When I write this letter to you, I’m usually involved in something that will be over by the time you read it. It is now one week before my new book, Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad at You, is released. And I always verbalize my anxiety, so you get to hear it.
It happens every time I write a book. The angels laugh. And then I start going into panic mode. You can fix a sermon the next Sunday. You can ask forgiveness whenever you screw up (while that’s unpleasant, it generally fixes things). You can edit a messed up broadcast.
But with a book, it’s there forever and you’re stuck with it. If you made a fool of yourself, everybody knows and it will haunt you until you drool or die.
I remember the first book I wrote-Where the Action Is (published by Revell). I really thought that I was God’s gift to the church and, in fact, Christianity Today chose that book as one of the “significant” books of that year. Do you know what else? It was one of the biggest bombs in the history of publishing. I think it sold three copies…one to my mother, one to my brother (who wouldn’t have bought it if I didn’t have dirt on him) and one to a stranger.
But that wasn’t the worst thing to happen. When the book came out, I got a letter from a man who was my hero-the late Bruce Thielmann, then pastor of a prominent and very large church in Glendale, California. I still have that letter.
He wrote that he couldn’t believe I could write such drivel. He wrote that he was embarrassed reading it and that I had made a public fool of myself. He suggested that I take a writing course. I wince as I tell you about it and there was more in that letter I’m not going to tell you.
I wrote him back, thanking him for his honesty and added something about “iron sharpening iron.” I wrote, “It’s crazy to spend that much time trying to do something that I do so horribly.” I then mentioned that I had already signed a contract for a second book; but, after that one, I would stop writing books altogether.
The second (“last”) book came out about a year later. It was a book of basic biblical doctrine for new Christians, especially those touched by the Jesus Movement.
Then I got another letter from Dr. Thielmann.
I can remember sitting there looking at the letter and praying, “Lord, don’t do this to me again. I got the message the first time. I don’t know if I can bear another letter like the first one.”
Then I opened it.
Bruce Thielmann wrote that I was the new “C. S. Lewis of America”! He used words like “profound,” “insightful” and “refreshing.” I couldn’t believe it!
That’s when the light went on. I’m not that smart, but I’m not stupid either. I said to myself, Myself, that first book wasn’t nearly as bad as Dr. Thielmann said it was and the second book wasn’t nearly as good.
I did the first of many interviews about Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad at You this morning. It was with an Atlanta station and to be aired next week. Atlanta is one of the cities on the book tour and the interview is to promote that event. Incidentally, I really liked Rick Probst who did the interview. In fact, he had interviewed me years ago when he was in San Diego and we were both just learning about the radical and joyous nature of God’s grace.
If you haven’t already seen the book cover, it shows three partially eaten apples. Rick asked me about that and the controversial idea of “free sins.” He also asked me what people could expect if they came to the Atlanta event. I told him that we were bringing apples and rocks. If people got it, they could have an apple. If they didn’t get it and became irritated, we would give them a rock…which they could throw at me. Either way, they would be blessed.
Apples or rocks!
I suspect that will be the reaction to the new book.
But nevertheless, I am anxious…
…but not as much as I used to be when a new book came out. The difference, I think, is that I’m old and don’t care as much as I did about what people say. But far more important than that, what I wrote in the book (even if expressed poorly) is true and tested. I’ve tested it for a lot of years. I might even read the book myself as a reminder of what God taught me.
God taught me that he’s pleased with me and that his pleasure has nothing to do with a book, my success or failure, my sin or obedience, or my faithfulness or unfaithfulness.I’ve been living in Romans 8 for a very long time: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?…[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 31-33, 39).
There is an old (and much used) story about a young pianist who played at Carnegie Hall. After receiving a standing ovation, he wept because his teacher-the only one who counted to the pianist-was not applauding.
My teacher always applauds!
His name is Jesus.
And it’s the same with you. It doesn’t matter if anybody else applauds. Not only that, God’s not mad at you, no matter what you’ve done or not done, no matter where you’ve been, and no matter how good you are. He just likes you because…uh…I don’t know why. But he does!
He asked me to remind you!
In His Grip,