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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 one of the World's Top 50 Speakers, member of the Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame, and one of Inc. Magazine's Top 100 Leadership Speakers. 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 books with three million copies in print in 13 languages and over 450 articles on success, leadership, sales and motivation.



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Faith

Seek Out the Good in Others

If you try, you can find at least one thing admirable in everyone you meet.

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Will Rogers, a political satirist, entertainer, and beloved figure in the first half of the twentieth century allegedly said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Many people have interpreted Will Rogers to have meant that he could find something admirable in everyone he met. So, too, can we all.

Something Admirable

Is there a co-worker with whom you have had a nasty relationship? Is there something good about this co-worker that you can draw upon, so that you can actually say something nice to him/her at your next encounter?

Is there a neighbor with whom you have had a continuing squabble? What would it do to your relationship if you sent your neighbor a card or a brief note that said something along the lines of, “I noticed how lovely your garden was the other day and wanted to let you know that I appreciate the work you’ve done in maintaining it.” Too syrupy, or, pardon the expression, too flowery?  Guess again.

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You’re on this planet for finite amount of time. Do you want to go through your life trading hostilities with people, never having the where-with-all to restore some semblance of civility to the relationship?

Finding the Good

Try thinking of and listing five people who you may not have a good relationship with but can acknowledge. Next to each person’s name, write what is good about them. Do they maintain a nice garden? Here are some ideas for you in case you’re drawing a blank. This person…

* Is kind to the receptionist at work.
* Turns assignments in on time, and hence, supports the team.
* Walks softly past your office, so as not to disturb you.
* Greets you in the morning when you arrive.
* Maintains his or her office well.

Away from work, here are some ideas for finding the good in others:
* Keeps the street in front of the yard free of debris.
* Is respectful of others’ needs for quiet.
* Dresses well.
* Has well-behaved children.
* Drives safely in the neighborhood.

If you try, you’ll find something good!

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Faith

Reducing Stress Through Prayer, and More

Taking a few minutes out of a hectic day can spell the difference between frenzy and tranquility

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Prayer has been an effective method for soothing the soul since people first believed in God. For some people, the payoff comes with sitting still, and being quiet. Many feel a direct connection with God which, in itself, is calming. Those who attend a place of worship every Sunday find that praying with others is comforting. Reverence to God, fellowship, and familiar chants and hymns can all aid in reducing stress and bringing inner contentment.

If you haven’t prayed in a while, in addition to the religious aspects, the stress reduction can be magnificent. Even if you never attend a formal prayer service, informal prayer, by your bedside, in a comfortable chair, or somewhere in nature can work as well. Some of the most accomplished and admirable people who have ever walked this earth have been deeply religious and have found great comfort in prayer.

Other Options

In our rush-rush society, your ability to take a few minutes out of a hectic day can spell the difference between frenzy and tranquility. The majority of stress we experience is a result of the daily deluge of information and communication we come in contact with on top of the amount of tasks we need to accomplish. If you have been experiencing severe stress, it might mean the difference between a long life and a shortened one.

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People have long used drugs (prescribed and otherwise!) and medications to achieve certain effects. I’m not knocking all of these substances – some of them probably live up to their mystique; however, there is no need to engage in drugs, considering there are so many other ways to effectively reduce stress.

Amidst the flurry of reports from medical researchers, many people also rely on a glass or two of wine each day to relax. If this is your habit, and it works for you, you’re probably on reasonably safe ground. The latest research, however, paints a less rosy picture about wine’s beneficial effects. I’m concerned, as well, about the long-term effects of having two glasses of wine, 365 days a year, for 10 or 20 years.

Change for Real

It often seems like people around you are enamored by some techniques such as meditation or yoga, but in reality, most people who practice these or other techniques do so only a handful of times. Then, they revert back to what they did previously.

The changes that you implement need to come without too much pain, to be subtle, even natural and easy. Otherwise, you probably won’t stick with them. Lasting and effective change can come from small incremental change. So, keep in mind that not every technique will strike your fancy. Enough of them will fit your lifestyle, and will work for you enough of the time for you to stay with them and to ultimately exercise control in ways that you have always wanted.

Talking to Someone

The mere act of talking to someone about issues confronting you can be stress reducing, and certainly more effective than mentally stewing over things alone. In The Psychological Society, author Martin L. Gross concluded that “the modern industry of psychology in America was no more effective in treating patients than witch doctors in Africa were in treating people who came to them.”

The key was whether or not the patient believed that the doctor had healing powers. Hence, if you believe that a witch doctor can help you, then a witch doctor can be as effective as a psychiatrist. A trusted friend or relative, with whom you can discuss your problems, can be equally effective.

The idea of talking to someone about what is stressing you is not so much that you will find a solution then and there, but that the mere physical act of discussing the stressor moves you closer to resolution, perhaps using one of the techniques discussed in this article.

Using Humor

Throughout the ages, humor has also been a primary tool in helping to reduce stress. Don’t discount the power of humor before trying it. If it’s been a while, or forever, since you’ve engaged in humor to reduce stress, you’re in for a treat. I’m not talking about jokes or side-splitting belly laughs, but rather a gleeful, playful acceptance of the inane and absurd situations that you encounter, and as a business owner you have your share of them.

The ability to laugh at yourself or to laugh at your situation might spell the fundamental difference between those who show resilience in the face of hard times, and those who face nervous breakdowns.

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