The Pain of Sutherland Springs is Real

I have to admit that when I when I initially hear news like the news out of South Texas yesterday regarding the shooting at a church, I am numb. The scene, reality and ramifications are abstract when I begin to consider them. The hurt is hard to imagine from the distance of the circumstances.

To make it more challenging, the frequency of these stories has numbed the pain of the reality. Las Vegas was just a few weeks ago and now this. There seems to be one right after the other and it’s hard to get your head around, much less your heart.

Yesterday as I was considering the situation in South Texas, I heard that the pastor of that little church was in Oklahoma with his wife yesterday but heading home. I also read that the pastor and his wife confirmed that their 14-year old daughter was among the dead. That did it for me; the abstract was tangible and my heart broke.

I am a pastor and I have a 14-year old daughter. I wept as I considered their pain and felt the reality of this tragedy. I prayed differently as I processed the human processing of grief. Their lives will never be the same and hers was robbed.

Part of my initial distance was the distraction of gun rights advocates and anti-gun advocates posturing on social media; hijacking the need to connect to the human reality. Political reasons, blame, rallies and reactions make things a Power Point presentation for the purpose of supporting a position. The task at hand is compassion and comfort, not convincing.

In this world, there is going to be trouble. No matter what. We are in a dark world and our only hope is the Light within. That Light within does not have a political agenda, He has a people agenda. He hurts for people and we are invited to agree with Him at times where tragedy seems abstract and politics seem relevant.

The Lens of Grace (from Abundant and Free)

I was raised by an Army officer  and eventually became an Army officer myself. There are many good things about growing up or training in that environment. At the same time, there is a lens through which those so trained see people that can make life difficult. When the mission is critical, judgment of others can be, as well. There can be harsh, rigid assessment of people based on their performance and contribution to the mission.

After my time as an Army officer, I eventually went to law school, passed the bar, took the oath and for a season made a living standing in courtrooms arguing cases. As an advocate, I continually viewed people and their stories through my law knowledge filter. I applied that filter to things that led to the disposition of the question in the case as well as procedures compared to the rules of admission. If the opposing party tried to get inadmissible evidence into the record or question a witness in a way not allowed, I would object. It was part of my duty to my client.

Even though I no longer argue cases in a courtroom, I find myself sometimes thinking like an attorney. I don’t think the word “objection,” but often form a thought regarding something or someone I find “objectionable.”

In doing so, I make a case against another person in my mind. This is particularly true when I perceive the other person has a responsibility to behave a certain way.

The judgment I pronounce is a revelation of the lens through which I see people. I’ve discovered I turn that same lens on myself. I struggle to be satisfied with anything less than excellence, so I struggle to be satisfied. I compare my behaviors, performance, accomplishments and the evidence of my success to an external standard and make a case against myself.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 12:2).

The judgment I form against others is the standard for the judgment I form against myself. Where I compare them to expectations, I hold myself to those same expectations. Where I give grace, I am able to receive grace. I see people through a lens, and like it or not, that lens is the same for me.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17)

Because of Jesus, we have a choice: We can labor under the yoke of the law or we can submit to the reins of the truth. Jesus replaced the law with the truth, because the law is a subsection of the truth. The truth is the broader reality. We no longer need the law because Jesus is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Grace is the lens through which we are invited to view the truth. We either see through Moses or through Jesus; therefore, we see ourselves either as guilty or forgiven and will see others as we see ourselves. If you want to know what you think of yourself, consider how you think of others.

From Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace, now available on Amazon.com. 

Honor Makes a Way for Solutions to Disagreements

Last night, the Dallas Cowboys stood together. More accurately, they knelt together. They knelt together in a sign of protest against racism in the United States, and they did it before the National Anthem. As a reminder, that is what all the kneeling was about in the first place, although it has been largely forgotten in the politics and opinions.

In case you didn’t see it or hear about it they came out as a team, joined arms and knelt. Then they stood up. They knelt before the National Anthem ever began and they stood up during the national anthem.

All along, the objection to the protest has been that protestors should stand and respect the flag. Last night, they did. Yet, in an overnight poll in the Dallas Morning News, the initial opinions offered were that 54% of respondents felt “Cowboys should not have knelt at all.” This was a Dallas newspaper, mind you, so this is a biased sampling presumably in favor of what the Cowboys do. I don’t know what the sampling size was, but that result is disheartening.

This poll showed that for some, it was never about the flag in the first place. It was about being right. For some, they aren’t patriotic as much as they are just prejudiced. When you don’t want somebody that is different from you to say anything about their perception or experience based in those differences, you are protecting the status quo, not the traditions surrounding the flag.

We tend to like what we like and want what we want and will often find justifications to protect our preferences. Our preferences are rooted in our perspective and our perspective is limited to our experiences. Those experiences, in this nation, are vastly different. Experiences surrounding race and racism cannot be the same where the there are differences in race. It’s just not possible.

The opportunity going forward is honor. I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan for the past four decades, but my admiration of their collective voice last night isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about honor. They were able to show honor towards the flag while also projecting the voice of the perspective that was calling out. They were able to agree about disagreements that they had not all experienced. That’s what the flag stands for, in part; the freedom to be heard in an honorable way.

When 54% say there should be no disagreement at all, there is going to be disagreement. If and when the majority can agree that the experience of the minority is different from their own, then there can be solutions. Honor makes a way for solutions to disagreements.

Smelled like . . . Victory

In some ways, I felt like I was visiting an old friend yesterday. I was invited to speak at local organization whose mission is to reach “the drug addict, the alcoholic, the criminally-minded, and the reject of society.” It had been a while since I got to meet and minister to men that were in these kinds of circumstances and, in many ways, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Want to find authentic? Engage people who don’t have any need to fake it any longer. They don’t pretend to be “blessed and highly favored” when they show up at church. They are desperate for God to be real in their lives and in their circumstances. They have played out the alternatives and experienced the consequences and are done. Something has to change.

I loved sharing with and receiving from these men. I taught and gave away a few books, but what I got back was better. The life that rose up from within exceeded anything that I offered.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

So, according to Jesus, I was invited to meet with Him yesterday. I got to interact with Jesus and He looked like hungry, thirsty recovering addicts and convicts in need of hope and transformation.

I am a professional Christian. I am a pastor and elder at a local church and am the Executive Director at a ministry. That means that I have responsibilities which include everything from speaking to spreadsheets and strategy. The business of ministry is necessary to sustain the viability of ministry. While I am thankful for what I am called to, it can also present problems and pressures like every other thing we call “work.”

It’s the interaction with the people where Jesus tells us He is residing that is pure in offering the breath of life. The benefit to the minister matches the offering to the hungry. I left full of life and love and reminded of why I do what I do. It’s not for the budgets and programs, but for the hope in the promises.

Jesus changes everything and if we’ll serve Him in places where He tells us to find Him, we’ll bring a benefit to the seekers we find there. We’ll get a glimpse of Who we seek in the middle of that service and we’ll be better from what we give away.

The Benefit of Authority

You know what we all need? A boss. We need somebody to be the authority in our lives. We don’t always want one, but we always need one. I’ve consistently seen the value to oversight and the danger in being left exposed without a covering. Left unchecked, practically all of us will start to divert off course sooner or later.

The value of a boss is that legitimate authority makes a way for us. Submission provides a benefit to the one that is submitted. Where we will come under authority, we have the opportunity to be elevated beyond where we could go without that covering.

The framework of order ordained by God is authority, submission and honor. Without all three, the other two don’t get a chance. In other words, without authority, there is no framework for honor. The framework accommodates purpose that extends beyond our limitations. The framework provides a multiplier to our gifts and abilities that can propel us beyond our ourselves.

Most of us have some bad boss experiences so we wince at the idea that a boss is a good idea. We think we would rather go it alone. If we could just do what we know is right without the hassle of the reports, reprimands, disagreements or other opinions that differ from ours, then we could really get it done. The problem is that left completely without authority, the things that we began with good intentions become distorted by our lack of perspective.

In a corporate setting, authority takes care of itself. In an entrepreneurial or volunteer situation, you may have to be intentional about submitting yourself. Submission doesn’t have to be formal, but it does have to be weight-bearing. To get beyond yourself, you have to welcome the oversight, correction and influence of another. It can be a mentor, assuming you are truly submitted, but that mentor or other influence must be dedicated to your good to the extent that they are not afraid to call out your bad.

Submission is a benefit where there is righteous rule and it is even beneficial where there is unrighteous rule. Where there is righteous rule, authority makes a way for the one that is submitted. Where there is unrighteous rule, authority shapes the character of the one that is submitted. While either can be for just a season, both can propel us on to bigger and better things than we could or would accomplish on our own without the benefit of the framework.

 

 

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.