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Professor Profile: Dr. Israel

As a grad student for the Theological Studies program here at Vanguard, I wanted to give a window into some of the fantastic faculty at the University.  The Professor Profile series is designed to do just that through an informal Q&A format.  Without further ado here is Dr. Israel

1.  When did you first get interested in studying theology and what inspired you to pursue it educationally/professionally?

As a high school student, I felt a call to ministry.  At the time, I thought I would be in pastoral ministry.  I went to college to study Bible. When I encountered theological and biblical studies at a deeper intellectual level than what I had known before, I knew that was what I needed to do.  Particularly in seminary, after learning Hebrew and taking a course in Old Testament Writings, the OT scriptures reached out and drew me in.

2.  What’s your favorite thing about Jesus?

He died for me.

3.  One of my favorite things about this program is the feeling of community from student to student and student to professor.  What does Vanguard’s statement “We believe learning happens best in the context of relationship.” mean to you?

Learning is simply discipleship.  (The Greek word for disciple comes from the verb “to learn.”) Discipleship is a communal journey.  For an introvert like me, it would be easier to isolate myself in an ‘ivory tower’ with my texts and my thoughts.  But honestly, when I learn the most is when I am in conversation with colleagues who are experts in their fields and students who are motivated to deepen their understanding.  John Donne wrote the poem: “No man is an island, entire of itself…”  We are all learners, we have all made unfortunate mistakes and wonderful discoveries along the way.  When we share our knowledge – and more importantly – wisdom, transformation happens.  Parker Palmer in “The Courage to Teach” envisions a ‘community of truth.’  Although Palmer is not addressing Christian education directly, that is a superb way to express what Christian discipleship is.

4.  You have really inspired me with your knowledge of the Psalms.  What’s one thing you would like to share about this collection of “praises” that may surprise or enlighten believers?

The Psalms were not primarily devotional meditations.  Rather they were prayers for help, thanks for answered prayer, and hymns exalting God that were used in worship services.  Also, they were accompanied by sacrifices as laid out in Leviticus 1-7.  So Leviticus and Psalms are closely related.  Ironically, Christians avoid Leviticus at almost all costs but identify closely with the Psalms;  but in Israelite spirituality, the two go hand in hand.

5.  What are you reading right now?

Student papers.  Most recently, outside grading papers and keeping up with the bibliographic work for my classes, I read Steven King’s book “11/27/63” a fascinating time travel story about a man who wanted to go back and change history by preventing the assassination of JFK.  Since I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, King’s recreation of the time and setting was like reliving my adolescent years.  Simply amazing.

6.  Favorite ice cream flavor?

Chocolate Chip Mint.

Is there grace for Germany?

Last week, I stood before three classes of 10th grade, Honors English students and asked them “Is there grace for 1940′s Germany?
We’d just watched a speech Hitler had given to thousands of kids their age, we’d just finished reading Elie Weisel’s Night.

Again, I asked, “Is there grace for Germany?
Each class decided, “yes“. Grace.

Later, we’d talk about how Hitler Youth went “viral” and how the Gestapo must’ve known what they were doing was wrong. How peer pressure is real no matter who you are, how old you are, or who your friends are. We talked about how Hitler would’ve won over today’s society with his charm and communication skills, his use of ethos, pathos, and logos. These 15 year old students referenced Trump, Hillary, Snapchat, Yik Yak, Instagram. They discussed cultural “norms”, racism, and Jesus. They also wrote letters to the Hitler Youth. What would they tell them if they’d had a chance to?

From a corner of the room better known for their inappropriate jokes, a hand shot up:

“Hey, you don’t know me, but I’m your age and I’m from the future. I know this guy sounds like he’s making a lot of sense but thats all just ‘ethos’, he is lying to you. Open your eyes, every human life is worth saving.

As a Christian educator in a public school, I worried about how students would grasp grace. Not just forgiveness, but forgiving without reward or consequence. Forgiving freely, and these kids were crushing it. My little teacher heart was soaring. They aren’t perfect, they still cuss in the hallways and don’t laugh at many of my jokes, but in that moment, in that classroom, my students knew grace. And every day they come into the classroom, they are greeted with grace. And as they leave, grace is quietly showered over them.

And when I come to class and don’t turn in my homework or lesson plans on time, when I get too sassy, or when I can’t make it through the day without crying from all the stress I’ve put on myself…I am met, on my knees, with the same grace and compassion I’ve been taught to give my students.

Yes, there is grace for Germany, and there is grace for me, for each and every one of us.
Because one time Jesus looked at us all and said “every human life is worth saving.”

Summer Bucket List

In the midst of studying for finals and finishing papers, I find my self thinking about summer. Warm weather. Sandy beaches. Lemonade. Swimming. Summer! When I was younger, I would make a summer bucket list. I listed all of the exciting adventures I wanted to go on before school started the next fall. These bucket lists changed as I got older. They slowly became more serious. They went from: Go to disneyland and ride every ride, pet a dolphin, stay up all night and watch the sun rise – to: study for the GRE, apply to graduate programs, find a job, find a new job.

Summers became a time of serious work. I never took a break. This summer will be different. This summer I am going to relive some childhood bucket list dreams. So here is my summer bucket list: 

  • Ride EVERY ride at disneyland – even “Its A Small World” 
  • Go to a farmers market 
  • Watch the sunset – on a beach at least once a week 
  • Have a Lord of the Rings movie marathon weekend – My husband is going to love this one
  • Stay up all night and watch the sunrise 
  • Play with play dough 
  • Color in a coloring book and finish the entire book 
  • Have a picnic in the park 
  • Play Monopoly – and actually finish the game 

This is just a small list of things that were written on bucket lists growing up. So often, I find my self taking life too seriously. I get so stressed out that I forget to have fun and enjoy living in the moment. I forget that each day is a gift. I encourage you to enjoy your summer time. Yes, I still have work and class this summer, but I am going to make it a priority to enjoy the gift of summer. 

Do you have a summer bucket list? If so, I would love to know what is on it! Happy Finals Week! 

How to Conquer Finals Week

Finals are less than two weeks away! Am I the only one freaking out about them? No matter how much time and effort I put into studying for a final, I still get nervous when I sit down to take the exam. This week, I want to share with you my top 3 tips to help conquer the weeks leading up to finals.

Here they are:

Get organized - Pull out all of your notes, power point slides and the books. Look for the key themes taught in class. If your professor gives you a final exam review USE IT! Don’t reinvent the study wheel! Use what you got from your classes throughout the semester.

Drink water and eat the right food - Staying hydrated will help keep you alert and help you focus! I like to grab my favorite snack when I sit down and study. I use it as a reward system. “I get to have a few peanut butter pretzels when I finish this outline.” If you are like me, an empty stomach can be very distracting.

Relax – This is so so difficult for me. I am a worrier to my core! Even if I have done so well in the class, I worry that I will completely fail the final and fail the class. To help me relax, I make a list of things I really enjoy – reading a good book, bubble baths, a relaxing walk on the beach. I utilize my list of relaxing activities especially during finals week. Make a list and make time to do those things.

Finals week can be so stressful. The weeks leading up to it can be so very stressful. Do you have any tips to conquer finals week?

Who do YOU say that I am?

I recently sent a text to a few of my friends asking them: “What is your favorite thing about Jesus?”

Some of the responses I received were:

“His passion”

“He forgives”

“His intimacy”

I was curious because I recently heard one of my favorite pastors teaching on Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter, who did not have a filter, was correct in saying, “You are the Messiah…”

The pastor I listened to argued that what we say about Jesus is a key indicator in our identity and calling.  For example, Peter said Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus blessed him as the rock on which the church would be built.  Peter’s favorite thing about Jesus was His power.  Peter became a powerful key figure in the early church.

My friend who loves Jesus’ passion is a passionate preacher, and is pursuing his calling in that field.  My friend who loves how Jesus forgives is a tremendous counselor, and has been able to help many people without judgment nor condemnation.  My friend who loves Jesus’ intimacy is a vulnerable, yet powerful leader capable of delivering deep sermons.  It is easy to see how their answers relate to their respective callings and identities.

My favorite thing about Jesus is his unstoppable love, and it’s my calling to share that love through the power of music.

So I ask you, “What is your favorite thing about Jesus?” because what you love about Him says a lot about you.

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Not my will… But His

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“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

I have always been a planner. In 5th grade I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. For an assignment, I wrote who I would be when I grew up. I was going to go to college, get my bachelor’s degree, then get married, then go to graduate school. In the end, I wanted to help children and teens who had suffered trauma. 

All of that has come true. Except it doesn’t look like I thought it would. 

Last year, my dad was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. In February, it had metastasized to his brain. There were three tumors. After rounds of radiation, two brain surgeries, and weeks in a hospital there is one tumor left. This is my right now.

Right now consists of hospital beds, essays, school projects, and being a good wife, daughter, sister, student, and friend. 

I find my self struggling to process and cope with everything going on around me. For someone who thrives on organization, the chaos that has dictated my life has been overwhelming. I have wanted to quit school, quit my job and run away. I don’t know how to juggle everything. 

I found my self getting angry with God. He wasn’t following my plan. And trust me, I had a good plan. What I am learning is that I cannot control everything. That even when I plan out what the future is supposed to look like, God is still in control. 

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” – James 4:14 

“You do not know what tomorrow will bring.” I hate that! I hate that I have no control over my dad’s cancer. I hate that I cannot control everything. I hate not knowing what will happen tomorrow. 

But I do know that God is good. Through all the stress, tears and chaos, God is good. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” - Psalms 90:2. I am learning, slowly, what it means to let God be God and to stop trying to take his place.

So even though this year has not been how I planned it to be, God has still been faithful. When I feel like I cannot keep going, God has sent friends to encourage me. When I feel like I am falling  apart, God has comforted me.

Are you going through stuff that feels so out of your control that you want to run away? Are you angry at God for not following your plan? I understand that feeling. You are not alone.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” – Psalms 147:3 mariah2

Beyond the Call

I always knew I was going to be a teacher. I debated what I’d end up teaching, bounced around a few majors, but I knew all along, this is my calling.

There are 13 people (including myself) in my cohort, and we’ve all heard the same call. Some heard it while teaching abroad during their post-grad time, some have just recently heard it, and a few, like me, have known forever. These 12 people and I have learned together, laughed together, struggled together, sang karaoke after class together, and have prayed like crazy together. There are only 12 other people who understand this journey, and we are in this together.

As we walk through student teaching, TPAs, home chaos, work problems, etc., we are together and are supported and loved by the love of Jesus in one another and our professor, Dr. Sylvia Kane. This is what Vanguard is. To its core, Vanguard goes beyond the call, cultivating an environment for success.

We have been ridiculously blessed in this program. God has moved so graciously through our BST placements, our class discussions, our personal friendships, and even in the opportunities we’ve received just because we carry the Vanguard name. We have the most incredibly helpful, humble, and knowledgeable faculty and staff who are just so full of grace. I’m not exaggerating when I say they held my hand through the entire application and placement process. Literally, these folks held my hand.

This program is unlike anything I could’ve imagined, it is SO TOUGH (I’ll tell ya why in another post soon). I’ve tried to quit over and over again, but God always prevails and God always provides because this program teaches more than the curriculum…it teaches you, again, to walk in the love of Christ in every situation you encounter professionally and personally.

I know I was called to be an educator, but this program has equipped me far beyond that. This program has taught me to be a Christian educator in a secular world, to be a light in the lives of my students, to go beyond the classroom, and ultimately, beyond the call.

Why a Master of Theological Studies Degree?

At a time when many of my friends, family, and acquaintances have chosen to pursue graduate school for the prospects of a professional degree, here I am firmly entrenched in my second year at Vanguard pursuing a Master of Theological Studies degree.  Why?

  1. Theology helps me pursue my calling: Almost three years ago I heard the call of the Lord to the ministry as a worship pastor.  I wasn’t quite sure how I would get there, but I knew that having a solid foundation in the Word of God would be crucial.  Having a strong theological base would not only help my faith walk, but enable me to help others.   
  2. Theology is fun! Humans have been trying to understand God for as long as we have been on this Earth.  It has been the subject of much heavy lifting for the human brain.  Can we ever really understand God?  Well, no because his ways are high above our ways (Isa 55:9).  But it is fun to study, ponder, and stand amazed in wonder at the God who is simultaneously creator of the universe and intimate in personal relationship with us.
  3. Theology is endorsed by the Bible: Proverbs 2 tells us that if we look for wisdom like silver and search after it as for hidden treasure then we will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  Searching for hidden treasure is not an endeavor I have undertaken since my pirating days in the mid to late 90’s, so I won’t comment on the fruitfulness of that venture, but I can tell you my studies in theology have reminded me very much of what Proverbs 2 promises.  

Theology is loosely defined as the study of God.  Revered eleventh century theologian Anselm once called it “faith seeking understanding.  I see it as a call to worship God with our intellect.  Nevertheless, if you are at all feeling the calling of God on your life, I can’t think of a better major than theology.  Who knows, you might even find some hidden treasure.