Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A New Word For The Christmas Season
Christmas is going to come and go and we’ll enjoy the time of celebration and reflection as what this event means for eternity and for the immediate as it touches our lives. Then comes January. The glow of Christmas is not going to be as strong as the days move away from December 25 and so what’s left when the hard, painful, hurtful, faith challenging events of living come on us in 2008?

One thing very possible is my faith is going to waiver through the year because it is “MY FAITH” and I’m fallible and too dependent on basing my faith on what I know rather than what I don’t know.

So what’s going to sustain us through the rest of the year? There are a lot of words and phrases uniquely associated with Christmas that we don’t use as frequently throughout the rest of the year such as “hark,” “tidings,” “goodwill towards men (and women).”
We know one word that is about Christmas we do use throughout the year and that’s Love because we read of it in John 3:16. But here’s a word I’ll bet you’ve never heard in association with Christmas. HESED

If LOVE defines God’s nature then hesed, defines His character. The Greek word, hesed, means loving kindness, mercy and, interestingly, the keeper of commitments. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense for hesed to mean both loving kindness and keeper of commitments. If my nature is love, what is the best way to show love, mercy, loving kindness? It is to do exactly what I said I would do. Not so that you would know me as reliable but because the best way to show love is to keep commitments. What God promised He would do, he did. What he promises he will do, he will. Listen to His promises.

Isaiah 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Luke 1:32-33 (NIV) He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Micah 5:2 (NIV)“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

So what’s left after Christmas? The music on the radio is back to normal programming. The clerks don’t say Merry Christmas any more. We don’t have a President’s Day party and bring gifts and feed the poor as if they are only hungry one day out of the year. So what’s left? For me, it’s my absolute, unshakable trust in Him as a loving, caring, all powerful, all knowing Father of the Universe who knows me and knew me before I was even formed in my Mother’s womb.

Christmas is a celebration. It’s a wonderful day to celebrate. But Christmas is also evidence of God’s hesed, his very nature that defines Him as loving and caring and because of that the keeper of commitments. He promised a Savior. He provided a Savior. His name is Emmanuel. The fact that God sent Jesus in fulfillment of prophecy speaks volumes of His trustworthiness. Because He loves us we can trust him. Because we trust him we can love him without doubt, without hesitation and without knowing the explanation or understanding of everything that happens in my life.
He did what he said he would do. He will do what He promises he will do. Christmas is about God so loving the world. Christmas is also about trusting Him through the year because of his hesed character.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


If there is one most difficult thing spiritual leaders have to contend with it is working through the prickly tensions of disagreement and even conflict. As uncomfortable as it is spiritual leadership demands/requires we be peace makers.

The opposite of destructive conflict is not the cessation of hostilities, nor is it peace. The opposite of conflict is unity; a sense of oneness in spite of differences and even the tension often surrounding those differences. This applies to civilizations, nations, organizations, communities and families. In order to better understand unity I think we need to look at three states of relationship and two critical questions.

Three States When two or more humans gather together we are in one of three states--neutral disinterestedness, negative conflict or unity. What frustrates me is that so often in my life I find the environment and context of a relationship defining the state rather than me seizing the initiative. If you were asked which of the three states would be the worst to experience your first answer, if you’re like me, would be the uncomfortable state of negative conflict. But when you think about it, perhaps the worst state is not negative conflict but rather neutral disinterestedness. I’m waiting in line at the grocery store and a family with three small children is in front of me. The kids aren’t noisy or whiny. The mother isn’t preoccupied with a cell phone conversation so loud you’d think she was talking on two tin cans and a string. They are in a neutral state as far as I’m concerned and so, for all intents and purposes, to me they don’t exist—says the guy who truly believes because of Christ within me I possess the power of God to bless them! If only I could continually keep it in my consciousness that it’s about unity, stupid. If the kids were irritating me at least I couldn’t have ignored them and possibly raised my spiritual consciousness to pray for them. Neutral disinterestedness. A deadly state to find ourselves in. So, that takes care of neutral disinterestedness and negative conflict but what about unity?

Critical Questions As creatures of community, any time we are in any form of relationship (including standing in lines) we need to ask a critical question. “What is the glue holding us—all of us--together?” Glue in our world is far more ubiquitous than we may realize. Glue is what keeps everything together. Literally everything. For your science lecture today, just know that glue is simply an attractive force between two material bodies so that everything from mending a broken plate to keeping the molecules holding your wooden chair up all operate on the same principle of glue.

To make this science lecture bearable, you just need to know there are two types of glue --adhesion glue and cohesion glue. Adhesion glue takes objects and binds them together with some sticky substance or something that infiltrates the broken pieces and then hardens, binding the broken pieces together. Duct tape and super glue are some of our more common examples. Cohesion glue is different. It uses attraction properties at a molecular level to hold things together. Magnetism is a form of cohesion as we see with iron. As water forms above the rim of a completely full glass we see the cohesion property of surface tension. Molecular and atomic level properties form bonds of attraction that are difficult to break. For example, only after heating water to 212oF do the cohesion bonds holding water molecules together start to break up forming steam. In another example, breaking the cohesive glue of a uranium atom creates not only the release of a tremendous amount of energy (fission) but that energy release causes other cohesive bonds to come apart as well creating a nuclear chain reaction. A diamond is hard because the strong cohesion bonds hold the carbon atoms together. Just as an aside, another aspect of cohesion is friction. Friction occurs when two surfaces with strong cohesion properties rub against each other. As the cohesion bond of the surface breaks down heat results from the release of the bonding energy.

One other item used in glue completes our science lecture. The strongest glues use a catalyst or an activating agent. Without the catalyst they are inert. I’m always amazed when I go to my dentist to experience the variety of glues available. Almost all of them require a catalyst-–UV light, water or some mysterious compound. A catalyst is basically an agent that lowers the energy required for a reaction to take place and is not consumed in the process.

So much for the science lecture but the metaphor is beginning to form, isn’t it? We know from physics that every entity of mass exerts a gravitational pull on every other object around it. The bigger the object, the greater the force of gravitation. Likewise, every relational unit has an attractional bonding force as well. When people first come together there is the opportunity for adhesion and most of us do stick together in one way or another. We may need each other due to our broken state. For others the need is to experience completeness, or safety or the enjoyment of complimentary personalities and diverse experiences. But adhesion bonds aren’t always strong. No matter how well the adhesion has put things together, it’s still not completely like it was before everything shattered.

A while ago I illustrated this point at our small group gathering as we were talking about forgiveness. I first showed a coffee mug that had been shattered and then duct taped together. I could have used a glue gun or super glue, but being the guy I am, I chose duct tape to put it back together—sort of. The big question was, “who broke the cup in the first place?” The obvious answer--blame it on Adam and Eve. They shattered the original complete vessel.

My next question was, “What is the nature of the glue then that binds back together this cup Adam and Eve broke?” The answer is forgiveness. Now, in other illustrations and examples the adhesive glue could have been any number of other abstract concepts such as integrity, excellence, trust, gratitude, fear, duty, distrust, security or insecurity. But for this illustration it was forgiveness and the “big story” behind the illustration was that forgiveness is adhesive glue that can make broken objects whole again. The problem is that as we look at the mended mug there are still cracks and missing pieces. Some are so shattered they can never be put back, no matter how much adhesive glue you have because forgiveness does not mean the same as excusing, forgetting or even reconciling the friendship. Or in God’s case, reconciling the relationship. Something more is needed for that. An even stronger glue. Whoa! Watch out. This is dangerous ground I’m treading on. What could be more powerful than forgiveness? This is not to diminish the absolutely essential property of forgiveness but is there something more? If we want this cup to hold coffee just as if it had never been shattered what we need is cohesion glue. What is needed is a kind of binding force that not only puts broken pieces back in place but also reforms the brokenness to a state as if it had never been broken at all. The cohesion glue, in my small group illustration was grace. The adhesion glue of forgiveness makes the container whole. The cohesion glue of grace makes the container complete. I think many times in our Christian walk we view forgiveness as an end, when in fact, it is a means to an end.

There was a particular reason why I chose a coffee mug for my illustration. I thought about using a mirror and how when its shattered we have a distorted view of ourselves but about as quickly as I thought about it I knew it was the wrong object to use. Too often we make forgiveness about us. We even interpret Jesus’ words,
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25),
to be about how awful it would be for ME to be unforgiven, as if that’s the motive behind forgiving others.

I don’t read it that way. In my theology forgiveness is not an end to itself. Even being unforgiven by God for my own lack of forgiveness, as awful a thought as that might be, is still not the pure motivation for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a restorative tool. But a tool doesn’t need to be used unless something has been broken or needs repair or to be built from the ground up. As a tool, forgiveness makes the cup whole again. But even the best adhesive glue cannot erase the cracks and lines giving evidence to the fact that once it was broken. And while the vessel has now been made whole it is still not the same as before. It may leak, the adhesive bonds may weaken and it may not be able to hold contents. In order to be completely useful this cup needs cohesive glue. The cohesive glue that makes my cup not only whole but completely restored, just as if it had never been broken in the first place, is grace. Grace restores the vessel to its original condition. While forgiveness is an action tool of restoration, grace is an attitude of justification. With forgiveness I am grateful that the shattered pieces have been gathered up and put back in their proper place. Now with grace I can look on that cup and truly know the brokenness is no longer an issue because what I now see is not only whole it is just as if it had never been broken in the first place.

I don’t know about you but there have been times when I haven’t been successful in sticking broken relationships back together let alone believing that some incredible cohesion process could reform the shattered pieces into a functioning cup. I forgot the catalytic work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not patient enough, kind enough or compassionate enough to mend broken pieces on my own. I need the Catalyst to be a part of the mending process from the beginning. He was there in the package but sometimes I still forget to read the directions. “Note to user. Be sure and mix in the catalyst BEFORE you attempt to mend. We are not responsible for the results if you don’t follow these directions.”

With this illustration however a lot of real world “yah buts” come up. If somebody accidently hurts you, extending an attitude of grace is usually easy. But what if the offending person doesn’t want to forgive you? Where’s the reconciliation and restoration in that? What if the offended person doesn’t want to ask for forgiveness? The world is full of buts, but all the buts in the world cannot explain away or excuse a Kingdom principle and I really believe we are talking about a Kingdom principle at work here. Here’s a big but. But what if that person, drunk and driving, killed your child? What does forgiveness and grace look like then? We’ve seen those intense dramas on the evening news. During the sentencing hearing the victim’s family gets to address the violator. To me, what’s even more emotional than the steely-eyed unrepentant guilty prisoner is the family member who tearfully declares, “And I cannot and will not ever forgive you for what you’ve done.” I hope at the deepest level that those would not be my words if I ever found myself in that position. So, what’s the alternative? Do you invite the murderer over for Thanksgiving once he gets out of prison? Or maybe you go visit him in prison and tell him again and again that you’ve forgiven him? Perhaps. And then there’s grace. Where does it come into the monstrously ugly tragedies of life? Unlike forgiveness, grace is an attitude not a tool. And it’s working out is not always as clear as the simple steps of forgiveness. I don’t know that I really know that much about grace. All I do know is that had I not been mystified by an incomprehensible act of grace I may not have been able to write this article.

I was 24, a God-knower, but certainly not a believer. I was newly appointed to the position of Executive Secretary of the State Board of Pharmacy and the Chief Inspector had taken me out to show me how pharmacy inspections were done. We went to a small, truly “Ma and Pa” pharmacy in an older neighborhood of Seattle. We had a nice conversation with the pharmacist and I couldn’t help but notice he wore a patch over one eye. It was the day before Thanksgiving and the pharmacist was going to close early. I asked if he was going to have family over. He said no, that he and his wife were going to the state penitentiary at Monroe to share their Thanksgiving meal. He then went on to tell me the man they have been breaking bread with for the past number of years had visited their pharmacy at one time. The man had entered the small drug store, pushed a gun into his face, demanded money and narcotics and as he was leaving turned and fired a warning shot back into the store. The bullet hit the pharmacist in the head exiting through his eye socket destroying his left eye.

The pharmacist could probably see my perplexed look. I truly missed something in the conversation. The man who tried to kill you is the same man you now visit? Without a lengthy explanation he simply said, “We are Christians. We have no choice but to forgive him and give him grace.” As a non believer that made no sense to me. There was even a part of me that almost wanted to mock him for his naiveté but I couldn’t get out of my mind what he said and did and continued to do. I had no concept of forgiveness beyond, “I’m sorry.” Grace was my mother’s name and that was the extent of all I knew about that word. Yet I couldn’t get his act and attitude out of my mind. It haunted me. I couldn’t get my head around it. In less than a year I gave my life to Christ knowing whatever he had, I didn’t have and I knew whatever “it” was it only came through the still mysterious love of Jesus Christ.

One final question. If forgiveness and grace are the glues that bind the vessel together, and the Holy Spirit is the catalytic agent, what is the unifying principle making this metaphor work? If the adhesive glue of forgiveness and the cohesive glue of grace are the means by which we get to the ultimate end, what is the end; the unifying principle? I believe it can be found in the words of Jesus on the Mount of Olives in his passionate prayer to his heavenly Father.
“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.”
John 17:11(b) [emphasis added]

The coffee mug represents a vessel but it is not a vessel of oneness, it is a vessel of unity. Forgiveness is the glue of brokenness. Grace is the glue of restoration so that we may be one as he and we and the Father are one.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Head Understands Humility But There's Something In Me That Demands Control
I'm processing through my deep interior's response to all this cancer stuff for me. There is a level (not high) of anxiety and a twinge of sadness (not depression). Here's my take on it. The reaction is not coming to the reality of my immortality. I've dealt with the head and the heart issue of that over 20 years ago. What my head understands but my heart is still trying to settle is coming to grips with my invincibility. Yah, yah, I know I'm not the same man I was 20 years ago. Gravity has a great way of reminding me of that every morning in the mirror. Instead, the cancer is an invisible wound, like a missing limb, reminding me of how out of control I really am and how much I need to totally trust and rely on God for my daily bread. Food prayers are a great time for me to be reminded of how dependent we are on God for the gift of graciousness as well as grace. The head understands all this. The heart is still fighting with accepting the truth. Man, how much the carnal in us all wants control in spite of what we know to be right and true.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Next Article - Embracing Conflict - Just Posted on SpiritualLead.com
This article was over a year in writing and editing. Conflict is uncomfortable in any situation and most particularly in Christian community. That's why Paul had to address it so frequently in his letters.

At the heart of this article is an insight inventory, The Engagement (Conflict) Styles test. The test is based on behaviors having their root in Godly virtue. Character is what others see. Virtue drives character and is the pure heart and mind of Christ within us desiring to get expressed. In no human activity does our character get tested more than in times of conflict. Take the test and see if virtue is shining through.

The beginning paragraph sets the foundation for discussion.

If you think it’s hard being a leader when all is going well, try leading in the midst of conflict. In times of tension and dissension, when the core qualities of leadership are plumbed, when disagreements surface and interpersonal friction threatens division, the characteristic that distinguishes a truly effective leader from a good leader emerges: relationship with God. It’s the spiritual leader—the leader in secure relationship with God—who can not only tolerate tension but can actually embrace it. It’s the spiritual leader who is able to take people of common purposes and achieve uncommon results.

The concluding paragraph caps the thought.

How to be a Christian in the 21st century is becoming more controversial in the marketplace. How do we maintain the truth of our beliefs, yet engage a community who increasingly does not share those truths? Christians living in Europe and North America have had it easier in the last 200 years of our faith, and I believe the easy times—times not filled with tension because of who you are—are coming to a close. Yet, if the cause of Christ is to change the world, then those who call themselves Christians must be known for the peace they influence rather than the battles and wars they have caused or even won. To paraphrase John 13:34, the world will know we are Christians not by how we wage our war, but how we live our love.

Let me know what you think of the article. Go to SpiritualLead.com. It is the sixth in a series for spiritual leaders and is one of five articles in the Unit on Empowering Leaders. You can access the article through the Handbook tab on the home page or by going through My Training Record after logging on. When you log in you can take notes and have them saved for future reference.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Opps! Something Happened on the Road of Life
There was quite a gap between my first post and the most recent one. Why the silent span? In December 2006 I was diagnosed with cancer. We got it early but it was aggressive.

The first month following diagnosis was very "interesting," to say the least. In the midst of the emotional upheaval and fear God spoke to me in the most marvelous ways. I kept a journal during the first month and I capsulized it in a short piece titled "30 Ugly Days and Conversations With God." If you want to read it, CLICK HERE. It is in a pdf format so it may take a few longer seconds to load.

Now, six months later and two treatments of radiation, I'm back on track and feeling good with less than a 10% chance of recurrance. Thanks to praying friends, I've had an experience I can live to talk (and write) about.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

In The End It’s About Reconciliation
(From upcoming article in the Handbook for Spriritual Leadership--Embracing Conflict)

What’s the point of creation and the fall of Adam without reconciliation? It is incomprehensible to think that God would create man in his image, give Adam and Eve and their seed free will choice, allow them/us to experience the consequence of rebellion and conflict without the opportunity for reconciliation.

Looking through the Old Testament lens we see how futile reconciliation efforts are by our own works. Paul in explaining the radical difference between the two states of sin and righteousness uses three words with similar root and meaning when he talks of a new kind of reconciliation. Those words are katallagḗ, apokatallássō and metallássō. Packed into the root of the meaning of these words we have first an understanding of exchange and then of reconciliation.
[1] What an incredible depth of meaning is wrapped up in those Greek words that our English fails to capture. Exchange and reconciliation. What a completely appropriate concept to fuse into a single word meaning to be reconciled from conflict.

God’s Exchange In order to accomplish reconciliation with God there first must be an exchange; His son for me, His blood for my sins, His body for my punishment. Second is the exchange of our old sinful nature for a new one. But wait a minute. Who started this conflict, God or me? Shouldn’t God, the Father, expect me to take the first step of reconciliation? After all, I’m the one who failed Him, not the other way around. If we are talking Old Covenant standards, yes. An eye for eye, tooth for tooth and life for life. Whoever was at fault must make an atonement for the sin. But in the New Covenant there first must be something for me to exchange for and so Grace was poured out through Jesus and his sacrificed life so I could have something to exchange with and for. Wow!

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:11

…and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Colossians 1:20

At a spiritual level our believing in the Lord, Jesus Christ accomplishes two similar but distinctive states. First I am justified. That takes care of my “legal” state. I am no longer guilty for my sins. Second is that I am reconciled and that takes care of my “relationship” state. While my justification is a static status my reconciliation becomes a dynamic change or exchange. Because Christ exchanged his place with me for punishment my relationship with God the Father is restored and I then exchange an old Adam body for a new one. (Col. 1:22; Eph. 2:16)

One other connection of reconciliation made so real is contained in the experience of Communion. If we take Paul’s point in Colossians 1:20 and put it up next to Hebrews 10:10, …we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, we now experience the complete understanding consisting first of exchange, His body, His blood for my life and then reconciliation and relationship with the Father just as if I had never sinned. Communion, reunion, reconciliation.

My Exchange So how does that apply in a human conflict situations? In order to have reconciliation with another there has to be an exchange as well. I have to exchange my way, my control and my ideas for a bigger need, opportunity and vision. No matter the level of hostility I have a choice. I can exchange my self justifying human nature of gratification, preservation and control of my environment for something different. For what thing might I make an exchange? I have the choice to exchange my selfish nature to become an advocate for the best outcome for the person with whom I’m in conflict. In essence, because of the exchange it is now useless to fight with me because now I have chosen to fight for you. Reconciliation is now available.

[1]Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1995, c1985). Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Translation of: Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament. (41). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.