USCCB?s pro-life head goes Maccabees on HHS rule – ?not just about eating a little pork?

I haven?t posted one of these offerings from the USCCB?s Life Issues Forum lately, but this one is fairly striking in its implication. Just released from the executive director of the USCCB?s Pro-Life Secretariat:

The High Cost of Conscience

By Tom Grenchik

At the end of the liturgical year, the Mass readings tell dramatic stories from the Books of Maccabees of simple folks standing courageously for their faith in the face of torture and death. Their exemplary witness can strengthen us as we defend our conscience rights and religious liberty which are under attack today.

In second century B.C., a conquering king was intent on suppressing Judaism in Palestine. He issued a decree that his whole kingdom should all be one people, each abandoning his particular customs and religious laws and observances. Whoever refused to comply would be killed. Though large numbers did comply, we?re told that many in Israel ?preferred to die rather than be defiled with unclean food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Terrible affliction was upon Israel? (Maccabees 1:63).

The king sent inspectors to root out anyone suspected of following Jewish law. Some enforcers used verbal pressure (?everyone else is doing it?). Others offered riches and powerful positions to community leaders who might cave in. Most relied on torture or massacre.

Eleazar, a prominent Jewish leader, was so respected by his torturers that they privately offered him a chance to fake his obedience to the king. He could bring his own meat and pretend to be eating the forbidden pork. That way he could publicly please the king, technically please God, and fake it for everyone else, leading them to violate their consciences. Eleazar refused and was beaten to death.

A mother and her seven sons also refused to comply. After being severely tortured, each was offered a choice: comply with the king?s mandate, or be dismembered and fried. The mom, killed last, boldly encouraged each son to remain steadfast and not compromise his faith.

What inspired such martyrs to follow the tenets of their faith, when eating a bite of pork could have prevented dreadful suffering and likely would have been widely supported as best for the common good? They knew in their hearts that no king or government agency could force them to compromise their faith.

Similar stories of heroes killed for refusing to violate their conscience by following unjust decrees are found throughout history and cultures. Yet their courageous resistance to violations of faith and conscience often surprises leaders who impose such unjust laws.

On January 20, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that nearly all health plans will be forced to cover drugs and procedures even if this violates the consciences of those who offer, sponsor or purchase the plan. As many have noted, this is not just about access to contraception, abortifacients, or sterilization. The mandate is about forcing religious groups or individuals, against their beliefs, to pay for or provide these things under threat of sizeable penalties. For Eleazar, too, it was not just about eating a little pork. It was about being forced to act against his beliefs and lead others astray.

The backlash against HHS?s contraception and sterilization mandate should surprise no one. People of conscience are rising up against this unjust and unconstitutional mandate. Folks from all walks of life have spoken out. Facebook groups are organizing ?Stand with the Bishops? campaigns. Others are participating in ?Days of Fasting and Prayer? for their bishops. Still others are launching online ?Rosary Campaigns for Religious Freedom,? and so on. All of these efforts are encouraging. At the Catholic bishops? conference webpage you can learn more about this issue and take action to defend conscience rights.

Defending the right of conscience comes at a high cost; but the cost of failing to do so is incalculable.

It is cause for great hope that the Catholic community understands the threat, is united in opposition, and is swiftly mobilizing in parishes and dioceses, in hospitals and academic institutions, and nationally under the leadership of our bishops to demand that the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment be upheld. If we do not stand and be counted now, what will be the next moral challenge forced upon people of faith? Who will be the next group targeted?


Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to to learn more about the bishops? activities on conscience protection.


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My Month with John

This February, I made a goal for myself to read 1 John thirty times. I also made plans to read John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation each week in February. I was inspired by John MacArthur’s system. You can read a little bit about that at Grace To You. Here is what he says in part,

It is my conviction that the Bible is not difficult for the believing heart to understand. And the more I understand, the more unshakable is my conviction that the Bible is the living, authoritative, inerrant Word of God. It has this remarkable effect on me: the more I study it, the more I hunger to know. So God’s Word not only satisfies my appetite, but also arouses an even deeper hunger for more. I want you to experience that hunger too. I want you to live in the joy of a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ that comes only through knowing the meaning of Scripture. Here’s a simple process to get you started.
Begin by developing a plan on how you will approach reading through the Bible. Just by reading the Bible you become familiar with its themes, history, and contexts. There is simply no replacement for Bible reading.

He says:

Read through the Old Testament at least once a year…


Follow a different plan for reading the New Testament. Read one book at a time repetitiously for a month or more. That will help you retain the New Testament so you will not always have to depend on a concordance to find things. If you want to try that, begin with a short book, such as 1 John, and read it through in one sitting every day for thirty days. At the end of that time, you will know the book

He then goes on with tips for interpreting, evaluating, applying, and correlating.

Week one I read 1 John eight times: NKJV (5), ESV(1), NASB (1), ASV (1)
I read John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation in the ESV.

Week two I read 1 John eight times: NKJV (6) Living (1), New Living (1).
I read John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation in the NKJV.

Week three I read 1 John ten times: NKJV (5), KJ21 (1), NIV (1), RSV (1), Message (1), NASB (1)
I read John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation in the NASB.

Week four I read 1 John eight times: NKJV (2), ESV (3), NASB (1), RSV (1), HCSB (1).
I read John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation in the RSV.

So in total, here’s what my month looked like: NKJV (18), ESV (4), NASB (3), RSV (2), ASV (1), Living (1), New Living (1), KJ21 (1), NIV (1), Message (1), HCSB (1). Most of these readings were done in a text-only Bible, but I read it in two student study Bibles. One, the MacArthur Student Study Bible. Two, the ESV Student Study Bible.

John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation were read in the ESV, NKJV, NASB, and RSV translations.

Key Verses:

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NKJV)

Most translations read similarly except for the Holman Christian Standard Study Bible and the New American Standard Bible. They both read:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

Other variations I found refreshing to a certain degree:

If we confess our sins, he is just, and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong. (NEB)

If we confess our sins, he is just and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrongdoing. (REB)

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (NLT)

But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (CEB)

1 John 2:1-2 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (NKJV)

The key word for me–well, one of them, at any rate, is propitiation. I was curious to see which translations kept this word, and which ones changed it up a bit.

Propitiation: NKJV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, KJV, KJ21, ASV,

CEB: My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only for ours but the sins of the whole world.

NIV: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 

NLT: My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins–and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. 

NEB: My children, in writing thus to you my purpose is that you should not commit sin. But should anyone commit a sin, we have one to plead our cause with the Father, Jesus Christ, and he is just. He is himself the remedy for the defilement of our sins, not our sins only but the sins of all the world. 

REB: My children, I am writing this to you so that you should not commit sin. But if anybody does, we have in Jesus Christ one who is acceptable to God and will plead our cause with the Father. He is himself a sacrifice to atone for our sins, and not ours only but the sins of the whole world.

RSV: My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 

And, yes, because I do care about the differences–subtle or not–between propitiation and expiation I’ll include a link to this article from the Holman Bible Dictionary.

1 John 4:7-11 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (NKJV)

And some interesting (at least interesting to me) variations on 1 John 4:19

  • We love Him because He first loved us (NKJV, KJV)
  • We love because God first loved us (CEB)
  • We love because he first loved us (NIV, ESV, NEB, REB)
  • We love each other because he loved us first (NLT)
  • We love because He first loved us (NASB, HCSB, RSV)
  • We, though, are going to love–love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. (Message)

1 John 5:5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:12-13 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (NKJV)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


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I?m Quitting Blogging For Six Months: My Blog Sabbatical

I am taking a sabbatical from this blog beginning this week and ending Sept 1 2012. It?s ironic I do this at the beginning of Lent (I didn?t plan it this way) because I really dread doing this. I love blogging. It has become a regular discipline in my week for over 5 years. I am going to miss it. I am going to hate doing this. Even this week, when I knew I was going to write this, I had two episodes happen that I wished I could have used this blog to reflect theologically on. But I have to shut er down for a while because I have a set of obligations that demand my full time focus in the next six months. I?ve got to fast and focus.

The biggest of these demands is a book that I am contracted to write for a large (and unflexable :) ) publishing house that is due this summer. I have to make some serious space to write it amidst my other duties of teaching at Northern Seminary, pastoral life and various speaking engagements. This next six months is going to be crazy!!

The book itself, is going to be my first popular book, a book written for a non academic audience. I?m co-writing it with Geoff Holsclaw with whom I have co-pastored for ten years (which makes this all the more complicated). It sketches out a theology and practice for the church that I?ve been working on for years. It weaves in stories from our church life together, our journies through the Emergent and Neo-Reformed church discussions, as well as the church plantings we?ve been involved with. It leads us to some conclusions about the belief and practice we must think through for nurturing fresh expressions of the gospel in our culture. I think the book will be timely. I think its focus on the missional/Ana-baptist theological discussion for actual church practice on the ground will take the whole missional discussion to another level, at least theologically (may I be so bold?). It?s due out in Jan 2013. There?ll be more news to come I?m sure.

I Will Return!

Even as I write this, I?m chomping at the bit to return. I look forward to returning to blogging September 1st with a queue of posts that basically reflect off daily leadership/ministry/theological issues that pop up in my daily life as pastor/coach to missional churches/church plants/seedlings as well as in my travels. This really does feed my soul and I?m going to miss it.

In the MeanTime

Between now and September 1st, I?ll also be doing some speaking and stuff. I love doing this as always. For instance, I?m lecturing at Eastern Mennonite University Feb 29 2012, speaking at the Ecclesia National Gathering in Washington DC March 5-6, speaking at the Inhabit (Parish Collective) Conference April 20-21 in Seattle, speaking at the Aggelos Church Planter Training, May 7-11 in Richmond VA, and lecturing 5 times  June 12-14 2012 at Northeastern Seminary (Public Lectures) Rochester NY. The best part of these travels is interacting with people. I learn so much! If you?re around, why not join me?

You can also enjoy the archives of the blog and follow me on Facebook or Twitter where I shall remain active as ever having a good time interacting with folk over various issues that come up in life, ministry, theology and blog posts.

Blessings on the next 6 months! I look forward to being with you again on this blog September 1st!!



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