Judge of the Nations

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

The wicked will return to sheol–all the nations that forget God. For the needy will not always be forgotten; the hope of the oppressed will not perish forever. Rise up, Lord! Do not let mere humans prevail; let the nations be judged in your presence. Put terror in them, Lord; let the nations know they are only humans. ~ Psalm 9:17-20 (Christian Standard Bible)

Much of the Old Testament speaks of God being judge over the nations. The prophets, especially, show us that God sits enthroned over every government, king, president, and emperor. Israel may have been chosen as his special people, but all nations are subject to his decrees.

David meditated on this theme as well in Psalm 9. He praises God for being the “righteous judge” (9:4) who “executes judgment on the nations with fairness” (9:8). Part of the criterion for judgment here and in the prophets is how the nations treat the poor, needy, and oppressed.

In 9:17-18, David condemns the nations that “forget God” and immediately connects that to the needy and oppressed. A nation that is true to God and his word will not turn its back on the poor, desperate, in need, and outcast. They will not oppress those with little power. Time and time again in Scripture, it is God who stands up for those in need against the oppressor.

In our culture, the power of the government rests in the hands of we the people. The persons and policies we vote for are representatives of our voice. If we truly strive to be a nation that remembers God, we will also remember the struggling, oppressed, and outcast. We will find wise ways to use our vote, voice, and resources to help those in need.

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The Joy of the City (a daily proverb)

This devotional series examines a verse or two from a chapter of Proverbs each day of January 2017.

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown. ~Proverbs 11:10-11

Character matters. That is one of the big lessons we find again and again in the Bible. For God’s people, the number one qualification for leadership isn’t charisma, education, vision, or skill, but character. This is true in the home, the church, the city, and the nation.

Throughout the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, we see a repeated pattern. When the unrighteous are in power or bend the ear of the king, the people and the land suffers. When the righteous are in power or have the ear of the king, the people and the land prosper.

In his proverb, Solomon related this truth to cities. The wicked ultimately care most about themselves. They will make false promises, manipulate, lie, and use in order to exalt self and maintain their prominence. The righteous care about things like justice, love of neighbor, and the plight of the poor, the orphaned, the widow, and the sojourners. The righteous seek not to exalt self but to bring about the best situation for others.

This is what God calls his people to. As Jesus said: We are to love God and love neighbor. Ultimately, we cannot do one without the other.

So, if we have found new life in Christ, we should heed his call to love. We might not all have the power or influence of a king or a president, but we can be a positive force in the lives of those living next door to us. The more we love others, the greater benefit our communities receive, and that brings joy to our communities.

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Pray for your country’s leaders (a meditation)

God’s people should make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all people—on behalf of kings, and all who hold high office, so that we may lead a tranquil and peaceful life in all godliness and holiness. ~1 Timothy 2:1-2

It’s Summer of 2016, and here in the United States we find ourselves in the midst of another heated political battle. Some days it seems the country has never been more divided. Some days it seems that individual political parties have never seen so much internal turmoil. But really, historically, there’s nothing new under the sun (Solomon, Ecclesiastes).

Politics have always been heated and the issues complex. Some politicians have fared better than others at navigating the opinions and felt needs of a diverse population base while remaining popular. Opinionated news media and social networking where anyone can say what they want with little thought rarely helps.

As citizens of the United States, we have a great privilege that much of the world has not shared: we can vote for a person based on our convictions, beliefs, and conscious. We might not agree with everything a candidate does, but we do get to cast a vote and we get to do so without feeling threatened by a dictatorial governing force.

And if we are followers of Jesus, as citizens of heaven, we have a greater privilege, in fact a greater duty: to pray for those in charge.

Paul told young Timothy to teach the people in the church to pray in various ways “on behalf of all people.” Since we can’t realistically know the prayer needs of billions of people, there is some obvious generality to this command. We have people who are family, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and classmates who we do know well and we can pray for specifically and regularly.

But how do we pray for “all people”?

One way that Paul went on to specify was to pray for the governing authorities. With our news outlets and social media, it is far easier for us to become skeptical and angry toward those in government than it is to pray for them. Yet, the Bible calls us to be different than what we see on the news or Facebook.

It doesn’t matter if we like a politician or not, it doesn’t matter if we agree with their positions or not, and it doesn’t matter if their last name is Bush, Obama, Clinton, Ryan, or Pelosi. We are to pray.

The reason we pray is for the good of the people of our land. Paul said it was  good thing for us to be able to live “tranquil and peaceful” lives and especially as Christians in our pursuit of “godliness and holiness.” Paul went on to say as well that this is good as we seek the salvation of others, because God desires all people to be saved from the greatest of kings to the humblest of servants (2:3-4).

So, we must pray.

We are to pray for the character of the political leaders. Better to be led by men and women of honesty and integrity than by those who lack. We are to pray for wisdom in leadership. Better to be led by those who are able to discern well the direction of the age and offer real solutions than by those who can’t see what’s likely to come and cause great problems. We are to pray for leaders who listen well. The Bible tells us to be slow to speak and quick to listen, so better to be led by those who will take the time to listen to different views and opposing sides, as well as their own constituents, and then work to develop solutions that are best for all.

And, since we as Christians believe that the hope of the gospel and the love of God are for people of all backgrounds, ages, social class, education, etc., we are to pray for the salvation of those in charge. Not that they would use religion merely as a platform to appeal to certain people, but to see true life change. It is better to see another join us in God’s family and better to be led by someone who knows the grace of God and has a genuine love and concern for all people, then someone who caters to just a small group that can benefit him or her.

Let us pray, then, for our president, senators, representatives, governors, and others in government office, in the hope that they will make a greater, more positive impact in our country and world.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Good Reads 05.11.16 (on: depression, discipleship, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On sharing about Jesus and making disciples: 10 Great Commission Thoughts to Challenge You Today by Chuck Lawless

A single 30-minute sermon is more time in the Word than 3 billion+ people in the world have had engaging the Word in their entire lifetime. We who have access to the Word through preaching, study, books, the Internet, etc., have great reason not to take these gifts for granted. (click here to read more)

On discipleship: A Helpful Way to Think about Personal Discipleship by Mike Leake

What if we used my friends helpful principle to think about discipleship? First, I make a concentrated effort to spend time with people. Secondly, every time I spend time with them my goal is to leave them better than when we started—to help them take one step closer to Christ. That’s it. Every time I meet with you I want to love you and want to help you see Jesus a little better. (And quite likely you’ll help me see Jesus better too).  (click here to read more)

On politics and the Christian life: A Gentle Political Recalibration by Erik Raymond

Here in the United States our news is dominated by the Presidential election cycle and as a result, we are inundated with up to the minute analysis of debates, rallies, interviews, editorials, and tweets. Many have observed that this is a particularly important election. I happen to agree with them while also noting that the same thing is said every four years. It is always important.

Without minimizing the importance of the election or impugning anyone who is a political junkie, I want to offer a gentile reminder for Christians who might be getting a little too wrapped up in the election. Call it a gentle calibration. (click here to read more)

On the Christian and depression: Jesus Died for Your Depression Too by Cody Barnhart

I first felt the effects of depression late in middle school. It led me into a short stint of melodrama freshman year, a longing for suicide in my sophomore and junior years, and, thankfully, a softening in my heart toward the gospel my senior year. Adolescence was tough. I felt like I would never be known. I remember thinking that nobody could ever truly love somebody who hated himself that much, so instead of being honest with those who loved me, I pushed my feelings deeper down until they consumed me altogether. (click here to read more)

On culture and grace: The Idea that Changed the World by Steve Bezner

In the desire to be holy, Christians often comfort themselves with the words of Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) Left unchecked, we will tend to believe that it is good for us to create division with our faithfulness. In fact, when we are drifting away from our theological mooring, we can default to a position of cultural antagonism without a redemptive goal. (Orthodox Christians would argue cultural antagonism with a redemptive goal is ultimately a unifying good.)

But have Christians oversold the position of “taking a stand”? (click here to read more)

Good Reads 10.21.15 (on: adoption and the gospel, bearing burdens, kindness in politics, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On adoption and God’s adoption of us: A Father to the Fatherless by Chris Thomas

You see, I had always appreciated those passages like Galatians 4:4-7 or Romans 8:12-17, but I had never truly grasped them until I chose and loved a son who wasn’t my own. … I have no right to call myself a child of God. But my Father loves me! My Father sings over me! My Father rejoices over me! My Father guards me as a treasured possession! My Father points to me as an eternal display of his love, a living trophy of his grace! I am loved. I am a child of God. (click here to read more)

On the Christian’s call to share the gospel: Advancing God’s Kingdom Is Not Just Your Pastor’s Job by Matt Moore

Who are the “saints”? Paul, Peter, St. Valentine, and whoever else the Roman Catholic Church deems worthy of the title? Nope. You and I are the saints. What this verse says is that one reason God gives us shepherds and teachers is to equip us to be ministers of the gospel. I think the phrase “work of ministry” in Ephesians 4:12 is applicable to both our work in the local church (which is why we shouldn’t neglect teaching Sunday School classes or serving in the nursery!) and our work in evangelism. God’s vision is that all of his children would be priests who serve in the weekly functioning of the Church . . . and prophets who proclaim Jesus to a lost and dying word. (click here to read more)

On work and the glory of God: Your Work Has an Eschatology by Sam Parkinson

A ministry position in a local church is not the only possible work you can do to the glory of God. If you work as a barista, work hard to give your customer a well-crafted drink; this shapes the world and it is pleasing to the Lord. If you’re a banker, work hard for the fiscal success of your employer and for your customer’s peace of mind; this shapes the world and it is pleasing to the Lord. If you are a plumber, work hard to bless your clients with dependable plumbing; this shapes the world and it is pleasing to the Lord. If you are a stay-at-home mother, work hard to raise and nurture your children for their temporal and eternal good (even when your hard work goes unrecognized); this profoundly shapes the world and it is pleasing to the Lord. (click here to read more)

On hope and an other-focused life: Hope Beyond the Heavy Burdens You Carry by Paul Maxwell

When life requires us to push harder, to protect more vigilantly, to give more freely, to expend unavailable energies, to accomplish impossible tasks, God offers us his sustaining love, his gentle concern, his guiding sovereignty. We are not alone as we bear the burdens of those around us, because God joyfully bears us up with him each day with exactly what we need — his sustaining grace, more than ever on the days when we don’t feel it. When Christ returns, we will witness a global mourning among those who have recklessly cast aside the free offer of Christ’s grace in this life. And the unseen faithful and generous servants will finally rest. (click here to read more)

On showing kindness to those who disagree with us politically and culturally: How Confidence Makes Us Kind by Russell Moore

A gloomy view of culture leads to meanness. If we believe we are on the losing side of history, we slide into the rage of those who know their time is short. We have no reason to be fearful or sullen or mean. We’re not the losers of history. We are not slouching toward Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion. The worst thing that can possibly happen to us has already happened: we’re dead. We were crucified at Skull Place, under the wrath of God. And the best thing that could happen to us has already happened; we’re alive, in Christ, and our future is seated at the right hand of God, and he’s feeling just fine. (click here to read more)

Good Reads 09.10.15 (on: hope, going to church, prayer, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week:

On having a greater hope in the midst of our difficulties: Words of Unnatural Comfort in the Midst of Unrelenting Conflict by Miles Morrison

Wars without worry, famines without fretting, disaster without distress. Jesus’ words of unnatural comfort in the midst of unrelenting conflict are a stark contrast to our own desires for self-protection and self-preservation. But with the promise of problems comes another guarantee: the end is not yet. Jesus doesn’t want us to feel overwhelmed by the troubles of this world, because they haven’t overwhelmed him. (click here to read more)

On the church’s mission: The Most Important Thing Your Church Is Probably Missing by J.D. Greear

All of Jesus’ promises about the greatness of the Church, you see, are tied to sending out, not gathering in. Jesus once promised His disciples that they would do greater works than Him (John 14:12). That’s a staggering promise. How many pastors claim to do greater works than Jesus? But Jesus didn’t mean that our works would be greater in quality. He meant that the reach and extent of His works would be greater when His Spirit rested on every believer than when that power was concentrated upon one person. Churches that understand this will devote themselves not to gathering and counting, but empowering and sending. Sending capacity, not seating capacity, ought to be the measure of success for any New Testament church. (click here to read more)

On battling against pornography: 7 Good Reasons to Stop Looking at Porn Right Now by Tim Challies

By making light of pornography you are making light of the death of Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, you acknowledge in your profession of faith that the cost of forgiveness was nothing less than the death of God’s beloved Son. Jesus suffered and died for your sin. How can you, as a Christian, then toy with your sin and take it lightly? How can you cling to it? (click here to read more)

On the importance of regularly gathering as a church: Why I Go to Church Even When I Don’t Feel Like It by Trudy Smith

I’ve benefitted from the sacrificial commitment and consistency of countless people who have welcomed me into community over the years, and now I recognize the invitation for me to do the same thing for others: to hold that space even on days when I don’t seem to personally benefit from it. When the songs don’t do anything for me, when I don’t want to talk with people about the difficult week I’ve had, or when I’d rather sleep in instead—it is then that I am invited to go to church anyway. Not because God or anyone else is judging me by my attendance, but because it is a chance for me to be church to the people who are sharing this journey with me. (click here to read more)

On prayer and political leaders: Do You Pray for the President As Much As You Complain About Him? by Mark Altrogge

Sure, we don’t like our taxes going up. We don’t like spending more on healthcare for less benefits. But do my taxes even compare to peace and the gospel advancing? Go ahead and pray for lower taxes. Pray for God to give our leaders wisdom with the economy. Vote. Get involved in politics if God calls you to do that. But don’t complain about our government. Don’t call your leaders idiots. Pray for them. Pray that God would move upon our leaders to work for righteousness and life. (click here to read more)