Saturday, March 28, 2009

The 'Jersey Shore'

Prior to my conversion in college the way I most clearly heard God speak to me was to listen to how he revealed himself through his creation. This is called 'general revelation.' They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God, (Romans 1:19-20). I grew up on the 'Jersey shore' and our house was less than a mile from the Atlantic ocean. In the denomination I was raised we weren't encouraged to read the Bible devotionally but its themes and words were made familiar to me. And we were encouraged to pray. Whenever, I was nervous or felt a need to pray I wanted to go down to the beach. Some of the most profound times in my youth were spent walking or running along the beach. It was clearly the way I experienced God most intimately. Through the beauty and vastness of the ocean I experienced both Gods immanence and his transcendence. He felt near and he felt big. It helped me soften to Him. I couldn't recount the amount of times I spent near the ocean being 'touched' by God. In fact, I have always said my one prayer about wherever I settled long range was that, "I just want it to be a port city." Oh well, despite the absence of a large body of water Birmingham has some other things to offer. I remember coming home for summer break after my first year of college. The first thing I did when I got home after visiting with my family was grab my 'Walkman' (it was even a Sony) and head to the beach for an evening stroll. Once I got there and began to walk I started to weep profusely. I couldn't stop. I didn't even know at the time why I was overcome with emotion. Sixteen years later as part of a doctoral class I had to write a paper on how nature how has enhanced my spirituality. It was then that I began to reflect on my connection to the Ocean. It was then that I realized my tears sixteen years earlier where gratefulness. I came to a full understanding of Christian conversion and developed a real relationship with Jesus my freshman year in college. I came to KNOW Him. Thus, my tears at the end of my freshman year as I walked along the Ocean where tears of gratefulness that God has used his creation to speak and comfort me all the years I didn't really know him personally. I awakened to how God had pursued me and cared for me till I knew him personally. They were tears of gratitude for God's kindness in planting me less than a mile from the Jersey Shore. When I think of the things that have helped me to grow quietness and faith and rest I immediately think of the Ocean. Manasquan Beach along the Jersey shore for me is Sacred space.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Being Nourished in Joy

I will take a momentary break from my thoughts regarding the things that have helped me to listen better and hear the Lord to paraphrase some thoughts from the newsletter that will go out this week. To read the newsletter go to

I thought for those that read the newsletter the blog can be a chance to respond to its contents. If you don't want to read the whole newsletter the bigger points are summarized below:

Our Memories Must Be Redeemed so that We Hold Onto Joy
Our memories tell a story. They serve a purpose. In our flesh, our memories will tell stories that detach us from God and mock his caring involvement in our life. There are two commands we find repeated throughout the scriptures: remember and rejoice. Our fleshly tendency can be to forget and despair. The fathering memories I was holding on to told the story of an absent God and a mean father. I talked and obsessed more about my parenting mistakes and had a harder time celebrating the recollections that would bring me hope. When we are genuinely remembering our experiences in truth (the good and bad mixed together but orchestrated towards hope) they tell the story of God’s kindness and redemption. We must pray that our memory is redeemed.

It Helps to See Everyday Kindnesses as Gifts From God to Sustain Us
Forgetful joy is an experience of delight that comes from partaking in reminders of home (heaven). This helps us to disregard our present reality as aliens and foreigners living in a strange land ruled by the accuser. Forgetful joy evolves from the simple pleasures God provides to help push away the weight of this fallen world. Forgetful joy can happen to us each day. It can be a good night’s sleep, a cup of coffee in the morning, a relaxing lunch, a good book or a humorous exchange with a friend. Forgetful joy is attached to the sensual pleasures God gives us each day. “Naming” this type of joy means we accept that it comes from the Lord’s hand and we turn away from our tendency to make it an idol. Every good thing comes to us as a gift from God (James 1:17) and the more we grow in ‘God-consciousness’ the more we name every gift as a kindness from God that leads us into joy.

He also Gives Deeper Gifts to Remind Us He Has not Forgotten Us
In addition to forgetful joy, we can experience connected joy. Connected joy is deep contentment from experiencing an intimate touch from the Lord that reminds us He has not forgotten us and that we will one day see him face to face. “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever,” (Psalm 16:11). In connected joy we experience a fresh or new taste of God personally and it penetrates deeper than bodily gratification. For instance, a kind call from a friend will touch us differently than a warm bath. They both bring us pleasure and can help us be thankful for God but the phone call, because of its relational dynamic, can go deeper. In fact, as the person making the call knows us more intimately and incarnates the Gospel more freely, the joy will infiltrate deeper and bring us closer to the Lord.

'Celebrating' both types of Joy Helps them Penetrate Deeper
The scriptures clearly remind us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). One of the best ways to honor God’s kindness is to share it with friends. If we are to become people of strength and hope one of the avenues there is learning to celebrate well. You might simply tell your friend about the new brand of coffee you are enjoying in the morning or you might sit weeping at their side describing a profound moment of God’s kindness. Either way, by sharing together in these moments, we are saying and re-saying the Lord cares about us and has not forgotten us. As we recount these moments we are crystallizing their impact and working God’s kindness into deeper recesses in our heart.

My hope is that we all keep moving towards one of my favorite expressions of the Apostle Paul who said, "I am sorrowful yet always rejoicing," ( 2 Corinthians 6:10)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Scriptures

As I attempt to articulate the ways the Lord has helped me become quieter and pay attention to Him an obvious place to turn would be to the Scriptures. I was not raised in a tradition where you did a 'quiet time' or where reading the Bible on your own was reinforced. Church was kind of your main staple in the spiritual diet. However, on my own (well I think the Holy Spirit had something to do with it) I decided to read through the Bible when I was 14. I mostly remember being intrigued by the OT narratives and convicted by the NT epistles. All in all, my first foray into the Scriptures piqued my curiosity and opened me up to the largeness and reality of God but it did not seem to have much impact on my day to day life. About 4-5 years later when I became part of a college fellowship I began to read the Bible daily. It was there that I discovered the term 'quite time' and began a practice of daily Bible reading. The sadness for me as I look back on that time and the years that followed, is that I think too much of my Bible reading during those years exacerbated the noise in my heart. I went to the Bible then to feel better or to justify myself. It was as if I wanted to pilfer from the Scriptures what I needed instead of humbly asking the Bible to read me and letting the words expose to me what I needed while I searched deeper or to waited for the Lord to reveal more. At that point, my reading often affirmed what my flesh wanted the Bible to mean. Yet, I sensed in some meaningful ways that there was an Author behind the words calling me to rest. The time I spent in the Scriptures the first decade did help me to begin softening but it did not significantly alter my inner constitution. Slowly it did help me to realize there was more I needed to see and taste. The most helpful thing I did those ten years in terms of involvement with Scripture was to memorize some large portions of Scripture. Since the verses were lodged inside me they came to me at times when I was more open to listen and provided me with rest. It was as if, the Scriptures meant more to me when I was open and willing to listen, and less when I was trying to make them 'speak.'

In the summer of 1992 I took a hermeneutics class. What I heard that professor teach was,"In general we do with the Bible what we do with God. We try to use Him. We try to make Him work for us. He helped me see I treated the Bible the way I treated God. Through that course I saw the way men and women all through history have stood 'above' the Scriptures judging the words, and stealing from them what they needed to justify and comfort themselves. In most cases it wasn't Biblical justification or comfort. As my pride and control was exposed in the way I approached the Scriptures I began to recognize how I needed to approach the Scriptures from below and let the Bible read me. I needed to listen to its analysis of my condition and hear the words it was speaking, whether that was comfort or disruption. As the depth of my flesh was exposed in the way I approached the Bible I went from a daily Bible reader to reading less frequently. However, when I read it felt like I was encountering more than just words on a page. I felt as if I was being encountered. After that hermeneutics class and many experiences that followed the next year the Scriptures began to speak to me in a variety of ways. After reading the Bible I didn't have to leave 'feeling better' (or might I say pretending I felt better). Because I was more open to a variety of responses I left feeling comforted, exposed, confused, mad, touched, moved, etc., depending on the situation. Slowly my time reading the Scriptures looked more and more like my other relationships - bigger than something I could manage or control. As I look back on my first decade as a Christian I wish instead of just hearing I needed to be in the word and do a regular quiet time I wish there were those who exposed my need to really hear the word. I wish someone had incarnated The Word and said, "Gordon I don't trust all your Bible reading. As I have walked with you it seems to me that those words are not speaking to you the way they could." Instead of a propensity to offer comfort, I wish there had been those who more patiently, wisely and willingly discomforted me so that the Scriptures started meaning more to me sooner in my life. What I can't ignore at this point in my life is how meaningful those words seem to me now. I also can't separate the first decade of my Christian life from today. It is very possible (most likely probable) that no matter what I did those first ten years I wasn't going to really hear what those words meant as much as I would over time. So, I am grateful for some of the foundation I laid those first ten years that supported much of the undoing the next ten years. I look forward to growing in the rest and quietness those words speak to my heart.