Should We Obey the Government?

From my 2009 Journal.

Quoting one verse or phrase out of context in the Scriptures can sometimes result in bad theology or advice. When I hear the Apostle Paul say, Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, I might conclude I should never disobey government. Further, Paul says if you oppose government, you bring condemnation on yourself, but even more so, you’ll be opposing God.

Yet the early apostles, when forbidden to preach the gospel, said, “We must obey God, rather than men.” And God honored Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they defied King Nebuchadnezzar. Same with Daniel and King Darius. Apparently it’s okay to practice civil disobedience if it conflicts with God’s law.

In context, I think Paul was saying “Do what’s right.” There’s nothing morally wrong with paying your taxes and obeying the speed limits and not shoplifting. You don’t want to be slapped in jail for selling cocaine. The government forbids it. But if the government opposes assembling together as believers, then disobedience is legit—just be prepared to pay the consequences if caught.

A 2023 Update. This question is getting stickier as we wrestle with moral conflicts over sexual orientation and government mandates. Over what conviction are you willing to lose your job, or even die for?

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 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 you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NIV)

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Wrestling with Scripture

Journal 2005

I Thessalonians 4:13-17 has always puzzled me.

God will bring with Him those who are dead.

  • Bring them to heaven?
  • Bring them back to life?
  • Bring them to earth?

We who are alive and remain till the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep

  • If you stop here, it makes sense. Obviously, the dead arrive before or ahead of the living.
  • But if this happens “in the twinkling of an eye,” how can one really “precede” the other?

The Lord returns with a shout and a trumpet and the dead in Christ will rise first.

  • First before whom?
  • Before the living?
  • Before unbelievers?
  • What will rise? Their bodies? Aren’t their spirits already risen?

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord IN THE AIR, and thus we’ll always be with the Lord.

  • If this passage, along with I Cor. 15 were the only teaching on eschatology, I’d be convinced of a post-tribulation rapture.

And why the word asleep instead of dead? From earthly perspective, death is final. From heavenly perspective, we’ve just begun to live! On earth, we’re body/soul/spirit. In heaven (or wherever the holding place is for spirits separated from their bodies) there’s only spirit. Or is our soul there too? After the resurrection of the dead, there will be a reunion of the body and the spirit/soul.

I find it fruitless to discuss this subject with those who have already made up their minds about their position on eschatology, but I’m willing to listen to a fellow struggler.

2023 Update. I don’t think it’s wrong to wrestle with eschatology Scriptures and search out wisdom and understanding, but I object to those who pick an interpretation, dogmatically defend it, and shun those who differ in their conclusions. I think we’ll all be a little surprised at how things shake down in the future.

Judgment or Discernment?

Journal 2005

I’ve been working through how to recognize the difference between God’s standard and men’s standard of conduct. For example, I came out of a system that taught it was a sin for a woman to wear pants, and though I threw that false belief out years ago, I wonder about wearing skimpy clothing. A judgmental attitude (which I’m prone to have) is a self-righteous attitude about how others conduct themselves—usually because I don’t do it myself. And often the item or “sin” in question reflects a tradition of man rather than breaking a direct command of Scripture. Discernment, on the other hand, involves understanding the intent of a command in Scripture and applying it to myself.

One’s choice of dress falls on a continuum: from a Middle Eastern burka all the way to public nudity. What’s modest for one culture may be immoral for another.* I’m sure my upbringing in an African village impacts my confusion. Does God’s Word dictate standards of dress, or does God look only on the heart? (I can dress like a Puritan and not have a pure heart.) The other end of the continuum is harder for me to gauge. At what point does my dress choice cross into sin? Can the discussion focus on the amount of material, or should the focus be 100% on the heart?

Or what about my media viewing choices? Is there a point at which what I watch becomes sin? Or is it all about the condition of the heart? I cannot judge another’s motives, but personally, I’d prefer wholesome rather than on-the-edge. Better to hug the mountain side than the cliff side in these gray areas.

*Funny story from Stormy Omartian’s book The Power of the Praying Woman. Seems an offended missionary decided he should supply the topless natives with t-shirts. The next day the ladies showed up at church proudly wearing their new garb—with holes cut out for their breasts (so they could nurse of course). Made perfect sense to me!

2023 Update. I must have worked through these questions sufficiently as I have no emotion today when the subject comes up. I know now that I am not responsible for anyone’s heart but my own, and I can trust God to convict me when needed and guide me into all truth.

The Power of Story

From my 2005 Journal.

When a person is ready to face his pain, it’s like giving a thirsty man a drink. But when there’s resistance, you can stand there all day with the cup in your hand, and he won’t reach out to take it. Telling a story sometimes helps when I’m trying to persuade someone to seek healing for emotional wounds.

I have also used stories in an inner healing prayer session with a client with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). When there’s resistance, a story can soften the bud and open the flower.

The disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables.

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. Matthew 13:11-13 (The Message)

Jesus’ solution (according to The Message) was to tell stories. Those who wanted to hear truth “got it.” Those who didn’t, well, maybe it piqued their curiosity a little. In any case, it got their attention and got them to listen. Which part of the sermon do we remember the longest? The story of course! Even a daydreaming child in the pew will sit up and take notice when a story is told.

While processing some grief issues this week over another person’s unreceptive heart, God told me to write a story to present to this person to see if it would open a discussion. And it did.

Once upon a time…

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Should You Ever Break a Vow?

From my 2009 Journal.

The Bible instructs us to keep our vows; however, some vows are unhealthy and must be broken “I’ll never do that again!” or “I’ll build a wall to protect my heart” can be detrimental to our healing journey.

When I was in junior high, my ambition was to become a missionary nurse—just like my mom. But one day, one of my teachers whom I highly respected asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I told him, he replied, “Well, you should consider becoming a doctor instead. You have good enough grades.”

To please my teacher, for the next six years I informed everyone I was going to become a missionary doctor, and I began to look into med schools. Very quickly, I realized I really had no passion or even the slightest interest in studying the medical field. And so I floundered, trying to figure out who I was. Consequently, I made a vow never to become a counselor. I did not want to be responsible for guiding someone incorrectly in their life choices. How ironic that I am now pursuing a Master’s in Pastoral Counseling!

Today I read:

Personally I am satisfied about you, my brethren, that you yourselves are rich in goodness, amply filled with all [spiritual] knowledge and competent to admonish and counsel and instruct one another also. (Romans 15:14 Amp, Emphasis added):

Note the order:

  1. First comes goodness
  2. Then comes knowledge
  3. Next competency
  4. And finally comes the act of counseling.

Character precedes knowledge. Practice comes before proficiency. I have no business counseling others if I don’t begin with character; and without training, counseling others can be dangerous. In Job 38:2 God asks, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” I wonder if I’ll make a good counselor?

A 2023 Update. Technically, I kept my vow since I became in inner healing prayer minister instead of a counselor. However, breaking that vow would have been acceptable as it was made from a place of emotion and wrong motives. Better not to make an unhealthy vow or promise than to have to break it later.

My mother, Martha Seger

WORD FOR THE YEAR 2022—GIFTS

Out of Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, GIFTS is probably my least important. I admire my friends and family members who easily assess another person’s needs and passions and cheerfully share their resources. Don’t get me wrong—receiving a well thought out gift warms my heart, and I can be generous when I see a need, but choosing the right gift for someone (especially at Christmas) feels more like a chore, fraught with emotional baggage. In fact, many years ago I relinquished this task to my husband who happens to enjoy the process. It’s his gift to me that meets my primary love language: Acts of Service.

Here’s what goes on in my head when I give a gift:

  • How many stores do I have to visit?*
  • I can’t decide what to get.
  • What can I afford?
  • What if they don’t like it?
  • Is this just adding to their clutter?
  • Do they really need it?
  • Will they be disappointed with my choice?
  • Could this resource be used better elsewhere?

Or when I’m given a gift:

  • How do I receive it graciously if I don’t care for it?
  • Am I expressing enough gratitude if I do?
  • Is reciprocation expected?

I’ve asked for the same thing (nothing!) for Christmas for the past umpteen years, but no one will listen. At the very least, I like things that get used up and don’t clutter my space, and I’d rather use those resources for someone in need. My favorite was when a daughter gave the gift of a goat in my name to a needy boy in Africa.

I’ve come to realize, however, that my dismissal of others’ gifts robs them of the joy of giving. Just because I feel angst over the process does not mean they do. I’ve also learned to follow my mother’s model of expectation: “Let me have the pleasure of giving this to you. What you do with it does not concern me. It’s yours to do with as you wish. This frees you from of the guilt of tossing or regifting.”

And so, I began the year by working through my emotions and false beliefs over this subject. Next, I set a monetary goal for how much I would spend this year in gift-giving. I’m not a shopper, but if I saw an item that might interest a friend or family member, I made the purchase and then gave it at a random time. I found more pleasure in this exercise than the obligatory birthday and Christmas events.

At first I kept a record of my gifts, but midway through the year, I began to lose interest in the tally and forgot about it. I’d met my goal, but I didn’t need to stop the habit of trying to make people smile.

And then Christmas 2022 happened. With no more triggers holding me back, I delighted in each gift received, and I’m already thinking about what to give next year!

What’s your least important love language and why?

*I think the greatest invention is the Wish List on Amazon. Even I can pull that one off without too much effort!

Judgment or Love?

From my 2009 Journal.

A few years ago, I had a friend who struggled to care for her two adopted girls when she injured her leg. Another friend remarked, “Well, she asked for it.” (i.e. she had no business adopting children if she couldn’t afford them.) Yes, my friend had made that choice, but it wasn’t her fault she hurt her leg and needed compassionate help.

But what if I am at fault for the consequence of my choices? A smoker I know is struggling with emphysema. I find it difficult to drum up any sympathy. I may fetch an oxygen tank if he runs out, but I’d still roll my eyes and think he made his own bed and must lie in it.

And then I think of an obese friend who struggles with physical challenges. Do I withhold compassion and mercy when she has a stroke? I may conclude that she asked for it, but I don’t think that’s the right response. Instead, I need God’s love for her.

I can readily see the solution to everyone else’s problem but find it harder to deal with my own. Quit smoking! Lose weight! Turn to Christ! Let go of your anger! Forgive that person who hurt you! But when I look inward at my own shortcomings, I find I can easily make excuses for my own actions and attitudes. I need God’s mercy for my own struggles that keep me bound and powerless to change and quit judging others for losing their battles. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV)

The Gift of Faith

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you” (Luke17: 17-19 The Message).

Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one thanked Him. The Samaritan had faith; I don’t know if the other nine had it or not. Did Jesus heal certain people out of compassion or because of their faith? He raised the dead—and that’s not because of their faith! In this case, the one leper demonstrated that he “got it.” I suspect God does a lot of things for us that go unacknowledged.

Maybe faith is like a promised Christmas present, an unopened box. Jesus hands it to me and says, “I’ve made you a promise. It’s in the box. But it’s not time to open it yet.” And faith says, “I believe You, Lord. And I will patiently wait till You say it’s time.”

Abraham was given a box. Inside was the promise of a son. But I think he got impatient waiting—or perhaps he thought God had handed him the wrong box, and so he set it aside and opened a different gift under the tree. But even with his mistake, God still handed him the right one and he still got to open it.

I have so many precious promise boxes under my tree I can’t even count them all! What box am I holding that I’m ignoring, substituting, not waiting for, anxious about?

When Jesus handed the one leper his gift, he remembered to write the thank you note. The other nine got their gift, too, but were so excited they forgot where it came from. We must pause, notice, respond in gratitude, and recognize the source of our healing, our salvation.

On Prejudice

Prejudice is an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge. (Webster’s Dictionary)

From my 2005 Journal.

I had a dream last night in which a professor told me I had an issue with prejudice. I denied it—but part of me recognizes the truth.

Prejudice has a negative connotation, but prejudice simply means “pre-judging.” We live most of life that way. Before I sit in a chair, I pre-judge that it will hold me up. Why? Because I’ve had prior knowledge and experience with chairs. What happens when we pre-judge people, however? The problem comes when we attribute one characteristic to an entire race, not allowing for individual differences.

What’s the relationship between pre-judging, expectations, and anticipation? When does it become negative, wrong, sinful, unproductive, or damaging? In a court of law, to pre-judge is to declare guilty or not guilty without prior or proper trial. What would be the opposite? No judgment at all? Or . . . judgment after the fact instead of before? How is it possible to avoid pre-judgment of people?

Isn’t prejudice merely a trigger? Reduced to that, it would be easy to detect and feel one’s own prejudice—because there is emotion involved. There are or can be good triggers, can’t there? Or is that suspect too? Pre-judging what Christmas will be like can set you up for disappointment.

A 2022 Perspective: I went through a lengthy period where the Lord worked on my heart about my judgmental attitude. Obviously, I’m not perfect in this area, but looking back, I can see how very far I’ve come.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Spiritual Fruit

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)

From my 2005 Journal.

I’m not sure where or when in my spiritual journey (from the pulpit?) I picked up the notion that we were supposed to strive to do the list of Fruits of the Spirit. “Look over this list,” they’d say. “Which one do you lack? Work at this one today. Be more (“more” is unquantifiable) loving, put on a joyful countenance, exercise patience or self-control.” Shame for failing in any area became a natural by-product of this teaching.

But one day I began to ponder the nature of fruit, and then, thankfully, I heard (from the pulpit?) a correct interpretation of this verse. Spiritual fruit is not a to-do list but rather a by-product, a result of abiding in the Spirit, of being attached to the vine, of mind renewal. I can choose to exhibit the fruits by determination and self-effort, and that is not a bad thing. I can choose not to punch my friend in the face if I’m mad at her. But how much easier and freeing to have these qualities flow out of me naturally, graciously, without effort as a result of inner healing prayer and mind renewal. Even “abiding in the vine” is no longer a grit-my-teeth, work-at-it endeavor. Rather, it is a natural by-product of connecting all parts of my heart to the Lord.

Fruit plate created by my friend Renate.