Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ted Haggard and the Process of Forgiveness

This past week former pastor and evangelical leader Ted Haggard appeared on Oprah and Larry King Live. His interviews served as previews for his HBO documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard”. The imbedded video gives a glimpse of Haggard’s reappearance into the public eye.

You can read my reflections on Ted and his wife Gayle from the time that the story broke in November 2006 here and here.

I really didn’t want to think about Haggard and his story. My wife thought I would be interested so she recorded the appearance on Oprah. I squirmed and felt uncomfortable throughout. Part of my discomfort lies with Oprah and her constant attempts to normalize and propagandize her heretical views. She is leading millions down a path that may be spiritual but it is in a direction that is going away from and not toward God. That’s stuff for another post sometime.

But Oprah’s format and constant interruptions are not conducive for discussing serious life process and theology. Her format presses for quick, easy sound bites. And Haggard’s issues, by his own admission, are complex. Such complexity demands private, out-of-the-spotlight life work. I can only speculate that Haggard needs money or is addicted to the limelight or both and thus he is going public with his process at a ridiculously early point in his recovery. He said he wanted to publicly ask for the forgiveness of his church in Colorado.

Somewhat lost in the lights and cameras that glare in Haggard’s face again are the heroic hearts of his wife and children. They are doing the difficult life work of forgiveness. I pray God’s power and grace upon them. How does God’s power to forgive come to them? Two words come to mind: “Before” and “After”.

When I finished watching the recording of Oprah, my dedicated and loving wife of 30 years asked, “Would you be able to forgive me if I was ever unfaithful?” Without a moment’s hesitation I responded, “Yes, because I decided that I would forgive you years ago if something like that ever happened, just like I decided I would forgive our children of a whole list of heartbreaking things that they could have done in adolescence that thankfully they never did.”

In other words, because God has forgiven me of so much, I am already predisposed to forgive others. If my wife or children were ever to deeply wound me, I’ve decided “before” the incident that I will forgive them. At the time of the offense and in the days “after” I will then call upon God for grace and help to carry out the work of forgiveness. Depending on the offense I may have to ask for God’s help in forgiving many times.

Why would I be so committed to forgiving no matter what? Because, it is the way of Christ. I want to become like Him and do life as He does it. I’m also predisposed to love, give, serve, etc.

I didn’t want to think about Ted and his story but such reflection has reminded me of the powerful life that Christ instills in His followers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reality Better than Fiction with Kurt Warner

I love sports. I enjoy playing, watching and reading about sports. I like sports based movies. As we anticipate Super Bowl 43 to be played on February 1 there’s one story that needs to be told with the best that Hollywood has to offer. The story has so much drama and inspiration it needs no “creative license” that some movies use in the attempt to enhance.

The true life story is about the man Kurt Warner, quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals.

Not a football fan? It doesn’t matter. Stay with me for 5 minutes.

Kurt was barely good enough to play college football. He played collegiately at the University of Northern Iowa but his first three years were as the 3rd string quarterback. Not until his senior year did he get a chance to play and though successful UNI was not a hotbed for future NFL talent. Upon graduation he tried to make the team with the Green Bay Packers. Not deemed NFL talent he played in the Arena Football League and later the European version of the NFL. Kurt’s dream was going nowhere fast. When not playing football he worked in a grocery store making $5.50 an hour.

During these years Kurt met Brenda, a divorcee with two small children, the oldest paraplegic and brain damaged. He fell in love with her and her children. In 1996 Brenda’s parents who lived in Arkansas, were killed in a tornado when their home was destroyed. This loss contributed to Kurt’s pursuit of God and he became a committed follower of Jesus. Kurt and Brenda married in 1997. Kurt adopted Brenda’s children and then they had 2 more of their own.

In 1999 Kurt made the team of the St. Louis Rams as their backup quarterback. In a preseason game, Trent Green, the starting quarterback got hurt and Kurt began playing and earned the starting position. Kurt ended up having one of the greatest seasons of record for any quarterback by throwing for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns and was recognized with the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. To cap off the year Warner led the Rams into winning the Super Bowl where he was also recognized as the game’s MVP.

By 2004 Warner’s performance had begun to decline and he was traded to the NY Giants. After a disappointing season Warner was traded in 2005 to the Arizona Cardinals. At the end of the 2005 season most NFL analysts concluded that Warner’s days as a starting quarterback were over. For the 2006 season the Cardinals acquired Matt Leinart, a Heisman Trophy winner and college star, to be their new quarterback. Leinart and Warner battled back and forth and Warner once again won the starting job for the 2008 season.

Fast forward to January 2009, Kurt Warner, considered finished as a starting quarterback and too old to be in the league much longer, posted 4,583 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and has led the Cardinals into their first Super Bowl in franchise history!

But this is way more than a “rags to riches” success story. This is about a man like you and me who found identity and hope in Christ during the grocery stocking days. This is about a man who has faced temptations with fame and fortune and kept his head screwed on, his ego in check, his marriage together and his relationship with God solid. This is about a man who has leveraged the “platform” that God has given him to bless special needs children through his First Things First Foundation. (see this ESPN video for some of the story) And for the skeptic out there that moans during interviews of athletes who credit God, Warner doesn’t pray for success and victories. He’s not given to the notion that God cares about who wins and who loses football games. Rather Warner is more likely to pray prayers of gratitude or forgiveness or for the needs of other people.

In short, Warner refuses to be defined by his poor upbringing, his wandering days as a football nomad, nor by his NFL success and money. Warner declares,

“If you ever really want to do a story about who I am, God’s got to be at the center of it. Every time I hear a piece or read a story that doesn’t have that, they’re missing the whole lesson of who I am.”
I’m looking forward to this Super Bowl. Whether Warner wins or loses the game, his true life story as a Christ follower is better than any fiction.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Divine Appointments

Occasionally I have the privilege of getting to see multiple pieces of divine puzzles come together so that a picture of revelation appears. Today was such an occasion.

I believe that God calls us (invites us) to meet with Him in what I refer to as a “divine appointment”. In other words, it is a meeting with purpose and often God’s power is at work in a manifest way. Divine appointments sometimes result in a new direction for the future or a deliverance from a broken past or a needed word of illumination or encouragement in the present. Significant breakthrough can occur with divine appointments.

With the advantage of hindsight we can look backward and see where God stirred us here or prompted us there or touched us at another point, all of which was leading to the divine appointment.

I talked with a friend about his recent divine appointment. Some of his previous encounters with God which led up to the current appointment occurred years ago. The result of the previous encounters was a softening of his heart so that he would have receptivity for the current appointment.

While exploring with my friend the exciting work of God in him I was struck with how easily none of this could have happened to/for him. At any of those prior encounters he could have stopped the movement of God in him by simply ignoring or suppressing or rationalizing away the touch of God. Such tactics harden our hearts to God’s presence.

But, because my friend acknowledged those prior encounters (felt pain, fear, loneliness, grief, etc.) his heart became softened to the presence of God. Then, bang, divine appointment, various puzzle pieces of life come together, a picture forms, and wow, “I see how God is at work in me.”

To see God at work is to be invited to join God in what He is doing. Joining God is communion. Communion is relational friendship. And, we’re talking about relational friendship with the Creator of the universe, Almighty God!

So, in my reflections I’m reminded today that God is always pursuing us, always at work in and around us, always purposeful and redemptive. May we be soft-hearted, responsive and attentive to His presence this day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Thursday morning I sat in a breakfast meeting and heard an intelligent and articulate presentation. The speaker was prepared, made good use of slides and seemed to care about the subject. Probably 75% of the presentation addressed a need with supporting facts and statistics. About 20% detailed the difference her organization could make with the problem and the remaining 5% described what they do.

As I listened to the presentation, about 10 minutes into it I found myself silently asking of the speaker, “Why do you care about this?” My silent question kept waiting to be answered for the next 15 minutes. The speaker finished and sat down and I still didn’t know why this issue mattered to her. My unanswered question became a significant filter to my listening and processing.

As a student of communication it occurs to me that the speaker had my interest. The arguments had me inclined to agree with the assessment and recommendation, yet I didn’t really want to personally respond because the “why does this matter to you?” question was not clear to me.

Every week I communicate about faith in Jesus Christ to an assembled group of people. Likewise I find myself making a case and then making recommendations about what to do. But now I wonder how often I’m clear about why this matters to me.

I believe that I have a terminal “illness” called sin. I believe all of humanity shares in this deadly plight. And I believe that a faith relationship with Jesus is the cure for what ails me/us. Therefore, the reason that understanding, accepting and adhering to the Christian faith is so important to me is because I believe that we’re all going to remain “sick” and eventually die an eternal death unless Jesus becomes our cure.

This past Sunday many of you that read this blog entered into an 8 week journey together in order to experience Jesus as the cure. Let’s not miss the core issue. We’re not interested in just treating a few symptoms and relieving life’s pain to some degree. We are after nothing less than miraculous healing that results in our having eternal life.

Let’s respond to all that Jesus is up to with us these days.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Intense Preaching

Last Sunday I got pretty passionate and intense as I borrowed a title from John Piper and pleaded "Don't Waste Your Life". You can listen to the talk here.

My wife commented that it was a little over the top. Well, I'm going to show her the video clip below to let her know what over the top is :)

Friday, January 02, 2009

"Gran Torino" Reminds of the Need for Purpose

I’m a long time Clint Eastwood fan. Yep, I like the tough guy, blood and guts stuff. So, when “Gran Torino” came out I knew I would have to see it. When several critics opined that it might be Eastwood’s best work I was all the more intrigued.

New Year’s Day my wife and I sandwiched our way into a sold out theater and took in the story. I’m not giving any spoilers to comment on Eastwood’s character, Walt Kowalski, because you can pick up 80% of what I’m going to say with the trailers or movie reviews.

Walt was a lifetime employee and assembly line worker in a Ford factory. The movie begins with the passing of Walt’s wife and the setting up of his life as a retired widower in his longtime neighborhood that has gone through a complete ethnic and economic transition. Walt is crusty and perpetually grumpy. Though he has some kind of respect for God he has virtually no tolerance for religious game-playing or churchiness.

Like the 1972 Gran Torino that Walt helped assemble and keeps in mint condition, Walt is from another time and is totally insensitive to contemporary political correctness. He is almost always cursing and using offensive ethnic slurs. Still, for the person that is not immediately repelled by Walt’s tough exterior there is something compassionate and tender about Walt.

Surrounded by homes that are now unkempt and deteriorating, Walt’s home still features a manicured lawn and fresh paint. Walt spends most afternoons on his front porch drinking a six-pack of beer and grumbling as he watches the world go to hell around him.

Walt accidentally becomes heroic to his neighbors with whom he constantly claims he just wants to be left alone. Had Walt gotten his wish and been left alone he would have at some time died with little contribution to this world or the lives around him.

I know “Walt”. I’ve met him dozens of times. American suburbs are filled with “Walts” who were hard working, mostly honest guys who raised a family and retired to a life of somewhat meaningless meandering in their garage workshop or to insignificant hobbies of woodworking, and model train building, or to ridiculous amounts of golf.

The movie portrays an interesting story of Walt’s inadvertent benevolence toward his neighbors but since leaving the theater I’ve not been able to stop thinking about the real life “Walts” I’ve known through the years. It seems to me that the most common and tragic factor in each of these lives is an unclear sense of purpose for life.

My friend, life is eternally more than working hard at a job, making a living and raising a family. God has a plan for our lives. Our lives are born with innate significance. In the cosmic drama our “character” plays an essential role for which God endows us with gifts, talents and opportunities. Before Walt’s unintentional engagement of life at a deeper level he was wasting his life and so it is for many of us today.

“Gran Torino” reminds us of the need for purpose. Are you knowing and living yours?