April 18 – Church & State – Love Your Neighbor

Read Mark 12: 30-31

Love God. Love People.

You know, Jesus could have picked anything. He could have said,” Don’t steal. Don’t put other gods before me. Don’t murder or commit adultery.” He could have gone on and on about the sacrifices, about things that were wrong with society at the time, but He kept it simple: “Love God. Love People.”

You want to know what the greatest commandment is?

“…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your mind.”

Did you catch that? He didn’t say to love your country more or your party or a law or your convictions; He said to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind!”

Love God.

How are we doing with loving God? Is knowing and understanding God a priority for us? Are we taking time to fall more and more in love with the Creator of the universe who created US in unique and wonderful ways? Are we taking time to be grateful to Him for the love He showed us on the cross by sacrificing Himself?  WOW!  I’m convicted! I long to focus more on WHO God is and what He wants me to do and how He wants me to love!

Which leads us to the 2nd part of Jesus’ statement. The teacher hears Jesus talking and he only asks for the greatest commandment, but of course, our Savior gives him a little bit more!  He gives him the 2nd commandment too: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And again, we need to ask ourselves some questions. Are we only loving the people who agree with us or are we loving ALL of our neighbors, whether they see eye to eye with us or not? Are we sharing love in the way that Jesus would or are we only pushing our agenda on people? Convicting again!

What are some ways that you can grow in your love of God? What are some ways that you need to better at loving those around you, regardless of whether they agree with you on everything?

May we be known as people who deeply love God, who long to know Him more!  And then may we also be known as people who show love and kindness to everyone!

Tim Boucher

April 17 – Church and State – Fight for Unity

Read 1 Peter 3:8-18

My oldest grandchildren are 9 and 11. A few days ago, a picture popped up on my Facebook page of memories from 6 years ago. It is still one of my favorites with the two of them crouched down on the kitchen floor as the older brother was conveying a very important point to his younger sister. When the picture came up, my first thought was, “Who are these little ones?” Just a few years but they have grown up so much!

When I was a fairly new Christian, the small group I attended went through a study called Experiencing God. Now many years later, our current small group just started the same study. Right from the first lesson, I am seeing and learning things like I had never seen the book before. That’s just one of the wonderful things I love about God’s Word – it never grows old – it can always speak to us, no matter where we are on our faith journey. Lesson 1 served as a reminder that Jesus called to His disciples and has called to us to follow Him. When we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” what we really need to ask is, “God, where are You working?” and then “How can I join You in that work?”

What does this have to do with unity in the Church?

Everything!

Jesus called fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, the least educated and influential. He called people from every part of society. This was because He wanted followers from every tribe and every nation in His kingdom. He wasn’t seeking uniformity. He wants the whole world to be saved so that none should perish.

He did come, however, to call us into a relationship with Him to be part of a church, unified by love and driven by grace to share the Good News. A church solely focused on making disciples of every nation.

It is saddening to see folks deceived into allowing other things to steal their focus. Be aware that includes really good endeavors or causes. You and I must constantly resist the pull of current events that would become preeminent in our lives. We must not become immersed in politics, the pandemic, and all the ways that the evil one would use to drive a wedge between us. In this time of turmoil and unrest, we have the opportunity to rise above differences of opinion to show the world that God’s true Church –  in its diversity – can be truly unified in our purpose together. That’s a unity worth fighting for – striving together for the cause of Christ by turning our individual hearts and minds to the work that God is calling us to do.

Your challenge today?

Open your heart and ask God to invite you into His work. Ask Him to reveal those things that currently are taking your time and energy. Are they an avenue God is using you to follow Him?

Then join me individually and collectively in raising high the banner of Christ and sharing His love together in a unity that comes only from Jesus.

Wade Karhan

April 16 – Church and State – Jesus as Leader

Read Psalm 146:1-10

For those who know me, you know that I love politics. Since the second grade, I have always been infatuated with politics, government, and leadership. I went on to study political science as an undergraduate and intend to use my law degree to enter the political space sometime after I graduate. With that said, governance has always interested me because of the ability exceptional leaders have to make great changes and influence the lives of others. However, the contrary can also be true: leaders with the wrong intentions and a bad heart can certainly do horrible things. This is why our elections and government matter.

When I was younger, I used to think people of only one party fit the latter description. I vilified folks who identified themselves with one letter next to their name on the ballot rather than the other which I preferred. When I became a believer, in some ways, this became even truer. In many ways, I completely denounced the party I disagreed with and even ruined some friendships along the way, thinking that I was a martyr for the faith by taking a strong stance for the candidates that I perceived as having the agenda of Jesus.

Sounds real Christ-like, right?

The passage we read today reminds me of the hard lesson I had to learn a few years ago: Jesus is not a politician. Jesus is not a Republican. Jesus is not a Democrat. Jesus is the Lord and Savior of the world and the greatest leader that ever stepped foot on this earth.

Too often, there is a tendency to try to make saviors out of our politicians on either side of the aisle. When the fact of the matter is our true Savior is already with us. The Savior that really can make our lives better. The Savior who gives shelter to the foreigner (v.9). The Savior who heals the sick and lets the blind see (v.8). The Savior who can feed the hungry and give comfort to the oppressed (v. 7). This Savior will not be found on the pages of a ballot, but in the depths of your heart, when you have a personal relationship with Him. Remember that Jesus came to earth to upset the politicians and religious leaders, not become one of them.

He can do what no man ever could.

I wonder if you’ll join me today in taking the challenge this text gives us in the first five verses? Would you pray this bold prayer with me this morning?

“Lord, show me what other gods I am putting before You. Jesus, help me see my blind spots where I am putting my trust in other people and leaders over You.”

Taylor Bennington

April 15 – Church and State – Pray for ALL in Authority

Read 1 Timothy 2:1-8

These days, when it comes to how we engage in the politics of our nation and how we treat our civil authorities, it could probably be said of most of us: “Thou dost protest too much…and pray too little.”

I know, protesting can seem like it’s more fun.  And we can be so witty and clever doing it – especially from a keyboard.  It may even seem to be more noble to speak out against all the injustices and anti-thises and anti-thats. The fake thises and the fake thats.

But more than that – and I mean much more – we should be pray-ers. I know, I know, we tend to think that’s not enough. But to cast doubt on the power of prayer betrays our conviction about the power of God.

As Christians, we seek the welfare of everyone. That’s why Paul urges us to pray (v. 1).  It brings God into the equation. It acknowledges His rightful place and His superior priorities.

And, because we seek the welfare of everyone, our prayers should include our leaders – even those we don’t like, didn’t vote for, disagree with, and…who may even hate Christ and the Christian faith that means everything to us (2:1–2). And I don’t think Paul meant we should pray for lightning to consume them from the sky or for the earth to open and swallow them up. He meant we should pray for their wellbeing, and that He would grant them wisdom.  Boy, don’t we need that these days.

But why? Why pray?

Why opt for prayer over protest? Why intercession over denunciation? Ready for the list? It’s short, but helpful (vv. 2-5):

(1) Prayer for our leaders is good. That’s a lot better than the alternative.

(2) It pleases God. That should be our goal. We should want that.

(3) So that we can live quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness. In other words, we need to pray so that the work of our civil authorities doesn’t ultimately hinder the work of the Church.

(4) It partners with God in the salvation of men and women. After all, that’s why Jesus came. And, don’t forget this, because it might be important for your perspective – Jesus’ government crucified Him.

Politics won’t mediate. Power won’t mediate. Position won’t mediate. Prestige won’t mediate. Just like us, our leaders will only find false hope in these things.  And since we seek the welfare of everyone, it’s our obligation… let me say that again.  No, maybe I’ll spell it out: O.B.L.I.G.A.T.I.O.N. It’s our obligation to bring them before the one and only Mediator for their souls and ours, Jesus Christ (5-6).

But as we pray that our leaders get right with God, we had better be right with God (v.8). And when it comes to praying for political leaders, it’s always worth a second glance at our hearts.  And maybe one more after that, just for good measure. You know what you’re looking for: bitterness, anger, disrespect, dishonor…pretty much “dissing” in general.

You might need to repent of a tweet, a post, a “like,” a comment.  You know, something bold or brash or in poor taste that you were confident about behind your keyboard or phone screen but forgot that the Mediator was looking over your shoulder…and cringing.

So, what’s my primary Christian civic responsibility?

Pray.

That’s it.

Pray.

Start now.

Really, right now.

Dave Lawson

April 14 – Church and State – Heavenly Citizenship

Read Philippians 3:17-21

American missionary friends of ours have given birth to children in other countries. Some of these children were afforded the option of dual citizenship. A few of them, then, became citizens of the United States and of the country where they were born. As a result, they had twin loyalties.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians in the first century, he reminded them of a citizenship reality we too must keep in mind. Although these believers were residents on earth, they were not to forget that they were also citizens of heaven. As believers, we function day to day as dual citizens in what Augustine described as the “City of God” and the “City of Man.”

What biblical principles guide our citizenship in our home country? Paul wrote elsewhere to first-century followers of Jesus who were citizens and subjects in the Roman Empire. His words describe how we are to live as well. We are to submit to government (Rom. 13:1). Our Father expects us to honor government leaders (1 Pet. 3:17) and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-8).

Still, today’s reading reminds us that our ultimate citizenship and loyalty lies in heaven. What should that look like? These words remind us to not become too settled in this world. We must remember that our loyalty is first and foremost to King Jesus. We are to anticipate His kingdom and even pray for its advent (Matt. 6:10).

But today’s reading also helps us to establish appropriate expectations of our earthly citizenship. Paul describes the propensity of other earthly citizens in graphic terms. “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Phil. 3:19).

Although we demonstrate and champion righteous living in this world, we must, at the same time, have a realistic perspective. We will not bring Christ’s kingdom to the earth. Only He will do that at His return. Only Jesus can “put an end to sin…” and “bring in everlasting righteousness…” (Dan. 9:24). When we live as citizens of heaven, we rein in any expectations of experiencing heaven on earth. That will only happen when the Lord of heaven comes.

Steve Kern

April 13 – Church and State – Submit to Authority

Read 1 Peter 2:13-17

Having been through a very unique previous 12 months where all of us looked to leadership positions like the President and health officials for direction, your perception of these elected officials and various government agencies might have shifted. Based on your religious or political beliefs, you likely thought there were some really good things our leaders did and also some decisions that didn’t line up with your personal beliefs.

Today’s reading is a very direct, non-gray area explanation on how we, as believers, should respect those leading our country, states, and cities. Peter writes that we should “submit ourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (v.13), not because Peter was Republican or Democrat, but because God had determined that those in leadership positions were permitted to be in these roles according to His plan and deserve our respect. Does this mean we have to become un-opinionated and agree with whatever elected officials believe? Absolutely not! Our moral and belief standards are always held up against the Bible…which includes 1 Peter 2:13 in today’s reading, making this verse challenging for many followers of Christ, including myself. 

Further on in the passage Peter says:

“…live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil; live as God’s slaves”.

Pretty strong wording here, considering our culture today where certain terms can be offensive. What is Peter providing us guidance for in this verse? One of the great freedoms we have in this country is the right to free speech…the sharing of our opinion through social media, in public, or in a written editorial. The “human authority” leaders established this as the 1st Amendment in the Constitution which should tell us how important they felt free speech was to all people. Even with this freedom, we, as Christians, need to pass our free speech through the filter of the Bible before we post, speak, or write that article about how a government leader is an unqualified individual or doing a horrible job, even if we think that internally! In the second part of that verse, we should be as “God’s slaves” submitting to Him as the ultimate authority above and beyond any human leader on this Earth. 

What can we, as followers of Jesus, do to influence others around us about the respect for authority positions? It starts with prayer in each of us, myself included. It’s very easy to disagree and complain about government leaders, but, when you are tempted to post that rant about a certain president or governor, keep in mind that our God allowed him or her to be in that position of leadership over us. Instead of attacking their policy or leadership style, let’s pray for them to have God’s influence in their life and decision making.

Only God has the power to change the hearts and minds of our country and leaders!

Drew Hilty

April 12 – Church and State – Hand Placed by God

Read Romans 13:1-7

“There is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God … it is God’s servant for your well-being.” 

(Romans 13:1,4)

I read the words and want to believe them. But it’s tempting to remove them from their biblical context. Tempting to make blanket statements about Christians following a leader’s orders because God’s hand gave them their authority. Tempting until I think about leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot. 

So, I wonder how this part of Scripture concurs with who I know God to be. It doesn’t fit that the same God who sacrificed everything to free mankind from the prison of death and evil and sin would command His people to follow the ways of Nazi Germany. But when we put Romans 13 into its actual context and let the whole of God’s Word interpret itself, we find the root of God’s sovereign and merciful ways even here.

“Therefore,” Paul starts this last section off, “in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice …” And He lays out practical ways to show who we are as followers of Jesus, full of His love and freedom.

“Abhor what is evil,” the verses in chapter 12 say, “cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another.” And this after eleven chapters explaining the Gospel, our need for Jesus, His power for any who will believe in His life exchanged for theirs, His fulfilment of the promises He made to His people for generations. Chapters 12-16 explain what it looks like to live in light of that truth. Live like we belong to God, as His people submitting to one another, honoring one another, loving one another.

So, it follows that God’s people would display honor and love to our governing authorities. We show love even when we disagree with them.  We do good even when we don’t like them and want another one to hold that place. Because God has called His people to love, honor, and respect our leaders. In view of the mercy that He Himself has bestowed upon us, you and I give up our rights to dishonor those in authority, no matter which side of the political party lines we stand on. We gave up the right to disgrace our president with Facebook posts and slanderous jokes, even when we don’t like what he stands for. We surrendered it when we trusted Him with our lives.

It doesn’t mean to bow to Hitler’s commands or follow Stalin’s evil ways. Rather, it means to live according to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. If you’ve offered your life to Him in light of that mercy, trust that God’s hand still leads those into leadership even when you disagree with their policies.

Bria Wasson

April 11 – Church and State

Read Matthew 5:13-16

I’ll be honest with all of you. I’m not a politically minded individual. I don’t get involved in political debates and, quite honestly, I ignore 98% of the political stuff that I come in contact with. Now, during election season, I’ll do just enough research to know where candidates stand on certain topics and that influences my vote.

After my vote is cast? Out of sight, out of mind.

I know that, if I put more than my toes in the water of politics, I will get entrenched in it and I won’t be able to shut my mind off. I’ll constantly be thinking about the divisiveness of our country and the lack of hope that appears apparent. I won’t be able to stop. I’ll literally drive myself insane. It appears that is happening to a lot of people these days.

There are two topics which cause divisiveness like none other and can turn friends into enemies. You will see a side of people that you never thought was possible when they talk about religion and politics. We are told to be careful in addressing these separately and to absolutely never talk about them together.

Naturally, here we are…talking about faith and politics.

There are a lot of ways that we could go in this series. In fact, I have rewritten portions of this devotional several times as to word things just right. It’s just so hard.

So, I think it’s a good idea to stick with what the Bible says about how we, as followers of Christ, should act and respond in these areas. Now, I’ll warn you, this will be tough to hear for some. When Paul tells us to pray for those in authority, that means…pray for those in authority. I don’t know what version of the Bible you prefer, but I guarantee that there is no mention to pray only for Republicans or Democrats in any version in existence.

My challenge to all of you, myself included, is to open your hearts to hear from God this week. Will you humble yourself enough to read the “tough to hear”? Will you open yourself up to change? You can’t follow God in most areas, while leaving out others.

It’s all or nothing.

I want our reading today to be the backdrop for this whole series. As followers of Christ, we are the light of the world. In a darkening world, we are called to be the light that shines through. It should be our interactions with peoplem our responses to issues in our world and how we handle certain things that show people the hope that we have in Jesus.

Before we start this series, would you say that you are being the light of the world that Jesus intended? Are you bringing preservation and truth to the world as Jesus intended? If you’re honest with yourself, where do you need to improve?

Before we get into it tomorrow, I challenge you to open your heart to biblical truth. Humble yourself to identify areas in your world that you need to improve on.

Let’s all improve and be the light of the world together!

Jake Lawson