Thursday, July 14, 2016

Onward, with Convictional Kindness

My summer reading list has included Russell Moore's Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. It was named book of the year by Christianity Today editors. Moore leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The book is a call to the Church to move beyond the Bible Belt and Moral Majority thinking that has dominated evangelicals. Culture Christianity is dead. Instead, our future is more of what Moore labels a "prophetic minority." It's important to face the reality that our historic faith is no longer seen as a social good, but instead as socially awkward or even illegal and subversive.  

I read the book in the context of this terribly dark season in which we live. Our national politics is full of ugly name-calling much more than rational debate of the issues.

Our economy is widening the gap between the haves and have-nots in a way that is causing pain and anger. Violence by and against our police is nothing less than frightening.

And just when Christians should be a voice of peace in the midst of all this darkness, we find ourselves in our own struggle seeking to maintain our religious liberty. 

Recent developments in California point to the very question of whether Christian higher education will survive as we know it (more on that in a later message).

How should Christians go onward in this time?

"We ought to stand then with conviction and contend, as the prophets and apostles did before us, against injustice," Russell writes. "But we must do so with voices shaped by the gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes winning arguments is not enough if one is in a cosmic struggle with unseen principalities and powers in the air around us."

I have grown weary of the "culture war" label (the war is over and evangelicals have lost.) But, Russell argues that we should continue to understand a war is underway. Not, a cultural war but a war against good and evil, the supernatural struggle that is described in our faith. 

The way forward is what he calls "convictional kindness." Recognizing that we are called by our God to be kind to all, not just fellow believers, we must show kindness even as we disagree and even as we may feel under attack. Russell says we can be kind because we understand that the enemy is not the fellow child of God in front of us, but instead the demons of evil who rule this fallen world.  

It's an important distinction. "When we don't oppose demons," he writes, "we demonize opponents."

I come from an evangelical tradition that is not comfortable talking about demons and devils. But there is no question that our Bible confirms their existence and describes even how Jesus interacted with these agents of an unseen spiritual war. Russell calls it targeting the right enemy: "We speak with kindness and gentleness and with conviction and with clarity because we are targeting the right enemy."

Overall, I find the book realistic but hopeful, and that's what I want for LETU. Even as we adjust to a post-Christian culture, I see that Moore's conclusion about the church extends to Christian higher education: "I think the future of the church is incandescently bright. That's not because of promises made at Independence Hall, but a promise made at Caesarea Philippi - "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Little Perspective

A wonderful little book for your summer reading pleasure is The Noticer by Andy Andrews. Published in 2009, it followed Andrews' best-selling The Traveler's Gift.

The book opens when a stranger arrives to an Alabama beach town carrying a mysterious brief case loaded with books that he gives as required reading for searching souls. Beaches and books grabbed my attention from the very start.

Jones, the mysterious Noticer, gives advice to a homeless man, a struggling married couple, and a lonely widow among others. His main message is the book's subtitle:  sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective. "I am a noticer," Jones explains. "It is my gift.  While others may be able to sing well or run fast, I notice things that other people overlook. And you know, most of them are in plain sight. I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. That's what most folks lack - perspective - a broader view. So I give 'em that broader view...and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again."

To a defeated and alone young man who lacks the motivation and direction to begin his life again, the Noticer points out that encouragement, opportunity and wisdom often comes from the people around us. "Ask yourself this question every day: 'What is it about me that other people would change if they could?'...A successful life has a great deal to do with perspective. And another person's perspective about you can sometimes be as important as your perspective is about yourself."

It was interesting for me to consider what my wife, daughters, and friends would change about me if they could. It provides a different angle than asking 'what would I change about myself.'

There's a hint of a heavenly dimension to Jones, but I would not shelve this book in the faith section of the bookstore.

Nevertheless, the theme of this book is the transformation of hurting people. I love that because it points us to a biblical truth:  the God who created each of us wants to make us a new creation. He has already provided salvation from our dark circumstances; we may just need a little perspective to find our way.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Living a Life of Kindness

A book on my summer reading list is Barry Corey's Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue. Barry is a friend and the President of Biola University in California. 

The book is a memoir of sorts. Barry has collected a number of stories from his life that illustrate the power of the Christian virtue, kindness. 

President's Corey's father, Hugh Corey was a pastor and the book includes a conversation between a young Barry and his father:  "Barry, he said, 'if the lives God intersects with mine don't have the opportunity to receive me, how will they ever know the love God has for them?'" 

Hugh Corey's goal was to be "receivable" to others. He lived with the promise of Jesus recorded for us in Matthew 10:40: "Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me."

As Christ-followers, we are called to be receivable. And in this rough and tumble time where civil, respectful behavior seems lost, living a life of kindness can make us receivable. 

Barry summarizes the relevant importance of loving kindness so well:
"The way of kindness is not just having right theology; it's being the right kind of people. It's understanding that our lives as Jesus' followers mean we have a common humanity with everyone, and therefore there's no need for exceptionalism. We owe all human beings the honor due them as beings made in the image of God."
Kindness is about giving everyone the honor due them as children of God. This doesn't require us to give up the convictions of our faith. And living kindness doesn't mean everyone will receive us; for sure, many will reject our kindness. But the radical call of Christianity is to be receivable; to remove the obstacles that we put in place to separate ourselves from those around us that we find disagreeable. This requires humility and authenticity and honor for all God puts in our path.

How do we make LETU more receivable to the world around us?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Our Daily Work

The LeTourneau University Center for Faith and Work is assembling a website of excellent resources for all of us who seek to find God in our work. Dr. Bill Peel, the executive director for the center, posts original thoughts on this website, but the Center also assembles thoughtful articles from many sources.

For example, Greg Forster writes about how the church can regain its culture-shaping voice, John Pletcher writes about how to handle emotions at work and John Beckett writes about what Christian CEOs should look for when hiring new college graduates.   

I recently found a link to an old hymn that celebrates the biblical truth that we find joy when we do our daily work with the enthusiasm as if we were working for the Lord.

The 1925 hymn, Those Who Love and Those Who Labor, is an excellent mediation. Here are the lyrics:

Those who love and those who labor, follow in the way of Christ;
Thus the first disciples found him, thus the gift of love sufficed.
Jesus says to those who seek him, I will never pass you by;
Raise the stone and you shall find me; cleave the wood, and there am I.
 Where the many work together, they with Christ himself abide.
But the lonely workers also find him ever at their side.
Lo, the Prince of common welfare dwells within the market strife;
Lo, the bread of heaven is broken in the sacrament of life.

Our university founder often said that God was his business partner. It wasn't a statement of arrogant heavenly endorsement. Mr. LeTourneau was reporting the promise of this hymn that he himself experienced: that the presence of God is available in our daily work. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Fear the Sting!

LeTourneau University is again included among the Top 10 aviation programs in the nation! 

LETU's "Sting" Precision Flight Team placed 7th place in the nation, ahead of noteworthy competitors including the U.S. Air Force Academy, Liberty University and my alma mater Oklahoma State University at the 2016 National Intercollegiate Flight Association SAFECON flight competition held at The Ohio State University last week. This year's Sting Team improved on last year's 8th place finish. LETU finished 15th in 2014.

LETU was ranked 6th in Ground Events and 7th in Flight Events with an overall 7th place ranking, which is the highest LETU has ever achieved. It was the third time since we began competing, in 2004, that LETU has ranked 7th.

This year was exceptional because it was the first time in our team's history that it earned more than 200 points overall, and our LETU team of Cameron Laramee and Jonathan Deak not only became national champions by placing in first, but they made NIFA history with the best score ever in national competition history with a score of 20 in the Crew Resource Management (CRM) competition.

This year was also the first year that Jered Lease was faculty advisor for NIFA, since former advisor Brad Wooden is teaching full-time at our new McKinney site. Jered is no stranger to NIFA
competition, and this year's showing is certainly one I know Jered wants to build upon. 

This year's team members were team captains Cameron Laramee and Jacob Weeks, Er-Jin Jang, Thomas Alley, James Galan, Noah Bronner, Jonathan Deak, Jonathan Reigle, Cody Shamblin and Trevor Taylor. See more details about their individual accomplishments on our website here.

Kudos also go to our residential admissions team for last weekend's SWARM event that hosted over 60 new LETU students and their families.

These are incoming students who are now a part of our LeTourneau University family. They got to meet Buzz, our mascot, as well as acclimate to campus life with prayer and praise activities, early registration for classes and residence hall assignments.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Commencement Weekend: Graduating Ambassadors for Christ

This week we celebrate!

Commencement 2016 includes many celebrations including tonight's historic pinning ceremony in the Speer Chapel for our first BS-Nursing graduates, to tomorrow morning's senior breakfast, afternoon ivy cutting and graduate reception.

And, of course, Saturday is a big day.

Over 400 LETU students will receive their undergraduate and graduate degrees, and many of them will cross the stage in our Belcher Center during our 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. ceremonies. Between the two events, I expect we will fill 4,000 seats with family and friends.

Delivering our commencement address is former director of the United States Mint Edmund C. Moy, who is a public servant, senior executive, commentator, author and director at publicly and privately held companies.

He served as the 38th director of the United States Mint from 2006-2011, responsible for running the world's largest manufacturer of circulating coins, precious metal bullion, and numismatic products. His role included working closely with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the White House, Congress, and the Federal Reserve during the Financial Crisis and following Great Recession.

He served from 2001-2006 at the White House as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, assisting the President with staffing most cabinet departments and independent agencies. He also was involved in the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Ed helped found and lead the White House Christian Fellowship during the Bush administration.

He frequently comments on monetary and fiscal policy, gold, currency, and cryptocurrencies for national financial media. You may have seen him featured on television on CBS' 60 Minutes or on the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS, as well as his many appearances on CNBC, Fox News, Fox Business Channel, MSNBC, and Bloomberg TV. You may have seen him quoted in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Fortune Magazine, Forbes, Dow Jones, and Thomson Reuters. He also is a contributor to Newsmax.

He has served on the board of Christianity Today International and the Executive Advisory Board for the School of Business & Economics of Seattle Pacific University and its Center for Integrity in Business. Ed will also be a featured speaker at the Faith@Work Summit LeTourneau University is sponsoring in Dallas on Oct. 27-29.

Let's celebrate 400 graduates leaving here as ambassadors for Christ in every workplace, every nation!    

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Meet the 2015-2016 LETU Distinguished Seniors

It was my pleasure Saturday night to introduce our 2015-2016 University Distinguished Senior Award recipients at the Blue and Gold Banquet during Homecoming. The University Distinguished Senior Award Program seeks to recognize academic excellence, servant leadership, generosity, and spiritual growth.

This year's recipients were Hannah Campbell, Jacob Weeks, Samuel van der Hoeven, Edward Peterson and Andrew Pollard. 

Hannah Campbell is a nursing major from Ben Wheeler, Texas, with a 3.9 GPA. She has served our campus as a peer advisor, floor chaplain, and active community volunteer. She has also worked as a chemistry lab assistant and tutor for English, chemistry, and microbiology. Hannah is one-half of LeTourneau School of Nursing's inaugural class. 

Jacob Weeks is a missions aviation major from La Moille, Ill., with a 3.84 GPA. He has served as co-captain of LETU's NIFA flight team for the past three years and has earned national recognition in SAFECON competitions. He has completed two internships in aviation maintenance, and has served his fellow students as a floor chaplain and academic tutor.

Samuel van der Hoeven is an electrical engineering major from Georgetown, Ky., with a 3.93 GPA. He has completed internships with Rockwell Collins, L-3, and Belcan Engineering. He has served as president of LeTourneau Student Ministries for the past two years, served on the student senate and student government executive cabinet, and led class team projects for digital logic and digital signal processing classes. 

Edward Peterson is a materials joining engineering major from Yelm, Wash., with a 3.98 GPA. He has completed two internships with FMC Technologies, and has worked as an associate researcher at LETU. He has led class team projects, and served as a tutor and supplemental instructor for physics and chemistry courses. He has also served as a floor chaplain and communications officer for LETU's AWS Chapter. 

Andrew Pollard is a computer engineering major from Summerfield, Ill., with a 4.0 GPA. He has completed internships with STAR CO and Garmin International, has served as lead for class team projects, and has participated in three LETU-sponsored programming trips to support a nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs. He has served the LETU community as a resident assistant for two years, and assistant resident director for the past year.

Pictured clockwise from left, with my wife, Marsha, and me, are Hannah Campbell, Jacob Weeks,
Samuel van der Hoeven, Edward Peterson and Andrew Pollard.