Not That Wild

This is a Great, Big Country

house

Jamie and Christy

Glenda and I hosted a couple last night who are biking around the world. That’s right, bicycling the world. The U.S. is part of the world, so they came through Vero on their way from Los Angeles (several months ago) to Delray Beach. They have been across Australia and New Zealand before arriving in the States on May 5th. They hail from Ireland and England. Next up is Canada (east to west), then on to Vietnam and the final journey across Asia and Europe to get back to the U.K.

Christy is a physician who has completed her residency and wanted to take a break. Jamie is an engineer, who was talked into taking a break. They ended up at our house because their travels took them through the Harding University campus. Our good friends, Jim and Susan Carr, ended up in conversation with them about their adventure. Jim gave us a heads up that they would eventually be traveling south on A1A, and the connection was made with them, and a plan for an overnight stop at the Wild house.

They have great stories, and I am sure that more great stories await as they continue their travels. I don’t have the space and time to relate all those, but here, in their own words, is one typical story.

(July 3rd) “We…arrived at a small town called Apalachicola. We went to the shop to get supplies for dinner as the plan was to visit St. George’s island and then head off in search of somewhere to stay.

Job done, next on the list, COFFEE. We found a great little independent spot right on the coast. Here we got chatting to Danny. He told us that this is where it is all happening tonight and we should stay here. After a 43 second conversation Danny generously offered us his caravan [RV] to stay in tonight so we could stay and watch the 4th of July Eve celebration. It was unbelievably kind of him and his family.

It’s a very modern caravan with a shower and aircon. It’s incredible. He then headed back to the festivities. He said if he doesn’t see us again have a great trip. We showered, cooled off and then headed to the event. It was awesome, food, beer, live band, parade, etc etc.

We ate, drank and enjoyed the music. Then we headed to the edge of the water where we dangled our legs off the edge to watch the sunset. The band was playing and the place was buzzing. Then in the distance a massive electrical storm was in the air. Lighting up the entire sky with massive veins of light smashing at the earth. Then the fireworks display started. It was incredible, it lasted for 18 minutes and rivaled anything that Disney has to offer. It was so loud you could feel the banging in your chest. Then when all was said and done the storm picked up a notch and really stole the fireworks thunder (pardon the pun). This combined with live music and chatting to two lovely ladies really finished off an amazing evening. The storm then headed right for us so we retired to our abode for tonight.”

Tracy, Kirsten and Lacee joined us for dinner with Jamie and Christy, and we had a lot of questions for them. They travel an average of 58 miles per day. Their expenses average $15 per day. They have pitched the tent in all kinds of places, from actual campgrounds to firehouses and big box store parking lots. Every once in a while they find a friendly couple (well, Glenda) who invites them to stay in a soft bed and cool A/C. Their go-to stop is McDonalds (wi-fi and unlimited tea for $1).

Then, the question about what has been learned and how have you been affected. They heard about us (Americans) the same things we read and hear about us on a daily basis. Americans are pretty rough and tumble, and rude. However, it hasn’t been that way. In fact, they have been blown away. This is a great, big country. They have traveled thousands of miles. They have not had one bad experience with anybody. They cannot believe how kind, generous and friendly we Americans are. Christie said she has been brought to tears by the kindness of strangers. Jamie says that he wants to be more like those he met on his travels, always willing to help someone out (something he had not previously given much thought to). Both said they had heard about “southern hospitality”, but they had no idea what that really meant. They have loved their trek across our country. More importantly, they loved Tasty-O. I am sure it was the highlight of their trip.

Tastee

The owner gave them his brother’s address in Cambodia.

We can be proud of our great country. We need to remember that we do make a difference in our own way and in our own communities. As they say, bad news sells papers. The good news from our traveling couple is that, far and away, the vast majority of the people of our country are good-hearted and kind, people that should make us proud to be Americans. We may not get that from the media, but let’s not forget it ourselves.

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Another evil act

The young adult class on Wednesday nights is using Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, as our resource book for our discussions. Last Wednesday we discussed people who do evil things. We realized that we must think they are evil because of some standard of morality that exists outside of us and higher than us. If we don’t think there is that higher standard, then how do we decide what that other person did, that we think is wrong, is truly wrong, when he must think it was righteous?

The very next day, as we are all aware, a murderer thought it was righteous and just to attack and kill employees of a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. We know that he is not righteous, that he has perverted the goodness of justice, but we should consider that this evil act started out from a sense of the goodness of justice.

“Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness.”   – C.S. Lewis

Why do we pervert the good things? The murderer had a grievance; he thought he had been wronged; he was going to make it right. He had no sense of the real battle he was in, and, therefore, was unable to see, or resist, the evil of his plan to seek justice. He became evil personified on a Thursday afternoon, an outbreak of our ongoing battle.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…”   – 1 Peter 5:6–9a

We may take solace in the fact that we just haven’t been that evil. In fact, we would prefer to mention that we “mess up” from time to time. However you want to characterize it, we may wish to take this battle a little more seriously, and realize that those of us who have committed to follow Jesus have some real answers to the real problems in the world around us. It won’t be found in the political world, it will be found in God’s kingdom. It will be found in being God’s people and being Jesus to our world.

“Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends; that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.”   – C.S. Lewis

Find your battalion, get on the right side, there is work to do.

Going to Law

We had a very interesting discussion last Sunday on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. This is a passage with some difficult ideas, not the least of which is the admonition to not take your grievances between each other in the church “to law”. The difficulty for us, living in America, is we enjoy our reputation as a nation of laws. In fact, the rule of law is one of the reasons we are such a successful country in respect to our ability to freely and confidently go about our business and personal affairs. We know we can be fairly certain when we enter into contracts and agreements that those contracts and agreements will be honored by the other party. If not, we will be able to remedy a breach of those agreements with the assistance of the government.

In other words, a billion-dollar, faceless corporation located thousands of miles away from Vero Beach can be ordered by a local judge to pay traffic accident damages to a teen-age Chick-fil-A cashier who happens to have an insurance agreement with that corporation to cover a possible traffic accident. The best part of the example, as most of us have generally experienced, is we will most likely not have to go to court to make the company pay. Why not? Because the giant corporation is convinced, as we are, that they are located in a country where the rule of law prevails.

When Paul says we should hesitate to go to law when we have a dispute with one of our fellow followers, it seems to us, from our present vantage point, that today is a far cry from the situation those initial Christians faced. We live in a country with one of the finest justice systems in the world, so I think there is some validity to the thought that we live in different times. How the different times would inform our understanding of the passage is a discussion for another day. For today, we need to see the fundamental principle that Paul lays out for us and see how it still speaks to us. He is correct to remind us that we, as new creatures in Christ, have a completely different way to approach a dispute (“love your brother”; “forgive your brother”; “love your enemy”; “just scales is His delight”; etc.). When a dispute arises that could involve the law, we should make every effort to avoid the civil authorities, whether it is a criminal or a civil matter, and call on our brothers and sisters to bring about a resolution. This is just one more area that tells us how important the local church is to the life of a Christian.

For example, in our county, small by comparison with other counties in Florida, I will most likely see at least one domestic violence arrest  at our first court appearances each morning. Some cases involve violence that needs the immediate intervention of law enforcement. Most do not. However, in an effort to stem this age-old problem, the policy of the State of Florida is to encourage and direct law officers to make an arrest. I read in a number of affidavits the officer’s report that the victim (usually the female) “did not want the defendant arrested”. The defendant is, of course, arrested, because that is the policy. The defendant is removed from the home, must find another place to stay, may lose his/her job, etc. The victim shows up in court and tells us that “we just wanted some help”. The victim obviously had no one else to call, and the call that was made did not bring about the result that was desired.

The help needed is just what Paul is telling the Corinthians. He is saying that they/we need a church family. We need to seek our help from those who are the washed and sanctified (v. 11). We need the wise counsel of those who have renewed their minds and live in a different kingdom (v. 9-10). We may have the greatest government in the world (I believe we do), but our government’s justice system will not be a better resource in most situations involving a dispute between fellow followers. It definitely is not a better situation for most husbands and wives who need help in their marriage relationship, a relationship that our highest courts do not understand. Do not underestimate the absolute necessity of the local body of believers as we live in this fallen world.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)

Justice

“Justice!” is the plea of the victim. Whenever we have been unfairly treated, abused, or exploited we demand action to correct the injustice. When our rights are infringed, or a law transgressed, that results in hurt or actual injury, we expect others (most likely the government) to come to our aid and exact justice on the offender(s).

On the other hand, when we have offended, we are not so quick to demand or desire justice. Speaking from a judge perspective, I love to hear an offender say “I was wrong, deserve punishment, and I ask for mercy.” Making that statement is harder to do than you would think. For those of us who haven’t had to face the choice of how we plead before the court, we may shake our heads at the inability of a defendant to just admit his wrong. In fact, our justice system allows a defendant to avoid an open admission of guilt by entering a plea of no contest. The plea means that no guilt is admitted, just that the defendant believes it is in his best interest to waive a trial and submit to the court for sentencing.

Truthfully, though, what I hear in court at a sentencing hearing is what all of us (including yours truly) often say to ourselves, and others, when we fail. “It’s not my fault; it was an accident that could have happened to anybody… I wasn’t the only one speeding, or illegally parking, etc… I was raised in a dysfunctional family, or I was hanging around with the wrong crowd, or that’s just my personality… They treated me badly, so I was just giving them some of their own medicine.” And so on. It really is difficult for us to confess guilt without some kind of excuse or rationalization.

God does not accept a no contest plea. I doubt He needs to hear our excuses or rationalizations. God expects us to honestly face up to our wrongful actions and humbly ask for justice.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:8 – 2:2)

We can confidently ask for justice, because Jesus has satisfied the requirements of God’s perfect justice on our behalf. In Jesus’ victory over death and sin, we can find justice and mercy. We can face our guilt and our Judge with honesty. We can shout “hosanna” to our savior King, the source of our pardon and mercy from all of our failings. Of course, that confidence is gained, in part, by paying attention to Peter’s answer to the crowd on Pentecost when they asked how they could resolve the issue of justice for their wrongs.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37–39)

In our imperfect justice system, an imperfect judge (me!) metes out justice as best he can. This imperfect judge appreciates a person who presents a repentant attitude. However, I am unable to actually discern the sincerity of someone’s heart, unlike our perfect Judge. He loves a humble and repentant heart. Peter told the crowd that God has provided a gift, above all gifts, for those repentant hearts who desire to follow the One who was victorious over death.

Sunday is coming. Our world looks at the calendar today and sees the day designated as “Good Friday”. It is good, not because an offender was brought to justice, but because an innocent bore the ultimate punishment for you, your children and all other offenders who are far off. Sunday is coming!

Mission Sunday

Mission Sunday is fast approaching. We will be asking you to give of your funds to support several different works in this country and in foreign locations. We are doing something a little different this year, which we will explain. There are three goals, with the first goal to continue our basic support for those we have been supporting in the past. The intermediate goal takes in some new areas of support. Then we have our stretch goal that will be used for other new areas which you suggest, or enhancing some ongoing projects which you will hear about in our Mission Preview program.

Arthur David will be our guest speaker. He is a great Christian servant whom we supported for many years. He is a native of Liberia, founded a Christian school, and preached in that country. He is still involved in God’s work in that country but is not asking for personal support at this time. Most of us are familiar with Arthur and his family. Presently, Arthur and his wife Anora (she will be visiting, also) are living and working in Searcy, where their son is attending Harding University. Brother David will speak to us during the class hour about his thoughts on mission work and how he believes we can be most helpful in this area. He will then bring us the lesson during worship. A care group lunch will follow, where you can visit further with Anora and Arthur. While Care Groups C-E and P-R are hosting, everyone is invited. Just make sure you bring food to contribute to the lunch.

On Wednesday, April 11th, during the evening class time, we will have a Mission Preview. This will be a great time for you to ask questions and give input in our mission program. We have set up the budget and our mission vision with the flexibility to respond to your input. Therefore, we have split our ask into three parts, as indicated below. Let’s look at our vision and goals.

Ongoing (first level): India (Louis Swakkiam) $18,000; Mt. Dora Home $4,200; Nat Cooper $2,400; Hope Children’s Home (Guyana) $1,800; Nations University $1,200; Local works and reserve fund $8,000. The total is $35,600. This would represent a give of 5 times our regular weekly offering.

New proposals (intermediate level): Marathon Church of Christ (hurricane relief) $2,000; Liberia (William Cassell, medical clinic equipment) $3,000; Central Florida Bible Camp (includes camp scholarships for local kids) $2,200; The additional funds needed are $7,100, for a total of $42,700. This would represent a give of 6 times our regular weekly offering.

Going further (stretch level): We would like to entertain some of your thoughts on a deserving mission recipient, or enhance support of one of the areas listed above. For instance, you will hear some exciting news from Arthur David about his ongoing project of building a church in one of the outlying small towns in Liberia, or we could enhance William Cassell’s new medical clinic with more equipment. For this level we ask for a give of 7 times our regular weekly offering, for a total of $50,000.

We value your support, prayers and input for this important part of our work as a family of God in this place.

Originalists

We had a great discussion last Sunday night at church. If you weren’t present, we considered how we should respond, as followers of God, to evil events such as the recent rampage by the mass murderer in a school just south of us. Obviously, in the hour we spent together, we could not get into too many specifics. However, we did look at the general idea of responding in ways that are helpful and avoiding responses that are not helpful.

One area I want to touch on, again, is the issue of firearms. More pointedly, the issue of our Federal Constitution. We are all familiar with the fact that we are governed by a provision concerning firearms found in the Second Amendment.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

One point we touched on last Sunday was the necessity of recognizing that a response to a murderous rampage where a firearm is used will not be very helpful if it is based on the demand that firearms be prohibited. As of today, the law of the land is that we have an individual right to possess firearms, with certain allowable restrictions. You can find that right explained in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

The argument against the interpretation of the Second Amendment as an individual right is mainly based on the reference in the amendment to a “well regulated Militia”. This is the place in this post where we start to transition the point to serve the purposes of this blog. This is a Christian blog. So…how do we decide what is meant by a well regulated “Militia”? A law review article once made this point, “The Constitution and the Bible would each better serve us if we followed more faithfully the original meaning of the words found therein.” The interesting point is that the best way to read the Federal Constitution, or for that matter, any law, state constitution, contract, etc., is also the best way to read the Bible. It would probably be better to reverse that order; the best way to read God’s Word is also the best way to read the Constitution. Interesting that God’s Word always has the best way.

In constitutional law, the concept is known as the “Orginalist” school of interpretation. Thanks to recently deceased Justice Scalia, it is the leading method used. An originalist approach asks the following question:  what would be the ordinary public meaning of the terms used at the time they were issued? The other main method is called the “Living Constitution” school of interpretation. This technique has no set foundation of assumptions other than what the interpreter wishes to use. In other words, the result will often be what the interpreter wants it to be as opposed to what the actual words say it should be.

I believe you can see the validity of being an originalist. For example, when the crowd, in Acts 2, asks Peter what they must do in response to their recognition that they have alienated themselves from God, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized…” (emphasis added). Baptism today may be seen by some as the sprinkling of water or a metaphorical experience as we are immersed in God’s love. However, in Jerusalem, the people who heard Peter’s words knew exactly what he meant by “be baptized”. That is why some decided to follow Jesus by repenting and being immersed in water, in order to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In a similar way,  to Americans of the 18th century, the original meaning of the Second Amendment’s reference to a militia did not carry the idea that the possession of firearms would only be of right if the citizen was serving in the military. In my mind, the superiority of the originalist approach is evident, both for our civil laws and God’s Word. This approach does not preclude scholarly research into original meanings, which is often needed to determine if you are actually understanding the appropriate, contextual meaning.

We can amend the Constitution; after all, it was made by fallible men. Necessary amendments have been made over the last two centuries, and we can assume that future amendments will be made. The correct way to proceed, however, is to follow the amendment process.  It should not be acceptable to ignore the original wording of a document in order to reach a result that we would prefer without correctly changing that document.

On the other hand, we cannot amend God’s Word. The correct way to proceed is to become a better student of that Word. We all know that diligent Bible study always produces new insights on what the Word tells us, and there are great thinkers and researchers to help us gain those insights. Just make sure your goal is to study as an originalist.

Have a great day, and see you on Sunday!

This and that

Just a couple items in today’s blog.

*This is going to be fun. Just in time for March Madness, we will be having our own tournament to crown the 2018 song of the year…well, at least, the one you all crown as winner of the VBCofC tournament. Here is how it is going to work:

  • There will be sixteen entries. Each Care Group gets 2 entries, with 4 wild card entries added, to make a 16-song field. This Sunday morning, in class, you can submit your top three favorite songs to your Care Group leader.
  • The tournament committee will then tally the entries, pick the 16 top songs, and determine the brackets.
  • Each Sunday the songs in the running will be sung, with voting by you on Monday via the Monday Morning Report.
  • A champion will be crowned on the first Monday in April, as you enjoy the final game of the NCAA tournament.
  • No ballot box stuffing allowed!

 

*This is the serious section. Please take a deep breath. A couple of deep breaths. I have two articles below that you should read. There is much more to say on this issue, but we, as Christians, ought to be more prayerful and less righteous about this issue. We should  be wise concerning the difficulty of the problem. We should avoid participating in the spread of false information (I have seen some of your social media posts) and the spread of thoughts that are contrary to how we should treat our fellow citizens (I have seen some of your social media posts). We can be calm people in the midst of chaos, because we know whom we have believed, and He is able…

  1. This article is by David French, who attended Lipscomb University and is a writer and a lawyer. This is a good reminder that a failure to treat each other respectfully won’t get us very far in solving this issue.
  2. This article is by Ari Schulman, who has done much research in the area of mass shootings. The article is actually a series of his tweets. It is a good summary of some of the different factors that make mass shootings a complex phenomena (and certainly not inclusive of all factors or an extended discussion of each factor).
  3. We will be following up on this next Sunday evening. Make plans to attend.

Planting Seeds

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

The letter arrived in December. “My name is [John Doe] and in 1991 you were the Judge handling my case…The purpose of this letter is simply to say, thank you…Recently I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for what God has done in my life, and the people He placed in my life during that period of time to assist me with the help I so desperately needed.”

One of the affirming parts of my job is the feedback I receive from people who have struggled through a difficult season in their life. They want to let me know that I had a positive influence in moving past their hard times. We all love stories with happy endings, particularly when you may have had a part in that story, so I appreciate those letters but also recognize that I was only one small part of that continuum that Paul recognized in the quote at the top.

God repeatedly in his Word reminds us of the importance of planting seeds. You will find numerous references to agricultural metaphors used to describe life in relation to God. We read about sowing, cultivating, growing, harvesting and other analogies to our lives through the seed and plant concept. Here are a couple quick takes, “fresh from the farm”, for your consideration.

We cannot know, for sure, the outcome of the seeds we plant. The parable of the sower illustrates the point. However, the fact that some seeds do not take root does not mean planting a seed is ever a waste of time or effort. God honors our effort, but it is up to the seed and God to decide whether growth will occur.

It is rare that only one seed will need to be sown. Parables and metaphors only go so far in helping us see the heavenly point. We know with actual seeds we will only reap one plant per seed. On the other hand, when we talk about the growth of people, many seeds are needed for growth and, in particular, for one’s growth in Jesus.

God works through us to bring change and growth to others. Do you approach each day  and each person with the intention and goal of planting some kind of seed, however small it may be? If you do, then rest assured that God will work, as he sees fit, with that seed.

Plant some seeds today. Let God give the growth.

(read the full letter here)

Second Chances

It was sentencing day in county court for the defendant, a young man charged with Reckless Driving, DUI, Leaving the Scene of an Accident, and Resisting Officer without Violence. The facts were not good, as the charges implied. The defendant’s attorney presented six or seven witnesses. The folks who spoke on the young man’s behalf told me that he was a good kid, hard worker and would be an asset to our community. One of the witnesses, an older gentleman, pointed out the tendency for young people to make immature decisions, but he believed this was a young man who would learn from his mistake. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said.

The prosecutor recommended a jail sentence. She summarized the facts; portraying mayhem on our roadways at two o’clock in the afternoon.

As I prepared to pass sentence, I reviewed the defendant’s prior record. It turned out that he had been previously arrested on six different occasions. I wondered if those who had spoken on his behalf even realized the history. Surely our community would think poorly of our justice system if seven-time offenders were not punished accordingly. In a perfectly just system, that type of offender would bear some significant consequences. I reminded the defendant of what one of his witnesses had pointed out, “Mr. Doe said that everyone deserves a second chance, but this, in fact, would be your seventh chance.” Of course, being a half-way literate Christian resulted in an immediate thought to pop up. And, you all know exactly what it was.

“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’

‘I tell you, not as many as seven,’ Jesus said to him, ‘but seventy times seven.'”  (Matt. 18:21-22)

An extended discussion of the role of governments instituted by God, or the role of a Christian in such governments, is for another time. What I want to leave with you, today, is to contemplate the fact that we are all defendants looking for a seventh chance (and most likely the seventh chance this week). By what right do we deserve a second chance, much less a seventh chance? There is no law or constitutional provision that I am aware of that provides that right. A just system surely demands punishment that is appropriate for the wrongful conduct.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11–14) (emphasis added)

There is no right, nor do we deserve, to avoid our just desserts. Be thankful, therefore, to be a follower of Jesus, who has redeemed us from a certain punishment, and given us a purpose for our lives. As judges often insert at the end of their written orders, I similarly end this little post — PLEASE GOVERN YOURSELVES ACCORDINGLY.

Fun

Take a break from all the bad news. Enjoy.

This is really cool what can be done to read ancient documents.

“Honey, how many lights DID you put up?!?”

Sorry, young ‘uns, you will just have to indulge us older folks a laugh at your expense.

For the fisherman.

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