It was an honor to speak this past Sunday on the topic of “A Blessed Nation,” based on Psalm 33:12a – “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
I included many quotes from America’s founding fathers and others who shaped our nation, showing that the only hope for the United States is that we trust in the Lord and obey Him.
Let’s do it, and pass it on!
by Frank Erb
This is a new year and a time of new beginnings.
With so much that is new, this is a perfect time for us to refresh our understanding of God – to look back to the first book of the Bible, the book of beginnings, to the book of Genesis.
Genesis is likely the most well-known spiritual book in the world, since the Bible is the most famous compilation of writings in history, and Genesis as the introductory book of the Bible is foundational to all the rest. As such, it is revered by all Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who together comprise more than half the world’s population.
This book, whose title means “origin,” is a fast-paced survey of the beginning of the universe, the planet, and the human race. Mostly though, it is the story of how God orchestrated ancient history in order to raise up one particular family line through whom he would later bless the entire world.
Every major Bible doctrine is introduced in some way in this first book, and the other Bible books often refer to it and quote it. If someone wants to understand the Bible, Genesis is the place to start.
Furthermore, Genesis has special application for anyone in leadership, since it includes the stories of one leader after another, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. From their examples, sometimes good and sometimes greatly lacking, we can learn much to help us to lead well in our day.
I hope you will join us on this journey through Genesis, as we marvel at the wondrous things God did in ages past so that we might know Him today.
THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
From the very first sentence, the Bible makes it clear that God exists. As we read the first chapter we see many of His attributes:
- God is unique. There is only one God, and no others.
- God is eternal. He existed before the creation of the universe, space, and time.
- God is all powerful. He made all thing from nothing and is distinct from His creation.
- God is intelligent and orderly. The universe and all creation is carefully designed.
- God is personal. He is not just a force.
- He speaks: “God said …”
- He creates: “God made …”
- He sees: “God saw …”
- He makes judgements: “it was good”
- He is loving and caring: “God blessed them”
- God is knowable. He wants all people, including you, to know Him!
HOW CAN WE KNOW ABOUT GOD?
But is this true? How can we know that God really exists, and if so, what He is like?
- BE OPEN TO THE POSSIBLITY
Psalm 53:1a “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,”
We live in the age of the so-called “new atheists,” well-known authors and speakers who say there is no need to believe in God because science has answered all the important questions about life. They believe, as one person summarized it, that “nobody times nothing equals everything.”
Though atheists claim to value reason, most I meet seem to have an underlying emotional motivation for their resistance to God. Their attitude seems something like, “I don’t believe in God, and I hate him.”
Consider how Lawrence Krauss, a prominent atheist speaker, put it: “I don’t describe myself as an atheist. I describe myself as an anti-theist. Namely, I cannot prove that there is no god. I just certainly wouldn’t want to live in a universe with one.” Even back in the 1800’s, famous pastor Charles Spurgeon stated,“I am persuaded that men think there is no God because they wish there were none.”
The truth is, the question of the existence and identity of God is the most intelligent and important and valuable question possible, since the answer will determine whether our lives have any purpose or permanence.
- REALIZE OUR LIMITATIONS
Isaiah 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” declares the Lord.
We cannot figure God out on our own. Since God is so intelligent and powerful as to create the entire universe, He is far beyond our human understanding (See Job 38). Furthermore, we naturally have darkened hearts and minds to Him (Ephesians 4:18). As a result, the only way we can know God is if he reveals Himself to us in a way we can comprehend.
- CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE
There is widespread evidence for God throughout the universe, throughout humanity, and even internally within ourselves. Here are some examples:
Evidence for God in the universe
Psalm 19:1-6 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (See also Romans 1:18-20)
The fact that the universe exists at all, and that it had a beginning, as scientists now agree, point to the existence of a Creator. Furthermore, no one can deny the unbelievably precise tuning of the universe found at every level, including in the physical laws such as the speed of light and the gravitational constant, that are necessary for our universe and for life to exist. (Check out this video for some examples.) As renown scientist Francis Collins put it, “It is astounding to see the knife edge of improbability upon which our existence exists.”
Evidence for God in humanity
- Ecclesiastes 3:11 “…He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”
The concept of God is universal and part of being human. All people everywhere as far back as history goes have had a concept of a god or gods or supernatural beings. As Roman philosopher Cicero wrote in 45BC,“Hence the main issue is agreed among all men of all nations, inasmuch as all have engraved in their minds an innate belief that the gods exist. As to their nature there are various opinions, but their existence nobody denies.” This innate interest in the spirit world exists because God has created us with a capacity to know Him.
Evidence for God internally
All healthy people affirm the existence of objective morality, ethics, and justice. We also value beauty, love, and compassion. Furthermore, we desire for our life to have a purpose. None of these concepts would exist or matter if we were all merely products of random chance natural processes, and so these too are pointers to a God who defines and instills them.
- LISTEN FOR DIVINE SIGNALS
Jeremiah 29:13-14 “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD.” (See also Hebrews 11:6)
Maybe you’ve heard of the SETI institute in California, where scientists are using advanced and expensive electronic equipment to listen for signals from deep space in case aliens are trying to contact us. No such signals have ever been heard, but they keep listening year after year. Will we apply the same energy to listening to see if God is trying to reach us?
The signal of the Bible: If God is trying to communicate with mankind, where should we aim our receivers? Why not first carefully considering the means by which the highest number of people claim to have heard from Him? Though there are many world religions, Christianity is by far the most widespread belief system on earth, the Bible is by far the best-selling book in history, and Jesus is widely considered the most influential person to have ever lived. For these reasons and more, it makes great sense to start with a careful consideration of the Bible and Jesus. As we do, the Bible promises we’ll hear from God. Romans 10:17-18 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
The signal of Difficulties: Sometimes even problems can be God’s way to get our attention. As atheist turned believer C.S. Lewis said, ““God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Indeed.
Maybe you’ve heard the story about the atheist was walking through the forest when Big Foot jumped out at him. As he approached menacingly, the atheist yelled, “Lord, save me!” Seconds later, a voice rumbled from heaven, “I thought you didn’t believe in me.” “Well,” the man said, “until a minute ago, I didn’t believe in Big Foot either.” If you’re going through challenges, listen carefully.
Ultimately, hearing from God is a gift from Him, as he enables us to hear his voice. John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
- RESPOND TO JESUS
John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
We are able to fully connect with God when we look to Jesus and open our hearts to Him. In fact, Jesus came for this very purpose. As pastor and author Tim Keller said, “The founders of all the religions said basically this: “I’m a prophet come to help you find God.” Jesus is the only one who said, “I’m God, come to find you.””
The truth is, while you may or may not be looking for God, He wants a relationship with you. As author Malcolm Muggeridge described his unexpected conversion from agnosticism to Christianity, “I had a notion that somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued.”
Countless people, including me, can attest to how we read the Bible, responded to Jesus, and suddenly a connection was made. It’s amazing, but true. God exists, and He wants you to know Him. This is how it happens – we open our heart to Jesus and, to our great surprise and with overwhelming joy, we meet God.
(c) Frank Erb
It was encouraging to hear so many Biblical passages and mentions of Jesus Christ in the prayers at President Donald Trump’s Inauguration.
This inauguration set a record for having six different prayer leaders (Timothy Dolan, Samuel Rodriguez, Paula White, Franklin Graham, Marvin Hier, and Wayne T. Jackson). They were a diverse group: theologically (Catholic, evangelical, pentecostal, and Jewish), ethnically (white, black, hispanic) and in gender (male and female … only the second time a female has led a presidential inauguration prayer). Despite these differences, we can rejoice that all of them quoted the Bible and four of them mentioned Jesus.
America is a wonderfully diverse nation, but our prosperous heritage and our greatest cultural values are inseparably rooted in the Bible and Judeo-Christian ethics, and so our future success and perhaps even our survival depends on maintaining this connection. Moreover, if our leaders truly seek to humbly honor the true and living God and his son Jesus Christ, perhaps He will have mercy on America’s offenses against Him, heal the deep divisions that divide our populace, and bless our future. As Psalm 33:12a says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.”
Accordingly, prayers like this, followed by penitent and faithful action, may be our only hope.
Keep Shining! (i.e. Glorifying God),
Did you know that the Bible has a lot to say about how we should regard and relate to the government? One passage that addresses this is found in 1 Peter 2:13-17.
1 Peter 2:13-17 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
This passage provides at least five important insights regarding government.
1. GOVERNMENT IS GOD’S IDEA
1 Peter 2:13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake …”
Some people of faith act as if government is an enemy to be battled, when actually God created the concept of human government and guides it for His good purposes. 1 Peter 2:1 therefore says we are to submit to government “for the Lord’s sake.”
Romans 13:1-3 states this even more clearly: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”
Not only is God the author of human government in general, but He guides the appointment of individual government leaders. Daniel 2:21, “He removes kings and establishes kings.” Note that this even includes ungodly leaders who do not acknowledge the Lord.
Exodus 9:16 God raised up Pharaoh, the ungodly leader of Egypt, for his purpose
Isaiah 45:1 Cyrus, the ungodly leader of the Persian empire, is called God’s “anointed”
Jeremiah 43:10 Nebuchadnezzar, the ungodly king of the Babylonian Empire, is called God’s “servant.”
John 19:11 Jesus to Pilate, the ungodly Roman governor, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.”
2. GOVERNMENT SERVES AN IMPORTANT PURPOSE
1 Peter 2:13 “… as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right”
God has ordained five “human institutions,” as they’re called in 1 Peter 2:13.
Purpose: to connect people
Genesis 2:24 two “become one flesh”
Purpose: to create people
Genesis 1:28 “be fruitful and multiply”
Purpose: to grow people
Ephesians 4:11-12 “to the building up of the body of Christ”
Purpose: to provide for people
Genesis 2:15 “the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
Purpose: to protect people
1 Peter 2:14 governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (See also Romans 13:3-4.)
Notice that each of these five institutions has a different role in society. When one institution attempts to do what it was not created to do (i.e. the church doing the government’s job, or government doing the family’s job, etc…) problems and confusion invariably ensue.
Government’s primary role is the protection of the people. When it does this well, it is functioning at its best.
3. THEREFORE, WE SUBMIT TO GOVERNMENT
1 Peter 2:13-14 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors …”
Since government is God’s idea and has been created by Him for an important purpose, we are to “submit” to it. This word submit is from the Greek term hupotasso, which was a military term meaning “to rank under, to be subject to.” Just as good soldiers follow orders and obey their commanders even when they disagree with them, we are called to submit to human laws even when we do not agree with them, recognizing that God has given government leaders legal rank over us for His good purposes.
This might well raise a few questions:
a. Does submitting to government mean we shouldn’t be involved in politics?
No. We are fortunate to live in a country where the government, as Abraham Lincoln declared, is one “of the people, by the people, for the people.” In other words, the American citizenry are, in a sense, in charge. So, it is good for all Americans to vote. It is good for us to speak up about what concerns us. It can even be good to respectfully criticize our government’s decisions or rally others to be involved in a just cause. Some will even sense God’s call for them to run for office, accept a government appointment, or work for the state, following in the example of esteemed men and women of God such as Moses, Joseph, Daniel, and Esther. After all, if we who are God’s people do not participate in government when we are given the chance, then we certainly have no right to complain if government does not function as we would like it to. As Plato said centuries before Christ, “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”
b. Does submitting to government mean we relinquish our rights?
No. If we want to keep our legal rights, then we need to claim them. We see this demonstrated by the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:37 when he was illegally arrested for preaching about Christ and he scolded the police and civic leaders for violating his civil rights as a Roman citizen.
c. Does submitting to government mean we follow the laws even when we disagree with them?
Yes. For example, Jesus showed that we should pay taxes even when the government will use the money unjustly (Mark 12:13-17).
d. Is there ever a time when it is ok to break the law?
The only exception to obeying the law is when it clearly contradicts the command of God, who is our highest authority. The author of our passage demonstrated this himself in Acts 5:29. There we read of Peter being arrested and commanded to stop teaching about Jesus, but he replies, “We must obey God rather than men.”
4. WE HONOR GOVERNMENT LEADERS
1 Peter 2:17 “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
Not only are we to submit to ruling authorities, but we are called to go even further and honor them. This can certainly be a tough sell in our day, when insulting government leaders online or in the media has become almost a sport for some people. The temptation to participate in this is nothing new.
“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” – Aesop, born 620 B.C.
“Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain
Some may even argue that today’s leaders are so uniquely despicable that we have no option but to disrespect them. However, when Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:17, the king, or Emperor, was none other than Nero. We would be hard pressed to find any leader in history who was more evil or corrupt than this man. A short list of his well-known offences includes rape, incest, and widespread murder, including the assassination of his own mother and a heinous genocide against Christians that would ultimately include the execution of Peter himself.
How can we honor a leader who behaves so dishonorably? Again, just as soldiers salute even those commanders they do not like or respect, so we show honor for the office even if the person holding it is unworthy of it (see also Titus 3:1-2.)
5. WE THEREBY SILENCE OUR ACCUSERS
1 Peter 2:15 “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
What good can come from submitting to and showing honor to government in this way? Besides pleasing God by our obedience to Him, we in doing so may hope to silence (literally “muzzle”) those who ignorantly oppose God’s people. We demonstrate that though we regard ourselves as citizens of a heavenly kingdom (Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:13), we are also model citizens of this world. Anyone who would persecute us must therefore do so without just cause.
In other words, if the world is going to hate us, let it hate us for our stand for the Gospel, and not because we deserve it. As Peter explained,
“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:14-15).
Furthermore, we remember that we who are God’s people are engaged in something much more important and enduring than earthly politics. Our ultimate mission is beyond this place that we’re just passing through. If we are model citizens of this corrupt but temporary world, we may gain a hearing to tell some people, including even some government leaders, the way to a more glorious eternal home.
© 2015 Frank Erb
In my last post I addressed the question of whether followers of Jesus should vote. That brings up another important question. Who should we vote for?
I remember reading through the statewide voter guide before the 2003 special election for California Governor. Among the many candidate statements was one from Kevin Richter of Manteca, who described his qualifications as simply, “I breathe.” As bad as that was, it was better than the statement from candidate Trek Thunder Kelly of Venice, California, which began, “Dear Voters, Please vote for me, thus breaking the Seventh Seal and incurring Armageddon.” No, I didn’t vote for either of these guys, though 1,505 other people did.
It’s not always so easy to know who or what to vote for or against. Here are some simple suggestions to consider if you haven’t already cast your ballot:
- An online search will yield lots of information about candidates. Just enter their name in a search engine or on Youtube.
- Focus on a candidate’s proven values and character.
- Check out their leadership history and how they’ve voted or spoken on important issues.
- Don’t believe any campaign advertisements or mailers until you’ve checked their accuracy. And if they contain twists of the truth, what does that say about the person or group who made the ad or mailer?
- If there are election races or propositions that you don’t know anything about (which is probably the case on today’s long ballot) it’s better to skip them than to cast haphazard votes.
We would be especially wise to follow the advice that Moses received regarding the appointment of leaders to assist in governing the Israelites:
Exodus 18:21 “You shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.”
Notice that these leaders were to be:
- out of all the people – Common people who understand common issues.
- able – Proven to be qualified for the task.
- fear God – Humbly submitted to God and His word.
- of truth – Completely honest, all the time.
- hate dishonest gain – Without a hint of corruption or greed.
- leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, of tens – Fit for this particular position.
Hmmm, … do you suppose that rules out Trek Thunder Kelly?