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.

Get Your Gifts Back

When we see areas of our lives that are clearly not what they are intended to be, sometimes the picture of what is intended is the exact opposite. In fact, the thing that tends to torment us or challenge us the most might be a gift within us which has been perfectly hijacked. In such cases, the best course of action is to step towards the gift even more than trying to stop doing the things that are off course.

When I was younger, I was particularly good at the banter. The sharp, sarcastic jousting that cuts at any weakness was an area of strength for me. When in a room where there was that kind of cutting and slashing, I was a force to be dealt with.

The effort to stay ahead of others to defend myself and attack them verbally is mentally tiring because it’s not God’s intention for the verbal ability He put within me. He gave me language and ability to speak life and encouragement, but instead I was speaking criticism and destruction. The gift that He wanted to use to call out greatness in others was doing the exact opposite. There was no rest in it because there was no eternity in it. The rest that accompanies our gifts is in our agreement with God’s purposes in our gifts and abilities.

Since then, I have seen time and time again where sarcastic and cynical wit is actually a prophetic gift. Prophecy, by definition of 1 Corinthians 14:3, is speaking encouragement, edification and comfort. The hijacking of the gift is discouragement, tearing down and discomfort. Look into the shadow of the gift to find the true intention of design.

The Kingdom is an invitation, not a prohibition. Jesus calls us to follow and be included, unleashing everything He has put in us for eternal purposes. The law tells us to stop doing bad things; Jesus calls us to do powerful things. When we see that there has been a hijacking of our giftedness, the invitation is to step into the power of our design. The hijacking will be corrected when we agree with the purpose of our destiny.

If you’ve allowed your tongue to be hijacked to speak discouragement and dishonor, change your mind. Turn into the purposes of honor and encouragement that God has put within you. If there are other areas that have been off track, what is the track they are intended? Once those areas are released in agreement with their design, the attempt to kill, steal and destroy will be defeated by the life, abundance and creation that sons and daughters are called into.

Faith, Hope and Love Packaged to Be Delivered

I am going to speak at in another town this weekend and my friend that is hosting me sent me an article about the recent suicide of a local 14-year old. He tells me that there has been an epidemic of teens choosing this route of hopelessness and the local medical examiner has expressed helplessness.

The world around us is in desperate need of hope. Even when the end result isn’t as catastrophic as teenage suicide, the opt out for many is from a lack of hope. People opt out of families, faith and community as they find no meaning or purpose. They have no context of why to fuel the what of their lives. With time, the despair outpaces the dreams.

The church is not immune to this limiting perspective as programs and ceremonies don’t fuel and fill the believer. Belief is tended by action and connection. Belief won’t breathe in a vacuum. The church is intended to be a living breathing organism where the body functions in a way that supports the rest of the body. Then, the whole and healthy body is in motion to impact and change the world around it.

The impact and change isn’t by political victory or moral declaration; it’s by love and service. With love and service, people can see grace and hope.

  • The Father is love; it’s Who He is and it’s what He does. As His kids, we mimic the heart of the Father. From that representation, we are able to carry the nature of the Son; grace and hope.
  • Jesus comes to reach out with grace, not waiting on the perfection of people to decide whether or not they are included. He met me (and you) where I was; we are commissioned to do the same.
  • Holy Spirit breathes life into the Body; giving comfort and insight to encourage and direct. Holy Spirit is wind; subtle yet certain. We get to agree with Holy Spirit as we live a life on mission, seeking His direction and needing His comfort as we agree with Him into places of discomfort.

God is Spirit and invisible and His Spirit is within the visible us. We are the delivery mechanism. The supernatural is expressed naturally. We carry the love, hope, grace, comfort and invitation of the Lord with a heart to serve others to show them the otherwise invisible, theoretical idea of God. He is real and He is here; in you and in me. Show Him and share Him with somebody today. They need the glimpse, and so do you.

Pressing Through Trials to Advance in Maturity, Wisdom & Character

I have a friend that has interesting counsel when you share a struggle with him. If you are going through some difficulty, he’ll ask, “Do you think you are at the front end of that challenge, in the middle of it, or closing in on the end? It’s good to know so you can persevere and get everything out of it God wants you to see.”

God doesn’t torture us, but He will allow for discomfort to shape us. He’ll use the troubles that are inevitable in our fallen state to mature us into greater relationship. As we are going through whatever it is we are going through, the best thing that we can do is look for the best things within it. At least then, the wisdom available through the adversity is maximized.

If we are looking for the fastest way out of any discomfort we face, we are cheating the process that is available for the production of wisdom and maturity. “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

Discomfort is not appealing and all too often not highlighted related to the Christian message. We love the promises and the freedom and the identity stuff, but the suffering part isn’t too compatible with our American Dream(s). It must be an attack.

We are sons of God and heirs with Christ and can share in the glory of Christ . . . if we will share in the sufferings of Christ (Romans 8:17). So difficulty invites inheritance in as much as we persevere. In as much as we stay the course despite the challenge and doubt, we can increasingly taste of the victory.

When, not if, you are going through whatever stuff it is that you go through, consider whether it’s the beginning, middle or end and hold on. Hold on and journal. Don’t miss “it,” whatever “it” is for that experience. Come out of it with more character than you went into it with as it finishes it’s work by your acceptance that suffering is not always an attack, but sometimes an advance.

Working a Job, Chasing the American Dream or Passionately Living With Purpose?

When I first started practicing law, I was sitting in court waiting for my case to get called. I was sitting next to an attorney in his 60’s who had been practicing for over 30 years. As we waited, I asked him if he liked practicing law and he told me that he did. He said, “I do, because I only take the kinds of cases that I like to work on. I had to take divorce cases when I first got started but I didn’t like them and now I don’t have to take them anymore, so I don’t. I like it because I like the cases I take.”

We can do things that we aren’t passionate about for a season of necessity but the target should be alignment with the things that bring us pleasure in our calling. We should seek to find joy in the things that we do. We may not always get to do only what we want, but increasingly with age we are often afforded increasing opportunities to narrow the scope of our pursuits.

In our 20’s and even into our 30’s, we are figuring out what we like and don’t like as well as what we are good at as well as not so good at. The passions typically align with the competencies. Bobb Biehl says that we go through a process of refinement and focusing and transformation that positions us to hit our stride in our 50’s. He goes on to say that our decade of greatest success is actually our 60’s.

Could it be that the attorney I was talking with as we waited for our case was enjoying his greatest success? Is it possible that he had spent a couple of decades refining his passions and aligning his pursuits before hitting his stride and now enjoying the fruits of the process?

God asks for our firsts and our best. We offer Him what we value first and foremost, which requires consideration of what those specific things are for us. Self-assessment for the purpose of agreement with His design invites His anointing. The things that He has put in us come out through us as we offer back to Him the very things that He created in the first place.

What do you love? What brings you joy? Are you working a job, chasing the American Dream or aligning with His purposes for you as expressed through your passions to give back to Him the thing that He invested in you?