God and Government #1

October 17, 2016

Currently at Levy I am teaching a four-part class series on God and Government. Below is the first study. I plan to post them all–to try and offer a kingdom perspective during this rather divisive and angry election cycle. 

As we enter into this study it is imperative for perspective for it to be founded in and informed by the clear scriptural teaching of “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Our primary directive under any form of government is to honor first our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Recall after the events that erupted in Gethsemane (John 18:36), Jesus identified his kingdom as being “not of this world” but “from another place.” This—not any earthly kingdom/nation/government is the kingdom we seek first—it’s values, directives, boundaries, principles and purpose—the consequence of such will always lead us to be “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in whatever nation we live under, whatever the form of government that exists. This understanding provided the first Christians a vastly different worldview, which then enabled them to turn their world upside down by living out and teaching these values while also living quiet and peaceful lives under the oppressive, non-representative, rights-limiting Roman rule. Ultimately they totally transformed this government without casting a single vote or creating any violent revolution.

In this study we will examine the New Testament texts that shaped their thinking and guided their actions as they lived out the kingdom first principles in their nations under their government—Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; & 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Five Things the Bible Teaches about Governments

Before considering those specific texts, it is important to consider the broader Bible teaching about God and governments. God has always been out and about in our world—working with and through peoples, nations, and governments to accomplish his will. He has done so all throughout history and it would be a mistake to think that he does not continue to do so. This remains part of the mystery of God (Isaiah 55:8), but we should expect no less.

From a survey of biblical texts here are five things we can learn from the Bible about God and governments.

  • No form of government/nation will ever reflect completely the ideal of God’s justice and righteousness. We can learn a great deal about God and governments through the relationship of God and Israel—his chosen people. Israel was meant to be a light unto all the nations (Isaiah 49:6). The government God set up within the Hebrew nation was designed to reflect his justice and righteousness (Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 27:19; Proverbs 8:15; 21:3; Amos 5:24), but they failed, as has every subsequent nation and form of government. It is all a result of our broken, fallen world. In fact, corrupt forms of governments/nations not seriously attempting to uphold God’s justice and righteousness have been the rule, not the exception. Israel/Judah—the very nations of God—failed to consistently produce kings and leaders who honored God. Is it then a surprise to see corrupt governments now? What are our expectations today?
  • However, God can use nations/governments to demonstrate his justice—even evil governments (Jeremiah 25:8-9; Acts 4:27-28; Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14). Scripture clearly teaches that God has ordained rulers/nations/governments to be his instruments of justice—even though they often do not totally reflect completely his ideal of justice. God uses what and whom he can to bring about his will in our fallen world. There is something bigger afoot than the here and now.
  • Therefore, God remains in control of the nations and governments. He puts governments and powers in place—Daniel 2:20-21; Psalm 22:28; Proverbs 8:15; John 19:11; Romans 13:1.
  • One day all human governments will end and Christ will reign. Isaiah prophecies: For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (9:6-7; see also Daniel 2:44; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 19:11, 15-16). This is the bigger picture. This is the kingdom to seek first. This is God’s end game—and everything he does seen and unseen among the nations/governments is all about accomplishing this for as many people as possible (2 Peter 3:9).
  • Meanwhile as we wait, we are to pray for, honor and submit to those who govern us—Mark 12:17; Romans 13:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17. What this looks like and what is involved in this—first for those within the New Testament context of these verses and second for us now living in 21st century USA—will be the focus of this study.

Hopefully this study will help us gain a better kingdom perspective and instead of fretting over politics, our nation and politics—praise the God over it all!

Come let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land… Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens…He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in truth. (from Psalm 95-96)

 

 


Baltic Family Camp 2016

August 5, 2016

BFC 2016

The Baltic Family Camp (BFC) takes place each year in an old Soviet Pioneer Camp now called, Camp Ruta, near Moletai, Lithuania. It grew out of the youth camps held annually at the same site since 1998.

It began in 2012 with two main purposes–to provide rest and renewal for missionaries and their families along with other Christians in the Baltic region and to help foster a connection and network among the small scattered churches in those countries. Those goals have been wonderfully realized, but as with most of our plans, God has gone well beyond what we could “ask or imagine” to create a truly special week of learning, fellowship, reunion, renewal, joy and family.

Since its beginning people from fourteen different countries have attended the BFC. This year twelve nationalities were represented among the 118 participants. The BFC brings us all together, works through our language and cultural barriers to form one body worshipping God with one spirit, heart and voice. It is an incredible God-defined, Spirit-led experience.

The BFC really is about the people who attend. This year I was reunited with Ugne. Ugne now lives in the Netherlands with her husband and son. Back in the late 1990s she was one of my students in Vilnius, Lithuania and attended some of the youth camps at Ruta. She has never forgotten the time she spent in study and at camp. Through social media we were able to reconnect and as a result she attended the BFC for the first time this year with her son. She is not a part of a church of our fellowship since none exist where she lives. She expressed how meaningful the Bible classes at the BFC were to her and her son and how she yearned for such study opportunities in her area.

Ugne is representative of how God has used the BFC to reconnect with friends, former students and campers, who now return to Camp Ruta with their families to enjoy the week of study, praise, and fellowship.

Then there are wonderful people like Sansom and Monica Karumanchi from India. India is not quite in the original geographical footprint imagined with the BFC. Sansom, through friends in Tallinn, Estonia first attended the BFC a few years ago and is now an integral part of our week. This summer he brought his new, beautiful and courageous bride, Monica. The Karumanchis along with a new participant this year, Seth Amofah of Ghana, demonstrate just one way God has expanded the BFC more than we could have ever dreamed.

Our teachers are a huge part of our camp. Dr. Alan and Sherry Pogue, who have a Christian counseling center and ministry in North Little Rock, AR are a regular part of our sessions. They provide Christ-based teaching and counseling during the week on family, marriage and parenting. While most of us in the states take these kinds of opportunities for granted, they do not exist in the Baltics.

This year Dr. Earl Lavender of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN and Dr. Joy Rousseau, a retired educator from Tyler, TX served as our primary class teachers for our men and women. Both brought a wealth of mission experience along with their rich teaching expertise to the camp. Digging deeply into God’s Word is at the core of the BFC. We work to provide a richer and fuller learning experience to assist in renewal.

Kids also are a large part of the session. This year we had more babies and toddlers than ever and as someone noted, our own youth group–kids who have grown up attending the camp. We have a great team who lead the kid’s day camp.

The BFC was just a dream for several years, but through God working in hearts and through the generosity of my home church, Levy, along with the commitment of an incredible American and Lithuanian team, this dream has been realized in amazing ways.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 


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

 


Four Ways Not To Treat Your Preacher

October 26, 2015

Churches and their preachers–always an interesting relationship.

I know of wonderful stories and of horror stories. I have experienced huge doses of the former and a small taste of the latter. As a result of the latter category here are a few things I have learned–four ways not to treat your preacher.

  • Do away with the comparisons. I suppose it is human nature to make comparisons. We do so consistently with almost everything, but it is not always wise–especially when it comes to preachers. We come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and most importantly–giftedness. We are most definitely not in competition with each other. That comparing/competitive spirit got one New Testament church in bundles of divisive trouble (see 1 Corinthians 1-2). Instead of comparing your preacher to your favorite past preacher, how about accepting him as he is and appreciating his giftedness? This will encourage him to grow in his ministry.
  • Avoid foyer ambushes. Every preacher knows about these. This is when some good church member takes issue with a sermon point and decides to air it out immediately after worship in the church foyer. Never really a good idea here. Regardless of the point being made, it becomes an embarrassing situation that puts the preacher on the defensive. Trust me, he will not hear much of what is being said and instead feel like he is being attacked. Try to speak with your preacher in a more private setting and you will likely be surprised about how cordial and profitable such a conversation can be.
  • Stop the demeaning jokes. It may seem funny to tell your preacher that perhaps “he will make a good preacher one day.” Or to rib him about his salary. Or to say that he only works a few hours a week. Or to introduce him as your “little preacher.” Every preacher everywhere has heard versions of all of these and every preacher everywhere really does not care for them–even if they grin and go along. Overwhelmingly preachers take their calling seriously. It is not just a job for us–it is who we are. While we work in congregational settings with our greatest desire being for our church to be healthy, to grow, and to make a difference–we still answer above all to God. Most of us love to joke on occasion, but do not consider our calling a joke.
  • Do not make your preacher starve. Okay, admittedly this is an extreme way of saying honor your preacher and his family with a fair wage and benefits. From what I understand generally we are at a much better place here then in the past, but still be sensitive to your preacher’s financial needs. Providing a comfortable salary, health insurance and retirement benefits, etc makes a major supportive statement to the preacher and his family. It messages to them that the church is investing in the preachers success and expects a prosperous, healthy relationship. Preachers can flourish in such an environment.

This is not a comprehensive list of course–just four things that can commonly happen.

Here is my favorite Bible verse about preachers. It demonstrates the high value God puts upon us. It is also incredibly humbling.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Value your preacher. It will be a blessing to him that will return to you many times over.

*To be fair my next blogpost will address the ways preachers should not treat their churches


The Cross is Enough

October 21, 2015

It is not my goodness. I have none. I am just a filthy rag.

It is not my ability to keep a law or perform good deeds. I consistently fall short at rule keeping.

It is not my mastery of morality. At this I am a failure. My flesh is weak.

It is not my winning personality; good looks; athletic prowess; charisma or intelligence. Those are all fleeting, inconsistent and limited.

It is not my expert homiletic or exegetical skills. These remind me of what I do not know.

It is not my church and our ability to produce a welcoming atmosphere or quality worship. Another church nearby likely offers something even more appealing.

It is not even the Bible. Yes, it is divine, inspired, and living. It contains the will of God. It is to be heard and heeded, but as essential as the Bible is to our faith–it is not enough.

It is the cross. The old, rugged, bloodstained, despised, and awful cross of Jesus—it is enough.

As Mercy Me sings in their amazing song (check out the entire song below):

No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless
No matter the hurt
Or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

The proclamation of the cross pleases God. The Apostle Paul whose goal was to “preach Christ and him crucified” had this to say:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.*

The power of God to save; to make whole; to transform; to give hope; to heal wounded hearts; to persevere; to vanquish guilt; to discover worth; to mend brokenness; to make you flawless.

By God’s grace the cross is enough.

Praise God the cross is enough.

*To see the entire context of these scripture references read 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5.


The Power of a Disappointing Story

August 5, 2015

summerblogtour

The Power of a Disappointing Story by John Dobbs

Disappointment is an experience that every one faces … and often in many varieties and shades. Sometimes disappointment comes at the hands of others, and sometimes we create it all on our own.

You know, that weight you were going to lose by now. The degree you were going to earn has somehow eluded you. The order you were hoping to establish in your daily routine escapes in the trap of too many late nights and way too early mornings. The books you wanted to write that once started remain unfinished. The commitment to write for someone else that has found you looking at an empty document, fingers stalled on the keyboard. The preacher who thought he would have been able to lead his church to greater heights.

Oh, excuse me… didn’t mean to spill MY disappointments in myself all over the place. But I bet I’m in good company.

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ~W.B. Yeats

Age has a way of sneaking up on us. Health issues slow us down when we thought before that we could be active any time we wanted to. Like the addict who swears he has no problems, we blind ourselves to reality until one day when the stark reality of who we are doesn’t leave us any way out. We realize that all the things we thought we might be, well, they aren’t likely to happen.

After the crucifixion of Jesus some disciples grappled with their own disappointment. As they tried to sift through the information … he died … the women said they saw an angel who said he was alive … but we haven’t seen him … he must be dead.

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. ~ Cleopas and another Discouraged Disciple on the road to Emmaus.

How can there be any power in a disappointing story? You get to the end of the book only to find out the main character has died. Powerful? Not really. You watch all the episodes of a show that has you hooked, but in the end they just ruined the whole thing. Disappointment. Well, we may not be able to rescue fictional works that turn sour in the end, but your life is different. It’s nonfiction, no matter how crazy the details. Disappointments – great or small – can actually turn out to be a pretty powerful experience.

Sometimes out of the rubble of disappointment is a new reality you couldn’t have designed or pictured if you tried.

“Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and He has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our life. It’s hard to understand it at the time. Not one of us wants that thread when it is being woven in. Not one of us says, ‘I can hardly wait to see where this is going to fit.’ We all say at that moment, ‘This is not the pattern I want.” ~Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver

When Jesus revealed himself to the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, new light was given to their faith.

Luke 24:32-33 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Instead of continuing toward Emmaus they went to Jerusalem to join the other formerly disappointed but now ecstatic disciples.

Maybe your disappointments seem irreversible. Divorce. Financial ruin. Accused. Arrested. Abandoned. Abused. Mourning the loss of a person or even a pet … disappointment is one gut-punch we don’t just walk away from.

The one thing that never disappoints us is hope. Hope that is certain of what lies ahead. While our knowledge of God’s promises is secure, the road that we travel between here and there can be rugged. The reason hope never disappoints us is that we carry it with us through the dark streets of shame and uncertainty.

When God saved you He poured hope into your heart. Not just a little, but filled your heart up because He knew that there were going to be some real struggles along the way. If you’re disappointed, just clear out all the troubling thoughts and focus intently here:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~Romans 5:1-5

If you didn’t feel some disappointment lift, read it again. See the friendship with God expressed there? The assurances just pour out of this passage.

We are justified by faith.

We have peace with God through Jesus.

We have access to grace in which we stand.

We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

We … boast … in … our … sufferings (disappointing, isn’t it, that sufferings have to enter into this passage).

People who suffer endure. Character is produced. Hope, the kind that can never disappoint us, has been given to us. Because God loves us. All in the face of suffering.

So, dear friend, when you’ve felt the pangs of disappointment, remember that your story isn’t finished yet. The hopes you had might be eclipsed by a more glorious plan that God has for you – even when it’s hard to understand.

Here’s a Prayer for the Disappointed
God so often my eyes are clouded and I can’t see the Powerful Risen Savior because the ‘facts’ of the day are staring me in my face. I am disappointed because I thought maybe You would provide for me in a different way. But in faith I affirm that You know much more about my tomorrows than I do. I know you’ll walk with me through days of glory and days of gloom. Would you bring healing and serenity to my hurting heart today? I don’t have to know all the answers. I just want to know You more. Father please remind me of the power of a disappointing story and how Your hope never disappoints. This hope, found only in your son Jesus, my Brother. Amen.

There’s No Disappointment in Heaven

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John Dobbs is the minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana. He is married to the former Margaret Willingham. They have two children. Nicole, who has provided two beautiful grandchildren. John Robert, who is deceased.

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The Power of a Biblical Story

August 3, 2015

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The Power of a Biblical Story

Dr. John Mark Hicks

Bible stories.

Many of us have heard them since we were children. 

Daniel and the Lion’s Den.

Noah’s Ark. 

Three Angels Visiting Abraham.

Moses and the Burning Bush.

David and Goliath.

And many more!

Bible stories are important.  They do more than tweak the emotions or offer a moralism, as important as those dimensions are. Their power arises from something (even Someone) much deeper than human morality or emotion.

What is the power of a biblical story?

The power of a biblical story is what it reveals about God. Even when a biblical story does not name God (as in the case of Esther), it is still about God. As such, God is the subject of every biblical story, and that story says something about God’s identity and character.

Biblical stories reveal God’s goodness as well as God’s holiness. We see God’s faithfulness, a divine commitment to the divine goal among God’s people. We see God’s transcendence but also God’s immanence; we see God’s holy otherness but also God’s deep involvement in the world.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask:  what does this story tell us about who God is and what God is doing in the world?

The power of a biblical story is what it reveals about the human condition. We locate ourselves in the human condition; we find ourselves in the story. We see our own frailty, weakness, and unbelief in the story. We also see courage, strength, and faith in the story.

Biblical stories reveal both the depravity and the dignity of human beings. As we hear these stories, we recognize how evil human beings can behave but also the heights to which their faith draws them. We see both the absurdity of life with all its brokenness, woundedness, and death, but we also see the good gifts of relationships, community, and family within God’s good creation. Biblical stories tell both sides of the human story.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask:  what does this story tell us about who we are, what we have become, and the heights to which God is calling us?

The power of a biblical story is how it invites us to participate in the theodrama. As we read the stories in the Bible, we are invited to see ourselves in the story. This is not simply a matter of locating ourselves there. Rather, we engage the story as part of the larger theodrama, the dramatic history of God at work within creation and human history. We are participants. This story is our story.

Biblical stories are not isolated moral plays; they are part of a larger narrative, a metanarrative. The stories themselves participate in God’s mission within the world. Each story is an expression of the larger story, and we are invited to participate in that larger story even as we see ourselves in any particular story.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask:  how does this story invite us to participate in God’s larger metanarrative?

So, what do we do with that?

If we know who God is, and we know what our condition is, then we are enable to discern how a story summons us to play our role in God’s grand redemptive drama.

The God of the burning bush is both redeemer and holy. The holy God encounters Moses, and invites Moses to participate in God’s redemptive movement within the world. We see in Moses our own reticence, fear, and inadequacies, but we also see God’s enabling power and summons. God includes Moses in the redemptive drama such that Moses partners with God in liberating Israel from Egyptian bondage. What Moses becomes is rooted in what God does.

Who is God? The Holy Redeemer.

What is humanity? Weak and fearful, yes.  But also God affirms human dignity by inviting Moses to participate in the divine mission.

What is our summons? To participate in God’s redemptive agenda in the world, pursuing God’s mission in dependence on God’s power. We are still on the same mission as Moses, as the redemption of Israel is part of the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work for all peoples.

Biblical stories have something to tell.  They inform, moralize, and motivate.

But, more importantly, through them we also encounter Someone. We encounter the God who invites us into God’s own story, God’s theodrama.

At bottom, biblical stories are callings. God calls us.

09 - Hicks picJohn Mark Hicks is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville. He has taught theology since 1982, including nine years at Harding University Graduate School of Religion (1991-2000). He has been at Lipscomb since 2000. He has ministered with churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Tennessee. He has published nine books and thirteen journal articles as well as contributed to nineteen other books. He has spoken in thirty-eight states and nineteen countries.  His most recent book discusses baptism and the Lord’s Supper, “Enter the Water, Come to the Table”. You can keep up with John Mark’s excellent Bible studies published on his website HERE