Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kindness to the ungrateful and wicked

"Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:35-36, TNIV)

How well do we reflect the mercy of God by being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked? Mere non-retaliation is not the calling of those who would obey Christ at this point. Showing kindness toward those who do us wrong is the command of the Messiah. Do our lives indicate that we trust Jesus' teaching that doing good to our enemies results in a great reward?

Do the followers of Christ have a reputation for being kind to the ungrateful and wicked?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is the death penalty fading away?

I saw a National Journal article earlier this week in which Stuart Taylor, Jr. wonders if the death penalty might be slowly fading away in this country. Current polls show that 65% of the public still supports capital punishment, but that is down from 78% in the early 1990's. While nearly two-thirds of people in this society support the death penalty in the abstract, there are other signs that the practice is becoming less popular.

Taylor points out that the number of juries choosing the death penalty "has plunged, from 317 in 1996 to 128 in 2005, the latest year for which complete data are available." In like manner the number of executions "has dropped from a modern high of 98 in 1999 to 53 in 2006."

Numerous factors are cited for the weakening popularity of capital punishment in practical application:

  • DNA evidence has exonerated some 15 death-row inmates and almost 200 other persons convicted of murder or rape, mostly since the late 1990s alerting death penalty supporters to imperfections in our criminal-justice system that could lead to the execution of an innocent person.
  • Fewer defendants are getting the death penalty and the cost to taxpayers for a death penalty trial tends to be far more than life imprisonment. This reality has made prosecutors less likely to seek death.
  • More states are offering life without the possibility of parole as an alternative sentence which causes more jurors to believe that dangerous criminals don't have to be killed to be kept off the streets.
  • Current concerns about the lethal injection method of execution may continue a long-standing trend of the rejection of method after method of execution.

  • Taylor raises interesting points that lead me to wonder if the death penalty might end in this country not by being outlawed but by slowly falling from favor. While I would prefer the practice end sooner rather than later, it is encouraging to see that capital punishment is becoming less popular.

    Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (TNIV). The power of God is powerful enough to transform anyone, even murderers, but not if we give them lethal injections first. We can protect society from the most dangerous criminals short of killing them. Because life is precious and because the gospel, the power of God, can transform anyone we must put murderers in prison for life rather than executing them.

    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    Prophecy being fulfilled?

    I went back in time 12 months and found a prediction from Tony Cartledge, retired editior of the Biblical Recorder and now a professor at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today. After the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) gathering in November of 2006, Cartledge made a forecast in the Biblical Recorder that you can read here and the trend he foretold continued through this year's convention.

    He pointed to a sharp drop in the number of messengers attending last year's BSCNC. Cartledge said that numerous factors may have contributed to the small attendance figure, but he believed the main reason was a "growing lack of rivalry regarding leadership." Feeling increasingly disaffected, fewer moderates attend the BSCNC. With fewer moderates showing up, many conservatives do not feel the need to go and outvote them. So Cartledge concluded a year ago, "If that cycle continues, it won't be long before the BSC can save a bundle on convention expenses by meeting in one of our larger church facilities."

    Fast forward to 2007 and the headline in the Biblical Recorder days before the convention was "Crowd expected for annual session" The article said that three controversial issues were expected to draw a large group and so the BSCNC staff prepared for 4,500 messengers. If that number had shown up, it still would have been a lot fewer than the 6,400 messengers that attended in 1990, but it would have been an increase of about 1700 messengers over the 2006 number.

    So, how many messengers actually came to Greensboro this year? According to a convention wrap-up article at the Biblical Recorder web page, "just 2,784 attended the annual meeting which promised beforehand votes more significant than any in recent years. Attendance was just under last year's 2,832 and was the lowest since the 2,316 who attended the 1985."

    Early signs favor Cartledge's prediction of last year. The seemingly highly charged issues of the BSCNC's relationships with the Woman's Missionary Union, Baptist Retirement Homes and the five Baptist colleges promised to pack in a large crowd. Instead we had fewer than last year's puny number of messengers.

    It is too early to tell if Tony Cartledge may be a prophet in this matter, but it does at least look like he might be on to something.

    Thursday, November 8, 2007

    Premature funeral

    It must have been a terrible day for Gina Partington. The 58-year old mother from Urmston, Greater Manchester, reported her 37-year old son, Thomas Dennison, missing last month. Three days later she received word that a body had been found in Rusholme, Manchester. Partington went and formally identified the body as that of her missing son. After an inquest the body was cremated on October 30.

    What Partington didn't know was that police had located her son, Thomas, in Nottingham four days before the cremation. He was very much alive. The body Partington had identified as that of her son was not the body of her son after all.

    This is a strange story that you can read about here. The police department said in a statement: "This set of circumstances is clearly distressing and urgent inquiries are ongoing to establish how this happened."

    For Gina Partington I cannot imagine the emotional rollercoaster ride she took from having a missing son to news of a body to identifying a body to a cremation to news that her dead, cremated son is alive after all. The last bit of that ride is not the sort of news a grieving parent typically hears: "You know the son you held a memorial service for the other day? Well, he's not dead."

    Normally when parents attend the funeral of their child the funeral is considered premature not because that child turns out not to be dead but because the child is in fact dead. Usually the grief of losing a child is not short circuited by the news that the child is still alive. As a rule the agony of typical premature funerals goes on for a very long time.

    I do not speak from personal experience. But I live near Ocean Isle Beach, NC where seven college students died in a house fire two days before Gina Partington thought her son's body was cremated. I am a graduate of Virgina Tech where, on April 16 of this year, 32 students and staff were shot dead. I think of the parents and the other loved ones . . . I think of other friends who have lost children . . .

    I think of them and I say a prayer for these who have attended premature funerals.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007

    Treadmill potato

    I'm walking as I type this blog entry. In the last 21 minutes I have checked the weather forecast online, read a couple of articles, kept tabs on the the muted Alabama vs. LSU ball game and I have been walking during all of these activities. I'm sure my writing progress is not nearly as efficient as normal, but its not bad considering that I'm getting in some exercise while I do it.

    I'm walking on a treadmill on which I have attached a shelf for my laptop. A few feet away is a TV and the remote rests in a pocket on the treadmill. This setup allows me to be a "treadmill potato."

    Rather than parking my rear end on a couch and surfing the Net while watching a ball game, I now make a regular practice of walking during these activities. This is better for my heart and my waistline. During the Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech game on Thursday evening, I walked 10.3 miles and burned a little over 1,600 calories if the meter on this treadmill is accurate.

    Mind you, I don't set any speed records walking this way. Right now I am moving along at 3.5 miles per hour. But I suppose some progress is better than no progress.

    Four years ago I temporarily lived right at the beach for six months. During those months I lost almost 70 pounds. How? I walked on the beach for about 80 minutes a day nearly every day: 30 minutes each morning and 50 minutes each night. I loved those walks.

    After moving off the island of Holden Beach and onto the nearby mainland I did not walk as much. I still walked some, but not nearly 80 minutes each day. I just could not seem to get motivated to walk around the neighborhood like I walked on the beach. Slowly I put a great deal of that 70 pounds back on. Not all of it, but too much of it.

    A few months ago I invested in a used treadmill and I started walking more. Two weeks ago I made a commitment to walk 80 minutes a day on the treadmill in order to hopefully duplicate the good results I had walking on the beach. In order to reach my 80-minute goal I multi-task on the treadmill as described above. It has only been two weeks but I have lost a few pounds and I am enjoying being a "treadmill potato" for now.