This study was done during the last semester of my teaching career. A lot of things were on my mind. The letter of resignation had been written and accepted. I was starting to have dialogs with different campus constituencies about an orderly exit regarding pension, health plans, etc. I met my successor but stayed out of the process of his selection. I got an early start on cleaning out the office. I wanted an orderly exit so that on the last day of my tenure as a teacher, I would walk out and not return.
I had been asked to deliver the Baccalaureate address to the graduating seniors. That would be my last official act. I was working through various texts of Scripture to find some ideas. It was tempting to work up something out of the present study, but it seemed perhaps a bit too remote for wide-eyed seniors with cheek champing at the bit to get off campus as soon as possible. After all, they had a lot on their minds too.
The text really was out of the last 13 chapters of Genesis. It was the story of Joseph. The themes of the talk, which was to last 14 minutes max, were: handling hardship, betrayal and bad luck and yet have the faith to persevere, and to forgive and forget. Obviously a tall order but I think I got it right. I practiced it a gazillion times, parked my ego at the door on the day of, and gave the talk in a way that God would be glorified. I walked out and got into the car and left. I did not return until Homecoming.
The whole thing was really sad, however. Forty great years of living out my dream and doing 39 of those years in Jesus’ name. It was a great ride and I knew that I was walking away from something – the classroom and the students – that often was the best part of my day. Still, I knew it had to happen. I was not the same man I was when younger and I needed to be sure those students were getting what they paid for. Stepping aside and out seemed to make sense.
Teaching was my life. But it was not my entire life. I led with my heart, and that is probably one of the reasons I was so tired at the end. Emotion can suck the energy right out of you. I loved it so much…teaching…being with students…preparing…studying…commiserating with colleagues. Not all of it was good but I will leave that part out. To tell you the truth, I have forgotten about most of that.
For the longest time I was a fan of the writing of Ernest Hemingway. I was fascinated by his life and read all the biographies, as well as the critical surveys of his work, including the works of his fellow “lost generation” peers like John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and so on. I accumulated 200 volumes in my personal library and read them at my leisure over the years.
To Hemingway, writing was his life. He worked at it as hard as he could. The façade he presented to the world was quite different from the serious man who worked hard at writing one sentence at a time. He lived a short but active life that ended in suicide at the age of 61. This event caused interest in him to increase and soon we discovered he was a sick man dealing with a variety of ills. All of this resulted in the loss of his writing ability. This was more than he could take and he ended it all. Since he could not write any more what was the point in living?
Teaching was my life but I did it in Jesus’ name. Therefore, Jesus is my life. I could have been a plumber or a used car salesman, but as long as I did those things in Jesus’ name, He would be my life, not my vocation, not my loved ones, not anything. Jesus is my life. My life is hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3).
So, if I taught in Jesus’ name than I am also retired in Jesus’ name. This is “our” time now. It is a quiet time together, He and I, working together through His teachings and precepts and reflecting on how my life, even now, is a learning tree that continues to fascinate me to the point that often I don’t sleep but for the right reasons.
Jesus is my life because it says in John 8:31,32 that if I continue in His word, I will be a disciple of His, and I will know the truth and the truth will make me free. I am free. I could have a horrible day teaching (been there done that) and walk out feeling really bad, but somewhere within me there I was with Jesus. I have never had a horrible day with Jesus. Never. I could so some pretty dumb things and hurt myself and others and feel really bad about that. However, those emotions will pass. I could never feel bad about anything that involves me and My Lord other than the sadness of knowing that He had to endure The Cross in order for me to have a relationship with God through Him. He loves me unconditionally. That is the truth that sets me free: His love.
It is up to me to actively claim that love and make it a part of me. First, I need to understand my position in Jesus. If I am in Jesus positionally, I clearly am in the kingdom. I am never alone. I am in Him with the entire kingdom. Knowing this has kept me away from loneliness for a long time now, and being lonely was my M.O. for just about my entire life. Lonely and insecure. I worked hard to hide it but now all of that is gone because of my being in Jesus.
Second, I need to claim the love of God by understanding my personage in Christ. I need to accept that I (1) am a saint; (2) an ambassador for Him; (3) His workmanship to bear the fruit of good works; (4) a light in the world; and (5) flavoring, preserving and healing salt. Wow…what a mix! There is no reason why I would ever feel inferior and know these truths at the same time.
There is one more truth I need to claim and we need to look at that a bit. I refer to my possessions in Christ. Even before I was born, God blessed me spiritually (Ephesians 1:3). In addition, He gave me an inheritance (Ephesians 1:11 and Romans 8:17). He deeded to me something as if it was part of a will. In order to execute the will, someone must die. That someone is Jesus. Who is the executor of the will? The Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, I am at peace with God because of Jesus (Romans 5:1-2). Can you imagine that? Peace with God, the Almighty who created the heavens and the earth! Me. Just a guy who is not special or extraordinary and yet who, in the entire milieu of a life that has marched through His creation from day one till now, and I have peace with God through Jesus and I did nothing to earn that.
There is more. He has granted to me His precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). Please see this. These are not just promises, but these are precious promises. Precious means: extra-large, magnificent. One of these promises is that I can have victory over sin by being a partaker of the divine nature: not to be sinless, but to sin less.
I am a partaker of His grace because I am in Jesus (Ephesians 1:6). We don’t take grace for granted, but often we fail to see the extent of it. Very often I view His Word as grace. It is so full of His riches, so honest and so true and so helpful. Often just saying His words bring comfort and peace. Grace is more than amazing…it is precious.
And most importantly, I have fellowship with God through Jesus (1 John 1:3). I visualize this fellowship as the two of us walking side by side. He is the leader and is moving more purposefully than I am. He is sharing and teaching but He is also listening. It is a path we share and yet I know whose path it really is. It is His path. He is not my co-pilot. He is my friend and redeemer and I can love Him and come to Him like a child and know He loves me and I feel His reassuring touch.
These truths are operative and real and take away any sense of inadequacy on my part.
None of this has anything to do with religion. There is no freedom in religion. None. This is not going to make us good holy persons walking around with halos over our heads. It has everything to do with relationship. It is relational knowledge – truth – that makes sense if it involves three of us – actually four: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and yours truly, all of me…the good, the bad and the ugly.
And God loves all three parts.
He always did; and He always will.
My name is Micheal the Penguin and I am a Christian in recovery.