Who’s in Charge?: No Terror

“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.” (Romans 13:3)

So I’m sitting in my car in the grocery store parking lot, and I see in my side mirror a police officer getting out of his car and walking toward me. His arms are covered with tattoos, and he’s making serious eye contact with my license plate.

charge_350Here’s the deal: I know my tags are expired. Driving my car around like that is breaking the law, and he’s about to tell me about it. At first, I feel a little thrill of fear; nobody wants to get busted by a scary cop covered in ink. Then I feel a little angry: “Doesn’t he have anything better to do?”

Then I hear the apostle Paul’s voice from this passage. Turns out Paul sounds just like Clint Eastwood. Actually, it’s God’s Spirit reminding me of truth: My fear and anger are my fault for breaking the law. The officer is God’s servant (see the next verse); my frustration is with God’s authority, not this guy’s. And up close, the tatts are actually very skillfully rendered.

I agree to get new tags the next day as humbly as I can; he mercifully keeps his ticket book in his holster. I stop hearing Clint’s voice quoting Paul by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Think: Do you ever feel fear or resentment toward the God-given authorities in your life? How much of that has to do with your own choice to break the rules?

Pray: Ask God to help you to see Paul’s challenging perspective on this issue of authority. Thank God for the authority he has placed in your life, from your parents to your president.

Do: If you’re a driver, choose to obey all the traffic laws today as an act of submission the authority God has placed in your life.

Who’s in Charge?: Rebelling Against God?

“Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:2)

Yesterday, I mentioned my initial resistance to the big idea—the biblical truth—that every authority is established by God. We immediately think of the worst examples of national leaders in history, evil men who did evil to their people. But I can accept the idea that God uses evil men to accomplish his good purposes, especially in the history of nations (and especially in places I never lived).

charge_350My next objections to these truths begin when I start thinking beyond the authority of governments. If rebellion against any authority is rebellion against God, then what about my parents, that unfair local official, or my supervisor at work? What if the person whose authority I’m under is not a good person?

It’s not a popular idea, but Paul wants us to get that all authority flows from God. It’s the way God chooses to exercise his will in our world, even when the authority is a person of questionable character. The choice to submit (or not) to a person in a position of legitimate authority over me is a choice to submit (or not) to a loving, powerful, and good God.

(Yes, we’ll get to the exceptions, but they happen far less frequently than we usually imagine.)

Think: Do you practice conditional submission to authorities based on whether their directions make sense to you—or whether they’re good people? How can you square that with what Paul is teaching here?

Pray: Ask God to help you to humble yourself under his authority by humbling yourself under the authority of those he has put in leadership in your life.

Do: Make a quick list of the people in your life who have positions of legitimate authority over you.

Who’s in Charge?: No Authority without God

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Do you resist blanket statements like the one in this verse as much as I do? It just doesn’t feel right. Paul states without qualification that every authority is established by God. What’s your first thought? “What about really ugly, evil authorities?” Second thought: “Wait, what about Hitler?” (Any moral argument that goes on long enough will eventually come back to Hitler, right?)

charge_350How could God have established some of the truly terrible authorities that have existed down through history? Why would he do that?

We’ll wrestle with that big idea over the next few days. For now, we’ll understand this is exactly what the Bible says is truth. It’s a statement of God’s absolute control over the universe and human governments. Note: We’re not told that God approves of every authority but that he establishes each of them. Whatever the other implications of that, it makes him the most powerful being of all.

Think: How could this idea potentially change the way you think about human authorities and governments? How could it potentially change the way you think about God?

Pray: Ask God to help you to get a better idea of who he is—and who your human authorities are—as we think about them this week.

Do: Make 2 quick lists of the best 3 authorities in your life right now and the 3 you’d be the least likely to submit to based on their decisions, personality, or character.

Who’s in Charge?: “Take Your Leaders to Me”

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Some people really love to fight about who should be the next President and who should have been the last one. I mean, I know it matters. I want good leaders running the show. But no matter who gets the most votes, about half the people end up unhappy every four years.

charge_350So what should we do about it? For starters, Paul said we should pray for the winners, either way, and he doesn’t seem to care whether we approve of them or not.

Just for the record, Paul’s government leaned toward being truly evil. Still, he urged Timothy (and us) to ask God to help our leaders, to ask him to intervene in their lives, and to tell him thank you for them. Why? So we can live more holy, more godly lives in peace and quiet.

Think: Have you ever prayed for your president or senators or governor or mayor that God would use their decisions to help you live a more godly and holy life?

Pray: Ask God to give the President—and all the government leaders—wisdom to know which decisions are best and the courage to make the best decisions. Also, thank him for the leaders he has installed in your government.

Do: Ask a friend you know who is a mature Christian and passionate about politics for ideas about how you can pray for the President.

Psalm 40: What Do You Need from God?

“Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer, O my God, do not delay.” (Psalm 40:17)

What do you need from God? Your answer to that question says a lot about how you think of him—and how your think of yourself. Sometimes we think of God as our safety net. Mostly we can handle life on our own; he’s just there if we get into any major trouble.

ps40_350David’s view was exactly the opposite, and he was no loser. He was the powerful king of Israel. He commanded armies. He wrote music and poetry. He ruled. He was a capable guy. But how did he view God and himself?

He said, “I am poor and needy.” He saw that he needed God completely, that his only hope of success was God being God in his whole life. He begged God not to delay the next rescue, because he knew his life could not move forward without God’s good help.

Think: Do you tend to think of yourself as needing everything from God for your life to work—or just needing occasional help from him when you get stuck? What’s wrong with that second view?

Pray: Tell God that you know you need him for everything in your life, that you can’t do anything worth doing without his help. Thank him for his goodness, and ask him to help you grow more needy of him.

Do: Make a quick list of the things you don’t need God’s help with. Are you sure?

Psalm 40: Happy Now?

“But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “The LORD be exalted!” (Psalm 40:16)

God wants you to be happy. Be careful now. Some people hear those words and reach a wrong conclusion. They take that truth and start twisting until it becomes a crippling lie.

ps40_350“Because God wants me to be happy, I’m going to have sex with my girlfriend. After all, that’s what makes me happy.” Or, “Going to church doesn’t really make me happy, so it must not work.”

David’s request here—and God’s will for us—is to find our happiness in looking for God, to see his goodness as a reason celebrate. When he rescues us (and he has rescued Christians from hell through Jesus), David expects that to pull positive emotion from us, along with our praise for God.

Think: Have you ever found yourself feeling glad as a result of God’s goodness to you? Do you think it’s a problem if we don’t tend to experience positive emotions in response to God’s love for us?

Pray: Ask God what David asked of him, that as his follower you would celebrate and be happy in him.

Do: Make a quick list of some of the things or experiences that make you happy. Circle the ones that have to do with seeking God or experiencing his goodness.

Psalm 40: Thwart My Enemies!

“Be pleased, O LORD, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me.

“May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.

“May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” be appalled at their own shame.” (Psalm 40:13-15)

Do David’s requests here sound manipulative and arrogant to you? He spends half the chapter talking about God’s great goodness. Then he admits that he, David, is a huge sinner facing painful consequences. Then he asks God to shame, confuse, disgrace, and appall his enemies.

ps40_350First, David was in a unique position. His enemies—the enemies of Israel—were also God’s enemies. So David was praying that God would trip up the enemies of God. It’s not completely self-serving.

Still, David is just being honest in his request, just as we are when we ask God for anything. What does the good God owe to us? Nothing. How much have we sinned? Plenty. What do we deserve? Exactly what we’ve got coming. We all ask for God’s mercy, for his grace, for things we don’t deserve when we ask him for anything. It’s what God invites us to do as his children.

Think: Do you ever hesitate to ask God for help because you feel you don’t deserve it? Does it make sense to think we ever deserve any good gift from God? Why not ask him for help and trust him to answer according to his great love and mercy?

Pray: Thank God that he hears our requests, even though we don’t deserve to be heard, because he loves and forgives us. Thank him for giving you so many good gifts you could not have earned.

Do: Make two quick lists, one of five good things you’ve earned from God and one of five good things he’s given to you just because he loves you in Christ.