Well, I've officially completed half of a semester of classes at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I call it that, and tell people I attend there possibly because it makes me sound smart or spiritual. The fact of the matter is, that while I'm honored and flattered at the chance to attend such an institution, I'd never even considered attending seminary until I found it to be a requirement for the International Mission Board. I thought places like this were for special people - people who are much Godlier than I.
Don't get me wrong, higher learning in the area of theology certainly has it's place, but I'm just not sure where we draw the line between a desire to learn more about our God and a desire to earn more letters to tag onto our name. It seems that many people I meet are very excited about their next degree and career move in the area of ministry, but does God really care how many hours we've completed, where we got our MDiv from, or how many classes we're capable of teaching? Can His Gospel be preached and received even if no one within one hundred miles has even heard of a school of theology?
Awhile back, I read in Luke about Jesus taking a trip home to Nazareth, a small town where everyone likely knew your name, your parents' names, what your favorite dinner was, and how many times a day you took your dog (err, I mean sheep . . . goat . . . llama . . . whatever) for a walk. That particular Sabbath day, Jesus attended his boyhood synagogue and read from scripture for his hometown family and friends. That day, Jesus told them that the prophecy of the Messiah was fulfilled - He was who they had been waiting for day after day, year after year, finally, He had come!
What's even better, is the deliverer of the message! While others chosen by God were fallible and unable to present the Gospel in all of its perfection, here, right in front of their eyes, was the Son of God! Perfect in every way, and most certainly the most perfect presenter of the best news ever. Imagine your favorite pastor or speaker - times a million! Jesus IS the Word and could obviously present it in all of its Glory, in perfect form. It must have been an unbelievable sermon to listen to.
To make things even more amazing, it was Jesus, Joseph and Mary's boy! Who in that synagogue would have though that God would send the Messiah right into their laps, their hometown! Everything was perfect . . . right? The people rejoiced and flocked to Jesus to praise Him . . . . right? RIGHT??? No, the crowd was so angry, so enraged, that they threw Him from the city and tried to throw Him over a cliff! What in the world? The Son of God has walked into their city, into their synagogue and proclaimed that He is the promise they've been waiting for. The Gospel in perfect form is right in front of their eyes and they choose to exile Him from the town. What is going on here?
You see, our God is sovereign beyond our imagination. He holds your life in the palm of His hand, and your life dangles by a single thread of grace. He wounds and He heals. He gives and He takes away. And NO ONE can deliver from His hand. He also supplies mercy to those on whom He has mercy. And when He wants to harden a heart and blind someone from His Gospel, even the best sermon in the world won't open the eyes of a sinful, hardened, self-righteous, non-believer. He's proved that time and time again through His word. Yet time and time again we see the most unlikely, the most sinful, the most down-trodden of people fall face down and plead for the mercy of God - and receive it. Not because the of the delivery, not because of a degree from an institution of higher learning, not because of something special that you only learn in the classroom, but because God has mercy on whom He has mercy and compassion on who He has compassion.
I thank God for that, because without it, the best delivered sermon in the world couldn't have convinced me of my need for Christ.
So while I am extremely excited about what I've been learing in my amazing classes at Southern, I pray that I remember this. I expect to learn a lot more and I expect to be challenged as much as I've been challenged in my life. I expect to make new friends and receive tools for what God would have me do on the mission field. But pray that I remember that it is our sovereign God that causes the earth to spin and causes people of all nations to come to Him, and it has absolutely nothing to do with my knowledge, confidence, or ability.
"The Glory of God has everything to do with Christ and nothing to do with me. And when, in some measure, it does have something to do with me, it's not about my being made much of by God, but about God mercifully enabling me to enjoy making much of Him forever." - John Piper