…I have set before you life and death…now choose life so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life…Deut 30:20ff
Having passed the 40th year commemoration of the unconstitutional, illegal and utterly devastating Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision producing legislation and now public funding for the unprecedented assault upon the unborn child in the womb, I think it is proper to reflect on its devastating effect as a key event in the death spiral of western culture. We have moved from being a culture that imperfectly yet intentionally affirms, appreciates and celebrates life and liberty to one that now allows, funds and applauds a fabricated right to put to death the most helpless individuals in society who reside in what ought to be the safest place in society – the womb of their mother. Christ-followers, saved by grace, are called in no uncertain terms to “choose life” in the midst of the onslaught of death in a culture of unbridled self-absorption and self-aggrandizement. In response to the mounting tide of depravity in a society aggressively and militantly opposed to the Word of God, believers must “choose life.” The moment demands the choice. Will the people of God, who are redeemed by the grace of God, surrender to the culture of death and despair? Or will we choose to promote and proclaim a culture of life and hope? The dilemma and the moment are neither new nor unique.
God’s covenant people have always been surrounded by cultures of death and despair in a fallen world. In Egypt during the captivity, the governmental assault upon children was met by Hebrew midwives who “chose life.” In Rome, during the beginning of the New Testament church, Christians were surrounded by a death culture where widows were left to die, unwanted children were thrown into rivers and trash heaps, and the helpless were virtually eliminated. But believers cared for the widows; they fished children out of rivers and rescued them from trash heaps; they helped the helpless while refusing, under the penalty of death, to say “Caesar is lord” in order to confess that “Jesus is Lord.”
Considering the horror of pagan cultures living in death and despair provokes within us an emotional tide of revulsion, yet today’s evangelical church does not need to look back to the corridors of history, we can simply survey our current neo-pagan culture. We live in an America that is addicted to sexual promiscuity, perversion, and violence; all the while drowning in a culture of death that is propagated by media fascination, entertainment profits and by an academic community which promotes ethical chaos in the pursuit of personal ascendancy. The result? Children, who survived as targets for death in the womb, are now making other children the targets of death while blithely going on their own personal journey into an adulthood of unrestrained narcissism that was initiated by the generation that raised them.
Many were rightly horrified when the December 14, 2012 Newtown, Connecticut massacre began to fill the news cycle, not only in America, but throughout the world. Twenty children and six adults were killed. It was an onslaught of death and mayhem in of all places, the pre-supposed safe haven of an elementary school. But not announced by the news media, on the very same day in Connecticut seventy other children were assaulted and put to death in what ought to be the safest haven in all of God’s creation—the womb. Furthermore, on December 15, 2012, seventy more were put to death; on December 16, 2012, seventy more; on December 17, 18 and on, and on, and on.
On that horrific day we observed elected leaders shed tears over those twenty students. And rightly so! But it should also be noted that many of these same leaders, just weeks before, applauded and cheered as the votes were cast and counted for a platform plank consigning an untold number of children in the womb to death by an adopted policy of unfettered abortion (soon to be publicly funded). For this astonishing phenomenon simply view the re-runs of the Democratic Party National Convention while listening to the carefully worded policies announced and approved to affirm the unrestrained promotion of abortion while promising public funding, all with the attendant applause and cheers of a pep rally.
9/11/2001 AND ROE v WADE
Allow an attempt to try and put the horror of abortion and our death culture in perspective. On September 11, 2001, we all heard and saw how religious terrorists using airplanes took the lives of 3000 innocent Americans. On that same day another three thousand plus innocent Americans came under the terrorist assault of the abortionist’s needle or knife. Another three thousand were assaulted the next day. Then the next. Then the next, and on to this very day and every day since. Yet no one except those performing the acts of terror upon these children saw or heard the horror of their death and few tears—if any—were shed for them.
Since the Roe v Wade decision 40 years ago, 60 plus million human lives have been aborted, and therefore destroyed. Less than 2% of those abortions occurred to save the life of the mother. We live in a culture that unhesitatingly and arrogantly celebrates its autonomy against the law of God – “Thou shalt not murder.” Then, when the culture of death we have initiated strikes a school yard, we fumble around for solutions which are politically correct but inherently thoughtless, superficial and illogical. Why? Because we refuse to see evil for what it is, lest we see ourselves in the mirror of depravity and have to own our responsibility for what it is: complicity. So instead of thoughtfully investigating the root of our society’s problems and recognizing the horror of death and despair that engulfs our culture, our leaders actually promote a surrender to the death culture with solutions that turn our schools into miniature prisons, complete with barricades, barbed wire, armed guards and locked doors. If the womb isn’t safe, why would we assume a locked-down school would be safe in the American death culture?
A LESSON FROM NOSTALGIA
Is it possible that someone might simply raise the question in public discourse, “Oh my goodness, fifty years ago children, as a matter of course, walked to school and then came home?” I doubt they would. Because that would lead to the next question: “Why can’t they do so today?” Fifty years ago, our children did not need armed guards to protect them at school. They walked to school, walked home and then played outside. Who today would allow their children to walk to school or play unsupervised in the neighborhood? No, today we must guard them and imprison them in order to protect them from the death culture we have produced. Guns? There were plenty of guns 50 years ago. Did guns suddenly develop a mind of their own or spontaneously become aggressive? Obviously not!
The true question is what kind of culture produces people who use guns, not for protection but rather for murder, mayhem and massacre in order to create a moment of personal significance. We have enlarged our culture of death from targeting children in the womb to targeting children in the classroom. The politically correct response is to legislate gun control and ban firearms. The thoughtful will immediately recognize that the evil of death by the use of guns will never be stopped by outlawing guns any more than outlawing spoons will solve the problem of morbid obesity. We desperately need leaders who do not put Band-Aids on our cultural cancer. We need leaders who will do surgery and we need a revived church to bring a Gospel stem-cell transplant to a society on its deathbed.
TWO REASONS FOR OUR CULTURE OF DEATH
So how did we get here? Risking the criticism of being overly simplistic, I would suggest we have arrived in a culture of death via two watershed events. The first is the unchallenged predominance of an atheistic Darwinism – the evolutionary view of origins that is relentlessly taught and promoted without allowing debate in the academy, the media and the public square. Its religious faith-premise is that all of creation and humanity is somehow the result of a chance explosion of bits, pieces, molecules and atoms (of course we have no idea of their origin as freely admitted by even its proponents). All of this somehow “explosively” produced life, laws, beauty and order further developed by mutation and “the survival of the fittest” as the necessary violent mechanism propelling the evolution of life to present day humanity.
The unchallenged irrationality of Darwinian evolution married to the religion of atheism logically paves the way to the targeting of the vulnerable and the inconvenient in our culture of death. It is the “powerful” and “the fittest surviving” by bringing the weapons of death upon the unfit, the weak and the unwanted. To be even more precise: the most vulnerable and inconvenient targets for death will be children. First, the children in the womb where we can’t see or hear them die; then, the children in the schoolroom where, at least for the moment, we are thankfully still horrified by seeing and hearing them die. Yet even as I write this, I hear an L.A. news station report that two 5th graders with a hit list, a gun, and a knife were caught planning to start a killing spree beginning with a 5th grade girl who had annoyed them.
Secondly, as Dr. Frances Schaeffer warned us years ago in his prescient production, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, abortion would only be the beginning of a publicly affirmed and applauded culture of death. Roe v Wade has devolved into state approved – now state funded and politically cheered – abortion with no ethical or even emotional restraints. Have you noticed that you no longer hear people say, “let’s keep abortion but make it safe and rare?” Of course, the statement is obviously nonsensical. If, in fact, that which is in the womb is nothing more than an inconvenient piece of valueless tissue or a choice, then why should abortion be “safe and rare?” You don’t hear politicians or doctors advocating for “safe and rare” tonsillectomies, appendectomies or elective surgeries. The reason we used to hear, “keep it safe and rare,” is because deep down we knew it was not a tissue; it was not a choice; it is simply not an “it”. It is a child and therefore a life. That’s why the abortion debate will not silently go away even after 40 years. We all know in our hearts that what resides in a womb is a life. That’s why husbands say, “My wife is with child.” That is why mothers say, “I’m pregnant with a child.” They don’t say, “We are with fetus.” All of us know, biologically and in our hearts, that what resides in the womb is a person complete with its Divinely-designed DNA for life. It is a life. It is a child.
Roe v Wade was just as imbecilic and self-contradictory—both logically and constitutionally—as the Supreme Court cases used to uphold slavery a century ago by declaring human beings as 3/5th of a person. Just as the church, beginning with the pulpit, should have spoken then, we must speak now. We know, no matter what the government says, a life in the womb is a living child. As Christ-followers we cannot keep silent. Yet according to a reputable survey, 76% of the members of Protestant churches believe Roe v Wade should be untouched and 64% of Roman Catholics believe the same. At the moment, the only religious entity that has a majority who say something should be done about Roe v Wade is the Evangelical church, and that only by a tenuous majority of 54%.
Abortion and its inevitable offspring of infanticide are soon to be followed by the requirement of the elderly to die in a rationed health care society—active euthanasia. We are drowning in a culture of death and despair. As grateful as I am that people are horrified with massacres like Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and Columbine, the reality is that we ought to be asking ourselves other questions: “Why is it that we have a dominant, dark, gothic culture of death where the biggest movie attractions are saturated with graphic and gratuitous death and destruction? Why is it that our most popular video games train children and youth to keep score by the senseless slaughter of others in order to ‘win?’” Why? Why are we so entranced by death?
THE THIRD RAIL
I would suggest, though, that there is a third reason for the culture of death and despair. The culture is often unchallenged by professing believers because the church and the culture are consistently unchallenged by silent pulpits. To my preaching colleagues – we cannot therefore we must not be silent. Your voice for life may initially cost attendance and applause. It may lead to persecution. But silence is not an option. What would have happened if our preacher forbearers had spoken from the pulpits in the 19th century with Biblical clarity on the insane practice of chattel slavery (man stealing), as William Wilberforce and John Newton did in England? Perhaps 700,000 lives lost in the Civil War might have been spared and an entire race of people affirmed with freedom and dignity. Silence was wrong then and silence is wrong now. If we choose to be silent then in reality we have chosen to affirm and accelerate the culture of death and despair. Furthermore, our people will neither be awakened nor equipped to “set life” before a broken and fallen world.
Remarkably, many of us as pastors will speak eloquently from our pulpits on the moral issues applauded by our contemporary culture. Issues such as racism and sex-trafficking will permeate our discourse, and well they should! But why do our members have to make an office appointment with us to find out where we stand on the Sanctity of Life and abortion? Could it be because our selective pulpit ministry only embraces the moral and social issues of justice approved by our culture, while we avoid those issues of which it disapproves? Are we fearfully hiding behind the veil of ministry contextualization to avoid “speaking the truth in love”? Contextualization in ministry rightly understood means for us to speak in terms the culture understands. But today contextualization means speaking only on the terms the culture approves. Contextualization then becomes an excuse for our pulpit silence on the issues which our culture forbids us to address yet we readily speak to the issues the culture dictates and approves.
Recently I read excerpts from journals written by confessing evangelical pastors in Germany after WWII. With broken hearts, these pastors acknowledged, “We saw the Nazis taking the Jewish people to slaughter and we closed our eyes and shut out ears to save ourselves and our ministries.” One pastor said, “The Jewish prisoners, jammed in railroad cars crying for help passed behind our church each Sunday. Our response was to turn up the organ louder so we could not hear them.”
The only difference between our German predecessors and us today is that we cannot hear the silent screams uttered from the womb. But we know they are screaming as they are taken to slaughter. We turn up the volume in our worship services and turn down the volume in our pulpits on the issue of a child’s life in the womb. Is it possible that we could, beginning with the pulpit, “choose life” and therefore regain the ability and authority to “set life” before our culture appropriately, thoughtfully, compassionately, and courageously. If we do not, then we have, by default, chosen death. We have said “no” to life which, in turn, makes us complicit in the prevailing culture of death. Today, you and I live in a nation where 35 to 40% of all children conceived this year will be murdered by the abortionist’s knife or needle. This phenomenon is cascading into a flood of death, from abortion to infanticide; not only in the hospital nursery with signs that say, “Do not feed” but also in our homes. Of the children ages 5 and under who are murdered each year, one out of three will be killed by their parents.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
As stated earlier, I believe we are in this situation because of the devastating and unscientific view of origins (atheistic Darwinian evolution) and because of the 40 year Roe v Wade journey into death and despair (with its affirmation and public funding of a politically enforced unrestrained right to kill the most defenseless life in God’s creation, a child in the womb), and because of the silence in our pulpits resulting in the deafening silence of Christians. But there is a solution! God’s people can, in contrast to this culture, as urged in Deuteronomy 30:20 “choose life” and “set life” before a dying world. We can call our culture to “choose life” by modeling a culture of life in the church. How?
When believers “choose life” it means first and foremost to choose God, to surrender to His saving grace in Christ and then worship Him in all of life. Imagine what would happen if we, as believers, worshiped the Triune God of glory, not only when we gather on Sundays but also with our lives. Inevitably the culture of death would be faced with a flourishing culture of life reveling in the glory of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer?
What would happen to the American culture of death if, in God’s Providence, those of us not blessed biologically with children would say to the world: “Give us your unwanted children. Don’t kill them. Give them to us. We will place them in our foster homes. We will adopt them into our own families.” God’s people must choose life and hope and then offer it to those drowning in the culture of death and despair by giving them a choice of life and hope for them and their children. When God is worshipped because God’s grace in Christ has set us free to live life with courage, conviction and compassion, then God’s people can “set life” before those who are the purveyors of death and who are the targets of death in the culture.
PERSONALLY CHOOSE LIFE
I know some reading this, while influenced by the culture of death and despair, which married to a relentless pursuit of self-love and the idolatry of happiness as defined by the world inevitably leads to wrong decisions. Perhaps in that moment you chose death for an unborn or perhaps you encouraged, funded or pressured a woman to choose death for an unborn. I long for you to know that the Gospel of grace will bring you life and forgiveness today if you will “choose life” in Christ! David took the life of Uriah, but by God’s grace he repented and was forgiven. Moses took the life of an Egyptian. He repented and was forgiven. Paul, previously Saul, was a religious terrorist. He repented and was forgiven. There is a Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who will forgive you if, by repentance and faith, you will turn to him. Come to Him—Jesus saves. Don’t travel the dead-end road of behavior modification. Don’t play the victim. Don’t live in denial. Simply yet profoundly say, “Lord, I have sinned, but in you I have a Risen Savior who died on the cross for my sins. Forgive me—save me.
As for those of us who have been guilty of silence or who have disengaged from the culture: we can also repent and “choose life”. Then, together, we can and will commit to setting life before the culture death.
Our first step is to proclaim the life-redeeming Gospel of Jesus Christ to lost men and women who have embraced the deceitfulness of the father of lies, Satan, who “was a murderer from the beginning.” If we will persistently and passionately bring the Gospel of saving grace and life to others by announcing that Jesus Christ freely saves sinners, and if we would disciple Christ-followers so that they develop Christ-centered LifeStyles, then they will be propelled by a Christ-centered LifeLove, informed by a Christ-centered LifeView, and we, with compassion, humility, courage and conviction, will propagate life and hope to a culture of death and despair. Intentionally, we would embrace Gospel deeds of love, mercy, and justice. We would also engage in intentional Gospel-evangelism and disciple-making and others would see Christ in us and hear Christ from us. Christ, the Lord of glory—Christ, the Word of life—Christ, the Lord of life.
Finally, we must engage the culture in multiple venues, undergirded first and foremost by intercessory prayer. The battle is the Lord’s. So let’s pray to the Victor of the battle that He will use us and empower us. We know the culture of death is rooted in the financial industry of death and its multi-billion dollar profits and will not be defeated without an enormous struggle. When we “choose life” and assault death, we will inevitably become a target of the death culture because of its financial investments, its gods of mammon and its self-absorption are threatened. The evil empire of darkness will assuredly strike back. In that day only the Lord can give us the victory and He gives the victories through praying people.
Engage prayerfully in Gospel evangelism and discipleship. Then thoughtfully engage the issues of the day. The opportunities are limitless. Perhaps you will be involved at the point of legislation, restraining the death spiral of the culture. Perhaps you can engage by ministering to women in crisis situations through Save-A-Life Ministries or by opening your home to foster care or adoption. Perhaps you can encourage and support the single mom who chooses life with your love, fellowship and hospitality. Investigate every avenue and prayerfully seek how the Lord might lead you and use you. But don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t be silent.
Contrary to atheistic Darwin evolution, life is not a cosmic accident developed by chance through mindless mutations. You are not here bearing the image of God by virtue of the “survival of the fittest.” Life is Divinely designed and created. Life is sacred from conception until death. The Lord gives life and the Lord takes away life. The assault on children in the womb, in the classroom, in the hospital nursery and in the nursing homes targeting the unproductive and the unwanted will consume us or we will challenge it. It must be challenged with the “weapons of the Spirit” and the “power of the Gospel.”
You ask, “What can I do? I am just an ordinary everyday person. Do you really believe I can make a difference?” How I wish I could eradicate that thought from your mind! Many, just like you, are making a monumental difference –with organizations like Save-A-Life, tutoring programs, marriage counseling and ministries of mercy. One preacher said it this way: “to make a difference you simply have to be FIT—Faithful, Intentional, and Teachable.” Here am I Lord. I will not be silent nor watch from the sidelines. I will “choose life” out of love to You who brought life to me in Christ. By the grace of God, I will set before this culture life through Gospel evangelism, discipleship, ministries of mercy and justice while engaging the public square. But do know this: God loves to take ordinary people and do extraordinary things.
One such man was named Telemachus, a fourth century, pastor and monk. At the conclusion of his life and knowing he didn’t have long to live, Telemachus decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome. When he arrived, he was swept up with the crowd into the Coliseum. Suddenly, in front of his eyes, he saw what he had heard about but dared not believe was true. Muscled, trained men for the entertainment of others were engaged in mortal combat – The Gladiators. With horror Telemachus saw them kill each other while spectators cheered and laughed at the gory, frenzied spectacle. But on that day in the Coliseum Telemachus “chose life” and “set life” before Rome.
From his seat he cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop! In the name of Christ, stop!” No one was listening so he moved to the edge of wall, stood on it and said “In the name of Christ, stop! In the name of Christ, stop.” No one paid any attention except some nearby who mocked and jeered him. Still not content he jumped into the arena. Standing between the Gladiators he said “In the name of Christ, stop!” One agitated Gladiator pushed him aside but he returned. Then Telemachus pushed his way between the armed Gladiators and held his hands before them and said “In the name of Christ, stop!” The Gladiator now, clearly annoyed and irritated, took his weapon and ran it through Telemachus. He lifted him up and impaled him in the ground.
As his life blood drained out, with his last breath Telemachus said, “Please, in the name of Christ, stop.” The Gladiator who killed him stopped, looked, and laid down his weapon. The other Gladiators, who were thought to be accustomed to death, looked at the dying monk and ceased their combat and laid down their weapons. The crowd that had been mocking, laughing, and cheering became eerily silent. Then as if someone had given a signal to all of them, the Gladiators and the crowd, walked out of the Coliseum in utter silence. The profitable governmental entertainment pacifier of the culture of death on that day ceased to exist. That was the last day Gladiator battles were conducted in the Roman Coliseum.
I don’t know how God will lead you but, like Telemachus, you can “choose life” and “set life” before our culture of death. Proclaim the Gospel and, in the midst of death, with your last breath say, “In the name of Christ, stop!” The point is not so much that you or I can make a difference for Christ but, like Telemachus, we will not make a difference simply with our voice or from the stands. Those whom the Lord uses to make a difference, in the Name of Christ, must go into the arena and be willing to die.
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