Giving of our _ _ _ _, our treasure, and our talents.

clip-art-clock-without-hands_104173

 

As a full-time seminary student (ATS represent!), part-time pastor (no such thing if you’re doing it right), husband (guy who mows the yard, remembers birthdays and anniversaries, and honors his wife), father (provides spiritual guidance as well as embarrass his children in front of their friends), and a guy holding down a full-time secular career (amazed that he hasn’t gotten fired yet for missing work due to the previously listed items), to say I have demands on my time is an understatement! I list all of that not to brag or attempt to gain sympathy, but to illustrate a point…

I’m kind of busy.

I am not alone in this busyness; it is all around us. You’re probably sitting reading this there at your desk, kitchen counter, or in the drive-thru line at school right at this very moment… taking a breather between the next thing that requires your time. There are constant demands on our time, and each new request requires giving up time that can be spent on other needs. As I’m writing this blog post, I should be authoring a 10-page final paper for a class, but I’m taking the time to share a confession instead…

I don’t take enough time to spend with God.

There, I said it. It’s out in the open now. Whew!

Am I alone in this? I’m going to take a wild guess and say, “that’s a big NO there Jas-a-roon-oh.” (Sorry… I really shouldn’t do accents, especially in the written word.)

Here is where things get a little sad (but also exposes a glimmer of hope)…

We do this to ourselves.

I didn’t have to accept God’s call and take on the workload of graduate school (though I could not imagine all of the blessings that have come from it already). I didn’t have to accept God’s blessing and marry my wife (though I can’t imagine accomplishing all that I have without her). We don’t have to tell our children “yes” when they want to join a sports team. We don’t have to tell our pastor “yes” when he asks you to help lead a ministry (as much as he may want you to!). There are so many “good” things to which we could say no. Unfortunately, we don’t say it because we tell ourselves, “that will be good for me” or “it would be good for Bobby Sue to play on that travel team (name changed, my apologies if your child is named Bobby Sue).”

“If Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”

Now we know that Satan can’t actually make us do anything, he, after all, was conquered by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He does, however, retain the power to tempt us to do all sorts of bad things. The crux being, as I’ve pointed out above, we can get busy doing many good things as well as bad. The point is, all of the things we do are distractions. They are distractions from being in a personal relationship with God.

Now here’s the hook… here’s the rub… here’s the application (as my preaching textbooks say)…

We can choose to take more time to be with God… wait… not take… give more time to God. Wait (again), how can I give God time, he’s God?! Spend time with God? Ehhh… forget it…

Whatever word or term you use, there must be more of it set aside for growing in our relationship with our creator. He, after all, has created all of this thing we call time.

I recently gave the most hypocritical sermon I have ever given. I stood in front of the congregation describing all of the important reasons we should be spending more time with God, knowing that I was not doing an adequate job of it myself. As I said the words, I could feel the Holy Spirit convicting me of the plank in my eye, and I may have even said something along the lines of, “your pastor needs to learn this message as much as anyone in the room.”

This convicting illuminated the hope that I alluded to earlier. I had the power to make my own decisions. I chose right then to grow and mature in my spiritual formation and set upon asking God for his help in this quest. You see, while you may have the blessing of free will, nothing is possible without God. With his help, I have embarked upon a series of practices that include; getting up at 5:00 am for an hour spent in the Word and intercessory prayer, meeting with and absorbing spiritual formation practices from other pastors, devotional readings from the saints that came before us, and I regularly pray throughout my day with a small leather notebook filled with the names of those for whom I pray (You’ll not find me without this important journal of praises and concerns). This list is not all-inclusive, nor is it an attempt on my part to “earn grace,” but merely tools to recognize the grace that is already being poured out in my life.

You’re probably thinking, “But Jason, you just listed all kinds of new demands on your time!” and you’d be half right. With the insight and strength gained during these times of devotion, I am better equipped to face my day and the challenges that it will present. I’m also more willing to say, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to decline” to new requests and more accepting of less than perfect scores on coursework.

While I did add spiritual practices to my schedule, I now do not consider this a demand at all, but an invitation… an invitation to grow in my relationship with Christ.

This is an invitation that is open to all.

Every good relationship we have, or have had in the past, requires time spent with the other person. Real time. Real sharing. Real emotions. Real… love.

Please don’t neglect the most important relationship of your life.

God is love.

-Amen

 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.  – James 1:22-25

 

 

 

 

Obedience.

obedience-of-faith

Do a Google search for images using the word “Obedience” and you’ll be greeted by an assortment of images falling into one of two categories… religion or dogs. Go on. Try it. I’ll wait a moment for you to click back to this page.

Times up!

Why are the top images for the word obedience related to God and doG? Is there a correlation due to the spelling, as I’ve highlighted by my use of the capital “G”? Is there something else at play here?

When we give a dog a command, do we have its best interest in mind? (Other than the quick answer of, “Ha! Not when I tell him to get me a beer!”) Let’s look at some of the commands we may give a dog. (And in full disclosure here, I do not have, nor have ever had, a dog.)

When we yell, “STOP!” at our dog that’s about to run out into the street, aren’t we looking out for his best interest? Can you think of other commands that are for his good? What about when we talk him for a walk? Is that in his best interest or ours? Granted we also benefit from the exercise, not to mention the lack of poop on the floor.

What about when God gives us a command? Is he looking out for our best interest, or just wanting us to do cheap parlor tricks?

God gives us commands because it’s in our best interests as well. But due to our lack of obedience we tend to mess up things in our lives, as well as the lives of others.

What follows is a highlight from my experiences over the past week as I seek to come more fully into obedience with the path he is leading me on my walk of faith with him.

Last week one of my assignments posed the following question:

What are the most significant insights into the nature of the life of faith that church needs to hear? Why?

I present to you my answer that I would go on to develop into a 30-minute sermon on the example of obedience that Jesus provides to us with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem given yesterday as my first Palm Sunday Service.

“The single most significant insight into the nature of the life of faith can be précised with just a single word…

“Obedience.”

If forced to give more than one word, it would be…

“Absolute unfailing obedience to our Lord.”

Every downfall of man, every… single… one… can be traced back to our failing to follow the commands of our God. Adam and Eve broke the one rule they had to follow! The people of Israel… golden calf… one rule again.

Jump forward to our times and us “moderns” living under the New Covenant.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NRSV)

Cheat on your spouse? Broke the one rule. Murder your brother? Broke the one rule. Get drunk and wrap your car around a telephone pole? Broke the one rule. Become arrogant and bring destruction down upon your head? Broke the one rule. Sit on your hands afraid to step out in faith and accept your calling into full-time ministry for six years? Broke. The. One. Rule. (Only one of those was me by the way!)

We must as Christians be obedient to our Lord and Savior. Why? We’ve already established that we cannot earn our salvation, that it is an utterly free gift received by grace through faith, then why must we be obedient?

God has shown in his glory since before he brought order to the chaos that he has our complete and total best interests at the very core of his being. When we are not obedient we are doing something that is going to result in harm to us. In return, he only desires for us to be faithful and trust in him through our worship. And worship in its true obedient form is love. Holy. Complete. Love.

Amen?”

Deitrich Bonhoeffer said this about obedience and faith…

“For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

Obedience is following a command when everything in us wants to do the opposite. Obedience is wanting to run out into that street to chase the spinning tires of the speeding car.

May we all seek greater clarity and discernment of that voice in our ear telling us not to poop on the floor.

Amen?

 

“Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.” – (Romans 16:25-26 NIV) 

 

 

Grace Chapel

IMG_4787.jpg

The sign modestly reads “Grace Chapel.”

This sign, and the picture of it, encapsulate everything one needs to know about the ministry of our brothers and sisters in Christ at the Korean United Methodist Church of Bloomington, Indiana. This congregation, nestled on a small parcel of land directly across the street from Indiana University, isn’t about flashy services, grand architecture, or giant pipe organs. This church, under the leadership and vision of Pastor Daeki Kim, is all about reaching an age group that most of us are ill-equipped to serve or even relate to… those going to college.

Here is the unassuming Pastor Daeki now!

IMG_4806

If the challenges of reaching these young men and women were not enough, they have the added focus of reaching international students. As you probably surmised from the sign, their specialty is reaching those from South Korea. But Pastor Daeki has dreams of having multi-national outreach and services involving students from all over the world!

Currently, the “year-round” members of this church (numbering less than 50) provide services to hundreds of students. The services offered are not just worship oriented, they include many educational, devotional, youth, and outreach programs. On Sunday many regular members attend an early service then move to their kitchen, where they prepare a traditional Korean meal for the students attending worship services later in the day. Think back to how appreciative you were of free food when you were in college, now imagine being in a country where you can’t easily find your version of “home-cooking.”

As you can guess, ministry, of this type is filled with difficulties. Please allow me to share some of their unique challenges:

  • A very limited number of “giving units” support hundreds of temporary visitors (i.e. students).
  • Pastor Daeki needs to teach his message in a very short amount of time.Existing students are graduating and new students are arriving each semester.
  • Being that Pastor Daeki and a large number of his congregation are Korean, our language differences can present challenges.
  • Greater than the language barrier; our cultural differences can be very pronounced.
    • We Americans can be like “bulls in a china shop” (quite unintentionally) while the Korean people tend to be reserved and humble. (I’ll never forget the look on the Pastor’s face as I neglected to take off my shoes when entering his home. He was quick to hide it, and would never call attention to my rude behavior, but I quickly realized my error).
  • And finally, did I mention these were college kids they’re ministering to?!

Here are some of their talented students now!

 

Pretty big list of challenges isn’t it? Would that be enough to discourage and scare you away from even attempting a ministry such as this? Most of us if being honest with ourselves would say, “No way, this isn’t for me!” But not Pastor Daeki, their church leadership teams, and their lay leaders. They stood up and said, “Here I am Lord!”

Here’s the wrinkle; here’s the need. This is the parsonage… the home… that Pastor Daeki, his beautiful wife, and their children live in…

Parsonage 1

Looks quaint from this recent Google street-view doesn’t it?

Well here is a shot of the conditions within…

IMG_4801

Let that sink in a moment.

Here’s another…

IMG_4798

Out of respect for Pastor Daeki and his family, I’ll not show interior shots of the “livable” spaces. I’ll not show the evidence of rats and mice in the home. I’ll not show the cracking walls and the falling plaster. I’ll not show the single bedroom that the pastor, his wife, and his two very young children shared last winter because there wasn’t enough heat to warm the home.

What you do see in these pictures is mold, visible presence of standing water, and a foundation that you can quite literally see through.

These aren’t pictures from a third world country. These aren’t pictures from far off missionaries. This is Bloomington Indiana, USA… directly across the street from one of the most prestigious music schools in the world.

Thankfully before the cold weather arrived this year this came to our attention via the South East District’s amazing Superintendent, Beverley Perry. A team of volunteers descended upon this basement, killed the mold, painted every surface, fixed the furnace and heating ducts, and installed a new sump pit with a new pump.

These volunteers also stood up and said, “Here I am Lord!”

The repairs, while taking care of the immediate needs of health and warmth for the family, are just temporary in nature… they are a bandage. What this parsonage needs, and what this congregation cannot do on their own, is to be demolished and a new one put back in its place.

I can already see an argument forming in the minds of some to this idea (I say this because I myself thought it initially). Are you saying like I did, “Why not tear it down, fill in the hole, and pay the pastor a housing allowance?” or, “Why not just sell the property?” Or are you even thinking, “How did they let the home get in such disrepair?” This parsonage is not in this condition due to the competency level of their trustees, their leaders, or anyone else. The parsonage is in this condition because they were too busy doing the real ministry of Christ to worry about themselves.

Oh… did I forget to mention that Pastor Daeki awakes every morning… very early in the morning… walks across the alley, and leads a bible study? Did I mention that the family opens their home up to others? I probably don’t have to point out that most college students do not have a car on campus and this is particularly true for foreign students.

Pastor Daeki is not going anywhere.

Will you stand up and say, “Here I am Lord!”?

IMG_4786

 

 

10299956_169769630048263_2889754728172684331_n

Hey look, they’re silly just like us!!!

 

Like them on Facebook!

 

 

Deep Breath

deep-breathing1

Ahhhhhhhhh. Deep breath… relax.

That’s the feeling I have right now though that is not me in this photograph. It’s surprisingly hard to find a picture of a man taking a deep breath. (I wonder if that’s because we so rarely do it.)

I’ve just finished with my January term class, TH601 – The Theology of John Wesley taught by Dr. Kenneth Collins. For those of you who do not know, John Wesley was an ordained Anglican Priest, who is credited with founding “Methodism.” Though you should also know that he was vehemently opposed to the Methodists splitting apart from the Church of England to form their denomination (the Methodists would wait until a few days after his death to make that jump).

This class was a new breed of learning for me; it is aptly named “intensive.” The format is one week of lectures on campus, one week of prep for the mid-term exam, and then one week of prep for the final exam. The mid-term was just two questions while the final was only one. My mid-term answers were seven pages long, and my final was four (still waiting for grades to be posted for the final). Interspersed through all of the lectures and exam questions was the required reading. This required reading consisted of four books all written by Dr. Collins, as well as 49 Wesley sermons.

Oh, and did I mention the class assignment? It was outlining 16 of Wesley’s sermons. Sounds easy right? Yeah…about that. John Wesley lived for most of the 1700’s. His writings are appropriately 18th century English. Our assignment was to summarize each paragraph of each sermon and put it into our words, in modern English, naturally. I finished my assignment with just a few hours to spare, and it was 11,000 words covering 43 pages (single spaced).

I am seriously considering not taking an intensive next January!

The good news is that this class, while an incredible experience, is now behind me. I have the next eleven days to take a few deep breaths and relax. I’m already getting antsy, though. I keep eyeing my syllabi of the three classes I’m taking for the Spring semester that starts February 8th. I can’t help but think I’m missing a great opportunity to work ahead on those class assignments…

Reflections from the class:

Wesley was a wreck in his early life. Theologically his beliefs were all over the place. He would get started down a particular path of thought, following in the teachings of Luther, a’ Kempis, the Moravians, and many others, only to reverse course after discovering the truths as he saw them contained in Scripture. In his early life he was a Christian in word and deed, but not in his heart, and not from a place of love.

That all changed for him one evening at Aldersgate in England. That night Wesley would experience his profound conversion experience and set off down a path that led to his theological ordo salutis… his order of salvation. This doctrine of salvation would serve as the basis and framework for the group called “Methodist.” In this order is spelled out; how to seek one’s salvation from sin, how to seek one’s freedom from the bondage of sin, how to become liberated in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and how to become entirely sanctified (holy).

We Methodist don’t hear much about John Wesley’s theology in our churches now. We’ve drifted far from where he wanted us to be. That being said, we do some of the things he wanted us to be doing well… we feed the hungry, help the poor, and clothe the naked. But despite the politics, despite the press, despite the views of some of our leaders, we must get back to Wesley’s message… correction… the Gospel’s message… of the reconciling power of Jesus Christ.

In his early years, John Wesley was thrown out of nearly every church, he preached in. He was thrown out because he questioned the direction of his church. He was thrown out for confronting the hypocrisy he saw coming from the pulpit and the people. He faced those people he regarded as marginal Christians, those Christians that went to church every Sunday out of habit than out of an act of love and worship. He did this not to be a jerk, or because he thought he was better than others. He did this out of love. He didn’t want people to be content where they were, with the little they were doing. He called others to grow in their holiness to glorify God.

And when he was thrown out, when he was persecuted, God blessed him. He noted in his memoirs of those early days that when he started preaching on the atoning blood of Christ, and that Christ was the only way to salvation, the Spirit blessed, and the people came. The very first time he stepped up on a tree stump, the very first time he did “field preaching”, three thousand people showed up.

What do we do to revitalize and bring people to our churches of any denomination?

We preach about Jesus Christ. With every breath, we sing his praises. With every word we push people to be more than they are at this moment, but more humble than they were yesterday.

Jesus Christ is the source of this power. Jesus Christ is the source of this love.

Following Wesley’s conversion, he never waivered from his overriding theme of Holy Love and Sola Fide (Faith Alone)… that being it is only through the utterly free grace of God, and our faith in him, that we are saved. It is God’s love for us, and not our works that will provide our salvation, our “new birth” as a child of God, freed from the Spirit of bondage and liberated in the Spirit of adoption.

God is Love.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NKJV)

 

 

 

First Semester Complete!

011812-Past-Present-Future-300x281

Wow, what a whirlwind the last 13 weeks have been. Final grades were posted last night, so I guess that means this first semester is in the books, and there is no going back. Let’s take some time to reflect on the lessons learned from this, my first semester in higher education.

First the stats:

  • 200+ = Pages written
  • 17 = Books read
  • 100’s = # of hours spent on assignments
  • 1000’s = # of hours of sleep lost
  • 3.9 = GPA

The statistics, while doing an excellent job of illuminating the challenges of the seminary (and I’d dare say any graduate school) experience, do not adequately portray the transformation that takes place in one’s mind. They certainly do not expose the deep personal lessons that were learned of one’s own “growth edges.” The numbers also don’t reveal the strengths one didn’t know they possessed, made known through the constructive feedback of learned professors.

I went off to seminary thinking I was going to be learning about God and wound up learning about myself. I expected I would go off to seminary and struggle to pass my classes, merely hoping to achieve minimum scores, and wound up thriving. I went off to seminary fearing my weaknesses only to have God turn them into strengths. I went off to seminary expecting to learn complicated theological and doctrinal concepts and wound up learning the proverbial “meaning of life”.

What lessons did I learn this first semester?

  • I learned a panoply of vocabulary words (panoply being one of them).
  • I learned that 6th-century Benedictine monks argued about silly things.
  • I learned that I have a love of writing and that my works are appreciated by others.
  • I learned that God loves me so immensely that he gave his Son to repair my relationship with him (and your’s as well).
  • I learned of evil.
  • I learned of righteousness.
  • I learned that God keeps his every promise.
  • I learned that I have a support network made up of friends, family, and partners that sacrifice for me, but more importantly, for God.
  • I learned that when God calls, you follow.
  • I learned that I do not have to think of the words, God will provide them.
  • I learned humility.
  • I learned to get out of the way and let God work through me.
  • I learned to recognize when I don’t do this.
  • I learned I needed accountability partners for the times when I’m not being humble when I’m not getting out of the way, and when I’m not recognizing this behavior.

I could go on and on with the list of revelations experienced within the classroom of my mind, but so many of the lessons are between God and I. Besides, it’s time for me to get back to my homework for the class that starts in just a few days.

In summary, I went to seminary expecting to learn complicated ideas about God and religion but instead learned the most basic of lessons…

God is Love.

 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 John 4:7-21, NRSV)

Finals week is quickly approaching…

Surviving-Finals-Week-Featured1

 

Wow.

It’s hard to believe that my first Finals Week is almost upon me. It seems like it was just a few weeks ago I was tackling my first assignments. For the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on the astonishing new revelations I’ve experienced over the last twelve weeks. I’ve learned many concepts and details about the love of Christ that were unfamiliar to me. But along with this new knowledge about God, I’ve also had manifestations of self-examination that reveal my strengths and weaknesses, or as we call them in seminary… growth edges.

I know I’ve spoken of this in the past, but if I was forced to use one word to describe seminary it would be “transformational.” Everyone I had spoken to who has attended used this word in describing the experience, now I see what they meant. The first twelve weeks have fundamentally transformed my relationships with God and the people I call friends and family. Because I am more fully coming to understand how freely God loves me, I can more effectively embody that in my love for others.

Preparations for finals week at the graduate level, from what I can see so far, differs from that of the undergrad system that my daughter Isabel is experiencing. I don’t have facts to memorize; I have papers to write. Long papers… very long papers. I’m finding that the length of the papers is the biggest challenge, but probably not in the way you imagine. If I have a paper that is required to be 9-12 pages my difficulty is not getting at least nine pages, it’s keeping the paper under 12 pages. I have so much that I want to say about God that I find it difficult to be bound by maximum page lengths. I remarked to one of my professors that I needed to write a book.

None of this transformation has been easy. When is radical change ever easy? There are two things that have lessened the difficulty found in this process. First and foremost is my God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has given me intelligence I do not possess. He has given me wisdom I have never had. Jesus has provided to me patience and a work ethic for my classwork that has not been demonstrated in my life to this point (though I have preached it to my children for years).

The other “thing” that has assisted me is the love and support of my friends and family. The biggest earthly support I have received is from my wife, Jennifer. She has carried the brunt of our daily activities on her shoulders. She has patiently accepted my late night study sessions. She has cooked the food, cleaned the house, completed the grocery shopping, helped with homework, and kept me in clean clothes mostly on her own. In the past, we have shared these responsibilities more equitably. She has even tolerated my reading to her passages from both my textbooks and additional research I do “on the side” for fun (who could have imagined that?). This is what she had to put up with last night:

“To be sure, though postmodernism claims to offer an imporvement over modernistic readings of humanity, it nevertheless continues with the same kind of reductionism and methodological hegemony that marked the logical positivists of the early twentieth century (Schlick and Carnap among them) and the radical scientific empiricists later on who, like B.F. Skinner, maintained that a human being is merely a repertoire of behavior and is, therefore, utterly explicable in terms of science in general and the environment in particular.” (from The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace by Dr. Kenneth J. Collins)

Catch all that? Now you see why I have a quickly expanding list of new vocabulary words contained within a notebook in my pocket!

My daughters Isabel and Emma have been a huge help as well. Isabel is kind enough to proofread her dad’s papers, though not so kind that she doesn’t end up putting red ink all over them! I suspect she’s enjoying repaying my years of editing her work. Emma is always quick to provide a hug and words of encouragement to me. At random times, she will just walk up and wrap her arms around me, and it just makes me melt.

To expand on the second “thing,” I’d like to add that my friends and supporters have been phenomenal in their inquiries about my well-being. Your questions and concern about my workload and life are very humbling to me as well as uplifting in my spiritual growth.

Classes officially end on December 18th, but preparations have already begun. Some of the multi-part finals that are required have already been completed. This weekend I will be working on the remainder of the assignments with the goal of having them submitted early while also completing the normal weekly assignments.

It may all sound overwhelming, but it isn’t. I am more relaxed now than I have been throughout this entire endeavor. I know that I am loved by God, by my wife, my children, my family, and my friends.

With God, all things are possible. Without Jesus, I would still be wandering in the wilderness of the world.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV)

First Day of Seminary… New Student Orientation

20150903_114730075_iOS

Having just returned from my two days of new student orientation at Asbury Theological Seminary, I couldn’t wait to document my observations, jot down my thoughts, and detail the impressions I had of this amazing higher learning institution.  By the way, the guy in the photo above (not the hairy one, but the short guy that can hold incredibly still) is John Wesley.  If you don’t know who he is, give him a Google.

If I had to describe the past two days in a single word it would be “Amazing!”.  If I was allowed more than a single word I would say “incredible, affirming, energizing, awe-inspiring, humbling, and… amazing (wait did I use that one already?)”.  I’ve already described this experience to some friends and family in this way…  This is the first time I have sat in a room with 200 people and didn’t feel like the “weirdo.”

Allow me to explain:

As a Christian in today’s world, we are the weird ones.  It’s okay.  In fact, Jesus tells us not to conform to the ways of the world.  He wants us to be the weird ones… the different ones… so that we are an example to the world of his love.  Normal today is not love.  Normal today is not sacrificing for others.  Normal today is not peace.

For the last two days, I have been surrounded by other weirdos, and it was glorious!  I was surrounded by others that have been called by God to be in a relationship with him, have honored that call, and answered Jesus’s words of “Follow me.”   For a brief moment in time, I felt like part of an army… God’s army.  I wasn’t the lone scout sneaking around the enemy lines; I was in formation with brigades of troops following God’s orders.  That experience is incredibly affirming and left me with a supreme feeling of peace and contentment.

This experience also exposed, and revealed to me, that the seminary experience is more than just classrooms, lectures, and paper writing.  It is more than just acquiring knowledge.  It is more than just becoming a scholar.  It is more than learning how to preach.  The time at seminary is about God transforming you and your family into a well-equipped example of God’s love and power that he will then use to go out into the world and do his work.

Asbury Seminary is made up of buildings, classrooms, chapels, libraries, community centers, student housing, and statues of really short people, but most importantly it contains fantastic people.  These amazing people are professors, administrators, registrars, executives, student leaders, and the support staff required to make it all run.  Every last one of them is dedicated to equipping tomorrow’s leaders.  Every last one of them is following God’s call in their life… the call to equip others to go into every corner of the world and spread His love.  And they were doing it all from an incredible place of humility.  Dr. Tennent (Asbury’s President), and his wife were kind enough to open their beautiful home to us for dinner. Yesterday I sat at lunch with three professors that are some of the top minds in theology.  They all took the time to eat and fellowship with me, sharing their call, their drive, and their passion, while also listening to my testimony and the story of how God is working in my life.

The Asbury community is amazing as well.  As I walked around the student housing, I saw children doing something I haven’t seen in many years.  They were outside playing.  They were riding their bikes, playing stick-ball, running through fields, and being in relationship with each other.  As I sat on the front porch of a friend’s apartment in Kalas Village, people walking would stop, introduce themselves, and carry on a conversation with you.

I see why people come then never want to leave.  I fear that my family will miss out on this sense of community as I take my classes online from afar.

I owe so many people thanks for providing us with this opportunity.  I am overwhelmed by your love and confidence in us as we live out God’s plan for our lives.  I thank the Lord for each of you and the part you play in his plan for us.  I thank the Lord for being with me (and all of you).  I thank him for making all things possible even when they seem overwhelming and completely impossible.

Me… in grad school?  The guy that just wanted to get through high school so he could run off to the army?  The guy that’s never been to college?  I mean come on… that is all God!

I also thank the staff and faculty of Asbury Theological Seminary.  Your hard work.  Your dedication.  Your long hours.  Your time away from family and friends… they are all making a difference.  Your efforts are making a difference in the lives of students.  Your efforts are making a difference in the world.  Your efforts are being blessed by our Lord and Savior.

I am poised to throw down my net.  My muscles are tensed.  My grip is tight.  I stare out into the ocean prepared to abandon my comfortable way of life.  Please pray for me.  Pray that I will have the courage of Peter and Andrew.  Pray that I will lay it all down.

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.…  Matthew 4:18-20

Paying for Seminary… the high cost of ministry preparation.

25720442-money-roll-close-up-in-dark-background

Imagine an institution that requires its leaders to attend not only college, but graduate school. Imagine that the graduate school in question is constitutionally forbidden from receiving any form of government aid, that it typically requires three years of full-time schooling for the diploma, that the nature of the schooling bears almost no resemblance to the job in question, and that the pay for graduates is far lower than other professions. You have just imagined the relationship between the Christian Church and her seminaries. – From “The Seminary Bubble” by Jerry Bowyer.

I awoke this morning inspired to tell the tale of raising money for my seminary education.  This may prove challenging since I haven’t actually paid for said education yet, but I thought I would get the ball rolling. First let me provide a brief history of seminary education and its cost over the years.

So what is a modern seminary anyway (I used the qualifying word “modern” because seminaries have been many different things over the centuries)?  Modern seminaries are a graduate school.  Seminary is where one goes to obtain a Master’s degree or Doctorate in Christian studies. Seminaries also offer certificate programs and seminars.  For the first 1600 years or so of Christianity there wasn’t any formal, structured, consistent training of “preachers” (unless you were a Catholic priest).  Before the early 1800’s, when the first modern American theological seminaries were established, pastors were trained via an apprenticeship program in which the aspiring pastor lived and worked side by side with an established pastor.  Depending on the skill levels of the pastor this could have disastrous or glorious results.  One thing was for certain… there was no consistency.  Dissatisfaction with these inconsistencies is what lead to the growth of our modern seminary landscape.  Although, let us not discount that God has been blessing these institutions and their goals as well which has resulted in that growth.

The first theological seminaries were set up within church denominations.  I imagine there was the attitude of “Let’s train these guys (sorry ladies it was just men in the beginning) how to study the bible”.  You see the first seminaries (and even some seminaries today) were set up to train men just to be theological scholars. The training had little to do with teaching pastors how to lead a congregation, preach from the pulpit, or council members on a myriad of issues.  Seminaries took the “leave us alone and let us study the bible!” attitude toward their local churches.  Again, dissatisfaction crept into the the training process and a change was needed.  Thus ushering in the modern seminary landscape of the last half of the 20th century.

Two things started to happen in recent memory.  The first was that new non-denominational seminaries started popping up all over the country.  The second was that the more responsive established seminaries recognized they needed to change.  The focus of seminary training, while still rooted in theology, started to include more practical training in the general pastoral duties of a modern church leader.

Okay… enough of a history lesson on the birth of the modern seminary.  What I presented was a very simplified overview that any scholar could pick apart and destroy me on the details.  This post isn’t meant for them, it is meant for you, my friends and family.

On to the high costs.

Because the first seminaries were denominational based, there was no cost to the men attending.  Parishioner’s tithes were paid to their local church, their local church sent their apportionment’s up the line, and the seminary was a line item in some past church accountant’s hand written spreadsheet.  Even just thirty years ago the cost of attending most seminaries was completely free.

That is not the landscape of today.

Seminary costs today range from free (rarely) to over $800 a credit hour. ( See: Big List of Seminaries and their Cost.) The average seems to be in the $500-$600 per credit hour range.

The seminary that has chosen me (more on that in the forthcoming Part Three of my testimony) is Asbury Theological Seminary. Asbury’s per credit hour cost is $575 for a full-time student.  I will need a minimum of 96 credit hours to earn my Master of Divinity.  If I plug those numbers into my calculator app (who owns a real calculator anymore?) it totals at least $55,200 for tuition alone.  Of course that doesn’t include books, fees, and other expenses.  Those other expenses add up to about $600 per semester, three semesters a year plus “intensive” studies in January and June, bringing an estimated grand total of approximately $70,000 over the next four years of studies.

Ironic isn’t it?  A profession that teaches God’s word that says … Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.- Romans 13:8 requires you to gain an education that results in high debt?

Now here is the good news… correction… here is the great news!  Asbury Theological Seminary, and its leaders, are dedicated and committed to equipping men and women for their call into ministry.  They have formed and created many scholarships, scholarship programs, and church partnering programs.  They have created an institution capable of turning out highly trained, educated, and motivated teachers, pastors, ministers, and missionaries with zero student debt.

As my friends and family, some of you have already had conversations with me, or emails from me, detailing an amazing scholarship program that I have been accepted into.  For those of you that haven’t heard from me yet, allow me to explain…

I was one of eight new students accepted into the Ministry Partners Program. The MPP (I must shorten the name or my fingers are going to fall off from all of this typing!) is a program that equips students with fundraising skills and experience that they will use in their future ministries.  The MPP provides the student with a full tuition scholarship.  That’s right… a free $55,200 education and Master of Divinity degree.  The student is still responsible for housing, books, and other administration fees.

Here is how the program works, and it is where I am asking for help from you, the reader.  The student “partners” with their local church(es), friends, family, congregation members, and/or complete strangers.  The partner church(es) contribute at least $500 per school year to the fund set up by Asbury Theological Seminary.  The student’s partners also commit to donating to this fund.  It is suggested that the student form this partner relationship with at least 12 individuals who will commit to donating a suggested $45 a month towards their education (can be  paid yearly, quarterly, monthly, or one lump sum).  And just to clarify, both the partner church and partner individuals only commit to these donations while the student is attending.  Once the student has earned their degree the donations are no longer required.

Let’s simplify this explanation even more… If I raise a minimum of $7,000 per school year via my partners I will receive unlimited free tuition.  That $7,000 can be raised through any combination of sources.  If I have 30 partners, their donation need only be $18 per month. If I only have 5 partners they would need to contribute $108 a month.

Partners will receive all the benefits of being a supporter of Asbury Theological Seminary. This includes all donations being tax deductible, the opportunity to visit Asbury’s campus and tour the facilities, and frequent updates on my progress and experiences.

The partners also commit to contributing to the student’s success in a far more powerful way than money… and that is through the power of prayer.  Your prayers will have a much bigger impact on my time at Asbury than any dollar amount you may give.

Because of this, what I find most exciting about this program has nothing to do with finances.  After all, money is irrelevant when we believe it all belongs to God and he provides all we need.  What I look forward to having is a group of supporters that will hold me accountable.  Knowing that a group of people are giving up some of their hard earned treasure to help provide me with an education is a powerful motivator.  Knowing that I have a group of supporters that I can turn to when the thousands of pages of required reading has me overwhelmed.  Knowing that Jennifer has people she can turn to when her husband has his nose buried in a book, or a computer monitor, pouring over research.  Knowing that I have a group of supporters praying for me, for my wife, and for my children. Knowing that all of these things are provided to us is a powerful reminder of God’s promises kept in our lives.

God has created my path to ministry and to seminary.  God has surrounded me with loving, caring, supportive friends and family that are an amazing blessing in my life and the life of my family.  God has also created a way for me to receive this incredible education completely debt free.  I have faith that his Holy Spirit will work through that support network to fund this Ministry Partner Program.

And because of that faith…

I most humbly ask that you the reader, you my friend, you my family member, and even you the complete stranger, prayerfully consider becoming one of my partners.  I do not ask this lightly.  I do not ask this quickly or haphazardly. I ask this after prayer, deliberation, and time talking with God.

If you are lead to donate and become one of my partners you may make your contribution at the following website:Ministry Partners Donation Link -Be sure to select my name from the list of students, but also consider making at least a small donation to any and all of the students in the program. Please be aware that I have a deadline in July for all of my partners to make at least their first donation by then.
I thank you for considering this call to give, no matter the dollar amount given (even if it is a one-time gift of just $5).  I thank you for considering this call, even if your support is only through prayer.  I thank Tammy Hogan and the leadership at Asbury Theological Seminary for creating and administering such programs. I thank those of you that have already committed to partnering with me.
And most importantly I thank God for each and every one of you in my life.
I love you all.
– Jason A. Hyer

God gets out his 2×4… from spiritual whisper to a smack up side the head.

M6vsm

Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
  — Acts 2:17

I’ve often struggled with discerning God’s call in my life, as I’m sure many of you have experienced as well.  Since I’m so close to the issues, and because I’m human, I tend to put too much of my feelings, wants, and desires into the situation.  I’ve remarked many times that if God is going to call me into full-time pastoral ministry he is going to have to smack me in the head with a 2×4. At times I’ve felt the call into ministry only to eventually talk myself out of it.  Convincing myself that what I was feeling wasn’t really “The Call”, but merely a moment of spiritual high.  These…. let’s call them “spiritual whispers” … were often following a very uplifting event in my life.  Often times following a Sunday in which I preached a message, lead a mission trip or outreach event, I would go to my pastor and excitedly tell him, “I’m ready, put me in Coach!”.  He would give me that “look”.  I’m sure you’ve seen that look… you know the one…he grins, but on the inside he’s thinking “son, you have no idea what you’re saying”.  I’ve gotten that look many times over the last six years.

This time was different.  This time there was no doubt what God was telling me to do.  This time there weren’t any murky “signs” to decipher or discern.  This time there weren’t even any feelings involved.  This time God called me by name… literally.

Please allow me to explain.

On March 8th I was given the opportunity to preach at Asbury United Methodist Church in Columbus, Indiana (https://www.facebook.com/asburyumccol?fref=ts&ref=br_tf) in place of the head pastor Dave Blystone (Dave’s Blog) who was traveling in Israel.  Dave mentioned that he would like me to teach on John Wesley’s Prevenient Grace.  I had no idea what prevenient grace was (it’s divine grace that precedes human decision by the way), but I set about learning all I could on what John Wesley had to say about it.  Little did I know at the time, but God was nudging me along a path.

Before I even started preparing this message I stopped, humbled myself, and prayed that God would remove me from the message, that the words I wrote and the words I spoke be his and his alone.  A peace settled over me and I wrote out the entire message word for word in one sitting.  Understand though that there were hours spent researching the many forms of grace our Lord provides.  My time spent preparing messages in the past have always been when I feel closest to God.  It feels like I’m having a two sided conversation with him, rather than just me doing all the talking.  For this message I felt especially close to him.

March 8th quickly was upon me, but there wasn’t the usual nervousness or tension that comes with public speaking.  The people at Asbury UMC were open and welcoming, even allowing me to play my bass guitar with their worship team in second service.  I delivered the same message to both of their services that day (March 8th Sermon) and let me tell you it was both exhausting and exhilarating (for more insight into that read: 10 Things You Forget About Pastors) . Monday morning saw me back in my pastor’s office.  Before I could even finish walking through the door, my pastor fired off the question, “so… ready to go into full-time ministry NOW?”.  (I have a feeling he was expecting the usual “put me in Coach” conversation we have had every other time I’ve preached).  This time…again…was different.  I told him (paraphrasing here) “nope, not this time, it was a great experience, but I’ll stay with what I’m doing”.

Oh how I was in for a shock…

I was just two weeks from the events detailed here: Part One: And it all started in a Captain D’s.

Let’s skip ahead to the end of Part One where I have now had God show up in my life in a very real and physical way (well he was always there, but I wasn’t as open to him as I should have been.. see the definition of prevenient grace again).  God has just revealed to me that he finds me worthy.  Worthy of doing His work and worthy of being used in his plans.  It’s around this time that I come to the realization that it’s time to start paying back this kindness.  It’s time to do more than just float through life accepting all these gifts, but not passing them on to others.

At this point let me point out a couple of things.  I know that I can never repay God.  I know that I do not have his power or ability to even come close to paying the price that Christ paid for us.  So let me describe it this way… it’s time for me to start thanking God in more than just words.

With these thoughts spinning in my mind I went to sleep one night… and I dreamed dreams.

In a dream God came to me as a ball of light too bright to look at directly.  An arm reached out holding a bible that was open, but the words were in a language I could not read.  At this point God spoke and said “Jason, open your bible and read Tithus Chapter 2”.  I instantly woke up, then woke up Jennifer to tell her what had happened.  I’m sure she thought I was crazy as I described this dream to her at 2am.  I reached for my bible turning to the Table of Contents to search out this book of Tithus.  Turns out there isn’t a book of Tithus, but there is a Titus.  While it is technically a “book” of the bible it is less than two pages long (depending on your version).  For those of you that don’t know (as I myself didn’t until I did the research) the book of Titus was written by Paul to encourage a young pastor on the island of Crete.  Here is the contents of chapter 2:

Teach Sound Doctrine

But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.

Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,[a] 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior,[b] Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

15 Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority.[c] Let no one look down on you.

There it was in verse 1… But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.

I’ve often read of others that have had God appear to them in a dream, hear an auditory voice when no one was around, or see a vision.  I never thought I would be blessed with such an event in my life.  I spent the next 48 hours floating around on a spiritual high.  I’ve describe it this way to others… this was my burning bush moment.  It’s moments like these that make me scratch my head at non-believers.  How can one doubt the presence of our Savior?

But again… God wasn’t done yet.  I thought he had hit me upside the head with a 2×4, but it turns out he was just merely winding up his swing.

Next up in PART THREE…God prepares the path.

Acceptance

20150527_011940550_iOS

What an amazing letter to receive!

To my friends and family.

Jennifer and I, and our girls have finally accepted God’s call to enter full-time ministry.  To some of you this may be a shock, to others the reaction might be “Well duh, it’s about time Jason.”  You see for the last several years I have had the calling to become a pastor, a preacher, or whatever you call the person that stands in front of your church and delivers the message. I wrestled with that calling, telling myself it wasn’t real, or I wasn’t ready.  I’ve struggled with discerning God’s call in my life.  I’ve struggled with the signs he has given me.  My weaknesses got in my way.  Roadblocks were in front of me, placed there by the world and by my decisions. Three months ago, almost to the day, events started to transpire to both clear my path and to make my path clear to me.

I will go into those events in more detail in future blog posts on my website oldguyseminarian.org, but one of the biggest roadblocks was my education, or more accurately, my lack of education.  To be a pastor, you should have higher education.  It isn’t a strict requirement, there are lots of pastors that don’t have this, but it is highly recommended.  I have never had a day of college.  No Bachelor’s.  No undergraduate work of any kind.  It was a pretty big hurdle to overcome. I had never thought attending seminary was possible.

Just eight weeks ago I had a conversation with a young man, a seminary student himself, and a friend.  Evan Guse revealed to me that Asbury Theological Seminary (asburyseminary.edu) granted, though rarely, a “No Bachelor” exemption to attend their world renowned seminary.  Evan said it was setup for “old guys like you!” (hence the name of this website.. thanks Evan!) There were strict guidelines and prerequisites in place that had to be met to even apply for this special exemption.  I won’t bore you with all of the details in this post (I assure you I will in future ones), but I had to score very well on the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), as well as write several graduate school level essays.

Thanks to the power of our Lord I scored extremely well on the GRE.  I scored better than 87% of every graduate school applicant that has taken the exam in fact!  That certainly didn’t come from me, I boast in the Lord for that score.  I just was going to take the test to see how poorly I would do with zero prep work to have a baseline to work from!  Asbury also found my essays and application satisfactory and as evidenced by the above letter they have accepted me into their Masters of Divinity program starting this fall.

That’s right.. without a day of college I get to go to graduate school and work on a Master’s degree!

How’s that for evidence of the power of our God?!?!

Asbury Theological Seminary is located on a beautiful campus in Wilmore Kentucky, but don’t worry I have no plans to move there (yet).  Two-thirds of my degree will be completed on-line with the remaining one-third completed via “intensive” classes that will require travel to the Wilmore campus in the months of January and June.

This is going to be a lot of work.  I’m told the class load is intense.  We will need to lean on our family and friends for support in this calling.  My current plans are to continue in my job for the first semester of school then approach the United Methodist Church for a student pastor appointment within driving distance from our new home. This is also going to be a grand adventure, I hope that you will “follow” my blog and keep track of our progress here at oldguyseminarian.org.  Be sure to leave a reply below as you are lead.

Thank you to everyone that has poked, prodded, and pushed me along this path.  I wouldn’t be here without your love and support.

And thanks to our Lord for being a loving God, for being a God that always keeps his promises, for being a God that sent his Son to die on a cross for our sins.

In humble service to Christ,

Jason A. Hyer
Director of Mission and Outreach
Sandy Hook United Methodist Church
Student – Asbury Theological Seminary