Writing in the Dirt

When practicing law, I routinely defended people who had broken the law.  In those days, people – mostly Christian people – often asked how I could morally support my decision to be an advocate for the immoral.  The answer was easy.  Jesus is our advocate, even though we did “it” in some form or fashion.  The case is airtight against us, but He doesn’t turn from us.  The chance to be an advocate for guilty people was the chance to stand beside them, just as Jesus stands beside us.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ method of defense was peculiar.  As her accusers loudly proclaimed the woman’s guilt, Jesus silently stooped down and wrote in the dirt with His finger.  The Pharisees would not relent; they continued to batter Jesus with the question of what they should do to the woman in light of the Law.  After a short time, Jesus stood and invited anyone without sin to begin the prescribed punishment of stoning by throwing the first rock.  Then, He stooped down and continued writing in the dirt.

No one could throw the first stone.  One by one, the crowd dispersed until only Jesus and the woman remained.  Interestingly, verse 9 of John 8 says it was the older men who left first.  The older men left first because they had sinned the most, if for no other reason than they had lived the longest so they had the most practice.

Writing in the dirt was the primary tactic Jesus used in defense of the woman.  As odd as it seems, Jesus’ act of using His finger to write on the earth was a foreshadowing of the exchange He was here to make.  God had written in the earth with His finger previously, and here He was doing it again.

The first time God’s finger wrote on the earth was when He wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, some of the very writings the Pharisees hoped to use to condemn the woman.  God wrote the Law twice, as Moses broke the first set of tablets.  Now, here He is, in the form of Jesus, again writing in the earth, again twice.  What He wrote was “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), just as He had written the Law, and then wrote it again.  Perfect satisfaction; it is finished.

The first time God wrote in the earth, He wrote the Law; the second time, He wrote grace.  Jesus came to satisfy the Law for us, since we can’t just as the old men of John 8:9 couldn’t.  Our perspectives of God and people (starting with ourselves) are evident in what we “write” with our words and attitudes.  We are either writing law or grace, and we can only write what we first receive.  Realizing that we are not unlike the woman Jesus refused to condemn allows us to receive grace just as it allowed me to defend those who did “it,” too.

From “Abundant and Free,” available at Amazon by clicking here.

 

 

Even the Nuance of Freedom is Valuable

I just returned from a week in Israel, which I visited for the fist time. The experience was rich and informative, even if that information was sometimes found in the nuance of the culture. There is a diversity of feelings that accompany the tension of religions, cultures and epochs colliding. It is the epicenter of history and prophecy with contrasting beliefs sprouting up from the same historical realities. There were times that I was moved to tears even while observing practices or traditions that I don’t even agree with.

At the Western wall, I was moved to tears as orthodox jews prayed to the same God I believe in while vehemently rejecting His Son, Jesus, who was a Jew. The story that they embrace is continued in the Testament that I receive yet there is a disconnect after Malachi and before Matthew. Despite the common heritage, there is a chasm in the legacy of 2000 years. Despite our significant differences, I perceived the presence of our common God.

On the other side of that wall is a golden dome on top of a mosque where an entirely different people group reject the beliefs and the people of the original covenant as well as the Newer Testament. The Western Wall is small compared to the enormous separation.

While there is a relatively peaceful coexistence in this country compared to what we perceive by way of the news, there is tension that leads to violence routinely, as well. Jewish waiters with Gentile girlfriends work at Arab restaurants but Israeli armies fight Palestinian forces so routinely that it is expected as “when,” not “if.” One Jewish man I met said, “There is going to be a war here” when referring to Jerusalem and Biblically that is accurate.

We live in an entirely different world, with practically no appreciation for or realization of the centuries old intricacies of that region. Our lens is one of freedom where we don’t think twice about the lack of limitations that are placed on our religious beliefs, practices or preferences. The societal conflicts we have in this country which are rooted in religion pale in comparison to the environment of contention which is managed in the land from which our primary practices of faith were born.

Tonight and tomorrow, we celebrate freedom. The cost of freedom was lives and compromises that not only keep us from oppression but even from the tension of the nuance. Christians and others are free to worship in a way that is not automatic, even though our freedom threatens our appreciation for the scarcity of its existence globally. Celebrate the fact that freedom is not only afforded, but that the realities that are just under the surface don’t threaten our enjoyment and feelings surrounding the freedom itself.

The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.

Anxiety Presents an Opportunity for Greater Glory

Every time we accept invitations into new opportunities, we step into a new version of discomfort. We go from a known to an unknown because we believe that it will be better in the new place even if there is a cost to getting there. There are times that we experience discomfort in new circumstances that we didn’t choose but that were forced on us. In either case, the opportunity in the discomfort is the same.

When we get to this new place of unknown challenges and uncertain outcomes, we often (if not always) can recognize insecurities within us if we will pay attention. In that place where we are no longer comfortable, we are likely to feel a sense of threat. Often we will be anxious surrounding our protection, provision or promotion/place. If we aren’t careful, we may very well be offended or suspicious of people in this new environment as we view them through our lens of anxiety as we guess at their motives or overreact to their interactions.

In these new places where we are tempted to envy, judge, compete, be offended, etc. because we are afraid as we experience lack of control, we are presented an eternal opportunity. The insecurities that are driving the anxiety and mental gymnastics were there prior to their exposure via this new set of circumstances. They are simply ripe at this particular time for redemption.

Where God shows us the ugliness of us in the middle of our discomfort or suffering, we get to choose. We can agree with fear or come home to His love. We can foster the temporal anxiety or run home to the comfort and certainty of eternity. His love dwells within us by the grace of Jesus (if we want it to and receive the sacrifice of Jesus for the restoration of relationship with the Father) so the peace that relieves the anxiety is in Him within us.

It’s at this point that we are granted repentance. We are given the gift of getting to exchange the insecurity of an orphan which wasn’t yet redeemed and trading it in for the security of a legitimate child of God. When we feel the ugly stuff, we can own our part of the emotions instead of blaming people and circumstances for our discomfort and exchange our crud for God’s glory. He will be put on display from within us when we choose to submit the temporal fear for His eternal love.

Defeating Insecurity

When my dad died in December, I had no doubt that he loved me and was proud of me. His affirmation and my knowledge of his unconditional love and acceptance was and is an incredible gift. It is healthy and necessary for my security and confidence. It was a platform for my potential. Yet, I mess it up.

Despite the benefit of affirmation and the resulting security that comes from unconditional love, there are times when my insecurities win out. I can be victimized by doubts and fears like anyone else when I forget who I am or when I work from my voids. Insecurity is a universal challenge and there is no earthly cure.

There is perhaps more insecurity in the ministry world than there is in secular settings. In a secular setting, the lines are clear; we are out for ourselves for the most part. Courtesy, morality and values should influence our interactions as there are lines that are drawn in keeping with social responsibility. For the most part, behaviors are oriented by expectations with consequences and ramifications that require strategy to maneuver around.

In faith based settings, I’ve noticed less certainty and more apparent insecurity. We acknowledge and embrace that we are spiritual beings, therefore we tend to work from the inside-out. The truth is the guide and foundation for our beliefs, but our choices are influenced by our developing ability to allow those beliefs to overcome our will. Our will is born in a fallen state, and even after we are new from the inside, that salvation is being worked out.

In the working out, we often allow emotions, expectations and desires that are based in “good” and even eternal appetites to guide our interactions. “That’s not my heart” becomes a valid excuse to behaviors that are offensive or not thoughtful. The squishy possibilities within can muddy the absolutes of cause and effect.

No matter where we are spiritually, the insecurities we battle as members of the human race cause us to self-protect, self-provide and self-promote. We do so in defensive and/or offense postures with other human beings. Where the contrast is in the context of the Father’s house and the Body of Christ, the insecurities seem to become glaring. The insecurities are counter-cultural to the security of sonship.

Until we know that we know that control is an illusion and our Source is greater than our limitations or abilities, we are going to entertain the charade of mastery. Freedom comes in the wake of giving up and admitting our limitations. Security comes where we know that we can’t do it and are loved anyway. Security comes in the love of a Father that not only affirms us, but He receives us despite us.

Absolutely Abba

It’s only been five months and it’s pretty surreal. The absence of my father is so permanent that the pain of the permanence is the hurt that re-visits most often. It’s also the place where the mirage of the faint and passing thoughts that I am about to see him show up. Those brief and passing moments where I forget the unforgettable give way quickly to the realization of reality.

With that said, I am not an orphan. My father on earth has gone the way of all the earth, but my Father in Heaven is increasingly prominent in my consciousness. The infinity of God co-exists with the intimacy of God and He is Father in the connection of distant to personal.

No matter what the challenge or celebration is, the need for a Dad is real for all of us. We want and need the pivotal relationship with an earthly father and where there are fractures or voids, we hurt and want. The earthly father experience, however, is a flawed and temporal expression of the perfect and eternal identity of who God is for us and through us if we will simply come home to Him.

Coming home to the Father is a daily choice made first and foremost in our will. It’s not a theological debate nor is it complicated set of rules to follow. Our return to the Father through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus is a daily submission of our will and our lives to His goodness and sovereignty. It’s our will that has to die first.

When we will submit our wants, the return on that investment is freedom. When we die to our drivers and choose to depend wholly on the One who is Holy, the fruit of His life can come through us. We can exchange our anxiety and self-consciousness for His peace and love. He loves His kids and that love is the greatest satisfier of any of the wants, fears or forecasts we entertain when we are driving.

Trust is fostered in the silence. Time spent quietly considering and connecting to God as Abba, or Father, or Daddy is an investment into the satisfaction of things that otherwise unleash my will to have its way. These brief and passing moments where I realize the Absolute give way to temporary distractions of earthly temptations and I am in need of my Abba again. Thankfully, I am not an orphan and He shows up time and time again.