No, the anti-abortion argument was not destroyed with a question

According to about half a dozen popular blogs (and another few dozen not so popular ones), a man named Patrick Tomlinson has destroyed the anti-abortion argument. Done for. Anyone who was against abortion no longer has a leg to stand on, it seems.

You see, Mr. Tomlinson has concocted a scenario so perfect that no sane person can maintain their pro-life stance in the face of it. He has silenced all protest. He has squashed all dissent. He has–

Okay, you know what, I can’t keep up the sarcasm this long. Who do I look like, Matt Walsh?

Mr. Tomlinson’s scenario goes like this: Imagine you are in a fertility clinic with a deadly fire raging. You hear crying, open a door, and there in the room is a 5 year old child in one corner, and in the other corner a shelf holding 1,000 viable human embryos. You can only save one – which do you save?

Supposedly, this scenario defeats anyone who claims that life begins at conception, because if you really believe that, then you believe that those 1,000 embryos are just as much human beings as the child, so you must opt for saving them rather than the child, because after all, wouldn’t it be better to save 1,000 lives than one life? But if you make that choice, you’re dooming a 5 year old child to death by fire, and what kind of monster would do such a thing?

According to Mr. Tomlinson, whenever he’s posed this question, no one can answer honestly because it betrays the hypocrisy of the pro-life argument.

Really? No one? He’s never posed this argument to any pro-life individual who can give a coherent response that is worth hearing? I find that difficult to believe.

I don’t believe in giving one-sided, “gotcha” style arguments for what I believe, because I don’t think they’re helpful. This is part of the problem I have with Mr. Tomlinson’s scenario, and it’s the problem everyone, including the pro-choice crowd, should have with his scenario. It does nothing to advance the discussion. It doesn’t make an argument. It’s a cheap “win,” if it could even be called that.

Which it can’t, because the scenario is burdened with logical fallacies and dreadful lack of creativity, and worst, it has nothing to do with the debate. See, those of us who are pro-life don’t live under some illusion that the world is devoid of tough choices, nor do we base every ethical decision on the number of lives we can tally up on either side of the equation. Saying we value all life equally doesn’t mean that we disregard all factors when deciding whose life to save in a desperate situation.

We live in a fallen world, and the only promises we have from Jesus about this fallen world are that we will have trouble, and that it will eventually come to an end.. Until then, we have to make hard choices, day in and day out. Contriving a no-win scenario and then being smug because we don’t have a perfect answer for it only proves how tragic this life can be. The only thing it doesn’t do is prove that pro-lifers are hypocrites.

When we say that we believe life begins at conception, we are acknowledging a reality given to us by God in his Word. When we say that we oppose abortion, we are saying that no matter how hard the circumstances, a child’s life is worth more than the difficulties it might pose. Contrived ethical dilemmas posed by science fiction writers via Twitter don’t dissolve such deeply held beliefs.

And if we’re looking for the answer to the truly difficult choices we have to make in this world, the answer is found in the words of Jesus: “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”

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The Election is Over – What Now?

For the last several months we’ve been scrolling through political posts on Facebook, sighing through political ads on TV, and throwing our phones through our windows after political arguments and conversations with our friends and family. Now that the election is past and we know who our president and other leaders will be, what will we do to pass the time?

Well, we could get right back on social media and express our outrage/triumph/ambivalence. We could drown ourselves in drink or chocolate or ice cream (or all three!) and feel sorry for ourselves. We could assign blame to groups of people or toxic attitudes or the media or demonic forces (I wouldn’t discount that last one) and feel better about ourselves. We could celebrate and pump our fists in the faces of our opponents, or take the streets in protest and break a lot of stuff. We could curl up in a fetal position and contemplate staying that way for the next four years.

But none of that would be all that helpful.

We could take the slightly more constructive approach of reposting memes reminding us all to try and get along, or articles asking us to be introspective and consider that the problems with our country might start with ourselves. I happen to agree with many of these sentiments, by the way, but I think we can do even better. Because if an election proves anything, it’s that we’re very good at polarizing ourselves, and not very good at considering the possibility that the people on the “other side” might have very valid and justifiable reasons for believing and voting the way they do. And I believe that the way to move past an election is to do more than just play nice or look inward. We need to be intentional about drawing together as a people, and those of us who have been called by grace should be leading that charge.

So I’m offering some suggestions for what we can do, and they all stem from the pen of Jesus’ best friend, John:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18

  • Trust the love of Christ. Jesus laid down his life for us. He’s not going to let the people he bought with his own blood suffer needlessly. His grace is with you.
  • Reach out to a friend, family member, coworker or neighbor who voted differently than you did. Affirm the positives of that relationship. Let them know you care about them.
  • Help someone nearby you who is in need. Let them see that the love of Christ is in you. Even a small act can have a big impact.
  • Repent of angry words and feelings against people on “the other side” of the issues from you. We’re all sinners. None of us have this completely right. Ask forgiveness, and then show forgiveness.
  • Be salt and light. This election put the dark sides of humanity on display in some pretty powerful ways, and exposed our culture’s sicknesses. Show that we have the cure by living as a redeemed child of God.
  • Share Jesus with someone. The Gospel is the power that changes hearts and lives. Use that power.

While it doesn’t come from anything John said, here or otherwise, I would also advise taking the time to read and digest Mr. Trump’s policies and plans. Whether you’re happy with the election or not, these are the plans that will set the direction for our country, so become familiar with them. Understand the goods from the bads, and decide what you need to do with your life to work within what is to come. I’ve seen a lot of fear about what Mr. Trump will do, and it’s hard to love from a position of fear. But it’s easy to fear what you don’t understand. Fight fear with knowledge, and trust it all to the God who holds the nations in his hands. He’s got this.

Rio Indio and the Soup Kitchen

There’s a phrase in a Bebo Norman song about “the depth of human need.” He’s describing the power of God’s grace to find its way to the deepest part of every person, to fill every hole in a heart that is hungry for hope.

Many times when people describe “human need” they are referring mostly to physical needs – food, clothing, shelter, medical care. But there’s a deeper need that we all have, that need for grace, for salvation. We need to know that we are loved in spite of the constant failures with which we are all too familiar. We need to know that we are loved when it seems that the whole world is against us. We need to know that we are loved when we feel completely unloved in any and every way.

That is the depth of human need. But make no mistake – physical need can run pretty deep as well.

A typical home in Kilometer 55

In Mahahual there is an area of town known as “Kilometer 55.” Years ago many of the locals owned pieces of land in this area, and though they were the poorer people of the town, what they had was theirs and they did what they could to live off it. The Mexican government came in and convinced them to trade their land to the government in exchange for government built houses, and were promised working water, electricity, and septic. What actually happened was the people signed over the one thing that was actually their own, the government built concrete boxes barely big enough to fit a family of four or five, and after nearly a decade is only just now beginning to keep their promise of electricity. Water is collected in cisterns on roofs or makeshift platforms. If a family has a septic system of any kind they probably installed it themselves. The power comes from a massive bank of junction boxes at the edge of the area, which the people must connect to themselves and run their own electrical line to their home.

The “power grid” for Kilometer 55. This is the bank of junction boxes that people string their wires from to power their homes. The word on the sign – “murete” – means “death.”

What can a small Lutheran mission do for such a people? Well, we can make sandwiches. We can bring the kids and their parents over to the church, give them a good lunch, pray with them and give them God’s Word. We can invite the kids back the next day for a Bible lesson and some snacks, and we can give them a backpack stuffed with basic hygiene supplies and school supplies. Is it enough to make a major difference in their lives? Maybe not today. But is it enough to show them they are loved? Is it enough to open a door for the Gospel? Is it enough to show them the grace of God and to give them a chance at maybe knowing him, so that they have hope? Maybe. Si Dios quiere – If God wills it. But… El Señor es siempre bueno – The Lord is always good. So not “maybe.” God can and will work good from the work we do. We leave it to him what that good will be.

Bible Study group at Rio Indio

We went to a place called Rio Indio for Bible study. It is run by a man called Gallo (pronounced “YAH-yo”, a sort of nickname for Gerardo), a gracious and friendly man who loves the Word, loves to study it and learn from it, loves to talk about his Savior, and enjoys speaking English to gringos (that last part was what he told me). He went around and got his friends and neighbors – including his boss, an old man called Santos – to come over for the Bible study. He was also very encouraging when us gringos read the Bible passages en Español.

After Bible study we loaded up in the van, and the people from the Bible study helped prepare and serve the food at the soup kitchen. I say soup kitchen because that’s what it was called for a long time, though now they mostly serve sandwiches, chips, and granola bars. A member of the church drives around Kilometer 55 picking up children and some adults and bringing them over to get a meal. We had a prayer, we interacted and talked to them about Jesus, and we invited them to the Saturday kids’ program.

Being here for such a short time, and only providing such small help can make one wonder if there’s really any good that can be done. The need is so great, and what can I do with just a few hours, just a few days? But I was able to tell a little niña about Jesus. I was able to build a relationship with a woman whose kids live in AZ, who really wants to learn English. I was able to remind a pregnant mom of three that God is good and will take care of her, even if she’s nervous and already somewhat overwhelmed. It helped to see men like Gallo and Pedro sitting nearby and reassuring her – men who seem like they carry in their heads and hands a wealth of know how. If she has something she needs, there are people ready to help. El Señor es siempre bueno.

There are so many opportunities to help people here. Making the most of them, being truly helpful to them, sometimes it is hard to know what to do. But even the smallest effort is appreciated, and even if all anyone does is speak the Gospel to someone when they are ready to listen, perhaps they have planted or watered the seed that God is using to change not just that person’s life, but the lives of many others.

Our Inexorable God

When the storm comes, you can’t fight it or stop it. You just take cover.

These last couple weeks our area has been slammed with two separate blizzards. School was canceled, roads were closed, and folks were advised to stay inside and stay warm. Much of the activity of our town – and most of the state, for crying out loud – shut down as people sought shelter from the storms.

Not that this is new for us in Minnesota. Winter brings the blizzards, summer brings the thunderstorms and tornadoes. Just another week on the celestial plains. But as such, we are familiar with this simple truth – when the storm comes, you can’t fight it or stop it. You just take cover. Who can stop the wind? Who can hold back the snow and rain? Who can fight against the lightning or tell the tornado to turn back?

The storm is unstoppable. Uncontainable. Inexorable.

Yet, there is one with mastery over the storm. As a man, he once lay sleeping in a boat while a storm raged on the sea all around him. His followers woke him, fearing for their lives and hoping beyond hope that he could do something. “Quiet! Be still!” he commanded, and the winds obeyed. The waves ceased. The storm was stopped.

If the storm is unstoppable, what must we say about the one who is actually able to put a stop to it? This is truly the Maker of heaven and earth. This is the one who sends the storm winds flying and calls them back again. This is the Master of all creation. This is God.

If we cannot stop the storm, could we ever hope to fight him?

God has promised that a day of reckoning is coming, when he will bring more than just snow and rain, thunder and lightning, wind and cyclone. He has promised that he will shake the pillars of heaven, sweep the stars from the sky, darken the sun and melt the moon, and all the earth will be laid bare before him.

Who will stop that final storm?

Unlike the storms that we face here, though, there’s no need to take cover when God comes. We don’t need to flee for shelter from his impending, inexorable presence. If God is truly unstoppable, then that means that whatever he intends to do, he will accomplish without fail. That same Jesus who calmed the storm on the sea made it his mission to save mankind. I love the way Luke records in chapter nine that Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem,” or, as another translation puts it, “set his face toward Jerusalem.”

The Master of all creation, the stopper of the storm, was unstoppable in accomplishing his goal of destroying the power of sin, death, and the devil. His grace could not be stopped. We soon enter another Lent season, and the storms of these past weeks have been a fitting reminder of the power of our inexorable God, whose unstoppable grace saved us all.

Divorce, Inevitability, and Grace

Divorce. Sometimes it just seems inevitable. By the time they get there, most couples feel like it is the only option. But the reality is that somewhere along the way, the divorce could have been prevented. Strong coulpes don’t wake up one morning and decide to end it. Usually it is simply a series of poor choices and misplaced priorities, and not enough effort to repair what is damaged.

That divorce is so prevalent is a symptom “what matters most is getting what I want when I want it” mentality that pervades our society. We don’t give a though to the consequences, we just make choices in the moment, believing those choices to be right because we feel like it.

Now, before you say, “Well, you just don’t get it. You don’t know my situation,” let me just say that you’re right, I don’t know what you’ve gone through. I can’t say if you were at fault or the other person was, what choices you could have made and didn’t. But here’s what I can say – somewhere along the way someone had a choice to either do what was best for the marriage or not, and they chose not. It could have been prevented.

Of course, by the same logic, sin could have been prevented. And it really could have. Adam and Eve could have made different choices. Adam could have been more proactive. Eve could have stopped listening to the serpent. Sin didn’t have to happen. But it did.

God uses the picture of marriage throughout Scripture to help us understand how he relates to us, and I think it’s an apt picture. He had a perfect relationship with his creation. One sinful choice broke the relationship, but God, in his infinite love, was not willing to leave the relationship broken. With firm commitment to doing whatever it takes, God stepped in and reconciled himself to us, restoring the relationship and covering over our sin. Like a husband who wants to be reunited with his estranged wife, God comes to us and says, “I forgive you. Be mine.” Through constant, consistent grace he does everything needed to repair the damage our sin caused.

I think it is for this reason that marriage is the biggest issue our society – or any society – faces. There is no area of our lives where we more clearly see a picture of how God relates to us. There is no human relationship more intimate than that of a husband and wife; there is no spiritual relationship more intimate than that of God to his beloved people. There is no human hurt greater than when one spouse betrays another; there is no spiritual hurt greater than to turn away from the one true God. There is no human love a beautiful as a spouse who forgives the unforgiveable; there is no spiritual love as beautiful as the God of free and faithful grace saying, “I will remember your sins no more.”

When we make a priority of doing all that we can to prevent divorce from ever becoming an option, we both reflect the gracious love of our God, and demonstrate it in micro for all those around us. In light of that, how could we not make every effort? How could we not set aside the “what I want when I want it attitude” and instead adopt the “What does God want” attitude?

It’s February, and if you’re in a relationship you probably don’t need to be reminded that you have about two weeks to come up with something romantic. Maybe you like to make the excuse that Valentine’s Day is just a contrived holiday made up by greeting card companies to sell more product. But let’s be honest – is there a wife out there who legitimately doesn’t like to be given some little gift of love on Valentine’s Day? I’ve never met one.

Make the most of every opportunity. Let the grace of God flow through your marriage. Show the love you’ve been shown.

What’s My Label?

Anyone who has gone through high school in the last 30-40 years have had it drilled into us not to put labels on people. We had assemblies and special days and campaigns that taught us that it is unkind and unhelpful and wrong to put people in boxes and assign them a label. Does that ever stop teenagers from segregating others into groups like “jock,” “nerd,” “prep,” (or whatever the groupings are these days)?

It doesn’t stop, though, when we get out of high school or even college. Even as adults we label. The labels get more complex, but we also tend to put them on the people closest to us, like our spouse, kids, coworkers, and fellow church members. We may not think of them as labels, but how different is it when we say things like, “My husband is so __________,” or “My wife is such a __________,” or “My kids are just __________”?

It really shouldn’t take us long to come to grips with the notion that such labeling, complex or not, isn’t healthy. It colors our expectations and interpretations and every negative label we apply damages the relationship. So why do we do it? It would be easy to blame it on sin in general, but we have to get more specific than that if we want to address the problem.

I  recently was at Camp Phillip for the Confirmation Retreat, and the Bible Studies were all on this topic. As I worked through it alongside the kids, it struck me how great a tendency I have to label myself. And I think this is where the problem starts.

I assign negative labels to others because they salve the inadequacies and insecurities I feel in myself. I label myself as weak-willed, and so to comfort myself I label others as overbearing or inconsiderate. I label myself as awkward, and so to comfort myself I label others as arrogant or cliquey. And on it goes. The sinful man in me feels better when it tears others down, emphasizes their weaknesses, and ignores their God-given individuality. Isn’t that wretched? It’s also true.

It might seem to that the solution is to work on my self-esteem and talk up my good qualities, make myself feel better about myself, and then I won’t be tempted to bring other people down. Just look in the mirror and practice some good old self-affirmation. And that might work, until the next time I bungle it big time and all my self-affirmation sounds hollow and naive.

The key is not assigning myself new labels that I can feel good about. That isn’t going to help me in the long run. What I need is to have someone else, someone I can be sure has my best interests at heart, tell me who and what I am. Maybe you see where I’m going with this.

God tells me who I am and what I am. And one thing he says about me is that I’m a sinner. The worst of sinners, in fact (1 Timothy 1:15). And at first that may not seem all that helpful. I mean, how is it better to be told how awful I am? But if the reason I am assigning labels to others is to try and minimize my own issues, then it’s actually really good to be reminded that I am a hopeless case. There’s no point in trying to make myself feel better if I know, for sure, that I’m as bad as it gets.

All that would be pretty depressing if there wasn’t more, but there is. God doesn’t just tell me I’m a failure and walk away. He also tells me I’m loved, that I’m forgiven, that I’m his child, that I’m chosen, that I’m called, that I’m redeemed, that I’m his workmanship, that I’m his servant. He tells me that through Jesus I am a priest and prince in his kingdom. This changes everything. There is nothing I can say or think about myself, no label I can apply, that can trump the God of the universe saying, “I love you, and you’re mine.”

With this going for me, I don’t need to label others to make myself feel better. I already have everything I need. Beyond that, the same thing God says about me he says about everyone, including those closest to me. If I know my family and friends are all sinners, I’m not going to expect better from them than I should expect from any other sinful human being. If I know they are loved and forgiven, I don’t have any reason to withhold my love and forgiveness. If I know they are God’s workmanship, uniquely talented individuals God has made, then maybe I can look for what makes them special.

The apostle James probably knew what it was like to carry some tough labels. “Jesus’ little brother.” “Not perfect like Jesus.” “Not as good at anything as Jesus.” No wonder he tried to label Jesus as “crazy” and tried to stop his ministry. We don’t know exactly James came to faith in Jesus, but we know that Jesus met with him privately after his resurrection (imagine being a fly on that wall), and that soon after James became one of the most important leaders of the Early Christian Church.

It changed everything for him. He let go of all the labels he had carried before, and was left wit this: “A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).

When Jesus tells you what you are, it changes everything.