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Reflections

So every so often I get in a poetic/reflective/nostalgic mood and tonight was one of those nights.  This afternoon I attended the colloquium with Dr. Burgess and afterward walked over to the bookstore to pick up an order of books for the church.  As I was walking back it had begun to snow, and I was struck by how odd everything seemed.  

I remember my first year of seminary well.  I came to PTS directly from Grove City and immediately found myself enjoying the work but extremely lonely when I first arrived.  This didn’t last long though as I developed friendships rather quickly and sooner than I expected, PTS was home for me.

Winter has come quickly here in Pittsburgh.  Earlier this week it was in the 60s, tonight it dropped below the freezing mark and the snow has been falling steadily.  My Christmas lights are hung and my candle sits, unlit since I keep forgetting to buy a lamp.  The normal signs for PTS around Christmas are up, as it is once again time for Lesson in Carols performed annually by the PTS Choir.  

Two major things happened my first year of seminary.  I started to volunteer at Northmont and I really started to develop a love of learning.  I actually stumbled upon Northmont accidentally (well, it was well within God’s plan) and was by Christmas just starting to get settled in there.  I remember the first weekend of December I went on a retreat with the Sr. High Youth Group.  I was looking at those pictures the other day and was struck by how much has changed.  Only about two of the kids that went on the retreat are still in youth group.  For the most part the others have graduated.  Odd

I’ve just started my second to last term of seminary and it’s starting to hit me that the end is coming and how oddly at peace I am with that.  I remember when I graduated from college I felt completely not ready to step out into the “real world” and for good reason – I wasn’t.  God had more in store for me an hour south here at PTS.  But now I’m ready.  Well, more ready than I expected I would be.

As Spring rolled in my first year I landed myself in a class full of second and third year students: Theology and Practice of Holiness with Andrew Purves.  I was scared to death.  The reading was higher level than I had tackled before and I was intimidated by the other people in the class who knew so much more than me.  I was really quiet in class for a while, slowly finding my voice before one day catching Dr. Purves on some minute detail regarding Calvin’s use of the word “impute”.  After that I slowly gained confidence, but continued to find myself struck by how much I was learning from my fellow students.  Then it happened, something finally clicked for me that had never clicked before.  I went to Grove City and was taught classic 5 point Westminster Calvinism.  Something about it just didn’t sit right with me and it didn’t seem to jive biblically with the full breadth of the scriptures, but it seemed to, for the most part, provide a decent model for salvation.  I remember one afternoon sitting in a carrel in the library struggling my way through Karl Barth’s chapter on Sanctification in IV.2 and I came across a sentence that said that Sanctification and Justification were presuppositional doctrines to one another.  For some reason then it clicked with me, that the ordo salutis that had so troubled me in college was indeed flawed.  At the time I couldn’t explain why, but Karl Barth gave me a language with which to critique where I had come from

My course load is much lighter this year than in the past, 11 credits last term, and only ten this term.  It’s nice, a good opportunity to slow down and relax a bit my last year.  Minus Hebrew which I will just never like, my classes are wonderful and I’m really enjoying them so far.  Yet, I can’t believe where I am now from where I started.  I sit here now in my third year in the same church doing youth ministry, as well as picking up some small group stuff.  Things that just a year ago I would have dreamed impossible I now do without even thinking about it.  I am looking at a ministry resume that lists a page of what I’ve done at Northmont, including preaching once a month, interim youth ministry work, and small group work.  A year ago doing small group with adults would have terrified me, but now it seems like second nature.  Here’s the really awesome thing – its not that I’ve worked hard to improve myself, but God has truly equipped me to minister in the setting in which he put me.  I could not do what I do now two years ago.  

Looming ahead of me at the close of my first year was CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) and a summer at home in Rochester, NY with my parents.  I wasn’t nervous about living with my parents for a summer, I knew we’d do fine (and we did).  But, CPE had me nervous.  I had heard horror stories about CPE and didn’t know what to expect.  Plus, I knew I’d be dealing with tragedy and wasn’t sure I was ready for that.  Sure enough, CPE was filled with tragedy.  I baptized six babies that summer, five of whom did not survive more than a day after their baptisms, and in some cases they survived for only a matter of minutes after I baptized them.  I dealt with car accidents, stabbings, cancer, AIDS, and domestic violence on a weekly basis.  Right after CPE the son of our former pastor committed suicide.  It’s hard to say whether he was a “friend” of mine per say, but we had gone through confirmation class together and his brother and I were the same age and I would definitely call him a friend.  Anyway, it hit our congregation hard, and I was slated to be in the pulpit that following Sunday.  The week prior I went running and had chest pains, followed a few days later by a full anxiety attack brought on by some heart burn.  While my anxiety attack paled in comparison to anything else I dealt with that summer, it showed me something: tragedy effects those around it a great deal.

I have learned in a painful way that life’s tragedies do not go away.  Heavy on my heart tonight is Elora, a girl I have known for a little over a year who is 13 and in critical condition at Children’s Hospital fighting to stay alive.  She’s already dealt with her share of tragedy, after being struck by a car when she was only 2, and now is battling leukemia.  I also know that the wife of a beloved servant here at the seminary is in intensive care over at Shady Side Hospital.  Just this week the wife of a staff member here ended her six year battle with cancer.  Things in this world are truly not the way they’re supposed to be…

Yet, as I dwell on tragedy tonight I am reminded by my lights and the somewhat cheesy WOW Christmas album playing in the background that although this world isn’t the way its supposed to be, our hope does not lie in this world, but rather that Jesus Christ, who inaugurated the Kingdom of God 2000 years ago at his birth, showed us what it really meant to be human and did give us hope, that in the end all things would be made new, and by virtue of him we may share in this life today, life as it is supposed to be.  

I laugh at myself now, because as I sit here tonight I look at the pile of books that I hope to someday read.  I think about my aspirations now, for what I want to do and where I want to be in three years, and think back just two years ago to my first year of seminary and have to wonder, where will I be in two years?  Will I continue to look back at myself and laugh?  Somehow I suspect I will.  You see, that’s the problem with following Jesus.  He says, “Follow me” and you have to.  The problem is he doesn’t give you a map, because even if he did we couldn’t read it and it would distract us from the much simpler yet far more complicated task of following him.  When I finally decided that I would follow Jesus with my vocation I stepped into a world of the unknown and yet here I am, ready to do the same thing all over again, ready to step into the unknown.  The other problem with following Jesus is that Jesus’ life was marked by frustration and tragedy, therefore it should be no surprise that following Jesus still leads us into the paths of tragedy, but we affirm and believe that all things will be made new, and we are called to be apart of that, simply by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, even in the light of the worst tragedy.  

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