July 4th: a day that many Americans will spend with family and friends, enjoying food and fireworks. It’s a day that we celebrate the founding of our nation, more than two centuries ago. That day in 1776, was a day like no other for the men who penned their names to our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Their grievances were serious, real and legitimate. And their public defiance of the King was a certain death warrant, leading them to mutually pledge their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.”
Their unwavering commitment to the principle of Liberty, resulted in innumerable blessings for us today. But have you ever considered what the purpose of Liberty really is? Is its end simply the “pursuit of happiness?” While this question begs a much deeper and more thorough discussion than what follows, I trust these brief thoughts will serve to challenge you and me to go deeper in meditation. And as we do, perhaps our thoughts will call us to a higher level of accountability than what we as Americas are accustomed to acknowledging.
The First Liberty: In a Perfect World
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” I would assert that this phrase, known to most people across the world who have been blessed with the knowledge of the Scriptures, is the greatest opening statement of any manuscript ever known to man. In the passage following this opening truth, we find that God not only created the entire universe and all that is within it, but He also established the principles and laws that would control all things. These laws would govern not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual, and even what our Founders referred to as “unalienable rights.”
So when God, on the sixth day, created man in “His own image,” He presented to that first couple a state of perfection. In that perfect world, God offered Adam and Eve the freedom to exercise liberty, and then he defined how they would do so. The first couple would initially exercise dominion over the world God had created — every creature, plant and the entire earth. Secondly, Adam & Even would express their love by multiplying themselves, thus reproducing life. And lastly, they would discharge their free will, and their understanding of liberty, by the choices they would make.
As Adam and Eve partook of liberty in those first few days of perfection, enjoying a deeply personal and intimate fellowship with God, they were free to experience all of God’s creation. A smorgasbord of sensual pleasures surrounded them everywhere they looked. The radiant beauty of their environment, the luscious delicacies their taste buds enjoyed, and the intellectual and emotional stimuli they were exposed to during their daily walks with God, was beyond any experience modern man can fathom.
But there was just one, ever so small, limitation that would test their understanding of liberty. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the center of the Garden of Eden, was off limits. The perfection they daily enjoyed eventually came to be overshadowed by their knowledge that there was one singular item, stored away in the middle of their “heaven on earth” of which they were to steer clear. Their “dilemma” is akin to being given the key to Whole Foods so that anything you desired to take and eat was yours, except for one box of cookies on a counter in the middle of the bakery department.
So liberty’s purpose was clear. And liberty’s test was even clearer. Mankind’s destiny literally hung in the balance as Adam and Eve grappled with the concept of liberty. Would they fulfill God’s purpose? Would they exercise dominion over every aspect of God’s creation, including the tree in the middle of the garden? Would they tame and control their own free will to conform to God’s singular restriction on their liberty? Or would they chose to pursue a distorted view of liberty, one that suggested they could do anything they pleased, with no consequences?
Sadly, we know the rest of the story as Adam and Eve trampled the liberty God gave them, exercising their free will to violate the boundaries that liberty imposed.
Liberty in an Imperfect World
Since that tragic day when Adam and Eve traded true liberty for a lesser form, man has continuously sought liberty. But not until the founding of these United States of America has there been a nation whose very DNA was infused with liberty as ours. Many of our nation’s greatest icons carry the theme of liberty. The Statue of Liberty. The Liberty Bell. The Liberty Tree. Sons of Liberty.
So it seems only natural that Americans love liberty and seek after it. But do we understand what liberty is, and more importantly are we fulfilling its purpose in an imperfect world?
Thinking back to the initial purposes of liberty as revealed in the opening scene of the world, we are to have dominion over all of creation. The world is ours. God has granted it to us but will also hold us accountable for the way in which we subdue it. Are we acting as the stewards that God intended in every asset, gift, and relationship that God bestows upon you and me?
Secondly, are we reproducing and embracing life? Life is under attack like never before. The forces of evil are seeking to dismantle life, convincing us that children are a hassle, and in a million instances a year in American, not even worthy of life. Our birthrates in America are not even sufficient to replace ourselves. So do we truly value life? Yet, liberty demands that we must.
Finally, liberty is a test, between good and evil. In a sense, Adam and Eve had it much easier. Their choices were sorted into two categories. In the first column was the one item in their world of infinite good that they were told to reject: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the other column was everything else! They were presented with only one bad option and literally millions of good choices.
Not so in our lives. The truth is that we have literally millions of options and choices available to us at any given moment, both good and bad. And because of the free will that God granted to us when he created Adam, we have the liberty to chose either, the righteous or evil. But sadly there is a plethora of wrong choices today. And it seems that it’s all too easy to default to bad choices, at least I know it is in my life. But while liberty gives me that option, liberty also demands better. Liberty instructs that we must resist that which is not good, not only for our own good, but for our family, friends and nation. For if we learned anything from Adam and Eve, we can understand that our choices are not made in a vacuum but rather they ripple out, resulting in either a wave of good or a flood of bad.
So at the end of the day, the purpose of liberty is simple. It is a test. Will you and I pass the test? Will we weigh every choice by God’s perfect standard, rejecting those that don’t measure up? Or will we abuse liberty to do what we want, regardless of the impact on ourselves and others?
Only you can say. But as we celebrate another July 4th, may we never again forget the purpose of liberty and with God’s help, exercise our liberty in a manner worthy of God’s blessings.
The sands of time
So quickly pass
In the slender neck
Of our hour glass
Our life ahead
At two score and five
With dreams intact
We feel so alive
As life grows busy
The sand keeps beating
But we pay no thought
To the years now fleeting
We’ve known others younger
Whose sand drew still
Their premature death
Briefly testing our will
But our own life plans
We are confident yet
Will align in due time
With our diminishing grit
For surely our grains
Will continue to fall
Until the time of our choosing
Has arrived with a crawl
But when will we realize
That it’s God who allows
For the number of grains
That remain in our vials
May we refocus our thoughts
To what really will count
When the sands in our glass
Do finally run out.
Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days…”
Tennessee Republicans, from the party that boasts it is for lower taxes, just raised taxes in the Volunteer state as they wound down this year’s legislative session. The party which enjoys a dominant super majority, controlling the House, Senate and Governorship, raised the Gas Tax on every Tennessean. Note that even if you don’t drive, the gas tax will apply to you since prices on anything delivered by trucks will most definitely increase. And those increased transportation costs will be passed on to you, the consumer. It’s as if legislators just pick-pocketed Tennessee taxpayers.
But here’s what’s even more astonishing about the haste by legislators to raise the gas tax. Tennessee enjoyed a $2 Billion surplus this last budget year. And this coming year, the state of Tennessee projects another $1 billion surplus, as well as in subsequent years.
Because a government’s primary source of receipts is through taxes and fees, a surplus suggests that citizens are being overtaxed. But rather than reduce the state’s tax rate, Governor Haslam and dozens of other Republicans chose to keep taxes at their current levels, thus continuing the state’s surplus. So not only were Republicans content with overtaxing Tennesseans, but they compounded the matter by increasing the Gas Tax as well.
I have held cordial and pleasant relationships with most of my local area Republican representatives. But being friends on a political or even social level, does not mean that one should turn a blind eye, or censor one’s comments. The fact is that when those professing to be fiscal conservatives while campaigning, violate fiscal conservatism when elected, it’s incumbent in our form of government to call these individuals to account. The full list of legislators who voted for and against the Gas Tax is here.
Sadly, every single legislator in Hamilton & Bradley County, TN voted FOR the Gas Tax. And out of the list below, only one is a Democrat:
Gerald McCormick-R, 26
Patsy Hazlewood-R, 27
JoAnne Favors-D, 28
Mike Carter-R, 29
Marc Gravitt-R, 30
Dan Howell-R, 22
Kevin Brooks-R, 24
Mike Bell-R, 9
Todd Gardenhire-R, 10
Bo Watson-R, 11
I acknowledge that many of Tennessee’s roads and bridges are in need of repair. And to be clear, those of us who opposed the gas tax are NOT against increasing the amount that our state allocates towards our road budget. Rather, our opposition has always been that the default answer by most Republicans was to raise taxes when there are multi-billion dollar surpluses that are available to fund every penny of the Governor’s proposed road budget increase.
What is inexplicable about the whole gas tax matter though, is that every initiative that was proposed that sought to avoid tax increases in favor of using surpluses to fund road repairs was met with intense opposition by the governor and Republican legislators. It was clear they would not take NO for an answer to their gas tax increase. And why they were stuck on a gas tax increase is something we may never know.
During the course of the debate over the gas tax increase, many pro-tax Tennessee Republicans were quick to embrace the following quote from Ronald Reagan:
“The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”
But here’s the problem with “tax & spend” legislators using this quote. In every relationship there are negotiables and non-negotiables. Consider the most fundamental relationship: marriage.
If a husband picks up his clothes 80% of the time, but fails to do so every so often, he is not a traitor, deserving of a firing squad. Rather, he just needs some grace from his wife, and she will likely agree he is “a friend and an ally.”
But if that same husband is faithful to his wife 80% of the time and carouses around “just” 20% of the time, he is a 100% traitor to his wife and vows, and he shouldn’t be surprised when an attorney delivers the divorce papers.
Obviously, all matters are not equal. So when a Republican legislator professes that he/she is a fiscal conservative, then a non-negotiable should be the matter of raising taxes when there are better alternatives. Utilizing a multi-billion dollar surplus would seem to be a better alternative than raising taxes.
So don’t buy this distortion of Reagan’s quote. The very legislators who rush to Reagan for cover are the same ones who are unfaithful to the values that Reagan espoused and lived, at least in the area of raising taxes in 2017 in Tennessee.
So I wonder what’s next from these legislators? Your guess is as good as mine, but betting on the fact that they’ll stand firm against tax increases is no longer a given.
On November 8, 2016 Americans across our great land went to the polls to select their choice for President, and Donald Trump prevailed. His brazen, unorthodox, “lay it all out there” style, attracted the votes of millions of frustrated, disenchanted and angry citizens, who felt their government had abandoned them and its “long train of abuses” were becoming insufferable.
Since his election though, Trump has continued to express himself with little self-discipline, frequently on Twitter, where some of his most controversial statements are made. More often than not, it would appear that Trump gives no thought to what proceeds from his mouth or is typed out on Twitter, ascribing to a “tweet first, think later” strategy.
Case in point. Just this week Trump fired off another one of his ill-advised tweets, where he suggested anyone burning an American flag should be faced with “loss of citizenship or year in jail.” Folks from all across the political spectrum rejected his solution for flag burners, including many in his own party.
With that tweet though, Trump either revealed his contempt for existing law and the First Amendment (the SCOTUS has ruled twice that flag burning is protected under the Constitution), he exposed his utter ignorance, or he continued his flawed “tweet first, think later” routine. Regardless, Trump once again set off a firestorm, and accomplished nothing but to deepen the extreme opposition of those on the left, while creating disharmony for those who voted for him. This discord was expressed this week on my Facebook page, when I shared Trump’s tweet, along with these personal comments:
So for those of you who voted for Trump, what’s your take on this tweet from the President-elect? Do you agree with his view? And if not, does it cause you any concern?
My simple post set off a barrage of over 160 comments in less than 24 hours, with a mixture of strong support and extreme disagreement by those opining. Consider that most of those commenting had voted for Trump.
What was clear though, in the discussion on this one tweet, as well as in many other instances where Trump has pushed the envelope with his nonsensical comments, is that too many of his supporters are willing to cover for, or brush aside, remarks and behavior that should be rebutted or rejected. It’s as if some believe they have elected King Trump, their new sovereign ruler, who can do no wrong.
Note what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had to say, when questioned about his vote affirming the First Amendment right protecting flag burning: “If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged — and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government. That was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”
Most people, whether in America or in other less democratic nations, are attracted to strong leaders. Perhaps it’s because many individuals are followers. Or maybe it’s because over the course of world history, civilization after civilization has been ruled by strong leaders, whether kings, monarchs, dictators, or tyrants. Perhaps our DNA includes the predisposition for someone with great authority to rule over us, as we hope he will defeat injustice and elevate what is right. Of course, there has never been a dearth of elite men and women over the ages who have been both willing and eager to step into the role of ruler, or king.
But, America is unique.
Prior to our founding, world history was void of any great civilization whose ideology was based on the premise that “all men are created equal” and that its government would derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the concept that “We the People” ruled and our government leaders were subservient to us, was injected into our nation’s DNA. This new truth became the cornerstone of America, and differentiated us from all other peoples.
But 240 years later, our federal government, a behemoth that has no comparable in world history, has grown to a point where its tentacles have expanded into every area of our life. Government “of the people, by the people and for the people” has become a distant and inconsequential idea. And too many Americans have fallen for the errant idea that our President is our sovereign leader and ruler.
So as Americans have shirked their solemn responsibility, that of being an engaged citizen, they have also distanced themselves from the significance of state and local rule. This has led to an infection of the DNA of old, where many voters seek a sovereign national leader who can reverse all the wrongs and order all the rights. The much condemned “pen and the phone” policy of Barack Obama by those who opposed him, is now being embraced by many of those same Americans, with their new King Trump.
But we must remember, there is no King Trump. The truth is “We the People” are sovereign. Donald Trump works for us. And like any entrepreneur knows, employees are accountable to the business owner. Our founding fathers had the wisdom to establish our unique Constitutional Republic, which places the responsibility of power in the hands of the citizens. As such, it is both your responsibility and duty to keep your elected officials in check, including those who are strong willed, loud mouthed and twitter-addicted.
A Course of Action
Most companies have what is called a progressive disciplinary system, where an errant employee can receive verbal warnings, followed by written warnings, then suspension and ultimately termination if such employee is unwilling to reform his ways. In our system of government a similar system exists, but we must avail ourselves of it.
Our elected officials, in this case Donald Trump, should be treated as our employee. He works for you and me. He reports to us. So it’s incumbent for you and me to offer feedback to him and express our concerns openly to others. Initially we may simply express those concerns verbally. But if he continues in his errant ways, then we must escalate to written warnings, perhaps in the form of an email or a reply to an ill-advised tweet. But ultimately, if Donald Trump, or any other elected official, rejects or ignores the counsel of those who employ him, then voters will have to decide whether to retain such an individual in his position.
I pray Donald Trump will begin to act more Presidential, as he seeks to “drain the swamp” as most of his supporters are eager to see happen. But should Trump renege on campaign promises, or continue to speak and act in a manner that is unsuited to the leader of the free world, then who knows but that four years from now, the man who made his TV fame on the hit series, The Apprentice, may end up hearing his own famous words from voters:
I trust that will not be the case. But we must never forget that it is not only the right of “We the People” but it is our duty.
Proverbs 29:20 — “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.”
As I peer out the window at the terrain below, jetting over the heartland of America, I cannot help but ponder the future for our nation following the unexpected and historical win by Donald Trump.
We saw so many “firsts” during Election 2016. The first billionaire to win the Presidency. The first woman to ever receive the nomination for President of a major party. The first election where both candidates’ unfavorable ratings were at historical highs. And so many more.
Today I am indeed grateful to God that we are not referring to Hillary Clinton as President-elect. If you believe that God is still intimately engaged in His creation, then you understand that Daniel 2:21 was once again affirmed in this election in which we were all given the privilege and responsibility to participate: “And He changes the times and seasons; He removes kings and raise up kings.”
While I am thankful that Hillary Clinton did not prevail, admittedly I remain a skeptic as to Trump’s veracity, trustworthiness and character. My concerns will either be affirmed or invalidated in the months and years to come. And honestly I pray they are proven wrong. But one thing is certain. As Donald Trump transitions from candidate to President, some very distinct realities will set in.
If you’ve ever flown, as I am doing today, you know that there can be something magical about soaring 30,000 feet above the earth at 600+ mph, seeing the earth below you whiz by. The details of all that lies below is indistinguishable from that altitude. Similarly though, if one is glancing up from the ground into the atmosphere, the specifics of an aircraft is also unknown.
What airline is it? What is its tail number? Is it a Boeing or Airbus? Who is inside? There’s no telling until the plane lands.
But when that silver capsule finally touches down, the answers will become clear. If there are defects in the plane, they will be exposed. And as the passengers disembark, their true identity will be revealed.
Over the last year, the Trump campaign has been like the jet cruising at 30,000 feet. Its flight plan has been purposefully one of generalities with limited substance dealing in poll-tested, populist issues. But to an angry and disgusted populace, the vague flight plan proved wildly popular, with statements like these fueling Trump’s flight:
“I will build a great wall on our southern border and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words!”
“Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” (Interestingly this statement was removed from Trump’s website 11/09/16, the day after his election. See here.)
“I’m going to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
“We’re going to have a special prosecutor for Hillary. If I were President, Hillary would already be in jail.”
But the Trump campaign is now descending from its year-long high altitude voyage, to the reality of a Trump administration. As the implementation of the billionaire’s vision proceeds, which was strong on emotionally charged rhetoric but soft on specifics, any blemishes in Trump’s policies and flaws in his style and guiding philosophies will quickly be tested and revealed.
Fortunately for Trump, he is landing his Presidency on a “Republican-friendly” runway, given the reality that our new President will be advantaged with a GOP-controlled Senate and House. And while there are many Republicans in Congress who are not fans of Donald, the way in which Trump won will give him the gravitas that many of his predecessors lacked.
So will President-elect Donald Trump touch down in Washington, prepared to govern and deliver specific solutions that are as popular and successful as his campaign rhetoric was in its lacking of those same specifics? Can the reality TV star be accountable to voters to follow through in the drudgery of day to day governing? Will Trump’s decisions over the next four years remain in alignment with the positions he claimed he supported during his campaign? Or will President Trump revert back to the antithetical views and values he embraced during the many decades leading up to his Republican “conversion.” Will the dozens of campaign promises Trump made, many outrageous in nature, be fulfilled? And if not, will his supporters even care?
The answers to these questions will determine whether President Trump’s arrival and tenure in Washington will be a successful and controlled touch down or a disastrous crash landing. For the sake of our nation, our communities and our loved ones, I pray our new President is not only wildly successful, both politically and personally, but that the man who disembarks in Washington is a man of great character and integrity.
“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Mark 8:36
In 1976 the film Network featured a scene in which a fictional TV anchor, in response to the overall decline in America due to inflation, unemployment, crime and a recession, encouraged his viewers to stand up, go to their windows, stick their heads out and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” While the movie was a fictional story, the plot highlighted the mood of a large number of Americans at the time. The relevant scene can be viewed here in case you’ve never seen it. (warning: some strong language)
Similar to the movie Network, if there’s one word that describes many voters 30 years later, it is anger. From the outset of this latest Presidential cycle, we’ve seen poll after poll affirm that voters are absolutely disgusted with politicians in Washington, and the sentiment isn’t limited to one party.
On the Democratic side, we have seen Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, garner 41% of the vote to date, as democrat voters dismiss the heir apparent, Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, on the Republican side we’ve witnessed voters reject candidates who have any ties to the elite establishment, opting to support Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. In fact, these two candidates have garnered two thirds of the votes cast to date in Republican primaries and caucuses.
It’s understandable that voters have grown angry and frustrated with politicians, particularly on the Republican side. When candidates at all levels campaign on principles that support limited government, promote fiscal responsibility, and champion life and family, voters expect them to govern according to those values, which are affirmed in the Republican platform. Yet, it has become the norm for politicians, once elected, to quickly turn their backs on their campaign promises. Shamefully, these men and women chose the party elite, special interests and big business over the will of the voters who elected them.
While anger is an understandable reaction to these self-serving men and women, is anger in and of itself a reliable response to such betrayal by politicians? Should we trust anger to guide us in our selection of the individual who would lead our nation, and even the free world, in some of the most crucial matters of our time?
There is a proverb that states, “A quick tempered man acts foolishly” and another warns, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” No doubt anger is a natural response when those who should be accountable to us show us such little respect while they trample our Constitution and seek their own self-interest. But it’s one thing to get angry and quite another thing to respond in anger.
Responding in anger leads to many unintended consequences, and as the verses above indicate, it places us in the company of fools, or at least leads to foolish behavior. Throwing a hammer after accidentally hitting your thumb might be a natural response, but it will likely damage a nearby wall. Likewise, choosing a presidential candidate who claims he’ll build a wall, just because we’re angry, without scrutinizing the substance of that candidate, borders on the same foolish behavior. Worse though, the repercussions of such an uninformed decision could prove catastrophic for our nation.
There are a host of decisions of much lesser consequence that we spend hours and even days, at times, deliberating over. When I recently purchased a television, I spent time on the internet researching which brand and features were the best and then made two trips to Best Buy before selecting the TV. And you no doubt have done the same when you purchased your last car, home or perhaps even a toaster. Yet it’s amazing, if not sad, that many in this election cycle are simply selecting a candidate that pushes all the right buttons and says all the right things, because they’re “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”
The challenge for all of us who are angry over what is taking place in Washington is to use our logic rather than anger to make choices. Logic can guide while anger seeks to mislead. Reason will prevail while rage simply destroys. But will Americans discipline themselves to resist their inner urge to simply “burn it down and start over” as the mantra of some is these days? Will anger reign or reason prevail? The answer to this question may determine what kind of nation we have a year or two from now.
Photo courtesy of Network movie