I graduated from Covenant Seminary this past weekend and I wanted to share with you guys my final presentation that I did a week ago. The video misses the first minute of my presentation and I am attaching a manuscript of what I said to this post. I will paste the first minute of the manuscript and then add the video link where the video picks up in the manuscript and then the rest of the manuscript so you can read along. Thank you for letting me share with you all!
I remember when I first came to seminary 3 years ago. I remember sitting in Rayburn Chapel and being excited and hopeful about all the awesome things that I was going to learn and become during seminary. Then Eric Shrimpton (someone who I don’t know but will always remember), a student at Covenant Seminary, walked on the stage and said these words, “Seminary blew my life up.” I remember hearing those words and feeling my heart skip a few beats and my body sink deeper into my seat and gulping my saliva. I thought, “What does he mean his life blew up? Is my life going to blow up?” Eric would then go on to say that this was the best thing for him and it was hard but it was good. I thought he was crazy and I thought to myself I really hope my life doesn’t blow up.
As I sit here 3 years later I know that Eric was right. Seminary blows your life up. For all of us in some way or another our lives have been shattered during our time here. We have dived into our stories and sifted through the messiness of our memories, scars, joys and pains. We have sunken deep into Scripture and have been convicted, challenged and comforted. We have tested our doubts, fears, shames and stressors. We have been burned up, washed up, worn down and all at the same time built up, encouraged, strengthened and deepened. In a lot of ways I came into seminary as a one man show. If my life was a ship then I was the captain, the crew, the cook and the owner. I am glad that I chose to sail across the sea of Covenant Seminary where my ship was broken, wrecked, beached and sunk. I sit here treading water and floating on a plank of the remains of my life as the sea of Covenant Seminary washes me towards the shore (I am known to be dramatic lol). I am almost done and as I sit here looking around at what still remains there are three things that have floated up to the surface and are coming with me onto shore. These three things are the things that I have learned from seminary and they serve as my capstone for my three years here at Covenant.
First I have learned to listen. I still remember the first time I went to my Cohort Group. It was awkward. I didn’t know why we needed a cohort group and why I needed a group of people to talk about my life story. But I was humbled by the stories that I heard in this group. I was humbled by the beauty of people and the work of God in their life. I listened to grown men share the deepest and darkest secrets of their souls and I wept with them and I got angry with them and I for the first time was really listening. It wasn’t about me trying to fix them or me trying to give them answers but it was all about me being willing to listen and to hear what they had to say. I would look forward to Cohort Group every week to hear a new story and to walk with a fellow brother through that story. I learned to listen and I have come to realize that pastoral ministry is more about listening then it is about talking.
Second I have learned to relate. I still remember sitting in God and Humanity with Zink and Williams and hearing Zink say over and over again that it is all about relationship. I was so confused at the beginning of this class what he meant but as the class went on I realized that he was right. For most of my life I have minimized Jesus’ humanity and magnified his godliness and I didn’t really understand what it meant to say that Jesus was man and God. I understood that he was God but I overlooked that he was also a man. In God and Humanity I realized that Jesus’ humanity opens the way for relationship between God and man. Jesus knows what it is like to be human and he knows what it is like to suffer, cry and hurt. This has opened the door for me to see Jesus in my brokenness. For me to see Jesus in my suffering, pain and hurt. I have realized that God has related to me and has offered me a relationship with him a “Covenant” if I may say. This has beautifully wrecked me as it has shown me that Jesus was wrecked so that I may have life. Jesus was hurt so that my hurt now doesn’t last.
Right now I am journeying through one of the hardest times of my life with my newborn daughter. She has a rare brain disorder called Alobar Holoprosencephaly which means her brain is one unit without two hemispheres and her life expectancy is extremely short. When I first found out about this in November 2016 I was very angry with God. How could he allow this to happen to me? I am in seminary following his call on my life! I am obeying and yet it felt like he was punishing! I thought that God was sitting up on his mighty throne way above earth and looking down at me and saying, “Well Michael it’s life, it is not fair, it sucks sometime just deal with it.” I wondered if God was my enemy because that’s what enemy’s do they hit you where it hurts the most and they go after your family. I thought God was going after my daughter to make a point to me – to punish me. This is what I honestly thought at the time, but I was wrong. God has shown me over the last 5 months through this community at Covenant, through my teachers, through my friends, through my family, through his church and Word and through his Spirit and Son that this is not true. God knows what it is I like to lose his first born child and to see his firstborn child suffer and die (Jesus). The ground that I am journeying through is not foreign to God because his Son is both human and God all at once. God has related to me and I am in relationship with him out of this relationship I will build relationships with others in my ministry.
Third I have learned to rest. For the most part seminary has not felt like rest in the sense that I have gotten a lot of sleep lol. But it has shown me the importance of resting in Jesus. Before I went to seminary I spent so much of my time trying to get my life together which isn’t necessarily bad but as I look back on it – it feels kind of vain. I spent so much effort trying to keep my life neatly packaged and wrapped up. I spent so much time defending myself and trying to prove myself to others. I could never rest because I was always trying to make things right. But what I have learned over the last 3 years is that I am not the one who must make things right. God has promised me that he will make all things new and that he will set all things right and back into place the way they are supposed to be. In Jesus this promise is offered to me as my own. One day my life will be made whole and one day my little girl will be made new and restored and healthy. One day my family will be complete, because in Jesus I receive a promise from God that he will faithfully fulfill. Over the last few months I have taken refuge and comfort in this promise that the way my life is right now is not the way it is supposed to be. Daughters are not suppose to be terminally ill and families are not supposed to be broken by death and sin. I take comfort and I rest in this truth that death and sin does not get the final say over my daughter, my family, my life and my work and my ministry. I cling to this promise like the Israelites clinged to the promise that they will be delivered out of slavery and given a land of their own. I cling to this promise like Israelites clinged to the promise that God will deliver them out of exile. I cling to this promise like God’s people clinged to the promise of a Messiah. So many of these people died never seeing this promise fulfilled but yet they lived in light of this promise. I rest in the promise that God is going to make all things whole, new and complete and to quote Brian Aucker, “That when evil has done its worst God’s plan and promises still prevail.” I may die never seeing this promise fulfilled but I will choose to rest in it because I have been taught the story by these faithful teachers and I know that God is Hesed (Hebrew for God’s Covenantal/relational love for his people).
So here I am floating on the last plank of my life with these three things by my side. The shore line is drawing nearer and nearer and I can see another ship getting ready to depart, but this ship is not a one man ship. It has a crew and it has a captain and it needs a youth pastor. I look forward to boarding this ship with these people and sharing life with them through the ups and downs of the storms at sea. I look forward to listening to their stories and building relationships with them and resting in the truth. So as I reflect on my time in Seminary I must say Eric Shrimpton was right. My life was blown up and it was hard but it is so good.
(Blakely wasn’t happy I picked her up out of her comfy car seat lol)