The Circle of Life


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
There is a time for all things. Sometimes, those times just occur simultaneously. It’s been a season of multiple “times” in my life recently. I’ve had times to do all of the things listed above; I feel like the last year has included every activity under heaven. Illness and death, graduation, painful separations from people and places that I love, relocation, new risks, leaving old dreams behind and realizing new ones. And then there is that rare moment when a dream you thought was dead is plopped down in your lap again. Literally.
When I left Chattanooga in July, I thought that I was leaving behind my dream of fostering and adopting. After more than two years of training and several possible placements that went to other homes, I moved to Louisville, terrified at the change to come, but perfectly content being the single girl in a new city. I moved in stages over the next couple of months, slowly bringing what I needed as I needed it.
In April, I had moved into my grandmother’s house, planning to remodel it and live in it with my future kids and my two dogs. I ended up there for about 10 weeks with three dogs and no kids. But this crazy time of crazy times began last November, when my grandmother unexpectedly passed away. I had the honor of spending her last days with her, and on the day before she died, I snapped this photo:
2014-11-24 18.36.42-1When we moved my grandmother to the Hospice unit, we realized she was most comfortable on her side, but she needed a pillow to prop up her arm. My back seat is always full of stuffed animals, so Pooh ended up being the pillow my Nana hugged. I love this picture. It’s a reminder of the love and support I know I always had from all of my grandparents. She is the one stepping into eternity, but it looks like she’s holding me up. It now hangs over my desk at home as a sweet reminder that no matter where I may go, I have a support system that is always holding me up.
My grandmother’s death allowed me to have a space, a home for new life, and when I moved out of her house, I thought that dream had ended, or at least been delayed indefinitely. The last few months, though, life and death have been intricately intertwined, a precious reminder that there are different times in life, and sometimes they really do happen all at once.
Life and death and love and eternity.
Hope.
All powerful words, all captured for me in the image above.
Which is why, when I woke up last Sunday after dozing off while putting Big Sister down for a nap, seeing this took my breath and brought tears to my eyes:
2015-10-24 21.32.23There’s someone else, cuddling Pooh with one hand, and hanging on to me with the other.
One moment is a sweet reminder of memories made and a life well lived, a legacy to uphold.
The other moment is a precious promise, a new and unexpected life to cherish and protect, a generation to whom that legacy will be passed.
The last month has been a whirlwind of preparing my grandmother’s house to be sold to a different young family. Several weekends I have gone back to Chattanooga and have simultaneously closed a chapter with my grandmother and begun writing a new chapter with my own kids. These intertwined times were literally being separated into different boxes, what was being preserved, what will be moving to Kentucky. But the best moments were when those old memories were packed up to come to Louisville for Big Sister and Little Man. Books and toys and highchairs that have been used and loved by generations of kids in my family are being used again. And my Nana would be thrilled to see that.
My worldview recognizes that life is a line; there is a beginning and an end to time itself, and it’s not stopping for anyone. But even while time marches on, the seasons and rhythms of life remain. There are circles and connections, and sometimes the time to laugh and the time to cry may just happen at the same time. Just like spring comes after winter, new life is born out of death, and occasionally, we get to be there to see both the end and the beginning. And both are good.
And by the way, that Pooh has officially been designated a family heirloom.

Why I Am (& Always Will Be) Pro-Life


10 week fetus

Here in Tennessee, abortion is once again the debate of the day. With Amendment One on the ballot today, the last few weeks have seen a dramatic spike in television ads, conversations, debates, and the return of the same old arguments both for and against abortion in general. I’ve heard the typical arguments: “God gives life. We must protect babies who cannot protect themselves. Abortion is murder.”  and, “It’s a woman’s body and it’s her right alone to choose how to deal with it. A child who will be neglected or unloved shouldn’t be brought into this world. If a woman is raped, it’s simply inhumane to expect her to carry a reminder of the horrific event.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. To both sides.

There are philosophical and rational reasons to be pro-life. I appreciate bio-ethicist Scott Klusendorf’s argument of simplifying the debate to one question: “What is the unborn?” It removes the religious element altogether and places the discussion on a philosophical level.

But in all of the level headed discussion that’s possible, this debate quickly digresses into emotional and experiential arguments. People tell me that I don’t know what it’s like to be in the position of being pregnant and being unable or unwilling to care for the child. I’ve never been raped and don’t know what I would do if I was in the position of dealing with the aftermath of both rape and pregnancy. And those people are right. My personal experience doesn’t lend me the opportunity to speak from that perspective.

However, my experience allows me to speak about abortion from a very different but still VERY personal perspective; some of my favorite people in this world were born out of the circumstances described above, and I refuse to believe my life would be better without them.

When I hear people say that babies who will be born to people who will neglect or abuse them should be aborted, I hear them say that this world would be a better place if my three sisters and several of my best friends weren’t here.

When I hear people say that babies who are the products of rape shouldn’t exist, I think of my ministry friend Ronnie Hill, and I think about the work that wouldn’t be done if his mom had decided to abort him after she was raped as a teen.

When I hear people say that women who aren’t ready to have babies are better off when they delay parenting until they’re in a better position to parent, I think of my friends and women I have counseled, who made that decision 15 or 20 years ago, and still weep with grief over the loss they never realized they would experience.

I’m sure that the suicide rate of people who grow up in abusive environments is higher than in those raised in better childhood situations, but if we’re going to argue for choice, shouldn’t that person have the choice to end their life rather than the choice be made for them?

I am well aware that my parents (and all foster parents) are the exception and not the rule to caring for kids, and I know that countless children do live horrific lives of abuse and neglect, with no known way of escape.

But I also know that there is love and care beyond the two people who gave birth to those children. As I mentioned above, there are three incredible women who are my sisters who had really crappy birth parents, people completely incapable of caring for them. And the only reason I have those three sisters is because their crappy, drug addicted, abusive, neglectful mothers didn’t have abortions when that would have been the easy and even understandable option.

So why am I pro-life? I could give you a theological explanation and spout a lot of Bible verses. I could lay out a debate full of philosophical laws and rhetorical devices. But today, I have friends and family who have spent weeks hearing tv ads and talking heads say that they shouldn’t be here, and I want to be pro-sisters. And pro-friends.

I want them to know that they are loved. And valued. And wanted. I want them to know that I am pro-them.

Sisters

 

(top photo credit: http://imgarcade.com/1/human-fetus-at-12-weeks/)

Sincere, Hypothetical Question for my Pro-choice friends


20121012-000700.jpg

The abortion debate seems to have been boiled down to the talking points of a woman’s right to choose how to treat her body vs. an unborn child’s right to life.

I still hold to the belief that an unborn child is dependent upon a woman’s body, but not a part of it.

With that in mind, here is my sincere, sci-fi hypothetical question for my pro-choice friends: if a procedure, as equally invasive as abortion, were created to remove the fetus so it could be implanted into a woman desiring a child, would you then support making abortion illegal?

In other words, if “adoptive transplantation” were possible, would you then support legislation making abortion illegal?

Why or why not?

REMINDER: This is an emotionally charged subject on both sides. Comments that are attacking, abusive, condescending, or otherwise disrespectful will be deleted. Honest dialogue only occurs in safe places; let’s keep this site one of those places. Thanks!

A New and Living Way, Part 3


I. God has prescribed for us a New Way of Living. (10:22-25)
For those who are a members of God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ, God has given us instructions for how we are to behave as his children, both in relation to Him as our Father and to one another in the church as brothers and sisters.

A. We must approach God sincerely. As I have said before, part of being a child of God is the ability to approach Him as a child would approach her father. But a child who loves her father would never go to her father with a sense of disrespect or with a demanding attitude. That same child, confident in the love of her father, is not going to approach him cautiously or fearfully. A child of God must go to Him with the same confidence, trust, and respect. When people in Scripture were in the presence of God, they had two responses: they recognized the sinfulness of their lives and they fell down and worshiped God. When Moses encountered God in the burning bush in Exodus 3, God demanded that he remove his sandals as a sign of respect for being on holy ground. In Isaiah 6:5, when Isaiah saw the throne room of God in a vision, he declared himself to be a man of unclean lips. In Revelation 1:17, the Apostle John saw Jesus in a vision on the island of Patmos and fell down as a dead man.

When we approach God, we must do so with a clean heart, in an attitude of respect and worship. The word here that we translate as “sincere” literally means “without superficiality, hypocrisy, or ulterior motive.” God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:29, “You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” We are to come before God not wearing a mask of perfection or false holiness, but we are to approach Him in prayer and worship, honestly showing ourselves to Him while having a full assurance that He will help us with our sins and weaknesses. One commentator stated, “The people who find God are those who seek Him with their whole heart, with total genuineness.”

The idea of “full assurance” means that when we rely on God, we do so without doubt in our position as His children or His love as our Father. In 4:14-16 of Hebrews, the author has already explained to his readers:
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus, our high priest, provided a way for us to confidently approach God with a pure, forgiven heart, and we are to approach Him this way each time we come to Him!

B. We must confess our hope unwaveringly. The writer begins this section on instructions concerning behavior with a point on how we are to approach God. This is very important to understand, because if our relationship with the Father is not correct, our relationships with one another will almost certainly be wrong as well. These instructions are given in a progressive order, and we see here that once we are confident in our position in Christ, we can then confess our hope with the same confidence. At the end of this verse, we are given an amazing statement concerning our Father: “He who promised is faithful.” God our Father has never failed in His promises, and unlike fallen, sinful man, He is always faithful to do what He says He will do. This fact is one in which we can place our confidence.

The Christians who received this letter had begun to lose their confidence in this new covenant, and it is believed that some of them were considering a return to the Jewish temple practices. Hard times had come and they had begun to waver in their faith in Christ. Just like those Christians had seen God keep His promises countless times, the Bible is full of examples of God’s faithfulness, and we can trust that God is faithful today just as He was then, because our God never changes.

Part of being a child of God is that, as we learn more and more about God, we are changed from the inside out and become more like Him. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, we are promised this will happen: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

We have hope that God is faithful, but what are we to confess? Our confession of hope is the salvation found in Christ. When we are confident in our salvation, we will share that hope with everyone we know.

C. We must encourage one another consistently. Part of becoming a child of God is learning to interact with other members of His family. Just as parents expect their children to treat one another lovingly, so God also expects us as His children to treat one another lovingly. In verse 24, we are told to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. The word “consider” means that we are to do more than think about it occasionally. It’s easy to think about other believers on Sunday morning when we are together at church. But here, we are told that we are to take care of each other’s spiritual welfare; we should show continuous concern for how our brothers and sisters are growing in their walks with the Lord.

This is the standard God has set for how we are to treat one another, but too often we fall short of this standard. In Matthew 7, Jesus gives us one example of how we fail at this instruction to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Here he says, “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” The word translated here as “look” is the same Greek word that is translated as “consider” in Hebrews 10. With these two passages, we are given instructions in how we should and how we should not think of our spiritual siblings.

The word “stimulate” or “stir up” means we are to sharpen one another. With the combination of these two words, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging us to focus our attention consistently on finding ways to bring the love of Christ out of our fellow believers in real and practical ways.

In verse 25, we are told the reason for the urgency in the instructions of verse 24; many had begun to get frustrated and had grown disillusioned with the church and had even abandoned the fellowship of believers. It is nearly impossible to have any type of relationship with someone you never see. These practical instructions are meant to remind the readers that they will not be able to build up one another with encouragement if they are not gathering together. There is strength in numbers, and the discouraged sister is quickly encouraged when she comes together with other believers for a time of worship, prayer, and encouragement.

An early Christian writer named Ignatius once wisely observed, “When you frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” By gathering together, more mature believers are able to teach and encourage younger believers, and those younger believers in turn remind the older believers to keep their excitement for the Lord fresh and new as they walk with Him. Abandonment and isolation lead only to defeat, so the writer encourages his readers to remain together because the longer they stay together in a mutual state of love and encouragement, the closer they all come to the day when they will see Christ face to face.

My sister Brittany learned quickly her being a part of our family came with certain responsibilities. My parents raised us to believe that carrying the Mason name required certain things of us. We were told that Masons worked hard whether our boss was looking or not. We were told that Masons worked hard in school and that they went to college. We were told that Masons kept their promises and were true to their word. We were told to remember that when we went out into the world and began making choices on our own that we needed to remember that we not only represented ourselves as individuals, but we represented our family. My parents did a good job of teaching us those things because they spent time with us and taught us those things and then quickly corrected us when we were not living in a way that was consistent with who we were as members of the Mason family.

Just like being a Mason comes with certain responsibilities, being a child of God comes with certain responsibilities to God and to each other. This week, find ways that you can live out your confidence in your position as a child of God. Do you confess your hope in Christ without wavering? If not, find an opportunity this week to share your faith with someone. Take a moment and take inventory of how you consider your friends and family. Do you spend your time judging them and their sin, or do you spend more time considering how you can encourage them in their walks with Christ? If you realize you spend more time thinking about their sin than about how you can help them out of your sin, then make a point of changing that this week.

A New and Living Way, Part 2


I. God has provided for us a new and living way. (10:19-21)

Verses 19-21 are a summary of the previous nine chapters. These chapters explain to the Jewish believers why the covenant of Christ was superior to the covenant God made with Moses. In these three verses we are given three descriptions and benefits of the new and living way God has provided through Jesus Christ: we have a new family, we have direct access to God, and we have a Great Priest in Jesus Christ.

A. We now have a new family. Looking at verse 19, the reader is instantly confronted with the idea that, as believers, we are family. The writer addresses his audience as “brethren,” or brothers. As family, as members of the house of God, the writer tells his audience that they can enter the holy place of God. To first century Jews, this idea was completely foreign. In the Jewish sacrificial system described in the Old Testament, only the High Priest was allowed into the presence of God, the part of the temple called the Holy of Holies. The law allowed him to enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to offer sacrifice for the sins of Israel.

In Ephesians 1:5-8, the apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus that, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” The new and living way that is spoken of in this passage is the way of the new covenant that is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In his Gospel, John the Apostle tells us in 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God.”

My parents were foster parents when I was growing up. The last foster child we had, Brittany, came to live with us when she was six weeks old. After she had lived with us for three years, the state began looking for a permanent adoptive home for Brittany. Three years later, no home had been found and she had lived with us for all six years of her life. She was family. My parents filed the appropriate paperwork, made appointments with lawyers, and went before a judge to declare their intentions to adopt Brittany as an official member of the Mason family.

Once those papers were signed, Brittany became a member of our family just as if my mom had physically given birth to her. By us choosing her, she was given the right to become a Mason, and once she was a Mason, she had access to all of the legal privileges of being a member of our family that I had as a biologically born member of the family. But not only is Brittany now recognized as a legal member of our family, she is also loved and accepted as a member of our family, and is confident in the fact that she will be treated just like my biological brothers and me in matters of love, protection, and provision. Just like Brittany was chosen to be a member of the Mason family, those who have been chosen as children of God also have rights that accompany that adoption. One of those rights is direct access to God.

B. We now have direct access to God. For the Hebrew believers hearing this for the first time, the notion of entering the holy place of God only brought thoughts of death and condemnation, for no one but the high priest was allowed to enter the holy place in the temple. But here the writer tells us that Jesus made a way for us to confidently approach God. When a young child is confident of the love and acceptance of her father, she has no worries about approaching her father with any request. The writer is telling us here in verse 20 that because of the work of Christ on the cross, the veil that previously separated us from God was torn open and we now have the right to boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence.

The idea that Jesus is superior to both Moses and to the line of levitical priests is key to understanding what is meant here when the author says that Christ is the new and living way. The old covenant, which is also called the covenant of Moses and the law, was designed to show the Israelites their sinful inability to save themselves. Paul declared in chapter three, verse twenty of his letter to the church in Rome that, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” This verse tells us the law brings awareness of sin and death. Jesus Christ, through His willing sacrifice, brings a new and living way of salvation for all who repent of their sins and believe on His name.

This new and living way is now the only way to gain access to God. In the original language, the word we translate as “new” has a meaning of freshly slaughtered and not previously available. It seems odd to consider something as both freshly slaughtered and living at the same time, but this is just the point the author is trying to make. John MacArthur observed in his commentary on Hebrews, “The blood of animals allowed only the high priest to enter the veil briefly. Jesus’ blood allows everyone who believes in Him to enter the veil permanently.”

C. We now have a Great Priest in Jesus. Not only are believers now members of the family of God who have permanent access to the Father, we can see in the passage above that we also have a mediator in our Great Priest, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews explained this in chapter 9:11-14 when he wrote:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

So it is only through the sacrifice of Christ, our Great Priest, that we are able to confidently gain access to God as his children. Paul further explains this in Galatians 3:22-26:
But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

We are told in Romans 3:23 that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are also told that this sin separates us from God because He is perfect and holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. But to show His glory and His merciful love, God made a way for our sins to be forgiven by sacrificing his son, Jesus, who took our punishment for sin and gave his blood for us. He took our punishment and died in our place. That is why Jesus is referred to in this passage as the new and living way. Jesus himself declared in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”

The only way that you can be forgiven of your sins and become a part of the family of God is to recognize two things about yourself. First you must realize that your sin separates you from God. Second, you must acknowledge that there is nothing you can do on your own to connect you to God. Only by turning from your sin and believing that Jesus died as a sacrifice for your sins and then rose from the dead three days later, proving his victory over death, can you be called a child of God. Have you ever done that? Have you ever realized that because you are a sinner separated from God, you will spend eternity separated from Him unless you turn from your sin and believe in Christ as your Savior? Only that will allow you to be a part of God’s new and living way. If you have never had that moment in your life, I pray that you will consider your position in the family of God and will make the decision today to turn from your sins and believe that Jesus, our Great Priest, is the way God provided for you to be His child.