A people of hope: Nazarenes on abortion

Environmental_day_specialAbortion legislation is coming fast-and-furious in the U.S. setting.  Multiple state legislatures  have been emboldened to pass restrictions, since the compositon of the U.S. Supreme seems to have recently shifted in a conservative direction, calling into question whether the landmark 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, will be overturned. At such a time, it’s helpful to review what our Nazarene Manual (2017-2021) has to say about abortion.

[Note: For those not part of the denomination, a bit of context is in order. Every four years, the Church of the Nazarene around the world sends delegates to a General Assembly. At the GA, decisions are made that govern the church. These decisions are codified in the Manual, the current version being for 2017-2021. The Manual also contains statements on social issues.]

Here’s the relevant section, from Manual 30.1, under the larger heading of “The Sanctity of Human Life”:

30.1. Induced Abortion. The Church of the Nazarene affirms the sanctity of human life as established by God the Creator and believes that such sanctity extends to the child not yet born. Life is a gift from God. All human life, including life developing in the womb, is created by God in His image and is, therefore, to be nurtured, supported, and protected. From the moment of conception, a child is a human being with all of the developing characteristics of human life, and this life is dependent on the mother for its continued development. Therefore, we believe that human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception. We oppose induced abortion by any means, when used for either personal convenience or population control. We oppose laws that allow abortion. Realizing that there are rare, but real medical conditions wherein the mother or the unborn child, or both, could not survive the pregnancy, termination of the pregnancy should only be made after sound medical and Christian counseling.

Responsible opposition to abortion requires our commitment to the initiation and support of programs designed to provide care for mothers and children. The crisis of an unwanted pregnancy calls for the community of believers (represented only by those for whom knowledge of the crisis is appropriate) to provide a context of love, prayer, and counsel. In such instances, support can take the form of counseling centers, homes for expectant mothers, and the creation or utilization of Christian adoption services.

The Church of the Nazarene recognizes that consideration of abortion as a means of ending an unwanted pregnancy often occurs because Christian standards of sexual responsibility have been ignored. Therefore the church calls for persons to practice the ethic of the New Testament as it bears upon human sexuality and to deal with the issue of abortion by placing it within the larger framework of biblical principles that provide guidance for moral decision making.

(Genesis 2:7, 9:6; Exodus 20:13; 21:12-16, 22-25; Leviticus 18:21; Job 31:15; Psalms 22:9; 139:3-16; Isaiah 44:2, 24; 49:5; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15, 23-25, 36-45; Acts 17:25; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 7:1ff.; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)

The Church of the Nazarene also recognizes that many have been affected by the tragedy of abortion. Each local congregation and individual believer is urged to offer the message of forgiveness by God for each person who has experienced abortion. Our local congregations are to be communities of redemption and hope to all who suffer physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as a result of the willful termination of a pregnancy.

(Romans 3:22-24; Galatians 6:1)

Continue reading

Advertisements

On restitution and tipping

US_Silvercert1By any standard, John the Baptist was odd.

Matthew 3:4 portrays a wilderness dweller clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food? Locusts and wild honey.

Most detect the explicit part of his message. We must repent, turning away from our sins. He warned the crowds who traveled out to gawk at this Elijah-like prophet:

Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven! (Matt. 3:3, CEB)

Yet there’s an often overlooked element to his fiery preaching. Repentance alone is insufficient. Once we have repented, there is a second step: “Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives” (3:8, CEB; italics added).

John the Baptist’s two-step sermon that day squares with a word from the prophet Ezekiel centuries earlier. God called Ezekiel a “lookout” to warn Israel about a “sword” that the LORD was about to bring against them — see Ezekiel 33:1-16. God had pronounced a “death sentence” upon them since they were a “wicked people” (v. 8). Yet this sentence was not inevitable. How could it be averted?

And even if I have pronounced a death sentence on the wicked, if they turn from sin and do what is just and right – if they return pledges, make restitution for robbery, and walk in life-giving regulations in order not to sin – they will live and not die (Ezek. 33:14-15, CEB).

Repentance alone was not sufficient. Israel was required to produce evidence of  repentance by paying back what they had stolen. The vital second step was restitution.

The online Oxford English Dictionary gives three definitions for “restitution”:

  1. The restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner;
  2. Recompense for injury or loss;
  3. The restoration of something to its original state.

Continue reading

5 lessons from the Cross

crucifixWe’re in the middle of the Lenten season, a time when Christ followers reflect on the sacrifice of our Lord.

Isaac Watts in 1707 penned the immortal lyrics to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The first verse reads:

When I survey the wondrous Cross

On which the Prince of glory died;

My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.

His invitation is fresh today, challenging us to ponder again the meaning of that sacrifice outside Jerusalem’s walls.

What are the lessons of the Cross?

  1. No good deed goes unpunished. Christian do-gooders, beware! There are forces who are invested in the status quo. Shine your light, but don’t be surprised when lots of people would prefer to douse it. Jesus said to Nicodemus: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19, NIV). Some things haven’t changed.
  2. Christianity was never meant to be a feel-good faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted: “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” It’s no accident that prosperity preachers rarely feature the Cross prominently in their sanctuaries or sermons. The Cross is a bloody instrument of torture, a reminder of what awaits every person who would follow in the footsteps of the Master.
  3. God doesn’t treat sin lightly. Sin is a tear in the moral fabric of the universe, one that isn’t easily mended. Hebrews 9:22b (ESV) reminds us that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” When Jesus came to be baptized by his cousin, John cried out: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV). The severity of sin is underscored by the costly nature of the sacrifice necessary to atone for it.
  4.  Non-resistance is a powerful force. This is the paradox of the Cross. Jesus, who could have called a legion of angels to his defense (Matthew 26:53), chose the much more difficult but infinitely more powerful course of non-resistance. It was his chance to practice what he had taught his followers: “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39, NLT). Our instinct is to meet force with force, like Peter who drew his sword and lopped off the ear of Malchus when he came with the soliders to arrest him (John 18:10). Jesus shows us a better way.
  5. Love is stronger than hate. Michael Card poetically asks: “Why did they nail his feet and hands, when his love would have held him there?” This is the most amazing of all spiritual insights at the foot of the Cross. The sacrifice of Christ is a demonstration of God’s love, and not because we earned it. Paul writes: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV, italics added). Perhaps Paul was thinking of the Cross when he wote to the Romans: “Do  not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, NIV). In the Cross, we have a picture of God’s love for us, a love that was willing to die that we might live.

These are just a few lessons of the Cross. These lessons are radical in an age when we’ve convinced ourselves that God exists to serve us and not the other way around. May the Cross remind us of the Cause we serve, One far greater than ourselves. May we cherish the promise of the eternal life reserved for those who dare follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha.

Taking Care of the Garden

leaf.jpgNote to the reader: I preached this sermon on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at University Church of the Nazarene, at the close of “Green Week” at Africa Nazarene University.


Text: Genesis 2:15 — “The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.”

INTRODUCTION

On my last birthday, my younger son gifted me with a black Cross™ pen. For me, it has sentimental value, besides being a sleek pen. Now suppose that Simon (the interpreter) had no pen, and asked to borrow mine. Then a week later, he brought it back to me. But instead of returning the pen to me as he found it, in good condition, it is badly scratched. The eraser is bitten off and the ink cartridge is missing. How would I feel? You’re right. I wouldn’t feel very good about it all!

OWNERS, OR STEWARDS?

God has loaned us something far more important than a pen. God as the owner of all creation has loaned us the Earth. It doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to God.

Psalm 24:1-2 (CEB) affirms:

The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, too. Because God is the one who established it on the seas; God set it firmly on the waters.

Turn to your neighbor and say: “The earth is the Lord’s.”

If God is the owner, then what does that make us? We are the caretakers, the stewards.

This becomes clear in the second creation account. Michael Lodahl calls it the “worm’s eye view.” No longer is it the “bird’s eye view” of Genesis 1, with God high above the creation. In Genesis 2, God is down in the dirt. It is there that God creates the human being (Adam) after he had previously created everything else.

And now in Genesis 2:15, God – the owner of the trees and the birds, the animals and the fish – entrusts their care into the hands of the steward, the human being:

The LORD God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it (CEB).

To take care of something that belongs to someone else is called stewardship. We’re accustomed to hearing that word in relation to other things. Often, we say that our money, time, and talents are on-loan to us from God. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6:20 goes as far as to say that even our bodies belong to God:

You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body (CEB).

Yet we may forget that besides money, time, talents and our bodies, God has entrusted something else to us as stewards. God has entrusted to us the Earth. That’s why we speak of “Creation Care.”

Sadly, we have sometimes used the Bible as an excuse not to care for the Earth but to exploit it. The old King James Version of Genesis 1:28 speaks of “having dominion” over the Earth and “subduing” it. And historically, some took that as a license to exploit nature, to cut down trees without replanting, to pollute the Earth’s waters and foul its air. But modern translations are better. The New Living Translation says:

Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the seas, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground – everything that has life. And that is what happened (Gen. 1:29-30, NLT).

 

adam eve
Adam and Eve take care of the Garden. (painting by Katherine Roundtree)

To “govern” is not to exploit. God calls humans to practice good governance, a benevolent reign.

So there you have it. We are not the owners. God is the owner of the Earth. Turn to your neighbor and say: “God is the owner.”

Continue reading

Of a forgotten time

out of africaKaren Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) published Out of Africa in 1937. In this classic memoir, she reflects upon her time as a small-time coffee farmer and expatriate living west of Nairobi, Kenya. Many know of Blixen thanks to the 1985 movie, “Out of Africa,” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, which is based upon Blixen’s account.

As one who lives and works only a few kilometers away from the community now called “Karen” (the upscale Nairobi suburb bearing Blixen’s name), some of the places she describes are places I’ve been. Her old tractor and the mammoth rusted coffee dryer sit adjacent to her old farmhouse, now a museum open to tourists. The Ngong Hills that she praises poetically also greet me each morning a century later, unchanged in their glory, though now hemmed-in by dwellings and businesses spilling over from Nairobi.

The reader is soon aware that Blixen’s workers and the squatters on her farm became for her like the children she never birthed, and she the matriarch. Her love for them is evident, though there is always a measure of condescension. Nowhere does she describe a “Native” (now an unacceptable descriptor) as an equal. Perhaps this stems in-part from her own high birth as a Danish baroness? A Kenyan reading the book today may take offense at some of the sweeping character generalizations she makes about Kikuyus, the Maasai, and others. The colonialist worldview tolerated in the early 20th century – which shows up in Blixen’s occasional use of the term “savage” and talk about “two races” (white and black) – sounds a false note in a book whose words-pictures otherwise let the account soar to orchestral levels.

 

K Blixen home
Karen Blixen home

 

Despite these shortcomings, Out of Africa, when considered as a snapshot-in-time, provides a fascinating portrayal of an era that is no more. Visitors to the museum should first read the book. This will provide context to better appreciate the compelling story of an intrepid European woman who – thanks to a 17 year sojourn – came to fondly view Kenya and its hospitable people as her second home.

 

 

God to the rescue

1024px-ROM_1500_MaryIt’s called Mary’s Song.

Elizabeth had just discovered that her young cousin was bearing the Christ child. “God has blessed you among all women, and he has blessed the child you carry” (Luke 1:42, CEB). What a gracious affirmation to a girl pregnant out of wedlock. Where others might have uncovered her shame, with her words, Elizabeth clothed Mary with honor.

Something in Elizabeth’s warm embrace made the dam break. Mary burst out in song:

With all my heart I glorify the Lord! (1:46, CEB)

In these 10 verses (Matthew 1:46-55), Mary extols the God who:

  • cares about those in humble circumstances (v. 48)
  • is mighty and strong (v. 49, 51)
  • is holy (v. 49)
  • is merciful across time (v. 50)
  • deposes the arrogant and powerful and lifts up the lowly (v. 51, 52)
  • feeds the hungry but sends the rich away with nothing (v. 53)

In vv. 54-55, her song comes to a climax. Among the poorest of an oppressed people, under the boot of the Roman conquerors, she praises the God who comes to the rescue! 

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever (CEB).

Rescue is a word we use less often these days, yet it’s a word with a rich heritage. As a boy, I remember singing the hymn: “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying.” In large cities in the U.S., churches sponsored “rescue missions” that ministered to men suffering from alcoholism, giving them a square meal and place to sleep in exchange for listening to a salvation sermon. (One such mission still operates in Kansas City, Missouri, ministering to men and women). The Nazarene church building in Pilot Point, Texas includes story boards of the home for unwed mothers run on the property in the early 1900s.

With such a heritage, and in-light of our God who comes to the rescue, what shall we do?

As God’s people, our call is to be like God: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, NIV). Mary’s Song fleshes out what holiness looks like. The one whose name is holy (Luke 1:49) can never be conceptualized apart from the God who acts in history. And how does God act toward people? God scatters the arrogant (v. 51), dethrones the powerful (v. 52) and leaves the rich to their own devices (v. 53). On the other hand, he empowers the lowly (vv. 48, 52) and provides for the hungry (v. 51). If this is what God coming to the rescue looks like, then it’s fair to ask ourselves:

What are we doing as a church that looks like that?

The Gospel has no political party. Our interest is always the Kingdom of God, set in motion when God incarnate came to the rescue in a manger in Bethlehem. This Christmas and always, I want to be part of the Rescue Mission. Let’s join our voices and sing Mary’s Song!


 

Image credit

Theonlysilentbob at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Great Role Reversal

28ae36946daf05c6172d09cad9686435-2Every married couple has to figure it out.

At the end of a long day when you’re both exhausted, it’s better to “divide and conquer.” Who will cook and who will wash the dishes?

Once in a while, it’s helpful to trade places. Do you normally cook? Tonight, clean up instead. If you typically wash the dishes, try your hand at cooking. Besides increasing versatility, role reversals let us walk in another’s shoes. Nothing fosters empathy more effectively.

Jesus modeled the Great Role Reversal. Paul captured this well:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9, NIV).

Christ, the Eternal Word, identified with us by becoming one of us. God put on skin. His name was Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:14-31) exemplifies role reversal. A man of wealth lived in luxury, oblivious to the plight of Lazarus, a sickly and hungry beggar.

[Note the subtle role reversal. Normally, everyone knows the name of a rich person, and poor people remain nameless. In Jesus’ story, the poor man has a name, and the rich man is nameless. Things work differently in God’s Kingdom!]

Jesus said that Lazarus “longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table” (v. 21, CEB). He lay at the pitiless rich man’s gate, where at least the dogs came and licked the poor man’s sores.

The rich man never saw the role reversal coming.

After death, Lazarus was comforted, carrried to Abraham’s side by angels (v. 22). There he found solace, while the rich man – who had also died – was tormented in the flames.  During their life on earth, Lazarus had longed for crumbs from the rich man’s table. Now, the tables are turned, and the rich man longs for a drop of water from Lazarus (v. 24). Abraham denies the request, reminding the rich man:

Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain (v. 25, CEB).

Likwise, at the close of a different parable about the coming Kingdom, Jesus concluded: “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NLT).

But I wonder:

Why do we need to wait until the end of time to live the Great Role Reversal?

How much closer to reflecting the Kingdom of God would our world be if those who bear Christ’s name (Christians) were willing to switch things up now?

 

13775428_10154406215918408_991907818067284364_n
Two street children in Antananarivo, Madagascar, circa 2010

 

Gavin Rogers, a pastor from San Antonio, Texas, joined a caravan of Honduran immigrants that has been making its way north through Mexico. For five days, he chronicled the kindness and humanity he witnessed along the exhausting path. Rogers concluded: “The only Christian response to immigration is ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” He learned by coming close to people that every need has a name.

Stories like that of Lazarus or pastor Rogers and the Honduran immigrants challenge me. Unlike the rich man, I am not wealthy, yet am I not also attached to my “creature comforts”? How might God be calling me to step into the shoes of another, to journey alongside them, to see things from their point-of-view?

Jesus was the master of the Great Role Reversal. May we together learn to follow in his ways.

___________

Image credit: pngtree.com