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Nero
Image source: Wikimedia

Peter continues addressing his persecuted, exiled readers (1 Peter 2:11) in today’s Bible reading. Last month, I commented on the historical context around the middle of the First Century. I mentioned Nero was the Roman Emporer at the time. Under Nero’s reign, Christians were persecuted far beyond what many of us can imagine today. “Pure evil” is the only way I can describe it without going into the ugly details.

And yet… Peter tells his readers to submit to every human authority. And lest there be any confusion, Peter says clearly that his command includes the “emperor [Nero] as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14 CSB)

So what does “submit” mean? Submit was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[1]

Submission is not a bad word. In fact, no military unit can properly function without it. No marriage can properly function without it. No church can properly function without it. And no country can properly function without it. There has to be a chain of command. The pastor who married Amy and me said, “Anything with more than one head is a monster.”

Peter gives his rationale for his command in verses 12 and 15. “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.” 1 Peter 2:12, 15 (CSB)

Did you catch that? Peter says the reason Believers should submit even to the evil Emperor Nero was so that God would be glorified. He adds that silencing foolish ignorance by doing good is God’s will. Well, you can’t argue with that!

Application

Most of my readers live in the United States and do not have first-hand knowledge of real religious persecution. However, readers in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes may know people who have experienced persecution. They may have even had to alter their way of doing life — especially church life — in order to coexist in a restrictive environment. I have friends who live in one of those restrictive countries and they have to be very careful in the way they communicate prayer needs back to churches in the US. In fact, they don’t even use the words “pray”, “church”, or “Jesus Christ” in their email correspondence.

But regardless of where you live, Peter’s instructions are clear: Submit to every human authority. Every human authority. You may or may not like your President. You may or may not like your Chancellor. You may or may not like your Prime Minister. But regardless of how you feel about your leaders, if you are a Believer, you are obligated to submit to those authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14) and to pray for them. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.

This devotional was originally published October 9, 2019.

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The Scales of Justice

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away yesterday evening. And my Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up.

President Trump will nominate a new justice in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will bring a vote on the President’s nomination to the Senate floor. We could have a new justice on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) before or shortly after the November 3, 2020 elections.

According to the US Constitution, the President’s job is to nominate SCOTUS Justices and the Senate’s job is to give “advice and consent”. Legally, the process could begin immediately. But is that the right thing to do?

We are a country of Law and Order. The Constitution was written to preserve the rights of the People and restrain the US Government (in sharp contrast to the Left’s suggestions that the Constitution is to restrain the People, preserving the right of the Government).

Our nation is deeply divided among political lines. Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota Police Officer, we have already seen months of nightly riots (called “mostly peaceful protests” by the “mainstream” media) in the streets of Portland, Seattle, New York, among other cities. Conservative activist Candace Owens tweeted, “Ruth Badger (sic) Ginsburg has passed away. Pray for the Ginsburg family, but also pray for America. If you thought you saw the face of true evil with the Democrats’ treatment of Brett Kavanaugh— you ain’t see nothing yet.”

Last night, as Twitter lit up on news of Justice Ginsburg’s death, Reza Aslan tweeted, “If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire f*cking thing down.” I don’t know what Aslan threatens to burn down, but it doesn’t sound good.

Even in the day of “tolerance”, we are at a point where bullies’ comments are taken seriously and played out. But then again, I don’t remember any of President Trump’s “bully rhetoric” played out, resulting in any lives lost. But I digress.

In 2016, SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia died. Then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy. Mitch McConnell said that he would block Garland’s nomination until after the upcoming election in order for the People to decide, which resulted in Donald Trump getting to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the SCOTUS.

Many on the Left are calling McConnell hypocritical now. But a few months ago, McConnell clarified his statement by saying that since the President (Obama) and the Senate majority were led by opposite parties, the People should decide in the election which way they want to go. And the People decided. In the interview a few months ago, McConnell said that since the President (Trump) and the Senate were led by the same party, he would have no problem presenting the President’s nominated justice. On a side note, in 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden was in favor of Garland’s nomination and said the Senate should be allowed to consider Garland.

Senator Ted Cruz pointed out on Sean Hannity’s TV show last night — and Tweeted today — that especially in light of the Democrats’ threats to contest the election — and Hillary Clinton’s admonition that “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances”, having an even number of SCOTUS Justices could lead to a Constitutional Crisis if the 2020 election is challenged, as was the 2000 election. Cruz is in favor of the Senate considering a nominee. National Review wrote this article on August 7, 2020, “History Is on the Side of Republicans Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy in 2020“. It’s worth the read.

A couple of friends on Facebook stated last night that the stakes of the election had just been raised significantly. As President Obama stated several years ago, “Elections have consequences.” I agree.

In recent years, SCOTUS has made several anti-Constitutional decisions — at least as I read the Constitution. In fact, the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 was Unconstitutional; the Constitution does not guarantee a “right to privacy” as argued, which was the main reason for approving nation-wide abortions. The SCOTUS decision in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage was decided on a 5-4 split decision. (Note: Ted Cruz, in his recent book One Vote Away, chronicles other narrow 5-4 SCOTUS decisions).

So where does that leave us? Clearly, we are at a crossroads. Clearly, the Rule of Law allows going forward with a Supreme Court nomination. If we — as a nation — choose to postpone the nomination, we should do so independent of threats of riots. We cannot allow bullying to deter following the Law at this crucial time. But the question is, “Is now the time to move forward with a nomination?” This is what Ginsburg said in 2016, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year,”… Several months later, Ginsburg said having only eight justices on the Supreme Court is not good.

One friend suggested on Facebook that Trump should go with the “nuclear option”. The Nuclear Option would involve a “Recess Appointment” of a Justice while the Senate is not in session during three consecutive days. This would prevent a Constitutional Crisis for deciding a contested election. But the Recess Appointment would be challenged and there would be a normal confirmation process. The appointment could be short-lived.

This could be political suicide for Trump and McConnell.

Is it worth the possible political fallout ahead of the election? On the other hand, it could incentivize more citizens — on both sides of the aisle — to vote in November.

But if Trump is able to get a confirmed nomination, a Constitutional-originalist-leaning SCOTUS (not “conservative”) would have ramifications that would last for generations. If Trump wins and appoints additional Justices, in the event they die or retire, that would result in even fewer narrow decisions for SCOTUS. The only way to overcome this, should Biden/Harris win would be to pack the SCOTUS with additional liberal Justices, as FDR threatened to do and add two or four more Justices. After all, the Constitution doesn’t prescribe how many Justices will serve.

The stakes are high.
This election just became less about two candidates
and more about abortion, religious freedom, and Constitutional fidelity.*

If they haven’t begun to already, Christians need to
humbly pray, seek God, and clean up our act and vote
.

2Chronicles 7:14

* I plan to write another post about Constitutional fidelity soon and will post a link here.

In light of the past three months of “mostly peaceful protests” in Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and New York, the issue of Critical Theory has been on the minds of many. In fact, Critical Theory has been a discussion topic in the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years. Admittedly, I am late to the party and haven’t kept up with the issue, especially in the SBC. But Critical Theory is very relevant and the church needs to address the issue.

What is Critical Theory and is it biblical? The following video is very helpful in defining terms and answering the question. I highly recommend you take a few minutes to watch it.

Image source: Wikimedia

In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells his spiritual son Timothy that Believers should pray for those in authority over them. He uses several Greek words for prayer, each covering a different kind of prayer. And he tells Timothy to pray “for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 CSB) The emphasis isn’t so much on the kinds of prayers, but whom the prayers are to be for. He begins with “everyone” and immediately names the title of civil authorities. Yes, we need to pray for our church leaders, but that’s not Paul’s focus. Paul’s focus is on the civil authorities. Why?

In order to better appreciate Paul’s instructions to pray for those in authority, we must look at the historical context of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul wrote the letter around AD 63-66 after his release from house arrest in Rome. He is quite aware of the growing climate of Roman religious persecution. Nero is the Roman Emporer and he isn’t known for being friendly to Christians. Actually, Nero is known to have used Christians as street lights in Rome as their bodies were impaled and set afire at night.

It’s in this historical context that Paul tells Timothy to pray for civil authorities … including Nero. WHAT???

You may have seen social media posts decrying Christian persecution because a retail store employee was forbidden from telling customers, “Merry Christmas” or an HOA prohibited a Christian from displaying a manger on her front lawn. Now let me ask, in comparison to the religious persecution experienced by First Century Christians under Nero, how can we dare call these examples “Christian persecution”? We can’t because it isn’t.

Application

It seems that our political climate is as divided as I’ve ever heard of. When it comes to those in places of civil authority in our country, I confess, I complain a lot more than I pray.

You may really like the current President of the United States of America. Or you may think the President is unpresidential. You may think the President is a reprobate. You may feel the President is personally repulsive. You may feel the President is guilty of committing crimes.

I’m sure lots of people have voiced these opinions of most of our Presidents!

It really doesn’t matter who our civil authorities are, if you call yourself a Christian, you are obligated to pray for them. The same goes for those in civil authority on the State and community level. Paul says to pray for all of them. And so we must.

So what do we pray for those in civil authority?

For starters, pray for their salvation. Pray for their walk with God. Pray they live in integrity. Pray for wisdom. And pray for impartiality in enforcing, legislating, and interpreting our laws.

This devotional was originally published on September 11, 2019.

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John the Baptizer preaches at the Jordan River

In today’s Bible reading we fast forward a few years and Jesus and His cousin John (the Baptizer) are about thirty years old. John steps into the Jordan River and preaches that people should repent of their sins and be baptized.

By today’s standards, John was a very politically-incorrect preacher. Nowhere do we hear him talk about self-esteem. Nowhere do we hear him say that God loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for them. Nowhere do we hear him talk about God’s grace and mercy. Nowhere do we hear him talk about how God wants you to have health and wealth if you would only have enough faith. Nowhere does he apologize for offending his hearers. .

No, John simply preaches the Law. He preaches the bad news that people are sinners and in need of forgiveness. Sinners? Surely not! Where is the gospel, the good news?

Recent conversations with Facebook friends have revealed to me the massive divide between what I believe the Bible teaches and what they believe. For these friends, our deepest need is to be saved from not being good stewards of our planet. To be Christlike is to be more loving and accepting, and less judgmental of others. There is no mention of the word or even the concept of sin as described in the Bible. There was no admission of guilt for any sin on their part. Sin is a problem other, less tolerant people must deal with. These were people who were raised in the church. And today, they are leaders in mainline churches.

Until people hear and understand their helpless, fallen condition (the bad news), they won’t have a desire for deliverance from that condition (the good news). Look back at our earlier readings from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. He begins with the bad news.

Look at the response of John’s audience in Luke 3:10, 12, 14. The exclaim, “What shall we do?” The Philippian Jailer asked the same question in Acts 16:30.

It isn’t until Romans Chapter 8 that Paul says that there is no condemnation for believers. (Romans 8:1) From that statement, Paul strongly implies that non-believers are still very much under God’s judgment.

Application

Have you come to a point in your life where you realized that in light of God’s holiness, you have absolutely no claim to spending eternity with Him, much less walking with Him on this side of eternity? You may be better than many (or most) other people, but how do you compare with Jesus, the perfect man who was tempted just like we are, yet was without sin? (Hebrews 4:15)

I’m not just asking if you have sinned. Everyone (except Jesus) sins. I’m asking if you have ever come to God and confessed that you have offended your Creator and that you have an issue with a sin condition that separates you from His holiness?

If you haven’t come to grips with that question, I invite you to call, text, or email me. I’d love to help you make the best decision of your life!

This devotional was originally published June 29, 2019.

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