Old Testament examples


xiAs I was speaking with the pastor of my sending church this week, he told me about  another missionary from our church who was facing religious liberty challenges in her part of the harvest field, China. Many Christian workers from the West have had to make the hard decision whether to remain in their ministries there or make other plans due to increasing persecution.

Maybe you haven’t heard of the word “sinicize” (it was new to me.) According to reports, President Xi Jinping announced last spring his new five-year initiative to sinicize all religions, especially by forcing allegiance to Communism. Persecution of Christians, including imprisonment, is on the rise and house churches are being threatened.

But here’s the sentence that caught my eye in this article that details the situation: “Experts say the new wave of persecution comes as the country undergoes a religious revival.” The very definition of a paradox, but it has happened many times before.

The shell of Communism is crumbling and in its place we’re seeing huge numbers of people coming to Christ. Just as the first-century church blossomed during persecution, China is experiencing the same thing over the past several years. While religious liberty is being tightened and even rejected by the government there, the gospel is taking off.

The Bible encourages followers of Christ to get along with their civil governments and model cooperative citizenship as long as obedience to the Lord is the priority. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we’re commanded to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Peter wrote the same idea.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”  1 Peter 2:13-17

We should be grateful for the measure of religious freedom we have in America and should speak up for the God-given (not man-given) right to freely worship for all people and all faiths. We should pray for our brothers and sisters in China and elsewhere who are being denied these rights. But we should never get the idea that the gospel cannot go forward unless it is unshackled from government regulation. It will go where God ordains it to go, regardless of the godliness or godlessness of any given governmental system. He decides – not man, not Satan, not Xi Jinping – only God.

Keep in mind as you read this final verse that it quotes a brutal tyrant who ruled Babylon and had severely mistreated the nation of Israel. God dealt with Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and narcissism by sending him into a season of insanity and taking him off the throne. When he was finally restored, he was praising God and his words apply to China right now:

All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”   Daniel 4:35

News reports out of Washington, D. C. today are recounting the sad story of the death of Christopher Barry, the 36-year-old son of the late former D. C. mayor, Marion Barry. It is just another reminder that politicians face the same day-to-day responsibilities you and I do, like parenting. But unlike us, they have to face them in a fish bowl with 24/7 media coverage.

barry

Christopher Barry

The reports are saying that Christopher Barry died of a drug overdose. His father, Marion, who died in 2014, struggled with drugs also, even spending some time in federal prison for drug possession. Legal problems dogged Marion Barry in his time as mayor and councilman, with charges ranging from tax evasion to perjury to unpaid speeding and parking tickets. My point is not to speculate on the spiritual condition of either of these men, but simply to say that children watch parents and when there is an unstable role model, the results can be catastrophic. We should all stop to pray for comfort for the Barry family.

The Bible isn’t without stories of governmental leaders who failed in the area of parenting. Kings David and Solomon are well-known examples of domestic disasters, so much so that the nation of Israel was divided in half by the time Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, reigned. But one example that may not come to mind as quickly came 300 years after David: King Manassah and his son, Amon.

2 Chronicles 33 tells the story of the beginning of Manassah’s administration. He did evil early on, refusing to listen to the Lord, but came to a crossroads when he was carried away to Babylon in chains by the king of Assyria. Then a switch occurred:

And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. 2 Chronicles 33:12, 13

Manassah’s son Amon watched all this. Manassah ruled for over 50 years leaving a negative, then a positive model. When he died, his son chose which one to follow.

And he [Amon] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done. Amon sacrificed to all the images that Manasseh his father had made, and served them. And he did not humble himself before the Lord, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself, but this Amon incurred guilt more and more. And his servants conspired against him and put him to death in his house. 2 Chronicles 33:22-24

As you pray for those in authority, pray for their home life. Pray they will exhibit the humility Manassah did, early and often, so that their children will receive the good influences of God-infused priorities. Pray that they will understand the importance of the legacy they will leave for their children and that their children will choose paths that honor God, not lead to the tragedy of self-destruction.

It’s always so enlightening when people who have totally rejected God feel the need to tell people of faith how to act. The latest advice came from The New York Daily News after the shootings nydn
and murder in San Bernardino, California. Apparently, according to Rich Shapiro and any who agrees with him, prayer doesn’t work and God refuses to do what they want Him to do. Any one who says they are praying for the victims of a tragedy are wasting their time and should get off their couch and actually DO something.

What’s funny is, any of the candidates cited for praying for the victims actually HAVE ideas for combating violence in America. I guarantee it. Guess what, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him – you can do both. You can pray, believing God works in our society and still create laws to protect ourselves, which is the main purpose of government.

for he (civil government) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:4  

Our unbelieving world needs to understand that Christians feel deep heartbreak when calamity strikes. Like David, we weep at the violence and injustice around us. And, like David, our faith and dependence on God is questioned.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”  Psalm 42:3

Here are a few thoughts for you, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him – you have no idea what tragedies have been withheld from us because of the righteous prayers of faithful people. Prayer is not passive – it is a first-resort activity for those whose faith tells them God is intimately involved with His creation and hears the prayers of those who desire Him. He may not choose to stop all bullets, even though we want that. But that’s where trust takes over, a trust in His wisdom that is far beyond ours. So get over your delusion that you understand who is actually in ultimate control of our world’s circumstances. Hint: it’s not you or any other human.

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:2, 3

Second, the problem is not guns or our policies about them. The problem is not waiting periods. The problem is not automatic versus semi-automatic. The problem is the heart of people, many of whom have been told their whole lives that God should be marginalized or removed from the public square altogether. We have made policies that discourage prayer. We punish a coach because he prays with his team. For Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him, it may seem like too many people pray during times of hardship, but they can not deny that our nation has systematically shut down the idea of prayer for years. If there has been an escalation of violence recently, what does that tell you?

America has rejected God for decades and the consequences we are reaping are not due to an indifferent or absent God. The consequences we reap, that we weep over, that we tire of hearing about day after day are solely due to our country’s rejection of God and devaluing of life. You simply cannot sanction killing millions of innocent babies, mainly for convenience and sexual freedom, and float along happily without paying the consequences. You cannot limit the freedom of people to worship and express their faith without paying the consequences. You cannot enslave the poor in a failing system and not pay the consequences.

And what about the day when some in America realize maybe they got this whole thing wrong about prayer and try to turn to God? It may be too late at that point.

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. Psalm 66:1

So, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him, beg for God’s mercy. He will hear you and forgive if you truly repent of unbelief. Be glad there are people left who acknowledge Him and believe in the power of prayer. Realize the heart of people is the problem and no human or political action can change that. Exchange your puny, pathetic, anti-God, anti-faith, anti-prayer, anti-life worldview, which by the way, hasn’t produced any earth-shattering solutions to our problems, for the freeing gospel of Christ before it’s too late.

You want the problems of our world fixed? As long as men reject God, it won’t and can’t be. But there is a time coming when all will be made right. Not because people fixed it, but because the God all nations should seek will do it. In His time, in His way, without our help. Until then, we mourn and pray. We enact laws that protect our innocent. We punish wrongdoers. But above all, we should humble ourselves before and obey the One who controls all things for His glory. The stakes aren’t just dealing with the next instance of terror – the stakes are eternal.

For the next month, our senses will be bombarded with all things Christmas. Among this barrage, carols will ring in our ears and from our voices – words we have heard and sung for decades of Christmases and immediately associate with the best of the season. Many of these were written centuries ago in other times and cultures, but I’m amazed how we are drawn together with these people over the distance of years and miles. It’s also interesting how old carol texts can still reflect our world today, along with the emotions that come with them.

H.  W. Longfellow  (1807-1882)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(1807-1882)

While Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, there is a dearth of global peace. Identifying with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s reflection on the violence of his day during the American Civil War, we can easily join him by saying: “And in despair I bowed my head;/ ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said:/ ‘For hate is strong,/ And mocks the song/ Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’ Why, if the message of Christmas (more accurately, the message of Jesus) is peace, do we have an entire world system that has so dramatically missed it?

Aren’t there carols that refer to Jesus as The Desire of Nations? The phrase is found in Haggai 2:6, 7 and found an iconic expression in Handel’s Messiah (where you can literally heard the earth shake). Why hasn’t that happened? Why can’t the nations see the virtue of peace and the superiority of kindness, respect, and love found in the Person of Christ? One carol that describes Jesus this way is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: “O come, Desire of Nations, bind/ All peoples in one heart and mind./ Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;/ Fill the whole with heaven’s peace.

If we look to the fulfillment of this carol stanza in our present time, we will get needlessly frustrated. The stories coming out of every continent on our planet scream the reality that the coming of Jesus to earth, the very thing we love and celebrate so joyfully each Christmas, has not resulted in the cessation of envy, strife, and quarrels. The whole earth isn’t filled with heaven’s peace. All people surely aren’t bound in one heart and mind. This is where we have to accept that in our hate-filled, violence-filled, terrorism-filled world, Jesus will not be the Desire of Nations until sometime in the future.  The reason is clear and found in John’s words:

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19

The message of peace that believers see in the coming of Christ as a baby is only fulfilled partially today. The time of all nations desiring God will be in the future. Some people (and nations) are finding peace with others in this world now and we’re grateful for that. But more importantly, many are finding peace with God in this age.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” also refers to Christ with Haggai’s title: Israel’s strength and consolation,/ Hope of all the earth Thou art./ Dear Desire of every nation/ Joy of every longing heart.” The hope in this prayer is possible to experience now, is available to all, but can only be received by those who repent and follow Christ. The timing of the fulfillment of that hope is up to God Himself and is only known to Him. But we should not stop praying for more people in this world to seek and find the Desire of Nations.

baltimore protestYou’ve seen the riots. You’ve heard the news conferences. The past week in Baltimore has been marked by the tragic death of a 25-year-old man triggering protests that have been building for decades. And now the marches are spreading across the nation. Disenfranchised communities are speaking out and have a large megaphone available with hundreds of microphones and cameras pointing directly at them. They’re angry and everyone seems to be trying to put their collective fingers on the reason why. But, as is so often the case, fingers are landing on the wrong answers.

We need more jobs. We need better schools. We need economic opportunity. We need the police to stop profiling.

In other words, our government has failed us.

The political solutions are complex, there’s no question about that. But the conclusion that government is the ultimate answer fails to go deep enough. But going deeper for answers will cost us something as a society.

  • It will cost time – The real solution will not happen overnight. Actually, since we have rejected the real solution for so long, the time to undo the damage would take years. How many? I don’t know, but many.
  • It will cost will – We (by that I mean a lot of us who want positive change) would really have to want this. Enough to accept a major shift in thinking and action.
  • It will cost submission – People would have to subject their natural inclinations to the will of someone else.

I see news reports that show churches and faith-based groups trying to serve during these protests. Prayer circles are forming. Food and water are being shared. This is good, but a larger message, a deeper message must also be sent. Not a temporary message of help during a city’s outrage, but a life-changing message that will last for eternity. Baltimore, and everybody else, needs to hear:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.   – Psalm 118:8, 9 –

Quit looking to government to ultimately help with all our problems. Turn to God and His ways. His Son, Jesus, offers the answer to our most foundation need of forgiveness and acceptance.  His Word holds answers to solving the confusion and chaos in our world. Submitting to Him and His plans will heal families. Parents will be more likely to stay together, kids will be happier, families would be stronger and communities healthier. That would immediately alleviate some of the economic woes, but again, the political answers would still have to be grappled with. But if citizens and lawmakers were committed to God and His path first, better answers would be found by our leaders.

Statements like this one by New Orleans Saints’ tight end, Benjamin Watson, must be heard and embraced. I hope you’ll read it. And keep praying for Baltimore (and everywhere else).

benjamin watson

pulpitLast week, five Houston area pastors were told by the courts to produce sermons and other communication that referenced HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). This law protects, among other things, the right of any man or woman to use whatever public restroom they want, depending on which gender they identify with. The mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, a lesbian herself, tweeted “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game…” This brings up several thoughts here at Rotunda Reflections, since this has caused such a firestorm of criticism by many in the religious community.

Annise Parker Mayor of Houston

Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston

1)  The first thought was, “When (not if) this happens in Maryland, what will be the response of pastors and churches?” The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill last March (the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014) guaranteeing the same rights to transgenders. The governor signed it into law in May. California is the only other state with such a law on the books.

2)  Any fair-thinking person, liberal or conservative, should be able to see the unconstitutional nature of this subpoena of sermons. By the way, the original subpoenas were amended to demand the pastors produce speeches instead of sermons. This was surely due to the public outcry over the clear violation of the pastors’ first amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion. And isn’t a pastoral “speech” just a sermon anyway?

3)  Christians began immediately opining what they thought the pastors should do. It’s still early, but if Houston moves forward with the demand for these sermons (which are public anyway), those who follow Christ will have to come to terms at some point with what they believe – the dilemma of this issue may be in our backyard next. I’ve seen some believers say the pastors should comply and be grateful their sermons will be read. Others say defiance is the way to go. It’s not a cut-and-dried answer since the Scriptures give us both ideas relating to interfacing with government. Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 speak of submission to governing authorities. Also, 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 point us toward an attitude of quietness and peacefulness regarding government relationships. But there are also examples of civil disobedience that clearly show there are times to refuse obeying government’s demands. The three Jewish youths disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:12), Daniel prayed when it was forbidden by Darius’ decree (Daniel 6:7-10), and Peter and John kept preaching when they were commanded to stop (Acts 4:18, 19). So, which is it? Quietly submit or defy authority?

I would lean toward the latter, but not necessarily because of the examples above. Each of these examples were fairly extreme and don’t have a direct parallel to the Houston case. But for American Christians under the rights and privileges of the constitution, there seems to be a biblical precedent to stand up here. Paul, on several occasions, appealed to his status as a Roman citizen when his freedoms were threatened. And freedom of religion is such a basic right of those in our nation, it would be wrong to quietly let that right erode in small increments (because it won’t happen in one big reversal). Just as Paul reminded rulers of his rights and forced leaders to acknowledge them, we have a biblical and constitutional responsibility now and for generations to come to refuse our government’s inappropriate erasing of those rights.

The other part of this equation is that there may be consequences to pay for refusing the demands of government. Will we see the day that pastors are fined or jailed for preaching against homosexuality and same-sex marriage? I pray not. Even those who champion the homosexual agenda in America should fight against forcing anybody to think and act only as the government tells them to. Our core values and freedoms are at stake now. Let’s prayerfully move forward with a desire to submit, but be ready to challenge if that’s what we’re called to do.

So, if my sermons were subpoenaed, I would definitely pray hard, prepared to refuse Caesar’s overreaching and suffer whatever consequences might come.

declaration of independenceIn America, independence is part of our heritage, our background, our worldview, our approach to life.  That’s a good way to be… most of the time.  When a person chooses to follow Christ, declaring independence is NOT a good thing, though.  The Christian life is a life of DEPENDENCE – on the Lord…on each other in the Body of Christ.  We shouldn’t see “dependence” as a weak word and “independence” as a strong word.  Dependence must be valued and practiced if we are to be strong believers.

“…without ME, you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing…” Romans 7:18

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”  Proverbs 3:4

“Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in HIM and HE will do it” Psalm 37:5

“for it is GOD who is at work in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure” Philippians 2:13

Psalm 77 was written by a man named Asaph who struggled with the decision to depend on God.  This chapter shows us what happens when a person declares independence from God, what consequences they face, learns their lesson and comes back to a place of dependence. Here’s the psalm in an outline I’ve preached from in the past:

I.  ASAPH’S TRYING TIME (1 – 6)ps 77

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

I consider the days of old, the years long ago.

I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search:

II.  ASAPH’S CONFUSION CONTINUES (7 – 9)

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?

Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

III.  ASAPH’S FOCUS FOUND (10 – 12)

A.  Mindset Reversed (10)

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

B.  Miracles Remembered (11)

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

C.  Mightiness Reviewed (12)

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

IV.  ASAPH’S WILLING WORSHIP (13 – 15)

A.  The Perception of God’s Difference (13a)

Your way, O God, is holy.

B.  The Proclamation of God’s Deity (13b)

What god is great like our God?

C.  The Performance of God’s Deeds (14a)

You are the God who works wonders;

D.  The Power of God Displayed (14b)

you have made known your might among the peoples.

E.  The People of God Delivered (15)

You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

V.  GOD’S SPECIAL SHEPHERDING (16 – 20)

A.  In Extraordinary Conditions (16-19)

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.

The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.

The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

B.  In Everyday Circumstances (20)

You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

So for all the celebrating we Americans will do today and for all the words we look back to with pride (independence, freedom, revolution, etc.), we as believers in Christ have to remember something else daily. That is that we are needy. Spiritually, we cannot afford pompous or rebellious attitudes which rely primarily on us for our good. Spiritual freedom is available, but only to the extent that we are willing to bow to the will of our Father. Asaph knew it. Reading passages like Psalm 77, so should we and declaring our dependence is the way to true liberty.

 

frustrated guyA frustrated friend and I were speaking not long ago about influence. Specifically, his influence (or lack thereof). He tried to convey how impotent he feels in the current culture to bring about any real change to his world. It’s a world that is increasingly headed in direct opposition to his beliefs and he wondered out loud, “What can one person do? What platform do I really have?”

He’s not the first to feel this way or ask those same questions. Even the Psalmist said, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)  For centuries well-meaning people have looked around themselves, despairing at the condition of society and their inability to change it.

I tried to encourage him the best I could but have taken a few days to think more about his statement. Then I came across these words from Solomon, no lightweight when it came to wisdom:

I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:13-18

The “powerless” person in this tale had the true power and teaches us several key lessons:

1)  Wisdom is required – In a world devoid of true wisdom, the Word of God is still the source of answers for what plagues our culture or any other. The keys, then, are to know it, apply it, share it and spread it.

2)  We all have a platform – No one is entirely without influence regardless of our situation or how powerless one may feel. Size of the platform is irrelevant; seizing the available opportunities is what counts.

3)  The platform may seem insignificant – Wisdom, while never powerless, could appear like small weapon but still overshadows public boasting of a foolish ruler. This passage says the audience of wisdom “heard in quiet” is better off because of the content of the message, not the size of the crowd.

4)  Start with your sphere – What do you think this poor, wise man did? I doubt if he took to the local airwaves to get his wise message out. Did he organize a community to deliver the city? With his connections? I doubt it. He probably had a very small circle of listeners, but somehow his wisdom caught fire and the city was eventually saved from the siege.

Who is in your sphere of influence? Thousands or a handful? Friends? Children? Grandchildren? Your wisdom passed along by your life and words can take hold in them and inflame their hearts to do the same thing as they gain wisdom. You are not without a platform.

5) Prepare for obscurity – Maybe we’ve watched Braveheart once too often then bemoaned the fact we aren’t all clones of William Wallace. Our heroes are the william wallaceones who get things done in a major, sweeping way. They are hailed, revered, famous. When they die there are processions, ceremonies, monuments. We don’t naturally default to peaceful, patient wisdom as a solution to oppression, but Solomon says it carries the day against foolishness – and we live in a world awash in foolishness. If you have to be stroked or feel gratified about getting the credit, learn to embrace disappointment.

It’s past time to stop decrying the voluminous foolishness in our world and start addressing the dearth of God’s wisdom.

Huge, loud problems met with huge, quiet solutions. What would happen if followers of Jesus spread wisdom this way? The sooner we accept God’s (seemingly) backwards plan and act on it, the better we all will be.

So get wise, identify that platform and save the city.

 

The shootings in Tucson last weekend left long-range, huge philosophical debates in its wake – unintended consequences far beyond the evil imagination of the twisted shooter.  He is now in a cell.  We are all now left to wander through the morass of opinion, doubt and confusion that inevitably arises when a senseless tragedy occurs in a society where absolute answers have long been rejected.  The main call right now is for civility in our public discourse.  Funny how we’re more concerned about what people say in public than what they are thinking in their hearts.

Bringing people together has been a desire for years in America and we look to our leaders to somehow pull it off.  To save us all some unnecessary frustration, let me just suggest that the sooner we let this “dream” go, the better off we’ll be.  We will never come together and be completely civil and unified because to get what we want in this world, we need power.  Power doesn’t come from civility or unity.  It comes from ripping it away from whoever has it – not a very civil process.

It’s an old problem.  Look at political cartoons from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Read about campaigns for office in which candidates were called every name in the book and family members weren’t off limits.  Incivility is our American birthright – a nation born in rebellion.  Adams, Jefferson and Jackson had to take it and they dished it out along with just about any other public figure who felt they had to “take a stand” or “take back their country”.

The problem really goes back much further.  One tree was forbidden in the Garden of Eden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It was the tree that represented independence, of walking away from God’s plan. 

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.  Genesis 3:6

When Eve, then Adam made that break from submitting to God and His design, they declared themselves as gods.  In grace, God provided redemption, but the damage was done and humans have spent the rest of history up until today trying to be god.

But when many little god-declarers start to disagree on what should happen in society, there is nothing left but a power struggle and the way to gain power is to do whatever it takes.  Through the years, mankind has found that civility is a desperately ineffective means to achieve power.  Don’t expect it to happen now.  Don’t look for unity.  When we as a people gladly tossed God aside, we chose our fate – we want our independence from Him and what has been the price?

We pay for it every day in our relationships.  We pay for it in our economy.  We pay for it in our media.  We pay for it in education.  45 million murdered babies (and more) have paid for it while Americans with the most power approved.  We’re paying for it in Tucson.

We have to start with ourselves to place ourselves under God in obedience to Him.  Then pray for others’ hearts to change, not words.

Nehemiah is best remembered for returning to Israel from exile in Persia (in the third wave of Jews to return) and leading the effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  But he was also a political leader who held two separate terms as governor in Jerusalem (about 445 – 433 B.C. and around 424 – 410 B.C.).  Chapter 5 of Nehemiah gives a clear glimpse into his heart as a ruler, how he viewed the people and most importantly, why.  What an amazing passage:

15The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. . . 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.  Nehemiah 5:15, 18, 19

Here is a leader who stopped to consider taxes and how much was too much.  His predecessors didn’t care, only seeing the people as a limitless ATM to fund their lavish lifestyle.  Nehemiah refused to overtax because he could see how it negatively impacted the population, many of whom had mortgaged farmland and had deep credit problems, to the point of slavery (Nehemiah 5:3 -5).  But that wasn’t the most profound reason for Nehemiah’s compassion and wisdom. 

I did not do so, because of the fear of God” (v. 15)

A heart of a governmental official can have a major impact on tax policy.  The Bible doesn’t deny that taxes must be paid.  Jesus said so (Luke 20:25, et al) and Paul makes it clear that is a responsibility of citizens (Romans 13:6, 7).  But at some point a line is crossed when more is taken than can be afforded, resulting in high government spending as well as waste.  There is a tipping point when taxation becomes theft.  A leader who fears the Lord will not be as quick to oppress through taxes and will take and spend wisely.

Nehemiah shows his true motivation in his prayer in verse nineteen when he asks for the Lord to remember his treatment of his district.  He knows he is answerable to God first, not his constituency.  An official’s heart, when changed by God and His truth, will not seek power or riches at the expense of the people.  He cannot.  God give us more leaders who fear You.

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
      But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”
  Proverbs 29:2

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