Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Drinking Age Debate

For parents placing their children in the hands of universities across our nation, be warned - 123 college presidents want to lower the drinking age. The leaders of these colleges have gone on record with the Amethyst Initiative to make the claim that young people cannot wait until they are twenty-one to take a drink of alcohol.

Why do they make this claim? Because they believe that the age limit of twenty-one encourages irresponsible behavior in those under that limit who wish to drink.

Okay, if the irony of that statement didn’t take you by surprise, please go back and read the last paragraph again. The argument is being made that legalizing alcohol consumption at a younger age will lead to more responsible drinking. Let’s step back for a minute and theorize the thinking on the situation.

Currently, the age limit to consume alcohol is set by each individual state, but is “threatened” by the federal government, who will subtract ten percent of a state’s federal highway money if they set the minimum age at anything below twenty-one (the infringement by the federal government on individual state’s rights is a separate topic). To my knowledge, no state has tested that threat. The university presidents see two problems – 1) under-age individuals show disrespect for the law by acquiring fake ID’s, and 2) these same teenagers participate in binge-drinking because they cannot consume alcohol legally.

So, following their thinking, let’s presume to lower the drinking age to nineteen. Anyone who previously acquired a fake ID and was between nineteen and twenty-one is now in the clear. But how does this touch the second item – binge drinking? Their argument is that underage students currently hide and drink in large doses because they don’t have the freedom to consume an occasional beer without the threat of being arrested. Okay – maybe that argument holds some weight, though I have my doubts. What I observed in college was that students participated in binge drinking simply because they wanted to, even those who were legal.

Isn’t the real issue here one of teaching responsible behavior and respect for the law to our teenagers? By lowering the legal drinking age, we are essentially telling our children, “There’s no way we can trust you to do the right thing, even though the law prohibits you from drinking before you are twenty-one. We just don’t think you can wait. It worries us that you will choose to consume alcohol in great quantities because your desire to experiment is greater than any sense of self-control that your parents instilled in you. So we are going to lower the legal age, and trust that you will now drink responsibly because there is no threat of legal or police intervention. Enjoy!”

And so, it is proposed that we modify the law to accommodate underage drinkers, believing that this will solve the problem. But what about the eighteen-year-old who is now only one year away from legal drinking and will suffer the same pressures and temptations as the twenty-year old used to? Do we modify the law yet again to accommodate these teens, who are of an even less likely age to demonstrate self-control? Is there a magical age where this practice stops? Do we look at other age-related rights such as smoking and driving, and consider lowering their legal entry point in the hopes that we will produce less wrongdoing?

The real solution to the problem is for parents to raise their children to be responsible. Parents must once again claim the responsibility for bringing up children to be mature adults. And this doesn’t mean it starts when the child turns eighteen and goes to college. Our current expectations that teens will go through a rebellious adolescent period are relatively new. There was a time when marriage during the teen years was commonplace – I believe because maturity was expected and acquired at a much younger age. Families were started, careers launched, and maturity set in at the same ages that we now send children off to four years of college. Is it possible that we have slipped into a routine where we not only assume adolescents will rebel, but we laugh it off, fund the nonsense for four years at a university, and lower the age of legality in the hopes that it will encourage the maturity that used to be expected?

I recognize that some people reading this may feel unfairly treated or may even be offended. Many families today are in no shape to survive financially, they are split beyond repair, or they have no hope of recapturing the loss of innocence in their children. I am saddened by that, and I pray that we can find a way to bring those families back to the Lord’s blessing and comfort. But for those families who are fairly young and still have the opportunity, I encourage you to give yourselves up to the training of your children. Establish in them a godly, moral sense of direction. Talk to them often about temptations that they will face and how to combat the evil one. And have high expectations that by the time they reach their early teen years, they will have the maturity and wisdom to go out and face the world with an unshakeable moral foundation that rocks this world. Finally, teach your children to instill this character in their own children. If we begin to see this effort as a purposeful, lifetime journey, we can change the world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Undivided Leadership

The link between good leaders and successful ventures is undeniable. In corporate America, the best companies do not take leadership for granted, but spend a great deal of time and money promoting those with leadership skills and grooming the best leaders to take the reins at the right time.

In the same way, nations need leaders who are undivided in their ways. And nations that have undivided leadership themselves remain undivided. Even more, nations who rally under the banner of God enjoy His blessing – not randomly but in a focused and targeted way. God gives blessing to righteous nations who vow to follow Him.

For proof, look no further than the Israelite nation of the Old Testament. Though they started out relatively small and they had no place to call their own for a time, God gave them victory after victory to overcome enemies who should have defeated them easily. This was not a chance event – God gave them success because they were His chosen people. However, the Israelites eventually grew jealous of the leadership structure of other nations and asked their God-appointed leaders for a king. Though he clearly did not like the prospect, Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel, and things began to worsen.

Saul did not turn out to be a good king, and faltered in his governing, losing sight of God to the point that he called on a witch to predict his future. That event led directly to his death (1 Samuel 28:19). Saul was followed by David, a much better king overall, and the nation of Israel enjoyed God’s blessing for a time. At the end of David’s reign, Israel enjoyed a peace and prosperity that they had never known before.

David’s son, Solomon, took over the throne, and though he started out strong, his final years signaled the beginning of the downfall of God’s chosen people. 1 Kings 11:4 says, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.” When Solomon had finished building the temple, God promised that the nation of Israel would be cut off and rejected if he ever turned away from God. Isn’t it interesting that this promise hinged on the faithfulness of one man in the entire nation – the leader? The result of Solomon’s divided heart was a divided people. Israel would soon split into two nations and would never attain her previous glory. God is faithful to all of His promises.

Proverbs 14:34 tell us that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Indeed, it seems the leaders of our own beloved United States have plunged us into the same state as Israel after Solomon’s rule. In nearly every area, our nation’s leaders equivocate on truths that should never have been placed in doubt. The role of government vs. the family, education, the loss of individual freedoms, abortion, and even the current high state of taxation all rail against the principles set out by God in his word. We are witnessing a presidential election in which both political parties have thrown out many of God’s basic tenets as outdated or inapplicable.

What would happen if just one voice in politics stood up and proclaimed to follow God’s laws, strictly and fully, while in office? That candidate would be the object of ridicule, cast aside as out-of-touch and possessing a skewed mindset. But that attitude is exactly what God demands of our leaders – an attitude that is undivided, unwavering and humbled to God’s laws. And if we were to elect such a candidate, the blessings of God would return and righteousness would exalt our nation, just as it did over two centuries ago.

And that can happen. It requires the faithfulness and efforts of God’s people to bring about that change, just as it has throughout history. If there is one thing that the Bible teaches us, it is that God is willing to forgive and start anew with His people. Pray for our country, that we might return to living (and leading) under God’s laws and that His blessing will return to us.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

One Step Back, and Two Steps Forward

Just a few days ago, a significant event occurred in the home school community. The California legal system expressly declared home schools as a legal method of education in that state. Before this ruling, that issue was very much in doubt.

The case was brought about due to a lawsuit against a family who homeschooled, but who had clear indications and history of abuse. The state stepped in to protect the children, and a case was made that tied the children’s protection to the legality of homeschooling. So, two issues were at stake – 1) the protection and disposition of the children in the case, and 2) the legality of homeschooling. I will not deal with the children’s protection issue in this article, but will instead focus on the second issue.

The court’s ultimate findings were released just two weeks ago. They make an interesting read (if you don’t like legalese, skip ahead in the document and just read pages 5-8). You can view it at Initially, the court concluded that home schooling was not legal in the state. This ruling was challenged by many, leading the court to agree to hear an appeal and reconsider their ruling. From the written finding, here is a summary of California home school law history, including the milestones of the current case.

1. 1903 – Homeschooling was permitted under California law
2. 1929 – The homeschooling clause was amended out of the law – children had to be educated by a public or private school or an accredited tutor
3. Cases in 1953 and 1961 agreed and concluded that a home school could not be considered a private school
4. The California court submitted their initial finding for this current case on Feb 28, 2008 stating explicitly that home schooling is not permitted under California law
5. The case was appealed, and several groups, along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, vowed to protest the ruling
6. The court agreed to reconsider, and allowed amicus briefs to be filed by various groups who were not part of the original legal proceedings.
7. The court found instances in law where it was clear that the state government knew that home school was occurring but had issued no protest. There were instances where California law exempted homeschoolers from certain restrictions typically applied to private schools – thus, giving credibility to the existence and legality of home schools. The court believes (rightly so) that the California legislature should have used these opportunities to amend the law once again to name home schools as private schools. However, they cite the law back in 1929 (excluding home schools) as the main reason for their initial finding.
8. On August 8, 2008, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles reversed its earlier decision and stated that “California statutes permit home schooling as a species of private school education”.

This is significant. In just a few months, California has gone from casually allowing home schools to exist, to declaring them as illegal, to naming the home school as an outright accepted version of a private school. It’s a victory of great proportions, especially considering that it took place in a liberal state such as California.

These proceedings also terrify me. How close were we to preventing the 166,000 children who are currently home schooled in that state from being educated by their own parents? I know, in our mostly public-school society today, this prospect may not seem so fearful. But for those of us who treasure the gift of teaching and discipling our children in our own home, the possibility of losing this right seems all-too-possible. Today, Americans have the choice to send their children to public school, to private school, or to home school. What would our nation be like if we took away that third option?

Consider Karl Marx, who did just that through his political system in nineteenth century Russia. Here is an excerpt from the Communist Manifesto:

“Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists. On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain… The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital. Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty. But, you say, we destroy the most hallowed of relations, when we replace home education by social.”

Marx’s desire was to replace the family with state institutions. Home education would not be allowed; indeed, the family as we know it would not be tolerated or allowed to exist. The state was to be trusted with providing everything that the children need.

Our nation edges closer to this political system every year. Other countries such as Holland and Germany already outlaw the practice of home education. The victory in California is critically important. But there is certainly another state somewhere waiting to take away this fundamental right…and may one day succeed. If you feel compelled to assist, I encourage you to donate to the Home School Legal Defense Association at Educating our children is a fundamental right of parents and should be preserved. The founding fathers (who were home educated) would agree.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Parting Words

One of my college heroes passed away recently. He was an amazing musician, a man of many talents and he wrote beautiful and moving lyrics. My own guitar style has been heavily influenced by his technique, and I have almost a dozen vinyl record albums of his that are worn down past the grooves. One of my best college memories is a concert of his that I attended in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He played alone, but his talented display made it seem as if five musicians were playing simultaneously on stage.

Dan Fogelberg was an idol of sorts for me. He inspired me to improve on my musical aptitude, and to learn multiple musical instruments. His song, “The Leader of The Band”, was written to honor his own father and paid tribute to the inspiration he had provided to Dan as he grew up. The fact that Dan spent a good deal of his time at his ranch in Colorado, not far from where I live, encouraged me to keep an eye out for him whenever I was in the Estes Park area.

On December 16, 2007, Dan succumbed to prostate cancer, after battling the disease courageously for several years. I confess that I had lost track of him over time, so I spent some minutes on his website after learning of his passing. I was ready to read more inspirational thoughts from him, especially knowing that he had time to ponder his last words.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed.

Dan’s website summarized with this final thought to his readers – men should get screened early for prostate cancer. He passed on his belief that his life might have been saved or lengthened had he been tested earlier. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I do not mean to dishonor those whose lives have been touched by cancer. My own brother was taken by it when he was twenty-one years old. And it is indeed important to take care of our health where we can. But is this level of depth sufficient to sum up a life?

Dan’s lyrics, while often moving, imply a humanist view of thinking. He did significant work with the environmentalist movement, and sometimes wrote songs of protest. There were rarely any references to God or Jesus in his lyrics (though “Wandering Shepherd” comes to mind). But, I can’t help but wonder, did Dan miss the biggest point of all in life? Did he miss out on God?

What would each of us write as our parting words if we knew that we were going to die soon? What words would we pass on to others when trying to impart our life’s lessons? If you had a hundred words to leave a message to your children, what would you say? Would your words encourage your children to enjoy life more, spend less time working and more time playing with the kids, or to be more involved in your community?

For me, the ultimate goal is to join with my family in heaven for eternity, honoring God and worshiping Him and enjoying everlasting fellowship with God’s chosen people. Here’s an idea. I vow to write out just such a parting statement and keep it handy. And I commit to updating it every six months. It will serve as a torch to pass on to the next generation of my family, and it will also be a reminder for me about how I should live. After all, I don’t know when God has planned to call me home. I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to tell what I have learned.

And I sincerely hope that Dan will be waiting there in heaven with two guitars. We’ll have a long time to write music together.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

No Longer Chasing the American Dream

When I was young, the children in our family received an allowance each week - ten cents for each year of age we had attained. I planned and saved and looked forward to the weekly handout, and I did remarkably well, saving to pay for half of my first ten-speed bike and still being able to buy a few gifts at Christmas. This allowance kept coming until I started working a few hours a week at a grocery store in our small town, where I made $3.15 an hour. At the time, I felt like I was on the road to financial independence.

My attitude then (and sometimes now) was to hoard and save. If I saw a penny on the ground, I would pick it up and add it to my fortune. Throwing it in a nearby fountain seemed like a waste, and I would never have been seen contributing any money in this way. Through my junior high years, I kept all of my money - paper and coin - in an empty one-gallon plastic milk jug buried behind things in the darkest corner of my closet. I kept a running tally of how much the jug contained on a sheet of paper tacked to the wall inside my closet. Sometimes, if I had a few free minutes, I would dump out the contents of the jug on my bed and re-count it all, just to make sure I had it counted correctly (and in the hope that I might discover two five-dollar bills stuck together).

In short, I was greedy and obsessed with money.

While I’m still considered “frugal” by those who know me best, I think I have finally come to put money in its proper place in the broader scheme of things. But I have a concern for my children. How will they view money (and the love of it) as they grow up? Will they follow in the footsteps of their father, or will they learn generosity and the real value of money when they are young? I’m proud to say that they appear to be far ahead of me in understanding God’s financial principles.

Recently, my son earned twenty dollars for helping out with nursery duties for an entire summer of weekly Bible classes. For him, that’s quite a lot of money. If I had earned that amount when I was ten, it would have been added to the milk jug and counted a dozen times in the first week alone. The timing of this payment coincided with our church’s annual Vacation Bible School. One of the VBS goals was to take up daily donations to apply toward missions and special needs. On one of these days, when they were trying to meet the set goal for donations, my wife observed my son putting in fifteen dollars to help the cause. After a few minutes, she walked over to him, and asked if he really wanted to contribute the majority of his recent earnings. His answer? “Mom, it’s just paper. And besides, the missionaries need it more than I do.”

To tell the truth, I’m in awe of that moment. My son understands a fundamental concept in his youth which I never did while growing up, and which still escapes me at times today. Two things strike me about what he did – he gave freely and generously, and he thought he was doing it anonymously. He didn’t seek glory or praise for his act. He did it because he truly thought it was the right thing to do, and there was no greed in his heart. Moments like this make me want to break down and weep at the wonder of little hearts and their innocence.

Over the last few years, my goals for my children have been turned upside-down. I don’t necessarily envision a future for them where they are richer than I, and where they are guaranteed to be more financially successful than previous generations of our family. I don’t aspire to have them only choose careers that pay at the upper end of the pay scale, or demand that they choose a career which assures them of upper-middle-class status. My goal for them is to love God, serve Him, and find a career or purpose which furthers His kingdom. I want them to have a pure understanding that, while we may live in a material world, we are called to rise above it and recognize that the spiritual aspect is the most important. Wealth, possessions, and earthly treasures are all going to burn up some day. What will be left?

1 Chronicles 29:11-12 tells us “Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.” Wealth comes from God, and enables us to do things in this world. But it is no longer the pursuit of my life’s efforts. I am at the point where I am prepared to sacrifice a great deal of wealth and security, if it allows me to serve God better and to bring my family along with me. I think my children are already at that point.

One more piece of the story remains to be told. Four hours after starting this entry, God sent me a test. While walking through the airport coming home from a business trip, my path took me directly over a dime resting starkly on the dark blue carpet in an uncrowded section of the terminal. I am pretty certain that God put it there. I just walked on by.

Return to

Monday, August 11, 2008

Communion Meditation - 8/10/2008

I was 18 when we adopted twin newborns into our family. We had kept them as foster children since birth. They had been born prematurely, one was thought to have possible cerebral palsy, and no one had offered to adopt them for over a year. Rather than let the state split them up to increase their adoption chances, our family made the easy decision to keep them.

Jason and Justin grew up to be big and strong in a very short time. After just a couple of years, it was determined that they had zero health issues.

I had never had a brother. Now I had two.

Justin was the quieter of the two. He got along with almost everyone, and had a great number of friends and people who took an interest in his life. He had lots of interests like basketball and cars, and had a wealth of friends.

When he was 21, Justin was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. He immediately began treatments, which required a great deal of patience and fortitude on his part. My parents were amazed that he never complained and never showed any bitterness about his situation. His disease was not brought about by anything he did, nor was it punishment for anything he had done in the past.

Six months after being diagnosed and after a great deal of love and care, my brother Justin passed away. Our family was hurting, but his spirit through the whole thing reminded us of what he was looking forward to, and what was really important in the end.

Stories like this cause us to pause and reflect on what is important in life. They make us recall memories and sometimes ponder our reason for existence.

2000 years ago, a baby was born in Bethlehem. His family loved him and knew that he was something special, even before he had been born. They loved him and raised him to love the Lord.

He grew in wisdom and stature. No doubt, many people took an interest in his life and his teachings, and he counted many as friends.

When he was 33 years old, he was led to a cross and crucified. It was a painful, excruciating death, and his family was there while it happened. He had done absolutely nothing to deserve such a death - indeed, he had done nothing wrong for his entire life.

Nevertheless, he died and was miraculously raised again in three days.

Stories like this cause us to pause and reflect on what is important in life. They make us recall memories and sometimes ponder our reason for existence. We have the opportunity to reflect on this man's death each week. What does it make you think of? What is the reason for your existence? How has Jesus touched your life?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

We “Moo” At Bad Words!

Since having children, my wife and I have marveled at our increased sensitivity to bad language from outside sources. Several times, we have rented “old” movies that we watched while growing up, with the intent to show them to our children. I think we hoped to see the same excitement and wonder on our children’s faces that we experienced in our youth while watching the original Star Wars trilogy.

Imagine our surprise during some of these viewings when foul language erupted from the television, followed by questioning looks from our children and winces from the parents. Does this sound familiar? In my youth, I honestly don’t remember the amount of foul language that was spoken in such seemingly-innocent shows as Back To The Future or the TV-series Full House. My genuine recollection is that these were wholesome, rated-G shows that our family could enjoy together. Call me radical, but they are neither wholesome nor appropriate for young viewers. At this rate, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be Amish in another five years.

In addition to “bad-language sources” that can be turned off with a remote control, we are constantly exposed to it from places that are harder to get away from – the person in line behind us at the grocery store, the rowdy fan next to us at the ball game, or even the occasional family relative who doesn’t have a godly background but who is captive in our house for the holidays. No, Mike, I’m not talking about you.

I struggled with how to handle this for a number of years – from physically removing our children from the situation, to turning off the television, to exchanging glances with the kids in order to communicate our disapproval. Then, one day, an idea struck me that has had a tremendous impact on our family life.

We “Moo” at bad words.

I honestly don’t know how we thought of this approach, but I remember it was while watching a movie where one of the characters uttered a bad word. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room as our family digested the moment, and then my oldest daughter said it. “Moo!” As in what cows say when they are...well, it’s the only thing they say. The family looked around with raised eyebrows, and I took a moment to pause the movie and begin one of my fatherly speeches. “It is so hard for me and Mommy to control everything that our family hears, so I have an idea. Wouldn’t it be neat for all of us to “Moo” whenever we hear a bad word? It would be our way of recognizing an inappropriate comment, and cover it with something a little funny, instead of the family just trying to ignore the word.”

The rest is history. This practice has changed our lives because it gives our whole family a sense of rightness and unity whenever those around us behave inappropriately. At times, it’s a race to see who can say “Moo” first. My oldest daughter Molly has let an audible “Moo” slip out a time or two when among teenage friends, only to receive some very strange looks. She’s not apologetic about it. Our family has also expanded the practice into other areas. We “Moo” (quietly) at the store when we see others dressed inappropriately. I “Moo” while on conference calls at work (with the phone on mute). We’ve even passed the “Moo” tradition on to our beloved cousin Hana when she came to visit us for two weeks this summer. I expect portions of Indiana are hearing the “Moo” from her regularly. At this pace, it could become a national trend.

I would prefer to keep my children away from bad influences entirely. I don’t see how that is practical or even possible, as the events are sometimes beyond our control. What I can do is to instill a sense of what is right and wrong in my children. When they leave our immediate care, they are not readily influenced by the world, but have been equipped with the tools to counter what they hear and perhaps even cast a little salt and light into the world. Saying “Moo” to bad words may sound silly and ineffective. But…..

…..I dare you to try it for a week and see if it changes your family like it has mine.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A God-Shaped Envelope

We often read stories about people who are praised for “pushing the envelope”. Usually, the term is used to describe someone who is breaking new ground in culture, art, or in a profession. That new ground is often something that was considered to be unacceptable in the past, but is now presented as an “enlightened” viewpoint. And typically, this activity is described as a positive thing. Think of all the movies, TV shows and art forms in the last ten years that have been praised for “expanding our cultural horizons”, even though they promote ideas and practices clearly disapproved of in God’s Word.

Curiously, why does the envelope always seem to stretch in a more liberal direction? Would praise be given to someone who moves the boundary to a more conservative location? Imagine a new television show that refused to use bad language or make inappropriate sexual references, and which had a positive theme? Would there be any viewers? And would it receive plaudits for going into new territory?

I contend that an art form which applied these godly principles would be the one that is breaking new ground. A TV show or movie that offers an increase in explicit or bawdy content is just more of the same. There is nothing new there, except more ways to dishonor God. And do we buy into the false principle that this behavior is somehow admirable?

We must realize, that while man has a constant desire to stretch the limits of what is acceptable, there is by definition only one boundary for which we should strive. Think of God’s laws, desires for man, and purpose for each one of us as a “God-shaped envelope”. God has already drawn the marker for where and how we should live and has revealed His envelope through the Bible. Anything else is a distortion of what God desires.

Praise should not be given to those who would stretch this boundary beyond what God has defined. It is easy to see how the godless will pay no heed to this. But how can those of us who are professing Christians ignore this desire? Do we see glimpses of God’s envelope on Sunday morning, but then stretch the boundaries when Monday comes, only to repeat the cycle each week? It’s one thing to struggle with this idea because of the pressures that the world places on us when the work-week comes around. But it’s another thing to give in to this lifestyle and so deceive ourselves into believing that it’s an acceptable and right way to live.

Matthew 5:20 says, “But I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is required of us as Christians to be set apart, and to not conform to the pattern of this world. There are many who say that we need to become somewhat like the world in order to draw people in to our lives, and once there we can show them the deeper truths. But I believe that Christ would have us live constantly as lights in the darkness, showing the world a difference with every act that we demonstrate. People who are lost and hurting should see our “envelope” from the very beginning, and should recognize that this life and hope is vastly different from anything else they may witness.

Should we compromise even a little in order to gain some slight attention from those who are lost? Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Though this was written almost 2000 years ago, it still applies, even to “this present age” that we live in today. Our challenge is to be ever-watchful for ungodliness in every situation, and then to say “No”. This may change what we do with our free time, and what culture and arts we enjoy, but it is surely worth putting those things aside in order to experience God’s grace.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

“Must-Have Dorm Gear”?

An open letter to two different parties in my family – my father, and my children. I hope they read this.

Paging through the newspaper ads this weekend, I came across an insert from one of the technology stores. Inside was an entire section dedicated to students, presumably of university age judging by some of the dorm room graphics. Page one detailed some computer-related equipment. Pages two and three had a variety of things – from headphones to software, and cell phones to stereo speakers. I stopped to ponder that for a bit, especially because the page header claimed that “We’ll help your student get the tools to connect and succeed on campus”.

Page four was what puzzled me.

This page was titled “Must-Have Dorm Gear”, and contained only an LCD HDTV, an Xbox 360™, and a “Guitar Hero” package. That’s it – nothing else. (Just as an aside, the “Guitar Hero” description included a disclaimer that said “Mildly Suggestive Themes” – if my grandparents were to see the graphically enhanced avatar on the screen of the HDTV inset, they might have a different “suggestion”).

Sending a child away to a university is a sobering event for most parents. It’s a time to let go and let your children gain the tools they need to step into a different world – one which demands that they make more independent decisions and grapple with larger concerns. It’s also a great expense in most situations, with thousands of dollars being paid each semester for the privilege of getting a certificate, which might later be redeemed for a career.

What troubles me is the often-accepted attitude that college is an all-expenses, parent-paid holiday, which focuses on fun rather than learning. This isn’t a one week vacation to Hawaii – it’s a gathering of barely-matured adults that goes on for four, five or even six years. At the end, the university hands out a diploma, sometimes to students who still struggle to read. "It's appalling -- it's really astounding," said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association. "Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That's not saying much for the remainder." Read more at

Isn’t the larger goal of paying for higher education to prepare minds and hearts for a career? I question the efficacy of many college education programs. There is a movement on right now to forego the typical route to a diploma, opting instead for a three-part program – 1) help your child find the right career during the pre-university phase (often in the family-based business, if it exists), 2) set them up with mentoring relationships in that field, and 3) use the money saved for college to buy a business outright or invest in the items needed to start a business for your children. The result – they own and lead a business in a field they love, they avoid the “wage-slave” mentality so prevalent in our culture, and they start out their career farther down the path of financial independence and debt-free living than their parents did. Of course, there are certain careers which require a university diploma, but these new options are gaining acceptance - to the benefit of the child, the family, and the Lord.

I don’t want to pay dorm rent to have my children play video games for four or more years. My goal is for them to be God-loving, Christian examples to the world, who also are very successful in running a meaningful business venture that has eternal significance. That may mean a change of view on several fronts, including what to do when we arrive at the college years.

To my Dad – I never thought about extending my stay at the state university because I had more playing around to do. When I was at college, my goal was to use your money wisely – study, earn a real degree, and get out in the minimum amount of time. That meant that I spent a lot of Friday nights in my room reading or working on assignments, while others spent their time in leisure pursuits, extending their stay in college by another semester. I was conscious of the expense and sacrifice that you made to put me in college, and of the trust that you had in me to stay true to my faith while away from home.

To my children – I’m raising you to have the same notion. I want you to spend your college years in faith and excellence, and to start out your post-graduate life in an even stronger way than I did. Pass this on to your children, and their children after them. Train each successive generation of this family to be more in love with Jesus and to be more effective servants in his kingdom.

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