Getting Out of Jail

When I was serving as a mentor in the youth prison system, one of the things that those teenage boys shared in common was that they had been (or were) members of gangs. We were in a small group discussion and there was a revelation for one of those young men when he said something like, “you know, I think I joined a gang because I wanted to feel loved. ”  What led him to that realization was that we were able to connect the dots of dysfunction he had experienced in his own family.

His family was a mess so he went to the gang to fulfill the voids left by a broken family. Being a member of a gang was a perverted fulfillment of a legitimate need.

On a different occasion, another young man shared about a time when he and his fellow gang members were preparing for a retaliatory drive by shooting against another gang. I stopped him and asked, “what does the preparation look like; sitting around with drugs and alcohol, talking about who would drive, who would sit where, who would carry which weapons, etc.?” He said that was about right.

I pressed in on this and tried for figure out why a 15 or 16-year-old would be driven to put themselves into harm’s way such as that. What was the motivator?

We went back and forth and ended up at purpose. They did it because they saw it as an extension of the purposes of the gang. They didn’t care about school or work, just gang business along with street credibility and reputation. When a gang threatened them, it threatened the community which facilitated their purpose. Purpose is a legitimate need and this was a perverted fulfillment of that need.

They are no different from the rest of us, really. The contrast of their perverted attempts to fulfill legitimate needs is more glaring than many of us experience. At the core, however, we are the same. There are things we need and if we buy into lies that lead to illegitimate attempts to fulfill legitimate needs, we end up in some form of trouble.

We will enjoy the consequences or benefits of whichever path we pursue. Where we pursue legitimate fulfillment through the One that designed us with the legitimate needs, we will know the benefits of satisfaction. Where we take shortcuts or detours, we will have to deal with the consequences.

Those young men were not serving life sentences and neither are we. Where we miss, we can change our minds. We don’t have to stay in the incarceration of our poor choices forever, but getting out of those internal prisons comes with the discipline of one day at a time. One day at a time, seeking Jesus where we have depended on our own form of gang to replace Him and His family.

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

Pray for Mean Old Men and Watch Things Change

A friend from college came into town last night and we met for the first time in about 15 years. In the middle of talking, a man somewhat dramatically came through the door, doubled over and groaning. I asked him, “are you OK?” He told me that he had hurt his back. He continued on and that appeared to be the end of it, although he was pretty hunched over as he walked away.

As my friend and I continued to talk, I couldn’t get past the guy that had just gone past us. A minute or two after the initial encounter, I told my friend, “Hold on, I’ll be right back; I’ve got to go do something.”

I went and asked the man if I could pray for his back. I don’t always do that, but I sure was pulled to this time and I didn’t initially want to. That’s why it took a minute or two.

My friend and I were friends from a time in my life when I didn’t know Jesus. I would have never prayed for that man. Might have made fun of him, but would not have prayed. My hesitation was the reconciliation of the collision between a past life and a new life which was occurring for me. Would Jason think I was weird? Is this too much; do I seem like a religious nut? That was the source of my pause.

When I finally did ask the man to pray for him, he looked at me with a depth of need. He needed connection. He needed care. He needed prayer, and he said as much when I offered. With my left hand on his left shoulder and my right hand on his back, I said a simple prayer to invite healing and went back to my seat.

Not too much later, he came by and said, “it worked.” I replied, “I figured it would.” I figured that because I felt God in it from the minute the guy came through the door.

Not too much later, after the guy had left, the bartender asked me if I had prayed for him and I told her that I had. She said that he comes in all the time and is very mean. He cusses them out to the point that it brings them to tears. In fact, when he came in this time the manager told her that she was going to the back until he left.

Not tonight, though. He was kind tonight. It was totally different. Whatever happened, he was different, she said.

Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it like I almost did. The dynamic of the Kingdom of Heaven hitting earth changes people. It changes college buddies in the new normal of a re-framed reality. It changes mean old men. It changes bartenders. Let It change you.

The Fullness of Freedom

I met a new friend the other day who is a lawyer. He used to be a prosecuting attorney and now he has a private practice that is focused on civil disputes. As we talked, the reality of the difference between those practices came up. Once you have stood in a courtroom and been involved in the decision that impacts someone’s freedom, arguments regarding money damages just don’t seem as important.

Criminal cases often mean someone is either walking out of the courtroom in handcuffs to jail, or not. They are either reaching across the bar to hand their spouse their wallet before the deputies take them through the back exit, or they are buying that same spouse lunch after they walk out together. A dollar amount, in most cases, fails to have the same emotion or weight attached to it.

Freedom is more valuable than we typically consider as we enjoy it without reservation. Freedom isn’t free, however, as the freedoms that this nation has enjoyed are bought and paid for with lives. Lives were dedicated and lost as they stood in the gap and bought the liberty we might otherwise take for granted.

We are afforded the incredible privilege of freedom as citizens of a nation that holds freedom as a core value to the extent that we practically take it for granted. For those that are followers of Jesus Christ, a more eternal expression of freedom is available within. The freedom from within was bought and paid for by Jesus, to release us from the bondage of being slaves to depravity or the law. Depravity is our default condition without Him and the law is a reminder of it.

The freedom that is available is the freedom to be. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” means that we don’t have to hide, strive or pretend. We get to be us; the good, the bad and the ugly. Jesus releases us to be honest about our imperfections as He was willing to stand in the gap with His life dedicated and lost for the holiness and righteousness we needed to be restored to the Father’s love.

The only way to go on to new glory and realization of greater maturity is to embrace the flaws and limitations of our present condition. There is freedom in confession that we are who we are, but that He is doing a work from within us that will present eternal fruit even here and now.

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.

The Impact of Fathers

I used to volunteer in youth prisons and over time developed a routine which I tended to default to when I met a young man (ages 14-17) for the first time in the facility. I would introduce myself and ask the boy his name and where he was from. He was reluctant to interact at all and would usually be looking at the floor with no interest in opening up even a little bit about himself.

I would then ask him where his father is and that would get his attention; he would usually look at me with interest for the first time. His eyes would communicate, “How did you know?” I would often have to repeat the question as he was caught off guard, “where is your father?”

The stories were always terrible; they were dead, in prison, never been around, drunk, on drugs, etc. The only reasonable response at that point in our conversation was, “I’m sorry; I’m really sorry that you have had to deal with that.” I can’t fix it, I can only hope to meet the kid where he is and show some comfort that his story and hurt is legitimate.

That was often a start to talk more about the hurts in his life that he had been challenged with and the choices that flowed from those circumstances. Connecting the heart and the head to begin to understand that he wasn’t weird for being angry and that the anger came from the hurt. Understand the hurt, hopefully choose to forgive and maybe begin to walk out of the cycle.

When I would offer comfort, however, it wouldn’t initially be received. “It’s alright,” or “It doesn’t matter” was always the response. Always. They were in prison; it mattered.

The need for affirmation and acceptance with unconditional love is foundational; we all need it. The connection to our experience with our father produces a lens within us for how we see God, how we see ourselves and how we see the world. The best dad in the world, however, isn’t the target; the Father is.

Our dad relationship is either a bridge or a barrier to realizing the love of the Father. Ideally, we have a father relationship that fosters an easier realization of trust and acceptance than abusive, neglectful earthly experiences would. Either way, though, we seek to hear from the Father, “You’re a son . . . and I’m pleased with you.”

Acknowledging the condition of our hearts related to our experience with our biological father positions us to hear from the Father. When we have let go in the natural, we can receive in the supernatural. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we can hear this testimony of the Holy Spirit. From that, we will call out, “Abba (Daddy), Father!”