Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Built-In Problem of Compassion


I just finished reading an article in the Birmingham News, online version. It stated that the US Supreme Court had denied a stay of execution for a man who'd killed an elderly 76-year-old man, and his wife, in Calhoun County.

Now I do need to state that I'm a supporter of the Death Penalty. The Bible instructs it, and I believe the society that values life is not the one that shows forbearance to murderers, but rather the one that stands ready to swiftly demand the life of anyone who takes the life of another (in manner described by the laws). So I think that societally, the Death Penalty is a reflection of the USA's, and the individual states', valuing of human life. But the article I read today gave me real pause.

Here's why: the man in the picture is 45 years of age, and has been on Death Row for 23 years, 11 months, and 22 days. Well over half his life. He is not the same man, today, that killed that couple.

He could be a better man. I've seen plenty of "Reality TV" shows in which convicted murderers have gotten saved, have matured and seen the horror of their crime, or simply become better people for all their experiences. And I'm certain .. although they normally don't show these folks as often .. that there have been murderers who have morphed into even more heinous people than they were when they swung the knife or pulled the trigger. But one thing's for sure: after this many years, the executioner is dispatching a different person from the one that did the crime.

What is, I suppose, most disturbing, is there doesn't seem to be a system to monitor this, that I am aware of. I don't know whether Parole Boards check on these guys, or whether there's any other system of monitoring rehabilitation. Perhaps there is, but that doesn't change the fact that the Government of the State of Alabama was poised to kill a different man, from the one who killed that couple.

As I post this, 2 minutes ago.

I find that sad.

Adolf Eichmann was captured 5/11/60, was tried and subsequently convicted on 12/16/61, and was executed 5/31/62. That would be less onerous, to me, had that happened here.

FURTHER UPDATE: Mr. Boyd was, indeed, executed, about the time I originally finished this post. In reading the wrap-up in the paper, just now (some 3 hours later), I learned there was another man involved in the murder. He confessed at the time, and in a plea-bargain with the Prosecuting Attorney, was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. Different decisions. Different results.

Even though all the results were not immediate, one decision led to life, and one led to death.

That sounds familiar. I am reminded of the last line of the chorus of Eric Solar's song, Love Suffers Long:


"Make your choices slowly, for time will tell
If you've chosen wisely, if you've chosen well".


Amen to that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

That Settles It Once and For All. Well, For Me..



I have heard "debates" over whether America is, or ever was, a "Christian nation", pretty much ever since I've been active in a church. Initially, in the early 60's, I would have said "yes" to the question .. but for quite a few years, now, I've thought we weren't.

The founders would not have written the constitution the way they did, if they'd intended for us to be that. They seem to have gone quite a ways to assure we would never be a nation tied to any one religion.

I've been involved in plenty of discussion in Sunday School about this, and have debated it more than I probably should have. But a couple days ago, sitting in my recliner, one thought came crashing in on me.

Let's say you and I want to start a church, so we do. Couple dozen people, maybe. And we draw up a constitution and a set of by-laws, and we specify that our "church" can never in any way prescribe what you, the members, must believe. We stipulate we must never pass any regulation as respects your faith. Or lack of faith. Buddhist, Christian, Atheist, whatever you want to be is OK with us.

Let's even say we had reasons to do so. Religion was crammed down our throats, parents made us go to their church, we went to Parochial schools, etc etc.

Could you ever, in your wildest imagination, think of referring to that as a "Christian" organization? Or as any kind of "church"?

I didn't think so. But that's precisely what the organizers of our country, Christians though they may have been, did when they drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

If God's been favorably disposed to the USA, it must have been for other reasons. Maybe as simple as our mandated freedom of religion. But whatever that reason might be, it's not that we're a "Christian nation".


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lesson From a German Soft Drink

The stuff in the glass over there is called "Spezi", and it's my favorite soft drink. I don't think they sell it as such .. it's simply a 50/50 combination of Cola and Orangeade. In this case, it's half Diet Orange Crush and half caffeine-free Diet Coke.

I believe they do sell it as such in Germany, as I recall seeing a billboard .. from the train .. that said "Spezi ist Spitze!". Spitze being excellent, wonderful, the apex, etc.

If you've ever tried pouring a diet Coke into a glass, you probably know how foamy it gets. Takes forever to pour a glass full of it, and not just get a glass of foam. But I discovered something yesterday while fixing a Spezi (I told you it was my fave.....): if you pour the Orange Crush in first (it being non-carbonated), then when you pour the Coke in, there's no foam.

And hardly any when you slip in the ice cubes.

That brought two things to mind. The first is that how you go about something can be as important as what it is you're doing. Be offensive enough, and the listener or observer isn't going to get what you're driving at, at all. I heard it expressed once like this: "If you tell someone they're condemned to an eternity in hell, because of their sin, you'd better have a tear in your eye"

Amen to that.

But the other thing that came to mind is a statement I saw perhaps half a century ago. It said simply "Where one will not argue, two cannot argue. In other words, if you're the recipient of some harsh or unfair or unfounded criticism, your reaction is entirely up to you. I recall one time being particularly unfairly and viciously accused of false teaching. The man had about a dozen points written down, all of which were either patently false, or terrible misinterpretations of what I'd said. I was all ready to set him straight point by point, when God reminded me of what he'd said to Moses .. when Moses had the Red Sea in front of him, Pharaoh's army roaring up behind him, and angry Israelis all around. From Exodus 14:14:

"The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."


So I simply said to him "Anything else?" He said no, and I thanked him for his opinion. He'd said I should quit teaching and he asked if I was going to. I said "No". We then left the church and talked about our vehicles.

We eventually, within a few months, became good friends.

Said all that to say this: if you're going to criticize anyone, constructively of course, make sure that's what you're doing, and not trying to win an argument and "be right".

Secondly, when someone offers criticism, simply accept it and then look at it objectively over time. Like my Dad said, "Use all the brains you have, and all you can borrow".

God also said something about soft answers, I think......

Oh yes .. one more thing .. I like Orange Crush and I like Diet Coke. By themselves. But put them together, and I like them together more than I do separately.

I think churches are kind of like that, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Respect. We've Got A Lot To Learn

I was perusing some pictures on MSNBC a few minutes ago, when I saw the picture over there to the right. It stopped me cold, for two separate reasons.

The first, which I had been thinking of lately, anyway, is that the overwhelming deluge of news .. in full color .. may have hardened us to a lot of what's really going on. Perhaps similar to children who lose a bit of respect for life by playing all the killing games that we've even seen some specials about. We see so many pictures of the tsunami and the overwhelming devastation in Japan, that it become commonplace to us, and loses some of its impact on us. But if you thought about your entire family being senselessly killed, and actually seeing their corpses lying there, or your entire neighborhood laid waste by a tornado or a conflagration, with the things you treasure most, of your possessions, perhaps you can feel a bit of what has been .. and is being .. repeated, millions of times over in Japan.

I recall the death of my parents, and can easily contrast it with my only brother's death. Mom & Dad were Christians, while my brother was not. One can only imagine how many of the victims who died this past week in Japan, went out into eternity to a future they did not expect. I hope the frequency with which we see the events in Japan does not obscure that fact in our minds.

The part about this photo that really got me was the respect shown, by the South Korean Rescue Workers, as they recovered a corpse. The caption stated:

"A group of South Korean rescue workers and local policemen pay respect after collecting the body of a Japanese earthquake victim in tsunami-swept Sendai, Miayagi Prefecture on Tuesday."

We've also all seen, I'm sure, picture of Oriental citizens as they greet each other, with their hands folded and bowing to each other. Like I said, respect.

After 5 years of blogging, and involvement in various SBC meetings, I think we have a lot to learn from the Japanese and the Koreans. Would that even within our churches and our associations, we'd show each other such respect as these workers showed to someone from another country, who was already dead.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Lessons From Our Car

When we retired, February 1, 2008, we bought a 2008 Toyota Prius, just a couple weeks later. As it happens, that was the perfect time for it .. we got a nice discount from the sticker price, and the local dealer had exactly the car we wanted. Leather, Nav System, Bluetooth, all the goodies. Well .. except for heated seats, but having a small engine, the Prius heats up so quickly that it's not really a problem not having them. And, as I remarked to Peg last week, the car comes the closest to being exactly what it's supposed to be, of any car I've ever bought.

Hold that thought.

Peg and I went to a prayer conference this past weekend, at FBC Montgomery. There were some pretty good .. and some highly innovative .. Breakout Sessions, plus two general sessions. The "headliner" speaker was Tom Elliff, President-Elect Nominee of the IMB, who spoke Friday evening and Saturday morning. Of course, the arrangements for his being on the program were made a year ago and more, so it had nothing to do with any recent developments, and he preached two of the finest sermons I've ever heard.

I heard some terrific thoughts at the conference .. you know .. the sort that causes you to think "wow" and to make notes. One of the points was this: "Prayer is no substitute for work, but it is the work for which there is no substitute." That rang a bell with me, since I have for years thought that prayer was the work of the church .. that most of the things most churches do can be done by other entities (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, etc) .. but no other entity is charged with the privilege of prayer. And I've heard that "before you pray, there's nothing greater you can do than pray .. but after you pray, there's a lot more you can do. And both are summarized by the new thought put forth at the meeting.

The other thought, that came out of Tom Elliff's first sermons, was this: "When all I want is all God wants me to have, I'll always have all I want".

Wow. That one packs some real punch. It carries with it the thought that God wants what's best for us, regardless of our ability to see it. And that He wants to give us what's best for us, and that He really is a giving God.

The thought also awakens in me the memory that God's plans are to bless us, not curse us. And that Jesus came so we could have an abundant life .. not just an eternal one.

And the issue that, if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts, how much more does our heavenly Father want to give us good gifts? And, just as we hope that our children will want what we give them, how much God wants us to want abundant life.

When we raise our children, we teach them a lot of stuff, not so they will simply behave as we want them to, but so they will live fruitful, happy, productive lives.

Reflecting on Tom Elliff's statement, I am certain that I want what God wants for me. What He wants me to have. Or, as I heard once before I was even a practicing believer, "God's will .. nothing more .. nothing less .. and nothing else."

All I want is all He wants me to have.

OK. Back to the Prius. When we retired, I thought it would be good to try to live within social security. To do that, I figured we'd need to hold expenses down, yet we didn't want to cut out all vacations, eating out, etc. Since we were driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, getting 11-12 mpg, and since we didn't want to be concerned about driving to see people what with high gas prices and all, we went and looked at Toyotas. And we ended up getting a wonderful deal on a car just like the one in the photo.

Since that time, it has done precisely what I wanted it to do. Four people can ride in relative comfort, but 99% of the time it's just the one or two of us, and it's comfortable even on long trips for Peg and me. The electronics are really cute and a lot of fun to play with, having several interesting displays, and the mileage is terrific. Usually in the low-to-mid 40's.

I didn't want gas prices to be a concern to us. And they aren't! We use about 3 to 3-1/2 gallons a week, fill up every two weeks, and when gas goes up a quarter a gallon, it costs us maybe $.75 extra a week.

Worry over gas prices is simply off the radar. And I guess that's my point. The car is doing now precisely what I had in mind when I bought it. It's everything I wanted in a car .. everything I'd hoped it would be.

Here's hoping that I'm filling the bill with God as well as the Prius is filling the bill with me. That's sure all I want .. what all God wants for me.