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Fragile | Seminary Student Blogger

March 27, 2014

Melissa Zaldivar

In his short-but-mighty book, Weakness is the Way, J. I. Packer writes, “…if people who at present have no sense of weakness were more careful and restrained in the way they talk of others and to others, the world might be a less painful place.”

I underlined those words when I got a copy of that little book a number of months ago and I had no idea that my then-present state of “no sense of weakness” was about to come crashing down.

As I write this, I am in bed, recovering from an over-the-weekend bout with a virus that completely destroyed me. Up all night and struggling with fevers all day, I felt, in a word, weak. My friend Anne came to sit with me yesterday and as I struggled to be comfortable with an aching body, I winced and said into my pillow, “I just want to be done.”

I have been feeling that way a lot lately. I’m ready to be okay again. I’m ready to be healed. I’m ready to get back into normal life—whatever that means—as soon as possible.

You see, this weekend was a 48-hour manifestation of how my spirit has stumbled its way through the past six weeks. I’ll write now what I’ve been avoiding talking about for a month and a half because I’m learning that it’s necessary to be honest about weakness. 47 days ago, I had a panic attack. The kind where you lose your hope and your vision of the future and everything feels like too much. The kind where you wonder if perhaps you’ve gone mad, because nothing feels right.

It took me days to recover from the adrenaline surge that left my muscles weak and my heart exhausted. It launched me into twice-a-week counseling. But it also sent me into a place where all my worst fears would have to be faced.

I’m a controller by nature. I like to have a say in my day-to-day activities as much as possible. For a living, I edit things—words, photographs, films—because I love to have a creative vision and see it realized. And while it make my clients very happy and it gives me a sense of purpose, it also tricks me into thinking that I can edit my own life. Sure, we have the ability to make choices that are key in our development, but we truly control very little about our lives. I guess this is one of the things that we forget—and that makes us forget how great the grace of God is (and how strong the gospel really is.)

I’ll be honest: sometimes I sit in front of my counselor and I tell her, “I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to be fine. I’m ready to be finished with this process.” She smiles and nods. She knows that we’re headed somewhere better, even when I’m frustrated with my own weakness.

I told my friend Anna a few weeks ago that I understood why I was in pain. I said, “I know that I’m a sinner and I live in a sinful world and that’s why I have to figure out all of this. So that I can get better.”

She looked at me with an honest shaking of her head and said to me, “Melissa, you keep telling me about how you’re broken, but what you are forgetting is that Christ died to heal you. And you are not, first and foremost, a broken, lost sinner. You are redeemed. And it may be that you never overcome anxiety and you lose all hope, but that does not mean you are outside of the reach of the gospel. You cannot break the gospel.”

One thing that I’ve been thinking about lately is how much of my life I’ve ignored anxiety. I’ve ignored fears and insecurities and damage that I’ve encountered in the last 24 years to the point of, well, panic. I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I can control enough of my life to not actually have to deal with the true heart of my weakness: trust. The reason that I don’t trust God to come through is because I tend to think that I control the gospel. If I can be put together, the gospel will hold together. If I fall apart, the gospel must have broken.

This is a flawed way of thinking, but I think it’s something we fall into quite often. There is no glamour in weakness. There is no glory in saying, “I can’t.” And, as a dear friend said to me recently about her own struggles with anxiety and ministry, “It feels like failure.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m getting at. Perhaps that is what this hard, hard season of processing through my own fears and anxiety is about: failing. But knowing that by the grace of God, I am not first-and-foremost a failure. No—I am redeemed. I am not broken. I am not losing it. I am not a mess. I am in the “now” of the “now but not yet” and it’s terribly messy, but the gospel is not ruined by it.

People tell me to just stop being anxious. To just let go and be fine again. To steer clear of medication. To just not think about panic. But what has spoken to me the most has been the truth. It has been the friends that sit with me in my pain, not unlike Job’s friends. It has been the words of support and the sensitivity of others. J. I. Packer is right: we must be more careful.

For we are, in Christ, fragile, but we are not broken. 

Melissa Zaldivar is an MATH student from California. She loves golf, theology, Jewish holidays, people falling in love, Jonathan Edwards, chocolate chip cookies, her adorable niece and telling stories. When she's not filming and photographing weddings, you can find her reading news articles, watching Parks and Recreation or playing Super Smash Bros.




Tags: Author: Melissa Zaldivar , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , student blogger

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Melissa, I don't even know you but just wanted you to know how encouraged I am because of this! I'm a photographer too, and was just talking with my best friend yesterday about control being an idol of mine. Thank you thank you THANK YOU for your honesty in weakness and for the reminder that Jesus is my only real savior...
Audra 8:30AM 03/28/14

C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part Two: The Role of Reason | Seminary Student Blogger

March 25, 2014

Josh Kluth

C.S. Lewis had the ability to look at particular issues from different vantage points. In the previous entry in this series, we explored how C.S. Lewis’ personal experience helps explain why Christians continue to look to him in times of pain and suffering. However, we also see that Lewis had a knack for thinking rationally about sensitive issues, which became a particular point of concern for him. Lewis’ close friend, Charles Williams, warned him that writing intellectually about pain could be construed as nothing more than a reflection of Job’s worthless friends in the biblical story. In fact, when Lewis was asked to contribute a book on the Christian view of suffering, he requested that the book be published anonymously in order to avoid accusations of being cold. His request was denied and The Problem of Pain was published in 1940. However, Lewis’ use of reason emphasized three particular themes that are especially helpful in times of pain and suffering.

1. The problem of suffering does not challenge the existence of God, but affirms it.

Lewis maintained that belief in God is what actually allows people to talk about the problem of suffering in the first place. He believed that belief in God actually creates and frames the issue. He wrote, “Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, ‘Why do you not believe in God?’ my reply would have run something like this: ‘Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold.’” However, he changed his position on this issue because his concern about the issue of suffering represented metaphysical concern, but his atheistic worldview reduced all questions to material. In other words, existential questions can be asked only if one’s worldview accommodates a metaphysical understanding. Lewis’ point is that in an atheistic worldview of suffering, pain should not be a problem. The problem of suffering is not solved by turning away from religion. Lewis maintained that for the problem of suffering to exist, God must exist. In fact, belief in God might be the most reasonable way to begin to understand the existence of evil.

2. The possibility of suffering is necessary to our purpose and design.

Lewis actually argued for the necessity of suffering, given the reality of God. The existence of suffering is not a mistake on God’s part at all. In a provocative statement, he writes, “Perhaps this is not the ‘best of all possible’ universes, but the only possible one.” Lewis reasons that to exclude the possibility of suffering would be to exclude life itself. At the very center of his model was a concern that we recognize our purpose to glorify God as creator. He writes, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” To worship God freely means the possibility to dismiss him as well, and in so doing, introduce something counter to God—namely, evil. The reason for our self-directed love is sin. Lewis concludes that our sin introduces “a new kind of man—a new species, never made by God” that had “sinned itself into existence” with a gravitational pull towards self-centeredness. Lewis believed that “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word 'love,' and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake.”

3. Christians are saved from suffering by suffering.

Finally, Lewis develops the idea of suffering as an instrument in the hands of God for the purpose of change and redemption. Although he did believe that the majority of human suffering was self-inflicted, he believed that suffering could also be remedial. Pain was often the direct result of God breaking through humanity’s self-imposed illusory condition. Pain was used in order to express God’s “intolerable compliment” as he corrects our idolatrous posture. Lewis underscores this point with number of helpful images—including one in which pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. In another, pain is the implanting of the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. He describes the rebel’s will as “inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation.” Indeed, Lewis is clear that God’s work is painful because it is correcting the comfortable illusion of rebels who think they are safe. Lewis writes, “I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.” In this, Lewis recognizes that the difficulty of suffering does not go away and the use of reason does not make it easy.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis lends his reason to the reality of pain and suffering. Although he knew it was treacherous to do so, we see the benefit that he provides to the reality of suffering. In an age where many think of Christianity as an unreasonable position to the problem of evil, Lewis responds that it might be the only reasonable position. What’s more, because of Lewis, we begin to better understand our purpose and the means to which God willingly in order to shatter our self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we witness this at the cross of Christ. 

Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).


Tags: Author: Josh Kluth , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Unconvincing Words of Aspiration: A Prayer | Seminary Student Blogger

March 20, 2014

Amy Gannett

God of our dreams,

God of our hopes,

God of our inner space,

It is toward You we turn our faces.

We lift our eyes to rest on Your face,

and, perhaps, to rest a while.

We are a people of many whispered desires and unspoken longings.

We believe, and yet we dare not anticipate.

We crave, and yet we dare not expect.

And these thoughts that come to us late,

You know, the ones that come in the dark,

in the quiet,

and remind us how fragile we are

and how unconvincing are our words of aspiration.

The words are "not possible,"



But we have. We have imagined.

And we come to You with watery eyes and timid faith

asking that You would imagine it possible, too.

Be the God of words made flesh

and promises kept;

the God of dreams in daylight

and hushed ambition spoken without a shaking voice.

Be Your daring Self toward us again today.

We pray in the name of Hope Himself,

Even Jesus.


Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.


Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , spiritually vital , student blogger

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The Backwardness of True Empowerment | Seminary Student Blogger

March 18, 2014

Joelinda Coichy

This blog was going to be about gender dynamics at Gordon-Conwell.

I wanted to write about how my excitement over finally being in a school with more men than woman turned to frustration. About how I recognized that the complementation circles with which I readily identified seemed to create a subtle culture in which people of the opposite sex were objects—either to be pursued for marriage or set aside for the sake of “guarding hearts.”

I wanted to note that despite having discussed the challenges of being a woman ad nauseam in college, I found myself having to re-enter that conversation in seminary. That the issues re-surfaced in ways that were new to me—like the debate about women in church leadership.

All of these things were discouraging to me, and I was going to blog against them…

And then I attended the screening of the film Girl Rising. The compelling message about educating girls in the third world moved me. I wanted to do something to help those girls. I always had—which is why I came to seminary.

But the reality was that there I was, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, with not only a college, but a graduate education AND a ministry job at a church, itching to jump into the ring to fight for yet more rights…for myself.

Grasping for things that would make me feel more empowered, I had forgotten my dream of advocating for those without a voice. And worse, I had become blind to the fact I had a sphere of influence (albeit smaller and more broken than I would prefer) to make a difference.

And I realized this grave irony: you can miss your call when you are too focused on fighting for yourself.

Now, I am not advocating that we forget the injustices that we face as individuals (often those are the very areas that we are called to address). And after all, we cannot speak about someone else’s worth if we have abdicated our own.

Yet, I cannot help but hear the faint echo of Jesus’ backward economics: whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matt. 10:39).

And I realize that true empowerment is not fighting for more for me but losing myself and what I have been given, no matter how large or small, to serve the least of these.

So the reality is, though they sometimes drive me up a wall, this blog isn’t about the gender dynamics at Gordon-Conwell.

This blog is about the women around the globe who:
Are the silent victims of unimaginable injustice and crime.
Cannot read or write.
Have been given no worth outside of their roles as bearers of children.

…And are denied the rights that I take as a given.

And to use my voice and energy to serve them is really the most empowered thing I can do. 

Joelinda is a second year M.Div. candidate. She currently serves as the Student Ministries Director at Grace Chapel’s Watertown campus. She is a lover of all things beautiful including theater, fall days in New England, chick flicks and the mountains. She counts bargain-hunting her sport and enjoys singing loudly while driving. Above all, Joelinda’s passion is to build relationships that help others understand the transformative power of the gospel.


Tags: Author: Joelinda Coichy , current students , student blogger

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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 14

March 13, 2014

Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 11 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here; Part 8 here; Part 9 here; Part 10 here; Part 11 here; Part 12 here; Part 13 here.

One of the words that tend to rub contemporary evangelicals the wrong way is “mysticism.” When we hear stories of people who went out to the Egyptian desert in order to fight demons (St. Anthony the Great in the early fourth century), spent decades perched atop pillars in Syria (St. Simeon the Stylite in the fifth century), or spent their lives gazing at their navels while reciting the Jesus prayer (the Hesychasts of Mt. Athos in Greece, in the late first and early second millennium A.D.), we tend to think that the mystics were the class-A kooks of Christian history. And some of the mystics certainly were kooks, although none of the examples just above were actually as odd as we make them out to be.

But according to the definition of the word, a “mystic” is one who is not satisfied with mere association with the church or with knowledge about God, but who instead longs for a deep, direct, intimate experience of God. By that definition, evangelicals are mystics too, or at least we should be, because we of all people should long for direct experience of God. And if some of the practices of the ancient and Medieval mystics in their efforts to grow closer to God seem weird to us, we have to admit that evangelicalism has also produced some strange practices as well, from tent meetings to Azusa Street to the Toronto Blessing. When we assess a phenomenon like mysticism on the basis of whether it is bizarre, we should recognize that bizarre is in the eye of the beholder, and what seems bizarre to us may seem normal to others.

A better way to assess mysticism—in all its expressions—might be to ask the fundamental question of whether mystical practice constitutes an attempt to establish contact with God, or whether it is an attempt to deepen a relationship with God that one has already been given. In my (admittedly subjective) opinion, the best of Christian mysticism follows the latter pattern.

One of the great names in Christian mysticism, and I think one of the best examples of mysticism at its best, is the fourth/fifth century monk John Cassian. He spent over a decade among the Egyptian desert fathers and then founded two monasteries in southern France around the year 410 A.D. Cassian wrote a long work (the Institutes) on monastic practices and a massive work (the Conferences) of alleged conversations between two neophyte monks and various Egyptian monastic fathers. Through these works, Cassian exerted a major influence on Benedict in the sixth century, who in turn shaped all of Medieval Western monasticism.

Cassian’s thought has been variously interpreted, but in my opinion, the foundation of that thought is that we are united to God as a gift through adoption and that our mystical practices constitute an effort to deepen that previously-established salvation. (See chapter 5 of my book Grace and Christology in the Early Church for my explanation of this foundation.) If I am right about this, Cassian presents us with a model for the Christian experience of God that is somewhat similar to that of evangelicalism—God acts first to establish the relationship, but he then calls us to foster that relationship through our spiritual disciplines. Cassian and other mystics like him may thus be valuable resources for us as we seek to know more fully the God who has brought us to himself. 

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.





Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , current students , faculty blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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A Revelation | Seminary Student Blogger

March 11, 2014

Kate Hightower

I stood in the storm abounding
My eyes feeble in my head
I couldn’t see for miles
My lungs exhaled my dread.

But on a cloud I saw You
Light shattering the dark
My reach seemed weak and lonely
Weren’t the spark inside my heart.

Reaching for You helps me
Reminds me when You first chose me.
It ceases every question
Of the way You’d have me be.

And time and time again,
Those seven stars You relent
To free Your hand to find me
No time at all You spent.

So tonight I wait to see You
I watch the cloud that will bare You hence.
I reach my hands above me.
For Your love
So vast…


Kate Hightower is writing to you from the middle of her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Thought pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville, where she is also a Byington Scholar. She’s an avid Bob Dylan fan, and can always be counted upon for decadent French cooking. And she’s madly in love with her giant, brilliant golden retriever, Stella.


Tags: Author: Kate Hightower , spiritually vital , student blogger

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Gravity | Seminary Student Blogger

March 04, 2014

Melissa Zaldivar

Shauna Niequest says, “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

So there I was. Three weeks after the release date. Watching the blockbuster of great acclaim that would go on to win 7 Oscars (including Best Director). I expected to meet entertainment. But what I encountered was theology. Of course, these days, theology is bleeding into everything in unexpected, sometimes difficult ways.

I’ve been thanking God lately for things that are hard.
For people that have hurt me being happy.
For learning Hebrew slowly but surely.
For injuring my knee a week before a half-marathon.
He’s been reminding me of gratitude again.
Even when things aren’t going the way I’d like.
Even when I can hardly see what’s in front of me.

Sometimes, I take off my glasses just to remind myself that I’m blind. And I did that a few times tonight as I sat in a movie theater watching Gravity.
What do we do when faced with the idea that we might not make it? What to we cling to when out of our grasp means floating out in space alone?

At a few points in the film, Sandra Bullock’s character loses it. She gives up. At one point, she is shouting and thrashing about and the camera shifts to a view from the silent void of space where you can see her through the window but you can’t hear her. I know that feeling. The keen sting of death. The pacing. The need to do something—anything—to get it out. But instead, it just keeps closing in.

“Nobody will mourn for me,” she whispers into the frigid cold. “Nobody will pray for my soul.” She is in tears. “I’ve never said a prayer in my life. No one taught me how to pray.”

And then it comes. In her last moment of desperation, or so it seems, when she has given up hope and oxygen is depleting and she closes her eyes, ready to fade into that permanent sleep, he comes to her. She sees a vision. And he speaks hope into her life and she wakes up with the will to survive a little longer.

And as she plummets, catching fire as she falls, she starts to pray. She talks to the vision.

Whatever saves us, we love. Whatever gives us hope, we cling to. Whatever meets us in our need, we pray to.

I resonate deeply with her desperation. As I plummet, catching fire as I fall, I start to pray. I talk to the Redeemer.

And like the woman on the screen, muscles too weak to easily stand, hope comes. Sand in her fists, she lets out a slight laugh and mumbles into the mud against her wounded cheek those two words.

“Thank You.”

The music swells. She fights to her feet. The word, “G R A V I T Y” comes across the screen.

I begin to weep.

For I’m not very different. I’m constantly fighting to my feet. Constantly clinging to His robe. Hoping for just a bit of miracle to rub off on me. Hoping that redemption comes swiftly to this broken, sad world. A world where people talk behind one another’s backs. Where marriages dissolve. Where children kill adults and adults murder children. Where, when we are being honest, we aren’t sure we want to be.

And then comes the Grace. With all the force of the Divine, it comes and gives us meaning and hope. The other day, I scribbled it down:

“I search for my purpose and the only thing I know is this: My purpose is to get to the bottom of it. To plunge my hands in and find myself up to my elbows in grace. To be consumed by Christ, Him in every step and each conversation. To let the gospel seep into my bones and find traces under my fingernails and tracked in like muddy boots whenever I journey. My purpose is union with Christ. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

May you, as you fight to your feet, feel the earth below and the sky above. May you survive to another heartbeat and not even be able to wait for the next before you utter those two words over and over and over again.

Thank You.
Thank You.
Thank You. 

Melissa Zaldivar is an MATH student from California. She loves golf, theology, Jewish holidays, people falling in love, Jonathan Edwards, chocolate chip cookies, her adorable niece and telling stories. When she's not filming and photographing weddings, you can find her reading news articles, watching Parks and Recreation or playing Super Smash Bros.




Tags: Author: Melissa Zaldivar , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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