Why We Do What We Do
Once, sometimes twice, a year, in the spring or fall, OTH will haul our acoustic instruments and our case of CDs for sale out to Little Five Points and set up stage on the sidewalk and play for the patrons that happen by. You may remember when doing this a few years ago, a young, single guy cruised up on his mountain bike, stopped and listened to us play several songs, bought a CD and left. We prayed for “the guy on the bike who bought a CD”. It’s comforting to know that there are no ambiguous or confusing prayers, and we trust that the Lord knew exactly who we were playing and praying for.
A few days later, I got an email from this guy [his name is Scott] explaining that he was the one on the bike, that he was a believer who had strayed during his college years, experimenting with smoking weed. The day Scott heard us play, he had put $20 in his pocket with a plan to come to Little Five to buy a limited quantity [because he knew it was wrong and he didn’t have a lot of money] of marijuana. The Lord had other plans. Scott ‘happened’ upon us before he scored the dope, was drawn to our music, sat there on his bike and listened for about thirty minutes, then bought our CD. He went back home and started listening to our CD, and during his third time through the CD he realized that we were singing about Jesus. He couldn’t believe it! Awesome! What was supposed to be a temporary victory for Satan turned out to be an eternal turning point in Scott’s life, and OTH had the privilege of playing a part in that! You never know when the Holy Spirit is moving in someone’s heart, and that’s why we do what we do. Who of us knows when a song about the truth and mysteries of Christ might point someone back towards Jesus, or warm their heart up to take a step closer to Him. You may remember that Scott and I went to lunch later that week, kept in touch for a year or so and then he moved to Colorado. After he moved back to Atlanta, I was told by some other singles I came across in the ministry that he was on fire for Jesus [which warmed my heart] and plugged into the singles group at North Point Church.
Scott emailed me recently and we went to lunch in the cafeteria where he works and caught up. The biggest news is that he is now leading a Bible study that targets single guys who struggle with sex, alcohol and drugs causing them to stray from the Lord. Moreover, Scott said that he recently shared my testimony with the guys in his group and that it had a strong impact on some of them. Moreover, he wanted me to come share my testimony with the guys in his Bible study through speaking and singing. Is that not awesome? The Lord had brought things around full circle, all to his glory! While in drug rehab, some people plant the seed of the truth of Jesus in my heart through music that helps bring me back to the Lord; then OTH plants the seed of truth in Scott’s [who struggles with abusing drugs] heart through its music which helps bring him back to the Lord; then he starts a Bible study ministering to guys who are struggling with the same issues and OTH has a chance to minister to them. That’s why we do what we do.
What's In a Name?
It's not unusual for us to get questions about our band name, One Tree Hill. Yes, we scarfed it from U2's Joshua Tree. For them, it is the name of a song that is dedicated to the memory of a deceased friend who was from Auckland, New Zealand, where an icon of the city called One Tree Hill actually exists. For many, One Tree Hill plays an intimate role in the fondest memories of many people, a founding father of the city, Aucklanders in general, New Zealanders as a whole and even tourists.
For us, One Tree Hill paints an abstract picture of Golgotha or Calvary, where Christ was crucified. Of course, there were three trees on that hill, but only the One had eternal significance. To me, the wording also conjures up the feeling of the utter loneliness that Jesus must have felt while hanging on the cross that fateful day.
Interestingly, I had had the ministry name for four years before I found out that there is actually a place called One Tree Hill in NZ. My friend, Glenton, was traveling in NZ and stumbled upon the site himself. Needless to say, it was a neat surprise to receive a postcard from Glenton that featured a photograph of "the" tree of One Tree Hill, which has since been cut down sadly. My friend, Lori, scanned in the photo on the postcard so you all could check it out below.
I had just finished my junior year in college at Birmingham Southern. I had my best year ever playing baseball that year, leading the team in batting average, RBIs, homeruns, and doubles, earning me the Most Valuable Player award. Our team went all the way to the NAIA College World Series that year, and I made the All-Tournament team. Professional scouts were asking about me during the post season tournaments. Growing up in a 'baseball' home-my father was a teacher and baseball coach for forty-plus years and my two brothers played and loved baseball-my dream was to play baseball professionally. But baseball, which was everything to me, was over for me. For good. I only went to classes once that semester and failed to take my final exams because I didn't bother to make arrangements with my professors to accomodate our post-season schedule. I lost my scholarship, a full ride. The salt in that wound was my complete lack of desire to pursue my declared major in business. I was at a loss in life. No direction. No desire. Nothing. I moved back home to Atlanta, living with my parents. This only served to remind me of my shortcomings. I was working for minimum wages and felt like a looser.
One day I noticed in the paper that Atlanta was recruiting police officers. A college degree was not required. I had always been attracted to the law and dreamed beyond the normal childhood stuff of becoming either a policeman or a lawyer. Here was my chance, I thought, to do something with my life. Passion was awakened in me for the first time in many months.
I showed up at the recruiting office with eagerness pounding in my chest. I met all the requirements except one. Drugs. All recruits had to pass a polygraph test showing they had been drug free for the previous six months. Damn. Over the past six years I had developed a pattern of binging on cocaine every six to ten weeks. Surely I could handle six months, I thought. I signed up for the civil service test, vowing to come back in a few months. They would be recruiting for a year. My hopes remained high.
I stayed drug free for three months. Then, the night of February 22, 1983 arrived. That dreadful night. It would change the course of my life forever. It was a Monday night, an occasional drizzle, in the high forties or low fifties. I didn't have to be at work until 1pm the next day. I was bored, restless and lonely. All the signs were there. But I was oblivious. Oblivious to what I now know as obvious. You see, to a recovering addict, 'bored, restless and lonely' are def-con 4 warning signs that Satan himself is hovering just below conscious radar detection waiting for one moment of weakness into which he'll pour his magic potion, only to leave you parched in pain soon thereafter. But to a practicing addict (such as I was at that time), 'bored, restless and lonely' simply lead to a 'couple of beers'-only to find oneself hours later nose deep in the corner of a sandwich baggy hoping their most recent deposit has cleared the bank.
I was oblivious. My desire to use eased in like the first twitch of a butterfly's wings still in the coccoon-hardly noticed. I think I'll go over to my ex-girlfriend's house and play the piano awhile, I thought. And, oh yeah, I'll stop and get a six pack on the way. After over an hour of playing, I decided to call my friend, Jeff, to see what was shaking. He and his wife, Susan, had been out partying with two others, Clay and Flora, whom I did not know, and they had decided to take a road trip to Helen, Georgia, about an hour and a half north of Atlanta. Jeff didn't say why they were going to Helen, but I pretty much knew there was only one reason to drive so far that late at night. I told myself that I would stick to my alcohol and let them do the heavy partying. I could tell Jeff wasn't crazy about me joining up with them. But he said if I wanted to, I was to rendezvous with them at a specified Texaco station on Atlanta's perimeter at 10pm. He said unequivocally that if I was not there at 10 o'clock they would go on without me. It was quarter after nine. I played the piano for a short while longer and then headed out. I had my six less one wrapped and strapped on the back of my motorcycle. The Texaco was twenty minutes away, so I wasn't in a hurry. Indeed, I was moving with the flow of traffic down Roswell Road when I saw the blues go spinning. I was doing 47 in a 35. Nobody went 35 on this five lane road, so I fully expected this Atlanta cop to be a first class jerk with something to prove. Wrong. He was incredibly laid back, even courteous, smiling the whole time he busted me for speeding.
While I was idly waiting for the cop to write my ticket, several things dawned on me. How ironic, I thought. Here I was getting pulled over by one of the very police force that I wanted to join. I had a streak of three months clean and I needed three more. Could God be trying to warn me, I thought, not to hook up with Jeff and company. Although I had not been living a Godly life, I certainly believed in the existence of God and had had a relationship with him in my early teens. Maybe he was trying to warn me. To join them would clearly jeopardize my streak off of drugs and my chances of becoming a policeman. With this thought nagging me in one direction, I eyed my five remaining beers wrapped in a paper bag and strapped to the back of my motorcycle. I couldn't believe the cop hadn't asked about them. It was so obvious what they were. Finally the kind cop handed me my ticket and left me there, but by now I would be fifteen minutes late for the rendezvous and Jeff had said they would go on without me. I was pondering what to do when the addict in me came up with this brilliant rationalization: Proceed on to the Texaco - yes, they've probably come and gone by now, but maybe you'll see them - whichever way it plays out, you'll know it was meant to be. Typical diseased thinking of an addict, but again I was oblivious.
I arrived at the Texaco about fifteen after ten. Surely they had come and gone, I thought. But my desire to use convinced me to hang for a little while and see if they showed up. Ten minutes went by. No sign. Twenty minutes. Nothing. Thirty, forty. By now my sitting there was bordering on the absurd. Surely they had come and gone. Why am I still here? I asked myself. What am I doing! I knew that once I connected up with them and got drunk that it was going to be next to impossible not to use drugs. The wait in the corner of the Texaco parking lot was like a forty-five minute cold shower (especially on the heels of getting the speeding ticket) and provided an opportunity for some intermittent rational thinking, for truth to seep in and do battle with my desire to get high. And battle they did - truth verses desire. It seemed an eternity, and I was paralyzed under the spell of such a battle. It was a text book example of that often hard to grasp principle: in this fallen world, to not choose at all is to choose the darkness. Almost an hour after the appointed time, Jeff and the party rolled up. The good in me couldn't believe I was still there - the part of me that wanted to get high was thrilled that they drove up. Two unmistakable opportunities to take the high road had presented themselves to me, and I had passed on both. My destiny was sealed the moment I saw them coming. Or was it?
With the purchase of a tank of gas and a case of beer behind us, we five jammed into Jeff's tiny two-door compact and headed to Helen, Ga. The truth gnawed at my bones, but the camaraderie of the party mentality schmoozed over any such feelings quickly and efficiently. How often had I heard the voice of reason calling, only to just turn up the radio. And then, taking a curve fifteen minutes west of Gainesville, Ga., Jeff strayed out over the yellow line and, realizing his mistake, jerked it back over to our side of the road. No harm done. But for a brief few seconds, we three in the back seat stared at each other in disbelief. I know what I thought. Jeff's too wasted to be driving. He doesn't make mistakes like that. He must be too high. And then I wondered for the first time - how much partying had they done before I joined them tonight? There was no telling what drugs they were on. I, with maybe four beers in me over a four hour period, had to be the most qualified to drive. I let it go without comment, but my concern was getting harder to ignore.
Fifteen minutes later, I had my third and final opportunity to escape tragedy or perhaps redirect it when Jeff suddenly pulled the car on to the dirt shoulder for a pee break. We were in the black of night about twenty minutes outside of Helen. "Somehow" Jeff and I ended up choosing a place where we could talk away from the others. I asked Jeff if I could drive. He said no and I asked him why not. Jeff explained that the other guy in the car, Clay, was fronting the money to purchase some cocaine from a dealer Jeff knew that lived over the state line in North Carolina. But Jeff had told Clay (and me) that the dealer lived in Helen, Ga. He explained that if I drove, my asking for and receiving directions at every turn would highlight the fact that we were well past Helen, Ga. Jeff didn't want to risk making Clay angry and loosing the deal. His hope was that Clay was high enough not to notice how far past Helen we had gone.
So, there I was, sitting on the edge of that razor blade for five seconds that seemed like thirty, trying to decide whether or not to blow this gig wide open and demand that I drive. On the one hand, I was pissed off for being lied to about where we were going. This trip was going to take hours longer than I had thought. And the fact that Jeff had drifted out in that curve on the road was still heavy on my mind, too. But ultimately these rational facts gave way to one cold, hard fact - I wanted to get high. Unbeknownst to me, there were lives and a lifetime of consequences hanging in the balance, and I came to the decision not to press the matter within a matter of seconds. God, forgive me, but I wanted to get high.
We climbed back into the car and 14.2 miles down the road after a long, downhill straightaway, we continued straight when the road took a soft left hand turn. We started down the shoulder on the right hand side of the road but then hit the shoulder on the side of a driveway going 70 mph. This launched us airborne for forty feet or so; there was a fifteen foot drop off on the other side of the driveway; far enough for the front of the car to tip forward until we slammed headlong into an 8' x 8' concrete slab on the ground. The car then rolled four or five times and landed on its wheels, but was pretty much demolished.
I woke up an hour later in the hospital emergency room to the blood curdling screams of Clay in the cubicle next to me. Jeff and Susan in the front seat had been killed instantly. Clay had shattered every bone in the right side of his body. I had a small tear in my colon. More importantly, all three of us in the back seat were paralyzed for life.
For many years, I put on an outward image of strength (law degree & practice) while the wheels around me were a secret source of anger, fear and sadness. There came a day (seventeen years ago now) when I finally let go of this burden. When I did, a great empty space was created, into which the water of life of the Lord flowed. I now know that He tried to warn me (as I'm sure all of us) three times that fateful night, and I, like Peter, ultimately denied him his say. Not anymore. Now when anger, fear and sadness rear their ugly heads, I am filled, not with an incomplete, imperfect magic potion, but with the water of life, the Lord, who never leaves me thirsty.
I've written a song about that night called Rendezvous. We perform the song now and put it on our latest CD called Rendezvous.
Both wheels underneath turning
Burning up the road
Headed desperately towards my rendezvous
The voice of reason calling out to me
In a mystery
If I'd only known that it was you
Blue lights they are spinning
Policeman he is grinning
Reminding me of promises once made
Gently you're insisting
And then there's me resisting
Feels like you're raining down on my parade
Back on track afraid I've already missed
The meeting planned for this corner parking lot
Cold is in while I'm waiting for them
Whether they've come and gone or not
And just before eleven my eyes turn toward the heavens
I start to feel desire stayed
Gently you’re insisting
And then I start resisting
Feels like you're raining down on my parade
Last chance I am standing beside the road demanding
For all concerned that I drive
But then he starts explaining the deal we're entertaining
Dictates that I must ride
Blue lights they are spinning
Policeman he's not grinning
Reminding me of promises once made
Gently you insisted
And kindly I resisted
Felt you were raining down on my parade
"Hey, you, over there in the corner. You've been there for 21 years. Haven't said a word. What's up with you, anyway?"
I find myself in a spiritual quandry right now.
Simply put, I need and desire more of our Lord. I feel dry. I'm feeling left behind. I sense that the Lord has so much more to offer than I experience of him daily. I feel for me to continue growing, that I must have more of Him. Scripture tells us that this is true.
Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in different kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues. Where are these gifts of his Spirit in our church today? We seem to focus on so very few gifts of the Spirit--wisdom, administration, teaching, preaching and mercy--and assign them to so very few in our congregations (mostly paid staff members). Is this the way of the Word?
Again, what has happened to wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits and tongues? When is the last time someone was healed in your church? Better yet, who in your church has been blessed with the gift of healing? And who is the prophet in my church? On and on ... In my church, it's as if these things do not exist anymore. As if, with the passage of time, the Lord is losing some of his power in his church. It seems as if our freedom in his Spirit has been restricted to a few very predictable things. Can we say, "God in a box?"
And the same goes for our worship of the Lord. The Psalms talk on and on about what we would call serious "partying" to the Lord in praising him. Make music, music, music. Praise him, praise him, praise him. And dance, dance to the Lord in joy. The Bible speaks of dancing 27 times. Only three times is it spoken of as shamefully employed--once to the fatted calf, once to an altar to Baal, and once it was Herodias seducing Herod. All other references to dancing are positive, uplifting and full of joy. Apparently dancing was a common way to express praise to the Lord. You get the feeling that when there was music, there was dancing to the Lord. When is the last time you or I danced to the Lord in our church?
So where can I find a church seeking the Lord in all his power and not ashamed to worship him with our all? Don't hear me wrong, I don't think that each and every church is expected to be employing each and every spiritual gift regularly, and be playing each and every instrument listed in Scripture regarding the praise of our Lord. But it does seem to be a necessary requirement that any true church will acknowledge, be open to and seek these gifts and forms of worship that are found in Scripture.
Yes, there are churches tapping into some of these gifts and forms of worship not seen in the typical western Protestant church today. But I've yet to find one that doesn't seem to be either way out of balance, i.e., over emphasizing one or two of the items discussed above, or employing a gift or form of worship not found in Scripture.
Lord, help us to seek and find ALL of you!