A Discipline Every Soul Needs
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- 2021 Nov 02
The United States Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday regarding two challenges to a Texas law banning most abortions. Known as SB 8, the law was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May. It prohibits abortions starting around the sixth week of pregnancy (when doctors can detect fetal cardiac activity). You can read a detailed explanation of the law and its unique enforcement features here.
The law is already having a pronounced effect: in September, abortions in Texas dropped 50 percent compared to the same month last year. The actual number dropped from 5,377 in August to 2,164 in September; a difference of 3,213 precious lives.
While SB 8 does not strike at the legality of abortion itself, another case (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) does. It is set for argument before the Court on December 1 and is intended to challenge Roe v. Wade. The Washington Post describes these cases as the “most dramatic reckoning for abortion rights in decades.”
It is a staggering and grievous fact: an estimated 62 million abortions have occurred in the US since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973. This number is equivalent to the populations of Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Utah, Iowa, Nevada, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Idaho, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming—combined.
In the five decades since the Supreme Court tragically discovered a right to abortion in the US Constitution, untold numbers of people have worked tirelessly to advance the cause of life. Many have labored in the legal sphere to minimize the disaster of abortion for the unborn, mothers, and families. Others have provided counseling and support services to women, sought to educate the public on scientific facts regarding the unborn, and mobilized pro-life supporters to vote their values and pray and work for the unborn.
I am passionately convinced on biblical, biological, logical, and legal grounds that life begins at conception and abortion is therefore the taking of an innocent human life. I am therefore praying for an end to the tragedy of abortion in America and am profoundly grateful to all who are working sacrificially to that end.
A discipline every soul needs
Yesterday, in response to All Saints Day, I noted that God calls all his people to be “saints” (“holy ones”) and stated that his Spirit will make us as holy as we wish to be.
Today is All Souls Day on the church calendar, a day when Christians are encouraged to remember the faithful who have departed this life for the next. Today’s focus provides a vital clue to the process of sanctification and ties directly to our earlier discussion of pro-life advocates and their service to humanity.
The process of being made holy is described theologically as “sanctification.” Numerous spiritual disciplines are encouraged as various means to this end, including solitude, fasting, meditation, Bible study, prayer, and worship.
No discussion of spiritual disciplines that I have seen include “remembrance.” However, this is an empowering way to join the Holy Spirit in his work of maturing and deepening our spiritual lives.
Hebrews 11 is often called the “Hall of Faith.” It describes the faithful across Jewish history, from Abel through the prophets, as those “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38). When we read of their sacrificial faith, we are encouraged to emulate their lives and perseverance.
We find a similar emphasis in the early church, from the Book of Acts and its descriptions of apostolic courage to Paul’s testimony regarding God’s work in and through his life (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-33), including his invitation to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
"Those who merely happen to be walking about"
In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.”
Unfortunately, our materialistic culture values those we can see over those we cannot. Many have adopted the evolutionary premise that life is continually progressing and thus discount the lives and contributions of those who lived before our time. But both impulses are wrong biblically and on their merits. Human nature does not change. What our forebears learned and experienced is therefore relevant and vital in encouraging and empowering our spiritual lives and maturity.
To this end, I’ll close with a valuable maxim I heard years ago: every Christian should have a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.
We all need a Paul, a mentor from whom we can learn. Now in my fifth decade of ministry, God has graciously given me wise examples and encouragers everywhere I have served. Many became spiritual fathers and mothers to me. Their counsel and support have been invaluable.
We all need a Barnabas, a colleague who will walk with us on our shared journey. Again, God has blessed me with partners in ministry who have been indispensable to my life and work. In my last pastorate, for instance, I ate lunch twice a month with a group of pastors in our community. It was deeply encouraging to know that I was not alone in this, that others were facing similar or even greater challenges, and that I could count on their intercession and support.
And we all need a Timothy, someone we are mentoring in discipleship and ministry. These relationships may be formal or informal, but the older we get, the more urgently we need to multiply our faith by helping those “who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
"Powerful guides on the way to God"
Can you identify at least one Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy in your life?
If not, I encourage you to ask God to lead you to them. And to humble yourself to learn from them and to profit from their ministry to your soul.
Henri Nouwen writes: “In the past, the saints had very much moved to the background of my consciousness. During the last few months, they reentered my awareness as powerful guides on the way to God.
“I read the lives of many saints and great spiritual men and women, and it seems that they have become real members of my spiritual family, always present to offer suggestions, ideas, advice, consolation, courage, and strength. It is very hard to keep your heart and mind directed toward God when there are no examples to help you in your struggle. Without saints, you easily settle for less-inspiring people and quickly follow the ways of others who for a while seem exciting but who are not able to offer lasting support. I am happy to have been able to restore my relationship with many great saintly men and women in history who, by their lives and works, can be real counselors to me.”
Who are the saints in your life today?
NOTE: I might be biased, but I believe my wife Janet’s books of daily Advent readings are the best way to prepare our hearts for Christmas. And we have one of her most beloved Advent books, He Came to Save the World, ready and waiting for you. Each day’s devotion gives you a reason to celebrate God’s goodness and grace, so please request your copy today.
Publication date: November 2, 2021
Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/digitalskillet
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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