Archives For conviction

The Impostor of Guilt

Erik Cooper —  January 26, 2011 — 2 Comments

Sometimes following Jesus is like having the stomach flu. That internal rumbling in your digestive track. Uncomfortable. Disturbing. I thought Jesus lived in my heart, how did he find His way to my small intestine?

I’ve definitely been there. The summer of 2000, I was avoiding full time ministry like Jay Cutler and the second half of the NFC Championship game. And it was eating me for lunch. We Christians call it conviction. That gnawing feeling inside your gut that is spelling out in no uncertain terms:

God is compelling me to do something I don’t really want to do. Insert vomit here.

But honestly, I’ve learned to welcome this type of nausea.  When we have the courage to respond and obey, life becomes beautiful. The Kingdom of God comes alive in us and around us. We begin to live in the reality of doing things God’s way. Never painless. Never without a cost. But always full of life. Real life.

But I’ve also experienced an impostor.

Rather than wrestling with internal, God-initiated challenges, I far too often find myself embracing the sinister villain of guilt. I wear its heavy strands around my neck like a concrete necklace even Mr. T. would see as a bad fashion statement.

I compare myself to others.

She’s taking a missions trip to Kenya.

He volunteers at the homeless shelter.

They’re adopting a child from Eastern Europe.

He quit his job to start a non-profit.

And rather than allowing the challenge of those we admire to inspire our own obedience to the Father, we become overwhelmed by shameful comparisons. Why am I not doing what “that guy” is doing? Maybe some day I’ll have “that kind” of faith. When will I man up to “that kind” of courage?” When will God be “that proud” of me?

Let me both let you off and put you back on the hook, ok?

Jesus said:

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”Matthew 11:29-30

Jesus isn’t asking you to be somebody you’re not.  He isn’t asking you to mimic someone else’s obedience. He’s not placing anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. You can’t sustain that.

But He is calling you to obey. To become who He created you to be. And He never said it wouldn’t be painful. He never said it wouldn’t be costly. He never said it wouldn’t rumble in your stomach at 2am like a bad piece of meat.

So be inspired by others. Be challenged by their actions. But don’t wear the guilt of comparison. The question for you is simple:

What is God asking of you? Are you responding?

Praying for Doctors

Erik Cooper —  August 4, 2010 — 8 Comments

Her name is Jasmine and she lives in a Honduran slum.  We met her on our first CityCom overseas adventure this past June.  She captured all of us (especially Mike).

Perhaps unexpectedly.

Not accidentally.

Jasmine is developmentally challenged. She can’t walk or speak.  And to complicate matters, her parents are mute (they can hear but not talk).  Getting an accurate understanding of her challenges was difficult, to say the least.

Through scribbled shards of paper and animated charade-like gesturing, Jasmine’s family was desperately asking for help.  And our compassionate American-Christian spirit immediately kicked into action.

We had translators on the phone with doctors.  Businessmen brainstorming potential funding for therapy.  Logistical minds coordinating transportation.

It was beautiful in so many ways.

And terribly sad in another.

The conviction of the Holy Spirit flattened me in the comfort of our hotel room later that night.  In all our rightly-motivated desire to live out compassion for this beautiful little girl, I failed.

Miserably.

As a leader, I never stopped the flurry of godly activity to do the most important thing.

Pray that God would heal her.

I was raised pentecostal (I know, there’s a support group for that).  And even though I think our particular church was pretty well balanced, I still grew up around a lot of “hyper-charismatics” (if I grew up around you don’t worry, I’m definitely referring to those other people).  People who wielded the Holy Spirit as a manipulation tool or to empower their own insecurity (hey, we keep it real here).  I mean really, how do you ever present a counterpoint to someone who starts every sentence with “God told me?

Over the years, I began to subconsciously distance myself from this unhealthy expression. And somewhere in the mix I also seemed to lose my belief in the mysterious, supernatural, and biblical way God longs to interact with our lives.

I stopped praying for healing and started praying for doctors.

I overcorrected.

Which actually made me incorrect.

I’m glad our team mobilized in a tangible expression of love for this precious little girl. It was the right thing to do.  I believe God works through medicine, and I know He equips us with the ingenuity and creativity to respond to practical needs.  That is His Spirit at work.

But I also believe in the miraculous.  And sometimes we simply reason Him out of the equation.

I want faith that embraces mystery.  That risks the unknown.  That expects God to intervene.

Do I have that kind of faith? Or will my faith only ever be big enough to pray for doctors?

A guy emailed me this week to ask my opinion on a well-known Christian leader.  Prophet or a heretic? It was a valid question.  A discussion I’ve seen floating around emails, blogs, and internet chat rooms for years.

But as I was preparing my (obviously brilliant and insightful) answer, I paused.  Were this guy’s assumptions formulated on first hand knowledge or was he simply regurgitating the thoughts and opinions of others?  Better yet, was the answer I was preparing to fire off with reckless abandon founded on my personal convictions or a conglomeration of things I had heard others say?

The reality?  I had no idea what I was talking about.

I had never read a book, listened to a message, even viewed a tweet post of the leader in question.  Yet I was about to wax eloquence on his character and calling. The validity of His message.  I was preparing to vomit a bunch of other people’s opinions that supported my preconceived notions and validated my worldview.  Even if I had been factually right, I think I would have been terribly wrong.

The Bible is very clear in its warning to test what we hear:

“My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.”
-1 John 4:1 (MSG)

But I wonder how many times I’ve abdicated that responsibility?

I’m not condoning a lone-ranger lifestyle.  We need the correction and accountability that comes from solid community. I’ve had the revelations of others open my mind to incredible insights I would have never seen on my own.  But many of us are too quick to blindly adapt to a position handed to us by someone else.  Usually someone who can talk faster, think quicker, or has a nice looking blog.

Have we lost the ability to wrestle for the truth? Or maybe just the desire?  Are we afraid?  Weak?  Just give me the answer (or better yet,  post it on Facebook.  That’s more efficient).

For some, faith itself is cheap.  Lazy.  A faded copy of an old picture someone else handed to you.

I don’t want to live that way.  To lead that way.  A collection of Twitter re-tweets and Facebook shares.  I want my own encounter with the Creator of the Universe.  I want to hear Him whisper my name.  To speak to the deep places of my heart.  To know His voice.  To live with His conviction.

But don’t take my word for it.  Let Him tell you Himself.

There are a lot of arrogant, isolated, self-reliant, “I’m never wrong” jerks in this world. (I contemplated stronger language, but I think you get the picture).  You’re probably visualizing a few right now.

But honestly, I think there’s a much more dangerous epidemic.

An epidemic of self-protection. A sickness that defines itself by validation from others. A disease that stifles conviction, and forces God-given potential back into the turtle shell of self-doubt.

It’s ugly.  It’s sinful.  And it’s something I battle daily in my own life.

Below is an excerpt from my personal journal. A little butt kicking I got from God last week (He wears big shoes, but I think they’re Toms. Soft soles).  A bit of a pep talk that may mean something to you, too.

6-29-2010

Stop waiting for others to define or validate you. If you blow it, blow it BIG.  And blow it based on a deep conviction you feel in your heart.  Stop waiting for a wave to ride.  Go create a wave!

Stop mentally adjusting to criticism you haven’t really heard, but imagine or anticipate. That’s CRAZY!  Put what you think out there.  If others disagree, – listen, critique, adjust if needed – but don’t hide out of fear of rejection or criticism. You’re big enough to handle that.

Listen for God’s voice, but when you hear as much as a whisper – GO!  Run!  Stop waiting for others to give you permission. Stop trying to hedge your potential for mistakes.  Stop being a slave to opinion.  Start being a true follower of Christ.

Does any of this resonate with you?  Are you ever paralyzed by the fear of screwing things up? Of facing shame from those who may see things differently?  Are you avoiding creating, injecting, speaking, writing, asking, or starting something today because you lack the courage to face the criticism if you’re wrong?

What if we feared missing a God-0pportunity more than we feared making a mistake?

Ashamed

Erik Cooper —  May 26, 2010 — 3 Comments

Shame comes in all shapes and sizes:

A big zit on your nose.

A past full of brokenness and abuse.

A rip in the seam of your pants.

A failed marriage.

Silly or serious, we’ve all felt it. The exposure of a vulnerability or apparent shortcoming that drives us to run away. To cover up. To hide. And unfortunately, The Church (my church, even me personally) can foster environments of shame, even when we’re not intentionally trying to.

It makes sense. The Church, a place of grace, hope, and unconditional love, is also an environment full of expectations. Standards of behavior naturally emerge in any culture, but engaging in Church culture comes with a built-in assumption of moral superiority. We profess faith in God and innately feel our lives should reflect that (even if we don’t).

And while some shame is understandably innate, some is undeniably overt. We’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit there are many in the Church who willingly use shame as a means to control. To maintain power over people. To protect their personal preferences. To manipulate others towards their desired outcomes.

Innate or overt, when we fall short (which we always do), shame moves in. Becomes a constant companion. And shame is a horrific house guest.

God deals in conviction, not shame. Shame is based in condemnation, in pointing out deficiencies with the intent of rejecting, judging, or looking down on another. And Jesus didn’t come into the word to do that:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NLT)

Yet in so many church environments shame is still a primary motivator, filling our sanctuaries with guilty people. Hiding people. Manipulated people. Self-righteous people. Frightened people. Fake people. Or in more and more cases, empty seats.

So how do we know when God is convicting or when shame is condemning? Here’s some thoughts:

Shame is an ego-protection mechanism that focuses on how we appear to others.
Conviction is an inward re-alignment with who God is and has called us to be.

Shame conforms us to man-made expectations.
Conviction leads us to repentance.

Shame causes us to create false perceptions of reality.
Conviction leads us to openly face who we really are.

Shame manipulates and imprisons.
Conviction heals and frees.

Shame misuses aspects of truth to manage and control.
Conviction reconnects us to absolute truth.

Shame formulates outward behavioral modification.
Conviction births true inward transformation.

Shame pushes us towards self-protection.
Conviction pushes us towards Christ.

Shame asks us to do the work.
Conviction drives us towards the One who already did it all.

Which one is driving you? What is being fostered in your environments? What do you think?