In January, we marked the end of a chapter in our lives with the sale of Liberty Ridge Ranch. Eight years ago Lori and I stumbled across a farm property that would become much more than just that, in the years to come. It’s funny how oftentimes we push on a door without fully comprehending what’s on the other side of that door. That was the case with the door God opened for us eight years ago.
One of my life’s verses when it comes to our businesses, and life in general, over the last few decades has always been:
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” Ecclesiastes 9:10
In the case of Liberty Ridge Ranch, it required a lot of hard work, and many folks helped us (including our faithful ranch hand Ken from day one), but the labor was so worth it. From an old horse barn, to a venue; from an abandoned cattle property to a number of lush pastures; from the dream of a few bison to a herd of as many as 32, with 12 more calves to be born this spring; from a little plot of land, to what a recent friend described as “a million dollar view.” But ultimately all the credit goes to God. He painted a beautiful masterpiece, with hundreds of majestic sunsets over the years.
It’s impossible to put to words what the last eight years have meant to Lori and me, and our family, but we are beyond grateful to God for His allowing us to steward the 125 acres we called Liberty Ridge Ranch.
While we no longer own Liberty Ridge Ranch, the memories will remain with us for the balance of our earthly years. And those memories include so many of you, in so many experiences over not just eight years, but actually many decades.
Now, we turn the page and look forward to whatever work God has for us on the other side of the next door. We have moved our family to Florida, and while we will miss TN, we’re excited to begin our next chapter. And to all our TN friends, it’s not good-bye… just “see y’all later” God willing.
“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
(Video courtesy of our realtor, Jay Robinson, who offered such an amazing service to us. We are so grateful to him and his entire team! First rate… all the way!)
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?)
As I was reading the story of Noah recently, a few verses jumped out at me as to why God used Noah to build the ark. Note what God had to say about this man, who would build the most famous boat ever, one that was much larger and more capable than the Titanic:
“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” Genesis 6:9
Imagine having the above said about you. But wait. There’s more:
“So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.” Genesis 6:22
When God saw all the evil that filled the earth, He gave Noah very specific instructions on what he should do to save his life, his family, and a remnant of God’s animal creation. Noah’s obedience was critical if they were all to be protected from the impending flood that would soon cover the entire earth.
Noah obeyed God. Period. But Noah’s obedience wasn’t just for a few weeks, or a year or two. Rather Noah’s obedience was for many decades, as Noah and his sons labored to build the vessel that would save their lives… and ultimately yours and mine. (Think about that for a minute. Aren’t you glad Noah was obedient?)
So you may be wondering, where does the rowboat come in to Noah’s story?
Well, God gave Noah an ark-sized mission, because the “master ship builder” had proven to God over time that he could be trusted, that he was “righteous and blameless.”
But what about you and me? Or maybe I should just say, what about me?
Is there a reason my mission hasn’t risen to the size of an ark, or even a yacht? Is it possible that God is still waiting for me to complete the mission of simply constructing a rowboat? I believe this may be true for many of us. Until we’ve proven ourselves as ready, reliable, or consistently obedient in the little things, we can only dream about building an ark.
God needs faithful servants first and foremost. And only then will He elevate the mission He has for us. The parable of the three servants that Jesus relays in the Gospels affirms the concept that connects increasing opportunities to faithful stewardship. The servant who proved he was capable to handle greater resources was given even more. Meanwhile, the servant who was unreliable was given less, and even had those resources eventually taken away altogether.
So, if you and I want to build an ark for God, we must first prove we can build the rowboat He’s asking us to tackle. And the only way we can build the rowboat is by simply obeying the Truth God has already revealed to us. When we do so, we will be given more.
So let’s go build a rowboat today. Who knows, maybe God will use our rowboat to simply save some folks who are struggling to keep from drowning in the lake of life. And if so, we will have served an eternal purpose for God.
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.’” Matthew 25:23
“My houses. My cars. My bank accounts. My businesses. My properties. They are all mine. I’m a self made man.”
These phrases are frequently referenced and even celebrated in America. We use them so routinely that it’s almost second nature. But truthfully, in the nation that prides itself on capitalism and entrepreneurship, it should come as no wonder.
But in an era that condemns #FakeNews and seeks #Truth, are these statements accurate? Are they true? Or is there something deeply misleading about them?
In my years of pursuing the “American Dream” and seeking a bigger house, faster cars, larger bank accounts, and more profitable businesses, I have come to understand that there is a truth to these pursuits that sadly too often escapes our understanding.
As I’ve taken time to ponder, research and seek the meaning of life as it relates to possessions, wealth and stewardship, the following key truths have become clearer to me.
Truth 1: It’s not yours or mine
The first truth is that you and I don’t own what we routinely call ours or “Mine.” That home, car, property, bank account, business, or fill in the blank, is not yours or mine. There is a higher Power and Authority to whom it all belongs. The same One who created the universe, and you and me, also entrusted you and me with the possessions we have that we call our own. There are so many references in the Scriptures that affirm this truth, but here are just a couple:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.The world and all its people belong to Him.” (Psalm 24:1)
“Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.” (1 Chronicles29:11-12)
Truth 2: The “self-made” man does not exist. There is no such man
The idea that a man makes himself, as in his achievements, possessions and such, and they are are all his own creation, and it is he who is solely responsible for them, is false. In fact, it is the epitome of arrogance and it’s highly disingenuous to ignore every other person and circumstance that came together to enable such a person to achieve and possess. But worse, the idea of a “self-made” man ignores the One who breathed into each of us the gifts, skills, intellect, and health, and orchestrated the right circumstances that led to what our culture defines as success.
There are numerous examples in Scripture that speak to the flawed concept of a “self-made” man but in Deuteronomy 8 we read this warning from God:
“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Truth 3: Gifts do not appear out of a vacuum
Along with the misunderstanding about someone being “self-made” is the idea that our unique giftedness is simply our own doing. It’s true that gifts can and should be cultivated, but they are initially embedded in us by a Power much greater than ourselves. Again, we see this truth playing out repeatedly in Scripture. For instance, when God led Moses to build the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant, God singled out a man named Bezalel to be responsible for all the work involving precious metals, gemstones, and woodwork and also appointed Oholiab to be his assistant. We read this about these two men:
“Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel… I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! I have personally appointed Oholiab… to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make.” (Exodus 31:2-6)
Truth 4: You and I will give account someday for all the assets that were placed within our control
Perhaps this is the most sobering truth of all, at least for me. Whether we acknowledge that God owns it all, or that a “self-made” man is a delusion, or that our gifts come from God, someday you and I will give account for all that God placed within our control. The bank accounts and every other tangible asset and intangible gifts that we have controlled or will control are being monitored by our Heavenly Father. We will give account to Him for how we have managed and stewarded them. This also includes our time.
When I personally think about this truth, I am greatly disheartened as I recognize the many times I have mismanaged God’s resources, finite ones that He entrusted to me. But this truth also compels me to not merely look backwards but more importantly to focus on what is ahead. I cannot change yesterday but I can impact today and tomorrow.
What about you? Do you recognize that someday you will be called to account for every asset that is within your control? And if so, does that cause you to reevaluate your actions and priorities, and how you are using the finite resources in your life?
One of my favorite stories from Scripture relating to the topic of Stewardship is the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew 25. The quick summary of the story is this.
A master goes away for some time but before he leaves he provides his three servants with funds to work with while he’s gone. To the first servant he gives five bags of silver; the second he gives two bags of silver; and the third he gives one bag. While the master is gone, the first and second servant get to work. When the master returns, they both doubled what the master gave them, with the first earning an additional five bags of silver and the second earning two more bags. Consequently, both servants are amply rewarded.
However, when the master calls the third servant forward, he is only able to return the original one bag of silver, having earned nothing for his master. The master rightly becomes very angry, takes away the one bag of silver that had been entrusted to him, and the third servant is severely punished.
So we come to understand that just like these servants, we are all given varying amounts of resources, but someday we will be required to account for everything that God gave us, whether a physical asset or an intangible gift, or even an opportunity or our time, that we may have squandered. Recognizing this truth should cause us to reevaluate our view of possessions, wealth and stewardship. And as you and I do this, I trust we will become the kind of stewards for whom our Master will someday say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”