April 2016 Update

This past week I’ve received a number of phone calls and texts from friends and family back home, all along the lines of, “Hey, it’s been a while since we’ve talked–how’ve you been?” So, in an effort to reverse this trend (one that I normally develop every semester around this time) I just wanted to write a brief little update about my life and the goings-on here in Central Florida at RTS Orlando.

With the dawn of Spring break a few weeks ago, the proverbial “speed” of the semester began to increase at an alarming rate. Prior to that week, the semester had been much more of a breeze, as I was only managing two classes per week. But over Spring break, I took Isaiah through Malachi as an “intensive” course, from March 21-24. Each day was 8-5, and for once I felt like I had been thrust into the “real world.” In general, my weekly schedule is much more varied, as I juggle between school and two jobs. But I found myself thinking that week, “So this is what it’s like out thereI think I sort of get it now.” Haha!

But with the advent of this course, I quickly realized that I had better start pouring my time and energy into its coursework, as I found out that the term paper, project, reading, and final exam were all due on April 22nd! Through my own lack of diligence, I had no idea that the due date for all of these was so close. So, needless to say, these past few weeks I’ve been pouring myself into the paper and the reading, making up the lost ground I lost by not being more attentive to the syllabus earlier in the semester!

Also, back on March 25, my now-former roommate Josh got married to his beautiful bride, Carly! I was honored to have been one of his groomsmen, and was so glad to have gotten to be there with them to celebrate their big day. I can’t help but admit that I miss him (and his TVs, his kitchenware, and his patio table!), but I’m really happy that he is with the girl of his dreams. Carly really lucked out, I have to say. And I also can’t help but be mindful of God’s grace to me in giving me Josh as a friend, and how cool it is that after having only been here for a little over a year and a half, I have already been asked to be a groomsmen for a “new” friend. What an answer to prayer this is.

So now, of course, my apartment is that much quieter, being that only Brandon and myself remain. But I can’t complain–the peace and quiet is good for the studies! I’m looking forward to turning all this stuff for Isaiah through Malachi next week and then turning all of my attention to the papers and tests and readings I have for my Acts and Pauline Epistles and History of Philosophy and Christian Thought courses. The campus deadline for these papers is May 13, and finals run from May 16-19.

Which brings me to my final segment of this update: on Friday, May 21st I am being flown out by my brother and sister-in-law to visit them in London, where they are living until July. I am really looking forward to seeing them, touring London, and seeing as many historical sites as humanly possible. One of my growing interests since entering seminary has been British Church history, so I’m chomping at the bit to see things like the Martyr’s Memorial (the monument erected in honor of the English reformers Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley, who were each burned at the stake under the reign of Queen Mary I, a.k.a. “Bloody Mary”), The Eagle & Child (the pub that C. S. Lewis and the Inklings gathered to discuss literature), All Soul’s Church (the former parish of Rev. John Stott, the great evangelical preacher), as well as a number of other, older sites. I just really cannot wait. It’s going to be a great trip!

After which, I will be flying home on May 29th to be back in Kingsburg for the entire summer! As it stands, I will be working full-time at Mountain View Fruit Sales and a ton of hanging out. If you’re a Kingsburgian, or even a Californian, hit me up and let’s get together sometime! Coffee, lunch, or anything else. Let’s do it! I want to see you!

For now, that about sums things up. I have to get back to my paper on the servant songs from the end of Isaiah!

Grace and peace,
Zac

 

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February 2016 Update

Just about a week ago, I returned to Central Florida to begin the fourth semester of my journey here at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. Having been home in Kingsburg for about a month and a half, my return to school was marked by two strong emotions: an excitement to return to my studies and a sadness to yet again be leaving everyone behind. With the dawn of a new year, I was and have been able to reflect upon my life since I began seminary back in the summer of 2014. Over the span of it, one consistent truth has continued to ring true for me–California is home.

In the Old Testament, we often read about the Israelites who, when exiled to distant and far off lands, yearned with all they had to return home to the Promised Land. So much of who they were was bound up in where they were from that, for them, there was almost this poetic, penetrating desire to return to their homeland–in other words, they could feel it in their bones.

Before moving to Florida, I never knew what it was like to feel this way about a place, but I think I’m finally starting to get it. This isn’t in any way to say that I feel as though Orlando has been an exile for me; it most certainly hasn’t. I am so deeply grateful that I get to be at what I consider one of the world’s finest seminaries (if not the best, seriously), studying some of the most amazing truths, making and growing relationships with some of the godliest people, and being trained by some of the most learned scholars in the Christian world. This was always the whole point of my decision to move 3,000 miles away, and I don’t regret a single second of it. I have been and am being forever changed by God during my time here.

But more and more, I am growing in my certainty that Central California is where I belong. At least for the foreseeable future.

So it is with this all in mind that I now proceed to the rest of this update. As I’ve done in the past, I will go about this thematically and explain some of the things have that been swirling around in my mind regarding each.

SCHOOL
After months of thought and prayer and careful consideration, I just recently switched from the Master of Divinity degree (the largest seminary degree, typically taken by those sensing a call to full-time pastoral ministry; it includes both deep theological/biblical content and practical skills, e.g., counseling, preaching, communication, etc.) to the Master of Arts in Biblical Studies degree (a smaller seminary degree, typically taken by those desiring a proper theological/biblical knowledge and perhaps wanting to enter into missions work, academia, or various capacities of pastoral ministry). The reason for this change was not any one factor, but rather an amalgamation of many, with the main ones being a desire to return home sooner rather than later, the ability to finish online, financial cost, the keeping open of the door to further education (such as a Ph.D), and the glaring reality that in the contexts I’m starting to see myself in vocationally the MABS will probably be all that I need, rendering a full M.Div degree, for all intents and purposes, unnecessary. So, because the MABS is significantly shorter (77 credit hours as opposed to 106), my projected date of graduation is a lot closer to the horizon than it had been before. Depending on how I go about it, I will finish up either this coming Fall or next Spring. Because of this change, this semester is shaping up to be markedly more relaxed than any I’ve had before (at least academically). So my schedule this semester is quite simple:

1. Acts & Pauline Epistles (4 credit hours) with Prof. Greg Lanier
This is a class I’ve been excited to take since before I came to seminary, because my personal study of the book of Romans years ago was a bit of a watershed moment in my walk with Christ. This course is being taught by a brand new professor, Mr. Greg Lanier, who is currently finishing up his Ph.D at the University of Cambridge in England (once he’s done he will officially be “Dr. Lanier,” lol). Some people warned me to watch out for new professors and to take them after they’ve gotten accustomed to professorial ministry, but after our first few lecture, I think this “greenness” is actually going to be a benefit to us. Also, the fact that he is still a student allows for him to have a much more immediate understanding of what it’s like to be in our shoes. And it also means he’s young, which will make for certain connections that aren’t always possible with other professors. All in all, I’m really looking forward to it.

2. History of Philosophy and Christian Thought (3 credit hours) with Dr. John M. Frame
For whatever reason, I’d been putting this class off for fear of entering into a world in which I didn’t quite have any foundation (philosophy) or personal stake in. But, it turns out, I just didn’t know what this class was about. Now that I’m actually enrolled, I realize that this might be one of the most crucial classes to my mental formation of historical theology. Whereas we learn the overarching story of Church history in our Christian History courses, this class exists to highlight and study the overarching content of Church history. The two, of course, are interrelated and connected, but this will be fundamental to my growing interest in the history of Christ’s Church, as we will analyze the ever-important historical interplay between philosophy and the Christian faith. So, for example, one of the things we’re currently reading about is the relationship between ancient Greek philosophical categories and early Christian doctrine on Christ and the Trinity. The aim of the class is to follow both philosophy and theology through the centuries, all the way up to the present day.

3. Isaiah – Malachi (3 credit hours) with Dr. Nicholas Reid
This is the third of four segments of my Old Testament survey courses (the last remaining one, which I will take in the Fall, is “Poets”), where we will simply be covering the story and theology of all the books from Isaiah to Malachi. I will be taking it as an intensive course over Spring Break, from March 21-24, but it’s more of a hybrid than anything, so I’ll have online assignments in addition to the four days of class. The professor will be Dr. Nicholas Reid, the Old Testament professor over at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL (the bible college of R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries). That’s about all I know about the course, so beyond that I’m all out of info.

CHURCH
My time home this past month allowed for some much needed reflection and decompression from the theological confusion that has been raging in my brain. Because much of this is complex (hence the confusion), I will try to explain it all in the plainest terms possible, so as to not bring you into it.

As some of you may know, over the past year of study, my ecclesiological or denominational identity has undergone somewhat of a change. Upon entering RTS back in 2014, I had a few theological positions down straight: I knew I was a Christian, I knew I was a Protestant, I knew I was an evangelical (though not of the Donald Trump stripe), and I knew I was a Calvinist in my understanding of salvation (think TULIP). For the most part, none of this has changed, but my horizons have certainly expanded. I am now more certainly Christian, more graciously Protestant, more cautiously evangelical, and more broadly Calvinistic. One of the ever-lingering questions in my brain is the nature of the relationship between Holy Scripture and Churchly Tradition (by Churchly Tradition I mean both historical theology and practice). As a Protestant, I still adhere to the principle of Sola Scriptura, though now with a much more open and appreciative stance toward the necessity of tradition (which, I would argue, is the only way to be true to the principle in the first place). Historically speaking, it has been quite easy for the Protestant movement to subvert tradition in the name of Scripture, but what this has done (and often does do) is lead to further division and schism. Now, I’m not saying that all tradition is good tradition, but I’m a lot more wary than I once was of people who take an avowedly antagonistic approach toward historic Christian thought and practice. In my studies, I have interfaced substantially both with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, studying their arguments against Protestant theology and practice. Sometimes I find myself in wholehearted agreement, other times I just become more aware of my unchanging (and seemingly unchangeable) Protestant convictions. But one thing it most certainly has done was to make me begin desiring and searching for a more historically and liturgically-oriented approach to the Faith. If one thing is certain, it’s that no church has it all (if you agree with this, congratulations!–you’re a Protestant, if you don’t, you are likely Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, haha). So this past year I found respite, of all places, in The Episcopal Church. I’m still surprised at this, given its current state as one of the most liberal denominations in the world (note: worldwide Anglicanism, of which The Episcopal Church is merely the official American branch, is another story; just this past January the Archbishops of the Communion voted to restrict The Episcopal Church from decisions on polity and doctrine for three years, which is until their next General Convention, where they can then change their recently formalized stance in favor of gay marriage), but my diocese in Central Florida is one of the few left that maintains a strong stance in favor of traditional Christian marriage. In fact, three of my priests have ties to my school, two of which have positions as adjunct professors. This says a lot about my church if you know anything about my school (hint: RTS is a seminary with close ties to the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church–TL;DR: we are, for lack of a better word, conservative).

That said, I’ve begun to consider ordination in the Anglican Church. I won’t say too much about that here, save for the fact that I’m not dead set on it by any means. It’s just an option that has presented itself to me at this point, and one which I’m happy to consider. But being that I want to be back in Central California sooner rather than later, getting ordained in Central Florida would put the brakes on that dream. Additionally, The Episcopal Church anywhere on the West Coast is entrenched in liberal theology, of which I cannot in good conscience have any part. Thus, I’d have to get my ordination transferred to the Anglican Church in North America, a smaller (but quickly growing), conservative body of Anglicans were I to move home. And I’m not sure about the morality of getting ordained in one place to just move to another. Basically, there’s a ton to think about. At the end of the day, despite some of the significant changes in my theological understanding, I could still (ironically) see myself serving in a nondenominational setting. That kind of makes everything I’ve said above irrelevant, I know, but so be it. Something my pastor back home has constantly told me still rings in my ear: “Zac, lost people don’t care.” This is not to say that the deep theological and liturgical and ecclesiological convictions I’ve developed as of late are irrelevant, but rather that they are, for the most part, secondary. So despite my so-called “High-Church” affinities, I think I’d be more than happy to serve in an exceedingly “Low-Church” setting.

So, for the most part, a lot of my future remains a looming question mark. But whose doesn’t?

FRIENDSHIPS
Obviously, the longer I’m here the more at home I feel in the community life of my school and church. It’s really cool to be a part of the student body at my school, especially. So many of the friendships I’ve made there are and will be invaluable in the days to come. Seminary is such a strange chapter of life, so processing through it with the others going through it with you is a special process. About a week ago, my friend Mark invited a few of us to have a traditional Korean dinner at his apartment with his wife Naomi and newborn son Joshua (Mark is Korean-American and Naomi is Korean). After dinner, the four of us guys there sat and chatted in Mark’s living till midnight about our experiences in school (all of us are transplants from very far away places) and life in general. It was a great time to share from the heart with others who understand the mess in your head and getting to hear what’s going on in theirs. Likewise, a few nights ago I went out to a local cocktail bar with other friends from school, who had some old friends in town, one of whom was here to check out RTS. As we sat around a fire pit and shared our experiences about RTS in an effort to convince him that RTS is the best school (again, it is), I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the many different things we brought up about why RTS is so great. It just reinforced my gladness in being here. One of the things this guy said was that he’d heard that RTS Orlando was in a rebuilding stage. I’d never really considered this reality, but I had to concede it was somewhat true. However, the lineup that’s recently been created here has been insane: Scott Swain and R. Michael Allen are some of the best Christian (not just Reformed) scholars on earth today and the careers ahead of them are going to be marked by profound aid to Christ’s Church. I am totally convinced of this. Add these men to the likes of John Frame, Jim Coffield, C. E. Hill, Mark Futato, Michael Glodo and even some of our adjuncts–Reggie M. Kidd, Ryan Reeves, and Justin Holcomb–and what you have is an unbelievably well-trained, godly, and discerning staff. That feeling you get when you meet your favorite author or celebrity is basically how I feel on an every day basis.

But I digress. My friends here are great. Next month my roommate Josh gets married and I have the honor of being one of his groomsmen. It is a testament of God’s grace to me that having only lived here for a total of a year and 6 months, I’m already going to be one of those guys who gets to watch his friend’s wedding from the stage. Pretty cool if I do say so myself.

WORK
I think I’ve forgotten this facet in previous updates. Suffice it to say, the two part time jobs I have right now are going quite well. There’s really not a whole lot to say other than that they’re both good jobs for me. As a barista at the coffee/bike shop (Velo Creek Bike & Brew),  I basically just serve drinks, clean up, and shoot the breeze with my friend Sean, the shop mechanic. As for my other set-up job for Northland Church, it’s great. It’s just a lot of alone time, so it’s great for listening to a ton of podcasts. So I can’t complain. I’m glad to have them both!

CONCLUSION
I think that about covers it for now. As always, if you ever want to talk please don’t hesitate to text, Snap, email, or call! I’m happy to chat, or to talk about theological/biblical questions any of you may have (though I certainly can’t promise to know the answers, lol). If you’re a friend/family member from back home, just know I miss you and love you. I know there is a lot of hard stuff going on right now for many of you (I constantly read the KCC prayer emails), so just know that I’m praying about it all. If you’re a Florida friend and you’re reading this, I’m honored. Let’s grab coffee sometime. Haha!

Grace and peace,
Zac

**The featured image is my home church, Cathedral Church of St. Luke, located in downtown Orlando. It’s pretty freaking sweet.

 

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas…Again

Things are nearing the end of another crazy semester here at RTS Orlando. Just today it hit me that I have a one 12-page paper, one 5-page paper, two 2-page papers, and an Old Testament workbook to start and complete by next Wednesday, December 9 (thankfully, I’ve already finished and submitted a 6-pager and one 14-pager!).

So you might be wondering why in the world I’m wasting my time writing an update for the 5-10 people (tops!) who care enough to read about my journey through seminary. The honest answer: it’s the least I can do for all of you who love me, support me, pray for me, call me, send me letters, and basically just care about me in any way. I really could not go it alone.

Anyway, as has become customary for these updates, I will cover the familiar ground, updating you on the last few months of school life, church life, and social life. Here we go.

SCHOOL
As I said, the weight of the world seems to be caving in on me at astonishing speeds. With only 9 days left to get everything turned in, you better believe my entire life will temporarily be centered around getting each assignment completed. Around school, we often have to remind one another that “Done is better than perfect;” there is really no other way to put it. As much as I’d like to think of myself as a rigorously intellectual academic who writes flawless, air tight papers, sometimes I just have to humble myself and turn it in. At this point, “doing my best” means hitting the “submit” button on all my assignments before December 9th at 10:59AM. It’s as simple as that.

Despite the mess that [currently] is my brain, this semester has proved to be at least as enlightening as any other, if not more so. Some of the books I’ve gotten to read have seemingly become a part of me and have profoundly affected the way I view the faith, my relationship with God, and what it means to be a Christian in this world–all for the better. Some of these include John Williamson Nevin: High-Church Calvinist by D. G. Hart, Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times by Martin Greschat, God Has Spoken by Gerald Bray, and Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Likewise, some of the things I’ve learned in the classroom have left an indelible mark on me, especially my Reformed Pastors and my Pastoral Counseling classes. I think the best thing about the former is that each week we talk about a different theologian or pastor of the past–such as Augustine, John Calvin, or George Whitefield–and are required to read several biographies about men of our choice (like the first two mentioned above). As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’d ever read a biography about any particular pastor/theologian of the past but now I’m a believer. Biographies are basically where it’s at. The best thing about my Pastoral Counseling class is that each week I just get to sit and learn from my professor about how to shepherd and love people. This class is basically a grand story time, where we get to listen to a man who loves people impart his love for them to us. It’s kind of difficult to explain, but I think you get it. There’s not any particular “thing” I’ve learned in this class, but I feel like I’ve been changed just by listening to each lecture. When somebody is a such a good lover of others, it just does something to you.

CHURCH
I love church. It is the highlight of each week. And it has become foundational for me, as it should be. I mentioned last time about how it was home, and this feeling has only become more sure. Hopefully sometime in the near future I will be confirmed as a member (the only thing hindering this so far is finding a date to attend a confirmation service). The more I study about the phenomenon that is Anglican Christianity, the more fascinated and at home I feel. Entering into such a diverse communion of churches is at once liberating and terrifying; liberating because Anglicanism really embodies a “mere Christianity” approach to basic, historic Christianity and terrifying because, to put it lightly, it’s a mess. As Anglican theologian Gerald Bray described it, “What is dividing the Anglican Communion is not a disagreement between Christians who hold different opinions on secondary matters, but a titanic struggle between believers and apostates who want to call themselves ‘Anglicans.'” These are some sharp words, but they are nevertheless accurate. Thankfully, my church and diocese are warmly orthodox and conservative.

Also, there’s a slight chance I could get to teach a class this Spring at church. If it happens, I would likely teach a similar Church History course to what I taught this past summer at Kingsburg Community Church, though I’d probably try to stretch it out so I wouldn’t have to cover 2,000 years in four 1-hour lectures. That was intense!

SOCIAL LIFE
Things have been interesting to say the least. In some ways, much of my social life has narrowed and slowed (for the better) as I’ve developed the friendships I’ve made over the past year. So I’m meeting less new people and spending more time with the friends I’ve already made. This is especially true of the two roommates I have this year, Josh and Brandon. Spending time with these guys is always a blast and things are constantly “chill” around the apartment. There has seriously not been one disagreement, fight, or, at least from what I can tell, any passive aggression (I’m looking at you, Andrew Marquez! Lol).

In other ways, things have been… I don’t know, let’s just say, for all those wondering, for now I am still single and happy as ever. I’ll leave it at that for now. Ha!

CHRISTMAS
I’ll be home on Wednesday night, December 16. I cannot wait to see ALL of you, spend Christmas with my family and friends, go to Christmas Tree Lane, drink tons of gingerbread lattes (Yes, I know, I’m #basic), go to Christmas parties, wear winter clothes (it’s still basically summer in Orlando), eat way more cookies than I should, preach at Outpour (December 20th!), and go to the KCC Christmas Eve service. There are some things without which Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas, so I’m thankful I’ll get to be home again to do Christmas the best way I know how.

And thankfully, I will be home till February 1. That’s right–I’ll be home for all of January! My brother’s wedding is January 30, and I am officiating it! So I’m really excited for all those festivities as well as all the ministry opportunities Pastor Ed (hopefully) has up his sleeve for my internship at KCC!  Also, I will taking Hebrew I (the language, not the book) online while I am home. Because the first stages of learning a language are so crucial, I am going to warn you all now that there will be times when I cannot hang out or visit. Be warned. I have to pass with an 80% so I can enroll for Hebrew II in the Spring. So please pray. Greek was tough, Hebrew will probably be harder.

Alright, that’s about it for now. I need to get back to those papers! 9 days to go! Love you all.

Grace and peace,
Zac

**Pictured above is my father, reading the Night Before Christmas, Christmas Eve, 2014. One of my favorite Christmas traditions.

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Round 2: An Update

An Apology
As a few of you out there may have noticed (“few” being the key word), I have been absolutely terrible about keeping you all up to date about my life and endeavors here at Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando. The main reason for this, of course, is due to the major shift in my life following the unexpected death of my father this past January. In many ways, I have felt incapable of construing words together in such a way so as to provide any kind of meaningful insight into the state of my heart and mind in the wake of this loss. Since his death, there has been a very real sense of numbness; it’s simply hard to believe he’s gone. I have a number of framed photographs in my room of him and me and my family, and each time I look at them I still feel as though he’s still only a phone call away. So, as I said, it’s been hard to imagine how I could write a coherent and helpful post for friends and family. I think this is partly because my priorities underwent a major shift. My father was overjoyed that I had moved away and gone to seminary. In one of his many hand written letters, one he titled, A Light Has Gone Out in Kingsburg, he wrote:

I felt the absence of you, Zac, as we drove back into town last weekend from the coast, realizing that you weren’t at Outpour (my home church’s evening service), wouldn’t be at Grandma’s for your birthday, or around anytime soon, maybe for a long time–except at Christmas. But we are glad you are where you are–it seems right, for now…And as I mentioned previously, there is likely not much of an opportunity for you to do much for yourself here. Jake and the guys will likely be lifelong friends and now you have the chance to make additional friends which is probably equally valuable as what you learn.

And in another,

Zac, we are happy that you have this opportunity to study God’s Word and make new friends at RTS–that will make your life much richer than any experience would likely provide here. Your mom and I want you to embrace the school, classmates, staff and feel that you are an important part of what God is doing there, and in the Orlando community, so that wherever you go afterwards you can always look back on your three short years at RTS with fond memories, friends, and terrific growth in your own walk, abilities, and direction. So I’m glad, in the sense that you are improving yourself, that you are not hanging around here, and that you embrace the South. Unless you have an agricultural business it’s hard to afford the basics here without special, or higher education like you’re getting, and friends. Your soon to be friends and acquaintances will be an important–no, critical part of your life both spiritually and professionally and socially. So do your best. Now is the time. We are proud of you!

Needless to say, following his passing, I knew what I had to do. When I returned to Orlando after being home for his service, I assumed a kind of war-like mindset about my academics. There was nothing I wanted more than to continue making my father proud and I knew that that meant getting back to work and owning the the commitment I had made to myself, my family, my church, and to the Lord. And by God’s grace, I followed through on this mission. But I did so at the expense of leaving so many of my loved ones, especially those back home in California, in the dark about where I was at both spiritually, emotionally, socially and academically. So I am now “repenting” of my silence and will be attempting to return so a regular schedule of updates and so on. And if you’ve made it this far, I applaud you. Trust me, I am under no illusions that my life is so important that I expect there to be a ton of people wanting to hear about it. But I do feel that my supporters out there (i.e., those of you who pray for me, financially support me, and generally just care about me) deserve to know what is going on. So with that, let me finally get into it.

An Account
As I said, I passed my classes this past semester. There was never really any doubt that I would, except for my Greek Exegesis course. But by some great miracle, I managed to memorize just enough of my vocabulary to somehow pass the final and kiss formally studying Greek goodbye.

Praise God.

My other classes included Systematic Theology 2 (which covered the doctrines of Christ, salvation, and the end times), Genesis-Joshua, Hermeneutics (the science of Scriptural interpretation), Doctrine of the Trinity, and History of Christianity 2 (Reformation to the modern period). As you can imagine, this made for a very intellectually stimulating semester, as many of these courses keyed in on major theological and historical issues that profoundly interest me in my personal studies (e.g., the doctrinal developments within the Christian Church and the nature of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition/historical theology). I came away from this semester with a deepened hunger for academics and have since given thought to perhaps pursuing further education and possibly even academic ministry. But we’ll see about that. For now, I’d be happy to go wherever God sends me, whether to a church as a pastor or to a tenured chair or even a homeless ministry. Who knows!

The day I finished my last final was the day that my great friends Andrew Marquez and Kaleb Martens flew out to Orlando to visit and experience the little life I’ve made for myself out here (by the way, I will post a brief video about my seminary below, so you can see it too). We had a great time as I got to show them around my new city and introduce them to all my favorite people and all my favorite spots to hang out, grab food, and get drinks. But the best part for me, I think, was ending our week with a flight home to California and seeing everyone again. Going through the pain of grief as I am, nothing has proven to be as much of a balm as being home in Kingsburg with my old friends, my siblings, and my mom. As hard as my summer was at times, I enjoyed every minute of it. Not only did I get to spend quality time with everyone, but I was also given the tremendous opportunity to serve once again at Kingsburg Community Church. This was just an absolute blast. I was allowed to teach a Sunday school course on Church History which was so much fun (for me, at least!) and to preach a couple of times which was helpful for my own growth in so many ways. I cannot really express the deep sense of gratitude I continue to have toward my home team at KCC. I have been blessed by this congregation in unfathomable ways and am undoubtedly a product of their/your constant grace, love, and discipleship. Wherever the Lord takes me, I will always bear the marks they have etched into my soul. I am theirs, and they are mine. And thankfully, this internship isn’t even over. I will be home every Winter and Summer to resume work there, so look out for more Sunday school classes and sermons! I’ll continue to do my best to bless you in my time there.

And now this leaves me with the final section of this entry–the here and now. Basically, there are four quick things you need to know:
1. I have finally settled in on a church home, the Cathedral Church of St. Luke’s. Being an Episcopal church, this particular parish is the home church to the bishop of the diocese (cathedra in Latin means “seat,” so a “cathedral” church is the church upon which the bishop “sits” and “rules”), Bishop Greg Brewer, and just so happens to be one of the strongest conservative dioceses in the American branch of the Anglican Communion. For those of you wondering what I could possibly be doing at an Episcopal church, the answer is threefold: I love their liturgy, their wonderfully biblical priests, and their conscious self-identification with the ancient Church. Trust me, I am fully aware that the Anglican Communion is a strange phenomenon, but that’s just part of why I’ve come to love it. For most American evangelicals today, what usually first comes to mind when they think of Episcopalians is the very liberal expression. Besides this camp, there are some Anglicans who basically see themselves as Roman Catholics without a pope (this branch goes by the name “Anglo-Catholic”) and then there are Anglicans who consider themselves broadly evangelical Protestant and, oftentimes, Reformed like me (such as J.I. Packer, Gerald Bray, Lee Gatiss, and John Webster). As far as I can tell, Protestants are at their best when they are constantly having to interface with capital-c Catholics (whether Roman or Anglo) and the Anglican Communion provides the perfect opportunity for this interaction. Additionally, I’m willing to bet that you’ve been more or less influenced by a great Anglican at some point in your life, whether it was Thomas Cranmer (“I take thee to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart.” Sound familiar? Yep, these are words he penned in the Anglican prayer book, the Book of Common Prayer), J.C. Ryle, C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J.I. Packer, John Wesley, or Alister McGrath. Basically, I have found that Anglicanism has so much to offer me and so much from which I can and should learn. So, for now, this is where I’ll be. And I’ll be happy to stick around for a while.
2. I recently took on two part time jobs in order to help myself survive financially. The first is as a set-up coordinator for a church that actually meets on my school’s campus. Basically, all I do is open some doors, set up some tables and chairs, and set up classrooms for children’s Sunday school. And then after church on Sundays I put everything back the way it was. It’s basically the easiest job ever and I’m really thankful to have been given the position. The other job is one I just got last week as a barista at a little shop called Velo Creek Bike & Brew. So far I’m still learning, so my Americanos and cappuccinos are still a bit subpar. But one day I hope to be as good as my brother-in-law Zach, though he works for the competition, the anti-Christ…Starbucks. Haha!
3. As of August 21, I have officially moved into my new apart with two new roommates, Josh and Brandon. It’s the same complex as the apartment I was in last year, so the move wasn’t too bad, but I’m definitely glad it’s over with. So far I can already say I like this apartment a lot better, as we’re on the second floor and now have a really nice view of our little pond. It’s the small things, right! But I will miss my man Cary. He was a great help to me in many times of need, so I’ll definitely be keeping in touch with him over the coming months and years!
4. Finally, school has officially started back up again. It feels as though it were yesterday that I was in my very first class, totally alone and homesick and nervous about meeting new friends. But now I get to be a welcomer, someone who helps the new transplants feel like they belong, because they do. I’ve already met a bunch of new guys and girls and will continue to strive to be an ambassador to them to help them in their transition, because I know from experience how much they’ve sacrificed to get here. Additionally, I will be taking some pretty great classes this semester: Gospels, Pastoral Counseling, Judges-Esther, Reformed Pastors, Christian Encounter with Islam, and the Theology of John Calvin. It’s hard to say which one I’m most looking forward to, as there are a couple that I am very personally interested in for academic reasons (Reformed Pastors and John Calvin) and others that I am interested in because I seriously need to grow in these areas (all the other ones, especially Pastoral Counseling). Additionally, it looks like my mentor this semester will be one of my favorite professors and one of my favorite theologians alive today, Dr. Michael Allen. His emphasis is in historical theology, which has become something of an obsession of mine lately, so it will be great to get to meet with him once a week or so over lunch to talk church history and so on. I have a million questions, and hopefully I’ll walk away with an expanded tool kit that will help me answer them. I seriously cannot wait for this.

So yeah, that’s about it! If you have any questions please email/text/call me! I’d love to hear from you and know how I can be praying for your needs!

Grace and peace,
Zac

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas ♫

I’ve sat here for the past couple hours, staring at this blank screen, asking myself exactly what it is I’d like to share with you and how exactly to convey it all. It’s hard to know where to even begin because even I myself am still processing through all the things the Lord is teaching me here in central Florida. Every so often, people, both here and at home, will ask me how I’m doing and I find myself having a hard time articulating a coherent answer. Overall, I can tell you that I’m really starting to enjoy everything. Despite the fact that I wage a daily battle to manage the assignments and tests and papers and projects on my plate, I am falling in love with the people I’ve come to know. As you can see below, for my previous update back in September I basically covered how things were going both in the classroom and out. For the sake of keeping some kind of brevity, I’ll stick with that format here.

SCHOOL
I am thankful that God is in control of all things, I really am. As the semester has dragged on, I’ve met more students at RTS and have realized that I’m not the only one with a lot of things on my plate. In fact, I’ve learned that many of these guys have a lot more on their plates than I do. It was really easy up until about a month or so ago to think that I had it worse than everyone else. Sure, I do have it hard, but hearing about the different things so many of my classmates are dealing with is just wild. For instance, one of my classmates moved here this summer with his wife and two young children from North Dakota. On top of his full-time course load, he works from home to earn a living for his family. Another friend is in the same boat–married with a baby daughter and is the source of income for his family. And these guys aren’t the only ones. What stories like these have taught me over the past few months is that although the Lord often gives us more than we can handle, He never gives us more than He can handle. So no matter where we are in life, His strength is sufficient for us.

All that to say, school is hard. School is very hard. Sometimes I feel as though I have it all together and that I’m all caught up, until I remember a certain assignment or upcoming test. Other times, I’ll feel overcome by a sense of dread, only to find out I’m not doing so bad after all. In one sense, how I’m doing depends on the day you ask me, sometimes even the hour. But at the end of the [metaphorical] day, I can assure you that I am loving this.

1. History of Christianity I
This class is easily one of my two favorites. Over the past year, I’ve become deeply eager to learn about the history of Christ’s Church prior to the Protestant Reformation. I’ve learned a ton of new names, concepts, doctrines, and stories, but these don’t even scratch the surface. When you learn about Christian history you learn about how men and women have wrestled to understand the text of Scripture for thousands of years in order to better understand, grow, and worship God. The story of our history is most amazing, perhaps, when you realize that it is Christ’s story of changing people and nations and that you are a part of it.

2. Systematic Theology (Theology proper, Scripture, Anthropology)
This is certainly the most mentally challenging class I’m taking (or have ever taken for that matter). My professor, Dr. John Frame, is an intellectual giant. The man has played a major role in the defense and strengthening of the Christian church over the past several decades, perhaps most notably in his Theology of Lordship series. In this course, we’ve covered topics such as God’s Lordship, God’s attributes, and God’s Word. In the next few weeks we will be shifting our attention to what the Bible teaches about mankind. Although this course has been challenging, it has been incredibly helpful in many different spheres of my spiritual life.

3. Theology of Ministry
This is, perhaps, my favorite class this semester. Essentially a class for future pastors, this course surveys the different tasks, pitfalls, and responsibilities of pastoral ministry. If I’m being honest, one of the reasons I love this class is because of how easy it is. Another reason, though, is because of the paper we’re currently assigned to write. In short, the paper is about how you envision going about ministry in the future context you believe you are called to. So far, I’m really enjoying it and having a hard time keeping it below the required page count!

4. Greek II
This class is a grind. There are no two ways about it. Everything in me is scraping and clawing to stay on top of it. By God’s grace, I am doing well enough to survive but I realize I need to try even harder. Rote memorization is just not my strong suit, so extra hours of memorizing paradigms and flashcards is a must. The thing is, who just has a bunch of extra hours lying around? That’s right–nobody. Please pray for me, specifically for Greek. This class is kicking my butt.

5. Evangelism
I have many mixed emotions about this class, but they are overwhelmingly good. This class is a hybrid; that is, half online and half in person. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of this model, but I think the content in it is rich and powerful. Not only that, but it is extremely useful. Just the other day, my friend Chris (who you’ll hear more about in a second) and I met a Muslim girl at a nearby Starbucks as we were studying. In God’s providence, we’d been studying Islam for the past two weeks are were able to understand her struggles, hear her out, explore commonalities, and clarify and explain for her the uniqueness and excellencies of Christ. We ended up talking with her for 2 hours straight and it was just amazing. Pray for Chris and I as we plan on visiting her mosque, meeting her parents, and sharing more about Immanuel, God with us.

6. Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies
Sadly, the four weeks of class for this course are now over and all we have now are a couple more two-page papers on different theological topics and books. Then again, I love that; writing out my thoughts about things is just really fun and helpful for my learning process. I have an oral exam on Skype with the professor, Ligon Duncan, early next month. I’m nervous in one sense, but excited in another. It’s only supposed to be about 15 minutes, so it shouldn’t be too big of a deal.

Anyway, aside from the constant warm weather, life is much better these days. I feel considerably more adjusted to things here and am really enjoying certain aspects of this “adventure”. For those wondering, it looks as though I have a church home at CrossPointe Church Waterford Lakes. In my previous post I spoke of my friend, Josh, that I met through my friend, Ben, at RTS. Having become closer with Josh, I’ve also made friends with some of his roommates. About once a week, a bunch of us will get together for what we’ve deemed “Bubbles and Bibles” where we’ll study some Scripture and then hang out in a local apartment complex’s hot tub (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!).

November in California was typically spent by bonfires.
November in Florida is apparently spent in hot tubs.

One of Josh’s roommates, Brett, is our community group leader and my new accountability partner. So far we’ve only met up once, but I’m really looking forward to sharpening one another with Scripture and growing together in the gospel. As for friends from school, things have been going really well. Ben, of course, is still a great friend and my go-to study partner. Another friend I’ve gotten to know a lot better is a guy named Mark, from Kentucky. He and I meet each week to talk about the gospel and sharpen the ways we present it to people. Then there’s my friend Chris from Wyoming/Minnesota, the guy mentioned above. We all know him as “Smiling Chris” because you never see this guy without a giant smile on his face. This past weekend his wife and baby daughter were out of town, so he invited me over for dinner. We ended up spending eight hours together, telling our stories, struggles, and joys in Christ and in what He’s doing with us here. It was such a good, life-giving time. Perhaps we should have concluded by watching the The Notebook or something (kidding!). 

So, anyway, that’s about it for the overview of what’s going on here in Orlando. Of course, there are a lot more details I could cover but, as St. John said, “Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). So email me a question, call me, text me, whatever it is you got to do! I would love to talk to YOU. I cannot wait to finish this semester and be home for Christmas. I’ll be arriving in Kingsburg on December 18th and staying until January 20th, so we’ll have plenty of time to visit. Again, I cannot wait. Your love and support is not something I take for granted. I pray for you all constantly, as a group and as individuals:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:3-11)

Until next time, grace and peace.

P.S.
Don’t you just love that picture of my dad? I definitely can’t wait to sit on the couch with my family and listen to him give his annual Christmas Eve reading of The Night Before Christmas and then head over to the midnight candlelight service at KCC. It’s gonna be a blast!

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9.15.2014

The past three weeks have been a wild ride. Last I wrote, I had just finished my summer Greek crash course and was preparing for the start of the semester. Since then, school started and it wasn’t long before it was revved up into high gear. So I’ve been reading, taking quizzes, writing, and praying like never before. There is so much constantly going on and it hasn’t always been easy trying to just keep my head above water. And unfortunately, the rate at which information seeps into my heart is even slower than the rate at which it drips into my brain. But despite the struggle, I am overjoyed. I have learned a lot about life and trusting God and resting in Him whilst being here. Because I am his son and He is my Father I can say without reservation that all of it is hard and all of it is good. 

A NEW APPROACH
Over the past few days, I’ve been putting some thought into how I could clearly and helpfully go about writing this blog. My reason for starting it in the first place was threefold: to glorify God by chronicling His faithfulness to me, to keep friends and family (A.K.A. you) updated about everything, and to function as a personal journal of sorts that I can continue to look back on in the days and years to come. That said, I’ve decided the best way to meet those goals would be to spend each blog entry answering the following questions (I chose these because I usually ask them to my friends who I haven’t seen in a while):
1. How is school? What are you enjoying? What are you having a hard time with?
2. What is your social life like there? Have you met any new friends? Do you have your eye on any particular lady?
3. How is your soul? What’s been going on inside your heart and head? How can I pray for you?

So without further adieu, let’s get started.

1. SCHOOL LIFE
First of all, school is awesome. In my six long years of undergrad, I never once felt as swamped as I do with the work load here at RTS. Most days I simply feel as if I’m just trying to keep my head above water. But even in the midst of the stress I am loving every minute of it. And I’m not just saying that. The things I’m studying are both intellectually engaging and spiritually stimulating. And I am blessed to have chosen a seminary that places a strong emphasis on training and discipling its students’ hearts just as much as their minds (this really helps in the struggle of getting mental knowledge to be heart knowledge). For those of you who do not yet know, here is my class schedule for this fall:
1. History of Christianity I
Christian history from the Apostles to the Reformation.
Tuesdays 9:00-12:00
2. Systematic Theology I
The doctrines of God, Scripture, and mankind.
Tuesdays 2:00-5:00
3. Theology of Ministry
Leadership, character building, and church management.
Wednesdays 9:00-12:00
4. Greek II
Parsing, translating, and memorizing Koine Greek.
Wednesdays 1:00-4:00
5. Evangelism
Evangelism training and developing a passion for the lost.
Thursdays 2:00-4:00
6. Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies
Introduction to biblical, systematic, and practical theology.
Friday 6:00-9:00 and Saturdays 9:00-5:00

If you were to press me on it, I’d have to confess that my favorite class thus far is Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies. The professor of this class is actually the chancellor of the entire RTS system, Dr. Ligon Duncan III. I could go on and on about the guy and his long list of lifetime achievements, but perhaps the greatest thing about him is his pastoral heart for us students. On the first night of class, he preached an hour and a half long sermon from John 13 on the servanthood of Christ and admonished us to be pastors who serve with Christlike servitude. It was one of the most moving messages I’d ever heard. Near the end of it, he and several of us students were in tears (yes, Calvinists get emotional, too). Also, he ate lunch with a few of us the other day and we pretty much bombarded him with a flurry of theological and historical questions. Not only did he answer them, but he did so with grace and humility. It was just amazing–here I was, sitting next to this guy I’d seen online speaking in front of thousands of people and whose articles I’d read in magazine and blog sites, and he was just casually answering my questions. It was a true testimony that he really lives what he preaches.

On the flip side of the coin, the most discouraging class for me is Greek. I have such a hard time learning it that I usually just feel like calling it quits and giving up. I’ll spend hours studying only to fail the weekly quiz. It’s just been really disheartening to say the least. But I’m sticking with it and doing my best to study even more and to make it a part of my daily routine. I really want to learn the language because I am motivated by the fact that God, in His eternal wisdom, elected to write the New Testament in Greek. I don’t think this was an arbitrary decision. As Bible scholar Larry Walker writes, “The Greek language reflected artistry in its philosophical dialogues, its poetry, and its stately orations…Greek was a language of argument and style that could penetrate and clarify phenomena rather than simply tell stories…The Holy Spirit inspired the [New Testament] as Greek texts.” In addition to this, the Westminter Confession of Faith states, “In all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto [the original languages of the Bible].” For these reasons, I am compelled to learn this language despite the frustration. If you’d be so willing, I’d appreciate your prayers for me in this.

2. SOCIAL LIFE
Ever since school officially started, my time here has gotten better and better. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of returning students and students in different degree programs such as the MATS (Master of Arts in Theological Studies), MABS (Master of Arts in Biblical Studies), and the MAC (Master of Arts in Counseling). This has really helped to drastically diversify my network of friends. For instance, I’ve now made friends with people from foreign countries such as Australia, China, Korea, and Malawi and a ton of other friends from all over the US like California, Washington, New York, North Dakota, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Florida. Humanly speaking, this has been possibly the biggest blessing and source of joy for me. I love the people I’ve met and am excited to see the relationships that have taken root in the common ground of the gospel begin to grow and bear fruit in service to the glory of the Lord. This is an exciting thing for me because I know that these friendships will be life-giving for each of us in the future, not just in seminary but long thereafter.

As for activities, I’m pretty much doing the same old stuff: studying at coffee shops, hanging with friends, going to Bible studies, reading books (duh), listening to music, eating ramen, and staying up late (sorry Mom!). Aside from the normal stuff, I’ve gone to the beach, explored Orlando, and played a couple of pick-up games of Ultimate Frisbee and soccer. I must say, life here in Florida is not all that bad! I think I could get used to being here. But, if I’m being honest, California is still the best! Go team.

And no. I have not had my eye on any ladies down here in the Sunshine state. I’m a little preoccupied at the moment.

3. SOUL LIFE
The past two months have undoubtedly been some of the hardest. The transition away from the close relationships back home and into completely new ones has created a sort of interim time characterized by a lack of close, intimate accountability. Fortunately, this period is coming to a close and I am ever so thankful for that. I’ve met a number of great Christian guys both in and out of school. Some of them were just instant friends, like my friend Josh. The moment we met, I felt like we’d been friends all our lives. It wasn’t long before we were able to have one of those “heart to heart” conversations and confess some of our sin to each other. Relationships like this are developing and growing and will be life-giving in the months ahead. Not only that, but they will be a source of help in that they will prevent me from the feeling of isolation that I’ve naturally been feeling. I’m just really excited to see what comes of these friendships. And not only am I excited to be blessed by them, but I am excited to be a blessing and source of encouragement to them as well.

Aside from friends, I’m nearing the end of my two month “church search”. The past weeks have been really interesting as I’ve traveled all over central Florida to visit different congregations. I’ve been to Orangewood (PCA), CrossPointe (Acts29), Willow Creek (PCA), St. Luke’s Cathedral (Episcopal), and Orlando Grace (Reformed Baptist). There are two more PCA churches I’d like to visit, but as for now I’m admittedly feeling a pull to the Reformed Baptist congregation. I visited there yesterday and really appreciated the worship (modern-ish hymns), the wide range of generations, the different ethnicities, and the humility of the pastor. It just really came across as a healthy, humble, and loving congregation. I’m not too sure whether I myself am credobaptist or paedobaptist, but at this point I don’t really care–I just need a church and a place to call home. So I’ll keep you all posted on that. Soon enough!

That about wraps it up for me. If you have any more questions or anything, feel free to call me/email me/whatever. I’d love to catch up and see what’s going on in your life! Until next time, grace and peace.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Gospel

Around 11:00AM (EST) on Friday morning I finished a grueling three weeks of introductory Koine Greek. It was a serious relief walking out of that classroom and down the hall where I promptly joined a number fellow classmates and began discussing with them how we felt about our exams. It took me six years to graduate from college, and never during that time did I study the way I did during these three weeks of Greek I. Class was Monday through Friday from 9AM-12PM from August 4-22. If we scored below a 90% on a test (which took place each Friday), we were required to come to either the morning lab at 8AM or the afternoon lab at 1PM every day for the following week. But because I knew I could use all the extra time I could get, I made sure to go to at least one lab each day regardless of my test scores (I scored well on test one and poorly on my second). Also, there were quizzes every morning except for Mondays. Because of this, I studied about 5-6 hours a day outside of the classroom. I spent these hours pouring over my Greek textbook and notes, trying to pump every single brain cell full of Greek paradigms, vocabulary, grammar rules, and exceptions to those rules. Needless to say, I felt brain dead every night as I’d lay to down to sleep. Which, by the way, was usually around 1AM. 

What a great introduction to life as a seminarian.

You’re probably wondering how I ended up doing in the class, but as of right now, I’m not entirely sure. I think I did well enough to pass, but I’m not certain beyond that (because the scale at RTS is different than traditional scales. For example, an 78% is a C-). What I do know at this point, though, is that I’ve learned much more than the basics of biblical Greek. I’ve learned lessons much more important than the first, second, and third declension endings and their respective definite articles. I’ve learned more than future active indicative verbs and nominative singular feminine nouns. So because I’m boring and like lists, I’m just going to give you the top three lessons I’ve learned so far whilst here in the great state of oranges, alligators, and hurricanes.*

1. Not having a church home sucks.
Today (8/24) marks the fourth Sunday since I’ve been here in Orlando. For the first two weeks I attended my roommate’s church, Orangewood (PCA). It is a great Presbyterian church with a laid back culture and a confessional heritage. In many ways, it reminded me quite a bit of Kingsburg Community Church. And then last week I visited New City Church (PCA) where my new friend, Ben attends. Interestingly, it actually started seven years ago as a church plant from Orangewood. Today I attended CrossPointe Church (Acts29/Converge) with another new friend named Josh. Next week I’m thinking about attending St. Luke’s Cathedral (Episcopal) which is where two of my RTS professors serve as associate priests. Over the past few months I’ve become increasingly interested in Church history and have grown to love the strong historicity of the Episcopal Church, so I’m really pretty interested in checking it out. After that, I imagine I’ll probably visit St. Andrew’s Chapel (R.C. Sproul’s church), St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church (PCA), and maybe even Orlando Grace Church (Reformed Baptist). If you know anything about the greater Orlando area, you know that it’s pretty much a Christian empire as far as churches go. Many of the world largest parachurch organizations have their headquarters located here (i.e., Campus Crusade, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Ligonier Ministries), so combine that with the constant crop of quality men and women coming out of Reformed Theological Seminary and you get a ton of sprawling churches with 500+ people. It’s really quite wild. But although it’s been great attending new churches, meeting new people, and seeing how God’s people interact and worship in different contexts, it has really been wearing on me spiritually. Not only do I miss my church family and all the fun we had together, I miss being known to the core of my being and living transparently before others around me. I miss my friends who knew me deeply and knew where I struggled with sin and knew how to love me and sharpen me and call me out. I know that this kind of depth will come in time, but for now, in this in-between period, not having it has been incredibly difficult. That said, my goal is to quickly find a home church and to plug in as fast as I can and begin to live openly before the love and criticism of others. I certainly need it.

2. Not being around loved ones sucks.
Within the past couple weeks I have received some of the hardest letters I’ve ever had to read, especially the ones from my dad. To be clear, there’s nothing in these letters that is inherently difficult or sad, but hearing my dad say how much he misses me just sucks (in a good way, of course), because I miss him (and my mom!), too. Other letters and messages and phone calls I’ve received have likewise been great, but extremely difficult. Knowing I can’t make trips to Fresno with Andrew Marquez while singing The Story So Far at the top of our lungs or go on monthly CostCo runs with Jake Burtner only to spend all afternoon eating samples as appetizers and polish dogs as entrées (maybe some pizza, too) just kills me. I think I’ve spent every Saturday night here in my apartment reading books and surfing Facebook. I mean, I love reading theology and scrolling through the endless onslaught of pointless links to pointless videos about pointless things, but it wears on you over time. I just wish I could text Luke Gramza and invite myself over to his parents’ house to go swimming, call up Brian Gai to play some Mario Kart 64 (dibs on DK!), spend another long night on my back porch talking about life with Bradley Haga, make fun of Asael Parra’s horrible accent directly to his face (it’s much more satisfying that way), watch another It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia episode with the legendary Kaleb Martens, or listen to Dustin Wolfe explain the finer points of Libertarian politics. I miss college group and the love we all have for one another. I miss working with Pastor Ed and with Andrew Metz and the rest of the KCC staff. I miss all the youth kids and the sleepovers at me and Jake’s house. I miss my co-workers and kids at the city recreation program. I miss my grandmother, my aunt, and my entire family. I miss In-N-Out, Sun Hong Kong, and taco trucks. I miss dry heat, living in the country (never thought I’d say that), and my morning and evening prayers with Jake.

But I am happy here. As sad as I can get from time to time, I feel secure. That much hasn’t changed. It’s funny how being 2,715 miles from home gives you more perspective on life than being down the street. That’s one massive lesson I’ve learned so far–to simply appreciate everyone and everything God has given me and, most importantly, everything that He is for me in the midst of it all. 

3. Not being a leader sucks.
This past week I was invited by my two friends, Ben and Josh, to smoke pipes, drink beer, read Scripture, and pray. After lighting our pipes and cracking open a bomber of beer (Tioga-Sequoia’s “Midnight Lightning” Russian Imperial Stout, an excellent Central California offering), Ben asked us to turn to Psalm 94. Once there, he led a quick lesson about praying the Psalms by understanding them from the original author’s perspective (David), the original audience’s perspective (Ancient Israel), the Messiah’s perspective, the Church’s perspective, and ultimately through our own. I have to admit, I learned something far more important than this multi-perspectival approach to the Psalms–I learned that I am a proud, selfish man. As Ben led the conversation, I was struck with how odd it was to be on the receiving end of a theological conversation. Back home I’d grown quite accustomed to leading these types of conversations, so sitting there and listening to a peer sort of bothered me. And then I was bothered (and still am) that this bothered me. I came face to face with the pride that had stealthily crept into the crevices of my heart. Likewise, Greek was also a humbling experience. I definitely wasn’t one of the top in my class; I was just average. And this was a good thing. I’m slowly starting to learn that seminary is not about proving yourself, looking good, or getting straight A’s. I recently heard that above the doors going into the chapel at Westminster Theological Seminary are the words, “Come and die!” That’s what seminary is about–death to self, death to arrogant ambition, and death to your default resources of false security. I think I “knew” this before I came, but now I really know it. And I’m glad the Lord brought this to my attention sooner rather than later.


But the gospel doesn’t suck.

Thankfully, it is sufficient to meet every need in my life:

1. The gospel breaks down barriers between people of different cultures, ethnicities, locations, time zones, and languages. I may be thousands of miles from my church family at Kingsburg Community Church, but because of the gospel, I have church family right here in Florida. Every brother and sister I’ve met so far has been a great encouragement and help in my transition away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. I can’t wait to deepen the friendships I’ve made here, pour into them, and be poured into by them in return. 

2. The gospel gives believers an unbreakable union not only with the Triune God, but with every believer who has lived, does live, or will live. Therefore, I’ll never truly be separated from my brothers and sisters back in Kingsburg. And in those moments where I miss people to the point of tears, I can look up and know that God is my Father and that I am His beloved Son. And because of that, I have all that I could ever need.

3. The gospel reminds me of my sin that Christ died to propitiate, thus crushing any molecule of pride. The gospel reminds me of Christ’s sufficiency on my behalf, thus relieving me of any burden of insecurity. The gospel screams, “It is finished!”, so I don’t have to prove myself.
Jesus has already taken care of that for me.
As Tullian Tchividjian once wisely wrote,

Because Jesus was strong for me, I am free to be weak; 
Because Jesus won for me, I am free to lose;
Because Jesus was someone, I am free to be no one;
Because Jesus was extraordinary, I am free to be ordinary;
Because Jesus succeeded for me, I am free to fail.

Until next time, grace and peace.

 

*So far, I’ve only seen the alligators.

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