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.

Change the World

If it were just me I needed to think about, I wouldn’t try to change the world. I’ve lived long enough and seen enough of how things always seem to be that I don’t really care what the world “does” to me. I’ve gotten a lot better at taking it.

Yet when I wake up in the morning and when I lay my head down at night I think of these people:


Then I think that what really matters is them, and what I leave behind for them when I’m gone. When I think about them, apathy is no longer an option. I have to care about things because they look to me to learn how to do so much.

How to treat people.

How to treat each other.

How to treat the planet.

Things like that.

I may not want to be an example for anyone, but that almost doesn’t matter. I’ve got two people who need me.

I guess the best place to start is simply changing my own world first…

Conviction II: With a Vengeance

CS Lewis once said something like “a man wishing to remain an atheist cannot be too careful of what he reads.” I think it’s much the same with a man wishing to remain unconvicted of something. I read two things the other day, which when taken together busted me up like a piñata at a first grade birthday party.

This first was this. I was able to read through Radical, by David Platt, in a single day (what can I say? Setup days always have a lot of downtime)


I read passages like this one:

“If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs, and create foundations… But Jesus is so different from us. With the task of taking the gospel to the world, he wandered through the streets and byways…All He wanted was a few men who would think as He did, love as He did, see as He did, teach as He did and serve as He did. All He needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world.”

Which made me want to look at this:


Which in turn made me realize my head had been buried in the sand for a very long time. Any time missions or evangelizing the lost around the world came up, my first instinct was to say something like “that’s great for you, but I don’t really feel called to the mission field.”

Is that right?

What occurred to me this week (thanks to Platt) was that when I beg off spreading the Gospel because I don’t feel ‘called’ to it, I’m taking a very clear directive from Jesus to all believers and making it about whether or not I feel I’m supposed to do something.

But I’m not a pastor, I’d say. Because only pastors have experienced the fullness of Christ and can attest to what redemption feels like!

And the truth about that is so what? The disciples didn’t start out that way either. Jesus took regular people and used them to build a church that has endured for millennia. Fishermen. Tax collectors. Ex-whores.

Just tell your story, man. What did Jesus do for you? How did it feel then? How does it feel now?

Ok, you’re saved. What happens next? I realized I didn’t have to be ordained to tell people those things.

Being the hands and feet of Jesus is a piece of cake–said no one, ever.

Platt also makes this point: Every saved person this side of heaven owes the Gospel to every lost person this side of hell.

If that is true, and I am any sort of believer, and any sort of man, who am I to pass on what is commissioned by God?

“God beckons storm clouds and they come. He tells the wind to blow and the rain to fall, and they obey immediately. He speaks to the mountains, ‘You go there,’ and He says to the seas, ‘You stop here, and they do it. Everything in all creation responds in obedience to the Creator…until we get to you and me. We have the audacity to look God in the face and say, ‘No.”

It’s pretty clear what we are to do. What I am to do.

Strength in Weakness

There are sections of scripture that are troubling to me. Not because I don’t understand what the writer is trying to convey, but because I do–and it goes against everything I’ve learned over the course of my life. Take 2 Corinthians 12, for instance.


In verses 9-10, Paul talks about boasting in his weaknesses; even delighting in them. That was hard for me to understand, because I think it’s more natural to be ashamed of the ways we are weak. It’s hard for me to imagine feeling delight at my lifelong struggle against food addiction, the desire to binge drink, or my occasional struggles with lust (in the form of wanting to look at inappropriate things). Not that those are my only weaknesses: just what I struggle against most frequently.

Maybe what Paul is trying to say–according to my Life Application Study Bible–is that when we are strong in our abilities or resources, we are tempted to do God’s work on our own. That can lead to pride.

For me, that means if I was talking to someone about resisting the urge to empty a 12 pack or click on the wrong web site and saying that it was easy not to do it, or that I could resist because I was strong I would be full of what my son calls “peepoo.”

I am able (mostly) to resist these inclinations and others because God gives me that ability. Left to my own, I wouldn’t even try to resist. So if I accomplish something in spite of the things I struggle with, it means so much more. And only then am I strong.

It’s interesting how that works, because it shouldn’t. I guess God knows more of my strengths and affinities than I do. Where I see a weak pile of desire, addiction, and sin, God sees something else. And in spite of my own callow nature he is somehow able to use me, and my weaknesses.

That’s pretty amazing.

On Marriage and Sanctity

Just finished reading an article about Starbucks and their vocal and financial support of gay marriage.

Something occurred to me just now: you hear people speak about this issue all the time, and those against it often mention that legalizing gay marriage threatens the sanctity of the institution itself. Does it, though?

If two men or two women were able to marry each other, would it make me any less married to Jenny? Of course not.

Would they actually be married, though?

It depends on what you believe. If you believe it’s simply the law’s recognition of the institution of marriage that legitimizes it, then making gay marriage legal is really simple.

If you believe that marriage was created and defined by God then the whole debate gets a little more complicated. For me, I do not personally feel my marriage threatened by whether or not those two fabulous guys down the street can tie the proverbial knot. I just don’t.

The problem arises, I think, when the possibility of Churches or individuals who perform (or can perform) wedding ceremonies, and who do not believe gay marriage is solely legitimized by the law are compelled by that same law to perform that which their faith and their God tells them is not legitimate at all.

I think that is a real possibility, and if it happens would be an affront to the religious freedom promised by the constitution of the United States, which was meant to protect states from favoring one religion over another.

So if we, based on law alone, attempt to force people to comply with the viewpoint of secularism over Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism (none of which recognize gay marriage), we are favoring one religion over another, because secularism taken to that level is very much like a religion. Even worse, we are denying the constitutional rights of Americans.

Here’s the other thing I was thinking about: what if what threatens the sanctity of marriage isn’t gay marriage at all?

Think about it. People cohabitate for many years and often do not marry. Society accepts that, and it is now very much the norm. Men and women also frequently approach marriage like they would contract negotiations for a house or car, and it’s no wonder there’s a 50% divorce rate. What else should we expect with such low expectations.

I think what threatens the sanctity of marriage is making marriage about law and only law, leaving sanctification out of it completely (sanctification = holiness). Soon, we will simply specify a desired term of marriage, sign a contract, and that will be that.

Marriages will fail, or never happen at all. Kids will grow up with single mothers (a single mother, by the way, is a noble thing, but they were never meant to shoulder that burden alone), and never have any idea what marriages are meant to be and can be.

I think the sanctity of marriage is also threatened when we make it a business or political interaction and not a covenant.

Should gay people be allowed to legally marry? The law will decide that soon enough, and it won’t be the death knell of the church at all. What it will be is a symptom of the decline of freedom, and the further separation of “church” from “state,” which is really sort of false.

It’s false because as I mentioned before, secularism has become very much like a “modern” religion (or anti-religion) and is being used like a cudgel to beat down those who do not agree with its precepts.

If you don’t conform to the secular status quo, then you’re a relic of a time not fondly missed. Or maybe just a “hater.”

Some Thoughts on Easter

For most Christians, Easter is like the Super Bowl. Not to minimize the importance of Christmas; Christ had to be born before he could be crucified. Most people agree Jesus was born, and lived and taught during the first century around Judea and surrounding areas. There is ample evidence available to support the existence of Jesus.

Where people veer off is when you start talking about the Crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Christ. There is a huge segment of society who emphatically denies it ever happened, and that Jesus is little more than a benevolent bedtime story.

Then you have one of the world’s most practiced religions (Islam), which agrees Jesus lived and taught, but was in the end little more than a skilled teacher and (according to some) prophet. Here’s a great video that breaks it down:

40 Arabic Words

I am not here today to refute Islam, but it is true that without the resurrection, Christmas is little more than the noteworthy birth of a talented first century Rabbi who was really good with people.

I am also not here to “prove” the resurrection true (read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Easter if you want to do that). I just want to tell you what Easter means to me.

I believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because it is by that I am healed, and live and move and have my being. I can’t tell you anything now that will prove that to you if you don’t already believe.

I can just tell you that Easter changed my life, and has made everything that happened to my life over the past 13 years possible.

Easter took a tired, broken, depressed and addicted man who didn’t care about anything (including his life) and gave him a reason to live and a means to live by.

I guess the best way to explain it is that God took the torn fabric of my life and began stitching it up, along with the otherwise mortal wounds to my heart.

He’s the only reason I am alive today, and whether or not you believe me does not change the truth of that in my heart, bound by the gentle and strong hands of a carpenter.

Easter is important to me because it reminds me of why I’m here.