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If I Only had a Brain

As I left the house this morning, I quipped “I'm off to see The Wizard,” and for comedic value could help adding “I need to ask for a brain.” Which led inexorable to me mock singing “I could whistle away the hour, conversing with the flowers. If I only had a brain.”

My wife corrected my mistake, and told me I would “...while away the hours, dear.”

After I said my goodbyes, and started walking away (no, I did not skip down the walk, as if it were a yellow brick road, nor did I sing “Good Ship Lollipop” but, I will remember to that next time) from the house I realized how much we Christians are like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Except, it's not the The Wizard, an old man behind the curtain, we're asking, it is our Lord.

How many times have we prayed things like, "God, please give me peace" or "Lord, if it is your wll, give me boldness." Why do we need to ask for boldness or peace, doesn't God's word say we have them, the Word of God says 365 times phrases like "Do not be afraid" and “Do not worry.” The psalmists tell us, "With God on [our] side, what shall [we] fear?" and that "[We] can do all things, through Christ Jesus who strengthens [us]." I believe those to be true, but at times I ask God for strengthen. The Bible says he's already given us strengthen, so why do I have to ask Him for it?

It is because we have a habit of getting caught up in the moment, in the struggles of life, and we forget what we have been called to be and we have been blessed with. Troubles will come, and we will face times that make us feel fear, weakness, doubt and/or worry. But, those feelings should never come to say, they should come to pass. I wonder sometimes how many times Moses called out to God saying "Lord, I know you want me to do this, but I'm not good at speaking. I have no idea what you were thinking in choosing me."

I ponder if the little Shepard boy, David, had shaky hands when he stood before Saul and said, “Don't be afraid, I got this. I know he looks tough, and you're all scared of him, and I know I'm the runt of the litter – but I'm going to go out there and make that big jerk stop talking smack and telling 'Yo God' jokes. Sure, I'm just delivering food to my brothers – a bronze age version of Domino's or Pizza Hut -- not a part of this army, and lacking formal training, but, um, see I've scared off some animals while I watching my sheep. It'll all be good.” Or, was it his confidence that convinced Saul that this humble boy, maybe 16 years old, was ready to face a seasoned warrior. Did David walk in and say, “Hey, Saul, what are doing. He's only one guy. 40 days, really? Look, I'll go take him out, because I know a God who will give us victory. You've forgotten who we are, we're God's chosen. What do we have to fear? Give me five minutes alone with him and I'll make him regret that crack about your son being a bed wetter, and saying that yo' mama was so fat she sat on a quarter and squished a booger out of George Washington's nose. (No, I have no idea what a Quarter or a George Washington are – I don't think they exist yet, that's why it is such a bad insult for a Palestinian to use on an Israelite in the bronze age).” Alright, the idea of putting the Yo' Mama jokes, and equating David to pizza delivery, I must credit to Joe Giglietti's sermon "Scrap the Model, Change the World," (and don't forget to check out The 99).

The take away, is this: don't ask God for strength, peace or boldness, you have them already, If you need them, remember that God gave them to you when you received the spirit of the Lord. Remember that His ways are higher than yours, and His plans are not be the same as yours; but, even if He leads you down a tough road, all things still work together for the good of those who love Him. He has not given you the spirit of fear, but the world has made you afraid. When you need strength, remember that you have been called out by God, and when you need boldness, remember that you are a "Mighty Man [or woman] of Valor."

Reflections on the Independence Day

Independence day means grilled food, family and of course fireworks. A day off in celebration of our independence. What is often missed, however, is how important the actions our founding fathers took really was. In July of 1775, Patrick Henry stood before the group of men, and delivered a fiery speech, telling them that “The question before us is nothing less than the question of freedom or slavery.” Most of the colonists in the 13 colonies took pride in their British citizenship, and while they were unhappy with the Stamp Act and the Tax Act, few of these men were ready to risk everything and try to revolt. Some of them were willing to do things in secret like dress up like Native Americans, sneak aboard a freight ship and dump the tea in the water, but few if any were ready to start really talking about open rebellion. Henry's speech, however held weighty words and powerful ideas. At the end of that meeting they agreed to meet the next year and draft a declaration of war.

In congress July 4, 1776 The Unanimous Declaration of Independence for the Thirteen Colonies if the United States was penned and signed. It spoke of dangerous ideas, that sadly it is easy for us to take for granted. Following the short preamble, they begin, We take these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. These were men who had studied the thinkers of the age of reason, and to call anything self-evident was a big deal for them. Particularly the sentiment that all men were created equal. It isn't clear if this spoke only of the white, land owning men or if this was an even more broad statement encompassing the slaves and women. The governments set up following this bold statement don't speak to the broader ideas, but Jefferson (while owning slaves himself) was a idealist pushing for abolition. Even if this “all men” concept was limited, it was practically unheard of at the time to say that, birth right doesn't matter. The nobles are not better than anyone bellow them, and the king and queen are my equals.

They continue, “That they are endowed, by their creator, with certain unalienable rights -- among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the time the idea of enlightened despotism ruled the day. God, most people thought, places kings and queens in power, and people were supposed to fall in line and blindly obey. This, however, spoke of rights for all men. Things that nature and nature's God had endowed us with. That we all had the right to live, be free and pursue our own destinies in life, a far cry from the serfdom, from religious persecution they were fleeing when they settled.

To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, follows. The idea that governments derive their power not from the divine, but from the people which the governments rule. This would mean that the governments are there to serve us, not rule over us. That governments exists solely to protect our rights.

When Governments become destructive to these rights, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to set up new government... was the treacherous claim, in the eyes of the British thrown. That if people aren't happy with the government that rules them, that they have a God given right to amend government or to forcible replace it, if it doesn't serve them.

These are the ideals our system is based. No, the system of government we have since established isn't perfect. Slavery should never have been allowed, land ownership should never have mattered, women should have had equal rights from the very beginning, and so on... But, all things considered, our system was very progressive and a huge step in the right direction. Even with their faults, I think it is important to remember what risks these founding fathers took, that we might have the freedoms we do.

Character Matters

I had another post I was going to write, but I felt called out of the blue to write this post instead. It isn't aimed or inspired by any particular person, but is a topic that was placed on my heart. You often hear people talk about the divide between business. Public and private lives of people. When an elected official has an affair or other moral lapse in the private life, you hear a lot of people judging the media sources that cover the “story.” I don't know how I feel about those sources because most of them are only running the sensationalism of a scandal to get eyeballs on the ad space they sell; but, I do think that the public has right to know.

Now, some have taken to arguing that “it isn't our business,” but I'd have to disagree. I don't need to know all the sorted details, but I need to know if public official is trustworthy. When a man marries a woman, he makes a promise to his wife, either before God or the government of United States. This promise and how he treats it speaks volumes about his character. If a man or woman is willing and able to break a promise to the most important person in their life, then there is nothing stopping them from breaking the promises they make to thousands or even millions of nameless faceless masses. Character does matter. Even the appearance of scandal should be avoided. Where there is smoke, there is often fire, and even if there isn't people will think there is fire.

You and I aren't congressmen or presidents – well, I suppose it is possible that readership includes congressmen or the even President – so, how does this apply to us? Our integrity is worth more than financial gain, and we should endeavor to protect it. We are people with family, coworkers, employers and/or friends, and even to them, your character matters. To your children, your actions will speak louder than your words. My wife and I have always st rived to be moral people of character, but we also no that no one is perfect (at least by God's standard). Life gives us all tests of our moral fiber. I want my daughter to see me doing the right thing, not for gain, reward or out of fear, but because it really is the right thing to do.

When are your thoughts about character, public figures, personal lives and the example you are trying to set?

Book Review: Quitter

Jon Acuff, in case you didn’t know, is the author of the blog Stuff Christians Like, the book Stuff Christians Like, and the book Baby Steps, Gazelles and 37 Other Things Dave Ramsey Taught Me. His most recent work is Quitter. Shortly after his book was released he wrote a guest post on Micheal Hyatt’s blog, and ran a give away contest for the book. I was blessed enough to be among the winners. I am big Jon Acuff fan, and an even bigger fan of his boss, Dave Ramsey.

The book was very prudent to what I’m doing and where I am in doing it. I’ve talked about my dream of making Jesus go Viral, and how I’ve started a company with that as the primary focus. A lot of the book is filled with common sense things, like “don’t quit your day job too early,” “hustle, and work hard on dreams” -- but they are important to remember and often when chasing a dream easy to forget. A lot of the message is couched with in comedic encounters from Jon’s own path, for instance he talks about “the reverse superman” he had to pull in the restroom at his past day jobs when returning from a weekend at his dream job.

What I like is that he talks about the business end and the personal aspects of moving towards your dream job. If you aren’t careful to lay down boundaries, you have the potential to ruin relationships with those that matter most. He talked about some of the stresses that hustling toward his dream job placed on his marriage and on their children.

My personal takes aways is that it time, patience, persistence and a lot of hard work. That you need to focus, and build a tribe if you want to make it to your dream job. Through it all, though, you can’t steal time from family, your current job, or other obligations. I was reading on the bus, when I read about his realization he already had “enough,” that he had everything in life that he needed, and more, without the dream job. I cried, because I realized that I, too, already had “enough.” I’m blessed with a wonderful wife, beautiful daughter, a loving family, a great church family, a roof over our heads and gainful employment. I want my dream, but even if it never becomes reality, I already have "enough."

Maybe that’s what that spirit of unrest and greed I talked about recently is about. I think a lot of people don’t realize what they already have. I know I forget sometimes that I have what I need when I’m thinking about what I want. Keeping that in mind, I can afford to patient, lay the long course, and put in the hours of hard work to get to my dream job.

The book is great, and anyone who can fill in these blanks should read it: “I’m a ________, but I want to be a __________.” Also, if this is a topic that interests you, you should register for the Quitter Conference.

Small Town Cedarburg

I shouldn't be telling you about this. Telling you means there will be more people on the streets, filling up the little shops, and standing in front of me in line to be seated at the restaurants. However, I have to mention how cool the historical Cedarburg is. The Washington House Inn is an especially nice place to stay when you need to get away. I know I now sound like a travel commercial for the city, but I assure you I am getting nothing from any of the businesses or the anyone in the city, for posting this glowing review of it. We spent a night at White House in last weekend, and the day today eating our way down Washington Avenue.

One of the best things about Cedarburg is that hearkens back to a simpler -- more innocent -- time. I know all times really have their ugly side, but the world of today isn't like the way the world used to be. Crime rates are higher, everything has been sexualized, neighborhoods have lost their community and families have grown apart. All of these are casualties of progress. Don't me get wrong, I think there are very important advancements that have made life better in many ways, but everything has two sides.

I admire the communication and media systems we have, we have access to information in ways we never have before. Relatively cheap, nearly instant, easily search-able access to scientific findings, artistic works, literature and world events. That said, we lose some important things with each step forward. It seems that face to face human interaction is becoming less and weaker as we escape into a world of text messages, emails, FaceBook posts and tweets. Information overload lessens the importance of each message we encounter. We can look up world starvation statistics with the same ease we watch the latest “Will It Blend” video.

Cedarburg embodies the simple life of a historical small town, purposefully preserving some of the best aspects of our past and culture. Along the main street, Washington Avenue, you see the entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of real camaraderie and glimpse at what made America Great. Each store owner started with a dream, worked hard to get their businesses started, and are active in their businesses daily operations. Most carry other stories products, market the other shops goods, or at least refer people to other businesses. Few of the retail spaces are empty at any given time, and they never remain empty for long. That said, the area is a tourist trap, but as long as you know that going in, you'll enjoy yourself.

Book Review: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

I recently finished Dr. Meg Meeker's book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. It is an enlightening book for anyone who is a father to a daughter. The large take away is that fathers relationships with daughters have huge impact on the choices daughters make (that part isn’t surprising). Fathers, Dr. Meeker argues, are the “gold standard” that daughters will use to measure the men that they date. Fathers, especially in this age, need to protect their daughters from the messages that society would plant in their young minds. Girls are more prone to self esteem issues than boys are, and girls have higher incidents of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Parents are the front line to control messages coming into the home, and should convey positive healthy messages to their daughter. Fathers need to tell their daughters they love them. They need to let them know how special and how precious they are, and they need to emphasize that a person’s worth is not determined by superficial things like appearance or wealth. Fathers need to tell their daughters that they are God's handiwork and they are beautiful for reasons that transcend the physical.

Dr. Meeker spends many pages talking about the rising cases of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, HPV, Herpes and AIDS. She mentions that most sexual education classes teach things that are incorrect, and even dangerous. She urges parents to take the matter into their own hands, and children need to know what their parent’s stance on sex is. The most important message for the sections on sex is the less sexual partners your daughter has, the lower the chances your daughter will get a sexually transmitted disease. Daughters who are taught their parents want them to abstain from sex, until marriage, have a significantly lower incidences of teenage pregnancy, STDs and depression. Parents, she argues, need to send a clear and concise message , set clear rules and enforce those rules consistently. Fathers need to meet the boys who seek to meet their daughter, communicate those expectation to these young suitors, know where their daughter is going and enforce a curfew. After all, it is a father’s duty to protect their daughters.

Her book also talks about letting your daughter know who you are, leading by example, teaching your daughter to be humble and telling your daughter who God is. Showing your daughter that you live by the principles you are teaching her is important. Most of what she learns from you, she’ll learn by watching you, not by the words you say. If you teach her about God, then show her in your walk with God – let her see your prayer life, your charity, your grace and your love for God. Teaching her to have self confidence and humility can be difficult, but the rewards in her life for learning those things will be many. It may sound contradictory, but I think Dr. Meeker is right. Lacking confidence can lead a teenage girl to do things she doesn’t want to do, just to fit in with the crowd, but an arrogant teen won’t take correction. Teen might sometimes seem mature, but we need to remember that they are still children and still need oversight.

The book made me shed tears -- of both joy and sorrow -- at different points. The stories of real patients interspersed with the narrative have huge emotional impact. I will personally be applying a lot of Dr. Meeker’s ideas in my own life. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is a father (or mother) of a girl.

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.
Exodus 20:17 (ESV)

What does it mean to Covet? Does this make all desire to have the same things your neighbors have a sin or is it just to want it at his expense? One has to ask if this is a ban on the ugly emotions of envy and jealousy or does this also prohibit sentiments like “Hey, that’s a really cool smart phone. Where can I get one?” The answer, I think, is that it is a law against former, but that the latter is a slippery slope. We are apt to compare where we are with where others are, and doing that will invariably lead to either pride or jealousy.

There is another distinction here that matters, and that is between such comparisons for a measure of our lives and looking to others for inspiration. I don’t think there is harm in saying “Wow, they are killing it. That’s what I want to do, and look it is possible. I can do it, and s/he’s proof.” Again take caution not to think things like “they don’t deserve that as much as I do,” “Why can’t I do that? I’m better/smarter/more faithful than they are,” or “it’s not fair.” We can all find people who we think “aren’t as successful” and others who are “more successful” than we are using man’s skewed judgement. God, however, has standards for all of us, and we all fall short. Yet, He loves us so much that He went to the cross for us, while we were yet sinners. We are not called to measure our lives by anything other than how close we are to what God has called us to be.

So, don’t be concerned about your neighbors new Jaguar, watch, purse, big screen TV, pool, trophy wife, etc., but instead pay attention to what God is calling you to do.

This idea comes in light of my recent political tension, my recent post "The Poor Get Poorer?" and the Milwaukee Journal’s recent article about the pay of CEOs. I think there is a growing feeling of envy and covetousness right now, and I think it plays in political unrest, protests and petty bickering we are seeing from both sides of the political parties.

The Poor get Poorer?

YearGDP
1950293.7
1960526.4
19701038.3
19802788.1
19905800.5
20009951.5
201014508.2

We’ve all heard it quipped that “the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.” We are in a society where there is a widening gap between the highest and the lowest economic classes. This makes people believe that there is this idea the lower classes are exploited for the profit of rich. Michelle Obama’s quote “[S]omeone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.” The implication is that if I have more wealth than you, you have less wealth because I have it. Say wealth were a pie and we are sharing a pie, and I take 60% of that pie, you can only have 40% of that pie. I would agree, if I believed that wealth were static, if it were a “fixed pie”. Wealth doesn't play by the law of conservation (in physics), wealth can be created and destroyed. There is virtually no limit to amount of value an individual can create. Going back to the pie analogy, does it matter if the I have more pie than you, if I am able to bake more pies when we run out? Just look at the GDP, and you can see value (wealth) being created and destroyed (not adjusted for inflation).

While the top 5% are making drastically larger percentage of the GDP than ever before, and the bottom 5% is making slightly lower percentage of the GDP than in the past, it all right because the total amount of wealth (GDP) is also greater (in aggregate, I realize that GDP has gone down since the housing market went south). Which means the that bottom 5% have more wealth today, correcting for inflation, than they have in the past (again, in aggregate).

Let’s, also, think about what it means to be poor. There are two ways to measure poverty, absolutely and relatively. Relative poverty compares people within a nation, i.e. you just take the lowest x% of income in the US, while absolute poverty looks at weather or not someone is able to meet the bare minimum to survive in a given region. In present day America, the absolute poverty line is an earned income less than or equal to $10,890 for a family of 1 or $14,710 for a family of 2, etc. That isn’t much money at all, and it is hard to imagine trying to get by on so little. That number doesn't include social programs, support from family, aid from churches or other religious institutions, and the like. Regardless, financial stress, struggling to make ends meet and more month than you have money is bad place to be and my heart goes out to people in that situation.

What does it mean to live bellow the poverty line? America does not make the list that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations puts out on world hunger, where as India 217.05 million people who are “Undernourished.” People dying of starvation doesn’t happen here on a level of statistical significance. The most recent number I can find is for 2004 when 120 Americans died of “lack of food,” while the population of the US in 2004 was 295,734,134. I’d agree 120 deaths is too many, but I imagine each of those there was something going on besides or in addition to poverty. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are undernourished or malnourished because of lack of funds. Certainly, putting food on the table and keeping the lights on are hard to do when you live in poverty, even in America. Even people above the poverty line worry about how they will feed their family in rough economic times. However, living in poverty in America is a lot different that being poor in any other country in the world. For instance:

  • 40% percent of all poor households actually own their own homes.
  • 80% of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • 30% of poor households own two cars.
  • 97% of poor households own a color TV set.

62% of poor households subscribe to cable or satellite TV service. Only 6% percent of poor households are over­crowded; two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

Being below the poverty line in any country isn’t an easy life, and I would not wish it on anyone. However, if I were told before birth that I would be born and remain in poverty my entire life, but was given the choice of any country to live in, I’d chose the United States.

If you are one of those who is still yelling at the screen “But, the rich still get richer and poor still get poorer.” You probably see I haven’t addressed that statement directly, yet. Well, let’s take a look. I will concede that rich get richer, and how could they not? They have money to invest. However, the poor don’t get poorer, they get richer too. The data that shows that 86% of households that were poor in 1979 were no longer poor in 1988, and 96% of households that were poor in 1975 were no longer poor by 1991. This makes sense if you consider the fact that as young adults start out participating in the economy they start with little to no assets, little or no training and little to no work experience. As time goes on, they gain experience and/or education, move up in jobs and hopefully learn to save and invest.

This income mobility shows up in the fact that 80% of people with net worth over a million dollars are first generation rich. That means that most of the rich didn’t start out that way. They worked, saved and invested. They made their wealth in time of their lifespan. This is also reflected in the Forbes 400, 31% of the Forbes 400 came from families whose parents did not have great wealth or own a business with more than a few employees.

Recent Gap in Posts

Sorry for the small interruption in posts. As it turns out, things have been interesting. There will some changes to blog content, when and how it is posted. The small gap in posts is in part due to the fact that I’m trying to improve the quality of posts, as such, I want to re-read and edit them after giving ample time to let them “cool.” In addition, I’m also going to try to post more consistently.

Some of the delay in posting was also caused by work on Stones Throw CMS (the CMS for Giant Slayer Development), as I have done some basic updates for the bible study module, will be adding recurring events and improving the administration side of the photo gallery. In addition, my wife went to a ladies retreat with church, and so I spent some quality time with my daughter. On that note, I’ll also be posting some thoughts on the “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” in the near future.

One of my dearest friends has also been in town recently, and had the pleasure of spending some time with him. Lots of Custard was consumed, as they don’t have custard in Afghanistan or in Arizona. He has recently returned to the United States after being stationed in Afghanistan for the past year, but he is now home in Arizona. No matter what your thoughts are about the politics of the war are, please take time to remember that we have brave men and women putting their lives at risk on a daily basis. My friend, for instance, was on a demolitions team finding and disarming Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) so that soldiers and civilians alike would not be harmed. There are many soldiers in Iraq and Afganastan today doing the same thing.

On a completely different note, I’ve been keeping an eye on the stats for the sheet music, midi and mp3 of the piano track(s) for the Come and Join the Chorus project, I know there are some people who are likely working on videos for the project. Our church’s choir will be doing a video sometime this summer, and I know a few people personally who have said they would join the chorus by posting YouTube Videos. So, expect to see me commenting about some of the submissions as they come in.

Last thought of the post, is that I won copy of Quitter by Jon Acuff from a guest post he did over at Michael Hyatt’s blog. I’ll post a review when I’m finished reading it. Very excited.

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