Every Offense Doesn’t Require a Verdict

When I was practicing criminal defense law, the contention of the adversarial system would wear on me. I would have to take a break and get away from time to time to clear my lens. My lens would get cloudy from a residue of accusation, explanation, lies born of self-preservation, consequences and other aspects of the situation. I would get a bit jaded in my view of humanity and I wasn’t the only one. The criminal law bar generally could be a bit cynical and sarcastic with salty language and vices to lube the friction.

All too often, I have chosen to play the part of judge, prosecutor of defense attorney where there is no court of law. In life’s everyday interactions, there are disappointments and disagreements that draw a reaction which is born out of an illusion. The illusion comes when we think we need to get to a verdict regarding right or wrong. Where the verdict is “wrong,” and it often is based on our flawed human condition, we think there needs to be an assessment of blame. But there doesn’t.

There is no freedom in the assessment of justice. Freedom is grace based. It has to be, or the busyness of blame will overcome any of the potential peace of freedom.

Freedom starts and ends with identity. When we realize who we are and why, we are at ground zero of peace. That identity is not earned and doesn’t have to be defended. We don’t have to prove anything because we didn’t do anything in the first place. Jesus died to make us righteous by His sacrifice. Where we are willing to agree with Him, we enjoy the benefit of His victory.

When our identity is based in His perfection and sacrifice, we can stop. We can stop defending ourselves and we can stop prosecuting others to elevate ourselves by comparison. Every mistake does not require a verdict. Every shortcoming doesn’t call for an explanation. Every flaw doesn’t need assignment of a cause.

I don’t have marriage perfected, but I have seen that when I can avoid the traps of judgment, prosecution or defense, the grace that breathes in the void gives us life. It’s not easy because it is often only given room in the wake of a decision to die to myself. I turn fifty in a few months and I’m starting to see it more clearly than ever. Less is more.

Today things are going to happen. Grocery clerks, co-workers, kids and others are going to mess up. So are you. It’s OK. Those mistakes don’t demand a verdict. Rest in the peace of grace. Rest in Jesus.

 

 

Walking Out Is Permissible, but Not Beneficial

Some students at Notre Dame exercised their First Amendment rights and walked out of their commencement ceremony a few days ago when the Vice President of the United States began his speech. While I certainly would (and have) defend their Constitutional right to leave in protest, I challenge their judgement in choosing to do so. For any courage they may have displayed, their lack of honor and maturity was that much more glaring.

These young people, while accomplished in the sense that they have earned degrees from such a fine institution as Notre Dame, haven’t really done much of anything yet. Their lives are just getting started and they have much to learn as they endeavor to accomplish things they have only dreamed of. By contrast, Vice President Pence has graduated from undergrad and law school in addition to serving as a U.S. Congressman and the Governor of Indiana prior to his election as Vice President.

They presumably walked out over disagreements with his policies. He is a staunch conservative who undoubtedly offends their beliefs. Now that they are out of school, they can do something about it. They can organize, write, volunteer or run for office, among other things. They can enter the conversation with greater focus and commitment now that they aren’t distracted by their studies. They can get in the game, but the game requires that you stay in the room. Not walk out.

The idea of ideas requires dialogue. Those young people don’t have things figured out solely from their own perspective any more than Mike Pence does. To sharpen, refine, develop and deploy their fledgling beliefs, they have to stay in the room. They have to hear the other guy(s) out if they want to actually be heard. It goes both ways. There may even be things that he, or others that they disagree with, say that they learn and/or grow from. If they stay in the room for long enough, they may get to share something that challenges or develops the belief of their antagonists, whoever they turn out to be.

Honor is not solely a reflection of the other person; it’s a reflection of the character of the one that is offering it. You give honor because your have honor to give, not just because they earned it. Honor given where there is disagreement isn’t agreement, it’s a reflection of the maturity of your character. It’s evidence of the humility required to serve and credibility required to be heard. Honor stays in the room.

Faith, Hope and Love Packaged to Be Delivered

I am going to speak at in another town this weekend and my friend that is hosting me sent me an article about the recent suicide of a local 14-year old. He tells me that there has been an epidemic of teens choosing this route of hopelessness and the local medical examiner has expressed helplessness.

The world around us is in desperate need of hope. Even when the end result isn’t as catastrophic as teenage suicide, the opt out for many is from a lack of hope. People opt out of families, faith and community as they find no meaning or purpose. They have no context of why to fuel the what of their lives. With time, the despair outpaces the dreams.

The church is not immune to this limiting perspective as programs and ceremonies don’t fuel and fill the believer. Belief is tended by action and connection. Belief won’t breathe in a vacuum. The church is intended to be a living breathing organism where the body functions in a way that supports the rest of the body. Then, the whole and healthy body is in motion to impact and change the world around it.

The impact and change isn’t by political victory or moral declaration; it’s by love and service. With love and service, people can see grace and hope.

  • The Father is love; it’s Who He is and it’s what He does. As His kids, we mimic the heart of the Father. From that representation, we are able to carry the nature of the Son; grace and hope.
  • Jesus comes to reach out with grace, not waiting on the perfection of people to decide whether or not they are included. He met me (and you) where I was; we are commissioned to do the same.
  • Holy Spirit breathes life into the Body; giving comfort and insight to encourage and direct. Holy Spirit is wind; subtle yet certain. We get to agree with Holy Spirit as we live a life on mission, seeking His direction and needing His comfort as we agree with Him into places of discomfort.

God is Spirit and invisible and His Spirit is within the visible us. We are the delivery mechanism. The supernatural is expressed naturally. We carry the love, hope, grace, comfort and invitation of the Lord with a heart to serve others to show them the otherwise invisible, theoretical idea of God. He is real and He is here; in you and in me. Show Him and share Him with somebody today. They need the glimpse, and so do you.

Reading the Writing of Law and Grace

If you look close enough at any of us, there is evidence against us. We’ve all done stuff that’s contrary to the intention of our design. If we were under the pressure of the burden of keeping the law, we could all be dragged out into the public square for persecution.

That’s what happened when Jesus was presented with a lady who had been caught in the act of adultery. There was compelling, albeit awkward, evidence of her guilt. The people who accused her brought her to Jesus to give Him a chance to defend her. It was a losing case, for Him, they figured as the law was clear and the evidence was sufficient.

When I was practicing law, I defended people who had broken a law all of the time. People, mostly Christian people, asked me (still do, sometimes) how I could morally support the decision to be an advocate for the immoral. It’s easy. Jesus is our advocate and we did “it” in some form or fashion. The case is airtight against us, but He doesn’t turn from us.

In this case where the woman was caught in adultery, His method of defending her was peculiar. He stooped down and wrote in the dirt. Then, He stooped down and wrote in the dirt a second time. In the middle of His stooping and writing, He allowed for anyone that was without sin to begin the punishment of stoning by throwing the first rock. Nobody could, and the old men slipped away first because they had sinned the most.

Jesus wrote in the dirt as a primary tactic in His defense of the woman. While it seems strange, it was actually necessary in the fulfillment of Jesus’ purpose. God had written in the earth with His finger previously and here He was doing it, again. The first time was when He wrote the Ten Commandments. He actually wrote them twice as Moses broke the first set. Now, here He is writing in the earth again. Twice, just like the first time.

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 like the old men couldn’t. Our perspectives of God and people, starting with ourselves, are reflected what we are writing. We are either writing law or grace and we are only able to write what we receive, first. Realizing that we are not unlike the women allows us to receive grace and it allowed me to defend other people who did “it,” too, just like I have.

Easter Is Freedom and Life

It’s Easter weekend and churches everywhere are scurrying around to make things just right for the big crowds. Pastors prepare sermons meant to captivate the casual attendee with the hopes of an eternal impact. People show up this one weekend in an effort to check the box to be right with God somehow. The formula of Easter, however, can’t match or meet the fullness of Jesus.

Jesus started talking about Easter early on in His ministry and for the first time in John 3, when He said, “And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”

He referenced a story from Numbers 21 where Moses was instructed by God to build a model of a snake on a pole because people were dying from their rebellion. God gave them life if and when they were able to lift their eyes off of their circumstances and look at the snake on the pole. Jesus would bring eternal life in a similar way; He would hang on a pole (a Cross) and if people would look to Him, they would have eternal life.

The snake on the pole, is what Moses brings and that is the law. Jesus, however fulfills the law for us with grace and truth. (John 1:17)

Many of us continue to operate out of the law even if we say we believe in Jesus. We think if we do the right things, we’ll get the right results and find the right favor. Our good intentions leave us staring at a snake on a pole instead of receiving the resurrection of Jesus to fulfill the law within us.

Easter is about the risen Christ who went to the Cross to pay the price of our rebellion. If we’ll receive the sacrifice of His offering, we won’t have to perform compared to the rules anymore. We get to receive His abundant life within us to be put on display through us. It will cost us everything, but it’s better than staring at a snake on a stick.

No Need to Mediate the Acceptance of a Promise

mediationA few months ago, I completed training to become a mediator. Mediation is the practice of conflict resolution. Mediators draw each party in a conflict or impasse to a common ground of agreement where possible. They don’t negate the conflict, they find a solution for it which both parties can agree on.

Galatians 3 says that we, as people, needed a mediator when we were under the law of Moses. When that law was given, it was through angels to Moses as a mediator between God and man. There was a conflict that needed resolution. The conflict was between a Holy God and a rebellious people. To re-connect and agree there needed to be go-between.

By contrast, through Jesus, we are heirs to the promise of Abraham. The blessing of Abraham available to us through Jesus is not mediated, but given directly. There is no mediator, because there is no conflict. The law of Moses had to be negotiated to reach agreement and those negotiations were ongoing and dependent on compliance. The promise of Abraham simply has to be received through Jesus.

Any time we start conditioning our receipt, we move from the promise to the conflict. When we think we can do better, we actually reject a free gift and enter into negotiations for a lesser possibility.

Jesus died for our sin and that requires no counter-offer. There is nothing we can do to put ourselves in a better position to be better. It’s only Him and His sacrifice that affords us the receipt of the benefits. Grace is dependent on receipt without conditions, otherwise it isn’t grace but conflict. When we add conditions to our performance and behavior, we reject grace.

Grace is available to us not only for restoration to God for salvation and eternity, but also for the purposes we have in living here and now. We are invited into His purposes in this life and the only way to accept that invitation is as a gift. If we begin to negotiate by attempting to show Him how capable we are in the carrying out of His business, we reject the gift and make it a job interview. That’s a negotiation that requires a mediator as conflict arises between His righteousness and our attempts and self-righteousness. If we are good enough, then it isn’t His business anymore.

We are accepted by a promise, not a law. God promised and He delivered on that promise through Jesus. The law was a place holder in between the promise and the Delivery. Don’t go back and negotiate things that are already resolved. Just enjoy the benefits of the relationship.