Posted in: history,Spirituality by bill-o on January 26, 2010

Who will receive the greater honor? That is the question for any social event where two or more dignitaries are present. For example, at a formal dinner, who will have the honor of speaking last? You may not have realized it, but social planners have already prepared lists to deal with such contingencies. These lists are called orders of precedence.

The concept of precedence is distinct from orders of succession or formal chains of command. Precedence is the ceremonial order of respect. Being higher on a list of precedence does not necessarily imply having greater authority or power. In fact, someone high on a precedence list may have much less power than someone lower on that same list.

What precedence bestows is the greater honor. The list of precedence for the United States is at: You’ll find the list for England and Wales at:

Precedence echoes through great historical moments in American history. For example, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address after the featured speaker Edward Everett because the president had the greater honor. At inaugurations, the President is sworn in after the Vice President. The Supreme Court of the United States maintains its visible order of precedence with its seating order: The Chief Justice sits in the center, the most senior associate justice to his right, the next most senior justice to the Chief Justice’s left, and so on, alternating between right and left for all 8 associate justices as per seniority on the court. After all, to sit to the right implies the greater honor. Yet to sit closer to the center of the court is an even greater honor.

In England and Wales, proximity to the throne grants the greater precedence. Then, the greater titles take precedence. In the United States, a mayor of a city has the greater precedence while in his or her city than almost everyone else. For within the proverbial walls of the city, the mayor is the honorary king or queen, able to give the ceremonial “keys to the city” (the proveribal city gates) to others. Regarding mayors, the American order of precedence recognizes that a mayor is, in a sense, a monarch within one’s own home town.

And so it is with each of us: with the measure of spiritual rule that we have each been given. There will be others with more power, money, and authority in this world. Yet within our own homes, whether actual houses or within the lives of those few who are close to us, we are kings, queens, princes, and princesses. In a way, we each have a divine precedence given to us that takes effect within our own “personal kingdoms”. And that precendence is not given to us to “lord it over” others. Rather, it’s given to us for the sake of love.

Not Quite Pardoned

Posted in: Current Events,Spirituality by bill-o on December 25, 2008

The power of the president in the United States to pardon criminals of their crimes is absolute and cannot be reviewed by any other part of the government (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clause 1). The original intent of this power was evidently two-fold: (1) it allowed a president to bring peace and order back to the nation after a period of rebellion or unrest (this occurred after the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s and after the Civil War in 1865) and (2) it provided for a ad-hoc appeals process in a time before the appellate court system was fully established in the U.S. In spite of this original plan, the pardon power as specified in the U.S. Constitution is absolute and has no strings attached to a president’s authority to use this power.

The pardon power may be applied to people currently serving sentences in prison. In this case, an inmate may have his or her sentence reduced or may be set free immediately. However, usually, the pardon power is used to restore the rights of citizenship to people who have already completed their prison terms.

By custom, presidents use their power to pardon on Christmas Eve (December 24) or during their final days in office. This past Christmas Eve (2008), President Bush evidently pardoned one man by mistake. The exact reason why a mistaken pardon was signed by the president is not clear, nor is it clear that such an event has ever occurred in the entire history of the nation.

However, because the official pardon papers had not yet been delivered by hand to the recipient of the presidential act of forgiveness, the pardon was not yet legal and so the president could legally withdraw and cancel out the pardon.

And so it is in the spiritual life. The intent to give and the matching intent to receive a gift is not enough for a gift to be legitimate. A gift must actually be exchanged from the donor to the recipient for it to be real.

An opportunity from heaven should be assumed to be a limited-time offer. God may want to give something to you and you may want to receive it, but until you actually take hold of it, then that divine gift is not actually yours. Like the man who told Jesus to allow him to go bury his father first before fully committing himself to follow Jesus, there was a clear invitation from Jesus and a desire for that man to follow after him. Yet this man apparently allowed this special limited chance to expire.

And so each of us might do the same on our spiritual journeys if we are not careful. Unlike the president’s mistaken pardon, God does not make mistakes. But God does insist that we take hold of the gifts that he assigns to us while the time is right for us to receive them.

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Arbiter of the Kingdoms of This World?

Posted in: Current Events by bill-o on August 16, 2008

The Saddleback (Church) Civil Forum of the two major presidential candidates just occurred in the United States. The forum occurred inside of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The forum was not a presidential debate. (For those of you outside of the U.S., face-to-face presidential debates are held in October and not in August.) Rather, this televised event consisted of two consecutive and separate interviews of Senator Barrack Obama and Senator John McCain by the popular pastor and author Rick Warren. Mr. Warren asked each senator the same series of questions, and each senator was interviewed for about one hour. Mr. Obama went first, while Mr. McCain waited offstage in some kind of closed area where he could not receive any advance knowledge of the upcoming questions. Because Senator McCain’s answers were shorter, Mr. Warren was able to ask him a few extra questions.

I watched the entire forum from beginning to end. On the positive side, I do appreciate the way that Mr. Warren allowed both of the candidates to give fairly detailed answers to questions without interruption (something that is increasingly rare in the American political process). I also appreciated the contrast in responses to the same set of questions by each candidate. Mr. Warren also appreared to be non-partisan, not favoring one candidate over the other.

On the more critical side, I didn’t like Mr. Warren’s last question to each candidate. Others may disagree, but this question was basically asking each candidate to publicly justify what Mr. Warren and his church were doing with this forum. Perhaps this is little harsh to say but I think that this is like inviting someone to a party and then asking him or her, at the end of it, to publicly state to the other guests why the host of the party is such a good host.

And since Rick Warren brought it up via this final question, I would like to discuss here why I do not support this civil forum. Why?

1.  Quite frankly, I don’t see such a forum as having any biblical basis. In the Bible, I do see prophets confronting evil leaders, apostles (“sent ones”) sharing their faith with rulers, and I also see capable advisers raised up to give advice to kings and even serve as high-ranking appointed leaders directly underneath those kings (like Daniel and Joseph, for example). I even see prophets ratifying (anointing) the selection of a king, as per God’s choice (like Samuel and Saul). But I do not see any biblical pattern for serving as arbiters, gatekeepers, or kingmakers regarding the selection of the kings of this earth.

2.  Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. Yes, as ambassadors of Christ, followers of Jesus should be prepared, as appropriate opportunities present themselves, to serve in love the rulers of this world, if they ask for the aid, assistance, and counsel of Christ’s followers. True disciples of Jesus are also very much interested in the causes of social justice and real care and concern for their surrounding communities. That said, the Bible clearly says that our citzenship is in heaven. The view of the gospels is to live in the kingdom of God here and now in the world and thus change the world around us with God’s love. In contrast, Jesus did not say to change the kingdoms of this world via manipulating the mechanisms of those kingdoms. (Rather, Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.)

3.  Mr. Warren started his forum by saying that “faith is just a worldview”. Faith in Jesus Christ is anchored in eternity, and the word of God stands forever no matter what happens here in this world. Faith is an “eternal-view” and not simply a worldview.

4.  If followers of Christ actively arbitrate the process of selecting the kings of this world, then the world will be resentful and angry with his followers when things go wrong, as they inevitably will to one extent or another. Even worse, if the selected kings make immoral or evil decisions, Christ’s disciples in the world will appear as being complicit or hypocritical. Followers of Christ should not seek to interfere with the processes of king-selection, just as followers of Christ do not want the world to interfere with their life and work in this world.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?