Glory and Ruin, Part II

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Character, Heroes, Redemption, Transformation, Uncategorized | 0 comments

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.”   —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn As a survivor of the Gulag Archipelago, the massive Soviet system of prisons to which political and religious dissidents were abandoned from the 1940-80’s, Solzhenitsyn had an unusually awful exposure to mankind’s wickedness. Though he might have considered himself above those who committed such crimes, he was honest enough to admit his own flaws. I am convicted, and compelled, by the fact that men are capable of performing some of the most heroic of acts, as well as the most heinous of crimes. (I touched on this theme in a post a year ago, also entitled Glory and Ruin). Our daily headlines reveal stories of men engaged in life-risking bravery alongside depictions of men committing unspeakable brutality. Glory and Ruin. It would be nice, as Solzhenitsyn suggests, if we could just separate the wicked men of our world into a consolidated group and just get rid of them. The truth, as honest men will admit, is more complicated. Although there are without question, unusually evil men and unusually good men in the world, most of us know that, while we long to become men who others trust and admire, we also have the capacity for selfishness, betrayal and deceit. Glory and Ruin. I am convinced that, just as men carry the potential to inflict unusual harm, they carry equal potential to bestow unusual blessing. Glory and Ruin resides in all of us (women, too, by the way). Scripture urges us to  “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Heb. 3:13, 14. Men, let’s take an honest look in the mirror, and admit and repent of any selfish patterns of Ruin. And then, quickly, embrace the Glory present in all of us who claim the transforming power of the blood of Christ. Glory and Ruin. I see it in me; I see it in other men. You do, too. Believe in, and call out, the...

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Racial Redemption

Posted by on Mar 31, 2015 in Character, Community, Courage, Culture, Forgiveness, Heroes, Redemption | 0 comments

It has been so disturbing recent months to witness the series of events that have brought into glaring spotlight the differences that still separate the races—especially white vs. black—in the United States. We who long for genuine reconciliation and mutual respect, regardless of one’s race, are pierced when young black men are killed by officers of peace, when police who defend our homes are treated with vile disrespect, when those who disagree with our president smear him with names and images that mock the dignity of his office, let alone his value as a human being. And still, how shocking it was to see the uploaded video of fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma chanting, in a bus, vows that no “n—–” will ever join their frat. (As if any black person in their right mind would want to get on the bus with these people.) You’ve probably seen the clips, and they don’t need to be repeated here. One of the sad ironies here is that fraternities were originally established at universities to provide support for students finding themselves on campuses increasingly straying from Christian values and morals. My son, Alec, joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of Wyoming and found that their founding priorities were to urge high character and honorable behavior. When will we see genuine respect, repentance, apology, forgiveness, even a degree of reconciliation and redemption in race relationships? We just did. One of the frat members who led the chant, Levi Pettit, after  two weeks of silence made a public apology. It appeared genuinely contrite and sincere. “There are no excuses for my behavior,” he said. “The bottom line is that the words that were said in that chant were mean, hateful and racist.” He’s right. There are no excuses. He has been expelled from his university and will have to live with the images and consequences of his actions for a long time. He has paid a heavy price and he has now humbly owned up to his role in causing that price. More importantly, he didn’t stand alone. It wasn’t fellow frat members, or fellow students, or even family members who stood closest by his side as he asked forgiveness. He was surrounded by black clergy and civic leaders—members of an African American Baptist church and Oklahoma state Senator Anastacia Pittman among others—who visibly gave him moral support as he faced the public. These were men and women who easily could have snubbed any display of association with Pettit. They easily could have responded with their own name-calling. Or spit in his face the first time they saw him. They didn’t; they stood with him. When Pettit was asked a challenging question by a member of the media after his apology, it was a black man standing behind him who reached forward and placed his hand firmly on his shoulder as if to communicate, “I got you, bro. You’re not alone.” I don’t know who that man is, but I want him to be my friend. I’m moved by that kind of act of forgiveness and allegiance. I think almost all of us are. It’s the power of redemption. When an act of disrespect, conflict or violence is met with patience, forgiveness and humility, a power emerges that turns destruction into reconciliation. Redemption brings hope in the midst of despair. Let’s see more. Let it begin with me....

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Prison Redemption

Posted by on Nov 25, 2014 in Anger, Character, Compassion, Forgiveness, Redemption, Transformation | 3 comments

I haven’t spent a lot of time in prison. But I vividly remember each visit. Last weekend I joined my friend, Ron, in a visit to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, about 2 hours southeast of Colorado Springs. It wasn’t my first visit to a jail or prison, and just to be clear, none of them had anything to do with my misbehavior. When I was in high school my dad and I joined a pastor on a visit to Cook County Jail in Chicago, one of the largest and notoriously violent jails in the U.S. In 1998 I explored the possibility of involving men from Willow Creek Church in regular prison ministry in Latin America. I’ll never forget the awful conditions of the nearly 100 men living in a filthy holding cell designed for 30, in Quito, Ecuador. They were angry and violent; waiting endlessly for the trial that would determine their future fate. The conditions at Arkansas Valley were far cleaner, organized and peaceful by comparison. The men I met at a large group Bible study were still facing a similar open-ended future of managed lock-up, but there was a pervasive sense of peace and hope. It was a shocking contrast to me. I was welcomed at the classroom door by Deon, a kind-faced, friendly, eloquent inmate who helps lead the study. My friend Ron has a special place in his heart for Deon. Years ago Deon got into a heated argument with his best friend, also named Ron. In the heat of the moment, Deon was overcome by rage and beat his friend so severely that he was hospitalized suffering from trauma that will probably never heal. Deon nearly killed him, and now lives out a years-long sentence. It was hard to connect this story of violence and rage with the kind man who greeted me at the door. On the way home Ron told me the incident that brought transformation and peace to Deon. He will most likely never see his friend Ron again, so his opportunity for any face-to-face repentance or reconciliation is virtually nil. But on one of their first meetings with each other Deon turned to my friend Ron, and asked him, since he shared the name of his friend, if he would personally “stand-in” for the Ron he nearly murdered. What followed were intimate words of confession, apology, repentance; tears and weeping. Deon was looking at my friend, Ron; but he was speaking to his friend Ron. That day Deon embraced spiritual and emotional freedom. It’s a tangible story of redemption. God takes awful brokenness and transforms it into power and compassion. That’s the only way the Deon, who nearly killed his best friend, could become the Deon of grace who leads others into deeper knowledge of God. When we confess, apologize and repent, God can do the same for all of...

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Avoiding Highway D

Posted by on Oct 21, 2014 in Anger, Character, Redemption, Transformation | 20 comments

Having grown up in northern Illinois, I have a permanent memory of certain highway route numbers and the roads they pertain to: Rt. 68, Dundee Road; Rt. 83, Elmhurst Road; Rt. 21 Milwaukee Road, and so on. In Wisconsin they seem to have a partially different system, which is based largely on letters rather than numbers. Perhaps a Wisconsinite can inform the rest of us if there’s a hidden reason for that. Not long ago my brother-in-law, and I were chatting about how we respond to hardship and disappointment in our lives. I confess that, due to high expectations of myself, I’m vulnerable to disappointment. Every now and then that disappointment leads to discouragement; which every few years or so can lead to depletion. I want to change that. Some of you reading this know that depletion can then lead to despair. I can honestly say, that while I haven’t been to despair, I’ve seen the off-ramp that leads there. I’m not interested in making a visit. Disappointment-Discouragement-Depletion-Depression-Despair. I call them way-points on Highway D. How do we avoid this highway, or at the very least, how do we recognize the way-points and turn away from the next one before we enter its territory? There are 3 options for us to avoid getting stuck on this downward path: 1. Change our circumstances. Where we have choices, we must flee physical, emotional, mental and spiritual abuse. We must flee immoral and unethical behavior when we run into it. In those cases we must change our circumstances to avoid a downward spiral of emotions. But more commonly, the issues we wrestle with most deeply are our own inner struggles with the difficulties of every day life. Those conditions and our reactions to them follow us, no matter the marriage, church, business or state we are in. Like an imaginary backpack into which we stuff anger, resentment, shame, fear or isolation, those destructive emotions follow us around. The one common denominator we carry into all the “Change our circumstances” options is our backpack. We bring it wherever we go. As a result, changing circumstances isn’t always the solution to our struggles. 2. Change our expectations. Often our disappointments are based on our expectations of how life ought to go. Americans in particular have a built-in expectation (we might even say demand) for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The world doesn’t always offer those options. While they might be fine values on which to build a nation, they aren’t values on which to build Christian character. The apostle Paul wouldn’t have come up with that list. His list might have been more along the lines of self-sacrifice, humility, and the pursuit of Christlikeness. (Phil. 2:1-11) If we expect a life free from illness, loss, limitations or sorrow, we are setting ourselves up for great disappointment. Some Christians think our lives should be defined by unending provision, health, riches and acts from God that serve our wants. If that describes us, we may well need to revise those expectations. 3. Change our beliefs. When bad things happen, our beliefs and assumptions about life rise to the surface: • I lose my job; I believe my boss is a jerk. • My wife is dying; I believe God must be teaching her a lesson. • My child is pulling away from church; I believe God must not be paying attention. • Everything I put my hand to is filled with futility; I believe there must be something defective about me. Blame, shame, and anger at God, or others, all come from our deeply...

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How to Apologize

Posted by on Jun 9, 2014 in Character, Courage, Forgiveness, Redemption | 0 comments

I’ve commented before, (see “I’m Sorry”), about the poor apologies we see in public, where the perpetrator essentially says, “I regret if others may have taken offense at what I was construed as having said.” Or some other mangled nonsense that absolves them (or us) of actual responsibility. Giving a direct, clear apology at times seems to be a dying art. Not this example. It’s from Steve Coburn, owner of California Chrome, the horse that just missed winning horse racing’s Triple Crown—winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, within a span of just a few weeks. It’s such a difficult accomplishment that it hasn’t been done since 1978. When his horse won the first two races, but then lost the third, Coburn, frankly, made a jackass of himself. He launched into a nationally-broadcast rant against the other owners, calling them “cowards” because some didn’t race their horses in all three races. It’s an understatement to say that his comments went viral. At his request, he and his wife showed up the following day on Good Morning America to offer an apology to those he offended. Click here to see a good example of how to apologize. It makes any open-minded, open-hearted person respond, “Thanks. I’ve been a jackass in my life, too. I forgive you.”...

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Glory and Ruin.

Posted by on Jun 5, 2014 in Character, Redemption, Transformation | 0 comments

I remember coming home from college on a 1972 weekend to find my mom standing at the ironing board riveted to the Watergate scandal hearings on TV. To those of us “of a certain age” the cast of characters lingers in our memories as if they are carved on a stone wall: H. R. Haldeman, John Erlichman, John Dean, Chuck Colson, John Mitchell and Jeb Stuart Magruder being some of those that stand out. Jeb Magruder recently died and as I read his story I thought, “Another example of glory and ruin.” Glory and ruin. It’s a phrase I often use to describe what lies in the hearts of men– the capacity for enormous heroism and selfless action on behalf of others, along with the horrific capacity to cause destruction and pain for others, often for those they love. I see it in every headline that tells of another mass murder committed by the next lost male soul. I see it in every story of a firefighter, soldier, Good Samaritan and dad, who demonstrates extraordinary courage and selflessness to protect or save the lives of a loved one—and often someone they don’t even know. I see glory and ruin in so many men I know. I see it in the mirror. I’m compelled to live out, and call out, the glory. Magruder, President Richard Nixon’s deputy campaign manager, was a man who knew Glory—the heights of power very few will ever know; and Ruin—the stunning fall to conviction as a felon and imprisonment.  “Somewhere between my ambition and my ideals I lost my ethical compass,” he admitted. But that’s just the start of the story. Like fellow prison mate Chuck Colson, Magruder came into a spiritual transformation as a result of his encounter with his own ruin. Thank God, his story is one of redemption; he came to see that in God’s eyes he was a work of glory, he became a Presbyterian minister, and even led a city commission on ethics and values. “It’s a characteristic in American life that there is redemption,” he’d say to those who doubted the sincerity of the dramatic change in trajectory his life took. Redemption; what a great word. God takes that which is clearly broken, selfish and destructive—Ruin—and transforms it into Glory—filled with hope, grace and blessing for others. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Ro. 8:18) Those words are true for all of us who are Christ-followers. Yes, there remains in us a capacity to choose ruin that causes unnecessary suffering, but the deeper truth is the one Magruder eventually encountered, there is glory that is revealed because we have the power of the Spirit living and acting through us. Magruder walked in ruin for many years. God redeemed his story and now he knows Glory beyond description. God can redeem ours,...

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