Friends and Family,
DR: My seminary orientation is complete, and I now look forward to Elementary Greek, which begins on Tuesday. I have Dr. James Voelz as my professor; he wrote our text book and is legendary among Lutheran circles and the seminary community for his thorough, entertaining, witty, and informative teaching style. I have heard that mini-basketballs regularly fly throughout his classroom (occasionally catching a glancing blow at an unsuspecting seminarian) and a stuffed weasel or two may even make an appearance. Having studied Greek in Bakersfield before coming to the sem, I know that having a moment or two of humor to punctuate our intense studies will be a blessing.
Dr. Bruce Hartung, one of the Deans of Ministerial formation, spoke to us recently about the formation of pastors. That is a word--formation--they use a lot around here. They aren't training us technical methods of *how* to pastor, per se. Rather, the entire experience--from living in authentic community with each other, building relationships, allowing the rigors of classes/studies/family/work shape your soul--work together to *form* us as pastors. They have promised us we won't be the same people we are today four years from now.
Dr. Hartung especially focused on the "darker side" of seminary life in his orientation. We were reminded that--as future leaders in the Church--Satan has a huge target on our backs and on our families' backs. The evil one does not want us to be here, and he will use whatever tactics it takes to wear us down. Many current pastors, in their private moments, may indeed agree that their faith was weakest and their temptations strongest during their time at seminary.
Dr. Hartung had us write down on a 4x6 card what we believed our greatest areas of vulnerability and temptation are, then cover them with a cross, and submit them to him anonymously. He and the faculty will pray over the cards, and pray for a hedge of protection for us from the evil one. We also broke into small groups to pray for each other, and share our struggles with one another.
Pastors (and seminary students) are real people. Just because God has drawn us into this kind of ministry does not make us any holier than the rest of the souls sitting in church on Sunday morning. As Dr. Hartung reminded us, we are people who struggle with the same temptations and struggles our parishioners face: money issues; alcohol issues; relationship struggles; lust and temptations to sin sexually; fighting off laziness and sloth; dealing with arrogance and pride; encountering ridicule, discouragement, and depression; you name it. We are not immune. In fact, we are probably more vulnerable, if anything. Whatever area(s) we most struggle with in our lives and in our Christian walk, we can be sure Satan will tempt us most intensely right there.
And so, as it is with you, it is of the utmost importance we know what our greatest vulnerabilities are, name them, and cover them with the cross of Jesus Christ. We must share our weaknesses with one another, pray for each other, and love one another through Christ Jesus. Life this side of Heaven can at times be a great struggle in the midst of great blessings.
We see and hear the stories all too frequently: pastors, friends, neighbors, co-workers who gave in to great temptation...and whose lives and ministries and churches were in many cases ruined as a result. Sinning is fun, for a time. And that is perhaps one of Satan's greatest weapons: that it all looks like fun and games, on the surface. Getting intoxicated. Flirting with your office secretary. Keeping a little more money for yourself this time. Investing our lives in stuff rather than God and His people. Watching TV to "escape." It all leads to ruin. The Bible says, "He who tills his land will have plenty of food...but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty." And that poverty can be spiritual, emotional, physical/financial/material, relational, or any combination thereof.
The only way out is to look to the Risen Christ--who was crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected! He has won the battle! We have victory in Jesus! Look to Christ! We must be honest with ourselves and with each other, humbly sharing our greatest vulnerabilities, praying over them, finding accountability partners to help us in the struggle, and tell others about the irreplaceable rest and peace we have in Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater than a life lived in Christ Jesus. Satan doesn't want you know that. He wants you to think your beer, your affair, your TV, your money, your stuff, your ________________ are more worthwhile and interesting than Christ. "It's OK," Satan says. "Just this one time. You're doing so well in the other areas of your life; you deserve it. Go for it." Satan is a liar. His path leads down to death. Don't buy the lie.
Be God's; stay close to Christ. And let us know how we can be praying for you, as we run this race in Christ Jesus together. You can email us via the email link at the top right of our homepage. We'd love to hear from you.
In His Love and Service,