What does the following factoid say about our culture?

The National Retail Federation projects that Americans will spend $370 million this year on Halloween costumes . . . for their pets!

It's ridiculous on so many levels: There's the folly of celebrating ancient pagan rituals; the pretense of substituting cats and dogs for children; and finally, the fiction that Americans are suffering under a down economy.

Oh, what Life Matters Worldwide could do with $370 million! Or any number of pro-life ministries . . . combined. Did you know that our entire budget for this year is a little over one-tenth of one percent of that figure ($392,000)?

How should we explain this to friends in Africa, Latin America, or Asia, where paganism is not a game and the struggle for daily survival is all-consuming? What couldn't they do with a fraction of what we waste?

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, the country's Senate has joined its House in legalizing abortion in the first trimester. The first abortion clinic has recently opened in Northern Ireland. And in China, abortions continue on a pace of 13 million per year! These three reports were found in a quick scan of headlines from just one newspaper this morning -- The New York Times. They show that we Americans have done a good job of exporting abortion culture.

What can we do? I'd like to think that with more support we could do more to fight abortion here and abroad. We could do more to counter philosophies and vain deceit (Col. 2:8).

This past weekend our board met to discuss next year's general budget and special projects. For now, we're still working on meeting this year's goals. If you'd like to help us, click the 'Donate Today' tab above. From there you can select General Fund or one of our projects to support.

Thank you!

Jesus' description of a future separation of sheep from goats in Matthew 25:31-46 has always held me in fascinated terror. I remember hearing my mother read it when I was a child of five or six and feeling an awful pang of conviction. Had I ever helped someone in such a way that would keep me from being lumped with the goats?

When I asked our president, Tom Lothamer, what he was musing about this week, he brought up this passage. And he said that on a recent reading something struck him afresh. He noted how unconscious the sheep seem to be of their own actions. When told why they are worthy to "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," they ask, "When did we do all this for you?" They seem unaware that helping people, particularly "the least of these my brothers," was actually service to Him.

I think this means sheep are those who serve Christ without consciousness of self, from an overflow of worship and gratitude. What they are conscious of is God's constant presence and protection, His watchful eye, His glorious character that exudes mercy and grace. They don't think about service in terms such as, "I'd better do this for God." Or "I need to rack up more good works." Or "It's my duty as a Christian to help so-and-so." Somehow they are honestly innocent about service to others. They display the beauty of a life transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Goats, on the other hand, seem very conscious of all they have done. Their question is, "When did we not take care of you?" They are religious about keeping score, racking up points, mindful of earning something, making their own way. It's the same attitude that comes through in Matthew 7:22 about people who profess to know the Lord but are ultimately denied by Him.

There have always been questions about this portion of chapter 25, such as who is Christ intending as "the least of these"? And what is meant when He says this is a judgment of "the nations"? Not to be missed, however, is the Bible's unavoidable emphasis on helping the helpless (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Psalm 41:1; Proverbs 19:17, 21:13; Luke 10:25-37, Hebrews 13:1-3, 1 John 3:16-19).

What does this have to do with being pro-life?

Everything. Leaving someone hungry, sick, by the side of the road, and so on consigns him or her to the present condition. Left unattended, unless someone else steps in, he or she will die. And then the question is, will his or her blood will be held to my account (Genesis 9:5)? Will I have to answer for it?

I am my brother's keeper. I am called to be a good neighbor. I may hope and pray for others to come along, but I don't know they will. I am here. I am aware of a need. I must do something.

The Good Samaritan was more conscious of the beaten man's need of help than of its cost to himself or his own piety. He said, in effect, "If I don't take care of this person, who will?"

In the latest update from Bill and Lori Smith (10/14/12), the missionaries to Papua New Guinea write:

Real religion is a relationship with God through His Son and it is lived out in our lives among the people we touch each day. It is not something done each week . . . our religious activities . . . it is a life-transforming daily explosion of His power through my life [my emphasis]. It is reaching out to the lost and hurting around me. It is being willing to go to the place of sacrifice and be willing to be hurt and used and abused to show my love! Leaving my comfy pew and putting into action the love of God to those that need it most! . . .

We can work or we can serve . . . there is such a difference.

What a joy that as we refocus and see God clearly in our lives He eclipses the irritants, fears and frustrations. We give because He has given all for us. We love endlessly because we are loved beyond measure. Our actions speak the words in our lives.

"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."

Paul encouraged believers in the 1st century with these words (2 Thess. 2:16-17), and they bless our hearts today. Life Matters Worldwide's mission statement echoes the thought:

Helping the Body of Christ articulate the biblical pro-life message in word and deed.

Word and deed. Proclamation and practice. It's an over-arching theme in Scripture, Old and New Testaments. The prophets were famous for challenging people who professed to have faith in God to also help the suffering person -- or at least stop participating in their oppression. Isaiah 58:1-11, Jeremiah 7:4-7, Zechariah 7:9-12, and 8:16-17 are just a few OT passages that come to mind.

James completes the thought in 2:12-17: 

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

From our earliest days, this organization was founded on the principle that "it's not enough to say abortion [or now assisted suicide] is wrong, we must also offer alternatives." There are many ways to do that. We've made it an aim to express our beliefs in actions that establish and sustain pregnancy care centers as effective Gospel outreaches. And, through LIFT, to help Christians offer practical and spiritual support when church members are chronically or terminally ill. 

Whatever you do for Christ today, may God encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word!

Related article that may hurt to read: Pregnant and homeless on the doorsteps of a Christian megachurch

Jesus' disciples had a lot to learn. About a hungry crowd, they said, "Send them away." About a desperate mother: "Send her away." To parents with children, in effect: "Take them away!" Perhaps they were at a loss for knowing what people needed, or how to help. Maybe they were simply annoyed. 

How often are we like that? I felt something similar on a recent morning driving to work. A man was standing near the highway entrance holding a sign that said he’s a veteran and needs help feeding his family. Many thoughts swirled through my head as I passed by: Is he really a veteran? His buzzed haircut and soldierly posture vouched for him, but both could be easily counterfeited. Was he willing and able to work at any menial job, or too proud to take what's available? Why was he willing to humiliate himself? Is his situation really so desperate? Would he really buy food with the donations, or drugs and booze?

Of course, it was impossible to change lanes, pull over, and ask him these questions without endangering myself or other drivers. And it probably wouldn't have been wise for me, as a woman, to approach him at all. 

I found myself wondering if, or when, the “professionals” would step in -- people who work with the hungry, who know the right questions to ask, and have referrals to food pantries. Are they aware of this fellow? Have they tried to help and been rebuffed? Where were they?

Giving is sometimes messy, but Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with it. 

In contrast to the disciples' hostility or apathy, a deep pity moved Him to effective, confident acts of mercy on behalf of the lost. The object of His compassion was people --those who knew they had problems and those who were oblivious. His objective was complete restoration. While not everyone responded in faith, He graciously served. 

His compassion met both immediate and eternal needs -- problems such as hunger, sickness, and sin. While laying out hard truths about God’s kingdom, Jesus did not neglect other human needs but served the whole person. 

As they followed, the disciples witnessed first-hand how perfectly Jesus expressed His Father’s compassionate nature. They heard Him say, “I feel compassion for them” and watched Him do something about it. In the course of their training, Jesus directed them to perform lowly acts of service for others, such as having them hand out the baskets He was filling with food. 

In response to situations like the one of coming across a hungry person and feeling at a loss of what or how to give, some friends have come up with a creative solution. They've begun carrying bottles of water and granola bars in their cars and handbags that can be offered in Jesus' name, along with information about local food pantries. It's a good way to avoid the trickiness of handing out cash and the embarrassment of giving nothing.

Pro-life ministries reflect Jesus’ spirit of compassion on a larger, more organized scale. They serve the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. Pregnancy care centers “suffer alongside” those caught in the web of sexual immorality, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion. LIFT “suffers alongside” the dying and chronically ill. Meanwhile, the world offers counterfeit answers -- abortion, euthanasia -- that abandon people to death. 

God often uses frailty or deficiency to draw people to Himself. Physical, emotional, and social problems point to the reality of sin because they proceed from it -- their own sin, the sin of others, or the Fall in general. Sometimes, caring for these problems is our only entrée past closed doors. The people served by compassion ministries may not know it, but they also have spiritual needs. 

Evangelism and compassion go hand-in-hand. It’s not enough to educate people about abortion, or hold their hands as they weep. They may still be lost in sin. That’s why true compassion ministries will point toward the source of ultimate transformation -- Jesus Christ. Salvation from a life of sin and the penalty of death is only in His name (Acts 4:12). 

God still prepares His followers for compassion ministry. The challenge is being willing, ready, and in position to help. 

Scripture references: Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8; Proverbs 14:12; Lamentations 3:22; Jonah 4:11; Matthew 9:35-36, 14:14-21, 15:23, 30-38, 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:31-44, 8:2, 10:13-16; Luke 7:13, 9:11-17, 15:20, 17:11-19; John 1:18, 13:14; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 1:3; James 5:11.

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Onward Christian Workers

Aren’t you tired of being whipped into a frenzy every time someone insults us or infringes on our rights? Isn’t it exhausting to keep track of the media’s offenses against Christianity? I look forward to a dissipation of heat on November 7, the day after the election, but it’s probably wishful thinking to believe real calm will set in. Soon a new round of accusations and recriminations will begin (or the old round will continue). And in no time the 2016 campaign will be upon us. 

Is this how Christians are supposed to live, tied to a political cycle, at the mercy of 24-hour news feeds? Of course not. And yet, it feels as though to be a fully engaged person, hyper-vigilance is the watch-word and righteous indignation the predominant virtue. Too many of us run hot during election season and cold the rest of the time.

D. A. Carson noticed the trend back as far as 2005 in a lecture on the book of Revelation. David Rogers of SBC Voices helpfully transcribed pertinent parts of the audio recording for his blog post, “D. A. Carson on Angry Christians and the Devil’s Tactics”

If you want to make a lot of money with a Christian book in this country, write a book that says what’s wrong with America, listing all the bad things that you possibly can on the Left, demonize the Left. It’ll sell like hotcakes on the Right. . . .

Now contrast that with the first Christians taking the gospel in the Roman Empire. They were nobodies. They didn’t have anybody taking away their heritage. They were out to take over the heritage. They looked around and saw an extremely pluralistic empire, and they said with Caleb, in effect, “Give us this mountain.” And they kept witnessing and kept getting martyred, and so on, and there was a revolution, finally—a spiritual revolution.

But we can’t do that today. At least we find it very difficult, because we’re so busy being angry all the time that at the end of the day not only do we lose our credibility with people on the Left—they start demonizing us back—but we have no energy or compassion left to evangelize them. When you’re busy hating everybody, and denouncing everybody, and seeking political solutions to everything, it’s very difficult to evangelize. Isn’t it? Very hard to be compassionate, to look on the crowds as though they’re sheep without a shepherd, very hard to look on them like that when they’re taking away “my heritage.” Do you see?

Yes, I do. More recently, blogger Don McBride sounded a similar note: 

U.S. Christians are becoming more political and less evangelistic, and this is something they need to watch. It’s easy to wrap up in political anger and point out sin, but our call is to reach the lost. If we see the signs of the end fast approaching as they are, then we should be about the Master’s business of . . . preaching the Gospel, and being the light for Jesus. We are Christians, not Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, or Liberals. We need to be evangelistic. We need to shine Jesus, not politics.

The corrective, of course, will come from God’s word, this time in the mouth of James (1:19-20): “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” 

Indeed, as we’ve seen in the past week or so, the misplaced anger of some who claim the name of Christ has made it tougher, more dangerous, or impossible for Christians in Middle Eastern countries to patiently and gently go about the work of reaching lost souls. 

The trouble is, in making a call to bring Christians back from an over-reliance on political or social change, the pendulum is bound to swing over to an unreasonable and unbiblical abandonment of civic duty. Neither extreme is acceptable.

We must not fall for any of the “Six Myths of Cultural Engagement” that Jim Daly of Focus on the Family identifies. Myth 2 is that “we must be loud, vocal, and visible” and Myth 3, “getting angry is the path to success.” The truth is “if we truly want people to hear us, we must be humble, personable and subtle.” 

And, while Myth 1 says “nothing can be done,” Myth 4 is that “we must fight the darkness.” Just because one position is false doesn’t mean its opposite is true. Instead, “we must increase the light by presenting the good, true and beautiful story that changes lives.” 

It’s easy to be angry, apathetic, or even despairing , but we’re not called to the ease of giving in to natural inclinations. Rather than passion (intense emotion) or lack of passion (apathy), we’re called to self-control and to imitating Jesus’ life of compassion -- according to Merriam-Webster, a “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Rather than being right and having our say, we need to be wise and willing to give up some rights . . . for the sake of the Gospel.

We’re also called to be sober and alert in prayer, and I would suggest at this moment that we pray for those Christians on the frontlines who face death or being kicked out of their countries of service as a result of the misguided expression of rights here in America.

Also, in our appeals for God to bless America (or any country), we should admit we don't deserve it. Why should God bless a nation that exports abortion-on-demand? Rather we need His mercy so that the Gospel may flourish here and abroad.

We can be bold without being brash. As Rick Warren recently preached, the sanctity of life, sex, and marriage are "three aspects of the Christian worldview that are hated by this world. Most Christians clam up and shut up because they're afraid to even stand up." The stand we take in the voting booth is private and powerful. Don't miss the opportunity -- or shirk the duty -- coming up this November 6!

We are called to stand up for the rights of others by acting on their behalf and voting when we can. As we wrote in "Whatsoever . . . voting," a candidate's stance on abortion is more important than his or her position on the economy or the environment:

One could make the case that all issues affect the sanctity of human life, but none is more basic than the right to life itself. If there is no justice for the most vulnerable human beings, there can be justice for none. Candidates ought not pit “interest groups” against the unborn.

Some say, “If you’re really pro-life you’ll join the [fill-in-the-blank] cause!” But these are often the same people who refuse to also speak for the unborn. Why should the tiniest of little ones be forced to wait at the end of the line behind those with more money or a louder megaphone?

I suggest you download this copy-ready flyer and make it available to your church family before the election.

One other way we can diffuse heat is by building credibility through service. Our president, Tom Lothamer, spent several years serving on his local school board. He had to work alongside others who didn't necessarily share a "Christian world and life view" and succeeded by being prepared, participating fully in discussions, and being respectful. That meant listening patiently and responding calmly. There's no short-cut to civility.

Just as the historical perspective helps -- thinking of what the early church endured and how they responded -- so does the biblical perspective. Our God is in control. Psalm 33:8-11:

Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.

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