Tuesday, February 3, 2015

16 - My Story, God's Story - Seminary Years

I lay in bed one morning after writing the last blog on my college education, and my mind took a trip back through those years of my life.  One of the highlights of my life occurred back then, and I overlooked entering it into that blog post.  Let me quickly insert it at the beginning of this post.

I mentioned how New Testament Greek was my foreign language, a necessity for me to graduate with a bachelor of arts degree.  I ended up minoring in New Testament Greek...two years, 18 credit hours.  One of the requirements for completing the second year of Greek was to present an Exegesis...an in depth study and presentation of a scripture passage.  I had asked a Greek professor from Olivet Nazarene (College) University for his advice on a holiness passage...a place in scripture that focused on sanctification, cleansing, being set apart for God's use.  He directed me to I Thessalonians 4:1-12, and I thoroughly enjoyed my research into those verses.  

I entitled my Exegesis "Living a Life Pleasing to God".   Each student was given one complete class session to present his paper, including time for questions and answers.  That day stands out as a highlight in my life.  I was thoroughly prepared, and I had invited all three Greek professors on Lee's campus to be present.  God gave me complete confidence in my presentation, and I was able to respond to the questions asked.  I honestly felt God's pat on my head that day.  It was like the culmination of my college career, everything I had worked for in my transition from a depressed housewife to a graduating college student.  With God's help I had made it!!  It took day by day, moment by moment discipline to complete my goal of getting my college education at the age of 41, but when I graduated, I wished I could do it all over again!  Thus...seminary, my next step up.

My first year Greek professor, a man whom I highly respected and revered, suggested that I get a Master's of Divinity degree at seminary.  I had originally planned to get a counseling degree, but he felt the M.Div. would serve me much better.  He was directing me toward a PhD and eventually being qualified to teach in a university setting.  I wasn't sure about that goal...I just decided to take it one step at a time.  I did follow his advice to seek the M.Div. degree, however.  That's a degree that most ministerial students seek, but I still did not believe I had a call to preaching ministry.  I wanted to work in the college setting, but I didn't know in what aspect.  I felt my background in psychology would lead to counseling.  I proceeded, walking in faith one day at a time, believing God had a purpose for it all.

I attended the Church of God School of Theology (now called Pentecostal Theological Seminary) in Cleveland, TN, right across the street from Lee University.  As a woman I was in the minority, and I was the only Nazarene on campus.  Determined to be serious about my studies, I again asked God to help me to stay focused and to do my part in preparation.  I was stepping into a different kind of arena...different from the college atmosphere I had left behind.  In college, most of the students were just out of high school and were away from home for the first time.  They were becoming independent, yet looking for Mr. or Miss Right to spend a future with.  There were extra-curricular activities to focus on, and studies were not the first priority for many.

Seminary, on the other hand, was for the serious student who felt called by God to prepare for some type of ministry.  The classes were intense and deep, and required many hours of study and research.  For sure, I learned how to write research papers, with all the documentation.  I had not been exposed to much of that in the undergrad program.  

It helped to be involved in a small study group...a very nice group of fellow students from varied backgrounds.  That's the other thing about seminary...many of the students were coming to enhance their skills after having already pastored churches.  Or they were from a different employment background, now answering God's call on their lives to enter the ministry.  My study group included a pastor from England, a pastor from Canada, an accountant, and an employee from a chicken processing plant.  I was also able to meet their wives and children.  The family from Canada became close friends, as we had sons about the same age.  We still keep in contact today, and have enjoyed our trips to Canada to visit them.

There was another aspect to seminary life that I had to overlook, or look the other way.  Politics.  I saw this in the students trying to impress others with who they were to be given the better church choices, and I saw it in other arenas.  Since I had no such aspirations, I wasn't out to impress or play any games.  I was just there to learn what God wanted to teach me.  I was the lowly Nazarene.  

The issue of speaking in tongues came up quite often for me, in the classroom and in small group settings.  So I took it to the Lord, asking Him to help me to know the truth, and what He wanted for me.  If He wanted me to have the gift of speaking in tongues, then my mouth, my lips were dedicated to Him.  It wasn't something I was going to make up, or pretend, it had to come from Him.

This is my theology regarding tongues, as best discerned through my time spent asking God for the truth.  I believe in the gifts.   Nazarenes believe in all of the gifts, but felt some of them were strictly for New Testament times, such as tongues...speaking in unknown languages.  Or they believe that tongues are a known language, and you have the gift to speak that language without having learned it.  Pentecostals believe that gifts are bestowed upon on you by God, but that the gift of tongues is the "magical" gift that was proof of having been filled with the Spirit.  If you haven't spoken in tongues, you have not been filled with the Spirit, and if you have not been filled with the Spirit, you are still inferior and not fully surrendered to God.  Now, please understand I am presenting the two sides of the coin of the two Wesleyan traditions.  Obviously I am speaking of the extreme in each tradition, for there are those Nazarenes who believe in and practice the gift of tongues.  There are those Pentecostals who believe in tongues, but do not believe it to be the ultimate gift.

I come from the stance that tongues is a gift.  All gifts are from God, and He chooses who receives which gifts.  Not all gifts are given to all people.  The gifts are to edify the church, and if everyone would use his gifts, the church would be stronger.  Instead, we tend to argue about which ones are important.  Because I strongly believe in being filled with the Spirit...and I believe everyone seeking the will of God must come to that point...then what is it that provides the evidence for such an experience?  To me the tongues gift has nothing at all to do with proof.  I believe when one is filled with the Holy Spirit there is a divine love instilled in that moment...the kind of love Jesus had for everyone, not just His favored few.  The kind of love that sees the potential in a person.  The scriptures talk about knowing we are Christians by our love..."behold how they love one another".  It does not say we are followers of Christ because we speak in an unknown language.  We speak the language of love, for the greatest of all gifts, as found in I Corinthians 13, is love.  

Well, this blog entry is not meant to be a sermon or a theological lesson.  I am just sharing one of the challenges I faced my three years at seminary, and the outcome for me.  God has not chosen to bestow the gift of tongues on me, and I am fine with that.  I do not doubt that I am living in the center of His will, following in His footsteps just because I don't have that gift.  But if my brother has the gift, I do not look down on him or avoid him.  Jesus has set me free (Galatians 5:13) so that I can allow others to also be free.  The ways in which we worship will be diverse, and God is pleased with all of us who simply content ourselves in Him.  I also appreciate the freedom from politics in the religious realm.  I have One to please, and if I am pleasing to Him, none else matters.

While at seminary we opened our home to other seminary students living away from home.  We had Thanksgiving together one year, and other times of fellowship.  One student in particular made our home his home.  His name was "Butch".  He had been working in a chicken processing plant when he went through a divorce,  He began to seek God's direction for his life.  He felt called to ministry, he just didn't know in what area.  He was taking Greek, so I was able to tutor him in that.  I also assisted him with grammatical corrections in his papers.  He had his own apartment the first year, but over the summer he had a baseball injury and ruptured his Achilles tendon.  He was on crutches when he came back to seminary for the second year, and it was going to be difficult for him to maneuver the flight of stairs to his apartment.  We opened our spare rooms to him that we had built for our parents or missionaries to stay with us.  Butch had his own bedroom, bathroom, and family room just off the kitchen, separate from the rest of the house, with his own private entrance off the back porch. 

When my husband went on a Work and Witness trip with my father's team to Ecuador, Butch went with them.  He had never been out of the state of Maryland before he came to seminary, and now he was leaving the country for the first time...on his first airplane ride.  They built a church, and witnessed in the neighborhood.  Many building miracles occurred during that trip...things only God could be responsible for.  One miracle was the supply of cement blocks.  There was a professional block layer on Dad's team, and he knew they were going to be short of blocks.  There were no more to be had at any price.  They could see the blocks dwindling, but they just kept laying them as long as there were some there.  They never ran out of blocks, until the last one was put in place.  Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!!  Butch came back home very excited over what God was doing in Ecuador.

To finish the story on Butch, after he graduated from seminary, he ended up going to Chili, South America, as a missionary for the Church of God, and he married a Chilean girl.  So there seemed to have been a purpose for which God had placed him in our home for two years...to prepare him for his call to service in another country.  I am of the opinion, as I look back on my seminary years, that it wasn't about me.  It was about being there to provide for Butch, to enable him to fulfill his calling.  I have found it to be true in other areas of my life...it wasn't about me...it was about who I was serving, being available to be used of God to help someone else.  That will surface again in a future blog.

I did complete my M.Div. degree in the three years normally allotted for the program.  The last six months I continued to live in Cleveland, TN with our sons (and Butch) while Paul moved to St. Louis to a new assignment in his career.  I'll talk more about that in the next blog, moving to St. Louis, but while I was finishing my seminary degree, the boys were completing their school year, and I was getting the house ready to sell.  Also, during that six months, I was doing my internship at Lee.

I had wanted to assist my New Testament Greek professor in teaching first year Greek.  He had asked me to do that.  However, the seminary powers that be, and the chairman of the Lee Bible Department, did not agree with that assignment for me since I was not Pentecostal.  I had to go before a seven man board to be given my internship assignment.  I wanted to go back to Lee, they wanted me to take CPE (Clinical Pastoral Experience) at a Chattanooga hospital.  I did not want that assignment.  I was not comfortable with making daily trips by myself down to the hospital, and I was most certainly not comfortable with the blood and guts that I would be exposed to in the emergency room.  Butch was doing CPE as his internship, and I knew from him there were plenty of exposure to not so pretty sights.  My constitution would not be able to take it.  

Since I would not submit, the board told me that I should pray about it, and come back to them and tell them what God said.  I tried to be humorous when I responded, "Well, I guess if God could speak through a donkey, He can speak through a woman."  I was being facetious, but they had been pretty "authoritative" with me as a woman who did not know herself, and needed to get in touch with my feelings through CPE.  At any rate, they did not laugh, or even smile, or respond.  I was obviously out of line.  I was dismissed.  So glad to be out of there!

The compromise we came up with was that I would do an internship on Lee College campus with the Associate Academic Dean, who had been my second year Green professor.  However, I would not be working in the Bible Department, but in his dean's office.  I had various assignments, but the one that was the most demanding came about as a result of a dorm fire.  An old wood dorm was torched by off campus guys in the middle of the night, and in ten minutes was in full flames.  The story is well documented in Lee's history and the Cleveland Daily Banner news so I won't go into the details.  I will just say what satan meant for harm, ended up giving God the glory.  Not one student died in a situation that could have been totally devastating and deadly.  Dr. Conn made mention in chapel service, following the fire, that some were asking, "Where was God in the fire?", meaning why did He allow it to happen.  Dr. Conn responded God was in the midst of the fire getting all of the students to safety.  It was once again a time where I saw God at work defeating the enemy, providing the miracles needed, and changing lives for the good.  Interesting internship made intense and personal.  I am glad I was there.  It was an assignment from God.

Paul came home for my graduation from seminary.  A moving van loaded up our household.  We put the house in the hands of a Realtor, and we headed to St. Louis.  Next blog.

No comments: