Friday, September 9, 2016
The inspiration for this post actually comes from a very unexpected source. In the show “Les Miserables” there is a song that contains the line “Cooking the books”. Yeah, out of the entire show, that’s the 3 words I got from it…lol. Now, I know this phrase means “manipulating the company’s accounting to hide profits”, whether that be from legal sources or not. So this started some wheels turning. WHY does a business owner “cook the books”? If they are engaged in illegal activities, it becomes easily understood. But why would someone not engaging in illicit business practices do it?
The only reason I can imagine in answering this question is that they are trying to hide their profits to avoid paying taxes. We have thousands of laws forcing us to pay taxes and we have thousands of laws concerning the penalties for evading the paying of those taxes.
As I began researching this topic, I discovered that the scope of my thinking kept getting wider. For example, why does cigarette smuggling across state lines happen? Because one state levies hefty taxes on the product, while another does not. The product’s cost does not vary much between states, but the price difference comes down to the taxes on the product. I remember when I lived in Pennsylvania, near the Delaware state line. Delaware has no sales tax, while Pennsylvania does, to the tune of 6%. So, for ALL major purchases (except cars which require registration, and therefore post sales taxes) we drove to Delaware to purchase that product. So even for the most law abiding citizen (specifically me), we do what we can to save ourselves money by avoiding paying unnecessary taxes. Where we live now in Virginia, one county has added a “restaurant tax” while the neighboring county does not. I think twice before I choose a restaurant these days because I travel between counties on a regular basis. I may choose to pay the additional tax, but it does get evaluated each and every time.
So my main topic is really focused on how we crack down on businesses who “cook the books” to evade taxes. It is currently estimated that there is $500 billion in lost taxes due to evasion. The majority of this gap is caused by small businesses and sole proprietors. So to make up for the loss, lawmakers are always considering raising taxes to make up the loss. But in actuality, this only causes those who already comply with the law and pay their taxes to incur an additional burden for those who do not comply. And if the burden is great enough, will it not create a temptation to either begin evading the additional tax, or in many cases, force these businesses to fold and close their doors? This in turn creates another loss in taxes because there are no sales being made by a closed business.
How much money does the IRS spend to investigate tax evaders? Do the penalties imposed make up for this cost? How many more laws do we need to stop tax evaders? I know many small business owners. I would say nearly all are upstanding citizens who pay their taxes as required. But none of them is quiet on the requirements of complying with the taxation and all the other regulations they must follow that drive up the cost of doing business. We all complain that the cost of living increasing and our salaries as employees not keeping up, but did you know that every regulation and law that gets passed by our government causes the cost of doing business to increase? So to recoup this cost, prices must increase. And since the price increase is to make up for government meddling, it does not include increases in salaries. So think about it, if you don’t get an increase, will the business owner go to jail? On the other hand, if the taxes aren’t paid, or the regulations aren’t implemented, the business owner might end up there. So where is the business owner going to put his/her money? If you owned the business, where would you put it?
We hear so many complaints about businesses that move jobs overseas where labor costs are lower, moving money reserves off-shore to avoid paying taxes, incorporating in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes, and gigantic companies who pay very little or no taxes at all. What do all these things have in common? REDUCING COSTS AND INCREASING PROFITS!!!
I believe TYCO is one of the best examples of a company avoiding taxes. This conglomeration has so much revenue that they will move their papers of incorporation to another country if the tax consequences make it worthwhile. Originally incorporated in Massachusetts, they moved their incorporation to Bermuda to greatly reduce their tax liability on their profits. American taxes were just too high. When Bermuda began raising taxes, they were swift to head to Switzerland to benefit from far lower taxes. But then, only a year later, Switzerland decided they could benefit from increased taxes. Next stop: Ireland!
My whole point being that increased taxes push businesses to make decisions they may not make otherwise. The point of business is to make a profit. If that profit is threatened, the business owner will do whatever it must do to protect itself. All the things we complain about concerning businesses are caused (in many or most cases) by our government trying to take what the business is working to keep…PROFITS!!! As individuals, we do not have the option to make these huge moves to protect our money, but large corporations do. However, this does not make the business evil or greedy. This just makes them do business in the best way they can.
So let’s look at what might be done to resolve some of these tax “avoidance” problems. First, perhaps we could do away with taxes on businesses, and many of the regulations we currently have. This may sound absurd, but if you think about it, many small businesses never get started because they cannot afford to comply with all the regulations placed on them, so many jobs that COULD be created, are not! Second, they can’t make a decent profit because taxes burden their bottom line, especially when starting up. Third, repeal NAFTA and all other treaties that allow “free trade”. I used to agree with free trade until I learned that the whole point of tariffs is to place foreign goods in the same “price range” with American products. Many products that arrive in this country were manufactured in places where wages are so low, the workers barely get by. If we tax these goods, raising the price to match American made products, there would no longer be a need to ship jobs overseas to reduce costs. The tariffs level the playing field and reduce the need to lower labor costs just to compete. We ENCOURAGE shipping jobs overseas by creating an expensive business environment!
Now we could ask, why don’t American companies produce less expensive goods to compete? Why don’t the companies absorb the costs instead of passing them on to the consumer? Good questions! Well there are many costs to running any business. In our country, the largest cost to most businesses is salaries and benefits. Are you also going to require a $15/hour minimum wage? Are we going to hear about how unfair the employees are treated because they don’t make enough in their paycheck? Complaining that American made goods cost too much and then increasing business’s costs will never create lower prices. Forcing an “across the board” wage increase hurts our economy. Many argue that by increasing wages, we give more money to people who will in turn spend more into the economy. The theory sounds good, but by increasing the cost of doing business, prices will go up. Now some others argue that huge corporations can actually afford to absorb the increased costs. They are obviously just greedy, money grabbing, bean counters. And I may agree with you on this. BUT, how about the SMALL businesses that are owned by the “moms and pops” who are simply trying to put food on the table for their own families? How do these small businesses, who typically have lower profit margins than large companies, survive the increase in business costs? Many don’t and close their doors.
In Seattle, Washington, the minimum wage is increasing to $15/hour over time. Preliminary numbers show that there has been no net loss in jobs as was predicted. This is GREAT news! The nay-sayers of minimum wage increases were wrong! So let’s look how this worked out: Because large businesses have more employees, they have a longer period of time before hitting the final destination of $15/hour. If you have fewer employees, you have to increase wages sooner. Since the minimum wage increase hit mainly restaurants, we’ll focus our attention there. Some of the smaller “mom and pop” restaurants did in fact, close their doors. BUT, the good news is that the big chains were able to pick up those lost jobs because of the increased business that came from the closed restaurants. The small places closed because they couldn’t raise their prices, but were forced to increase the wages paid out. So why couldn’t they raise their prices? Because the chains were able to keep their prices low and raising prices would drive business away. Why could the chains keep prices lower? Because they have more time before they have to increase wages AND the additional ability to spread the higher cost across their other stores nationally. Once their competition (mom and pop shops) is gone, what is to stop them from raising prices? The market just became a monopoly and as we all know, monopolies get to set the price to anything they want. We have destroyed small businesses with a “one size fits all” solution. We have increased the power of the huge companies that we complain about by legislating them into a better position.
So, perhaps this is a bad example because the wage increase was localized and not nationwide. Well, if the wage increase was implemented nationwide what would happen? The biggest competitor of big companies is small business. So let’s implement a nationwide minimum wage increase. As a huge company, I have huge cash reserves. My competitors, the small businesses, do not have this going for them. If I hold my prices down for a year after the wage increase, it will cost me in the short term, but since my competitor cannot sustain this strategy, they will go out of business. Once gone, I can increase my prices and the market, which regulates pricing through competition, is no longer stopping me from doing so. All those wage increases? You’re going to be paying them back in the form of higher prices across the board.
A “living wage”, implemented thought minimum wages is ALWAYS followed by increases in the cost of living, which in turn eats up these increases. There is always a lag that tends to be blamed on other factors because once the higher prices come into play, the Presidency and many seats in Congress have changed hands. But the numbers bear this phenomenon out. The government likes to play “the blame game” and the blame is always shifted to someone else when things go terribly wrong. So always look at the long term affects of when laws were implemented and when the results came in. It is very consistent that one follows the other, including the blame being passed around.
So the second idea is to reduce constant government meddling in business. Capitalism in its purest form has always regulated costs and benefited the consumer. We can point to problems with dishonest business practices that “required” the government to step in. But if you research the events prior to the problem, you will almost ALWAYS find other government actions that lead to those problems. I have researched many different problems that required government regulation, and in every case, I always ended up finding previous regulations that led to allowing a business to take the actions it did that now needed to be fixed. Here is a GREAT example of this practice: “The breakup of AT&T (or Ma Bell as it was called)” The breakup was required because AT&T had become a monopoly and began price gouging, and had the ability to prevent any competition from ever getting started (YEAH!!! Federal intervention! Our saviors!!!) But if you trace it all back, constant regulations written over decades, which favored AT&T’s technology over its competitors, knocked the competitors out of the market. The entire monopoly was systematically built BY our government! The federal action to break them up was actually to FIX what they had done in the first place, trying to fix their OWN mistakes. Capitalism is ALWAYS blamed as the reason for greed and corruption within large corporations. But if the market was allowed to function as it was intended WITHOUT government interference, it would in fact, take down big businesses that get out of line. All regulations favor someone over someone else. Those who can implement the regulations first, come out on top, and since regulation implementation requires money, it ALWAYS favors large companies OVER small ones with fewer resources. So if you want to blame big companies for our problems go ahead. And if you want the government to save you, good luck with that! Big business usually benefits from government action, while destroying small business who by the way, is the entire reason why our country has enjoyed so much prosperity. Small business owners make up nearly 80% of our economy because Capitalism works that way. The fewer small businesses we have, the more big businesses can run amok and dictate YOUR income.
My main point started out on taxes causing business owners to “cook the books”, but I was not able to separate the additional costs placed on businesses by the regulations and laws placed on doing business. Both go hand in hand to forcing business owner to “cheat” on their taxes, raising prices, etc in order to reduce their costs. Those who remain honest, often cannot stay in business. Violating other laws is often too obvious, but evading taxes can often go undetected. So for all the reasons I listed, some businesses find it necessary to “cook the books”!
Saturday, August 20, 2016
The above article is quite good, as far as "advice" goes. I agree with becoming more Christ-like, pursuing God's will for my life, etc. BUT I totally disagree with the idea that God will “give” you a spouse. Perhaps many people (including Christians) who are single are just not desirable for marriage because they are jerks, or come across as “desperate”, or a host of other reasons. I know so many Christians who are so convinced that God will “give” them the relationship they want, that they declare a person as “the one” after their first date. I know one guy who found the girl God wanted him to marry 5 times, until she wasn’t, and then SHE wasn't, and then SHE... After the first date, “she’s the one”. After a few more dates, SHE decides that HE isn’t. He went through a string of women he was convinced God gave him to marry, and none of them were.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:8, “I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Paul is telling us that marriage is a CHOICE. He leaves this completely up to free will. He is also telling us that it is better to remain single if you can, but if you desire companionship, you should fulfill that by getting married. (Some say “burn with passion” is referring to an uncontrollable desire for sex. Since sex outside of marriage is wrong, getting married resolves the issue.)
So if Paul says getting married is an individual choice, why would we believe that God will “give” us the spouse we want? I totally agree with the author that we should always be seeking God’s will for us, and to seek God to fall in alignment with His desires for us. Becoming more holy may even make us more attractive to potential spouses (not a reason to desire being holy however). A Christian woman WANTS to marry a man desiring to be more Christ-like, as does a Christian man wants a woman who is striving to be the same. Our pursuit of being like Jesus should never end. But believing that God has one man, or one woman in mind for us makes no sense to me. Marriage requires compromise, forgiveness, humbleness, and a plethora of other Godly attributes. Your spouse will never be “perfect" for you. You will have to forgive them for mistakes. You will have to compromise your desires with your spouse’s. You will have to humble yourself to serve them. I believe there are many people who will make fine spouses for each of us, but we have to have these Godly attributes for the marriage to function and stay alive.
I’ve heard so many people say that “everything happens for a reason.” I agree, and sometimes that reason is because you made bad choices. "God works things out for good for those who love Him." If both husband and wife pursue God in their marriage, He will bless it. That doesn’t mean it will be perfect, or easy, or smooth sailing, but it DOES mean that you can work through anything as a team united in Christ’s love.
For those who “know” the person they had one date with is “the one”, why don’t you get married after that first date? Why date at all? Dating is a time of testing, to find out if this is the person we believe we can spend the rest of our lives with. There are things about my wife that can simply drive me insane, but because I can forgive, compromise, and simply accept her faults, I have no problem getting passed those things. I am no peach all the time either. She also has to do those things to keep our marriage intact.
One last question, and perhaps this is where my entire questioning of this idea comes from, if God gives Christians their spouses (and I assume God doesn’t make mistakes), why is the divorce rate among Christians EXACTLY the same as among non-Christians?
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The above meme was posted on Facebook, so I felt the need to write about this incident. There is so much hate and outrage going on right now.
Here is a link to the news story about what happened:
It is so easy to blame the parents for the death of this majestic animal (gorilla). I believe most of the hate is because an animal lost its life as the outcome. We are so distraught over it that we are looking for someone to blame. The mom is the easiest target so let’s direct our hate toward her. But before we do (I know, too late), let’s look a little deeper as to what is happening:
My questions are, “How did a 3 year old get into the gorilla’s habitat in the first place?” “What was the problem with the barrier that allowed such a thing to happen?” “Is the zoo not responsible for keeping the animals separated from human beings while the humans are on THEIR property?” “If a 3 year old can get through their barrier, how well was it actually designed?” “How much responsibility for this should be assigned to the mom?”
It would not surprise me to find that most of the people who are blaming the mom for letting her child wander off are the same people who fight for the parents who want their so-called “free range kids”. Or the same people who would scoff at keeping their 3 year old on a “leash”, calling it inhumane. “How dare you put a leash on a child?” “How dare you charge parents with neglect for letting their kids play without constant supervision?” BUT, “That child should have your hand every single second you are in the zoo. You cannot blow your nose or let go for even a second to get something out of your pocket, or snap a picture, or anything else you are allowed to do at a zoo. Let me ask you this, “When you take a picture of anything, are you eyes ALSO on your child? Most people’s eyes work in tandem, so if one of your eyes is looking at something, your other eye is ALSO looking at the same thing. I know my kids never left my sight even for a moment. And I am the perfect parent because I am aware of my child’s exact location 100% of the time. My toddler has NEVER left my sight and NEVER gotten into something they shouldn’t have gotten into. My toddler KNOWS the dangers of walking off and therefore has NEVER done that. We are ALL perfect parents until that one incident when we’re not. I rejoice that none of the incidences my kids got into ever brought harm to them. We did have to call poison control on one occasion, we had a few runs to the emergency room, but we never got called “bad parents” because of it. Probably because it happened at home and not at the zoo, and because an animal never had to be put down.
I would call my wife and I extremely responsible parents. We were always aware of where the kids were when we went to stores, or the mall, or anywhere, because, you know, we leave our homes to live life. And with my first child, she NEVER got away from us when we were out. I never once doubted my skills as a parent because child #1 was the “perfect little angel”. We raised her that way. However, along came child #2. We would go to a department store, and I briefly let go of her hand to see what size a shirt is and BAM! She is no longer anywhere to be found. She thought it was funny to hide inside the clothes rack and not answer when we called. As it turned out, she was within 5 feet of our position, but we couldn’t find her. She did this several times, and each time she got a lecture (and at times punishment) about the dangers, but come on, she’s 3 years old. My oldest NEVER did these sorts of things and it made me so confident that I was the perfect parent. #2 made sure I knew there was no such thing. I never lost her at a zoo, but how many times do you go to a zoo as compared to a store?
For those who say, “When you go to a zoo, you're around wild animals, so you need to be extra cautious.” How many of you would go to a zoo if you knew there was a possibility that the wild animals could come into contact with you or your child? You would all be screaming about how irresponsible the zoo was! No one would visit there because of safety issues! When you go to a zoo, you assume that all the safety precautions are in place so that there is absolutely NO danger to the visitors. If all of you go onto a higher level of awareness at a zoo versus a park, then you are obviously a far better parent than I ever was. I remember watching cartoons as a kid where Bugs Bunny walked up to a lion’s cage (at a zoo or circus) and was able to put his hand inside and touch the lion. Would you visit that place? As a matter of fact, a child crawled into the cage in that or another episode. Do we assume that is not possible when we go on an outing? I’ve seen a situation where a woman scaled 2 safety fences to get a picture of a polar bear and was mauled. Now we have a case for calling someone stupid. Or another case of a drunk 35 year old scaling fences and being harmed. But if a 3 year old can get inside an enclosure, the fault is not necessarily with the parents.
Here’s another thing to consider. She was not there with just HER children. This was an outing with some additional kids. Did you know that when teachers take field trips, they do occasional “head counts” to make sure all are present? Why is that? Answer: Because kids of ALL ages tend to wander off occasionally. Is it the teacher’s fault if one turns up missing? Or is it the child who wandered off? Once you have more than one child to watch, your attention is now divided. It becomes impossible to keep track of every move they make. In this case, I think dad was along (why is no one blaming him?). So 2 children are easily watched, but add a third child, and even two adults cannot watch each one 100% of the time. So should we say that you are an irresponsible parent if you ever allow yourself to get into a situation where there are more children than adults? Ever have a sleepover for one of your kids? Do you know what they are doing 100% of the time?
Has a child ever choked on a toy that was too small? How irresponsible, right? Just because one child is 10 and one is 3, you obviously don’t allow the 10 year old to have toys which could be a choking hazard for the 3 years old, right? And if you do, you make sure the 10 year old is in a habitat that the 3 year old can’t wander into, right? I can build ridicules scenarios all day long. NO ONE watches their child 24/7. This is a very unfortunate situation where an animal lost its life. You can be angry, you can be sad, you can feel however you feel. But to hate on a mom who probably already feels bad, does not help the situation.
Don’t get me wrong. There are terrible parents out there. I’ve seen plenty of them. My mom worked in a hospital and has seen tons of kids go through there for all sorts of accidents. Most happen when the parent isn’t watching. Does that make them bad parents? Not at all! Accidents happen. This one at the zoo just had very unusual circumstances. Personally, I have several scars. I received each one when my parents weren’t watching. My most prominent one was when I was in my bedroom with a brother or two, all safe and sound. I was told many times to not jump on my bed. Guess what? I jumped on my bed! When I fell, I hit my face against the headboard, right above my right eye. Apparently, lots of blood, and today, 52 years later (I was 4 at the time), I still have the scar from that night. Did that make my mom a bad parent? She warned us to not do that. She made punishment for the offense known to us in a public display when my brothers did it. But I did it anyway. Obviously it was my mom’s fault for not sitting in the bedroom with us instead of doing something else, because moms have nothing else to do.
I am not an advocate of watching your child 24/7. They need to explore the world, and yes, that will include some dangers and injuries and scars. We do our best to protect them from the “obvious” dangers, but if we actually believe we can protect them from everything, we are already showing signs of being a bad parent. Why don’t you keep your kids in a bubble, and never leave the house? Because it isn’t realistic! Think about it, you are exposing your child to danger every time you leave the house. So stay in!
These are just some of the thoughts I’ve had on this subject. So rather than hating the mom because of her “bad parenting”, perhaps we need to examine our own parenting skills. It would be easy for me to say that if you have just one child, you’re not a real parent because you can focus your attention fully on that child. But if you have 2 or more, you will find out how hard it is to know what both are doing all the time. But I won’t. We all have moments when we fail, and even moments when we don’t fail but things still go horribly wrong. Yes, I am saddened by the need to kill this gorilla. But I cannot hate someone because of an accident that lead up to it. Perhaps she is a terrible parent, we don't really know, but one incident does not define how good or bad of a parent you might be. Otherwise, we are ALL bad parents, because we ALL have had failures.
I am including the following link to an open letter written to the mom. I thought it was extremely well written and expresses some real heartfelt compassion.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
This morning, I saw that my cousin shared the above meme on Facebook, and I immediately agreed with it. But sometimes, I wake up in this very philosophical mood and so I began pondering the thoughts in my head. Being a software engineer, I could easily be considered part of the problem with today's generation being hooked on technology. However, I myself never became addicted to the gadgets I use so often. I love them, but if placed in the woods without gadgets for a year, I would not miss them. I would miss some of the convenience they provide, but I would not suffer any sort of withdrawal. So how can I be so different when I am immersed in the same technology? So here are my thoughts:
I'm not so sure that we can claim today's generation's addiction to technology is THEIR fault. I think we can place a lot of blame on ourselves, the parents who used technology as babysitters for this generation. It started when we gave them all those gadgets to occupy them so we could have our precious "ME time". Perhaps, the problem started when we didn't tell them to put the phone down at the table, or when we didn't make the phone "off limits" on weekends and week nights while the family was together, or when we didn't limit the time on the computer because it kept them quiet. Perhaps it was when we always supplied the newest video game to prevent a tantrum. Perhaps, if we actually did some parenting, instead of indulging ourselves on our own selfish desires, the current generation we are so fond of bashing, would have turned out a little differently.
My observation has been that when a child gets restless, a piece of technology gets shoved in their hands to make them be still. Sort of like pacifiers are shoved in a baby’s mouth to stop their crying. The difference is that we wean the baby of the habit of wanting the pacifier, but with technology, we increase its use as the child grows. We don’t want our child sucking a pacifier at age 5, but we have no problem with them walking behind us looking at the iPhone instead of where they are going. Did you ever lose a child in a crowd because they were so engrossed in the technology you gave them that they didn’t keep up with you? Did you have to tell your child to “hurry up” because they were distracted by what was in their hands? Did you hand them a gadget to keep them busy on a car ride? When your child wants to play a video game, do you ever tell them “no”? Or do you hand it to them to prevent the following complaint and possible loud defiance? After all, what will other people think of ME when MY child throws the tantrum that is inevitable?
All this thinking about the technology addiction leads me back to another topic of our bashing of this generation we call “the Millennials”. Why do they feel so “entitled”? Why can they not seem to deal with real life? Why do they focus on their feelings getting hurt by “words”? Why do they need a “safe space” where they are protected from speech they find offensive? I’ll tell you why. BECAUSE WE TOLD THEM THEY WERE THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE!!!
Did you tell them how proud you were when they received an award for participating? Proud, even though they (or their team) sucked at a sport, and they still got a trophy? Did you give them a present on their sibling’s birthday, so they wouldn’t feel “left out”? Did you blame the teacher for your child’s bad grade? Did you call the bully’s parents (or the school) instead of talking with your child about how to deal with the bully themselves? Did you ever do your child’s homework for them? Did you allow your child to stay up late the night before an assignment was due more than twice? Did you run out to Walmart in the middle of the night because your child procrastinated on getting things done in a timely manner, or not letting you know they needed something well in advance? Did you ever tell your child it’s OK if they aren’t the best, as long as they tried hard? That they are winners as long as they tried? When was the last time your child suffered for a mistake, failure or bad decision they made?
Perhaps, instead of trying to spare their feelings, it would be better to allow them to feel bad about their mistakes and failures, and then help them learn to DEAL with it, instead of masking it with kind words? "Oh, that is so cruel! I never want my child to feel bad about him/herself!" Well, I never wanted my children to feel bad either, but guess what, it’s going to happen whether you try to prevent it or not! If we reward mediocre performance, our kids will always be, wait for it… MEDIOCRE!!! We always wanted our children to excel at everything they did, but they are NOT good at everything. If you allow your child to suffer or feel bad for failing at something, there are several possible outcomes. First, they may realize that they didn’t actually like the activity anyway, so no loss. Second, they may learn that it’s ok to lose or fail and that is part of life (become a good sport). Third, they may learn to deal with future losses or failures without the need for a meltdown. Lastly, they may try harder the next time to prevent their own bad feelings and actually excel through hard work!
Personally, I hated to watch my kids suffer or get their feelings hurt. But I also knew that if I guided them through those hurt feelings, they would better handle REAL life when it came along. It might do us well to remember that we are NOT raising children. We ARE raising future adults.
My wife and I raised our children with tons of interacting with human beings, not technology. They didn’t have cell phones until well after the “fad” began. And even then, it was only for the purpose of calling home because they attended specialty schools at a distance from home. Video games were often played “as a family”. We had a fair share of board games (no electricity needed). We played card games too. We talked and sang to the radio on car rides. We did things AS a family. We listened to THEIR music, as well as them listening to OURS. We watched movies TOGETHER. We also put OUR needs after THEIR needs. As an extreme introvert, I need a ton of “alone time”. But, if I needed alone time, and my kids needed supervision, guess what? my alone time came later. We allowed them to make their own decisions, BUT within certain guidelines. For example, you can choose your own clothes, BUT you cannot dress like a hooker. Or, on your birthday, you can choose whatever you want for dinner, but it must fall into the guidelines of a "proper" meal. Contrary to popular thought, it is actually OK to set limits on your kids.
On one occasion, my oldest daughter decided to test us out in a restaurant. She knew she was to sit in her seat and be respectful of the other folks around us. She was not allowed to run around the table because she was bored or if she finished first. But she chose to create a scene to get what she wanted, even BEFORE the food arrived. My wife promptly got up and hauled her out to the car. Not only did my daughter go hungry for that one meal, my wife sacrificed her own meal and went hungry, just to teach a valuable lesson. YES, we wasted some food. And YES, my wife suffered for my daughter's defiance. But, my other daughter looked at me as my oldest was exiting the restaurant and said, "I'm never going to do that!" Last week, almost 20 years after this incident, my youngest mentioned how she remembered this event and how it reminds her about what she learned that day. My oldest is now expecting her first child. She too remembers this incident and how HER child is going to learn to be respectful of others in the same situation.
We do not claim to have been perfect parents. We made tons of mistakes, and I’m sure my kids could tell you stories, but our #1 job was that of a parent, not that of individuals. Yes, I’m sure we missed out on doing things we may have wanted to do because our kids took priority, but we believe that if you are going to bring children into the world, you are also to take responsibility for that decision. Our children grew up into very responsible adults. We still see them make bad decisions (or at least some we disagree with), but they also deal with the consequences, good or bad, without asking me to step in to protect them. They ask for advice, but never ask for us to “fix it” FOR them. They fix it on their own.
We are so fond of bashing Millennials for their attitudes, but we forget that WE are the parents of the Millennials who taught them to be what they became.
Before I finish out, I want to add, that while I see the same attitudes in many of the Millennials that we are always complaining about, I must also point out that many of them, IN SPITE of the upbringing we inflicted on them, have decided to go another way. They are taking on the responsibilities we neglected to teach them. They are becoming entrepreneurs and working hard for the futures we stole from them through our misguided parenting. I have great hope for them as they find their own way through this world. I for one, am willing to provide support for them as they learn what real life is about. I suggest we stop complaining about them, and start working to fix OUR mistakes that have lead them down this path. I recommend we stop “bashing” them and start reaching out to them. We too, must feel the consequences of our actions, the consequences of our parenting.
Follow the links below to a couple videos that set me on this path of thinking about “The problem with Millennials”.
The first video is the “complaint”:
The second video, is the “response” to the “complaint”:
Sunday, April 3, 2016
I wanted to let you in on my process for preparing a sermon when I am offered the privilege to preach. My process is far different than it might be if I had to prepare a sermon every week, as Pastor David does. For me, I find out a couple months in advance that I will be preaching, so step 1 of the process is to pull out the lectionary and look up what scripture readings the denomination “suggests” for the sermon topic.
The lectionary is actually a great way to make sure many of the scriptures available to us are covered over a 3 year period. It prevents over-using certain scriptures and ignoring others that might be difficult to preach on. It provides a very “balanced” approach for preachers to take.
In my process, I look up that week’s scriptures and read them. Then I let those scriptures percolate in my brain for a while to absorb some of their meaning.
Step 2 is to ask God to direct me toward the message He wants me to give to the congregation. I try to be completely open to whatever comes because sometimes the message seems a little harsh, or controversial, and since I don’t like confrontation, I shy away from those types of messages. So I try hard to stay open, no matter what the message might be. I look at the prophets of the Old Testament and see that God gave them messages that no one wanted to hear. As a matter of fact, nearly every one of them was killed for preaching those messages. Now, I don’t equate myself to the status of those prophets, but I sometimes find myself with messages I don’t want to deliver. Now that I said that, I trust I’m safe among this congregation.
During my process, I often gain many new insights that I never considered before, because the message is actually different than how I saw it prior to trying to prepare for it. Sometimes the message is tied directly to the scriptures listed in the lectionary, but often it goes a whole different direction. Today is one of those days. The message today has nothing to do with the scriptures suggested in the lectionary. This all came out of my study OF those scriptures, but the direction took a very sharp turn as I prepared for today.
It seems that the message today came from a lot of other directions. The anthem, which by the way, is one of my favorites, pointed me toward speaking on joy. Last week being Easter, pointed me toward speaking on eternal life. The internet pointed me toward speaking on kindness to others. There were so many possibilities in those different places. But a small voice inside of me pointed toward mundane everyday chores. I didn’t really understand why that kept coming back into my mind, day after day. It’s so boring, and trivial. So I decided to follow it and see where it went. So here’s what I found:
For me, Crosswalk.com is one of my favorite Christian websites. You may not know this, but our own Carrie Dedrick is the editor for the website.
As I prepared for today’s message, this particular article from that website fell into my lap. This is an article written by Denise Larson Cooper and was printed on Crosswalk.com. It reads:
“Easter is over. The contents of plastic eggs have been eaten. Hard boiled Easter eggs are now egg salad and only the head of the chocolate bunny remains in the box. Baskets have been tucked away in the basement waiting for next year. And Jesus has been tucked safely back in the tomb.
She goes on to say:
“On Easter Sunday morning churches fill with people to celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. The organist pulls out all the stops (pun intended) to fill the sanctuary with triumphant sounds to honor the risen Lord. Trumpet fanfares accompany the congregation’s voices, which are raised in the singing of Charles Wesley’s hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” The choir joins in festive songs of victory. Hearts soar and joy fills the souls of the faithful who rejoice in Christ’s triumph over sin and death.
Then comes the morning after. The emotional charge of Easter Sunday has left our hearts. Our soul, which had soared upward into the heavens on the wings of the truth of the resurrection, is brought earthward and burdened with the cares of the day. Our minds exchange meditations on the glories of Christ, for a list of errands and groceries.”
I’ve noticed that at Easter, our sanctuary seems to get very full of people who come to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. There’s something special about that day that draws people in. Many who never set foot inside a church the rest of the year, will do it on that particular day. We see the same thing at Christmas, but today, I am speaking about Easter.
Going back to the article:
“We treat Christ as though his resurrection from the dead is the climax of an Easter play. When the music stops and the church service ends we applaud His performance and leave, remembering that we can catch the same show again next year.”
In reading this, I had to wonder, what is it about the Easter story that draws people in? Is it the promise of new life? Is it all the special activities at the church? Is it a longing to be closer to God, and the additional fanfare makes it seem possible? I really don’t know.
I do know that some show up out of obligation to family. Some show up because they live at a distance and the school system plans Spring Break at the same time, so families can visit, and since Mom and Dad do the church “thing”, they will do it too. After all, it’s just one day out of the year.
But rather than being cynical, I like to think that it’s a time when Jesus can become real for those who have doubts. Or for those who are seeking for meaning in their lives. Or those who are just empty and want to be filled. The resurrection of Jesus was for the entire human race, and we can all connect because of it.
Looking at today’s scriptures that Bob read for us, how did the disciples react when Jesus returned to them after his resurrection?
First they were terrified because they thought he was a ghost. We can do nothing more than imagine what they must have felt when the man that they knew was dead and buried suddenly shows up and talks to them. Even though he spent plenty of time telling them that he had to be killed, but would be raised up again, they still couldn’t wrap their minds around it. This was a discussion our Sunday School class had last week. After seeing Jesus raise people from the dead, most famously Lazarus, they still couldn’t believe that Jesus himself might have been raised.
This passage also tells us that they felt great joy, but they were also disbelieving at the same time. I tried to imagine this myself. I could see myself saying something like, “I am so glad to see you Jesus, but seriously, aren’t you dead?”
So Jesus continues, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
He continued on saying, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
When Jesus is finally taken up into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy and the continually worshipped God in the temple.
For the disciples, Easter didn’t end because the day was over. Easter was the springboard into great joy and constant worship of our God. There was no returning to things “as normal”. Easter changed how they saw the world. Their lives took new directions and spreading the good news became a daily activity. They didn’t show up for a special celebration and then go home to mundane living. They experienced the resurrection of their Lord and they were changed forever!
Many people who know me, know that I don’t like traditions. I don’t really put much stock into holidays, or celebrations of annual events. But at the same time, over the past few years, I have come to appreciate how other people see traditions and holidays as a way to remind themselves of important things.
So I have to ask, “Do we see our celebration of Easter as a regular event, meaning something we do because, that’s what we do? Or do we see Easter as a reminder that Jesus was raised from the dead, and because of that we live our lives in joy and are in constant worship of our God? Does Easter really mean more to us than something we do every year, or do we allow it to transform us into new creations that want to do nothing but live life for God? Yes, we have daily mundane things to do the day after Easter, but do we allow Easter to change us so that those mundane things can become instruments of worship? Does our approach to our jobs show others that we can be joyful no matter how mundane our daily tasks might be? Does Easter affect you in any way at all?
For me, Easter is so important in my understanding of God. So let me continue by asking a few more questions. Why do we make such a huge production of Christmas in the church, but Easter doesn’t seem quite as important?
Think about it, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. This is the day Jesus entered our world as a human being. He set down his existence “as God”, and traded that in to become human. Now I don’t want to take away from Jesus’ humanness because our own denomination bases all our service to the world on the actions and character of Jesus. This is a very important aspect of Jesus. But think about this, if Jesus had not suffered and died, and 3 days later been raised from the dead, the church would not even exist. The resurrection of Christ is the pivotal point in human history that changed the entire relationship between God and the human race. The entire church was founded on the very fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. If he had not been raised, the church would not exist today.
I believe that for the church, Easter should be the most important celebration we have. But we tend to follow the world in our “ranking” of holiday celebrations. Obviously, if Jesus was not born, he could have never been raised from the dead later on. But we are all born and we all die. The difference is that Jesus triumph over death is what gives us our identity and our hope of a future, even after death.
So how shall we respond to Easter? Well, Jesus told his disciples how to respond with these words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” So we are supposed to go into the world as Jesus went into the world.
The Church of the Brethren uses the tag line, “Continuing the work of Jesus, peacefully, simply, together”. Our own congregation developed its own mission statement, which is much like the denomination, which reads, “Seeking to be God’s voice and hands of love, we continue the work of Jesus, peacefully, simply, together.”
I like our mission statement. It isn’t that we are just continuing Jesus’ work. We are doing it by seeking to be just like Jesus AS we do it. That is such a powerful statement!
But how can we be like Jesus, or how can we identify with Jesus. After all, Jesus lived, died, and then was resurrected back to life. How can we identify with that?
I’ll tell you how. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Baptism is essentially an act of dying to sin, as Jesus died on the cross, and being re-born into new life as Jesus was resurrected from that death. Paul’s letter to the Romans makes it clear, our baptism is when we die and are born again into a new life with Christ. This should not be taken lightly, because this is how we can identify with the risen Lord. We died WITH Jesus, and we are also resurrected with him. THAT’s how we can identify with him.
But we are not to merely to live like Jesus lived, feeding the poor, housing the homeless, visiting those in prison, clothing the naked. Those things are truly noble indeed, but Jesus is far more than just a good example of “how to live”. He is more than “a good man”. Jesus is the Son of God, and we are brothers and sisters WITH him. We share in the inheritance promised by God to His children. When we are baptized into Jesus’ death and raised to new life, we become a true child of God, and therefore an heir WITH Jesus into eternal life.
All this was accomplished with God sacrificing Jesus for the atonement of our sins. I have noticed that a lot of Christians no longer accept that Jesus willingly gave up his life to become the sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the human race. I find that to be an unusual position to take as a Christian. Following Jesus, living a “good life” does not make you a Christian. Accepting the grace of God, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for your sin, which reunites us with God, is the only way to become a Christian. I have always seen it this way, and from my study of the Biblical writings, I find no reason to understand it any other way. Both Old and New Testaments bear this understanding out.
Peter writes in his first letter, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
I have been told that I am too “conservative” in my view of the Bible. I need to be more liberal in my interpretations of the Biblical writings. I’m told that since the Bible was written by human beings, they contain human biases. And since the Bible was copied by hand, over many centuries, mistakes have been made in the copying of the texts, as evidenced by the differences in some of the copies of the oldest manuscripts that still exist today. Also, the Bible I use is written in English, so the translation cannot always capture the meaning of the original language.
I totally agree that the Bible may not be “perfect” and may contain some errors. But I also know that many of the “progressive” thoughts on the Bible, and some of the progressive interpretations often require throwing out pieces of the writings to make them true. If there is something in the Bible you don’t like (For example, God telling the Israelites to go to war), that doesn’t mean you get to throw it out. What it means is that you are going to have to struggle with what it means for us today. Throwing something out just because it makes you uncomfortable changes the message God intends for us to hear. We need to figure out what the significance of those passages are, and how they apply to us. Many people question how a loving God can judge someone and punish them at the same time. And I admit, I often struggle with this myself. But we do that with our own children. We love them, but if they do something wrong, we punish them. It doesn’t matter how much you love them, they still need to pay the consequences for their actions.
My best example from my experience as a father was when my children learned to lie. (Yeah, children lie, go figure!) When I caught them in a lie, I gave them a choice. I made it very clear. I would say, “I asked you ‘this…’ and you said ‘this…’. That is a lie because I saw you do ‘this…’ So I’m going to ask you again, and this time, if you say ‘this…’ and continue to lie to me, in return I need to punish you. If instead, you decide to tell the truth, which is ‘this…’ (I even supplied the words), I will help you fix the issue and no punishment will be handed out.” So I would ask the question again. If they decided to continue in the lie, I still loved them, but they got the punishment as promised. If they told the truth, I still loved them, but they received the help I promised. The choice was theirs. I laid out the rules governing the situation, and they got to choose how they wanted to proceed. But no matter what they chose, I still loved them. I just had to do what was required BECAUSE I loved them.
God did much the same thing with us. We are told that Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins, and all we need to do is accept that sacrifice, die to our sin, and be raised up into eternal life WITH Jesus. Our sins are then forgiven and we become children of God. However, if we don’t, we will be cast out of God’s presence and spend eternity in eternal torment. We don’t like to see our loving God as someone who would do such a thing, but I see it as no different from how we handled discipline of our own children. It pained me to my core to see them choose punishment over forgiveness. But BECAUSE I loved them, I had to carry out the punishment as it was promised. Being a loving father does not mean you forgive your child even if they don’t repent, it means carrying out what is required to bring about that repentance, so that you CAN forgive them.
God provided the sacrifice to redeem us and bring us back into His family. It is simply up to us to choose to accept it.
Jesus being raised from the dead, was our key to living in the eternal presence of God. God raised Jesus and promises to also raise us.
I want to finish by reading a little more from the article I began with. Denise Larson Cooper continues to write:
“The church’s existence is proof that Christ is risen. The church lives in the world. The church is not a business or organization but living proof of the Lord’s resurrection. The apostle Paul wrote, “The church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23). The fullness of the risen Christ fills the church through the person of the Holy Spirit. By His power the living Christ still reveals Himself to His disciples in the world and exhorts and emboldens the faithful to participate in His ministry of reconciliation. As ministers, the faithful are to dispense the duties of the church on Earth: preach the Gospel, forgive sins, baptize, and unite believers in the foretaste of the supper of the Lamb.”
We should not treat Easter as an “anniversary” of something that happened 2000 years ago. As we move forward, we should be treating it as a reminder of how to live every single day.
Below is a link to the full article I referenced in my sermon:
Sunday, February 28, 2016
The article located at the link above, is talking about how our church “lingo” is losing its meaning in today’s American culture. When the United States was completely dominated by a Christian population, the use of “churchy” words was commonplace. Those words were easily understood by the entire population because the culture was Christian. Like any culture, it includes its own language. Since the United States was nearly all Christian, the language was uniform across the entire nation as it existed then. The problem today is that the majority of the nation is unchurched, even though the majority still claims to be Christian. By “unchurched” I mean they are not actually part of the current Christian culture. They do not attend church on a regular basis, and therefore, have lost their connection into that culture. So they no longer share in the Christian language either. The article addresses this fact and suggests that we may have to drop our “traditional” Christian lingo in favor of a language understood by the non-Christian culture.
While reading through the comments following the article, so many people were offended by the idea that we could possibly think about dropping our traditional words. Some went as far as to suggest that we teach the current population the meaning of those words so that they can understand us. So here’s the question I want to address with the remainder of my article: “Is it the non-Christian’s responsibility to learn OUR language so that we can lead them to Christ, or is it OUR responsibility to adjust and get into THEIR world and use THEIR language to lead them to Christ?”
Words and their meanings evolve over time. That is actually one of the true strengths of the English language. Some languages do not have the ability to evolve. For example, the word "computer" is not found in many languages because there is no way for the language to incorporate it. So it remains in its English form within that language. So if the word "grace" is no longer understood, we need to find an equivalent word that can relay the meaning to those listening to our message, who do not speak our “churchy” language.
Here's another example: many years ago, missionaries working in countries along the equator tried to teach a verse (or concept) such as Psalm 51:7 "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Exactly how can anyone, living along the equator, who has never seen or experienced snow, understand what that verse might mean? The missionaries first attempted to explain what snow was. But no one could understand it. Mainly because the native language did not have a word for snow, nor a description of any sort for frozen water, because it doesn't exist there! So they started describing the meaning of "white" in terms that were familiar to the native people. So did they "change" the Bible by using words other than "snow" when translating the verse? The Bible in that language does not use a term for "snow" (since there is none), but uses something else that will make it clear exactly how white you will be after being washed.
We, as Americans, are so stuck up in our Christianity, that we exclude people who are different from ourselves. At one time, missionaries tried to teach people in other countries the English language so they could understand the King James Bible. They found it was far more effective and easier if they translated the Bible into the native language. Also, the use of American hymns in other countries who do not appreciate our style of music. It was far more effective to adapt our messages into their preferred style of music and translate the words into their language.
My two business partners are not originally from the United States. Both of them are from Asian countries. So they have a very hard time understanding American metaphors and many of our phrases. They handle the language just fine, but our style of metaphors and humor is far outside that of simple translation of word meanings. Sarcasm is REALLY difficult for them. So we need to be sensitive to the differences in cultures. That also applies to groups within the United States. Many sub-cultures have emerged and if we want to spread the Gospel message, we need to be aware of the words and phrases we use. If "traditional" Christian words are becoming foreign to many in this country, then it is up to US, not THEM to adapt. Do you really want to tell someone that you have the answer to eternal life with God, but first, they must learn to speak like you, and use the words YOU use?
Let me repeat my original question: “Is it the non-Christian’s responsibility to learn OUR language so that we can lead them to Christ, or is it OUR responsibility to adjust and get into THEIR world and use THEIR language to lead them to Christ?” When you share the Gospel message with the lost, do you use words they don’t know the meaning of? Or do you use words they will understand? How effective is your witness if no one knows what you are saying? Paul says that you should refrain from speaking in tongues, if no one is present to interpret what you are saying. While speaking with “churchy” words is not quite the same as speaking in tongues, I believe his advice is still valid. He said to NOT speak if no one could understand you. It is a waste of time because no one is changed, if they can’t understand you. How is that any different from speaking in English, using words people don’t understand? It is a waste of time because no one is changed, if they can’t understand you. It’s time to stop trying to be catered to, and start catering to those who have not heard the Gospel message.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
I've been thinking about this situation a great deal. We all want to know what is on that phone. Is there any info about other terrorist plots, other targets they were going after, who were they in contact with, etc. We want to know because we're afraid that something worse is brewing. We also say, "well, they're dead, so it no longer matters about their privacy." We hear the cries about national security!!! So WHAT is Apple's problem?
What many people don't seem to realize is that the court order is not for the assistance to get data off of one phone. It is to develop the key (a computer program) to unlock any iPhone of any person who may have one. If law enforcement wants to look at the data on your iPhone, and they have the key to do so, what is to stop them? While I completely support our law enforcement agencies, I also want to support our right to protection against unlawful search and seizure. People, companies, even the President were asking for stronger encryption methods to protect our data from being tampered with, or stolen, but out of fear, due to this one incident, we are now asking for a universal method allowing the removal of that protection. We KNOW that we are not a security threat, so we should be able to protect our data, but the terrorists should not have such protections. The problem is, to remove the terrorist's protection, is to also remove our own protection. You can't have it both ways.
Are you WILLING to give up one of your most basic rights as an American citizen in order to gather data from one phone? Do you fear the enemy so much, that you are willing to throw away the protection against unlawful search and seizure guaranteed to you in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. The document that cost so many lives to guarantee that you would never be subjected to that sort of intrusive government? Would you be upset if the government broke down your door and started going through your private stuff without just cause? Once you give up your right to privacy in one area (out of fear, or emotional distress to help those who are suffering), how long will it be before that precedent is expanded to include other areas of your life?
Personally, there is nothing on my phone that I need to hide from anyone. If it is taken from me by anyone, I have no fear that it will ever cause me to lose sleep over the data stored on it. BUT, what if I have clients and I need to store information that is highly confidential to THEM? Or let's say I keep credit card information of my own, or someone I do business with on it? And I know that there is a key out there that can unlock that information?
Because I wanted ONE phone to be unlocked, out of fear, or emotional distress, is it really worth giving up my right, and that of every other citizen to get that data? There is also a very good chance that there is nothing on the phone that will be helpful if it is unlocked. But we are willing to give up our right to privacy just to find out. We have got to take our emotions out of this equation. I would like to know what is on that phone too. I want to uncover any other terrorist plots it might show us. I want those families who suffer to get the answers they seek. But that is because I fear the enemy. Because I have so much sympathy for the families. Any decent person would feel these emotions. But we CANNOT give up our rights because we "feel" bad. I'm sure it is even worse for those directly affected, but the 4th Amendment to the Constitution was not written so we would feel good all the time. It was written to keep our basic human rights intact. Which includes even when it doesn't seem fair, or because people are suffering because of it.
A new Pew Research study shows that a majority of Americans want Apple to cooperate and unlock the phone. One question they did not ask was, "Do you know what the court order is actually asking for?" or "Have you considered what this means for YOU?"
Let's look at this from a business aspect. I think this whole situation would be easily resolved if ONLY one phone was involved. But the case is much bigger than the majority of people realize. If Apple develops the key being asked for, how much business will Apple lose as people who keep sensitive data on their phones flock to buy a different brand? Once that key is developed, everyone who needs strict confidentiality, or perhaps keeps sensitive data on their phone, will be very aware that they have lost the integrity of the product. For many people, they don't care if Apple loses business, because what is on that phone is a top priority. But if you are an Apple employee, is losing your job worth it? If sales drop, the loss has to be made up somewhere. Personnel is the largest expense in any business, so that's where the company goes first. Has anyone considered the consequences outside of being able to retrieve the data?
So that's my take on this whole situation. I stand with Apple on this one. I am NOT willing to give up my right, as a citizen of this country, guaranteed to me by the 4th Amendment, in order to retrieve the data located on one terrorist's phone. If we give into fear, the terrorists have won. The whole idea behind "terrorism" is to spread "terror". Once you give into it, you handed them their victory. They have accomplished their goal, and we will destroy ourselves from the inside out.