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'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!

The Real Virus Is Fear

There is a virus that is attacking and ravaging this country but it is not Covid-19.   It is fear.  This fear is being spread by people ...