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FIRST-PERSON: Voting with your life

MELISSA, Texas (BP)–Are you a difference maker? Are the people around you aware of your positions on important issues?

Don’t think that you can make your voice heard only once every four years on Election Day. Instead, realize that each of us has daily opportunities to make our community better places to live by voting.

By voting, I am not referring simply to our democratic political process, but instead referring to the other constant issues and decisions we face as a society. I am not asking whether you support one political candidate or another, nor am I taking a poll on the hot-button issues facing our society. I am instead asking, “How do you show that you care?”

As we all know, voting can be done in its most obvious form –- the ballot box. The Iraqi government recently announced the results of its first free elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite Muslims, won 48 percent of the 8.5 million votes cast, while the Kurdistan Alliance won 26 percent. These two political parties were not necessarily the first choice of the White House, but they obviously were the first choice of the majority of the Iraqi people who cast votes.

The Iraqi people were given the privilege — paid for with the lives of many American service personnel — of casting ballots for their preferred political leaders. Every four years, the American people gather peacefully to cast a ballot and elect a new president.

But people vote in dozens of ways besides the ballot box. People have the opportunity to vote every day with their hands, their hearts, their words, their feet, their checkbooks — even their remote controls.

Do you vote? When things are not going the way you want in your school or church or city or nation, what do you do? Do you ignore the problem? Do you complain and criticize the leaders? As a pastor, I ask the members of our church to come to me with solutions when they discuss various problems.

When your family or church or town faces difficulties, what do you do? Do you offer to help make the situation better by giving your time or resources? Do you complain about the inactivity of others? Do you ignore the problem?

In the fictional White House — the one shown on the television drama “West Wing” — President Josiah Bartlet explained the value of making a true difference by voting one’s conscience. Bartlet told an audience, “Decisions are made by the people who show up.”

When do you show up? If you show up, do you cast your vote, via a ballot or a check or a decision or a volunteer position? Each of our schools have needs to be filled; each of our cities would love to have more volunteers. Churches across this country, in every denomination, are drying up and fading away due to a lack of commitment by faithful members who vote with their lives.

In our church, we have adopted a phrase from Robert Lewis’ book “The Church of Irresistible Influence” to describe the type of atmosphere we want. Using Lewis’ terminology, we want to continue creating a culture that moves our motivation from “serve us” to “service”. We want our members to vote, not just with a ballot, but with their lives. We want folks to show they care, not simple by agreeing to a set of principles, but by how they live out the teachings of Jesus Christ. We want members who seek to serve others before they seek to be served.

How can you and I live out “service, not serve us”? We can choose to get involved in the affairs of our community. We can volunteer at worthy charities. We can get off the back rows of our churches and make real differences in the lives of real people. In other words, we can vote with our words and deeds, not just our ballots.

Lewis described the early Christian apostles, the people who risked their lives to follow Jesus Christ, as people who “saw themselves entrusted by God with a special calling, a sacred duty to service.” I believe that we too are entrusted by God with this special calling, this sacred duty. We have a calling to change the world for His glory, by serving others, by casting our votes in ways that truly make a difference.

The greatest servant who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, never entered a voting booth. He simply sought to meet man’s greatest need, the hope of salvation, and reminded His followers that he “did not come to be served, but to serve, to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

May we follow His example today. Will you vote?
Trey Graham, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Melissa, Texas, is a speaker, columnist, author of “Lessons for the Journey” (America House, 2001) and “Light for the Journey” (PublishAmerica, 2004), and director of Faith Walk Ministries (www.faithwalkministries.com). He can be reached at [email protected]

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  • Trey Graham