Some Scriptures for an Election Day

polling station

I struggle with election season in context of my spiritual life. Instead of trying to flesh my thoughts and struggles out into anything coherent, here are some scriptures that have been running through my head.

Philippians 4:8–9

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

So much negativity gets thrown around leading up to elections, even relatively minor ones. Each side tries to vilify the other, and we Christians can get caught up in that. How may Christians still perpetuate lies about President Obama’s birth or religion as a result of past elections? We cannot let such things rule our minds.

I Timothy 5:21–22

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism. Don’t be too quick to appoint anyone as an elder, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

When we get involved in politics, we usually choose a party, and then we end up marching in lockstep with everything that party stands for. We let favoritism guide our steps and we may implicitly approve of sin, especially the lies and hatefulness that often go into campaigns, for the sake of defeating different sins.

Romans 13:1–7

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.

Whoever comes out in front in an election, God is still in control. God allows those in power to have the authority they have. When we Christians allow election season to fuel our anger at public officials or cause us to treat them disrespectfully or even to pass on lies about them, we are not behaving as God would have us.

Hebrews 11:13–16

These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

This world is not our home. Getting too caught up in politics can make us behave as if this world is all there is. It makes us forget that we are strangers in a land that is not our final home. This is a layover on a greater journey.

I Corinthians 13:1–3

If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should vote. That’s between you and God. But if you are going to participate in an election, be motivated by love. If your vote is based on hatred, anger, or animosity, it’s time to take a hard look at how the world and its influences are affecting your spirituality.

Matthew 5:29–30

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!

And it’s better to turn off political news shows, ignore the PACs, and abstain from politics entirely than it is to let those things drag you away from God.

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The Christian Purpose

Have you ever considered the purpose in your life. While we often study from Ecclesiastes when considering this topic, we also see a few statements by Jesus that define His purpose on this world. If we want to be Christians – that is, Christ-like individuals – our purpose and his purpose should be one and the same.

To Seek and Save

In Luke 19, we meet a tax collector named Zacchaeus who seeks Jesus out. Jesus goes to dine with this person, and the Scribes and Pharisees criticize Jesus for associating with corrupt sinners, but Jesus calls Zacchaeus a son of Abraham for his willingness to repent of wrongdoing. In verse 19, then, Jesus says:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Mark 16 and Matthew 28 contain passages we refer to as the great commissions. In Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus tells His disciples to teach and make disciples. As Jesus comes to seek and save the lost, and He tells His followers that their purpose should be the same. This mission is not for the apostles alone; it is for everyone who puts on the name of Christ.

In Romans 10:14, Paul rhetorically asks how anyone can come to Christ without belief; how anyone can believe without hearing of Him; how anyone can hear without those willing to teach. Are we looking for those who are looking for Him? He came to seek and save. We should be doing the same.

To Call Sinners to Repentance

In Mark 2:13, Jesus meets a publican named Matthew, and Jesus goes to eat with them. Again, we see religious leaders criticizing Jesus for these actions, but Jesus answers this way in verse 17:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It is difficult to call someone, or even ourselves, to change. It infers that you or I are doing something wrong. Jesus comes to emphasize repentance, though, and He associates with those most in need of change. He shows care and concern, and, rather than demanding them to heal themselves before coming to the Great Physician, He reaches out to those in need of His grace.

To Do His Father’s Will

In John 6:35, Jesus is teaching those He fed with the loaves and the fish of the true nature of spiritual food and His purpose among them. He encourages them to satiate their spiritual hunger and thirst more than their physical needs, and, in verse 38, He says:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

As difficult as it is, Jesus is focused on the will of the Father, knowing the fate awaiting Him. We have a difficult time setting our own will aside for that of another, but that is exactly what Jesus does in His life of ministry. John 14:24 records Jesus saying that His teachings come from the Father, and He teaches, in Matthew 7:21, of the importance of bending our will to submit to God’s.

To Meet His Final Hour

John 12 records Jesus teaching His disciples of His impending fate, and He asks, in verse 27:

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”

There are many things in this life we wish we could remove ourselves from, but Jesus does not turn aside from the painful hour set before us. I Corinthians 10:13 assures us our own trials will never go beyond our breaking point, but we must recognize the difficulties that lie ahead. In I Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul speaks of fires that will try the foundation upon which we build our lives. As Jesus was tried, we will also be tried as if by fire. Will we come out refined?

Conclusion

The sinless Son of God sees meaning in our lives, enough to sacrifice Himself in our stead, and He gives us a purpose in His sacrifice. We should have the same sense of purpose He demonstrated to endure trials, to do God’s will, to reach out to those in need of His grace, and to seek and save the lost. If we are Christ-like individuals, we should live with the same purpose we see in Christ’s life.

lesson by Tim Smelser

He Has Done All Things Well

And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, “He hath done all things well; he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak” (Mark 7:37).

Jesus has entered the Decapolis and healed a deaf man with a speech impediment (Mark 7:31-36). The Decapolis was a more Gentile region known for Greek culture, and its residents can clearly see the power that is present in Jesus. They declare, quite rightly, that He, Jesus, has done all things well.

The depth of the truth and reality of that statement, however, was not known to them. Jesus is the Word made flesh, the exact image and representation of God on earth (John 1:1-18, 14:9-10). As the Word He is responsible for the whole creation (John 1:3, Colossians 1:15-17), the very thing declared “very good” at its inception (Genesis 1:31). As God, Jesus is all but expected to do things well!

While the Gentiles of Decapolis perceive that Jesus does all things well, the Jews of Galilee and Judea fail to understand that (cf. John 1:11). He has done many more miracles in their midst, and yet so many refuse to believe! They seem convinced that God will act in an entirely different way. What Jesus has done and is doing does not match their desires and expectations. Thus they reject the One who is doing all things well.

It is easy to rail on the Jews about how they did not perceive the Messiah in Jesus, but it is easy to understand why they believed as they did. From their perspective, it was hard to see how God was doing “all things well.” They were God’s chosen people. Their forefathers, despite their idolatrous ways, lived in a free and independent state. They are not committing idolatry anymore, and yet now they suffer under the imperious hand of Rome. As indicated in Psalm 44:1-26, many Jews wanted to know why. It did not seem to make any sense. And then here is Jesus, and He’s not helping the cause they want helped.

Yet God is doing all things well in Jesus of Nazareth. He is doing the Father’s work and accomplishes God’s eternal plan for salvation (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11). Through Him God is setting up the Kingdom that transcends all other kingdoms, even Rome (cf. Daniel 2:36-44). God holds out the promise of eternity in His presence with all good things (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6).

We have been told in Romans 8:28 that, “we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.” If we are truly God’s people, even in our lives, God is doing all things well.

It is easy for us to protest this idea, just as the Jews did in terms of Jesus. It can be very, very hard at times to see how the things going on in our lives and in the world around us could be considered “well.” There is suffering, pain, evil, crisis, and distress. In and of themselves, such things are not good. They are here because sin and death are here (Romans 5:12-18). But this does not mean that God is not doing all things well. We reflect Jesus through our suffering since He suffered (1 Peter 2:18-25). The time will come when we will perceive how God has done all things well even when we did not understand it. It will be a time of blessing and praise.

God is Almighty, and He does all things well. It is for us to trust in Him even when we cannot see it. Let us be willing to trust even in the most difficult times, having confidence that in good times and bad, God is doing well!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Futility in Effort

Vanity of vanities,” saith the Preacher; “vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).

There is nothing quite as futile as shoveling snow.

It does not matter how much snow has fallen. It does not matter how elaborately the mounds of snow are piled up. It may snow again, and then you have to shovel all that snow onto all the previous snow. And then, after a few months or days, it is all gone – melted and drained away.

Then again, mowing the lawn feels a lot like shoveling snow. One goes and mows the lawn and it looks nice and fresh. Then, after a week or a month, depending on location and weather factors, the lawn looks just like it did before mowing. And thus it must be mowed again. And the cycle repeats itself.

When you stop and think about it, pretty much everything seems futile. Clothes are washed only to get dirty again and require washing. Dishes are cleaned only to be dirtied again. Meals are cooked and eaten, and those who ate hunger again.

Sports teams play their seasons. Most teams never make it to the playoffs, and the fans are left believing, “maybe next year.” Some teams make it to the playoffs only to lose then. And then there is the championship game. A winner is crowned. The team and fans exult. And then everyone gets ready for the next year and the next season and the next set of playoffs and the next championship.

There seems to be futility even in the area of spiritual matters. A preacher preaches lessons on one Sunday only to have to work to preach new lessons the next Sunday. The Lord’s Supper is taken one week, and then is taken the next week. The same things are done over and over again, only to need to be done over and over again.

It is very easy to take a step back and ask yourself, “what is the point of it all?” After all, everything seems so pointless! “Why bother?,” one may ask!

The reason that everything seems so “worthless” in this perspective is because we have been raised to expect there to be some great overarching purpose and meaning in life that makes every single event seem important. Ever since the Tower of Babel man has attempted to invest his deeds with great earthly significance (cf. Genesis 11:4). We are raised to go out and “make a difference” in society. We are strengthened and encouraged to believe that our participation in various efforts – employment, volunteerism, politics, etc. – will have lasting value.

Yet, ultimately, the Preacher is correct. All is vanity – futility – emptiness. We may like to think a lot of our efforts have lasting worldly significance, but such is not really true. One of these days everything around us will be thoroughly destroyed by fire and the memory of them will entirely fade (cf. 2 Peter 3:9-12)!

Does this mean that all is lost? Should we all despair of life? Hardly! The problem is not in the activities of snow shoveling, lawn mowing, household chores, and the like, but our perspective on them. We must recognize that everything we do should be means to an end, and not the end in and of itself. We have many functions that are just functions of life, and we should learn to be content with the fact that they will come and go.

As Jesus indicates, there is only one place where moth does not eat and rust does not destroy, and that is Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). The spiritual realm is the only realm of any permanence. That is why all of our effort, ultimately, must be to the glory of God and to the promotion of His purposes (Matthew 5:13-16, 6:33). The functions of life must be done as a means to the end of glorifying God. Shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, and household chores are the means by which we serve our family members and others, and in so doing, we serve God (Ephesians 5:23-6:4). Doing the best work we can for an employer is as serving the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:5-9). Our assemblies and the actions therein are accomplished for encouragement and edification, and thus promote God’s purposes (1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Preacher indicates that all things done for their own benefit in their own name are vanity. Paul indicates that all things done “in the Lord” are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Let us not allow ourselves to be distracted or to invest our energies in things that lead to no profit, but instead to serve God and promote His purposes on earth!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Seeking Meaning

We are in a time of year when we tend to be more reflective and more thankful for the things we are blessed with. We tend to give more thought to the meaning of this life. We all want purpose or a reason for living. What are we contributing? What difference do we make as individuals? Thoughts such as these take us naturally to the book of Ecclesiastes.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon seeks to understand meaning in life so he may share what he learns with others. He calls life under the sun is unprofitable. What this means is that life has meaning, but if we only define ourselves by things of this world, we will ultimately find life meaningless.

Vanity Under the Sun

There is a certain amount of gloom in studying this book. Ecclesiastes 2:11 is only one instance of Solomon expressing distress over the vanity of worldly pursuits. Despair comes when we define ourselves by nothing but carnal standards. Time and again throughout Ecclesiastes 2 and beyond, Solomon expresses despair over his accomplishments. He speaks of vanity – of things that have no true support or continuance.

Solomon sets out to discover whether or not man can find real advantage from his works in this life. He asks this in chapter 1:3 when he asks what profit comes of his labors. He also pursues what, indeed, man should pursue in this life. Chapter 2:3 begins this exploration. He seeks purpose in work, in pleasure, and in general.

Searching for Purpose in this World

Success, friendships, education, comfort, family, wealth, glory, power, enjoyment – all of these are often cited as meaningful in life. In Ecclesiastes 2:1, Solomon begins his search for meaning in pleasures. Chapter 2:16 records him seeking wisdom and honor. Chapter 2:8 records his amassing wealth and possessions. Ecclesiastes 5:10-14 tells us that we will never be satisfied with our material possessions. In all these, Solomon finds vanity.

Ecclesiastes 6:3 explores the joys of a large family. Chapter 1:17 tells of Solomon’s search for worldly wisdom as well as madness and folly. Also, chapter 2:4 begins his search to make a name for himself and surround himself with comfortable things only to realize he would leave everything to someone else. Again, he finds vanity in these worldly pursuits.

If happiness cannot be found in all these things, then why not explore the pleasures of sin? Hebrews 11:24-25 speak about the joys of sin, but these joys are fleeting. The Hebrew author describes their effects as but a season. Romans 6:20-21 speaks of sin as a slave-master that drives one unto death. No true profit or benefit comes from sinful living. Sin does not produce love, respect, or purpose – only harm.

Meaning in Hope

Solomon concludes that life has purpose when it is focused beyond the sun. Under the sun – upon this world – we find little, but God gives us much. Ecclesiastes 2:24, chapter 3:12-13, chapter 5:18-19, all speak of doing good, for goodness is a gift from God. Chapter 8:12, 11:9, 12:13 – these remind us to focus on our Creator. In God, we find goodness and purpose. He motivates us to share that goodness with others, and Solomon assures us that remaining mindful of and obedient of God fulfills the purpose we seek.

There is much for which we can be thankful. We have many worthwhile pursuits, and many of us have professions that help us care for our families. However, the things of this world cannot distract us from the true purpose of this life – the life that is to come. Solomon concludes that God gives our lives purpose and meaning, and, because of that purpose, we have hope.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Finding a Church to Fit Your Needs

“We had people like you in mind when we designed this church,” reads a brochure our preacher has for a certain church. It speaks of a church that is built around the idea of appealing to a given market. You can even go to various websites to get feedback on what religion fits you best. The idea here is that what counts for a church is the programs. “What’s in it for me? What do I get out of this place?”

In the name of religion, many find clubs instead of spiritual food. The aim becomes about social support rather than salvation. Churches become inspected like restaurants. Whose menu do we like best? Instead of me fitting into religion, I try to make religion fit me. More than searching for the church of my choice, I should be interested in finding the church of God’s choice.

The Church God Designed

The New Testament church is not an afterthought. It is part of God’s eternal plan. It has purpose and design. Paul, in Ephesians 3:8 speaks of his mission to preach to the Gentiles and how, through the church, God’s wisdom is made known to all. In Matthew 16:18 and Acts 20:28, ownership is ascribed to Jesus. He died to purchase it for Himself. Ephesians 1:22-23 cites Christ’s authority over the church. It’s not a case of the church’s position on various topics. It’s Christ’s position that the church reflects.

I Corinthians 3:11 calls Christ the foundation, and I Timothy 3:15 described His church as the pillar of truth. Ours is not to see where the wind is blowing. Ours is not to market to public opinion. Paul described the church as something solid, standing firm in the tenets of its King.

Searching for Meaning

Everyone is in need of salvation (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23), and no one deserves to be belittled in their search for meaning or spiritual unification with God. Newsweek once wrote of those who are re-examining their lives and coming to the conclusion that they want their family to have some connection with God. One interviewed in the article simply says, “There’s gotta be something more. What is it?”

When searching for a church that will fit us as individuals, we find groups in which experts do the work, and the members are allowed to become uninvolved. The concepts of sin and responsibility gives way to self-help and motivational lectures. Spiritual development and growth opportunities become limited in congregations that emphasize instant gratification. Finally, Heaven and God’s will becomes an afterthought.

What does it meant to you to be a Christian? Is it to be a good person? Is it to be religious? Is it simply to love others? Is it to accept Christ as your personal savior? Scripturally speaking, not a lot of people know. Think about the importance of the church in the scriptures. In Acts 2:41-47, believers come together for the first time, building one another up, and the scriptures describe these people as those who are being saved. These individuals define the church. Ephesians 2:12-18 describes Christ’s church as the path of peace and reconciliation between ourselves and God. Ephesians 1:3-15 describes spiritual blessings found in Him, in His body. Galatians 3:27 describes baptism into Christ enters one into Christ, and (connecting back to Acts 2) to His church.

Conclusion

We live in a consumerist society, but the Bible emphasizes that the church is not ours to design as we see fit. We do not have the authority to restructure the church to cater to a specific group. Our responsibility is to mold ourselves into God’s pattern. True Christianity takes time and discipline. It takes an effort. To reject His plan is to reject God, but that is what we do when we substitute our wisdom for His. He has given us a church through which we can sustain a relationship with Him. Our church should fit the desires of God if it is going to fit our true and eternal needs.

lesson by Tim Smelser