Tommy Libre

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The Perfect Look

A Portion of Ahmi's Fruit

A Portion of Ahmi’s Fruit

The most encouraging person on the planet stepped out into eternity last Thursday. That person was not Tony Robbins nor Joel Osteen but one Ingrid Oxley Brady, a.k.a. Ahmi,  of Ames, Iowa.

Ahmi’s passing was of special interest to me for two reasons.  First, of course, I knew her.  Second, her passing creates a vacancy for the post of World’s Most Encouraging Person. As you can see from my Twitter bio, that’s a job I’m gunning for.

At Ahmi’s funeral, as at most funerals, declarations of the deceased’s virtues were plenty and generous.  Unlike the scattershot praise offered at most funerals, though, a common thread wove its way through Ahmi’s tapestry of testimonials, and that thread was, “The Look.”

Every mother has a “look.”  Within the borders of her own little Queendom,  a mom’s special look is her greatest asset and her most powerful weapon.  In a word, “the look” makes things happen.

Most of us have a holy fear of “the look.”  We need it but seldom want it.  We have great affection for it and we joke about it with our siblings.  We may even joke about it with mom herself, but always after the fact; only a fool would mock “the look” when it’s fully armed.

Sadly, as real life unfolds in real time, too many moms yield to the temptation to abuse “the look.”  Thus a marvelous gift from God, given with the intention that it be employed strictly to defend precious hearts, becomes instead an offensive weapon, a self-serving tool, a mere vehicle for the manipulation of those whom it was designed to protect. (Proverbs 4:23)

Not so with Ahmi.  At that miraculous moment when her beautiful spirit abandoned her exhausted, 83 year-old body, a weapon of inexpressible power was retired after some 59 years of continuous and honorable service.  Ahmi had managed the incredibly rare feat of finishing the race without ever having abused her role as steward of “the look.”

Ahmi was, by unanimous account, a dear woman.  It’s interesting to note that Jesus, that famous coiner of affectionate nicknames, called his own mother, “Dear Woman.”  (John 2:4)

My guess is that Jesus gave Mary that fond moniker because Mary used “the look” responsibly, and Jesus had been on the receiving end of that look all his life.  On the only recorded occasion of the boy Jesus making trouble, the Bible reports that Mary “treasured these things in her heart.”  Mary’s eyes delivered the message that, while she pooh-pooh’d the mischief, she adored the mischief-maker. (Luke 2:41-52, especially Luke 2:51)

Jesus learned “the look” from his mom and unleashed it on humanity.  One time that’s recorded and thousands of times that aren’t,  Jesus looked at a person with such unconditional love that  the love was obvious even to onlookers.

In Mark 10:21, Jesus is speaking to a wealthy young man who has just committed the colossal blunder of boasting about his own goodness in God’s presence.  Does Jesus argue with the guy?  No. Does Jesus humiliate the guy in front of the crowd? Hardly.  Instead, Mark 10:21 reports that, “Jesus looked at him and loved him!”

Think of it! A look of such love that there’s no guesswork involved.  What must such a look, The Perfect Look, look like?

For starters, The Perfect Look must convey acceptance.  It must say, “I’m not out to get you.  I have nothing to gain by you failing.  The only way I can win is for you to win.  I love you just the way you are, not because it’s my “job” to love you but because it’s my privilege to love you. I’m your biggest fan!”

Then, The Perfect Look must convey that it’s a dialog, not a monolog.  It must say that while you’re receiving acceptance from my eyes, I’m also receiving something from yours.  I’m looking at your essence and I like what I see.  I see what’s unique about you. I see what’s special about you. I see the greatness in you.  I see you, and I thank you for sharing yourself with me!”

Ahmi had the look that Mary passed on to Jesus and Jesus passed on to the world, the look that certain sincere persons have nurtured and passed along for generation after generation.  It’s a look that’s so rare, yet so alive, to this very day.

Think of it again!  Like the Olympic torch that rides along in the grasp of joggers for mere weeks before the Olympic Games, The Perfect Look is the “lamp on a stand” which has glowed from the eyes of a precious few people ever since Jesus lit the candle. (Matthew 5:14-16)

And how is it that I can testify to the power of Ahmi’s “look?”  Maybe you suspect that these words are merely the sentimental ramblings of a son wallowing in the bed of fresh grief.  Not so! Continue reading

Oh Boredom, Wherefore Art Thou?

o-brother-where-art-thou1Ask 1,000 randomly selected people to give you the first word that comes to mind when you say, “Bible,” and what do you think the most popular answers will be?  I suppose “God” would be number one and “Jesus” would be number two.  Then, if your random folks are honest, “boring” would come in at a strong number three.  Hey, don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.

Let’s get real.  Most people think the Bible is boring.  Heck, as much as I love the Bible (and I really do love it, even if sometimes it doesn’t show), there are times when I lose the desire to read it.  A day turns into two, then two days become a week, and all of a sudden it’s been an age since I’ve spent any quality time with the Bible.

You probably have similar feelings.  After all, “no temptation has seized you except what is common to mankind.” If so, you’ve come to the right place, because today I’m sharing Tips on How to Enjoy the Bible.

Where did I come up with these tips?  In my own battle to keep things fresh.  These pointers have been bought and paid for at the School of Boredom.  They’ve worked for me and they’ll work for you.  And away we go!

  1. Red-letter Reduction.  A red-letter Bible means the words of Jesus are printed in red ink; it’s been boiled down with the very best stuff separated from all the other stuff.  If you don’t have such a Bible, invest in one and spend a few days reading nothing but what comes from the mouth of Jesus.
  2. Gripe Check.  It’s not what you think.  You think I’m going to tell you to be content.  No, I’m going to suggest that you read the first line or two of a bunch of Psalms and note how many of them start off with griping or complaining or fear.  These are spiritual giants griping and complaining and worrying about the sky falling.  It’s fun to see that you’re not the only one.
  3. Gripe Checkmate.  Now go through some of those same, whiney Psalms and note how many end with griping and fear.  The answer is “next to none,” but don’t take my word for it.  Poke around in the Psalms for example after example of how to do an attitude adjustment.
  4. The So-What Flush.  Pick any story in the New Testament.  They’re only a couple of paragraphs and it’ll take only a minute or two to read the one you choose.  Then ask yourself, “So what?  Why did God include this story in the Bible?”  The So-What Flush flushes out benefits and good news, and benefits are fun.
  5. Goodness or Grievance.  Pick any story in the Old Testament.  Not any book, just any story within a book, like Exodus f’rinstance.  After reading the story, ask yourself, “Is this story an example of God’s goodness or God’s grievance?  If it’s about God’s goodness, that goodness remains to this day and forever.  If it’s about God’s grievance, that grievance has been resolved by the finished work of Jesus, so there’s your good news no matter how scary the story may be.
  6. QuickBooks.  There are 27 books in the New Testament and 17 of them can be read from beginning to end in about 10 minutes or less.  You may never slog your way through the Bible from cover to cover, but you can read all the QuickBooks in one weekend with time to spare.
  7. 5-minute Expert.  Choose any “QuickBook” and become an expert on that book.  For example, if you were to invest 30 minutes per day for one month in Ephesians, you’d know more about Ephesians than anybody in town.  It’s fun to be an expert.  I know because I am an expert on where to find every free cup of coffee in town. Continue reading

The Spirit Intended

OopsDon’t you just love it when folks correct even your most trivial mistakes?  For example, you might say, “Pass the cimmanon, please,” and your dining companion might answer, “Do you mean, “sin-uh-mun?”  To which you might respond, “Of course I meant, “sin-uh-mun.”  A witness to this interaction might then say that your friend didn’t take your request in the spirit intended.

The spirit intended.  We hear that phrase often, but maybe we should pause and look at it a little closer.  The spirit intended.  Who or what is this spirit, and what are its intentions?

In communication between humans, the spirit supplies initiative.  You wouldn’t be reading these words if some spiritual force hadn’t acted on me to write them.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the Holy Spirit motivated me, it just means some spirit motivated me.

When two people sit together in silence, the silence can only be broken by spiritual force.  “Pass the cinnamon” has a spiritual origin.  “It sure is hot out today” has a spiritual origin.  “Get high on God” has a spiritual origin.

This introductory abstraction is necessary because today’s topic is Spiritual intent.  Notice the capital “S?”  That means we’re talking about the Holy Spirit.  That means we’re talking about Jesus Christ without the physical body. (Jn. 16:7, Mt. 28:20)

Not long ago I heard a “minister of the Word” describe the Holy Spirit as, “the love that exists between the Father and the Son.”  I don’t know where he got that description, but he didn’t get it from “the Word.”  The Holy Spirit is not a ghost or a feeling or a mood.  The Holy Spirit is a person.  The Holy Spirit does the day-to-day, person-to-person ministry that Jesus began.  The Holy Spirit has intentions, and those intentions are always good! (2 Co. 3:17,18, Jn. 3:17)

In the New Testament, Old Testament scripture is often quoted.  And nearly as often as it’s quoted, it’s slightly misquoted.  When Peter “quotes” Psalms 69:5 in Acts 1:20, he doesn’t quote it word for word.  When Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27, the words aren’t quite the same.  When Jesus quotes Isaiah 13:10 in Mark 13:24, he departs from the original words. So the Bible shows us that even the most spiritual men who ever lived didn’t get twisted sideways by insisting upon word-for-word accuracy.

If you feel like this is flying over your head, have no fear. Just take a moment to look up these scriptures and prove to yourself that it’s simple and true.  This isn’t intellectual smoke ‘n mirrors; this is something you need to know because it’s one of your most basic gospel rights.

You have the right to read the Bible and sincerely pursue the intent which underlies the words.  You have the right to refuse to be browbeaten into ‘performance theology” by blind guides who lock onto one or two “bullet scriptures” and then shoot you with them until you submit to their legalistic bullying.  In plain language, you have the right to interpret the Bible’s meaning and intent.  (2 Pe. 1:20,21) Continue reading

Curly’s Finger

Curly's Finger 1It’s Master’s Week.  That means I may skip work this Wednesday, drive the 90 miles or so to Augusta, buy a $45 face-value ticket for $300 from one of the world’s most courteous scalpers and spend the rest of my day rubbing elbows with 40,000 of the world’s most courteous sports fans, fans so well-behaved that they have their own name: they’re called “patrons.”

For me, the day won’t be about golf.  It’ll be about Curly’s Finger.

Curly’s Finger was introduced in the movie, “City Slickers,” starring Billy Crystal.  In that movie, three late-thirtyish childhood chums from New York City take a trip each year to break up life’s monotony and refuel on inspiration.

The year before, the boys had taken part in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, and our hero, Mitch (Crystal) had been gored in the gluteus maximus for his trouble.  This year their destination is a dude ranch in New Mexico.  From there they plan to drive a herd of cattle through “some of the prettiest country on God’s green earth” all the way up to Colorado.

The boys really need a getaway this year.  One of them has committed adultery and lost his family, his job and his bearings in life.  Another is dealing with cold feet as he prepares to abandon his womanizing ways, get married and “just eat the same thing every night for the rest of my life.”  The third cowboy wannabe, Mitch, has been repeatedly humiliated at his job, is losing touch with his teenage kids and no longer burns with passion for his adoring wife.  Alarmed by the sober realization that peddling radio advertising amounts to little more than “selling air,” he’s up against a monster of a midlife crisis and knows it.

Charged by his wife to go on the cattle drive and “find your smile,” Mitch pleads, “What if I can’t?”  His good and faithful soulmate responds, “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.” Continue reading


Leave Them Alone!

Mary keeperIf your Bible has subheads, the story is probably entitled, “Jesus Anointed at Bethany.”  That’s a dumb title.  That’s about like a story in the sports page, about one of the most exciting games ever played, being entitled, “Waterboy Serves Gatorade on Sideline.”

The story is irresistible to the human race, not just to those who love Jesus.  Do you know the story?  You must know the story, because you can’t be a liberated layperson without knowing it.  Why?  Because it’s about you.

A better title for the story would be, “Mary Goes Down in History,” or, “What’s Really Important to God,” or even, “Sinful Woman Teaches Hypocrites the Meaning of Sincerity.”  Whatever we call it, it’s a moving story about mutual love, not a joyless account of some obscure, religious ceremony.

In “Mary Goes Down in History,” a sinful woman (maybe a whore, maybe a prostitute, maybe a thief—nobody knows for sure, so fill in the blank with your favorite weakness) basically gives Jesus a sponge bath.  She does this in full view, and over the objections, of some of the most powerful men in town.

The story is told in all four gospels because Jesus ordered that it be told wherever and whenever his story is told. (Mk. 14:9)  Each account of the story has its own nuances and adds its own flavor, so that without all four accounts we would not and could not see the full picture.  And it’s the full picture, rather than the individual accounts, that’s beautiful and exciting beyond the powers of human description (well, at least beyond Tommy Libre’s powers)!

Continue reading


White Men Don’t Rent Cars?

kip and lafawndaNot long ago, the perfect economic storm forced me to travel for the first time in my career.  After 23 years of being home every night I became what USA Today calls a “Super Commuter,” making the trip from Atlanta to St. Louis and back every week.    It just about killed me but you know the saying:  “What doesn’t kill me only makes me really, really tired.”

One thing I learned from my travels is that all rental cars come with radios pre-tuned to hip-hop.  The first time I got into my Hertzmobile the radio was tuned to hip-hop.  Twice, thrice, even four times in a row I could pass off as mere coincidence.  But after renting 20 cars and being greeted by blaring hip-hop each and every time, l was close to the perfectly natural suspicion that white guys don’t rent cars.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking the Hertz detail guy is a double agent, an undercover hip-hop evangelist who pockets a modest Hertz check, then turns around and hauls in a fat stack from a major record label.  In return for messing with all the radios, winning hip-hop converts and driving MeanMugg’s CD sales through the roof, he hauls in a tidy moonlighting supplement.

Wrong!  I know you’re wrong because I suspected the same thing myself.  So I flat-out asked the Hertz detail guy, “Hey, man, are you a double-agent who always resets the radio to hip-hop when you’re cleaning out the car?”

His reply, and I more or less quote: “Whaaaa?  Get the BLEEP outta here, you crazy bleeper-bleeper.  I ain’t got no bleepin’ time for this bleepin’ bleep.”  Then he studied me for a moment with the side-eye and dismissed me with what I thought was a rather condescending, ‘Bleeeeeeeep.”

As a student of humanity, I could tell right away that the guy was as honest as the day is long, and there went my double agent theory.  So what’s the deal? Continue reading

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