Faculty, staff, students, and guests of Wayland Baptist University: welcome to Convocation Chapel and the new school year at WBU. This semester promises to be a good one, and all of us who work at Wayland are excited about the possibilities and potential of the coming months.
This event is one I always embrace enthusiastically. Convocation gives me a unique opportunity at the very beginning of a new school year to share with you something of my thoughts and my heart. Thanks for being here today.
Dr. Linda Hutcherson read from Romans 12:1-2 earlier. The Apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Rome about what they were to believe and how they were to act. In a world of incredible wickedness and immorality, Paul challenged his readers to live distinctive lives. This is what Christ’s call means to all of those who follow Him.
Paul shares with his readers (and with us) a simple truth: some things really do matter. From Paul’s perspective, what we do with our lives, our thoughts and our bodies is without question or doubt deeply and truly important. His plea is intense and personal. He strongly and passionately urges his readers to be unique, distinctive, and transformed persons. The verb used for “transform” is the same root term from which we get the noun “metamorphosis” and the verb in this passage is passive in voice. That means transformation is not something we do to or for ourselves, it is something God does in us because we trust in and follow His Son, Jesus. Paul is affirming this simple fact: because you follow the Lord, you will be different.
Using the Apostle’s thoughts, I want to share three brief affirmations, three challenges, with you.
You have probably come to Wayland for many reasons. You came to follow your dreams. You believe what you want to do and what Wayland offers in its educational ministry align closely together. Your friends are here. You have received a scholarship to attend the university. You want to play and compete on one of our athletic teams. You want to prepare yourself for your future. You feel that God has led you to this place.
I hope you have also come to learn. One of the things Paul speaks to in Romans 12 is the “renewing of your mind” which includes the importance of growing through new knowledge. Ben Franklin once observed “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Wayland’s mission speaks of a “learning-focused” environment. You are here, in part, because you understand that you don’t quite really know everything. Our faculty wants to enable and empower you in your quest for knowledge. That is why the professors behind me have given their lives to the study of their own particular academic discipline. More than 80% of our professors have terminal degrees in their fields of instruction. In other words they possess the highest academic certification available in their own academic arena of expertise. They want you to know the truth of our world and the One who created it.
At its best, real learning is never easy. There are no shortcuts. Yet dishonesty and plagiarism are rampant on university campuses all across our nation. Permit me just one example: In November of 2010, an article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “The Shadow Scholar.” The article was written by “Ed Dante”, a pseudonym for an East Coast writer who for a decade made a comfortable living writing papers for a custom-essay company. In the article, he describes the rampant cheating he has observed among university students in America. Their cheating—by using “Mr. Dante” to write papers and projects for their assignments—provided him with a very comfortable income. This is what he writes in the Chronicle article: In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper. I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else…On any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.
“Mr. Dante” makes more than $60,000 a year because students are willing to cheat by using his services. One New York Times survey in 2009 indicated that more than 60% of those college students surveyed indicated that they had in—some way—cheated on their school assignments. Now, a whole new industry (like Blackboard’s Safeassign and “turnitin.com”) has sprung up which checks writing projects for plagiarism and source accuracy. By the way, you will encounter Blackboard’s Safeassign program during your time at Wayland.
You would know by the material in our student handbook that cheating and plagiarizing is prohibited at Wayland. But let me share with you some additional and important reasons for you to be honest in your university assignments.
First, when you use someone else’s work and claim that it is your own you don’t really learn much. You haven’t searched for and evaluated and studied the source materials critical for your knowledge of a particular subject. One of the most important things you will learn at Wayland is how to both discover and critically evaluate information on any given topic about which you have an interest or assignment.
But most importantly, cheating and plagiarism is a form of theft, and such activities reveal a great deal about the quality and content of a person’s character. If you wouldn’t steal from a bank, why would you steal another person’s academic effort and use it for your own benefit? And if you would steal from a bank, you and I need to have a serious and open conversation about integrity. Learning really does matter.
In Romans 12, Paul speaks of transformation–metamorphosis. It is something God does in and to us. It is something only Christ can do. The changes we need most can occur only through our Lord’s involvement with and intersection of our lives. Such encounters with Christ happen through faith—the simple act of trust in God’s Son.
At Wayland, you will be surrounded by faculty and staff who are comfortable with the idea and practice of faith in God. I believe Wayland is a Christ-centered family. Certainly, we’re not perfect. But we honestly do believe in and know about the power of faith. We’re willing to talk to you about faith in your own life. We won’t coerce or manipulate—but we will be open and honest. What you believe (and in whom you believe) matters.
Once a week we will ask you to attend chapel. The reason is simple: faith matters. We will talk about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We will talk about the challenges of living a life of faith in today’s world. And I would be the first to tell you that such a life is filled with challenges and, sometimes, pain.
As a pastor, I often encountered tragic circumstances for which there was no satisfying personal or philosophical answer. A young couple whose son dies unexpectedly and suddenly; an Air Force wife’s husband commits suicide; a couple desperately wanting a child yet unable, for some unknown reason, to conceive; an elderly man who lost his wife, the love of his life, after more than 60 years of marriage—these are just a few examples of the people I’ve encountered through the years who have questions. What I learned is that ultimately, no rational answer will ever be adequate or, even, very comforting. I also learned that in the final analysis, we don’t need answers as much as we need the presence, the partnership, and the comfort of our Lord Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis, in Till We Have Faces, struggled with this same question and came to the same conclusion: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
Augustine once observed in his Confessions “Our heart is restless until it rests in You God.” Faith matters students. What you believe—in whom you believe—is important. If you don’t already know that, my prayer is that you will make that discovery while attending Wayland. If you are open to that journey, we would love to walk along side of you in it.
HOW YOU LIVE MATTERS
Actions are profoundly revealing. You behavior is a clear and compelling indication of what lives in your heart. That’s part of what Paul means when he challenges us to shape our bodies and their actions into “living sacrifices—holy and pleasing to God.” Actions matter not only because of what they mean in our interactions with others, actions actually depict and reveal the true character of one’s identity. Proverbs says “As a person thinks in his/her heart—that is what they are.” That’s why in Matthew 5 Jesus talks about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation and the treatment of our enemies. He tells us that such actions are not just a matter of what we do with our hands—these issues are really a matter of the thoughts we nurture and cultivate in our minds. Our thoughts (not just our actions) actually reveal the content of our souls.
In many ways I hurt for you, students. The world in which we currently live does not attach much significance to actions, especially in matters of sexual expression. Just a few snapshots of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century:
Almost half of the marriages in the United States end in divorce. This doesn’t include common law relationships and breakups.
Infidelity is more pronounced now than at any time in recent history. Traditionally, men were more likely to become sexually active outside of their marital relationship. Interestingly, more and more women are becoming involved in affairs. To illustrate, Ashley Madison is a large web site dedicated to “casual encounters, married dating, discreet encounters and extramarital affairs.” Ashley Madison founder, Noel Biderman, reports that the website has 15 million members in 25 countries. Honestly, I want to cry.
Think about it: a business built on broken promises, broken hearts and broken families. This is a world in which children are bewildered and shattered by the selfishness and stupidity of a parent or parents. In my 25 years as pastor of local Baptist congregations, the most devastating experience my church members faced was not the loss of a loved one to death, but the breaking of a promise by a spouse. Duanea and I have walked with and tried to care for a significant number of individuals whose whole world crumbled because of broken promises. I can’t begin to express the pain and sadness I feel when I think about some of those folks and the forever damaged lives and hearts which have been left in the wake of selfish and egotistical extramarital encounters.
Most of us who have had a more or less traditional wedding ceremony made a vow which typically included “forsaking all others, I will be faithful only to her/him for as long as we both shall live.” In some ways, it seems that that promise means less in our world today than it ever has. Marriage has so many wonderful dynamics: talking, dreaming, holding hands, laughing, sharing scenes and things of beauty, working together in a strong partnership towards a common goal, looking into each other’s eyes, spoiling grandchildren, and even weeping together. Yet there is something special and endearing and binding about the sexual side of a marriage relationship. The biblical principle of the “two becoming one flesh” is important and special because that joining is reserved for that one to whom you have committed both your heart and your life forever. In a healthy marital relationship, sexual intimacy is an incredible gift—a joyful joining of lives and hearts as well as bodies. Outside of marriage, the act deteriorates into a passing moment of physical pleasure without any lasting significance or importance. To use a good gift like sexual intimacy for less than God intends cheapens it and makes it superficial and empty.
It seems that in contemporary society, however, consent is the only guiding principle which governs the physical relationship between men and women. Students, please understand that there are greater issues and realities at stake than consent. Important questions need to be asked: Is this right? Is this action really fair to the other person? Will this please God? Will this help me to find my place in His plan? When I marry the person I love and with whom I want to spend my life, will this action build up that relationship or will it compromise and, even threaten it?
I know you know that sexual coercion is prominent on colleges campuses—especially at secular institutions of higher learning. One study of two Midwestern state universities found that 1 in 5 women were sexually assaulted during their student days. The use of drugs for purposes of forced sexual relations is particularly despicable and criminal and is, in fact, a form of rape. As the father of two daughters who attended college, if I had known of a forced sexual encounter involving my girls, I would have used every legal means available to me to bring the perpetrator involved to justice.
Incidentally, four undergraduate students at North Carolina State University concerned about the exploitation of females on American college campuses have developed the formula for a new product called “Undercover Colors”. It is a nail polish which detects the presence of date rape drugs. So if you are served a beverage while wearing this nail polish, you just dip your fingernail into the liquid and if it changes color, it is time to call the cops. I love it! The product is not on the market yet because the young men are looking for development funding, but they already have a large Facebook following.
Your promises matter. I like what an anonymous author once observed, “People with good intentions make promises. People with good character keep them.” Remember what Robert Frost wrote, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Promise keepers know a serenity and a satisfaction in the journey of their lives that promise breakers cannot ever know or experience. Let your words and your commitments be strong and unwavering—let them be a reflection of a heart totally and wholly committed to God. Because that, students, is where real life—dynamic, exciting, challenging and incredibly meaningful life—is found.
So today, I have shared a few simple truths with you.
What you learn and how you learn matters.
What you believe is important.
How you live your life matters. How you make and, hopefully, keep promises reveals the kind of person you truly are, and shows the real content of your soul.
It really does matter.
My challenge to you today is simple: Embrace God’s best for your life. Look to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Present your lives and your bodies as living sacrifices to Him, and find the reality and transformational power of the joy of faith.
Oh, my student friends, you are so special. You have such incredible possibility and potential. We—the faculty, staff and administration—carry you in our hearts, thoughts and prayers daily.
Have a wonderful semester.
Have a wonderful life!
Grace and peace to each of you…