It was suppertime at the Fox’s in 2001, and we were discussing the Right to Life vigil that would be held that evening around the Graham Courthouse. It was the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in the United States.
One of the kids said to Judah, who was not sure about this vigil idea, “It’s cool, Judah! You get to hold a candle!” Another added, “And we might get our picture in the paper!” Judah was mildly impressed, but I was surprised at what I heard from my children. I responded, “Guys, the reason we do this every year is not to hold candles or because we might get our picture in the paper. If that’s why you’re doing it, I’d rather you stay home.”
There was a slight pause, and the older children looked intently at their broccoli. My problem is that even when I say the right thing (which happens every now and then), I often say it the wrong way. Thankfully, this evening was saved by my 5-year-old who was not offended by my sharp tone. Judah flashed his big brown eyes at me and asked, “Are we doing it for you, Daddy?”
Cindy said, “Oh, how sweet,” and my eyes pooled with tears at Judah’s innocence. And I thanked God for the high and holy privilege he gives us as parents, the privilege and the delight of leading children to faith and obedience.
The question Judah asked made me think about my own motives for standing at the courthouse on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. My heart whispered in prayer, “Am I doing it for you, Lord?” Or am I going to the courthouse to set an example for my children, so that they will see that the issue of the sanctity of life is more important than my temporary inconvenience? That is a good motive, but not the best. Am I going to the courthouse in memory of the more than 60 million babies who have been aborted since 1973? Am I going to the courthouse for the more than 600,000 babies that will not see the light of day this year? To pray and work, as Job said, for the one “who has none to help him”? The boys and girls of all races that will not be able to enjoy liberty and pursue happiness because their right to life was taken away? That is a good reason to go the vigil, I decided, but not the best. Judah’s question rang in my heart: “Are we doing it for you, Daddy?”
That’s really the issue for me. I went to the courthouse Friday evening with my family because my Father is passionate for life, and I am His child. I added my little voice to the millions who were standing and praying and holding candles across the nation, hoping that the holocaust of abortion will end in our lifetime, because I believe God would have me do so. I pray often that what is acceptable in our nation as a “right to choose” will soon become an unthinkable horror. Is it a simple matter? On the one hand, no, it is not. I know the issue of abortion is volatile, with strong emotions on both sides. There are some who say that one side doesn’t care about the difficult choice of the mother. The issue of abortion divides political parties, motivates voters, and separates friends and families. Most life and death issues do. On the other hand, yes, it is simple. It is a child. It is not tissue, but a human being. A helpless human being. Stephen Schwarz wrote in his book, The Moral Question of Abortion, “Suppose, in the encounter between doctor and child [in an abortion], the child won half of the time, and killed the doctor in self-defense—something he would have every right to do. Very few doctors would perform abortions. They perform them now only because of their absolute power over a small, fragile, helpless victim.
I remember the day we lost our second born to miscarriage. The doctor explained, “We’ll never know what happened. But there was something wrong with the embryo and God decided to end its life in the first trimester.” Cindy and I wept for the son or daughter that we would not get to raise but were comforted by the assurance that our Father is in control. He is the one who gives life, and he is the one who takes life. He is the one who IS life, and that’s why I went to the courthouse and prayed. I did it for Daddy.
In a family history that one of my uncles did several years ago, he found this story. My ancestors came from Germany and Switzerland. The Germans were Moravians and they left their homeland to come to America in the 1700’s. The trip on the sailing vessel “Sandwich” took fifteen weeks from Holland to New York. Along the way, one of my relatives gave birth to a little girl, who died a few days later and was buried at sea. The mother also died shortly after, and was also buried at sea.
But another story caught my eye as I read about my past. It stood out especially as we have just begun a series of sermons that will take us through the book of Ruth.
It happened in 1787, when one of my ancestors approached the elders of the Moravian church in what is now called Winston-Salem and expressed his desire to be married. The elders must have agreed that this young man was a worthy candidate, so they wrote the names of all the single women in the community who were also ready for marriage on separate slips of paper. They put the names in a half-coconut shell and the young man drew one out. That was the woman he was to marry. At first, the young woman declined. Then two days later, she agreed to the proposition. But then my ancestor declined. Perhaps he thought, “Hey, she wasn’t so thrilled about being married to me when she first heard this. Well, believe me, she’s not the only fish in the sea. Or, Moravian in the settlement!” I have no idea if he said that or not. The record does show, however, that the young man came back to the elders two days later and had changed his mind, saying, “I believe it is the will of God for me to marry Anna.” The wedding took place less than one month after my ancestor first made his desires known to the elders.
The book of Ruth, on one level, is a love story. When Ruth first catches the attention of a man by the name of Boaz, the reader starts to wonder if there is the possibility of romance in the air. Ruth is a young widow from Moab, who lost her husband after ten years and then moved from Moab to Bethlehem with Naomi, her mother-in-law. Boaz is a respected man in the community, a landowner, and a man of influence. He is also a generous and a kind man, and when he sees Ruth gleaning in his fields, he asks one of his employees who she is. His heart is captured by this young widow, and he tells her that she can glean in his fields every day, and there is no need to go to others. He also warns the young men who work for him to leave her alone.
You will have to read the rest of the story to see how the “courtship” process works between these two. I will tell you this. It doesn’t involve a coconut shell and names on slips of paper, but it may shock you even more.
Both events, the Moravian romance and the Ruth and Boaz love story, illustrate for me the truth that marriage is built on the solid rock of commitment, not on the shifting sand of emotion. Is God against emotion? Of course not, it was His idea in the first place! So we see Him adding emotion where there is commitment.
You fall in love with the one you give yourself to for life.
In Acts 4 you can read about a man named Barnabas who sold a field and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. That created quite a stir, so Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) decided to get in on the action. They hatched a plot to sell some land, pocket part of the money, but then pretend they were giving all the proceeds to the church. Ananias must have beamed proudly as he lay the moneybag down, waiting for the praise of the Apostles. Perhaps his blood ran cold, however, when Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Peter saw right past the pile of money and into Ananias’ heart. It had nothing to do with the money. Ananias and Sapphira had every right to keep all or part of it. The sin was hypocrisy. Ananias did not utter a word as Peter spoke. He just dropped dead at the apostle’s feet, possibly falling right on top of his money that he loved so much.
Meanwhile, back at home, Sapphira was excitedly awaiting either Ananias or someone else to appear at the door. She may have imagined one of the prominent wives in the church coming over to say, “You and Ananias are such mighty pillars in the church. You are examples to all of us. Oh, I am humbled by what you have done, and I feel so selfish when I think about how little we give.” Sapphira might have imagined herself blushing and responding with, “Oh, well, you know, it is all for God. To God be the glory! Ananias and I are nothing.” But no one appeared, not even Ananias. Where is he? After three hours, Sapphira couldn’t wait any more. She marched down to the church, only to find Peter and some of the other apostles looking rather grim. And sad. No Ananias, though. Where is he?
Peter asked her, “Did you and Ananias sell the land for this price?” Sapphira might have thought smugly, Now, I am going to get what’s coming to me! That’s why Ananias didn’t come home; he wanted me to come here and receive the same reward that he received. She said yes to Peter, knowing it was a lie. That’s when her own blood ran cold, as Peter announced that the same young men who had buried her husband would be carrying her to the same place. Sapphira dropped dead.
The result of this severe mercy of God was that “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” I would say so. Not only that, “none of the rest dared join them.” Oh, there were many who believed after this and came to Jesus Christ for salvation. But those who were just interested in playing church, those who believed that Jesus was a great guy but certainly not the only way to God, those who knew they were practicing sin and loved it…they did not dare come anywhere near.
Vance Havner said about this, “There was a holy repulsion, and I know of nothing that the church needs more today. It is the last thing we think we need. We are always trying to attract. Our programs, prizes, picnics, and pulpit pyrotechnics are aimed at drawing the people in. Here was a church that made people stand back! We have catered to the world, we have let the world slap the church on the back in coarse familiarity. Here was a church that prospered by repelling!”
May God give the church what it needs today.
It has always been interesting to me that Jesus’ disciples never asked the Lord to teach them how to witness. Or preach. Or cast out demons. They asked Him to teach them how to pray. Maybe they understood that Jesus’ intimacy with His Father was the power source. Someone has said that Jesus went from one prayer meeting to another and in between He healed the sick, preached to crowds, and even raised the dead. That’s a little simplistic. We know that on a few occasions Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, Jesus came to do what the Father had sent Him to do: to lay down His life to atone for the sins of those who would believe in Him as Lord and Savior. But even there, on the cross, Jesus prayed.
Teach your children how to pray. It was our custom for many years to have family devotions that begin with reading the Bible and end with each of us praying one by one. When our children were very young, their prayers would usually go something like this. Hands folded, knees on the floor, elbows on the sofa, eyes squeezed shut, the youngest would pray, “Lord, help us to have a good day, not to get hurt, and not to fight.” That was OK. It was a child’s prayer, one that focused on comfort, safety and security. Sadly, many adults pray in those same tracks. Their words and sentences get longer and more impressive to the ear, but the requests are the same: “Lord, bless me today. Give me everything I need. Protect me from harm or even from anything hard or uncomfortable. And help me to make it safely to death one day!” No one actually prays those exact words, at least I hope not, but many pray those same themes. Over and over. Day after day.
As my children matured, I challenged them to get outside the prayer box they were in, to look around them for needs in the church, the community, or the world. Or in their own hearts. “It’s fine to pray for your own needs,” I would say. “Jesus taught us to ask for our daily bread. But He also taught us to pray for forgiveness for our own sins and for grace to forgive others who have sinned against us.” Cindy and I taught them and led by example to pray for the sick and the hurting. We taught them to pray for missionaries around the world. We taught them to pray for those who are not followers of Jesus Christ. We taught them to give God praise and thanks in prayer. My children have learned through the years that prayer is to be a delight, not a duty. We have taught them that they can pray any time and under any circumstances. Someone said once, “As long as there are final exams, there will always be prayer in school.” True. Prayer is not a ceremony that requires equipment, rituals, special clothing, or even a place. You can pray in your heart any time, and God hears.
Susanna Wesley, though mother to 19 children, found time to pray for two hours every day. David Brainerd, missionary to the American Indians in the 1700s, prayed in the snow until it melted around him. The Apostle James, beheaded by King Herod in the first century, was called “camel knees” according to legend, because of the callouses he developed through hours of prayer.
We need their kind among us again. Teach your children to pray.