Saturday, January 16, 2016

What Have We Learned? Reflections on my Doctoral Program.



My band of brothers in the DMIN program.

I got back Wednesday evening after a 10 day intensive of the first module of my Dr. of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary. Classes ran from 8 AM - 5 PM everyday except for Sunday.

My cohort has 11 students and then I was in a smaller group of 4. We will study together for the next 3 years, gathering twice a year for this same immersive experience.

My journey to this particular seminary is quite interesting. I was actually prepared to study at another larger and better known seminary. But God stepped in and changed my direction. It happened through a Christian family camp in the Adirondacks that we attend every summer.  Camp of the Woods is a beautiful Christian resort that brings in top rate speakers and has an excellent children and youth program.

This year Dr. Martin Sanders of ATS was one of the speakers. He spoke on "the soul". Felicia, my parents and I were profoundly moved by his messages as he spoke about the importance of cultivating a soul that is close to the heart of God.

During the week, I spoke to him about my interest in doctoral studies in theology. He shared about the program at ATS. It piqued my interest. But, once we got back, I put it out of my mind. Martin was gracious enough to reach out to me and invite me to continue to think and pray about applying to the program.

After some time, Felicia and I felt the time was right to start the program at ATS. As I started the reading, and looked at the classes, it appeared the initial phase of the program is geared towards wholeness and health of a leader. We also start on the early stages of our dissertation which is a rigorous academic exercise.

I have to be honest - the 10 days at ATS were some of the most powerful and transformative days of my life. This is due to the fact that the classes and exercises forced us to focus down into the state of our souls - are we healthy leaders?
Are we carrying unhealthy baggage into our leadership and our churches?
Are there things we need to repent of?
How have we been wounded?
Have we grieved past hurts?
Are we walking int he spiritual authority that God has given us?

I was especially blessed by the small group I was placed in. 2 pastors from New Jersey and one from the Upper Hudson area. I love these guys - they are truly brothers in the battle as we shared openly and honestly about our lives and ministries.

It is hard for me to summarize succinctly what I walk away from the program with. I think one of the things is that I long for people to enter into everything that God has for them.
So often, we shield our hearts form God's love and the love of others due to past hurts. God has so much more for us!
So much more love!
So much more power!

We simply need to open up our hearts and choose to walk in the light and love that He has for us.

What do you believe God for? He can do it - and actually will do more than you can ask or imagine - Eph. 3:20.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Tight-Rope

Read a story about a mega-church pastor who had been cheating on his wife for the past few months.
He got caught.
He was fired and stripped of all his ministry credentials.
And then he filed for divorce.

The Christian life is a tight-rope. We can fall off either side.
What keeps us tethered and balanced is our relationship with God - nothing else.
The power of God flowing through our souls can keep us upright, when temptation screams all around us.

But most of us neglect this primary relationship. Placing the demands of ministry ahead of all else can be devastating.
Identity needs to be grounded in relational reality, not vocational reality.
We are children of God, before we are pastors, leaders, teachers, etc.


Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Rich for the Poor



Adam and I about to be inspired.


Well, I had an absolutely surreal experience this past Tuesday. Somehow, I was invited to a private event at Carnegie Hall.
One.org and Red.com were both celebrating their 10 year anniversaries. One.org is an anti poverty activist organization that lobbies governments and companies to do more to reduce global poverty. Red.com is an organization that encourages well known brands to donate portions of sales of speciality products to the Global Fund - which works towards an AIDS free future.
I have volunteered for One since its very beginnings and have purchased Red products. But, I am still stupefied as to how I managed to get this extremely exclusive invite.

The event honored Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael Bloomberg and a couple of other people I was not familiar with. Some of those who participated were:
Bono
The Edge
Miley Cyrus
Bill Clinton
Joe Biden
Stephen Colbert
Trevor Noah
Sting

It was unbelievable. I had 2 tickets so decided to take my 11 yr. old son, Adam. We got into Manhattan a couple hours early and grabbed a pizza at a nearby restaurant. Then we headed over to Carnegie Hall. There was a lot of security, due to the presence of a former President and a current Vice President.

We settled into our seats which were in the second balcony but had a clear view of the stage. And then the show began. It was interspersed with videos, musical performances and speeches from some of the notable folks. Stephen Colbert was the absolutely funniest performer with his tribute to Bill and Melinda Gates.
Bono and The Edge closed the show out with 4 U2 songs, accompanied by a full orchestra and a choir. It was quite stunning.

I was quite moved that these people who hold on to a disproportionate amount of wealth and power still see altruism as a virtue. "Good people who are doing good", as Miley Cyrus called it. It was a strong apologetic that God's common grace flows through us all. We still have enough of his image stamped on us that we pursue his desires of justice and equity, even if we don't have Him as a priority in our lives.

Another thing that was quite evident is that Bono is quite clearly a prophet raised up "for a time such as this".  Every single celebrity praised Bono's leadership and inspiration with the Vice President himself claiming to be "a disciple in the church of Bono". Thank God that He has raised up such an amazing disciple like Bono! Bono has used his gift of celebrity to do more to raise awareness for these social issues than anyone else on the planet. May his tribe increase.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dr. Ninan


Adam and I out for dinner.

If you are friends with me on facebook, you'll notice that I posted of my recent acceptance into the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary.
I have been thinking of pursuing further education for a couple years now. Felicia and I talked and prayed and felt the timing was right for me to start now.

I looked at several programs in the States, Canada and even the United Kingdom. I was trying to decide between a PhD and a DMIN. A PhD is a professional academic degree that would open doors for me to teach at a college or seminary in the future. A DMIN is also a professional degree but is  focused more on practical vocational ministry, usually in a local church.

I would have loved doing a PhD, but honestly didn't think I would have been able to give the full focus the program would have required. We would have had to move and Felicia would have had to return to working full time.

Consequently, I shifted to looking at various DMIN programs in Canada and the U.S. The initial program I was attracted to was at Gordon Conwell.   Conwell has a pretty solid standing among evangelicals and I know a lot of Regent alumni have gone on to study there. They have one of the top preaching centers in North America as well. Up until this summer, I was pretty set on going there.

And then .... providence happened. Every year our family takes a week vacation in the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York at a resort called Camp of the Woods. This year's speakers were Ravi Zacharias, Nabeel Qureshi and the seminar speaker was Martin Sanders.

Sanders actually used to teach at the college I attended in Regina Saskatchewan in the early 90's! Sanders and I chatted a bit - he is the head of the DMIN program at Alliance Seminary in Nyack NY. After the camp, he reached out to me and encouraged me to apply. We corresponded a bit as I was still considering Gordon Conwell and another leadership development program called Arrow.

After further thought and prayer, I decided ATS was the right choice. And here's the reason:
There are two primary areas of professional development for a pastor:
1. The actual skills of preaching, pastoral care, leadership, etc.
2. The inner skills of self awareness, self-understanding of gifts, leadership style and areas of brokenness.

I am sure a highly academic doctoral program could have given me the first set of skills, but not the second. After talking with Martin, it became clear that ATS could help me to develop the second set of skills (along with the first).

And in the long run, it is much much more important to have the second set of skills than the first set. I know some "great" pastors who lead well and preach well, but are pretty obnoxious when you meet them. And, I know other pastors who might not blow you away with their external gifts of speaking or leadership, but they are some of the best pastors you will ever meet.

So, I might have been able to grow in the external skills and yet had an impoverished inner life. But, with the studies at Nyack, I think I will be able to grow in both areas.

And also I will be able to join my dad, brother and brother-in-law of being able to finally add the prefix "Dr." to my name!


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

America's Continued Divide



Today, the other pastor I work with and I attended a large pastors conference out of town.

The speaker was a mega-church pastor, well known in evangelical Christian circles. His messages were excellent - very helpful and biblically sound.

The last session he took some questions and answers. One question was about how to minister in an age of terrorism and mass shootings. His answer was interesting. He went straight to a defense of police officers. He claimed that the situation is not helped when we demonize police officers. I agree.
I agreed with everything he said - police, firefighters, soldiers - these men and women stand between the rest of us and complete social breakdown. I hold great respect and admiration for these people who place their lives on the line daily, so that the rest of us can live lives of security.

Now, what I want to point out is what he did not say. I am still a relative newcomer to the USA - 2.5 years now. And so I have been able to observe a little of the racial divide in this country. I have always been interested in this part of American culture, but now I can see it close up.

What I have concluded is that most of my white friends do not dislike blacks. They are not racist. They would not discriminate against people of another color - as evidenced by the fact that they befriend me and my family.

Instead of racism, what exists is a benign ignorance, bred by a complete lack of social interaction between blacks and whites. Its not that my white friends don't like blacks, they simply don't know any at a deep level. This lack of interaction leads to stereotypes on both sides. I have to confess I have now fallen into this passive withdrawal as well - I do not have a friend who is African American - an african american couple have joined my church small group, and i am slowly becoming friend with them.

And so, when leaders say we need to support our police - I agree, but it displays an ignorance of the complex racial and historical factors that have led to the eruption of the "Black Lives Matter" protests of recent days.

I was saddened that this well respected Christian leader failed to display empathy and solidarity with African American brothers and sisters who have grown up in a much different world than he has. Today I read a New York Times article focused on the "driving while black" phenomena - that is black motorists are much more likely to be pulled over by police for minor infractions and then have their vehicles searched, than whites.

And today, the national news showed cel phone video of a black South Carolina high school student being ripped out of her desk and thrown across the room by a white officer. These are not isolated incidents - but the tip of an iceberg of many such similar incidents that we never hear of.

America was founded on, has existed upon and grown profitable on racial policies against the black race. This history of dehumanization will not be reversed by law. Only when we can hear each other stories can this sad history start to lose its power on our consciousness and hearts.

Support the police, yes - but listen to one another too.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Who Are You?

Last week I preached on identity.

The question of self identity is one of the key questions we need to answer in order to have a meaningful life.

When asked "who are you"?, most of us respond either vocationally or relationally.

Vocationally - I am a pastor, doctor, home-maker, etc.

Relationally - I am a Ninan - I am so and so's child, father, etc.

We now live in a time where gender and racial identity seems to be becoming more and more fluid.

In my sermon, I addressed that if we follow Christ, our identity gets re-defined in terms of our relationship with Christ. As followers of Christ, we are adopted into the family of God.

Thus, our primary identity is that as a child of God. A Christian is someone who has God as their father.

This understanding is incredibly transformational. We lose insecurity and fear as we enter into the truth of this reality.

Our attempts to secure self esteem through peer or societal approval, proves moot.

We are also liberated from basing our identity our performance - complete and total freedom.

The Christian becomes emancipated from the crazy making superficiality of our age, and finds him/herself at rest in the loving embrace of the Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Some Benefits

Yesterday, I was thinking about what the benefits of being a Christian are.
What difference does being a follower of Jesus Christ?
I came up with the following:

1. The ability to forgive others. Because Christ has forgiven the worst in me, I in turn can forgive the worst in others.

2. No stress. If God loves me and is caring for and  protecting and guiding me, I never have to worry about anything ever again.

3. Community. The most important human need we have is for a community of love and acceptance around us. The Church gives me this gift.

There are more - what would you add?