Every once in a while a story comes along that is so powerful it changes your perspective.

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.”

It seems like there are two kinds of people that graduate high school. Those that know exactly who and what they want to be, and those that have no clue. It’s not true, but it seems that way. The fact of the matter is that it’s a spectrum and everybody falls on it somewhere. The question really becomes what are we offering as the next step? A large part of high school graduates will be going off to more education but in this country, it has become a right of passage more than training up for a future. Parents feel that they only achieve the good parent seal of approval if they offer their children the right to choose any school in the nation even if it means subjecting their own future and the future of their children to a life of debt. Between the education and the princess weddings, many baby boomers have sacrificed any right to retirement.

Whiplash, the movie, confronts our perceptions of what it means to mentor the next generation. Boomers, having been the generation brought up with a spanking or a belt, embraced a kinder, gentler, more tolerant parenthood, and we may be paying the price for it. The question that Whiplash asked was as mentors, leaders, instructors, professors, do we look at the potential in our protege’s and drive them toward that, or do we assume that they are doing the best they can do and just tell them “good job”.

“I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that’s an absolute necessity.”


Pen Ran Out of Ink

pen ran out of ink

The previous blog for Family Dimensions was December 1, 2014 and to those of you who have been dedicated followers, my most sincere apology.  There is a story behind the absence, but not one that can be told yet because I have not found the right words to tell it.  Let’s leave it that the pen ran out of ink, and I had to go to the store for another one.

So I was on my way to the store for a new pen, and I realized that I would need something to write about.  I had hoped that the store might have a good story section that I could just pick something up at, but no such luck. Desks, printers, computer paper, ink, but no stories.  What’s the essence of a good story?  It should be entertaining, captivating and make people think.  That’s a heavy order to fill.

Once I had a new pen, I looked for a place to get some inspiration for a story.  I pulled my notes out, I racked my brain, nothing came forth.  Even a writer has to be productive.  Going for minutes, much less hours, without a sentence creates a stress that can only be compared to the tension on the cable of a tow truck trying to pull a car out of a ditch.  Surely, the car will start moving soon or the cable will snap.  Nobody wants a writer’s cable to snap, especially his family, and since this blog is all about family … ha, see, I knew I could get to a family dimension eventually.

Stephen Covey used to talk about the role of stress in the creative process.  He used to say that sometimes the worst stress was having no stress.  I know people who have taken themselves out of the stream of life to avoid the stress, and have ultimately been faced by this greatest stress of all.  So if you are trying to get rid of the stress in your life, just give up and thank God for it, because it is what makes you creative and productive.  Embrace it.  Make it your friend, not your enemy.  And for God’s sake, stop using it as an excuse to beat up on your family and friends.

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Empowered by God – Responding by Grace

Following is a Stewardship talk I presented at Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake, Illinois, Sunday, November 30, 2014:

“Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you — so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking” (2 Cor. 8:7).

I have been asked to share a message of stewardship with you, so here is my stewardship message to you – God loves you.  Actually He is crazy about you.  He wants the very best for you, so much so that He has even given you His entire creation.  He only asks that you take care of it.  God has hired you as Steward of His estate and castle.  You see that is where the word comes from, when the lords who were the landowners had a steward that managed their property.

Psalm 50:10 “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.”  … and even the hills are His.  You see it’s all His.  He owns it all.  But He has given it to us, so when we give, we are being more like Him.

To recap our prior talks, we have considered how we are empowered by God. We’ve considered our theme, “Empowered by God — Responding by Grace” and how our primary response to God’s work in our lives should be that of the Macedonian Christians: To first give ourselves to the Lord. We said that our response should be, “Lord, I’m yours to use as You wish. Any time. Any place. Any thing. Any cost.”

I received a really good story a couple of days ago from a friend of mine.  You may have heard it since it made its way to me via Facebook, but I want to share it with you anyway.  It was found in the billfold of Coach Paul Bear Bryant of Alabama fame after he died in 1982.

Imagine you had won the following “PRIZE” in a contest:  Each morning your bank would deposit $86,400 in your private account for your use, but here are the rules:

  •  Everything that you don’t spend during each day will be taken away from you.
  •  You can’t just transfer any of the money to some other account.
  •  You may only spend it.
  •  Each morning upon awakening, the bank opens your account with another $86,400 for that day.
  •  The bank can end the game without warning; at any time it can say, “Game Over!”

It can close the account and you will not receive a new one.  What would you personally do?  You would buy anything and everything you wanted, right?  Not only for yourself, but also for all the people you love and care for.  Even for people you don’t know, because you couldn’t possibly spend it all on yourself, right?  You would try to spend every penny, and use it all, because you knew it would be replenished in the morning, right?

ACTUALLY, this GAME is REAL.  Shocked?  YES!  Each of us is already a winner of this “PRIZE”.  We just can’t seem to see it.  The PRIZE is “TIME”.

  • Each morning we awaken to receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life.
  •  And when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is NOT credited to us.
  •  What we haven’t used up that day is forever lost.
  •  Yesterday is forever gone.
  •  Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time WITHOUT WARNING.

SO, what will YOU do with your 86,400 seconds?  Those seconds are worth so much more than the same amount in dollars.

If God owns everything, including our time, can we do less than to put Him first in how we use this priceless resource?

How we use our talents is yet another way of “responding by grace.” Different people have different abilities. One may be an outstanding surgeon; another a carpenter. One may play a musical instrument with skill; another may teach young children.

But our talents are also what one person described as “gifts on loan from God”.

As some of you may know, I just finished Financial Peace University.  It’s the Dave Ramsey course that teaches people God’s principles for money.  We had a small but dedicated group and I am happy to say that I was able to replicate myself.  So Bill Odean and Janet & Bill Krusinski will be leading the next class of Financial Peace University on Tuesdays starting in January.  I had so many people tell me, I’d love to take that course if it just wasn’t on Wednesday evenings. Well, now’s your chance.  I am so happy and grateful that Bill and Janet and Bill are willing to pay forward the principles they learned.

And so for you, God’s faithful.  Here is my charge to you.  Replicate yourselves by getting another person involved at Bethany in the next year.  “You like to cook?  We need people to help with funeral luncheons.”  “What a great voice you have.  You know we could use you to help with the readings during the service or be part of the choir.”  Add a connection.  It can even be somebody in your own family.  You see Jesus thought it was such a great idea, he replicated Himself a dozen times.  He knew His time on earth was limited.  It would take a dozen to continue to spread the good news. And then a dozen times a dozen.

So thank you for coming out this morning.   Thank you for allowing me to share a message.  And if you don’t mind, I’d like to close with a story that Dave Ramsey tells.  It’s one that I can really identify with because, you see, I have two sons.   Dave was up early one morning, about 5:00 am.  He picked up the Bible to gather a little inspiration as he started his day, and he looked up to see his little son coming down the stairs in Spiderman pajamas, you know, the ones with the feet in them.  His son, Ben, was dragging his blanket as he came over to Dave, and Dave asked him, “Son, what are you doing up so early?  You need to get back to bed or you’re going to be tired and cranky in a couple of hours and heading for a time-out”

“Dad, can’t I just sit here with you for a little while?”

“Oh, I suppose.”  So Ben crawled up into Dave’s lap and Dave went back to reading.

Pretty soon a tear is running down Dave’s cheek and Ben got all excited.  “What’s the matter, Dad?  Did I do something wrong?”

“No, no, Son.  Your fine.  It’s not you.”

You see Dave had just read, “For God so loved the world, that he GAVE … HIS … ONLY … BEGOTTEN … SON.”

As we head into Advent, I hope you will give some consideration to the “first fruits” that God asks you to give.

Will you accept the call?


“This is the long distance operator.  I have a long distance call for you.  Will you accept the call?”  You may have received a call like that if you were around in  the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.

A  call I recently received was from the Pastor at the church.  “I need you on the Stewardship team.”  Stewardship, a religious term that means we need a solid foundation of committed giving on which to plan our budget for next year.  It’s as much a part of the cycle of the church year as Advent and Lent.

However, flash back a few hundred years to when the Lords, Dukes and Earls were the only landowners, often with large castles on hundreds of acres of estates.   They would hire someone to take care of the estate and the maintenance of the castle.  That person was called a Steward.  He did not own the property, but he took care of the property for the owner.

That’s a pretty good comparison of what our relationship is to God. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and He owns the hills, too.  God asks us to be his asset managers.  We have been placed here to take care of His creation.  To those who take that responsibility seriously, He entrusts much.

Then there are those that are like a 5 year old in a candy store.  I want that and that and that and that and that.  And we go crying to God, “Daddy, I need some more.”  And God says, “I don’t think so.  I saw what you did with that last bit I gave you.”  Is it any wonder that a sign of your devotion is to give 10% of your first fruits?

It’s a good time of the year to take some time away from church, especially if they are going to talk about giving money.   The choir will be singing Christmas Carols soon, we can go back then and enjoy the Christmas season.  After all, the family will be in town soon and they are not going to want to drag off to church while they are here, especially if the message is going to be about giving money.

So depending on what is in your heart, I will see you at church on November 30 or I won’t. You will not go to heaven or hell based upon your attendance.  To those who are there, I will offer greetings of the day and my sincere thanks for letting me share a message with you.

Talking Points

David stood in the path and the radiance of the sun was warm on his head. He turned toward it, but it was too bright and he had to shield his eyes. He looked to his right and in the distance many cattle were grazing in the hills. To his left, a badger wallowed into the forest.  And he knew that no matter which direction he looked, it was all owned by the master. 

In the distance there appeared to be a pond or a lake.  In this heat it could be a mirage.  He walked toward it, and it spread out in front of him.  The water was inviting, so he began running toward it. It was a good deal farther to it than he thought, and when he reached the water’s edge, he was out of breath. Still, he stripped his clothes off and waded into the water. 

The bottom of the lake fell away and David had to swim to stay afloat.  He could see an island ahead and decided to swim to it, but as he swam, he felt a pain in his side. He tried to tread water to rest, but the pain grew worse.  He swam hard to try to reach land and felt himself drift beneath the surface.  He pulled himself to the surface and gasped for air, but he soon found himself beneath it again. 

As the thought that he may not make it formed in his mind, David felt an arm around his waist.  His head was lifted to the air, and he was being pulled through the water. Soon the figure beside him was walking dragging David through the water.  When David could sit up in the water, the stranger let go of him and began to walk away.

When David had caught his breath, he yelled out, “Hey. Thank you for saving  my life.”  The stranger turned and waved to him, “See to it that it is a life worth saving.”

The story continues in three weeks at a talk I will be giving at Bethany Lutheran church in Crystal Lake, Illinois on November 30.  I hope you will join me there.

Questions That Have No Answers

Eighth grade teacher Mrs. P was in a bit of emotional turmoil.  Though the details were sketchy, it was  becoming clear that soon she would no longer be married to Mr. P. In her English class, she iterated the quote “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and followed it with “of somebody else.” 

As middle-school boys will do, one of them had found something that was an affront to Mrs. P’s sensibilities, and she decided to chase the perpetrator down, even so far as the boy’s locker room. These days that could lead to a direct exit from the district, but at that time Coach R calmly and respectfully explained to Mrs. P, despite her protest, how she could damage a young ego by seeing their privates (“junk” was not the euphemism of the day). The truth of the matter was that certain boys would have liked nothing better than to flash Mrs. P, so Coach R was as much trying to protect Mrs. P as the boy’s in the locker room.

I don’t know what happened to Mrs. P. She was a good teacher of English and I was in her homeroom for a year, but as with so many teachers, they are a major force in your life and then you move on. Perhaps it is a flaw in the system. We meet a teacher, an adult mentor in our lives, we connect with them and learn from them, and then we have to move on regardless of our connection to them. As learning becomes more computerized, will that reduce the human contact involved? We are already networking in a virtual world. If human nature remains the same, how will we adapt to the separatist isolation created by the virtual world? We are together as a team and still working individually.

With the world changing at the speed of light, the challenges are different not just from generation to generation, but for those entering college from those getting their degree. That being the case, should a teacher’s tenure be no more than 5 years so the next round of teachers can bring in the latest research and thinking? What is the formula that will produce the best results for the entire human population, and how will we make the mass of 7 to 9 billion people all contributing members of society?

There are currently somewhat more than 7 billion individuals in the world … that’s right, individuals … because everyone is one individual each wanting to be recognized with value and purpose. Seven billion visions with seven billion missions, some as basic as surviving another day, others to change the world. Some wish to govern while others break the laws established. What will the next 20 years hold?

Don’t Let Life Pass You By

A beautiful day at the start of autumn. Warm enough for the air conditioners to still run. No hint of the chill of winter that would soon make its appearance. Unlike the fall when the trees all change at once splashing color all over like the finale of a fireworks, there were only splashes of color here and there in a landscape that remained mostly green. The fields of corn, however, which had grown tall green stalks all summer were now turning to gold, gold in appearance and gold that would soon fill the farmers pockets, at least they hope if the price holds up. Most of that gold will be reinvested back into the soil come next spring.

Some children are returning to school, some are getting their first taste of “education”. At two- or three-years-old, children don’t realize they are being subjected to an environment to aid their discovery, what Kim calls “connecting the dots”. In child’s play we think of the pictures created as a child recognizes and orders numbers. In biology, it is the electrical firing between the neurons in the brain that takes place as a child learns. The importance of setting a culture that not only strengthens core knowledge, but helps a child to a healthy emotional path of dealing with other individuals is so underrated. Yet the advantages of children enriched by such a culture is so marked, it can be observed with the naked eye. The tests all prove it even though no.testing is required to demonstrate it.

The mark of a fully integrated human being includes the ability to take that learning process established early on and carry it on throughout life. It is especially vital as you take on new roles, particularly those of mother or father. Assuming you know all that you need to know because of the way in which you were raised is a faulty assumption. Common sense is so uncommon. If you think it “just makes sense” to do things a certain way, that thought should prod you to dig deeper. Raising children is such a fragile task, we can inflict permanent damage. If you choose that responsibilty or if it is thrust upon you, you must learn all you can. Life inflicts enough scars of its own without being mishandled by a well-meaning parent.

Taking on the roll of mother or father is one of the most fulfilling things you can do in life if you do it right. And along the way, don’t forget to pull out your camp chairs and just sit out staring up at the starry-lit night with your child. It will leave you with a feeling like nothing else.