Written by Michael Craven- Author, Speaker, Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture (http://www.crosswalk.com/11622960/)
In Corpus Christi, Texas, where my parents live and worship, the Christian community was rocked two years ago by the shocking conviction of Hannah Overton. In an outrageous series of events, this gentle thirty-year-old Christ-follower, wife, and homeschooling mother of five was sentenced to life without parole in the death of Andrew Burd, the four-year-old child that she and her husband were adopting from the foster-care system.
Andrew was born to a mother who admitted to abusing methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, crank, acid, and alcohol while pregnant. Andrew suffered speech and coordination issues. He also had five markers for diabetes, which were undiagnosed. Nonetheless, Hannah’s heart was to work through all these things and see Andrew have the best life he possibly could. Tragically Andrew died on October 3, 2006. Prosecutors charged that Mrs. Overton created a toxic brew of spices, put it in Andrew’s sippy cup and forced him to drink it, causing lethal salt poisoning (hypernatremia).
However, the Overtons’ story is quite different. The fact is, Andrew had an eating disorder that left him hungry all the time—even immediately after a meal. If he didn’t get more food, he would become agitated. Hannah’s practice was to give him a spoonful of Zatarain’s seasoning dissolved in water to satiate his voracious appetite. Following one such incident, Andrew became ill, getting cold and vomiting. However, Andrew chronically overate, sometimes from the trash can, and threw up frequently. When Andrew’s symptoms worsened, Hannah rushed him to the emergency room. The hospital staff also failed to properly diagnose Andrew’s symptoms and administered saline intravenously, unaware that he was dying of too much salt. An expert witness testified that it would have taken up to twenty-three tablespoons of Zatarain’s consumed in a period of no more than fifteen minutes to reach the sodium levels one doctor said were the “highest ever recorded.”
By every account, the local justice system not only failed but also may have actually crossed the line into willful misconduct, resulting in an unimaginable nightmare for the Overtons.
As details of the case emerged, an anti-Christian bias within the prosecutor’s office became clear. “For all the Christians out there, understand this, Hannah’s simple faith was used against her as the prosecution incessantly sought to make her out to be a religious sociopath,” according to Rod Carver, the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Corpus Christi where the Overton’s are members.
One effect of this inconceivable injustice has been the unification of the body of Christ—ironically in the city of the same name. Churches and pastors have come together in unprecedented ways to rally for justice on Hannah’s behalf. They have raised money for her defense, paid for her appeals, and taken her case before numerous state officials. National media has covered the story but, despite growing pressure from the community and clear evidence exonerating Hannah (see www.FreeHannah.com), she remains in a Texas state prison with little hope of ever being with her family again. This is what makes her story so compelling.
In the shadow of such injustice and despite unimaginable suffering, Hannah remains steadfast—strengthened in her faith—even “excited” to see how the Lord is “pleased” to use her in prison for His sake. In her most recent letter, following the heartbreak of her latest appeal’s denial, she writes, “I’m amazed at all He’s done and is doing through my case. Who am I to say my desire to be home is more important than whatever God calls me to do? I know the time will come when His promises are fulfilled. So now I wait upon waiting, running the race with the endurance He gives as He pours the oil of Joy over my family and sustains us for the journey.”
Hannah’s life and story reveals the disturbing paradox of the kingdom that our Lord revealed to Paul, “For My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV). Clearly, God’s strength is being manifested in Hannah’s circumstances as she is being used to deliver and demonstrate the good news to multitudes of women in her prison. Her letters are full of prayers and pleadings on behalf of the many women she has encountered and begun to disciple. Despite her own suffering and the horror of her circumstances, she remains more concerned about those for whom God has given her a burden. She has suffered countless persecutions for her faith, having had the cords to her appliances—these precious conveniences—cut by her opponents; she has received numerous threats. And yet, she “rejoices” that the Lord uses these trials to testify of Himself in this dark and desperate place.
At one point in a recent letter she quotes Spurgeon, who wrote, “So surely as the stars were fashioned by His hands and their orbits fixed by Him so surely are our trials allotted to us. He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have on us.” She then goes on to say:
I’ve been reading this book called “The Heavenly Man,” the story of a persecuted Christian in China. This book has been challenging for me, in a good way. His story reminded me that many Christians are so spoiled that in a way we forget we need God, when everything is going wrong in our earthly life; we have no hope, but God! Multitudes of church members are satisfied with giving their minimum to God not their all. Every house church pastor in China is willing to lay down his life for the gospel. What are we willing to give up? Do we hold on to our rights, desires, positions, loved ones as if they are not gifts from God in the first place? Rom. 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore brethren, in the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service.” Did you notice the last phrase? This is your reasonable service. When we consider who God is and what He’s done is it not reasonable for Him to do as He pleases with us? I know I’ve been guilty of getting caught up in self-pity instead of being honored to be used by God.
The question that confronts me is this: Would I be so “honored” to suffer in this way for Christ’s sake? Am I really committed to being a “living sacrifice” and do I so deeply comprehend the depth of God’s mercy and grace that I would consider such sacrifice “reasonable?” I pray, by God’s grace, that I do.
I encourage you to learn more about Hannah Overton and her case. Pray for her and her family. Answer this sister’s call when she writes:
Please pray consistently for me and my family. Pray for strength, healing, peace, and restoration, as this really hurts a lot and we need your prayers. Pray for the ministry God has called us to at this time that we will be found worthy of our calling (1 Timothy 1:12). And I thank Jesus Christ, Our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful putting me into ministry.
You can learn much more about Hannah’s case at www.FreeHannah.com, including suggestions on how you can help. Make no mistake, what happened to Hannah portends of a growing bias against Christians that threatens our most basic rights. It is no longer safe to assume that justice is blind when one professes faith in Jesus Christ.
I was at church two sundays ago discussing prayer with a good friend and he said, “I have a song you have simply got to hear” and proceeded to pull out his iphone and play it for me. I was so moved, impressed and challenged that when I got home, I got on my laptop, pulled up itunes and bought it. It is an incredible song. I recommend you listen to it as well – you’ll be glad you did.
Aren’t these lyrics incredible?
If that’s the measure that it takes to crush the idols.
Chuck the pews and all the decorations too
Until the congregations few then have revival.
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
until you’re broken for your sins you can’t be social.
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
and know that great is your reward and just be hopeful
Cause you can sing all you want to.
Yes you can sing all you want to
you can sing all you want to
And don’t get me wrong, worship is more than a song.
Take a break from all the plans that you made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper.
Beg Him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister.
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open.
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken.
Cause you can sing all you want to.
Yes you can sing all you want to
you can sing all you want to
And don’t get me wrong, worship is more than a song.
Anything I put before my God is an idol.
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol.
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.
Anything that I give all my love is an idol.
We must not worship something that’s not even worth it.
Clear the stage and make some space for the one who deserves it.
Cause I can sing all I want to.
Yes I can sing all I want to
I can sing all I want to
And still get it wrong, worship is more than a song.
And you can sing all you want to.
Yes you can sing all you want to
You can sing all you want to
But don’t get me wrong, worship is more than a song.”
I recently read through the book of 1 Corinthians and so I decided I would read 2 Corinthians as well. I must say, the Bible is awesome. The more you read – the more you want to read. Additionally, the more and more I read and study the Apostle Paul and his writings the more I appreciate him and what he had to say. If there is anyone aside from Christ that Christians should aspire to be like, I am convinced that it is Paul. He is a beast. I realize there are other amazing Christians throughout history that God has mightily used but I just really like Paul. I am eager to meet him when I get to heaven.
My favorite verses in the whole Bible are in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Those verses are so full. There are so many wonderful themes flowing through them (isn’t the Bible rich?). But among other things, I was struck by how Paul outlines our duty, responsibility and joy of being ambassadors for Christ. Read verses 18-19 a few times and meditate on them. Through Christ we are reconciled to God and through Christ, God gives us the ministry of reconciliation. He entrusts to us the message of reconciliation! The message that sinners can be reconciled to God is entrusted to YOU.
As verse 20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” To me this is incredible. God didn’t send angels to be his ambassadors and make his appeals. He doesn’t choose certain very experienced, highly qualified Christians to work on his behalf. He didn’t select a few very polished speakers to represent him. No! “We”, you and me, ordinary Christians – we are Christ’s ambassadors! God is making his appeals through us! To me that is amazing. And very sobering.
American ambassadors to foreign countries have to be very careful of how they conduct themselves because they represent America. So too, we must be so very careful of how we act before the watching world because we are ambassadors representing Jesus Christ! In Matthew 5:16, our Lord says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”, and Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 2:12 to, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
We are ambassadors of the living God. It is our duty, our responsibility and our joy. May God give us grace.
I almost hesitate to tell people that I am a Christian. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16), and I am definitely not ashamed of the gospel or of Christ, far from it. But I am ashamed of the “Christianity” that many professing Christians present to the world. A Christianity that has added in their own codes of legalism – making it ultimately unchristian.
I have tried to witness to far too many people who have simply told me, “Christians are just legalistic, judgemental hypocrites.” And while some say this simply because they don’t like the fact that the Bible condemns sin, most of the time I have to agree with them. Modern-day Pharisees have overrun so many churches and added their codes of legalism to the gospel and judge people based on them.
It certainly is true that the Bible itself does judge Christians who live in blatant sin (see 1 Cor. 5:9-13) and I am not suggesting that Christians turn a blind eye to sin or prescribe to the modern “tolerance” movement. But I am saying that it is wrong to look down on others because they do not follow your personal convictions. I am saying that it is wrong to look down on others because they don’t live up to your standards. In fact, I would argue that it is wrong to look down on anyone for any reason. Even if someone is living in sin, that doesn’t give you a ticket to look down on them. Followers of Christ should be filled with pity for the lost, not contempt.
The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see that the essence of living the Christian life is the condition of your heart. We all know that looks can be and are deceiving. No one has a perfect life – some people just have better acts than others. I think it is sad that so many Christians judge their standing with God based on the opinions of those around them. Of course, you also have many that judge their standing with God based on how well they are following their own creed. It is as if they pray, “God I thank you that I am righteous, I do not have tattoos, I do not drink, I do not smoke, I do not dance, I do not use bad language…”
You know Luke 18:9 says that Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to, “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt”. Wow. That sounds like far too many American “Christians”. Far too many American Christians have turned the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ into another false religion by adding their own codes.
We are justified in the eyes of God by the finished work of Christ ALONE. Good works will follow because we have new hearts and new desires. But the second that we trust in a single one of our works, rather than the sacrifice of Christ, we are ultimately denying the power of the gospel and trying to add to it.
May God kill the pride in our hearts. In my heart. Salvation is through Christ alone.
There is a ring on the middle finger of my brother’s hand (mine too). There is an energy drink can hanging from his rear view mirror (mine too). They both symbolize the same thing. Absolute purity before God prior to marriage.
He didn’t always take this stand. Neither did I. Ever since we were little kids our parents told us that we should save our first kiss for our wedding day. They taught us that courtship was superior to dating. They told us to act in such a way so that we could walk unashamed before God. They were absolutely right but sadly and unfortunately, we didn’t listen.
Without going into all the gory details, we both got burned. I went through a 8-month-long relationship with a girl and gave away my first kiss (much to my shame). I had always thought that I would save my first kiss for when I got engaged. Disagreeing with my parents, I thought that this was still very conservative given how many of my friends and acquaintances kissed every girl that they dated. Once I got into a relationship and convinced myself that we were serious, I rationalized, gave into my girlfriend and gave away my first kiss.
My brother didn’t kiss his girlfriend until they got engaged. Only they never got married. Their wedding was called off 11 days before it happened and, like me, he was left with the mental baggage and bad memories.
We both were incredibly humbled; and grateful that God is a God of second chances. We wear rings and have Full Throttle cans hanging in our vehicles to symbolize our radical commitment to total Christian purity. At first it was just a thing between the two of us, but now it has evolved into a growing ideal and movement. The idea of the Full Throttle Fellowship is that as we run full throttle into everything in life, we should also throw all of our energy and devotion into remaining pure and serving God.
We challenge any and all single Christian men to take our pledge and join us. Our pledge is as follows:
Full Throttle Purity Pledge:
My greatest desire is to bring glory to God. I am joining the Full Throttle Fellowship to take a bold, outspoken stand for Christian purity. I believe that sexual purity before marriage is vital. I pledge to place God first in every relationship present or in the future. I dedicate myself before God to protecting the integrity and reputation of any girl I am in a relationship with. I will treat her as my sister in Christ and joint heir eternal. In keeping with my pledge of purity, I vow to not kiss a girl until I am married to her. I pledge before God to treat her in such a way that at any point up to the day of our wedding the relationship could end and we both could continue on unashamed; knowing that we honored the Lord in every way.
In Old Testament times, the Israelites were commanded to bind verses on their foreheads and sew them in the hems of their clothes to constantly remind them of God. Along the same lines, the point of wearing a purity ring is to be a constant reminder of your vow to honor God in your relationship. The ring can be worn on any finger but the ring finger on the left hand. Pattern or shape is irrelevant; the symbol is the important thing.
May God give us the grace to hold fast to our commitment, may we exalt the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in the way we conduct ourselves and may we encourage others to give all they have in the service of our Lord.