Friday, February 19, 2010

-An Open Letter To Tiger Woods-

Dear Tiger,
I forgive you. I know that doesn't mean very much coming from some random guy whom you never met and likely never will, but I felt compelled to say it. There are already a number of people with opinions about you statement this morning. Facebook and twitter are in full bloom with comments about your words, many of them questioning your sincerity. I think these people have a lot of audacity in judging the intentions and heart of someone they have never met or discussed the situation with. But just for the record, not only do I forgive you, but I believe you.
You discussed that you felt a certain sense of entitlement to indulge yourself in all the temptations around you because of all your hard work. Wow. That must have been a difficult thing to admit. Not just to your family and friends and the press but to yourself. We've heard story after story of public figures like yourself making mistakes but none of them have had the courage to acknowledge that. So, I thank you for your transparency.
You also mentioned that you somehow forgot that the rules apply to you too. I am in awe of this. Whether we want to admit it or not, we've all felt like this. We've all done things that sent the message that the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to us. As you have discovered, this attitude is poisonous to us. But at least you had the courage to come out and say it. The acknowledgement that you weren't living according to "the rules" is a step toward healing that most people will never make. Even as they sit back and criticize people like you who's mistakes are tabloid fodder while they continue to hide their deepest secrets to make themselves appear better than the rest of us. Ultimately, it is hurting them as well and that is very sad.
I say all this, Tiger, so that you will know that you still have at least one fan. Not just of your golf game but of you as a person. Did you make some mistakes? Absolutely. There is no question about it. And I don't think you should simply be let off the hook for it. But you are taking steps now that display a high quality of character in my opinion. You have decided to continue to focus on healing yourself and your family rather than return to golf right away. Way to go! I truly hope to see you on the golf course again soon. I want to see you get 19+ majors. You are an amazing golfer who continues to make mind boggling shots when you're out there. Your focus on the course is second to none and it shows on the score cards and the stat sheets. I hope you put that same drive and that same focus now into your marriage, family and personal healing, so that when you do get back into golf, you will be whole again and free from distraction.
Finally, Tiger, I wanted to let you know that I will still point you out as a role model to my children. Not because you're a great golfer. Not because you are best at what you do. And not because you are perfect. But because you are NOT perfect. Because, when faced with your biggest failures, you chose to deal with it head on rather than run. You chose to make your marriage your priority when it would have been easy to simply divorce and continue playing golf. You didn't take the easy road of excess and denial, but the difficult path of healing and restoration. As much as I hate it, my kids are going to make mistakes in their lives. And when they do, I hope they face them with the same raw, gut-wrenching honesty and courage that you are displaying now. Well done Tiger. Well done. You still have at least one fan.
-John Hall

Thursday, January 7, 2010

-The Difficult Work of the Soul-

I know that "sin" isn't a popular word these days. Even in the church though many Christians won't admit it. It seems that in response to the judgmental stereotype that Christians have held in the USA for so long now, many churches have gone to the other extreme and tread lightly on the word or even the concept of "sin." The problem with this is the same as the problem with being hyper-judgmental toward people's sin. Good intentions, poor execution. But I think it's a subject that we can't ignore. Sin is, in fact, what separates us God and therefore needs to be talked about. The idea of trusting Jesus and following Him hinges on our acceptance that we are not perfect. That we have done bad, selfish things. So if we don't treat the subject with the seriousness that it deserves, then we neglect to admit that we need saving. On the other hand, when we harp to much on the sin, we may never feel as if we have been restored to our Creator. It's not like there is a fine line or anything, we're just hyper-sensitive about what we believe and therefore we tend to get a little over zealous. It's how opinions eventually turn into doctrine. Which is scary.
That being said, I want to talk about sin. It's the universal topic when you think about it. It's like breathing. We've all done it pretty much our whole lives. some people don't see it like that. They think you can do whatever you want as long as you don't hurt anyone else. Others don't even have the "as long as you don't hurt anyone else" clause. Some simply figure God will work it all out so when you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. (NOT). And then you have the Christians.
We're a strangely diverse bunch. We have rich people, poor people, Republicans, Democrats, independents, businessmen, farmer, white collar, blue collar, and I could keep going. But just like everyone else, all of us have, and continue to, sin. Our response to our sin however, can be totally different. Some of us ignore it. Some of us try to hide it. Some of us beat ourselves to death for it. Some of us carry the guilt around for years. Still others of us say a quick, "Hey God. Sorry about that. Amen." type of prayer and never think about it again. No matter which of these you may be, there is an issue here that is bigger. We're not being saved from our sin. In fact, we often don't want to be.
I am learning that there is a difference between being saved from my sin, (which is what Jesus came to do) (Matthew 1:21), and simply being saved from the penalty of my sin. The penalty of my sin is death, (Romans 6:23), but God loves me so much that he has given me an opportunity to have eternal life, (John 3:16), but He doesn't want me to stop there. He's happy to extend the opportunity to have eternal life to me, but He wants so much more for me. He wants me to be saved from the very thing that causes my separation from Him. The sin itself.
God will forgive us over and over and over again if that's what it takes. As long as we are genuine in our desire to be forgiven He will forgive. But what he really wants is for us to become who we were created to be. People who live and work and laugh and love and cry and who's hearts break with HIS. He wants to close that gap that our sin creates not just be getting rid of the penalty but by getting rid of the sin itself. Sadly, we rarely let Him do this work. Because this would require full submission to Him. We can fake our way through life with other enough to make it look like we have our crap together so don't do the hard, difficult work of the soul it takes to be saved from our sin. I am learning that this work is not popular because it hurts. I'm learning that coming face to face with how selfish I have actually been living is humbling. I'm learning that being saved from my sin is humiliating sometimes. But I am also learning that unless I go through it, I'll never be the person God made me to be. I'm also learning that the life I am headed into by doing the difficult work of the soul is the abundant life that Jesus talked about. I'm learning that living the way of Jesus is even harder than I thought. But taking up your cross was never a pleasant picture. So i can't blame Jesus for sugar-coating it. He simply didn't.
I don't have all the answers. It's a long, hard road to travel and the road is different for everyone. So as much as I wish I could give you the steps to take to do the difficult work of the soul, I just can't. all I can say is that it begins with asking God to help you love him more. Help you follow him more closely. Help you know Him better. Because the more you love God, the closer you get to Him, and the better you know Him; the more like Him you will become. And that is what will save you from your sin, and not just from the penalty of it.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

-The Voices Of 2010-

Well here we are. It's the last day of 2009. How was your 2009? What happened to you in 2009? What life changing things did you set out to do? Who's life did you change? How did your life change? What goals did you accomplish? What was the hardest thing about 2009? The funnest? The most painful? Seriously, what do you remember about 2009?
If you're like most people, you don't remember much about the last year of your life. Sure there are some events that will stand out to you. Maybe even some that you will remember for the rest of your life. But for the most part, you won't remember much about this, or sadly, any other year of your life. It's not fun to come to this conclusion. But if we're honest with one another, we can all admit that it's true. Our lives simply aren't memorable.
Thats the great thing about New Year's. We get a chance to start over. For one day every year we look ahead with extreme optimism about our lives. Anything is possible. We make resolutions and declarations that THIS year, THIS time we will be different. Our lives will be better. They will be the way they should. WE will be the people we've always known we could be. Starting NOW.
But then we get back to work or school or just to our regular lives and something happens. Our lives get in the way our lives. The mundane and routine take over, reminding us that we are still the same people we were yesterday. We still have the same struggles as we did yesterday. We still have the same problems, the same personality, the same flaws, the same... well, the same everything. We come face to face with realization that who we are and what we have hasn't changed with the new year.
This is when we usually make a fatal mistake. We give up. We listen to the voices in our head that tell us we were being overly optamistic about what we capable of. We let them convince us that we were just being sentimental about the New Year and made some unrealistic resolutions. We let them convince us that we really can' be THAT good. That our lives can't really get THAT much better. And so we settle back into who we have always been. Because we believed the voices. We believed the lie.
This year I hope you will stand with me and shut the voices that tell you these lies up. This year I hope you will the voice of your Creator. The voice that says you are more than a conqueror. The voice that says you are beautifuly and wonderfully created. The voice that says you are worth dying for. The voice that says He wants to give you an abundant, significant life. The voice that says you can do all things through Him. THAT is voice we must listen to. But it won't be easy.
You see that voice is said to be "still" and "small." And a still, small voice is difficult to hear over the boisterous lies that plague our inner thoughts. But we must hear it. We must remind ourselves that it is there. That we must silence the loudness of the everyone and everything else. That we know those voices are telling us lies because when you don't have anything of merrit to say all you can do is shout. It's the quiet, humble voices that are worth listening to. The ones that don't INSIST on being heard are usually the only ones worth hearing. Listen for those voices with me this year. Those one want us to be the people we know we can be. Lets listen to them. Lets listen to Him.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

-Money Blog Part 4: Tithing vs. Giving-

Churches and church leaders have gotten a bad reputation over the last few decades when it comes to teaching or even mentioning the practice of giving to the church. Much of this reputation has been earned by a only hand full of "christian preachers" who were basically caught stealing from people. I mean, the was more to it than that but when you break it all down, that's what they were doing. So because of these hand full of people, pastors and teacher and church leaders with genuine hearts and motives have been hamstrung when it comes to talking about giving money to the church. People come in already jaded because of the now defunct "preachers" they've heard about on the news and are hypersensitive to ANY church leader talking about giving. This has led to pastors and church leaders being over-paranoid about talking about giving and the topic has been basically ignored in many churches in our culture out of fear of being labeled "all about money." That being said, today I want to talk about giving to your church.

One of our biggest problems as a Church (when I say "the Church" I am talking about ALL the Christian churches everywhere not just MY church) when it comes to giving is that, just like everything else, we can't agree on it. Some churches take up and offering, others don't. Some churches teach to give a specific amount, others teach to give "whatever God puts on your heart." Most churches, however, teach the biblical principle called "tithing." Tithing is simple. It simply means that you give 10% of your income to your church and this is the practice that I, personally believe is a great start.

Many from with the Church argue about the practice of tithing. They have "theological" points to show how we don't really have to tithe anymore. And if 9 out of 10 of these people had this view out of a desire to give and love then I'd be totally okay with it. However most of the people I've heard use these types of arguments seem to o it in order to absolve them of guilt for not actually giving to the church at all. Lets talk about some of the common arguments against tithing that are heard, shall we?

One argument I hear a lot is, "Tithing isn't really talked about in the New Testament." This is a pretty ignorant point to try to make. we have to remember WHO wrote the New Testament; Jews. Jewish people who believe in Jesus were the ones God used to pen the words of the New Testament. And when they devoted their lives to Jesus they didn't STOP being Jewish. They continued to practice Jewish Law. In fact, many of them we emphatic about it. So they wouldn't HAVE to mention tithing. It was simply assumed as a normal practice. Beyond that, what happens if we decide to use the New Testament as our only guide? In the gospel we see Jesus telling a man to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. Later in the book of Acts it says that all the believers sold their possessions and had "everything in common." So if you want to use strictly a "New Testament pattern" you'd better be prepared to give 100% because that is what the New Testament describes... and more than once.

I also hear a lot that the practice of tithing is a part of "the Law" of the Old testament and the the New Testament says we're not under the Law anymore. Okay, yes tithing is described in what we call "Levitical Law," meaning it is found in the Old Testament book of Leviticus which lays out much of the Law the Jews were to live by. But what many people don't realize is that by that time, tithing wasn't new. If you read Genesis, God asks Abraham to tithe. Abraham passes this practice on and we see his grandson, Jacob, committing to giving a tenth of all he has to God as well. Leviticus is simply making the practice "official," but it existed LONG before Moses gave the Jewish people "the Law." So the practice of tithing actually precedes even the 10 Commandments.

I also hear about how Jesus didn't talk about tithing and that we never read about Him actually practicing it himself. Once again this is an ignorant argument because Jesus was also Jewish. In fact, Jesus followed the spirit of the Law better than anyone else. He was a Jewish rabbi, living in a Jewish country, teaching Jewish people to live the Jewish way. Once again, they wouldn't need to mention Jesus tithed because it would have been assumed by virtue of His culture. It also doesn't say He ever went to the bathroom, or blinked, or laughed, got cold. So are we assume those things never happened too? Beyond that Jesus DOES mention tithing in Matthew 23:23. He affirms that the Pharisees have tithed but ignored things like mercy and justice. Bet then Jesus goes on to tell them that they should, indeed, have been tithing without ignoring mercy and justice. So, apparently Jesus is actually pro-tithing. Which really shouldn't surprise anyone because, once again, He was Jewish!

Finally I want to make it clear that I believe wholeheartedly in tithing not because I want or need your money, but because our money is usually one of the last things we're willing to let go of and trust God with. Because He's not really God unless He's the God of everything. Even our money. Sadly, in most churches today 15-20% of the people pay 95% of the bills. If everyone in our churches began tithing, many churches would know what to do with all the money. It would open whole new possibilities for the church to contribute to the lives of others. I think that it could be amazing. I also believe something else about tithing. I believe it's simply a starting point. I think 10% is a good place to begin but not to end. And I think that if you began to tithe and experience the joy of giving to God obediently you'll actually get greedy for giving. Try it. I dare you. Prove me wrong.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

-Money Blog Part 3: Value vs. Cost-

Not long ago, in a galaxy not so far from here, an organization conducted a study about income in Americans. It asked several questions of people about money and income and budgeting. I wish i could remember details of the survey but unfortunately most of it has slipped my memory. The one thing that has stuck with me however, was what they reported about their findings as it related to how much income was "enough."

The reports said that in their findings, the majority of those surveyed indicated that "enough" income was about 10% more than they were currently bringing home; REGARDLESS of their current income level. This means that the person making $20K a year thought that if they could just make 10% more they would have enough. It also means that the person making $250K a year thought the exact same thing. 10% more and they would finally be making enough. But would it really be "enough"?

I'm persuaded that it's never "enough." That for some reason we are conditioned in our culture to never be content with what we have but to always want and even need more. Even to the point to where we allow our happiness depend on it. We are conditioned in this culture to want to attain a certain level of wealth and we think when we do attain it that we will finally be content. But it's just not true. Because it seems that we are wired to always think we need just a little more.

The problem with this mode of thought is that it cares more about the value of money than it does the cost of it. Getting more money will always cost us something. To some, it can cost time with their family. To others it will cost a piece of their integrity. To some it will cost them their mental and sometimes physical health. And still to others who take it to an extreme it will cost them their freedom. And the more value we place on money, the higher the cost. You'll know how important money is to someone when you get a peak and what they are willing to do and say and become in order to get more of it. This is not how we were designed. when we were designed, money did not exist.

But money does, in fact, exist today so we cannot simply ignore it. But we also must always keep it in perspective. If we don't we will always lose something while trying to resolve our monetary concerns. Too often monetary wealth leads to spiritual poverty. Along that same line, often times monetary poverty can lead to spiritual wealth. It's been my experience that the people who have the least are much happier to share what they DO have where as those who have the most tend to be much less generous unless they stand to gain something from it, (i.e a tax write-off). And that isn't really generosity is it?

So how do we resolve this. Do we say, "To hell with money!" and forget about it? No, I think that would be a waste of an opportunity. Again, money exists in our world and we can't ignore it. But what we can do is change the way we think about it. As Paul writes, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) We need to think of money as an opportunity not an obtainment. I'm not suggesting we stop trying to make more money. I'm simply saying that when we DO, we use it in ways that place the proper value on it. We must learn to use our money to serve God's purposes rather that using ourselves to serve money. Don't make the point of money become about "having more," make the point about USING MORE. Use your money to invest in love, in your family, in yourself, in people. Use it as a means and not and end. And always, always make sure the cost is never greater than the value.