Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Update: 12/12/09

So it's been a while since I've just posted an update on how things are out here. I actually intended to do more of that than I've done. Hopefully the other stuff has been helpful and interesting as well.

Seasonal Fellowship

But as for where we are right now, we're doing well. Now's the time of the season where we get to have a bunch of fun get-togethers. On the 3rd, the seminary students brought their wives and children to the annual TMS Christmas Chapel. We sang wonderful worship songs that focused on the theme of the incarnation, Christ's entering into His own creation to die for sins and live for righteousness for all those who believe. We read the Christmas story from Luke 2, and we were served by the music of Christan Ebner. And after that, we enjoyed a wonderful assortment of Christmas cookies. In fact, the administration here at TMS has to remind us that it's called the Christmas Chapel, and not the Cookie Chapel, as it has come to be called. That was a great time of fellowship with the faculty and students, and having the students' families there makes it even better!

Backing up a bit farther, we also enjoyed our first Thanksgiving away from home. We traveled two doors down in our apartment complex to enjoy the day with two other young seminary couples (plus one of their sisters). The smallest turkey we could find in the nearby grocery stores was a 20-pounder, so all of us really enjoyed that! We had a great dinner and wonderful fellowship with some dear brothers and sisters in Christ. After dinner we had a fun time learning a card game called Canasta (pronounced ca-NAS-ta), which brought quite a few laughs considering some of the terminology of the game. But the real party started when we began to play spoons. Our host was a big fan of grabbing a bunch of spoons and just throwing them all over his house, causing a rampage among the rest of the players who (at many times) violently fought for the last spoon. His wife left with a nice cut on her forehead, Janna was finding bruises on her legs for a couple days, but the highlight of the night was when I was tackled and put a hole in their wall. I felt pretty bad about damaging someone else's home, but Dan loved it. It was a night not soon to be forgotten.

And still speaking of these seasonal get-togethers, we just enjoyed our first of three Christmas parties in a row Friday night. This first one was for our Bible study. We had some great food, and great desserts. It was a real treat to just hang out and talk and get to know each other better. The Lord Jesus has really blessed us with a good group of people whom we can serve and who we can serve alongside. We also enjoyed our $10-gift-card white elephant game. We got an extra $10 for Cold Stone! Woohoo! Saturday and Sunday nights we'll be having somewhat of a similar experience as a couple of friends from seminary are having Christmas parties. We look forward to enjoying the fellowship we have with each other in Christ.

The Job Situation

Janna has continued to tutor students at Grace Community School. She's been doing a great job, and has been preparing for these one-hour weekly sessions as any great teacher would. She's actually been studying Latin (which she's never done before) so she can tutor 8th and 9th graders in first year Latin. As a language teacher, I'm very proud of her for that. That job has also been a great blessing from the Lord to us, as it has been the principal source of income for the last four months. She's also continued to sell a particular brand of makeup that we can't mention by name online. So ladies, if you're interested, give my wife a call.

We do have some better news on the job front, though. Janna recently had an interview at Henry Mayo, the hospital that's like right around the corner from our apartment. The position is medical-surgical, but it's on a telemetry / oncology floor that seems to be in really good shape. Apparently, the interview went really well. Obviously, they loved Janna, but what was great is that Janna really liked them as well. The hospital seems to be in really good shape, has a great nurse-patient ratio, pays well, and is being flexible with her start date. And it's a 12-hour day shift! They haven't officially offered her the job, but things are looking positively. Praise God for His provision and for His perfect timing! Please continue to pray that it would all come through and that she would indeed get this job.


As far as seminary itself goes, I've officially finished my first semester here at TMS. It's pretty amazing! It really did go quickly. And it was indeed a ton of work. One of the things that they tell you to do at the beginning of the semester is to just go through all of your syllabi and make a master file of assignments and due dates. I remember looking at that file at the beginning of the semester and marveling at the fact that they expected me to get all of that done in 15 weeks. Well, 15 weeks later, by God's grace, it's all done. It was a lot, but it was all work that I really enjoy doing. At times I would complain (mostly in my heart) about how much work I had to do. But in many of those instances, God was gracious to me, and brought to my mind this thought: "If I didn't have to do any of this work and had nothing to do, what would I do?" And the answer was always the same: I'd read the stuff I'd had to read. I'd write about the stuff I had to write about. I often remarked that seminary life was very much like the Christian life; it required me to do things that are a joy to do. So seminary has indeed been a blessing.

There are so many things that I could write about as to what I've been learning from God's Word as well as what He's been teaching me about life and ministry in general. Maybe I'll just share one or two in each category.
  1. One of the greatest blessings that I've enjoyed this semester is just reading the Bible (particularly Genesis through Esther) in large quantities, quickly, and repeatedly. For our Old Testament class, we had to read one book of the Bible per week, twice. So, for example, last week I had to read through the book of Chronicles twice, write chapter titles for each chapter, note major themes of the book, write what I thought the purpose of the book was, and also write a one-page synopsis of how the Chronicler traced the history of the theocracy and temple. Assignments like those for the first 17 books of the Bible really helped me grasp the message and major themes of that foundational portion of Scripture. And one thing that I was gripped by was just how central and theologically significant the covenants are (particularly the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants), how an essential characteristic of God is His covenant faithfulness, and how all these covenants find their ultimate fulfillment and fullest expression in Jesus Christ. I mean, it's just magnificent. Thousands of years of history, failures of the people, continued faithfulness of God, and crazy amounts of anticipation and hope all lead up to one man, the God-man, Jesus Christ, Son of God and God the Son. History is about Him. The Bible is about Him. The Universe is about Him!
  2. In that vein, I've really been learning to just let the Bible speak in its context. One temptation for young guys like me who are aspiring to be preachers is the lie that we have to find something better, more shocking, or more profound to say than has been said. We think that if we want to have an impact, we have to show people something they've never seen before. Rather than just letting the text say what it says, I try to find a big way to spin it. And it's not like it gets heretical, it just betrays a lack of faithfulness in the sufficiency of Scripture. For example, I don't need to force Christ into every single verse of the Bible. I don't need to read Joshua 2, find out that Rahab's cloth was red, and see in the red cloth the blood of Christ protecting Rahab's house as the blood of the Passover Lamb. That sounds wonderfully tempting. It could make a congregation go, "Ooh!" and "Aah!" But it's not in the text. And what I've been learning is, the text is sufficiently glorious on its own. If preachers and teachers of God's Word are truly content, in the depths of their soul, to cry out, "He must increase, I must decrease," then we will be satisfied with letting Scripture say what it says instead of getting it to say what we want it to mean.
  3. The last thing I'll share is that I've been learning that it is not true that merely being in seminary fixes or maintains your spiritual life. If you struggle with consistent devotional times, just being around Christians, church, and talking about the Bible does not necessarily cultivate rich and sweet fellowship with Christ. If anything, it makes it more difficult. The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay, as they say. It's been clear to me that I need to make it a priority, above everything else, to actively pursue that relationship with Him. One way I've thought of it is like this: Seminary, rich study, great fellowship, and having your conversations and thoughts dominated by spiritual things are all like various kinds of wonderful herbs and spices. But a thriving personal devotional life with Christ before His Word and before His throne in prayer is like the meat. The seminary package really adds wonderful flavor and nuance to that devotional time. But if you try to do the seminary thing without that relationship, it'd be like taking the meat away and just eating spices. It's not enjoyable, it's unhealthy, and doesn't strengthen you for the work you need to do.
So those are some things I've been learning. I do look forward to what God has for me next semester. I'm taking quite a heavy load, but I suppose that will provide multiple opportunities to see my own insufficiency, to depend on Christ and trust Him fully, and be a beneficiary of His grace. In the Spring, I'm taking: Old Testament Studies II (Job through Malachi), Beginning Hebrew II, Pastoral Counseling, Historical Theology (Reformation to present), and Biblical Exposition of Prayer.

Coming Home

The last bit of news is very exciting. Janna and I are getting ready to fly back to New Jersey on Tuesday to spend three weeks with our family and friends for the holidays. The semester doesn't start back again until January 12th, so we're going to stay out in New Jersey till the 6th. We're really excited to see everyone!

I've also been graciously offered the opportunity to preach at Christian Fellowship Church in North Brunswick on Sunday morning, December 20th. Many thanks to Pastor Steve for inviting me into his pulpit and giving me such a wonderful opportunity to serve him and his people. Each time he's asked me to do this it has proven to be such a humbling and enriching experience. I trust this time will be no different. Indeed, I've already begun to enjoy those experiences in the time I've had to prepare. God is good. The Lord Jesus will build His Church. There is no time that I am more convinced, more driven, and more thrilled at the thought of giving my life to "spending and being spent" for the souls of God's people by ministering His Word to them than when I am preparing and preaching. May God give me grace upon grace to always have such affections. Please pray for me as I continue to prepare.

I'll also be teaching Sunday school the following Sunday morning at Christ Community, our home church. I very much look forward to that experience as well. I've missed the saints there, and having been absent for the last four months has taught me how much a privilege it is to minister to the same group of people over a period of years. I would appreciate your prayers for this as well.

Somewhere in between there I hope to visit Hammarskjold Middle School, where I taught Italian last year. As I've missed family and friends, I've also missed my fellow teachers and my students. It's been nice to hear from a few of them and keep in contact. I look forward to seeing them again!

Well, I suppose that's enough of an update for now. Hopefully I'll be able to talk more with you all about these things in person! Until then...

Delight yourself in the LORD,
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
- Psalm 37:4 -

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