It's been a remarkable year for Kathy and me, and Pacific Islands University. I wasn't supposed to be here on Guam. Kathy and I had already purchased tickets to return to Palau, to serve in the extension PIU used to maintain there, and to work with the Palauan Evangelical Church. PIU's President, Dr. Dave Owen found out he was sick when he landed in California, for what was supposed to be a couple of weeks long visit to the US Mainland. He, and his wife, Joyce, have yet to return. It turns out that his ailment was a potentially deadly form of cancer, T-cell Lymphoma. The last year for Dave and Joyce was filled with chemo-therapy, scans, kidney failure, a bone marrow transplant, and thankfully what appears to be a complete recovery.
About the same time that we at PIU were dealing with Dave's diagnosis, we also had to deal with the departure of a much-loved Academinc VP and the announcement that Spring 2017 was the last semester that our VP for Student Development, and her husband, our Maintenance Director, would be with us. Then a wonderfully sweet volunteer teacher--between her and her husband, they taught a full-time load each spring--had jaundice. The diagnosis went from hepatitis, to gall-bladder, to pancreatic cancer. She never got out of the hospital. Another husband-wife team has been serving under a far less than ideal situation. Because of an aged father who needs care, and the utter incompetence of US immigration, this couple is separated by thousands of miles. He here, and she in Europe.
It was only partly in jest that I referred to our campus at the "Village of Job" (For you non-Bible types, that's Job, sounds like "Joe," with a "B" on the end. Read the first two chapters of the Bible book by his name and you will understand why.) Those calamitous problems were stacked on an institution that was already thin on staff, short on money, and working hard to adapt to rapidly changing needs in this part of the world. My status went from "the guy who sits in the president's chair," to Interim President, to President. For an old preacher who found it humorous that he was a member of the Board of Trustees for PIU, that is a steep learning curve. Kathy? What was anticipated as a four-month absence from home, has now become a year-long establishing of a second home. Like me, her status has changed over the past twelve months. She has grown from sweet, to sweeter, to the sweetest person I know.
So, perhaps you can understand why I am declaring FAITH as the word of this year that is coming to an end.
Faith means a lot of different things. In making my declaration I embrace some of them, and reject one outright. Let me deal with what I don't mean, first:
Biblically faith often refers to a set of truths. This use of the word has been brought into our world, by the admonition, much more common in my youth than now, "Keep the faith." That great servant-leader, the Apostle Paul, was able to say, just before his death, "I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). Jude found it necessary to counsel Christians living in a time of moral decline (sound familiar?) to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3). There is a body of truth that one ignores at his own peril, and often the peril of others. Down through the centuries, the followers of Christ have faced evil forces, which compelled them to forsake the faith--reject this body of truth.
Another way to put it is to say, "We should believe in the truth that God has given us. If that is to take place, we have to know what that truth is. We need to be like Ezra, who had decided to "set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach" it (Ezra 7:10). It takes work, Paul told his protoge', Timothy. to study, do his best, make every effort at mastering this faith (2 Timothy 2:15). I suppose, if God had chosen to do so, He could have given us an infusion of all the truth we would ever need. Instead, He gave us the Bible. He gave those who are gifted as teachers, and ordained that those who become Christ-followers should be a part of the church so we would have the benefit of her knowledge not only in the present but that accumulated store of faith-knowledge that goes all the way back to the time when the "Faith was once for all handed down to the saints." I have been privileged to grow up in a place and time that abounds with witness to, teachingof, and encouragement in that Faith. Over the past year, it has been my privilege to be involved, in a more intensive way than ever before, in helping those who grew up in a less Faith-saturated environment to gain a better grasp of the Faith.
Years ago, I was privileged to speak at the baccalaureate service for my son's high school class. In preparation for the assembly, I took a piece of climbing rope and cut it into pieces, about six inches long. I'm far from being a mountaneer, but during my message to the graduates, I was able to tell them about an experience I had had rappelling down a rock face. I explained all the safety precautions that my guides had taken before allowing me to go over the edge. Basically, no matter how clutzy I was--and trust me, I'm good at clutzy--I would arrive safely at the bottom, as long as my rope was sound. On the other hand, the most skillful climber is doomed to disaster if his rope is rotten. At the end of the baccalaureate, I handed each graduate a piece of rope, to remind them that in life, even more than in climbing, you better check your rope.
Faith in a lie is deadly. Faith in God's truth is utterly dependable.
While my task has been to be an administrator/teacher/encourager/fundraiser/public-relater in a Christian University, my experience has caused me to be a student in the school of faith. I'm learning that:
- Those things that really matter are beyond my control. I've had to breathe deep, lean back into the rope, and trust.
- The things that I can do may seem unimportant and small, but they aren't. The Lord trusts big things to those who are faithful in small things.
- Just because I do the small things doesn't mean that God will come through with the big things I have in mind. I'm not playing "let's make a deal" with the Lord of the universe. The fact is, I'm learning . . .
- The big things I want often aren't God's plan. If I could make a deal with God, it would be a bad deal. Not because God is mean, actually it is the opposite. God is too good to allow the likes of me to draw-up the plan for the what is going to happen. He is too kind to allow me
- Likewise the Big, really good things that God has in mind, are often things that I've never thought of.
- The best I can do is to do what I'm supposed to do, as best as I can figure that out, and then leave the ultimate outcome to God. As if He needs my permission.
So, others can go with youthquake, complicit, or Feminism. For me the 2017 word of the year is FAITH.