Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Trust me, test me


One of the questions that I'm often asked is "Don't you trust me?" It's interesting that this question is not coming anymore from my children. They are older now and out on their own. Their "don't you trust me" was a common response when their mother or I were asking them about their plans for the evening. Possibly when we were inquiring who they would be spending time with or even if they had completed their homework and were prepared for the next day of school.

We smile when we remember these questions being asked because we know that as parents, this question of trust, while important, is not as important as other things. Important things like training, equipping and preparing for later responsibilities, careers and generally becoming an adult.

Unfortunately, many parents find this question, "do you trust me", very troubling. They sometimes find it so intimidating that they fail the number one parental assignment and don't bother to ask the important questions. Sometimes, a child's moral compass is provided in other ways but all too often, the son or daughter is not prepared to enter adulthood. All too often serious moral and personal behavioral issues that could have been corrected, continue into adulthood, often because the parent didn't want to deal with the trust issue.

Today however, this question is often asked, not by children but by my peers -- adults with important jobs and important responsibilities, who probably haven't thought through this idea of trust. As the business administrator of a church it's my job to ask the hard questions. These questions are about budgets, expenses, receipts, process, and procedures that fall under the category of governance and oversight that is more than a simple matter of "trust".

The thing is, there is nothing simple about trust. For many people it is earned over a long period of time but can unfortunately be lost in a moment. One disappointment over an expense account, an inappropriate authorization of church resources, or even a good deed done without proper authorization can dash earned trust. Trust not only in the individual but in the organization as well.

And churches know they need to maintain the public's trust. Churches after all, depend on their members trust as they give their tithes and offerings. It's a proven fact that people like giving and will give generously to a good cause. Once however, people start to believe that the money may be wasted rather then spent on worthwhile causes, the giving is greatly diminished. I did some research and found some disturbing trends. Perhaps the most alarming find was a 2002 study conducted jointly by Epsilon and the Barna Group which found that while confidence in most of our major social institutions and professions is declining, donor confidence in non-profit organizations (including churches) is at an all time low.

Earning and keeping the public trust is critically important for churches and non-profits. Financial and moral scandals ruin ministries and while many ministries escape the ruin of scandal, most could use a little more financial accountability and what I and many financial professionals now call "transparency". Most of us remember the scandal that occurred at national ministries like Jim and Tammy Bakkers' PTL Club or more recently the scandals involving Catholic priests the past few years. This and others like them have reduced the public's confidence in church leaders and, consequently, reduced their giving as well.

Financial accountability requires that organizations not only have policies and procedures to protect and maintain integrity, but in also requires that someone periodically audit accuracy and compliance. The important point to remember when working in the church is that the mission that we have and the work that we need to do is critically important. Our ministries with the help of God change peoples' lives, and we must be diligent to always adhere to the highest standards of accountability so that we can maintain the publics' trust

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Do we need to believe the entire Bible?


One of the questions that was recently posed to me in a Bible study was pretty good. The question was about the Bible itself. Does a person need to believe the entire Bible? For example, can a person believe the "heart" of the gospel but not necessarily believe some of the more extrodinary feats mentioned in the Old Testament?

My simple answer is "no", believe in God doesn't require the belief in the Bible. Sorry that this disappoints some but from what I read the requirements to salvation don't include any such test. We need to trust in Christ as savior and of course that does require some belief in who He is represented to actually be.

The debate as to what parts of the Bible or the literal understanding of the Bible is a great debate within and outside of the Christian Church. Often, what a person believes about the first six Chapters of the book of Genesis or whether they believe in "literal" interpretation regarding Paul's instruction for the qualifications of Deacons becomes a litmus test for Pastors, teachers or church membership. I don't believe that it has to be always treated with such gravity.

Jesus never taught that in order to be saved we had to believe in Adam and Eve or that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. The requirements for salvation and therein the requirements to be a member of the Christian church is quite simple: Belief in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, and a belief that we are sinful but because of His holiness, we can become accepted into God's kingdom. Note that I'm taking great liberties at this point in the scripture but the reason is that I want to make sure no-one misunderstands that somehow a literal interpretation of every word in the King James Bible is somehow a pre-requirement for becoming a Christian.

At the same time, Jesus spoke of Adam and Eve as historical people. He embraced the entire Old Testament and even compared His coming death and resurrection (which is the cornerstone of the Christian faith) to the Biblical epic of Jonah and the Whale. Therefore, the need to understand the accuracy of the Bible is of high importance in our Christian walk. If not for personal faith, the trust and confidence in the Bible is definitely a requirement for the perpetuation of the faith. If we can't trust the Bible to be true, then we have a great deal of difficulty in using the teachings of the Bible in matters of faith.

I'm not the first to address this issue. Dr. John Warwick Montgomery proposes three tests to determine if we can believe the entirety of the Bible. The tests stem from the fact of what the Bible claims to be...God's revelation of Himself to and through man." If God has revealed Himself in literary form, that revelation would have certain properties due to His infinite knowledge and moral perfection:

It would be entirely true - His infinite knowledge would prevent errors and His truthfulness would keep Him from deception.


It would be a coherent unity therefore not self- contradictory.

It would contain God's will for man and provide the motivation to live according to that will.
I believe that God has revealed Himself in the Bible without error. The Bible itself claims this inerrancy (2 Timothy 3:16-17;Matthew 5:18; etc.). When it comes to believing the Bible, I'm like the guy that says, "I believe it all from Genesis through Maps".

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Financial Resolutions for the New Year

Some people are really good at making New Year’s resolutions but not necessarily in keeping them. While this may be natural a New Year is a great time to make some resolutions to make positive changes. One of things families can often do better is to become good stewards of their finances.

This is something that nearly every family as well as single adult can work on as there is a daily and constant struggle literally between good and evil. On one side we have pull of a culture that tells us we need things we really don’t and on the other side, Godly wisdom which is available and can enable us to live a life that is focused on contentment when it comes to more things. Being content is difficult when we are constantly being told that things bring happiness, that debt is expected and that a little bit of money will solve all of our problems.While some people have found great help in the advice given by licensed, certified financial planners, there is some simple, common sense financial guidance that may help to give you a new perspective in the New Year.

For example, most people think immediately of "spending" when it comes to financial matters but actually, "spending" is just one part. There are actually five componets to a financial plan or budget. They include: Earning, Spending, Saving, Giving and Debt.

This article is too brief to fully develop all five of these components. If you are inclined, all of these components are fully explained and planned in the “Good $ense” seminars held regularly at the church where I serve on Pastoral Staff as well as at other churches that have a stewardship or financial ministry.

Here are some really good tips on just two of the five components: Spending and Debt.

We’ll start with Spending.

There are four myths that most of us have bought into regarding spending. They are: that things will bring happiness; that your possessions define who you are; that you deserve to have what others have; and finally, that spending is a competition. While these myths are truly pervasive in this culture, they stand in direct opposition to what God has said regarding the way we are to relate to the things of this earth.

The New Testament teaches that we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Further it teaches that we are to store up our treasures in heaven rather than consume things for our own benefit (Matt 6:19).

The more secular wisdom of practicing moderation or what the Bible calls contentment is also a good way of looking at spending. All too often we allow money and what it can buy to become an idol in our life and we need to eventually say, “Enough is enough”.

Studies have shown that often families get into trouble when they start believing that they need to have it all. Mom’s go back to work because they think they need to earn more income so that the family can have more; while all the time what the family really needed was more of mom. Dad works more and more hours to earn more and more money to buy more and more things; while the family really just needs more time to be a family.

The second financial component that we can mention is Debt.

American consumer debt has a stranglehold on too many families and it will destroy your family if you don’t get it under control. While there are many advisors that recommend debt consolidation and second mortgages as a way of decreasing your monthly payments I have an easier solution.

  1. Arrange all of your debt by amount owed and make a resolution to get all consumer debt (with the likely exception of your home mortgage) paid off. This may be a two or three year project for many families but it can be done.
  2. Start with the smallest amount owing and find an extra hundred dollars somewhere to aggressively pay off that debt.
  3. Make a firm resolution to not get into any more debt. Throw away all but one of the credit cards and don’t use that one either.
  4. When that first amount is paid off take all of the money you were paying on that closed account and throw it on the next smallest debt and so on.

The above approach is called “snow-balling” and it works. Most families can be completely out of debt in a two or three year period but it only works when they become more responsible spenders and prudent consumers.

Take the time today to talk in your family about the ways that you spend money as well as the balance that you could have between spending and time spent as a family. There are people available to help you with your financial plan and you can likely find them at your local church.

The Good $ense Ministry is a national ministry found in many churches in the United States and Canada.

A Good $ense ministry benefits a congregation in a variety of ways:

  • Helps individuals remove money as a barrier to full devotion to Christ
  • Supports the pastor in training and maintaining the core value of good stewardship
  • Leads individuals to the God-honoring management of money and the resultant peace, joy, contentment and freedom in their hearts
  • Frees individuals from the bondage of debt Restores relationships torn by conflict over money
  • Helps the church realize its redemptive potential, as its congregation becomes free to give and serve

Click on the Link above for more information

Friday, December 09, 2005

Churches taking precautions for coffers

Clergymen believe the money put in the collection baskets and plates passed pew to pew Sunday morning is an offering not to the church, but to God.

But ensuring that the tithes of the faithful reach church coffers leaves no room for blind trust of those who handle the money.

The Dec. 17 arrest of a former parish housekeeper in the theft of more than $173,000 over four years from an unlocked safe at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Green Tree is an example of what happens when policies aimed at safeguarding collections aren't followed, Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese leaders say. Thefts plague hundreds of U.S. churches each year, according to one of the top two church insurers in the country.

The first precaution for churches that could be vulnerable is to acknowledge the need for scrutiny of those with access to donations, said Jeff Hanna, a police detective-turned-minister from Ohio. Hanna has written two books and numerous articles instructing churches on keeping collections safe.

"Churches are notorious for not wanting to change," Hanna said. "A lot of churches are operating under guidelines 20, 30 or 40 years old, and they have to understand that things have changed."

Hanna is executive director of the church risk-management division of GuideOne, an insurance company based in Des Moines, Iowa, that provides liability insurance for 45,000 churches nationwide. GuideOne handles an average of 1,800 theft claims from churches each year, totaling $2.8 million.


The company insures about 1,400 churches in Pennsylvania.

"Let's be honest. We're all broken people, and we all have the capacity to do bad things," Hanna said. "So it's important to screen people and to know what you've got."

That's not always easy.

In August 1998, the Rev. Walter Benz, 72, admitted stealing $1.3 million over 26 years from St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Hampton and Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Harrison, police said. Benz was suspected of using the money for luxury cars and gambling trips. He died that September.

"You would have thought they would have learned their lesson after that one," said the Rev. Kevin Clementson, pastor of Berkeley Hills Lutheran Church in Ross.

Berkeley Hills Lutheran suffered its own theft scandal in the mid-1970s, said Clementson, who arrived there in 1994. The church now rotates a team of five members who count collections each Sunday and take the checks and cash to a bank the same day for deposit. His church conducts a regular internal audit in addition to an external audit every three to five years. He may increase that to every two years.

"This just encourages good people to remain good people," Clementson said. "My old Uncle Oscar always said you have to pay your tuition to get your education; this congregation paid their tuition a long time ago and got a good education."

As further security, Clementson's church also offers electronic bank transfers to members through Vanco Services of Minnetonka, Minn. The company found the niche industry of providing electronic money transfers to churches in 1997. Now 6,000 churches nationwide, representing 28 denominations, pay 25 cents per transaction along with a setup fee of 50 cents to $1 per parishioner, said Len Thiede, the company's vice president. Several Pittsburgh-area churches use Vanco.

Hanna said more churches, especially ones with large congregations, are using electronic transfers because auto-tithing tends to mean larger, more consistent donations, and it removes the possibility of sticky fingers.

Ken Behr, director of operations at Northway Christian Community in Marshall, said his 5,000-member church works directly with a bank for electronic transfers and has joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an 1,100-member organization based in Winchester, Va., that reviews church finance matters ranging from salaries to governing board composition. Donors can even request audited information about their church from the council, which provides a "donor bill of rights."

"What happened at St. Margaret was unfortunate, and that happens sometimes when organizations don't take those kinds of precautions," Behr said.

St. Margaret failed to follow diocesan collection and auditing guidelines, said the Rev. Ronald P. Lengwin, spokesman for the Pittsburgh diocese, which has 215 parishes. "Again, it's because of the trust that's involved," Lengwin said. "It is almost impossible to prevent theft in every instance."

Lengwin said security procedures were tweaked in 1999 after the Benz case, but he said that despite the most recent theft, the diocese's guidelines do not need to be revised. Lengwin said St. Margaret underwent a financial review conducted by a diocese representative within the past year, but he wouldn't comment on the results.

The first rumblings about a possible theft at the church cropped up in March, when Green Tree police learned from West Virginia State Police that deposit bags with checks and envelopes from St. Margaret had been found on a highway near Weirton.

The Rev. Richard Jones, recently appointed pastor of St. Margaret, said the church is using sealed money bags and secured safes for holding cash, especially overnight. Investigators said the church left the safe unlocked, allowing housekeeper Amy Caldwell, 35, of Charleroi, to steal $173,000, taking a few hundred dollars a week for several years.

Lengwin said the church's insurance carrier should cover the losses. Caldwell will face a felony theft charge.

"I think it's the kind of thing that sneaks up on people," the Rev. Blair Morgan, senior pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Shaler, said of money handlers who give in to temptation. "They sit there and mean to put (the money) back, but they get caught up in a situation."
Morgan said his 900-member church keeps donated money "traceable" and in the hands of many to reduce the possibility of theft.

The Rev. Larry Homitsky, council steward for the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, said the 900 congregations he oversees have detailed security guidelines. He said church money counters are rotated each week. At least two people stay with collections at all times; counters must be from different families; and everyone working with the collections must be legally bonded.

Thefts from churches hurt everybody, Homitsky said.

"And it's more than the money," he said. "Because as important as the dollars are, there's a higher importance -- there's an expectation of trust higher than anywhere else in society."

Costly Church Thefts:

  • Dec. 14, 2004: Amy J. Caldwell, 35, of Charleroi, is accused of stealing $173,000 from St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Green Tree. She waived her right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday.
  • Nov. 15, 2000: The Rev. William M. Altman is charged with stealing more than $1 million from bank accounts and parishioners of Grace Christian Ministries in West Mifflin. In 2002, he was sentenced to four to eight years in prison and 10 years of probation. He also was forbidden to handle finances for any organization.
  • Sept. 4, 1999: The Rev. Walter Benz, 72, dies of an illness shortly after admitting that he stole $1.3 million from two Allegheny County parishes. Even though he wasn't formally charged at the time, investigators said Benz stole the money over 26 years from St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Hampton and Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Harrison.
  • January 1998: Former church Secretary Dawn Mehalek, of South Fayette, is accused of stealing almost $500,000 between April 1994 and October 1996 while working as a secretary at Holy Child Parish in Bridgeville. Mehalek pleaded guilty and received five years' probation in June 1999 for apparently writing more than 100 checks to herself and forging the pastor's signature on them.

Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.com or (412) 765-2312.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Winning the Powerball

I was on a field trip with one of my friends from church a few weeks ago, just before the big $340 million Powerball lottery jackpot was going to be determined. I think all of us wonder what it would be like to all-of-a-sudden have that kind of money. After we both talked about what we would do with the jackpot, we had the obligatory conversation regarding whether playing the lottery was sinful or not.

I'm the first one to reject the title "theologian" when it comes to my role as a Pastor-Administrator, and I'm a little nervous about giving theological advice. I'm business trained and educated and a pretty good student of the bible but trying to determine exactly what God would consider sin is not one of my talents.

Of course there are many that oppose buying a lottery ticket as it's really the equivalent of gambling (knowing somehow that gambling must be sin). I'm not too sure if playing the lottery is gambling. The likelihood of a lottery ticket paying off is so low even the government looks at the purchase of a ticket as the equivalent as making a "voluntary contribution to our schools and senior citizens". While I'm still not willing to venture into the discussion on what makes a sin a sin, I do recall back when I was working on Wall Street that some of my Christian friends felt that even "playing" the stock market was gambling and as a result was sinful.

I assured them (and my wife!) that I was working and I wasn't "playing". My employer paid me good money to be a good steward of the funds that were entrusted to my care. I was able to define the difference (actually a chasm) between buying stocks and gambling. Stocks are purchases of small bits of equity or ownership in a company. Stocks are also purchased in the hope (not guarantee) that the shares of stocks will be worth more money in the future. There are differences between putting money on a blackjack table or in buying a lottery ticket and buying stock. Investors in the stock market buy shares in a company in order to participate in the profits of a for-profit enterprise. Gamblers are counting on luck and chance, for if it was a skill or based on knowledge it wouldn't be gambling.

The difference perhaps comes down to intent. Isn't that possibly the defining line for sin as well? Jesus said in Luke 6, "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." If we have a good heart, or have good intentions, we'll be doing good things. The Bible gives us plenty of examples of good things. We don't have to worry too often about the grey areas that are not specifically mentioned in the Bible.

I think one of the reasons that some would look at the Powerball Lottery as being evil or sinful is that it does resemble a "get rich quick" attitude. That is typically not a good attitude for followers and disciples of Christ. Proverbs 28:20 says, "A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished."

While it's not bad being rich, much of the Bible's teaching about wealth is a warning against putting trust in wealth rather than the Lord (i.e. 1 Timothy 6:17-18) or to the detriment of those who depend on us (i.e. Ecclesiastes 5:13-14). The New Testament teaches that we are to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us which includes our money. Jesus spoke often about money and riches and we should be careful to love people more than things and to hold very loosely all that God has given us. In this way, when we have opportunity to use our possessions in ways that the Lord brings to mind, we won't hesitate to instead keep our possisions to ourselves.

The next time you are inclined to play the Powerball Lottery think first about what you would do with the money if you win. If your intentions are good then I think you've passed the first test. For the second test take a look at what you do with the rest of your money when you aren't buying lottery tickets. If you honor the Lord with your posessions, if you are generous towards those that have need, and if you tend to be unselfish and even sacrificial in your pursuit of helping your local church accomplish the ministry that you've determined to be a part of, then, and only then, I say, go ahead, put a dollar down and have some fun.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Just Treading Water


The phrase "Just Treading Water" is used a lot in various circles. It usually refers to the emotional angst that comes from being stuck in a situation or place for some time. For some reason, we all dislike not making progress and feeling like we are stuck.

Sometimes, we wonder exactly what God may be doing in our life when we feel "stuck". All of us experience times when we have been waiting for something to happen. Perhaps a new job, a solution to some family situation or often it's something even more frustrating. Waiting on God when things are really not going well is rough. And for some reason, the time often keeps passing without much relief in sight.

A few years ago, I learned some lessons from that time of "treading water" and while I'm not fully equipped to explain why God some times puts us in situations where we feel that we are treading water, let me articulate some of my thoughts.

Thought #1: Treading Water is better than the alternative

When I was a kid and learned to swim I learned pretty quickly that without some movement, I would sink. In the same way, we have to understand that the alternative to treading water is sinking and drowning. We may want to see forward momentum restored but with a little effort, an individual can actually tread water for quite a while and stay afloat. The Bible is full of examples of lots of time passing between a promise and the fulfillment of that promise. Abram, Moses, Joseph, David, to name just of few of the obvious, were men that were specifically taught to tread water for years while God worked on their character. During the time, God also prepared individuals, nations and events specifically for a later time when things would fit together and we would see the fulfillment of specific callings and purposes. Don't be so quick to see a lack of momentum as wasted time, it's better than sinking into rebellion from God and His purpose for your life.

Thought #2: Treading Water will cool you off.

Galatians 5:22 is the verse that lists what the Apostle Paul identifies as the "Fruits of the spirit" and this great list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This word "patience" is translated "longsuffering" in the King James version which is a great way of understanding patience. (yes waiting often includes suffering) The Greek word being translated "Patience" is makrothumia which literally means being "long-tempered". I like that definition too....it's the opposite of short-tempered.

I think most of us can understand that sometimes we just need to "cool off". Back a few years ago (it seems like a different life), I was an investment banker and broker and worked with securities and public companies. The SEC requires a "cooling off period" of a minimum of 20 days from the time a public company files a prospectus or written intentions of selling securities and the actual public offering of the securities. While most CEO's dislike the 20 days of waiting, the SEC understands that even companies need to "cool off" before they offer huge blocks of ownership of their company to the general public.

Thought #3, Treading water is an active way to wait

You have to move your arms and your legs when you tread water. I remember my dad telling me, "Kick, kick!" when I first ventured into the deep end. We don't like waiting but it really seems like it's a necessary part of life. Its also a very important ingredient of our spiritual life. In the Bible, God tells His people to wait. For example, in Psalm 27:14 it says, "Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord." Waiting however is really tough as when we wait we often think, "If I don't push now, this opportunity may slip through my fingers". However, from God's perspective, it's often better to wait.

Finally, our waiting on the Lord is to be active not passive. In Isaiah we are given the word picture that waiting is like an eagle that flies by fixing his wings and riding the wind. Isaiah 40:31 says, "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."

So, remember, you are not just treading water. You are in a very special place in God's plan and there are lessons to be learned.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Foreign Direct Investment

The latest World Investment Report, issued the 29th of September by the United Nations Council on Trade and Development, found that foreign direct investment, or FDI, into Britain rose sharply, and put Britain into the second place globally for FDI, ahead of China. (Keep reading if you want to know about first place). Foreign Direct Investment is tracked by governments and economists as it indicates the investments that Multinational Enterprises (MNE'S) make in a country. In other words, FDI keeps "score" or tracks the "winners" and "losers" in the global investment game. Like the picture that is worth a thousand words, this recent UN report paints a picture of the preference by Multinationals and the promise of a better return from the mature British economy of 60 million people than from big and booming China.

In addition to Great Britain, the "New Europe" countries in Central and Eastern Europe like Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Latvia increased their flow of FDI by more than 40 per cent. The trend over the past ten years is that global foreign direct investment (FDI) is increasingly shifting towards the developing world as multinational corporations (MNE's) seek new investment opportunities and reduce their labor costs in fast-growing emerging economies like China, Mexico and India.

However, I was most impressed with two interesting facts released but either under-reported or ignored by the UN and initial news reports. The first is that after three years of decline, total global flows of FDI rebounded by 2 per cent on a year-on-year basis last year to $648 billion, reversing a trend post 9/11.

The second fact is that the United States continues as the world's most favored place for foreign investors, drawing in almost $100 billion in Multinational investments. That's right, no matter what you may read about the US struggling and losing their competitive edge, the United States finished first in the global game of FDI investments as new foreign sourced dollars continue to pour into this country where MNEs bet real money on the continued success of the US economy.

The reality of US success, while a surprise to some, has a number of supportive factors that many of us have been stressing for years. Each year the World Economic Forum computes a growth potential index for 117 economies. It examines factors like government stewardship of financial resources, budgets, tax system, civil institutions and respect for the law. In this assessment of national competitive potential, the United States ranks second after Finland while China and India rank 49th and 50th. Also, the WEC ranks the fitness of businesses, and on that score the United States ranks first while India ranks 31st and China 57th.

What is also going for the United States is that our labor force is much stronger than pessimisticc news reports would have us believe. Our literacy rates are very high as typically our entire native born population finishes high school and two thirds receive some post secondary training. Our colleges and universities are the world's best with many foreign students willing to pay our pricey admission in deference to their own countries' universities which are often tuition-free. Due to competition (and despite JibJab's satire on jobs at WalMart..a must see regardless) U.S. productivity is advancing briskly. Based on other reports, since 1999, private business productivity has increased 3.2 percent a year; in durable goods manufacturing productivity has been advancing at a 5.4 percent pace.

Finally, what was most revealing regarding the latest preference of FDI flows into the United States is where these dollars landed. Of all FDI 2004 investments in the United states, the top category by Key Business Function was in Manufacturing with 703 identified projects, much ahead of 280 projects in the second place Key Business Function of Sales and Marketing. So much for the lack of manufacturing opportunities in the US!

Turn those assembly lines back on!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Giving and Receiving

One of the neat things that I get to do on my job is help people.

To be honest with you, I feel a little guilty as I'm typically representing my church and one of our minitries. People want to thank me and of course that is a good thing, I don't mind being thanked for what God is able to do. I just want to make sure that I don't get the credit for what other people are doing through our local church.

Friday was a great day as we were able to deliver TWO cars to people that really needed them. I'm a car guy at heart (aren't most guys!) and it's really a of fun to get a car in as a donation, get it titled and do what is necessary to make sure that it is safe and passes both the safety and emissions inspection and then be able to just give it to someone who really needs the car.

This Friday, a late model Nissan went to a single mom. The other vehicle went to a couple that for years has cheerfully labored in a minstry that feeds the homeless. They receive little to no income as almost everything goes to the homeless and they needed a car badly. Typically, it's not couples but single moms that end up on the receiving end of the "trusty-rustys" as one of our staff members have started calling my used vehicles. For the past three years, our church has sponsored the "Single Mom's Garage" as one of the offshoots of our every-Friday-car-cruise. We've been able to help dozens of women make sure their car received some basic maintenance and had some safety issues repaired completely free of charge. I've also been able to deliver at least a half dozen vehicles to these moms. The vehicles may have a few miles and may not be something as nice as you have in your driveway but they are safe, reliable and dependable transportation.

One of the interesting developments this past year was that IRS tightened down on the excessive use of the car donation as an easy write-off and tax deduction. That ruling actually has helped the church I work at as we give away the majority of our cars which allows the donor to still take the full donation. Other ministries that sell the vehicles can only give the donors a receipt for the net proceeds of their sale which typically is less than a private sale.

From my perspective, it really can't be about a tax deduction however that motivates a person to give. There are higher and better reasons. For example, look at Jesus' words that it is "better to give than receive". These were actually the words of the Apostle Paul who quoted Jesus ,

In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Acts 20:35
Note that the beginning of the verse "we must help the weak" helps set the context for "it is more blessed to give than to receive".

Unfortunately, I really don't think some of the Pastors or their flock really understand the thing about giving. Pastors need to teach stewardship and our opportunity and responsiblity to give. Some Pastors hope however to pick up the crumbs from really large donors and ignore the more responsible path of teaching stewardship.

Blogs aren't supposed to be long so here is my thoughts on Stewardship in a nutshell....

Stewardship is an acknowledgement that everything
we have belongs to the Lord and that He has called
us to live purposeful lives, investing our time,
talent and treasure in the Kingdom of God.


The Bible says that "The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it." (Psalm 24:1)

In our Good $ense Ministry, we teach that Financial Stewardship embraces giving our time, talent and treasure and our financial gifts should be

  • Proportional "The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea" Acts 11:29-30 "…Every one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…"(1 Cor 16:2)

  • Consistent (1 Cor. 16:2) "On the first day of every week every one of you…."

  • Sacrificial "He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins" (Luke 21"1-4, Acts 2:45) Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity" (2 Cor 8:2)

  • Cheerful "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7) : "freely you have received, freely give" (Matt 10:8b)

So, keep on giving and know that you are truly blessed!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Insourcing

I'm amazed at how much misinformation is out there. Especially with regard to economics and world trade.

Economics is really not that difficult to understand. Let me give you some examples so you get one big piece of it straight. When someone opens a business in your neighborhood, that's typically a good thing. And, conversely, when someone closes a business in your neighborhood, that's typically a bad thing.

Typically, in economics, we don't talk about "good" or "bad" since those terms are subjective. We talk instead about resulting consequences.

When a business opens, it creates jobs and overall economic expansion. For example, rent is paid to lease the space, advertising is purchased by the business owners, jobs are created and sales tax is generated. People in the area get an additional benefit, they get to purchase goods and services locally that may not have been available before. Or more likely, the goods and service had been available, but now they are at a better price or now available in greater variety or quality.

When a business closes, the encomic consequences are reversed. For example, the property is available for lease or purchase but isn't presently producing economic benefits. Jobs are lost and taxes are reduced. The local news media observes these business closings and reports them with vigor. The front pages will show the loss of jobs and the economic blight left in the wake of closing plants, darkened offices and empty warehouses.

However, as I mentioned before in this web log, we get typically only half of the story.

Companies are expanding and moving internationally all the time, US corporations invest their capital in foreign nations and Foreign corporates invest their capital in the US. But many people overlook the latter, failing to notice the movement of foreign-based companies to U.S. soil and the subsequent creation of jobs for Americans. In short, in the reporting adnausium of failed economic developments and the evils of outsourcing, its counterpart insourcing has been ignored to the extent that a Google search on the word turns up the prompt, "do you mean outsourcing?

The late Walter B. Wriston, former CEO of Citibank and Presidential Medal of Honor winner was a huge champion of democracy, free markets and the power of information. He was unapologetic in his support of capitalism and the opportunities to better our economic condition through private enterprise. He wrote in one of his last columns for the Wall Street Journal in March of 2004 that the "balance of jobs we import from abroad greatly exceeds the jobs we export".

For those of you that know me, I'm very pro-business and pro-trade but this statement that we actually have been adding more jobs through Insourcing than the total number of jobs lost to Outsourcing surprised even me.

So I decided to check it out myself (good advice for you young skulls full of mush in college classes)

Here is Walter Wriston's quote:
The balance of jobs we import from abroad greatly exceeds the jobs we export abroad. Every time a foreign company decides to build a plant or opens an office in the U.S., Americans are put to work to man these facilities. Examples abound. Honda increased its U.S. manufacturing last year by 15%. And it is not only manufacturing that is attracted to our shores, but also intellectual capital. Novartis is moving its huge world-wide research and development operation from Switzerland to Massachusetts. Texas is the beneficiary of a $500 million investment from Samsung to build a new semiconductor plant. In some cases -- described in this paper recently as "the second wave of Nafta" -- Mexico is now able to invest abroad, and that investment is creating "thousands of jobs" for U.S. workers. Many countries with ample capital have poured a steady stream of job-creating investment into the U.S.
One of the sources of information for Mr. Wriston's comments was the Organization for International Investment which keeps track of the number of jobs that are outsourced by other countries to the U.S Interestingly, we are indeed importing many more jobs than we export. The main reason is the overwhelming strength and capacity of the US economy (as well as a relatively low tax rate). Foreign corps understand that the US is a great place to invest capital and tap into a huge consumer market.

The link for the OII and the information on insourcing is http://www.ofii.org/insourcing/ While you can check out some of their claims for yourself, I found it especially interesting that in the often lamented "rust belt", where the outcry against "exporting jobs" is the loudest, data shows that Ohio has imported 212,000 jobs, half in manufacturing; Pennsylvania has attracted 233,000, about 88,000 in manufacturing; and in Michigan some 204,000 jobs have been added with 98,000 in manufacturing. I realize that these numbers are difficult sometimes to confirm and may be skewed however the Democrat Govenor of PA, Ed Rendel put the number of foreign jobs insourced in PA as "about 400,000", significantly higher than the more conservative estimates by the OII.

In total, U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies employ about 5.5 million Americans and their payroll per worker is about 31% higher than the median for US based companies. In addition, while the loss of manufacturing jobs is especially lamented by the press and the remaining jobs in the US are typically relegated to "hamburger flipper jobs", the largest segment of insourced jobs is in manufacturing, accounting for about 34% of the insourced jobs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mover & Shaker of the Month, Pastor Jay Passavant

By Paula Green

The name Passavant is certainly a familiar one to local area residents. There are Passavant hospitals in McCandless and Cranberry Townships, Passavant Retirement Community in Zelienople and Pastor Jay Passavant of North Way Christian Community Church. Yes, he is related to the famous family – as he states, “My great-great grandfather was a Lutheran minister and he founded the hospital and various other institutions. There were no other Lutheran ministers in the family until I came along.”


Pastor Jay grew up in Beaver, PA. He attended Washington and Lee University in Virginia where he earned his Bachelors degree in Chemistry. He spent two years in the Marine Corp, and he attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, where he received his Masters and Doctorate. He and his wife Carol live in the Gibsonia area. They have three children Amy, David and Jonathan, a son-in-law, also named Jay, and two grandsons, Luke and Jack.

“Carol and I, along with eight other couples founded North Way Christian Community on March 29, 1981. We are very excited that we are fast approaching our 25th anniversary,” Pastor Jay said. The church is located at 12121 Perry Highway in Wexford.

“North Way is a safe and familiar Christian community with biblical values. We are different than other churches because we seek to make a connection with people and their needs. We are a small, interdenominational church with a lot of people,” he added.

There are approximately 3,500 active adult members at North Way and there is something for everyone. There are many different types of groups that meet, such as: men’s and women’s groups, and even groups that focus on demographic stages in life, i.e. college, singles, married couples, as well as children. For those in need, there is a counseling service, which is readily available.

“As a community, we are truly blessed. Our goal is to help people’s lives change through the grace of God, that is what sustains our church,” Pastor Jay said.

In addition to prayer services and support groups, North Way offers recreational fun. Friday evenings in the summer, the church has a Starlite Car Cruise from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the church parking lot; admission is free and it is great fun for the entire family. There is still plenty of time to check out a car cruise, since they will continue until Sept. 30.

Upcoming in mid-October, North Way will be launching a Thursday evening service targeted for young adults. Weekend services are: Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. For more information on North Way Christian Community, visit the website at www.northway.org. and to find more about their Friday evening Car Cruises visit www.starlitecarcruise.com.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tough Times

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. (James 1:2-4)

I don't know about you, but I really don't consider it "nothing but joy" when I'm going through some struggle. There are a couple of things however that I have learned along the way.

Notice that James does not say "if you fall into all sorts of trials", but when you fall into all sorts of trials. I've learned like many of you that you need not seek after adversity, it has a way of finding us.

As people that try to walk-the-walk as well as talk-the-talk, we are not exempt from having trials and difficulties. I know what it is like to have health problems. While God has blessed me with a good marriage and a good career, he has not kept me from being stupid from time to time. Secondly, as James informs us, I have found that these trials will come in many different forms (all sorts of trials-verse 2). In my short time serving on Pastoral staff, I have experienced and observed many different forms of adversity. I have seen those who have suffered extreme financial losses. At the same time, I have seen those who were wealthy financially stricken with grief over illness and death that no amount of money can solve.

As a nation, we now witness hurricane Katrina and her aftermath. As of tonight the death toll is still short of 100 but has been estimated to grow to well over 1,000 souls. My wife was watching a report on the news of a husband who had died while his wife looked on, unable to provide assistance. To our horror as a civilized society, the only advice and comfort the wife was later given by the authorities was to "move the body away, so you are not bothered by the smell".

I think that part of the difficulty in reading and really appreciating the words of James is we find no joy in this type of adversity. I don't have a theology that lays the blame of natural disasters like hurricane Katrina at God's feet. We live in a broken world, full of sin and shame. We also live on an earth that can be a very dangerous place to live.

My heart goes out to the people that have lost their property, the lives of their children, neighbors, friends and family. I am sad that this entire region will be economically stunted for years by the billions of dollars of damage caused by the wind and the rain.

One of the things I can glean from James is that perhaps God allows adversity in our lives to show us our deficiencies and our hardness of heart. As we see these deficiencies, we realize that we must cry out to God to supply that which we lack. If this is the case, then we need to cry out loudly. We however, can rejoice in the fact that we do have One who can hear us and heal us.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Home Sweet Home


So just how big is your house?

Have you noticed how big some houses have gotten? My wife and I were looking at some new houses in the area last week and it seems like each house is a wee bit bigger than the last one.

Amazing how blessed we are here in the US.

You can't tell it sometimes listening to the media. From their biased perspective any increase in the Prime rate will burst the housing bubble, send realtors scurrying for cover and lock an entire generation out of the housing market. They predict that more 20's and 30's plus kids will be ending up with mom and dad because they can't afford the price of a new house.

Fortunately, these people have it all wrong. More people are living in homes that they themselves own then ever before. Almost 70% of all families in the United States own their own home. Not only that, homes are getting bigger. Now, I know that bigger isn't necessarily better but houses are bigger because the average home buyer can afford it.

One of the reasons people like owning their own home is it has become an amazing way to save. By the time a person retires, his or her home can be a very significant portion of retirement savings. The reason this happens is because of what is called leverage. A down payment of say 20% on a new home that appreciates 10% a year for the next few years is actually returning a 50% return on the investment (call me if you want me to walk through the math).

One of my good friends, Paul, moved to Boston in the early 1980's. Our boss assured him that it was a promotion despite the differences in cost of living. One piece of advice that he gave him was to "buy as big a house as you can possibly afford". I remember thinking that I may have not given Paul the same advice.

Remarkably, our boss was right. Within two years, Paul was asked to return to headquarters with his family. The company helped him sell his house and the $75,000 in equity and gained another $110,000 in appreciation. I'm a finance guy and that looks like about a 150% return, all at a tax preferred status and with company subsidized moving and closing costs.

Our government bureaucrats are funny. Did you know that the US Government DOES NOT include the asset appreciation on your house NOR your 401K plan or even your taxable savings plans in what they report as the "savings rate". Here are some comments from Bear Stearns Economist David Malpass:

"Some say that a flaw may exist not in our national character but in the way the government calculates savings: because the bureau's method of tallying income and consumption doesn't take into account structural changes in the finances of Americans, it may systematically understate income and overstate consumption. For example, income includes wages and salaries, interest on bonds, and stock dividends. But it doesn't include capital gains on stocks, profits from selling a house, or withdrawals from 401(k) plans. Nearly 70 percent of families own homes, nearly half of all households own stocks and mutual funds, and an increasing number of baby boomers are turning to 401(k)'s for income. Those trends, some say, can make a big difference. "The structure of the household portfolio has changed over time,"
I really don't know why people want to believe that somehow, without the Government providing for us, we would all be destitute. Federal Reserve statistics show that the net worth of all household - their total assets minus what they owe - was up 9.6% in 2004 over 2003. A 9.6% increase in total net worth is significant. Not only is it significantly higher than the anemic "savings rates" that have been typically reported but it is considerably greater than the 2.5% inflation rate reported in the United States in 2004.

So go ahead, if you think you can afford it, pull the down payment together for that new home. The goal of home ownership is typically not necessarily monetary but while the IRS is willing to make the home the "mother of all tax shelters", I say take advantage of what is typically a conservative investment. Recent IRS rules allow a couple to ignore the first $500,000 (yes, that is a half-million dollars) in appreciation. You don't have to be a day-trader or have an advanced degree in investments to enjoy some great appreciation while enjoying "home sweet home".

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Quiet and Peaceable Life

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." - 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Had any peace and quiet lately? I don't know exactly what the Apostle Paul meant when he encouraged us to pray so that we may "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty", but I guess that not only are we typically not doing it, but we probably don't plan on doing it at any time in the future. There seems to be two issues here. The first is that we typically aren't praying for "kings and for all that are in authority" and secondly we don't seek after the "quiet and peaceable life". Let's look at both of these briefly and see if we can get a better understanding of this exhortation.


In the First Century, when Paul was writing to Timothy, in fact, in most centuries, it was very important to look to the king and others in authority as being critical in leading a peaceful life. Wars, pestilences, famines, floods, riots, civil unrest, invading armies, roaming bands of thieves and other dangers were part of everyday life. Without peace, there was no "peacefulness" and no prosperity. You could plant, build, and hope but more than likely, your efforts would ultimately come to ruin by the edge of a sword or through the anger of your king. If a kingdom could have a period of relative peace and quiet for a generation or so, it was truly unique and blessed. This was not only true in Europe and in Asia but even an African proverb says, "peace is prosperity".

This was not the way God intended life. Fortunately, in the United States and even for most of the developed Western nations, we have democratic governments that have found the way to largely bring us peace and the prosperity. Wars, while some claim to be ever increasing are actually actually fewer in these fortunate areas. It's a truism that democracies tend not to go to war with each other.

What do we do with this peace and prosperity? We become anxious and fearful. In fact, we end up having anything but and peace and quiet but more like hectic and busy which means we miss also the target of godliness and honesty. Do you doubt this? Have you watched the evening news lately?

The second verse the 23rd Psalm is one of my favorite scriptures. "He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters." Those words speak peace, don't they. They mean that God's best for you should likely include a much slower pace. He wants our first priority in life to be worshipping and praising Him. God desires that we spend sufficient time with our families too. He wants us to lead others to the truth and grow spiritually. Then, all our needs will be provided by His riches in glory.

So, this is too bad. It's kind of like George Bush (41) missing the "peace dividend". Here in the United States, we have the opportunity of a peaceable life but we not only miss it but we also don't have the godliness and honesty that it is to bring. Being godly is to knowledge that God is the one that is in control of our tomorrows. He is the one that brings order out of chaos. He is the one who raises up and He is the one who brings low. To be godly is to acknowledge that God's rule for our lives is absolute. His rules and order and chosen conduct for living is to be embraced and held in the highest regard.

Honesty is a closely related virtue. It speaks of truth. The bible says that God is truth. Jesus tells us he is "telling the truth" 119 times in the New Testament. Jesus held a high regard for the truth and knew that unless He pointed it out, we may miss it. Today however, many don't believe the truth. They would rather believe a lie if it fits better with their viewpoint.

Here is my action plan to lead the "quiet and peaceable life". First, remember to pray. Our leaders need prayer and the relative harmony of our world can easily be shaken by poor decisions and ungodly leadership. Secondly, slow down. We fuss and become anxious over relatively minor things. We have much to be thankful for today and we need to understand how to live within our present prosperity rather than to mortgage it for more stuff.

Third, remember to be Godly. That's right, bring out the old capital "G" on "godly" as we have one God who has given us his rule book for our life. We will find success and happiness when we live within the guidelines that God has established. Finally, embrace the truth. Opinions are one thing, the truth however is still the truth. There is an ultimate truth and it can be found. Pray to find the truth while you are praying for our leaders and those in authority.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Half the Story: the other Stats

I'm biased.

It is true, so I want you to know. I have a predetermined bias when it comes to thinking, writing, teaching and lecturing about most topics.

I believe that the United States is a favored nation, blessed by Almighty God and home to the very best economic engine and political system in the world. I am also convinced that it is Biblical and prudent to be supportive and prayerful of our President, our elected representatives and even our courts.

Now that you know where I'm coming from, let me get into what I consider to be the "other statistics".

We get a daily dose of economic hardship news, the latest disappointing financial trends regarding supposedly growing unemployment, the burden of fair trade agreements which have exported all the jobs, etc., etc. As a result, we have become a nation informed but at the same time grossly uninformed. We are uninformed because we only get half-the-stats.

I'll bet that you believe that we've lost all of our good jobs to foreign countries. It's understandable that you would think that based on the information that is typically delivered to us from supposedly "unbiased" sources. The problem is that the source of the information, is always biased.

Their bias influences their view of the world. I told you before I know I'm biased. Here's another one of my biases: as a believer, I have what is often called a "Christian World View". My viewpoint isn't any more balanced, it's just sometimes the other viewpoint.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not equating my economic perspective to some correct Biblical understanding. You may have a Christian Worldview and think differently than I do about this nation, our political system and the relative health of our economy. I do hope you would read on however.

The following is just some of the "good news". You already know what the bad news is supposedly. I'll try to not repeat what you already hear on a daily basis.

So, there is good news. The chart on the right is employment trends in Pennsylvania. Looks pretty good doesn't it? We'll talk about that in a minute. Let's start off first talking about homes. Did you know that presently, over half of our minority families own their own home? That's pretty good don't you think? A record by the way. Overall home ownership is also at a near record of about 70%.

You wouldn't think that home ownership would be so high when there has been much discussion of the outsourcing of all of the good jobs. Well, here is the other stats on outsourcing. Outsourcing is not as bad as you think and in fact, we are growing more jobs at a faster rate than we can export the jobs to other countries. I checked the US Department of Labor (you can check this out if you like) and found that in my home state of Pennsylvania, total non-farm employment has increased in the last ten years (about the same time that we had NAFTA) by 467,000 jobs or about 8.9%.

8.9% sounds like a good number but when you compare it to the increase in total population in PA, it's even a better number. You see, the total number of people in PA grew by about 356,000 people in the same time period or only 2.9%. It means that we actually added more jobs than the total growth of new State residents.

I know what you may be thinking, "hey, what good is a job if it doesn't pay very well? Maybe all these people are just working at McDonald's". You are entitled to that thought after all, all the good jobs are now oversees correct? We'll, I've had good jobs and I've had bad jobs. I guess one way we can determine a good job from a bad job is how much it pays. So, let's take a look at the stats on median income.

The US Census department is a good place to get some information. The chart here on the right is US Median Family income from the 1990 and 2000 Census. As you can see, the median family income increased during this period 41% Not bad when you consider that more money means typically a better lifestyle. Oh yes, probably better jobs as well.

Going back to my home state of Pennsylvania, I looked up the stats from the US Census department on median income in the Keystone Commonwealth. The information said that median income increased from 1984 (the oldest year I found) to 2003 (the most recent year I found) form $20,346 to $42,933. More than a 50% increase in PA but a slightly longer time period. OK, let's look a little closer. I know what some skeptics may think. Hey, Professor, that is just the raw numbers but when you consider inflation, well, that's another story.

Yes, inflation is a factor. I spent some time in Latin America where inflation often runs 25% or more annually, much higher than we have ever had in the US. OK, let's look at the same numbers again for the State of Pennsyvania. The US Census department did the inflation adjusted comparison, using 2003 dollars and found that median family income in PA from 1983 to 2003 rose from $34,281 to over $42,000, an increase of 29% which means people have more money today than before on an inflation adjusted basis.

So, I told you I'm biased. I went looking for the numbers that I thought I would find but have reported them accurately. You also now know the other stats. Regardless of what we have heard about the poor economic conditions, we know that US home ownership is at an all time high. We know that more poeple are working than ever before; we know that the growth of jobs in PA (typically, not considered one of the better performing States) was actually higher than the total population growth. And finally, real family income also has improved by about 29% in the past 20 years.

Don't you think that the whole story is better than just half the story?

Monday, August 08, 2005

For Those Who Fear


This post is a little different, but I had to post this. Too many of my friends, my brothers and sisters are having difficulties. God however provides...

Isaiah 41:10
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isa 41:10 - Fear not, for I am with you; What a great way to start off! God promises His people, that not merely by his being omnipresent (He who is everywhere), nor by His general works of providence by ruling all things in the universe but here, with a new measure of His grace, God will guard and protect His people, His children. He will be their support and their supply so we need not fear. He provides comfort for their hearts. As a result, we are told, “fear not”. Don't you remember? This was the greetings of His angels as well. In addition, Psalm 95 gives us assurances as we are not to fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.

be not dismayed, for I am your God; God has always had a people and we have a history of how his people have been able to depend on His love, have confidence in His power, and be expectant of His provision. The phrase here for “do not dismay” is also translated “be not broken”.

I will strengthen you; The Lord provides us with strength for the day. Strength to do what they need to do, to perform their jobs, be with their families and to resist temptation. In addition, He provides strength for our souls so that internally we have the will to continue and to carry on.

I will help you; God’s provision always includes help in the time of need. Hebrews, 4:15 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. What a great promise that God hears us and He wills to help us. The Lord tells us that His burden is light and when we take on other burdens, the Lord is gracious with His Help. We are never without means, without hope and without opportunity because our God is a God who personally calls us by name, understands our needs and promises to provide the help

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand; Upholding is something like what a lifeguard will do for someone that is drowning. Along with the assistance and the assurance that a person is not going under the water, the Lifeguard says, ‘relax, I’ve got you, I won’t let you drown. God allows us to be lifted up, to persevere to the end, and best of all, to feel His touch.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Feeling Out of Control?

One of the ministries that I work with is Priority Two, a ministry that works with people in job transition...people out of work. It's called Priority Two because one of the first things that we would like these people, more often then not middle-aged men, to understand, is that there are more important things in life than a job.

I find that when we get together and talk, what they often talk about is not priorities, but feeling out-of-control. They are in the midst of a huge crisis. The feeling of despair is typical and it's easy to see why. They have entered the "free-fall" zone and are they are struggling to find another job that pays something close to what their other job paid. One of the men in my small group actually described his feelings as similar to that dream when you are falling. Being completely disoriented like that is extremely difficult for those that have worked hard their entire life typically at a career where they made have had just one employer that made them feel secure and completely in control. They struggle to regain perspective on their life and their future.

Of course one of the questions that we have to deal with is "why God?". This may be a truly personal question like, "why after being faithful in giving and going to church do I find myself out of a job? Sometimes, it's more theological as in, "why does God allow bad things to happen if He is truly in control of these matters?

Now is a good time to tell you that I don't try to give answers. I know there are books out there that try to tell us that God often allows failure in our lives in order to help us grow and that our insufficiency can make us depend on Him. But I try to not go there....I find that the wisdom that is gained by the lesson is typically that which is enjoyed as a "dessert", after the meal is over, rather than as a "main entree".

I can tell you that I use this verse a lot. In 2 Cor. 4:17,18 the Apostle Paul says, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." In this verse, Paul is certainly not talking about "light and momentary troubles" but he is trying to put things into perspective.

Maintaining the proper perspective allows us to understand that yeah, the situation I'm presently in may be lousy--my job is gone, my finances are now all negative instead of positive, I've got bill collectors calling and my family is wondering why! At the same time, I have a God who has promised to ultimately care for me and in Christ, I am a new creation that will have an opportunity to spend eternity with God. The proper perspective helps us understand that family, our loved ones and our neighbors and our relationship with God are all more important than things.

"Fix your eyes on the unseen". That's pretty good advice from the Apostle Paul. He knew all about that feeling of being "out-of-control". He also knew what it meant to have the correct perspective in life.

Friday, July 29, 2005

In, but not of

My Spanish just isn't as good as it used to be.

For a three-year period, back in the 90's our entire family was living in Mexico City or "Durante tres anos, nosotros vivimos en la Ciudad de Mexico".

It's interesting how over time, our memories become very selective. When some people look back at their childhood, they may remember the good things and forget the bad. An entire eight years of elementary school is often remembered through vivid still photos of friends gathered together like team photos and programs from school plays.

The things I remember now about Mexico was the culture. We really enjoyed the culture: the people, the customs, the music, the food. Ah, the food. Don't be fooled into thinking that Taco Bell somehow represents anything similar to Mexican cuisine. My daughter-in-law, who is a Mexican now living in the US won't even consider eating anything from Taco Bell.

The other thing I remember the most about Mexico and the culture is knowing that I wasn't home. It was a world that I was in, a culture that I was definitely interacting with and something that I would most certainly learn from and enjoy but I wasn't home. The United States was my home and no matter how much we became immersed in Mexico including speaking primarily Spanish rather than English, we still were not "of" Mexico.

Here was a life lesson for me as well as a theological lesson as well.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays:
"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it" (John 17:14-17)

This is a big question, "How can we that follow Jesus be in the world, but not of the world?"

My theological training (which is limited) tells me that the word "world" in this passage is the Greek word, "cosmos" which most often refers to the inhabited earth and the world "system" which is ruled by Satan. This is an easy explanation then on how we are to not be part of the "worldly system" but we should be living a separate, holy life.

My experiences in Mexico however teach me a more experiential truth. We may be in this world now but we long to go back home. That longing to be home should be so real and so present within us that no matter what our experiences, our situations and our present condition, our mind and our being should be "in Christ".

Another good passage that relates to this subject is Romans 12:1-2

In this passage, the Apostle Paul tells that we are to conform ourselves, and our minds, to that of Jesus Christ. While I don't usually quote from the Message Bible (if you are over 40, I don't think it's usually allowed), I remember that this passage is especially appropriate in the modern language, read on...


"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

Like I said earlier, my Spanish is not as good as it used to be but that time in Mexico helped me understand that the culture or the world around me may be where I need to spend a lot of my time, but not necessarily my affection. My affection, my attention needs to be fixed on God. If I do this well, He'll help me bring out the best in me and let me become the person He wants me to become.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ready, Set, Grow

A few years ago, I saw an ad for some Children's books. It was a series called, "Ready, Set, Grow!"

The topic of Christian growth is interesting. In many ways we treat Christian growth like it was series of Children's books. There are steps along the way, certain introductory classes to attend, maybe even a church membership class followed by Baptism.

I don't think that is the model we should be teaching. Or better yet, this is probably not the teaching we should be modeling.

Early in my Christian walk, my pastor told me that true discipleship is more easily caught than taught. We are living in a world that is exploding with information. We have more opportunities for good Bible study material, self-improvement books on being a better Christian dad, mom, husband, wife and even Pastor than we ever thought we needed.

However, discipleship is not to be a book study, it is to be a road.

Jesus said, "Follow me". When we follow we will be on "el camino nuevo" or the new road. A road that has danger, true obstacles and pitfalls. We need to follow Jesus however to become like Him. In that process we become disciples.

But who is a disciple? How are to we to know if we are becoming a disciple and how do we make disciples? Well, in Luke 6:40 Jesus says that a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (WEB)

Becoming like Jesus is obviously not a quick process. It is however well worth the effort. Jesus spent a little over three years in public ministry. During that time he taught his disciples about mercy, about heaven, about character, about money, about politics and about priorities. He didn't just teach them theory or interesting models of self-improvement. He taught them truth.

Pretty real stuff. Well worth the effort.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Long Live the Coach

Bill McCartney...Oops sorry, Coach Bill McCartney started Promise Keepers in 1990, based on seven simple promises and the goal of changing men to fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ and the stated vision of "Transforming Men Worldwide"

Along the way, I've attended three Promise Keepers Conferences. Two in Detroit (1995 and 1996) and one in Cleveland (2002). My wife now smiles when we look back at one of those conferences. You see, my intentions were good back in 1996 when I attended my second PK Conference. I had an office in London but also one in the Detroit area with a wife and two teenagers. To make a long story short, in midst of a two year assignment with Ford with one office in London and one family in Detroit, I made it back one weekend and ended up spending about two full days with a bunch of guys and then left Sunday night for London.

My wife asked me, "So, when you go to these Promise Keepers meetings, do they talk about how to improve your relationship with your wife and children?" I don't even remember my reply, she had me.

So I've learned from my past and hopefully have become a little better over time.

That's really what PK is about. I know there has been talk about PK losing its effectiveness and some churches have discouraged some of the PK conferences and are focusing on other Men's activities.

That's too bad. Back when the Coach was still active with Promise keepers he would share that there is a special dynamic when men come together to honor Jesus Christ. He knew that the PK conferences would help guys discover what it means to be godly men. He took the flack for leading a very conservative, male focused organization because he knew that men had to take a stand for God in their marriages, families, churches, and communities.

Sometimes it works...you attend a men's conference and revival breaks out--even if it is in the heart of just one guy. These guys pictured here are just a bunch of guys from my church. My guys...guys that want to be a little more like Jesus and aren't afraid to take a stand for God in their marriages, families, church and their community.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hope for Hannah: Part Two


To see Hannah, it's difficult to understand how much her condition has improved. Her parents, Stan and Cindy had to really take Hannah's treatment and even her therapy into their own hands. The combination of the Williams syndrome and Batten's Disease had the doctors stumped. With the help of a sympathetic doctor, when others seemed resigned to the belief that she was beyond help, Stan and Cindy experimented and scientifically tested different treatments that included vitamins, supplements and essential oils.

Hannah's unique therapy co-developed by her mom and dad and synthesized by an MD has actually reversed some of Hannah's earlier maladies. Her hands and feet no longer turn blue, she is sleeping much more normally and her myocloic seizures have been reduced to a point to where they are no longer as painful and life-threatening.

Stan and Cindy believe that God has used Hannah's afflictions to demonstrate His faithfulness in Hannah's life so that Hannah life and story would be a testimony to the Lord. Hannah's neurologist after her recent hospital stay to install a feeding button in her stomach said that Hannah had improved to an earlier baseline that he saw when he saw her in the Fall.

Hannah's progress is significant but expensive. At the same time, Stan and Cindy are more determined than ever to continue with the special vitamin treatments and the cost of the metabolite that needs to be synthesized for Hannah. Hannah would have almost certainly died some time ago if it were not for God's help and her parents' therapeutic intervention.

The help and improvement have been significant and the family is in the process of working on a medical publication which will document the four-and-a-half years of pain staking care of an 'affected' Hannah and now over two years in theorizing, implementing and documenting the improvement in Hannah's condition which, they hope and God willing, will lead to the commencement of trials for use of the metabolite in other affected children, providing hope and relief for these kids and their families.


One of the latest developments is the interest by Joni Erickson Tada. Joni is the founder of Joni and Friends, an organization accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community. A diving accident in 1967 left Mrs. Tada a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, unable to use her hands. During two years of rehabilitation, she spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high detail fine art paintings and prints are sought after and collected.

Joni and Friends is a not-for-profit Christian organization dedicated to accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community. They advocate a biblical response toward disabilities, both visible and invisible; they provide opportunities for disability awareness; they educate the church community in practical ways of serving disabled persons; and they assist persons with disabilities in their progress toward independence and fulfillment.

Joni's ministry may be able to provide some of the funding necessary to continue the treatments and necessary symetabolite metabolite for Hannah. With some help in the funding, Stan and Cindy are encouraged to think that the Help for Hannah will end up becoming a help for many children and parents through the world.

Friday, July 22, 2005

How's your "Religion" working for you?

That title "How's your Religion working for you" was borrowed from Peter Hiett, the author of a new book titled, "Dance Lessons for Zombies". I had a chance to meet Peter (my paperback book was not only a gift but he gave me his autograph!) and let him know I enjoyed his first book as well.

So how is your religion working for you? One of the verses that I read all too infrequently is in Colossians. It says in Col 2:20-23 (ESV), "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"(referring to things that all perish as they are used) Aaccording to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." What I think this verse is telling us is that all too often, we find ourselves falling into legalism. This can be true not only of the usual suspects (you know the denominations I'm talking about), but also some of our more contemporary, non-denominational, non-traditional churches as well.

If we think that doing all the right stuff is somehow going to get us closer to heaven, we have missed the point. Jesus came because "Religion" wasn't going to get us there. If keeping the faith, staying faithful to the wife, not cheating on your taxes and not voting democrat (I kid of course) could get us to heaven, there would be no reason for Jesus to die for our sins and exchange our unrighteousness for His righteousness.

You know, the sad thing is that if people could really understand that they are set free two things I predict would happen. First off, they would be happy. No, really happy! This is why we are to be joyful because we already know that we are accepted and counted as a member of the family. Secondly, we would be more willing to go the distance, go for the gold ring, become all that God wants us to become.

Peter Hiett says this of course much better than I could. That's why gets paid to write and I Blog. We as people that are called by his name should understand that what we have in Christ is so much more than religion, so much more than keeping the law.

So how is your Religion working for you?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Hope for Hannah: Part One


I had a great breakfast meeting this morning.

Pastor Bob sent me an email and asked if I would join him at Paneras to meet with the Szymanski Family, Stan and Cindy with their children Joshua (age 10) and Hannah (age 8). I know Hannah. Hannah is very small for her age, permanently confined to a wheel chair, requires the constant love and attention of her parents and is a story of God's faithfulness and provision.

When her parents had to deal with what was Hannah's progressively worsening condition (but they found ways to turn that around-see Hope for Hannah: Part Two!), they have also had to learn to deal with what it means to become a family of the disabled. I listened in ernest as they told me of the treatments, the breakthroughs in finding vitamins that actually reduce some of Hannah's suffering and the trips and weeks in the hospital that work not only days but weeks at a time.

I found out that her disease has a name; actually two names: Williams Syndrome and Batten Disease. She is a "one-in-two-billion" child as her dad told me that there will be more people that die of choking on French fries then these two diseases.

What struck me however, wasn't the technicalities of a family dealing with a disabled child but what Stan and Cindy told me about what should be an opportunity for the church. Like many people, I don't think that we in the church want to avoid the disabled, we just don't know what we are to do. Fortunately for those that want to know, Jesus gave us some advice. He said, 'Go out quickly into the streets and the alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled (obviously before our PC language became important), the blind and the lame" (Luke 14:21). These are the people that are invited to the great banquet.

One of the words of advice that Hannah's family gave Pastor Bob and me were to make sure that we tried to find ways to truely engage the families of the disabled. They need angels that can help. Angels that can come and help for an hour, an afternoon or even a day. Many of the families come to church and need to sit with their son or daughter or family member in the hallways or in the lobby. Church becomes a difficult place as we've made sure that we've become "accessible" but that is typically the building, not the people inside.

With over 600 million people in the world that have disabilities that are in need of a friend according to Joni and Friends, an international Christian Ministry with a focus of helping the disabled. If we are the Body of Christ, we can and should be reaching out to them.

If you are interested in helping Hannah. Go to the family website at www.stashsongs.com

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

To Start, what is the Ashrie?

The Ashrei is the Hebrew word used typically to describe Psalm 145. Psalm 145 is in the original Hebrew an alphabetical acrostic with each verse starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. King David who used this literary device in speaking of God had good company. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord Almighty says he is the First and the Last (Isa 41:4, 44:6;48:12). Jesus applies the same name to Himself - the Almighty: Greek pantokrator, pan-tok-rat'-ore; meaning the all-ruling, God (as absolute and universal sovereign), Omnipotent. and then in the Book of Revelation: "I am the Alpha and the Omega" says the Lord God, "who is, and who was and who is to come. The Almighty" (Rev 1:8, 21:6)

I am not a Hebrew scholar, but I love the use of this poetic device, love knowing that God is before all, created all and rules all. On a simpler note, I have enjoyed the poetic beauty of Psalm 145, even in its English Translation:

Psalm 145 NIV (New International Version)

A psalm of praise.

Of David.

  1. I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
  2. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
  3. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
  4. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
  5. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
  6. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds.
  7. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
  8. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
  9. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
  10. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you.
  11. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
  12. so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
  13. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.
  14. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
  15. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
  16. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
  17. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
  18. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
  19. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
  20. The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
  21. My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.

Amen..God is good. God is powerful. God is righteous and He is faithful

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