Monday, September 26, 2011

Christians, Injustice and the Death Penalty

While speaking about Jesus’ words on justice from Luke 11 on Sunday morning, an example of injustice popped into my head.  I thought about sharing it but was hesitant to speak “off the cuff” on what is an extremely controversial topic.  I decided I would instead spend some time mulling it over before sharing it publically. I wanted to make sure I worded my thoughts as carefully as possible. If you plan on reading my next sentence, please commit to reading the entire article.

Christians who are concerned about justice should be uneasy about the death penalty.

At a recent Republican primary debate, when moderator Tom Brokaw noted to Texas Governor Rick Perry that his state has executed 234 death-row inmates while he has been governor, Brokaw had to pause because of the cheering. Brokaw was eventually able to ask his question: has Perry ever struggled to sleep at night, wondering if any of those inmates were innocent.

Perry’s answer was firm. “No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all.”

Really? Never?

There have been 234 (actually, now the number is 235) executions since Perry has been governor--that is almost two executions every month.  There has never been a moment where he felt unease and lost sleep as he thought about the fate of those men and women?   Perhaps there has been and he simply can’t say so because of the political implications.

I’m in favor of the death penalty because I believe the government has the right to “wield the sword” and punish the wicked as well as reward the just. Even so, here are four things that I believe should burden a Christian’s heart as he or she thinks about justice and the death penalty.

1. Racism. Christians should be troubled by the fact that ethnic minorities face a far greater likelihood than Caucasians when convicted for the same crime.

2. Poverty. Christians should be distressed by the fact that those who are poor often receive inadequate legal counsel. One study found that two-fifths of all errors in capital punishment trials were due to gross incompetence on the part of the defense legal team.

3. Capriciousness. There seems to be a lack of uniformity regarding when crimes warrant the death penalty.

4. Vindictiveness. The believer should not wildly applaud the death of the wicked. When justice means that a human life is taken, there should be mourning and a sobriety of spirit. A spirit of vindictiveness is not a spirit of justice.

This is not meant to be an argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty. However, the believer who is passionate about justice should consider carefully their acceptance of a system that seems to be riddled with injustice.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weight Gain, Self-Control, and the Grace of God

You should be familiar with the basic plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The short story by Robert Louis Stevenson has been subjected to numerous adaptations. In 1931, there was an Oscar winning movie version, but most versions have been b-grade movies at best. 1951 saw the birth of Son of Jekyll, so to speak. Six years later came Daughter of Jekyll. In 1944 Mighty Mouse met Jekyll and Hyde Cat and Abbott and Costello had a run in with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1953. Perhaps the most creative adaptation, which I have only heard about and not seen, was The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Rock ‘n Roll Musical.

But just in case, let me review the basic details of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: a scientist concocts a potion that divides him into two personalities: the benevolent, kind Dr. Jekyll and the evil, murderous Mr. Hyde.  At first, Dr. Jekyll enjoys the freedom to commit various crimes under the guise of Mr. Hyde. However, as time progresses he finds the anecdote that turns him back into Dr. Jekyll to be less effective and the demon that is Hyde grows stronger and stronger until he is overpowered. No longer is Jekyll able to resist the power of Mr. Hyde. He is trapped.

It should come as no surprise to you that many adaptations, such as The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Rock ‘n Roll Musical fail to capture the finer nuances of the story. It was not originally some sci-fi horror story. It was written in the late 1800s by Stevenson not about the horrors of scientific hubris but rather about the horror within every human heart.

Dr. Jekyll struggles against his sin nature and speaks of the struggle in terms similar to Romans 7. The potion that he concocts was designed to free him of these rather unpleasant urges; to separate him from his evil side. However, the power of his evil side begins to overwhelm him. This is not just a story about a creepy scientist—it is about every person and the terror of the power of sin!

This should be a struggle that every believer feels.  We have a desire to control our sin nature but at times are completely overwhelmed by it. 

I've felt this reality in my struggle with gluttony.  I knew that my metabolism would slow down when I made the transition from my 20's to my 30's, but no one warned me that my metabolism in my mid-30's would be slower than my metabolism of my early-30's.  I am approaching the point where my gluttony can't be concealed by a fast metabolism!

Let me quickly present four principles on self-control from the book of Titus, especially Titus 2:11-14. 

1. All of us are to exercise self-control.

Throughout the book, various groups are either explicitly or implicitly told to have self-control: children of leaders of the church (implied, 1:6); leaders themselves (1:8); older Men (2:2); older women (in relation to wine); young women (2:5); young men (2:6); and slaves (2:9)

God expects the members of His church to be able to live sensible lives—to be in control of their actions.  This attacks the insinuation of many that some people are incapable of controlling their baser urges. 

2. Our ability to exercise self-control is the grace of God.

In Titus 2:11, Paul says that "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men."  This grace "teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness... and to live self-controlled... and godly lives in this present age" (v. 12). 

Salvation protects us from ungodly behavior and promotes self-controlled, godly behavior.  Self-control is itself a fruit of the Spirit.
3. Part of the motivation for our self-control is our future.

When I'm failing to practice self-control in my eating, I'm thinking very little about the future.  I'm thinking about the present enjoyment of another chocolate-chip cookie.  But Paul tells Titus that we are to live in expectation of "the blessed hope" which is "the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior."

I'm not motivated by slogans or cute sayings.  I'm motivated by the future appearing of my Lord Jesus Christ!

4. The provider of our self-control is our savior.

Finally, Paul tells Titus, the one who provides our salvaiton and ability to practice self-control is our savior.  He "gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (2:14).
I hope you find these principles encouraging.  Self-control is a challenge each of us has.  May God lavishly bestow His grace upon us!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Little End-of-Summer Cleaning

When I find an article that interests me, I sometimes copy and paste a link to it and save it for use in a future weekly blog. When I find I have a bit of a back-log of articles, I end up tossing a lot of them out.

But as I was getting ready to throw out some of the articles I knew wouldn’t make it into a blog, I found two that I wanted to make sure I mentioned. I believe I found out about both of them through

The first article is about a new booklet from Kevin DeYoung describing why his congregation switched to the ESV translation. It can be found here. In the article and the comments that follow are some great thoughts on the nature and purpose of translation.

The second article is by Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson, writing in the WSJ, and correcting the assumption that the church is losing young people in droves.

What interested me about this article is that it directly attacks many of the narratives put out by George Barna. Barna has been highlighting the declining attendance of young people in the church and proposing some ways to combat the trend that I believe would only make the problem he purports to observe worse. This is an important article for many of those who are so desperate to appear relevant to read. Check it out here.

Thanks for letting me clean out some of my summer junk!