, .15% were due to either rape or incest, 1% due to the baby not being healthy, 3.42% because of some health problem associated with the mother, 20% due to some social/economic reason most likely not mature/not ready, education, not wanting children, can’t afford, which is the reasons given in other surveys. But then 75.4% no reason given. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Not Political, Week 1 - “The Battle”

  A few years ago someone gave me a collection of different writings throughout the history of the Church. This past summer I began to read through the early Church Fathers, a collection of writings written by the disciples that followed after the first disciples of Jesus. And it was the topics and issues that those early Church writers brought up through which God led me to speak to you today and for the next few weeks. 

If the last year has done nothing else, it has put an exclamation point on how easily it can be for us to set ourselves into camps. Since the beginning of this country Americans have been divided into at least two political parties, and at times, even more. For the last hundred plus years, the two major parties have been Republicans and Democrats. Since roughly the 1960s, the ideas of being a liberal or conservative, began to dived as well. Then in the beginning of the 2000s, progressivism began in full swing. And today, we have things such as inter-sectionalism, masker vs non-maskers, locker-downers vs non-lock-downers, and more.

In fact, this last year has put a point on how quickly we are willing to divide on issues. Now, I believe that there are points on which we should divide. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus gives these very harsh words when he said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

When we follow Jesus, there will be an automatic division between those that do, and those that do not. If the world is truly lost in sin as the Bible states, then those who accept Jesus as their Savior and move away from sin into his righteousness, there will a division with those who do not. In fact, in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, it says this of Jesus, “11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…(John 1:11-12)”


And so, for the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at a few issues that we as Christians should be divided from the world on, and not from each other. In doing this we will make people mad, that is inevitable, but my desire in doing this is to walk the same road Paul did in 1st Corinthians. This past summer our church went through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church, where he dealt with the tough issues the church was dealing with. The purpose of his letter was to bring about unity in the body of Christ, and it is that same purpose that we are moving forward in. True unity is not conformity by sweeping the hard issues under the table, rather it is dealing with those tough issues together and seeing where God wants us to be.

In doing this, we will be talking about the issues facing the Church today, mostly our western cultural. Some of these issues have become seen as political and therefore shouldn’t be spoken about from the pulpit in the church. And so, we will be looking at these issues both from a biblical perspective and from a historical Church perspective. Because, even though our modern society believes some of these issues to be political and should not be spoken of in the Church, they are really beliefs that the Church has dealt with for centuries, because they speak to deeper issues of humanity’s lostness. And wherever you find yourself politically, as Christians, we must seek to do what Paul calls us to in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

If we divide on the world’s divisions, we are being conformed to the world, instead, since we are going to have divisions, we must have divisions that are following God, against that which is not.

As we begin this series we must first lay a foundation. Most of you know that love shooting. I love developing the skills of shooting, and for the last few years my family has made a week long trip to do just that. We skipped this year, because the place we go to is closed, but we’re already looking forward to making that time up this coming summer. 

Being in the world of shooting, support of the Second Amendment is high. I follow several news outlets that follow gun laws throughout the US. Many of which have talked about the what-if of a full-blown civil war. On one of our drives, Marika and I were talking about this very thing, and she asked what I would do. I told her that in our area, we would probably end up being a place for refugees, as people would flee from the cities, whether that be Phoenix or the L.A. area. 

But the tension of a coming war is prevalent. Back in July the Washington Times ran a story that talked about a poll that showed 34% of voters believed a civil war was coming (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jun/17/civil-war-looms-stats-survey-say/). Keith Mines, an individual who has worked for the U.S. Army, U.N., and U.S. State Department, shared with the New Yorker, that there is a 65% chance that within ten years we could see a civil war in the U.S. (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-america-headed-for-a-new-kind-of-civil-war).


With riots, the political atmosphere, and everything that is linked with COVID-19, tensions are rising higher and higher. But this is nothing new. Jesus said in Matthew 24:4-8, “…Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.”


These things are inevitable, because it is the sin condition of this world to be in conflict. It’s the default setting of humanity apart from God. When we seek sin, rebellion is what naturally follows. 


But as followers of Jesus, we must be careful to not be swept away by the world’s desire for conflict, at least not in the way the world sees it. We must put this world into the perspective that God calls us to. In Philippians 3:20 Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…”

In Hebrews 13:14 were reminded that, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

And in 1st John 2:17 John writes, “15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”


I am an American. I love my country, I will do everything I can to make sure my country endures, because I believe that it was founded on biblical principles that have shown through even when evil men use it for evil purposes. Yet, as a Christian, it isn’t my home. I was not saved to be an American, I was saved to be a citizen of heaven. Every decision therefore that I make here, has to be inline with that eternal perspective. 


And with that eternal perspective I can begin to see what’s really going on around me. And it’s not like I am having the first epiphany about this, those Christians who followed after the original disciples had this very perspective, and they knew what was really going on. Athenagoras (A-th-en-a-gor-as) writing in the mid 100s, wrote this, “The Maker and Framer of the world distributed and appointed….a multitude of angels and ministers…to occupy themselves about the elements, and the heav­ens, and the world, and the things in it, and the godly ordering of them all…. Just as with men, who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice….so is it among the angels. Some, free agents, you will observe, such as they were created by God, continued in those things for which God had made and over which He had ordained them; but some outraged both the constitution of their nature and the government entrusted to them (A Plea for the Christians, pg. 10).”


Origen, about a 100 years later, wrote this, “[A Christian] affirms that even now my Lord Jesus Christ wars against opposing powers and casts out of their cities, that is, out of our souls, those who used to occupy them. And he destroys the kings who were ruling in our souls ‘that sin may no longer reign in us,’ so that, after he abolishes the king of sin from the city of our soul, our soul may become the city of God and God may reign in it, and it may be proclaimed to us, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.’ (Hom 13.1 [125])”


The early church writers understood what is really going on. This world is seeing the physical repercussions of a spiritual battle. This Scriptures attest to this in Ephesians 6:12, where it reads, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”


And what is the war? It’s rebellion against God led by Satan. In 2nd Corinthians 4:4 Paul writes, “4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”


This world is dominated by the devil, in fact Jesus speaks these words in Matthew 12:29, “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.”

In this description, Jesus is the thief, the devil is the strong man, and the house is the world/our souls. It’s because of this, that later on John would write this in his first letter, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (3:8).”


And so we must put into perspective what is going on in our world. It’s not just civil war brewing, because of a divide between progressives and conservatives. It’s not riots over the treatment of black Americans, or as an excuse by others to cause destruction. It’s not even one political party over the next. Those are the results of the spiritual war raging around us. But when we see the world’s conflict around us as purely physical, then we are falling right into the trap the devil has designed for us. It’s then that we take our eyes of God and the true reality that is happening all around us, and place them on the things that are passing away.


Does that mean that we do nothing, or that we allow evil things to go unanswered? No! But we must prepare for the war as it really is, and not as we perceive it to be. This is why the Scriptures tell us things like this in Ephesians 6:10-11, “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.


And in 2nd Corinthians 10:3-6 we’re told, “3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”


And so, we must wake up to the reality of the spiritual war who’s effects we see all around us. If we do not, then we will be trying to put out a raging inferno with two gallon water buckets. And we’ll end up swept away by the fires of pure war raging around us.


And so my challenge for you this week is to read through Ephesians 6:13-18 where it reads, “13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”


So on Monday, read through the text and then speak with God about what it means to put on the full armor and have the belt of truth on. 

On Tuesday, read through the text again and then speak to God about what it means to have the breastplate of righteousness on.

Then on Wednesday, read through the text and then speak to God about what it means to have feet ready with the gospel.

Follow that on Thursday, read through the text and then speak to God about what it means to take up the shield of faith.

Then on Friday, read through the text again and speak to God about what it means to have the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.

And finally on Saturday, go to God and ask, about how praying in the Spirit connects with the armor of God.


We must open our eyes to the spiritual battle that surrounds us that has repercussions in the physical world. This isn’t not political, it’s biblical, and we need to be following what the Word of God says is happening, and not what the world wants us to follow. Amen.