I am Confused over What is Being Reported

Today, one head-line story concerns a 35-year Private First-Class named Bradley Manning being sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing a massive cache of sensitive government documents over to an organization known as WikiLeaks.  The documents are said to have dealt with the inner workings of the USA’s wars with Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is described as the largest leak of classified information in U. S history.

A second headline story is . . . “NSA Surveillance reach is broader than publicly acknowledged.” The Wall Street Journal claims that it has discovered that the National Security Agency’s surveillance network has the capacity . . . “To spy on 75% of all internet communications around the world.”

I checked out WikiLeaks and discovered that it is a group that exists solely for the purpose of gathering and collecting secret and sensitive information about governments and disclosing the information to media outlets.  The group has been around since 2006 and its stated objective is: “To bring important news and information to the public . . .”  Another stated objective is: “To ensure that journalists and whistle-blowers are not jailed for e-mailing sensitive or classified documents” . . . and offers a drop-box for such information.  WikiLeaks has been involved in some messy and questionable stuff around the world since 2006.

My confusion centers on the obvious and glaring contradictions of the two headline stories. Think about it . . . if NSA really has such amazing technology at its discretion as reported by the Wall Street Journal . . . then, pray tell, how on earth does a mere Private First-Class manage to secretly hand over a massive cache of sensitive government documents to an organization such as WikiLeaks . . . without detection and the exchange being prevented . . . especially to an organization like WikiLeaks . . . one would think it is surely being monitored.

I am reminded that a few years back there were also claims that the government had sophisticated monitoring systems in space to keep tabs on all of us and that system was described as: “They can watch you walk up on your front porch at midnight and as you open a stick of chewing gum, they can identify the flavor of the gum.”  That was also about the time that the entire U S government and all of its resources and allies were focused on trying to find a criminal named Bin Laden, who happened to be about 6’9” . . . and was living in a region of people who were all like 5’ tall . . . and that took years . . . and a lucky break!

It is getting harder to sniff out what is really news and what is hype in this day of 24-hour news cycles.  There is such a competition to “break the story” that the media has lost a great deal of integrity . . . if it ever had any.  I know I don’t place much confidence in it anymore . . . and I no longer view it as “news.”  I see it more along the lines of opinion . . . and even actually bordering on propaganda.

I know that the world is changing dramatically and is being overwhelmed by technology.  I read recently some interesting things.  Some of them are:

. . . studies are showing that human knowledge had doubled in the past decade

. . . there are now 540,000 words in the English language (that is 5 times the number of words in the language when William Shakespeare  wrote his sonnets

. . . there are more than 4,000 new books being printed every day

. . . that one week of the New York Times contains more information than a person living in the 18th century would have had access to in his or her entire life time

. . . that 40 Exabytes of new information will be generated worldwide in the next year alone . . . I looked this up and saw that an Exabyte is a something like a quadrillion x 10 to the 19th power . . . and I honestly don’t even know what that means . . . except it is scaled with the reference “5 exabytes = all words ever spoken by human beings” . . . and that 40 Exabyte of new information is said to be more information than generated over the past 500 years combined.

I suspect what it means is that a whole bunch of stuff is coming at us . . . but will it really be new?  Solomon’s position was that it won’t be new at all, and his contention was that there is nothing new under the sun . . .

I suspect that we will need to be alert to discern truth from fiction . . . and that falls in line with instructions from the Scripture.

If we really think about it honestly, we might just conclude that we are not really as smart and enlightened as we suppose.  My suspicion is that in spite of all of our great and growing advancements in what we are calling knowledge, it is quite likely that we simply have some really bright people who are busy creating a bunch of hypothesis with which we must contend, while in reality there is a bunch of stuff that we simply just do not know. 


I don’t think we even know what water really is . . . water is something basic and foundational to human life and we really don’t even know what it is . . . beyond its atomic properties . . .

We do not really know what gravity is . . . We just know some of what it does . . .

We do not really understand what magnetism is and what causes it to do what it does.  We have some things such as Ampere’s Law (one example of a hypothesis being used to help explain things to us about subjects of which we don’t actually know the answer). 

Here are a few truths that remind us that humanity has some problems . . .

  1. Sin abounds in our culture . . . It could be argued that our culture today is the most sinful that ever occupied the planet (30+ million unborn babies aborted in the USA?);
  2. Hunger still exists around the world and there are no signs that it is being close to ending . . . all the while wicked governments use money to buy weapons while their citizens suffer;
  3. There are more known diseases today than has ever been recorded in history . . . and we are not making much progress on finding cures; and
  4. There are about 50 wars . . . or variations of war taking place on the planet at this moment and “world peace” is only a dream.

It seems to me . . . that, perhaps, our culture just might meet the definition of “ . . . professing themselves to be wise, they become fools.”


Overcoming Fear . . .

The Bible tells us that the “Just shall live by faith” . . . but our reality is that we, far too often, live in fear.  We worry about the economy, we worry about conflicts around the world, we worry over health, and a wide range of other issues.  So, the question is, “How do I move from fear-based living . . . and into faith-based living?” 

Of course, there will always be those who claim not to fear and perhaps a test is in order . . . and perhaps some don’t have fear, so here is a personal test:

Those who do not fear . . . are those who do not love.  Those who love become vulnerable . . . Love makes us realize that we have placed ourselves in a situation where we can be hurt, betrayed, abandoned, used or abused, and to suffer loss and pain.  If you love, you care a lot and that enables fear . . . that is just how we are wired.

In fact, as we look around, fear is the headlines of the world today . . . not only the headlines . . . but also the bylines of news reports on TV, radio, and in the newspapers.  We see, hear, and read about all manner of things that can and do produce fear in us . . . fear in the nation . . . and fear across the world.  At this moment in time there are a number of concerns around the world: the economy is staggering, the Middle East is on fire with uprisings by ugly mobs, and war between Israel and almost anybody seems unavoidable . . .

You still don’t think people don’t live in fear?  I recently read that this is the most worried generation that has ever lived.  As one example, statics prove that life-expectancy has doubled in the USA over the past 100 years.  That is true even in spite of the world having more diseases today than at any other time in history.  Still, there has never been a more healthy society than we are as Americans today . . . yet, in spite of that blessing . . . there has never been a group of people more worried about their health.  Try to get a doctor’s appointment . . . 2 to 3 weeks in a small town?

The truth is that we live in a culture of fear . . . It is clear, given our world and our culture that none of us are going to be able to live a life free of fear and vulnerability.  In spite of that, God’s goal is that we not be controlled by fear.  Scripture bears witness to that reality . . . because frequently we are encouraged, “Do not be afraid.”  God gives us repeated assurances of His presence in our lives . . . and over and over again He says, “I am with you . . . do not be afraid!”  God constantly reminds us that no matter what happens in life, He is with us.  In Isaiah 43, He says, “I have redeemed you, I called you by name when you passed through the waters, you will never be destroyed . . . ”

Here is the truth: God wants us to live beyond fear . . . that is the call on our lives.  Yet, in spite of that call and God’s assurances, when we are faced with fearful events . . . we fear.  Rather than being motivated to correct the cause . . . we become paralyzed by the problem . . . and immobilized by the issues . . .

Here is the difficult part in moving from fear-based living into faith-based living . . . in order to conquer our fear we must go through our fear.  We cannot go around it, over it, or under it. We have to meet it head-on . . . but the simple truth is that it just seems easier to run from it.   Faith-based living demands that I act in a way that says, “I trust God . . . even when I am afraid.”  It means approaching what I fear head-on . . . as opposed to avoiding it.

Do you know that the first recorded response to fear was avoidance – running and hiding?  It is true.  In Genesis, we find that prior to the fall of man there was no record of fear even being part of the human experience.  Man did not even know fear . . . because there was no fear.  Yet, when humans chose to rebel against God . . . fear, insecurity, worry, and anxiety moved into the human situation and has spread through our DNA into every generation.  As we look at Genesis, we see that after they sinned, God came to visit . . . and they hid – hid in fear!  God called out, “Where are you?” Adam replied, “I heard you and I was afraid . . . so I hid.” The truth of the matter is that he could have just courageously confessed . . . but fear made him hide.  Think about it: Adam hiding from God was not even rational.  God knew where he was all along! Truth:  We cannot hide from God.  Adam hiding was not even reasonable . . . God knows everything.  God knew what he had done.  TRUTH: We can’t hide from God either – God also knows what we did . . . He knows what we thought about . . . and He knows what we didn’t do—and He knows we didn’t do it only because we couldn’t figure out how to do it and not get caught!  Adam simply didn’t know that what he tried to conceal . . . had already been revealed. That is the whole point of fear . . . It is not rational . . . and it is not reasonable.  It didn’t solve anything for Adam . . . and it can’t solve anything for us.  That is why God wants us to live beyond fear!  Jesus came from Heaven and told people, “Don’t Worry . . . ”

But God knows all things and He understands that is part of our chemistry.  Still, He wants us to learn how to function in spite of our fear, how to move despite of our mood and how to act despite of our anxiety.  He says, “I want you to learn how to obey me in spite of the obstacles in your path, because if you will trust me and try me then you can experience my power at work in your life . . . ” He is saying, “. . . Face it, go through it and then I will help you . . . to step beyond it.”

In I Kings 19, we find a perfect illustration from history.  There we find the great, courageous Prophet, Elijah.  God called him to service at a time when the Nation Israel had been led into idolatry by a wicked Queen named Jezebel.  This woman was one of the most powerful, ruthless, wicked characters in the entire Old Testament.  She was married to a weak, hen-pecked King who seems to have been without any core values.  This Queen was a formidable opponent, so the weak King simply stepped aside and let her run the show.  She took over and dominated and led the nation in Baal worship. She had assembled an army of 450 priests . . . men who made up messages for the people and claimed the messages had come from God himself.  It was in this vortex that God called Elijah to take a stand.

Elijah challenged her Baal priests to a smack down . . . before the entire nation.  They would meet at Mt. Carmel and see if the Lord was God, or if Baal was God.  As they assembled there on that day, Elijah asked a powerful question: “How long are you going to be halt between two opinions?”  He was asking them, “How long will you waiver over two beliefs?”  He then declared, “Today, you must decide if Baal is God and if he is, then serve him. But if the Lord is God, then serve Him.”  We know the story. God acted and sent down fire from Heaven.  With it, He destroyed the false prophets and those who stood with them.  This happened because one man had the courage to stand . . . yet, sadly, that same man who had been so out-numbered and unpopular; that man who had called down the fire from Heaven still remained vulnerable to fear. In spite of everything he had been told and had seen, he still was inclined to allow fear to control his life . . .

After the events had happened at Mt. Carmel, King Ahab returned home and told Jezebel what he had seen.  Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah and said, “May God kill me if I haven’t killed you by this time tomorrow.”  Elijah had to make a decision – just as we have to decide – “Am I going to approach the problem, or am I going to run from the problem?”  In short, Elijah said, “I am now retired, I can’t cope, I can’t take it anymore, it is too much for me . . . I have had enough,” and he took off.

Sometimes trying to comfort people in pain, we say, “The Lord won’t put more on you than you can stand.”  It is catchy and even encouraging, but it is just flat wrong.  The truth is that sometimes, God will, indeed, put more on us than we can bear . . . why will He do that?  He will do that: to stretch us . . . to grow us . . . and to move us to depend on Him.  It is in these times we can discover strength beyond description . . . beyond explanation . . . faith we didn’t know we had . . . a level of hope that we have never experienced.  Elijah said, “I have had enough . . . ” And he headed for the wilderness.  In a classic example of what worry and fear can do to a human, Elijah calls out to God and says, “Take my Life!”  Sadly, he proposed a permanent solution . . . for what was actually a temporary problem.

But it is good to know that when fear took over his mind . . . God did not abandon him and He did not cast him out.  What God did was support him . . . He sent an angel to minister to his needs.  There is an important lesson here for us: God will help us live beyond our fears, anxieties, and worries by sending us what we need . . . and sending it when we need it (perhaps not what we want . . . but always what we need – and there is a difference).

Notice in the story . . . God does not rebuke Elijah, nor does He rebuff or punish him.  He sent an angel to lift him up . . . when we are weak, people will put us down . . . but not so with God – He will lift us up.

Everything that God says you are . . . You are!

Everything God says you can have . . . You can have!

Everywhere God says you can go . . . You can go!

Everything God says you can do . . . You can do!


Place your confidence in Him . . . not in your house . . . We have recently learned that our houses can let us down . . . our houses have lost 40% of their value in the past 2 years.  Place your confidence in Him . . . not in your stocks and bonds . . . We have recently seen how those things can diminish in a troubled economy.  Place your confidence in Him . . . not in another person . . . People can let us down and break our hearts . . . but God never fails.


In Elijah’s time of concern, fear, frustration, and suffering, God provided him with security, companionship, food, and water and even baked him a cake.  He encouraged Elijah.  He had the angel tell him to go back to sleep because he was going to need his strength for the journey . . . and while Elijah slept, the angel watched over him and waited.  God would remind Elijah, “You thought this was your ending place, but this isn’t your ending place . . . this is not your stopping place . . . this is not the end of your journey . . . the end of your blessing . . . the end of your joy . . . you still have a bunch of living ahead of you.  You still have to come to that place where I want you to be . . . you will live to declare the Glory of God!


When Elijah wakes, God takes him further into the wilderness; there he experienced fire, wind, and an earthquake.  Inside him a small voice begins to speak to him . . . in this he does not get the information . . . but he does come to understand the situation.  God doesn’t disagree with him, but neither does God do what Elijah asks Him to do.  He doesn’t get Elijah out . . . He didn’t confirm Elijah’s desperation . . . He didn’t step in and handle the problem for Elijah . . . He doesn’t fix things for Elijah, but what He does is . . . He fixes things in Elijah!


He said, “You have to go back the same way . . . that is the only way out . . . You have to go through the problem . . . Jeezebel is still going to be there . . . she still going to be as mean and nasty as ever . . . she is still going to be as cruel and determined . . . and she is still wanting to kill you.”  In this God wanted Elijah to learn that he could only overcome it by trusting God and going through his situation.  The point is that God doesn’t want us to merely talk in faith . . . He wants us to walk in faith.  His promise is that if we will just take one step towards it . . . we will also be taking a step towards Him.  When we take a step toward Him we can see His power at work in our lives . . . then our faith will grow, our confidence will soar, our hope will emerge, our enthusiasm will expand, and our tomorrow will be brighter.


I am reminded of hearing a guy tell about spending several weeks laboring over a difficult jigsaw puzzle.  Finally he finished it . . . and felt great victory – a meaningful accomplishment.  He was so proud that he left the completed puzzle displayed on a table in the living room so he could show it off.  Everyone who came in admired his work. Then one morning, the dog chased the cat through the house and crashed into the table and dumped the puzzle into the floor into a big mess.  The energy went out of the guy and he was overwhelmed.  He fretted all day over the tragedy . . . then, in his sadness and defeat, it occurred to him . . . “Everything I need to reassemble the puzzle is right here in this room.”  He stood the table back up, picked up the pieces, and got to work . . .  


That is how we are to deal with the challenges, pressures, struggles, and turmoil in our lives.  The Lord has already provided us with everything we need – the indwelling Holy Spirit, the promise of a glorious inheritance, new life, hope . . . and add to those things . . . His assurances.

 Remind me again, “What is it we are worried about?”  What have we been thinking?

The Generations . . .

The Bible marked generation by “begats” . . . “and Abraham begat Isaac . . . and Isaac begat . . .”

That is sure different today.  Somewhere along the way some group of people began studying the differences between generations and began defining each generation.  They have assigned each a title and neatly stuck into profile groups.  I am not certain who the people are that do this work, but I suspect they are economist, profilers, or behaviorists who either work in academia or for some government agency.  However, they may well be folks who do actuary work for the insurance companies.  Whoever they are, we need to know that they are out there studying us, and making judgments about us, about what we do, and trying to discover why we do it.  In the process, they are picking up on our peculiarities . . . by age groups.  These folks have developed their own vocabulary as well as their own definitions, and frankly I am not sure what they are saying much of the time, but here is a summary of some of what is being said and written about us and our offspring:

Baby Boomers: The definition of a baby boomer is said to be a person who was born during the Post-World War II baby boom, between the years 1946 and 1964. Yet, the term “Baby Boomer” is also used in a cultural context.  Of course, ascribing universal attributes to a broad generation is difficult, and perhaps inherently impossible, but these folks have defined us as a generation associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values.  I suspect they are deciding this based on what some did during the 60’s, the Viet Nam conflict and the draft . . . but we didn’t all behave in that manner.

We are also described as being widely associated with privilege as we grew up during a time of widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence. As a group, we are said to be the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up until that time.  We are said to have been the first generation to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time.  We are said to be the generation who received peak levels of income, and, thus, were able to reap the benefits of abundant levels of food, clothes, retirement programs, and even “midlife crisis products” (Honey, are they talking about our black Corvette convertible we bought when the kids left home?)  It is alleged that we tend to think of ourselves as a special generation and quite different than those who came before us.  The baby boom period is referred to as a “shockwave.”

Then there are those marketers and cultural commentators who have been trying to sub-divide Boomers into smaller, more specific groups, or market shares.  Some of the monikers they have come up with are “golden boomers,” “generation Jones,” “alpha boomers,” “yuppies,” “Zoomers,” and “cuspers.”

The generation was influenced by Rock and Roll music . . . the Beatles and the Rolling Stones . . . as well as a number of other groups from England (referred to as the “British Invasion”) . . . Elvis . . . Bob Dylan . . . and a host of Black groups referred to as “Motown” . . . each one had a sound that was uniquely their own.  My generation strongly believes, by and large, that our generation had the greatest impact on music in history, and frankly we have become snobs about our music.  We have largely concluded that our kid’s music is “crap.”  In fact, over the past 25 years, there has been a universal cry heard in homes across the USA, as dads stood at the bottom of staircases and yelled upstairs, “Turn that crap off . . . and I better not have to tell you again.”

We were the generation of cool muscle cars . . . and we were cool.  In fact we believe that we invented cool.  We used things such as flat-tops with wings for the guys (which soon changed to Beatle hairstyles),  and pony tails for the girls, levis, tennis shoes, white tee shirts and sunglasses, and sometimes a leather jacket to express that cool.

Most of us grew up in larger families consisting of four or more children.

Generation X: This group is those born between 1960 and the early 1980’s. Some of them are offspring of Boomers.  It is a generation who is said to have a world-view that is based on change . . . having the need to combat corruption . . . dictatorships . . . and abuse.  It is described as “a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom.”  This generation is said to have a strong desire for stability . . . love . . . tolerance . . . and human rights . . . for all.

This is the MTV generation . . . who experienced the emergence of . . . music videos . . . new-wave music . . . electronic music . . . and of all things . . . Rap – whatever the heck that crap is!

Gen X is a more heterogeneous generation than any generation before . . . and openly acknowledges and embraces social diversity in terms of such characteristics as race . . . class . . . religion . . . ethnicity . . . culture . . . language . . . gender identity . . . and sexual orientation.

Per the 2010 Census, Gen X holds the highest education levels of any generation in history.  Gen X is described as highly educated . . . active . . . balanced . . . happy . . . and family-oriented.

Studies reveal that in “real dollars” the men of Gen X, at 34 years-of-age, made less money than did their dads in 1974 at the same 34 years-of-age (12% less).  This reversed the trend that every generation had been better off than the previous generation.  Studies also show that per year increases in household income generated by father/sons has slowed from an average of .9% to .3%, barely keeping pace with inflation.  Those studies indicate that Gen X will need to make several career changes throughout their work life due to the chaotic nature of the job market following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008.  Jeff Gordinier, in his book, “X Saves the World: . . . How Gen X got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking” (2009) has some things to say about the economic conditions being handed to Gen X.

Gen X has seen some significant societal changes that have been accelerated by the use of smart phones, social media, mobile computing, and a large range of other new technologies.  This group survived the Y2K scare along with a group of other end-of-the-world-predictions.

Gen Y (also referred to as Milennials):  This group is those who were born 1982 to 2004. It is also called Gen WE . . . Global Gen . . . Gen Next . . . and Gen Net . . .  Milennials are also called Echo-Boomers.  “Echo Boomers” . . . is used because some of this group’s characteristics are said to be both confident and tolerant, like those of the Boomers, but also because of the generation’s size as compared to that of the Boomer’s size.  Other characteristics of the generation are said to be:  having a sense of entitlement and narcissism.  They are also called, “Trophy Kids” . . . a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports, as well as in other areas, where mere participation is sufficient for reward.

This is a generation that has been greatly influenced by 9/11, and the social and political changes that have been impacted by that event.  It has also been impacted, by the persistent economic difficulties of the time whose results have been: increases in youth poverty . . . unemployment . . . and the number of them who have had to continue living with parents.  The economy and high unemployment conditions, which played right into and contributed to Occupy Wall Street and similar movements and left an impression on these kids.  This generation’s perceived penchant for delaying some rites of passage into adulthood . . . is proving longer than all of the generations before them (e.g. living at home with parents longer than any other generation).  In spite of that, 97% of them own a computer  . . . 94% of them own a cell phone . . . 58% own an MP3 player . . . over 50% speak with a parent on average of 1.5 times per day . . . 76%  use Instant Messenger . . . 92% multi-task while using IM . . . 40% get their news from TV,  . . . while 34% use the internet as their news source.

This is the first generation to have grown up with a computer in the home . . . to have had 250+ TV channels . . . and social media constantly available.  This generation is greatly absorbed in social media.

I am not sure where we, as a culture, are heading with all of this, but I am just amazed at what I have seen over recent years.  The technological advances are just mind-boggling.  You can buy new technology (smart phone, computers, electronic devises, etc.) and it is pretty much outdated before your check clears the bank.  Recent studies have shown that human knowledge has doubled in recent years.  Here are some mind boggling stats about what has been going on around us:

. . . There are over 12 billion searches on Google each month;

. . . There are more texts sent in a day than there are people alive on the planet;

. . . The size of our vocabulary has grown more in the past 20 years that it had in the previous 500 years; 

. . . It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million people;

. . . It took 13 years for TV to reach 50 million people;

. . . It took 4 years for the internet to reach 50 million people;

. . . It took 2 years for Face Book to reach 50 million people; and

. . . It took 1 year for Google + to reach 50 million people.

The young guys ought to realize that it hasn’t always been like this . . . and us old guys ought to realize that it is like this today AND technology won’t disappear, and if we want to stay in the game, we have to get busy . . . or it will pass us by.  Now, here is the really amazing part . . . they tell us we haven’t seen anything yet! Whew 

But here is something even more amazing, startling, and overwhelming than all of this change we have seen . . .

Astrologers tell us there are over 150 billion stars in the Milky Way . . . and that just last year a new galaxy was discovered that is 5.7 million light years away from us and it that produces more stars in one day than the Milky Way does in a year.  Here is the point of 5.7 million light years . . . it means that it takes 5.7 million times the amount of time it would take light to get there . . . traveling at the rate of speed of light (186,282 miles per second) for an entire year . . . now that is mind-boggling!

You want to hear something really cool? Jesus not only created all of those stars . . . He has numbered each one of them . . . and amazingly, He calls every one of them by name . . . whew, there ain’t nobody like Jesus!

Now, here is something really cool for you . . . He knows your name, too!

Do you know that He promised that He would come back?  I am looking forward to that great event . . . and you can be certain that He is coming back . . . He always keeps His word . . . just like He keeps all of those stars up there.  He is coming back . . . and it will happen faster than the speed of light!  Are you ready?


The Guy in the Story . . .

Have you ever read or heard about someone in a life story and you so related to the individual that you could see yourself?  I did that very thing this morning!

Several years back I read about a young doctor who had bought a retiring doctor’s rural medical practice.  His first patient was a really spry fellow of about 80 years-of-age who was there for a physical for life insurance.  The doc marveled as he examined the man and asked him, “How old are you?” The fellow told the doc. The doc was amazed and asked, “What is your secret to such good health?”  The man replied, “I have been walking five miles a day for the past 50 years.”  The doc was shocked and asked, “What do you do when it rains?”  The old guy chuckled and said, “Why, I wear a rain slicker!”

Some months back, I made a commitment to exercise daily . . . and have done a really good job of keeping that commitment.  This morning as Sandy was leaving for school I slipped into my swim suit and headed to the pool.  As I walked to the pool, it began to rain.  I started to turn around and head back, and it occurred to me that it is just water, so I got into the pool and got in a great work out.  It was actually kind of fun.

There are several things I am glad I have been faithful to in my life . . . and there have been great rewards in each of those areas.  I have been faithful to make my marriage work . . . and 41 years with my sweet Sandy has been a great reward.  I was faithful to be a dad to my kids . . . and to hang around and do my job and be part of their lives . . . my reward is that I have two great kids who love me today and show proper respect . . . I truly enjoy and appreciate both.  I made a commitment to teach a special Sunday school class about 20 years back . . . and there have been so many rewards (blessings) I can’t even name them . . . but a few are: I have met some wonderful people who have helped me along the road, and perhaps I have been able to help them a bit too; I have learned a great deal from them about having dignity and faith during hard times; and as a result of the time and effort to prepare to teach each week, I am a better Bible student . . . and that is a good thing.

I wish I had been more like the fellow in the story about physical fitness and exercise in my younger years, but I am on the road now and I am beginning to feel and see the benefits.

Be well, my friends . . . Exercise!


Time and Uncertainty

Time and uncertainty frequently play a significant part in the success or failure in life.  Our culture often describes that as “luck” . . . either good-luck or bad-luck.  Solomon attributed both time and change to God.

Circumstances had caused my friend to lose his really great job.  He cried as he told me that the only job he could find was as a janitor in the county courthouse.  I went to work with him that night and helped him clean the courthouse.  As we took our dinner break, I told my friend that there was nothing for him to be embarrassed about . . . he was doing honest work and providing for his family . . . and there was honor in that.  But I also told him if he was still doing it five years later that I was going to kick him in the seat of the pants!

In Ecclesiastes 9:11, Solomon reflected on the observations of his lifetime and concluded that life can be unpredictable . . . and that success is not guaranteed, even if it is expected.  The fastest athlete does not always win the race . . . sometimes the fastest simply stumbles and loses.  I think this year’s NBA Finals was that very thing . . . the best team stumbled and lost.

Unpredictable weather conditions or a commander’s foolish decision can cause a superior military force to lose a battle to a weaker army.  I doubt there is a better illustration of this truth than the Battle of New Orleans, in January, 1815; a battle which pitted a crack British army of 10,000 troops up against a hodgepodge American force of 4,000.  The British soldiers were seasoned veterans of England’s victorious war against Napoleon’s French forces.  Some of the “redcoats” had also recently taken part in the sack and burning of Washington, D. C.  Meanwhile, most of the Americans had never served together in battle.  Few of them were professional soldiers, or for that matter even had combat experience . . . they had assembled solely for the defense of this pivotal port city and a young nation they loved.

The Battle of New Orleans stands as one of the most lop-sided victories (or defeats) in history.  After suffering nearly 4,000 casualties, including its commanding general, the British army was forced to retreat.  The Americans had only eight soldiers killed and 13 wounded.  That battle certainly didn’t go to the strong that day.

We like to believe that a good education and work ethic ensures success . . . and they generally do, but, as the recession take its toll on workers we see situations of downsized moms and dads with advanced degrees having to turn to churches or government-assistance programs to feed their families.

Solomon continued on and used the illustration of fish caught in a net and birds caught in a trap. Sometimes life can cause us to feel like that.  It is good to remember in those times . . . that there ain’t nobody like God . . . and He has His big, powerful hand on us!  That is not very good grammar, but it is wonderful theology.

Troubles come . . . and troubles go . . . it is all part of the rhythm of life, but that does not define who we are.  Solomon’s dad, David, was a pretty savvy dude himself.  After a life filled with mountains and valleys, his conclusion was, “and surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . .”

An old dog . . . learning new tricks . . .

I have been working in the multi-family housing business for about 40 years.  I have worn many different hats over the years and have traveled extensively in my work.  I often say that there is not a town with a population of 50,000 in the Unites States that I have not stood on a platform and talked with a group of folks about multi-family housing.  I believe that is accurate . . . from Puerto Rico to Anchorage and from L. A. to New York.

I really enjoy what I do . . . and I believe that I do it pretty well.  It provides me with many opportunities to help people . . . some with jobs, others with a roof over their heads, and still others to learn how to perform their jobs in a more professional manner.  I have met many people in my business; I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly . . . and there is an ample supply of each!

I am amazed at how technology has impacted me and my business.  Today, we use machines to tell us more in five minutes about people who want to work for us . . . or live in one of our apartments . . . than we could have discovered in five years before.  We can find out all sorts of information . . . such as where they have lived for the past 20 years, where they have worked, who they paid and who they didn’t pay, any trouble they may have had with the law, and if they have ever used an alias (you would be surprised to see how many people still do this today).  We use computers every day now and act like they have been around forever.  We all have smart phones and communicate by texts and email!

This year I am learning two more new tricks . . . and I really do like them both.  Here they are:

Advertising . . . we started out advertising by hiring kids to put info sheets under windshield wipers of cars at the market (we discovered they threw them away).  We also used newspaper ads.  Today, we use an internet service to advertise . . . and we have a great web site.  We have had amazing success with both!  This year we purchased our first billboard space!   In spite of still spending quite a bit of money on newspaper advertising, I can’t remember the last time someone said, “I am here because I saw your ad in the paper.”  I suspect newspapers are on their way out in this new world.

Newsletter . . . Just this week we subscribed to a professional service for newsletters for our residents (Resident News).  We had to take about an hour-long training class by telephone in front of the computer and we are up and running. We can make it as personal as we wish, or we can simply allow Adam Cherry and the good folks at Resident News to do the newsletter generic, but even then it will still have quite a bit of property-specific info which we provide in the set up.  The service has a huge library for us to make selections from . . . and some really good clip-art that can be selected and used.  It is really good stuff!  We do what we want, then submit it on-line, Resident News prints it and sends the pack directly to the property by UPS.  How cool is that?

Making Sense of Life

Life is beautiful . . . but life can also become confusing and even quite complex and frightening. Borrowing an expression from sports-car advertising, life can go from “wonderful” to “confusing” . . . in under 10 seconds!

My Sunday school class, along with many other Southern Baptists Churches using the Lifeway Sunday school study material, has been in a summer series entitled, “Making Sense of Life.” The study has focused on the books of: Job and Ecclesiastes.  The study has been really good.

Before the study, when I heard something about Job, I would often recall the old expression, “the patience of Job.”  That was how I generally associated Job’s experience to life . . . and in life.  I simply viewed him as a really good guy from history who had a bunch of really bad stuff happen to him, but he just remained patient through the process; and because of his patience, everything finally worked out okay for him.  I suspect most other folks have looked at it like that.

When I heard something about Ecclesiastes, I would recall the old expression, “There is a time to live and a time to die . . . a time to laugh and a time to cry . . . etc.”  I suspect most other folks have done the same thing.

Actually, both of these books are much deeper and far different than those quotations suggest.  In truth, Job was not really all that patient as he struggled to understand the subject of human suffering and wrestled over the age-old question about people “always” being rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad behavior.  Solomon, stated his purpose for writing Ecclesiastes (1:13), was that he was seeking to discover the highest good in life.  Both books are about life . . . and are wonderful, God-inspired, and available to help us make sense of life when it makes that drastic change from beautiful . . . to confusing, as it sometimes does.

Solomon reported that he had gone to great lengths to find meaning and purpose in life.  He said that he tried pleasure, wisdom, relationships, and wealth; and discovered that in themselves, these could not give ultimate fulfillment.  His conclusion about human life . . . after his in-depth study, was as follows:

“When all has been heard . . . the conclusion of the matter is: Fear God and keep His commandments. Because this is for all humanity.”   Ecclesiastes 12:13                                                    

NOTE:      When I read of a person’s study, I want to know something of his qualifications and what all the study consisted of.  There have been very few people (if any) in history who ever had the time, knowledge, and resources to conduct such an in-depth study on the subject of meaning and purpose as did Solomon.  Consider Solomon’s qualifications as the researcher on this study: 1. God himself said that He had gifted Solomon to be the wisest person who ever lived; 2.  He was also amongst the wealthiest to have ever lived (it took 15 verses in the bible to describe his wealth); 3. As the most prosperous King of his era, he had unlimited exposure to anything . . . and everything . . . in any measure . . . which a human might call pleasure; and 4. In regard to experience with relationships . . . who in history could compare to this man who had 300 wives and 700 live-in girlfriends? He likely put the “relationship experience bar” . . . up to a level that will never be matched again.

Job discovered that the answer to his problem . . . was faith in God!

The study of Job, of course, included the on-going debate Job had with his friends.  Those friends held a harsh doctrine of exact retribution and were convinced that Job had done something bad and was getting what he deserved.  Job argued that was not the case at all.  As Job endured his “friends” efforts to help him, he made great leaps in his faith.  The friends’ arguments and accusations served as a catalyst for Job’s spiritual development.  Finally, Job discovered that the answer to his problem was: he didn’t have sufficient faith in God!

Solomon concluded that human life is weak and transient and God’s sovereign actions are beyond human ability to change; therefore, one should leave control of one’s destiny to God . . . and just enjoy His blessings.  We certainly saw the truth of that play out in Job’s story.

One of the wonderful new tools technology has made available to us in recent years is the G P S . . . Global Positioning System.  I like that thing . . . well, most of the time.  Over the summer, Sandy and I have had to make numerous trips into some the busiest areas of San Antonio, oftentimes during rush-hour traffic.  As we would leave home, I would enter the address in the GPS and set the route.  It is an amazing tool, but in spite of knowing that, there are times when I would feel the route was unfamiliar . . . and even uncomfortable . . . and unknown.  There were several times when I was tempted to turn off the GPS . . . and just go my own way.  But I had the good sense to stick with it (and when I didn’t, Sandy did and told me to knock it off) and each time I discovered that it had once again . . . brought me by the very best route.  The technology in the GPS saw a bunch of stuff that I could not see; it knew stuff that I could not know.

As I thought about Solomon’s conclusions, I began to think about the real G P S . . . the G P S that is far and away beyond any human technology . . . God’s Positioning System!  It may, indeed, take us on a route that may well prove to be uncomfortable . . . unfamiliar . . . and unknown.  The Bible records the stories of many who have gone before us and shines its light on how uncomfortable many of their journeys became (Daniel in the lion’s den; Abraham, the friend of God with a knife in his hand and his son Isaac laying on a sacrifice altar; Moses with his back to the Red Sea, a formidable Egyptian army bearing down upon him, and two-million crybabies whining all around him, just to name a few).

But the promise and testimony of Scripture is that God’s positioning of those before . . . and us at this moment in time . . . is that there are certain assurances.  Here are a few such assurances: 1. We are never alone; 2. His positioning us is all part of His master plan; 3. all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28); and 4. Trouble and struggles may come in life . . . but “surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life.”

After this study, my conclusion is: My present situation (whatever it may be at any particular moment in life) . . . is simply that . . . it is only a situation . . . it is not my destination.  It is comforting to remember that God is in control . . . and that He has His big, strong hand on me . . . and He is ordering my steps, is directing my stumble, and is controlling my fall.

From looking at the champions of the Scriptures and their records, we can know that God is not going to direct us around the stress of life, that He may not calm the storm, but that He will develop us through the process.  He is far more interested in where we are going . . . than in where we have been.  He is also more concerned about what happens in us . . . than He is about what He can do for us.

Knowing this truth offers the opportunity to live without fear or apprehension.  Perhaps that was part of what Jesus meant when He said, “. . . and the truth shall set you free.”

If we can get it all in the right context, it really does make a great deal of sense.  Heaven is a prepared place . . . for a prepared people!  The truth is we wouldn’t have a clue how to prepare for Heaven; therefore, it is really good that God takes the time to prepare us and get us ready.  This perspective certainly helps make sense of life’s mountains and valleys, struggles, tensions, and turmoil . . . in the midst of all the blessings. 


The kid trying to sell his basketball

It has been several years ago that I met and became friends with Jacob. It all started late on the afternoon of the 4th of July. My family has always made a pretty big deal out of celebrating Independence Day. Perhaps it was the crowd and the cars that attracted Jacob. We had a houseful of family and friends over . . . we were just finishing up with a back-yard cook-out and preparing to take Aftermath out for the fireworks show at Key Allegro.  One of the guys approached me and said that there was a kid in the driveway wanting to sell his basketball.

Surprised at his comment, I walked out to the driveway and sure enough there was a tall, lanky bi-racial kid with a really large, unshaped afro standing in the driveway.  The kid was bouncing a tired-looking old, badly, abused and discolored basketball.  I smiled at the kid and introduced myself.  He accepted my handshake and returned my smile.  I asked him if he had eaten and invited him into the back yard for a burger (I can always spot a hungry kid). He quickly accepted the invite and introduced himself as Jacob.  As I fixed him a burger, he asked me if I wanted to buy his basketball!  Trying not to act too surprised, I casually asked him how much he wanted for the basketball.  He thought about it for a couple of minutes as he munched his burger, and said, “How about $25?”  I suspected his situation had to be pretty serious for him to be trying to sell his basketball.  I asked Jacob where he lived and he told me.  His house was not too terribly far away, but it was in an older area.

After Jacob had eaten his fill, I excused myself from my guests and we agreed on the time to meet at Aftermath.  I drove Jacob home and pulled in front of his house (photo above). As we pulled up, two older boys who I later learned were Jacob’s older brothers, came out to see who was in front of their house.  As we climbed out of the car, one of the kids hurried inside the house.  In a moment, a woman of about 30 years-of-age (but as she got closer she quickly began to look much older) came outside. It was obvious she had made some really bad choices and had lived pretty hard.  I introduced myself and she quickly asked, “What did he do?” . . . obviously convinced he was guilty of some indiscretion.  I told her how I had come to meet Jacob and asked if I might help their family.  She reached across the fence and grabbed a hold him so fast that neither of us saw it coming.  Jacob let out a squeal and she yelled at him, “Why do you embarrass me like this?”  He replied, “Mom, I am hungry and there is no food in the house.”

I excused myself and told Jacob that I was glad to be friends with him.  That night I thought a great deal about Jacob and his family.  The next day I went by HEB and bought a gift card and delivered it to their house.  As I knocked on the door, I looked around and remembered some really hard times as a kid growing up . . . desperately wanting more for my family, but knowing that not much was going to change anytime soon.  I could really identify with Jacob.  Our situation was not caused by the same things as that which had caused Jacob’s family’s circumstances, but it was still just kids wanting and hoping for something better from life.

His mom answered the door and I told her about the gift card.  I told her that I had grown up in a large, lower-income family and the Lord had blessed me financially, but He also blessed me by not letting me forget where I started in life.  She was pretty cool about it, but I could sense that my presence was troubling for her.

I got to see Jacob and talk with him a few times afterward.  I told him about my own childhood and assured him that kids can escape life at the lower level by doing a good job in school and getting an education.  I told him how I had made a shoe-shine box and shined shoes as a kid, how I had sold newspapers, did yard work, and helped out at home with the money I earned. I also told him about God having a plan for every boy and girl and encouraged him to strive to discover God’s plan for his life.

A few weeks later, as I drove past one day I noticed that the house Jacob had lived in was now vacant.  I don’t have a clue what became of Jacob and his family . . . they just seemed to have vanished into thin air.  Sandy and I both wonder about them from time to time as we pass by that old house and we talk about them.  I remind myself to pray for Jacob and family and hope that the Lord puts some folks along the way to water the seeds I tried to plant.

Who knows . . . I may look up someday and see Jacob playing in the NBA.  Crazier things have happened.  But better yet, I may someday see Jacob in Heaven.