I love being a Seminary student, or a Seminoid as one of my professors calls us. Seminary has helped shape my theological convictions, taught me how to thoroughly study the Word of God, and taught me how to be a dynamic Pastor. But the most important thing I have learned in Seminary is all of the knowledge and training I gain is nothing in comparison to my relationship with Jesus.
I have heard throughout my studies that the nickname for Seminary is ‘cemetery’ because student’s faith begins to die as they 1) neglect their faith journey as they study their day’s away or 2) replace God with knowledge of God. I can see how both can become an issue while swimming through the waters of Seminary. As an academia junkie, I love learning, especially about theology and I will admit I struggle with the latter cause of death in Seminary. But I cannot escape the feeling of a relentless God calling me to a deeper relationship with Him as I prepare for the call on my life. I find myself literally craving to spend time with Jesus through prayer and studying the living, breathing Word of God. And as one who is preparing for vocational ministry, I would much rather sow into that than my studies.
As a Seminary student, I also observe Pastors who do the work of the ministry as I try to learn the behaviors and skills that I admire. I can almost see how the replacement of a relationship with God within Seminary can carry over into the work of the ministry. I have observed Pastors either knowingly or unknowingly replace their focus on relationship building with Almighty God with things that in comparison do not matter. My biggest fear is to retire after years of ministry and realize I have missed the whole point of being in ministry. I never want to find myself in a place where I have let my pride or desire for record attendance numbers replace my desire to see a community changed by the love of Jesus. I want to be a seasoned minister well in my years and still be moved emotionally when I think about the goodness of my God. Pastors and Pastors-to-be, let’s continuously gut check ourselves and our ministry and make sure we stay focused on what our calling is truly all about.
It was on June 28, 2005 that the course of my life would forever change. As a thirteen-year-old boy who responded to an altar call at a youth conference in Pensacola, Florida, I had little idea of the magnitude of what my step of faith would bring. Pastor Benny Perez made eye contact with me as I stood in the altar and pointed at me saying, “you young man, come up here.” Nervously, I walked onto the stage where I met the Pastor and he began to prophesy something over me that still rings in my mind today. He said, “You have a great call and a great purpose.” He went on to tell me that every generational curse is broken in the name of Jesus. I had no idea what the latter part of his prophetic word meant as I left that night but soon the meaning of his words would come to light.
It was the following year that my life took an unexpected twist as I found myself in one of the darkest times of my life thus far. I witnessed as an extramarital affair broke the sanctity of marriage and brought about a divorce. My father, who was a minister, stepped down from his position and as a child who longed to follow his footsteps it brought deep pain to watch. This life change came with depression and anger. But one thing I never let go of is that my God who touched my life in a summer’s day in Pensacola, Florida was still with me. His love delivered me at the same conference the following year and I will never forget the moment that I felt a peace come over me as if a wind came blowing through the room and hearing a still, small voice tell me, “I am the Father who will never leave you nor forsake you.” And that still, small voice was right.
Over ten years later, I reflect on the promise my God made to me, that every generational curse was broken in the name of Jesus. I have held onto that promise ever since the reality of what it meant showed itself to me in the midst of my darkest days. I am now married to a blessing from my God named Sabrina and our covenant of marriage brought forth the beginning of the fulfillment of a divine promise made to a young boy. It is with great joy that I wait for the birth of my daughter, Noa Brave. It is also with the most humble of hearts that I vow to be the best husband and father I can be. I long to be an example of how a husband should love his wife and set the standards through my actions of what separates boys from men when my little princess is old enough to begin dating. I cannot wait to pour my heart out for my little Noa as her father and introduce her to the Father who changed my life. I close by sharing Joshua 24:15 which is a verse that I continuously speak over my family: as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Six months ago, I packed up everything I owned into a 2003 Ford F-150 and a U-Haul trailer and moved to Charleston not knowing what to expect. As a recent college graduate and never have moving away before, this was a big chapter of my life and uncertainty was a common feeling. After a nine-hour drive, I finally reached my new home and began to settle in. As a Barista at Starbucks, I transferred within the company to Charleston and started my “first day” two days after moving in. My first observation of my new city was the people. They radiated a friendliness and peacefulness that I wasn’t used to in Naples, Florida. It made such an impact on me that it was the first thing I mentioned to my fiancé when she asked my how my first day went. I began to notice the love the people of this city had for its people, which they showed through a cultural chivalry you aren’t accustomed to. The people of this city created such an atmosphere of love and southern hospitality that it made foreigners such as myself want to join in their actions. Being in the heart of the Bible Belt, the people of Charleston publicly expressed their faith in God and even those who did not participate in the faith had a high regard for their morality.
Several weeks ago, my fiancé and I made the bittersweet decision to move back to Naples, Florida as we prepare for our future together. I came home a Charlestonian at heart and guarded the cultural chivalry I picked up closely as I didn’t want this beautiful flame to burn out. Last Wednesday night, I read the news and was grief-stricken by the horror that afflicted the city of Charleston. I thought of the wonderful people I met and wondered how they were handling this, wishing I was there to mourn with them. As the days began to pass, the attention switched from the horrific incident to the response of the people of Charleston. Not even in the face of hatred, the people of Charleston didn’t lose their unique and tender love. Instead, they chased the flames of hell out with forgiveness, unity and humility. Their actions showed me again what made the Holy City such a special place in our nation and challenged me to continue to fan the flame that Charleston left within me.