Sermons

Summary: Some of us handle truth by simply asserting ourselves forcefully. Paul's way was to root truth in revelation rather than logic; to find authentic confidence in personal experience; and to submit himself to transformation. First Baptist Church of Gaithers

If there’s one thing I have a strong opinion about, it is that I do not like people with strong opinions! I have a hard time with the person who declares what he thinks with absolute hard-core certainty, riding roughshod over any contrary thoughts I might have. I struggle with that. I have difficulty with straight-out, fully-declared, unequivocal judgments. If there’s one thing I have a strong opinion about, it is that I do not like people with strong opinions!

Like the blogger I was reading this week, who rendered sentence on the Al and Tipper Gore marital separation by declaring, "Al Gore is a liar about climate change. These people are not Christians. Christians don’t divorce." What a misrepresentation, what a distortion! I cannot accept that kind of full-throated opinion. If there’s one thing I have a strong opinion about, it is that I do not like people with strong opinions!

Or there’s the person who called the Convention office from California this week, at least six times, to speak with me and other staff members and to insist that we lead a crusade to impeach Barack Obama. The president must be impeached, he said, in order for this land to be restored to what God intends. The caller was quite clear that D. C. Baptists must lead that effort. My answer? Not in my pay grade. For if there’s one thing I have a strong opinion about, it is that I do not like people with strong opinions!

The problem is, of course, that the usual alternative to strong opinions is to be namby-pamby, unclear, uncertain, and unfocused. The common alternative to being a person with definite things to say is to be one who just smiles sweetly and goes through life with no clear convictions. I remember attending a funeral at a church of a denomination whose theology is notoriously fuzzy, and, having identified myself to the pastor after the service, I was greeted with, "Oh, you should have come up to say something. We let anybody speak here." Which I took to mean, we can tolerate even you evangelical Baptists, because we are not going to render judgment on anyone or have a strong stance on anything at all, other than that we strongly believe we should not strongly believe. Hmm; not the best alternative to strong opinions, is it?

So what do we do if we want to pursue the truth? What approach do we take if we want to be clear about what matters to us? Go ahead and blurt out all our opinions, prejudices, half-baked theories, and notions? Or retreat into mumbling sweet nothings, offering no judgments, and correcting no wrongs? Is there a way for us to deal with truth other than either to blurt it out aggressively or to hide it under the proverbial bushel?

There is. There is indeed. The apostle Paul began his great summary of the Christian faith where any philosopher would begin – with the question of knowledge. Paul asked his readers to begin understanding the Christian faith by musing about the nature of truth, how you handle knowledge. And in so doing, Paul made sure that his readers understood that their stance was to be different from what they had long heard. Paul wanted his audience to see that there was something better than what their culture had given them, something better either than vociferous opinion or wishy-washy waffling. Paul wanted his audience to know about revelation. Revelation. God’s self-disclosure. God’s opening Himself up.

Now let me pause to think with you about what your pastor is calling a contrarian style, a contrarian stance. Pastor Long told me that he would be doing a series in the Galatian letter, designed to point out that many of the things we do today are directly contradicted by the Bible. He gently suggested that I might want to begin that series, and once I saw what he was going to do, I quickly agreed. I liked the series of juxtapositions that he had planned … Faith (Not Works), Equality (Not Isolation), Freedom (Not Coercion). Purpose (Not Random Bliss). That all attracted me, and so I chimed in with my assessment of the reading that was given me: Knowledge (Not Opinion). I thought I was on my way, happy, fat, and sassy. But then I read your website and saw the overall label your pastor has assigned to this series: Contrarian! Contrarian, moi?! I am not a fighter. I am not argumentative, at least outside the walls of my home. I am one of those who just wonder why we can’t all get along. Contrarian? Taking a stand against? Do I want to get into that?

But then I began to take stock of the things I’ve had to do as the Interim Executive of your D. C. Baptist Convention. I began to count up the number of times I have had to be contrarian. I have had to say “No” to more people in more ways than I ever experienced as a pastor! I had to decline participation in an event calculated to honor churches that have gone out of their way to affirm a behavior that I consider immoral. I said I would not attend; that’s contrarian. I refused to participate in another event that was not wrong, in and of itself, but which was done in a way that threatened to cheapen the ties among our churches. I had to say no to a friend, on principle; that’s contrarian. I spoke up at a meeting about church planting, sponsored by one of our national denominations, and told those assembled that D. C. Baptists could not cooperate if that group would not affirm women as pastors. Very contrarian.

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