life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Monday, September 26, 2005

knowing god 2: questions...

Warning: this post asks some very honest but troubling questions. I ask them as a person of faith, but also as one who still struggles with doubts. In this post I am struggling pretty hard. If you are not mature enough to handle that, please don’t read this one. I'm not trying to shake up anyone's faith.

I have been thinking a lot about the “knowing God” post, as well as the conversation that Marshall and I had in posted comments to it, and have wanted to go back and pick up a few threads from that post. (For those that just joined us or want to refresh their memories, you can find the post by clicking the July archive link to the left. It will be on top, July 28. Then, to see the comments, click on “Comments” just below that post.)

In the middle of his first comment Marshall says the following:

Yet do Elijah, Lamott, and my own experiences have anything in common? – yes, the belief that God will respond. And the belief that, in the end, he has. I need to stipulate, however, that both Elijah and Lamott have stronger faith in this arena than I do. In what are perhaps my healthier moments, however, I feel as they do. But, then, “I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.” – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

(He is speaking of Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies and Plan B on Faith.)

I’m especially interested in the phrase, “the belief that God will respond. And the belief that, in the end, he has.” But before I just leap into the conversation I would like to share some of the background, my background, in regard to this.

I truly do feel like I live on the suture zone. I grew up in a church for whom that expectation and reality that Marshall refers to was not really true. For all of our prayers for the sick and dying, we usually expected God to respond, if at all, through the skills of the physicians or pharmacists. Strangely, there was and there wasn’t an expectation of response. If it happened, it had to happen within very narrowly defined parameters in order to be attributed to the deity, which parameters today to me seem more akin to a modern scientific viewpoint of biblical texts rather than the way they have been historically understood. As I said on worshipforum.com recently, I am a neophyte when it comes to matters of the Spirit’s work today (that’s what I would see as God responding from a Christian perspective). So this is not territory I grew up easily navigating. Honestly, I don’t know whether it is ever easy to navigate, no matter how you grew up.

I grew up in a denomination that denied its identity as a denomination, whose single goal was the restoration of the pure, first-century church with all of the apostasies and human additions (read traditions) stripped away. I grew to call it lowest common denominator Christianity. My thoughts about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are strikingly different today, though I remain in a local church that maintains its connections to that movement. I mean no disrespect by this at all, nor is it my purpose here to spend time critiquing that American restoration plea. But as I grew older and became more familiar with the Christian Bible, I began to see a large number of differences from the church we thought we had “restored” and the church of the first century as revealed in the texts themselves. I clearly remember a discussion about tongues and other so-called “miraculous” manifestations of the Spirit with some “new converts” when I was a teenager. This was at the height of the exploding Jesus People movement. Why, they asked, if we were truly trying to restore New Testament Christianity, did we deny the Spirit’s presence in gifting the church? I remember a church elder whose daughter contracted Multiple Sclerosis, who, all standard arguments against modern-day miracles aside, asked me if I thought he wouldn’t be at the door begging one of the traveling faith healers to heal his daughter of this horrid disease if he thought there was any hope of it? They didn’t want her at their door, he informed me. It was said as one who had tried, and I suspect he had, God bless him. (Sadly, I sang at her funeral some years ago.)

As my world opened up and as I grew to know more and more people who were not from my background, who did not share the same view of God as I did, the safe, logical system I was cocooned in while growing up began to unravel.

I have not had the same ecstatic experience of the Spirit that some Christian friends of mine have had. Nor has God appeared to heal anyone by giving me that gift. But I have cried out to God to respond. Some of what has happened in response to that could be characterized as either divine response or happenstance/wishful thinking. Having gone through those experiences, I would fall on the “response from God” side of things, all factors considered, but that is certainly a judgment call on my part. There have been other responses – and even what I would call deity-initiated intrusions – which would be difficult to explain in any other way than to say that God has knocked on the door and said, “Jump!” Either that or at least to a certain extent I am insane.

Now, having given all of that background, I have an assumption to suggest and some resulting questions to ask:

Assumption – God desires at least to communicate with people, if not have some kind of relationship with them.

Why is this so hard? Why are we filled with doubts so often? Why doesn’t he just come out and make it clear, speak up, knock us into the dust with our nose pointed the right direction? Why don’t we have an adult two-way conversation?

I’m not trying to be disrespectful. The deepest desire of my heart is to know him at least in part as he knows himself to fully be. Not that I expect God to hop to it and meet my demands. Not at all. But it would just be nice to have more than a long-distance, mostly one-way conversation full of riddles and speculation about the subject of the communication from him.

Is there anyone else out there who feels the same way?

If he is (and I believe that he is) and if he desires to communicate, then either:

-- he talks to others but is not talking to me and I should drop this expectation; he is the great determinist God of the machine that the Deists believed so strongly in; or

-- he is talking to me and I have the modern equivalent of cotton in my ears and Ray Charles sunglasses on my face, both of which I only seldom remove; or

-- God speaks so softly or so seldom that I ought not expect to encounter his voice except maybe a few special times in my life; or...

...or what???

What should my expectations about this be? Why are my experiences so different from those who appear to have it all together? Or are they so different from me really?

One other thing... I believe strongly that it is not the super-educated, super-intelligent folks that God values relationships with. I believe strongly that God loves and wants to communicate with the digger of ditches just as much as he loves and wants to communicate with me. If that is so, it can’t be all that complicated, can it?

Yes, I know that God will not be manipulated. He made that clear to Moses at the bush. Should I just shut up and be satisfied with what I get?

I know I’m treading on ground that many may feel is threatening. Worse news... I don’t intend to answer the questions here. I don’t have answers with which I am satisfied. Welcome to the suture zone. The ground moves regularly.

Tones is leading (mostly) young adults (I snuck into the class, so...) from our church in a Sunday morning conversation on Christianity in the post-modern era. I almost said this yesterday: many of our crises of faith come about because we are forced to let go of inaccurate or incomplete views of God. I suspect we have many of those views that need to be pried from our hands, certainly from mine. Is that why?

All I will say is that my bet is on God talking all the time. We are just too busy, too occupied, even with kingdom business, or not spiritually attuned enough to be able to hear. If you didn’t read the post on lectio divina, this may be a good time to back up on this blog and familiarize yourself with this ancient practice. I would especially recommend that you practice it with others, if at all possible.

On the way back from lunch today, I passed a Buddhist charity society building. There are Chinese words in symbol form mounted on the side of the building. I have no clue what they say. They could be cussing me out. They could be a blessing on my day. Mostly I ignore them since I don’t understand them. When I saw them today, it made me want to learn Chinese. Maybe we are like that with God? Let me know what you think.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
Psalm 42:1-2

Grace and peace,

Owen

14 Comments:

Blogger Shane Coffman said...

Some questions for you, Owen. Do you think God "spoke" or "communicated" with all of, many, or even most of the Israelites in OT days?

Is my Bible representative of God's special relationships with men, or exhaustive? In other words, are we reading only about the men and women that God had special relationships with, and that is skewing our expectations of his relationship with us?

This has been on my mind the past two weeks since a teacher in our bible class made the comment that he wanted a relationship with God like Joshua or Moses had, and he felt the only reason he didn't have it was his own fault. I don't buy that. I think God chooses some people, not based on how intelligent they are, to have special, more personal relationships with. I don't know why, and I don't know how He choses, but that's what I seem to gather from scripture.

Understand, I'm not trying to down-play yours or my relationship with God at all. I'm just wondering if there is an extreme line of thinking that God would have a Moses or Joshua or David type of relationship with everyone if we would just do this or that (have more faith, spend more time in the Word, whatever).

7:55 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Hi, Shane...

Thanks for the questions. I know what you are asking. I've asked it myself.

Regarding your first question, on the one hand, looking at the experience of Israel, I would say, yes, Moses, Samuel, Elijah and others experienced things most Israelites did not. Isaiah doesn’t mention anyone else experiencing the very real theophany he experienced in the temple at his prophetic call. But what of the people at the sacred mountain as the law was being given? They heard the voice of God, did they not? Through the voice of Moses they heard God telling them “I let you be hungry so that you would come to know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Just exactly what is God saying there?

And what of the common people whom Jesus encountered? They heard the voice and experienced the presence of the Son of God, right?. “And surely I am with you always,” Jesus told his disciples. Was he just speaking to the twelve? I don’t think so.

Respectfully, I would suggest that at the time of the church something changed. Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled. Old men saw visions, young men dreamed dreams. God was dwelling with men in a recognized way. Jeremiah’s prophecy found in Jeremiah 31 became the reality. No longer will each man say to another, “Know the Lord.” For they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. Peter tells the dispersed church that we are all priests. A priest is one who serves in the presence of God on behalf of others. If we take seriously the priesthood of all believers, if we take seriously that we all enter the throne room of God himself as the writer to the Hebrews suggests, then we have to take seriously this question of God's silence (or our inability to hear).

Regarding your second question, I understand what you are saying. You may be right. But here is what I’m asking myself. If I am to read stories of what God did with “special” people, how is that relevant to me (or better, to us – see below)? Does it not establish an expectation in me (in us)? Am I simply to live vicariously through their experience while I wander through the world in silence? (or near silence) There was only one Paul, true. And there was only one Peter. But the living presence of the Holy God was given to all believers (Eph. 1; Acts 2, et al). There were thousands upon thousands of Marys and Simons and others whose stories aren’t recorded. Just because they weren’t doesn’t mean they didn’t experience the active, communicative presence of the living God.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m all wet. (We’re immersionists after all, right? ;-) ) I’m just not willing to accept the “they were the exceptions” argument any longer. Uniquely gifted? Perhaps. Exceptions when it came to the presence of God? I don’t think so.

Having said that, I would point out two things. One, I have had the experience of knowing that God had communicated with me, though not regularly. Perhaps I should become used to the infrequency? Maybe. Secondly, I’ve begun to think of late that our experience of God needs to be our experience, not my individual experience. Perhaps that is at least part of what is wrong. (The Spirit told the group at prayer in Antioch to dedicate Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to mission.) And, yes, I think something is wrong. I understand your friend’s frustration, though I may not come to the same conclusion he came to.

Yes, the expectation can be overdone. And I am one who at least gives lip service (and I hope more than that) to the idea that we need to let God be God. As I’ve said on this blog, God is not into being manipulated. But I am currently a bit frustrated by what I have been taught in the past and especially the pretty profound silence that I have endured for a while now. I am reminded of what that Greek Orthodox bishop quoted by McClaren said. (Tones has the book.) “The absence of God is the beginning of prayer.” Hmmm.

I haven’t lost my faith in all of this. As I said at the beginning of my post, I am approaching this as a person of faith. But I have what are for me some pretty significant questions at the moment. I am not trying to throw a wrench in someone’s relationship with God.. I’m just struggling with what seems incongruous with the evidence I see in the early years of Jesus’ followers, especially considering what they believed to be the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies I alluded to above..

Perhaps I should “get me to a monastery” for a week or so. The absence of God is the beginning of prayer. Hmmmm, again.

Please, Shawn (and everyone else), take this as conversation with the hopes of more discussion. I’m not trying to win an argument here. I’m just trying to make sense of what I’m reading and what I’ve studied and what is becoming more apparent (or maybe I just think it is becoming apparent!) to me as life moves on. I’m not the only one asking this question.

Someone has said that these junctures between ages allow us to see with more clarity what was hidden before by our assumptions under the old way of looking at things. I suspect a lot of pretty useless stuff surfaces too. Maybe this falls into the latter category.

But here it is. And what do I do with it?

There’s a monastery that accepts overnight guests maybe 2 ½ hours from here. I’ve had their number for awhile. Maybe after I get back from my mid-November Sacramento trip…. hmmmm.

Thoughts on this?

Grace and peace,
Owen

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Hi, Owen,

I have a million things to say, but I'm at work and believe that I have other kingdom tasks I ought to focus on just now. :) I would at least like to start, however, by giving you a warm virtual handshake and by congratulating you on your openness and honesty here. Love and what Anne Lamott calls "transparency" are always part of the language of the Spirit, I think.

Before I get crackin', though, I'd like to toss out a few quick thoughts that I hope to develop further later.

1) DOES GOD SPEAK ALL THE TIME? I think I agree that he does, my friend. In fact, I think he must. According to the Bible, God spoke us into existence. And if, as McLaren suggests, creation is ongoing, then God's speech is ongoing in all that transpires. This would mean that the unrolling of day-to-day reality is all God's word, God's speech. We inhabit God's text but perhaps suffer from a kind of illiteracy.

2) WHAT IS THE NATURE OF GOD'S CONSTANT SPEECH? I was touched also by a different moment in McLaren when Neo suggests that miracles are "overrated." With apologies to any whom this assertion might upset, I suspect more and more that the Bible contains a lot of hyperbole. We are saddled today with a scientific mindset, but moving past the suture zone can't mean moving back to a pre-scientific worldview - look at all the good science has done and all the truth it has uncovered! Science, praise God, is here to stay. It, too, like religion, is a quest for truth. And I believe it has this to teach: Miracles - including clear, unequivocal communiques from God - may happen. But they don't seem to be the order of the day. The world doesn't need them. Math is part of God's native tongue. DNA is part of God's native tongue. Science says that the Creator (whoever or whatever that may be) does speak plainly, but it's not a simple, human language!

3) BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DITCH DIGGER? Math includes (perhaps) the elusive Theory of Everything, and equations with more factors than the number of atoms in the universe. But it also includes 2 + 2. And math is...what shall we say? One part of God's speech.

A few years ago, after my now-ex wife left, I fell hard into a lot of obvious sin. I prayed hard for "sobriety" and "health." Then I fell even harder into sin. And fell and fell and fell.

But I currently am not smoking pot, not drinking to excess - I'm even sticking to a diet! "Sober as man can get, no girls, no telephones" ~ John Berryman. How did that happen?

4) BUT WHAT ABOUT JESUS TELLING THE DISCIPLES THAT THEY WOULD DO GREATER WORKS THAN HE DID, AND THE SUGGESTION IN ACTS THAT MIRACLES WOULD BE THE NEW ORDER OF THE DAY? I don't know. I was in church once during the past few years when an elder in my fellowship at the time announced he was "going out on a limb," but he was sure that God had told him that Bin Laden would be captured within the next 24 hours...

I suspect we have something important to learn from the eastern religions. Water flows and is patient and has extraordinary power. Perhaps we are simply too intent on forcing change. "You're blessed when you're content with just who you are--no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought." ~ Matthew 5:5, The Message.

Peace. :)

11:00 AM  
Blogger Tones said...

Great comments all. I especially appreciate Marshall's thoughts about creation.

I to struggle with this Owen. I think C.S. Lewis said somewhere that if we all got together and told of our struggles that we would all be embarrassed of the lack of originality. I would like to throw my voice into the mix of those who don't know why I don't hear God's voice like those I read about in the Bible. I have a couple of loosely held thoughts.

1. It doesn't seem to me that some of our Bible heros did anything spectacular to hear God's voice. If fact, I think that some of them did nothing or worse (Giddeon, Samson, Jacob, etc.) Even the disciples seemed to just be hanging around before Jesus said, "follow me." It makes me wonder why I feel that I have to try so hard to hear God.

2. I'm not sure what I expect God to say to me. I imagine He would say something like, "love people around you and love me". I think about my will for my boys. I want them to love people, I want them to do right, etc. I really don't care that much about the exact detail of their life. I don't care if Griffin becomes a preacher or a plumber or a ditch digger or a pro athelete. I wonder if God is like that with us. I wonder if there are some specific people that He wants to do specific things, but for the most part he may just want me to love Him and love people around me. But then again, that could just be a way that I justify not hearing from him.

Tones

11:39 AM  
Blogger Ron Barbee said...

Where to start... I don't know.
Maybe reviewing Experencing God by Henry Blackaby... Maybe just listening.

In my experience, I have found that I 'hear' God in more ways than a verbal response to a prayer. Borrowing from Experiencing God, He is at work in everything. I just have to be astute enough to see it. Now, this is where I fall flat on my face.

As we read through the scriptures, we see that God will choose various means to communicate with His people. But he rarely, if ever, communicated with people in the same way.

This may be why we question Him at times. "Hey, you talked directly to these guys. What about me??"

Well - I've asked him for two 'slap in the face' answers. (Now, I did this, because my heart was tempted to go in a certain direction that I wasn't at all sure I was supposed to go.)
One slap came from my wife - hey, not literally - but I knew it was the answer. There may have been more subtle answers prior to this. But I sure wasn't paying attention. The second 'slap' came from our circumstances. I was going in the right direction.

Other times that I 'heard' God were when I was at rest (even sleeping). But if I had my listening skills sharper, I think I would have more than one or two 'conversations' a year these last few years.

In going through Experiencing God, we learned the tools to use in finding out where God is speaking to us. Using them is an entire different thing. But I can say that after the workshop, I have 'heard' God more than I used to.

I think (my opinion, not necessarily the opinions of this blogger) that we have to unlearn a lot of what we have been taught about who God is. Trusting in the Holy Spirit can be a scary thing. Because that's where we lose control.

All's I know, is that if it makes me uncomfortable, it's probably from God.
Wasn't it Elijah who found the Lord in a still small voice? After the fire, after the earthquake, after the violent wind.

Maybe we try too hard.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Owen said: It would just be nice to have more than a long-distance, mostly one-way conversation full of riddles and speculation about the subject of the communication from him.

Tones said: Even the disciples seemed to just be hanging around before Jesus said, "follow me." It makes me wonder why I feel that I have to try so hard to hear God.

I've been thinking about the issues raised in this discussion thread all day. And I find that, if I drop all pretense and examine what I really believe, I find that I just don't know God very well. I've tried and tried and tried, and I've asked and asked and asked, and I have had experiences in which I felt God's presence strongly - but never unequivocally. In every instance, a psychologist or sociologist or biochemist or just someone from a church across town might easily supply a different, sensible "reading" of my experience that does not involve the intervention of God.

But here is a puzzling thing:

We inhabit a universe in which the quest for beauty leads to truth. Isn't that strange? But it's true. Consider the sciences - the quest for objective, verifiable truth. There is currently zero evidence that string theory is true, yet thousands of top scientists stake their reputations on its truth. Why? Because the math is so beautifully compelling that they feel it must be true. The two scientists who discovered the double-helix of DNA called it their "pretty discovery." :)

Consider the arts - the quest for subjective truth about the human experience. Here, too, the pursuit of beauty leads to the discovery of great insight. It is no accident that Shakespeare rises to the top of the literary cannon; he is at once the supreme master of the language and offers the deepest insights into the lives of his characters.

And consider religion - the quest to discover the appropriate attitude toward the whole of existence (to paraphrase Olaf Stapledon). Here, too, we are drawn to deep truth by beauty. Why do so many agnostics and athiests say that they admire Jesus though they find organized religion repulsive? Listen to the sermon on the mount!

In all the ways that humans search for truth, beauty comes into play as a guide. I think that beauty is at least one of the ways that God speaks very loudly indeed.

I walked out of Target recently, and headed east across the parking lot toward my car. I had parked waaay the heck over there, in an attempt to burn a couple calories. My back was to the setting sun, and the sky before me was clear blue. Then I turned to open the driver's side door...and I was stunned. Actually, I said aloud, "Holy s***!" But it was, nonetheless, a truly holy moment. The sky was a luminous, overwhelming fire of volcanic, organic orange and red and... I can't begin to do it justice. Suffice to say that I was in awe. I was...contextualized. I was slammed with joy.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Thanks for all the comments: Shane, Tones, Ron, Marshall. I guess I stirred up a pot here, but it comes from honest questions.

Reflecting on Marshall's most recent comment here....

Marshall already knows this (I think) but my first novel was set in the Hopi culture. It came originally from watching a PBS special on brain research. All I remember is that the researchers were commenting that brain research showed that western cultures hear and process rain on the left side of the brain, while Asian cultures hear and process it on the right side.

An Asian gentleman commented, "You Westerners, when you hear rain, to you it is noise. When I hear rain, it is saying something."

Perhaps we have become illiterate in terms of listening to God because of the way we have been taught to hear. Maybe we haven't been taught to really listen. Maybe?

A belated welcome to Wade who commented on an earlier post. And welcome to Ron, a friend from worshipforum.com

Please feel free to continue to comment on this particular post. I expect this conversation will last awhile.

I will probably post on knowing god coming at it from other angles as well in the near future.

Grace and peace,

Owen

5:44 PM  
Blogger Tones said...

I was reading yesterday in Donald Miller's book Searching fo God Knows What, and has some ideas that I think are important to this conversation. He says that we sometimes seperate truth from meaning. One of his illustrations is one of a boyfriend who tries to woo his girl with a systematic list of traits that he has noticed about her and appreciates: nice looking eyes, beautiful smile, etc. He puts that against a boyfriend who quotes the same ideas in a poem:

She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that's best of park and bright
Meet in her aspect and har eyes

She is going to understand the meaning of the poem far above that of the list. He goes on to say, "It makes me wonder if guys like John the Evangelist and Paul and Moses wouldn't look at our systematic theology charts, our lists and mathematical formulas, and scratch their heads to say, Well it's technically true; it just isn't meaningful."

I think that Marshall's right about beauty. I think that beauty is the meaning in God's message sometimes. It doesn't help if I'm looking towards heaven for a 500 word essay delivered in a James Earl Jones voice, but I think beauty speaks to our hearts.

Tones

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Three things:

1) A personal thank you to everyone engaging in this conversation.

2) An invitation (if I dare co-opt Owen's blog with such a thing): I believe I would benefit - and I daresay others would too - from simply hearing people's testimonies. Can you say that you know God? If so, what does that mean when you say it? How have you experienced that knowledge?

And 3) A thought that echoes Owen's original need for a warning. Please stop reading and skip to the next post if your faith is easily shaken.

Perhaps our liberal brothers and sisters are onto something. Perhaps a kind of poetic exageration is built into many biblical stories for effect, and God has rarely behaved so obtrusively as a literal reading of the Bible suggests. I find that some biblical encounters with God match my contemporary experience well - Joseph's great insight near the end of Genesis, Elijah's "still small voice," the story of Ruth... If I myself personally know God, it is in this way: as the subtle orchestrator, the God for whom a gentle mystery is a more apt calling card than a conflagration, for whose modus operandi a bush that doesn't turn to ash is a better metaphor than the slaughter of the priests of Baal.

Also, is it possible (severe warning) that some of the Bible stories are the result of an overexcited expectancy? We know that type of believer today, don't we?, lampooned on one Simpson's episode by God telling Homer in a dream that he has to go because "I'm due to appear on a tortilla." Some of us clutch at the Bible Code, or see the devil's face arising from the smoke of 9/11. There are several more-or-less standard ways of dealing with the "problem of the unreal Bible":

A) Their experience was abnormal.
B) Our experience is abnormal.
C) We could share their experience, but we aren't doing it right.
D) We do share their experience (my charismatic friends).
D) We don't share their experience because it often ought not to be taken literally.

I suppose it's clear which way I'm leaning at present - although I welcome God to be God and to work in and around me in any way(s) he sees fit.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

A, B, C, D...D. I think I get an F on that one. :)

10:44 AM  
Blogger Ron Barbee said...

Examples - With a bit of history on both.

Slap in the face #1:
I was co-founder/director of a youth marching band. Working with youth - you know - keeping them off the streets. Showing them values and stuff. What else is there?? (Yes, I actually got to a point of saying "what else is there").
Well - my volunteer involvement in this activity was considerable. I am blinded by my love for music and still a kid. (Doesn't working with youth keep you young?). What else was there? It was, however, causing much strife at home. My wife did try to become involved like a band 'mother'. But she was also trying to raise two young children at the time. I guess I helped out with that occasionally.
As friction became worse, I actually asked God for direction on this. Now, mind you, I started the band in 1984 and became a Christian in 1986. So in 1992 I said, "God, I am too close to this, I need a slap in the face answer - Do I continue with this, or chose another direction?"

Several weeks later, after we went to bed, my wife looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said that she would like to make a request. I knowingly asked what it was. She asked me to quit the band. *Slap* Without hesitation, I said that I would. If she just let me finish out that last season so not to let the group down. Best season that band ever had performance wise - in my opinion. I stepped down after that summer season.

Slap #2:
We're getting tired of Southern California's rat race. My wife's best friend just moved out of town to the Phoenix area this past May. With her family of 3 children all under 5.
Pressure to join them... In allowing my wife to be a stay at home mom, we have always rented either an apartment, house, or condo. Prices in Arizona look like we can afford to purchase something there pretty reasonable.
I have had this job for 25 years... And live about a 5 minute drive from work. Talk about scary thinking. We need to find out what God has to say about this. (At least I do). I start looking at Monster and CareerBuilder .coms. Scared to death. But usually knowing that when it makes me uncomfortable, it's usually something that God is asking me to do.
One month later (June), we are told that they are converting our apartments into condos. Pricing to be determined, but they may possibly be in a range that we cannot afford. OK now I really need to look for a job in Arizona... It appears that God is telling me something.

The week we find out that we 'have' to move out by July 31, a good friend at church walks up to me and says that her husband (in real estate) has a condo that is just about to go up for sale that he thinks may be in our price range. *Slap*
We had to pursue this as we both felt that it was surely God, as no one had found out that we had to move yet.
We are now first time owners - less than 5 minutes from work and church. It appears that he still wants us here.
Sorry this was so long. But those are two blatant examples of how I've seen God working in my life.

The only responsibility that I have in these two circumstances, is that I was able to recognize the timing on these two issues and recognize God's hand.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Ron said:

All's I know, is that if it makes me uncomfortable, it's probably from God.

I'm really intrigued by that statement. Please know, everyone, that I'm not arguing, merely conversing, but my experience has been to convince me further and further of the gentleness of God. I sense more and more, for instance, that perhaps I am being prodded to write for God. I sense it in my contributions to Owen's blog, in my discovery of Anne Lamott, etc., etc. But that is not uncomfortable for me. I love to write!

Now I do know that, biblically, God called a lot of people to do things that they really did not want to do. The list is nigh-infinite: Moses, Jonah, Jesus... But in my personal experience, I find that it has been my co-dependent nature that has led me into discomfiture, not God. Instead, I feel that God allows me great discomfort, but deals with me gently, always gently.

Years ago, my oldest daughter - we'll call her C. - ran away from home. And I mean really ran. We had raised her to her mid-teens in a loving Christian home, but she had been (we later found out) doing some hardcore drugs. And we noticed immediately (of course) that she stole our car, our credit cards, a lot of things that belonged to her two sisters. We had no idea where she was for nearly a week (most of which I spent in a fetal position). Finally we got a call from the police in Washington state (!). Aaaaaand, the story goes on and on and gets uglier and uglier.

But later, one evening, I was stunned with a sense of God's presence. My rage and sadness evaporated, and I shed joyful tears at how gentle God had been. I sensed that he had allowed C. to lose it "at the right time," as Paul says in Romans. I did not sense that he had caused any suffering, but had instead allowed some for the greater good. C. was not dead. She did not have AIDS. She had come to her mother some months after her retrieval and had confessed her drug use and lifestyle and asked for help.

I see in the Bible that the few (the Jews, the Christ) suffer on behalf of the many, and that God brings good from evil. Yes...yes, I see that...that has been my experience. Conversely, though, I confess that I struggle with stories such as God striking dead Annanias and Saphira. I have been through hell (several layers of it, several times - it isn't a nice vacation spot!), but I have rarely (never?) sensed in my own life that God calls me through or to discomfort. Rather, it is as though he either calls me from it, or lets me enter it as gently as possible, as though he had said, "I know that if I could let you know all that I do, you would willingly accept this pain and suffering." I don't know why there has to be so much of it! Maybe the best we get is hinted at in the joke from the movie Time Bandits, when God is asked why there has to be suffering, and he responds, "I think it has something to do with free will."

I personally don't hear God in the call to discomfort, though. I hear him later, in something like a thankful squeeze on the shoulder. And in perhaps one instance I heard him before. I did not know that my 20-year marriage was in trouble, when one day I felt...interrupted...one day while reading (something secular). I felt words strongly "impressed" upon my mind, with a gravity different from my usual thoughts: "These mid-life crises will pass after the girls leave home."

I put the book down, and said, good, good to know, then went back to reading. A couple weeks later, the storm hit. But each word has stayed with me. I have doubted it was God. I had up to that point had lots of mid-life troubles (or thought I had), so it might have been wishful thinking and the timing blind chance. But. At one point recently, my friend D. (co-divorced man, co-Christian, and co-party-buddy) asked what I thought after time of the "word from God" that Carol would come back after the girls moved out. I said, "That's not what I heard." I thought of those words when A. moved out, then when K. followed. Hm, I thought, I'm getting better, but I've got a ways to go. Then I thought of them again - a bit sadly - when A. moved back in. :)

I often think the divorce opened avenues of healing and growth for Carol and me and even our three kids. That day I was reading, it was as though God said in advance, "Thanks, bud. This is going to be a bad one. But I know you'd want this if you knew... And I'll make sure you're okay in the end."

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Within the past year, I had a talk with my daughter, K. (Daughter #2, I sometimes call her, trying to imitate Charlie Chan). She was struggling HARD with the difficulty of hearing God's voice, to the point, she said, that she felt guilty for going to Burger King because maybe God had work for her to do at Carls Jr. She said it was a serious problem for her, because she had even been considering marrying someone she didn't want to because she thought she sensed it was God's will.

I told her that I believe we followers have more liberty than we sometimes seem to think. I don't think God cares whether you paint your house blue or yellow, I suggested, because they're both great and both gifts for us to choose from. I mirrored something Tones says above, that God wants us to love on him and on each other - "Now, where do you wanna eat?"

10:39 AM  
Blogger Ron Barbee said...

Believe it or not - I kinda like McDonald's. :-)

Marshall - My personality type has been introvert since high school. (Same test 20 years apart). I keep a lot to myself. Any time I have to deal with other people on a personal or public level - whew.

Even though, I've been called to be a teacher for our high school youth group. I have been put in charge of the praise team. (well - that has to deal with music, so that's not too bad). Sing solo with Messiah, Les Mis and Joseph for our church. I have been worship leader off and on with the team for a few years now - very scary to start with. Done a couple of adult classes - one about my story - one about our marriage. Produce a CD with the team. Not to mention put all this down for others to see.
But - that's just me.

10:25 AM  

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