I imagine all of you know that this Tuesday is Election Day; and I trust that all of you of voting age will go out and vote. I put that insert in your bulletins because we do need to vote wisely, as a matter of prayer; I also put it in because I found that website to be long on information and short on telling you what to do. But understand this in light of 1 Corinthians 7:29-31: “The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” As John Piper says, “so it is with voting. We should do it. But only as if we were not doing it.”
I don’t tell you to go out and vote because your vote matters. I do believe it matters to you, but on the larger scale, it probably doesn’t. I’m not telling you to go out and vote because we the people are the real source of authority in this nation. In human political terms, that’s purely theoretical anymore—the country is too big, power is too centralized, and most people are too far from the centers of power. We’re ruled, not governed, by an elite, and it’s hard to see how that realistically could be any different. And in theological terms, Godis the source of all authority; he raises up and brings down whom he will. We should vote, but not because we think it will do anything important. As Piper says, and as Paul would have said, we should vote as though we were not voting.
Now, that might seem defeatist, and even pointless. If my vote won’t change anything, why should I vote? Well, because that’s what God has given you to do. Because what matters isn’t what you can make of it or what the human system will make of it, but what God is going to make of it—and that, only he knows. And because you can vote as though you were not voting, because you don’t have to think it’s crucial, because you know that government isn’t all that and a bag of chips. Vote without discouragement, because however the election goes, it’s all in God’s plan. As Piper puts it, “In the short run, Christians lose. In the long run, we win.” We’ve seen the back of the book, remember?
The more that we the church come to understand this, the better. When I was around Lydia’s age, I bought an album by a Christian singer named Luke Garrett. In a song called “Judgment in the Gate,” Garrett wrote this: “The time has come that we the church should leave the comfort zone. We’ve counted long enough on government to keep us strong. . . . Jesus Christ is America’s only hope.” That was 1986, the age of the Moral Majority, and I don’t think many American Christians saw what Garrett saw. 28 years later, it’s a lot more obvious. This nation is in major trouble—just to pick one symptom, it seems every week brings another school shooting—and anymore, I don’t trust our political system to do anything but make it worse. At this point, either God shows up, or we go the way of the dodo. Either he revives us, or we die on the table.
The good news is, revival is our calling. The good news is, we have the good news; all we need to do is share it. Revival is nothing but the intersection of the plan and power of God with the need of the world. If we’re telling people about Jesus and praying for revival, we are where the heart of the Spirit of God beats; if that’s what we desire, then we’re asking him to do what he’s already on about doing and putting ourselves in the mainstream of his will. There’s much to fear in this world, and as the late great Rabbi Dr. Edwin Friedman wrote in 1996, our political culture is increasingly designed to make us afraid; but as we saw last week, when the Spirit of the perfect love of God fills us, he makes us fearless, and that makes us mighty.
But here’s the kicker: that also makes us a threat, because fear is perhaps the biggest lever this world uses to control us. If we’re unafraid, we’re a danger to the powers that be, and they will respond by raising the pressure to obey, to submit, to conform. So the City of Houston has abandoned the idea of subpoenaing pastors’ sermons—do you really think that will never happen again? Look at Acts 5.
Peter and John preached about Jesus; the Jewish leaders called them on the carpet, ordered them not to, threatened them, and turned them loose. The apostles kept preaching about Jesus; the high priest flipped out and had them allthrown in the clink. God sent an angel to break them out, for crying out loud, and did the professional God-people learn then? No; the high priest got so mad, he could have killed them. As it was, he had them flogged and ordered them againto shut up, or else.
And did they? No. Two chapters later, the authorities start killing Christians. Does that stop them? No. Then God turns the chief persecutor of the Christians, one Saul, into the church’s greatest preacher; does that stop the Jewish leaders? No. The church doesn’t back down from preaching the gospel, so the establishment doesn’t back down from trying to obliterate the church, and pretty soon, heads are rolling. Literally, in the case of James the brother of John.
The world will not back down because the world is all about control, and when revival breaks out, the world cannot control it. But why didn’t the apostles back down? Look at verse 41. They’ve just been flogged, and “they left the council rejoicing.” Rejoicing that they were beaten! Why? Because it meant “they had been found worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.” That’s a different sort of perspective. That’s a way of looking at things that only the Spirit of God can give you.
Unfortunately, it’s a perspective in short supply in the American church. When Christians are flogged for our faith, the world doesn’t see us rejoicing that we’ve been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus—it sees us outraged and offended, complaining about unfairness and paying for attack ads. That sort of response hurts our witness. One, it doesn’t show the love of Jesus or model the example of him who made no defense as he was railroaded to an unjust execution. Two, it leaves us off-balance and creates opportunities for further attacks. It also hurts us spiritually, because it entrenches us in the idea that suffering for our faith is a bad thing that we shouldn’t have to endure—an attitude which can ultimately embitter us against God.
If we tell the world loudly, clearly, and graciously about Jesus, it will fight us. When that happens, we need to respond as though we were not responding. We need to keep telling the world loudly, clearly, and graciously about Jesus without letting its behavior change our behavior in any way—which is to say, we need to be steadfast for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us, and the Spirit empowers us, not just to be fearless to advance, but to be fearless to stand firm under attack, not shifting our position to the right or to the left, whether to withdraw or to fight back. When we do that, we’re doing what Jesus did. When we suffer disgrace for his sake without compromising and without defending ourselves, we’re sharing in his suffering; and as much as it may hurt, there’s reason to rejoice in that, because it means we’ve been found worthy to stand with him.