What does it mean to be Marked by Love? 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—more like a price tag that you pick off 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.-- Tim Stevens###Jesus said the one thing that would set his disciples apart from others…they would be known by their love for each other. No tattoo. No uniform. No team colors or logos or code words. The one thing that would mark the followers of Jesus—love.Consider. . .How would I treat someone who I disagree with in a political discussion if I ran everything I said through a filter of love?How would I treat the family member who drives me crazy if I were marked by love?What would be different about my social media posts or comments if I really loved the people I was responding to or writing about?How would I talk about or act toward the LGBTQ community if I was actually following in Jesus’ steps?This is real life stuff. Join seasoned author Tim Stevens as he walks you through 31 story-driven chapters that will challenge and encourage you to filter every thought, behavior, word, and action through a lens of love. If you’ve ever been discouraged by Christianity—whether you’re a lifelong churchgoer or you gave up on religion a long time ago—Marked by Love will be a game-changer in your faith journey.
|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Tim Stevens works with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, where he leads a team of executive search consultants who partner with hundreds of churches and non-profit organization to fill key staff positions. He and his wife are the parents of four adult children. They make their home in Texas.
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HEART SURGERY IN A CORNFIELD
I was born in Kansas and lived in Chicago for a year or so, but I did most of my growing up in Pleasant Hill, a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa. Pleasant Hill was exactly what it sounds like — a small town of pleasantly rolling hills and large yards in neighborhoods, intermixed with cornfields and forests.
Our house was in a new area on Ash Drive, and I just knew it was going to be the perfect place for an adventurous kid to explore. I knew this even before we moved, because one day, as our split-level home was being built, we visited the construction site. The opportunities for mischief were way too inviting. My parents turned their backs, and before they could blink, I jumped out of the upper floor living-room window cut-outs, not yet filled with glass, into a huge snow pile in the front yard. After an initial moment of panic, they saw the fun I was having and let me jump what must have been a hundred more times.
That was symbolic of the years that followed. My friend and I built bike ramps and paths in the forest across the street behind his house. Down the street was a stream and pond that brought hours of fun. In my backyard was an old-growth forest that ran behind all the houses on our street, and beyond that a cornfield. We had hideouts and tree houses and defined territories that we "ruled" in our make-believe kingdoms. In the spring, we spent time in the forests, and in the summer and fall, we played for hours in the cornfields.
Paul Blakely was a year younger than me. He had just moved to a house on my street, and we went to the same school. Paul and I did everything together. We would race home from school, do our homework as fast as we could, and head outside and play until dark. In the summertime, without the obstacle of school, we could easily spend six or eight hours a day playing together. We would get so wrapped up that some days we'd forget to come home for lunch.
Paul looked up to me. It wasn't just that I was older but because I had more friends and was a bit more wired socially. We were probably both nerds, but perhaps I was less of one. I just remember sensing that he admired me.
And that's why I felt so bad one particular day.
We had been playing in the cornfield, just goofing off and talking about life (or whatever fourth graders talk about). It was between harvest and planting, so we had several acres of dirt in which to play. We had some little shovels with us, and we were digging holes and just goofing off. That's when I spotted a bulldozer parked off in the distance. A new street was being built, and the bulldozer was sitting at the edge of the cornfield behind the new road.
Ever since I was little, I had been fascinated by construction sites and big trucks and tractors. I guess every little boy is. On this day, my curiosity led us over to the bulldozer. I hopped on and goofed around in the driver's seat. I wanted so badly to start it and move some dirt. What would be cooler than that?
That's when I noticed the keys in the ignition. I turned the key expecting to hear the engine scream to life. Nothing. I tried everything. I couldn't figure out how to start the bulldozer. My dreams for digging a giant hole were slipping away.
That's when I got an idea. If I couldn't drive this bulldozer, no one else could either. I took the keys out of the ignition, jumped off the bulldozer, and walked a few hundred feet out into the barren cornfield.
Paul followed and, seeing the keys dangling in my hand, asked, "What are you doing? Where are you going? Why do you have the keys?"
I stopped and took my little shovel and started digging. I dug a hole about twelve inches deep, dropped the keys in the hole, and filled it back up with dirt. All the while, Paul begged me to stop. He told me I shouldn't do it, asked what I was thinking, and warned me we were going to get in trouble.
I didn't care. I didn't listen. I just buried the keys and walked away.
It was nearly dark, so we walked quietly back to our homes. Paul didn't say anything else. The silence was deafening.
That night, I cried myself to sleep. I felt so guilty, so aware of the blackness of my heart. I couldn't understand myself. I could still hear Paul pleading with me to stop and my refusal to listen. I played the day over and over in my head, and with each rewind I grew more disgusted with myself and saddened at my terrible choices.
The next afternoon I got off the school bus, and as soon as I could get permission to go outside and play, I headed straight for the cornfield. I spent hours looking for the spot where I'd buried those keys. I had my shovel with me again and dug up dozens of locations, desperately trying to find the keys and undo my wrong. Tears, mixed with dirt, streamed down my face, but I never found the keys. I couldn't undo my sin.
Every afternoon for days, I would head out to the cornfield and resume my search for the keys. By then, the bulldozer had moved, and I figured the construction company must have had an extra set of keys. But that didn't relieve the tremendous guilt I felt.
My relationship with Paul changed after that. I had lost his respect. It wasn't long until his dad was transferred and Paul moved away. But long after he was gone, I continued to think about my heart.
What had caused me to do something so wrong, so careless, and so selfish? I know if I had really cared about Paul, I wouldn't have done it. And what about the construction worker? Did he get fired because he had carelessly left his keys in the ignition? Is it possible his wife and kids suffered because of my insensitive action?
The pain of my childhood indiscretion would not quickly subside. I was plagued by my lack of love.
Whether it was burying the bulldozer keys in the cornfield or the time I bullied Robbie Kirkpatrick just for the fun of it, or other times more serious — over and over through my life I've been faced with the darkness of my heart. I have made choices that hurt others. I have said words that inflicted deep wounds. I have chosen my own needs over those of others.
I recall lying awake at night contemplating my actions and wondering why I do these things. What is going on inside of me when I so selfishly choose to put me first? And how do I get out of this cycle? Do I need to learn more Bible verses? Do I need to go to church more often? Should I confess my sins to a priest?
Some of this came into focus more recently when I tuned in to a podcast interview.CHAPTER 2
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, screwups, 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.
I'm tired of the game. I'm tired of faking it. I'm tired of the mask.
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?CHAPTER 3
TATTOOS & TRADITIONS
I lived near South Bend, Indiana, for thirty years. And it didn't take me long after moving there to learn about the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. I suppose, like any college town, the community in many ways revolves around the campus. When the team is winning, everyone feels great. When they are losing, everyone is a bit sad.
Lou Holtz was the Notre Dame coach when I began following the football team. I remember the 1993 season, when the Irish knocked off Florida State to become the number-one team in the country. The air in South Bend was electric! The next week, in the last game of the regular season, Boston College was killing my team early in the fourth quarter — up by 21 points. I was listening on the radio in my car as the Irish came back with 7 points, then 14, then 20. They scored 22 consecutive points to take the lead by 1. I was fist-pumping out the window and yelling my head off as I raced home so I could watch the end of the game on TV.
I made it home just in time to watch Notre Dame lose the game when Boston College got the ball close enough for a field goal. And as the ball sailed between the uprights, hopes for a national championship were shattered. It would, in fact, be twenty years before Notre Dame would play in another national championship game.
I still have quite a bit of Notre Dame–branded clothing: shirts and hats and such. And when I travel while wearing some of the gear, someone will inevitably pass me at an airport or in a mall and say, "Go Irish!" It's like we're one big happy family.
It's probably no different with Alabama or Michigan or Florida State. A team becomes known by its logo, its colors, or perhaps by a mascot or a mantra ("Roll Tide!" anyone?).
Teams are also known by their traditions. These develop over decades and grow in importance with each passing season. At Notre Dame, they actually mix 24-karat gold into paint and apply it to the football helmets before each game. Another famous tradition is players slapping the famous "Play Like a Champion Today" sign on their way out of the locker room. Another started more than forty years ago, when Sergeant Tim McCarthy of the Indiana State Police began making a driving safety announcement before the fourth quarter to a dead-silent crowd — always ending it with a cheesy pun to the cheers and laughter from the stadium. A more recent tradition is players linking arms in front of the student section at the end of every home game and singing the Alma Mater.
Even though Notre Dame is "my" team, I realize other programs also have great traditions. At Colorado, they run Ralphie the Buffalo around the field before each half. At Arkansas, they "call the hogs"; at Iowa, they take a moment to wave to the kids atop the nearby children's hospital; and at Texas A&M, they honor the "Twelfth Man."
Traditions are part of the glue that holds a fan base together. They are built on from year to year as a program develops. In fact, any school, organization, or even country that wants to develop and secure a following comes up with traditions, logos, hand signals, flags, or other unifying trademarks that people can rally around.
It could be argued that Jesus left one of the largest, most successful and enduring organizations behind. He started with twelve, but the numbers grew into the thousands and millions, and continue to multiply to this day.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Marked by Love"
Copyright © 2018 Tim Stevens.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Heart Surgery in a Cornfield,
2. I'm Tired of the Mask,
3. Tattoos & Traditions,
4. The Time God Spoke,
5. Famous Last Words,
6. I Don't Want to Be Called a Christian,
7. Lessons in a White Pickup Truck,
8. Bob's Simple Question,
9. The Channels between the Channels,
10. A 200-Pound Bag of Sewage,
11. Jesus as Jewelry,
12. Stop Talking and Start Loving,
13. A Chinese Massage,
14. Happy Holidays,
15. The Next Person,
16. Who Is My Neighbor?,
17. The Principle of Proximity,
18. Three Girls and a Rumor,
19. It's a Fact,
20. The Day a Punk Taught Me about Love,
21. People Don't Care How Much You Know,
22. There's More to Life Than Green Grass,
23. A World of "Us vs. Them",
24. Kill 'Em with Kindness,
25. Tess Ran Away,
26. He Gives and Takes Away. Or Does He?,
27. The Day I Tried to Buy a Car,
28. A Story of Love from an Unlikely Source,
29. The Passenger in Row 20,
30. You Are Loved,
31. It's the Only Thing That Matters,