Wednesday, November 16, 2022

December 10, 2022 Constitutional Amendments Overview

Source: Public Domain

There's another election right around the corner and this time there are 3 Constitutional Amendments on the ballot for Louisiana voters. Each time this happens I try to provide a "plain English" explanation of the amendments because they are often written in "legalize" which essentially means they are written by lawyers, for lawyers. I'm not knocking that because it's very important for the language to be correct. But sometimes it makes them difficult to understand by the layperson.

Thankfully that is not the case with the three amendments before us on the December 10, 2022 ballot. They really are fairly easy to understand. What's harder to understand is the motive behind the amendments! There's always a backstory, which is also important to understanding the amendments and why you should vote for or against them. So here's my best attempt at explaining the amendments and why you might vote for or against them:

  • Constitutional Amendment 1 would ban people who are not US citizens from registering to vote or casting ballots in Louisiana elections. While that seems to be a good idea, the LA Constitution already requires a person to be at least 18 years old and a citizen of Louisiana in order to register to vote and to cast a ballot. Plus, the election code requires people applying to register to vote to attest they are US citizens. So this really seems to be a redundancy. Apparently this is a knee-jerk reaction to the fact the some municipalities in other states have allowed non-US citizens to vote in local elections. But that loophole does not exist in LA as municipalities do not have the legal authority to change the rules to allow non-citizens to vote. (I'm voting NO because I believe this is a needless change that only seeks to stir up emotions and gain political points.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 2 would require that the governor's appointees to the State Civil Service Commission be confirmed by the LA Senate. Backstory: 6 of the 7 members of the State Civil Service Commission are appointed by the Governor. (The 7th is elected by the states classified employees themselves.) The governor receives 3 recommendations from six different private universities (including Louisiana Christian University). He then selects one from each region of the state, making sure there is at least one representative from each of the 6 congressional districts. This amendment would require that his appointees go through a Senate confirmation process, which would slow down the process and introduce politics into what should be an apolitical process. (I'm voting NO because I think this just gums up the works.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 3 would require that the governor's appointees to the State Police Commission be confirmed by the LA Senate. Pretty much the same backstory as the previous amendment with recommendations coming from six private universities, including LCU, and the 7th being elected by the classified state police officers. I find it interesting that both of these amendments seek to limit the governor's discretion so it makes me wonder if these two are more about disagreements between the current legislature and governor than about policy. I trust the presidents of the various universities (Centenary, Dillard, LCU, Loyola, Tulane, and Xavier) to put forth good candidates that are above reproach, and I don't think we need to insert additional politics into the process. (I'm voting NO because I think this just gums up the works.)
Well, there you have it! I don't expect you to agree with me on everything. I've often found that the elections often don't go the way of my recommendations - and I'm ok with that! My goal is to try to explain things as simply as I can in hopes that folks will at least be more informed on the amendments and not skip over them. I HIGHLY recommend the PAR Louisiana guide to the amendments which gives a wonderfully balanced approach to explaining them (although they use a lot more words than I do! LOL!).

Don't forget there are several other very important runoff elections on the ballot, including:
  • Alexandria City Council, District 2: Gary Johnson or Roosevelt Johnson
  • School Board District G: Keith Breazeale or Wally Fall
  • Forest Hill Chief of Police: Glynn Dixon or Jay Molinary
  • Lecompte Alderman: Top 2 among Alex Baker, Michael Busch, Butch Butler and Nancy Phillips
Early voting is Nov 26-Dec 3 (excluding Sunday, Nov 27) from 8:30AM-6PM and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Dec 6 from Louisiana's Voter Portal or your Registrar of Voters Office. (Absentee ballots must be received by 4:30PM on Dec 9 and election day is Dec 10 from 7AM-8PM. Don't forget to VOTE!!!

Monday, October 24, 2022

Nov 8, 2022 Constitutional Amendments Overview


Source: Public Domain

I've become a rather irregular blogger, apparently. Over the past 3-4 years I've only been posting my thoughts on the Louisiana Constitutional Amendments that appear on our ballots each year. I do not claim to be an expert on the amendments at all. I simply read the various resources available and try to make an informed decision. And since I am both a pastor and an elected official, I often get asked to share my perspective - and thus this blog post. (BTW, it's ok to disagree with me. I disagree with myself sometimes! LOL!)

This year there are ELEVEN proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution, eight on the November ballot and three on the December runoff ballot. And, as usual, they can be a bit cumbersome. Below I am providing a very brief overview of the eight that will appear on the November 8 ballot, along with my personal recommendation. Early voting runs Oct 25-Nov 1 from 8:30AM-6:00PM daily, excluding Sunday, at the Rapides Parish Courthouse or at Kees Park Community Center in Pineville.

By the way, I get most of my information from the excellent non-partisan 21-page guide put out by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which goes into great lengths to explain each one and give the pros and cons for each one without taking a side. I also draw on the 12-page guide from the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL) which does offer their recommendations. Based on that research, here's my brief take on the 8 constitutional amendments that will appear on our ballot on Tuesday, Nov 8, 2022, (and I'll provide a later post on the 3 constitutional amendments that will appear on the Dec 10, 2022):

  • Constitutional Amendment 1 would allow seven different state-controlled trust funds to invest up to 65% of their funds in the stock market. Currently these 7 funds have different caps, from 0% to 35% (or 50% with 2/3 vote from lawmakers) and are largely limited to investing in low-earning instruments like government bonds, CDs, etc. (I'm voting YES because these long term trust funds need long term tools to ensure they keep up with inflation.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 2 would increase the local property tax exemption for veterans with a service-connected disability greater than 50% as verified by the VA. Currently local parishes can call for a vote to double the exemption from $75,000 to $150,000. This amendment does not call for a local vote and would give 100% exemption for 100% service-connected disabilities, $120,000 exemption for 70-99% service-connected disabilities, and $100,000 exemption for 50-69% service connected disabilities. (I'm voting YES because the sacrifices of our men and women disabled in the service of our country should be recognized and rewarded.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 3 would allow civil service employees to support political campaigns of immediate family members. Currently civil service (classified) employees are prohibited from almost all involvement in the political process, primarily based on Louisiana's sordid past of political corruption. (I'm voting NO because the definition of "immediate family member" is too broad (21 different classifications) and this could erode the public's trust in the political system. It is also opposed by most civil service organizations.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 4 would allow local water systems to waive charges for excess water use not caused by the customer. Currently the state constitution says that if the water went through the meter the customer must pay for it (outside of specific circumstances). This amendment would allow local water systems to waive the excess fees if the usage was caused by damage to the water lines outside the control of the customer - for example, flooding, ice storms, etc. (I'm voting YES because it is unfair to force a customer to pay for something outside of his/her control.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 5 would allow local taxing districts more time to decide whether to "roll forward" millages (property taxes) after assessment years. Property values must be reassessed at least every 4 years by the local tax assessor. When the district-wide assessment increases property values local governments either adjust their taxes down to generate the same revenue as previously or "roll forward" the millage to generate more revenue. (I'm voting YES because this is the only way local governments can keep up with inflation Otherwise new taxes would need to be enacted.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 6 would limit increases in property taxes to no more than 10% per year in Orleans Parish. Property values in Orleans Parish have been soaring, sometimes over 50% in the post-Katrina build-back. This has created a burden on taxpayers who have seen their property taxes increase correspondingly. This amendment would phase in property tax increases to no more than 10% per year. Although the situation appears to be unique to Orleans Parish due to post-Katrina issues, because it is a property tax issue, it has to be addressed through the constitution. (I'm voting YES because this is a reasonable approach to a unique situation.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 7 places limits on the definition of "involuntary servitude."  Currently the LA Constitution states that "slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except in the latter case as a punishment for a crime." The new language reads “Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, (but this) does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.” While the wording seems similar, the author of the amendment says the wording was changed after he introduced it and now is overly ambiguous and he now opposes passage of it. (I'm voting NO because the author himself opposes it.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 8 would remove the requirement that those receiving a freeze on their property tax assessments have to annually recertify their income status. Individuals with 100% disabilities who also have an annual tax income of under $100,000 can have their property taxes "frozen" at the current levels, provide that they provide an annual recertification of their income. This amendment would make their frozen property tax assessment permanently without any recertification of income.  (I'm voting NO because the steps to receive this benefit are not overly onerous and provide for checks and balances in the property tax system.)
Well, there you have it! Whether you agree with me or not, hopefully my explanation helps you understand the four amendments you'll be asked to vote on this weekend. By the way, there are quite a few other races on the ballot, including US Senate, US House and Public Service Commission, plus a whole host of local races in Rapides Parish (Police Jury and School Board), plus Alexandria, Ball, Boyce, Forest Hill, Glenmora, Lecompte, McNary, and Woodworth.  You can find your sample ballot by going to the GeauxVote website.

I hope this is helpful! I would love to hear your thoughts on the amendments, even if you disagree with me! And whether we agree or not, don't forget to vote!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

2021 Constitutional Amendments Summary


Source: Public Domain

Readers of this blog pretty much know that I am both a pastor and an elected official. I've explained my view on wearing the distinct hats of "politics and religion" in a previous blog post so I'm not going to rehash that here. But because of the uniqueness of those dual roles I'm often asked for my thoughts about elections. I no longer give out recommendations on individual candidates, but many still ask me what I think about the constitutional amendments in Louisiana - whether they agree with me or not! 😂

This year there are four proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution and, as usual, they can be a bit cumbersome. I'm planning on voting "yes" on 3 of the 4 and I'll explain why below. By the way, I get most of my information from the excellent non-partisan guide put out by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which goes into great lengths to explain each one and give the pros and cons for each one. With thanks to their 14-page guide, here's my brief take on the 4 constitutional amendments that will appear on our ballot on Saturday, Nov 13, 2021:

  • Constitutional Amendment 1 would create a streamlined sales tax collection system in the state of Louisiana for collecting sales taxes on items purchased on the Internet. Many times internet vendors charge sales taxes but may not remit them back to the state because we have dozens and dozens of different sales tax collection agencies spread across our 64 parishes. Please note that this amendment has nothing to do with our tax rates - they do not change! This simply makes it easier for out-of-state companies to accurately return the sales taxes to the state and local governments (municipalities, police juries, school boards, etc) that they are already collecting by providing them with a "one-stop-shop" way to pay those sales taxes. (I'm voting YES because our state and local governments need this lost revenue to avoid raising taxes in the future.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 2 would lower income tax rates in Louisiana in exchange for eliminating the deduction for federal income tax payments, a requirement that only one other state in the US has. This would lower the maximum income tax rate in Louisiana from 6% to 4.25%, with other tiers lowering as well. In addition, corporate income taxes are reduced across the board, and the "franchise tax" (on retained earnings and investment capital) is significantly reduced or eliminated (in many cases). One reason for this is that whenever the federal government changes its deductions it has an effect on state income. This would make revenue more predictable while lowering the taxes for most folks and make them simpler for everyone. (I'm voting YES because our tax code needs to be simplified and made more fair across the board. This is a good first step in tax reform.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 3 would allow levee districts created since 2006 to raise up to a 5-mill property tax without voter approval. (Districts created prior to 2006 already have this authorization, but the law was changed in 2006 preventing taxing being levied without a vote of the people.)  While flood control is a critical issue in Louisiana, giving any governmental authority the ability to raise taxes without the consent of those taxed is bad public policy, in my opinion. If I recall correctly we fought a war over "taxation without representation" a couple of hundred years ago! (I'm voting NO because I think people should always have the right to vote on any tax that is assessed.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 4 would allow the state to transfer a small amount of money from dedicated funds to fix a shortfall in the state budget. Currently in times of financial crisis the State of LA can only make unrestricted cuts to the general fund, which is why we've seen such drastic cuts in education and healthcare in the last decade. All other "dedicated funds" are protected and can only be cut by 5%, even in times of severe financial shortfall. This amendment would allow the legislature to cut dedicated funds by an additional 5% (for a total of up to 10%) to solve budget problems during periods of financial downturn. Th fact that there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of constitutionally protected funds essentially ties the hands of the legislature when cuts are needed. This would allow cuts to be spread across all of government rather than just healthcare and higher education. (I'm voting YES because we can't afford to keep cutting healthcare and higher education in times of financial hardship - all of government should be able to share the load together.)
Well, there you have it! Whether you agree with me or not, hopefully my explanation helps you understand the four amendments you'll be asked to vote on this weekend. By the way, there are a few special elections in the area to fill vacant seats, such Rapides Parish Police Jury District I, vacated by the death of Scott Perry and Alexandria City Council District 4, vacated by the retirement of 99-year-old Harry Silver. If you live in those districts you'll be given the opportunity to select who will serve out those unfulfilled terms. You can find your sample ballot by going to the GeauxVote website.

I hope this is helpful! I would love to hear your thoughts on the amendments, even if you disagree with me! And whether we agree or not, don't forget to vote on Saturday!!!

Friday, October 16, 2020

2020 Constitutional Amendment Thoughts

Source: Public Domain
Because I'm a pastor AND an elected official I’m often asked for my take on elections. I used to give recommendation on candidates but several years ago I stopped doing that. Partly because I often know many of the candidates personally and also because I have friends that support opposing candidates - both of which can create tension! I'm grateful to know that so many good people seek to serve others through political service and I honor them all. So in the last few years I’ve limited my postings to discussing the Constitutional Amendments, mainly because they are often hard to understand.

This year there are seven proposed constitutional amendments to the Louisiana Constitution, and once again some of them are hard to understand. (Except for number 1 - that one's VERY easy to understand!) I'm planning to vote "Yes" on 6 of the 7. I'm voting "No" on number 6 and on the "sports betting" (i.e., gambling) proposition. Below I'm going to briefly discuss each of these based on my research, which includes the excellent non-partisan guide put out by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, and I'll share my reasons for why I'm voting yes or no. So here is my take on the 7 amendments, plus a proposition that will be on every ballot across the state this fall:
  • Constitutional Amendment 1 would declare that nothing in the Louisiana Constitution protects the right to abortion. Louisiana already has laws in place that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Louisiana Constitution has no language that specifically mentions abortion. Some feel that Louisiana’s constitutional rights to privacy or due process may be interpreted by state courts to allow abortion. This amendment seeks to place clear and specific language in the LA Constitution that would prohibit abortion in Louisiana. (I'm voting YES! because I believe strongly that there should be no provision for abortion in the Louisiana Constitution.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 2 changes the way that oil and gas wells are assessed for property taxes. Currently the production of a well is not taken into account when property taxes are assessed and has caused disagreement between producers and assessors as to how to properly assess these wells for property tax purposes. This amendment authorizes the LA Tax Commission to create rules for how the gas and oil well’s production would be included into a method used by local assessors. Interestingly, both producers and assessors have backed this bill as a more fair way of assessing these properties. (I'm voting YES because I believe this is a fairer way to assess property taxes - especially since both sides affected by this agree on it!)

  • Constitutional Amendment 3 allows the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund to be used when there is a federally declared disaster, as opposed to only when there are revenue shortfalls. The “Rainy Day Fund” is a financial cushion the state can use when revenues fall below forecasts that were used to set the budget. This amendment would allow the state to tap into the “Rainy Day Fund” to front the costs associated with a federally declared disaster, with the understanding that those funds would be reimbursed from federal emergency relief funds that typically come into the state some period of time after a disaster. Some feel this amendment passed out of committees without a full vetting due to Covid-19 restrictions on meetings and should go through a fuller review process and are concerned that the “payback” provisions may not have enough teeth. (I'm voting YES because I know the financial burden of placed on governmental bodies to have to "front" the money that will eventually be reimbursed.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 4 establishes a new, more conservative, budget spending limit. The current limit has an upper limit of 5% and is based on changes in the average personal income in Louisiana. The new limit adds three more factors which would seemingly restrict the fluctuations in a single factor limit and create a limit that doesn’t fluctuate as much, making budgeting more consistent. Opponents feel it would constrain government too much, but fiscal conservatives have promoted this as a way to rein in state spending. (I'm voting YES because this will give forecasters more tools to make realistic budget projections.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 5 creates a new economic development tool called “PILOTs” (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) which are used by many other states to attract new developments. This allows for public/private partnerships in economic development where the governmental entity becomes the owner of the property and leases it to the private sector, which makes the property exempt from property taxes. The business then makes scheduled payments back to  the local government bodies in place of property taxes. While it may not generate as much income to the local governments the money is bondable and it’s often viewed as being better for local governments than the 10-year ITEP exemption which is one of the only economic development tools available. Those who support this say it would both attract new businesses and allow existing major industrial sites to expand capacity or add equipment. Those opposed typically point to tax breaks being given to businesses which then shifts the tax burden to others. These agreements must be approved by the local taxing authority (school district, parish, municipality, etc) which provides for local input and control over the process. (I'm voting YES because I believe we need more economic development tools to attract manufacturers to Louisiana. And the jobs created by these new businesses or expansions of existing businesses offset the negatives, in my opinion.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 6 allows homeowners with higher incomes to qualify for the existing property tax assessment freeze that is currently available to homeowners with lower incomes. Currently homeowners with incomes of $77,030 or less can request that the assessment of their primary residence be “frozen” and not be raised during reassessment years. This amendment raises the threshold to $100,000 and would be adjusted each year for inflation beginning in 2026. Proponents argue that this would make Louisiana more attractive to retirees. Detractors argue that since the median household income for those aged 65-74 is $52,465 this amendment is unnecessary since most people over 65 already qualify for the existing assessment freeze. (I'm voting NO on this because I think it extends the freeze protection beyond the original intention of protecting seniors on limited budgets. Through the Homestead Exemption Louisiana already exempts the property tax on the first $75,000 of every owner-occupied home in Louisiana. This relief would be minimal to a small number of individuals but the impact on school systems, parishes and other local governments could be significant.) (P.S. I expect my position to be an unpopular one and I expect this amendment to pass overwhelmingly. But I'm simply sharing MY opinion and why I'm voting the way I am.)

  • Constitutional Amendment 7 could create a new fund in which to place unclaimed property money. Each year the LA Treasury Department receives millions of dollars in unclaimed moneys from companies that can’t find the people those moneys are owed to. (Examples include unclaimed bank accounts, insurance payments, utility bill excesses, etc.) The Treasurer’s office receives these moneys and holds them in trust, allowing for citizens to search for and recover their unclaimed property. Current law allows for a percentage of the unclaimed money to be used for state general fund appropriations. This bill would create a fund for all excess unclaimed property funds and then only the interest and investment earnings would be eligible to be passed on to the State General Fund. This would prevent a situation that has already happened twice where more claims came in than were available in the Treasurer’s escrow account since the surplus had been used by the State General Fund. (I'm voting YES on this because it protects the property rights of Louisiana citizens. While much of this money goes unclaimed forever, it's still NOT the property of the state and should be held in trust for the original property owner and their heirs. In the short-term the state will have to plug the hole this creates because they've come to depend on this extra "free" money. But it's not right. The state will receive the interest and earnings off of investing this money, which eventually will be significant. But in the short-term I believe in protecting the property of the citizens that is held in trust for them.)

  • "Proposition to allow sports betting by parish." Although this is not a constitutional amendment, this proposition will appear on all ballots throughout the state on November 3. A vote for this proposition would allow sports betting in the voter’s parish. While “gambling” is forbidden under the LA Constitution, courts have ruled that many forms of “gaming” (including casinos, video poker, lotteries, racetracks, and fantasy sports contests) are allowed. Voting for this proposition will legalize and formalize sports wagering, bringing in new tax revenues to state and local governments, but is also an overt effort to attract younger people, expanding gambling to homes and mobile devices across the state. According to Wallethub, Louisiana is the fifth most gambling addictive state and this vote will decide if this major expansion of gambling will be allowed. (As you can tell by my description, I'm voting NO on this proposition as the negative side of gambling does not outweigh whatever financial windfall the state receives. In my opinion.)  

Well, there you have it - those are my recommendations for the seven proposed constitutional amendments and the sports betting proposition. There is a lot more on the ballot, including the President, Senate, House of Representatives, LA Supreme Court Justice, Rapides Parish District Attorney, as well as Alexandria City Marshal, Pineville City Marshal and Alexandria City Council races ... and maybe more! One resource on the various candidates you may appreciate is the Louisiana Voter Guide published by the Louisiana Family Forum

Don't forget you can find your sample ballot by going to the GeauxVote website. You can even print it out to help you remember how you plan to vote when you go into the voting booth, since you'll only have a limited time there to cast your vote. And that's the important thing - whether you agree with me or not, please remember to cast your vote in this important election!!!

Friday, October 11, 2019

2019 Election Recommendations (October)

Source: Public Domain
I’m often asked for my take on elections, probably because of my involvement in the local political scene. In previous years I would give my recommendations on candidates for specific offices, but several years ago I stopped doing that. Partly because I often know so many of the candidates personally and also because I have friends that support opposing candidates - both of which can create tension! So in the last few years I’ve essentially limited my recommendations to Constitutional Amendments, mainly because they are often hard to understand.

This year I plan to vote "Yes" on all four of the Constitutional Amendments on the October ballot. These amendments can be confusing, and I totally understand why some would vote "No" on some of them. I use the excellent non-partisan guide to the Constitutional Amendments from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana to help me shape my opinion and I highly encourage you to read it before you shape yours. So without further adieu, here are my takes on the 4 amendments, and why I'm voting Yes:

  • Constitutional Amendment 1 would exempt from property taxes certain goods and products being transported through Louisiana to the Outer Continental Shelf (in international waters). Traditionally these have not been taxed due to an interpretation of the US Constitution, but some parishes have begun taxing these barring a court decision. A yes vote would guarantee they are not taxed. A no vote would leave it up to the local jurisdiction until a court gives clarity. (I'm voting YES because parishes that are beginning to tax these items are changing the long-established rules and hurting the off-shore drilling industry, which is one of the life-bloods of Louisiana's economy.)
  • Constitutional Amendment 2 would add 3 more schools and public TV to the list of institutions funded by the Education Excellence Fund. Currently 153 local schools and school systems along with 43 non public schools receive funding and the 3 under consideration match the others in qualifications. A yes vote would add them to the funding formula, along with $75,000/year to the LA Educational Television Authority (through LPB). A no vote would maintain the status quo. (I'm voting YES because had these schools existed when the fund was originally established they would have been included. This is a good investment in education.)
  • Constitutional Amendment 3 would grant the Board of Tax Appeals the ability to rule on the constitutionality of tax laws when citizens appeal decisions by the state Department of Revenue without having to file suit in district court. This would spead up the process significantly. A yes vote would grant this authority. A no vote would maintain the status quo, meaning citizens appealing the constitutionality of taxes would have to file suit through district court before the rest of their appeal can be heard. (I'm voting YES because this would streamline the appeals process and help citizens who feel the Department of Revenue has decided against them wrongfully. They still can appeal to the courts if they disagree with the Board of Tax Appeals' decision. But this would cut at least a year off most appeals dealing with constitutionality issues.)
  • Constitutional Amendment 4 would grand the City of New Orleans the right to establish property tax exemptions for residential properties that provide affordable housing, which is a great need in New Orleans. New Orleans has unique housing needs and they feel they need this "tool in their toolbox" to generate more affordable housing. A yes vote would grant them the authority to exempt properties from local property taxes. A no vote would maintain the status quo of the exemptions already in the constitution that are applicable state-wide. (I'm voting YES because I think New Orleans has unique needs and needs unique tools to deal with their housing issues. Besides, the only taxes they're exempting are their own - so if the City of New Orleans is willing to forego tax revenue in order to encourage the development of affordable housing, why shouldn't they be able to?)
There you have it - those are my recommendations on the four Constitutional Amendments that will be on the October 12 ballot. Obviously there is a lot more on the ballot, from the governor and other state-wide offices to regional offices such as BESE, State Senate and State Representative races,and several local races such as the Sheriff, Police Juror and Mayor of Ball. One resource I can encourage you to look at for the statewide is the Louisiana Voter Guide published by the Louisiana Family Forum which you can find at And most of all, pray and listen for the voice of the Shepherd. Because God is who chooses our elected officials, but He uses us to do it!


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Hell in a Hand Basket?

Hell In A Hand Basket?

(This column originally appeared in the Town Talk on Sunday, August 11, 2019.)

Do you ever feel like the world is going to hell in a hand-basket? It sure seems like there is a lot of messed up thinking in society today. But it shouldn’t surprise us since that’s the natural condition of the fallen world.

Paul wrote about this condition in his letter to the Roman Christians when he said, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind…” (Rom 1:28a NASB)

So by default, the world’s mindset is the opposite of what God intended. And due to sin, God allowed mankind to take their folly as far as they could. That’s how we ended up with a worldview that is completely upside down, that calls good evil and evil good.

This is just what the prophet Isaiah warned about when he wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20 NASB) I don’t want to be “that guy!”

Thankfully, this is what God sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from, a world of messed up thinking! In fact, in the Greek, the word for “repentance” literally means “a change of mind.” It was that kind of changed thinking that John the Baptist called people to, and Jesus as well, when they both preached saying, “Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mat 3:2, 4:17)

Jesus called on people to change their thinking about how they lived. Like a Great Physician He called to those who were sick, to those who recognized they needed help. And it’s only when you realize you’ve got messed up thinking that Jesus can help you get your head on straight and you get saved!

But even after we become Christians we can still struggle with messed up thinking. Mainly because we live in an unrenewed world, and it rubs off! That’s why Paul called on Christians to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2b NASB)

Even as believers our mind must be constantly refreshed. In Eph 5:18 he taught that we were to live constantly being filled with the Spirit. It’s not simply a one-time experience but rather the daily infilling of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to live the renewed life that we’re called to live in order to be His witnesses.

How do we do that? First of all by “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5b NASB) We need to learn to “change the channel” whenever harmful or negative thoughts come into our minds. This is why it’s important memorize and internalize Scripture. If you don’t know God’s Word, you won’t have a channel to change to!

Another way is to guard what goes in! A great way to take thoughts captive is to not let them get a foothold in the first place. That’s why Paul wrote that we should think on things that are “true…honorable…right…pure…lovely…of good repute” (Phil 4:8 NASB) We need to be careful what we allow into our minds because we are what we think. In times of pressure and stress whatever is on the inside is what’s going to come out! So guard what goes in!

Finally we must learn to praise God in every situation. We praise Him best when we thank Him for what we do not want, knowing that He has a plan, even for that! Paul wrote that we should “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:18 NASB) That doesn’t mean that everything that happens is God’s will, but we can still learn to give God thanks in the midst of whatever is happening.

As Christians we must learn to renew our minds daily, because everything around us is in a constant state of decay. But we can be renewed every day to God’s fresh mercies by presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices and being transformed by His indwelling Holy Spirit. So let’s choose to get rid of the “stinking thinking” and renew our minds every day in Christ!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

New Year, New You

(This column originally appeared in the Town Talk on Sunday, January 6, 2019.)
I love the new year! It ushers in a wonderful time of reflection on the past with the promise of new opportunities for the future. It signifies a clean slate, a chance to start over, to begin again!

God is all about fresh starts and new beginnings! In one of the saddest books of the Bible, Lamentations, the weeping prophet Jeremiah wrote these amazing words of consolation: “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:21-23 NASB)

The King James Version translates the word “compassions” as “mercies” but either way we find the goodness of God is refreshed to us every day. What a magnificent promise, and how much more so in the new year!

Paul carries forth this theme when he declares the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor 5:17 KJV)

This is another way of describing what it means to be born again. When you believe in Jesus, that is that you believe that God raised Him from the dead, and you confess Him as Lord of your life, committing to live according to His instructions, He causes you to be born spiritually, no matter how old you are. And that’s when new life begins!

But even those who’ve been walking with the Lord for some time need to be occasionally reminded that each day is a new gift from God. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, you get to walk in the newness of His mercies every day!

It’s easy to look back on our missteps and mistakes and feel like we’ve failed God so much that we’ve disqualified ourselves from experiencing His presence again. But we never qualified ourselves in the first place! Remember that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8b NASB) He extended His mercy to you before you knew Him, and He continues to give you new mercies every morning!

So now that we’re in a new year, perhaps we should all take to heart Paul’s words to the Philippian believers. From a Roman jail he wrote, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phlp 3:13b-14 NASB)

Some people are held back by their past. But Paul encourages us to forget the past, to not limit ourselves by our past failures OR successes! It’s time to press forward into the “new” that God has for you in this new year.

Many people start the year with resolutions to lose weight, get in shape, start a new hobby, learn a new language, etc. These are noble goals and I don’t knock any of them! And we know that to achieve any of these goals will require discipline and work. So I commend you and encourage you as you begin your new year.

But I also want to urge you to consider one more, slightly different, resolution for your new year. In the midst of all your work on yourself consider Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:7b-8 NASB)

If you truly want a new you in the new year, consider making the spiritual disciplines a priority in your life! Sure, losing weight will make you feel better, and getting in shape will bring you some compliments from others. But spiritual discipline has eternal value! So commit yourself to regular Bible reading and memorization, prayer, worship, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines. And you will truly find a new you in the new year!