To All My Students, Past & Present

The pre-semester faculty meetings have begun and I now enter into my 29th year of teaching American history in a Christian college. When you believe you have a specific calling from God to do something, you can do it regardless of the trials and obstacles that sometimes make you question the calling.

There was a time in the previous 28 years when I seriously considered going in a different direction, wondering if the calling had been withdrawn and God was pointing to a new path. That didn’t materialize, and here I am, still doing what I have always felt I should do to fulfill God’s purposes in my life and in the lives of those I teach.

I look back on the 28 years I’ve completed and am thankful for what has transpired. The trials fade, the obstacles have all been overcome, and what really matters is being obedient to the Lord, thereby, hopefully, helping students develop a greater understanding of history through Biblical eyes.

Nostalgia? Well, to some extent, yes. But it’s more than that. I maintain contact with hundreds of former and current students I’ve taught. Is it over the top to thank God for Facebook? I know the drawbacks of social media, but as with all technology, it depends on how one uses it. I would have lost touch with so many I’ve had the privilege to know.

I spent five years at Indiana Wesleyan University. That’s where my fulltime teaching began. It was a stretch to develop so many new courses all at once. American economic history? Me? I did it, though, and I think it went well. Political and cultural geography? How was that a history course? I made it into one, and learned a lot doing so.

To those IWU students with whom I still have ties, thank you for your eagerness to learn and the encouragement you offered when I needed it most. The Dead Historians Society will always be a fond memory, and I’ll never forget that little plaque with the quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “An ounce of truth outweighs the world.”

Periodically, I would invite students to our home for a time of fellowship and teaching, and they actually came, sometimes thirty at a time. What a blessing that was.

Then I spent seven years at Regent University, teaching at the master’s level in the School of Government, offering the historical perspective on that subject. Again, I had to develop a lot of new courses, but it was a joy to do so. And teaching master’s classes added depth to what I was able to offer.

My Regent students were of a different stripe, many leaving jobs to go back to school, seeking to engage the political field with their Christian faith, hoping to inject Biblical principles into an arena that often casts them aside.

My office was large enough to accommodate my advisees for weekly prayer meetings. The bond that was created with students over those seven years has never gone away, at least not in my heart. Cookouts and other gatherings at our house only helped cement that bond.

Taking students to nearby Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg was an annual treat. Those of you who accompanied me to Israel and Britain that one summer will never forget that trip (for reasons both wonderful and bizarre). Twice I took students to the Northeast, taking in as many key historic sites as time allowed.

Leaving Regent after those seven years wasn’t easy. I will never forget the good times there. For all of you who have stayed in touch, thank you.

Five years at Patrick Henry College followed. The majority of PHC students had been homeschooled and were more than ready for higher education. Seeing that kind of eagerness for learning at the undergraduate level is uncommon. I never had to wonder how to get the students’ attention in class; they were keen to point out when I might have messed up a date on my PowerPoint slides.

My Calvin and Hobbes comics were so appreciated that one year the students purchased the entire collection and presented it to me in chapel. There was the ongoing joke about men needing women to have families. If that doesn’t seem like a joke to you, just ask a PHC student for the inside story and how aliens fit into it.

I wish I could have stayed longer at PHC; my Facebook friends list is replete with PHC alumni. God bless you all.

Now I’m at Southeastern University and have been for eleven years. I’ve set a record for longevity here. Who would have guessed I could survive that long anywhere? This opportunity opened up quite surprisingly at just the right time. God always provides.

SEU students, I’m gratified to be able to teach you. Over these eleven years, I’ve again developed a number of new courses, and I’ve been given a free hand by the administration to do so. I was promoted to full professor and later awarded a sabbatical that led to the publication of my book on C. S. Lewis. I have been blessed.

My pledge to my current students is that I will continue to give you my all. I see each course I teach as part of that calling from God, and I will never give you second best. When I’m in the classroom, my passion for what I teach will be undiminished.

To all my students, past and present, I give you this pledge: I will remain faithful to the calling, to the principles found in God’s Word, and to integrity in all I do and say.

It’s not simply a quaint cliché when I say, “To God be the glory.” And may He truly be glorified through me as this new semester begins.

The God of the Second Chance: A Personal Testimony

I was a young man on fire for the Lord. At age 22, just after graduation from college, I became part of the ministry of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). As an on-air radio announcer, I played contemporary Christian music and offered whatever spiritual insights a 22-year-old could possibly offer.

Then my church started a Christian school and looked around for someone with a degree of some kind to become its headmaster. My radio, television, and film degree seemed to qualify at that point. I was also eager to take on the task.

A longer story made much shorter: I was too young, too inexperienced, and too immature to handle that responsibility. For various reasons, I wandered away from the Lord and eventually left that position.

Too many testimonies spend far too much time highlighting the sins of one’s former life. I don’t wish to do that. Suffice to say I was angry with God, filled with ingratitude for what He had given me in life, and looking for some reason to abandon Him entirely. In short, I was in open rebellion.

At the height of this rebellion, I decided to go back to college to earn a doctorate in history, which had been my minor in my undergraduate years. This decision was made without seeking God’s leading; I really didn’t care what He thought, if He was even there at all. What I hoped was that these degrees, and all the learning I would imbibe along the way, would provide a meaning for my life that now was missing.

I applied myself to higher education with all my being, completing my master’s degree in one year, then moving on to the doctorate. Two years later, I had finished everything necessary for the degree except the doctoral dissertation. After three strenuous years of reading, researching, writing, and test-taking, I was almost exhausted.

What was even worse was I had come no closer to genuine meaning for my life than when I had started. When you come to the end of yourself, that’s where you will find the Lord patiently waiting for you.

EcclesiastesI began to read the Bible again and slowly came to the realization that I had been a fool. One particular passage stood out to me one day, found in Ecclesiastes 12:11-14:

The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

It would have been difficult to find a more appropriate passage to speak to my condition. I had wearied myself with devotion to books. What I needed was to once again fear God and keep His commandments.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to finish my doctoral degree. After all, I hadn’t asked God about it in the first place. Yet He opened up time for me to do so, with an assurance that somehow He could use this degree for His kingdom. When an opportunity came to teach as an adjunct faculty at Regent University, I gladly accepted it.

Regent was a three-hour drive from my home, so I would travel there once a week to teach a couple of master’s-level courses. I still struggled, though, with whether I was completely forgiven by God for all those wasted years and the damage I had done with my bad attitudes and other sins during that time.

One day, in January 1989, as I was making that trek to Regent, I was listening to music as I drove. The song was an old hymn of the church, It Is Well with My Soul. When I listened to the second verse, it came alive:

My sin, oh the joy of that glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul.

As soon as those words filled my mind, something else filled my mind: a voice spoke, declaring, “That’s for you.”

As I recall it now, I can’t say for sure if it was an audible voice, but it was so real, and the Source was so obvious, that I was swept away by the love of God. He was telling me I had a fresh start. I could put aside my past sins and move onward for Him. I was so overwhelmed; the tears flowed; driving on I-95 became rather dangerous. But the presence of God and His love filled my being.

The reality of that voice has stayed with me to this day, and God has fulfilled those words in my life. I’ve been able to put the past behind and move forward. Shortly after that divine intervention, a door opened for my first fulltime teaching position as a professor. I’ve now been in this ministry for 25 years.

In those early days after “the voice,” I began referring to the Lord as “the God of the Second Chance.” I still believe that, and I remain eternally grateful for the second chance He has given me. Never would I dream now of throwing away the blessing and the honor of serving Him.

Ecclesiastes 12

My Teaching Ministry–Part V

The Lord has His times and places. Prior to teaching at Indiana Wesleyan, I had been an adjunct at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. My teaching had been well received there, and I had hoped for a full-time position, but none was available at that time. But as my fifth year at Indiana Wesleyan was ending, the door opened—providentially, I believe—to return to Regent to teach in the master’s program in the Robertson School of Government. For me, this was the fulfillment of my academic dream, and I hoped it would be the place where I could hang my regalia forever.

Students at Regent who were seeking a master’s degree in public policy were earnest and dedicated. Many had left a career midstream to make this sacrifice of time and finances. I never had to labor to get their attention. My task was to be the historian in the department, offering courses that provided the historical background that was necessary for work in the field of public policy and government. I had the freedom to teach how Scripture should influence our views on the proper role of civil government. I look back on this time as almost a golden age with respect to the nature of the students I was privileged to teach. I still have strong attachments to many of my former Regent students. Not only was I a mentor, but I rejoiced to be considered a friend as well. My advisees met with me once each week for group prayer; this created a bond that remains.

Living in the Tidewater area also made for a more hands-on approach to early American history with the Historical Triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg nearby. Each year I took students to those sites; it was a highlight of two Saturdays in the fall. I even had the opportunity to help lead a trip to Israel and Great Britain, based on a summer course I offered on the roots of American government—found in both the Old Testament and the British heritage. This is the only trip I’ve made to the Holy Land, and I would dearly love to return.

In the classroom, I made the transition to PowerPoint presentations, which opened up a new world of possibilities, especially for history, as everything historical can be found on the Web.

One year I received an appointment as academic dean for the School of Government, but I was one of two associate deans under the primary dean. The position was laden with tremendous responsibilities with no corresponding authority. The university as a whole, and the School of Government specifically, underwent administrative upheaval in my final years there. The mission and goals of the School of Government began to change, and I no longer felt as tied to the program philosophically. I had spent seven years teaching these graduate students, and had loved nearly every minute of it. Although it pained me greatly, I began searching for a new position elsewhere.

Where did that search lead? That is tomorrow’s subject.

Reflections on a New Academic Year

Today, the faculty of Southeastern University begins its traditional two-day meeting at the beginning of a new academic year. I feel reflective today as I prepare for my twenty-fourth year of teaching at the university level. It may be a bit easier for me; I’m no longer serving as chair of my department. That diminishes my responsibilities significantly, and at a time when my wife, Jan, is still recovering from surgery, a reprieve from some responsibility is welcome.

Most of those twenty-four years, I’ve been excited to begin anew. The summer break allows for the kind of change of pace that makes one eager to return to the teaching ministry God has given. This will be my seventh year at SEU, equaling my longest tenure anywhere; I also had seven years at Regent University. I recall those Regent years with special fondness. I was teaching at the master’s level, and the students, who were earning degrees in public policy [with some double-majoring in law], felt a special call of God on their lives to go out in the realm of policy and bring His truth into that sphere of influence. Many of my former students are now doing just that. It gives a sense of satisfaction. Doing God’s will always brings satisfaction.

Many of the students I now teach show up at the university not really knowing God’s direction, so that makes this student body quite different from Regent’s. That doesn’t mean it’s a lesser ministry—it’s just different. My goal now is to awaken in them the desire to see His principles as they are either followed or disobeyed throughout history. Some will become history majors, but God hasn’t called everyone to that. Those who are not going to be history majors, though, can still take what they learn in my courses, and I hope that knowledge will enrich whatever field the Lord leads them into.

Which new students will catch that vision? Which of the history majors will grow and excel in their studies? In the midst of sameness—teaching the same courses—God always provides newness. Even when I teach the same things, responses will be varied; no two courses will ever be exactly the same.

So I anticipate another year of doing God’s will. As long as I am faithful to His charge, He will bring results. Let the new year begin.

Reflections on This Life & the Next

The last paper is graded; the semester is over. That’s a good feeling. Breaks are always welcome, but I truly do live for the teaching ministry God has given me. I love the beginning of a school year, and there’s always something special about commencements.

This is Southeastern’s commencement this year; it occurred last Friday. For the first time we had to rent a larger facility to hold everyone. I’m on the stage in the distance, but don’t bother trying to find me. I’m a speck. Kind of provides some perspective. None of us are really that big and important, yet to God we were important enough for Him to come to earth in human form and die—that we might be united with Him. Astounding, really.

Teaching the students God gives me is normally not a chore, but a blessing, an opportunity. On days like today, when I can put another semester behind me, I sometimes reflect on the past twenty-two years as a professor. There have been some very bad times along the way, but not usually with the students. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve rejoiced that I have been entrusted with some part of their education.

Fulltime teaching started in 1989 at Indiana Wesleyan University. I had just earned my doctorate and was excited to be a new Ph.D. in my first faculty assignment. It also brought me back home to the Indiana where I had spent the first twenty-two years of my life. One year I was honored by the students voting me Professor of the Year, but what meant even more to me were the evenings when 20-30 of those students would come over to the house for the Snyder Institute for Advanced Conservative and Theological Studies. Yes, it sounds a little corny, but it was great.

Five years after my initiation as a professor, I moved to Virginia to take on a new responsibility, one that was even more enticing to me since it meant teaching at the graduate level. Regent University, in Virginia Beach, was my home for the next seven years. I have to admit that showing up for work each day at the building you see in this picture was, as students are inclined to say today, “totally awesome.”

Yet it wasn’t just the physical surroundings that made this time special. Again, it was the students. They came eager to be trained to go out into the government or into the private sector to influence government policy. The fond memories of those years will never recede.

Beginning in 2001, in the same month that my book on the Clinton impeachment was published, I took on a new task, teaching American history at Patrick Henry College. Once again, solid relationships were established with students, most of whom had been homeschooled for a significant portion of their lives. They were focused; they felt called by God. I’ll always remember being called to the front after chapel one day and being presented with the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, paid for by a collection taken up by the students. I wonder why they thought I would like that? Am I really someone who likes cartoons?

I’m sixty now. I’m taking the summer off from the classroom to spend more time with my wife who is undergoing chemotherapy to attack a very threatening cancer. At sixty, that’s what I want to do. I’m reminded of just how temporary this timeline is.

But the timeline that really matters is eternal. One of the nicest things about that eternal timeline is that we will spend it in His presence, and we’ll be sharing it with others who have chosen to be in His presence also. Many of those will be my former students. What began in this life continues in the next.

As the apostle John in the book of Revelation disclosed:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. … And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

All that I’ve experienced in this life, even the teaching ministry God has given me, has been a preparation for what is to come. He is the One who infuses what I do with meaning. Without Him, nothing I do has any value. I thank God for allowing me to carry out a part of His valuable work in this world.