For many years I was obsessed with politics. I was a political junky, devouring talk radio, blogs and news from around the world. When I was young my dad ran for office, almost beating a popular incumbent for a US House seat in our home district in Illinois. I can’t say I absorbed a lot being so young, but I learned that it was important to be involved in our political system, and I learned it was the duty of honest, hard-working Americans to stand up and make their voices heard at the ballot box.
So it was no surprise when I decided to run for office myself at 28. I started smaller than my dad had, aiming instead for a county board seat occupied by a popular incumbent. I was determined not to share my dad’s fate and to knock on every door in my district and ask for every person’s vote. It’s amazing what people will ask you when you knock on their door asking for their vote. Most asked what I would do for them. Of course, I’ve been trained to disbelieve any promise a hopeful politician makes, so I responded with a milquetoast, “I’ll do all I can for you!” I placed my bets on the constituents preferring timid non-promises to outlandish, unbreakable vows, and I won in a landslide by 24%.
About this time, my family moved into my parents’ old house and we started attending a new church. I had met one of the leaders by chance at a political fund raiser since the candidate was a mutual friend of ours. He invited me to come check out his church, so once we moved, we decided to try it out.
For the next 2 years I learned what it meant to serve and lead in the church. I was discovering a love for leading groups and teaching others about prayer or training them as guitar players. I was discovering gifts that God had given me to lead others and to speak in public, but most of all, I was discovering a love for God’s church. So when my 2-year term in office was up, there were several full-time offices where the opposing party was vulnerable and my party wanted to snag. I was encouraged to run for County Recorder of Deeds and begin my ascent to full-time political public service.
My head swam with the possibilities. I was certainly ambitious enough. Hadn’t I aspired to the Governor’s mansion, to Washington? It’s not as if I craved power. I’ve always admired Maximus in Gladiator who could amass the power of the populace behind him and then turn it over. That’s the kind of leader I would be. I would be benevolent and good, and I would finally bring change to this county, this state and this great nation…but as I lay awake one night immersed in my own thoughts, the Lord interrupted,
Whose kingdom are you building?
Oh…I wasn’t expecting that. All my ambitions were oriented around building the kingdom of men. Now don’t get me wrong, we need public servants, and God bless all the honest men and women who serve the public, but God was asking me a question that felt like a line in the sand. On one side were the power and prestige that came with political position. On the other side was the Lord. Sure, for 2 years I had walked the line between the two, growing in my service in the church and growing as a public servant. Why couldn’t I do both?
Jesus’s words in Luke 9 were a wake-up call for me. Jesus is confronted by several would-be followers asking to go along with him wherever he went. However, Jesus makes it clear that their priorities were a little backward.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
“Jesus, I will follow you, but first let me climb the corporate ladder to reach my goal.”
“Lord, first help me find a husband to walk with me along the way.”
“Jesus, as I follow you, is it ok if I do a little campaigning?”
Do you see how distracted we are? The Lord is offering for us to follow, calling us to walk along with him wherever he goes and seeing the good works he does as God’s Kingdom comes to earth, and here we are talking about less important things.
I have a fairly addictive personality. I wish I meant that people became addicted to me, but alas, I’m actually talking about how easily I become addicted to things. Two years ago it came to a head when several friends from work were playing Clash of Clans. Of course I wanted to be part of it! I would only do it at lunch and at night before bed. Ok, I’ll do it on breaks. Ok, I have some downtime on this slow conference call. Aright, I just got home. Well, the interstate is pretty relaxed today.
And before I knew it, my kids were trying to get my attention wanting me to see their art project from school and have me come to the basement to play with them, but I was zombied out battling for the next gold and elixir fix.
What about you? How much time do you spend on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or 9gag or reddit or or or or or…you see? You’re trapped in the trivial. Jesus is calling you today to set down the trivial things in your life and follow him. That doesn’t mean he expects you to quit your job because it’s wrong to want a promotion. But WHY do you want a promotion? Is that what the Lord wants FOR YOU?
In this passage from Luke, the first man goes to Jesus and offers to follow him, but Jesus’s response?
You do realize the kind of rejection you’re going to face, right?
Jesus calls the second man.
Come follow me.
But the man had other priorities. He wanted to bury his father. The thing you need to realize is that in 1st century Palestine, burial happened twice. The first burial of the body took place after death just as we know today, but at the time of Luke’s Gospel, Jews would return to their loved ones’ graves to exhume the bones and reinter them in an ossuary, or a bone box. The man wanted to wait an entire year to follow Jesus! Jesus’s response.
Let the dead bury their dead. If you choose to wait to follow me, giving in to other priorities, you are no different than the spiritually dead people. If you want to live you need to see that nothing compares with me. I want to be first. Only then will you truly be alive.
Another man offers to follow Jesus but wants to say good-bye to his family. That seems legit, right? Which one of us would suddenly leave all the people we love behind without a word? I can barely get away with leaving a room abruptly to use the restroom without letting my wife know where I’ll be. Imaging if I suddenly started following a traveling preacher and disappeared! But Jesus loves the shocking contrast.
You must love nothing more than me. If I’m not first, if I’m not on the throne of your heart, if I’m not the start of and the goal for your life, you’re not fit for my Kingdom.
So, Friend, whose kingdom are you building? Are you like I was and putting together this great little life, following your ambitions, seeking to take the world by storm? There’s a better way, and you can find it.
After the Lord asked me this, what I didn’t tell you was my response. I said, “Ok, God. I’m spare change in your pocket. Spend me how you like.” That’s when my life turned exciting.
I walked away from politics. Now rather than being in the fight I pray for and love both sides of the aisle. I learned to make daily decisions about how I loved people. No more would my love be based on earthly, temporary things, but I would learn to love based on what God sees in them. Instead of pursuing happiness (which is temporary) I would run after joy (which is eternal).
Whose kingdom are YOU building?
This week’s assignment is simple: figure out whose kingdom you’re building. The question is not necessarily an easy one to answer, because clearly many of the pursuits of our lives are natural. We have to have jobs to make money to support our lives. So you have a job, but does your job have you? Politics can be a noble pursuit, but to what end, God’s or yours?
If you want to see where your priorities are prayerfully ask yourself the following questions:
Where do I spend the most time, energy and money?
What, if it were to suddenly disappear from my life, would cause me the most anguish?
If your answer is not building God’s Kingdom, your priorities are backward. Only when Jesus is first will your life be full enough for the other things to have complete meaning. That’s the economy of God’s Kingdom. Only when you’re full of him do you have room for every other good thing he’s given you.