God Will Let It Slide, Right?

I’m reminded of something my daughter, Evelyn, said to me on our way to the school this past Thursday morning.

Folks in Michigan will recall that Thursday was quite the sunny day. Even at 6:45am, which is when Evelyn and I set out for the day, the sun was already well above the horizon. Turning east out of our subdivision, the sun’s beams poured through the windshield, filling the car with its glory. It felt good—the warmth on my face in crisp distinction from the chill just outside my window. Even as it was somewhat blinding, before feeling the need to adjust the sun visor, its first stirring was that of happiness.

Surprisingly, Evelyn grumbled.

“I don’t like the sun in my eyes,” she said, scooting up in her seat and reaching to adjust her visor.

“I love it,” I replied, my visor still tucked neatly above the windshield. “It feels good.”

“I don’t,” she countered. “It’s too bright.”

“Well,” I added, “we probably shouldn’t complain about it, especially since we’ve been longing for days like this all winter.”

Evelyn didn’t respond, but I could tell she was reconsidering her position.

Certainly, I understood her frustration in the moment, especially since I was piloting the vehicle. For as much as I enjoyed the sun’s resplendence, I needed to be able to see, and the sun was making that a little more difficult. Still, the last thing I ever want to do is lie to myself, expressing any dismay at all for something I’ve been waiting more than a half-year of mornings to enjoy. In my eyes, or wherever, the sunshine was a welcomed guest to a long-suffered winter.

Tapping away at the keyboard while recalling this circumstance, I suppose there are plenty of lessons within it to be learned by it. Although, I can’t think of one in particular.

Okay, how about this…

Looking back at what I just wrote, the lesson that seems most prominent is the foolishness found in lying to oneself.

One of the worst things that anyone can do is to lie to his or herself. And it’s not necessarily the lie itself that holds all the danger, but rather the potential for becoming so convinced by your own deception that you willingly exchange truth for untruth. This reminds me of a video of Joe Biden from 2015 I watched this past week. It was a quasi-interesting twenty minutes of Joe sitting before a fawning reporter and cameraman and doing what Joe does, which is to wear a triangular smile while rambling incoherently. And yet, during the purgatory-like segment of softball-question nonsense, there was something Joe spoke about with relative unequivocalness. I ended up posting something about it on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote:

“I just watched a portion of a video of Joe Biden from September of 2015 in which he attempted to describe the authenticity of his Catholic faith. Barely a few minutes into his plastic words I had a thought. To be a liar is one thing. To be a sincere liar is something altogether worse. Or as Shakespeare mused through the character of Hamlet, ‘One may smile and smile, and be a villain.’”

The point behind this comment relates to ongoing news of several Roman Catholic bishops around the country and overseas pushing for Joe Biden to be excommunicated. They’re doing this because Joe claims that one can be a Catholic and be pro-choice—and not just the “safe but rare” kind that the Democrats proffered back in the 80s, but rather the kind that goes right over the cliff into believing abortion (in all of its grisly forms) is a gift from God, and even worse, that full-term abortion is something upon which God dotes with an similarly triangular smile.

Do you know what full-term abortion is? If you guessed a full-term newborn child being killed immediately after delivery, then you guessed rightly. The President of the United States—your president—believes such a thing is holy.

Of course, I expect the nominal Christians to come out of the shadows to say I’m misconstruing his position, that he only supports it in this or that special circumstance. These folks will say this because, well, they voted for him, and like him, they aren’t necessarily using the lens of God’s Word for discerning these things. Well, whatever. Use whichever intellectual dance moves you prefer for avoiding the visceral fact that the President of the United States has given a thumbs-up to doctors delivering and then murdering newborn children if in such a moment a mother decides she doesn’t want her child.

But let me take a brief step backward to where this started.

As a Christian, the only way to arrive at an acceptance of the pro-choice position, no matter the justification, is to lie to yourself about a great many things. It is to lie about what life is and means. It is to lie about life’s Author. It is to lie about what that Author said with regard to human dignity and the truest definition of personhood. It is to wield the Word of God in deceptive ways, and ultimately by such handling, to summarily reject it, whether the one wielding it realizes it or not. Lastly, it is to be caught in the dilemma that to reject the Word of God, by default, is to reject the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

You cannot stake a claim in Christianity and reject the Savior who sits at its heart. It just doesn’t work. Thankfully, there remain plenty of Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church who are willing to enforce this basic doctrinal premise.

I wrote and posted something else this past week that comes to mind, too. It had to do with an article from The Federalist entitled “Lockdown Mongers Can Point Fingers, But The Science Is In: They’re To Blame.” By the way, one of the two senior editors at The Federalist is a biblically astute LCMS Lutheran, Mollie Hemingway, whose father is a Confessional Lutheran pastor. I should add that The Federalist has several LCMS writers on its roster of contributors, and in my opinion, that alone makes it one of the few political/cultural news sources out there to be trusted. Anyway, here’s what I wrote when I posted the article:

“The devil has plenty of instruments in his bag, but deception is the glove he wears for wielding each one.”

Again, the point here was to say that there are plenty of tools in the devil’s toolbox for drawing us into Sin, things he uses for convincing us to believe and do the wrong things. But before he goes about his darkly deeds, his grip on each instance begins with deceptively enticing half-truths.

“Sure, I know it’s against God’s Word for me and my girlfriend to live together before marriage,” the young man says, “but it makes good financial and logistical sense to do so. I figure that as long as we have the intention of getting married, God will let this one slide.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

“It makes perfect sense that the churches are closed,” the husband and wife contemplate over Sunday morning coffee. “The science says that mass gatherings for worship are sure to be super spreaders of the virus. The Church can ‘love thy neighbor’ a lot better by masking up and staying home.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

“Certainly I’m justified in speaking poorly about that person to others,” she muses. “How could I be wrong in doing so? My friend hurt me, and I need the emotional support from other friends who understand. The only way to get the support is to tell others about what happened.”

Don’t lie to yourself. Repent.

To knowingly persist in such behaviors unrepentantly, having exchanged the truth of God’s Word for lies, won’t end well. Still, the devil will work to convince you that it will. He may even do it in ways that sound pious, kind of like Adlai Stevenson’s infamous words given in jest: “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, and a very present help in trouble.”

Again, I don’t want to lie about the sunshine and say I don’t like it. I love it, even when it’s uncomfortably shining in my eyes. It’s the same here. Don’t be fooled. Stick to the truth of God’s Word, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. No matter what happens, you’ll have the certainty of real truth. You’ll be traveling along the stepping stones of faith cut from God’s reliable quarry. Along the way, you’ll know and understand the gravity of your Sin—your very REAL Sin—and you’ll know the One who came to forgive you of that Sin, to recreate you by His wonderful love, and to send you out as someone capable of beaming the refreshing and face-warming sunlight of His love in a wintry world of Sin longing for the rescue of a divine summer.

Saying No

The previous Sunday’s Bible study here at Our Savior got a little tense near the end. The uneasiness was clearly painted on the faces of most of the participants. And why? Because during the discussion, somehow we steered into the topic of excommunication, and as we did, I offered the observation that for the most part, the Church has become weak in this department. One participant agreed, putting forth as eligible examples both pro-choice Christians and people who vote for pro-choice candidates.

“You said it, not me,” I think I said, snarkily—which meant I completely agreed. From there, I suggested that perhaps it’s time for churches and their pastors to start muscling up in an effort to tell those in their midst who would support the killing of the unborn—and vote for candidates who do—that in truth, they’ve fallen from fellowship with the Lord and can no longer commune at His table.

In other words, perhaps it’s time to tell them “no.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” someone called out, honestly. Indeed, pastors, God be with you on such a noble quest. Although, before you go, be sure your estate is in order. Or at a minimum, have another job lined up, because unless you have broad sweeping support from the rest of the congregation, you’ll likely need a moving van.

Well, whatever. The moment stirred good conversation. In addition to carrying us a little deeper into the text of 1 John 1:5-10, it also provided a brief opportunity to better understand the Johnson Amendment, which I took a quick moment to examine relatively.

The Johnson Amendment, for as scary as most think it is, really doesn’t prohibit churches all that much. We can pretty much do what we want. Although, as it meets with the topic above, there is one particular sticking point that bothers me, and not because it’s necessarily bad, but because it would likely be misinterpreted, and as a result, misapplied.

In short, the Johnson Amendment expressly forbids a congregation from punishing one of its own for his or her individual political positions and/or voting practices. This means that if a pastor or congregation ever moved to excommunicate someone because that person was immovable in his or her support of the murder of the unborn—even after the Church has made clear the doctrines of Christ while at the same time making every effort to reconcile with the person as prescribed in Matthew 18—still, it’s possible the individual coming under the ban might consider the congregation’s action “punitive” and seek solace beneath the umbrella of the Johnson Amendment. But as I said, this would be a misapplication, and for multiple reasons, the first of which is that excommunication isn’t punitive. Its goal is restoration. It’s meant to preserve someone from continuing to willfully offend God while at the same time laboring to lead the person toward repentance and full restoration of fellowship. But odds are the courts wouldn’t be able to distinguish these things, and personally, I’m hard-pressed to find too many human beings in this post-modern century who would either. More and more people are reactively put off by someone telling them no. I say this with all seriousness because I’ve been in the situation more times than I’d prefer. Not necessarily in a formal court—although I’ve come close—but certainly in the court of public opinion here in our own midst. As a pastor, nearly every single time I’ve had to tell someone “no more,” my effort was received negatively, as something unjustly punitive, and in the end, the longtime relationship crumbled.

In our world, telling someone no is getting much harder to do. Our society has become so radically individualized that saying no is more so portrayed as cruel, as coming from an intolerance intent on smothering someone’s personal preferences. In one sense, we all know the sting of hearing someone say no. We heard it when we were young and we’ve heard it as adults, too. I heard my parents tell me that I couldn’t have a cookie just as my wife has told me more than once as an adult that I can’t just up and move to Florida. But when it cuts to the core of someone’s deeply held beliefs, especially the ones that play a part in his or her identity, we often find ourselves in much more dangerous waters. These particular waves on the undulating sea of personal relationships aren’t just making a ruckus on the surface. They’re also moving way down in the deep. Saying no in these situations can be a hard thing to do because we know they can end catastrophically.

In short, there’s always the chance that our efforts toward faithfulness will come with a price we may not want to pay.

This tension didn’t exist in the beginning. In our sinless origin, Adam and Eve knew God perfectly, as God would have us know Him. In this, whether God said yes or no, newborn humanity never questioned whether or not the answer He gave was emerging from His immeasurable love. And He actually did say no right there in the beginning. Could we eat from this and that tree in the garden? Yes. How about the tree in the middle of the garden? No. Why not? Because if you do, you’ll die.

“Okay,” we said, and off we went with a “Dum-de-dum-de-dum” to enjoy the rest of God’s wonderful creation.

But then the devil came along and convinced our first parents that God’s “no” was deceptive and cruel, that He was holding us back from a much fuller potential.

And then Mankind fell.

Fully aware of the effects of the fall into Sin, Jesus not only knew it would be tough for us to be told no, but He also knew it would be hard for His followers to tell others no, especially when it means dealing in the life-or-death, heaven-or-hell scenarios. He knows the significance of Sin’s grip. He knows that the unbelieving world will often choke on truth’s no like an addict coughing up the anti-drug, and so He speaks so plainly:

“Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:32-38).

These words are both terrifying and comforting all at the same time, and the longer I serve as a pastor, the more I learn that divine truths can sometimes be that way.

But an even deeper digging into the Lord’s words will reveal that He didn’t say any of this until He first preached:

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (vv.19-20).

You know what this means, right? It means that Christ is true to His promise that we will never be left to fend for ourselves in the tough situations. The Holy Spirit will be working in and through us. In fact, as the Holy Spirit moves us to seek faithfulness to the Savior, even our words will be captured by His power and used to His glory and the good of those who hear them. We don’t necessarily know how each situation will turn out, and we may even walk away from the conversation feeling as though we put our own foot in our mouths, but we can know by faith the source of the truest courage for faithfulness to Christ and love for the neighbor. We can say the hard things and know that even if we feel alone, we aren’t. The One who spoke the powerful words noted above is the same One who capped Saint Mathew’s Gospel with the words: “And behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age” (28:20).

I know that a good number of you are swimming in such situations, whether it be with family, friends, or co-workers. And I suppose if you aren’t experiencing such situations, well, then you’re weird, because the rest of us are. With that, trust me. The day is coming when you won’t be weird for long. Of course, I’ll keep you in my prayers, trusting that God will preserve and protect you in those moments requiring the courage of a love that says no. I know He’ll guide your words. He will shine His love through you to others, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Most importantly, I’m certain He will keep His promise that whoever loses his life for His sake, will find it—which is to say the ultimate discovery of eternal life is ours to claim through faith.

A Review of the Movie “Unplanned”

The prefix “un” is a powerful device of the English language. Add it to any concept, and it is reversed.

Things once believed with conviction are found unbelievable. Sturdy ideological fabric is unraveled. Something sure is found unreliable.

This is the “un” of the film “Unplanned,” and I dare say that no matter the starting point for the viewer—whether pro-life or pro-choice—at the end of the film, neither will be found unaffected.

To start, over the last few years, I’ve given presentations to various Right to Life groups, and as part of the presentation, I’ve sometimes added that I believe that abortion won’t begin to subside until people are made to look at it—to actually look at it—like the citizens of Germany following World War II. No sooner than they were marched through the camps and shown the piles of bodies did they finally begin to learn the gravity of the evil in their midst and eventually own their Sin.

“Unplanned” isn’t quite the same thing, although it is a marching through the death camp of sorts. It certainly is far more than just a peek behind the curtain. And this is good, because for many in America, the topic of Abortion is more like a lizard’s tail than the actual lizard. They’ve grabbed at it for so long thinking they’ve captured it, but in reality, it has slipped away leaving behind only a fragment of itself. The casual pro-lifer thinks abortion is bad, but isn’t all that concerned with working to make it completely illegal. The casual pro-choicer just wants it to be “safe and rare.” I suppose in a sense, the film reminds people on both sides of the issue that none can be too sure of the ideology they have in hand until coming face to face with the actual lizard strutting its full color, until stepping through the gateway of the death camp. When this happens, when the moviegoer sees abortion sunning itself in full array, plans to hold onto what we think is true of abortion suddenly become un-planned. They are swiftly and mercilessly undone, unraveled, and marked as unbelievable.

It’s hard for anyone—anyone truly human, that is—to witness the tiniest among us struggling to avoid an invading monster, a beast that reaches up and into the womb to so violently tear her limb from limb and ultimately pull her through a much smaller suction tube toward a waste receptacle collecting the bubbling, gory chunks of visceral red. Seeing this, the complacent pro-lifer will better understand the value of exchanging attendance at a soccer game for the opportunity to actively participate on the front lines to overthrow the clinics performing these Auschwitz-like events. Beholding this, the obstinate pro-choicer might just be found choking on the lie betrayed by the grim ultrasound imagery of a sentient life fiercely engaging in self-preservation. God willing they might just see that abortion isn’t the virtue-signaling solution to inconvenience it has been made out to be, that it isn’t a medical procedure performed on a clump of cells, that it isn’t a fundamental right of a woman.

It’s homicide—cold, calculated slaughter.

“Unplanned” takes our preconceived notions—our ideological plans—and un-plans them.

Now just a bit of critical commentary, which should in no way dissuade you from seeing the film. See it. Take others with you. It is worth your dollars and time.

First, I’ll admit the acting isn’t the best—except for Ashley Bratcher, who plays Abby Johnson, the woman who lived the story you’re seeing on the screen. No matter how awkward some of the scripted scenes were, she invested herself fully in the drama required to carry each one. She is perhaps challenged for best performance by one of the smallest, briefest roles in the film. Anisa Nyell Johnson, whose character is only mentioned in the credits as “Rhonda’s Mom,” is on screen for maybe less than two or three minutes, but in that short period of time, she gives a stirring performance. In fact, I must confess that the only time I came close to tears during the film is when Johnson’s character pleaded with tearful screams through the fence to her daughter Rhonda not to go through with the abortion. Her voice, her tears, her description of the joy that comes from children—namely to think on the joy that has already been given to the whole family by way of the beautiful five-year-old daughter holding Rhonda’s hand in that moment as she walked into the clinic. That scene communicated better than so many of the others the very real helplessness some may be feeling at the fence.

Brooks Ryan, who plays Abby’s husband Doug, is terrible. Kaiser Johnson, who plays the lawyer, Jeff, is even worse. I’m glad his part was small. But again, between these two, I’d say the dreadful acting had more to do with scenes that were poorly scripted—which is pretty typical of Pure Flix films. It’s one reason why I don’t watch their movies. They’re almost always too awkward in their handling of sacred things, and the theology is often just as bad.

With that, I’ll just come right out and say that at times, the spirituality presented by the film was bothersome, and this is true in a couple of ways.

First of all, I’m one who thinks that the creed-less pop-spirituality offered by the arena-type churches with rock bands, screens, and no crosses on the walls (which was the brief portrayal of Christian worship in the film) is dangerous to the pro-life cause. This type of worship is shallow, and its perpetuators are seen as flaky rather than committed. All of it together is fertilizer for the roots of why the world around us doesn’t take Christianity very seriously. We’re not seen as the ageless and unbroken church that we are—one equipped with an unearthly courage that has withstood the fires of persecution and death, one that speaks its own language with powerful reverence and timeless rite and ceremony, one that exists as a culture completely distinct from all others. Rather, such thin Christianity is seen as trying to emulate the world’s ways in order to fit in. With this, why would we expect anyone outside of the church to stand up and take notice when we’re on the move or have something to say about a world-altering subject such as abortion, especially since we’ve already shown that we’re more interested in following the world’s lead?

But that is, of course, a discussion for another time.

Second, if you’re going to communicate the message of redemption, then just do it. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Don’t tiptoe around it, otherwise, you run the risk of appearing half-invested in what you are trying to communicate. Just be honest. That’s what the viewer is expecting, anyway. I know the filmmakers said they didn’t want to make a “preachy” film. Still, from beginning to end, the Christian perspective is more than made known through the portrayal of prayer, the repeated discussions of God, the worship scene, the Bible quotations, the theme of humility toward enemies, the mantra of hope, and the like. All of this sets the stage for what could have been a gripping and climactic moment of Gospel when Abby finally arrives at the realization of the truest depth of what she’s done.

[Spoiler alert.]

Doug wakes up in the middle of the night to find her gone. He discovers her crumpled on the floor in the living room near the couch. She’s weeping bitterly. Her Christian husband comes to comfort her. She defines the contours of her sadness with unveiled clarity: As the director of the clinic, she’s the one responsible for the killing of over 22,000 human beings. How can she find her way through this? How could someone like her—someone nearly Hitler-esque—ever be reconciled to God?

“All you have to do is ask for forgiveness,” Doug replies, robotically.

“But how can God even begin to forgive someone like me?” are the essentials of her paralyzing and dreadfully overwhelming sadness.

“Well, because He’s God,” Doug replies, like a shallow dolt, essentially revealing God as the carefree Grampa in his rocking chair on the front porch in the sky. He doesn’t care what you’ve done. He just smiles and waves it off.

No. He does care. Sin is formidable. Death, too. And His care for us against these things cost Him a lot. For one, Sin has a price—a massively dreadful price. From the sinister actions leading to the deathly gas chambers in Germany to the thoughtless, but unkind, comment we made to our spouse at dinner, Sin has a wage and it is eternal Death—separation from God for all time. The wage for Sin will be paid out one way or another by someone. The heavenly Father sent Christ. Christ was that someone.

Here was the chance, even if only for a second, to point to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for every Sin, even the Sin of murdering 22,000 people. Here was the chance to communicate to everyone in the theater the expanse of God’s love in Christ, the chance to meet each and every person watching the film, all of whom are most certainly wrestling with some form of guilt from this or that Sin—many staying far from Christian churches because they believe their Sins are far too great to be forgiven, maybe in this instance, squirming through the film because they’ve had an abortion. Here was the most potent of opportunities to proclaim God’s truest love for all displayed through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But they blew it because they didn’t want to be too preachy.

Still, even with this dropping of the ball, the film is a monumental achievement. It manages to tell a distressing story and it does so with a brutal and convincing scrupulousness that meets the single most bloodthirsty issue of our day.

I should add to its credit that within the first five minutes of the film, you’ll learn the distinction between those who shout “Baby killer!” through the fence at a young and confused girl and those who are seeking to be faithful to Christ and serve in the trenches in love. Equally, and while I almost don’t want to admit it, the movie works to humanize the people working in the clinic. They are people with families who really do think that they’re helping women. In that sense, “Unplanned” is a movie made for people so that they understand other people.

But most importantly, the movie works to convince the majority that they never really had the lizard, only its tail.

I highly recommend the film, and again, I encourage you to see it. You’ll be changed. It’ll be a hard metamorphosis to experience, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll be given an insider’s look into what’s happening in abortion clinics across the country. What you’ll see, you won’t be able to unsee. It’ll be seared into your mind. For many, I hope the images are all that was needed to turn thoughts into actions and actions into results—the ultimate result being a collective awakening and a final ridding of the abomination that is abortion from this country.