Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Mind and Spirit”–> Where Should I Give?


Luke 16:11:  “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

The bible speaks so much about money.  It is mind blowing.  Yet somehow in our Christian church, we seem to be self satisfied and completely lacking discipline to address this.  I have used the scripture above to speak to this before in this blog, but this is such a powerful concept that we cannot pass it by.  Recently in this life, I got to see two individuals that felt that they were doing God’s calling.  I want to use a real life example to call out how I see the difference and why I would support one and not the other.

Now we are going to go down a rabbit hole, and if we are not careful, we can break our neck.  The funny thing about the Bible and the Gospel that we live:  we do not have certainty.  As a matter of fact, all that you can be certain of is that you might be wrong.  It is because of the uncertainty that you seek the Lord’s guidance every day.  He is the quiet voice turning uncertainty into you steps.  So, I am going to state that my examples might not be perfect, and may even be wrong.  However, I fundamentally believe the principles that I will talk about are right.

The first persons that I would like to call out is my brother and sister Terry and Melissa McGill.  They founded an organization called Sister Schools based in Seattle, Washington.  I will not call out all of the nature of Sister Schools, but if you spend any time on their website, you’ll find out that they basically are working to make sure that kids in Uganda have more opportunities in life.  In a charming picture above, which is taken from a video, you’ll see Terry trying to get the kids to get brighter face for a video they are doing.  If you know Terry, which we have for over 30 years, it wouldn’t matter if he was talking to kids in Seattle or Uganda.  He really loves kids.

The other person, which I will not mention here, is a teacher of sorts.  I know him well, and he is a deeply spiritual man that loves the Lord.  As a matter of fact, he has made some tremendous sacrifices in his life so that he can teach young men in his chosen field at minimum wage.  He has  Ph.D. and is tremendously smart.  He believes that he is able to teach certain knowledge so that Pastors can lead their flocks better.  He recently told me that “this is all that I want to do.”

So faced with both of these people, which one would I choose to support with the giving that I feel the Lord would have me do?

I am not a sacrificial giver.  I give what the scriptures has told me to give, which I believe is roughly 10% of your increase.  What does this mean?  To me tithing is taking 10% of whatever you get in your pocket, and you give 1/10th of it to the Lord. 

In other words, if you make $100 dollars, the government takes $30s, and you are left with $70, you give $7 to the Lord.  In recent years, because the Lord simply blessed us more than what I could conceive, I have given a little more than this.  However, I have simply given a little more because I feel that the Lord gave me a little extra, and he called me to give more.  It is a gift of joy and abundance, but really it still isn’t anything sacrificial.  Nor is it something that I believe the scriptures would compel me to do, other than allow me the opportunity to say thanks.   Also, on top of this, we do support our local church more with our core giving driven by my salary.

So again, of the two different people above, who should I support for my giving beyond my core church giving?

I look for a couple of signs that I think are clear.  The first off, I don’t believe that the Lord is calling many, and maybe not any, to be poor.  He calls out that the poor will always be with us, but in Old Testament, he says that if we live our life correctly, there will be not be poor in the land.

Deut:  15:4  However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,

I believe that the Lord would like us live lives of ordinary means, and be able to be self sufficient, and if tragedy does strike, family or insurance is there to help catch you.  While we are called to give alms to the poor, we are not asked to become poor. 

What is poor is a difficult thing to say.  The poor in America may look like a wealthy person in Uganda.  However, I think of being poor as not being able to take care of your family and kids.  Not giving them the opportunity to support their family by having them learn a trade or get an paying education.  I believe that the Lord calls us to have a home that we go to.  He calls us to live in a land, and grow and prosper.

I believe that every Christian in America should have enough salary to pay for medical insurance and save for retirement.  I don’t believe that the Lord wants us to be vassals to the the state.  If you need to depend on medicaid and welfare, other than for a family tragedy or because you were tested by having children with special needs, you are not living the life that God would have you lead. 

Mind you, I am not saying that being poor is a sin.  I am also saying that the Lord may test you and simply have you experience an unfortunate series of events.  There is a genuine core of people that simply poor because life gave them bad breaks, and we are not there to judge them.  On the other hand, personally know people who are more than capable of making a very good salary, but simply reject the idea that they need to use their talents for making money.  They would rather live off of their in-laws or take hand-outs or not be responsible for their future.

One of the key pivot points in my life was a dinner I had with my Dad.  I wish that I had always been as I am now, but when I was in my late teens, I was not hyper responsible.  I wanted to be an actor, and do plays for a living.  Through conflict with my Dad, he would not allow me to do this.  He felt this was irresponsible.  I was not overjoyed at his input.

So, I did a career that he wanted me to do.  I graduated with a degree in finance and accounting, and while I studied, I will not say that I was serious in all that I did.  After graduating, I did not want anything to do with this degree.  So, after losing my way for a couple of years, I went back to school to get my electrical engineering degree.  My Mom and Dad ended up helping me go to school for 9 years.  However, on my second degree, I was serious and I worked hard.

After finishing my EE degree, I really only had one good offer from IBM.  However, I remember going out to Zoopa (soup and salad) with my Mom and Dad, and I was going to explain to them that I really wanted to be closer to home, and the IBM job was going to make me move to Rochester, MN, which wouldn’t allow us to be close to my parents.  I was going to turn the job down.

My Dad said that this wasn’t a good idea.  The Lord had opened up a door for a very good paying job, and if that meant that we needed to move away, having the financial security of this job was critical for me.  He explained that the Lord doesn’t always open the door that we want to go through.  The Lord opens his door.  This was the job that I was offered, and it was a very good job.  He said that I should take it.

I am a big believer that the Lord’s word goes through our parents, so I followed my Dad’s advice, and my life took a dramatic change.  If you look at my job history, I have never run a company, and I only made it to a Vice President level for a short while, before I was humbled and settled at a lower level.  But my salary has been good.  Well beyond what I could ever expect if I had been in Seattle.  So, although I did not want to do it, my success has contributed to myself and to others.

This is true for those in that are serving the Lord.  Now there are two ways not to be poor.  Paul calls this out both in words and in action.  The first way is if you are serving the Lord, it is very fitting for you to pull a salary.  Paul calls this out in his writing, but also the Old Testament sets up a system so that the priest get paid.  The average senior Pastor in the USA is around $60K per year.  I am not saying that this is not hard work, and they could get paid more in a non-pastor role.  I am saying that it would be possible to live on $60K per year, and support a family. 

The second thing that you can do is what Terry and Melissa did for many years.  They made tents.  Now they really didn’t make tents, but Melissa worked hard at her business because it allow Terry to serve the Lord.  The idea of making tents goes back to when Paul made tents in Antioch so that he could live.  Paul understood that it took money to live.  He could have begged, but he said that he would work.  Out of that work, he paid for his pastoring.  For many years, Terry was able to serve by virtue of his wife’s work.  As time has gone on, he has been able to pull a salary from his work.  This, to me, smacks of something that is very, very correct in the lives of Terry and Melissa.  They understand how money works, and they use it as a tool.

Finally, and this is where we become very dangerous, we have to ask ourselves of the value of the work that these people are doing.  In my example above, you basically have a somebody that is trying to help Pastor’s do their work better.  I am not saying that this is bad, but I am saying that when I look over this work, I see this as a nice to have and not a core item.  However, I feel that Terry and Melissa have hit a home run in the Kingdom of God.  In their work, they are fundamentally changing the lives of young men and woman that grow up in areas with no resources at all.  If these young people can get a bit of education, they can move out of incredible poverty. 

What most people don’t understand is that helping people in poverty will be the thing that separates us from the rest of those that don’t make it into Heaven.  This is called out in the scriptures in Matt 25:34ff.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Let me make this exceptionally clear.  The Lord calls out five key activities that all those were saved acted on:

1. Feed and give drink to those that are hungry and thirsty

2.  Provide clothes for the poor

3. Take care of the stranger

4. Take care of the sick

5. Visit the prisoner

It is easy to get confused when you read the gospels because sometimes Jesus exaggerates and sometimes he does not.  For example, I know he is exaggerating when he says, “Pluck out your eye.” However, I don’t believe in this case that he is exaggerating at all.  He says that those that make it into heaven are going to show these five signs in their lives. 

When I look at this list of activities, I can say that Terry and Melissa are clear addressing 1-4 in their work in a a very direct fashion.  They are helping the poorest of the poor.  People that are my brothers and sisters.  Although I have never been to Uganda, I know that if I support Terry and Melissa, I am helping them help others.

So now that we have established this with such certainty, I am now going to take a half of step back from the ledge.  While we are called to the social gospel of feeding physical needs, we also need to realize that tithing can be a simple act of adoration.  There was a time in the gospels when somebody broke a very expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’s feet, and the Holy men said, “What a waste.  Why not give this to the poor.”

It was at this very time, when a piece of giving was looking like a big waste that Jesus calls out, “the poor you will always have with you.”  The point of this is to understand that we come first to the altar with a sense of overwhelming gratitude.  God looks first at the heart, then he looks at the actions.  A sacrifice given in the right way but with a wrong heart means nothing.  However, an offering given with a contrite heart, even if the sacrifice looks like a suboptimal use of the offering, is one that pleases the Lord. 

What the Church lacks is a conviction that working hard and paying our tithes is a high calling.  Our giving and making sure we give correctly is a very high calling.

Monday, February 20, 2017

“Mind”–> The Insanity Of Elon Musk


I have a co-worker, and really, he is more senior in the company that I work in, but we see things in a very similar fashion, that came into a meeting the other day talking about Elon Musk, the force behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX.  Now, this co-worker is an extraordinary individual that has the unique background of having worked for Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, and Scott McNealy.  I am a fan boy of the Silicon Valley, and this guy has been around.

So we chat for a while, and he tells me that Musk is one of the more dynamic leaders that he knows of.  When you have somebody that has worked for visionaries like my co-worker has, this grabbed me.  So, we go back and forth about this for a while, and finally he says, “Look Elon is going to change the world.  I mean really change it.  What he is doing is amazing.”

He then shoves the Ashlee Vance biography of Musk into my hands, and he tells me (and a few other in the meeting) to read the book.  Normally, I devour books and other material, so I turn to him that say, “Well, I’m probably the only person here that will actually read this.”

Needless to say I spent the next 10 days getting through the book, and I understand what my co-worker was talking about.  Musk is truly a visionary that has substantially changed the world, and we will all be better for the work he has done.

Musk by all accounts is a genius.  As a young child, he simply started to read the encyclopedia, and once he had read it, he remembered it.  He has a sticky mind, and his ability to simply recall information instantly or even years in the past is an incredible feat that most people are boggled at.  However, he couples that innate ability with six other core skills:

a. Fearless:  He is fearless about risk.  He almost personally lost it all multiple times during the crash of 2009.  However, his willingness to put it all on the line allowed him to create both these great companies.

b. Talent scout: He is a great recruiter.  He fundamentally understands that the right person can make or break a company, therefore, he finds the right people.

c. Drive:  He is wired with drive so high that he never needs any down time.  His ability to constantly work and live and breath his business blows away both his fans and his distractors.

d. Empathy: He has a slightly malformed empathy center.  By all accounts, he loves his family, but what he requests from his employees is basically how he drives himself.  I don’t believe that most people are wired like Musk.  They cannot drive themselves all the time.  However, he demands this from his people.  On one occasion, a PR person had an issue because his child was being born.  Musk took him to task for neglecting his job. He is known for killing himself to get talent, but after he gets this talent, if they don’t measure up, he quickly gets rid of them even a month or a few quarters later.  He demands a level of output so high that people burnout.  The same can be said of his marriages.  In many ways, his drive for his companies displaces his ability to deliver what his companions needed. 

e. Focus: And unwillingness to allow anybody or anything to get in the way of his vision.  Since much of his vision is based around doing things cheaper, faster or better, he is brutal on anybody that doesn’t drive lower costs, tighter schedules or the best quality.

f. Vision:  He wants to leave fossil fuel behind, and make a colony on Mars.

These areas are the amazing dichotomies of Musk.  On one level, he only cares about humanity.  It is very apparent that the wealth that he has means little to nothing to him.  His wealth is a simple tool for him to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.  And much of what he wants to accomplish is taking mankind to the next overall level.  Here is a man who has indicated that we may need to provide basic income (that is a government handout) to everybody in the US.  On the other hand, he is unwilling to figure out a decent system in his companies to allow his employees to have a life outside of his all consuming passions. 

“Do you think I’m insane?” is the first line of biography of Musk by Ashlee Vance.

In a dinner with Musk, where the author was trying to get permission to work with Musk on his biography, and this question came out.  It is clear that this is the central question of the book.  Vance invites us into Elon’s life to make a judgment on this.  Vance is, in balance, is very kind to Musk.  He could have focused on his divorces or the worse parts of his personality and drive that some might say are cruel.  However, Vance never stays long on these subjects.  While he talks about the divorces, he does not stay on them long, and he presents both sides.

When we take a look at a biography, we are tempted to spend as much time on the person as we are the man that makes something.  Humans love to gossip, and being divorced three times (counting a twice divorce to the same woman), makes him a tempting target.  What is clear to me, however, is that Musk is Musk.  While his wives may of wanted him to change, and many men would be willing to change, Musk cannot change what is core to his nature.  His wives should have seen what they were getting into.

While I may not want to incorporate all of the Musk ideas into my own life, what I can tell you is that reading biographies like this does heavily influence my thinking.  What is critical in my thinking is that the bulk of Musk can be distilled into six major points as listed above.  Why we may not want to live the same life as Musk, I think that the book allows us to understand why Musk will be measured amongst the greatest Americans to have lived.

While those that are closest to him may suffer burnout, it is clear that the companies Musk has built will return a massive amount of value to the USA, and his companies could well be an important ingredient our ability to compete on a world stage.

I strongly recommend this book.  It not only gives insight into Musk, but it challenges us all to think beyond our own horizons, and inspires us to think about what we can achieve.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

“Mind”–> Stay Away From The Sponges


I remember being in college and there was a really nice guy on the floor of the dorm that I lived in.  He would drop by and chat, and we would talk about stuff.  Somehow, he would inevitability get around to seeing something that I had that was nice, a camera, some school supplies, or a bike.  Then somehow, he would always get around to borrowing it or using whatever was of interest to him.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I remember being a little irritated by the constant borrowing or using.  I mentioned it to my Dad one time, and he said, “Son, let me tell you something, that guy is a sponge and you need to stay away from him.”

I remember at the time thinking about how my Dad was simply harsh.  I mean he didn’t even know the guy, yet here Dad was declaring the moral nature of the guy.  I was the one that was living with the guy on the same floor, and I certainly knew more than my Dad.  Although he borrowed a bit more, he certainly wasn’t this person that my Dad talked about.  My Dad was a hard man, and I simply thought that this was part of his hardness.

Interestingly enough, I found out over time, that I was completely wrong and my Dad was completely right.  In many ways, the fellow was exactly what my Dad said.  My Dad had seen this so many times over his life, he had an understanding that some people are users of other people.  Their sense of reciprocation is broken, and they will attempt to remove as much from you as they can.

In many ways this is subtle.  They are not psychopaths.  They are not bad people.  They are simply sponges.  It is the perfect name for them.

Sponges come in all shapes and sizes.  They have two payoffs that the sponges are looking for:

a. One is monetary.  They are trying to figure out how to get some money out of your pocket.  Now it may be borrowing something, or using something that isn’t their stuff for too long.  But it means that they deprive you of something.

b. The other one is emotional.  They are looking to suck you into their emotional soap opera.

The goal of a sponge is to see how much they can suck in, with the minor amount that they can push out.  Now mind you, you may squeeze a sponge and get either emotional support or money, but the point is that you need to squeeze.  If you are a nice person, you might end up squeezing, but then you feel guilty about it.

This becomes most difficult inside of a family because our life starts off as being sponges.  You come out of the womb, and you are incapable of reciprocation.  A matter of the fact, if you are hungry, you scream, and you are comforted or fed (as long as you have good parents).  This is the epitome of our spongeful lives.

The act of growing up is the act of learning that we should not be sponges.  We learn that we may ask from others, but we should also look at returning in kind.  As we grow, we understand that we are not measured by our ability to take, but by our ability to return and provide.  The act of being a parent is one where we try and train our kids in many abilities, and not being a sponge is top on the list.

This drives a clear turning point at one time in our lives.  As parents, we need to mentally break the cord.  At some time in life, as a parent, you need to say, “This is their life.  They can ask me for advice, but I cannot force them to live their lives as I see it.”  Mind you, you may have issues where you feel that you have to speak up, but you have to keep it far and few between.  As a parent, you can’t do this all at once, but it is a gradual letting go as the child moves from junior high to high school or college.

You can actually let go and still have the child live with you even after college.  The key is understanding why the child is at home.  If it is to save, I find this as a very good reason.  After all, I am not attaching my stuff to hearse and dragging it into heaven.  All my earthly goods will be gone, and I will leave it to my children.  So, I have no issue in helping my kids now rather than after I am gone.  However, as I give, one needs to recognize that giving should be letting go.  I may give my child a down payment on the house, but if they sell the house and use this money for vacation, they are telling me that I shouldn’t give any more.  It might seem like a waste, but some times the only way to see what happens is to give your child live ammo.  I would suggest that you are slow in how you test the waters here.

To explore further, in many families, as the parents get older, there are two things that can happen:

1. The child can see the parent has accumulated some wealth and may want that wealth for themselves.  Even the best of children may want the security that comes with that wealth.  The main thing to remember here is that if the child has accumulated security themselves, it takes the pressure off.  So, teaching money habits is key.  The thing which I’ll interfere the most in my child’s life is pressuring them to have the ability to make a decent wage, and pushing them to save.  To me, this is as critical as pressuring them not to smoke.  Good money habits and a savings plan makes life much less stressful.

2.  The second thing is that the parent can become the role of the child in the relationship.  In the life of the parent, the child starts off as the sponge, but toward later in life the parent ends up as the sponge.

The parent may turn into a money sponge.  The parent may want you to sign on their mortgage and co-sign a note. Secondly, they may turn into an emotional sponge.  They may have an anger problem, or a bitterness problem.  They want to pull you into their soap opera.  In this second situation, I have a very strong word of advice.  Don’t get sucked in. 

I’ve heard some say, “but my parents helped me so much.  I owe them.” 

Really?  I’m going to suggest you have it screwed up.  If our families work well, your parents were help by their parents.  In the right way of life, if your parent helped you, you must help your children.  You don’t pay your debts backward.  You pay them forward.  This is the lesson that you should have been taught, and the lesson that you need to teach your children.  I am helping you.  Now you go help your children. 

But some parents don’t play this game.  They are playing the sponge game.  You need to be careful if you parent turns into a sponge, either monetary or emotional.

Now, I am not saying to be cold hearted, and allow your parents to starve.

If they are having a bad day or if they lost their spouse, don’t say “hey get over it.”

What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be sucked into their situation.

If your parents are to the stage of life that they need help, but they never knew how to budget, you are not going to fix that problem.  If they can’t keep the house, they can’t keep the house.  If they can’t afford a new car, don’t help them buy it.  If they need to be in an assisted care facility, but they won’t move, you can’t force them to move until they recognize it themselves.  Don’t get into an argument with your parents.  Let them know how you feel and move on.

Now, some will have parents (or other relatives) that simply never could figure out how to manage money.  They never saved a dime, but they were good people.  In this case you need to ask yourself “are they an emotional sponge?”

a. If the answer is no, I hope that you have enough room or enough money to invite them to live in your house or apartment.  Good parents or grandparents have lived with their children as long as their has been history.  If they are decent people, bring them in.  The Lord will honor and bless you for it.

b. If they are an emotional sponge, you need to cut them outside of your life.  I am not saying to not talk to them.  I’m not saying that you can fiscally cut them off.  (Although you are not obligated to support their lifestyle that they want.)  You are obligated to figure if you can help them out.  It may mean that you send them some money to help with their needs for the rest of their life.  But the money needs to be budgeted, and what the Lord directs you to.  And don’t steal from your kids to pay your parents.  Your kids don’t need a Porsche, but they do need an education. 

I recently had a situation where somebody that I was close to was allowing one of their parents to suck them into their soap opera.  The parent had always had mood swings, and as they got older, this continued or even got  worse.  However,  this person was not insane, nor mentally ill. 

In this case, they were simply a grumpy old person that was going to be bitter because somebody had ripped them off.  Now the parent could have lived without the money.  So while it was a lot of money, it was not a life changing event.  However, the person that I was close to was spending a massive amount of time arguing, talking and emotionally getting wound up around the situation with their parent.  After they had done this a month, they told me about it, and asked me for what to do.

Now this person had allow the situation to get so bad that it was impacting their relationship with their spouse and their children.  On the surface, it looked okay, but the family knew there was something wrong.  This person really wanted to understand what to do, so I came down hard so they would never forget the lesson.

I said the following:

a. This is not your problem.  You are trying to tell your parent how to live their life.  This is just a crazy thought.  You’ve allow this to impact your whole family, and in reality, this person is so set in their ways, you are never going to change them. 

b. When you are dealing with a parent, they will always see you as the child.  The more you try and play the parent, the more that you will drive a wedge into your relationship.  You need to be kind and listening, but if the person tries to suck you into their soap opera and sponge you out, you need to simply say, “I’m sorry I’m not talking about this, and I’m not getting involved.  You know my opinion, and I am not going to allow you to vent to me and ruin my day.  This is your problem, so call me when you want to be civilized.  As for your problem, if is yours to solve.  You already have my opinion.”

By doing this, you save the relationship.  What really makes a parent mad is when the child tries to teach the parent.  They resent it, and it drives the relationship apart.  The key is stating your opinion, then refusing to be sucked into an emotional soap opera. 

imageWhat most people don’t realize is that this is scriptural.  In Luke 15, we have the story of the Father who son left him. Most people know this story as “The Prodigal Son.” 

The issue is that the son had a completely different viewpoint on life and could not see the value of hard work and saving for the future. 

If you think about it, the son is a perfect example of somebody that was completely wrong on their outlook of life.  The son had a really bad worldview, and was just about to do something completely stupid. 

So into this situation we have the role of the Father.  The most pressing and clear aspect of this whole story is that the father never tried to argue or nag their son.  I’ve heard the sermon of the prodigal son so many times that I’ve lost count.  In all the sermons, they use the story to illustrate God’s love and forgiveness.  They know the father in the story has the character and nature of God.  What they don’t point out is that the father is more than willing to know that he cannot force the son to do the right thing.  He has to wait until circumstances drive clarity into his son’s understanding. 

If God doesn’t force his children to do something, why do we think we are more capable of God?

This story is a blueprint for how we are to treat those that are closest to us.  In this case, the father had raised the son to the age of accountability.  Once there, the father understood that he could not force his son to do anything.

The father simply gave his son over to God, and had hope that his son would find his way home.

As children, we need to realize that we may have prodigal parents.  We need to let them go, and our job is to pray that  they return to us.