As I write this brief reflection for the final 2015 issue of Connect:ED, I am sitting in my daughter’s room at St. Francis Children’s Hospital here in Tulsa. She was admitted yesterday with a severe eye infection requiring several days of antibiotics. For the fifth time in the last 18 months, I have again been deeply touched by the ministry of the nurses and doctors who serve in these hospitals. They treat my daughter like family. They are kind, patient, loving, and servant-hearted. They have brought her Christmas gifts, changed bedding, and hunted down a favorite pudding flavor. Above all, they have been great sources of encouragement and hope.
Some of those who serve in this hospital or those like it all across Oklahoma and even Kansas are OKWU graduates. I am yet again aware of the effects on society that your ministry as adjunct faculty and Christian educators makes every day. Whether it be in the life of the senior pastor leading a small rural congregation, the store manager at the local Home Depot, the pediatric or emergency nurse, the assistant principal at the nearby middle school, or the young professional seeking training in apologetics in order to connect to non-believing coworkers: these are the real people whose lives you are helping shape. And they, in turn, are touching countless numbers of other lives every day. Week by week, the influence of Oklahoma Wesleyan ripples across the world quietly by powerfully. There are times when that influence is very public, like when Dr. Piper’s post that OKWU is a university and not a daycare recently went viral. We are grateful for the publicity and exposure those events afford us, but the long-term measure of OKWU’s vision is in the day-by-day work of our students and alumni wherever they are.
So, today, I am looking at our work not through the eyes of a dean or professor but of a father who deeply loves his hurting, suffering daughter. At this Christmas season, we remember that God is also a father looking with compassion upon a groaning, broken creation that he loves. Out of that deep love for us, he incarnated himself, he embedded himself into our circumstances, he identified with us in our humanness, he did what we could not do for ourselves: he closed the distance between us and himself.
As we celebrate Christ’s birth and real presence in our world, let’s take time to see our work as adjunct professors as an expression of God’s incarnation in the lives of our students. Look for opportunities to engage them as real people with real lives. Find ways to identify with them in their calling, their passions, their fears, and even their life challenges. Share those burdens as they struggle to balance work, family, and education. Be a listening ear as they face the stress of falling behind on assignments because of sick kids or problems at work. Be flexible and gracious in allowing opportunities to handle these challenges. But at the same time, point them to a better future. Challenge them to see the possibilities of who they can become as a result of attaining their education. Set the standards for quality high and then push them toward that with love, encouragement, and firm gentleness. For when you do — when you become incarnate in the lives of your students and help them become the best they can be in the midst of the messiness of life — they become vessels well-equipped and ready to embrace the challenges of the world into which they are called to serve.
As I sit and watch my sick daughter be ministered to by her nurse through excellent professional training wedded to deeply compassionate humanity, I am watching the reality of God made flesh at work in the world. Because God was man, we can love and truly serve others as God does. Because God was man, he can work through our lives to heal, encourage, or equip others. In Jesus, God dwelt among us as one of us. In the Holy Spirit, God dwells in us and works through us for the redemption of creation. So, this Christmas, live and teach out of the incarnation of a loving, good, compassionate Father who wants nothing but the best for his children. Let’s let that reality characterize the way we approach our teaching ministry to our adult students!
Merry Christmas and may you know the rich presence of Jesus this week,