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All Other Ground Is Sinking Sand

February 18, 2018

Don’t run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Mark 8: 34-38, The Message

As a society, we are obsessed with self-help. We are always looking for ways to abate our loneliness, pain, and feelings of despair and self-doubt. If you google “self-help books” you will get thousands of results. There are no shortage of books to tell you how to improve every aspect of your life—from advice on “personal growth” to advice to improve your psyche, your relationships, your opportunities for employment advancement, and you-name-it. Now we also have Ted talks and You Tube to teach us how to be better at countless endeavors.

But Lent is about repentance and denial to self.   As we reflect on Christ’s suffering for our sake, we should also reflect on Jesus’ words: “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self” (Mark 8: 35, The Message)?[1] Or in another translation: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8: 35, New International Version). Why would Jesus tell us that self-help is no help? It’s important to understand that he is not telling us to sit back and let God do everything for us in our lives. In fact, God is insistent that we work diligently and sacrifice as we work toward fulfilling his goals for our lives (e.g. Colossians 3:23; Psalm 90: 17; Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 12:24; Proverbs 14: 23; Genesis 2:3).

In this week’s passage from Mark, Jesus is telling us that we cannot save ourselves. It is God who provides our refuge from loneliness, pain, and feelings of despair and self-doubt. Only God can comfort us during our lives and offer us a life with him forever. We must lean on Christ, our rock.

Before we built our house in the 1980’s, we hired a geologist to test what was beneath the soil to determine if it would sufficiently support the house we wanted to build in our earthquake-prone area. We learned that bedrock is beneath the solid clay soil on our lot and would support the house.  Likewise, if Jesus is the foundation of our lives, we can survive any seismic life event.  Jesus’ words reminded me of the verse from the old hymn My Hope is Built on Nothing Less:[2]My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

As Jesus tells us, self-help is no help. Left to our own devices, we are on sinking sand. He tells us that by relying on him, the rock, we will save ourselves.  Martin Luther understood this first-hand when a price was put on his head by the emperor after the Diet of Worms. He feared God more than the powers that be.  Heavily influenced by St. Augustine, this Roman Catholic monk’s eyes were opened by Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Like others before him and after him, he put his life on the line because he feared God more than the stake.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was another man who stood up to the challenge during World War II when many other clergymen were trying to appease Hitler. Luther and Bonhoeffer knew that they could not lean on their own understanding. They must be guided by God’s Word. They knew that even if they lost their lives on earth, they would gain eternal life. It is a choice that many people around the world must still make today.

Even after Jesus’ divinity was revealed to the disciples, they were faced with the decision of to whom and when the truth should be revealed. Jesus needed time to complete the work that he had been sent to do, and he needed time to prepare his disciples for what was to come. He needed time to give them the foundation that they would need to weather the storms ahead.

Peter had just confessed to him that “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8: 29),[3] but “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8: 30). And even though Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, neither he nor any of the disciples knew the full extent of what that meant. Peter wanted Jesus to be the conquering hero—the king—not the suffering servant described by Isaiah in Chapter 53.   Jesus needed time to further instruct them and to prepare them for the coming events that would change the course of history.

And so he began. He warned his disciples and the crowds that gathered around him “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it “ (Mark 8: 35, New International Version). He was telling them that they cannot help themselves—that they must listen to him and put their trust in him. He told them that if they want to save their souls, they must follow him. That was his message. The disciples didn’t turn to self-help manuals to learn how to teach others about the Kingdom of God. They turned to Jesus, the master teacher. They needed Jesus, just as we do.

He helped his followers understand that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8: 31).

The disciples didn’t know it at the time, but even the news of Jesus’ impending death was a message of hope. Paul explained years later that “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we gave gained access into this grace in which we know stand . . . we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5). We don’t always know how God will use the trials of our lives, but if we make him the foundation of our lives, he will use our experiences to further his purposes.

Despite the suffering we are called to endure during our lifetimes on account of the gospel and for other reasons, we have been reconciled through Christ and will live with him always. It is a message of hope that we are called to pass down: “Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Psalm 22: 30-31).

Self-help is no help—it is sinking sand. Turn to the power source. Turn to the rock. Turn to God and persevere, because perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Lent are Genesis 17: 1-7; Genesis 17: 15-16; Psalm 22: 23-31; Romans 5: 1-11; Mark 8: 27-38.

[2] Edward Mote, 1797-1874

[3] The Son of Man was the name that Jesus most often called himself. It comes from Daniel 7:13, and means the Messiah.

Being Tested

February 11, 2018

Tests are never pleasant. Whether it’s a blood test, a MRI, a biopsy, a Medieval Literature test, a physical education test, or an achievement test, we would almost always prefer to be doing something else than taking the test. Anyone who has taken the bar exam, especially in states with low passage rates like California, has a story to tell of difficulties experienced during the course of studying for or taking the exam. And most of us have a recurrent nightmare after we get the news that we passed that it was all a mistake. But these experiences pale in comparison to the tests recounted in our Biblical texts this week.[1]

Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent, a time for reflection and sacrifice. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is February 14th this year—when we will also joyously celebrate the loves of our life on Valentine’s Day. We will send expressions of love to our spouse, partner, friends, and family members. As we rejoice in our love for those closest to us, it is almost impossible to understand the test that God put Abraham through when he asked him to sacrifice his beloved son: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22: 2).

I would have pulled a “Jonah”—put my son in my SUV and taken off in the opposite direction. I get that the passage is about God’s testing of Abraham’s faith, and his insistence that we trust and obey him, but the test he put Abraham through seems beyond the pale. I plan to sign up for Moses’ class on Genesis when I get to heaven, and I am hoping that Abraham and Isaac will be our special guests when we study Genesis 22, so that I can finally wrap my head around what was going through their minds. After all, God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of all nations a dozen or more years earlier when Abraham was 99 years old (Genesis 17: 1-7). How could that happen if Abraham sacrificed his beloved son? Did he think that God made a mistake? Apparently not, because he followed the instructions he received. One commentator suggests “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac from death. When God’s people act in faith, they never try to designate the method God will use to achieve the ends they believe he has promised.”[2]

But of course, God knows exactly how Abraham felt, because he sacrificed his only Son for us on the cross, and actually went through with it. But even before he died on the cross, Jesus was tested a number of times, including during his time in the wilderness just before he began his public ministry: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being temped by Satan.” (Mark 1: 12).

God shows us in these Scriptures that Jesus and Biblical heroes of faith were tested as we will be. We are tested during the course of our lives in many ways. We are challenged by the everyday stresses of our jobs and family life. We are tested by illnesses, accidents, and natural disasters. We are tested, tempted, and led astray by our own thoughts and by people we encounter. James tells us not to blame God for our temptations: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1: 13-14). We are constantly tested by difficult people and circumstances. Our faith is tried during periods of unemployment, marital discord, financial difficulties, and by long periods of physical or mental illness—our own, or that of a family member.

Or you may be tested by your success. That is a test you would welcome, you say?  But as the old adage says, be careful what you wish for. Many successful people pull away from God, because they don’t think they need him or because their resources lead them to temptations they can’t resist which ultimately prove to be their downfall. They don’t think that they will ever need a refuge—that their money or power is all that they need—that it will insulate them from everything.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Success, like tragedy, can test the strength of your faith.  You need to hold onto the Father’s hand during good times and bad during your life, and trust him to keep you on the path that he has planned for you. Even King David asked God to search him and point out his shortcomings, to test him, so that he could repent and follow God’s guidance: “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life” (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message). Your power, acquisition of art, estates, cars, jewels, and other expressions of material wealth will not influence the God who can give you blessed assurance of his love that will never die.

David also writes “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust . . . Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in your all day long.” (Psalm 25: 1, 4-5).   David knew better than most that whatever your circumstance in life—whether you are a lowly shepherd boy or a mighty king with untold riches, God is your only hope and salvation.

When you are in the midst of trials, turn to the one who can bring you through safely—the one you can depend on now and forever: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows” James 1: 17.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Lent are Genesis 22:1-8; Psalm 25: 1-10; James 1: 12-18; Mark 1: 9-15.

[2] Gangel and Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis (2002), Holman Reference, p. 198.

Transformed by God’s Light

February 5, 2018

God shines forth.” Psalm 50: 2

When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant.” (Exodus 34:30)

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

I recently read an account written by a medical doctor of her near death experience. Her story, like countless other first-hand accounts of heaven, described the brilliant radiance of heaven. The surround light and radiance of God is the subject of the Scripture texts this week.[1]

Long before the gospel accounts of Peter, James, and John’s experience with Jesus’ transfiguration, Old Testament heroes of faith and prophets reflected heaven’s light in their experiences. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai carrying the stone tablets with the law, he didn’t realize that “his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant.” (Exodus 34:29-30). And Elijah, like Christ after his Resurrection, was taken up to heaven and appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration: “As they [Elijah and Elisha] were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” (2 Kings 2:11)

When Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the mountain and became transfigured there into a gleaming figure, he met with Elijah and Moses: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking to Jesus.” (Mark 9: 2-9)

All of these events occurred on earth and were witnessed and recorded. The miracle of the Transfiguration is unique in that it happened to Jesus.   These events give us a glimpse of heaven. We are privileged to peek behind the curtain to see what lies beyond. These accounts provide visuals of the transforming power of God’s light. But the wonderful truth is that we do not need to wait until we see Jesus face-to-face to experience God’s radiance. It is available to us on a daily basis through our interaction with the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever spoken to someone whose countenance reflected a Christ-like radiance? The Holy Spirit shines through pure hearts to reflect God’s love and joy to those around such a person. You can see it in the person’s eyes, mouth, and body language—which is warm, understanding, and welcoming instead of cold, judgmental, and distant. When we are transformed by the light of the Holy Spirit, we are like a light shining in the darkness.   We get to that place when we maintain on-going conversations with God, and invite the Holy Spirit into every part of our being. There is no room for ill-will and a judgmental attitude when the Holy Spirit inhabits your soul. Dr. Bill Creasy says that if the Holy Spirit lives in you, you can be assured that he will not be roommates with a demon—he will “kick his butt out!”

Bitterness, anger, animosity, hostility, and hatred cannot take hold when God fills every cell of your body.  Ask him to send his Spirit to shine his light from within so that you are transformed from the inside out.  Ask God for the light that shines from within so that you can reflect “God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6b).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Transfiguration Sunday are 2 Kings 2: 1-12; Exodus 34: 29-35; Psalm 50; 2 Corinthians 3: 12-18; 2 Corinthians 4: 1-6; Mark 9: 2-9.

The Apple of His Eye

January 29, 2018

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40: 31).

It is said that the first Apple computers were built in the late 1970’s in Steve Job’s parent’s garage on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California. The Northern California home is a designated historic site. Great accomplishments often have modest beginnings.

Jesus Christ, God’s only son and the apple of his eye, also had a modest start.  He was born in Bethlehem to ordinary people, and raised in Nazareth, a Roman outpost. The Romans divided Israel into three sections: Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Galilee, in the north, consisted of about 250 towns in an area about 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. Most of Jesus’ ministry occurred in this small area. Mark reports that after Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” (Mark 1:38-39).[1] It was from those modest beginnings, in a short three-year period, that a revolution was born that rocked the world—a revolution far beyond the computer revolution that began in the 1970’s in Silicon Valley.

As God’s adopted children, we are the apple of his eye as well. God protects us as we protect our children. He gives us hope: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak . . . but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40: 31). The psalmist confirms that the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147: 3). God loves the tired, the brokenhearted, the disenfranchised, the weak, the hurting, the fearful, the lonely, the ill, the bedridden, the frustrated, the humiliated, the frightened, the despairing, and the injured. That’s you and me. He doesn’t promise us a life without pain, but he promises to shore us up if we turn to him, and to give us the strength to carry on.

God doesn’t guarantee that you will found a Fortune 500 company, find the cure for cancer, or be Time magazine’s Person of the Year, but nothing is wasted in his economy, including your efforts. You may never know the influence you have had on others during your lifetime.  God knows, and he will guide you in directions where your special abilities and talents can be used.

But Paul points out that what we do in God’s name requires self-discipline: “Do you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize.   Everyone who competes goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly. . .” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-26).  Don’t drift aimlessly from day-to-day. Pay attention to where God is leading you through your study of the Word, as you discover the gifts you have been given, through your own diligent research and study, and through your interaction with others. God will bind up your wounds; he will heal you, and will give you the strength to carry on. And he won’t give up on you. He will stay with you and carry you over the finish line.

Keep your eye on “the crown that will last forever,” and the dividends will surpass those paid by Apple, Inc.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany are Isaiah 40: 21-31; Psalm 147: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 9: 16-27; Mark 1: 29-39.

The Master Teacher

January 22, 2018

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Mark 1:22

Listening to a teacher who really knows a subject is a delight. A master teacher knows the material inside and out, welcomes questions, and is rarely stumped. He or she not only knows the basics of the subject, but also its history, relationship to other subjects, and the ramifications and implications of various aspects of the subject on the world at large. Such a teacher has complete mastery over the material. A master teacher is also an exceptional communicator.

Jesus was such a teacher.[1] In fact, he was the Master Teacher. Being fully divine, he was present at creation. He knows God the Father and Spirit as intimately as he knows himself.  As part of the Godhead, he created Scripture.  He inspired and was present when every word of Scripture was written by its human scriveners.  His communication skills were out-of-this-world.  So is it any surprise that the people were amazed at his teaching? “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1: 21-22).  The Scripture lessons this week emphasize the superiority of God’s knowledge and wisdom, and what it means to us and how we live our lives. [2] The strength of Scripture is its authority. Jesus was credible because he spoke with authority. He spoke with complete mastery of his subject—the kingdom of God.

In his speech to the Sanhedrin before he was stoned to death, Stephen confirmed that Moses was referring to the Messiah when he wrote “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 7:37). This Jesus was the Messiah to whom the Israelites were instructed to listen.  The psalmist continues to praise the Lord’s knowledge, authority, and wisdom and encourages us to revere God and to follow the Master Teacher: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding” (Psalm 111: 10).  Follow the words of the Master Teacher as revealed in Scripture, and you can’t go wrong.  The wisdom that comes from the Lord is not imparted in textbooks or taught by professors.  It is revealed in his Word and through his Spirit within us.

In fact, Paul warns about an emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge to the exclusion of love: “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God . . . There is no God but one . . . for us there is but one God, the Father, from who all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8: 1-3, excerpts 4-6).  This is one of many times when Jesus emphasized love over knowledge.  Jesus tells us that loving your neighbor as yourself is the second most important commandment (Matthew 22:39). The “wisdom from above” does not displace love: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

God’s wisdom encourages love for our fellow man.  His wisdom encourages us to love and take care of each other. Mother Teresa wrote: “Keep the joy of loving Jesus in your heart and share this joy with all you meet, especially your family.”

Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Jesus was called rabbi, which is derived from the Hebrew word that means “master” or “great one.”

[2] The Scripture lessons for the Fourth Week After Epiphany are Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8; and Mark 1:21-28.

Life Matters

January 15, 2018

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . . “ Psalm 139: 13-14.[1]

My great-grandmother, Anna, had a twin brother who died at birth or shortly thereafter. The story of the death of Anna’s twin brother resonated with me since I have a twin brother. David and I were my mother’s third pregnancy; she didn’t know that she was pregnant with twins. Even though her pregnancy lasted a full nine months, the old-fashioned doctor who delivered us hadn’t listened for heartbeats during her pregnancy. Four minutes after my brother, David, was born my mother was surprised to hear the doctor say “Bring another basket,” and I was ushered into the world.

These stories came to mind when I recently read about a woman who lost her twin brother. Sarah Smith explains that she survived an abortion because the doctor thought that he was finished after he aborted Sarah’s twin brother. A few weeks after the baby boy was aborted, Sarah’s mother felt her abdomen move, and she realized that she was still pregnant. Like my mother, she hadn’t known that she was pregnant with twins. She went to the doctor and told him that she wanted to keep the second baby. Sarah survived because the doctor did not know she was there (“God Hid Her,” The Colson Center for Christian Worldview, 21 Days of Prayer for Life).

This Sunday, January 21, 2018, is the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.[2] Wherever you stand on the abortion issue, it is worth taking the time to take a closer look at the relevant facts. The booklet 21 Days of Prayer for Life is a prayer guide for individuals and groups to pray for all victims of abortion—the unborn, expectant mothers and fathers in crisis, grandparents, those emotionally suffering from abortions they had, and others. It can be accessed at http://www.breakpoint.org/21days. The following is a summary of the booklet’s four primary arguments in favor of the pro-life position.

The Bible Affirms Life

Scripture confirms that we are made in God’s image: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . .So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1: 26-27, see also Genesis 9: 5-6, James 3:9). Humans are valuable because they were made in God’s image, not just because of what they can do. And because they are made in God’s image, intentionally taking innocent human life is wrong (Exodus 23: 7; Proverbs 6:16-19; Matthew 5: 21). Abortion is forbidden by Scripture because it is the intentional killing of an innocent human being.

Abortion is not specifically mentioned in Scripture because it was unnecessary to explain the importance of human life in the culture for several reasons: (1) Children were viewed as a blessing, while infertility was a curse (Psalm 137:3-5; Genesis 20: 17-18; 1 Samuel 1: 6; Genesis 30:1, 22-23); (2) One’s bloodline lived on through one’s descendants; (3) Continuing the family line was essential for national security when a group was surrounded by hostile nations; (4) Having children was a sacred responsibility; (5) The early Christians in Jesus’ time were largely Jewish, who understood the Scriptural command against killing innocent people.

Science Affirms Life

The developing embryo is different from other bodily cells. Dr. Maureen Condic, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah explains that starting with conception human embryos function as organisms: “Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances.”

Logic Affirms Life

David Boonin, a proponent of abortion, describes photos of his son Eli on his desk, and the photo of Eli he keeps in the top drawer of his desk. The picture in the desk drawer is sonogram image taken 24 weeks before Eli was born. Boonin says, “The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage of development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.”

But does body size or stage of development determine whether a human can be killed? Infants are less developed than teenagers, but do they have less value? Embryos are dependant on their mothers for survival, but infants are also dependent on their parents for a long time. The child and teenage brains are not fully developed, but do they have less value? The logical answer to these questions is that the size of the human, the stage of development, the degree of dependency, or the environment (womb v. world) does not determine the humanity of a person. Therefore, if it is immoral to kill a person after he or she makes the eight-inch journey from womb to world, then it is immoral to kill a person who hasn’t yet made that journey.

Chuck Colson made the argument against the use of abortion as a social policy: “The logic that supports abortion as a ‘useful social policy’ to prevent the birth of ‘defectives’ or to reduce welfare and crime, applies with equal force at all stages of life. If the body is merely an instrument of the self, if it has no inherent dignity, then we are free to dispose of it at will—or others are free to dispose of it for us.” (Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcy, How Now Shall We Live? (1999) Tyndale Publishing Co., p. 118).

Founding Documents Affirm Life

Some of our most important historical documents (Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”) have their roots in the biblical concept of the imago dei—that we are created in the image of God.   If those who support pro-life positions are irrational for basing their arguments on a Creator, then our founding documents and others, are irrational as well. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence starts as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The first of the inalienable rights is the right to life.

This short discussion of issues is not intended to gloss over the very difficult burdens women carry with respect to all abortion decisions, including those where the pregnancy resulted from rape and incest or where the health of the mother is truly at risk. Over 18 years ago I wrote a short play called “Life Matters,” performed by teenagers in our congregation on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, discussing various difficult issues relating to the importance of preserving human life. One of the characters, Nicole, addresses the question of the health of the mother: “There are no easy answers in those situations. But we don’t throw out speed limit laws because someone may have to break the speed limit to get to the hospital for an emergency! I think that we can have laws against abortion that carve out reasonable exceptions and still protect life in the womb.”

Another character, Meg, closes her argument with a quote from Deuteronomy: “God said, ‘This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live . . .” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20).

If you believe that life matters, that we are created in the image of God, and that each life is precious, you will want to assist those who are struggling with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy. If you are pro-life you already have heart for those who are making difficult pregnancy choices. You may wish to get involved in a local crisis pregnancy center to help women in crisis and their families. In addition to offering medical services for expectant mothers, the centers assist the women with infant needs. These centers also often offer counseling services to help women who are having difficulty recovering from the emotional after-effects of abortion.

You can make a difference by donating your time and other resources to helping women and men in crisis due to an unexpected pregnancy, and by helping their precious little ones. Last week we considered Isaiah’s statement that God called him before he was born. God calls out to the unborn to claim them as his own. You can help protect these unborn children to ensure that they have an opportunity to live out God’s purpose for their lives. If you share the belief that God has a purpose for each of us that was in place before the moment of our birth, then you will want to help pregnant women in crisis and their babies.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] This blog was originally published last year in substantially the same form. I am republishing the blog with the dates changed to reflect the passage of another year.

[2] In summary, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade (1973) that in the first trimester, a woman can make the decision with her physician to abort for any reason without interference from the state. In the second trimester, the state can pass laws to regulate procedures related to maternal health. In the third trimester, the state can restrict or even ban abortion except where it is necessary to preserve “the life or health of the mother.”

God Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself

January 8, 2018

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar . . . before a word is on my tongue you know it completely.” (Psalm 139: 1-4)

Who knows you?  Your parents?  Your siblings?  Your friends?  Your co-workers?  Your spouse or partner?  They all know you to some extent.  The depth to which they know you depends on the length and depth of your relationship. The closer you are to a person, the more time you spend with a person, the more you learn about each other. Bob and I knew each other for five and a half years before we married, which is a good long time to get to know another person.  And while we know each other very well after over 37 years of marriage, we still don’t know everything about each other.

But God knows everything about each of us.   You cannot hide anything from him.  David wrote, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar . . . before a word is on my tongue you know it completely” (Psalm 139: 1-4). God knows you better than you know yourself. That is the theme running through the Scripture texts this week. God knows you better than you can imagine, and he wants to guide you, care for you and help you grow.[1]  We forget that David told us three thousand years ago that God knows us inside out.  We forget that he knows what we are going to say before we speak.

When Samuel first heard God’s voice he thought that Eli was calling him.  The text says “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord has not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3: 7).  But the next time the Lord spoke to him, he answered as Eli had instructed him: “Speak for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).  This verse reminds me of a story I heard related by Dallas Willard, who was impressed with a man’s faith.  He asked the man how he communicated with God.  The man answered: “I go into church every day and sit down. I say to God: ‘Lord, it’s Raul. I am listening.’” And he sits in silence waiting for what God has to say to him.  My husband has organized periods of Holy Silence in our church on the Tuesdays between Epiphany and Lent, when people come and sit in church for an hour, mostly in silence.  A  few verses of Scripture are read and some quiet music played between the intervals of silence.  We grow in faith, in wisdom, in understanding, in love, and patience as we listen for God’s voice.  His words are tailored to each of us.  Just as a tailor alters a garment to fit your precise measurements–God, who knows you better than you know yourself, tailors his words to each of us as unique individuals.

And as unique individuals, his Word resonates with each of us on different levels. It strikes a different tone in each of us depending on our circumstances at the time, our past experiences, our personalities, and many other factors.  When we hear or read a verse of Scripture, we may pick out different words or phrases at different times of our lives. That’s one reason why Scripture is such a treasure. We discover new jewels each time we dive into it. When you practice lectio divina, the ancient art of praying the Scriptures, God speaks to you differently than he speaks to me. “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6: 17).  The same verse can inspire us in different ways at various times throughout our lives, but each time we meditate on Scripture, we are united with God.

Philip, Andrew, and Peter decided to follow Jesus after Jesus’ baptism. John tell us that “This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan” (John 1:28).  Bethany is a suburb of Jerusalem, south of Galilee and Nazareth. Nathanael was encouraged by Philip to go with them, but was a bit hesitant when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, a town despised by Jews because of the Roman garrison located there.  Despite his hesitation, he agreed to go.  John relates, “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false’” (John 1:47).  Nathanael was amazed that this Jesus, whom he had not yet met, knew him: “’How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you when you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel’. Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that’” (John 1:48-50).  Jesus saw completely through Nathanael to his inner being, to his soul.

Jesus knew you before you were born. He observed you as a newborn and at every moment of your life.   You are an open book to this Jesus who knows you inside and out. And even though he knows all of your attributes and flaws, he sent his Spirit to comfort, guide, and care for you. He loves you more than your best friend or beloved spouse. He is always there for you. You can trust him; he has your best interests at heart. He will never use his knowledge of you against you. He will never ignore, manipulate, or deceive you.

But building a relationship with God is not a one-way street. As you spend time with him, and in the Word, he will reveal himself to you.  When Samuel first heard God’s voice, Scripture tells us “Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord has not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3: 7).  Like Samuel, you will come to know God better when you spend time with him.  You will become a part of his family.  He wants you to follow him, so that he can show you great things, and lead you out of dark places into the light.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday After Epiphany are 1 Samuel 3: 1-20; Psalm 139: 1-10; 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20; John 1: 43-51.