Avoiding Election Infection

With the election officially underway now that the first caucus happened and the first primary is about to happen--I feel like it's completely appropriate for me to conduct my own poll.  Everyone's been talking about polls, examining polls, taking polls, interpreting polls, denying polls (if they're not winning in them), affirming polls (if they are), so why not get in on the act?

Here's my poll questions for today, and we'll do this all by show of hands.  First question:  How many of you are enjoying this election season?  You are just digging this whole thing.  You are watching it like a train wreck about to happen. Raise your hand.  

Okay second question: How many of you are ready for this to be over?  You've already handed in the towel, waved the white flag, given up. Raise your hand.

Here's a pretty personal question, and you don't have to answer this specifically, but how many of you have already made up your mind who you would vote for? Don't blurt out any candidates names.  Just raise your hand. 

Okay, last question.  How many of you think that politics should come up in church?  That preachers should talk about politics from the pulpit?  Many of you knew what the topic was going to be today so you came even though you told yourself, "he shouldn't be talking about that," but you came anyway.  Maybe you came to see if I would crash and burn.  I get that.  But I hope to avoid any crashing and burning.  

Instead, what I want to do is to issue you all a challenge.  To all those who are here today, and all those who are listening online, I want to issue you a serious challenge that I don't think most of us Christians are going to be able to pull off.  I am going to challenge you between now and November 8th to put your faith ahead of your politics.  I want you to put your faith filter up front and your political filter a little farther back.  

This is a challenge to be a Christ follower first and a Republican second.  To be a Christ-follower first and a Democrat second. To be a Christ-follower first and Libertarian second.  

You might find this really hard to do between now and then, but I want to tell you why I believe you can do it.  Because there are things that can happen in your life that would make your political persuasion completely irrelevant.  I have been with people during some of the worst times of their lives--and not a single one of them asked me in their moment of need, "Leon, could you just sit here and read to me portions of the Constitution?  Could you recite the preamble to the Declaration of the Independence over me while I am lying here sick in the hospital?  

There are more important things in your life--you know this.  There are things that could happen to you right now that would make you forget there was an election going on, you know what I mean, right?

So keeping that in mind, you also know that your faith is more important as well.  Which is why I am challenging you to put your faith before your politics between now and November 8.  This doesn't mean that you shouldn't have an opinion--although some of us have an opinion about absolutely everything, which is just annoying to everyone else.  I'm told.  

I'm not suggesting that you not yell at the TV, the radio, rant at parties, tear up the newspaper, embarrass yourself at parties with your opinions--you go right ahead and do all of those things if you feel that you need to...  ahem.  

I'm also not suggesting that you vote for any particular candidate.  There are churches in America who hand out voters guides so that their church members will know who to vote for, who the church leadership or denomination sanctions. I'm not doing that by a long shot.  

What I'm challenging you to do is put your faith ahead of your politics.  

Some of you might be thinking right now, "Well, my faith and politics are all up on one another, my brother!"  You might say, the reason I'm a Republican is because I am a Christian.  The reason I am a Democrat is because I'm a Christian.  

If you're a Republican you might be arguing right now saying, "Well God is always right... and Jesus was always right.. so if Jesus and God are right and Republicans are considered on the right then if you're a Republican you're in the right and everything goes right and we don't need to talk about this anymore. Right?  

And if you're a Democrat you are probably thinking, "Come on!  Jesus was a health-care dispensing machine!  He gave healthcare to everyone for free, he never turned anyone away!  He even gave away food on at least two occasions.  Come on! 

And if you're a Libertarian, all you need to do is to quote the verses that say things like, "You will know the truth and the truth shall make you...?  What?  Free!  Absolutely!  And another verse says "where the Spirit of the Lord is there is...?"  What?  Freedom!  So God is clearly leaning toward Libertarians!  

Here's the thing.  When it comes to putting your faith before your politics, you can't really say things like, "The Bible is my first authority and politics are second."  You can't do that because it doesn't work.  ANYONE can make ANY kind of claim using the bible to support where they stand politically.  

But there is something in the Bible that gives us a clue as to how we can make this a reality--the life of Jesus.  The way that Jesus lived his life is an example of how we should approach this entire election season.  Jesus was often political, in a weird, Jedi kind of way.  But Jesus didn't come to take sides in a political debate.  He came to take over.  Let me say that again.  Jesus didn't come to take sides, he came to take over.  

Let's read a passage of Scripture from the Gospel of Mark.  Chapter 12:13-17

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax[b] to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.

What was happening here?  Well, these guys were trying to trap Jesus.  At the time of Christ there was a serious debate among Jewish religious leaders about whether it was a sin to pay tribute to Caesar, which could be seen as a form of idolatry.  Some people said you should pay it, but there was a growing number of people who said you shouldn't, mostly for economic reasons, but definitely masked in religious overtones.  

If Jesus answers them, "No!" then they were going to turn him into the Roman authorities and accuse him of sedition.  If he said "Yes!" they were going to try to discredit him with the people. 

So Jesus asks them for a Roman coin.  And of course one of them has one.  Which is pretty telling in and of itself.  He asks them whose portrait is on the coin, and they reply, "Caesar's."  Jesus says, "Well then, I suppose you better give Caesar his property back, but make sure that you give to God everything that belongs to God."  

Jesus amazed these guys with his wisdom and there were many people there who were impressed that he basically stated, "I could care less about all of your political stuff.  I came to bring about the kingdom of God.  I came not to take sides, but to take over."  

And what was at the center of the kingdom of God?  People.  Remember John 3:16?  "For God so loved the world..." the world is full of people, children of God, created in his image.  Jesus constantly put people first in his ministry in everything he did.  Jesus was for what was best for people.  In other words, he put his faith ahead of politics.  

Jesus talked a lot about what it looked like when the kingdom of God was here on earth. He talked about this more than he talked about everything else he talked about--more than heaven and hell, money, and yes--more than politics.  

He was asked once, "What is the Greatest Commandment?" and he replied, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength." Then he said, "And the second is like the first--love your neighbor as yourself."  I other words, "Love God--love people."  You show your love for God, Jesus taught every single day, by showing your love for people.  When what you care about most is what is best for people, then you are living the kingdom of God.  

Now, we can disagree on the definition of what "best" means all day long, and we do.  Some people have very clear ideas what is best for people, and some people have opposite ideas.  We can debate that, but what we can't disagree on, especially if we are going to call ourselves Christ-followers, is that what is best is what is best for people. 

Imagine what our country would look like if we all figured this out.  If every one of us--Christian or not--decided to desire and work for what is best for people.  Imagine.  What if we all said, "I am going to love my neighbor as myself.  I'm going to do to others what I would want others to do for me."  Would it honestly matter who was elected president, if all of us lived like this?  

It all hinges on that one idea--what is best is what's best for people.  Love God and love people.  

So how can you make this a reality?  How can you get through November 8th without losing your salvation? Your blood pressure spiking? How do you keep your faith ahead of your politics?  

Well I think there are four things you can do to make this a reality in your life--but you have to commit to them.  You have to embrace it. Here goes...

First, you need to acknowledge what you don't know.  When you hear something that seems so outlandish to you.  When a co-worker, a friend, a relative says something that makes you want to say to your spouse, "Honey, we may have to move, I can't even live in the same town as someone who believes that." 

Instead of freaking out, just use this a moment to learn.  You shouldn't be afraid to learn something new.  Why would you, right?  Aside from the fact that most of don't want to hear things that contradict other things that we hold to be the right things.  But we believe, at least we say that we do, that our God is a God of infinite wisdom.  When does infinite wisdom run out?  Never!  So you could dedicate yourself for the rest of your life to learning all there is to know about God and everything there is to know and never even scratch the surface.

So if you encounter something you don't know--learn about it, research it, read about, talk to people who believe it.  If you only listen to the same kinds of radio stations, television news channels or read the same kinds of publications all of the time do you really think you are going to learn anything new?  

Second, you need to ask questions.  Don't be afraid to dialogue with people who believe things that are different from the things you believe.  Instead of dismissing them, arguing with them, or yelling over them to make your point--ask them a simple question or two.  "What led you to that view?  What led you to hold that position?"  

Then let them tell you their story. Because everyone has a story behind their beliefs.  And once you know someone's story, it's hard to dislike them, demonize them or hate them.  

I remember years ago, I had a woman in my church who was so completely consumed with hunger prevention, food programs, making sure people who needed food got food... it was almost crazy how she was into this.  I finally asked her why she was so passionate and sometimes obstinate about it.  She told me that her son was a drug addict who was living in New York City.  Her little grandson was eight years old at the time and was left with the father by his mother, who was also an addict.  This lady went to NY to rescue her grandson and found him basically starving, alone in an apartment.  She told me, "I swore then that I would do everything in my power to ensure no child had to go through that, if I could help it."  

Hear people's stories, and then say, "Wow that's fascinating!" or "That's honestly kind of offensive," or "I had no idea."  

Third, admit you don't have all the answers.  This is connected to the first one about acknowledging what you don't know, except it's just a bit different.  After you've done everything you can to learn, and to listen, you need to be honest and self aware enough to admit that you don't have all the answers, and that really good people who you care deeply about might very well have different opinions than you do, and they very well could be... listen... they just might be... wait for it... right. Which means you, in all of your previously held certainty, might be... wrong.  

It's possible.  It's entirely possible. 

Which brings you to the final step in this process.  To affirm that other people have stories that are valid, and completely theirs, and they are entitled to them, and that to demonize them for their stories is not at all what Jesus would do. That candidate that you called all those names in front of your friends--do you know him or her personally?  It's not like God reaches in and pulls out all of the guidelines for being a Jesus-follower during election season.  "Well, let's just do away with that whole restriction on gossip for these few months, shall we?  Olly Olly oxen free!"  

No!  Gossip also applies to political conversations, too.  I know. It's pretty hard to hear that, isn't it?  We so desperately want to say what we're feeling about that one candidate, or all of the candidates from that one party--the one that isn't our party.  

But when you start to admit that everyone has a story that leads them to believe what they believe, and that they are entitled to their story, and that (gulp) they might actually have a point, and your point might not be the main point... that's when you find the grace and peace to focus on the most important thing of all.  

That what is best is what is best for people.  That your faith needs to be ahead of your politics.  

You can argue your point, you can say whatever it is that you feel you need to say to state your opinion--but you could lose your ability in the process to have some influence.  Because if people know you are a Christian and the way in which you present, argue or share your opinion is at all arrogant, self-serving, demeaning to others, hate-filled--the list goes on...  THEN you could completely diminish your witness as a Christian and possibly lose the chance to influence or make a difference in that person's life if they needed you to speak about your faith, or why you follow Jesus. 

Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't have an opinion, but what I am saying is that your faith should be ahead of your politics, you should be constantly showing your love of God by your love of people, to put the needs of others ahead of your own and to point them to Jesus who came not take sides, but to take over.  

Step into this challenge.  Embrace it.  Let your faith filter move in front of all the other filters in your life, including your political filter.  If you want to avoid election infection, you need to put your faith ahead of your politics.  


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