Kermit Gosnell and the Greatness of Grace

It seems like the news has been a veritable cornucopia of awful lately. Everything from the IRS targeting certain groups claiming tax exempt status and spying on reporters to the whomperjawed situation surrounding Benghazi leave me wondering if a move to Bora Bora wouldn’t be advisable. Add the Jodi Arias and Kermit Gosnell trials, and I’m left wondering why God has any patience with us at all.

But it’s the Gosnell verdict—and the reaction to it—that most piques my interest. I am glad he is being brought to justice for his crimes and that another pro-life legal precedent has been added to the books. However, I can’t help but feel that Christians, by and large, missed an opportunity to witness to the world when his guilty verdict was announced.

Image from huffingtonpost.com

I don’t read the comments and discussion threads that follow articles because they’re usually a cesspool of hatred and vitriol. (And yes, the purple prose is merited. Go read a few threads sometime. You’ll see. It makes me lose faith in humanity.)

While I wish I could say believers fare better in this department, when it comes to hot button issues like this, we’re just as bad as non-Christians.

The comments ranged from those who were glad justice had been done to folks who were more than a little happy to “gouge out the other eye” themselves. Comments like, “There’s a special place in hell for this dog of a devil. I hope they vote to send him there soon” and “I hope they snip his spinal cord with scissors” just left me shaking my head.

I’m glad that abortion is being addressed in a new light and that this trial (and the awful details that were revealed during it) made many women considering abortion change their minds. I’m glad a man like Kermit Gosnell is no longer practicing “medicine,” if that term can be applied at all. But the thought that has stuck with me, that has resonated longer than my disgust is this—God’s grace will always be greater than sin. It is great enough to cover this man who has done things most of us find unspeakably horrifying, and if Mr. Gosnell truly accepts Christ as his Savior today, tomorrow, or the day of his death, I will see him in heaven along with my family and friends. He, like the vineyard laborer hired in the eleventh hour, can expect the same rewards I do because God’s grace is His to do with as He sees fit.

The thought humbles me, but apparently, some folks don’t agree. Over dinner a week or so ago, I discussed this revelation with a friend, and she recoiled from me like Kuato had grown out of my abdomen.

“I don’t agree with that at all,” she told me. “I can’t imagine that THAT man can go to heaven the same way I can…especially after all he’s done.”

The debate went back and forth and finally ended with, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point.” And her refusal, I think, stems from two sources. The first is that she believes, like many people, in hierarchically arranged sins. Some, like little white lies or envy, are minor infractions. After all, don’t we all commit them? So that makes them hardly worth confessing in prayer. Yet the whammer sins—murder, adultery, theft, and the like—are somehow beyond the pale. What we forget oftentimes is that sin is sin is sin.

Image from kseamericanlitblog.wordpress.com

Dante wrote entire books detailing a very elaborate system involving the levels of the inferno, purgatory, and paradise, but none of it is biblical. Truth is, there is no sliding scale, no ranking system, no way for us to justify our judgment of one another. We want to believe that if we only commit minor ones, we’re good on our own and don’t need grace, but that’s not true. James 2:8-10 tells us, “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Yeah, one sin is just as great as another. And all of them separate us from the Lord.

But that’s where grace comes in.

For those who accept Christ as Savior, there is no reason to worry about the law. Yes, we should always strive to do those things that are pleasing to God and avoid those things He hates. But the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross wiped the record books clean and made it possible for us to be truly free and enjoy a relationship with the only One who is worthy of praise. We had nothing to do with it.

The second reason she couldn’t understand the idea of grace applying to Gosnell is the allure of work-based salvation. She said more than once, “I’m a good person. He is not a good person.” She listed all the right things she had done as well as all the wrong ones she had avoided. In her mind, her faith was more valuable because of what she did (or didn’t) do when the truth is the only reason we have value is because of who Christ is and what He has done. None of us is innocent. None of us can hurl stones at a fellow sinner because, if we’re willing to look closely enough, we’ll see that we’ve done something just as awful as far as God’s law is concerned (John 8:1-11). That’s why we should fall down on our faces before Him and thank Him for the grace and mercy He’s shown us rather than point fingers at one another. He gives us hope and purpose in a world that can offer us neither, and that’s what we should be shouting about.

Image from dailybibleplan.com

Before we parted ways, my friend told me that I was foolish for thinking that a man like Gosnell would ever be saved. He was a murder. He was evil. He had done unspeakable things, and God wouldn’t dare use such a wretched human being to do His work here on earth.

But all I could think about was the apostle Paul—a man who, when he was named Saul, was a persecutor without equal. He went after Christians, be they men, women, or children, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). He sanctioned (and perhaps even participated in) Stephen’s stoning. But God saw fit to smack him down on the road to Damascus and change him forever (Acts 9:1-31). And what did He use Paul to do? To preach to the Gentiles, to plant churches in cities across Europe and the Middle East, and to write over half of the books in the New Testament.

God took a murderer of Christians and turned him into one of the most powerful and persuasive warriors of the faith. Millions upon millions have come to salvation because of Paul’s writings, and we continue to study and learn from them today. If God can change the world to such a degree with one man, who are we to say he can’t do it again with one who is just as feared, just as reviled, and just as lost in his own incorrect beliefs? That’s the story we should be telling on those message boards. That’s what people need to know about.

I’d be interested on hearing your thoughts on this topic. Do you agree with my friend or me….or have another opinion entirely? Please share your questions and ideas in the comments section below. I always look forward to discussions!

Pure and Undefiled Religion

My article in the June issue of In Touch Magazine is one for the record books. Not only is it a feature, it is also the longest piece I’ve written for the publication to date—a whopping eight pages. It was the first multi-interview piece I’ve ever done (10+), and it also included copious amounts of statistical and personal research. Because of it, I learned better interviewing skills, how to conduct an interview that’s tailored for broadcast, and how a video feature is made. I worked with amazingly talented people ranging from transcriptionists, web designers, and graphic artists to five-person a video crew. Five wonderful people were willing to share their stories with me, and I have no doubt that, through what they shared, lives will be changed. God is going to do something supernatural in the lives of at least one or two people who read this. I know because He did a number on me through the process of constructing it.

I began brainstorming for this piece back in November of 2012, and I have to say that it proved several things to me. One, nothing is impossible for God. There were several times in this process that I nearly threw up my hands and quit, but it was in those moments that God taught me something about reliance and His sufficiency. When I needed the words, they came. And when I trusted Him to provide the resources needed, He never failed to show up.

Two, people matter to God. He wants children to be in families, and He wants us to provide the homes they need. I spoke with brilliant and resilient children who have been hurt more in their short lives than I will ever experience, and I felt my heart growing in response to their stories. Also, I learned that when we grieve, our God grieves with us. I spoke to a widow of 30+ years and a widower who just lost his wife three years ago. The pain was so fresh in his heart that he cried several times during our interview, but he still said without hesitation, “God is good. He keeps providing.” That is the very definition of faith to me.

Third, though I have never wanted children before, God has impressed on my heart that it is time and that adoption is the route my husband and I will take. We’ve made some tentative first steps in that direction, and I firmly believe that I was given this assignment so God could shape and mold my heart to make that choice possible. I guarantee you that there will be MANY blogs posted on this subject in the upcoming year.

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The article has also been posted on our shiny new microsite, which can be seen in all its glory at http://www.intouch.org/missing-persons/widows-and-orphans/. There are some web exclusives there as well as the video and audio/photo slideshow that was produced as a part of the project. It’s a website designed by the wonderful team at Hampton Creative. Go look. Seriously. It looks spectacular.

It will also hit homes this week in print form, which you can read below. If you like this piece and are interested in a free subscription to our publication, please visit our subscription page and give us some info. There are three more months to go in the Missing Persons Project in addition to the two reports that have already been published as well as some exciting interviews and articles coming in the future.

All in all, this has been one of the most challenging, most humbling, and most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever had the honor to experience. God has blessed me in so many ways over the last two years since I started at In Touch Ministries, and words cannot express how I feel right now.

I’d love to hear your feedback about the article, the website, the videos, and whether or not any or all of it changed your thinking on the matter. We love hearing from our readers, so please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

To Be Worthy of Our Words

When I was working on my article for the September issue of In Touch Magazine, I stumbled across a lovely tome called Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior. Part memoir, part theological treatise, and part literary criticism–it is a marvelous explanation of why books should matter, especially to people of faith. So far, I agree with her. Rather than ban books, we should read every one we can get our hands on because it is one way we can do as the apostle Paul advises—“Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). She agrees with John Milton’s assertion that books should be “promiscuously read.” This has nothing to do with the sexual connotation we apply to the word today, but instead means that we should engage in, as she puts it, “indiscriminate, disorderly reading. And lots of it.”

I haven’t finished the book yet. In fact, I’m only three chapters in, but I’m loving her mix of memory, story, and application. If you’re a person of faith who loves to read everything you can get your hands on and books have helped shape you into the person you are today, I suggest picking this one up. You might not agree with everything she says, but like the pear on the cover, it’s juicy food…for thought.

One passage in particular caused me to stop, to re-read (at least five times), and to ponder. It reads:

“All words are names, for all words signify something. The power of naming is a subset of the power of all language. God spoke the universe into existence and, in giving us the gift of language, He gave us a lesser, but still magnificent, creative power in the ability to name: the power to communicate, to make order out of chaos, to tell stories, and to shape our own lives and the lives of others.

The Book of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of words. To choose a good word, to assign the right name, to arrange proper words in the best order: these are no easy tasks. Such work requires the creative power, the brooding, the birth pangs of a mother. Names, words, and language: they shape and create our souls the way a mother’s body shapes and creates our bodies. We describe the country of our origin as our fatherland, but our language we call our mother tongue. Indeed the words that often wield the greatest power in and over our lives are those spoken by our mothers, from our names, to words of encouragement, to words that define and shape our characters, words of truth spoken in love. This power of words is akin to the creative nurturing role a mother plays in our lives.”

There are three separate yet equally important ideas here.

1. God values words. It’s how He made the world, and we can create using them, too. Words are an amazing gift from a God who loves us.

2. Writing is hard. It should be hard because it’s important. And that is a good thing.

3. Names are important.

**A fourth point I took away from it is that if/when I become a mother, I’d better be careful about what I say, but that’s fodder for another blog.**

My brother and his wife are having a baby girl later this year, so there has been much discussion of names in our family. Some have been quickly discarded, others have fallen in and out of favor, and a few–like bathing suits–have survived the horrendous “three way mirror examination.” Currently, the front-runner is Olivia, which was my suggestion. I have firm plans to call her Olive, buy her love with Disney Princess dolls, and school her in the ways of sarcasm.

Some of these look like good ones. Others….not so much.

After reading this passage, I sat back for a minute and thought about my name. For many years, I wasn’t fond of it, especially my first name. Jamie. It’s really a boy’s name, and I was often referred to as “Mr.” on the first day of classes when the roll was called. (Never a good thing when you’re the tall/fat/awkward girl.) However, the name itself has some meaning in my family. My great grandfather was named James, as was his eldest son, my great uncle. I was named for my great grandfather because he died just a few months before I was born. My mother said he was very excited to meet me, so much so he used to talk to me through her stomach. She attended his funeral while pregnant with me, and it was then that she decided to change my name to honor him. (Until then, she had planned to name me Allison.) I’ve always thought that the choice was rather cool on my mom’s part.

Uncle James, who died last year, was a pastor and served as the minister for my parents, my aunt and uncle, and Wayne and me. He was the spiritual rock of our family for many years, and I’m proud to share a name with him. He taught me what it meant to be a man after God’s heart, to be good and honest and loving. When we attended his funeral, I realized that I’m the last James. And the thought made me more than a little melancholy.

James signing his name to our wedding license.

My middle name, Anita, is one I share with my maternal aunt. However, she was not the first to have the moniker. That honor belongs to my great grandmother’s sister, so both of my names actually go back two generations. “Anita” means “graceful,” which is a term I don’t apply to myself. But I do so like the thought. It was the name I asked my teacher to call me in Spanish class because I liked the way it sounded when she said it– “Ah-knee-tah.” It was soft and round in the mouth. Much better than Jamie, which came out “Jai-may.”

Both names are of Hebrew origin, which is another plus in my book, and when I think about where they come from, I realize that each holds something of my family’s history. My mother’s side. The one I resemble both physically and with regards to attitude. I have my great great grandmother’s spunk. A great aunt’s long fingers. A distant second cousin’s sense of humor. And when I think about this, I can’t help but marvel about how talented God is—how He wove together a family and made us alike both in bone and brain, tendency as well as tendon. Each one of us is indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a master Artisan (Ps. 139:14).

Names matter. Words matter. And I’d love to hear yours. Tell me about your name in the comments section below. Do you like your name or hate it? Does your name tell a story? Please share it! Do you feel differently about names because of Ms. Swallow Prior’s quote?