So I graduated seminary a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, I now have certification to prove that I have mastered divinity.
Over the last 5 years, I have developed this understanding and paradigm for life that is reflected in the title of this blog- Remember and Wait. It simply points to what theologians call the “already” and “not yet” of the Kingdom of God. In some ways, the kingdom is already among us, in that Christ has already paid the price for my rebellion against God and has already adopted me into his family. I am as loved and accepted by God today because my faith is in the person and work of Jesus as I will be for eternity.
“It is finished.”
At the same time, the world is still broken. People are still dying, sin is still present in our lives, and clearly pain and suffering have not been eliminated.
This is no Eden.
Remember and Wait puts action on the “Already” but “Not Yet” idea. I am to remember what Christ has done and what that means for reality TODAY. At the same time, I recognize that there is something yet to be completed. Pain, death, sin must all be swallowed up. I must wait and long for TOMORROW.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus is a daily prayer.
That is the macro-, meta-narrative application of this theology. I have also found it applies to instances in my own life.
Here’s how. Graduation is a monument to me. When I look at that diploma on my wall, it won’t simply remind me that I have had a particular degree conferred upon me for completing a set of academic requirements. That’s what it will say to someone else.
Graduation and the diploma will represent 5 years of the grace of God being very present in my life. This is the REMEMBER.
REMEMBER- God provided a job when we moved.
REMEMBER- God provided a church that loved us and challenged us in the gospel.
REMEMBER- God brought Isaac home from Ethiopia (adopting on a seminary salary is miracle in and of itself).
REMEMBER- God brought us through a tough first year with Isaac where we questioned our parenting abilities- Crushing our idol of being thought of as great parents.
REMEMBER- God brought us through a very difficult time in our marriage- Crushing our idol of being thought of as a great husband/wife
REMEMBER- God brought us through countless moments when we weren’t sure the money would outlast the month- Crushing our idol of financial security.
REMEMBER- God brought us through a difficult time of questioning my ability to pastor and lead effectively- Crushing my idolatry of ministry.
REMEMBER- God gave us Chai. Though he took him early, he gave our family a heightened eternal perspective that has kept us from clinging too closely to things that will not last.
All along a terribly difficult journey through theological education, God was teaching us more about himself in our sufferings than I ever learned in Systematic Theology. (Though I did learn quite a bit from Dr. Hogg and Dr. Hammett).
Here’s the point. I remember in a God-honoring way when I remember the grace of God in my life. Primarily, that is the cross. Secondarily, that is the way on a day-by-day basis that I see the character of a God who would give his only son so that I can be brought into his family. After all, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
So, I remember the Son…and I remember the “all things”.
What about the “WAIT”?
Well, I think Romans 8:32 answers that, too. God has done the hard work. Primarily, on the cross. Secondarily, in my life, to prepare me for the future.
What God starts, He finishes. Jesus is not just the founder of our faith…he is also the perfecter. (Hebrews 12:2).
So as I look to the ultimate future, I wait expectantly for God to heal all things, set right all wrongs, and do away completely with sin, evil, pain, suffering, and death. His son died to make it this way and resurrected to prove it will happen.
Likewise, as I look to my immediate future as a church planter in Murfreesboro, I have a sure hope that God is again up to something restorative, redemptive and…well…BIG.
He has not prepared me, provided for me, and crushed my idols so that I can be more comfortable. He has been conforming me into the image of his Son (though not yet completely) in order to display his glory to those who are far from him. He has worked in me so that he can work in others. So in the vein of a WAITING theology…BRING IT ON!
I wanted to say a public “thank you” to several of the people whom God used as instruments of his grace to my family and me in the last 5 years. Granted, it won’t be everyone, but these are the ones that come to mind currently. If I miss you, I trust that God has not.
Thanks Dad and Mom. Enough cannot be said here. You prayed, you gave, you loved. We would not have made it through seminary without you. My Dad would always ask me on the phone “Do you need anything son?” Beyond the blessing of his response to my answer, he was a continual reminder that my Father in Heaven was asking me the same thing.
Thanks Clyde and Jody (Keva’s parents). Our kids had clothes on their backs because of your generosity toward us. Many times when we thought the month would outlast the money, a check would come in the mail as a “just because we love you”.
Thanks Summit Church. The Summit took a chance on me. Brought me aboard the leadership and entrusted me to lead. I learned an immeasurable amount from my fellow staff members and was loved unconditionally. Additionally, countless people I met only once or twice (or maybe never) were voices of comfort and reminders of God’s faithfulness as we walked through the shadow of death.
Thanks JD Greear. It is hard to say how much I have learned from you. You have helped me better understand and believe the gospel. You have shown me and taught me how to lead humbly and graciously. You have helped develop a heart in me for developing and discipling others to reach the nations with the gospel. I am a better and more Christ-like preacher, pastor, leader, father, and friend because of your short, but impactful investment in my life.
Thanks Spence Shelton and Andrew Hopper. In times when my life/sanity was hanging by a thread and I needed to vent, you guys were there. Not only that, your insight into my life and particular situations were invaluable. With God, I was never alone…but you were a very tangible ambassador for Christ in my life during the hardest times. You also laughed at my jokes…sometimes.
Thanks Chris and Michal Rudolph. It is hard to imagine a family that was more of a blessing in every area of our lives during these last 5 years. In my time as a college pastor, I could always count on your leadership and support in loving and ministering to students. You were generous with your time and money. You were the biggest supporters of the Atwoods and played a key role in us making it through.
Thanks Courtney, Michal, Abby, and Jill. I needed my wife more than ever these last 5 years. She needed friends that would love her, listen to her, and challenge her more than ever. You four were those friends. You provided the kind of female camaraderie that I could not. You all were a gift from God to my wife and to our marriage.
Thanks Jonathan Edwards (Not the Puritan). I have never quite had a relationship like the one we had. Boss, roommate, mentor, friend. In many ways, I am proud of you like a father is proud of a son. My time at the Summit would probably have looked a great deal different if you weren’t there. God used you and our conversations in many ways to prune me and sharpen me over these last 3 years. Looking forward to see what else God does with you.
Thanks College Students and Leaders. There are too many of you to name, but you know who you are. You took a chance by stepping out of the comfortable and following my leadership. You have know idea how much of a blessing you were to my family and me just by doing that. I can only pray that God used the Atwoods to bless and change you the way he used you in our lives.
Thanks to my sons, Micah and Isaac. Ok, you probably won’t read this soon, but maybe one day you’ll dig it up in the archive of this blog. I have learned so much through the 2 of you. As I have discipled, loved, and led you boys, my heart has been softened. Many days when the stress of my life seemed too much to overcome, I came home to you two. It didn’t matter what I done that day or what the world thought about me, I was daddy when I walked in that door. God used and is using your lives to remind me of the glorious reality of having a heavenly father that wants to provide for my every need and shape me into someone beautiful. I pray for you everyday and remain thankful for the gifts you both are to your mother and me.
Thanks to my wife, Keva. This has certainly been a wild ride. There is nothing I can write here that I haven’t already told you in person with tears streaming down my cheeks (as they are as write this). We have been tested, tried, and tempted. In a way, I wish I could say each time we passed with flying colors. We didn’t. In many ways, we failed. But we are known and loved by a redeeming God who takes messes and turns them into masterpieces. For that reason, I wouldn’t change a thing about the last 5 years. I’d be a fool to try and re-do the things based on my pathetic limited knowledge, which God has used for his glory and our good based on his perfect wisdom.
Thank you for every meal you cooked. Our sons future wives have a great deal to live up to.
Thank you for your commitment to love people. I don’t know how many young women you have counseled, how many meals you prepared for people who ate in our home, or how much time you spent giving of your self and time to help other people understand who Jesus is. I do know that even when things were stressful and difficult, you still made time for other people.
Thank you for not quitting. I know that sometimes people assume that Christians just stay together magically. It takes work. God worked on you and you did the hard work loving me.
Thank you for your encouragement. Without you, I probably never would have come to seminary. Without you, I would have given up. Your ability to sense my stress and frustration then remind me of what God has called me to be are a gift.
I am so thankful for what God has done in our marriage over these past 5 years and have never been more proud and down right excited to call you my wife, date you, love you, and partner in ministry with you.
While we are returning to the city we left behind, let it be noted that the Atwoods are different people...in a very good way.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!...For from him and through him and to him are ALL THINGS. To him be the glory forever.