From the Desk of the President

Spiritual Formation as Journey – Part 4

Telling the Story of the Journey

Whether it is told sitting around the campfire, or explained with pictures to friends back home, each hiking experience has a story.  Stories are the means by which we communicate the truths we learned about ourselves and others.  Cole writes, “their story, yours, mine—it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them.” (R. Coles. The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. p. 30).

People need opportunities to make the connection of their faith story to His story.  “Human beings become faithful by living in a community of faith and by discovering what it means to claim its stories and values as their own.” (Vogel, p. 85.)

Evangelism, sharing the faith story, is a vital element in spiritual formation.  How can we expect believers to share the story of Jesus Christ to a skeptical, hostile world, when they feel uncomfortable in sharing their faith story to the Family of God?  The journey of spiritual formation must include opportunities for participants to share their faith stories and hear the faith stories of others.  This is crucial to our task as theological educators.  Vogel writes,

Those preparing for ministry today . . . may or may not come out of faith communities.  But if they do not embody their faith family’s stories and rituals and lifestyles, how are they to nurture others in the ways of their faith family?  (Vogel, p. 85.)

I am continually reminded of how little we know about one another.  What are the significant spiritual events of my colleagues?  What is God doing in and through those that I worship with?  Spiritual formation groups should encourage the telling of faith stories. These stories not only build up our fellow pilgrims—the telling of our story strengthens our own faith as well.

In every Rockbridge course, students share their faith experiences with one another. They also engage in spiritual practices together.  In their discussion forums, students share their of faith stories. Student evaluations consistently say that “interaction with other students” is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the course.

 

Upcoming Class in 2020-T2:  Theology and Practice of Fellowship

This is a study of God’s purpose for fellowship and the doctrine of the Church.  Students develop a biblical understanding of the church and how the church has expressed the purpose of fellowship throughout history.  In addition, learners will identify select functions and forms of fellowship and examine various organizational systems for promoting the purpose of fellowship. Registration begins February 3.  For more information contact admissions@rockbridge.edu.

 

Joy

Do you know people who are joy challenged?  I do and one of them is me.  I’m still on step 5 of my 12-step joy program.  I grew up in the Midwest and joyous expressions were verboten.  We were taught to not draw attention to ourselves. In our tribe, Christianity required a serious demeanor.  Remember Michal who despised David dancing in front of the Ark of the Covenant? (2 Sam 6:16)  I’m convinced she was from the Midwest, probably a Baptist cousin.

So, what is joy anyway?  Joy is best defined from the Greek adjective, entheos or “having the God within.”  It means one acts as if he is “possessed by God,” “crazy excitement,” or “un-regulated religious fervor.” What a great definition for joy, “infused unregulated excitement for God.”  You just can’t control it. Full throttled joy!

The third Sunday of Advent is the week of proclamation. The heavenly message heard by the shepherds concerned “good news of great joy.”  Joy characterizes the Christmas season.  After the shepherds saw Jesus, they immediately departed to share that joy.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.  (Luke 2:15-17)

Dear Father, our hearts are filled with joy because of the good news of Jesus.  Like the shepherds, help us to tell others about his amazing presence in our lives.

Please Remember Us

We are grateful for those who support Rockbridge through their prayers, recommendations of students, and their financial gifts.  Thanks for trusting us.  As we close out another year, please consider donating to our mission of developing servant leaders for Christian ministry.  You can give online at this link.

Grace and Gratitude

Have you noticed that people who have difficulty accepting grace also have trouble with gratitude?  Grace and gratitude go hand in hand.  While many believers express the belief that salvation is a free gift from God, their thoughts and actions say the opposite.  They think they earned or deserve all the good gifts they receive.  Grace, for them, is the result of living rightly, instead of being an extravagant gift from a wildly magnanimous God.  The good news of the gospel is that grace is not merited favor.  It’s favor that defies logic, a crazy generosity that has nothing to do with us and everything to do with who God is.  God does not keep score.  He gives unconditionally and unreservedly to the just and unjust, the rich and poor, the lovely and unlovely alike.

When we truly understand grace, gratitude washes over us, overwhelming and changing us.  We see everything and everyone in a new light.  Things we used to take for granted become evidence of God’s extravagance.  We begin to recognize the gifts in the smallest things and in the biggest challenges.  We are moved to extend grace to others.  Gratitude flows out of receiving grace as it is, undeserved and freely given.  Richard Rohr writes,

 

Brothers and sisters, you and I don’t “deserve” anything, anything. It’s all a gift. But until we begin to live in the kingdom of God instead of the kingdoms of this world, we think, as most Christians do, exactly like the world. We like the world of seemingly logical equations. Basically, to understand the Gospel in its purity and in its transformative power, we have to stop counting, measuring, and weighing. We have to stop saying “I deserve and deciding who does not deserve. None of us “deserve”! Can we do that? It’s pretty hard . . . unless we’ve experienced infinite mercy and realize that it’s all a gift.

We encourage students at Rockbridge to keep a gratitude journal as one of their spiritual exercises.  You can do the same thing by reflecting daily on things, people, and circumstances for which you are grateful.  We can even be grateful for hardships.  Write your items down each day, and don’t repeat your list.  Get the big stuff out of the way, such as family, friends, and a paycheck.  Then, begin to notice the smallest of things: the smell of coffee, the taste of a strawberry, the people around you who often go unnoticed yet make your life possible.  Practice gratitude and you’ll discover a whole new meaning of grace.

Giving Tuesday

We are grateful for those who support Rockbridge through their prayers, recommendations of students, and their financial gifts.  Thanks for trusting us.  As we close out another year, please consider donating to our mission of developing servant leaders for Christian ministry.  You can give online at this link.

Lazy Theology

A Christian couple, John and Sarah, wanted to have children, but after spending a fortune for fertility treatments they were still not pregnant.  They were told by friends it must not be God’s will for them to have children. They couldn’t understand how a neighbor’s child, a crack addict and abusive mother, was pregnant for the fourth time. They asked, “Why did God allow her to have another child when she has been such a horrible mother? How is this God’s will?”

Shortly afterwards, Sarah learned she was pregnant. John and Sarah rejoiced that God had heard their prayers and she delivered a healthy boy.  Two years later, the child contracted an illness and died.  The parents were heartbroken, but they were also mad at God for letting this happen. Well-meaning Christians tried to console them with such words as, “God wanted your child home with him,” “God’s ways are mysterious,” “God’s ways are not our ways,” and “This is God’s will.” The couple rightly asked, “If this is God’s will, what kind of God would do this?”

The couple deserved more than simple platitudes and lazy theology. They deserved a minister who is disciplined in strenuous theological reflection. They deserved wise counsel from soul doctors who had explored difficult questions concerning the nature and character of God. They deserved counsel born out of an intimate experience with God.  It is okay to say, “I don’t know.”  It is inexcusable to give simplistic explanations that defame the character of God. What does the advice say about the nature of God? What does this belief say about God’s love? Does this theology make God smaller or bigger?

Why should someone get a seminary degree? Attending seminary should not be about becoming credentialed. It should be more than learning how to administer a church or ministry organization. Seminary education is not solely for the acquisition of Bible knowledge. Theological education is for those who want to intimately know God. It is for those who are willing to abandon preconceived ideas about God and discover the width and breadth of God’s love.

Our world is complex. People wrestle with difficult questions concerning human relationships, justice, and spirituality. They deserve better than lazy theology.  If you are ready to fully prepare yourself to minister wisely to hurting people, to enter completely into the struggle to understand and communicate difficult truths, it may be time for you to start your seminary journey.  For more information, contact an Admissions Counselor.

Giving to Rockbridge.   You may give to Rockbridge through this link.  We are grateful for your support!

God’s Provision

Each semester we hear stories of students who did not have the financial resources to take the next class and God provided for their needs. Recently, one of our students was going through challenges in their business and mentioned to a friend they would not be attending seminary this semester. The friend stopped and prayed for God to provide for this need. The next day a couple, who sensed a divine nudge, gave the student $900 in cash.

Jehovah Jireh was the name our spiritual forefathers used to describe God’s faithful provision. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to ask our Heavenly Father to provide for our daily needs. He prayed, “Give us today our daily bread.” There are several striking things about the prayer. First, it is corporate.  Give “us.”  Jesus reminds us that we in this together. Second, we focus on our “daily” needs. Perhaps this prayer is referring to God’s daily provision of manna in the wilderness. God only provided the Hebrews with what could be eaten that day.  This required their total dependence on Him.

The number one reason students drop out for a season is due to finances. We established a scholarship fund that provides a financial bridge for worthy students. Please pray for the financial needs of our students. If you sense a divine nudge, you can contribute to the scholarship fund through this link. Please indicate your donation is for scholarships.

 

A Prayer for Graduates (And Good for All of Us)

Kelly Walter, founding pastor at Rock Brook Church in Belton, MO., spoke at our recent commencement and challenged graduates to put this prayer at the top of their list: “God, let me humbly serve you in the authority of Jesus Christ.”

In 2 Peter 1, one of the closest friends of Jesus identified himself as Simon Peter. Pastor Walter said, “He’s both Simon, the humble fisherman from Galilee, and Peter, the one Jesus called the Rock. He maintained the tension between humility and authority.” The Apostle Peter knew firsthand how ego can affect one’s perspective and ministry. Simon Peter walked on water but began to drown when he took his eyes off Jesus. Later, Simon Peter valiantly stepped in with a sword to prevent Jesus from being captured, yet later denied he was associated with Jesus. Pastor Walter said, “Most people fail in ministry not because they can’t do the job or because they aren’t skilled in the performance of their duties. What gets them are character issues. They get destroyed by their hurts, habits and hang-ups.” No character flaw is more disastrous than pride.

Walter reminded the graduates that we serve in the authority of Jesus Christ. Henri Nouwen wrote, “It is Jesus who heals, not I; Jesus who speaks words of truth, Not I; Jesus who is Lord, not I.” We serve in the name of the Lord Jesus who sends us.

Walter concluded his message with this reminder:

This message came from God. You can be confident in it. The Bible is worth giving your life to. It’s worth understanding. It’s worth knowing. It’s worth living.

The time, energy, and resources that you put into your Rockbridge education are worth it. But more importantly, the time, energy, and resources that you will put into ministry going forward from this date are worth it.

Take the knowledge that you have received; put it together with the glorious power and precious promises of God and serve Him humbly and with Christ’s authority until you hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Seminary graduation reminds us of God’s transforming power when servant leaders pray:

“God, let me humbly serve you in the authority of Jesus Christ.”

 

End of Our Fiscal Year

We close our financial year on July 31. Our mission to develop servant leaders for Christian ministry is possible because of the gifts of people like you. Please help us disciple leaders who disciple the world. You may send your check to Rockbridge Seminary, 3111 East Battlefield, Springfield, MO 65804 or give online.

Not the Final Verse

You may remember the 1969 song “Is that All there Is?” sung by Peggy Lee. The chorus read,

Is that all there is?  Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is . . .

Besides wanting to slit your wrist after listening to it, the song begged an existential question that is answered by the resurrection of Jesus. On Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, life for the disciples couldn’t have looked worse.  Their mentor and friend was tortured and killed. They were on the run, fearing their own death. On Friday, they didn’t know that on Sunday they would be singing different lyrics. Friday wasn’t the final verse of the marvelous song.

Paul wrote, “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Cor. 5:19, NLT)  This faithful follower of Jesus who was persecuted for his faith concluded, “If that is all there is, we might as eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 5:32b)

You’ve probably heard the story about a family handing out spoons at the funeral of a loved one. This deceased loved dessert, particularly Bluebell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.  As was the tradition in their family, dessert came at the end of the meal. The life celebration concluded with this encouragement, “The best is yet to come.”  Easter reminds us that death is the beginning to a new verse.

As you celebrate Easter, may you experience the presence of Christ and the hope of the Resurrection.

 

Chapel on Sexual Abuse in the Church

Chapel Service

In this term’s chapel, the Seminary addressed the issue of sexual abuse in the Church. President Eldridge introduced the chapel with these words, “The Bible is not silent about sexual abuse.” The Bible is clear about our responsibility to protect others from the abuse of power. Suzie Paslay read the scripture, “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people” (Psalm 82:3-4). Eldridge said, “We grieve with the victims of sexual abuse. We acknowledge the failure of the Church to properly address sexual abuse by ministry leaders.”

Participants concluded the service by praying for the victims and praying for church leaders to take restorative measures to deal with this horrendous sin in the church and community. The service included the Lord’s Supper, led by Dr. Ed Eastman.

The Seminary is launching an initiative to provide sexual abuse awareness to all our students and graduates. The cost for the curriculum is $5 per student, for a total of approximately $1000. If you are interested in donating to this cause, please contact the President’s Office or donate online.

Upcoming Events

Registration for Term 3: April 1 – April 29
Term 3 Begins April 30
Graduation – June 24, Saddleback Church, Refinery, 7:00 p.m.
Purpose Driven Church Conference – June 25-27 at Saddleback Church

Seminary Scary?

 

For some, the very word “seminary” is frightening. They envision struggling with languages such as Greek and Hebrew. They suppose seminary is only for perfect geniuses whose conversations contain strange words such as “dyophysitism” or “tropological.” Let me demythologize the term and take the scary out of seminary.

The word “seminary” comes from the Greek word meaning “seed.” Seminary should be a place where people grow and mature like a seed grows into a mature plant.  Seminary, if you will, is a seedbed for germinating faith. For those who are thinking about seminary . . .

1.  You don’t have to be perfect.Like with salvation, if you are waiting until you get your act together, seminary will always be a distant goal. Each of us come to seminary as sinners. Grace is our uniting bond. Through the seminary experience, you discover where God has been at work in your life in the past, unite with God in the present, and gain a vision of God’s calling for your future.

2. Your ultimate goal is not knowledge, but relationships.The goal of theology is not simply the acquisition of knowledge aboutGod, but to know God intimately. Just as you grow in your relationship with friends and loved ones, God wants you to grow in your relationship with him. Yes, you will grow in your understanding of biblical concepts. Yes, you will develop your ministry leadership skills. However, if you grow in knowledge (head), and practice (hands), but do not grow in your relationship with God (heart), you miss the primary purpose of seminary.

Paul prayed this for his friends, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Eph. 1:17, emphasis mine).Each day we pray this for our students, that through their studies they will know God better.

By the way, you can receive an MDiv at Rockbridge without Greek and Hebrew. We help you learn how to use tools for understanding the biblical languages.

3. You don’t have to be an “A” student.Most of our students have been out of formal education for over 20 years. Many did not do well in previous academic studies because they were not motivated to learn. But with maturity and a passion for Christ come a desire to know and learn more about God. Rockbridge students improve their written and oral communication skills. They develop friendships with colleagues from around the world who cheer each other on. They are motivated to create projects they can use immediately in their ministry.

So, if you are feeling a nudge from God and friends to attend seminary, don’t be scared. Seminary might just be the seedbed where your faith can grow.

Please share this with others who are exploring this journey. If you want more information, contact admissions@rockbridge.edu.

 

The Journey – It’s the Experience

We live in an experience economy. Today it is not about the destination, but the experience. Adult learners are not interested in being silent spectators. They want to be active participants. If learning is indeed the experience and not the stamp on the passport, what makes for a good learning experience?

There are many ways to travel and experience new horizons. One is to go with a large group hosted by a travel guide. This is economical and efficient. You get to see a lot of venues in a short period of time and buffets are included. People sit in rows in buses and listen to an expert lecture through a loud speaker system. Travelers are herded to well-known sights where they receive additional information and a quick investigation of the destination. They are shuffled again onto the bus and on to another city or cultural marker. There is little opportunity for a serendipitous adventure or taste of the local cuisine. The vacationers’ senses are so overloaded with information they can’t absorb it all. Thousands of pictures are taken, but they can’t remember much about the sight. Their passports are stamped and can be proudly displayed to friends. They are off to other countries, never to return to this one. The experience is about the travel guide and the stamp. Should they return on the trip, they would hear the same commentary and see the same sights. This is old school.

Imagine instead a group of friends that set their own course. Instead of a bus, they fly a private jet with clusters of seating facing one another to encourage conversation. Each traveler has read books about their destination, particularly on topics of their own interest. Each person becomes an “expert” on the journey and the collective exchange is greater than the one. They stop and peruse sites on their own time schedule. This arrangement allows for the group to explore the region, not just the tourist traps.

Experts are enlisted from time to time to answer questions and provide suggestions of other places they should explore. The group encounters locals who join them in the journey and serve as color analysts. The experience is centered on the goals of the sojourner, not the expert guide. They pause for a meal in an outdoor café and enjoy the sights, sounds, and the language of the people. Even the bad experiences are embraced and valued, because the travelers own the adventure. It is often the unforeseen experiences that are remembered the most. An explorer accompanies a fellow trekker, an expert photographer, on a photo shoot. This colleague gives the amateur tips on what to look for in order to capture the essence of the local people.

Adventurers arrive back home with more than a stamp on their passports. Their diaries are full of stories and adventures. They have an appreciation for the people and culture of their trip and a desire explore the region again, because every trip and every experience is different.

Each of these types of learning experiences has advantages and disadvantages. Some prefer to sit and listen. Others want to engage more deeply in the learning process. We know that students learn more when all of their senses are used and they are involved in the learning process. At Rockbridge Seminary, we’re about engaging people in a learning community. We are the private jet, not the tourist bus. Our curriculum is learner centered, rather than content centered. Students are responsible for their learning, but they are aided in their journey by expert faculty members and mentors. The student and faculty are colleagues, both contributing to the experience. Which learning approach is best for you? Do you want to be a tourist or a trekker?