Wednesday, December 31, 2008

World View Matters

The following is an interesting article written by an avowed atheist about the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change culture for the good. It can change homes and individuals too!

"As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in" to continue reading

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

George Herbert: Submission

Once again our friend Fred Smith has pointed us toward the timelessness of what it means to be a True Steward of Life from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert: (It does take a few reads to get even for the poets among us!)

¶ Submission.

BUt that thou art my wisdome, Lord,
And both mine eyes are thine,
My minde would be extreamly stirr’d
For missing my designe.

Were it not better to bestow
Some place and power on me?
Then should thy praises with me grow,
And share in my degree.

But when I thus dispute and grieve,
I do resume my sight,
And pilfring what I once did give,
Disseize1 thee of thy right.

How know I, if thou shouldst me raise,
That I should then raise thee?
Perhaps great places and thy praise
Do not so well agree.

Wherefore unto my gift I stand;
I will no more advise:
Onely do thou lend me a hand,
Since thou hast both mine eyes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

Recovering the Stewardship of Christmas

Friday, December 19, 2008

Greed is Not Good

As Stewards of all that God has entrusted us it is important that we base our life and decisions on the Rock solid foundations given to us by God Himself. This sounds like an obvious statement but given our 'state' of mind, body and culture greed can creep in to even the most well intentioned of us.

In the 1980s movie Wall Street the villain, Gordon Ghekko's famous line is, "Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good". But greed is not good. Yet all of us are impacted by our own fallen nature and the culture in which we live and the prevailing mindset of our culture would say that "greed is good". Is there an antidote to a life of being blown by the winds of culture and the pursuit of fools gold? Yes. The antidote is found in the life of devotion to truth and love found in community. Something rarely found today. It may sound simplistic but Christ calls us to imitate His love and the Paul admonishes us to imitate him in I Corinthians 11:1, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ". A good question to start the day with is, "Whose thinking am I imitating?"

When thinking about 'how we live' and the decisions we must make I am convinced it's not so much "what would Jesus do" that should direct us, but 'what would Jesus think' and how can I imitate His thinking? That's what Sheldon wanted when he wrote those famous words. He wanted the church to "think Christianly", and his book was a reminder of how the church was to think about the sojourner and the poor.

How do we 'think' about money, education, family, the latest scandal on Wall Street and our 'calling' in light of the economic crisis we find our world? There are many unemployed and frightened people around us who need love and truth and today's global crisis may be an opportunity like few others to point friends and family to 'the' Truthgiver who brings comfort and right thinking in plenty and little.

Grace and peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fixing a Problem With a Problem

This morning I heard our President say how "sorry" he was that during these difficult times he has had to walk away from free market theory and turn to more government oriented solutions to the free market. Well, as anyone who has studied history or had a flat tire knows you cannot fix a problem with a flawed solution - you only put off further problems. Duct tape will only hold for so long! History shows even kings can't create an heir by looking for a better wife. The 'problem' is theirs.

In considering how 'we' live and our daily personal, family and cultural problems I wonder how 'unorthodox' our fixes or solutions are? Since you can't make something whole that is broken what are we basing the solutions to our family, personal and even financial difficulties upon?

From raising kids to the economics of a household we need a standard. Any solution just won't do (at least not for our house)!

May I suggest a good start would be to read Psalm 1 several times a week and choose a Proverb a day through the holidays and going forward as a way of moving towards making un-orthodox thinking more orthodox. Maybe even resolving to read the Bible in 2009 all the way through? I don't have the solutions any more than the "authority" on CNBC this morning, but I know that the Giver of life wrote THE book that will help us think more orthodox and begin to see things from His subjective point of view. In that way perhaps we will begin to see how all things actually do work together for our collective good? Just a thought!

Grace and Peace

Monday, December 15, 2008

Don't Sell Them Short

Last night my son Williams who just turned four brought into our bedroom a picture of crazy and indecipherable lines. He was so proud of what looked to us like a mess. He burst out with joy and a ton of energy, "These are the footprints of God!"

Those "footprints" are hanging on our bedroom mirror!!! Don't sell the little ones short.


What a Tangled Web We Weave...

This morning the world will wake up to an astounding story of thievery and deceit. One of Wall Street's well known fathers has confessed to creating a 'Ponzi scheme' that has stolen some $50,000,000,000.00 (that's billion) from pension funds, businesses, savvy hedge fund managers and individuals from Titans of industry to grandmothers who trusted 'the system'. Story here.

Perhaps this will help Joe and Josephine Investor realize the financial industry is set up, not to make clients money, but to sustain and enrich itself and those who created it. As a business owner I understand that making a profit is what business is created to do. This allows for salaries and retirement systems to be funded. Yet it appears, as has always been true, some among us have taken 'gain' at others expense to a whole new level.

Wall Street, the banking system, and insurance industry today reminds me of shark infested waters and from my point of view the 'innocent' rarely survive with their money without building a cage around their wealth and understanding the need for an advocate or trustworthy guide for the dangerous waters. I believe we are seeing a shift in this industry and that the financial services industry, or any industry for that matter, can only survive long term if it's participants follow the Golden Rule that has been given to us all. A reckoning is taking place and many crooked players who have stolen from others may be exposed for what they are and the 'financial system' has become...precarious at best. This doesn't leave us without hope. It should remind us not to put our confidence in wealth or prices but to trust in our unshakable King.

Stewards of Innocence

Having small and maturing young children in my home I am beginning to see the 'pull' the systems of our world (economic (UGG's), cultural and social) can have on children. As exciting as it is to begin to see kids step into young adulthood I am still a bit reticent to send untrained soldiers into the 'live fire' of the world. For this reason I see why so many families are literally frightened by all that would corrupt the hearts and minds of their little ones. Yet I am confident that our Father in Heaven has plans for our/His children which do not lead to destruction.

Touching on this subject wells up considerable fear and theological discussion so I will leave the issues of Gods sovereignty to Him and encourage each of us to throw ourselves at the feet of the One who entered this dark and destructive world to make things that were wrong right. I also encourage all parents to throw themselves at the feet of Christ and beg for His mercy. We also live in a corrupt world. May our example of walking in brokenness inspire our little ones to walk with courage and faith through a world where men will dissapoint and systems will fail. Yet our Father in heaven is unchanging and always faithful to sustain us body and soul.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Framework of Calling And Character

We have arrived at a teaching moment. Bring on the teachers.

Eight trillion dollars in equity wealth has disappeared from our collective wallet. In an effort to offset the deflating effect of that loss, we are going to use the government’s credit-worthiness or printing presses to put more money in circulation. This cascading infusion will not be free of cost, and the extraordinary decline in the value of equities and home values—along with the accelerating reduction in wage income, stock dividends, and the like—will be painful.

And these developments will not be culturally neutral.

The financial institutions, as the perceived enablers of wealth creation, are always disproportionately influential, as are those who dream up new products and services to capture our spending power. So what happens when the wealth-enablers suddenly exit stage right while many in the wealth chain check to see whether their law firms have bankruptcy specialists? Is this a back-to-basics moment? Might even those who inhabit the precincts of corporate and government power experience a moment of humility? If so, to what effect?

My father was forced to leave college after his sophomore year to help support his family. The Depression had crippled the family hardware store and everyone in the family had to work to avoid its failure. The Depression proved to be a searing experience for my father (indeed, for a generation), informing the rest of his life. He conserved, avoided debt, and always bought locally to support his neighbors. He also spiritually and intellectually paired many of the post-Depression cultural traits with his faith. He recognized the wisdom of his spiritual fathers.

Too many act as if the source of morality is best placed in a container and kept far away from the suites of power.

As an active practitioner in business and its oversight, it is clear to me that most businesspeople do not pair the disciplines of faith with the practices of business. Too many act as if the source of morality is best placed in a container and kept far away from the suites of power.

Daniel Bell, in his book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, observed: “When the Protestant ethic was sundered from bourgeois society, only the hedonism remained, and the capitalist system lost its transcendental ethic. Work was no longer a calling, but a mere means of seeking pleasure as a way of life.”

Our society of late has worked to remove limits on what can be bought and experienced. Virtually anything can be had—right now—courtesy of a loan. For decades the prevailing business ethic has been dismissive of limits. If there are potential buyers, produce it. Foundational principles have been contorted: to many “liberty” has come to mean “libertine” while the “pursuit of happiness” is reduced to the pursuit of pleasure. Should we then be surprised when the entire financial ecosystem is corrupted by what has turned out to be a disastrous profit chase?

Sociologists, who are eager not just to track cultural decline but to identify the cultural shapers, have generally concluded that cultural formation is a top-down affair. At the top is collaboration between those who conceive and those who act. Further down the pyramid of responsibility we find a collaboration between marketers and advertisers. Presumably those like my Dad, who as a retailer was well down the pyramid, and certainly those who purchase products and services, are expected to be mere pawns. It did not turn out that way in his case; he and much of his generation borrowed reluctantly and avoided a return to the excesses of the 1920s.

when money is easy, and especially when it is decoupled from real work or plausible amortization schedules, society suffers extraordinary indignities at all levels

I have not spent my life parsing data to figure out cultural cause and effect. But it seems clear that when money is easy, and especially when it is decoupled from real work or plausible amortization schedules, society suffers extraordinary indignities at all levels of the pyramid. A smaller-scale illustration occurred about midway through my term as Chairman of the FCC. I began to hear from indignant parents whose sons were calling telephone sex lines drawing on their parents’ credit with the phone companies. “Protect us,” they asked. In response I asked the Commission to disallow the disconnection of a phone line because the subscriber had not paid that part of the bill associated with a sex service, and it complied. The letters ceased and most teenagers chose not to buy heavy breathing with their own resources.

Of course, a loss of buying power does not automatically translate into a more benign culture. However, when the profligate and their enablers are the occasion for losses that attack pensions, college funds, retirement savings, and most of the other investment vehicles used by prudent people for important social responsibilities, the unquestioned pain awakens us to an especially fertile teaching moment. It has been decades since the Great Depression, and it seems that the lessons we once learned have largely been forgotten, often—especially—by highly educated people.

Dallas Willard commented on the dynamics of a market economy in “The Business of Business,” a 2006 Provocations essay. He observed that:

at this particular time in our history, moral calling and moral character have no weight and are thus unable to serve as established points of reference for individual practice and public policy. They are not treated as aspects of reality which must be appealed to in judgment and with which any decent person must come to terms. There is no legitimating support, therefore, for the idealism of young people who go into the professions, nor for the justifiable demands of the public to be served.

It is a convincing framework of calling and character that must be restored if professional life is to be directed in a manner which—surely everyone deep-down knows—is suited to its function as provider and protector of the public good and thus of individuals throughout our neighborhoods and beyond. The greatest challenge facing an officially post-Christian world is to provide that framework. To this point it is not doing very well with the task.”

Too often today’s decision framework is guided by a version of the excuse all parents hear from their children. “Everybody else is doing it,” says the child. But at the beginning of a new market scheme, everybody else is not doing it. There is indeed a pyramid, but many who are near its top nonetheless act more like mimics than leaders. True cultural transformation will require both moral clarity and energy up and down the pyramid.

In this new century, we now have a boundless supply of stories to illustrate and reanimate the wisdom of Solomon, whose thought offers a rich tableau of enduring truths. But we need institutions capable of trans-generational influence; institutions whose motivation is not novelty but truth, and yet which understand that truth-telling needs to find its voice in modern idioms and forms. Proverbs need to be told and re-told, and contemporary narratives can add immensely to their persuasion. The Trinity Forum and its peers need to do an even better job in underscoring the need for—and beginning the construction of—a “framework of calling and character.” Waiting for others to do the job would be as imprudent as is the conduct we lament.

Written by Al Sykes at The Trinity Forum

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Family Wealth

Over the next few weeks, or months, I will be writing on the various types of family wealth I have observed.  It is my hope that by reading here we will begin to redefine or 'reform' the current way we view wealth.  

In the past, in an agrarian economy, which represents the majority of human existence, 'wealth' was measured not by a portfolio of securities but more by the size and abilities of ones family.  Land, and its fruitfulness, has also historically been a good guide for measuring ones wealth.  So, how did we get to the point in culture in which wealth is measured by our ability to hoard for ourselves and not by our ability to produce and our relate to one another?  

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Early Church Wisdom Concerning the Heart

Because the beginning of Wisdom comes from knowing God and understanding His creation I thought the following might be an encouragement as we look to understand ourself.

The heart itself is only a small vessel,
yet dragons are there, and lions,
there are poisonous beasts,
and all the treasures of evil,
there are rough and uneven roads,
there are precipices;
but there too is God and the angels,
life is there, and the Kingdom,
there too is light, and there the apostles
and heavenly cities,
and treasures of grace.
All things lie within that little space.

Makarios the Great