When It Goes Downhill

We have a basketball hoop on a pole in our driveway. Our toddler cannot yet shoot or dribble, but he watches the big kids and chases the ball for great lengths of time. He tries to climb the pole to get closer to the net, and he waves his arms for someone to hold him up for a slam dunk.

Fighting for justice in a broken world sometimes feels like trying to sink a goal that’s out of reach. We have different strategies for how to get there, and we may inch nearer to resolution as we flap our arms, but true justice—God’s justice, the kind of flourishing for all that we want so badly—resides at an impossible elevation.

By our own strength, we cannot bring down God’s justice. Even Martin Luther King Jr., the giant of the American civil rights movement, understood this. His constant call was not for human force but for “unarmed truth and unconditional love [that] will have the final word in reality,” as he said when he accepted the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. All the way until his moving final speech in Memphis in 1968, in which he declared he’d “been to the mountaintop,” King seemed to know that justice would not come by his own efforts, but that God would ultimately prove his efforts worthwhile.

King’s message was anything but passive. But his pursuit of justice in many ways mirrored the ministry of Jesus: It was more a descent than a climb.

On their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, God’s people sang songs that included Psalm 120: “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace” (v. 6). It foreshadowed Jesus’ holy complaint in Luke 9:41, “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” Yet Jesus took on our hate, our pride, and our enemies to be sure that there could be hope for us when we sing. Jesus made the descent for us, making it possible to cry out in the times when we are overwhelmed.

When fear and cynicism threaten to steal our joy—when we allow our consumption of bad news and media to overtake our participation in prayer—we need only to look to him and to sing back his own song of justice, to remember what he already accomplished on the cross. His lament becomes our praise; his descent, our resurrection.

Wherever you are holding anger, when you have been betrayed, when you see the vulnerable overlooked or commodified, he is near. Look for his compassion to rush into the places of disunity, war, and dissonance. While we may not have the power to fully defend and correct what is broken in the present, he is still God in our midst.

“Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12–13. “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Recently, I climbed up a rusted old water tower in southern Texas with some musician friends on a break while recording. We caught the last moments of the sunset. From up there, we could see across the border into Mexico, and I thought about how prayer lifts us to the heights, where we can see across borders for a wider view of God’s redemption.

When I sing about justice, when I think about borders and wars and family divisions and the hidden wounds of racism in our country, it feels like I’m waving my arms like my toddler. But our cries are not empty. Through prayer, community, and the Scriptures, God’s Spirit enables us to see as he sees and to participate in his justice.

I can see it in the faces of my friends who have leaned in close to Jesus amid suffering: These are the ones who have the greatest capacity for both compassion and truth-telling, who exhibit the character and hope of Romans 5:4.

When I get weary, I think of the prophet Amos’s river of justice that King preached about often. I imagine the New Jerusalem, where the new heavens will not rise from us but will be brought down to earth (Rev. 21–22). I consider what it will be like to see the full radiance of God in that place, to see the healing of the nations on the banks of this justice river. From high to low, the new order of the kingdom is coming down to meet us, right where we need it most.

S. McCracken

Getting Away with Murder

Could a society get away with a systemic culture of murder? As I have been researching missionary biographies while writing a sequel to Daring Devotion, I could not help but notice a disturbing trend across the world.[1] We humans kill our own young.

Accidental Research

I did not purposely seek out this information. I was looking for inspiring stories of dependence upon God. However, as I read the firsthand accounts of missionaries encountering either primitive cultures or the remnants of ancient civilizations, their descriptions often included societally accepted (or even demanded) practices of infanticide. This depraved pattern transcended ethnicity, forms of government, local religions, and societal structures.

Tahiti

On the pristine island of Tahiti, twenty-four-year-old Queen Tetua-nui Taro-vahine lived an idyllic life. Her servants carried her on their shoulders wherever she wanted to go as cool breezes rustled the palm trees above her. Because the island easily produced abundant food, including delicious tropical fruit, a relaxed atmosphere permeated the society. Despite being married to the king, the queen could spend each night with whomever she pleased. The only inconvenience was her healthy fertility. Already the queen had birthed three children. Each she calmly murdered as soon as they appeared. Tahitian society of that day approved since the infants’ different fathers were all of a lower class. The children were not fit to live. Across the island, Tahitian women also followed the same tradition as their queen.

Nigeria

In Nigeria, Mary Slessor ran through the jungle to rescue dying infants. In the society of Calabar, local superstitions taught that when twins were born, one was a demon. To be safe, both babies must die. Soon, Slessor’s home burst with the children that she managed to rescue before their parents killed them.

China

In northwestern China, the reasoning was different but the result the same. Grandmothers sometimes poisoned their granddaughters simply because they were female. Few in society blinked an eye. This was the grandmother’s right, even if she bashed the baby’s head in. Females were not worth the effort and expense to raise.

India

In southern India, rather than kill unwanted babies, many were sold to the Hindu temples. These children became slaves and prostitutes under the guise of a holy occupation. Amy Carmichael fought to rescue and care for these helpless children.

Canaan

Long before the other examples, the Bible traces infanticide thousands of years before Christ. In ancient Canaan, parents appeased the Phoenician god Molech by placing a screaming infant in the outstretched arms of a towering idol and burning the child alive. Archaeologists dig up child sacrifices from one end of the world to the other.

Back to Barbarism

By now, you are wondering why you have read so far in this article. This is horrific! Why would anyone want to read this—much less do this?

But wait. What if a society became so advanced that they could quietly eliminate unwanted infants? What if they knew the dying infant could feel searing pain but no one could hear its voice? Then, what if they justified murder by redefined what a baby is, despite the fact that ultrasound technology clearly and scientifically proves that a fetus is, in fact, a human baby? What if that culture praised the practice as humane to prevent the overpopulation of the planet and the proliferation of uncared for children? What if the sale of the dead baby’s DNA and organs could lead to scientific breakthroughs? Though such practices are proclaimed as progressive, is this not, in fact, regressive—falling from civilization to primitive barbarism?

Judgment

No society gets away with murder forever. God gave the Canaanites four hundred years to repent before severely punishing them. Foreign invasion and colonial rule forced India and Nigeria to curtail their abuse of children.[2] A bloody civil war rocked Tahiti, and venereal disease decimated their population. Though many additional factors contributed in each case, judgment fell on societies that murdered or abused their own children. Will it happen again? Will God use civil war, foreign rule, or even disease to judge such a wicked, child-killing society?

Hope

Is there no hope? The seeming impossibility of changing a culture of death also confronted missionaries like Henry Nott in Tahiti, Mary Slessor in Nigeria, and Amy Carmichael in India. What did they do?

  • They spoke up on behalf of the helpless.
  • They rescued the individual babies that they could.
  • Even more importantly, they shared the gospel.

Only God can change a society, and God works one by one. God uses His people as they reach out in compassion to lift up mothers in need and to adopt orphans. God communicates through His people as they speak His truth in love. He offers forgiveness and healing through Jesus Christ. As individual hearts change through the power of the gospel, minds change to see life as God sees it—to value children as God values them. Our hope is in God and the gospel.

M. Conrad

Advice from Max Who Was Vaccinated and Still Caught COVID

Pastor and New York Times bestselling author, Max Lucado, has contracted coronavirus after he had been vaccinated.

Due to go on a golf trip in Ireland with friends after preaching in Oak Hills Church, he will instead spend his time in quarantine at home.

Lucado made the announcement on Twitter Sunday, stating. “Groan; Covid found me. Tested positive yesterday. Was planning to preach today @oakhillschurch and go with some guys on epic golf trip to Ireland tomorrow. Turns out it’s me in a downstairs room with aches, stuffy head and quarantine. Yuck.

“Still- there is reason for thanks. Good docs. Amazing wife. I’m at home instead of a hotel. My dog likes me. Though miserable, the misery would have been worse with no vaccination. So doing my best to count blessings.”

Being a thoughtful pastor, he still found the opportunity to care for his flock, stating, “Help me put this time to god use- how can I pray for you? Heaven knows, I’ll have the time to do so. Post any prayer needs and I’ll gladly pray on your behalf. Our good Father can’t catch Covid. I’ll hang out with him.”

In March last year, he posted a video to Youtube encouraging Christians not to succumb to fear. “If you feed your faith, your fears will starve,” Lucado stated in the video below he shared to Youtube. “If you feed your fears, your faith will starve. We need to make an intentional decision during this season of high anxiety and turbulence, to encourage one another and to feed one another’s faith.

“I know we’re getting new news day by day. I know that developments are changing – it seems by the hour. But let me tell you the thing that has not changed. Our Heavenly Father is still on the throne. I love what Chuck Swindoll always says: that God is not sometimes sovereign. He’s always sovereign. He really is folks, he really is.

“We’re going to get through this. It may not be quick. It may not be easy, but God is going to use this for good. The challenge that awaits us is to not give in to despair, not do foolish things. But to trust, to trust, to be that voice of trust.”

While the jury may be out as to the effectiveness of vaccines, which have not had sufficient time to be thoroughly tested, there are reports that those contracting Covid after being vaccinated get a much weaker case of the virus than those who have not been.

Lean Into It

This spring I attended a two-week journalism class in another part of the country. I felt stretched and challenged by every assignment, but one of the most complicated projects was creating a one-minute video news clip about a specific Supreme Court case.

I know a one-minute clip doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was to me; I had never done any broadcasting work before, and my knowledge of legal processes and terminology is very lacking.

I soon learned that I wasn’t the only one feeling out of her depth. I overheard a fellow student talking with one of the instructors. She was fighting back tears and turned to go back to her seat, but the instructor stopped her, assuring her that it was OK that this was hard. “We’re here to do hard things and let it stretch us,” he told her. “So lean into it.”

It’s easier to check out

When I face a challenging task or assignment, my natural response is to avoid it. It’s so much easier to procrastinate. Binge-watch something. Scroll through Facebook or suggested YouTube videos.

But our instructor was right: Doing hard things stretches us. Grows us. I know that I need to grow in several areas of my life. It turns out that the challenges I try to avoid will probably be what God uses to grow me. So when I’m faced with my next challenge, here are some tips that I’m going to try to follow. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful, too.

Break it down.

For the video news segment project, our instructors broke the assignment into several steps. Each step had its own deadline, so it was nearly impossible to get too far behind. Zeroing in on one specific task at a time instead of the whole project makes it less intimidating.

Set the timer.

It’s so easy to fritter away time. Last night I planned to work on this post and wasted time on my phone instead. Focus on your challenge for a set amount of time. It can be 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour — whatever gets the job done without being too overwhelming. When you think of something else you’d rather do, remind yourself you can do it just as soon as your timer goes off.

If needed, ask someone to hold you accountable.

Sometimes we won’t need outside help to do hard things. But if we keep putting off a task or assignment, a little accountability can be revolutionary. This summer a group at my church is trying to memorize a set number of verses. Confession: I have yet to start memorizing. I know, I know — I should have started weeks ago. Two Sundays ago, I told one of the middle-school girls in the group that I still need to start and asked her to ask me about it later. Maybe she’ll help me get on track. Maybe she’ll forget — but I need to start memorizing in case she does ask me!

Celebrate the wins.

Once you’ve met your goal, don’t just move on to the next thing. Step back, take a deep breath, and enjoy this moment: you completed something that wasn’t easy. Good job!

The day of small things

Many of our tasks and assignments — even the challenging ones — don’t seem that important. They aren’t usually life-changing.

But hallelujah, God cares about our little efforts, too. I think in some ways He might even prize our unseen work more than the things we do mostly because we know they are important. He sees when we are faithful and diligent in little things, even if nobody else ever notices.

During that two-week class, I often felt like each new assignment was just as daunting as (or more than) the one before. But each time I found I enjoyed it more than I expected. And I’d like to think I grew a little more with each one.

L. Dunn

Would Jesus Wear a Mask Today?

It’s the great theological question of the day. Christian writers are blogging about it. Churches are falling out over it. It has become a more divisive issue than Brexit, BLM, or Baptism! The question is: ‘would Jesus wear a mask?’

In the good old days, churches used to split over issues like wearing hats, speaking in tongues, or having guitars in worship. Today we fight over wearing masks, speaking at all, or having any kind of sung praise.

Think of Rev Charlie Boyle, vicar of All Saints Brankscombe in Dorset, who on Easter Sunday carried a cross down the aisle of his church singing ‘Thine be the Glory’ without a facemask on! A member of his congregation dobbed him in – and for this heinous sin he has been suspended and could be sacked from his job. Denying that Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday would not get you sacked; refusing to wear a mask could.

Why has this become such a toxic issue – even in the church?

Tim Farron, the Christian MP sums up the case for Christians wearing masks – it’s what Jesus would do, because it is the compassionate thing to do.

Tim compares it with breaking wind in a lift. It’s not nice. You wouldn’t do it. Moving from the trivial to the holy, he then compares it with Jesus going to the cross – he did not call down angels to spare him from the cross so we should not be standing by our rights not to wear a mask.

There are as many holes in that argument as there are virus gaps in a cloth mask! Whilst the point is valid about not standing up for my own rights, that is not really the lesson from the cross. I am not atoning for my sin, never mind others, by wearing a mask.

To reduce the whole argument to ‘it’s a nice and compassionate thing to do’ is to fall into the trap which Tim is trying to avoid – just repeating the memes in the culture war, because it presupposes that wearing masks works.

Some people used to wear those ‘WWJD’ arm bands. Perhaps we should have ‘What Would Jesus Do’ on our facemasks? But it would be better leaving it as a question, rather than a doctrine or the 40th Article – this, I’m sure, is what Jesus would do!

I don’t really know whether or not Jesus would wear a mask. What I am more concerned about is what he would want us to do. Of course, we are to love our neighbour – which does include compassion – but it also includes thinking, and asking, what is the best way to love our neighbour?

What’s the downside to masks?

They create and perpetuate fear. As a form of ‘nudge’ theory, so beloved by the behavioural psychologists advising the government, they act as a visible reminder of the ever-present danger. In that sense they have become a visible sacrament, fending off the evil Covid. But fear is a dangerous weapon to use and the collateral damage from it is far reaching.

The journalist, Laura Dodsworth, makes this point strongly in her book A State of Fear: “Introducing a measure without an exit strategy can create more problems. In this case, it is that we are still wearing masks. They have turned the UK population into walking billboards that announce we are in a deadly epidemic. Every time you go into a public space you are reminded by masks of the epidemic. And then the idea that they help (even if they do not) is reinforced. Did you survive your trip to the supermarket? Only because you were wearing a mask! Did you contract Covid on the Tube? No? It must be the mask that saved you! The unintended consequence of the masks is that they keep the fear alive and modify our behaviour, and this has proven useful as far as the behavioural scientists are concerned.”

I’m not sure any Christian should be encouraging any fear – except the fear of the Lord. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wear a mask – but it does mean we should be careful about exaggerating what we are doing. Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told Sky News: “The way in which we focused on that is, I think, another signal of the levels of fear – we’re clinging to something which is visible, but doesn’t actually achieve very much.”

On the other hand, they give a false sense of comfort. Whether it is Joe Biden saying that masks are the weapon we have to defeat Covid, or John Swinney, the Scottish government minister who this week got in trouble for retweeting a false meme which states that if you are both masked and six feet away from people you have 0% possibility of getting Covid, the message has been wrongly given that masks give you a high level of protection.

Dr Colin Axon, one of the government Sage scientific advisers, points out that “the best thing you can say about masks is that any positive effect is too small to be measured.” 

The reason for this is that Covid 19 is spread by aerosol – not just the large droplets put out by coughing, sneezing, or laughing. According to Dr Acton cloth masks have gaps that are 5,000 times the size of the covid virus. It’s like firing marbles at a builder’s scaffold – some will hit the posts, but most will get through.

Masks limit communication. We are a visual species. Our faces speak. It’s why preaching online is not the same as preaching in person – because you cannot see the faces of people. Our faces are essential in communication.

Masks hinder worship. This ties in with the communication. Singing, preaching, praying, interacting with one another is made all the more difficult with masks.

Masks pollute. We are all supposed to be climate friendly nowadays and against the proliferation of plastic. It is estimated that around 130 million masks are disposed of every month. According to the UN, some 75% of masks will end up in landfill or waterways – creating a significant pollution problem. 

Masks themselves can become a health risk. The wearing of masks has seen an increase in the skin condition known as ‘maskne’- which covers such things as acne, perioral dermatitis, and folliculitis.

And finally – masks divide. Sometimes literally. I know of at least one church where there is a section for those who are masked, and a section for the unmasked. It’s almost as though there is a section for the unclean. For a while in the US, to wear a mask, or not to wear a mask, was seen as a sign of political affiliation.

Masks should be about health use. Period. Not about political affiliation, not about psychological manipulation, not about virtue signalling, and certainly not about theological orientation. To claim that wearing a mask is what Jesus would do is a big claim – because it immediately identifies those who do not wear masks as those who are ‘un-Christlike’ – which is about the worst thing you can say to a Christian.

And it does so on a fairly shallow understanding of the evidence and an assumption that the studies you have seen on the internet are better than the studies seen by those who disagree with you.

So, at least in the Church, perhaps we can tone down the rhetoric, the apocalyptic talk, and the cheap jibes at those who may not share our views? Perhaps we should let people think for themselves and let each be persuaded in their own minds (Romans 14:5)? I will wear a mask when I am commanded to by law, I will wear it when I am in the home of a weaker brother or sister who is afraid that I may be bearing the virus; but I will also reserve the right to think for myself and to refuse to participate in the fear mongering, vitriol and virtue signalling that goes on on all sides of this debate.

Meanwhile in a world that seems to be increasingly hiding itself under a shroud of fear and despair, I look forward to the day when all believers will see the Lord with ‘unveiled faces’ and be totally transformed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

David Robertson

China Now Targets Christian Children

Police in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China again summoned a homeschooling father for questioning, this time on suspicion of “illegal holding of materials promoting terrorism and extremism”.

The July 7 detention is the latest in a series of troubles with Chinese authorities for Zhao Weikai, a 35-year-old Christian from Taiyuan Xuncheng Reformed Church whose refusal to stop homeschooling his three children led to a home raid and charges of proselytism in May.

Zhao Weikai, Li Xin, and their three children

The case signals an increase in China Communist Party intervention in Christian homes.

The Party overrules the parents in every aspect of a child’s life. Parents must act as extensions of the state or face severe punishments. In the case of Brother Zhao, his Christian beliefs prevent him from subjecting his children to an atheist public education. The response of the authorities was to detain him, raid his home, confiscate his home schooling materials, and investigate him as a terrorist.

Zhao and his wife Li Xin have repeatedly been summoned by officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau, Education Commission, and the National Security Agency and threatened with arrest for their refusal to send their children to public school. Brother Zhao and Sister Li refused to compromise their beliefs and instead continued to provide Christian education for his children in his home.

Twenty police officers then raided Zhao’s home on May 17, showing Zhao a subpoena for proselytism. First Brother Zhao, and then later Sister Li, were summoned to the police station while officers who remained in the family’s home confiscated books, a computer, a hard drive, and a flash drive. Li was released the same day, but Zhao was forced to serve a 15-day administrative detention penalty and was denied visitation by his family and attorney. When his attorney complained, authorities said that because the case involved classified information and national security concerns, the visitation request was denied.

Police used the investigation of Zhao’s home schooling to gather information about Zhao’s church. Zhao is not the pastor of Taiyuan Xuncheng Reformed Church, but he works closely with the church’s minister, An Yankui. Brother Zhao and Minister An studied theology together in Chengdu Huaxi Seminary, a Christian university founded by Pastor Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain Church who was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019. It would appear to be a case of guilt by association.

Brother Zhao with his wife and children after his release from the Lishi Detention Denter, where he was held in May.

Minister An wrote, “They arrested Brother Zhao without an arrest warrant and searched his home without a search warrant. They summoned and detained him using the excuse of home schooling his children, but they interrogated him about our church, completely irrelevant to the case. Until now, his family has not received any document, not even a list of items they impounded nor a detention notice. Everything remains a secret, a public secret. CCP authorities persecute God’s church.”

Zhao’s case reveals more than Communist Party concerns over home schooling.

For years, the Chinese government tried to control Christianity by cracking down on China’s megachurches. But Chinese churches responded by shifting away from the megachurch model of professional pastors and Christian educators to a home-based model where Christian parents like Zhao and Li take the primary responsible for the evangelism and discipleship of their children. The Chinese government knows that it is the home-based model, not the megachurch model, that is the future of the Chinese church. So they are devoting more and more state resources to cracking down on Christian parents. As Christians in the rest of the world, we need to devote more of our resources to supporting Chinese Christian parents like Zhao and Li. They are the new “front line” of the Chinese church.

S. Foley

Now There Is Demisexuality. Heaven Help Us.

Earlier this month, Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo, daughter of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, announced that she now identifies as “demisexual.” As she described in the interview, her journey has gone from identifying as straight to identifying as bisexual to identifying as pansexual to now, finally, demisexual. This latest identification refers to someone who is sexually attracted only to people with whom one has formed an emotional attachment. 

This kind of “I want it to be special” approach to sexual intimacy is nothing new, of course. (In fact, I think it was the plot of almost every teen coming-of age movie in the ‘80s and ‘90s.) On one hand, reattaching sexual behavior to emotional attachment is an improvement over the no-strings-attached hook-up approach, or the digital replacement of porn addiction. On the other hand, considering an emotional attachment as a way of expressing (and therefore identifying) oneself, rather than as a measure of relational maturity isn’t an improvement at all. (Not to mention, the only way to be a “demisexual” in good standing, with all of the other identifications, requires that one not prefer male or female in one’s emotional and sexual connections. So, it wouldn’t be accurate to think of demisexual as the return of “Pretty in Pink”.) 

It’s difficult to keep up with these new identifications and all the rules governing them. As someone recently suggested, perhaps we should just change the acronym to “LGBTQ-TBA” and be done with it. After all, no sexual behavior was considered a category of identity until recently. Now all are; a move which ensures that none are considered wrong, unnatural, or immoral.

The essential points to understand about this whole discussion are that, first, sexuality is no longer seen as behavior in our culture, but as identity. In other words, rather than something we do, sexuality is who we are. Second, who we are is considered fluid, not fixed. So, a journey through the acronym, like Michaela’s, is self-discovery not a crisis. Increasingly, educational and social forces push the young on this journey, while the whole culture cheers them along.  All of this may seem nonsensical, even observably wrong, but is widely assumed as true and normal.

Christians must understand what’s happening and be prepared to respond if we are to love God and our neighbors in this cultural moment. That will involve, at the very least, telling the truth. Anything less is not to love the victims of our culture’s worst ideas. 

We must be prepared also to offer the far better vision of identity, love, sex, and friendship found in the Christian account of reality. To not offer the better way of the Gospel would be heartless and foolish. Not only do we have a better story to tell, but the timing is right. This late chapter of the sexual revolution is exhausting itself (and all of us) in its perpetual fight against reality. In other words, there is a grand opportunity in front of us.

For example, the growing rift between the letters of the sexual orientation acronym, particularly the L’s and the T’s, will prove irreconcilable. While the T’s attempt to silence all dissent from absolute gender fluidity, many of the L’s still think that bodies and biology matters. The growing tension is leading some members of the LGBTQ+ community to cancel each other.

This is the only way for those who have learned, even if subconsciously, their ideological rules of engagement from critical theory. The only way many have to advance their ideas is through power not argument. This is great if you are on the strong side of the issue, but not if you are on the other side. In the ensuing chaos, the church will have ample opportunity for victim care.

And, we can be a voice of reason. My friend Kathy Koch often notes how ridiculous it is to ask grade school kids who are not sexually active what their sexual orientations are. While the culture treats sexual orientation like race, the Church has an opportunity to help children unlock who God has made them to be and how He has uniquely created them in His image. 

This can inject some stability into youth who are living in a culture that offers none. And it injects God into the conversation, a critical point in countering the rise in suicide among young people. As my friend Dr. Matthew Sleeth has argued, the greatest determining factor of suicide success, even among those who experience suicidal ideation, is whether the person believes that God exists or not. 

As C.S. Lewis outlines in The Four Loves, the biblical understandings of love are simply better than anything currently on offer, and are written into the very fabric of life. These loves point us to higher questions of meaning and purpose, and are beautiful when described and when embodied. 

I pray that Ms. Kennedy-Cuomo will find what she’s looking for, but it will never be through identity tourism. Maybe a Christian can point her to a better way.

Does God Care About My Weight?

God cares about our devotions, desires, and disciplines, which direct our attention and anxieties. Our weight, concerns about our weight, or the value that others attach to us because of our weight can replace the truth of what God defines as our value and identity as being loved by Him. For good or for bad, weight can become our god, an idol to which we sacrifice time and attention, allowing our weight or the pursuit of some ideal to define our worth and steal our devotion – replacing our dependence on God for our value and identity. The balance to a complete complacence about our bodies and health is the recognition of the connection across the holistic components of body, soul, and spirit and their dependence in discipline upon one another. God does not have a holy scale in heaven by which he is gauging our waistline as a measure of love, acceptance, gifting, and usefulness. 

While our contemporary weight worries tend toward a concern with excess weight and much of human history worried about the scarcity of food and other resources, the desire for redirecting our attention and priority to the kingdom of God and His righteousness remains the same, with the reality of our physical concerns following through His provision and care (Matt. 6:33). Disciplines are interdependent but require prioritization in focus and intention, directing the disciplines of our body and mind to serve the spirit (1 Tim. 4:8).

Does God care about our weight? Yes, I believe that He does because He cares about us and the practicalities of our lives, but His greater concern is if our perception of our weight, or any identity, desire, or distraction, replaces His view of us. Our identity, value, and worth are defined as people loved by God (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 3:2), demonstrated through our alignment with His values, desires, and priorities (Ps. 37:4; Matt. 6:33). God desires our whole self to love Him and love others completely as our primary identity and priority.

While many of the examples around the expectations of the law, murder, forgiveness, adultery, divorce, unrest, giving, prayer, fasting, money, anxiety, and judgment remain highly relevant to our culture today, the capacity for self-reliance in excess within our society has flipped the concern around, from a fear of scarcity and lack to the need for restraint and contentment. The underlying message remains the same – on whom do we depend for our provision of value, identity, worth, and sustenance? From an emphasis on exercise and dieting to maintain or gain a certain weight to embarrassment or shame regarding our self-image, an emphasis on weight is a distraction from the need to center our attention and desires on God and the purposes and values of His kingdom. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). God cares about our needs, is aware of them, and will provide for them because He loves us (Matt. 6:25-31). Disciplined living across all aspects of life is necessary, supporting our freedom to love God and love others well through the disciplined exercise of body and mind as well (1 Thess. 5:6-11).

Viewing our weight and health through God’s eyes requires seeing ourselves the way that God sees us – loved. Our identity, value, and worth are defined in being created in the image of God and redeemed through the blood of Christ, confirmed in His resurrection. When I struggle to love myself it means that my priorities have shifted and I need to realign them to God’s kingdom priorities, loving God first with my whole heart, soul, and mind so that I can then love my neighbor as myself (Matt. 22:37-39). It takes the alignment of all of me to love God and love others. This love is activated and experienced through community. Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), which is abiding in His love, allowing that love to define our identity and reality, and then exhibiting that same love outward toward others (John 14:21; 15:12). God’s view is a view of sacrificial, everlasting love that is compassionate to the struggle and suffering of the body, calling us to dependence on Him in all things.

S. Scott

A Boy and His Unborn Sibling

When life already seems too much to bear, someone who comes alongside to support us can give us the strength and support that we need to face the future with courage and love.

We see this happen for our clients in the centers all the time.

Pregnancy tests are a common service provided at our centers. One particular day, Shanna came in for a pregnancy test with her 4-year-old son, Ethan. Ethan is a very precocious little guy who kindly drew pictures for all the center staff. When Ethan understood that his mother would be coming back, he gave strict instructions to keep his pictures posted on the wall until he returned. Soon after, Shanna returned for her next appointment. Tagging along of course was Ethan, as well as the father of the baby, who was currently living with another woman. Tearfully, Shanna said she didn’t think she could manage another child besides her son.

However, in the exam room, everything changed.

As soon as the ultrasound screen displayed, life flickered across the screen. Ethan began to wave and exclaim, “Hi baby! Hi baby! I’m so glad to see you! I’m gonna be your big brother and I’m gonna take care of you and teach you everything!” The little boy then took some raisins from his pocket, handed them to his smiling mother and said, “Don’t worry, Mommy. Eat these for your energy. I’m going to take care of you and the baby. We’re gonna be fine.”

For many of the women who come to our centers, the dominant voices in their lives are not supportive of her pregnancy. That’s why I’m so thankful for our center staff, our nurses, and our volunteers (who are beginning to return and serve at the centers after a year of COVID restrictions). These are the life-affirming faces and voices of support for our clients.

We know that the majority of women facing unsupported pregnancy will decide to birth their babies when they come to us instead of aborting them—when they experience the caring people in our centers, receive accurate medical information, and catch a glimpse of their baby through the ultrasound. And, when they find out that we can offer them resources and referrals through the first two years of their baby’s life, we see them become strengthened with the courage and love they need to embrace their little one and plan to either parent or make an adoption plan.

So many people in our community are facing the responsibilities and pressures of life without the hope of God’s love through a relationship with Jesus.

When I started as CEO here 20 years ago, the majority of women who came into our centers had some experience in a church. Yet today, we are among the first connections that most of these women will have with someone who represents the love and truth of Jesus.

More than ever, women, men, and their babies need an encounter with the living God, who is extending His love and life through us, His children and His representatives.

L. Gadbaugh

Hello Neighbor

They are your neighbors. When you pull out of your driveway, you wave at them as they water their lawn. Your kids attend the same school; they play touch football in your yard. You may have even picked up their mail while they were on vacation. But have you ever invited them to your church?

We are all guilty on some level of not being obedient to the imperative of Acts 1:8, sharing the gospel message with all who will listen. And many of us have not taken the step of inviting our neighbors to church. Some of us may not even know our neighbors.

We get home, pull the car in the garage, and hurry inside. In the morning, the process begins anew. If we know our neighbors, it is many times only on a superficial level.

Many of your neighbors are unchurched. Several of them may not know Christ. Who are they, and what are their perceptions? Our research team asked this question and found several things you must know about the unchurched.

Receptivity. Surprisingly, many people who are not currently attending a church are receptive to going. The reason they do not hear is that they have yet to be invited. If invited and accompanied, 82% of the unchurched are open to attending church with a friend or acquaintance.

Opportunity. One of the most saddening aspects of our research revealed that most of the unchurched have never had the gospel message presented to them! Very few of those outside of the church have ever had anyone, much less a neighbor, share their faith with them.

Positivity. While many of us may fall into the trap of believing that those who do not attend a church have a negative perception, the opposite is true. Most of the unchurched believe pastors and churches are beneficial to the public. Such positive perceptions should be an encouragement for the local church to reach out to their communities.

Courtesy. We all have a desire to be treated with courtesy. The unchurched segment of the population is no exception. While they are open to invitations and have a positive view of the church, they would rather be notified before someone showed up at their house. In other words, the best way to invite them into church is perhaps to invite them first into your home. Having them over for a meal and truly making the effort to get to know them is a good way to open them up for an invitation to church.

Sincerity. The majority of the unchurched would like to develop a real and sincere relationship with a Christian. Our neighbors who do not attend a church value relationships that go beyond a superficial wave and hello when we pass by them on walks through the neighborhood.

Spirituality. Most of the unchurched that have children are more concerned about the spiritual welfare of their children than themselves. The old adage “get the children in church, and you’ll get the parents there too” rings very true.

Honesty. One of the more surprising elements of our research involved who the unchurched wanted to talk to about spiritual matters. In fact, most of the unchurched would rather speak with a layperson than a minister about spiritual matters. The excuse that you lack theological training is simply not enough to pawn off your responsibility to share your faith. The unchurched want to hear about your honest spiritual struggles and victories.

Most of your neighbors who are not part of a local church are receptive to an invitation and have a positive view of the church. More importantly, the opportunity is there for gospel work. Be obedient to the calling of the Great Commission, and God will work great things in the church.

S. Rainer

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