Monday, March 23, 2015

"Come and Sin Some More"

They dragged her, kicking and screaming, into the courtyard of the temple and tossed her into the dirt. Surely this would be the perfect test for a man who claimed to be the Messiah. If he were truly the God of Moses, Jesus would direct them to hurl their rocks at the vile temptress--just as Moses had once commanded. Eagerly they waited, some already carrying their grapefruit-sized stones, each hoping to be the first to draw blood. Who would be the one lucky enough to cast the fatal blow?

There was no question as to her guilt. She was caught in the act. The verdict had already been passed by the mob. All that was left was to carry out the sentence. But Jesus calmly kneels down and begins to draw a picture with his finger in the earth. I have always wondered what he drew. Was it meaningful? Was it just a mindless doodle while he formulated his response? Here we see the Son of God, He who created us from the earth, running his fingers through the very same dirt as though he’s contemplating the very origin of every person in the crowd.

Jesus doesn’t say, “No.” He doesn’t say, “Yes.” He makes an offer. Paraphrasing here, he challenges the would-be attackers, “If any of you has no sin in your life, you may cast your stone.” And with that one sentence, the crowd dispersed. I wonder how long it took them to consider it. Did they immediately drop their stones and turn or did they ponder for a moment? Was there one person who thought, “I’m a pretty good guy, I think I have earned the right to throw a stone or two?” Nonetheless, they all find fault in their own lives and leave the woman behind.

This is a powerful moment in Jesus’ ministry. He changed the way the crowd considers sin. Think about it, no one said, “Yeah, I have sin, but nothing as bad as adultery.” This was a moment where Jesus made it clear. Sin is sin. They are all abominations in the eyes of God.

The scene changes dramatically now. It’s much more intimate. Just Jesus and the woman. The Savior and the sinner. Her accusers now gone, Jesus looks the woman in the eye and says, “Come…and sin some more.”

Wait…what? No, that’s not what he said at all. But for some reason, that’s the takeaway so many of us have from this story. We’ve convinced ourselves that Jesus somehow approved of her sinful lifestyle since he did not condemn the woman to death. And we use his grace as an excuse to continue the sin in our own lives. After all, Jesus just wants us to “love one another”, right? That’s all that really matters. Not this silly “sin” thing. But if Jesus doesn’t command the woman to stop sinning, the entire story changes. His ministry purpose changes. Jesus' existence on earth wasn’t to protect sin. It was to put an end to it. To erase it. He certainly didn’t die so that we can celebrate our sin.

This past month, I encountered a person who represents an LGBTQ church. Yes, a church that actually celebrates homosexuality and other forms of sexual sin. A church that says to its people, “Come and sin some more.” This Church teaches from the very same Scripture that you and I read. No doubt, there has been or will be a sermon on the very story I just shared. But I wonder if they leave out the last words of Jesus in the story? How does a church that celebrates sin justify the command to “Go and sin no more?”

When we distort the Gospel to meet our own lifestyle choices, we have committed one of the gravest sins of all, I believe. We have taken the very words of God and stolen their meaning.

And you know what? I think we are all to blame. We hide our own sins out of shame. We refuse to even acknowledge them as sins. How many pastors won’t even use that three-letter word anymore? How many even preach about “hell” and the consequences of sin? Instead, pastors stand in front of their congregations or ink their mega book deals to tell us that if we simply love one another, we are doing just fine in God’s eyes.

Tell me, in this story from John chapter 8, who acts more like the church? Those with the stones in their hands? Or the one who forgave, challenged, encouraged and commanded the woman to leave her sinful ways behind? In this story, Jesus paints a powerful picture of what the Church should be. Should homosexuals go to church? Yes. Just as the liars, the thieves, the coveters and the murderers should. Should we be waiting at the door with stones of accusation and contempt in our hearts? No. We should invite them in, protect them, encourage them, teach them God’s heart for their lives and by all means, we should challenge them to leave their sinful ways behind. That’s hard to do when we all have sin in our own lives. Trust me, I know.

The men in the scene drop their stones and leave. Wouldn’t it have been awesome if just one of them stayed? Not to cast a rock but to ask questions? “Jesus, I have sin in my life. What am I to do about it?” “Are you saying there is grace for every sinner? Even the adulterers?”

“Yes,” he would have answered. “There is grace enough for everyone.” But he would have finished his answer the same way he ended the conversation with the woman in this powerful story from Scripture: 

“Now go and sin no more.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Liars of Acirema

Not too long ago, there was a powerful country that most of the world respected. It was the country where those from all over the globe aspired to one day live. This country was called Acirema. Acirema was founded on the basic principles of honesty, respect and compassion for its fellow man. It was a land of opportunity and dreams.

Now that’s not to say Acirema was a perfect country. Far from it. People still made mistakes, some did bad things from time to time. But overall, it was a good place because those founding principles were strong and the vast majority of the population held firm to them.

But one day, a man decided that he didn’t like one of the founding principles of Acirema. Being honest, he slowly began to realize, wasn’t nearly as alluring as telling a lie. He started slowly, quietly, telling small lies that most wouldn’t notice. But eventually, the thrill of lying became so strong that he found himself unable to ever tell the truth. Thus, he concluded, that he was born to be a liar. It was unnatural for him to tell the truth. Lying wasn’t his fault, he determined. In fact, it was actually his way of being true to himself. To tell the truth would be telling a lie about who he truly was.

This man began to preach his lying lifestyle as the new, modern way of living. At first, he was shunned. The general population called his lying aberrant and they would not stand for it. But eventually, his lies started to gain momentum. Others began to experience lying as energizing. They began to preach the message that Truth Tellers were "old-fashioned", out of touch with the real world. They began to portray lying in a positive light whenever they could. Movies and television shows were created to glamorize lying. Books were written, conventions and parades were held to celebrate lying.

Before long, different brands of lying were being applauded. There were the “gossipers”, the “exaggerators” and the “truth stretchers”—those who enjoyed both telling partial truths while wrapping them in a bigger lie. They formed groups and associations, known as the LGETS (Liars, Gossipers, Exaggerators and Truth Stretchers.) The movement gained momentum and its members became so caught up in their lies that they began to lie to themselves.“This is how God made me!” they would proclaim. “I have no choice but to lie!”

But opposition still existed. Truth-Tellers fought hard against the movement. They preached sermons in churches that called lying in all its facets a sin. This outraged the LGETS. They wanted revenge. But knowing they would never change the mind of the older Truth-Tellers, they decided instead to take aim at their children. They infiltrated children’s programs, movies and TV shows. They wrote children’s books that glorified lying. They called Truth-Tellers "liarphobes"; because they knew that if they painted Truth-Tellers as fearful of them, it gave them power…and made Truth-Tellers seem weak and impotent. They told children that their Truth-Teller parents and grandparents were living in “yesterday’s world.” The way of the future, they preached, was lying. Soon, impressionable young people all over Acirema were convinced that they too were born liars.

But the churches fought back. Realizing that fighting a religious battle would be too difficult, the LGETS decided to focus on Acirema’s government. If they could lobby for laws to protect their lifestyle, they could force churches to bow to their lying whims. But government was filled with Truth-Tellers. And the Truth-Tellers did not want to grant special privileges for those who chose to lie. So the LGETS stopped using the word “privileges” and started using the word, “rights.” After all, everyone should have the right to choose to be a liar, if they so wish. Who was government to say people don’t have the right to lie? The government was fearful of being branded a regime that withheld rights of its citizens so it slowly began to consider these “rights” for liars.

Still, government wasn’t moving fast enough for the LGETS. So, to help move matters along, its members began to infiltrate the government of Acirema. They made their way into powerful positions—some by lying about whether they were liars or not. Telling voters they were “Truth-Tellers” to get their votes was okay, because it was staying true to their lying lifestyle, after all. They pushed for policies that called lying “normal” and “acceptable.” They even began to believe their own lies so much that they convinced themselves that lying was never a choice to begin with. It was simply “how they were made.” And if that’s how they were made, it was unfair for anyone to oppose them.

Once enough LGETS supporters were in power, they began to write new laws for Acirema that granted special privileges to liars. Liars, gossipers, exaggerators and truth-stretchers had the right to demand businesses, employers and schools bow to their lying desires. Anyone who dared to oppose or speak up against any form of lying would be fined, punished or even forced out of business.

After they got the government control they wanted, the LGETS turned its attention back on the Church. They began to file lawsuits against churches that preached any message against lying. Still, the Church stood strong. Then the LGETS remembered: “to change government, we had to infiltrate government. So we’ll do the same with the Church!” So that’s exactly what they did. They would tell lies to get hired as pastors, Sunday School teachers and evangelists. And once they were in positions of power, they began to preach that lying wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, they taught, that their thousands-years old religious tenets were actually misinterpreted or outdated. Did anyone really understand what the Scriptures were trying to say? By causing confusion in the church with their lies, slowly some of the churches began to accept lying. Eventually entire churches were built on lying. They incorporated some of the original Scriptural doctrines into their lying messages and formed an entire new facet of religion.

All the while, the other founding principles of Acirema began to erode too. LGETS members called on everyone within earshot to disrespect Truth Tellers. Compassion fell apart too, as liars reveled in the unraveling of truth. Little did they realize that their efforts to promote their lifestyle were slowly crumbling Acirema. But as long as their lifestyle became the new norm, little did they care. Eventually the LGETS got exactly what it wanted: the destruction of religion and the overhaul of government to meet their desires. What few Truth Tellers remained were forced underground. And Acirema was now the exact opposite of how it started. And it remained that way for decades.

But generations later, a young liar befriended a Truth Teller. Over the course of their friendship, she began to respect the Truth Teller. So much so, that she began to question the way of life taught to her by her lying father and gossiping mother. Even the exaggerations of her aunt and the truth stretching of her cousins seemed odd to her. Her Truth Teller friend invited her to his underground truth-based church. It was an amazing experience for her. She heard messages she had never heard before. Perhaps, she thought, lying isn’t the best way to live life. Perhaps telling the truth wasn’t so bad after all. Her friend and the church had a profound impact on her. She started telling small truths at first. So small that most wouldn’t notice. But inside, she realized that telling the truth felt better. It felt natural, right. And consequently, lying made her feel dirty, wrong. It now seemed unnatural.

So she began to teach her friends about Truth-telling. And her peers began to see Truth-telling in a whole new light. It didn’t seem nearly as bad as their parents had taught them. They questioned the laws they had been taught. They pushed back against their parents' lies and demanded to know more about truth. Perhaps lying really was a choice after all. Perhaps, it wasn’t the right choice to begin with.

And so, a movement began…

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What If You're Just Not Good Enough?

It’s a question no one likes to face. But perhaps we all have at some point in our lives.

What if you’re just not good enough?

What I mean by that is, what if you simply don’t have the skills, the knowledge, the talent, or the acumen to do what it is that you are really passionate about?

To clarify, I’m not talking about those things that you feel God has “called” you to do. As far as I’m concerned, if God calls you to do something, you do it. Whether you’re terrible at it or not. That’s an obedience issue.

No, I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about that one thing that you’re passionate about. That one thing you want to do more than anything else in the world. (Yes, sometimes “calling” and “desire” intersect, and it's a beautiful thing when they do. But that's not what I'm referring to here.) What if you are simply not good enough to do what you love to do?

I wrestle with this question a lot. As most of you know, I’ve been passionate about making music for over 20 years now. I’ve recorded four albums in my life and a handful of singles. One could say I’m “successful” at music solely by the amount I’ve been able to create. But let’s be honest. I’m not topping any charts. No, let’s be even more honest. I’m not even ON any charts. Sometimes it seems I can't even give my music away. Does that mean I stink at it? I honestly don’t know. Maybe my music doesn’t sell because my friends don’t see me as a musician. Maybe they see it as my hobby and who wants to pour money into someone else’s hobby? Maybe I’m not on the radio airwaves because I don’t have the right “connections”, don’t grease the right palms or have a famous uncle to promote me. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because I’m not as good at it as I’d like to think I am.

Maybe my passion and my talent aren’t equal.

What do you do then?

And how do you comfort someone who has a desire to do something with their life when they just don’t have it? You’ve known that person. You know the girl in church who thinks she can sing but she honestly can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Or the boss who loves being the boss but is a terrible people manager. The wannabe dancer with clumsy feet and no coordination. The young man who dreams of being a professional athlete but just doesn’t have the physicality. You know him. You know her. How do you encourage those people?

True, success is about more than being on charts, getting a hit single or a record deal. I know that. I'm not simply talking about worldly success, I'm talking about affirmation. I'm talking about the ability to do what you really love and make a life out of it. Not having to tuck it away to an occasional weekend because your "real job" has to pay the bills. I have a lot of musician friends in this same position, by the way. Those who would love to make a living at it but just haven't been able to.

Is it supposed to be enough to say you've "stayed true" to your passion regardless of your ability to make a living at it?

Let me be clear: I’m not writing this looking for people to respond and say, “Tim, you’re a great songwriter.” That’s not what I’m looking for here. I’ve already come to terms with the possibility that I may not be very good at this. And I’m okay with that. To some extent. But what I wrestle with is why the passion doesn’t subside when it becomes evident that the ability to fulfill it isn’t there.

Have you ever wrestled with this? Is there something you have always wanted to do or be but you just don’t have it? How do you deal with it?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Church: Remember When...

Remember when pastors weren't celebrities with book deals and viral videos but rather, humble teachers with worn, dog-eared, marked-up bibles and tired, red eyes from late night prayer emergencies? Remember when they knew every member of the congregation; knew their struggles and their joys and walked through both with them?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when worship leaders held a hymnal in one hand, led the congregation with the other, while bellowing out powerful, soulful hymns with imperfect voices? They wore polyester suits instead of trendy clothes. They weren't rock stars with light shows, singing pop choruses ad nauseum, but took seriously the words of the hymns and the responsibility of ushering the congregation into the presence of worship?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when the Church didn't cowtow to "societal norms" but knew where the lines were drawn on cultural issues, sometimes even drew the lines themselves, saying "this one belongs to us?" Remember when church leaders wept and prayed for the morality of our country in honest fear that we would become a nation that celebrates depravity instead of running away from it?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when you sat in the pew and listened to teaching that dug so deep in the fertile soil of the Scripture that you found the roots? Remember when you would leave the service wrestling with where your heart is and where it should be? Remember when sermons weren't glossy, "feel-good" platitudes  but rather soul-searching challenges?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when people stayed after church service to talk, potluck, share their life-happenings? Remember when it wasn't a mad dash to beat the lunch crowd at the restaurant but rather a casual stroll so we all could gather and break bread together? 
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when we believed the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, to be the true, historical account of God's plan, not merely suggestions and fables to teach a moral lesson? 
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when church leaders would gather around a sinner, lay hands on him or her, lift that soul up in prayer and commit to walking through the restoration together? Remember when we weren't afraid to call sin sin, and didn't believe that culture has changed on issues so God should change too?

I wonder where my church is today.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Sochi Can Teach Us About the Rest of the World

This week, thousands of westerners—athletes and media—have converged on Sochi, Russia for the Winter Games. And while they lug their expensive camera gear or don their sponsor-laden apparel and compete for gold, silver and bronze medallions, they are not happy. Perhaps you have seen their tweets, status updates and Instagram pics of the horrible conditions they’re forced to endure while spending their time in the Russian city.

Now don’t get me wrong, some of the conditions are, at best, embarrassing. And our athletes deserve better. While they represent our country on the grandest global sports stage, they shouldn’t have to worry about cold showers, group bathrooms without privacy, and insect-laden, half-finished hotel rooms. Russia was obviously not prepared to host the biggest modern day winter sporting event.

But perhaps we need to put things into perspective too.  While these conditions are obviously not up to par, they are, for the most part, certainly not “appalling.”

In my travels for Compassion International, I have seen families who live in 6x6 shacks made of scrap wood or tin. They sleep on filthy mattresses or on dirt floors, bathe in rivers and gather their drinking water from those same waterways. Their bathrooms are holes in the ground and many often have open sewage running just outside their doorways. That, my friends, is appalling.
Almost 2.5 billion people in this world live on less than $2 per day. That’s billion with a “b.” Just try feeding your family on that meager income. Over 780-million people live without access to clean water. That’s two and a half times the population of the United States that doesn’t have access to healthy water at all. None of them will get to leave these conditions in two weeks and return to homes with faucets that pump out hot, clean water on demand. They do not get to leave these truly appalling conditions for warm, safe, comfortable homes with private bathrooms at the end of the month. Tomorrow looks as bleak as today. And today is as bleak as yesterday.

I’m not comparing Sochi to villages in Uganda or the slums of Guatemala, Indonesia or Haiti. There is no comparison. Unfinished hotel rooms do not compare to the slum villages of the poorest of the poor. Unfinished bathrooms in the athlete’s dorms are still tiled, with porcelain toilets.

Nor am I saying that these athletes and media don’t have legitimate complaints. But let’s try to keep things in perspective, shall we? And use this opportunity to learn something. Perhaps Sochi is an opportunity to teach us all the difference between first-world problems and third-world realities. There’s a difference between those things we believe we are entitled to and those things that should be available for every human being.

Friday, October 11, 2013

You Are Allowed to Believe

I know this may sound strange, but in light of our cultural shifts of the past few decades I think many of our brothers and sisters in Christ need to be reminded that you are still allowed to believe. Despite what politics, “political correctness”, culture and media may tell you, you are still allowed to believe in Jesus today.

You are allowed to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Go on, believe it. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You are allowed to believe that Jesus is part of the triune God who created the earth, then joined us in human flesh to save us from ourselves. You are allowed to believe that we killed him. And you are even allowed to believe that it was all part of his perfect plan. That he rose from the dead to show his sovereignty. That his blood covers our sins.

You are allowed to believe!

No need to hide it. No need to whisper it. No need to be afraid to bring it up in conversation. Yes, there will be those who are offended, but the Gospel has always offended. Some will push back. It’s ok. That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to believe. Some will argue, some will shun. Some will ridicule. But at the end of the day, rest in this: you are allowed to believe!

You are allowed to believe that sin is sin. And yes, you are even allowed to call sin a sin. Because God gave you that authority. Too many of us are terrified of calling out sin for fear of having that very well-worn scripture that reminds us to “judge not, lest ye be judged.” So let me lay it out for you. When you stand on scripture to call sin a sin, you are not judging. You’re simply relaying the judge’s message. You’re the court clerk. You’re simply reading the judge’s decision. Judgment has already been made on what is sin and what is not. The Supreme Judge made that decision. And yes, you’re allowed to believe that too.

Society today is trying desperately to tell the Church that you are not allowed to believe homosexuality is a sin. This is a lie. You are allowed to believe. Not because “in your heart you know it’s wrong” but because God said so. And you are allowed to believe in what God proclaims. It is a sin, just as pride, stealing, killing, lying, cheating, coveting, envying, praying to false gods, dishonoring your mother and father, and a whole list of other sins. And it should be treated as such. With prayer, love, understanding that we are all flawed, weak and in need of that very same blood of Jesus I mentioned earlier. For too long the Church has been silent on this issue. Afraid of calling sin a sin. Is it the most horrendous sin man can commit? No. But it is sin. And you are allowed to believe it.

This world will tell you that marriage is nothing more than a contractual agreement that can be defined by government. But you are allowed to believe otherwise. You are allowed to believe scripture that tells us God’s design is for marriage to be between a man and a woman. You are allowed to believe that God created marriage as a holy union, not a mere piece of paper to be used for political posturing, financial gain or social climbing. You are allowed to believe.

This world will ask you to bow down at the feet of celebrity. To celebrate those who would use money, sex and power to hold your attention. They are the flash and bang of sideshow magicians of centuries past, only their tricks are more impressive. But you are allowed to believe that honesty and purity are better attributes than half-naked women gyrating on stage for self-gain. This may surprise you, but you are allowed to believe that it’s wrong for commercial products to appeal to sexuality to market their goods. You are allowed to believe that good music doesn’t have to be about sex, drugs, committing crimes or degrading women. You’re allowed to believe it. You’re allowed to believe that television programs don’t have to force offensive characters into their dialogue to make them interesting. You’re allowed to believe that movies don’t have to glorify sex, murder and other worldly ills. You’re allowed to believe it!

This is a great country. A powerful country. But we are quickly becoming a country that says you’re only allowed to believe in everything but scripture. Don’t believe that. You are allowed to believe. And scripture tells us that God will bless any nation…any nation that trusts in God. If we want God to truly bless this nation, we must remember that we are allowed to believe.

But for too long, we’ve been afraid to say what we believe. We fear we have no right. And that is so wrong. We are allowed to believe.

And finally, this: you are allowed to believe that Jesus loves you. You are allowed to believe that he desperately wants you to know him. Seek him out. You’re allowed to believe that he has a plan for your life. Yes, you. And his plan is good. Better than good. It’s beyond your comprehension. You’re allowed to believe that if you just place this life in his hands, the next one is going to be amazing.

So believe.  It’s okay, you’re allowed to.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

So What's the Story Behind My New Song, I'm No Superhero?

My oldest son Morgan and I have this ritual at bedtime.

"Daddy, make up a song!" he requests. So I'll sing a silly song or a lullaby. Eventually, that morphed into a challenge to be more specific:  "Daddy, make up a song about elephants" or "Daddy make up a song about what we did today." It's a good songwriting exercise for me. Though I'll admit my rhyme schemes are typically pretty predictable when I'm making stuff up on the fly. One night, he hit me with this question:

"Daddy, are you a superhero?"

"No, son. I'm not. I can't fly. I can't break through walls. I'm just an ordinary man. But I'm trying to be the best daddy I can."

"Make up a song about it Daddy!" So this song began as a lullaby—at least the chorus anyway. I spent the next few months perfecting the lyrics, putting together verses and giving the song a deeper meaning. How often do we put people on a pedestal? In our marriages, our relationships, at work...perhaps even at church? At the end of the day, we're all just ordinary people trying to be better. Better dads, moms, co-workers, bosses, employees, believers, whatever.

So I initially wrote this song at bedtime with my 6-year old. But it has become much more than that.

It's a declaration of humanity. 

It’s an honest, self-assessment. And it's a reminder to the listener, to not expect too much from me:

"I am just an ordinary man, trying to do
my best and I still get hurt when I fall."

But then there's the bridge:

"But I'll wear this cape if you want me to.
Be your escape in this shade of blue.
Bullets can't stop me from being with you."

Sometimes we have to play the role of superhero, even when we don't believe it about ourselves. Sometimes, that's what it takes to profess our love, our devotion, our commitment. To my son, I say, "You need me to be a superhero today? Then I'll put on a cape and do my best to fly for you. Because that's how much I love you."

So that's the story behind my new single, I'm No Superhero. I hope you enjoy the song as much as I've enjoyed writing it…especially now knowing the story behind it.

If you haven't heard I’m No Superhero yet, you can buy it now for just 99 cents on iTunes.