Fall 2006 State of the University Address
Transformed and Surrendered to Live a God First Life continued
These four students ought to remind to us of what it means to practice transformational scholarship and transformational learning. The common thread in each of these students supports the promise that cannot break. Each of them shared their faith journey by recognizing the truth of God as creator, Christ as savior, the Holy Spirit as enabler, but that is not enough.
Each of us in this room can say with certainty that God created the world. In the beginning, God created . . . We can say that the historical accounts of Jesus are true. We can say that we are confident that the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is ready and available to support the work of God in our lives, but that is not enough. In the Wesleyan holiness tradition of this institution for 107 years, the motto has been God First. God First. What each of these students have in common, and what I believe all of us hold in common with them, is the decision to fully surrender our lives to God’s purposes; to move from our mind’s understanding in God’s revealed truth to a place where we decide in every aspect of our lives to live surrendered to God. Marilyn was helping me type this, the good Nazarene that she was, and got all tingly because it sounded so much like sanctification. In this community of disciples and scholars, we lean into God-honoring excellence by asking the question: Am I honoring God in my scholarship, my instruction, that place where student learning and my passion for teaching connect? Staff, am I honoring God in that place of service? Does my work week as a staff member or administrator place God First when an angry parent or distraught student stands in front of my desk? Do I place God First in the fabric of my relationships that fill my life? Do I value others in the community with God first love and respect? Do I live a God-First commitment in my marriage and with my family? Am I a God-First friend when I respond to another person’s need? Do I place God-First actions in the communities I am a part of, my neighborhood, the schools my children attend, my church, and my workplace? When you joined this Christ-centered, mission-driven university, each one of you committed yourselves as disciples and scholars to pick up and carry that mantle of God-First excellence in all we do. I’m pretty sure you didn’t come primarily for the paycheck, the title, or the generous benefits program, apart from the generous tuitions discount. You came to advance God’s purposes through scholarship, service, community, and discipleship. You came as a witness to the miraculous God-First transformation in your own life; I have seen it and I have heard it. You came to support the powerful transformational process in the lives of our traditional, adult, graduate, and doctoral students, and that is what we are experiencing today, excellent teaching informed by excellent research, supported by life giving community, and built on selfless service. We are witnessing the miraculous ongoing transformation of students.
Just go back with me a minute and let’s revisit verse one. Paul asks Christ followers to present themselves as living sacrifices in holy ways that are acceptable to God. One of my books that has influenced me a great deal is Fox’s Book of Martyrs. One of the most powerful stories is the fourth persecution of the martyr of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred in AD 162 under the reign Marcus Aurellius. You remember the Polycarp story. It was determined that they couldn’t throw him to the wild animals because they had already been put away when he was captured that night. So they drove a stake in the ground and they gathered wood to burn him. As was the custom in those days, they would place the prisoner’s hand either high on the stake, which is usually where they went, or behind them. Typically, high on the stake and they would drive a nail through their hands. Polycarp, 86 years old, said, “Look, you don’t have to put a nail in my hands I stand here willingly, so they simply bound his hands behind his back and lit the fire. Somebody recorded his final prayer and I just want to read you the last couple sentences. Polycarp, willingly standing as a living sacrifice says, “Among these, may I be received before thee this day as a rich and acceptable sacrifice. Even if thou hast prepared and made manifest beforehand and hast fulfilled thou who art the unerring and true God. On this account and concerning all things, I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee, together with the eternal and heavenly Jesus Christ thy beloved son with whom to thee and the Holy Spirit be both glory now and forever. Amen.” And the witnesses to Polycarp’s living sacrifice were forever changed. The Church established roots because Polycarp followed Paul’s instructions and he is an absolute willing, living sacrifice, which is his reasonable act of worship. I don’t know about you, but the problem with my decision to be a living sacrifice is that I tend to crawl off the altar in the face of selfishness or need or fear. Paul delivers this idea in verse one that, to live as a God-First person, placing our lives daily on God’s altar, is actually our act of worship. Ultimately, we are His—God’s sacrifice. Everything we do, everything we are, the total accumulation of our gifts, abilities, and resources, our families, jobs, the spiritual journey of obedience we’re on; they all belong to God.
I want to give you an example of how we might respond to this call of God First in our lives. Take a look at Romans 12 on the back of your program. Below it, I would like you to sign your legal name. I’m going to sign Jon R. Wallace. The 20 of us who went on the retreat did this, too: Michael Whyte, Dave Bixby, Mark Dickerson, Terry Franson, Paul Gray, Diane Guido, Rose Liegler, Deana Porterfield, John Reynolds, Ilene Bezjian, Pam Christian, Dwayne Funderburk, Fred Garlett, Gary Lemaster, Aja Lesh, Mark Stanton, David Weeks, Helen Williams, David Wright, and I.