A couple weeks ago, I was recognized at a faculty development meeting for “excellence.” The award states, “in recognition of valuable contributions to the Chattanooga and Dalton campuses and for excellence in the classroom and unconditional ministry to our students.” As you can imagine, I was embarrassed to be the center of the attention for those brief moments (I like being the center of attention when I control the event, but I don’t particularly enjoy it when the spotlight is on me because I either did something poorly or because I did something well!).
I have to admit that (on the inside) I was a bit emotional. For me, it was like a pat on the back from my heavenly Father and from one of my earthly bosses (the academic dean). I had worked hard for the college this year and attempted to be faithful as I prepared and as I taught each course, each class. I am never satisfied with my performance and strive to make each lesson better than the last time I taught it. Jodi can attest how seriously I take my callings both at home and at the workplace(s). She can also describe how much I deeply desire that my students learn more than facts to regurgitate on my quizzes and final exams.
Over the past ten years, I have labored to proclaim the excellencies of God (1 Pet. 2:10). My intense hope is that I have made a difference in their lives. The Lord has not used me as the instrument that would lead anyone to exercise the gift of saving faith, but I have planted many seeds. Hopefully, I have also served as an example to my students that someone can love God, love people, and live with God-exalting freedom.
As the certificate was read, I was encouraged to be commended for offering “unconditional ministry.” I don’t know what I expected when I was handed the piece of paper. A few phrases would not have surprised me, phrases like “evident preparation” or “taught with enthusiasm” or “sense of humor.” But “unconditional ministry” made me pause. Did I really treat my students “unconditionally”? What does that even mean?
Whatever it means, it must include the concept of hospitality. When my students enter the classroom, I greet them and get to know them. By the end of the course, many of them consider me a friend. I enjoy ribbing them and being teased by them. Some are now my peers. Others I have wanted to adopt. We’ve shared many a laugh as well as our burdens. I do indeed hope they have felt loved.
However, the fact that I have the capacity to offer unconditional ministry testifies that I am not what I once was! There was a time in my life that my goal in every pursuit was self-gratification. I lived wholly for the flesh, not particularly caring who I hurt in the process. No passage sums up my condition at that time better than Ephesians 2:1-3. Paul wrote,
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
That was me! I was a son of disobedience; a child of wrath. Ministering to others never crossed my mind. And I remained that way until God unexpectedly invaded my life, which He did in the winter of 1984. Paul continued in Ephesians, chapter two with these words:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (2:4, 5).
A miraculous event transpired in my life. I was spiritually dead and then I was made alive! And that changed everything! God’s work of regeneration resulted in my having a new passion. His glory became my conscious chief end. Blessing others and preparing for eternity now became priorities. You know as well as I do that my flesh often gets in the way of my success in accomplishing these goals. There are many days in which I am easily the most self-centered person I know. But, by the grace of God, there are also days that He is indeed exalted and people are blessed and my time spent on planet earth is not wasted. Those are good days! Maybe I’ve had some in the classroom. For that, I praise God. Maybe I’ve had some at home and in the office. I praise God for those as well!
Maybe I’ll have one today. That’s the plan!