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Shame, Celebrate, or Somewhere in Between?

I wanted to write this post in response to a recent article making its rounds in social media:
“Brothers and Sisters, Unwed Pregnancy is Not a Sin”
http://chadashby.com/2015/08/19/brothers-and-sisters-unwed-pregnancy-is-not-a-sin/

If you have not read the article, I encourage you to take a few minutes now and do so before reading my response.

The article brings forth some uncomfortable truths and much-needed admonition to those who would hold mistakes over someone’s head forever. We should never look down on anyone except to help them up. However, the article makes a pendulum swing too far away from “shame” and takes some liberties with scripture that are false and self-serving. I hope in this post to find some middle ground between shunning unwed mothers and gushing over them. Please understand that this was quite difficult to write and comes from a deeply personal place of turbulent emotions. I have tried to choose my words with great care.

First and foremost, children are a blessing in all instances. The Bible tells us that “Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3 NASB). Pregnancy may be a consequence of bad decisions but babies are never a punishment (as one politician cruelly put it). However the baby got there, it is a miracle of life and a joy to be treasured, even in cases of rape. Those children did nothing to deserve a death-sentence and innumerable families would love to give that innocent baby a good life. You cannot absolve one horrific crime with an even worse crime.

Now, could we be more loving, more forgiving, and less condemning? Sure we could! And we must. Shunning accomplishes nothing except making a bad situation worse. Two souls (mother and child) need the church’s support even more at that time. Sadly, we often fail to show that Christ-like compassion. We have much work to do in this area.mary reaching up

The article pointed out that a woman walking into a pregnancy crisis clinic doesn’t need a theological lecture. She needs to feel safe and know that the precious child she carries is a blessing. That is a perfectly appropriate response from that agency. However, her church family must offer something deeper; something even more loving and possibly less comfortable for everyone.

When sin occurs and repentance is offered, forgiveness MUST be given immediately and completely. Second Corinthians 2:7 shows how unforgiveness can destroy souls. The church was too harsh in that instance and was rightly rebuked by the apostle Paul. We can do better and we must.

BUT:

The article makes several appeals to the old “what would Jesus do?” question without recognizing one crucial fact: Jesus never condoned sin. Jesus reached out to people with love and acceptance despite their sin,but he was never content to let them stay there and He NEVER celebrated their sin. John 8:3-11 gives us insight into exactly what Jesus would do. He told the woman caught in adultery “I do not condemn you.” He also told her “Go and sin no more.” This means there is room for forgiveness and mercy even when there is acknowledgement of sin. The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, sin must be acknowledged before forgiveness can occur. Jesus put it bluntly in Luke 17:3If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  No ifs, ands, or buts. He repents, you forgive–period. Leave the judging of hearts to God, where it belongs.

Having compassion is one thing; celebrating is quite another. In my personal experience, when unwed pregnancy is met with only praise and rejoicing, it is seen as something to aspire to and be proud of. You encourage it and get more of the same. This should not be. Repentance must be part of the equation. Not public shaming, not grovelling, and not periods of “probation” before welcoming a sinner back into the family of God, but true “godly sorrow” as defined in Second Corinthians 7:9-10.

The writer of the article attempted to use the women listed in Matthew chapter one in the lineage of Jesus to support his position. Rahab was indeed a prostitute but she became a child of God through faith and obedience. She was accepted as a member of the nation of Israel after marrying one of the spies she had protected. Nowhere are we told that Israel celebrated her past occupation nor did she continue in it. Her example shows that God can turn anyone’s life around and welcomes all who want to repent and improve their life by coming to Him. The author gets no help from Rahab. Bathsheba was a woman who was stalked and seduced by King David. She was an abused woman. Her baby died because of David’s sin. Her illicit pregnancy was not a cause for rejoicing and is therefore not a good example for one seeking scriptural backing for the “celebration” argument. Mary is the most offensive and blasphemous of the author’s alleged examples. Jesus was most certainly NOT simply another “unwed pregnancy”. He was a one of a kind, unique, miraculous situation provided for the salvation of all mankind, not a backseat teenage mistake. To equate the two is arrogant and ignorant.

The article lamented that unwed pregnancy is often met with disappointment and sadness. This is a proper initial response because going against God’s will (which  is always in our best  interest) and stubbornly going our  way should disappoint and sadden us.

Let me repeat: we can easily be too hard-hearted on this matter. There is not a single person walking through the door of a church building without sin and not in need of forgiveness. Knowing this, we can (and must) offer love, compassion, and support to anyone in need of it. Souls are at stake here; the souls of the repentant who may be spitefully turned away and OUR souls which may not find the forgiveness we stubbornly withhold from others. So please go ahead and love those unwed mothers. They will need our support as will their children. Let us show the love of Christ by giving baby showers and providing those needful things along with encouragement for the tough road ahead. Let us acknowledge our own sins and imperfections even as we help someone overcome theirs. But let us not be deceived into believing a false dichotomy that unwed pregnancy must either be shunned or celebrated. Simply look to the example of Jesus Christ, the most kind and compassionate person ever to walk upon the earth. Seek the balance that He practiced when dealing with fallen humanity. May the Lord shine upon you.

Rising to My Knees

I am on the floor.

Again.

I laid facedown on the cold, hard floor because I could not lift my eyes to You. How could I have failed You again? My kneecaps shifted painfully and my chest hurt as my ribcage flattened under my weight. My arms were drawn inward so my hands could hide my eyes from seeing or being seen. My forehead and nose lay pressed against the unforgiving wood laminate.guilt

Unforgiving.

Perfect.

I didn’t deserve Your forgiveness. I laid there wallowing in the words of David from the fifty-first Psalm: “My sin is ever before me…I was born in iniquity; conceived in sin” (ESV). I became the apostle Paul when he wrote in Romans chapter seven that “no good thing dwells in me…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…wretched man that I am!” Far too wretched to fight any longer. What’s the use? I am too spiritually exhausted to even weep over my failure anymore. I am dry. I am done. I have nothing. I am nothing.

And yet…

I feel You continually reach out to me. You speak through the words of the Bible, of course, but even through other books and articles I read. Sharp, convicting statements which surely were not so intended by the author. Scanning through the radio stations and being reminded that stubbornly following my own will and desires has me on a “Highway to Hell.” A glorious sunrise which appears every morning without fail to show Your power and glory and to remind me there is hope with each new day. These happen far too often to be mere coincidence. The hounds of heaven persist in their hunt.

Still, I am on the floor.

Unable and unwilling to rise any higher by my own strength. It is only then that my feeble hand crawls away from my face and reaches out to find Your hand waiting.

Then the tears do come. How can You love me at all, let alone so much? It is not because of my worthiness, but because of Yours. Because You are Who You are. What You are. Paul made this same realization in 2nd Corinthians chapter twelve. God’s strength is (and can only be) revealed in our weakness and need. When I am weak, then I am strong. I am certainly weak at this point. So weak that I cannot rise above the floor. Above my sin. Above myself. The hand which brushed Yours now grasps it firmly, clutching with desperation. Warm love radiates through my fingers and up my arm. It builds into throbbing power which gives life to my body dead in sin.Return of the Prodigal_Rembrandt

At last, I find the strength to rise, but only to my knees. I must remain there for now. Eyes still clamped shut, closing out the world which threatens to distract me from You. There, in the quiet darkness behind my eyes, I  praise You for not giving up on me even when I quit on myself. I praise You for the thousands of reminders and whispers which have brought me to this point of epiphany. I still dare not rise off my knees. The floor remains just as hard and unforgiving but not You, oh Lord, not You.  I must remain here to praise You still longer.

But wait.

Haven’t I been here before? In this same, exact place? Promising to do better and try harder only to fail again and again. My shoulders slump. The floor beckons me to return.

NO! Today is different!

I hear a malevolent chuckle. “Fool, child. You’ve said that before, too,” the serpent hisses. You shut up! It doesn’t matter! I may fail again but I WILL try. No, I won’t “try,” I will succeed! I will make it today because there is no greater power in the universe than the God who loves me and walks with me.

Now, I can get off my knees and prepare for battle. It will be a battle, no doubt. I reach for the only weapon suitable for this warfare—my sword. I quickly turn to Romans chapter seven and read the words of Paul’s despair because I know how it turned out. That miserable state of futile agony gives way to victory in chapter eight. Though I am often tempted to condemn myself for repeated failure I read: “THERE—IS—NOW—NO—CONDEMNATION—TO—THOSE—WHO—ARE—IN—CHRIST—JESUS!” (Romans 8:1).

I jab each word with a stiffened finger, as if into the eye of my enemy to prove how wrong he is. How wrong I am. Paul is invigorated, full of God’s victorious Spirit, and asks five rhetorical questions: If God is for us, who can be against us? No one! If God did not withhold His own Son, what gifts will He fail to give us? None! Who shall bring charges against God’s chosen? Nobody! Who is he who condemns? No one! Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Nobody!

But wait.

My face sags as I realize that somebody can. I can. Only I can. That’s what I’ve been doing. Lord, I beg you to give me the strength to stop doing that. I cannot find this strength in myself, You know that. I beg You to be my strength where I have none. Squeeze my hand when I begin to let go. Otherwise, I will be right back on the cold, hard floor again tomorrow. And when I fail You again tomorrow, Lord, I pray You grant me the strength to rise to my knees to praise You once more and try again.Gethsemane

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