is an ordained Episcopal Minister
has a Masters of Divinity (M. Div) from the Virginia Theological
Seminary in Alexandria, Va.
also has a Masters in Education (M. Ed.) from the University of North
Florida in Jacksonville
is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the State of Florida
(MH2299) — currently inactive
taught Ethics and Critical Thinking at Florida Metropolitan
University (Melbourne, FL);
formerly taught Religion at the University of Montevallo, AL
has had articles published in Sharing Magazine, in The Living Church
Magazine and in various Newspapers
has been a Workshop Leader for the Order of Saint Luke, Elderhostel,
Cursillo and a number of Churches across the country
is a water color painter
has been told by others he is a gifted Bible teacher
I believe that, more important than titles, certifications or other types of “recognition”, the one thing of greatest importance that one person has to share with another person, is
the story of their own personal spiritual journey. On a spiritual journey, as on other kinds of journeys, sometimes you get lost, sometimes you find yourself taking a detour. Sometimes you discover the destination that you thought you were heading toward is not the destination you need to be pursuing.
Sometimes a journey is a “quest”. Often, when I have run out of things to paint, I go driving through the countryside until something catches my attention: sometimes it is an old barn, a covered bridge, or a home that looks “lived in” in an especially interesting way. Sometimes, spiritual “quests” are similar. You don’t know exactly what you are looking for [the U2 song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”]; you just keep putting one foot in front of the other until something catches your attention.
Many biblical characters were on such “quests”. Abraham set out not knowing where he was going [Hebrews 11:8]; Moses was tending his flock when a burning bush caught his attention [Exodus 3:1-4]; Jacob had a dream about a ladder connecting earth to heaven and an angel speaking to him from the top of the ladder. Jacob’s response upon awaking was to declare “surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not.” (Genesis 28:10-17). C.S. Lewis (Christian thinker and writer of the “Witch and the Wardrobe” trilogy) had this experience of finding what he did not know he was looking for. He titled his autobiography “Surprized by Joy”. As I share some things about my own spiritual journey, hopefully you will discover some clues about how God wants to draw you close to him.
Part I – the journey begins
As a small child, I had a deep and abiding sense of God’s closeness to me. I am a Christian, so when I visualize “God”, he looks like Jesus…at least like the pictures of Jesus I saw growing up. I trusted that Jesus would always be close to me to protect and guide me. Like most little kids, I had some serious illnesses and accidents; but I believed that my heavenly friend helped me through each and every one. In the fourth grade I had my first life-threatening illness. In and out of a coma for weeks, I remember hearing the Doctor whisper to my mother that I might not make it and that, if I did, I would probably lose my hearing or my sight or both. Yet, a few weeks later I re-emerged in perfect health. My friend, Jesus, had helped me again, as I knew I could count on him to do.
As you might expect, having this sense of Jesus’ closeness to me and trusting that he would always help me through difficulties gave me a profound sense of “destiny”: a feeling that I am on this earth for some reason, some purpose. I didn’t really know if Jesus walked close to other people as he did with me. I simply knew that it would be my life’s calling and privilege to help other people discover this same experience of being close to God that I have been blessed to know for my entire life.
Part II – a point along the way
Just as journeys in a car are marked by places where you stopped for the night, or sights you saw along the way, a spiritual journey is often marked by significant points along the way. My parents were unyielding in seeing to it that my sister and I were in Church and Sunday School every week; otherwise, my life seemed about the same as the lives of my friends. I did, however, spend much of my early life feeling like a “misfit”. I guess in today’s language I was pretty “nerdy”. A good student, I liked school, though I had few friends. Playing in my school’s bands and being involved in Church activities pretty much defined my life. I played trombone in the marching band, the concert band, the orchestra and the dance band. At Church I sang in the choir, was involved in Youth Group and was looked upon as a “leader” for such things as reading a devotional or having a prayer to start a meeting.
An annual highlight for me from 7th grade through high school was the week of summer camp at a beautiful spot on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie called “Lakeside”. We did our share of playing, but we also had two classes a day for studying scripture. The last night of camp always ended the same: there was a big bon-fire on the beach looking out over Lake Erie. After singing some songs, an adult counselor (usually a minister) would give a short talk and then there would be a kind of “altar call”. Some years the speaker would invite people to come forward to accept Jesus as their personal savior; other years it was more like agreeing to go home and be more obedient to your parents. But the summer that became a “significant point along the way” for me on my spiritual journey was the summer of my eighth grade year. The speaker invited kids to come forward who wanted to give their lives to full time Christian Service. I’m not sure I had any idea what “full time Christian service” meant. But I walked forward, had hands laid on my head as I was prayed for, and returned to my seat believing firmly that I had made a life altering promise to God that I would serve him vocationally in some way. From that moment on, whenever I was asked “what are you going to do when you grow up?”, I had a certain answer: I am going into full time Christian Service! That decision and accompanying promise, more than any other I can remember, shaped the balance of my future life.
Part III – Detour
Many journeys include at least one “detour” off the main highway. Call it “Satan”, call it “human nature”, call it “a testing”…many people whose journey is heading them toward full time Christian service find themselves “resisting”. I think I didn’t realize until I started to college exactly how “sheltered” my life had been up to that point. Suddenly thrust into the secular environment of a liberal arts college, out from under the reins of accountability to my parents, I was not prepared for the exhiliration of the freedom I was suddenly experiencing. The rules and boundaries that had kept me physically and morally safe from birth through high school were gone. I realized for the first time in my life that I had depended so much on my parents to keep me from going too far astray, I had developed very few “internal” boundaries. I was cast into an “anything goes” world and I found myself wanting to try it all. Surprisingly, when I think back on this time, I realized that even then — like the Prodigal Son in the pig sty [Luke 15:11-32] my divine friend, Jesus, remained close to me. Even when I ventured off into some new sinful enticement, a small voice inside my head would be whispering: “John, you know this is not what I want for you; come back to me.” This sense of drifting back and forth between the “narrow” route that I knew to be my destiny, and the “broad” road [Matthew 7:13-14] that the world around me offered took place probably over a ten year period. At age 28 I had finished 4 years of college, had completed an additional 3 years of Seminary, and had been ordained and in full time parish ministry for about two years. My “double life” was beginning to trouble me greatly. I felt like a total hypocrite. Through a variety of circumstances, I was brought to another facet of nearly all journies, a crossroad. Jesus, who was never harsh or threatening, seemed to be saying: “OK, you’ve experienced enough of the world to know what life for other people is like. Now its time to come back home, to where I want you to be.” And like the Prodigal who “came to his senses”, I did return to that familiar place of perfect closeness with my savior and friend, Jesus. This is not to say that my life suddenly became easy or free from temptations, testings and occasional stumblings off the main road. But one thing was different. I had confessed Christ as my personal Savior earlier in my life; I had felt close to Jesus throughout my spiritual journey. But at this “crossroad” I did one thing I had never done before. I made a conscious decision to turn my life and my will over to the God of my understanding: Jesus, my savior and friend. I had previously used the word “lord” in praying and worship. Never before, though, had I stopped to ask myself if I was truly allowing this Jesus to actually BE the Lord (boss, ruler, controller) of my life. So now I had, and now he had become my Lord as well as my friend and savior.