Northeastern Seminary Blog

Embracing my Genuine Spiritual Identity

Posted on Fri, Aug 07, 2015 @ 12:30 PM

Unfiltered_Spiritual_IdentityWhile I played host for a series of youth leader seminars at this year’s Kingdom Bound festival I also found myself being personally engaged and challenged. In the first seminar Joyce Wagner, owner and primary therapist of Restoration Counseling, spoke about how to avert suicide by properly assessing the warning signs and intervening on behalf of suicidal individuals. Then, Denis Johnson, Jr., pastor of creative arts, music and teaching at The Father’s House, led a conversation around the “selfie” phenomenon and what this obsessive trend tells us about ourselves and our view of God. And finally, Jay Trainer, founder of Infuzion, unpacked the three I’s of youth ministry—image, intimacy, identity—and challenged us to consider how our ministry goals can be shaped by these three cultural influences and keep us from pursuing life-giving relationships with God and one another.

From a broad perspective, Joyce, Denis, and Jay, were pressing us to seriously consider (1) the ways in which so many of our young people feel compelled to filter their identity, (2) the damaging consequences of doing so, and (3) a God-focused response. As I listened to their presentations and to the responses of those in attendance, it occurred to me that young people aren’t the only ones who experience this compulsion to filter their deepest selves for the sake of yielding to some external pressure or internal desire that ultimately expresses a single, critical fallacy: “I ought to be something other than what I am.”

For example, my Facebook feed tells me that my life ought to be filled with more exciting adventures, more exotic vacations, and more expensive toys. It tells me I ought to have a winning and bright white smile on my face no matter where I’m going or what I’m doing. It tells me that everything about me ought to be interesting to others. But Facebook isn’t the only culprit. Even going to church comes with its own set of pressures to be cheerful and worshipful. There’s often no room in the pew or the worship service for people doubting God or entertaining the unspoken questions that disquiet their faith.

So many messages I encounter throughout each day tell me not to be genuine. And when I persist in filtering who I am I may begin to idolize the image I ought to resemble and come to despise the genuine me.

Scripture tells us a different story.

God is love, and the Bible says that Love carefully arranged and pieced together the genuine me. You are, in fact, created to be precisely who you ought to be. The author of Psalm 139 eloquently reveals the intimacy of the Creator with us, the beloved created. It declares that our lives are searched and known; our ways are discerned and traced; our thoughts and words are anticipated; our journeys are accompanied and we are, no matter where we are, inescapably held close to the One who carved out our history before we were born. It is our unfiltered selves that were created for life and relationship with God and others. Can we hear this message above the noises of our culture and receive it? Can we bear the message to our children and our churches and the world that each person is the result of the divine imagination to create something wonderful?

God help us to embrace our genuine spiritual identity and to remove the filters that hinder the formative work you’re doing in each one of us.

Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." – Henri Nouwen

Caleb Matthews (M.Div. ‘12) serves as director of admissions for Northeastern Seminary.

Tags: youth leaders, reflection, youth ministry, ministry to teenagers

Hosanna: A Shout of Praise or Cry for Deliverance? ..

Posted on Sat, Apr 04, 2015 @ 10:00 AM

cross_on_scripture“Hosanna!” from two Hebrew words literally meaning, “Save us,” and “cry/pray/beseech.”

“Deliver us, we pray” – “We beseech you, save us!”

On its own, the word is a cry for deliverance. A shout of “hosanna” would not recall occasions of celebration, but of desperation. It would have been a cry born out of great need for a rescuer to come swiftly.

Most of us know “hosanna” only as a word of praise, usually employed to a great extent during worship services on Palm Sunday. Psalm 118 reveals the context which turns a shout of “hosanna” into a shout of rejoicing and adoration:

“This is the day of the Lord’s victory; let us be happy, let us celebrate! Save us, LORD, save us! Give us success, O LORD! May God bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD! From the Temple of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God; he has been good to us. With branches in your hands, start the festival and march around the altar. You are my God, and I give you thanks; I will proclaim your greatness. Give thanks to the LORD, because he is good, and his love is eternal.” – Psalm 118:24-29 (GNT, emphasis added)

It was this Psalm that the crowds were remembering aloud in their shouts of “hosanna” as Jesus rode toward Jerusalem on a donkey. That moment we remember on Palm Sunday prompts me to consider the crowds and what my own cries would have been had I been among them. With loud cries of “hosanna” they proclaimed the mighty rescuing power of the one they were welcoming into their midst and yet revealed their own desperate need to be saved as they would shout for his death days later.

“Hosanna!” “Save us, Lord!” is both the recognition of our need for deliverance and a shout of expectation, hope and praise to the God who saves.

Caleb Matthews ( M.Div. ‘12) serves as director of admissions for Northeastern Seminary.

Tags: Lent, reflection

All the Resources You Need To Take Action Against Modern-day Slavery—You and Your Sphere Of Influence

Posted on Wed, Apr 01, 2015 @ 03:48 PM

NES_conf2_1Unless you are the type of person who is naturally drawn to politics, the world of policy advocacy can seem like an alternate universe. I think this is the case, at least in part, because we view the political world through a television or computer screen. We see this work as something that someone else does, people with more power, skills, or money than we have. We live in a representative democracy. We have folk knowledge about what it means to live in a democracy, but may feel incapable of exacting change because we feel removed and helpless. We are told to vote, that our voice matters. I have wondered if this was true on more than one occasion! We elect representatives that go from a robocall to a ballot box to a screen and from there, where? It is easy to think our voice no longer matters once the person we voted for appears (or does not appear) on my screen. The next layer of frustration can occur when we see our representatives failing to act on social evils and issues important to us, like modern-day human slavery.

Pundits, commentators, and comedians can make their living on our fear, frustration, and disconnection to the political arena. Worse yet, our fear can lead us to acts of dehumanizing each other as well as our elected officials over this disconnection. We treat these women and men as if they were not also made in the image of God and in need of our love and prayers. After all, they become unreal, occupying a screen and not a real place in our everyday world. The discussion of identity and responsibility in 1 Peter 2 would be a good place to start for further reading and contemplation.

The greatest reason to overcome these internal and external barriers is for the sake of the suffering and to be a part of the work of the Christ who suffered. In a representative democracy and in the kingdom of God, our work is not done once we “vote” for Jesus or the right candidate. The Holy Spirit is at work and the kingdom of God is both now and not yet! The prayer of Jesus in John 17 makes it clear that his disciples were not going to be removed from this world and that this was not ever his intention. In Jesus Christ, we have the greatest intercessor and abolitionist for our freedom! It is our privilege and function to model our lives after the life of Christ.

Organizations like International Justice Mission and Shared Hope International will help you and your sphere of influence intercede and advocate for those who are enslaved. Take the time to explore their resources and allow them to help you and your sphere act for those who need your voice.

Prepared by Amy Smith (MATSJ ’15) and Marie Moy (MATSJ ’15) presenters at the 2015 B.T. Roberts Symposium on the Church, Justice, and the Community.

Find out more about the Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary.

Tags: reflection, community, Modern-day Slavery

Sabbath-Keeping: Practicing Openness

Posted on Sun, Dec 21, 2014 @ 01:42 PM

“You don’t have to try so hard. You don’t have to bend until you break.” I hear these words through my car radio and they fill my soul. Colbie Caillat’s song “Try” is not a theological treatise by any means, but it sure is insightful!

Trying describes today’s teens. As I work in a youth group setting I see first-hand how they try. They are trying to: get good grades, earn money, make friends, beat records, get scholarships, help their family, get a car, and even to escape pain. They’re busy. They’re following the adult model. We all want the best. We all want to be the best. We will pay great prices to get and be the best.

The word “Sabbath” is foreign to us. Teens may or may not attend church, but they are likely to do homework Sunday afternoon or evening. Many will even work a paid job on the day that would ordinarily have been set aside to rest. When I wanted a job as a high school senior, I felt that my only option was to make myself available every day of the week. Our culture has lost what it is to pray and play together once a week. Our week is consumed by our busyness. We do not know Sabbath.

Sabbath is a time of intentionally pausing from work and turning toward intimacy with God and neighbor. It is a time instead to rely on God as provider. Remember how the Israelites—wandering in the desert—could not gather manna on Sabbath? It is also a time of healing. Jesus healed on Sabbath.Sabbath_Keeping_Sarah_Grice-1

Sabbath is for stopping work, loving God and others, and for being healed.

People are hurting for Sabbath. I am hurting for Sabbath. I am only practicing the best I can. As I practice, my ability to slow down and focus on God grows. As I practice, I seek to share this Sabbath practice with others. I need rest. I see that the teens I work with need rest. The adults in these teen’s lives, need rest. We NEED to let the divine healer spend time with us.

We NEED to learn to play and pray together. I need that! Can we be angry when we’re sharing milk and cookies; probably not? In a recent lecture, Dr. Matthew Sleeth speculated that it is impossible to break the 10 Commandments while one is napping. And in her book, “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly,” Marva Dawn made a connection between Sabbath keeping and peacekeeping. She believes that Sabbath keeping teaches us to grow in compassion and understanding with one another. Sabbath keeping in community causes us to play and pray together.

Sabbath has become a deliberate choice. It is a choice that we need to make together once more. I pray that God will honor us as we begin to honor the Sabbath once more.

Sarah Grice, M.Div. ’15, is in her final year at Northeastern Seminary, concentrating on spiritual formation.

Tags: interacting with God, reflection, ministry, sabbath-keeping

Sabbath-Keeping: So We Can Look For God

Posted on Sun, Dec 14, 2014 @ 01:30 PM

Last year I traveled to Peru to talk with some Free Methodist pastors about the importance of self-care in ministry. One of the highlights of that trip for me was a small group time where we talked about taking a Sabbath rest each week. Most of the pastors in the group were bi-vocational, and poured themselves into their ministry whenever they had the opportunity. The idea of taking a rest each week, while acknowledged as imSlide1portant, was also experienced as a real challenge.

As I prepared for that trip and those discussions, I read a number of books on Sabbath-keeping, including Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s book, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. I enjoyed it very much, and so when I heard that Sleeth was going to be presenting at Roberts Wesleyan I signed up. Not because I thought I was going to hear anything I hadn’t heard before, but because I knew I had been neglecting my own Sabbath-keeping, and I thought maybe this would be a good way to re-orient myself, again.

Sabbath-keeping isn’t just a difficulty for bi-vocational pastors in Peru. It’s a difficulty for at least one full-time pastor in the United States (that would be me!) For a pastor, there is no clock that gets punched, and a pastor is never really “off.”

Of course there are other vocations with the same fuzzy boundaries, and it’s not just pastors that struggle with Sabbath-keeping. And people of faith who have jobs that do offer specific “time on/time-off” parameters also struggle with Sabbath-keeping. Because the struggle isn’t so much about finding the time as it is about orienting ourselves correctly.

In his book Sleeth says this about Sabbath-keeping: “Resting one day a week by any name is holy— the point is to stop on that day and look for God.” Sabbath-keeping is about pausing and appreciating God and his gifts.

Sleeth began his lecture asking us to talk with each other about how we spent our Sundays as children. In my small group we shared stories of simple, but satisfying times at church, with family, enjoying one another, without anxiety about what needed to get done. I’m sure every Sunday wasn’t like that; but those were the kinds of things we focused on; the things that stayed with us.

Interestingly this week I’m preaching from Philippians on Paul’s teaching regarding contentment. As I listened to Sleeth I realized how closely Sabbath-keeping is connected to contentment. When we stop to “look for God” we are remembering that He is the source of our contentment. We are proclaiming that all of our work and our accomplishments are secondary to our relationship with God. We are acknowledging that apart from God we will struggle to find contentment. And we are inviting God to teach us how to be content with what He offers. When we fail to regularly rest and look for God, we cut ourselves off from our greatest source of contentment.

Sleeth noted that without a regular Sabbath our lives become “run-on sentences.” Listening to someone who speaks in run-on sentences can be tiring! So do yourself and others a favor and punctuate your life with regular times of rest and Sabbath-keeping. You and those you love will be better for it.

Vern Saile, M.Div. ’01, is pastor of Northgate Free Methodist Church in Batavia, N.Y.

Tags: interacting with God, reflection, ministry, sabbath-keeping

Sabbath-Keeping: An Intentional Endeavor

Posted on Tue, Dec 02, 2014 @ 09:51 AM

At a recent lecture Dr. Matthew Sleeth discussed the necessity of Sabbath rest and why this command often gets overlooked or goes underappreciated even within the Body of Christ. In his attempt to remind us of Sabbaths past he asked that we remember some of the special things that happened on Sunday’s when we were children which, for most, meant recalling a time where Blue Laws were still observed which made it almost as impossible to break the Sabbath as today’s culture does to keep it.

Sabbath_Keeping_Randy_LeBaron

As much as I could relate to the numerous people reminiscing about resting, worshipping, singing, or eating with family, the thing that most came to mind was how much my grandmother did on Saturday to make sure that Sunday’s Sabbath was both possible and pleasurable. From setting the table to preparing dinner and laying out clothes she took the time to do even the most mundane of things in order to make the most of her time to rest and be restored on that special day. Considering the lengths that she went to keep the Sabbath as it was intended, even walking to the store in the rain or cold the day before to purchase groceries and other necessities ahead of time, it has caused me to consider what things I could and should be doing in the same vain to model Sabbath keeping for my church and family. And, for me as a pastor, who typically has an alternative day to Sunday, intentional preparation is essential to successful Sabbath-keeping.

In order to have both the time and capacity to rest (physically, mentally, and spiritually), reflect, pray, and play there are certain things that must take place the first of which is to have everything ready for Sunday. For me Friday is often my Sabbath and so to actually be able to spend time in prayer and in the Word for my personal worship and growth as opposed to creating a message to preach or a lesson to teach I must make sure that everything that needs to be done for Sunday morning happens by Thursday night. This allows me to not have to dwell on it in the meantime and frees my mind up to focus on other things. Another area of intentionality for me is to be able to turn off tech. This requires both willpower on my part as well as a system in place where I can log off while still being available in case of an emergency.

There are other practices that that will help here but these two have helped me the most in my attempt to create sacred space in the midst of ministry. I hope others will discover what they can do and then will be willing to take the steps to do it. In recognizing that what we do or don’t do has a direct effect on what we are or not able to do on the Sabbath leads me to believe that intentional preparation and planning are non-negotiable for the serious Sabbath-keeper.

 

Randy LeBaron (M.Div. ’03, D.Min. C9) is pastor at Albion Free Methodist Church in Albion, N.Y.

Tags: person in ministry, spiritual formation, reflection, pastor, seminary alumni, sabbath-keeping

The Writer's Calling: A Seminary Student's Reflections

Posted on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 @ 04:22 PM

book_image_Jae_NewmanWhat convictions has God planted deep within your heart this semester, this month, this year,  or the past decade? Northeastern Seminary student, Jae Newman (MAT) reflects on his journey of discovering, writing, and the role of seminary.    

“I am no Pastor, and yet I still feel the call, with James 3:1 as an admonishment, to be a teacher of sorts... It’s not easy. At one point during the last five semesters, I found myself reading Augustine after midnight in my bathtub while we had company downstairs. But I choose to walk and sometimes run when I understand that this is my responsibility. This is my proof that my God who sent the prophets is alive in me.”

Read the complete blog titled Flame against Flame: Reflections on North Korea & Wiesel’s Night on Ruminate Magazine website here.

Tags: seminary education, personal formation, poetry, non-traditional seminary, reflection, theological education, ministry, spiritual gifts

Doing Something About Violence Against Women and Girls

Posted on Thu, Sep 11, 2014 @ 01:53 PM

The_Cross_and_Gendercide_Gerhardt_BlogToward the end of my first semester as graduate assistant for Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary, she asked me to help her edit the book she was working on. This included things like checking sources, making sure things were cited properly (I almost memorized the Turabian style guide throughout this process), and checking grammar. I had already gotten to know her fairly well having had the privilege of serving at an orphanage in Fushun, China, with a team that included Beth and her daughter. So when she told me that the subject matter of the book centered on issues of gendercide and violence toward women and how the church needs to respond, I was on board. It was a topic that I had wanted to learn more about.

I was not prepared for what confronted me during this project. I spent hours immersed in some of the most evil things human beings do to each other. Harsh realities were consistently in my face, statistics that were staggering, images that portrayed unspeakable horrors. I found myself weeping when faced with all of these, and with the realization that we are doing so little. I was reminded of a quote from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

There are those who are out there, doing something about it. Dr. Gerhardt’s book, “The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls,” helps churches to not only become informed, but to also develop a corporate theology to confront this plague. Using the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Gerhardt reaffirms what we as Christians should already know: We need to die to ourselves and live as Christ taught us to live. Whether the violence is in the home of a family in the U.S., a village in Sudan, or a hospital in China, there are ways for the church to rise up and act.

Prepare yourself to feel conviction about how little we have done so far and overwhelmed by how much there is still to do. Dr. Gerhardt’s journey in writing this book has inspired me to find ways to fight gendercide and violence against women. I pray that “The Cross and Gendercide” does the same for you.

Rev. Nicole Brodeur, M.Div. ’11, is the associate pastor for youth and educational ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, PA.

Tags: reflection, domestic violence, Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, The Cross and Gendercide

Why Spiritual Formation is Important in Seminary

Posted on Wed, Nov 16, 2011 @ 10:18 AM

Part One

faith sharingThe student was apprehensive, reluctant to fully engage. After all, those experiences and feelings he was asked to share were intimate—they belonged to him. The nervousness was palpable among the small group of students as they met for the first time. Thus, the faith-sharing process at Northeastern Seminary begins.

This process, a central element of the personal and spiritual formation program, is described by Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation Rebecca Letterman (‘08) as an intentional place and space in which students take time to reflect on moments of significance in their lives. It provides a way for students to slow down enough to perceive God at work in themselves and others. They experience the hospitality of interested listening and also have the opportunity to learn to listen deeply to others. In this setting students discover they are not alone; others struggle with similar things in their lives and ministries. And it provides experiential learning of the theological truth: "God is at work in the world—sometimes even without me!"

The intentional growth reflection sessions are led by a certified spiritual director, most often alumni of the program. Graduates recall that the faith-sharing experience, with its commitment to observing silence and creating spiritual and emotional space, has a counterbalancing effect as it allows for synthesizing data gathered in the classroom. As Suzanne Pearson (‘09) describes, “It offers space and time … for spiritual reflection on the massive volumes of academic material one is learning and to listen for the living word of God.” John Miller (‘04) agrees, “It moves the ‘information’ into the ‘formation’ of the person,” while Steve Dunmire (‘05) notes appreciation for the process: “Especially in hindsight, I think it’s one of the areas where Northeastern made my seminary years a time of spiritual growth, not just learning.”

 

Read Part Two.

Tags: personal formation, spiritual formation, non-traditional seminary, faith sharing groups, reflection, God at work, listening