Supreme court case

Please pray as the Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments in a case deciding whether the Obama Administration should be allowed to force business owners to violate their faith by paying for someone else’s abortion pills. Think about it: Imagine that Obamacare mandated provision of health insurance for the abortion procedure itself. Would you feel that companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties had a right to refuse to support it? Sound like a stretch? Don’t forget that abortion has been consistently framed in liberal politics as a healthcare issue for women. Why should this be a strange possibility? Beyond this case, I am personally not supportive of the role government is taking in healthcare but that’s an issue to address in the next two elections. Please pray and vote!

For thoughtful analysis

Follow the case

Live Blog: Contraception Cases at Supreme Court

Steve Cornell

Knowledge too wonderful for me

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  (Psalm 139:13-16) 

Psalm 139  offers a reassuring statement of God’s sovereignty over life. The Psalm unfolds in a way centered on God’s character and activity.

1. God is all-knowing  (omniscience) 1-6

  • God’s knowledge covers one’s posture, thoughts, ways and words
  • God’s knowledge is expressed with a series of verbs: God searches, knows, perceives, discerns and is familiar with…

2. God is all-present  (omnipresent) 7-12

  • God’s presence is so pervasive that there are no escape routes or hiding places

3. God is all-powerful  (omnipotent) 13-18

  • God not only knows and is present, He’s the Creator.
  • The development of the embryo in the womb is ascribed to God
  • This is not Mother nature mysteriously at work.

Think about it

One of the reasons this psalm has endeared itself to our hearts is that it presents —God as one who is near and intimately knowledgeable of our lives.

He is presented as the author of life – as the one who fashions life in the womb and ordains the number of days planned for us.

  • This resonates with us because it tags into a deeper innate sense that we are here by design and not by accident.
  • This connects with a deeper sense that we come from a personal Creator not an impersonal process of evolution tracing back to some chance collision of the forces of undirected energy.
  • Here is a Psalm that offers an all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful Creator!
  • Our moral impulse as humans cries out for a source of morality.
  • Our desire for purpose and meaning cries out for a point of reference and a destiny.
  • Our affections themselves (loves and passions) demand deeper connections than some impersonal primordial ooze.
  • Here is a God who is intimate, involved, tender and inescapable!
  • Here is knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain!
  • “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!”

But all of these truths invoke a sense of concern, leading the psalmist to cry out: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me”

The truths in this psalm do not exist in empty theory. They must be understood in the complexities of life in a fallen world — a world where a good bit looks like it is contrary to God’s providence and will.

We study this psalm not in theory but in a world where the name of God is not honored, His Kingdom has not yet come and His will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven!

In such a world, some babies don’t make it out of the womb; some are at risk of what we call imperfections – appearing not to have been fashioned by a perfect loving Creator.

Some of the days ordained for me in this world are painfully difficult — many of them. How does this all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful Creator relate to a broken world full of sadness and evil?

There is a reason why we must end such a psalm with “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me”
 
After contemplating God’s detailed knowledge of his life, the psalmist broke into:
  • A burst of praise: (6) “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (cf. Romans 11:33 - “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”)
  • A word of trust in God’s care:  (9-10) ”If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (cf. Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.)
  • An expression of endearment: (17-18) “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! 
How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.”
  • A prayer of invitation: (23-24) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Audio message: When I was made in secret

Steve Cornell

A disturbing pattern exposed

Did the governor of New York actually say that pro-life people have no place in the state of New York? Does he think he can speak for all New Yorkers?

During a radio interview, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spoke about a schism among Republicans, saying, “Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.’’

Was Cuomo referring mainly to politicians he labels as “extreme conservatives’’? Probably. But by claiming “that’s not who New Yorkers are,’’ Cuomo went too far. He arrogantly alienated a lot of New Yorkers who don’t see things his way.

Yet, as much as I disapprove of the governor’s arrogance, I am not surprised by it. This is the spirit that is starting to dominate the Democratic Party. It’s an insistence on only one way to think about a growing number of issues if you want to be accepted in the party.

There must be unquestioned support for abortion (disguised as women’s rights or health), full endorsement of gay marriage (disguised as civil rights with manipulative accusations of bigotry and discrimination toward those who disagree) and devotion to big government (disguised as income equality and compassion for the poor). These are litmus tests for the party faithful.

Even more disruptive to civility and tolerance is the condescending ridicule aimed at people who see things differently. Watch a discussion on something like CNN’s “Crossfire’’ and you’ll see the snarky smirks and hear the belittling tones. Who wants to be identified with this attitude of intolerance? I don’t like it among conservatives or liberals.

According to Cuomo, there’s no safe zone for Democrats if they oppose abortion, defend the 14th Amendment or disagree with homosexual marriage. Evidently, he also believes that there’s no place for them in New York if they want to be true New Yorkers. I couldn’t make this stuff up!

Cuomo was just parroting a media effort of more radical liberals to convince people that they belong to a crazy fringe if they see things differently. “It’s the way the whole nation is going,’’ we’re told. But this is an empty hope that saying something often enough will make it real.  

Although abortion on demand is a provision of federal law, for example, it’s not because the people had any say about it. The courts acted without the consent of the governed. It wasn’t democracy at work. The same is true of gay marriage. Do you think gay marriage is legal in a growing number of states because the democratic process led to it? Think again. In state after state, the courts thumbed their judicial noses at the public and forced their view of sexuality on entire states. Are we an oligarchy or a democracy? Is this what representation was meant to be?

And all of this has been done under a contrived sense of evolutionary progress. By changing terms from “baby’’ to “fetus’’ and from “sexual preference’’ to “sexual orientation,’’ people give themselves a delusional sense that they are progressive. There is no scientific evidence for denying that a fetus is a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. We might try to assure ourselves that we’re only terminating a pregnancy, but abortion terminates a human life in its early stages.

As for homosexuality, if you want a same-sex relationship as consenting adults, you’re free to have one in every state of the nation. But to ask the whole country to equate the kind of sex you desire with unalterable realities like race and gender not only removes sexuality from moral categories, it offends people who are turning away from the lifestyle and it lacks scientific evidence.

If the state offered gay couples benefits and privileges that come with legal marriage, it should not be done as a civil right for a special class of citizens. This is the wrong category, and using it would inevitably violate the religious and individual freedoms of those who disagree with homosexual behavior. If the state equates homosexuality with race, people will be obligated to honor it under threat of civil law.

Manipulating the category of civil rights like this will only cause deeper alienation between gays and society. Is this what we want? There must be a way we can rise above the divisive arrogance expressed by Andrew Cuomo, because our current approach is deeply dividing the nation.

Steven W. Cornell, senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church and a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc. 

4 links worth seeing (and an extra)

The Stem and the Flower by David Brooks

“So one’s attitude toward politics should be a passionate devotion to a mundane and limited thing. Government is essential, but, to switch metaphors ridiculously, it’s the stem of the flower, not the bloom. The best government is boring, gradual and orderly. It’s steady reform, not exciting transformation. It’s keeping the peace and promoting justice and creating a background setting for mobility, but it doesn’t deliver meaning.”

The true culture war aggressors by Jonah Goldberg

“Maybe someone can explain to me how, exactly, conservatives are aggressors in the culture war?” Goldberg decisively demonstrates that they are not.

9 Lies the Media Likes to Tell About Evangelical Christians

“I realize that, “the media” is not a monolith. So I’m using the word generally here. However, I keep seeing the following narrative played out in scores of interviews, commentaries, and pundit discussions across the TV news networks, magazines, and the Internet.

So while there are certainly exceptions, I’ve identified nine common lies perpetuated by people in the media. Granted, there are enough vocal evangelicals to bolster each of these stereotypes, so the media isn’t completely responsible. But nuance is necessary here. Thus this post.”

Pearl Harbor survivor James Downing, 100, shares story of that fateful day

Pearl Harbor survivor James Downing, 100, shares story of that fateful day

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. 

A great interview with the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones (Take time to listen)

 

Should we avoid political engagement?

 

Should Christians pull back from politics? Given the growing polarization and divisive tone of politics, I understand why Christians might want to distance themselves from the whole project. It seems that no matter how graciously we engage, we risk being misunderstood as taking sides with a “Radical Right” or a “Radical Left.”

It’s not surprising to hear the old fundamentalist line, “Just preach the gospel.” I feel for those who want to avoid what appears to be a sure way to create misunderstanding or to get people mad at you.

But is this fear itself wrongly motivated? Is backing out of political engagement a responsible option for obedient Christians? Is it possibly contradiction of our identity as salt to the earth and light to the world? 

This was the topic of a recent post by Russell Moore. I like the way he summarized evangelical engagement on pro-life concerns as a model for other areas of engagement.

“What I’m calling for in our approach to political engagement is what we’re already doing in one area: the pro-life movement. Evangelicals in the abortion debate have demonstrated convictional kindness in a holistic ethic of caring both for vulnerable unborn children and for the women who are damaged by abortion. The pro-life movement has engaged in a multi-pronged strategy that addresses, simultaneously, the need for laws to outlaw abortion, care for women in crisis pregnancies, adoption and foster care for children who need families, ministry to women (and men) who’ve been scarred by abortion, cultivating a culture that persuades others about why we ought to value human life, and the proclamation of the gospel to those whose consciences bear the guilt of abortion.”

“That’s the reason the pro-life movement continues to resonate, with growing numbers, among young Christians. It’s very clearly not a singularly ‘political’ issue, but an issue that demands political, ecclesial, and cultural reform and persuasion.”

Being maligned or falsely charged should not lead Christians to retreat but be viewed (in principle) as an opportunity in the vein of I Peter 3:14-17; 4:19 -

“… if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threat; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. ….So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.”

Moore does a good job outlining the nature of the calling for engagement, 

“We engage politically because we love our neighbors, we care about human flourishing. But we do so at multiple fronts. We engage on Capitol Hill (as I do), on issues ranging from stopping the abortion industry, to protecting religious liberty, to speaking out for human rights for the persecuted overseas. We cultivate churches that see the holistic nature of the kingdom of God and who shape consciences of people to live as citizens. But we always do that with a focus that we are not prosecuting attorneys but defense attorneys. We are seeking, ultimately, to point people to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

A false argument

Some leaders use a false argument disguised as a biblical case against political engagement. They ask, “Where do you see Jesus or the apostles getting involved in politics?”

Not only is this an argument from apparent silence, it overlooks the fact that those who lived during the periods of history represented in the Bible were not part of democratic forms of government. We are simply not living in the same political situation as Jesus or the apostles. This is part of what makes our function a little more complicated. We are part of a participatory system where we have opportunity to influence the formation of laws and policies for the common good. 

It’s careless and misleading to use this kind of argument from apparent silence to negate a calling to responsible citizenship.  

So as we pursue a common good with others and each one brings his or her beliefs, morals and values to the discussion, robust and respectful debate is often necessary. We must not shy from engagement or allow others to marginalize our voice.

Yet we should not approach engagement as an effort to win culture wars. Such language (and the demeanor that often accompanies it) is not fitting to responsible Christian participation in a representative form of democracy. But neither should we become passive when called to engage.

Let’s be as informed as possible and speak the truth with boldness while being considerate and kind toward opponents.

At the end of the day (or process), some of the laws might conflict with our beliefs, morals and values. If those laws try to force us to violate our beliefs, we will find far more explicit application from Scripture on how to respond.

Steve Cornell

A few bold Democrats needed

It was the extreme Right side of politics for many years that was labeled narrow-minded and controlled by litmus tests. The Left side is now competing for those labels — and winning.

The spirit taking over the Left is based on an insistence that there is only one correct and permissible way to think about a growing number of issues.

Party acceptance (socially) requires complete (and often irrational) rejection of Republicans, unquestioned support for abortion (disguised as women’s rights or only a “fetus”), total embrace of gay marriage (disguised as a civil right or sexual orientation) and commitment to big government (disguised as compassion for the less fortunate).

But along with these litmus tests comes a tone of mocking ridicule toward poor ignorant people who dare to see things differently. Do you want to be identified with that tone?

There is no longer any safe zone on the Left for those who don’t support abortion or for those who disagree with homosexual marriages. Yet a few bold members willing to self-check the radical extremes and divisive attitudes of liberal politics could bring sanity back to the Democratic Party before it’s too late.

Steve Cornell

Pope is wrong about the Church

In a recent interview, the Pope appeared to be offering some kind of olive branch in his comments about gay marriage, abortion and birth control.

The New York Times picked up on his message with a piece titled, “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.

I think I understand the Pontiff’s concerns about the dangers of becoming so focused on one or two issues that we lose sight of other pressing matters. But I also believe that his words were unfortunate, unnecessary and perhaps even misguided.

Let me explain.

On one level, the Pope played into the hands of a deceitful effort to paint the Church as overly preoccupied with things like abortion and homosexuality.  Yet remember that the Church has largely responded to the obsessive preoccupation of liberal media with promoting abortion rights and gay marriage.  

The Church is most often responding to the demands of liberal politics that the public conforms to only one view on these subjects. The Church is responding to a radical agenda on the left that uses the puppets of mainstream media to promote an ideology that they reinforce with deceptive polls.

We must not fall for efforts to promote a false image of Christians as obsessed with abortion and gays. We must not be blindly manipulated into misguided self-criticism.

Attorney David French summarized the issue well, writing that, “The criticism is so common that it’s often internalized and adopted by the church itself. Similar to our reaction to another leftist refrain (“Christians care about children until they’re born”), we act as if the critique is legitimate — as if it’s the result of some kind of empirical, good-faith analysis of Christian action in America. But it’s not. It is, pure and simple, a talking point. And it’s false. Demonstrably false.”

French argued that, “American Christians, in fact, are ‘obsessed’ with helping the poorest and weakest members of our society.”

“While the full scope and sweep of all Christian charitable activity (both in donations and volunteer time) would require book-length treatment, we can at least begin to isolate one critical factor: money. Our obsessions are reflected in our expenditures. Where do Christians put their charitable dollars? What is their charitable obsession?”

“We can find part of the answer by looking at the budgets of the largest and most influential Christian organizations. A website called Guidestar publishes the tax filings of most charitable organizations, so register (it’s free) and take a tour of Form 990s. First, you’ll notice that Christians do give lots of money to what I’d call “pure” culture war organizations, but not as much as the Left.”

A larger concern

On another level, given the gravity of abortion, why should we apologize for being obsessed with protecting unborn life? The occupant of a mother’s womb is a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. It’s a verifiable fact that abortion does not merely terminate a pregnancy; it terminates the life of a baby.

If you have children, look closely at them and remind yourself that had you chosen to abort any of them at any point from conception to birth, you would have ended the life of your child. 

More than 90 percent of induced abortions are performed for non-medical reasons. The large majority of surgical abortions are performed during the 7th through 10th week of pregnancy. By this time, a baby’s heartbeat, arms, legs and fingers are identifiable.

The thought of a mother’s womb becoming a baby’s death chamber is unconscionable. Perhaps our apology should be to the millions of babies whose lives should have mattered more to us.

But, here too, we must not forget that Christians are the majority (by far) on the front lines — leading the way by caring for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of young women facing unplanned pregnancies. 

Steve Cornell

Syria, Abortion and Hypocrisy

During his speech on Syria, President Barack Obama appealed to those he called his “friends on the left,” saying, “I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.” 

The president also said, “America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

On one level, I understand that we live in a world where international safety might require measures of accountability between nations. We must not allow our weariness with war to make us complacent to the dangers in the world. Admittedly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were partly based on misguided idealism about our ability to export democracy to the Middle East. But let’s not exchange this idealism for some kind of delusional isolationism. 

Whether we like it or not, we are living in a global community. Advanced capabilities in warfare like long-range missiles and chemical and nuclear power require us to be global in our concerns. The U.S. also is the most powerful nation in the world and with that power comes responsibility. 

I regret living in a world where we sometimes have to kill people to restrain evil. I also find it morally unsustainable to stand idly by while people are being tortured and unjustly killed. Sometimes, aggressive violence must be stopped by principled force. 

In his book, “Love in Hard Places,” D. A. Carson raises important questions: “Where an enemy is perpetuating its horrible holocaust, is it not an act of love that intervenes, even militarily, to prevent that holocaust if a nation has the power to do so? And is not restraint in such cases a display, not of loving pacifism, but of lack of love — of the unwillingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of others?”

Yet, on another level, it’s a bit difficult for me to think of America as the moral leader when it comes to the safety of children. How can we argue for the safety of children from chemical attack in another country when (especially among those on the left) we fiercely defend the legal right to abort millions of babies in this country? 

Some will likely take issue with this comparison, but no matter what title you use for the occupant of a mother’s womb, it’s a human life with the potential of becoming a mature human being. It’s an indisputably verifiable fact that the life of the fetus is more than a “product” of conception. Abortion does not merely terminate a pregnancy; it terminates the life of a baby. 

If you have children, look closely at them and remind yourself that had you chosen to abort any of them at any point from conception to birth, you would have ended the life of the child. Induced abortion is the deliberate destruction of an unborn child.

If you’re unconvinced or offended by my comparison, at least do some research on what happens in an abortion. Induced abortion is the premature expulsion of a human fetus through surgical or chemical means. More than 90 percent of induced abortions are performed for nonmedical reasons. The large majority of surgical abortions are performed during the seventh through 10th week of pregnancy. By this time, a baby’s heartbeat, arms, legs and fingers are identifiable.

The thought of a mother’s womb becoming a baby’s death chamber is unconscionable. In a country where the laws allow abortion, should we expect to be viewed as a moral leader in protecting innocent children in other parts of the world? 

Perhaps the humility and resolve President Obama mentioned should start with our own nation. Jesus gave some excellent advice for all of us to follow when he said: “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? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). 

Steven W. Cornell is senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church. He is also a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc

American hypocrisy

In his speech on Syria, the President appealed to what he called his “friends on the left,” saying,

“I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor.  For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.” 

It strikes me as painfully hypocritical to argue for the safety of children from chemical attack in another country when (especially among those on the left) we fiercely defend the legal right to abort millions of babies in this country. 

In a country whose laws endorse the torture and dismembering of babies in their mother’s womb, how should our outcry be heard against another country who uses chemical weapons on their children?

 Steve Cornell

A plea for civility and sanity from brave liberals and progressives

 

This is a plea for civility and sanity among brave liberals and progressives. It’s time for many of them to break the silence and oppose the tone changes and agendas in their party. They have good reasons to be concerned about the reputation of their side of politics.

The old vision of being known as a party of tolerance, civility and rational thinking has been hijacked by a vocal minority who use social coercion to bully fellow Democrats into their agendas.

Frankly, we need large groups of citizens from both sides of the political aisle to refuse blind loyalty to their party — especially if it requires violations of civility, tactics of manipulation and attitudes of arrogance and intolerance toward those who differ.

On the liberal side, the growing tendency toward these things portrayed vividly on cable networks like MSNBC, and required of the faithful, ought to be enough to move large numbers to threaten to become independents.

As a liberal, does it disturb you to hear Chris Matthews from MSNBC irrationally gush over President Obama as if he is a messiah? Does something bother you about the cynical and condescending tones of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell? Do you find it disconcerting to hear the president discredit a news outlet because it’s actually willing to disagree with him? I cringe when I hear Sean Hannity at Fox News mockingly refer to President Obama as the Anointed One. I cringed over the apocalyptic rhetoric that flowed from Glenn Beck.

Liberal Democrats once prided themselves on being a party of choice where one was free to think and be an individual. Now being a liberal requires uniformity to a growing list of litmus tests. For example, if you’re a progressive but believe that abortion actually destroys a human life, you’ll need to remain in the closet if you wish to be accepted in the party. You must oppose all things pro-life and support many other liberal causes with blind loyalty or risk rejection. If you admit to views that oppose the litmus tests, you’ll likely hear someone ask, “You’re not becoming one of those right-wing nuts are you?”

To be a member with full acceptance, you’ll need to toe the party line on global climate change, gay marriage and gun control. You’re not permitted to think logically or rationally about issues if it leads to differences from required party opinions. You must be anti-war while demanding the rights of women to serve in combat. You must oppose the evils of tobacco while supporting legalization of marijuana. You must boast allegiance to science while ignoring scientific evidence of abortion as the destruction of a human being.

I believe that there are many liberals who don’t like the tone that has taken over their party. Yet they fear the consequences of opposing it. They also know that one of the primary sources behind these changes is the attachment of their party to a small but radical pro-homosexual contingency.

Although many liberals and progressives don’t appreciate being associated with an agenda to change laws regarding marriage, they know that the slightest contradiction against this agenda will result in harsh criticism and social exclusion.

They know that the way this agenda is being shoved down the throats of Americans is becoming one of the foremost threats to civility. All reasonable people should find it alarming that a prominent pastor could be invited to give an inaugural prayer until a radical group discovered that he gave a sermon many years earlier explaining his personal views about homosexual behavior.

The Democratic Party is now dominated by litmus tests. The same criticism once used against conservatives is now true of Democrats.

It’s time for thoughtful citizens on the liberal side who desire to be known for reason and civility to protest these changes. It will take courage because of the bullying tactics used to force acceptance of required thinking, but if more liberals refuse to acquiesce, perhaps there is time to save the party. Then again, the best way to send a message might be for for large numbers of Democrats to become independents as many former Republicans have done.

Steve Cornell

* For a similar plea, see the opening of Dr. Ben Carson’s recent speech with President Obama present – Listen Here