Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Fire! Ready? Aim.

"How do you plead?"

Before you even start down that road in your mind, I'll go ahead and let you know - it was traffic court.

The year was 1988, I was living in Woodstock, GA, where I was serving at my first full-time ministry, and my car of choice was a real speed demon - a Hyundai Elantra. But speed was not the issue.

"How do you plead?"

In late 1987, I was driving through downtown Woodstock around 9 PM (so, I was probably "coming from church, officer") when the blue lights appeared in my rear-view mirror.

Quick side note: Is there any worse feeling... that gut-wrenching sight of the blue and/or red lights flooding the back seat of your car as you watch in your side mirror as the officer approaches your car? Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Actually, not so hypothetically.

"How do you plead?"

This particular night in Woodstock was, unfortunately, not the first time that I had the experience (I think the number is actually four, including one time when I was running on the side of the road... but that's a story for another time).

After getting my license and registration, taking them back to his vehicle, and making me wait for what seemed like an eternity while he determined that I was not "on the lam," he returned and proceeded to tell me that he had pulled me over for O.C.G.A. §40-6-49.

O.C.G.A. §40-6-49 states: "The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway."

What? Are you kidding me? I never follow too closely!

That's not true... at all. I am, shall we say, not the most patient of drivers. My family will very quickly tell you that many times they feel like they have a closer kinship with the passengers in the back seat of the car in front of us than they do with me.

However, when I am driving, I am still the picture of "reasonable and prudent."

Okay, that's not true either... and especially not thirty years ago.

So, after the officer explained to me my infraction, he handed me the ticket and said that I could either pay the fine or go to court.

I was twenty-three years old - that really should be enough explanation - and I felt like I really just needed the judge to hear me out so that he could understand my situation. (Even as I write that, I realize that I'm not all that different even today).

Which is how I ended up in traffic court a couple months later, being asked the question...

"How do you plead?"

I obviously answered, "Not guilty, your honor," to which came back his reply, with no hesitation, "Guilty. Next!"

What? Are you kidding me? I just sat in a smoke-filled room (remember, it was the 80's) for more than two hours with upwards of seventy to eighty other people, rehearsing clever arguments in my head. And now, after uttering only four words, I'm dismissed without even the opportunity to speak?

I really didn't know what to say. Thankfully I didn't say anything, but apparently, I didn't move away quickly enough either, because the judge looked at me and repeated, with emphasis, "Guilty. Next!"

The thoughts rolled through my mind: "What kind of back-woods justice is this? I mean, how can he sit there and make a judgment about me and my situation without ever even hearing a single word from me? He doesn't know me. What evidence does he even have, other than the report of a single police officer?"

Another quick side note: The above is not to in any way speak disparagingly of any police officer and especially the one who issued me the ticket. While I have not really thought too much about this over the last three decades, in writing about it today, and knowing that what I wrote just a few paragraphs earlier about my patience, or lack of it, while driving, is the truth, I know that the officer had it right.

I was guilty.

But we've all been there, haven't we? I mean, even if you've never been to Woodstock, GA (or even have a clue where it's located), we have all been there. We have all made snap-judgments and decisions about an individual without giving them a chance to speak even a single word. And many times, those decisions are based on far less credible evidence than a police officer's word.

You know, regardless of which side of the political aisle you align with, I believe that most of us would admit that our media, at times, has been guilty of failing to do its due diligence on a story, ignoring the "facts" for the privilege of getting to tell the story first.

However, before we cast that stone, we probably need to look in the mirror first.

I need to look in the mirror first.

Whether it is selecting a cashier at the grocery store (and usually my only criteria is, "Will he/she be faster?" My hours spent in line only serve to show how horrible my judgment is in that area) or any number of other mundane choices, we make judgments every single day.

That's to be expected. That's normal. That's life.

But, with the increasing number of users of social media over the last decade, almost everyone has, in some way, become a journalist and/or a critic. And while it is easy to point fingers at the "media" for their failings, all of us have or know someone who has suffered because of hasty words and hurtful judgments.

Whether we are the "author" (and trust me, you don't have to be on Facebook to author a judgment against someone. It only takes being willing to share the words with another person.), or we hear/read someone else's judgments and jump on the bandwagon with either the inability or indifference to actually separate fact from fiction, we are guilty.

"How do you plead?"

I am guilty.

So, here's my commitment to you (and for "you" to be "you," we really do have to have some sort of relationship, okay?)

Maybe I should rephrase that. Here is my commitment to you, my friends and family:
  1. I will believe the best about you.
  2. When other people assume the worst about you, I will come to your defense.
  3. If what I personally experience begins to erode my trust in you, I will come directly to you to talk about it.
  4. If/when you confront me about any such areas, I will tell you the truth.
The above ideas are not original - they are borrowed, some almost word for word, from Andy Stanley - but I like them so much, I want to try to make them a part of my own relationships moving forward. I feel like I have lived some of these out in the past, but maybe just as often, I've ignored some and possibly let down people who I care about. Moving forward, I want to be intentional... and consistent.

Because the truth is, even with all of my sin and faults (yours too, but we're talking about me), God chose to see me, in His Son, as holy and blameless.

"Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes." (Ephesians 1:4 NLT)

And although I know it's on a completely different level, I want to make a similar choice. I want to be the kind of person who, given both options, chooses to believe the good much quicker than I believe the bad. I want to give the benefit of the doubt.

I'm pretty sure I know exactly how that can happen... where that change can come from. 

It comes from following Jesus more (not too) closely!

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