Overcoming Our Overwhelming Desire for Justice

In this era of instant access, we are flooded with stories of the shortcomings of others. The mistakes and misconduct of celebrities as well as the relatively anonymous are advertised on social media as well as the main line media. The depravity of people is almost celebrated.

To consider these stories a “celebration” of the mistakes of others may seem too drastic, but is it? Haven’t we become a society similar to the era of Roman citizens gathering in the coliseum to watch the death and manipulation of others?

Through it all, we have become a society of judges. We view the news, reality shows and internet communities with a lens that filters the information so that we can form immediate opinions on who is right and who is wrong. We decide based on the fraction of information we are given access to who is “right” and who is “wrong” in a given situation. Then, with this freshly formed judgment, we engage in online debate and justification of our position with increasing conviction and pride related to our conclusion.

Underneath it all, we are allowed multiple opportunities every hour to find somebody more screwed up than us, as far as we can tell. As a result, we can rest in our own junk as justified by comparison. The judgments we pass validate our own shortcomings and, as a result, we stall out in our own growth. We settle for less than we were created to be because at least we are not as bad as “them.”

Judgment is a difficult burden and one that should not be taken lightly. The decisions we make when residing in our position as judge over the lives of others either in the media or in our personal lives have consequences. Every time we choose justice over grace, we get to apply that same standard to how we view ourselves. We live with the burden of right and wrong and good and bad and strive to perform according to our version of the law.

Once the burdens are too heavy and we realize that we really just can’t do the deal ourselves, then and only then do we find room for grace. We cry out to be relieved of the burdens of performance. When we are shown grace in a personal and transformative way, we view the problems of others with increased restraint on our judgment. If that revelation of grace occurs at all is determined by the Source of grace in the first place. His name is Jesus.

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.

Slowing Down to Live

I was starting to get a little consumed with the practice of law. There are all kinds of perceptions regarding lawyers lifestyles and work practices. What I have found is that it is challenging, rewarding and can sometimes be consuming.

We are invited into people’s problems and the weight of that kind of responsibility is real. I realized that I was carrying the weight to a degree that was affecting my own life in a slightly problematic way. Things were getting out-of-order.

Little by little, I was becoming too much “the lawyer” at the sacrifice of “the husband” or “the father.” It wasn’t drastic but my priorities and thoughts were increasingly sliding towards practicing law instead of being the man I was called to be in the rest of my life. When I got home, I was too tired and when I was there, I wasn’t fully present as I mentally recapped the previous day and prepared for the next.

One morning, almost by accident, the contrast became glaring and the solution emerged. For several reasons, there was a morning that I found myself hanging out a little longer at the house before heading to the office. I had an extra cup of coffee and sat with the kids as they began to get ready, eat breakfast and get going with their day. I enjoyed my family first instead of thinking I had to be out the door quite as fast as I normally was.

The time that it took to enjoy that extra cup of coffee at home was an incredible vehicle in re-ordering my priorities. I really enjoyed the peace and order of starting the day with the family and have started to take that time whenever possible. The physical act of staying home for the extra cup of coffee helped align my mental and emotional priorities.

Our physical disciplines and habits reflect the priorities of our character. A shift in how we spend our time and money reflects the priority we give to time and money. When either of those two resources take a top spot on our list of most important, then they knock other things from the top spot. Making first things first is sometimes as easy as a cup of coffee.

Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Our Dads Are a Bridge or a Barrier

In the weeks leading up to my father’s death, I was reminded of a previous surgery he had been through. Eighteen months prior to this most recent surgery, he had been through a similar procedure. Someone had encouraged me to “leave nothing unsaid” as we entered into that previous procedure.

As I had stood by his bed prior to surgery the first time, I considered what it was I should say and I couldn’t come up with anything. My father and I had discussions in the flow of life leading up to that point from which I knew that he knew how I felt about him. More importantly, perhaps, I knew how he felt about me.

My father had told me that he loved me and that he was proud of me with his words and actions. I had heard it from him and I had heard it through others that he had told. I also saw it in is support, presence and contribution to things I did. He proved it by being there.

  • He was my Boy Scout leader
  • He commissioned me as an Army officer
  • He wanted to see my office at various jobs I had
  • He came to court just to watch one day
  • He came to “Bold” men’s meetings I was leading
  • He came on a Quest I was facilitating
  • He was at my book signing when I rolled out my first book
  • He wanted me to come and speak to the men at his church and set up a men’s event

Really, the list goes on and on; those are just what jump out initially. I don’t have any doubts about who my father said I am. He said it and he showed it. His investment positioned me to receive the Truth.

God’s relationship with us is as Father. He wants to be “Abba” to us; not a distant or angry Judge. The realization of His identity as well as ours comes from Him but it is easier to realize when/if our dads agree.

From the affirmation that my father gave me, it was easier to know of the love that the Father has for me. From my dad being there, it’s easier to know that my Dad is always there.

Your father is either a bridge or a barrier to the Father, but the target for all of us is the same no matter if we had a good dad, bad dad or absent dad. The target is to hear from Spirit to spirit that “you’re a son.” Once you hear that, the good, bad or ugly of your earthly father has its proper context and you have your eternal perspective.

Seeking Treasure in the Trouble

We don’t always get what we want. Our prayers are not equivalent to lottery tickets. God tells us that in this world we are going to have trouble. So bad things happen to good people. Not because God is doing bad things to people, but because He loves people enough to let them make choices and there are cascading consequences in a fallen world. The hard things can be good things.

In the Social Media age, the good news and big smiles are on display as we put our virtual best foot forward. Comparison between our trouble and other people’s smiles can feed frustration in the wake of problems. If we choose to evaluate our situation, consequences, problems, trouble, God, etc. in such a shallow manner, we will miss it.

We’ll miss the treasure available in the deep dive. The good stuff is often in the middle of the hard stuff. When our efforts and desires leave us disappointed and out of options, we can tap into more. We can tap into eternity.

The happiness that comes from good things is insignificant compared to the joy that is eternally available despite bad things. The peace that we can know exceeds our understanding and affirms God’s goodness when we choose to be thankful where we would otherwise be anxious.

Whether or not 2017 was your best year ever, there is a depth that is available even as you reflect. Ask God to show Himself in circumstances where you didn’t realize Him. Ask Him to comfort your soul and connect the dots of understanding in the wake of otherwise unsatisfying experiences. Press into Him and wait; He is faithful and He is good.

There is always more in Him and the trials that we face affirm us as much as they do Him. He tells us that we can inherit eternal treasures and share in His glory if we will choose to share in his sufferings (Romans 8:17). Bad things happen, so we can either choose to invite Him into the middle of those things seeking His glory and our inheritance or we can form some bad theology around our shallow expectations.