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Help for Praying about Abortion and #PlannedParenthood

August 22, 2015

pp logoThis morning thousands of people across the nation joined to protest Planned Parenthood at 320 of their clinics. I had the privilege of joining several friends at the clinic in Marlborough, Mass., where we spent our time in prayer.

My friend, Lina Demers, prepared a prayer guide for the morning, which I found to be beautiful, pointed, and on target. We started each section with a Scripture reading, and then prayed about the topic in light of that passage. I thought it would be helpful to share it here (with her permission), as we continue seek our Creator and Savior in light of this devastating situation.

*****

PRAYER OF ADORATION FOR GOD
Reading: Psalm 96; Psalm 2

PRAYER FOR PREGNANT MOTHERS IN CRISIS AND THEIR BABIES–may God protect and preserve them both.
Reading: Psalm 91

PRAYER FOR THOSE WHO HAVE HAD ABORTIONS–may they find forgiveness and cleansing in Christ
Reading: Psalm 32

PRAYER FOR MOTHERS WHO HAVE CHOSEN TO HAVE THEIR BABIES–may God provide proper care and support.*
Reading: Psalm 121

PRAYER FOR EMPLOYEES OF PLANNED PARENTHOOD–may they experience God’s mercy, grace, and salvation.
Reading: Psalm 25

PRAYER FOR OUR NATION–may God open our eyes to the dark realities of abortion and bring an end to this atrocity, beginning with the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Reading: Psalm 94

CLOSING PRAYER
Reading: Ephesians 6:12-13

BENEDICTION: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21)

*****

*Along with this topic, it’s important to pray for crisis pregnancy centers, and also for the church to become a safe place for women in crisis, as well as cultivating a culture of adoption and foster care within our churches.

Prayer in Protest of #PlannedParenthood

August 20, 2015

defundppThis Saturday, Aug. 22, from 9:00-11:00 am, people will be protesting Planned Parenthood in 43 states and 180 cities as part of a nationwide movement to seek federal defunding of the nation’s largest abortion provider. This comes in light of the recent undercover videos exposing the even darker atrocities of the organization.

For those who are interested or moved in our area, protests have been organized for the clinics in Boston and Worcester. But those in the Metrowest may not know that there is also clinic in downtown Marlborough (91 Main Street).

Some of us from Westgate Church will be gathering in Marlborough at the park across the street from the clinic (Union Common, corner of Main and Bolton) for a silent protest of prayer—no signs, no yelling, just taking our concerns and heartbreak to the Lord of creation, who is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows (Ps. 68:5).

We will pray for pregnant mothers in crisis, and for the children they carry–that God would protect and preserve both mother and child. We will pray for those who have had abortions, that they would find forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. We will pray for moms who have chosen to have their babies–for proper care and support. And we will pray that God would open the eyes of our nation to the dark realities of abortion, and bring this atrocity to an end, beginning with the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

If you’re in the area, feel free to join us. Click here and here to learn more about abortion and the current events surrounding Planned Parenthood.

Why I’ve Been Posting So Many Articles about #PlannedParenthood Lately

August 7, 2015
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phototake_photo_of_12_week_fetusLet me start with a confession: I don’t like politics. I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to the political system. And I’m relatively busy—it’s a lot to keep up with. Not very good excuses, but an honest admission.

But if we’re Facebook friends, then you may have noticed that I have been posting a lot of articles recently about abortion and Planned Parenthood. I thought I’d take a minute to explain why. Here are four reasons:

1. I believe abortion is a life and death issue. Women’s healthcare is critical and important. But it does not have to be bundled with the destruction, dissection, and sale of unborn humans (at least half of whom are women).

The practice of abortion is not a healthcare issue; it is a termination of life issue. Saying that it’s okay to terminate your child in the womb but not once it’s born is like having a law that says it’s okay to murder your child in the kitchen but not in the bathroom. Anyone honest enough to look at the medical, rational, and biblical evidence can see this. And if we fail to care for the wellbeing of those who cannot care for themselves, we are on our way to becoming less than human ourselves.

That doesn’t mean abortion is the unforgiveable sin. There is grace and mercy and cleansing for all who come to Christ in faith and repentance. But holding out the sufficiency of grace, which we must do, doesn’t mean we downplay the sinfulness of sin.

But you don’t have to be a Christian to recognize truth when it stares you in the face: abortion is involves ending a human life.

2. I am troubled that so many remain either unconvinced or unconcerned about this critical issue. Despite what appears so clear to so many, not least the co-founder of NARAL, the abortion industry is alive and well in America, having legally terminated the lives of 57 million people since 1973. More than that, America’s loose standards for late-term abortion place them in a category shared only with China, North Korea, and Canada.

I, like many, find this outrageous. Not because I have everything figured out, or think I’m more righteous than the next guy (I am a sinner saved by grace). But because I am sickened by such a widespread, callous disregard for life. And I don’t believe I have the luxury of remaining silent. As many have said, if we don’t speak for those who have no voice, who will?

3. I believe that we are witnessing a unique historical moment. The recent undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress have created an opportunity unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years to expose the dark realities of the abortion industry, and the particular atrocities of Planned Parenthood. Many of us who care deeply about this issue had hoped that Gosnell would have a similar effect, but the main stream media blackout effectively silenced the conversation. After all, for those who paid any attention, Gosnell was just a twisted guy—most abortion clinics aren’t that brutal or sadistic. Except they are, and these videos have now shown us that the evils of abortion are not the stuff of back alley hack jobs, but mainstream, federally funded clinics—the very face of the abortion industry, Planned Parenthood.

The brutality of abortion itself should be repugnant to anyone. But for those who have fallen asleep to this atrocity, the realization that Planned Parenthood sells baby body parts is “disturbing” wake up call—even to liberal politicians. After all, what is it that makes so-called “fetal tissue” (read: liver, thymus, heart, brain, eyes, arms, legs) so valuable for research? The fact that they are human. If an ultrasound doesn’t convince us of the humanity of the unborn, watching a doctor pick through the body parts for sale certainly should.

Since Planned Parenthood is selling human body parts, there is no legitimate basis for receiving federal funds. There are a lot of ways to fund women’s health without feeding the blood thirsty monster that preys on the unborn, particularly among minorities.

But this is admittedly about much more than Planned Parenthood. Defunding Planned Parenthood, in my dreams, will be but the start of a national repentance on the issue of abortion.

4. I want to do what I can to keep the conversation on the table. It is for these reasons that we need to do everything to not let this conversation die until real and lasting change happens. As many have said, abortion is our abolitionist cause. It took William Wilberforce 42 years to move the British Parliament to end slavery; we need to approach this issue with the same resolve. And one of the most critical tactics for opening blind eyes is showing people again and again the bloody truth of abortion they have been thus far happy to neglect. This is why Planned Parenthood and others who profit from abortions are seeking legal injunctions to block the release of more videos—they don’t want you to see the truth. Because as Wilberforce reminded us, once we see, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

And so I post. Because I want everyone to see. And social media provides a platform when main stream media refuse to do their job, as they often do on this issue (not least when they’re bullied by Planned Parenthood itself).

The videos will keep coming. So will the articles and posts. You don’t have to look. But if you don’t see, I want it to be because you are unwilling to see, not because the truth was hidden from plain sight.

“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 33:18-19)

Good News for Monday Morning

July 20, 2015

coffee 2THE GOSPEL AT WORK

Apart from sleeping, there are few things we spend more time doing in our lifetime than work. The average is somewhere in the 90,000-hour range.[1] That’s just over 11 years if you’re counting.

Work is consuming. And it’s rarely easy.

  • 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs.
  • 25% of employees say work is their main source of stress and 40% say their job is “very or extremely stressful.”
  • 64% of Americans canceled vacations last year. One-third did it for work-related reasons.
  • 25% of people check into work hourly while on vacation, via email and phone.[2]

For something so overwhelming and often consuming for so many in our congregations, it’s interesting that work receives relatively little attention in our gathered worship services. David Miller captures the common predicament Christians find themselves in: “Many who are Christians complain of a ‘Sunday-Monday gap,’ where their Sunday worship hour bears little to no relevance to the issues they face in their Monday workplace hours.”[3]

What difference does the gospel of Jesus make in our work? Or as Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger ask the question, “How can I do my work, not just as a way to put food on the table, but as a sold-out disciple of Jesus? What’s the point of work, anyway, in a Christian’s life? Is there any meaning to it beyond providing goods and services, making money, and providing a living for myself and my family?”[4]

Many have offered answers to these questions, and many of those answers are quite helpful. Yet they can also feel simplistic and confusing, even competing at times. Tim Keller summarizes some of the key ideas commonly advocated as the main way to apply one’s Christian faith to work:

  • The way to serve God at work is to further social justice in the world.
  • The way to serve God at work is to be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues.
  • The way to serve God at work is just to do skillful, excellent work.
  • The way to serve God at work is to create beauty.
  • The way to serve God at work is to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end.
  • The way to serve God at work is to work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs.
  • The way to serve God at work is to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion.
  • The way to serve God at work is to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.[5]

Certainly there’s a element of truth to all of these. But they can’t all be the main way at the same time, can they? What difference does the gospel of Jesus actually make for our work?

We won’t claim to sort all of this out, but we do hope to find some clarity and direction as we focus on this subject beginning in August at Westgate Church, in our series, “The Gospel at Work”:

  • Aug. 2: ‘As Unto the Lord’: A Theology of Work (Genesis 2:1-3, 15; Col. 3:23-24)
  • Aug. 9: True Success (Luke 12:13-21)
  • Aug. 16: When Work Stops Working (Ecclesiastes 2:18-25)
  • Aug. 23: A Gospel Performance Review (Ephesians 6:5-9)
  • Aug. 30: Witnessing in the Workplace (1 Peter 3:8-17)
  • Sept. 6: Balance: Work, Home, Church (Matthew 6:25-33)

We hope you can join us.

Learn more about Westgate Church.

[1] See Alyson Shontell, “15 Seriously Disturbing Facts About Your Job,” Business Insider, Feb. 14, 2011. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/disturbing-facts-about-your-job-2011-2?op=1

[2] Shontell.

[3] David Miller, as cited in Tom Nelson, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 15.

[4] Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 13.

[5] Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2012), 21-22. Kindle Edition.

The Gospel at School

July 14, 2015


ppt background school text2What difference does the good news of Jesus make for students amid their school work and activities?

I know, I know—it’s summer. No one wants to think about school when they come to church. At the same time, summer offers just the kind of breathing room we need, between the weight of academic deadlines and the flurry of extracurricular activities, to let ourselves reflect on a few deeper questions about life and school.

Questions like: What’s the point of school anyway? What is my (or my kids’) education really for? Is this all about me—achieving my dreams, landing a great career, making my parents happy? Is it about having fun, finding approval from my friends, being the best at something, whether art or sports or grades or goofing off? Or is there something more, something deeper to this season of life? What role does my faith play? What role should it play? Is faith capable of playing any role at all?

Our goal at Westgate during the month of July is to help answer those questions by pointing us all to the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The gospel of Jesus is not only about how we can be forgiven our sins and have an eternal relationship with God (though it’s certainly not less than that); it’s also the power of God to change us and guide us right now as we seek to follow him.

So far we’ve had a chance to explore the true purpose of knowledge—not just to know more stuff, but to love God with our minds (Lk. 24:13-32); the honesty and hope Scripture offers when we find ourselves in a crisis of faith (Ps. 73); and how the gospel address our innate need for approval by rooting us in our identity in Christ (Eph. 4:17-32). (Follow the links to find these recent sermons.)

This Sunday (July 19) our Student Minister, Lawrence Klingsheim, will help us wrestle with the question of whose approval we’re living for (“Peer Pressure and the Love of God”), and on July 26, Associate Pastor Bruce Daggett will help us explore our drive to achieve (“Gospel-Centered Ambition”).

We hope you can join us.

Learn more about Westgate Church.

The Gospel and Disability

June 18, 2015

disabilityI will never forget the punch to the stomach I felt when, just days after visiting one of my best friends in St. Louis—watching our son, Joshua, playing with Steve and Jen’s daughter, Amelia—we found out Amelia had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Sweet Amelia was just three months old. But no one could have guessed at that time how difficult the road would become. During Amelia’s fourth round of chemo, a virus attacked her brain and left her severely disabled both cognitively and physically.

This was my first up-close window into life with a disability. Amelia is eight now. She is cancer free, but her life is far from what most of us consider “normal.” She is confined to a wheel chair. She can communicate, but not with her mouth or her hands, but with her eyes—the direction she looks.

A couple summers ago, I remember standing in Steve’s kitchen and seeing the mountain of plastic syringes for feeding and for her countless medications, all sitting on the counter drying. I was struck again by how consuming and unrelenting a trial like disability can be. Their journey has been like wading out into the ocean and being caught in a barrage of crashing waves. The first one hits you by surprise, and before you can catch your breath or find your feet, you get hit again. And then again, and again, and it never seems to let up. Amelia is beautiful and beloved, and they wouldn’t exchange her for anyone. God has already used her to change so many lives. And yet her disability is a daily reminder that the world does not work the way it’s supposed to. Her pain, her suffering, is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Which raises an important question: what hope does the gospel of Jesus hold out for those whose lives are marked by disability?

Right now at Westgate we’re working our way through a series called “The Gospel for All of Life.” Our working assumption is that the good news of Jesus is universally relevant. What Christ accomplished on the cross not only rescues us from sin’s penalty, but applies to every aspect of life right now—personal life, church life, public life, school life, work life, and home life.

But is that assumption true? Does the good news of Christ really make any difference for those whose home life is marked by an often crushing disability? How does the gospel narrative give us categories for making sense of disability? How does it give us direction for loving and sharing life with those who live with disability in the church? What hope does it hold out, and what difference does that hope make?

Join us this Sunday, June 21, at Westgate Church as we look at 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and consider the gospel and disability. We’ll also hear from one of our congregants share her story of grace raising a special needs child. Learn more about Westgate here.

The Gospel and Depression

February 3, 2015

darknessO LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
     Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
     I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
     your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
     they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
     my companions have become darkness.
     (Psalm 88:14-18, ESV)

If you look up the word in an English Bible concordance, you might be tempted to conclude that the Bible says nothing about “depression.” The word never occurs.

That conclusion would be a terrible mistake. Partly because it fails to realize that the absence of a particular word is not the same thing as the absence of an idea (there are lots of ways to describe what we call depression; see Psalm 88 above). And partly because drawing such a conclusion effectively cuts off those who suffer depression from what they need most—the transforming presence of God.

Depression is not a popular subject in the church. We tend to avoid what we don’t understand, and depression is notoriously complex. Worse than avoidance, depression often caries a subtle stigma. Christians are supposed to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted, we think. If we face depression or any variety of mental illnesses, then something must be wrong with us. We’re not believing God enough, or praying enough, or reading our Bible enough, etc.  We don’t dare speak honestly and openly about it, for fear of what others will think.

But the sad and potentially dangerous reality is that we’re avoiding an issue that by some estimates affects 25% of our congregation in a given year.[1]

As Kathryn Green-McCreight, a theologian and minister who suffers from bipolar disorder, describes, “Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being ‘down.’ It is being cast to the very end of your tether and, quite frankly, being dropped.”[2]

Depression is real. Whether clinical or situational, it’s part of life in a fallen world. But if that’s true, then the gospel of Jesus has something to say about it. For God has promised to make right everything that’s wrong with this world through the cross and resurrection of his Son (cf. Col. 1:15-20).

The Bible speaks openly and honestly about the countless ways that life can fall apart. Not only the ways we mess it up through our own sin and rebellion (which can have depressive results), but the ways we feel the often impersonal effects of the fall through injury, natural disaster, disease, and yes—depression. Consider the refrain in Psalm 42–43: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5).

But the Bible also speaks hope into the darkest of circumstances, as the refrain continues: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:5-6, 11; 43:5).

This hope is secured through the cross and resurrection of Christ. It’s the promise that God will make all things new, that a day will come when “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3). It’s also the promise that God is with us today by the Holy Spirit, shining his light into the darkness and speaking the truth of the gospel to the lies that threaten to destroy us, as he leads us deeper into his presence (Ps. 43:3-4).

Because depression is complex, we should freely recognize that finding healing can be complex, too. The hope of the gospel is not mutually exclusive with counseling, therapy, or medication (especially when depression results from physiological factors). But the gospel does put all our care into context. For even as it frees us to call depression what it is, it announces its defeat. For the gospel connects us with God through Christ. And God is bigger than depression. As Jared Wilson reminds us, “You will outlast your depression, because Christ in you, the hope of glory, will outlast it.”[3]

If we love our friends and family members, if we love our fellow congregants, we cannot afford to avoid or ignore this issue. When asked how churches can best reach out to those in the congregation who might be struggling with depression or anxiety, Rebekah Lyons answered,

“Churches can talk about it, and talk about it often. I’m a firm believer that secrets lose power when they exit the dark. Confession is a healing balm toward connectivity and we’re loved to the measure we are known. The more we name our struggles, the more others have permission to do the same. I can’t think of a more perfect medium to provide this healing community than the church.”[4]

As a pastor, I don’t have all the answers about depression. Not even close. I do know that the gospel frees us to be honest about it, and gives us hope. And so I want to help us start the conversation, and frame it with the gospel of Jesus.

So join us this Sunday at Westgate Church as we consider Psalms 42-43, “The Gospel and Depression.”

UPDATE: Listen to or read the sermon here.

End Notes

  1. See, e.g., Ed Welch, “Hope for the Depressed,” Jan. 10, 2010.
  2. Kathryn Green-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 21.
  3. Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 157.
  4. Ed Stetzer, “Freefall to Fly: An Interview with Rebekah Lyons on Anxiety, Depression, and Freedom,” The Exchange, April 15, 2013.
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