Issue Spotting

lightsIn law school, education is facilitated by reading a whole bunch of narratives describing how courts have settled cases. Law school exams consist of long narrative descriptions of situations from which the task is to identify the potential legal issues and apply the law towards a compelling legal argument.

Each class is typically made up of one grade per semester; the final exam. It’s the framework for how to show the professor how much you know about the pertinent law. You can know all the law in the world, but if you haven’t learned how to spot the issues from the cases you read in the preparation throughout the semester, you are going to have a problem. Properly identifying the issue(s) is the foundation for being able to pass the exam.

I see and hear people mis-handle the issue all the time. Without getting the source of the issue correct, the solution is practically impossible. There is one of several sources for our circumstances:

  1. Ourselves – Bad choices bring consequences and require us to change our mind if we want to change our behaviors which impact our outcomes. When we break it, we buy it. If we don’t own our part of the deal, then it’s hard to expect God to “zap” us into a better deal.
  2. Other People – Living in community with other people (even church people) who are in a fallen world just like us leads to offenses, wounds and problems. Part of the purpose of community is to learn to live with grace towards other in granting the forgiveness we are afforded. As we grow in our knowledge of our identity, we become increasingly less susceptible to offense.
  3. The Devil – Gets way too much credit. While there are legitimate spiritual attacks, many circumstances come from our choices and many more are God calling us into something bigger by growing our character through adversity.
  4. God – Gets blamed for stuff that’s not His choice for us all the time. A skewed picture of the nature of God leads us to attributing things that aren’t of Him to Him. It also removes us from the benefits of relationship as He wants us to mature as sons and daughters and reduces us to rubbing a genie lamp with our three wishes to make life better.

A friend that runs a ministry asked me to pray with them a few years ago as they were going through a difficulty. He asked me to pray and ask, “is this an attack or is this of You?” Figuring out the source of the challenge was critical in knowing the way in which it needed to be walked out. Wisdom requires knowledge and knowledge of the source of our issues is primary in knowing how to walk them out.

The Foundations of Promotion


The first paying job that I had as an attorney paid me $15 per hour. A typical hourly rate for an attorney is $300 per hour so I had negotiated myself a nifty 5% of the average pay. As bad of a deal as it seemed to be, the payoff was huge. I was thankful then and am thankful now for that meager start which provided both tangible and intangible returns.

The attorney that I was working for had a storefront type of practice but he was much more involved in a real estate business than he was in the day-to-day filing of motions and appearances in court. As a result, I got to take care of most of the nuts and bolts of the legal practice under his supervision and direction. I worked hard to serve that attorney and his clients to the best of my ability without regard for the pay.

Before too long, I had other opportunities and didn’t directly work for him anymore. My next position put me in court about 100 times per month, which is quite a bit compared to most attorneys. The result was that I became very familiar with the courts and grew in my ability as a litigator, particularly with certain criminal cases. Most of this was court appointed work so, while it was more than $15 per hour, I wasn’t getting rich doing that, either. At least not financially.

That first attorney that I worked for and I maintained a good relationship and he started sending me work to partner with him on, where we would split the fee. I went from 5% to 50%. The referrals over the next couple of years resulted in a significant boost to my overall income.

I had to go through the entry-level experience to get to the place of value. I couldn’t have jumped to the place where it was beneficial to me without first going through the humble position which brought little apparent reward. Attempting to jump ahead would have cost me the relationship and it would have put me in cases that I wasn’t prepared to handle. There was a process.

The benefits of taking the humble position taught me eternal lessons:

  • Don’t be afraid of the process
  • You’re likely not as ready or as valuable as you think you are
  • Build the solid foundation of success through humility and you will be ready for the responsibility of promotion
  • Pre-mature promotion results in a faulty foundation which produces the compromise of insecurity
  • God is more interested in shaping your character than He is adding to your income
  • Allow your circumstances to reveal and shape your maturity
  • Move on when the time is right, but do so with honor towards those that you have been working for
  • Preserve relationships
  • See the big picture
  • Hear from God and know that He is faithful to finish what He started

Royal Benefit

I had a friend contact me the other day in the middle of a situation he was dealing with and worrying about. He wanted some counsel on the best way to walk out of what he perceived to be his problem. His perceived problem was a challenge, no doubt, but his opportunity was tremendous.

He initially focused on his facts as he laid out the landscape of his worry. My response was “what are you believing that isn’t True? What in your experience allowed that lie to become a belief? Ask God.”

God is faithful to reveal the depth of the situation when we seek. When we seek, we find. My friend found the answer to what he was believing which fueled his negative emotions when viewing his factual reality.

I encouraged him and assured him that I was familiar with this particular battle. keep going; the roots to our worry and false beliefs can run deep. My friend asked me what I found to be True during the time that I struggled in a similar manner but I refused to tell him.

Refused to tell him? Why would you do that? This guy is looking for some help and trusted you to help him and you refuse?

Yes, I refused. Yes, that helped him.

If I was his accountant and we were talking about his taxes, this might be different. If I were acting as his lawyer and he needed legal counsel then the response would be different, as well. But he came to me for pastoral counsel to get through a spiritual problem. Hence, my refusal to give him the answers.

Too often, we rely on the knowledge of someone else to try to take what they seemingly know and apply it like a template to our life. The result is that we have taken a shortcut to potential answers at the expense of wisdom, intimate Relationship or any hope to uncover things within us that need to be mined.

Remember Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”

Kings search to find the concealed matters of eternity and Truth. They seek God through their own individual relationship in the deepest parts of themselves which extend far beyond the counsel or teaching of another. The “other” points, invites and encourages but refuses to conclude the matter for the seeker, knowing that the riches are destined for the one that discovers them.

My friend found some and seeks some. The treasure that he has already uncovered has left him chasing for more and affirmed him in the relationship which will extend far beyond anything he and I ever develop. He’s a king uncovering his glory.

Running in the Field

Try to be good . . . check.

Go to the place and sit through the thing (almost) every week . . . check.

Say the stuff and mean it as much as you can . . . check.

Ugh . . . why do you still feel like crap and have all the problems after checking all of the boxes and trying real hard to do better? Because it was never about a checklist of stuff to do, say and try.

We’ve made it into a performance based attempt at being what we think it ought to be based on how others who are trying just as hard but are still just as screwed up look like. It was never about working in a factory to put something together, it was always about running through a field with Someone.

All we have to do is stop. Stop trying to be good. Stop trying to prove that we know more about Him than others. Stop trying to advance in the hierarchy of His business to be recognized by men as one of His people. Just be.

Just be with Him. Crawl up in His lap and rest. Receive the Breath of His Life by being immersed in His presence. He’s real, after all.

“Oh, I know, of course He’s real, I go to church every week and teach Sunday School and my kids have been baptized, etc. etc.” No, seriously; He is real. A living, breathing Father, Brother, Savior, Comforter, Counselor, King. He doesn’t care one little bit about all of that stuff that we do to try to prove that we are “in.” He just wants us to be – with Him.

A lady mentioned to me what church she went to a few weeks ago, not sure exactly why other than she wanted me to know that she was a good person. I asked her if she meets Him in that church and she looked genuinely surprised. She said, “no, I’ve never met Him there, but I go all the time.”

Why would any of us go to visit a loved one if we knew they weren’t home? Wouldn’t we intentionally arrange for a meeting and expect them to show up when we know them to be faithful friends? It’s the meeting that creates the experience and the experience that shapes who we are. We will act like who we are . . . without trying.

Butch and Sundance

It’s a new season for my family and I as we answer a call to step into change and risk with Faith. We are thankful for where we have been the past few years and excited about where we are going. Seasons bring different revelations of Eternity and Relationship, digging and mining within our souls to uncover gems of our new creation that need to take center stage.

Decisions to change course don’t come easily unless there is certainty that the change comes with a fresh breath of Life propelling us towards our destiny. Even when there is certainty that we are answering a call, the fears pop up and have to be defeated by maintaining focus on the Word that changed everything to begin with.

When evaluating legitimacy and timing of the Word that provided the call, there is more than a Butch and Sundance jump off of a cliff, although the process may culminate with that type of commitment. When evaluating this most recent transition, a good friend and mentor pointed out a couple of gates to consider when determining our actions based on what we believed. The considerations we walked through were:

  1. Is there unity? In our case, since we are married, were my wife and I on the same page? We were brought together for common purposes and made one through marriage. If one were to break away on their own and leave the other one behind, it would create confusion, hurt and loneliness. When we knew that we were of one accord, our plan of action was affirmed.
  2. Does this next thing flow with the dots that have already been connected in our lives? Is there a flow that indicates something is being built and steps are not wasted?  When it was apparent that this move was building within us not only recently but going back through strands of our story for some time, the affirmation was once again clear.

Julie and I knew that we had heard and knew that the Word was clear. We sought some counsel as an independent check to affirm that we weren’t off on some emotional justification for a self-propelled idea. That doesn’t mean we asked person after person for their approval, but a few trusted and wise friends who we believed would be Truthful in their assessment. Then, when we determined that we were on the same page, that the dots connected and that trusted counsel affirmed what we were hearing, we jumped off the cliff . . . what an adventure.

Investing in Freedom

Walking from the courthouse to my car, I was passing the jail.  A man approached me with a rather desperate appearance, some bills in his right hand and some change which he was counting in his left.  He stopped me as we passed and asked me if I could help him out.

He had to report to jail for weekends and was at the jail to pay the fees associated with serving a sentence in that manner.  For misdemeanor convictions, the judge will often allow shorter sentences to be served over consecutive weekends to avoid losing a job or in order to meet other obligations.  There is a fee that must be paid each week by the defendant and if it is not paid in full and on time, the weekends become straight time for whatever period is needed to satisfy the sentence.

This man said that he had taken the bus to the jail to pay his weekend fee but did not have enough to cover the fee after paying for the bus.  Now he was asking for help. I asked him how much he needed, which wasn’t much, and handed him the difference.  He was thankful but it didn’t end there.

I looked him in the eyes as I handed him the money and told him that this was not a gift, this was an investment.  This was an investment into the man that he was created to be.  This was an investment believing that his choices which led him to this situation were not consistent with the purpose of his destiny.  I told him that I expected a return on this investment and that the return I expected was that he would step into his intended identity and out of situations that led to weekend jail.

There is always some risk when sharing a story like this of making the story about me.  It’s not about me and I’m not in any way tooting my horn about giving this man a little money and talking to him.  I only am in such a position by grace which I never deserved. I am honored to be in the position to help this man, not proud.

I was encouraged by our time together and the man’s posture and reactions to the challenge I was presenting. The little bit of money it took to engage in that type of investment was well worth it and the return on that investment was immediate for me. When we are afforded the opportunity to invest in the lives of others and decide to do just that we benefit just as much as they do.

I hope that the weekend that man spent in jail was a weekend of Freedom.