The Student Becomes The Teacher

I need to first give a disclaimer at the beginning of this post and ask for your forgiveness for the academic language used. I have been sitting in sixty hours of PhD/ThM seminar this week and after that much “academic dialogue” one can not write, let alone think, in any other frame of mind. So if this seems a little “heady” you will know why.

Have you ever seen the Honda commercial that says, “I’m Mr. Opportunity and I’m knocking”? It has to be one of my least favorite commercials yet I was struck by a deep truth while watching it today. Opportunity is knocking! I know it’s simple, but it’s deep. Someone once said, “Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell”. The question is: which one do we answer? Which one do we hear?

While “temptation” is a huge issue, I want to focus on the opportunities. There is a thin line between an opportunity and possibility. An opportunity is only a possibility taken advantage of, and according to Shaw, “the possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react.” You see as Christian we are fast to react but slow to act. We will jump up and shake our fist at the world when faced with the moral decay of society or the political situation if Africa, yet when presented with the possibility to make a difference or join God in ministry we sit right back down. We say, “I need to wait and see if this is really what God wants” and soon the possibility is gone and we have missed our opportunity. If we wait long enough the possibility will pass us by and we will say, “I guess it was not in the will of God.” What a load of crap! Now don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe there is a time to “wait upon the Lord”, however, I also believe God presents Himself in the possibilities and we, as Christians, are very proficient at letting them pass us by. I’ll admit I’m one of the worst. I have a professor who once said, “There are two ways to climb an oak tree. You can either get up and start climbing or you can sit on an acorn.” In my feeble attempt to get off the acorn and start climbing, I want to share with you an opportunity I have.

As many of you know I have been a student for a long time. And in many ways have seen possibilities pass by without any action on my part. Often the question is asked, “Donald, when are you going to be done with school and get on with life? Where are you going to minister?” The implication is that school is not life and that God is on the other side waiting for me to make up my mind and finish so I can begin to minister. In some ways this is true, as many students linger in school because of fear or apathy. However, school is also a calling and can be a place to join God in ministry. Again, it is about climbing the tree or sitting on the acorn.

In the last few weeks I have been presented with the prospect of teaching for the CLD (Contextualized Leadership Development) department at Golden Gate. It is a unique opportunity to combine my extensive experience as a student (almost ten years), my interest in teaching higher education, and my love for missions and ministering to people. I have seen the possibility, seized the opportunity, and I am excited to say I will start teaching Baptist History at San Quentin State Prison next week!

Getting off the acorn was not easy. I have been talking about teaching for years now and when this opportunity came up my first reaction was pass it by because of fear. Then I decided to pray about it. In praying I wanted to hear a booming voice from the sky as a conformation of being in the will of God, yet no voice came. I talked with my wife and we both decided that it was an amazing opportunity which would be in line with where we feel God leading us, yet there was a part of me that wanted to wait until it was too late so I would not have to make the decision. In letting it pass, the decision would ultimately have been made by God and I would be off the hook. I came up with almost every possible excuse for not taking the position. But there was always something inside which pushed me on and told me this was something I needed to do. Was it the still small voice of God, the perceived need for a teacher, the inward desire to teach, or my need to gain a position? I don’t know. I want to believe it was God, and it was his voice, which I had shut out before, but there was no voice from the sky. What I do know is I start teaching next week, and while there is enough anxiety to go around, and I am nervous about my abilities, I am completely at peace with my decision and looking forward to serving God in this way.

Aristotle once said, “Those that know, do. Those that understand teach.” I believe God has prepared me for this and that it is a complex combination of Aristotle’s words. To know and understand in rooted in the same reality, God. In the doing or the teaching, one will find it only when the opportunity is seized and we stand up to act within the will of God. Do I really know? Do I understand? My professors seem to think so and believe it is time for me to teach, but it is only going to be through the power of God that I am able to do this. My goal in regards to teaching is to follow in the words of Soren Kierkegaard, “To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.”

I want to encourage all of you to look at the possibilities, seize the opportunities, and get off the acorn. Those who climb seem to be well rounded, properly stretched out and flexible, as well as growing in their ability and strength. For those who stay on the acorn, they seem to be lacking in these areas and soon find themselves unable to get up for lack of muscle growth. Besides, those who stay too long on the acorn seem to always be walking around with something up their butt! And I don’t want to be on of those people. Amen?

Playing The Back Nine

Have you ever stepped out on to a dew covered grass and felt a freshness you could taste, a cleanliness you could see, and experienced an early morning exhilaration which coffee can only pale in comparison? Have you ever stood between two blue rocks on the top of a hill covered in neatly trimmed grass, looking out over a vast expanse of steam rising above a carpet of living green? If you haven’t, then I highly recommend playing the back nine holes at your local golf course the next early morning you have free. It is an experience you won’t soon forget and most courses have a reduced rate for early morning tee times. But most of all, it is the views and the inspiration which can change your life!

This summer I dug my bag out of storage, dusted off my driver, and decided to try and find my golf game. I want to conquer the monster “shank” which, in the past, had chased me off the course feeling defeated and leaving me frustrated. I felt that it was time to commit myself to this game and really give it the time and attention it required to make a difference. Golf is funny that way, you can play at it for a long time without making any kind of commitment, you may even hit a few good drives or have a great time with the boys, but you never get good at it. See that’s the problem. You can feel all the peace and excitement I described above in just a few short hours early in the morning and then head off to work, leaving the game behind and forgetting about it until the next time you venture out. But you never get good at it. There always seems to be this elusive feeling that you are missing something, you are falling short of all you could be. While playing the back nine makes you feel good, the feeling also fades quickly. Life takes over and soon the peace you found on the course disappears and the realty of life sets in.

As I stood in the tee box of hole #9 I looked back and was struck by the view I had of the city. There it was, all spread out before me. Life was waiting while I was playing the back nine. It was merely 6:45 in the morning and the city was shrouded in a heavy haze, yet the busyness had already started and I knew I would soon have to finish and head off to work. There was only one thought that comforted me. I had already committed to this game. Playing the back nine was not merely “playing the back nine” for me anymore! I now played the back nine to prepare for eighteen. When I left the course I was not losing the peace but taking it with me and carrying it into everything I did throughout the day and into my preparation for a full game. No longer was golf something I did once a month or once a year but a weekly occurrence of joy and dedication which I pray transforms into a lifestyle

Now many of you may laugh at the thought of a “lifestyle” of golf or think that I have taken my love of this game to an extreme obsession. You would be wrong. I don’t walk around in a golf shirt with knee high socks and have little golfers on everything I own. In fact, if you walked into my home you may never know I golf, yet in talking with me you will sooner or later find out that I play the game. You will not find me to be a fanatic but one who has dedicated to that which he loves. This also plays out in the rest of my life with all that I love.

Looking at the city that morning I was also struck by another reality. Upon looking closer, deeper though the haze, there were two buildings which stuck out to me. Churches! There were two big churches standing above everything else. Then it hit me. Playing golf was like being a Christian! How many people had I played the back nine with who where only “playing” the back nine? They came for their morning fix and then went off about their day, week, or even year. It was the same with church. People seem to come on Sunday morning for a few hours which make them feel at peace, good about themselves, and then go out into the world, forgetting about where they have just been. There is no commitment, no change. Their lives, the game they play, have not been transformed. They have not improved in the least and yet they go about their day telling everyone they play golf/ go to church. You may look around their homes and find crosses on every wall and bibles on the book shelve but as you talk with them you may find yourself questing what you see.

For many, playing the back nine or going to church requires no commitment because they are not serious about the game. They are not seeking life transformation or the skills one needs to grow in the game. They are merely seeking the morning buzz, a good time with the boys, and the recognition they receive from their association with such an entity.

The burden then falls upon us, those who have made the commitment to grow in the game, to guide others to such an outcome. It is the true “players” who seem to be the silent minority yet have the only message of hope and peace worth hearing. It is not through what we flash on the outside which is going to lead people to a commitment but that which we possess on the inside. I do not dream of golfing because of the knee high socks and uptight looking shirts I could wear but because of the personal satisfaction I get from playing the game and playing it well. In fact, those knee high sock make me think twice about playing, however, after getting over the ridiculous image of some, I find the game quite worth the effort. It is the same with church. It is not about what we see from other people which leads us, but the personal relationship with God which we find once we commit. Often it is the image some Christians portray which holds people back from committing and that is a shame.

So here I am sharing with you my love of golf and I can’t help but be lead into thinking about the church and being a Christian. It is not my love and commitment to golf that makes me more committed to being a Christian. Just the opposite! Because of my love and commitment to God and the church I am able to commit to things as trivial as golf and as important as being a good husband. Hardy Greaves says, “God is happiest when His children are at play.” Not when they are just wasting time, but truly committed and playing the game.

But we must remember that as with golf it is also true with the Christian life. We cannot win the game! As Bagger Vance said, “It’s the game that can’t be won, only played. So I play. I play on. I play for the moments yet to come. Looking for my place in the field.” In golf we strive to get better for personal satisfaction. In the Christian life the game has already been won by Jesus Christ. What is left up to us is how we play the game, where we are in the field and by whose strength we play.