Friday, May 31, 2013

Visions of a graceless planet.

Imagine for a moment, if you could, a world where every person pays the full penalty for their errors.  Criminals serve the maximum prison term and cheaters abide in the solitude of vacated homes.  Men are publically disgraced for their fleshly failures, and liars find ruin wherever they turn.  Justice is served.
Some days I reflect on a graceless existence, where the ripple of my stupidity comes to full fruition. It reminds me of a concept in quantum physics. Because of quantum behavior, some people suggest that multiple worlds (or parallel dimensions) exist, and that every time our life comes to a crossroads, another dimension plays out the other alternative.   This sounds like science fiction; nevertheless it causes me to shudder at the imagined timeline where I don’t experience the sweet redemption of mercy. Thank God for my pardon.
In this season of recovery, I am often taken aback by the mercy that’s been bestowed upon me. I deserve solitude, abandonment and public shame.  This could have ended so many ways, and many of my potential destinations would have meant lasting misery and punishment.  We take for granted the many times that we are spared from the practical consequences of our sins.
Several months ago, Hannah and I reached out to a counselor to help us with our healing, and we were baffled by the attitude of the person who was supposedly there to assist us.  They abrasively pushed forth the notion that all sins are equal, and that I was no different than the neighborhood gossip or the busybody down the road.  In this moment, the misguided counselor was ignoring the real weight of my actions.
Our mistakes carry both eternal and temporal relevance, and they bring forth consequences in both realms.  Christ has died to relieve us of the crushing burden of the eternal costs, to be sure, but He does not always spare us of our earthly debts.  Just because a criminal accepts Christ does not pardon him from his prison sentencing.  Although sins may be equal in their capacity to separate us from our heavenly Father, their real-world implications vary greatly.
Acknowledging this truth brings me to my knees once again, humbled by the understanding that I have been spared from a variety of terrible outcomes. Thank God for my pardon.

The Revelation of Solomon

     As the healing process proceeds, Hannah and I continue to peel away at this situation and learn from it.  One thing I have discerned is this:
      Pleasure is the idol of many. 
    Unfaithfulness is a product of the underlying lie that we all buy into, which says that pleasure brings joy. This is not the case.  In the bible, we find that the richest and most pleasured man, King Solomon, is burdened tragically by his pursuit for fulfillment.  In fact, 1st kings 11:3-4 shows us that Solomon’s accrual of lovers destroys him.  Solomon’s book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes, is basically a collection of Solomon’s musings over the vanity of pleasure and wealth.
     It seems so incredibly easy to outsource what the bible says about the rich, because every time we read it, we assume that the writer is referring to the guy who is slightly richer than us…  But pleasure is another story.  Pleasure is the common idol of all mankind.  (1 john 2:16-17)
     Look at downtown on a weekend night. Men and women alike congregate for the sole purpose of flaunting their best facade for the purposes of finding a mate, or a worshipper. It’s like a zoo. It is a sophisticated portrait of the animal kingdom—men overstate their masculinity, and women manufacture superficial sexuality in appearance and action. 
        Pleasure. It's the pursuit of pleasure.
    Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines-- in other words; he could have sex with a different woman every day for 2.7 years without repeating one.  This is the hyperbole of our world's manic pursuit for sexual fulfillment, and we see above that the outcome is grim. Let this be a deafening warning to our society which pines for fulfillment through physical touch.
     Solomon knew opulence that we can only dream of, and he stood in esteem above more women than we can imagine. And yet, he was miserable. This is the misery of kings. We are hypnotized by the delusion that pleasure brings fulfillment. Sometimes it almost seems that prosperity has a toxic effect on a man’s heart.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that America has one of the highest standards of living and the highest rate of depression. 
      We are being destroyed by our drive for fulfillment, like a glutton eating himself into an early grave. Sexual promiscuity is incinerating the leaders of tomorrow alive. Pornography is fracturing the church. Illicit relationships are mocking the covenant of marriage relentlessly.   
      We are being engulfed in the fire of self fulfillment. 
      Take a step back and evaluate where pleasure falls in the priority list of your life.  True joy is found in God, and not in the fleeting luxuries of this world.

Of Guilt and Grace

I recently heard a comedian remark that people enjoy feeling guilty as they indulge in things they shouldn’t.  After the past year, I can say with confidence that anyone who says they enjoy the aura of guilt resting on them has no idea what it truly means to feel that weight on their shoulders.
                Guilt is not a relative emotion that dissolves when the person you’ve harmed has left the room. It is not a social construct or an invention of religion.  It is a burden that is almost beyond articulating, and it crushes many who cannot withstand it’s weight.
I have stared up at the blackness of a sunless morning, feeling truly condemned before the cosmos itself.  All alone, with only the quiet Earth, I have experienced the clutching coldness of guilt choking the life out of my lungs.   At times, I have been so encumbered by the gravity of my sins that I felt I could just lay on the cold earth until I became one with the soil.
This is the unshakable nature of judgment and condemnation.  In the past year, I have written so many songs about my experiences, and I must conclude that the central themes in these songs are guilt and graceI can no longer write ideological worship anthems that ignore the sting of my errors. Instead, I use my faults to frame my need for Christ’s redemption.
One of the first songs I wrote had a chorus which stated this:   “No man can grasp salvation / until he is horrified / by the work of his hands.”  A friend of mine shared this on facebook and received some negative feedback from someone else. The critic was quick to point out that “this is not at all what the cross was all about”.   I just shrugged it off. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the underlying emotion which drives this chorus. One day, he will
Every man faces a day when guilt transforms from an abstract concept to a soul-crippling infection.   I have met so many christians who say “I thought I was a christian before, and then I (fill in the blank with traumatic experience or big mistake) and now I look back and wonder if I was even a believer back then.”   Why does this happen so much?  Because we are blind to the depth of our need for grace in the beginning.  If anything, our belief is an intellectual exercise based on secondhand information.
As I raise my children, I wonder how I can help them grasp the universal, outrageous need for grace without subjecting them to their own potentially life-ruining mistakes in order to discover it.  But alas, that’s for another entry.
I suppose that through all this musing, the bottom line is this:   understanding our need for grace is a vital part of accepting it fully.  It’s easy to toss the word “sin” around like it means practically nothing at all, but when we actually face the toxic nature of it, we cling to the cross with great fervor.  I pray that this newfound need would also drive me to share Christ’s redemption with others. 
After all, the biggest difference in the “old christian vs. new Christian” issue I mentioned above is a problem of perspective.  We need healing regardless, but only when we come to our knees in repentance do we become familiar with that need.

Pulling back the curtain.

     If you are reading this, you are probably enlightened to the nature of my grievous actions.  Nonetheless, let me take a moment and frame this blog in context, as best I can. 
    I married my wife, Hannah, on June 7th of 2008.  I can say with painful honesty that I never truly rose to the occasion of being a Godly husband. I neglected by duties, shirked my responsibilities, and avoided confrontation.  I was a coward, and it poisoned me inside.
    In the winter of 2012, I had an affair with one of my coworkers.  It was a haze of wicked mindlessness that sent my family’s life into a tailspin.  Words cannot articulate the damage that I’ve seen… the sleepless nights, shameful recollections and desperate prayers.  My wife and I have journeyed through the storms and uncertainties day by day, and I can say with confidence that we have victory over this tragic occurrence.  There are times of turbulence that arise frequently.  This is our battle, and I know that God is on our side as we triumph and reclaim lost territory.
    So here I am, a man fractured by his own mistakes.  I suppose that some of the friends we’ve disclosed this to secretly harbor judgment towards me… or perhaps they are at least curious on where I stand, and what I’ve seen.  This blog is an attempt to pull back the curtain and provide a rare glimpse into the revelations that I’ve seen bloom from the fallout of my errors. I have witnessed a dispensation of grace that few will ever grasp.  

    The contents of this blog may, at times, be very heavy. They may be hard to digest, confusing, and even offensive.  This is where faith, folly, grace and guilt intersect. I believe that this is the beginning of a greater dialogue in my married life.  I pray that this cultivates conversation, prayer and self-reflection.  If you have a question about what you read, ask me.  If this blog challenges you, examine yourself.  It’s time to use our stories for the greater benefit of all.  
You are reading a post on The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from unfaithfulness. We encourage you to contact us if you have questions or comments. Make sure to subscribe by email (on the right side) for regular updates and check out our other blog here