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Archive for March, 2013

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Two years ago, the university I am affiliated with began the process of moving our athletic affiliation to the NCAA. It was not an easy decision. We were accustomed to the traditions of our old association. There were established, sometimes bitter, rivalries that we were accustomed to. And then, there were the rules and regulations.

Yes, the NCAA is known for its rules, and the enforcement thereof. Violating a rule at this level can get you a handslap, a public flogging, or even “the death penalty”, depending on the severity of the violation. And yet, for a myriad of reasons the NCAA is the right affiliation for our university.

The history of intercollegiate sport, and certainly athletics in general, long predates the founding of NCAA, but don’t tell that to some in their leadership circle. It can be our little secret. The 26.2 mile race known as the marathon, in fact, dates back to the namesake battle around 490 BC. The famed James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891, 15 years before the creation of the NCAA.

Speaking of 1906, another organization dates back to that year, give or take a little time on either side of that date. The university I am affiliated with is a Christian university, and is affiliated with an American Restoration religious movement identified by most religious census data as having begun in 1906.

We are accustomed to the traditions of our association. There are established, sometimes bitter, rivalries that we have become accustomed to. And then, there are sometimes rules and regulations.

The history of faith in these United States, and certainly Christianity in general, long predates the recognized founding of a certain movement in 1906, but don’t tell that to some. It can be our little secret.

Actually, forget what I just said. I must be suffering from March Madness. Everyone knows, or should come to know, that Christianity officially came into its own in 33 AD, after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

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Today is a day known to many in Christianity as Palm Sunday, they day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem to begin his Passion Week. Many Christians recognize this week with pomp and circumstance, just like that Sunday in Jerusalem. Pomp and circumstance is not a big deal in the associated group of Christians that I relate with, unless you are talking about weddings. Sorry, I digress.

My point is, or maybe should be, that we maybe should be open to sometimes being more in tune with ceremony and tradition, for it can be an outlet for our passions. The spiritual leadership of AD 33 was passionate about their rules and perceptions, and they ultimately killed Jesus over them. We would do well to avoid similar crimes of passion today. March Madness, indeed.

Basketball fans are passionate. That much is an understatement. They love their teams. They dress up in colorful garb. They sing, and they dance, and they cheer. So do some Christians, when celebrating their Love. Is that wrong? I’m not necessarily convinced it is.

I’m feeling my way along here. To say I’m thinking out loud may be an understatement, as well. I’ve been reading lately about the divisions in Christian movements in the United States (and, not surprisingly our related/supported universities) dating back to 1906, it the irony struck me as I was looking in the car mirror yesterday at my NCAA hat and saw the “Est. 1906” looking back at me.

Don’t get me wrong. I think rules can be good. The same can be said of order. But, too many rules can diminish the flow of the game. Naismith would tell you that, were he here today. So would Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18-28:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

I often find myself more passionate and expressive about basketball than my faith, and that just shouldn’t be. The faith group, the church, I am affiliated with is a Christian faith, and is affiliated with an American Restoration religious movement identified by most religious census data as having begun in 1906. And yet, the passion dates all the way back to 33 AD. I would do well to work to ignite it each and every day, just like for a good contest on the hardwood. Bring on the madness. It’s game time.

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Words.

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Do you remember your teenage years? Remember how you loved to listen to the radio? Maybe you still do today. In the era before digital music, streaming, Pandora, iPods, and the like, we had to rely on the radio to play our favorite songs. Sometimes, we would cue up the cassette recorder on the stereo to hit the Pause/Record button the second we heard the first note of a favored tune. Then, once recorded, we would listen to it over, and over, and over again.

I had a similar experience today, so to speak, in the midst of driving my kids around town. A fairly new tune by the band Hawk Nelson played several times within a few hours, so much so that I heard it three times. I was so taken by the simple message, I spent $1.29 on iTunes and listened to it three more times before the evening was over.

Do you remember your teenage years? Remember how you and your friends talked to each other…and about each other?

Fast forward to today, and the labors of managing life as an adult. Is managing our words any easier? Is intentionally using our words for good a priority? Do we wonder if we ever have anything good to say? I know that I do.

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So, here are the words to Words. I hope you get as much from them as I did earlier. The video link follows, if reading along is not quite enough.

They’ve made me feel like a prisoner
They’ve made me feel set free
They’ve made me feel like a criminal
Made me feel like a king

They’ve lifted my heart
To places I’d never been
And they’ve dragged me down
Back to where I began

Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

You can heal the heartache
Speak over the fear

God, Your voice is the only thing
We need to hear

Words can build us up
Words can break us down
Start a fire in our hearts or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

Let the words I say
(Let the words I say)
Be the sound of Your grace
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

I wanna speak Your love
Not just another noise
Oh, I wanna be Your light
I wanna be Your voice

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

Let the words I say
Be the sound of Your grace
I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

Words can build us up
Words can break us down
Start a fire in our hearts
Or put it out

I don’t wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

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Have you ever had “one of those days”? Yesterday was just such a day for me. More on that in a moment. First, some backstory is in order.

Thirty years back, my dad worked as a Christian school administrator, of the small K-12 variety. Accordingly, from Junior High through high school, I had the “opportunity” (aka, the privilege) of working summers and evenings in maintenance, custodial services, roofing, landscaping, and the like. I met several notable characters along the way, some larger than life.

Mr. Voightlander was just such a character, his large frame, firm handshake, and boisterous laughter firmly etched in my memory. So, too, are some of his stories. His name was Harry, or Henry, I’m not exactly sure. After all, it has been over thirty years. I was a Sophomore, and he was the school’s mechanic, responsible for keeping a fleet of a few buses and over a dozen vans up and running.

Mr. Voightlander didn’t even work at good old Shreve Christian for more than a year, but as a kid, a year in my life felt like forever. One day, while he was fixing a part of some type that I needed for my work in the school building, he took advantage of the opportunity to tell another story. We stood in the humid Summer Louisiana morning in a non-air-conditioned outdoor shop, a large 3 foot square homemade wooden box fan serving a dual role as his workbench.

The story he told that day was of his past work as a truck driver and mechanic. It seems that drivers in the older trucks experimented with their diesel engines, screwing the injectors deeper into the heads in order to increase the horsepower. If they kept them too far out, heavy smoke would come from the stacks. If they got them pushed too far in, fire would come from the pipes. But, according to Mr. V, if they got it just right there was “no smoke, no fire, they were just a gettin’ it”.

Back to yesterday. I got a tremendous amount of work accomplished at the office. Not too many days are quite like that. Ignore the fact that most co-workers and customers were off campus for the day. That is irrelevant, and I digress. Let’s just say that something happened as I tuned up for the day, and all cylinders were firing at maximum horsepower. Where the day started with a disheveled and covered up desktop, many old unaccomplished tasks it’s slave, I found the wood before day’s end. It felt really good. And, it reminded me of Mr. V.

One of the things I loved about him, besides his stories, was his work ethic. He always seemed to be working hard. And, he seemed to enjoy his work.

1 Chronicles 28:9-10

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”

I really enjoy my job. It is hard, and there are some days that are better than others. Yesterday was just such a day for me: full horsepower, few interruptions, and a lot of output.

“…no smoke, no fire, just a gettin’ it…”.

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A long time ago, I travelled to a galaxy far, far away. The me that left never returned, and, today, that galaxy no longer exists…in a manner of speaking.

Time passes. People change. Places morph. Along the way, we sometimes seem to lose a bit of ourselves in the process. Later on, perhaps, we find bits and pieces, only to discover that they were never really gone, but only buried in the strata our lives create. Uncovering, and rediscovering, can be an awesome thing. So can truly finding.

I spent the weekend taking part in MOAG, the mother of all garage sales. You see, my parentals are moving, and they don’t want (or need) to take 18+ years worth of life’s strata with them. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not a huge fan of strata, but I digress.

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Back to my story. I returned from a mission trip to the galaxy of West Germany back in Nineteen Noneofyourbusiness a changed man. And I brought a mug back for the parentals. I have a habit of bringing mugs, and hats, back from other galaxies. I deposit them in the strata. There, they serve to remind me, if I can find them, of the stories and the lessons of years gone by.

That is what happened here. As I would visit my parent’s abode from time to time, I would look for and admire the mug. It reminded me of places, and people, who helped change my life. And then, one trip, the mug was gone. I never asked about it, I just assumed it had been broken, or lost somehow. I even attempted to replace it on a subsequent trip to the subsequently reunified galaxy of Germany, in the region of the former West. It was not to be. No replacement could be found.

Back to MOAG. After days of sorting, culling, and moving, and after hundreds of visitors and thousands of $1 bills had passed through my parentals’ driveway, MOAG came to an official end. We boxed up the remaining strata, and piled it at the end of the drive for an unceremonious giveaway. That is where I saw it, in striking blue and white contrast, from the corner of my eye and in the corner of a box. It was the West German mug. It had been there all along, but was lost in the shuffle, and the strata, of life.

It reminded me of another “lost and found” story:

Luke 15:7-9

In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’

Later on last weekend, a friend told me a story of another friend who led one lost sinner to God, and the weekend was just that more rewarding in the process. I may not be a big fan of strata, but I love the stories it helps us recall. Who knows: maybe I am a fan, after all.

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Well, I must say, Ducky Dynasty did not disappoint, once again. Tonight’s new episode featured the men taking their “yuppie, citified” wives out hunting. It brought back memories.

While the men detected perfume in the woods, I once upon a time found another set of smells pleasant to the senses. One scent was that of spent shotgun shells. If you’ve ever spent time around me and wondered what I’ve been sniffing, this might help explain some of that. I would retrieve them after he fired, and carry them in my pocket, taking an occasional whiff of the spent gunpowder.

The other scent was admittedly more innocent. It was the pure simple smell of banana Laffy Taffy, back when it was the only flavor they made. My dad would bring a pocket full of it with him when we wandered across the highway with our dog to go bird hunting. He didn’t have the Jase Robertson beard, but he had an eye for dropping the birds.

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The point was not about the birds, per say, although they were tasty, and dad clearly loved to hunt. No, the point was spending time with me. I went on to spend a few cold moments in a deer blind likely near the Robertson’s place in north Louisiana back in the early 80’s, and I’ve shot a bird or two,and a snake here or there, but hunting was not in my blood. It’s still not. Yep: I’m a Yuppie, citified, kinda guy. Is that perfume I smell?

No, I think the real point was that dad spent time with me. Just like our friend Jase, it took effort, and time. It still does. My son and my daughters have pulled me out to do a thing or two that I never really envisioned doing on my own. While I’ve enjoyed most of those moments, the real point is about making time for the kids.

Dad turns another year older Thursday. Thanks, Dad, for the memories, for the Laffy Taffy, for letting me carry that duck in my game sack, and for letting me sniff those empty shotgun shells. It made me happy happy happy. And Happy Birthday to you.

🙂

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ImageThere are certain things we know.

There are certain things we believe.

Then, there are those things that we believe we know.

But, how can we know what believe, or at least, if what we believe is true?

In the spiritual realm, this is called faith. 

In this world, it is called the status quo.   And, to quote a line from “National Treasure”, sometimes the status quo changes.

What do we know, today?   Well, Dennis Rodman and the 29 year old president of North Korea like each other.   At least, we think we know that.

China and Japan don’t really like each other.   I’ve been told that is true, several times, and it seems to be getting more pronounced.   However, I’ve had both Chinese and Japanese students at my dining room table, at the same time, and they seemed to get along just fine.   I guess that is why they are not politicians.

I’ve never been to Davos, Switzerland, but I’d like to sometime.   I hear that is where all the smart money people go every year to talk about what they know.    Or, is it to talk about what they believe?   Or, is that what they believe that they know?    Who knows.   The status quo is always changing.

What does not change, or seldom changes, is how people who know what they believe, or believe what they know, often convey it.   Especially people who spend time in Davos.   I am not one of those people, or, am I?

I enjoyed hearing the passionate prognostications of Dr. Ian Bremmer, a noted political scientist and author.   He knows what he knows.   Ask him next year if what he knew is still true.   One thing is for sure.   He can bring it.   He can preach it, if you will.

I want to be one of those people.   You see, there are some things I know, for:

I know Whom I have believed,and am persuaded  that He is able, to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until that day.

I can bring it to.   Even better: I can believe it.

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I’m in a hotel room: a high rise hotel room.   You know, one of those little things that resembles a phone booth in size and level of comfort?   Yes, that would be my current locale.   Only, this phone booth has indoor plumbing.   I am constantly reminded of that fact by the incessant pipe noise emanating all night from the bathroom, but I digress.

I’m currently out of town.   That much should be obvious.   That, or I did something to really anger Little Frau.   Considering that I left her in the care of two 16 year olds, both situations may now be true.   I hope not, as I’m about to come home, but I digress.

Let’s get to my point.   About 25 years ago, a younger version of Yours Truly sat in a presentation from a successful financier and investor named Richard Rainwater.   He had a large crowd on the edge of their seats.   This guy knew his stuff and had the successful track record, and the bankroll, to prove it.   His topic?   One word: China.

You see, back in nineteennoneofyourbusiness, China in no way resembled the powerful developing nation it is today.   It was large.   It was growing.   It had military might.   But, most of its citizenry was repressed and working on rural farms.   In the words of Mr. Rainwater: “China will become a major economic power and an impact on the world financial system in the years to come.  Steel, natural gas, even water will become scarce and more expensive. These people (the Chinese) are hard working, determined, and steel jawed, and all they want is indoor plumbing”.

Indoor plumbing, which brings us back to our present day and my present locale, a certain high-rise hotel.  I am currently attending another investment presentation, and tonight heard from members of Commonfund’s Emerging Markets Investment Team, and it brought the indoor plumbing message of years gone by back to my present day mind.

Your see, Commonfund employees a number of people who grew up in nations like China and India, and they had powerful stories to share with us.    A middle aged gentlemen from China choked back tears as he told a large group of program attendees about living through China’s cultural revolution, and about being taken away from his school and his home to go out and work the farms.   Years later, by government insistence, about 10,000 of the younger workers were given a series of tests to see if they were worthy of a college education.   This man was blessed to be one of only a few hundred who were chosen.   Years later, this man had completed his schooling, endured another government relocation and required job change, had become a successful business startup investor, had come to America, completed graduate schooling, and had become a U.S. Citizen.    And when markets and freedoms continued to develop in China?   This man went back home to Beijing to see what had developed in his homeland, and to help the country continue to grow, develop, and move forward so that others could benefit from opportunities like he had been blessed with.

Other stories followed.   Two young ladies, almost of similar age, each of which had succeeded in American Universities, shared their life histories.    One was a product of Taiwan, and had grown up in a Western society with a life like few mainland Chinese citizens had known.   The other young lady had grown up in rural farms, much like the gentleman mentioned earlier, but had been given opportunity to move to Beijing at the age of 5 and begin to have a taste of a growing society.    For both young ladies, early life was about hard work, schooling, pursuing scholarships, and earning the opportunity to attend University schooling in the U.S.      Each has chosen to go back to mainland China, to see their homeland grow and develop, and to try to make a difference.

There were stories from a young man from India who grew up without a TV, indoor appliances, and had never left his home before being accepted to a northeastern United States university and eventually Harvard Business School, and only 20 years later, he now sees over 60% of his nation’s citizens enjoying those conveniences and even more.

These stories conveyed so much to me about the power of education, and the power of the human spirit to persevere and to overcome.   But, there is more to share. 

Last night, I sat next to another gentleman at dinner.   This gentleman is also an employee of Commonfund, but this gentleman grew up in the United States.   In fact, this gentleman is a native of the state in which the Commonfund office has resided since the non-profit company was founded by a grant in the early 1970’s.   Did I mention that Commonfund’s offices are located in Connecticut?

The gentleman I shared two hours with of conversation over dinner lives with his wife and 3 young children in a place called Newton, Connecticut, and a few short weeks ago, their lives were changed forever.   While this man’s children survived, the pain and the scars are evident, even as we visited together thousands of miles away from where it all happened.

After tonight’s dinner and the life stories shared, I took a brief trip outside to walk along the beach.   Did I forget to mention that this meeting is being held adjacent to a beach?   Maybe I forgot that little fact, but I digress, and I’ve not had more than 10 free minutes to look at the water since we arrived.    But, after all the stories, I needed a few minutes tonight to process all that I had heard, and to experience God’s creation.

As I think thru it all, Psalm 104 comes to mind:

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Lord my God, you are very great;
    you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,[a]
    flames of fire his servants.

He set the earth on its foundations;
    it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
    the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
    at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
    they went down into the valleys,
    to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
    never again will they cover the earth.

10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
    it flows between the mountains.
11 They give water to all the beasts of the field;
    the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
    they sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle,
    and plants for people to cultivate—
    bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens human hearts,
    oil to make their faces shine,
    and bread that sustains their hearts.
16 The trees of the Lord are well watered,
    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 There the birds make their nests;
    the stork has its home in the junipers.
18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
    the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.

19 He made the moon to mark the seasons,
    and the sun knows when to go down.
20 You bring darkness, it becomes night,
    and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
21 The lions roar for their prey
    and seek their food from God.
22 The sun rises, and they steal away;
    they return and lie down in their dens.
23 Then people go out to their work,
    to their labor until evening.

24 How many are your works, Lord!
    In wisdom you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, vast and spacious,
    teeming with creatures beyond number—
    living things both large and small.
26 There the ships go to and fro,
    and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

27 All creatures look to you
    to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them,
    they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
    they are satisfied with good things.
29 When you hide your face,
    they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit,
    they are created,
    and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
    who touches the mountains, and they smoke.

33 I will sing to the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    as I rejoice in the Lord.
35 But may sinners vanish from the earth
    and the wicked be no more.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Praise the Lord.

As I walked on the beach tonight, I left footprints.   Some were shallow, some were deep, the product of my effort to burrow my feet deep into the sand, to leave a mark.  And yet, at the first arrival of a wave, the prints were gone.   The ocean has been powerfully working for thousands of years before I came into existence, and if time continues, it will be powerfully working for thousands of years after I am gone.   And yet, we are both the creation of the Master Creator.    So are the new friends I have from China, and India, and Newton.   All of us have had waves crash across our paths, and have experienced the rip tides of life.   All of us have left our footprints in the sands of our time, and I would venture a guess that each of us has realized that our marks may only be temporary in the sands of time.    But, each of us is working hard to make a difference, as it well should be.

It’s been an amazing 36 hours, and it is about time to pack up to go back home.   But, for one more night, I’m back in the hotel room.   You know, the room that resembles a phone booth?   And, you know what they have (had) in phone booths?

I’m at a payphone, trying to call home…, but, that’s another theme for another day, or maybe it already as been…

 

 

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