Monday, January 25, 2016

It's Up to You

 The Greatest Commandment and the Good Samaritan
Luke 10:25-37

First United Methodist Church, Bradenton, Florida
January 24, 2016

Are you tired of this election season already?  Or, now be honest, are you enjoying the drama, the tension, and yes, the chaos?  Some of you I know enjoy yelling at the TV, or shaking your head at newspaper editorials.  We kind of like it,  don’t we? 

 I’m curious, have you watched all the debates?  Some of the debates?  What debates???  How many of you have already made up your mind who you will vote for?  Do you think churches and preachers should stay away from all things political?  I strongly believe churches and preachers should be at the heart of all things political, so this morning bear with me. 

Dave and I heard two sermons recently that bring us some hope in this heated political season.  My message today is for you, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist, Independent, or Uninterested and Unengaged.  What I am going to talk about today are concrete ways you can make a positive impact on America’s politics – and more importantly on America’s culture that seems to grow more course, more corrupt and lacking in civility by the day.

I’m going to share with you a few ways you can be a Good Samaritan, like in our lesson today, to a hurting and wounded America.  You see, what happens in America, well, it’s up to you. 

One sermon we heard came from prayer rally led by Franklin Graham in Tallahassee.   

Franklin, in case you don’t know, is the son of Billy Graham and currently the head of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the head of Samaritan's Purse.  Many of you participate in one of their ministries - Operation Christmas Child.   Like his father’s crusades in the past, Franklin is going to each state capitol to pray for America before November's election.  It’s called Decision America if you want to find out more about it.

Using Nehemiah 1 as his text, he called us to prayer.  This is the first and most important thing Good Samaritan’s can do.  Franklin led the crowd, of about 2,500, in a time of prayer to confess the sins of America, to confess our personal sins, and even to ask God’s forgiveness for the sins of our fathers. 

I encourage you to continue to pray for America, and for America to turn to God.  He talked about the sins of the past, like slavery, and the sins that plague the history of many families like abuse and addiction.  And we asked God to heal those scars.

Franklin continued:  “Before our nation can be healed, our individual hearts must be healed.”  He knows, as I do, that America will only be reformed, one heart, one mind, at a time.   Dave and I pray every day for the people we love who don’t know Jesus.  They don’t listen to us anymore.  We pray that God will put someone in their path that will encourage them to give their life to Jesus.   That is what will change America.

Just like Nehemiah called for the people of Israel to repair the part of the wall of Jerusalem that was right in front of them, pray for the needs right in front of you.  You know what touches your heart.  Pray about it. 

And pray for yourself.  Franklin encouraged all us to confess our sins, and humble ourselves before a loving and forgiving Father.  And to never, never doubt that God loves you and that your sins are erased.  Never doubt that God is with you and that eternal life is a reality.  Knowing all this puts a whole different perspective on things, and helps us to not be afraid.  Pray for God’s guidance in your own life as well as in the life of our nation and its citizens. 

Franklin also offered a prayer, as we just did, to invite people to give their lives to Jesus.  I saw one man in front of us do just that, and then text Franklin that he had made a decision to follow Jesus. 

Prayer is essential to the reformation of our nation.  Can you imagine if most Americans followed Jesus and prayed to him daily how different our nation would be?  One heart, one mind at a time.  

What can we do to help heal America?    Pray.    It’s up to you.

The other message I want to tell you about came from Andy Stanley.  Andy is the son of another famous preacher, Charles Stanley.  About 20 years ago, Andy left his father’s ministry and with a few others started his own church, Northpoint in Atlanta.  Their goal to engage the unchurched or the never been churched with Jesus and to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  I’ve heard it is the largest Protestant congregation in the United States.  Between their various campuses and on-line services, they reach over 30,000 people each week.  The message we heard a couple days before going to Tallahassee was "Avoiding Election Infection."  I’m going to share some of it with you, and if you want you can watch it here:   

Andy issued a challenge to his congregation:  between now and the election on November 8th, put your faith before your politics.   

That should be easy.  Of course, there is no conflict between my faith and my politics. God is a Republican – right?  Jesus does sit on the right hand of God after all. He praises the truly righteous.  That’s easy.  However, many of my Democrat friends, would tell me hold the phone.  Jesus was all about healing the sick, feeding the poor and bashing the rich, and so are Democrats.  Jesus would definitely be a Democrat.  I can make the same case, with different Biblical examples of course, for everyone from libertarians to socialists. 

Andy went on to explain how to put your faith before your politics in a way you may not have thought of before.  When it comes to putting faith before politics – we can't say Bible first, politics second.  No matter where you stand you can find something in the Bible to support it, and someone else can find something to support their position.  (I’m sure you can think of examples) 

And, no matter where you stand, we can’t even say we should put Jesus first, political party second because you can find something Jesus said or did to support where you stand, and again, so can the other guy.  (Again, provide your own examples.) 

We all want Jesus on our side, but Jesus didn't come to be on anyone's side.  He came to take over.

For us to get this right, and we must get this right, requires more than doing what the Bible says, and more than what Jesus said.  This requires that we approach this topic the way Jesus approached everything.  To get this right we must do something that Jesus always did.  And Jesus did one thing specifically and one thing consistently that models the way for all of us.  All of us can do this.  It’s not complicated.  You don't have to write it down.  It is simple but so convicting, and so transformational.

The way you keep your faith in front of your politics.  The way you put your faith filter first is by putting people first and politics second. 

Jesus always put what was best for people first.  That is our common ground as citizens and our common ground as Christians.  That is our common ground with our Heavenly Father.  

We can and will disagree, which we will and we should, on what is best for people, but we can't disagree that what's best for people is what's best.

Name anything, any issue, before Congress or the city council.  We can debate what the best approach to address the problem is, but we can't debate that what's best for people is what's best.  We all want to help the poor, to be like the Good Samaritan, if you will, but how do we do that?  Do we provide the poor with handouts or with a hand up – or with some combination of both. 

Let me remind you again of The Greatest Commandment from our scripture lesson this morning.  “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Love God, which is mostly inside work, heart work – as seen in your prayer life, worship, study.  And you demonstrate your love for God on the outside by how you treat other people. 

If you don't remember anything else Jesus says, remember this - love God, and demonstrate your love for God by how you treat the people God created.  People made in the image of God.  How you treat people is a reflection of how you love God.

We can disagree on what's best for our neighbors, but we dare not forget that what is best for our neighbors is what is best. 

Imagine if everybody in the United States said - I am going to consistently love my neighbor as myself.  I'm going to do for others what I would want them to do for me.  If that happened our nation would feel different.  Many of the laws on our books would become quickly irrelevant. 

What can you do to help a hurting America?    Love people.  Put people before politics.  It’s up to you. 

Both Andy Stanley and Franklin Graham encouraged their listeners to engage in the political process as people of faith.  

It’s good, it’s essential, to have an opinion on important issues facing us– but law of love insists that we listen to the opinions of others and try to understand where they are coming from. 

It’s difficult to do, because we might have to think about new ways of doing things.  Your behavior, your political views make perfect sense to you.  So do everybody else’s. 

One of best things you can do this election season (all the time actually), is listen to folks whose opinions are different than yours.  Learn from them.  Be a student first, critic second. 

Let me give you two personal examples.  When the Syrian refugee crisis was in the headlines, a preacher friend of mine posted something on Facebook criticizing those “Republican Tea Party Evangelical ‘so called’ Christians” for wanting to refuse the refugees entry into the US.   In a private message – not on Facebook:

I'm one of those "Republican Tea Party Evangelical 'so called' Christians" you mentioned, and I'd like to give you my perspective on this. I'm not as heartless as you seem to want to portray me.  I, as have many others, have been supporting humanitarian efforts in Iraq and Syria since the crisis with the Yazidis  over a year ago through Samaritan's Purse (providing help to folks of all faiths), the Cradle Fund and Mercury One (focusing on Christians).  Mercury One has raised over $12 million and is in the process of relocating Christian families and communities, I believe somewhere in Europe, since the US will not accept Christians despite the genocide being waged against them. [They have since settled about 150 in Europe.  UMCOR while on the ground seems to have a fairly insignificant presence. I think bringing folks from that region of the world to America puts Americans at risk, but does not mean we don't help folks of all faiths displaced by ISIS, Assad, and others.  There is no one on the "Right" who is denying humanitarian aid, in fact just the opposite. Most want to increase it, and perhaps help secure it with a no-fly zone.   Speaking as a Christian and as a conservative, I want to make sure in this time of war with jihadists (and yes we are at war) that our leaders keep America safe and help those persecuted by ISIS and displaced by the fighting. Please don't paint me as hateful, racist, and especially not a 'so called' Christian.  I am as concerned as you are, but my heart leads me to a different solution.

Here is her response:

Susan, I so appreciate your thoughtful insight from a different perspective. I'm afraid the media paint everything in broad strokes and eventually it taints our thinking. You've reminded me that nothing is as simplistic as we'd like to make it. Thanks again for taking the time to send me this message. Just knowing your one of those conservative evangelicals makes me think of all more highly.

We’re still friends and have a respect for each other’s opinions even if we disagree.

Another example:  Dave and I went to a community discussion on gun violence sponsored by League of Women voters.   We are very supportive of the 2nd Amendment and wanted to hear what was said.  One speaker focused on the importance of the 2nd amendment.  Another talked about the need for increased regulation and spoke strongly against expanding concealed carry on college campuses.  The couple was obviously very interested in more gun control, and expressed concern about guns in the hands of untrained citizens.     

Afterwards, Dave started up a conversation with them.  Many of their concerns were rooted in fear of what happens when guns get into the hand of the wrong people.  We talked about how criminals will still break the law, and law-abiding citizens will still follow it.  During the conversation, we agreed that we should perhaps take the focus off guns, and talk more about combating the sources of violence in our culture.  Perhaps our children need more education on civility and respect for human life.  Perhaps more resources should be devoted to mental health care.  Perhaps more gun education and gun safety information should be provided in school – rather than focusing on further gun control regulations.  All of us want to feel safe in our homes and communities.  We could agree on that.

Two civil conversations.  It’s possible. 

In our world, if we listen to each other we might just find a new way, a better way to solve our problems that actually honors God and does what it best for people he created.  By listening and responding respectfully, we are less likely to jeopardize a relationship, less likely to burn bridges with someone.  For in the end, it’s more important that we influence them for Jesus than we do for any political candidate or policy.

Engage in the process through civil conversation – you might learn something.  And you might just help someone see Christ’s light in you by your kindness and gentleness.  

Engagement in the world is more than conversation.  Franklin Graham also encouraged us to become a part of the political process.    

He quoted his father, Billy Graham, who is 97 now, and still praying hard.  In 1952, Billy Graham said,

It is the duty of Christian men and women to offer themselves to public office.  One reason we have such bad leaders is that in some places only bad ones offer themselves for office.  Christian men and women must offer themselves for office.

And it’s not just the presidency that is important.  Those who are elected as mayor, school board members, city councils and state representatives have much more influence over the communities in which we live.  In your prayers, ask God if you should throw your hat into the political arena. 

Billy Graham also said in that speech,

I feel that we are going to have to meet our political obligation as Christians to make our voices known if America is to be preserved with the type of Christian heritage which has given us the liberties we now enjoy.  

Unless America turns back to God, repents of its sins, and experiences a spiritual revival we will fail as a nation.  God honors leaders in high places who honor him.  It is easiest thing in the world for us Christians to think of national and world politics as something involving only men and women of the world.  That is where we fail.  Our job as Christians is to make the impact of Christ felt in every phase of life.  Religious, social, economic and political.  We must not do it in our own strength or wisdom.  We can only do it when we surrender ourselves completely to God and allow him to work in us.

And there is more, Billy Graham also said – “If I were the pastor of a church, I believe would speak to my congregation about where the candidates stand morally, spiritually and in relationship to the church.” 

And, I would add to that list which candidates will work for what is best for people, who will listen to folks with different opinions to learn from them, to find new and better ways to do what is best for people. 

I’m going to take a moment and name the current presidential candidates of the two major parties.  Over 20 others have declared candidacies as well.   If you don’t know where they stand morally, spiritually and in relationship to the church it is your responsibility to find out.  I suggest you not trust CNN or Fox or whichever media outlet you prefer, but read their own words, listen to their entire speeches, and visit their websites.  Liking them on Facebook is good idea too. 

Look at what they have done and accomplished in their lives – and how they went about accomplishing their goals. Have they sought God’s guidance in prayer?  Have they honored God?  Have they followed God’s law of love done what is best for people? 

Here they are in reverse alphabetical order: Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Martin O’Malley, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush. 

My preference this election cycle is Ben Carson.  I can confidently answer yes to all these questions and respect him as a healer and as a strong leader.  If you don't know much about him check him out.  If you have another opinion, let’s talk about it.  

As you think about it, the choice for you of who to vote for may not be clear.  Pick the person who best represents godly principles.  Whose life exhibits the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  This isn’t just a quiz for presidents, but for all elected officials.  Not just in national elections, but local ones as well. 

How can you help and heal America?  Get engaged.

And, guess what, I’m going to vote – and so should you.   

In that 1952 speech Billy Graham said – what was repeated strongly by Franklin and Andy - “I think it is the duty of individual Christians to study issues and candidates and go to the polls and vote.”

In many countries people can talk about things, complain about things, have an opinion about things but in America we have a vote, which is our voice in deciding these things. 

Franklin and many others cite statistics from the 2012 elections, but I’m not sure of the source.  I got these numbers from a recent interview I heard with Ted Cruz’s father.  There are approximately 59 million evangelical Christians in the US.  I am one of them.  Not all Methodists are evangelical.  Actually, we are considered more a mainline denomination than an evangelical one, but I digress.  The point is that out of the 59 million evangelicals, over 12 million are not even registered to vote.  Of the ones that are 26 million didn’t bother to go to the polls.  That means at least 38 million Christians didn’t vote, didn’t contribute their voice to deciding the direction of our nation.    

Our politics are a reflection, not of all Americans, but of American’s who vote.  And so many elections are decided by just a few.   

There are three opportunities for Floridians to vote this year.  The first is March 15th for the Florida presidential preference primary.  To vote you must be registered by February 16th.  For the RNC, the winner receives all of Florida’s delegates for the national convention.  For the DNC, delegates are awarded proportionately by congressional district and by the state.  It’s a fairly complicated formula.  There  is still time for you to register and to vote.   Don’t delay.   

In August there is a primary election.  We are not sure yet who will be on the ballot then.    

To vote in the general election on November 8, you must be registered by October 11.  Go to the supervisor of elections office or their website for the details. 

How do we heal a hurting America?  I’m going to make my voice heard by my vote.

After the San Bernardino terrorist attack, the headline in the New York Daily News declared, “God Is Not Fixing This.”   But I think you are here this morning because you believe, or you at least hope, that God can fix this.  But how? 

God can fix this.  God can fix this through you – for you are God’s hands and feet and voice in this world.  That’s the role of the Good Samaritan. 

Pray.  Put people before politics.  Get engaged.  Vote. 

It’s up to you.


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