A Call for Vermont Christians to Rise Up Against H.57 Abortion Bill

My son.

This article was featured at The Gospel Coalition New England blog.

It is said that when the Romans would leave unwanted newborns out to die, that the Christians would rescue and raise them. May our history become our legacy.

The nation was shocked and many outraged last week when New York passed a sweeping abortion law that loosened the requirement for who can be an abortionist, removed protections for unborn children involved in violent crimes, and now allows abortions through all 9 months of pregnancy (When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Doe v. Bolton the same day as Roe v. Wade, “the health of the mother” became something that can be interpreted by law to mean emotional, mental, even financial and social health. Also, many OB/GYNs have clearly stated in recent days that there is never any reason to abort a child in the third trimester for the health of the mother.).

When the law was passed on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Governor Cuomo lit the top of the One World Trade Center spire pink to celebrate it. The footprint of where the Twin Towers stood has a monument listing all who died in the 9/11 attacks, that includes the names of 11 babies killed inside their mother’s wombs in the terrorist attack–babies who would no longer be protected under the new law. In fact, pre-born babies are no longer protected in New York when their mother has an abusive partner or is the victim of a violent crime that causes a forced abortion.

What many did not realize and still do not realize is that New York’s neighbor, the smaller state of Vermont, has been quietly doing exactly what was celebrated in New York for years, but even more extreme. Vermont is now trying to codify this, first with a bill, and then in the state Constitution. This bill, H.57, would not only codify abortion with zero restrictions into state law, it would also strip any remaining rights that an unborn child has in Vermont, effectively giving that human being the status of property (but having less rights than an animal).

While I applaud and am thankful for the voices of non-Christians who are speaking against unrestricted abortion in Vermont, I write here specifically to Vermont Christians because I am a pastor. Scripture gives us even more reasons to protect the lives of the unborn (for example, to list some, Genesis 1:27, Exodus 4:11; 21:22-25, Job 31:15, Psalm 22:10, Psalm 127:3-5, Psalm 139:13-16, Isaiah 45:9-11; Isaiah 49:15, Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:41, 44; Galatians 1:15).

We also have specific responsibilities as Christians to protect the vulnerable and speak for the innocent who are being harmed or even killed: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute…” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Compare those words of Holy Scripture with the chilling words of Vermont H.57, “A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.”

We all know from the rest of the bill, not to mention current Vermont practice, that a baby just seconds from appearing outside the womb is still considered a fetus. No rights? Does this mean that he or she is property, worse than slavery, because he or she may have body parts that could be sold or used for scientific experimentation? It seems so. Many have expressed these concerns about this bill already.

The bill states: “Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or to have an abortion.” Think about the audacity it took to put those words in there. Words matter, and they matter almost more in law than anywhere else, as lawyers–and lawmakers–will tell you.

Our lawmakers are admitting in their bill that would grant absolutely unrestricted abortion, that a child is the result of a pregnancy carried to term. There is something missing in this sequence: “…give birth to a child, or to have an abortion.” They are clearly saying, you either give birth to a child, or you kill that child through an abortion. The word “abortion” does not cover up that fact. It is the logical conclusion of this phrase in the wording of the bill itself.

It is time to act. Here are 8 things you can do, starting today.
1) Pray. Enough said. This is the most important thing, and what we as Christians must do first.

2) Go testify at the committee hearing THIS Wednesday, February 6th at the State House in Montpelier from 4:30-6:30 PM. Those who wish to testify can sign up starting at 4 PM, and will be given 2 minutes to speak. Even those who cannot make the drive can still testify by submitting an e-mail to jtucker@leg.state.vt.us. Each one of these is read by the committee and becomes a public document. Go on record in support of the unborn.

3) Write and go visit your representatives. It is so easy to write or call your state representatives. Even if you don’t know what to say to them, just let them know that you are opposed to H.57, the bill that gives unlimited restrictions on abortion. A couple of sentences with your main concerns are enough to make your voice heard. Each of these letters matters.

Better yet, go visit your representatives. When abortion decisions are being made at the U.S. Supreme Court level, we feel there is nothing we can do other than to pray. But the new territory in the fight for life is now in your own neighborhood. My state representatives, one of whom is a sponsor on the bill, hold office hours in local cafes in our community. They will be visited by me, and I hope you will visit your representatives, as this process unfolds. Don’t be afraid of not knowing all of the answers. You simply need to express your concerns as a citizen. Bring ultrasound pictures of your children in their third trimester and talk about how your children responded to your voice while in the womb. They are not property or a clump of cells, which everybody knows; science even admits that they are babies. They should have rights. Speak for them.

4) Encourage our Republican Governor to veto this bill. He has shown both support of the bill and hesitation so far. He seems to favor abortion law, and yet he seems to know this is a radical bill that could have far-reaching legal fall-out for our state. Write or call, and urge him to veto H.57 if it gets to his desk.

5) Support your local crisis pregnancy center. Your local crisis pregnancy center does not receive tax dollars as they counsel women to consider adoption, and give them hope and help. They need our dollars, they need our encouragement, they need our prayers, they need our volunteer hours. They are on the front lines; join them!

6) Get involved with foster care and adoption. When courageous women do give birth to a child who was in danger of being aborted, she and the child often need our support through foster care or adoption. There are so many ways to get involved, whether it is taking a child into your home or organizing a toy or school supplies drive for foster children. This is one way we care for orphans in the U.S. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27)

7) Ask your pastor for ways you might be able to help your church minister to women who have had abortions, or who have made the courageous decision to give birth. As a pastor, I have cried with women who have tearfully shared that they were deceived at some point in their life and had an abortion. It has been especially helpful to have women in the church who can be an additional listening ear and a reminder of Christ’s forgiveness to these women who need our love and support. Those who were considering abortion but who made the courageous decision to give birth also need our help, in so many practical ways.

8) Remember our duty to love. Protecting the unborn is one way you can love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). But this also includes loving those we disagree with. Abortion is an emotional issue for both sides, for obvious reasons. But even as we confront those we disagree with, and don’t back down, we don’t call them names or ever threaten to harm them. They may be harming, or protecting the “right” to harm innocent children, but our only duty to them is to tell them the truth, pray for them, and–as hard as it may be in this circumstance–to honor and love them (Romans 13:7-8). As Christians we don’t flinch to call evil, evil. It is hard to imagine much more evil than advocating for the death of a child up to moments before birth. But it is our Scriptural responsibility to do this in a way that still shows respect to lawmakers.

Start with one or two of the above items, and then keep working through them. If we are ever going to act for the unborn, this is the time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the Nazi regime who ultimately was executed by the Nazis for speaking out against their atrocities. We still have much, much more freedom to speak than he did and really, at very little cost to us. But what he said about the murder of those who were deemed “non-people” by the government of his time applies to pre-born babies in Vermont today who are being deemed “non-people” by our government. Bonhoeffer courageously declared, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Let’s speak. Let’s act. Let’s pray. Let’s love. The unborn in Vermont need our speaking, actions, prayers, and love right now.

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Do You Love the Word “Propitiation”? Why we should use, study, and explain the big words the Bible uses in our preaching and Bible study.

A shorter version of this blog post appeared at the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

Two months ago I was preaching a series on the gospel, and in one sermon I preached Romans 3:21-26 which includes this gold nugget, talking about Jesus: “…whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:25) Today, I preached 1 John 2:1-6 as part of our verse-by-verse study through the book of 1 John, which includes this jewel, talking about Jesus: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

They were some of the most encouraging sermons I have preached for months, not only for me but also for the church family as we rejoiced in the gospel together.

I believe that in our preaching and Bible study, when we come across technical, “big” words that the Bible uses, we should use, study, and explain those words, rather than skirting around them or simply glossing over them with an alternative phrase.

We Use “New To Us” Language All the Time
When we moved to Vermont from the West Coast for me to pastor here, my family and I woke up the next morning and drove around town to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. It was May, and we kept seeing signs that said “Tag Sale.” They often looked like Yard Sale or Garage Sale signs, and once we followed a few of those signs and saw a Yard Sale happening, we incorporated this new phrase into our thinking and speaking. We now don’t give it a second thought to say, “We should clean out the garage and have a Tag Sale this summer.” To function well in a new environment, you have to learn some of the new vocabulary that will help you to understand things you encounter.

When somebody becomes a Christian or begins to really study the Bible on their own, they need to learn some of the new vocabulary that they will come across in the Bible or they will always struggle with those passages. When we as pastors or Bible Study Leaders don’t take the time to slow down and explain what difficult doctrinal words and concepts mean as we encounter them, we risk doing unintentional damage. We stunt the spiritual growth of those we minister to, because they will flounder when they run across these words in their own Bible study, and we also unintentionally teach that the words God chose to put in the Bible are too hard for us to understand.

Why You Should Love the Word “Propitiation”
With less educational resources at their fingertips, the Bible writers of both the Old and New Testament did not flinch to use technical words when they taught about God. Although the same could be said for Bible words dripping with meaning like “justification,” “redemption,”and “regeneration,” let me give you an example using the word that recently made me pause and ask how to teach it, “propitiation.”

As I studied to preach Romans 3:25 and then 1 John 2:2, I was amazed to discover that the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) uses a form of the same word 6 times. It is often used to talk about the Day of Atonement, but one use made my jaw drop. In Psalm 130:4 the Psalmist rejoices: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Yes, it is forgiveness, but he didn’t use the word for “forgiveness,” he used the word for “propitiation.” Those who sang Psalm 130 understood that in order for forgiveness to happen, their sins needed to be paid for.

But we really begin to understand what Jesus did for us so he could be our propitiation when we look at how a form of the word is used in Hebrews 9:5. There the writer of Hebrews uses a form of the word “propitiation” to describe the mercy seat, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant (this form of the word is found 28 times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, 24 of which also refer to the mercy seat that was on top of the Ark of the Covenant).

The covering of the Ark of the Covenant is under the two golden cherubim and it represented God’s throne on earth. It was the place where God’s Shekinah Glory, his special presence on earth, resided. Only the High Priest could go into God’s presence there, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. But when he went in there, he would sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice on the mercy seat; he sprinkled it, in other words, on the “propitiation.”

Inside of the Ark of the Covenant, in addition to Aaron’s budded staff and a pot of mannah, was God’s Law. The blood of the sacrifice went between God’s Law, which the people had broken, and God’s presence, which the people could not stand in without a worthy sacrifice.

This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus is not only our High Priest, Jesus IS our propitiation. Today. 1 John 2:1 explains that Jesus IS the propitiation for our sins. Present tense.

Have you broken God’s Law recently? What about the 10 commandments? Have you lied, coveted, lusted (Jesus pointed out that adultery happens not just with our bodies but also in our hearts), or not honored your parents recently, just to name a few of those 10 commandments? Jesus IS your propitiation! Jesus’ blood stands between you, the Law-breaker, and the holy God. Now that silences the accuser!

Let the people God has entrusted to you in your congregation or Bible Study glory in the gospel from the many different angles the Bible gives us, by not running away from the difficult words in the Bible. Explain them when you use them, but study and explain these technical and rich Bible words in such a way that they will want to sing hallelujah when they encounter them, whether it is in church or during their personal Bible study.

We want them to run TO propitiation, not away from it! Because when they run to propitiation, they are running to Jesus.

The Best Resolution for 2019: To Live to Make Jesus Famous!

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash

A slightly different version of this article (targeted more to ministry leaders) was featured at the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

On the first day of 2019 I can think of no better resolution than to live for the fame of Jesus Christ more than ever this year. The Christian missionary Henry Martyn was surrounded by religious leaders once who were trying to convert him to Islam. One of the clerics blasphemed Jesus’ name. Henry began to weep. They were surprised and asked him why he was crying. Martyn explained, “You have just blasphemed the name of my wonderful friend and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

In my context in New England, there are many who blaspheme the name of my wonderful friend and Savior, Jesus Christ. But it is more often that they don’t even know his name. Yet I don’t weep about this very often. I am resolving in 2019 to have more of a heart like Henry Martyn, which loves nothing more than to see Jesus lifted up.

The fact that so many around us don’t know who Jesus is should give us a holy angst, a desire to live to make Jesus famous.

Where the Good News of Jesus Goes, His Fame Goes
While words like “glory” and praise” are used much more often to describe the honor that Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord should receive, the word “fame” is used in the Bible as well.

Moses talks about the fame that the LORD had among the surrounding nations (Numbers 14:15), and Psalm 145:7 sings to God about generation after generation pouring “forth the fame of your abundant goodness” and singing “aloud of your righteousness.” In the New Testament, the Gospels talk about Jesus’ fame spreading throughout certain regions, often after he taught or did miracles (Matthew 4:24, 9:31, 14:1, Mark 1:28). As the “gospel of the kingdom” spread, “His fame spread…” (Matthew 4:23-24).

Just imagine what it would be like if our churches were full of people who desired nothing more than to make Jesus famous. We can do this by spreading the gospel of the kingdom. For where the good news of Jesus goes, His fame goes.

Our Core Motivation
Doing ministry, purposefully practicing evangelism, and making disciples through teaching the Word and modeling what it means to follow Jesus are all ways to make Jesus famous. But this core desire to make Jesus famous must motivate all of those ministry activities. Our love for Jesus must burn in our hearts so much that ministry comes out of a desire to see him become more famous, not vice-versa.

Our problem in ministering to others is often not doing the wrong things, but doing the right things for the wrong reasons. When we have our priorities right, God will often bless with stronger churches, more churches, more converts, and more disciples. But a desire to spread Jesus’ fame undergirds these activities in such a way that even if God does not bless in the way we expect or hope or pray, we will continue, because our hearts burn with a desire to see Jesus glorified.

May our longing prayer in 2019 be, “Father, there are so many around me who don’t know your Son. Show them Jesus through me! Show them Jesus through your church!” God loves to answer that prayer. One of the Holy Spirit’s main jobs is to shine the spotlight on Jesus. When we do the same, we are working with Him. Jesus explained, “He [The Spirit] will glorify me…” (John 16:14a).

The New Year is a good time to step back and reevaluate. Maybe it is time for you to refocus. First, are you involved in ministry through a local church and then in your community, region, or the world? Second, is your ministry about you or about Jesus? Is your core motivation the joy of doing ministry, or first and foremost the joy of loving Jesus? Jesus died and rose again “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). There truly is no greater resolution.