Tag Archives: Citizen

King, or Not?

King, or Not? (CaD Jud 8) Wayfarer

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:22-23 (NIV)

The book of Judges tells the story of a very specific period of Hebrew history. I have found that understanding the context of this period of time is important in understanding the overarching Great Story. These twelve Hebrew tribes that settled in the Promised Land were a populous nation with no formal central government. Think of the contiguous United States as if each state were a tribe and there was no Federal government in Washington D.C. All around them, cities and small regions were ruled by the strong, central authority of monarchs, or kings. The Hebrews saw themselves as a theocracy, in which God was ultimately who led them and whom they served. This system had its challenges, which is what the book of Judges is all about. It sets the stage for the next chapter of the Great Story in which the Hebrew people will demand the establishment of a monarchy.

In today’s chapter, Gideon completes his military leadership in the defeat of the Midianites who had oppressed them. As a result, the people offer Gideon the opportunity to be their king. Gideon refuses, reminding the people that God alone rules over them. On the surface, Gideon appears to be saying the right thing, but the verses immediately following this proclamation (24-32) describe Gideon doing the exact opposite.

Gideon refuses to become king, but he embraces all of the privileges that a monarch would have claimed in that day. He takes a personal share of the spoil for himself. He creates a trophy commemorating his victory that the people worship in a cult-like fashion. He takes on a large harem and has many sons, one of them named Abimelek, meaning “my father is king.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about who rules over me. In the early Jesus Movement, followers of Jesus found themselves in difficult political circumstances. Their local governments were puppets of the Roman Empire. The Roman caesars claimed to be gods, but the followers of Jesus saw themselves, ultimately, as citizens of God’s Kingdom and ambassadors of that kingdom on earth.

In my mind, however, it becomes even more personal than that. In Gideon, I see a reflection of my own natural bent. As a disciple of Jesus, I am quick to say that I am not King or Lord of my life, but only Jesus is King and Lord of my life. However, I have to ask myself: “What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about the true Lord of my life?”

On this Monday morning, as I enter another work week, I find myself thinking about my life, my relationships, my work, my upcoming appointments, and my multiple task lists. I’m asking myself both what and who I am ultimately working for.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Keeping Watch

This is what the Lord says to me:
“Go, post a lookout

    and have him report what he sees.”
Isaiah 21:6 (NIV)

In ancient days major cities had walls built around them. The walls protected the city from invaders. The walls were often tall and wide enough to accommodate soldiers who would watch the horizon for people approaching. It’s much the same concept as the Medieval castles, but on a larger scale. Around Europe and the Middle East you can find cities that still have walls, or remnants of walls standing. Even the old city of Jerusalem is walled, though the walls are from Medieval times, not the days of Isaiah.

Through the lyrics of David’s songs and the poetry of the prophets we find the metaphor of the “watchman” who stands on the walls and is on the lookout:

I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:5

The watchmen found me
    as they made their rounds in the city.
    “Have you seen the one my heart loves?
Song of Songs 3:3

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.”
Ezekiel 3:17

The prophet, along with my God,
    is the watchman over Ephraim…
Hosea 9:8

God’s language is metaphor. Paying attention to the metaphors and word pictures use throughout God’s Message provides understanding and insight. In ancient days, the watchman was a powerful word picture, though that power is easily lost in our days of suburbia. The watchman was a crucial figure. The watchman was on guard, ever vigilant in keeping watch on what was going on. The watchman could see things approaching from far off and could raise an alarm or provide important intelligence. The watchman was a perfect metaphor for the prophets who kept watch on what was coming and related the news to God’s people. The watchman is an apt precursor to the teachings of Jesus:

“Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.”

“He who seeks, finds.”

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Jesus made clear that, as His follower, I am to be aware, seeking and watching. We all have responsibilities as watchmen.

This morning as I write this post it is Election Day in the U.S. There is more angst and anger about this election than any election I have experienced in my lifetime. Historians tell us that there have been far more contentious elections and situations in our nations short history, though I think there are relatively few today who actually try to learn from the past (good watchmen look in all directions!).

Whatever the results of this election, it doesn’t take much of a watchman to see the numbers of the polls and know that tomorrow will dawn with more people angry and disappointed than relieved. It is the portents of contention ahead.

And so I’m reminded this morning of another important part of God’s Message, for a watchman should always weigh what he or she sees in context:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders. Romans 13:1-7 (MSG)

Be a responsible citizen. Fulfill our obligation. Vote.

Then be at peace, love our neighbors , and respect our leaders (whoever they may be).

Yes, and Yes (?)

red pill blue pill

Paul said, “I am appealing to the emperor’s tribunal; this is where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you very well know. Now if I am in the wrong and have committed something for which I deserve to die, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to the emperor.” Then Festus, after he had conferred with his council, replied, “You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.” Acts 25:10-12 (NRSV)

While under Roman guard in Jerusalem, Paul received word from God telling him that he would bear witness in Rome. At that point in time, the situation was tense and events seemed to be moving swiftly toward a foreshadowed end for Paul. Then, Paul became a guest of the Roman political bureaucracy. Over two years of house arrest. Paul was a pawn in the Roman governor’s desire to keep peace with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.

In today’s chapter, we have a de ja vu moment as the newly appointed Governor sends for the Jewish leaders once more to make their accusations against Paul. I tried to put myself in Paul’s sandals this morning as I read. He’s been accused multiple times now by the Jewish trial lawyers as they drag out their same old, tired lies and accusations. The new Roman Governor seems to be like the last. He knows that Paul is innocent, both he and Paul know it, but they also both know that Paul makes a good bargaining chip with the Jewish leaders. It appears to be a stalemate. So, Paul makes a fateful choice.

Roman citizenship carried with it certain privileges, and Paul was well aware of this. Tired of waiting for the Governor to decide his case, Paul claims his right to appeal his case to the emperor’s court in Rome. Having been told by God that he would bear witness in Rome, Paul chooses to take fate into his own hands and make it happen. The decision effectively ended the stalemate between the Roman governor and the Jewish leaders, and there was always the chance that the Jewish leaders would choose not to pursue the case all the way to Rome.

Today, I find myself once again mulling over one of the classic, on-going debates of Christian theology. Do we have free will to make our own choices and play our own hand (e.g. Paul appealing his case to Rome) or does God predestine our lives and the events therein (e.g. Even if Paul didn’t choose to appeal, to Rome he would have ended up there as God had promised).

Classic, on-going debates occur when clear answers are not easily found. I  have heard the answers at both extremes of the debate and have found them wanting. Truth appears to me to be found at the mysterious point of tension between the two extremes. It will be suggested in tomorrow’s chapter that Paul would have been set free but for his appeal to Rome. Should Paul have waited so he could have chosen to journey to Rome of his own free will in obedience to God? Or, was God at work in Paul’s choice, knowing all along how things were going to play out? Perhaps the answer to both questions is “yes.”

Some mornings I leave my quiet time with God having more questions than answers.

My Liege

kingdom workThe Lord is king!
    Let the earth rejoice!
    Let the farthest coastlands be glad.
Psalm 97:1 (NLT)

Over the past weekend Wendy and I discussed the changes we’ve seen in our federal government. This is not a political blog and I choose not to go on political rants. The core of Wendy’s and my discussion was the selfishness and self-centered attitude of politicians on both sides of the isle. Of politicians anywhere, really. When you have elected representatives whose top priority is to look out for their own personal interests, political power, and re-election then the system ultimately doesn’t work. You can create all sorts of rules of checks and balances, but if those who are supposed to be accountable to those checks and balances have the power to change the rules to further their own ends, then the checks and balances are all smoke and mirrors.

Back in college a friend of mine from Zimbabwe and I engaged in a long discussion about which is the best political system. He was a socialist. I defended our representative republic. After long, spirited conversation that meandered across many shared shifts in the college food service department, we both concluded that no system of government works when you have sinful, selfish, corrupt individuals in positions of political power.  And, since we both were Jesus followers and believed that everyone is ultimately sinful and power corrupts, we concluded that no form of human government is perfect because human beings are not perfect.

I thought of these things when I read the opening lyric to Psalm 97 this morning. The people of Israel tried to create an earthly theocracy. In ancient times they saw God as their king and everyone submitted to God, the Levitical priests, a loose system of judges, and the law of Moses. But, that didn’t work either since there were human priests and judges who were corrupt and the people regularly gave only passing lip service to God. Nevertheless, the idea of God as monarch has continued to be a theme throughout God’s Message. The end vision of Revelation is Jesus on the throne ruling for eternity.

Jesus talked all the time about the Kingdom of God. God’s Message tells those of us who follow Jesus that we are ultimately citizens of that Kingdom. No matter what earthly country we live in and no matter what system of government we abide under, we are eternally subjects of a divine King to whom we answer and are called to be obedient.

A Unique City in All the World

Photo I took from the window of my hotel overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.
Photo I took from the window of my hotel overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.

Regarding Jerusalem it will be said,
    “Everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship there.”
    And the Most High will personally bless this city.
Psalm 87:5 (NLT)

Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating places on earth. It was true when the descendants of Korah penned the lyrics of today’s Psalm, and it is still true today. The Old City which lies at the heart of modern Jerusalem is sectioned into four “quarters.” There is a Jewish quarter, a Muslim quarter, a Christian quarter and an Armenian quarter. Within the old city is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which the traditional site believed to be the empty tomb of Jesus. The Church is controlled by different groups  including Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox who share responsibility for it.

When I visited Jerusalem ten years ago the famous Dome of the Rock was closed to tourists by the Muslim authorities who control it. Me and my fellow travelers wanted to see if we could get in to see it. For that, we had to talk to the Muslim authorities in a building just outside the entrance. Before we could talk to the Muslim authorities we had to get permission of the Israeli security officers outside. One of the Israeli security officers, as it turned out, was one of the few Christians who served in that position. As it turned out, we were not given permission to enter the Dome of the Rock, but we were escorted to the roof of the building and permitted to look out over the grounds for a few short (and admittedly tense) minutes.

Different nationalities, different cultures, and different faiths all claim Jerusalem home. It is just as the descendants of Korah pointed out almost 2500 years ago. It is a unique city in all the world and the setting  of many of the most climactic events in God’s story.

This morning, I am reminiscent of so many good memories. As I wrote this post I was reminded of Psalm 122:6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And, so I shall.