I was sitting in the office this afternoon speaking with one of my co-workers about faith and theology in the workplace. It’s one of those things that to some degree you have to be careful about these days. So many people want us to be politically correct and not discuss religion or politics, for that matter, in the office. As I was thinking about this tonight it occurred to me that it was 8 years ago last Sunday, December 15th, that I finished my Doctor of Ministry degree and stood for my oral examination in front of members of the assembled panel. This event still ranks as one of the highlights of my entire career and how unlikely it was that I would ever complete seminary and receive advanced degrees.
In fact, unlikely doesn’t even begin to describe my journey. I was one of those driven corporate guys, a guy who didn’t like to lose and was intent on being a success. Yet sometime in the mid 1990’s, something changed in me and I made the decision to focus more of my time on God and get back to my roots in the church. Janet and I decided to take the journey together and neither of us has ever looked back. Eventually, after several years of immersing myself in the Scripture, Janet and I decided that I would attend formal seminary. That changed everything…
It’s true that our lives changed dramatically. I spent full time in school, doing my homework each evening from 11:00 pm until 3:00 am or so. We lived off wedding and funeral income, as well as spending much of what we had saved during our many years of marriage. As I look back on it, we had a tough row to hoe – and we wouldn’t change it for anything. As much as I disliked my college career, my seminary experience was exactly the opposite – probably the most challenging and rewarding academic pursuit I have ever undertaken.
In fact, the pinnacle of all that study resulted in my oral defense on that December day 8 years ago. Janet wanted to go with me and she sat outside the meeting room during my entire three hour defense. One of my good friends, Paul Reed, sat outside with Janet to keep her company. While they were talking outside, I was deep in conversation with the assembled group of theologians who were there to quiz me on my education and my dissertation – written on the topic of how people and families deal with job loss and career transition.
Strangely, it was exhilarating and intimidating all at the same time. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I remember most of the questions about my dissertation and the conclusions I reached. Many of my previous views of church and para-church groups changed during my years of study and those newer views were reflected in my answers that day. I recall how concerned I was that I would fail the exam due to my outspoken nature and how I felt that the church did an inadequate job of loving people well. I prepared for the onslaught of follow-up questions and, instead, was surprised at how many of the pastors and academicians agreed with my findings. The truth be told, I think that answer was the turning point in the whole defense.
I was thrilled when I was invited back after the vote and was received into the room as an equal – no longer a student, but a recognized seminarian who had completed many years of work. It felt great. Since that day, I have often returned to the school and I have stayed in touch with my instructors – particularly Dr. Branine, the elder statesman who taught me much of the theology I learned during my years there. The challenge today is to stay connected to those men – it’s just so easy to get away from the study of and relationship with God once you have left the “safety” of the seminary environment.
The verse for this evening is from Paul’s first letter to his young friend, Timothy. Paul tells us that he wanted Timothy to focus on the important things in life. In 1 Tim 4:13-14, he tells his young pastor friend, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” In other words, Timothy was to pay attention to doing the things that had been entrusted to his care when the elders of the church recognized his desire to serve the Lord.
My encouragement this evening is that each of us has a responsibility to serve the body of Christ by using our gifts to advance the kingdom. My prayer is that you will stay close to those people in your life who help keep you focused on Christ. After all, when you are out there all alone, it’s tough to withstand the ways of the world and stay totally committed to the Savior of the world. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…