Day of Prayer
June 30, 2011
It's great to be here. I've been on a lot of airplanes recently and it has been exciting to represent the university and think about the greater world and our place and call in that. I have found, for myself, the importance of remembering why I do things I do and how I found myself to be at certain places in my life. So let me remind you how we ended up with the Day of Prayer.
When I became president more than 10 years ago, I continued to be mentored by Ted Engstrom, who did so for almost two decades in total. Ted spoke into my life in pretty powerful ways. Once I asked him, "What are some of the distinguishing marks of a leader?" We had been working through that. I'd had a two-year sabbatical back in Chicago during that time and I was trying to conform my life to the steps of God. Ted said, "You know, I think any organization that is truly God focused will follow some kind of pattern where at least once a year they stop and they recognize God's provision from the past, and they stop and ask for God's provision going forward—kind of a marker."
I also remember going through a Bible study with him over a period of months where we went through Scripture, looking at the pattern Ted described both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, we studied the history of God with the children of Israel. And in the New Testament, we analyzed the history of the church as it evolves. In fact, that's one of the most distinctive patterns of a Christ-centered community, of a faithful community—that they don't begin to take things for granted, but rather remember every single day, and at significant marks in the season, that God's provision has been with them. And so that's what today is.
This was one of the first things we implemented back in 2000. [The administration] said, "Look, next year into the fiscal year 2001, we're going to have our first Day of Prayer. We're going to shut down everything we do. We're going to work as hard as we can to give sacrificially back to God. We're going to give Him this day. And we're going to thank Him for His provision and protection over the last 12 months, and come humbly, in the name of Jesus Christ through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, asking that in the next 12 months, God also leads us and we will be oriented to His plan." So that's what the Day of Prayer is about.
The Day of Prayer is about a Christian evangelical community—strongly rooted in the tenants of Scripture, the claims of Christ, and the hope we have for life everlasting—coming together under common core values, one of which is prayer.
So if somebody wants to know why we have Day of Prayer, would you just pass that on? It would be great if [the story of the origin of our Day of Prayer] would become one of the campfire stories that live on for the integrity of this community.
Here's another one: Yesterday, I was speaking to Donavon Gray about an experience that he had at the airport. You know that Donavon travels with the Handbell Choir on behalf of the School of Music annually to Armenia. He was on one of those summer trips, sitting in the L.A. airport [waiting to depart], and noticed this group of young adults a couple of rows over. In the midst of the preboarding madness, you know when everybody's jockeying for position, and you're about to line up according to whether you are a red carpet or a black carpet or a commoner, Donavon said, "I looked at theses 15–20 young adults, a couple of rows over," and he thought, "There's just something about them. There was just this thing and I thought it has got to be a group of Christians headed out on a mission." So he went over and introduced himself, saying, "Hey I'm from Azusa Pacific." And they replied, "Hey that's funny; we're from Azusa Pacific too." Donovan shared with them what he observed over the last few minutes watching them. "You are different," he told them. "Thank you for the way you are graciously treating others in this terminal and the way you are having conversation. Without you even knowing it, you're exhibiting and reflecting, the quality and character of Christ."
Running the risk of being a person with three business degrees unpacking this theologically, let me share where I want to go with that image. In Genesis 1:26, God says, "Let us create man, humankind, in our own image." From that very opening passage, we get the basic theological, foundational truth that we are created in the image of God. As the story unfolds in Scripture, we discover that sin enters the world so that perfect image of God, created in us for perfect relationship with a perfect God, becomes marred and broken. The story of God's relationship with us begins in the Old Testament as a narrative about God's relationship with the nation of Israel. We see His continued effort to bring them back to a place of Holiness. Jump forward to Exodus and Moses going to the mountaintop. The second time, he manages to bring back the tablets. One of those commandments deals with false images, with idols. One of the results of sin entering the world was that humankind created other images. It was no longer the image of God that was perfectly created in us. Humanity worshipped other images, and that broke the heart of God. He said, "Look for us going forward, you can have no other image. There can be no other images." As the narrative continues and you move into the New Testament, we see God's perfect plan of redemption begin to unfold when the Son of God comes as both fully human and fully God, lives a perfect, sinless life, and is sacrificed for us on the cross, so that this image broken can be mended. Throughout the Gospels and the Epistles, this message is reaffirmed that we were created in the image of God and being conformed to the image of God. In Romans, it says that in obedience as a disciple, when we cross the line of faith, we say, "I want the Spirit of God in me, to mold me and move me towards God." We give God permission to recreate Himself in us. We become the image bearers of Christ to a broken world, and someday Scripture says, when Jesus returns, we will see Him in His fullness and He will see us in our fullness.
The powerful image on the [Day of Prayer] brochure of the fingerprint captures profound truth. Everybody here is a unique individual. You were created. The mold was broken when He made you. God entrusted to you responsibilities and opportunities for advancing His Kingdom, and rightly performed, you will accomplish in God's time and God's purpose what nobody else could do in the name of God for His purposes.
So what does that mean for us [as a community on our Day of Prayer]? I want to say my highest goal would be that at Azusa Pacific, as a mosaic of men and women, staff and faculty, employees committed and conformed to the image of Christ, as an organization, would be an image bearer to a broken world. When people pick up the phone to call us, or even now with more ubiquitous modes of communication given the Internet with email and text and pictures—that anything that came from us, from those of us who represent the university and represent Christ because of that—that Azusa Pacific would bear the image of Christ—that we would be image bearers collectively, as a university and individually.
Sometimes this can break down. Here's a recent example. Two days ago I was flying in from Asia and landed about 3:30 p.m. at Los Angeles International Airport. It seemed like every plane on the West Coast chose to land at that time at LAX. The gates were so full, they were deplaning on the tarmac. I was fortunate enough to be on one of those planes. So that means you wait in line a long, long, long, long line, get off the plane, and onto a bus for a long, long, long, long drive to the airport terminal, and wait again. Then you hit customs, which is an experience in itself. I have never seen lines this long, and there are a lot people like me, many of whom have been on 10 or 12 hour flights to get here, and now they are waiting in line. You want to see a person's true colors? Put them in a never-ending line and make them wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, so that a warm and friendly immigration officer can ask you heartfelt questions about your purpose in the United States. Once you clear that barrier, you realize that not only were the immigration lines jammed up and customs lines jammed up, but also the baggage lines were jammed up. You watch this thing go round and round until your bag with the bright red ribbon on the handle comes and you can grab it. Then you have a long line because there's still one warm and friendly customs person to clear, who asks if you're carrying illegal drugs or transporting live farm animals. I have always wondered who would say that. "Yes, I'm bringing illegal drugs and I have visited 30 farms and I happen to have a small sheep in my suitcase." But I digress. It's now 5 o'clock on a Friday; it was the afternoon that just wouldn't stop.
At some point, I had called Gail from the airport and said, "Hey can we just go get a bite to eat? How about 6:30 p.m.?" Now it looked like I was going to miss that. And on my way to the car, I'm hauling my suitcase with this small sheep in it, while waiting patiently at the crosswalk, and a very busy person ran into me with a metal cart and three large pieces of luggage—hard. I mean nearly knocked me over. And, I thought, "Wow that . . ." So I turned around so I could receive the apology. I mean I didn't want the person to talk to the back of my head. And she said, "Watch out!" She nearly killed my sheep.
Though I didn't say it, I was ashamed of what was in my heart. Though I probably didn't say a word, everything I communicated to her in that three seconds was exactly opposite of an image bearer. Does that make sense? I mean, I did a really good job of setting you up with every excuse possible—laying the groundwork for why it would be okay for me to send her my most disdainful look. And I imagine that she just came through exactly what I experienced. And as I revisited that with Gail, I thought, that was an opportunity for me to do something that would have been exactly the opposite of what she received.
Now you know I grew up in the church, so I'm well acquainted with guilt and I'm not trying to guilt you or punish me for that moment, except to say that theologically—so go with me on this—as people created in the image of God, sin enters the world and now the image is broken. Jesus comes, dies on the cross, defeats death, leaves us the Holy Spirit to live in us, and asks us to be His image bearers and represent Him and the Kingdom of Heaven until that day that history ends and eternity begins. He asks us to be image bearers in such a way that we are a fragrant aroma—salt and light—that we live in such a way that the image of Christ in us to the world is attractive because we have undergraduate students like the ones in the airport that I told you about. We have adult students, graduate students, and doctoral students, many of whom are also dealing with issues of brokenness in their life, but choose to be image bearers. Faculty have conversations in the classroom, and staff and administrators have moments with others—are all opportunities to live as an image bearer in a world that has decided that their idolatry, as defined on television or in advertisements, or by their neighbor, or sometimes within the family they live in, is the exact opposite of the value system of an image bearer of the Kingdom of God. And they come to this campus in every category of student and our goal is that in seeing us live out the image of Jesus Christ, they will find that attractive and encouraged and make decisions. We see that all the time with the undergraduates—given their developmental stage—where many of whom have come from Christian homes and they're for the first time their own image bearer, not what mom and dad says their image should be, but what they think God has called them to be. And we see that all the time with our adult students, who in the crisis of life, caring for parents or vocational adjustment or their own journey—they recognize the desperate need they have for a loving, caring God who will then recreate their image in His own.
So once a year, we fall on our knees in thanksgiving for what God has provided and in absolute surrender for what we need in the future, and in that in-between space. We also recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit that allows us to be conformed to the image of God and be His image bearers. It's vital; it's who we are.
I have to find a way to pass on to all of you the stuff that comes across my desk. Following graduation, I received a number of thank yous from students and parents in every one of those categories for what you have done as you live out the image of Jesus Christ. This is a great picture (holding up Day of Prayer program with imprint on it) because it's a great reminder that God the Creator created us in His image. Now we are His image bearers to the world. Thank you for what you do at every level. Thank you for this day even—giving this day as an act of worship and obedience. So let me pray.
Father, thank you in the name of Jesus Christ for the Truth set out in Scripture. You breathe all of this into existence. And, each one of us before we were born, you knew. Thank you for the opportunity to live empowered by the Holy Spirit as those restoring Your image to a broken world. Thank you for all that you have given us in the last 12 months, and I ask on behalf of this community for your continued provision, protection, and providence. Thank you for the gift of today even as we offer to you this holy moment of worship. We love you. In Jesus's name, Amen.