Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"I'm Gonna Get the Guns!"

Near the conclusion of the movie “The American President”, the President, portrayed by Michael Douglas, briefly discusses gun control legislation. One of his statements relative to this topic is, “I’m gonna to get the guns”.  Given the recent school shootings, this attitude is spreading across the country. I’m sure there are many well-meaning folks who are expressing this view. However, it is the wrong approach to the problem we are facing, wrong for multiple reasons.

First, the right of Americans to possess such weapons is guaranteed by our Constitution. You will never eliminate that amendment apart from another civil war in this nation. Take away my right to own a gun and I have no means of defending myself when the criminal shows up with a gun. You surely do not believe criminals will give up their guns if we merely eliminate the Second Amendment!

Second, you can’t eliminate all guns. It is an impossibility. Someone will always have a gun or equivalent weapon. I’m certain you want the police and military armed. You want guards with guns protecting certain individuals. Someone will have guns. The right was added to the Constitution to ensure the public could arm itself against a tyrannical government. Therefore, some citizens should possess weapons, or we are exposed to the whims of any tyrant. And, IF ANYONE HAS A GUN, someone must manufacture such a weapon. In other words, they will be available and anyone who owns one may commit such a crime.

Third, gun regulations and gun buy-back programs do not work. Check out Chicago which has the strictest gun laws in the nation. Look at their murder rate. St. Louis holds gun buy-back days. But, those who sell their guns back to the authorities are the law-abiding citizens, not the ones committing the gun crimes. Yes, guns are taken off the street, however, the result is a more unprotected populace, not a reduced criminal element.

Fourth, if you outlaw certain types of firearms, do you really believe the criminal will stop using them? Even if you could banish all guns, it would not deter the individual desiring to kill. They will find another weapon. Already, we have witnessed mass murder by knife, by plane, and by vehicle.

Fifth, the gun is not the problem. The problem is the person using the gun. Each of us have the capability of pulling the trigger. We must recognize the root cause of such shootings is our depraved, evil, sinful nature. To commit such an act, is to commit rebellion against our Creator and our Judge. Jesus understood this quite well. When, at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter used his sword to cut off the servant’s ear. Jesus told him to put away the sword. He did not tell him to get rid of his sword. In that situation, Jesus recognized the problem was not the sword; it was Peter’s heart!

So, is there anything we can do to make schools safer? Yes, if we use some common sense. I offer up a few suggestions.

1. “See something, say something”. This saying has been with us since 9/11. Much of the time, however, we see things but never say anything. But, in the recent Florida shooting, someone saw something, someone said something, and the agencies involved DID NOTHING. Let’s call on our government to be as diligent in their pursuit of potential killers as they are in their exhortation for us to be in reporting the same.

2. LOCK THE SCHOOL DOORS. Make certain those admitted to a school are not armed.

3. Allow some of the educational staff to conceal and carry. Not every teacher has to be armed and you don’t have to force every teacher to own a gun. But, I suspect every school in the nation has a few individuals who own weapons. Provide them whatever training they need to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon and, then let them do so at the school. No one need know who it is. But, if a killer knows there may be armed personnel in his targeted location, he may think twice about attacking it.

4. Owning a gun is a right granted in our Constitution. However, as certain rights are restricted or removed due to prior offenses, so should the right to own a gun. Let’s appoint justices to our courts who take such crimes seriously. If you are armed during any type of criminal action, you automatically serve time in prison and lose the right to own a gun in the future.  

5. Let us recognize that “but by the grace of God I am what I am”. Apart from His grace, we could be the one committing the crime. Man’s nature and not man’s weapon is the problem. Until our nature is changed, there is always the risk of such acts of evil: planes as bombs, gassing thousands to death in showers, running over individuals with a truck, blowing up an office building in an Oklahoma town, shooting individuals in a church or a school, or killing a woman’s unborn child.

For decades, our nation has been on a steady decline from following God. Many believe that is a good thing, a sign we are emerging from a “dark, superstitious age”. We do our best to remove God from every part of our society. By doing so, we think we will become better people. Perhaps, it is time for our nation to reconsider this view. You see, it is here the Bible speaks to us. Without the regenerating work of God’s Spirit upon our heart, evil will continue to dominate and rule. And that evil WILL manifest itself from time to time in such tragic events as took place last week in Florida.

The ultimate answer is found not in gun control but in Jesus Christ. He alone changes lives. He alone has overcome evil. He alone can make the difference.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Personal Greetings

See the source image

For some time, I have been assembling my own commentary on Paul's letter to Philemon. Recently, though, I decided to work my way through 2 Timothy, a letter I have not preached or taught before. While I have read it several times, a word leaped out at me as I translated the first verse.  Quoting from the King James Version:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus

This is a typical salutation from the Apostle. The thirteen epistles written by him begin with his name. There is nothing unusual in this. But, what grabbed my eye was the word "apostle". Yes, Paul frequently begins his salutations by noting his divinely appointed office. Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus find the same word in the very first verse. There are only four Pauline epistles which do not have "apostle" in verse 1: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon.

You might ask, then, why the word in 2 Timothy grabbed my attention. All, but four, of Paul's letters were written directly to churches; only four were personal letters: 1 & Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Having spent so much time in Philemon, I knew Paul never used the word "apostle" in that letter. When writing to his Christian brother and friend, Philemon, about the latter's runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul had no need to remind his friend of his exalted position within the church. Yes, he was an Apostle. Yes, the letter to Philemon bears apostolic authority; it is the Word of God. But, Paul found no need to remind his friend of this. His approach was to appeal, not command, his friend to receive back Onesimus as not only his servant but also his brother in Christ.

Approaching 2 Timothy, I guess I assumed Paul also had no need to remind his friend and former missionary partner of his office. I was surprised, then, when I saw the word "apostle" in that first verse. Quickly, I checked the other two personal letters (1 Timothy and Titus) and, sure enough, the word was there as well.

The Timothy epistles and Titus are collectively known as the Pastoral Epistles. Timothy and Titus are pastors and Paul has insight and instruction for them and their local churches. While the letters are directed to these personal friends, Paul leaves no doubt as to the authority of his words. He is writing not merely as their friend and co-worker, but as an Apostle of the Almighty God. His Words are God's Words. His wisdom is God's Wisdom. His commands are God's commands.

These facts are true in all of Paul's letters including Philemon. Let us clearly understand that, when we read the writings of Paul (or any other Biblical author), we are reading the very Word of God. What they have written is not merely their opinion.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Paul, a prisoner (Philemon 1b)

“a prisoner of Jesus Christ” - desmios Xristou Iesou 

Sometimes Paul refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, stressing his calling and mission from God.  Often Paul refers to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ, a menial servant who does whatever his master demands.  But in this personal letter, Paul uses a different noun to describe himself: “prisoner”.

We can learn much from this description.  First, we may take the declaration naturally.  Paul is truly a prisoner at this moment.  He is under arrest in Rome, chained to a Roman guard every hour of every day.  As a prisoner for two years in the Middle East, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar.  Now, for almost two years, Paul has been waiting in Rome for an audience with Nero.  As he pens this letter to a friend, he notes his physical position.  He is indeed a prisoner. However, he does not consider himself a prisoner of Rome or of Nero.

No, the description Paul primarily had on his mind when he penned the word “prisoner” was not about his physical imprisonment. Paul views himself as a spiritual prisoner.  He is “chained” to Jesus every hour of every day.  He goes where Jesus goes.  He does what Jesus does.  He says what Jesus says.  And his “imprisonment” is something he gladly accepts!

The phrase “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” may be interpreted in more than one way even when describing his “spiritual bondage”.  He is a prisoner “belonging to” Christ.  He is Jesus’ “peculiar possession”.  He is also a prisoner “for” Christ.  His devotion is not to himself, his family, his friends, or even his emperor.  No, Christ has made him His prisoner and all that entails (travels, words, actions) is in service to and for Jesus.

This one who, like each of us, was in bondage to sin has been set free from that sin.  He is now happily in bondage to Christ, gladly doing his bidding, whatever it may be.

May you and I view ourselves as prisoners of Christ.  May we see ourselves chained to our Lord, saying and doing (and thinking) only what our dear Savior says and does (and thinks!).

Friday, February 2, 2018

It's Groundhog Day!

Yes, Phil was out this morning, saw his shadow, and, therefore, predicted six more weeks of winter. While I haven't check the television guide yet, I would not be surprised to find Bill Murray's movie, "Groundhog Day", playing all weekend!

Anyway, the annual event performed in Pennsylvania raised a question in my mind.  How accurate has old Phil been with his predictions? So, I did what anyone who has such curiosities might do: I scanned the internet.  Yes, someone has determined Phil's weather forecasting accuracy. For the past ten years, Phil has been correct 50% of the time. I would say the groundhog may be better than most weather forecasters!

Being correct 50% of the time is not bad in certain situations. If you are a major league baseball player and strike out 50% of your opponents, you are a very good pitcher. If you happen to hit safely 50% of the time, you are the greatest hitter of all time! On the other hand, 50% can be very bad for others. If I am a surgeon and my surgical success rate is 50%, I'm out of business (or in jail!). If I play goal for the St. Louis Blues and stop 50% of the opponents' shots, I'm quickly released from the team.

But, there is one area where ANY percent other than 100% is deadly.

"But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

A Biblical prophet was called by God to proclaim His Word. Of course, there were times when God's Word was a prophecy or prediction of a coming event. In those cases, God's prophet has 100% accuracy or he's not God's prophet. And, if he is not a prophet of God but is passing himself off as one, well, Scripture says "that prophet shall die".

There are many over the centuries who have called themselves "prophets" and gathered followers. They may be a prophet, however, if even one of their "prophecies" was not fulfilled, they are not a prophet of God.

I guess Punxsutawney Phil is glad he has never claimed to be a prophet of God!