Praying for Our Leaders

I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

When the pulpit is silenced by government, it is a travesty of justice; when it is silent because of the perceived cost, it is sin. The pulpit is not the place of politics, but it is to be the moral platform of any nation. There is no place in the pulpit for moral cowards.

On this day, the 242 birthday of the American Republic, we ask how a pastor, a parent, and the common Christian must engage in matters of moral importance in the political realm.

First, we should teach what the Bible says about obeying (Romans 13:1-7) and honoring (1 Peter 2:13-17) our civil leaders and the laws of the land. A nation that is lawless concerning the Bible will be lawless toward civil authority.

Second, be encouraged to pray for those in authority over you (1 Timothy 2:1-2). God commands that we pray “for” the leaders God has given us; not to pray against them. Pray for God to make it possible for His people to live quietly, peacefully, godly, and reverently.

Third, we need to model godly praying on behalf of our leaders. Teach not only by your words but with your actions.

Fourth, be aware of what the Bible says about moral issues concerning government and laws, and how they affect your life as a citizen of Heaven. Learn how government actions honor or dishonor Christ. The Christian has a responsibility to be a voice for Biblical morality and godliness in society.

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Freedom to Live

On an island separating the states of New York and New Jersey stands the Statue of Liberty. Envisioned by a law professor in 1865 and designed and built by Frederic Bartholdi, Lady Liberty was given by France to the people of the United States of America in 1886.

In her left arm is a stone tablet of the Law, inscribed with the date of July 4, 1776, the date when the Declaration of Independence was ratified. Her right arm is raised with a fiery torch, shining freedom and progress to all those around her. Around her head is a crown with seven rays, representing the sun, the seven seas, and the seven continents. Largely hidden by her long, flowing gown, is a broken chain. The Statute of Liberty stands today as a beloved symbol of freedom for generations of Americans and still calls out to billions from around the world who would move here given the opportunity.

America’s Founding Fathers believed that neither freedoms nor rights come from government; they are instead gifts from God alone. Government always bends to the sinful whims of frail and flawed individuals, and a government which grants freedom can snatch it away at any time.

When America declared its independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, that  Declaration of Independence stated that Americans are: endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness flow from a Divine Source greater than any individual, government, or human philosophy.

As marvelous as our God-given rights and freedoms are as Americans, the liberty God gives to the human soul from the chains of spiritual slavery are far surpassing. Through the sacrificial offering of His life upon a cross erected by the Roman government at the behest of the Jewish government, Jesus bought freedom for all who accept His death on their behalf. In Him alone we find lives of glorious freedom from sin, condemnation, eternal death, God’s judgment, and the freedom to live as the Creator intended for humanity.

Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).

Happy Independence Day!

A Matter of Personal Honor

I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also (Matthew 5:39)

One of my favorite moments in US history took place on July 11, 1804.

Aaron Burr was the sitting Vice-President of the United States. In April of 1804, he lost the election for governor of New York and laid the blame on Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton was the first US Secretary of the Treasury, close advisor to George Washington, and a faithful Christian man. Hamilton accused Burr of being a greedy, self-serving, and immoral man (which was all true). To settle their personal battle, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.

At dawn on July 11th, the two rivals met on a New Jersey river bank. Hamilton planned to throw the duel because it violated his Christian beliefs, but showed up as a matter of personal honor.

As Hamilton and Burr stood opposite each other with loaded pistols, Hamilton’s gun accidentally fired into a tree. Burr returned fire through Hamilton’s liver and into his spine. Hamilton died the next day with his wife and pastor at his side.

For centuries, men gently slapped each other across the face to symbolize disgust and dishonor toward one another. A punch to the gut might knock the breath out of you, but a slap on the face meant a war against ones honor. This symbol of a slap across the face was practiced even by Jews in the days of Jesus.

Jesus went so far as to use violence to oppose evil (Mt 21:12; Jn 2:15) and stood squarely and openly against sin and false doctrine. He commanded His disciples to keep and bear arms for self-defense (Lk 22:36). But when He was personally attacked, Jesus acted like a lamb before the shearers and did not respond (Mt 26:67-68; 1 Pet 2:20-23).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His followers to handle personal disagreements by turning the other cheek rather than hurling arguments and insults back and forth.

Your personal honor and dignity are not worth a duel of words or pistols. As Dr J Vernon McGee often said, “If you knew me the way I know me, you wouldn’t like me either.” Leave your honor in the hands of the true and righteous Judge who knows your heart and will one day bring perfect justice. Trust Him to make all things right.

*** Be sure to read the comment question and answer!

Leadership

In the past 17 years, Christian circles have been overwhelmed by books on leadership. A quick search on the ChristianBook.com retail website lists 253,161 current books with the term leader or leadership in the title.

Despite all these resources, there is a desperate lack of true leadership in the world today. A man is elected prime minister on the basis of his youthful good looks. The businessman is promoted because he’s put in his time at the company. There’s the woman who makes herself a pastor – not because she’s Biblically qualified – but because she feels a calling. None of these are evidences of godly leadership.

When His disciples argued over their own leadership rights and potential, Jesus deflated both their egos and their ambitions with a Heavenly perspective contrary to popular thought.

Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28).

Godly leadership isn’t created by reading a $25 book of principles, attending a weekend seminar, making resume bullet-points, following 40 days of something, or engaging in self-service or self-promotion; leadership is developed and demonstrated through Christlike humble service toward others.

It will never happen, but what I’m really waiting for are more books on following Jesus. Perhaps if we had more people who were truly following Jesus, we’d also have more qualified godly leaders.

And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19).

Three Crosses

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18)

It was Friday morning, and the Roman governor of Judea was feeling the pressure. Pilate didn’t want to condemn Jesus, but gave in to political pressure. Rather than doing what was right, Pilate went against the advice of his own wife and did what was convenient for himself and his future (Mt 27:19; Jn 19:8).

Pilate released to the Jews a well-known terrorist named Barabbas (Mt 27:15-17; Lk 23:25; Jn 18:40). Barabbas was more than a convicted robber; he was also a notorious murder and terrorist. He was, as the saying goes, guilty as sin.

That Friday, three crosses were erected on the highway leading into the Jerusalem. Barabbas and two other robbers were set to be crucified for their crimes.  Now guilty Barabbas had been set free and the innocent Jesus of Nazareth would take his place. The Perfect would die for the imperfect, the Righteous in the place of the guilty, the Holy One and the Just for a murderer (Acts 3:14).

Imagine that a vile, guilty, condemned sinner named Barabbas would go free, while a Substitute would die on the very cross built for Barabbas.

The Bible says that The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). There is no way around the penalty for sin. A Just God must see that justice is meted out.

Like Barabbas, you and I are guilty as sin. We must receive the penalty of eternal death unless an innocent substitute is willing to take our place.

When Jesus died on the cross, He died in the place of every guilty sinner. All the sinner must do is believe that Christ’s death fulfilled the transaction of the guilty for the Innocent. Faith in Christ and His work alone – without any addition of our own effort – saves the sinner.

This message of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, is the consistent story of salvation in the Bible from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to David, from Barabbas to you.

Three crosses. One was meant for you, but Jesus took your place. Believe on Him today. This is the Good News of God’s salvation

I’m a Pretty Good Boy

My senior year of high school I took a law course. One class period we were visited by two convicted men serving time in an Oregon state prison; one for armed robbery and the other for murder.

The men talked about the conditions they faced growing up, the influences that led them to lives of crime, details of their trials, and pain of being in prison. Both asserted their innocence.

When they finished telling their stories we were allowed to ask questions. I asked: if you were a judge sitting on a trial with your exact circumstances, would you find the person guilty, and what sentence would you give?

The thief said it was an interesting question, but both refused to answer.

It’s easy for us to judge others based upon our own circumstances.

See, I’m a pretty good boy. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes over the past 50 years, but overall … you’re still a far worse a person than I am. I can think of a hundred and one reasons to condemn you and excuse myself.

God, however, doesn’t judge us by how we compare to our neighbor but according to the standard of His Law, the Bible. Where we don’t measure up, where we miss the mark, God calls it sin and sin makes us guilty before God and deserving of punishment.

The punishment for our sins? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), physical and spiritual death.

Yet God has done something remarkable. He sent His beloved Son to the earth to stand in your place at the sentencing hearing. Yes, you are guilty, but Jesus took your guilt upon Himself and died for your sins. To be saved you must accept what He gave without claiming innocence, shifting blame, or trying to add any of your own merit to the court case.

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9).

A Responsibility to Help One Another

Americans are outraged at the number of poor living on our streets without food or shelter, yet individual acts of compassion are replaced with the question: why doesn’t the government fix this?

Over the past 100 years, the nations of the Western world have created extensive government programs of caring for the poor. The poor are still with us in even greater numbers despite taxpayer-funded housing, medical care, education, and even food, clothing and cell phones. No such government welfare existed in the ancient world.

In the Law of Moses, God required Israelite farmers to not harvest the edges and corners of their land. This food was to be left for the poor to collect. This system of gleaning (Lev 19:9-10) is expressed in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2:2-23). Individual Israelites had an individual responsibility to help one another.

In the New Testament, God also has a means of caring for the poor in the local church. If a congregation had the means, widows could be given food under strict guidelines found in First Timothy 5:3-16. A widow had to be: (1) married only once and her husband was dead; (2) without any other living relatives or financial means of her own; (3) over the age of 60 years; (4) known for her good works; (5) above accusation of sin in the community; (6) consistent in a life of prayer; and (7) trusting in God as her provider and not expecting others to meet the need.

Women younger than 60 are commanded to remarry (1 Tim 5:14), families are to care for their own relatives (1 Tim 5:4, 8), and a widow must also be active in meeting the needs of others (1 Tim 5:10).

Why is God so strict with His rules for the Church? Doesn’t He care about people? Of course He cares, He gave His Son to die for the salvation of sinners; but the primary work of the local congregation is the spiritual ministry of teaching the Word of God – not social welfare. His rules are strict to ensure the most needy are helped. Individual Christians have an individual responsibility to help one another.

Whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18).

True and Righteous Justice

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36).

There was an old preacher who hated to get his photograph taken. Every year he was required to get his picture taken for his new pastor’s identification card, and every year he refused. Finally the organization had enough of his disobedience and told him that if he didn’t get his picture taken, they wouldn’t renew his license to preach.

The old man reluctantly made an appointment for a new photograph. When the day came, he arrived at the photographer’s studio with a scowl etched on his face.

The photographer did all he could to make the preacher smile. Nothing worked. Finally the photographer sat down and asked, “Sir, why are you so grouchy today?

I don’t like to get my picture taken” he groused.

I’m sorry to hear that. So what’s the problem with getting your picture taken?” asked the photographer.

The preacher gnarled, “Pictures never seem to do me justice.

The photographer looked carefully at the preacher, then stood back up behind the camera. “Sir, it’s my professional opinion that you don’t need justice … you need mercy.”

You are mistaken if you believe you will ever find justice in this world. Flawed and sinful man will only ever dispense flawed and sinful justice; true and righteous justice comes only from God.

To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth”; who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Playing Favorites

The American phrase playing favorites means showing special treatment to one person or group rather than treating everyone the same.

We’ve all seen this happen. Politicians give special treatment to their friends. A company provides a discount to certain customers. A father shows favoritism to his daughter over his son. And it also happens in churches where some get preferred seating or have the ear of the pastor.

My favorite place to sit in a worship service is toward the back. From there I can see how the people treat one another, which reveals a lot about a congregation.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory with partiality … (James 1:26-2:1).

Lots of people say they are Christians but show no evidence of it; they hear the Word of God but don’t live it (Jas 1:25). James gives three proofs of pure religion, of true Christianity. First, a Christian guards his language, because a person who lies, swears, speaks profanity, and gossips has an empty faith (verse 26). Second, he guards widows and orphans from harm, the most vulnerable in ancient society. The word “visit” used by James means to oversee, protect, or guard (verse 27). Third, he guards himself from imitating the sin around him (verse 27).

Most of us like to hobnob with successful people, but that isn’t the Christian way. James said that the three proofs of pure religion shouldn’t come crashing down as soon as an important or wealthy person walks in on Sunday morning. Those in the church paid attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and gold rings and turned their backs on the poor. Favoritism in a church is sin (Jas 2:9).

Jesus didn’t play favorites. He spent time with the rich and the poor, famous and ordinary alike. He showed no partiality because they all needed the salvation He offered.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we ought to be no different from Him.

The Throne of His Father David

The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:32-33).

Two thousand years ago, the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to a Son who would rule and reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. This King was foreshadowed in the lives of the Old Testament patriarchs, foretold by prophets, announced by angels over Bethlehem, peeked at on the Mount of Transfiguration, proven in words and works at His First Coming, and set as a promise in a Second Coming.

Jesus was propelled forcefully by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12, 13). One of His temptations was Satan’s offer to receive all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Mt 4:8). In a moment of time (Luke 4:5) Satan showed Jesus the glories of every kingdom throughout human history. Satan continued, All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish (Luke 4:6). Jesus could have the kingdoms of this world for but a moment of worship.

God is in control of all things and nothing happens outside of His good pleasure. He ordains the leaders of every nation (Rom 13:1) and has set both national boundaries and their times (Acts 17:26), yet the governments of this world are under the leadership of the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). This is why Christians must be careful that patriotism not be our religion nor politicians our hope.

The glories of human history were offered to Jesus for a simple act of declaring the worth-ship of Satan. Instead, He went to the cross to redeem sinners. By His obedience to the Father, He will one day destroy the kingdoms of this world and create a glorious kingdom of God upon the earth that will have no end.