Fall 2009 President's Dinner

Fall 2009 President's Dinner Message - 09/25/09

Listen to the recorded version here:


All We Are, All We Do

The Presidents Dinner

Northwest Nazarene University

Friday, September 25, 2009

Johnson Sports Center

David Alexander, President

 

Good evening.  It is a privilege to stand before you at this, my second Presidents Dinner.  Last year I greeted you as the new President of Northwest Nazarene University.  I focused our attention upon the fact that this institution will thrive only as it seeks God first.  Since then I have sought to meet the people and understand the essence of Northwest Nazarene University.  We have made covenant and made plans, joined with the rest of country in weathering what some are calling The Great Recession.  And now, here we are, gathered once again. 

We gather here tonight to express gratitude, give honor and tribute; but beyond that, we gather to reflect upon the nature and activity of NNU; all we are and all we do.  You want to know, you deserve to know, about the health and well being of the university.  For you are the builders and keepers of her legacy.  Forged nearly a century ago on the dusty, sagebrush outskirts of a little town, the Universitys long legacy has blossomed and flourished because of you here this evening, you, and generations of people like you.  Your prayers, your faith, your sweat, passion and sacrificial generosity are the lifeblood of NNUs legacy. 

As I have anticipated this evening I have wondered, what shall I report?   What unit of measure can be taken to help us inventory the state of NNU, the health of this place we have come to love?   What shall I say, of what do you wish to see and hear: the shape of the campus, the shaping of minds, the nurture of souls?  Can we adequately calculate the measure of Gods blessing, presence and purpose in the life of the university?

Rather than a lifeless list of numbers and statistics, I want us to consider what NNU has been and done this past year I light of a passage of scripture.  Listen to this prayer, from the heart and pen of the Apostle Paul:

For this reason,

Since the first day we heard it,

We have not ceased praying for you

And asking that you may be filled

With the knowledge of Gods will

With all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

So that you might lead lives

Worthy of the Lord,

Fully pleasing to Him,

As you bear fruit in every good work

And as you grow in the knowledge of God.

Colossians 1: 9, 10

Arent these compelling words?  I submit that the primary template for the assessment of NNUs success is not found in the rankings of US News & World Report (though we are always delighted to be on that list); rather, the values and priorities captured in Pauls prayer have merit and bearing on who we are, how we have ordered ourselves and how we have prospered as an institution last year and across the years.

These are words worthy of our consideration, organization and implementation.  In this prayer Paul highlights the primary means to lifes end.  He prays for us to know Gods will, and having knowledge of it, to have the wisdom and understanding to know how to apply it.  Paul prays so that we might learn to live within Gods will in such a manner that the lives we lead actually please God.  As we lead a God-centered life, we naturally bear fruit in our actions and grow in our knowledge and relationship with Godin effect we become Gods ambassadors.

Tonight, I submit that the words of this prayer are not only for individuals.  They are pertinent to NNU as well; for those of us affiliated with Northwest Nazarene University realize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  Whereas the secular universities of the day have kept religion out of the classroom, NNU continues to order itself upon the premise that values, faith and religious conviction must form the fabric of our curricular design and educational experience.  We teach toward outcomes in harmony with Pauls prayer:

That we might lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, as we bear fruit in every good work and as we grow in the knowledge of God.

Allow me to highlight and recite several of the accomplishments of the people, programs and place we call NNU; and as I do, know that what appear as statistics and institutional metrics are in fact, the fruit of yielded, obedient, sacrificial lives seeking to know and do the will of God.  Whether I speak of a generous donor, a humble alumnus, a devoted professor or an inquisitive student, each of them, in their own way has lived their life within the context of Gods will for them, bearing fruit via their gifts, their prayers, their mastery of craft or their youthful diligence.

I stand before you this evening to declare this about Northwest Nazarene University:

All we are

All we do

Both individually and collectively, has been done in light of our quest to know and do Gods will and in so doing, bear fruit that will last.  We seek to order our mission around Gods will and purpose for us; the programs we select and promote, the people we attract and hire, reflect the fact that we desire for our mission and our people to pursue His will and purpose.

Allow me to highlight:

Our PeopleNNU continues to attract and retain strong academic and administrative leaders.  The vast majority of our faculty hold terminal degrees in their field of study.  The commitments made by these talented, devoted, nurturing people continue to make them NNUs primary asset.  Our teachers teach.  Our teachers model Christ.  Our teachers support their primary work in the classroom with writing and research all of which benefits the university, the church and society.

Our ProgramsThe work of our people this past year has fostered the launch of several new programs:  the newly formed School of Nursing and Health Sciences has begun a Master of Science in Nursing; the School of Education has established a Educational Specialist graduate degree and a bachelors degree in the Exceptional Child.  The School of Theology & Christian Ministries has developed a new missions major, and this year we will establish NNUs first doctoral program, a Ph.D. in Practical Theology.  It is noteworthy that five years ago NNU had 416 full-time graduate students; this year there are 622 graduate students.  I hasten to say, that all of this programmatic growth should not eclipse the health and vitality of the NNU undergraduate experience.  The excellence, rigor and results of our bachelors programs remain the hallmark of NNU quality. 

Our StudentsLook around you.  In this hall tonight is living proof that NNU enjoys a gifted, motivated and service-oriented student body.  This year we have welcomed 1,934 full-time students.  An enrollment comparable to last years record enrollment of 1,944; in these uncertain economic times, we are grateful to the families and students who have placed their hope, trust and future in the NNU experience.  In order to better serve our students well, several new initiatives and emphases have been set in motion.  First, the Office of Spiritual Formation has expanded both its staff and its offerings, providing Bible study and discipling experiences for traditional undergraduates led by faculty and staff.  They have joined forces with the Office of Student Development in creating a new traditionthe Freshman Retreatover 250 young people traveled to McCall for Fresh 09, a time of fellowship, worship and community building.  All of these components are part of our commitment to provide a world-class residential experience centered in knowing God and serving Him.

Our PlaceAs is so very evident today, the facilities and grounds of NNU continue to improve.  This day we pay tribute to those generous individuals whose sacrificial gifts have made possible the construction of the Thomas Family Health & Science Center. 

In addition to this new campus icon, other changes, less noticeable at first have also taken place.  In the sophomore womens, and freshmen mens residence halls we have new window systems, new restroom facilities and a general facelift, both inside and out.

And we are not done. This October, the NNU Board of Trustees will consider a Master Plan designed to guide our growth and development through 2025 and beyond.  Such ambitious plans, as will be outlined in this document, will only come to fruition as we rely upon the blessing of God and the generosity of His people.

Our AssetsWe have recently closed the financial books on 20082009.  We should never take a balanced budget for granted, and this years is certainly no exception.  So we say with grateful hearts, thanks be to God.  Now, through conservative fiscal management and generous gifts to the NNU Fund we move forward to replenish our reserves and emerge from this time of economic downturn stronger and faster than we had originally anticipated.  You are helping us in this regard.  Many of you who have established endowed scholarships have stepped forward in this time when earnings are down and made outright cash gifts to be awarded this year.  Already, $105,000 has been contributed to our goal of $200,000.  Thanks to all of you who have and will give to this special endowment rebound appeal!  The assets you give provide us leverage to attract students and thereby change lives. 

Our CommunitiesNNU continues to expand her reach and influence across the Treasure Valley, the Northwest and the world, as her alumni, students and professors work and serve.  Yet we remain ever mindful of the fact that our gifts of service are matched by a generous group of civic and corporate supporters and sponsors.  The Emerson Awards help us underscore the partnership that NNU has with the leading citizens and businesses across the Treasure Valley.  I want to add my personal words of appreciation and congratulation to this years Emerson Award recipients:  Fred & Sus Helpenstell and Idaho Powers Mike Ybarguen and Jim Hovda.

Truly, we have been blessed this past year.  I trust these highlights underscore the fact that Northwest Nazarene University is a place where people are seeking God and His will for themselves and for this, their place of service, and in so doing, we are blessed by the fruit of their God-motivated good works.   

Well

Those are words for the year just ended, but what of tomorrow? 

What is NNU going to be?

What is NNU going to do?

I have stated to my faculty colleagues, and in three weeks to the Board of Trustees, that this year Northwest Nazarene University will seek to create organizational clarity and direction by identifying core values, institutional mission, overarching vision and strategic goals for the future of NNU.  Even as we enter and enjoy the Thomas Family Health & Science Center, we look toward the next points of growth.  What does the future hold for NNU?  What is our vision and what are the primary goals needed to enable vision fulfillment?

As we look for a compelling vision to come into view, I want to submit that another passage from the inspired pen of Paul, will aid us in determining our visions focus.  Hear the word of the Lord:

He is the image of the invisible God,

The firstborn of all creation;

For in Him all things

in heaven and on earth were created,

Things visible and invisible,

Whether thrones or dominions

or rulers or powers

All things have been created

through Him and for Him.

He is before all things,

And in Him

all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the Church;

He is the beginning,

The firstborn of the dead,

So that He might come to have

first place in everything.

For in Him all the fullness of God

was pleased to dwell,

And through Him God was pleased

to reconcile to Himself all things,

Whether on earth or in heaven,

By making peace

through the blood of His cross.

Colossians 1: 1523

This evening, as we look back and look ahead, we say to ourselves and to God, everything we say, do and are, we seek to do in, through and for Jesus.  We find meaning in Jesus.  We find purpose and direction in Jesus. 

You have come together tonight to reconnect with a place that has special meaning in your life.  I know why.  NNU exists for Him.  NNU exists in Him.  To return to NNU is to return to a place where Jesus is preeminent.  You join me here as covenant partners in Christs cause.

We believe that the primary quest of humankind is the quest for meaning and understanding and substance.  We believe that that search begins and ends in Jesus Christ!

All things in heaven and on earth have been created through Him and for Him.

In Him all things hold together.

And in Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Dont these words sound real and true?  Doesnt this sound like the kind of organizational chart tacked on the walls of heaven?  We are His.  He is our sovereign Lord.  We prosper by His loving grace, linked to our obedient feet, hands, mind and resources.  NNU belongs to God.

These are words for our tomorrow just as much as they were the words of our founding fathers, when, in 1919, our first President, H. Orton Wiley, selected Matthew 6:33 Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God as the schools motto.  Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, is NNUs vision compass point.  We formulate plans and priorities for the future in light of Christ and His call to come to Him, to find our place in His Kingdom, to seek to live life in His righteousness. 

Our activity as a university is and will be centered and rooted in Jesus Christ.  This is not the rhetoric of history past, this is the DNA that will birth plans yet to be made.  NNUs purpose is Gods purpose.  We are part of something larger than ourselves.  We teach, train, educate and disciple in Christs activity.  We mean it when we pray the words Christ taught us to pray, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

As pastor, author and theologian N.T. Wright states, It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning.  That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian:  to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, Gods new world, which he has thrown open before us. (Simply Christian, p. 237).

When in the months and years ahead we consider all that we are and all that we do at NNU may our answer be rooted in our desire to know Christ and live for Him.  We seek to be transformed in Him and serve for Him.

Consider what we arewe seek to be transformed.  We are intentionally Wesleyan in our posture and practice.  Therefore, by Gods grace, we seek to participate in the process of growing up into the full measure and stature of Jesus Christ.  We believe that with the Spirits enablement Christlikeness is possible now, in this world.  That is Gods transformational intent for us, as citizens of His Kingdom.  He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son.  Consequently, we seek not only vocational preparation; we seek to be changedinto His image. The NNU experience is and will be transformational. 

Consider what we dowe seek to serve.  We are presently establishing the Wesley Center for Servant Leadership because we believe that Christ calls us to both mirror Him and join Him.  We believe that NNU exists to nurture leaders who lead through serving.  Just as Jesus sought to set His world right, we join Him now to establish His Kingdom in this age.  Therefore, we will work to find ways to serveon campus, in the community, in places of darkness and hunger, around the corner and around the world.  We dont do this out of a sense of moral duty; we do this out of a heart of Christ-filled love.  To lead by serving is our calling, our distinctive.  We seek to bear fruit that ripens via our abiding relationship in Him.  The NNU experience is and will be grounded in service.

As NNU leans toward her centennial we do so in the knowledge that NNU exists to be a place where disciples are formed and servant leaders are prepared.  We provide countercultural understanding and experiences for aspiring Christlike servant leaders, young people of vision and passion who will live like Jesus.  Jesus calls us to join Him, to take up a towel, just as He did, to live out His call to empty ourselves on His behalf for His Kingdom.

Dont misunderstand what Im advocating here.  This will not be a place of artificial security that in false humility teaches students to remove themselves from the world.  On the contrary, Jesus intends for us to transform this world.  He chose revolutionary methods to change the world, methods that He knew would work; yet methods He knew would confound the world.  Two thousand years later, His vulnerable, loving servants posture, empowered by His intimate relationship with His Father, has proven itself stronger than sin and death.

Allow me to briefly describe the Christ-like servant leader we seek to shape in the NNU experience, in so doing I draw upon the work of author Chris Lowneys work in Heroic Leadership.

         the Christlike servant leader will understand who they are and what they value by learning to cultivate the habit of self-reflection and life-long learning

         the Christlike servant leader will not shrink from a changing world, but will instead seek to understand and engage their culture, while being securely anchored by nonnegotiable principles and values

         the Christlike servant leader will face the world in which they live with a confidence borne by those who have been well-trained in their vocation and energized by a loving community

         the Christlike servant leader will strive to positively shape the future, rather than passively watch a fallen future happen around them

(Heroic Leadership, pp. 27-31)

God calls upon us to search for a Kingdom-sized vision for ourselves and for NNU.  NNU desires to position itself as a Kingdom community, seeking to make and be Christlike disciples, through incarnational living and learning. 

There are certain commitments we must make if we are to be Gods change agents.  We must equip our students to understand and live in the tensions of life in two worlds.  We must provide them with both spiritual means and natural means to do Gods will.  We must aid them in coming to know divine guidance as well as the use of human understanding.  We must develop an awareness of Christs Kingdom-building mandate to be both innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents.  We must provide opportunities to come to know Him intimately, while also providing an understanding of the culture in which we live.  In short, we must seek to live in the manner He livedin the world but not of it.

Most importantly, all that we are and all that we do must be centered in Jesus Christ.  Not only has He reconciled us, He now calls upon us to be His agents of reconciliation.  What a noble cause.  What an inspiring opportunity.  NNU exists to seek and to serve Christ and His cause.

You have joined us this evening to say with your presence, I too seek Him.  I too wish to be like Him.  I too want to serve Him in ways that establish His Kingdom.

Look around.  God has marshaled the citizens of His Kingdom to go throughout the kingdom of this world and transform it into the Kingdom of our Lord.   May we be made strong by the strength that comes from His glorious power.  May Northwest Nazarene University ever flourish as a part of the cause of the ages, the cause of Jesus Christ!

May God bless you, may God bless Northwest Nazarene University!

Thank you!

Sing with me:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus blood and righteousness,

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus name.

On Christ, the solid rock I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Blessing:

May you be made strong

By the strength

That comes from His glorious power.

And may you be prepared

To endure everything with patience,

While joyfully giving thanks

To the Father,

Who has enabled us to share in the inheritance

Of the saints in the light.

He has rescued us from

The power of darkness

And transferred us into the Kingdom

Of His beloved Son,

In whom we have redemption,

The forgiveness of sins!

Colossians 1: 1214

 

Selected References:

Chris Lowney. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World.  Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003.

N.T. Wright.  Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense.  San Francisco: Harper, 2006.