Honoring Authority: H.C. Lord's Day 39

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 39

Q 104: What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment? 
A 104: That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings—for through them God chooses to rule us.

The notion of honoring those in authority over us is not one that we would consider automatic in American culture anymore.  While the 5th commandment is indeed one that is still applicable to Christain life and family life in general, culture continually pushes towards autonomy, individualism, and self-determination.

While none of these things are bad, in and of themselves, when they take precedence over the God-given authority of parents, leaders, and other governing authorities, that can lead to problems.  Specifically, in families, children are given the ability choose things for themselves at ages much too young for the full ramifications of such a choice.  Children are not capable of governing themselves (think “Lord of the Flies”); that is why God set in place the parental authority and emphasized it so heavily in Scripture.

To be fair, parents and leaders in our culture have not necessarily done a bang-up job of exercising authority either.  Countless stories of parental abuse of authority coupled with the copious amount of blame shifting that seems to go on in our culture when things don’t go right (because apparently, it is always someone else’s fault) has led us to a fundamental mistrust of authority, not to mention a deep divide of ideologies when it comes to governmental authority.

However, Scripture does not give us a pass when it comes to honoring those in authority over us.  Neither does it give us excuses for the abuse of authority or the skirting of the roles we are given either.  Quite simply, parents are called to raise their children, to be the primary source of their learning, identity formation, and spiritual formation.  Parents are also responsible for teaching respect to their children through guidance and discipline.

Whereas it is often seen as natural for children to “rebel” from their parents in our culture, no such provision was given to children in the Bible.  Those who were unruly were cast out; the Law even says that such children are to be stoned.

Thankfully that is no longer the case.  We don’t live in a culture that threatens death for being unruly.  However, there is a way to exercise independence, learning to make decisions, failing every now and then, and gaining maturity and wisdom that can happen without casting aside the relationships we have or dishonoring the authorities in our lives.

Like all things that have provisions in Scripture, the paradigm of authority structures that is set up by God Himself is not meant to be burdensome, but to reveal God’s love for us.  Scripture says that God disciplines those He loves, thus setting the model for loving discipline between parents and children.  God’s goal, as ours should be as parents, is to see His children grow in wisdom, maturity, and identity.  This is not accomplished in Scripture by God allowing His people to do whatever they wanted.

This is not accomplished in Scripture by God allowing His people to do whatever they wanted.  In fact, every time we see that happen in the Bible, things go horribly wrong and they end up in bondage to someone or something.  God’s ultimate desire for His people is flourishing in the way He originally intended.  Flourishing, however, does not mean following our whims and wishes, following after things that we think will make us happy.  Indeed, a flourishing life often understands and respects both boundaries and authorities, understanding them not to be limitations but guides in the exercise of freedom.

When we do this well, whether it be exercising authority or honoring it, we begin to experience the freedom and flourishing that God has planned for us in life.  What’s more?  Those around us begin to experience this as well as the light and life of God spreads through us and our lives point back to Him.



It's all in the Plan: H.C. Lord's Day 10

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10

Q 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A 27. The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

Q 28. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
A 28. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.  For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

One of the chief characteristics of God that we hold to be true is His sovereignty over all of Creation.  Essentially, this means that we believe that God has power and authority over all of what He has created, and He exercises that power and authority to bring about His will in the world.  For some, this makes God appear to be more like a dictator, especially if their experience of life has been substantially harder.  We start to ask questions like “why did God make this happen to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this.”

If God is a dictator, however, He certainly is a benign and loving one.  Perhaps, in this instance, the language that the Heidelberg Catechism uses is much better and more appropriate for the discussion.  The writers talk about God’s sovereignty in terms of “providence,” the root word of which is of course, “provide.”  This offers a much more appropriate context for God’s ruling and works in the world.  God is indeed love, and Scripture says that God is working out all things for the good of those who love Him.  We also know that God is actively working to bring restoration to the world which will culminate in Christ’s return and the setting right of all things.  In addition to this, we also know that God is patient, not wishing that any would perish, but providing ample time for people to turn to Him because of His great love for us.

The language of the questions and answers in Lord’s Day 10 can be a bit uncomfortable, though, as well; “all things come from [God’s] hand.”  All things?  Really?  Something about that makes us cringe on the inside.  It’s definitely easier to blame sin, satan, or our own foolish acts for some of the difficult times in life that we experience.  Certainly, our difficulties can come from those things, but Scripture is clear that “all things come from God’s hand,” which means that even if the difficulties we face are a result of a spiritual attack from the satan himself, it is under the direction and purview of God’s power and will.

Let’s be clear about a couple things, though, as we talk about God’s providence.  This is not an excuse to act foolishly or sinfully, only to blame the results on God.  Scripture affirms human responsibility when it comes to the results of actions in our lives, hence the need for a Savior.  The Bible is also clear that temptation to sin does not come from God, which would also allow us to blame God for sin.  But there are seemingly negative things in our lives that do find their source in God in some way.  God is sovereign over creation, over nations and rulers, over both good people and bad.  God has sent trouble and calamity, destroyed nations and people groups, and even hardens the hearts of some.  He uses all of the created order to work His will in the world and His plans cannot be thwarted.

So what does this mean for us?  Should we be scared and living in fear of a God who can do anything at any time just because it pleases Him?  No.  I don’t think so.  When we understand God in human terms, we often think of the worst case scenario.  If we give a ruler too much power, He/She can do whatever they want without any check or balance.  God is not like that.  All of God’s power is exercised in love, as a loving parent exercises loving authority over their children for their benefit.

Lord’s Day 10 is very clear about how this benefits us as well.  When things seem to be going against us, we can be patient knowing that God is working His will and that God is always working for the good of those who love Him.  Think of Joseph or even the Israelite slavery in Egypt, both seemed profoundly negative at the time.  Out of those events, however, great things came to be.  This does take a profound amount of trust, something we have and will continue to talk about here.  These are the times when our faith is tested; they are also the times when God does some of His deepest work in us.

We can also be thankful when things go well, remembering that all good and perfect gifts come from God.  How often do we stop to thank God when we’ve had a good day, a successful meeting, a positive experience with a friend, or anything else for that matter.  It is easy for us to run to God in the bad times, but do we do so in the good times as well?

Finally, we can have confidence in the future knowing that, even if all of our worries and fears come true, God will never leave us and He is always working out His perfect will.  God’s ways are higher than our ways, and He is far above all rule and authority on this earth, but He is always with us and always ready to listen.  We can face the future unafraid because we know that nothing moves except by the hand of God.



1 Peter 2 – "Living Godly Lives in a Pagan Society"

Read 1 Peter 2

Could there be any more appropriate words to greet us two days after the election?  In the face of an over-abundance of persecution, Peter reminds his fellow believers that, while God is the ultimate authority, we are also called to submit to human authorities and to respect both our leaders and each other.

…in this election cycle, we have failed at this…

You know, there has been a profound outcry from some in the Christian community against Donald Trump because of his “foolishness.”  Indeed, the Donald, in his candidacy, fit the Biblical description of a fool almost too perfectly.

There has also been an outcry from others in the Christian community against Hillary Clinton.  Scripture has a lot to say about someone who is greedy, corrupt, and a has been caught in his/her own lies.

So what does Peter tell us to do in response to this?  Should we be bashing each other?  Should we be calling for love in ways that are divisive?  Should we commit to opposing the next government administration because it doesn’t fit our own preferences or ideology?  No.  Peter writes,

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority:whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

At the time of this writing, the emperor was trying to kill Christians; and Peter calls them to honor him.  I wonder if there is an application for us here?

The fact of the matter is this, there is no authority here on earth that is not subordinate to God’s authority.  That does not necessarily mean that those governments will follow the will of God though, and Peter’s words for those situations are also clear: “By doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”

Friends, no government is going to save us, our religion, or our nation.  It is Christians living into their faith, loving our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, loving God, and living into the mission that we are called to as the Church of Jesus Christ.



1 Thessalonians 2 – What It Actually Is

Read 1 Thessalonians 2

As he reminds the church in Thessalonica about the ministry they shared together when he was with them, Paul grounds all of what happened, both pleasant and difficult, in the Word of God.  He may be referring here to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the Old Testament, and/or to the preaching and teaching that he and others had done among them.  In any case, Paul’s feeling about what was happening there finds its foundation in the belief and reality that God speaks and that Word never returns empty.

This theological understanding about the Word of God has long been a part of the Church’s background.  We have long echoed the word of God in Isaiah, the God’s Word always accomplishes what God intends for it to do when it goes out.

Recently, though, it seems that the currents of relative truth and political correctness have challenged some of those notions.  People no longer believe that the Bible is the Word of God, a notion that has implications far beyond the scope of what simply happens on a given Sunday morning.

We believe, and Scripture tells us that it is authoritative, useful for teaching, rebuking, and training up in righteousness.  The power of those words come from them being the Word of God.  Take that away and it is simply another book, motivational and empowering at times, but just a book.

The other side of the coin is those who have militantly taken the Bible and beaten others over the head with it.  Scripture points out sin in its many forms, but always with an understanding of God’s love and grace for the sinner.  Failing to acknowledge this tension has led to profound injury and barriers to the Gospel message.

Thanks be to God that His promise of the Holy Spirit’s work through the opening of His Word is not solely dependent on us.  Since the very beginning, God has spoken and things have been transformed!  We are called to join God in His mission of bringing all people to Himself, to spread His message of love and grace.  Let us make sure, then, that our words and actions reflect truly what God’s Word says.



Romans 13 – Government and Freedom

Read Romans 13

It seems like a contradiction in terms to talk about submission to an entity and freedom in the same thought process.  Yet Paul navigates this ambiguity well, speaking into a context in which many people question whether or not to follow Ceasar or not.  To be fair, the Roman Empire was known for the “imperial cult,” or the worship of their current ruler.  This person was raised to “god status,” often times after they died, and were worshiped along with the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses.

In this context, it is not difficult to see why Paul would have to address the place of government in the life of new Christians.  Along with the Jewish influence of wanting to throw off Roman rule, it was a rather tenuous place to be.  Those who didn’t participate in the imperial cult worship risked arrest and possibly even death.

Paul recognizes God the Father’s ultimate authority upon the earth.  No matter who the ruler is, it seems, that person’s power and authority has been given by God and therefore we must honor that.  But when stated like this, it makes no sense to worship that ruler as their power is limited. One wouldn’t worship a governor because their seat was given to them; therefore worship would be directed to one who gave the power.

This is the manner in which Paul sets up honoring earthly authority while reserving worship for God alone.  As a matter of fact, doing this acknowledges God’s sovereignty, places us in a position of trusting His work and His will, even if we don’t understand it.  Despite the political divisions that we see in the U.S. today, Scripture still calls us to honor the authority; which ultimately means trusting God’s choice, His will, and His work.



John 19 – Behold Your King

Read John 19

After Jesus has been with Pilot and the people are shouting over and over that He should die, Pilot does something quite unique.  He takes Jesus out and sits Him down in the “Judgement Seat.”  What beautiful irony.  Jesus is sitting in the very seat that will be His for eternity, at the right hand of the Father, and yet no one recognizes it.  In fact, that shout all the louder to have in crucified!

The Pilot says something that I’m sure they didn’t want to hear: “Behold your King.”  Interesting… hundreds of years earlier, as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel cried out to God for a king, someone that would lead them.  God’s own people rejected God as their true King for the sake of an earthly one that would lead them.  Here, once again, the people stand before God the Son, the descendant of King David Himself, and reject Him.  “We have no King but Ceasar,” they say.  Once again, what beautiful irony.

More important than this, though, is the truth Jesus speaks to Pilot before all of this: “You have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.”  Jesus speaks once again to the reality that all of this was taking place because it had to.  In the face of Israel’s rejection of God and the Jewish rejection of Jesus, God continues to show His steadfast, faithful love to humankind, sending His Son to die so that they might find light and life in Him.

All of this took place to fulfill Scripture, which, ultimately, is the purpose of John’s writing.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, John’s Gospel reveals to us the prophesied Messiah, the Divine Son of God, the one true Savior.



Matthew 23 – Walk the Talk

Read Matthew 23

Yikes!  Jesus’ teaching takes on a rather angry tone today!  This scathing section of Scripture tears the Phariesses and other teachers of the Law apart for their practices as the leaders of Israel.  It is interesting, and sometimes we miss this, how Jesus begins this section; He acknowledges their position, their seat, and tells His listeners that they are to”do and observe whatever they tell you…”  Doesn’t this seem a bit contradictory to the harsh verbal beating that follows?

This isn’t the only time that Jesus acknowledges earthly authority as being valid.  In fact, multiple places in the Old and New Testament we are presented with the fact that earthly authority and government is ordained by God and we are called to respect those seats.  That does not, however, mean that we are to do what they do which is a major distinction to say the least.

The “7 woes” that Jesus speaks of here revole largely around the how the teachings of the Pharisees don’t match up with their actions.  They set up Law and practice which they themselves do not follow; “heavy burdens” that they are unwilling to bear.  Yet the things that they do follow are those outward rituals that make them to appear pious and righteous in the eyes of the people.  During those times they take honored and very visible seats so all can see their “holiness.”

Jesus points out the depth of their hypocracy; this is, in fact, the very thing that condemns them.  They don’t even walk their own talk.  The greatest leader, Jesus reminds us, is the one who humbly serves.  These are important reminders for us, in a country and culture of would-be leaders, ones who speak of great things but are betrayed by their actions, or lack thereof.



Matthew 18 – All the Wrong Questions

Read Matthew 18

We often get caught up in pursuing what we think is most important.  In our pursuit, we inquire and investigate how we can achieve these ‘important’ things in our lives.  Today, at least, we can know that we are in good company.  Jesus’ disciples also had their priorities a little mixed up and we find them asking Jesus all the wrong questions.

As they see Jesus’ ministry growing and continued talk about the Kingdom of Heaven being near, His disciples begin to dwell on a common human question: “where is my place in this Kingdom?”  Jesus has called these 12 men to be His inner circle; they want to know who is going to be Jesus’ #2, His go to guy.  More importantly, they want to know how they can become that person, something accented by Peter’s question later in verse 21.

Jesus’ response turns the usual notions of importance on their head by pointing to the true concern of God in His Kingdom.  Unlike the dominions of men in which power and authority are things to be taken and exercised over others, the Kingdom of Heaven concerns itself with but one thing: that those who are not a part of it are found and welcomed in.  He illustrates this point through teaching and a parable.

It may seem backward, caring for the one lost sheep amidst the 99 that aren’t, or emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation rather than holding a grudge (a form of having power over someone) and revenge, but this is the way of God’s Kingdom; it’s how God’s economy works.  Those who would find life in Christ must lose their own; we must die to ourselves daily.  Here and only here, when our dependence is on God, do we find true freedom and our place in God’s Kingdom.



Matthew 10 – Authority and Fear

Read Matthew 10

Have you ever been given authority to do something?  I remember the first time I was deemed the babysitter when my parents left; I was in charge of my brother.  The trust placed in me was exciting however it didn’t take long for the responsibility I had to sink in.  Soon after they left, I found myself terrified of all the “what-ifs.”  Anything that happened would be my responsibility to handle. Questions started flooding my mind about what I would do if…

Honestly, this isn’t unlike the experience of a first job, first-time homeowner, being newly married, or what I assume having a child will be like too.  I’ve experienced this first hand as a new pastor.  There are so many possibilities, both good and bad, and being in leadership makes me responsible on some level.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends His disciples out, giving them authority to do all sorts of things.  After giving them a number of directives, they are told to go out and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven while healing the sick, driving out demons, and even raising the dead.  To me, this sounds like a really tall order, a rather daunting task.

One of the truths about authority, though, is the reality that it has to be given.  Ultimate authority rests with God who empowers us to fulfill the calling He has given us.  Whether it is pastoring a church, raising children, being a banker, teaching a class, or plowing snow.  Multiple times in this passage the disciples are reminded, “do not be afraid.”  It is important for us to remember that, wherever we are and whatever we are doing, God has given us authority and empowered us to live for Him, being bearers of His Kingdom at all times and in all places.



Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering

As we continue in our reading, we come to the books of first and second Peter.  Tradition holds that it was the Apostle Peter that wrote these two books, probably while he was in Rome.  Whether or not this is true, I guess, is besides the point.  Reading today you’ve probably picked up on a common theme that has been prominent, especially in the latter letters of Paul and these general letters that have gone out to the whole church.  As the Church continued to grow and spread out throughout the Roman Empire, it continued to face a great deal of persecution and struggle.  The Roman government acknowledged the Church as a sect of Judaism, something that was not necessarily beneficial to Christians.  The Jews has often been hostile to Roman rule, which caused many believers to be persecuted on behalf of the Jews.  More than that, the Jews themselves obviously didn’t accept the Christians as well, thus causing more persecution.  Many believers lost all that they had, their homes, businesses and any sort of ability to sustain a living for themselves and their families, all because they professed faith in Christ.  The further on we go in the first century, the more this becomes prevalent.

Peter, or the writer of First Peter, knew this and was writing into this very issue.  The Church had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire; this letter is addressed to the churches throughout what is no known as Turkey.  Peter also addresses this letter “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  He could mean a number of things here.  Returning once again to Dr. Robert VanVoorst’s book Reading the New Testament Today, VanVoorst writes that Peter could be referring to “spiritual exiles” in that all believers are spiritually exiled from the fully realized kingdom of God and reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Another reason could be an implication that the writer was looking to target a Jewish audience as well, using words like “exile” and “dispersion” which show up in the Old Testament a great deal.  In any case, it is clear that Peter is writing to many churches during a time of increased persecution.

One of the main points that Peter is making in this letter actually speaks directly into this time of trial and struggle and in many ways echoes the book of James.  Peter is imploring the believing community that they are called to live lives of faith and to testify to Christ Jesus, even if it brings them troubles in this life.  From the very beginning, Peter talks about the salvation that we receive in Christ Jesus, and continues by saying “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It may be easier in life to acknowledge faith in church and even in our speech with other Christians, yet hiding it from the rest of the world so as to not face persecution.  However, this is not the way that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  In my discipleship class this year we have talked at great length about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what that looks like in our lives and in the lives of the church.  Ultimately this is lived out in the calling that we have had since the beginning, To Love God and To Love Neighbor.  This is the greatest commandment that Jesus testifies to and that even Israel was called to.  This calling has two aspects, an inward action to love God and to love neighbor, and an outward action to show the love of God in our lives and to do that towards our neighbor.  Faith and Christian discipleship are not something to be lived out only in the Church building on Sunday mornings, they are things that are to be lived out EVERYDAY, they are the out flowing of what happens on Sunday morning.

What does this look like?  Peter addresses this by saying that it looks, first and foremost, like having Christ as the cornerstone of our  lives.  It also shows up in our submission to authority and respect of it in the world (whether we agree with it or not).  It shows up in how we love and treat our family, with love and respect.  It shows up in our vocations, even if it leads to suffering or persecution (a word I use in the lightest of senses because Christians in North America do not truly know what it means to be persecuted to the point of imprisonment and death).  It also shows up in our we interact with other Christians as well, which brings us back around to the notion of discipleship.  Peter exhorts the “elders” among them to be good shepherds of the flock, something that we often loose in our churches today.  Older folks do not feel that they can relate to the younger generations, or that the young have any desire to listen to them, but they do and the church is in desperate need of people that are solid in their faith to come alongside the young and immature so that they can be built up into Christ.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.