Monday, November 14, 2016

Could Your Convictions Convict You?

This is my 700th post since starting this blog late in 2008. I remember writing several in advance back then, in case I ran out of ideas. Didn’t want to be a one-week blogging wonder.

To commemorate this “milestone” (hopefully you don’t see it as more of a millstone!), I debated what to write about. For whatever reason, the subject of “convictions” came to mind. Our local newspaper is unusual in that it features two facing op-ed pages – the one on the left appropriately taking a liberal slant, the one on the right holding to conservative views. It’s amazing how they can discuss identical topics and espouse totally opposite convictions.

But having convictions isn’t strongly encouraged anymore. In deference to “tolerance,” people with strong convictions are often shouted down or ridiculed as narrow-minded, bigoted or worse. So I have two questions: What convictions do you strongly embrace? And based on what you say and how you act, would there be enough evidence to convict you for having those convictions?

I write from the conviction that the Bible isn’t an antiquated, irrelevant book with no meaning for 21st century life. To the contrary, I’m convinced that just as the owner’s manual shows how a car should be operated and maintained, the Scriptures comprise God “Owner’s manual,” designed to tell us how to live and act.

Years ago someone became the first to proclaim, “There are no absolutes!” Which is ironic, since that statement sounds absolute. And if that’s true, couldn’t something else be equally “absolute”? These days there’s a strong trend away from matters of conviction, absolute beliefs. Instead, we’re told, “live and let live,” and “to thine own self be true.”

Churches and even denominations have acquiesced, abandoning the Bible as unquestioned foundation for what they believe and teach. In many quarters, ministerial leaders utter more palatable messages in their quest for a larger “market,” or to enhance their “brand.” Instead of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not offend” has become the edict of choice.

But the Scriptures present many examples of unwavering, uncompromising conviction. It starts in the very first verse of the Bible’s first book, announcing, “In the beginning God….” Then it tells how He created all we see and know.

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush and was instructed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he asked who he should say sent him. The Lord responded, “I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). He didn’t say, “I was,” or “I might be.” He said, “I AM,” declaring His omnipresence and timelessness.

Jesus announced, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), He spoke with conviction – and unwavering certainty. He addressed His followers with authority, as if to say, “To know God and have an eternal relationship with Him, there aren’t multiple options.”

We see a similar level of conviction among those who carried on His work. The apostle Paul, whose persecution parade ended when he literally “saw the light” en route to Damascus, later said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Paul also explained his motivation: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died (to our old life)” (2 Corinthians 5:14). His conviction was to tell everyone about what Christ had done for them – and the importance of receiving His gift of forgiveness and salvation.

Today we seem like the ancient Israelites, described in Judges 21:25. It says, “in those days there was no king is Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Having dispensed with the Judeo-Christian consensus that helped to shape American society, now it seems everyone’s intent on doing what’s right in their own eyes.

But this doesn’t negate the Bible’s claim about itself: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

If this isn’t true, we have every reason for doing whatever’s right in our own eyes. But if the Bible is indeed God’s Owner’s manual  entrusted to us for teaching, training and guidance – then we should study to understand what it says, not just for religious or spiritual gatherings, but also for any and every setting in which we find ourselves: Work, play, family, community, even the world.

Because as Colossians 3:17 admonishes, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus….” It becomes a matter of conviction.

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