Category Archives: Spirituality

My 12 month (and counting) Journey Through the Wilderness


image10Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the closing of Clearwater Christian College. The board lacked the courage to continue operations and lost the vision of the college’s founder, Arthur Steele, to see a liberal arts Christian college that would impact the greater Tampa Bay Area and beyond. The result scattered thee hundred and fifty students and left over sixty faculty and staff without employment.

Throughout these past twelve months, I have said little publicly about it mainly because the abrupt ending and severe casualties created by the decision left me bewildered. My wife, Julianne’s joblessness overlapped my first three months of unemployment. We had little time to think about much beyond financial survival. Many of my co-workers, like myself, found ourselves in a wilderness asking questions, listening to insufficient answers to our situation, mourning the death of the college that we loved so much. In September after the closure, I took to bike riding several times a week partially to work through the CCC event and try to understand what God is doing. My rides were sometimes with friends and sometimes alone, but always in Starkey Wilderness Park. I felt drawn to this location because of my own wilderness in which I found myself. After twelve months, I still have little to say about what happened to bring about the closure, but I have learned many things through my journey in the wilderness. Here are a few:

I experienced inconsolable pain of loss and found the hope of the gospel to be a balm. Reflecting on Christ and his work for me has provided so much comfort this year. There have been many dark moments this year. In those moments, I have tried to focus on what Christ did to reconcile those who are believing in his work -his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his ruling at the right hand of the Father. When I rejected the notion that my own situation was unrepairable, it was because I realized in reflecting on Christ that nothing is beyond this divine work. I hoped in his completed work to see me through.

I experienced the silence of the church when I needed them to speak truth to me. Times during this past year I needed to hear from the church, I heard nothing except questions and data inquiry. Trite sayings about God’s sovereignty were followed by questions about CCC’s closing that made the pain press in on me. I’m sure these moments were unintentional and out of a pure heart, but I most wanted them to sit in silence with me or read healing truth of scripture to me.

I experienced the care of church friends in moments I needed it most. This may sound contradictory to the statement above, but it is not. In the three years I have been attending my current church, God has provided me friendship with several men in the church. Particularly in the initial stages of the journey, without perhaps their realization, God allowed these men to minister to me in ways they still do not know.It seemed when I was in very dark places spiritually, they would call, inviting me to lunch. I remember sitting at lunch with them one time and thinking they have no idea how dark of a place their friendship rescued me from by a simple gesture of kindness. They would talk to me about scripture, they would encourage me, remind me they were praying for me and my family, and ask how they could help.

I experienced the power of hearing the scriptures read to me. This was powerful for me because I realized the Spirit was guiding other believers to read what I needed in that moment. I was not trying to find something for me, I was being ministered to by the Holy Spirit through other friends and family who were also trusting in Jesus. My wife did this often for me. I can’t begin to tell you how this impacted my view of the situation.

I experienced how to listen for the comforting voice of the Holy Spirit. I have spent a significant amount of my time sitting in silence, driving in silence or riding my bike in silence – no music, podcasts, or radio. At first I was trying to figure out what happened, but that quickly became a pointless endeavor. I began to pray that God would through the power of the Holy Spirit clear away unhelpful emotions that prohibit me from hearing from him. Through this I learned how to sit in a prayerful spirit and hear from God. I began to read and meditate on his word and ask the Holy Spirit to do His work on me.

I experienced loss which has created a greater sense of empathy for those who have suffered greater loss. The Lord blessed our family with significant employment until two years ago. Julianne lost her job one year to the date that I lost mine at CCC. By God’s grace on us, we were able to weather the storm better than some of my co-workers. However in the midst of this, God allowed us to experience gifts that we could never repay. One such gift was the private school tuition of my son’s junior year paid in full. My gratefulness cannot even be expressed in this one event, someone relieved us of the additional stress of figuring out where he would have to complete the next year of high school. There were many others too, some in help doing things others in material contributions. I now see more clearly the hurt of others around me that perhaps I could not see without this happening. I find myself praying more for those around me that I sense are experiencing pain inflicted by others.

I experienced loss of professional identity which allowed me to focus on my true identity in Christ. I am no longer a Professor of Bible at CCC. I loved that title mainly because of all the great things identified with it- teaching the Bible, mentoring students, preaching the word, etc. Now I am a “school bus driver” (SUV) for my children, domestic worker, and afternoon/night courses adjunct instructor. That is my work, not my identity. Through this year, I have been reminded through the scriptures and the Holy Spirit, that I am in Christ. I am his child, I am a son of God adopted through Christ’s work. That is enough, nothing else matters.

I experienced God turning the hearts of men to care for his children. My superiors at my current employment contacted me soon after the closure about adjunct work. They had a sense of duty to take care of me because of the abruptness and “lack of care” (their words) of the closing institution. I was and continue to be given courses well beyond what is normal for a new hire adjunct. God has provided the max number of course I can teach at this institution without becoming full-time. One of my superiors called me prior to the spring semester and told me “God is really taking care of you because this never happens.” Unbelievers confessing the true nature of God’s goodness for his people.

I experienced God’s goodness to me in the little things. Soon after the CCC’s closure, I realized my Red Sea moment might not come right away. For multiple reasons, I was not going to find the ministry opportunity that helped make sense of the CCC event. This has been a gift because through it I forced myself to start journaling ways in which God showed up in my day to day routine. Very soon in this process, I began to see Divine appointments that resulted in encouraging words. Little things, formerly interesting but thought of as insignificant now reminded me that God was with me and caring for me. This “show up” journal became encouraging reads when I would doubt the goodness of God or the greatness of my Savior.

I don’t like what has happened, I don’t understand it any more now than I did a year ago. I want to wake up from this nightmare that there is not liberal arts Christian college in the Greater Tampa Bay area. There will be no more interns from CCC being salt and light in the public schools, and local businesses. There will be no more CCC student praise and worship on the beaches that display God’s transforming work in this world. However this is what God has allowed in his good providence. I accept that and I am grateful that through it He has graciously shown me how big He really is and how much He loves those who are trusting in Him. The doors have closed, but as many of the student’s have proclaimed on social media, WE are Clearwater, the ministry that happened there does not cease to be because the halls are silent.

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Heaven’s praises or sad complaint?


Reading for my dissertation, I came across this work by Francis Quarles. The stanza that especially stood out to me speaks about sigh and complaints that replace praise to God. Quarles says, “The afflicted captive, that can find no peace: Thus am I cooped within this fleshly Cage, I wear my youth, and waste my weary age, Spending that breath which was ordained to chant Heaven’s praises forth, in sighs and sad complaint.” Many times I only see the things that are broken or fallen in this world instead of looking for the things that remind me of God’s continued attention and care toward those that bear his image.

Book of the Fifth, Emblem Ten
Francis Quarles

MY soul is like a bird, my flesh the cage,
Wherein she wears her weary pilgrimage
Of hours, as few as evil, daily fed
With sacred wine and sacramental bread;
The keys that lock her in and let her out,
Are birth and death; ‘twixt both she hops about
From perch to perch, from sense to reason;
then From higher reason down to sense again:
From sense she climbs to faith; where for a season
She sits and sings; then down again to reason:
From reason back to faith, and straight from thence
She rudely flutters to the perch of sense:
From sense to hope; then hops from hope to doubt,
From doubt to dull despair; there seeks about
For desperate freedom, and at every grate
She wildly thrusts, and begs the untimely date
Of unexpired thraldom, to release
The afflicted captive, that can find no peace.
Thus am I cooped; within this fleshly cage
I wear my youth, and waste my weary age;
Spending that breath, which was ordained to chant
Heav’n’s praises forth, in sighs and sad complaint:
Whilst happier birds can spread their nimble wing
From shrubs to cedars, and there chirp and sing,
In choice of raptures, the harmonious story
Of man’s redemption, and his Maker’s glory:
You glorious martyrs, you illustrious stoops,
That once were cloistered in your fleshly coops
As fast as I, what rhetoric had your tongues?
What dexterous art had your elegiac songs?
What Paul-like power had your admired devotion?
What shackle-breaking faith infused such motion
To your strong prayer, that could obtain the boon
To be enlarged; to be encaged so soon?
Whilst I, poor I, can sing my daily tears,
Grown old in bondage, and can find no ears;
You great partakers of eternal glory,
That with your Heav’n-prevailing oratory
Released your souls from your terrestrial cage,
Permit the passion of my holy rage
To recommend my sorrows, dearly known
To you, in days of old, and once your own,
To your best thoughts, (but oh ‘t doth not befit ye
To move your prayers; you love joy, not pity;
Great LORD of souls, to whom should prisoners fly
But thee? thou hast a cage as well as I;
And, for my sake, thy pleasure was to know
The sorrows that it brought, and feltest them too
O let me free, and I will spend those days,
Which now I waste in begging, in thy praise.[1]

 

[1] Quarles, Francis, 1592-1644; Rogers, W. Harry (William Harry), 1825-1873; Bennett, Charles H. (Charles Henry), 1829-1867. Quarles’ emblems (Kindle Locations 3435-3465). London : James Nisbet and Co.

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We are far too easily pleased


This C.S. Lewis quote struck me as an fascinating explanation of human desire.

We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[1]


[1] Lewis, C. S. “Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001, 25-26.

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A “Just” view of the world


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20121224-144001.jpg During Christmas break I watched Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007) with my middle son. In the movie Mr. Magorium [Dustin Hoffman] hires an accountant whom he affectionately calls “Mutant” [Jason Bateman]. A particular conversation between Molly Mahoney [Natalie Portman] intrigued me. As “Mutant” attempts to make sense of the activities inside the toy store, he inquires of Mahoney as to the happenings in store.

Molly Mahoney: It’s a magical toy toy store
Mutant: It’s just a toy store
Mahoney: You’re a “just guy”, you look at the world and say, it’s just a toy store. A guy that walks around no matter what it is just what it is nothing more.

This conversation made me think about God’s wonderful work in this world, his miraculous activities among us everyday, the little things often ignored that wouldn’t be without the sustaining work of our great God. Many times our response to such activities is, it’s just a sunrise, it’s just another birth, it’s just another migrating bird, or its just another…. Molly Mahoney recounts, “In every corner of this store, the miraculous happened every minute of every day.” Just like Molly Mahoney, I want to be more than a “just guy,” I want to be the guy that looks and sees God’s miraculous in the mundane, then celebrates them. In the end, there is no “just” because God’s interest in his creation is in itself a miracle indeed. His interest is not more brightly seen than in this season of celebration of the birth of our Christ.

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Presidential Prayer (Ugandan that is)


I read this prayer from the president Yoweri Museveni of Uganda upon the celebration of 50th year of independence from British rule.

“I stand here today to close the evil past, and especially in the last 50 years of our national leadership history and at the threshold of a new dispensation in the life of this nation. I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. We ask for your forgiveness…. We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation. We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal….Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict…. We want to dedicate this nation to you so that you will be our God and guide. We want Uganda to be known as a nation that fears God and as a nation whose foundations are firmly rooted in righteousness and justice to fulfill what the Bible says in Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. A people you have chosen as your own.”

The powerful prayer reminded me of Daniel’s prayer in the book of Daniel 9:1-27. Daniel in exile, recognized that the exile had to be coming to an end and prepared himself and the nation for return to the land. He confessed,

“We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Lord, you are in the right; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us, including the people of Judah and Jerusalem and all Israel, scattered near and far, wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you. O LORD, we and our kings, princes, and ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you….Every curse written against us in the Law of Moses has come true. Yet we have refused to seek mercy from the LORD our God by turning from our sins and recognizing his truth. Therefore, the LORD has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The LORD our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him….”

Daniel too, repented for the offenses of the nation that were against God and against his fellow Israelites outlined in Torah. While I am not much for mixing religion and politics, I applaud the Ugandan president for his recognition of the state of the country that he oversees. Even apart from the theological implications, both the Prayer of Daniel and President Museveni invoke a sense of humility absent in politics today. It takes a certain level of humility to admit our deficiencies publicly, but it also brings a reality to the situation, that few other means can provide. I believe in this reality recovery can begin either politically and spiritually.

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The Sacrifice of Cultural Relevance


An interesting observation about  the cost of attempts by the church to be culturally relevant instead of truth-bearers.

It’s very English (and, therefore, quite Anglican) to dismiss the evangelicals as crazy people with an antiquated addiction to the Bible. But it’s actually the strength of their faith that makes them so attractive to people searching for certainty in a confusing and often horrible world. After all, “we offer the keys to the kingdom of heaven” is a far more compelling advertisement for a church than, “help us address alienation and the inexorable rise of consumerism.” Put aside your prejudices and ask why anyone might visit a church in a time of distress? To hear moral clarity; to be told that “you too can be saved!”? Or to discuss “how to protect the natural environment”?

Taken from: Stanley, Tim. “In Its Search for ‘relevance’, the Anglican Church Is Losing Relevance.” Telegraph.co.uk (blog). The Telegraph, 21 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100190837/in-its-search-for-relevance-the-anglican-church-is-losing-relevance/&gt;.

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Prayer is a Wall of Faith


“The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion – 3)” (1990) by Jacek Andrzej Rossakiewicz (b.1956), oil on canvas.

I came across this reminder from Tertullian (160-225AD) in part three of his writings in the Anti Nicene Fathers labeled Ethical. Here Tertllian speaks of the power of prayer comparing the objects of prayer in the Old World, or Hebrew Bible with the objects of prayer in the present. At first glance it seems like the objects prayer for of old– “used to free from fires, and from beasts, and from famine” appear more fantastic than objects prayed for in the present. However Tertullian rejects this notion as he asserts,

Christ has willed that it [prayer] be operative for no evil: He had conferred on it all its virtue in the cause of good. And so it knows nothing save how to recall the souls of the departed from the very path of death, to transform the weak, to restore the sick, to purge the possessed, to open prison-bars, to loose the bonds of the innocent.

Objects prayed for today may look different from the Old World, but in many ways the objects remain the same:

Likewise it washes away faults, repels temptations, extinguishes persecutions, consoles the faint-spirited, cheers the high-spirited, escorts travellers, appeases waves, makes robbers stand aghast, nourishes the poor, governs the rich, upraises the fallen, arrests the falling, confirms the standing.

Also, prayer reflects our faith in God and work power to work in our world. Tertullian reminds us,

Prayer is the wall of faith: her arms and missiles against the foe who keeps watch over us on all sides. And, so never walk we unarmed. By day, be we mindful of Station; by night, of vigil. Under the arms of prayer guard we the standard of our General; await we in prayer the angel’s trump. The angels, likewise, all pray; every creature prays; cattle and wild beasts pray and bend their knees; and when they issue from their layers and lairs, they look up heavenward with no idle mouth, making their breath vibrate after their own manner. Nay, the birds too, rising out of the nest, upraise themselves heavenward, and, instead of hands, expand the cross of their wings, and say somewhat to seem like prayer. What more then, touching the office of prayer? Even the Lord Himself prayed; to whom be honour and virtue unto the ages of the ages![1]

Many times we don’t pray as we ought thinking we can handle our own issues. Maybe this reflects our lack of faith in God to handle our issues for us or perhaps our pride in resting upon our own efforts instead resting in God provisional care. In either case, Tertullian provides a timely reminder of the power of prayer in the face of our efforts toward self-sufficiency.


[1] Tertullian, “On Prayer”, trans. S. Thelwall, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian ( ed. Alexander Roberts et al.;Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 690-91.

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Filed under Friday Prayers, Spirituality, Theology