Capital Punishment And The Bible

Standard

A young sentry was on guard duty for the first time. His orders were not to admit any car unless it had a special identification seal. The first unmarked car the sentry encountered contained a general, who became frustrated with the young sentry and told the driver to go on through. The sentry politely replied, “Excuse me, sir, but I’m new at this. Who do I shoot first, you or the driver?”

More and more states are reintroducing capital punishment back into their laws. More and more appeals have failed resulting in more and more executions. We are troubled by executions but we are also distressed with crime. We turn to God’s word to find the answer. We want justice but as Christians we want to do the will of God. The answer we want is a simple yes or no, but the answer, just like many questions in life, is not black and white. To answer the question we must address three issues!

Firstly, has the government, the legal system, the right under God’s law to punish a person by execution? The simple answer is yes! God strictly forbid an individual to kill another human being. We know that the Sixth Commandment prohibited killing. But people kill people. One only has to read the Old Testament (whether we agree with it or not) to know that God allowed the King(s) to kill as a form of punishment.

GEN 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. Jesus appears to verify this authority when He says to the protective servant in the Garden, MAT 26:51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

Peter sums it up best when he writes to the Church, (1 Peter 2:13-14) Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. Just as the people of Israel punished the evil doers in Gibeah in Benjamin.

Secondly, if the legal system has the authority, then are there moral and ethical responsibilities? ROM 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. This means that our government and our laws must be fair. What this means is that while God has given permission to the government to take a life, it was to be done with justice. To pervert equity and deny justice, negates the right to execute human beings.

A justice system that is not color blind has no impartiality. A system that grants more liberty to the rich than to the poor has lost its justice. Justice is not for sale and the courts (which comprise you and me who make up the jury) must be fair. The moral and ethical mandate of scripture is to render justice, whatever the cost. To deny justice places the blood of the victim on our hands, not the governments.

Thirdly, as Christians, what are our responsibilities? Regardless of the outcome, we are to forgive. (Matthew 5:38-44) “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….. To the degree that we are willing to forgive, is to the degree that we ourselves will be forgiven.

But we have been done wrong! We understand the anger of the Levite and want justice for our wife. We won’t feel better until the whole nation comes and we have satisfaction. But that is not the New Testament way, the way of Christ. ROM 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The love of God demands the love of each other. The story is told of a rich man in Springfield, Illinois, who insisted that a certain poor man owed him $2.50. When the claim was denied, the rich man decided to sue him. He contacted a young lawyer named Lincoln, who at first hesitated to take the case. On second thought he agreed — if he’d be paid a fee of $10 cash in advance. The client readily produced the money, whereupon Lincoln went to the poor man and offered him $5 if he would immediately settle the alleged debt. Thus Lincoln received $5 for himself, the poor man got $2.50, and the claim was satisfied. The rich man foolishly paid three times the original debt, just to gain his rights.

The Growing Satanic Worship

Standard

Have you see the new $100 bills? These new bills are so designed that it makes it more difficult to make a counterfeit bill. The more excellent something is the more likely it will be imitated. There are many false diamonds and rubies, but who goes about making counterfeit pebbles? However, the more excellent things are the more difficult it is to imitate them in their essential character and intrinsic virtues. I was attending a community meeting one time and a man introduced himself to me following the meeting and said, “You’re a Christian.” Not having identified myself during the meeting, I asked, “How did you know?” Because, unlike the others in the meeting you never used a foul word. So it is with Christian virtues and graces.

The devil and men’s own deceitful hearts tend to imitate those things that have the highest value. So no graces are more counterfeited than Christian graces. For these are the virtues where the beauty of a true Christian is seen most clearly.

Paul writes, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Why does Paul write that to the Galatian Church? It is obvious that the Church is having difficulty in knowing what is genuine and what is counterfeit. The Devil’s most beautiful ruse is to convince us that he does not exist. But that which is counterfeit is Satan. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

We forget, it is a spiritual warfare! Paul writes, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Satan cannot, head-on, destroy the Church or the Christian. Remember Jesus’ words to Peter: I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. So what does Satan have to do? We have to freely choose to come to him. He does that with deception, counterfeit faith.

At one time it seemed that worship of Satan was rare and found only among uneducated people. It was something that we connected with voodoo, and certainly held very privately. Satanic worship is a growing reality in our society. It is no longer confined to California or some way off place. It is very real here in Kansas, because of the isolated places that individuals can go to do their worship.

If Satanic worship was only confined to Devil worship (practicing sacrifices and drinking blood) perhaps it would be so alarming, but it is not. Because why we certainly don’t agree with this type of belief or behavior, it is clear and visible to us. But the new contemporary Satanic worship comes camouflaged. In some cases it almost looks like Christianity. At the start of World War I, the British War Ministry dispatched a coded message to officials in a British Colony in a remote area of Africa. The message said, “War declared. Arrest all enemy aliens in your district.” They got a prompt reply: “Have arrested ten Germans, six Dutch, four French, two Italians, three Austrians, and an American. Please advise immediately who we’re at war with.”

More than seventy percent of Americans confess to being Christians. But Satan is now much wiser than we think, and tempts us by making us rich, not by making us poor. We used to think that Satan’s battle plan was to make us worship him. But all Satan needs to do to win, is stop us from worshiping the one true God.

Gallup Poll found that one out of four Americans believes in ghosts. And that one out of every six believes that he has communicated with the dead. Many American adults believe in psychic phenomena, and now it is a growing industry to consult an astrologer, medium, tarot card reader, or psychic. The TV is filled with psychic readings. It is estimated that 10 percent of the population depends on their reading. One radio station has “love at night” with your favorite psychic reading.

There has been a great increase in those things that have been associated with the occult. Psychic readings, fortune telling, horoscopes, etc. Magic arts, black magic, witchcraft, etc. Spiritism, demonic, superstition, etc. They are taking two avenues into our lives, as religion and as entertainment. Neither are acceptable. Just to do something for the sport of it, or participate in it for the fun of it, is not wise. In religion they appear as new religious groups, new churches, cults. I was talking with a young man from one of our local colleges. A native American and proud of his heritage. He said, “I have special abilities and can sense and know things around me. I know that you won’t believe this being the “educated” person you are, but I practice Witchcraft and am one with nature.”

The Devil sells us a bill of goods and can cost us our souls. Simon had practiced sorcery and amazed the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and the people gave him their attention, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But then they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!

Three tests:
1) Who or what is at the center of worship? It should be Jesus.
2) Does it stand up in the Word of God? Test it against the Bible.
3) Salvation and Christ are never for sale.

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

Standard

The house that my mother lived in is about 200 years old. It is one of the oldest homes in the county. There is not a level floor in the house. Thirteen foot ceilings. Cold in the winter and hot in the summer. However, the house has a rich history: At one time a prominent physician lived in the house. The story goes that the doctor had a son who went “mad.” The insane son was locked in one of the bedrooms upstairs. The house’s claim to fame is the spiral staircase. Legend has it that this insane son got out of his room, and killed Dr. Nuttall on the spiral staircase. Legend also has it that his ghost wonders up and down the staircase. I lived in that house all those years as a youth and I never saw, heard or met that ghost.

According to tradition a ghost is a spirit of a dead person that visits the living. In most of the stories about ghosts they report the ghost as resembling humans, only as transparent, shadowy or white sheets. Look in our own American tradition: Casper, Ghost Busters, The Movie “Ghost”, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. Many American Indians, tribes in Africa and people on Pacific Islands believe in spirits (ghosts) influence our lives. Tradition talks of two types of ghosts: The ghost bent on evil. Usually the spirit of a person who was murdered or done great harm. The ghost returns to get vengeance and to correct the wrong. William Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Macbeth. The ghost that does good. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, has a good ghost that tries to help Ebenezer Scrooge. A ghost that haunts a place by making strange noises and causing doors and furniture to move we call “poltergeist.”

People have always feared ghosts, whether real or not. Ghosts are always associated with darkness, rarely the daylight. People have gotten exorcists, reburied corpses, put stakes in corpses and even prayed. Even the Old Testament has added to this concern.

Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” “There is one in Endor,” they said. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has turned away from you and become your enemy? The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.”

Such ideas have been long standing in religious history. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” THIS WAS FOLLOWING THE RESURRECTION. They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. (Luke 24:36-40)

Jesus understood their fear and their superstitions, but does not give credibility to the belief in ghosts. Scripturely, these type of ghosts do not exist. When Paul writes, EPH 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Paul writes about angels and demons, not ghosts.

When a person dies, good or bad, the spirit returns to God. The spirit of the dead do not return to inhabit the earth. The spirit returns to God to be a part of the Great Resurrection. Even the unbeliever will stand before God.

In scripture the demons never try to possess buildings or furnishings, but always people. It is that which is living that is important. The demons never take on human form, or become transparent, shadowy or white sheets. The demonic comes from Satan not vengeance of the dead.

Angels in scripture take on two appearances. The supernatural, white robed, winged creatures. They look like people.

There is only one ghost in scripture – the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. This Ghost is like the “wind”, it goes and comes as it pleases. This Ghost is part of God. It is the part of God that moved over the face of the deep in creation. It is the part of God that has always been with God’s people. It is the part of God that now lives in the believer.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. “They have had too much wine.” These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

This Ghost brings salvation. This Ghost brings hope. This Ghost takes away fear. With this Ghost, Revelation says, The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”

Examining The Body

Standard

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. What is an “unworthy manner?” Clearly we know that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper we do several things: We honor Jesus’ command to “remember.” We are reminded of the cost, the death of Jesus. We confirm our own sinfulness and the need we have to be forgiven. We confirm to the world that we are Christians. We participate in eternal life. So, if these things are acknowledged, then to be in an unworthy manner would be the opposite.

To be unworthy would be to take communion without any understanding of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. This doesn’t mean that we have to understand every detail, but we must understand that we take communion because Jesus instituted the meal. To be unworthy would be not to realize the cost or price that Jesus paid with His life for our sins. To be unworthy would be to feel that I am sinless and don’t need forgiveness. The meal is not for sinless people, it is for sinful people. But people who know that they need God. To be unworthy would be a person who had not confessed Jesus as Lord. This meal is for the Christian, exclusively! Paul writes: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (1Corinthians 10:16-17)

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. It was Maundy Thursday. The church was having the traditional communion service. This time the pastor suggested that as we passed the bread and cup we whisper, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” As the service progressed, I concentrated on remembering the pastor’s words, and thought it would be nice to do this more often. Between me and the aisle was an old woman, not nearly so concerned with the pastor’s exact words, but thoroughly understanding their meaning. As she served me she said softly, “Take it. It’s for sinners.”

Paul writes, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (I Tim. 1:15) We examine ourselves by admitting that “I am a sinner.” We allow the Holy Spirit to expose our tender insides and then repent. To be unworthy is to deny that I need God’s forgiveness.

While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.

The meal is for all believers. We enter it with prayer. We enter it with humility. We enter it knowing that we are the invited guest. It is not about the fact that we have been sinless, it is about the fact that we realize we are sinners and need God’s forgiveness. This meal is for sinners!

Building A Church

Standard

The Church has set up seminaries to train ministers for ministry. Like most seminary students I did course work in Bible, Theology, History, Ethics, Education and Preaching. In four years of college and five years of graduate school I didn’t seem to find time to take the most important classes: How to put up tables and chairs. The proper adjustment of thermostats. Building bell towers. Raising funds to do special projects and programs. And of course you must raise the money, but you can’t ask for it, because that makes it sound like all you want is money. I have found that ministers cannot walk on water; but they do learn to swim, quickly.

All ministers have to face each day with a little humor. I am reminded of the story told by the late Grady Nutt. A pastor made a grief call. The house was full of people and the only place that seemed to give privacy was the bathroom. He sat on the bowl and she sat on the tub. Following their talk and a prayer, they both stood up. Without thinking, just out of habit, he flushed.

I am indebted to my predecessors who have done a wonderful job and have made my job much easier. In fact when we have an opportunity to chat, we have a lot to talk about. The Church somehow becomes home and there are many fond memories that call us back to this place. Agnes Gralman who ran a couple out of “her” pew. Wilda Woods who couldn’t hear but never missed. Melvin Smith who always had something positive to say. But the list goes beyond the memories of being baptized here, or married in this place. We’ve talked to God, here. As beautiful and accommodating as this building is, what makes this place special is not the facilities. It’s the congregation. It’s the Christians in this place. It speaks highly of this congregation to have fourteen Timothy’s in its 95 year history. Hillside Christian Church has always taken seriously the mandate to make disciples. MAT 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” In that time there have been more than 2,500 baptized by this Church.

There is nothing else like the Church. The Church becomes a part of our lives. We find that it is for people who are not perfect, people like you and me. Most of us are there because we need help meeting the temptations that line our daily lives. A worship service is a time for us to take a good look deep within ourselves, and then to reach out in prayer for help for our weaknesses and sins. At frequent intervals we enter this place just to sit in this meaningful surrounding and think about the blessings that are ours. Blessings we didn’t earn, and maybe don’t deserve. To think about how we came to be and why. To measure our lives and the way we live.

Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church attenders: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll complain and probably bail out – my thumb is always out for a better ride.”

I am mindful of the lady who refused to come to Church because she “got more” out of watching Robert Schuller. But when she was hospitalized no one from Crystal cathedral came. When she died, I buried her. Church has never been about what I get as much as what I give. Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” In a world that is entertainment oriented we are tempted to come to Church and say entertain me.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Only the valiant can make the most of life. Sydney Smith said, “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage.” Fear of failure is the father of failure. The main battlefield is in the heart and the chief foe is fear. It took courage for those 246 Christians to start a new congregation called Hillside, 95 years ago.

During that 95 years Hillside Christian Church has never lost or changed its identity, and has remained faithful to its calling. It has never been about a building, it has been about people. It has never given in to what the market demands or stooped to showmanship. Its message has been clear and its direction sure. We have never been a church of volunteers. We are a church that has been called. Not one of the 12 apostles was a volunteer. Jesus called each of them and they left everything behind for Jesus.

The story goes that when the temple of Solomon was in the course of construction all the stones sent up from the quarry below were practically of the same size and shape. But one day a stone was found different from all the rest, and the builders said, “There is no place for this stone. There must be a mistake.” So they rolled it to the edge of the cliff and tumbled it down into the valley of Kedron below the temple area. As the years went on (Solomon’s temple was seven years in building) they were finally ready for the chief corner-stone; so they sent down the order for it. They were told, “You must have it there; we sent it to you long ago.” Their search proved fruitless. And then an old workman said, “I remember now. There was a stone different from the rest and we thought there was no place for it and tumbled it down to the valley below.” So, as the story tells us, they went down to the valley of Kedron and there they found the stone, now covered by debris — the very stone the builders rejected. So now they had to hoist it to the top of the cliff, then back to the platform and put it into place. It fit perfectly. The stone the builders rejected had become the head stone of the corner. Every Jew knew that story and knew what Peter meant when he said, “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” Jesus was God’s Anointed and you rejected Him, crucified Him, but God has raised Him from the dead and in resurrection has made Him the chief cornerstone of the new temple He is building, the Church spoke of in Matthew’s Gospel, “Upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”