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Faithlife

Tough Times In Our World

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Most people who were adults in the 60's can tell you where they were when they heard the news of the assination of president John F. Kennedy and most people can tell you where they were on 9/11 when the twin tower and pentagon buildings were hit. Tuesday night will no doubt be one of those memorable nights when history was made in this country. When a young African American stormed on the scene with all kinds of charisma, rugged athletic good looks and a strong lawyer trained intellect and won a bitterly contested, hard fought politcal campaign to become the first black president of the United States. Clearly the political scene in the United States of America is anything but United. Our country is dividied politically, racially, economically, culturally and religiously and for at least 40% of the American people the memory of this historic night will not be good and positive and for some it will be bitter. I would have been true had John McCain won.

There was little division among African Americans voters as over 94% of all blacks voted for Barrack Obama and were in a state of euphoria over his victory. Exit polls showed that just over 90% of all African American protestants voted for president elect Obama. Though I love my African American brothers and sisters and really wish that I could share in their joy over the election results, I can not put aside all that I have come to believe and cherish through my Biblical world view to share that euphoria.

With that said we all face a very troubling time in our beloved country and as Christians we must decide how our Lord Jesus Christ would have us respond to our newly elected officials, especially the president of the United States Barrack Hussein Obama.

Someone has well said that they had good news and bad new for our new president.

The good news is Mr. Obama ---You are now the president of the United States.

The band news is Mr. Obama --- You are now the president of the United States.

Yes, he is the president of the United States and he must now deal with one of the most difficult times in the history of this great country and he must do it in light of a divided congress, a divided people, a host of campaign promises made to a host of different people groups, and a national and world situation that is perilous at best.

Can you begin to imagine what it would be like to deal with

1. The global economic crisis

2. New economies in China, India, and other developing nations

3. A resurgent and more autocratic Russia

4. The rise of radical Islam

5. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have occupied America longer than World War II

6. Nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea

7. An unstable Middle East as Israel deals with two rival Palestinian parties;

8. Western culture which is trapped in moral relativism

9. Fifty Million Aborted babies

10. Massive budget deficits

11. Millions of illegal aliens now finding it difficult to find work

12. Men wanting to marry men and women women with all rights of married couples

13. A failing school system

14. Everyone clamoring for health care but not wanting to pay for it.

15. Our major auto makers facing bankruptcy

16. A bail out package that seems to reward financial mismanagement on all fronts.

17. The Constant reminders by tree hugging liberals that global warming threatens our very existence.

18. Billions of dollars being sent to the middle east for oil when experts say we have more than they do but enviornmentalists have for years blocked the production of our own supplies.

Yes we have a new president and what are we to do about it. I want us to read 1Timothy 1:1-4 and see what the apostle Paul has to say when his beloved Timothy faced a similar situation.

I implore you to keep in mind that no matter how you feel about who is in office our welfare depends on how, these men and women now in our government offices do over the next four years.

In recent years I have found myself in unusual places during presidential elections.  When George W. Bush and Al Gore essentially tied on the night of the 2000 election, I was on a mission trip in Cuba.  It was surreal to watch our democratic process unfold in a nation which has not seen democracy in so many decades

Last night I watched the election returns in Atlanta.  The historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in this city held a prayer vigil and worship service; their pastor's eloquent and moving prayer for our new president was carried by local news networks.  It was a powerful experience to be in a city which was so crucial to the civil rights movement, watching America elect our first black president

President-elect Barack Obama is a remarkable study in contrasts.  The son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by grandparents in a place distant from the rest of America, a brilliant student and professor who gave up a lucrative legal career to organize impoverished communities, he was the longest of long shots just four years ago.  Then an electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention vaulted him to the national stage; a resounding victory in his Senate race was followed by a presidential campaign which political commentators are calling "near perfect."

Now he confronts the gravest challenges America has faced since FDR was elected in 1932.  Many of them were surveyed in last week's Living Current:

·         The global economic crisis

·         New economies in China, India, and other developing nations

·         A resurgent and more autocratic Russia

·         The rise of radical Islam

·         Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have occupied America longer than World War II

·         Nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea

·         An unstable Middle East as Israel deals with two rival Palestinian parties;

·         A Western culture which is trapped in moral relativism

I saw a political cartoon before the election in which a commentator says to the new president: "There is good and bad news today.  The good news is that you've been elected president."  The candidate smiles and asks, "And what is the bad news?"  The commentator: "You've been elected president."

How can Christians best help our new president and serve our nation?  Paul's letter to Timothy gives us the guidance we need:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Let's walk briefly through Paul's admonition, applying it to the challenges our country faces and the president we have just elected.

Support our leaders

Our first responsibility is clear and non-negotiable: Believers must pray for Mr. Obama and our other leaders, consistently and fervently.  "I urge then, first of all," Paul begins (verse 1a).  "Urge" translates parakalo, the strongest Greek word for a personal request.  It is sometimes translated "beseech" or "beg" (cf. Romans 12:1).  "First of all" is a Greek phrase which refers to primacy of importance, not chronology or time.  Put together, Paul used the most urgent expression to emphasize what follows.

How are we to pray for our new president and other leaders?  Paul wanted "requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone" (v. 1b).  Each of these four words sheds a little different light on the responsibility of intercession.

"Requests" translates deaseis, "petitions."  The verb form originally meant "to chance upon," then "to have an audience with a king," "to have the good fortune to be admitted to an audience, so as to present a petition."  The word was used for a petition to a superior, and for any request made to a king.

"Prayers" translates proseukas, the typical Greek word for general prayer to God.  "Intercession" is a request from an inferior to a superior.  "Thanksgiving" is to be made with our request, expressing gratitude for all God has done for us and all that he will do in answer to our prayers.  In the same way, Paul taught the Philippians: "Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).

Having explained the practice of prayer, the Apostle next specified the object of such ministry.  We are to pray "for everyone—for kings and all those in authority" (vs. 1c-2a).  "Everyone" means just that—each leader in need of our intercession.  "Kings and all those in authority" broadens the reach of such ministry in a direction few would have predicted from Paul.  By the writing of 1 Timothy he had already survived numerous assassination attempts on the part of religious authorities; he had been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, imprisoned for two years in Caesarea, and imprisoned in Rome as well.  In a few years he would be arrested and beheaded by the Empire.

Nonetheless, he wanted Timothy and his congregation to pray for those who had persecuted him and would persecute them as well.  His position of spiritual support for secular authorities in Ephesus was consistent with his injunction to the Christians in the capital city of the Empire as well:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  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 he will commend you.  For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience (Romans 13:1-5).

Note that "everyone" is required to make such submission to the authorities, whatever their role and identity.  The Christians on Crete were required to support the authorities as well: "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men" (Titus 3:1-2).

Peter made the same demand on the believers in his circle of influence:

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, 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 men.  Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).

We could more easily understand such requirements if the Roman authorities were supportive of God's Kingdom on earth.  In fact, the opposite was true for apostolic Christians.  As many as a million of them were martyred by Rome in the days before Constantine legalized the church (AD 313).  The apostles themselves suffered horrific treatment from the authorities.  The Bible records that James was beheaded by Herod (Acts 12:1-2; AD 44).  According to early tradition:

  • Peter was crucified upside down
  • Andrew was crucified on a St. Andrew's cross
  • Philip was martyred at Hierapolis
  • Bartholomew was beaten to death
  • Thomas was martyred in India
  • Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia
  • James the less was crucified in Egypt
  • Jude was martyred in Persia
  • Simon the Zealot was crucified
  • Matthias was martyred in Ethiopia
  • Paul was beheaded under the order of Nero
  • Only John died a natural death; after his banishment to Patmos, died of old age at Ephesus

Note that each was executed for refusing to follow the mandate of Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.  They submitted to the secular authorities until such obedience would have caused them to disobey their Lord.  Then they adopted Peter's admonition: "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).

Short of this line, the biblical writers knew that our influence is best exercised when backed by personal integrity and support for the authorities in power.  We are to be salt and light in our dark and dying world (Matthew 5:13-16).  We can pray for them and preach to them much more effectively when we support them.  The fact that Christians were good citizens made their witness much more attractive to their culture.  The same is true today.

The biblical imperative to support our leaders is not conditional.  Evangelicals supported Sen. McCain over Sen. Obama by a wide margin, 74% to 24% margin.  But no matter your personal preference, Barack Obama is today the president-elect of the United States.  Praying for him every day, and supporting his leadership in every way you can, is God's expectation for his followers today.

Rees Howells was a Welsh minister and great prayer warrior.  During the dark days of WWII in England, he felt compelled by God to organize a "company" to pray with him for the nation.  They prayed day and night from May 16-30, 1940, before the pending invasion of England by the Nazis.

On September 15, the Battle of the Air came to its climax, as the German air raids on London peaked and the British had no air reserves left.  The Luftwaffa was free to take Britain, when they inexplicably turned and left for home.  But their actions were not inexplicable: Rees Howells and his prayer partners had been on their knees, day in and day out for the week before.  And their prayers won the day for their country.

The commander-in-chief of the British Fighter Command later said, "At the end of the battle one had the sort of feeling that there had been some special divine intervention to alter some sequence of events which would otherwise have occurred."

Today you are invited to join the "company" of the saints who intercede for their leaders and country.  Will you answer the call?

Be light in a dark world

Now Paul moves from our prayers to our personal lives: "That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (v. 2b).  "That" shows the result of such prayer in our lives.  "Peaceful and quiet lives" points less to our external circumstances than to our inner wellbeing.  Support for the authorities may well lead to peace with them; but even when it does not, we have the "peace that passes understanding" from our Father (Philippians 4:6).

Such peace leads to "all godliness," a Greek phrase referring to true reverence for God which results from knowledge and right spirit.  "Holiness" is semnotes, "gravity" in the Greek.  The word describes "moral earnestness, affecting outward demeanor as well as interior intention."

When we pray for our leaders, we are drawn closer to our Father.  Then praying not only changes others, it changes us.  Or better said, it positions us to be changed by our Lord.  A craftsman cannot finish a piece of furniture unless he can touch, sand, prime and paint it.  A sculptor must get her hands on the clay she is seeking to mold.  In prayer we are connected with God's Spirit.  Then he can give us his peace, reverence and holiness.  As we pray for authorities and all others, we are blessed as much as they.

Who was the recipient of your last intercession?  You were.

The need for light in a dark world has never been greater.  When we work and live in ways which love our Lord and love our neighbor, our witness is transformative.  Our new president must confront the greatest economic crisis we've seen in 80 years; imagine the help God's people could be if we refused greed and selfishness, working hard to support ourselves and meet the needs of others.  Similarly, our best personal response to global climate change is to conserve resources wherever we can, setting an example others can follow.

Our country must confront a world in which radical Islam and growing world religions are a dominant fact.  The most effective way to persuade others that Jesus should be their Lord is to live in such a way that he is ours.  Before they will listen to our apologetic arguments, they must first see our integrity and compassion.  Ken Medema, a prophetic Christian singer and composer (and my good friend) says it well: Don't tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.

Our own culture has been captured in recent years by moral relativism, the belief that all truth is personal and ethics are subjective.  For instance, a large majority of Americans say that homosexuality would be wrong for them.  But a large percentage also believe that the private sexual practices of consenting adults should not be legislated by the government, since "no one has the right to force their beliefs on others."

Believers can attack and criticize this culture, but we won't gain much of a hearing.  Or we can demonstrate the relevance of the Christian world view in our personal lives, and others will see our faith in action and be drawn to it personally.  When Jesus met the woman who came for water at the Samaritan well (John 4), he asked for a drink of water.  Eventually she asked him for "living water."

What can you and I do about a world struggling with economic, religious, and moral conflicts?  As Augustine put it, love the Lord and do as you will.  As a very wise man counseled, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

A man reading the newspaper began complaining to God: "Lord, there is poverty and starvation around the world.  Global warming is increasing.  Wars and conflicts are raging.  When are you going to do something about it?"  The Lord immediately replied, "I was just about to ask you the same thing."

Seek the salvation of all

Writing to believers in a secular culture, Paul called them to pray for their leaders and to live with personal integrity.  Last, he urged them to seek the salvation of all they could influence.  Such commitment pleases the God who "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (v. 4).

Peter made a similar declaration regarding the universal love of our Father: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).  And of course, John 3:16-17 testify to such universal grace: "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

The next verse shows us the urgency of global missions: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (v. 18).  To go to heaven, every person on the planet must hear of Jesus and respond to his grace.  Jesus was clear: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Of course, our fallen world needs economic, political, and military help and hope.  But followers of Jesus have a unique contribution to make on the level of spirituality.  Never has the call to global missions been more urgent than it is today.  For instance, the conflict in the Middle East will continue so long as both Jews and Muslims want control of the same Temple Mount.  When Jewish extremists want Palestinians forced from the country and Arab extremists want Israel to be "pushed into the Mediterranean," peace cannot be secure or lasting.  But if Jews saw Jesus as their Messiah and Prince of Peace, and Muslims viewed him as not only a great prophet but their personal Savior, both peoples would find common cause in Christ.

The ultimate solution to radical Islam is the forgiving grace of Jesus.  The extremism of Iran's current leadership would be transformed by his inclusive love.  The communist oppression of North Korea would be changed by his urgent compassion.

Human words cannot change human hearts.  Only the Holy Spirit can bring true transformation to broken lives and our broken world.  Followers of Jesus have the gift which the human race needs most.

Conclusion

More than 50 years ago, the great theologian H. Richard Niebuhr published a classic study titled Christ and Culture.  Dr. Niebuhr outlined the five ways Christians have interacted with their broken world.  The "Christ against culture" model retreats from fallen society into a Christian subculture.  The "Christ of culture" model accommodates the biblical message to conventional wisdom.  The "Christ above culture" model separates Sunday from Monday, religion from the "real world."  The "Christ and culture in paradox" model uses cultural engagement to bring people to Christ, but does not seek to change the world.

The best model, in my opinion, is the "Christ transforming culture" approach.  In this strategy, Jesus' followers seek to be change agents in every area of society—political, economic, military, and spiritual.  Which model would your neighbors say you follow?Select all the text in this box and paste your sermon here...

Introduction

Sermon text with italics and bold and John 3:16 and v. 20.

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