Fall 2007 State of the University Address
Sacred Encounters continued
Now let me confess a few things. This evening, we are talking about sacred encounters. You saw some in the lives of our students represented here tonight. The lyrics of the song we heard talked about the lifesong and how each of us brings what we have to the table. It told a powerful story. Let your lifesong sing to Him.
You know this has been an interesting year-and-a-half for me. I will tell you briefly what I told the deans and administration more in depth last week at our retreat. Maybe the dark secret that came from my cancer was that the hardest thing for me to do was think of the future. Some of you who have faced a life-threatening illness know what that is like. I can remember for the first three months, my goal was to make it to that evening.
After health returned and I got back in the saddle, I would come home and tell Gail, John Reynolds comes in with the forecast and Michael Whyte comes in with the academic plan for next year, and I cannot find a way to go into the future. I remember calling a few people and confessing to them and asking them to pray. It was amazing, all but one stayed in there. It was hard to be a part of a community where we were hitting the long ball every single day, and I couldn’t see the ninth inning. The power of prayer and the effectiveness of people who love you are astounding. In July, I went back to the doctor. You go every three months, then you go every six months, and the magic number is five years. I am 18 months out. He did the scan and then said, “I don’t want to see you for a year.” There is nothing like going to the doctor and having him look you in the eye and say you look pretty healthy. I came home and said to Gail, the future just opened up. It did not open up as it did for Moses with God saying this is where I want you to go. It opened up with gratitude. It opened up with a sense of awe and wonder that I get to do this with you. What revisited me were those sacred encounters that you have had with me and that I have been privileged to have with students over the years. What opened up for me was this sense that God has not brought us or me this far to not give us direction.
So let me tell you my perspective on this year. I have spoken to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty, I have talked to the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences faculty, and I got to talk with student leaders on Monday. I will make the same declaration to you that I made to them. I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I have been at this university on staff for 31 years. That is about 50 years shorter than Cliff Hamlow. I cannot remember a sense of expectation like I have now. Here’s why: First of all, the conversation around vision and mission and same-page agreement that the 21 leaders of this university had last week was one of the best that I have ever been a part of. If you work at this university and report to a dean, a vice president, or one of those 21 who sit in one of those chairs who have a span of care over this university, let me tell you, we have locked arms. We are moving forward with the intent to bring God-honoring excellence to everything we do. I am expectant because, like Dave Bixby, I also went on Walk About (my 30th). I thought I would return, to quote Dave, “on a bloody stump,” but my knee and hip also held out and it was a “Yeah God!” You know what I mean, because everyone in this room has had one of these moments. For 10 days, we got to sit around the campfire and hear from our very best student leaders about who they are and to hear their fears and hopes and what it means to be obedient to Christ in a community like APU with faculty and staff who are committed to their journey. I wish I would have recorded their responses when I asked, “Who is it at this university that has marked your life? Who has given you guidance that makes a difference?” There were names of faculty and the names of staff and the names of roommates and RAs and RDs.
Maybe it has been there every year, but I can tell you that the scales are off my eyes like never before. I believe God is going to move in our community this year. I am not a prophet or a son of a prophet, but I want to remind you that for the last 200 years, every significant revival that we know of in North America or Europe started in a community of young adults; many under the guidance and tutelage of faculty, disciples, and mentors. What might God do with us?
I recently had this conversation with the Communiversity staff. At the heart of our conversation was this idea that we have got to do something. One of the staff members said, “What might we do programmatically to open the doors so the Spirit of God has freedom to move among us?” Then we caught ourselves and considered together that it is probably not a program. It is probably a faculty and staff rightly aligned to the purposes of God, who every single day bring a petition of prayer with permission for the Holy Spirit to break lose, and use truth telling, confession, and transparency as a model for a community to break through because Jesus is real and the Bible is true.
I am asking, as we head into this year, would you agree to that? This idea of a sacred encounter. Just think of what we know in Scripture. The Old Testament is a story of God’s faithfulness to the Hebrew people. Those moments where they encounter the almighty God forever change them. Although they make every stupid mistake you can imagine, He claims them. The New Testament is the remarkable story of God incarnate with us. Just think for a minute in the Gospel of Jesus’ encounters. Think of the ordinary stuff: water into wine, mud for blind eyes to see. Maybe, for me, the best picture is the rich young ruler. That sacred encounter where a young adult, like what we have in this community, has a conversation with Jesus that would otherwise be ordinary in any other situation, and he claims it as a sacred encounter. A sacred encounter occurs when my agenda and my busyness is released, and I trust the Spirit of God in me, in that moment, to claim that conversation, the class assignment, the work order that is causing you to knock on that door, what ever it is, the angry parent on the phone.
I was telling some faculty members today, we talk about this entitled generation. We have given a term to their parents as helicopter parents because they are always hovering. Those of you who deal with these students and parents, you know exactly what I am talking about. Many of you in this room are like them. You over programmed your kids just like I did. You bought a minivan and took them to six practices and three games. Now, a new term has emerged, not helicopter parents, but Blackhawk parents—fully armed and ready to blow you out of the saddle. And they love Jesus! Really, it’s a pretty amazing thing.
Let me tell you what I believe, honestly. Tomorrow night, we are going to have about 4,000 people right here in this room. About 2,000 of them or a little more, actually about 2,300, are going to be parents. I am going to talk to them about what it means to be responsible and how we help their students grow up. I don’t know that they’ll hear a word I say, but we are going to talk about it. Consider for a minute that even a Blackhawk parent represents a sacred encounter opportunity.
I was speaking to the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences faculty yesterday and a lot of the faculty teach in the graduate, accelerated, and doctoral programs dealing with adult students with the same agenda we have. They lead full and busy lives. They really want to advance their knowledge and education; learn today and apply it tomorrow. It is a pretty exciting deal. Imagine the sacred encounters that are presented. The life change that’s coming out of our adult programs makes me wish the same for the undergraduates.
So here is our assignment this year: move with me into the future. The future is the opportunity to embrace those sacred encounters. You remember that I used as the symbol, the cross in between the cornerstone. At a community meeting a few months ago, I said I really think that is where God has called us to live. I think God has called us to live between the Lordship of Christ, our commitment to transformational scholarship, our commitment to community, and our commitment to service.