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Friday, April 30, 2010

What the Bible would tell us about the Arizona immigration law

The big story in the news this week is the new immigration law in Arizona that allows law enforcement officers to request proof of citizenship if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person may be undocumented.  If the individual cannot produce such proof, the law enforcement officer is able to make an arrest.  The Arizona legislature says that the law simply allows law enforcement officers to treat illegal immigration like…well, illegal immigration. 
But perhaps a bigger story than the law itself has been the cacophony of outrage at its passage.  To those protesting, the law will lead to a Nazi-like state and racial profiling.  Based solely on the color of their skin, people will be forced to “produce their papers.”  There will be rampant harassment at the hands of the police, leading to a virtual terror state. 
So what is a Christian to think?  Does the Bible give us any guidelines to help us make sense of this issue?  I believe so, and we can find it in Romans 13:1-5.
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
(Rom 13:1-5 ESV)
A few principles can be drawn from this passage.
1. It is God’s desire that all people submit to the governing authorities, v1.  The sinful human mind would wish to qualify that truth by asking, “which governing authorities?”  Is it just the authorities from my political party?  Just the authorities I voted for and agree with?  Paul gives an answer that we might not like in v1, saying essentially that we are to submit to all the governing authorities since all governing authorities have been instituted by God.
(There is one notable exception found in Acts 5:29.  Whenever a governing authority commands us to do something contrary to God’s Word, “We must obey God rather than men.”)
So to apply this to the issue at hand, we must acknowledge that since the statutes regarding illegal immigration were made by the governing authorities, which were established by God, those statutes must be obeyed. 
2. To disobey the law of the land is to disobey God, v2a.  The governing authorities established by God have declared it illegal to enter this country outside of the channels expressly outlined by the law.  To subvert these laws is to resist God. 
3. Those who disobey the law will incur judgment, v2b.  This means that those who ignore existing immigration laws should expect to pay the penalty for this.  It is God’s design.
4.  The governing authorities should not be feared by those who obey the law, v3.  Let’s suppose for a moment that the protesters are right and the police will now harass people as a matter of course, making racial profiling official policy [even though the law does not allow this].  Those who are in this country legally should have no fear – they are not breaking the law.  They should produce the requested identification and thank God that He uses men to keep law and order in this sinful world.
Many times, when I use my debit card to make a purchase, I’m asked to show my driver’s license.  I have never broken out in a cold sweat over this because I do not use stolen credit cards.  Every time I have ever gotten on an airplane I have been asked to produce my driver’s license and to walk through a metal detector.  This has never given me heartburn because I never travel under an assumed name and I don’t carry firearms or explosives when I fly.  Do I resent these procedures?  Absolutely not.  Such requests to prove the legality of my actions is not bothersome to me, since this process was instituted by God and it is a tool used by Him to protect me by administering justice to those who are breaking the law.  Further, my calm demeanor in such situations is evidence that my submission to the authorities has resulted in a clear conscience (v5).  
5. The governing authorities should be feared by those who do not obey the law, v4.  Are those who are in this country illegally afraid that they will be caught under this new law?  Good.  God’s design is working.  The police officer enforcing this law is God’s servant.  For those who obey the law, he is God’s servant for good, keeping law and order in a world that without them would spiral into utter lawlessness.  For those who disobey the law, the police officer is God’s servant in carrying out God’s wrath for their wrongdoing.  They are right to be fearful and it is a function of that fear to cause them to turn from their ways and obey the law.
Now, some might respond, “I’m not concerned for myself, but for those who would be adversely affected by this law.”  To that I would say that according to the passage above, I don’t see how the enforcement of the law could adversely affect anyone.  To those who obey, such enforcement makes them safer.  To those who disobey, the enforcement will result in a just penalty.  We need to realize that to seek to deprive the government of their ability to enforce the law is to desire that God’s design for government be thwarted.  It would remove “the sword” mentioned in v4, which is the very cause for the criminal’s appropriate fear.  No sword means no fear, which means no bounds placed on the lawless hearts of men.
God knows what He is doing.  He uses the law enforcement community to keep us safe and to punish criminals.  We should trust His design.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: Achan's Ironic End

I wonder how many of you saw one clause in Joshua 8:2 jump off the page as we read the chapter on Sunday morning.  It certainly got my attention, but as is so often the case, it was not absolutely essential to the message of the chapter, so it ended up on the cutting room floor.  Still, there is a great lesson there, so I wanted to bring it to you here.
In the Lord’s instructions to Joshua at the beginning of the chapter, He says in v2, “And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.
The Lord instructs Joshua to destroy Ai just like he destroyed Jericho, but with one caveat – the people were allowed to take the spoils, that is, they were given permission to take the material riches of the people of Ai for themselves. 
A short passage from Joshua 6 should refresh the memory.  Ch6 tells of the Israelites following the Lord’s instruction, marching around the city of Jericho once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day.  On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times.  And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout, for the LORD has given you the city.  And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction...But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.  But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD" (Jos 6:15-19). 
Jericho was to be the first city conquered in the conquest of Canaan.  As such, it represented the first fruits of the land, so all of it – the people, the animals, the belongings of the people, and the city itself – were to be devoted to the Lord for destruction.  The silver, gold, bronze, and iron were to be brought into the treasury of the LORD.  Everything else was to be destroyed. 
The conquest of Jericho appears to be a rousing success, until we come to 7:1, But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel.  Later in ch7, Achan gives a full confession: "Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath" (vv20-21).
As a result, Achan, along with all of his possessions and family, was stoned to death and burned.  The price was steep, but just.  It is this episode with Achan that makes that one clause in 8:2 light up: “And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king.  Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves."
The the sin and death of Achan are ironic.  But we need to be careful in how we understand the irony.  We may be tempted to think, “If Achan had only waited, he could have had all the spoils he could get his hands on at Ai,” as if Achan’s problem was a lack of patience.  If he had known that the spoils would be permitted in Ai, and for that reason waited until Ai, his “patience” would still have been motivated by the desire for selfish gain.  The lesson is not that if we are just patient we will eventually get our heart’s desire.
No, the irony here is that if Achan had treasured God above material things, he would have received both God and the spoils.  Even more ironic is that if he treasured God above material things, he would have been perfectly content without the spoils. 
This points to one of the many problems with the prosperity gospel.  It values the blessings of God above God Himself so that God is nothing more than a means to our preferred end.  We jump through whatever religious hoops we have to in order to get what we want, rather than desiring God above all things. 
But we ought not limit the lesson to the desire for material things.  It is true of anything else we might pursue, including respect, success, happiness, etc. The lie in the garden was “God is holding out on you, so take what you desire.”  In reality, as the woman took what she desired, she was forfeiting the greatest treasure of all, perfect fellowship with her Creator.  She deprived herself of that singular blessing by valuing blessings above the God who gives them.
Salvation history tells of the implementation of God’s plan to return to us that lost treasure.  God demonstrated the true value of fellowship with Him by spending His Son to buy it back for us.  How foolish then for us to consider any other pursuit to be worthy of our energy and passion.  When God is not our chief desire, we not only devalue our fellowship with Him, but we also discount the price He paid for it.
Do you see Achan in yourself?  What is your chief desire?  If it is God, you are guaranteed to receive Him (Jer 29:13), and you are also guaranteed to receive everything else you need (Mat 6:33).  If it is something else, you're missing the one thing that matters most.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: That's not fair!

“That’s not fair.”
That’s the typical human response to passages like Joshua 7.  In verse 1, we read, “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel.”  One man, Achan, took some of the devoted things, and yet, all Israel was said to have broken faith and become the object of God’s anger.  That just doesn’t seem fair, does it?
The feeling doesn’t go away as you read the rest of the chapter.  In fact, it gets worse, as the climax of the passage shows that Achan and his entire family were stoned and burned for the offense.  We might be able to understand Achan being judged in this way…but his family, too?
So how are we to deal with this?  There are a few basic things to keep in mind, and then perhaps a not so basic thing to consider regarding the concept of fairness.  So let’s take those things in order.
Basic Thing #1 – God is Creator and Lord
God created all things, therefore He owns all things, therefore He is Lord of all things, therefore He has the absolute right to do whatever He wishes with all things.  In other words, God owes us no explanation.  The Creator is not beholden to the creation.  We know from the final chapters of Job that God does not approve of created beings feeling a sense of entitlement to all the answers.  God is God and He has all the authority necessary to do whatever He wills AND leave us completely in the dark about it.  He is under no obligation to explain anything. 
You know, God didn’t owe us the Bible.  His revelation of Himself was a gracious act, something we did not deserve.  Therefore, if God were to explain to us how to deal with the issue of fairness that we struggle with regarding Joshua 7, it would be grace upon grace, not payment given where payment is due.  As we seek to probe this kind of issue, we must do so in a spirit of humility rather than entitlement.  We stand on very precarious ground when with chin held high we stand before God and say, “explain Yourself.”  So that’s where we need to start. 
Basic Thing #2 – All Are Deserving of Death
Part of our problem is that in our fallen-ness, we start with a wrong premise.  We would say that it is unfair that God punished innocent people.  He killed 36 warriors and who knows how many members of Achan’s family.  Innocent people.  We get off track right there.  “Innocent people” is an oxymoron.  It’s a contradiction in terms.  You can’t be a human being and be innocent, and you can’t be innocent and be a human being. 
You’ve heard me say it a dozen times – Paul writes in Romans 3:10-18 there are none who are good, none righteous, none seeking for God.  None.  All have sinned.  All are deserving of death.  ALL.  It is good for us to remind ourselves that ALL people not in hell right now are enjoying God’s grace this very minute.  That you and I were not immediately banished to hell the first time we sinned, is God’s grace. 
That Achan’s family and the Israelite warriors ever took a single breath outside of hell is grace upon grace.  That they were killed after this particular sin of Achan’s is not a denial of God’s grace, but a demonstration of it in that God waited so long to judge them.  There is a very real sense in which all of us are living on borrowed time.  (For those of us who are in Christ, we could say “purchased time.”)  None of us should be here still, yet God by His grace continues to sustain us.  So for those killed in Joshua 7, God was not killing the innocent, but removing His grace from the already justly condemned. 
And you might say, “well, I know, I know that we all deserve God’s punishment, but its just not fair that they were judged for Achan’s sin.”  And that leads us to a not so basic thing.
Not So Basic Thing – Fairness is the Antithesis of Grace
I’ve mentioned before that my children are not allowed to say, “that’s not fair.” After meditating on this passage and studying for last week’s message, I’ve decided that if they ever do say that again, I’m going to tell them, “the absolute worst thing that could happen to you would be for life to be fair.”
We are so offended by this idea of guilt by association in Joshua 7 – the Israelites were guilty because of their ties to Achan.  There is a concept called corporate solidarity, which sees a group of people as one body, one corporate identity.  And this is the typical way of viewing family in the Ancient Near East and in some parts of the world today.  There is no strong sense of the individual.  There is a strong sense of family or clan or tribe or nation, and a person’s identity is tied to that corporate body.   
But today in our culture, we have a much stronger sense of individuality than could be found in the days of Joshua.  It’s hard for us to even think in terms of corporate solidarity.  So it’s partially our individualistic worldview that causes us to recoil at the concept of guilt by association.  But I really don’t think that most of us have stopped to consider the ramifications of our desire for fairness.  Consider this: if we are going to reject the concept of guilt by association, then to be “fair”, we also must reject righteousness by association, which is the very basis of our salvation.
If it is not fair for someone to take on the guilt of another, it is also not fair for someone to take on the righteousness of another.  If I shouldn’t be punished for someone else’s sins, I also shouldn’t be rewarded for someone else’s righteousness.  And there goes our salvation.
This is a crucial truth.  A world governed by fairness is a world where the grace of God cannot be experienced, because the act of holding one person responsible for the sins of another and the act of rewarding someone for the righteousness of another are both functions of God’s grace.  In our redemption, God took our guilt and punishment and placed it upon Christ, and God took the righteousness of Christ and placed it on those who believe.  And one thing is certain – it wasn’t fair. 
Fairness is the opposite of grace and if we would cling to one, we must give up the other.  It could be said that God loved us so much that rather than being fair with us, He acted according to grace.
So I intend to tell my children – what a nightmare it would be for us if life was fair.  Christ’s righteousness would never have left heaven, and I would still be dead in my sins and guilty before God.  Praise God, life isn’t fair. 
So when we look at Joshua 7 and say, “that’s not fair,” we turn the grace of God on its head, not realizing that fairness would call for our own immediate and eternal damnation.  I don’t know about you, but when I view the issue in those terms, my heart is settled.  You can keep the fairness – I want the grace of God.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Together for the Gospel 2010 - Day 2

(This is Scott Bennett posting on Greg's behalf)

Here's a clip of CJ Mahaney introducing John MacArthur before John came up to preach at the Together for the Gospel conference on Wednesday, April 14, in the 10:30am session. Their brotherly love toward each other - and their sense of humor - is very evident in this rare moment on stage.

It has been a wonderful conference, and it's only half over!

Together for the Gospel 2010

Greetings from Louisville Kentucky! Here's a little taste of 7000 men singing the praises of Jesus.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Passion or Patience?

We are in the process of reading to our kids Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a children’s adaptation of the John Bunyan classic.  (If you have never read the original, I recommend it.  Even the children’s version will be a benefit to parents.  It’s a great way to do family devotions.  We sometimes read a chapter or two and then discuss it briefly with the kids.)  Last night, we read of Passion and Patience, two little boys staying for a time in the house of the Interpreter.  Little Christian observed that Passion was in constant miserable fits, while Patience was calm and serene.  The Interpreter explained that Passion was overcome by his desire for present treasures.  He simply could not be happy until his want was satiated.  Patience on the other hand understood that the only true treasures are those given by the King in the Celestial City.  He was willing to wait for those treasures, having his heart set on heavenly things, not temporal things.
That Pilgrim’s Progress was written more than 325 years ago shows that the human condition has not changed over the course of time.  What plagued the hearts of men in the 1600’s plagues our hearts today.  It is the common bent of man to look for comfort and treasures here and now, forfeiting greater riches in the Lord’s eternal presence. 
How foolishly Passion pined away for gold and silver, things that will never stand the test of time.  And yet, so many of us are like him.  We spend our time and energy longing for and working for material things, and – in this country – we usually get them, but find that they do not satisfy, so we strive for other material things.  There is always the next toy or convenience awaiting us, that thing after which we believe we will be happy, but the happiness always eludes us.
Jesus had much to say about this. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:19-21, 24).
There is an incompatibility between seeking the Kingdom of God and seeking the kingdom of me.  I can only have one god in my life.  It will either be the God or it will be my own passions.  God will share a throne with no one.  So when I dedicate my thought life, my passion, my energy, and my time to seeking stuff, not only I have laid up for myself treasures on earth, but I have also made a decision about my worship – my heart cries “all hail King Mammon” rather than “all hail King Jesus.”
The story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 may hit closer to home that we would like to admit:  And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'"  And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth."  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 
The young man sought eternal life but was not willing to sacrifice his “Best Life Now” to get it.  He simply desired something more than he desired Christ.  This story does not teach that we work our way to heaven or buy our way to heaven.  It teaches that only those who desire Him above all things can be called His disciples. 
The irony is that Christ offers riches far greater than anything that can ever be had on earth.  When we pass Him up to lay our hands on earthly things, we have passed by the true prize for the sake of fools’ gold. 
The epistles of the New Testament so clearly teach that our riches are tied up in the person, work, and presence of Christ (Rom 2:4; 9:23; 10:12; Eph 1:7, 1:18; 2:7; 3:8; Phil 4:19; Col 1:27; 2:2).  Haven’t we seen this in our study of 1 Peter?  Our salvation in Christ is described in 1:4 as “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”  The focus of our passion and joy is to be Christ alone:  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1Pe 1:8-9).
So which are you? Passion or Patience? Are you spending your life striving for perishable, defiled, and fading riches on earth?  Or are you longing in your heart for the unfathomable riches of Christ?  Are you holding on to your own things or to the Lord’s cross and kingdom?
There is longing on either side.  The difference is that one pursuit will lead to frustration in the journey and dissatisfaction at the goal, and the other to hope in the journey and eternal joy at the goal.  Pray that the Lord would reveal to you which one you are after, and beg Him for the grace to change if change is in order.
Psalm 16 is a good one to commit to memory for those who would prize Him above all else.  It is the psalm of a heart that says to the Lord, I have no good beside You.  If only we were all desiring to get to that place.  Then we would find true contentment in patiently waiting for Him, knowing, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”