Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Submit to our authority...but what exactly is that?

1st Peter 2:13-17 [ESV]

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

On Sunday mornings in the congregation where I serve, I am preaching through the book of 1st Peter verse by verse.  Two weeks ago on Sunday we reached 1st Peter 2:13-17. 

The Apostle Peter is writing to dispersed Christians throughout the Roman Empire; and the directive he gives these dispersed Christians is, “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…”  He mentions specifically the Emperor. 

This is shocking.  For those that do not know, the Emperor at that time was no friend to Christians, did not hold Christian prayer meetings in their chambers, and did not bow the knee to the Lord – that Emperor was a Caesar.  He was wicked, evil, and cruel.  His governors often ruled with iron fists.  The Roman government was known for violence and often questioned people, “by flogging.”  Yet, Peter makes it clear that as far as they were able Christians were to be subject to that wicked ruler – even suffering unjustly for doing good.  They were to do all of this, “for the Lord’s sake.” 

The key when dealing with a text like this, however, is to attempt to apply the principle to the modern-day American Christian.  We have no Emperor.  We have no Roman governor.  Yet, the principle remains – be subject, for the Lord’s sake, to every human institution.

So the key is to answer the question, “what is the human institution that God has placed me under to which I am to be subject to?”  That is a very important question and I am afraid that many Christians have no idea how to answer that question; and it is our collective ignorance of the answer to that question that is the root cause of the degeneration of our freedoms in our beloved country. 

Let me explain.  I live in Maryland.  The Governor of our state is a Republican, Gov. Larry Hogan.  I live in Southern Maryland and my U.S. House of Representative is Steny Hoyer, a Democrat.  No matter your political persuasion, the example will hold – so in your head choose either of these men and either of their positions in the following example. 

Suppose the Governor or Congressman Hoyer appeared at my house and said, “I am the authority.  I am the Governor/Congressman – this house now belongs personally to me.”  Would I acquiesce to this request?  He is the authority, is he not?  He is the Governor.  He is the Congressman.  I think we know the answer to this question – of course I would not.  I would fight the directive of the Governor and the Congressman precisely because by making such a declaration the Governor and the Congressman would be stepping outside the clearly enumerated authorities given to them and attempting to usurp authority not vested in them by the people.  Basically, they would be breaking the law. 

This is an important distinction between the differing human institutions between the one Peter lived under and the one 21st century Americans live under.  When Peter wrote, there was an Emperor.  As I write, I live under a Constitution; of which gives powers to the President, the Congress, and the Judiciary.  The powers of these authorities are clearly articulated and enumerated within the Constitution.  The President, Congress, and Judiciary receive their just powers from the consent of the governed. 

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence has within it amazing words.  It reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…:”

We live in a place where our documents acknowledge that our rights are gifts from God; no President, Congress, Or Judge can possibly take them away or bestow them.  The purpose of civil government is to protect God given rights. 

I have done a very unscientific poll [meaning I have simply asked a bunch of people J] and I ask them the question, “where do our rights come from?”  Most people answer, “the government” or they answer, “the constitution.”  Both answers are incorrect.  According to the Declaration, our rights come from God and we the people formulated a government to protect those rights.

I write all of this simply to say that when people seek out the government to, “bestow” rights we live in a dangerous place.  We live in a place where if government can, “give” rights they can also take them away. 

We now live in a country where unelected lawyers on the Supreme Court drastically usurp the authority of the people, and the other branches of government, by judicial fiat; and the sad thing is that many of our politicians declare when five unelected judges make a judgment that it is, “the law of the land.”  Umm….according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers are vested in a Congress…”  Can someone show me the Law that says that two men can marry as it has been passed by a Congress and signed into law by a President?  Can someone show me the law where a Congress passed and a President signed into law that children can be murdered in the womb?  It does not exist.  Yet, everyone simply acquiesces.  Governors, state legislatures, and local officials simply say, “well…the Supreme Court says…” 

Justice Scalia perfectly encapsulated this with his dissent in the same-sex marriage case that was recently decided in June.  He writes below:

The substance of today’s decree is not of immense per­sonal importance to me. The law can recognize as mar­riage whatever sexual attachments and living arrange­ments it wishes, and can accord them favorable civil consequences, from tax treatment to rights of inheritance. Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about mar­riage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Consti­tution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected commit­tee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extrav­agant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most im­portant liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the right to govern themselves.

The decision was tyrannical and unconstitutional, yet it is blindly followed.  Why?  Sadly, for too many I believe it is an underlying belief in a misapplication of 1st Peter 2.  The human institution that we live under in America is the Constitution.  That is what we are to obey.

Now, this is going to be a little inside Lutheran baseball.  For many Lutherans we believe in the doctrine of the two kingdoms or two, “governments.”  The kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right.  The kingdom of the left is the kingdom of government.  The Kingdom of the right is the Kingdom of the church.  We do not want the government handing out our sacraments and we do not want the church arresting criminals.  Both Kingdoms are ruled by God but have separate purposes.  The Christian, according to Lutheranism, has no need for the Kingdom of the left, for they ought by the Spirit of God be doing the things the law requires.  However, not all people are Christians.  Therefore, the Kingdom of the left is absolutely necessary to enforce the Law and to restrain evil. 

For too many Lutherans I hear them use the, “two kingdoms” approach to why it is no big deal for government [in particular our govt.] to do clearly ungodly things.  However, the doctrine of the two kingdoms states clearly that God rules over both kingdoms – and the government’s duty is to protect the citizenry through the 1st use of the Law; so when the government begins to clearly punish righteousness and reward wickedness, it is the church’s duty to proclaim righteousness to the left-hand kingdom.  When the government condones what is clearly immoral activity and no longer functions according to the dictates of its duty to protect and when the left hand kingdom clearly goes over the authority given to it by God [and in our system, by the people] then it needs correction. 

We must begin with education.  We must re-educate the population of the United States of America as to what the purpose of civil government actually is.  We must re-educate the Christian populace of the clearly enumerated powers of the different branches of government.  If we do not, I honestly fear for the Republic. 

You see, as a Christian it is absolutely important – indeed commanded – that I be subject to the human institution under which I live.  Yet, how can I truly do that if I cannot even identify who that authority is?


Friday, September 4, 2015

Love vs Sentimentality

I have been reading the book of Jeremiah in my personal devotional life, and I came across a verse that struck me.  I believe it perfectly encapsulates our culture at this time; sadly, even the culture of God's church.  The verse comes from Jeremiah 7:8-10:

"Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'- only to go on doing all these abominations?"

A little context here:  Baal was a false god at the time of Israel.  To worship Baal was to violate the 1st commandment which succinctly states, "you shall have no other gods before Me..."  In this text God is speaking through the prophet Jeremiah and asking a simple question, "do you suppose that you can commit all these sins, worship false idols, and then hop on in to the Temple - the place that is called by My name - and expect me to deliver you while you change nothing?  Surely you jest..."

What the people were doing at the time of Jeremiah was paying lip service to the God that delivered them from Egyptian slavery, carved out the Promised Land, and consistently forgave their sins.  They were honoring Him with their lips but by their deeds and actions they were following their own desires and the idols of the day.

However, I am sure that if you asked a typical member of Judah during that time, "do you love Yahweh, the God of our fathers?"  they would answer enthusiastically, "why yes I do!"  It is this that I want to address in my blog today.

In order to do this, I want to ask the ladies a question.  If you had a husband that consistently cheated on you, slept with other women, did not spend time with you, neglected the children, but said the words, "I love you" would you believe them?  I hope not.  Yet, sadly, I have sat and prayed with many a woman that has a boyfriend/husband just like this.  They say, "I love you" but their deeds showcase they do not.

And when you speak to these men many of them actually believe they do, "love" their wives/girlfriends.  How can that be you say?  Because they have positive feelings for their wife or girlfriend.  I have actually had a conversation with a man that really believes that he, "loves" two women.  He has pledged himself to both in his mind.  To leave one would hurt them - and love would never hurt another!  [enter sarcasm and the roll of my eyes]

The problem of our culture and our church in America is we have confused real love with sentimentality.  Sentiment is nothing more than tender emotion. Positive sentiment often accompanies love, but it certainly does not encapsulate it.  Sadly, though, in our society we think that if we have strong feelings for someone than that means, "we love them."  This is utter and pure nonsense.  It was Jesus that said, "if you love Me, you will obey My commandments" [John 15] Furthermore, when you look at how the Apostle Paul defined love in 1st Corinthians 13 not one sentiment is mentioned.  It is filled with doing words.

Love is a verb.  It is action.  And real love demands the giving up of self for the other.  Again our Savior said it, "greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends."[John 15]  To love another is to uplift their desires, wants, needs, above your own.  This goes for the Lord as well.  To love God predisposes obedience.

Now, I know many of my Lutheran brothers and sisters are shaking now thinking that perhaps I am veering into a theology whereby what I do somehow merits something with God.  I assure you that I am not.  I am saying simply this - we are saved solely and completely by God's grace, with no merit on our part, and when I do trust in Christ I will seek to live my life for Him out of pure love for Him. I desire to merit nothing - I only desire Him.

Yet, in our culture we can say, "I love Jesus" and yet shirk his commands on sexual purity.  We can say, "I love Jesus" and idly stand by and fund the murdering of our children through abortion.  We can say, "I love God" and yet shirk what He says about worshiping other gods.  It is shocking how many Christians - and even Christian pastors - believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  How can this be?  Can you have the Father without the Son?  Listen to the clear words of Scripture from 1st John 2:22-23, "Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also."  Muslims do not believe Jesus is the Son of God.  Muslims do not believe Jesus died on a cross.  Muslims do not believe Jesus rose from the dead.  Muslims do not believe Jesus is God in the flesh.  Yet, many Christians say we worship the same God....how can this be?  The same can be said for the Jew - do they not deny the very Messiah that came to save them?  What is the point of Paul in Athens telling them that Zeus is no god, that Athenia is no god, etc...if all gods are gods simply because we, "feel" for them and, "Love them" then heck...we do not need Christ at all!

Let us at least be honest.  The New Testament declares very clearly what is sinful and what is righteous.  Yet, so many of us simply say, "I love God" with no thought to amending our lives to conform to His likeness.  We want to, "love God" and yet hold the same opinions as the world.  This cannot be so.  It is not real love.  It is simply sentiment.  And sentiment will not save.

Now I know what you are asking - um...what has gotten into Chris?  Why so rough?  Because here is the real truth - forgiveness does not come until one returns to God in repentance and faith; and why would anyone repent if they honestly do not think anything is wrong.

Here is the truth about me - I have failed to love God with all my heart.  I have failed to love my neighbor as myself.  I have failed to keep the commandments of God.  Lord, I am sorry.  I repent.  Forgive me.  And let me tell you this - I am sure that the blood of Jesus washes me clean.  But make no mistake - I do not wink at sin.  I do not say, "eh...it is no big deal..."  It is such a big deal Jesus died to pay for it.  Look at what the Lord says in the above Jeremiah Scriptures - it is not even their abominations that He condemns them for - but for after coming to the Temple simply planning to continue in sin.  It is mere lip service.

So please hear me - come to Jesus with your sin.  Yes, you have sinned.  So have I.  We have sinned grievously.  But come to Him with no excuses.  Simply lay that sin at the foot of Christ and seek His forgiveness - and He WILL forgive you.  And then you will leave changed.

The forgiveness and grace of God is transforming.  Imagine a God who will forgive and love you in spite of what you have done?  That is the God of the Bible.  He only demands we admit what we have done and left undone.  What point is there for a Savior if we do not need saving?

So come to Him.  Bring your abortions.  Bring your sexual sin.  Bring your adultery.  Bring your pornography.  Bring your homosexuality.  Bring your hatred of others.  Bring your racial hatred.  Bring your abandonment of the poor.  Bring your favoritism.  Bring your factious, angry, and bitter nature.  I will bring mine.  Let us together make no excuses.  And then receive forgiveness from God.
Yes, come as you are; but do not leave as you were.

In Christ,

Chris Ogne