Sunday, January 19, 2020

By God’s Grace People Can Change





God always speaks to the sorrows of my heart. This morning I was reflecting on how hopeless situations can appear, but God promises that He is able to restore anyone to Himself if that person is willing. I wait, as I am sure many of you do, for restoration in situations that seem impossible. If the wait is prolonged, as it often is, the sense of futility can dampen the fire of joy. 

And then the Holy Spirit speaks through the Word of God and hope flames again.

My bible study this morning was about Jacob’s sons in the midst of famine returning to Egypt for grain. Unbeknownst to them, their brother Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery twenty years ago, is now second in command to Pharoah. He is a powerful man who has single-handedly with the spirit of God engineered stockpiling food to save many people during the long famine. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is an amazing story of God using evil actions to bring about good. That is a powerful and central message of the story but a different side-message gave me enormous comfort today.

Judah, the oldest son who had been responsible for selling Joseph to slave traders out of jealousy and evil selfishness has been entrusted with the safety of the youngest brother Benjamin. Jacob, the father of the sons, had been lied to by his sons all those years ago who claimed his favored son Joseph was dead. He believes that Benjamin is the only remaining child of his late wife Rachel, whom he dearly loved. 

The sons do not recognize Joseph as they follow his orders to return to Egypt with Benjamin if they want more grain. Jacob is bereft, but knows they will die of starvation if he does not do as Pharoah’s right-hand man has asked.  When Joseph sees them return with Benjamin, he tests them and sets up a “sting”operation. He plants his valuable silver in Benjamin’s sack and sends them home with grain. Then he deploys his soldiers to confront the brothers of theft. They find the silver in Benjamin’s sack and return to Egypt. Joseph says they may go on their way home, but Benjamin, the apparent thief, will remain a slave in Egypt.

Judah, the once traitorous brother who had sold Joseph into slavery, now speaks some of the most transformative words of the Bible: “Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father?””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭44:33-34‬ ‭

Judah has recognized his past evil, repented of it, and shown the complete change of character in now offering his life in place of Benjamin’s. I reread that passage, filled with hope. When God gets a hold of our spirit, miraculous change is possible. Our past does not need to determine who we will become.This is true of me, my family...and you. God meets all of us where we are, but does not intend for us to remain there.

It took twenty years for this transformation to occur in Judah. Joseph was busy following the Lord and living a life dedicated to God during that time. He did not apparently wallow in despair for being sold as a slave nor for being tossed unjustly for a period of time in prison. He seemed to always trust God and thrive in whatever situation he was placed. And in the end, he was rewarded with the relationship with his brothers restored and the joy of seeing his old father again before he died. His family was reunited and saved...after twenty long years of separation.

Sometimes the waiting is very hard, but we know that God’s timing is always perfect and always for the purpose of glorifying Him and expanding His kingdom. At times I am like Joseph, waiting for something for years with no apparent resolution likely. Other times, I am like Judah, slowly being transformed into the likeness of my savior despite the evil choices of my past. Either way, God’s grace and mercy is at work, even when He appears to be silent and distant. That famine in our soul will end if we are in Him. Restoration and healing is possible in the worst situations.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Where are you?


This is the year 2020...a year of perfect sight. A year when we will see all we need to see with perfect clarity. A year when our vision will need no correction. Uh...probably not. 

However that is what I strive for. To see God more clearly. For God to be SEEN more clearly in me. 2020 seems like a good year for that to take place. I begin the New Year as I begin every New Year, every new day. Reading my Bible. 

I always read the Bible cover to cover each year. To be sure I am on track I follow a read the Bible in a year plan. I change up which plan I use each year, but I have done this for as long as I can remember since becoming a Christian 33 years ago. What is most astonishing is that each year, it is a fresh book, with new insights, new lessons, new truths I newly apply. I don’t know how God does that.

This year, I started back at Genesis a few days ago. I had never taken serious note of the first question God is recorded asking of any human. Nor had I contemplated the profound and far-reaching implications of that question.

Adam and Eve had sinned, eating of the fruit that God had strictly forbidden. They instantly felt shame, covered their nakedness, and hid from God.  God is walking in the Garden of Eden, and this startling discussion begins.

“Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭

Where are you? This is God speaking. God knows everything. He knows exactly where Adam is. He knows where the furthest star in the furthest galaxy is since He placed it there. Why would He ask Adam, “Where are you?”

The more I pondered this, the more convicted I became that this was the pivotal question for me this New Year. Maybe the pivotal question to ALL of us. Where are we? Are we like Adam, hiding from God trying to cover a sin He obviously knows all about? Are we dressing ourselves in our cleverly designed clothes to try to present ourselves in a way that passes as decent, as acceptable...when the reality is we are covering the naked horror of transgression against our Creator?

Where are you? God ALWAYS has a reason for everything He does or says. He asked that question for a purpose, but I don’t believe it was because He was unaware of Adam’s hiding place. I think it is an opportunity for Adam to come clean. To confess. To repent. To turn in humble sorrow for his sin before the Lord and lay it at His feet, longing for restoration. 

But that is not what Adam does. Instead, he absolves himself of all responsibility or culpability for his sin, and blames God and Eve.

“The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:12‬ ‭

No confession, no repentance, no humble sorrow, no longing for restoration. A sniveling attempt to wiggle out of the truth of what he has done.

I have NEVER done that.  (Sarcasm alert for the careless reader.) 
Have you? 

I think there is a second reason God asks that question. Not because God doesn’t know where Adam is, but because Adam doesn't know. Adam seems oblivious to the magnitude of what he is doing. Hiding from God??? He KNOWS who God is...he should also know he is as capable of hiding from God as a three-toed sloth is of winning the Boston Marathon. And this is the terrifying nature of sin. We lose perspective of who God is and where we are in relationship to Him.

I had the privilege of standing on the sidewalks of the abortion center yesterday, still open the day before this new year. I spoke over the microphone to the women streaming into the abortion center to kill their unborn sons and daughters. This is the question I asked them. 

Where are you? 

It is the question I ask myself this new year as well. It is a very important question.

Where are you? Where are you in relationship to God? Are you hiding something from Him? He sees you. He sees whatever you are trying to shield from His sight. And He offers a chance at redemption. We will fail at times, as Adam did. We will sin, and then try to rationalize why we did. But God provides a way back to Him. In His perfect justice, He requires that there be a penalty for transgression. That penalty must be paid, or God is not JUST. Banned from God’s presence for eternity because of our sin, all is not lost. He loves us and doesn't want us cast from His presence forever. The Bible says God desires that none should perish, but that All should come to repentance. God requires that we confess our sins and turn from the path of destruction, And rather than us bearing the staggering penalty for sin, Jesus bears it for us in His atoning sacrificial death on the cross. 

He gives us another chance when He asks, “Where are you?” If we are submitting our lives to Jesus, turning from our sin, accepting what He has done on our behalf, humbly in faith trusting Him despite all the sin and shame of who we have been, He tells us exactly where we are. We are at the foot of the cross with our eyes on Him. We are safe. He is with us, and we are with Him.

That is my prayer for you in this Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

For the Joy Set Before Him


“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NASB‬‬

These verses are among my favorites. I have read them countless times. However, today as I was doing my morning devotional, I read this verse and it stopped me in my tracks. 

Fot the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross....

What joy? The cross was a horrific, agonizing, brutal way to die. After the cross as the weight of the world’s sin fell upon Him, He staggered under the unspeakable rift He felt being forsaken from the Father with whom He had never had anything but perfect communion.

Joy?

The joy is you...me...all of us who were set free from the penalty for sin. The joy is for us, that we have been washed clean by His sacrifice, by His atoning blood. The joy is for us that we have been redeemed and reclaimed to a right relationship with God. He endured the cross for the joy of saving US.

Praise God.




Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Prodigal at an Abortion Center





I often get calls from abortion minded moms as a Cities4Life counselor. Our teams are on the sidewalks of the Charlotte abortion centers every day they are open. Contrary to what many people think, many of those moms are conflicted and even praying God would place someone in their path to stop them!  I put my name and phone number on the literature we hand out. Sometimes, moms call me months later. Yesterday, one such call came through. It was  God-ordained on so many levels.

I had spent the morning watching a YouTube video about rationally presenting the case for protecting the unborn. Much of the material was familiar to me, and I use many of the suggested arguments already in my work as a prolife counselor. Nonetheless, when the video showed aborted fetuses, I crumpled in a mass of ugly tears and gulping sobs, remembering my own abortion forty years ago. I was consumed with sorrow. I had done that to my own child. How could I have been so foolish, so evil?

Shortly after the video ended, I received a text message. It was from a mom I had apparently counseled many months ago. She had stopped communicating to us and we assumed she had aborted. Now, she told me that she had miscarried, and was so distraught and depressed that she stopped texting all of us who were trying to help her. She was pregnant once more, but determined she would never consider abortion again. However, she needed help.

I told her of course we could offer help and asked her if she wanted me to call her. She did. I was in the middle of a boatload of work, but I felt God whisper, “Talk to her. Now.” I called her immediately.

One of the instantly apparent issues was that this poor woman, L, was feeling immense sorrow and guilt over the miscarriage. She wondered if she was being punished for considering abortion. I told her that no matter what, we would connect her with people who could help with her current pregnancy, but would she allow me to talk with her about God? I felt she carried an enormous burden of grief, and I believed I could help her. (Not really I, but God could...)

She agreed. 

I shared my own history of abortion and atheism. Then I told her that very day, I had been crying about what I had done to my child. I said the consequence of abortion may not be removed, but that healing was possible with God. Then I shared my journey of faith, and the Gospel. She interrupted several times with excellent questions.

“How could a merciful God take my child’s life after I decided NOT to abort??”

“Was my sin the cause of my child’s death in miscarriage?”

“Why would God bring so much suffering when I had tried to turn back to Him?”

Over the next two hours, I shared the truth of the Gospel. I talked about Job, and his questions that mirrored her own. I shared the suffering that Jesus endured to pay the penalty that we deserved. I told her about how we all sin, how God is a God of justice and has no choice but to demand a penalty for sin, and how justice kisses mercy at the cross. I explained how we all have a choice to accept or deny God’s incredible merciful offer to pay the penalty for sin we owe.

“But how could God want me back?”she said, crying. I knew how she felt. I had felt it myself.

So then, I shared the story of the prodigal son. I told her how Jesus tells a parable of a father who lets his profligate son leave home with his inheritance. I described the wayward, rebellious boy wasting his father’s money on women, food, and wine. And when the son had nothing left, he realized with abject despair that he had no hope. His only hope at survival was to return to his father. So he headed back home. The father saw him from afar, and ignoring the dignity of his position and the custom of his people, he RAN to greet his son. (By now I was crying, as I pictured the father running to his son...) He called his servants to prepare a feast. His son who was lost now was found. And the father ran as fast as he could to embrace the son who had returned to him.

“That is how God welcomes you back,” I said. 

Both of us were sobbing now. She said she was ready. She wanted to give her life to her Heavenly Father.  As she prayed out loud to receive Jesus as her Lord, I don’t know which of us was more joyful.

“I have wanted to do this for such a long time,” she said, while weeping.
******

Luke 15:32
“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, 
and was lost and has been found.'"




Monday, November 11, 2019

Sadness and Killing Averted






An old man stopped his car to talk to me as I was pacing up the street from the Abortion center. Our Cities4Life team was spread out along the street, offering hope and help to abortion minded women.  I often stand on the side of the road offering our help and information to women on the way to the abortion center. I sometimes have great discussions with passerby’s who want to chat about why we do what we do. Sometimes those discussions are confrontational. Often they are from people who support what we are doing, speaking for the unborn at that last-ditch place.

The man rolled down his window and told me he was against abortion. However, he worried very much for our safety in this terrible world. He feared there were people who would oppose us in harmful ways.

“Thank you so much for your concern,” I told him, “However, I trust that since God has called me here, He will protect me. And if He doesn’t, He has a reason and purpose in that as well.”

“May I ask you something?”he asked.
“Sure.”
“When God doesn’t answer your prayers, when you can’t hear Him, what does that mean?”

“That is a great question,” I said, “And one that I suspect most people ask. Here is what I believe. I think God is always speaking but sometimes we miss it. For example, the Bible says all creation declares the glory of God. Just looking out the window when you wake up and seeing the beautiful colors, and taking a breath...I think all those are reminders that God is declaring His glory to you. But if you open your Bible, He is speaking very clearly on many things. Sometimes you can find your answer there. 

“Or maybe His answer is one you are not ready to understand. Like in the book of Job, Job asks God why he is suffering so terribly and the wicked prosper. God doesn’t answer why. Not directly. Instead, He reveals Himself to Job and describes many things God can do that Job cannot. In the end, Job says I had heard of you but now I see you. Your ways are too marvelous for me to understand, and I repent in dust and ashes. Sometimes we have to just trust that God is working and He knows best. He created the universe and loves us deeply. His ways are not our ways, but they are always best.”

His eyes were red. He seemed to hang on my every word.
“I suspect there is a heavy burden you carry,” I said, “And your prayer is going seemingly unanswered.”

“Well see...now can I ask you something else? No one loves me except my wife. I have a hard time trusting that God would love me.”

“Do you know Jesus as your Lord?” I asked.
“Oh yes.”

“Well, I don’t know about all the others in your life... whether they love you or not. But I do know God loves you immeasurably. The Bible says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That means before you ever submitted your life to Jesus, He was willing to die a gruesome death on the cross to pay the penalty for sin you deserved. He saw you completely. Unlike all the people in your life, He saw every ugly thought, every sin. He knows everything about you. And He was still willing to die for you. THAT is love...unfathomable love.”

He grew teary-eyed as I spoke. Then he grasped my hand tightly. 

“May I make one more request? Will you pray for me this week?”

I told him I would pray for him for this week and beyond. “But please understand that you can do nothing to earn God’s love. He already loves you, from the moment of creation.  The Bible says: It is by faith not works that we are saved, lest any man should boast.” There is nothing you can do to lose His love either. The Bible says you are engraved on the very hands of God and that nothing can separate you from the love of God!

“You are made in the image of  our Holy God and even now, at your age, He has a divine plan and purpose for your life. He will help you to understand and know what that is. If you have truly repented of your sins, submitted your life to Jesus, believed He died to pay the penalty for sin that you deserved, you have the Holy Spirit in you. The Holy Spirit will guide and lead you. He will help you understand all you need to know. Mostly, He will help you to believe you are loved, absolutely loved by God.”

Then I asked if I could pray for him right now. He nodded and closed his eyes. I prayed mostly that God would truly reveal to this poor man how deeply loved he is. When I finished, the man squeezed my hand and thanked me. “This was a divine meeting,” he said softly.

Right after he drove away, a young couple stopped their car beside me. They were on their way to abort. I talked with them a long time. Much of our discussion centered on the Gospel, who God is and what He would have them do. Finally, they said they would leave and think over what I had said. To my surprise, they did. And they did not return. 

The abortionist arrived and the deadly slaughter began. I stayed long enough to be certain the young couple had truly had a change of heart and missed their appointment with death. The baby was safe, at least for today.

The full parking lot slowly disgorged women with sad faces. They averted their eyes as we tried to hand them healing literature for post-abortive women.

One would think my heart would be filled with angst, but it wasn’t. It was filled with hope and worship for the Lord that had allowed me to comfort a hurting old man with the Gospel, and one young couple who recognized that killing their baby was not what He would have them do.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

“I’m good....” As She Drives into Abortion Center






“Please let us help you...”
“Oh, it’s ok. I’m good.”
She smiles weakly, and then drives into the abortion center determined to kill her baby.

I have had this conversation a thousand times or so in the past six years on the sidewalk in front of the southeast’s busiest abortion center. 

Today, I perused an article in The NY Times about elderly people traveling to Peruvian jungles to take part in ayahuasca healing ceremonies. Ayahuasca is a psychedelic drug that causes hallucinations, vomiting, and diarrhea. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? The kind of healing we all can sink our soul into.

Apparently, it is touted as bringing about momentous healing to one’s tortured soul. One person in the article is described as saying after she took the hallucinogen, her soul told her it had been trying to talk to her a long time to say, “I’m okay.”

The increasing numbers of elderly people engaging in these healing ceremonies are described as seeking to find their purpose in life. The hallucinations, vomiting, and diarrhea apparently lead them to find it.

“Do you know the Lord?” I asked the woman who stopped to talk to me outside the abortion center yesterday.
“Of course,” she said.
“Would He have you abort your baby?”
She opened her mouth...but then closed it. With reluctance, she admitted He would not, shaking her head slowly.
“Please, let us help you. Let me talk to you about your situation and resources that can help. Let me show you your baby on the ultrasound before you make this life or death decision.”
“Oh it’s ok. I’m good...”

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time that I punish them, They shall be cast down,” says the LORD. Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it. ’”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6:14-16‬ ‭





Sunday, October 13, 2019

Pausing in the Face of Fear





A mother recently chose life at the abortion center, but she was as determined as anyone I have met to kill her child when I first encountered her. She stopped her car and looked at me, giving me an opportunity to speak. I think she was a little bit lost and was hoping I would direct her. 

I DID direct her…to Jesus rather than the abortion clinic.

Her window opened just the teeniest crack.

“Are you headed to the women’s center?” I asked.
“Yes…is this where it is?”
“We have information that can help you. Would you take it? We have so many resources including a free ultrasound on the RV parked just down the street.”

She shook her head and didn’t open the window any further.
“I CANNOT have this baby.”
I saw the tiniest tear creep out of the corner of one eye.

“You really don’t want to abort, do you? Do you know how far along you are?”

“I think eleven weeks.”

I opened my booklet and showed her the photo of an 11-week baby in the womb. “By now your baby has a heart beat, brain waves, ten fingers and ten toes, unique finger prints, every organ in place. What is your situation that makes you feel you have to abort?”

The window rolled down a crack further.

“I can’t have this baby. I can barely provide for the one I have.”

“Do you love that child at home?”

She nodded.

“Would you send that child back? Listen, I don’t know the specifics of what you face, but I know we can help. For example, we provide baby showers that give up to two years of the clothes and supplies your baby will need. We have so many other resources we can point you to. Please, take my booklet. My name and number are on it so you can contact me at any time, no matter what you decide.”

The window rolled down a little more. She reached for the booklet. I slipped it in to her.

“Do you know God?”

Now the tears began to cascade.

“What would He have you do?” I asked.

She cried out as though in pain, and slammed her fist down in a torrent of tears. Her shoulders shook with her cries. I think she knew exactly what Jesus would have her do…and abortion was not it.

“Oh honey,” I said, “would you consider coming on the RV and let’s talk about how we can help you?”

She lifted her head and looked down the street at our Cities4Life team stretched along the sidewalk.

“Are those protesters? I don’t want them to pressure me. They cannot talk to me at all!”

“They are with me. They are not protesters, they are offering hope and help. But they won’t talk to you.”

Honestly, I didn’t know how I could guarantee that. They are a friendly, loving group. They often offer help and encouragement to the moms who approach us. How could I telegraph to them this mom didn’t want them to come near?

“Drive down and park behind the RV,” I said. “I’ll meet you there.”

She nodded, rolled the window back up, and drove down the street. As I jogged behind her, I prayed she did not turn instead into the abortion center. She didn’t. She parked behind the RV. Our team, sensing the situation, didn’t speak to her. They smiled, but then continued reaching out to other moms entering the center. I am convinced the Holy Spirit guided all of them in that perfect response.

I walked the woman (who I will call Sarah) into the RV where the HELP Pregnancy Center sonographer, Kelly, met us. Kelly set up for the ultrasound while I talked with Sarah about her situation. As she listed her concerns, I wrote each one down. I then explained how we could help in each area. A friend who was meeting her at the abortion center arrived. That friend was visibly pregnant. In fact, she told us she had come to abort her baby just a few months ago at this very place. In the end, she changed her mind but didn’t tell any of us on the sidewalk. 

“I am so glad I didn’t abort,” she said.

I offered her the same resources we now offered Sarah. Then we went to see Sarah’s baby on the mobile ultrasound. When the baby’s image appeared on the screen, Sarah’s mouth fell open and she cried out in a voice filled with wonder. “I thought it was just a clump of cells! Oh my. This is really real. Oh my.”

She continued to gasp in shock and delight as the little baby moved and stretched. I knew at that point there was little doubt the baby was safe now. His mama had seen him for what he was — her child. A precious tiny vulnerable human whom God had perfectly designed Sarah to protect.

When I walked her to her car, she stopped before getting in. “Thank you so much. I feel so much better. And I feel humbled. I learned that I should not be in such a rush. I need to think more before I take action.”

“You were in a crisis and let fear take over,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Fear is a nasty liar. A life and death decision should never be made on the basis of fear. Trust God to guide you instead.”

*****
Psalm 34:4
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

*****