By / Nov 29

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Ambassador John Cotton Richmond, the former U.S. Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from 2018 to 2021, to talk about human trafficking, forced labor, how Christians can get involved in caring for vulnerable people, and how the Lord led Ambassador Richmond into this work.

Note: This is part one of a two part episode. Listen to part two here.

Guest Biography

Ambassador Richmond’s career has taken him to the front lines in the global battle against human trafficking. As a Partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, he focuses on the intersection between business and human rights. John advises companies on how to keep their supply chains free of forced labor and their workforces free of sex trafficking.

Before joining Dentons, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed John, and he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from 2018 to 2021. Serving in the nation’s highest-ranking position dedicated to human trafficking, John led U.S. foreign policy related to modern slavery and coordinated the U.S. government’s response to the crime.

Prior to his appointment as Ambassador, John served for over a decade as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, where he prosecuted numerous victim-centered labor and sex trafficking cases. He also co-founded the Human Trafficking Institute and lived in India for three years pioneering International Justice Mission’s slavery work.

John has received numerous honors and commendations, including being named a “Prosecutor of the Year” and receiving the David Alred Award for exceptional contributions to civil rights. His work caused the former head of the FBI’s human trafficking program to call him “every trafficker’s worst nightmare.”

John received his undergraduate degree from the University of Mary Washington and his law degree from Wake Forest University. Ambassador Richmond is a writer and frequent speaker on topics of faith, justice, vocation, and parenting and is a Fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute. He lives outside Washington, DC with his “Lovely and Talented” wife and their three robust and remarkable children.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Sep 22

Let’s start this chapter by admitting that we like to use hyperbole — extreme examples to clarify our points. We Christians may be particularly fond of it when we’re illustrating an important theme of the gospel, such as forgiveness.

Is hyperbole bad? No, Jesus used it (Matthew 5:27–30). Can it be used poorly? Yes. But before we get to the problem, let’s consider the purpose of illustrations. We use illustrations to make points clearer. If illustrations don’t make our point clearer, then they’re not good illustrations — they’re distractions. Sometimes this just results in ineffective teaching. Other times, it can be harmful to those being taught.

Imagine a father explaining forgiveness to his son. He uses the illustration of when his wife (the child’s mother) forgave him for having an affair. The dad may be making theologically rich, well-articulated, and skillfully applied points about forgiveness. But the illustration is a distraction. All the kid can think is, “Are my parents getting a divorce? Are we going to have to move?”

This is what we frequently do when we use criminal or traumatic offenses1Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses. as illustrations of what it means to forgive. When we recount the testimony of someone who has been raped, beaten, or similarly offended forgiving the person who abused them, we are putting every survivor who hears us in a comparable position as the son in the illustration above.

When, in a ministry context, we talk about someone forgiving their rapist, we are not providing legal or counseling advice on how to respond to the experience of rape. When we give an example of someone forgiving an abusive spouse or parent, we don’t explain what happens when you call Child Protective Services (CPS) or how to make a safety plan.2For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com But because survivors only hear their experience discussed in church as an illustration of forgiveness, they begin to think “just forgive” is the only guidance God has for them.

A good rule of thumb is don’t use these kinds of illustrations if you do not have the training or time in your sermon/lesson to provide substantive guidance on how to respond to a criminal or traumatic experience. If we are going to use illustrations of this emotional weight, we must be willing to devote the time the subject matter requires. It is pastorally irresponsible to do otherwise.

Illustrations with criminal offenses

When using an illustration or testimony involving a criminal offense, the following points would need to be made (this list is representative, not exhaustive):

  • It is right and God-honoring to report such an offense to the authorities (Romans 13), that is, the police.3If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • If children are not involved and the thought of reporting is hard, it is wise for a survivor to talk to a counselor experienced in working with abuse/rape survivors because these are legitimately difficult decisions.
  • Choosing to pursue legal action against criminal activity is not an expression of bitterness or unforgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is one part, and usually not the first part, of the healing journey after the experience of abuse or rape.
  • When you reach the point that forgiveness is the next part of God’s healing process for you, forgiveness does not mean trusting or placing yourself in the position to be vulnerable again. If the person who hurt you demands trust or leverages the Bible against you, they are continuing to be abusive.

These points take time in a sermon or lesson. Admittedly, they steal the thunder from a point about forgiveness. But realize, without these clarifications, the “thunder” of your message will be haunting to someone who has not had the opportunity to process their experience.

Illustrations with traumatic experiences

When using an illustration or testimony involving an offense that is traumatic, the following points would need to be made (this list is also representative, not exhaustive):

  • Painful memories are not the same thing as bitterness.
  • Hypervigilance after a traumatic experience is not the same thing as a lack of faith.
  • Flat emotions after a traumatic experience does not mean you’re unloving, apathetic, or not worshipping.4If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • Seeing a counselor experienced in working with trauma survivors can help a survivor learn to manage the emotional fluctuations that often occur after a trauma.
  • Forgiveness does not erase memory. For offenses that are disruptive when remembered, Miroslav Volf’s book The End of Memory can be a helpful discussion of forgiveness.

Again, these kinds of points do break the momentum of your sermon or lesson. But to the person who has experienced the kind of things you are using as an illustration, that “momentum” feels like an avalanche. To the person who is learning to manage their trauma, slower is safer. If we are going to speak of their life experience, then we should do so with the tenderness that experience requires.

This chapter forces us to consider again where we began this book — forgiveness means someone has been hurt. Criminal and traumatic offenses mean that there are more consequences to this person’s pain.5If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.  We need to take this into account when we teach on or talk about forgiveness.

Considering these things, take a moment to read Psalm 23:1-4:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
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. (emphasis added)

Why did I choose to emphasize the word walk? It is a pacing verb. It reveals the pace at which the Good Shepherd is willing to go. The Good Shepherd moves at the pace that is best for the sheep. The scary setting — the valley of the shadow of death — does not rush the pace. The health and ability of the sheep set the pace. Sheep with a limp traverse the valley more slowly.

If we are going to be accurate ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, we must prioritize our ministry efforts the same way. We cannot let our zeal for the destination cause us to harm the sheep who have been entrusted to our care. That is what this chapter has been about: helping us pace our illustrations about forgiveness to the needs of those who have been hurt.

Questions for reflection

1. When have you seen an illustration become a distraction? If it was around a sensitive subject, how did it detract from the care agenda of the person teaching?

2. How does the pacing verb “walk” of the Good Shepherd help you understand the pastoral significance in discussing criminal and traumatic offenses in the holistic manner recommended in this chapter?

Excerpted from Making Sense of Forgiveness © 2021 by Brad Hambrick. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit newgrowthpress.com.

  • 1
    Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses.
  • 2
    For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com
  • 3
    If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • 4
    If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • 5
    If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.
By / Sep 20

Most Christians are familiar with the story of Joseph as a powerful example of forgiveness and restoration. It is that. But it is not a simple, flat story. It is a complex story that spans a lifetime. It involves family drama, multiple betrayals, and political theatre. It is not a story we can apply as simply as Aesop’s fable The Fox and The Grapes. The story of Joseph is no simple children’s story.

Tracing the theme of power

Maybe one of the most dangerous misapplications in the story of Joseph occurs when it’s cart-blanche applied to how an abuse victim should respond to their abuser; as if it is a simple one-to-one application. What needs to be understood in order to apply Joseph’s story wisely to cases of abuse? We need to begin by tracing the theme of power throughout the story.

Initially, Joseph has the power. He is his father’s favorite son (Gen. 37:1-11). This means he doesn’t have to do the worst family chores, and he gets nicer clothes than his brothers. Joseph does not steward his power well. He flaunts his power and chides his brothers. By modern, American legal standards, Joseph’s actions were interpersonally offensive (i.e., rude). We would say he needed to repent, but we would not call the police.

Later, Joseph’s brothers have the power. They out-number Joseph and they are older and, therefore, physically stronger than Joseph. Joseph’s brothers do not steward their power well. They beat their brother, throw him in a well, and sell him as a slave (Gen. 37:12-36). By modern, American legal standards, Joseph’s brothers’ actions were criminal — kidnapping and human trafficking. We would say they needed to repent, and we should call the police if we learned of comparable actions.

In the final scene, Joseph has the power again. He is second in command to pharaoh and controls the distribution of grain during a famine (Gen. 42-50). We applaud Joseph because he is the first person in this sequence who uses his power to bless and redeem instead of abuse and demean. Reading this part of the story, we want to be like Joseph and want everyone else to be like Joseph, too. When we hear from someone who has been through hard times, like Joseph went through hard times, Joseph comes to mind as a great example to follow.

Forgiveness and restoration in Joseph’s story

Let’s make another distinction before we try to make wise application of Joseph’s story. When Joseph famously says to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good” (paraphrase of Gen. 50:20), two interpersonal activities are occurring: forgiveness and restoration. Because these two responses so frequently travel together, we can easily view them as two sides of the same coin, rather than independent actions.

Forgiveness is the removal of relational debt. Restoration is engaging a relationship as if the relational debt did not occur. To illustrate the difference, if you allowed a friend to borrow your car and they wrecked it by driving carelessly, forgiveness would mean not requiring them to pay for damages, but restoration would mean letting them borrow your next car. You might do one without the other.

In Genesis 50, Joseph is both forgiving his brothers (not throwing them into prison) and being restored to his brothers (inviting them back into family relationship). If we cavalierly use the story of Joseph as an example for abuse survivors to follow, we are communicating that it is good and safe for survivors to do both. Implying their life will turn out like Joseph’s life if they do.

Is restoration wise for an abuse victim? 

So, why was it wise for Joseph to do this, but maybe not for an abuse victim? The answer has to do with power.

It was good for Joseph’s soul to forgive his brothers. It honored God and gave Joseph freedom from bitterness. We can say with confidence that this is what God wanted for Joseph. We can also say with confidence that God was patient with the journey. It took Joseph 13 chapters (Gen. 37-50) and approximately 24 years (best guess from Bible scholars) to come to this place of forgiveness. We should be equally patient in advising survivors to forgive.

But what about restoration? Why was restoration wise for Joseph, and when would it be wise for us? Notice that the power differential that allowed for abuse had been balanced. Joseph was no longer “little brother.” Joseph was no longer outnumbered 11 to 1.

When we are caring for an abused friend considering restoration, a question we should ask is, “Has the power differential been balanced in this relationship?” If repentant, an abusive person who has leveraged power to harm someone will diffuse those power dynamics. An invitation back into an imbalanced relationship is an unwise offer to accept.

This means we must understand the kinds of things that create power in relationships: positional authority, access and control of money, age, social standing, education, etc. A near universal prerequisite for abuse is power differential, and the abuse of power makes other sin more consequential.

For example, if your accountant embezzled money from your bank account, this is more consequential than your child’s friend stealing the same amount of money left on your kitchen counter. The accountant used their position, authority, education, and social standing to get privileged access to your bank account. Even if you forgave the accountant (which would be good for your soul), you would not restore them with the pin number to your checking account.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of power, I would highly recommend Diane Langberg’s presentation at the ERLC Caring Well Conference. But, with even a basic understanding of power and abuse, we can better understand why a tearful and articulate abuser who insists on maintaining factors that gave them power is most likely not repentant. There is strong reason to believe they are like an emotional accountant wanting your social security number. They are not doing what is within their power to debunk this concern.

This is what makes Joseph’s actions in Genesis 45 an example to follow. Do you notice what Joseph did? He broke the cycle of power. He did not relate to his brothers as the VP of Egypt who had temporary guests. That would have maintained his power. He invited them into a family (power balanced) relationship.

Yet, even in this story, we notice that before Joseph restored relationship with his brothers, he took steps to vet whether greed, power, or fear would cause them to relapse into their old pattern (Gen. 44). He wanted to be restored, but he also wanted to be wise.

So, what are our takeaways from this reflection?

  • Don’t rush a survivor to forgive. Rushing godly responses is not good pastoring.
  • Do understand the power differentials in an abuse case. Unless we do, we will make sloppy application of Scripture.
  • Do set the expectation that power balancing is necessary to make restoration wise. Anything less is not addressing what made the abuse possible.
  • Marvel with a new perspective at what Jesus did to allow restoration with us.

This article originally appeared here

By / Jan 9

The events that we witnessed at the Capitol this week are disturbing and almost unbelievable. And above all the things they reveal is that we are fallen human beings who are in need of a perfect, righteous, and holy Savior. When we don’t know what to do—and even when we do—the most important thing we can do is go to our God in prayer. Below is a prayer you can use personally, as a family, or in your church community.

Great God of the nations. Father, Son, and Spirit. We worship you. From the peak of Mt. Everest to the floor of the Indian ocean, you alone are worthy to be praised. We thank you for the privilege of being heard in prayer, which was purchased by the blood of your Son. 

And as we pray, we consider that majestic holiness that Isaiah peered upon. And as we do, we are quickly mindful, as he was, of our own sin. Oh Lord, how often we have fallen short of your glory. This past week, we have been greedy, prideful, and prejudiced—spending, speaking, and strolling past neighbors who were made in your image, thinking ourselves better than them. 

We are too often like the priest that walks by the wounded Samaritan. As our neighbors have been beaten, broken, and bemoaned, we have walked by with little regard for them and, at the same time, great regard for ourselves. Have mercy on us, oh God.

Forgive us for the ways in which we, the church of Jesus Christ, have contributed to the unrest that pervades our nation. Forgive us for our pettiness, our selfishness, and our gracelessness. Forgive us for the ways we have neglected your Word and prayer. Forgive us for using the church instead of serving the church. Forgive us for greater allegiances to party politics, patriotism, or preferences than to Christ, his Kingdom, his people, and his purposes in the world. 

In these days, we have had to learn, yet again Lord, that we ought not to hope in princes. We have learned to hope in you. 

As we do, Lord, we lament the present circumstances. We mourn the division that is rampant within our nation, our cities, and our churches. How much longer must we see people praising your name while at the same time blaspheming people made in your image? How much longer must we walk through the valleys of racism, murder, and pandemic fears? How much longer must we languish for our sons and daughters? How much longer until we are home, with you, in heaven? 

We wait, O blessed Lord. And as we wait, we pray that you would rend the heavens with blessings innumerable. In particular, we pray for a breaking forth of repentance among this land. People great and small. Black and white. Men and women. Boy and girl. Democrat and Republican. Baptist and Episcopalian. Bless our nation with a deluge of repentance so that we might walk in the newness of life—not alone, but together, as your people, in order that we might be the light you’ve called us to be—the light that so much of our nation is looking for now. 

Thank you, Father, for hearing us. It is only because of the sufficiency of the work and worth of your Son that we can not only be heard, but be loved and known by you. We love you Lord. May we learn to love you and one another more.

We ask, in Jesus’ magnificent name,

Amen.

By / Dec 26

“The most important thing to me right now is talking to Lloyd Vogel.” 

That particular line may not have much significance to you now, but it’s a crucial part of an introductory phone call between a jaded journalist and Fred Rogers (played by Tom Hanks) in the new film, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (rated PG). The movie, based on a true story, explores the friendship between these two men.

Early on, we’re introduced to Esquire Magazine writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, who plays a version of real-life journalist Tom Junod). He’s married and has a newborn son. He also has issues with his dad. In fact, early on in the movie he gets into a fist fight with his father that ends in a bruised and bloodied face. When we catch up with Vogel post-fight, he’s at work getting his next assignment, which is to write, as he puts it, a 400-word “puff piece” on Mr. Rogers, the TV and cultural hero of the beloved children’s show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” For a serious writer, this assignment is an insult, but he agrees to do it.

As the film progresses, we witness several interactions between Vogel and Rogers. With his cynical outlook, Vogel has a difficult time believing Rogers could truly be anything like the earnest, soft-spoken character he plays on the show. His interviews with Rogers don’t go as planned, as Rogers seems less interested in talking about himself and more interested in learning who Vogel is. Who he really is. 

Truly seeing the worth of someone 

As Mr. Rogers intimates early in the movie, each human life is precious. To Rogers, that doesn’t seem to simply be a trite notion. When Vogel first walks onto the set of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Rogers is kneeling down at eye level with an unruly young boy who is violently swinging around a plastic sword. After Rogers spends a bit of time with him, the boy stops swinging the sword, lets down his defenses, and moves in to hug Rogers. Although the show’s crew is annoyed at getting off schedule because of having to wait on Rogers’ interaction with the boy, they, and Vogel, witness the change in the boy and the gentle, calming presence Rogers has on the child. 

In interviews with Vogel, Rogers explains the whole purpose of the show, which is to help give children positive ways to deal with their feelings. Throughout the film we see that Rogers is also helping a cynical journalist navigate his feelings (particularly those of anger) toward his father. “Forgiveness,” Rogers explains in an episode taping, “is releasing a person from your angry feelings.” 

When Jesus taught on forgiveness, he spoke of forgiving offenders not seven times, but 70 times seven. And at his most vulnerable, he asked the Father to forgive his tormentors, “for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). As he was dying, he still saw people—really saw them. And he still loved them. In Genesis 16:13, Hagar says to God, “You are a God who sees me.” 

That notion of seeing someone, and thereby recognizing their dignity as well, is what Rogers embodied so well. He cared for people and seemed to make each person he interacted with the most important conversation of his day. And while the journalist might not have believed him during that initial phone call where Rogers says, “The most important thing to me right now is Lloyd Vogel,” eventually he comes to. There are plenty of great takeaways from the person and character of Rogers, but at the very least, I hope to emulate that same intentionality in my personal interaction with others. 

Pointing broken people to Jesus

Now, lest we put Rogers on too high a saintly pedestal, I appreciate one particular conversation Vogel has with Rogers’ wife, Joanne. During that exchange, she explains that her husband actually has to work at being the way he is. She says he reads Scripture daily, he prays for people by name, he swims laps to vent. The film further humanizes Rogers by touching on some regrets he had in his own parenting, particularly when his children hit their teenage years. We see the regret in his eyes. Surely there were times when it must have been tough for a kid to have a parent like Rogers. He also speaks of taking out his anger and frustration on the low bass notes of the piano. 

But at his best, Rogers cared for people, particularly the “broken people,” as Vogel refers to himself. Rogers simply wanted to help, serve, and put people on a better path. And as I think of Jesus, I’m reminded of the broken people he, too, encountered. In the gospel of John, for instance, when he met the Samaritan woman at the well, he saw through her. Without ever having met her, he spoke of her sin, but didn’t leave it at that. He saw her—really saw her. He spoke to her of her true need and offered her that better path, a path leading to himself. And in him, she was fully seen, fully known, and fully loved. As believers, we are called to do likewise in order that we might point our neighbors to the One who not only sees them but offers them the forgiveness and salvation we ultimately need. 

By / Feb 21

Garrett Kell was living for pleasure and found himself in an unexpected situation. At Evangelicals for Life 2016, Kell shared his story of finding out his girlfriend was pregnant, assisting her in seeking out an abortion, and being pursued and forgiven by the God of the universe.

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By / Jan 4

I found it buried in a dusty old box of files, wedged between nondescript folders like “Wells Fargo” and “Car Repairs.”

How did something so precious get stuck here? I wondered.

Eleven pages of single-spaced type, typed on her computer. My grandmother had conquered the basics of the computer in her old age, but that was no surprise. She was a smart, ambitious, classy woman who had survived tuberculosis in the 1940s, breast cancer, a brain tumor and her eldest grandson’s tragic death, among countless other sorrows. Her life had been a hard one, but she had resilience in spades. She was a fighter.

Mama was on her deathbed as I celebrated my wedding in August 2010. Due to the festivities and honeymoon, I’d missed my family’s trip up north to say goodbye to her. I was heavy with regret. And then my mom’s words came, “She doesn’t have long,” and I reached for my phone to call Mama for the last time. I will never forget her weak, labored words, “Are you happy?” She knew my wait had been wearisome, and now on her deathbed she wanted to rejoice with me.

“Are you happy?” This new bride, soaring on the heights of marital bliss, crumpled up on the floor and choked back sobs to tell her how happy I was, how much I loved being married to Eddie. I told her I missed her, wished I could be there, loved her so much. And then she was too weak to talk anymore. I don’t remember either of us saying goodbye. Mama handed the phone to my aunt. I wept. It was her final phone call. Within hours she was gone.

Now, two years later, I held this treasure in my hands: my Mama’s account of her life, told to me in 11 pages. With my son fast asleep, I wasted no time in curling up on the couch to read (and weep) through the precious pages of my grandmother’s story. I was spellbound reading of her early days in Seattle, the friends she lost in World War II, her first job, her first boyfriend. But there were four particular words that made my heart stop and my world spin. She wrote:

My undoing. (Your beginning.)

Those four little words were Mama’s commentary on her marriage to my biological grandfather, Jack. It was a marriage that had unraveled in abandonment and ended in divorce. But the fact that Mama married “the wrong man” way back in the 1940s meant that I would one day exist. And I sat there—at 36 years old, a new wife, an even newer mom—heavy with the gravity of her statement, sobered to hear someone acknowledge that my very existence was wrapped up in their pain and grief.

I spent a majority of my teens and twenties trying to execute perfect decisions, to avoid making any mistakes. My thought process went a little like this:

If I live an exemplary life, I’ll be blessed, respected, and influential.

If I wait faithfully to marry the right man, God will give me an amazing model marriage.

If I serve others and make them happy, all my relationships will be peaceful and life-giving.

People who pursue conceptual holiness and miss pursuing the Holy One—they start smelling strongly of Pharisee. I know, because I once reeked of it. It took me years to realize that ultimately it’s not about me and my perfection. It’s about living a life wholly surrendered to God. It’s about releasing this white-knuckled grip I have on my life’s plans. It’s about returning to the cross and the tomb, to remember where my worth and hope and strength are found.

My life is his, to do with as he pleases.

When Mama came to know Jesus in her twilight years, he rewrote her chapters of divorce and shame and loss. Mysteriously, gloriously, he worked it all together for good. All was covered by his blood, all was finished on the cross. Death gave way to life.

Our brokenness might be big, our scars might run deep, but our God is bigger and deeper still. When all seems lost, God’s plans cannot be frustrated. He thinks and acts on an infinitely perfect scale (while we see only a stone’s throw in front of us).

So, what’s weighing on you in this new year? What have you already been burdened by today? He stepped into it all, came to be with us, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” He comes with mercies every morning, and every year.

Let’s take the long view when we look at today’s sorrows or yesterday’s setbacks—for even our greatest undoing, tilled in tears and surrender, may just be the fertile soil where life begins.

Scriptures referenced: Romans 8:28, Isaiah 55:8-9, Job 42:2, Luke 18:27, Psalm 119:56, Luke 1:79.

By / Jan 27

Garrett Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va, recounts how he helped a former girlfriend choose abortion and the grace and mercy he found through Jesus Christ soon afterward.

By / Sep 2

Millions of women and men, both in society and in the church, are suffering under the guilt of abortion. If you’re a woman who’s had an abortion or advised another to have one, this blog is for you. If you’re a man who’s been involved in an abortion decision, whether it concerned your girlfriend, wife, daughter or anyone, it’s also for you.

It’s counterproductive to try to eliminate guilt feelings without dealing with the cause of the guilt. You can only avoid feelings of guilt by denying reality. You need a permanent solution to your guilt problem — a solution based on reality, not pretense.

The good news is that God loves you and desires to forgive you for your abortion, whether or not you knew what you were doing.

The bad news

But before the good news can be appreciated, we must know the bad news. The bad news is that there’s true moral guilt, and all of us are guilty of many moral offenses against God, of which abortion is only one. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Sin is falling short of God’s holy standards. It separates us from a relationship with God (Is. 59:2). “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

The good news

Jesus died on the cross as the only one worthy to pay the penalty for our sins demanded by God’s holiness (2 Cor. 5:21). He rose from the grave, defeating sin and conquering death (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 54-57).

When Christ died on the cross for us, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek word translated “it is finished” was written across certificates of debt when they were canceled. It meant “paid in full.”

Because of Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf, God freely offers us forgiveness.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Salvation is a gift: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). This gift is not dependent on our merit or effort but solely on Christ’s sacrifice for us. God offers us the gift of forgiveness and eternal life, but it’s not automatically ours. In order to have the gift, we must choose to accept it.

You may think, “But I don’t deserve forgiveness after all I’ve done.” That’s exactly right. None of us deserves forgiveness. If we deserved it, we wouldn’t need it. That’s the point of grace.

Once forgiven, we can look forward to spending eternity with Christ and our spiritual family (John 14:1-3; Rev. 20:11-22:6). You can look forward to being reunited in Heaven with your loved ones covered by Christ’s blood, including the child you lost through abortion (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

God doesn’t want you to go through life punishing yourself for your abortion or for any other wrong you have done. Your part is to accept Christ’s atonement, not to repeat it. No matter what you’ve done, no sin is beyond the reach of God’s grace. He has seen us at our worst and still loves us. There are no limits to His forgiving grace. And there is no freedom like the freedom of forgiveness.

The need for support

Joining a group for post-abortion healing can help you immensely. You may have bitterness toward men who used and abused you and forgiveness issues toward those who helped you with your abortion decision (see Matt. 6:14-15). There are post-abortion Bible studies designed for women, and others for men. Many online resources can help you find the support group you need. (See Healing Hearts and and afterabortion.org

You need to become part of a therapeutic community, a family of Christians called a church. (If you’re already in a church, share your abortion experience with someone to get the specific help you need.) You may feel self-conscious around Christians because of your past. You shouldn’t. A true Christ-centered church isn’t a showcase for saints but a hospital for sinners. The people you’re joining are just as human and imperfect as you. Most church people aren’t self-righteous. Those who are should be pitied because they don’t understand God’s grace.

A good church will teach the truths of the Bible and will provide love, acceptance and support for you. If you cannot find such a church in your area, contact EPM, and we’ll gladly do what we can to help you.

A healthy step you can take is to reach out to women experiencing unwelcome pregnancies. God can eventually use your experience to equip you to help others and to share with them God’s love. My wife and I have a number of good friends who’ve had abortions. Through their caring pro-life efforts they’ve given to other women the help they wish someone had given them. Telling their stories has not only saved children’s lives, and mothers from the pain of abortion, but has helped bring healing to them. It can do the same for you.

By / Jan 22

As today marks the forty-second anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, most Christians recognize, and rightly so, the loss of millions of unborn human lives. What we often forget is the second casualty of an abortion culture: the consciences of countless men and women.

Too often, pastors and church leaders assume that, when talking about abortion, their invisible debating partner is the “pro-choice” television commentator or politician. Not so. Many of the people endangered by the abortion culture aren’t even pro-choice.

In your congregation this Sunday, and in the neighborhoods around you right now, there are women vulnerable to abortionist propaganda, not because they reject the church but because they’re afraid they ‘ll lose the church. Pregnant young women are scared they will scandalize church people when they start to show, so they keep it secret. Parents are fearful their pregnant daughter, or their son’s pregnant girlfriend, will prompt the rest of the congregation to see them as bad families.

As they keep all of this secret from the Body of Christ, many of them fall prey to the false gospel of the abortion clinic. “We can take care of this for you,” these people say. “And it will all go away.”

Moreover, there are thousands of men and women in our churches who have aborted their children, or urged the abortion of their grandchildren. Bearing the shame of this, they keep it secret. And in the concealment, the satanic powers accuse them: “We know who you are; you’re a murderer, like us.”

Every time pastors and church leaders speak, they are speaking, at least potentially, to these men and women, the aborting and the abortionists. Many of these people don’t argue that the “fetus” is a “person.” Their consciences testify to that, and they’re either tortured by this or violently trying to sear over that persistent internal message.

The answer, for the church, is to preach the gospel to the conscience.

For many evangelicals, to “preach the gospel” seems to be obvious and ineffective because they think this means to, by rote, prompt people to accept Jesus and go to heaven. But the gospel speaks right where the abortion culture is in slavery, to the conscience.

For one thing, those guilty of this silent atrocity often don’t think we’re talking to them. For some, the demonic structures have helped them to conceal this secret, and to convince them the safest thing to do is to try to forget it altogether. Others are so burdened down by guilt, they really don’t believe they are included in the “whosoever will” of our gospel invitations.

Speak directly to these people. To the woman who has had the abortion. To the man who has paid for an abortion. To the health care worker who has profited off of tearing apart the bodies of the young and the consciences of their parents.

Speak clearly of the horror of judgement to come. Confirm what every accusing conscience already knows: clinic privacy laws cannot keep all this from being exposed at the tribunal of Christ. When the Light shines, there’s not enough darkness in which to hide and cringe.

But don’t stop there.

Proclaim just as openly that judgment has fallen on the quivering body of a crucified Jesus—accused by Satan, indicted by the Law, enveloped by the curse.

An abortion culture knows that hell exists, and they know judgment waits (Rom 2:14-16). Agree with them, but point them to the truth that God is not simply willing to forgive them. Show them how in Christ God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26).

The woman who has had the abortion needs to know that, if she is hidden in Christ, God does not see her as “that woman who had the abortion.” He hasn’t been subverted from sending her to hell because she found a gospel “loophole.” In Christ, she’s already been to hell.

And, in the resurrected Christ, God has already told her what he thinks of her: “You are my beloved child and in you I am well-pleased.”

The consciences around us don’t believe what they’re telling themselves. They’re scared and accused. Shine the light in the eyes of their consciences. Prophetically. All for justice, legally and culturally, for the unborn. But don’t stop there.

After all, the spirit of murder doesn’t start or end in the abortion clinic (Matt. 5:21, 15:19; Jn. 8:44; Acts 9:1; Rom. 1:29; Jn. 3:15). And the blood of Christ has cleansed the consciences of rebels like all of us.

Warn of hell, but offer mercy. Offer that mercy not only at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but in the small groups and hallways of your church.


You can download the ERLC's Sanctity of Human Life Sunday bulletin insert here.

A previous version of this article was published January 22, 2013.

Image attribution: Flickr