The main feeling I have sitting there is love. I love life. I love you. I love having my assistant Jon Bloom over here, and I love having my friends, Mike and Joy, in partnership in the evening. I love looking out there and seeing a table of Bethlehem friends smiling back at me. I love having pastors over here, a couple of Rogers, and I’ll bet there’s some others out there that I know. I just sit here and I say, this is incredible. This is heaven. If it didn’t sound like a beer commercial, I’d say it doesn’t get any better than this.
A Passion for God’s Supremacy
We have a new mission statement at our church. It goes like this:
We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.
And it’s my mission statement. So anytime I get an invitation to do things like this, I pour the invitation through the sieve of the mission statement and if it falls through, I seriously pray about it and consider it. And if it doesn’t fall through and I can’t make it a means of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, then I don’t do it. So you need to know that that’s why I’m here tonight. It will help you understand some of the focuses that I have.
The reason this opportunity fell through the sieve is due to the fact that human beings are created in the image of God. And the most awesome thing I can imagine saying about any of you in this room — even if there are a few in the womb in this room, I speak of you — is that you are created in the image of God, which means, as it is my understanding of that text in Genesis 1:27, that you were all created unlike any other being on the earth to image forth God. You are created to image forth God, like a mirror images forth that which stands before it.
The mirror is not very important if it isn’t clear enough to do its job in imaging forth what stands before it, and human beings are no big deal if they turn the mirror side of their life around, which is what happened at the fall, and their back is up to God, casting a long shadow with God’s glory no longer reflecting it, but casting a shadow and looking at the shape of the mirror on the ground and falling in love with it and worshiping it for the rest of history. That’s sin.
But the glory that I hear in these stories is that you can go up to that mirror and say, “Hey, mirror, you’re made to turn around.” That’s called repentance. You say, “You’re made to turn around and face the glory, not put the glory behind you, cast a shadow, and love the shadow. Try it. Look, look over your shoulder.”
As I read Amnion’s stuff, it’s a kind of look-over-your-shoulder ministry. You say, “Look what you are missing, what you’re walking away from, what you’ve forsaken and abandoned.” And people, like we’ve just heard, look, and God’s worth it. So if Amnion is successful in its mission, then it has the mission of my church to spread a passion for the supremacy of God. I don’t know who wrote your mission statement, but the one that was sent to me had a big “glory of God” right at the next one and “evangelistic fervor” was the one right after that. I don’t know too much about Amnion, but I believe in this. So I’m here to spread that passion with you.
Love Them Both
The theme tonight, Love Them Both, means, I assume, that we love both the parents — mom and dad in crisis — and the baby whose life is in peril. Love Them Both is also significant in relation to the mission statement because according to Jesus in Matthew 5:16, he said:
Lt your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
That’s just another way of saying love. Whenever I hear that, that’s my mission. I think, “Where can I go to do that?” And Jesus said, “Well, I’ll tell you where to go. Go where you can advance good deeds. Go where you can advance love. Because when love abounds, people see God and they give glory to God.” And so, if this theme tonight, Love Them Both, happens because of this night, my mission will happen. So how could I not come? So now you know why I’m here.
The way I want to approach the few minutes that we’ll take together is like this. I’m going to get to the Bible eventually and show you something really crucial about love and about facing some of the things I read in one of Janis’s articles that are obstacles to love. But every speaker shows up among strangers from somewhere with all kinds of influences feeding into his life not by accident, but by the wonderful, sovereign providence of God. And therefore, like we see in Hebrews 11, God displays his truth and his glory not just through exposition of written word but also through living people who tell their stories like we just heard. That’s God showing up and delivering his truth. So I want to tell you out of what I’m coming tonight a little bit, and it will lead into some biblical passages that I’ll close with in a little bit.
Here are things I’m coming out of that are shaping me these years and days. Number one: five blocks from my house are Midwest Health Center for Women and the Meadowbrook Clinic. Meadowbrook used to be over at Methodist Hospital. Now it’s three floors up in the office building beside Elliot Park which I walk by every day on the way to my church. Over half the abortions in this state are done in that building, in those two clinics. They are big, powerful money-making clinics and they’re right in my backyard.
Just so you’ll know where I am on this issue of abortion, when I sat with my wife in Pizza Hut in August of 1988 and saw the first rescue in Atlanta, I can remember the place and the mood. I don’t remember whether it was pepperoni or sausage, but I looked at her and I looked up at that rescue going on national news, and I said, “That’s right, that’s right.” And for the next three years we did them.
Joining in the Fight
I was sued by Midwest Health Center and spent three days in jail at the Hennepin County Correctional Facility, and I led my church into that whole movement and through that movement. And it was right and it was good. To this day, I feel it was used by the Lord. One of the reasons it is not yet happening is because it is very difficult to control the kind of misuses of it that happened. But I want you to know that coming through that and now watching all kinds of pro-life spinoffs and the ante being upped around the country, I love Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). I love Care Net.
Now, nothing was said about Care Net tonight, but you’re a part of Care Net. Care Net is a system of 450 crisis pregnancy centers headed up by Guy Condon. And I like Guy Condon. I don’t know him, but I read his stuff. It comes across my table. And when I read that you’re one of those, part of it, I said, “Oh, there’s another plus for Amnion. They’re part of a bigger thing out there.” And Guy’s vision for multiplying these crisis pregnancy centers that love them both throughout the country, is a glorious vision and I really encourage you to get behind it tonight with your money and with your volunteer efforts. That’s one thing.
My setting downtown is next to these awful centers and I am praying for the staff. I have a list of their staff in my prayer folder at home, and I pray for them almost every day as I flip through my prayer folder. I’m just asking the Lord, “Now I’m here and I’m close by. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to go over there and knock on the door? Do you want me to call them up? I’m willing. I’ll do that.” So you pray for me. Tell me if you think that’s God’s will for me to call up the administrator of Midwest Health Center, Geri Rasmussen, instead of just praying for her. I could say, “I’m a pastor down the street, could I talk to you?” And she’ll probably say, “Down the street where?” And I would say, “Bethlehem.” And she would probably say, “No, I remember what they did.” Maybe, but maybe not. Because you know the stories of these women clinic directors who have been converted across the country, and it’s owing to personal contact. It’s not owing to a poster. It’s owing to a pastor or somebody moving in and saying, “There’s a God and he can forgive. And surely, you don’t like this business.” And over time, boom, transformation. So pray for me. That’s number one.
Recent Heartache Over Lost Life
Number two: Tuesday night I visited this little baby’s parents that Mike was telling you about as she was in labor. We knew that the liver was outside the body. We knew that the diaphragm was all out of whack. We knew that the heart was all over to one side, but we were still fighting in prayer for this baby’s life. And she was born at 6:00 p.m., Tuesday night. Immediately, she went on to very aggressive treatment to save her life and she died at 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
Well, at 10:30 p.m. the night she was born, I went down there and we dedicated the baby to the Lord. And the words of dedication that we use at my church go like this, “Ashley Hope, together with your parents who love you dearly and this people” — there were about a dozen people standing there — “who care about the outcome of your faith (I put my hand on the baby), I dedicate you to God, surrendering together with them, all worldly claims on your life.”
I say those words over every baby we dedicate. I’ll dedicate 15 this Sunday at Bethlehem. And every one the parents will surrender all worldly claims on their life. Well, it never had such a meaning for me as I laid my hand on the baby, and she had about eight hours to live, and they surrendered the baby up to the Lord. But here’s the significance of that. Have you ever been in a neonatal intensive care unit? It is a sight to behold. I mean, these are rocket scientist nurses in there. How they begin to know what end is up, I have no idea. The machinery is so phenomenally advanced and the money invested must be simply stunning. I’m so glad that Rob and Jan have insurance because the 12-hour life probably is going to cost them $30,000.
As I looked, a couple of things happened. Rob said, “Lift up that blanket.” I walked over to this little, shielded thing and I lifted up the blanket. I thought, “Is that a baby?” She was so short, and her head was so small, and she was one and a half pounds, 24 weeks. And there was another one right down the line.
Now, some of you remember in the Tribune a couple years ago. There was an article about one of those babies, though they’re almost a dime of a dozen now. Amazing. And in the same newspaper, there was a big discussion about St. Paul Ramsey’s late-term abortions. They kill babies bigger than that at St. Paul Ramsey across town. And on this one weekend, both of them were in the newspaper. And I wrote a letter. I’ve never had a letter published in the Minneapolis Tribune, ever.
I used to write them all the time and I gave up. But I wrote it, and I said, “Do you realize that on page such and such, you reported about this phenomenon down at Children’s Health Center and on this page you dealt with the discussion of this fetus over at the other place? Did you know that this fetus is older and bigger than the other baby?” Of course they knew that.
Fighting for Life or Facilitating Death?
But do you know what’s encouraging and discouraging about this? The encouraging part is that all over America in hospitals, millions of dollars are poured into saving premature babies’ lives, which means there’s some believers out there in life — namely, the parents. And all over this country, there’s a multi-billion dollar industry of taking babies’ lives. And do you know what the difference is? This is the discouraging part. The difference is the will — the choice of the mother or mother and father.
Ponder the significance of that. Here are millions of dollars being poured into saving that baby. And here are dollars being spent to kill that baby, and the difference resides not at all in the baby. It’s not a created-in-the-image-of-God issue, it’s not a health issue, and it’s not a nature issue; it is an issue involving another person’s will being superimposed. And you should think about the awful implications of the distinction between life and death hanging not on anything in the being, but only in the will of a power broker. That’s frightening. And that’s where we are. It is an insane place to be as a culture.
When history is written and the CPCs have won the day, the history books will say, “How did those generations ever live with those contradictions? How did they ever survive those kinds of things?”
So I am thrilled that Amnion bases its devotion to life not on the basis of the will to life in Janis Lamont. Her will is quite irrelevant in this. The issue is who are they? Is there a being with a certain worth or value inherent from being made in the image of God? So Amnion is a God issue. And to state that right up front is a glorious thing to me, and it’s the kind of thing I want to be behind.
Here’s the third thing I’m coming out of. I have a friend. His name is John Ensor. He lives in Boston. I taught John when I was a teacher back at Bethel College in the mid to late 1970s. He was a good student, quite outspoken. He went to seminary at Gordon-Conwell and then he took a little pastorate in Boston and his church went nowhere.
There was a lot of opposition. He’s aggressive, he’s creative, he’s progressive, and the church was old and stuck in the mud and didn’t want to do anything, and it fell apart. In the meantime, he had gotten involved in pro-life activity. And today, John is the head of a crisis pregnancy center that has two branches called A Woman’s Concern, and it is the most active crisis pregnancy center in New England. To show you the scope and the energy of this place, he has a $30,000 phone book ad in front of all the abortion clinics. And he wrote me an email last week. It’s the reason I’m thinking of him, because he’s so fresh in my mind.
He’s been telling me about things that are going on out there in New England. He said, “There’s a war, John, and we aim to win it.” And so he’s a fundraiser. He goes out and he tells stories. He’s such a radical, wild-eyed person that people say, “Well, yeah. I can’t do it, but John will do it. We’ll give him money.” And so, he can get $30,000 to put in a phone book ad.
Well, in dialogue with him about his crisis pregnancy center, I have learned awful things that make crisis pregnancy centers like Amnion so wonderful. One of the things I’ve learned is how much lying goes on in the abortion industry. I hate lying. I love truth. I love people who speak the truth straight up — people who don’t pull any punches, who say it like it is even if it’s difficult. Just do it. And people that pull punches and caricature other views and manipulate data — I don’t like that. He’s told me stories about how typical it is for them to tell a young woman that she’s pregnant when she’s not, and then they do a $750 abortion on her. The reason they know it is that time and time again, after the time she gets the test at the center, she comes to them at A Woman’s Concern, and they do another test and she’s not pregnant.
Living on Lying Words
Here’s an illustration. Here in this little letter he sent me, there was a situation where a woman went in to have a pregnancy test and they said, “You’re pregnant,” and she was not ready. She went home, she struggled, she came back, and they put her on the table and said, “Let us do an ultrasound first.” And looking at this ultrasound, they say, “Oh, ma’am, you have twins. We’ll need another $500.” And she started crying because she didn’t have the money. So she left and there was a man standing outside from A Woman’s Concern. He didn’t have a bloody poster this time. He just had some pamphlets and said, “Can we be of any help?” And she said, “I don’t know.” Anyway, she wound up going to them and found out she was not even pregnant. I hate lies. It’s a lying industry. It’s built on lies. How could it not lie? So that’s one thing about it that just blows my mind away.
Here is another thing. And this has been emphasized tonight and is so good. He said, “John, the biggest obstacle to raising funds in New England is that as I go to churches they say, ‘It’s not evangelism.’ John, I will go up against any pastor in New England with the number of people I’ve led to Christ.” He said, “It is the most frontline evangelism of any ministry I know about in New England.” And as I’m listening and watching here, it seems like that’s the way it is. Here is an institution, a Crisis Pregnancy Center, and there are thousands of them across the country. Women who don’t know they need the gospel but know they need another kind of help, show up. And then you have Janis Lamont types and Joanne types who say, “There are other realities. Let’s talk.”
This is evangelism. And when he emailed me the other day, he said, “Tell those people that they don’t have to make that choice in their money or in their time. At least, not if the crisis pregnancy center is doing what it ought to be doing.” I don’t have the time, but he sent me two emails, and I printed out these email messages. I can just summarize this one.
A Story of Gracious Intervention
He married two people who had been living together for nine years, who were intercepted by a loving counselor from A Woman’s Concern and said, “You don’t need to do that.” And they said, “Our marriage is so rotten we could never support kids.” And they said, “We can help marriages too.” And the couple said, “How can you do that?” And they said, “Well, we have a leader named John Ensor and he’ll meet with you.” And John said, “Oh, thank you.”
And he met with these people. He was a Muslim and she was a nominal Christian. They’re both from Nigeria. She was not a believer. He met with them a half a dozen times and they started getting real and open to the gospel, and he said, “You have to get married. It’s not right to live together for nine years and not be married.” So he went to their house and married them. He married them and preached the gospel at their little family wedding. And they’re on the brink. It hasn’t happened yet, but they’re on the brink of becoming Christians. He said, “John, how would they have been reached? It was a Muslim and a nominal Christian, two Nigerians who were about to break up. Who was going to reach them?”
The other story was of a young woman who they counseled that was killed. She was stabbed to death by her boyfriend after she had her baby. And he tells a story here about her transition from dark to light before that happened.
So the third thing I’m coming out of is my relationships with pro-life people around the country like John Ensor, who have inspired me about what this institution, Amnion, is about.
Shaped by Tragedy
Here’s the fourth thing I’m coming out of. Ashley Hope died on Wednesday morning. We did her funeral this morning at 11:00 a.m. and buried her at noon in Lakewood. She was 12 hours old. I didn’t plan to do a funeral this morning. I planned to get ready to speak tonight. So I was up most of last night getting ready for this thing. Noël saw my stress and she said, “Could it be that the reason God put you and Mike together this morning and tonight is that he wanted you to say the same thing with no new preparation?” She’s always trying to help me, and she likes to see me every now and then. I said, “Well, I don’t think so. But I’ll think about it.”
But as I thought about it, there’s one thing I said this morning that I thought maybe I should say tonight — namely, I quoted an article this morning from Marshall Shelley who lost a two-minute-old baby and a two-year-old girl within three months, and he asked the question to God, “Why did you design a baby to live for two minutes with Trisomy 13?” And the answer he got was, “I didn’t. I designed this baby to live for eternity, and your problem is that you measure everything in terms of this little vapor’s breath called ‘the world’ or ‘human life’ or ‘history’. So the word I bring to you from this morning’s funeral is, “Folks, this chanticleer’s chicken, with friends and health — this is not the main thing. This is not the main thing.”
The main thing is just around the corner when in the twinkling of an eye, the dead will rise and we will be changed forever. Now that’s a long time. And compared to that forever, the difference between Ashley’s 12 hours and my present 50 years is as nothing. Compared to eternity it’s nothing. James calls all of life a vapor (James 4:4), not just the 12-hour life. That’s what I came out of this morning. Before I turn to the word just briefly, here’s the last thing.
Keep Your Commitments, Even When It Hurts
It’s now 9:00 p.m. That means it’s halfway through the second half of my son’s championship soccer game in Blaine, MN, and I really wanted to be there. That’s why my wife is not with me. Now, I accepted this invitation eight months ago, before I knew they’d make it to the championship. Then they won last night to make it to the championship, and I stood in the rain for two hours watching him play.
Now here’s the implication. Keep your promises even if it hurts. Love people. When you tell them you’re going to do something, do it. Be an honest person. Have integrity. God will honor that. Abraham will forgive me. It will be okay. Now we’re close to the issue of love. We’re close to the issue of the obstacles to love. It’s the right thing for me to be here tonight but I wanted to be with Abraham. I wanted to watch that game. It’s probably the last game he’ll play in high school.
Overcoming Obstacles to Love
How do you overcome obstacles to love? Let me quote the article by Janis Lamont, if I can find it. Here it is. This is from the summer issue, I think. She wrote:
Ministering to women who are living lifestyles which we find hard to understand necessitates that each of our ministry teams of office and counseling staff face personal issues of fear, discomfort, and even our prideful attitude.
Living by Faith in Future Grace
Now those are articulated obstacles to love. Amnion is about loving both of them (the parents and the children). That’s what Amnion is about, loving both of them. How do you love? Well, here’s where I’m at the Word now. I’m going to close with just a brief summary of my book, Future Grace, which is a 400-page book, in five minutes.
Fear is an obstacle to love. Greed is an obstacle to love. Pride is an obstacle to love. Lust is an obstacle to love. Depression is an obstacle to love. Bitterness is an obstacle to love. So how do you overcome all those obstacles? I wrote this book, Future Grace, to put it over against another view. The popular view says that the Christian life is motivated by gratitude. It says that you look back at what God has done for you in your life in the past, like the cross, and in gratitude you find the energy to love and to overcome the bad things that tempt you. I think that’s wrong.
You cannot run your car on gratitude for yesterday’s gas. You can only run your car on new gas, and that in which pumps it isn’t gratitude. The gas is grace and the pump is faith. And the book is called Living by Faith in Future Grace.
Just yesterday in my devotions, I was reading Lamentations, where it says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning . . .” And you will not get through tomorrow without them. If you don’t have new mercies for tomorrow, yesterday’s mercies, which do drive an engine called gratitude, do not drive the engine of your life called obedience. You know what happens if you try to take past graces, feed it into gratitude, and turn gratitude into obedience? It’s called works. Gratitude was never designed to do a future thing.
Gratitude was always designed to celebrate a past thing. The future thing was designed to be appropriated by faith. It’s about faith in promises, promises of future grace. So my book is really simple. It has a simple concept anyway. I don’t know how simple it is to read, but it’s a simple concept, namely:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
And I will not be able to finish this talk in the next few minutes without fresh grace.
Serving in the Strength God Supplies
Whoever serves, [let him serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
I live by banking my hope on next minute’s grace, not yesterday’s grace. The value of the death of Christ, aside from the fact that it covers all of my sins, is that it is the foundation and the assurance that tomorrow’s grace will be sufficient.
Now, I get that from Romans 8:32, which is my life verse if there is one. It says:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (past tense, past grace), how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (in the future)?
The cross is the foundation of future grace. So when I see you out there ready to love, and I know that Satan is going to smack you up the side of the head tonight and in the coming years of your life, and that cancer is going to come into your life, and that wayward kids are going to come into your life, and that marital tensions are going to come into your life, and that alienation in the community is going to come into your life, and that depression and other kinds of mental stresses are going to come into your life, and I am here to say that God is calling you to love and be a selfless person that gives your life away for the unborn and for moms and dads, I’m not going to lay that on you without telling you this: you can’t begin to do it without future grace.
If there isn’t grace for tomorrow to carry you through that, shut it down folks. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. We are of all people most to be pitted if there’s no future grace.
A Better and Abiding Possession
Now, let me just give you one verse to show you the dynamic of that. It’s in Hebrews chapter 10. The situation here in Hebrews 10 is that the early church is in crisis of persecution, and some of the Christians have already been put in jail. The others face the prospect, “Shall we go visit them in jail and jeopardize our own lives and our property, or shall we go underground and not do that?”
It’s an issue of love and risk. Where do they get the wherewithal to risk their lives, their property, and their families in order to love somebody like that? You listen and see if you hear the answer in Hebrews 10:32–34. It says:
Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.
So some were abused and others then partnered with them, stuck up for them, and went to see them. It continues:
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property . . .
That’s very strange. If there ever was love, that’s love. That’s a reversal of human values with a vengeance. That’s Christianity. It says, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property,” and then continues with the reason:
Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
That’s future grace. The only way you can joyfully accept the plundering of your property in the service of love is to be absolutely and totally confident that God has something better for you. I call it future grace, and I just plead with you as you fight the fight of love, make it the fight of faith. Galatians 5:6 says:
In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Faith reaches out and embraces all that God promises to be for us in Christ. It feels the deep and satisfied treasuring of all of that, and in that satisfied treasuring of all that God promises to be in future grace, is free to accept the plundering of its property, the loss of its child, the getting of cancer, the living at a low lifestyle, the going to a distant country, the pouring your life out late at night with a woman in crisis pregnancy. You can do anything by Christ who, moment by moment in the future, strengthens you if you will understand faith as it is in Hebrews 11:1.