Life Hacks for … Life?

Photo Credit: TheeErin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TheeErin via Compfight cc

Do you have a big project that you’re trying to finish before the end of the semester, the year, or the decade?

Maybe it’s a big paper at the end of the semester, or to graduate from college. Maybe you signed up for the Bible in a Year program and, like me, have fallen off the wagon a bit. Maybe you have big plans for your career or grad school or writing a book. Maybe you’re working up to sharing Christ with a friend.

I recently read an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about working on a writing project: Scholarly Writing Hacks

The idea is that you have to set aside a time every day to write, and that you need encouragement from other writers to keep you going. Then you will achieve success and come out with at least a solid draft of your paper/book.

About a year and a half ago I finished my biggest writing undertaking: the Dissertation. Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

I can’t say that I purposefully did any of these tricks, but looking back on it I can see that I did try to write a little most days and I did have others to talk to about it with. So maybe it does work. Maybe I’ll try it out on my next paper!

The point that really struck me about this though is that these tricks would work for anything – not just writing.

If you’re trying to read the Bible in a year, setting aside time to read every day is important. Otherwise, you’ll never make it. And if you’re trying to finish a big paper, putting if off until the last days WILL NOT WORK!

In either of these situations, you need people around you to encourage you, keep you going, and give you guidance.

It works for scholarly writing, and it works for being a Christian.

You can easily see in the Bible that there are many references to the need for community and accountability partners. Like in Hebrews 10:24-25 -

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have days that I would like to just relax and be lazy… not calling that friend to check on her, or not keeping up with my Bible reading.

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

I also have times when I struggle to make the right decision, or need some help deciding what to do. And that is where community comes in!

I hope that everyone here at ETBU has found a sense of community and that we can lean on each other in times of need. But it’s hard to be vulnerable!

Sometimes all we can do is open up to that one special person, make sure we listen for God’s guidance, and surround ourselves with community. If we work on it every day and talk with others walking the walk we just may have a chance at finishing the biggest project of all - following God’s plan for our lives. 


Ebola: How Should the Church Respond?

Photo Credit: NIAID via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: NIAID via Compfight cc

Ebola is ravaging West Africa killing roughly 45% of those infected.

The worst Ebola outbreak since the virus first appeared in the 1970s, according to the CDC there have been 6 countries affected, 7,494 total cases and 3,439 deaths.  Underreporting, however, has led the CDC to state that as of September 30th there were likely 21,000 cases, the number of cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone is doubling every 20 days, and that by January 20, 2015 there will be a total of 1.4 million cases.

A recent New York Times article depicted a scene of a “hospital from hell”:

A 4-year-old girl lay on the floor in urine, motionless, bleeding from her mouth, her eyes open.  A corpse lay in the corner — a young woman, legs akimbo, who had died overnight.  A small child stood on a cot watching as the team took the body away, stepping around a little boy lying immobile next to black buckets of vomit.  They sprayed the body, and the little girl on the floor, with chlorine as they left.

Perhaps no country has been more profoundly affected than Liberia, home to 4 million people.  Established in 1822 by the United States as a country for freed slaves, poverty remains an all too pressing reality where 80% live below the poverty line and 85% are unemployed.  In a recent memorandum, Richard Wilson, president of Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, described the compounding impact of Ebola on the nation as a whole:

The demands for isolation to prevent the spread of the virus undermine the basic economics of a nation where 90 percent subsist on $1 U.S. a day.  When the markets are emptied and the streets are barely filled, the merchant has an impossible task to secure small money… Hunger is growing in Liberia.  It will continue to become the most critical issue… Hungry people become desperate.  Desperation breeds violence.  Violence leads to conflict.

Though news agencies have been covering this outbreak for several months, the reality of this horror has only now begun to settle on many in the United States with the report this week that Thomas Eric Duncan had been admitted to a Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas as the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States.

Many are scared.  This is easy to understand for Ebola is a disease without a cure or vaccine at present and horror film symptomology with high fevers and hemorrhagic bleeding.

How should the church respond?

Perhaps it is helpful to frame this question through a different lens: why did Jesus have physical contact with leprosy?  Wouldn’t the spoken word have been enough?

Matthew 8:1-3 and parallel passage Mark 1:40-45 describe a man with leprosy kneeling before Jesus and asking for cleansing.  Shockingly, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man” (Matt. 8:3).  Against the best medical advice, in a culture mandating forced isolation as the best means for containment, fully knowing the danger of contagion, Jesus intentionally touched and healed an individual with a disease spread by contact.  Would we do the same?

Even more pointedly, are we doing the same by following Jesus’ example and engaging in a healing ministry among those with a feared infectious and isolating disease?

Jesus loved with proximity those with a contagious disease. (Tweet This) He often healed by spoken word but in this instance specifically chose touch.  Touch cannot happen from a distance or be undervalued.  In no way am I suggesting the disregard of the appropriate use of personal protective equipment or other safety measures, but as Christians we must move beyond the stigma and fear and offer healing ministry where sickness is found, right in the physical space of people’s lives.

I must be quick to admit that such a ministry would be personally challenging; frightening even.  There is however a long history of the church responding in this compassionate manner. As recorded by Rodney Stark, in the third century Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria wrote a pastoral letter to members who were offering care in the midst of a devastating plague:

Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.  Heedless of danger; they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.  Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.

In the midst of this significant medical crisis facing the Roman Empire of the third century, Stark believes that the unnamed numbers of Christians who intentionally choose to provide medical care to those infected reduced overall mortality by as much as two-thirds.

Building upon Jesus’ example of touch to those with infectious disease and the historical example of Christians sacrificially offering health care in the midst of outbreaks, the church today could compellingly respond to the Ebola crisis in the following ways:

1. Regularly pray for individuals infected with Ebola and those seeking to help them.  

Though the exact true number of those infected with the disease is unknown, the lives impacted via relational and economic impact is likely in the hundreds of thousands.

The All Africa Baptist Fellowship, one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance, has specifically asked for churches to set aside Sunday, October 12 as a day of prayer related to Ebola.  This call for prayer has been further endorsed and echoed by the American Baptist Churches USA and the North American Baptist Fellowship.  Ethics Daily has compiled a helpful video of local footage from the Ebola crisis in Liberia that can be utilized as part of a day of prayer.

2. Speak calm and truth in an environment prone to hysteria and misinformation.

Within the United States, over the next few weeks there will likely be an uptick in the coverage of this subject and the amount of individuals being watched for Ebola.  While precautions are warranted, Christians must avoid responding out of alarm, fear or misinformation.  An outbreak of Ebola in the United States remains unlikely and pertinent facts are readily available.

3. Pursue support for those physically offering medical care to the infected. 

As an interconnected family, Christians in the United States should share equal concern for those already living in the terror of a devastating outbreak and seeking to respond with care and compassion at great personal risk.  These are individuals facing a harrowing experience who have chosen, like Jesus, to engage in a ministry of touch and deserve the best support that can be offered via prayer, logistical support, and an influx of medical supplies and personal protection equipment.

4. Strengthen health care systems especially those in the affected countries.

One of the reasons this particular outbreak has been so damaging has been a lack of medical supplies, adequate health care systems and trained personnel in the affected areas.  While the Ebola virus is not yet curable, it is treatable with symptom management: fever breakers for dangerously high fevers, rehydration for dehydration, and blood products for blood loss.  Immediate response is critical but a long-term solution strengthening local training and health care systems is also needed.

5. Contribute to churches, ministries and other organizations already addressing the Ebola crisis in West Africa. 

A number of agencies have responded including the Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery and the Baptist World Alliance.  Whether to these or other ministries and organizations, it is essential that our response to the Ebola virus wracking the lives of thousands of individuals includes both prayer and ministerial action.

Ebola Crisis in Liberia from EthicsDaily on Vimeo.




Write it down so you won’t forget.

Late one night in a Polish hostel, wide awake due to jet lag, I asked my roommate Alan Huesing, “so how exactly did you get started in the ETBU International Program?”

This innocent question led to a roughly 4-hour long conversation in which Alan told me of the most fantastical set of circumstances a person could ever hope to hear:

  • Being prematurely selected as an ETBU BSM student leader led to a trip to a conference in Dallas with an ETBU international student.
  • This led to a volunteer missions opportunity in Hong Kong (mainland China was still closed).
  • On the way, Alan’s flight got delayed and he somehow ended up on a new connecting flight sitting next to the man in charge of the entire mission operation, which was spread across many Hong Kong churches.
  • While waiting for the connection, this man had received a telegram (or some other type of hilariously outdated communication) that the leader at one of these outreach churches was ill (or died?) and was unable to do his job. Who could be found on such short notice to step in?

In this way, at 19 or 20 years-old Alan became the leader over a major international mission at a church in Hong Kong. Then some other completely unlikely thing happened, followed by another, and another, and another…

The stories almost seemed fake; I half-expected him to tell me about how he rode a unicorn through Mordor on his way to blow up the Death Star. (Just thinking about that makes me giggle. The first person that Photoshops that image together and adds it to the comments gets at least $20 from me.)

I believe it was the great 20th century philosopher Forrest Gump (YouTube) that said, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if weren’t all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

Alan’s story could easily be a movie, too, and at the minimum, it would be a tremendous book that would demonstrate the reach that God has in directing His chosen people to His purposes.

I also believe that book should be written.

Now, I will never be Alan Huesing, but neither will he ever be me. I also have a unique set of astounding circumstances that have helped me reach this point in my life. Often, while sharing a story with a class, I will in fact suddenly remember an instance in which a seemingly minor or fluky thing resulted in a total change of direction for me and my own walk. The part that makes me disappointed in myself is that I could ever forget. A sampling…

In 2000, had I not read an obviously premature report about Type I Diabetes being cured soon and started thinking about other possible career options, I might now be a Pediatric Endocrinologist. Sorry Dr. Cone.

In 2005, had I not had the encouragement of Dr. Jim Webb in a single unplanned face-to-face encounter, I likely would have started a Junior High job teaching history here in Marshall instead of receiving a full-ride + salary fellowship at the University of Arkansas. A PhD had never even crossed my mind.

That same year, had a tree not fallen on my first-ever home, on the third night my wife and I lived in it, I would probably still be coaching basketball, because I would not have had to quit my non-paying volunteer position with the University of Arkansas’ Women’s Basketball Team to take a paying job at the Jones Center for Families.

In 2007, had I not emailed Dr. Danny Essary about something completely unrelated, I might not have gotten this response: “P.S. A job is opening. Do you want to interview for it?”

Those examples are only occupational. These seemingly insignificant moments happen in all facets of our lives constantly, but often through no effort of our own they become completely life-altering. It might even be something as flippant as sitting down next to a stranger the first day of chapel…

Week06Wedding…and you end up marrying her.

But here is the challenge: How can my life be a witness of God’s miraculous works in people if I don’t pass that information on in some way? How will my kids at home or my “kids” at school know about God’s intervention in my life? At ETBU’s 150th anniversary in the year 2062, how will people know the miracles that took place for an underclassman in the 1970s to transform our International Program, reaching thousands of students in dozens of countries?

We already have that mandate:

18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.

I think Mr. Gump was right; we simultaneously “float on a breeze” and “have a destiny”. However it is up to us to recognize the divine nature of so-many happy accidents and use our stories as a witness to our students and others around us. To adapt Romans 10:14, how can they hear about these things if no one tells them?


The Frosty Road

Our campus verse for this year is Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Always acknowledge Him and he will make your path straight.

I memorized that verse so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was. I used to have these book marks in my Bible when I was 5 or 6, and that verse was on one of them.

I used to read it when I got bored in church…

Photo Credit: cheerfulmonk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cheerfulmonk via Compfight cc

Today, for whatever reason, while thinking about that verse and what it means especially for us right now, a campus in search of a new president, I also thought of the famous Robert Frost poem.

So, while considering this verse in my new favorite translation style, the New Living Translation:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)

I decided to reread one of my favorite poems…

The Road Not Taken


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

All of a sudden, something (God, or the Holy Spirit, or my 6th grade Sunday School teacher) hit me!

Photo Credit: I Feel Toast via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: I Feel Toast via Compfight cc

Obviously, the two roads are the roads of good and bad… faith and sin… trusting God or trusting ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am often sorry I can’t travel both. Try one out for a while, then rewind and do it all over again? If there weren’t any consequences? That sounds pretty nice sometimes, don’t you think?

Don’t we all most times take the road of sin for as long as we can until it grows in on us, fills up with undergrowth, and we have to turn back towards the light of God? Only to look back and realize we NEVER want to go down that road again?!

God’s road and the path to salvation are sometimes not the most popular. Here at ETBU we do a good job of making those roads seem well traveled and easy, but the truth is that they aren’t. Unfortunately, God’s road is often the road less traveled by, but as Frost says, taking that road often “makes all the difference.”


A Biblical Response to Domestic Violence

Does the Bible specifically address domestic violence?

Domestic Violence

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If the number of sermons or Bible studies you have heard directly discussing this reality were an indicator, what would it suggest about your church’s biblical engagement with this issue?

A recent Life Way survey revealed that 42% of Protestant pastors rarely or never address domestic and/or sexual violence in their sermons.  However, one in every three women will experience physical violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime thus raising the question: why have nearly 50% of these pastors rarely or never addressed a critical issue faced by 33% of all women?

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as:

The willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.

The NCADV notes:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States
  • More than 10 million women and men experience domestic violence each year
  • 1 in 7 women will experience stalking victimization during their lifetime
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide
  • Intimate partner violence is most common among women between the ages of 18-24
  • 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner
  • At least 21% of all victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse
  • The cost of domestic violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.

In recent weeks national news has focused on the reality of domestic violence due to the wide circulation of a specific incident caught on an elevator video between an NFL player and his girlfriend.

According to a recent and related Associated Press article, a number of women used the hashtags WhyIStayed and WhyILeft to “share their own stories reflecting the sometimes difficult choice of whether or not to leave an abusive partner.”  One woman was Beverly Gooden who tweeted on September 8, “I stayed because my pastor told me God hates divorce.  It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too.”

Does God hate abuse as well?

By the standard of church awareness, teaching and response to the reality of domestic violence one might be tempted to answer in the negative.

Illustrative of the experience of far too many women in the church, one British website notes:

Quite often, if we as victims approach and confide in an elder, priest, or member of our Church, hoping for some support and encouragement, we can leave feeling even more guilty and trapped than we did formerly.  We may be told that the abuse is due to our own lack of submissiveness, or our own sinfulness, that we would not suffer if our faith was greater, or that we will be rewarded in the next life for the suffering we experience in this one (!?!).  I have heard of women who have been told earnestly by their vicar that it would be better for them to die at the hands of their abusive husband than to seek a separation and protection for their children! … The question, however, for every Christian person should not be what does our Church say about our situation, but what does the LORD say to us in the Bible?

Malachi 2:13-16 addresses the reality of domestic violence:

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the Lord made them one?  In flesh and spirit they are his.  And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16 “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty.

So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. (NIV 1984)

Despite the fact these husbands were weeping and wailing before the Lord and offering sacrifices to him, they were rejected.  Why?  According to verse 16, the Lord hates divorce and the Lord hates a man who covers himself with violence towards his spouse.  Though there is some debate about how to best translate verse 16, the NIV text indicates that when it comes to discussing familial health, churches ought to address intimate violence in a substantive way.

According to Scriptures, a person engaging in verbal, sexual or physical violence against an intimate partner or family members is committing sin.

The Malachi passage is far from alone.  Other passages implicitly addressing this reality:

Genesis 1-2 articulates marriage as a helping relationship forged in the unity and equality of one flesh

Psalm 11:5 notes that the Lord “hates with a passion” those “who love violence”

Isaiah 59 does not mention specific sins but clearly condemns in verse 2 those whose “hands are stained with blood” and “fingers with guilt,” and again in verse 6 that those who commit “acts of violence” with their hands are doing “evil deeds”

Matthew 18:1-10 describes children as those highly regarded in the kingdom of God and therefore to be welcomed, honored and protected

1 Corinthians 13 offers a portrait of love that is patient and kind and free of intimidation, abuse or violence

Ephesians 5:21 discusses mutual submission

Ephesians 5:25-33 calls upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church: sacrificially unto death

Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 emphasize that fathers should not provoke their children

Domestic violence is sin.  When a person engages in verbal, sexual or domestic violence he or she has broken faith with his or her husband or wife.  Domestic violence is far too often a dirty secret happening behind closed doors and weekly filling church pews in suffering silence.  We have a responsibility to name this sin and to be grieved over its prevalence in the world.

If are to be God’s people then we must publicly teach that domestic violence is sin, acknowledge our complicit silence in this area, provide safe havens for those seeking freedom, regularly pray for those trapped in abusive situations, and model healthy and life-affirming relationships.


I “Heart” Poland


Will Walker & Alan Huesing

In early-Fall 2009, Mr. Alan Huesing, ETBU’s Director of International Education, asked me to join him on trip. ETBU’s Theatre Department was performing at a festival in Częstochowa, Poland, and Alan was accompanying them as a guide, nurturing ETBU’s relationship with a local sister university, and working towards setting up future travel courses experiences. As the then-Department Chair in Kinesiology, I was asked to join the travel group to explore course options for our department. What a great opportunity!

But I really didn’t want to go, because I was afraid.

I am a Type-I diabetic (I may write more-extensively about this later), and at the time I had been on an insulin pump for only a few weeks after taking multiple injections every day for nearly 20 years. I was not at all comfortable yet with my mastery of this technology that was literally keeping me alive (and that runs on a single AAA battery).

What if I screwed it up? What if something happened to my insulin? What if my pump broke? What if, what if, what if…

Last week, I wrote that “professors must intentionally take students out of their respective comfort zones, forcing REAL goal-directed social interactions among mixed groups. Additionally, students must be intentional in their pursuit of these connections.”

Well guess what? Professors must do the same thing for themselves.

"All along the watchtower, princes kept the view..."

“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view…”

If we only invest ourselves in what and who we already know, we stagnate as professionals, and we stagnate as people. Also, we have to intentionally pursue those opportunities to move beyond our comfort, or at worst, not turn them down when they are presented to us.

As you may have guessed by this point given the pictures, I went on the trip.

I went on the trip and everything went off without a hitch (medically). I had nothing to fear, “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

From start to finish, the trip was a blessing. This is just a small sample of the positives.

  • I had the awe-inspiring experience of touring different camps in Auschwitz.
  • I learned about Alan’s history working with ETBU International Education (more on this next week).
  • I re-established old connections with the ETBU Theatre Department. As part of that, I gained a better appreciation and understanding for what Traci Ledford and others in their department do; she’s a coach, not of a sport, but of a physical performance. The skillset is amazingly similar to what a head coach in a sport might do during game preparations and on game days.
  • We got to attend several tremendous productions, including our own production of All My Sons.
  • We went to Jurassic Park.
  • I accompanied Alan, as he met university presidents and school headmasters, helping set up future travel opportunities (the Kinesiology travel course to Poland happened in May 2011). We were even treated to a children’s play.

I would have missed out on all of this had I not overcome my concern. Just as we encourage those in physical training to go beyond comfort in order to have physical benefits and just as we must encourage our students to expand their horizons in order to grow, we must progressively overload ourselves to produce personal growth. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Even in Poland.


Does God have a Facebook page?

I am really excited to (hopefully) teach a new class in the next few semesters  - Social Media Communication. Anyone interested?

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

I have taught a similar class before, but not under the guise of the integration of faith and learning. Bringing faith into the discussion adds a completely new element, and one that I’m excited to explore!

Since I’m a little bored today – even professors have trouble concentrating on a Friday :) – I decided to start thinking about what the syllabus would look like for this new class. Let’s just say that I’ve found myself in a pickle.

How can we bring God into the discussion of social media? What kinds of questions should we be asking and answering in a class like this?

What can God add to the internet? Nope, wrong question. God created the internet (obviously), so he’s added everything already….

What does the internet have to do with God? Wrong question again, and same simple answer: EVERYTHING.

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

What does God have to do with the internet? UGH! Everything again! And still not an interesting question or answer!

How about, what can the internet add to our understanding of God? Or, how can we see examples of His glory/mercy/work/amazing-ness through the internet?

Hmm maybe we’re getting somewhere now…

Off the top of my head, obvious places where God shows up on the internet include:

  •, a site where you can read multiple translations of the bible,
  • , a searchable Bible site that also provides many different translations and where many ETBU folk have been participating in the Bible in a year program,
  • or even the websites for churches, like Mobberly Marshall where my husband and I attend…

…But what about more unique ways that God’s love is visible online?

My family is planning to go to New Orleans for Thanksgiving this year, and we are going to rent a house to stay in while we’re there. This experience has introduced me to Air BnB, a vacation rentals site.

Is everyone on this website a Christian? Probably not. But I can’t help but think of Christians using this site to live out 1 Peter 4:9.

Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.

Can this be seen as the internet helping us follow God’s plan for our lives?

Can’t you imagine the wonderful ministry opportunities that could become available if you opened your house in this way? You don’t know who would choose to stay, or what stage in life they are in, but surely God could use this opportunity for His Kingdom!

Or what about

Is there a guarantee that everyone on this site is Christian? Decidedly not.

Cardinal rule #1: You CANNOT trust the Internet!

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t using the site for His purposes. Maybe that’s the best way for you  to meet your husband or wife. Who are we to claim knowledge of God’s plan or methods?!

Maybe this isn’t going to be the root of Social Media Communication class, but I definitely think these questions deserve some investigation. Maybe I’ll even use this post as assigned reading…

Photo Credit: Julia Manzerova via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Julia Manzerova via Compfight cc

If we return to the question I posed in the title of this post, Does God have a Facebook page? — how would we know if He did or didn’t?

He could be posing as Joe Schmo, John Smith, or Jesus Christ, offering status updates, pictures and music preferences, and we would never know. At least not for sure anyway.

Remember, you CAN’T trust the internet!

Bringing God into the discussion of social media communication seems to offer some exciting topics, and opportunities for discussion. I’m so excited!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how faith could/should be brought into a class about the internet, or social media. There are so many possibilities :)

The syllabus is still being worked on – you could contribute!!

What if Your Minister Uses Pornography?

How would you respond if you discovered your minister uses pornography?

Photo Credit: Liz Marion via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Liz Marion via Compfight cc

According to

  • 12% of Internet websites are pornographic or about 24 million individual sites
  • Every second 28,258 Internet users view pornography
  • 40 million Americans are regular visitors to pornography sites
  • 70% of men aged 18-24 visit pornography sites in a typical month
  • 1 in 3 pornography viewers are women
  • 20% of men and 13% of women admit to watching pornography online at work
  • The most popular day of the week for viewing pornography is Sunday

Mobile technology seems to further enhance the pervasiveness of pornography:

  • 1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
  • 24% of smartphone owners admit to having pornographic material on their mobile phone
  • 3 out of 5 girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18
  • 30% of all 17-year olds have received a sext

But surely – some may argue – ministers do not struggle in the same way.

In an age of pervasive pornography, ministers, ministry students and churches ought to consider four steps to pursue intelligent transparency and healthy ministerial engagement.

First, ministers need to prepare – and churches ought to expect – to proactively address the reality of pornography and other sexual issues.  While age-appropriate conversations are key, given that the average age at which a child first sees pornography online is eleven, children’s ministers and children’s workers need to carefully address with children and parents alike healthy online habits that address this issue as well as other acute online realities such as cyberbullying.

Proactive engagement is perhaps even more incumbent upon those ministering among teenagers and young adults.  Youth groups need to have pointed conversations about social media, texting, and even more broadly the use of technology.  Simply shunning technology is not an appropriate answer, though it is the one most often cited to me by college students struggling in this area.  While taking a Sabbath from smartphones and Snapchat may be necessary as a short-term initiative to break a particular habit or addiction, we cannot teach or expect individuals to simply shun technology as a means of avoiding temptation.  Otherwise, as happened to a friend several years ago, when a company or ministry issues a business smartphone it becomes an easy access point to patterns that were dormant rather than defeated.  Rather than emphasizing simple avoidance, though perhaps necessary for some as an interim step, ministers need to encourage individuals to develop a toolkit that masters technology and can navigate the workplace and ministry expectations of the twenty-first century in a healthy way.

Pastoral sermons and counseling can also play a key role. Internet pornography increasingly contributes to marital struggles and divorce.  Moreover, there are a number of corollary topics all too often neglected from the pulpit such as human trafficking and domestic violence.  A recent survey by Life Way revealed that 42% of pastors rarely or never address domestic and/or sexual violence in their sermons.

Second, every ministerial search committee ought to have an open and frank conversation during the interview process about the struggles the candidate has faced in this area.  Such a conversation is best suited towards the end of the process and perhaps with a select portion of the search committee, personnel committee or deacon body.  Though potentially uncomfortable, addressing this reality upfront:

  1. Helps foster a healthy and safe accountability relationship of trust for both the church and the minister where struggle may still occur
  2. Encourages the minister to more openly discuss the formation of healthy sexual patterns and identity drawing upon their own struggles and victories without fear of immediate retribution
  3. Establishes an expectation that the minister will in appropriate ways love and minister holistically to those within their areas of responsibility, including in the sensitive realm of sexual behavior and identity.
Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Third, every church needs to have a technology policy in place and be proactive rather than reactive.  Though dated, one 2002 survey noted that 54% of pastors reported viewing Internet pornography in the last year (, pg. 113).  After recently visiting with one youth minister seeking freedom in this area, I encouraged this young minister to seek a continued and extended conversation with the pastor at the church.  The individual quickly responded that this was not possible as it would lead to immediate firing.  If a youth minister serving at a church whose desire was to seek freedom and accountability felt that the church would only offer rejection, how can we expect anyone else to turn to the church as a place of healing and restoration?

There are certainly types of clergy sexual misconduct that must be handled differently, but if a minister is involved in immoral but not illegal pornography there ought to be a guiding policy that helps the church and the minister jointly pursue a process of recovery.  Some time ago I was visiting with an individual who helps set up and maintain church networks as part of his business.  He relayed the story of how a pastor phoned him late at night because his college son who was home visiting had used a church computer to complete homework and then visited a variety of pornographic websites.  The pastor asked this network administer if he would be willing to quietly scrub the computer at the personal expense of the pastor so that the church did not know.  Whether it was in fact the son and not the pastor himself pales in comparison to the perceived need for the pastor to respond in fear and secrecy.

Churches need to be proactive in working to establish well-reasoned technology policies.  For years churches and ministers fought to place a window into the door of every office.  It is time to extend that concept.  Churches and ministers need to fight for a window into our technology.

Fourth, churches more broadly ought to work to create intentional climates of open dialogue, healthy accountability, and grace-filled recovery.  In the 1500s Ignatius of Loyola wrote:

The enemy also behaves like a false lover who wishes to remain hidden and does not want to be revealed… When the enemy tempts a just soul with his wiles and deceits, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret.  When they are revealed to a confessor or some other spiritual person who understand his deceits and evil designs, the enemy is greatly displeased for he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil design once his obvious deceits have been discovered (Movements Produced in the Soul).

Sin hates exposure and recovery begins in the light.  In the end, after all, the same grace by which we are saved is the same grace by which we are to continue to live.

- EB

The Play’s the Thing

In Fall 1999, as a first-semester freshman at ETBU, I was enrolled in THEA 1310 – Introduction to Theatre. As part of that course, there was a requirement that we get several hours of “volunteer” time working in Scarborough Chapel with the Theatre Department as they prepared for their productions. I knew immediately that completing that requirement was going to be a difficult proposition, as I was in pre-season preparations for basketball, I had to keep a 3.5 GPA to keep my academic scholarship (to thus remain in college at all), and I was still driving back to Avinger several nights a week to work at the 5D Cattle Company Steakhouse.

A scan of the R.U.R.'s yearbook page; in looking for photos I realized that it is almost like everything before digital photography and the Internet never happened.

A scan of the R.U.R.’s yearbook page; in looking for photos I realized that it is almost like everything before digital photography and the Internet never happened.

I knew that official basketball practices started on October 15 and if the volunteer hours were not completed by that date, they simply were not going to get done. Of course, nearly everyone else in the class waited until late in the semester to earn their hours.

It is with these circumstances that I became the sole volunteer that worked with ETBU Theatre start-to-finish on their production of R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots, which was the first production of that year.

Throughout that experience I helped with various odd jobs (building sets, inventorying costumes, running errands, etc.) as required. Beyond these experiences, however, I picked up something very valuable.

“Expanding your horizons”

By no means did my parents “shelter” me, but there was only so much worldview a person could have growing up in the 90s with basic cable and dial-up internet in a high school graduating class of 10 people.

1. K.P. was absent that day. 2. And OF COURSE class pictures got scheduled the week after the basketball team decided to shave our heads together.

1. K.P. was absent that day.
2. And OF COURSE class pictures got scheduled the week after the basketball team decided to shave our heads together.

My experiences with ETBU Theatre helped me to grow as an individual, simply because I was forced to work together towards common goals with people with whom I otherwise would not have interacted, in a context with which I was not familiar (and in which I was uncomfortable). Remember, because I was planning on playing basketball for ETBU and I knew that it was a long-shot, I spent a disproportionate amount of time preparing for my sport beginning the day I stepped foot on-campus, and as a result much of my time was spent forging relationships with people similar to me in many respects. The theatre experience allowed me to grow relationships outside of my self-imposed circle of athletes, and many of those relationships are still alive today. Additionally, I continue to support ETBU Theatre; there is a poster for Urinetown outside of my office right now.

You should go see this, at least twice.

You should go see this, at least twice.

When I transitioned into a coaching role at ETBU, and again later as a professor, I would see this same pattern in many of our first semester students. It wasn’t that they were actively avoiding others; it was that so much of their early time on campus was with their “thing” that they literally didn’t have time to invest in relationships elsewhere. This is not a phenomenon that is unique to athletics: debate, choir, band, theatre, and other groups that engage students very early in the Fall semester probably see this as well.

Therefore, professors must intentionally take students out of their respective comfort zones, forcing REAL goal-directed social interactions among mixed groups. Additionally, students must be intentional in their pursuit of these connections. This is why the concept behind our Learning and Leading courses for first-semester freshman at ETBU is so important. It is also why things like sports and other campus performances are vital; they create a shared experience that we can all enjoy live, in-person, together.

One cannot understand others’ perspectives without understanding their individual life contexts, and one cannot possibly understand those infinitely complex contexts without real social interaction. These sorts of interactions help students recognize that there are more ways to think about things that what they have always been around, and it is that recognition of other perspectives that allows for the personal growth we want for all of our students.

(More on this later.)


Walk the Walk… in secret?

After my last post about Small Group Communication class working with Mission Marshall, I got some questions about what communication has to do with a service project, and why we would count that as a class requirement.

So that got me thinking… an easy answer would be that the point of Small Group Communication class is to learn how to effectively work in groups, be a leader, and make your group stronger. Therefore you need a group project, and what’s better than applying your skills in a real life situation?

Photo Credit: sparklefish via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sparklefish via Compfight cc

But that doesn’t speak to why I felt I could write about this project and class in a blog focused on integrating faith an learning in the classroom.

I’ll admit, I’m very new to the idea of talking about faith at school. You might know that I got my PhD, and a lot of my teaching experience, at the University of Kansas. Great school, but public. There was absolutely no room for religious views of any kind at school.

But, we did have Small Group Communication class, and my adviser developed this idea of connecting the class with an outside organization so that we could also make it a service project.

You did not have to teach the class that way. A board game creation project would also fit the bill.

But thinking back now, those of us who adopted the service project model all had something in common… I think we were all Christians!

We just did not talk about it. Ever.

For me, the connection between doing a service project and integrating faith and learning is clear. Didn’t God teach us that every helping hand we extend is the same as helping Him?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’” Matthew 25:34-36

Photo Credit: the tartanpodcast via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: the tartanpodcast via Compfight cc

At ETBU, we talk a lot about faith in the classroom. Professors are encouraged to share their own faith stories, pray with students, and involve Bible verses as they are relevant.

We do a great job of talking the talk in the classroom.

I think all of us are also walking the walk with God, but maybe in a more private manner. How often are classes involved in feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked?

How often do we help students walk the walk in public?

When I was at KU, I was involved with a great church and felt that I was doing my best to serve others… on Sunday. Then I would return to work, where I was forbidden to share my religion in class, and leave it all behind. A good idea? Of course not, but I caved to the pressure.

The one place where I could broadcast my Christian values clearly and reach out to help others with my students was through the service project in Small Group Communication. And I think we were all doing that, we just didn’t talk about it in those terms.

Moral of the story? I think it’s threefold:

  • I am so happy to have the freedom at ETBU to talk about our Christian walks openly with students!
  • Serving others IS serving God.
  • Doing more than talking about faith may be a better measure of the integration of faith and learning.