Honor Makes a Way for Solutions to Disagreements

Last night, the Dallas Cowboys stood together. More accurately, they knelt together. They knelt together in a sign of protest against racism in the United States, and they did it before the National Anthem. As a reminder, that is what all the kneeling was about in the first place, although it has been largely forgotten in the politics and opinions.

In case you didn’t see it or hear about it they came out as a team, joined arms and knelt. Then they stood up. They knelt before the National Anthem ever began and they stood up during the national anthem.

All along, the objection to the protest has been that protestors should stand and respect the flag. Last night, they did. Yet, in an overnight poll in the Dallas Morning News, the initial opinions offered were that 54% of respondents felt “Cowboys should not have knelt at all.” This was a Dallas newspaper, mind you, so this is a biased sampling presumably in favor of what the Cowboys do. I don’t know what the sampling size was, but that result is disheartening.

This poll showed that for some, it was never about the flag in the first place. It was about being right. For some, they aren’t patriotic as much as they are just prejudiced. When you don’t want somebody that is different from you to say anything about their perception or experience based in those differences, you are protecting the status quo, not the traditions surrounding the flag.

We tend to like what we like and want what we want and will often find justifications to protect our preferences. Our preferences are rooted in our perspective and our perspective is limited to our experiences. Those experiences, in this nation, are vastly different. Experiences surrounding race and racism cannot be the same where the there are differences in race. It’s just not possible.

The opportunity going forward is honor. I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan for the past four decades, but my admiration of their collective voice last night isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about honor. They were able to show honor towards the flag while also projecting the voice of the perspective that was calling out. They were able to agree about disagreements that they had not all experienced. That’s what the flag stands for, in part; the freedom to be heard in an honorable way.

When 54% say there should be no disagreement at all, there is going to be disagreement. If and when the majority can agree that the experience of the minority is different from their own, then there can be solutions. Honor makes a way for solutions to disagreements.

God is Present Among Us

Like everyone, I have been working through various challenges that are practical in nature. There are real and present circumstances that require attention and that attention is tangible. The actions and reactions are manifest in and around people.

At the same time, I have been intently and purposefully drawing near to God. I went through a season where I felt a bit disconnected and lacking any intimacy with Him. The times of connection which I have been finding with Him as I pursue depth are rich and refreshing.

Recently, I noticed a collision of the practical and the private. The refreshment of intimate connection to the love of the Father played out in the practical decision-making process. Was I saw was the multiplication of His presence as the manifestation of His wisdom was displayed through community.

As I discussed a thought process and developing strategy with two people who serve as wise counsel and co-laborers, one of them offered, “when you first started talking about this, I believe God stirred in me, ‘not this week.'”

The second person confirmed that they were stirred to wait in similar fashion as there was an upcoming event that they believed needed to unfold first. Same counsel, different yet consistent reasoning.

The counsel and the rationale, in both instances, resonated with me as right and true. The wisdom of the Lord was manifesting in the counsel of those that know Him. In this case, there were three of us.

We draw into the love of the Father by the grace of Jesus. We seek the filling and refreshing of the Holy Spirit as we draw near to Him. We need to be refreshed and connected through times of individual worship, study and prayer. Then the walking out of our purpose in agreement with Him is with others.

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit, as referenced in 2 Corinthians 13:14, is played out in the fellowship of others. He manifests, as often as not, through others that are intimately connected with Him. There is agreement and grace when we are submitted in humility, one to another, to allow for His wisdom to be manifest through His carriers. His carriers are us.

There are no rogue prophets. We seek his voice and insight submitted one to the other (1 Corinthians 14:32). The natural application of the supernatural begs for agreement between imperfect vessels of the Perfect. If and when we will allow Him to speak through us and among us, then He will be displayed through us. All of us as the corporate body will put Him on display, not a single one of us elevated to His place as the Head.

Shades of Comparison Leave Us in the Dark

My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional.  Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law.  When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense.  The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients.  These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.

In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction.  They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement.  “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?”  Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked.  Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.

By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.”  After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance?  Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?

Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light.  We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within.  We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within.  The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine.  A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.

The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well.  Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system.  The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark.  People are people.

Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition.  They know they need help.  They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope.  The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out.  They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.”  And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.

Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption.  He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

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.

The Connection of Comfort

We were in Northern Virginia this past weekend and decided to head into Washington D.C. on the way to the airport. We had mentioned going in to see some monuments if we had time and the kids had shown strong interest in doing so. We were running short of time as we had to catch a flight, but we decided to give it a try.

We drove past the Jefferson Memorial, the Capital and the White House as we looked for a place to park. Without much time to waste, we were fortunate to find a parking spot as D.C. was crowded with tourists. From our parking spot, we walked past the Vietnam Memorial towards our intended destination, which was the Lincoln Memorial. After checking it out, in addition to the reflecting pool and Washington Monument (from a distance), we had to head back to the car and onto the airport.

We walked back towards the Vietnam Memorial towards our car. I’ve been to the Vietnam Memorial before; it impacted me then as well as this time both going and coming. My father served two tours in Vietnam and the names on that wall of those that didn’t come home are a grim provocation of what could have been for my dad and our family. I’m thankful.

As we were moving towards our car, I was processing some emotion as we walked briskly to be on time for our flight. Julie noticed an older Asian man along the pathway where we were walking near the Vietnam Memorial. She noticed he was weeping. It caused her to cry as we continued to walk and, about 50 yards past the man, she had to go back. She turned and jogged back towards him.

When she reached him, she comforted him and asked him if she could give him a hug. If you know her, you aren’t surprised. He smiled and welcomed the comfort. That was it. We had to go; we had a flight to catch.

I’m really glad we decided to detour our trip to the airport. The kids loved it and this brief encounter was rich and deep. While the man was a little older than me, he apparently has a story that cause him emotions in much the same way that the realization of what could have become my story did for me.

Holy Spirit is the Comforter and He lives within every born-again believer in Jesus. He lives in us not only because we need comfort, but also because other people do. Giving comfort is a testimony of Jesus, with or without words. The expression of the heart of God is accomplished through people with people. People around us are weeping and we get to connect heaven to earth if we’ll notice earth and offer heaven.