Saturday, February 16, 2013

Self - Control Does Not Equal Door Mat

I have had the dubious honor or malady of testifying in all levels of courts in the Shreveport area in the course of my job. None of it was a barrel of monkeys. As a matter of fact, testifying is my least favorite thing about my job. The worst though is when the insured is suing my company for bad faith on a case I investigated. Bad Faith means I maliciously went after them, and while I really enjoy my job, maliciousness is not in my heart, but that doesn’t stop them from asserting it in their lawsuits. There is one particular case that comes to mind. It was in the summer of 2003, and I had a lot of things going on in my personal life. My Pappaw was on life support, and I was going to the hospital before work and at lunch. This consumed most of my thoughts…not the arson I had investigated the fall before. But work doesn’t wait.

The prior fall my boss had assigned me a homeowner arson. It was my first one, and it was text book. By the time I was assigned the case, Bo Roberts had already been assigned to determine the cause of the fire. Here is the scenario given to me by our insured. He and his wife had locked all the doors and were positive all the windows were locked as well. They had left the house that morning to take their kids to school and run some errands. When they return, they said they saw smoke and called the fire department. This is where I started picking apart their story. The fire report said there was no smoke found externally, and they didn’t have to extinguish anything because the fire had put itself out. Yes, fires can self-extinguish when there isn’t enough oxygen to fuel it. The insured told us that he had been having difficulties with his heating unit and had someone called to come and look at it the next day. When Bo (our origin and cause expert) entered the house, he discovered a pour pattern as clear as day leading away from the heating unit and in some of the bedrooms. There were many inconsistencies in the statements given by the insureds and the documentations they provided. We denied their claim, and they filed suit as was expected. Prior to a suit going to trial, depositions are taken, and my deposition took half a day. For half a day I was grilled about what I did on the claim, why I did it, what certain words and phrases meant, and why we had denied the claim. It was grueling. The plaintiff attorney looks for anyway to twist your words or use your words against you. I did my best to stay in my box…meaning only testifying to what I knew first hand.

When trial came, the insured fired his attorney and decided to represent himself. “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” During the trial, I had to sit outside the district courtroom and wait to be called to the stand. The judge in the case rocked. He told the insured that he would listen to matters of fact first. If he determined there was bad faith, then he would listen to matters of damages. The insured was not an attorney, and I really don’t think he had a clue what that meant. Bo was called to the stand, and Bo’s reputation is solid. The insured made the mistake of asking Bo what he thought happened in the fire. It was an open door that Bo walked through. Bo told the insured that he thought the insured had set the fire the night before, and the fire self-extinguished. If you’re the insured, this is not something you want the judge to hear. As the trial moved towards the end, I was called to the stand. Now, you have to remember I have to remain calm, not respond when provoked, and follow my attorney’s lead. The insured starts coming at me, pelting me with irrelevant questions. There are objections. The judge rules on the objections. The insured attacks again quoting my words and asking what I meant. The insured starts trying to walk me through the damages to his home and his personal property. I pause knowing either the judge will interject or my attorney would, and thankfully, the judge explained we were not addressing the damages at this point. I don’t know what my face revealed if anything. I remember sitting on the stand looking at the judge trying to look sweet like…Could you help this sister out? Other than that one look, I play my best poker face. I will tell you it takes a lot of self-restraint not to defend myself when I’m being peppered with questions and attacked personally. But that is the worst thing I could possibly do. I have to wait for the attorney to stand up for me. I have to wait for the attorney to plead my position to the judge.

I would have been very much interested in seeing the insured question himself on the stand. I’m sure that was a riot. The judge ruled against our insured.

I’m reminded of this story in my own life because I’ve been reading Acts and the story of Stephen. In Acts 6 Stephen who was filled with the Spirit was called to serve. They said Steven was a man full of God’s grace and power and did great signs and wonders (vs8). Those who went after him could not argue against Stephen’s wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke (vs9). So they conjured up some lying false witnesses to testify against him. In verse 15, they said Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel. I don’t know that my face looked like an angel that day in court, but I’ve wondered if when persecuted or ridiculed or disrespected what does the look on my face tell my attacker. Does it say, “You better back off because I’m about to rip off your head and spit down your throat?” or does it say, “I’m afraid just leave me alone.” Maybe it’s something in between. I’m sure I’ve worn all those faces and when I wear the one that says I’m about to rip your head off, the words usually come cascading out of my mouth hitting their mark between the eyes and on the heart. YIKES! And sometimes, I may even do that to the people I love. Sometimes I may do it in the earshot of someone who needs to see Christ in me…bomb! Fail.

You know what Stephen does in the face of persecution? He gives a history lesson. He stays factual. Trust me, the only way to be able to stay calm when being attacked is to be Spirit-filled. Stephen laid out God’s relationship through Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon. He shows how time after time God has given them messengers, prophets and outlined what they have said and how God’s people rejected him each and every time. OUCH! No one likes to hear how they have failed and disobeyed time after time after time. They took Stephen, and as they took Stephen out to be stoned Stephen saw Jesus on the right hand of God. Stephen’s reward was best said by Paul (who used to be Saul). Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Stephen being full of the Holy Spirit that day was a reflection of that speaking only the words that the Spirit gave him, and to see his reward waiting for him…WOW! And as Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the rest of the story.” When Stephen was being led away to be stoned, his coat was given to a man whose name was Saul. This is our first introduction to Saul who later became Paul. Saul saw and heard Stephen. Don’t you know the way that Stephen handled himself, the way he spoke, the way he look, had to have haunted Saul at some point in time.

In Acts 5, after believers were beaten they rejoiced because they had been beaten on behalf of the Name (vs 41).

When someone gets all up in your grill, all up in your crawl, all in your face and business, how do you respond? How do you react? The fruit of the Spirit is love. Love’s victory is in self-control. Stephen was not a doormat. He spoke his mind clearly and effectively, but he only spoke the words that the Spirit gave him to speak. What does your speech say about you when you get angry, upset, confronted or attacked?

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