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

founders

John Trumbull's painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence

I have spent the past hour reading through an interesting discussion forum from Focus on the Family’s website which asked whether the American Revolution was a biblical response by our founders and what position Christians should have taken.  It caught my eye because I recently started the DVD of HBO’s biographical series on John Adams, chronicling the same story and ethical issues.   How one answers this question determines his outlook on a believer’s political involvement in today’s world.

You can find the discussion here.
 
Block out some time and get some coffee in advance.  It will take awhile.
 
My first observation of the forum has to do with sources.  I saw references to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the writings of Francis Shaeffer, Norman Geisler, Dave Barton, et al.  I read about principles of civil disobedience taken from Scripture in the stories of the Egyptian midwives, Peter and John in Acts 5, even Jesus’ approach to leaders of His day.  There were comments on Old Testament political situations in the examples of David and Saul, Moses and Pharaoh, et al.  I noted points made from other historical periods of rebellion to authority, including the Reformation, the French Revolution and the post-World War II establishment of an Israeli state. 
 
These made for a fascinating and lively discussion, but I found myself looking hard for other texts.  In fact, the texts that should have been consulted first were barely, if ever, mentioned.  There was little attention given to passages such as Romans 13:1-7 or 1 Peter 2:13-17 or 1 Timothy 2:1-4 or Titus 3:1,2.  I saw the Matthew 5 concept of “salt and light” mentioned once, but only in the context of establishing liberty in human government.  The word “gospel” was nowhere to be found.  “Witnessing” was mentioned briefly by someone who had an opportunity to share Christ in prison after being jailed following an Operation Rescue protest.  The Church’s ostensible priority of making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) was conspicuously absent.
 
Actually, Geisler’s idea that Christians submit to government, even a corrupt one, held little water in the thread.
 
A second unavoidable topic was the pathetic state of the church and pastors in contemporary society.  There were plenty of laments that the pulpits of America have capitulated to the government, more concerned about keeping their tax-exempt status than promoting candidates or preaching against political issues of the day.  There seemed to be agreement that a revival is needed in the church before any change will happen in American moral culture, but no real definition of what that revival should look like.
 
I would suggest that the American church’s impotence in affecting its world is found in the lack of conviction and enthusiasm that Christ’s Great Commission is actually our priority.  Justifying the spiritual legitimacy of deists and their writings got more space in this forum which was the original topic, I’ll admit.  But when Christians take so much time and mental energy discussing such an important subject, would we not be better served to search the relevant scriptures rather than recommend the opinions and views of men?
 
Also, should we accept everything the founders wrote without question?  They get quoted more quickly than other sources by many American Christians, so we’d better be sure, don’t you think?
 
The title of the discussion was “Were the Founding Fathers Traitors?”  Maybe a better question is “Did the Founders Follow the Scriptures?”  Then we might be able to get at the heart of what we as believers are commanded to be, not only in 21st-century America but in any culture at any time.

open BibleI haven’t actually done the math on this, but I once saw how the middle verse in the Bible was calculated.  Its message is a powerful statement in how to view our relationship to government.

Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible and Psalm 119 is the longest.  In between them, Psalm 118 is the center chapter of the Bible.  There are 594 chapters before Psalm 118 and 594 chapters after.  Add that together and you’ll get 1188.  So what is the center verse in the Bible?  Psalm 118:8 which says, “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man“.

I don’t look for mystical messages in numerology but this verse, whether the center of the Bible or not, gives us crucial direction in our world.  I regularly hear Christians express deep worry over the political trends in our nation and around the world.  I see political action groups who call themselves Christian send out mailings that communicate that people in government are our biggest threat and people who vote (and send in generous donations) are the only hope for our society.  Many in the church have bought into a crisis mode in which God doesn’t seem to be on the throne at all.

All who follow Christ must take care to internalize Psalm 118:8; not only give it lip service but truly believe it and let it shape our attitudes and actions toward human government.  When we place too much trust in ourselves or other people, we are worshiping the created more than the Creator (Romans 1:25).  

This will clearly impact our prayer lives.  With confirmation hearings, pending legislation and the general thrust of any newscast swirling in our minds and tempting us to despair (and worse, ultimately trust in mankind for solutions) we must give that to God. 

Truly trusting Him means consistently being in contact with Him and when it comes to expressing anxiety about our world and our leaders, praying how He has told us to.  “Kings and all who are in authority” are to be a regular part of our prayers (I Timothy 2:1-4).  Pray for their wisdom and guidance, but always include petitions for their souls.  Where they spend eternity will always be more important than how they vote now.

scalesFor when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.  For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matthew 14:3, 4)

Politics and illicit sex.  They’ve been side-by-side since God instituted human government.  Abraham forced his wife, Sarah, to say she was his sister (two separate times!) because he knew the pagan rulers would kill him to claim her sexually because she was “a beautiful woman”.  Egypt’s Pharaoh (Genesis 12:10-20) and Gerar’s Abimelech (Genesis 20:1-18) both took Sarah into their houses and both received a big surprise when they found out she was married, but we can see it was still common to take women they wanted.

Samson, an Israelite judge, visited a prostitute (Judges 16:1).  David infamously took Bathsheba as his wife and had her husband killed (2 Samuel 11:2-21).  In Solomon’s palace one would be hardpressed to find a room or corridor that didn’t contain a wife or concubine (1 Kings 11:3).    

Then there was Herod the tetrarch from the verses above.  He was sleeping with his brother’s wife.  When John the Baptist called him on the carpet for that, Herod had John thrown into prison and eventually had him beheaded.

What can the Church learn from all this and what is its responsibility to these leaders who are still falling centuries later?  John the Baptist’s example is one worth following, I believe.  The condemnation of Herod’s impurity was not all John said to him.  John’s message always centered on repentance and turning to God, and we can be sure he confronted Herod with the same words.  As he did that, John also spoke up for right living and gave the tetrarch an example of sin he should turn away from.

Should we do that?  Why not?  The Scriptures are the judge, not us.  Speaking the truth to power doesn’t have to be done harshly or hatefully, but with a goal of repentance and recognition that God’s Word should be obeyed from those whose hearts love Him and have been changed by the gospel.   It’s not wrong to point out areas of weakness and failure.  Obviously, today’s immorality may not be as public as Herod’s nor is infidelity the only sin that must be confronted.

Our world would call this over the top.  Too judgemental.  But ask yourself a couple of questions if you follow Christ:  Is it possible we keep seeing this marital cheating in our leaders because the Church is not showing the way morally in our land?  I’m not talking about pushing a moral legislative agenda, but actually living moral lives ourselves for the nation to see that there’s a different value system for believers, then having the moral authority to speak up for right living.  And are we in prayer for our leaders’ marriages or their temptations and thought lives (1 Timothy 2:1-4)?

Maybe we just expect politicians to cheat, so why try to change it?  Because with every act of infidelity, with every press conference to announce the latest moral implosion, God’s glory is not seen.  The Church shouldn’t try to get government officials to repent of sin to make us feel better or maybe, just maybe, get that law passed that we care about so dearly.  The Church should be bringing the gospel to its leaders, praying for their salvation and desiring their deeper spiritual growth because God is great and must be seen as more beautiful than anything else in this world.

Let your representatives know you are praying.  Then really PRAY.  Offer to meet with them and get to know them.  Adopt one as a local church or small group.  Get into their lives to express this kind of care.  Take cookies.  At some point, address eternity and share your testimony.  This may not be John the Baptist’s exact method, but there are several differences between John’s lifestyle and ours.  Did you have locusts for lunch?  What we can do is follow his example of having direct contact with a leader. 

If confronting sin is needed, say what needs to be said.  Calling sin what it is is not judgemental.  It is required if the true gospel is to be shared.  It should be done in love with one end result in view: magnifying God and seeing Him treasured.  I don’t see the Church with a priority like this when it comes to engaging its culture and government.  What is the answer to the title question for this post?  God is the Judge.  The Church must get serious about impacting its leaders with the truth.

One of the largest obstacles Capitol Ministries faces in our ministry to elected officials is compromise.  Politics is all about compromise; the Solomongospel must not be compromised.  The conflict is inevitable and presents interesting dynamics when trying to make disciples in the political arena.

The life of Solomon is a sobering narrative that points to the crucial role of governmental leaders.  Early in his 40-year reign, he is described in the Bible like this: “Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places” (1 Kings 3:3).  He loved the Lord and had learned from his father King David, a man after God’s own heart.  Later in this chapter he makes his well-known request for wisdom.  The compromise, though, is found in this verse after the word “except” (lit. “emaciated, flattened out”).  The weakened place of Solomon’s heart had to do with obedience to God in worship.

The “high places” in 1 Kings 3:3 were forbidden places of worship for Israel.  In fact, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.  Before Israel entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, they were given this command from God: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Deuteronomy 12:2).  The pagan practices of the Canaanites were not to be associated with in any way, including their location.  Solomon got comfortable with sacrificing there, even though he was worshiping Jehovah at that point.

By chapter 11, Solomon’s affections have changed as has his spiritual fidelity to the Lord:

 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love. (1 Kings 11:1, 2)

This deepened the corruption in his heart:

For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:5-8)

The consequences were disastrous.  The kingdom divided and subsequent kings continued on the downward spiral of compromise.  Manassah’s reign (250 years after Solomon) was characterized this way:

He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel. For he  rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them… He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD provoking Him to anger. (2 Kings 21:2, 3, 6)

When leaders compromise and turn away from God, societies are led astray with calamitous results.  This is just one more reason to commit to pray for the spiritual condition of leaders and take the gospel to them, not merely moralize them to vote a certain way.  The former creates lasting change and brings glory to God.  The latter may or may not create temporary change that can easily be reversed in the next election cycle.

OT scrollI recently started a new Bible reading plan conceived and promoted by Grant Horner, Associate Professor at The Master’s College in Los Angeles.  This plan is based on reading a chapter from ten different lists of varying lengths.  The result is a unique combination of readings as you finish each list and start over.  I recommend it to you, but the website will explain it better.  You can access a pdf of the plan at: http://www.4shared.com/file/84820158/92ad7a9e/professor_grant_horners_bible_reading_system.html

At any rate, I was reading yesterday in Chapter 2 of the Bible books on the list and I was impressed with the similar message contained in the poetry of Psalm 2, Proverbs 2 and Isaiah 2 as it relates to culture and politics:

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
         Take warning, O judges of the earth.
    11Worship the LORD with reverence
         And rejoice with trembling.
    12Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
         For His wrath may soon be kindled
         How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
    Psalm 2:10-12

6For the LORD gives wisdom;
         From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
    7He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
         He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
    8Guarding the paths of justice,
         And He preserves the way of His godly ones.
    9Then you will discern righteousness and justice
         And equity and every good course.
   Proverbs 2:6-9  

Isn’t that what we long for in our leaders?

7Their land has also been filled with silver and gold
         And there is no end to their treasures …
       8Their land has also been filled with idols;
         They worship the work of their hands,
         That which their fingers have made.

22 Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils;
         For why should he be esteemed? 
  Isaiah 2:7, 8, 22 

Do those words remind you of 21st-century America?  Characterized by greed, self-indulgence and finding meaning apart from God, our nation seeks answers from mere men.  The clear call of Isaiah, though, is to find guidance from a supernatural Source, the one true Creator Redeemer God.  The leaders of men should acknowlege this call as well as the people of God.  The Church must take care as God’s ambassadors in our world to seek His ways, power and wisdom while pointing our decaying culture to the same spiritual priority.  True, lasting change only comes from the inside out.

There is a great temptation to depend on laws, lawmakers and law-interpreters – the governmental system which is the “work of our hands, that which our fingers have made”.  According to the Lord (as He inspired Isaiah to write), that’s the very definition of idolatry.