The Grace of Pain

When and if you stop to consider your arguments and rationale for why you should get things that you want, those reasons are often based in our perceived value, contribution, entitlements, etc. For those of us of faith, we’ll then put those expectations on God and often find a Scripture or two to “support” our justification. Sometimes we’ll even mistaken the challenges we face as an “attack” when, in fact, God Himself has both orchestrated and allowed our discomfort and He has done so for our benefit and His glory. Consider the following passage:

“You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:8-11)

The Father addresses the rebellion of Israel, which is typically no different than the rebellion of you and I. He explains that instead of appropriate wrath for the depravity of rebellion against a Holy God, He chooses to refine. Instead of a swift and just judgment to the demise of the prodigal, He allows for affliction to grow up the immaturity and grow out the obstinance. I’m thankful for that because without it, I would have been destroyed long ago.

He chooses to look past our depravity which is offensive to His nature and, by His grace, work it out of us. Here’s the bigger point; He does it for His glory and fame. We aren’t really that big of a deal, despite our participation trophies. He is and always will be the point. He knows our selfishness and shallowness would prefer it were about us, yet He allows the affliction of difficultly to refine us and work out those iniquities.

Justice would demand our punishment for punishment’s sake. We would be destroyed but we are pressed to work it out of us, instead. It’s gracious to give us the time to grow and it’s gracious to allow us the process of refinement to redeem what otherwise is simply unacceptable.

In this world, you will have trouble. It’s not always an attack, but no matter if it is or not, the Lord is likely willing in every challenge to work out some expectation of justice or entitlement from within you. He’s willing to redeem your pain for His glory through the resulting maturity that comes with trust, if you’ll submit to Him through the circumstances and allow His glory to be the point over your comfort, preferences or expectations.

The Grace of Submission

Something being good for us doesn’t automatically equate to our embracing or practice of it as a habit or belief. One of the most neglected dynamics afforded us for our benefit is the posture of submission. While many of us are entirely comfortable with the thought of submitting our lives to God, many of us are “out” when asked to submit to people. Here is the problem; God often works through delegated authority and that delegated authority is man (or woman).

Authority is intended to be sacrificial. That means that those in authority should primarily filter their choices through the evaluation of whether or not they are for the benefit of others. Their responsibility is to make a way for others so that they (the others) are benefitted from their place of submission.

Submission, then, seeks a benefit. While we all too often view submission as a place that is inferior with the authority lording over it, that perspective is not the intended correlation of authority and submission. It is intended by design to be in the wake of the path that has been made. The benefit from that place is that the submitted party doesn’t have to clear the path and isn’t the first one to take the hits when trouble comes. The authority, from out front, clears the way and takes the hits for the benefit of those that are submitted.

Submission requires a lens of grace. First, for how we see ourselves and then for how we see others (in this case others that might be in positions of authority). Here is what I know; there is no perfect person other than Jesus so whoever is “in charge” has flaws. That doesn’t invalidate their potential benefit to those that submit.

Without grace, the potentially submitted will be too insecure to trust those that might otherwise choose to sacrifice for their benefit from a place of authority. They (the potentially submitted) will be afraid of the potential negative outcomes or exposure of their own flaws and will control or manipulate imaginations and fears to leave only a shadow of submission in the reality of rebellion.

In the absence of grace to affirm the potentially submitted party’s identity beyond their own flaws, they won’t be willing to look past the flaws of even well intended sacrificial authority. Their fears and imaginations will direct their judgement at every turn and the fits and spurts of peace they know in the wake of benefit will be hijacked.

Jesus sacrificed for our benefit. Belief in His authority, sacrifice and benefit results in lives that are turned over to Him. Submission to Him goes beyond our knowledge of Him and demands that our choices reflect a will willing to release control to Him. An inability to submit to His legitimate delegated authority in all of its flaws likely indicates a lack of true submission to and trust in Him in the first place.

 

Invited into Extreme

We are living in extreme times where the rhetoric and divide has escalated negotiable to absolute. At the same time, absolutes are too offensive so things that used to be held as true are compromised for comfort.

In the middle of those political and societal shifts, matters of faith get chipped away at as fringe and extreme. Most people don’t want to be either fringe or extreme so the instinct is to adapt in small ways to remain relevant. Compromise is seldom drastic and the slide is usually indiscernible.

This year, and in the coming years, there will increasingly be no room for compromised faith. There will be no power anywhere except for the extreme and extreme will be easier to attain by contrast to the culture. Weird is weird and it’s increasingly weird just to profess belief, much less to zealously follow and advance the cause of Christ.

Here’s the thing; it’s His cause, not a plank on the platform of the religious right. Extreme faith will be in Him, not ideas about how Him. Reliance on Jesus for supernatural protection, provision and promotion is neither boastful nor argumentative. The argument is in our actions and our choices must be dependent on His power. Our extreme place in these extreme times is less, not more. Less of us and our ideas and more of Him through our humility, brokenness and obedience.

We don’t need better candidates or laws; we need a Church that is as authentic in the sufferings of Christ as they are in the abundance of His Kingdom. We don’t need to win; we need to die. Death to ourselves allows the anointing of His Spirit to exude from us. The compelling extreme of the Holy Spirit circumvents all theological or philosophical debates as He draws others towards Himself despite what we do to repel them.

The coming years of extreme invite us to die to ourselves for the One whom we say we believe. When He invited us to follow Him, the glory He promises is through the crucifixion He modeled. Christianity is neither a spectacle nor a program, but agreement among us in the absolute of Him. He did and does everything that needs to be done; the stuff we attempt to heap on top of His absolute is compromise no matter the intention of our souls.

Tending to Things that Seem to Go Unnoticed

I used to routinely represent clients who were seeking bonds. The bond allows them to be released during the time that they are waiting to stand trial. Without a bond, they may have to sit in jail for a month or two leading up to a trial. The judge looks predominately at whether the defendant is a flight risk or a risk to the community. If either of those things are a concern, the judge is less likely to grant freedom to the defendant while they await their trial.

As part of the judge’s paperwork, they have a piece of paper from the magistrate with notes on it from when the person was first arrested. The magistrate can often grant a bond right there at the point of booking but for one reason or another did not in the present situations. The magistrate writes notes about the evidence (very brief) and any criminal record. Additionally, the magistrate can take notes about the person’s conduct during the arrest process or while in front of the magistrate.

In two of the cases I was working on, the magistrate wrote derogatory notes. In one instance, the defendant had a bad attitude with the magistrate and cussed them when addressing them. In another, the defendant had to be physically restrained by deputies when in processing at the jail.

The defendants were now on their best behavior and wanted to go before a judge to ask them for some favor and mercy. They wanted to be found trustworthy of release pending trial. The problem is that the notes from the official who most recently came in contact with them reflected rebellion and disregard for authority.

Our integrity and character are best measured when we believe nobody is watching or going to hold us accountable. Do we choose to take the shortcut on our taxes? Do we intentionally flip to the pornographic movie when our wives aren’t around? Do we have people in our lives that we call to share our struggles and failures to ensure that we develop in those areas?

Integrity and character can’t be turned on and off; it can only be transformed. We are going to mess up, but owning those failures opens up the opportunities for us to grow. Better to grow in the small things that we could just as easily get away with to avoid the implosion that builds up with unleashed depravity. Confession of the little things keeps the big things at bay.

 

You Can’t Be Accountable to Yourself and Maximize Your Potential at the Same Time

The Packer’s head coach got fired with the rumor being that he and his quarterback didn’t get along. There then arose some questions about who would lead or hold the quarterback accountable if the coach were going to get fired for contradicting the wishes of the quarterback.

The quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is quoted as saying, “There’s nobody that holds me more accountable than myself . . . I mean, I’m always checking myself on my preparation habits and my practice habits and my mindset, but there’s always been a great deal of accountability under Mike’s program for the last 13 years.”

I have no idea about the relationship between the two or who needs what accountability. What I am convinced of is that none of us are as adept at holding ourselves accountable as we would like to believe. The presence of an accountable authority is a benefit, not a detriment. The reason being is that for as long as we are accountable to ourselves, we are bound by our own limitations.

Where there is healthy authority, there is a multiplying factor. We are better when accountable to others because our strengths have the context of the group. That means that our shortcomings or weaknesses can be compensated by the strengths of others in the group. Thus, we are elevated despite our limitations as are the others in the group because of our strengths.

Accountability for results is a necessary component to collaboration and collaboration is necessary for greater capacity. Accountability to ourselves, or self-discipline, is a great starting point but it is limited by an incomplete perspective. The view of us that is the least comfortable for us is often the most beneficial for us.

Accountability is more than just correction; it is context and encouragement as well as adjustments and critique. In it’s best form, it is based on a set of finite and defined standards that remove personal preferences and bias to leave cultural norms important to the purpose of the group. Those standards aren’t susceptible to excuse or personality but are deemed necessary for the goals of the group.

You can’t, or at least you shouldn’t, be accountable only to yourself. I assume Aaron Rodgers believes that because he is an accomplished professional in his field. At the same time, the perspective of “me” is not only erroneous, but it is growing in our culture and it presents a limiting factor on our individual and collective potential.

You Absolutely Can Go to Jail

When I was practicing law, I would routinely meet new criminal defense clients for the first time and they would tell me about the situation they were in. With alarming regularity, somewhere in their account of the situation, some of them would inform me something like “I can’t go to jail for this.”

I would stop what we were doing and interrupt by telling them, “You absolutely can go to jail.” Obviously, I was trying to keep them out of jail but there is nothing worse than standing next to a client that is surprised by the reality of the deputy putting handcuffs on them. Even if they don’t go to jail, feeling the weight of the potential consequences is beneficial to them long-term to avoid the situations that caused them to have to come to court in the first place.

Consequences cause us to have to consider the actions that bought the result. Ideally, we learn from the consequences to avoid bigger mistakes and greater consequences. Consequences are our friend as they suggest we consider our will. Why did we do the thing that causes us the discomfort of the consequence? What should we do differently?

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT)

The love of God is particularly attractive compared to the consequences of our rebellion. It’s His kindness that calls to us for us to change our mind and turn away from the choices we make apart from Him. Kindness is only kind by contrast. If there are no consequences and everything is a soft landing, then kindness isn’t that big of a deal, is it?

Jesus invites us into His Kingdom; into His holiness. He is in the redemption business. He wants to exchange the depravity within us and replace it with His glory. He loves us and knew we had issues when He decided to die for us. He isn’t intimidated nor impressed by our sin.

The consequences we face aren’t from the anger of God; they are more like gravity. When we choose to walk outside of the way that He has made for us, we are open to the results of our rebellion. We aren’t very good at being our own small “g” gods, so when we try, there are problems. The big “G” God waits patiently in His kindness for us to come home from our prodigal ways to enjoy the benefits of the relationship He intends for us with Him.