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FIRST-PERSON: How to be part of America’s answer and not another of her problems

KENNER, La. (BP)–It was the Fourth of July, a holiday for most people, but as pastor of a Baptist church in my Mississippi town, I was in the car headed for the local hospitals to make my rounds, when I turned the car radio to a political rally being held two counties over. My wife says only the worst political junkie would listen to a rally when he did not know any of the candidates. I’m glad I did. Each candidate for various offices was given five minutes to make their case for election. One candidate for sheriff told this story.

“One morning recently,” he began, “I was driving the back roads in the southern part of our county trying to meet the voters, and I kept passing this same yellow car. I must have seen that car four or five times. I figured it was somebody else running for office trying to scare up some votes. At lunch time, I pulled into a little country store and bought myself some lunch, and sat down under a shade tree to eat it. I hadn’t been there five minutes when that same yellow car pulled up. This fellow gets out and goes inside and gets himself something to eat, and comes out and sits under the same tree. I said, ‘What office are you running for?’ He said, “What are you talking about?” I said, ‘I’ve seen your car up and down these roads all morning. I figured you were running for some political office.’ The man laid down his drink and looked me in the eye and said, ‘Mister, I ain’t running for no office. I’m a thief. I’m looking for something to steal.'”

Two men having lunch under the same tree — one of them part of the problem and the other trying to become part of the solution. I have a hunch that almost everyone you and I meet today will fall into one of those two categories. Unfortunately, we can’t look at them on the outside and tell which group they’re in. Sometimes the good guys look rough, and sometimes the bad guys look like the finest role models.

A few Sundays ago, someone caught me right before the morning worship service and said, “Pastor, we have a motorcycle gang with us today.” There were about thirty of them — a few women but mostly men — tanned, bearded, tattooed, and wearing leather vests studded with patches and badges. It was a rough-looking crowd. I walked over and greeted them. Their leaders said, “Preacher, we’re the local chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. Once a month we do a ‘steeple chase’ and find a church where none of us belong and drop in on them and worship with them. We’re trying to remind God’s people not to judge others by their appearance.” My folks were delighted to receive them. They added a lot of joy and excitement to our worship that day. As I say, you can’t always tell by the outside who has the answer and who is the problem. Just in the last year, our state’s most recent ex-governor and our present insurance commissioner were convicted of major felonies. You can’t always tell.

It’s probably in order to lay down a few guidelines on how to tell when we are part of the problem:

1. When we’re advising people but do not know the way ourselves. Our Lord called people like this “blind leaders of the blind.”

2. When we are telling people to live by standards we ourselves are not keeping Jesus called this hypocrisy.

3. When we are one way in the light and another in the dark. Scripture calls such people ‘double-minded.’

4. When our public image has no relation to the reality. We are fakes.

5. When we condemn people who do the same things we do. Pharisees.

6. When we are better wreckers than builders.

7. When we prefer to heckle from the stands than to rise up and get involved in the issues of life.

Likewise, we need to identify those who are part of the answer in our world:

1. Those who stand for right at great costs to themselves.

2. Those who do not base their convictions on the latest public opinion polls, but who know their minds and follow their hearts.

3. People who devote their lives to public service without enhancing their personal wealth.

4. Officials with the courage to vote against their own constituency when they believe right is on the other side.

5. Voters who go to the polls when no great issue is on the ballot, but just a couple of minor offices up for grabs.

6. Those who write letters to the editors and take public positions on vital issues, even though they know it may hurt their business.

7. Those who vote taxes upon themselves to support schools long after their children have grown up.

Anyone who does even a cursory study of American history will find a long slate of people who made this country great and kept it free and strong by putting self-interest aside and doing the courageous thing. These are the people we celebrate.

    About the Author

  • Joe McKeever