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.

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.

Understanding in 3D

When we are students, the degree to which we learn something is often determined by a taking an exam. Our knowledge is tested as we are asked to answer questions which demonstrate the degree to which we have mastered the subject matter.

If you are a follower of Jesus, the quiz comes every day and it’s not for the sake of the knowledge. It’s for the purposes of the One that is offering the information in the first place. Followers of Jesus aren’t invited into an academic exercise; they are invited into life change and life transfer.

Jesus taught by experiences and imparted by proximity. He was living life with people, teaching them in the moment of living to give them a depth of understanding that exceeds the limits of information. It had to be that way because what He was teaching needed to go viral through their capacity to learn and their capacity to learn was their capacity to reproduce. The quiz for them was in their ability to give it away.

For too many of us, our attempts at discipleship are limited by our reliance on information. That information, which is vital to our learning but not conclusive of our mastery, is only the first step. The understanding comes in the implementation. The mastery comes in the multiplication.

Time and time again in the practice of law, I saw the depth of a passage that was in the Bible. The exercise of the knowledge in the lives of real people who didn’t agree with my beliefs opened the doors for me to multiply those beliefs. The grace, love, hope and encouragement that are talked about time and again by Jesus took on 3D perspective as I encountered real needs and needed real help in the application of the real Truth.

With eyes to see and ears to hear, we are invited into relationship with Jesus as He ministers. We minister where He ministers by agreeing with Him in the ways that we know are His way from His Word. Our knowledge of Him is put to work in our relationship with Him and our understanding is developed through our experiences with Him. Those opportunities are every day; in our families, in our workplaces, on a train or at a restaurant. Wherever people are, He is interested and we are invited.

Concession is Not Belief

Our culture and traditions can lead us to believe things that aren’t true. We are conditioned by our surroundings and our surroundings can suggest we are entitled. We can believe, from our culture, traditions and surroundings, that we believe when we actually don’t.

Belief is more than acclimation. Belief is transformation. Belief will be evident in our exclamation.

1 John 4:15 tells us, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” Honestly, that seems pretty easy; just acknowledge and you are good to go. That bar seems so low that heaven will most certainly be overcrowded.

The idea that shows up as “acknowledges” in that verse may mean more than we think, however. That word can mean, “to agree with” and it can even mean “to concede.” Wow . . . is it possible that John was writing that if we’ll simply concede that Jesus is the Son of God, we are then God carriers? We are born again by concession? Concession is about the same as, “I give up; you win,” so the conceder can move on to another subject. I don’t think so.

Other meanings for that word include “to profess,” as in to profess yourself as a worshipper. Finally, that word by definition, can mean “to praise, celebrate.” Now we are on to something.

When our acknowledgement is more than a concussion, but a profession as a worshipper who praises and celebrates Jesus as the Son of God, then there is evidence that God lives in us and us in Him. That is evidence of new birth by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus.

Cultural Christianity where church attendance and polite concession is not evidence of our belief. Sold out, all in, life changing celebration, praise and worship of Jesus as Son of God is.

We can get fooled into thinking that we are Jesus followers by our suburban insulation and Sunday morning habits. In some ways, those that are in the depths of depravity are better off in that they cannot be fooled into believing they believe. Maybe that’s why God loves us so much that He tells us in Revelation 3:16 that we should either be hot or cold, but lukewarm will get us spit out. Hot is praising, worshipping and celebrating Jesus as the Son of God, cold isn’t self-deceived into thinking they might concede and lukewarm is an aberrant alternative that is deadly in its compromise.

The First Thing Fuels the Other Things

I was running on empty lately because I was running from my own ability. I have been invited into good things, eternal things, but I was applying temporary efforts to an eternal equation. The cost of the disconnection was my own relationship with the One that extended the invitation in the first place.

Our ability is fueled by our source. If we are the source of all that we seek to do, the well is perpetually running dry. We can get things done for as long as the weekends, whiskey, vacations, television, computer, exercise or other indulgences afford us the chance to escape. Those escapes, however, provide a stop-gap re-charge to a reservoir that is destined for empty.

The only way to realize the fullness of life in the living of life is by connection to the Source of life. Connection to the Source is intimacy, not knowledge. In fact, the intimacy is what fuels the understanding that is required for interpretation of knowledge.

He’s a Father. He birthed us from the design that He had for us. The plans for our lives are connected to eternity. As my friends David Terry and Marc Owings say, we are hardwired straight from the factory. Our hard wiring is for connection to the One that put the wires there in the first place.

Eternal purpose requires eternal supply. Temporal supply to an eternal purpose yields a diminishing return. In other words, even ministry and the stuff that we do “for God” requires God to fuel it. His fuel is relational connection. It’s intimacy.

Intimacy with the Father fuels everything. It fuels friendships and marriage. It fuels family and work. It fuels purpose and destiny. Intimacy with the Father is the point. The rest of the stuff is secondary.

C.S. Lewis said, “Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”

The first thing is Him. He is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We when are routinely engaged in an intimate relationship with Him, that stuff comes out of us. When that stuff isn’t there, we are probably our own source. Even when we are trying to do His stuff. Doing His stuff without Him was never the plan.