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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving - A National Holiday

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, I think it is appropriate to look back to the proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln that established this as a national holiday. Emphasis is mine.

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day
October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

Ephesians 5:20 "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Recommendation: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God

In his sermon on “The Uses of the Law” (Gal 3:19), Charles Spurgeon made a poignant comment regarding our tendency toward imbalance in theology: “Generally, when men believe one truth, they carry it so far as to deny another; and very frequently, the assertion of a cardinal truth leads men to generalize on other particulars, and so to make falsehoods out of truth.”
This has never been truer than of the modern church’s view of the love of God.  This attribute is by far the most comfortable, and to some, the most comforting aspect of the divine character.  But it is becoming more apparent all the time that this one attribute has been absolutized in the church so that, by and large, the love of God is assumed to be His most fundamental and defining quality.  It has been sentimentalized to such an extent that it is portrayed outside of the context of His holiness, wrath, sovereignty, etc.  The god who is now preached in many a pulpit, aired on many a broadcast, and sold in many a Christian bookstore is a man-centered, man-serving, man-shaped, only-loving, caricature who in no way resembles the God of the Bible.
How do we know that this only-loving god does not resemble the God of the Bible?  Because when the full counsel of the Word is taught regarding the attributes of God – including His holiness, wrath, self-sufficiency, and absolute sovereignty – He is rejected by the mainstream churchgoer because “that’s not the God I know.”
           When a believer does finally accept these more difficult teachings about God’s character, recognizing their undeniable truth, he or she is many times left wondering what to think about the love of God.  That sentimental, rainbows-and-gumdrops view of God’s love is recognized to be incompatible with what the Bible teaches about the other aspects of His character.  That old definition of love, whether stated or not, includes the concept that God’s highest goal is my highest happiness and comfort.  But the Bible shows that God’s highest goal is His own glory. 
Disillusionment then sets in.  I talked to one such person not long ago.  He said, “I’ve totally accepted the truth that God is sovereign over all things, including evil and the Fall and all that.  I’m just having a hard time seeing how He is loving.  How is He loving?”
Here is an important principle for those who may be in that same place right now: rather than discarding the notion that God is loving, we need to discard that old faulty, error-ridden definition of God’s love, and replace it with a biblical one. 
I praise the Lord for Don Carson.  In his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, he addresses this very issue.  The title itself can only be understood by someone who has wrestled with and embraced the other attributes of God that conflict with a sentimentalized understanding of His love.  The love of God is a difficult doctrine, but it is made much more understandable by Carson’s book.
Here is the description on the back cover: “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God seeks to restore what we have lost.  In this treatment of many of the Bible’s passages regarding divine love, noted evangelical scholar D. A. Carson not only critiques sentimental ideas such as “God hates the sin and loves the sinner,” but provides a compelling perspective on the nature of God and why He loves as He does.  Carson blends his discourse with discussion of how God’s sovereignty and holiness complete the biblical picture of who He is and how He loves.
“In doing away with trivialities and clich├ęs, this work gets to the heart of this all-important doctrine from an unflinching evangelical perspective.  Yet it does so without losing its personal emphasis: for in understanding more of the comprehensive nature of God’s love as declared in His Word, you will come to understand God and His unending love for you more completely.”
The truth is that the God of the Bible is far more glorious than my former conception of Him and His love.  This book helped me to realize that.  It is essential that in our embrace of the doctrine of God's sovereignty we do not reject the doctrine of God's love, and the key is to arrive at a thoroughly biblical view of God's love.  If you’re struggling with this issue (or if you’re not), this book could be a blessing to you. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can man be free if God is sovereign? Part 3

(If you are just now joining us in this series on free will and the sovereignty of God, it would be beneficial for you to read the first two posts here and here.)

Can man be free if God is sovereign?  The answer is yes, if we have a biblical definition of freedom.  As you recall, the most common understanding of human freedom, referred to as libertarian freedom, states that I am only free if when I chose"A", I could have chosen "not-A."[1]  I have argued that a more biblical definition is that of compatibilist freedom, which states that I am free when I do what I most want to do.  Compatibilist freedom is the only definition of freedom that accounts for the clearly biblical teaching that God is in meticulous control of all things and that man makes meaningful choices.

Let’s look at a few examples from Scripture.  In my Bible reading just this morning, I read 2 Samuel 17.  This chapter comes in the middle of the account of Absalom’s coup against his father David.  Absalom has entered Jerusalem (after David fled from Jerusalem), and then seeks the counsel of Ahithophel as to how to proceed against David.  Ahithophel gives his advice.  Then Absalom seeks a second opinion from Hushai.  After hearing from Hushai, “Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel’” (2 Sam 17:14).

Then comes a crucial editorial comment at the end of v14, For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.  The Hebrew literally says “the LORD commanded to break the counsel of Ahithophel.”  In other words, God determined that the counsel of Ahithophel would not be heeded.

Libertarian freedom utterly fails to explain how this can be.  In order for libertarian freedom to be true, Absalom must have been able to not reject the counsel of Ahithophel.  But that is impossible.  Why?  Because God determined that Absalom would reject it.  On the other hand, if we apply compatibilist freedom, everything fits.  Absalom was free when he chose to reject the advice of Ahithophel because that was what he most wanted to do.  God did not force him to do it – Absalom wanted to. 

We find a similar example in 1 Kings 12.  Rehoboam has become the king of Juda and has received conflicting advice about how to treat the people.  The older men advise him to lower the taxes of the people, so that they will serve him faithfully.  The younger men advise him to raise the taxes so as to command their fear of him.  Rehoboam foolishly takes the advice of the younger men.  Why? V15 tells us, So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 

Again, is it possible that Rehoboam had libertarian freedom, that is, that he could have rejected the foolish advice of the younger men and accepted the good advice of the older men?  No, because God determined to bring about the events just as they happened.

We could look at scores of other similar references.  When Israel plundered Egypt in the Exodus (Ex 3:21-22; 11:2-3; 12:35-36), when Assyria waged war against Israel (Isa 10), when Cyrus gave orders for the rebuilding of the temple (Isa 44:28-45:14; 2 Chr 36:22-Ezra 1:11), when Judas betrayed Jesus (Acts 1:16-17), and when the Jews and Gentiles crucified Him (Acts 2:23, 4:23-28), we see men choosing to do what God had already ordained.  They could not have chosen otherwise, yet they were not forced – they did what they most wanted to do, which is the definition of compatibilist freedom.

What about God’s freedom?  Does God have libertarian freedom? When God does good, is He also free to do evil?  No.  Scripture teaches that God can only do good, He cannot sin (1 John 1:5; Jas 1:13; Psa 92:15).  In what sense is He free then? He always does what He most wants to do.  God has compatibilist freedom. 

The main reason people have difficulty with this debate is that they don't want to live with the mystery it creates.  It’s easier to just deny God’s absolute sovereignty.  Even if you accept the definition of compatibilist freedom, there is still the question of how what I most want always coincides with what God has planned.  There will always be an element of mystery here.  But there are some clues in the Word as to how this might work.  

We know that God restrains evil.  When Satan afflicted Job, he could only do those things that God allowed him to do (Job 1-2).  God restrained Satan from inflicting certain calamities on Job.  We also see that Satan needed God’s permission to sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22:31).  Likewise, the demons needed Jesus’ permission to enter a herd of pigs and drown them (Mat 8:31-32; Luke 8:32-33).  God restrained Abimelech from violating Sarah (Gen 20:2-6).  So it seems evident that there are many evil deeds that the sin nature would do were God not restraining it.  This is evidenced by the fact that Satan afflicted Job in absolutely every way possible within the parameters that God gave him. 

We could think of the sin nature as a raging river and God’s sovereignty like a dam.  He is perfectly capable of restraining the entire river for eternity.  But where a certain act of evil accords with His sovereign plan, He opens a hole in the dam allowing that certain act to take place.  When that act takes place, it is at the same time both what God has ordained and what the sin nature most wants to do.  Every evil act desired by the sin nature that does not coincide with God’s sovereign plan, He restrains.  So God controls evil indirectly by allowing certain evil acts to pass through and restraining others.  He does not cause evil, but He selectively allows the sin nature to do what it already wants to do.

On the other hand, we also find in Scripture that every good thing finds its origin in God (Jas 1:17).  The good things that we do in the process of sanctification come as a result of the good that God is willing and working in us (Phil 2:12-13).  God put it into the heart of Nehemiah to do the work that he did (Neh 7:5).  Jeremiah prophesied a future in which God would cause His people to live righteously (Jer 31:9).  So, it could be said that the good things we do are the result of God giving us the desire for them.  That is why He receives all the glory.  God controls good directly.

In the end, this is a question of whether or not we are going to believe the Bible.  As we have seen repeatedly, the Bible teaches that God is in meticulous control of all things and that man makes meaningful decisions and is held responsible for those decisions.  (The truth of those two things excludes the possibility of libertarian freedom.)  Whether we understand how the two work together or not, we have to acknowledge that both are completely true, if we believe that Bible is the inerrant Word of God.  To deny one or the other is not a viable option without denying the inerrancy of Scripture.

[1]The definitions of both libertarian freedom and compatibilist freedom are taken from Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004).

Sovereignty - an excerpt from "The Rainbow in the Clouds"

The following is an excerpt from a long sermon by John MacDuff, Scottish preacher from the nineteenth century. This is an excellent example of why I prefer to read older works...when a preacher's theology meant something. It is rare to find this kind of insight from today's Christian authors.

"The Lord Reigns." Psalm 93:1
No rainbow of promise in the "dark and cloudy day" shines more radiantly than this. God, my God, the God who gave Jesus, orders all events, and overrules all for my good! "When I," says He, "send clouds over the earth." He has no wish to conceal the hand which shadows for a time earth's brightest prospects. It is He alike who "brings the cloud", who brings us into it, and in mercy leads us through it! His kingdom rules over all. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." He puts the burden on, and keeps it on, and at His own time will remove it!

Beware of brooding over second causes. It is the worst form of atheism! When our most fondly cherished gourds are smitten; our fairest flowers lie withered in our bosom; this is the silencer of all reflections– "The Lord prepared the worm!" When the temple of the soul is smitten with lightning, and its pillars rent: "The Lord is in His holy temple!" Accident, chance, fate, destiny, have no place in the Christian's creed. He is no unpiloted vessel left to the mercy of the storm. "The voice of the Lord is upon the waters!" There is but one explanation of all that befalls him: "I will be dumb, I will open not my mouth, because You did it."

Death seems to the human spectator, the most capricious and severe of all events. But not so. The keys of death and Hades are in the hands of this same reigning God! Look at the parable of the fig-tree. Its prolonged existence, or its doom as a cumberer, forms matter of conversation in heaven; the axe cannot be laid at its root until God gives the warrant! How much more will this be the case regarding every "Tree of Righteousness, the planting of the Lord?" It will be watched over by Him, "Lest anyone hurt it." Every trembling fiber He will care for; and if made early to succumb to the inevitable stroke, "Who knows not in all these things, that the hand of the Lord has wrought this." Be it mine to merge my own will in His; not to cavil at His ways, or to seek to have one jot or tittle of His will altered; but to lie passive in His hands; to take the bitter as well as the sweet, knowing that the bitter cup is mingled by One who loves me too well to add one ingredient that might have been spared!

Who can wonder that the sweet Psalmist of Israel should seek, as he sees it spanning the lower heavens, to fix the arrested gaze of a whole world on the softened tints of this Rainbow of Comfort, "The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Selected Psalms: Psalm 12

  1 Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
 2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
 3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
 4 those who say, "With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?"
 5 "Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise," says the LORD; "I will place him in the safety for which he longs."
 6 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
 7 You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.
 8 On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Psalm 12 is a lament, which is a genre that depicts a person or group of people agonizing over a situation and petitioning God for help.  Laments can be particularly “real” in that they speak so honestly to the heartaches that most of us have felt at certain times in our lives.  Psalm 12 seems very real to me today. 
As in a typical lament, Psalm 12 addresses God and then describes the writer’s distress.  The godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.  Of course, this is hyperbole – overstatement for effect.  The purpose is to convey the seeming hopelessness of the situation.  The community is devoid of godly persons, and the righteous are completely alone. 
Our society is looking more and more like that all the time.  Reading the news everyday can give you the sense that the world is becoming more corrupt, more cruel, more godless.  The second verse shows even more clearly the parallel between the psalmist’s culture and our own.  Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
The perversion and twisting of truth is evident in our culture today on a number of levels.  Who hasn’t been the victim of some kind of fraudulent activity?  It could be dishonest sales tactics at a car dealership.  It could be identity theft.  Internet phishing.  Email viruses. 
Deception is rampant in the public square as well.  So common is it for politicians to break promises and lie, that a great deal of the electorate is completely jaded.  Casting a vote in an election seems to be little more than betting which candidate is least likely to lie about the issues I care about.
When I think of the betrayal of truth, I think about those who deceive, exploit, and abuse children.  With flattering lips, the perpetrators gain the trust of the weak, gain access to the innocent, and ravage the unsuspecting.  You don’t have to read long to find this in the headlines every day.
Then in the one arena where one might expect a greater conviction for integrity – Christianity – there is a growing movement to question whether or not truth is even knowable.  With such a lack of certainty regarding truth, anything goes, and the relativity that once only characterized post-modern secular philosophy now characterizes a large swathe of the Christian landscape.
But the wonderful thing about laments is that they are never pretexts for hopelessness.  Laments always turn to God for help, which is what we should do.  May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
What is the proper response to a culture characterized by deception, where the devious take advantage of the weak?  To pray that God would put an end to the lying tongues. 
It’s interesting to me how slow we are to pray about such things, and how quick we are to appeal to the governing authorities.  It is as if we re-wrote the words to the old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than human courts and due process.”  Not that is it inappropriate to seek earthly justice through the legal process.  But I do think that we betray our own lack of faith when we seek justice and protection from men to the exclusion of seeking it from God. 
We need to be reminded that earthly justice is fickle and in some cases never comes.  Whereas, with God, the day of justice is certain.  "Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise," says the LORD; "I will place him in the safety for which he longs."  I see three words of comfort here. 
First, God sees the oppression of the weak.  Those who are victims of deception and injustice, who have been victimized in any way, may believe that their suffering remains secret.  But God sees the whole thing.  He knows the truth.  Justice may be slow according to our concept of time, but in the eternal scheme, it is sure and swift.
Second, God hears the groan of the needy.  God has perfect eyes and He has perfect ears.  All cries for help are heard. 
Third, what God sees and hears compels Him to act and protect: I will now arise.  I will place him in the safety for which he longs. 
And in a world where you can trust no one, where you can believe nothing, God’s words can be trusted.  The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.  The world lies.  God tells the truth.  The world is deceptive.  God’s words are pure.
An understanding of that, combined with God’s promise in v5 that He sees the weak, hears the needy, and acts accordingly, leads to the kind of assurance that we see in v7:  You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.
There is one word in v7 that is crucial for us to notice – forever.  God will guard His people, but we may not see that in its full manifestation until we see Him in glory.  We know that there will be suffering for us in this life (2 Cor 4:8-18; 2 Tim 3:12).  But our hope is that one day we will be removed from this place and taken to be with Him (Rom 8:20-39).
The laments of the Psalms always point in hope to God.  Psalm 12 is a great reminder.  Even though we live in deceptive times, God sees, God hears, God promises to act, and His promises are always true.  He will deliver us from this deceptive world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

" are a mist..."

I’ve just marked the passing of another year of my life.  I’m not yet to the age where it bothers me to be a year older.  I have however reached the place where each birthday prompts me to recognize that my earthly life will not last forever.  Milestone birthdays that used to seem ages away look younger and younger all the time.

I was prompted yesterday to think about the term “midlife.”  The US Census lists “middle age” as including two age categories, both 35 to 44 and 45 to 54.  Other sources peg it between 40 and 65.  In the end, the concept is quite arbitrary.  Although I’ve not yet reached “middle age” by most definitions, it is presumptuous for me to assume that I still have more than half of my life ahead of me.  

James 4:13-15 tells us, Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."

What if I reached the middle of my life when I was 18 and am now living in my last days?  This is not morbid speculation, but a necessary perspective for all of us.  If we’re not careful, we may not only assume that we have years and years ahead of us, but even worse – we may live like it.  We may end up spending the last days of our lives accumulating and achieving, erroneously planning to minister and love and give in twilight years that will never come. 

The proper response to an awareness of the fleeting nature of life is not to cast off all restraint and go check off entries on some “Bucket List.”  James 4 calls us to continue to be responsible and plan for the future.  It would be poor stewardship to do otherwise.  But in our planning for the future, we must realize that our lives are in God’s hands and the end could be very near.  As a believer, the awareness that my life is a mist should prompt me to live a far more prioritized life right now, not focusing on selfish exploits, but pouring myself out selflessly into the things that have eternal import.  Some backburner things should be moved to the front, and vice-versa. 

I don’t know about you, but as I look back at how I’ve spent my life so far, I see much wasted time and many wasted opportunities.  I should have pursued the Lord harder and more consistently.  I should have loved more deeply.  I should have shared more freely.  I suspect I’m not alone.

Past failures should be confessed.  There should be repentance and the seeking of forgiveness.  Praise the Lord we serve a God who always stands ready to forgive. 

From today on, faithful stewardship requires that I not dwell on failures He has already covered, but that I press on toward the prize.  Faithful stewardship requires that I spend every day of the rest of my life realizing what a gift it is and how fleeting it is.  Faithful stewardship requires that I wring out every moment I have left in service, love, and giving to the Lord and those around me. 

No matter when each of us are taken home, may the Lord find us doing just that.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Book Recommendation: Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

We’ve been spending some time in Sunday School talking about the issue of God’s sovereignty.  Coming to the realization that nothing takes place outside of God’s sovereign will inevitably bring us to question why certain bad things happen to us and to those we love.  Enduring trials in our lives is difficult enough, but it can be even more difficult to understand the reason for those trials. 

If God loves me and He is in absolute control of all things, why does pain, heartbreak, and tragedy befall me?  How can I trust Him in the midst of these things?  How can I know that God loves me when He allows such trials to happen to me?

These are the questions addressed by Jerry Bridges in his book, Trusting God Even When Life HurtsBridges is no stranger to grief.  When he was fourteen years old, his mother died suddenly.  He was in the next room and rushed in just in time to see her last gasp for air.  His brother was away at school and his dad was too grief stricken to help him make sense of it all.  He felt completely alone in that adversity.  In 1988, Jerry’s first wife, Eleanor, died of non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma, only three weeks after their 25th wedding anniversary.

So Bridges does not write from a theoretical point of view.  In an effort to strengthen his own trust in God, he began a broad Bible study on the issue of God’s sovereignty over the lives of His people.  The study helped him immensely and eventually moved him to write Trusting God.

Bridges has this to say in book’s preface: “This book, then, was born out of the results of addressing needs in my own life, and realizing that many other believers have similar questions and doubts.  It is written from the perspective of a brother and companion to all those who are tempted at times to ask, ‘Can I really trust God.?’

“The purpose of this book is twofold: First, I desire to glorify God by acknowledging His sovereignty and His goodness.  Second, I desire to encourage God’s people by demonstrating from Scripture that God is in control of their lives, that He does indeed love them, and that He works out all the circumstances of their lives for their ultimate good.”

Having read the book myself, I can heartily say that Jerry Bridges succeeds wonderfully in accomplishing those two purposes.  The book is biblical, God-honoring, and encouraging.

The first two chapters deal with the questions, “can you trust God?” and “Is God in control?”  These chapters are not cold theology, but purely pastoral and absolutely honest in recognizing the difficulties that these questions pose.  The rest of the first half of the book is dedicated to establishing from Scripture that God is sovereign over all things, including individual lives, nations, and nature.  This section is rounded out with a very helpful discussion of how we are to understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.

The second half of the book wrestles with the heart struggles that can come from recognizing the fact that God is in control.  I believe this part of the book will be particularly helpful for those who have accepted the doctrine of God’s sovereignty long ago, but who have since been struggling with how to see God as a loving God in light of it.  Bridges has made sense of this for me, and I know that his insight could be a comfort to you as well.

I have read a number of books on the subject of God’s sovereignty and human suffering, but none that goes as far as this one does in addressing the hard questions that seem to come so naturally in times of trials.  God is sovereign.  God is wise.  God is loving.  God can be trusted.  If you or someone you know are enduring a difficult time right now, or if you are simply wrestling with the issue of God’s sovereignty, this book would be my first recommendation. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Planned Parenthood obscuring the truth

You may have read the story in the last couple of days about the Planned Parenthood clinic director in Bryan, Texas who quit her job after watching an abortion take place on an ultrasound monitor.  The former director said she had become uncomfortable with the fact that the organization was pushing workers to increase abortion numbers.  She has now joined a pro-life group in praying outside the location of her former employer.

Planned Parenthood has moved into damage control mode, winning a temporary restraining order against her and the pro-life group.  A company spokesperson commented, "Planned Parenthood's focus is on prevention.  Nationwide, more than 90% of the health care Planned Parenthood affiliates provide is preventive in nature... A core component of the organization's mission is to help women plan healthy pregnancies and prevent unintended pregnancies." 

Whether or not this statement is accurate, the fact remains that Planned Parenthood does only one adoption referral for every 120 abortions done in its clinics.  If the organization claims to be predominantly focused on “prevention,” its numbers seem to be going in the wrong direction – the total number of abortions performed in Planned Parenthood clinics per year increased from 168,509 in 1998 to 305,310 in 2007.[1]  Every year, it refers to other facilities almost as many abortions as it does in its own clinics.[2]
“Prevention” is indeed the name of the game, but the question is “prevention of what?”  Planned Parenthood is nothing if not a political organization with a liberal agenda.  Political organizations need funds.  There is no money to be made in preventing pregnancies, but there is much money to be made in preventing births.  The organization brought in $374.7 million in “Health Center Income” for the year ended June 30, 2008.  That’s even more than it received in government grants.  (Consider the monumental conflict of interest in giving government grants for the purpose of preventing pregnancies to an organization that makes the bulk of its income from terminating pregnancies.)  It’s obvious that fewer abortions means reduced income, which means a decrescendo in the volume of the organization’s liberal agenda.  Planned Parenthood has nothing to gain and everything to lose by preventing pregnancies.
So it’s no wonder that the organization is doing what it can to mute the truth spoken by this former clinic director.  It’s also no wonder that this director had worked for Planned Parenthood for 8 years before ever seeing an abortion take place.  The organization profits from ignorance about the different abortion procedures.  The organization’s website speaks about the procedures in such mild terms that it's not clear at all that what is being described is in fact an abortion.  In the entire description of the two most common abortion types, the baby in the womb is referred to only once, and that reference is to “tissue.”  The most graphic language on the site? “In later second-trimester procedures, you may also need a shot through your abdomen to make sure there is fetal demise before the procedure begins.”  Fetal demise?  Why such sterile language?  Because calling it what it is may result in the mother having second thoughts.  The truth would damage the bottom-line.

This is precisely why Planned Parenthood does not want their workers (or expectant mothers) to see ultrasound images of the baby in the womb or of an abortion taking place.  It’s bad for business. 
It is becoming more and more common for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to offer free ultrasounds.  The motive is to tell the mother the truth – that what is in her womb is not a clump of “tissue”, but a baby with fingers and toes.  When presented with this truth, it is not at all uncommon for the mother to choose to give birth to the child rather than have an abortion.  Of course, Planned Parenthood deplores this practice, warning on its website, “Beware of so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers.’ These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They have a history of giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions.” 
A free ultrasound is “wrong, biased information”?  If Planned Parenthood is so interested in providing women with the full, accurate truth regarding pregnancy, it seems that an ultrasound would be an obvious tool?  But Planned Parenthood understands that giving mothers full disclosure of this kind will result in a drop in the organization’s income.  In the end, Planned Parenthood does whatever possible to obscure the true nature of abortion. 
This is also why the organization downplays the emotional effects that may result from having an abortion.  On a page of the website entitled, “If I have an abortion, how will I feel afterward?”, this is the conclusion: “Ultimately, most women feel relief after an abortion.”  I assure you that those who have counseled women who have had an abortion will tell you that this is a categorical lie.  There may be those out there whose consciences are so seared that they do feel relief after having an abortion, but they are in the vast minority.  So why would Planned Parenthood propagate such a falsehood?  Because the truth does not achieve their goal.
For an organization like Planned Parenthood to claim that its highest aim is to prevent unwanted pregnancies is ludicrous.  Unless this former director is one-of-a-kind, even the organization's own workers know this is not the case.
What’s interesting is that the former director, in describing her change of mind, said, "I would say there was a definite conversion in my heart ... a spiritual conversion."  I pray that she is referring to a literal conversion to Christianity.  But whether she is or not, this makes a significant point.  As the pro-abortion lobby thrives in a truth-deprived environment, so the pro-life cause benefits from the truth.  And the greatest force of truth at our disposal with which to combat the depravity of our culture is the gospel.  An intellectual argument for the pro-life position may win a few people to our side, and free ultrasounds may dissuade some mothers from having an abortion, but these can never be substituted for the proclamation of the gospel, which not only changes minds, but changes entire beings from the inside out. 
The evil of abortion benefits from the scarcity of truth.  When we hear stories like this one, we should be encouraged by such a triumph of truth.  We should also be emboldened to speak the truth about what abortion is, about what the abortion lobby is actually pursuing, and most importantly, about the only Savior who can redeem such a fallen world.