A few years ago it would be unheard of to see a young person knock out an elderly man and unthinkable that they would punch older lady. But security cameras are catching these thugs doing just that. A few years ago, when a police officer told you to stop doing what you were doing and put your hands in the air, you did just that. (At least I did.)
Early in my academic career I struggled with paying attention. My mind would bounce from one thing to the next racing to stay ahead of terminal boredom. I grew up in pre-medication days so I had to figure something out or flunk out of flight school.
I’m a slow learner. I struggle with focus. I was tested for learning issues at a young age. After four decades in the education system in some form or fashion, I learned how to get A’s. It wasn’t always that way. I failed a number of classes in high-school. I even failed gym class.
As we enter the back-to-school season, I want to address an all-too-common attitude that derails the academic experience for many students. I was the expert in this mindset so I know it well. I call it the “just get the grade (or credits)” attitude. This attitude is formed when a student does not understand the larger purpose of an education.
It was nearly 29 years ago to the day at my high-school football banquet. The coach – Coach Buckel – went through each player on the team and shared some glowing remarks about each of them. Anticipating the shower of compliments with both of my divorced parents in the room he got to the very last player and…and…nothing. He skipped right over me! I shrunk down into my seat hoping the earth would swallow me up. My friends spoke up and told the coach he forgot about me. So he sheepishly brought me up and made up a few words and quickly moved on. Now I wasn’t his star player for sure, but I never missed a practice and regularly took beatings at the hands of the first team all year.
Thirty years later, I’ve learned a few things about life. I know what it means to be picked last. I’ve learned how to overcome life’s little injustices. Here are some insights for you if you’ve ever been forgotten, overlooked, or picked last.
- Realize not all gifts are handed out equally. This is the cold, hard reality. Some people will excel at things you struggle with. Some have great athletic ability. Some excel at music and theater. Some can sing like birds and run like deer. Some people can do all of them! We cannot control the gifts God gave us, but we can control what we do with them. While on the football field, I couldn’t run as fast as others nor could I generate the force of someone twice my size. It is what it is.
- Find what you’re good at. While gifts are not handed out equally, you did get some natural ability. Part of the fun of life is searching for these seeds of greatness. What types of things come easier to you than your peers? Where do find endurance with joy? When others want to quit, you want to keep going. What things do you enjoy reading about? What interests do you have? What gifts do others see in you that you may not even notice? I may not have been a great football player, but I could fly an airplane soon after I received my driver’s license. It wasn’t long and I was taking my friends up into my world.
- Work harder than your peers. Those players on the team that the coach didn’t forget worked all year on their strength and their skills. I didn’t. I procrastinated and didn’t get everything I could have from my talent. Champions are made in the off season. You’re gifts do not come to you fully developed. You must put in the time to see them blossom. Experts tell us that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I don’t think it takes that long to blossom a gift, but you get the point. There is no shortcut to anyplace worth going. No matter your talent, you must endure being bad at something long enough to be good at it.
- Your value is not rooted in your performance. When I stunk at football, it didn’t make me less of a person. It didn’t make me less valuable as a human (a team-mate maybe, but not a person). Your value is rooted in the fact that God created you and invested his glory and image in you. He purchased and redeemed you at the cost of His son on a Roman cross. You carry the value of Christ, regardless of your performance. This truth liberates you to try and sometimes fail at different things. When picked last, you can simply admit, “I’m not so good at this game, I’ll do my best and keep a positive attitude throughout the experience.” There will be a time when your talent will save the day. Perhaps it is not this day, but your value doesn’t hinge on your performance.
- Be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve. When my daughter’s first grade class built a float for our city parade, each parent needed to help. I showed up ready to contribute, but a number of alpha males with their cordless drills and nail guns took over. Building things was their thing. Me, not so much. Not picked again. After a few minutes, I realized the team didn’t need another person building. I stepped back and looked for another way to serve. I slipped away (no one noticed) and bought some pizza and drinks. Everyone appreciated my contribution. Instead of sulking when picked last, be a good cheerleader and find a way to serve. Jesus told us the path to greatness runs through servant hood.
Life will present many opportunities for you to forgotten and left out. How you handle these situations will make a great difference in the trajectory of your life. You can grow bitter or better. Find your gifts, grow them, work hard, serve and cheer others, and you will find a lot of people will want you for their team!
While working as a youth pastor, I attended a fair amount of high-school graduation ceremonies. I took interest in class themes and commencement speeches. One senior class theme stunned me however. Not because it was crass or somehow offensive but because of what it stood for – nothing. It represented one of the greatest deficits of this generation – vision. The senior motto proclaimed, “We’re here, we’re not somewhere else, so we might as well be doing what we’re doing.” Exciting isn’t it?
One young man came to our church with a t-shirt his graduating class created. It was blue and said, “ut vinceret.” I asked him what it meant. He said proudly, “We will conquer!” I followed up, “What will you conquer?” He looked quizzically up at me, paused, and said, “I don’t know.” and walked away. This generation wants to conquer but has no idea why they are here. They recognize life is important because you only get one shot (YOLO!), but they can’t find their place because they have no idea that there is a story that God is unfolding. John Eldridge likened this generation to a person walking into a movie half way through. They notice the action unfolding on the screen but they cannot put the pieces together. They are on a stage, they know a play is unfolding, but they don’t know their lines. This culture has removed them from the greater story. They have no connection to the meta-narrative that will ground their story in something bigger.
Their science class tells them they are simply evolved animals propagating a species with no real purpose other than passing on your DNA. The priests of evolution proclaim,
“There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.” Will Provine, Evolutionary Biologist, Origins Research
Richard Dawkins preaches hope to them in his book River out of Eden. “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” p132-133
These philosophies will sap the vision out of anyone. But God proclaims that before he formed you in womb, he knew you. He created you to know Him and enjoy Him forever. God is unfolding a redemption plan and each unique person was created to play a key role in that plan.
Vision: Vision is possessing an unfolding revelation of your purpose and destiny and having the courage and fortitude to pursue it. If life is ultimately purposeless, you will never connect with a greater call. Life can then easily degenerate to living for the moment.
Proverbs 29:18 famously declares that without vision, people cast off restraint. Vision constrains our wandering and intemperate hearts. So first, we must get a sense of God’s unfolding redemption plan and our place in it. This will help us see that the world does not revolve around us but was meant to be impacted by us. Our story is a part of the unfolding story that went on before we arrived and will continue on after we have spoken our last line.
The key to finding our dreams begins by discovering what God dreams about. Our most fulfilling dreams will only come to the surface when we immerse ourselves in the flow of God’s dreams. This will unlock the door to finding why God put us here in the first place.
What does God dream about? He dreams first, that all would come to know his love lived out through Christ. (John 3:16) He dreams second, that those who receive Christ would grow to their full maturity. (Ephesians 4:11-14, Colossians 2:1-10) Thirdly he dreams that his kingdom, his rule, his wisdom and love will manifest on earth as it is in heaven. When we begin to ask ourselves, how can we best reach people who have never heard about God’s grace? How can I help people grow strong in their faith? And, how can I best live out heaven in my earthly life, we will begin to gain ears to hear God’s unfolding plan for us. Life begins when we lose ourselves in the unfolding redemption plan of God. When we try to control our purpose apart from the larger story, we lose both.
As we enter the back-to-school season, I want to address an all-too-common attitude that derails the academic experience for many students. I was the expert in this mindset so I know it well. I call it the “just get the grade (or credits)” attitude. This attitude is formed when a student does not understand the larger purpose of an education. They filter their future through the lens of their very limited life experience. One can spot this attitude by the words students use to describe their school experience. Common phrases include, “Why do I have to learn this?” “When will I ever use this?” “This is so dumb.”
This attitude kept me locked into a small world. It wasn’t until after college that I learned how I had missed out on fantastic opportunities to sow seeds that would produce greatness in my future. If you find yourself saying similar things during your school day, let me rescue you from this deadly attitude by giving you a bigger picture of what the educational process can do for you if you attack each subject with the right attitude.
First, you must understand that you lack perspective. As a high-school or college student, you haven’t walked on this planet long enough to judge whether or not a certain discipline or field of study is pointless. You just stopped wearing Spider-man pajamas! (Or maybe you haven’t.) You’re not qualified to make that judgment! For each class you take, brilliant people have poured hundreds or thousands of years of blood, sweat and toil to wring out the secrets of that discipline. When you open that textbook or sit in that lecture, you stand on the shoulders of giants. Who are you to say that their lives and research was pointless? Only the small minded would make such a statement. Michelangelo craned his neck for four years to give us the Sistine chapel (reluctantly, because his passion was sculpting), Madame Curie – at the cost of her life – discovered the principles of radioactivity. Isaac Newton discovered Calculus in order to better describe concepts like gravity and the orbits of the planets. They poured their lives into the foundation of these disciplines that you now stand on.
Second, a complete education enables you to correlate the facts, principles, and concepts between each discipline. You CANNOT predict when you will benefit from these correlations.
When I was in the Flight Instructor Academy, they taught us that learning takes place in levels. From low to high – Rote, Understanding, Application and Correlation. When you adopt the “just get the credit” mentality, you sentence yourself to the lowest level of learning – rote. Your brain works best when it can take your knowledge of American literature and correlate it with antebellum history and correlate that with modern slavery and correlate that with the theory of law, with principles of public policy, with principles of foreign policy…we could go on. The educated person CAN go on. But too many people cannot even build a bridge between two concepts because they haven’t learned deeply enough. They learned enough to know what word to put in the blank on the test, but not enough to really benefit from that knowledge — or benefit others with it. Educated people know something about the various kinds of problems tackled in psychology, theology, philosophy, physics, literature, and mathematics. They understand how people in all these fields arrive at conclusions and how these fields relate to each other.
Third, when you know more, you CAN know more. Part of a quality education is having a reliable storehouse of information from which to draw upon. Like a rolling snowball, as you know more, your brain finds it easier to absorb information because it associates information together. Bits of information that you think of as useless, your brain makes useful.
Fourth, by hacking through the jungles of each discipline, you will learn about yourself. You will learn what you enjoy and what you do well. Jobs that involve responsibility and higher pay depend on self- management skills. These include knowing how to manage time, resolve conflict, set goals, conquer stress, and learn new skills. Education is a place to practice such skills.
Fifth, in life, you will face problems. Not the carefully-crafted and sanitized problems of the classroom, but the wild, untamed, and unmerciful dilemmas of the real world. Because of how the areas of life interrelate, if you lack critical information in one area, say economics, your problem solving skills will be sorely hampered. Nothing will help you more than a large body of knowledge stored in your brain that you can correlate into a meaningful whole. All that stuff you thought you would never use becomes suddenly useful.
Sixth, learning is like lifting weights for your brain. Even apart from giving you a reliable storehouse of knowledge, learning will train your brain in critical thinking skills. When faced with real world problems, knowing how to solve a quadratic equation may not help you. But the critical thinking skills you learned while studying and solving these equations will help you. Professional athletes don’t find themselves bench pressing or curling on the court or field. That does not mean, however, that the extra strength gained from weight conditioning is useless to them. You will find each subject becomes useful and builds your brain in different ways. Learning different languages enables you to communicate better, improves your vocabulary, and obviously produces dividends as the world becomes a global village. The sciences will help train you to think clearly and test out what you believe. Scientists get the privilege of thinking and discovering the thoughts of God after him. Classes in English, speech, and drama will show you how to speak and write so that people will listen to you. If you want to be an expert, out-read your peers. If you want to be their leader, out-write them.
History gives your life a context. It teaches you what mankind is like, and what happens to nations that forget or ignore God. Biology will help you marvel at the wonders of life God created and economics shows you the secrets of wealth and how people react to it. It gives you insight into raising your standard of living, running a business, saving, and investing. Government shows you how nations form. You learn how they spend your money. You learn how America tries to walk the tightrope between liberty and law; and what part you play in the democratic process.
Lastly, a good education allows you to enter in and contribute to a larger world. It allows you to understand and speak about the biggest questions of life, “Where have we come from?” “What gives life meaning?” “How should we live?” and “What is our destiny?” Your voice will enter in with our finest scientists and artists and it will span centuries and cross cultures. Doors will open up to a universal conversation about the nature of truth and beauty, knowledge and compassion, good and evil – ideas that form the foundation of our society. Ignorance will imprison you to a world of pop culture, vine videos and the Teen Choice Awards.
The world needs more from you. So buck up and study hard. The seeds sown into your life may not bear fruit for many years. But when they do, they will feed you and the world.
I’m pretty sure this prayer is not theologically correct but knowing you have never been afraid of misguided, but honest seekers, I am daring this prayer. Please, God, I want a Bat-phone. Yes, you heard right…a Bat-Phone.
You see, as a pastor, I am privileged to be the point person for many people at the end of their rope. And after listening to their stories, I often have mixed reactions. On one hand, I am moved with compassion by their plight. And I am ashamed to say that sometimes, I just want to give people beatings. I know this prayer just took a bad turn but I shall continue. So many people crawl into my church whipped and wounded by the selfishness of others. I am seeing an exponential increase in the stories of abuse, neglect, and devaluing of the image of God in people.
There were times, Lord, when you just had to break out the whip and start turning over tables. I bet that felt good. Your sense of justice rose up and you took care of business. Sometimes I feel that if each church could call Batman, things would be better. Batman doesn’t ever intend to permanently harm people, but he’s really good at delivering those necessary “lessons.” If I had a Bat-phone, I promise not to misuse it. But consider these scenarios…
Scenario 1. A poor, disheveled young lady walks into my church asking for the pastor. “Will you please help me?” “How can I help?” I answer. “I just got back from the hospital where I just took a pregnancy test. And I will not make it home, can you give me gas money?” she pleads. “Please come in and sit and tell me your story.” I offer her a seat. She explains, “I’m with this guy and I’m pregnant with his baby and I need gas to get home. Please pastor, I have no-one.” My response, “You have the father of this baby.” “He won’t help me, and he has a real anger problem.” comes her reply. “Why do you stay with him?” Her answer, “I love him.” “Uhhh, wait here.” On my new phone, “Batman, yes, I have an assignment….”
Scenario 2. I receive a late-night call from a distraught mother looking for a place to house her children. Her husband is going off the charts drunk, angry, and she fears for their safety. We go to secret meeting spot to collect the children. On the way, I call Batman.
Scenario 3. I receive a call from a distraught parent whose daughter has snuck out to rendezvous with a man nearly twice her age. My call, “Batman, stay home, I’d like to take care of this one myself.”
God, I have noticed a tragic shift in society. We have devalued our children and left them unprotected. All the while, our society has fed a dangerous predatory instinct into a generation of males that synergizes with a sense of entitlement. Their masculine energy is spent destructively, instead of constructively. Somewhere along the way we have failed to teach them that our girls deserve respect, honor, and protection. Equally, we have failed to teach our girls to that they deserve respect, and they are worthy of dignity, honor and protection from these same men. We seem to be reaping a whirlwind.
Lord, remember when a young lady walked into my office distraught that a married man at her work was constantly making sexual advances toward her? I sent a signed postcard to his work-place that read, “Larry, if you don’t stop making sexual advances towards ________, I’m going to tell your wife.” It stopped.
Dear God, please send us a generation of protectors. Men who know you and love you. Men who are known by what they stand for in public and stand against in private. Men who will channel their masculine power to push back the darkness of our day and live out the truth in love. And give us a generation of men who will hold each other accountable, and if needed, to deliver a few healthy, constructive, loving, table-turning lessons to the boys of this generation.
A fed up pastor
I am hesitant to write you this letter. I know I need to but there is a part of me that likes having you ignorant. I enjoy the freedom your distracted indifference provides me but I also see a different kind of prison forming around me and well… I need your help.
I need you to please unplug me. Do it quick. I know when I was young, the T.V., video games, and internet provided you a convenient pacifier for a rambunctious child, but now that I am growing up, they are hindering me from becoming a man.
I now spend between 7 and 9 hours per day looking at a screen. I realize we live in a technological age, but please unplug me. My developing brain needs to grow the ability to concentrate, to focus, and to rest.
The digital juice you have allowed me to drink has had an effect on me.
It has trained me to expect easy success. I have learned to be a guitar hero, but the guitar you gave me for Christmas two years ago lies buried in my closet. I won’t be able to play it at the next camp fire. Had I devoted the time I spent plugged into the game to the real instrument, I most definitely could. But when I picked up the guitar, it hurt my fingers. I felt clumsy, I couldn’t come close to my virtual virtuosity. So I took the easy road. Now I’m beginning to realize, there are no short-cuts to anyplace worth going. In real life, success doesn’t come through a few hours and some cheat codes. It takes 10,000 hours to master a real skill. I’ve mastered some skills, but I’m finding the world needs real heroes, not just guitar heroes. Please unplug me.
The digital juice has trained me to consume rather than produce. I’ve spent my childhood enjoying the hard labor of other people but I have not learned to produce anything of value. I have enjoyed the production of other programmers, producers, animators, and writers. But I have not learned any of those skills. A sure sign of maturity is the ability to produce more than I consume. In a globally competitive world, I have little to offer because I haven’t found that job yet that will pay me to watch You-Tube. I suggest you teach me the difference between a consumptive technology and a productive technology. Then make me earn my consumptive technology time by spending time learning productive technology like video and audio editing, programming, web development, and graphic design. And don’t forget to help me learn to write because the element of story is woven into everything.
Staying plugged in has trained my appetites to crave the counterfeit. I feel like I want to conquer something. I want to be a hero. That’s why the battle games appeal to me. However, my life must be lived in the real world. I have shunted my masculine energy into airbrushed girls and virtual battles and I have little left to conquer in the real world. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to care for and steward a real person. I have traded ruling in the real for conquering the counterfeit. Sadly, the world needs my positive masculine energy to push back evil and carve out a place for my family. But it’s scary to me because life doesn’t have a reset button. Unplug me and help me learn where I fit into the real story, not just the virtual one.
So much access to the internet has stained my imagination. I know you think I’m a good kid – and I am. But you have left me in over my head. The internet is like a big city – with all the good and bad a big city has to offer. And from a young age, you have left me to wander around unguarded. I know you told me there was bad stuff out there, but I’m curious, now I’m stained. You left me to walk around Detroit at night and now I struggle to get those images out of my mind. It has influenced how I look at girls, sex, and family. It has fed appetites in me that I need to control in order to live a healthy life. I realize now that you were too preoccupied in your own world to know that YouTube, Vine, and other popular websites give me access to images that stain my imagination. But I appeal to you now, please unplug me.
I know I will throw a fit. I’ll be angry. I’ll most certainly be bored. But let me be bored, it is a signal that my soul is starting to detox and my mind is plowing the soil to grow a healthy imagination. After awhile, I may go outside and discover things like sticks, rocks , and fish. Help me. Unplug me, the world will thank you.
Post Script: I have worked with boys and men now for over 20 years. The above post reflects my observations and objective research. I have watched the digital world shunt the best of our boys’ masculinity. In response, I have launched a ministry called the Joseph Center designed to train the next generation of godly men to be sons, leaders, lovers, protectors, and providers. I would also recommend the article below by a pediatric occupational therapist Chris Brown below.
As a pastor for the last couple of decades, I have worked with hundreds of families. I have learned from great men and women who gave great examples of leadership in their homes. I have also had a front row seat to the pain and generational chaos resulting from poor leadership.
Few of us have had training in living as a godly leader. Let me share with you a few insights that I’ve learned along the way.
When I teach on family leadership, I explain a few foundational truths. First, I explain that leading a home is the second most difficult job in America (the first is being a girl in junior high). Second, I don’t tell men to be leaders. I explain they already are leaders. The question really is where and how are they leading?
Anyone who follows a leader knows that having confidence in that leader inspires us to follow better. If I could give you one primary reason why our marriage works it is this: my wife trusts me and I trust her. Trust is one of the primary assets in any relationship. So how do you cultivate confidence and trust in your leadership within the home?
1. Integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. One of the challenges of leading a home is that the people you lead live with you. They see your best and worst days. When I keep my commitments, especially in the small things, this inspires trust and confidence. How we handle decisions relating to money often tells others the state of our integrity. If we drain family funds for our toys, if we rob God of His tithe, if we look to cheat on taxes or rationalize away decisions that shade the truth, we will still be the leader but people will not follow with confidence.
2. Connection with God through prayer and an understanding of the Word. I have been a part of trying to help families heal after someone in the family caught the leader doing something he shouldn’t. It is far better to have your wife catch you on your knees before God or pouring over the Scriptures. Your kids should see you praying, they should hear you sneak in on them at night and pray for them. Too many kids have memories of their parents fighting as they cower in their rooms. We need to imprint memories of parents praying together regularly and over large family decisions.
When a wife sees a man regularly open the Bible (not just in church), she grows confident in his leadership because he is demonstrating his willingness to follow his heavenly Father. He may not get it right all the time. But God will protect that family because the leader has a heart that fears the Lord. Learn what God is saying to you through what He has said to those who have gone before you.
3. Live as the lead lover. God is unfolding a story of redemption. He has written you and your family into the script. His story is both a love story and a war story. In order for you and your family to take their full place in His story, we must direct our passions to the right loves and the right fight. Our calendar and our bank accounts leave a trail of our loves and battles. We fully realize our love when we express it through actions, words, and songs. You are the leader. Your family already knows your greatest loves. When the youth pastor asks, “What does your dad love the most?” Will they instinctively say, “God?” When they ask, “How do you know?” They should be able to point to your acts of devotion, music collection, tithing records and how you treat them when no one is looking.
4. Be the lead warrior. What battles have you chosen? Too many men conquer the counterfeit rather than rule in the real. We live out our battle dreams through video games and vicarious sporting events when the world is desperate for real heroes. Pick a fight! Adopt a cause as a family. One year I was looking for a fight. I had two teenage boys, and a forest full of trees on my land. I contacted the local senior center and asked them if they knew of a senior citizen that needed wood for the winter. They connected me with someone and together we cut, split, and stacked a pile of wood that heated a man’s house for the winter. Assess your strengths as a family, then deploy them to make a difference in God’s world. Show them what a real warrior looks like! Be the lead lover and lead warrior!