My graduation from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was just a little over a week ago and in case you couldn’t tell from my social media posts, I’m just a little excited to be done! I thought I would share with you, Dear Reader, a few things that I have learned these past three years while obtaining my Master of Theological Studies.
#10: A Theology Class is NOT a Bible Study. At the beginning of my very first class the professor had us stand and give a brief explanation of why we were in seminary. I remember that I was excitedly telling everyone how I had led a Bible Study for years and I felt like attending seminary would help me go deeper in my walk with the Lord. And then I felt like an idiot when the first slide on the lecture was: This is a theology class. Not a Bible study (open mouth, insert foot). But, the good news is that I did indeed get a chance to “go deeper” into God’s Word…even if it wasn’t in the way that I was expecting.
#9: Sometimes the appropriate theological answer is “both/and.” Is Jesus fully God or fully human? Is the Lord a God of wrath or a God of mercy? To these questions and many more, the answer is “both/and.” It is confusing, I know, but remember when God said this in Isaiah 55:8-9?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Yeah, sometimes you just have to reconcile the answer to “both/and” and let God be God.
#8: Learn to see Jesus in the Old Testament. News flash for ABR over here! For all my thirty-some years I had kept the OT and NT completely separate: Old Covenant vs. the New Covenant; Law vs. Grace. Not realizing that Jesus is written all over the pages of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. Not only was He spoken of in the OT, but He was there! At the creation of the world, in the Garden of Eden, in the fiery furnace, just to name a few. I’m telling you, this was an exciting revelation for me.
#7: The key to passing is usually just to turn something in. Seriously. I am a perfectionist and it was killing me to get everything turned in on time and and in perfect Turabian format (if you don’t know what that is, consider yourself blessed). But the more I progressed in my studies, the more I realized that the professors had their own lives too (gasp!) and they only wanted to know if you read/understood the material. I’m not saying don’t do your best, especially on the big assignments, but I wish someone would have told me that the majority is just busywork and if you turn something in, you’ll pass.
#6: The difference between mercy and grace. Mercy is when God DOESN’T give us what we DO deserve (i.e. death). Grace is when God gives us what we DON’T deserve (i.e. eternal life with Him). Isn’t that beautiful?
#5: When interpreting the Bible, context matters. Oh my, did they ever drill this into us. This is an entire class in itself, or at least a separate blog post, but the main point is this: when you see that inspirational Scripture hit your news feed, be aware that there was specific author who wrote to a specific audience during a specific time in history. Yes, God’s truths are timeless, but if you will read your Bible in context, you will be able to draw out so much more for your own personal application. That said, if all you can manage right now is a quick verse/devotional, then check out the First 5 app from Proverbs 31 Ministries and do that daily! Let God’s Word permeate into your spirit and you’ll be surprised how the Spirit will bring it to mind when you need it.
#4: Get yourself a mentor. Quickly! It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed someone more seasoned than me to help me pull my head out of the clouds and keep my feet on the ground. This person for me was Brother Jerry. Over several cups of coffee he reminded me to cultivate an intimacy with the Almighty (see #1 below for more info). But you don’t have to be going through seminary to have a mentor. Find someone who will invest in you spiritually and then be willing to pass that knowledge along as you grow.
#3: It takes a tribe. And lots of screen time if you have young kids. No kidding, there is absolutely no way I could have done this without the support of my family and friends. For every single one of you who prayed for my papers/tests, listened to my sermons, watched my kids, or shared my blog, please know I am beyond grateful for you!
#2: You don’t have to “be in ministry” to have a ministry. I mean it, Y’all! You do not have to have a seminary degree to lead a Bible study on your lunch break at work, to start a prayer group at your kid’s school, to volunteer at the women’s shelter, to write a blog/Facebook posts to encourage others in their walk with the Lord, to be a mentor to the younger generation, etc. You have a specific calling and purpose. Pray about what God would have you do for His glory and then step out in faith and DO IT.
#1: Spend time WITH God. There’s a little joke out there that the word seminary can be interchanged with the word cemetery. A tragedy can occur in the way that what is meant to be an opportunity to teach students the deep things of God sometimes results in the driest spiritual season of his/her life. This happens because the student is so busy learning ABOUT God that he/she fails to spend time WITH God. I’ll admit that this happened to me. It wasn’t until my last year of seminary that I carved out a specific hour each day to read and pray, and I am convinced that it made all the difference in the world. Especially with how the Lord helped me finish. I’ll tell you like Brother Jerry told me: take time to cultivate an intimacy with the Almighty and prepare to be amazed as He opens your minds to great and mighty things!