Acceptance: A Missional Must-Have

We hear a lot about acceptance and tolerance today.  In fact, in certain Christian circles acceptance and tolerance are at the top of bad word list!

At some other time I want to tackle the idea of toleration — so let’s turn our attention instead toward acceptance.

What We Want Acceptance to Mean

All of us want to be loved for who we are.  We want people to validate us and our feelings and we want them to make us feel good about the choices we’ve made.  We want to be accepted.

And we want this acceptance to be conditional: the one accepting us can’t ask us to change, expect us to change, or hope that we’ll change.  Nope.  Instead we want them to simply take us as we are, warts and all.

And to be honest, if there’s something about us that we know needs to change, we still don’t really want people to call us out on it.

It’s almost as if we want people to accept us and then to ignore everything about us that is preventing us from living up to our God-given potentials.

We want love without risk, grace without truth, and acceptance without change.

The Kind of Acceptance We Need

If we stopped to think about it, we would gather that this kind of cheap, no-strings-attached acceptance is shallow at best.  We would figure out that it’s more or less meaningless because no one is asking us to be better, to be stronger, or to be more clued in.

But when we find someone who can accept us for who we are and then love us enough not to let us stay there, we will latch onto them for dear life!

I’m sure that as you read the last sentence you thought of a person or two in your life that simply makes you a better person.  Sure, they offer you unadulterated acceptance.  But they also have high expectations of you.  When you fail them, they don’t dismiss you; instead they help you grow.  When you hurt them, they don’t run; instead they teach you how not to be selfish.

It’s people like this that are worth holding onto!  In fact, if we’re lucky enough to have one or two people in our lives like this, we’re super blessed!

Jesus’ Acceptance

I can’t think of a better example of someone who demonstrates healthy acceptance than Jesus.  We can catch a glimpse or two of his acceptance style in John 3.1-15.

In those verses Jesus has an interaction with a religious leader named Nicodemus.  Since Nicodemus was an important person and since Jesus was a bit controversial, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3.2).

He desperately wanted to engage in conversation and dialogue with Jesus, but he was a bit scared to be seen with him.

I don’t know about you, but if someone treated me this way, I might be tempted to say something like this: “Come back during the light of day.  I can’t work with you if you’re ashamed to be seen with me!”

But this is not how Jesus responds.  Instead Jesus enters in to a discussion with Nicodemus.  He’s patient with him.  But he teaches him.

Jesus doesn’t just accept Nicodemus and let him stay there.  Jesus allows Nicodemus to come to him as is and he makes sure that he leaves a different man.

Now the transition from spiritual lostness to foundness was slow for Nicodemus.  Nicodemus and his pal Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus but in secret, helped ensure that Jesus’ body was taken care of after he died (John 19.39-42).  This was a big deal because doing so would be at least semi-public and because the spices and tomb for Jesus were not cheap.  Nicodemus and his friend had to make sacrifices because of Jesus.

Jesus accepted him, and then a long time later Nicodemus demonstrated his love for Jesus.

Tradition has it that Nicodemus continued to follow Jesus and was killed for his faith sometime during the first century.  This isn’t verifiable but it has a nice ring to it.

Maybe Nicodemus’ faith started slow and grew incrementally.  And maybe it continued to grow and to grow and to grow.

And it all started for Nicodemus because Jesus offered him the gift of acceptance.


Why do we find it so hard to offer acceptance to folks who are far from God?  If we want to follow Jesus and lead others toward his love too, then we must offer them acceptance.  What can we do to be more accepting?  Let me know in the comments below!


And if you want to follow my blog regularly, please join my email list near the upper, right-hand corner of this page (or near the bottom of this page if you’re on a mobile device).  Or you could simply like my Facebook page.  Thanks!

Stretching: Learning and Growing

That’s my son Myron doing one of his favorite things in the world — stretching!

Watching him do this several times each day has got me thinking, what is stretching me?

What’s Stretching Me at the Moment…

Here are a few of the things that are stretching me, causing me to grow and to learn (in no particular order):

  1. School.  I’ve been in school for what seems like forever.  Finishing my PhD has required so much perseverance and patience, the second of which I don’t come by naturally.  If all continues to go well, I should be finished this summer.  *Fingers crossed*
  2. Marriage.  I’ve said it many times that I didn’t know how selfish I was until I got married.  And that statement is as true today as it was in 2002 when I first got married!  The stretching caused by marriage is varied but it is definitely effective!  To me, the hardest part of marriage is choosing each day to put the interests of my wife before my own.  Man, why is it so hard not to be selfish!?
  3. Parenthood.  Since being a dad is so new to me (only one month in!), it feels like the thing that is stretching me the most right now!  I’m learning to live on less sleep, to prioritize differently, and to do things that I hadn’t done often before.  But most of all, fatherhood is teaching me that my capacity for love is much greater than I ever imagined!  When I heard Myron’s first cry, I felt like the Grinch at the end of the book: my heart grew three sizes!
  4. Leadership.  Whether in official capacities or informal ones, being a leader is always a stretching experience!  Not unlike marriage and parenthood, being a good leader means putting the interests and needs of others at the forefront.  This is always unnatural, or at least it is for me!
  5. Spiritual Disciplines.  I’m not a planner.  I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-er.  And with regard to spirituality, spontaneity is not always best!  In my experience, it is best to have some spiritual practices (such as prayer, Bible reading, fasting, etc.) which are a regular part of my life.  For me, the one that creates the most stretching in me is daily, devotional Bible reading.  For me this is a challenge because when I read the Bible I constantly think about it either as an academic, thinking about all the grammatical, historical, and theological issues, or as a teacher, thinking about how to communicate the truths found within to others.  It is a daily struggle for me to find personal, spiritual meaning from the Bible.  This discipline helps me grow!
  6. Work.  I’m about to embark on a new assignment at work and it will be a stretching process!  I’m excited to see how God grows me and my community through this opportunity.  But I’m also quite aware that things will be difficult at times and that I’ll have to find creative ways to move forward or to step aside and let others take the limelight.  I’m looking forward to the challenge.


So, what kinds of things are stretching you in your life right now?

Let me know in the comments below!


Ash Wednesday

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and Lent is an ancient Christian tradition of having a season of fasting and meditation prior to Easter.

Ash Wednesday

By: Tim

Since the Church is made up of such a diverse set of people, some of us will be very familiar with Ash Wednesday and others won’t be familiar with it much at all.

Some of us grew up in faith contexts where Ash Wednesday was highly emphasized, even ritualized. And because of this we may have very strong associations with it from our past, whether positive or negative.

And others of us, like me, grew up in contexts where Ash Wednesday was hardly mentioned and never observed. And because of this we may very drawn toward or repelled away from it.

Either way, we observe Ash Wednesday as Christians, not out of obligation or tradition. Nor do we observe it to show others how holy and amazing we are as we go about our days after having received ashes.

No, there’s is a deeper reason why we commemorate Ash Wednesday – it is a reminder to us that the brilliant joy of Easter doesn’t come without a great cost.

That cost is that the sinless one, Jesus Christ, had to become sin for us. There could be no greater cost than that.

So Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the time where we examine why Jesus had to pay that cost. And the “Ash” in Ash Wednesday gives us a good clue as to why Jesus had to pay that cost.

In the Bible ashes have two primary associations: 1) one who is repentant would apply ashes to him or herself as a sign of repentance; and 2) the other is that we are mortal: From dust we came and to dust we will return.

So during Lent, and especially on Ash Wednesday, we remember that Jesus paid a great cost to deal with our twin problems of sin and death.

Let’s take an honest look at ourselves, our mortality and sinfulness, and let’s remember the hope found in Jesus that he is making all things new!


Friends, Ash Wednesday is all about honesty…and let’s get real for a minute: being honest can be hard. Let me give you two examples from my life:

When I was probably in second grade I wanted to get a toy that was on the top shelf of my book shelf. So I would climb up the book shelf in order to reach it. When my parents would see me doing this they would tell me to stop because they didn’t want me to fall and get hurt. Well, as you probably have guessed already, I continued to go for that toy on the top shelf anyway. On one particular occasion I climbed up and reached for the toy…grabbed it…and the whole shelf and all of its contents fell on top of me! I cried for help, “Daddy help me! Help me!” And when my Dad came in the room he asked me what happened. I thought for a second and said, “I don’t know…the shelf just fell on me, Dad!”

Another time that being honest was hard was when I had just begun learning to cook after my wife and I were married. The first thing I ever made was a pasta dish that was really yummy! The next day I decided to go big and tried to make stuffed pork loin. I plated the meal and sat it out on the table and it looked great! But when we bit into it was dry as a bleached bone in the sun! After a minute or two my wife looked up at me and lied, saying, “Honey, this is really good!” even though it was more like ten-year old piece of beef jerky than a stuffed pork loin!

Being honest can be tough. And being honest about ourselves and our failings can be especially difficult. So as we observe Ash Wednesday, we might have a hard time being honest about our sinfulness and our mortality. We might not really want to take a long, hard look in the proverbial mirror because we know who will be looking back at us.

But that’s what Ash Wednesday is all about, an honest appraisal of our human condition. And it was this human condition that necessitated that Jesus pay the staggering price he paid for us at Calvary.

In Mark 1.15 we find the basic message of Jesus’ teaching, his mission statement if you will. The following words are found there: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

For the rest of this blog I simply want to look at three parts of this verse in light of Ash Wednesday: the kingdom of God, repentance, and believing the good news.

Kingdom of God

Let’s start with the kingdom of God. This phrase does not refer solely to heaven or the afterlife. Nor does it refer to a physical location with borders and a castle. No. Instead it refers to the reality of the rule of God that Jesus inaugurated when he was alive and that he will bring to fruition when he returns.

The kingdom of God is something that those of us who follow Jesus as king demonstrate with our lives. Those of us who live as subjects of King Jesus are called to live our lives like he really is our king – lives of worship, lives of community, and lives of service; lives of love for God and others.

When viewed in light of Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of the way in which we were allowed to be subjects of King Jesus – he died for us, paving the way for us to become citizens of his kingdom.

So in light of this great grace that has been offered to us, what should we do? We should repent and believe the good news. That’s what Jesus said in Mark 1.15.

And, if you’re like me, then you may be thinking something like this: I repented and believed a long time ago when I first accepted Jesus as my lord and savior. And while that first confession is very important, our repentance and believing doesn’t stop there!


So in light of Ash Wednesday, let’s repent, which means to turn from our ways and toward God’s ways. Let’s repent of the bad things we’ve done, the good we’ve left undone, and the systemic injustices we’ve let slide. Let’s repent of our broken, sinful natures and begin to become more like Jesus through the work and power of the Spirit!

And let’s repent of all the ways we’ve not been honest about our sinfulness and mortality. Let’s repent of pretending to be perfect. Let’s repent of letting our fear of death consume us.

As I was writing this I found this beautiful prayer, which is adapted from Isaiah 58:

We have chosen to fast, not with ashes but with actions, not with sackcloth but in sharing, not in thoughts but in deeds. We will give up our abundance to share our food, home, and friendship. We will share where others hoard. We will free where others oppress. We will heal where others harm. Then God’s light will break out. God’s healing will come. We will find our joy in the Lord. We will be like a well-watered garden. We will be called repairers of broken walls. Together we will feast at God’s banquet table. (From Godspace; slightly altered)

That’s the kind of repentance that Ash Wednesday brings to my mind – turning from our selfish ways and turning toward God’s giving ways.

Believe the Good News

But we’re still left with “believing the good news” in Mark 1.15. In light of Ash Wednesday, what does it mean to believe the good news?

For starters, “believe” isn’t the best translation of the word that Jesus used. In Greek one word stands behind the three English verbs: believe, have faith, and trust. And in most cases, the best translation of this one Greek verb is “trust.”

So what does it mean to trust the good news, especially in light of Ash Wednesday? Well, trust is an active word; it’s not something that I can just do only in my head. Trust requires action.

Living a life that demonstrates that we trust the good news will look like more and more like the life that Jesus lived when he was here on earth. One of my favorite authors, Hugh Halter, says it best: A disciple of Jesus is someone who lives the human life of Jesus in his or her human life.

How do we do that? It’s much simpler than we’ve made it over the years.

Lenten Challenge

In fact, to prove my point I want give you a challenge…

During Lent this year make this your fast: Fall in love with Jesus anew. Each and every day read through half a chapter of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Jot down things that you see Jesus doing. How is he treating others? What does he talk about? What actions does he take? What does he seem care about? Then pray for the Holy Spirit to help you become more like Jesus today than you were yesterday. Ask God to create opportunities for you to demonstrate your trust in the good news where you live, where you work, and where you play.

Treat people like you see Jesus treating people in the Scriptures.

Talk about the things you see Jesus talking about.

Do the things you see Jesus doing.

Care about the stuff you see Jesus caring about.

So on this Ash Wednesday it’s time we were honest with ourselves. We need to live like Jesus is our king by repenting and trusting in the good news! As we look back into our lives and see pain, sin, death, and brokenness, let’s not forget that Jesus died for us so that we could live for him!

Let’s do that brothers and sisters – Let’s live for him!


For more, check out my podcast on iTunes and Stitcher or subscribe to my YouTube channel.  Thanks!

ISIS: A Response

I don’t even know where to begin other than with sorrow.

My heart is full to the brim with sorrow over the deaths of 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach at the hands of ISIS militants.

And where there is sorrow, many other emotions can quickly follow.  I know for me there’s an indignation that wells up in response to this extreme persecution.  I want these ISIS militants to pay for what they’ve done.

But almost at the same time a real feeling of helplessness arises too, since I know that violence almost always only results in more violence.

So how should I, a follower of Jesus, respond?  What’s a gospel-centered reaction?



ISIS Militant leading their Egyptian captives to the place where they would be beheaded.

Initial Reaction to ISIS

It’s hard, if not impossible, to control one’s first response to something.  It just happens.

And my first response to the news out of Libya was sadness.  My heart fell for the families of the slain.  I was deeply saddened by inevitable damage done to Christian-Muslim relations.  And I was heartbroken at the way that so many would surely talk about God, violence, and retribution, whether Christians or otherwise.

In fact, as I first heard this news one line of Scripture continued to run through my head: “Darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88.18b).  This must be the sentiment of so many right now: the family, friends, and neighbors of the deceased; most people living in Egypt and Libya; many of my friends here in the US who originate from Egypt; most Muslims; most Christians; all Coptic Christians; and, frankly, most people in the world.


Now What?

The sorrow caused by the actions taken by ISIS is real and can’t be minimized.  No words or actions will mitigate it.  Time will not erode it.  It will just be there — to be sure, more acute at some times than others.

But sorrow can’t be the last word of this story.  Sorrow can’t win the day.  There has to be a broader response — a reaction that will embrace the darkness but prepare us for God’s glorious light.

And that response is trust.

Don’t get me wrong, trust is probably the hardest thing to do right now.  Who can we trust if people are capable of this sort of evil?  What government can we trust to keep us safe if buildings in the USA, offices in France, and beaches in Libya are all compromised?  And how can we trust God if he allowed this atrocity (and ones like it) to happen?

This is my contention: We must trust or the only choice we have is to give in to the darkness.  And I, for one, will not give in to the darkness!  I refuse to let the shadows of this life cause me to forget that the light that’s on the other side of the thing casting the shadow.

And this is no pie-in-the-sky kind of hope I’m talking about.  No.  What I have in mind is a level-headed, open-eyed trust.

This is what it might look like…

Trust in the Wake of ISIS

How can I trust anything or anyone, much less God, in the wake of the horrific crimes committed by ISIS? Here are a few initial ideas that might help.  However, I fully realize my limited perspective and expertise and I am fully willing to listen to any other ideas that you might have.  Please share them in the comments below.

  1. Don’t be surprised.  When something awful happens we’re always surprised.  What’s up with that?  It’s as if we’ve forgotten the reality of what it means to be human.  We’re horrible to one another.  Horrible.  People have always done disgusting, inhuman things to one another. And yet we’re always surprised.  And it seems that Christians might be the most surprised group of all.  Why?  Have we not read our Bibles?  Have we not read the words of Jesus himself?  Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15.20).  He also said that with blessings come persecutions (Mark 10.30).  Jesus knew that his message of the good news of the kingdom of God will butt heads with the kingdoms of this world.  He knew that danger and drama could be real possibilities for his followers.  And this has come true in each generation of followers of Jesus.  Persecution is a reality that we must deal with until Jesus brings his kingdom to fruition when he comes again.  So, friends, let’s not be surprised when it comes!  Instead, let’s prepare for it, trusting in the goodness of God in the face of the greatest evil humanity can muster!
  2. Pray.  There’s no way to move forward through this mess without prayer.  What ISIS has done (and will likely continue to do) is horrible.  And our chief response shouldn’t be warmongering, hatred, and wide-sweeping generalizations about all Muslims.  No.  Our chief response to the horror brought on by ISIS should be prayer.  Let’s turn to God with our complaints, pains, and confusion.  Let’s seek his wisdom during this volatile time.  Let’s pray like Nehemiah, the Psalmist, and others, begging God to deliver vengeance on behalf of his people.  Through prayer we are reminded of our place in this world — and that place is certainly not on the seat of judgment and revenge.  That is God’s seat alone.  But our prayers should also be for peace, the comfort of those who are mourning, and a swift resolution to this crisis.  Moreover, our prayers should also be for our enemies.  Jesus couldn’t be clearer about this: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5.44).  Could there be a harder command to fulfill right now?  How are we, am I, supposed to love and pray for ISIS?  I’m not sure exactly, but here’s a starting place.  I need to remember that I am a sinner, through and through.  I’m worse than I know that I am.  I’ve done more wrong that I can recall, I’ve left more good undone than could ever be recounted, and I’ve consciously and subconsciously participated in systemic sin from the moment I was born.  I’m a wretch.  And if it wasn’t for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I would be far, far from God right now.  I’m in no place to judge anyone.  Is what the ISIS militants did wrong?  Of course.   Unequivocally.  But I’ve done so much wrong in my life too.  Only God can judge us.  So what can I do if not judge ISIS?  I can love them by praying for them.  I can pray for God to intervene in their lives.  I can pray for God to give them dreams of his love and beauty and healing.  I can pray that they will experience the same life-giving grace that I have in my life.  I must pray for them.  Why?  Because otherwise I will hate them and not love them, which is in direct violation of Jesus command to love my enemies.  In order to trust God through this ordeal, I must turn to him in prayer.
  3. Embrace the mystery, the unknown, the scary, and the awkwardness. In order to move forward and to trust again, I must simply embrace the fact that this world is messed up.  There are many things that are beyond my comprehension and control.  I can’t understand how ISIS could do this heinous act.  I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that God did not intervene.  I can’t deny the fact that I have experience some truly illogical fear over the last few days.  And I can’t get over the frustrations I feel regarding each of these things.  But, if I’m honest, there is so much of life that is mysterious, unknowable, scary, and awkward.  I shouldn’t be surprised that these events have reminded me of this reality.  Friends, we must admit that we can’t figure everything out.  There is a God, and not one of us is him.


Well, that’s all I have.  We must learn to trust God again.  We can’t let time-bound circumstances influence our eternal relationship with God.  We have no choice by to turn to him, to place our full faith in him, and to continue to follow him.


If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below.


(Just FYI, I will be moderating the comments carefully, so please abstain from hate speech, racist remarks, bad language, and the like.  Thanks!)