Preacher's Blog

Preacher's Blog

Terry Francis, one of the Evangelists at East Shelby, shares some of his thoughts and discoveries from studying the scriptures. Feel free to check back for new posts!

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What about the death penalty?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The issue of capital punishment provides a conflict for Christians today. How can we justify in our minds the taking of a life in any way when the sixth command says, “Thou shalt not kill”? How can we justify the death penalty when Jesus said to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43–48)?

God ordained capital punishment in the same Law of Moses that said, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). It is important to realize that the King James translation of the sixth command is a poor translation. New translations such as the New American Standard Bible and English Standard Version more accurately translate this passage as “You shall not murder.” The sixth command deals with murder—not the concept of life-taking in a generic sense. It deals with premeditated murder.

In the Old Testament, there were forty-one separate laws that carried the penalty of capital punishment. One of those crimes included the violation of the sixth command to not murder (Exodus 21:12; Numbers 25:16–21). Other crimes worthy of this punishment include adultery, rape, incest, practicing bestiality, homosexuality, worshipping idols, breaking the Sabbath, being a disrespectful child, kidnapping, and perjury. God dictated the penalty of death for each of these crimes.

Some might point out that the New Testament teaches us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). But that statement isn’t unique to the New Testament. In Leviticus 19 it reads, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (v. 18). The same Law that commanded death for certain crimes also told the Israelites love their neighbor rather than bearing a grudge.

How can any of this make sense? How can God (through Moses) tell His children to not murder, love their neighbor, and yet demand death for certain crimes? The only explanation is that God didn’t view the taking of life for certain crimes as a violation of those other commands. He determined that when certain choices are made, the only response should be death. It was a justified punishment.

The New Testament also makes an allowance for the same punishment. In Romans 13, Paul discusses the authority of civil government.  Disciples are commanded to be subject to the authorities (v. 1). He then explains that those who do not will receive punishment (v. 2). Paul later says, “if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (v. 4). The sword is always an instrument of death. Paul is clearly saying that the government has the power to use an instrument of death in response to those who do evil. Clearly Paul is pointing out that capital punishment is a power that is given to governing authorities by God. They are permitted to bear the sword and to use it when needed.

Jesus Himself died through capital punishment. Crucifixion was the cruelest and most painful form of the death penalty that our world has ever seen. It should be pointed out that no where does Jesus, His Father, or His disciples condemn the use of the death penalty. No where after the ascension of Jesus do we see one instance of an Apostle condemning the Roman Government for the process of crucifixion or the use of a death penalty. Instead, we see the disciples pointing out that the Jews murdered Jesus (Acts 2:23, 36). We see Peter telling Cornelius—a Roman soldier who he could have blamed for the use of the cross as a death penalty—that the Jews killed Jesus (Acts 10:39). There would be no greater platform for the condemnation of the death penalty than the case of Jesus Christ Himself. And yet, scripture is silent in regards to capital punishment in relation to His case.

It is no doubt difficult to harmonize how God can justify taking a life while demanding respect for life from His people. Why? The purpose of all punishment was to convict not only the guilty party but all people of the need to be righteous. God used capital punishment in the early church with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Both were struck dead for lying to God (vv. 1­–10). What was the result? We read that “great fear came upon the whole church” (v. 11). The people were impressed with the need to respect the Lord and submit fully to Him.

In 1 Corinthians 5 when Paul commanded that an immoral man was marked and turned over to Satan (v. 5) the reason was to protect the rest of the church. He said, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (v. 6). If evil is allowed to exist unpunished, it will only spread to others who will practice evil because there are no consequences. All discipline—including capital punishment—is intended to send a message for the need to walk in righteousness.

Some might counter, “Why doesn’t it work better?” The Bible provides an answer for that as well. Disciplines impact is often lessened because it isn’t administered properly. The preacher said, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Men continue to practice evil because the punishment isn’t executed fast enough.

It should be pointed out that God Himself is going to use capital punishment on the Day of Judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:7–9). It will be a spiritual death penalty—but it is still a death penalty. The one who is found guilty will be cast into eternal darkness where they will be trapped in a state of perpetual destruction that never ends in a final death. God will use the death penalty Himself in an eternal sense.

We should think about how powerful this connection between capital punishment and God’s death penalty is. Consider the evangelistic possibility when this connection is realized. Could it be that the use of the death penalty on earth should be a warning to us of the one to come? Could it be that God ordains the death penalty in the hopes that it may cause the one facing that sentence to repent of His sins and obey the Gospel in order to avoid the second death? One of the final moments of one who is on death row is the ability to see his or her religious counselor. They have the ability to save their soul even when their flesh has been sentenced to death. God cares more about the soul than their flesh.

No doubt some will point out that God is a perfect judge (Genesis 18:25). He can execute the penalty of death in the most perfect way. But man… man is not perfect. The recent cases of death row convicts being released from unjustified convictions due to the advancement of DNA testing will give us even more hesitancy to support the death penalty. But our emotions and concerns do not alter or change the law of God. We cannot change what has already been said. The governing authorities clearly have that power according to Romans 13. And those who are sadly executed without cause are afforded the same ability to save their soul as mentioned above. That is the greatest concern: saving the soul.

The death penalty should deter sinful acts. God’s death penalty should keep us from living a sinful life. The greatest lesson we can learn from the study of the death penalty is to seek God and walk in paths of righteousness. If we do that, we have no fear of either death penalty: earthly or spiritual. 

Treasures in Heaven

Monday, January 12, 2015

This afternoon I heard from a close friend that this morning their house was burglarized. The thieves broke in and stole a large television and a laptop. The security alarm and barking dog in the bedroom apparently scared them away. The first thing that came to my mind was the lyrics of a song we often sing, “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…”

Jesus told the crowd gathered on the hillside, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

We all know that we shouldn’t be storing up earthly treasures that can be destroyed and taken. And yet, we still do. In fact, for many it remains the highest priority. The majority of us spend more time each day thinking about finances, retirement, the Market, our portfolio, etc. than we do about heaven.

Perhaps we need to understand that laying up treasures in heaven is an active pursuit. It’s not something that will happen coincidentally. It won’t happen by accident. Every day we must put for the effort to pursue heavenly things in our lives. It means we wake up serving God. We meditate on spiritual things. When tempted during the day, we find the way of escape that God is providing and we overcome. Every thought should be about “things that are above, not… things that are on earth” (Colossian 3:2).

The great thing about treasures in heaven is that they are eternally safe. No one can ever take them away from you. It is the most secure investment you can make with your life. So “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal…”

Follow Through

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Baseball was my sport. I played as a child until I was 13. I umpired from the ages of 16 till 32. I coached for several years during that time. One thing I learned from all of those years was “follow through.” In order to through the ball effectively, you have to have follow through. In order to hit the ball effectively, you have to have follow-through. You can’t just do half of the motion. You can’t start to throw and then stop throwing. You can’t start to swing but stop halfway. You have to follow all the way through your motion.

Sadly, the lessons I learned about following through with baseball haven’t always translated to the other areas of my life. There is a list of unfinished projects at my house—no follow through. There is a list of good intentions that are unfinished—no follow through. There are half read books in my office—no follow through. You see the problem is my hands have found a lot to do—I just haven’t done those things with all of my might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). 

It’s not that bad things, or wicked things, have interfered. I don’t have unfinished projects and half-read books because Satan sent me a strong temptation to sin. All of those unfulfilled intentions are present because other “good things” simply got in the way: a phone call to a member, a visit from an elder, etc. Oh sure there are other distractions such as a random text, Facebook, a friendly phone call, etc.

This blog is one of those areas that I haven’t followed through. So in 2015, I make no promises lest I be forced into failing to keep them. But I do have a goal. My goal is to follow through more with the blog. My goal is to post every Tuesday. Oh sure… I may do more—but there are no guarantees. Here’s having a better follow through in 2015!

A Female Intern?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I want every teenager—girl or guy—to know that regardless of what the gifts the Lord gave them are they can use them for His kingdom… You can use them for the Lord’s kingdom. And that’s hard sometimes to be a certain gender and think you are not allowed to. But I want those lies to be gone… I don’t want the enemy to have that hold over anyone. If the Lord has given you a gift you are allowed to use it to glorify Him, and your called to use it to glorify Him. I want those girls to know that… and to feel that from Him. —Lauren King

Lauren King is the new preaching intern at the 4th Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, TN. Lauren pursued this path because “the Lord made it clear” to her that she should get a degree in youth ministry with an emphasis in preaching. A couple of Sundays back, Lauren and senior minister Patrick Mead shared the 4th Avenue stage for their first sermon together.

The defense for having a female intern in the video is even more frightening than the action itself. Here are just a few concerns from the video…

The issue of direct revelation. Throughout the video Lauren King says she has been “called” to do this. She also says the Lord made it clear to her that she should be preaching. She explains how this occurred, “If I am in a place where I have peace about where I am going, then that’s the Lord telling me, ‘YES!’” Clearly this is nothing more than emotion-based modern day revelation. It allows the conscience and feelings of an individual to determine what God truly wants.

King uses the story of Abraham as a defense for her understanding. While Abraham knew that murder was wrong, when God told him to murder his son he said, “Yes, Lord!” And her calling is the same. She can’t deny the Lord’s revelation to her despite what she was taught all of her life.

How do we answer this claim with scripture? Paul told the Galatian brethren that if there was anything revealed different than what they had taught them, the person should be cursed—even if was an angel from heaven (Gal. 1:6–9). The Bible is clear about the issues of authority and gender within the church (1 Cor. 11:2–3; 14:33–35; 1 Tim. 2:11–15). Can we accept Lauren King and her revelation as truth when it contradicts scripture? Certainly not!

The issue of unity in diversity. Patrick Mead, Lauren King, and all of 4th Avenue are using the issue of women’s roles in the church to promote an idea of unity despite believing and practicing different things. In her sermon Lauren King says, “When God calls us to be united, why is that other people that believe in God get in our way?” King later says, “Let’s just respect each other and be united in the fact that we love the Lord.”

Nancy Baughman, the minister of administration for 4th Avenue, said, “Our church embraces lots of differences. We want to be a body of unity and embrace differences… it’s just that part of being open to change. If that’s what Jesus is calling us to do, we’re ready to do it.”

The Bible tells us we should have unity. We are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). But that unity is supposed to be grounded in sound doctrine and teaching (Eph. 4:4–6). The church is the foundational support of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). We cannot sacrifice scripture for the sake of unity. That only unifies us in rebellion to God.

The issue of denominationalism. Part of the foundation for the unity in diversity approach is the practice of denominationalism. In her defense, Lauren talks about how crazy it is to be able to preach in “our tribe.” The tribal approach to religion is the same approach the majority of the world takes. The belief is that the Lord’s Body is divided up into several smaller portions that can believe and practice different doctrines as long as they all “love the Lord.”

But the Lord has one body (Eph. 4:4–6). Jesus described it as “His church” rather than churches (Matt. 16:18). There aren’t multiple branches. There aren’t tribes. There is one church. Those holding a denominational mentality are forced to practice ecumenism as well. Ecumenism is the belief that all churches who claim to be Christ-followers are equal and acceptable. It is the tribal mentality presented by King and others. It is also flat wrong. There is one faith and one body. We must not only believe that—we must practice it as well.

The issue of scriptural authority. The scriptures are more than capable of teaching us about who we should be and what we should do (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It is important to notice the word “all.” But according to senior minister Patrick Mead not all scripture is created equal: “We no longer read all of the bible as equal.” Mead later explains that Paul’s writings were temporary instructions for specific instances. He says, “I do not believe that Paul in two passages is trying to undo the rest of scripture… He wasn’t trying to make rules for everybody for every time.”

The problem with this approach is that it negates almost all of scripture based on whether or not I agree with scripture. If a passage is written to a specific church and I feel “called” to do something else, it doesn’t apply any longer. One also wonders what “rest of scripture” would be undone by Paul’s writings concerning women in the church. There are no commands or examples of women serving in those roles. The “rest of scripture” is silent. Therefore, I must follow what scripture is present—scripture that condemns women having authority over men in the church.

The issue of submission. Lauren King asked her audience to think about what they are refusing to give back to God in their life. She was speaking on the subject of submission. Lauren King in the video declares that her ability to speak is a gift from God. She wants people to look at her and say, “This girl is talented and gifted and she should be able to use it.”

There is no doubt that Lauren King is a talented speaker. It is clearly seen in her public and personal dialogue. But one must wonder why Lauren King isn’t willing to submit to the authority of God with her talent and gifts as a speaker? There are various things women can and should do that glorify God without violating the scriptural prohibition of having authority over a man: teaching children’s classes, teaching ladies’ classes, speaking at women’s retreats, teaching her children at home, etc. Those talents can glorify God as long as they operate within the proper boundaries God has set for them (Col. 3:17).

These issues pose an even greater threat to the truth than just allowing women in the pulpit. Just think for a moment how many things could be justified if scriptural authority doesn’t matter. What could we justify if all we need is the “peace” that it is okay?

The saddest part of what has happened at 4th Avenue is that they have lost their unique identity. They are just like everyone else and yet, we are called to be different. Let’s make sure we stand for truth. Let’s make sure we stay different. Let’s make sure we uphold God’s truth!

Terry Francis

Lying and Social Media

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The wise man said:

“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16–19, ESV)

This passage has long be referenced as evidence that God does not approve of lying. In fact, he hates it. Little children are taught to avoid lying. Parents routinely discipline their children for lying.

It’s ironic that many of those same parents then pull out their laptops, log on to social media, and spread lies. They may not be intentional lies—but the deceptive and dishonest information still qualifies as lies. Whenever you log on to your favorite social media site you can find dishonest posts about anything from Common Core standards, political agendas, or whether or not Casey Anthony is currently pregnant with twins (yes… that was a popular post). Posts and emails filled with bad information are so common that one company focuses on doing nothing but establishing whether things are true or not (Snopes).

The question becomes, what responsibility do you have when it comes to sharing information? Is a Christian responsible for ensuring that every piece of information he or she shares is truthful? Is there a difference between someone verbally communicating falsehoods and typing them?

People often look at social media, email, and other non-verbal communications as being different from actually saying something. Perhaps we should consider the permanent and widespread nature of these actions. Verbal communication is rarely proven beyond the initial conversation. A post on social media is recorded for all to see and is often spread much farther than ever intended. In some ways, your behavior online is far more important to consider than the words you say.

The answer to the question of responsibility then becomes a resounding “Yes!” Yes, you are responsible for everything you post and email. Yes, you are responsible for ensuring you don’t share false information. Yes, you are accountable for the things you do. In fact, your approach to honesty and truth is an indicator of your rightesouness: “The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.” (Proverbs 13:5, ESV).

Lying is a serious matter. The wise man also said, “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” (Proverbs 12:22, ESV).  Do we want to be an abomination to the Lord? And don’t defend your actions because the wise man said “lips” and not “fingers.”

Consider your actions as you type. Before you press “post,” “tweet,” or “send” make sure you are sharing truth and not falsehood. It does matter. 

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