Friday, December 30, 2011

The Talk Part II

CSU San Bernadino
It may feel your parents want to direct all aspects of your life.  Some parents are so controlling, that the adult child is not allowed to develop.  At this point you may be saying, “Yeah that’s my parents, they will never let go.”  This can be really frustrating, but I invite you to think of it another way.   You do want your parents to help you through this next phase of life, because if you were to come out from under that umbrella of protection you may find the world to be one mean dude. 

It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition where either your parents control all aspects of your life, or they are completely cut off.  As an adult, you have the opportunity to shape the tone of the relationship between you and your parents.  Here’s a hard truth.  In some ways your thinking is still childish, you still miss things.  This is a normal part of being a young adult, so it is wise to have very experienced people who have your back.  When you have one of those “kid moments” it can be really depressing and you can really beat yourself up, but the cool part is that you ARE getting more competent. 

Remember the impulsivity of your early teens?  Your passions seemed to rule you and it got you in a lot of trouble.  Well, you are better at that now aren’t you, but if you look critically, you can see that even now there are moments you just don’t have it all together.  You don’t have to fake it that you do, because you don’t.  Knowing when to seek advice is a real indicator of growing maturity (Proverbs 19:20).  I have sought advice from a lot of people to bring this book to you.  Very little of what I’m telling you is new information, I am standing on the shoulders of other people’s wise advice and research.

There needs to be a negotiation between you and your parents.  This talk should be a series of conversations to figure out the roles and responsibilities of each party as you move into this new phase of life.  I have included a sample set of things to discuss, but you will need to adjust this to your situation.  This will be a difficult topic to discuss, so be ready to work at this.  If you have a good relationship with your parents where you can tackle difficult conversations you are halfway there!  If your family avoids conflict at any cost, this topic will be extra hard but not impossible.  You may need to keep coming back to the topic as you get derailed.  If you have fought a lot and that is the end result of most of your conversations, you will need to do some work on the relationship. 

Are you a whiner?  Do you throw a tantrum when you don’t get your way? Do you make a lot of promises or swear to show that you really mean it. If so, then you will need to learn to state your position in a less dramatic way, or you won’t achieve much in these negotiations (Matthew 5:36-38).  You will need to work at this, because the stakes are high.  The most important thing is to preserve the relationship.   You will need to decide many things and you will often disagree.  There needs to be a plan for how to do this.   When conditions change, you may need to go back and renegotiate your agreements. Just remember, it is wrong to expect total freedom.

You will need to delicately explain your needs and expect some freedom, but you should defer to your parents wishes when there is a disagreement.  If you are in a current state of open rebellion, partying and out of control, you will probably lose support very soon, but I think most people reading this are rational and fairly self-controlled.  The problem is that momentary losses of rationality can have huge implications for your future, so your parents probably know your limits and what boundaries are appropriate for you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ears to Hear

I teach economics to high school seniors.  For many students, I am the first (and sadly the last) person to teach them about personal finances.  Surprisingly, California does not require that I cover personal finances!  (History-Social Science, California Standards)

Nowhere does the state require that we teach how to balance a checkbook, create a budget, manage credit, and make smart consumer choices.  Luckily I can cover the state standards and still have time to cram in a lot of personal finance instruction. 

So you would think that these young adults would eat up the advice I have to offer about finances.  Wrong.  When I talk to young adults I find them typically resistant to sound financial advice.  There are always motivated kids out there who eat up wise advice, but their number is shrinking.  As a teacher who constantly probes for ways to get through.  I have a few theories as to why my teaching is rejected and here are my educated guesses:

  1. I have useful advice but it can be couched in outdated terms that may make me look uninformed.  This one is my fault and I have to always be on the alert for changes in technology and trends.   My lifestyle does not put me socially in the places that interest many of my students.  I just talk differently than them and they may not get my examples.  This one is partially on me and partially on them.

  1. I am discounted just because I am a teacher.  I represent the system that has “oppressed” them for most of their lives.  This failure to learn will consign them to poverty. (Prov. 12:1)

  1. They don’t care about statistics, because they believe they will be well off.  This leads them to believe that there is no reason to listen to advice.  They believe they have a plan that will work (regardless of whether any real thought went into the plan.(Prov. 19:20)

  1. I get discounted because I am old.  I’m only 40, but to a young adult, I may as well be 60.   To some young adults there is a strong perception that older adults hold ideas that are out of date and will not hold true in the future, so my advice cannot be trusted. (Lev 19:32) (Job 12:12) 

  1. I teach concepts that are totally opposite of what they are told in the media.  These young adults are pelted with messages to conspicuously display wealth (Prov. 12:9).  I teach them to spend less than they earn, and it is seen as too embarrassing.   Similarly, the world has told them they can do whatever they want; they just have to work for it.  I tell them their career must line up with both their interests and abilities or it will end in poverty.  This always gets me sour faces. (2 Tim 4:3)

  1. I teach financial concepts that are contrary to the example of their parents. It is hard to overcome a lifetime of teaching in a semester. (Pr 22:6)

  1. I talk about growing money slowly to attain a middle-class lifestyle.  They want to be rich, famous, and glamorous.   These desires lead to a lot of pain down the road.  (Prov 13:11) (Eph 4:28)

  1. The lack of life experience does not allow a young adult to access experience as a guide (Prov 22:15).  This is why I believe it is not appropriate to release all major decisions to a young adult regardless of what the law says.  I believe there is generally a short window of opportunity to get educated to ensure financial stability.  Unfortunately, this window is open at the very time when a person is less capable of thinking long-term.  If a young adult forgoes education during this period, it is very hard to go back later to get it done.  I did my master’s degree while working full time as a teacher, dad, and husband.  I was obviously busy, but I knew how to manage my time effectively, and I worked really hard during that phase of life.  This is another skill that is lacking among young adults. (Eph. 5:16)

  1. Many (not all) young adults are coddled to the point of utter laziness and helplessness, so they don’t want to listen about becoming independent.   I had a student write to me that I should stop nagging them about getting educated because “My mom said I can live with her as long as I want.”  I tried to explain that she will want to some day be independent, or mom may become unable to support her. (Prov. 19:18)

  1. Many (not all) young adults are frozen with fear over the future, so they don’t want any reminder that it is drawing closer.  This fear of failure brings about the very failure they fear the most. (Prov. 10:24)

  1. What I’m talking about smacks of religion, so they shut their ears off.  This is actually true because all of my money advice is derived from the scriptures.  Being a public school teacher I don’t pelt them with verses, but God’s way works very well financially (Prov. 14:12).

  1. Much of my advice requires self control, which is impossible for a person controlled by sin (Gal 5:17).  While a person can fake it to some extent, true self control only comes as a fruit if the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).  This fruit comes only as we yield ourselves to the Spirit (Gal 5:16).  God’s way requires a relinquishing of our wishes, desires, and future to the One who saved us.  This laying down of lordship is very hard for people to do. (Mark 10:21-22)

Many of the teachings of Christ were designed to bring us to the realization that in ourselves we have no power to live by the Law.  It is only when we agree with God about our helpless condition that He can truly save us from our evil desires.

Hear the Words of Jesus

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Talk

Cal Poly Pomona

You are an adult, but most likely you do not have total autonomy to do as you wish, because your parents are still calling many of the shots in your life.   How you view this situation, and how you respond to it will help to determine the final outcome of this phase of your life.  If you receive parental financial support I hope you are grateful, because they don’t need to support you any longer.  In fact, all parental legal responsibilities end when children reach age 18.  

 This is can be surprising and a bit scary to hear this, but relax; most parents feel a sense of duty to support their children throughout their lives.  A recent survey by Sun America Financial and Age Wave found that 70% of older adults expect that they will need to help their adult children financially.  I am financially independent, but my parents still do nice things for me as well as for my family. Besides good advice and general loving towards me, my parents are awesome grandparents who enrich my children’s lives by enrolling them in things like art, science, gym and swimming classes.  

 These are gifts and carry no obligation or loss of independence on my part.  Just yesterday, my Dad insisted on paying for dinner when we all went out.  I like to joke by saying, “Dad, you do realize that I DO make money.”  His response is that when he was in my place his parents did the same for him, so I should accept it and be grateful.   He is right, and I plan to do as much as I can for my kids when they are the parents. 
The point I am making is that families tend to be interlinked financially.  This is a good thing and it functions as a primary source of insurance and that is how it is supposed to work (1 Timothy 5:8).  When other areas of support dry up, family is often there to lend a hand, so you should not turn your back on them. Staying connected with your family includes doing some of the things you classify as dumb, because that is what makes them happy.  

 Dr. James Dobson in his book Life on the Edge explains that the power roles will someday reverse to the point where you will be parenting your parents in their old age.  Because of this try to understand that you will be granted more and more freedom and at some point the relationship will move more towards friendship and mentoring, but eventually you will have to pick up the dual role of caring for your children while taking care of your parents.  Some of you can see this now with how your parents interact with your grandparents.  All of this should help you to see that it is all temporary and you shouldn’t get so bent out of shape with the current situation because it will change and all the responsibility will be on you.

We live in California, and if we had an earthquake the rendered our house unlivable, we would probably go live with my sister in law in Kansas.  If there was a tornado there, they would probably come live with us.  Family must be preserved, because of so many benefits beyond the financial.   

Helping family comes natural, even jerks seem to get this, but you will still want to walk away at times.  Resist the urge and be nice.  So as a young adult, don’t reject help from your family just because you want to be independent.  If they want to help, let them help.  The issue is that the money comes with strings, so it makes sense to find out what the strings are.  Then you can decide whether to take the money or not.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could negotiate the strings?  There is a way. Continued Next Post…

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Suggested Parental Advice for the High School Years

 Disclaimer: My children are not in college yet, so I have no young adults.  I speak from the viewpoint of an educator who has been working with high school seniors and college freshmen for fifteen years.

    Stanford University
  1. It really is rare for a teenager to know what they want to do as a career.  I routinely quiz my seniors on this. I have found that most of those that have decided haven’t done any research to find out if they would be suited to that career.  It is normal for them to stick their head in the sand.  Your role is to help them face the reality.  I have found that teenagers can recoil in fear when pushed.  Arrange appointments for them to talk with professionals in prospective careers.  Use your networks to let them see what people do for a living.  They won’t do this on their own, so you can do it.
  2. Ditto on college choices.  Visit a number of college campuses when they are in session, attend activities at local colleges.  By viewing many campuses, they will get a sense of what they want.
  3. College is not for everyone, and parents must not apply a cookie cutter approach to each child. Proverbs 22:6.  Barnes Notes on Proverbs 22:6 says “The way he should go - Or, according to the tenor of his way.”  By the high school years you should know if college is an appropriate choice
  4. Monitor grades closely…very closely.  Have appropriate rewards and consequences.
  5. If you have allowed a cell phone consider ditching it (pause for laughter.)  Ok I know they will go into total meltdown mode, but think about this: Most teens cannot resist this digital crack and it kills their study productivity.  Their friends insist that they text back immediately if they know they own a phone.  If you feel it is not possible to permanently take it away, then set clear rules.  No phone, music player, or computer should be in sight during study should be allowed, because all it does is slow them down.
  6. Studying is not the same as doing homework.  Studying is what happens after the required stuff is done.
  7. There is a maturation issue causing serous school issues.  Some kids wake up and get serious, but time is critical.  In the freshman and sophomore years, there is still time to recover from low performance.  Have your child retake all classes where there was a D or F grade.  Some high schools have additional periods for make-up classes, while others must be done during summer.  If the classes are not offered (budget cutting) then you can pay for an online course on your own.
  8. Do not settle for community college just because it is cheap.  If the goal is a four year degree, then the transfer route is littered with failure.  For vocational degrees, community colleges are often the best route.  Do your homework, because your son or daughter probably won’t.
  9. Private schools may be affordable, but you won’t know until you apply and get back the aid offer.
  10. Do FAFSA you may be surprised by the free money available.  Get your taxes done quickly
  11. Staying at home can work if you do a Parent-Student Contract. (post coming later)
  12. Going away can work if you do a Parent-Student Contract.
  13. AT ALL COSTS uphold the Parent-Student Contract.

Your turn.  What's your advice?
Please Add Your Comment

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cultural Barriers Part II

UC Riverside
You will need to adapt, meaning change your behavior.  This isn't fun, but it’s life.  At some point you will want to quit, but you must work past this challenge.  Adaptation is a natural part of life.  In the world of work you will need to constantly adapt to changing market conditions and new ways of doing business. 

Your cultural challenges can become a serious market advantage if you integrate yourself into the dominant culture.  You will need to create support systems at college consisting of professors, friends, study groups, and counselors.  Your family will be the emotional support, but you need to realize that you are an alien in an alien land when you go off to college.  You will have to adapt to your new environment, and this is hard work for first generation college goers. 

You do not need to turn your back on your core principles; you just need to add to who you are.  I have noticed that when two native speakers are together they utilize Spanish, but if a friend walks up, who doesn’t speak Spanish, they will shift to English.  Why does this happen?  Because they are friends, and friends don’t exclude friends.  It is like whispering, it is generally bad manners to whisper because it makes people feel uncomfortable. 

UC Riverside

Manners are the way we show others that we are not rude, so when we break a rule of behavior that is seen as “normal” we can be labeled rude by others.  The problem is that “normal” behavior at college is different than the “normal” behavior of your home or neighborhood.  If you don’t care about what others think you will find yourself alone and often out of work.  You need to realize that in college, you must speak, act and write in a way that does not offend or hurt your chances of being taken seriously.  You must use formal American Standard English in your communication. 

Don’t give up your other dialects, just add formal English to your list of dialects that you utilize.  Yelling and interrupting during a discussion are common tactics utilized by those who are not taken seriously and the will make you seem less convincing.  In your mind’s eye focus on a person you have met who is cool and collected in an argument.  Have you met someone like this? Regardless of your feelings about presidents William Clinton and Barrack Obama, both are masterful in remaining calm under intense pressure.  That is how you should act; stay calm as if the result of the argument doesn’t matter.  If you feel anger rising, it is best to hold your tongue or measure carefully what you say.

Force yourself to listen in discussions and craft your replies to the unique situation of the conversation, rather than regurgitate the same, tired arguments each day.  The idea is to separate yourself from your passions to get across your point.  If you are sharing your faith, remember that truth is on your side, but acknowledge that your knowledge of the truth is limited. 

Don’t be afraid of “facts” that seem to fly in the face of your faith.  Use these as motivation to learn more about your faith.  Look for opportunities to see God at work in all of your studies and add them to your “proof” of God’s command and authorship of all knowledge (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).  Adapting to new cultures will also be expected in whatever career you end up doing.  It is proper to shift with the situation.  You are not being double-faced, you are being considerate.  You don’t have to go back on your values to accommodate a culture.  There are many other behavioral cues you will come to notice in college.  Learn these and adapt (1 Corinthians 9:21-23)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cultural Barriers For First Generation College Students

Jessica Dennis of Cal State Los Angeles has identified a number of factors that make it difficult for ethnic minority first generation college students.  These students are at a very high risk of not graduating.  Here is what she identified:
1.      They tend to work (for pay) longer hours while going to college, leaving less time for study.
2.      They tend to have unrealistic expectations of college. 
3.      They tend to lack knowledge of the university system and
4.      They have a culture that conflicts more heavily with college culture.  This leads to more interpersonal difficulties with classmates, roommates, and professors. 
5.      They also tend to have “interdependent” vs. “independent” families leading to greater family obligations.  This makes it harder to get study time scheduled. 
6.      Their parents have a lack of first hand college experience resulting in an inability to help with college tasks. 
St. Mary's College
What do you do with this information?  Do you ignore it and write me off as one of those discouragers?  Do you start chanting that line from Blues Clues, “With me and you and my dog Blue, you can do anything that you want to do!”  Snap out of it.  You need a game plan.  You must meet the challenge with aforethought and sound execution.  For each of the above factors, ask yourself, “How does this give my competition an advantage over me.”  “What can I do to nullify the negative affects of these factors?” and “How could I turn this into a competitive advantage?”
I have heard it more callously put, “You can take the kid out of the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of the kid.”  There is some truth to this, but there are some ways to deal with these challenges.  This isn’t fair, but you will still have to work much harder to adapt than others (Titus 1:12-13).  If you come across as a knucklehead, you will be discounted by those around you and college will become more challenging.  When your professors and peers see you as smart, they will treat you like you are smart. If they perceive you as dumb, you will be ignored or mocked. Obviously smartness should not be judged based upon your cultural behaviors, but it does happen.  When people perceive you as dumb, they ignore what you have to say in discussions.  This can be infuriating to not be taken seriously.  To be taken seriously, you need to act like a serious person.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hitting a Wall for Christmas

UC Berkeley
 Christmas can be an odd time for a college student.  Finals are usually completed, grades are in, and you are back at home with your family.  This can be difficult because for the past few months, you have had almost total control of your schedule and now you must fit in with the ebb and flow of family life.  For those of you living at home there can be a similar letdown as there is no longer an excuse (studying) for not going along with every family outing.  It can be unsettling to see how things seem to revert to feeling like the high school years and you can get to the point of wondering if anything has actually changed.  But that is not what is on my heart right now...

If you have been led by God, is it possible to fail?  

Another powerful emotion you may be battling is doubt.  If your grades were less than stellar or your interest in your major has waned, powerful doubts can arise.  Throw in a little parental pressure and it can get very stressful.

 God sometimes allows failure to prepare us for something later.  Moses got ahead of God’s timing and it forced him to run for his life (Exodus 2:11-15).  The above passage and Hebrews 11:24-27 seems to suggest that Moses discerned his purpose long before the burning bush. 

After a long time in the desert, he was ready to be used by God to lead Israel out of Egypt.   Moses learned to rely on God's power over his own.

Failures and the resulting lessons give us wisdom for something down the line.  When something goes wrong, then prayerfully examine what happened. Some questions have an answer that can only be comprehended by God Himself, so don’t be discouraged if you never figure it out.  You will always have some unanswered questions because God is infinite in His thinking and we are not (Isaiah 55:8-9) (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

This is the hard part in chasing a dream.  Sometimes the chase is the dream (2 Cor 4:17).   The process of following God and knowing God are of more value than anything you will accomplish (Matthew 7:21-23). 

What happens when you hit a wall?  If you are going to be a doctor and you cannot pass your pre-med courses, there is a problem. Only a select few pre-med students are admitted to medical schools.   You may need to switch plans.  You are going to need stellar grades to be admitted to graduate school. If you are doing poorly in college, a self-analysis is needed. 
You may get called by God to do something really big. If you are submitted to the purpose of bringing glory to God these calls will come your way, so be ready.   Some of the most powerful ministries were mocked by outsiders, but they believed in the vision that was given to them by God.  They believed that if God commanded them to do it, He would provide all that was necessary for it to be accomplished (Philippians 4:19).  

 The difficulty is that only when a person is fully submitted to a close relationship with God and a heart to obey at all costs, will the vision be given (John 14:15-17).   God allows many mysteries to come into your life, so be ready to be flummoxed (Isaiah 55:9).  When God tells us to do something and we do it, we expect success, but God just wants us to do it and leave the results to Him.  You may be a small part in a long chain of events the leads to God being glorified.  You don’t always get to see the results of your effort, so you need to garner satisfaction from being faithful rather than seeing results (Hebrews 11:39-40).  

 When you are with God in Heaven, all will make sense and you will see the fruits of your obedience.  In fact you should desire that your acts of faith are noticed only by God, otherwise you are robbed of your true reward for that action (Matthew 6:2-4). This will be your crown.  If some things are beyond your ability for comprehension, force yourself to rest in the fact that He is in control and it all will make sense later.

             Until you are struck with a clear goal it is wise to walk the road God has you on now because He probably put you there (1 Corinthians 7:17)God has something in store for you and it usually involves serving others in some capacity.  The word of God, Your gifts, abilities, experiences, personality and godly people who speak into your life all combine to show you where you should go.  You will need to show determination in the face of opposition once you have your marching orders. When sources outside the above mentioned are saying what you can and can’t do, you must ignore them (Psalm 1:1). 

 Following God is both exciting and scary, because you have given up the right to direct your steps as you see fit. Trusting Him with your life's direction is very scary, but when you focus on the object of your trust (Jesus) it becomes natural. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Day In Mexico


Last week my son and I accompanied others from our church on a one day mission trip to Mexico.  AMOR Ministries (American Mission for Orphans and Refugees) works to alleviate the plight of migrants worldwide. 

Original home of family, the blue barrel is their drinking water

Throughout Central America millions of migrants seeking a better life have streamed to the northern border regions of Mexico.  Maquiladoras (foreign owned factories) are expanding to provide much needed jobs in these regions, but the migrants keep streaming in and joblessness is still rampant.


These migrants form an especially poor underclass within Mexico.  Some will stream across the border, but most will stay and try to make it in Mexico.  A curious thing I have noticed is that in San Diego, the valleys have been long filled in with housing and businesses.  Newer, more upscale housing is being added, but the only place to build is in the hills.  In San Diego the higher you are the richer you are.  In the hills surrounding Tijuana the opposite is true.  The higher you go the poorer and more desperate it gets, because that is the only place to build a house.

We met at the church at 6:30, drove about 15 miles to the AMOR office in San Ysidro to get our escort.  We were at the border, a half hour later.  The Federales pulled us over to the secondary inspection.  There is something unnerving about seeing soldiers with M-16’s wearing masks, but that is what is needed to keep these soldiers and their families safe.  A quick check in the back of the van and they let us go.  I am often asked why I take the risk to go to Mexico, and why would I take my son.  The truth is that sometimes we have to take risks in order to serve people.  I would also like to point out that AMOR takes precautions to keep their volunteers safe.  I feel safer in the neighborhoods overlooking Tijuana, than in parts of San Diego.

The worksite was very close and today we would be laying the foundation for a new house.  The thing that always strikes me is what the family is living in.  The new house is built in three separate trips to the worksite, but the number of trips can be lengthened if the work group is slow or inexperienced.  I have no technical training in construction, but most of the work requires no technical training.  If your group doesn’t have this training, then the AMOR staff will lead you through each step.  You just need to go once and you will be hooked.

The homeowner (left w/ son) helps us build

My first trip with AMOR bothered me a little in that it felt like our work was just a drop in the bucket, but once you begin to recognize the outline of an AMOR house you can start to see the effects of hard work over time.  AMOR has completed over 15,000 houses for families in need!!!  Now I can just look around a neighborhood and pick out the houses.  In addition, the families that were help are overwealmed with gratitude.

  The other thing that brings me solace is knowing that AMOR allows the local pastors to choose which families are in the most dire need and determine the order in which families get their house.  Our effort in building these houses empowers the local pastors in their effort to bring people to Christ.  Our job as missionaries is to just show the love of Christ.

            It was a little harder to walk away from this trip, because I knew the family would have to wait a little longer to move in, but I knew that other faithful servants of Christ would be there to finish the job.  

 I was so proud of my son Spencer.  He worked very all day hard filling wheelbarrows with sand and gravel.   The Sunday prior to the trip, Spencer had been baptized by his own choice. I had the privilege of leading him to Christ following our church’s Vacation Bible School when he was six.  I can see that the love of Christ dwells in him fully. There is no greater feeling to see your children choosing God.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Crisis of Identity

College can trigger a crisis of identity.  The reason is that you were trying to fit in by being someone that God has not made you to be.  High school has a way of doing this as peer pressures tend to strongly force you to conform to something you are not.  The beauty is that in college there are few identifiable “types” as there were in high school, so this can be liberating, but it also can be disorientating.  College professors tend to enjoy their role of calling all of your beliefs into question, so for students of faith be ready to be challenged.  You may be mocked, but you should be ready to defend your reasons for your faith in a way that draws people to Christ instead of repelling them (1 Peter 3:15).  You may have never been forced to do this, so take this opportunity to delve deeply into the scriptures to find out what you believe and why you believe it.  There are a number of good programs out there, check with your pastor.  I have found the discipleship training materials of the Navigators as a great source of training.  For those of you who have left town to go to school, you should develop a new home church where you are going to school.  This will give you access to people like you who can support you in the spiritual battles that you WILL face in college.  Public universities tend to encourage any philosophy except Christianity, so be ready.  Charles Malik in his article titled “A Christian Critique of the University” found numerous areas where Christian values were counter to the basic culture on most college campuses.  A Christian college allows you to escape some of these pressures, but not all of them.  For the rest of you attending a public university, it will serve you to think of college as a mission field. 
            For those who have unclear goals, you are in the majority.  If you have the ability to do college, go for it.  Any degree will give you a broad set of options, as there are careers out there that do not require a specific degree, just that you do have one.  As you seek God, things will become clearer, but be prepared to walk in a bit of a haze.  God doesn’t always explain himself and make your whole life trajectory clear, He often just lets you know what you should be doing now.  You can live out your faith through many careers and God needs people everywhere to reach people who need Him (1 Cor 7:17).  Working in ministry is not for everyone, but if you do your education will help your ministry as well as your impact in ministry.  If you have been given the ability to do college (and only a few have it) you should not turn your back on this gift.   For those of you who have not declared a major, use your classes to help point the way, ask yourself as you take these classes: “Do I enjoy this?” and “Am I good at this?”  An affirmative in BOTH above questions can lead you to a major and a career path.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Gospel of Self-Determination Part II

Every graduation speech hinges on somebody invoking the gospel of self-determination, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”  These types of sayings can lead to disappointment and failure, because not all accomplishment are open to all people.  Relentlessly hard work is necessary for any great accomplishment, but these goals must be correctly attained.  College is going to be a grind, when you begin your career it will be a grind, when you get married at times it will be a grind, and when you have children… you get the point. 
            How exactly does a dream die?  Most high school freshmen boys will raise their hand when I ask which of them will be playing a pro sport, but by the senior year the dream is over as most have not put in the overwhelming effort and time to get to the point where they get courted by colleges.  The problem is that the damage has been done. Kids, now young adults, who thought they were going to play a pro sport put little stock in working hard at their academics to prepare for the rigors of college.  For the athletes who make it to the college level athletically, they will have to wait until a later step in the filtration process to have that bubble burst.  An NCAA report by Clint Newlin in 2011 found that For every 10,000 high school senior varsity football players only eight will be drafted by the NFL. Furthermore, anyone who casually follows football knows that many of these draftees will be cut within the first few weeks of the preseason, so the actual probability is even more staggering.
Many students do seem to understand on some level the odds that face them, so they talk about a backup plan.  This plan is usually academic in nature, but the problem with this mentality is that students see it as a back-up plan and fail to put enough time into their studies.   This leads to subpar skills that make doing the challenging work of college impossible. 
            Simply put, the lower your skills, the more often you will need tutoring in the form of professors, study groups or even hired help.  If you had C’s in high school, you will probably struggle because your skills won’t be there for you.  You will need to devote more time to the process of studying because you have not developed study habits that can allow you to learn information more quickly.  The more you know, the more you can skip things you already know.  This gives some people an advantage over you.  The equalizer in all this is laziness, meaning theirs. While they party and sleep in, you will be studying. You should be able to make up the difference through hard work.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Gospel of Self-Determination

Just as bitterness can flow from unforgiveness it can also flow from a sense of shattered plans and disappointment. The world says that you can do anything that you want if you just believe in yourself, work hard and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.  There is a lie in all this.  In the book of Acts, Saul was dragging Christians off to jail; he was a man to be feared.  On the way to Damascus he was converted by the presence of Jesus.  He was led, blind into the city and awaited a brave Christian to pray over him. Ananias was the man that God chose, but he was scared (Acts 9:13-16). That last phrase blows me away, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”  God wants us to lay our lives at His feet; we don’t get to call the shots.
When I think about the gospel of self-determination “you can do anything you want to do, just believe in yourself” I’m envisioning some star baseball player saying how slow and small he was when he was a kid.  He will say he didn’t listen to the “haters and discouragers,” worked hard, never gave up, and got what he wanted.  This is true, but only for him and a select few, but not for the tens of thousands of other football players whose dreams perished along the path to glory.  The baseball star fails to mention is that he was extremely fortunate to have many things fall into place.  John Holway, in his book The Baseball Astrologer and other Weird Tales analyzed pro baseball players birthdays and found that that ball players have a 50-60% better chance of making it to the big leagues if they were born in August.  This would make a ball player the oldest player on a team when they all start playing t-ball and naturally have a physiological head start.  This player would usually play more, ride the bench less, and be more likely to play all-stars, thereby extending playing time.  This and many other silent advantages built talent and encourage even more practice.  All pro players have worked really hard, but they have also benefitted from many unseen factors that they do not understand. 
The lottery is for fools, because the probability of winning is extremely low.  It would be foolish to neglect a career to play the lottery every day.  Just as it is foolish to put your hopes on the lottery, it is also foolish to put your hopes on anything resembling a lottery in the way that it works (Proverbs 28:19).  Some careers are essentially a lottery, whereby only a few make it past the many filtration barriers. Wouldn’t it stink to be one of the few athletes who made it only to have some freak injury sideline you?  This happens every Sunday. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

9 Thoughts on Forgiveness and Trust

  1.  When you feel angry about a recurring offense, the anger is not in and of itself bad, but you need to know that anger can lead to sin (Ephesians 4:26).  Anger is an emotion that tells us we need to do something to change the situation, so we need to ask God what we should do.  
  2. Within the context of prayer God will often require forgiveness if we are taking the offense personally.  Sometimes God will just require you to take it (1 Peter 2:19). 
  3. There are times when you will need to assert boundaries between you and people who continually hurt you.  Be careful when dealing with someone who has offended you (Galatians 6:1).  Please follow God’s word, His prompting, and the advice of strong Christians.  Your “boundaries” may be nothing more than revenge (Matthew 18:15-20).  This is why you must carefully ask God to lead you in the right direction.  
  4. Doing nothing when God is prompting you to do something is wrong (James 4:17).  Your inaction may lead to others being hurt.  
  5. So what if you are the offending party?  The two statements that need to be said are: 1) I’m sorry for (name offense).  2) Will you forgive me? It’s their call whether to forgive you, so don’t come unwound when you do not get a favorable answer.  
  6. Christians are commanded to forgive, but it is one of the most advanced things a Christian can do, so many Christians struggle to do it.  So don’t flip out when they don’t.  
  7. You need time to show yourself trustworthy.  It may be that God may need to work on their heart for awhile.  I have been on the other side of an unforgiving heart and it is so painful because there is nothing you can do to force someone to forgive you.  
  8. If you are being refused forgiveness, then you should “bear up under it” as stated 1 Peter 2:19 above.  This will take being “conscious of God.”  
  9. You need to do your part in rebuilding the relationship (Romans 12:18).

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Depending on whom you run with, revenge may or may not be a part of your lifestyle.  Movies that have revenge as their plotline are satisfying because it gets at our desire for justice when there is none.  This is revenge, and it feels good.  Stories that end with revenge are satisfying, whereas stories that end with forgiveness seem to leave us unsatisfied.  This is a direct result of the sin nature that continues to reside with us long after conversion (Galatians 5:16-18).
Revenge makes you feel empowered.  That is exactly the point.  YOU are empowered.  You have usurped the direct role of God (Romans 12:19).  When you grant forgiveness that person may never be fully punished for their crime in this lifetime.  This sucks when you think of it this way, but the offense was paid for.  Let’s go to the Cross:
Matthew 27:45-46
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

At this moment all of the world’s sin; past, present, and future was on Him (1 Peter 2:24).  God the Father, being holy and pure had to turn from Jesus.  This was the only moment in all eternity when the bond between the Father and the Son was broken.  Besides the sheer pain of the cross, Jesus was heartbroken.  I’m crying right now… I’m reminded that He did it for me.  It’s awesome and empowering to feel the power of the cross in your heart.  He also did it for you!  This is the joy and power that allows you to forgive.  Your forgiveness cost a lot.  It was not cheap, so when you forgive that sin will be paid in full.
So when you grant forgiveness be aware that you need to drop it, you don’t get to bring it up over and over to guilt trip someone.  This just doesn’t seem right, but think it through this way; Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (Hebrews 10:14).  Those who put their trust in Him can count on that and never worry.  The price was paid; all sin, past present and future was paid for.  The gift is freely available to anyone who accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Those who reject the free gift of God’s Son by the Father Himself are doomed to pay for their sins in eternity.  Even Christians must account for every wrong doing (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
God doesn’t mess around.  Don’t worry about how it will all work out.  Your role is to forgive, even when you haven’t been asked to forgive.  If you don’t forgive, you will become one of the bitter people, rotten from the inside out.  God has also made it very clear that when we are unforgiving we will not be able to escape the shame of our own sins (Mark 11:25).  Our own relationship with Jesus becomes degraded.  We don’t lose our salvation, but we cease to be a part of what God is doing here on this earth.  We lose our joy which should be our source of strength.  We stop feeling grateful.  When we do not forgive others, you will not be forgiven by God (Matthew 6:14-15).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Ungratefulness and unforgiveness create the soil from which bitterness sprouts.  When somebody does something wrong to us we want revenge. We understand innately that a wrong incurs a debt that must be paid. When we take revenge, we feel better but now the other person wants revenge, what’s to stop this from becoming an endless cycle of retribution. 

When we don’t take revenge, anger can develop into a deep sense of bitterness towards that person specifically and life in general.  We tend to not take revenge because the results are usually disastrous, but I’m obviously not arguing for revenge, so stay with me.  People tend to feel this bitterness at work because people often feel they have no recourse for revenge against a boss who does them wrong.  

 Bitterness is a self-affliction brought about by unforgiveness and it causes many problems if you let it take hold (Hebrews 12:15).  Forgiveness is the antidote to the venom of bitterness.  Forgiveness requires divine power, so you will need to ask God for this power in order to grant forgiveness.  This takes great faith since we are allowing God to deal with that wrong (Romans 12:19-21).   

When we choose to forgive, that offence will be paid for by the person him or herself in hell, or that wrong will be paid for by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  When we choose to forgive we are absolving all ability of direct revenge or harboring bitterness.  Since we tend to not take revenge we do nothing and nurture a grudge.  

 Bitterness (unforgiveness) is critically harmful to our soul and erodes our character.  At the least, unforgiveness says to a person that you are no longer choosing to conduct a relationship with them.  God critically wants you to have healthy relationships as much as it is in your power.  Unforgiveness means the person does not get a second chance with us.  The reason this erodes our character is that unforgiveness is like a toxic substance that corrodes as long as we hold on to it.   

Forgiveness also allows us to release the burden of the pain to God, otherwise we hold on to the pain of the offence and it has to opportunity to hurt us over and over.  Forgiveness of others; therefore, is vital to your soul.  Otherwise you will waste away into one more of those bitter adults.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Accepting our Lot in Life

There is a great children’s book called A Frog Thing by Eric Drachman, and it wonderfully illustrates an essential concept for you.  In this story a young frog named Frankie has the audacious dream to fly like a bird someday.  Determined to see his dream come to fruition, Frankie works tirelessly to “practice” his flying. His parents and friends lovingly try to explain that flying is a bird thing, but he is undeterred.

Finally, the reality and disappointment of the broken dream dawn on Frankie. In that sad moment he witnesses a baby bird falling into the pond.  Knowing that he must act fast, Frankie dives in, saves the baby, and safely delivers it to her mom.  The grateful mom rewards Frankie by taking him for an awe inspiring flight.  Amazed, Frankie’s parents and friends congratulate him on achieving his dream of flying.  Frankie responds that he realizes that he is a frog and understands that he will never fly, but being a good swimmer is a gift to be cherished. 
            If Frankie had sworn off swimming because he couldn’t fly then that baby bird would have died.  There is a delicate balance between going after your goal and understanding your gifts and limitations.  You have been fashioned specifically for a purpose that leads to your maximum happiness (Jeremiah 29:11) (John 10:9-11).

    If you go after something else you may miss out on something better.  This something better is going to take hard work, so don’t wimp out.  Do not let something that is hard, make you feel that it is unattainable; you will have to work hard to accomplish things that matter.   You must listen to the voice of God to point the way, because the way you feel is right may not be what is best for you (Proverbs 14:12).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chasing the Dream Part II

            I developed a passion for sprinting in elementary school that began in second grade when my teacher signed me up to do the 100 yard sprint for the school Olympics.  On the day of the race I was wore brown corduroy pants and Traxx shoes from K-mart.  They lined me up with a bunch of the boys, the gun went off, and I ran for all I was worth.  I won, and a legend was born, at least in my mind.  I honestly believed that I was the fastest kid in school all through elementary school.  My number of wins diminished throughout elementary school, but I still believed in the legend.  My speed, and with it my athletic confidence, left me in junior high school.  I played no sports until my sophomore year of high school when the track coach asked me to come join the team.  At the time I was honored, but as I look back we had a small team and he asked every kid to join.  He put me on hurdles, and I stuck with it because I felt he saw something special in me that would make a good hurdler.  Looking back, I noticed he put everyone who joined on hurdles because he knew if he could train hurdlers and pole-vaulters he could win most of the meets.
            I really worked at it and my technique became almost flawless.  I won a lot of races just because of that.  Over time I got better and by the senior year I just barely missed the school record.  I pictured myself a budding Olympian, but there was this nagging problem, I was not super-fast.  My heart was finally broken at Mount Miguel High School when this kid with awful technique beat me by a good 10 feet.  I was crushed, but in a way I was upset at myself because I knew the truth.  In the back of my mind I knew that I had fair speed but not blazing speed.  This was my broken dream moment. All the signs were there but I just got wrapped up in the fantasy of it all and chose to overlook the obvious.        
It’s not bad to play sports but it is silly to plan to play sports as a profession.  This also goes for professional singers, actors and the like.  These dreams or fantasies are killing us as a society and they create false hopes (Proverbs 12:11).  The odd thing about all this is that often we know it is a false hope, but don’t admit it to ourselves.  It is easy to just look past a glaring truth if you do not want to deal with the realities of that truth (Romans 1:18-20).  Our dreams must line up with something beyond us to truly fulfill us.  If we allow God to shape our dreams, we will be most happy (John 10:10).  Anything else is looking past the glaring truth.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Chasing the Dream

Philippians 2:5-1

When truth is adjusted just slightly, it can actually sound better than the truth.  There is an insidious force out there called self-determination that can fool you into false thinking about your abilities.   Self-determination is the idea that we can get what we want on our own, but this belief is the ultimate rejection of God.  Self-determination is encouraged in our society, because everywhere you go, you will hear the mantra that anything is possible through hard work.  This seems logical because it seems there are examples of people who have remade themselves into something great through sheer self-determination.  The truth about the nature of success is much more complicated. 
We often talk about the “American Dream” where anyone can become great.   This just seems to make sense, but it is a slight adjustment of the truth. The oft quoted Biblical verse, “God helps those who help themselves” is not Biblical.  It came from one of Aesop’s fables and was later popularized by Ben Franklin.  The self help mantra sounds so good, but is exactly opposite of what the Bible teaches (James 4:13-17).  The reason the saying makes sense is that it jives with a part of us that does not want to submit to God.  We do not like the sound of the word submit because it means there can be unpleasant obligations.  Jesus welcomes you into this submission, but offers solace for all your troubles (Matthew 11:29-30)
God has created you for a relationship with Him and part of this relationship is dependence on Him for things that are not under your control.  In reality, very little is under your control. As I get closer to God, I am becoming more amazed at the regularities of life as real and true gifts.  My job is a gift, my children are a gift, and the food in my refrigerator is a gift.    Hard work is a Biblical command that carries logical benefits, but you need to understand the results are in His hands (Proverbs 19:21)
Poverty can befall anyone (Job 1:8-12).  We say that those who are poor are that way by choice because they are lazy, have an addiction etc., but we often utilize this thought process to shuck our duty to help those in need. This is flat-out wrong thinking because we have a duty to serve the poor and oppressed (Matthew 25:41). Don’t get caught up in deciding if people are worthy to be helped.  If God is telling you to give, you should give (Proverbs 14:12-14).