jasonbwatson

January 22, 2020

The Work of God’s Hands

Today is the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade, a decision that made abortion legal across the United States and has resulted in tens of millions of innocent deaths. The ACLU tweeted today, “Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is a RIGHT.” Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) tweeted, “…we must redouble our resistance against attempts to take us backwards. Women’s health is not negotiable. Women’s bodies belong to no one but themselves.” Of course, those who are so adamantly committed to maintaining a woman’s right to kill her unborn child are celebrating today and reiterating their commitment to making abortion access even more available than it already is. Those of us who recognize that “pro-choice” is really just a more pleasant way of saying “pro-death,” however, mourn this anniversary.

I do want to address the evil of abortion specifically in this post, but before I do, I want to address abortion from a different—and necessary—other perspective.

Those of us who are pro-life are often very adept at articulating our commitment to the sanctity of life and our opposition to abortion. And I honestly do not know how anyone can claim to be a Christian and Bible believer and not be pro-life. At the same time, we do not tend to be nearly so articulate, or compassionate, when it comes to our treatment of those who have had an abortion. It is my commitment, and it should be the commitment of every believer and every church, that I will treat any woman who becomes pregnant, regardless of the circumstances of that pregnancy, with grace and compassion, not shame and rejection. Now, it is possible that someone is thinking that might serve only to condone or excuse sinful behavior, but that’s not what I am saying. Here’s what I am saying:

It is not sinful in and of itself to be pregnant. The actions that led to becoming pregnant may have been sinful. They may have been sinful on the part of the woman who is now pregnant and they may have been sinful on the part of the person who impregnated her. In other words, the woman who is pregnant may have sinned or she may be the victim of someone else’s sin. If her pregnancy is the result of her sin, there are biblical guidelines on how that is to be addressed. But there is nothing wrong with being a mother or with being pregnant. If we are to be a Bible-believers acting in accordance with the Scripture, then we must take that position that we love babies—unborn and born—and we hate it when any baby is killed.

I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I will not ever, regardless of circumstances, encourage a woman to have an abortion. ((And I am not going to go into the specifics here, but I can also tell you that abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother. An early delivery of the child might be, but abortion is not). All children are a gift from God and every child bears the image of God—and no child, born or unborn, deserves to be killed for the actions of his or her parent, even if the actions were sinful.

If the actions of the pregnant woman were sinful and the women is repentant, then we are instructed to come along side her and restore her. If she is not repentant, we have instructions from the Bible on what to do in that situation, as well. But no where in the Bible can we find direction or support for rejecting, ignoring, condemning or abandoning that woman.

Josh Brahm, from the Equal Rights Institute, tells this story, with the permission of Monique, the woman involved:

She grew up with an absent father and thus a mother who worked multiple jobs to support her children. One of her mother’s jobs was as an administrator for the black Pentecostal church that Monique grew up attending. At the age of 17, Monique became pregnant because of a guy who took advantage of her.

Nobody at the church asked how she became pregnant. Instead, the church leadership told her mother that Monique was to sit in the back pew until the pregnancy was over. She was no longer allowed to talk to her friends, as the parents assumed that Monique would be a bad influence on them. Monique’s mother didn’t intervene on her behalf because she was so embarrassed about the situation, and she didn’t understand what had really happened to Monique.

Monique recalled a particular Sunday morning when she was singing loudly from the back pew during the worship time. Monique is one of the most gifted vocalists I’ve ever served with on a worship team, and that love of singing began in Monique’s childhood. It was one of the primary ways that Monique connected with God. But on this day, as she was singing, a woman in the pew in front of her turned around and said, “Don’t you wish you could be singing to the glory of God?” Monique went silent. She said that she had never felt as lonely or shamed as she did during that pregnancy. She distinctly remembers thinking, “If this is church, then I don’t want to have any part of it.”

It is certainly my hope and my prayer that such a response would never come from me or from my church—or any church.

Now, having discussed how we are, and are not, to respond when a woman becomes pregnant outside of marriage, let me also make clear that we must respond similarly if we ever meet someone who we know, or we learn, has had an abortion or has paid for someone to have an abortion. I believe absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, that abortion is murder and abortion is sin. But I also know absolutely, 100%, without a doubt that I am a sinner, and so are you, and that Jesus loves sinners—and commands me to do the same.

If you are reading this and you have had an abortion, or you paid for someone else to have one—you need to know two things: God knows that…and God still loves you. And if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, that sin has been forgiven. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Phillips translation says, “No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are ‘in’ Jesus Christ.” No condemnation means that—no condemnation, regardless of your past.

All of that was a necessary backdrop to the rest of what I am going to say about the evil of abortion. First, some basic facts…

According to the Guttmacher Institute (which, by the way, supports abortion rights):

• Eighteen percent of pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in 2017 ended in abortion.
• Approximately 862,320 abortions were performed in 2017. That is just under the current population of South Dakota and greater than the populations of North Dakota, Vermont, Alaska or Wyoming.

Can I put those numbers into some perspective for you? Using 2017 numbers…

• Abortion killed more people in five days than drunk drivers did in a year.
• The increase in suicide rates gets a lot of attention…as it should…but in 2017, abortion killed more people in twenty days than suicide did all year.
• Abortion killed more people in 65 days than lung cancer did in a year.
• Abortion killed more people in 8.5 months in the U.S. than cancer of all kinds combined did in a year.
• The leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2017 was heart disease, with 647,457 fatalities. Abortion killed that many in nine months. Do you understand what that means? It means that abortion was, by a long shot, the leading cause of death in the United States in 2017—and that was a year in which abortion reached its lowest number since legalization in 1973!
• The total number of deaths, excluding abortion, in the U.S. in 2017 was 2,813,503. If abortion were included in that number, it would be 30% higher.

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided., more than 55 million babies have been aborted. That’s 1.4 times the population of California. It’s double the population of Texas as of the last census.

That number is larger than the population of the 25 smallest U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Consider the maps included here to imagine what it might be like if the people in those 25 states were gone.

The United States

The United States with the 25 smallest-population states removed

If we were to have a ten-second moment of silence for every baby killed by abortion since 1973, we would have to be silent for more than seventeen years! (If you find that difficult to believe, see the footnote for the math).

All of this stems from the beliefs of what those who are in favor of the right to abortion call the “pro-choice” position. Of course, Ronald Reagan very succinctly and directly addressed the silliness of that terminology in a debate in 1980, when he said, “With regard to the freedom of the individual for choice with regard to abortion, there is one individual who is not being considered at all, and that is the one who is being aborted. And I have noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

If you pay any attention to the news, the odds are good that you have seen or read the speech that Michelle Williams gave when she won a Golden Globe award two weeks ago. In it, she said, “And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.” She was celebrating her professional accomplishment and announcing to the world that she could not have reached that accomplishment without the right to kill her unborn child.

Interestingly enough, in November of 2012 a woman named Jodi Jacobsen wrote an article entitled, “Life Begins At Conception. That’s Not the Point.” In that article she said,

Here is a startling revelation: I am a mother of two and a woman who earlier in her life had an abortion. I am unapologetically pro-choice. And I know life *begins* at conception (which itself is the product of a complex process), because I kinda already knew that having a child required, as a first step, the successful integration of a sperm and an egg, or fertilization. (emphasis hers)

She later writes, “The question is not when life begins. That just obfuscates the real issues.”

So, what are the real issues? Well, according to Jacobsen, the “fundamental” issues are:

• When does pregnancy begin?
• Does personhood begin at conception? Is a fertilized egg, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus a person with rights that trump those of the woman upon whose body it depends?
• Do women need “evidence” that if they are pregnant, odds are they are going to have a baby?
• Do women have the moral agency and fundamental rights to decide whether or not to commit themselves not only to the development of a life within their own bodies, but to a lifelong tie to another human being once a child is born?

Later in that article, Jacobsen makes the case that “life” and “personhood” are not the same thing. And Peter Singer would agree. Singer is a professor at Princeton, a philosopher and an atheist, and he has to be the most blunt pro-death individual I have ever come across. In 1979 he published a book entitled Practical Ethics, which was revised and reprinted in 1999. In it, Singer says that human worth should be determined by human capacity. Accordingly, he wrote this:

A week-old human baby is not a rational and self-conscious being, and there are many non-human animals whose rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity, and so on, exceed that of a human baby a week or a month old. [Therefore] the life of a newborn baby is of less value…than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.

I imagine that concept is troubling to you. I hope that it is. After all, I cannot imagine anyone who ever held a newborn child and thought, “This isn’t even a person yet!” I could give you other examples of similar ideas held by others. Sadly, they are not in short supply. But the truth, for those of us who believe the Bible, who hold a theistic worldview, is clearly summarized in this statement by Rebecca McLaughlin:

From a theistic perspective, there is such a thing as a child—who might make moral demands on us—only because God created children. … With a theistic worldview, morality and reality spring from the same source.

And that, of course, is what this entire thing really comes down to. “God created children.” God created each and every human being that exists, that has ever existed and that ever will exist.
In Isaiah 64, Isaiah is asking God to manifest Himself to the people of Israel and show His power in a very real way. And I do not generally like to handpick a verse to focus on without providing the full context, so forgive me for doing so this time, but I want to zero in on verse 8. Isaiah writes, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

I want to make three points from this verse about the creation and value of each human being. I want us to grasp the intimacy, the intentionality and the individuality of each human life.

Isaiah is using the imagery of a potter shaping clay. If you have ever tried your hand at pottery, or ever watched someone else do it, you realize that it is an intimate act. It is up-close and personal. The hands of the potter are working the clay, feeling the clay, shaping the clay… God’s design and creation of every human being is similarly intimate and personal.

A potter does not just haphazardly shape the clay on the wheel. He or she is intentional about the design—where to apply pressure, and how much pressure to apply; how tall to make it, how wide or narrow. It all depends on the intended design and purpose of the pottery being made at that moment. God’s design and creation of each human being is intentional.

And thirdly, a potter makes each piece of pottery individually. Even if making similarly designed pieces, each is special and unique. God designs and creates each human being individually, as well. He does not have an assembly line that cranks us out. We are each, in the words of the psalmist, wonderfully made.

We are each made intimately, intentionally and individually. We are the work of God’s hands. And we are made in the image of God. Every life is sacred. Every life has worth.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

60 seconds x 60 minutes = 3,600 seconds per hour
3,600 seconds x 24 hours = 86,400 seconds per day
86,400 seconds x 365 = 31,536,000 seconds per year

55,000,000 million abortions x 10 seconds = 550,000,000 seconds

550,000,000 seconds / 31,536,000 seconds = 17.44 years

January 1, 2020

My Year in Books – 2019

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After missing the mark in 2018, I once again met my goal of fifty books for the year, finishing with 54 books read in 2019. Here’s the rundown…

As it always does, last year’s reading included a regular helping of fiction, including titles from authors I enjoy and read a lot of as well as new authors I decided to try. In that first category would be Mark Pryor’s The Crypt Thief, The Sorbonne Affair, The Reluctant Matador and The Book Artist. They are all part of his Hugo Marston series and I have now read all eight of that series. James Patterson’s Target Alex Cross, Ambush, The Inn and Mary, Mary provided a range of Patterson, with the first and last both being from the Alex Cross series (the first being the most recent and the last being from 2005 but one I had not read); Ambush being from the Detective Michael Bennett series and The Inn being (at least so far) a stand-alone novel. I have never read a Patterson book and considered it great literature, but they make for quick reads that give the brain a rest…and the good guys always win.  I read John Grisham’s latest, The Guardians, and, because I read all of Grisham’s books, Theodore Boone: The Accomplice, the latest in his series for young readers. The Guardians is a typical Grishamesque novel, but I am sure that it gives a fairly accurate picture of what some attorneys committed to ensuring that those on death row received fair trials and were justly convicted do indeed go through in their pursuit of justice. The New Girl is the latest in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series; it is as enjoyable as all of Silva’s books, and it provides a unique story loosely based on the current Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but it makes some highly unlikely moves that strain credulity, even for a work of fiction. And, having completed his Clifton Chronicles, Jeffrey Archer launched the Detective William Warwick series with Nothing Ventured. If you have read Pryor, Patterson, Grisham, Allon or Archer then you know what to expect from their writing, and these books all follow suit.

Other fiction this year included two books about quiet heroism in WWII Paris. Charles Belfoure’s The Paris Architect is an intriguing novel about (surprise!) an architect in Paris during who winds up—first reluctantly and then devotedly—designing architecturally-brilliant hiding places for Jews seeking to avoid capture by the Nazis, and Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie tells of an American woman who married a Frenchman who, unbeknownst to her, was part of the French resistance. When he died and she discovered his role, she commits to continuing his work. This story interweaves the incredible risk and sacrifice of so many “everyday people” during war with a love story. Transcription, by Kate Atkinson, is another WWII-era story, though one set in England. It focuses on a young woman who winds up working for MI5, transcribing the recorded conversations of Fascist sympathizers, and interweaves that story with one that took place ten years later when the main character was working at the BBC. All three of these were interesting reads and I would recommend them all, probably in the order they are listed here for anyone wanting them in rank-order.

The Other Side of Silence is the second Philip Kerr novel I have read, and both have featured Bernie Gunther, a former homicide detective in Nazi Germany. This story takes place a decade after WWII and finds Gunther working as a concierge along the French Riviera. The tale also features Somerset Maugham and his work for the British Secret Service during WWII, though the details of the plot rely heavily on Maugham’s homosexuality.

Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night is a delightful work of historical fiction that features young lawyer Paul Cravath and his work on a lawsuit filed by Thomas Edison against George Westinghouse over a lightbulb patent dispute. The story also features J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla, as well as an opera singer whose story is not what she presents. A fun and fascinating read that would also prompt interest in the real historical facts among many readers, I am sure.

The classic work of fiction I read in 2019 was James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer. It is a slow read, and there is a legitimate reason why Mark Twain said that Cooper “persistently violated” the rule to “eschew surplusage” with this tale, but all in all it was not as bad as Twain made it out to be.

Moving on… I read a number of biographies in 2019, starting with Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor. I would call this a must-read for fans and admirers of America’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers. King provides an insightful look at the life of the man who committed his adult life to communicating kindly and truthfully with children. Randy Peterson’s The Printer and the Preacher is a dual biography of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield that also tells the story of their mutually-beneficial friendship, and Jason Lane’s General and Madame de Lafayette is a dual biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, whom every good schoolboy and schoolgirl learned about from an early age while studying American history, his wife, and the interesting way in which Lafayette’s commitment to liberty and equality made him both a hero and a scoundrel, depending on the year and the one giving the verdict. Tim Hornbaker’s Fall From Grace is an engaging biography of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the famous Chicago “Black Sox.” Susan Page provides a detailed, but not cumbersome, look at the life of Barbara Bush in The Matriarch and Scott Lamb gives an excellent biography of Mike Huckabee, and keen political insight, in Huckabee. Lamb gives readers a glaring reminder that the American evangelical community all but ignored Mike Huckabee in 2008 despite the fact that he was the most evangelical presidential candidate ever. If the fictional works about WWII mentioned above are of interest to you, then I strongly recommend Tilar Mazzeo’s Irena’s Children, the true story of the incredible work done by Irena Sendler and her colleagues in the Warsaw ghetto.

Nancy Koehn’s Forged in Crisis is a blending of biography and leadership study. Koehn looks at the lives of Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rachel Carson and offers insights from the way each handled “turbulent times” (part of the book’s subtitle) in their lives.

There were two autobiographies on my 2019 list, an old one and a new one. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is the true story of a woman born in slavery, the abuse she endured from her owner, her escape—and subsequent seven years spent living in her grandmother’s attic—and the difficult decisions Jacobs made in her pursuit to be near, and do what was best for, her children. The new one was Gary Sinise’s Grateful American. It tells Sinise’s personal story, which is interesting, but also tells the story of how the part of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump led him to start the Gary Sinise Foundation. The work that that organization has done on behalf of American veterans is absolutely incredible and incredibly admirable. How TIME has never selected Sinise as its Person of the Year is beyond me.

There is always a good bit of American history on my reading list, too, and 2019 was no different. Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor is an intriguing story of Cold War espionage and a captivating spy thriller—and it is a true story! Ellen Wayland-Smith’s Oneida is a detailed look at the attempted utopian community by that name, including all of its strange ideas and living arrangements. Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg is the best and most thorough single-volume look at that Civil War battle that I have encountered, despite the fact that Guelzo sometimes inserts opinion and commentary that is not really befitting the book’s overall approach. I always enjoy David McCullough’s writing, and he brought his usual style to the history of the settlement of the Northwest Territory in The Pioneers.  Bruce Chadwick’s I Am Murdered tells the story of the murder of George Wythe and the subsequent trial.

Due largely to taking a couple of graduate courses on the subject, I read a great deal about slavery during the past year, including these books in their entirety: Daina Ramey Berry’s The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, Heather Andrea Williams’s American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction, Calvin Schermerhorn’s Unrequired Toil and Educated in Tyranny, edited by Maurie McInnis and Louis Nelson. I would recommend all four. Berry introduces the concept of “soul value” in her work, a valuable approach to considering the lives of the enslaved; Williams’s work is indeed short but it is comprehensive too, making it a very effective overview and a great starting point; Schermerhorn’s book contains a chapter entitled “Geopolitics” that is the most insightful look at the causes of the Civil War I have probably ever seen; and Educated in Tyranny provides a fascinating examination of the role of slaves in the construction and early operation of the University of Virginia.

Some books do not really fit into any other category. For 2019 that would include Millard Seaman’s Gumbo, Gumption and God, a combination history of the founding of Sunshine Bible Academy, where I have served since 2011, and thoughts on the philosophy of Christian education. In Allow the Children Susan Cook explains how the ministry of that name was started and has grown to include the support of orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in several countries around the world, as well as children’s homes and pastoral training. Another in that category would be Lauren Winner’s Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity was honest and thought provoking, and consistent with the assertion Winner made in a 2000 column for Christianity Today that many evangelicals did not take chastity seriously. The book certainly loses some of its value when considering that Winner is now divorced and an ordained Episcopal priest, and it is worth noting as well that Real Sex is not listed among her works on her faculty profile page for Duke Divinity School, where she is an Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality. Cal Ripken, Jr.’s Just Show Up applies Ripken’s approach to baseball to other areas of life and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness stressed the importance of accurately understanding the “facts” that we are confronted with on a regular basis throughout our lives.

Last, but not least, would be those books that fall into the categories of Christian living and the practice of Christianity. Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship explains how the gospel message should shape corporate worship. Daniel Henderson’s Old Paths, New Power focuses on the importance of praying and preaching the Word of God. It had some good reminders and interesting personal accounts but also seemed to stray at times from what I would personally be comfortable with. In It’s Time to Pray, Carter Conlon emphasizes the importance of prayer, as well, personally and corporately, and he also tells personal stories of seeing the power of prayer at work in incredible ways. Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way describes the way Old Testament figures prepared the way for the coming of Christ but also shows how often we, in contemporary America, emphasize things that have very little to do with the “Jesus way.” Jeremy Walker’s Life in Christ is a short book on discipleship, and Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission addresses both being a disciple and making disciples. Balanced Christianity by John Stott emphasizes not veering too far one way or the other in various areas of tension in the Christian life. Your Victory in Christ is the only book by John Bunyan that I have ever read other than Pilgrim’s Progress, and there is a reason that the former is not anywhere near as well known as the latter. It uses the same style as Pilgrim’s Progress and the message is worthwhile, of course, but it is not nearly as effective. In The Secret Battle of Ideas About God Jeff Myers provides an update to the various worldview ideas presented in Summit Ministries’ Understanding the Times materials while interlacing accounts of his personal struggles. Stop Loving the World, by Puritan William Greenhill, addresses the problem of worldliness—and even greater problem now than when Greenhill wrote in the seventeenth century—and the biblical antidote to that sin. Joseph Stowell’s Radical Reliance is adequately summed up in the book’s subtitle, “Living 24/7 with Christ at the Center,” and his Simply Jesus is a concise book with much the same theme.

So, there’s another annual recap. When I ended last year’s Books in Review post I said that when it came time to write the next one I would hopefully have once again exceeded my goal of fifty books—which I did—and would maybe even have posted more than three times during the year—which I did not. Well, .500 is not bad, is it? And there’s always next year…

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