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.

 

 

Giving Up to Gain and Gaining Abundantly

A friend of mine is a missionary in Guatemala for the past twenty years. He has been instrumental in the development and transformation of a remote area that otherwise would remain primitive. With multiple projects going at any given time including assisting with medical, educational, hygiene and other basic needs, he has helped the locals start a viable chile/salsa business. They export their product as a source of income as well as purpose.

He and I were talking recently and his conviction is that there is nothing of any significance in Guatemala or anywhere else that he has ever been able to accomplish. The conditions and challenges they have been presented with leave him completely dependent on God. The more they are called to, the greater the challenge and the greater the challenge, the smaller he gets. He has discovered with great certainty that God’s favor comes where it is the only hope for success, if not survival.

The more that he gives way, the more clearly the way that is made becomes visible. Striving, worrying or controlling produce nothing but frustration while prayer, release and faith allow for multiplication. Their conditions demand respect of the harshness of an environment that is literally life threatening and the life that is given as a result is deep and rich, even when difficult.

If everything in our lives is under control and manageable, we likely are missing the potential and capacity for life to the fullest. Jesus came to restore everything that was lost with the promise of abundant life (John 10:10). The abundance of life is in the depth of dependence. Where we will allow, He will multiply within us and transform our capacity to recognize, appreciate and further depend on Him for multiplication around us.

The Kingdom of God contains the greatest adventures life has to offer. Vacations, excursions, expeditions or other attempts to simulate the adventures of a life given over to the King pale in significance to the depth that is available in Him. There is nothing mundane, domestic, religious or safe about heaven colliding with earth. If your taste or perception of Christianity lacks the flavor of the Kingdom, the possibility is that you’ve accepted an incomplete or inaccurate version of the Gospel.

Where you are willing to risk the benefits of control for the depth of living, the exchange will be intimidating, exciting, fun and terrifying all at the same time. Where you will give up, He will increase in every way; starting within.

 

Broken Bread Today Feeds Us Tomorrow

We can sit where we are or accept the invitation into more that comes at the cost of the comfort we enjoy in the predictability of the present. Where we will step into the discomfort of the new, we will have to rely on Him for comfort as well as faithfulness in the most recent expressions of our developing faith. In other words, when He puts in a position to depend on Him, we get to choose. The idea of new and dependence can sound just fine until the reality of the discomfort is tangible and not theoretical.

When we get to the next boundaries of our control, we’ll need to depend on Jesus like we did the last time it felt like this. Thankfully, because there was a last time, we can lean on that experience for assurance that He did it before and He’ll do it again. He’ll get us through this and if we’ll endure just a little longer, the promise of His glory always follows the discomfort of His invitations. Joy comes in the morning.

The original disciples were invited to follow Jesus and they gave up everything to do so. They walked with Him for three years, witnessing and participating in miracles and challenges as He increasingly equipped and released them. Then He was crucified and they didn’t get it. He rose from the dead and made Himself known to them, but they didn’t recognize Him until they remembered the last time.

Luke 24:30-31 says “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

He had done this before on the night before He died. By doing this again, He reminded them of the thing before. They were together and enjoying a meal. He used the bread to tell of what was going to happen to Him and now He uses the bread to quicken their senses to new belief. He uses the previous experience to get them through the current reality.

Following Jesus is intended as a life of experiences with HIm. In the experiences, reminders are born that will be useful for the next time. We go from glory to glory, leaving one to get to the next at the cost of the comfort that we have grown accustomed to in the former. Along the way, He’ll break bread with us to remind us that He is Who He says He is and He’ll do what He says He’ll do. Just like the last time.

 

Fear Produces Control Where Love Allows for Wisdom

The other day, I was talking to one of my kids and decided to give them some counsel about some things to look out for. From all appearances, it could be viewed as pretty good parenting. Maybe, to some degree, it was. The problem wasn’t so much the counsel I was giving, it was the driver I was reacting to.

I realized later that night and into the next morning that the reason I chose to speak into the situation (which wasn’t really a situation yet, just the thought of what might become) was that I was afraid. Fear had driven me to warn and counsel where there was an imagination of what might be someday, somehow. Fear is not a healthy driver.

I could have given the exact same advice in the exact same situation and been doing it from love, but I wasn’t. Not this time, anyway. That next morning, I realized the distinction and spent time in prayer receiving the Father’s love. His love casts out fear. I prayed to realize His love for me and for my family, too. His love is the perfect driver.

When our children are small, we have a greater chance of controlling the environments they are exposed to and protecting them from potential threats. Increasingly, however, as they grow they are exposed to the potential of danger and evil as they mature in their ability to relate beyond the controlled environments of their youth. That’s scary. The stuff out there that is intended for their harm is real and active in its pursuit.

We can’t control everything for our kids for ourselves and, at the same time, we don’t have to be afraid. The control we thought we had was a bit of an illusion in the first place as we can never control all possible circumstances to mitigate all possible threats.

We have to rely on love, and not only our love, but the love of the Father. It’s His love that supersedes our fears and feeds our wisdom when we operate from healthy emotions. Unhealthy emotions like fear and worry won’t allow for wisdom as they seek to control. Healthy reactions like trust and faith from knowing the love of the Father gives way to His wisdom in where the boundaries need to be drawn and allows Holy Spirit to counsel us situation by situation.

Pressing Through Trials to Advance in Maturity, Wisdom & Character

I have a friend that has interesting counsel when you share a struggle with him. If you are going through some difficulty, he’ll ask, “Do you think you are at the front end of that challenge, in the middle of it, or closing in on the end? It’s good to know so you can persevere and get everything out of it God wants you to see.”

God doesn’t torture us, but He will allow for discomfort to shape us. He’ll use the troubles that are inevitable in our fallen state to mature us into greater relationship. As we are going through whatever it is we are going through, the best thing that we can do is look for the best things within it. At least then, the wisdom available through the adversity is maximized.

If we are looking for the fastest way out of any discomfort we face, we are cheating the process that is available for the production of wisdom and maturity. “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

Discomfort is not appealing and all too often not highlighted related to the Christian message. We love the promises and the freedom and the identity stuff, but the suffering part isn’t too compatible with our American Dream(s). It must be an attack.

We are sons of God and heirs with Christ and can share in the glory of Christ . . . if we will share in the sufferings of Christ (Romans 8:17). So difficulty invites inheritance in as much as we persevere. In as much as we stay the course despite the challenge and doubt, we can increasingly taste of the victory.

When, not if, you are going through whatever stuff it is that you go through, consider whether it’s the beginning, middle or end and hold on. Hold on and journal. Don’t miss “it,” whatever “it” is for that experience. Come out of it with more character than you went into it with as it finishes it’s work by your acceptance that suffering is not always an attack, but sometimes an advance.

There is The God We Imagine and The God That Is

4881_4881_5There is the god we imagine and there is the God that is. The two don’t always line up and only One is True, but both are active. We entertain the imagination as much as we relate to the actual. When we decide to submit our imagination to the Creator of that imagination, we can actually be offended by the differences between the two. We can get offended by God and prefer our version of what we think He is.

I have a friend that has battled addiction who has gotten angry at God because of the persistence of the addiction. He calls out to God with great sincerity to take the depraved desires from him on the way to feed the addiction. Recently, he sensed the presence of Jesus with him as he went to buy drugs. Jesus, in my friend’s discernment, wasn’t saying a word but was sad at the choice my friend was in the middle of making.

He bought and used some but reached out for help on the front end of what might have otherwise become a binge and said, “I don’t want to die.” Through some coaching, he flushed the bulk of it down the toilet. This wasn’t easy; it was a battle of his will to live or die; to use or not.

The next day, he was angry at God about the struggle and lack of deliverance, but that’s where his longstanding theology was adjusted. He had the ability to flush it. Jesus was with him, didn’t zap him and was sad for him. Jesus didn’t and doesn’t want him to destroy himself but will allow his free will as evidence of His free love. Love doesn’t control. When we think He will zap us and we actually are afforded the opportunity to agree with Him in our choices, we have to own our end of the deal.

We are offended by God when He is different from we imagined Him to be. Our expectations set us up for offense, which is literally a stumbling block in our faith. When we set aside our preconceived ideas about who God needs to be to fit our desires and what He needs to do to make our dreams come true, we can connect with the actual Him without being frustrated with Him.

The good news is that He is better than we can imagine. What we give to Him, we get back better than when we started. Not easier, but better. There is no offense in submission; there is trust and acceptance of the fact that we don’t know. We don’t know so we ask and receive where we used to dictate and expect.