The Story You Should Tell

Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” is going to debate Ken Ham, the founder of the creationist museum regarding evolution versus creation. Cool. I read that tickets to this debate sold out in a matter of minutes. Understandable–it will probably be very interesting and informative.

I’m sure I should probably be all over this, in a manner of speaking. As a person of faith, I should support my “guy” in this debate, and ideologically, I do.

I am just not certain this kind of forum will win anyone for the kingdom. Allow me to explain.

I don’t believe that any Christian–no matter how eloquent or erudite–would be able to convince anyone who did not believe of anything through open debate. This is for a couple of reasons. One would be that people who profess a strong “faith” in science are typically very condescending toward people who do not, and who believe in a loving and living God, and clearly feel very much intellectually superior to them. These people are, generally speaking, not open to any ideas other than their own. It’s just the truth.

I just feel like more people would come to know Jesus from your story and a couple hours at a coffee shop than from two men standing behind podiums and talking about what they believe, and very probably arguing with each other about something that grows from the heart and not the brain.

I’m not going to try and convince anyone that God is real and sent his son as propitiation for their sins because I can’t do that. God can and will do the convincing, if and when people are open to him.

All I can tell you is that I believe, and why.

It’s because I spent most of my adult life thinking I was more or less alone in the world. That my brokenness (which existed in every possible way) was what made me who I was, and how I identified. It was the cause for my many and various addictions over the course of my life, which also lent me my only value to the world–which was as a consumer of lots of things that were very bad for me. What difference did it make, after all? My parents were both dead by the time I was 18. A good friend had killed himself less than a quarter mile from my bedroom. And I more or less had no idea at all how to be an adult–a man.

Yet even then a very dim light shone into my life in the form of friends who believed–in God and in me–when I clearly did not myself. They never really preached to me, but also never gave up on me. And that light that shone into my life began to brighten. I began to see myself as my friends saw me. And eventually, as God saw me. That is what finally did the convincing.

And so it came to pass that in 2000, when I was 32, I arrived at a place where I knew something had to change or I was going to eventually die. It might be slow, but it was going to happen. I was at what an addict (which I was, to many things) might call the bottom. I cried out to God because it felt like he was the only one left who might listen to me, or care what I say.

I found out that was true. Over time, he began to repair the broken places in me and my life. Healing became more than the abstract that God himself used to be. It’s hard to explain the details, because they did not happen all at once. It was really more like learning how to walk. I staggered at first. I took small steps, and I fell down all the time.

But.

There was now a hand–hands, really–that reached down to help me up. I realized that I wasn’t alone, and never had been. The well of darkness down the center of me had been replaced with light.

I believe in God, and in Jesus, because of the way I feel now versus the way I felt before. It’s as simple as that, for me. There’s a Lecrae song called “Tell The World” where he says, you cleaned up my soul and left me life so brand new, and that’s all that matters.”

That’s really how it is for me. It’s really something to make something as gross and dirty as I was feel clean. That feeling convinced me, not a debate I had with anyone, or that I heard.

So I don’t know if anyone will “win” this debate today.

I just want to tell you that your story is waiting to be heard. Tell it.

Of Definitions and Covenants

One of the things I intended when I started writing this blog a few years ago was to always speak my mind, even if it was an unpopular view. That is, after all, what the point is of doing something like this—keeping an online journal of my thoughts, my beliefs, and assorted other random thoughts.

For the most part, that’s what I’ve done.

There is one story—one post—that I’ve held onto for a long time because I know what a volatile issue it is. I’m talking about the vast divide between people who profess a “Christian” faith and the gay community. There are many deep-seated beliefs held by Christians about gay people that are patently wrong. Likewise for gays about Christians. Unfortunately, it does not stop there from a Christian standpoint.

Many of the people who share my faith also share a view that (and I am not speaking of the loathsome Westboro Baptist “Church” here) homosexuality is chief among sins, and will be what will ultimately bring down the country, the world, and bring about the return of Christ to wreak vengeance on a gay-loving world. Or something like that.

Often, the approach of my fellow believers toward gays—both at gay events and in other forums, such as online, in newspapers, magazines, etc.—is to let those men and women know in no uncertain terms what fate awaits them should they choose not to change their evil ways and repent. Seldom–if ever–mentioned is the true message of Christ.

The problem that I have now—and have for many years—is that approach sounds nothing like Jesus to me.

Let me backtrack a bit—all the way back to the very early 1980s.

My first encounter with a gay person was in the 8th grade, shortly before I moved up to high school. I wrote about that day a while back here. For those of you younger folks, homosexuality wasn’t something much talked about then. It was a different time, in almost every way. For my part, and also for many of the kids I hung out with, the word “fag” was tossed around almost haphazardly, without any concern for what it meant (many of us didn’t have anything but a rudimentary understanding of what homosexuality was, or how it was practiced. I include myself in that number).

We just said it, and it was almost a…good natured insult. Never considered was the fact that it could have been hurtful to anyone. It was just something we said. A lot.

I still regret what happened that night in my friend’s backyard, and I probably always will, to an extent. I’ve asked God’s forgiveness for my part in it, and I wish I could find the young man we hurt and ask for his, but that is not to be.

So what has happened since then is that I have come into contact with a great many gay men and women at various jobs, and at the junior college I attended back in the 1990’s. With each encounter—and with each friendship developed—I began to notice something.

Each one of these men and women were people just like I was. They ate, and slept, and got dressed, and showered, and pooped. The only difference I saw was that they were drawn to people of the same sex and I was not.

They loved the people they were with, and in many cases had been committed to them alone for long periods of time. I worked with one lesbian couple that had been together for decades—almost as long as my parents were before they died.

What had changed in my heart over the years (and this is way before I became a believer) was that I no longer cared about whether or not these people wanted to do the same things I did with the people they were involved with. It occurred to me it was none of my business.

I dealt with and related to them on a personal level, based on how they treated me and others and not who they slept with (or didn’t). It worked out pretty well, and I made a couple of good friends over the years.

When I came to belief in 2000, I was in a place in life where I didn’t work with or know anyone who was gay (that I knew of, anyway). I began to grow and deepen my faith, and it was so interesting to see that the Jesus I came to know through scripture and discipling was not the same one I’d heard about over the course of my life before knowing him.

In the course of time, I became somewhat involved with a young woman I worked with, and we began to spend time together with a group of friends of hers—many of whom were gay men.

I did not make a secret of my faith, and they respected it. I treated them just like I did everyone else, and I began to notice something the more time I spent with them. The gay community—at least to the extent of my involvement and casual friendships with these men—was way more of a community than the straight people I’d hung out with prior to that. They supported each other unconditionally, and seemed less interested in judging themselves and others than they did in simply living their lives.

I didn’t preach to them, and they didn’t try to convert me. They were a lot of fun to hang out with.

One time in particular, one of them told me, “It means a lot that you’re here. I don’t think anybody’s used to that with people like you.” I assumed he meant straight people at first, but then I realized he meant Christians.

I told him that I just loved God, and that scripture says I’m supposed to love people, too. He smiled and gave me a hug.

Eventually, though, things began to change a little bit, and I started to struggle with some of the things I saw. It culminated in an evening where the young woman I was involved with and I were at a party where we were the only straight people, and things started happening around us. It started making me feel really uncomfortable, and I told the girl that I wanted to leave. She didn’t. That was the night we decided to “take a break,” which we never recovered from.

After the party that night, I didn’t spend much more time with the group of guys, as I didn’t spend much more time with the girl.

It was five years later before I was involved with anyone else, and that was with the woman who would become my wife. As we grew into our relationship, and our marriage, it was around the time all the gay marriage propositions were going through the process of becoming law. I hadn’t thought about the fact that gay people couldn’t (or could) be married over the course of my life prior to that, so it was interesting to see all of the various things on the news, including the Chik-Fil-A controversy of a year or two ago.

It occurred to me that while so many of my fellow Christians were up in arms about the potential legalization of gay marriage, I just…wasn’t. It didn’t matter to me what these folks wanted to do in the privacy of their own homes, and it seemed fair enough that they should be able to get married, if it made it easier regarding insurance and benefits, etc. I never felt that if they were able to marry it would threaten the sanctity of my own marriage. How could it? How could two men or two women marrying each other make my own union any less holy in the sight of God?

What did occur to me, though, was to wonder if all these people who complained, and protested, and cried out about how gay marriage was a danger to the family felt the same about divorce. Why is it we never see news stories about millions of people marching to protest how common arbitrarily ending a marriage has become? God is also very clear how he feels about divorce–perhaps even more clear than about gay marriage. And while all these people were spouting off about how a word is defined, it occurred to me to wonder about how a marriage is defined? What does it mean to these people?

Certainly, I am not trying to say that divorce is never the right course of action, because sometimes it is the only course of action. It’s just that people are often so…arbitrary about it. The statistic you hear all the time about 50% of marriages ending in divorce? I believe it. Why wouldn’t it be true? It seems that few people understand what a covenant is these days. To me it suggests a sacred promise, and the rings my wife and I exchanged are a symbol of that promise. In short, I got married to her because I wanted to, because I knew I didn’t want anyone else, ever.

And last week, I think I realized what marriage really was. It’s spending the night before Valentine’s day in the ER with your husband, while he practically yells and pounds chairs and walls in his pain. It’s spending the day itself in a chair next to his bed, and praying for him. It’s holding his hand and making him think of other things. It’s sleeping (sort of) sitting up rather than going home, even for a little while. It’s devotion to the person with whom you made the covenant, and that is what my wife showed me last week, and it made me love her all the more, if such a thing is even possible.

So while I understand the biblical reasoning behind the stance so many take on whether or not homosexuals should be able to marry (based on the “biblical” definition of what marriage means), the conflict I feel comes from feeling like if people are devoted to one another, and are willing to make a covenant saying they are going to mean it for the rest of their lives, it’s hard for me not to want to just let them.

And also last week, my adopted state of Arizona has passed (and sent to the governor–who vetoed the legislation) SB1062, a law that in essence allows people who refuse service to someone a defense (‘deeply held’ religious beliefs) in the event they are sued for descrimination or something of that nature. Of course, while legal recourse may ostensibly be what the law is about, the unspoken subtext is that it would also give others what they feel is license to treat gay people and their potential business in an unfair and descriminatory manner. I believe that is it in a nutshell, and is also what has millions of gays and pro-gays in such an uproar once again. They’re crying foul, and likening the legislation to the old Jim Crow laws from decades ago. While that may be a much lengthier discussion for another time, it does seem to me that while the “Jim Crow” battle cry is closer to pro-gay hyperbole than anything else, there is also a great deal of potential for descriminatory ugliness with this law, because people are people, and prone to do bad things with ambiguously worded legislation such as this.

With all that in mind, I think perhaps it is not just what some Christian folks are saying, but how they’re saying it. The arguments are the same, and probably always will be. Scripture decrying homosexuality is referenced, and gays along with supporters throw up scripture they feel counters their Christian counterparts efforts in the same regard. It gets uglier all the time, and nowhere on either side of the discussion is the real message of Jesus referenced.

It seems like this to me: if the bible is true, and it tells us that God is love and that all people will know we are the disciples of Christ if we love one another, then how are we showing the people who do not know his love the face of Jesus by so often treating them with open hostility? How does feeding gay people fettucini alfredo or whatever it is make you a participant in whatever sin you feel they’re committing? I mean, I get it, but I don’t agree. This legislation is like…giving people already inclined to do so the right to treat others shabbily. There may be a place for some similar type of legislation, but this particular law is not going to go over well, not with the social climate surrounding this issue what it has become.

For my part, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t treat people that way, and I never really could. Maybe some of it is my California-ness regarding gay people carrying over into my life in Arizona, but it’s really more about not wanting to feel like I’m any better than anyone else because my sin is different. I am not better than anyone else. I am the same. In my dotage, I’ve found it so much easier to treat people kindly. I would rather make them their food or a cake or floral arrangements, and then tell them God loves them and died for them. I want people to know the Jesus I do. Whether they’re gay or straight or…whatever. I do not now–nor have I ever–felt my marriage (or any marriage) could be threatened in any way by who else can get married.

I wonder, though, how many gay men or women are known by the folks protesting gay marriage?

I also wonder how many Christians are known by gay people?

If we don’t know each other, how can we expect anything to change in either direction? Jesus talked to people. Walked with people. Ate with them. Probably fished with them, and laughed and drank and danced. I believe that in the end, the Eternal Kingdom will not be filled courtesy of those who spoke out against the things God hates the loudest. I think souls will quietly slip in thanks to the people who have shown them the most love.

To that end, because I am loved, I will try to be loving. I will choose to show people the Jesus I know by telling them about what he’s done in my life. I will tell them about how I am incomplete, and wounded, and broken, and still sin, but am loved in spite of the things that queue up to keep me from Jesus. I will explain what scripture means to me as I understand it, and I will tell people what I think if they ask me. If I love Jesus like I say, I owe them the truth.

I just have no intention of shouting it at them, or telling them God hates them because of their sin. Brand me a heretic if you must, but I feel that if God hated people because of their sin, he would not have redeemed them from it. You don’t die for people you hate.

And to see so many people caught up in the definition of a word and how it threatens them rather than simply getting to know people and telling them about Jesus just doesn’t make any sense to me. I can’t understand how telling people they’re damned for what they do in their bedrooms is going to show them the Jesus I know that has changed my life and could also change theirs.

To be clear, I am aware of the mentions in the bible of homosexuality, and that it is addressed as sin. While it is true that God hates sin, it would be errant–once again–to imply that he hates homosexuality more than any other type of sin. And that he hates homosexuals more than anyone else. Sin is sin. If God hated homosexuals, he would also hate every other type of sinner, and probably all Christians. The bible doesn’t say any of that. Homosexuality is not something I indulge in, and whether or not I “approve” of it does not really even matter. I think the bible makes it clear what God thinks of homosexuality and what it entails, and I acknowledge the punishment for it is the same as any other sin–all other sin. Omission of mention by Jesus is not the same as approval. While Jesus himself may not mention homosexuality specifically, he did come in fulfillment of Old Testament Law, and prophecy, not to nullify it. I think where we go awry is when we start classifying sins, and justify ours as less terrible than homosexuality.

It isn’t. No one is righteous, no not one. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) Certainly not me.

We’re all different, but we are also all the same. We need God. We need Jesus if we are to be freed from our chains and our sins. God knows it, and Christians do, too. Yet if we can condemn someone else for what they’re doing, then we don’t have to think as much about what we’re doing. All of which means that we can take comfort in our own perceived righteousness, while we decry the unrighteousness of gay men and women as if it were anything different than sins that we have committed, now, and throughout history.

Take a look at Matthew 5: 27-28. Go ahead. Read it and come back. Still here? Good. Let me repeat what I said before. Sin is sin. No one is righteous, no not one. How can I justify condemning a gay person with my own words, while justifying my own actions as a lesser sin. To God, they are the same. The punishment is the same.

Let’s talk about those Old Testament laws for a few minutes. You know the ones. Many people will talk about how scripture also mentions other things as being sinful that people don’t seem to care about anymore, like eating shrimp and other sea creatures for one example (take your pick, there are many others). They will tell you that those old laws–like the ones that condemn homosexuality as well as other sexual sins–do not matter or apply anymore, because the world is a different place. That’s partly true, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Those laws again, from the Old Testament. Taken specifically, there are three different types.

Laws pertaining just to the (ancient) state of Israel. They are pretty specific.

Also ceremonial laws (many pertaining to sacrifice, and diet, and things of that nature), which were superseded by the New Covenant, fulfilled in the person of Christ.

Lastly, moral laws. It is only the moral laws of the Old Testament which remain and are held as truths by most Christians based on the validity of the Ten Commandments. I won’t go into every piece of scripture here, but at least to address the dietary laws and some of the other laws that seem to apply mainly to those of the Jewish faith rather than Christians: take a look at Mark 7:19, Acts 15: 5-29, etc.

Of course, if one does not hold the Bible as truth, then this would make little sense. And there’s the rub.

Then Jesus enters the picture, and everything changes.

As believers, we are called to share him and his truth with people. So while the biblical principles of the Old Testament make it clear how God feels about all different types of sin, there is hope, and in a world that seems to have so little, that is indeed something.

I posted a picture on Facebook not long ago I’d seen online of a group of Christians (mostly men) at a Gay Pride event, and they were holding signs and wearing shirts that said “I’m sorry.” They were apologizing to gay people for the treatment they’d received at the hands of standard bearers for Jesus. In the picture I posted, a gay man in great physical condition wearing tighty-whiteys gripped one of the shirt-wearers in what looked to be a very emotional bear-hug.

Bear Hug

I thought it was a great picture and that it was a great way to actually show Jesus to people who needed to know him instead of just telling them they were on the Amtrack to hell.

I got a bit of an ass-chewing from a couple of people to the effect that treating gay people as if their lifestyle was OK was the same as personally condoning and supporting it, and that wasn’t right–as if because I was a Christian, I should tell them they were going to hell.

I can’t convict someone of any sin, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. Jesus does that. And it isn’t my function, as a believer, to punish people for sin. Let him without sin cast the first stone?

That ain’t me, man. I’m a mess.

I’d rather tell someone I’m sorry, then hug them and tell them Jesus loves them.

I will leave the condemning up to God.

Angels

Yesterday, I had the youth lesson (we’ve been alternating doing the lessons monthly). This week we talked about things Jesus said about himself:

I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the Good Shepherd.

Along the way, the conversation meandered quite a bit (as it always seems to with youth), and we ended up talking about heaven, and what it would be like. What we would do, and see, and feel. The conversation got a little loose–as you might expect. It reminded me why I started grad school–to be better equipped for those sorts of conversations. We reminded them that what we believers have to go on regarding Heaven is what the Bible tells us about it.

I remembered a description of Heaven and getting there I read in a book by Randy Alcorn a while back. It was called “Dominion.” It was a pretty interesting read, and was on the surface a suspense novel about the unlikely friendship that developed between a journalist and a detective when the journalist’s sister and niece are murdered in a neighborhood rife with drugs and gang violence.

The novel also explored Heaven and how things might be there between a person’s death and the return of Jesus to Earth. It also posited that each person has a personal protector in the form of an angelic bodyguard (of sorts). This protection does not always take the form the person protected might desire, but the angels depicted always do battle on behalf of the person under their care.

The book got me thinking about heaven, and angels.

Also that we spend much of our lives learning about Jesus on earth, why should we not expect to learn even more from Jesus once we reach our final destination?

And what about angels? The Bible talks about legions. But do we really have them around us all the time?

Do they really protect us? Do battle for us?

There is scriptural evidence they do—(Daniel 3 and 6, lion’s den and fiery furnace, respectively).

Angels also strengthen and offer encouragement (they strengthened Jesus after his temptation: Matt 4:11. They encouraged imprisoned apostles: Acts 5: 19-20. They told Paul he and his shipmates would survive the coming shipwreck: Acts 27: 23-25).

Angels are often used as answers to prayer by God (Daniel 9:20-24, 10:10-12, and in Acts 12:1-17)

And, I think most importantly, Angels care for believers at the moment of their deaths (as with Lazarus in Luke 16:22). That’s probably one of the most meaningful truths I’ve learned in my few years of studying.

It gives me hope, and even some solace for things gone by. I wasn’t with my mother when she died, but I heard her offering up prayers not long before, when she could still speak. It’s comforting to think of angels carrying her into “Abraham’s bosom.”

Yes, I did have to look up the meaning of that last part, after I read Luke 16. Luke is talking about the custom of reclining on couches or cushions while at table, which was something Jews at the time often did. This brought the head of one person almost into the bosom of the person who sat or reclined above them. So to be “in Abraham’s bosom” meant to enjoy happiness and rest, as in Matt 8:11 and Luke 16:23, at the banquet in Paradise. Sounds pretty good to me.

I haven’t personally had much experience (or any experience, really) with angels save one time, and that was only indirectly, courtesy of a comment made by someone I did not know. Allow me to explain.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was part of a slightly charismatic prayer ministry at my old church in San Diego, and my main function (and main gifting, as it turned out), was intercession for the people being prayed for. I have no idea why this turned out to be so, because never in my life had I been any sort of warrior.

Yet that is what I did, and it came to pass that in the course of my involvement with that ministry, I interceded for many prayer sessions where the people being prayed for were dealing with sexual brokenness issues of one sort or another, and my presence there seemed to often comfort or calm these people so they were better able to receive ministry, and a word from the Lord.

Occasionally, there would be observers who would come to our church to see what the ministry was all about, and if it was something that could be facilitated and done effectively in their churches and other places. Following the prayer sessions (there would be a person “leading” and “co-leading” the session, and often one or sometimes two intercessors seated behind the person being prayed for and…sort of watching over the prayer session. That was mainly my function.

At the end of the prayer time, we would sit in a circle and “debrief” the various prayer sessions that had occurred (no details specific to the person prayed for would be shared, only what God had led the people involved in the session to know. Sometimes this would come in the form of a comment, or the relation of a picture they’d seen, or sometimes a song or verse of some kind would occur to them).

Over the few days since I’d finished the Alcorn book, something I’d heard at one of these debriefs following a prayer session occurred to me again, and made sense like it never had before.

There had been an observer that night—a young girl of about twenty—and she had sat in on one of the other groups’ sessions–not mine. At the debrief, everyone was offered the opportunity to share something, if they so desired. When it came to her turn, she asked if what she shared had to be something from the prayer session she’d been involved in.

No, she was told. It could be anything God showed you.

Even right now, she asked?

Even now.

She pointed directly at me, and said, that man…has wings.

Before you get your panties in a bunch, she was not saying (and I am not saying) I am any sort of angel. Clearly I am not. I think what she saw may have been my guardian—my protector and encourager, as in Daniel and Acts. Standing behind me.

It would certainly make my part as an intercessor make more sense. I’d never doubted God’s ability to equip any person for anything. It just didn’t seem like he’d want to equip me. I’d never been able to fight, or defend anyone, not even myself.

That man has wings.

Not my wings.

Anyway, yesterday made me think of that incident once again. Also came the thought it was good to think on things like Heaven. When I’m doing that, it’s harder to think about the earth, and all the shiny things that can steal my attention from the places it belongs.

I feel blessed and am very happy to be part of that ministry. I believe it’s where God wants me–for now, at least.

These kids (my 11 year-old son among them) make me think, and remember what it’s like to feel wonder, and to see the face of Jesus anew.

If you want to serve, really serve, and be both challenged and blessed–serve with the kids.

It’s worth it.

The Thirst: A Parable

Imagine you wake up one day and realize you’re in a desert—and you’ve been living there your entire life. The first thing you notice on waking is how incredibly thirsty you are. Your thirst is maddening, and there is nothing near to quench it. You have no water. You have no food. You have nothing. You look around, then, and you see there are people all around you, and they’re waking up, too.

Everyone looks confused, and no one has any water. Off ahead in the distance you see what looks like a collection of tents or tarps and you join the others in walking toward it because it seems like if people are gathered, there must be water.

You begin walking across the sand, and it’s hot on the bottoms of your feet, which are clad only in faded green flip-flops. The sand gets under your feet and between your toes, and it grates in more ways than one. You notice everyone wears the same foot gear, and has the same shuffling gait. The tents grow closer and you realize they’re really just pop-up tarps, each covering a space like a stall at a swap meet.

You walk down a wide aisle between the tarps and look around. There are dozens of stalls, each with a vendor standing behind a card table holding rows of cups or bowls. A few have boxes about the size of a honeydew melon. Most of the vendors have at least some length of line in front of their tables. Each vendor is hawking their particular product in a loud voice, extolling its virtues and trying to get you into their line. They tell you their product will give you what is lacking in your life—it will make you full, and quench your raging thirst.

You can’t see into the cups, but from what they’re yelling, most offer a drink of some sort, a few have food, and others appear to sell an experience or feeling. These vendors appear to have some of the shortest lines, so you queue up and wait your turn. There has to be water up there somewhere.

No one in line talks much, and those who do mutter almost unintelligibly. You get almost to the front of the line and you see the vendor has a pretty young woman standing behind him, and behind her is a tent. It isn’t difficult to figure out what his product is. The men in this particular line hand over their money and disappear into the tent with the young woman. You’re next, and while you forget about your thirst for a moment while you’re inside the tent, by the time you get back outside it’s back, and worse than ever. You head over to the next stall.

Someone must have water.

You wait in the line, and then you hand over your money. The vendor gives you a plastic goblet with a small amount of thick liquid clinging to the sides and bottom of the cup. You tilt your head back and the fluid slowly slides into your mouth and down your throat. The air around you becomes tinted with violet and then slowly adds other colors, and soon an entire rainbow floats across your view. It’s so beautiful you forget about how dry your mouth is and how you haven’t eaten anything in who knows how long. You begin to drift off and the next thing you know you’re laying on your back gazing up at the bright blue sky, and the thirst hits you like a mallet to the throat.

Was that it? You think. It seemed like only a few seconds.

You realize after a moment the rainbow isn’t coming back, so you get up and decide to try another table. After you dust yourself off and step into the next line, you notice a vendor at a table some way off from the others has no line at all (not to mention not shade covering his table)—and a large glass pitcher in front of him that appears to be completely empty. He has no glasses or cups—nothing to drink out of. He is yelling something, and looks very intent, but you can’t hear him.

“What’s all that about?” you ask the man in front of you.

“He yells,” the man says, “and that’s about it. Sometimes people will get in his line, and they hold that empty pitcher up like it’s full of cold water. They guzzle nothing. Then they wander off and you don’t usually see them again.”

“I guess I’ll skip it,” you say, and then ask what the vendor in this line offers. This line is the longest of all, and you figure there has to be water.

The man in front of you says he’s heard the vendor does have water, and then he falls silent. You do, too, because talking takes a lot of energy, and your throat feels like it’s full of sand. He gets to the front and hands over his money, and is handed a short glass with a tiny amount of water in the bottom. He tips it back and then asks if that’s it.

It is.

As you step up to the table, you see the man go to the rear of the line and begin waiting again. You hand over the money you have left and are handed your cup. The ounce or two of water merely wets the back of your throat, and after the small drink, you actually feel thirstier than before. You realize there will be no more water or anything else until you figure out how to get more money. You’re broke, and thirsty, and completely out of hope. You want to cry, but there is not even enough water for tears.

You can’t get anything else to drink so you decide to walk over the where the man with the empty pitcher is stationed. As you draw nearer, you hear his sales pitch delivered in a voice so full of emotion it’s almost like a scream.

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

You draw closer still and you realize that you want to hear more, and you want to see the speaker’s face. You begin to walk toward him and it seems so far to the little table. Your feet drag through the hot sand and you wonder if you can make it. You’re so tired, so thirsty, and so hot. Then the vendor looks toward you and his eyes are piercing. You realize he’s looking directly at you and then he speaks again, and this time his voice is a plea.

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Rest sounds wonderful, you think. The man continues.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

You realize two things at once: you’re suddenly standing in front of the vendor, and your body must have found a hidden reservoir of moisture, because you’re weeping heavily and without shame.

“I’m so thirsty,” you cry. You look into the vendor’s face, and his eyes are kind and brown. He’s weeping, too.

“I don’t have any money,” you tell him. You see the pitcher on the table is not empty at all, but filled to near overflowing with water. Beads of condensation run down the sides from the cold. You want some desperately.

“You don’t need money,” he says. “The water I offer cannot be purchased, and does not run dry.”

Can that be?

You reach for the pitcher with trembling hands and you make contact with the cold glass. “Please,” you whisper. “Please help me.”

“Drink,” he says.

You raise the pitcher to your lips and drink directly from it. The water is the coldest and most refreshing you’ve ever tasted. You drink and drink and drink. The water spills onto your chin and your shirt and the tears roll down your cheeks as you drink. It fills your stomach, your chest, and it swirls within you. You feel…alive, and nothing else around you in the marketplace makes any sense at all. You understand that rest for your soul does not mean sitting on a couch with a cold one. It doesn’t mean never having to work again.

No. It means knowing who your father is, and accepting his rest. It means you know of the water that lives within a person, and you feel it flowing within you.

“Father,” you whisper. Thank you. Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Then you open your mouth and praise flows out of your mouth like the water flowed in—your words are all in a rush and cannot seem to get out fast enough. You praise the vendor, praise the water, praise the maker of the water. Thanks and praise and praise and thanks.

“What do I do now?” You ask.

The man points toward the far side of the market and says “Go. Tell them of the living water, available to everyone. Tell them what they thirst for can be found here. Tell them they’ll find rest for their souls, and what they’re meant to do. Bring them to me. Bring them all…”

You take a step, and your life begins.

Figuring Things Out

I think I finally got my mind around what I wanted to say about church last night. It just took a whole day, chicken fingers, Diet Mt Dew, and getting socked in the basket by an enthusiastic toddler to make realize what was going on in my very large bald head. I believe that at the crux of it was that Zeb touched on why I believe, and in order to get at that, I had to go back to a time I did not want to think about.

Allow me to explain.

Zeb talked about a great many things during his sermon, but at the heart of it was more or less not caring for the statement people often make to believers when something bad or tragic happens: well, you know. God never gives a person more than they can handle. This is often postscripted with, “It’s in the bible.”

It isn’t, actually.

That statement was taken from an oft-misquoted scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says this:

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Another thing Zeb mentioned was that, sure, sometimes we can’t handle things. At least, not on our own. The other annoying thing people say to Christians when something bad happens in some stupid crap about whatever the tragedy was being part of God’s plan. Part of his context was 9/11/01.

That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me, or what was dug up in my heart last night, but maybe in a sense it does. Things will come up in our lives that are much more than we can handle. I know they did in mine. And that was where I went last night.

I have not had anything particularly serious or that tragic happen in my life in many years, and probably not since the 1980’s, which featured several very dark years near the end of my teens. Those of you who have read much of what I have to say or have heard my testimony know what I’m talking about, but for those who do not, from the time I was 16 until I was 18, three people close to me died, pretty much one each year. My dad from a heart attack when I was a sophomore in high school, a good friend took his own life when I was 17, and my mother finally succumbed to cancer when I was 18.

At the time, no one said anything to me about God not giving me more than I could handle. I would not have listened if they had, because at that time God was an abstract concept, not a real “person” to me. At best, he was like the president: I knew he probably existed, but he was never going to really be a part of my life.

And the truth was, all of that stuff was more than I could handle. A lot more. I didn’t give any of it to God at the time, and wouldn’t for many years. What I did do was try to handle things myself, and while I was able to hang on well enough while I was in high school, afterward I became a walking cautionary tale about how not to deal with things like depression, loneliness, guilt, and abject sorrow. I indulged. I self-medicated. I binged. I did all kinds of horrible things to try and fill the ragged hole down the middle of me.

Nothing worked, and I ended up unfulfilled in nearly every way, and wondering if this was what life was always going to be like.

What does that have to do with why I believe? Glad you asked.

When I came to belief, and as CS Lewis said, “admitted that God was God and kneeled and prayed,” God spoke to my needs at the time, and gave me to understand what I needed to know about him, and myself, and spoke truth to the lies I had always believed about him and about myself. The cavern of emptiness within me was filled, as an adult.

I believed, but something was still lacking. I believed in God, but I did not know Jesus. It took years of seeking, years of prayer, and some very clear signals from the man himself. I was made to understand that the person I was now was forgiven, and the things I was unable to handle before I could handle now–or at least better handle–because God now resided withing me.

What really made me believe–and not just in actually having a relationship with Jesus, but in being restored by him–was the truth that while I was young, and felt alone, and couldn’t handle things, Jesus was there at my side. Angels were at my side. Handling what I could not handle, and fighting the fights I was unequipped for. The truth that was spoken to me back in San Diego shortly before I met Jen and again last night in the Upper Room was that his heart broke for me then, and breaks for me now, when I willfully choose other than his perfect will for my life. Not that my parents illnesses were some sort of punishment from God, or that they somehow chose them. No.

What I felt last night was the sense of being loved through all the horrible things that happened in my teens. I was able to feel the able and strong hands of the carpenter on my hands, guiding them. I was able to feel them holding the broken parts of my heart in his hands and binding them together. It really is something when you feel that.

Then the worship team played King of Glory, and it was all I could do to keep from getting verklempt.

I guess my point with all of this is that sometimes we misunderstand God like we misunderstand scripture. I certainly did. I forgot about what to me is the most important part of the verse:

But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

The way out God provided me (without me giving him any part of my life), was school, in the form of acting and singing, and discovering that I would never be alone in a drama class. There was a plethora of fellow geeks available, probably 24/7. I threw myself into drama for the last two years of high school, and began to sing as well when I joined the men’s chorus. I listened to music, and retreated to the warm solace it provided when I would have been lost without it.

It’s different now. Bad things still happen. Sometimes I doubt, or feel sad or alone in some way. Yet it isn’t long before Jesus sends someone into my life to speak truth. Such has been the case over the past year, what with becoming good friends with Sam and Zeb.

Left to my own devices, I would probably still be wandering and lost.

Sometimes You Just Need to Bitch

It’s only been a week and I’m at defcon 4 frustration level with the recovery process. Hating this sling:

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Hating my damn repaired shoulder:

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Hating the fact that the damned Percocet works, but makes me feel sick and gross.

Hating the fact that the damned shoulder exercises hurt like a m————, but probably works pretty well, too.

Frustrated, tired, uncomfortable, with my shoulder buzzing like a cloud of hornets.

But.

I trust in You to make something of this. Something you can use. Something I can use. Something worthwhile. The dr was not kidding when he said the recovery process would be painful. It has been on several levels.

I guess feeling this way is just part of maintaining faith in a world where faith doesn’t make sense. Where I can sit on my couch at 0344 and bitch, when some really hard stuff is going on in the world.

But in the interest of full disclosure, God doesn’t always take stuff away. Sometimes you just have to get through the bad stuff, and take comfort in the fact that no matter what your level of conviction, inspiration, or faith, Isaiah 42:3 is still true and you will get through it. I’ll get through it.

a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

With Each Stretch

As many of you know, I had a rotator cuff repair done last Wednesday. I was very fortunate because all of my work was able to be done arthroscopically. That doesn’t mean less recovery time, necessarily, but it does mean a less painful recovery, and I am all for that. It also means this little baby is going to be with me for the next six weeks:

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I take it off briefly when I shower (very awkwardly–my wife has to help), and again for about 30 minutes four times a day when I do stretching exercises. I was encouraged by this initially, because it didn’t seem that bad. Also, because my Doctor had seen fit to hook me up with Percocet. With Percocet, I thought:

Taking this off would be no big deal. Because I’m a boss, and I only need one hand anyway.

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Except I’m not a boss, and the first time I did it I whined like a b****.

Because after all, it is just three little holes in my arm.

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And all I’m doing us placing my hand on a stack of pillows and stretching:

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Set of 12 stretches, then 25 empty hand curls. Then another set of 12 stretches and pivot to this angle:

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Second verse, same as the first. No problem, right? With Percocet I can do anything.

Today I woke up and I could hardly open my eyes. I couldn’t collect my thoughts. I was a zombie.

Who’d wanna be a drug addict? I thought. So I decided I was done with Percocet. It’s just stretching, right?

All those pics I took were sans Percocet, and every stretch hurt like a mother. Because I’d forgotten something. I thought I had to have my little white tablet friends to help me. I thought with them it would be easy. It was easier, to an extent, but it also messed up my head.

Today, I had to try something different, so I decided to make each stretch a thank you.

Thank you to God, for making it just arthroscopy.

Thank you to Dr Peare, for being good at his job.

Thanks to my in laws, for taking care of my boys so I could work on coming all the way back.

Thanks to Jen, for being a Godly and strong wife.

Each stretch, and each stab of pain meant I was alive and blessed. I had two arms, and a place to exercise them.

I have so much. 6 weeks on disability is no fun, but on the other side of it is a job, and more blessings. Wrestling time with the boys. Being able to hold my wife unencumbered.

With God, and a little patience, I can do anything.

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:

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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:

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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.

Beloved.