Why I’m Thinking About Attending Seminary

Some people know that I’m considering attending seminary next year.  For many people, when I first told them of my seminary plans, they were quite shocked.  That’s OK because I was shocked too when the idea came into my head.  Below is an essay that I wrote, primarily to help clarify my thoughts, but I hope it also helps answer your questions as I consider this drastic career change.

Career Change: Why I’m thinking of Seminary and Full-Time Ministry.

Everything was good.  I just finished my time with the Marine Corps.  I recently married a wonderful wife. I was leaving the service, healthy and with all my limbs.  I looked forward to my bright and sunny future as a small business owner.   I traded my fatigues for dress shirts and loafers, and I couldn’t be happier.  From as far back as I could remember my dream was to start a business, be successful and retire happy.

But while my fatigues lay in the closet, and I basked in the freedom of creating my own hours and being my own boss, I didn’t realize how the Marine Corps changed me.  It took half-a-year before I would see this change.  One night this past September, as my wife and I pondered our future, a strange thought entered my head.  I wasn’t nearly as happy as I thought I’d be running my own business.  I felt like I wasn’t using my gifts fully.  For the first time, I feared that I could retire as a successful small business owner and not feel as if I’d fulfilled God’s purpose for my life.

But why such a change?  I have to admit the immediate circumstances had an impact.  August 2009 was a slow month for KTG.  I struggled to see how I could make a career out of my new company.  Was I just wasting my time?

But there was a more fundamental change.  Up till that September evening, my only thoughts of the Marine Corps involved how thankful I was to be finished.  But now, almost as if a light was turned on, I started to understand the deep, personal impact of my two tours in Iraq.  In ways I never expected, the Marine Corps showed me that I have a deep care for people who are hurting.  Through the death of others God showed me that he provides a way to deal with such horrors.  Through returning safely from Iraq and with a peace of mind, God revealed that I should share his message of hope with others.

While the Marine Corps is made up of the toughest, fiercest fighters, the Marine Corps is not made up of the people with the best backgrounds.  When talking with junior Marines I would often hear stories of how the Marines Corps saved them from a path headed towards gang involvement or jail.

One of my first experiences with a young man who was likely rescued by the Marine Corps was Lance Corporal Chamroeun.  About three weeks after taking charge of my platoon, Chamroeun tried to illegally buy a pistol from a pawnshop.  “Why?” I asked.  “Because it was all chromed out sir.” Chamroeun seemed to believe that because the pistol was shiny, that justified buying it even though he was under age.e  As I learned the stories of the men in my platoon I developed a deep care for each of them.  While I tried to help them develop professionally and personally, I realized that the deepest impact I could have on them was by ministering to their spiritual needs. Just a few days into my first deployment in Iraq a roadside bomb killed LCpl Chamroeun.

Iraq showed me suffering.  There are few things that are harder to explain than the loss of a young man killed in combat.  But despite this, God showed me that he is to be trusted.  Perhaps the most influential event during my two deployments was on June 26,2008.  Around 10:00 AM a man wrapped in explosives walked into a tribal meeting between local leaders and Marines.  Within seconds of the detonation, 26 people were killed, including four Marines.  LtCol Galeai, the Battalion Commander and Capt Dykman were both people I had grown to care for and respect deeply—both couldn’t be recognized after the explosion.  My life was shaken.  LtCol Galeai’s death was particularly hard for me. LtCol Galeai was known among us as being extremely demanding and difficult to please.  Several of the officers couldn’t wait for LtCol Galeai to leave the battalion. But for some reason, LtCol Galeai seemed to like me.  In fact it was something of a mystery as to why I was the only of the battalion’s senior officers who he hadn’t chewed out.  I deeply respected LtCol Galeai.  To this day I still see him as the greatest influence upon my leadership style.   Knowing I would be leaving soon after returning from Iraq, I looked forward to telling LtCol Galeai how much I respected him and how much he taught me.  That day would never come.

At the time of the suicide bomber, I happened to be reading Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard.  I know that God wanted me to read Fear and Trembling in June 2008.  Kierkegaard looks at the story of when God told Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son.  Abraham did this unhesitatingly, despite waiting his entire life for this son.  Kierkegaard calls Abraham a Knight of Faith because Abraham completely suppresses his own desires and trusts completely in God.  Despite God’s command, Abraham still believed that God would fulfill his promises to build a nation from Abraham’s heirs.

I couldn’t understand why God allowed these Marines to die.  Each one left a wife and children behind.  Each one should have a long life awaiting them.  Yet God took their lives away.  Why?  Through Fear and Trembling I realized that I didn’t need to understand why.  I needed to have faith.  The kind of faith that Abraham had when he took the knife in his hand and was ready to kill his only son.  This faith isn’t like building up, or trying harder, but an act of total surrender.  A faith that says I give my life to you Lord.  A faith that removes my ideas of what is good and trusts in God.

After the loss of Capt Dykman and LtCol Galeai I had the chance to turn my back on God.  I could reject God on the basis that he couldn’t allow such awful things to happen.  But what I found was that Christianity helped me to make sense of this violence.  There was a surprising peace in surrendering my thoughts to God.  There was an incredible peace in knowing that Jesus experienced the same suffering that I did.  Christianity helped me make sense of this life.

I’ve returned from Iraq and I’m thankful to say that I’m fine.  I don’t experience many of the struggles other Iraq Veterans do.  This isn’t to say I wasn’t affected.  I find that I’m very sensitive—even to the point of tears—when I hear of service members being killed.  Certain movies that show soldiers being deployed and taking casualties now touch me in a deeper way.  But, Christianity has given me a way to make sense of all this.

One of my favorite hymns is “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”  The third verse reads:

“His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower”

Certainly many of my experiences in the Marines could be described as bitter.  But I’m beginning to see how those bitter experiences deepened my faith, and shaped me spiritually.  I am thankful that God placed me in these difficult circumstances.  I’m starting to see that the bitter bud of loss and suffering is blossoming into a sweet flower.

Even though my uniforms still lay in back of the closet, the lessons I learned in Marine Corps remain with me. Through my experiences I’ve learned that Christ offers hope for suffering and Christ offers a way to make sense of the confusing.  This is a message I wish to share with others.

In order to test my desires for ministry I’ve started meeting every other week with our pastor to discuss my calling and pray.  Lisa and I were also asked to become youth group leaders.  I have really enjoyed preparing lessons and studies for the youth group.  I’m also working on creating a young men’s ministry for the High School seniors.  I believe that through these activities God will show me if I have a true desire and the gifts to participate in full-time ministry.

As I consider this drastic career change, I feel at peace.  As a test of my motives, business for KTG began to pick up.  I started getting larger projects and repeat clients.  I could see the light end of the tunnel.  I could see KTG being a career.  But I also see that God is involved in shaping my aspirations and the direction I thought my life would take.  I’m not sure where I will be 5 years from now, and I’m sure that my paychecks will never reach what they could have if I continued as a small business owner. But faith is pushing aside our desires, submitting to Christ’s purposes and knowing that in our weakness Christ will provide.

    • dave culbertson
    • January 1st, 2010

    Jonathan, how you have blessed and encouraged my faith by your testimony. May The Spirit of God continue to lead you in His way That WILL glorify Jesus.

    • Jim Urish
    • January 25th, 2010

    Hey Jonathan! It was good to have lunch with you and your parents yesterday. Thank you for Kevin de Young’s blog. I will go to it soon. Your mom forwarded this link so I could read your thoughts. They make perfect sense to me. You have seen the reality – up close and personal – of the benefit and value of Christ. He gives eternal life, so that death is just a threshold to eternity for us. One of the best pieces of advice I got while in seminary was “Love the sheep”. Actually, he said that that should be a continual prayer “Lord, give me a love for your sheep.” That’s what I saw in your thoughts – you loved those men – both underneath your command and the Lt. Col. who died. God will show you how to put this love you have for others into action. Right now you have the opportunity to do that with the youth at 3rd CRC.
    May God continue to clearly lead you!!
    Cordially,
    Jim

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