Archive for July, 2014

Authority – Not of this Realm (part 2)

July 27, 2014

Did the limitless Creator of the universe’s uncountable stars also institute flawed government bureaucracies and command us to obey them? That is the inescapable crux of Romans 13, and I’m trying to decide how to reconcile myself to it. This is the second installment on the authority of God, and what He appears to do when delegating it.  At the moment, we are dealing with His conferring of authority on earthly governments.

One of the things that the passage in Romans 13 does, is illuminate the proper function of government. It says God intends that government act as His minister to reward good behavior and rebuke evil behavior. The choice of the word translated minister is instructive. It is the Greek word διάκονος, (pronounced dee-ak’-on-os) the same word from which we get deacon – one who serves. This passage makes it clear enough that God grants authority to government to serve His purposes. Most developed nations have foreign ministers to many other nations. Bestowing authority on a minister isn’t a foreign concept. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) A reliable foreign minister doesn’t act on his own, he acts on behalf of his government. He makes it his business to know what is expected and is faithful to carry out his duties.

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Do you ever hear the word “gridlock” used to lament the notion that there is not enough agreement between parties for Congress to be able to “get the peoples work done”? My assessment is that gridlock on Capitol Hill would be a wonderful thing. I do not believe we have it. Here’s why I say so: In 1925, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) comprised a single volume (pictured above).  By 1998, according to the Office of the Federal Register, the official listing of all regulations in effect contained a total of 134,723 pages in 201 volumes that claimed 19 feet of shelf space. (This is the most recent estimate that I have been able to locate that included page count.) In the succeeding years, it hasn’t gotten smaller. By 2007, the shelf space had increased to twenty-five feet.  The current version of Title 49 (transportation) takes up nine volumes, while Title 26 (Internal Revenue) occupies twenty volumes. The purpose of the CFR is to define the law, and thereby regulate the behavior of every conceivable entity. One cannot, even with a determined effort, READ the law. (At 10 minutes per page, I estimate it would take 20 years of a normal full-time work schedule to read it through once). Not that reading it would do much good. The court system and all of the legal professions is based on the understanding that to be useful, the law has to be interpreted by trained experts. It is impossible to know it.  It is therefore impossible to follow so many laws in an intentional way.  I laugh when I hear complaints about selective enforcement.  How could it be otherwise? Odds are, there are statutes on the books that you are violating. You could be prosecuted, if those charged with enforcement decided to invest the effort. Does the illegality of your particular doing rise to the level of evil behavior that the government is charged in Romans 13 to bring the wrath of God down on?  I hope not.

I admit I don’t really understand the desire to cling to this massive body of legislation and bureaucratic regulation over the principle that Paul talked about in Romans 7:6. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. And in Romans 8:2 — For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.   Jesus talked about love for God and others as the basis for all the law (Matt 22:36-40). That kind of minimalist approach to the law (law in the sense of describing how God wants us to act) seems to me to accurately reflect the intention of God for the believer – freedom!

Those that love God have a powerful motivation to please him and do right. In fact, that Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is setting us free, and it is glorious!  The Psalms are replete with praise for the rightness of God’s law.  The trouble comes in when some use their freedom to not follow God, which God in His sovereignty, allows. They have no real expectation of something better later. The only rational path for such an individual is as much anarchy as he can get away with. Which, brings us back to Romans 13:4, which states that the government, acting as the minister of God, “does not bear the sword for nothing”. Proper government has the duty to restrain the unrestrained evildoer, by force if necessary. And so, we get to twenty-five feet of printed regulations: man’s laws.

Is this government carrying out its proper function as described in Romans chapter 13? Is it a faithful minister of the authority bestowed on it from above? We’ve established pretty clearly that there are laws on the books that can be brought to bear against any possible wrongdoing.  Still, Jesus had some choice words for the lawyers of His day; “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” – Luke 11:46.  Somehow, I think God takes a dim view of excessive rulemaking.

Does an assessment that the system is out of control negate the validity of the claim that it derives its authority from God?  Before we go too far down that road, it would behoove us to remember that Paul was writing within the Roman Empire, though before Nero began torturing and executing Christians.

More to come on the subject of God’s authority…

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Authority – Not of this Realm (part 1)

July 20, 2014

Recently, as I meditated on a scripture passage commanding subjection to governing authority (Romans 13), I realized that I needed to do some diligent accounting work as to my attitude about the same. My own apologia on this subject is anything but settled. Anyone who has read this blog over any significant span will know that I maintain that much of the force currently being applied by those in government is in violation of law. Both the Constitution and natural law are regularly ignored for some political expediency or the advancement of a contrary agenda. The principles that our founders wrestled with and forged into the Bill of Rights (ratified near the end of 1791) are still supposedly treasured by the people, but found inconvenient by our leaders. Certainly, the spiritual laws and precepts that we Christians attempt to follow are being maligned while governing authority rides roughshod over our convictions, even as we decline in numbers and apparent influence.

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Iowa Privacy Fence – July 20, 2014

While my most charitable view is that many of the openly-stated aims of one political party tend toward evil, I am forced to admit the other party is actively complicit in that same evil. They posture conservatism while actually engaging in artifice and pretense. Their actual ends are indistinguishable from those of the party of the first part. Conservative Christian believers want to believe the subterfuge that claims to oppose the evil of the openly stated aims of the “progressives”. We have often resigned ourselves to following wrong shepherds, thinking them the lesser of two evils. These “leaders” seek only their own befit, at our expense. We the people are loathe to admit that the two parties are effectively one.

Looking around, the other sheep seem as bewildered and disillusioned as I. Some have succumbed to an attitude of fatalism. Now, fatalism is a doctrine which has adherents who are blessed with a self-fulfilling terminus. I was astonished this week to hear sometimes-comedian, sometimes-wise, and indisputably-intelligent Dennis Miller openly espousing fatalism on his radio program. The government holds all the power, he said. There is nothing you can do about it. You can’t fight city hall. If you do, they can make your life hell with IRS audits, inspections, and trumped-up legal charges ad-infinitum. Resistance is destined to go down in flames. His recommendation: don’t worry about it, hug your kids; eat a nice meal with your loving spouse. Enjoy your life. I think all of these things are fine and right, as long as society holds up, and you are able. But I don’t think they answer the question of what to do about government run amok.

What will I do, then, with the injunction to be subject to the governing authorities, with the assurance that there is no authority except from God? I am unconvinced the fatalist is correct and unwilling to be found to be working at cross purposes to the Almighty. I am just as sure that incessant complaining about the status-quo is activity that is ineffectual, and probably harmful. Therefore, I am determined to explore authority from a Biblical perspective. I have looked into the scriptures on this subject enough already to know that this is a hard row to hoe. If you share these questions, I invite you to come along. I pledge to give this inquiry as much time as I am able. I also commit to give full consideration to questions, comments, and suggestions.

(I am writing from my own experience as a citizen of the USA. But, this country has no monopoly on governing authorities who seem to be failing to carry out the stated purpose of opposing evil. I think we are going to find in the scriptures a balm for wounds worldwide. I hope we recognize a plan of action along the way.)

 

 

Outside of Time

July 13, 2014

I heard a message last night at The Base , in which Greg Crawford talked about having an eternal vs. temporal perspective.  His “jumping off” point was in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

He made a point of differentiating between eternal and temporal things by the characteristic of their visibility. Not that I think for a moment that either Paul the Apostle or Greg is saying that all things invisible are eternal.  I have a friend named Becky who has a prophecy that, if I understand her, we will come to see clearly into the spiritual realm. I don’t think she means that will be physical sight, but there is precedent for the sort of sight about which Becky prophesied.  See 2 Kings 6:17. So, I would take this assertion in 2 Corinthians 4 about the eternal being unseen as meaning “as a general rule up until now”.)

During Greg’s teaching, I also didn’t really grapple adequately with a critical message contained in this verse; that temporal afflictions can be a tool in the hand of God, acting in the process of our transformation into the likeness of Christ.  Since the spirit is eternal, our transformation into becoming one with God’s spirit is a weighty, glorious, eternal result. Don’t think there is much chance of becoming transformed in this way? I’ll say more on that, shortly.

As I age, I see more clearly the value of the admonition not to lose heart about the decay of my body.  This decline is apparently practically inevitable, and happens to everyone who lives long enough to see it.  The recognition does not have to produce despair, as long as I keep an eternal perspective.  That which is visible on the outside (temporal), is no indicator of the renewal that is taking place on the inside (eternal).  In fact, recognizing the decay on the outside actually makes it seem easier to stop putting confidence in the aging flesh and focus more on the eternal nature of the spirit.  The question I should be asking is whether the renewal is, in fact, taking place on the inside.

It’s funny how God finds ways to reinforce His message from different sources. I recently read a devotional passage that talked about acceptance and self-examination as necessary to finding serenity about difficult situations. The devotion was drawing from the “Serenity Prayer” which I’ll quote here:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The last part, the wisdom to know the difference, really only belongs to God.  I must draw near to You, Father, if I am ever to know Your wisdom in my spirit as to whether things that seem to beset me are actually tools in Your Sovereign hand that should be allowed to do their glorious eternal and weighty work or whether they are an attack of the enemy intended to hinder me from accomplishing that which You have called me to do.

At least, I have this promise in Romans 8:28 ff

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;  and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I know I promised to say more about the possibility of transformation. Here it is. Look back into the passage above. You will find there evidence that this transformation is actually a purpose of God, that those who love him should become like Jesus. Try not to get too wrapped around the axle at the mention of predestination. The writer is trying to get across something about the purposes of God, who knows the end from the beginning because He is totally unconstrained by the temporal (Hey! Isn’t that where we started?). Since we are completely constrained to the temporal in the physical realm, learning to see things from an eternal perspective in the spiritual realm takes some help from Him.