God and Government #4

October 27, 2016

Here is the last lesson in the series. I enjoyed teaching this at Levy over the last month. 

Our last text to consider in this study is 1 Peter 2:13-17. This is an interesting text and context out of an interesting letter. Peter’s audience was not a single church. Instead he addressed his letter to…

God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. (1 Peter 1:10)

As addressed, the original recipients of this letter were Christians living in various parts of the Roman Empire. The purpose of the writing was to offer encouragement and fortification for the trials they all faced, which Peter acknowledged first in 1:6. That Peter would address them as “strangers” set the agenda for the letter. He would pick up this idea again in 2:11-12 (immediately before the text of our study). Overall his teaching focused on their calling as God’s chosen people. This calling led to an understanding that the world offered no lasting home. Here Christians are just “aliens and strangers”. Peter would detail what that looked like lived out within a hostile world. One point of emphasis within this involved living in such a way to counter criticism. One way to do that would be to submit to governing authorities.

THE TEXT

Submission to all governing authorities—specifically to kings and governors—is called upon “for the Lord’s sake.” This qualifier is significant. Remember the type of government under which these Christians lived. It was not at all favorable to Christian faith. It was often oppressive, unjust and cruel. Why submit to such an immoral governmental system? That is what God asks of his people. He asks because even such evil governments are used to “punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right.” He asks because it is his will for his people—these strangers—to demonstrate their heavenly citizenship by “doing good” everywhere they happened to live and not to become involved in civil disobedience. Compare this text to both Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Timothy 2:1-5 and there is remarkable consistency of message.

Each of these contexts (and in ours) it is taught that Christians becoming involved in rebellion against those in governmental authority would be counterproductive to the spread of the gospel of Christ. Peter further explains why it is vital for Christians to submit to their rulers—to counter criticism or as he states, “silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” Christians were subjects of incredible rumors and misinformation—blamed for incidents not their doing. So it was crucial for Christians to not add any fuel to the false flames. “Peaceful and quiet” lives were the apostle’s mandates.

This could be accomplished four ways:

  • Showing proper respect to everyone
  • Loving each other—the brotherhood of believers
  • Fearing God
  • Honoring the king

But what if everyone was not worthy of respect? Even in the church? What if the king was corrupt? It does not matter. This approach is coming out of a respect first of God and his will. This is all done first “for the Lord’s sake.” It is a kingdom first perspective, which takes maturity to understand and practice. Just consider the next section of teaching—to Christian slaves. They were instructed to submit, obey and respect their masters—even the “harsh” ones. Why? Because it was “commendable before God.” Why? Because “to this you were called.”

It is the same principle. Christians are not to rebel but to respect and submit to those in authority even if that authority is unjust—because in so doing the principles and message of God’s kingdom are furthered. It is exactly why Christ endured the insults and sufferings without retaliation. We benefit from his submission. Others will benefit from ours. Ultimately the kingdom of God will triumph. We have to think more broadly than just the here and now. So we honor the king (even if he is Nero), we pray for him, we do our best to live at peace with everyone by living out the kingdom values as aliens and strangers in our world. This is God’s calling and will for us.

21st CENTURY APPLICATION

So how does all of this connect to us living in a democratic form of government in the 21st century USA? To answer this—again we must remember that the NT texts were not written specifically to us or to directly answer our questions. Understanding that and doing our best to apply the teachings of these texts to our situation, here are some consistent principles to consider:

  • Do our best—regardless of the type of government under which we live to submit and live at peace. Do not engage in civil disobedience or unrest. Our kingdom citizenship supersedes any earthly citizenship and living that out is paramount.
  • Pay our taxes and our debts. Give no one the chance to slander Christ in this regard.
  • If forced obey God rather than man—just like the apostles in Acts 5:29. But remember this still does not give permission to engage in anarchy. Persecuted Christians in the first century died not fighting but praising. Eventually their example won the world.
  • We are called to “honor the king” with no qualifications—even if we do not like his politics.
  • Christians can participate in the governmental process and use their rights of citizenship in peaceful and lawful ways (as Paul did—Acts 22-29) and in ways lawfully beneficial to the spread of the kingdom. Christians should not however partner with politics in any unequal way (2 Corinthians 6:14) nor should we expect the government to be “about the Father’s business.”
  • The latter is our call and that is why the NT so emphasizes living as strangers and aliens; living peaceful lives that are in submission to those who govern us. It not through ballots or bullets that the kingdom of God will spread. It is through quiet and determined faith lived out—consistently upholding the values of God’s kingdom.

God’s call is unchanged regardless of the type of governmental system under which we live. Live first the kingdom of God. Be the best citizen possible in demonstrating what it means to be first a citizen of heaven.

 


God and Government #3

October 20, 2016

Here is the third lesson. I will post the last one next week. Thanks for the feedback so far! 

Our study takes us next to Ephesus and the text of 1 Timothy 2:1-4. Included here is a snippet from Paul to Timothy—instructions for him to pass along to the Ephesian church:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 

As we continue to allow Scripture to inform us and shape our thinking/relationship with those who govern us, these words can further our understanding.

Ephesus

It is not unexpected to find Paul addressing this topic in the Ephesian context. Externally this was a church born (so-to-speak) out of a riot (Acts 19:23-41). Civil unrest had accompanied this church planting—so the idea that they would need clear instructions about not participating in such, but rather in praying for those in authority is not surprising. Further in unpacking the internal situation of the church in Ephesus—it was in turmoil due to false teaching (likely among leadership/elders) creating strife among its members, particularly young widows. A quick look at the verses following our immediate context demonstrate the situation—men needing to direct their hands toward God in prayer and not toward each other in anger and disputing. Women needing to act in accordance to God’s will in demeanor and in worship practice. In the larger picture, those in this church had issues with God-ordained authority. They were not living peaceful lives. For this to spill over and into their community (especially after already being connected to a riot) would not accomplish God’s will. So Paul urges a prayerful stance be taken toward all people, but specifically for kings and those who govern in order to live peacefully and quietly in their community. Note the connection here—peaceful lives could result from praying for/honoring those who govern. Becoming involved in civil unrest most certainly would not. One Bible commentator wrote:

“For kings and all who are in authority” The Bible does not teach the divine right of kings, but it does teach the divine will for organized government (cf. Rom. 13:1,2). The theological issue is not whether we agree with our government or whether our government is fair. Believers must pray for governmental officials because they are in God’s will in a fallen world. Believers know from Rom.13:1,2 that all authority is given by God, therefore, as followers of Christ we respect it. This statement is all the more powerful when you realize Paul is asking believers to pray for governmental leaders like Nero! (Bob Utley from Bible.org)

This was the challenge for the Ephesian Christian, but it also remains a challenge for us as well. We may not always agree with those who govern us. We may not have supported them politically. But we have been instructed to pray for them and to not engage in any civil unrest, but instead strive to live peaceful and quiet lives.

This is What Pleases God

Just in case we question this teaching, Paul clearly informs that this approach to those who govern us is “good” and is what “pleases God.” Again, this should not be unexpected. It is consistent with the other New Testament teaching on this topic (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) and is exactly the approach Jesus, himself, adopted.

In using the terms “peaceful and quiet” Paul emphasized the importance of both being free from external strife and from inner turmoil. Christians must demonstrate their faith by calm living, which can be quite challenging in times of crisis and tension, but as in Ephesus—is so crucial to pointing people toward the kingdom of God and the hope it offers. Instead of turmoil our focus should be on godliness and holiness.

Why this is good and so pleasing to God is revealed in the text—God is eager for all men to be saved! This salvation comes only through Jesus. Quiet and peaceful lives; those free of the turmoil and tension of the world; those focused on the values of the kingdom instead of the vices of the world are reflective of him and will draw people to him. Conversely, lives full of unrest, engaged in disputing behavior, and demonstrating anything but peace cannot lift up Jesus.

Fairly straightforward message here—Christians are to be engaged in the kingdom business of seeking and saving the lost. Becoming involved in the kinds of disputes that arise out of political strife (or church strife for that matter) will hinder this pursuit. So, pray for those who govern and do your best to live quietly and peacefully while seeking first the kingdom of God. This is what is good and pleases God. Coming to this knowledge of truth releases strife—for everyone!

A second-generation restoration leader among churches of Christ, David Lipscomb, had very strong opinions concerning the Christian’s relationship with government. He was an influential editor of The Gospel Advocate during the early 20th century. He wrote a book entitled Civil Government. Here is an excerpt:

The principles in the Sermon on the Mount are diverse from and antagonistic to the principles that have obtained and must ever obtain in all human governments. No human government can possibly be maintained and conducted on these principles laid down for the government of Christ’s subjects in his kingdom. The spirit that prompts the practice of the principles is opposed to the spirit needful for the maintenance of human governments. The two spirits cannot dwell in the same heart, nor the same temple, or institution. A man cannot be gentle, forgiving, doing good for evil, turning the other cheek when one is smitten, praying ‘for them that despitefully use and persecute’ him, and at the same time execute wrath and vengeance on the evil-doer, as the human government is ordained to do, and as it must do to sustain its authority and maintain its existence.

While we may or may not agree with him—I borrow his words to highlight that the purpose of God’s kingdom and the purpose of governments rarely intersect. In this political season—let’s more than ever depend upon and trust in God, quietly going about pursuing his will, disengaging from the anger/confusion swirling around the election, while praying for those who govern us. It is what pleases God and will accomplish more good in the end. This we can learn from Ephesus.


God Isn’t Fixing This?

December 3, 2015

I rarely venture into politics or any type of analysis on national events. It mostly is a no-win situation with wide opinions and endless, usually unproductive debate. I love my country and feel blessed by the freedoms and privileges we enjoy. But I love my God more and realize that his kingdom is about much more than the United States of America. The truth is—that regardless of what happens here or what we become—his kingdom endures forever.

Fortified by that, I try not to be an alarmist concerning the course and future of my country. Nevertheless, I do feel concern as I see us systematically removing values and concepts reflective of God from our society. There are real and lasting consequences to this.

I see them in the latest tragic shooting in San Bernardino and its aftermath. Specifically I am thinking of the headline in The New York Daily News that proclaimed:

God Isn’t Fixing This!

The writer of the article—to me—seems to be using the shooting to mock politicians asking for prayer while making an appeal for gun control. The point? Since God is not fixing it, we need to by taking away guns.

I will let the gun control part of the article be discussed elsewhere.

My thoughts are on the headline. It creates questions for me like, “Why do we even expect him to fix it?” Or, “Why are we calling upon him now, when we have pushed him to the margins in almost every other way?”

Having pushed God out of the public arena means that we have also pushed out his values. What would an emphasis on “love your neighbor as yourself;” or “do not murder;” or “for where you have envy and selfish ambition; there you will find disorder and every evil practice;” or “hatred stirs us strife, but love covers all offenses;” or “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you;” or “learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause,” (I could go on and on—literally) do for our societal narrative and behavior? It was said long ago of another nation and people, but it remains ever true:

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people. 

Even if someone is skeptical about the whole notion of God, it would be difficult to deny the positive impact his precepts would have on a society who has forgotten how to treat each other with respect and dignity; who politicizes everything; who exalts and celebrates the vulgar while minimizing and ridiculing the civil; who reward the loudest and most belligerent while ignoring those with no voice; who create and foster an atmosphere of hate and then somehow is shocked when it explodes onto the innocent.

Perhaps God is trying to fix it, but we simply are not listening.

 

 

* Bible verses cited in order: Mark 12:31; Matthew 5:21-24; James 3:16; Proverbs 10:12; Matthew 5:44; Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 14:34

 


Five Transformative Texts

July 2, 2014

All Scripture is inspired, but there are some texts that speak a weightier word from the Lord.bible pic

Here are five transformative texts which do that for me:

  • Exodus 20:1-7. These are the first three of the Ten Words. It is Yahweh identifying himself; speaking of the overarching significance of recognizing Him and His Name alone. In a culture with competing gods, Israel was to honor the Only True One. Their identity was to singularly flow from who He was. Their purpose as a people all depended upon this. If they failed to have “no other gods” before Him; they would completely fail regardless of any other factors. In fact this is what happened. It all connected back to a failure to heed these first three commandments. This is why this text remains transformative. Prioritize God first. Honor His Name above all names and our hearts will remain The Potter’s clay.
  • Hosea 6:6 (restated by Christ in both Matthew 9:13 & 12:7). The prophet Hosea lived in unstable and ungodly times. Israel had drifted far away from her purpose to be a light to other nations. Dramatically, Hosea’s own life revealed the adultery Israel had committed with other gods. Still, they managed to hold onto ritual–offering sacrifices to Yahweh, which were totally void of heart and meaning. Generations later Jesus would encounter a different Israel, but with the same empty ritualistic approach to God. So he recalled Hosea’s words: I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Generations after Christ, we still gravitate toward ritual and away from mercy. “Doing” church can never trump “being” Christ.
  • Micah 6:8. Staying in the Minor Prophets during the same general historical time-frame as Hosea. Micah’s plea to an unrepentant Israel beautifully reveals the kind of people God desires in any generation: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This remains a watershed text–wonderfully summing up who God wants us to be.
  • Matthew 22:26-40. The Greatest Commands. This connects to all the other texts. Love God first with everything you’ve got. Then you can proceed to humbly express that love or that mercy or that justice toward others. It is transformation. It is God breathing life and meaning from His being into ours. When His Name is above all names, everything changes. We are truly free to love, serve and obey Him and to freely share these incredible gifts–without boundaries to others. Which brings us to my last text…
  • Matthew 28:19-20. The Great Comission. Yes, Christ urges us on toward sharing: to tell what the Lord has done for us; to “go into all the world.” It is part of our purpose–as it was for Israel. It is the outflowing of the kingdom of God to every tribe and people. It is the way others hear of the One who is above all else.

All of these texts are life-changing. At least they have been for me.

Perhaps you have some transformative texts of your own to share?


Dialoging About Jesus: Five Approaches

November 21, 2013

By now, I am confident that most of you have heard all about our postmodern culture and its impact on how people process information.

So I ask, what do you get when you cross a postmodernist with the mafia? You get an offer you cannot understand! Yea, go ahead and groan.

Yet, the challenge of sharing Jesus; of dialoging his message; of effectively bringing him into a conversation remains ever present in a culture influenced by postmodernism. What is the best way to do it? Here are five approaches:

  • The silent treatment. Not an approach really. We just say nothing. Maybe it is out of the intimidation factor. Maybe we are unsure what to say. Maybe we never feel compelled to include Jesus in the dialog. This may be a safe and totally non-confrontative approach, but it accomplishes nothing in terms of sharing the kingdom alternatives of Christ.
  • I miss Mayberry. We can go all nostalgic in our approach and talk about the good ole days when people respected truth and reason and chide folks now-a-days for their wishy-washy ways, but this approach isn’t going to help anyone.
  • It says what it means and it means what it says. We are talking about dialog here and that approach ends it before starts. There is not much traction at all to this approach anymore.
  • I’m okay; your’e okay. This allows for too much. Christ’s teaching are very distinctive. He calls us to discipleship– to model the values of his kingdom. It is an enlightening and transformational process. Therefore, it will at times also be confrontational.
  • “Speaking the truth in love”- Ephesians 4:15. I call this the Jesus model. It is dialog without divisive debate. It is compassion without compromise. It is saturated with his “grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is not judgmental, but does invite self-evaluation. It does not hesitate to engage, but never dominates or intimidates. Neither is it intimidated by opposition. It is verified by the transparency of faith lived out. It is not easy, but it is the best way to dialog about Jesus–to share his wonderful words of life to an increasingly skeptical audience.

There is an additional component to add when dialoging about Jesus.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. – James 1:19

Thoughts?

 


Too Busy To? Five Signs of Being Too Busy

October 31, 2013

I just ordered the book, Crazy Busy by Edward Hallowell. It has not arrived yet- so no comment on it, but I eagerly await it. Hopefully it will give me some insight on how to slow down a crazy busy life.

Kid’s soccer games and basketball practice; work responsibilities and work-related meetings; church events; school events; work-around-the-house concerns; they can become all consuming. The calendar gets full in a hurry. You know the drill. Some of it is important; some of it is urgent; some of it is neither, but we rush into it all none-the-less.

It is busyness and often we embrace it with pride. It becomes a symbol of our significance. Amazingly, not being busy now equals not mattering. We do it. We post it on Facebook. We tweet about it. We matter! It has become embarrassing to admit that we actually have nothing to do on Saturday night.

But is staying busy really all that?

God, knowing the tendencies of his creation, mandated a Sabbath rest for the Hebrews. Jesus, who indeed was a busy man with a most important agenda, often “withdrew” from the bustle and demand of the crowds to rest and pray. Scripture encourages us to, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Without a doubt, we can become too busy for our own good. Here are five signs that we are there:

  • You cannot remember what is next. In a conversation with my wife recently, I expressed relief that nothing was planned the next night. She quickly corrected me. We did have something planned– kind of a big deal church event which had long been on the calendar. At that moment I had completely forgotten about it. When we have too much going on to remember it all, perhaps that is a sign that we have too much going on.
  • You can no longer just relax. Whether it is from being too overstimulated for too long or you feel guilty for taking a break–if you cannot “be still” that likely is not healthy.
  • It bothers you that other people are not as busy as your are. Having experienced life in other cultures, it amuses me to see Americans adjust to slower-paced countries. Often they conclude that the locals are simply lazy. The locals, on the other hand, look at us and ask, “what’s your hurry?”
  • You must multi-task. Yesterday, I heard about a movie theater chain that plans to open up a section in each of its viewing halls for texters. The two hour viewing time for a typical movie is now way too long to stay off the phone. Ah, the phones. Ever try having a conversation with someone who cannot keep his eyes off the screen? Too busy to talk! Busyness can be an addiction with technology being the drug.
  • You have less time for God. Ultimately, this is the lasting danger of busyness. When we overstuff our calendars, something will get squeezed out. Quite often these are the very things which strengthen our relationship with God. We become too busy to pray; too busy to praise; too busy to interact with God in any meaningful way. Other appointments take precedent over Sunday worship. Devotional and Bible reading opportunities get lost in the shuffle. Instead of seeking “first” Christ’s kingdom, we find ourselves able only to give God a few minutes here or there.

Recall the story of Martha in Luke 10:38-42. The occasion was a visit of Jesus to her house. Rightly, we would think, she became busy with meal preparations. Her sister, Mary, did not join her, choosing rather to pause to listen to Christ’s teaching. This bothered Martha and she complained to Jesus about it. His words to her speak to our busyness now: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”

Let’s not get too busy to choose the “best part.”


Divided We Fall

August 22, 2013

Seems many of us these days have forgotten the “united” part of the United States.

I cannot ever remember a more divisive time than the one in which I now live.

Everything has been politicized– race; gender; sexual orientation; reproduction; health care; marriage; personal income; religion; education; gun ownership; retirement; even the weather.

A desire to work through issues with constructive dialogue and mutual respect has been replaced by angry accusations, pandering and partisan politics, irrational and irresponsible behavior and sometimes, violence.

It has become all about “getting mine” regardless of the long-term consequences.

It is increasingly dividing us as a nation– and divided we will fall.

More than ever then, it is to God and his kingdom to which I seek refuge.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.- Psalm 125:1-2