Part III

Chapter 11

What Kings Do

The modern American is so inundated with democratic ideals that he can hardly imagine a king. The idea of complete sovereignty not only eludes him, but attempts at explaining it frighten him. The great American ideal of independence is eclipsed in the presence of a God Who demands complete control.

Kings exercise ultimate authority. As the King of kings, God does so in a more complete sense than can be imagined. Fortunately, God's nature is benevolent and those who submit to Him are the beneficiaries.

However, the idea of despotes (Gr. lord or master; root of Eng. despot) is repugnant to our republican sensibilities. 1 Yet, this very word is used in Scripture of our Lord. 1 The Bible teaches that God is the ultimate authority and, considering His infinite power, is able to carry out any of His desires. The position of God as despotes is not derivative from some other authority, that is, He in not Lord by election, appointment, or egocentric, self-proclamation. His Lordship derives from His preexistent, omnipotent role as Creator of all things. In other words, He made everything, He is bound to be expert in how everything works and how we might successfully live. Our only acceptable response to God, then, is unconditional surrender.

God rules. It is what kings do.

Still, one of man's greatest problems is his consuming desire to control his own existence -- be the "captain of his own ship," as it were. Beginning with Adam and Eve, mankind has sought to solve his own problems -- to become wise in his own right, to cover his own nakedness, to excuse his disobedience, to resolve his own fallenness. But, like the fig leaf clothing, the works all fall infinitely short and, from the eternal perspective, look foolish.

All of this failure springs from one source: man's unwillingness to acknowledge God as sovereign in all things. The spirit of man hates surrender and submission. That spirit is a result of man's disobedience through Adam and infects all our beings to this day.

The Messes People Make

Babel was a great example of people exerting themselves to create their own system apart from God. Blatantly disobeying the commandment of God to "multiply and scatter" over the face of the earth, Nimrod and his crew established the first anti-God government. God, acknowledging the power of their concerted efforts, personally intervened to undermine the project.

Governments since that time have been sustained or submerged according to their coincidence with God's plans and their obedience to His will. Governments involving God's people have risen or fallen in direct proportion to their compliance with known principles of God. But even the most rebellious governments rarely come right out and say, "Hey, let's rebel against God!" Babel sanctified their activities by building a religious edifice -- the tower. 2

Even Nazi Germany enlisted religion in the form of the German National Church to foment revolution against God. The Church itself -- both evangelical and Catholic -- bought the lie saying, "In the darkest night of our Christian church history, Hitler became for our time a marvelous transparency, the window through which light fell on the history of Christianity. . . . The aim of the Faith Movement of German Christians is an Evangelical German Reich Church. Adolph Hitler's State appeals to the Church, the Church must obey the appeal." 3

Today's appeal to take charge of our situation is often couched in religious terms as well. We "know" it wouldn't work to model our laws after godly principles. We "know" we can reform criminals with soothing psychobabble and time in jail as opposed to the godly punishments described in the Bible. We are too compassionate to do it God's way. We "know" that capital punishment doesn't "work" and ignore the warning of bloodguilt on the land. We "know" that easy divorce is a must to curtail the damage of bad marriages.

Even when we attempt to apply godly principles, it is so spotty and sporadic that the ungodliness of the rest of our lives swallows any possible benefit. We take Scriptural ideas of private property ownership and honest capital investment and convert them into predatory capitalism. Freedom within a moral consensus, such as the Founders of our nation envisioned, becomes license to engage in the perversions of our choice. The concept of personal responsibility and privacy become bulwarks against Christian rebuke. Because we will not surrender to God -- because we "know" we have a better way, we foul our own nests.

Methods and Madness

"Good ol' American know-how! That's what we've got!"

* * *

Americans tend to focus on accomplishing tasks quickly and efficiently. As such, we develop methods to reach our goals which produce consistent results. Results are paramount. The assembly line in manufacturing is a prime example of this trait. Unfortunately, this style, while fine for inanimate materials, does not work so well on the soul. Robotics are not applicable to humanity.

This, however, has not stopped the American Church from trying to mechanize the spiritual life. With all the best of intentions, the Church has developed multitudes of spiritual exercises to cultivate the relationship with God: setting aside exact prayer and Bible study times, Scripture memory, Sabbath observances, family altars, visitation committees, pledging, volunteer work at the church, even tithing one's time. All of these have differing levels of merit as helps but have become the 20th century equivalent of hairshirts when regarded as necessary to Christian growth. We mechanize the organic -- and we fail.

Add to these, the promise of spiritual fulfillment given for "healthy" eating regimens, Christian aerobics, dressing for success (Christian style, of course), sensitivity training, self-esteem conditioning, and multitudes of therapies, courses, and practices designed to conform us to the American standard of beauty and health. None of which makes a whit of difference in our relationship to God.

Our relationship with God is a living, organic tie. Our relationship to the people and the world around us is a living outflow from that central connection with God -- and it grows daily as it is exercised according to God's Word. Discipline in life is necessary to our communication with God but discipline does not become the relationship itself. The methods we use to help us focus on Christ must not overwhelm the goal of our God in our lives -- that is, for us to be conformed to the image of His Son and that the image of Christ in us be displayed to all creation to the glory of God.

These things become loads tied to men's backs -- the external "proofs" of spirituality demanded by today's Church culture. In order to fit into the Middle American Church, one must fit these criteria.

Rules and Relationship

Not all things can be decided upon the basis of some specific chapter and verse of the Bible. There are times when important decisions must be made but the Word offers no exact answer. At these times we must be aware of God's Spirit which Jesus told us will guide and teach us -- the rhema as opposed to the logos of God. Simplisitically put, the Word is logos and the word brought by the Spirit's leading is rhema. This is my meaning in this usage, though the complete explanation is much more complex.

I am not speaking here of being "led" by our emotions or into doing something contrary to the written Word, but of a communication which is borne of our relationship to God. Our conduct is regulated both by rules (the logos) and by our relationship with God through the Spirit (the rhema).

In religious affairs, as practical Americans, we tend to do "what works" rather than what God says. We most often fall into two errors: First, that we reject what is old because it is -- well, old, and we reject what is new because it is not old. We hang on to doing things the way we have always done them because it is comfortable, but when an old way gets in the way, we opt for the new. If an old tradition "doesn't work anymore" we will "try something new." We will discard without a thought a two millennia old prohibition against birth control and cling for dear life to a particular order of service.

The problem is, when something "doesn't work in our eyes, it may be working perfectly in His.

The Sound of Wind

The young woman was bent over the pew weeping. Her disturbingly audible sobs sounded deeper and more unrelenting than had been heard since her birth. She had seen her sin and this was the result.

The preacher was unprepared for the outburst and uncomfortable with it to say the least. The congregation was frozen, eyes fixed upon him to see what he would do. "My child," he said hoping to quell the disturbance, "No need to cry. Jesus loves you and has forgiven you already!" But the words did not reach the woman so as to overpower her deep shame and remorse for sin. The bitter tears continued to flow.

The preacher tried again. "I know you feel bad about your sins but remember that Jesus accepts you the way you are. You should be rejoicing instead of crying." But she did not stop. "Elders" led her from the sanctuary still sobbing.

* * *

The American Church has a completely irrational fear of anything we cannot control -- anything that smacks of fanaticism or enthusiasm. The above story is a composite of a number I have seen where the fear of the unknown or unusual quashed a genuine, sovereign work of the Spirit.

One might be tempted to believe that Pentecostal or Charismatic churches are an exception to this but beneath the exterior of enthusiastic activity, there is an ironclad rigidity of acceptable behaviors. Like most churches, when the Spirit truly overwhelms someone to the point where they might radically obey God, they become hesitant and resistant.

Jesus told us that everyone born of the Spirit was like the wind blowing -- others may hear the sound but we did not know where it came from nor where it was going. (John 3:8) The woman described above illustrates this. The preacher couldn't know where the weeping woman was coming from though he could see and hear the effect of the wind. However, instead of recognizing a work of the Spirit, he was fearful of the effects because they were beyond his control.

This was the precise fear of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' time. Witness the sinner woman washing Jesus' feet and the terrified response of the seminary prof . . . er, I mean, synagogue leaders. They were certain that repentance for this woman was impossible. They saw themselves as the gateway to God. They had so regulated religion that all who wanted God's kingdom had to get there through them -- and their private criteria. But, as Jesus so candidly observed, they themselves were not entering the kingdom -- at least, not ahead of the prostitutes and publicans. (Matthew 21:31)

Back then, the Pharisees wanted a different, more exacting manifestation of repentance from the woman (as also illustrated in the story in John 8: 1-11) -- probably through the proper offerings purchased at the Temple courtyard. Many modern preachers, on the other hand, prefer a solemn "sinner's prayer" recitation and be done with it. Both would like to control how the wind (the Spirit) manifested its effects. Overwhelming sorrow for sin is somehow out of place in the minds of both Pharisee and preacher -- possibly because they themselves are foreigners to such an experience. Pharisees did not much like a religion that insisted on humility, self-denial, or repentance on their own part. 4

For so many reasons, the scribes and Pharisees had completely missed the truth all the while believing they -- and they alone -- had the truth. Their blindness prevented them from seeing a real move of God when it was before their very eyes. Jesus healed the sick -- but they were concerned because He had done it on the Sabbath. He cast out demons -- but they could only ascribe such power to the prince of demons. A blind man was enthusiastic about receiving his sight -- but they were worried that he might point the inquisitive populace to Jesus the Galilean carpenter's son. The centurion loved the Jewish people and paid to build a synagogue -- but he was unclean kingdom material in the eyes of the Pharisees. The Jews were afraid to let Peter even darken the door of righteous Cornelius though an angel had specifically told the man to fetch the apostle to his home.

Against the Flow

(shouting) Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!


"Will you quit all that shouting? Can't you see we're trying to have a Bible study here?"


(shouting) Son of David! Have mercy on me! 5

* * *

"We would like Jesus to bless our children."


"What? Can't you see we're trying to have a service here?"


"Wait a minute! Bring those kids here. After all, the kingdom of heaven belongs to little ones like these." 6

* * *

The disciples of our Lord were not much better than the religious leaders of the day. The Pharisees were disturbed by the impolitic disruption of their banquet by the sinner woman and her weeping. The disciples quickly developed their own "order of service" which they defended with great sanctimony. Not that having an order of service is wrong -- it is just that it should never impede actual ministry to those in need.

What's more, the disciples appear to have been attempting to limit the average person's access to Jesus. Demonstrative, loud prayers -- like those of the blind men -- do not set well in a dignified atmosphere. They are against the flow. But despite the disciples' discomfort, Jesus wanted these people to come to Him.

Jesus said, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence [is forcibly entered], and violent men take it by force [seize it for themselves]." (Matthew 11:12)

People were desperate to enter into the kingdom and were driven to desperate measures -- measures regarded as unacceptable to the religious leaders. They had already decided that certain people -- namely, prostitutes, publicans, gentiles and others -- were completely incapable of repentance. They chided Jesus for even wasting his time with them. They evidently hoped to bring Him into their orbit where the "righteous" could sit around and theologize in self-congratulatory circles. Yet, as Jesus pointed out, it was the sick who needed the physician.

Today, enthusiastic new Christians want to apply Scripture to every facet of their lives. They want to go out and do the Word. And mostly, they want the Word to be the guide in their churches. Full of hope, they approach the leadership with simple Scripture as a solution to a problem. The elders are condescending. They withstand the proffered Biblical solution knowing that soon the young believer will "outgrow" this enthusiasm and settle into the pattern of the way things have always been done.

If the young believer persists in pointing out the unscriptural aspects of the Church, he is labeled as "divisive" and becomes a pariah to all those who have long since given up a search for holiness. The enthusiast has two options: 1) give up and blend in, or 2) go against the flow (probably for the rest of his life).

Perhaps this explains why true revival is so rare. Revival fouls up schedules, disrupts the order of service, makes planning impossible, wrests control from the hands of human beings, and is just plain messy. God will simply not submit Himself to our agenda during a revival and so, when revival breaks out, churches and our leaders naturally resist.

We all pray for revival, but we do not want the unpredictability of something completely God-driven -- especially by a God Who does not want or need our guidance on how things ought to be done.

Let this be a warning to those who pray for revival: If your prayer is answered things will get out of control and your precious schedule will be in shambles.

The Power Trust

"'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts."

-- Zechariah 4: 6b

* * *

One constant principle in Scripture is that fallen man can do nothing good on his own. This does not mean that man's efforts have produced no good thing, but only that when he does it is because of God's blessing. Our efforts to manufacture good come to naught when we do it in our own strength. This is especially true when we divert our trust from God to other things like our own power and abilities.

"Unless the Lord builds a house," Psalm 127: 1 says, "they labor in vain who build it."

The answer to our problems is not in how much political power we can garner, but in whether our political power was consolidated by trust in God or whether we just put a "God" label on our own aspirations. Many believers were disappointed with the Reagan presidency because we had put our trust in the fact that we had gotten "our man" into office. We had placed our faith in a man (as good as he might have been) and that faith did not pay the dividends for which we had hoped. We did not see that it was God who places and deposes leaders.

None of this is to say we should not be involved in the political and social arenas. We should -- vigorously! But we must always keep in mind Whose timetable we are on -- Who is the actual strategist.

The same is true of our churches. Often we attempt to create a "revival" or a "move of the Spirit" by our own strength. We invite a specialist, "revival" preacher for a week-long set of meetings, we blanket the city with advertising, we try to replicate all of the "keys" to revival we have read or heard about -- but nothing comes of it. It was our revival, not God's.

Worse, when God begins to stir people in prayer and repentance, and an excitement begins to move in our churches, we wrest control of it from the Holy Spirit and try to direct it ourselves. I recall a time here in Portland when there sprang up a movement of prayer in many congregations seeking revival. It was a real sovereign movement -- there was no organizer or particular promoter. I had been feeling this direction of the Spirit for some time -- independent of any knowledge of what was happening to others. Eventually, a coalition formed with some Church leaders who, after some time in earnest prayer, held a prayer gathering open to all who felt so stirred. From all reports I received, the meeting was powerful. The following day I heard one of the main speakers being interviewed on a local Christian radio broadcast. He said, "The Spirit of the Lord was really moving last night in the meeting, now, if we can only channel it . . ."

I heard a snap in my Spirit like the breaking of a dry twig and I knew in my spirit that the move was finished. The leaders had decided to channel "it" -- the "it" being the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Channel it?

Interestingly, this same thing was experienced by another man miles away. I shared my grief over the incident about a week later and he told me of his experience.

It was awful. I watched as the weeks passed and these leaders tried desperately to regain the power of that first meeting and the sweating, struggling fleshliness of their efforts became more and more apparent.

The American Temple Sideshow

"Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another which shall not be torn down."

-- Matthew 24: 2b

* * *

Probably the hardest thing for us to grasp is that God cares nothing for our buildings, organizations, and plans. He only cares for our love and obedience. No matter how useful, successful, or blessed our "things," God does not need them. Their destruction would only be incidental.

The Temple helps to illustrate this. God actually directed the raising of the Temple, the operations of sacrifice, and the service of worship. Yet He was still willing to destroy it and leave it desolate because of the evil that clung to it. Can we expect that our mean little fiefdoms will survive such scrutiny?

Our missions projects, evangelism efforts, high-tech outreach methods, cross-referenced computer systems, television and radio equipment, colleges, church buildings (more recently renamed Christian centers), seminaries, centuries-old organizations, and other resources God will gladly destroy if there results any hope that even a remnant will respond to Him.

"To obey is better than sacrifice," Samuel told Saul who had just offered his own version of the will of God. (1 Samuel 15:22) Saul invented a "better" way to obey God and was rejected. Aaron's sons tried offering "strange fire" -- an alternative incense -- and were fried on the spot. (Leviticus 10:1-2) God does not give us the option of choosing our own service -- alternatives are not accepted.


The secret is not work or inactivity but work whose primary focus is the Lord Himself. We must be prepared to utterly submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ by obedience to the Word and obedience to the moving of the Holy Spirit. Our sweat will not accomplish the will of God but the will of God will be accomplished as we work.

God may, at times, give His people great wealth and power to use for His glory but we must guard against placing our trust in these things. As God warned Israel upon their entry into the Promised Land, beware that they did not begin to imagine that it was by their own goodness or prowess that they had all these blessings.

Many times, however, God uses the weaknesses of our position to accomplish His work, and thus, greater glory goes to Him. "My grace is sufficient for you," Jesus told Paul, "for My power is perfected in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12: 9) We must be prepared to place our trust in God whether or not we have money, position, or power available to us for the task. As Paul admonished, ". . . that your faith should not rest upon the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."

Lord, we know how much we desire to control our lives. We idolatrously look to our money, our position, and our power to bring about what we want -- and often call what we want "God's will." Forgive us our rebellious lack of trust and return us to the place where we trusted You with our whole being

We have built much in vain -- that is, without You. Father, we ask You to reduce our empty efforts to nothing and graciously permit us to enter into Your labors and cease from our own...

Go To Chapter Twelve

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Copyright © 1999 Paul deParrie