Not That Wild

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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!

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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.

January 5

We have rung in the new year. Let’s get started…

Prayers. **Linda Pearson’s mother passed away early this morning. Linda was with her, and also has other family present. Linda wants you to know that she appreciates the prayers and notes she has received while she has been attending to her mom (please note that the Pearson’s new address is 8775 20th Street, Vero Beach, FL, 32966). **David White, brother-in-law of Carolyn Boling, is still in the hospital.  He has had a difficult battle with cancer and appreciates the support and encouragement he has received from our church family since his arrival in Vero. **Good news from Liz Raikes, as she is back home after a few days in the hospital. **Louise Belfonte is still in the hospital recovering from her recent surgery. Continue to pray for healing and strength.

Annual Meeting/Elder Forum. Sunday at 5pm. This is our annual meeting to satisfy the corporate requirements of the State of Florida. Mainly, though, it will be a chance to discuss church things, which we try to do twice a year. Our theme for the year is “Community”, and we will talk about it at the meeting. We will value your input. Most importantly, there will be cake! Happy birthday to you January babies.

Little Fish. Tomorrow is the monthly Home Depot expedition. The bus will be leaving the building at 9:30am and lunch is included. The fish will swim back to the building by 1pm.

Lunch Bunch. The Lunch Bunch will have their monthly get together at the mall on Monday, January 8th. Join them!

Sunday morning class. We will be having a special class for all adults starting on January 21st. Adults will meet in the auditorium and we will sit with our Care Groups. There will be six sessions, which will take us to the end of February. The title is Loving Your Church. We encourage everyone, including those who don’t normally participate in classes, to attend. A “make-up” class will be held on each following Wednesday night for those who could not attend on Sunday morning.

Teens and Parents. Winterfest is on the horizon. Hotel reservations are being made, so make sure you are on the list for the trip to Gatlinburg. The dates are February 16-18, with departure from Vero on the evening of the 15th, and return late on the 18th. Stay tuned for upcoming information on another fundraising opportunity to help fund the trip.

Go, therefore. The new year brings us another opportunity to reach out to those around the world. It is time to start thinking about the missions we support, and how you can financially impact that outreach. We support the work of Louis Swakkiam (blue dress shirt) in India. They have just finished immersing several new followers in the water behind them.

India group photo

See you Sunday!

 

Making change

I am swiftly approaching retirement. My doctor says I need to lose weight. My kids keep marrying, moving away, and adding entrants to the NCAA basketball tournament pool (8 worked well; ten, not so much; 16 would get us back on track). The world just won’t sit still. How do you handle change?

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types – the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruin.”  G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, 1924.

As the new year approaches, we might want to think about why we, as a community, make it such a big deal. It is just one day following another, as from the beginning of time. But, as noted above, some of us tend to look forward to changes, while a lot us resist. Thus, celebrating the new year gives us a chance to think about change. So, resolutions are made; some follow through; all of us see the difficulty in making change.

Chesterton makes a great point. However, we should realize that, although we may think we are either a Conservative or a Progressive, we are really both. We will make a difference in our lives, and others, when we aim for changes that avoid ruin and promote good, and resist changes to things that are already good, and tried and True.

What do you need to change? What do you need to keep?

For our church family, we want to start this new year with a look at the importance of the local church. Classes and sermons will focus us to think about changes we need to make in our individual attitude toward church. We will also see the good in God’s plan for a local family of His. Our goal is to be a better bride (church) of Christ. This might call for us to make change. Join us!

Friday Hi-links

Every once in a while I want to link some interesting articles I have recently read. I will indicate whether it is a short read or a long read. All of them, I think, will give you something to think about. I enjoyed them and hope you will, too.

So…this is my first Friday Hi-links:

“Critics are God’s instruments. I don’t like to be criticized. You don’t like to be criticized. Nobody likes to be criticized. But,” A short read.

“In the face of great evil, we must pray.” A short read.

“Here came the home-wrecking editors from the very magazine you now hold in your hands, asking me to take part in an experiment that would jeopardize the whole thing. They sent me a quote that’s popular among personal development authors and speakers: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I was told to study it as it applies to my life, and describe to you the process of getting rid of people who weren’t helping me achieve my goals or happiness. The idea was to improve myself.” A long read.

Christmas stories at the Tolkien house. A short read.

“If you don’t practice your faith, in what sense can it be said to exist?.” A short read.

Merry Christmas!

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