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Turning an Object Lesson Into a Ministry Opportunity

As I’ve expressed previously, I try to give my upper division students object lessons in the real world. My second semester lab ends with a required short oral presentation. I set up an online sign-up sheet and give them a week to sign up, then close it so I can prepare the seminar and publicize it. This semester, there were a large number that had not signed up, so I sent out a reminder the night before it closed.

Sure enough, the morning after it closed, I got a panicked email from a student I’ll call Joe. I’ve reproduced our conversation here.

On 11/23/2010 9:45 AM, Joe wrote:
Dear Dr. Wilson,
     I just noticed that I missed the deadline to sign up for the oral presentations.  This was entirely my fault, I had ample time and notification from you to sign up but I have been extremely busy and it completely slipped my mind.  I know that the presentation is required so please let me know what
 I should do to pick an experiment.
 Thanks in advance,

On 11/23/2010 10:05 AM, RJW wrote:
I'm sorry. I gave you the same week I gave everyone else, and they are all nearly as busy as you. The deadline is past.

On 11/23/2010 12:08 PM, Joe wrote:
         Is there any way I could meet with you, either today or tomorrow, before the thanksgiving break?
 Thanks in advance,

On 11/23/2010 12:42 PM, RJW wrote:
I'll be available between 3 and 5 today.

On 11/23/2010 12:50 PM, Joe wrote:
 Dr. Wilson,
     That sounds great, I will drop by your office around 3.

On 11/23/2010 1:05 PM, RJW wrote:
Just something to think about before we meet--you couldn't spare 30 seconds in a whole week to go online and sign up for a talk, yet, you want to meet with me today or tomorrow to plead your case. That is so important to you that you send your messages with a return receipt request, so you KNOW the instant I read it. All of this takes a lot longer than just going online like I instructed a week ago AND reminded you the day before the deadline. How am I to interpret this? Why am I expected to jump at your beck and call when you fail to do a quick task for your grade over the course of a week?

These are the things going through my mind. You have a couple of hours to come up with something good.
RJW (emphases in original)

Before you think I’m being too harsh, I have found that most of us (myself included!) are so focused on our situations we don’t realize how we come across to others and how our faults impact them. It is very similar to how Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t resonate with me until we realize that my sin put Him there—a pardon is meaningless unless we truly realize our guilt.

Joe showed up at my office at 2:47, not between 3 and 5. I told him to wait in the hall. I looked up an essay he had written for me in the first lab that revealed he was pre-med, and finished up the stuff on which I was working, and called him in.

Long story short, I asked for his story, and he begged to be allowed to give his talk. We looked at his grades, and they were sitting right at an 80 with several outstanding. As this was worth a letter grade, he was nervous that the others would not compensate for the zero. He said it was an accident, and admitted he didn’t fully read the emails I sent. I asked him what the med schools would do with his application if it was late, and if he did a DUI and killed someone if it made a difference if he was sorry/it was an accident. I held his feet to the fire for a few minutes. {He did make one veiled threat that he didn’t have any interest in escalating the incident. I ignored him.} I made it abundantly clear that actions had consequences, and that forgiveness was a rare commodity in the real world.

Finally, I said that there was one situation where the offended party had made a blanket statement that even though our screw ups were entirely our fault, there would be complete forgiveness if we asked for it. I asked him if he knew what I was talking about. He said no. I told him that because, and only because I had benefited from this blanket forgiveness, I would allow him to sign up for the presentation with a 40% penalty. I then encouraged him to go figure out the source of the blanket forgiveness, as it had bought him a second chance with me.

It will be interesting to see if he comes up with anything and what it might be. I was careful to make my allowance of him presenting without condition. So if he does no research, it will not impact his grade. After the presentation, I will ask him privately if he found anything out.

Pray for Joe, that like Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, the grace I am showing him will result in a life transformed by Christ’s grace.



  1. Great story Robb!
    Do you recall how he responded afterward? Curious to know.

  2. Hi- As I recall, he did not respond. There was not a good chance to go talk to him afterwards. I was afraid it would go like that. However, we are responsible only for being obedient to Christ's directives, not for the response of others. God is far more able to work in Joe's life than I am.