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My wife and I were elated to buy our first house last year, something we were not sure we could do in the Silicon Valley. The most fun was planning all the projects we would start on once we moved in -- we wanted to add a fence to the front yard, refinish the hardwood floors, repaint the exterior grey trim a more vibrant color, and about twenty other things. So far, we have replaced two broken windows and changed a couple of light switches. Well, we had good intentions and a strong eagerness. The whole experience has driven home a lesson I already knew: success requires more than good intentions. The core ingredient must be conviction.

I have had many experiences similar to home-buying in congregations throughout the country. We knew we had work to do, so we did different things to stimulant production. I cannot tell you how many programs we have tried in various congregations in the past ten years -- programs such as door-knocking, visiting programs, mail-outs, evangelistic web pages and telephone efforts. So many of them fizzled. It was so discouraging, and honestly it got to the point where I hated programs. Realistically, it was not the program that was to blame. The problem had more to do with conviction. Without that missing ingredient, any congregation will experience failure and discouragement.

I am encouraged to read the "work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope" that belonged to the Thessalonian Christians. They accepted the gospel in the midst of persecution, jealousy, mobs and uproars (Acts 17). Paul gave thanks for them and said, "our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction..." (1 Thes. 1:5, NASB).

There is so much packed into the meaning of the word "conviction." To illustrate, see the Ephesian church in (Rev. 2;1-7). That congregation could not tolerate false teaching. They shared God's hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Yet in spite of their stand for the truth, they lacked full conviction. There is more to conviction than being intolerant toward evil men. The Lord told them they had fallen, they had left their first love. Also, consider the church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29). The saints of Thyatira practiced good deeds. Yet in spite of their good deeds, they lacked full conviction. They were tolerant toward immorality. Conviction is more than doing good deeds.

The best description for conviction that I know is found in the story of Phinehas (Num. 25:1-9). Can you put yourself into the life of Phinehas as the Israelite men are being seduced by the Moabite women? The righteous of Israel have gathered in a meeting to discuss what to do about the men joining themselves to these women and to the idol Baal. During the meeting, your eyes follow another man as he audaciously escorts a Moabite woman to his tent. Does your anger burn? Do you grab your spear as Phinehas did and follow them into the tent? Could you carry the responsibility of ending their lives by piercing them with that spear? It makes me afraid just thinking about it. From beginning to end, Phinehas provides a living example of conviction.

Conviction is what we do about what we believe -- it is motivating confidence. Conviction is more than just a firm belief. It requires something from us. Peter and John one time said, "We cannot stop speaking abut what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). It was not because somebody was forcing them. It was their conviction forcing them. We read already that the Thessalonians were fully convicted. They were convicted of two primary things: the teachings of God (1:5) and that Jesus was going to come back from heaven some day (1:9). As a result of their conviction, they changed their lives to such an extent that every one around them talked about them. They began to try and imitate Paul and the Lord, and they started waiting for God's Son (1:10). A saint's conviction is founded upon the teachings of God and the promises of God.

Conviction is the absence of all doubt. Contrast Phinehas conviction with Peter's effort to walk on the water. Peter started out with good intentions, but in the end needed to be rescued. Jesus rebuked him by asking, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:31). If a congregation is going to be successful, there must be no doubt that God will grant them success. Jesus expressed what will happen through us if His power is combined with our assurance -- "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea' it will happen" (Matt. 21:12). Is that your conviction? Why is it so tempting to add the conjunction, "But..." to these and other such statements of God?

Conviction is confidence that we as a congregation will grow and thrive as long as we follow God's plan for us. One of my favorite letters in the Bible is Paul's letter to the Philippians. It is clear to me that these saints had a problem with pessimism. Everything Paul says is an effort to get them to see the positive side of things. "I am confident of this very thing," Paul says, "that He who began a good work in you WILL PERFECT IT until the day of Christ Jesus" (1:6). I KNOW that I will remain and continue with you all for your PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH" (1:25). Paul admonishes them to rejoice, to dwell on the good things, to avoid anxiety. How can we be anything but positive if we are convicted that God is perfecting our work and that we will progress? How can we avoid confidence knowing that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Rom. 8:28).

A congregation without conviction looks like this: it lacks motivation that comes from confidence in God's words and promises. It has no drive to "excel still more" (1 Thes. 4:1,10) It is not making every effort to imitate the Lord and not waiting for Him. They have all sorts of doubts, doubts that the world will listen to them, that they themselves can significantly change, that with Jesus' power they can cast mountains into the sea. They are pessimistic. They are not confident that God is perfecting them and that they will progress. Lack of conviction will certainly lead tot he demise of a congregation.

By Jason Cheney via The Eastside Edifier, Aug. 5, 2007.

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