Acquiring a socially acceptable degree of calm has been a lifelong project for me.
During my teenage years I recall a general underlying theme of being simply too prickly to be around, too outspoken, or simply too opinionated.
Don’t get me wrong! I had learned a good deal of wit and gimmicks that often worked when I wanted people to like me, and I could keep them there for a while.
The trouble came when I discovered that a person had viewpoints that differed from mine.
I was just so incredibly right, and they were so unbelievably wrong! Why couldn’t they see that? And with thanks to an innate and deep-rooted obligation to fix the world, I couldn’t help but point out the colossal gap between that person’s erroneous opinion, and my gospel truth.
Sometimes I would be in the back seat of a taxi in Cusco, and the driver would mention that he was Catholic—that was, if I didn’t see a rosary and/or other religious articles hanging from the rearview mirror.
I would take a deep breath, let the silence grow cumbersome, and then say, “So uh…how does being a Catholic make you different from everybody else in the world?”
And from there the argument began.
Slowly it dawned on me that being right could be very unpopular.
As a direct result, I solemnly donned the melancholy cloak of the persecuted prophet.
Surely I was justified? After all, I had facts, reason, and the Bible behind me.
Over time, though, you can get the idea of how burdensome this burden became. Every time a person distanced themselves from me, the beauty of being a rejected witness of the truth dwindled further.
I got tired of it.
I can imagine that I’m not the only one who knows this feeling, or a feeling similar to it. I imagine this is one form of capitulation that I share with countless others who find that the reward of being “right” is outweighed by the isolation resulting from unpopularity.
I began to hold back. I refrained from speaking my mind. I would never truly accept the things that I saw as offending the God of the Bible, but I became increasingly tolerant of them; because no one enjoys conviction during a time of enjoyment!
I was tired of being the one guy who pointed out everything wrong; or, as with strangers, it felt like such unrewarding labor to take a stand with an establishment that had grown associated with solemnity, prejudice, hypocrisy, and general boredom.
At present, ask anyone who’s been with me who doesn’t know better, and they’ll tell you that I’m extroverted and good around people. Christians and non-Christians alike can at least feel comfortable around me, if not better. I can’t remember the last time I had a full-on heated discussion with someone—which, in days of yore, was a frequent occurrence.
The journey from the awkward, abrasive introvert to who I am now is one that I’m infinitely grateful for. It’s part of my testimony now; because, in a brief branching from the main theme of the article, my attempts to fix the world came from a platform of insecurity and fear.
So… what can be said for fire?
I’ve spent so much time and effort into blunting the edge off my personality… is there a chance that it was all spent in the wrong direction?
This is a thought that has troubled me from time to time.
But here is where I need to make a distinction, both for my sake and for any reader who can relate.
Once upon a time, when I spent time worrying about earning acceptance from God.
Having grown up with missionary parents, I knew the facts well. I knew you didn’t earn God’s love or salvation by works. I knew that neither of those two are dependent on the amount of work you put into the ministry.
Wouldn’t it be nice if head knowledge did the trick?
Maybe, but head knowledge simply isn’t enough. I was working to attain a right place with God, and years of effort and desperation brought me nothing at all. I could preach all day on the identity that we already have in God, and go to bed that night aching and hollow.
The hollow drove me to grasp out for acceptance.
Skip a few years forward, to the present day.
I wish I could infect others with the gospel like the flu virus on a really bad day.
I wish that five minutes with me was all it took to radically change people’s lives for God. I wish, I wish, I wish.
I pray all the time for boldness, and for the ability to speak perfect truths at the perfect time. I’m still convicted when I read the Bible. I long to light people up with the best kind of fire.
There has occurred a fundamental change, though, in the drive that pushes me forward.
Whereas once upon a time, long ago and far away, I reached out to the world from a platform of fear, my new platform is love.
We don’t acquire our identity by the amount of reaching out we do. We reach out to others because of our identity.
Jesus was, in my opinion, the bravest man to ever grace our planet. Mostly people associate Jesus with unrelenting love, which is spot on, but also running parallel with his courage.
Jesus had every chance to escape pain. He had every chance to keep his mouth shut, let the world be, and float along. Leave alone the huge globs of guts it must have required to face the cross, and think about the things He said! He preached without looking back.
He preached love, and kindness, and mercy, but he also preached repentance, and holiness, and he rebuked. The things Jesus said sometimes made people turn away from him.
Jesus never apologized, and He never stopped. Why? Because a at the very beginning of Christ’s ministry, there was a little incident down by a river in Israel.
God told the world who Jesus was. He said “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
See, that affirmation didn’t slip from Jesus. It was what kicked off His ministry, and it was the platform He taught from.
See, Jesus wasn’t all smiles and kindness. There was a rough side to Him. There was an unpopular, challenging, cutting edge to the Son of God, an edge that is just as necessary for healing as lancing a wound, or removing a splinter.
The world needs the iron side of love.
But before you give the world what it needs, I want to encourage you to go find your river.
Jesus could only give the world true love because He was the son of God.
You will only be able to give the world what it needs when you know who you are to the most important Person.