Search This Blog

Monday, May 27, 2019

Welcome to the Real World

First this week, we should all note that it is Memorial Day. There is no way to fully honor the sacrifice of human life given by American service men and women. Dedication to our nation’s freedom and security has left many, many families bereaved. Thanks…seems such an incomplete way for acknowledging that dedication.

Moreover, simply having picnics, family outings, and a work holiday can also trivialize the much deeper significance of Memorial Day. I hope you’ll fly the flag properly. And for goodness' sake, let’s avoid saying, “Happy Memorial Day!” Dead service members and their families are not honored by a smiley face or happy greeting.

This is also the season for graduations. And those mostly forgotten graduation speeches. I’m confident my recent delivery to a pack of eighth graders at a Christian school will be remembered no differently.

In my presentation, to these 13-14-year-olds, I included “Five Ways Your Life is About to Change.” Yes, college years certainly change a person. Not all folks go to college. I believe those four years of traditional high school—from freshman through the senior year—are game changers. It was certainly true for me.

So here were some of my comments to these young students who are about to become high school freshmen. See what you think:

“By the time you graduate from high school, most of you will be considered adults. The next four years are going to help prepare you for that next chapter of life.

Here’s what you’ll be challenged by…

  1. Thinking at a higher level 
  • Pick your subject: Math. Science. Philosophy. Psychology. Sociology. Drama. Debate. Or any high school sport. You’ll need to apply more brainpower.
  • Now the real you gets tested. Your study habits are revealed. Your intellect begins to show. Are you really Mr. or Miss Smarty Pants? Will you be a smart athlete? Or just good in sports?
  • Finish high school and you have a good shot at taking the next part of life’s journey with some success.
  • Goof off, and your next steps in life get much more complicated.
  1. Excelling: finding and developing your sweet spot
  • Time to shine, my friend.
  • My sophomore year of high school changed my world. It started with a speech in English class. One class can change your life as well.
  • High school is where we find potential champions. Colleges can come recruiting. Scholarships can await you. 
  • People aren’t looking at your grade school or junior high achievements. It’s your high school performance.
  1. Driving
  • Plan to start driving during your freshman year of high school?
  • You’ll have a new freedom, but it’s also a risky adventure. Consumer Reports statistics show teenagers are involved in far more accidents than any other age group. Car crashes are no. 1 in taking the life of teens.
  • Inexperience behind the wheel and brain development are factors.
  • The crash rate for drivers ages 16 and 17 is almost nine times as high as that for middle-aged drivers. 
  • One parent said, 'There is nothing worse than the first time you see your teenager drive away in a car by themselves.' 
  1. Dating: another potential risky side of maturing into high school.
  • So what is the right age to date?
  • What kind of person are you willing to date? What kind of character do you expect from your date? What kind of character will YOU display?
  • Should girls ask guys out? Or just the other way around?
  • What about those relationships that are outside of traditional boundaries? Are they okay? Or beyond the borders? How do you know? You will be developing your beliefs on this.
  • Should parents have any say in who you date? (Check your parents for an answer on that.)
  1. Decision making. The possibility you’ll make choices…that are wrong.
  • Everything will get more complicated about life. 
  • What to wear. Where you can go. What does freedom really permit?
  • What about going to college? Which college? Attending college involves social skills—networking, meeting new people, coming out of your shell, and earning degrees to enable you to become a valuable contributor to our world.
  • Lack of education will most likely limit your future opportunities.
  • What about church? High school is when many teenagers shape decisions on what to believe about faith and various so called 'religious' beliefs. 
  • You’re going to have to find what you truly believe.

So as Mr. Mister sang…'Welcome to the real world.' I hope you enjoy the ride. And be a game changer.”

It should be noted that I closed my message with what I believe is the most important life decision to be made: that of becoming a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.

Coming to the end of life without hope for the future leaves a most unhappy soul. Hopefully, even an eighth grader can see the light on that.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Join in each weekday at 4 PM Central for Mark’s encouraging Facebook Live message on the workplace.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Poetic Justice

Horse racing has recently taken several interesting turns, so to speak. I don’t really follow the sport much, until we get to the three races that make up the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby is my favorite. My beloved, Rhonda, even dressed up in her fancy hat for us to watch this year’s debacle. I mean "race." More on that in a moment.

Let’s start with troubles at the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, California. The Los Angeles Times reported three days ago that the horse Commander Coil broke down with a shoulder injury during training at Santa Anita and was euthanized. This happens to horses. But the recent history at Santa Anita is not good. Some 24 thoroughbreds have died since December 26th of last year!

This is unprecedented. While the number of deaths has greatly declined, the track has remained under a microscope. Four full-time investigators have been reviewing the cases. The L.A. County District Attorney has created a task force to study the matter. Seventy subpoenas for documents have been issued.

No single cause has been identified. Rather, the rise of deaths is “multi-factorial” according to one expert. The spate of these horse deaths is baffling. As the LA Times reported, “The fact that Santa Anita went so long without a fatality is almost as big of a statistical anomaly as the original cluster of deaths.” Tragic.

But now let’s turn our attention to this year's running of the Kentucky Derby. The extensive coverage of NBC television of this event almost rivals the Super Bowl. For a race that lasts all of about two minutes, the pre-game is unlike any other sporting event.

Bob Baffert is a premiere racehorse trainer. The 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify were two of his projects. Of the Triple Crown races, his horses have won five Kentucky Derbies, seven Preakness Stakes, and three Belmont Stakes. His three horses were shut out this year. That alone was a bit odd.

However, this year’s Kentucky Derby will be remembered like none other. The horse that finished first in the running, Maximum Security, did not win. A technical foul removed the horse and jockey from contention and so the second place horse, Country House, was declared the winner. It was a first in Kentucky Derby history.

That brings us to the Preakness Stakes run last Saturday. For those who watched the Kentucky Derby, they will recall that the disqualified horse Maximum Security veered into the path of the horse named War of Will. And who should win the Preakness? War of Will. Of note, neither Country House nor Maximum Security even ran in the Preakness!

And now it gets really weird. Yes, War of Will finished first. But here’s the headline from “The real winner of the Preakness was Bodexpress, the jockey-less horse.”

The jockey-less horse?? Yes, indeed!

Here’s the way it unfolded: “Jockey John Velazquez was unseated off of Bodexpress out of the gate, and the riderless No. 9 horse continued to run with the pack. Stewards flagged the incident but quickly cleared it and listed him as ‘did not finish.’” It even took the outriders quite a while to get Bodexpress off the track.

The writer of Ecclesiastes makes an interesting point. He says, “I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11, NLT)

In my dream 2020 Kentucky Derby, trainer Baffert would have jockey John Velazquez ride the fastest horse Bob trains. And John would win. I would name the steed…Poetic Justice.

How's that for a horse tale?

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Join in each weekday at 4 PM Central for Mark’s encouraging Facebook Live message on the workplace.

For more information:

Monday, May 13, 2019

To Buckle or Not to Buckle

Today follows our national tribute to mothers. The mother of my children gets frustrated in hearing generic wishes for “Happy Mother’s Day!” She knows, as we all should, that this special greeting should be reserved for a child of any age sending greetings to his or her mom.

A more serious situation is to hear of the massive number of children who have mothers but are separated from them. Causes are many, but the ones I’m talking about are those who are in foster care or in need of adoption. In most cases, a family breakdown has occurred. Let’s get past the blame as to why for a moment.

What we should hope for in these situations is that a loving family will surface to offer a safe and strong support system to nurture these children. Here’s where it gets messy. We no longer have agreement on what defines a healthy family environment if we’re discussing same sex couples. And that’s become a battleground in many states.

Regrettably, high quality programs such as Bethany Christian Services have gotten caught up in the politics of the issue. Bethany provides pregnancy counseling, private adoption, and refugee settlement services. They’ve been doing so for over 75 years. They also offer temporary foster care and foster care adoption services through many of their locations, not only in this country but around the world.

This wonderful humanitarian organization found itself in the crosshairs of political manipulation in Michigan. Bethany believes, and rightly so, that a child placed by their organization will thrive best with a mom and a dad providing the nurturing support. Not a mom and another mom. Or a dad and another dad.

The state of Michigan does not agree. So the gamesmanship of politically correct posturing meant demanding that Bethany be willing to place foster and adoptive children with so called “gay couples.” The ministry resisted. For a season. And then...caved.

I realize this is a seemingly harsh judgment. So it’s best if you read the reasoning behind their decision as explained in a recent Christianity Today article titled, “Christians Can’t Back Out of the Foster System.” Bethany Christian Services was faced with a challenging conundrum.

The ministry has quite the impact in Michigan. In 2018, “Bethany provided foster care services for 1,744 children and helped 381 foster children be adopted into forever families.” That translated into 263,923 days for care in foster homes.

Should they shut the door on this need to hold on to so theological conviction? Probably the man who wrestled most with this decision was Bethany’s President and CEO, Chris Palusky.

He weighs his options this way. “At Bethany, we believe the Bible is the living Word of God, and we still believe in God’s plan for marriage and family as it is outlined in the Scriptures. At the same time, it is clear to us that Bethany cannot cede the foster care space completely to the secular world and leave children without the opportunity to experience Jesus through our loving care.”

Both lines of thought seem to lead to a somewhat untenable situation. Especially when the state of Michigan shows little respect for Bethany’s core values and strong service record. So it was Bethany who budged. And they asked for prayer as they pursued their mission “in Jesus’ name.”

Bethany was not the only such group facing unwieldy decisions from government. It’s happening many places, including Illinois. American society at large has embraced a new view of marriage and family. We can only await the consequences.

I’m most concerned about the trade offs that result. If Bethany held their ground and and refused to change their policy, it would not be them who abandoned the cause. Damage done would be on the heads of the legislature and courts.

It seems that several issues like this are surfacing. Bake cakes for gay weddings or not. Welcome illegals and support violating our immigration laws or deprive those in need. Open dressing rooms to boys who think they are girls...or risk offending the few.

Followers of Jesus should be champions of compassion. Should we also be champions for moral truth? It leaves us with difficult choices.

Put another way, we are faced with what may be a faith stifling decision: to buckle...or not to buckle.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Join in each weekday at 4 PM Central for Mark’s encouraging Facebook Live message on the workplace.

For more information:

Monday, May 6, 2019

Fox in the Chicken Coop

Political activism has taken some mighty strange turns at this point in my life. It is something I’m pondering more as I approach the 50th year since graduating from high school. By this time in 1969, two political leaders of the Kennedy family and Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated.

Having lived through the 60s, I can recall all the visuals of movements supported by the likes of folk singers including Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Woody Guthrie, and Joan Baez. Their voices helped shaped the causes they found important.

There were protests galore. A lot had to do with resistance to the war in Vietnam. The Civil Rights movement was full steam. Feminism had women burning bras. (Never did quite understand that act of rebellion.)

Then there were hippies. They supported the resistance efforts toward Vietnam and encouraged the Civil Rights cause. But by and large, they were not protestors.

In writing about the age of hippie-dom, Sarah Pruitt recalls, “In many ways, the hippies of the 1960s descended from an earlier American counterculture: the Beat Generation. This group of young bohemians…made a name for themselves in the 1940s and ‘50s with their rejection of prevailing social norms, including capitalism, consumerism and materialism.” Many turned to Eastern religions. Drugs and open sexuality were their forms of protest. They were…“beatniks.”

Not all protests were peaceful, even though some might have started out that way. There was the 1962 protest in Birmingham, Alabama, organized by Dr. Martin Luther King and several other civil rights organizers. Within a year, the Birmingham sheriff chose to deal with protestors using fire hoses and police dogs.

There were the famed Watts riots. Watts is a Los Angeles neighborhood that became enflamed from August 11-16, in 1965. It started with an arrest by police that fostered a brawl. It took 4,000 members of the California National Guard to quell the riots. But only after 34 people had died and $40 million in property damage had been done.

College campuses were a hotbed for generating protest movements. One in 1970 became deadly and the subject of hit song. It was a Vietnam protest at Kent State University. The Ohio National Guard was called in. Careless overreaction left four students dead and nine injured. Neil Young’s classic “Ohio” shared the pain on Top 40 radio stations across America.

That was then. This is now. Political activism remains, but in a very different way. People of faith are considered “prejudiced” and “phobic” if they don’t accept sexual standards embraced by certain groups. But it isn’t just language being used for protest. It’s political control. And it’s ugly.

Perhaps there is no single business with more noble purpose and a desire to serve others than Chick-fil-A. Yet this company has faced ongoing criticism and political retribution because they’ve offered support to groups that encourage healthy, traditional forms of marriage. For that view, they have been rejected from having restaurants on college campuses and even in some communities.

But then there’s Tim Fox. He’s the Republican Montana Attorney General. Mr. Fox has posted an open invitation to Chick-fil-A to open several franchises in his state. Then he went further—accusing the critics of Chick-fil-A of inciting “division and outrage.”

Fox’s letter to Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said, “While your company faces a barrage of unnecessary criticism…I want you to know that Montanans don’t discriminate against others based on religious affiliation.”

Jesus of Nazareth was known for putting truth ahead of political correctness in his day. Just look at His Sermon on the Mount! (Matthew 5-7)

We need leaders today to do the same. More guys like Tim.

Looks like there’s a Fox in the chicken house. And that's a good thing.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook. 

Join in each weekday at 4 PM Central for Mark’s encouraging Facebook Live message on the workplace.

For more information: