In my last post I made a comment about the power of the President, and I would like to follow up on that with a brief lesson in Constitutional law. In my book, One Nation Under God, I include several of these short lessons including the one that follows. I am currently rewriting One Nation Under God and preparing to get it into publication again. For any of you have read the first edition of the book, I would love to hear from you about things you would like to see included in the second edition!
The Power of a President
Forget everything you’ve heard during election-year speeches. The president does not make the laws. The Constitution gives to Congress the power to make and amend laws. The president, through the vast reaches of the Executive Department, enforces the law. The courts interpret those laws as they are applied in individual circumstances, determining whether a law has been properly applied or is itself in violation of the Constitution. While the courts must wait for a legal issue to be brought before them, the president is free to consult with Congress about what laws should be passed. This is a power that has grown greatly over the years, as the political clout of the presidents has grown. But no matter how much the president promises, argues, pressures, or pleads, there is no guarantee that he can get a majority of the 100 senators and the 435 representatives in Congress to agree with him.
Last night I went to a screening of the new movie, Our Brand is Crisis, which will be in movie theaters this weekend. It’s the story of a campaign strategist hired to help an unlikable candidate win the presidential election in a South American country. There is a lot of rough language and crude sexual jokes in the movie, but I would still recommend it as a quick education in dirty politics.
The main character, Jane Bodine, tells a group of campaign volunteers, “Wake up! This is war. There is only one wrong in this. One Wrong – and that is losing.” From the stories and quotes that are littered throughout the movie, there has been more than one presidential candidate in the US who would agree with her. Winning is what matters – and you have to do whatever it takes to make sure you win.
There are a number of good lessons in this movie, such as pointing out how easy it is to twist the facts – or even make them up. “The ‘truth’ is what I tell the electorate to believe,” Jane says. Jane also claims that the single most important factor in voting is fear, which is probably true. If a candidate can figure out what his voters are afraid of, if he can put a name to the enemy and say “I can beat that,” he has a good chance of winning those votes. If he can’t beat the real enemy, all he has to do is create a new one and focus everyone’s attention on that.
Our Brand is Crisis is not a feel-good movie, but there is little about politics and campaigning that makes any of us feel good these days. Many people are angry, and they will simply vote against whoever is making them angry rather than for anyone or anything. Other voters will be motivated by their fear to vote for the candidate who seems best able to “win” and beat the fearsome enemy. Many others have been moved to cynicism and apathy by past candidates who claimed they would fix everything, only to go back on their word or be unable to create any real change.
So what is a voter to do? More specifically, what is a Christian voter to do?
First, don’t just listen to the campaigns and the candidates when deciding how to cast your vote. Look into the issues for yourself – from multiple viewpoints, since you can never depend on any one source to give you the whole truth. Also, consider whether a candidate can actually do what he or she says she will do. Candidates are famous for promising things they have no constitutional power to do. Our government is a republic, made up of many elected and unelected officials who have to work together to get things done, so a candidate also must have the ability to work with others.
Second, don’t be motivated by fear! Fear leads us to believe that we (our candidate or our cause) must win or the result will be disastrous. Because we must win, anything that allows us to win becomes allowable. The only “wrong” is losing. Hardly the right attitude for Christians who are called to be the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
Third, remember, winning isn’t everything. During the Revolutionary War, Patrick Henry famously stated, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” It was a noble sentiment, but not a Christian one. Henry believed that winning liberty was absolutely essential, and that nothing else would satisfy him. As Christians, though, we are to be like Paul who said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12). The writer of Hebrews also said, “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
Few political promises have been kept with absolute integrity, but there is one promise you can always depend on – “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Never – no matter who wins the next presidential election, no matter what resolutions pass or fail, no matter what. So do your homework, vote your conscience, don’t be ruled by fear, anger, or the need to win. And Trust God! Then, and only then, you can never lose.
Have you ever felt tired – so tired you don’t think you can keep your eyes open a moment longer? Have you ever felt angry? Confused? Lost? Unhappy? Frightened? Ready to quit whatever you’re doing because it’s too hard or too frustrating or too painful?
Of course you have.
We’re all human. We have human feelings and human limitations. We make mistakes. We make poor choices. We give up when we should hang on. We turn back when we should press on. We feel guilty and unworthy because of our failures and promise never to fail again. But we do fail again. And again. And again.
One of the most epic failures of all time is recorded in the Bible, not just once but four times. All four of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life tell the story of Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples and friends, denying repeatedly that he knew Jesus just when it seemed Jesus needed him the most.
“This man was with him.”
“Woman, I don’t know him.”
“You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!”
“Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
“Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
And then the rooster crowed.
I can imagine what Peter felt at that moment because I have been there myself, staring failure in the face. I may have never said in words “I don’t know Jesus,” but my actions often say it for me. When I’m angry or pouty about not getting my way, my actions say, “I don’t know Jesus.” When I’m frustrated and hopeless and say, “I can’t do this anymore,” I’m really saying, “I don’t know Jesus.” When I’m frightened by the daily news of violence and despair in the world, I’m saying, “I don’ know Jesus.” I’m acting as if I haven’t been forgiven of my own sins when I refuse to forgive others. I’m living without faith when I focus only on my strength and not on God’s. I’m denying the power and sovereignty of my Lord when I tremble before a world which seems out of control.
And then the rooster crows.
Peter felt great remorse when he realized that not only had he denied Jesus, but Jesus knew he would do so. “Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’” Peter felt defeated and unworthy and had trouble giving his heart fully to Jesus again. I get that, because I’ve felt that way myself. But that kind of thinking misses the point.
Jesus knows you will fail – but he loves you anyway.
Jesus knows you will deny him by the way you live – but he died for you anyway.
Jesus knows you will sometimes give up, turn back, fall short, and fall apart – but he calls you to do his work anyway. In his strength. With his grace. Trusting in his sovereignty.
So the next time you hear the rooster crow and you realize you have been living in a way that says, “I don’t know Jesus,” don’t think of it as the gong at the end of a boxing match saying, “You lost; you’re out.” Think of it as the alarm ringing at the beginning of a new day saying, “It’s time to get up; there’s still work to do.”
To help you live every day like you do know Jesus, please check out my newly released book, Standing Firm: Are You Ready for the Battle?
Since it's two weeks till Halloween, I would like to share with you a devotion I wrote for CBN.com several years ago. You can find it at the link below. Post your comments here, on the CBN website, or on Facebook. I would love to hear from you!
From my friend, Tim Corder, who asked the question that led to my two posts on this issue.....
I'll be honest. My first thought upon reading these two blog entries was, "Nice non-answer". But when I started thinking about them I realized that, far from being a "non-answer", it was, in fact, a very good answer. True, it wasn't the answer I might have been expecting, or hoping for, or even wanting. But it was, an answer I needed.
We can skip right over the answers I might have been expecting or hoping for and go straight to the one I was wanting, since that is the only one that really mattered to me at the time I asked the question. Basically, what I was wanting was validation for what I was already feeling. I wanted someone to tell me it was OK to feel anger and frustration towards people whose actions didn't reflect my interpretation of scripture, even while they claimed to share the same basic beliefs.
I mean, how dare they interpret the scriptures differently than I do! How dare they bring disgrace and ridicule of others down on my religion! How dare they base their relationship with God on hatred and intolerance when they are supposed to base it on love and acceptance! How dare they not do what I think they should be doing! How dare they call themselves Christians when they are not behaving the way I think Christians should behave.
And this brings us right up to the point where the answer you gave was one I needed. I was focusing on the wrong side of the issue. The important thing where my personal relationship to God is concerned is not what another person does or does not do when struggling with these issues. What is important is how I relate to that person and their choices and their actions, even if I will never meet them. If all I am concentrating on is my anger and frustration towards them because of their choices or positions or actions, then I am ignoring the "plank in my own eye". It is not their actions that are having an impact on my relationship with God (or, for that matter, anyone else's relationship), it is my reaction to their actions that is the stumbling block.
So, thank you for giving me an answer that showed me that. And that's how God answers our questions, isn't it. He doesn't always give us the answers that we might expect or hope for or want. But He can always be counted on to give us the answers we need.
Today I would like to give a different answer to the question: “How does demanding that welfare recipients, etc. pass drug tests, etc. before providing them with aid square with Christ's words about taking care of those in need. (i.e., when He talked about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, etc., he didn't give conditions that had to be met before providing those things.)”
I think there is ample evidence in the Bible that Christians should care for the poor and needy, although that is not our primary mission in this world. As Christians, then, should we also demand our governments (local, state, or federal) to care for the poor and to do it without setting conditions? As a representative of the people (the majority of whom still call themselves Christians), should the US government carry out such Christian ideals as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick?
The battle between caring for people’s needs with more government and preserving their freedoms with less government has been waged for decades in this county, and I don’t want to get in the middle of that political battle. But let me try and settle one small piece of the argument about what we should expect from our government.
Just last week, a terrible event at a community college in Oregon led to a heated debate over which will keep Americans safer—more gun control or more people with guns? We all want to live in a place where we are free from the threat of violence. We would like to see an end to hunger and poverty. We want to have no more sickness, no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more tears, and we look to our governments to solve all these problems for us. It seems like a Christian thing to do, to try to alieve suffering and fear—but is it?
I have no problem with asking our governments to work on the difficult problems of poverty and violence and find the best answers they can, but I’m not looking for a perfect place to live here on the earth. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:3). The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are “foreigners and strangers on earth” but that God has prepared a city for us—“a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16). In Revelation we see “a new heaven and a new earth” where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4).
Today, we still live under “the old order of things.” We are separated from God by sin and we live with its consequences—violence, sickness, poverty, suffering, and pain. As difficult as it is to bear with these things, they are the very things which cause us to turn our eyes heavenward, to look for God, and to accept his offer of forgiveness and redemption. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). He also said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …Blessed are those who mourn …Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:3-5). Are they not the ones most likely to find their comfort in God rather than in the things of this earth?
Please don’t think I’m being callous and saying we shouldn’t be concerned with the poor or needy in our land. As Christians, we should have the same heart of compassion and love for others that Jesus had. It was Christians who started the first hospitals in the nations where they lived. Christians started schools not just for the rich but for any who would come. Christian organizations today continue to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and rescue the addicts, the prostitutes, and the victims of modern slavery. In doing so, they point to a better ending to all suffering—one that comes from God, not the government.
Last week I mentioned that a friend of mine posed two questions. I responded to one last week, and I would like to respond to the second today. The question is this: “How does demanding that welfare recipients, etc. pass drug tests, etc. before providing them with aid square with Christ's words about taking care of those in need. (i.e., when He talked about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, etc., he didn't give conditions that had to be met before providing those things.)”
To begin with, I have to ask, “Who is providing the aid?” because it makes a difference in how I would answer the question. First let me answer as if the “who” is Christians and Christian organizations.
It has often been said that God’s people should care for the poor and disadvantaged. In the Old Testament, the Children of Israel were instructed to leave some of their crops unharvested so the poor and foreigners could come and take what they needed (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22). They were commanded: “Be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). In the New Testament, Jesus told a rich young man to sell all he had and give to the poor (Mark 10:17-21), and he said that being generous to the poor was more important than ritual washing to make one “clean” on the inside (Luke 11:39-41). Yet he also found it proper that expensive perfume should be used to honor him instead of being sold to feed the poor (Mark 14:1-9).
Jesus never directly instructed his disciples to care for the poor, but he did say that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners were ways we could show our love for him (Matthew 25:31-45). Jesus’ own mission on earth was validated by his acts of caring for others, but note in these verses what gift he gave to the poor: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). (See also Luke 4:14-21.)
Although it isn’t our primary mission, there is ample evidence that Christians and Christian organizations should care for the poor and the disadvantaged. We must remember, though, it is not what we do that matters but why we do it. Paul said, “If I give all I possess to the poor…but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
If love is to be our motivating our factor—love for God and love for all those made in his image—then just giving money or food or needed items is not enough. We should want the best for the people we are caring for. We should help others in ways which allow them to reach a better place in their lives—and sometimes that calls for the tough love of not giving help to people who will squander that aid on drugs, alcohol, or other forms of self-indulgence or self-destruction.
Paul clearly set conditions for the care of others by the church. His instructions for caring for widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16 provides a good template for caring for anyone in need. First, let them care for themselves if they can. Second, let them be cared for by their family or other individuals in the church. Third, if neither of these is possible, the church should care for them, but only if they are found worthy by their history of good deeds and faithfulness. Setting these conditions ensured that both the financial stability of the church and its reputation in the community would be preserved.
“The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). What we do to care for the poor says much about what we believe as Christians. However we choose to care for the poor, whether as individuals or as a church or denomination, we need to make sure we are being motivated by love for God and real love for others—not just the appearance of caring.
On Saturday, I went to see The Martian with my family. It’s a great movie about a man who is left behind when an emergency forces a NASA team to evacuate their post on Mars. The team of two women and four men had been the first humans to reach Mars, but when a severe storm threatened their only means to return home they were forced to leave behind one of the men, Mark Watney, who was presumed to have been killed in the storm. Of course, Watney was not dead, and the rest of the movie is about his attempts to survive alone on a hostile planet while NASA, the rest of his crew, and the whole world try to find a way to bring him home.
The movie asks the question, what is the value of one human life? Should hundreds of people work around the clock to try to save one man? Should millions of dollars be spent on rockets and supplies to be sent to Mars for one man? Should the five other crew members, almost home again, risk their own lives to go back for one man? The underlying message of the movie is that every human life matters, no matter how far away or how great the odds are against being able to save that life. Watching the movie, I felt the strong pull of optimism and hope that allowed so many to risk so much to try and save one stranded man.
It seems to be part of our DNA, our very humanity, to value life – not only our own lives, or the lives of our family and friends, but the lives of strangers who make up the great community of human life on earth. The morning news today reinforced that idea, as I listened to stories of fire and rescue teams working tirelessly and risking their lives to save people caught in the severe floods in South Carolina. In other stories, a large team of volunteers searched throughout the weekend to find a toddler who had wandered away from her home in Ohio while aircrews scored the Bermuda Triangle looking for survivors of a sunken cargo ship.
Humans are fickle, though, and terribly inconsistent. While we gladly see tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars used to rescue individuals endangered by sudden disasters, we can casually look away from the thousands of children dying from hunger each and every day, the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn countries with little more than the clothes on their backs, and the millions of people trapped in poverty all around the globe. We can close our borders, close our checkbooks, and close our eyes when people in need look to look to us and say, “Don’t our lives matter, too?”
Watching The Martian this weekend, I thought about how much Jesus loved us that he would leave Heaven, live the life of a wandering preacher, suffer hatred, scorn, betrayal, and even death to offer us eternal life. He taught us the value of the individual when he said, “Wouldn’t you leave your ninety-nine sheep to go find one who went astray?” and “Wouldn’t you search without rest to find one of ten coins which was lost?” and “Wouldn’t you rejoice and celebrate when one lost son comes home?” (Luke 15)
Humans are made in the image of God, and like God we see value and importance in each individual human life. But we also deal with sin and its consequences every day, and we are apt to be selfish, fearful, indecisive, and inconsistent in the way we deal with other people. So go see The Martian and ask yourself, “What am I willing to do to save the life of just one human?” Then go and do it!
So what is a Christian to do if he or she believes that that law of the land is inconsistent with or contrary to the law of God? The answer is both very simple and very difficult—“Give back…to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). As Christians, our first loyalty must always be to God, and there are somethings we cannot do even if required by the secular authorities God has placed over us. Daniel knew that and refused to pray to King Nebuchadnezzar instead of God (Daniel 6). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that and refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue (Daniel 3). The apostles and early church fathers knew that and refused to stop preaching the gospel, even though many of them were jailed and/or killed by Jewish leaders, Romans authorities, and angry mobs.
It’s simple. When you’re sure it would offend God’s law to do something or to refrain from doing something, you should choose to follow God’s law regardless of the opposition or consequences.
The difficult part is being sure of what God’s law requires us to do or to refrain from doing. Each of us is responsible for making decisions about how to live our own lives, and we must apply the teachings of the Bible to those decisions as best we can. Parents also have a duty to instruct their children in God’s law and those children have a duty to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:104). In addition, we are instructed to teach our fellow Christians to follow God’s law and to strive for righteousness within our local churches (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Timothy 4:2).
Outside the church is a different matter. Jesus refused to condemn a woman caught in adultery, and he shared the gospel with another woman living with a man she wasn’t married to (John 8:1-11; John 4:7-26). Stephen prayed for forgiveness for men who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:54-60). And in the same chapter where Paul says to not even eat with an unrepentant, sinful man within the Corinthian church, he declares: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).
So what is a Christian to do when in the course of his work “outside the church” he is asked to do something which would enable another person to do something in violation of God’s law? Should he pay for his employees’ medical insurance which might make it possible for a woman to have an abortion? Should he provide medication which a patient can take to commit suicide? Should he (or she) issue a marriage license to a couple so they can enter a same-sex marriage? Are these things just part of doing business in a secular culture – similar to eating meat that was sacrificed to a pagan idol? Or at some point do they cross a line and involve the Christian directly in the bloody pagan rituals? (Read 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 if you didn’t understand that reference.)
That is the difficult part and something Christians and churches need to seriously consider, often on a case-by-case basis. Something else they need to seriously consider is whether they are really concerned with following God’s law or if they are being motivated by something else, such as fear of or hatred toward people who are different from them. After all there are many things which offend God’s law, including remarriage after a divorce, but I’ve never heard of a clerk refusing to issue a license to a divorcee entering a second or third marriage (Matthew 19:8-9).
““Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4).
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What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.