The Freedom in Raising Your Hand

I am, among other things, a minister.  I am called to walk with others toward freedom from bondage and toward recognition of their identity in Christ.  I’ve spent countless hours studying, considering, praying for and ministering in freedom. I am thankful God has called me to this purpose and embrace the opportunity as an honor.

A few years ago, in the middle of this calling, I got into an argument with my wife.  It was an ugly argument, and I said ugly things.  What came out of me wasn’t free at all.  It was depraved and destructive.

Following this argument, I went into a kind of dark hole.  I was embarrassed, but more than that, I was doubtful.  I was full of doubt regarding the contradiction between what I believed and knew and ministered in compared to this blatant display of depravity.  The fact that I had this kind of anger and venom in me caused me to question everything.

  • I questioned whether or not I was a phony.  If this was going to be a way I might act, is there any integrity in my ministry?
  • I questioned whether or not I was disqualified.  If I do these kinds of things or even if I am capable of them, am I qualified to help others?
  • I questioned the very idea of freedom.  If a so-called freedom minister is so full of darkness that it comes spilling out, is there even such a thing as freedom in the first place?

Those are the questions I was asking as I prayed and considered the events of the argument. The next day, I received a group text to five or six of us from a pastor friend also called to walk alongside those engaged in the quest for freedom.  He explained in his text that he needed prayer as he’d lost his temper in his home the night before. The aftermath of his anger was evident in damaged relationships and broken trust.

Almost instinctively, I typed a text in response.  My response to him was, “You win.  By raising your hand, inviting us in and sending this text, you win.”  That was it.  That was the answer to my questions.

Freedom isn’t the absence of sin but the willingness to expose darkness to light. Freedom isn’t living a perfect life, but living life’s imperfections with others to disarm the accusations of guilt and shame arising from our faults.  Freedom is simply the ability to raise your hand.  Raising your hand is the first step on the return journey to an inheritance that abounds beyond our limitations.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

The Universal Benefit of Calling Out Identity

I volunteered as a mentor in a youth prison for several years and worked with boys, ages 14-17, as they worked towards a greater chance once they were released. What I found was that they are normal people; regular kids. Obviously, they had problems but the problems they had are not as unfamiliar to most of us as we might initially believe.

We never asked them why they were in jail or what they had done. The things that they had done to get them into this situation did not define who they were and I didn’t want to reinforce it as their identity. They didn’t steal because they were blessed by God with gifting as a thief (in fact, they couldn’t have been too good at it since they were obviously caught). It was a manifestation of junk inside of them leading to an act of rebellion, greed, laziness, desperation, etc.

The gifts and abilities that these young men did have had been hijacked to be applied in negative ways with negative consequences. Some of these boys were quite accomplished as drug dealers or gang leaders While that is both illegal and wrong, there are some leadership, marketing, entrepreneurial and organizational skills that were evident in those endeavors. They weren’t drug dealers or gang leaders by their design, but they were quite possibly destined to be great business owners, salesmen or leaders with the proper nurturing and application of their abilities. Instead of dwelling on what got them into prison, we would call out those gifts which were evident in them to help them see themselves for who they were actually were.

With the simple power of an affirming word, we would call them who they actually were instead of labeling them with the twisted mis-application of their abilities. We would very directly compliment them on their strength, leadership, intellect, etc. How do you feel when you get a compliment? These guys liked it, too; they would literally change right in front of your eyes, pulling their shoulders back, looking up, smiling and even gaining clarity in their eyes and expressions.

Most of us know when we mess up and don’t actually need much of a reminder from those around us that love us. We will face the consequences of our mistakes willingly or otherwise but a word of encouragement will help us move beyond that failure and into the truth of who we really are much more than reminders of our failures.

This is true for boys in prison, teenagers in the suburbs, middle-aged professionals, employees, church people and any other types of people who make mistakes but need to know that mistake does not define them. Those boys aren’t that much different than most of the people reading this blog or the guy writing it.

Every Offense Doesn’t Require a Verdict

When I was practicing criminal defense law, the contention of the adversarial system would wear on me. I would have to take a break and get away from time to time to clear my lens. My lens would get cloudy from a residue of accusation, explanation, lies born of self-preservation, consequences and other aspects of the situation. I would get a bit jaded in my view of humanity and I wasn’t the only one. The criminal law bar generally could be a bit cynical and sarcastic with salty language and vices to lube the friction.

All too often, I have chosen to play the part of judge, prosecutor of defense attorney where there is no court of law. In life’s everyday interactions, there are disappointments and disagreements that draw a reaction which is born out of an illusion. The illusion comes when we think we need to get to a verdict regarding right or wrong. Where the verdict is “wrong,” and it often is based on our flawed human condition, we think there needs to be an assessment of blame. But there doesn’t.

There is no freedom in the assessment of justice. Freedom is grace based. It has to be, or the busyness of blame will overcome any of the potential peace of freedom.

Freedom starts and ends with identity. When we realize who we are and why, we are at ground zero of peace. That identity is not earned and doesn’t have to be defended. We don’t have to prove anything because we didn’t do anything in the first place. Jesus died to make us righteous by His sacrifice. Where we are willing to agree with Him, we enjoy the benefit of His victory.

When our identity is based in His perfection and sacrifice, we can stop. We can stop defending ourselves and we can stop prosecuting others to elevate ourselves by comparison. Every mistake does not require a verdict. Every shortcoming doesn’t call for an explanation. Every flaw doesn’t need assignment of a cause.

I don’t have marriage perfected, but I have seen that when I can avoid the traps of judgment, prosecution or defense, the grace that breathes in the void gives us life. It’s not easy because it is often only given room in the wake of a decision to die to myself. I turn fifty in a few months and I’m starting to see it more clearly than ever. Less is more.

Today things are going to happen. Grocery clerks, co-workers, kids and others are going to mess up. So are you. It’s OK. Those mistakes don’t demand a verdict. Rest in the peace of grace. Rest in Jesus.

 

 

Broken Bread Today Feeds Us Tomorrow

We can sit where we are or accept the invitation into more that comes at the cost of the comfort we enjoy in the predictability of the present. Where we will step into the discomfort of the new, we will have to rely on Him for comfort as well as faithfulness in the most recent expressions of our developing faith. In other words, when He puts in a position to depend on Him, we get to choose. The idea of new and dependence can sound just fine until the reality of the discomfort is tangible and not theoretical.

When we get to the next boundaries of our control, we’ll need to depend on Jesus like we did the last time it felt like this. Thankfully, because there was a last time, we can lean on that experience for assurance that He did it before and He’ll do it again. He’ll get us through this and if we’ll endure just a little longer, the promise of His glory always follows the discomfort of His invitations. Joy comes in the morning.

The original disciples were invited to follow Jesus and they gave up everything to do so. They walked with Him for three years, witnessing and participating in miracles and challenges as He increasingly equipped and released them. Then He was crucified and they didn’t get it. He rose from the dead and made Himself known to them, but they didn’t recognize Him until they remembered the last time.

Luke 24:30-31 says “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

He had done this before on the night before He died. By doing this again, He reminded them of the thing before. They were together and enjoying a meal. He used the bread to tell of what was going to happen to Him and now He uses the bread to quicken their senses to new belief. He uses the previous experience to get them through the current reality.

Following Jesus is intended as a life of experiences with HIm. In the experiences, reminders are born that will be useful for the next time. We go from glory to glory, leaving one to get to the next at the cost of the comfort that we have grown accustomed to in the former. Along the way, He’ll break bread with us to remind us that He is Who He says He is and He’ll do what He says He’ll do. Just like the last time.

 

Tuning Out, Turning Off to Tune In and Fill Up

There is nothing wrong with routine; in fact, the framework of “normal” can help to define the supernatural by contrast. When normal becomes distracting, however, it’s possible to miss the tell-tale signs of the Kingdom of God. That’s where I got to recently.

I have known times in my life when I knew the presence of God. I could discern His voice and fingerprints and drew life from the breath He would breathe into otherwise routine situations. Lately, however, it seemed that there wasn’t much fellowship in the flow.

About two weeks ago, I realized that I had formed a habit of distraction. I was on my phone almost constantly. Checking this or checking that left me missing what might otherwise be noticed in the spaces now occupied by technology. Then I went on Quest.

I’ve been going on Quest since 2008 and got into a bit of a routine there, too. I got used to the time away and didn’t value the disconnection. This time, however, as I was recounting the routine I had gotten into I heard an invitation. As I shared that I had not been to the river in several years, I heard a whisper of invitation to “come to the river.”

I went to the river, crossed it and climbed up a slope on the other side. I found a rock and spent time reading, writing, listening to music, praying and just being. I was connecting. I was relating. I was enjoying the breath of God in the moments afforded. I didn’t have to; I had chosen not to plenty of times before. This was good and right and refreshing.

The next day I didn’t perceive any specific invitation, but went out of my own accord. I made my way to the middle of the river on rocks that protruded just above the surface of the water and considered stepping off of those rocks into the stream just to get further into the middle. Any urgency that I might otherwise respond to had faded with 48 hours away from the routine and I was in no hurry to jump out to the middle. Then, after waiting and considering the present reality, I saw little stepping rocks just up a little further that took me out to the middle of the middle.

I can’t explain it other than to say it filled me from the inside. God met me in that time of no distraction and ministered to my soul. He filled me and healed me and called me His son . . . and the phone wasn’t a distraction to detour me from receiving.

Our Identity is Not What We Do; We Are So Much More

When I was practicing criminal defense law, one of the things I had to get “in” me pretty quick was the client’s identity was not what they were accused of. Where they were guilty, the choices resulting in that verdict did not reflect the truth of their identity. There was a deeper truth of their design that I had to look for to best serve them. I wanted to see the real them without being distracted by the evidence of their hijacking.

What’s the second question that you ask or are asked after meeting someone for the first time? Usually, right after asking or being asked names, it’s “what do you do?” From there, as often or not, there is discussion regarding the ups and downs of the professions identified by the answers given. While there is certainly nothing “wrong” with this form of communicating, there are opportunities missed.

By allowing what we do to sidetrack conversations, we avoid who we are. We are not what we do. We do things that might or might not reflect deeper truths of our identity. The depth of our identity, and the identity of others, holds the depth of relationship. The depth of living is within the depth of relationship.

We are created to know and be known in authentic relationship but we all too often miss it by labels that come with occupations, positions or mistakes we’ve made. It’s important for its own sake, but the weight of its importance is multiplied when considering the opportunities missed. When we get stuck there about others, we often are getting stuck there about ourselves.

When we think we are “just a ________ , ” we miss the eternal purpose of our design. When we miss the eternal purpose of our design, we miss the eternal impact of our efforts. What we do, or don’t do, can have forever ramifications. The satisfaction that comes with that kind of impact can dictate our satisfaction as well as our passion. When designed for more, we are left dissatisfied with less.

You may or may not be spending your time living from the passions of your identity and consequently experiencing the satisfaction of your design. If you are, you know what I’m talking about and if you aren’t, you know that much more. The best time to make changes to your circumstances for the unlocking of the real you was possibly years ago. The second best time is today.