Ex-Pastor Ham

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Category: Musings

Thankfulness Series: Joshua Larsen

This post is part of a series on thankfulness. The first post explained the series purpose.

When I started this website nearly three years ago, one of my stated purposes was to write an ongoing series expressing gratitude to many of the folks who have impacted my life spiritually in some way. Not in order of importance. Not in order of height or weight. Not even alphabetical. And certainly not exhaustive (which I could never do). After I wrote that introductory post linked above, the first person I wrote about was my Uncle Ron.

Unfortunately after those first couple of posts I let the series drop off. Until now.

If you read that post on Uncle Ron (which I hope you did), you remember the study Bible my parents bought me in March of 2008, and how several personal notes written within have served as a repeated source of encouragement over the years. One of those notes was from my cousin-in-law, Josh Larsen.

What is a cousin-in-law, you ask? It’s someone who marries your cousin, and in this case, cousin Katie. Since Katie was much like a sister to me growing up next door, Josh is kind of like a brother-in-law. An older, cooler, more athletic brother-in-law (thankfully, for a while longer I still have him bested when it comes to smoking brisket).

Now, I didn’t grow up with Josh because he came along once I was already in my later teen years. Even so, I’ve still known him for almost 20 years. And though we haven’t lived near each other for the last 15 years or so, I still occasionally see or hear from him. Which brings me back to the note.

Here’s what Josh had to say:

“‘God . . . in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory, and the exact representation of His nature . . . ‘ Hebrews 1:1-3

Jonathan, I pray you will see the risen Christ as He walks through these pages. I know you already know Him, but continually seeing His beauty and glory is our only hope of walking in the freedom He purchased. So as you read may you be changed (2 Cor. 3:18), and as you are changed may you want Him even more. I join Paul in praying that ‘you may know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19).’ I’m glad to know you and to be a part of your family. Katie and I will continue praying for you and Steph, and we look forward to seeing you sometime in the future. In Christ, Josh”

The thing that has stood out to me as I’ve mulled this note over the years is that it is saturated with Scripture. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it is only the Scripture that can accomplish the things that Josh desired for Christ to accomplish in my life. Banal cliches or shallow aphorisms may have sounded neat, but they simply wouldn’t get the job done. So Josh eschewed them for the meat of the Word. He gave me substance. Which is my second observation: Josh set an example by knowing the Word well enough to be able to offer it to me. If I don’t have hard-earned familiarity with God’s Word, I won’t have treasure to offer to others as Josh was able to do for me.

Each time I read Josh’s words, I am thankful for them. They are a part of a special collection of notes that have been important sources of encouragement for nearly a decade. I pray that I will prove to be such an encouragement to many others over the years of life and ministry that God gives me.

Thanks and Giving

Philippians 4:17 implies that when we support the work of the Lord in this age, we receive a share of the rewards for the things the Lord accomplishes through that work. (And by the way, 2 John teaches us the opposite principle: when we encourage false teachers in their work, we buy shares of that mutual fund. We need to guard our support and encouragement jealously.)

Here, Paul tells the Philippians regarding their recent generous financial gift to his ministry,

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”

I believe the New Testament demonstrates that the work of the Lord in this age is centered in the local church. So my primary giving is in and to and through my local church. I think it’s also appropriate to give something additional to the work of the church universal – in other words, supporting ministries that make an impact on other local churches around the world besides my own.

A biblically faithful seminary is one kind of ministry that meets that criteria. The seminary that I attend, Central Seminary of Plymouth, Minnesota, has trained hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders for faithful New Testament local church ministry since the mid-20th century. Each year Central takes part in a fundraiser hosted by an organization called GiveMN. This year’s event, “Give to the MAX Day” is November 17.

As we are able, Steph and I try to give something to this fundraiser each year to show our gratitude for the ways in which the Lord is using Central Seminary and its staff and supporters to shape our ministry, and ultimately, our hearts. The vast majority of our giving goes to our local church, as it should. But a little bit above and beyond our usual giving goes to Central Seminary. We want to show gratitude, and we also want a share in the good work that Central is doing for the Lord around the globe.

If you do not already have a category of giving to support the increase and strengthening of local churches other than your own, I’d ask you to consider a gift to Central Seminary this year. Of course, you are not obligated to give. It is purely a matter of your own judgment and giving priorities.

And for what it’s worth, I give wholehearted approval to Central Seminary as a biblically faithful New Testament ministry that is worthy of the support of the Lord’s people for the building of His church.

Central Seminary “Give to the MAX Day” link

Why Seminary?

My wife and I recently announced to our church that we would be leaving next year so that I could return to seminary full-time in pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree. This is something we had been mulling, discussing with trusted counselors, and praying about for a year. It was not an easy decision and it did not come lightly. And while we had time to grow into the idea, many people hearing such news are confronted with the question for the first time: why go to seminary?

While I do not expect that everyone would weigh the answers below and come to the same decision we did, I want to explain, as best I can, why we chose to do this.

First, and most importantly, we believe this is what the Lord wants us to do.

“How do you know, did he speak to you? There’s no chapter and verse in the Bible that says to go to seminary.”

No, he didn’t speak to us. And no, there’s not a chapter and verse that specifically tells us to do this. But there’s also not a chapter and verse in the Bible that tells me I shouldn’t run Aunt Edna over with a steamroller. Thankfully, we are expected to take Biblical commands and principles, like “Thou shalt not murder,” and apply them specifically to Aunt Edna’s situation. The Bible is not a blueprint for life that tells you where every hinge, and screw, and shim goes. It is sufficient, not exhaustive. This means that wisdom, knowledge, and discernment are needed in the Christian life. In other words, much of the time we do not have a specific command to go on. Most of the time we are making judgments about what is right and wrong. And frankly, judgments between right and wrong tend to be the easier part. The hardest judgments to make are not between right and wrong, but between good and best. I think this is the point of Philippians 1:9-11, one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

In our judgment, going to seminary right now is the best choice we can make. That wasn’t true three years ago, and it may not be true if we waited another three years. But right now, in our judgment, it seems to be so.

That main reason is undergirded and evidenced by three subordinate reasons starting with this one: desire. There is a side of us, as conservative Christians, that can erroneously discount desire or place it under suspicion. And while it is always good to weigh one’s desires against Scriptural principles, desire in and of itself is not evil. The desires of a pure heart can be precisely what the Lord uses to reveal his will to us. Psalm 37:4-5 says:

Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

But here’s the sobering thing: making decisions based on desires requires us to be the kind of people who delight ourselves in the Lord. The Lord designed it so that the desires of those who delight in him would be true and strong compasses (though not infallible), guiding us as if by the light of the noonday. And the opposite must also be true. If we are not delighting ourselves in the Lord, undoubtedly our hearts will lead us astray, like a blind man walking unassisted in the black of night. So desire can only be used as a guide when one can say, “As best as I can tell, I am delighting myself in the Lord. I am seeking him first in this, and not merely me.” The glorious thing is that, if this is an honest assessment, he makes his desires ours, so that we too may delight in the way that he leads us. It is not a dreary thing to serve the Lord, it is a delight. And right now, the Lord has placed a strong desire in my heart, even a delight, in the idea of pursuing robust pastoral training that would prepare me to better serve him for whatever years he gives me. I have seen how immensely the tiny bit of seminary I’ve had so far has benefited myself, my family, and my ministry at our church and I want to pursue the full seminary experience and finish the job. I have no doubt this training will not only serve the Lord’s church better, but also my precious wife and child. These considerations matter deeply to me.

Third, we believe God uses circumstances to direct us. Right now, in our lives, it seems that he is lining up the circumstances to lead us to seminary. I won’t give an exhaustive list here, but a representative sample would start with the timing. I am 33 years old, and believe that if I do not pursue this soon, the opportunity (and likely the desire) will slip past. And if my desire for seminary is an accurate representation of the Lord’s desire for me, this would actually result in disobedience. It is also true that our daughter is barely one year old. If we begin seminary soon, we will likely be able to wrap up my degree by the time that she is entering Kindergarten. That would make for a very sensible time to transition from seminary to the next ministry the Lord has in store for us. A third note of interest is the fact that the Lord gave Stephanie the opportunity to complete a PhD in Biomedical Engineering during our time here in Michigan, which we never quite understood how he would use in her life as a pastor’s wife. One of the many potential ways he might use that degree is during our time at seminary in the Twin Cities, which is an area rife with universities and several companies that operate in the sphere of her degree field. She is equipped to make a healthy enough salary in part-time work to make a significant difference in our income while still having most of her time to be at home with our daughter. Several of my friends who have been to seminary were blessed to have wives with nursing degrees and the wife’s income was invaluable during those lean seminary years. This will be a significant blessing in our family life as I try to juggle part-time work with seminary training.

A fourth factor has been the wise counsel of trusted pastors and mature Christian friends. I have not talked to a single seminary-trained pastor who regretted the decision we are now making. All have strongly encouraged us to seriously consider this opportunity, and have recounted the immense wealth that they gleaned from their years in school. They speak of the beneficial discipline of regimented training, the meaningful mentoring relationships with professors, the camraderie of other men undergoing the same rigors and delighting in the same treasures. I long for these things.

This is not an exhaustive list of all of our reasons, but even if it were these would be enough.

Even given these four factors, this has not been an easy decision. We are comfortable here in Michigan. We have a loving church family, deep friendships, and rich memories. We love our house (especially our soapstone woodstove), our neighbors, and even our pickup truck. We don’t look forward to starting over in seeking a church, finding new friends, and re-acclimating to minus-40 winter days. But since we believe the Lord is leading this way, we trust his plan and know that he has joys in store for us that we cannot imagine.

So based on the weight of the evidence, in our judgment, this is the right thing to do. Yea, the best thing. And with that in mind, though our hearts and knees quake ever so slightly, we proceed in confidence knowing that a good, wise, powerful God is pointing the way. And with that assurance we view this step as a fruit of righteousness that we pray will one day help us to stand sincere and blameless before the One who makes perfect judgment.


Other helpful insights on the question “Why Seminary?” can be found at the following links:

What Seminary Gave Me

Study

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