“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
– Philippians 3:6-9a
I have the opportunity to speak this coming Sunday at my church, Chestnut Grove Baptist Church in Grayson, Georgia. It’s the first time that I’ve ever had the opportunity to preach before a presidential election, and as things work out, this one is a pretty close – and intense – contest. The rhetoric has been at high levels (even if curtailed the past few days in the wake of Superstorm Sandy), and the emotions have been even higher. I’ve had to hide numerous Facebook friends and delete untold number of emails for the simple reason that people are so passionate about this election they have put everything else to the side.
Only this Tuesday matters.
I believe in the political process of our nation. I went and voted early yesterday, casting my vote for president and the other offices open for election, along with the two constitutional amendments on the ballot in Georgia. I stood in a 45 minute line for the chance to take five minutes to vote. Then, I got a sticker and a sense of participatory glee.
But the entire time, all I could think was, “This really doesn’t matter. Not at all.”
Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Gary Johnson and Whoever-is-Gary-Johnson’s-running-mate. It all works out the same.
And suddenly I realized: This is worthless. And that’s good.
No, this isn’t some cynical, apathetic, all-politicians-are-crooks-so-what’s-the-point? diatribe. Rather, this is the result of a principled re-thinking of life. God has been dealing with me about where my allegiances fall as of late, and I’m afraid that too often they fall inside this temporary sphere, far short of where they belong. See, I all too often think that my hard work, my vote, my job, my beliefs, my thinking, my talents, my whatever, will be enough to secure me a fair living in this world. And I’m not just talking about money; I’m talking about a life that’s fair, that’s free from trouble or injustice or hurt. I put my trust in the things that I know and control; that have personal or religious value to me; that have proven to be reliable over time.
Which means I neglect to put my trust in God.
I’m not the only one that does this. An alarming number of people say they trust God but put that trust almost exclusively into something else. Be it mutual funds or non-profit organizations, we get so passionate about certain things that we think will make a difference. And the sad reality is that, while those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, it’s the misplacing of our passion that leads to them becoming idols. Sometimes it seems like we put our faith so heavily into these things because we don’t really have faith in God; neither in His ability to work in our lives or (maybe) in His actual existence.
This election has really brought it to the fore in my eyes. It’s almost comical to realize the number of Christians who are advocating for a presidential candidate on the basis of that candidate’s ability to change things or restore America or make us a better nation. We’re not touting these men on political terms; we’re touting them in salvific terms, hailing them as if they were capable of doing things to change hearts and minds instead of opinions. What we are saying, whether we realize it or not, is that one of these men will be the one who will deliver us from our fallen world.
But it is not Barack Obama who died for your sins. It’s not Mitt Romney who became your propitiation.
That role and that honor belongs only to Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God. It is in Him that this world finds its salvation and redemption, its hope and future. And it is in Him alone that these things are found.
That’s why the Apostle Paul said that he considered his life as “rubbish” (in some translations, “dung”) when compared to Christ. Not his race, or his religion, or his reputation were worth a thing when compared to the Savior. Paul knew that the things that make us human – where we come from, how we were raised, what people think of us – are the very things that separate us from God. And despite his fierce love for each of those things, Paul saw them all as worthless when placed beside the Holy Christ, because it is in Christ that we find life.
It’s understanding that Paul was right in his abandonment of the most powerful things in his human life that drove me to the realization that my vote was worthless. Not because it’s a pointless exercise (to the contrary, I think voting is a powerful privilege), but because compared to Christ, and my hope in Him, my citizenship as an American is less than nothing. Sure, we’re a great nation and I’m glad to be here as opposed to anywhere else, but the truth is I can’t think that my being American is more important than being in Christ. If I really want to call myself His, I have to be willing, as Paul was, to consider that privilege and blessing as dung.
Honestly, I don’t know too many people who are willing to do that. A lot of folks are happier being Christian Americans than American Christians.
Naturally, as is the way with most things mortal, there will be a winner declared on Tuesday. Those who support this person will vindicated. We’ll hear things like “The American people have spoken” or “This a referendum on [the losing party].” Hopefully, you’ll have done your civic and Christian duty and contributed your vote to the process. And when the dust clears and we have four years of whomever, I hope that things do improve for our country. I hope that we can indeed become a stronger, better nation.
But I will put my hope for that transformation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of in the politics of the president. Because as trite as it sounds, one thing has been and always will be true: