Released from the Prison of Our Past

Known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”, The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum( ADX), is prison just outside of Florence, Colorado. It was built in 1994 at a cost of $60 million dollars. ADX was designed to house the worst of the worst offenders. Most prisoners enter ADX with multiple life sentences. They’re the kind of people that even other high security prisons don’t want to be responsible for.(1)

The prison itself exists in a desolate geographic area, designed such that once inside, a person loses all sense of direction. There are no windows, except a few small openings facing the sky directly above. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls. Each cell comes equipped with a set of double solid steel doors, thus preventing inmates from seeing or communicating with one another. Inmates are permitted solo workout sessions in an indoor “gym”, a windowless concrete cell with a single pull-up bar for up to one hour per day. (2)

All meals are provided via a slot built into the interior door, visible only after a guard opens the exterior door. Inmates sleep on concrete slabs covered by a thin mattress. The exterior of the prison is surrounded by a series of twelve-foot fences festooned with coils of deadly sharp razor wire. The facilities and grounds are covered with thousands of motion detectors, cameras, and pressure-sensitive sensors. This is not a place anyone would ever wish to end up in. It was once described by former warden Robert Hood, as a “clean version of Hell.” To date, no serious escape effort has ever been attempted much less succeeded.(3)

The future is bleak for those incarcerated in ADX. A hopeless place to spend the balance of one’s life. The only way an inmate leaves ADX is after they’re dead. They will never again taste the freedom that was once theirs.

There are different kinds of prisons in this life. Some are tangible like ADX, while others are virtual and personal. Often these virtual prisons are built from the artifacts of one’s own past.

For many, our pasts can lock us out of the present. In effect, we become a prisoner, securely locked from the present, prevented from experiencing a life filled with true freedom in the present. As is often the case, many have pasts filled with hurt and disappointment. In some cases, our pasts include some form of physical or emotional trauma.

At times we can believe that we’ve conquered the hurt from our early life experiences, only to discover later, that despite our best efforts, there exists of an ember of our past which has remained alive and unquenched.

For these situations, it only takes the right set of circumstances to fan this ember into the flames of disappointment and hurt, to relive the pain experienced over a lifetime of trauma. It’s here that the abused sometimes becomes the abuser, becoming the very person they had most despised. For some, a sense of real peace about their past is often just out of reach.

The scriptures remind us of this generational cycle of hurt that so easily is passed from parents to children, often through multiple generations. God warns about such a possibility when he expressed caution to those that chose to reject and hate him. He said; “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Exodus 20:5, NIV)

The “punishment,” or practical consequences of a parent’s choice to hate God, impacts their children, but not all children, only those children that become adults and continue to actively model their parent’s hatred towards God.(4) But when children in subsequent generations are able to break the cycle of hatred, then the effect is to experience God’s love for many generations to come:

“but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6, NIV)

If you judge yourself to be held captive by some sort of trauma in your past life, and if you seek to genuinely be the one to break the cycle, then the logical question to ask is: “How does one proceed? “

In the very first step, we must surrender our lives totally and completely to God. We need to become followers of Jesus. It’s only from this relational perspective that we have the beginnings of real change available to us.

We then need to understand and apply the principles and power of forgiveness that the scriptures teach, followed by the establishment of healthy boundaries in all our relationships.

One of the most powerful tools we can use to break the cycle of hurt and to free us from our past, is found in the principles of forgiveness that scriptures call us to seek out.

Peter once explored this topic of forgiveness with Jesus, as captured by Matthew in the Gospels:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

In Peter’s day, there was a rabbinic perspective that one need only to forgive another three times, and then afterword’s, no more forgiveness should be offered up. (5)

At the time he was asking these questions around the topic of forgiveness, Peter was in the process of growing in his relationship with Jesus. He had observed that Jesus often approached faith in a non-legalistic way. Jesus consistently approached life from the perspective of God’s grace and love. In a way, Peter was attempting to seek out the rules around the boundaries for forgiveness. Peter clearly felt it pretty good to suggest that he might consider more than doubling the number of times one might offer forgiveness, from three to seven times!

He was likely surprised by Jesus’ response, when Jesus said “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In this expression, Jesus was communicating that there are no practical limits to forgiveness. In fact, living out forgiveness was one way that the followers of Jesus conducted their lives. It’s a distinctive of the Christian faith. The backdrop of course, is found in the ultimate reality that each of us have been forgiven by God with his unlimited grace. Thankfully, God hasn’t limited the number of times he has forgiven me.

The Apostle Paul further helps us make that connection between our forgiveness to others and Christ’s forgiveness towards ourselves when he wrote:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

You see, when we fail to forgive, in a way we’ve taken on the weight of the offense in our own lives. Ultimately, such a choice can’t help but become expressed in our behaviors. It impacts our hearts and our minds. Sadly, such unresolved offenses can end up driving us to becoming the person we’ve most dreaded.

God reminds us that harboring our feelings in this way is not healthy, and in the end, the offense is not ours to carry. Ours is to release it to him and to allow God to deal with the offender. Paul further shared:

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV)

Our part in this life is to act on God’s desires through faith, to prayerfully ask for his grace in our lives to forgive others, thus allowing us to be released from our past.

In all of this, we must be prepared that our release of forgiveness towards others may not result in a reciprocal response from the offender. Even as we forgive the offender, the offender may not respond in kind or even acknowledge the offense perpetrated against us.

We furthermore must accept that only God can change their hearts, and therefore their ways of living. (Just as he changed our hearts which has lead us to change our lives and enabled us to offer forgiveness to others.) Even as we have forgiven them, they may remain the person they are, and they may in some ways continue to offend us. The Apostle Paul recognized that this was possible. His counsel was to not worry about how the other person might or might not respond. The point is, you have done in faith as your Lord has asked, having forgiven the offender and having turned the matter over to the Lord for final resolution. Paul shared:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

The second key step is to establish healthy boundaries in all of our relationships, but particularly with those that have or continue to offend towards us, even after we have forgiven them, perhaps multiple times.

It’s not practically possible in this allotted space to expand on this very important topic of relational boundaries. For those of you who are interested, I highly recommend the following resource:

“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of your life.” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, published by Zondervan, 2017.

Cloud and Townsend explore this topic in depth, and I believe that this topic, coupled with the application of forgiveness towards those that have offended or harmed us in our past, offer a great start towards freeing our present from the prison of our past.

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(1) “Five Most Inescapable Prisons in the World,” Google,accessed August 18, 2018, -https://www.mazim.com/maxim-man/5-most-inescapable-prisons-world.html
(2) “Inside Americas Toughest Federal Prison,” NY Times, accessed August 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/3015/03/29/magazine/inside-americas-toughest-federal-prison.html
(3)“Fast Facts Supermax Prison,” FoxNews, accessed August 18, 2018, https//www.foxnews.com/story/2006/05/04/fast-facts-supermax-prison.html

(4) Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T, Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 1996), Deuteronomy 24:16.
(5) Gary M Burge, Jesus The Middle Eastern Storyteller,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2009),p.72

Continue reading “Released from the Prison of Our Past”

Opt Out of the Fear Prison

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5)

It’s hard to escape the reality of the news these days. The world around us seems so out of control. Even close to home I sense the stress of a broken society. It’s reflected in our abandoned value systems where we once cherished character traits such as honesty, truthfulness, and honor in our word to one another, along with commitment to respect those in authority over us, whether at work, school or even in our homes. We have become disconnected from a system of values that were ultimately founded upon God’s principles for successful living.

We instinctively sense and the scriptures confirm that “God is not a God of disorder,” so when things are in disorder and disarray we know something is very wrong. Scriptures tell us that when individuals care more about themselves, abandoning Gods values in favor of pursuing self through envy and selfish ambition, “then we find disorder.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, James 3:16)

Such disorder leads to fear, which drives its own set of unhealthy behaviors that are manifested and reflected all around us.

Fear is an interesting topic. There are different kinds of fears in life, and not all fears are bad. Some fears are about the physical world we live in; fear of fire, heights etc. When viewed in context I would characterize these as “safety fears.” They remind us to respect the physical laws of our world so that we lessen the chance of hurting ourselves in our day to day living.

In the spiritual realm there’s something I describe as “reverent fear,” it’s a respectful fear of God, acknowledging His vast creative and saving power in our lives. This type of fear is one that helps us recognize God’s role in our lives, it reminds us of our total dependency upon God’s grace and provision for everything, even the very breath we take.

Then there is what I would call “foreboding fear.” This type of fear is the fear of an unknown, a dread of impending or possible distress or misfortune that might befall us in the future. It’s often founded and reflective of many underlying and deep personal fears within ourselves. It builds until it’s resolved, and until it is resolved, it can grow and become a paralyzing fear. It’s the kind of fear that can isolate us from those around us. It’s also the kind of fear that if left unchecked can take over and overshadow any joy that we might have in our lives.

This kind of fear is a type that the Evil One would desire believers to embrace, because it signifies that our reliance and confidence in the Lord has been replaced by the temporal concerns of this life, even if those concerns are of a great value and weight.

The Apostle Peter faced such fears. He and many others had been rounded up by the government because of their faith in Christ. (Acts 12:1-19)  King Herod saw that the popular religious leaders reacted favorably to the arrest of James, brother of John, and so he had Peter arrested as well.

Peter found himself in prison, alone with his fears, locked and shackled with a bunch of guards to keep an eye on him until after the Passover celebration was completed. He may have been there for several days; plenty of time to think about life and how brief it might soon become.

While he was in prison his brothers and sisters in Christ were praying for him. Prayers are to bring glory to God, and He always answers our prayers, even if we may not always understand the answers at the time.

God had plans for Peter that had yet to be fulfilled. He allowed Peter to remain a prisoner right up to the last minute, until the night before his trial which would have no doubt ended poorly. That night, God sent an angel who freed Peter from prison and allowed him to escape. Not for Peter’s sake, but for the future purposes that God had in mind for His kingdom.

Peter was genuinely surprised by his escape and it was clear that he did not fully grasp what God had in store for his future.

I’ve often wondered what Peter might have been pondering while in prison. Perhaps he reflected on his trust in God for all of the past parts of his life, which included the complete and total forgiveness of his past sins. Perhaps he thought about the fact that he also trusted God for his future, when his physical body would one day die and be received by Jesus into Heaven. Hopefully after all of his pondering and thinking while he was in prison, that he concluded that even in his current state, as hopeless as it might have appeared, that he should feel the peace of trusting Jesus for the present since he had already trusted Him for his past and his future.

Of course such trust for the present can only be possible after we’ve resolved in our minds and hearts that the God we worship is big enough and powerful enough, and loves us enough to always be with us no matter what may happen in this present earthly life.

I cannot say with certainty that either I or my family will remain safe from harm’s way in this world. Even Jesus himself was not kept from death, yet in His death we now find life. But I can say with certainty that I have had to make the intentional choice to trust God for whatever future might unfold for either myself or my family.

Our walk with Jesus is a continuous journey of surrender…and surrender again, and again. Ours is to surrender the very people that we love the most. Our Heavenly Father did exactly that with His son Jesus. He surrendered that which was closest to Him, the person he loved the most. And he did that for you and me and the countless many who would come to follow Christ in the years to come.

My prayer is that the Lord would give you peace and security in your heart and mind, and that in that peace your strength and hope would be renewed.