Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dash for the Timber

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said,
We ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29

Glen called and asked if I would like to accompany him to another meeting at the country place where he had addressed the group of “concerned citizens”.

“I’ve got some clarifying to do”, he told me. I was happy to accept and drove to his home and parked in the turnaround of his long gravel driveway.

I was about to look at my watch to see if I was on time when his second story door opened and he came down the outside stairs. He was carrying his battered old zippered case which I knew contained his New Scofield Bible and probably his spiral book of notes.

“Howdy” was all he said. He seemed preoccupied, no doubt framing, in his mind, what he would talk about tonight.

“Let’s take my van.” was all he said.

He began to talk as he backed down the drive. “I got a call from the man who invited me to speak the first time”, he said. “Some of the men who were there are concerned that maybe I am some kind of government infiltrator or something. They are a very suspicious bunch. Can’t blame them, really. My presentation might have seemed a little one-sided.”

I was beginning to understand how Glen presented his arguments. He did it in stages. He might seem to agree with his opponents in an argument on a minor point, then hit them with the big one. Paul on Mars hill, he said, was his model.

I asked him if that had been his intent at the first meeting. Was he setting them up?

“Oh, no” was his reply. “You can only present so much at any one time. One idea a night, is my idea. Let’em think about it for awhile. When people hear an idea ,maybe it’s new, maybe they don’t like it. Give’em a chance to mull it over for awhile.

Those guys who teach from an outline drive me nuts. Point one, point two, point three... Hey wait a minute! I’m still thinking about point one.”

We had come to the country home by the time Glen had laid out his approach to teaching. There were cars and trucks parked along the drive and off to the side of the house by a large outbuilding.

“Good turnout tonight” I said to Glen.

“Yeah, word gets around I guess” was his only comment.

Our host met us and led us to the back of the house and slid open a sliding glass door that led to the finished basement area. Folding chairs had been arranged in semi circles around a plywood lectern.

The men were standing in little groups, talking, as Glen walked to the fireplace to admire the painting hanging there. The host walked to the lectern and introduced Glen.

“For those who were not here last week, let me say that our guest, Glen Brock, addressed the idea of obedience to government from the Bible point of view. I know, from what you have told me, that some of you were rather upset by what you heard. I figure you deserve to have your questions answered and Glen has agreed to come tonight for that purpose. So please listen to our speaker and give him an opportunity to make his case.”

Glen walked to the podium and opened his zippered case. He set his Bible on the stand and took out a single sheet of paper with some scriptures written on it in longhand.

“Thank you for having me back. Our host expressed the concerns of many of you. I am glad you have them, I’d be worried if you didn’t have them. The last time I was here I expressed just one idea. And that is, that the Bible tells us that God has ordained government and, Paul, in the Book of Romans, specifically chapter 13, says we are to obey the government.”

You could see a physical reaction to Glen’s opening statement. Men shifted in their chairs. It was as if their worst fears were true. You could not blame them for wondering if Glen was not a government agent trying to subdue them by mis-applying scripture.

Glen looked over the assembly before he spoke. “If I have raised your hackles, then all I can say is, that’s good! I hope you never lower your guard, never lose your alertness. It has been said that a lot of Americans are in a hypnotic state, an awful lot. I don’t mean hypnotic in an allegoric way, I mean in a clinical, literal way. Skepticism, suspicion, can be a gift from God, gentlemen. It shows that your early warning systems are on and operating.

Now, let me define my terms before I proceed. By government, I meant legitimate authority. In this blessed land it is framed by the constitution and the laws that flow from it. We all know that there are illegitimate governments and ‘illegal” laws. I, in no way, am saying the Bible binds us to these. And even within the boundaries of legitimate authority, that is, the ones our people have voted for and agreed upon, there is an obedience that supercedes them, and that is the rule of God. By God, I mean the God of the Bible and no one else.”

Glen’s listeners were visibly relaxing. Some smiled with satisfaction and spoke to their neighbors with words of agreement.

“If you feel a little more comfortable with my premise that we are bound to obey government under the limitations I just spoke of, then let me say this; Don’t get too comfortable! Make me prove what I say, from the Word itself. Better yet, let me illustrate it, and you decide if what I am saying constitutes proof.”

This latter statement pleased the assembly and illustrated the genius of Glen’s approach to reaching people. “Create a friction point” he told me, then work from that point. You’ve seen two boxers beat each other bloody, then come to the center of the ring and hug each other? That’s the idea.”

“The apostles Peter and Paul, dealt with the very thing we are talking about tonight. How do we live with government? Do we knuckle under, do we just oppose government head on? Let’s go over how Peter and Paul dealt with these issues.

Glen opened his Bible to The Acts of the Apostles. “Let me begin with Acts chapter five. I’ll set the stage. Peter and the other apostles were preaching and healing, performing miracles, in Jerusalem. Every sick person brought to them was healed. Many people, men and women believed in the Lord because of them. But the high priest and a group of liberal Jews ,called the Sadducees, were very angry with them over this. They seized them and put them into prison.

Verse 19-21, says But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.

And when they heard that they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught.

When the high priest found they were no longer in the prison they went after them a second time to inquire of them.

Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. Acts.5:28,29

“Now, here is our guide and example. When there is a conflict between what government, in this case the leaders of the Jews, commands, and what God commands, we must obey God.

I doubt if there was a man there that night, that did not understand and agree with what Glen had just said.

“Now” said Glen, “There is another side to this coin. When Peter and the apostles were preaching in the temple, they were, of course, in Jerusalem and opposed by Jewish authorities.

But let’s see how Paul, at a later time, deals with the Romans. Paul is addressing a mob of angry Jews that are after his blood, thinking he is a turncoat and a traitor to the faith. They started a riot. A Roman captain intercedes and take Paul to a Roman prison for questioning.

I will begin in Acts chapter 22, verse 24;

The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.

And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?

When the centurian heard that, he went and told the chief captain saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.

Then the chief captain came and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.

And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was freeborn.

Then straitway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. Acts.22:24-29

“You see” Glen continued, “Paul was in a unique position under the Roman authorities. He was a strict Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as he said. But he was born a Roman citizen. Paul spoke Greek, the language of culture and education, but also Hebrew, the language of the religious Jews. He was astride two worlds, and he used his Romans citizenship to his advantage in this situation.”

A young blond man, who had questioned Glen at the first meeting, spoke. “But didn’t Paul die at the hands of Romans?”

“Yes, he did. Both Jesus and Paul and Peter were put to death by Romans, under judicial punishment. The government that protects may also kill. And the killing can be as much ordained by God as is the protection.”

“But” implored the young man, “How do we know when to resist and when to submit?”

Remember the guidelines from Acts chapter 5. We must obey God first. We must not deny Jesus if government tells us to. Martyrdom may be the result of civil disobedience if God so wills. People who die for their faith are the most powerful witness for Christ that there is. So many came to believe under Roman persecution, that the Romans quit the practice. Today the weapons against us seem to be deception and compromise.”

The young man seemed troubled. “How do we know what to do?”

“Every man must decide for himself. Our guide is the Bible for the principles. We must pray that God will show us what to do when the time comes, if it does, for each of us.”

Another man, older and also perplexed, made a statement. “The churches are not agreed on this, it seems, some just tell us to submit, others seem to believe in opposition, as if the government is always wrong.”

“I don’t worry about the churches” said Glen. “There is an old proverb that says “God follows the dictates of no church.”

With that, Glen concluded his remarks and walked away from his lectern. His host walked with him to the fireplace.

“I saw you looking at this print” he said. “I’d like to give it to you as a token of appreciation for your thoughtful teaching.”

Glen gratefully accepted and out host grasped the frame and carefully lifted it until it was free of the hook on the wall.

We walked to Glen’s van. I open the back doors and Glen lowered the big framed print onto a bed of newspapers. We looked at the picture of the mounted men riding at a gallop, turning to shoot as they rode. The title plate read “Dash for the Timber.”

“Is this us?” Glen. I asked him. “Are we going to ride for the timber? Or will we be the pursuers?”

He shut the doors and started his van. As we left the driveway and entered the main road he answered my question. “I guess only time will tell” he said. “God is the only one who knows for sure.”

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