Election. This word has created all kinds of trouble for me. I suppose it's not really the word that has created trouble, but the meaning behind the word. Or not the meaning, but the usage. That's what a seminary professor of mine taught us. Words have usages, they don't have meaning. My kids remind me of this adage occasionally as they use words that mean nothing similar to what I know them to mean. For example, "That is lit ....." Most people would assume that if something is lit, a flame burns brightly nearby or that someone needs to call the firetruck. In the words of one politician who would become president, "WRONG!" I'm not really sure what "lit" means, so maybe you can ask someone much younger than you are to explain it. Ignore the eye rolls and the snickers, and just accept the fact that you - like me - are old.
Back to the subject at hand. Election. The first time the word created turmoil for me I was attempting to make a spiritual connection with deacons at the Baptist Church where the Lord placed me to pastor. I didn't use the word. I didn't really even consider the word. Actually, even the possibility of the word creates an ocean of conflict in some people's lives. This particular occasion was a study of the church by a well known Baptist leader. Only a handful of deacons participated, but apparently their wives were participating from a distance, and word got out that we were using material from said Southern Baptist leader who some had written articles about his theology without consulting him personally about said theology. Immediately accusations of Calvinism and false theology began to cascade throughout the small group of men. Notably, the men didn't even know what Calvinism was. They were trusting their wives for their biblical knowledge. You'll find that command in 2 Hezekiah chapter nowhere. Even though we never addressed the issue of predestination or reformed theology, these ladies took this cause as their banner. Actually, I think they just didn't like me and decided they would use this issue to rid the church of the cancer called Alan Permenter. Who would have thunk it??????? Many people would have thunk it actually. I've alienated more than I would like to remember. Anyway, their campaign failed, and I served the church for several more months, much to the chagrin of others who were living in this West Tennessee version of Peyton Place.
The second time the word election caused me a problem was most recently during the presidential race that we as Americans endured. Somehow I could not figure out how Christians could justify the actions of either candidate. On one hand, Christians supported a candidate based on her differences from her opponent. Interestingly enough, other Christians supported the opponent for the same reason. Elect a president because he are she opposes the views of the other candidates. An interesting approach, that is.
From time to time, I have been accused of not being able to keep my opinion to myself. Those of you who know me most likely had to sit down and take up drinking with that statement. You never would have known, right??? The first accusation came as a youngster when a family member told me that one day my mouth would get me into trouble. The most recent was just the other day when another family member said, in supposed sarcasm, "Well, I don't have to make a big deal about everything." I may have been born in Mississippi, but I wasn't born in the Delta. I get it already!!
In all seriousness, I would ask you to pray for me about that issue, because I don't want that weakness to characterize my life. Even I noticed that during the presidential race, occasions surfaced where I found myself unable to keep quiet. I tried, but some of the Facebook posts were too much. The constant posts by those who found it necessary to excuse the moral indiscretions of certain candidates got the best of me, and at one point, I remember saying that Christians needed to grow up and be willing to admit that they were voting against their conscience in order to keep someone else from being elected. If you are going to do it, then you should own it. Call it what it is, and stop trying to fool everyone else into seeing in your actions some spirituality that doesn't exist. One believer even went so far as to say that God was incapable of working through one particular candidate. Incapable!!!!! My God????? Not on your life. He parted the Red Sea, brought the dead to life, and rose from the grave Himself? Nothing is impossible for Our God!!! I digress.
The impetus for this post rests in the all too common practice to use words to divide and destroy. Labels prove dangerous in the hands of those who occupy pews most every Sunday morning (unless some sporting activity gets in the way of worshipping the Creator of the Universe and the Savior of our lives.) A seminary professor denied a project because he was afraid of the word sanctification. He preferred spiritual formation. I searched the scripture (Greek and Hebrew) and didn't find "spiritual formation," but I did find "sanctification." The only conclusion I could draw burst forth in my heart over the new few months. It wasn't the word "sanctification" that scared the seminary professor. The fear rested in exposure to the Word of God. He had been so spiritually formed, that he ignored the truth of God's word. Check out John 5:39-40. Jesus called him out before he was even born.
Paul told Timothy not to involve himself in foolish arguments and words that create division. Go on and read all of 2 Timothy. It's worth the effort. Words divide because we choose to let them do so. Christians need a good argument. I learned this fact growing up Baptist. We argued about money, about music, about the Holy Spirit, about church times, about everything under the sun. As I have gotten older and dumber, I have realized that I was actually trained to argue for argument sake. Don't get me wrong. It is completely my fault that I accepted the challenge. I'm just saying that in the church I was trained to listen for what was wrong so I could fight against it. How foolish!!!!
When we first lived in Ocala, a spiritual man chastised me and told me to return to the church we were considering leaving. He boldly spoke truth and told me that I was looking for something to be wrong instead of filling my role in the body. We returned to that body of Christ, and over the next year God did an amazing work and formed friendships that still stand today. What pastor tells someone to go back to the church from whence they came? Duane Hoffman is such a man. His concern did not rest in his kingdom, but in God's Kingdom and the advancement of His Kingdom in a way that held tightly to the integrity of the body of Christ. We are having trouble connecting with a church now that we have returned to Ocala. I wonder if Springfield, Missouri, is too far of a commute? Probably so, but the remnant of his leadership still remains in Ocala so there is hope in finding one life community for fellowship and spiritual discipline!!!
What might happen in our lives if we started listening for the pain of society and started applying the mercy of God to those pains? Instead of fighting and posting nonsense, what would happen if we started finding opportunity to position Christ as the healer and redeemer of lost humanity? What if one day went by that we didn't have anything to argue about? I'm not so sure that our Southern Baptist Convention isn't on the path toward division over words. Accusations and political persuasions. The division would break my heart for no mission effort has ever proven as powerful as the Cooperative Program, but the reality is that the mission effort works because of the first word, not the second. If we can't be cooperative, we are just a program, and programs have always and will always create debate clubs and social organizations thriving on the demise of another.
I'm guilty, yet I also feel like I'm dying. Dying to the Pharisee I have grown into and am being recreated into who God has called me to be. Pastor who God has called me to pastor. Those are the words the Father spoke three and a half years ago. Family and a few friends willing to reject the rhetoric and join the journey to leave a legacy of life in the Kingdom of God. Maybe you have a few yourself. Find them, grab hold of them, and run with reckless abandon toward the WORD who brings offense. The WORD who has meaning and not usage. The WORD who became FLESH. John 1. HIS NAME IS JESUS.