Sunday, March 17, 2019

Our Dreams vs. Their Dreams

I was in my first year on the staff at Lutheran High School of Dallas.  I had been hired as school counselor but that was only a half time position.  To be full time I needed to fill out my schedule and had to be in the classroom a couple periods a day.  I ended up teaching psychology and 7th grade math.  With a Masters in counseling, teaching psychology was very much in my comfort zone.  Teaching math was another matter.  I will admit I was always just one lesson ahead in the teacher’s manual.  It was in the middle of the second semester that I had my first experience with “parent wrath.”  The head of the math department had informed me that I needed to test the students on their skill level in order to determine which students would take pre-algebra as 8th graders.  At that point I was na├»ve in terms of what this meant.  Starting algebra in middle school put students into a college prep track.  That did not mean the students who took an additional year of math were doomed to failure, but rather they were not ready for the abstract concepts involved in algebra.

I was not ready for the backlash from parents whose children were not going to be taking algebra as 8th graders.  You would have thought I had destined them for life-long failure.  The first question most of them asked, after we had moved past “this is not fair,” was what can I do to change this.  Some asked for their students to retake the test, others immediately wanted to hire a tutor.  The bottom line was most them were willing to do whatever it took to get what they felt their child deserved.

This was not limited to academics.  I know there were parents who donated time and money to the athletic program in hopes that it would earn their child a spot in the starting line-up.  I know the same thing went on in other extra-curricular activities as well.  Parents will go to almost any length, at almost any cost, to insure their child’s success.

I thought of all this as I read about the recent college admission scandal.  Some parents are still willing to pay big bucks to get their children in prestigious school in order to guarantee their success.  Yes, unfortunately those with wealth have a leg up when it comes to opening the door to certain schools.

When I wrote my book Parenting without Guilt: Avoiding the Seven Things Parents do to Screw up Their Kids I dedicated a whole chapter to living your dreams vicariously through your kids.  One danger in parenting is that we see the possibility to atone for our failures in the lives of our children, not realizing the danger involved.  They do not always share our dreams and aspirations.  During my years both as a DCE and school counselor I tried to help students cast a vision of what they wanted to be.  Once that vision was cast, I would help them chart a path to reaching it.  Sure, parents played a role in the process.  Usually, they provided some financial resources.  But, more importantly they were supporters and encouragers. There is no greater satisfaction as a parent than seeing your child realize their dreams

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Reflections on Turning 73

I recently celebrated another birthday.  Overall, it was a pretty typical day.  It’s probably a sign of the times that one of the things on my agenda that day was a visit to my chiropractor.  It took me a long time to discover that other than my wife, I needed another person to keep me in line.  I did hear from all three of our kids and got some crazy cards.  There were also some meaningful greetings on Facebook.  I do feel loved and appreciated, and no I do not feel like 73. 

There are a couple of things that I have learned along the way.  I wish I had learned some of them sooner, but then one thing I have learned is “no regrets.” 

Daily quiet time alone with the Lord is not an option.  I wish I had learned this earlier in my ministry years.  For decades my spiritual life was a mess.   I wanted to do “great things for the Lord” not realizing I needed to be spiritually fit to do that.  It was during my time as school counselor at Lutheran High of Dallas that I realized I needed to be equipped spiritually for each day.  My days started early because I needed be ready for what God would put before me that day.  God never let me down.  Time and again he gave me exactly what I needed.  That routine continues to this day.

Live John 3:17.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” I am not called to judge those I meet.  I only called to love them.  My prayer each day is that people might come to know Jesus through me.  It is a vastly different world than the one I grew up in.  The church is no longer viewed as a safe place, rather as a institution that is judgmental and hostile toward those outside its walls.  If the image of the church is to change, it must begin with me.  I must love them for who they are, who I would like them to be.  Only then is there hope they will become who God wants them to be.

I have learned to value family and friends.  I cherish the time I get to spend with my family.  We are so blessed to have all of our children and grandchildren within an hour drive.  I especially value the honest one-on-one talks that I can have each of them.  I value my church family at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.  I feel especially blessed to be part of our daughter, Katie’s, music ministry.  I also treasure the close relationship I have with my Bible study buddies, Dave, Gary and Dan.  I also am grateful to be part of the DFW-DCE community.  Their youthful spirit and enthusiasm keeps me young and in touch with the realities of ministry today.

God is good.  I pray that he continues to give me good health and a youthful spirit. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Church and The Gender Issue

The United Methodist Church made national news last week.  The country’s largest Protestant denomination ended its national convention split over the issue of same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT clergy.  Officially the Methodist Church voted to maintain the traditional stance on marriage and ordaining gay clergy, but almost half (47%) the delegates to the convention disagreed.   

In some manner, every mainline denomination faces a similar dilemma.  How do you balance the traditional biblical stance with the shift in culture?  How do you stay relevant but maintain God’s plan for marriage and procreation?

In my mind God’s desire for is for a marriage to be between one man and one woman.  Throughout scripture from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:24) on, God blesses the relationship between a man and a women.  All marriages and references to marriage in the Bible involve men and women.  The problem with this perspective today is we live in a post-Christian society.  Much of the world operates from a “what feels good for me” perspective.  According to research on today’s teens from the Barna Group, 33% of members of Generation Z 33% of those polled gender has more to do with how a person feels.  While 48% of those surveyed says sex orientation is determined at birth, 12% of those polled say they are “not sure” how a person’s primary gender is determined.  It is obvious today’s teens struggle with this the issue of gender identity.

So, where does this leave us?  Yes we are holding to values that seem outdated from a worldly perspective.  The other thing to remember is that we are called to love people for who they are, not who we want them to be.  That includes those who live lifestyles or hold opinions that run counter to ours.  Remember Jesus words to Nicodemus in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  From my perspective we are called not to condemn or judge those whose lifestyle or opinions we find objectionable.  Instead, we are called to love them and point them to Jesus.  Only when they come to know Jesus and study God’s word is there hope that they might come to realize God’s desire for their lives. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Why I am Excited About the Future of the Church

I have just returned from three days in Phoenix.  Each February Christ Lutheran Church hosts the Best Practices in Ministry (BPM) conference.  I was one of the workshop presenters at the event.  One of my presentations was titled Generation Z: Why I am Excited about the Future of the Church.  If you would like to know more about my BPM sectional you can check out the next two issues of my Passing the Torch newsletter.  You can also wait a couple of weeks and then listen to the presentation in its entirety on the Christ Lutheran Church – Phoenix website.  All the presentations were recorded.

As I reflect on my three days in Phoenix I could easily change my workshop title to BPM: Why I am Excited about the Future of the Church.  I always come away from BPM overwhelmed by the entrepreneurial spirit of many of those in ministry.  The variety of ministries represented by both the presenter and vendors was impressive.  The Gospel is being offered in more varied forms to a more diverse audience than I could have ever imagined. 

The one common thread that seems to exist between all growing churches is an openness to change.  Our world today is vastly different than it was forty years to fifty ago.  The biggest difference is the post-Christian culture that exists today.  We have gone from an atmosphere that was open and accepting toward the church to one that at times is even hostile toward the Christian community.  That calls for not only unique ministries that are targeted to reach the lost, but a spirit of love and acceptance toward those who are outside the Christian community. 

Thanks again to the folks at Christ Lutheran Church in Phoenix for annually hosting this conference and continually make available at no cost.  I cannot wait for next year.  If you have never attend, I would encourage you to check it out next February.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Staying Healthy: Are Teens Missing the Point?

I’ve learned some hard lessons when it comes to taking care of myself.  A few years back the doctor informed me that I needed to make some changes.  I was a borderline diabetic.  Since then “diet and exercise” has been my mantra.  I have lost twenty-five pounds since that tough discussion.  An app on my phone helps me keep track of my steps.  I try to walk two miles a day.  I also try to keep a regular routine when it comes to sleep to insure I get at least eight hours each night.  I also try to surround myself with friends who support, encourage and keep me spiritually focused. 

Unfortunately, I am probably doing a better job than most American teenagers.  A recent study done by the University of Texas reveals that only 5% of teens are meeting federal guidelines when it comes to sleep and physical activity.  The study added screen time as a third criterion when it came to a healthy lifestyle.  The study was based on guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services.  The recommendation is for eight to ten hours of sleep per night, one hour of moderate exercise and two hours or less screen time each day.

I was not surprised at the news.  It has been over ten years since I was a high school counselor but even then I knew most of our students were sleep deprived.  Other than athletes, most of them led pretty sedimentary lifestyles.  Most students had cell phones back then but overuse of mobile devices was not the concern it is now.  Screen time is much more an issue today with all the phone apps and the access to tablets.

It is going to take a major effort to reverse the trend.  Perhaps the best thing that we can do as adults is to set a good example.  A word of support and encouragement to the teens and young adults in our lives might be a good place to start.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Lessons Learned in the Polar Vortex

I am in the tenth day of adventure in the frozen tundra that is Michigan in January.  I was supposed to fly back to Dallas on Monday, but Super Storm Jayden interrupted those plans.  The Polar Vortex arrived on Tuesday leading to a cancelled flight each day.  I was finally able to get a reservation on a return flight thru Atlanta today thru, but that flight was delayed meaning I would miss my connection.  Southwest rebooked me on another flight but I just got notice that flight is delayed.  Yes, I am frustrated and anxious to get home, but I am also grateful that I am safe and warm.  The bonus is more time with my family in Michigan.

I have always maintained the strongest testimony we can give as Christians is the way we react to the struggles, disruptions and tragedies of life.  Those could range from the inconvenience of being stuck in traffic for hours to the death of a loved one or close friend.  Amidst the ebbs and flows of life, the hope we have in Jesus remains the same.  We are safe and secure in Him no matter the life situation.  If those around us know of our faith, they are watching to see how we react.  If we are wearing a cross, or some other symbol of faith, how we respond to adversity will either affirm our testimony or repudiate it.. 

My family will tell you that I am not always the best when facing frustrating situation.  All too often I am told by my wife and kids to “chill.”  When pushed, I have been known to have a caustic tongue.  Perhaps that is why God is putting me through this ordeal.  I certainly have learned patience, and not to trust the plans of men, even Southwest Airlines. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Filling in the Family Tree

I have spent the last five days in Michigan visiting my mom and reconnecting with my brothers and their families.  Winter storm Jayden has delayed my return to Dallas.  For the second day in a row I received a text that my flight was cancelled.  I am warm, safe, and contented, other than having to stretch an extra couple of days out of the clothes I packed. It has been decades since I had to wait out a winter storm in Michigan. It is a reminder why we moved south; winter in Texas lasts a couple of days instead of dragging on for months
I did have another item on my agenda this trip.  Our son-in-law, John Seale has been working on a family tree.  The branches on my mother’s side of the family are a little slim.  I was hoping to fill in some of the blanks.  I was not disappointed.  It is such a blessing that both my mom and my uncle, Don Ulbrich, have fantastic memories at ages 97 and 95 respectively.  My mom has trouble hearing, and can barely see, but get her talking about family or church history she has a fantastic memory.  This trip the stories just kept coming.  I spent six hours with my mom last Thursday and was never bored. 

I am reminded that the members of Generation Z (those presently teenagers and younger) have a real interest in the legacy of those who have gone before them.  They are motivated by a desire to grow from their experiences and in turn make the world a better place. 

I would encourage you to share your story with your grandchildren.  I think you will discover that while your own children are not that interested in your family tree your grandchildren might be more receptive.  I see a real hope in today’s teens and young adults.