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How to handle politics, religion, and criticism without getting distracted

To say politics have been front and center in 2016 is an understatement. The names of presidential nominees fill news headlines and show no sign of stopping on their march to November.

With such loud attention given to the world of politics and its familiar association with religion and criticism, it's easy to get lost in all the noise. When our minds and hearts get lost in the busyness of opinions and insults, we leave less room for things that deserve our attention most.

The same is true for the Church: when followers of Jesus are consumed with the scuffles of politics, the expectations of religion, and the voices of criticism, we lose sight of who we are and what we're meant to do.

The Church's mission is to reach people far from God and teach them how to follow Jesus step by step (Matthew 28:18-20). Distractions pull us away from that mission; we confuse our own version of good news with the good news that comes from Jesus. How do we stay focused on Jesus' good news and not our own?

How can Christians handle the distractions of politics, religion, and criticism?

Reject Divisive Politics

Political topics can be great fun to talk about and debate with friends. Politics are not a good plan for bringing about life change because public policy can never change someone’s heart. If we argue all day and convince someone to change their mind, but their heart does not belong to Jesus, then nothing of eternal significance has occurred.

Try engaging people in conversations by telling your story; share what Jesus has done in your life and stay focused on the Gospel. The goal of a Christian is not to win people to a political party, but to be an ambassador for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20). If in a conversation, another person insists on bringing up how a church’s beliefs about a specific issue don’t line up with their own, listen quietly and then point the conversation back to Jesus. Remember that gentle and gracious words drive away anger (Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:24).

Reframe Your Religious Practices

Too often, Christians expect those who don't follow Jesus to live by the same standards they do. How easy it is to forget where we came from ourselves. A religion of boxes to check does not work because it focuses on the wrong things. The focus of religion is what we can do to earn favor, but the heart of Christianity is the favor Jesus has already given us.

It is essential to remember that without Christ, we all are separated from God and do not have the ability to live a “good” life (Romans 3:10). Instead of judging others and trying to modify the behavior of a non-Christian, live a life worth imitating. In Christ, you have freedom and joy that is inaccessible outside of Jesus.

When we get lost in the busyness of opinions and insults, we leave less room for things that deserve our attention.

How much impact could followers of Jesus have if we lived full of grace, kindness, and hospitality toward those we considered different than ourselves? What if the focus of our faith and our life was to represent Jesus instead of reprimand anyone who doesn't follow the same set of beliefs?

React to Critics with Kindness

Criticism is a part of life, but don’t let this discourage you. Constructive criticism is a valuable tool from those who are helping us follow Jesus and do better work. However, antagonistic critics don’t often want a civil discussion; they usually want to cause trouble or feel they have the upper hand in a situation. Remind yourself the best response is not to react with hurt feelings or a quick temper, but with love.

The most powerful way to interact with someone opposing you is to express radical kindness. Jesus even tells us, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45). Here is the good news: Jesus wins! He does not need our defense, but He has asked for us to love others no matter what. Don’t be distracted by critics that seek to pull you off course; your attitude in the midst of criticism may be your greatest witness.

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