Ecce Homo

This is a remix of something I posted a while back. Got led back to it again–reposted, slightly revised:

I always thought I’d have to be perfect for God, or perhaps more accurately–that I would have to be perfect to know Him. That’s what it seemed like, anyway. The Christian people I knew growing up certainly presented themselves that way; it didn’t look to me like they ever struggled, or doubted, or had any family or relationship troubles.

One the surface they were perfect people, with perfect lives. I don’t know about anything deeper than that, because it was too hard to get past the plastic smiles.

The young man who led the youth group I went to for a while as a teenager was a little like that. Not that he ever said he was perfect—he was just this tower of faith, and love, and patience for the handful of obnoxious teenagers in his charge. It never seemed like he so much as had a bad day. He was an amazing guy, but I wonder what kind of affect he would have had on us had he been a little more transparent—had he let us know then we could expect things to get rough sometimes.

Then there were the “others.” The people that I met through the church my brother went to for a while.
These men and women did all they could to draw attention to the wonderful Christian lives they were leading. They made sure everyone could see how they obeyed the “rules” set forth by God. That is, when they weren’t picketing places and telling people nearly everything they did was wrong, and would be sending them to hell, eventually.

Observe my faith, and be awed. See how much I care about the virtue of my children, and how willing I am to protect it at any cost. If they’d been around during Jesus’ time they would have been standing on street corners tearing their robes and crying.

It was all about them, not Jesus. They spent so much time being “super-Christians” that I knew I could never meet that sort of standard. I would never be able to serve a God who demanded such things, because I would never be perfect. And if I tried to be, the person I was now would always, always undermine any potential I might have for the future.

That person was far from perfect.

That person was flawed, and broken, and wounded.

That person–that man, was a liar.

That man lusted, drank to complete excess, and blasphemed.

That man stole, and coveted, and was full of self-pity and entitlement.

That man indulged in relationships empty of all but sin.

That man did not honor his mother and father, even when they were alive.

That man felt he was such a bad friend that he helped drive someone to a bullet.

That man did anything and everything he could to run willfully from God.

That man resisted salvation with every fiber of his being.

That man thought that since God made his life difficult, then he would damn well stay away from Him.
It was not that I doubted God’s existence. I just doubted God’s benevolence, and His “perfect” will for my life. While I had seen things that convinced me God was real, and cared, it only seemed to be for those people who led perfect and flawless lives.

I knew that wasn’t me. So in my mind, that meant he could not care less about me.

There was no way the man I was then would give up his own will for the will of another, even God. I just didn’t want anything to do with Him, or what He had to offer, which was subjugation.

Conformity.

No sense of self.

The man I was had no concept of anything but self.

That man did not care about anything, or anyone, because it seemed that no one cared about him.

Why would God want anything at all to do with that man? And since that was the man I was, what would be the point of approaching God with any sort of entreaty? He wouldn’t listen to me anyway.

But then something happened.

I met a series of people that either told me about Jesus, or showed me his love in a very practical way. They demanded nothing of me, and painted a picture of a very different sort of Jesus than I was accustomed to.

This Jesus just loved.

He was less concerned with a litany of rules, and more concerned with gathering lost sheep.

This Jesus cared about that man, just as he was.

Not as he should be.

This God was in the business of healing, not condemnation.

This Jesus was a physician, a carpenter, and a Father.

I began to develop a different sort of awareness, and sought more and more knowledge.

I began to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I began to heal.

And I began to realize in my heart that perfection was not required. I didn’t have to observe a strict set of rules to know God, and to be his child.

The Jesus that I learned about loved me in my state of disgrace, right then.

Long, long before I ever sought him.

He loved me enough to endure the whip, the crown of thorns, and the cross. Enough to walk a steep path with a heavy piece of wood balanced on his bloody shoulders.

Sometimes now I think about Pilate bringing Jesus before the crowd after his flogging and telling them “behold the man…”

I see myself in that crowd.

I’m standing there with everyone, looking up at a bloody, battered, and silent man.

I see myself calling for his death. He looks at me then. He is far away, but he sees me there.

And he goes to the cross for me, even then.

Even then.

When I accepted him as Lord, it was not simply an “aha” moment, where all things suddenly were wiped off my slate (though it was that, too). When I accepted His life, I also accepted his death, and entered into it.

I had to—it was for me.

And when I did that, the man I had been began to change. A little at first, but then more and more.
With the awareness of God’s love and acceptance, rather than judgment and condemnation, I began to grow, and I began to heal, and I began to care.

This man could treat people the way he wanted to be treated.

This man had genuine friendships.

This man could love, and be loved.

This man saw beyond himself.

This man longed to conform to his Father’s will for his life.

This man learned about life beyond short-term gratification,

This man saw the only cure possible for what ailed him.

This man began to put away childish things.

With the knowledge I’ve gleaned over the past few years, I have learned that only when I sought God’s vision for my life could I even begin to become anything approaching the person I had been designed to be, even before I was born.

What I had been doing for most of my life was trying to navigate the world without any real sense of direction. It was really something wonderful the first time I wondered which way I should go, and heard my Father say, “This way…”

I remember the man I used to be. But I am no longer him, though he is still a part of me.

I am a new creation, a new man. I am not perfect, and I never will be. I still struggle, and I still sin, and I still need to be forgiven.

But I am on a different path now.

I am walking toward God instead of away from him. I’m a husband, and a father of two boys who are just amazing examples of the wonder of God.

I am a new man. Not always the easiest thing to remember, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

A new man.

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Verses of the day…

Originally posted last July…but I can’t get enough of these verses. And I love the Message translation…

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

22-24“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

Luke 15:20-24, From The Message

Funny how you just find stuff sometimes.

Heaven on a Bun

I had this monstrosity for dinner Saturday night after church. We took Ken and Linda out for dinner after church, and thought we’d go homestyle. Not that mom ever made anything like this…

I can’t say I actually felt my arteries hardening as I ate it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened. Anyway, it was pretty darn tasty…albeit loaded with everything bad. But what isn’t, really?

I guess it’s just that Denny’s, in its own way, is sort of “our place.” We went there for a late breakfast/brunch the first time we went out. We had dinner somewhere nicer, but Denny’s is the first place we ate together. It’s also the place where I told her parents I wanted to marry her, if they were cool with it.

They were.

Anyway, it’s been a pretty awesome two years. Though I suppose I won’t have too many “Slamburgers.” Not if I want to keep on trucking for another few decades, anyway…

But for now, let me just say thanks to Denny’s…you make good breakfast!

Bad Disciple, Part V

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

I’ve read second Corinthians lots of times–next to Romans, I probably read it the most out of everything in the New Testament after the synoptics (the four Gospels). It’s a beautiful book, and teaches volumes about healing. And every time I read it, I have to stop and think about the above passage for a good long while. The thing is, even aware of my salvation as I am, most days I don’t feel like a new creation. Most days I feel all crudded up by life, and by my own inclination to sin.

For me, part of becoming a Christian—maybe even the largest part—was being made aware of my sin. I remember that being the toughest thing about that night at the river—feeling the weight of my sin fall onto my shoulders. And when I felt its subsequent removal, it convinced me once and for all time that Jesus was real, and was the only way I could ever be made whole, and clean.

Prior to that awareness, I thought I was golden because I was a pretty good guy. I was nice to old people and animals. I should be good, shouldn’t I? Nothing to worry about?

I remember people used to testify all the time at the first church I attended. One time I heard the testimony of a young man who’d been to Bosnia during the war there. He told of shooting his weapon at what he thought was the enemy, and had been haunted by whether or not he’d hit or killed the person ever since. It was the only time he’d shot at anyone during his deployment.

He’d been punishing himself for that day, even though he did not know the ultimate outcome of his shot. It took a number of years, and a ton of pain before he finally surrendered his heart to God.

And began to heal.

Another man told about how he’d stolen from his children to get money for drugs. He hadn’t come to Christ until he’d literally lost everything and had been living in a park.

A woman had been a prostitute for nearly ten years, also a slave to drugs, and had come to Jesus in a detox center.

There were countless stories like this, and I didn’t feel like I could relate to any of them. Still, they made me feel better about myself because I never did anything even remotely like these people—these sinners. I acknowledged my need for a savior, but felt that I had lots of time (and much less work to do to get one) because I was a good and decent guy. God would not condemn someone who was nice, now would he?

For years I thought along those lines.

Yet when I had that experience at the river, when I became aware that I had in fact been (and remained) a sinner, when I asked Jesus to take that burden from me, I was still aware of the person I had been before, even though I wasn’t entirely him anymore.

So even though I knew in my head I was made new, I did not necessarily feel that way. I still don’t. How can I be new when I feel so old? How can I be clean when it takes steel wool to scrub off my sin?

Here’s the thing I’ve been trying to think about, and remember.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5: 6-8).

So even before I knew him, while I was still wallowing in my filth, while I consoled myself with huge quantities of food, or alcohol, or empty relationships, God loved me just as much in that state of disgrace as he does now in a state of grace, having been forgiven.

Before I existed, He died for me.

He could have simply pardoned me, like a governor sparing a convict on death row. He didn’t do that. He assumed the punishment for my guilt, and paid it himself. He walked the green mile for me. And whether I like it or not, whether I accept it or not, I am a new creation. I found myself, finally, in Him.

The old has gone, the new has come.

I was listening to this Brennan Manning sermon the other day, and he made a really great point. He said that until we can accept acceptance, we aren’t really a believer.

I think part of my problem is that very thing: it’s hard for me to be accepted; and to acknowledge my acceptance. I would convince myself that either my friends did not really accept me as I was, or if they did, once they found out the real me, they would bail like everyone else did. I thought the same thing about Jenny, even after we’d shared our hearts with one another. I just could not get past those feelings for the longest time.

It was much the same with God. I have always had difficulty accepting His acceptance, and His love. No, I don’t deserve it.

The wages of sin is death.

I have it anyway–I have his acceptance. And even if I had not ever seen Him as he desires to be seen, and accepted Him as abba, I would still have his love.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

He died for us.

He died for us.

He died for me.

I am not worthy of Him, and nothing I could do on earth will make me worthier.

Yet I am loved, and because of Jesus, have a place in his kingdom. He is the bridge between me and His Father.

Imagine that.

I try to think of it in terms of a picture—or series of pictures—I saw once in a dream, just before I left San Diego for good and came here to Arizona.

Imagine a pearl, lying in a freshly opened oyster, or whatever mollusk pearls come from. The pearl doesn’t look precious at all. It’s covered with sediment, and filth, and layers of built up junk.
A pair of hands come into the “picture,” the hands of a carpenter; rough, strong, but also incredibly gentle and sure.

Jesus removes the impure jewel from its shell, resplendent in its rough beauty, dripping with water, tendrils of slime leading back to the shell. He holds it in his hand, ignoring the slime, and layer by layer, peels away the filth, grime, and sediment, until the thing in his hand is no longer rough, but shining.

A pearl of great price.

30 Days

A while back I saw episode of 30 Days on FX (catch it on Netflix streaming if you can, it’s really interesting) about a straight man living with a gay roommate for a month. It did much to dispell some of this man’s preconceived notions about the gay community, but it also raised some interesting questions about the straight community, and that of the church’s position and views (some churches, anyway) regarding homosexuality.

The show really made me think about some things.

That was always one of the toughest things about “the church” for me to deal with–the sometimes violent reaction that homosexuality provokes within it, from many people one would not normally expect to have that type of reaction. You see people who look like soccer moms, and schoolteachers, and just…regular people picketing places known to have gay patrons, or guests, or even just some places they (the picketers) can draw attention to themselves.

The “church” Which Shall Not Be Named seems to be the chief offender but certainly not the only one—just watch any news coverage of a gay pride parade and you’ll see the people I’m talking about (I am not naming that particular institution because they don’t deserve to be named—hate speech has nothing to do with Jesus) .

When I see those people were standing there with their sandwich board signs proclaiming “God hates fags” and things of that nature, it makes me feel sad more than anything else. For goodness’ sake, sometimes you’ll even see small children holding signs and yelling!

That just isn’t right, not to me at least.

These people spent a lot of time citing the various scriptures that refer to homosexuality as proof that God does indeed “hate” gays.

I disagree.

I believe God hates the devil, and the sin that he “inspires” in God’s people, but God does not hate his children.

These men and women say they take the bible literally. OK. Fine. Take it literally. It’s true. But if it is, and they believe all of it, then where do they get the idea that it’s OK to hate someone because of who they sleep with (or who they don’t)?

The message of Jesus is one of love, not condemnation. These kind of people just don’t get that. I believe the bible is just really one long love story–about God loving his creations through the messiness of their lives, all of them. Not just any one denomination, or cultural sub-group.

He loved us when he made us, through our sin, in spite of our sin, and he will continue to do so even if we never repent, and even if we never come to know Him and never realize that He loves US, he still will. I think of John 3:16. Romans 8:38-39. Nowhere does the either the bible or God say to hate a person because of the person’s sexuality or any other reason (that I know of).

Jesus did get angry at people—like the money changers who made the temple into a den of thieves, or the Pharisees who just didn’t get it, either. Come to that, these sign-holders are sort of modern-day Pharisees themselves, aren’t they?

But anyway.

Do I believe that homosexuality is a sin? Yes, because I believe the bible is true. But I don’t hate gays, or really their sin, either, to tell you the truth. It isn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to hate anyone. And while I’m rolling on that topic, I don’t feel that two men or women being able to legally marry threatens the sanctity of mine or anyone else’s marriage, either.

I will be just as married whether or not two men are able to do the chicken dance at their reception. What I can do, what I should do regarding these men and women is show them the love of Jesus, and not color it with my personal hangups or ideas about what is and isn’t right.

I know a lot of people think that a person chooses to be gay–that it’s a preference. I’m not so sure I agree with that, either. Why would anyone choose to be hated, or persecuted?

But with that said, all I can really do is pray for them. The thing is, the gay people I’ve known in my life have all been pretty much cool, and in the case of a girl I used to work with, someone I liked very much. Someone I could (and plan to) be friends with.

I knew a gay man named Michael, who was another story because he embodied all the stereotypes people cite when they talk about gays; he was very promiscuous, he used drugs, he was flamboyant (though not particularly stylish. He could dance, though). But even he was pretty cool.

The thing I have noticed about gays and lesbians is that they seem far more accepting of people as they are, and not who they think they should be. And the support they offer one another within their community is extraordinary. Maybe we straight folks could all learn a thing or two about that. Maybe it comes from having to draw together as a group, and accept each other when no one else will accept you. I don’t know. Anyway, it’s a tough issue, and one that I probably won’t figure out anytime soon.

I guess for now, I’ll just have to accept that gay people are going to be gay whether I or anyone else wants them to be. I’ll continue to think their lifestyle is a sin, because I believe the bible is fundamentally true, and that’s what it tells me. Romans uses the term “unnatural lust” to describe it. But I will not hate homosexuals because of their lifestyle. I will do my best to love them as people, to accept them as people like I would accept anyone else. I’m not going to be condemning anyone because of their sexual proclivities as consenting adults.

It’s for God to condemn, not me.

Oakridge Death Squad

Originally written back in my Oakridge days right in the midst of our ant infestation (2005 or 2006, I think)—it was really horrible. So many stories about that place…

Until today, our battle for survival was fought without the use of much in the way of deadly force. The ants would force their way into the house by whatever means they could; through gaps between window screens, through badly closed doors, and God only knows how many other ways. They would form a line of battle down the wall, across the table or floor, and overrun everything in their path.

Until today, they were the locusts of San Carlos. They were the aliens from Independence Day, simply devouring everything in sight and retiring fat and happy to their ant living rooms and easy chairs, secure in the knowledge that all we had to combat them was Windex. That’s right, Windex.

At a glance, it appeared to work. It seemed to kill the 6 legged menace. We’d spray them and they’d lie there, seemingly dead. But if not disposed of immediately, the dead would arise and begin their scourging anew (well, either that or the ants were the insectile version of Army Rangers–“no one gets left behind”).

Why Windex? I’ll tell you why. Deanna, it seems, has a profound sensitivity to chemical odors of any sort, and a pronounced horror of anything other than a sponge and tepid water coming into contact with the blessed sanctity of the house’s “cooking surfaces” and countertops (sometimes hard going when they are littered with pine nuts and little bits of Martian lettuce). So we spray Windex on the ants and they laugh at us.

Today, however, was different. Today I vowed to purchase a non-chemical based weapon of mass destruction–the new, plant-based Raid. No way could she deny us this, I thought. As I stood in line at Wal-Mart to pay for our wonderful deliverance, I heard the middle-aged African-American woman at the register to my right cry out at something skittering by on the ground near a cooler full of soda. “Oh, look,” she said. “He a alligator! He a baby alligator!”

I looked and saw a gray-green streak about 5 or 6 inches long run past me into the garden center like Quasimodo running for the Notre Dame cathedral. No, I thought. He a garden variety lizard.

“Baby got no tail,” she said to the lizard’s retreating, tail-less back. “He need one o’ them handicap signs. Little man in the wheelchair?”

I was tempted to try out my Raid on the lizard, but he reached the refuge of a large BBQ and disappeared. I put the escaped alligator out of my mind and paid for the Raid, ecstatic at the thought of our soon to be ant-free existance.

I arrived home with trembling hands, barely able to take the beautiful can from the bag. “Hey, Deanna,” I said. “Plant based Raid. Now we can kill the ants without fear of reprisal, after they retreat to the sanctuary of our cooking surfaces and countertops.”

“Plant based?” she asked. “Must be from blahdeblahblah.”

She picked up the can and examined it carefully. “No,” she said. “It’s from flahdeflahflah. I wouldn’t have thought that.”

Apparently not. Deanna, it seems, in addition to a degrees in plant husbandry and the equine arts, has also studied extensively in plant-based insect killing. Regardless, she pointed the can at a single ant and pressed the button. A small jet of blessed death reduced the ant to a withered, 6-legged corpse, but before she could move on to the next, a problem arose. “I just know this is going to give me a headache,” she said.

Don’t spray it then, I thought. Silly woman. Go look at horsies on the internet and leave the killing to me. “I’ll do it,” I said, and took the can.

I lifted my weapon and began to rain death on those little bastards. I was the Grim Reaper of the insect world, harvesting with my plant-based scythe and all fell before me. When the blood lust abated a bit, I saw there hadn’t really been that many ants in the kitchen and dining area. I had come upon a small expeditionary force. My cat sat in the den and looked at me with a stoned look on her face and began to eat Bella’s food. After polishing off much of that, she moved on to the cupboards and began looking for potato chips. I decided to open a few doors.

The ants in the kitchen and dining area that survived will not forget me. And I’d like to think their fallen brothers, when they reach their little ant Valhalla, will hoist a mug in my honor for defeating them honorably on the field of battle. And when their kinsmen arrive seeking vengeance, my plant-based sword and I will be ready.

Bad Disciple, Part IV

There’s a scene in the movie “The Breakfast Club” where the character Brian, played by Anthony Michael Hall, is trying to begin writing the paper assigned by the study hall “teacher.” He’s thinking, and talking to himself a little, and ultimately ends up sticking his pencil eraser up his nose while asking himself “who are you?”

Who are you?

I think this question is at the root of a great many problems, and certainly was at the root of a great many of mine. People talk all the time about having identity crises, and I think they’re absolutely right—a lack of identity can be a crisis. It’s a little hard to lead your life—any life—if you don’t know who you are.

How can a person really answer that question?

Who are you?

You can give your name, but are the two or three words on your driver’s license who you really are?

Aren’t they just words?

Who are we, then?

I think one of the most commonly asked questions in social situations where people don’t know each other well is “What do you do?” in reference to a person’s job.

Is that how we’re defined? By how we make money?

I’m a fry cook.

Or a lawyer.

Or a concierge.

Or a pastor.

Or stay-at-home mom.

Or brother, sister, husband, or wife.

Is that who I am? My name is Tom, and I’m a DoD contractor, brother four times, and husband of Jennifer, father of David and John.

Something is lost here.

Who am I?

What is my primary identity?

Is it any of those things I just mentioned? If it is, I think I’m missing a very big step.

I know that when I was at my absolute worst, before I knew Jesus, it would be a very fair statement to say I had no idea at all who I was. I went through several jobs trying to find one that suited me. I had several relationships where I barely scratched the surface of who the people were I was involved with, and I learned to medicate myself heavily with both food and alcohol because it made it so I didn’t have to think about who I was, or who I wasn’t.

But after the night I met Jesus, things became new, and different, and a little strange. I thought about Him (or tried to) before I did most things, or made big decisions.

Why?

Because, when I invited Him to be the Lord of my life, I became new. Born again, as they say.

I was a son, His son. Child of a father that loved me above all else; child of a father that died a horrible death, for me.

My identity became Him.

I, Tom, the DoD contractor, am a child of God.

That’s my identity, that’s who I am. That’s who I became when Jesus entered my life and my heart.

I think about that now, and it makes many of my…motivations for my past transgressions clearer. Not excuse them, but it’s something now to understand why.

I was trying to figure out not just who I was, but what the hell I was supposed to do with myself. Which led me to things that were…perhaps less than healthy, physically and spiritually. Because it’s a lot easier to sin when you have no center, no compass. When all you have to define your reason for being is a vague sense of moral relativism.

Even now, when I’m tempted, or when I sin (which happens all too frequently), the reason for it is that for the moment, I’ve forgotten who I am, and who my father is. My father on earth is Melvin L Wilkins, but my father in an eternal sense is Jesus, and none other.

But sometimes I still forget.

The difference now, though, is that I’m aware of the opportunity to repent. To turn away from my sin and toward Jesus.

I was born in San Diego, but in a very real sense, I was also born on a dock over a small, very calm tributary of the Colorado River. Or reborn, I suppose. That’s actually at the root of one of my most profound experiences during my time with CVCF Healing Prayer, which I have never mentioned to anyone save the three others who were there, not even my wife.

I remember struggling to hear from Jesus during my prayer session, and finally, literally, asking Jesus if it would have been better had I not even been born. I was, after all, an accident.

After that, I closed my eyes and fell on my face, weeping. And what I saw was the river where I’d met Jesus that first time. I saw the man that had been myself kneeling, crying in the same way I was crying during the prayer session.

Then I felt a comforting hand on the back of my neck. A strong hand—the hand of a carpenter. And heard a voice speak into my heart “this is where you were born. And I meant you to be here.”

So here I am today.

Who am I? My name is Tom, and I am a child of my Abba.

That’s my primary identity—before husband, or father, or brother, or anything else.

And I submit that if you’re a follower of Jesus and you don’t yet know what your primary identity is, you will never reach the fulfillment in Christ that can be reached once you do.

So ask yourself once more, who am I? And if the answer is “I don’t know,” then how do you find yourself?