Ambassador • Academician • Actor
“To glorify God and enjoy Him forever” . . . this is the necessary and sufficient goal of the “purpose-driven life.” But glorifying God goes well beyond shouting “Praise the Lord” or singing “Kum Ba Yah.” Glorifying God must pervade every nook and cranny of a person’s life. It is the place where every reflection, every intention, and every action honor God as God.
God created us that we might live in the pleasure that comes only from being united with him in attitude and behavior and cause. This experience comes entirely at God’s initiative and by His gracious invitation. I have accepted his invitation and committed myself to glorifying him in everything I think and say and do. Though I repeatedly fall short, I nevertheless fix my eyes on this goal, thanking God for his forgiveness when I fail and depending on the empowerment of his Spirit to bring my efforts to perfection. I am therefore, first and foremost, God’s ambassador.
It was the last day of my student teaching practicum, the final requirement for certification to teach high school mathematics, when my career path took an unexpected turn. My supervising teacher and I had organized the final lesson plans: a time of cake and ice cream—topped off with some light entertainment. Neither of us could have calculated the life-changing significance of what happened that day.
Knowing of my deep faith in Christ, my supervisor suggested that I play my guitar and sing a contemporary religious song. I objected, noting that I had never sung a solo nor played my guitar in public. He suggested we first sing a duet together so I would be less nervous. His idea was moderately successful. I started with a kind of “talk song” by Randy Matthews titled “Important Things” and concluded with Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The presence of God’s Spirit was palpable. Students recognized that I cared about their eternal destiny, not just about their grasp of mathematics.
Only eternity will reveal all of the wonders God worked that day. Not least among them is my unquenchable desire to lead others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Within a few weeks I enrolled in a seminary. Within a few weeks after graduation, I accepted a short-term missionary assignment as an instructor in Greek and New Testament at Continental Theological Seminary in Brussels, Belgium. And the rest, as they say, is history. My service in Assemblies of God higher education now spans well over three decades.
After almost 25 years of teaching in Christian colleges, the wager that most people know me as a Bible professor is a pretty safe bet. Nevertheless, while I am a grateful, though unworthy, recipient of this noble calling, I have long regarded my involvement in Christian drama as among the most impacting kingdom service of my life’s ministry––in spite of its inauspicious beginnings.
Growing up in a church where my mother was the Sunday school secretary gave me more drama experience than I wanted—not because of favoritism but because all the other kids usually ran scared. I cannot possibly count the number of times I’ve recited a ”piece” or appeared as a bathrobe–clad sheperd or wise man.
As humorous as these experiences often were, God used them to alert me to the value of drama for ministry. One of the most moving encounters with God that I have experienced in ministry happened when I was asked to play the role of Jesus in a passion play. The scene was from the third chapter of John’s Gospel. Here Jesus is talking with Nicodemus about the meaning of salvation.
As I began the words “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” I peered into the darkness of the sanctuary. In lightning bursts my mind flashed from the scene of the afflicted Israelites being healed as they looked to the serpent on Moses’s stake, to the symbolic parallel with the stake on which Jesus was crucified; then, to the play on words Jesus was making with the euphemism “lifted up.” Next, to graphic descriptions of the horror of crucifixion that I knew from the study of antiquity; then to the separation from his father that Jesus was about to experience; and finally to my own father whom I had lost to cancer only months before—all of that in the flash of what could not have amounted to more than three seconds of unrehearsed dramatic pause. At last, with an increasingly tighter throat, I continued, “so also must son of Man be . . .” –and raising my arms in the position of a cross, I managed to eke out in nothing more than a raspy whisper, “lifted up.”
In those brief seconds I was overwhelmed at what God has done for us in Christ. For the first time in my life I understood that Jesus’s dialogue with Nicodemus was something far more than a dispassionate, intellectual argument. His words were a passionate plea based on the manifest evidence of God’s love and Christ’s imminent sacrifice. “Nicodemus! You MUST be born again!”
Okay, I admit it. I wept. And I was not “acting” –unless we consider that the highest form of acting is when an actor is so merged with the character, so drawn into the story that his or her actions and reactions are completely spontaneous and uncontrived. All I know is that in those moments I experienced a radical reorientation of being. God touched me, and he used the encounter to touch others. That is the power of the Holy Spirit! When actors are carried along by the Holy Spirit, they build an emotional bridge that enables audiences to have a powerful encounter with God. And that is why I step out of my comfort zone and trust God to empower me in the ministry of Christian drama.