May 04, 2016

My Non-Endorsement, Election-Season Gut-Check

Written By Cary Schmidt

(Note: You will not find an endorsement, a political agenda, or any mention of current politicians in this post. This is purely a biblically objective “gut-check” to challenge our thinking and encourage our hearts, lest we lose our minds and emotional sense amidst the constant flurry of election-season opinions. This is probably more for myself than anyone else, but perhaps these thoughts will encourage you.)

The Apostle Paul is at the end of his ministry, in a Roman prison cell. He is the captive of one of the worst tyrants in world history—the Emperor Nero (famous for dipping Christians in oil and burning them on stakes in his garden during parties.) Paul has spent his life zealously loving God, preaching Christ, planting churches, and fueling New Testament Christianity.

He did it all in a most unfavorable political climate. The ruling class—Jewish religious leaders (quite criminal and corrupt) and the Roman authorities (quite brutal)—provided persistent threats to New Testament Christians. Yet, those earthly powers could not quench the joy of Christians or the power of the gospel.

From that dark, seemingly hopeless prison cell, Paul writes to Philippian Christians, eager to fuel their joy by comforting them regarding his joy. His message is simple and powerful—the gospel is our eternal hope, our indestructible joy, and our ultimate future—therefore we can rejoice.

This election season, I’m not writing from a prison cell. Even as my country struggles spiritually, America is still an “anomaly of freedom and liberty” that appears quite unexpectedly on the landscape of tyrannical world history. If world history teaches Christians anything, it is that God is sovereign and that the gospel is not bound by governing powers in any way.

May I challenge you to calibrate your emotions to the promises of God’s word? May I encourage you to remember “this world is not my home?” May I remind you of how God comforted His people in the most dire political circumstances imaginable?

In light of our present political season, may I encourage you to consider some of Paul’s admonitions to the Philippians as Nero ruled the known world?

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; 11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

“But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;” (Philippians 1:12)

“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;” (Philippians 1:27)

“Do all things without murmurings and disputings:” (Philippians 2:14 )

“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” (Philippians 2:15, 16)

“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” (Philippians 3:1)

“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” (Philippians 3:20, 21)

Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Isn’t it awesome to be saved? Isn’t it incredible to be able to watch world events unfold, political seasons come and go, and to view it all from the private box-seats that we have as “children of the King?” World events, global powers, and temporary governments are powerless against the child of God who is held together by the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Christian’s “campaign” is simply Jesus—“…we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23) “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) 

The Christian’s king is no less than Jesus Himself. And He is a great, eternal King. His promises are reliable. His word will stand. His hand is in control of world events and shifting governing powers. Isn’t it awesome to be able to so radically “downsize” the spiritual and emotional impact of the four-year election cycle by filtering it through a biblical lens of world history?

Think about it with me:

God permitted the raising up of Saul, who became filled with pride. Then He brought David to reign, who cheated on his multiple wives and committed murders for political advantage. Then God raised up Solomon who began wisely but then spun widely and oppressively out of control.

A few hundred years later, after a lot of national turmoil and transition, God raised up Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan who accomplished the exact purposes of God. Some decades later, another pagan, King Cyrus of Persia, was the unlikely ruler responsible for sending God’s people back to Israel to rebuild His temple. Then another Persian King Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah back home to Israel to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Ironically, both the temple and the wall were paid for by the Persian empire. (Sort of like the first tabernacle as paid for with the spoils of Egypt.)

God revealed the rise and fall of entire empires to His prophet Daniel. He sent His own son (the eternal King) into one of the most oppressed and desperate times of world history. He lived, ministered, died, and rose again all while never being able to “vote” one time on a president or a form of civil government.

Why these considerations? Because God doesn’t do things our way, and we can’t presume good or bad outcomes. He doesn’t owe us an explanation of who rules, when, for how long, and why. God can use whoever He chooses to do whateverHe chooses—and quite often His plan doesn’t look like what I thought it should. That doesn’t mean I despair. It means I rest and trust—and stay focused on the mission He has given to me. His way often appears perplexing, that’s what makes Him God.

In my lifetime of elections, “my guy” has won sometimes, and often “my guy” has not. I’m not even saying that I have “a guy” this time. I have a God, a Saviour, a risen Jesus and my cause is His gospel. For this reason, the election season, for me, is entertaining, perhaps disturbing, but not uprooting or despairing.

When viewing through a biblical and eternal lens, the votes of the populace neither encourage nor discourage. How so? Because emotions of the heart aren’t tied to election results. For the Christian, the gospel should hold your emotions and your hope. If the gospel is the source of your security and stability, then emotions don’t rise or fall with populace election cycles.

If confidence is in Jesus Christ, the confidence doesn’t rise or fall with the right or wrong candidate. If your guy wins, confidence doesn’t grow, because how can confidence in Christ be any stronger? On the other hand, if your guy loses, confidence doesn’t diminish, because Christ has not grown weaker. Jesus didn’t lose. Jesus always wins. Confidence in Him is a fixed position—unshakeable, indestructible.

When Nero rules, Jesus still reigns.

Why these biblical considerations? Because God truly is in control, in spite of opinions to the contrary. And His call to Christians is to advance the gospel from heart to heart regardless of the rise and fall of state powers (as opposed to creating a Christian state.) Indeed, world history gives us another slate of lessons on those who fought to establish a “Christian state”—and in every case, the experiment went horribly bad.

Man has never succeeded when trying to accomplish God’s ultimate purpose forHim rather than with Him. (Personally, we could remember Abraham helping God with his promised son. Politically, we might recall Constantine assisting God with the establishment of “Christianity” as the world religion, or reformers oppressing Anabaptists for not accepting infant baptism.)

Every time we attempt to “get God’s plan done” our way and in our time, we swing wildly off course. Every time we trust His power, wait on His timing, and rest in His sovereign purpose, we see God do the unexpected. He loves to do the impossible though the unthinkable! He delights to turn events in ways that shine light only upon Himself!

He loves to turn the dire into the divine!

God specializes in blessing the undaunted faith of those who stare in the face of perplexing circumstances, smile, and hopefully say, “Wow… I can’t wait to see how God is going to glorify His name in all of this!”

He loves to advance the gospel from a prison cell in the basement of the ruler who is trying to crush Christianity. He loves to spark revival as soldiers and servants come to Christ right under the nose of the guy who is lighting Christians on fire in his garden. As Nero is lighting Christians on fire, new Christians are being born in his own basement! How cool is that!?

Paul writes of his prison experience—“But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

But the story gets better! He ends the letter to Philippi with this verse— “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22) Yes, a gospel revival was happening in Nero’s household! What?!? I wish I could see the facial expressions of the Philippian Christians when they got to that line of the letter! Picture extreme shock, dismay, and then loud rejoicing and laughter! I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is where the “high five” actually began!

What do we learn from this? We learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ places God’s redeemed into a different, bigger, ultimate reality! The things which are seen are made of things that are invisible! (“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18)

We learn that what is true about Jesus, about us, and about the future is absolutely indestructible. We learn that the media cycles of selling the sensationaland the election cycles of campaign politics are but vapors of brief, human noise—like specs of dust on God’s vast canvas—His ultimate, eternal purpose for the ages and for all of eternity.

We learn to look up! We learn to anchor our hearts in eternal hope rather than our petty grasps for temporal hope. We learn to root ourselves deeper into the gospel. We learn to look out further than four years… or forty years…

We learn to truly trust Jesus. We learn than any hope placed in any candidate is misplaced hope for the Christian.

We learn that His plan is not ours, and He is not obligated to follow our map in accomplishing His purpose.

We need to remember Jesus words, “…All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

Consider what God says about earthly powers…

“For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. 7 But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. 8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them. 9 But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.” (Psalms 75:6-9)

“God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.” (Psalms 62:11)

“By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. 16 By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” (Proverbs 8:15, 16)

“I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me.” (Jeremiah 27:5)

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1)

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

So there you have my “non-endorsing” election-season gut check! 

May I close by saying, I love America… and I love Jesus preeminently. I thank God for this nearly 250 year span of world history in which God has granted us political favor and freedom. First Century Christians would never  have imagined such a thing, this side of Heaven! Truly we are blessed beyond measure with freedom and preach the gospel.

I urge you to participate in the process afforded to us by the sacrifice and shed blood of hundreds of thousands of courageous Americans over the last two centuries. Engage in the process, but don’t hope in it. Don’t anchor your heart to a candidate. Don’t think that losing is losing, and don’t think that winning is winning. Don’t think that a party, or a candidate of any party, is any guarantee of a certain political outcome.

Should you vote? Absolutely. Not voting is indeed “a vote”—and as my friend Pastor Butch Wolverton wrote this morning, “Unless we are voting for Jesus, it is always going to be the lesser of two [or three or four] evils.” Every American election has always been a vote for the “lesser of evils”—and history records, we’ve had some pretty immoral, anti-bible presidents, going back as far as the 1700’s. Somehow God has preserved our liberty in spite of majority votes.

Simply stated, we owe our freedoms and liberties to God alone, not to the ruling of righteous men (though I much prefer a godly ruler!).

Perhaps, most importantly, don’t equate the blessing or favor of God to a personally preferred political outcome. Don’t tie “the American dream” to the “favor of God.” That would have been disastrous for Old Testament Israel. It would have been disastrous for first century Christians. It would be disastrous for persecuted Christians around the world. And it would be disastrous for us today in 21st century American culture.

God’s grace is not contingent upon a populace vote, and the gospel can thrive in any political climate. This side of Heaven, the gospel is not a road-map to favorable circumstances. It’s a hope that holds us together in spite of circumstances. The gospel doesn’t give us a way of eluding trouble, it’s a resource of hope and strength through trouble.

May we, as Christians, use the “time remaining” to preach the gospel of grace and to lift up Jesus until He comes! And may we rest, hope, and rejoice in Him, regardless of favorable or unfavorable circumstances.

Until Jesus comes, we anchor our hearts to this event, toward which the “whole of creation” moves:

“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

PS—Don’t under-estimate God’s ability to get the attention of ungodly leaders… Nebuchadnezzar is a good example of how God deals with the hearts of leaders. Let’s pray to that end, regardless of November’s outcome.

(Closing Note: Because I have no desire to engage in lengthy, distracting election season “back and forth” I respectfully closed comments on this post. If it encouraged you and you care to let me know, shoot me an email. If it bothered you, I apologize, as that was not my goal.)