Monday, April 29, 2013

On Love as Apology

I love the transaction of the accepted apology. I used to hate it. I used to loathe swallowing my pride, either to apologize or grant forgiveness. I found it an annoying aspect of human existence.

But Jesus changes people; that’s part of his gig.

Through Christ, I see the beauty in not only forgiving but asking forgiveness, and doing so is much easier than it was once. These days, I recognize that the acts of asking pardon and of granting it are grounded in love, full of joy, and an echo of man's ultimate reconciliation to God.

Forgiveness is an amazing phenomenon when one considers just how prideful we tend to be, particularly in modern western civilization. Individualism, personal rights, and self-worth are ingrained into us from toddlerhood, and now more than ever, the average person’s narcissism and fascination with celebrity culture inform his or her desire to be noticed, speak his or her mind, and be validated. Within said context, the transaction of the apology should give us pause, for the act of asking forgiveness and granting it puts our relationships above our desire to be celebrated and exalted. This is a beautiful thing.

First, on apologizing. Learning the importance of apologizing was difficult for me, but through my study of Scripture it became easy. You see, through the truth of Scripture, I know that I am fallible, and furthermore, I am not as “good” as society constantly tells me I am. In many ways I know how lacking I am compared to the standards of God and Jesus Christ, the greatest being ever to walk this earth. When considering his life, my failures and shortcomings are clearer to me. Consequently the need to seek others' forgiveness becomes more apparent and doing so becomes more comfortable, because I know I will need to always. Failing to love people correctly is part of human life; there's no getting around it, and if you want to live a life full of relationships with others, you will need to apologize at times. 

Now on to granting forgiveness. The Christ ethic not only demands granting forgiveness to others (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35, Mark 11:25) but also provides a paradigm for why it is so necessary. For Christians, forgiveness works like this (or at least it should): God has forgiven my sins against him, and I have wronged him more profoundly, more gravely, and more unabashedly than any human being could wrong me; therefore, I cannot withhold forgiveness from someone else when such overflowing and abundant forgiveness has been given to me. For the Christian, failing to forgive when another asks it of him or her makes no sense and is wholly and completely indefensible. When I consider that the expanse of my depravity against God is forgiven, how could I possibly fail to forgive another person? 

You see what’s driving that? Not guilt. Not mere reason. No, it is love—love for God and the other person. See, we are saying, “You did this for me, Lord? Through Jesus, you forgave me? Well, then of course I can forgive that person. Of course I can value our relationship more than my pride. Of course I can show them the same love that you showed me.” And to the person we are forgiving, we are also saying the same, that through our love for God, we are able to love them well, fully forgive them, and embrace our relationship as in good standing, as has been done for us.

So love drives forgiveness. But that's just the beginning.

See, people take no pleasure in their bitterness, grudges, and resentment; I think we all know that such attitudes wound their holders more than anyone else. But when we forgive and let go of those self-destructive attitudes, we receive joy from our freedom from them as well as the exchange of love. For the Christian, there is ultimate joy in the forgiveness from God, that's true, but for all human beings their is joy when our apology is accepted and a relationship, repaired (or moving in that direction). When we carry guilt as a burden and another lifts it from us, we have great joy in their act and love them for it, sure. But do we not also have joy in granting forgiveness when asked of us? When we see a person wounded by their failures, needing our love in order to heal their guilt, is it not joyous to grant it and return the relationship to good standing? I think it is. 

Thus love drives forgiveness, and forgiveness yields joy.

And I think that it’s important to recognize that this love-driven, joy-inducing transaction has another high value: reconciliation. You see, all human reconciliation echoes the greatest interaction of God and man in history, that of humanity's being justified through Christ, of each true believers asking forgiveness of God and his mercifully granting it. The renewal of any relationship is beautiful because it echoes this highest beauty.  The act of apologizing and receiving a pardon from the person you wronged certainly endears you to them, and contrastingly, when someone wrongs you and shows you their heart of contrition through apology, you see them as more worthy of love. This reconciliatory shift in perception is the basis for continued love and joy in each other--as it has been between Christ and his church, wherein we constantly need his forgiveness, he loves us, he grants it, and we in turn love him all the more for it.

This is not always easy and not always instant. These things can take time, and a person can hurt on the way to these realizations. But they are real. And this is good stuff, is it not?

Now, am I saying that the beauty of this transaction is limited to Christians? Far from it, but I am saying that I believe that in all cultures, at all times, the transaction of the accepted apology echoes the great reconciliation of God to man through love, and as such, said act is—in all cultures and at all times—beautiful. I hope I never lose sight of its power and value. Ever.

Sorry, I feel like I kind of soapboxed today. I do that sometimes around here. But all that being said, dear readers, I encourage you to be open in asking forgiveness when necessary and offering it openly and graciously when it is asked of you. And if you don’t, well, I forgive you.  

Thanks for reading,

Friday, April 26, 2013

Earthen Vessels: A Recommendation

Despite the fact that we attended the same small university for four years, I have very few memories of Matthew Lee Anderson. The only one that is vivid occurred during our student orientation, in which Matthew stood up in a room of several hundred of his peers and asked staff if the rumors were true about the proportions of one on campus group’s population to another. Seeing as Biola had a 3:1 female-to-male ratio at that time, the entire auditorium assumed that his question was in said regard and laughed accordingly. Matthew then said, “Guys, I was talking about teachers to students.” This too received a laugh. Matthew’s cleverness and self-assurance were evident to me then (and, if I am honest, a source of envy), and his writings at and Earthen Vessels, affirm his intelligence further.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Countdown to Stronghold Part 2: What is Stronghold?

This post has been far more difficult to write than I expected. After several false starts, I am beginning anew with this simple question in my mind:

“What is Stronghold?”

I could write a lengthy essay answering that, but I thought perhaps a list might be better. So, here it goes:

  • Stronghold is my story but also could be anyone’s story.
  • Stronghold is a novel but also an embellishment of a real experience.
  • Stronghold is a book driven by concepts and reflection but also an adventure propelled by action and suspense.
  • Stronghold is a book about pornography but not really.

Maybe I should have gone with the essay write-up instead. 

I feel like I’ve written much but told you nothing—other than "it’s complicated. I could just provide the “elevator pitch”, the one that I give folks who ask,  “what is your novel about?”

A man in the midst of temptation processes his motivations in hopes of overcoming his desire to sin, but he does this by picturing his soul as a world of fantasy full of angels, demons, and battles. It’s a big adventure story framed by an intimate experience.

Sounds like I am hitting a bunch of quadrants, right? But then comes the follow-up question: “What’s tempting him?”


Now things get complicated.  Do I just say “stuff”? Do I say “pornography” out loud? Do I use the word “addiction”? Do I indict myself and say that it’s my issue as much as it is a fictional character’s? These are tough choices, ones that I have really had to engage on the fly in numerous conversations—some have embarrassed me more than others.

But the strangest thing has been happening, especially in the last month or so. Persons of various walks and beliefs have mentioned an interest in the book, perhaps not for themselves but for their nephew or son or brother. And what’s fascinating is that they’ve responded with an interest matched to my level of vulnerability.

To those who have received the vague and nebulous answer, “it’s a fictional story about a character”--which in some audiences is a wholly appropriate answer—their response has been a generic, “oh that’s neat.” But for those with whom my relationship is more personal, to whom I can say “and the story is kind of based on my own experience”, the reception is often, “you know, my friend or relative might find that useful” or “that sounds like it could be really great.” Maybe they see the mortified look on my face and are just being nice, or maybe it’s something else. Something more.

I come back to this a lot, but I think it’s true. I think they see love. They see a person willing to really put himself out there in hopes that his story may inform and encourage those who read it. That’s not an easy thing to do. I think that in many ways, their seeing my heart allows them to look past my sin. Funny how people do that, huh?

So what is Stronghold, really?  Stronghold is another self-published book out of millions to be released this year, and inasmuch as it’s a work of fantasy, it’s a window into my soul.

That’s kind of a terrifying thought…but maybe that’s why it’ll work (whatever that means).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Memorization: Ezekiel 18:20-32

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins that he has committed and keeps my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations as the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteousness deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. 
Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just'. Hear Now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just’. O House of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of the anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live."

The reason this passage resounds with me so deeply in our present culture is the Lord's rhetorical questions, "Is not my way just? Is it not your way that is not just?"

I love these dual questions because they not only reaffirm the Lord's ultimate authority but also ask Israel to recalibrate her own. This is also a two-fold reminder to the believer to take heart in the face of the world's questioning the Lord's moral law while also challenging the believer to constantly assess his or her own outlook and ways in light of the Lord's (and adjust accordingly as needed).

I am a proponent of course correction. I see immense value in identifying one's fault, repenting before the Lord (and others if needed), and undertaking new habits or disciplines in order to reshape one's behavior to better model Christ's. This passage, I believe, will be of great value to the believer in this area, particularly when one is convicted about a practice that they should begin or, on the flip side, cease. I have had a great many of these convictions in the last several years, and looking back, I see the immense wisdom in the Lord's ways rather than my own. His ways have been just. They have proven themselves just—far more just than the cultural standards that I adopted as normative.

Like all passages, this one is full, but as I continue to muse on it, I cannot help but focus on the Lord’s heart for his people's adherence to his just ways in order to avoid ruin. I just become overwhelmed by his goodness, for he has “no pleasure in the death of anyone”. What a good God, he is.

Thanks for reading,

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 19, 2013

On Encouragement...Again.

A few weeks ago I had a series of interviews for a possible job, and I was fairly exhausted when I arrived home. So I had two cups of coffee and realized I would not sleep until 2 AM, which meant saying goodnight to my wife and spending the late hours writing alone on the couch in another part of the house, as a sort of self-imposed exile so the glow of the Mac wouldn’t keep her awake.

As I said goodnight to her, I kissed her, and I moved to leave the bedroom, but she held my hand a moment. I turned back, and she smiled and said, "You did good today."

To say that I was encouraged is a gross understatement, akin to saying that the earth has water on it sometimes. I was not merely uplifted but overwhelmed by the words and the assurance they carried. I know that may sound very strange, as though I should always know she feels that way and the vocalization shouldn't have any real impact. But it does.

Words of support are a funny thing. Oftentimes when we receive them, we know the other person's feelings toward us beforehand, and we do not doubt them in the least, but hearing their affirmation when unsolicited, well, it is a rush of emotional adrenaline. I feel this effect is compounded based on the depth of the relationship to the person from whom said encouragement is given.

I wonder if spouses (or parents and siblings for that matter) on average know the power of their words to uplift or, contrastingly, destroy. Inasmuch as they may recognize and avoid the reality of the latter, I would wager that they often forget the value of the former. We become complacent too often in regards to uplifting others, particularly those we see day in and day out, whose virtues and goodness we get used to and take for granted.  

That being said, I would encourage you all to voice to your spouse (or those closest to you) more than your love but your pride in who they are, in what they accomplish, or in how hard they work. Do it when its not solicited or expected. Do it with your voice, not with a card; let them hear it with your sincerity and unique inflections. And do this often. You never know, you may just make their week without doing much at all.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Countdown to Stronghold Part 1: The Wave of Insecurity

Two weeks ago, I announced the coming release of Stronghold on May 28, 2013

I have since been shocked. Shocked, I tell you. I would have thought that the announcement would put me into a tailspin of anxiety, neurosis, and terror at the thought of people reading my work. I really expected it.

Truth is, those emotions came like a wave that crested and broke over me...but it was a small wave. Low tide. The kind of wave that comes to your knees and crashes into white suds that cover no higher than your calves. Have you ever experienced this sort of thing? You walk along the shoreline, and you see the rolling blue, and you think to yourself, "Oh my, that's going to be a big one," only to have it gently head to shore, crest low, and break gently, not even stopping your step? That is the best picture of how I feel. Nothing too serious.

I was bracing for my insecurities to well to maddening levels once the reality of my endeavor hit. But no such onslaught came. Rather, I made the announcement and went about working, understanding that I had appropriate time to refine and prepare for the release.

This is an encouraging sign. I have great peace regarding this project. In fact, I have not only peace but excitement. As I have said many times, I felt led to write a novel. And this novel, specifically, from inception to completion, has been the result of Christ-exalting, God-pursing action. I thank him for it often. I thank him for the fact that I had it to draw my attention and keep me encouraged while being out of work. I thank him for the source of value it has been for readers up to now, and I thank him in advance for the manner in which he will use it to touch more readers in the future.

Hard to feel uneasy about releasing my book when I have that level of excitement over its creation. Let's just see how I do come May...maybe that's when the high tide will arrive. We'll see together, won't we?

Thanks for reading,

Monday, April 15, 2013

Longing for Home

Christians struggle. They sin. All the time. Some of them, though eternally loosed from the bonds of sin find themselves in shackles anew, not for lack of faith but because the flesh is weak. I have seen so many Christians wrestle with depression, sin, and deep-rooted pain. I have seen them. I have been one of them. Some days I am still one of them. I used to become so discouraged by this. I used to question my salvation and consider how I could possibly be a Christian if I wrestled with these things...

...But Christ is so good. The Holy Spirit is true, and he whispers into our souls with persistant love and grace toward us, that while we are yet still sinners, Christ is for us. Though the regenerate heart can still buckle beneath earthly pressures and feel the weight of burdens in the present days, God does not abandon us, he unchangingly loves. His love is full at the beginning of salvation, at the lowest valleys, the highest peaks, and it will remain so, until the end.

So, why do Christians struggle, and why do they hurt so often? If we are real believers in Christ Jesus, who he is and what he has done, how can we hurt and fail as we do? The truth of the answer lay in the text of the question. For Christians whose heart is truly drawn to Christ, who desperately crave heaven like the runner craves the marathon's finish, this world is not home. This present world is not where we want to be. We long for a righteous throne at which to bow our heads. We wish for a glorious appearing that will blind our eyes and melt our hearts. We desire the presence of one so good, so true, so terribly awesome in his grandeur and power that our knees buckle beneath us and send us to the ground in praise. We want to see our Father's face.

This is a real longing for the Christian. This is a desire--a desire that seems to trump all other desires less one: to love God by staying here, by serving him as we can, while we can on this side. But that is hard, being here can be hard, for it's not home. Not yet. 

All that to say, I try not to judge Christians for having emotional problems. If anything, I know how they feel. I feel that way too some days, and at times that hurt and longing send me toward fulfillment with the wrong things. But it always comes back to love. Love for God, and love for others. Love is hard, but it is the narrow path, and it is the path to which Christ calls us. 

Nor sure from where in my heart this post came, but I felt it worth sharing. Thanks for reading,