Friday, April 29, 2011

Things You Can Learn

...His truth shall be your shield and buckler. Psalm 91:4

Last Thursday there was a delightful respite from the cares of the office when Jerry and I joined Rep. Simpson and his family at an event held at the Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) Exotic Game Ranch. The weather was wonderful, the sun was still up ( a plus for those of us who have been working underground at the Capitol), and the tour of the animals was enlightening.

With thousands of animals on the ranch, it would be difficult to describe them all. But there were two very different species that caught my attention at the end of the tour. The contrast between them brings home a strong spiritual truth.

First, we met Rowdy. Rowdy is a 6,000 pound white rhinoceros. He came out of his enclosure when his name was called. That is about the extent of his desire to interact with humans. The rhinoceros, in the wild, is the “whats on the grill tonight” for crocodiles. Rowdy didn’t care that we were not a bus load of crocodiles. He snorted, kicked his back leg in the dirt like a bull ready to charge and generally double dog dared us to come any closer. We declined the offer.

Then we met Stretch and Spot. Stretch is a 14 foot tall reticulated giraffe and Spot is his nine month old pal. It is a little known fact, but giraffes have no natural predators. They are too tall to tangle with and they have the ability to kick 360 degrees around them. Nothing in its right mind would come near those hooves. But Stretch knows he has a natural protection. He is the most gentle animal you could imagine. We hand fed him carrots (the little baby ones) and he would gently take them out of our hands and crunch them. Even if you allowed your hand to go into his mouth with the carrot, he would not bite.

So, on the one hand, we have the 6,000 pound rhinoceros who you would think would be able to protect itself and then the long and lanky giraffe that you would think would be a sitting target (albeit a tall target). But, the one, knowing he had no predators was gentle.

And, so it is in life.

If you know that you sit in the palm of the Lord’s hand and trust that he is your shield, you can be as gentle as a lamb (or giraffe). The knowledge that you have no natural predators empowers you to view the world like Stretch, confident that you are safe.

On the other hand, those who are in constant fear of losing something . . . power, position, influence, money, . . . whatever, tend to act more like Rowdy. They figure there is a reason they weigh 6,000 pounds and dare you to cross their path.

I don’t recommend you take the dare, unless of course, you happen to be a giraffe.

Lord, thank you that you are our shield and our protector. Help us to walk in that knowledge with gentleness and mercy. Amen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thought for the Day

Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes; but by a man of understanding and knowledge right will be prolonged. Proverbs 28:2

Thought for the day:

        More sleep - Good.
        More traffic - Bad.

And, that explains why it was after 8:00 when I got to the office this morning. But, it is so not the topic of this musing.

Have you ever been reading Scripture and suddenly a bunch of random dots connect to show you something so obvious you wonder why you haven’t been preaching on it?

Here is my sermon on limited government.

When we fail to govern ourselves, the civil government feels compelled to come in and do he job for us. That isn’t new news. One of the frustrations of watching legislation is the myriad of overlapping governments we are putting on ourselves. We have the traditional federal, state, county and municipal entities. We have piled on school districts, municipal utility districts, special purpose districts, economic development districts, COGs (Council of Government), RMAs (regional mobility authority), the agencies with rule-making authority - the list goes on and on. To top it off, many of us live in areas governed by HOAs (homeowner associations). We think nothing of purchasing a piece of property and willing giving authority to another to tell us what we may and may not do on it.

When reading Proverbs 28 this morning it jumped off the page at me. Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes. We have all these people in authority over us because of our transgressions. Until we learn to govern ourselves, civil government will feel compelled to govern everything from our toilets and light bulbs to the menus at restaurants.

Tired of big government? Try a little self-government.

Don’t know where to start? Just begin with God’s Ten Commandments.

With knowledge and understanding, right will be prolonged.

Lord, have mercy on our nation. Make us men and women of understanding and knowledge so that right will be prolonged. Amen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

While we are waiting

Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord! Psalm 27:14

Have you ever wondered why the psalmist would put the same thought twice in a single verse of scripture. Was he reminding himself or future readers of the importance of waiting on the Lord?

The entire legislative process tends to create a hurry up and wait scenario. One minute you are rushing around with phones ringing, visitors interrupting, reading bills and trying to get everything in order. The next minute you are engaged in listening to debate on the House floor just waiting to see if anything is said requiring you to shoot information to the legislators to enable them to make a better informed vote.

Watching the floor debate can be boring. But not for me. That is when I knit socks.

I am pretty good at multi-tasking, but have never developed the ability to pay close attention to someone talking and reading something in detail at the same time. So, when my attention needs to be on floor debate, my hands are kept busy with my latest knitting project. Knitting is something that requires little thought, keeps my hands busy, and gives me a means to measure progress. For example, the debate on the House floor on the appropriations bill took 3/4 of a sock to complete. Frustration at the final outcome of the budget was dampened by the knowledge that the time had not been a total waste for me since there was a sock to show for it.

Most of life is spent waiting for some event to happen. But most of life unfolds in the waiting, not in the events. Waiting should not be a passive event - especially when you are waiting on the Lord. The psalmist reminds us that it is a time of strengthening.

So, for the next month or so as you find yourself just waiting for the next committee hearing, the floor debate to end, the session to be over . . . don’t be frustrated. Remember it is the time to be of good courage and look to see where the Lord is strengthening your heart.

You could also take up knitting.

Lord, help me to see You in the ebbs and flows of my daily schedule. Remind me to be of good courage when I am waiting on You. Amen

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! Psalm 146:1

Our office was closed for four days over the Easter weekend. It seemed that Monday would be a good day to come in and catch up on work while things were quiet.I’m not sure what it says about our staff, our work load, or our sanity that virtually every other staff member in our office thought exactly the same thing and we had a full house for a while.

Looking at the schedule for the coming week, I almost broke out in hives over the 202 bills that will be heard on the House floor today. With bad bills flying through with little or no debate, this 101 Republican majority is beginning to scare me a bit. There are so many bills that purport to do one thing while in reality they do the exact opposite. We have immigration bills that look good and do nothing. We have education bills to cut local mandates that only serve to cut teacher pay and increase teacher workloads, while leaving multitudes of unnecessary mandates in place. We have an appropriations bill for a two year biennium that only fund about 18 months of the period. And we have legislators who are like little boys whistling in the dark as they run past the woods, pretending they are not afraid and hoping the boogie man won’t jump out and get them.

My job is to read the bills, analyze them and make recommendations about the content of the bill. I used to think my job was to stop the bad stuff and get the good stuff passed. That understanding of my job description left me a total failure and utterly frustrated. It is much easier to fulfill my duty to read, analyze recommend and then tell God on ‘em when they do the wrong thing.

John Quincey Adam’s nailed it when he said, “Duty is our’s results are God’s.”

And, I praise the Lord that the results are in His hands.

Lord, Do you see what is going on around here? Just checking. Thank you that nothing is happening around here today that is going to take you by surprise. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dead Man

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

This is the week that we observe Good Friday in remembrance of the crucifixion of Christ and Easter in celebration of His resurrection. But for the man (or woman) who walks in the power of the risen Lord, the resurrection is not something that is celebrated once a year. They do it every day. Their lives are a personification of dead to sin, alive to God.

And, so we come to today’s theme - political suicide.

As many of you know, this session I am working in the office of a freshman legislator. He is an interesting fellow. He actually says what he believes and does what he says. He is a humble man - quiet and unassuming, but tenacious and persistent. And, those characteristics have the rest of the people around here completely confounded.

Why would a freshman legislator cause a ruckus on the House floor during the debate on appropriations. He was credited with everything from grandstanding to trying to set up an unfavorable vote to be used in future elections. The truth was, he actually believed that we should not be funding the Commission on the Arts and corporate welfare programs when we were cutting funding to nursing homes by 40 percent. Nobody put him up to it. He actually (don’t laugh) read the Appropriations bill himself and found the anomalies.

Then last week, he had the audacity to request that a bill on a Local and Consent calendar be put on the General State calendar so that it could be properly debated. The bill grows government by 14.5 employees at a cost of $1.3 million. It could not be debated or amended on the local calendar and under the House rules probably should never have been placed there in the first place. It was the principle of the matter.

The author of the bill happened to be the chair of the Local and Consent calendar committee, a seasoned legislator who has the respect and fear of her peers. With the ability to kill a member’s bill by simply refusing to place it on a calendar, few members are willing to question anything done in the committee. Some love their legislation more than their principles.

So, what is it that motivates or even empowers a freshman legislator to commit political suicide? It is the understanding that it is not difficult to commit suicide when you are already a dead man. When you know that the Lord has brought you here for a time such as this, you play to the Audience of One. When you come to this place to serve God, not man, the decisions you make can be different. And when you love the Lord and your home, the threat that you may not be chosen to return to this den of iniquity is not a credible threat when the other option is regular business hours and time with your family.

The part of me that wants to protect this freshman legislator from political pitfalls battles with the part of me that rejoices in the answer to prayer that a principled legislator is. I count it a privilege to be able to watch it play out. In the words of one of my political hero’s, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”

Lord, may Your hand of protection be upon those legislators You have brought here for a time such as this. Amen

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When in Doubt . . .

My rule of thumb is that when in doubt about what to read in scripture and short on time, turn to the Psalms. They never fail to comfort, inspire, stir up or reproach me as the day’s needs merit. This morning Psalm 60 seemed to be pulled from the headlines of recent days.

O God, You have cast us off;
You have broken us down;
You have been displeased;
Oh, restore us again!
You have made the earth tremble;
You have broken it;
Heal its breaches, for it is shaking.
You have shown Your people hard things:
You have made us drink the wine of confusion.
You have given a banner to those who fear You,
That it may be displayed because of the truth.
That your beloved may be delivered,
Save with Your right hand, and hear me. Psalm 60:1-5

Lord, I praise You that you know both our past and our future and love us anyway. I pray for your empowering grace and your unending mercies to follow your people today. Amen

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oh Joy!

...the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Whew! I don’t know about you, but it seems like life is happening in fast forward these days.

Being a veteran of legislative sessions, this session has been a challenge to me as the information flying at me is maxing out my capacity to process. Add the melt down of the phone lines due to a particular vote, a bit of frustration over dropping the ball when I shouldn’t have, and lack of sleep and you are setting up the scenario for not good things to happen.

After carefully considering the options, I decided to nix the idea of hiding under my desk until everybody goes away. There is too much under there for me to clean out for it to be comfortable. I decided against locking the office door, also. One time I locked the door and forgot about it and almost whacked my nose from the momentum as I tried to go through it anyway. It wasn’t pretty.

So, my final option was to remember that the joy of the Lord is my strength, and I am fully equipped to handle anything that comes my way this day.

Praise God!

Thank you, Lord, that you do not lead us where you cannot keep us. And, thank you for Your joy that you give us. Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Call to Action

But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they rolled a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. Exodus 17:12

Let me just preface this piece with the admission that, yes, I have repented.

Whenever my schedule would get exceedingly hectic I used to tell my husband that if only my calendar had bigger squares on it I would be able to accomplish more. My philosophy was that if there was room to write an action on the calendar, there was time to do it. There is a flaw in that philosophy - which is not the topic of this missive. Back to the point, yesterday my calendar needed bigger squares.

Naturally, my response was to get offended on someone else’s behalf - like I have time to pick up someone else’s issue. Justifying it to myself as a righteous indignation allowed me to carry it a few hours longer, lose some sleep, get discouraged and generally irritate myself and those around me. Whining to the Lord this morning, He gently reminded me (I’m sure the two by four is gentle compared to other means He has) to shut up and start praying.

We have an incredible group of new legislators (and some seasoned ones) who are servants of the Lord Most High. You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that so far, but it is time to share the blame for their lethargy. A legislator who chooses to go against the grain in this process is setting him / herself up for a beating. There are a thousand ways that those who disagree with you can make life difficult. You are subject to ridicule. Your legislative package can be stalled. You are not invited to participate with the “in crowd.” You can be lied to and about. If that doesn’t help you envision what they are up against, think about the play ground in junior high. You have the counterparts to the cool kids, nerds and geeks around the Capitol - and they have been known to act accordingly.

So, what is the solution? When Moses sent Joshua into battle over the Amalekites, he stood on top of the hill overlooking the battle and raised the rod of God in his hand. As long as his hand was up, Joshua was winning. When he became too tired to stand there any longer, Aaron and Moses brought him a rock to sit on and held his hands up for him.

By virtue of our vote for these godly men and women, we have sent them into battle on our behalf. We have to be constantly raising our hands over them and covering them in prayer as they do battle. When we drop that coverage, they will lose.

There are a lot of bills that will be considered on the House floor today. I challenge each of you who are in the Capitol to take a few minutes out of your day to walk to the House gallery and pray over the Texas Legislature. Ask the Lord to give the members the courage of their conviction. Pray for divine wisdom and discernment as they are debating the bills. Pray that they will fear the Lord more than any man or constituency group.

God is not restrained by time or distance. For those of you who are not in the Capitol, accept your responsibility to help solve our state’s problems. Add your prayers to the chorus coming from here. Most importantly, remember that this is not a one time call to prayer.

Lord, stir up your prayer warriors. Bring them into the battle. Amen

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Forty Days

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Gen. 6:8

Have you ever tried to imagine yourself in the place of some of the great characters of the Bible? When God got fed up with all creation, He decided to destroy them with the flood. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He was the one whom God trusted to make the ark, collect all the animals, and literally bridge the gap between the flooded desolation and the new beginning.

It was no small task. His wife probably thought he was crazy. It had never rained before. Her neighbors had no idea what Noah and his sons were thinking with their new T-shirts advertising “We Scoop Poop.” And now be honest, if God had asked you to do the task, would you have been faithful to bring along the skunks, spiders, and mosquitoes? Or, with so much confusion and so many animals, would you just figure God would never miss a few of His “lesser” creations?

Yep, just thinking about Noah’s assignment makes me much happier that my next forty days will be spent here in the Capitol and not on that ark. Sure, it will rain legislation and my desk will continue to look like it has thrown up. My office is oozing reports, correspondence, resolutions and amendments. The poop we scoop is metaphorical. There is probably as much of it as was on the ark, but the stench is not so overwhelming.

With that, I have probably carried this analogy further than it needs to go. All to make two points.

  1. Noah found grace in the eyes of God. And so can you.
  2. There are only forty days left in session!!!!!!!
Lord, I do pray that You will continue to cover us with Your amazing grace. Amen

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Pig's Nose Ring

As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is lovely woman who lacks discretion. Proverbs 11:22

What is the first thing you think of when you read the above scripture about “...a ring of gold in a swine’s snout”? Did you get a visual on that? Was the pig also wearing pearls and a fancy hat? (Think Miss Piggy in The Muppet Movie.) Do you get the comparison between the pig’s nose ring and a woman sure to do the wrong thing at just the right time? Could you explain all that to me?

Actually, I just picked the scripture this morning because it made me chuckle. And it delights my soul that scripture has such enjoyable nuggets of treasure hidden from cover to cover. Who, if you told told them you were reading a book where the practice of giving a pig a nose ring, would ever guess you were referring to the Word of God?

No kidding. It is like a treasure hunt to read the Bible. I found my treasure for the day. Now, you go find you own. And don’t stop reading until you do!

Lord, thank you that Your Word has such precious nuggets to make us chuckle and the power to change lives. Open my eyes and my ears to receive the message You have for me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ever Been the Cat?

I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. Psalm 9:1

Have you ever walked into a dark room and stepped on a cat? Immediately the silence is broken by the screech of the cat as it leaps into the air. It lands three feet away from where it started, with its back hunched, hair bristling and claws unsheathed. Have you ever been the cat?

For those who are unaccustomed to the pace at the State Capitol, the cat analogy is as close as it gets to explaining how a day goes around here. Things can be perfectly quiet and going along well until that phone call comes in or the visitor arrives that steps on your tail and you find yourself doing, if not physical at least mental, gymnastics that leave you with hair bristling and claws unsheathed. I will even confess to an occasional screech or two.

Then, there are those days when you feel like a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. You are just waiting for the inevitable.

I can’t tell you how to stop being the cat. But, I can tell you how to stop worrying about the rocking chairs.

Just look up and praise the Lord. One of the marvelous things He does is to give peace in the midst of chaos.

Lord, I will praise you with my whole heart and tell of Your marvelous works. Amen

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Do the Right Thing

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord. Psalm 4:5

It is true in all arenas, but especially evident in the political realm, that life is lived in a multi-dimensional arena. Decisions made at the Capitol have political, policy, and personal ramifications. Each vote taken has winners and losers - and they keep score.

Years ago my short tenure on a local school board taught me that only the person taking the vote is able to count the personal cost of a decision made. It was a valuable lesson that has served me well as a policy advisor to legislators. Explaining the intracacies of a particular policy idea is simple compared to assessing the consequences of actually implementing it.

So, what do you do? My best advice, after all the facts have been shared, is to take the vote that will not keep you awake when you lay down at night.

Or, as the psalmist suggested, Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord.

Lord, I pray the legislators who govern our state and nation will fear You more than anything else as they make decisions on our behalf . Amen

Monday, April 4, 2011

Running the Race

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares up, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

On Friday the House began consideration of the state budget at 8:30 am. On Saturday morning around 1:00 am, they had managed to get through the first three (of 11) sections of the budget. They called it a day, adjourned and came back Sunday afternoon at 4:00 to continue the debate. The budget was finally passed a little after 10:00 pm. The 23 and a half hours of debate came after well over 200 hours of meetings by appropriation committee members to construct the budget.

It was a long race. And, for many, a very frustrating one. The entire budget process has been designed over the years to protect particular fiefdoms of money through dedicated accounts of revenues. The result is that decisions of prioritization on how money can be spent are restricted. Suppose you believe that revenue funding corporate welfare programs would be better spent to fund nursing homes. The option of moving the money from the corporate programs is dedicated to those programs and it is not an option to change that.

When an attempt is made to discern why things are done the way they are done it is like the story of the little girl watching her mother cook a roast. The mother cut the end of the roast off and put the slab of meat into the roasting pan. The little girl asked why she had cut the end off the roast. The mother realized that she did it that way because that was the way her mother had always done it. So, she and her daughter called the grandmother to ask why she cut the end off of the roast before she put it in the pan. The grandmother was stumped as well. She cut the end off of the roast because her mother had always done that. Fortunately, the little girl’s great-grandmother was still alive, so the mystery was solved. When they called to pose the question to her, the response was simple, “The pan I had was too small for the roast I was cooking.”

And, so, what made sense in one generation no longer made since in future ones. When it comes to government budgets, some of those in charge have forgotten why we did some things in the first place. Then, on the other hand, there are those who realize that the system is broken. They just like it that way.

Lord, give those who govern over us to run the race you have put before them with wisdom and integrity. Amen