We have watched what can only be described as the surreal political season leading to the US presidential election this coming November. The level of irritation, frustration, anger, discouragement, and fear led us to jettison our fall teaching schedule to speak to how we Christians might, even ought, to respond in this political season. The thinking is this: perhaps there is more that we can do to right this country than merely cast a vote for one of the least popular candidates in US history to win their party’s nominations. If so, what might God tell us about how we are to think and act when all around us seems to be falling apart. This is the executive summary of part 1 of a series we’re calling National Recovery.
How did we get into this mess? How is it possible that our country is riding records levels of national debt? How is it that we are like Terrell Owens, who made $80 million in his NFL career, but was broke within a few years of retiring? We don’t seem to be any better than Sbarro or Circuit City or Lehman Brothers or Republic Airways—seemingly rock-solid, well-known businesses that went belly up. Isn’t it true that none of believe that we’d be those people whose lives fall completely apart after winning the lottery? Yeah, no way we’d be those people. But, we’re living in a nation that’s headed there.
Do we really have a financial problem in America, a lack of resources? Or, are we like all these individuals or companies that went bankrupt, not because of financial resources, but because of mismanagement of those resources? Yeah, our problem isn’t the lack of resources. It’s the wholesale squandering of the nation’s prosperity. Like with individuals, when we scratch below the surface, what we find isn’t financial, but some addiction that finally surfaces for all to see when the money runs out. My wife and I have a relative who should be set for life, but recently approached us for a $30,000 gift under the mistaken impression that we just had that sitting around. And since it was just sitting around, she should have access to it. Well, scratch below the surface and what do you find? Not a financial resource issue at all, but a gambling addiction that shows up as a financial issue.
If America’s issues really aren’t financial, but something else, perhaps we need to scratch below the surface and work on solutions to those issues rather than print more money. Here’s what I found when scratching below the surface. See if you don’t agree:
— A country that doesn’t like to hear “No.” So, we leverage the future to get what we want and get it now. If someone tells us “No,” we get rid of them and elect someone else.
— A country that has a greed problem. How do I know? Easy. The more money you make in this country, the less, percentage-wise, you give away. The poorer you are, the more generous you are, percentage-wise. Our assumption as a people, is that if it lands in our hands, it is there for our consumption, pure and simple. Greed is an abuse of our national prosperity.
— A country with a failure of nerve. Leaders with failure of nerve look at a situation, see what needs to be done, and back down from doing. We too much like the parent who decides it’s easier to let that toddler stay up an extra hour than do the hard work of ensuring he or she goes down to sleep on time.
— A country who places too much trust in a political party to right the ship of state. Even as I share this message with my congregation, the tendency is to look at these issues I’ve mentioned through the lens of political party. Republicans believes they are not the problem. It’s those Democrats. Democrats feel the same way about Republicans. Independents feel the same way about Republics and Democrats. Bernie Sanders Socialists feel the same way about capitalists, ignoring the fact that history has proven that the new Socialist man is just as evil and corrupt and the capitalist one.
It’s into this fray that Jesus speaks, and He does what He does—He comes at this in way that surprises, even stuns, us. Stunning because we all, regardless of our political perspective, are absolutely convinced Jesus is going to line up with us against the other guys. If you were with us when we taught through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount earlier this year, it will be something you’ve heard before
Matt. 7:3 - Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
What in the world?? How dare He? Well, the answer to your question is because I’m certain I’m right and they are wrong. But isn’t this every one of us? I mean, not one of us adheres to a view that we are certain is wrong, do we? We all think we’re right. Jesus knows we’re going to go there, so He hits us with the question again.
Matt. 7:4 - How can you say, “Let me take that speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
OK, Jesus, you’re serious about this, aren’t you? OK, then, here is the answer. I’m focused on them because I was not aware I had a plank sticking out of my eye. Finally, He gets the answer that doesn’t surprise Him, and he comes back with this.
Matt. 7:5 - You hypocrite
OK, this is just getting irritating. See, what we think Jesus was saying from His question was that we ought to be slow to whack on others because we all have some issues. But that’s not His point. See, you can’t be hypocrite unless you are banging on others to stop or start doing something that you yourself are refusing to stop or start. It’s got to be the same issue or it’s not hypocritical. A politician who is against abortion isn’t being hypocritical if he want to close US borders to immigration. Why? Different issues. You may think he’s stupid, but he’s not being hypocritical. Hypocritical is this: He’s opposed to abortion, but when his own daughter gets pregnant, he secretly encourages her to get an abortion to avoid a scandal that might hurt his political career. It’s the disconnect on the same issue that makes him a hypocrite. You see that?
Jesus is saying that when we are all agitated about someone from that other political party, we need to be careful to look in the mirror, because that agitation just might signal that there’s something of that in us that’s driving our ire. And we hate this, because no lifelong Republican believes there’s even an ounce of anything in them that Democrats have. We want to forget us and drive to show them how wrong they are. And into this tendency, Jesus speaks.
Matt. 7:5 - First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly. . .
"You want recovery? You want to see things get fixed?” Jesus asks. Simple, start first and foremost with this: Zero in on you and get the plank or planks out. If you do, you will see clearly. Our problem is that we think we already see clearly. It’s the other guy who doesn’t see clearly. And Jesus merely tells us that we’re wrong. But if we’ll take Him at His word, we find that He makes us a promise—that we will see clearly, maybe for the first time.
So, our first principle in national recovery is this: it all begins with we, not them. So, we’ll close with this that you can use to see if you have a plank. There aren’t all the issues. Just some possible planks to ponder:
— Are you undisciplined with your money? Are you spending up to the edge of your income? Do you have consumer debt, owe money on credit cards? If you’ve been irresponsible with your own money, don’t you lose leverage in wagging your finger at the government for being irresponsible with taxpayer’s money? They are just doing what you are doing.
— Are you greedy? Does 98% of what comes into your hands get used up on your lifestyle? If so, that’s greed. If every Christian would just be a 10% percentage giver, imagine how that would transform communities and schools. But if your greedy, how can you utter a complaint about the rich being greedy? They are just doing what you’re doing.
--Are you paying your taxes or are you stealing?
— Are you men taking responsibility for the children you brought into this world? Are you paying child support or alimony when you should. If not, you’re a major reason for the poverty afflicting this nation. And you’ve lost all your right to say anything about the problem of poverty here.
--Parents, are you living beneath your means to sock money away for your kids’ college so they don’t have to have student loan debt? If not, you are counting on welfare--in the form of government-back loans at significantly discounted rates—and you have lost all leverage in any debates related to those who should or shouldn’t be getting welfare dollars?
--Are there things in your family that should be addressed, but you have a failure of nerve. You afraid of your toddler? Your teen? Your husband? Your wife? You know there’s an issue, you know there needs to be a solution, and you know what it needs to be, but you calculate the potential consequences, and you back down. If so, you have zero credibility to criticize any leader when he or she does the very same thing with the tough decisions they face.
— You stealing from your employer? Exaggerating your expense reports? Yep, you’ve got nothing you should be saying about financial malfeasance on the part of any elected leader.
— You watching pornography? You’re contributing to the abuse of men, women, teens, and children. You’ve got no right to comment on anything anyone else is doing.
And, listen, these are not political party issues. People in every political party engage in these things. But what if we Christians took the time to look in the mirror, spot the planks, the hypocrisy, and worked to get rid it in our lives? Well, Jesus says that, if we do, then we’ll see clearly, and we’ll have the credibility to help others deal with their planks. Lacking that, all we can do with the planks in our eyes is probably help put someone else’s eyes out. Not a good deal. But if we do take action, then maybe we can find that the national recovery doesn’t begin in Washington, but right here at The Surge, right here in your family, right here in your neighborhood, right here in your place of employment, right here in your school. Because national recovery, if Jesus is correct, begins with we, not they.
Let’s get to it!