The Modern Good Samaritan

modern_good_samaritan

Government oversight of God’s Kingdom?

First-century Christians were persecuted by Rome as “enemies of the state” — a charge that would have been overlooked if those Christians had just been willing to share the loyalty they had for Christ with Caesar. Rome didn’t mind if you worshipped God, as long as you paid proper respect (i.e. worship) to Caesar, too.

Empire10To their credit, many of those early Christians would have rather died than share one ounce of the adoration, to which only God is entitled, with another. We know this because many of them did exactly that — they died at the hands of a secular government that demanded of them a thing they just could not give…

…their absolute loyalty.

It is a situation that has survived to this very day — Fast forward to the 20th century.

World War I put a fresh emphasis on the loyalty one “owed” to his or her nation state. That loyalty was absolute. You must answer your “nation’s call.” And, if answering that call costs you your life, well, that’s only appropriate — you owe it.

Later, with the rise of more and more totalitarian governments like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China, we see this demand on loyalty increase. And, just like their spiritual forefathers in the Roman Empire, Christians found themselves in a difficult position.

Communist governments closely monitored religion. Sermons were subject to state approval and censorship. Only state-sanctioned churches were allowed. You could participate in your chosen religion only as long as it did not interfere with your first priority — absolute loyalty to the state.

You see, everything was viewed only in light of its value to the state — including people. Christians were particularly dangerous, because they recognized something — someone — as greater than the state. Since that kind of attitude was intolerable, these Christians had to be dealt with. Those who refused government oversight found themselves in prison. Many were tortured. Many died. Just like in Rome.

This should come as no surprise, really. The 20th century theologian and writer, Francis Schaeffer, outlined this quite well…

“We must realize that the Reformation worldview leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist worldview with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.”

Fast forward to the present.

china_church_stifled_1148038826_855986In China Christians are subject to the same kind of scrutiny as the Christians who lived in communist countries in Eastern Europe. There are state-approved churches. Other churches are outlawed because they have no government oversight. Everyone is expected to owe their loyalty first to the state — to Caesar.

At this point, American Christians frequently will say, “I’m so glad that isn’t true here.” Or “I’m glad we live in a free country where that sort of thing couldn’t happen.”

Really?

Please consider…

There are those who will look at evidence like this and say it’s not big deal. After all, we don’t have a state-approved church. We don’t have federal government officials attending services in order to scrutinize the content like they do in China.

No, we don’t. But, in China the Christians are actively resisting the encroachment of the state into the church. In America many of our churches freely and enthusiastically embrace statism in their services — openly glorifying another.

Dave Black, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has cautioned against this kind of thing before…

“Our God is a color blind God. Our God is a dollar blind God. Our God is a status blind God. Our God is a nation blind God. To say or to imply that America is somehow a “holy nation” is, in my humble estimation, blasphemous. The household of God (to which I belong by God’s grace) is the only holy nation on earth. It includes in its membership all Christians of all ages, all nationalities, all levels of social strata, all levels of intelligence. The lesson is clear. From the moment of my conversion to Christ, and from the moment of your conversion to Christ, we have been in fellowship with every other Christian in the world, be they American or Ethiopian or Chinese or Iraqi or Iranian. The Bible tells us “we are all one in Christ Jesus” — and that includes our guest speaker this morning who came to us from southern India.

It is here, on the national level, that we are called upon to demonstrate to a lost world the reality of our fellowship. We are bound together by a unity that goes far beyond mere geography or nationality let alone hobby or personal interest or political affiliation or denomination. Only when we learn to see ourselves as this kind of a holy nation, only when we learn to treasure that kind of fellowship, only when we experience this kind of trans-national love, will we fulfill our vocation as saints.

Beware of the sin of nationalism, my friends. A Christian is a citizen of a heavenly commonwealth because he or she belongs to the holy nation of the people of God. This, and this alone, is the only Christian nation. Other nations may contain Christians, and they may be influenced to one degree or another by Christian principles, but there will never be a Christian nation except the people redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

I pray that God will grant the church in America the ability to recognize the sinfulness of nationalism and the courage to resist it. We are, indeed, citizens of a heavenly commonwealth — one that is NOT subject to the scrutiny of any earthly government.

Let’s act like it.

The Sin of Nationalism on Display

My last two posts have dealt essentially with the sin of nationalism. I find it ironic and providential that I just ran across the latest column of political commentator, Ann Coulter, where she masterfully — and unintentionally — illustrated my point.

Ms Coulter wrote a piece entitled, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic,’” in which she soundly criticizes Dr. Kent Brantly for going to Liberia to treat Ebola patients in the name of Christ. A couple of her arguments include…

  • The $2 million spent on his care by the missions organizations that sent him overwhelmed any good he did while in Liberia.
  • His time would have been better spent trying to “open the eyes” of the influential in America because that would have done “more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.”

The underlying premise behind Coulter’s column is that American Christians should take care of America first. In fact, Coulter goes on to explain that Dr. Brantly’s primary motivations for going on a mission trip to Liberia were…

  • To avoid the criticism of being a Christian witness in the U.S. — “…American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools [because] They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World Countries, away from American culture to do good works.”
  • To gain the prestige associated with being a foreign missionary — “Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest countries in the nation, Zavala County, where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless. But, serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’ We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s ‘unusual drive to help the less fortunate’ or his membership in the ‘Gold Humanitarian Honor Society.’ Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket.”

Thid-TatteredFlagAfter this, Coulter goes for the jugular… “Today’s Christians… are strangely timid for people who have been given eternal life. They need to buck up, serve their own country, and remind themselves every day of Christ’s words: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’”

All of this is of paramount importance, you understand, because, according to Coulter, “America is the most consequential nation on Earth, and in desperate need of God at the moment. If America fails, it will be a thousand years of darkness for the entire planet.”

Whew!

Allow me to retort…

  1. The $2 million spent on Dr. Brantly’s care did not overwhelm any good he might have done. Everything belongs to God and He supplies us as needed when we are about His business, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:19
  2. God does not need to “open up the eyes” of the influential in America in order to accomplish His goals. He is in complete control, even of the influential… “The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” — Proverbs 21:1
  3. Christians are motivated to action by things much stronger than avoiding criticism and gaining notoriety… “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” — Romans 8:14
  4. Suggesting Dr. Brantly willingly went into a “disease-ridden cesspools” because he was too afraid to face being called names in the U.S. is just (I will censor myself here and use the word “silly”). The man literally risked his very life to treat Ebola patients. Coulter calls that “timid.”
  5. Coulter’s suggestion is for Christians to stop showing that kind of timidity, “buck up,” and “serve their own country” — this is the meat of the issue. Christians who follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit to the far reaches of this earth ARE serving their own country. I may have a U.S. Passport, but the United States is not my country. I belong to God’s Kingdom. Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, them My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” You see, those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, have our citizenship in heaven.

I do agree with Ms Coulter on one point: America IS in desperate need of God. But never make the mistake of thinking God is in desperate need of America. His kingdom is quite secure.

A Christian’s Attitude at Tax Time

What would you call it if a person walked up, pointed a gun at you, and demanded your money?

Robbery.

What if three guys did it? Would it be something else?

Of course not, it’s still robbery.

Okay, but suppose you live in a town of 100 people and 75 of them got together and agreed to send three guys to your house with guns to take your possessions. What’s that?

Robbery. C’mon!

Well, how many of them would have to get involved before taking your stuff was justified? 80? 90? 99? What?

That’s silly. It doesn’t matter how many people agree to steal my stuff — it’s still robbery.

What if they gave you a vote?

Doesn’t matter.

But suppose they came and took your possessions and, after pawning it off, took the proceeds and fed some hungry people in the neighborhood. Would that justify their actions?

Of course not, robbery is robbery regardless of what you do with the stolen property.

All of those scenarios were robbery — and easily understood as wrong — yet we blindly accept this kind of robbery in America every day. Many of us enthusiastically support it.

We just call it taxes.

The federal government of the United States — the worst offender — confiscates huge portions of our money every year and gives it away based upon their discretion. And, should we refuse to pay, the “authorities” would eventually show up at our door to take our money or our freedom by force. We are robbed, quite literally, at the point of a gun.

Now, I know what many of you are probably thinking… the Bible tells us to always submit to the government. No. I contend the Bible tells us to render to people what is legitimately theirs and to submit to legitimate authorities. You see, everything that Caesar claims is his is not his. And, when you boil it all down to the basics, most taxation is, in fact, the same thing as theft. A majority vote does not justify it.

So, why draw this comparison at all? Because it’s tax time in America and many of us have become conditioned to think it is our “patriotic duty” to fork over our hard-earned money to the ones holding a gun on us.

It’s really no different than a mob boss sending thugs around the neighborhood collection protection money. The mob boss wants you to pay for services you neither asked for nor needed. And, he is prepared to use force and intimidation to make you “accept” his services.

The federal government is just like this. The Internal Revenue Service is a master at intimidation and is dispatched every year at this time to collect money from us for services we neither asked for nor need. In fact, most of us have voiced our objection to these “services” over and over again — the propagandized “Affordable Care Act” being the most recent and egregious example.

But, this sort of extortion is nothing new. It might be comforting to know that people throughout history have had to deal with this sort of thing.

Augustine of Hippo, a Christian theologian and apologist who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, commented on this very thing in his book, the City of God

“Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a vast scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention. If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it requires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of ‘kingdom,’ which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by the renouncing of aggression but by the attainment of impunity. For it was a witty and a truthful rejoinder, which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, ‘What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, ‘The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate; because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.’”

So, why even bring any of this up? Because, as Christians we need to understand that wicked men will always try to plunder what they can, whether they wear the title, “emperor” or “pirate,” “mob boss” or “president.” From time-to-time all of them step beyond their legitimate authority and engage in criminal behavior. And when they do we need to stop pretending that one is any better than the other. None of them are worthy of our devotion and loyalty.

PiratePistolBut, there is one who is. One who harbors no ulterior motive and no hidden agenda. One who is righteous, holy, and worthy of our loyalty. One whose kingdom is enduring and eternal.

Only One.

And it is to His Kingdom we need to turn our attention.

So, where does this leave us on the question of the proper attitude toward taxes? Should we pay them or not? Should we only obey governments that are legitimate? Should we always resist governments that are illegitimate? What do we do?

It depends on what will bring glory and honor to our King.

Sometimes it honors God to defy the illegitimate laws of men, just as the apostles did when they refused to obey the order of the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Sometimes it honors God to comply with an illegitimate law — and Scripture provides the perfect example…

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you now know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.'” — John 19:5-11

If ever there was a situation where a government had zero authority over someone it is when Jesus stood before Pilate. Christ is the supreme lawgiver — holy and righteous. He is the rightful judge of all those who judged him and yet he allowed himself to be placed under their power — subjecting himself to sinners. Why?

Obedience.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” — Philippians 2:5-8

Those men had no right to judge Christ, but Christ was not concerned with his own rights. He was not concerned with the injustice of his situation. He was concerned only with the glory of his Father in heaven.

John recorded an instance where Jesus taught his disciples about his purpose.

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” — John 14:30-31

Note that Jesus points out the “ruler of this world” has no claim on him yet he is going to do as the Father has commanded so that “the world may know” that he loves the Father.

Jesus was sent to this earth for a purpose. Not to defend his own rights against an unjust empire, but to accomplish the will of his Father. Likewise, we are saved for a purpose. Not to defend our own rights against a wicked and sinful generation, but to accomplish the will of our Father. Illegitimate governments and the wicked men who run them have no claim on us — but we do as the Father has commanded.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” — Ephesians 2:10

We need to remember that God’s will for us is that we always bring glory to Him. And that should be our guiding principle in life.

crownIn fact, we should rarely, if ever, concern ourselves with the legitimacy of earthly laws. If they are legitimate then they will be completely consistent with God’s higher law and our obedience to them will stem from our obedience to God. If they are illegitimate we may or may not be obedient to them — depending on what will glorify our Father in heaven.

 

Seizing the opportunity

One of the provisions of the ridiculously misnamed “Affordable Care Act” (commonly known as “Obamacare”) forces employers to pay for the abortion services of employees. The owner of the craft store chain Hobby Lobby is a professing Christian and has a serious moral and religious aversion to abortion. Yet, the federal government of the United States is trying to force him and his company to finance it. This is exactly what I was talking about in September when I characterized this sort of situation as a “Golden Opportunity.”

ThidBugleHobby Lobby’s leaders have seized the opportunity and are standing up against a government that has overstepped its authority. They are refusing to pay for something they regard as morally reprehensible and, more importantly, openly sinful. Their actions could potently cost them more than $1 million a day in fines. And yet they stand firm. I commend them.

May the Lord be glorified in their courageous stand.

The collapse of an idol

In 1 Samuel chapter 5 we read about the results of a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. The Philistines captured the ark of God — which the Israelites had carried into battle — and took it into the house of Dagon, the Philistine god. In those days if you defeated an enemy in battle it was considered an indication that your god was greater than the god of your enemy. The ark of God was to the Philistines a representation of the God of Israel and so they brought it into the house of Dagon as a way of honoring Dagon. And why shouldn’t they? I mean, after all, a victory in battle is a clear indication of divine favor — isn’t it?

Thid-FoldedFlagNow, we know that Dagon was a false god — a mere idol fashioned by the hands of men. Nevertheless, it was this false god the Philistines believed provided them with food, security, victory over their enemies, etc. And, since Dagon provided them with these things, they paid homage to Dagon — as was the common practice among many pagan nations of that day.

To varying degrees, nations honored their idols. They gave their money to them, sacrificed animals to them, called upon them in their time of need, worshipped them with ceremonies, sacred words and songs, and even sacrificed their own children to them.

But, God does not tolerate idols forever. Sooner or later they will all be brought low before Him. If you keep reading in 1 Samuel chapter 5 you will see what happened to Dagon after the Philistines placed the ark of God before him.

“And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.” — 1 Samuel 5:3-4

After that God plagued the Philistines with tumors. They finally got the hint. Israel’s God was more powerful than Dagon. They got rid of the ark in a hurry.

Now, before we start talking trash about the speck in the eyes of the Philistines, we’d better take a look in the mirror to see if you have a plank in our own. Is there anything out there we regard in the same fashion as the Philistines regarded Dagon?

Do we…

  • Pay homage to an emblem made by the hands of men?
  • Give our money to something?
  • Call upon someone in our time of need?
  • Worship some entity with ceremonies? Pledges? Songs?
  • Do we sacrifice our children for the sake of something?

If you live in the United States of America as I do then you don’t have to look very hard to discover the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “yes.”

In fact, the republic for which our flag stands is constantly changing. Please consider…

I remain convinced that the vilest idol in America is America. But please note, the characteristics of the United States that may have prompted many of us to regard it as an idol are quickly vanishing.

Thid-TatteredFlagCould it be that God is allowing Christians to witness, first hand, the fall of such a prominent idol so that we might return to Him as uncompromising subjects of the King of kings? Might this be a call to Christians to reject loyalty to any earthly empire in exchange for the desire to serve only Him and His Kingdom?

A golden opportunity

We have learned in recent months that President Obama’s sweeping healthcare reform law requires employers to provide abortion services for employees — even employers with deep-seated, religious convictions against abortion. Americans are being forced to fund activity they regard as morally repugnant, even criminal. The federal government of the United States doesn’t care.

The matter has gone to court.

President Obama’s attorneys are arguing that government can “override” your religion. How they square that with the first amendment to the constitution is a mystery. Nevertheless, the point of this post is NOT to outline the egregious violations of both the constitution and the natural rights of men in the implementation of Obamacare (to adequately outline these violations would take multiple posts). No, the point of THIS post is to point out to my brothers and sisters in Christ the incredible opportunity our Lord is placing right before us.

Recall the apostles in Acts 5 who were preaching in the Temple. People were being healed and saved. This made the high priest quite jealous and he had the apostles arrested and imprisoned. An angel of the Lord released them and told them to go back to the Temple to preach, which they did.

The high priest brought the apostles back in. Let’s pick the story up there…

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. — Acts 5:27-41

Please note that when the laws of men contradict the laws of God, they are null and void. The high priest ordered the apostles not to preach in Jesus’ name. He had no authority to give such an order because they had orders from a higher authority to do just that.

Likewise, Christians in America now have a golden opportunity to disregard a law our government has no authority to issue. We have been commanded by God not to murder. And make no mistake about this: Abortion IS murder. We are to have no part in it.

You may be wondering, if Christian businessmen disregard the mandate to provide abortion services to their employees won’t that be costly?

You bet it will.

They could be fined. They could lose their businesses. They could even go to jail. And therein lies the golden opportunity — the opportunity to put feet to our faith. Standing up for Christ when it is difficult is what really sets us apart from the world and calls attention to our Lord. Besides, the apostles in Acts 5 give us the perfect example of what our mindset should be in trying circumstances. Please notice the last sentence in the passage above — “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

An honor to suffer?

Yep.

But, some will argue, in today’s society resisting these laws will be characterized as intolerant and narrow minded. It won’t really bring honor to our Lord.

I direct your attention to the apostle Paul at Mars Hill. In Acts 17 we read about Paul’s encounter with the philosophers of his day. Men who sat around trying to impress one another with their thinking (not unlike modern day politicians). You should understand that before he addressed these men, Paul was fully aware that the gospel would sound foolish to them. But he went on ahead and preached, his faithfulness to God being his primary concern…

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” — Acts 17:22-31

These men were no more likely to accept Paul’s message than are those in our day. Yet notice what happened…

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed… — Acts 17:32-34

The same will happen today. If Christians stand against unjust laws in favor of obeying God they will be mocked. Count on it. But, others will want to hear more. More importantly, some will believe.

Living out our faith as a testimony to Christ has never been an easy thing. Jesus never said it would be. But, for the sake of those who will witness our testimony, who will see how we react in the midst of suffering, we should be willing to endure all things. This is why Paul, while wearing chains in a Roman prison, was able to write this to young Timothy…

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. — 2 Timothy 2:8-10

Yes, brethren, we are witnessing the erosion of liberty in America — and what a wonderful opportunity it is.

%d bloggers like this: