Pragmatism, Principles, and Politics

It’s been a crazy election year. We are a few days away from a presidential election and many folks have asked me for my opinion. Generally I make it a rule not to write about politics. I had a passion for it when I was younger and enjoyed opportunities like Missouri Boy’s State to learn more about our great country and how it worked. Yet as I’ve grown into adulthood the cynic in me has taken over and I’ve found myself bored with politics and have subsequently left the discussion up to those who were more passionate… until now.

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Lets talk politics and Christianity for just a minute. There is this sentiment that one’s religion need not interfere with politics. That is the position of senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate and choice for Vice President. It’s also a very religious statement. It’s religious simply because he said he could do something with his religion… forget about it when he makes political decision.

Folks have turned this around to say that we should check our religion at the ballot box. They have said, in effect that THEY know better than ME on how to practice MY religion (tell me that’s not a religious statement)... But let’s be honest, Tim Kaine’s religion doesn’t permit him to do that, he does it in defiance, not compliance to the faith he claims. He claims to be Catholic and his Pope (or any Pope before him) hasn’t said “check your Catholicism at the ballot box“… His church has a long history of standing against abortion (One of the issues that Kaine holds personally and religiously but doesn’t let interfere with his political life).

All this chatter about checking your religion at the ballot box is an attempt to persuade you to embrace an otherwise unappealing candidate by ignoring a major disagreement you have with them. It should be seen as manipulative and underhanded. Politicians don’t get to define YOUR religious beliefs and you should not fault them for theirs (if you could find one that held their beliefs with any sincerity).

Now let’s talk Pragmatism (it IS in the title anyway). There are folks out there who will tell you that you have to vote a certain way because you don’t want Hillary to win or you don’t want Trump to win. This is where I think a lot of evangelical pastors and theologians have compromised their principles. I don’t mean that flippantly so let’s investigate pragmatism for a moment.

Pragmatism is the philosophy that whatever works is “right.” So in essence the “end” justifies the “means.” So practically speaking you might vote for a particular candidate to get a certain end such as, “prevent Trump from blowing us all up” or, to “prevent Hillary from appointing liberal activist judges to the supreme court.” You cast a vote for someone you dislike (means) in order to get a result that you will be pleased with (end).

The problem with pragmatism is that for the Christian, the means matter just as much as the end! This is why I said some of our pastors and theologians have compromised their principles… they have endorsed a corrupt means… voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. 

It is not as though we don’t have a guide for such situations. We have a Savior who was perfectly obedient, even where we would choose not to be. Can you imagine Jesus casting his ballot for Trump? How about Clinton? Would he choose the lesser of two evils? Is there another way?

There is another way. The way where the means matters just as much as the end. Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He was promised the world as his kingdom without the cross (end), all he had to do was worship the devil (means). Yet He rejected this and chose the cross out of obedience to God and the cross became the means by which you and I can be saved from our sins (end)!

You see, the silly thing about pragmatism is that when you apply it to something like politics, ethics, or religion it breaks down because as you change the means… you change the end. You won’t just prevent Hillary or Trump by voting for one against the other, you will also be endorsing Hillary or Trump.

Now let’s talk about Principles. Principles are those beliefs that you hold at the foundation of your being. You build your personal actions based off of your principles. If you are a Christian you have deeply held principles that will come up every election cycle. You have principles about life, marriage, poverty, justice, and more. Anyone who tells you to ignore your principles and vote for them is telling you that your principles don’t matter… and if you vote for them against your better judgement… your principles really don’t matter. But that was because YOU gave up your principles when you voted against your conscience.

Now you’re going to tell me that you are stuck. You have two options and you don’t like either one. You can’t vote for Hillary because well, you don’t need me to tell you, you’ve got tons of reasons. Now you know you also can’t vote for Trump, again you don’t need me to campaign for or against these folks. You’ve seen the media. You’ve formed your opinion… You don’t think you can go into the ballot box, cast a vote, and come out clean.

You do have another option.Vote based on your principles, even if this leads you to a third party candidate. You can vote for someone else. It may feel like you are throwing your vote away but in the last several elections nearly half of the people who voted, voted for a candidate who lost… You see that’s the thing…. Someone will lose! What if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they lose? You might be able to wash that off, but what if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they win? What will you tell your children when they ask? History won’t remember the loser only the winner. 

In a few weeks when we know who will be the next president I’m sure that God will still be on His throne!  However, the ballot box says just as much about our principles (or lack there of) as it does about the folks who are running for president.

Anyhow to those who asked. That is my 2 cents on this election. Hope it helps.

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

I get what it’s like to be exhausted as a leader, but a leader must never forget the people he is leading. I once had a leader tell me that, “I don’t have time to train you and all these other people.” It was the moment he forfeited his leadership. To be sure, he was still a leader and he still had my respect, but he had forfeited the very point of leadership… moving people.  We all lose focus sometimes.  The temptation of leadership is to consider our path and place as greater than the people we lead. The reality is that we cannot be leaders if people are not willing to follow. It serves us well to remember that those who follow in the darkest of times all have their own stories of calling and sacrifice.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is remembering all the people who have helped along the way. Nehemiah takes a moment to review the record and note in his account that the people who built the wall and staffed the city had names. At first glance Nehemiah chapter 7 looks like just a long list of names and numbers, but names reflect something more than just another number to be counted… these are people counted.

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Each person listed had a story to tell about their family, their life, and why they felt called back to Jerusalem and Judah. Each person listed had a choice to make on whether to stay where they were or to travel back to their homeland. Each person made sacrifices; I’m sure both financial and social in order to fulfill their calling. Which brings up an interesting point, Nehemiah couldn’t have rebuilt the wall alone, God had called THESE people, back to His city, at this time, to accomplish the task of rebuilding the wall! So while the whole book may not be named after them and while they certainly didn’t write it with their pen, their names still show up because they did help write the story with their lives and a great leader never forgets that his life story is tied to hundreds if not thousands of other life stories.

If you are a leader it may or may not come naturally to you to think about all the people along the way that you lead but if not, take a moment today and write a few thank you notes, send out a few text messages, write down the names of the people who have sacrificed along the way and pray over them. Take time to make sure that the people you lead count for more than just names than on a roll that add up to numbers.

Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

One of my favorite books is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. One of my favorite scenes is when Christian sees the Celestial City from a distance. He is excited and ready with anticipation to enter the city and see his King, yet on this last leg of the journey he meets an old friend who came in by a different way and as they approach the gate he sees that his friend doesn’t get to enter the city because he didn’t come through the wicket gate like Christian did. This last bit is sobering and it reminds me that many can put on a good front, but only those who are qualified in Christ get to enter into Heaven and those who reject him have rejected his Kingdom as well.

Today in Nehemiah we see something similar as Nehemiah seeks out qualified people to fill the city of Jerusalem. The key word there is qualified. You had to be from the city and from the people of Judah to live in the city. It was a big deal. The right credentials got you a city address. The wrong credentials got you kicked out of the city… it mattered.

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The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

We don’t place much emphasis on land these days but generations ago people were tied to geography. It mattered where you came from, even if you weren’t born there, it was “home.” Such was the case for Jerusalem. Many of the people who had come back weren’t born in Jerusalem. They didn’t have memories of growing up in Jerusalem. At best they may have had some old stories shared by their parents or grandparents about what life was like in Jerusalem before an invading army had come in and carried the people off into captivity. They were told to pray for the peace of the city where they found themselves (Jeremiah 29:7), but they never forgot that they really belonged back in Jerusalem. So when the time came and they were free to go back, many did!

I think the image of having a home that you have never seen is a beautiful image of what heaven is like for the Christian. We know that we live this life as aliens and exiles (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13-16) from the one true city that we have yet to see. We are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven. We haven’t seen it yet, but we have heard about it and we can’t wait to get there. Unlike Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem will already have walls and gates (Revelation 21:12), but just like in the day of Nehemiah this New Jerusalem is incomplete without its people.

Just like in Nehemiah’s day, you had to belong to the city before you could become a resident. There will be many who think they belong in Heaven but find out at the last moment that they were never citizens to begin with (Matthew 7:19-21). Jesus told us that the only way to get to God the Father and by consequence the Celestial City in which he reigns was to come through Him (John 14:6).

Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

I was out to eat a Cracker Barrel as a young teenager. I had to use the restroom and so I excused myself and went in what I thought was the “men’s room” it was on the left just like the “men’s room” at the Cracker Barrel back home. If I had looked around I would have found it odd that there were no urinals, but I had to go! After I finished business I was washing my hands and a woman came in the restroom. Feeling slightly embarrassed for her I said, “excuse me, I think you are in the wrong restroom.” She did a double take stepped back out, came back in and said, “No, You are in the wrong restroom!” Horrified I looked at the wall and where the urinals should have been, there was a mirror! I sheepishly tried to escape the bathroom without anyone noticing that I had gone in the wrong restroom but I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was staring at me. I had gone to the wrong restroom!

I don’t know if that has ever happened to you, but I can let you know that it’s a life scarring event that you will need to blog about or seek therapy for later. As bad as it was though, can you imagine what it would be like to be cheering on the rebuilding of a city only to find out that you don’t belong there? It comes time to fill the city of Jerusalem and only those who meet the qualifications can live there.

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The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

There was a shortage of people in Jerusalem. This was a problem because if the city came under attack it would need able bodied people to defend the city. Rather than putting out a call all over the land to allow anyone to live in the city. Nehemiah goes back to the records to determine who had the right to live there. It was important that those who lived in the city had a genealogical right to live there. If they allowed anyone in, they may as well have not built the wall because the enemy would be living inside with them. It was important to know who your ancestors were.

In the New Testament Jesus sets up a different standard for the Kingdom of God. He tells a man named Nicodemus that genealogical pedigree doesn’t matter as much as if he has ever been “born again.” Jesus issued a new standard: Not, who were your parents? But, who is your Savior? To be part of the kingdom of God, Nicodemus would have to recognize that his Jewishness wasn’t enough, that he had to come by faith in what Jesus could and would do for him on the cross.

Like Nicodemus we will be judged not on our birth, but on what we have done with Jesus. Like Nehemiah we will or won’t be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven based up on our qualifications. Either we will try and enter on our own merit or we will plead that Jesus is all the merit we need.

Who or what are you depending on getting you to Heaven today?

Do You Stand on Guard? (Nehemiah 7:4)

Do You Stand on Guard? (Nehemiah 7:4)

You never know when the enemy will attack. That is why fortresses keep soldiers on guard. The moment you send the guards home, the enemy will come in and pillage everything you were supposed to be protecting.  Sometimes the simple presence of a guard is enough to detour those who would want to break in and take something from you. The guard stands as a first line of defense. He often detours trouble before it starts. When trouble walks through the door he cuts it off before it becomes bigger. When the trouble is too much for one guard he sounds the alarm to save the city. Being a guard is an important job.

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And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.(Nehemiah 7:3-4 ESV)

Can you imagine the state of the city if Nehemiah hadn’t appointed guards? The walls would be relatively useless because ill meaning folks would be devising ways to ruin the city. By posting a guard Nehemiah was allowing the new wall to have its fullest effect as an enemy detourant. Anyone who wanted to breach the city would have to do it with their full force, subterfuge wouldn’t be possible.

We all have things in our lives where we are weak. Places that if we are not careful we will stumble and fall into temptation and sin. It is important that we place a guard in our lives especially around these areas to keep us from the things we know will hurt us the most. If you struggle with giving, then maybe giving should be the first thing you do out of your checkbook instead of the last. This can become a guard for you so that you don’t make decisions based on what’s left, but based on what’s right. If you are tempted to view online pornography, in addition to your repentance an internet filter that you don’t have the pass key too or even the elimination of your internet capable devices would be a good step towards placing a guard in your life. Ideally, you want these behaviors to come truly from the heart, but your heart won’t grow strong in these areas (and others) until you guard it from the sin that it is so prone too. Where are you tempted? How can you place a guard in your life in these areas?

Who Controls the Gates? (Nehemiah 7:3)

Who Controls the Gates?  (Nehemiah 7:3)

I used to have an old college professor who said, “There is nothing good that comes on TV after 10 o’clock anyway, you might as well go to bed and get up early.” In his estimation it was a waste of time to stay up late watching TV, playing video games, etc. He knew he was speaking to a bunch of young men and women who were used to having someone else set the rules for everything including bed time. Now that we were on our own it was up to us to decide how we would manage our time. Would we waste our lives on the trivial things like late night talk shows and video games or would we discipline ourselves so that we could make the most of our time.

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And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.(Nehemiah 7:3-4 ESV)

Nehemiah challenges the gate keepers to open and close the gates at certain times of the day. Keeping up with a gate schedule was important for the city of Jerusalem. They hadn’t had gates and walls for quite some time so getting adjusted to a new routine was a big deal. But more than the routine, the gate schedule would allow the guards and gate keepers to be diligent about seeing and inspecting anyone who came in and out of the city.

Gates are ultimately a good thing. They serve as an access point to the city. The city needed the gates in order for food, people, and commerce to come into the walls. But they also needed gates to keep out the enemy when they came knocking. The trick is that the enemy doesn’t always come dressed up as the enemy. The devil looks more like an angel than a red monster with a jet black beard, horns and a pitchfork (2 Corinthians 11:14).  The gate times would control the access to the city and limit the enemy from weakening the people from the inside. The high sun would make sure that every thing was exposed to the light and swords and other weapons of war would be easier to spot.

We all have access points into our lives. We allow what other people say, or things we see on television, or hear on the radio to effect us and how we live. Who and what has access to your life? Are you letting the enemy through the gates of your mind or are you keeping Him out?

Appointing Faithful Leaders (Nehemiah 7:1-2)

Appointing Faithful Leaders (Nehemiah 7:1-2)

We all have mountaintop and valley experiences in life. When it comes to spiritual matters I’ve learned that shortly after the mountaintop moment there will be a time of temptation. I have to be more aware than ever after camps, conferences, or even weekly preaching where I have been sharing or learning life transforming truth from God’s Word. It will be those moments in which I think something great has been accomplished that I will find myself challenged.  It usually begins with the temptation to coast. We usually justify coasting because of everything we have been through or our tiredness after an event. I’ve learned though that this is the exact time I don’t need to coast and no matter how tired I am, I need to keep the routine that has drawn me near to God.

It is normal to experience a mountaintop moment like camp and think your world has changed and maybe your world has changed, but it won’t be different for long without some intentionality to help you get through the valley that follows the mountaintop.

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Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.(Nehemiah 7:1-2 ESV)

Nehemiah understood that once the wall was built, the work wasn’t over.  There was still more to do. Leaders needed to be appointed. The people were feeling good about themselves and the work that God had accomplished through them. However, Nehemiah realized that without Godly leadership in place, even a city with walls could fall prey to its surrounding enemies.

He makes appointments to watch and guard strategic places along the wall and in the city. Most importantly he places his brother, as someone he can trust, in charge of the city. This is both someone who will be a Godly leader and someone who won’t give in to the pressures of people like Sanballat and Tobiah.  Nehemiah knows that he has to leave and go back to the king. He had already made that promise.