Moving Violations … on Easter?

Funny, quick story…with a moral at the end.

Do you ever have those Sunday mornings when you just feel like all Hell is against your attempts at simply going to church.  I mean, it’s not like we were trying to go preach to millions…or feed a thousand starving children in the Congo…or even help my neighbor move his stuff across town.  We just wanted to worship…on Easter.

Well, after much suffering, we did make it…and we were only a few minutes late.  I think we upset the parking guy when we drove right past his waving arms to the front row, but by God’s grace, we were still allowed into the building.  Also by God’s grace, none of my kiddos caused a raucus which meant we were able to engage the entire service!  I mentioned to my beloved wife on the way home how I’m always glad we made the extra effort to fight through a rough morning to be with God’s people.  I felt like Ralphie with this Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle…all was right with the world. 

Uh, did I mention my beloved wife…yeah, you’ll need to remember that in a minute.

One the way home…it’s wet…we’re one block from my house…approaching the ONE light within 100 miles of my house that has a red light camera.  You guessed it…it turns from green to yellow at that perfect moment where on a slick road, there seems to be no right answer….run the light going very fast, or slam on the breaks and slide through it.  In my mind, I decided the former…but, my beloved (catch that?) wife verbally, shall we say, disagreed with my approach to the problem.

And so, we skidded up to the line and through it before I had to let off the brake.  As we looked at each other, we both noticed the flick of the camera light…busted! (BTW, for those of you thinking, “hey, just be thankful no one got hurt” … awe, just be quiet.  Someone is going to be hurt…my wallet!)

I confess, for the next few minutes, I got very creative…perhaps the most creative I have ever been in my life.  I had two problems: a) how do I convince myself that this was not my fault; b) how do I convince the court this was not my fault.  My beloved bore the brunt of (a) for her “feedback” on my original decision; and, the slick roads were going to take the blame for (b).  If my beloved had not opened her mouth, then my original plan would have worked.  And, there is no way anyone could have avoided running that light given the weather.  If the police had an actual officer there rather than a camera, they would have seen and understood that!  Yeah, none of this was really my fault.  Not surprising, because it’s never my fault!

Do any of you have kids that constantly ask ‘why’?  Well, I’m still one of those kids, and I bother myself with the question more than anyone else.  Why am I trying to cast the blame?  Because that’s what people do when they feel like their reputation is threatened.  Ouch.

Here’s the encouragement: reputation among men has NO value, so stop worrying about it. 

But isn’t it good to have a Godly reputation, given that we are ambassadors for Christ?  YES…but, the means do not justify the ends.  In other words, you have to genuinely be Godly and not simply look Godly, otherwise it is a false testimony and not pleasing to God.  And so, my attitude is one where I will remain focused on growing in knowledge, character, and behavior by knowing God’s word, believing it, and obeying it as God enables me.  No where in any of this is a need to look like the “ideal” Christian, because there is no such thing. 

As a matter of fact, “ideal” Christians are “fake” Christians.  Remain committed to the journey, and you will please God…even if you look silly from time to time to other people.

Do you allow people to surprise you?

I recently did some study on critical thinking.  One of the core principles is what I would call the art of the question.  That is, spend more time asking questions and less time trying to explain yourself.  While I agreed that understanding one another is good, I was bothered because the ephasis on questioning felt very pluralistic…like to be a critical thinker, you had to accept others views as being equal to your own.  I now understand that rejecting intense questioning simply because others use it in a pluralistic manner would be throwing the baby out with the bath water.  What I have discovered is that questioning is the only way we can learn about people…surprise!  The culture today needs us to learn about them in order to relate to them.  It’s amazing how hostile people become conversant if you just start asking questions rather than preaching dogma and defending yourself.

Those of you following this blog know that I believe the power to change a person’s heart resides in the gospel alone.  But, with some people, you simply have to earn the right to be heard.  We do that primarily by asking questions and genuinely trying to understand where they are coming from.  Once you know where they are coming from, then you can share the gospel in a way that they can understand and relate to.  This applies to all people…no matter where they are in their walk…no matter if they are world, fringe, or core.  If you want to help them move toward the middle, you have to be prepared to ask questions and be opportunistic with your teaching rather than dogmatic. 

You also have to ask questions to know whether your time is better invested in this person or if it would be better to move on, which brings me to my final point.  When you change your attitude away from dogma (here is the truth, take it or leave it) and move toward questioning (once I understand where you are coming from, I’ll communicate the true and full gospel in a way that you can understand), people will surprise you.  Hostile people will calm down.  Intellectuals will become emotional.  Facades melt away.  Issues are uncovered; hearts are softened.  Defensive people will begin to listen to what you have to say.  You will have earned the right to be heard.

I’ll add one more thing here…as an aside, but very important.  To be successful in this, you must have thick skin. You must have already placed your reputation on the alter as a living sacrifice.  If you take on a challenging relationship, you may be called out to your face or in public.  Are you strong enough to control your response?  Are you strong enough to resist the tempation to defend yourself, to strike back, to control your emotions and allow God to deal with how others perceive you, to focus on your objective which is to a) determine whether or not this person is being prepared by the Spirit to receive the gospel; b) share it in a way that they can understand it; c) be obedient to all of God’s commands, for the right reasons, throughout the process.

So, here is my encouragement, in three parts: 

First, you simply must know your Bible and be working on your own transformation.  Anyone can be dogmatic; it requires a different kind of Christian to engage people where they are. 

Second, ask questions before making assertions.  Know where people are coming from before assuming you know what they need to hear.  This is how you get past the natural defensiveness of a lost person in today’s culture.

Third, don’t become distracted from your ultimate purpose of sharing God’s gospel and His Truth.  As you question, the conversation may tend toward distracting topics…it’s ok to weave, but don’t forget where you are trying to head.  Look for opportunities to share God’s truth related to areas of confusion, difficulty, struggle that people have.

What has God taught you lately?

More than one wise disciple-maker has told me that they could guage the temperature of a person using one simple question…

What has God taught you lately?

Brilliant, IMHO.  I’d like to share something specific God has been working on in me and pray that it might be an encouragement to you.  If you are performance-oriented, this post is for you.

So many of us struggle with a strong performance-orientation.  That is, we are driven by goals, performance, winning, competition, results, excellence, and the like.  On one hand, I praise God that he creates people who are driven to perform at high levels.  The Bible is full of such people, and if it were not for the obedience (i.e. performance) of the heroes of the faith, we would not even have a “faith”.  But, as with so many good things God provides, this blessing can become a bondage to us.

Now, I’m not going to dive into the pop-psychology of performance “bondage” and why we ought to blame our parents for being as we are.  Rather, I’m going to show you a simple truth and pray that God will use it to help you the way He has used it to help me in the past week.

Think about who we would be if it were not for God.  We would be dust…literally.  We would be as significant as the ground you walk on.  This is why is absolutely fascinates me how an athiest can avoid despair…there is no reason whatsoever for an athiest to ascribe significance to matter that rises from insignificant organic matter and disintegrates back into that insignificant organic matter.  The philosophy behind all this is a topic for another day, but it should be intuitive to a reasonable thinker that significance does not rise from insignificance.  Something, or someone, of significance has to give an object significance for it to be genuinely significant.

As I said before, there is nothing wrong with a drive to perform; but, whether we recognize it or not, performance is usually tied to significance.  We perform because we are attempting the earn significance from someone we perceive to be more significant than ourselves.  Said another way, we’re trying to “earn their love”.  And the fact is that no one’s love is worth attempting to earn, because it is vapor…earned love is not really love; earned significance is not really significance.  Satan just likes to make us think that to keep us from living fully in God’s genuine love and sigificance.

Therefore, I have two important principles for you today.  I pray you will find them biblical, helpful, and a light from the Lord himself today.

First, you are significant only because God gives you significance through His love for you.  Your performance has zero affect on your sigificance.  Yes, it may affect rewards in Heaven, but it does not affect God’s love for you nor your true sigificance.  If you did not grow up in a healthy home, I know this is hard to understand…but, it is indeed true of your Heavenly Father.  Just how significant are you?  Significant enough for the God of the universe to condescend to that of man and die for you in Christ.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8 (NASB)”

If you struggle with performance, as I do, it would be helpful to memorize this passage and meditate on it regularly.  Who are you trying to impress with your performance?  A boss?  A spouse?  A son/daughter?  A neighbor?  A competitor?  Who is it?  Now, what do you really have to gain?  If you believe in Christ and have been regenerated, you already have divine significance bestowed upon you by God’s love as demonstrated by His death for you.  Why not just rest in that?!?

Second, work hard (i.e. perform with maximum excellence) at everything you do, but do it as an expression of Christ-like agape love for others.  Performance ought to be seen as something we give away with no expectation of anything in return; it should not be seen as something we use to earn something from someone more significant than ourselves.  Be motivated to empty yourself for others as Christ “emptied” himself for you.  We had nothing to give back to the Lord for His sacrifice, yet he did it anyway.  Likewise, give of yourselves in your work (no matter what it is) as an expression of love for others. 

  • Do you go to school? 
    • Don’t learn to impress or even meet the expectations of your parents or teachers.
    • Do it because educated people are better equiped to serve others.
  • Do you run a household? 
    • Don’t do it to impress your neighbor, spouse, or children or to make them feel a certain way.
    • Do it simply as an expression of love toward your spouse and children, regardless of their response to your efforts.
  • Do you manage other people’s money? 
    • Don’t do it to impress your peers or clients. 
    • Do it because as an expression of love for the person for whom you manage money.
  • Do you write software? 
    • Don’t do it to impress your boss, peers or an open source community.
    • Do it as a work of service to your leader, company or community.
  • Do you clean inside or outside of a building/home?
    • Don’t do it to impress your boss or home owner.
    • Do it because God is orderly, and you can love the owner by providing an orderly space for them.
  • Do you lead or manage other people?
    • Don’t do it to build an empire and to extract significance from people by ruling over them.
    • Do it because you care about developing people and working as a team to love those your team serves.
  • Do you teach the bible, blog or engage forums?
    • Don’t do it to build a reputation or empire.
    • Do it simply because you care about other’s development and welfare.

What do you do?  In what way are you trying to perform for someone else?  How could you change your attitude so that you do what you do to love others rather than gain love from them?  How can you use your work to pour significance into someone else who is not lovely, rather than trying to exact more love and signifiance from those who have nothing to give?

And so, we can summarize with a simple statement…one I plan to carry with me and live as best I can:

God has already made you significant; there is no need to extract significance from others, as if it were even possible.

I started this by saying that this is something God has been teaching me recently, but I would love to know what he has been working with you on!  If you would like to encourage others by sharing, please do so.