Graceful Absolutes

From time to time, I’ll have someone tell me that they agree with aspects of Christianity. They value Jesus in some ways, but not others, and they agree with aspects of philosophies or religions that aren’t aligned with Him. They lean into a “universal” approach to God where all’s well that ends well and, in their estimation, it ultimately ends well for anyone that tries. Or something like that.

I typically will pseudo-congratulate those people for creating their own religion. They have walked through a buffet line of ideas and picked their way to a meal they prefer, but they are likely the first in the history of ever to pick that unique combination. I’ll often encourage them that they are now the prophet of the religion of “me.” I do so without any condemnation or rejection, just the logic that goes with the reasoning they have used to avoid absolutes.

We are currently in an era that wants to reject absolutes. The idea of absolute Truth where someone can be wrong has increasingly become offensive. The Gospel of grace is, in fact, offensive by its very nature and it is founded on absolutes. With no absolutes, there is no need for grace.

The challenge for those of us that embrace the absoluteness of Jesus and His invitation into an eternal Kingdom,  is to handle the absolutes with the grace they empower. If/when we wield them like weapons of judgment and condemnation, game over. That conversation will go no further. If and when we can find the sweet spot of grace in the middle of Truth, we may just be able to connect people to eternity. We may get to be included in God’s heart for them and us.

Forcing absolutes is likely going to be manipulative and maybe even abusive. Holding them gently and receiving people gracefully is inviting. The invitation holds the promise everyone is ultimately looking for; to be connected to the love of the Father. His love is absolute, and the connection is available. How we receive that perfect love for ourselves will often be reflected in how we offer it to others.

The disagreements related to behaviors are growing so don’t accept those as your premise. The love of the Father through the grace of Jesus Christ is what drew you in to start with and it’s what “they” want, too. Or not; and if they don’t, the argument becomes moot, anyway.

“And” Keeps “Or” from Being Weird or Rigid

All too often, we hear that things need to be “balanced” and what is meant is that they need to be under control. Control is an illusion and pursuit of control is typically dysfunctional. Balance isn’t control and it isn’t compromise; it’s order. Balance should agree with the order of things and often it presents a tension. Tension is good as it presents opportunities for stretching without breaking.

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” – Ephesians 1:17

The prayer in Ephesians is for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation; not the Spirit of wisdom or revelation. Holy Spirit is wisdom with revelation. Revelation and wisdom; both together at the same time.

All too often, we can orient towards one or the other, preferring either wisdom or revelation. Where we prefer wisdom, knowledge and experience will trump the mystery. The ability to control, manage and maneuver will supersede any awe and wonder of the power of God.

Where revelation is preferred, the idea that God is speaking will trump the need to ensure Biblical accuracy. Potential revelation, left to its own merits, is potentially fallible. It has to be subject to the infallible Word and allowed context that comes with counsel from a diverse gift mix in a community. There can be no rogue prophets.

It seems reasonable to consider revelation, or the realization of eternal truth by hearing, seeing or knowing to be the “what” that God is making clear. If it lines up with the Word and proves trustworthy from the test of wise counsel, it leaves open the “when” and “how” of wisdom. Just because you know something, it doesn’t mean it’s time to do anything.

Often times, God will let us in on His plans, but it isn’t for us to get things done for Him. It’s simply to be relational and invites us to pray. We get to pray in accordance with the revelation and watch as we agree with heaven on earth. It builds our faith and includes us in the advancement of an eternal Kingdom.

Hold it loosely and walk with the humility required of submission. Pray first, act sometimes. Listen closely and pay attention; we are all invited into the eternal perspective. Eternal perspective is orderly; not controlled or compromised.

Peel Back the Layers to Find the Truth of Healthy Relationship

The truth is the truth and the stuff we add onto it and around it is not. We take the truth, add our experiences, preferences, feelings and perceptions but that doesn’t change the truth. It just changes our foundation. When we alter the truth, we weaken our footing. To get back on solid ground, we peel back the added layers and get to the core.

God loves us and He loves community. He gives us a framework of truth to guide and lead us through the challenges that come with living in community. We sometimes add to it, subtract from it and twist it to fit our preferences but if we’ll get back to the foundation, we can relate in healthy community.

With some regularity, I experience people coming to me or observe them going to someone else to let the other person know that they are forgiven for some otherwise unknown offense. They will typically offer some detail to the thing that fueled the offense, followed closely by “but I have forgiven you.” While the exercise is well intended, it’s not based on truth. Whether or not the offense is legitimate or imagined, it’s not the way to handle forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not dependent on an apology nor recognition.Forgiveness is just given from within. If there was a thing against us, we have the power to choose to release it but we can do so without informing the forgiven of their pardon.

One of the times to go to another person to discuss offense is when you think they may be offended by you (Matthew 5:23). Think about that; when I think you’re upset with me, it’s legitimate for me to go to you. That’s a time when you need to know about it; when it’s my fault. The humility of that is noteworthy.

A different time for healthy confrontation is to call out sin (Matthew 18:15). This requires and presumes relationship. This is intended for community, not judgment or legalism. It is intended for the benefit of the individual who is struggling as well as the culture of the community as a whole. With the benefit of constructive confrontation, there is an opportunity to repent.

When it’s me that’s offended, I get to forgive. Forgive as I’ve been forgiven. I get to operate in the grace that I’ve received and grace doesn’t demand acknowledgment. Grace is sacrificial and feels forsaken. Grace gives without expectation and submits without reciprocation. Grace is the foundation for healthy community and grace is the fuel for personal transformation and nobody needs to know about it; they’ll recognize it without words.

You Can Know the Answers to the Mysteries

We are not invited to be good. We are not invited just to read, meet, sing and give. There is more. We are invited into more.

The depth of what is available to us by faith in Jesus is the difference between maintaining religion and living in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus died for the sins of man, He did so on  the heels of preaching of the Kingdom of God. The promise He brought was for eternity and eternity starts immediately. There is no waiting period between the time when you meet Jesus and the realization of His Kingdom.

Jesus was asked in Matthew 13 why He taught in parables. Why not just be crystal clear and make it easy for people? Why the riddles? Jesus responded in verse 11, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

When you are born again as a believer in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are invited into the mystery. Beyond the obvious and into the depth of knowing that exceeds knowledge. He will show you the “why” behind the “what.” He will give you new eyes to see things eternally, even now.

Unfortunately, most believers don’t look. The appetite to see more and to know the mysteries of the Kingdom are relegated to the super spiritual or the professional clergy. Jesus clarifies in the next verse that it is for “whoever” and He was speaking to tax collectors and fisherman. Not special people based on societies standards and not unique based on religious qualifications.

We are going to face trouble in the world, that is certain. What is left for us to decide is whether or not we want to face those troubles as confused and defeated orphans or empowered and enlightened royalty by adoption?

As you walk in your purpose today and as you encounter people and circumstances that require consideration, ask for eyes to see the mystery of the Kingdom of God in those situations. Ask for eyes to see so that you can agree with eternity in the middle of the temporal challenge. Go deeper; choose to live in the truth of Jesus’ promise. Be a mystery solver.

The Final Promotion

The day before the surgery, I texted my dad to tell him that I didn’t have any peace with the plan to open his chest up. By a prophetic nudge, I was prompted to make my concerns known to him. He answered back:

“Son,

I can understand your concerns. I considered taking the stent route. Why would anybody think of having their chest cut open a second time? I just don’t have any faith that is a long-term fix and I don’t want to suffer a heart attack when one collapses.

Your mom and I both have prayed this thru and are at total peace with the choice. God has blessed us with good health and beautiful family and we have wanted for nothing. We believe he watches over us in all circumstances and our lives on earth will be as long or short as He wills.

I love you and take great pride in the man you have become. Take peace that we rest in the grace of God.

Dad”

I’ve re-read this text time and time again. I’ve copied it and saved it. I value it and don’t want to lose it. I love how he calls me “Son” in it. I can hear his voice when I read it.

He had voiced much of what was in the text to my mother. He didn’t want to live in fear of a heart attack and was seeking a fix that would afford him the freedom to live. He still had passion for his purpose on earth, but if the surgery didn’t work out, he was completely comfortable with eternity as his next stop. He was completely assured of his salvation in Jesus and the promise of heaven. It was a compelling assurance vs. the compromise of a life lived on earth in fear and reservations.

The total peace that he had was real. That eternal peace wasn’t assurance of temporal outcomes. He knew he could die. Yet, he would live.

There is no way to live life with healthy zeal until and unless we know that life on earth is just the first chapter. All of eternity is available beyond the experience we have here and now. The next step is one into promotion. My father had been promoted a bunch of times in his career but nothing compared to this one.

It hurts from this perspective but the joy we can have for the ones that are promoted is available in Jesus. Without Jesus and His promise of eternal life, there is no hope beyond the pain of death. With Him, however, the sting of death is softened as death gives way to new life.

I really mean that, and so did my dad. So does Jesus.

It Might Take Forever

As a practicing attorney, I once had a consult with a potential client. During our first meeting in my office, I realized that the task at hand for this particular client wasn’t as legal as it was something different. Her legal situation, while not particularly egregious, was grim. She had been convicted of a misdemeanor and was appealing the conviction as she wanted desperately to clear her record.

As she sat and poured out her problems, I eventually put my pen down and just listened. The facts surrounding the accusation were simple and the legal defense took just a minute to consider. The chances of winning were slim, at best. The facts surrounding the rest of her life were not nearly as simple. Without going into detail, she had taken some pretty tough hits in life and the result was financial stress, health problems and the challenge of raising two children on her own.

During that consultation, I told her how we would handle her case. As importantly, I tried to give her something to get a hold of for her to begin to handle her life, as well. Simple encouragement that brought hope and perspective. Just pointing out her positives and calling her vision to the truth of the hope of what could be.

We went to trial and lost. We tried – threw a legitimate legal argument at a legitimate legal problem. It was a long shot, though, and I was a little concerned about my client’s confidence and outlook as we left the courtroom.

I started to debrief her in the hallway and she interrupted me. She said, “Mr. Prickett, I am as full of hope right now as I have been in a long time. When I came to your office, I was scared and defeated but you were kind to me. Nobody has said the nice things that you said to me in my entire life. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear.” I listened and watched as a single tear rolled down her cheek. She went on to share that she had signed up for college classes even though “it may take forever to get my degree, but I’m going to be moving forward with positive steps to keep my mind off of my problems.”

There is more to this thing we do, whatever it is we do, than the stuff that we do. Sometimes we just have to stop what we’re doing, put our pen down, and agree with the life that is barely hanging on in the soul of another. Our agreement with hope in the life of another won’t fix all of their immediate problems but it might just get things going the right direction.