Thursday, May 26, 2011

Punishment and Forgiveness

This week the wife and I traveled to Dallas, Georgia with a friend whose husband had to appear in court.  I was asked to testify on his behalf.  After I was sworn in I was asked to tell a little about myself.  I explained to the judge that I was in the business of salvaging souls and lives.  I did not approve of the past life, nor excused the actions that place the accused in the situation he found himself in.  However, I felt that his life had changed and he could be a productive member of society.  After each one presented their message and was asked questions of the prosecutor the judge then ask me if I thought the people of my community could accept a criminal after he had changed his life?  My reply was it would be a fantasy world to expect every person in a community to believe a person had truly changed.  I felt that those who had offered their support would allow him to prove the change in his life.  The judge called for a recess to deliberate on the sentence. When he returned he spoke of the fact that society was more concerned about punishment than redemption.  He said what amazed him was all the number of churches that spoke about forgiveness and redemption but that he saw very little of it exhibited from all the churches he had observed.  

I’m not sure of the judge’s religious affiliation, although he was surprised to meet a Quaker.  After the trial I spoke with the judge for several minutes about the process of redemption and the fact that most churches practiced a double-standard in relationship to individuals they deemed unacceptable. People who are struggling with spiritual issues in their lives are often shocked when the prayer, advice, and comfort are not part of the “total redemption package”. Instead of receiving the support and guidance needed they are shunned, disowned, or in some church excommunicated. The judge agreed and wondered why?

This trial got me to thinking about punishment and forgiveness.  Based upon the scripture we have established our laws to extract the maximum in punishment. The principle of justice that requires punishment equal in kind to the offense is found in the Book of Exodus, “Thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”   I am sure we have all used the phrase, “you do the crime, you do the time.”  But Jesus advocated for a more merciful approach which would give peace to the victim and redemption for the criminal.

 Not only does our society demand justice in this manner but we find the same attitude within our churches.  The victims of crimes often seek the most severe punishment for their offenders.  This brings justice.  However, what happens is the victims feel empty and unsatisfied after getting what they thought was justice--punishment.  Punishment does not address the spiritual needs of the victims.  Justice is not designed to restore losses, answer the questions of why, or removed the fear that came from the crime.  The tragedy is no one heals from the wound.  That is why Jesus teaches turning the other cheek and forgiveness.  

The place where this process should be taking place is within the Christian community.  Most of us will agree that what we are doing about reforming the criminal is not working. We are fearful and we have good reason. We know our criminal justice system is broken and we don't know how to fix it. Jails and prisons are the higher learning of criminal behavior and not a place of reformation.  

The scripture gives us the process that provides both justice and redemption.  The problem is we cannot get beyond our own emotional baggage to allow the message of Jesus Christ to become a living message through our lives. 

Many individuals have been left on the battlefield of life to die rather than be brought back to camp and nursed back to health.  The Bible clearly teaches that the Spirit-filled Christian can fall short of the mark of righteousness and become one of the unacceptable.  Paul in Colossians 3:12-13 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”  Paul also reminded the church at Galatia, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” 

I might add any person within the Church that fails to forgive according to Scripture has a major problem in their doctrinal understanding of salvation. I have found within many churches that the admission of sin spells doom for the “sinner.”  If we treat the membership in this manner what chance does an individual within our community who has no church connection have in finding redemption? Jesus strongly criticized the self-righteous hypocrite because they are just like the Pharisees. "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Matthew 23:13 13   He goes on to say, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:35

The expression, "paid their debt to society" is not always marked "paid".  Not only does society continue to make individuals pay after they paid their debt,  the church is just as guilty in demanding more payment without giving forgiveness. At what point does the debt end and forgiveness take place?    

Friday, May 20, 2011

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

What is with the President of the United States?  Obama for the first time endorsed the Palestinians' demand that their eventual state be based on borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel forces occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.  Are we to expect the U.S. government to change its policies in regards to its own history from this new policy?

Case in point:  In the 1800’s the U.S. invaded and occupied land of a tribal people and forced them on secluded worthless land.  They were then labeled hostile and many were massacred by the U.S. Army.  When valuable natural resources were found on the “worthless land” these tribal people were again moved.  

The President of the United State forced worthless treaties upon the wealthy and educated groups of the more advanced tribes.  Their homes, businesses, and land were confiscated by the U.S. government.  Over 4000 of these non-violent people died from the actions of the U.S. government when forced to walk 800 miles to be relocated.   The U.S. government continued to oppress these people because they wanted their land.  The U.S. government would not allow these people to keep their children, speak their own language, own property or practice their own religion.  For the most part, however, the U.S. government was a ruthless enemy. The government attacked many harmless villages, and killed many in government approved massacres. 

So, if we would require other nations who under military action gained land from their “enemies” then should we not do the same? 

The arrogance of President Obama to demand Israel to change their borders back to 1967 is the height of hypocrisy.  Maybe we should clean up our own house before we criticize others. 

I am aware Israel has depended upon the United States for economic and military aid and that our government may feel we have paid the price to control the actions of the Israeli government but regardless Israel is still a sovereign nation. 

Has Israel made mistakes in their dealing with the Palestinian people?  No doubt, however, if the Arab Nations had not been so set on destroying Israel this problem would have been settled long ago.  There have been many opportunities for the Palestinians to have their own home land but they refused to make peace.  

Before we get the “holier than thou” attitude do we give back the land our government took from the Native Americans?  Do we give back Texas to Mexico?  Do we give back lands we took from Spain?  I don’t think so.  For those who would say Israel is different, you are wrong.  They won the land through military action just as we won Texas from military action.  It is time we pulled out of the conflict that has existed since 1948 and let Israel take care of its own problems.  I am sure if the world stopped meddling in Israel’s affairs they would solve the Palestinian problem.  If the Arab Nations are so concerned about the Palestinians let them open their doors to the thousands of refugees that are now homeless and show compassion.  But that is not the Arab way.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden-- Destroyer of Freedom

I must confess up until today I could not have named one person who was killed on 9/11.  I could not give you the name of one of the acting terrorist.  However, I have not forgotten Osama Bin Laden and the havoc he has rained down on our country.  The cost is now over 3 trillion dollars!  It looks like his death is going to create more havoc with our freedom and security. 

Since 9/11 we have been engaged in a Muslim war in Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost in lives of our young men and women which cannot be replaced. The marriages of those in the military are falling apart at an alarming rates--divorce is on the rise.  The financial losses many retired American suffered after 9/11 will never be recovered.  The personal freedoms we once enjoyed are gone-- maybe forever.  Through the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act and subsequent executive directives and regulations, essential rights and freedoms that were once guaranteed to all individuals have been lost. Many Americans still do not realize the significance of what we have lost from Bin Laden.

There was a time in America where we could speak our mind.  Today, government agents can monitor activities of religious and political institutions, and then infiltrate these groups with no suspicion of criminal activity. This is a return to domestic spying on law-abiding religious and political groups.  You can be the subject of a government investigation simply because of the political, activist, or advocacy groups you are involved in, or the statements you make within these groups.  Your freedom of speech has been limited to what the government will permit.

Authorities may now conduct secret searches and wiretaps in your home or office without showing "probable cause." They need only to claim that intelligence gathering is "a significant purpose" of their intrusion, even when the primary goal is ordinary law enforcement. They may also monitor where and to whom you send and receive e-mail, or where you go on the Internet, recording every e-mail address and website you have been in contact with. Authorities may now demand any personal records held by any source including your doctor, employer, accountant, or library. All they have to do is claim that it is related to an investigation into "terrorism." The record keepers may not reveal that your records were provided to the government. 

For those who travel by air, freedom has been reduced, here are some highly publicized incidents around the screening procedures:
  • A breast cancer survivor was forced to remove her prosthetic breast
  • A bladder cancer survivor had his urostomy bag seal broken during a pat-down, leaving him soaked in urine.
  • A woman with a hip replacement was singled out for pat down.
  • A rape survivor was distressed by a pat-down that she described as feeling like being sexually assaulted again.
  •  A 3-year-old child was distressed by surrendering her teddy bear and being subject to a pat-down.
  • An eight-year-old boy was patted down on his genital area.
  • A woman claims that she was selected for additional screening by a male TSA worker for the size of her breasts.
  • A four-year-old boy was on his way to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., with his parents when TSA agents forced him to take off his leg braces.
Do these individuals sound like terrorist? I don’t think so.  These are the freedoms we have lost because of Bin Laden.  There are those who would discredit the premise that Muslims are the main reason we have lost our freedoms.  It is hard to deny the driving force behind the loss of our freedoms is tied directly to the Muslims.  There are those who would deny Bin Laden was a true Muslim—but he was.  When will we stop allowing our freedoms to be taken from us?  

We as American, continue to fund the terrorist with our dependence on foreign oil.  As the price of oil goes up many Americans will have to make financial decisions like – do I keep my home or do I eat.  Maybe we need to start using our own oil.

 America is in the worst recession since the 1930s and we seem to have billions to spend on mosque building in 27 Muslim countries.   I don’t know of a Muslim ruled country that doesn’t have massive oil wealth and plenty of money already to build or renovate their own mosques!  What happened to separation of church and state?  This is nothing less than stealing from the American people at a time when millions are losing their homes jobs and careers!  We should be shutting down these houses of hate instead of rebuilding them. 

 Our State Department is worried about our image in Muslim countries while the goodwill and freedom of the American citizen is of no concern.  Bin Laden even in his death will continue to destroy the American way of life and reduce our freedoms.  Am I glad he is dead?  I don’t know.  What excuse will be used now that he is dead to reduce our freedoms?  What concessions will we give to appease the Muslims?  Do I hate Muslims?  No, I just know there is a better way of life than being filled with hate.  Has American been in the wrong in Muslim countries? There is no doubt we have taken the lives of many innocent people, destroyed towns and cities and are continuing to do so.  If we are so bad why do Muslim leaders continue to ask us to stay?  Why do they continue to take our money?  I feel it is time that we allow the Muslims who are fighting Muslims to fight their own wars and America stop funding both sides.

Well, I have rambled long enough.  It’s time to take back America from the leaders of this country who are more concerned about what the Muslim world thinks than what the American citizens think.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Where Are The Leaders?

I have for most of my ministry served in rural churches in central Indiana.    What I have noticed is that rural churches are in a leadership crisis.  There are too few available upcoming leaders within our churches. There could be several reasons for the problem but the main reason is lack of loyalty and commitment to the rural churches.  In our community the church attendance is down in all churches.  More of our young people are leaving for larger churches.  They are walking away from active involvement in the small rural church to attend large churches that offer more entertainment, less personal involvement and require no commitment.

The leadership problem is also due to the changing makeup of our families. More of our young people are marrying those who are not Christians and establishing families that are unlikely to provide church leaders.  Today’s younger families are more concerned about their children’s involvement in sports than in church activities.  The importance of a spiritual life is not a priority in the training of their children.  The involvement of the fathers in activities outside the church has taken stolen the hearts of the potential church leaders.

The church must expand its understanding of what leaders do. The church fails to develop leaders when it has a too narrow view of leadership and thinks only of the vocal ministry.   The leadership model employed in the typical church does not encourage today’s young people to consider church leadership as a worthy pursuit. We often hear church ministry degraded within the church.  The respect given to the callings of God are not taken seriously within the membership of the church.  There are often those within the church who are pseudo-leaders or self-appointed and are only concerned about control.  This type of leadership is not determined by spiritual values or a Spirit-filled life but by a carnal nature that destroys the work of good leaders.

As the leadership within the church grows older it  becomes ineffective in providing examples of meaningful involvement in those works that can advance the local church—teaching, evangelizing, preaching, serving, and personal contact.  Why is this?  When the greatest number of leaders in the church are in their seventy and eighties they lack the physical strength to continue to provide meaningful involvement.  

Planning for the future is important to the survival of the church.  Leaders within the church should be training their replacements.  Since the church has been caught up in the professional leadership we miss the leadership called by God.  It would be in the interest of the church to develop leaders from within than to import a secular professional leadership that is not compatible with the local congregation.  When leaders from outside the small rural churches are not from the local meeting, they fail to be sensitive and are not successful in leading the church to growth. Leaders must be among the people, spending significant amounts of time with the community they live in, teaching and mentoring, modeling and equipping.

God develops leaders from unlikely sources. God does some of his great work through the messy and the broken, and he makes such people leaders who can reach out and help others. Church leaders ultimately come forth because they genuinely believe the gospel—they believe Jesus will do what he promised to do. They have been changed, and they seek to change others. Therefore, they are people of prayer, and people of action. They depend on God’s power more than human power. They are called by God to fulfill the Great Commission, spending tremendous amounts of time ministering to people. This is seen in their commitment to sharing the good news and shepherding God’s children.  Where are our leaders?

I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but I will make this prediction based on the information I have concerning the aging leadership within rural churches.  If there is not a group of young men and women who accept the roles of  leadership in the church in the next ten years most rural churches will cease to exist.