Graduation – Joy and Gratitude

Yesterday I completed a journey that has taken me four years to complete – I graduated with a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

It has been a long road and I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think back over the past four years and God’s sustaining grace through it all.  One of the biggest evidences of that grace has been my friends, family, mentors, community, and church family who have helped me in countless ways.  I believe with all of my heart that I could not have done this without you.  Therefore, this post is a letter of gratitude, of rejoicing, and of praise to you all – I hope you’ll indulge me for the next few paragraphs as I put my thoughts into words as best I can.

First, to my family:
I honestly do not know where to begin thanking you.  This seminary journey could not have begun without the patient correction, biblical instruction, wisdom-filled encouragement, and steadfast prayers along the way.  I am only partially aware of the financial burden that you have taken upon your shoulders, and I am truly grateful for God giving you the means to bless me and provide for me in that very specific and absolutely essential way.  Thank you also for you kind words through email, phone calls, texts, and letters, and thank you for loving me through the good years as well as the bad.  God has been most gracious to let me do life with all of you, and I am blessed beyond compare to know that he has given us the added grace of knowing, loving, and following Christ together.  I pray that our fervor and sanctification to God’s glory continues, and I am excited to pray with you for the future generations of our family.  I love you, I thank you, and I am praying for you.

To my dear friends:
I don’t believe that I have a sufficient vocabulary or eloquence to express to you how much you have meant to me these past few years.  Each and every one of you has blessed me in countless ways, from the late-night conversations to the dinners, movies, sunburns, inside jokes, road trips, and literally thousands of cups of coffee that we have shared.  Know that I love you all and that God has worked through you in so many incredible ways that I am overwhelmed when I try to think through all of them.  You have seen me at my best, have endured me at my worst, have slogged through the depths and have rejoiced with me on the heights.  You know who I am and you stick with me anyway.  I am honored to be called ‘friend’ by you, and if God gives us the grace to spend many more years together, I pray they are as fruit-filled and memorable as these have been.  I hope I have been as much of an encouragement and sharpening iron as you have been on me.  I love you all, I thank you for this season, and know that I am praying for you.

To my church family:
God affords us many joys in this life, but there are precious few that can compare with the blessing I have received through worshiping our Lord with you, praying with you, and living out this Christ-life with you.  It has been quite the journey, and I am grateful for a body of believers who are dedicated to Christ our King above all, and to knowing him more deeply in spirit and in truth.  I am honored to have done life with you these past four years, and though God has blessed me with a tremendous biological family, you have been my adopted family during this season in my life and I cannot thank you enough for that.  We have been through many joy-filled seasons, as well as times of grief and tragedy together.  Through it all, you have been a delight to lead and serve, and I count it equally a blessing and a privilege to be called one of your pastors.  I pray that I have stewarded this season with you well, and I look forward to watching how God moves in an amongst our expression of his Bride.  I love you all, I thank you for making this season a joy, and I pray for you constantly.

To my fellow pastors, mentors, and ministry leaders:
Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Your wisdom, advice, encouragement, rebuke, perspective, direction, and examples – all of these I have needed, and God has blessed me with more than I could have hoped for in you.  I’ve seen the bar set very high by all of you, and I aim to follow your example and serve faithfully with you until the Lord calls us home.  Thank you for showing me that our calling is not a job or vocation, but a burden, a weight, a joy, a burning in our hearts to lead.  Thank you for sharpening me and serving God faithfully during our time together as we fulfill his will for our lives.  You challenge me to be the man that God has called me to be, and the man I aspire to be.  I am indebted to all of you, and I look forward to seeing how God will shape our ministries and use us to further the gospel to his glory.  Thank you for your time, your insights, and your patience with me.  I am by no means a polished finished product, but you have helped chip away and sand down my rough edges.  I love you men dearly, I thank God for you daily, and I am praying that God puts men in your life who are to you what you have been to me.  May our work continue until our Lord calls us home.

To anyone and everyone else who has impacted me during my seminary career:
You may not ever know how God has used you in my life, and this is such an inadequate means of thanking you, but I am grateful that God uses ‘chance’ acquaintances, ‘random’ meetings, and the most unassuming interactions to shape and mold the world to fit his kingdom and his will.  Thank you for serving the Lord’s purposes, and even though you may not receive this note of gratitude, know that you are appreciated and that you have greatly impacted my life.  I pray that God lets you see how he works in and through you, and I pray that you either know him already or come to know him at some point while you live.  Live your life for Christ – he is the greatest treasure that’s ever been given to all of Creation, and he is worthy of our worship.  You have stirred my heart in many ways to worship him more fully, and I pray that someday in some way God uses someone else to do the same for you.  Grace and peace be with you in Christ Jesus.

So again, thank you all for supporting me and encouraging me through this season – I am very grateful that I am able to rejoice with you in God’s good grace.  When I look at my diploma on the wall I am thinking not of the classes that I took and the papers that I wrote, but rather of the times that we spent together and how much you all mean to me.  One of the most beautiful things that I’ve learned while at seminary has been that you and I cannot live this out on our own.  We must have each other.  We must know and love each other, and we absolutely must run toward Christ together.  I would not and could not have done this without you, so in a way this diploma is also yours.
I am humbled by God’s grace to me through you, and I am thankful for you.

In Christ,
– Nathan Johnson

“Now, to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21

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