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Politics and Christianity

I have a shameful confession to make. I used to be very heavily involved in politics.  I mean “election judge, precinct chairman, delegate to state, member of the executive board, secretary of the county convention, paid campaign worker,” kind of involvement.  I mean the, “elected officials called me at work and at home for input,” kind of involvement.

I’ve learned better and repented.

I learned a lot about both politics and Christ in the process, most of all I learned that the two don’t mix. 

Never take someone else’s negative words at face value – go to the source:
When I first got active in politics in my city, there was man running for Congress who seemed like a great guy, but at a political meeting we  were all told by a woman that everyone trusted dearly that the man was ripping down his opponents signs, busting out windows and spreading lies about people.  Person after person told me similar stories, and I was dumb enough to assume that if everyone said it, it must be true.

Despite the gossip. The man won the party nomination, and after he won the party asked me to work his campaign against the other party.  I refused. He could have just ignored me.  I was only one person, and then just a new person.  Instead he came to me and asked me why I refused to support him.  He was humble and polite and seemed to sincerely want to know what he had done to make me dislike him.  I gave him an honest answer, and he looked absolutely shocked and said, “I had no idea that was going on.  I know you can’t believe that, but I swear, if I had known I would have fired whoever it was and paid for any damages.  Please find out where and when this happened so I can act on it.”

So I tried.  I really tried.  No one seemed to remember whose sign or whose house or what yard or what sign.  Everyone had heard it from someone “reliable” who had heard it from someone “reliable,” but none of the people spreading it had any idea where the original source of it was.

I agreed to work with the man.  After all, if a man is as big a jerk as the rumors said, he couldn’t hide it forever. 

He turned out to be one of the finest human beings and Congressmen I’ve ever known. 

Some  Christians think “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” doesn’t apply to politics:
When the local head of the Christian Coalition demanded that a man sign off on a specific platform before the coalition would support the man, the candidate and the coalition official met in my office and discussed why the candidate was hesitant to sign it, but the man did sign it.  A few days later an ad ran for the man’s opponent, paid for by the supppoters of the Coalition, saying the man had not signed it. Rumors were all over the county convention floor that the man had refused to sign it.   They said that they heard this from the head of the Coalition.

So I went to the head of the Christian Coalition and said, “You know, the 10 commandments? That one about not bearing false witness doesn’t have an “except for politics,” clause in it.  The man said, “Well, he might have signed it, but he isn’t a strong supporter of, ” (and mentioned the plank the man was hesitant on).  I said, “A lie is a lie. He signed off on it, saying he didn’t is a lie. If you’re going to throw rocks, you should at least be less obvious about breaking the numbered commandments.”

He hung his head in shame. 

You don’t need to be Christian to be part of the Christian Coaliton
My city is very divided politically.  We have “liberal Democrats” and “moderate Democrats”.  We have “Conservative Republicans” and “moderate Republicans.” In my area, if you didn’t stand up for the conservative element of the Republican party you were labeled “non-Christian,” and if you were active in that branch of the political system you were automatically assumed to be “a good Christian.”

So imagine my surprise when the woman who was famous in town for being able to motivate the Christians into action told me that she didn’t think it mattered if a person prayed to Christ or to Buddah or to Allah. 

Don’t confuse faith in Christ with opinions on issues
Remember the guy above who signed off on the platform, and they said he didn’t? He is a lay minister who is very active in the Church of Christ. Ask him for his testimony and he’ll talk for hours and hours about how he came to Christ, why he loves Christ and how he wants to help others find Christ.  He does a lot of charity work in the name of Christ. His reason for not wanting to sign off on the platform was because he felt the issue in question was one that would only be answered individually, and that the churches, not politicians, should address it.  This is the man the Christian coalition didn’t like.

One of the people running against him had the full support of the local Christian Coalition element of the party, but said something that indicated to me he couldn’t be a Christian.  Namely holding a status of honor with a non-christian faith. So, after a meeting I asked them how that worked, and they responded that they were not Christian, and then told me that their personal believe didn’t matter as long as they were willing to support Christian issues. 

How can a non-Christian know what a Christian issue is? How can a person who doesn’t even pretend to pray, know what God would want or make godly decisions? Or guide a group (community) in a Christian manner?  Would I rather have a sinful, but prayerful David as my leader? Or a worshipper of Baal, who was a pretty nice guy and agreed with me that stealing a man’s wife is bad? I’ll take King David.

Just because a man proclaims a cause doesn’t mean he believes in the cause
A very influential party member at not just the local level, but also at the state level, was adored by the pro-life groups.  On a door to door walk one day the man’s daughter told me that she found politics hilarious because her Dad didn’t really believe abortion was wrong.  I asked her to explain. She said, “I had one, and I had it because my Dad insisted I have it.”  She then went on to explain that she’d gotten pregnant as a teenager, her father didn’t want his family name stained, and he’d insisted she get rid of the baby. She had wanted to have it and keep it.  I said he must have changed his mind after that. She laughed and said absolutely not.

So, I asked someone close to the man about it, and he said, “That’s right. He isn’t really pro-life, and he is an atheist.”

I was flabbergasted, and I said, “But the Christian coalition and the conservatives all support him!”

His friend said, “He’s a great politician, and the party matters to him more than the issues. He figures issues will come and go.  So he doesn’t pick candidates who support his issue. He finds out what the issues are, and tells his candidate how to win over the people.”

Which, needless to say, didn’t improve my trust in the candidates he supported.

Everytime we brag that we are a Christian, and we spread a false rumor or attack someone who doesn’t deserve it, we anger Christ.
So when you get that email that enrages you, don’t forward it! Assume it is wrong until verified, and fact check it. If you can’t find substantial proof that it is accurate, don’t share it!

You see, Christ cares about a person’s soul, and when you spread false rumors, while proclaiming Christ, you run the risk of causing a heart to harden.
So just stop it.

Valuable lessons I learned from it all
If you hear a rumor, demand specifics that can be fact checked, don’t share them or spread them.  Spreading a rumor you don’t know to be true is bearing false witness and it is a sin.

If you want to know what a person feels about Christ or an issue, ask them.

Make sure your leaders really believe what they claim to believe. 

The more negative the comment, the more likely it is a flat out lie.

A man who is afraid to pray, is a man who won’t be listening to God.

Doing the dos of Christ matters as much as not doing the don’ts, maybe more.

Doing the dos of Christ matters as much as not doing the don’ts.  Maybe more.” 

The first time I heard those words they were spoken by Dr. Ralph Smith, who at the time was pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.  It was the mid 1970’s and Dr. Smith was teaching on the book of James.  Specifically the second chapter of James which says, in verses 8 through 10, the following.  “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.  But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of sin.”

Woah! That is HEAVY stuff.  Not loving your neighbor is as bad as adultry or murder or theft? That can’t be right!

Or can it?  Sin is disobedience to the known will of God, and no matter how hard we try to ignore it, forget it or twist it, Christ made God’s will on certain things very clear. He wants us to treat each other with love and with mercy, and He wants us to do it unconditionally. 

That means we can’t stop and say, “Well, they need to try to help theirself first,” or “they need to repent from sin first.”  Our most important job as a Christian is not to stop them from sinning.  It is to love  God, and then to love others like Christ loves us. Thankfully, for all of us, Christ loves us with mercy, forgiveness and understanding.  He died for us, when we were so mired in sin we didn’t even know it was sinful.  He forgives us, even though we keep making the same mistakes over and over.  THAT is how He wants us to treat each other and how He wants us to treat non-believers.

How important is it to Christ?  Well, when the disciples asked Christ, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”   (That’s where James got the idea). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this.  You find reference to it in other books of the New Testament, such as James.  The greatest two commandments, according to God Himself, are to love God and love others!

That isn’t the strongest or most clear statement from Christ on the matter though.  In Mattew 25 starting at verse  31 Christ tells us that when Christ returns in all his glory, with his angels, he will sit on his throne in glory with all the nations gathered around him, and he will separate his sheep from the goats, with the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.  
Matthew 25

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Notice what is not in there? What is not in there is, “You protested against that funeral for that sinner!” What is not in there is, “You told that guy begging for help on the corner to get a job and you cut aide to single parents so they didn’t waste the money.”

I have to be honest now and admit that those verses weren’t the real attention grabber to me.   It was the next set of verses in the same sermon (taught by Christ Himself) that grabbed my attention. 

Vs 41
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Christ, who was so full of love and mercy that he died for us, sending people to eternal punishment is a real attention grabber for me.  What in the world could anger Christ so much that he would say it deserved the same punishment as Satan deserved?   Ignoring the second commandment, to love others.  Ignoring the dos of Christianity.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or a thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minster unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, “Verily I saw unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me”. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

We Christians don’t teach that much anymore.  We focus on trying to beat those splinters out of other people’s eyes.  We use the excuse that Christians are saved by faith, not works.  That is true.  The bible says it very plainly. “Ye are saved by faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Sadly, we boast anyway. We boast that we aren’t guilty of the sin someone else is guilty of.  We boast we go to church on a regular basis. We boast we know the books of the bible in order. 

However, the fact that we are saved by faith does not mean we should ignore the dos of Christ.  Remember that verse back in James? The one that said if you break any of the law you’re just as guilty as someone who broke all of the law? The verse that reminds you that all the law hinges on love?

We can never be “good enough” to earn forgiveness for our sin, but that doesn’t mean good works don’t matter.  They matter a great deal to Christ.  In this human world if someone tells you that they love you and respect you, but they never consider your feelings, often hurt you, and never match their actions to their words, you begin to understand that their words are empty lies.  Christ is smart enough to know the difference between truly loving him, and in just saying you love him. He warned us to watch out for people who pretend to be followers of Christ, but in fact are there to destroy.

Matthew 7:15 .
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves
(Want to see a false prophet? Turn on the news to the man shouting messages of hate to a mother mourning her son’s death.  Open the paper to the guy who killed the staff of an abortion clinic and claimed he did it to serve God). 

Matthew 7:21
Not every one that saith unto me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven.
(Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Heal the sick. Visit the prisoners. Take in the strangers. Give drink to the thirsty. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone).

I love the story of the adulterous woman brought to Christ, especially when taken in context of James 2.  If all the law hinges on love, and all of us have failed to love, none of us are in a position to be tossing stones.  It behooves us to remember that.

Matthew 7:22-23
Many will say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?” And then will I profess unto them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity”.

It isn’t enough to do something in His name.  You have to know Him. You have to love Him, and if you love Him, you will keep his commandments.

John 14:15
If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 14:21
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved by my father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

John 14:23
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

And if you love him – and keep his commandments – you will love others, not just with words, but with deeds. You’ll feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the lonely.  You’ll act with love, and not just talk about it.

John 16:27
For the Father himself loved me, so have I loved you, continue ye in my love.

Show a little love for Christ today by spreading a little unconditional love here on earth.  Or, as Colbert said, admit you “just don’t want to”.

Flowers from heaven

In the chubby little fist of a toddler

Smiles From God

 a weed becomes a beautiful flower from the gardens of heaven.

My grandmother said she loved daisies because “they are smiles from God.”  In Central Texas, we knew that fields of bluebonnets, like the one used on my banner page, or fields of indian blankets were things of beauty.  In west Texas, people who have never seen how beautiful such a field can be just think of these lovely flowers as weeds in the garden.

 

It occurred to me that a lot of life is that way. God gives us wonderful moments of sheer beauty, and the world tries to convince us that they aren’t beautiful.   This is because the world is looking through cracked and broken lenses.  Take off the bitter negativity of the world and take a walk with God today. I promise you, you’ll find beauty that has been there all along.

 

Jesus Loves the Little Children and Those Little Children Have Big Ears

Like many children, I grew up singing, “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all taught me that Christ loves everyone, and that He loves sinners so much that He died for us. They did this with actions far more than with words. Love was the rule in my family. It was not unusual for my parents or for my grandparents to take in strangers, offer them food, give them something out of their closets. If someone was different or a misfit in this world I was taught to love them more because they needed it more. I was taught this was what Christ would want from us all.

My mother was a registered nurse, and a angelic hero in my eyes. My father was a good man with many friends, a generous and loving heart, and a problem with alcohol that he fought regularly. He was my knight in shining armor, and I was far too young to understand the issues of alcoholism. I knew Daddy acted silly when he drank too much and that it made mother sad, but I also knew Daddy loved Jesus because Daddy talked about Christ with that same special glow and love that he had when he talked about anyone he really loved. I knew he taught a special Sunday School class sometimes, I didn’t know it was actually a class for alcoholics.

I was five when we began attending a large church located halfway between our home and my grandparents’ home. At first I loved it. I would sing and skip on the walk to church, and when church was over I couldn’t wait to get to tell my grandmother the bible stories I had learned, and sing the little songs we had learned with her. So when we were told our children’s group would sing on the televised noon service I was excited!

The morning of the televised service they marched us into the sanctuary and lined us up, and I was put on the front row. A few minutes later another teacher moved me to the back. The first moved me forward again. The second moved me back. This went on until the front-row advocate demanded the back-row advocate explain. That is when these two women forgot that children have ears.

In front of me, and a choir-loft full of children, the back-row advocate said that my dress looked tacky and homemade. Front- row advocate said she thought it was cute. Back-row advocate hissed, “It’s obviously homemade,” as if that was a terrible thing, then added, “You know, her father is a drunk. He teaches that class for drunks.” The second gasped, and the gossip fest began.

I don’t know how long I listened, nor do I know if they ever noticed I had disappeared. I remember the pain more than anything. The horror of finding out that these people who were supposed to love everyone didn’t love my Daddy. I snuck out a back door of the choir loft and hid and cried. To this day I wonder if they ever noticed I was gone. Did they look for me?

After the sorrow came rage. How dare they talk about Daddy!? How dare they not like the dress my grandmother made?! People paid her to sew! How dare they talk about mother like something was wrong with her because she worked?! She was a nurse?!

Something inside of me broke that day. Fury consumed me for days and weeks afterwards. At first my anger was only directed at those two women, but it quickly spread to everyone who had ever spoken to me about God’s love, including my family. I thought I was surrounded by liars. I kept the anger to myself, nurturing it, letting it grow. I understood that telling them what I’d learned would somehow hurt the people I loved, so I began to live a life of deception.

On Sundays I would pretend to be excited, and I would run ahead of my family into the church, pretending to go to my class, and instead hiding, then slipping out a door to the playground behind the church. I would spend the next hour swinging. If an adult came by I would hide. My parents thought I was in class. My teachers thought I was either absent or with my family. When the Sunday School let out I would slip back into the building and meet my family, pretending I’d spent my time in class. After church my grandmother always asked my sister and I what we’d learned at church that day. I would repeat the story of Zacchaeus, which I’d always loved, and sing her the little song that went with it. I did this so often that she suggested my mother and father talk to the pastor about the fact that my teacher was giving the same lesson every Sunday.

If it had been left up to man I would still be angry at God and Christians, and I would not know my savior. I have no doubt in my mind about that fact. God, however, doesn’t leave the important things like a person’s soul in the hands of mere men.

The swing was located right outside the window of the senior pastor’s study. As Dr. Prince would go in to read over his sermon notes and pray he would glance out that window. It had to have been God’s hand that made him put aside his sermon notes and come outside, personally that day, to ask the little girl in the swing if she wanted to come inside the church. He could have sent someone else. He could have just ignored me. He did neither. He, like any senior pastor of a large church, had a dozen things to do before the service, but he set them aside and came outside and asked me if I lived around the neighborhood, and if I wanted to come inside and be with other children, and learn about Jesus.

I let him have it with all the pent up rage of a betrayed child. I told him that all that stuff about Jesus and love was a lie. I told him that everyone said Jesus loved everyone and that people who loved Jesus were supposed to love everyone, but they didn’t love my Daddy and if they didn’t love my Daddy they were just stupid and liars. I told him all the cruel things I’d heard them say about Mother and Daddy and my dress. I told him all the wonderful things I loved about my family. How Daddy gave that man Daddy’s favorite shirt and introduced him to a friend to get him a job, how Daddy told me that God loves everyone, and how Mother helped the stranger who was bleeding after his car crashed. I told him that all the stuff people said and sang about love was a lie and that I wasn’t stupid and that I didn’t want to play that game.

When I was done this pastor with a PhD who lead a large Southern Baptist Church knelt, in his fine suit, in the dirt of the playground and sobbed. Then Dr. Prince hugged me, and with tears on his face he told me that my mother and my grandparents and my father had not lied to me. That God is real. That Jesus DOES love all of us. Especially my Daddy.

Dr. Prince said that people, even very good people, make mistakes, and they can be very mean and very hurtful because they want to be like Jesus, but they aren’t. He told me that Jesus loved people like my Daddy so much that Jesus came to earth just for people like Daddy. He told me that Jesus would be proud of how Daddy gave the man clothes and how Mama saved the man’s life.

Then he took my hand, and asked me to let him introduce me to other people who really knew that Jesus loves everyone. He led me to the church and Mrs. Johnson. She would, in a few years, become my third grade public school teacher. That year, he called her to the door of a Sunday School class that was designed for children older than I was and asked her to let me join her class. Mrs. Johnson looked at me and smiled, and then smiled at him and said, “I think she is a little young for my class.” I can still see the look he gave her as he said, “She needs this room.” It was the look that children see a thousand times as adults speak that secret language of the eyes. He was right. I needed her room. Mrs. Johnson is still alive in my memory as an example of how Christ would like us all to be.

The months rolled by, my sixth birthday came and went, and one day all the children were moved to the sanctuary and told we had a very special visitor that was going to talk to us about something important. I was still feeling rage at most of the church and most Christians, and was not at all interested in this special guest – until the door opened and my friend walked in. The adults in the room were nervous in that way that many congregation members used to be nervous around ministers.

Because it was my friend, and because it was obvious to me that even the teachers were impressed that this man was here, I sat still and listened as Dr. Prince told us that he knew that sometimes when you’re a kid it seems like no one has time to listen to you, or they don’t understand how important something is to you. He told us to think of someone we loved, who we knew loved us back, and to imagine what it was like if they were never too busy to listen, never doing something so important that they couldn’t stop and help us, someone who loved us even if we were bad. He told us that Jesus loved us more than anyone else in the whole world, even our parents or grandparents. He told us that Jesus even loved us all so much that He asked God to punish him instead of us. He quoted Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” He said we could give Jesus the key to our hearts and invite Him.

A seed was planted in my heart that day. A seed that bloomed several days later. I was at home when Dr. Prince’s words came back to me. There was a terrible thunderstorm outside, and down the hall there were angry voices as my parents argued with one another over whatever it is that adults argue over. I was scared, terrified in fact, but I couldn’t go to Mother or Daddy. Not then. Not while they were fighting. I remembered what Dr. Prince had said about Jesus never being too busy, and I began to pray, though I didn’t know it was prayer.

I told Jesus that I didn’t know I had a key to my heart, or understand that part, but that I understood that everyone I loved, loved Him. That they all said Jesus loved them back and that Dr. Prince said Jesus loved me too, and wanted to help me and I told Him that He could have my key. I told him that I understood that everybody did something that Jesus didn’t like, and that I was sorry if I made Him sad. I spoke to God about great theological issues with the understanding of a child, and it was enough. I felt like a light went on around me. I felt like loving arms wrapped around me. I felt a rush of love like I have only felt when in God’s arms. It was like a veil had been pulled away between two worlds, and now I could see into God’s world. It was emersion in love, peace, joy. Fear vanished instantly. It was as much a physical sensation as an emotional one. In that instance came understanding. Over the years many Christians have shared similar experiences with me. No non-Christian can understand it.
The very next day I ran to tell my best friend about my “new friend.” She accepted Christ as Lord and Savior on the floor of my bedroom where we were playing dolls.

Days later I made a public profession of faith, and the amen-pew of the church objected. I was too young. I couldn’t possibly understand! Best to make me wait! Dr. Prince suggested a meeting, a one on one talk, with a few deacons present, to see if I understood or not. When the meeting was over my baptism was scheduled.

That’s been almost a half century ago, and God has never let me down, though I must have made Him cry many tears over the years. When I look back on it all, I wonder when God first stepped into my life. Was it when Dr. Prince looked out that window? Or was it when that window was built in that church building? It doesn’t matter of course. What matters is that God’s love prevails even against human error.

The lessons I learned from all of that have helped me as I worked with children in the church over the years. I try never to forget that children hear the adults around them. I try to remember that no matter how tired we may be, how frustrated we may be, we have a duty to display the love of Christ, not only to fellow Christians, but especially to the non-believers. How can they believe in the unconditional love of Christ if we keep showing them hate and prejudice? How lost would we be if Christ treated us the way we often treat one another?

I know He lives

Almost 50 years ago a very rebellious little girl was convinced that everything people told her about Jesus Christ was a lie, but I came to know that Christ is not a lie, a fable, or a fantasy.  When my relationship with Him was new there was one old hymn that meant everything to me.  It was not, “Jesus loves me,” but rather, “I serve a risen Savior.”  Now, more than ever, in a world that mocks His existence, this beautiful hymn holds a very special meaning to me.

I serve a risen Savior
He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say,
I see His hand of mercy;
I hear His voice of cheer;
And just the time I need Him
He’s always near


He lives. He lives. Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives. He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

It isn’t easy for someone who has never met Christ to understand the reality of Christ.  It isn’t easy for a Christian to help others understand.  Every Christian makes mistakes in their walk with Christ, and every Christian makes mistakes in dealing with other people, Christian or not.  Every relationship with Christ is unique and special.  I’ve learned a few things along the way that I hope might help others, and I offer them now, not from the stance of some saint that believes she should be imitated, but rather as a sinner who hopes you can avoid my mistakes, share my joys, and most of all, learn to trust the love of Christ.