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.

hoganEarlier today, Maryland heard from her governor, Larry Hogan, that he has cancer. The outpouring of care and prayer on sites like Facebook is encouraging. Reading supportive post after post, especially from lawmakers who are sharply divided with him politically, is an encouragement to the heart. Many are praying and public prayer vigils are being planned in every county. It’s interesting how people instinctively know that turning to the Great Physician in times like this is the right thing to do. How it would heal our troubled land if we turned to Him more than in days of suffering, yet I’m struck that there has been enough residual faith left in our collective culture that prayer is still a positive option for so many. Thank God for that.

Prayer for Governor Hogan’s health is altogether appropriate right now, regardless of your political view. The priority of 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is unchanging – for our leaders’ health as well as their wisdom and spiritual condition. Take several moments and follow that biblical mandate to pray for our governor and his family. The cancer he has can respond to aggressive chemotherapy. God is always able.

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford will need our prayers, too, as he assumes more responsibility in the coming days. lt gov rutherford

Also, a site has been set up for one week for well-wishers to send a personal message to Governor Hogan. You can find it here until June 29, 2015. These comments will be collected and given to him as he recovers from treatment.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

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.

 

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)  supreme court building

The normal stance of the believer toward his government in New Testament teaching is submission and obedience. There are times, though, when conscience overrides the dictates of human law. We saw that recently when the founders and owners of Hobby Lobby and some other businesses echoed the apostles’ words from Acts chapter five.

Anytime the Supreme Court passes down a 5-4 vote on any issue, the resulting voices are predictably divisive. Reading comments on social media or replies to blog entries and opinion pieces show the stark, sharp differences we have in America on certain social issues. When Monday’s decision came down in favor of Hobby Lobby’s rejection of supplying certain (but not all) forms of hobby lobbycontraception for employees, the differing worldviews of our culture came to a head once more. Here at Rotunda Reflections, the decision is considered a God-honoring victory for religious freedom, something dear to the hearts of many Americans. Without getting into the specifics of the abortion debate, which has been done many times before here and on other blog sites, let’s just say that when the court wisely upholds our right to live out our faith in good conscience, the principles of freedom (granted by God, not government) are also upheld.

We will be celebrating America’s birthday this week and for me, at least, this will be a new reminder to be thankful to be in America. It’s a land with an amazing constitution which guarantees the right to worship as we choose, not just in cloisters hidden from the world around us, as some who oppose us would prefer, but to be lived out in our daily lives with “the free exercise thereof”. How long this freedom will be allowed is in some doubt. But for those who hold this freedom of faith dear, we should prepare to stand for it, keep praying for it, and resolve to fight for it. Paul himself appealed to the authorities for his freedom based on his rights as a Roman citizen. While we prioritize the gospel as our main message to the world, there is nothing unbiblical or inappropriate in firmly seeking to preserve our religious rights and freedoms.

navy yard shootingIt happened again. Someone with a deranged way of looking at the world has killed more innocent people – this time at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. A dozen people didn’t come home yesterday. Many others will have a traumatic memory they didn’t want or ask for. But it happened again.

What is sad is that it will happen again. And again. If we see the world as it really is, we know evil exists and people suffer. How do we as believers face this kind of challenge? How can we send our kids out the door every day, knowing that our communities are not completely safe?

The title for this entry might be impossible. Evil like this is illogical and doesn’t make sense. But we need to acknowledge some things from God’s Word, our unchanging source of answers, even in the most confusing times.

First, whether we can see it or not, God is in control of everything. Can he stop evil things from happening? Yes. For his purposes, he does it all the time. We might be shocked how often he restrains evil around us. But sometimes he doesn’t and when that happens, he still has his reasons.

Think about it. What was the greatest crime of all time? What was the most unfair miscarriage of justice and cruel treatment of an innocent man? The crucifixion of Jesus. And here’s what the Bible tells us about that evil act – “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:27, 28

God has his reasons for allowing evil to get the upper hand sometimes, but he is still in control. Second, because of this, we can trust him. Paul dealt with all kinds of evil every day, sometimes to the point of death, and how did he look at it? “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God…” 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9

Third, we know this world is temporary. We shake our heads often and wonder how people could be so heartless and violent. I saw a Facebook comment today about the shooting that just said, ”When will this stop?” According to Scripture, not until Jesus comes to be the final Judge and make everything right. In the meantime, here’s a great attitude to adopt: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion (or possession, inheritance) forever.Psalm 73:25, 26

So, on days such as these, we grieve. Our hearts break because of the effects of sin on our society. We brace ourselves for what will be on the news tomorrow that we can’t know now. But God is already there, controlling it within his plan and timing. With faith in that, I’m fine to send my daughter to school tomorrow.

stressWe often pray for our leaders’ wisdom and guidance, but personal issues should  also be our concern. This is a good reason to become Facebook friends with them or follow them on Twitter, because they may post more everyday items that can inform our prayers for them.

I was reminded of this today when I saw a Facebook post from a Maryland state delegate stating that she would need an “extended absence from work” due to a physical condition that is exacerbated by stress. Her comments were full of hope since she is a woman of faith and her care for her constituents was evident. She ended her notice by saying she coveted the prayers of her friends. May we not fail any of our leaders by forgetting to pray for them.

Physical problems are important for us to be aware of even as we are so aware of the spiritual nature of our prayers according to 1 Timothy 2:1-4. But don’t forget to pray for the stamina needed in their busy positions to handle the inherent stress that comes with it.

ben carsonThis past week’s annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington featured a speech that is gaining some popularity and is showing up in followup comments and interviews in many media outlets. Dr. Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, gave a speech that is not only being shared and posted by many on social media, but has some calling for him to run for president in 2016.

If you have heard or read the speech and got excited about it, it’s because you agree with his political solutions to America’s challenges. How do I know that? Because that’s all he talked about. At a prayer breakfast. No, I’m sorry THE Prayer Breakfast. The words that have ignited such enthusiasm in so many have left me wanting more. Much more.

Click on the link here and see for yourself. Dr. Carson is a well-known Christian who has a tremendous testimony. His comments in this speech were fine and even inspiring to those who agreed, but the venue was completely wrong, which is what’s wrong with what passes for prayer breakfasts these days.

He began with four Old Testament Bible verses which were never explained or revisited. I’m still not totally sure how they fit the speech. It would be refreshing if we could get speakers at prayer breakfasts to try to understand what God would want to say from His Word to the listeners rather than decide what must be said then make some lame attempt to find verses to bolster his views (which these didn’t), mention them briefly, then ignore them. 

The rest of the speech centered on the importance of education (with some autobiographical paragraphs from his impoverished childhood and the evils of sports being elevated over academics), the national deficit, the overburdened taxation system, and solutions to health care. Jesus is mentioned once – only as a model of the One who explained things in parables, which Dr. Carson then attempts to do, ineffectively.

God is only mentioned in the section on taxation as the One who established the principle of the tithe (in other words, a flat rate system.)

I love Ben Carson. I love his story and his bold faith. It’s great that he has so many platforms to share his views. I just can’t understand why, at a prayer breakfast, he would almost completely avoid talking about spiritual things. That’s my disappointment. That’s where it fell short for me or maybe I don’t understand what prayer breakfast speakers are supposed to do. If so, let’s quit calling them “prayer breakfasts”.

Have you noticed that attacks on Christianity don’t seem to let up?  Even in America, the home of the free, every group other than Christians either get a free pass or get openly promoted. And the Christian church’s response? Usually, it’s a call to make the world change.

Funny, the Bible doesn’t tell us to do (or even expect) that.

“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  John 15:20

“All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”   2 Timothy 3:12

“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”   Acts 14:22 

“You yourselves know that we are destined for [these afflictions].”      1 Thessalonians 3:3

There are dozens of other verses.

The first-century church stands in stark contrast to the American Christian attitude that we deserve better treatment than what our culture is giving us. When Jewish leaders demanded that Peter and John should stop teaching in Jesus’ name and authority, these two men went back to the church and reported it. These believers stood at the same crossroads you and I do when we’re wronged by our society. What to do?

They (as a solid biblical example for all believers in all time periods under all human authorities) prayed. Look at the content of this prayer very carefully:

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

   “‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
   and the peoples plot in vain? 
The kings of the earth set themselves,
   and the rulers were gathered together,
   against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.  And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:24b – 30

Key thoughts in this prayer are acknowledging the control of God; admitting that it is normal for human leaders to “gather together against” the Lord; asking God to allow the gospel ministry to continue to be spread in the midst of the persecution (not necessarily the removal of it).

Maybe most significantly is the belief expressed that God superintends the thoughts and actions of governmental leaders (even evil ones) to carry out His will. Pilate and Herod committed gross sin in the unfair treatment and murder of Jesus, yet these early Christians knew this sin was predestined by the Lord to bring about His purposes. In the same way the threat to Peter and John by the Jewish rulers was somehow in His plan. This prayer displays a huge amount of faith and strength. But it is a faith placed first on God Himself rather than human effort to derail the persecution.

American Christians today should warm up to the idea that as bad as things are in our world and as uncomfortable as this culture may make us, that could be the very thing God wants to happen. There’s no need to be surprised at this treatment.  It was promised.  It’s what we signed up for. Our prayer should be that the good news of salvation in Christ can be shared in the middle of all this mess.

 

Our president has caught some flack in the last couple of years for his lack of church attendance.  That’s why the press took notice recently when, while on vacation, the Obamas went to services on consecutive Sundays for the first time since moving into the White House.  One article’s headline even assigned a motive for President Obama’s stance on faith – “Obama Tries to Reassert His Christian Bona Fides, With Words and Deeds”.  Click here for the full piece.

So what should believers think about their leaders’ attendance patterns at church?  Is it our business?  Is it right to pile on with other critical voices if we don’t think they go to church often enough?  Should we care?

In a word, yes.

But there should be a deeper desire that Christians need to express for their leaders’ spiritual lives than just their presence at worship services.  That desire should be for leaders to know and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, having a growing, vital personal relationship with Him that changes who they are and how they think from the inside out.  Paul described that change when he wrote to Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  Titus 2:11-14

Having true faith in Christ is the same for everyone, politician or not.  We all must come to Christ on his terms and bow to His revelation of Himself, not what we or other men construct Him to be.  It may comfort us to know that we have leaders who are in the pews every Sunday, but if they are not saved and being changed by the gospel we need to seek more for them.  If they are there merely to assuage their religious critics, that’s obviously not enough.

Should we be glad that they are in church even if they have political motives?  If the Word of God is faithfully preached to them, sure!  The Word is powerful and may make inroads into their hearts.  But as we look at those verses in Titus, key words must be defined for these leaders to truly glorify God in their lives and church attendance.

Among those words are salvation, ungodliness, passions, self-controlled, upright, godly, redeem, lawlessness, purify and good works.  When believers plumb the depths of the true meanings of these words and live them out,  regular church attendance will be a natural outflow of that faith.

Until then, anger is not needed when we see leaders failing in church attendance, but renewed prayer for them to grow in the grace of God and have hearts that are being transformed by Christ.  Pray that those who lead us will humbly go to public worship to commune with their Maker, not to control the media.

Jerry Falwell, Jr.

I usually keep a blog posting between 400 – 600 words, but to comment on the recent interview Glen Beck conducted with Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., I may have to break this up into a few installments.  You can read the transcript of the interview here, but the main statement from Falwell that caught my eye was, “we can argue about theology later after we save the country.”

Wow.  A leader of a major liberal arts evangelical school dismantled the biblical task of believers in culture in eleven words.  We need to consider what this really means. 

First of all, it’s clear to me that this statement is not a chronological plan as much as it is a value judgement or statement of priority.  Waiting until after our country has the right people in power passing the right laws to discuss what we really believe shows a priority list, not a timeline. 

Is Falwell really saying that we should focus all efforts on changing the moral direction of our nation by political change rather than by the truth of God’s Word?  That’s where theology comes from.  The word “theology” literally means “the study of the nature of God”.  Did I just hear Falwell say that our world needs cultural change more right now through the work of Jews, Catholics, Mormons, evangelicals, etc., then we can talk about God and the Bible and truth and where all of us are headed for eternity?  When exactly would be a good time for Falwell to broach that subject with others?

This is where moralism leads – to grand, hyperbolic statements that undermine the true, biblical role of the church in the world and that our sinful, corrupt, godless leaders are obstacles to freedom as we like it, not souls for whom Christ died.

Maybe it will help to see a little more context to those eleven words:

If we don’t hang together we’ll hang separately, I mean, that’s what my father believed when he formed Moral Majority, was an organization of Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, people of no faith. And there are bigger issues now, we can argue about theology later after we save the country. . . But you’re bringing all these types of people together on your show every day, and it’s creating a partnership between groups that may have never talked to each other otherwise, and I think nothing could be more important at this stage of our history.

Well, putting it in context actually sounds worse, so as we break these observations into several posts, I would also like to include thoughts from John MacArthur’s Can God Bless America?  His final chapter outlines 16 ways moralism can be dangerous.  Since we’re talking about priorities, this is from number 15: Moralism reverses the divine order

Moralism makes morality the power of salvation, rather than vice versa.  Many evangelicals today seem to operate with the notion that if we can elevate the morality of our culture, then more people will believe the gospel.  They imagine that if we can clean up the country, it will afford greater opportunities for the gospel.  That’s exactly the reverse of the divine order. (p. 95)

Followers of Christ do not have the luxury of deciding what our priorities should be in affecting our culture.  We have been instructed in the Scriptures what our main task is and that task is centered on the Word of God, which means that task relies on good theology.  When Jesus gave His commission to His disciples, He emphasized theological disciple-making.  Our message is to teach “them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).  When Paul wrote that the church should pray for governmental leaders, the ultimate reason was that “God, our Savior… desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3b, 4).

Falwell apparently thinks we can’t wait to save our country.  Christ has taught we can’t wait to teach the world about Him and His ways.  That’s also known as theology and should be the church’s real priority. 

Next time: Part 2 – Arguing Theology