Competence vs. Incompetence

I had to send an important document to Austin this week and I needed to know that it would be where I needed and at the proper time.  When one has such a delivery need in the Austin area, there is only one real choice . . . Fed Ex!  It is unbelievable how bad the post office can mess that up . . . I have been there and done that.  In fact, I had to put a stop-payment order on an employee’s pay check (right outside of Austin) back in March . . . and that check still has not shown up six months later!   I called Fed Ex this morning, gave them my tracking number, and instantly was told where my envelope was at that second . . . and the time it would arrive at its destination!  That is just amazing . . . that worldwide group handles such a heavy volume . . . yet can track one small envelope . . . in seconds.  That is competence in action!

Then we have the Federal government . . . In all of its boasting glory.  I recall one agency managed to lose a dozen 18-wheelers hauling cases of bottled water during Hurricane Katrina and couldn’t find them for days . . . now, that is simply . . . incompetence!  But the incompetence of government doesn’t end there!

It was 12 years ago that 19 members of Al-Qaeda hijacked and crashed four American commercial jets in what would be the largest terrorist attack in American history.  Each one of those terrorists had entered the U. S. legally, after having been granted a U. S. Visa.  A nosey press, under the Freedom of Information Act, later discovered that 15 of the 19 Visa applications contained red flags . . . red flags that should have caused the Visas to be denied.  Moreover, it was also discovered that several of the terrorists had crossed the radar screen of some law-enforcement agency or intelligence service.  Something that raised red flags about them . . . but in each case, incompetence, bureaucracy, or a combination of the two prevented our officials from doing anything . . . and they failed to follow up.

As a result of that tragedy, the government laid a huge financial burden on the American people . . . and spent huge amounts of money on law enforcement and built a national security state unlike anything in human history.  In fact, the public is just beginning to discover some of the capabilities.

Yet, here we are . . . once again alarmed about the failure of our system to prevent another mass murder . . . one that could have been prevented . . . and one that should have been prevented.  In spite of all of the data gathering power and apparatus that has been created within the government, a division of the government was unable to deny the security clearance of a psychotic mass murder . . . one of their own rank . . . and, once again, they knew a great deal about him!

There was another mass shooting this week . . . this time at the Washington Naval Yard.  Twelve innocent people lost their lives, and as the story unfolds it screams out, once again . . . incompetence.  The details about the man, his history, and his rampage raises a serious question, “How did this nut manage to get and keep a security clearance?  Here is some of the dude’s history that is being learned:

. . . He had been arrested for shooting out the tires on his neighbor’s car;

. . . He had been arrested for shooting through the floor of his apartment at a noisy neighbor;

. . . He was nearly discharged from the Navy for a “patter on misconduct”; and

. . . He had called the police in Rhode Island and reported that he was hearing voices and that “some men were using some sort of microwave machine to send vibrations into his body that keep him from sleeping.”  The hometown, simple police department alerted the Navy of this . . . while the dude was serving in the Navy Yard as a contractor.

The information about him was not difficult information to locate.  The news networks found it immediately.  While it is tragic, it is not new . . . remember—just about the same thing happening at Fort Hood?

But you can be sure that the government will come up with something creative to excuse its failure, just as it has with the others throughout history . . . but the truth of the matter is that it is just plain old common: Incompetence (with a terribly high price) . . . and these screwballs think they can manage our health care system?

It seems to me . . . the smart move would be to fire them all . . . each and every one . . . and hire Fed Ex to run the Country!  We could save a bunch of money, and get the job done!

 


Today is Abigayle Grace’s birthday (Abi)

A year ago today, our family was changed in a wonderful way; Chris and Sarah had a beautiful baby girl—and Ali had a little sister!

This morning as I looked at Facebook, I saw a post around 5 a.m. from Chris saying that a year ago, he was excitedly getting dressed and headed to the hospital, and later that morning Abi was born and the proud dad said, “I fell in love.”  I cried a bit as I read his post, and commented, “That is a love that will last for a lifetime.”

So here she is . . . a big one-year-old little girl! She is walking, jabbering, has a few teeth, and her own personality.  She is the sweetest baby I have ever seen. She is alert and happy and grins most of the time.  She loves to blow kisses.

Happy birthday, precious girl!  Your old Pappy thanks God for you and Ali every day and asks Him to watch over you both.  I wish there was some way you could know how dearly you are loved and adored!

Change

It sometimes seems that the only change that we warm up to easily is when it is in the context of money being returned back after we handed over more than the exact price for something purchased.  Unfortunately, other than that we are inclined to resist change in pretty much every area of life.  That is unfortunate because oftentimes change offers new opportunities and can make things better.  There are many instances of change that can be healthy:

Most of us could shed a few pounds;

Most of us could improve on our social skills;

Most of us ought to work on being a better neighbor;

Some of us ought to work on being a better employee; and

All of us should work on being better Christians.

But, in every area that we need to work, improve, and benefit, a change is required, and that is where we seem to struggle.  To shed the pounds, we have to push away from the table and exercise; to improve in our social skills requires that we learn some new things and that we change some old things.

My pal, Zach McKinney, is a bright young guy who is in a management/leadership position for Chevron.  Zach texted me yesterday saying that he is being required to read a book about “managing change.”  He said that the book pointed out that every change has three (3) parts and identified them as follows:

  1. What you are doing must stop;
  2. Migration from old to new; and
  3. What you are going to do has to start.

As I thought about Zach’s text, I recalled that time in my own life when I, like Zach, was a bright-eyed young professional in management and leadership and I had to learn about change . . . the need for it . . . and the struggle humans seem to have with change.  The reflection made me chuckle and it occurred to me that over the past 30+ years, I have taught seminars all across the Nation.  An important part of each seminar was trying to help and motivate managers to know how . . . and to be willing . . . to take new information and systems back home and implement them. In other words, to change what they had been doing . . .  

At that time in my life I was privileged to work with some of the brightest minds in the multi-family housing industry in the United States.  We were all about the same age and hooked up with a new 501(c)3 created under an Executive Order issued by President Nixon . . . the National Center for Housing Management (NCHM), Washington, D.C.  The Center was being led by a very bright fellow from Alabama named Roger Stevens.  Roger knew nothing about multi-family housing (except that it needed drastic change) . . . but he probably knew more about people than any person I have ever known.  Roger was a terrific people-person and he greatly influenced us. Prior to becoming the President of NCHM, Roger had been Director of Personnel for Polaroid Corp and worked directly with Dr. Land, who was also said to have been a very bright man and great people-person.  Together, Roger and Dr. Land developed some wonderful tools and systems for working with the thousands of employees of Polaroid.  Roger shared a great deal of that with us, and you can bet that every one of us realized how blessed we were to get to learn in this system, from this guru. We were learning and helping to develop profession management systems for the affordable housing program (which we would soon go across the nation teaching and helping to implement). The program was being administered by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  It was no secret that: (1) the program was in serious trouble all across the nation; (2) the government didn’t have a clue how to fix it; (3) it was extremely expensive for the taxpayers; and (4) in spite of the great sum of money being expended, it simply was not empowering poor families to live better . . . It has just become a concentration of socially and economically deprived people living in large numbers in small areas.  Even sadder, in so many areas it made those poor families become easy prey for criminals, and the projects became much like prisons.

I remember a late night think-tank session in early 1976, in which I really began the real process, personally and professionally, of thinking about change.  We were at the Center and had ordered pizza to be delivered.  As always, the conversation turned to our constant group focus of what could we do to facilitate change in this terribly broken system?  Roger told us about World War II . . . I recall him saying that the USA was both reluctant and late in engaging in the war . . . and the outcome might have been drastically different if not for the genius of a four-star General, known as Vinegar Joe Stilwell.   He was said to have had a caustic personality (hence Vinegar) and he was distrustful of our allies.  Yet, he showed himself to be a capable and daring tactician in the field.  Due to a constant lack of resources, he was constantly forced to improvise.  Based on his struggle, the General developed a 5-step process to facilitate change . . . and the result was so powerful, it changed the war and brought victory.  General Stilwell’s 5-step program was:

  1. Here is what the enemy is doing (an educated assessment of the enemy’s activity);
  2. Here is what we are doing (an honest assessment of our activity);
  3. Here is what we are going to do (a solid battle plan);
  4. Here is how we are going to do it (detailed steps); and
  5. This is the time-frame for us to do it (a reasonable time for each step . . . objectives not met by that time and date suggest that revision is in order with a new time/date).

We sat there wowed at the simplicity of the plan . . . yet also in awe of the genius in it.  Just to help you see the power involved in one of the steps: Dad says to his son, “You need to carry the trash out.”  Two hours later he repeats it, and then two hours later he repeats it again, while each time the son politely replies, “Yes sir.”  How long can that game continue?  What does it teach the son?

The dad thinks about it overnight.  The next morning he says to the son, “You can’t have breakfast until the trash is carried out.”  The kid sniffs the aroma of bacon and grabs the trash bag and heads out, and is back 3 minutes later and the dad smiles and says, “Thank You.”  No fuss, no squabble, and no hurt feelings.  Everyone wins and the kid learns something of the reward of obedience.  The timeline made all the difference.  I can’t even count the times I have told a tenant that they had to get rid of an unauthorized pet, or remove an inoperable vehicle from the parking lot only to be politely told, “Yes sir, I will get it done,” but a month later nothing had changed!  Once I gave him a written notice that said, “If you have not done this by Friday at 5 p.m., then we will do it for you and will send you a bill.  It is just genius . . . IRS has been doing it to us with April 15th for years.  Our compliance is not because we are fond of April 15th . . . nor is it because we love IRS . . . or that we enjoy paying taxes.  The IRS has done a really good job of educating taxpayers of the consequences of failure to comply.

In that session, we developed a wonderful system of our own.  It is simply called the Quad-System for Change, and it begins at the same place where God began to address the sin problem of humanity . . . with a Cross!  Here is the sketch:

Statement of the Problem

(A brief/honest assessment of the situation)

Desired Condition

(What is it that we want it to be?)

Cause(s)

(What got it in this situation?)

Steps we will take to produce the desired change . . . and the time-frame for it

This simple Quad-System for Change has been very beneficial and valuable to me in my life.  It has enabled me to solve many problems throughout my career, helped me in my family, in my relationships, and in my personal struggle to become who I am supposed to be.

Change really can be good . . . it honestly can open new doors . . . and bring new opportunities. Here is what we can always know . . . there will always be a river to cross (a problem/a challenge) . . . there will always be giants on the other side . . . yet, there will also be milk and honey.

What about the projects?  It is still a work in progress . . . but it is getting better.  Just a few of the things we have been able to influence and accomplish are:

Following Desert Storm, we worked with DOD and did a series of training seminars at Marine Base Quantico for guys coming out of the special-forces (Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs) and taught them the necessary skills to manage a project.  We held job fairs to help several hundred of those dudes to get jobs at the inner-city projects.  After we spent 6-weeks with each class, we were convinced that the military had already prepared them to deal with the criminals that want to prey on poor residents.

We have had some influence in helping to get legislation passed . . . legislation that encouraged and rewarded private investors and firms to get involved and help solve the problems (Section 42 LIHTC).  It is amazing what this has been able to be accomplished in places like NYC, Boston, Atlanta, LA, Houston, Chicago, and other large cities

We have been able to influence and help increase performance standards . . . and to connect financial reward/penalty to performance at the local level

We have had great influence in empowering residents to serve on boards having oversight of the projects they occupy.  We conducted many seminars to prepare these residents to step up and become watchdogs.  When 20 residents of a project show up at a JP court to tell the JP that John Brown needs to get out of the project, it carries some weight

We have also had influence in tearing down many inner-city ghettos, and relocating the residents to smaller complexes in outlying areas, which allowed cities to clean up eye-sores that were full of crime and turn the site into high-dollar downtown property.  We saw great success in so many areas.  San Juan, Puerto Rico comes to mind as one the great successes in that effort.

If you want a glimpse of the struggles involved in public housing . . . do a Google search for Pruitt-Igoe, a project built in St. Louis in the mid 1950’s.  By the later 60’s the projects had become internationally famous for poverty, crime, segregation, and had proven to be the greatest social disaster in American history.  The criminals hung out on the roof of the hi-rise building, using appliances from the apartments for sport . . . trying to drop them onto pedestrians below.  It became so bad that the police, firemen, and ambulances would not even respond to emergency calls.

After months of preparation, the first building was demolished with an implosion at 3 p.m., on March 16, 1972.  The second one went down April 22, 1972.  Pruitt Igoe had consumed $57 million—an investment that could not be abandoned at one time.

 

 


One Person can Make a Difference

It is a fairly common thing for people to tell me, “Your wife is an amazing lady.”  It makes me happy that other people see her that way. The truth of it is that she is, indeed, an amazing lady. She is a school teacher. For several years she taught the “brightest and best” kids in the district (Gifted and Talented).  A few years back, she was asked to teach the “At-Risk” kids . . . kids who were at-risk of not graduating in four-years; kids the system has pretty much given up on.  I tried to discourage her from making that change, and was I ever wrong!  She told me, “Honey, I do enjoy the G & T kids, but the truth is that I can’t make any difference in those kid’s lives . . . they are going to be successful regardless who the teacher is; they are going to be successful in spite of me!  But the at-risk kids . . . I am confident that I can make a difference in some of their lives.”  Was she ever right!

Since she made that transition, I have become a student of the impact one person can make in a variety of situations.  Of course, it generally comes down to who that one person is . . . and the manner and approach.

A recent study of inner kids (at-risk kids) . . . discovered that all it takes to rescue such a kid is one adult in their life who cares.  That is what Sandy has done so well . . . she just has radar for the kids who are hurting and she zeros in on them.  As she loves and nurtures those hurting kids, the other kids take note and want to get in on the action.  Sandy bakes more birthday cakes than the bakery.  It is not unusual for an 18-year-old to tell her that this is his or her first birthday cake.  A common question asked is, “Can I save one piece of the cake, so I can take it home and show my family that my teacher really did bake me a birthday cake.”

Sandy is both a life-long learner and a life-long student.  That has motivated me to also continue to be a learner and a student.  We have different approaches . . . she delights in the classroom and academia.   I do much better as an independent learner and generally just read her textbooks while she is at school and do my own studies.  She ends up with a mess of initials around her name.  I have the reward of being able to hold an intelligent conversation with my educated bride.

One serious influence in Sandy’s life is that she and her siblings were raised by their dad; their mom was rarely ever in the picture.  Today as a PhD student, she is working on her dissertation, which is an in-depth study of “Students without Mothers.”  As she has discussed her research and discoveries with me, I decided to look at the flip side of the issue and look at the impact of kids without a dad in the home.  Here are some troubling statics’ that are out there:

. . . 25% of Caucasian kids are growing up in a home without a dad present;

. . . 50% of Hispanic kids are growing up in a home without a dad present;

. . . 75% of African-American kids are growing up in a home without a dad present;

. . . 63% of youth suicides occur in homes where the dad is not present;

. . . 90% of homeless and runaway kids come from a fatherless home;

. . . 85% of kids who exhibit behavioral problems come from a fatherless home;

. . . 71% of high school drop-outs come from fatherless homes; and

. . . 85% of all incarcerated youth come from fatherless homes.

It seems to me . . . that such troubling numbers scream out that there is a serious and unmet need within our culture . . . that we become involved and make a difference in someone’s life.  Are you making a difference in someone’s life?  You can . . . you should . . . it is a calling that we all share (it can be found on pretty much any page in the New Testament).  Here is a suggestion:

Identify a neighborhood kid living in a single parent home.  Invite that kid to go to Sunday school and Church with you and then to lunch afterward.  You might just be surprised at the results.

Indeed, one person can make a difference . . . a huge difference!

Thank you, Honey.  You make me be a better man.

Advice from an Old Farmer . . .

Your fences need to be horse-high . . . pig-tight . . . and bull-strong.

Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stumps.

A bumble-bee is a whole bunch faster than a John Deere tractor.

Words that soak into your ear . . . are whispered . . . never yelled.

Meanness . . . doesn’t jes’ happen overnight.

Forgive your enemies . . . it messes up their heads.

Never corner something . . . that you know is a lot meaner than you are.

It doesn’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You cannot unsay a cruel word.

Every path has a few puddles.

When you wallow with pigs . . . don’t be surprised if you get dirty.

The best sermons are not preached . . . they are lived.

Most of the stuff folks worry about . . . ain’t never gonna happen.

Don’t judge folks by their relatives.

Remember that silence just may be the best answer.

Live a good, honorable life . . . when you get old and look back over it . . . you can enjoy it a second time.

Don’t interfere with something that ain’t bothering you none.

Timing  . . . has a great deal to do with the outcome of a rain-dance.

When you find yourself in a hole . . . the first thing you ought to do . . . is stop digging.

Sometimes you get . . . sometimes you just get gotten.

Most likely the biggest troublemaker you will ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every morning. 

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Good judgment comes from experience . . . and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin’ the cat out of the bag . . . is a lot easier than putting that rascal back.

If you get to thinking you are a person of influence . . . try ordering someone else’s dog around.

Live simply . . . love generously . . . care deeply . . . speak kindly . . . and just leave the rest to God!

Never pick a fight with an old man . . . he might be too old to fight . . . and just shoot you.

Most times . . . it just gets down to common sense.

It seems to me . . . that old rascal is smarter than he looks!

Stay at home . . .and mind your own business

. . . was once upon a time considered sound advice and good policy.  It wasn’t always followed, but it was always prudent instruction.  I want to make it clear that I love the USA, but I am weary with the stupidity and foolishness of our elected representatives.

I am wondering why the good old USA has failed so miserably in this generation to heed that sound advice.  Why are we so prone toward globetrotting and sticking our nose into everything?  Why is it that our leaders feel so compelled to control events across the globe . . . and to manipulate others nations?  Who wants a neighbor or friend, for that matter, who behaves in such a manner?  I certainly do not, nor do I know anyone who does.  Nosey people, bossy people, control freaks, and meddling people . . . are just a pain in the neck and we find ourselves shuddering when we see them approach our door.  Nations are the same . . . and the truth is that we have a long history of failures in world events, and have a terrible history as a neighbor. There have been times in history when we should have done something because it was right . . . and we just failed to do so (e. g. the Holocaust).  Yet, there have been many times that we have stuck our nose in world events when we were wrong and would have done better to just have stayed home and looked after our own business.  It just makes me sick that our beloved Nation is so disrespected and even hated around the world . . . but I know exactly what has caused it.

Think about where we are at this moment in history and you will discover that this . . . is just such a time when we would do well to follow that instruction! At home, our economy is a wreck and a large percentage of our work-force is suffering as we have many (even those having advanced degrees) forced to turn to government-assistance programs and Churches to help feed their families because they are unable to find a job.  We see widespread dislike and distrust of our government and our respect for elected officials is at an all-time low.  In spite of all that, our nationally-elected representative are not trying to correct the situation and do what is right for the American People.

This is the early days of September, 2013, and there are only a few more days left in this Federal Fiscal year. The Congress has scheduled only 9-work days in September . . . and they are miles away from approving a budget and funding the federal government (just as they have for several years).  We see this same irresponsible and foolish cycle year after year . . . where failed financial policies and failed budget agreements . . . collide and are escalated into a crisis situation . . . which forces approval of some crazy emergency continuing resolution.  Even then, unknown to the people, attached to that emergency resolution, is a long list of crazy pork-barrel projects that are not needed and we simply can’t afford.

Our military is heavily involved in two nations, far from home . . . Iraq and Afghanistan.  Both are at great cost in lives, dollars, and sacrifice.  The really sad part this is that the American people don’t have a clue why we are there in those strange places, or why our people and resources are being used there.

In spite of all of that being true, this week the energy is being sucked out of our Nation’s Capital in a wild and crazy debate . . . a debate over us . . . once again sticking our big, homely nose into another nation’s civil way . . . this time in Syria.

Dark clouds are forming around the globe as this debate amongst our elected representatives continues over a possible military attack on Syria of all things!  It just seems that they don’t care what others around the world are saying, even worse, they are simply ignoring the American people who have been quite clear about any such action.  They are also disregarding reports from our own military leaders who warn that the budget battles, two wars, and the economy have left our military far stretched and weakened.  They have clearly said that any involvement in Syria would leave us unable to prevent a nuclear Iran.

The Administration alleges that on August 21, Syrian President, Bashan Assad, used chemical weapons against forces attempting to overthrow his administration and killed over 1,400 civilians.  However, much of the rest of the world claims that the major combat force of the Syrian rebels is part of Al Qaeda, the sworn enemy of the USA.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been Assad’s most powerful ally and has protected him through a series of UN security resolutions.  Putin has openly said that any military action against Syria without U.N. support would be illegal and viewed by Russia as “aggression.”  To add some muscle to his statements, Russia is sending a missile cruiser to the east Mediterranean Sea.  That ship, Moskva, will be joined by a destroyer from Russia’s Baltic fleet and a frigate from the Black Sea fleet.

Putin has openly and publicly called U. S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, a liar over Kerry’s denial of AL Qaeda-allied group’s involvement in the civil war.  The truth is that there have been people calling Secretary Kerry a liar for many years, and for a variety of reasons.  The greater truth is that it simply doesn’t matter who the rebel forces in Syria are . . . it is simply none of our business and we ought to butt out.

In spite of it all . . . just this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7 to authorize “limited use of US armed forces against Syria” . . . Good Grief, what are they thinking?

It just seems to me . . . that one of these day’s these folks might just get us into some really hot water.  I believe that we should stay home and take care of our own business for once, and Heaven knows that we do, in fact, have a great deal of unfinished business . . . business that is in desperate need of somebody’s attention.  I suspect that any involvement in that civil war in Syria might just be the . . . proverbial straw and the camel’s back.

Isn’t it just tragic that we have allowed wicked and foolish people to squander our precious resources with their foolishness and meddling?  We could have accomplished so much good in the world, and we could have been a true inspiration to small struggling nations.  It is actually quite sad.  It is also tragic that they just never learn.  It is the vicious cycle . . .

Solomon said, “It is all foolishness.”  From rural America it sure looks like foolishness to me!

 

Discipline . . . How important is it? Does it provide benefit? What is it, where does it come from, and how does it work?

Lately, I have been going to Charlie’s Place in Corpus Christi on Saturday nights.  I go there with a great group from my Church (FBC Rockport).  Charlie’s Place is a halfway house for folks struggling with addictions.  Last Saturday night I think a saw a glimpse of genius and a flicker of light.  I believe that one result is that I am coming to understand something really important and critical about us . . . and about life.  Let me explain . . .

Each week at Charlie’s Place, we identify the new group of hurting, struggling, and broken people who have arrived since our last visit.  We have a cool gift package we give them . . . it includes things that will help them.  In fact, our only purpose for going is to try and help them. One member of our group is a precious, 75-year-old retired beautician who is fighting cancer, but nonetheless, she goes and gives free haircuts.  Those folks are so hungry for any personal attention, they just flock to Mrs. Ruby and she cleans them up and loves on them.

One of the new guys this week was a young fellow . . . perhaps 29 – 30. Hard-living had etched itself into this young face.  As I visited with him, he suddenly burst into tears and grabbed my hand asking me to pray for his 5-year-old son, Nolan.  I asked him where Nolan was and if he was okay.  He said that Nolan was in San Antonio with his wife and yes, he was okay, but he just really missed his son.  I did pray for Nolan, and I also prayed for Nolan’s dad . . . I prayed that he would get/find what he needed and return to San Antonio and become the dad Nolan needed him to be and the husband Nolan’s mom needed him to become.  

As I thought about this hurting dad and how much he so obviously loved his little boy, it occurred to me that regardless of how powerful love is . . . it simply did not keep this young dad from messing up his life and hurting his young family.  After I have reflected on it some this week, it occurred to me that love is, indeed, the most powerful force in the universe . . . but that is only true when it involves God’s love.  His love is perfect and pure and all-powerful . . . but human love is not the same . . . and, sadly it does not have the same power.  The truth is that sometimes our love just hurts.  So I have been wrestling with the question this week of what is it that this desperate, young dad needs to go with his obvious love . . . to empower and enable him to overcome his struggle and get busy living and being Nolan’s dad?

It struck me that every person who walks through the doors of Charlie’s Place suffers from at least one thing they all have in common . . . that being that they simply have no discipline in their lives . . . and they never developed any discipline . . . or self-control . . . they are people who have just lived in the minute . . . and for the minute.  They failed to consider what their behavior did to anyone else . . . it was all about them and their undisciplined selves.

As I thought about discipline, it also occurred to me that we are living in a peculiar time when discipline is not a very popular subject . . . regardless if it is being applied to adults or kids.  Just ask any public school teacher . . . or policeman for that matter, about their experience relative to discipline.  Parents can be very defensive about their children in school.  Even when they are being told about the children’s behavior at school . . . and it is exactly the same behavior they are seeing at home . . . and find troubling.  But, rather than work with the teachers to help the child . . . the parent becomes negative . . . and removes any doubt about the source of child’s gene pool.

Tom Landry, the former great coach of the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, once said, “It is the job of a football coach to make players do what they are not inclined to do . . . so that they can achieve . . . what they have always wanted to achieve.”  Tom Landry was a man of great personal integrity, self-control and he was also a great achiever . . . all products of his great discipline.  As a former athlete himself, Landry knew that no team or individual could experience the joy of the winner’s circle, without first applying discipline . . . the discipline that is required to ever reach the championship level.  His talent and discipline took him from the small rural town of Mercedes, Texas, to New York City as a pro football player . . . and then made him a legendary NFL coach. 

The Scripture speaks often about discipline and addresses both the need and benefit of it being real in a Believer’s life.  The Apostle Paul wrote about it often . . . a couple of such instances that come to mind are 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and II Timothy 2:5.  In each passage, Paul, that self-disciplined, globe-trotting, itinerant, financially self-supporting, tent making evangelist from Tarsus, uses an athlete as an example to explain a principal of life, and explain that every athlete must exercise discipline and self-control in order to ever win a perishable reward . . . and to then illustrate the same truth that the Children of God must also exercise discipline and self-control to achieve an eternal reward.

Paul spoke of his own life . . . and faith . . . in terms of running a race.  He was not in the race simply to compete . . . according to Paul he was in the race . . . and he was ‘In it” to “win it.”  He fully understood that discipline was the key to that achievement.

Every great achiever . . . has an ever growing sense of discipline, but he or she was not simply born with it.  That sense of discipline is nurtured and developed.  Here is a cold, sad reality about ourselves . . . generally, our parents really wanted us to be amazing human beings, but sadly, many of us settled for something less . . . and did not develop the discipline that we needed to develop that greatness they desired for us.  Another reality that came into play was we had our parent’s blood and faced some of the same problems and struggles they had.

In this pluralistic and secular culture of today, the practical principles of prayer . . . persistence . . . perseverance . . . patience . . . and productivity have fallen into deep repute.  Yet, unfortunately, personal and private lives are being plagued by foolish pursuits of personal pleasure . . . where consequences are not contemplated . . . possible outcomes are not considered in advance . . . and folks, far too often, are driven by how things appear . . . by how things “feel.”  Many have the attitude that says, “if it is fun, I want to find it,” but too often fail to consider what the consequence(s) may be . . . and that, perhaps once they have found it and tried it and discovered that it was not fun . . . they may not simply be able to walk away and forget it.  Many things done without discipline . . . might just grow legs and follow one home!  History is full of such heart-breaking, family-destroying, life-shattering stories and examples.  I am reminded of the story about the traveling salesman who encountered a desirable lady one evening while he was on the road.  After a few drinks, he led her back to his hotel room.  The next morning, he discovered the note she had left . . . announcing that she had HIV.  How can one just walk away from that?

One reason that discipline is not being emphasized today as it once was, is because there a new mindset that has developed in this culture, and it seems that anything that appears too strenuous . . . too laborious . . . or unpleasant . . . is to be avoided at any and all cost.  As we look around, we see the desires in our culture running along the lines of . . .

Wealth . . . without work; success . . . without sacrifice; power . . . without prayer; health . . . without exercise and proper diet; friendship . . . without fellowship; blessings . . . without burdens; roses . . . without thorns; and crowns . . . without a cross.

But the Scripture teaches us, in so many ways, that discipline is the key to achievement.

Even Plato weighed in on the subject and said, “The first and best victory in life is to conquer yourself.”

So, the question begs to be asked and answered . . . “What is Discipline?” Well, first off, it is not punishment.  It is, rather a process by which one learns . . . a way of life. In fact, the words “discipline” and “disciple” come from the same grammatical root.  A disciple is a student, a learner, or an apprentice who learns a trade or craft from a Master or a craftsman. The caliber of learning requires that a relationship develop between the Master, who already knows the discipline, and the student who seeks, yearns, and needs to learn it.

In this relationship, the Master leads the student through a process . . . or discipline . . . until the student can imitate the Master . . . to live in the manner in which the Master lives . . . to emulate life as the Master lives it.

Thus, discipline . . . at its very core, is to train, or to instruct, and set the boundaries by which one is to live.  We all need discipline . . . because it forms the boundaries in which constructive habits and behaviors are formed and developed.  Ephesians 6:4 explains this reality to parents about the development of their children.

When a Master trains a student, it is for the purpose of enabling and empowering the student to one day become a master.  When a craftsman teaches an apprentice it is for the purpose of enabling and empowering the student to one day become a craftsman.  The purpose is never to punish, to harm, to control, to prevent . . . the purpose is always to develop.

Some simple examples of discipline and benefits:

If you want to have good, healthy teeth . . . you must practice and develop good dental hygiene.

If I pray for financial blessings . . . then, I have to get up off of my knees, and go out and find a job, go to work, build a budget, pay my tithes, and discipline my desires.

The truth is that anything I want, I must practice discipline. One writer put it like this:

“I asked God for strength . . . and He gave me struggles, which ultimately made me strong.

“I asked God for wisdom . . . and He gave me problems to solve, which ultimately made me wise.

“I asked God for prosperity . . . and He gave me brawn and a brain, so I could go to work.

“I asked God for courage . . . and He gave me dangers I had to face, and ultimately overcome.

“I asked God for love . . . and He surrounded me with hurting people . . . who needed my help.

“I asked God for favors . . . and He gave me nothing but opportunities.

“My conclusion is that I received from God . . . nothing that I asked for . . . but everything that I needed and hoped for.”

Are you disciplined?  Are there areas of life where you need to work on discipline?  Of course, there is for all of us . . . let the work begin. 

I know what I am going to talk to the folks at Charlie’s Place for the next few weeks.  Those struggling people need to develop some discipline in their lives.  Without discipline, they will never be able to overcome their struggles.  They will always be easy prey for the enemy.   Proverbs 25:28 says it quite well: “A person without self-control is in greater danger than a city with broken down walls.”

9/11

September 11th was always a happy and unusual day in my home as a boy.  I was one of 9 children (8 living), and we had a very interesting event relative to September 11th; we always believed it was unique. Our sweet Mama’s birthday is on September 13th.  She entered the hospital on Thursday, September 11th, and gave birth to a cute and healthy boy 61 years ago today, whom she named James Michael (later to be called Pete).  On Saturday, September 13th, (her birthday), she took James Michael home from the hospital to introduce him to his family.

A few years later, she once again entered a hospital on Friday, September 11th, and gave birth to another cute and healthy boy, who she named Billy Charles (later to be called Billo).  Then, again on her birthday, Sunday, September 13th, she took Billy Charles home to introduce him to his family.

The Melton family was never the same after these two brothers were born.  It could never be the same again after these guys joined the family.  September 11th was always a pretty special day for us.

Then, on that fateful day in 2001, the United States and the world in general, was changed in a way that can never be undone.  It was on September 11th, that we witnessed and experienced a level of hate and ugliness that most of us never dreamed existed . . . certainly not against us . . . for Pete’s sake, we are Americans!  We have come to the rescue of so many nations who found themselves in trouble; we have sent food around the globe to feed hungry people; we have built hospitals and children’s  homes; we have sent missionaries across the globe to tell hurting people that God loves them; and then we built churches and taught them to worship God.  We bravely stood for those who could not stand for themselves.  How on earth could they not love us?

It was on 9/11 that we got an education in reality and we were reminded that we live in a troubled and dangerous world and we are not the chosen of earth as we once presumed.  We learned, brutally, that we have many enemies around the world, and we have been reminded almost daily.

We are reminded in a new and painful way every year on 9/11.  It once was a happy day for me. I love my brothers and rejoice over their births, lives, and families, but I hurt for my country.  The world has changed in a dramatic way and, tragically, fear has become a part of life for many Americans.

God help us!

Are things looking up in the Economy?

A guy called today to ask this question . . . he was seeking advice and said he is thinking about a possible investment.  How would you have answered the question? 

We are told that more than 3 million U. S. borrowers have risen above water on their mortgages so far in 2013.  That accomplishment is attributed to “a swift home price appreciation” according to an online real estate company, Zillow.  We are told that the negative home equity rate fell in the 2nd quarter of this year . . . the fifth straight quarterly drop.  That is good and encouraging, but the rate is still alarmingly high and continues to hamper the housing recovery.

Currently, 23.8% of homeowners with a mortgage (12.2 million homeowners) owe more on their homes than the home is actually worth.  Some are so far underwater (the new term for this situation . . . and it surely must feel like that for those poor souls) that even with fast-rising prices, it will take years for them to see any home equity.  Nationwide, more than half of all underwater homeowners are in the red by 20%, and 1 out of 7 owe more than twice what their home is worth.

S & P/Case-Shiller home price index for June said home values were up by 12%, but that same index shows prices nationally are still off 23% from the peak in 2006.  Of course, that 2006 peak was fairyland values in the midst of super easy mortgage money . . . being loaned at depression-day interest rates.  It was a wild-fire of easy credit, foolish underwriting standards, a large mass of unqualified borrowers driven by the desire to own a piece of ground, totally unconcerned how much the purchase price was . . . just focusing on how much the monthly payment was . . . and here we are.

New home starts are down 13%, but there have been some fairly healthy gains in sales of existing homes.

Here is what I am seeing . . . mortgage rates are on the rise, confidence is sagging, credit is tightening, and investors are pulling out of the housing market.  The bulls have become bears. Investors were 25% of the home-buyers in 2009, but were only 16% in July.

How did I advise him?  I told him that for the past few years, I have been thinking that playing in the housing market is much like surfing in the Gulf of Mexico . . . “Everyone wants to ride the wave . . . but a bunch of folks catch it late.  That is how so many got upside down and underwater.  Timing is critical, and every market is different.  A prudent person studies his local market.”

The truth is that I am watching people in my local market buying houses at prices that I believe it will take 20 years to ever be worth what is being paid today . . . but then what do I know?  The rule has always pretty much been that the true value of something is what someone is willing to pay to own it . . . but in spite of that, I just can’t make myself believe that raw, cedar-covered, goat-pasture land in the Hill Country is really worth $20,000 per acre.

I still think the economy is spooky . . .


Rich Dad . . . Poor Dad

This afternoon as I went on-line to check my e-mail, a pop-up ad appeared on my screen.  Of course pop-up ads are nothing unusual, but this one caught my eye.

The heading was “Rich Dad . . . Poor Dad.”  As I looked it over, I discovered that it is a promotion for an upcoming seminar to be held at the Omni Bayfront Tower in Corpus Christi on September 24.  The speaker is reported to be Robert Kiyosaki . . . I have never heard of him, but the ad said he has sold a million copies of his book that bears the same title as the seminar.  The ad says the seminar promises to teach Dads things such as:

“How to move from employee . . . to entrepreneur”

“How to Get on the Road to Success”

There was a time in my life when I could possibly have been attracted to such a seminar.  It seems to me that any Dad worth his salt wants to do his best for his family (that was certainly Paul’s contention) and I sure wanted to do my best for my family.  As strange as it is in my mind, the truth is that there are many guys who simply just don’t care how their families live . . . and they have never figured out the truth of the home spun proverb, “Nothing will work until you work.”  I recently had to terminate a friendship with a guy over that very issue.  I just grew weary of having to go through the struggle of trying to kick-start the dude every time something needed to be done . . . it seemed that recently I had been failing most of the time in trying to get him kicked-started.  I came to the conclusion that I could do better with someone having lesser ability . . . provided he had a better attitude.  Someone who was willing to turn off the TV, get off of the sofa, and go to work would be far better.  The other dude had reached the place that he just wanted to watch TV and eat food that his poor, sick wife bought with food stamps and with her Social Security Disability.  I know that his wife and kids have absolutely no respect for him and are not shy about telling people about him and his lazy ways.  Them doing that use to bother me, and I am not saying it is right, but I tend to be more understanding of their position today. 

As tragic as that situation is, and sadly, there are thousands like it across the country, I have come to believe that a Dad providing for his family financially should not be such a big deal . . . it should just be a natural thing that he does . . . like breathing . . . and there just should not even be a question.  There is a danger . . . if he gets off balance on the financial part, that he can become blind to the real opportunity to be a “Rich Dad!” 

The husband a wife desires and the Dad that kids needs is a guy who is . . . rich in love, character, honor, decency, and integrity.  A tender warrior . . . who says to his family, “No one can come in our home and hurt you . . . because it is my responsibility to protect you . . . and I love you enough do that.  I also love you too much to ever allow anything into my life . . . or into our home that will hurt you or our family.”

I wonder if Robert Kiyosaki will tell those young dads the truth about Fatherhood . . . those young guys searching for answers and wanting to become Rich Dads.  Dad’s living at a time in history and in a culture that is becoming desperate for good, strong Dads.  Or will Robert Kiyosaki just try to sell them his books and cassettes that make him a rich dad?

I knew a great guy who was loaded with potential and possibility as a kid.  He was a great-looking kid, with a great personality and a lot of athletic ability.  Today he is a 40-year-old guy, who lives with a parent and a step-parent, struggling with alcoholism, and in desperate need of any sort of approval.  He has no self-respect and has poor social skills and needs others to validate him.  I could always see his pain as he lived with his mom in a government-assisted apartment complex, while his dad lived like a “Rich Dad” and always took terrific care of some other woman’s child.  He got to spend a couple of weeks each summer seeing it first hand and having his nose rubbed in it, before he returned home . . . to assisted housing, welfare checks, and food stamps. 

I know that each of us has to make choices in life and that we should never allow our circumstances to define who we are . . . but there is also the truth that there are some kids who just need the love, support, and encouragement of their dad . . . and without it, they will just be scarred for life.

Dude . . . I am so sorry.  It broke my heart to watch it . . . and I really wish I could have done more . . . but my hands were tied.