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.

Consequences Are Your Friend

One day I was checking the docket at the courthouse when a woman approached me to ask where a particular courtroom was. She went on to explain that she was nervous because her son was scheduled for an appearance on a possession of marijuana charge. “Why does that make you nervous,” I asked her?

“He could go to jail,” she said.

“Did you drive here today?” I asked. After confirming that she had driven her son to the courthouse, I responded by encouraging her that “well, if he goes to jail, just drive home.”

“But he’s my baby,” she explained.

“How old is he?” I asked. After learning that he was 19, I told her, “he’s not your baby, he’s a grown man.” It was about that time that he walked over. “Is this him?” I asked, and she affirmed that it was.

“Listen,” I told him, “you are not a child anymore. Smoking weed and getting your mom to drive you to court are childish. You are a man, you are equipped to be a man and it’s time to start being a man. When I was a child, I acted like one, but when I became a man, I put childish things behind me. It’s time for you to do the same; you are a man and you are capable of putting childish things away.”

This young man’s shoulders straightened up, his eyes locked in and everything about his body language accepted the reality I was presenting him. His mom, at the same time, looked scared to death. It was clear that she was much less ready for him to be a man than he was.

I don’t know what happened with his court case, but whatever consequences he had to deal with were a benefit to him. A misdemeanor on his record is a small price to pay if he was able to allow for the consequence to draw him into responsibility.

Love allows for consequences because consequences allow for repentance. When we have to deal with the implications of our immaturity and/or depravity, we are more aware of the goodness of God. From that place of pain that comes as a result of or rebellion or immaturity, we get to choose. The choice to submit our lives back to the goodness of God is much more appealing when we have tried it without Him and are facing the reality of our choices.

We all mess up sometimes. The stuff that we do is not who we are. Don’t rescue people from their consequences and don’t believe that the mistakes are who they are any more than your mistakes are who you are. It’s the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance; not the sloppy compassion or harsh judgment which we may offer in its place.

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.

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!”



Bridging the Generation Gap

beatlesedsullivan-splshWe need to be in the same room. It’s important that the exchange isn’t segregated by age or other demographics. The value of the diversity is too rich to sacrifice it for programs or comfort. The potential discomfort has an infinite return on investment but the cost is intentionally staying in the same room.

I had the privilege of leading men on a Quest recently. We went away for five days on an individual pursuit collectively as a group. Each man was invited to chase and encounter God for himself, yet much of the time was in a group setting. There were eighteen year olds, twenty-somethings, forty-somethings and a sixty year old with a seventy-one year old to top it all off.

There were points where the cross-generational transfer was so evident that it was revelatory. Times like:

  • When the forty-year old business owner needed the eighteen year old’s raw and sincere expression of the love of God for a generational breakthrough
  • When the millennial’s needed the love of a grandfather expressed through the seventy-one year old
  • When an eighteen year old needed gentle assistance from a forty-something in harnessing a legitimate passion to display what meekness is
  • The forty-something, in that same exchange, seeing meekness differently for himself so that he could walk in it himself

Millennials aren’t “done” with church just because. They are “done,” to some measure, by the lack of value. Value is in the authentic relationship that is expressed across generational lines, not the segregation into a forum with louder music or edgier presentation. They want permission to be who God has created them to be and need the maturity and wisdom of those that have gone ahead of them.

The more mature believers need the fresh infusion of raw expression that the millennials offer. They need to see and feel the zealousness of youth which resists restraint in an abandoned worship. They need the permission to worship like kings that the millennials grant in their authentic pursuit.

All sides need validation. They need validation that they aren’t weird and that we need the other for the greater. We all need to be in the same room pursuing the same God and experiencing Him for ourselves and in each other.

Raising Them Up

lion dad and cub

If you want to stack the deck for the immediate outcome, you likely won’t be able to grow up the next generation. Bringing up the next generation will include allowing them to stretch and even to fail without punitive reaction. If you’re not bringing them along to invest in them, then you might as well not bring them along to start with.

I recently led a men’s ministry event which was staffed by volunteers. The volunteers ranged in ages from 23 to 53 with varying responsibilities and abilities. The common core that glued the team together was evident when there was an invitation into worship. The men, no matter their age, entered into worship of the King with identical passion and intention.

A few of the youngest guys were great to have around, even if their abilities and maybe even effort weren’t as obvious as if they had more seasoning. This is a different generation with unique strengths and weaknesses. They won’t do it like you did it so what are you willing to do to bridge the gap with them?

When things were delegated to these younger men, they required some prodding to get it done and some follow-up to ensure that it was done correctly. Their attitudes were great, even if their intensity was questionable. One of the leaders got a little frustrated and was about ready to deal with them harshly when I reminded him that investing in them is part of the deal. If we’re going to meet our obligation to raise up those that follow, we’ll have to remember some things as we go:

  1. Fathers raise sons. This requires a father’s heart.
  2. They can’t do the same things older team members can. Don’t expect the same results.
  3. Give slices of bread, not the whole loaf. This is a process that takes years; don’t rush it.
  4. Share of yourself with transparency . . . not only past mistakes, but present problems.
  5. There is a great possibility that the mature “product” of your investment will serve someone other than you.
  6. Bringing up sons doesn’t mean promoting them prematurely. That will crush them in the long run.
  7. Be under authority as you exercise authority. Submission and honor are critical and you can’t give away what you don’t display.
  8. It’s shoulder to shoulder inclusion of the younger from which they can learn service and submission while being exposed to Truth and maturity played out practically.
  9. Delegate at appropriate levels of readiness and check their work as you encourage, encourage, encourage.
  10. Resist the urge and even their desires for premature promotion. It’s a trap.