A prayer for America

Monday, September 17, 2012

1 Samuel 12:19-25

And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves.”

Then Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

Lord God, have mercy on the nation of America, despite all her wickedness. There are many here who call You King, many who are Your children. May we no longer be double-minded, seeking among sinful men for leadership, when authority figures are Yours to appoint, Yours to ordain for blessing or for punishment. Too long have we depended on authority figures to purge the sin from among us when we should be on our knees, should be preaching godliness, should be studying and teaching Your Word. Inspire Your church to rise up and lead this nation toward holiness and righteousness for Your name's sake. May all Christians everywhere pray to the Lord, never ceasing, and trust in You alone. I pray in Jesus' name.
READ MORE - A prayer for America

Postmillennialism Explained

Monday, March 26, 2012

Here is a brief explanation of postmillennialism I recently wrote for someone unfamiliar with the subject. It's been edited for a public audience.

 In the postmillennial view, God’s covenant with His chosen people is regarded as one consistent covenant that was more fully revealed from the time of Abraham to the time of David and onward to the time of Christ, when the new covenant of grace in His blood was revealed. We see the kingdom of heaven as a kingdom that Jesus brought to earth with Him, one that has always been prophesied to start small and grow into something enormous here on Earth.

Many Christians today see the Kingdom as something that won’t be seen on Earth; we must wait until this earth passes away. But a great deal of scripture suggests strongly that the old has already passed away and that the new has come. The kingdom of God is here and now, and we have only to realize it.

God promised in Genesis 8:21 to never again curse the ground or destroy all living creatures. Surely He didn’t reserve some other means of destruction in that promise! This is part of God’s covenant with His people (Genesis 9:15). When Jesus said heaven and earth will pass away, He didn’t say they would be physically annihilated. We view this rather as a total transformation into something completely new. We see passages quoted by futurists in support of Earth's destruction as being more figurative rather than absolutely literal. 

There are many scriptures that predict an exponential growth of God’s kingdom on earth. Here are a few of my favorites:

Genesis 12:3: [To Abram] “…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Galatians 3:8 interprets this as a prophecy being fulfilled on Earth.)

Psalm 72:7-11: “In his days may the righteous flourish and prosperity abound till the moon is no more. May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. May the desert tribes bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.”

And verse 17: “May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.”

Daniel 2:35: “But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”

And verse 44: “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”

Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Luke 13:20: “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus did say the way was narrow, but He also said, “…many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). The gate was small for the Jews He was speaking to at that time, few of whom were saved. But things changed after He died and rose again and His message was carried around the world. Paul announced in Colossians 1:6 that “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” That sounds like a lot of people to fit through a narrow gate!

May God bless you and cause you to grow in your understanding of His word!
READ MORE - Postmillennialism Explained

A Commentary on 2 Peter 3

Over the weekend I was asked by a new pen pal to comment on 2 Peter chapter 3. My new friend was unfamiliar with postmillennial thought until I explained it to him last week. I think he was also unfamiliar with preterism, so I wrote about why I think Peter's prophecies in this chapter have already been fulfilled. Here's what I wrote:

Man, 2 Peter is a great letter to start with! And I know we can agree with chapter 1, verse 20, that "no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation," so that we are totally dependent on God for answers to all questions about who He is and what He is doing and is going to do. I am carefully and prayerfully considering all I have to think and say about this, and may His Spirit guide my heart and my words.

I always want to be sure I understand whom the author is writing to and when. In this case, it's to all Christians (chapter 1, verse 1). Since it is widely thought that Peter was killed by Nero, we can assume the letter was written before 70 AD, and therefore prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, which we postmillennialists consider the end of the Jewish age and the beginning of the church age:

"Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Mark 13:30-31).

I say this because much of what you futurists think is yet to come (as I used to) is what we consider to have been fulfilled in 70 AD. This view is called preterism, and most postmillennialists are also preterists. Mark 13:30 makes a strong case for the passage from the old age to a new kingdom age, from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, during the first century.

So this brings us to 2 Peter 3. What does he mean by "the last days" in verse 3? First we should note that Peter identified his own time as "these last times" in 1 Peter 1:20. And in 1 Peter 4:7 he said, "...the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers." Surely he said this to the Christians of his own time rather than to us who would live 2,000 years later. 

Throughout chapter 2 of 2 Peter, he warned first-century Christians to beware of false teachers and false doctrines. In chapter 3 he went on to warn them of things to come. Why would he warn them of things that wouldn't happen for millennia? Surely not just for the benefit of far-off future Christians. No, he was warning them of things they would soon experience themselves. For in verse 14 he told them, "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation."

Why would he write that to Christians of his own time who otherwise had nothing to look forward to but death at the hands of the Roman government? Peter was telling them that the end of that age was at hand, and it would be such a momentous event that only the kind of prophetic language used in the Old Testament would be fitting to describe it. Indeed, nothing was the same after that day in 70 AD when not one stone of the temple was left upon another. That's why Peter described it as the heavens passing away with great noise and the elements melting with fervent heat (verse 10). For indeed the earth as they knew it was burned up, along with the works that were in it (see Isaiah 51:6 and Jeremiah 4:23-26 for similar prophetic language). I'm not just speaking of physical destruction, of course. That old earth and its ways are totally gone, and Christ has ruled as king ever since then. The "elements" of the old religion that held men in bondage were done away with (Galatians 4:3 and 9), melted by the fervent heat of the Gospel.

As I said before, His kingdom has been growing since that time, as He said it would. So we still, as Peter said in verse 13, "look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells," according to His promise. We see this in the church now, and we expect to see it more and more as the yeast continues working through the dough, as the rock that crushed the kingdoms of the earth continues growing into a mountain that covers the whole earth.

Keep in mind that the "new heavens and a new earth" were first prophesied in Isaiah 65:17, and in the earth described there, children would survive infancy and live to be 100 (verse 20). This chapter describes exactly what God's righteous elect are headed for. This is not heaven where birth and death do not occur. This is our future glory in Christ's kingdom here, once it has grown to cover the whole earth.

Isaiah 66 continues this picture of the new earth and tells us about its beginnings:

"It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them; and those among them who escape I will send to the nations...And they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles" (verses 18-19).

"'And I will also take some of them for priests and Levites,' says the Lord.
 'For as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I will make shall remain before Me,' says the Lord,
'So shall your descendants and your name remain.
 And it shall come to pass
That from one New Moon to another,
And from one Sabbath to another,
All flesh shall come to worship before Me,' says the Lord" (verses 21-23).

If the Gospel is to cause all flesh to worship the Lord here on Earth, this must be prior to the final judgment, where all sheep and goats are separated eternally.

And consider Hebrews 12:25-29:

"See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, 'Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.' Now this, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire."

The Christians living on Earth when this was written are those who received this kingdom, a kingdom that was not burned up or shaken when God destroyed that old world in 70 AD. This is that new earth in which He has chosen Gentiles to be priests and Levites in His kingdom that continues to grow.

So when Peter said in 2 Peter 3:7 that the heavens and earth were "reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men," this is what I think he was talking about. The consuming fire of God's judgment utterly destroyed the old heavens and earth of the Jews, represented by the old Jerusalem, in both a physical and a figurative sense. History tells us that the walls of Jerusalem were set on fire during its siege, and that fire went out-of-control and burned up the temple, even though that was not the Romans' intention!

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts (1850).

Josephus described Jerusalem's utter physical destruction in this way: 

"Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind" (The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Book VII, Chapter 1.1).

"And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again" (The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Book VI, Chapter 1.1).

Surely this was the great "Day of the Lord" prophesied in both the Old and New Testaments. For in 75 AD, Josephus wrote of that day, 

"...Before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, 'Let us remove hence' (Jewish Wars, VI-V-3).

He also wrote,

“A supernatural apparition was seen, too amazing to be believed. What I am now to relate would, I imagine, be dismissed as imaginary, had this not been vouched for by eyewitnesses, then followed by subsequent disasters that deserved to be thus signalized. For before sunset chariots were seen in the air over the whole country, and armed battalions speeding through the clouds and encircling the cities” (rendered in Jerusalem Under Siege by David Chilton, 1987).

These chariots were prophesied in Jeremiah 4:13 and Isaiah 66:15. Later, in 115 AD, the historian Tacitus wrote,

"In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure. Few people placed a sinister interpretation upon this. The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world." (Histories, Book 5, v. 13).

Jesus said, "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). And He did it, not long after John wrote down what he had heard. For He came quickly, just as He promised (22:20). And He brought with Him the New Jerusalem, His bride the church (21:9), uncorrupted (verse 27), to replace that whore Babylon (18:2-3), the old Jerusalem with all its corruption and sin.

Hallelujah! Praise be to God. May He soon cause all to worship Him throughout the earth!
READ MORE - A Commentary on 2 Peter 3

Were Christ's Disciples Against Roman Rule?

As I continue to develop my philosophies on faith and authority, an important question is raised in my mind: Were the disciples of Christ against Roman rule? Did they harbor hatred in their hearts against the violent and cruel government under which they lived? Did they subject themselves to the law, as the New Testament instructs, while simultaneously praying for the government to collapse so that a Jewish (or Judeo-Christian) theocracy could be reestablished?

In discussing these questions, we should keep in mind two important concepts that are easily forgotten. The first is that any government, cruel or otherwise, is made up of people, and only of people. It is not possible to hate a government and love the people who make up the government at the same time. Such a concept is absurd. It follows that, since Christ's teachings have their basis in love, the disciples of Christ could not hate the government. The appropriate question, therefore, is whether they considered them enemies who should be loved, as Christ instructed (Matthew 5:44). The answer is almost certainly yes, since the Romans were unclean Gentiles from another nation who trampled on God's Holy Land daily. Who could be a greater enemy to the Jews at that time?

The second forgettable concept is that at least a few of Jesus' disciples recognized that, as God's Son, He had a role in establishing Roman rule over His own people. Jesus Himself, having the fullness of the Godhead in Him (Colossians 2:9), set up the Roman government over Israel (Romans 13:1), and it was He who taught His followers to love their enemies.

Many Jews at the time of Christ's appearance on the earth may have recognized God's hand in setting up the Romans over Israel. Some probably assumed that He had allowed the Romans to take over because of sin, while others may have considered Him to have caused it, rather than simply allowing it. There were plenty of prophetic texts in their scriptures to support God's activity in setting up rulers to punish Israel. But the disciples lived with God in a very literal sense. They knew Him face-to-face and heard His teachings on love. They knew that He was asking them to love cruel people whom He himself had set up as their rulers.

They took this teaching to heart and applied it in surprising ways. Hear the words of the chief disciple, Peter, in 1 Peter 2:11-17:
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
These words of Peter hardly reflect the attitude of a man who is against the government. How could he feel the way he did, knowing the cruelty of the Romans? The answer is in the first part of the quote above: the honorable conduct and good works of the church among the Gentiles would cause them to glorify God. By the time Peter wrote these words, he had long since realized that Jesus' gospel message and His salvation were for Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 11:15-18). While Peter's ministry was primarily to Jews in Jerusalem, he had daily interactions with Gentiles and probably saw Roman soldiers throughout the city every day. As he followed after Christ, he had a heart for reaching them as well as his Jewish brothers.

Although they taught a certain way of conducting ourselves in our daily behavior among nonbelievers, as Christ did, Peter and the other apostles said nothing about their inner desires concerning the continuation or discontinuation of Roman rule over Israel. Clearly they wanted the church to focus on the gospel of Christ and on living our lives in obedience to Him, for His glory. They probably assumed that Jewish converts to Christianity wished to no longer be under the thumb of the Romans, even while they subjected themselves under Gentile law. But there was no need to write about ending Roman rule in their letters to the churches. It was more profitable to encourage the brethren to love the Gentiles and to recognize that the Roman soldiers and rulers were God's ministers for good and for avenging evil (Romans 13:3-4).

There is a third concept we should keep in mind. It is possible to live a certain way, subjecting ourselves under man's law as the Bible instructs, and to simultaneously pray in a seemingly opposite way, asking God to end the cruelty of men in the government. This is a similar concept to one with which we are familiar: It is possible to love a sinner while hating the sin we see them do. Governments are made up of people, as I noted above. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, which allows for us to continue recognizing them as enemies while loving them in every possible way. Therefore, Jesus' disciples could follow every command of their Roman authorities and go far beyond what was asked (Matthew 5:39-41) while still considering them enemies. They could love the Romans with everything they had and still pray for the restoration of Israel as an independent nation. Whether this was actually a part of their prayer life is something we can't know for sure, but we can allow for the possibility.

But could they pray for the end of something that God Himself had established? Most certainly. There are several cases in the Bible of intercessory prayer by men of God for their people when God had decided to punish Israel. The prophet Jeremiah respectfully pointed out the evils he saw when God brought Babylon against Israel to punish her:
Look, the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it; and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it! (Jeremiah 32:24)
The prophet Isaiah prayed an even more direct prayer when the evil deeds of Israel's Assyrian rulers grieved him: 

Do not be furious, O LORD,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!
Your holy cities are a wilderness,
Zion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful temple,
Where our fathers praised You,
Is burned up with fire;
And all our pleasant things are laid waste.
Will You restrain Yourself because of these things, O LORD?
Will You hold Your peace, and afflict us very severely? (Isaiah 64:9-12)

Paul pleaded three times for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, the messenger of Satan that he knew was from the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). In one of these three cases, God heard His servant and promised relief for a remnant of His people (Isaiah 65:8-10). But He told Jeremiah three times to stop praying for His people because of their evil (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:11). He told Paul that His grace was sufficient because His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). But although God's answer was "No" in these two cases, there was nothing sinful, rebellious or offensive about the prayers offered. We cannot know God's answer until we ask Him the question.

Therefore, while Christ's disciples submitted to the law of the land as given by their cruel Roman superiors, even the cruelest of whom was God's minister, it would not have been sinful for them to privately ask God to remove the Roman government from their land so the people could enjoy more freedom. The disciples could love the governor while asking God to peacefully remove him from power. They could pray for blessings for the soldiers they encountered and then offer up prayers for the peaceful liberation of their people. It might not have been helpful to the church to offer such prayers publicly, and it is probably not helpful now. But there is nothing sinful about asking God to bring a peaceful end to a government that relies on force and violence to control its subjects, even though God has established that government and has commanded us to love the people who make it up.

[Originally published July 19, 2011, on the blog On Faith and Authority]
READ MORE - Were Christ's Disciples Against Roman Rule?

Pledging Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted by Congress as the national pledge in 1942, with the current version, including "under God", being accepted in 1954. Is it shocking that our nation held together without a national pledge for 166 years? Of course not. So why is it deemed so valuable and necessary today?

You may not know that the Pledge was written by a Baptist minister. You may be further surprised to learn that the composer, Francis Bellamy, was also a Christian socialist. He was an employee of The Youth's Companion, the magazine that published the original Pledge in 1892. This magazine provided schools with American flags in exchange for the use of their students as magazine salesmen. Clearly, Bellamy had a vested interest in publishing his Pledge.

Bellamy called the Pledge an "inoculation" to protect us from the "virus" of radicalism (Beato, G., "Face the Flag", Reason, Dec. 16, 2010). He later wrote, "A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another."

In 1919, the state of Washington passed a law requiring schools to make the Pledge recitation mandatory. This sentence espousing "liberty...for all" was now something that a portion of Americans were required by law to recite aloud. In 1935, hundreds of children, mostly of Jehovah's Witnesses, chose to be expelled from school rather than bow down to this law. The Supreme Court ruled against them in 1940, before Congress had even adopted the Pledge, saying that national unity was more important than individual liberty. Some Jehovah's Witnesses were beaten and physically maimed for their stance against the Pledge, sometimes right in front of police. The Supreme Court reversed their decision in 1943. Apparently they decided the U.S. shouldn't look quite so much like Germany.

Whether or not this historical view alters your opinion on the importance of our national pledge or whether citizens should be expected to recite it, we as the church should examine whether we should pledge allegiance to anything or anyone aside from God. The children of the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1935 remind me of Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego when they refused to "pledge allegiance" to Nebuchadnezzar by bowing to his image in Daniel 3. It is clear from this Bible story that God's people are not to give themselves to another person or nation. We are to submit to the governments established by God, but we are not to "bow down" by declaring that we belong, for we have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

By pledging our allegiance to a flag and a republic, we give ourselves over to a nation, to a people, especially to those who govern. We declare that we approve of whatever those who govern decide. We say that we support involuntary military service should the need arise, that forcing our youth to resist evil people through violence is admissible because they've sworn an oath. We say that we will tolerate any sort of privacy invasion that is necessary if the State has deemed it so, even if it means our elderly and children are sexually violated in the middle of every one of our airports. We have sworn allegiance; therefore, we stand behind all that America, or rather her government, does.

But what did our Lord teach? "Do not swear at all" (Matthew 5:34). God does not even permit His children to swear by heaven (v. 34), so why would He permit the blind nationalism we indulge in when we recite a pledge to the U.S.A.? Surely, my brothers, this is not right.

"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (v. 37). The apostle James echoed this teaching with emphasis: "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No,' lest you fall into judgment" (James 5:12). Clearly the words we say have meaning, and we will be held to them.

By swearing an oath of allegiance to a nation or any person, we ensnare ourselves into supporting, if not performing, evil acts that we otherwise would find repugnant. This puts our hearts and our conduct in conflict, because when we do this, we can no longer say with Peter, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). For, sadly, we have pledged our allegiance to the nation. This is the devil's trick, and, according to James, we bring God's judgment upon ourselves when we fall for it. It is quite possible that Francis Bellamy invited judgment on our nation by luring the people into taking an oath to the U.S.

God's Word instructs us to be subject to the governing authorities that He has appointed (Romans 13:1). Never once does our Lord tell us to support or be a part of what the governing authorities do, whether good or bad. The church must unify with itself, not to the State. There are enough evil men in our government and evil deeds done by our government that the church must remain separate, giving neither support nor approval. God's kingdom is greater than any other, and we are its citizens first and foremost. We must render to Caesar what is Caesar's (obedience when it does not conflict with Christ's law) and to God what is God's (utmost obedience, worship, and allegiance).

[Originally published July 7, 2011, on the blog On Faith and Authority]
READ MORE - Pledging Allegiance

Did God Free America?

As Independence Day approaches, it's only natural that I should apply my developing philosophies on faith and authority to the origins of America and her government. Clearly independence from a tyrannical government leads to increased freedom. But is it right to take action against the reigning government? Is it God's will?

It is clear throughout the Bible that when nations are built up and when they are destroyed, it is God who ordains it. He has a purpose of which we are often not fully aware. I doubt there has ever been a single soul who truly understood His reason for the existence of the United States of America in the world for the past 235 years. Why was it colonized by several nations over a long time, only to shake free and become a free nation in 1776? Was the situation really so bad in the colonies that a revolt and war were necessary?

And, I must ask, how bad would things have to get for the people living in this great land to decide another revolt is needed?

This is as sensitive a subject as any I've approached here thus far. I know Christians who believe that the revolutionaries were following the call of God when they applied violence to their doctrines of independence. I've heard it said that America was established by God as a land where His law is held high. While many of us probably believe such things because we want to, there may be a kernel of truth to some of these thoughts.

It is God who establishes nations, and He uses people, good and bad, to accomplish His will for His good pleasure. When we talk about the American Revolution that led to her independence and establishment as a nation, we can focus on the people who led the revolt and wrote the Constitution, or we can focus on the God who created America.

When we focus on the people, we see decisions that were made that are not in keeping with Christ's teaching to not resist an evil person (Matthew 5:39). It may shock you to read such a statement. Am I suggesting that the colonists should have endured the suffering they experienced under British rule, without resistance? Should they have simply submitted to the governing authorities, repaying the soldiers good for evil, trusting God to care for their needs and relieve their burdens? Should they have loved their British enemies and prayed for them? I am no lover of government, but you can probably see that this is exactly what I'm suggesting. This is the behavior of God's true children (Matthew 5:44-5).

However, when we focus on God, we see His will in effect on the earth He created. In the Bible, we see Him softening and hardening hearts, giving visions and dreams, inspiring courage and fear, promising blessing and destruction, all to accomplish His purpose. Nothing He does is evil, for He is goodness itself.

The hearts of men, by contrast, are marred by evil, from the greatest to the smallest and from the most righteous to the most wicked. If God is going to use a man to accomplish His will, it must be through a man with a wicked heart, for that is the only kind available apart from Christ. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, "Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live..." and Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, "...There is not a just man on earth who does good/And does not sin." Psalms 14:3 and 53:3, quoted by Paul in Romans 3, both say, "There is none who does good/No, not one." Therefore, it is a mistake to think that God accomplishes His will through men with good hearts, for there is only One who is good.

Many Christians think that because God only does good, nothing that we perceive as bad, such as the deaths of soldiers and civilians during war, could have been His doing. I have heard several pastors teach that natural disasters are not the Lord's doing. But Amos 3:6 implies the opposite when it asks, "If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?" Shortly after the 9/11 disaster, John Piper wrote eloquently,
How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).
This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).
From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure - God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10).

Therefore it would be incorrect to think that the birth of America was not God's will, even though men went against Christ's teachings to cause it to happen.

Some say that the circumstances under which we find ourselves today are much worse than what colonists were experiencing in the 18th century. Should we then rise up and retake the land as the revolutionaries did? If we are interested in obeying God's Word and showing ourselves as His children, we will do no violence to anyone. We will not vote for violence to be conducted by anyone. We will not support someone who proposes violence.

If God chooses to break the power of the current government and to replace it with another, or to replace it with nothing, and even if He uses the violence of rebellious, disobedient men to do so, blessed be the name of the Lord. All that He does is good and right. We must continue to resist the temptations of our fleshly hearts and to follow His example in doing what is good and right.

[Originally published June 29, 2011, on the blog On Faith and Authority]
READ MORE - Did God Free America?

God's Law vs. Man's Law

In response to my previous post about the freedom to marry for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, a family member asked if I think it's important for us to return to the godly standards upon which America was founded. I'll leave the question of whether this country was actually founded on biblical principles up to historians, but I absolutely agree with him that we should uphold God's law, if he means we as the church. Hopefully we've never tired in our striving for righteousness, but it is important for us to check up on ourselves and be sure we are the salt and light our Lord intended us to be. As Paul told the Corinthian church, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?unless indeed you are disqualified." (2 Corinthians 13:5)

How do we know if we've been disqualified, for example, by the evil in the world around us? Verse 6 says, "But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified." He's saying that if Jesus is in us, then we know we're justified and sanctified through Him. Is there a way to be extra sure? Verse 7: "Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified."

If I'm understanding our Lord's Word correctly, Paul is saying that if we are doing what is honorable and not what is evil, we are not disqualified no matter how things may appear to be. As I wrote in my last post, the church should not allow sin in its midst but should "purge out the old leaven," as Paul instructed (1 Corinthians 5:7). There is a continual process of purging sin and returning to God that will not be complete until we join Him in His glory. This is true for us as individual persons and for the church at large.

If you ask me if all of America should return to God in obedience, my answer is more complex. I believe that God's kingdom is still growing from a mustard seed into a tree (Luke 13:19) and that all families of the world will be blessed through His covenant with His chosen people, which He first made with Abraham (Genesis 12:3). I take Psalm 22 literally when it says,
All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the LORD
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before you.
For the kingdom is the LORD's,
And He rules over the nations. (v. 27-8)
I have never heard of a time when all the families of the nations worshiped before God. It seems to me that if we're not looking forward to this event, then we don't really believe God. Apparently a time is coming when every family on the earth will be chosen by God for repentance and salvation.

But the question then arises, how are we to bring America to repentance? I think most of us agree that God can use our fervent prayer, our hard work in His name, our witness of His deeds and His salvation, and our holiness as His church to bring His chosen ones to repentance leading to salvation. I see this in my own church regularly, and I pray that all churches across this land are seeing glimpses of God's work in their own community.

But many Christians, and even entire churches, seem to endorse a tool for righteousness that scripture does not seem to support. Even as they call for economic freedom in America, Republicans, many of them Christians, simultaneously call for denial of the freedom for unbelievers to sin. We are taught from childhood that laws are good. But we all know what tools are necessary to enforce man's lawspolice and courts. And court decisions are enforced through yet more police action. And police only have power through violence. 

Should the church endorse the enforcement of laws regarding marriage through the use of violence? Should the church endorse violence for any reason? To do so, we would have to disregard Christ's teaching to not resist an evil person (Matthew 5:39) and Paul's teaching to repay no one evil with evil (Romans 12:17). Part of being perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), is showing mercy to unbelievers who sin because they are enslaved to sin.

God has established our city, state and national governments, as He has established all governments (even North Korea's). He controls all things, and He is King of all the nations. He has instructed His church to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1), but never does His Word tell us to endorse what they do or to be part of it. Unlike man's law, God's law is the law of love:

"...He who loves another has fulfilled the law...Love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8, 10)

"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14)

"If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well." (James 2:8)

If there is any hope of widespread repentance in America, the law of man enforced upon the unbelieving will not bring it about. God works in the world by bringing about repentance leading to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). He would have us join Him in this work rather than joining political parties and human governments in theirs. We cannot force America to return to God. We must be obedient in what our Lord has commanded in His royal law of love, so that He may draw the nations to Himself through repentance.

[Originally published June 28, 2011, on the blog On Faith and Authority]
READ MORE - God's Law vs. Man's Law