What Seminary Has Taught Me (About Myself)

img_1508I never thought I would be in seminary. I definitely never thought I would be in seminary as long as I have been. I’m in my fourth year and potentially have a year and a half more. I’m not sure it this is the common route, but it is the path I’ve taken while being a husband, a father, and working full time. In these past three years, seminary has taught me quite a few things I did not know about theology, the Bible, church history and a whole slew of other subjects.

While learning about the subjects listed above have been benificial to my growth as a theologian and one day (Lord willing) will be beneficial to me as a pastor, seminary has benefited me as an individual as well. I certainly have benefited spiritually from my time in seminary due to increased time in the scriptures and reading those who have gone before me as they wrestled with the cultural issues of their days. But I have also learned about myself in the process. Here are a couple of things I have learned about myself in my three years in seminary.

I’m Not As Smart As I Think I Am

I was bound to learn this at some point in my life and to some degree, I have. Seminary has only quickened the process. Without trying to sound too braggy, I came into seminary with a decent amount of theological knowledge. I attended a Baptist school for my undergrad earning a degree in Christian Ministry and a minor in Bibilical Studies. I had previous theological training under my belt when entering seminary. I attended a church that was very strong in its doctrine. I assumed I was in a great place to, if not glide through my classes, at least pass them with ease. I discovered in my first semester this was not the case. I took a classload of nine credit hours which I found difficult to complete (some of which was due to my laziness). I found myself struggling in classes I had taken in my undergrad. I interacted with students on message boards who clearly had a much greater grasp of the material than I did. I came to the realization that perhaps I was not the theological genius I thought I was. As I’ve continued in seminary, I have only found this to be more true. By no means do I believe that I am biblically illiterate, but I certainly find myself knowing less and less and honestly, thats a good thing. It propels me to a greater pursuit of knowledge for personal sanctification and growth.

I Am Limited

As I mentioned above, I am married, a father, and work full time. My time is limited. When I started seminary, my wife and I had only been married for a little over six months, I was working a full time job which gave me afternoons off after one pm, and had very little obligations otherwise. Perhaps that is why I was so adament on taking three classes my first semester in seminary. I was six months removed from a life where I was a single man in my early twenties with a lot of time on my hands. One word comes to mind: Foolish. I admit that I was over my head with the three classes I took my first semester. I found that I had less time than I thought I had. My grades were abysmal  first semester and second semester…they weren’t any better. I ended up dropping to two classes after a year in seminary. I found that this was a much easier pace for me as I tried be a husband and work full time. Now that my wife and I have added a baby into the mix, time I can devote towards school continues to dwindle. Luckily, the course load has been manageable and I have enough wisdom to know when I am over my head.

I learned I am also limited in my ability. I have been known to try to do too much at one time. Seminary has, in the past three years, brought me to my limit several times. Due to the amount of time I have as well as my personaly strengths/weaknesses, I now know better what things I should start on earlier. I cannot read a 400 page book in a matter of hours in one sitting.  Instead, I have to read sporadically and for no more than an hour and a half. I can craft a well-written paper in an hour if need be. I can’t watch hour after hour of lectures, but I can understand them over several hours separated by time in between them. All of this has helped me understand how I learn and what I am capable of. It has given me a fresh perspective on my limits when it comes to ability and how I can improve.

I Enjoy Learning

While school for another year and half is something I desire due to the cost and the time, one thing I am looking forward to is what I will learn. I’ve heard it said that if you are a pastor who does not enjoy learning, you are in the wrong profession. To me, learning means growth. It means advancement. I find joy in learning. This does not mean that I enjoy everything I learn about. I don’t particularly care about the Lapsarianism and the thought process of God ordering Creation, Fall, Election, etc. While that is interesting to other people, I don’t quite share their enthusiasm for the subject. I find myself much more attracted to how our theology is applicable to the world we live in today. Luckily, seminary is the place for learning all of these things much, much more. Seminary has taught me how to seek out these opportunities. Whether it be a book, an article, a podcast or a sermon, an opportunity to learn should not be wasted but should be pursued to be used to our advantage. Take please in asking questions and learning because the rest of life is filled with “learning moments.”

Some Things are More Important

I’ve been told a story by a friend of mine that one of his seminary professors told him. “This professor,” said my friend, ” had a student who came into seminary with a wife and child. He was a very intelligent student, but had to work hard to earn his grades in seminary. He studied and studied and worked his way through seminary with nearly perfect grades. Unfortunately, his studying and extra work he put into seminary was at the expense of his family. While he graduated with straight A’s and Honors, his wife divorced him and took the child with her.” The point: Sometimes it’s a sin to get A’s. Seminary is time consuming. Anyone who has endured the rigors of studying/reading for classes can tell you that. What is often not said is how engrossed one can get into studying for a degree that they forget what is most important. I’ve learned over the past several years that getting the A’s in classes are great, but if they come at the expense of my marriage or at the expense of time I could spend with my son then my priorities are in the incorrect order. Time spend with my family should always take precedence over school work. Yes, the study of God’s Word is important, but it does not take the place of the people in my life that I am called to love.

I Have a Long Way to Go

A professor of mine once told the class that the more we grew in sanctification/holiness, the more we would understand just how sinful and wicked we are. The same is true for development of other, non-spiritual traits as well. i can assuredly say that I am not as holy as I think I am. I am not as far along in my sanctification as I think I am. I am more sinful than I think I am. I can also say with full assurance that I am not as wise as I think I am. I am not as good of a communicator as I think I am. I am not as good of a writer as I think I am. I am not as emotionally intelligent as I think I am. All of these things have become more apparent through the work I’ve done through seminary. Comparison is not something we should live our life based upon, but sometimes it is helpful to watch faithful saints; what they write and what they say and how they act, so we can better understand where we are currently. This is both discouraging and encouraging. It is discouraging because it means I have a false image of myself, probably because I am marred by sin. It is encouraging because it means I have more learning and more growing to do which involves the excitement which only comes from a journey.

Where I Go From Here

What I have loved about seminary the most is not the interaction with the students, the teachers, or the time spent reading. While all these things have been wonderful, my favorite thing about seminary is the fact that God has used something like seminary to change me and change my heart. He has molded me by it. He has used it to change me into the person He wants me to be. There are many more things I have learned from seminary which I have not written here and in the next year and a half there will most likely be more things I will learn about myself. Thankfully, God is taking the broken vessel I am and using seminary to grow me and stretch me. Without seminary and God’s use of it in my life, who knows how different my life would be. Thanks be to God that His plans are so much wiser than my own.

I’m a Millennial and I’m Sorry

img_1494It’s a generation I have personally trashed on occasion for their constant need for afirmation from others. I have commented on their desire to acheive great things in and for this world and yet having an unwillingness to work hard. I have personally witnessed the poor communicaiton skills which have been popularly attributed to long hours staring at a cell phone texting rather than having conversations face to face.

I, of course, am talking about the generation that is known as the Millennials. Chances are, if you are a Millennial or have interacted with Millinnials in the past, you have heard the things above attributed to this generation. We are a selfish generation, aren’t we? I say these things slightly tongue and cheek although I will say there is quite a bit of truth to all of the things listed above.

Now, before I become just another voice, adding to the echo-chamber, defending Millennials for their uniqueness and their value to the workplace or whatever other crummy excuse I can make-up, let me (and this may come as a surprise to you) apologize for my generation. X-Geners, Boomers, whatever was before the Boomers, I am afraid what you see is what you got. Now, not all Millennials fit the stereotype. I am well aware of that. But, I am finding that most fit into at least some piece of the stereotype than those who don’t fit it at all.

Take for example the popular claim that many Millennials are poor communicators due to the devices that act as their fifth appendage (Oh, and side note, this is only going to get worse with Generation Z or Bridge Builders or whatever name this next generation will decide on. This generation is on their phones more than Millennials are. But this post isn’t about Gen. Z. Maybe another time). If most Millennials are honest with themselves, they are poor communicators when conversing with others and even in their writing due to the devices they now use on a minute-by-minute basis. I can admit that I am not the best communicator much of the time. Let me say, I’m sorry.

There are a slew of other poor characteristics which define Millennials that if I took time to mention all of them, this post would be so long Millennials wouldn’t read it (Nor would you, cause I mean, who wants to read a 4000 word blog about the problems with the Millennial generation). You may be asking at this point: What can I do? How do I help?

I believe most people have responded to the coming-of-age of Millennials by simply accommodating their needs. A smaller minority have stood with a firm lip and refused to retreat, refused to change, refused to back down from what they have always done, or at least what they have done since the last time they had to change because a younger generation came in. Neither of these are helpful. Millennials should not dictate every decision that is now made in a business. Their employers cannot cave-in to ever will and whim of the Millennial. The Church cannot give up the values it has universally held for centuries because Millennials do not like them.

At the same time, refusal to change on issues which may change the culture to be more “Millennial friendly”  assures that you will have a short life. In spite of what has been said above, Millennials do have value to add to the workplace. They have value to add to the church. It is not compromising your moral convictions if you slightly change the culture!

Ultimately what Millennials, yes even the oldest of us who are now approaching their 40’s,  need are people who value and respect “the unique little snowflakes we are.” Maybe better stated, we need people to come alongside us and show us the ropes just like every other generation has done before. Millennials need to humble themselves and understand that in spite what their moms told them, they are not the best at everything they do. There are people who have been doing what they are good at far longer than they have and because of this, they are likely better at what they do.

And so, Post-Millennials, find a Millennial and get to know them. Encourage them in what they do well. Correct them where they go wrong. Millennials, find someone who is older than you and outside of your familiar bubble and stick with them. Find out how they do things. Learn something from them. Value those who are wiser than you are. I believe only then will you be amazed at how little you actually know and find yourself desiring to learn more.

 

When Head and Heart Don’t Match

img_1487This has taken me much longer to write than I care to admit. I found myself having to create some distance in the time I began to map out this post and actually writing it. The reason?

Perspective.

There are moments when the circumstances of your life cannot be explained through reason. They cannot be explained by past experiences. If we are honest with ourselves, in these moments when everything in the world is against you, it is so easy to say: “I don’t deserve this!”

As Christians, we are not immune from these difficult moments in life. Life still is filled with heartache and challenges that we are not ready for. We weren’t expecting them. But we have theology to help explain these feelings, right? We know our Theology Proper. We know that God is sovereign, and faithful, and merciful, and full of grace. And yet in Scripture we have verses like what we find in Psalm 10:1, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble.” Or like what we find in Psalm 13:1, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?”

In both of these psalms, David, a man after God’s own heart, does not see God’s Presence active in his life. He does not see God saving him from the peril which he faces. I would argue he is questioning God’s faithfulness in these psalms. He knows in his head that God is faithful. He knows in his head that God is not far off but is “near to the broken hearted.” So why does he question God like he does in these psalms? Maybe you have experienced a similar crisis. Very recently…I have.

As a Christian and as a seminarian, it is easy to believe that I must ‘hold it together’ and keep a right mind when it comes to what I believe about God. If God is faithful in His Word, then He must be faithful in my life as well. If God is merciful and loving in His Word, then He must be merciful and loving in my life as well. But if I’m honest with myself there are times when my head and heart are disconnected. What my head knows and my heart feels can be two different things. I can wholeheartedly believe that God is sovereign over all and yet feel as if my life is crumbling to pieces. I can believe that God is faithful and yet feel as if God is against me.

Some may call this a lack of faith, and for the most part, I would agree with them. A disconnect between our head and our heart can be a warning sign that something in my life is not as it should be. Thankfully God has not called me to be perfect in my faith but instead has called me to be dependent upon Him for my faith. I pray, though, that the church be honest in its approach to Christians who find themselves in these situations. When we hear that people are struggling in their lives, that their heart does not match what their head is telling them to be true, we should not simply correct them with Truth in hopes that a verse or two will solve this disconnect. This often does not help the situation but makes it worse. Helping people through these issues is something that can take time. It requires vulnerability. It requires loving encouragement. It requires a community coming alongside to listen and to lovingly respond with the the reminders of God’s grace. It requires Christ’s healing power to fill in the gap between head and heart.

 

One Year of Podcasting

img_1409Get ready for another self-agrandizing post where I describe the success of my podcast.

If you’ve ever listened to The Workshop Podcast, you know the above statement is not true. I don’t mean the podcast is terrible, it’s just not ‘successful.’ I can spend a extended amount of space describing how great my co-host is and how much I enjoy doing it, but I would need to know what success looks like in order to write a post like the one described above.  And yes, I know that success is what you make it and whatever other coined phrase you want to throw at me. Maybe a quote about success from Ford or something.

This post, however, will have nothing to do with success or lack thereof. Instead, I wanted to note a couple lessons I’ve learned from podcasting the last year. I’ve kept it fairly brief as I know you don’t have time to read a 2000 word white paper on the subject.

1. Podcasting is only as fun as you make it. 

If you don’t enjoy your podcast, the process of recording and editing, you will not continue to podcast. If you do not believe in your podcast, you will not continue to podcast. Like anything you do, if you do not enjoy it, you will not continue to do it.

2. Don’t Overbook Yourself

Podcasting amidst a busy schedule can become a drudgery if you let it. The schedules Matt and I have are very likely not as busy as your own might be. Even still, adding the process of recording, editing and posting your podcast to an already busy week can turn your podcast more into a chore than something you enjoy doing. It can zap the fun and even interest out of what you are doing. This also will eventually begin to affect your podcast. If you are no longer interested in your podcast, the podcast will suffer.

3. Pick Topics you are Interested in

Matt and I only choose to discuss topics we are interested in. Although we sometimes delve into some of the most pressing topics in culture, we often steer clear from them. This is largely due to the fact that we simply are not interested in covering something a thousand other people are talking or writing about. If you’re not interested in the topics, you can be disingenuous and typically are boring to listen to. Find what stirs your interest, not what you think the listeners want to hear.

4. Don’t Get Discouraged by Numbers

I honestly can’t tell you how many people listen to The Workshop Podcast. Maybe 5 people. Maybe 50 people. Maybe no one (Although, I’m fairly sure there’s at least 1 listener). It is so easy to become dissappointed that your podcast is not reaching the masses. Let me be honest…your podcast most likely will not have the same listenership as This American Life or even be in the top 100 downloaded podcasts. And that’s ok! As I’ve said several times already: Just enjoy what you create!

5. Love What you Create

I’ve alluded to this throughout the entire post. You must love what you create! Whether its writing, podcasting or whatever you create, you should love it. We tend to place more effort in what we like doing than what we don’t. The result is a product that is enjoyable for the listener. Take pride in what you create because you created it! This can make all the difference between a podcast that is lazily put together week after week and one that is uniquely crafted as your own podcast.

As Matt and I start another year of podcasting, there will be more lessons learned. There will be changes and tweaks to the way we record, the way Matt edits, and possibly the format of the podcast. Use the lessons you have learned to gradually make your podcast better. Learn from mistakes and continue to do what you know is working. Seek to create the best podcast you can. Both you and your listeners will appreciate it.

If you would like to listen to the culmination of a year of the The Workshop Podcast, you can do so on the link below.

The Workshop Podcast

 

Why I Love Podcasts and You Should Too

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When I’m working, I often need something to fill the quietness of the office. For a time, I filled the quietness with music. I’ve just joined the audiobook craze in the last couple of months. While I love both of these, unless you’re constantly discovering new music or have a streamining service (like Spotify), music can grow repetitive and audiobooks can be hit or miss.

Enter podcasts. For the past two and half to three years, podcasts have been an immense source of entertainment for me. They are attractive for several reasons:

  1. Podcasts cover almost any subject you can think of. If there is something you want to know more about or any topic you are interested in, you can find a podcast for that subject.
  2. Podcasts can range from 1 minute or can last several hours. Choosing a podcast can be as simple as finding one that fits in with the amount of time you have. Podcasts can fill your 30 minute commute time, your hour lunch, and some can last the entirety of your day if you desire.
  3. Each podcast has unique formatting. Some podcasts are interview based. Some are story-telling based. Some have a panel of hosts. Each of these formats provide a different ‘feel’ for the listener. Find which format or formats you love and which ones you’re not so fond of.
  4. They’re free. Whether you used Apple Podcasts or some other podcast catcher, you do not have to pay for podcasts. This may be the best thing about them. You can listen and learn and enjoy without affecting your pocketbook.

It’s hard for me to wite these next couple of sentences without sounding “self-promoting,” so here it goes. I have the wonderful experience of being behind the mic of my own podcast, The Workshop Podcast. This has only given me a greater love and appreciation for podcasting. There is the struggle to come up with ideas and to find your own voice (much like writing in fact). Even through the struggle, my co-host Matt and I enjoy having an outlet to discuss things that matter and things that, well, really don’t. We enjoy recording which only makes the experience that much better.

So if you’re on the fence about podcasting or if you’ve never listened to one, I’d encourage you to start listening. They can fit your schedule and provide wonderful alternative to music and audiobooks. If your looking for some suggestions, I’ve listed some of the podcast I listen to below.

The Happy Rant, Clinch: A Podcast of Fiction and Not-Fiction, Cultivated: A podcast about faith and work, Reply All, TED Radio Hour, Gut Check Podcast, Lore, Revisionist History, The Briefing

If you get the chance, give The Workshop Podcast a listen. You can download it on iTunes or you can find it in the link below.

The Workshop Podcast

Love of Place

img_1389In the previous post, I wrote about Place and its importance in our lives. A key to understanding Place is this:

God has divinely ‘placed’ us in our various contexts because He desires us to be there. 

If we take some time to unpack this statement, we would see that God has sovereignly ordained our current location. He has purposely placed us where we are. Meaning: He desires us to be where we are currently. God has placed us in the jobs, local body of believers, the cities, and the neighborhoods we reside in. It is not a mistake.

Unfortunately, I believe that many in my generation have found themselves more and more thinking that where they are not where they are meant to be. I will admit I have also found myself in this frame of mind at one point or another.

Being a father of a small infant in my in-laws house is nothing for anyone to be envious of. There is limited space, my wife and I rub shoulders daily with her mom and brother producing both positive and negative interactions, and privacy can be an issue at times. But these small nuisances are overshaddowed by the common grace of the place we call home. Not only are bills reduced to a minimum, we also have a family around us who can help us raise our son. We have a loving uncle and loving ‘grammy’ who can relieve tired parents when they just need a break. They can offer us advice and comfort the way we cannot offer each other. Even still, discontentment with where we are at can creep in.

As adults in our mid twenties with a small child, we still desire a house of our own. There was a point in time my wife and I were so desperate for a house that we nearly made the mistake of buying outside our means. We longed for a place of our own. It so happened that this was not what God wanted for us. He had another place in mind. He had a place much different than what we wanted.

I often wonder what would have been the result had we bought the house we were pursuing nearly two summers ago. Would it have worked out? I don’t know the answer. All I know is that where God has my wife and I currently is far better than anything we could have planned. He has showed us His grace. He has shown us His love. He has shown his mercy. God will continue to do so. He desires us to be where we are…in our in-laws house, in our mid twenties, with a infant child and I’m learning to love where we are at.

We must look beyond the immediate context and look towards an infinte one. Where God has you now is far greater than where you think you should be. This will alway be the case. There is something to love about where you are in life, in residence, and even in this moment.

 

 

 

 

Understanding Place

Place.

Just the word itself conjures up various images in my mind. Place is the house I spent almost 22 years of my life growing up in. Place is the room in which I spent hours building Lego’s and Lincoln Logs. It is the pond behind my house where I would fish with friends and skate on during the colder winter months.

But Place is more than this. Place also involves time. It involves the people you interact and share yourself with. It involves the little nuances that make each space unique. Place is a unique, God-given space. Thats right…place is God-given.

For this reason, Place is something that should have value in our lives. If God has put us where we are, in a particular place and time, He has done it with purpose. He has set you in this Place in His Divine Wisdom. There was no mistake.

When you and I see Place as an act of Divine Wisdom, we can begin to understand why ‘where we are’ is so important. We begin to see why discontentment is so dangerous. We begin to see purpose. Place is important because it is important to God. Therefore, since it is important to God, it should be important to us as well.

I was recently asked to write a paper which I analyzed and described a particular place. This included the people, the location and a slew of other details which would bore you if I wrote them here. As I read through the syllabus, something surprised me. One of the criteria read as follows:

“The student described his other selected context in a manner that artfully reflected the beauty and common grace present in that place.”

The beauty and common grace present in that place. Stop and think about this phrase. There is beauty and common grace where we are currently. In the midst of what may appear to be “the worst place you or I could possibly be,” there, even there, beauty and common grace abounds. We just can’t see it because we haven’t spent the time looking for it.

Have we looked at our present Place searching for beauty and common grace? Do we value the context in which we have been currently placed?