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.

 

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.

Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

The concept of “The Paphos Paradigm” (intentional, targeted ministry of the gospel to governmental leaders) is taken from Paul’s encounter with the governor of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, in Acts 13:1-12, but the pattern is seen all through the Bible.  Five chapters earlier, an African treasury official gives us another encouraging example of the life-changing power of the gospel.  Acts 8:26-39 has important lessons for today’s church.  Let’s look at ten of them (not necessarily in order of importance):

1.  There was a political official God wanted to reach.  “. . . there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. . .” (v. 27b)  If you know even a few stories from the Bible, you’ve seen this before.  God repeatedly sends messengers into the lives of political leaders to speak His truth into their lives with the goal of heart-change.

2.  God called a messenger to go to the political leader.  “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) . . . Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” (vv. 26, 29)  The call of God was made clear to the messenger, in this case the apostle Philip, but that call still necessitated action (we’ll get to that in the conclusion).  Philip immediately followed the Lord’s call and plan.

3.  Philip went to where the leader was.  So he got up and went . . . Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” . . . And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (vv. 27a, 30, 31b)  In that day there weren’t too many choices for communication, so Philip had to physically go to where the Ethiopian was.  This is, of course, the most effective place to be to talk with anyone, but the church today has so many technologically creative ways to share love and good news with leaders.  Face to face can’t be beat, though, and has a tremendous impact.

4.  The leader was outwardly religious.  he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.” (vv. 27c, 28)  How often do we see this?  Our leaders are often seen speaking in churches, attending prayer breakfasts and quoting Scripture during speeches on the floor.  But just because there is a profession of faith or an outward appearance of religiosity, a leader may have never repented of and been forgiven of sin.  We cannot assume that and the church should be on the front lines of exhorting leaders to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

5.  The Word of God is powerful.  “Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
         ‘HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER;
         AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT,
         SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. 
    ‘IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY;
         WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION?
         FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH
.'”  (vv. 32, 33)  This is a point we could include in every top ten list.  But we must pause to acknowledge the powerful moving of God’s Spirit in this whole narrative was through the reading, meditating, asking about, and proclaiming Scripture.  Philip’s opinion doesn’t show up anywhere.

6.  The leader was seeking God and open to Him.  The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” (v. 34)  He had worshiped in Jerusalem, had the book of Isaiah open on his lap and was clearly wrestling with the meaning of the passage.  What a blessing when someone asks a question about the Lord.  When they do, we should have an answer ready!

7.  The message was clearly communicated, starting from where the leader was.   “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture . . .” (v. 35a)  When is the last time you opened your mouth, or email or letter, to share Christ with your representatives?  Ever?

8.  The content of the gospel message was centered on Jesus.  “. . . he preached Jesus to him.” (v. 35b)  If we believe Christ has the answers for all man’s problems, that has to be shared.  There is no other definition of the gospel than Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  Speaking up for godly, biblical laws to be enacted in our land is great, but lawmakers may still go to a Godless eternity if we stop there.

9.  A believing leader should be an obedient leader.  “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (vv. 36-38)  Just like any believer, visible fruit will accompany true faith.  The Ethiopian’s desire to obey and identify with Christ showed a heart that wanted to please the Lord.  This is the kind of change our leaders need.  We all do.

10.  God desires leaders to move from despair and confusion to joy.  “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” (v. 39)  What a change of heart, emotion, action and purpose this eunuch went through in these few verses!  Many of your leaders are rudderless in life.  They are on the pointless treadmill of life without purpose or meaning.  The church has been left on earth to go to all nations with the direction-changing, hope-producing gospel that we can be forgiven and know God personally.

Conclusion:  When Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, this poor, confused, desperate Ethiopian treasurer responded with a most important question: “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”

We should be like our God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Timothy 2:4).  Pray for your leaders and consider how you can share your faith in Christ with them.

Biblical faith took a beating in President Obama's Notre Dame speech

Biblical faith took a beating in President Obama's Notre Dame speech

President Obama’s speech to the 2009 graduates of Notre Dame concluded a minute ago.  It was a controversial event at a very visible Catholic University, given his public position on abortion, complete with interruptions by vocal protesters and news coverage of many dissenters outside the building.  The speech included the expected topic of abortion but in my mind, there was a gargantuan paragraph that not only exposed his perspective on the solidity of biblical doctrine, but reflected the view of most in our society today.

The paragraph that struck me the hardest: “But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what he asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that his wisdom is greater than our own.”

To that I must say that if the Bible is anything it is God’s revelation to mankind of who he is, how he works, who we are, and YES – what he has planned for us and what he asks of us.  One scripture passage that shouts loudly: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given unto him.  But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)

Are we imperfect humans? Yes.  Do we doubt? Yes.  Do we need wisdom in those times of doubt?  No question.  But the President seems to stop there and say that we can’t get wisdom to know what God wants of us.  Stop and think about that.  Then read the James passage again.  How unifying and tolerant it is to say, “Boy, I just can’t say for sure.”  How refreshingly humble and noble to not announce that there is absolute truth which all people should realize and agree with.  To go that extra step and get that understanding from the scriptures and prayer would simply be arrogant and judgmental.

What’s a Christian supposed to think about that?  The Bible constantly speaks about truth, knowledge, understanding, learning, wisdom, precepts, doctrine.  Why would the Bible, through the help of God himself, present the very information our President says we can’t know?  Why have we been given the capacity to obtain such knowledge if doubt is such a noble, unpretentious virtue? 

The answer is that our world has defined faith for itself.  And the definition has to be inclusive and sensitive to everyone’s beliefs so that there is no offense. 

Obama continued, “This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.”

There’s the rest of the redefinition: if you’re passionate about your faith, that equals self-righteousness.  Quiet down.  You point out what the Bible says about a moral issue?  You can’t know that for sure.  All this talk that there is only one way of salvation and it’s only found in Jesus? You’re in need of tempering.

All of this underscores the desperate need to pray for our leaders.  I’m not mad at the President; I grieve for his inability to see the truth and his leading others astray when he speaks on spiritual matters. 

You’re going to see this passage a lot on this blog:  “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Getting mad will not change our world.  Political activism will not change our world.  Mobilizing millions of people to vote a certain way at the ballot box will not ultimately change our world.  The gospel is the only message that can change a heart, shared with love but also proclaimed as truth.  But it’s going to offend some people.

But for people of faith, this is one thing we cannot doubt.