Suffering and Singing: A Conversation with Joni

I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken. Joni is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. She shares her story on the podcast, discusses how to love people affected by disabilities, and provides insight about how she deals biblically with chronic pain and suffering.

Joni is one of the godliest people I have ever met. She is genuine, sincere, and full of love. I don’t think it is possible to feel awkward around her. If you are nearby, she welcomes you like Jesus Christ would welcome you. I want to be like Joni and exude with the Holy Spirit’s love. I’m confident that meeting her for this podcast is one of the highest honors of my life.

I hope you enjoy this 45 minute interview that is personal, encouraging, and challenging. Personally, my favorite part of the podcast is when she sings a few stanzas in response to one of the questions.

 

The Insanity of Abortion

by Andrew King
by Andrew King

At this point, you have likely seen the nightmare that looms behind the placid language of the abortion industry. While Planned Parenthood says that during your procedure “medical instruments and a suction machine gently empty your uterus,” viewers of this week’s undercover video saw arms and lungs. There is now no escaping the violence of abortion; but then again, there never was. Interestingly, many are running to the aid of Planned Parenthood’s tarnished image. “Misunderstood,” they say. “Deceptive editing,” they cry, as though smoke and mirrors were responsible for the limbs on the tray. Nothing could be further from the truth. Human beings have human hearts. And we must not forget that that is exactly what is at stake.

Yet the insanity of abortion is not just in the desperate attempts of Planned Parenthood to save face. We should expect those who love the darkness to fight to keep the light at bay. Indeed, the insanity of abortion is that followers of Jesus Christ are so deafeningly silent. What is almost unthinkable is that those who have experienced new life in Christ would not speak when God’s glorious work of creation is undone. Sure, evangelicals have taken to social media in protest. I will be the first to proclaim my deep gratitude for those who will not let this occasion be just another flash in the pan. But a merely digital pro-life position is really no gospel pro-life position at all. The silence I have in mind is not in the public eye, but that which is heard in front of the EMW Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

If you drive down West Market street on a Saturday morning, you may be caught off guard by the large crowd lining a particular stretch of sidewalk. With a momentary glance you would probably see signs that say, “Choose Life” and “Women Regret Abortion.” You would most likely hear people talking about free maternity homes and scholarships. You would definitely hear voices of pro-choicers protesting the pro-life protesters. But if you listen very closely, amidst all the noise, you may hear a faint voice pleading, “be reconciled to God.”

The evangelical presence outside this abortion clinic is meager at best. It is certainly not for a lack of effort. I have emailed every evangelical pastor in this city to request the help of local churches. Some have responded; most have not. Those who do respond typically express a great deal of hesitancy. After all, actually going down to an abortion clinic is a little extreme, isn’t it? I am forced to ask why someone so bold on their blog would hesitate to join brothers and sisters on the sidewalk where the rubber meets the road?

“I don’t know what I would say,” they respond. Brother, the Spirit gives timely words. “Does it ever get hostile?” they ask. Sure, especially for the image-bearer whose life will be snuffed out in secret. “Our church just has too many programs,” one man said. Brother, you need to repent. The clear command of the text is to open your mouth for the mute (Proverbs 31:8) and expose shameful things done in darkness (Ephesians 5:11-12). And yet, our silence is deafening. As a means of bringing the gospel to bear on this issue, our own testimonies remind us that our God is deeply committed to life. This truth necessitates our voice in these dark and shameful places.

For a believer, speaking for life need not be a difficult task. Many have expressed interest in doing more, but simply do not know where to start. The good news is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel. I direct a ministry called Speak for the Unborn (S4U) that seeks to do this very thing. We have resources available to equip local churches to start gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, compassionate sidewalk counseling ministries in their own cities. While situations differ from place to place, the framework we provide is applicable to a spectrum of contexts.

Christians can no longer hide from the horrific reality of abortion. Francis Shaeffer once said that “every abortion clinic should have a sign in front of it saying, ‘Open by the permission of the church.’” This is true, but need not be our story. The Church of Jesus Christ has been given a commission to be his ambassadors. We must go where the hurting are, and where the hurting are harming their children. While you are sleeping in, women up the road are assaulted by the lies of a Devil who is hell-bent on destruction. Whether abortion drives these women to despair or makes them feel empowered, a forked-tongue never means well. Yet by our silence, we are entrusting these women to his care.

So how will you respond to the insanity? Silence? Apathy? Excuses? Fear? You would do well, believer, to remember that you have not been given a spirit of fear, but the third person of a trinity that drives out darkness. Do not leave the work for someone else; for someone who is “cut out” for this kind of ministry. Trust me, no one is cut out for it. Fortunately, you have a Christ who is. He is able to strengthen your weak knees to compassionately walk next to a women whose child is being led away to death. He is able to sustain a Speak for the Unborn ministry in your church. He is able to give you creative ways to serve abortion-minded women in your city. But never again can you say, “behold, we did not know this” (Proverbs 24:11). Passivity is not an option when children are stumbling to the slaughter next door.

Resolutions: God and Goals

Guest Post by Coty Hoskins
Guest Post by Coty Hoskins

Happy New Years!  You failed again.

Year after year you make resolution after resolution, and if you are like most people you failed to keep the majority of them. Your diet lasted two months, your monthly gym fee was not representative of your attendance, and you almost made it to the Minor Prophets in your Bible reading plan. Why do the majority of people seem to fail their goals every year? And if this is not true of you then maybe you are at the other end of the spectrum—a modern day Pharisee. Because you find worth in your accomplishments, you stop at nothing to keep the resolutions that you have set.

This conversation can quickly become discouraging, even depressing. The purpose in this post is not to discourage; in fact, it is the opposite. I want to think about goals (resolutions) from a Christian perspective. Whether you are a Mr. Fickle or a Mr. Peevish, hopefully you can walk away with two things from this post:  a theological and a practical understanding of goal setting.

Meet Mr. Fickle:
It’s New Years day and he has already thought through his goals for the upcoming year. The irony of his goals is they’re not much different from the years before. The mystery, of course, is whether he will break his record. Will he actually keep one of his goals for more than four months this time? You see, Mr. Fickle doesn’t think much of the goals he sets. In fact, he will soon forget that he even set goals until the smell of cabbage and black-eyed peas fill the room next year

Meet Mr. Peevish:
It’s January 1st and he is sitting at Starbucks. Two refills later and he is still going strong. His pen pours out ink as he charts out timelines for the sub-goals of his goals. Determination drives the movement of his hand as he regrets his imperfections in keeping his goals the previous year. How will he respond this year when one of his goals is slightly held back? Will he despair or explode with anger? You see, Mr. Peevish has a self-worth meter that is determined by his ability to keep his goals.

Who are you? Fickle? Peevish? Both?

For the Christian, goals and God are not mutually exclusive.  God does care whether you fail or not; yet, God does not view you according to your failures.  God does want us to set goals and work hard to meet them; yet, he wants you to find your ultimate worth and identity in the death and resurrection of his Son.  Brothers and sisters, meditate not just on your goals, but how God views your goals.

So then, how are you to think about goals? Mr. Fickle doesn’t get much beyond talking about his goals; Mr. Peevish often spends more time planning rather than doing his goals. I believe there are three important things for both the fickle and peevish to think through. The majority of this section is a summation of C.J. Mahaney’s teaching on roles and goals.

  1. What are my roles?
    To put it simple: there are some things you were created to do, and other things you were not created to do. You must first understand what you were created to do. Start by simply making a list of your different roles in life. Mr. Fickle: you need to write it down.  Mr. Peevish: you need to keep it simple. Here is an example:

    • Child of God
    • Student of…
    • Friend to…
  2. How will I produce my goals?
    Now that you know your specific roles you can begin to set specific goals according to your roles. Mr. Fickle: start out simple; one goal per role is a great start. Mr. Peevish: you need to eventually put your pen down and do something; there is such thing as too much planning.  Here is an example of what your goals may look like:

    • Child of God
      Goal:  Memorize Ephesians 1
    • Student of…
      Goal:  Plan three hours a day to concentrated study.
    • Friend to…
      Goal:  Have coffee with this brother once a month to intentionally encourage him.
  3. How will I prioritize and test my goals?
    You may be surprised at how quickly your list grows. This step is very important unless steps one and two begin to stress you out. First, you must ask:  what are my most important roles?  Second, test your goals. Mr. Fickle: have you put your goals down on paper? Have you thought through practical ways to hold yourself accountable to your goals? Mr. Peevish: are your goals more Christ-centered or man-centered? Have you scheduled more time to do your goals rather than plan them?

Mr. Fickle, let the aroma of beans and cabbage remind you of your goals. Mr. Peevish, enjoy the Verona blend at Starbucks. But this year let your goals be saturated with the thought that God really cares. Go, plan, and do remembering that God wants you to create goals.

Coty Hoskins is a student of Biblical Counseling at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky.  He is the Administrative Assistant at Carlisle Avenue Baptist ChurchHe loves traveling, coffee, and spending time with friends. 

Abortion: The Scarlet Letter of Our Day

by RuthAnne Irvin
by RuthAnne Irvin

 

You will find it in the fearful and distant eyes of a young girl waiting outside an abortion clinic in the early hours of the morning, smoking a cigarette with no interest in embracing the little life growing within her womb. You’ll see it in the stony eyes and actions of escorts doing what they believe to be their civic duty- protecting a woman’s choice. You will find the sad realities of living in a sin-cursed world everywhere you turn for as long as your lungs continue breathing. Abortion is a controversial topic today and is something that is spoken about in a boisterous manner, or swept under the rug, but still whispered about in the back row of the church as if it were the unforgivable sin.

When thinking about abortion, there has been a disconnect between abortion and the gospel of grace and compassion. Because of our sinful state, we are tempted to place an imaginary scarlet letter upon the issue of abortion, as if it were an unforgivable sin.  A woman who has chosen to end life within her womb instead of embrace it will still answer to God just like the gossiper, adulterer, thief, swindler, & self-righteous Southern Baptist preacher. All will stand before a just God and receive their due for unrepented sin, or a clear record because of placing faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross.

The truth of Scripture says that every human has fallen below the standard of holiness that God demands in order to commune with him (Romans 3:23). God’s word tells Christians to be holy because he is holy (1 Peter 1:15), but in our humanness we still are prone to sin. All have fallen below the holiness God created us to exude, so we need to give grace to one another like we have been given grace from God through Christ. The gospel has the power to save not only the good, virginal church girl, but the girl with downcast eyes walking into an abortion clinic to end an innocent life.

If we are in Christ, we have been made anew through the blood of Jesus that flows freely to all who repent, believe and call to him for forgiveness. The blood of Christ covers the blood that is on the hands of a woman who has ended a precious life just like it covers the sin of the Women’s Missionary Union president. We need to remember that Jesus’ blood is sufficient for every sin, not just the ones we deem as “acceptable.”

So, when you’re on a sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic on a cold November morning and you watch a mother walk a young girl into an abortion clinic, and as your heart goes from broken to angry, remember Jesus. Remember Jesus and let your heart be filled with compassion for those around you who have not yet experienced the grace of God through the gospel. Let your heart break and remember you are no better than the girl who just walked into the abortion clinic, but you also need a Savior who is willing to take your place for all the wrong you have done. Remember the blood that dripped from the cross covers the angry words said at the breakfast table this morning, as well as the blood that drips from the abortion table. Remember the sin you committed yesterday, this morning and the sin yet to be, and remember that the darkness of sin that dwells within every human soul is what Jesus was nailed upon a tree for.
Remember and let it lead to action. Christ’s followers should be eager to love, care for and counsel those who have had abortions.

The gospel of Jesus is the power to transform hearts and we should desire this transformation for the women who have ended life within their wombs. Remember and then rejoice that you are covered through repentance and remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is gloriously sufficient for anyone who places their faith in the gospel. Remember and rejoice that we are covered.

 

RuthAnne Irvin is a student at Boyce College, blogger, and writes as an intern for the Towers Magazine a publication of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can read more of her writings at her blog Out of the Ordinary Dreamer.

 

Prediction vs. Prayer: Christian Responsibility in the Presidential Election

by Heath Lambert

During this election cycle just reading the headlines will make you lose your mind.  A short week and a half ago, headlines warned: Romney is Running out of Choices and Time, Romney Desperate in Search of Votes, It’s Over—President Obama Will Be Reelected.  One debate later the headlines are very different, even opposite: Romney Opens Cracks in Obama’s Firewall, Obama’s Aides Plot Comeback, Obama’s Dilemma—How to Reset the Race.

I get it.  This is high-stakes political theater.  A lot of people are paying attention and everyone would like to be the person who correctly guesses the outcome of the election.  The operative word, however, is guess.  Nobody knows what is going to happen on November 6th.  As Christians we know that God alone knows the future.  The prophet Isaiah links God’s glory with his ability to declare the future when he says,

I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. (Isaiah 42:8-9)

God will not give his glory of authoritatively declaring the future to another.  God enjoys displaying his glory in being the only one who knows for sure what happens next.

That is why the story of presidential elections (and everything else for that matter) is the story of surprises.  There are surprises in every presidential election in the last century.  Sometimes those surprises are huge in magnitude (President Truman’s defeat of Thomas Dewey in 1948).  Sometimes those surprises are of a smaller sort (Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee to George W. Bush in 2000).  The same will hold true this year.  There is a vice-presidential debate tonight, and then two more presidential debates in the weeks to follow.  The election narrative will reset after each of those events.  Then, when we wake up on November 7th, all of us will be puzzling over different things.

That means Christians should not waste their time playing the pagan game of guessing the future when it comes to elections.  Instead of guessing Christians should be using their time doing three much more important things: praying, pondering, and persuading.

First, we have a command that we are to pray for “Kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim 2:2).  That means we should be praying for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  One of them will be our president for the next four years and they need grace to be wise, strong, and full of integrity.  Instead of guessing about the election we should be praying for it.

Second, we need to ponder the many different issues at stake in this election.  There is no shortage of crucial issues to consider—abortion, tax policy, religious liberty, international affairs, and many others. Some Christians think we shouldn’t vote because Romney is a Mormon or because the candidates are not that different.  Many Believers think that Romney should be elected because he is the best to defend the moral issues Christians care about.  Some argue Obama would be a better defender on social justice issues.  The point is that all these things are worth pondering.  Thinking about such matters (and praying for them) is infinitely more profitable then chewing your nails trying to figure out what will happen on election day.

Finally, after we have prayed about the issues, and pondered them, we need to try and persuade others.  As Christians we should use our conversations, tweets, blogs, and news stories to contend for the candidate we believe is the most suitable to hold an office as significant as president of the United States.  For my money, Christians will make an egregious error if they abstain from voting or vote for any candidate who is openly in favor of killing innocent human beings.

I’m sure there are some who are offended by that  or who disagree with me.  That’s fine. Let’s talk about it.  That is a conversation that will matter.

When we have it at least we won’t be wasting one-another’s time playing
God and hazarding guesses.

Heath Lambert is the Executive Director Elect of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors and the assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Boyce College; He is also the author of Biblical Counseling After Adams and co-author of Counseling the Hard Cases.

The Heart: to Guard or Guide?

Guest Post by Renee Jarrett.

Doors slamming, people screaming, bridges burning. All in an attempt to…guard your heart?

So many relationships have been broken in the name of self-defense. In order to protect, you shut out; it could be friends, a loved one, advice, or relationships all together. Possibly saddest of all is that many think there is a biblical basis for such reactions.

It seems that some verses in the Bible have been commandeered for specific situations, such as putting up a proverbial barrier between your heart and the world. One such verse would be Proverbs 4:23. More than taking it out of context, this verse has somehow come to represent a cause it doesn’t stand for.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Now, insert comment about being careful in a dating relationship. I remember reading this verse in my early teen years and envisioning building a stone wall around my heart. Complete with a moat and devoid of a drawbridge for extra security. How misguided I was!

Just a few verses before, we read, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.” What follows is this admonition to “guard your heart with all vigilance”. It could have just as easily been said to “guard my sayings with all vigilance.” Solomon wants his son’s heart protected to keep wisdom in, not block something out. He knows that his son’s only chance to “put away crooked speech, and…let your eyes look directly forward” comes from the overflow of a wise heart, not the guardianship of a selfish one.

Jeremiah saw the true condition of our fallen hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9. In light of the wicked tendency of our hearts, how on earth does it fly that the heart is something to fawn over, “listen to”, and protect from the enemy? It very easily can be the enemy. We ought to be praying fervently every day that Jesus would pour out his grace and compassion to convict our hearts of sinfulness. While they are made new after salvation in Christ, they are still in need of guidance. That means that our hearts need to be open to correction, rebuke, exhortation, and words of wisdom; just like the ones Solomon was trying to teach to his son.

If emotional protection is what you seek from a verse like Proverbs 4:23, learn from David and commit your spirit to the Lord. There is no greater protection for your soul than to entrust it to the founder and perfecter of our faith. In so doing you will fill your heart with wisdom and Christ-found joy. Even if you have to take down walls from your heart brick by brick, I promise you that what is on the inside surface of the wall is uglier and more hurtful than what has been thrown against it.

If you have been through a painful relationship, the root of bitterness grown deep in your heart is more harmful than the temporary rejection of someone else. You can move on from rejection. But bitterness only strengthens its hold on your heart and worms its way into every relationship you lay claim to. So remove the wall and welcome the wisdom.

[Guest post by Renee Jarrett. Renee is a reader, writer, and lover of Christ. She is currently majoring in Biblical counseling at Boyce College.]