Monday, January 20, 2014

The Courage of Our Conviction...

Today is MLK day. And he has one of my all-time favorite quotes. It’s not the dream, it’s not the ones that are so often used. It’s simple, and it’s clear he lived his life by his convictions:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
That quote speaks more to me than so many others attributed to that man, or many other activists and well-known ministers. He clearly walked the walk. We all know he was a gifted speaker, but he, literally, walked the walk. It's often been said that someone has "the courage of their conviction..."
What does that mean exactly? I am so glad you asked! Conviction (besides court and law definitions) is listed as “a strong belief or opinion” or “the feeling of being sure that what you believe or say is true.” So, to have courage behind your conviction is a state that people aspire to. It is mostly said in a positive light. That person, regardless of peer pressure, and regardless of obstacles has "the courage of their conviction!” Sometimes, it is used negatively, to show that even in surmounting evidence and even though proven incorrect, a person held onto their beliefs and had “the courage of their conviction.”
To me, conviction is usually when God is speaking to my heart about something. Conviction for me is when scripture isn’t easily translatable, isn’t forthcoming, isn’t plain – but God tells me what is good and bad for me. Now, I don’t find, or make, those applicable for everyone, and I don’t judge others on this – because it’s a gray area, spiritually speaking. What’s off limits for me, may not be for you. What’s bad for me, isn’t necessarily bad for you. What I think IS a sin for me, because of what God tells me, may not be for you. There isn’t any judgment on my part for others. And, I generally don’t accept or condone judgment BY others on me (although so many do try to put their beliefs and judgment on me. It takes strong faith in the God that delivered, healed, and saved me to know that our relationship is REAL, and that He will finish the work in me that He started. I don’t have to depend on others. It’s a great, freeing, and peaceful belief.) I have a relationship with God. I have quite an open dialog, and even though I am still working through my life, my sin, my forgiveness, and my redemption – what God has for me, is for ME.
And then, there are general belief structures and accepted modes of conviction, behavior, and what should be common among believers. There are just times where I have the “courage of my conviction” because scripture, translations, and God could not be any plainer or straightforward in what God’s People ought to do. But how do we, as a people, as believers – and hopefully, as Christians – get there?
Well, for starters, you have to actually have conviction. You have to be convicted over something - anything, really. But so many people today just hate feeling convicted. (I hear gasping amongst my readers.) Is this too much, too soon? Okay, but you know it’s true.
--You have to know what you believe. (That’s hard, MK. You’re making this hard.) Okay, so that’s still too much for this generation, and this spoiled and “instant-gratification” society. Let’s take it back even further.

--You have to have studied and taken some self-reflection. (That hurts my feelings, Michael. It hurts and it’s dumb. I don’t like conviction. It hurtsbecause it makes me responsible for my own actions. I can’t blame my parents, teachers, professors, boss, or preacher. This makes me accountable. I have to own my own soul, mind, and body. I have to own my reactions to others. Is there anything easier to swallow on the menu?) Okay. That’s still too much? Is it, though? Is it too much to think that we are vile, sinful, and deceitful by nature? Is it too much to think that we need conviction, and then the courage of those convictions to walk in liberty, grace, and victory? (Yes, MK, that steps on my toes and makes me feel bad. I don’t like God and church if it makes me feel bad.) It is?!? Okay. Let’s just make it super simple.

--You have to believe IN something. (That’s a little more complicated, MK. I believe there is a higher power. I believe that all roads lead to the same God. I believe that the Universe is out there. But I don’t know the details, nor care. I believe that people are good, and that all of this talk is depressing.) Um, okay. Is this still too hard? Well, everybody believes something. Everyone wants to be right. Everyone wants peace. Everyone wants to be thought of as “upstanding and righteous.” But, none of us are. No one. Not one. Not even you, not even me.

--You have to believe something. (Okay, I believe in God.) Great, now we are getting somewhere. But – even the devils believe and tremble. Belief is great, but when you TRULY believe something, you act on it. #JustSaying
Once you really know WHAT you believe, you can then shed old fears and doubts. You can begin to live in courage. You can begin to face those fears and those doubts and overcome them. You can be someone that has the “courage of their conviction.” But you’ll never walk in that peace, that kindness, and that grace if you never know what you believe or why you believe it.

Read Romans 14. Read the entire chapter IN CONTEXT and use your context clues, couple with historical relevance, historical context, and oh… some common sense… and you’ll see that God wants us to listen to His Spirit, and his wisdom for us. Yes, under Levitical Law and under the Jewish Law there were things that were unholy, abominations even… that could not be done. And the freedom that these “Christians” found under the Grace of Jesus allowed them to eat, drink and be merry because a real savior was here, had been found, fulfilled messianic prophecy, and was going to save them all by setting up a physical, real kingdom. Right? They were free! They found liberty. Their faith and their walk induced great miracles and many were added daily… But they were still fighting. Those clinging to old tradition were calling out those that had abandoned it, or worse – had never had it and were newly added Gentiles. Surely these people that ate and drank as they pleased were sinful and sinners and must not be as good of a Christian as US! Jesus is the King of the Jews, hello! Jewish still applies here folks!!! Right? Well, that’s what they thought and that’s how they acted.

What Paul (or his writer, or his transcriber) tries to point out is that we are not under the law, and all things are lawful. All things are permissible, but not all things are great. They can be stumbling blocks to others. They can cause others to fall and ruin your witness. They can ruin your walk. They can ruin your ministry. Even when they are not salvation/heaven-or-hell issues to you personally, or even if scripture isn’t really clear under a dispensation of Grace. Focus on:
--Romans 14:19 “So then, we must always aim at those things that bring peace and that help strengthen one another.” I love this scripture. It points out the very basic and the very lawful “Two Great Commandments.” One being love God above all else, the second being “to love your neighbor as yourself.” Once you “get” that, all other law and things we do for God, ourselves, and others become moot. If it offends your mom that you drink liquor, it becomes easier to not do it around her, or throw it in her face that you CAN drink because you love her as yourself. You would want her to do that for you. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it, especially if it will ruin peace, kindness, and especially if it will ruin your witness (not for today, because that subject is too long for this already-long topic… but we don’t live in fear of being caught or seen doing something for our witness. We protect our witness here because of compassion and being a stumbling block.)

--Romans 14:20 “Do not, because of food, destroy what God has done. All foods may be eaten, but it is wrong to eat anything that will cause someone else to fall into sin.” That seems so simple, right? But most of us are offended when others become offended. Our gut-check moment is usually: “That heifer is crazy to be offended by me, and I’mma tell everyone how crazy she is.” Don’t compound others’ issues. If God has given you the mindset of liberty and freedom, lead others to it. Don’t be the reason they run from it. Don’t add gossip and malice to your recipe for drama. Yet, we are usually so defensive. But, why? Yes, all things are lawful under Grace, but not all things are good. If you are offending others, you don’t have to make a show of your liberty. You can be free in your home, you can certainly practice modesty, moderation, and other principles of your walk with God, how you see fit, as your conscience guides and still not be offensive, or DEFENSIVE of your walk with Christ.
A person of conviction has become convinced, by either evidence or argument, that their beliefs are true. Today, most men and women would rather live by preference than conviction. (Ooh, MK… you are going to lose FB friends, Blog Readers, Tumblr Followers… Your friends will think you are crazy for this.) Yep, likely, I will. Likely, my old JCM friends will roll their eyes and think I am talking about standards, but I’m not. My family, my friends, and my loved ones will think I’m hiding some kind of gay agenda under all of this, but I’m not.

I’m merely blogging about my life, my beliefs and what I’m going through. I am forever changed because of God. I’m different. I am not comfortable with it, I am not even sure of how far-reaching the effects of God has been to me, and on my life. I don’t know and I can’t rightly say that I have the full knowledge of just how much God touched, healed, and forgave. But I know this: I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day. I know my conviction is to write and share what I’m going through, not just as someone that is gay…. Not just as a southerner… not just as a sinner that needs Jesus and is trying to live in Grace and follow… but as people’s son, as people’s friend, as people’s family, brother, and as someone that has been an “other.” I know what it’s like to be thrown away as a lost cause. Worse, and my own regret is that I know what it’s like to buy into that myth – because that’s what it is… a myth. I know what it’s like to be shunned and to be told that people love me, but hate everything about me (Isn’t “love the sinner, hate the sin” great that way!) I know all too well what it’s like to want Jesus… to want to be in church and be delivered and saved and used and just… be a part. And to believe the lies of the devil, and the Christians the devil uses to push people further from God. I know perfectly how it all goes. And it took a miracle, a healing and God coming to me to shake me, convict me, and show me. Hear that! It was not people, but God. It was tangible. It was supernatural, and it was a touch from what I knew was eternal and forever! And that conviction is what brings courage. No peer pressure or fear of my family and friends could prevent me from writing these things. No peer pressure from family or friends could make me change my course. Conviction is also a defense against doubt, and it’s a defense for which I am grateful.

People that don’t have true conviction choose to believe something based on certain conditions and circumstances. When the situation changes, so does their loyalty. In other words, a lot of people vacillate on issues that require a firm resolve. Yet, contrast this generation’s selfishly wishy-washy approach with the mindset of the great men and women of Scripture:
--Despite many years of unfair treatment, Joseph never wavered in his commitment to godly principles. As a result, he was in the right place at the right time to ensure Israel’s survival (Gen. 50:20).
--Daniel, another righteous man in an idolatrous land, earned the trust of foreign kings by standing firm in his beliefs (Dan. 1:20). When his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego also refused to compromise their beliefs, they influenced a king to recognize Jehovah as the one true God (3:29).
When everything seems foolish, when it all seems like you are the lone crazy person – are you? Are you by yourself because you have believed a lie? Or do you have the courage of your convictions? Do you have scripture, and word to be the foundation and to not just rely on your feelings? As these biblical examples show, Godly convictions can withstand the changing winds of opinion and the persuasive arguments of opponents. When God tells you something, you don’t take it lightly. If you really believe God, then trust God. If you really are grounded in the Word (and use Word here as a synonym from John 1) and trust what God has said, stand firm in your beliefs. Confidence in your God, and the conviction your God brings, breeds the courage to remain strong amid conflict.
Once you know what God says, you have a choice to make: Believe Him and commit to living according to your conviction, or continue being tossed by waves of doubt and indecision (James 1:6). Root yourself in God’s Word and be called one of His oaks of righteousness (Isa. 61:3). Instead of following your own preferences, choose to live by godly conviction. The Bible has much to say about the most important aspects of your life. See if God’s principles and promises hold true. Through prayer and study, allow Him to firmly root you in solid biblical convictions. Don’t lean on people. People will always fail you, people will always disappoint you. That sounds bad, and depressing, but it’s true. Your parents, your pastor, your friends, you lover, your spouse, your kids… they are NOT perfect, and they are NOT God. They cannot and will not fill the hole in your heart/soul/life that only God can occupy. Read:
Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But I will bless the person who puts his trust in me. He is like a tree growing near a stream and sending out roots to the water. It is not afraid when hot weather comes, because its leaves stay green; it has no worries when there is no rain; it keeps on bearing fruit.” Plant yourself by God. Plant yourself in Jesus. Plant yourself so that drought, dessert winds, “dry spells,” and the fallacy of mankind won’t uproot you. You might lose some branches, you may even shake, shudder, and lose your leaves from time to time, but you will survive the storm. You will be planted.
Are you living under the law? Do your convictions come from fear, peer pressure and negative space? Or do your convictions come directly from God or His Word? Are you living your life to your best? Do you trust God to help you and lead you? Are you ignoring your convictions and leading a completely free life that doesn’t ground you? Here are some things to consider:
--Do you consider the Bible true and trustworthy? If you don’t, then why go through all of the drama associated with being a Christian?

--Do you think that believing in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved? If you don’t, then why worry about what His Word says? If you find another way for salvation, by all means… have at it.

--What is the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of believers and unbelievers? Do you have the Holy Ghost?

--Are we to forgive others in every situation?

--How should Christians approach finances?

--What’s your purpose in life? Do you have a purpose?

--What is your role in the church and at work? What supersedes what?  

--How should you think, and act, regarding social issues like homophobia, civil rights, women’s rights, capital punishment, abortion, and racism? Should you, as a Christian, be involved? Have you been taught that you look the other way?

--When you hear of the news of horrors in our country, what is your gut reaction? Is it, “Serves them right!”? Or are you reaching out, in love, through Christ?

--How do you get your news? Your education? Your teaching? Do you rely on others to give it to you? Are they accountable? Or are you accountable? Are you responsible for knowing the truth, seeking it out, learning it?
There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. There are no “bad” ways to go about this. But you HAVE to know where YOU stand. You have to know where your direction is coming from. When you read these and have an instant reaction, where does that come from? Is it from God? Is your reaction a stumbling block to others that prevent an "other" from getting to God? Then you may want to consider where your source of conviction comes from. You cannot lean on your parents, your preacher, your job, your boss, your sister, or your friends for YOUR personal convictions and YOUR walk with God. I love you. I love you right where you are, how you are, and for WHO you are. Evaluate what the Bible says rather than looking at an issue through the lens of personal preference. Ask, What does God say? How is God speaking to me? What does God’s scripture, answer, and guidance mean for me? Don’t ask only, “What does this mean FOR me, or TO me?” Don’t merely think of your preferences and selfishness.

It is my hope that these questions will open the eyes of those who haven’t contemplated how their personal philosophies have developed. It’s time to change that. Study the Bible and make God’s Word the cornerstone of your thinking. Kindness is never the wrong answer.


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