Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Been a Year

As we wrap up August, I cannot help but notice that we have crossed the one-year mark in Delaware. The time has flown. Yes, it has had its difficulties. No, we're not where I hoped or expected we'd be. Things have been harder than I had imagined, and I am still uncertain as to the Lord's using us here. Frankly, I feel as though I am in a very similar position as I was when I first began blogging a year ago. My job still feels fresh, and Stronghold is still finding its footing; we're trying to navigate changes and establish ourselves. Things still feel new.

But in that similarity I see a certain beauty, as if God is still positioning us for his work here. This is not to say we haven't sought to live in a way that honors and glorifies him, but it is to express a certain feeling of anticipation, of excitement for what is yet to come and how he will gain his glory through our lives in this place.

On top of that, I continue to be thankful for all of you, those who continually come back to this little nook of the web, to hear the ramblings and self-indulgence of another hopeful dreamer, who wants to be molded into a vessel for good purposes, to serve as a means for the Lord's pouring out grace, mercy, and kindness. When I describe it in such language, I feel so far from where I want to be--and maybe that realization is exactly where the Lord wants me as we head into our second year in Delaware.

Please continue to join us on our journey, and thank you for being a part of it thus far.

With affection,

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reinforcing Stronghold: 90 Days Later

Hi Friends,

Well, today is the 3-month anniversary of Stronghold's release. As I have said several times already, you have all been wonderful and encouraging throughout this process. I have many stories to tell already, and I am sure many more will develop in the coming months. I hope to share them with you as time allows. For now, however, I would like to ask you for some help. I do not intend to sound too forward or self-indulgent, but the more I speak to people on not only the book itself but the subject in general, the more I feel invigorated to get this book to more people. Following positive feedback I have received, I have chosen to be a bit more aggressive with my reaching out and marketing the book. I have been conducting something of a secondary-blitz in hopes of re-igniting interest going into the fall, and last night, I was involved in a long form interview about it (links and info will be forthcoming). Anyway, if you are so willing, you can help me a great deal by doing one or all of the following things:

1) Please put a review for the book on both Amazon and iTunes. I have received criticism--real and constructive criticism--and I will not be offended by poor reviews if you feel them warranted. You are allowed to put the same review in both Amazon and Itunes, and they would be of great benefit to getting the book more exposure. Honest reviews build trust with new readers. If you loved the book, wonderful; if you felt it lacking, that may be even better. Please just be honest in your review so that casual readers will know it is a legitimate release. I cannot stress enough how valuable this will be to me.

2) Tell your pastor or church staff about the book as a possible resource. The issues to which Stronghold speaks seem to become both more pressing and more pertinent in our churches every day. Some pastors are really at odds with this issue, both personally and as leaders addressing a phenomenon they may not understand. I believe that Stronghold can be a tool for good in their ministries. Please let them know it exists. If they would be willing to contact me, I would be more than happy to discuss it with them.

3) Pray. First and foremost, praise God for bringing a chucklehead like me with an addiction like mine to the place where I am. Second, please ask God to keep me in check; third, ask him to seize and gain glory through this book. However that manifests itself, ask him to work in hearts and minds to make himself known through this project.

Again, friends, your support and encouragement have been wonderful and deeply moving to me. So many of you have already been a blessing to me through your time, feedback, and gracious response to this work. I thank you so much for all you have already done. Here's hoping the next 90-days are as successful as the last!

From me to you all, Ephesians 1:15-20, with much affection,

Monday, August 26, 2013

Scripture Memory: Nahum 1:2-7.

In the last week, I memorized Nahum 1:2-7, a passage that will surely prove unpopular in modern American culture yet leads the believer to a place of peace, to an affirmation that proper justice will be mediated by the Lord, at the proper time and in the proper way--and that justice will be real and visceral and terrifying. As translated into the ESV, the passage reads as follows:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; 
the Lord is avenging and wrathful; 
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. 
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. 
His way is in the whirlwind and storm, 
and the clouds are the dust of his feet. 
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; 
he dries up all the rivers; Bashon and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. 
The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. 
Who can stand before his indignation? 
Who can endure the heat of his anger? 
His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. 
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

Not a long passage (though not a short one, either) but a powerful one. 'Jealous', 'avenging', 'wrathful'--these are not our usual adjectives for the Lord, but they are real and true. And they are a strong reminder for those of us who call him father to maintain an earnest honor and reverent fear before him. The world is hard; we believe we are entitled to more than we have received. We grow in indignation over the way things unfold, and we carry discontentment over this and that. Well, perhaps you don't, but I do--almost daily, at least, far too regularly.

But a passage like this silences my malcontented and arrogant heart. These words stop me in my tracks. They remind me, fiercely, of the God who oversees the human narrative, and who knows all from the dawn to dusk, well into the night and until the dawn anew. These words strike at the sinner's heart. They are good words. Yes, they are hard and, perhaps, frightening; but sometimes even those of us who are in the kingdom need a harsh reminder of who we serve and how blessed we are to be his adopted sons and daughters rather than his enemies.

Praise be to God that he is slow to anger, and rich in mercy, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:11-13).

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. Inclusion of this translation does not imply endorsement of this author's thoughts by the copyright holders. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August Links

Don't Let Guilt Keep You from Pursuing Your Passion
Jody Hedlund provides insights on writing and being a parent.

What J.K. Rowling's Pseudonym Novel Says about Commercial Success
Wonderful Insight about J.K. Rowling's Recent Release

Martin/Zimmerman: A Different Kind of Response
An interesting response to the Zimmerman Verdict

When is a Royal Baby a Fetus
A well-written and indicting piece about media coverage of abortion versus celebrity pregnancy

Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World
A good piece on child-rearing in a consumer culture

Our Experiment in Criticism
A look at Christianity Today's excellent methodology for film review

Why We Really Sleep In
Tony Reinke on C.S. Lewis on Sloth

Ten Passages for Pastors to Memorize Cold
Recommendations from David Mathis for various moments in ministry

Porn, Pride, and Praise
A great article on an upcoming book about the dangers of Porn

Pastor Takes Fresh Look at a Vital Church Tradition
My good friend Phil Persing on Sunday School

Can't Wait to Teach
John Mark Reynolds on teaching.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Preacher's Bride: A Recommendation

Where do I begin with Jody Hedlund's The Preacher's Bride? I find myself conflicted. On the one hand Jody's is the first romance novel I have ever read outside of Jane Austen; ergo I find it difficult to call her an exemplary of that genre. However, books are books, and The Preacher's Bride is an excellent one regardless of genre. Given modern romance's reputation for being less than literary, I can only assume that this fine work is the best that genre has to offer. But as I've said, I do not know if that is where I'd like to start. 

A better place, perhaps a more appropriate place for one author to recommend another's, is to speak of execution, plain and simple.  The highest compliment that I can give Jody is that she makes it seem so easy, not unlike George Lucas and Steven Spielberg made it seem with their blockbuster hits of this late 70s and early 80s. In some ways, I feel like The Preacher's Bride is to romance novels as Indiana Jones and Star Wars are to pop culture film, in that all of these projects make good storytelling look effortless. Hedlund's composition as well as her structure and design are such that they feel organic and natural, plucked from the memory of a person present at the events as they unfolded. The fine-tuned story and rounded characters in The Preacher's Bride are unmistakably well-written and carefully developed; and the levels on which the book works are numerous. The pleasure one gets in reading it, is well, the stuff of which "good reading" is made. Being a writer I know that such execution is difficult, and I also realize that making one's craft seem natural and easy is perhaps the best writing of all. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why You Should Keep Creating

Stronghold has performed adequately for a self-published novel. I am not heartbroken at its immense failure nor awed by its runaway success. I'm simply contented with its exposure to the present and hopeful that it's still finding enough of an audience to have a life in the future.

The future has been on my mind quite a bit these days. As I get more comfortable in my new job, I am considering how I want my life to look in the next year--or three or five or ten. This is forcing me to think realistically about my writing endeavors moving forward, about what they can be and what they can't. Frankly, I have days when I question whether I should continue or let Stronghold be a solitary release from a once-dreaming author.

But those who know me well realize that such a thought is fleeting. My desire to write has grown from interest to compulsion, from vague ideas to concrete need. Like so many Christians before me, I think that "God has given me the ability to write, and when I do it, I feel his pleasure" (thanks to the makers of Chariots of Fire for summing that up so well). Writing is, in so many ways, my new means of psychological decompression--of taking all that sensory overload from the world and trying to distill it into a few words that might make someone else's life better.

Therefore, the writing continues. Regardless of Stronghold's success or lack thereof, I cannot be discouraged. I have two wonderful projects in the pressure cooker right now. My wife just read the first three chapters of my teen romance, and I don't mind saying that I was pleased with her supportive response. I have alot of cleaning to do on it--about a year's worth. Plus, I am venturing into another genre with the sci-fi novel that I will write as part of this year's National Novel Write Month.  I'm excited for both for altogether different reasons.

But in some ways the daunting task of completing another book is discouraging. I think of the long hours wherein I'd rather be doing anything else. I think of struggling with the same sentence over and over to get it right. I think of cutting my favorite stuff from draft 2 by the time I hit draft 6, and I think of the last typos we'll find when the physical proof arrives. I think about these things, and I wonder--can I really do this again (and again)? On top of that, I carry another lingering fear. What if my other books aren't as good as the first? What if Stronghold is the best I can produce?

Yet I also think of something else--something far stronger than sloth and fear. I think of the fact that God has given me a talent, and I have an obligation to use it--and use it well--to invest it so that it brings glory to the Lord and builds his kingdom.

This is a powerful motivator.

And it's coupled with another. Inasmuch as I desire to love God through my art, I also desire to show love to others, and the truth--the real truth--is that the next novel might be the one to which some readers will deeply connect. Perhaps it will be the book that strikes them at their core, the book that gives them that feeling of being understood, moved, or captivated.

I think about those readers alot. I believe they are out there, unknowingly waiting to take a journey that has yet to be written. I'm excited to sit at the keys for them. Oftentimes, they are the reason I keep creating.

And those readers can be your reason for creating, too. Whatever it is that you do: music, film, paintings, what-have-you----whatever your art----you must keep doing it. Not only for your own personal sanity and release. Not even solely because God gave you the ability (though, that, in and of itself, is an excellent reason). Do it for the one who has yet to be moved by the thing that you will create. Do it for that person. Or, thinking on a broader scale, for "those persons": the many who will connect with one another by first connecting to your art. You may not know them now; in fact, you may never know them. But introduce them to yourself through your work. It may be the catalyst to give them a deeper view of the world, or themselves, or maybe even to one another.

And that is an encouraging thought. One that has me inspired to get through another draft. How bout you?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Whoa? What Happened?

Well, I blew it. Thrice!

Yes, my friends. In the ballyhoo of the new job, a recent eBay obsession, and my working on revising one book while planning another, I have totally dropped the ball on the blog--not only today but this last Saturday and Friday as well.

First and foremost, my apologies. I have no good reasons for my dereliction, and I am embarrassed. Despite your ongoing support and kindness, I have failed to keep with my scheduled posts, and as a result, my usual RSS feed updates have been lacking the last few days. Today's post is nothing more than an attempt to course-correct that.

That being said, I am going to jump back on track Wednesday with some writing-related thoughts, and Friday I will bring another book recommendation to you. Moving forward, I hope to stay focused for the remainder of August and then finish the back four months of the year strongly with some more recommendations, writing updates, and spiritual reflections. I will warn you now that my attempts will be challenged significantly this fall as October and November will prove exceedingly busy months for me. But more on that later...

Again, I apologize for my lack of posts Friday, Saturday, and really today, also, because let's face it, this is not much of a post. I appreciate your patience with me as I continue to find balance between the new gig and my writing.

Hope you all had a wonderful Monday!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thoughts on Making Stronghold Distinctly Christian

I do not know about other writers, but I am always second-guessing myself when I finish a project. I am still questioning the core aspects of Stronghold.

Where could I have improved? What did I need to make it better? Would it have been more successful if it were written for a more general audience? If I had withheld the direct spiritual revelations and identities in the text, might I have had more impact? Could it have helped more people? Did I get it right? Did this reflect my heart well or merely muddle ideas and issues in a completely incomprehensible mess?

These questions don't haunt me, that would be an overstatement, but they rise from time to time and make me consider the work into which I poured myself for the last 18 months. Frankly, my overt approach with Stronghold was one of the more difficult aspects of my writing it. Part of me wrestled with whether to make it about mentors, "inner demons", and vague notions of spirituality. In many ways I had feared that the book was far too intense, violent, and dark for my Christian readers while too didactic, preachy, and narrow for anyone else. I struggled with how to make it more palatable, but ultimately, the chips fell where they did. And I was satisfied with it as a whole.

I had to just come to a point where I had to accept the story on its own terms, and the story of Stronghold is deeply Christian. The moment I removed the Christian content from it would have been the moment I began writing a different book. Stronghold is the tale of a journey, a fictional retelling of my own experience, and communicating that story without its Christian ethos would be not only less compelling but false. This is not a heroic retelling of a man overcoming his addiction. No. Mine is the story of a man being delivered from an addiction and prepared for a life at war.  Any attempt to reduce the latter truth into the paradigm of the former would have done my readers a disservice and destroyed my integrity. For me, the essence of Stronghold is found in the name. Lust had a fortified grip on my heart; and against such a foe, I needed a champion--someone who was greater than I to accomplish what I could not.

In reality, as in the story, that person was Jesus Christ.

Bottom line, Jesus is the anchor of my sobriety. He is the source of my strength and endurance. My virtues in refraining from my sinful desires are are not inherent in my personhood. Christ, in his goodness, came to earth and died for the sins of mankind, and I have, through his own Spirit's leading, accepted this offer for salvation and pursued righteousness as an outpouring of my love for him. In this, my perspective on lust changed, and because of the seal of the Holy Spirit, I have been able to continue serving the Lord rather than myself in regard to this issue, but my commitment is only as strong as my love for the Lord.

I have made a point since the beginning of this journey to make Christ my focus. Not lust itself. Not even my own well being. Focusing on lust makes the journey nothing but a tightrope walk wherein I expect to fall; focus on myself or any earthly relationships places my attention on something that can be wounded, that can disappoint, and in which a person can lose hope.

But Christ. No. He is an unchanging and unwavering safe haven. He is the light that always glimmers when darkness is blinding in its depth and pain. Christ cannot fail; his promises cannot be broken. Its to that type of security a person must cling if they are to overcome the shadows of this world.

For me, any attempt to discuss the issues of Stronghold without giving Christ due credit felt disingenuous. I could not do it. And when I realized that, I placed my spiritual family at the forefront of my mind, and some days the most nerve-racking aspect of the book has been my expectation of the church's response.

What do other Christians think of this? Do they think Stronghold too overt, not overt enough? Too violent? Too sentimental? Do they think it's uneven? Do they consider it an artistic atrocity by virtue of its imaginative licenses? Do they think Christ more beautiful as a result of reading my story of his deliverance?

I have not yet received enough feedback to know the answers to these questions. I was very spoiled at the beta-reading phase, as the book was given a great deal of positive feedback; but since that time, the audience has grown--more importantly, it has grown beyond my personal social circle. Many individuals now engaging the book have no direct framework for who I am or what I was trying to accomplish, whereas many who know me can guess my goals and intentions. We'll see what they think as time passes. I hope that my love for the Lord is evident to such a degree that those who love him as I do see beauty in my journey and its vivid, if fictionalized, retelling.

Not really sure why I felt the need to share all this, but there it is. Thanks for reading,

Monday, August 12, 2013

When you see a familiar face.

When I got on the bus last week, I expected very little from my ride. My process is pretty mundane. I get onto the vehicle, greet the driver and slide my pass, then take my seat, get out my Bible notebook and work on reviewing old verses or memorizing new ones. Usually, I keep to myself and stay relatively private; people seem to appreciate that on the bus.

When some riders enter, they greet everyone. I return the courtesy. For the most part, however, I am usually lost in my book or in prayer, whichever I feel inclined toward that morning during the commute.

One day, however, I saw someone waiting for the bus who looked familiar. In fact, my recognition of him became far more vivid as the bus drew to a stop. He was a young man with whom I attended high school. We had a handful of direct interactions back then, but I couldn't tell you a single class that we took together. If I remember correctly, he played football. I knew his name, and I remembered how I felt around him back in high school.

His presence was, well, soothing. He had aire of peace. Calm. Contentment. Those are rare traits for a high schooler to possess, but I always remembered thinking that he had them. He wasn't always playing to the class in hopes of being liked nor carrying any pretentious aires of being elite (like I did). He was just himself, and he was comfortable in that space.

I was really happy to see him.

Seeing folks from "the old days"--whenever those old days were--can be a hard experience. Perhaps you were unkind to them, or they to you. Maybe you never liked them, or you always wished that they liked you. Whatever the case, sometimes we meet at a place and time in life where we have a disconnect, and that's a sad reality. Frankly, I try to rally against that these days, entering each interaction with a desire to make it a positive one for the other person more than myself and trying (albeit poorly most days) to be more intent on their experience than my own.

This may have been what led me to greet the fellow alumnus when he sat next to me on the bus. I thought to myself, maybe it will mean something to him that I remember him, that I'm glad to see him, that I'm interested in how he's doing and not avoiding eye contact. I have no idea if my attempts at ice breaking would have that effect, but I pursued them, nonetheless.
"Excuse me," I began, "did you go to Mount Pleasant? Class of 1999?"
"Yeah. Yeah." he said with a nod of recollection as our eyes met. "Class of 2001."
I don't recall if he reintroduced himself or I mentioned his name (I'd like to think the latter), but he then asked me to verify mine, and we were off--asking each other about this and that. You know, connecting in ways we probably never would have 15 years ago in high school.

But that's not the cool part.

One day last week, he saw me reading when he got on the bus. The notebook cover was blank, and the text inside was hand-written. He asked if it was "The Word". I told him it was, kind of. It was Bible Memorization Notebook, a little project I started back a year or so ago. As I read and study, I copy passages I want to memorize, then having written them into the notebook, I carry that rather than an entire Bible for review and meditation at random times. The nondescript cover tends to peak interest in others rather than nullify it, and the book is simply easier to bring with me to places. When I explained this to him, he told me that was something he felt he should start doing. A fellow believer from my days at public school? Who knew?

Well, I think God did. I don't think that its happenstance that I remember this man so vividly from so many years ago. I don't think it's coincidence that we are on the same bus route. I also don't find it simply fortuitous that we happen to agree on core matters of faith. I think we've been brothers for a long time, he and I, and our Father's just giving us a chance to get to know each other better for a season. And that, well, that's worth taking a chance at conversation on the bus.

I encourage you all to listen to that inkling in your soul the next time you see someone you recognize, regardless of who they are and where. The Spirit may just be trying to bless you, inasmuch as you seek to bless someone else. Funny that works.

Love and affection for you all,

Friday, August 9, 2013

Working for the Week. An End to Fear

I won't lie. Part of me was petrified to return to work. Afraid to work alongside others who obviously were ten times the professional I ever was, afraid to face the big-bad-copy-scanning-fax machine, afraid to answer the phone for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Of course, I answered the phone, and I said the wrong thing. Twice. And I biffed like six things on copy machine, and everyone knew more than me and turned out to be ten times the professional I am.

Yet, I continued to enter the office, and I continued to get things...right. I happened to know a thing or two about a thing or two. I became a bit more comfortable on the phone. I also developed something of a routine and, well, even began to enjoy it.

New tasks emerged. I had to teach myself a few things, and I will need to teach myself a thousand more. But, I have a reasonable expectation for the ebb and flow of the day. I know I am working with good people. I'm assured that what I bring to the table is of some value, and I am ultimately confident that this is a "good fit", hopefully for a fair amount of time to come.

All that being said, I've learned a great deal since starting this new gig, but the most powerful lesson I've learned is that one's perception of his or her job defines much of one's working experience. When you are terrified of the phone or the assignments or the technical jargon or the computer systems, every task is daunting, every minute is slow, and in the end, the entirety of the job is just an ongoing, exhausting nightmare. I know, because I've had those jobs in the past.

But I am excited to say that I do not have one of those jobs at present. No. Lord-willing, I can do this, and I am very grateful to him for that.

And I am also very thankful to all of you for your encouragement and support over the last several weeks as I have prepared for this next step. Your kind words and prayers have been integral to my successfully returning to the financial workforce, and I hope that the Lord rewards you immensely for the blessing you have been to me. Here's to you all having a great weekend!

Thank you all,

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What to Write for NaNoWriMo...My Newest Self-imposed Dilemma.

Last November, I participated in the 2012 National Novel Write Month (or NaNoWriMo, for short), and in 30 days I completed the first 50,000-word draft of a fantasy novel. I did no pre-writing; I simply sat at the keys when I had a chance and wrote whatever I desired following a central protagonist within a fantasy context. The results were a mixed bag, as I addressed in my review of the draft two months following its completion.  This year, my ability to participate will be significantly reduced, but I still want to do it. November may just be a more intensive month than any other in 2013.

I believe, however, that following the same model as the prior year, writing without an outline or structure, is going to yield disappointing results once again; and for that reason, I plan to do three months of extensive pre-writing before the November 1st start date. The rules of the contest allow for any preparation so long as no actual text from the first draft is put to paper/screen prior to the month. Thus, I can do all the outlining, treatments, and character bios/analyses in the present, prepping for the starting gun to fire the day after Halloween. 

The trouble is, I am not sure what book I want to write next. I have completed my wholly personal spiritual warfare novel, Stronghold; and I am still revising my young adult novel, To Retreat from Romance (with a hopeful release in 2015). Last year's NaNoWriMo will likely be scrapped for parts down the line, with characters, situations, and locations being lifted and placed into other, better stories (or, who knows, I may try to salvage a nugget of it. I like the main concept quite a bit, but execution is everything). 

So the question now is, "what do I want my third novel to be?" Well, I have a good start for a sci-fi, another for a drama, and a third for a comedy. All would test my capacities in a new genre, and each would fulfill a personal interest. One would be decidedly and clearly Christian, while the other two would not. In the end, any of them would prove to be a new challenge that would broaden my toolkit and prove worthwhile. So, I am going to make the decision by month's end and dedicate September and October to honing the story in prep for a dash come November.

I'll keep you posted as I get closer. Any thoughts on what you'd like to see me try next? 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Isaiah 25:1. Just memorize this right now. You will not regret it.

"O Lord, you are my God. I will exalt you, I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and true." --Isaiah 25:1, ESV (See other translations here)

I stumbled upon this verse in my Bible Memorization notebook the day I started my new job. Having copied it into the book nearly a year earlier, I had also forgotten it was there. Tucked between other passages to be added to my heart's Bible at some point, the short verse had gone unnoticed; and now, as I was about to embark on a new endeavor--one that frightened me far more than I had imagined it would--I rediscovered the short words of wisdom and praise, which led to my spending the bus ride into the city focused on them in worship.

Over the next few days, as I become somewhat overwhelmed and inundated with new tasks, facts, and concepts, the verse continued to have an effect on me. I made it part of my morning routine along with checking messages and brewing coffee. I brought it to the forefront of my mind in private, following this or that assignment or instruction, and by week's end, I had it cemented into my memory.

To be honest, the greatest aspect of the verse is in its simplicity. The verse includes neither requests nor confessions. Its goal is praise: plain and simple. When one is inundated, stressed, overwhelmed or afraid, a renewal of praise to God is perhaps the single greatest action that one can take to regain his or her peace. While the world around us can be chaotic and uncertain, praise centers our lives on someone true, unchanging, and marvelous--one who does "wonderful things". When our minds are fixed upon God, the cares of this world seem less pressing, the stressors of the day carry less severity, and ultimately we remember that the world revolves around his plans, not ours. And his plans are indeed faithful and true.

That being said, I exhort you all to memorize Isaiah 25:1. Cherish it and return to it the rest of your days, speak it unto God in heaven, and I believe that in turn His Holy Spirit will breathe a sigh of relief and renewal into your heart, mind, and soul.

Know you are blessed and loved this week, and thank you again for stopping at the blog!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More Reviews of Open

In conjunction with my work for Open, I am including links to the various blogs of other members of the launch team that also reviewed the book. Be warned; alot of them are better written reviews than mine:

Tim Roberts' Book Review

Chris Bishop's Review

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Open by Craig Gross

My first exposure of Craig Gross came from the ill-titled documentary, Missionary Positions, which followed Craig and Mike Foster on their quest to establish, the net's number one resource for those who struggle with issues of lust and pornography. While I will not provide further thoughts on the documentary itself, I will say that Craig left quite an impression on me during its running time, and I became interested in his ministry as a result (I currently use x3watch on my computer and named Craig as an influential figure in the acknowledgements of my first novel, Stronghold). Of course, as the needs of XXXchurch patrons became more broad, so too did the ministry's reach and scope--to the point of gaining national attention and coverage on Dateline, among other programs. As far as I know, some level of interpersonal accountability has always been stressed by the staff of XXXchurch, and from what I can see, they have adopted a variety of models to help their attendees achieve some level of it. 

Given this history, the arrival of Craig's latest book, Open, should come as no surprise.  The book explore's accountability's usefulness in a variety of areas while also acknowledging possible shortcomings and promoting tools in order to make one's process and journey more affective. As one who has required accountability for years in my own life, I know it's value, and Open covers the topic well. I have two minor qualms that I will get out of the way, then I will get to some of the book's particular strengths. 

First, Open feels like a book written for a church-kind-of-crowd, but Craig attempts to keep it general enough for everyone. This works both for and against him. While I would've liked to see Christ's name and Scripture on every page, I often found myself missing it and wondering when the Christian plugs were going to drop (and a few did here and there). I feel that this is Craig's writing within a self-designated construct: his organization XXXchurch has many members and visitors who do not directly espouse the Christian faith, and the author's desire to avoid ostracizing them by writing a book full of "Christianese" is admirable. Of course, those of us who feel the book is speaking to our tribe may feel something is missing. This may be as much of a criticism of me as a reader as it is of him as an author. We Christians are a strange breed. Sometimes we expect those within our camp to constantly give us exactly what we want, and when they do not we decry them for it; of course, at the same time we expect to be salt in the world and a light in the darkness, but when we placate each other we can nullify our ability to reach anyone. Ergo while my criticisms feel valid to me, Craig's attempts to straddle the line truly is understandable and, arguably, necessary.

Second, Craig touches on the subject of accountability on women in his book, but he focuses heavily on male shortcomings and needs, as many of his anecdotes and examples revolve around men. In hinting at the female reader but not spending more direct effort on their plight, I think he does female readers a disservice. Frankly, I would have loved for a female counterpart (rather than another man) to have co-written the book with him. Considering the work that XXXchurch does with women in the porn industry as well as with females who struggle with sexuality in the lust-saturated culture, the gender imbalance of the book is poignant and regrettable. This being put to the side however, I cannot deny that the book can be immensely valuable in the hands of women who are willing to take the extra step and extrapolate the principles therein for their own needs. While women in America, particularly in ministry, have been forced to do this for a very long time (frankly, too long), female readers will find much in the book to process and apply in their walks together.

Those two critiques withstanding, Open covers the topic of accountability with excellence. The text touches on both ideas regarding the virtues of getting honest as well as some of the possible vices that doing so might lead one to inadvertently embrace — gossip, judgment, excusable behavior because "we're all there", etc. The best of Craig's observations and exhortations comes in the form of his rallying against these things before they start. One thing is certain from reading this book: Craig Gross knows how accountability can go terribly wrong, and he's realistic about recognizing ways to avoid such results. Befitting his nature as something of an upstart, he is very quick to note inherent human tendencies towards sin even as persons attempt to do good; therefore, he not only stresses how accountability can be healthy, but how it can be dangerous if left unchecked. These are aspects of honest fellowship that too few of us consider. These observations "from the trenches" give the book an added measure of quality and validity.

In order to create an ebb and flow to the writing, Gross also gives a variety of stories about those who failed, in a variety of areas, in part due to the absence of accountability. I am finding that exhortative books of this type need these stories; inasmuch as they feel unseemly, they put a face and a consequence on issues and also break up the admonitions--as valuable as they are--into more digestible pieces (a critical concern when writing for modern audiences). These tales of frailty show the reader how something as simple as a weekly phone call can aid one's focus on the finish line rather than the pain of the race, which is the point of it all anyway. We human beings know we are weak and frail, and overcoming our sinful proclivities is a taxing experience; Open encourages us to accept help along the path of better living, while also serving as an aid to others in their journey alongside us. 

And what's not to like about that? Interested in reading Open for yourself? Here's your chance to get a free copy!

Here's how it works: Tweet/Facebook with a link to the site Get Open site or the Open's Amazon page and the message "Accountability = Being Open" before Saturday, August 3rdYou do not need to link to my site, just the book's site, and then hit me back at with a notice of your linking/post. Though you are encouraged to post about the book as much as you like, only one entry per person/twitter account will be accepted. 

That's it. You will be entered into the running for a free copy, mailed to you, and two participants will be selected on Sunday, August 4 and notified by e-mail!