Provost/Senior Vice President Stephen Varvis, Ph.D., is on vacation this week. Please welcome guest contributor Terry Brensinger, Ph.D., president of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and vice president of Fresno Pacific University.
I was struck a few days ago by a simple statement in Haggai 2:19. After rehashing various difficult experiences that had left Judah fragile and tentative, God abruptly announces, “From this day on I will bless you.” Talk about new beginnings and the possibility of life springing up in barren places! With keen interest, I flipped back to the prophet’s preceding speeches. To my surprise—and encouragement—what I found hit close to home.
In his opening speech, Haggai alludes to what amounts to a failed building campaign! The people of Judah had been instructed to erect a new temple for God, but they had stopped working with little more than the foundation in place. Rather than complete their God-given work, they built their own houses (1:9). Clearly, this half-completed assignment had cast a shadow over the entire community.
But that’s not all. In his second and third speeches, Haggai refers to conflicting impressions and perspectives that are likewise diminishing Judah’s ability to move forward. Some people were more concerned about their own interests than the welfare of the group. Others, though agreeing to join the temple-building project, did so without checking their negative attitudes at the door. With images of the former and more beautiful temple dancing in their heads, they had no imagination for something fresh and new (2:3). And finally, still others found themselves encumbered by the finer points of theology, debating endlessly the application of ancient purity laws (2:11-14). Regrettably, their inability to see past their differences left them spinning their wheels. Things needed to change for Judah to have any chance of a brighter future.
And that is what happened. Priorities were rearranged. Mistakes confronted. Lessons learned. Concessions made. The challenges facing Judah did not disappear overnight, but the direction was reset and the future recast. Out of the shadow burst new rays of light. “From this day on I will bless you,” God responded. “And the glory associated with the new will far exceed anything associated with the old (2:9).”
What a promise. A real attention-grabber! And as I sat with this text and the magnitude of God’s promise, my thoughts turned to our own recent experiences here at Fresno Pacific. I thought, almost with amusement, of the persistent shadow cast over us by an unfulfilled building campaign. I’ve heard so often about confused priorities and unfinished projects, and so have you. And who can deny that, even today, we struggle at times to coordinate our priorities, manage our theological differences and find a common language? All of this, and more, is true. Must this admission, however, be the end of the story? Not if Haggai has anything to say!
During this past year, a great deal of difficult work has been done to chart a brighter future for FPU. For some, that future might still be almost impossible to envision. For others, signs of change are all around. I see such signs in the faces of engaging new hires who sense God calling them to serve among us. I observe them in the stories of students whose lives are being wonderfully transformed. I notice them in exciting and innovating new ideas bubbling up all over campus. I hear them in the voices of donors who are reconnecting with the university. I sense them in the longings of my colleagues, who want desperately for FPU not only to survive, but to assume a key role in educating men and women to serve as kingdom-leaders in the San Joaquin Valley and around the world. And I detect them in the depth of my own soul, thankful as I am to be serving here at this time.
Could it be, I wonder, that God is up to something at Fresno Pacific University? If we share with the people of Judah struggles with building campaigns, strategic priorities and religious practices, might we also share with them the hope of a new day? Is it really that far-fetched to believe that God is now saying to us what he said to Judah? “From this day on I will bless you.” And perhaps most stirring of all, would we dare believe that what God is about to do will far exceed anything we have seen before?