Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Compassionate Judge

Twenty-five hearings ago the defendant had been charged with driving under the influence. Now he stands before Judge Lou Olivera as he confesses he had lied about a recent urine test. This same judge has been tracking this man's progress in a veteran's treatment court program. Up to now he has been lenient, but now he has no choice.

The sentence is 24 hours in jail. But this isn't just an ordinary defendant. He is Sgt. Joseph Serna, a former Special Forces soldier who served four combat tours in Afghanistan. He was almost killed three times. One was a roadside bomb; another was suicide bomber. In 2008 his armored truck left a narrow dirt road and ended up in a canal.

As his vehicle filled with water Serna struggled to free himself but was unable. He recalls: "I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor. Sgt. James Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air. He knew there was not enough room for both of us to breathe so he went under water to find another pocket of air." Sgt. Treber was unable to find that air pocket. Serna was the sole survivor.

A decorated Green Beret, Sgt. Serna was awarded three Purple Hearts and numerous military awards, but found adjusting to civilian life difficult. He turned to alcohol and now, in addition to battling PTSD, he struggles to stay sober.

After the hearing Sgt. Serna is led to a waiting car. To his surprise the driver is Judge Olivera himself. Afraid the night and day in jail will trigger Sgt. Serna's PTSD, the judge personally drives him to the jail, comes into his cell, and sits down on his cot. The whole night they sit together, talking about their experiences in the military. Later, Sgt. Serna described it as "more of a father-son conversation. It was personal."

Judge Olivera commented about Sgt. Serna and the veterans in his program: "They have worn the uniform, and we know they can be contributing members of society. We just want to get them back there."

Reminds me of our divine Judge who set aside His royal robes, came into our world, and spent a lifetime with us. He accepted our verdict as His own and took our place on the cross. Jesus' blood has purified us from our sins and He sent His Spirit to restore us, to make us contributing members of His church, to be a blessing to the people into whose lives He sends us. He promised to never leave us nor forsake us, "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b).

I wonder, remembering the compassion of our merciful Judge, how can we not find courage and motivation to keep up the good fight against sin? And in wonder and gratitude for His great sacrifice, how can we but spread the story of His love to our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances?

We have been given so much. Yet we often pay only the slightest attention to what we possess, to what He's done, to who we are supposed to be in Him. Perhaps we value God's grace too lightly. Maybe we don't value it at all. Would it do us good to remember the sentence we were under, and how we are saved only because of the willing Substitute we have in Jesus, who took our place for us.

Are you emancipated? We hope so. You can share your thoughts on the Men's NetWork blog by clicking here.

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