Tag Archives: Politicians

Foolish Anxiety and Real Threats

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Nehemiah 1:3 (NIV)

The immigration of large people groups tend to happen in waves. The town of Pella, Iowa, where I live was founded by a group of Dutch immigrants in the 1800s. It happened, however, in waves. The first group arrived on the Iowa prairie in 1847 and began a settlement. They were the trailblazers. In his book Iowa Letters, Johan Stellingwerff, chronicles the letters sent back and forth between the first wave of settlers and their families back home who were still preparing to make the voyage:

“Dear Parents,

I write specially about the expenses of my journey…The journey from Borton, New York, or Baltimore is tiresom and damaging for freight because of reloading. It is better and cheaper via New Orleans…..

Hendrik Hospers

It is important for readers to understand that for the exiles returning to the city of Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon and Persia, the same is also true.

For many years, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book with two sections. They were authored by two different leaders of the waves of returning exiles. There were actually three waves of people who returned. The first was c. 538 BC led by Zerubbabel (the rebuilt Temple of Solomon is commonly referenced by historians as Zerubbabel’s Temple). Ezra led the next wave c. 458 BC. Nehemiah led the third c. 432 BC.

In today’s opening chapter of Nehemiah, the author records the word that came back to him from the returned exiles in Jerusalem. The news was not good. The walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city were burned and useless. It’s hard for us to appreciate the magnitude of this reality for the people of that time. Raiding armies were common among the many tribes and factions in the region. Plundering and pillaging were common and walls were an essential deterrent. The success of the exiles in their return and rebuilding of the city was in peril if there were no walls or gates to protect them from outside armies and/or raiding parties.

It may be hard to relate to everyday life in the 21st century, but the truth is that in life and in business, I find myself mindful of potential threats. There are threats of weather for which we must prepare our home and property. There is the threat of catastrophic life events against which we buy insurance for our health and lives.

Along my life journey, I have struggled to find the balance between being prepared for unexpected threats and being worried about them. I am more convinced than ever that I live in a culture in which politicians, media, special interest groups, and corporations peddle a non-stop stream of fear and apocalyptic predictions, which in turn create human reactions in large numbers of people, which in turn leads to clicks, views, ads, votes, sales, revenues, and etc. Wisdom is required.

Yesterday, among our local gathering of Jesus followers I was reminded that the Kingdom of God is not in trouble.

Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to my wife, my family, my employees, and my loved ones. There is wisdom in taking honest stock of potential threats that could seriously affect our well-being, and to take realistic precautions. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city had burned down, he was not motivated by unrealistic fear but by wisdom with regard to very real threats to his loved ones and his people. Two previous waves of exiles had failed to address a very real threat to their existence, and Nehemiah immediately knows that something must be done.

As I begin this new day and this new work week, I find myself asking for wisdom in discerning between fear-mongering, foolish anxiety, and real threats.

The Trump Card on the Other Side of the Table

source: cutenessareej via Flickr
source: cutenessareej via Flickr

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
    no one who does what is right and never sins.

This only have I found:
    God created mankind upright,
    but they have gone in search of many schemes.”
Eccelsiastes 7:29 (NIV)

 

It is election season here in the U.S. and every television commercial seems to be an attack ad of one form or another. On either side of the aisle these attack ads are all lies, half-truths, obfuscations, and misleading innuendos. Politicians say they hate these ads, but each side says they “must” produce them in response to the other side and they are forced to do it because they work. And, they do work just like the lies, half-truths, obfuscations, and misleading innuendos politicians feed to the press and the public to cover their butts and scheme for their own political agendas on a daily basis.

I was thinking about all this as I drove home from the Twin Cities yesterday. I have long bought in to what Solomon observed in today’s chapter. Evil exists and there will always be those in society who scheme to fulfill their own insatiable desires for personal power, prestige, profits and/or pleasures. When well intentioned individuals and groups try to pursue a winning hand of altruistic, well-intentioned goodwill, evil in its endless array of manifestations is always the trump card on the other side of the table.

I do not think that this means we stop pursuing peace and goodwill. In fact, I believe we need to pursue it all the more vigorously. At the same time, I have come to believe that we cannot pursue good with our eyes closed. For good to succeed in a fallen world, we must acknowledge that evil will seek to thwart its every effort. In some cases evil reveals itself in the violent hacking off of an innocent hostage’s head. In other cases, it subtly works its way into the hearts of of well intentioned, seemingly upright politicians and leads them down a path towards schemes for lust for power, prestige, and personal gain. In all of its manifestations, we must address evil if we are to achieve the good God calls us to do. Jesus began his three years of ministry by confronting the Enemy in the wilderness. In his ministry, Jesus confronted evil as regularly as He healed, fed, loved, and forgave. We would be wise to heed His example.

Damage Control

I will be careful to live a blameless life—
    when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity
    in my own home.
Psalm 101:2 (NLT)

Politics has always been a dirty business. Things have not changed in the nearly 3000 years since King David penned the lyric to this song. As I began to read the lyrics I was initially impressed. David is making several declaratory statements about who he is and what he stands for. Click on the link to the psalm above and count the number of times “I will” appears. At first I was intrigued and impressed at the statements, and then I get to the last line:

My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.

It was then that it struck me. Psalm 101 is a campaign commercial.

It’s morning in Jerusalem.
Hope. Change. Forward.

This psalm is a set of idyllic promises that only the Son of God could meet. Scholars muse that the song may have been written as David took over the tenuous united kingdom of Israel which, in middle-eastern style reminiscent of today’s headlines, had two major factions and several smaller tribal factions threatening his power. They think it might be David’s inaugural address, if you will. Everything is looking up. Everyone is excited. It’s a political honeymoon for the golden boy, the shepherd turned warrior, the national hero turned monarch. David steps into the spotlight and declares that his reign will be the ideal. He will be different than his maniacal predecessor. It fits. I get it.

Perhaps I’m cynical when it comes to politics, but as I read it over in light of the last verse I wondered if the psalm might have served a completely different purpose. Fast forward about twenty years after David’s idyllic inaugural. His life is falling apart. His own home is fractured. He is beset by multiple scandals in his personal life and administration. In almost Shakespearean fashion, David’s own son is leading a bloody coup against him. We are a far cry from the hope and glory of his early days.

It leads me to wonder. Could this psalm have been a way of publicizing his repentance and spinning his way out of the public scandals that threatened his reign. It’s damage control. You can almost hear the political consultants whispering in David’s ear:

“David. Your majesty. I know it looks bad but you’ve got to go back to what made you popular in the first place. Write a song. Get back onto the Billboard charts. People loved your rock star image. You’re not too old. Think Elvis in Vegas. The big comeback. You gotta make the people fall in love with you again.”

Today, I am thinking about my own cynicism. Whether you want to think of this song as an inaugural address or as damage control, it reminds me of the inescapable truth that we are a fallen people. All of us fall short. We want the ideal. We want to believe that the ideal is attainable in our leaders and in ourselves. We fall for the idyllic campaign promises only to be grossly disappointed. Then we start the cycle all over again.

But the truth is that my own life reads like David’s on a smaller, less public scale. I’m no different. I’ve made countless declarations to which I’ve fallen short. We all fail, disappoint, and fall short.

We don’t need a politician. We need a savior.

My Liege

kingdom workThe Lord is king!
    Let the earth rejoice!
    Let the farthest coastlands be glad.
Psalm 97:1 (NLT)

Over the past weekend Wendy and I discussed the changes we’ve seen in our federal government. This is not a political blog and I choose not to go on political rants. The core of Wendy’s and my discussion was the selfishness and self-centered attitude of politicians on both sides of the isle. Of politicians anywhere, really. When you have elected representatives whose top priority is to look out for their own personal interests, political power, and re-election then the system ultimately doesn’t work. You can create all sorts of rules of checks and balances, but if those who are supposed to be accountable to those checks and balances have the power to change the rules to further their own ends, then the checks and balances are all smoke and mirrors.

Back in college a friend of mine from Zimbabwe and I engaged in a long discussion about which is the best political system. He was a socialist. I defended our representative republic. After long, spirited conversation that meandered across many shared shifts in the college food service department, we both concluded that no system of government works when you have sinful, selfish, corrupt individuals in positions of political power.  And, since we both were Jesus followers and believed that everyone is ultimately sinful and power corrupts, we concluded that no form of human government is perfect because human beings are not perfect.

I thought of these things when I read the opening lyric to Psalm 97 this morning. The people of Israel tried to create an earthly theocracy. In ancient times they saw God as their king and everyone submitted to God, the Levitical priests, a loose system of judges, and the law of Moses. But, that didn’t work either since there were human priests and judges who were corrupt and the people regularly gave only passing lip service to God. Nevertheless, the idea of God as monarch has continued to be a theme throughout God’s Message. The end vision of Revelation is Jesus on the throne ruling for eternity.

Jesus talked all the time about the Kingdom of God. God’s Message tells those of us who follow Jesus that we are ultimately citizens of that Kingdom. No matter what earthly country we live in and no matter what system of government we abide under, we are eternally subjects of a divine King to whom we answer and are called to be obedient.

Three Things Rotten in the State of [Any Country]

English: View of Capitol Hill from the U.S. Su...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.
Proverbs 28:2 (NLT)

Forgive my little rant this morning, but this proverb reminded me of some things that have been rattling around in my head. There three things that I find rotten in our system of government (any and all political parties included) and I would find rotten in any system of government anywhere in the world:

Professional politicians. I like the idea our founding fathers had of citizens giving service to their country while having to provide for themselves in honest enterprise back home. I believe that a government full of professional politicians is a government full of men and women who will eventually lose touch with what’s it’s like to be an everyday citizen back home. People are people. They will eventually care less about the good of the whole than they will about solidifying their power base, covering their rear ends, getting re-elected and lining their own pockets for retirement. This is why we need checks and balances. I believe we would be better off if there were term and service limits for all elected offices, not just the presidency.

Pork barrel spending. It is dishonest to attach appropriations for spending tax dollars on pet projects to bills and laws that have nothing to do with said projects. This is, however, the way our government has worked for a long time. Powerful professional congressmen who, through seniority, have attained powerful committee positions attach all sorts of spending appropriations to bills so that federal money flows to projects and causes for which professional lobbyists have leveraged and in exchange (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) powerful individuals and corporations will deposit money in their election war chest. We never see or hear about these appropriations unless we really dig, and the president has no power to veto them unless he wants to veto the whole bill. It’s a scam and a big reason that we’re trillions of dollars in debt.

Hypocritical entitlement. Government officials should be required to abide by every law they pass without exception. Unfortunately, I believe that professional politicians who make their own rules, set their own salaries, and determine their own rules will eventually rig the system in subtle ways to benefit themselves without setting off any alarms among the constituency. If congress wants to pass health care legislation for the entire country, then they and their families should be required to live fully under the plan. If they are going to hold citizens accountable for insider trading, then they should not be allowed to use information gained from their government positions for their own personal gain. That just seems like common sense.

Thank you. Rant over.

Have a good weekend!

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 35

an eye for makes the whole world blind
an eye for makes the whole world blind (Photo credit: Stefano Lewis)

Wake up! Rise to my defense!
    Take up my case, my God and my Lord.
Psalm 35:23 (NLT)

“Oh, you’re that guy,” the kid said after I’d introduced myself. “I’ve heard about you!”

“Really?” I asked in surprise. “What have you heard?”

Nothing true, as it turned out. I was a bit shocked to learn what the ubiquitous “they” had said about me. It was high school and I was in the stands at a football game. Having struck up a conversation with the stranger from the opposing school sitting next to me, I learned an important life lesson that night. One that I can still remember thirty years later.

I was angry and hurt at what the stranger had told me. I wanted names. I wanted details. I wanted to hunt down those who’s said those things about me and give them a piece of my mind. I wanted to shout from the bleachers my innocence and prove that my accusers were wrong. Mount a defense! Start a campaign!!

And then it sunk in how difficult and fruitless the task would be. How silly would I look? What a waste of my time and energy. I began to realize a hard fact of life. You can’t control what others say about you. You can only control what you yourself think, say, and do. As my fit of internal rage and teenaged angst subsided, I settled in and finished a polite conversation with my new acquaintance.

Jesus taught:

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

As difficult as I’ve found it when I know an occasional untruth is said about me, I can’t imagine what it’s like for politicians and celebrities who are constantly in the public eye and who face unjust daily attacks from all sides. King David, who wrote the lyrics in today’s psalm, certainly knew the hard fact of life better than I.

Today I’m reminded that vengeance belongs to God. Like David, I’m called on not to return insult for insult, nor even answer my accusers, but to make my appeal for justice to our heavenly Advocate and Judge.