The Courtroom

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Hope is very important to me, which is why I always try to point back to the hope of the gospel in every blog post. This post dives into the discouragement we can face as Christians when we daily deal with our sinful selves and a confusing, sin-infused world. If you identify with my struggle below, I pray you will also identify with my powerful, joy-giving hope. It is an anchor for our souls.

 Every morning, I wake up up to preside over the courtroom of my soul.
I don’t mean to say that I am the Law for myself. I most certainly–first and only, body and soul— belong to my Lord and Savior.
But each day I climb up to the bench and try the cases of my heart, one by one.
I like knowing. I like certainty.
And sometimes facts and feelings plead their cases, memory and intuition wage war on the courtroom floor, prayers and fears duel on the witness stand, and I sink down behind the bench in dismay.
Because sometimes I can’t figure it all out. And when I do figure it out, often I, the judge, am implicated by the testimonies of my own courtroom.
Either way, the result is the same: my soul is left with a choice, to either despair or trust.
Despair, because I can’t figure out or fix myself.
Trust, because today I see more of my flaws than I could see yesterday—but I can also see more of my God’s goodness than I could see a day ago.

Coming Up Empty

As a child, it worked.
I could analyze all the pieces of my life and see how they fit together. Things were more black and white, people were more stereotypical, and my eyes saw through the rosy tint of childhood.
In my courtroom now, I have more evidence than ever. My storerooms are filled with interpretations, weights, measures, gauges, preconceptions.
And life takes on ever so many more shades.
Before, I could hold up the six stripes of the rainbow and match the color. Now, people and events are painted with shades I never knew existed and shadows I dared not imagine. Ever mixing tones on their own life’s palette, each person colors in their existence with shades of their own making, each creating never-before-seen hues.
The dazzling variety hurts my tender eyes. I don’t know the difference between azure and sky blue. I can’t discern between apricot, coral, and salmon pink.
I can’t even, often, decrypt the colors of my own soul.
So this judge cradles her aching head and sometimes has to leave the bench. And I’m learning that…it’s okay to lay down the gavel. Sometimes, I just have to find out how far God’s Word addresses the situation, pray for wisdom, ask questions, and–every once in a while–suspend judgment.
Sometimes swift and firm decisions are needed. I’m happy to bang the gavel on such occasions.
But others? I’ve worried my soul into a tizzy, pressing it for suitable evidence and arguments. I’ve harried my heart into tears, because I can’t split the fine hairs of my own thoughts.
In these times, I have to recognize my calling. Am I called to read my own mind and discern my own intentions, to the nth degree? Or is my utmost call the glory of God, as I rest and quiet my soul in Him?
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this [love for one another] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 
 – 1 John 3:18-20, NASB –
It is so beautiful, so quiet, to finally lay aside my judging robes and commit my soul to “Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Coming Up Guilty 

Sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
And, many days, I am everyone else’s worst critic too.
Comparing, weighing their opinions against my own, sizing them up with my own peculiarly-developed standards—I am learning the unloving and selfish ways of my own heart when it is left to itself.
Not to say that I let it wander unchecked.
If you could step into my mind, you would hear the daily dialogue I have with myself. I raise criticisms and bash them down in a breath. I mutter and complain, following up with a “but you should really thank God for all the good things that happened today.” Then, the selfish part of me argues back.
I critique the behavior of those around me…then inform myself that I do the same things. Why should I hold them to a standard I don’t hold myself to?
And back and forth it goes.
So very often, my internal courtroom resounds with my own guilt. As I learn more and more of Christ’s worthiness and my own failures, I have to go back to the same place as I go when I cannot figure out things at all:
Quieting my soul at the foot of the cross…or, perhaps, restoring my soul at the door of the empty tomb.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.”
 – Psalm 131:1-3, NASB –
My faithful God sent His Son for the mess of me.
My resurrected Savior conquered death so I might live in His victory.
My heart is daily renovated by the Divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit that dwells in His children.
While defeat and imperfection raise their voices in my courtroom, they do not get to rule. Although confusion and mystery chase me around the bench, they are not judge over me.
I have only one Judge in the end, and He is making me new, day by day.
How I long to be new!
I believe that’s just what I’m becoming. “New, fresh, with no mistakes”—as Ann says.
One of these days, I’ll get there. One of these days.
I know it.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
 – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NKJV –
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What You Don’t See

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“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

– C.S. Lewis –


A friend and I were talking this week, pondering about how we view others. We decided that, much of the time, we don’t really see them.

Not the biggest piece of them, anyway.

I see only what I want to see, I suppose. The outside words and actions. Motions and syllables. Annoying things. Pleasing things.

Over and over, I condemn someone in my heart. Sometimes I assign a motivation to their bad behaviors. Other times, I keep my distance, because I just don’t want to get involved in their baggage. Judging, I judge myself.

Because, often, I do the exact same things I condemn others for doing.

A while back, I got irritated at someone for trying to tell me how to do something. I can do it myself, I inwardly argued. Don’t you think I’m smart enough to figure this out?

Of course, not long later, I was on the other side of the picture, making sure someone in my family knew exactly the right way to accomplish a task. Because obviously I am the sole Guardian of the Right Way to Do Everything.

What I condemned, I did myself.

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Romans 2:1-4 –

For some reason, I am so much easier on myself when it comes to sin — or even preferences — than I am on others. If I want to be bossy, fine. But far be it from you to try to be bossy. You shall rue the day.

But one day, a person you silently judged will open up to you in spite of your internal condemnation, and they will tell you a bigger story.

Oh, their sin won’t suddenly be okay, but you will see a much larger story than you imagined.

One day you will wake up and see that you didn’t see them before, not at all. You shouldn’t excuse sin, but your heart will be humbled by the knowledge that you probably wouldn’t do any better if you were in their shoes.

Instead of the cardboard cutout you thought they were, your eyes will open to a real, blood-pumping, soul-scarred human being, with all of the dozens of motivations, complexities, moods, circumstances and problems that you face in your own life.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

So, next time you get angry, next time you are wronged for the hundredth time, next time the flaws of another person shine through in all their terrible blatancy, remember.

You were an enemy. Yet still Jesus, very God of very God, died for you.

You were not lovely. But He took you anyway, to make you lovely.

You were not worthy. But He has made you an heir with Him.

The well-known literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird has this to say about our predisposition to judge:

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
― Harper Lee

Proverbs 8:13 pronounces it shameful to give an answer before the question has even been spoken. How much more foolish is it to pass sentence on the “wrongness” of those around us before we have even understood them?

Sin is not excusable. It never is.

But if God can step out of paradise to touch feeble dust-creatures with His glory, how much more can we extend His love to those around us.

Their worthiness is not the issue.

In truth, we can see ourselves in them, as if we were looking in a mirror. It is not that they are less bad. It is that we, when we truly see them, also see that we’re not as good as we’d like to think.

But our Savior is good.

So today, pray for grace to really see. When people inevitably rub you the wrong way, stop and look beyond your nearsighted perspective. What you find out may surprise you. It will most certainly bring you to your knees in humility and thankfulness for the mercy of our great God.

Oh Father, give us eyes to see those we meet. Our families — those most familiar to us, but so often still unseen. Our neighbors — those whom God has planted us beside. Our fellow church members — co-heirs of the grace in which we live abundantly. The great, unmet horde of unseen — those we never stop to see or hear or know.

Help me see those I meet as you see them. Needy. Flawed. And just as much a candidate for Your unearned love as I am.


“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

 

 

 

Travelers, Tent-dwellers, and Troublemakers

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“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

 – Psalms 116:1-2 NIV –


Men of dust, doubt, and deceit. Hardened men — men of blood, accustomed to pagan rites, gory battles, and rampant immorality.

This was the world of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And yet God chose them. Why? Certainly not because of their piety — we’re talking about a group of polygamists, liars, and cowards.

But He still chose them. Out of millions of people, he put his favor on one undeserving man, commissioning a journey that would transform a childless old man into the father of a spiritual nation.

He appeared to them, one by one (Abraham: Genesis 12:7, 17:1, 18:1; Isaac: Genesis 26:24; Jacob: Genesis 32:24). He spoke to them, came to them in dreams, and visited them in visions. He made promises to them.

He put tears of laughter on the face of the century-old Abraham.

He vowed faithfulness to the promised son Isaac.

He wrestled until dawn with the stubborn heel-grabber Jacob.

As I recently finished reading through Genesis, I realized that many people today have it all wrong. Some see the God of the Old Testament as a severe Judge who finally mellows out and becomes more loving by the time the New Testament era arrives. But I found this idea to be the farthest thing from the truth.

In all His majesty, holiness, and justice, the God of the Old Testament is the same unchangeable God as the gracious Deity of later Scripture. His mercy didn’t begin when the calendar switched from B.C. to A.D.

Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!
    For His mercy endures forever.

– Psalm 136: 26, NKJV, emphasis mine –

You see, I believe that many people have difficulties with the severe punishments for sin recorded in the OT stem because of one common misunderstanding: We do not realize the seriousness of sin.

When we realize that one sin — even the “tiniest” sin we can imagine — is so serious that it incurs death on the sinner, we start to see that no punishment in the OT is less than any one of us deserve.

The wonder is not that God had so many people punished. The wonder is that He chooses to spare any of us (Romans 9:14-24).

We think of ourselves too highly. We see innocence where there is corruption. We see purity where sin has already crept in. We set up a mock trial, usurp the judge’s bench, and think we can pass the sentence to excuse our human frailty.

Who are we to do this?

When we finally see what every last one of us deserves, only then are we ready to see the true character of the God of the Old Testament…and the New.

“Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like mercy and love. Souls that converse much with sin and wrath, may be much terrified; but souls that converse much with grace and mercy, will be much humbled.”

– Thomas Brooks –

This is why Genesis was more beautiful to me this time than any other time I have read it.

I don’t claim to understand how deeply my sin grieves my heavenly Father, but I know this: when I read about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I grasp a little bit more of the astounding mercy of God.

Jacob gives me hope. A thieving, lying, cheating polygamist, as stubborn as they come, received grace from the God of his father and grandfather:

“Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

– Genesis 32:9-12, NKJV, emphasis mine –

These men were not cardboard patriarchs. They had skin that burned, hearts that hungered, and souls that strayed. They were real. They were like us. Yes, these desert dwellers of 4,000 years ago had to answer the same question as we do today: Do we believe God or don’t we?

God, in His great mercy, set His love on them and granted them the grace to believe.

And the desert dwellers became saints of God, believing His promises of a Seed to redeem them all (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 3:16-19).

They didn’t have all the answers. They made a mess of many decisions. They saw God Himself one moment and were scheming up their own solutions to His promises the next.

But He chose them.

And, man by man, He drew each of them close and poured out love on a sand-covered, sin-grimed wanderer. So when I read the Old Testament, I’m not confused by plagues or punishments. I’m astounded that God chose to set His love on a bunch of clueless tent-dwellers and make them His.

It reminds me of what He did for me — a person just as clueless, just as unworthy, and just as much a saint of God — through the sacrifice and triumph of the Promised Son, the Seed of Abraham.


“The high heaven covereth as well tall mountains as small mole hills, and mercy can cover all. The more desperate thy disease, the greater is the glory of thy physician, who hath perfectly cured thee.”

– Abraham Wright –

Where Are You?

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The first time two souls went running,

What if nothing had gotten in their way?

If the briars and blood were all the answer

In the garden ruined by rebels that day?

On ground first stained with brother’s blood,

What if no curse was ever spoken?

What if murder was the natural thing,

Sure sign of power, not of true things broken?

Globe fast hurtling through space,

What if nothing held its spin in check?

If not a drop of care or thought

Was given to this blue-green speck?

Hearts wrung, strung along on faith

Constructed on dreams of sinking sand.

What if these were all to hope for,

Our wishful thoughts the only plan?

But God said, “Where are you?”

And rebel hearts must quake,

For none can hide the dark inside,

Or restore to new, or life awake.

Again, the call, “Where are you?”

Still-broken souls rejoice,

For a Judge to call means justice lives,

At least there’s meaning in the void.

But He once cried, “Where are you?”

And that time t’was God who died.

“Oh Father, You’ve forsaken me”

True justice and pure grace collide.

By the tomb she wept, “Where are you?”

By Mary’s side He was alive,

And Thomas, doubting, inwardly echoed,

The question that Mary had cried.

To the clouds Christ soon ascended

And now clouds await His returning shout

To His Bride, “Where are you?”

At last the joy destroying doubt.

Still He repeats “Where are you?”

Till all His sheep are in.

God’s call delivering the sentence,

God’s own answer absolving sin.