Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Christians and Patriotism

They say that there are two things to never discuss:  Religion and Politics.  But, being more than a little hard-headed and never one go along with conventional wisdom, I’m going to go ahead and discuss both!

This lesson may ruffle some feathers and step on some toes, but I think it’s particularly needful given the current situation our nation finds itself in at this time.

To say that this election season has been tumultuous would be a massive understatement! Unfortunately, when politics are involved, it seems that the worst in people is typically brought out, regardless of whether or not a high-stakes election is coming up.

Through the course of it all, I have been forced to examine myself in many ways.

Can Christians be Patriotic?

Consider this a confession of my shortcomings:  Several years ago when I first graduated from college I became very interested in politics.  I was constantly reading articles on political news and sharing my opinion with others, many times trying to defend my viewpoint against theirs.  It got to be so bad that I couldn’t hardly stand to watch certain political figures or listen to them speak without my blood pressure rising.  I would say things in political debates that I would later be ashamed of saying.

After years and years of this I looked back and realized that I needed to make some changes.  I made a pledge to myself that I would do my best to tone it all down, keep my opinion to myself as much as possible and maybe not get caught up in the news so much.  Of course, this is something that is obviously easier said than done!

I have always been proud to call myself an American.  I feel that in many ways our country is uniquely blessed.  I respect the sacrifices that have been made by so many for the freedoms that we enjoy, so envied by others around the world.  Certainly, the freedom of religion is something I am particularly thankful for as a Christian.

However, despite all this I sometimes wonder:  Can Christians be patriotic?

A Christian’s Obligation to Government

Certainly, Christians have obligations to whatever government of whichever nation they reside in.
Christians must submit to the government’s authority. We are told that governments are put into place by God Himself for our own good.

Romans 13:1-2 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

1 Peter 2:13-14 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.

(Side note:  We can even take advantage of our citizenship to further the Christian cause, just as Paul did in Acts 22.  Some in our own society seek to silence the spreading of the Gospel in reminding us of the Bible’s commands to submit to the government.  In such situations we can gently remind them of our freedom of religion and First Amendment rights.)

Christians must pay taxes.

Mark 12:17 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.

Christians must obey the law of the land.

Titus 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good…

Of course, if the laws of the land go against God’s commandments then God’s law supersedes the laws of man.

Acts 5:27-29  And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men…”

However, in spite of our obligations to the government, we must remember that Christians are in a very unique position.

A Christian’s True Citizenship

It is Christ who has ultimate authority, even over all the governments of the world.

Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”

We are called to be in the world, but not to go along with the world.

Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…

We are told to not get too caught up in the temporary matters of this world and focus instead on the work that God would have us to do.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Therefore, while we all may be Americans and we all may care very deeply about the course of this nation, we cannot allow our zeal for the United States overshadow our devotion to Christ!  We can’t allow ourselves to get so caught up in being Americans that we forget to be Christians!

Patriotism as Idol Worship

Patriotism could in some ways be considered a form of idol worship.  As we have already established, our faith and adoration should be for Christ alone, all other things should be secondary at best.
Some people have elevated the Founding Fathers of our country to a very revered status.  To some, the U.S. Constitution is almost as highly regarded as the Bible.  While America is indeed quite exceptional, we must realize that like any other man-made institution it is ultimately fallible and therefore imperfect as anything else in the world.

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Matthew 6:19-21 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

So many seem put all their hope, trust, and faith into a political party or candidate, but we must recognize that no politician can save us.

In fact, one could make the argument that the very reason our nation has come to be in the state it is in is due to the individual citizens.  Recall that the Israelites desired to be like other nations and demanded that they have a king to rule over them.  God relented and allowed them to do as they pleased and have their king (1 Samuel 8).

When we lift up any candidate in such a way, we are rejecting God and His authority.

Matthew 6:24  No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other…

(While this verse is describing how Christians cannot serve God and riches I believe the same point could apply to anything we allow to supplant God’s authority.)

Political Disagreements

Further problems can be caused by yielding our allegiance to a political party instead of trusting God is that we can allow ourselves to lose focus on God’s will rather than man’s.

Furthermore, many people are so dedicated to their chosen political party that they may make compromises when it comes to being a Christian.  If we are going to be completely honest with ourselves, no political party’s ideals or platforms completely align to God’s commandments.  Conservative or Liberal, Democrat or Republican, these man-made ideologies all fall short of God's standard.

People are very passionate about their opinions and in the course of disagreeing with others, they can be very unloving.  They may call each other names, spread vicious rumors about a particular candidate, or flat-out lie to make some kind of point.  Christians cannot allow themselves to participate in such vile discourse!

Matthew 5:22  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[a] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

We are only temporary residents of this world.  Again, if indeed our true citizenship is within the Kingdom of Heaven, then we need to conduct ourselves accordingly.

1 Peter 2:11-12 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.

When we get caught up in political discussion, find ourselves in the heat of the moment and subsequently lose our cool, we misrepresent our calling.  Jesus reminds us of just how important it is that our conduct remains holy in all situations.

Matthew 5:13-16  “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We Must Love Christ Over All

Christ tells us that He is to be loved and adored over all.

Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

We have discussed this verse before.  When Jesus used the word “hate” in this verse He used a hyperbole to emphasize His point.  Of course Jesus doesn’t want us to actually hate anyone, but He does want us to love Him above all others.

If Jesus made this demand in relation to our earthly families whom we love so dearly, then don’t you think that He expects that we love Him more than our home country as well?

Walking the Tightrope

I want to be sure to clarify that the point of this lesson is not to say that we have to do away with any sense of national pride that we might have or that we shouldn’t participate in the upcoming election.

My point is that we cannot allow ourselves to forget that our true citizenship is the Kingdom of God, that Christ is the one to whom all authority belongs, and that we need to let those  our devotion to these truths define us rather than anything within this world.

But as we live in this world, we walk the tightrope of the Narrow Way.

Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

If it were easy, everyone would do it.  As it is with so many other things in the Christian walk, striking just the right balance is the key.

How do we find the equilibrium of being both a proud American and a dedicated servant of God?

Pray for God’s Will to be Done – Ultimately, it is God’s will that shall be done...  Regardless of the world's stubborn resistance.  Therefore we should always pray for God’s hand to guide us in all things.  With this in mind we should thusly pray for our nation and our leaders.

1 Timothy 2:1-2  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

How do we interact with others when political disagreements become the topic of discussion?

Remember the “Golden Rule” – It’s OK to disagree with the political ideologies of others, but let’s be very careful to not let things get out of hand if we do respond.  We don’t want to be marginalized or insulted, so let’s not ridicule others.

Luke 6:31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

Listen – Sometimes we need to temporarily forego those First Amendment rights and bite our tongue in certain situations.  We should listen to someone else’s viewpoint rather than merely seek to make a rebuttal of some kind.

James 1:19 So then,  my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…

Be Loving – When we inevitably meet someone we don’t see eye to eye with and they begin to say awful things to us, let’s resist the urge to retaliate.  Let Christ's love be evident in our words and actions.

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you

Conclusion:  Our Heavenly Citizenship

A point that resurfaced time and again throughout this lesson was the idea of citizenship within the Kingdom of Heaven.

While here on this Earth so many revere America as a united nation, the Kingdom of Heaven is even greater as it sets aside all ethnicity, social status, and gender.

And as sad is it is to say, it’s simply the truth that America is only temporary.  Whether it ends tomorrow due to threats from without or within or it lasts even until the Day of Judgement, America will end.  But that greater kingdom will last forever.

But how do we obtain citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom?

Galatians 3:26-28 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Defeating Fear

Fear is one of the most primal parts of the human psyche.  At best it can cause us to be careful and, in some cases, even serve to motivate us.

Some Things We Should Fear

Some fears are instinctive and essential to our survival.  Newborn babies are born with a fear of falling.  Even in our technologically advanced society we have a natural fear of predators.  Such innate fears encourage us to exercise caution in certain situations.

Fear can also cause us to gain an appreciation, a deep respect in some instances.

In a somewhat similar fashion it is wise to fear God.

Matthew 10:28  Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and the body in Hell.

If we truly fear (deeply respect) God, we will do what He commands without question.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is:  Fear God and keep His commandments because this applies to every person.

Some fears can actually be beneficial in the spiritual realm.  For example, we are told to flee sinful conduct.

1 Timothy 6:11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

However, at this point I would like to turn focus toward the negative aspects of fear.  We know all too well that being afraid can have detrimental effects.  Fear can get the best of us and can be absolutely crippling, hindering us from being all that we could be, doing all that we could do.

The Pitfalls of Fear

In the physical sense, fear can limit our ability to live life to the fullest.  Some people have severe phobias that hinder them from flying, taking an elevator, or even climbing a ladder.  Others have such extreme phobias that they won’t even leave their houses.

Less severe, more common fears still limit people from reaching their full potential in life.  People can be afraid of failure and may never even risk trying, forfeiting life-changing opportunities.  Some may miss out potentially great relationships due to being afraid of commitment.  Others cave to societal pressure and fear the opinion of others, conforming to behavior that might be completely contrary to their nature!

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

Think of what you wouldn’t have accomplished in your life if you always gave in to fear.  Think of all the opportunities you could have missed out on if you hadn’t mustered up the resolve to grit your teeth and face the challenges of life head on.

Sometimes we can be so afraid of something that we fail to realize that what we are afraid of really isn’t worth the worry.  How many times have you found that to be the truth?  How many times have you faced up to something you dreaded only to come out unscathed on the other end?

I’ve worried about a great many things, but most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain

Fear is as limitless as the imagination because most usually fear is of the unknown, things which have not yet come to pass.  Therefore fear only has the limitations we ourselves place upon it.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Spiritual Consequences of Fear

Fear can also thwart us in our Christian walk.

Fear reveals that we are not yet perfected servants of God.

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

Fear reveals a lack of faith.

Matthew 8:26  But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”  Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

Mark 4:39-40  Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

We could even do as far as to say that fear is actually the opposite of faith!

Fear can hinder us from serving God.

In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus told the Parable of the Talents.  Notice what it was that prevented the wicked servant from doing as his master commanded.

Matthew 25:25-26  And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.

As you might recall this was not pleasing to the master in the parable.  Likewise, God is not pleased when we allow our fears to keep up from performing our Christian duties.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

“Do not Fear”

It’s interesting to notice that “Do not fear” is one of the most often repeated commands in the Bible!  In fact, aside from Jesus’ teachings of loving others, the rejection of fear (Do not fear/Do not be afraid/Fear not/Take courage) appears to be a major point of Jesus’ message across the Gospels!
While there are countless fears that we could succumb to, we must realize that none of these fears excuse us from serving God!

The Apostle Paul recognized the challenges presented by fear.

2 Corinthians 7:5  For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side:  conflicts without, fears within…

However, we know that Paul pressed on to do the Lord's work!

Even Jesus Himself confronted fear – recall His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – He had to overcome great fear to fulfill His mission on Earth and go through the anguish of the cross.

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”  - John Wayne

So how do we defeat fear?

David and Goliath

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of defeating fear is the account of David and Goliath.  Recall that during this time that the Israelites were battling against the Philistines.  Their champion was the giant Goliath who was around nine feet tall, covered in heavy armor, brandishing a huge spear.  The Philistine mocked the Israelites and challenged them to send out their own champion to challenge him in one-to-one combat.

1 Samuel 17:11,24 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid; And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were dreadfully afraid.

Around this time David – at this point a young shepherd no older than 15 – came to the Israelite camp to deliver food to his brothers.  Upon hearing the words of Goliath, David questioned the soldiers asking who would dare defy the armies of the living God? David volunteered to go out and fight the giant, only with his staff, sling, and five stones…  The very tools he used to defend his flocks as a shepherd!  David reasoned:  “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

1 Samuel 17:45-47 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”

What was it that made David so confident in the face of the Philistine giant, the one who so many others feared?

Draw Your Strength from God

Notice that David was not afraid of Goliath because he drew His strength from a Higher Power.

Psalm 46:1  God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.

Likewise when we face our own seemingly insurmountable challenges, we should let God be our strength!  While we may never face a Philistine giant, God can be our strength in times when we are weak and afraid.

Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

2 Corinthians 12:9-10  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Philippians 4:13  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Seek the Reassurance of God

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane knowing that in a few agonizing hours that He would be marching to His death, what did He do?  Recall that He prayed, seeking the reassurance of God!

Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 56:3  Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.

As always, we cannot allow ourselves to overlook the power of prayer.  God offers comfort to us in times of distress. When we are afraid we need to pray to God for relief.

Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Focus on Pleasing God Alone

Remember throughout the account of David and Goliath that David kept giving the glory to God.  Through His submission David found victory on the battlefield.  We must do the same in our spiritual warfare against the Devil.  God promises us victory when we trust in Him alone!

James 4:7  Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Additionally, if we focus on pleasing God and God alone, we can let go of the fear of societal pressures.  We should not concern ourselves with what everyone else is doing and feel ashamed of being the odd one out.  Instead, we should focus on God’s will and seek to please Him.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Hebrews 13:6 So we say with confidence:  “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?”

Study God’s Word for Encouragement

The word “Gospel” translated from the Greek literally means “Good News”!  We don’t have to look too hard in the Bible to find words that will embolden and encourage us when circumstances are uncertain.

Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Conclusion:  “There’s a Great Day Coming”

Do You Fear the Judgement Day?

We sometimes in my home congregation sing the song “Are You Ready?”

I remember when that song used to fill me with a degree of anxiety as the lyrics asked:  “There’s a Great Day coming… Are you ready…  For the Judgement Day?”

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Do You Fear the Judgement Day?

As inevitable as our own death, the Judgement day is coming…

Hebrews 9:27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment…

Do these verses cause you to feel a sense of dread?  Perhaps the matter of your salvation is unresolved?  Maybe you need to seek a closer relationship with God?

Do You Fear the Judgement Day?

You Don’t Have To!

One who walks with God as He should and has made the appropriate preparations has no reason to fear…  The coming of the Judgement Day should actually fill us with hope!

Hebrews 9:28 ...So also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for Him.

Christ died so that we could have a closer relationship with God through the forgiveness of our sins.

If you haven’t taken that first step in becoming a Christian, why not remove that burden of fear and instead seek the hope and certainty that Christ offers?