Category Archives: The Majesty of God

Civil Obedience

Is it right for whole communities to refuse to obey immigration laws?  What about for you?  Is it right for you to pick and choose which laws you will obey?  Consider these words from Peter:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 

Our first response might be to object, to bring up exceptions.  Are we supposed to be subject to an authority who is corrupt or wicked?  Nero was in power when Peter wrote this.  His wickedness and cruelty was the stuff of legend. And yet. Peter taught us to be subject to such rulers.

But, what if a ruler’s commands are contrary to the commands of God?  Peter faced that dilemma when he was ordered by the Jewish council not to tell people about Jesus.  His response is instructive:

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”   (Acts 4:18-20)

Although Peter and John could not, in conscience, obey the authorities, they still were subject  to them, honest about their disobedience and submissively ready to accept the consequences.  Being subject to the authorities does not always mean obeying them.

But why be subject to them?  Why not take action to weaken the authority of those in power who are corrupt or wicked?  Peter tells us:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.   (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Of course, Peter had a good Role Model in this.  Taking his cues from Jesus, he wrote:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Peter 2:20-24)

We are subject to human authorities because we are subject to God, Who has told us to do so.  We do not take matters into our own hands but entrust ourselves to God, knowing that His plans will prevail.

Bragging Rights

This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.     (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

I have nothing to add…

The Whole Truth

Why did so many Christian churches not speak out against the injustices of the Nazi regime?  Fear, maybe, of persecution or simply a decline in offerings?  Wanting to ride the wave of popularity and power?  Perhaps it was easier to tell people what they wanted to hear?  Who knows?  But that disgraceful failure is one of the more dangerous consequences of picking and choosing from the Bible what seems convenient to believe.

Today, the same failure is routinely practiced in churches.  It’s no mystery why churches that only preach what people want to hear are wildly popular.  But God said,

“…prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say,
when there is no peace.”   (Jeremiah 8:10b-11)

Imagine going to the doctor with a gangrenous wound, hoping it’s not serious.   The doctor knows you are worried, so he says, “This is no big deal; we’ll just put a band-aid on it.”  Inconceivable, but precisely what has been done, far too often,  by people entrusted with the truth of God’s Word.  Paul warned Timothy not to be tempted by the strong pull of popular opinion and desire.  He said:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

If you haven’t found one yet, look for a church that delivers “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

The Meaning of Meaninglessness

Here’s a special treat.  In the last several posts we have chewed on Ecclesiastes, but how can we scoop its message all together?  It seems so full of contradictions – just like you!  Scholars have tried for centuries to make sense of it.  But, Ecclesiastes is about real life, real life that throws curve balls.  Recently, my son sent me a wonderful You Tube about Ecclesiastes.  These guys really get it.  I couldn’t summarize the book any better.  Check it out.  But do yourself a favor and wait for a moment when you can really watch and listen.  It begins with a short Hebrew song and then goes way deep.   Click HERE.

But wait, there’s more!  No, not steak knives…    This same group produced a beautiful song based on the teachings of Ecclesiastes.  You’ll find it HERE.

And, If you missed this short series, the first one is found HERE.

Grace and peace.

Seasons

If you want to write a hit song for Millennials, here’s how (that is, according to a joke I saw recently):  First you start with some banjo.  Then all the musicians shout “Hey!”   The body of the song should contain complaints about life by Millennials.  Then another “Hey!”  Finish with a bit more banjo, played faster and fading out.  Like any good joke, it’s an exaggeration based on a bit of truth.  And the truth is, young people tend to complain when things aren’t going the way they hoped.  And write songs about it.  It’s not just Millennials.  My generation did it back in the 60’s.  “I’m just a man of constant sorrow. I’ve seen trouble all my days.”  We sang that with earnest looks, even though our “days” were just getting started.

But, spend time with an old farmer, someone who has struggled through the ups and downs of a tough life, and you’re much more apt to hear a fiddle tune than a bunch of complaining.  The farmers I have known are well acquainted with the fact that life ebbs and flows through good times and bad, and that complaining only makes it worse.  In fairness to Millennials, their generation is also known for a desire to “keep it real.” And in time, by “keeping it real,” they will be known for patient acceptance of life’s various seasons.  Because those seasons are real.

Perhaps the most famous section of Ecclesiastes are these next verses.

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Try to identify exactly which of these seasons you have experienced and when.  Call to mind any of the ways you experienced God’s influence and care during them.

A Reminder

Why do people whisper in an art museum?  Never could figure that out but suppose it has something to do with awe.  Stand in front of a Rembrandt and somehow you don’t feel like talking.  At least not out loud.  And yet, in most church settings, as people come bopping in, laughing, calling to their friends, there seems to be no sense of awe.  This is nothing new and it is understandable.  You can see a Rembrandt and you can’t see God.  It’s easy to forget where you are and what you are doing.

But God is here.  Not just in church, but here, with us as we go through life.  And when we pause, to talk things over with Him, here’s a reminder from Ecclesiastes:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)

There’s a great scene in the movie, Papa, where a cub reporter, who idolizes Ernest Hemingway, and has sent him a fan letter, answers the phone and discovers it is his hero calling.  Once he’s gone through the “Who is this really?” routine and knows it really is Hemingway on the phone, suddenly he can hardly form a single word, much less a sentence.  That’s the idea here.

That is why I cringe when I hear someone say, “Well, I guess we better start with a quick word of prayer.”  Or, “Ralph, would you say the blessing?”   If we could open our eyes to see Jesus, Himself, seated in the meeting or at the table, such lines would seem insulting.  Like, “Before we tell you what we think you should do, God, we’re just going to say a few religious sounding words to kind of set the right tone…”

If we are in our right minds, we fear God.  This means treating Him with appropriate reverence, respect and a willingness to let Him call the shots.  It means recognizing He is God and we are not, not even close.  There is no more important setting for the fear of God than when we are about to address Him and listen.

Vantage Advantage

You are  going to die, so what’s the point of living?  According to the guy who wrote Ecclesiastes, there is no point. Once you are dead, theres no difference between the wise person and the fool.  They wind up in the same condition and will both, eventually be forgotten.

Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:15 -17)

But this hopeless outlook changes when we do not limit our perspective to only that which happens “under the sun.”  (See Part 2 for further explanation)  

If you look at a piece of stitchwork from the back side, it doesn’t make much sense – bunch of tangled, knotted yarn hanging down.  But if you look from above, you see a beautiful picture.  That’s the vantage point advantage.  When we look at our circumstances from God’s vantage point, seeing things as He does instead of merely from “under the sun,” life seems less hopeless and pointless.  We begin to see life as a gift from a generous God.  

This principle is stated and restated many times and ways throughout Ecclesiastes.  It’s a recurrent theme in all of scripture.  Without God, everything looks pointless because we die.  But when we are reverently mindful of God, the outlook changes.  So,

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.  (Ecclesiastes 5:18 -19)