Always Apologize First

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On occasion a particularly young and/or naïve person asks me for advice about being a husband or a dad. (No one seasoned or wise bothers.) Since I got married young and had kids young I have “experience”, I guess. By “experience”, of course, I mean scars and bruises from stumbling into obstacles created by my own idiocy and arrogance.

When the question is put to me “what piece of advice would you give to a new husband/dad” I want to leave minds blown and mouths agape. I want to utter a witticism that would make Solomon jealous and Confucius plagiarize. Instead, all I have ever been able to come up with is this: “Always apologize first.”

Somewhere along the way I was given this piece of advice — or pieces of advice that added up to it. It’s so simple but time and again has proven itself to be the piece of advice I needed. It falls under the grand banner of “A soft answer turns away wrath” and enforces both humility and self-examination. Apologizing first is the bucket of water which douses the flames threatening to burn bridges between wife and husband or father and children.

To apologize first requires a person to genuinely reflect on his role in any conflict. I can’t remember many occasions when I was totally innocent in a conflict with my wife or children. Even if they’ve wronged me I nearly always contribute to the conflict with self-righteousness, pride, or just generally being a jerk in return. I always earn the right to apologize (and, be honest, so do you). If I am always intent on apologizing first I will dig through my heart to find that word or attitude that caused hurt or conflict. I will figure out what debt I owe to my wife or my daughters and go settle accounts with them

Apologizing first encourages the other person to apologize. By walking back their way you shortened the distance they have to come to make their own apology whenever they are ready. It’s much easier to say “I’m sorry too” than it is to simply say “I’m sorry.” Do the hard part so that it’s easier for others to follow in kind.

Apologizing is a beautiful example for your children (and spouse). I know too many people who can’t remember their parents ever admitting wrong doing or apologizing for anything. To apologize to my girls for losing my temper or being inattentive to them is a significant example for them and necessary deflater for me. It does much to create a culture of humility and forgiveness in our home so that when wrongs happen they don’t fester. It builds trust because they learns it’s safe to say  “I’m sorry” because forgiveness follows. Most importantly, apologizing first helps me explain how far from perfect I am and my own need to be forgiven by God for my sins.

I write this to share something that has helped me enormously. I hate being wrong, so apologizing is something loathsome to me. I’d rather explain, defend, and justify. Of course that just means apologies are something I need to offer all the more. It is a struggle every time to set aside my own ego and admit my fault and ask forgiveness. Maybe that’s why someone offered me this advice – they saw my own need. Maybe you are humbler than I am, but for those who aren’t give it a try. Apologize first. It will do wonders for your relationships and heart.

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I Can’t Do Anything For God

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Sometimes believers find themselves in situations where they are powerless to do anything but wait for God. Laid out in a sickbed or stuck in a wheelchair. Completely dependent on others. I’ve heard believers say, I feel so weak. I can’t really do anything for others. I feel like I’m not doing anything for God. If that’s you, I hope I can encourage you.

What can we do when God strips away our health, strength or mobility? Over the years I’ve known a number of believers who, though they were unable to “do” much for God because they were sick, really did so much that glorified him. Here’s what I’ve seen them do, and what I hope I could do by God’s grace should I find myself in their shoes.

Trust God

In the middle of unfathomable weakness and agony Job said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” or “I will trust in him.” (Job 13:15)

It’s easy to trust God when the sun’s shining and birds are singing, but it really glorifies him when we trust him in the dark valley. When Satan shoots his fiery dart and says, “God has abandoned you. God won’t be faithful to you” it honors God when we say, even if I die, I will continue to hope in him!

Tell others to trust God

A few years ago, a friend of mine was declining with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He’d been a jazz musician but now could play no instrument. But he invited all his fellow musicians to stop by and see him before he died, and he shared the gospel with them, even as he had when he was healthy.

Endure

Hope leads to endurance, and endurance glorifies God. In the parable of the sower Jesus said some receive the word with joy, but when things get tough they fall away. Job’s wife said to him, “Curse God and die. Give up this pipe dream of a God who loves you.” But he said to her, ”You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). Though he could do nothing else, Job glorified God by enduring.

Pray

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. (James 5:13)

When we pray in our pain we show we believe God to be a God of love and compassion, a God of power who helps his people. Like hope and endurance, prayer is another expression of trust that glorifies God.

Rejoice

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Php 4:4.

We don’t rejoice in the evil of our affliction; we rejoice in the Lord. “Rejoice” doesn’t mean “feel happy.” It is a conscious decision to praise God despite our feelings. We can rejoice that he saved us and nothing can separate us from his love. We can give thanks that he causes all our pain to produce the character of Christ in us. We can be glad we have an imperishable inheritance and someday Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Believers who trust God, endure and rejoice in him despite unbelievable pain are true heroes. Maybe you are one of these “heroes.” You don’t feel like one, but I hope you know how much your faith and perseverance pleases God. You’re doing a lot. And I can’t wait to see your rewards in heaven.

Being On the Internet Doesn’t Give You Permission To Be A Jerk

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I’ve noticed a strange, somewhat disturbing phenomenon in recent years. I honestly don’t quite understand it. What is that phenomenon?

Christians treating other people in the most hateful, angry, unloving ways.

Recently, due to circumstances I still can’t quite figure out, my name ended up on a particular blog. That, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising. I’ve got a blog. I do the whole Twitter and Facebook thing. Some people are going to disagree with the things I say. I’ve got no problem with that.

What did surprise me was the things other Christians said about me in the comments section. These people, who don’t know me, don’t know my family, and will probably never meet me, resorted very quickly to straight out name calling. I’m not talking, “I disagree with Stephen,” type stuff. I’m talking, “Stephen is a complete and total idiot,” kind of stuff. I was also called a brainwashed kid, which, if you know anything about me, is pretty hilarious. I digress.

Now, call me crazy, but I thought one of the distinguishing marks of Christians is the way we treat one another. In John 13:35, Jesus said:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to understand this passage. The world will know we are Christians if we have love for one another. One of the primary things that sets Christians apart from the rest of the world is the way we treat one another. When the world sees the love we have for one another, they’ll know that something is different about us. When the world see the words we speak to one another, and the way we serve one another, and the way we care for one another, they will know that something is dramatically different about us.

If an unbeliever hopped onto various Christian websites, and started scrolling through the comments section, would he notice a distinct difference from any other website? Other than an absence of profanity, I don’t think he would. And that is really, really jacked up.

If we’re going to call ourselves Christians, it’s time to start acting like Christians. It’s fine to disagree with another Christian. It’s fine to point out erroneous teaching. But every action, online and offline, must be ruled by love. The command to treat others as we want to be treated, applies just as much to our online interactions as it does to our real-world interactions.

Before we post something online, we would be wise to ask:

  • Would I want someone to say the same thing about me?
  • If I were having coffee with this person tomorrow, would I say these words about them today?
  • Do these words pass the Ephesians 4:29 test? (No corrupting talk, gives grace to those who hear).
  • Am I using the phrase, “Speaking the truth in love,” as simply an excuse to gossip and slander?
  • Am I, under the guise of “protecting the sheep”, simply being mean or angry?

The Internet is already loaded to the gills with meanness. As Christians, let’s not add to the noise.

An Interview With Kevin DeYoung About the Bible, Michigan State Basketball, and the Cosby Show

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A candid, unposed, unplanned photo of Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church, in East Lansing, Michigan. He writes a lot of books. He likes sports. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his most recent book, Taking God At His Word

Your book about why you love the church featured an endorsement from J.I. Packer in which he wanted to stand up and cheer. I notice that JI didn’t endorse this book. Did you and JI Packer have a falling out?

I’m not sure what happened. One minute I’m sending him page proofs, and the next minute he’s all like “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

What motivated you to write this particular book?

The doctrine of Scripture is one of those doctrines that is always under attack and the attacks take many different forms. It’s not always liberals shouting that the Bible can’t be trusted. Evangelicals can deny (practically) the sufficiency of Scripture or throw up their hands in the midst of controversy as if they don’t believe in the clarity of Scripture. I wanted to write a book that addressed perennial concerns by simply stating what the Bible says about itself. There are a lot of books on defending the Bible, reading the Bible, and interpreting the Bible. I thought we need a short book on the nature of the Bible itself.

Did you go through a period of mourning when MSU was eliminated from the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

You don’t even want to know. I was so frustrated. It really felt like our worst game of the year. I don’t know why we kept doing the weave up top and never drove the ball or fed the rock to Payne. This was our year to win the tournament. But hats off to the Huskies. They were the best team over the last six games. I’m just glad we could go to church after the Spartans lost on Sunday afternoon. That put things in perspective.

These days, it’s considered cool and trendy to question everything, including God’s word. What would you say to the Christian who is struggling with a particular doctrine of scripture? Examples would be election, homosexuality, God’s sovereignty, etc.

Start with Jesus. What did he think of the word of God? He said the Scriptures were unbreakable (John 10:35). He vowed not to loose one little bit of his Bible (Matt. 5:7-19). He believed what Scripture said, God said (Matt. 19:4-5). We need to get our own views of Scripture squared away and squared with Christ’s. Then we have to absolutely commit ourselves to believing whatever the Bible teaches, no matter how backward it seems to our neighbors or how much we wish it said something else. Whom will we trust? Ourselves? Our science? Our experiences? Or God?

Who did you have in mind when you wrote this book?

I wanted to write a simply book that could be read by anyone in the church. There are a number of great mid-level and academic books on Scripture. Most of those won’t be read by small groups and college fellowships and lay elders. I’m hoping this book puts some of the best doctrinal cookies on shelf where most everyone can munch away.

One of the biggest concerns I have for my generation is their lack of knowledge regarding the Cosby family. Do you share my concern?

Seriously. Clean, funny, conservative in values, and it introduced a lot of us to a few things about African American culture. Just be sure to stick with the earlier seasons. The later episodes have the Cosby house too crammed with cute kids, long lost relatives, and other wannabes looking for a sitcom spinoff.

You seem to write a new book every three weeks or so. What’s next?

I have a new book coming out in June called “Just Do Something, But Then Stop Doing That Thing So You Aren’t So Crazy Busy.” Actually, I’m probably taking a little break. I have a children’s book on the storyline of the Bible which comes out next year. After that, there is nothing in the works. I need to buckle down and work on my doctoral studies.

What Do You Think You Need To Be Satisfied?

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“Have you taken God for your happiness? Where does the desire of your heart lie? What is the source of your greatest satisfaction?… If God would give you your choice, as he did to Solomon, what would you ask? Go into the garden of pleasure, and gather all the fragrant flowers there; would these satisfy you? Go to the treasures of mammon, and to the trophies of honour; would any of these, would all of these satisfy you and make you to consider yourself happy?” — Joseph Alleine

If God is our source of happiness, then nothing can take our happiness from us. For nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If we look to anything else in this world to satisfy us, eventually we will be disappointed, for nothing in this world lasts.

In Jeremiah 2:13 God says,

“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

God is the fountain of living waters. He alone can satisfy our deepest needs. Any other wells we attempt to dig to satisfy our thirst will leak and leave us thirsty.

Marriages get in trouble when one or both partners look for a “soul mate” – someone who can fulfill their every need. Someone who needs no maintenance on our part. Someone who will love us unconditionally and encourage us and not expect us to change. The Bible nowhere says that our wife or husband is our soul mate. Jesus is our only soul mate. He alone can fulfill our every true need. He loves us unconditionally. He does expect us to change – he transforms us into his own likeness. He alone can satisfy us. No human being can satisfy another human being.

Don’t look to your children to satisfy you. Don’t look to a career to satisfy you. Don’t think If only I could do THAT, or if only I had THAT, or if only I had a husband like THAT, then I’d be happy. Sorry but whatever THAT is, ultimately it is a broken cistern that can hold no water. Ps 16:4-6 says:

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

If we run after “another god” – anything but Jesus to satisfy us – our sorrows will multiply. But when the Lord is our chosen portion, our cup, and beautiful inheritance, the lines fall to us in pleasant places.

Ask yourself today Am I finding all my contentment in God? If not, turn back to Jesus and ask him to satisfy you today with his love.

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The Thing That Will Bring You The Most Freedom Today

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What’s the most freeing thing you could possible do today?

That question could conjure up all sorts of associations in your mind. You might think of freedom from something: oppression, fear, anxiety, challenging relationships, or difficult circumstances. You might think of freedom to something: to do what you want, live as you want to live, go where you want to go. Since “freedom” is such a broad concept, I’ll narrow the question down even more:

What frees you to be who you’re meant to be – today?

The answer to that question might surprise you. It certainly flies in the face of most contemporary conversations about things like self-actualization or advice like “be true to yourself.” The single most freeing thing you can do today, or any day, is this: admit your dependence on God.

Dependence. Not a word we often associate with achieving our potential! But if God is who God proclaims himself to be, and if we are who he says we are, then dependence is a necessary concept. Listen to how the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck described this idea over a century ago:

What makes human beings religious beings and drives them toward religion is the realization that they are related to God in a way that specifically differs from all their other relationships. This relationship is so deep and tender, so rich and many-dimensional, that it can only with difficulty be expressed in a single concept. But certainly the concept of dependence deserves primary consideration and is best qualified for this purpose.

Pause. Does this sound like bad news to you – or, at the very least, not a “freeing” bit of advice? Keep listening. As Bavinck goes on to say,

We are absolutely dependent in such a manner that the denial of this dependence never makes us free, while the acknowledgement of it never reduces us to the status of a slave. On the contrary: in the conscious and voluntary acceptance of this dependence, we human beings arrive at our greatest freedom. We become human to the degree that we are children of God. (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, p.267; emphasis added.)

Did you catch that? Denying your dependency never makes you free. Acknowledging your dependency never makes you a slave. On the contrary, dependence is what it means to be human – because at heart, we were made to be God’s children.

So how does this work today? It boils down to this. You were not made to function like a wind-up toy. You and I were made to live in conscious and constant dependence on God. But living dependently doesn’t mean we give up our responsibilities, our hopes and aspirations, our ambition, our goals, or our daily job. It means we see all those as areas where God calls us to admit our need for him – and by so doing, to find our true freedom.

The most freeing thing you can do today is to admit your need for God, even in the minutiae of your daily routine. Pray for help to finish those emails before clocking out. Ask for strength to clean up snotty noses and spilled cereal. Consciously lean into God through Jesus Christ in whatever lies before. Because this is what you were made for.

Photo by Kalyan Chakravarthy

Writers, Stop Writing About Writing

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This might be hypocritical. It’s likely a bit odd and possibly (probably) pretentious. Some might refer to it as Meta. I prefer to think of it as Inception-like. As a writer, I have some things to write about writers writing about writing.

Writers writing about writing, while not always pretentious, can reach levels of pretention previously only dreamed of. Sometimes this shows itself as melodrama. “I write because I must.” “The pressure of pain begins to build until, of a sudden, it burst forth like lava from a volcano . . . and I write.” “Publishing a written work is like sending a child off to school for the first time, every time.” “Writing is a grueling, thankless task, but I have no choice. I am compelled”

Gag me. Nobody wants to hear about the travails of the writer, not even other writers. (In fact, while you’d think other writers would be the most empathetic we are in fact the least inclined to care about your moaning.) If it’s so awful, quit, for all our sakes. You’re not compelled against your will; you write because you enjoy it, or at least something about it. And with all that whining, methinks what you love most is the attention not the craft.

Other times, and more often, the pretension shows itself as constancy. That is to say it keeps showing up, because writers won’t quit writing about writing. A short roll of the eyeballs around the interwebs will reveal a dozen daily new posts by writers about writing. Some writers have blogs devoted to writing about writing.

Give it a rest. Your subject matter is tired. Your craftsmanship suffers because of redundancy and a limited pallet. And you become difficult to trust because, well, you never write about life. And life is the stuff of writing, not writing itself.

The last incarnation of pretension is uppityness. When Stephen King writes a book about writing I read it cover to cover and then start over. And it is marvelous. When a thirty-something, barely published, Internet composer of public journal entries does so, it’s uppity. Stephen King can tell me to “kill my darlings”, not many others can. They ought to be figuring which of their own darlings to off.

You know what’s remarkable? How little the truly great writers say or said about writing itself. They just wrote. And so should we. They didn’t cogitate on “the life of the writer”; no, they lived life, digested it, and regurgitated it in words and stories and essays. They learned and responded. They read and read some more. And they wrote. And so should we. Maybe, someday, we’ll be good enough to write about writing, but if we are we’ll probably be too busy living and writing to notice.

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