Thoughts and Insights for Prospective Students

Fancher Building, Houghton College

On a news site I use, I saw an article by Arizona State University Online.  The headline for the accompanying picture read, “Checklist for Student Success” and the article’s long title was “Thoughts and Insights for Prospective Students.”    I think it was picked up because it is a topic that needs discussion.  In many colleges, a high percentage of the enrolling students do not make it through.   How can we help them have more success?

I remember my experience as a student who was a valedictorian from a very small high school attending a top ranked University (U of R) and studying physics.   The transition was huge.  There was so much to learn besides classes.  The routine of farm life was gone and in its place was the chaotic lack of schedule called dorm living.  When it came to classes, there was so much to learn about how to learn that I had never had to learn because the school I attended had not been sufficiently challenging.   Adjustments were major.  I made it through but barely that first year.   I would have benefited hugely from some advice about how to succeed in college.    

I did graduate from U of R in physics so most people are a little surprised at my shift of profession into Christian ministry.  But that is a story for another day.  For this article it is enough to note that I have since had the privilege of attending college three more times.   In recent years, I also had the privilege of serving on a college board of trustees for six years (Houghton College).   So with my own experiences in mind, both my early struggles and my later successes, I offer my own seven point version of “Thoughts and Insights for Perspective Students.” 

Use the course syllabi as a planning tool

I agree that keeping close track of those class syllabi is key.  No doubt the means have changed since I was in school but the principle is the same.  Student success is directly related to knowing exactly what the professor expects.    You will need to use syllabi to develop the discipline of scheduling your own semester work ahead of time too.   Such things as research projects, semester term papers, collaborative work, cannot be done last-minute.   In addition, even if you can do a paper in one night, you will not be able to do one for each of two different courses because you didn’t discover until the last-minute that they were due on the same day.   

Plan your schedule with study time included

Set yourself a daily and weekly schedule that includes study time.   Don’t expect study time to just happen as I seemed to do my first year.   If you can’t study in the room because of interruptions, use a library or some other place regularly.   If your friend time starts controlling your schedule, you are headed for trouble.   Don’t make excuses; take responsibility and learn to discipline yourself.    One semester we got in the habit of playing cards late at night and into the wee hours and I wondered why I was failing the 8 am class I had. 

Ask for help when you need it

Seek help when you are frustrated.  Dig for additional resources if needed.  Most teachers are much more approachable than it seems.   This one tip would have saved me much grief.   My background in math was not adequate for what I was attempting in physics.  I needed to seek some help to catch up a little.  I thought the problem was just me so I struggled through with much frustration.   Seeking help would have been so much wiser. 

Choose friends wisely

Choose friends with values like yours.    This is actually one of the most important choices you will make.   This is also good advice for high school students, active duty military personal and anyone else starting a new chapter in their life in a new setting.   Friends influence us!   One of the probable reasons for my later success in my first college was that I found a group of students who had religious values like mine and study values even better than mine and I associated with them as my friends.  That helped me immensely. 

Professors are people too

Realize that professors are real people too.  They have just taken many more courses.  But they probably haven’t read the same books that you have.  They don’t know every subject equally well.  They know one subject very well.   Learn from them eagerly but do not be surprised when they are not perfect or when some are better than others.   

Remember to grow in good character too

Remember that unfortunately most colleges only teach subjects.  But character education is even more important.   Knowledge without good character will not result in a successful career.   So beware of those peers who would treat college years like a moral holiday.   The result of that attitude is a bunch of moral infants as graduates.  Unfortunately, fraternity and sorority houses have a bad reputation in this regard.   I don’t recommend joining them. 

Embrace the stretching

Finally, college is a stretching experience.  This is a wonderful part of those years.  Embrace it but exercise discretion too.  As I look back I can think of so many things that stretched my perspective from that of a Western New York farm boy with very strict roots.   Here are a few: I first flew in college as my roommate flew me to his house in Ohio – I had not been West of Niagara Falls either.   I rode a public bus in college when I took lessons at Eastman and saw an inner city neighborhood for the first time on my return trip.   I had a professor who was an immigrant who had a heavy accent.   I had another, a favorite, who smoked a pipe which I admired too much and almost decided to imitate – thank God I did not.   I attended Pentecostal/charismatic worship services for the first time and began to learn about the wonderful variety in the family of God.    Sometimes I was conscious of the stretching.  More often I was not.   We learn and grow through such new experiences. 

A new theme prods reflection on the role of change

Change creates opportunity for progress

I’m starting the New Year with a new blog theme (Twenty Seventeen).  I really liked the old one (My Life), especially its three column format, so I kept it a while.   But I’m following a principle that change is needed to keep things fresh.  If we don’t plan positive change, our product becomes stale and stagnant. I have learned that staying with the comfortable keeps me in a rut and eliminates the opportunity for progress which change usually brings.   I may change again if I am not satisfied with the result of my new theme.   I’m hoping for a fresh look, more readable fonts, different menu locations, and increased ability to handle tables.  Looks like I’m getting some new video capability thrown in.  Perhaps that will challenge me to grow in a new area.    The whole exercise caused me to reflect on the role of change in what I do. 

Change can be confusing

I discovered again that there is a natural resistance to change.   The old is familiar.  Change creates work.  In the case of a theme change, I have to manually reset the menu and widget structure of the blog.   I need to choose pictures and backgrounds.   There is always the hidden fear that the change will be for the worse.   The wisdom of past experience lessens this risk immensely, but it can feel risky anyway.

Change has a logical side and a psychological side

“A good exercise when you face change is to make a list of the logical advantages and disadvantages that should result from the change, and then another list indicating the psychological impact.  Just seeing this on a sheet of paper can be clarifying”  (Bob Biehl in Increasing Your Leadership Confidence p. 46).

There are several up sides to my blog theme change.  When I redo a theme, I learn in the process, sometimes reluctantly, but I learn.  That’s a good thing.  Usually the new theme has capabilities that the old one did not.   A new theme presents the blog reader with a fresh look which hopefully creates new interest.   For example, this one seems much cleaner in appearance.  From the blogger’s standpoint, deficiencies in the old theme can be remedied.  For example, this one handles tables much better.     I’m excited about the opportunity for a video message provided by this theme. 

Concerning creating change in an organization, here is a great resource to read; John Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You, chapter 4 “Creating Positive Change.”    

 

 

Tips for Countering Depression

 

 

Contrary to popular opinion, the end of the year holidays are a very difficult time for many people.   Depression is often worse then.  Winter is coming on; other people seem almost obnoxiously happy and there are many social gatherings.  If one is not in the best mood or has experienced personal reverses or some serious losses and is grieving, the holidays can make the situation worse.  Here are some suggestions to help. 

 

  1. Get more exercise.   Perhaps this is a surprising first tip but actually exercise helps our bodies generate the right chemistry for joy.  It physically helps the body balance moods. Exercise also helps our sleep patterns.   http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
  2. Practice giving thanks for little things.  When we are depressed we focus on the negative.  In wholesome contrast, the habit of thanksgiving helps us get a wider perspective on life and encourages us to appreciate what is good even amid our difficulties. 
  3. Avoid alcohol.  Alcoholic drinks are often consumed by those who are depressed to help them “forget their troubles.”    However, chemically alcohol depresses bodily functions and makes depression worse.   http://www.ulifeline.org/articles/460-alcohol-and-depression
  4. Get in touch with the losses, hurts and angry feelings in your heart.  Frequently depression has components related to grief and anger from circumstances in our lives, sometimes cumulative circumstances.   When we are depressed, we may not be dealing in a healthy way with these feelings.  It helps so much to be conscious of the roots of our sadness and then to talk it out with trusted and wise friends, counselors or pastors.  Hiding these feelings inside feeds our depression in unconscious ways.   Praying about these feelings also helps; think of prayer as talking out our feelings and circumstances with God.    
  5. Keep interacting with your friends and family. When we are depressed, we have a natural tendency to isolate ourselves, but this is not the healthiest thing for us to do.  Maintaining or even increasing our usual connections with family and friends will help us greatly in getting through our time of depression.  The warmth of friendship and love is healing for us even when it is hard to reciprocate.   True friends understand.
  6. Remember the character of God. He is a God of Hope and Encouragement (Romans 15:5, 13).   So drawing near to God helps immensely.  If it is hard to pray yourself, ask a Christian friend to pray with you.   Keep attending services, if at all possible.  Remember that God knows the hurts of your heart (Psalm 10:14).    When words don’t come, He hears your heart.
  7. Find some key Bible verses that speak to you. Write them on cards and place them where you will see them often or put them on your computer desktop.  They will help reshape your thinking.   Reading in the Psalms will help you find them.  Here are some suggestions to begin.  1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 11:28;  Psalm 23; Psalm 28:7; Psalm 46:1, 2; Psalm 55:22; Psalm 56:3; Hebrews 13:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 40:29-31; Isaiah 46:4, Isaiah 57:15; Philippians 4:4-8;  and Psalm 103. 

Finally, it you don’t find yourself making progress, seek help.  It is a strong thing to do to recognize when we could use a little help and seek it.  Counselors, pastors and doctors are trained to help in sensitive ways.  Most everyone has times in their lives when they could benefit greatly from counsel.  

 

Both historical knowledge and spiritual experience are needed for faith

We need both personal spiritual experience and knowledge of the Bible

About a week ago I was very impressed by a quote that I found in my devotional book.   The focus for the week was on the supremacy of Christ and how we get to know him. In today’s world it is popular to emphasize the spiritual in an almost mystic sense. But it is much less popular to do the hard work of reading Scripture and studying it to learn more about the historical figure of Jesus who inspires our Christian faith.    The  quote points out that both the spiritual response often associated with prayer  and meditation and the historical underpinning from study are needed in order for us to truly know what Jesus is about and how  his Spirit lives in and through us.  I pass it on to you.

Historical Christianity is dry and formal when it lacks the immediate and inward response to our Great Companion; but our spirits are trained to know him, to appreciate him, by the mediation of historical revelation.  A person’s spiritual life is always dwarfed when cut apart from history. Mysticism is empty unless it is enriched by outward and historical revelation. The supreme education of the soul comes through an intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ of history.    (The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones)

Scripture speaks of both essentials

I think both ends of this balance are easily seen in the words of Scripture as well.  The Apostle Paul spoke of the spiritual side of our relationship to God:   

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  Eph. 3:16-17  NIV 2011

David wrote eloquently of the need to keep in touch with God’s written record and allow it to form us. 

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.    Ps 119:105

 

Help with coping after this election – especially for millennials

White House

 

 

As I was meditating this morning, thoughts came to me concerning further helpful ways to cope with this election.

 

Grieve the losses

 

Grief is a process given to us to help us navigate loss. Today we are more insulated from grief and the associated natural process of recovery because death is much less with us, thankfully, than in previous generations.  But there are times, like now, that we need to understand grief better.  We also need to know that we grieve for all types of losses, including the kinds associated with this election.   For example; there is no doubt as evidenced by the news every day that there’s been a loss in respect for minorities among some because of the election.   Also, the principle of respect for women has suffered a loss by the elevation of one who has disrespected women.   How do we react?    Feelings of denial, sadness, anger (both focused and projected), and second-guessing ourselves and others are normal parts of grieving.  Learning to handle our grief in healthy ways is part of the human experience.

 

Look for the balanced perspective

 

For those on the Democratic side, remember that anytime a candidate wins the popular vote while losing the Electoral College, it is a sign that the election was very close. Any time a candidate wins as strongly among younger people as Clinton did, it is a strong sign for future elections.  Democrats have some things to feel good about too.  For Republicans, to gloat is arrogant and counter-productive.  A strong majority of urban Americans voted against you and they live in the most influential centers of the country.  The Bible urges humility.  Humility is a lost virtue today and suffered further loss in this election.  But humility helps immensely in human relations.   Unfortunately, on-screen it is usually wrongly mistaken for weakness.  I would caution us to look for the balanced perspective in our circumstances.

 

Do not return evil for evil

 

One of the Bible’s most famous sayings is, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom 12:17).   Just because the election featured rude, crude, and obnoxious conversation, is no excuse for us to join that party.   “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).   While Hillary Clinton’s embrace of the “nasty woman” epithet may have been a shrewd debate move, “nasty” is not exactly a winsome characteristic.  But kindness is.  Donald Trump’s past behavior and attitudes are a problem, not something to be emulated.    But if we copy the worst elements of leaders, we magnify the difficulties.  If we repay evil for evil we become part of the problem, not part of the healing solution.  Instead, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11).  

 

Be thankful for what is good

 

I, for one, am very glad that Thanksgiving follows this election. It will be very healthy for us all if we can get our minds off the divisions and contentious issues of the election and step back and be genuinely thankful for the blessings that we have.   It will lessen our stress, it will lower our collective blood pressure, and will help us to have a better emotional and mental foundation for the cooperation in daily life and in government that the people of this land desire and deserve.    

All Scriptures from Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2001 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How to react to a disturbing election

White House

 

 

In the wake of a disturbing election how do we cope?  Here are a few suggestions from a long-time pastor. 

Do not live in fear. 

 

One of the most prominent messages from God to his people in the Bible is simply yet powerfully this; “Do not be afraid!”  These exact words occur 74 times in the current NIV translation.  The words were spoken in times more uncertain than ours.  While this election has elicited fear on all sides for multiple reasons, it is the heritage of believers in all times to “trust and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2).  As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Our hope is always in God, not a person or a political process.  And when we feel threatened, we look to God for our hope and strength to overcome.

 

Do something fun 

Jesus himself recognized that we needed times to get away from the stress of thinking about things like elections (Mark 6:31).   Sabbath rests and time of exercise or recreation help us to keep our perspectives wholesome and they lift our emotions too.   Personally, I like to take a long walk in the nearby forest preserve. 

 

Stand firm in your own life for what is good. 

 

One of the most disturbing things to me about this election cycle has been that it has seemed to further legitimize the rude, the crude and the divisive in America.  Both parties set new lows in negative advertising.  So all of us face a challenge afterwards as to what our vison is for our country and what our behavior will be.  Will we be part of the decline or part of the recovery?   For Christians, our course is clear.  “Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17).  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).   This is a high calling that affects how we use language to emphasize a point or express anger, what movies we approve, what jokes we tell, how we speak about those with whom we disagree, who we choose as heroes and stars, and how we treat those different from us.   Let us be “eager to do what is good” (Tit. 2:14). 

 

Pray! 

 

A pastor friend of mine referred to this verse this morning in a post. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps 127:1).  No matter who is in charge on this earth, peace and blessing are ultimately God’s gifts.  This November is also a good time to remember one of our basic prayer verses, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).   Pray especially for our president elect whether we like him or not.  If you like him, pray that God will use his strengths to benefit all.  If you don’t like him, pray that God will protect the country from his weaknesses.  (The same prayers could be prayed for every public servant.)  Pray for the government transition in the US as well.

 

There is a time for everything  

For younger voters especially, I would encourage a little of the perspective of Solomon.  “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).  I recall a conversation eight years ago after Obama’s first victory.  It was a chat between a fervent Republican and a strong Democrat.  The Democrat said pointedly to the Republican, “Well, if we can survive eight years of George H. W. Bush, you can survive eight years of Obama.”  I thought of that comment again last night as one of the commentators mentioned that it is extremely rare in American history for a party to hold the presidency more than eight years running.  There seems to be a cycle that occurs regularly in our sturdy democracy.   The pendulum swings repeatedly.  I have seen enough elections now to have observed that swing multiple times and I agree.  This is why parties in America go back to work and start thinking about next time, like sports teams planning for the next season.    

 

 

All verses from Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2001 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Praying Deeply

Lady at prayer
Praying with our whole lives

 

A Devotional Challenge

This year I’ve been reading from one of my favorite devotional books, A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants. Each week, there are some readings to prod one’s thinking. Today the readings were about prayer that goes so much deeper than words. In our troubled world today, we must learn again that our religious life cannot be separate from our daily actions if we expect society to change for the better. I was meditating on the following quotes.

“Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer, and take trouble to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself” (from A Gift for God by Mother Teresa).

Today we feel so inadequate to the task of changing our world. Yet it is through prayer that God enlarges our capacity and magnifies our spiritual strength so that we are able to do the good works that he has planned for us. Through prayer the “immeasurably more” of God works through us (Eph. 3:20).

Prayer at Work Everyday

“If when we plunge our hand into a bowl of water, or stir up the fire with the bellows or tabulate interminable columns of figures on our bookkeeping table, or, burned by the sun, we are plunged in the mud of the rice field, or standing by the smelter’s furnace, we do not fulfill the same religious life as if in prayer in a monastery, the world will never be saved” (quoted from Gandhi by Carlo Carretto in Letters From The Desert).

How can we save our nation from violence? It will only happen as the hearts of people are filled with nonviolence. Through prayer God changes our hearts. Continuing in prayer makes us uncomfortable with any hypocrisy that remains in our attitudes and actions because ultimately they hinder our prayers.

“[Jesus] lived his message before he spoke it. He preached it by his life before explaining it in words. This was Jesus’ method and we too easily forget it. In many cases catechesis is reduced to words rather than to ‘life,’ to discussions rather than to the pursuit of Christian living. And here, perhaps, is the reason for the poor results” (Carlo Carretto in Letters From The Desert).

Jesus admonished us that those who are wise would not only hear his words but put them into practice. In so doing, they would build a strong and durable foundation for their lives.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” –Jesus  (Matthew 7:24).

A prayer for today

Oh Lord of life, teach me to pray deeply–with my everyday life, with my whole heart and also with my words of devotion.

Sexuality may be more fluid than our culture thinks

My reading of brain research has pointed toward the conclusion that human sexual orientation is more fluid than is culturally believed to be true.  This has been heretical to say.  If you are from a conservative religious perspective as I am, it was considered homophobic to say lest it undermine the gay political arguments.  But also, it is usually not the way we experience our own sexuality as the following author also admits.   The linked article is by a gay author who is arguing for the fluidity of sexual orientation, not just from his personal experience, but from scientific evidence and the conclusions of respected groups as well.    He holds that sexual orientation derives from multiple sources.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160627-i-am-gay-but-i-wasnt-born-this-way