Thursday, November 30, 2017

Grand Opening, Grand Impact: Visiting the Museum of the Bible

The Washington Post calls it "the world's most famous book." To those of our faith, it is so much more. The Museum of the Bible opened recently in Washington and I had the privilege to be there on the grand opening weekend.

Just a short walk from the Capitol, the new museum is an impressive structure. It is six floors and 430,000 square feet -- the size of six of our Allen Family Student Centers.

One floor allows visitors to walk through the Hebrew Bible, then the New Testament and an impressive recreation of the world of Jesus including the village of Nazareth. Another floor is dedicated to the history of the Bible where the work of Jerome, Wycliffe, Luther, Tyndale, Coverdale and so many others is celebrated. There is a beautiful theater in the museum where I saw "Amazing Grace: the Broadway Musical."

The second floor theme is the "Impact of the Bible." The significant influence of the Bible reaches nearly every aspect of life. I stopped to linger at an exhibit urging visitors to consider how the Bible informs work.

Video testimonies include a fashion designer discussing the Bible's inspiration, a fireman and a physician testifying to the impact of the Bible on their professional practice. The exhibit also includes the video testimonies of three businessmen who describe their objective to operate Bible-based firms.

The museum also teaches visitors that many of today's universities were originally established to train clergymen and to teach the Bible; the most notable being Harvard, founded in 1636 where knowledge of the Bible was considered essential to higher education. A video map of the globe notes on every continent "many universities established on the teachings of the Bible."

As is expected in our polarized society, the museum has been criticized by many. It is not "Christian" enough for some, and it is too "evangelical" for others. For me, the massive $500 million museum challenges everyone to take the Bible more seriously while giving people of faith an opportunity to cherish this gift from God. I had the privilege to meet the museum's founder, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, and congratulate him on a job well done.

Now that the Bible has an appropriate museum, let's not allow this inspired word of God to become a relic of the past. In our faithful daily work here at LETU, we continue to demonstrate that the Bible is the foundation of a higher education. What a joy to be part of a university where students continue to learn that the Bible informs the way we see our professional work. The influence of the Bible is very much alive at LeTourneau University.

"Let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God..." (Deuteronomy 17:19) 

Friday, November 17, 2017

"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's...

...and to God the things that are God's."

This prescription from Jesus has been top of mind today as I meet in Washington, D.C., with other university presidents serving on the Board of Directors of NAICU -- the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. For the first time in 20 years, federal lawmakers are in the process of rewriting the tax code and, as a member of NAICU's Tax Policy Committee, I find myself in the middle of interesting times.

As you know, both the House and the Senate write their versions of new law. A conference committee then works out a compromise agreement which, if passed by both chambers, goes to the President for signature. Everyone agrees that tax reform is a top priority and is moving quickly through the process. My role with NAICU is to communicate to lawmakers the impact of changes in the tax code on private universities like LETU.

Here are some proposals for tax law change that are concerning to private universities:

Our students can now deduct from their taxes the amount they pay in interest on their student loans. The House version of tax reform takes this deduction away.

Many LETU employees, like at other universities, receive tuition benefits for both themselves and their children. It is a valuable part of being an LETU employee, and many of our staff come to LETU planning on receiving that benefit. The proposed changes make tuition benefits taxable. Free tuition will cease to be free when it is comes with a tax bill from the government. Likewise, graduate students who receive tuition stipends will now owe taxes on the free tuition they receive.

Proposals in both the House and Senate create a new tax on private college endowments. This will impact 66 NAICU members but not LETU because our endowment is much smaller. Some lawmakers have been critical of universities with huge endowments, suggesting they should use more of their endowments to provide scholarships to needy students.

Yet, this tax doesn't allocate university endowments to students. Instead, the tax is paid to the federal government. And the proposal taxes only endowments at private universities leaving large state university endowments untouched. It is a bad idea.

Since the great recession of 2008, public attitudes toward higher education have eroded. Confidence in the value of a college education has declined. Additionally, more see private universities as purveyors of liberal thought, serving only the elites of society while accumulating billions of dollars in endowment. Of course, none of that describes LETU, but the criticism of private higher education in general is a strong influence in these conversations about tax reform now underway.

I'm proud to lead a university that allocates many millions of dollars each year in tuition assistance to our students, our employees, and their families. We prepare our graduates well and they win great jobs and become productive citizens. No one could accuse us of being an institution of "elites," whatever that may mean to some.

If our tax code exists, in part, to encourage productive behavior, then the federal government should be enhancing rather than diminishing tax relief for students and their families.

The discussions in Washington this week are important; but not eternally important. As we dutifully give to the government what they claim as their own, we joyfully give to God what is His: our obedient service in providing a Christ-centered higher education to the students He leads to us.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"STING" Precision Flight Team Makes History

The 2017 LETU "Sting" Precision Flight Team members are, from left: Coach Jon Deak, Josh Kelly, Jon Mammen, Thomas Alley, Addison Duncan (in back), Erica Swenson, Jeff Rosinbaum, Trevor Taylor (co-captain), Ben White, Samuel Centeno, James Hulsey, Maggie Jo Shrum, Jonathan Rurup, Noah Bronner (co-captain), and faculty coach Jered Lease.

Shout out to LETU's "STING" Precision Flight Team and the history they made recently at the Region IV SAFECON National Intercollegiate Flying Association flight competition in Waco!

Not only did they bring back a first place overall, but also they won first place in nearly all of the events, save one.

In the process, the team racked up the highest score ever scored by a single team in this region -- a historic 797 points! By comparison, the second place team total was 435 points among the Region IV schools competing from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.

This remarkable performance follows from the leadership of their faculty advisor Jered Lease and his assistant, flight instructor and former competitor Jon Deak. Be sure to congratulate them when you see them.

Jered encourages our students to seek excellence, to do their best to the glory of God -- for God is their "Audience of One." The team's success is a result of their hard work and commitment. It puts them in a great position to compete at the NIFA national competition April 30-May 6, 2018 in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Our LETU student pilots brought home the gold in nine of the ten events in which they competed.

Kudos to Ben White for winning Top Pilot, Josh Kelly who won in both Power Off Landing and Short Field Landing events; Thomas Alley who won in both the Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation (SCAN) and IFR Ground Trainer events, Addison Duncan who won in Aircraft Recognition, Trevor Taylor who won in Manual Flight Computer (E6B) Event, Jonathan Rurup who won the Preflight event and the team of Ben White and James Hulsey for their team win in the navigation event.

But all of these first place finishes just don't tell the whole story. Figuring into that history-making 797 points includes a host of top 10 finishes.

LETU students swept first, second AND third place spots in the Aircraft Recognition, Computer Accuracy, Navigation, Power-Off Landing, and Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation (SCAN) events.

LETU students took first AND second in Aircraft Preflight Inspection, Ground Trainer and Short Field Landing events.

LETU students filled half of the top 10 spots, ranking first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth in the Top Pilot event and also filled half of the top 10 spots, ranking first, second, fifth, seventh and eighth in the Top Scoring Contestants competition, out of a total of 53 student pilots from the region competing.

In the only event in which LETU did not take a first place -- the Message Drop event -- our LETU team of dropmaster Ben White and pilot James Hulsey took second, with two other teams in the top 10 at eighth and ninth place.

Fear the STING!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Reformation 500

The Reformation 500 event Tuesday was a great success. Under the direction of LETU Dean of Theology Dr. Kelly Liebengood, our faculty members gave insightful TED-talk style lectures on many different implications of the Protestant Reformation, why it was important then and why it is still relevant in our daily lives today.

Over 600 people attended the conference in the Belcher Center. I was really encouraged by the mix of those in attendance: faculty, staff, students and many from the community.

The event featured a joyous note! The afternoon concert and hymn festival led by our Director of Fine Arts Dr. Jim Taylor, featuring the Longview Civic Chorus and our LeTourneau Singers, was a great educational walk through the pages of church music history. The day-long Reformation 500 educational celebration included poetry, drama, posters, praise and worship, lectures, music, and ended the day with a showing of the 1953 film "Martin Luther" in Speer Chapel.

Martin Luther started a conversation that changed the world. Many things we take for granted today -- such as having the Bible available to read in our own language, participating in congregational singing in our church services and even enjoying our representative form of government. These are all only a few of the many legacies of this monk with a mallet who thoughtfully penned his 95 Theses -- complaints against the practices of the Church -- then nailed them to the church door in Germany on October 31, 1517, initiating the beginning of a reformation movement that would shatter the status quo.

Luther was also an important voice in respect to our theology of work. He recognized the value of the work of our hands as something that God blesses and that benefits the community. He was quoted as saying, "God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid."

In a Gospel Coalition article titled "The Power -- and Danger -- In Luther's Concept of Work," Dan Doriani writes, "Martin Luther probably did more than any Protestant to establish the theology of work many Christians embrace today. Like no theologian before him, he insisted on the dignity and value of all labor. Luther did more than break the split between sacred and secular work -- he empowered all believers to know their work served humanity and enjoyed God's full blessing."

It is a very rare opportunity to celebrate a 500th anniversary, and our university did it well.

Dean Liebengood's call to carry on with Luther's reformation inspired me.

If we can read our Bibles responsibly, delight in God's grace and extend His grace to others, then we will join in God's glorious work to redeem all of creation.

LETU Director of Fine Arts Dr. Jim Taylor led the Longview Civic Chorus, LeTourneau Singers, and attendees in classic hymns, accompanied by organ and brass musicians.