The Target of Greater Peace

Don’t you hate it when you have them right where you want them but there’s nothing you can do? Well, you can, but you know better and you want more. They are wrong, you are right and you can win the argument but the opportunity is for peace. Peace externally and peace internally.

I’ve been asking God to change me on the inside. I have disciplined myself to react in a mature and controlled manner most of the time. Not all of the time, as I am a work in progress, but generally I can stay the course even when inside I am churning. I’m asking God to exchange that churn for His peace. I don’t want to just act right; I want to be right.

The shift from problem solving and process working to relational connection and graceful submission is challenging. Being OK to let the other person be right even when they are wrong is challenging. Preserving the possibility of relationship even when you’d prefer to walk away is transformative.

God is doing what I’ve asked Him to do, slowly but surely, at the cost of me. I am finding the shift is through pain, frustration, justice denied and other realities that reveal stuff to be redeemed within me. Every time that I am wrong and don’t have to be, or not right when I could be, my soul grows in its capacity for peace. That peace is born internally from discomfort externally to then be played out and offered externally.

Discomfort for the benefit of transformation is a good idea but difficult reality. Our transformation will cost us our preferences but the exchange is that our preferences are ultimately matured and developed. We move from immature us to increasingly reflect Him through us. That’s simple but not easy and worth it but not cheap.

Anxiety Presents an Opportunity for Greater Glory

Every time we accept invitations into new opportunities, we step into a new version of discomfort. We go from a known to an unknown because we believe that it will be better in the new place even if there is a cost to getting there. There are times that we experience discomfort in new circumstances that we didn’t choose but that were forced on us. In either case, the opportunity in the discomfort is the same.

When we get to this new place of unknown challenges and uncertain outcomes, we often (if not always) can recognize insecurities within us if we will pay attention. In that place where we are no longer comfortable, we are likely to feel a sense of threat. Often we will be anxious surrounding our protection, provision or promotion/place. If we aren’t careful, we may very well be offended or suspicious of people in this new environment as we view them through our lens of anxiety as we guess at their motives or overreact to their interactions.

In these new places where we are tempted to envy, judge, compete, be offended, etc. because we are afraid as we experience lack of control, we are presented an eternal opportunity. The insecurities that are driving the anxiety and mental gymnastics were there prior to their exposure via this new set of circumstances. They are simply ripe at this particular time for redemption.

Where God shows us the ugliness of us in the middle of our discomfort or suffering, we get to choose. We can agree with fear or come home to His love. We can foster the temporal anxiety or run home to the comfort and certainty of eternity. His love dwells within us by the grace of Jesus (if we want it to and receive the sacrifice of Jesus for the restoration of relationship with the Father) so the peace that relieves the anxiety is in Him within us.

It’s at this point that we are granted repentance. We are given the gift of getting to exchange the insecurity of an orphan which wasn’t yet redeemed and trading it in for the security of a legitimate child of God. When we feel the ugly stuff, we can own our part of the emotions instead of blaming people and circumstances for our discomfort and exchange our crud for God’s glory. He will be put on display from within us when we choose to submit the temporal fear for His eternal love.

This is Worse and Better Than I Thought

The pain that comes in the wake of losing my father has layers that I didn’t expect. I’m caught off guard by the emotions that accompany the hurt.

I didn’t expect the fear. For the first time in 50 years, the guy that I could always count on isn’t there. The safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support is gone. The result included a feeling of vulnerability that I didn’t expect because I have never felt it before. I found myself uncovered and unprotected in a way that I had never known.

I’ve ministered to hundreds of people with significant dad issues and represented hundreds more as a criminal defense attorney. I’ve understood the reality of the how important the dad relationship is and diagnosed the cause and effect correctly. I didn’t know and couldn’t have known the depth of the fear that accompanies the hurt.

I have felt aloneness in the adjustment to my father’s absence even though I enjoyed the benefit of his presence for 50 years. It breaks my heart to know that some people go through their entire life with the pain and fear that come from an absent father without knowing the joy of the contrast. I don’t have to stay in the hurt or the fear and neither do they, but the fact that I know what it’s supposed to feel like is a huge benefit.

In the processing of the grief and void of my dad’s consistency, I’ve realized the love of the Father. I’ve known it before, but it’s different now. It was incredible always, but it’s different when there isn’t a father. The joy of knowing that I am a son to the One that gave me a father in the first place is tangible.

No matter if your father story is one of a good dad, bad dad or somewhere in the middle dad, the target and invitation is always to the Father. He wants to provide the eternal relationship which may or may not have been modeled well in your temporal experience.

God gave His son so we could be sons and daughters. We are invited into the security of a relationship which will never end. We are invited into the safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support of a Father that is perfect and forever. We don’t have to be afraid; we can be loved.

The Final Promotion

The day before the surgery, I texted my dad to tell him that I didn’t have any peace with the plan to open his chest up. By a prophetic nudge, I was prompted to make my concerns known to him. He answered back:

“Son,

I can understand your concerns. I considered taking the stent route. Why would anybody think of having their chest cut open a second time? I just don’t have any faith that is a long-term fix and I don’t want to suffer a heart attack when one collapses.

Your mom and I both have prayed this thru and are at total peace with the choice. God has blessed us with good health and beautiful family and we have wanted for nothing. We believe he watches over us in all circumstances and our lives on earth will be as long or short as He wills.

I love you and take great pride in the man you have become. Take peace that we rest in the grace of God.

Dad”

I’ve re-read this text time and time again. I’ve copied it and saved it. I value it and don’t want to lose it. I love how he calls me “Son” in it. I can hear his voice when I read it.

He had voiced much of what was in the text to my mother. He didn’t want to live in fear of a heart attack and was seeking a fix that would afford him the freedom to live. He still had passion for his purpose on earth, but if the surgery didn’t work out, he was completely comfortable with eternity as his next stop. He was completely assured of his salvation in Jesus and the promise of heaven. It was a compelling assurance vs. the compromise of a life lived on earth in fear and reservations.

The total peace that he had was real. That eternal peace wasn’t assurance of temporal outcomes. He knew he could die. Yet, he would live.

There is no way to live life with healthy zeal until and unless we know that life on earth is just the first chapter. All of eternity is available beyond the experience we have here and now. The next step is one into promotion. My father had been promoted a bunch of times in his career but nothing compared to this one.

It hurts from this perspective but the joy we can have for the ones that are promoted is available in Jesus. Without Jesus and His promise of eternal life, there is no hope beyond the pain of death. With Him, however, the sting of death is softened as death gives way to new life.

I really mean that, and so did my dad. So does Jesus.

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