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Yesterday I heard on the news that Sen. Bill Frist has changed his position on federal funding of embryotic stem cell research and has now decided that the government should help pay for using embryos that are scheduled to be discarded for such research. The fact that Senator Frist is also Doctor Frist and self-described as “pro-life” is supposed to add weight to his support. I have just seen a headline on “My Yahoo,” saying that some supporter of such research now believes that they have “veto proof” support in the Congress.

I am neither a doctor nor a senator nor even an expert on bio-ethics, but it seems to me that the larger issues in this debate are being ignored. I do not intend to resolve the probably unresolvable question of when human life begins. If we take a literalistic reading of Genesis, “man became a living soul,” when “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” So the “plain reading” would indicate that human life begins once a baby is outside the womb and the first breath is taken. Just try telling that to an expectant father who, hand on his wife’s tummy, feels the baby within her kick or hiccup. Or try telling that to the mother who has just given birth to a still born child. Tell her not to grieve because her baby wasn’t human. I don’t think so. Why would we develop surgeries to operate on a child in utero if we were not dealing with exactly that, a child? I think that we can all agree that human life begins at some point before the baby takes a breath on its on.

What about at conception? The prevailing view among most Catholics and Evangelicals is that human life begins at conception. That may well be. I do know, however, that many fertilized eggs are never implanted in the womb and are lost in the normal child-bearing process. Are each of these lost fertilized eggs an immortal soul who will spend eternity in heaven. Maybe, but it seems to me to be a stretch. So I’m not going to try to argue tenaciously that human life begins at the moment of fertilization. But I am, however, left with a dilemma. If not then, when? At that point, everything that is needed for those two cells to grow into a recognizable human is present – except time, nourishment, and a safe and nurturing environment. (Come to think of it, those are what a baby needs when it is born into the world.) So maybe a fertilized egg is not a human being, maybe it is. But if it’s not, then anyone is hard pressed to find another such defining moment.

The tremendous problem here is that we have thousands of these fertilized eggs in storage, “on ice” as it were, largely unused products of in vitro fertilization attempts. Their existence poses a huge ethical dilemma that has been ignored as in vitro fertilization has become commonplace and practiced on a widespread basis, including among Christians. I am aware that there are ethically sensitive doctors out there who attempt to reduce embryo loss to no greater than it would be under “normal” fertilization processes. That’s a difficult role to be in, but may be acceptable. I’m not going to stand in judgment over any couple who decides to undergo these procedures. I imagine, however, that such doctors are in the minority and that such an approach greatly increases the expense involved. If all doctors took this approach, I doubt we would have such an overstock of fertilized embryos. If in vitro processes are to continue, and I think there’s no stopping them now, then we need to have stronger guidelines to reduce the number of unused fertilized eggs.

But wait! Now we have found a use for those little babies-in-waiting. We can extract their stem cells and do research and maybe one day find a cure for all of the diseases that plague humanity. And surely then we’ll all be able to live blissfully in this earthly paradise that we’ve created. (Don’t count on it.) But the fact that all these fertilized eggs are useful to us means that we can keep producing them, and destroying them, because of some hope that we won’t have to suffer from Alzheimer’s if we do.

Now we have found these fertilized eggs useful if we let them develop for a few hours or a few days and then extract their stem cells. How long will it be before we find another use if we let them develop for a few weeks, or a few months? Where will we draw the line? Or why not, as many are even now suggesting, just clone them? Not for reproduction, but “therapeutically,” mind you. My question is, “Who is going to do therapy on the life that’s been snuffed out before it could begin?”

Ultimately, embryonic stem cell research, though done in the name of enhancing human life and alleviating suffering, devalues human life because it fails to value it at its earliest stage. If we do not value life at its earliest stage, then what about it’s later stages? What about when each of us is no longer deemed useful? What if Alzheimer’s is not cured? Will we be kept around, or will we be discarded as easily as those frozen fertilized eggs?

While President Bush has tried to take the high ground on this issue, he opened the door by allowing research on “existing lines,” which turn out to be far fewer than originally thought. But by allowing even this limited research, he was creating an appetite for the usefulness of these embryos. No one should be surprised that more are being demanded, and will soon be given.

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BBC NEWS | Africa | Togo poll rivals in peace promise
Recent reports have indicated that political kidnappings have continued in Togo and that many of the almost 40,000 refugees in Benin and Ghana fear to return to Togo. Pray that this agreement will mark the beginning of a just and lasting peace. The southern people put a lot of stock in Gilchrist Olympio, who lives outside of Togo. Pray that their trust is not misplaced, as he now appears to have negotiated some kind of deal with the government.

Our family made it back to Africa yesterday after three weeks apart.  At the risk of sounding like a soppy, love-sick husband who desperately missed his wife (which I am), I just have to write something in praise of this remarkable woman.  Before we married, she sat out on many worldwide adventures and always took care of herself.  Since we married, however, I have taken over a lot of the details, especially of traveling, so she was beginning to wonder whether or not she would be able to make the trip and take care of the boys without me.  Well, of course, she did, and she did a great job. 

She did a great job, but not an easy job.  Our youngest seemed to be especially stressed out from being displaced from home and from dad, and this showed up as some not-so-nice behavior quite frequently.  But Maureen handled it and did what had to be done, often under the disapproving eyes of on-lookers.  On the trip, she found time for medical checkups, visits with friends and family, worship, and both the fun and not-so-fun sides of mothering.

She did a great job, but she wore herself out.  Now she’s sick in bed with a combination of a cold, the flu, and jetlag, getting rest that she more-than-deserves.  I just wanted to take this opportunity to rise up and call her blessed—and a blessing.

Here’s a challenge from my course with Grant Osborne:

“The more God has given, the more he is giving us a ministry of helps. There is no option. If God has blessed us, he expects us to use that to help others. The extent to which I reject that is the extent to which God has removed his blessing, and I have [already] received my reward.”

I’m writing today from the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside of Chicago, where I’ve come to take a class. More on that later. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to post comments on anyone else’s blogs because all Blogger sites as well as Bloglines are blocked by the school’s Internet server. I can only post to my own site via email. At least I hope it works.

I guess they don’t want their students wasting time on such frivolous activities. Or maybe some powers that be have decided that blogging is not an appropriate medium for communication. By the way, if you haven’t read Greg and Dee’s comments to my previous post, please do so. They both make some excellent points.

Related to that discussion, in yesterday’s lecture Dr. Grant Osborne talked about how too much of today’s preaching and evangelism is “market driven.” Jesus delivered the message that God gave him. He didn’t do market research to find out what his audience wanted to hear. In application, here is as close as I can get to Dr. Osborne’s exact words:

“We are called by God to deliver the message he has given, not what people want to hear. The ‘market’ part has to do with how the message is presented, not the content.”

In a different vein, in preparation for our move to the States next year, I’m reading The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti. One paragraph in the Introduction blew me away with its simple truth. Storti says,

“Moreover, simply because reentry can be frustrating, lonely, and generally unpleasant at times is not to say that it is a harmful experience or a negative one. After all, frustration, loneliness, and unpleasantness are very often the precursors of insight and personal growth. Maybe reentry doesn’t always feel good, but then feeling good isn’t much of a standard for measuring experience.”

I wonder whether it would be possible to count the number of times each day we receive messages that tell us we are to measure our experiences by the “feel good” formula. How often have I been guilty of evaluating worship, prayer, meditation, or fasting by how they make me feel? OK, I’ll just tell you – a lot. May God help me to judge, and choose, my experiences by a higher standard.

A few weeks ago I drew from Eckhard Schnabel’s Early Christian Mission  to write  Paul vs. Missiology #1.  My intention was not to say that Missiology as a discipline is somehow un-Pauline or unbiblical, but merely to point out that Paul’s approach to missions does not always fit with our expectations of what might be most culturally relevant.  Here is another excerpt from Schnabel that deals with Paul’s renunciation of rhetorical skills that were highly esteemed in Greek society.  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, it is obvious from the language that Paul uses that he was familiar with the standard rhetorical practices of the day.  One might expect that he would embrace them in order to better communicate the gospel.  Instead, Paul found the medium incompatible with the message, so he rejected it in order to preserve the message.

My question is whether or not the contemporary church may be embracing media that are somehow incompatible with or undermine the message.  Read Schnabel’s comments, think about this question, and let me know what you think.

“Paul writes, ‘When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom’ (1 Cor. 2:1), emphasizing that he dispenses intentionally with the superiority of the art of rhetoric when he preaches the gospel.  He had no interest in being the center of attention or in being praised by others. . . . [H]is task was the proclamation of the message of Jesus as the Messiah, ‘and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2).  This message required no dialexis, no discussion (on the level of style or lexis) concerning his own person, nor did it need a eulogy (enkomion) on the greatness of the city of Corinth. …
            According to 2 Cor. 10:1, 10-11, Corinthian Christians reproached Paul for writing strong and audacious letters while being personally subservient and weak, hiw oral talks being contemptible, having no merit.  Another accusation, put forward by some Christians in Corinth was that he was ‘untrained in speech’ (
idiōtēs tō logō [1 Cor. 11:6])—that is, an amateur, managing only a botched job when he speaks.  Paul emphasizes against such criticism that these accusations are aimed, in the final analysis, against Jesus Christ himself:  the ‘meekness and gentleness of Christ’ (2 Cor. 2:11) consist, according to Phil. 2:1-11, in self-abasement.  Paul’s behavior as a missionary, as a teacher who speaks in public, is characterized by humility because Jesus Christ’s conduct and demeanor likewise were characterized by humility.” (pp. 1327-1328)

If we want our media to be consistent with our message, maybe the first thing to ask is “What is our message?”  If our message is “We are right and they are wrong,” then certain forms of communication are called for.  But if our message is “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” then totally different media must be used. 

Do our media reflect the slickness of modern marketing more than the rough splinters of the cross?  Of all the media available and being used by Christians today, which would Paul find best suited for communicating the scandal of the cross?  Which would he renounce?

Just a quick note to thank those of  you who prayed for our trips.  Maureen and the boys were able to get the better connection, and arrived in Singapore a day earlier than anticipated.  They actually got to Singapore  more quickly than I made it to the States, but by God’s grace—following long layovers in Frankfurt and Chicago, I’m finally in Alabama.