It’s dark outside now. From my third-story brick window I can just see the top of the James P. Boyce memorial library rotunda, illuminated against the night sky. The parking lot is quiet, save for an occasional couple returning from a date on their last night unencumbered by duties. Tomorrow will begin the journey of many towards their hopes and their dreams; the beginning of the realization of many prayers answered.
The last few days have been full of advice. Some of it has been good, some has been bad. “Don’t expect to grow much spiritually in Seminary” said one student about to graduate. No, no. If our growth in knowledge does not lead us to a greater love and passion for the Lord, then something is wrong with our hearts. The knowledge of the Lord is not inert, it is not static. The word of God pierces, wounds, divides heart from sin. That’s what it does, and it can do no other.
And then there’s the advice of wiser men like Dr. Russell Moore. One of the main reasons I’m here is so that I can study under Dr. Moore. Beware. You’ve painted a bulls-eye on your back by attending here. Satan is craftier than you are and does not want to expose your sin now. He wants it to fester and simmer, until you’re in a place where you can take down a church. While that isn’t an absolute statement, it is probably generally true. There are dangers in learning much. There’s a reason Ecclesiastes is in the Bible.
I do not pretend to know all that awaits me over the next three years. There will be more joy than I expect, and there will be more sorrow and hardship as well. It’s impossible to anticipate what a God who is out for my best interest will bring about, for my vision is short-sighted and His is sighted past the end. And so, as I turn off my computer and go to bed, I’m excited to think about the adventure that lies ahead. The steeple of Boyce Library has witnessed many first days of seminary. I pray that we all are yet another link in the chain of men who have sought to learn well, that we may love and lose our lives for the cause of Christ day by day.
While being shown around the Southern Seminary fitness center complex, my tour guide began listing the equipment that the school has available for us students to play outdoor sports. Football? Yep. Soccer goals? Yep. Cornhole? Yep.
This revelation left me with one burning question: What exactly is “Cornhole”? While it didn’t appear in Rick Reilly’s book entitled Sports from Hell, the name itself leaves me having a very hard time imagining “Cornhole” as being a sport played alongside polo by the rich and famous. This question plunged me into a veritable quest to unravel the mystery that is Cornhole. I now present to you “The Cornhole Song.”
Two days ago I logged into my email account to find good news. I was awarded a scholarship by Southern Seminary that covers over half of my tuition for the first year of school. Year one will now be debt free! The award was given out based on academic considerations and ministry experience. As I wrote this essay to apply for the scholarship, I was reminded again and again of how gracious the Lord has been to give me the opportunity to grow as His servant throughout all of these experiences. Many of you have been partners with me in it all, and I thank you for that.
The most life-changing conversation I’ve ever had about ministry happened while I was sitting on top of a washing machine. I was your typical insecure freshman, just a handful of weeks into my four years at The Master’s College. Somewhere in between deciding whether this was a standard “medium” load or was large enough to qualify as “full,” up walked —– —–. In my book, —– —– was the quintessential cool senior: Biblical Exposition major, student leader of the Chapel Media department. I don’t think —– had any laundry to do that day; he just wanted to find out how this particular freshman was adjusting to life at college. And the answer was not very well.
When —— first walked up, I expected the usual quick and casual conversation. Forty-five minutes later I had experienced for the first time how ministry isn’t a just a program, but rather ministry is the gospel applied to every situation in life. —– refused to be content with my superficial answers. And then he didn’t run away when when sinful patterns of thought were discovered in my heart.
I take the time to share that story because what I learned that day while sitting on the washing machine, participating in a conversation where someone wanted to get to know me not for what they could get out of me but rather what they could pour into me redefined for me what ministry is. It isn’t glamorous; it’s servanthood. It isn’t showy; it’s dying to self.
My Dad was the pastor of a small, rural Washington church, so opportunities were plenteous growing up. I helped cleaned the church, washed the communion cups on Sundays, ran the overhead projector during worship, gained over 1000 hours of community service helping build houses for predominately low-income minority families. But starting freshman year of college, ministry became more than just doing things. Ministry became living and speaking out the gospel in such a way that people were pointed to Christ Jesus as Someone to be made much of.
My first taste of this kind of ministry was in the residence halls at The Master’s College. As an Assistant Resident Assistant, my job was people. Get to know people. Encourage them in the Lord. Point them to Christ as all-sufficient in every need, every care, every problem. This meant some late nights, staying up so I could get to know my night-owl roommates. It also meant developing an interest in things that I ordinarily wouldn’t have given a second thought about–vegetarian cooking, rugby, philosophical indie films. But gospel ministry means seeking to minister to a person. And gospel ministry demands taking a genuine interest in that person, for Christ took a genuine interest in me.
In successive years I had the opportunity to serve as a Resident Assistant and Head Resident Assistant. Being an RA at Masters’ is a unique experience. The student life department pours itself into making the RAs men and women who are leaders amongst their peers. RA training is an intensive year-long process focusing on biblical counseling and peer-to-peer leadership.
Few things in life have been as difficult as ministry to my wing that first year of being an RA. Two of my guys confided in me that they seriously struggled with depression and had recently given serious thought to killing themselves. Another was discovered to have left a trail of deceit across his schoolwork and personal life. One of my roommates was addicted to World of Warcraft; another wouldn’t speak. Ministering the gospel to people who have inoculated themselves against it by strong professions and weak living is a disheartening thing.
But there were moments of grace. —– ——– discovered his passion for teaching biology and using it as a tool in evangelism. —- ——— finally understood how the grace of God was a liberating thing, and not an oppressive master. I know these are just names to you. To me, they are my brothers with whom I was
The following year (my senior year), I was given a wing and a staff almost double the size of the previous year. It was another year full of But this time, the men the Lord placed around me were eager students of His Word. They wanted to grow. They wanted to serve. Whereas small group bible study was the most dreaded part of the week during my junior year, this year it was energizing. Every Thursday night we’d get together and dig into our theme, Gospel Risk. I watched as the Spirit used my teaching from the Word to transform them into men who understood that promises of a deeper relationship with Christ and eternal reward far outweighed comfort; and that this motivates us to live lives that do not make sense apart from the hope of the resurrection from the dead.
Partway through the year, one of our deans approached me and asked if I would be interested in preaching at a local drug rehabilitation ministry. I knew I was in for a different experience than I was used to when, on the first night, one of the residents stood up and shouted in as deep an African-American accent you can get, “Here’s another youn’ brotha’ in the Lord come to preach us da Word tonight!”
Preach the Word I did; it was a tremendous opportunity to grow in my ability to effectively communicate God’s Word. After a couple of times the men began to recognize me. One of them walked up one night and said, “We always love it when you come because we can tell that you really care about what you’re teachin’. You really believe it and that makes you easy to listen to.” For a young preacher, that was quite the encouraging affirmation to know that others were being blessed through my ministry.
Upon graduating I was asked to serve as an intern at Cornerstone Community Church in Atascadero, CA for a year. I had grown up in this church (after my Dad resigned from his church in Washington over doctrinal matters), and I was thrilled to work with people I knew and respected. I can’t even begin to say how much this year has impacted my understanding of the ministry. Like most college graduates, my idealism about life had spilled over into unadulterated romanticism. Working in a church changed that!
My days at Cornerstone have been filled with directing the youth ministry, biblical counseling, discipleship, oversight of the audio/visual ministry, writing theological articles for the bulletin, organizing conferences, designing fliers and handouts, leading small groups, one-on-one time with the senior pastor, preaching in his absence, fixing computers and copiers, and all the thousand other little things that need to happen for a church to effectively minister.
Through it all, I’ve learned yet again what —— ——– first taught me while sitting on that washing machine. Ministry isn’t glamourous; it’s servanthood. It isn’t showy; it’s dying to self. Ministering to make much of Jesus Christ is hard. Sin is real and sinners will hurt you. But of far greater gravity is the grace and glory of God. Because of that, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I sat down right now planning to write about my first day at my new home. There’s plenty to write about. I want to try to describe the beauty of the bright red brick, white-trimmed buildings set against the relief of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. They don’t build places like this out in California. Buildings don’t carry with them history and tradition. But they seem to here.
I was also planning to write about the kindness of my friend Dan Gnagy, who braved the heat and humidity to help me move all my earthly possessions up three flights of stairs into my new apartment in Fuller Hall. God’s people are special gifts to each other.
And then there’s the insights I gleaned from the Word of God as I listened through Matt Chandler’s 20-part sermon series on the book of Hebrews during my 2700 mile drive. The moments of quite meditation while watching corn and mountains and rivers fly past proved to be fertile ground for the Word of God to work in my heart. Whenever my car finally gives out, it will be sad to see it go. Many quiet transformational moments with the Lord have unfolded while sitting in the driver’s seat of that nondescript mostly grey 1992 Corolla.
I sat down to write in what I think is the Honeywell (or is it Honeycutt?) Student Center (Student Union?), and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the three silver-haired men of about 60 or 70 seated in the next cove over. They weren’t talking sports; they weren’t talking weather. They weren’t talking theology. They were talking personal spiritual health. And one of them leaned in and said in a lower tone of voice, “Now, here’s my question for next week. And I’ll ask it now because I want to give you two time to think about it and give me a real good answer. When Jesus says to love my enemies, how do I do it? Because I don’t do that well.”
I want to be that man. I want to be that man who is silver haired and tender to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. I want to be that man who is 65 and still fighting the boots-on-the-ground war against the blackened arenas of my life where the atonement has not yet trickled down to throw the curtains open. I want to be that man who diligently and resolutely seeks to be known by other men to the degree that anyone who fights to keep up a spiritual-whitewash facade would think me to be committing nonsensical suicide of reputation.
And more than that, I want to be that kind of man who makes it not as strikingly unique for the next generation to see 65 year old silver haired men sitting in a student union building talking about the state of their souls and begging friends to impart the gospel yet again to them.