I Think It’s Time to Rethink How We’re Thinking about Abortion

This past Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a series of Texas laws restricting the operation of abortion clinics. Here’s the short version: Texas law required abortion clinics to meet the standards of stand-alone surgery centers and doctors performing the abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Most clinics in Texas were unable to comply with the new requirements and a lot of them closed. Because access to abortions was limited by the smaller number of clinics, lawsuits followed.

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On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down those laws ruling that these laws did, in fact, unlawfully restrict a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

The point of my writing is not to debate whether or not the ruling was right or wrong. There have been enough experts and pundits doing that. I don’t want to go back and talk again about whether or not Roe v. Wade is correct.

What I’d like to do is talk to the church about 1. Where we are now and 2. What we can do to move forward.

So, where are we? First, like it or not, Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. In some form or another, it has survived numerous challenges, and given the make up of the court, will likely survive any challenges in the future. Certainly if Hillary Clinton is elected president, any judges she appoints will be vetted and shown to be supporters of Roe V. Wade.

For that reason—and several others—I really don’t think we’ll be successful in continuing to legally challenge the law as it stands. I’m not a lawyer, and I know there are those who consider it their calling to try and find a way to change the law. I’m not saying that we don’t continue to challenge the law.

I know abortion is a complicated issue. I’m not talking about abortions where the mother’s health is in question or the result of rape or incest. These issues need to be addressed in different ways. I’m talking about abortion as post-conception birth control. This is the vast majority of abortions in America.

I am saying, as a pastor, I believe it’s time for the church to address the issue in a different way.

How do we do that?

First, we need to be mindful of how we talk about abortion. On any given Sunday, our congregations will have women in attendance who have had an abortion. There will be men there who in some way participated in an abortion. You will have women who are considering an abortion. Like it or not, with very few exceptions, people dealing with this issue will be attending our worship services.

And what they most need to hear is a word of grace. I know, we’re called to speak the truth, but we’re called to speak it in love. I’m not sure we get that last part across. Yes, I’m pro-life. Yes, I want every mother to choose to have her child, but that’s not reality. Reality is broken, ugly, and filled with guilt and remorse. Grace is the only thing that gets us through.

Second, we need to be sure women in this situation knows there’s a way out. That’s why our church is so excited to be in partnership with Hope Clinic for Women in Nashville (www.hopeclinicforwomen.org). Hope Clinic offers the full range of medical care, counseling, and support needed for any woman or couple experiencing a crisis pregnancy. It’s not enough to be against abortion. We have to stand for life. We’ve worked very closely with Renee Rizzo and her team toward several happy endings to stories that didn’t necessarily start out so happily.

Third, churches must become centers of adoption and foster parenting. Too many times, we’ve been accused of being pro-life until the child is born. We have to make sure we put the same energy into children and mothers after the child is born as we do before they’re born. What shows the power and love of God more than adoption? A child is given a name and a chance with a family who is called by God to love that child for His sake.

Here’s the brutal truth: The world doesn’t care for the woman or her child. They’re simply pawns in a political argument. The church has to be different. We have to be part of the loving solution. Christ calls us to be more for the sake of the “least of these.”

I may be wrong. Perhaps Roe V. Wade will be overturned. I don’t think it will be, but it might. Until then, the church must address this issue with an opened arm of grace and a love that just won’t quit. This is a tough issue…and Christ followers are just going to be have to be tougher in love.

For the Common Good

Many of you know that my father was a politician. He served on the City Council of Huntsville for 12 years, and for many of those years, he served as the president of the council. My father loved the city of Huntsville. He thought moving to Huntsville gave him the chance to make life better for him and his family. Serving on the city council was my dad’s way of giving back to the city. He wanted to be sure everyone had the same chance he did to make their lives a little better.

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Once, when he was campaigning, my father was asked what he was going to do for a certain section of Huntsville. He answered, “The same thing I’m going to do for every part of Huntsville. As I drive around town and talk to people, I’m finding out they all are concerned with pretty much the same things. They want safe neighborhoods to live in. They want good schools for their children. They want the roads to be paved and garbage to be picked up. We want everyone who lives in Huntsville to feel good about living here.”

Without knowing it, my Dad had stumbled across the concept of the “common good. “The “common good” understands that everyone—regardless of race, creed, or ethnic background—needs the same basic things to live a good life. By working toward these things that we all need, a community can best serve each individual within that community.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the political system in America is messed up. The reason it’s messed up may surprise you. You see, too many of us—me included—have turned over the arena of politics to professional politicians. These are people who have never done anything else in their lives but run for and work in public office. The founders of our nation never intended for there to be a political class. Our nation was to be run by its citizens. That’s one reason public education is so important in America. We expect every citizen to be able to participate in the democratic process. That means everyone has to be able to read and think through ideas.

This also means that you and I need to be more involved in our nation’s political life. Run for office. Support a candidate. Attend school board meetings. Learn what’s going on. Write your representatives. Work for the common good.

Granted, our world is messed up, but Christ called us the “salt of the earth.” And it doesn’t take a whole lot of salt to change the taste of the whole dish. It wouldn’t take many good people—committed to the common good—to begin to turn things around in our nation. Get off the couch. Get in the game. This stuff matters. This stuff is for real.

You Can’t Outwork Your Mouth

After my annual physical, I’m newly motivated to get serious about my health. So, I’m working with a trainer again twice a week, and I’m trying to get to the gym at least 5 days a week, if not 6. According to my doctor, I’d be in great shape if I wasn’t so fat.

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As my trainer and I were talking about my goal to lose weight, he made a remark that caught me off guard: “You can’t outwork your mouth.” At first, I thought he was making a snide remark about me talking too much (I’ve been accused of that before), but he wasn’t. He was talking about nutrition.

Now, most of us know that a healthy lifestyle involves both nutrition and exercise. We know we should eat better and work out more. Here’s the mistake most of us make. We think if we work out harder, we can make up for eating poorly. Our thinking goes like this: “Sure, I can eat this piece of cake. I’ll just run it off later.”

It doesn’t work like that. In fact, of the two, nutrition is probably the more important part of this equation. By dropping our consumption of fat, processed food, and refined sugars, we can go a long way toward becoming a more healthy us. Exercise is certainly an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but here’s the hard truth: we can’t undo what we do to our bodies through poor nutrition with a few hours of exercise—no matter how vigorous that exercise might be. The body will already have been damaged by the poor nutrition.

That got me thinking. In church, especially in Baptist churches, we talk a lot about repentance. This is right and good. But I was wondering—what if we, like good nutrition, put more emphasis on doing good things rather than just feeling bad about the wrong things we’ve done? What if the emphasis was on doing good things for our souls and world rather than talking about how many mistakes we’ve made?

Like nutrition, by the time we repent, the damage has already been done. The emphasis of a maturing disciple is less about avoiding wrong and more about doing right—being actively obedient to Jesus’ teachings and commands. Like my trainer said, “You can’t outwork your mouth.” Fill your life with good things and good things will pour out of your life to the ones you love.

Preach Like TED

“The point of a talk is to say something meaningful, but it’s amazing how many talks never quite do that.” —Chris Anderson

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One of my friends is a very successful author and public speaker. He’s very good at what he does. Recently, he was asked to do a TED talk at the TEDX conference in Nashville. In case you don’t know, the TED conference began as a gathering of creative leaders in the fields of technology, entertainment, and design. Chris Anderson, the Curator of TED talks, has transformed the event into a series of culturally impactful speeches given by some of the most important and interesting people in our world. In fact, you know you have arrived when you’re asked to do a TED talk.

Anyway, back to my friend. One day we were talking about his experience in preparing to give a TED talk. According to him, you don’t just stand up and give a TED talk. You have to hand in a manuscript, rehearse in front of them, and then, change your speech or presentation after they critique you. Then, you have to do it all over again. TED was making him work harder on this speech than he had worked on anything in his life.

Here’s what got my curiosity going. My friend is a very well-known author/speaker. He’s one of the top people in the nation doing what he does. If TED was that hard on him, what would they have done to me? That led me to the next question: “What does TED know that every preacher should know.” So, I started my research on TED talks.

Here’s a few—though certainly not all—of the things I have found out.

1. TED talks are rarely over 18 minutes long.

Why? Thinking is hard, and most people can’t do it for longer than 18 minutes. Besides that, thanks to the Internet, people’s attention spans have dropped precipitately. And if you can’t say it in 18 minutes, you’re probably not going to say it any better in 30.

2. Stories rule.

Every preacher knows this. We’ve always known people remember our illustrations much longer than our points. Our failure as preachers is that we don’t make this knowledge work for us. We’ll still give our people 3 points to remember, but it’s stories that change lives and move people to action.

3. People love learning new things.

Great sermons, like great TED talks, surprise us with truth. This creates an unforgettable moment of delight that fires up the brain to pay more attention to the material being presented.

4. Use all of the senses.

Stories that evoke smells, sounds, and descriptive sights are more moving than a bland list of facts. Preachers, like great TED speakers, have to learn to be multi-sensory, multi-level story tellers.

5. Practice.

Most preachers think that once we have the sermon written, we’re done. Not so with TED talks. Now the hard work begins. Vocal pacing, gestures, learning to use pauses and anticipate audience reactions are critical moments in any great TED talk…or sermon. Once the sermon is written, great preachers rehearse and then, rehearse some more. The way you say it can enhance or ruin what you’re saying. So, practice, practice, practice…

Of course, there’s a lot more, but here’s what I find fascinating. In a time of digital and virtual realities, what’s changing the world is 18-minute talks by one person to other people.

I’ve been doing what I do for a long time. Every so often, someone will come out with a book that says, “Preaching is dead.” Well, it hasn’t died yet. I don’t think it ever will. There’s something about that moment when, as one great preacher described, “One beggar tells another beggar where he found bread.”

Great preachers work hard and pray harder to make sure these great moments are never wasted.