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Kingdoms in Conflict, The Problem for American Christians

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A long time ago I read a book by Charles Colson about Christians and politics. I don’t remember a lot about the book but the title always stuck with me because I feel it describes our dilemma as Christians involved in politics. The title:

Kingdoms in Conflict.

So what is the conflict? Simple. Loyalty and obedience. Who should we be loyal to? America? Or God? Can you be both? I think the bible is clear in teaching that not only can we, we should!

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Now, whole books could be written about how Christians should engage with politics – and they have been – but there is also a short set of verses/passages that I use when thinking through what to do as a Christian, as it relates to politics.

I was reminded again this past week when I was talking to a friend of mine, a Christian, who just simply does not like mask mandates and thinks that we should rebel. I also do not like masks or the mask mandates and I think they are ridiculous.

But the conversation was about how we decide if and when we as Christians can and should rebel in conscientious objection or civil disobedience.

Here are those four bible passages to consider that will help us understand the nuances we navigate in living for Christ while being a good citizen of the United States.

Phil. 3:20 – We are citizens of Heaven

First and foremost we are citizens of heaven. That is our home and where we will spend our eternity. We live and will live eternally under the government of the one and only righteous King of Heaven. His law is final and just. I think we are probably all on the same page here so let’s proceed to the next passage.

II Cor. 5:20 – We are ambassadors of Christ

An ambassador is someone who lives in one country while being a citizen of another country. Since we are first and foremost citizens of Christ’s Kingdom, yet we live here, we are His ambassadors. We are His representatives here. Everything we do and say should be as a representative of His Kingdom. This is one of the reasons we are called to holiness, because it represents to the world who Christ is and what His Kingdom is like. Just like a human ambassador does his or her best to live and work appropriately in the country he or she is an ambassador to, we should also in all ways do our best to be godly ambassadors to earth in general and the United States specifically. The unique aspect here is that we are also citizens of the US, so we are ambassadors from our eternal citizenship to the country of our temporary place of citizenship. Again, I think at this point we are, most of us, in agreement. The next two parts of the equation are where it can get sticky, but I believe together they bring us to a very workable plan for living as citizens of both the Kingdom of Heaven and the US.

Romans 13:1 – We are to obey the government

Here is the full context of this passage as I feel it is warranted:

Romans 13:1-8 says, “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. Consequently, whoever 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 you will be commended. 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. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 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.”

So let’s create a checklist of the key applicable points of this passage:

Be subject to the governing authorities.

There is no authority except that which God has established.

Whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.

It is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue.

Since this is the bible and the bible is the authority for the Christian life, we must take this seriously. I think most Christians do. But the question that gets even the most devout among us is when and if we can disobey. What if we don’t like a law? What if we disagree with the law? What if we consider the law unjust? What if we believe it is immoral? All good questions. It is the last scripture that I think ties it all together and gives us the answers we are looking for.

Acts 4:19 – We disobey government only when they command ungodly actions

Here is the context of Peter’s proclamation. Peter and John had been preaching the gospel and the rulers, the Sanhedrin didn’t like it. So they told the Peter and John that they were to refrain from preaching about Jesus.

This is where the problems arise.

Essentially Peter and John made this case:

God told us to preach the gospel.
You told us not to.
God’s law trumps man’s law.
We are going to continue to preach the gospel.

In this case it is clear but sometimes maybe not. The conclusion, however, seems to be that when putting all of the above verses/passages together, we come to the conclusion that we are to obey government in all laws, even if we don’t like them, unless they go against God’s law.

For example, in China and other countries, there is forced abortion. The Christian should rebel because it breaks God’s law to kill life.

At the other end of the spectrum would be something simple like speed limits. You may not like it that the speed limit is 55 instead of 70, but it is not immoral or against God’s clearly outlined law, so we are called to obey. My friend asked me last week why God would have us obey even laws we consider stupid. My answer is that ultimately if there was the right to rebel against any law, and not just the ones that go against God, then we would have anarchy. God is a God of order and societal laws create order and structure.

Now here is where things can get tricky. Let’s take mask mandates for example.

On the surface, there is nothing immoral or against God’s law as it relates to wearing an article of clothing. If the government mandates that we all wear green jumpsuits, we may find it ridiculous, but it wouldn’t be against God’s law. What about masks, then? Well, I think the argument that could be made to justify civil disobedience would be the health aspect of it. God created healthy bodies, wants us healthy, gave us an immune system etc. God is for health. If masks make us unhealthy, then that is a law against God’s natural law and thus could be disobeyed.

Now, here is what you must also consider. While you have every right in God’s eyes to disobey, you still live here in the US and you may have to suffer punishment for obeying God rather than man, just like Jesus did. If they say that you can’t travel on a plane without a mask, then you may have to drive if you refuse to wear one. Thankfully they aren’t at the place yet where they are arresting people en masse for not wearing masks.

In 1996 I had the blessing of meeting with Pastor Samuel Lamb in Guangzhou, China. He was 71 years old at the time and had spent over twenty years in prison over the course of his lifetime. Every time the government decided he was getting too influential they arrested him and gave him more prison time. Every time he was released his church had grown. As he told me, eventually they stopped arresting him. Eventually his church was 3-4000 people strong. His memorial had something like 30,000 people at it. The greater lesson I learned from Pastor Lamb was that he accepted the punishment for disobeying. He didn’t scream and yell about his punishment. In fact, he told me an incredible story. When Christians were arrested and sent to prison camps they often had to stand all day in troughs filled with human waste. I asked him what they did to get through. “We sang hymns,” he said. I asked him what hymn they sang the most. Without missing a beat he replied, “In the Garden.”

In case you forgot, here are the words to that beautiful hymn:

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Wow. Standing in human waste, he and the other Christians sang that song. It made their punishment feel a little bit like Heaven.

He knew what God wanted. He knew what the Chinese government wanted. He chose to obey God and accepted the punishment of the Chinese government because he knew that God would get him through it and bring it to an even greater end. Perhaps this should be our attitude in Christ, yes?

So where does that leave us?

We are dual-citizens. Heaven and the US.
We are called to obey both.
When the US laws are in conflict with the laws of Heaven, we obey the laws of Heaven.
This may lead us to trouble and even punishment from the US (or state or locality) government.
If that is the case, we are to continue to rejoice in God and His ways.

What would happen if we lived under these simple rules? I believe it provides exactly the playbook we need for deciding how we should engage in questions of obedience to government.

What do you think? Comment in the comment section!

About Chuck Colson:

Those familiar with Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentaries on faith and society might not recognize the work as being that of an ex-con. But then again, Colson is no typical ex-con.

From 1969-1973, Colson acted as then-President Nixon’s special counsel. In an administration already known for its tough guys, Colson was the toughest. He was known as the White House “hatchet man,” and the media once referred to him as “incapable of humanitarian thought.”

Then Colson found himself caught up in the Watergate scandal. He had helped to organize the illegal wiretapping of Democratic headquarters, and in 1973 Colson realized he was in big trouble. After some hesitation, Colson took a friend’s counsel and turned to God in his moment of distress. He found something in Christianity that changed his life. Of course, outsiders had a hard time believing that the “hatchet man’s” faith was genuine. When news of Colson’s conversion to Christianity reached the press, the Boston Globe wrily commented, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.”

Colson entered Alabama’s Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian, and gained the vision there that led him to found Prison Fellowship Ministries in 1976 after his release. While an inmate, he promised his fellow prisoners that he would “never forget those behind bars.” He fulfilled his promise by investing the royalties from his book Born Again to begin Prison Fellowship.

Today there is no larger outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families in the world than Prison Fellowship Ministries. The Christian nonprofit has more than 50,000 prison ministry volunteers in 88 nations. Its programs range from various programs for prisoners and ex-prisoners; to Justice Fellowship, aimed at reforming the criminal justice system; to Angel Tree, which annually provides more than 500,000 children of inmates with Christmas presents on behalf of their incarcerated parents. In 1991, Colson also launched a daily radio commentary called “BreakPoint,” which aims to provide a Christian worldview on everyday issues. BreakPoint, which is aired daily on over 1000 radio outlets nationwide, is a Silver partner of Townhall.com.

Colson has received many awards in recognition of his contributions to society. These awards include the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (1993), Dominos Pizza Corporation’s Humanitarian Award (1991), The Salvation Army’s Others Award (1990), and several honorary doctorates from various colleges and universities. Colson donated the $1 million Templeton Prize to Prison Fellowship, and he consistently gives all of his speaking honoraria and book royalties to the organization as well.

Today, the efforts of Nixon’s former hatchet man have made a huge dent in the lives of countless prisoners and prisoners’ children, and have even influenced federal criminal justice legislation. President Bush referred often to Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative Program when calling for support for faith-based initiatives. The prolific conservative has also published 38 books which have captured the hearts of millions of Americans over the last 25 years.

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Chris is the Founder of PolitiCrossing, one of the World's Top 50 Speakers and a member of the Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame. He considers it a privilege to be able to speak to people, help them lead successful lives, become extraordinary leaders and, masterful salespeople. Chris has authored twenty-three books with three million copies in print in 14 languages and over 450 articles on success, leadership, sales and motivation.



 
 
 

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Elections

Let’s Reclaim America’s Optimism Advantage

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On this New Year’s Day, America needs more than a parade and great football games; our people need renewed optimism in living our American Dream. Instead of looking for government fixes or some magical new president who will make things right, we need a kick in the pants to get busy making America work no matter what obstacles we face.

At the 1992 Republican Convention, Ronald Reagan shared what he considered the secret of his success as our President: “I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence, rather than your doubts.”

Oh, how we need leadership like that in America today. As we start this year, too many people feel powerless. Inflation may be coming down, but high fuel and food prices have taken their toll on far too many Americans. Watching the invasion on our Southern border means too many of our cities are being overwhelmed with no end in sight. We wonder if there is anything we can do but watch. The sense of despair and helplessness is contagious, but so is optimism. What attitude do you spread?

There is more than you think within your control. Every day, you make choices to make your situation better or worse. Studies of optimism find that optimism comes from a track record of overcoming obstacles. If you have had obstacles the last few years and are still making it work, pat yourself on the back. Be a proud survivor, not a victim so many seem to take pride in claiming to be.

Make each day count by starting your day doing one thing to make your situation better. Find one way to cut expenses. Find a way to increase your resources. Make a call or visit to nurture your network of colleagues and friends. Learn from your mistakes and celebrate your successes, both big and small. Nurture your faith realizing that God gave you gifts and give thanks every day for the blessings you have. Lest you forget, you’re blessed to live in America. People risk everything to come here, and few want to leave.

Yes, this is an election year, and it would sure be a gift to have a leader who would nurture the hope and optimism of all our citizens. So as the campaigns progresses and you listen to potential leaders vying for your support, ask yourself a few key questions:

Do they want to control your choices or ensure your freedoms?

Do they want to make you more or less dependent on government?

Do they want to increase the size of government and entitlements and the taxes needed to fund them or decrease them?

Do they want to force your children to go to public schools that don’t’ get the results your children deserve, or are they willing to give you the freedom to pick the schools your children need?

Do they disagree with their opponents and state why, or do they demean them and call them names?

Do they want to grow the size of government and its debt, or do they want to decrease both?

Do they believe in the citizens they represent, or do they convey that they are the answer to America’s future?

Do they take responsibility for their mistakes and actions or quickly deny responsibility and blame others?

No President is perfect. It’s easy to promise and a lot harder to deliver. Reagan focused on three things: an optimism based on free-enterprise innovation, smaller government, and lower taxes. He delivered on all but smaller government. As Reagan advisor Arnold Laffer confessed, “When it came to cutting welfare payments and school lunch,…it was very hard. Someone would come over and say, ‘How can you cut school lunches?’ Reagan would reply, ‘I guess you’re right; I’ll tell them not to cut that one.’”

The pressure to keep growing government is tempting and easy to understand, but it is not what America was created for. America’s form of government was designed to protect citizens from an over-controlling, over-taxing government. We need to reclaim that passion for freedom and self-reliance. Our founding citizens wanted the opportunity to pursue happiness, not happiness given to them at the expense of other taxpayers.

The election is months away. So I’m going to borrow on the optimism of Ronald Reagan to inspire us all on this first day of 2024: “I’m not taking your time…to ask you to trust me. Instead, I ask you to trust yourself. That is what America is all about… It’s the power of millions of people like you who will determine what will make America great again.”

Reagan wouldn’t want us to wait for the next election. We’ve had enough of eloquent politicians who think they have all the answers. We need to believe in ourselves and get busy living our own dreams. Then, in November, let’s elect a leader who will stay out of our way and give “We the People” freedom again—freedom to fail, succeed, and thrive in our own American Dream!
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Faith

Three Cheers for Christian America

Thank you for safeguarding the public and private expressions of others

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Considering all the nations in the world and the dominating religions within those nations, Christianity is the most beneficial. When Christians are in the majority, it is good for everyone who resides there.

Christians during the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and up to the mid-20th century contributed to much of the world’s turmoil. In recent decades, however, they have been the most accommodating, accepting, and peaceful group. I’m glad I live in a Christian nation and, given the options globally, would not have it any other way.

Best of the Best

Particularly in America, Christians today are tolerant, acknowledging the rights of others. They recognize the right of Israel to exist. They fully embrace Israel’s strategic role in the Middle East.

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Too many people on the left who regard themselves as the arbiters of what is right and true, in minor and major ways have been persecuting Christians for decades. They do not want public displays of Christianity anywhere in America. Their agenda is to remove all vestiges of religion in America. They contend that America would be a better, more egalitarian nation.

Just the opposite is true. Those who want to stamp out religion in America don’t understand that our origins and 250-year history is based on Judeo-Christian principles. The cancel culture left seek to reject the U.S. Constitution out-of-hand.

We have encountered leftist groups who shatter statues and historic symbols they deem to be oppressive and part of an old regime that was illegitimate from the outset. Many of these perpetrators hide behind ski masks while regarding themselves as heroes. In reality, they are fascists, seeking to control us.

Leftist enforcers have no idea how intolerant they are and that they are no better than those they seek to diminish. In the U.S., people of all faiths are free to celebrate their faith. If one particular faith, Christianity, was predominant from inception, to today, that does not preclude other religious groups from celebrating.

Congress: Hands Off

Leftists make erroneous statements about the “separation of church and state.” The phrase simply is not contained in the Constitution or any founding document. It appeared in a letter that President Thomas Jefferson sent to a Baptist congregation in Danbury, Connecticut. His note to them was designed to reaffirm that the government would not make dictates related to the church.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So, when it comes to religion, Congress must keep its hand off.

As a nonreligious person, I have nothing against seeing a religious display on public or private property. Indeed, America shorn of religious symbology would be a dismal place. The Ten Commandments on a public plaque? Fine. Christmas trees in the town square? Flip on the lights! A mosque being built in America? Why not?

As long as everyone is tolerant of other religions, such developments represent no threat to anyone. It is those who operate in secret who represent a threat, as are those who wish to vanquish the rights of others to publicly exhibit symbology.

The Option to Sing Along

When I attended grammar school, I was exposed to the annual Christmas pageant. I had the choice to skip the assembly. In each case, however, I chose to enjoy the merriment of the festivities, but not sing along. My young classmates did not require me to capitulate. Nor did I expect them to modify their festival to accommodate me. Would any aware American who moved to another country expect that country to diminish their celebrations to accommodate the newbie?

I’ve had the opportunity to visit 46 of the 50 states, and 73 countries. I have walked through hallowed halls of shrines, mosques, churches, and ashrams. While Christians are being persecuted in many countries around the world, I don’t know of a single instance today where people feel unsafe in a Christian majority country.

So, I say to you, if you are a Christian, in America, please know that large numbers of us support your right to practice your religion.

For All You Do

Thank you for safeguarding the public and private expressions of others. Thank you for helping to establish a climate where non-Christians and others can feel welcome. Thank you for becoming a peaceful, tolerant religion that rightfully serves as a model for others around the globe.

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