Thursday, December 22, 2016

Yes, It's A Wonderful Life

Yes, It’s a wonderful Life

I enjoy the seasons.  While the official seasons of Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring don’t change much in Florida, the holidays are still special.   For Christmas, my wife and I enjoy getting into the mood by listening to Christmas carols on the radio or our old CD’s and of course watching the Hallmark Channels endless movie offerings, all with the same theme, often the same actors and just the right amount of snow.

There are standards however and every Christmas movie’s standard is Frank Capra’s, “Its a Wonderful Life.”  Released 70 years ago, with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey and Donna Reed as Mary Hatch Bailey, the reason for its success is the heart-felt lessons that it teaches all of us through the intervention of Clarence the Angel.  

If we look past the dramatic over-acting that was common for its day and the non-biblical view of angels (angels are created beings, not dead people earning wings), there are two spiritual truths to be understood

1. God’s greatest gift to you is your very life in its entirety

George Bailey was constantly searching for something different, something better.   As a young man, we see him planning on traveling the world.  Trains and steamships take you places where it must be better than Beford Falls.    He’s ready to leave again when his brother, Harry gets married and ruins his plans of escape.

George and Mary get married and have children but George is still a busy guy.  Too busy to be thankful for the life he has as he constantly laments the life he hasn’t been given.    George obviously envies his good friend Sam Wainwright who had introduced George to his future wife, Mary.

Old man Potter tells George that he’s worth more dead than alive and George decides to believe Potter who lies, cheats, defrauds and oppresses the townspeople.  It’s interesting how people are more likely to believe a lie even when it’s from a source that is despicable.

God’s greatest gift is George’s life itself with all of its ups and downs, the heartache, difficulties as well as its moments of ecstasy.    To make sure we don’t miss this lesson in the movie, Clarence’s angel boss, “Franklin” states clearly, “At exactly 10:45 p.m. tonight, Earth time, that man will be thinking seriously of throwing away God's greatest gift.”

God’s greatest gift is life itself!

2) Our measure of success is not to be money or houses or wealth

A few years ago I was interviewing a candidate and on the top of his resume his objective was ‘to become a success’.

We often measure success all wrong and it can really mess up our lives.  Ambition is good but when it drives us to value things and devalue people we have our priorities all wrong.   George is ambitious and industrious but it creates unhappiness and dissatisfaction.   Beyond some prayers by Mary and the children towards the end of the movie, we don’t see any obvious reference to Christian values.  

Honoring God, serving mankind, personal integrity, fidelity in marriage, hospitality to family and neighbors, parental responsibilities and citizenship are all present at various times in the movie but never noticeably appreciated by George.

Clarence is supposedly an angel and makes an attempt to clear up any misunderstanding of what success is about.  In the dedication of the book that was given to George he writes,  "Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings. Love, Clarence."

"Having Friends," yes, that is definitely a priority.  More to the point, the Westminster catechism clarifies our priorities succinctly: Question 1. “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Fear Not!

“But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 ESV)
Two thousand years ago, over the pastures and hills of Bethlehem, shepherds were watching their flocks.   Suddenly, the shepherds were startled by an amazing thing.  Angels, possibly surrounded by light and possibly even hovering in the air appeared.   Their reaction was that they "were sore afraid."  Today, we would use other words but all of us can relate to what it means to be terror-stricken.

The angel however tells them to not be afraid and says, “I bring you good new that will cause great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10).   Often we are told of ‘good news’ but we find that it may not be entirely ‘good’.    Also, this news was not only good but would cause great joy for all people. 

“Fear not” is a common phrase in the bible, often attributed to angels.   In proper context, it can be found over 80 times.  God appeared to Abraham and told him to “Fear not.”   Moses told the people of Israel to “Fear not.”   Joshua was told by God to “Fear not,” and was given a further promise that He, God would be with Joshua as He had been with Moses.

The shepherds are given the best greeting of all as the angel said unto them, "Fear Not... behold a Savior" (Luke 2:10-11). The answer to their fear and the reason that this good news was to be for all the people was that the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah, was born.

This verse out of Luke kicks off this season of Advent and the beginning of the Christmas season.   While Christmas is associated with gifts and good cheer and great times around a dinner table with family, the message of the angels is still the message for today, “fear not, the Messiah is born”.

This baby that was born in Bethlehem was no ordinary baby nor ordinary king.  The Bible says clearly that Jesus was sinless, born of the Holy Spirit.  It was because of this miraculous birth that we can have life eternal.   This was the promise of the Messiah, the good news for all people.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Using Cap Rates to Evaluate Commercial Property prices

As a Commercial Lending professional, I often begin my conversation with a real estate investors or commercial buyer when there is a real estate sales contract already executed. 

While most of us are familiar with the process in purchasing a home and a basic understanding of market valuations and comparable sales, commercial property is an entirely different matter.

Commercial property, other than residential property bought for ‘buy and flips,’ is valuable primarily because of the income that it produces.  For example, apartment buildings generate rental income, retail stores generate sales and if purchased as an investment, rental income as well.

So how much is a commercial building worth?   Commercial buildings in nice areas, facing parks and having a nice view only have more ‘value’ than commercial buildings without these amenities, if they are able to generate more income for the investor.  

The measuring rod with commercial properties is something called “Cap Rate,” which is short for “Capitalization Rate”.   A cap rate is quite simply the rate of return expressed in a percentage that a commercial property generates.   Investors, lenders and shareholders prefer higher cap rate to lower ones. While cap rates vary by location, property condition and market trends, a wise investor determines a property's value based on a desired cap rate.

While text book examples of calculating acceptable cap rates can become very complicated and always take into consideration vacancy rates, management fees, etc., the simple formula for a building's cap rate is net operating income divided by sales price.

An apartment building, for example, that generates net operating income (prior to loan coverage) of $98,000 annually that is for sale for $1,100,000 provides a cap rate of 8.9%  

Here’s an easy way (i.e. fast-n-dirty) to quickly determine a commercial property’s value.  Take the net operating income (prior to the new loan coverage) and divide it by .10     While 10% may be high in some areas and low in others it does remind the investor that they need to cover their cost of capital plus make a decent return (i.e. 3+7; 4+6 etc.).    The math is easy as you just move the decimal over (i.e. $98,000 annual income with a cap rate of .1 = $980,000 market value of the property).



Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Stand Your Ground

There are many promises of Jesus that we can find in the Bible. While there are over 200, here are just a few: He promised that He would die and in three days rise from the dead.

He promised He would send the Holy Spirit and that He would come back again. He promised that He would draw all to himself. And finally but not least, He promised his followers that they would be hated and persecuted.                                                                              
Jesus said,

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles."  

"But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."  

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes." (Matthew 18:16-23)

Jesus tell us that we will be handed over, flogged, brought before governors and kings. We will be arrested, betrayed, hated and put to death. However, He tells us to 'stand our ground.' When we hear of 'Standing your ground' we may think about self-defense or being assertive or exercising our rights. However, this is not what Jesus means as this is all about our witness and our faith.

The context of the above verses is the 10th chapter of Matthew. Jesus is providing final instructions to His disciples. Jesus has been teaching them for three years and he's about to send them out. They have been following but soon will be on their own; He's giving them their job description. Just prior to these verses Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven has come near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”(Matthew 10:8)

That’s a great charge to these disciples! Some commentators have said that this chapter 10 of Matthew is the disciples’ ordination ceremony. For those that may be unfamiliar, let me provide some insight.

Ordination is ‘setting apart the individual for the work of the ministry’. For churches and denominations that take this process seriously, there are very similar steps or processes. It begins with a selection process, an examination of the individuals, and then an examination of the individual’s credentials – typically both practical as well as academic or theological training. Finally, the candidate kneels and others that have gone before, often the elders and pastors, lay hands on the candidate.

I still remember the charge I was given when I was ordained: I was told to: 1) Love God,  2) Love His Word, and 3) Love His People. While there were a number of scripture verses that were recited during the service, one of the verses that was emphasized was in Acts 20:28-31

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!”

I believe that that these verses in Acts 20:28-31 that are similar to Jesus instructions above in Matthew 18 are valuable instructions as well as warnings for ALL of us. Jesus said that while people are offered light, they will prefer darkness because their deeds are evil. That evil in the hearts of those that prefer darkness leads to the trials, the persecutions and the hate. When these attacks come, it can easily lead to compromise, silence, withdrawal and capitulation and surrender.

Our response however is to stand firm. We are to acknowledge Jesus before men and are promised that Jesus will acknowledge us before His father. We have the truth that sets people free, we are the light in the midst of darkness.


Stand your ground!

Have you heard the saying “if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger?     It is similar to the saying “No pain No gain”.     Well...