The Bottom Line

Today I awoke thinking again about the sermon from Saturday night, and doing everything in our lives for the glory of God, and about living intentionally. I was pretty tired this morning driving in to work, so I decided to throw on a little hard stuff, and I pulled up Black Label Society on Pandora. Here’s a live clip of the song I heard:

It occurred to me to wonder about the crazy talent God gives people. Zakk Wylde, for instance. I didn’t know anything about his spirituality at the time, but I can’t think of any other guitarists I’ve heard recently who can do the insane things with their instrument Zakk Wylde can. Just watch that video and you’ll see what I mean.

Wylde has had the typical rock star struggles with alcohol/substance abuse, which seems evident from the beers he has lined up on the drum riser in the video. Not long ago, though, I heard an interview with another guitarist, who was describing how Wylde had gotten over his problem with alcohol. He had something wrong with him where if he drank again, it would likely kill him. So he had to quit–cold turkey.

What does a heavy metal guitar player have to do with the Glory of God? Well, after hearing the song today, it occurred to me to wonder if recognition of the gifts given us by God makes them any less gifts? And if are not clearly glorifying God with them, is God’s glory made any less?

I think of a CS Lewis quote that says something like: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship him than a lunatic can blot out the sun by scribbling ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

So maybe it really doesn’t matter if Zakk Wylde goes on stage and says “this one’s for you, Jesus.” His talent speaks for itself, and it is not made less by whether or not he thanks God for giving him his ability. Nor is God made less by his acknowledgment, or lack thereof.

And then I came work and read this interview Wylde did with an online metal magazing where he was talking about the recovery of a guitar that had previously been stolen. It’s just a snippet, and is buried by the interviewer, but it struck me just the same:

Events such as being reunited with your prized guitar “The Grail” and when that happened out of the blue; does it remind you how crazy this business can be, for you?

Oh, without a doubt. I thank the good Lord every day. I thank him when I wake up and when I go to bed. I thank him in the middle of the day. I’m definitely grateful for everything I have. Hands down.

I don’t need a tragedy to happen to realize how blessed I am. I don’t need that. I don’t need to beat up an 80 year old grandmother and do six years in jail to realize that beating up elderly people and stealing their money is really not a good thing.

On the road, is maintaining your spiritual side important to you?

Yeah, well, I’m a soldier of Christ, man. Without a doubt.

When you say “Soldier of Christ,” what do you mean by that?

The bottom line is that he’s with me all the time.

It was Wylde’s last sentence that really made me think. If he’s with me all the time, then how can I not glorify him? Whatever my gifts may be, if my constant companion is the giver, then how can I not look to him?

It would be like walking some place with your father, and holding his hand. I would constantly look up at him to make sure he was still there, and he would look down at me and smile, assuring me with a look that he was still there, and always would be.

The bottom line is that he’s with me all the time.


Do Everything

Last night Jenny, her brother, mom and dad were all leading worship at church. Ken and John played guitar and drums, respectively, and they would have sounded good playing anywhere. Ken, Jorge and Jenny sang melody on 2 each of the 6-song set. Linda sang harmony. From my perspective (the computer in the sound booth), it was an amazing and powerful experience, and when Jeff came out to speak it only became more powerful.

Not for the first time, it occurred to me that I wished I had a musical gift, even something like a triangle or tambourine. Or a voice, for that matter.

I. Just. Don’t.

I sit in the back, and I hit the spacebar and F9, and I watch and listen.

Jeff said something last night about everything you do, do it for the glory of God. That’s what the players and singers were doing. You could hear it in their voices, and see the light of Jesus shining from within.

How am I to use my index finger to the glory of God?

Then Ken said something during his communion meditation, to the effect of “God knows what He’s doing.” I thought about that, along with Jeff’s sermon, for the rest of the night. I’m thinking about it now, with the dogs curled next to me on the couch and the sun just beginning to lighten the sky.

God knows what he’s doing.

Live life intentionally.

Do everything for the Glory of God.

These things have been running through my mind since then.

I wasn’t gifted with musical or vocal ability, and that’s ok. I may lack the ability to glorify God in that way, but

God knows what he’s doing.

It kind of makes sense I’m in the back on the computer because while God didn’t give me music, he did give me words. I am most comfortable behind a keyboard, or talking to people.

I have been given some small ability to turn a written phrase, but it wasn’t until I began doing it for the glory of God that I really began to discover that.

Maybe it’s like that for you. You don’t feel like there’s anything you can do well enough in your life to glorify God with it.

Maybe you wish you could play, or sing, or speak in front of people.

I would say to you, there’s plenty you can do. One of the amazing kids in the youth group once referred to herself as a spacebar ninja, and I guess that’s me, too.

And that’s ok. I think now that my problem was that I wanted to be awesome at something people could see, so they would see me, too, and I would feel validated in some way.

It was my Glory I wanted and not God’s.

It took the realization that all things work together for God’s glory to make the difference in my life. I promise you it’s the same in yours. You don’t have to look for some special way to give God glory. Rather, glorify him with what is in your life.

This song, I think, says it perfectly:

Here’s me in action during Jeff’s sermon:


Beautiful One

In my prior life in San Diego, I was part of a ministry that saw a fair amount of people who suffered from PTSD due to abuse or sexual trauma of one kind or another, and it surprised me because I had no idea how widespread that kind of ‘thing’ was because outside of that ministry I had heard very few people talk about abuse of any sort. This is likely for reasons specific to each person, but from what I experienced in my four + years as an intercessor, shame was the chief reason most people kept silent.

To varying degrees, many of the people I prayed with and for felt blame for what they’d been made to endure. The beauty of this ministry was that in most cases, those same people were able to find God’s truth about where the blame lie, and encounter Jesus in such a way they were able to find at least a measure of healing. Also the knowledge that healing was a process, and it was OK if it took some time.

I became a frequent intercessor for these types of sessions, and it eventually became clear that God had gifted me in such a way, and used me in such a way that I was often able to help these people by protecting them while those leading the session were able to do their own work.

Sometimes, though, I would need to step away a little bit, because I could feel myself moving away from what needed to be done and start thinking about things like how much dental reconstruction that piece of crap would need if I was able to go back in time and get hold of him.

That was not my place, and still isn’t. But the man in me thinks it sometimes. The part of me that loves and respects women as beautiful creations of a loving God wants to choke rapists until they turn blue for making so many women think otherwise.

Today I saw this picture:


And it made me think about that stuff again.

To rapists: while my personal belief is that you are shit on a cracker, I know in my heart that like the women, men, girls or boys your actions do permanent harm to, you are beloved by God. Deep in your sin, where your heart seems so far away from anything loving, you are loved. You know what you’ve done. Seek forgiveness. It can be yours.

To victims: my heart breaks for you as it always has. Know this, and hold it in your heart like the precious truth it is. You are loved. What you feel makes you unworthy is something you had no control over. What you feel makes you dirty is something you did not ask for, no matter what they tell you. This dirt is created by lies, and truth can set you free of them.

You are loved and loved and loved, in spite of what ‘they’ tell you and in spite of what you might think of yourself. Let those words fall away like broken chains.

Try to imagine an oyster, fresh from the sea bottom. The oyster is held in a pair of hands–the sure and strong hands of the carpenter. You can hardly see the pads of scar tissue on his wrists. A small knife with a curved blade appears in one of his hands and he deftly pops open the shell. With the blade he lifts the tissue and extracts a small, slimy ball.

He begins to wipe away the slime, dirt and sediment that has been accumulated by years. Everything falls away at his touch, and he is eventually left with what was there all along; a pearl of great price.

Know this as well: to Jesus, you are that pearl. You are no longer a victim. You are beautiful, and clean, and made righteous.

I want you to know that you are not alone in your pain. The hands that made you wait to hold you.

I want you to know and believe that you are not to blame.

I want you to know that it’s ok to let out what you feel.

I want you to know that healing is available.

My words are failing me now and I will end with what I said before.

You are beloved.


The Big Wave on the Horizon

Last night I had a dream that made me think of my mom. I was standing on a deck that went all the way around a tall building, leaning against a handrail and talking to some people from church. We were just shooting the breeze and enjoying the sunset when out of nowhere, this huge wave came up and soaked everyone (dreams don’t have to make sense!).

“Holy crap!” I said. “Where did that come from?”

Everyone agreed it had been unexpected. Then we saw another even bigger wave on the horizon, and that was when I woke up.

The dream reminded me of my mom because when she finally began the slow, final turn toward her death, she started having these dreams. In them she’d be sitting in our house somewhere and this black water would begin rushing in through the windows, gradually filling up the house, and potentially drowning her.

She’d wake up and she’d be calling “Tommy, Tommy” and I would rush into the living room in my drawers and sit on an ottoman by her feet (by this time she spent a great deal of time in the living room in her chair, often falling asleep there). I would say whatever calming things came to my mind, but I was 18, and the truth was that all I could think about was that I had to get up for school soon.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the water rushing in through the windows in dark gushes was the cancer that was slowly devouring her from the inside out. Even as a teenager I knew that. She never talked about it much, though. At least not to me.

When I woke up this morning, I ended up thinking about the wave dream all the way to work. I wondered if the huge wave was something in my mind that I equated with a threat to the church in the same way the cancer had been a threat to my mom? And I wondered if the wave on the horizon was the death blow to the church?

I wondered if there could be a death blow to the church? It doesn’t seem that way.

give thanks to The Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever

I wonder if the wave on the horizon was then just a death blow to the church as we know it? I wondered what that would mean (if, indeed, it meant anything at all)?

What threatens the church enough to make me fear for its life, even in a dream?

Is it gay marriage, and all that entails? No.

Is it abortion, and abortion “rights?” No.

I think the biggest threat to today’s church is today’s church. What does that mean? Lots of things.

I think congregational apathy is a huge threat.

I think focusing on what the church is against rather than for is a bigger one.

I think hating a sin so much we forget God gave life to the sinner as much as we, the “righteous” is absolutely not the right thing to do.

I think sometimes we try to please people so much we forget to please God first.

It looks bad for the church. It feels bad, and probably is bad.

But there is hope.

The hope for the “corporate” church lies in the same place it does for any lost individual: the capable and strong hands of a carpenter, teacher, and messiah.

We must must not forget that.

We cannot fix whatever ails the church on our own.

We cannot turn the lost toward Him on our own.

We cannot survive on our own.

We need Jesus.

When My Son Taught Me About Love

Our small group went to a Ken Davis comedy concert last night, and it was pretty good. Davis was funny, but he also talked about being married, and having kids. Above that, though, he talked about sharing the Good News of Jesus with people, and he did it well. He talked about raising kids, and grandkids, and about how fast it went.

He’s right. We got home after the show, and I looked at the boys, and it seemed like yesterday I could pick David up by one foot, and cradle John in one arm like a football. Not anymore. All of a sudden, David is a pre-adolescent, and the size of some adults. John is a tough little 3 year old. Damn, it goes so fast. I’m up with John right now and I can’t stop looking at him, waiting to see if I’ll actually be able to witness his growth. And now I’m also sitting here thinking that it’s so interesting how much we learn about ourselves and about God from our kids. Happens to me all the time. I wrote this piece a few months ago, and I read over it again this morning. I have great kids.

This morning I was thinking about my kids again. Not unusual for a parent, I know, but what I was thinking was that sometimes I wish they would be like other kids. I wish they would obey better, and not get in so much trouble. I wish they would be quiet when I’m trying to do school work. I wish they would be kinder to each other, and not be so obsessed with things.

And just now, sitting here in an air conditioned building miles into the desert, I realized I am no different, so how can I expect them to be? If what I see in them is not Jesus, isn’t that because they don’t see Jesus in me?

When I see them being selfish, or fighting, or not respecting the wishes of their mother and I, how am I any different from that with God? Do I love them any less because of what I perceive as their flaws? Or course not, though sometimes I act like it.

There can be no condition to love, or it is not love.

Brennan Manning wrote that God loves us as we are, and not as we should be. For all intents and purposes, I am Jesus to my sons. In that I represent him to them. So when they mess up because of some bad decision. or break something, or act other than Godly, I need to forget about who I think they ought to be and just love them for the imperfect creations they are.

My two year old taught me something about that just yesterday, and it breaks my heart to think of it again. I gave him a bath yesterday, and I usually take off my shirt when I do that, because he splashes around like a hooked fish, and will kick his feet and say “I swimming, daddy!”

Swim time was over and I still hadn’t put my shirt back on. I was sitting on my bed and getting John dressed. He stood at the foot of my bed and I noticed he was looking at me funny. This is where I should mention I have some moderate to serious skin issues with psoriasis. When I am able to get some sun on it and remember to treat it with ointment, it isn’t so bad. When I forget, it looks like this (I am only posting these as a frame of reference for what comes next)



The top picture is on the side of my abdominal area, and the other is my right forearm. I have more on my calves and the other side of my abdomen. Consequently, I seldom take off my shirt in public. I hate the questions, and the looks. At first I thought John was giving me the look, which seemed strange because he’d seen my scars before.

What he did was just look for a moment, then slowly reach out his hand. He gently caressed each of my scars, and then leaned looked up at me and said “What’s that, Daddy? Owwies?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s daddy’s owwies.”

Then he leaned forward and kissed the scars on my sides and my arm. “All better,” he said. “Love you, daddy.”

That was what undid me. I covered my face for a minute so he wouldn’t see my tears, but then I just picked him up and held him. And I thought that he didn’t care that my skin was ugly and scarred. He just loved me, scars, bad skin and all.

As I was, and not as I should be.

So today, my resolution is this: just love the boys, scars, warts, and all. They are not perfect and they never will be.

Neither will I.


Into The Sunrise

Every morning, I drive into the sunrise.

I check out my truck and pack up my laptop, then I load everything up for the hour-long drive into the Yuma outback to the test site. I plug my aux cable into my phone and into the port on the dashboard.

I select my Alaska playlist for the drive (it’s a collection of 117 songs I compiled for my TDY assignment early this year, and consists mainly of “current” praise and worship songs that stir something in me, or just plain sound good), and head out.

The sun is bright and glaring on my dirty windshield, but I’m driving slowly enough that if I came across a deer or horse in my travels, it would probably just glare at me and move on. Nothing stays clean out here.

I ride the YPG redline at 45 mph, and just before CSFR, two deer do cross my path, and they are practically flying, hooves dancing over the pavement and into the creosote bushes.

The road down range is long and straight, and as I head east I have plenty of time to think, and listen to music, and sing and pray and wonder why I’m not more grateful to be alive, and free, and employed.

I’m thinking about the kids today, and it occurs to me that it is possible to be crushed by love for something. They’re sleeping as I drive, and I realize there is no length to which I would not go for them. I would die for them. I would kill for them.

I think then about John 3:16, and wonder what that decision would have been like. Here, take my son. That’s how much I love you.

I can’t imagine that.

The sun is a kaleidoscope on my windshield, and I wonder about showing that example to my kids. How do I speak to them of spotless lambs and ultimate sacrifices when I don’t even want to give up a parking spot?

The music is all around me, and I begin to note lyrics:

empty handed but alive in your hands

wake up, child, it’s your turn to shine, you were born,for such a time as this

if I had no voice, if I had no tongue, I would dance for you like the rising sun

My tires hit the dirt and I slow down. I think about my wife and for the second time in less than thirty minutes I am crushed by love, and filled with amazement and wonder that this woman loves a hairy and broken beast like me.

And then I think about God, and am crushed by his love for me, too, but I’m also lifted up by it. My flaws are many, my faith and discipleship often weak. Over all that spread the strong hands of the carpenter, and his love is a vast blanket that covers them all.

As I turn onto KLM and draw nearer to the test site, Cuan Grande Es Dios comes on, and I almost have to pull over. I wonder if it’s like this for everyone?

I pull through the gate just as the song segues into a line from the chorus of How Great Thou Art. I think what a great arrangement it is, and then Monday yanks open the door of my truck and it’s time to work.

The Thing About Loss

The thing about loss that’s tough for the people who remain is that they are left with little more than fading pictures clutched in desperate hands. Scents on a pillow. That last bit of conditioner in the bottle you don’t want to empty. We grip those memories with desperate fingers–so much so that it’s easy to get lost in the long ago “better times,” and drown yourself in a sea of sorrow.

You can’t really hold on that well, though, because pictures are made of paper, not the flesh we desperately long to hold. Their smell leaves. We remember what was, and don’t want to think about what is, which is getting on with things, which we also must do, even in the worst circumstances. Yet Ecclesiastes also assures us there is a time to mourn, so we need to do that, too.

This present loss of my niece is a little more remote for me, because we had not remained close over the years. Yet I remember times when we were–long ago summer evenings spinning out in gossamer threads of books, movies, laying in the living room watching TV, and time spent with my parents. I remember how much they loved her. she was really more like the little sister I never had. I think of what it felt like to be young and I remember that with wistfulness while I mourn.

When I remember you, I will remember what it felt like to be young, and strong, with little knowledge of the world to come. I will think of vacations, long days with many books, trips to Disneyland, rivers, and backyard pools.

I learned something really important from all this: love your family while you have them. You won’t always. Only God knows when the day and the hour will come. Forgive trespasses, and shortcomings. None of that shit matters in the end.

My niece would have been 45 today. I really wish she was here, even if we weren’t gonna celebrate together. She was a really important part of my childhood, and even though she had her moments (don’t we all, though), she will be missed terribly.