Friday, March 10, 2017

Where is Your Sting?

I returned from a truly amazing two-week vacation on Monday, and immediately developed a severe allergic reaction to a lovely pollen bloom and acquired the stomach bug. I am thankful that I didn't get either of those while I was actually on vacation. During the time my wife and I were gone, we suffered the loss of a friend who was like family to my wife that she had just seen days before our trip. It was an odd experience to be at the "Happiest Place on Earth" and hear of his passing, but I won't go into that for now. Suffering. Sickness. Death. All part of life, right?

Anyway, since returning I have learned that more friends have lost friends and in-laws have lost family members in the past few days and it reminded me of something I wrote down in my journal after my Aunt Carole died unexpectedly in 2015. I have not shared it before, but maybe it's time. I don't know. Here goes  - but first a caution that it contains some graphic literary content:


Death won't win, but it blackens my eye
        from time
                       to time
Accumulating blows - beating heart
beaten by hearts no longer beating
        from time
                       to time
Let my bruises heal before the next
delivery, will ya?
Death, I can't wait to see your kicked in teeth,
your brains on the street,
your hollow eyes and pale withered skin.
                     Death, you lose.


Sunday, September 11, 2016


I remember growing up hearing my parents and grandparents talk about where they were and what they were doing when JFK was assassinated. My grandparents would talk about Pearl Harbor. They still recalled the details of those days. I always had a strange curiosity about whether there would be an event like that for my generation. I didn't want an event like that - I just wondered sometimes. We all know the answer now.

I was completely oblivious to what happened until about 11 that morning. I was in college in VA and had an exam that morning at 9:30. I drove a car that didn't have a working radio, so the 45 minute trip to campus consisted of me humming to myself. When I got to campus, I parked, locked the doors and immediately realized I had locked my keys inside. I didn't want to be late for my Ethics exam, so I decided to call campus police afterward.

I got to the room and the air was thick with despair. No one was speaking. No one was talking. No one was really even looking up from their desks. The professor walked in and a student said, “Did you hear what happened?” The professor responded, “Yes. It is terrible.” I assumed a student had died or something tragic happened on campus. I took my exam, answering questions about hedons and dolors - measurements of happiness and pain - unaware of the reason for that question and didn’t know anything happened until the police officer who unlocked my car asked, “Did you hear the Twin Towers were hit?”

A sudden rush of adrenaline and sadness shot through my entire body.

In addition to finishing school, I was a firefighter and EMT at the time and whenever I heard about an emergency, a tragedy, an accident - my immediate response was to do something; to drop everything and help (it still is, actually). I had another exam that day and as badly as I wanted to drive to the firehouse and find out what we could do I realized it would have to wait a few more hours. Life goes on, right? I slowly walked to the student union. The radio was on but there were no TVs in the room. I still didn’t quite grasp what happened and the radio reports made me think all of Manhattan had been destroyed. I wondered if it was some sort of cruel Orwellian joke.

Outside I noticed the strange absence of airplanes in the sky. It was completely silent, save the quiet hum of cars, an occasional bird song, and footsteps on pavement. No one spoke. No one smiled. A Muslim woman walked by hurriedly with a look of unmistakeable shame and dread. I wanted to smile at her but I couldn’t. Not because she was Muslim, but because any happiness or friendliness had been driven out and replaced by a deep, sad pain. It felt wrong to be happy or smile. It didn’t make a difference because her downward gaze seemed unbreakable. I don’t really recall what happened later that day. I know I went to the firehouse after my exams and it is all a blur from there. I was placed on a list of people who could be called on to go to the Pentagon (we were about two hours away) for search and rescue. About a day later I got notice that the status had been changed to body recovery and we would not be needed. I can’t explain the devastation that came with that news.

That was the first time I felt the nation groan. It was like we all felt the same thing. There was a clarity to what was important on a larger scale. There was a feeling of unity that I had never experienced before. I remember it was almost a spiritual conviction when I would be tempted to get angry at someone or be judgmental - I would think “With what we’ve all been through now - I need to cut that guy a break.”

I remember that for months afterwards people went out of their way to show me courtesy and gratitude to me anytime I was in uniform. People would tell me to get in front of them in line. I recall a specific instance feeling very awkward when an elderly lady insisted I do this at the grocery store. Waitstaff would come out and tell me the meal was “on the house.” Strangers would shake my hand and thank me. It felt wrong, honestly, although I appreciated the gestures.  I hadn’t actually done anything. I now realize they were doing what they could to help. They couldn’t go say thanks to the responders who died and countless others who responded after, but they could thank me. They could pay for my meals. They could give me their place in line.

There is something else about that day that I still don’t understand but will try to do my best to explain. I didn’t know a single firefighter who died that day but it literally felt like I lost 343 family members. I suppose it is the commonality of what we did and the fact that it could have happened to any of us, and it could have been FDNY sending aid and prayers our way. There is a saying that “fire gets in your blood,” and I can say that 11 years after being out of it - that is a true statement.

So, what does this have to do with anything aside from me writing this down so I don’t forget it (and so it quits banging around in my brain and heart)? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t any other reason. 

I do wish we would remember the way we behaved those following months, though. We were better to each other then.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Depth in Simplicity

Worship is such a unique gift; both simple and deeply profound. Tonight as I was preparing to lead worship tomorrow, it was as if I confessed my sins, experienced God's forgiveness, pressed into His love and was surrounded by His presence and comfort all in the course of a few lines of a song. It is as if not only are the words I sing communicating, but everything in my being is all working together to praise God. The chords I strum, the melody lines I sing and play, the dynamics and the pauses are all flowing into one river. My heart is calmed, my thoughts turn away from everything else and my focus is laser sharp on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is in these times that all those other voices, all my selfish concerns and worries, all the "what ifs" and second guesses fall apart and God's Truth and Love is all that is left.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I Should Be Sleeping

It's either late or early depending on how you look at it. I should be asleep, but I am not. I am tired, but my mind and heart are running a marathon right now. I think sometimes writing things down gets them out of that cycle and onto a more permanent format so I am going to do that right now. Maybe that's obvious.

I have something to say that is simultaneously simple and intricate - my heart burns for what God has called me to do, for who He has called me to love, and for what He has entrusted to me.

When I was 8 years old, my grandfather gave me his old Gibson acoustic to learn to play on. It was (and is) a well worn, unforgiving but pleasant instrument in that it never gave me a single note without hard work and sometimes pain, but when I finally earned one, it was a beautiful sound. He was wise to let me begin on it. I knew from the first time I plucked one of those notes that there was something about what I was beginning that was going to be bigger than just playing music. I didn't know what that was at the time, and I only know a little bit more of it now, and that excites me.

Fast-forward to the age of 15. My mom sang on the worship team and I don't remember exactly how it happened, but the worship leader took a chance on letting me join the worship team on electric guitar. His exact words were, "Don't make me regret this" with a hint of humor and a healthy dose of "seriously." It was a church that was heavily influenced by the Jesus Movement of the 70s with worship songs that reflected a simplicity, authenticity, and depth of devotion I fell in love with, and those early years of learning to play, lead, and sing were a blessing beyond description.

One of the things I loved about that church was that they believe God's Spirit and gifts were still active, and one night I had shown up at a prayer meeting with a guitar (without being asked to but with the assumption that prayer and worship go together quite well so why not?) I suppose someone agreed (or maybe felt pity for me) because before too long, I was playing along with Marsha Dixon on a piano as people were praying, worshipping and enjoying God's presence. There came a time that things quieted down and Bob Dixon, the man who was leading the evening, had a word for me. He said that my life is a secret song from God, and that there was a time that it would no longer be a secret and that song would flow out and be heard. After he spoke this, I kept playing and praying and wondering what that all meant, actually. No one else spoke, sang, coughed, sneezed; you get the picture... I felt everyone's eyes (though in truth they were probably all closed) as I waited for some kind of genius, deep, profound, and poetically inspiring words to pour forth from my lips, but all I ended up with was silence and a little bit of sheepishness. Then, more silence. Those devastatingly beautiful words never came that night. I went home pondering all that had happened, feeling like somewhat of a failure, but also sensing there might be more to what I had experienced than I could understand at the time.

Since that night, I have never forgotten that word, and through the years it has been used to shape me (I believe) and remind me and call me to what God has for me. Leading worship is my very favorite thing to do as a Christian. I love what God does when I worship Him, I love seeing His Spirit move on His church when we worship, and I absolutely love experiencing God's presence. If you've never experienced it, well, you need to. Anyway, there is a lot more to this story, but this is the thing I want to get across right now.

I am now in a Vineyard church that absolutely adores Jesus. The really cool part is that I get to lead them most weekends in worship for three or four hours a week. I actually get to do this as my job (a real job, playing and singing)! I spend the week praying, going over what I sense God is leading us into and wants to hear from us as we worship, and working with an amazing team of people who I get to lead alongside and care for. The thing is, my mind and heart often get so full of what God has for me and the church that I want to share it all, but, like that night about more years ago than I would like to admit, I often open my mouth to speak silence. I'm a quiet person and I have been comfortable with that all of my life, but I feel like there is a season of sound fast approaching. Bit by bit, I hear the song God has written on my heart and on my life finding a melody, a harmony, a chord structure, and a voice. I don't know how it's going to all come out in the end, but I am excited - and maybe that's what this is all about. Maybe that is why I am typing this to who knows how many strangers, friends, family members, nay-sayers, atheists, addicts, idolaters, worshippers, leaders, followers, loners, supporters, encouragers... human beings, when I should be sleeping.

I would be remiss not to mention that I often get the privilege of leading worship with my beautiful and gifted wife. It astounds me at the things God has done in our marriage and lives as we've followed Jesus and lead in worship together.

I can tell you that I am either a lunatic for devoting my life to this, or a sinner saved by Grace and loved by a wonderful Heavenly Father who wants my life to sing His praises. Regardless, that's what I am going to do, and I hope you find a bit of encouragement and join me sometime.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What is Love?

Quick heart check, fellow American Christians. I just did a search for some inspiration as I wrap up a recap video for my church, and at the front end of the first video I found, I heard the phrase "I am head over heels in love with my church." It is a good thing to love the Church - Jesus loves the Church and we are even commanded as men to love our wives "as Christ loves the Church," so that must be pretty powerful. Now, I don't really need to mention names but I have seen a lot of things with this "I love my church" phrase on them - t-shirts, mugs, logos, and the list goes on. I assume these churches want people to come to their services and meet Jesus, which is a good thing.

Here's the rub. Do you (do I) love your (my) local church more than you (I) love Jesus? Have we placed our respective churches above God in priority? Do our churches feel more like social clubs or entertainment venues than the hands and feet of Jesus? It's easy to do; when the reason for what you do becomes assumed, it's not so far away from becoming forgotten or ignored. Programs, the excitement of serving as a community and seeing God work in our communities are all good things, but when it becomes primary to God, Himself, there is a problem. I don't know the heart of the person who made the statement in the video, the church's doctrine, or what happens there on a weekly basis so I am not claiming this person has his priorities messed up - the video was simply a catalyst.

So, please consider the question. If you aren't sure of the answer, or the answer is "yes" I am sure you are not alone because there are many days when, if I am honest with myself, have to answer "yes" to the question. It is at that moment that I have the  opportunity to repent, and God (whose love is unconditional and eternal) picks me up, forgives me, cleans me off, and I start to follow Him with the right perspective again.

I will close with this, and I am in the same boat, folks - bringing people to church is not the only way to share the Gospel. It starts with loving people the way God loves you (and them). In fact, believe it or not, some people share their faith when they are in places nowhere near a church (okay, that was a bit sarcastic - I apologize). My point is that we can't be a one-trick pony by relying solely on our pastors to do the work when it comes to sharing the Gospel, and we (myself most certainly included) need to constantly make sure our priorities are right and true.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

All of This

Life feels out of control most of the time - at least to me. I try to find ways to fool myself into believing I am in control of at least most of it, but that only lasts for a while. Sometimes I try to ignore the fact that I really am not in control of my life (not to be confused with my behavior, actions, thoughts or feelings), but that does not last long at all.

No matter what, I always come back to the truth that a loving Heavenly Father who is waiting for me to come rest in His arms and let Him be in complete control.

In the hustle and bustle of American culture, rest is both undervalued (at times even scorned as laziness) and in great lack. I must admit, I have made myself a victim of this American restlessness. While I can focus on the same three seconds of video for hours at a time, I don't like not having something to do. I get antsy; start to feel lazy and bored; look for something to do - even if I've done the same thing (a favorite is mindlessly looking at my phone) ten times in 30 seconds. I have always thought of this as a result of a strong work ethic and a drive to be successful, productive and an effective contributor to society. And the heart of the issue is that all too often, I tie my worth as a human being to all of those things.

What I have learned is that while a good, strong work ethic is important - restlessness is not a symptom. It is actually a symptom of my desire to control my life, my world and my experiences. I feel like I need to make things happen, or they'll never happen. The earth will stop spinning and lives will be ruined.

What God has reminded me in His still small voice tonight is that I have never been and will never be in control. I am His child and He's paid all the bills, put all the laundry where it belongs, edited all of the videos, written and sung all the songs, posted all the blogs, and loved all of my friends and family perfectly before I had a chance to second-guess myself for the very first time.

There is a line in a song by a band I admire and enjoy that says

"I have a hard time remembering all the things I'm supposed to remember, and a hard time forgetting all the things I'm supposed to forget."

Too many times, I've been that man. Remembering and forgetting in reverse order. Tonight, God reminded me in a whisper that He is in control and I can rest in the finished work of the Cross and the fact that He will always help me remember.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Yesterday morning at staff meeting, we were praying over requests that had been submitted last Sunday during the weekend services. Every Tuesday, the requests are divided among each staff member, and we take turns praying aloud for each and every request. It is a refreshing experience to start a meeting with a time of worship and prayer. It forces me to focus on what is truly important and to surrender all of the complications I usually end up creating from the often simple things and situations in my life.

It is especially humbling to pray for other people and hear others pray with a depth of sincerity that is sometimes difficult to grasp. I have realized over the past couple of months just how simple my life and my "problems" are - in large part because of these staff meetings and the examples of humility and care I see from the people there. 

It is quite the jarring experience to suddenly realize that the inconvenience of having to wait in line that morning at Starbucks an extra five minutes is not the mountain I created it to be when I pray for people with debilitating and life-threatening diseases and illnesses; or for those who are lost and wandering aimlessly for a guide, a light, a beacon of hope.

And then there are the reminders of tough lessons learned, friends and loved ones lost, and scar tissue revealed in the light of the needs of others that seem to echo through my life. As I prayed aloud for someone who has leukemia, in my thoughts I was suddenly sitting in the driver's seat of Engine 1 next to Jason Jackson, pulling out of the station to respond to a fire. I could hear his words and my reply as he talked about being in remission from leukemia and finally being allowed to run fire calls again. I recalled standing next to him in a field filled with smoke so thick, you couldn't breathe from 54 round hay bales on fire, much less see the hay, and sticking it out with him until the smoke cleared and the field was transformed into a shallow pond. I recalled being in the ER a few months later after transporting a patient and learning that Jason was back in the hospital - several floors above where I stood. And I recalled driving Engine 1 one more time for Jason - this time as a part of his funeral procession. It is unfortunate that I could tell more stories than I'd like to count like the one about Jason, and I am sure every person reading this has just as many and some who have more.

In all this I realize the simple thing I have overcomplicated most in my life is love. How to love people the way Christ did on earth and does to this very second. How he loved Jason Jackson. How he loved and loves me. How he loves you. Simply and completely.

Scott Lane (black helmet), Jason (yellow helmet) and myself
Jason (on right) and me