A Playground Fight

A playground squabble is shaping up to be the next court case further defining the separation of church and state, and a religious liberty issue. The case is titled Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.

The state of Missouri has a grant program that partial funds reimbursements to children playgrounds that decide to resurface their play area with repurposed rubber from old tires. The rubber surface has proven to drastically reduce playground injuries. The grant offered an incentive to playgrounds to resurface their play areas.

When Trinity Lutheran’s Child Learning Center applied for a grant it was denied. Although Trinity’s preschool provides child services to the local community, and has an “open gate” policy allowing neighborhood children to use its facilities on weekends, the state of Missouri denied the grant because it violated the state’s Blaine Amendment that requires public funds to be used for strictly secular purposes.

The Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the church question how providing a safe playing surface for children on a church playground advances a sectarian belief. Is it fair to deny a church preschool neutral public funds for what is clearly a non-religious purpose, making a children’s playground safer?

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and oral arguments have been heard. When the Court hands down its decision it will be the first religious freedom case heard by Donald Trump’s newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch.

I am reminded of a story told in the Scriptures. Abram’s (his name is changed later to Abraham) nephew Lot is living in the town of Sodom when a rival king conquers it. This king kidnaps the town’s inhabitants and loots its property. When Abram learns of his nephew’s capture he arranges a rescue party and frees Lot and his fellow citizens and their property.

When Abraham returns the king of Sodom meets him. Grateful for the rescue of his people, the king of Sodom tells Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram tells him, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich,’” Genesis 14:21-23.

I am torn on this issue. On one hand, I do not see how this could be construed by the state of Missouri as an “establishment of religion” in the case at bar when the funds in question would be used for a clearly non-religious purpose. If the church caught fire would the local fire department refuse to respond because it is a church?

On the other hand, I am concerned when the church accepts a government handout to provide the services we should be empowered by God to provide. I feel like Abram; I don’t want the government to be able to say it helped us in doing God’s work. The hand of the benefactor can easily become the arm of the taskmaster.

The Suicide of Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell this past Wednesday, April 19, 2017, from an apparent suicide. Hernandez was serving a life sentence for a 2013 murder conviction. He had been acquitted of a double murder from 2012 just five days before, and was in the process of appealing his 2013 conviction.

He seemed to have much to be hopeful about, so some who knew him personally find it difficult to believe he died by his own hand. And while an investigation is being conducted, it is equally difficult to believe he was murdered and his suicide was staged. There appears to have been no suicide note, but law enforcement sources said the Bible verse John 3:16 was written across his forehead.

The notoriety that attended the former NFL star’s highly publicized trial places his reported suicide prominently in the public consciousness. What does the Bible say about suicide?

Just this past week my daily Scripture reading included the account of Ahithophel who was a counselor to Absalom when he tried to usurp the throne from his father King David. “Now when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and arose and went to his home, to his city, and set his house in order, and strangled himself,” 2 Samuel 17:23.

This is one of seven suicides recorded in the Bible. They run the spectrum from Judas who betrayed Christ to Samson whose name is included in the Bible’s Faith Hall of Fame, Hebrews 11:32. Oddly, the Scriptures do not directly condone or condemn suicide.

Some scholars claim suicide is self-murder, but that has always seemed to be a strained application of the Sixth Commandment to me. Yet to the degree one’s rationality is unimpaired and an act of the will, suicide can never be said to be an act of faith, and is in that respect a sin.

To me the greater question would be, is it forgivable? Some argue since one cannot ask forgiveness after killing oneself it is damnable. That position seems just as strained to me as the idea of self-murder, that is, that our forgiveness is more dependent on our request for it than on God’s mercy.

I think the grace of God extends to the one whose extreme circumstances may render him confused and irrational enough to do something in a thoughtless moment of desperation he would not normally consider.

Since the Scriptures do not condone the practice, neither should we, lest we encourage it, nor should we condemn what the Scriptures do not condemn lest we rob others of their hope in a merciful God.

“The Judge of all the earth” will “deal justly,” Genesis 18:25. Only God knows what is in the heart and mind at the moment of one who takes his own life, and He is an omniscient and benevolent God. It is the best that I can say in good conscience, but it is the best anyone could hope for.

The Resurrection

During the Easter season our thoughts turn to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most pivotal event in human history. Christianity is founded upon it and human history is divided by it. Indeed, Christianity stands or falls on its historical authenticity.

Do we as Christians ask the world to blindly embrace the reality of the resurrection? While faith is an essential component of Christianity there is a difference between faith and blind faith. We have not been left totally in the dark. The evidence for the resurrection is clearly seen in the lives of the apostles and the faith that was founded on their eyewitness accounts.

I cannot formulate, nor have I ever read, a more compelling argument for the historicity of the resurrection of Christ than that offered by Scottish theologian Dr. Principal Hill. The late Dr. D. James Kennedy in his book Why I Believe shares the following statement by Dr. Hill. Hill said, “But if notwithstanding every appearance of truth, you suppose their testimony to be false, then inexplicable circumstances of glaring absurdity crowd upon you. You must suppose that twelve men of mean birth, of no education, living in that humble station which placed ambitious views out of their reach and far from their thoughts, without any aid from the state, formed the noblest scheme which ever entered into the mind of man, adopted the most daring means of executing that scheme, and conducted it with such address as to conceal the imposture under the semblance of simplicity and virtue. You must suppose that men guilty of blasphemy and falsehood, united in an attempt the best contrived, and which has in fact proved the most successful, for making the world virtuous; that they formed this singular enterprise without seeking any advantage to themselves, with an avowed contempt of loss and profit, and with the certain expectation of scorn and persecution; that although conscious of one another’s villainy, none of them ever thought of providing for his own security by disclosing the fraud, but amidst sufferings the most grievous to flesh and blood they persevered in their conspiracy to cheat the world into piety, honesty and benevolence. Truly, they who can swallow such suppositions have no title to object to miracles.”

History is replete with accounts of martyrs from different faiths who have died for what they believed, but they died believing those things to be true. There is not a single record of anyone who died for what they knew was a lie. If the disciples stole the body of Christ and hid it to feign Christ’s resurrection, is it reasonable to believe they gave the remainder of their lives to suffer privations, persecutions and death knowing the resurrection was a lie?

This is the point that Dr. Hill makes so cogently. Ours is not a blind faith. An empty tomb gives mute testimony to the angel’s words, “He is not here, but He has risen,” Luke 24:6.

Aramis Ayala and Capital Punishment

Aramis Ayala is the state attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit. She made national news recently when she stated she would not be seeking the death penalty in the prosecution of Markeith Loyd who is charged with killing his girlfriend and Orlando police Lieutenant Debra Clayton. Nor will she seek the death penalty in any other capital case. She is ideologically opposed to the death penalty believing capital punishment costly and ineffective as a deterrent.

There came a time in the history of man that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5. This is an accurate description of a society completely corrupted by the absence of law and order. It was this cultural climate that precipitated the flood.

Emerging from the ark Noah and his family were tasked with repopulating the earth and restoring the civilization that had succumbed to anarchy. To do that God gave mankind its first law, “Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man,” Genesis 9:6.

If mankind were to survive as a civilized society, it would only be possible established on a sense of right and wrong founded on the principle of justice. So the Father took the most serious of human offenses, murder, to lay a foundation of justice from which all other lesser offenses could be patterned.

God’s reasoning is when a man takes another man’s life without justification; he is destroying the image of God in another person needlessly, and justly forfeits the right to continue bearing that image himself. And He tasked mankind with the prosecution of justice, “by man his blood shall be shed.”

Aramis Ayala’s blanket refusal to pursue the death penalty in capital offense cases, not only displays a stubborn refusal to enforce the laws of the State of Florida and the Constitution of the United States she took an oath to uphold, but is just as lawless an act that undermines the principle of justice that safeguards our society as the crime of murder itself.

God instituted the death penalty to establish justice, not because it is cost effective or a deterrent. Aramis Ayala should be impeached and disbarred, but that will not happen. A society that believes it is permissible to sacrifice the unborn on the altar of convenience has already lost any sense of justice.

Jesus said, “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all,” Luke 17:26-27.

The return of Christ and the reestablishment of justice in His millennial reign will be as big a surprise to some as the flood was in Noah’s day.

Religious Freedom and the First Amendment

One of the issues that figured prominently in the past presidential election was that of religious freedom. Rumors are circulating that an executive order is being drafted to address recent encroachments on the religious freedom of individuals who own businesses and endeavor to practice what the Scriptures teach.

     The Constitution of the United States was ratified and became the law of the land on September 13, 1788 when the Continental Congress passed a resolution to that effect after eleven of the thirteen original states had ratified it. North Carolina and Rhode Island followed quickly ratifying the Constitution by May of 1790.

     Fearful that a powerful federal government may infringe on the individual freedoms our forefathers had come to enjoy in the New World the first Ten Amendments to the United States Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, were soon ratified by December 15, 1791.

     The First Amendment to the Constitution is considered the cornerstone to the other nine that follow. The first words of the First Amendment read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

     I have always said I think it is significant that when our founding fathers sought to protect individual freedoms the first one they secured was the freedom to exercise our faith and not be required to support with our taxes a state church. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal.

     That ideal enshrined in the First Amendment has come under attack in recent years. Some have used laws that conflict with the First Amendment to force others to support and comply with practices that go against their conscience.

     Commenting on this issue in another forum one person told me I should confine my beliefs about morality within the four walls of my church. When I countered that he should confine his immoral practices within the four walls of his bedroom he replied with something that should not be printed here.

     The simple truth is that those who now flaunt their immorality want to force the Christian faith into the same closet they came out of. While the Christian faith is intensely personal for the believer, it was never intended to be a private faith.

     Jesus said, “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops,” Matthew 10:27. In the Great Commission Jesus told the church, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” He did not instruct us how to do that quietly.

     When the government makes and enforces laws that prevent people of faith from discriminating between what is good and evil, what is moral and immoral, then there is no free exercise of religion and the First Amendment isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

     God told Pharaoh through Moses, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me,” Exodus 8:1. That is what the Christian is asking of our government.