Archive for August, 2013

Because we live (inescapably) in a moral universe, with consciences that testify to right and wrong, we’re never far from the courtroom of law. All around us, and inside us, is the gavel sound of right-wrong judgment.

In the one ear, we hear the shoutings and whisperings of the prosecution. In the other, we await the pronouncements of the judge. Meanwhile, we seek to put up our own feeble little defenses, mainly by comparing ourselves to others who seem worse than us.

In an ultimate irony, we judge others in order to try to avoid judgment of ourselves.

Once I accept the fact that I, in fact, am in the docket, the prospects of acquittal can seem awfully dim. Our best efforts are shot through with selfish motives; and, truth be told, we rarely care to give out our best efforts toward righteous behavior anyway (unless someone is watching and our reputation can be enhanced). Mostly, when we are accused by the prosecuting counsel of Conscience, we have little defense to offer. And that right-wrong voice is very difficult to escape, even after several shots of bourbon.

Conscience. Such a downer…

In this moral universe, accountability to a holy God and His righteous law is an absolutely worst-case scenario. Conscience, however, does serve a vital purpose. It’s our preview. Our nagging reminder to stop denying reality.

Recently, I once again had my day in court, where (to my chagrin, as always) my life was laid bare before the judge. The nasty, horned prosecutor never misses a trick, and he came (as always) loaded for bear.

Here is the transcript:

PROSECUTION: Your honor, we have an open-and-shut case here. I have 44 witnesses and incontrovertible video evidence. If there’s a commandment, he’s violated it – in deed or at least in spirit. Plus this pathetic lawbreaker has even confessed to his wrongdoing. Look at him, even now – guilt all over his face.

JUDGE: Of what is he accused this time?

PROSECUTION: Better to ask of what he is not accused. See that swelling pride over his work success, instead of humble gratitude? And consider this exchange with his son, where he totally lost patience and spoke harsh, hurtful words. And consider this litany of impure thoughts last Thursday, which he decided to indulge even while knowing that you’d disapprove. Plus, he uses a pretty lame screen-saver.

JUDGE: Bad stuff. I also see that you have entered into evidence 1,357 exhibits (since last Monday) showing immoral, ungrateful, half-hearted, self-centered, and/or dumb behavior. I’ve reviewed them. You actually left out quite a few that were at the secret level of impure intentions.

PROSECUTOR: Sorry about that, Judge – it’s hard to catch everything. And, even though the defense has brought forth a few paltry items that appear to be sincere behavior, even the defendant admits that they are stained with selfishness. He not only doesn’t meet the standards, he doesn’t even come close to the sub-standard.

JUDGE: Ouch. Defendant, how do you plead?

DEFENDANT: It’s all true, Your Honor. I did all that, I am all that, and I’m afraid – no, I’m sure – that I’ll keep messing up.

JUDGE: Also, you jumped bail last time and tried to run away, didn’t you? Conscience had to drag you back.

DEFENDANT: I was hoping you’d forget about that. I know, I know….you never forget. A guy can wish, though, can’t he?

ADVOCATE FOR THE DEFENSE: Your Honor, I move that this case be dismissed.

PROSECUTOR: Objection!

JUDGE: Grounds for your objection?

PROSECUTOR: The evidence! Look at all this! You’ve seen it, and you’ve heard the testimony. The defendant even admits it. What more do we need? He’s guilty. Guilty! GUILTY!! Put him away for life!

JUDGE: All true. Advocate, grounds for dismissal? This better be good…

ADVOCATE FOR THE DEFENSE: It is unjust to punish twice for the same sin. The defendant must go free. His crimes have been paid for.

PROSECUTOR: Whaaaat??? Objection! He hasn’t even begun to be punished, the lawbreaker!

ADVOCATE FOR THE DEFENSE: According to this signed and sealed certificate, the sentence has been pronounced, and the punishment endured, by another in his stead. According to our laws, a willing and worthy substitute may stand in the place of the guilty and absorb all legal liability. Also, such a worthy substitute may transfer a permanent righteous standing before our most just laws to said defendant.

PROSECUTOR: Blasphemy! Who can forgive sins, and make righteous, but God alone? Law and conscience condemn this man! I demand that justice be satisfied!

ADVOCATE FOR THE DEFENSE: Your Honor, as you can see from these nailprints on my hands, justice has been carried out. A thousand accusations of lawbreaking, all true, cannot change the sentence of pardon, and cannot affect the standing of righteousness, permanently granted to my client. He is free, and his sins forgotten.

JUDGE: True. Case dismissed.

PROSECUTOR: I’ll be damned!

JUDGE: True.

Crazy, right? Read: John 3:16-21


Recently on Steve’s Free: Outrageous Compassion

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Making Sense of Prayer

I’ve always envied those who seem to pray so naturally, with such child-like faith.

Prayer, for me, has always been a tangled struggle of half-belief, pressure to perform, and guilty feelings of failure – especially when you read, say, the biography of George Muelller or some other stellar disciple of the past. Prayer has too often focused on me, not God.

Why such struggle? I don’t think it’s really about prayer itself. It likely stems from tangled and half-blind view of God, particularly as my gracious Father. Add to that a proudly independent spirit, and you don’t have a recipe for child-like faith.

Looking within never produced believing prayer.

Yet – God is infinitely patient with His erring, stubborn, myopic children.

I really need to see prayer as my believing collaboration with a willing Father in the outworking of His will, rather than my doubting performance trying to live up to the standards of a grudging God – trying to convince Him to do my will.

I get it so backwards most of the time.

Lord, I don’t know why you bother with the likes of me. But thank You for Your unending grace.

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He couldn’t even walk there himself.

The remarkable rabbi was nearby. The one who was healing people with all sorts of diseases.

But he couldn’t make the trip on his own. You see, he was paralyzed.

Not sore. Not lame. Totally unable to walk. Any doctor would have put it on his chart – “Hopeless case.”

His friends had to carry him to Jesus.

What followed was both remarkable and outrageous. Go ahead – read Matthew 9:1-8.

Jesus saw the hopelessly afflicted man, his friends, and their collective faith. And He said,

“Sorry, dude. That’s too tough a case for me.” No.

“Hey, thanks for coming! Have you checked out Galilee Memorial Hospital? – they have a great setup for paralytics!” No.

“Why, look at the time! Gotta go, folks, see you all next week.” No.

What Jesus did say was totally unexpected, and absolutely inflammatory: “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

The religious scholars in the crowd were utterly appalled. A man, pronouncing forgiveness of sins?? Blasphemy!

Now, of course, anyone could SAY they forgive someone’s sins – it may be blasphemy, but who can prove him wrong? It’s just words, after all.

So Jesus challenges the disbelievers: “Which is easier, to say “Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home.”

Which the man, undoubtedly grateful and thoroughly amazed, promptly did.

Publicly. Right in front of all the skeptics.

Compassion? An outrageous display – way beyond what was hoped for.

The man and his friends came hoping for the miracle of movement; they left with that and the miracle of forgiveness.

The skeptics, meanwhile, only left with perplexed anger.

What is holding us back from coming to this compassionate, authoritative, spiritual physician? If the Son of Man/Son of God is pronouncing (and effecting) spiritual healing, then by all means, we should be coming to Him with faith.

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