I was born at a very young age. I don’t remember much of my early childhood. Too
bad, since it was staged in Hawaii. I know that I went barefoot to and from private
school through the 2nd grade. I was one of the only “howlies” (white folks) in the
school. We had a pool in our backyard. Our house was only a couple lots from the
beach in Kailua on the island of Oahu.
When I was about to go into the third grade we moved to Chico, California. My dad
seemed allergic to happiness, alcohol-less days, and staying in the same place for very
long. We lived in 17 houses the 17 years that I lived with my parents. Sometimes we
didn’t unpacked the boxes.
My dad was a handsome, athletic, highly intelligent, but tortured man. He eloped with
my mom, both of them leaving a Stanford football game at half time to do so. He was
a well-known swimmer in the San Francisco Bay Area and his dad heard of their
elopement on KGO Radio. That’s not a good way to tell your parents you’ve gotten
hitched. They had two kids (Nancy and Joe), experienced WWII, had lots of jobs and
houses and adventures before I was born 20 years later.
I did the math when I was in college and figured out that I was mistake. I called my
mom to tell her. She used the word, “surprise” instead. Either way, I grew up like an
only child-- a very spoiled and self-centered only child. I basically got everything I
wanted when I wanted it. We had the money and my mom and dad had already done
the responsible parenting gig. They loved me and showed it by giving me stuff, like a
TV in my room (uncommon in the 60’s) and basically anything else I wanted. My
parents owned a motel in Chico and I was probably the most affluent kid in our lower
middle class public school.
I envied the other kids at school with siblings whose dads who didn’t drink too much.
My dad sometimes embarrassed me in front of my friends. Once he almost killed us
both in a car. He kept stopping for more drinks along the way. I was scared and my
mom was pretty mad when we got home. I only remember seeing her mad a couple
times. She was very mellow and co-dependent.
Once I found my dad with a gun of mine trying to load it to kill himself in a drunken
stupor. My mom gave me the choice of whether or not to leave him. I chose to stay. I
think I was ten then. She should’ve put the ball in my court that day. I was too young
to be making big-people choices like that. Years later, a counselor asked me how that
felt. They get paid to ask that question. It was worth the fee that day, because I said it
made me feel heavy and scared and responsible for fixing things in the world. He said
that’s probably not good for a kid to feel – or an adult.
There’s more to being Small, but I think it’s boring to read about someone’s childhood
that you didn’t even know as an adult. Maybe that’s just me.
Maybe this describes all homosapiens in the teen years. It’s a kind of temporary
insanity, a short-term stupidity (I think there might be a connection between the
words, “stupor” and “stupid) between 13 and 18 years old, I think. It doesn’t sound
very scientific, but it was certainly the case for me. Though I’d seen the alcohol-caused
stupor right in front of me all my life, I felt strangely compelled to try it to see if I could
have better results with it. Stupid? Right. All kinds of drugs followed—exponential
stupidity. It was the hippy days, and I was drawn to the values, especially the “high”
Seems like when we think we’re the smartest we’re really at our most moronic. I was
pretty sure I was unique, different from the other burn-outs. I thought I could be
socially aware, politically radical, a good student - and stoned all the time. It really
only boiled down to stoned all the time. It’s all I had time and brain cells for. I didn’t
really mature much during those years. Drugs and too much alcohol make you, and
keep you pretty much in a stupid stupor. I once rode on the back of a motorcycle bare-
footed and with only a pair of cut-off jeans. Someone tell me if that’s not stupid!
I guess you don’t feel so responsible to fix things when you’re in a stupor. You’re just
too screwed up to do anything about your life and the screwed-up lives of people
around you. Maybe it’s an excuse to relax a little and take the ball and chain off. “I’m
going to get “high” so I don’t have to think about how messed up the world is. I’m
going to destroy some brain cells so I won’t have so many of them firing off all the time
with worries and fears. I won’t be any better, but I’ll feel better about being so
It was during that time that I met some people formerly-in-a-stupor that had met
Jesus, the Savior of them, and all other life forms. They told me of making the
crossover from stupor to saved, how Jesus made them full enough inside so they didn’t
want to get or be in a stupid stupor anymore. It seemed like a good thing for these
guys because they were pretty out there – before, and some of them, since
Christianity. I wasn’t nearly as, well, you know, stupid as any of them were, so it
probably wouldn’t work for me. But I was happy for those formerly-in-a-stupor.
That’s such a provocative term – “saved.” I told my mom I “got saved.” She, always
the supportive and compliant one, said, “Oh, that’s really nice, dear. … What exactly is
that?” I wasn’t exactly sure what exactly it was, so I guess I just used some of the new
words I’d heard around my new post-stupor friends. Words like “forgiveness”, “sin,”
“He paid the price”, “accept Him” – and all that. Here’s how it happened, at least here’s
what I remember of it. Bear in mind that this happened about 35 years ago.
I started seeing this girl who skipped stupor and went straight to saved. I didn’t even
know a person could skip the stupor stage, but she did, and told me about it when I
asked. She definitely had something I didn’t, but I wasn’t convinced it had anything to
do with God. But I hung around her because I liked her even though she wasn’t
interested in being in any stupors with me. She wouldn’t ride on my motorcycle with
me because her mom told her not to. How weird is that? She didn’t go to movies, I
suspect because her pastor told her not to. Weirder yet, wouldn’t have sex with me. I
think that was because Jesus somehow told her not to. Weirdest of all, I was intrigued.
After a while I was in love and told her so. She told me she loved me too but not as
much as she loved God. Soon after that she told me that he told her to dump me so he
could catch me. She did and he did.
Back a bit. One night I went over to her house to pick her up for a date. Our dates didn’
t consist of much since she wouldn’t really do anything, and I didn’t have any money to
do it with anyway. But I got to her house and she said her brother-in-law wanted to
meet with me to talk about something important. I had come over that night in a
stupor and didn’t really want to go have this, or any other kind of talk with this guy.
But I went. He told me about his experience from stupor to saved. I felt genuinely
happy for him, and promised if I ever felt the need to do something like that, he’d be
one of the first to know. Until then, maybe he could kinda drop it so I wouldn’t have to
worry about any more invitations for talks like this. He sort of complied and gave me a
Bible telling me he was sure I was going to make a real good saved person sometime
soon, and that I would need it (the Bible). He told me that the Gospel of John would be
a good place to start and that I should read it when I was ready. I didn’t think I ever
would, not being much of a reader at the time or anything. But I thanked him and went
home with the new Bible I never intended to read.
So, back to the fated day the girl told me she had to throw me back because I didn’t
love Jesus. I was devastated, but amazed by her sincerity about Jesus talking to her. It
seemed a little far-fetched to me that this dead guy from history actually talked to
people from beyond the grave. But there was something about her confidence when
she said he did. Maybe I wanted him to talk to me too.
The next day I took the Bible that I never intended to open with me to this beautiful,
yet rustic spot overlooking a canyon where I used to get stoned. Only this day I
skipped the stupor and just read the part that the brother-in-law suggested. I read the
whole story that this guy John wrote about Jesus. I have to say it was more than a
reading, it was an experience. I can’t explain it, but it was the first time I had been
engulfed like that in a story. I don’t mean simply interested and intrigued. I was
somehow in it – like I was there. What Jesus was saying to those other people, it
seemed he was saying to me – stuff about him being the “Light of the world,” and “the
way, truth, and life.” It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. This man
was reaching out to me through his words on the pages of this book. I couldn’t put it
down or deny its draw on me. He knew me, and somehow I felt I kind of knew him too
- in a distant sort of way. His way of knowing me wasn’t distant at all though. I could
picture him looking right through me, through all the stupors, identifying in me the real
parts, and appealing to them.
So the next day, I did what seemed the most logical. I called the girl to see if I could
go to church with her. I had gone one time before and didn’t like it at all. Some baby
got passed to her and it puked on me. But this time I came to see if I could find the
Jesus I’d encountered in his book the day before. Fortunately, I didn’t over-think it and
talk myself out of such a silly pursuit. Sure enough, when the pastor asked if anyone
wanted to get acquainted with Jesus, I walked to the front where you can kneel and
ask him to reveal himself to you. I did, and he did – reveal himself to me. I was this
long-haired stupid kid (I wasn’t in a stupor that morning, but was obviously one of the
stupor family) kneeling and crying my eyes out in the front of people I didn’t know. It
was the most wonderful and most incredible experience of my life (at least to that
point). I cried and cried and cried. Sad tears for the stupid stuff, happy tears for the
new clean feeling, terrified tears for where the heck this was going to lead, and back to
sad and happy tears. All of this right in front of strangers!
After what seemed like an eternity on my knees, the pastor, who was hovering over
me the whole time saying some prayers, letting Jesus do his thing, finally asked me if I
had a Bible. I told him I did. He told me to read the Gospel of John. I told him I did that
already. He told me to keep reading. On the way out of the church I told the girl that I
felt something different inside and was pretty sure this was going to last. I told her I
could tell that he would show me how to do whatever it was he wanted me to do.
That night was church again. I was happy to go and see what happens next. The
teenagers, who were nothing at all like I was, met together first. I think they must’ve
all pretty much skipped stupor and went right to saved. Later it seemed maybe some
of them hadn’t done either yet. Anyway, they met and played a game called, “Bible
Baseball.” I liked baseball and joined in. It’s an indoor version where you answer Bible
questions instead hitting a ball with a bat. It so happened that most of the questions I
got were related to the only part of the Bible I had ever read or heard for that matter.
So, I was blazing around the bases and scoring all kinds of runs in front of these kids
who were pretty amazed a kid from the land of stupor could be so good at Bible
Later, there was a service with everyone, and since the teenagers had just gotten back
from a church camp, they were going to stand up and tell the older people their
“testimonies” (which are their accounts of how Jesus told them stuff up there in the
mountains). The pastor asked me to join them on the stage and tell about what had
happened to me in the morning service. I said, “Sure.” It didn’t really occur to me to
be afraid. That was weird, because I never liked being in front of people talking before.
In fact, I hated it. When it was my turn I said, “I really don’t know what to say, but it
may turn out to be the most important thing I’ve ever said. I asked Jesus to come into
my heart today.” Boy, you should have seen what I saw at that moment. I saw love. I
saw it excreting from the people there, people who didn’t know me from a hole in the
wall. I found what they call salvation, and at the same time I found a family. Big day!
I was lit and then I burned. Nothing ever seemed the same after that. I’ve never felt
alone since. My thinking changed, my feelings were transformed, my actions and
thoughts were all turned right side up. It was bazaar and terrifying and exhilarating all
at the same time. My friends were all expecting it to wear off any day. I didn’t think it
would, but was afraid it might. It didn’t. I was what they called in those days, a “Jesus
Freak.” And I pretty much loved it, even if my friends and family were not as into it as
The first thing I noticed was that being in a stupor all the time had lost all its appeal. It
wasn’t so much of a, “I’m going to stop doing this even if it kills me.” It was more of a,
“Why do I need to be in a stupid stupor when I can be in my right mind?” It really
required no special effort or anything. It was pretty cool. My friends were all still doing
they’d always done and were puzzled why I had lost interest. I told them I was getting
used to clear thinking and feeling real feelings, and that I liked it a lot.
One of the weirdest parts of these days of scorching Jesus-heat was that I wanted to
tell everyone I knew about what he’s like. It just seemed so obvious to me that
everyone who didn’t know would want to know. Once they heard, surely they’d want to
cross over too! It was upsetting to find out that wasn’t exactly the case. Most didn’t
(and still don’t) really want to hear about it. It seemed funny to me that people who
like to hear about all kinds of stuff religiously, philosophically, politically don’t want to
hear about Jesus. I learned real fast that I would be part of what was going to get
scorched in this heat wave I was experiencing. This was going to change my social life
a bit (a pretty big bit). But I was up for it – and still am. Jesus coming into my universe
wasn’t going to mean popularity and success. Instead it meant life.
Another thing it meant was doing what he said, which I knew intuitively from the
beginning. No one told me. No one laid down any rules to follow. I just knew in my
“knower” that there would be major changes made in the way I lived my life. I would
be stopping some things (not only the stupor thing, but a bunch of other stupid things).
And I would be starting some other things that would be new to me. But it didn’t feel
harsh, because I had now experienced the kind of love that would be making these
changes. When someone has your best interest in mind it’s so much easier to submit to
their will than if they don’t.
I never liked to read, not even comic books. It’s not that I wasn’t a good student. I got
good grades, I guess because it seemed the thing to do. I wasn’t really interested in
anything we studied in school, but I did the work to get the grades probably to feel
good about myself. When I was in high school, I prided myself in getting high and
getting good grades at the same time. Anyway, reading wasn’t something I did for
enjoyment or in order to get to know about something. But when Jesus came in,
reading the Bible became to me like eating food after missing a couple meals. Not
every time, but lots and lots of times, it seems like he was speaking just to me when I
read it. He’s telling me stuff about him, about me, about me and him, and about
others. Since then, I’ve read many, many, many other books, because now I like to
read. But no book speaks to me so internally as the Bible does.
Pretty soon after making the crossover I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to
be a public spokesman for him. Everyone who knows God is supposed to speak for
God, but it seems there is this calling for some to do it as a lifestyle and in front of
groups of people. These are not particularly special people. I think of it as a special call
for ordinary people. Here’s how “the call” came to me.
Our youth group went once a month to a skid row mission in the seedy side of a small
neighboring town. We’d go with this old (and I mean old) preacher from our church to
tell our stories about crossing over to Jesus and sing songs. We called him, “Brother
Vaught.” That’s how you used to address the former generation of preachers. He was a
tiny, but feisty man with a withered arm. He claimed he got it from being shot by a
railroad guard. The first time I went to the mission I stood up to talk, and by the time
I was done I thought, “I should do this all the time.” I asked the old preacher how
someone became a preacher. He told me you had to go to a Bible College and learn
how to do it right. I didn’t know there were such places, but took his word for it, and
enrolled in one such place as soon as I could. I left the state university I was attending
and went 500 miles away and started reading the Bible with a bunch of other mostly-
Besides having to live in the big city (Los Angeles) for the first time in my life, I had a
fantastic time getting to know God on fast-forward. During those three years there was
quite a learning curve. More and more of me was getting more and more immersed in
more and more of him. And more and more of him was getting absorbed into more and
more of me. I became increasingly convinced that God wanted me to devote myself to
a life of service. I didn’t have any idea what that all meant, but told him to count me
in! Of course, I had absolutely no idea what I was signing up for. It’s not that I thought
it would be easy to be in the service of Jesus, I just didn’t think it would be as hard as it
was. More on that later.
You know that girl who told me and showed me what Jesus was like? We were all of 20
years old when we got married. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. We
loved each other and I couldn’t see ever loving anyone else like I loved her. I never
have. But were we were still kids ourselves. And I was so scorching with this Jesus-
purpose, I wasn’t very good at paying enough attention to her. More on that later too.
I sponged up all I could in 3 years in this little all-about-the-Bible college. If we had a
text book, I’d read it ahead of time so I could read others like it. If we were supposed
to read a book of the Bible, I might memorize huge portions of it while at my UPS job
at night. I got into it like I was never going to get another chance to learn any of this
stuff. I loved him and loved studying his love letter.
One day he told me to finish college early and go back to my home town to find a place
to do something for him. We packed up (no kids yet) and moved back. I started
sharing the things I’d learned in those three years in our home church and few other
churches in the area and then became the youth and assistant pastor of the church. I
got paid $350 a month, which made absolutely no difference one way or the other to
me. I couldn’t have cared less about money or getting stuff. Everything was about
doing what he showed me to do. I continued making the mistake of not paying better
attention to my wife, who I loved with all my heart. I just assumed she was on the
same page as me about giving it all up for God.
Our little church was in a college town, and soon we were reaching a bunch of students
who were hungry to know God and the Bible too. We would have “double-service” Bible
Studies where we’d pack students into our apartment at 6:00PM for the first study and
then 7:30 for the second. Jesus was touching us and teaching us all stuff about himself.
After a while I began to feel like we were supposed to go somewhere else to start a
church. I had a vision of me bowing in front of him worshipping, and then another saw
me and did the same, and another and another. That was all I needed for marching
orders. We packed up and went to Santa Cruz, California to start a church. We didn’t
know anyone there. But we got jobs, invited people to our living room to learn about
Jesus, and begin a little fledgling a church. We moved from the living room to a rented
building to another and then another. We kept growing out of the one before and had a
ball watching him teach and change us all. Nothing was better than seeing people cross
over, especially those going from stupor to saved almost over night. We learned, we
grew, we labored, we danced… Those were good days. We had very little money
among us, but we bought a theater to worship in. We fixed it up and kept doing what
we knew to do to make him happy and reach people.
My wife and I decided to start having children after 8 years of marriage. Good thing we
waited that long, since we were so busy growing up ourselves. Then we had the two
most beautiful babies in all the world (Luke, then Rebecca 3 years later). Besides the
crossover miracle, the baby miracle is the most impressive. When God makes
something, it’s always good!
After some years of this scorching white heat he was creating in and around us, I think
I heard him tell me to go start some more churches up the San Francisco Peninsula.
Again we packed up (now with little kids in tow) and moved to the sleepy town of
Pacifica to begin again—yet another adventure with him at the lead. New community,
new culture, new challenges – lots of new challenges. I sure matured a lot during this
season of our lives. Kids were growing up, my wife and were growing up, and the three
churches we planted did some of the same. Gradually some of the heat subsided and
some struggle began to occur.
It’s not that my love for Christ subsided. My passion was intact. But it seemed the
things for which I lived, the evidence of his presence was less tangible, less obvious.
Maybe the heat became a bit more internal, and not so obvious. Kind of like when a
camp fire is no longer flames, but is coals. I may be wrong, but I think the coals are
actually hotter. But they’re less obvious. Over the years of trying to convey him to
others, I encountered more and more resistance, some of which was clearly in me as
well. It just didn’t seem as easy as it used to be. He was real, just not as observable.
He was working, just not as outwardly as before. I think he might have been giving me
opportunities to know him in ways I hadn’t yet. On the one hand, while I slowed down
enough to appreciate people, my friends, my family; on the other, I began getting in
touch with more of my own humanity. So, Jesus began taking me by the hand to show
me how to be a better friend of his and of others. Scorching, charging, advancing are
more natural things for me. This other thing (relationships, friendships, marriage, child-
rearing) takes patience and time and hard work.
With Jesus being more subtle in my life, these issues of life became more prominent for
me. Frankly, I’d rather be spiritual than relational, productive for God than patient with
people, seeing Jesus at work on others than waiting for him to work on me. But since I’
m not in charge of the agenda, all I could do was either go along with the new thing he
was doing or complain a lot. I did some of the former and a good deal of the latter.
It’s not that everything during these years was a struggle. We made many wonderful
friends and learned about aspects of the person of Jesus that we hadn’t yet seen. He
seems to orchestrate things in such a way as to teach us things while at the same time,
teach others things through us. So, while he was focusing on working me over, he was
also working in people around me, pretty much in spite of me.
My wife and I struggled to find our place with each other and with our kids during these
years. We were changing as individuals (for the good for the most part) in such a way
as to make it difficult for us to continue using the same rules of relationship with each
other that we had before. Our kids were growing into adolescence, and we were in
some ways ill-equipped to negotiate those tumultuous years. We made it through, but
not without the support of the Lord, our friends, and a good counselor.
My own personal insecurities in ministry, in relationships with people inside and outside
the family became more and more apparent. As an adult child of an alcoholic I’m
definitely Type-A, driven, and a person with high expectations of myself and others.
The snail’s pace of the work we were doing in Pacifica and San Bruno (we started yet
another church in San Bruno, and I led them both at the same time) became a nagging
reminder that it really had nothing to do with my skill or my efforts or my abilities.
Then after 9 years (and a long story made short), Jesus told me to go back to Santa
Cruz to lead the original Lighthouse church again. The Body there had fallen on some
lean and tough times, and I consented to return to do our best to turn it around.
Though exciting and challenging, it was some of the hardest work I’d done yet. Again,
we had some incredible times seeing him work in people. He didn’t let us down, and
honored our efforts to give him a chance to move in people’s lives. Pre-saved people
were reached, needy people resourced, young leaders were raised up. But at the same
time the struggle not only in me, but in the church raged. We had the most tragic
accident I have ever seen where one of our families was hit by a drunk driver and their
2 teenage girls were instantly killed. It was excruciating. We experienced a child
molestation within the membership of the church, which caused untold havoc among
us. We experienced one trial in the church after another over a period of a few years.
We were seeing the life of Jesus among us, but at the same time were embroiled in a
battle with the enemy, unprecedented in my life of ministry. For the first time in 30
years of ministry our church was shrinking. We were growing as individuals, but
shrinking in numbers. With my personality type, this was very painful for me. I tend to
take these kinds of things personally, and try to carry things I should be giving over to
Jesus to carry. Knowing is one thing, practicing it is quite another. This is my struggle. I’
d love to entitle the next chapter of my story Succeeding or Scorching #2 or something
like that. Maybe that’s the stage after this next one that I haven’t lived yet.
Having been exposed to the sufferings of others over the years (diseases, deaths,
divorces, etc.), I had never experienced true suffering myself. That is, until recently.
What I’m going to describe next, is, in my opinion, the real thing when it comes to
suffering. I’m writing this in the middle of living this stage. It’s been the most
incredible season of loss I’ve ever experienced in my life. During these past months I’
ve lost my wife, my ministry, my job, my insurance, my financial security, my house,
and my health. People who know me ask me if I’ve read the Bible book called, “Job”
lately. It’s about a guy who lost virtually everything at the hand of Satan with the
permission of God.
After 33 years of marriage my wife and I divorced. I’ve never been so absolutely
devastated in all my life. I’ve hurt so much on the inside, I’ve thought a few times I
would simply die of a broken heart. We’d been sweethearts since high school, and this
is how it ends! Tragic. I had to step down from my ministry simply because I couldn’t
pastor people with such a huge hole in my heart. I left (at least for now) the passion of
my life as a spiritual guide – it’s the only thing I’ve done for the past 30 years. I went
to stay with some old friends who absolutely saved my life by taking me into their
A couple of months after my wife and I split up, I fractured one of the vertebrae in my
neck. At times it gave me such excruciating pain that I begged God to take me to
heaven. The emotional pain of losing the love of my life sometimes spilled over into the
physical agony and became unbearable.
If that weren’t enough, the doctors discovered that the cause of the fracture was
severe osteoporosis (which means porous bones), which in turn was caused by bone
cancer. If this pile up of challenges weren’t so tragic it would almost be comical. I told a
friend recently that I wasn’t safe to walk down the street with. There just might be
falling pianos or something that would crush us. He said, “I’m not worrying about that.
I’m safe with you, because you’re the unluckiest guy I know. If something falls out of
the sky, it’s gonna fall on you. I’m safe.” I have to sort of agree.
This is most definitely true suffering. While I don’t know how I can endure it much
longer, I do count it a privilege to suffer with Jesus and along with all the millions and
millions who’ve truly suffered before me. He’s with me now as much as he’s ever been,
just not so obviously. But I see him there still saving me from my stupidity and
beckoning me to live for his pleasure and praise. I don’t know what’s next for me, but I
certainly do trust that he does. He’s always been good to me, and no doubt will
continue to be.
I’ve now passed through being small, in a stupor, being saved, scorching for him,
struggling with myself, and now suffering. Suffering will not be the final stage of my
life; it’s simply the stage I’m in now. Whether in this life here on earth or in the next
there’s another vista, a great one. I’m sure of it. I look forward to whatever he has in
mind for me there.
When you read this short story of my life I could already no longer be here (that is on
earth), but instead I could be there with him. Although I aspire to live a long and
healthy life, if I go sooner than later, it’s all good because God is good. Feel free to
attempt to try to get in touch with me via email (email@example.com). If I’m in heaven, I
won’t be getting back to you. Otherwise, you can expect a reply from me (sooner or
Thanks for listening.