When I worked at Kennedy Space Center, one of my friends was a
cheerful, hard-working young NASA public affairs specialist who always wore a smile.
But one lightning-filled evening, while we sat together in the NASA
Test Directors office waiting to see if the first night Space Shuttle launch would
"go" (it did), Mark looked unusually "down."
That wasnt like him. So I asked him what was wrong.
He replied "Oh, I put my foot in my mouth and got my boss mad at
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Well," he answered, "you know were sending up a
cargo of rats on this flight. I was handling the press conference, and one of the
reporters asked me if the rats had names. I said the first thing that popped into my mind:
No, they just have numbers, like the rest of us civil servants!"
Are government employees faceless numbers? Or people of equal value
with the rest of us?
The Bible tells us were to love our "neighbors" in the
government by honoring, respecting, and praying for them no matter what their
party. But loving government employees and leaders doesnt stop there. Many of the
other ways Scripture teaches us to love all our neighbors also apply to loving government
workers and officials.
How we treat those who serve in our government is the way were
treating Jesus (Matthew 25:40)! Do we complain about them? Were complaining
about Jesus! Do we compliment them? Were complimenting Jesus!
"Kindly words, sympathizing attentions, watchfulness against
wounding men's sensitiveness--these cost very little, but they are priceless in their
value." - F. W. Robertson.
How can we love government workers and officials?
Rocket genius Wernher von Brauns lived in northern Alabama.
He only came to Floridas Cape Canaveral (over 600 miles away) for key meetings and
launches. But, while there, von Braun would walk through the "Capeside" offices,
greeting workers by name. He asked about their health; their wives, their children. He
took time to show his team members he valued them.
Government workers are "normal" people who happen to work for
the public. They appreciate courtesy and respect. The rule is simple: treat them as
wed like to be treated!
"Normal?" Yes, that has many meanings. My Seattle dentist
told me that he and his wife wanted to be a "normal" family. So they planned for
three children; two boys and a girl. They even pre-chose three "normal" names
for those future children.
Tom, Dick, and Harriet.
They got Tom and Dick. Harriet said "no way!" Though that
meant she missed living in their beautiful island home, "Tooth Acres."
"Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind
of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice
tenderhearted mercy and kindness to others" (Col. 3:12),
Do we say "thank you?"
The hand-written letter came from one of our State Senators.
Id helped work for new state legislation for Idahos
libraries. Wed been successful. Afterwards, our leaders reminded us to thank each
senator and representative whod supported us. So I wrote several notes of
State Senator Fisher Ellsworth sent me a very personal reply. He told
me how extremely rare it was for him to ever get a thank-you from any of his constituents.
And how much it meant to receive one!
Thank-yous are part of love! And they can benefit us in
When my second son was in middle school, a local store held a promotion
for our NBA basketball team, the San Diego Clippers (now the Los Angeles Clippers). The
weekly prize was two game tickets. We put our filled-out forms in the box, and one week,
to our surprise and delight, my son won.
After enjoying the game, we went to the store to thank them. While
there, we entered my sons name one last time.
He won two more times!
Ive always suspected that the store was impressed enough with a
winner who said "thank you" that they made sure he was rewarded. And a wonderful
reward it was!
"Always be thankful" (Col. 3:15; also read: Phil. 4:8; Titus 1:15).
Do we let our leaders be human?
Have you noticed that we treat our friends mistakes
good-naturedly, forgivingly? Yet we severely criticize public officials for equally minor
missteps. "Loving" public officials means that we appreciate what they do well,
yet treat "human" failings gently, even with humor.
The best city mayor Ive ever known was an exceptionally skilled
administrator and outstanding at staying in touch with his community. Yet he, too, had his
One morning he was scheduled to give a breakfast talk on one
side of town, then a live radio interview on the other. But his car had gone "belly
up." So he walked downstairs to the police chiefs office. "Bob," he
said, "I have two talks to give, and my cars in the shop. Can I borrow
"Sure," replied the chief, "no problem." He tossed
the mayor the keys. "Its the brown station wagon parked right outside."
When the mayor finished his first talk, it was pouring rain. He dashed
to the brown wagon, jumped inside - chagrined to see hed left the keys in the
ignition - then drove on to his radio interview in a mall restaurant.
He and the DJ left the mall together. The mayor climbed back into the
station wagon and tried to turn it on. None of the keys fit! Baffled, he asked the DJ for
help. "Mayor," the DJ finally said, "I think you have the wrong keys."
Sure enough, as the mayor checked his pockets, he found a second set, which worked. Still
puzzled, he drove back to city hall.
Re-entering the police department, the mayor handed the chief the
offending key ring. "Bob," he said, "you gave me the wrong keys!" The
chief scratched his chin and thought that through. "Mayor," he said, "I
dont think thats possible."
About then a light flashed on in the chiefs mind. An hour
earlier, his department had issued an all-points bulletin for a stolen brown station
wagon, taken from in front of the same restaurant where the mayor had given his first
In his hurry to get out of the drenching rain, the mayor had jumped
into the wrong brown station wagon! He hadnt left the keys in the ignition. But,
unintentionally, hed stolen it!
The mayors staff was highly loyal. But this was too tempting.
Someone leaked word. And that afternoon a friendly, intelligent young TV newsman
"happened" to drop in at City Hall.
"Mayor," he asked, "Whats this about you stealing
The mayor laughed, shook his head, and replied "Ray, Im
going to plead insanity!"
"Dont criticize, and then you wont be
criticized." (Matt. 7:1-2).
Do we pray for our leaders?
"Pray much for others ... Pray in this way for kings and all
others who are in authority over us, or are in places of high responsibility ... This is
good and pleases God our Savior" (1 Tim. 2:1-3).
Is that always easy? No. In Bible days, most governments were corrupt
and actively persecuted godly Jews and Christians. Yet early Christians gave them love
through prayer, respect, honor, and obedience. God expects us, too, to "love"
our government, whatever party leads it.
Do we obey laws?
"Remind your people to obey the government and its officers, and
always to be obedient and ready for any honest work. They must not speak evil of anyone,
nor quarrel, but be gentle and truly courteous to all" (Titus 3:1-2; also Rom.
Do we ever "speak evil" of a leader from the opposing
party? Nah. Im sure that wed NEVER do that! Thatd be speaking evil of
Jesus! Hed judge us strongly for that.
Does obedience have limits? Yes, in rare circumstances. Daniel
3:1-30 describes how three young Hebrew men refused Nebuchadnezzars command
to worship his statue, despite facing the fiery furnace. And Daniel was thrown into the
lions den after Darius forbade prayer to anyone but him (Daniel 6:1-28).
If were government workers, we owe it to our
"neighbors" to serve them honestly and fairly, even when lobbyists or party
leaders pressure us to do otherwise.
Do we recognize government workers as "Gods servants?"
Two selfless government employees once "went the second mile"
to serve us. We wanted to explore a particular North Carolina historic location, but
couldnt find it on our maps. So we started our vacation by driving 600 miles
directly to that countys library. We arrived at 5 PM, exactly as the day shift was
We explained to the front desk librarian. She said "You know, the
lady who could help you just went home." She paused, then added "But maybe she
hasnt left the parking lot yet." Excusing herself, she went out the back door.
Minutes later, she returned, with the librarys local history expert in tow!
That lady was courteous, polite, and patient. She never so much as
hinted that she was now off duty or that we should come back the next day. Instead, she
graciously showed us to a table where we could talk. She took time to explain the history
of the area that interested us, and told us how to find it. Armed with her directions, we
drove there with no trouble.
Both those ladies "lived" Romans 13:4, which could just as
well say "the librarian is sent by God to help you."
Do we honor our leaders by thoughtfully considering what they say?
We appreciate it when own ideas are considered thoughtfully and fairly. Shouldnt
we think over our leaders proposals in the same way? Thats part of honoring
them. We dont honor them when we thoughtlessly criticize them. Have you ever tried
to do a good job while other people tear you down? Not a pleasant feeling, is it? Nor
I once served on a mayors commission to study whether our city
needed a new library. We researched carefully and finally recommended holding a bond
election to build a new facility.
We got reactions! A small but vocal anti-tax group opposed us (and,
among other things, invited me to leave town). When one local judge announced he was
against the library, a commission member asked him why. The judge admitted he hadnt
read our report. Why not? "Because I was afraid Id get confused." Our
commissioner replied, "Judge, I surely hope you dont decide all your cases that
The proposal was soundly defeated, but won the next time. And the city
finally gained a beautiful new library!
I went into that experience believing citizen involvement was a means
to better government. I still do. But I learned that many people dont judge
recommendations on their merits. They automatically, vote "no." So we waste
public officials time, hard work, and tax money. Thats not loving or honoring
them or ourselves!
The same city held several elections to replace an old, unsafe school
building. The first few times, those proposals were defeated by the same small group that
opposed us. Their letters to the newspaper said "The old building is fine. Lets
spend the money on teachers salaries." But at school budget time theyd
write "Teachers earn plenty. Lets replace the old buildings!"
Hypocritical? Yes! Their only goal was to defeat any taxes, any time, any way.
My bookkeeper and I both had children in that school. One morning, at
work, her phone rang. "The schools on fire!" We raced outside, and were
stunned to see an enormous churning column of black smoke boiling high above the trees!
Our hearts seemed to stop! We literally ran several blocks to the school, to see vivid red
flames shooting above the roof and out every window. The old electric wiring had
short-circuited. But, thank God, all the children (including ours) were safely outside!
At the next election, a new building was overwhelmingly approved.
Those experiences caused me to stop tuning in most
"Christian" radio and TV, except for inspirational music. Why? Because I became
vividly conscious of how many "Christian" DJs and TV hosts acted just like
the judge who didnt read our report, but opposed it anyway; and like the
letter-writers who were against any school improvements, no matter how badly needed. I
could no longer stand listening to such irresponsibility. I still cant. Let me tell
you forcefully, its not Christian!
"Give honor and respect to all those to whom it is due" (Rom.
Also read: Ex. 22:28; Ps. 1:1; Eccl. 10:20; 2 Tim. 2:14; 2:16; 2: 23; Titus 3:9; Jude
Do we recognize our leaders gifts and talents?
We all have unique talents and abilities. Some are natural. Some come
from hard work, education, and/or experience. Many are "all of the above."
Paul lists two gifts that are as important in government as in the
church: "Those who can help others," and "Those who can get others to work
together" (1 Cor. 12:27; also verses 4-7).
Learn to appreciate whatever gifts, abilities, or talents God has given
our leaders. Thats an important part of honoring them.
Do we love instead of hate?
"Anyone who hates ... is really a murderer at heart; and you know
that no one wanting to murder has eternal life within" (1 John 3:15).
Typically, political campaigns intensify hate. In the Bible, the future
King David refused to hate King Saul, even when Saul was trying to murder him.
Davids men could have killed Saul. But David said "No. Dont kill him, for
who can remain innocent after attacking the Lords chosen king? Surely God will
strike him down some day, or he will die in battle or of old age. But God forbid that I
should kill the man he has chosen to be king!" (1 Sam. 26:9-11.)
One modern David wrestled with hate and lying. His faith finally won.
David Kuo, Special Assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-2003, was a talented
speechwriter who wrote for many prominent leaders. But his conscience troubled him about
what hed written. "I had some apologizing to do. I had said and written many
nasty and hateful things ... I had spoken mistruths in hate. It had been so easy to do ...
all I had to do was throw in ... a smack of sarcasm and just a pinch of a punch line, and
I had them rolling in the aisles. That had to stop. If I ever could, I knew I ought to
apologize for doing it" (Kuo, Tempting Faith, Free Press, 2006, pp 97-98).
Do we reject lies?
During elections we often act as if our only moral standard is
"whats good for my party?" Both sides invent "facts" (outright
lies) about the other. But thats sin. God will judge us for it!
"You must not tell lies" (Deut. 5:20;
also read: Prov. 19:5).
How can we identify lies? Its easier if we know whats true.
To try to learn, my family uses three steps:
We inform ourselves ahead of time.
We learn what each major candidate has supported in the past. We look
at what hes done, not just what he says. When a man whos campaigned for years
to abolish one government program suddenly pledges to save it, were skeptical.
We use unbiased sources.
We read each each major candidates Web site, but that only gives
one side. So we look at neutral, factual sites like Congressional Quarterlys. We
follow the "fact check" on CNNs internet election news.
We dont assume our friends are right. And we dont get
"facts" from talk shows, even "Christian" ones. Too often theyre
If it sounds scandalous, its likely (but not always) untrue. It
certainly needs verifying. During a recent presidential campaign a friend e-mailed us a
"notorious quote" supposedly from one candidates book, complete with the
page number. But the quote failed our first test: it didnt sound like that
candidate. So we got the book from the library. There was no such quote, on that page or
any other! In fact, the book said the very opposite. The "quote" was a political
dirty trick. But many Christians didnt check, believed it, and helped spread it. God
will judge us for that, regardless of party!
"Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets
the record straight" (Prov. 18:17; also v. 13.)
Do we look beneath the surface?
One of the Bibles most inspirational stories tells how God raised
Joseph from slavery and prison to put him in charge of Egypt.
Dont we wish people like Joseph would run for office today? Yes!
But wait! If they did, would we support or oppose them? And, if they won, would we try our
best to deny them a second term - or impeach them?
Unfortunately, most of us would fight them.
But why? Joseph was a great man of God!
Yes, we know that - now. But would we have thought so then? Lets
Lets imagine that the same events happen today. Exactly. And
lets imagine that we only know what the man-on-the-street knew then. No more, no
One morning, the news tells us our President has appointed a new
national administrator and given him most presidential duties.
The media are curious. They investigate. They learn:
- The new "acting president" isnt even a citizen.
- He is, in fact, an alien who was brought into the country illegally.
- Hes only held two jobs in his life. He disappeared from the first without notice,
and was fired from the second.
- He hasnt had one day of government experience.
- Hes a convicted sex offender who was serving a prison term for attempted rape.
- Theres no new evidence he was innocent.
- Hes proposing to add a brand-new tax, totaling 20% of your income, on top of your
existing taxes. When you cant pay, hell take your land and personal property.
In Josephs life, every one of those statements was true.
Now, be honest. What would your newspaper editor say? Or your minister,
priest, or rabbi? If a pollster called, what would you say?
Would anyone say "This man is Gods choice! Lets
No! Both parties would desert him as quickly as they could call press
conferences. The media would clamor for his firing. Attack ads would fill the airwaves,
and for once wed think they were justified. CNNs "fact check" would
agree. Presidential approval ratings would plummet to an all-time low.
Have we ever stopped to think that the greatest miracle in
Josephs life may not have been that God made him Egypts ruler, but that he
succeeded in remaining in office afterwards?
But God knew that, to survive the coming famine, Egypt would need
strong government. It would need high taxes. Nothing less would succeed.
Joseph obeyed God. He did what was necessary. It couldnt have
been popular then. It wouldnt be today. But his policies were of God! And they
Joseph should teach us the importance of finding out whats really
true below the surface. If we dont, well run many of today's
"Josephs" out of office - if we ever elect them to start with!
Sobering, isnt it?
Joseph's story also shows that God favors building up our communities,
even if it costs money. We may talk about "cutting the frills from the school
budget," but when those budgets require teachers to buy hundreds of dollars worth of
our childrens school supplies and lunches out of their own pockets (and Ive
lived where they did), isnt it their small size thats scandalous?
"Loving our neighbors" in the government means treating those
who work there as if they were Jesus. It means honoring them, praying for them, and
crediting their talents and accomplishment. It means taking time to learn the truth. It
demands we ignore attack ads, bogus e-mails, and political dirty tricks. It calls on us to
leave stereotypes behind. To be responsible and honest. To judge fairly, and vote
"Silent gratitude isnt much good to anyone."
Gladys Browyn Stern