The election season is over. For some voters, going to the polls was merely a civic duty. For others voting was a matter of stewardship, understanding that God gives us this American privilege, and we will be held accountable for every vote we cast.
But my real focus of this article is not on voters, but rather it’s a message to the newly elected (or re-elected) officials.
God has given me the opportunity (and sobering responsibility) to meet and get to know dozens of politicians, from councilmen to several Presidential candidates. While I’m no longer active in political endeavors, many of these friends or acquaintances were elected to office this last cycle. These offices range from school board members to US Senators, and many offices in between.
So with this as a backdrop, the following verse jumped out at me this week from the book of Daniel:
“For this has been decreed by the messengers; it is commanded by the holy ones, so that everyone may know that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” Daniel 4:17
The Instruction Manual
The book of Daniel is the instruction manual on how Christians in government should behave. Daniel also illustrates to believers how we should respond to government, particularly adversarial ones.
As we read this manual, for guidance both in civics and governance, it’s important to understand that the government officials we are introduced to in Daniel are both followers of (the one true) God, as well as pagans (followers of someone or something other than the one true God). In addition to Daniel, there are many other books and passages in the Bible that offer insights into God’s view of government officials, and their role in serving Him.
God Elevates Both Believers and Unbelievers to Government
This is the first principle that each recently elected government official should understand. Regardless of whether you believe in and follow God, or not, it is God that has given you the victory you are celebrating. It’s not the voters. It’s Him. Sure, the voters all cast a vote, some for you and some against you.
But ascribing your victory to voters is akin to thanking a courier who hands you the keys to your new car, that your rich uncle just bought for you. Your uncle deserves the acknowledgement and thanks, not the courier.
God “gives them (kingdoms) to anyone he chooses — even to the lowliest of people” affirms this principle. So whether you were elected the county dog catcher, or the President of the United States, God has lent you the office to test your stewardship. That’s not only an awesome opportunity, but it’s more importantly a sobering responsibility. You will be held accountable, not merely by the voters, but more importantly by God Almighty.
God is Testing Your Humility (or Pride)
In Daniel, we read about the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon and a powerful ruler of his day. But with that power, we also see a man who grew very proud. We read in Daniel 4:30 these words:
“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” (Daniel 4:30)
If ever there was a man who embodied the spirit of the “self-made” man, King Nebuchadnezzar was that man. Note how his power led to pride. (And we’ll find out in our next principle, what the king’s pride led to.)
It’s a very difficult task to resist the temptation of pride. Power and pride seem to go hand and hand. So as someone is elevated to a position of power, who was a “no one” or perhaps a “lesser one” before his election, it’s so easy to become prideful in that new found position. A politician can easily look at himself as important. As special. As above others. As privileged. As deserving.
But all those attitudes are not only false, they are Pride whispering lies to us. It’s incumbent on you as an elected official to resist such temptations, and rebuke those attitudes. But if you fail this test, you will soon experience the warning from Proverbs 16:18 where we’re told:
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”
How many politicians do you know that seem to struggle with pride? If we’re all honest though, this is a sin many of us have succumbed to in our own lives. So Mr/Ms Politician, resist this huge temptation that comes to all of us, but particularly those with power. If you don’t, you may find yourself experiencing the next principle.
Pride Leads to Bad Stuff
I suppose I could have been more “sophisticated” in describing this principle, but “bad stuff” really is the result of Pride in the life of an elected official. The prophet Daniel, who was also a high government official in King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, warned the King of what would occur if he took credit for “his” achievements versus ascribing any success to God. Note Daniel’s warning:
“You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses… King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” (Daniel 4:25, 27)
Sadly though, this is what occurred when Nebuchadnezzar refused to heed God’s warning, spoken through Daniel:
“…A voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’” (Daniel 4:31-32)
What a great fall King Nebuchadnezzar experienced! From the height of world power, to the lowliness of an animal — simply because he allowed the spirit of pride to rule in his life.
It’s uncanny, but should not be surprising, that 600 years later, Jesus, the Son of the Voice from heaven who spoke to Nebuchadnezzar, reminded us again of the repercussions of pride in our lives:
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
So be sure of this elected official. Pride will tempt you, but you can resist it in your live, and as you do, and take the less travelled path of humility, God will exalt you, according to Jesus, God’s Son.
Nebuchadnezzar’s own life is a reflection of this reality for when the king finally humbled himself and acknowledged the One who had exalted him to begin with, this is what the king had to say:
“After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” (Daniel 4:34, 36-37)
We’ve all heard of the “servant leadership” principle. It’s a teaching that’s hip these days, and often promoted in corporate entities. But long before motivational coaches latched onto this truth, Jesus had this to say about the role servant leadership should play in all of our lives, including elected officials:
“But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27)
Having been around elected officials for many, many years now, I have seen a spirit that is often anything but “servant leadership.” The head tables, the honored seats, and the best of everything is always reserved for politicians. And yet, the elite status most politicians enjoy is entirely at odds with their self-assigned title of “servants of the people.”
So if you were just elected and want to be different and break the political mold, what if you were to truly embrace the idea of “servant leadership” in your elected role? Perhaps one antidote against the pride that will lead to destruction and fall, is to simply commit oneself to truly being a servant in practice versus simply in words.
There are at least two reasons to do so. The first is because Jesus modeled such leadership and what better person to pattern our lives after than the Son of God? But there is another reason, and it has to do with future rewards:
“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)
God’s Elevating of An Individual Does NOT Suggest He Endorses That Individual
We often misunderstand God’s actions and choices, assuming that because He places certain individuals in positions of authority, that God must then endorse such an individual. This fallacy has been a huge stumbling block for Christians, particularly over the last couple years. But this could not be further from the truth, as taught throughout Scripture.
God elevates individuals to positions of authority for several reasons including 1) to achieve God’s greater Plan, 2) to test that individual, 3) to punish, test, or refine those who are under the ruler’s authority, or some other purposes. We cannot always be certain of God’s reasons, but we can know this:
“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
We also know that at times God will even elevate evil or immoral rulers to achieve His greater Plan. But when that Plan is achieved, God will discard the ruler, when he does not turn to God and acknowledge His sovereignty. The examples of the numerous kings of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament are an affirmation of this principle, as God used both good and evil kings to continue to advance His objectives. But as soon as God finished with an immoral ruler, God always discarded him.
So the lesson any elected official should learn from this truth, is that God’s selection of you for the office you now hold, is not necessarily an endorsement of you, your political solutions, ambitions, or even your character. Rather, He has placed you there for His purposes. So it’s incumbent on every elected official to ask these questions:
“Why did God elevate me? What does He want to achieve through me? How can I best serve God in this capacity? Am I ready to give account to Him for my actions in my current position?”
All these questions require one particular attitude which we referenced earlier: Humility.
In closing, I trust as you assume the new office or term, which you have been given for a brief moment, that you will ponder these truths from God’s Word. I trust you will acknowledge Whom it is that elevated you, that you will remain humble, that you will truly model servant leadership, and that you will never assume that God endorses all you do, simply because He has granted you this position of authority.
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate when He, as the Son of God, stood before the government official who had been lent the power of life or death:
“Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” (John 19:11)
So if your authority is given to you by God Himself, then this should be your response:
“What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Blessings to you as you move into what has often been portrayed as “The Swamp.” But in reality, it may be your greatest opportunity and responsibility to:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
(If you know an elected official, and agree with this message, would you forward this to him/her?)
Oftentimes in life, the values we claim to hold are tested in ways that may not always be apparent. But when those tests come, it may reveal that the values we lay claim to, are often not the ones we put into practice. (Sadly, I know this to be true in my life all too often, when I’m honest enough to acknowledge it.)
This truth has been playing out in our community for the last couple weeks in a way that perhaps you’ve never fully considered. The issue at hand is an effort by TVA to “appropriate” private land for its “greater” use. For those who are not familiar, TVA is a nearly 90 year old federal agency that provides electricity to nine million customers across seven states, and operates annually with a multi-billion dollar budget.
Red Line is proposed path of TVA line across Mr. Vital’s property
The controversy involves TVA seeking to extend an electrical service line across the land of a personal friend and local businessman, Greg Vital. Amongst Greg’s many business holdings is farmland in Georgetown Tennessee, which is home to his buffalo operation.
What is unknown by many is the fact that TVA purchased a parcel of land over a year ago. Their plan at the time targeted Mr. Vital’s property as the route to extend their power lines across, to reach their newly purchased parcel. But only in the last couple weeks did TVA finally inform the public, including Mr. Vital, of their plans to appropriate his land for their proposed project.
If ever there was a David vs Goliath battle, this is it.
At a public meeting this last week, I had the opportunity to meet with several TVA representatives to ask questions as well as express my objections to the manner in which they had contrived their plans. While the TVA reps were pleasant, it was clear that they were less than forthcoming with some of their answers.
The concept of eminent domain is one that most Americans are familiar with, but it’s likely the majority of us have seldom been confronted with such a threat. To have an entity that is all-powerful, both economically and politically, confront the little guy, simply because he owns something they want, is an intimidating and often overwhelming struggle. But in such battles, Goliath is typically the victor and David more often than not walks away with a few stones in his pocket.
Most of us know the Golden Rule, and we would likely claim it as a guiding force in our lives.
“Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”
But there is sadly another rule that involves gold as well. It’s this one:
“He who has the gold, rules.”
These two “Golden Rules” are clashing head to head in the TVA controversy at hand.
Back to the meeting this last week though. As I was pressing the TVA folks about their proposed project, the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus, popped into my mind. So I asked them a simple question: “Are you a Christian?”
They replied “Yes.”
I then asked them if they believed in the Golden Rule as taught by Jesus, which teaches to treat others the way they wanted to be treated?
“Yes” was again their answer.
So I then asked, “Well, if you believe in the Golden Rule, does it only apply in your personal life? Or do you also believe it is a principle we should practice in our professional lives as well? Would you want someone to treat you the way you are proposing to treat Mr. Vital?”
Silence met my answer. I don’t know if the silence was because they truly did not know the answer, or if it was the reality that the rule they claimed to embrace was being violated by the agency for whom they worked.
As I pressed them further, I asked them if they would ever consider going onto their neighbor’s land with the intent of taking a portion of his land for their own personal use, particularly if that neighbor objected? Their answer was an obvious “NO” and it illustrated how at odds their personal beliefs were with the TVA plan they were supporting and leading.
It would be easy to blame this controversy on a multi-lettered government agency. But the truth is government agencies are made up of individuals. Each individual has his or her own set of values. If our values are deeply rooted, then they should surface in every area of our lives. So when we see the strategy of “appropriating” the property of others via eminent domain (another word for theft), and then that strategy is hidden for over a year (another word for deception), one must wonder what values drive the TVA employees who are overseeing and approving of such strategies? Can they profess their personal dedication to the Golden Rule, integrity, and transparency, while ignoring or contradicting those values professionally?
There’s a story in the Old Testament that deals with eminent domain and it involves King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. This husband and wife pair were two evil peas-in-a-pod and they regularly defied God and His values throughout their lives. One day Ahab wanted to purchase a plot of land from a local farmer. But the man did not want to sell it. So, Ahab’s wife used the most extreme kind of eminent domain. Jezebel had the farmer killed and then gave his land to her husband, King Ahab. Ahab got what he wanted while the citizen not only lost his land but also his life. But that very day God pronounced a fateful judgement on both Ahab and Jezebel. (Read I Kings 21)
Of course, no one is accusing TVA of threatening an American citizen with loss of life. But there is no question that TVA is conniving to take the personal property of an American citizen.
America’s forefathers each pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to defend the values of liberty and personal property. When a government agency uses eminent domain, secrecy, and deception to secure private land from an unwilling party, there is no greater threat to the values for which our founding fathers fought.
I’ve often heard it said by critics of biblical conservatives that they should check their values at the doors when they leave their church or personal residence. But this debacle at TVA should teach us otherwise. If we claim certain values are deeply rooted convictions, then they should flow over into every area of our lives. Otherwise these values are merely preferences and have little affect in guiding our behavior in all scenarios.
So time will tell which Golden Rule prevails in the “TVA vs Vital” matter. Will it be the rule taught by Jesus, or the one too many of the elite of our world love to impose on their neighbors, the power of force and intimidation to gain what the one with the gold desires?
If you want to remain informed or be a part of the solution, you can go to Facebook and Like the Page “Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms” to get regular updates on this ongoing battle.
Have you ever found yourself in a deep cavern or in a valley surrounded by mountains? If so, you’ve probably played the echo game, where you shout loudly and hear your returning echo. We’ve all done it. And what we hear back is exactly what we yelled.
Nothing new. Nothing extraordinary. Just the same message we uttered moments earlier.
Imagine for a minute though that listening to your echo was the only form of communication in which you engaged. Not only would your subject matter be limited and grow redundant over time, but you would never learn anything new. The content of your echo would be limited to the extent of your own knowledge and understanding. Soon your mind would begin to atrophy from the lack of new knowledge or truths. I call this the Echo Chamber syndrome.
As I observe our society, and have pondered my own behavior at times, I have seen Echo Chambers dominating our culture, often amplified on social media. They are formed based on one’s ideological, political or religious views. Our nation has become so divided that we have segregated ourselves into subgroups whose values, views and perspectives are seldom at odds with our own.
This Echo Chamber syndrome reveals several truths which are not only alarming, but are contributing to an increasingly divided and hostile culture.
1. Echo Chambers eliminate the potential for any outside ideas or solutions. We already know that yelling in a cavern returns the precise message as the one you uttered. So if you’re looking for new ideas or solutions to the problems you are facing, you will get none. Instead, the solutions within your Echo Chamber will be limited by your own ideological perspectives. Perhaps you’re ok with that, thinking that those outside your little tribe couldn’t possibly offer anything of value. But if you possess that view, then you have just validated the next truth about Echo Chambers.
2. Echo Chambers are elitist in nature and pose the ultimate example of arrogance and superiority. As I’ve engaged with folks on both sides of the ideological fence, including conservatives and liberals. I’ve found that they share very similar attitudes. First, they believe their perspectives are superior to all others. Period. No other view counts. Second, folks on both sides of the ideological fence view anyone outside their belief system with skepticism and disdain. Third, they posit that those who are outside the confines of their little chamber are inferior and not even worth getting to know. It’s as if the other side has a contagious disease and we must not have any contact with them, at least not in the context of an engaging dialogue. But that attitude leads to the next truth about Echo Chambers.
3. Echo Chambers reject the idea that we can “reason together” and find areas of common ground. Individuals who spend their lives in an Echo Chamber indirectly affirm the idea that sharing time with those who have differing views is hazardous to one’s own ideology. They believe that there is no common ground with millions of individuals on the “other side.” Period. So why waste one’s time even attempting to do so? But embracing this flawed thinking leads to another sad truth of Echo Chambers.
4. Echo Chambers discourage the forging of new relationships with those outside our little network. If conversations foster relationships, which in turn grow trust, there is no wonder that our nation is so divided. The mistrust is at an alarming level. And yet, there is a rather simple solution to breaking down those walls of distrust. Conversations. And no I’m not talking about everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Conversations can oftentimes expose areas of absolute disagreement, but, if done in a respectful manner, simply having the dialogues can increase respect for each other. As that occurs, relationships begin to form. But without relationships, this next reality of an Echo Chamber, perhaps the saddest, will prevail.
5. Echo Chambers are completely ineffective for sharing truth to those without the truth. If you believe you have the truth, whether it is the political ideology you embrace, or even the spiritual faith you practice, there is no greater way to hide that truth than to remain in an Echo Chamber. Those in your little chamber already have the truth as you see it. And so to remain in your little tribe results in many others never coming to know the truth. This verse in Scripture reminds me of this reality: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15) If you want your truth to be heard, then get outside your Echo Chamber and share it with those who have yet to hear or understand it.
I can already hear some saying, “yeah but the ideas of the other side are not only wrong, they are dangerous.” For a moment let’s assume that is correct. The “other side” is no doubt comprised of a few leaders and many followers. It’s likely that the leaders are incapable of changing their dogma. But the followers are less assured and may be willing to entertain sound arguments, particularly if they are presented in a safe and engaging dialogue, that is shared within a growing relationship. Those followers will never hear your truth if you regurgitate your message in your little Echo Chamber.
So for the sake of expanding your understanding of truth, and your own mental growth, I encourage you to exit your Echo Chamber. Begin making a difference by developing relationships that are based on mutual respect and honest dialogue. As you do this, I believe it can break down the walls that have served to divide us all. And who knows, you may even find that your perspectives were not so flawless after all.
If you’ve ever played checkers, the card game Old Maid, baseball, or watched a sporting event, there is one basic fact that applies to all these games. In order to win, you must know the rules. If you don’t and your opponent does, you will certainly lose.
If you’re playing checkers, a loss generally means very little. But if you’re a coach in the finals of the AFC Championship, you’d better study the rules and know them well, or it could cost you a trip to the Super Bowl.
Since we were toddlers, we’ve learned that our world turns on rules. Some fair. Others not. But they are rules that must be followed.
April 15 is a day that involves rules that all Americans follow. The IRS, the agency that most Americans love to hate, has a rule book exceeding 70,000 pages long, many that reward the wealthy, special interests and lobbyists. Yet we all abide by the rules. It doesn’t matter that we don’t like them. We play by the IRS’ rules or else…
Of course, if we don’t like our nation’s tax rules, there is a process in place to change them, but complaining about them will accomplish little or nothing.
This 2016 Presidential election cycle is like everything else in life, there are rules that apply. Many of those rules have been in place for years, some even 150+ years. One such rule is the requirement that the Republican nominee must garner a majority of the states’ delegates, or 1,237 delegates.
Like many election cycles, 2016 has been contentious, to say the least. But unlike other cycles, Donald Trump, in tandem with the media, has not only hurled jabs at his opponents but he has, in the midst of the contest, begun to complain about the rules, citing that the system is rigged.
Trump has constantly complained and whined about the Republican party rules, demanding that they be ignored or revised to his benefit. But when was the last time you heard a NFL coach demanding that the rules be changed, in the middle of the Super Bowl, while the game is actually being played?
As I’ve thought about Trump’s droning on and on about the rules, how unfair they are, and his demand that they immediately be ignored or changed for his benefit, I’ve realized that Trump is displaying all of these four classic signs of a whiner:
A person often loses because he fails to prepare or develop a strategy to win. Winning consistently doesn’t just happen by accident. Rather winning is a planned event. No doubt you’ve heard that when someone fails to plan, they plan to fail. Strategy requires many components including brilliance and hard work. A team cannot simply waltz onto the gridiron, proclaim they are the champions, and then expect the trophy. Yet, apparently Trump believes that he can come up with a fancy slogan, sell baseball caps, fill stadiums, tweet 24/7, and then be crowned the Republican nominee. Sorry Donald, if you desire the most powerful position in the world, it requires more than just a glitzy PR campaign and some worn out cliches.
Even if someone were to hand a person a winning strategy, a person or team’s incompetence will lead to failure. We see people fail frequently because they simply don’t know what they are doing. There is no question that Donald Trump is a public relations expert. His ability to whip up a crowd, and play the media like a fiddle, is extraordinary. But his incompetence when it comes to understanding the rules of the game has been extraordinary. Time and time again Donald and his team have dropped the ball or have been beaten in the process of gaining delegates at conventions and caucuses. He’s like a football team who plays their heart out during the first half, runs up a lead, but then fails to show up to play in the second half. Donald’s incompetence has been shocking and reveals some insights into what a Trump Presidency would look like, and it’s not pretty.
“Pride goes before a fall.” This truth is seen over and over in life, sometimes even in our own personal experience. Sadly, arrogance is a trait that is oftentimes exhibited by individuals who have had some degree of success. And there’s no doubt that Donald Trump has experienced extraordinary success by some standards. But achieving success at one point does not automatically guarantee the next win. In fact, when arrogance enters into the equation, failure is soon to follow. And Trump’s attitude regarding the rules is pure arrogance.
Have you ever noticed that many of our nation’s elite assume that the rules don’t apply to them? Whether it’s Congress exempting themselves from laws that the rest of us have to live with or it’s Donald Trump demanding that rules that have applied to dozens of Presidential candidates over the decades be changed or ignored for him, elites believe they are exempt from rules that others must follow. While this borders with arrogance, it is worse because the elitist not only believes he is special, he believes you and I are inferior to him.
One final thought about Trump and the rules. It has been ironic that Trump has never complained about those rules that seem to benefit him such as the scenario where he only garnered 32% of the vote in South Carolina but won 100% of the delegates because of the state’s winner take all rules. Despite this reality, I have yet to hear one of the other Presidential candidates cry “foul” because Trump received three times as many delegates from a percentage standpoint as he did in the popular vote.
So at the end of the day, we see Trump whining about the rules only when his strategy fails or his incompetence shows. And it’s then that his arrogance and elitist disposition surfaces, which should be a huge sign that this man is not ready for prime time or worthy of the Oval Office.
Credit: Trump caricature courtesy of DonkeyHokey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/22868475614/