Take the Fight to the Bullies

One of my first felony clients had been bullied in school and he finally retaliated. His reaction got him charged by the school resource officer and his parents filed counter-charges against the instigator prior to my involvement. The net result was that I was going to court against a prosecutor and a 30 year criminal defense attorney retained to represent the bully.

Remember, this was one of my first cases of this magnitude and I was still learning. Then, we came out swinging. I believe the prosecutor and seasoned attorney were shocked at the defense that we put on that day. Things went well for us.

The key to any success in that case and in most cases isn’t too magical. I was simply better prepared. The prosecutor had hundreds of cases, the older attorney of greater experience had more difficult cases. For me, this was one of a few and it was the biggest one I had. I had poured into the preparation of a defense. I was more ready than they were.

You can’t wait until you get to the trial to get ready. Preparedness comes morning by morning (Isaiah 50:4). Once the bullets start flying, it’s too late to fumble around in the confusion and try to get your armor on. Get suited up in the quiet before the storm and you never know when the storm is coming; but it always is.

First and foremost, day by day, seek the Truth. Within the Truth is the reality of your identity. When you work from the security of who you are, you stare down giants. Not out of arrogance that is puffed up to hide the insecurity of doubt, but in the confidence that God’s favor is given to His kids.

From the Truth and the security of who you are by His design, you will be unleashed into the passions of your life. You will increasingly be released to run like the thoroughbred you are intended to be.

I was anxious as I headed into court; not out of fear, but anticipation. I believed in what I was doing that day and knew that I was called to do it. I was walking in the purpose of my identity and two other lawyers were doing a job. They were better trial attorneys than me based on experience and maybe even ability. But the favor that comes through agreement with God’s plans and purposes overtakes and overcomes the hurdles that otherwise might prevail.

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 Slow Drift of Entitlement

We will absolutely lie to ourselves, but not on purpose. We don’t set out to get off course; it’s a slow drift and the slow drift is certain unless there are navigational safeguards in place to stay the course.

We will practically always operate in ways that are in our best interests. Therefore, with no intentional safeguards, those interests will become our compass over time. Nothing wrong with that other than it is, by definition, selfish. Selfishness breeds entitlement. This is particularly problematic if/when we lead others.

Legitimate leadership is sacrificial. That is, unless you are leading for the benefit of those that are choosing to submit, then you are a positional leader, at best. Positional leaders have no lasting legacy as they inspire no depth of dedication. Others will follow only for as long as it is in their best interests (e.g. a paycheck, an opportunity), but they will not multiply the vision of the leader. They will not perpetuate the purpose of the cause.

Entitled leaders are making choices in their own best interests even when they are believing it’s in the best interests of the organization. They increasing isolate themselves from meaningful counsel and collaboration that might challenge the underlying selfishness of their motives and it’s all very gradual and typically subconscious.

Entitlement can be defeated and selfless, sacrificial leadership can be fostered but only on purpose. If the leader will intentionally choose to battle the drift, others will give their time and treasures to the efforts of the leader driven by the purity of the call.

Two techniques to defeat entitlement are continuous improvement and collaboration. They may not be the only two, but these two are powerful in defeating the drift.

  • Continuous Improvement – I have a friend who has a doctorate in leadership. He describes himself, even on this side of his PhD as  “a student of leadership.” His point is that anyone who is not continuously learning leadership is no longer legitimately leading. Learning is admission of incompletion; and that’s good. There is no finish line to the art of leadership and the humility that comes with that realization positions the soul to serve others and be open to collaboration.
  • Collaboration – Even gifted leaders have the gifts of a single leader. In other words, we are all contained by our uniqueness; there are others that are unique in different ways. The collaboration of gifts multiples the value and impact of the gifts within us. When we are willing to submit ourselves, even from a position of authority, the power of our influence is exponentially multiplied.

Be intentional as you lead your business, your community organization, your family, your small group or whatever other opportunities you have to impact and multiply. Always be improving; thus posturing your ego in such a way that collaboration invites the multiplying effect of collaboration.

Seeing Past the Labels

We are more complex than the labels we depend on to try to quantify our qualities. We call ourselves things and we call other people things in an effort to package and control the human variable. Most of the time, we look at the obvious and immediate at the expense of the hidden and eternal.

When I was practicing criminal defense law, I would not have been an effective advocate if I had decided to label each client with the crime they were accused of. Even if the labels were attached following a conviction or confession, I would be missing the opportunity to see the person and agree with their design. They weren’t designed to be a criminal; their intention was hijacked somewhere along the way.

Seeing the person afforded the opportunity to speak about the person in agreement with who they are; not based on what they had done. That was true of the accused and it is true of the less obvious accusations more common to day-to-day  life. There are people every day who, on the surface, are “wrong” in various forms. Yet, even if accurate assessments of justice, grace calls us to look beyond the flaws and into the design.

There is a character in Scripture that we have labeled as “doubting Thomas.” When Jesus was resurrected, Thomas says he won’t believe the resurrection of Jesus unless he is able to touch the wounds of the resurrected body of Jesus. So Jesus presents Himself in John 20 and meets Thomas right where his lack of had him stalled. That’s grace.

Interestingly, in John 11 the same man operated with a different label. He was traveling with Jesus as they heard of the death of Lazarus and Jesus decided to go to where Lazarus was. It was pointed out that this was the same place where people had tried to stone Jesus and would likely try again. This was dangerous and anyone with Jesus could lose their life, too.

The reaction of Thomas, however, was different from the label he gets in chapter 20. Thomas says, “let’s go with Him, so we can die, too.”

Maybe figuring Thomas out isn’t so easy. Is he doubting or courageous? Yes. Depends on the day; just like it does for any of us.

There are things we do that we are working out. Sometimes we are doubting and sometimes we are courageous. Neither necessarily affords us a title; both reflect the working out of our identity through a soul that wrestles with the eternal nature of God’s Spirit. Both require grace.

Our Differences Are the Opportunities We Have to Connect

A friend asked me a while back if I considered myself a patriot. The question caused to me pause and consider my answer. I’ve served in the military and was more than willing to fight on behalf of the nation, although that call never came. I suppose that’s patriotic. My answer to him, however, was “no.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am appropriately submitted and loyal to my country. My ultimate allegiance, however, is to a Kingdom more than it is a country. I am aligned with Kingdom of God more than I am any manmade institutions, no matter how valid. I am more zealous for the Word of God than I am for the Constitution of man. All while being a loyal citizen under the governments He has placed in authority.

Last week, I had the privilege of serving some men in the United Kingdom. I got to walk them as they walked towards God. It was a magnificent week of encounter and freedom despite some cultural differences. At one point, those cultural differences were called out by one of the men. He confessed a bias against some stereotypes we, as Americans, carry. He did so to repent and connect, not to accuse.

The typical demeanor in the U.K. is different from it is from the U.S. The same can be said of Texas and any particular state in the Northeast United States, I suppose. In fact, we can find cultural differences between families living across the street if we choose. Then what? Stand on our preferences or find a place to agree?

Even in allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom, do we use that as a dividing line or compass to point us towards relationship? We are invited to invite and the invitations we extend must come with permission to be rejected. That means we get to value others no matter whether they agree with us or not.

I really enjoyed my time in the U.K. and look forward to going back. I look forward to seeing my new friends again and I eagerly anticipate new friends there, as well. There will be differences that we will laugh about because our allegiance isn’t primarily to our cultural differences, but it’s to the Truth. The Truth of God’s design within us that calls for reconciliation and connection, no matter what side of the pond or other distinguishing characteristics we hurdle to get to that place.

Freedom is a Process

I was watching an old television show recently in which the bad guy got off on a technicality. He had committed a crime, but the police circumvented the legal process in the accumulation of evidence and the bad guy was set free to do more bad things.

In the practice of criminal law, the question usually isn’t whether they did it or not; it’s whether or not there is evidence to prove it. To some, this can be frustrating as the obvious guilt of an individual calls out for justice. Technicalities, procedure and process seem like a distraction from the point. In fact, respect for liberty requires the process. This is the design of our legal system.

Freedom requires a process. We can’t enjoy the fullness of freedom unless we are willing to go through the process. The uncovering of bondage, hurt and hang-ups is necessary for the realization of freedom, healing and release. This is God’s design.

To get to greater realizations of God’s love, grace and fellowship, we sometimes have to examine the void. We have to look into the areas of our lives where He is not manifest. In those inspections, we will find the opportunities for new glory.

This can be frustrating. Why would a mature follower of Jesus still have to examine their soul? Why would deacons, elders, pastors and other leaders need to go back to square one from time to time? To respect the process; that’s why.

The process is one of exchange. Redemption requires possession and the things that we want to change must be realized to be possessed. Once they are acknowledged and owned, they can be turned in for what is better.

We are all invited into new glory and the new glory is from an infinite Source. There is no end to the goodness and glory of God, so there is no end to the process for us. None of us are exempted from God’s goodness so none of us are afforded the disservice of opting out of the process. The process is the way to realize the freedom.

Order facilitates freedom and freedom facilitates glory. Consider where you are in the process today and ask God if there is more glory that He wants to unleash in your life. As He reveals things that He wants to make new, go there. Embrace the process.