When Small Things Are Big
All right, to get started this morning, I have recruited a brother and sister team to come up here. Abby and Timothy, come on up here and help me. Come on up here. All right, thank you guys for being willing to help. I needed you because I need somebody, I need a pair that has strength and good judgment. You guys are up to it I know, I know.
Here’s what I need you to do. We’ll start here in just a minute. I just need you to take out the object that’s in the bag. And then I want you guys to tell me which one is bigger. Let’s start over here. Go ahead, take that object out. There, you’ve got it. Okay, so you recognize what that is, right? What is it? It’s a bowling ball. She’s right. There you go. You can put it right there. You don’t have to wrestle with that thing. All right, Timothy, reach in there and take out the object. Did you find it in there? It’s swimming in there. Alright, there you go. What is it? It’s a marble, he’s right. You can put it right on there.
All right, guys, here’s the question. It’s tough, but you guys are smart. I know you can do it. Which one of these is heavier? Timothy says that. Abby, you say this, too? Are you guys sure? Really? Do you guys want to look at the other one? You sure about that? You can just tell by just like that, you know. Well, we could get a scale. Yeah, I guess. I mean, if you want one, we could probably find one somewhere. But you’re still going to go with bowling ball?
Okay, but wait a minute. Look at the marble. This is what professional marble people call the shooter. It’s the big one out of the bag that I bought yesterday in Hobby Lobby. But even though that’s a big marble, you guys are going to say it’s still not as big and heavy as that bowling ball, right? Yes, yes. Final answer, it’s the bowling ball, right? All right, you all agree with them? Of course you do. Thank you very much, Timothy and Abby, for helping us out, helping us get started.
It’s really not a hard question. It’s obviously the bowling ball. So then why is it that people so often get confused about what’s the weightier matters to God? Jesus was talking about the Pharisees and he said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin [spices. You tithe this stuff over here…] and you forget the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat [the little things] and swallowing a camel!” So, the small stuff over here they pay attention to, the big stuff they neglected.
Can you think of some other examples in Scripture where people got confused about what was most important to God? Can you mention a couple? Just shout them out. Can you think of a couple? Healing on the Sabbath is a good one. Someone needed to be healed, that’s the bowling ball. But their religious ritual was the marble, and that’s what they were paying attention to.
Did you say the Corban thing? Yeah. Okay, this is where the Scriptures told the Jewish people that they should take care of their parents when they’re older. That’s the bowling ball. But they would use a technicality in the law to get around it. That’s the marble. And if you think about it, there are many, many examples like this. Look at the Beatitudes. All of the things that Jesus said are blessed (the bowling balls) the world considers to be piddly little marbles, worthless.
Remember earlier when we were going through Mark and the children were coming to Jesus and the disciples tried to shoo them away? That was insignificant as far as they were concerned. That was a marble. But Jesus said, “Let them come, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” That’s the bowling ball. We get these confused all the time. And it’s not just that we’re majoring on the minors. I mean, you could say it that way. But part of the problem is that these bowling ball sized things today in this world often look like marbles. They’re hard to spot.
Jesus gave a lot of parables about this. The parable where he said the kingdom of God is like a man who discovers a treasure hidden in a field. It’s not obvious, it’s not something sitting out there that you’re going to stub your toe on. It’s hidden away. You may not see it. It’s like the wheat and the weeds that are together. You’re not sure which one’s which. It’s hard sometimes to see those bowling balls.
Now, my question for us today is, how do we get confused about what God says is most important? And by we, I don’t mean just 21st century Christians. I don’t mean just Americans. I mean us right here at North Hills. Do we sometimes get it twisted around, pay more attention to the marbles than to the bowling balls?
I think you start to see a little bit of this when you think about the video we just saw of the interview with Screwtape. A lot of what we said there comes right out of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.” He said it’s a tool of the devil for Christians to see the world as an end and faith as a means. We get it turned around. Our faith and following Jesus, that should be the bowling ball. This world is just the marble. But we get them switched around and Satan can use that.
So, let’s start to talk about this. Let me give you a couple of definitions here as we kind of work into this. We a lot of times use the word culture. Culture, in one definition is “a broadly bound, deeply held shared perspective.” A group of people looking at something the same way. Political culture is a specific “perspective that tends to view the world in political or partisan terms.” And today, American culture is becoming more and more influenced by this political culture, and it’s becoming more and more polarized. You can actually measure it.
There’s a chart here that we’ll put up. This is the measure of partisan division in the House and the Senate. It goes back all the way to 1876. When you look at this, it’s kind of interesting, it’s at its lowest right around World War II, which you kind of would expect. As a matter of fact, during that time and in the 50s, political scientists were concerned that there wasn’t enough of a differentiation between the parties. We don’t have that problem now. You can see that it skyrocketed, and that’s just up through 2012. If you were to continue through today, it’s even worse.
So, politicians are extremely divided, but it also comes down to the average American. There was a study that came out just this last March talking about this kind of polarization. It says that “Americans are defining themselves more saliently by their politics. This is important, because the formation of a group identity tends to change individual behavior in powerful ways. Through the phenomenon of “group polarization,” people who begin with vague, weakly-held opinions tend to become more radical and dogmatic when put into like-minded groups. They also quickly develop hostile feelings toward outgroup members. Rational, evidence-based dissent tends to lose effectiveness within the groups, and in fact makes group members even more invested in their original opinion.”
And it’s not just Americans, it’s American Christians who are divided. Peter Wehner, a Christian who served in the Reagan White House and both Bush White Houses, said recently that
“Partisan, cultural, and regional identities tend to shape religious identities… In so many instances, cultural identity is completely dominant over faith; it is the prism [perspective and culture] through which faith is interpreted.”
This is what Screwtape wants, for us to view our religion as part of our politics. Now, there is a place for Christians to get involved in politics, to be sure, if that’s the opportunity that God gives to you. But to view it as everything is dangerous. We’re pressured by an increasingly dominant political culture to view everything, including the gospel, through a political lens. But when the church lets a political party set its agenda, bad things happen. We can easily forget what’s important in the kingdom of God.
If you think about it, there’s aspects of the culture out there, like entertainment culture, pop culture. We are aware that that’s different than what God says. For instance, entertainment, when they talk about marriage. A lot of times they’ll offhandedly talk about marriage, saying that marriage is really about what you can get out of it. Well, we know that that’s not what God teaches. We may have a difficult time practicing that/believing that, but we understand the difference. But this growing political culture, I think has sneaked up on us. I don’t think we’re as aware of that.
And so, I want to talk to you today about five ways that the political culture is influencing the church. These are five issues where we need to know what’s bigger to God, what the bowling balls are.
Number 1, appealing to members or changing members. A political party needs to appeal to its base; therefore, it tells people what they want to hear. But the church needs to tell people what they need to hear. The church should “build up” the body of Christ — to change it. A political party has no obligation (or motivation) to change anybody. If the church allows a political party to set its agenda, it will leave the body immature; it will not grow but wither.Paul told the Ephesians what the purpose of the church is.
“He gave… shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness and deceitful schemes.”
A politician has no obligation to change his followers so that they eventually grow up and take the training wheels off. The church does. A few years ago… As you think about this, politicians are going to say what people want to hear. That’s what a political party will do. As a matter of fact, if you look at the stats, that’s exactly what a politician needs to do. They need to appeal. They need to take the positions of their base voters so that they can get elected and tell them what they want to hear.
As I was saying, a few years ago, my daughter went on a college trip with the youth group here at North Hills, and it was during an election season. And on Sunday, they visited a church in Virginia, and the church handed out a voter guide. My daughter brought it home. She said, “Dad, look at this. It’s kind of unusual what’s on here.” A lot of the stuff were issues that you’d expect — taxes, gun control, right to life.
But there was one thing on there that stuck out. It was coal. You know, the black stuff from the ground that you burn. Now, that’s not something we normally put as an issue. Why was it there? Well, this was western Virginia. It’s coal country. Coal is a big deal to those people. It’s their livelihood for a lot of them. So, politicians there know they’ve got to take a stand on coal to preserve those jobs. It wasn’t a matter of whether they needed to hear it, but that’s what they wanted to hear so that’s what the politicians will tell them. The problem is that the list of critical issues for the church may not be the things that we would all expect. Sometimes we have to hear something that challenges us, that makes us grow. So, for the church, changing people is much more important than only telling them what they want to hear.
Number two, power or service? A political party seeks power, which doesn’t have to be sinister. It’s just a requisite for political action. You need power to get things done. But Christ specifically commanded the church not to seek power, but to act as servants. If the church lets a political party set its agenda, it will be tempted to power. It may seek, for example, to regain the cultural hegemony it thinks it has lost. But this effort directly contradicts Christ’s command and mars the gospel message.
We’ve already talked about this today in Mark 10 where Jesus told the disciples to not be like the Gentiles who lorded over them. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” This bowling ball is so big that Mark arranges his gospel to hammer it home three times in short succession. We said, as we’ve been going through, Mark, that the book of Mark changes its focus in chapter 8 when Jesus begins to predict his death. And Mark lays it out for us three times. It’s kind of easy to remember — it’s 8:30, 9:30, 10:30. It’s not exactly, but close enough to get you there — 8:30, 9:30, 10:30. This prediction of Jesus’ death comes three times. And every time that Jesus does it, he follows it up with a statement about what should be important to us.
In chapter 8, if you find your life, you lose it. If you lose your life for my sake and the gospel’s, you’ll find it. Chapter 9, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Chapter 10, as we’ve already seen, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Over and over and over again we see this in Scripture.
David French, he’s a Christian religious liberty lawyer, talked about this recently. He said that
“The quest for power can sideline or derail the quest for justice [and other things that Christians should be concerned about] . . . Christians can never forget that they live in what my pastor once called ‘an upside-down kingdom.’” That’s what we’re talking about here. The things that are important, the bowling balls, are not what the world would say. Everything seems flipped. But yet we are still tempted to power.
Peter Wehner, we’ve already talked about him, he talks about this recently. He mentions one pastor who requested anonymity in order to speak openly put it to him this way:
“You still fundamentally get people [he’s talking about Christian leaders and churches.] “You still fundamentally get people who are in love with power and will take any means necessary to beat you down so they have power and you’re subservient to them not the Gospel.” This happens in our churches, we forget.
I think sometimes we justify our wanting power because we believe that we’re going to do something good with it. We believe we can take America back for God. We can return to a time before this world started to slide so steeply toward sin. But seeking power in this city of man is not the most important thing for citizens of the city of God. As we’ve seen, it’s not what Christ commanded. And often what we’re trying to restore wasn’t all that good in the first place.
Ecclesiastes warns against this,
“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
And when you think about it, it’s pointless for us to seek power. God doesn’t need us to seek power. He has all the power he needs already. And it mars the gospel because it shows that we’re no different from the rest of the world.
A couple of minutes ago, I used the word hegemony. The word hegemony is a perfectly good word, it comes from the Greek word for leader. It just means leadership or dominance, but it has become a buzzword in critical theory. Critical theory, among other things, studies how groups get power to maintain their hegemony or their dominance. How they get it, maintain it, extend it, and lose it.
Critical race theory, which we are hearing a lot about these days, is an offshoot of critical theory. It looks specifically at how one racial group gets and maintains dominance or power or hegemony over another. So, when we as Christians seek power in order to regain our cultural dominance, even though we say it’s for a good reason, we actually prove the critical theorists, right. That it’s all about power. We’re to be different, Jesus tells us so. That’s the light that we have to shine.
So, as we’ve seen, number 1, changing people is more important than appealing to them and [number 2] service is more important than power. Number 3, policy or personal action. Political parties are generally limited to, really if you think about it, a narrow set of tools. They’re mainly policy tools/institutional actions — laws, investigations, hearings, programs. And they can do a lot with those tools, but they’re relatively limited. The church has no limits; in fact, small, personal actions which we may not even notice, count greatly in the kingdom of God.
If the church lets a political party set its agenda, it will focus only on policy solutions and miss the value of a cup of water given to “the least of these, my brethren.” Remember Jesus said that in Matthew 25 where he’s describing the judgment in the last days and the righteous are separated from the unrighteous.
He describes it as the sheep separated from the goats. And he says to the to the righteous, “Enter into my kingdom because I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me.” And here the righteous say back to him, “Wait a minute, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you and give you a drink? And when did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” These things they didn’t even think were that big of a deal. But the king will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Those things were bowling balls in the kingdom of God. I like to think about this as micro-Christianity. Not in the sense that it’s small, but in the sense that it’s everywhere, in the smallest actions and words. It seeps down and fills every crack in our lives, that spreads everywhere, often without notice. This is what Screwtape doesn’t want Christians to do, to see the temporal affairs of this life as material for obedience. This is what the kingdom of God is like.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a tiny seed that is planted and grows and becomes huge, provides shade and a place for the birds. It’s like leaven, a little bit of yeast that you put into the dough, and it leavens the whole thing. These little things that are everywhere make a difference in the kingdom of God.
Now, you may think that just doesn’t feel like enough. I mean, we’re under siege here in our society. We need to do more. Okay, exactly what are we going to do? I mean actually do? We talk a lot about politics. We feel a lot about politics. But when it comes right down to it, for most people, politics is a spectator sport. We support our team. We argue about the plays, but we don’t really get in the game that much outside of, you know, voting for the MVP, I guess you could say. Around the world, in fact, other than voting, people don’t actually do a whole lot in politics.
There was a study by the Pew Research Center that looked at 14 countries around the world and looked at what people specifically do in politics. 78% said they voted. Okay, that’s a good number. But it drops way off after that. About a third said they attended a campaign. About a quarter said they participated in a volunteer organization which is pretty good. 17% posted something online. 14% participated in an organized protest and only 12% donated to a campaign or some other social organization.
So, there’s really not a whole lot of actual activity going on. In fact, if you add other things like contacting a politician, it’s still not going to be that much. Now, it’s true, some people may end up running for public office or in some other way being involved in the government. And that’s good, but that’s not most of us. That’s certainly not as much as we talk about it and feel about it.
So, am I saying that we should engage more? Maybe. That wouldn’t be a bad thing. But what I’m really saying is that if we let a political party set the agenda for the church, we’re only going to focus on a small set of actual activities. When our work for God’s kingdom can actually be much more broad and deep. I’m saying that politics may be for most of us most of the time a spectator sport. Outside of voting, we’re probably not going to play on the field.
But Christianity should never be a spectator sport. We are on the field every day. We never leave it. I am not saying that we should do more. We’re already doing things. We need to do more with what we’re already doing every day. Each one of us has a different sphere of influence, a different corner of the world where we can shine God’s light. Instead of wishing we were in some other prominent corner, we should shine and serve wherever we are — in our homes, our jobs, our neighborhoods. We may think of politics as national, but our service for the kingdom of God is local, even hyperlocal. And we should use whatever tools and talents we have at hand, rather than wishing for some fancier gift.
Is simply using your gifts a political act? In the kingdom of God, it is. Some of you may not even be satisfied with that. I understand this. It feels like we’re in a life and death struggle against good and evil. We’re under siege by a world that wants to push us aside or worse. So, if you feel like we ought to do more, what what exactly would that be?
There are Christians out there that talk about this, that feel this way. One of them is a guy named Soreb Ahmari who is a convert to Christianity. And he says when it comes to facing the culture, “‘The only way is through’– that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.” We should fight.
There are others who say we should flee. Rod Dreyer makes this case in a book he published in 2017.
“Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to… stop fighting the flood? That is, to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again? Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.”
Now, if you think about those two options and if you think that maybe that’s the direction we ought to go, there’s some things that I want you to think about. Please consider this. What was Jesus’ response to the fight option? Remember on the night that Jesus was betrayed, the soldiers came to arrest him, and Peter saw them coming. And he pulled out his sword and attacked and he cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. What did Jesus do? He healed him and he told Peter to put the sword down. He said, “Don’t you realize? If I wanted to, I could call twelve legions of angels from my Father to come and defend me?” God doesn’t need us to fight.
What about Jesus’ response to flee, for us to withdraw, to go set up our own communities separate from the world? Remember, Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth. We’re supposed to flavor the world that we’re around. “If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
Jesus also said,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
How can salt flavor food if we never sprinkle it on the food? And how can light illuminate the darkness if it never goes out into the darkness? We have a job to do in the world. So, I don’t see how flee can be an answer.
Finally, what did we expect? The world hates us. Should that really come as a surprise? Jesus told his disciples,
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world [I brought you out of the world into my kingdom, he’s saying] therefore the world hates you.”
Please consider this if you feel like fight or flee is the option. Personally, I’m afraid that those options come very close to the kind of political distraction that Screwtape hopes Christians will pursue to keep us from living out the gospel.
So, changing people is more important than appealing to them. Service is more important than power. And personal actions are greater than policy. Next, let’s talk about common interest or common calling.
Affiliation with a political party is based on common interests. Those who have a common interest are in the party, those who don’t have those common interests are outside of the party. The church, however, defines its members ultimately by the calling of God. It’s not just a matter of our own choice or our own interests.
If the church lets a political party set its agenda, it can easily confuse membership in a political party with membership in the church, forgetting that its members really are “those who are called according to his purpose,” as Paul told the Romans. We may question the faith of a fellow member who did not vote a certain way, or we may include those whom God has not called simply because they share our political creed.
And Paul explains the makeup of the church to the Corinthians. And really, he’s speaking to them, but he could be speaking to us as well.
“Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong: God chose what is low and despised in the world.”
When I look out at you, I see that most of you aren’t really a whole lot like me. I mean, if it were up to me to choose the members of this church based on my interests, everybody here wouldn’t care about any sport other than Ohio State football and women’s soccer. You wouldn’t drive a car younger than 20 years old and you’d try to turn every movie into an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In other words, if it were up to me to choose the members of this church, I’d mess it up.
I am so thankful that God chose you to be here with me in this body. And I need you. I need you like a foot needs a hand, like a nose needs an ear. I need you to wash my feet, and you need me to build you up. This side of the church needs to serve the other side of the church and the other side of the church needs to pray for this side. The members who voted for one candidate need to encourage the people who voted for the other and those that voted for the other need to welcome those who didn’t.
Have you ever known someone who struggled with self-harm or cutting? There are people I love that have struggled with that, and it is heartbreaking and hard to understand why someone would mar their bodies. I was talking to a hand surgeon after the first service. And he said he’s had to repair that damage and the pain that these people feel in their emotions is so great that they’re driven to this action. That’s hard to understand. But sometimes we try to cut off parts of the body of Christ that we think don’t fit even though God put them there. And trying to trim the body of Christ to fit a political party is the body of Christ committing self-harm. It makes no sense. It’s not what God has for the church.
So, changing people is more important than appealing to them. Service is more important than power. Personal actions are greater than policy. Our common calling is stronger than our common interests. And finally, flesh and blood or principalities and powers. A political party — particularly in a two-party system — sees the other party as its opponent. That’s understandable. The church, however, has a different opponent. Instead of other human beings — even those who persecute us — our opponents are “spiritual forces of evil and heavenly places.” If the church lets a political party set its agenda, we’ll pick the wrong opponent. We’ll set ourselves against political enemies, whom we’re commanded to love, and ignore the real enemies whose attacks creep into our homes and hearts.
Paul told the Ephesians,
“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Taking this political perspective on who our opponent is hurts us in a couple of ways. It makes it hard to love our enemies that we’re commanded to pray for, even those who persecute us. We’re supposed to be the light, and we offer them to see what God really has for them. And it distracts us from the real enemy in the real battlefield. Our greatest enemies are those we cannot see who attack us in small and subtle ways. And we may feel besieged and beset by our enemies. We may feel like that servant of Elisha in 2 King 6. The Syrian forces were coming to capture Elisha and the servant looked out at the hills and he saw all of this army and their chariots ready to get them. He was worried. And Elisha said, “Don’t worry.” And he prayed, “Lord, open his eyes.” And then the servant could see that the hills were filled with chariots of fire and the army of God. Those are the things we can’t see. That’s the bowling ball of God’s protection that’s there even though we may get afraid.
So, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And when he said that, he didn’t mean that it’s in another place. He meant that it doesn’t operate like this world does. It has a different set of values. In effect, a different politics. In God’s kingdom, changing people is more important than appealing to them. Service is more important than power. Personal actions are greater than policy. Our common calling is stronger than our common interests. And our enemies are not flesh and blood. These are the things that are bowling ball big in God’s kingdom, even though they seem small to us.
Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and what in the world, then, are we doing? What has God put right in front of us? There are a couple of examples I want to give you. One, and you may not think of this as political, but again, I think in God’s kingdom it is. Think about what North Hills does, we collectively do right here in this community.
For nine years, we’ve worked with Brook Glenn Elementary through SCORE tutoring program and good news clubs. Hundreds of children have professed faith in Christ. And there’s some that have been tutored so that they’re no longer on a path to fail out of school but to go to college.
Over the past year, during the pandemic, we’ve helped start ten learning pods around the city for minority and low-income students. Many of those have come to faith in Jesus. And there were more than 200 minority and low-income children who basically would have lost an entire year of school and never recovered. But now they’re on the A and B honor roll.
And remember, just earlier this year, we voted to donate the land right across the street here to Homes of Hope along with a significant donation, so they can build mixed income housing and provide an economic opportunity for our neighbors.
And there are other things going on. We’re building a broad coalition in the Judson Mill area to address gaps in education, health care, and other needs, along with blanketing that community with the gospel.
These are political acts that are right here, right in front of us. Let me give you another example. How many of you remember when there were adult video games in South Carolina? Anybody? A few of you do. They call them adult video games which just sounds really weird. Basically, what that means is video poker. And the fact that more of you don’t remember it or don’t know about it is really credit (for the most part) to one servant of God. Let me let me tell you about this.
Back in the 1990s, thanks to some shady legislative moves, the state legislature passed a bill that made video poker machines legal in the state, and they spread like kudzu. Almost every convenience store had them. And there were video poker parlors, especially up at the state line, where they could attract people from out of state. It was a blight on the state. It was taking money from already poor people and leading to some heartbreaking stories of mothers who spent their milk money on poker. But since the state legislature had passed legislation to make poker legal, only the legislature could reverse it. And the pro-poker group in the state House refused to vote. They kept saying the people should decide to ban it. They wanted a statewide referendum. Of course, they kept putting that off.
Well, the change finally came when Terry Haskins, a Christian, the Speaker Pro Tempore of the State House of Representatives, was driving home to Greenville one afternoon. He was tired of all of the stalled efforts to rid the state of this blight, and he came up with a creative idea. Why not let the people decide to keep video poker instead of banning it? So, he worked with other lawmakers to craft legislation that would ban video poker on June 30, 2000 unless the people voted in the previous November of ’99 to keep it. In other words, they passed a bill that it’s going away unless the people decide to keep it. Now, the poker advocates in the legislature passed Haskins bill even though it had that ban. And they really kind of were forced to since they’d been the ones that were pushing the referendum. Here it is. Aren’t you going to vote for it?
But here’s the key to what Terry Haskins did. He made those two parts of the bill, the ban and the vote severable so that if one got struck down by the courts, the other one would still stand. In effect, he crafted a poison pill for video poker. And sure enough, the poker promoters in the state, the companies that were distributing and selling these machines, they sued because they didn’t like that referendum. So, they sued and went to the Supreme Court to strike it down. And guess what? The Supreme Court agreed with them; the referendum is unconstitutional, and the video poker ban stands. So, they went to court to get rid of the referendum, and they lost their business. They lost video poker. What? How did that work? It was confusing. But it was the way Terry Haskins designed the legislation. The poker promoter sued and won their case but lost what they really wanted. This stubborn blight on the state faded almost quicker than it came. And a lot of those poker parlors are still standing, but most of them now are firework stands.
Terry Haskins, he wasn’t always that successful, but God used him. And it wasn’t too long after poker was banned, in October 2000, that Terry Haskins died at age forty-five. You don’t see much of him around anymore. There’s this sign on Wade Hampton in front of Bob Jones in the median strip as a bit of a memorial to him. But before he died, he said that like Esther he was called into the “kingdom for such a time as this.” God and put him here to defeat video poker and now he could go home.
Now, I know there are many of you who go about your kingdom service with few people knowing all that you do. You open your home to strangers. You give money when you don’t have much to give. You take time to welcome and encourage a neighbor who may not look like you at all. You use your business to serve the public and give opportunities to your employees. You give counsel to those in crisis and friendship to those who are alone. You may not think of these things as political acts, but they’re the politics of God’s kingdom, bigger than anything you’re going to see in the headlines.
My kingdom is not of this world. We’ll always be at cross purposes with the world. It will reject us as it rejected the Savior. But for that very reason we should not scowl and retreat. We, by his grace, have already won. As Paul told the Corinthians,
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”
Rather than accept the values of our increasingly partisan culture, we can spread the news from another kingdom where there is blessedness in poverty and mourning, life in death, joy in sorrow, light in the darkness, and peace in the storm. May God give us the vision to see what matters most.