Tag Archives: Concordia Seminary

Learning to Love the Detour

IMG_2523

Growing up in Chicago, I learned to hate detours. With highways already jam-packed 24/7, a detour just meant another 2 hours out of the way, often in directions that felt like they were taking you further away from where you wanted to be rather that toward it. “Detour” was synonymous with “U-turn”.

So it should be no surprise that when my faith life has hit what I would deem a “detour”, my response would not be stellar. In fact, ever since becoming a Christian I feel like that is all I’ve ever encountered: one detour after another.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Appreciating the Small Things

Photo

*Photo Credit: Jason Long, Unsplash.com

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…”
~Romans 1:21

 When I first began pursuing my Seminary degree, one of my mentors and advisors warned me, “Seminary is a dangerous place to because it has the power to crush your soul.” The reason is because when we come to Seminary we take an internal passion (for God, the Scriptures, the Church, etc.) and we incentivize it. What I mean is that suddenly the Bible isn’t a way of connecting with God. Rather it is a textbook to be parsed, studied, analyzed, and dissected. Likewise, studying theology is not about growing your devotional life, but about giving you correct knowledge for the purpose of writing systematic papers. And, sad to say, he was right.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

It’s Back!!! It’s BACK!!!

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
~Jeremiah 20:9

Yup.  It’s back.  The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it.  But now it’s back.

You’re probably wondering, “What?  What’s back?”

The fire is back.  It’s in my bones.  I feel it when I wake up.  I think about it throughout the day.  It’s back.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Who is Doctrine For?: Theology in the Life of the Church

DISCLAIMER:  The following post is rated “Looooong” and may not be appropriate for people with short attention spans :p

This past quarter I took a course in Systematic Theology.  Honestly, it has been one of my favorite classes.  The readings have been great, the lectures engaging, and the assignments thought provoking.  We’ve addressed topics like Christian ethics, the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, the sacraments, death, and resurrection.  For an egghead like me, this kind of stuff gets me excited.  I have been on cloud nine all quarter because I am in nerd central and I love it.

However, the other night Jenny and I were talking and she said something that really struck me:  “I feel like you are immersed in this subculture and you’re starting to speak a language that I just don’t understand.”  Her words really hit me.  I had to slow down and ask myself the question:  “Who is all this for anyway?!”  If I’m spending all this time (and money) learning theology, but it is not translating, then why am I doing it?

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Toward a Lutheran Legacy

verticalreformation500

Logo of Reformation500 at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis

The Crisis of Our Present Time

In 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. As I have been reflecting on my time at Concordia Seminary I am acutely aware of the fact that I will be ordained 500 years after the young Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg. With this single act, Luther began a spiritual, social, and intellectual revolution that single-handedly reshaped Western history and the nature of the Christian Church, the effects of which we are all heirs.

As such, the question that I have to ask myself is, “What will our legacy, as the religious descendants of Luther, be in the next 500 years of the Reformation?” This is a pressing question for us in the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod. While the Lutheran Church, like many churches, is growing rapidly in the Majority World, in the West we are in a state of decline. Fully 2/3rds of our congregations worship 125 people or less on a Sunday morning, and are not even able to financially support a full-time pastor. And if these trends continue then it means that this generation of seminarians will most likely minister over the death of at least one congregation over the life of their ministries.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Bearing False Witness

strawmanargument

“Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we still have another treasure – honor and good reputation.  We cannot do without these.  For it is intolerable to live among people in open shame and general contempt.  Therefore, God does not want the reputation, good name, and upright character of our neighbor to be taken away or diminished, just as with his money and possessions.”

~Luther’s Large Catechism, comments on the Eighth Commandment

This is a post that I have not been looking forward to writing, but it is an issue that needs to be raised.  Since coming to the seminary one problem has continued to bother me and it relates to how we, as seminarians and faculty, talk about those with whom we disagree.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

What is the Pastor’s Role?

pastor copy

WHAT IS THE PASTOR’S ROLE?

Since starting seminary this question has been on my mind more and more.  After all that’s the reason that I am here:  to learn what it means to be a pastor so that I might faithfully live out that calling upon ordination.  But what is a pastor’s job?  What’s his role?

For the sake of full disclosure, I have yet to take a course on pastoral theology and the nature of the ordained office, but what’s funny about being at seminary is that there are as many answers to this question as there are people.  As I’ve been dropping in on the conversations of my fellow students it is kind of funny to hear what their responses are.  Of the responses that I’ve heard there are a couple that keep cropping up in some form or fashion:

  • The pastor is the administrator of Word and Sacrament
  • The pastor is the under-shepherd over God’s people
  • The pastor is like a COO, overseeing the proper order and operations of the church
  • The pastor is like a CEO, pushing forward and safeguarding the vision and values of the church
  • The pastor is the lead missionary
  • The pastor is a preacher and teacher

While there is probably some truth to all of these things, what I’ve found in each of them is that they are, essentially, task oriented.  Each of the distinctions describes things that a pastor does, but none of them answers the “Why?”  Why does the pastor administer Word and Sacrament, serve as under-shepherd, oversee the church, safeguard vision and values, and so on and so forth?  What is the goal of the pastoral office?  What should drive the heart of a pastor?

As I’ve been thinking about this, my mind keeps coming back to one verse from Scripture:

[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

~Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)

If I were to sum up the heart and passion of the pastor it would be this:  to present everyone mature in Christ.  And I emphasize the everyone in that verse.  Here is the pastor’s call to both ministry and missions in a nutshell.  We are called to reach all people, the churched and unchurched, the lost and found, the Christian and the non-Christian, with the Gospel message and help them grow up as mature men and women in Christ.

This calling to help all people grow into maturity in Christ is the end to which all of our pastoral activities must be directed.  Whether serving the sacraments, stewarding the resources of the church, teaching and preaching from Scripture, or leading the body of Christ in evangelism, justice, and mission, we should always strive to help people grow in Christ.

Sadly there are times when I think our church’s traditions have fallen far short of this glorious calling.  Too often the pastor becomes the Bible answer man, the one to whom everyone goes with their questions.  And sadly, pastors have enabled this mentality rather than helping the people of God grow in their own understanding of Scripture and how to apply it to life.  I see this immortalized in the pastor-led Bible study, which, in many cases, is simply another sermon before or after the Sunday morning service.  But this is not the only way in which I see this take hold of the church.  I can think of several congregations in which the pastor is the sole leader of all forms of ministry, from small groups to outreach events to mercy ministries.  Why?  Because the pastor is the “called and ordained servant of the Word,” as if everyone else is just a spectator or a cog in the church machine.

I would submit that this is not only unhealthy, but it is unbiblical.  Paul’s desire was that everyone would grow to maturity in faith.; that they would increasingly see their lives through the eyes of Scripture, living lives submitted to Christ and helping others to do the same.  And our role, as pastors, is to serve this end.  This is why Paul writes:

And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

~Ephesians 4:11-16, emphasis mine (ESV)

This is my calling as a pastor:  to serve the world so that as many people as possible might grow to full maturity in Christ.  This is the end to which I endeavor.  This is the calling which I must seek to live out.

So, as I continue in this seminary journey I am trying to keep this in mind.  My driving question must be: How can what I’m learning be used to help people grow to maturity in Christ?  And it is my prayer that those under my care, whether in my field education church or at my home church, would daily grow up in Christ, to the glory of God.  Amen.

Tagged , , ,

First Day @ The Mighty Fortress

Concordia-Seminary-866593E0

This past Monday was my first day of class at Concordia Seminary.  The past two months of test prep and paperwork have been building to this:  the start of the academic year.  Like orientation, it was a cross-cultural experience for me.  While my lectures were pretty straightforward, it was chapel service that was the biggest surprise.

After the opening music played everyone stood up, grabbed a book out of the back of the pew in front of them and began opening the pages.  Before I knew it the whole congregation was reading and chanting in response to the words of the chaplain.  They stood or sat on cue.  Prayed and sang on cue.  The whole time I was lost, flipping through pages wondering how everyone knew where to look and stealing glances over the shoulder of the person in front of me to find the page numbers.

That’s right, they were using the Lutheran Service Book.  I am ashamed to admit that this was the first time I had ever used one in a service.  I’ve seen these volumes sitting on the shelves of pastors and worship leaders and occasionally heard reverent references to the letters LSB, but I’ve never worshipped using one.  My home church has always projected the liturgy up on a screen as a way of helping newcomers follow along and to facilitate more audible congregational singing.  So using LSB was a surprise and a little disorienting.  I was so busy turning pages and trying to keep up that I really couldn’t focus on what was being said or the meaning behind it.  I’ll be honest, I walked out of chapel feeling frustrated and a bit ashamed.

Now that a few days have passed I’ve had some time to reflect on that experience a bit and here is what I’ve come away with.  On the one hand, I’m glad I had that experience.  After all, I am at a Lutheran school to learn about the rich history and heritage of our denomination as well as its theological underpinnings.  I’m proud to say that by day two of chapel I figured out LSB and could follow along with the rest.

On the other hand, though, it reminded me of just how disorienting walking into church can be for those who have never been raised in a Christian home nor come from a churched background.  The sense of isolation and disorientation that I experienced is just what so many people outside of the church feel when they walk in our doors.  It was a powerful reminder that we cannot assume that everyone is like us.  Not everyone was raised in our traditions.  Not everyone comes from the same background.  And if we want to reach those outside the church, we must give careful attention to how we articulate and explain our faith.

This goes not just for our worship services, but extends into every area of life.  Too often we Christians use a kind of religious language that is foreign to others.  We don’t pause to ask ourselves, “Am I explaining the truth in a way that it can be heard?  Am I taking into account my hearers so that my language doesn’t become a barrier to the Gospel?”  Now, I’m not suggesting that we water down the truth of the Gospel nor that we dodge the difficult subjects.  I don’t think we would be faithful to our calling as witnesses if we did.  What I AM suggesting is that we should give careful thought to how we present our faith.

The apostle Paul was an excellent example of this.  It is fascinating to compare how he talked about Christ with Jewish and Gentile audiences.  For his Jewish listeners he would take them to the Scriptures and highlight how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that we find there.  For his Gentile listeners, however, he did not start with the Scriptures.  He started with philosophy, poetry, or natural revelation (see Acts 14:8-20 & Acts 17:16-34).  He was doing what missionaries call “contextualization”.  He started with where his audience was at spiritually and presented the Gospel from there.  This is why he says,

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

(1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

Paul understood that our religious traditions and ways of speaking can, at times, be a hindrance to the work of the Gospel if they prevent people from hearing it in a way that they can understand.  Chapel was a powerful reminder of this lesson.

So, while I look forward to future chapels so that I can learn more about our tradition, I also hope that Seminary will be a time of giving careful consideration to how we might reach the next generation for Christ.  This was what was promised in our orientation last week.  This is what I hope we will pursue over the next several years.  May we learn to be all things to all people so that by every means we may save some.  To God be the glory. Amen.

Tagged , , ,

Arrival: University City

IMG_7647

Here’s a snapshot of what our neighborhood looks like. I love the architecture of the houses in our area.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD…
~Jeremiah 29:10

“I do not ask to walk smooth paths
Nor bear an easy load,
I pray for strength and fortitude
To climb the rock-strewn road.
Give me such courage and I can scale
The hardest peaks alone,
And transform every stumbling block
Into a stepping stone.”
~Gail Brook Burket

Well, we’ve arrived.  I know it has been a long time since I’ve posted, but our lives have been busy with packing, moving, unpacking, studying for entrance exams, and exploring our new city.  So, I wanted to give you all an update on some of the latest developments as well as a taste of where we’ve landed.

New Town:  University City

tmp3B52.tmp_tcm20-137221

City Hall, University City, MO

First and foremost, I wanted to introduce you to our new hometown:  University City, MO.  U-City is an inner-ring suburb of St. Louis, resting just north of the Washington University campus.  It was founded by Edward Garner Lewis, a publisher who bought 85 acres northwest of Forest Park around the time of the St. Louis World’s Fair.  Since that time U-City has grown, becoming both a residential and cultural hub.  Its downtown, the Loop, is packed with restaurants, bars, shopping, and theaters.  Its neighborhoods are filled with brick homes and two-flats.  Everything is walking distance and we’ve found several parks and playgrounds that we love hanging out at in the afternoons.  In many ways U-City reminds me of Oak Park, with its older homes and beautiful residential neighborhoods.  Many of the residential streets have been blocked off to through traffic, making them great for biking, jogging, and walking with the kids.

the_loop_university_city_mo_01_large

The U-City Loop

In addition, the residents of U-City are incredibly diverse and our neighbors are friendly.  Since moving in we’ve talked gardening with the hipsters down the street, helped jump an undergrad’s car, patched up a biker who had a pretty rough spill on the street, and read stories to the neighborhood kids at the local library.  Furthermore, my wife has landed a job tutoring and we’re looking into having our oldest start preschool in the Fall.

In short, we love it here.

New Occupation:  Student

Doesn't that guy look like my brother?!

Doesn’t that guy look like my brother?!…Creepy…

I’m also readjusting to being a full-time student.  While Concordia‘s fall quarter doesn’t begin until the first week of September, I’ve already been hard at work taking exams, including the GRE and the Greek Entrance Exam.  The past several weeks have been filled with practice tests, flash cards, parsing, paradigm memorization and grammar reviews.  And if your brain hurts just reading that, know that my brain feels ten times worse.  I can’t remember the last time I have studied so hard in such a short amount of time.  Add to this the insanity of moving and unpacking and this certainly has been one of the most stressful times that I’ve faced in quite a while.

Still, there are many bright spots.  The first is that I not only passed the GRE, but passed with flying colors.  I received the highest score possible for the analytical writing section and one of the highest scores possible on the verbal reasoning portion.  These are the two areas of the exam that Concordia looks at most closely and it is nice to know that I performed at such a high level.

Spent several hours a day looking a pages like this

Spent several hours a day looking a pages like this

Second, I passed the Greek Entrance Exam, effectively testing out of both the Beginning Greek and Greek Readings courses.  This puts me ahead of most first-years at the Seminary and opens up the possibility of getting ahead in my coursework.

Finally, I’ve been offered a job at Concordia’s library.  While I cannot begin working until after my first day of class, it is nice to know that I have a job on campus and one that will work with my class schedule.  It is also nice to know that we will have some income as we move into the school year.

New Quirks:  Yes…there are downsides…

As you’ve probably guessed, things are going really well for us.  However, there are still some downsides to life here.  Here are a couple of the hilarious/frustrating/quirky things about our move:

  • Mosquitos:  They’re everywhere.  Seriously.  I’ve never seen anything this bad in Chicagoland.  I’m fairly certain I’ve contracted malaria and west Nile virus already…
  • Humidity:  The word “jungle” comes to mind.  There is not a single day that doesn’t go by where we all don’t come home sweaty and sticky.  Gross…
  • Schnuk’s:  Never before has so expensive a grocery store been invented.  There is no way that a family of four with a grad student for a breadwinner can possibly have the budget required to purchase an average week’s worth of groceries at this place.  We are already on the hunt for a local Aldi and will definitely be taking advantage of the seminary’s food pantry.
  • Cardinals:  Yup, they’re everywhere too.  And I’m not talking about those beautiful red songbirds.  I’m talking about those drunken religious fanatics known as Cardinal’s baseball fans.  I’ve already been scolded on numerous occasions for being from Chicago and very nearly burned at the stake for being a Cubs fan.

But in all seriousness the biggest things we miss are our friends and family from Chicagoland.  While being in a new town has been great, we miss the community that we had.

In the coming weeks we will be visiting churches, building relationships with new friends, both on and off campus, and continuing to prepare ourselves for the start of the school year.  So stay tuned and, as always, thank you so much for your prayers and support.

Tagged , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: