Justify: [juhs-tuh-fahy] verb. to show a satisfactory reason or excuse for something done.
Mr. J swaggered into my place of business about 3 years ago with the confidence of a quarterback that just won his 2nd straight superbowl. Fearless. Firm. Assured. He boldly announced that he could make use of my services as if he were doing me a huge favor. Over the next few days, Mr. J and I spent quite a bit of time together. As I began to converse with him and his story began to unfold, I found out that it was a bit more complicated than it first appeared. I also found out that his role in my life was about more than business, it was to teach me some life lessons that have been stirring around in me ever since that first encounter in the little consignment shop.
Turns out Mr. J had been appointed to a high level political position in the state of Alabama. His term was laced with multiple levels of corruption. At the time I began speaking with Mr. J the FBI and State of Alabama had seized $18.2 million dollars and his million dollar home in which I found myself visiting the weeks following our first meeting.
I liked Mr. J a whole lot. His personality was winsome and he was just fun to be around. He was a storyteller and it felt strangely like I was spending time with my favorite grandfather as we would sit and talk about life, leadership and lessons learned. How could someone so enjoyable be in such trouble? There must have been some mistake.
On my last visit in his home we had some time to kill, so I mustered up the courage to ask Mr. J some questions.
“Mr. J, how does it feel to know your going to prison?”
He didn’t bat an eye as he thoughtfully began to answer my question.
“It’s not going to be much of a sentence… a year and a half probably when it’s all done. They’re taking my home, but I’ve got a couple more vacation homes that are nicer than this one here. Hell, I’ll have $1100 per month coming to me from my government pension that they will never touch.”
For some reason none of that seemed to shock me. What sent my mind reeling for the past few years was the next statement out of his mouth.
“It’s just the price you pay for public service.”
The price you pay for public service?!?
As much as I wanted to like Mr. J, at that moment I realized that he had taken his corruption and turned it into a heroic act of valor for which he was going to have to pay an unjust penalty.
Mr. J was justifying his behavior.
A week ago I was driving home from work after one of the most difficult weeks of my life. I began to ask myself if I was experiencing this stuff because I had rebelled against God’s ways, so I asked Him if there was anything in my life I should confess and change. Just as if I was talking to one of my kids on an early morning ride to school, I heard Him say,
“Go to bed.”
Go to bed? I ask you what I could change about my life and you say “Go to Bed?”
“But I’m a night owl. The only time of the day that I can actually get things done and not be interrupted is late at night. I get so much done. What would I do without the extra hours in the day? God, it’s just not practical. It’s the way YOU made me.”
“Just go to bed” He said.
I was up till after midnight that night and until 3 AM the following. I just had too much to do.
Sin is SINGULAR. We love to make it plural. It gives us something to count. I can count how many “sins” I don’t do and it makes me feel so good about the few I indulge in. Sin is not a subset of unhealthy behaviors, it is a nature that came to life in us when the apple became more enticing than a relationship with the Maker. It bursts forth in behavior, but it’s not the behavior itself. Because we make sin plural, we have the ability to place ourselves in a hierarchy of sinners (and one of righteousness). We feel good about being better that 1,309,256 other people. It gives us our favorite tool in the toolbox of our flesh: justification.
The problem with this method of relating to God is that if we are going to embrace it, we have to ask the question: “where is the line between evil and good?” Am I a holy person if I rank below #1,000,000 on the most sinful list or do I need to reach the level of #5,000,000?
I tell my kids that they need to get in bed because nothing good happens after 9 PM. And there I go on my long-winded pontification about how my “after hours” indulgence is somehow different because I get so many “good” things done after everyone else goes to bed.
The truth is, God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day (Gen. 1:3-5). He made our bodies and minds to function in a rhythm. My desire to live above that by creating new hours in my day is an attempt to be my own God. That is a pretty cut and dry definition of Sin.
Now, before you start feeling all guilty about working nights or weekends or whatever, let me just affirm that this is an area of MY life that God is working on. He is so creative in working with each of us based on our uniqueness. Some folks have to work through the night or through the weekend. It’s not about this one issue, but another singular issue: justification.
Mr. J was a wonderful man with a corrupt heart, no different from the rest of us. The temptation for me was to view him somehow as evil. That makes me feel much better about my white lies and procrastination. Mr. J and Kevin B are simply products of the first rebellion (Gen. 3).
Maybe our target should be to have a heart soft enough to hear the voice of the Lord whispering in our ear. For me that voice was whispering,
“Go to bed.”
This morning I awoke to my wife laying her head on my stomach. She speaks softly with a bit of fear in her voice. She’s afraid of how I might react to her thoughts. I hear her force out the words that were hard for her to utter.
“I need you to get up earlier in the mornings.”
Yes God, I hear you.