You Absolutely Can Go to Jail

When I was practicing law, I would routinely meet new criminal defense clients for the first time and they would tell me about the situation they were in. With alarming regularity, somewhere in their account of the situation, some of them would inform me something like “I can’t go to jail for this.”

I would stop what we were doing and interrupt by telling them, “You absolutely can go to jail.” Obviously, I was trying to keep them out of jail but there is nothing worse than standing next to a client that is surprised by the reality of the deputy putting handcuffs on them. Even if they don’t go to jail, feeling the weight of the potential consequences is beneficial to them long-term to avoid the situations that caused them to have to come to court in the first place.

Consequences cause us to have to consider the actions that bought the result. Ideally, we learn from the consequences to avoid bigger mistakes and greater consequences. Consequences are our friend as they suggest we consider our will. Why did we do the thing that causes us the discomfort of the consequence? What should we do differently?

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT)

The love of God is particularly attractive compared to the consequences of our rebellion. It’s His kindness that calls to us for us to change our mind and turn away from the choices we make apart from Him. Kindness is only kind by contrast. If there are no consequences and everything is a soft landing, then kindness isn’t that big of a deal, is it?

Jesus invites us into His Kingdom; into His holiness. He is in the redemption business. He wants to exchange the depravity within us and replace it with His glory. He loves us and knew we had issues when He decided to die for us. He isn’t intimidated nor impressed by our sin.

The consequences we face aren’t from the anger of God; they are more like gravity. When we choose to walk outside of the way that He has made for us, we are open to the results of our rebellion. We aren’t very good at being our own small “g” gods, so when we try, there are problems. The big “G” God waits patiently in His kindness for us to come home from our prodigal ways to enjoy the benefits of the relationship He intends for us with Him.

The Glory of Shutting Up

Somewhere along the way, we have largely embraced a cultural value and belief that we need to be heard. We need to have a voice to proclaim our perspective. We need to be afforded a seat at the table to weigh in on whatever subject we deem ourselves interested and opinionated.

It’s not true. We don’t need to be heard. Often times, it’s actually to our advantage to not be heard. The position of no position is peaceful compared to the contentious places of preference.

In Matthew 16, Jesus begins to teach His guys this lesson. He begins to teach them the Kingdom. Verse 21 says that Jesus “began to show” His disciples that He “must” suffer, be killed and be raised.

Peter actually starts to argue with Him. Peter needed to be heard, with what most of us would have concluded to be a noble position, but we would see in the reaction of Jesus that it was anything but noble. Peter said that he wouldn’t allow Jesus to suffer and be killed and Jesus shut him down; actually called him Satan.

Jesus tells Peter that his perspective is wrong; he’s looking at things from man’s perspective, not God’s perspective. Jesus goes on to say that to follow Him, we must deny ourselves, which actually means to forget about ourselves. It means to not focus on us or the opinions we foster within us. Those opinions don’t need to be heard.

We are invited to die to the preferences of our soul (vs. 25-26) just like Jesus was. We get to not have an opinion. We get to enjoy the benefits of sacrifice, if we will reject the apparent satisfaction of being heard or considered or preferred. If we’ll allow ourselves to lose, we will win.

Glory comes on the other side of crucifixion. Where we willingly allow ourselves not to matter and deny our desire to advance the preferences of our soul, the glory of God can come through us. Where we will sacrifice our mind, will and emotions, His Spirit will be put on display through us.

Jesus didn’t come to provide a history lesson or abstract idea; He came to unleash His Kingdom and His plan for multiplication of that Kingdom is us. We are invited to follow Him in His ways; the ways of His Kingdom. Not our ways and our need to be heard. His ways are better, but they come at the cost of our preferences.

Recent Attempts at an Ancient Way for Church

The burdens that we accept are made more clear when we finally get free from them. Looking back, the extra stuff which was piled on is exposed for its worthlessness. All that should be left as we walk out faith which is increasingly easy and light should be the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

We do church in a coffee shop and in no way do I think that we have it figured out and others have it wrong. In its simplicity, there have been some revelations of an ancient and easy way that may have been lost by way of best efforts, however. Without programs, promotions or professionals to administer them we are left considering the body and how people interact with each other as well as with the Head of the Church, Jesus.

We recently added to staff, which means we’ve added a part-time pastor. We only have part-time “pastors” and no particular guy who is “in charge.” There are elders who equally seek to agree on direction and facilitation of vision as the church fulfills its unique place and calling in the context of the Church overall in the Kingdom of God.

The implications of this model are numerous, starting with the idea that a “pastor” may or may not be pastoral. The “five-fold” ministry of eldership relies on the diversity of gifts to equip others to do ministry with Jesus left in His place as the Head of the church. That means that pastoral care and counseling might come to others via a dentist or other form of vocational professional who is gifted as a pastor. It also means that those that are compensated for their contributions to the church (again, on a part-time “bi-vocational” basis) are free to operate in their particular gifting and not try to be everything to everybody.

Recently, our new pastor (who actually is pastoral as well as evangelical) said to me, “I like coming here; it’s not like I’m coming to work and I look forward to the gathering.”

That’s it; it was never meant to be career management, but gifts and talents released in agreement with an eternal plan. Professional programming and metrics management isn’t part of the equation. The invitation of fitting uniquely in a group where your gifts are valued and released in unison with others frees up the “professional” to freely give without carrying a weight that isn’t designed for them to carry. It’s easy and light and should be enjoyable and maybe even some fun.

Graceful Absolutes

From time to time, I’ll have someone tell me that they agree with aspects of Christianity. They value Jesus in some ways, but not others, and they agree with aspects of philosophies or religions that aren’t aligned with Him. They lean into a “universal” approach to God where all’s well that ends well and, in their estimation, it ultimately ends well for anyone that tries. Or something like that.

I typically will pseudo-congratulate those people for creating their own religion. They have walked through a buffet line of ideas and picked their way to a meal they prefer, but they are likely the first in the history of ever to pick that unique combination. I’ll often encourage them that they are now the prophet of the religion of “me.” I do so without any condemnation or rejection, just the logic that goes with the reasoning they have used to avoid absolutes.

We are currently in an era that wants to reject absolutes. The idea of absolute Truth where someone can be wrong has increasingly become offensive. The Gospel of grace is, in fact, offensive by its very nature and it is founded on absolutes. With no absolutes, there is no need for grace.

The challenge for those of us that embrace the absoluteness of Jesus and His invitation into an eternal Kingdom,  is to handle the absolutes with the grace they empower. If/when we wield them like weapons of judgment and condemnation, game over. That conversation will go no further. If and when we can find the sweet spot of grace in the middle of Truth, we may just be able to connect people to eternity. We may get to be included in God’s heart for them and us.

Forcing absolutes is likely going to be manipulative and maybe even abusive. Holding them gently and receiving people gracefully is inviting. The invitation holds the promise everyone is ultimately looking for; to be connected to the love of the Father. His love is absolute, and the connection is available. How we receive that perfect love for ourselves will often be reflected in how we offer it to others.

The disagreements related to behaviors are growing so don’t accept those as your premise. The love of the Father through the grace of Jesus Christ is what drew you in to start with and it’s what “they” want, too. Or not; and if they don’t, the argument becomes moot, anyway.

Competition for Credit vs. Collaboration for Kingdom

It hasn’t even happened yet and credit is being debated. There is apparently the potential for peace on the Korean peninsula for the first time in years and the jockeying for recognition might even jeopardize the resolution. Politicians, pundits and pro athletes (Dennis Rodman) have been in the mix as personalities play out publicly.

This is the norm in politics and unfortunately it’s become the norm among faith-based and church circles, as well. It’s become a competition for attendance, giving, recognition and followers. It’s a platform producing endeavor as much or more than it’s a disciple making endeavor. There’s no difference between us and them; just a different target audience.

I’ve enjoyed a unique journey to this point in life in which I find myself engaged in full-time, vocational ministry. I was a corporate middle-manager, a business owner and a practicing attorney prior to being a pastor. I actually did compete for market share, revenues and profits as a legitimate measure of business viability. There were times when it was reasonably lucrative and there were times when it was catastrophically not. Be careful what you wish for; competition has a variety of outcomes.

There is no competition in the Kingdom of God. Only one Person gets the credit and honor for success in the endeavors that are truly of His Kingdom. His glory is not to be manipulated, leveraged or hijacked to afford personal gain for any that seek to advance His purposes.

The opportunities that will exist to agree with God in the advancement of His Kingdom in the coming years will be conditioned by the requirement of collaboration. Those that will agree to agree will be conduits of His life, light, breath and glory. Because they can share and trust, they can be trusted to share.

Others will continue to exist outside of the Church even if they call themselves a church. They will build their kingdoms and perfect their marketing and the show will go on but the smoke will eventually fade. Ministries and churches that choose to go it alone will may grow, but they won’t be alive.

Promotions in business and retainers in law came as a result of marketing, ability, relationships and persistence. Promotions in the Kingdom come purely by grace and favor. Grace and favor are given where there is humility and submission. Humility and submission are evidence of security and trust. Where we are truly trusting God, we will truly trust each other. Where we can do that, He can trust us and we’ll get to be a part of the Kingdom without settling for the cheap substitute of an inferior attempt at our well-meaning own kingdom.

You Can Know the Answers to the Mysteries

We are not invited to be good. We are not invited just to read, meet, sing and give. There is more. We are invited into more.

The depth of what is available to us by faith in Jesus is the difference between maintaining religion and living in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus died for the sins of man, He did so on  the heels of preaching of the Kingdom of God. The promise He brought was for eternity and eternity starts immediately. There is no waiting period between the time when you meet Jesus and the realization of His Kingdom.

Jesus was asked in Matthew 13 why He taught in parables. Why not just be crystal clear and make it easy for people? Why the riddles? Jesus responded in verse 11, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

When you are born again as a believer in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are invited into the mystery. Beyond the obvious and into the depth of knowing that exceeds knowledge. He will show you the “why” behind the “what.” He will give you new eyes to see things eternally, even now.

Unfortunately, most believers don’t look. The appetite to see more and to know the mysteries of the Kingdom are relegated to the super spiritual or the professional clergy. Jesus clarifies in the next verse that it is for “whoever” and He was speaking to tax collectors and fisherman. Not special people based on societies standards and not unique based on religious qualifications.

We are going to face trouble in the world, that is certain. What is left for us to decide is whether or not we want to face those troubles as confused and defeated orphans or empowered and enlightened royalty by adoption?

As you walk in your purpose today and as you encounter people and circumstances that require consideration, ask for eyes to see the mystery of the Kingdom of God in those situations. Ask for eyes to see so that you can agree with eternity in the middle of the temporal challenge. Go deeper; choose to live in the truth of Jesus’ promise. Be a mystery solver.