(I haven’t posted anything in a few days, and I still don’t quite have “What is Biblical Theology?—Part Four” ready. However, while I’m still finalizing that post, I thought I would put up on the website a devotional that I gave for a Board of Trustees meeting of what was then North American Baptist College and Edmonton Baptist Seminary. This devotional was first given on March 13, 1997, when I was in just my fourth year of teaching here. I repeated the devotional a few years later for an October Board of Trustees meeting, with some updating of names and positions; but I was unable to locate on my computer the notes from that updated devotional. This is my 60th birthday, and every year on my birthday I take some time to do some reflecting, using Psalm 90 as a basis for the reflection. So since I’ve been doing this reflecting, I thought you might find this devotional from sixteen years ago interesting, especially those of you with ties to the college and seminary. And, in light of the upcoming Board meetings this week, besides interesting, you might even find it appropriate.)
A prayer of Moses the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning–
6 though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
7 We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
12 Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.
It has been three and a half years since I last gave a devotional for the Board of Trustees, in my first semester teaching here at EBS.
When I gave that devotional, John Binder was the President of our NAB Conference. Now it is Phil Yntema.
Charles Littman was the Area Minister for Alberta; now it’s Ron Berg.
Ron Berg was the chair of the Board of Trustees for NABC/EBS; then it was Klaus Gerhardt; now it’s Ron Mayforth.
Paul Siewert was the President of our two schools. Now it’s Marvin Dewey.
Glen Scorgie was the Academic Vice-President of the college. Now it’s Walter Goltz.
When I gave that devotional three and a half years ago, I was two days shy of being 40 years old. Now I’m 43.
At that time, I didn’t wear glasses. Now I do wear glasses, for distance, and the next pair of glasses that I purchase, either this month or next month, will be bifocals.
At that time I had a daughter in the 11th grade, a son in the eighth grade, and a son just beginning grade 1. Now, that daughter is about to graduate from NABC; the oldest son is about to enter his last year of high school; and I’m beginning to feel awfully glad that I still have a 9-year-old.
At that time I was a poor professor with a wife and three children. We lived in a townhouse apartment and our only car was a 1983 Oldsmobile. Now, three and half years later, I’m still a poor professor, I still live in a townhouse apartment and I still drive as my only car a 1983 Oldsmobile. Some things don’t change.
When I first came here three and a half years ago; I regarded my colleagues as permanent fixtures. Now, nearly four years later, I’m beginning to realize that that is not the case. Within the next 5-6 years, David Priestley, whose office has been right beside mine, both when we were over by the library and here in this new building, and with whom I have enjoyed deep theological conversations, and whom I consider a true friend, is going to retire. And he’ll be replaced by some new young theologian and church historian whose name I don’t know yet; and whenever I start to think about it, I begin to miss David already, and I actually begin to feel a little lonely.
And not just David; within the next ten years, colleagues and good friends of mine will also be retired: Walter Goltz, Aileen Wright (who joined the faculty the same year as I did), Peter Ristau, Dick Paetzel, Benno Przybylski, Kurt Redschlag.
When I started teaching here at the age of 40, I figured that, if the institution wanted to keep me around and let me teach until retirement, then I could perhaps count on being here 25 years; now, three and a half years later, I’m looking at 22 more years. And maybe this sounds crazy, but for some reason, 22 years doesn’t seem all that long.
Now, I want to assure you, these are not just the ramblings of an Old Testament Professor who is having a mid-life crisis. But I have almost all my life had a bent toward sentimentality and nostalgia. And therefore, when the Scriptures instruct me to number my days so that I may apply my heart to wisdom, it isn’t all that hard for me to obey the first part of the command. And one thing that always impresses me when I number my days, is how few they really are.
Maybe you remember that scene from the movie, MacArthur, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur, during the Korean War, is wanting to advance his armies into Korea and carry out a full-scale invasion, but is frustrated because President Truman won’t let him do just as he wants. So MacArthur, talking to one of his aides, vents his frustration, and complains that generals who have served their country in the army for decades and have been through two world wars shouldn’t have to take orders from those “temporary occupants” of the White House. But what MacArthur seems to have failed to recognize was that he was only a temporary occupant of his office as well.
My brothers and sisters, members of the Board of Trustees of NABC/EBS, I want you to know that I and the rest of the faculty genuinely appreciate the work you have done and are about to do. You work long hours, with no overtime pay, and not even regular pay. You take time out of your busy schedules, and at the sacrifice of being with your families, to devote yourselves to the well-being of these two schools. And for the past few board meetings, you have worked with the burden of a cloud of gloom that hung over those meetings because of our financial situation. I praise the Lord that that particular cloud seems to have been lifted. We have just finished a year in the black; the debt has been reduced significantly and we have a new president, with whom I have already been super-impressed as he has set about his responsibilities with energy and zeal. You have brought us through this crisis, and I pray that the Lord will honor you for the way in which you have honored him.
And yet I also know that, not too many years from now, there is going to be a meeting of the Board of Trustees of NABC/EBS, and not a single person in this room tonight will be at that meeting. Administration, Faculty, Staff, Board Members—we are all temporary occupants of our positions. The Bible suggests that, in some way, reflecting on the fewness of our days, on our mortality, on our temporariness, helps us to gain a heart of wisdom. It helps to put things in right perspective, so that intelligent decisions can be made. So let me encourage you tonight. As you begin to set about your deliberations, reflect on and consider the days that God has given to you, and in doing that, I believe that our Lord will grant you a wisdom that will help you to make decisions—decisions that will be faithful to our heritage, right for our present situation, and worthy of being passed down to our successors.
As we come to a close, and as you begin your deliberations, permit me to pray for you a paraphrased prayer taken from Psalm 90:
May the God who has been our dwelling place throughout all generations teach you to number your days so that you may gain a heart of wisdom.
May he satisfy you with his unfailing love that you may sing for joy and be glad all your days.
May the wonderful things the Lord will do for you be displayed for all his servants to see. And may your children be awestruck by the splendor of the works of the Lord.
May the favor of the Lord your God rest upon you; may he establish the work of your hands; indeed, may he establish the work of your hands.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
October 16, 2013