Friday, April 21, 2017

Wednesday Worship:


Tough Question: What Should A Christian Believe About The Death Penalty:

Capital punishment is a controversial subject among Bible-believing people. Sincere followers of Christ disagree on this issue and it should not be a test of fellowship or a source of division among believers. While I have close friends who disagree with me, I am of the opinion that capital punishment is, on occasion, the Biblical and just response to heinous crimes.

The Biblical view of the sanctity of life is going to influence our position on capital punishment. There’s an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of the death penalty. On January 11, 2003, Governor George Ryan of Illinois commuted the sentences of 167 death-row in-mates. One of them had cut open a pregnant woman’s womb and brutally murdered both the baby and the mother.

Governor Ryan’s argument for commuting all their sentences was that the system is so imperfect, capitol punishment is inhumane and there’s no proof that it’s a deterrent to crime, so he changed all death sentences to life imprisonment or less. That was the largest such emptying of death row in history.

But the Bible teaches directly about the responsibility of the government to exercise capital punishment for the purpose of justice. After the flood, God instituted this principle: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Gen 9:6).

Notice capital punishment was instituted by God out of respect for life- that of the victim. Since man was created in the image of God, to take the life of another was considered a violation of God’s image. Exodus 21:12-13 commands, ”Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate.”

The Bible teaches that capital punishment is to be administered for deliberate, premeditated, proven murder. Deuteronomy 17:6 reads, “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” No one was to be put to death on circumstantial evidence, but only eyewitness evidence.

The Bible teaches that capital punishment is to be administered swiftly.  Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” Many people argue that capital punishment is no deterrent, but how would we know? By the time the punishment is carried out there are often two decades separating the crime and the punishment and there is little connection between the two. Melody Green, wife of deceased songwriter/artist Keith Green and advocate for life, said that statistics show that the safest place in America is on death row while the most dangerous place in America is in the mother’s womb.

The Bible teaches that justice is to be administered without favoritism. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Prov 29:7). Our system has become increasingly corrupt over the years and the scales have been tilted in favor of the wealthier class. The Mel Ignatow’s and the O.J. Simpson’s who can afford skillful lawyers are more likely to get by with heinous crimes.

Some Christian people insist that since Jesus said turn the other cheek, no one has a right to take another’s life. But if Jesus’ words are to be extended beyond personal insults to civil law, then we shouldn’t punish any crime. Romans 12 talks about how individual Christians should treat others: “Don’t be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” But Romans 13 says the government official “does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Again, God’s instrument panel makes sense. The front page of USA Today, Jan. 7, carried a headline “Death Penalty gains unlikely defenders-   Professors speak out in support of executions.” “Robert Blecker sat quietly as other professors ticked off their reasons for opposing the death penalty. But Blecker, a professor at New York Law School, was having none of it.

When it came his turn to speak at the recent death penalty forum at John Jay College, he summed up his support in three words: “Barbara Jo Brown.” He then launched into a graphic description of an 11-year-old Louisiana girl who was abducted, raped, tortured and slain by her attacker. People gasped. “We know evil when we see it, and it’s past time that we start saying so,” Blecker said. When it comes to the death penalty, too many in academia can’t face that.” The article pointed out that 72% of the American people favor the death penalty.

The primary purpose of capital punishment is not to deter crime but to administer justice. The Bible teaches that the government is to make the criminal pay proportionate to the crime committed. For example a person who steals is to make complete restitution plus 1/5th. If a man like Timothy McVeigh senselessly takes scores of lives or a Charles Manson delights in torturing and murdering victims at random, then their lives are to be taken. Anything else does not satisfy justice.

Proverbs 28:5 reads,  “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.” A family member of a victim who had been murdered by one of the death row inmates given a reprieve by Governor Ryan was outraged. He said, “Here’s the score.  Murderers 167; victims 0!”

The Bible says, “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Prov 21:15). The reverse is true also. When justice isn’t done, it brings frustration to the righteous and license to evildoers.

 In conclusion, I am of the opinion that capital punishment is, on occasion, the Biblical and just response to heinous crimes

Don't Make A BIG Ripple:

“We are all capable of contributing to the world in a way that makes a profound difference. A rare few go big. Make the big gesture. Take the big risk. Expose themselves on a grand scale. Create and then ride the big wave. But most of us, myself included, take a different yet equally valid path. 
It’s the path of the ripple. Simple actions, moments, and experiences. Created, offered, and delivered with such a purity of intention and depth of integrity and clarity that they set in motion a ripple that, quietly, in its own way, in its own time, expands onward. Interacting with, touching, mattering to people we’ve never met in ways we never conceived.”– Jonathan Fields, How to Live a Good Life

Although I don’t believe Jonathan is a Christian, he just summarized what we do in youth ministry.
We make ripples. In the early days of ministry I wanted to change the world. I wanted to cause HUGE waves that would point massive amounts of young people to Jesus. I wanted to go big.

The reality of doing youth ministry over the years has allowed me to see things a bit more clearly. I go for small impact now. I make ripples. Then, God does something cool with that. Whatever he does with whatever good I initiate or create is up to him. I simply get out of the way. I’m removed from the outcome. I hope what I do makes a difference in the lives of students. I want to see them in a deep passionate relationship with Jesus. Connected to each other. Serving those around them.

But my only job is to create ripples.

I believe we’re all in the same boat too. We’re all making ripples, stepping out of the way, allowing God to do his stuff in the lives of students. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wednesday Worship:


5 Christian Sayings That Need To Die:

“Books don’t change people,” John Piper once observed. “Paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences.”

A good sentence is a gift. We love finding complex truth shrinkwrapped in clear, simple, memorable form. It’s why Charles Spurgeon and C. S. Lewis are dominating a newsfeed near you. Even God likes pithy statements—at least enough to breathe out a whole book of them.

But one-liners aren’t always helpful. Sometimes, in our desire to simplify truth, we can trivialize and even obscure it. And to obscure the truth is to tell a lie.

Here are five popular Christian clichés that are not biblical, and therefore need a memorial service.

1. “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

I appreciate the heart behind this statement. It’s true, after all, that God can do anything he pleases (Jer. 32:27), that he sometimes redirects our course (Prov. 16:9), and that he never abandons his own (Heb. 13:5).

But if God closes a door in your life, there’s no guarantee he’ll open a window. He may not open anything. He may want you to realize you have the wrong address.

Scripture is filled with examples of the Spirit closing doors, windows, and any other conceivable entrance to keep one from heading in the wrong direction or at the wrong time (e.g., Prov. 16:9; 19:21; Acts 16:6–7).

I once heard calling described as the trifecta of affinity, ability, and opportunity. Do you like it, can you do it, and is there an open door? Now there are rare times when, if the third piece isn’t in place, God may want you to break down the door. Missionary martyr Jim Elliott once said that a lot of folks are sitting around waiting for a “call” when what they need is a kick in the pants.

But what if God has something else for you entirely? What if he doesn’t want you to move to that city, or take that job, or enter that relationship—whether by door or window?

Maybe he wants you to re-evaluate in light of affinity, ability, and opportunity—your internal desires, your confirmed giftings, and your actual options.

2. “You’re never more safe than when you’re in God’s will.”

Insofar as the safety here is eternal, or means something like “in the right place,” this maxim is gloriously true. Almost every time I hear it, though, the person is referring to physical safety.

Jesus seems to disagree:

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:16–18)

Some of you they’ll slaughter. You’ll be entirely safe. Huh?

These promises sound contradictory, but they’re not. Justin Martyr (AD 100–165) was almost certainly reflecting on this passage when he said, “They can kill us, but they cannot harm us.”

I love that. Only a Christian could say something so crazy.

God has promised us many wonderful things; physical safety is not one of them. Brutal life circumstances are normal in a fallen world. Pursuing God may even lead you into greater physical danger. But you will be spiritually alive and eternally secure.

3. “Let go and let God.”

At its best, this phrase highlights the value of surrender. God is God and you are not, so lay down your résumé, your excuses, your fears.

All too often, though, the phrase is wielded as if the symbol of Christianity is not a cross but a couch. It’s subtly used to put the brakes on striving, on working, on effort.

Now, if “let go and let God” solely referenced the moment of justification, it would be fine. But it typically refers to the process of sanctification, which is anything but passive.

The Christian life is grueling. When Paul reflects on it he doesn’t think of sunsets and naps but soldiers and athletes and farmers (2 Tim. 2:3–6). He thinks of running tracks and boxing rings (1 Cor. 9:24–27).

We’re called to work out what God has already worked in us, laboring not for our salvation but from it (Phil. 2:12–13). This dynamic of restful vigilance (Matt. 11:28­–30; 16:24)—what the Puritans called “holy sweat”—lies at the heart of Christian experience.

As J. I. Packer once put it, “The Christian’s motto should not be ‘Let go and let God’ but ‘Trust God and get going.’”

4. “God will not give you more than you can handle.”

In a culture that tells us we can be anything we desire, this motivational slogan is meant to encourage, to reassure us that life won’t be too hard. There will be challenges, sure, but God knows my limits. He won’t overdo it.

The problem, however, is that God will give you more than you can handle. He’ll do it to make you lean on him. He’ll do it because he loves you.

Over the past few years, few things have encouraged my soul more than the letters of John Newton (1725–1807), the former slave trader who penned “Amazing Grace.” In one letter to a widow fearing death, Newton writes:

Though our frames and perceptions may vary, the report of faith concerning [the time of death] is the same. The Lord usually reserves dying strength for a dying hour. . . . When the time shall arrive which he has appointed for your dismissal, I make no doubt but that he will overpower all your fears, silence all your enemies, and give you a comfortable, triumphant entrance into his kingdom. You have nothing to fear from death; for Jesus, by dying, has disarmed it of its sting, has perfumed the grave, and opened the gates of glory for his believing people.

The good news is not that God won’t give us more than we can handle; it’s that he won’t give us more than he can handle.

5. “God helps those who help themselves.”

I’m not aware of a statement more commonly misidentified as a Bible verse. And the fact that it originates from Benjamin Franklin—not God’s Word—is the best news you will encounter today.

If God only helps those who help themselves, we’re all sunk. But he didn’t come for moral standouts; he came for moral failures (Matt. 9:12–13; Luke 19:10). He came for us.

While this slogan may be a fine summary of the teaching of other religions, the entire message of Christianity hinges on the fact that, as Charles Spurgeon once quipped, “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” Indeed, he helps those who humble themselves, who repent and rely on Jesus alone.

Truth Is Loving

While the heart behind these five mantras is often genuine, they are all unhelpful for one overriding reason: they are unbiblical.

Speaking biblically isn’t just a matter of truth; it’s an issue of love. God’s words, after all, aren’t just true; they’re also good for the world. May we love our neighbors by stewarding our words, and steward our words by speaking what’s true. For love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). 

Tough Question: Why Do You Believe The Bible?:

As Christians, we are always to be ready to give a defense of the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15). The basis of this hope is our confidence that the Bible is God’s Word. It is trustworthy and sufficient. I’ve put these five points together as something of a quick reference notecard for why I believe the Bible. They can serve as a quick reference for personal evangelism or devotion. That is, they can help you to tell others why you believe the Bible while also reminding you (amid seasons of doubt) why you believe it.

(1) THE BIBLICAL ARGUMENT

By this, I only mean that the Bible claims to be God’s Word. This claim is not just in a remote passage or book but throughout. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The source of the text, the Word, is God himself. There is no flinching on this fact from Genesis to Revelation. The fact that the Bible claims to be God’s Word and proves to be so throughout history needs to be on my mind when dealing my doubts or a skeptic’s.

(2) THE HISTORICAL ARGUMENT

In short, the people and places in the Bible show up in history. When we read of descriptions of times and events we often find these same things in extra-biblical history. Further, when archeologists dig and uncover ancient artifacts it often shows us that biblical events that were not previously discovered were in fact true. And finally, the history of events from within the Bible concerning prophecy, they happen. Consider the Babylonian captivity, King Cyrus, and the details concerning the life of Christ. Within the canon of Scripture, it unfolds with historical consistency.

(3) THE EMPIRICAL ARGUMENT

Personally speaking, I have experienced a substantial change. The day I was converted I walked out of my dorm cursing God, and then I came home praising him. How does this happen? My experience tells me that this is not some ordinary book. I’ve been moved to tears reading other books, but this book actually reads me, wrecks me, and rebuilds me. What’s more, I’ve seen and experienced this same thing with other people. This change is not limited to gender, ethnicity, geography, or even time. This book claims to change lives, and it actually does.

(4) THE LOGICAL ARGUMENT

There is a single, coherent theme throughout the book that the glory of God is paramount. If God were to write a book, this is how he would write it. If man were to write a book, this is not how he would write it. It has the “ring of truth” as C. S. Lewis would say. Man would tend to diminish his defects and exaggerate his virtues; the Bible seems to do the opposite. It maintains the dignity of humanity but also shows its brokenness. Here we see the glory of God on display. This brings me to another aspect of this argument. If you survey world religions, most will agree that there is a problem, and they exist to help us with this it. However, only biblical Christianity actually maintains a God who does not compromise. Every other plan of salvation has God bending his righteousness to show love. Man and God partner together to achieve salvation. However, with the Bible God does not compromise. He maintains and demonstrates his righteousness while showing forth his love! On the cross, God is both the just and the justifier (Rom. 3:26). This means that he does not compromise. Think about this: the Bible maintains that all of God’s attributes are intact, no dimples, defects, or deflation! However, without the cross (and outside of the Bible) you have a god who compromises something to bring salvation. This reminds me of God’s infinite wisdom, love, mercy, and grace—as well as his authorship of the Bible.

(5) THE CHRISTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

This one seals the deal for me. Here it is a nutshell: since Jesus rose from the dead he is God; therefore, his view of the Bible is the right one. Jesus believed the Bible was divinely inspired (Mt. 4:2; Mt. 22:31-32), authoritative (Lk. 4; Jn. 10:34-36; 12:47-48); powerful (Mt. 5:17-18; Jn. 6:63; Jn. 17:17); and about him (Lk: 24:25-27, 44-47; Jn. 5:46-47). Furthermore, he believed the Bible was historically accurate. “In the Gospels we see Jesus reference Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac and Jacob, manna in the wilderness, the serpent in the wilderness, Moses as the lawgiver, David and Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Elijah and Elisha, the widow of Zarephath, Naaman, Zechariah, and even Jonah, never questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim. Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of biblical history.” (DeYoung, Taking God at His Word). Having Jesus’s bibliology is never a bad idea.

Conclusion

After all of this, we must remember that there is nothing wrong with the Bible. It is perfect and clear. Our problem is with our reception; we are fallen.

I was reminded of this recently during a discussion with a waiter during a lunch meeting with some friends. As we got to talking with the gentleman, we came upon the subject of the Bible. In time he let us know that he didn’t accept the Bible, because he couldn’t be sure that it was God’s Word. He didn’t trust it ultimately. In another round of conversations, our waiter began telling us about his cat. Without blinking, he relayed how his cat talks to him and how he can understand it. We clarified to be sure he meant actual words, and in fact, he did. He was sure that his cat was speaking to him in a clear, understandable way.

The effects of sin are pervasive and persistent. However, God can and does use his powerful Word to bring us to faith in him. It is this Word that we must be ready to share and even defend with others.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017