Have you ever read a book, blog, or article and related to virtually everything the author said, or thought this guy is really inside my head? Have you ever read a quote and said, “I wish I had said that!” Recently, that was my experience when reading Tim Steven’s blog. Tim is the former Executive Pastor at Granger Community Church and currently serves as an Executive with the Vanderbloemen Search Group. Tim is a noted church consultant and coach and has written widely on church leadership. The blog below is contains excerpts from his most recent book, Marked by Love.
I am struck by Tim’s transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity. More than that, I profoundly relate to Tim’s journey and am grateful for his courage and skill in sharing it. If you serve in ministry, I commend the blog below and Tim’s new book to you without hesitation.
“I’m tired of the game. I’m tired of faking it. I’m tired of the mask.”
God used Marc Maron to speak to me. This may surprise you if you’ve heard of Marc Maron. Marc has one of the highest-rated podcasts on the planet, with nearly three million downloads every month. It’s called WTF with Marc Maron—and if you don’t know what “WTF” stands for, wait until no children are around and then ask the first person who walks by. Or ask one of your children—they probably know too.
Marc is an actor, comedian, and producer, and the podcast is an interview-style show in which he goes deep with celebrities, musicians, and comedians about their lives. But it’s not a comedy show. It’s a raw, uncensored look into who people are, the journey they are on, and the successes and failures that brought them to this point in their careers.
The show is laced with profanity and typically has crass and debased content throughout. Many find it too objectionable to listen to regularly. But like a day in which you can be uniquely tuned in to God because of a cloud formation or a fortune cookie, I felt Him tugging at my heart as I listened.
Marc asks questions and gets people talking about the junk in their lives. Although he claims to be an agnostic, he often turns the conversation to faith and to the aching hole inside people that needs something to fill it. He talks frankly about his divorces, alcoholism, screw-ups, and experimentation with various illegal substances. His guests are vulnerable with him because he opens himself up to them.
My eyes filled with tears one night as I listened to Marc’s interview with Norm Macdonald (a comedian made famous on Saturday Night Live in the mid-’90s), as he shared his fear of death and his journey to find faith. He talked about God and Christianity and opened up about his desire to learn and know more. He didn’t know where to look or whom to talk to, but he said his search continues.
Along with his guests, Marc talks openly about his fear of death and the unknown. He shares with guests his deep-seated jealousy toward others in his industry. He often admits to getting angry and cussing somebody out, but then later going back to tell the person he is sorry. Because he is so open about his doubts and fears, many of his guests also match his vulnerability with their own.
As I listen, I often think, How is it that this comedian who doesn’t believe in God is more open and authentic about
his struggles than I am? Why, as a “Christian,” do I feel like I can’t divulge my true self, like I’m afraid others will think less of me if I expose the blackness of my heart?
As a member of Marc Maron’s audience, my respect for him has increased because I can actually relate to him. As I listen to him admit the darkest truths about his thoughts and motives, I often wonder if I could do the same. Is it possible Jesus could do something in me if I were as honest about my own struggles as Marc Maron is about his?
It seems like there is an unwritten rule that pastors and church leaders, and even regular church attendees, are required to wear masks.
It’s as though when you become a Christian, you sign a pledge to be fake and you are issued a mask: Wear this, and don’t ever take it off. The whole thing crumbles if people see you without your mask.
I’m not allowed to admit that, more than a few times, I have dropped the F-bomb after getting cut off in traffic or after hammering my finger instead of the nail. I’m supposed to hide the fact that sometimes I doubt God or the power of prayer or whether miracles can really happen in today’s world. I can’t say out loud, without being branded a pervert, that I think women are God’s most beautiful creation, better than mountains or flowers or babies or stars. I can’t confess that some Bible passages make absolutely no sense to me and seem to require more faith than I have to believe.
To admit any of those things is to admit weakness. And to admit weakness is to minimize the power of Jesus within me. And people look to Christian leaders to have all the answers and none of the doubts. So keep your mouth shut. Share your doubts in private with a therapist. And go on pretending all the answers can be found.
But I can’t do it. I know, because I’ve tried. For years I’ve tried to follow the rules. And I’m really tired. I’m tired of saying things that sound convincing but make no sense. I’m tired of repeating phrases that look great on a Christian bumper sticker or T-shirt but look shallow to the thinking world. I’m tired of smiling at someone and nodding my head on the outside while on the inside thinking, That is a huge load of crap.
I’m tired of not being able to ask certain questions. I’m tired of topics you can’t bring up anywhere without getting a stupider-than-stupid answer. . .or being symbolically patted on the head as the subject is subtly changed. I’m tired of praying for someone to be healed, and when they die, everyone says, “God answered our prayer, they received ultimate healing”—when what I was really praying for was that the person wouldn’t die.
So here is my confession: I still have lots of questions. The older I get, the less I know. The closer I move toward Jesus, the more questions I have. The more I read my Bible, the fewer things seem black and white. I was sure of a
whole lot more when I was eighteen. But now, I just don’t know.
I don’t know why God sometimes seems to answer prayers and other times appears not to care.
I don’t know why the Bible is filled with stories of carnage—with God sometimes commanding the mass killing of women and children.
I don’t know why Solomon is known as the wisest man who ever lived yet had hundreds of wives and concubines (yeah, those would be women who served him sexually).
I don’t know why people who call themselves Christians and know more than I do about the Bible are sometimes the most unloving and self-absorbed jerks.
I don’t know why leaders cite church tradition as a basis for their beliefs, when that same church tradition includes corruption, killing, and unspeakable immorality.
There is a lot I don’t know. I guess you could say I’m on a journey. It’s a journey of searching and finding. It’s a journey of skepticism and clarity. It’s a journey of seeking and rejecting. It’s a journey of understanding and confusion.
And on the journey, as many things have become muddier, a few things have also become clearer. As the foundations of what I’ve believed have been shaken, I’ve also made some discoveries that have given me great freedom. I’ve had to peel away the trappings of Christianity, but as I’ve done that I think I’m finding the core of who Jesus is.
The more I peel away the rules and expectations and exhausting obligations, the more I find the love of Jesus. These things don’t peel away easily—they’re a lot like a price tag you pick off an item in a million tiny pieces. But with every scrap removed, there is exposed a treasure of love that was there the whole time—disguised and hidden by religion.
To really peel away all the trappings, I had to go back to the source. What did Jesus Himself say would really make the difference? These are the things I explore in Marked by Love, which releases soon, and I am so excited for you to
get your hands on it.
Posted on December 18, 2018