Thursday, February 10, 2011
Yesterday was one of the toughest days I've experienced in quite some time. In retrospect, it really wasn't that bad. I mean, seriously, it's not like I'm going through cancer treatments. It's not like I was pacing anxiously in a hospital waiting area for news on a loved one. To be completely honest, I'm a little ashamed that I let the four hours that I spent in the local courthouse get to me so much. (Hey, there's still a "work in progress" sign over my life too.)
Back in November I was stopped by a local police officer for a speeding violation. It was dark, and I was returning home from delivering a meal for one of our members who had just received a long-anticipated kidney transplant. The stretch of road that I was traveling apparently quickly changed from a 35 mile-per-hour to 25 mile-per-hour speed limit. I did not realize the change in the speed zone and consequently was pulled over for going 34 miles-per-hour.
The officer was courteous, I suppose. He explained to me the error of my ways and said that, if I wanted to, I could challenge the violation in court. So, yesterday was my appointed time to try to wiggle my way out of a $100 fine that, quite frankly, I'm not really able to afford.
I got to the courthouse early. I was the four person in line to speak with an officer. I watched as the small waiting area became increasingly crammed with more and more people. When I spoke with the policeman, I was delighted by the fact that he recognized me as a pastor in the area and said that he would do his best to recommend to the prosecutor that my violation be completely dismissed. He told me to head over to the courtroom and wait to be called before the judge.
The judge was seated at about 1:15 pm. At 2:15 pm, the judge took a recess; my name had not been called. At 3:00 pm, the judge took another recess; again, my name had not been called (remember, I was fourth in line...out of about sixty people!) Finally, at about 4 pm, the prosecutor called my name and I went into a little side room where he informed me that he was unwilling to dismiss the speeding violation. He presented me with my options; none of which really sounded appealing to me. I signed a piece of paper and retook my seat in the courtroom.
At about 4:30 pm, the judge finally said, "In the matter of the State of New Jersey vs. Daniel Williams...". (Gulp!) He read before the court my summons and charge and said, "How do you plea?" I then answered, "G...G...Guilty", and was subsequently permitted to leave the courtroom and pay my fine.
Needless to say, numerous thoughts raced across my mind during those hours of waiting in the courtroom. I was incensed that so many people got to leave before I did. I was annoyed at the fact that the longer it took for my name to be called, the more likely it was that I was going to have to pay the speeding ticket. I was embarrassed at the whole idea of having to sit in a courtroom for any reason whatsoever.
"G...G...Guilty"...there is nothing pleasant about that word. After some time to reflect on everything, even though I wasn't happy about the situation, the reality is that I was guilty of speeding. "But officer, I didn't realize..." just wasn't going to magically make the ticket go away.
A couple of thoughts: first, I'm grateful that God does not still count me among the guilty. Through an admission of my sins and faith in Jesus Christ, the penalty has been settled. In Christ, the fine has been paid for all who believe. I'm eternally grateful to God for His mercy and unfailing love.
Second, I'm grateful that Jesus is a merciful Advocate and not an unmerciful prosecutor. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is the "one mediator between God and man...who gave himself as a ransom for all men" (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Jesus is a tender Shepherd for us who have strayed and fallen short of God's perfect standard.
Finally, the reality of guilt leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth. However, with God, the bitter taste of guilt is taken away and replaced by the sweet savor of fellowship at God's table. God "opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). It's not fun or pleasant to admit one's guilt. Yet, it is imperative that we admit our weakness and need for Christ so that we might be forever changed by His love and grace.