Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: January, 2020

DONALD TRUMP: AN ANONYMOUS ASSESSMENT

donald-trump[1]

Review:

A Warning

Anonymous

Twelve, Hachette Book Group

259 pp., h.c.

 

We normally would not take the time even to read, let alone review, a book by an anonymous author.  Yet in this particular case we are confronted with information of enormous import in a presidential election year.  The author of the book identifies himself as “a senior Trump administration official,” and gives us what purports to be an inside look at how the Trump administration actually works.  And just because a book is published anonymously does not necessarily mean that it has no value.  The Federalist Papers were originally published under a pseudonym, “Publius.”  They were really written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison.  Their work has been an enduring classic.

Anonymous (and that is how we shall refer to him) is evidently a traditional conservative Republican serving in the White House.  He appears to be well educated, with a background in history – at one point he makes an interesting comparison with ancient Athens.  And it becomes evident as we read through the book that part of Anonymous’ complaint about President Trump is that Mr. Trump is not a traditional, conservative Republican.  Anonymous faults Mr. Trump for opposing free trade, foreign entanglements and open borders.  Yet on some of these issues it could be argued that Mr. Trump is right and that traditional Republican thinking is wrong.

Free trade is a classic case in point.  In a chapter entitled “Fake Views” Anonymous quotes Adam Smith as saying that “it should be in the public interest ‘in every country’ to let the people ‘buy whatever they want from those who will sell it cheapest . . .The proposition is so very manifest that it seems ridiculous to take any pains to prove it’” (p. 110).  But try to explain that to unemployed auto workers in Flint, MI, who lost their jobs to Mexico as a result of NAFTA.  Anonymous says that “Working-class and poor Americans will be hit hardest” by higher tariffs.  “They are the ones who rely on low prices to run households where there is little margin for financial error” (p. 113).  Apparently it never occurred to Anonymous, or to most Republican economists for that matter, that lower wages hurt working-class households.  It is easy to see why Mr. Trump carried the State of Michigan in the last election.

Anonymous blasts Mr. Trump for the burgeoning federal deficit, but fails to mention the possible role that Republican sponsored tax cuts may have played in that.

What is far more alarming, however, is Anonymous’ portrayal of Mr. Trump’s personality and character.  He pictures a chief executive who is inattentive and impulsive, believes falsehoods and conspiracy theories, makes crude statements about women, tells lies and half-truths, and attacks others.  None of this should be new to Anonymous’ readers – people who have known Mr. Trump personally down through the years have been saying these things all along.

This does raise the philosophical question of how we define good character in the first place.  Interestingly, Anonymous falls back on the four cardinal virtues of ancient Greece; wisdom, temperance,, courage and justice.  He especially looks on the way that the later Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero developed them in his work De Officiis (“On Duties”).  Wisdom is “understanding and acknowledging truth”; justice is “maintaining good fellowship with men, giving to everyone his due, and keeping faith in contracts and promises”; courage is “greatness and strength of a lofty and unconquered mind”; and temperance is “the order and measure that constitute moderation and temperance” (p. 58).  Anonymous concludes that Mr. Trump “isn’t a man of great character, or good character.  He is a man of none” (p. 88).

The fact of the matter is that in many way Donald Trump fits the biblical description of a “fool.”  He hates knowledge (Prov. 1:22; 18:2), trusts his own heart (Prov. 28:26)), does not take advice (Prov. 23:9), is wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:12), utters all his mind (Prov. 29:11), enters into contention (Prov. 18:6,7), and speaks slanders against others (Prov. 10:18).

Anonymous sees Donald Trump as a threat to democracy.  At one point he compares Mr. Trump to Cleon, an ancient Athenian demagogue who used abusive language to attack his opponents and as a consequence left Athens deeply divided.  Anonymous concludes, “Like Athens, we also have a Cleon in our midst, a foul-mouthed populist politician who uses rhetoric as a loaded gun” (p. 186).  Trump’s words, he says, “are hardening the national discourse, making it more difficult to sustain civility.”  Secondly, “they are undermining our perceptions of the truth, making it challenging to find common ground.”  And thirdly, “they are fanning the flames of . . .  mob mentality” (Ibid.).

All of this spells trouble for the future of American democracy.  It could be argued, however, that America was already deeply divided before Mr. Trump came into office.  Supreme Court decisions involving moral issues like abortion and homosexuality, as well as the identity politics of the Left, have created profound divisions which will be difficult to surmount.  Mr. Trump has simple exacerbated the tensions with his intemperate mouth.

All of this raises a very difficult question.  Anonymous concludes that no president is perfect and that several have had serious moral failures in the past.  He also concedes that President Trump has accomplished some beneficial things.  But do the good things outweigh the bad?  In Mr. Trump’s case Anonymous says “no,” and that Mr. Trump should be removed from office through the election process.  For conservative religious voters, however, the alternative is likely to be even worse.  It is almost certain that whoever the Democratic nominee will turn out to be, he or she will be pro-abortion and pro-gay rights.  The former involves a serious human rights issue, and the latter will eventually lead to religious persecution for those who want to uphold biblical standards of morality.  The 2020 election promises to give us an unpalatable choice of candidates for the highest office in the land.

OUR FINANCIAL PRIORITIES

4.2.7

Quentin Metsys: Money Changer and His Wife

 

“Honor the Lord with your possessions,

         And with the firstfruits of all your increase,

   So your barns will be filled with plenty,

            And your vats will overflow with new wine.”

                                                                      Prov. 3:9,10; NKJV

 

An important test of our devotion to God is what we do with our money.  As we saw in our last blog post, Christ will hold us accountable for how we use our time, talents and money.  They have all been given to us by God, and He expects us to use them for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom.

But how does that work out financially?  We do have physical needs of our own, after all, and many of us struggle to earn a living.  What is left for God?

The passage before us gives us an interesting challenge.  There is a command: “Honor the Lord with your possessions, / And with the firstfruits of all your increase”; and this is backed up with a promise: “So your barns will be filled with plenty, / And your vats will overflow with new wine.”

The primary reference here appears to be to the Old Testament Feast of Weeks, (or the Feast of Harvest, as it was also called) which was held annually seven weeks after Passover, typically in late May or early June.  (In the New Testament it was also known as Pentecost, because it was fifty days after Passover.  Pentekosta is the Greek word for “fifty.”).  In Palestine the growing season is in the winter, when it rains, and harvest is in the spring.  Summer is the dry season.  The feast would occur right after the wheat or barley harvest..  The Israelites were required to make the trip to Jerusalem where each family would offer two loaves of bread, seven lambs, a bull, and two rams, along with various sin and peace offerings (Lev. 23:16-22; Num. 28:27-31).  Everything offered had to be perfect, without blemish of any kind (Num. 28:31).

The basic idea behind all of this was to acknowledge God as the source of our prosperity.  If there was no rain there was no harvest – it was as simple as that.  And so when we come to our passage we are told to “Honor the Lord with your possessions.”  We are to “honor” or “glorify” Him.  He is our Creator and Lord.  He sent His Son to die for our sins. He should be the most important Person in our lives, and we should openly acknowledge that.

That, in turn, should be reflected in the way we manage our finances.  The text says that we are honor the Lord “with your possessions, / And with the firstfruits of all your increase.”  God should get the first.  He takes priority over every other financial obligation we have, because He is more important than anyone or anything else.  As Matthew Henry put it in his commentary, “God, who is first and best, must have the first and best of every thing; His right is prior to all other, and therefore must be served first.”  And if our increase originally came from God, He is entitled to have some of it back.  “For all things come from You, / And of Your own we have given You” (I Chron. 29:14b).

But the question is, will this not create financial hardship for ourselves?  But the text goes on to say, “So your barns will be filled with plenty, / And your vats will overflow with new wine.”  What we have here is a promise from God: if we honor Him with our finances, He will supply our need.  But we must act first, and that requires faith.

And how much should we give?  In the Old Testament a tithe would be one tenth (Lev. 27:30-33; Dt. 14:22).  In the New Testament, however, there is no fixed amount.  Rather the apostle Paul emphasizes that giving is to be voluntary (II Cor. 9:7) and “according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (II Cor. 8:12).  But the promise still pertains: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (II Cor. 9:6).  And Jesus commended the widow because “she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had” (Lu. 21:1-4).  As Charles Bridges put it, commenting on our text in Proverbs, “The law dealt with us as children, and prescribed the exact amount.  The gospel treats us as men, and leaves it to circumstance, principle and conscience.”

In many ways financial giving is where the proverbial “rubber meets the road.”  It is easy to attend church regularly and to look outwardly like a decent and respectable person.  But to dig into one’s pocket and pull out the checkbook requires personal sacrifice; and if we are not personally wealthy it may require faith in god as well.  But if God is truly the Lord of our lives, and if we genuinely care about others, we will do it.  It is a personal sacrifice that promises to yield a reward.  Let us be found faithful in the way we handle our finances!

 

 

STEWARDSHIP

 

In His Olivet Discourse Jesus described the end times culminating in His Second Coming.  He told His disciples to look for certain signs of the approaching end, but said, “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 25:36; NKJV), and then drew out the practical application: “Watch therefore, for you do not know  what hour your Lord is coming” (v. 42).  He said that “if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (vv. 43,44), and went on to say, “Blessed is that servant whom his Master, when He comes will find so doing” (v. 46).

To illustrate the point Jesus went on in the next chapter to tell His famous Parable of the Talents.  A man who was about to travel to a far country summoned three of his servants and entrusted to each of them a certain sum of money: five talents of silver to one, two talents to another, and one talent to the third.  (A “talent” was a Greek measure of weight varying anywhere from 57 to 95 lbs.  Thus a talent of silver would be equivalent to 900 to 1500 silver dollars, a considerable sum of money in those days.  Our English word “talent” is actually taken from this parable.)

The first two servants invested the money and each achieved a 100% return on the investment.  The third servant, however, dug a hole in the ground and hid the money.

After a long time had passed the master returned and summoned his servants to settle accounts.  The first two explained what they had done, and to each of them the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt. 25:21,23).  But the third servant said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went out an hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours” (vv. 24,25).  The master responded by calling him “a wicked and lazy servant,” and pointed out that if the servant had known that the master was always looking for ways to make a profit, the obvious thing to do was what the other servants had done – invest the money and try to make a profit.  The master then states the underlying principle: “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away” (v. 29).

The parable has far reaching implications for the Christian life.  We today are in a position analogous to that of the three servants in the parable.  Christ is our Lord and Master, but He has been away for a considerable length of time.  The temptation is to forget about Him, to go about our normal business – to eat, drink and be merry.  But Christ will return, and then we will have to give an account.

First of al, we must remember that we occupy the position of a servant (the Greek word used in the parable is doulos, which literally means “slave”) with Christ as our Lord and Master.  The Master, in turn, has entrusted certain resources to us – in our case our time, ability and money – and He expects us to make good use of them.  It must be emphasized that they have been entrusted to us – we do not possess them in our own and we do not own them outright.  We, in turn, are expected to make good use of these various gifts for the benefit of the Master – His glory and the advancement of His kingdom.

In the parable the master tells each of the good servants “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.”  Significantly he says that they were “faithful” – they made wise and careful use of what had been entrusted to them.  He tells them that “you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.”  As we demonstrate our ability Christ will increase our responsibility and our relative importance in the kingdom.  And finally the master tells them, “Enter into the joy of your lord.”  The master is happy, and he wants his servants to share that joy as well.  We find happiness and fulfillment in life by proving ourselves to be good servants of Jesus Christ.

The question is, are being indeed being faithful?  Christ has given us talents and resources; but what have we done with them?  Did we use them to advance His kingdom?  Or did we squander them like the servant who buried his talent in the ground?  And let us remember that the object is not to seek fame and fortune for ourselves, but to seek the will of God and fulfill His purpose in our lives.

As we enter the new year (the new decade, even), let us rededicate ourselves to Christ’s service, and prayerfully consider what we can do for Him, what we ought to do, with the resources as our disposal.

Count Zinzendorf, the great 18th Century leader of the Moravian Brethren, as a young man touring Europe came across a portrait of Christ hanging in a museum in Dusseldorf, Germany.  The painting had the caption, That I did for you; what have you done for Me?”  Zinzendorf’s biographer (Christian Gottlieb Frohberger) states, “It made se deep and unforgettable impression on his soul, that he made, on the spot, the firm and unshakable resolution to do a great deal for the Lord.” And so he did!

LIFE’S PRIORITIES

 

“But seek firs the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”—Matt. 6:33; NKJV

 

As we look forward to the coming year it is natural to ask ourselves what we hope to accomplish during that year.  And that, in turn, suggests a couple of deeper questions.  What exactly are our priorities in life?  What are we, in fact, living for?

For most people the answer is likely to be their personal ease and comfort – good health, happy relationships, economic success.  For some it may be personal ambition — success in business, sports, entertainment or politics.  And for some it might even be something cruder – a life a sex, alcohol, drugs or crime.

But for what should we as Christians be aiming?  Jesus stated it very succinctly in His Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .”  But what does that mean in actual practice?

We ask firs, what does it mean to “seek the kingdom of God”?  What is “the kingdom of God”?  The phrase harks back to certain prophecies in the Old Testament Book of Daniel in particular.  On various occasions Daniel prophesied about a succession of human empires which would be followed by a divine kingdom that would last forever.  When John the Baptist, then, and after him Jesus, began their public ministries, what they proclaimed was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17).  Much of the Sermon on the Mount, then, is an elaboration on that message; and at one point Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), and that our prayer should be, “Our Father in heaven, / Hallowed by Your name. / Your kingdom come. / Your will be done / On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9,10).  Our eternal destiny, then, as well as that of others, should be our overriding concern.  This means a life of nonconformity to the surrounding society, as well as the proclamation of the gospel.

There are, however, certain obstacles that stand in the way, and Jesus discusses them in Matt. 6:19-34.  The first of these is the snare of materialism.  Jesus is quite blunt about this: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24 – “Mammon” is the Aramaic word for “riches,” here used as a personification as a deity).  The plain fact of the matter is that one cannot be both earthly minded and heavenly minded at the same time.  Your attention is fixed on either one or the other.  Those who are preoccupied with success in this life inevitably lose their interest in spiritual things.

But ironically the same thing is true if we are lacking money as well, for here again we are preoccupied with our temporal, physical circumstances.  And so Jesus goes on to say, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (v. 25).  Jesus goes on to point out that “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (v. 32).

It is in this context then, that Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (v. 33).  Here we are given a promise – that if we keep our priorities straight, that if we put God first in our lives, that He will provide for our physical needs – food, clothing, shelter.  But the command requires faith – faith that God exists, that God is in control, that He genuinely cares for us.  The challenge to faith is that we cannot see that immediately.  We cannot actually see God, and we cannot always see Him working in our lives.  But we must step out in faith first, and then God promises to provide.

Our first priority for the coming year, then, must be God’s glory, the advancement of His kingdom, and the salvation of the lost.  A significant portion of our time, energy and money must be directed toward these goals.  If God is our Creator, if Christ is our Lord and Savior, then we owe everything to Them, and we should be living for Them.

The major question facing us at the start of the new year, then, is what can we do to serve Christ?