Over the past several years, the beautiful bride and I have developed convictions that just a few years prior would have seemed unthinkable. We’re encouraged by, amused by, and challenged by how we have been led to those convictions. Our convictions about things like education, food and nutrition, parenting, health and medicine, practical theology, ministry, government and politics, and more have undergone major transformation since we married almost 11 years ago. Because our new ways of thinking in each of these areas has come about since our move to Washington state almost 8 years ago (still can’t believe it has been that long) we often joke that the east coast version of ourselves would unmercifully mock the west coast version of ourselves. I am grateful for the learning process to arrive at these convictions, and I am grateful for the convictions themselves.
They also terrify me.
They terrify me because I know my heart. They terrify me because, while the good side of having convictions is that I have a clearly defined grid to operate in, the bad side is that they can have the tendency to become the dominant message in my mind and heart. From there, it is just a short trip out of my mouth, so there is a tendency to make one (or several) of these convictions the dominant message I share with others. That terrifies me too, because, that message can easily slip into an unintended message of a false gospel. That is, that an individual’s hope is somehow going to be directly tied to their willingness to accept and move forward with whatever really important conviction I ended up pontificating about, rather than the gospel.
I operate in thought circles and loose networks of like-minded individuals. I derive encouragement from them and it is fun to engage in dialogue with them. What troubles me though is that often (not always – don’t want to generalize) it appears that is all they are able to dialogue about. What troubles me even more is that I am just as susceptible to drifting into, if not personally initiating, this one topic conversation. Inevitably, and with very few exceptions, those conversations break down into grumble fests. The words are sophisticated, there is a slew of caveats thrown out to protect ourselves from accusations of grumbling, there is rarely demonstrative outbursts, but inside my heart, I know that I have performed a cannonball into a pool of complaint. There are two sets of people who are resting on the chaise lounges by that pool and have gotten soaked.
The first group is those who agree with me, think like me, believe like me. They would be the ones sitting by the edge of the pool, cheering me on, “Come on! Do it! Do it! Off the high dive! Bet you can’t splash us!” They are equally convinced as I am, so there is no new information being shared, with the exception of one new piece of information: it is acceptable to have a spirit of grumbling. I get wrapped around the axle over some particular conviction I have, and begin to complain in a restrained and intellectual way (it is still complaining though). In doing that, I have invited others to grumble and complain as well. I have rolled out the red carpet and asked them to sin with me. They just got inundated with water as I hurled myself into the pool. I defend myself by claiming Romans 14:5 “…Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” while willfully ignoring Romans 14:19 “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” My grumbling may be (very liberally) consistent with Romans 14:5, but it certainly violates Romans 14:19. Even those who may agree with my convictions and corresponding complaints are not being built up by my complaints.
The second group is those who are not yet convinced. They are the ones who just wanted to have a relaxing day at the pool, get a little sun, maybe get lost in a book while sipping tea. Without warning, and with nothing nearby to shield themselves, they find themselves and everything near them dripping, sopping wet. They are wet, their towel is wet, and their book is wet. Now, they must gather their belongings and leave, all because some showoff had to perform a cannonball in order to get himself noticed. I do this when without being welcomed to do so, I begin to speak of my “most important conviction of the day”. You would think that after having limited, if any, success in convincing people to be convinced like I am by immediately pouncing on them, I would have learned that strategy does not work and would have ceased. But still I’m drawn into it. I tell myself if is because I want to be helpful and protect people from wrong thinking; that is valid, but the methods have much to be desired. I do this when people ask me for an opinion about something and I launch into a monologue rather than drawing them out. My convictions can be pretty rattling – I knew what I thought of them before I had them, and those thoughts were not positive. It took time to absorb them. It took prayer and reading God’s Word and discerning my heart. I was never sold on a conviction just because someone was really passionate about it, so why would I expect others to do so. One of the unintended consequences is that this method ends up being human repellent. People who find themselves in a one way debate, or are left to feel humiliated while some know-it-all gave them a crash course on a particular topic don’t generally return to that person for more. I’ve done this far to often, for which I am deeply apologetic and seeking forgiveness. They asked a simple question about where to eat dinner tonight, and I managed to twist into a heartless devotional about the family table or nutritional mistakes people make.
So what is this all about? I’m trying to be careful that I do not derive my contentment, satisfaction, hope, and joy from anything but the gospel. I want to be sure that the banner I serve under is the banner of Christ. Do the other things matter? Sure they do, but they are not the most important. I recently tweeted that if everything is important than nothing is, and if the gospel is one of the important things, we have made it unimportant. I believe (and I’m open to gracious correction) that the convictions I have can be rooted in the gospel, but my most important conviction must be the gospel. I can be convinced in my own mind of many things, but first needs to be the gospel. I can carry on in conversation about all manner of things, but my aim should be to communicate the gospel, to be passionate about the gospel, and to start people off with the gospel before getting into all the other minutiae. May my heart, mind and mouth reflect that of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3 – “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”