permission to learn::religious conviction (4)

>> May 25, 2011

Adel Torres writes from California, where she is wife to Pastor Jose, mother to toddler Toby, and is expecting baby #2 later this year. She is a missionary at heart, and spent time in India, Nepal and other countries before marrying a pastor in the States. This series of posts was originally published on Adel's blog "This Journey, My Home", where she writes about her life, insights, and mission stories. 

It’s really amazing what has been accomplished in the name of God.

Elijah scolded King Ahab in his own palace. Mary Magdalene, with her scandalous reputation, appeared brazenly in the presence of “godly” scholars to honor Jesus. David challenged a Giant at least twice his size and with as much more battle experience. I'm so inspired by these and other great people of faith!

“The greatest want of the world is the want of men,” says one of my favorite quotable quotes, “--men who will not be bought or sold;... men who do not fear to call sin by it's right name."

But it’s also disturbing what horrors have been done in God’s name.

Rome ravished thousands of faithful martyrs. Women are brutalized even today. Nations and church board meetings wage war. Demonstrators picket soldiers' funerals. Elderly ladies tell young women they can’t lead out in the church song service because of how they dress or look. Well-studied listeners bravely rebuke preachers for “erroneous” doctrine.

I’m always amazed how a “conviction from God” can make people feel that they have license to be so un-Christlike to each other. It’s nothing less than the spirit of terrorism.

But there isn’t a soul on earth that we can’t learn something from, no matter how wrong we believe they are. Next time you’re confronted with someone you think has it all wrong, maybe ask yourself a few questions:
  • What journey did this person experience in order to arrive at the place they are today? 
  • What might they have been taught that I’ve never heard before? 
  • What kind of pain have they suffered? 
  • What has God done to try to get this person’s attention, how much does He love them? 
  • How is He asking you to represent that love? 
Then open your ears and your heart, whether to the rebellious teenager, the heretical pastor, or the psychic on the corner.
Being willing to learn from a person doesn’t automatically mean adopting their mindset or habits. It is certainly true that some people and belief systems are not safe. I’m not saying that we should subject our minds to things against our faith in order to better understand the world. But when we are exposed to them, which is unavoidable, we should always pray for spiritual eyes, to see people’s hearts.

God views every heart without shading His eyes. And He passionately loves each one! We can learn a great deal about the human heart and mind this way, we can learn to be grateful for a knowledge of God, and we can especially learn about our own prejudices if we are willing to examine ourselves. Everything that comes to us is a gift of learning.

So when SHOULD we stand up to wrong?

One, after we have spent so much time with God that our response to sin is first one of grief, and then indignation for the hurt that it causes.

Two, when we love the person so much that we long for their salvation, and our reaction to wrong is with the idea of doing whatever we can to redeem, not to destroy or discourage.

Remember what Jesus did in the face of the worst evil in the history of the universe? He submitted himself to his enemy, and gave his life to death at the hands of the sinners he loved. Are you willing to do that? If you can't confront wrong without keeping in mind that the doer is a child of a God with a precious heart, you might do well to keep your “righteous” indignation to yourself.

I’m not expert enough to share precisely how to tell the difference between "godly conviction to confront wrong" versus "self-righteous indignation". Each of us comes with our own set of biases that cloud our vision. Familiarity with these is the best defense against confusing them with conviction from God.

I can tell you a few things of which I’m sure: when God compels a man or woman to confront wrong, it does not lead to angry outbursts that disgrace God’s name. It does not wound. It will not make you feel smug and justified!

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) Let’s not get confused between “spiritual forces of evil” and fellow human beings.

So what can we learn from people whom we believe are wrong?

1) About ourselves.
Examine your heart before reacting to error. Are your feelings in line with the Love of God? Be hard on yourself. Identify whether or not your feelings have something to do with things you’ve experienced rather than what you know of God.

2) About what we truly believe regarding the topic at hand. 
It’s easy to respond negatively to something that goes against cherished beliefs, without really examining our beliefs closely. We should be very sure that we are standing by truth, not man’s tradition.

“Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

3) About life: every person has a different set of life experiences. Every person you meet is a veritable encyclopedia of experiences you’ve never had that could help you understand our world better.

4) How to be more Christlike.
Patience, compassion, humility... If we can practice applying these attitudes to people who rub us the wrong way, we are on our way to being more like the Master, and it will come more naturally the next time.

5) That every person has a journey to walk with God.
A wayward kid is no more of a Christian after you scold him for the music he’s listening to. If he truly doesn’t know God, pray for God to reveal Himself and then represent Christ-likeness in your actions. If the kid DOES have a relationship with God, trust that the Holy Spirit will convict them of what is right, when the time is right. As PWs we have to be careful not to try to be the Holy Spirit to someone else. That's blasphemy.

Even parents, senior pastors, and regional church leaders are on a journey.

They are human. They stumble and reach out to grasp the hand of God just like anyone else. Their journey is often more painful because that they are held to a higher standard. We can do a great deal to encourage or discourage our spiritual leaders by our attitude towards them.

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