Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Personal Assessments and Sinful Nature

I have not made a post in quite a while, and I actually feel quite bad about it. However, the last few weeks have been very fast-paced and filled with work and school. I do hope to have a few posts this week to give you something to read!

Since coming to the seminary, I've noticed quite a push towards personal assessment tests. These would be tests like the Meyers-Briggs, etc. So far, I've taken two of these assessments since coming to campus. It's quite interesting having to take a test to evaluate who you are as a human being. You answer questions about what you would do in certain situations, your likes, your dislikes, etc. Somehow, the people that score these tests always come up with a description that sounds at least a little bit like you.

A friend and I were reflecting over these tests on Monday while we were driving to fieldwork. We were reflecting that the personality assessments can make note of two lifestyles: one without Christ, and one in Christ. Now, the tests are secular and don't come right out and say that, but nonetheless, the characters they portray most of the time will fall into one of these two categories.

When I've taken these exams, I've noticed that one quality that keeps coming out is my ability to persuade. Now, persuasion can be both a very positive and a very negative tool. It can be used to help people realize your point of view (Paul does this in the book of Acts quite a bit), but it can also be used for selfish purposes. We may try to pull away from the sinfulness of our nature, but we can never quite do it.

It reminds me of the first "Homeward Bound" movie. There's a part in the movie where one of the dogs falls into a pit. The dog tries a few times to climb up the side of the pit, but it's muddy and he slides back down. Now of course every movie ends up having a happy ending, so somehow, the dog gets out of the pit and back to its original owner. But this is how we are in sin. We're like a weak dog stuck in the bottom of a muddy pit. On our own, we can never get out. Thankfully, Jesus came as the Perfect Sacrifice so that we could be saved. That doesn't mean that we don't fall into the hole again (quite regularly actually), but we are continually rescued--redeemed--by Christ.

We all have special personalities. Certainly not everyone at the seminary is persuasive. Some are reserved, some our very social, etc. But we all have a natural addiction to sin. We're born with it. Thankfully, Christ saves and allows us to use our talents for his good, and not our own selfish ambitions.

October General Newsletter

Below is a copy of the general newsletter that I send to supporting churches. It contains general information about my daily life at the seminary. While I will try to cover daily life issues in some of my blog posts, I will also use some of the blog space to do some deeper theological thinking. For those of you that want the updates, this is for you!

This is the initial newsletter in what should be a monthly cycle (at least while classes are in session). Numerous people have told me that they would enjoy reading about the life of a seminary student, so I felt eager to come up with some sort of letter. I hope my writings give you at least a glance into the life of a seminarian.
Compared to other advanced degrees, the Master of Divinity degree is quite different. While there is a great amount of intensive study, there is also a chance for ministerial formation. This formation process is quite helpful four years from now when many of us (first-year students) will be placed into our first congregations. One does not simply become a pastor by studying the Bible and significant theological writings. They also need to learn how to build relationships, preach, lead, teach, etc. Some of these things simply cannot be learned in the classroom. Therefore, students must be out in their communities, working with parishioners, and spending time in new cultural situations (these are just a few examples). While this first newsletter will be fairly general, following letters will have deeper explanations of the formation process.
Cassie and I have never lived anywhere near the state of Missouri. The city of St. Louis is quite vibrant. However, it is facing some serious problems with crime and poverty. The seminary is located in a suburb of St. Louis, but just a few minutes from downtown. We live on campus in condo units created for married students. The condos are off to the side of the actual classroom buildings, so I am able to feel like I am “going home” after a day in classes.
I have a fairly busy first semester ahead of me. Currently I am taking Hebrew and Greek readings, Pastoral Ministry, Introduction to Historical Theology, and a class on Lutheran doctrine. My professors are very kind and encouraging. However, they do feel free to challenge the students to dig deep into their work to get the very most out of the class. While I do like my classes, I will admit that I will be thankful when I am done with both Hebrew and Greek!
Field Work
Every seminary student is involved in field work. This is time set aside to work in a congregation in the St. Louis area. While I have not taken the classes that allow me to preach or lead worship, there are still many things I can do. I have been placed at Ascension Lutheran, an LCMS congregation five miles from the seminary campus. Since I have only been at the congregation a few weeks, I am still building relationships with the members. Currently, I am working with a few other seminary students in a Nepalese Bible study. Over the last three years, people from Nepal have moved into the neighborhood of Ascension. The Nepalese primarily practice Hinduism. However, there is a group of about twenty people that have converted to Christianity. They have been baptized, and some are already taking communion. Only some of the Nepalese know English. For this reason, the Bible studies are in a bi-lingual format. Usually, the teenagers are translating for the adults. While I am still new to the church, it is such a joy to be sharing in the ministry of Ascension Lutheran.
As part of my first-year field work, I am taking part in a new course called MissionShift. On Monday nights, we meet in a large group a church near downtown St. Louis. The course is not strictly reserved for seminary students. There are many lay leaders and pastors from other congregations in the St. Louis area attending the class. The focus of MissionShift is on the changing cultures in our American cities. With the change, there are now many cultures and ethnicities living near each other. The church is called to reach these people. One of the most effective ways to reach people with the Gospel is by building relationships. MissionShift is designed to teach us how to build these relationships across cultures. So far, we have focused on racism and poverty in St. Louis and different cultural norms that can effect communication.
Cassie’s Life
Cassie is quite busy as well. She is finishing up her bachelor’s degree in Family Life Education with an online cohort. Recently, she has been highly recommended for the master’s program. Therefore, the application and interview process for the program will begin soon. Cassie also works full time at a Lutheran school in northern St. Louis. She aids in the teaching of K-3rd grade students. The school is ethnically diverse, and Cassie has enjoyed working with a different culture. There are many new things to learn about family systems, and the way their children are raised. The school reaches out to many students stuck in less fortunate living situations. The school is also struggling financially. The teachers and administrative staff are working very hard to make sure the school stays open so that the ministry can continue.

I do want to note how important it is to have people praying for us while we are in St. Louis. Many times, we think that churches and seminaries are “safe places” away from the evil of Satan and the world. However, it actually can be quite the opposite. Satan is continuously trying to thwart the growth and spread of the Gospel. Because of this, spiritual warefare can be seen on campus in the every day lives of students. So I eagerly ask you to pray for spiritual protection for the students and staff on campus—that they remain safe, healthy, and focused on Christ. Please also pray that students can keep up with their studies and family lives. Many students have children as well. This can be another struggle to balance family time and work time. If you wish, here are some other things that it would be wonderful to have you praying about:
·       For the city of St. Louis—the crime rate is high, poverty is high, and unemployment is high
·       For Cassie as she balances work and school
·       For Ascension Lutheran Church in St. Louis—that they may continue to touch the lives of the Nepalese. Pray that God would raise up Christian leaders among the people of Nepal.
·       Almost all seminary students struggle with finances at the seminary. Pray that God would continue to raise up people willing to financially support the seminarians.

“For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
                                                                                                   -Psalm 100:5