An Open Letter to Public Servants, Part I

Dear Public Servant,

You have already been long embarked on a mission to bring a political agenda to the municipal, state or national stage.  This path seems sometimes long and always arduous.  As a political student, spectator and sometimes participant (as a voter), I thank and commend you for choosing this area of service.  Having served in this nation’s military for years, I recognize the presence of the costs in many areas of your life.  Thank you.  Do not grow weary in this endeavor – see it through.  If you are headed into the November general elections, it seems that God, who rules both the realms of the Church and the State, may prosper your path and place you into a position of influence.  That is exciting!  As you continue your work toward that end, I wanted to write you; even to begin a conversation with you.

First, it is not necessary for you to agree with me that God rules both realms or that He is the one who may grant you success: this is what I believe (and, as a local talk show radio host says, “you’re welcome to it”).  We have for too long judged someone by virtue of his adherence to a religious manifesto (Christian or Secular).  The Founding Fathers saw something different.  Theirs was a commitment to found a country in part for religious freedom.  That really means something, namely, folks should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience.  (At what point did we lose this view?)  Surely their expectation was that men and women of principle (including religious principle) would bring those into governance.  But not so that they could pursue a Christian or Secular nation (any more than a French nation, for example).

It seems to a large degree our public servants have lost their nerve.  Is it because they have navigated away from principles that lead to good government?  “Principles?  Like what?”  Some would say biblical principles; others secular ones.  Something else.  How is it that our nation has prospered over this 200 years with such a varying degree of religious belief and practice? Has it been by force of arms that one group prevailed over another?  How can men and women of legitimate and real differences govern and be governed together?

This is one of those questions that has never been more important.  Scads of young people and other disaffected voters acted in 2008 to usher into political power those who were different than the status quo.  Maybe it was the Democratic Party platform that persuaded these voters; maybe not.  In fact, “hope” and “change” and whatever people annexed to those concepts is what won the day.

This is part of the reason for my letter to you: it is likely that God has prospered your path towards elected office irrespective of your religious beliefs.  That is, in spite of them rather than because of them. This is important for you to consider.  Long many have held that we need more Christians (or non-Christians) in public office simply because the broader goal of politics must surely be a Christian America (or Secular America).  I urge you to search the Bible and you will see that God has no such goal as a Christian or Secular America.  No.  His goals are far different when we start to consider what He has revealed to us in the Bible.  Nor must this encourage those of you who think that secularism should reign.  Neither is true.

I asked earlier how we have succeeded in forging out a national history that has involved men and women of almost every political stripe?  How are we to govern and be governed in our climate of uber-partisanship?  It is not wrong to answer that question by exploring what the founders initially saw as the pathway to governing.  Do we think that we alone live in a time of discord?  Let’s not be so arrogant as to think that our fathers wouldn’t (or didn’t) understand precisely the pressures to govern a disparate and independent people.  Surely, at the headwaters of our founding there were more factions than today!

So, secondly, the Declaration of Independence speaks of several concepts that can guide us and, I hope, you as well.  These are summed as the “laws of nature.”  Among them: distinction-making, decency, self-evident truth, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, safety, prudence, definitions of evil and patience.  Each of these concepts drawn from the laws of nature were enshrined in our national origins.

Distinction-making.  You ask, “Where is that in the Declaration?”  It is the Declaration.  This document (as every document like it) is where distinction-making either takes place or is recorded.  The colonists categorize in the Declaration the ways in which the Crown acted tyrannically.  These included such things as making laws that were too difficult to obey, calling convocations in locations that made attendance impossible, quartering standing Army troops in peace, etc.  Experiences and burdens that all could agree where not necessary or right.  We wrongly fear distinction-making today.  We eschew calling nations to account for harboring terrorists, for calling out greedy capitalists, for dressing down corrupt government officials or even for equal treatment.  Yet, we cannot govern if we fear making distinctions.  For these things must be done.

Decency.  Turn on the TV and seek examples of decency; ask congressional staffers about examples of decency.  Indecency is rampant – even having touched the White House in years past.  Decency, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is that which is “morally praiseworthy.”  We go astray if we ask “whose morals?”  (We continue to prove my first point.)  Language, dress, decorum and vocations that advance honor to all men are decent.  That means prostitution, crime, corruption, immodesty, pornography, violence and vulgarity are not honorable and should be restricted by law.  For whom do these things produce decency?

Respectfully.

Why I should hate the phrase, “Woe is me.”

Most people are quickly discouraged in their lives.  Joy in some circumstances is hard, in most is even harder and in all circumstances seems impossible.   We have good intentions: we might start out well in the morning, our devotions done and prayers prayed. Yet the first ankle-biter issue in life turns us over into the sour pusses that we had hoped to avoid.  We capitulate faster than you can say “woe is me.”  “Wait a minute,” you say, “Woe is me?  Are you saying the difficulties of life are all my fault?”  The cause?  No; that wouldn’t be fair.  But the response is all you and all me.

It is not as if life isn’t hard.  I was recently reminded of this when we heard a church family had just a baby who might have Down’s Syndrome.  Hard indeed.  Life’s bowl of cherries has pits that break teeth.  It’s not going to do us any good to ignore the difficulty.  No one has true joy by ignoring circumstances; that’s a fool’s errand.  Eventually, we’ll go crazy in our little make believe worlds.

No, the world is to be faced.  And it is a hard world.

I like movies.  I particularly like the movie “A Knight’s Tale.”  Now there are parts of it that aren’t so good, but there’s one scene in the movie that will help here.  The main character, Ulrich Von Licthenstein, is a tournament jouster.  In one exchange his opponent cracked his armor.  He had to go to a smithy and have it fixed.  He found one, a woman named Kate.  Kate, he found out, had come up with her own way to heat steel and make stronger armor out of less steel.  The effect was a very light yet strong suit of armor for Ulrich; like Knight’s UnderArmor.

It certainly looked different than the other knights’ armor.  In fact, the next time he jousted, he got laughed at by the other men for his armor.  That is, until he was able to mount his horse like he was wearing no armor – that got their attention since none of them could do that.

In fact, those knights had armor that made jousting difficult: apparently it was very heavy and didn’t move well.  As if trying to stay on a horse that’s galloping, holding a lance, trying to strike the opponent in a meaningful way and avoid getting hit and falling off the horse weren’t difficult enough!

Here’s how it touches what we’re considering: life, like jousting, is difficult.  The question is:

  • What do we “put on” that makes living in it even harder?

I’m talking about perspectives, demands, views, commitments and hopes.  What I mean is that what we believe about life can either help us tackle it or make it even harder to tackle.

Here’s an example.  I think Christians often put on a viewpoint that thinks much of the power of our own sin and circumstances to crush and discourage us and little of the power of our Savior to strengthen and save us.    We think things like, “It’s only a matter of time before I get mad / lust / depressed / worried….There’s nothing I can really do about it.  It’s going to happen.”  This view makes the difficulties of life even more difficult: if we’re already convinced that the mountain is too hard to climb before we even see it (or see what’s in our packs) then we’re sunk when we come to it.  In other words, we really think highly of our sin and our life’s circumstances and lowly of Christ’s provision and power believing perhaps that we are just passive recipients of the black waters of life.  In the end, we drink deeply and it is bitter.

But, if Christ Himself holds all things together (Col 1:15-17) and all things were conceived of in His mind and built through His very power and find their purpose and conclusion in Him, then why be so quick to think sin is too much and circumstances too overwhelming?

  • Is the tendency to sin really too strong for the Spirit to counteract?
  • Are your children really so aggravating that the Spirit can’t give you peace or patience?
  • Is the disease, the deformity or the doubt really so strong that God the Rock and Refuge (Psalm 31) cannot enter in?

My wife and I were talking about how it feels like the home page in our lives’ web is “Me.”  But that’s wrong.  In Christ, our home page is Him.  He is our default.  Our sin is not the first or final word in our lives, His righteousness that He gave to us and His Word is both first and final.  If we believe that it’s only a matter of time before we sin or our circumstance are going to beat us up, then perhaps instead of being realistic we are being sinful.  Instead we must face our daily problems with:

  • Christ’s power is enough to keep me from the power of my sin and these circumstances

He is either powerful or He isn’t.  We either live one way (“He is powerful”) or we live the other (“He is not strong enough”).  God gives power to His children to overcome (1 Corinthians 10:13) because He has already overcome it all.  Receive it and use it today.

The boy…fights against temptation

Recently, I was in a meeting with a group of men and we were talking about how Christ resisted temptation when He was walking the earth. “Resist temptation” how often do we put those words together!?  We were reading Hebrews 4:15:

For we do not have a high priest  who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Amazing. This says He experienced every temptation we could ever face, “in every respect has been tempted as we are” and He never caved in once.  One of the brothers said we think we’re doing well to resist for 90 seconds and then give in!  In fact, most of us in honest moments would say that we’ve caved far more than we haven’t.  If our experience is common (likely), then it is a sad commentary on the state of Christian men today.

So what of the boys? Two things.

First, if our men won’t stand against temptation, then their sons will not likely learn to do so either.  This is the intergenerational specter associated with sin: if I do, my son likely will.  “Do as I say and not as I do” will last only as long as someone has to help him finish his duty in the bathroom.  Then, the hypocrite dad is sunk.  No sons?  Well, you’re not off the hook either: you will be watched by your daughters and they will grow up thinking a weak-willed, fleshly-motivated and minimally self-controlled man is normal.  I’ve seen these girls dating and marrying these men and then finding their ship-of-marriage has holes in the hull!

An Aside: We Don’t Have to Cave, Men.  Remember Hebrews 4:15?  We have a high priest who advocates for us with the Father who Himself has made a promise to us regarding temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.

God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.

That’s 1 Corinthians 10:13.  It tells us two things.  Other men have the temptation, you’re not alone so quit being tempted in the “dark” of isolation.  Open up to a trusted man so he can join in the fight.  It also tells us that in the end, God makes a way for us to resist every single temptation.  Every one.  In Christ, there are no temptations that are too strong for us.  If we give in to lust or drunkenness, that’s our choice.  Everytime.  God stands, as it were, on the inside of the ring, with one foot on the lower rope and one hand on the upper rope pulling them apart and telling you to get out of the ring before its too late.  If only you would listen.

What of the boys?  Second, I have to prepare myself for an encounter with a young man that includes a rehearsal of the ways in which he has yielded to temptation.  Oh, you bet I’m going to ask him about his besetting sins!  You bet I’m going to ask him about his computer usage, magazine choice, movie storehouse, etc.  But, I’m going to ask him how he deals with temptation when it comes.  Fools numbered among Christian men (and their wives) believe temptation is illusory.  Or, perhaps that’s the cover of darkness that men use when their wives ask them “have you lusted after another woman?”  Or, “are you looking at internet porn?”  If a wife is inclined to ask at all.

The boys worthy of my daughters are not the ones who never struggle with sin (those doesn’t exist except in lies).  But, the ones who regularly do battle with the temptation in Christ and find that they love to fight for the victory.  This young man’s battle record will be pockmarked with losses, but there’s only been one war ever fought where there were no losses and only one Man who never lost.  And, by grace and goodness, He gives to us the strength to walk that same victory road.

Choose the path, young man.  In Christ, you can do it.