Hope In God, Not Government

The_Shepherds011When I was in school, our history teachers taught that citizenship required responsibility. We are responsible to pay our taxes, keep the law, and vote. Personally, I could hardly wait. I looked at voting as a solemn job but also as a sort of rite of passage into adulthood.

When the time finally arrived, some tarnish had stained the once shiny responsibility. The US government was doing things that were not so heroic and it didn’t seem as if it made a difference which party was in the White House or in control of Congress. They all seemed the same to me.

Since then our country and our political parties have been pushed further apart. We’ve been relegated to red and blue states, the liberal Democrats or the right-wing Republicans. No longer does it seem the President presides over the country. Rather he or she is concerned with satisfying the party base.

In many respects this situation is a result of a significant number of citizens not voting. Those would be the people who thought, like me years ago, that it doesn’t matter who wins the office—things will be much like they’ve always been.

Well, no. If this last year has shown us nothing, it has shown us that much change that cuts against the wishes of the majority can be foisted on the public by the government.

In an effort to respond, many people have determined they must get the right person in the White House. Then all will be well.

I still believe voting is a responsibility of every citizen. And I believe who is in the White House matters. But I do not believe America will ever have a government functioning according to God’s law. I’d be happy to see it function according to the Constitution, but that seems to be a fading hope as well.

No surprise, really. The United States is not a theocracy. We have a collection of people running government, no matter who wins. And one thing is true about us all—we sin.

Don’t misunderstand. I’d rather have a God-fearing statesman who wants to serve the nation and its people than a power-hungry blowhard, any day. But the truth is, getting the right person in office is not going to initiate revival in our land.

Only one thing can change the direction we’re headed, and it isn’t government.

Government can pass all the gun laws it wants, but that won’t change the hearts of the people who wish to kill. Government can de-fund Planned Parenthood, but that won’t stop people from engaging in illicit sex and terminating pregnancies that may result.

Government can pass sweeping immigration reform, but it can’t engender love for neighbors.

Government can establish welfare programs and pass laws against hate crimes and bigotry, but it can’t stop the greed and selfishness and biases residing in the human heart.

It’s time we learn: we need to put our hope in God, not in government. Sure, we should vote, and we should even pray that’s God’s mercy will be on us so that the next President will lead us wisely. But we should then go about the business of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Years ago I memorized the verses in Luke 2 that tell the Christmas story, so this year I decided to relearn them. I noticed something really interesting. After the angels had given the shepherds the good news that a Savior had been born, they decided to go see this baby. They didn’t seem to be doing so as skeptics, however.

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” (v. 15)

Key is the idea that they wanted to see “this thing that has happened.” They weren’t wondering if it indeed had happened. They believed it before they went.

When they got to Bethlehem and found the baby, just as the angel had said, they didn’t stay silent. They started broadcasting the news:

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. (vv 17-18)

The shepherds received the news and believed, the others heard the news and wondered.

Maybe our sharing the gospel will only ever make people wonder, but that’s a start.

On the other hand, our staying silent can perpetuate the idea that there’s a government solution just around the bend, that there will be someone who can fix immigration, the economy, racial prejudice, terrorism, health care, the Iranian drive for nuclear power, problems with North Korea, abortion, and on and on.

The fact is, the next President might be able to make a difference and point us in the right direction in some of those areas, but we don’t know what the future holds. Our hope cannot reside in the “right” President or in the government doing more or less. Christians above all people should keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith. He alone is faithful in all circumstances.

Here’s what my nephew said in an article in The Federalist related to this topic:

America, as G.K. Chesterton quipped, is a nation with the soul of a church. Like a church, we are founded on beliefs and have a sense of purpose and mission to our collective existence. Like the church, America tries to welcome people from anywhere of any background so long as they sign up to our creed. . .

It also introduces a temptation to American politicians. Because we have the soul of a church, politicians can easily confuse church with state. The mission of the church and the mission of the United States are different (although they can sometimes be complementary, as when the United States champions religious liberty abroad).

The two missions seem to be drifting apart as American culture becomes increasingly non-Christian. But regardless, we need to remember, as Moore says, “the end goal of the gospel is not a Christian America. The end goal of the gospel is redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation and language in a New Jerusalem.” (emphasis mine)

It’s not just the politicians who sometimes confuse church and state. Voters sometimes do too by putting our hope in the government instead of in God.

Published in: on January 19, 2016 at 7:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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Treasonous Prayer

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How many people have memorized that line from Matthew 6, along with the rest of Jesus’s prayer, and recite it routinely without grasping the traitorous implications? I’m one.

I listened to part of a radio message recently from Pastor Philip De Courcy (you really do need to listen to him if for no other reason than to hear his accent! 😉 ) in which he made the point that this line from Jesus’s prayer is a radical, traitorous plea.

In His day, Rome’s kingdom ruled and Caesar’s will was to be done. For a good reason, the Jewish council stood before Pilate accusing Jesus of opposing Caesar (John 19:12).

Paul says in Philippians 3 that the believer’s citizenship is in Heaven. Meaning, if we think about it, that we are little more than guest workers here in the US or wherever else we might live.

Of course, we quickly explain, we actually have dual citizenship because God’s kingdom is spiritual. Jesus Himself said as much when He was answering Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

But how does dual citizenship work? In our spirits we obey God, but in our bodies we obey the government? We might draw that conclusion from Jesus’s answer to the question about paying taxes: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

Yet there’s that prayer—“Thy kingdom come.” It’s a plea for God to put an end to the machinations of Man and for Him to take His rightful place as Sovereign.

It’s also a statement of loyalty—I want You to prevail, Your kingdom to be triumphant, even over the kingdom in which I presently live.

I guess the biggest question is whether or not I mean the words I say when I’m quoting Jesus’s prayer. Is it His will I want? Am I passionate about His kingdom coming or would I prefer a cleaned up version of the one we have right here and now?

Honestly, it’s sobering to think what those words from the Lord’s prayer mean. I even thought about whether or not it was wise to title a post “Treasonous Prayer.” After all, the way the world is starting to look at Christians, we could well be accused of working against the “good of mankind,” and do I really want a written record about praying something treasonous?

Yes, actually I do because the real revolution that I am praying for must occur first in my heart, where I step off the throne and allow God to rule, to have His will prevail. How could I pray for His kingdom to come and then resist His takeover in me?

This post first appeared here in September 2011

Published in: on April 17, 2015 at 6:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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American_flag-1342516-mMuch is made of identity theft these days, but a new consideration has come up with the terrorist attacks in France. This identity issue was something discussed on a news program. The question is whether Muslims identify most with their nation or with their faith community.

Supposedly a high percentage (80% if I remember correctly), said they first thought of themselves as Muslims, then as French citizens, or British, or whatever. I shook my head at the news, then thought, But wait. Don’t Christians think the same way? Or shouldn’t we?

To be honest, I think a lot of Christians and even more professing Christians think being a good American is a requirement for someone to be a good Christian. I don’t know what they think about Christians from another country.

The distinct feeling I get is that Christians ought to work hard to get this nation turned back to conservative values. Then all will be well.

First, America, for all the wisdom of its founders and the blessings we’ve enjoyed during the first 200 years of our existence, has been deeply flawed from its inception. I could enumerate the problems, but that’s not my intent here.

The second, and perhaps more pertinent issue, is that God never intended to create an earthly kingdom—not after Man sinned, and not on this world that was under the curse of sin. Jesus Himself spelled this out more completely right before He was sentenced to be crucified:

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38)

Yes, Jesus is a king. No, His kingdom is not of this world. So why do His followers try to set up “heaven on earth”?

To recap, America is flawed, God never intended to create an earthly kingdom, but there’s a third factor. No kingdom of God is possible in the here and now.

The bottom line is this: no matter how perfect a government a group of people might set up, it is still going to have sinful people in places of power. What’s the old adage? The best of men are men at best—meaning they are flawed, incapable of making perfect, selfless decisions one hundred percent of the time. It will take a perfect King to rule a perfect kingdom—and that’s what Jesus intends when He returns.

In the meantime, the idea of America or any other country being God’s country, is mistaken. Since Christ first came, God has gone in a different direction, away from the idea of a nation as His representative, which Israel operated under. Rather, He’s chosen followers which He fits into a new embodiment of His design for humankind.

This precious value, then, is for you who believe . . . you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:7a, 9-10)

Additionally, Colossians tells us God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

In other words, this kingdom of which we’re a part, this holy nation, is something all of us who have redemption are a part of. It’s not something unique to Americans! Which ought to go without saying, but apparently some people need to have it spelled out. Which is fine. The Bible does a fine job of spelling it out.

Paul agrees with Peter, not only in his letter to the church in Colossae, but also to the one he wrote to the church in Philippi: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). According to Strong’s, the Greek word “citizenship” isn’t ambiguous. It has these meanings:

  • the administration of civil affairs or of a commonwealth
  • the constitution of a commonwealth, form of government and the laws by which it is administered
    • a state, commonwealth
    • the commonwealth of citizens

One commentator explains our real identity is that of aliens:

If we are citizens of heaven it means that we are resident aliens on earth. Foreigners are distinct in whatever foreign land they go. Christians must be so marked by their heavenly citizenship that they are noticed as different.

In fact, the Philippians would have understood this analogy well. Though they lived far from Rome, they were still citizens of Rome, with rights and privileges as well as responsibilities of their citizenship. They were to represent Rome well.

So, too, we Holy Nation people are to live with our rightful identity in mind, our true citizenship, aware of our rights and privileges, but not forgetting our responsibilities. We are to represent God well. Which was what He’s intended all along!

Celebrating The Birth Of A Nation

The_death_of_general_warren_at_the_battle_of_bunker_hillIn reality I don’t think declaring independence from Britain was a very smart thing for a small group of disorganized colonists to do. Besides, if you look at the conditions under which they lived, things weren’t oppressive. The tax they complained about wasn’t excessive. They retained their status as Englishmen.

And yet, they all but declared war on the motherland. Why would they do that?

Indications point to a unified, principled belief. The colonists held fast to what they believed. They were fueled by their faith in God, refined by the ideas of John Locke, and spurred forward by a group of leaders that valued civic duty more than personal desires.

The result was bold defiance of the most powerful nation in the world at that time.

And here we are these 237 years later, celebrating the result of a risky, self-sacrificial, principled decision. What might the world have been like had the US remained part of the British Empire? We’ll never know.

What is intriguing is the way the US and England have strengthened their bonds as allies these last sixty years. What would the Founding Fathers have thought had they known the course history would take?

But of course, history wouldn’t have unfolded as it did if the Founding Fathers hadn’t acted according to their principles.

They showed amazing grit, boldness, determination. The war lasted until 1783–eight years. And these battles were being fought on American soil–something foreign to most of us apart from Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

How easily we take for granted what those Founding Fathers earned for us. I see the struggle in Syria and the brewing unrest in Egypt, and I think how fortunate I am to live in a nation that settled the big questions of nationhood so long ago.

From our inception we have been a nation that believes in the rule of law though we were founded upon the overthrow of it. It’s an interesting contradiction. The resolution of the two divergent facts lies in the belief that government needs the consent of the governed.

There’s an elevation of the individual behind this American experience–to our detriment and to our glory. It’s a grand thing and it’s an idol. It brings out the best in us and the worst.

We try harder to get ahead and forget to offer a helping hand to those coming after us. We crow at our achievements, pretty much inviting everyone else in the world to bash us in the mouth in order to silence the endless bragging. We work hard, play hard, pray hard–though not all of us do all those things any more.

With fireworks exploding tomorrow, I’ll be reminded of the incredible start our Founding Fathers gave this nation. We were given a unique opportunity, a chance to do something unparalleled.

Things have changed over the years–some for the good, but a lot, in the other direction. And things are on the fast track to change even more. Nevertheless, I know I’ve personally reaped the blessings of living in the good ol’ US of A, as flawed as it is.

Still, I look forward to living where my true citizenship is, from which also I eagerly wait for my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. When He comes to claim His throne, now that will be the start of something really worth celebrating! 😀

Clinging To Wilting Flowers

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A few days before the elections, I mentioned a book by Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Mind you, I haven’t read the book, but I heard him speak on Family Life Today. As part of his talk, Mr. Grudem “debunked” the idea that some Christian teachers express—namely, that the Christian should not focus on the political arena because the way to change culture is to make disciples.

Both guest and hosts chuckled at this view, apparently because of the reality, that no matter what we do to present Christ, not everyone will accept Him—at least not now. The implication clearly was, This view is not a practical way to impact the culture. Interestingly, Mr. Grudem made no effort to portray this position as unbiblical.

And how could he, for it seems to me to be thoroughly biblical, perhaps the only biblical approach to politics. Yes, we should vote. Yes, we should be informed. Yes, some Christians will be called by God to serve Him and others by holding elected office, which necessitates involvement in politics beyond the “make disciples” level. But what about the rest of us? Should we be manning the picket lines, attending the rallies, writing our congressmen?

I don’t think any of that is wrong, but we believers need to be sure we aren’t clinging to wilting flowers. What do I mean?

James 1:11 says

For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

And Isaiah 40:7 says

The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.

Life here on earth is as wilting flowers. Later James says our lives are like fog. So why would we put an over emphasis on holding on to that which is so temporary?

Paul spells it out in Philippians. In talking about false teachers, he says in 3:19-20

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Emphasis mine)

So I wonder if too many of us Christians don’t have our citizenship status mixed up. I wonder how many of us are actually eagerly waiting for Jesus.

I first got a glimpse of what citizenship in heaven would look like in comparison to citizenship on earth when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Here’s a sample.

I got out. The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference. I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got “out” in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair …

At first, of course, my attention was caught by my fellow passengers, who were still grouped about in the neighbourhood of the omnibus, though beginning some of them, to walk forward into the landscape with hesitating steps. I gasped when I saw them. Now that they were in the light, they were transparent—fully transparent when they stood between me and it, smudgy and imperfectly opaque when they stood in the shadow of some tree. They were, in fact, ghosts … I noticed that the grass did not bend under their feet: even the dew drops were not disturbed.

Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focussing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond.

No wilting flower, that. So why would I cling to the passing-away kind?

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