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Your Vote. Just One More Test

Your Vote. Just One More Test

All of life is a test. From the first moments of creation, God gave Adam an infinite number of wholesome choices, and only one restriction: “you shall not eat…” This was man’s first test. Likewise, today you and I face numerous choices that confirm that God still uses tests. These tests prove to us, to others, and to Him, what it is we believe, we trust, and we value. Will we choose right?  And how do we even know what is right?  Read on… 

As we approach another election season, there perhaps is no greater encapsulation of what you and I value, what we embrace, and what we trust, than how we will vote, or whether we will even vote at all. This is the subject I’d like to briefly address via four biblical principles.  

🔹God Elevates 

— “God controls the course of world events; He removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.” Daniel 2:21 

— “It is God alone who judges; He decides who will rise and who will fall.” Psalms 75:7

No political leader/ruler is ever elevated to their position unless God desires or allows for him/her to be. There is nothing any voter can do, or not do, that can thwart God’s will in this regard. The Bible is abundantly clear about this truth. It is God that elevated Obama as well as Trump, and every President before them.  Once we understand this truth we’ll understand that it was not any one person’s vote for, or against, Trump (as I did by selecting a third party four years ago) that was the ultimate reason for the outcome in 2016.  Your vote will not thwart God’s preordained plan, and the man He will place in the Oval Office in 2021.  

🔹”We the People” are not sovereign  

— “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21 

Sadly, Americans have come to believe the deception that we are our own sovereign masters and that it is “we the people” who control elections and our destiny. This has led to a grossly mistaken belief system, particularly amongst those who claim to be followers of Jesus and the Bible. It has led us to believe that we can know God’s political will, and that God is just waiting on us to determine the outcome of an election. So it leads activists to embrace political activism because, without such, they believe their future is dire.  

But as the verse above affirms, you can make all sorts of plans, and you could even rally millions to vote for your preferred candidate, but there is no overriding God’s purpose. It will prevail. Does this mean you should not vote?  That’s up to you to decide, based on what Scripture informs. But should you obsess over a political campaign?  Absolutely not. Sadly though, we only need to peruse the headlines, the rallies, and social media, to see that millions of professing followers of Jesus are in fact obsessing over this current political season and their preferred candidate, whether Trump or Biden.  

🔹The “Vote” test  

— “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 

At the end of the day, our singular vote is not about “electing” someone but more importantly it reveals what is in our hearts and what we value the most. I have come to understand that our vote is merely a test, nothing more and nothing less. It’s highly possible one might be led to refrain from voting, whether for a season, or even permanently. But, if you feel led to vote, will your vote honor God, and the values He teaches, or will your vote value something lesser, even if the end which your vote seems to achieve might appear to justify the means?   

This I believe is the greatest test for believers living in a system that lures them to believe that they are in control. Nothing could be further from the Truth. The enemy is a master of deception and he has done one of his best con jobs when it comes to the role evangelicals believe they are to play in any election.  Does our vote honor Jesus?  Do we glorify God in the way we vote or do we simply achieve a short term win? Further, do we believe we can bend what we claim to believe, in order to “help” God gain a “victory.”   

🔹The “End Justifies the Means” Deception 

As short-sighted, temporal minded creatures, it’s easy to justify our actions, regardless of how contrary to God and His clear principles they might be. Sadly, we can seldom see when we have succumbed to an “end justifies the means” philosophy. But the approach to voting and elections by many Christians in America is a prime example of such a philosophy.  

There is a story in 1 Samuel 15 about the first king of Israel that reveals how wrong it is to justify bad choices based on a self-determined “good” outcome that might be orchestrated. King Saul had been commanded to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek, including not just the people, but also the “cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys.”  

But Saul did not completely obey God. While he destroyed the people, note that the king preserved what he deemed would benefit himself and his people: 

— “Saul and his men spared (King) Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.” 1 Samuel 15:9

But when the prophet Samuel confronted the King about his obvious disobedience to God’s command, Saul easily justified his actions as follows: 

— “When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!” “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded. “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”” 1 Samuel 15:13-15 

So Saul blatantly disobeyed God, and was even proud of it. When confronted about it, Saul justified his disobedience by suggesting He was honoring God with his rebellious actions. Samuel however did not accept Saul’s flimsy excuse for his disobedience. Rather, the godly prophet had this to say: 

— “But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”” 1 Samuel 15:22-23

Finally, only after Samuel’s bold reproof did King Saul admit the following:  

— “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.” 1 Samuel 15:24 

So clearly, while Saul would have achieved what he believed to be a “good” outcome through his disobedience (sacrifices to God), God was testing Saul to see if the king would simply obey God.  Sadly Saul failed the test, and Samuel called his disobedience rebellion and stubbornness, suggesting his sin was as bad as witchcraft and worshipping idols.  Clearly an “end justifies the means” mentality was not only wrong, it ultimately cost Saul the kingdom, and his life. 

🔹Conclusion 

There is much more we could write and learn from Scripture relating to our vote, but I hope the above four principles are thought provoking as you mail in your ballot, or walk into the voting booth during this election season.   

So remember, God does not need your vote or mine. Rather, He wants us to simply obey clear Scriptural principles rather than our trying to “help” Him.  When we obey God, even when it contradicts our “common sense” and peers, we demonstrate our trust in God and His sovereignty.  But to obey Him requires that we study His Word, to discover what it has to say about what we should value, and how we should or should not vote. Rather than preserving a temporal nation with our vote, we are called to glorify God, not align with evil, and trust God above all else, even when following God might result in a short term political “loss.” 

— “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” Ephesians 5:10-11 

— “Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?” Isaiah 2:22  

— “What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 31:1 

— “He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 

— “But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17 NLT 

— “Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” Jeremiah 42:6 

Hagerty v Sethi:  Who to Vote For?

Hagerty v Sethi: Who to Vote For?

Once again election season is upon us.  While America is already deeply divided between blue and red, democrats and republicans, Trump and non-Trumpers, these various factions are finding themselves even further divided as they squabble over who to vote for in the upcoming the primaries. 

As has been the case for more than a decade, I’ve been getting asked about who I might recommend in some of the races.  In the past, I tended to have strong opinions about who was the “better” or “right” candidate and I was never hesitant to share when asked.  This year is different, for a number of reasons.  But that’s for a separate and upcoming post. 

In Tennessee there are a couple men who are running to replace Senator Lamar Alexander:  Bill Hagerty and Manni Sethi.  I have many good friends who are staunch Hagerty supporters. And perhaps an equal number of vocal supporters for Sethi.  There are no doubt points that each group of supporters could make to elevate their guy and throw stones at his opponent.   

When I see people do this though, I’m completely turned off.  So many politicians, and their supporters as well, act as if the only way to win is to trash not only the other guy, but they also must lob bombs at the supporters of the guy as well.  We’ve all heard the saying that we should  disagree without being disagreeable.  If there was a time when we need to show mercy and grace to others, it’s today. 

In most primaries, while the candidates may attempt to illustrate the differences between themselves, at the end of the day, when they go to Washington, it’s unlikely they will vote that much differently from each other, particularly these days.  As the battle lines have drawn deeper and deeper in our nation, and between democrats and republicans, we have seen that both parties more often than not vote as a bloc.  It’s as if there is little to no individuality.   

Washington is basically just two big machines.  A blue one.  And a red one.  And those machines gobble up the members of their party, demanding absolute fidelity.   

So, if you are listening to the policy differences of Hagerty and Sethi, it’s unlikely anything they say will matter, since the party will ultimately dictate how they vote.  I know even as I write this that many will want to take issue with my perspective here.  And if so, that’s fine.  This is the conclusion I have come to after a couple of decades of political activism and engagement.  Of course there are exceptions, but as a rule, this is the case.   

So, if you’re asking me who you should vote for, Hagerty or Sethi, my answer may surprise you.  I have personal feelings about both men, and have found myself leaning in one direction.  But at the end of the day, and after much study and writing on the topic of voting, there is a greater principle at play than simply who I will vote for.  While you and I may vote for a candidate, there is a greater Power who holds the final sway in who will win.  Yes, God ultimately will determine who will win, since His Word is clear in passage after passage, and story and story, that God: 

“… controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” Daniel 2:21 

Interestingly enough, Jesus affirmed this same principle moments before His crucifixion when He declared to Pilate, the appointed Roman ruler, that: 

“You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” John 19:11 

Notice that Jesus said that Pilate’s power, his position, was not given to him by Rome, but rather from above.  So likewise, while you may think that your vote is effectively electing the next Senator of Tennessee, there is a greater One who holds sway over the outcome.  While you and I may not fully understand this concept, it is true nonetheless.   

So you may ask, then what’s the use in voting if God’s going to decide?  I believe there are several reasons we should vote, which I intend to answer before the November election via a separate article. But one reason is simply because we are called to be stewards of the resources God gives us.  So when you vote, it’s not about electing someone, but it’s about honoring God and trusting Him with the outcome.  Truthfully, if you fully understand and embrace this Truth, it will totally free and transform your mind, and you’ll no longer fret over the outcome of an election.  

So vote your conscience.  Vote for the guy you feel led to.  But respect the other guy who will vote for your guy’s opponent.  And don’t sweat the outcome.  There’s Someone who can see the heart of both men, He knows the end from the beginning, and every day in between, and He knows the right guy to elevate at this time.  Trust Him, even when you may not understand, or agree, with Him. 

Why Jesus Did Not Seek to Change the Political

Why Jesus Did Not Seek to Change the Political

Politics. It is deeply divisive, even amongst family and friends, including God’s family. Even these fallible thoughts on my part could be divisive, although they are not shared in order to do such.  

So why do I share them?  I suppose it may be the same reason you share yours. Because we both think that our thoughts have merit. And they do, both yours and mine. But ultimately, I want thoughts to not merely be human-inspired, but God-aligned, both yours and mine.  

So recently, as I was reading The Book, Jesus’ words jumped off the page of Scripture when He said this: 

“Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”” John 18:36 

Before we analyze the thoughts above, let’s set the context. Jesus, the very Creator of all there is, including what we see and don’t see (earthly kingdoms and rulers as well), was standing before an earthly ruler, Pontius Pilate. This governor was no spotless man. He was ruthless, corrupt and evil. A few weeks earlier, Jesus had commented about Pilate killing some Jews worshipping in the Temple (Luke 13:1), but notice that Jesus did not render an opinion about what was likely a ruthless act by a guilty ruler. (But that’s a whole separate discussion.) 

So here Jesus is, standing before a miserable man. Think for a minute of the most immoral American President in your mind. Pilate was worse.  

Now consider that the God of the universe is being judged by this man, and God does not delve into a litany of accusations or pronouncements about Pilate’s sins and evil actions. Rather, Jesus (God in the flesh) simply bears witness to the Truth, to a power that is greater than any earthly one. Jesus simply points Pilate to that which is this man’s only Hope and Salvation: Truth itself, as Jesus asserted of Himself previously (“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”) 

Now, back to the statement Jesus made to Pilate, when the Roman governor asked Jesus why he was being put on trial.  

Jesus simply answered with these facts: 

  1. My Kingdom is not an earthly one
  2. If it were, my followers would fight an earthly battle on earthly terms
  3. Again, My Kingdom is not of this world

So Jesus had the ultimate opportunity, to simply educate Pilate and all the hypocritical religious leaders observing this kangaroo court, about His rights, His authority, and His greater power.  But Jesus had an even greater audience than those in attendance that day at His death sentencing. The entire Christian world for the next 2,000 years would read and witness how Jesus responded to an unjust ruler and religious establishment. And what did Jesus do? 

Jesus humbled Himself to the temporal earthly powers, that could never transform the heart. And instead, Jesus pointed billions of men and women since that day, including you and me, to a greater calling: to The (eternal) Kingdom versus a (temporal) kingdom. The former offers heart transformation. The latter offers little to nothing, except possibly political frustration, feuding, dissension, and heartache.  

But this is not the end of the story. The first followers (the disciples who became apostles and the Founding Fathers of our Faith) learned well the lesson Jesus taught in that brief exchange with Pilate. They finally understood that there was no need to fret over their earthly rulers, or to dedicate their hopes and dreams to establishing a government to their personal liking. Rather, they committed their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to the only Constitution that truly mattered, the living Word of God. And for the rest of their days on this little temporal globe, they resisted the temptation to go back to their former lives where they grumbled about the political realities of their day. In place of that, they pursued the spiritual Truths that Jesus had taught them, and lived before them, for three years.  

And the rest is history. We don’t have a record of a great government that was established by these men. Nor do we have an example of kingdom victories and great political movements. But we do have a record of a world transformed through a simple message, and strategy: 

Share the gospel, one life at a time.  And as the heart is transformed, souls are saved for eternity, marriages are healed, families are reunited, communities reinvigorated, and at times, entire nations are awakened (if God wills). 

But it starts with “The Kingdom” instead of a kingdom. And it results in permanent transformation, in place of short-term “wins” that are quickly lost with the next political skirmish.  

So, if you ask me, perhaps this is the lesson Jesus was teaching as His life hung in the balance. He could have “won” the political battle that day, but an entire world would have lost. So He challenged us to: 

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33 

When Violence in America Was Affirmed & Praised:  Understanding & Solving Racial Injustices

When Violence in America Was Affirmed & Praised: Understanding & Solving Racial Injustices

One man’s violent anti-government protests

is another man’s just war. 

First, let me say I DO NOT condone the rioting and violence that is occurring across our nation, following the murder of George Floyd at the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin.  As someone who values that Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” I believe there are other ways we must respond, even in the face of gross injustice.  But I also understand that not everyone embraces Jesus’ teachings or His example in this regard, and even if we do, we can all become overwhelmed at gross injustice and feel like our only responses to such are protests and/or violence. 

Last night I broke a long standing rule I placed in effect several years ago, and I watched the news for a couple hours, viewing the rioting and protests Live as they were happening.  In the two cities I watched, Washington DC and NYC, the vast majority of the protesters/agitators were WHITE, not black.   

As I watched the rioting, one announcer made the point that our nation’s founding flowed out of the violent responses of its citizens to unjust laws by its government.  Most white Americans celebrate and applaud our nation’s founding fathers who rejected authority, and fought back, violently, to protest and overthrow an unjust government.  The Boston Tea Party was one such rebellion. I should note that the organization I founded eleven years ago in Chattanooga, took its name from that act of rebellion and violence. 

When I led the Chattanooga Tea Party for nearly a decade (which I no longer do, and I no longer consider the Tea Party movement to represent me), I and other leaders often took solace in these words that were integral to our nation’s founding: 

“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…reduces them under absolute despotism,  it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government…”

While our organization, and none of the other liberty movements I was associated with, ever took up arms, or resorted to violence, I can assure you that there were many in the movement who were more than prepared to resort to violence had the government stepped across an imaginary line.  If you doubt this, then explain why it was that gun purchases were skyrocketing during those years?  The consistent interpretation that conservatives held was that the 2nd Amendment was not for hunting or sporting but was to protect oneself from a wayward and unjust government.  Let’s also not ignore the fact that even now in 2020, white men armed with assault rifles and other threatening armament have recently been marching into state capitols around our nation.   

But back to violence in our protests.  Let me reiterate that I do not condone or agree with the violence we are seeing erupt across our nation.  As a Christian, I believe we are called to love, peace, and humility, and when others persecute us, our response should be identical to that of Jesus, and the twelve apostles.  None of us will ever be as violently persecuted as the Founding Fathers of Christianity (where all but one were martyred for their faith; that is the most extreme form of prejudice one can imagine).  And yet, not one of them responded violently.  This is the model every follower of Jesus should strive to emulate in our lives.  It’s a high bar, which I struggle with personally, in the face of injustices.   

As we watch and condemn what is going on, what would we have said if we were viewing the protests at the Boston Tea Party?  While there are significant differences between the two, there are also many similarities, including injustices by those in authority and with power.  So ask yourself, “What would I have done or said, if I was alive on December 16, 1773, viewing the violence of the Boston Tea Party?  Would I have condemned it or embraced it?  Would I have participated in it?”  Today, most Americans praise this act of violence and rebellion, that destroyed a million dollars worth of property. 

My intent for sharing these thoughts is not to provoke anger or incite emotions.  Rather, it is to challenge us to stop and think; to put ourselves in the shoes of others.   

When we judge a person simply by their external actions, we either condemn them or we embrace them, based on the cause they are fighting for.  If their protests and even violence affirm our worldview, then we gladly applaud them.  However, if their protests and violence are at odds with anything we’ve ever experienced, then it’s likely we will condemn them and find cause to belittle and hold them in contempt. 

If we are white Americans, it’s likely we’ve never felt that our life was hanging in the balance when we were pulled over in our cars by a police officer.   But many of my African American brothers and sisters have always carried such fear with them.  But not only is that fear for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren also.  Thankfully, I’ve never known that fear personally, or for my children. But it grieves me to realize that millions of our citizens do, primarily because of their skin color. 

Think about that.  Then consider that there have been a “long train of abuses” in the eyes and experiences of our black brothers and sisters.  Their life is not ours.  So until we can figuratively place ourselves in their shoes, we cannot fully comprehend the struggle, the outrage, and the deep rooted hurts they feel each time another man with black skin dies, whether at the hands of someone in uniform, or by a white man in the back of a pickup truck, or a false accusation is called in to 9-1-1. 

So what are the solutions to this existential threat to not only the future of our nation, but more importantly to the relationships we should seek to grow with those who are different than us? 

The Heart 

I believe first and foremost the solution is Spiritual.  The center of this struggle is not in the streets of Minneapolis or other cities, but rather in the center of our beings: Our Heart.  God says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” 

Even now, it’s possible that your response to my meager thoughts is one of outrage or rejection or condemnation.  If so, I believe its possible your heart is deceiving you.  Within each of us lies the potential to deceive ourselves into believing the problem is “the other guy; it’s not me.”  If that’s my response, I am deceived.   

Jesus said in John 8:7 “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  He also said in Matthew 7:5 “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” 

The point is, introspection is needed, first and foremost.  What part have I played, overtly or covertly, in contributing to injustices in our community or nation?  If you say none, then I applaud you and I would suggest you write a book so we can all learn from you. And there is no need to read further.  But if you feel any need to continue to examine yourself, here’s what I would suggest is next. 

Because the heart, the inner core of our being, is deceitful and wicked, we must regularly cleanse it.  This cannot be done overnight but requires a continuous effort to transform what is natural (those responses that are wrong) to the unnatural (those responses that are Christ-like).  The only way to do this is through a consistent time in God’s Word.  We read this in Romans 12:2: 

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” 

The Behavior 

As we begin to transfuse our minds with the healing power of God’s Word, our values, thoughts and behavior will be transformed.  Recently I read a short Bible Plan in the Bible app entitled “How to Love People You Disagree With” and it included these thoughts: 

What if… 

   … we exhibited patience? 

   … chose not to be offended? 

   … we quit taking everything so personally? 

   … we changed the degrading way we talk to others? 

   … we focused on what we did have in common? 

   … we chose the big picture? 

And I’ll add, what if we “loved our neighbor as ourselves?” which Jesus reminded us is the second greatest commandment.  These are a few of the fundamental behavior changes we must pursue. 

The Shoes 

Nearly a year ago, God led my path to cross with someone I had known for years, but never developed a close relationship with.  Ternae Jordan is an African American pastor in Chattanooga whom God intentionally brought me to, so that God could begin to incorporate the above principles in my life.  As we’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours together since last summer, my heart has softened as I’ve been able to, in a small way, “walk in his shoes.” Beginning to realize and better understand the dreams, hopes, fears, and frustrations that my brother and his family and friends experience, has softened my heart, and changed my thoughts.  I’m eternally grateful for Ternae, and as I think of what God has begun in our lives, I’m reminded of this verse:  

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 

Summary 

In closing, while the solutions are not that complicated, they are also not that easy.  Cleansing our heart (seeking forgiveness and transforming what we think and believe), changing how we habitually behave and respond, and walking in someone else’s shoes, none of these are natural.  But the history of our nation reveals that what is natural is not working.  So perhaps if followers of Jesus across this land began to pursue supernatural answers to the age old scourge of racism and prejudice, we might begin to see a mighty work of God in our midst.  And as we do, I’m hopeful that God will bring about healing and unity, to what has been hurt and division for more than 200 years.

Addendum: Verses to consider as we seek to “Love our neighbor as ourselves:” 

  • “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” James 2:1 
  • “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35 
  • “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 
  • “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Romans 12:14 
  • “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 
  • “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 
  • “Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” 1 Corinthians 13:6 
  • “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:9-10 
  • “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:4 
  • “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:22-23 
Weather Forecasts, National Threats & Signs of the Times

Weather Forecasts, National Threats & Signs of the Times

I was recently reading an email from a friend of mine who was warning about the threat of Islam in America.  It caught my attention because for many years I too warned folks about the threat of radical Islam.  In fact, following an attack by a deranged Muslim in Chattanooga a few years ago, I personally organized an event that featured a prominent international expert on Islam.  That event drew over 400 individuals, garnered plenty of media attention and as you can imagine, created a fair amount of controversy as well.

My friend’s email went on to warn that “the hand writing is on the wall” with regard to the Islamist incursion into America’s government.  While I don’t disagree with the assessment in general, the “hand writing on the wall” took my mind to a verse I read a few days ago.  Jesus was speaking with His disciples when He shared this truth: 

“…You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.” Luke 12:56

It’s likely many Americans are well versed in interpreting the dozens of warning signs that have been apparent for decades now in our nation.  We see the threat of radical Islam, the pending repercussions of an exploding debt, the impact of a crumbling moral decline, the results of a failing educational system, along with the too many other obvious threats to mention here.  And these threats are all real, without question.  

But these threats, are merely signs of a much greater storm that is brewing — an eternal one.  While the aforementioned threats pose great danger to the future of a nation, and they have no doubt awakened the passion and activism of many to expose and defeat them, I question whether there are some greater signs, of eternal consequence, that we are missing or perhaps ignoring? 

I don’t assume that everyone who might read these thoughts will embrace the Bible, but I would venture to guess that many do.  So if this is true, I’m also reminded of the verse that asserts, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?”  Perhaps an amplification of this verse (which I believe is true based on numerous other passages) could be “What does it profit a man if he gains a nation, but loses the souls of his fellow citizens?”

As real as the threat of radical Islam is to our nation, the truth is that each Muslim has a soul.  God loves every one of them.  And God’s Son Jesus died for each Muslim.  For that matter, He died for each of us.  So as we may warn about the ideology of radical Islam, and its questionable history, (of which I am quite familiar), there is a greater sign that I believe Jesus was referencing when He warned His disciples.  (By the way, I’m reminded of a radical Jew who went about persecuting and killing Christians, until Jesus transformed his life and he became one of the most widely read authors in the New Testament, who we know as the Apostle Paul.)

There is nothing bad about being informed about today’s highs and tonight’s lows when it comes to our weather.  But the greatest value of forecasts is when a tornado or hurricane is bearing down on your home.  At that point, having the most relevant info to protect against such a storm, is of great value. 

Likewise, there is a spiritual storm brewing.  The eternal implications vastly exceed the temporal impact of the myriad of issues, many of them good, that can distract us from one day to the next.  But the truth is that the battle that is raging is for “all the marbles” and those “marbles” are the souls of men and women, not merely the future of a nation.  

I do not share these thoughts to judge or convict anyone who might read this, as they are written to me as much as to anyone else.  These are thoughts I have been thinking through for some time.  

Someday each of us will stand before our Creator to answer for the use of our time, treasure and talent.  Personally I must confess I’ve misused all three of these over the years.  So I have wondered if attempts to save a nation, will be impressive to God, or will He ask me and you, a different set of questions?

What about your neighbor?  Did you love him/her?  Did you share My truths with him?  Did you reach out to that one that you disagree with, but I died for?  Did you show him the love My Son expressed towards Him?  Did you love your enemies (as I instructed you to)?  Did you forgive your enemies, as Stephen did when he was being stoned to death by his enemies?

Only you can weigh whether these questions are valid.  Only you can evaluate what you believe to be the pressing “signs of the times” to which Jesus alluded.  But as you consider these thoughts, and evaluate the signs, I would encourage you to read the entire chapter of Luke 12 so as to gain the context within which Jesus warned His disciples about the “signs of the times.”  For me it was instructive to better understand just what Jesus was discussing.  

I look forward to any thoughts you might share as you consider my thoughts and this verse.  And may we all be like the sons of Issachar who we are told were men who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.”  (I Chronicles 12:32) 

A Message to Our Newly (Re)Elected Officials:  You Won! Now What?

A Message to Our Newly (Re)Elected Officials: You Won! Now What?

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) 

Servant Leadership 

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. 

Conclusion 

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?)