Friday, January 29, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday January 29, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Running The Race

READ: 1 Cor. 9:19-27

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. —1 Corinthians 9:24Spiridon Louis isn’t well known around the world, but he is in Greece. That’s because of what happened in 1896 when the Olympic Games were revived in Athens.

During the competition that year, the Greeks did quite well—winning the most medals of any nation. But the event that became a source of true Greek pride was the first-ever marathon. Seventeen athletes competed in this race of 40 kilometers (24.8 miles), but it was won by Louis—a common laborer. For his efforts, Louis was honored by king and country, and he became a national hero.

The apostle Paul used running a race as a picture of the Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, he challenged us not just to run but to run to win, saying, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” Not only did Paul teach this but he lived it out. In his final epistle, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Having finished his race, Paul joyfully anticipated receiving the victory crown from the King of heaven.

Like Paul, run your earthly race to win—and to please your King. — Bill Crowder

As we run in this race—
As our best effort we bring—
We are spurred on by the fact
That we must win for the King. —Branon

The Christian’s race is not a sprint—it’s a marathon.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday January 28, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Quiet Time With God

READ: Psalm 23

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. —Psalm 23:2The word connected captures our contemporary experience of life. Many people rarely go anywhere without a cell phone, iPod, laptop, or pager. We have become accessible 24 hours a day. Some psychologists see this craving to stay connected as an addiction. Yet a growing number of people are deliberately limiting their use of technology. Being a “tech-no” is their way of preserving times of quiet, while limiting the flow of information into their lives.

Many followers of Christ find that a daily time of Bible reading and prayer is essential in their walk of faith. This “quiet time” is a disconnection from external distractions in order to connect with God. The “green pastures” and “still waters” of Psalm 23:2 are more than an idyllic country scene. They speak of our communion with God whereby He restores our souls and leads us in His paths (v.3).

All of us can make time to meet with God, but do we? In Robert Foster’s booklet “7 Minutes With God,” he suggests a way to begin: Start with a brief prayer for guidance, then read the Bible for a few minutes, and close with a short time of prayer that includes adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication for others. It’s vital to take time today to connect with the Lord, who is our life. — David C. McCasland

We need to set aside the time
To read God’s Word and pray,
And listen for the Spirit’s voice
To guide us in His way. —Sper

Time spent with God is time well spent.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

more of What I Read Today - Wednesday January 27, 2010

From: The New York Times - Wednesday January 27, 2010

Op-Ed ColumnistAdults Only, Please

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found the last few weeks in American politics particularly unnerving. Our economy is still very fragile, yet you would never know that by the way the political class is acting. We’re like a patient that just got out of intensive care and is sitting up in bed for the first time when, suddenly, all the doctors and nurses at bedside start bickering. One of them throws a stethoscope across the room; someone else threatens to unplug all the monitors unless the hospital bills are paid by noon; and all the while the patient is thinking: “Are you people crazy? I am just starting to recover. Do you realize how easily I could relapse? Aren’t there any adults here?”

Sometimes you wonder: Are we home alone? Obviously, the political and financial elites to whom we give authority often act on the basis of personal interests. But we still have a long way to go to get out of the mess we are in, and if our elites do not behave with a greater sense of the common good we could find our economy doing a double dip with a back flip.

Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, likes to talk about two kinds of values: “situational values” and “sustainable values.” Leaders, companies or individuals guided by situational values do whatever the situation will allow, no matter the wider interests of their communities. A banker who writes a mortgage for someone he knows can’t make the payments over time is acting on situational values, saying: “I’ll be gone when the bill comes due.”

People inspired by sustainable values act just the opposite, saying: “I will never be gone. I will always be here. Therefore, I must behave in ways that sustain — my employees, my customers, my suppliers, my environment, my country and my future generations.”

Lately, we’ve seen an explosion of situational thinking. I support the broad proposals President Obama put forth last week to prevent banks from becoming too big to fail and to protect taxpayers from banks that get in trouble by speculating and then expect us to bail them out. But the way the president unveiled his proposals — “if those folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have” — left me feeling as though he was looking for a way to bash the banks right after the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts, in order to score a few cheap political points more than to initiate a serious national discussion about an incredibly complex issue.

President Obama is so much better when he takes a heated, knotty issue, like civil rights or banking reform, and talks to the country like adults. He is so much better at making us smarter than angrier. Going to war with the banks for a quick political sugar high after an electoral loss will just work against him and us. It will spook the banks into lending even less and slow the recovery even more.

That said, part of me can’t blame the president. The behavior of some leading Wall Street banks, particularly Goldman Sachs, has been utterly selfish. U.S. taxpayers saved Goldman by saving one of its big counterparties, A.I.G. By any fair calculation, the U.S. Treasury should own a slice of Goldman today. Goldman has been the poster boy for banks behaving by “situational values” — exploiting whatever the situation, or rules that it helped to write, allowed.

Also, President Obama tried to create a bipartisan commission to come up with a plan to reduce the national debt — a plan that would inflict pain on both parties by cutting some programs and raising some taxes. But the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, said the G.O.P. would not cooperate with any commission that proposes raising taxes. And some liberal Democrats rejected cutting their favorite programs. Way to take one for the country, guys.

Then let’s look at the unions — hardly paragons of sustainable thinking for the country. We all know they got more than their fair share in the General Motors settlement and in the Obama health care proposals because they could shake down the Democrats in return for votes.

And, finally, don’t forget both the Democratic and Republican senators who have decided to get a quick populist boost by turning one of the few adults we have left — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke — into a piñata. No, Mr. Bernanke is not blameless for the 2008 crisis. But since then he has helped steer the country back from the brink and kept us out of a depression. He absolutely deserves reappointment.

No doubt, this is a lousy season to be the leader of any institution. We are in the midst of a long period of austerity, where all that most leaders will be able to do is cut, fire and trim. It is so easy to play populism and run against them. But this time is different. When our government is this deeply involved in propping up our economy, and the economy is this fragile, politics as usual will kill us. We badly need leaders inspired by sustainable values, not situational ones. Without that, we’ll just be digging our hole deeper and making the reckoning, when it comes, that much more ferocious.

What I Read Today - Wednesday January 27, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

The First English Samurai

READ: Neh. 1:11–2:5

For I was the king’s cupbearer. —Nehemiah 1:11William Adams (1564–1620) is believed to be the first Englishman to reach Japan. Taking a liking to Adams, the ruling Japanese shogun made him his interpreter and personal advisor concerning the Western powers. Eventually, Adams was presented with two swords with rank of a Samurai. This showed just how much the Japanese revered Adams. Because William Adams served his foreign king well, he was also rewarded with greater opportunity for influence.

Centuries earlier, another man in a foreign country also had great influence over his king. Nehemiah was a cupbearer to Persian King Artaxerxes (Neh. 1:11). In the royal court, the cupbearer would test the wine before it was given to the king to protect him from poisoning. But this position also meant he had the king’s ear as a trusted advisor. Nehemiah’s integrity, administrative gifts, and wisdom made him a confidant to his ruler, which paved the way for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

Like Nehemiah, each of us has been given a unique sphere of influence. Raising children, church or community work, and employment all provide a platform where we can have a beneficial effect on others. Has the Lord placed someone in your life upon whom you can have an influence? — Dennis Fisher

When we live with integrity,
We please our God above
And influence society
With truthfulness and love. —Sper

Even a little example can be a big influence for Christ.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday January 26, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Delayed Consequences

READ: Ezekiel 12:21-28

Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. —Joel 2:13As a child, I learned to behave properly when adults rewarded my good behavior and punished my bad behavior. This worked pretty well because the reward or punishment generally came quickly after the behavior, making the relationship between the cause and effect unmistakable. When I became an adult, however, life got more complex, and the consequences of my actions were not always immediate. When I behaved badly without getting in trouble for it, I began to think that it didn’t matter to God what I did.

Something similar happened to the children of Israel. When they disobeyed God and didn’t suffer any bad consequences right away, they said, “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!” (Ezek. 9:9), indicating their belief that God had lost interest in them and didn’t care about their bad behavior. But they were wrong. Weary of their waywardness, God finally said, “None of My words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled” (12:28 niv).

When God delays discipline, it’s not due to indifference; it’s due to His very nature—He is gracious and slow to anger. Some see that as permission to sin, but God intends it to be an invitation to repent (Rom. 2:4). — Julie Ackerman Link

A Prayer: Lord, thank You for being slow to anger and filled with compassion. May I not presume upon Your mercy by assuming that there will be no consequences to my sin. Help me instead to confess it. Amen.

The only way to make things right is to admit you’ve been wrong.

Monday, January 25, 2010

more of What I Read Today - Monday January 25, 2010

From: The New York Times January 24, 2010


Op-Ed Columnist

More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

The most striking feature of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama’s presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.

In part, it disappeared because the Obama team let it disappear, as Obama moved to pass what was necessary — the economic stimulus — and what he aspired to — health care — by exclusively playing inside baseball with Congress. The president seems to have thought that his majorities in the Senate and the House were so big that he never really had to mobilize “the people” to drive his agenda. Obama turned all his supporters into spectators of The Harry and Nancy Show. And, at the same time, that grass-roots movement went dormant on its own, apparently thinking that just getting the first African-American elected as president was the moon shot of this generation, and nothing more was necessary.

Well, here’s my free advice to Obama, post-Massachusetts. If you think that the right response is to unleash a populist backlash against bankers, you’re wrong. Please, please re-regulate the banks in a smart way. But remember: in the long run, Americans don’t rally to angry politicians. They do not bring out the best in us. We rally to inspirational, hopeful ones. They bring out the best in us. And right now we need to be at our best.

Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of “Start-Up America.”

Obama should make the centerpiece of his presidency mobilizing a million new start-up companies that won’t just give us temporary highway jobs, but lasting good jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. The best way to counter the Tea Party movement, which is all about stopping things, is with an Innovation Movement, which is all about starting things. Without inventing more new products and services that make people more productive, healthier or entertained — that we can sell around the world — we’ll never be able to afford the health care our people need, let alone pay off our debts.

Obama should bring together the country’s leading innovators and ask them: “What legislation, what tax incentives, do we need right now to replicate you all a million times over” — and make that his No. 1 priority. Inspiring, reviving and empowering Start-up America is his moon shot.

And to reignite his youth movement, he should make sure every American kid knows about two programs that he has already endorsed: The first is National Lab Day. Introduced last November by a coalition of educators and science and engineering associations, Lab Day aims to inspire a wave of future innovators, by pairing veteran scientists and engineers with students in grades K-12 to inspire thousands of hands-on science projects around the country.

Any teacher in America, explains the entrepreneur Jack Hidary, the chairman of N.L.D., can go to the Web site NationalLabDay.org and enter the science project he or she is interested in teaching, or get an idea for one. N.L.D. will match teachers with volunteer scientists and engineers in their areas for mentoring.

“As soon as you have a match, the scientists and the students communicate directly or via Skype and collaborate on a project,” said Hidary. “We have a class in Chicago asking for civil engineers to teach them how to build a bridge. In Idaho, a class is asking for a scientist to help them build a working river delta inside their classroom.”

The president should also vow to bring the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, to every low-income neighborhood in America. NFTE works with middle- and high-school teachers to help them teach entrepreneurship. The centerpiece of its program is a national contest for start-ups with 24,000 kids participating. Each student has to invent a product or service, write up a business plan and then do it. NFTE (www.NFTE.com) works only in low-income areas, so many of these new entrepreneurs are minority kids.

In November, a documentary movie — “Ten9Eight” — was released that tracked a dozen students all the way through to the finals of the NFTE competition. Obama should arrange for this movie to be shown in every classroom in America. It is the most inspirational, heartwarming film you will ever see. You can obtain details about it at www.ten9eight.com.

This year’s three finalists, said Amy Rosen, the chief executive of NFTE, “were an immigrant’s son who took a class from H&R Block and invented a company to do tax returns for high school students, a young woman who taught herself how to sew and designed custom-made dresses, and the winner was an African-American boy who manufactured socially meaningful T-shirts.”

You want more good jobs, spawn more Steve Jobs. Obama should have focused on that from Day 1. He must focus on that for Year 2.

What I Read Today - Monday January 25, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Deadly Sins


READ: John 16:17-24

You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. —John 16:22You may be familiar with the list of seven deadly sins that was formulated during the sixth century: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, vengeance, envy, and pride. But you may not know that the original list compiled during the fourth century also included the sin of sadness. Over the years, that emotion was omitted from the inventory.

Some people are blessed with a cheerful disposition. They always seem to be happy. They wear a perpetual smile almost as if they were advertising toothpaste. But then there are others who seem to be chronically sad. They continually complain about life and its burdens. And who can deny that afflictions are discouraging?

While we acknowledge that not everybody is blessed with a bright outlook on life, we need to remember that joy is one of the gifts Jesus promised to His followers. And we need to resist any tendency to let sadness dominate our emotional lives.

Jesus promised His disciples on the night Judas betrayed Him, “Your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22). Remember that joy is the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Let’s ask the Lord to help us look beyond our sorrowful circumstances and encourage our hearts by the vision of joy that awaits us (Heb. 12:2). — Vernon C. Grounds

You alone, Lord Jesus, can true joy impart,
For You know the sorrow of the human heart;
You came here from glory many hearts to win
And in love for sinners suffered once for sin. —Anon.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit that’s always in season.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday Janauary 21, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread


A Mutual Friend

READ: John 15:9-17

I have called you friends. —John 15:15Imagine being a visitor in a foreign land, showing up unannounced at a gathering of people you have never met and who have never heard of you—and then being allowed to address that group just a few minutes later. That can happen only if something breaks down barriers— something like mutual friends.

It happened when I took a missions team to a church service in Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Before we left the US, my friend Dorant Brown, a Jamaican pastor, recommended a church to attend. So when we arrived at the church, and I mentioned Pastor Brown, we were not only welcomed, but I was also asked to speak briefly and our team was asked to sing.

While sharing Dorant’s name was vital, I really don’t think it was that mutual friend who got us such a warm welcome. I think it was our shared Friend and Savior Jesus who opened our Jamaican friends’ hearts to our visit.

Have you experienced a connection with someone you just met when you tell them you too know Jesus? He’s a friend who laid down His life for us (John 15:13), and He makes brothers and sisters of all who believe (1 Peter 2:17).

Jesus. Our Savior. Our mutual Friend. He joins hearts around the world under the banner of His love. — Dave Branon

Join hands, then, brothers of the faith,
Whate’er your race may be;
Who serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me. —Oxenham

Those who are drawn to Christ are drawn to each other.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

more of What I Read Today - Wednesday January 20, 2010

From: The New York Times - January 20, 2010


Op-Ed Columnist

Is China an Enron? (Part 2)

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Last week, I wrote a column suggesting that while some overheated Chinese markets, like real estate, may offer shorting opportunities, I’d be wary of the argument that China’s economy today is just one big short-inviting bubble, à la Dubai. Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks.

There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.

Here is why: Chinese companies today are both more backward and more advanced than most Americans realize. There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

What is so important about knowledge flows? This, for me, is the key to understanding the Google story and why one might decide to short the Chinese Communist Party.

John Hagel, the noted business writer and management consultant argues in his recently released “Shift Index” that we’re in the midst of “The Big Shift.” We are shifting from a world where the key source of strategic advantage was in protecting and extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks — the sum total of what we know at any point in time, which is now depreciating at an accelerating pace — into a world in which the focus of value creation is effective participation in knowledge flows, which are constantly being renewed.

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all. Therefore, the more your company or country can connect with relevant and diverse sources to create new knowledge, the more it will thrive. And if you don’t, others will.

I would argue that Command China, in its efforts to suppress, curtail and channel knowledge flows into politically acceptable domains that will indefinitely sustain the control of the Communist Party — i.e., censoring Google — is increasingly at odds with Network China, which is thriving by participating in global knowledge flows. That is what the war over Google is really all about: It is a proxy and a symbol for whether the Chinese will be able to freely search and connect wherever their imaginations and creative impulses take them, which is critical for the future of Network China.

Have no doubt, China has some world-class networked companies that are “in the flow” already, such as Li & Fung, a $14 billion apparel company with a network of 10,000 specialized business partners, and Dachangjiang, the motorcycle maker. The flows occurring on a daily basis in the networks of these Chinese companies to do design, product innovation and supply-chain management and to pool the best global expertise “are unlike anything that U.S. companies have figured out,” said Hagel.

The orchestrators of these networks, he added, “encourage participants to gather among themselves in an ad hoc fashion to address unexpected performance challenges, learn from each other and pull in outsiders as they need them. More traditional companies driven by a desire to protect and exploit knowledge stocks carefully limit the partners they deal with.”

Command China has thrived up to now largely by perfecting the 20th-century model for low-cost manufacturing based on mining knowledge stocks and limiting flows. But China will only thrive in the 21st century — and the Communist Party survive in power — if it can get more of its firms to shift to the 21st-century model of Network China. That means enabling more and more Chinese people, universities and companies to participate in the world’s great knowledge flows, especially ones that connect well beyond the established industry and market boundaries.

Alas, though, China seems to be betting that it can straddle three impulses — control flows for political reasons, maintain 20th-century Command Chinese factories for employment reasons and expand 21st-century Network China for growth reasons. But the contradictions within this straddle could undermine all three. The 20th-century Command model will be under pressure. The future belongs to those who promote richer and ever more diverse knowledge flows and develop the institutions and practices required to harness them.

So there you have it: Command China, which wants to censor Google, is working against Network China, which thrives on Google. For now, it looks as if Command China will have its way. If that turns out to be the case, then I’d like to short the Communist Party.

What I Read Today - Wednesday January 20, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread


Redirected

READ: Genesis 39:1-10

The Lord was with Joseph. —Genesis 39:2At the age of 16, pianist Leon Fleisher made his formal debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. He went on to win prestigious international competitions and played in the world’s finest concert halls. But at the age of 37, Fleisher was struck with dystonia, a neurological condition that crippled his right hand. After a period of despondency and withdrawal, he turned to teaching and conducting, because, as he said, he loved music more than he loved the piano.

When our dreams are shattered, how do we react? After Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, was sold as a slave by his brothers (Gen. 37:12-36), he could have given in to self-pity and self-indulgence. Instead, Joseph remained true to the Lord. Four times in Genesis 39, we read that “the Lord was with” Joseph (vv.2-3,21,23), and his actions revealed his own faithfulness to God. By his exemplary life, those he served in Egypt recognized God’s presence with him.

Do we love God more than our own dreams? Although Joseph must have grieved the loss of his past and what his life could have been, the Lord led him to a calling he had never imagined. Today, the Lord longs to lead us. Are we willing to be redirected by Him? — David C. McCasland

My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away;
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead,
For He doth know the way. —Overton

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. —Proverbs 16:9

Monday, January 18, 2010

More of What I Read Today - Monday January 18, 2010

From: The New York Times - Sunday January 17, 2010

What’s Our Sputnik?

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN


Taipei, Taiwan

Dick Cheney says President Obama is “trying to pretend that we are not at war” with terrorists. There is only one thing I have to say about that: I sure hope so.

Frankly, if I had my wish, we would be on our way out of Afghanistan not in, we would be letting Pakistan figure out which Taliban they want to conspire with and which ones they want to fight, we would be letting Israelis and Palestinians figure out on their own how to make peace, we would be taking $100 billion out of the Pentagon budget to make us independent of imported oil — nothing would make us more secure — and we would be reducing the reward for killing or capturing Osama bin Laden to exactly what he’s worth: 10 cents and an autographed picture of Dick Cheney.

Am I going isolationist? No, but visiting the greater China region always leaves me envious of the leaders of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, who surely get to spend more of their time focusing on how to build their nations than my president, whose agenda can be derailed at any moment by a jihadist death cult using exploding underpants.

Could we just walk away? No, but we must change our emphasis. The “war on terrorists” has to begin by our challenging the people and leaders over there. If they’re not ready to take the lead, to speak out and fight the madness in their midst, for the future of their own societies, there is no way we can succeed. We’ll exhaust ourselves trying. We’d be better off just building a higher wall.

As the terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman noted in an essay in The Washington Post: “In the wake of the global financial crisis, Al Qaeda has stepped up a strategy of economic warfare. ‘We will bury you,’ Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev promised Americans 50 years ago. Today, Al Qaeda threatens: ‘We will bankrupt you.’ ” And they will.

Our presence, our oil dependence, our endless foreign aid in the Middle East have become huge enablers of bad governance there and massive escapes from responsibility and accountability by people who want to blame all their troubles on us. Let’s get out of the way and let the moderate majorities there, if they really exist, face their own enemies on their own. It is the only way they will move. We can be the wind at their backs, but we can’t be their sails. There is some hope for Iraq and Iran today because their moderates are fighting for themselves.

Has anyone noticed the most important peace breakthrough on the planet in the last two years? It’s right here: the new calm in the Strait of Taiwan. For decades, this was considered the most dangerous place on earth, with Taiwan and China pointing missiles at each other on hair triggers. Well, over the past two years, China and Taiwan have reached a quiet rapprochement — on their own. No special envoys or shuttling secretaries of state. Yes, our Navy was a critical stabilizer. But they worked it out. They realized their own interdependence. The result: a new web of economic ties, direct flights and student exchanges.

A key reason is that Taiwan has no oil, no natural resources. It’s a barren rock with 23 million people who, through hard work, have amassed the fourth-largest foreign currency reserves in the world. They got rich digging inside themselves, unlocking their entrepreneurs, not digging for oil. They took responsibility. They got rich by asking: “How do I improve myself?” Not by declaring: “It’s all somebody else’s fault. Give me a handout.”

When I look at America from here, I worry. China is now our main economic partner and competitor. Sure, China has big problems. Nevertheless, I hope Americans see China’s rise as the 21st-century equivalent of Russia launching the Sputnik satellite — a challenge to which we responded with a huge national effort that revived our education, infrastructure and science and propelled us for 50 years. Unfortunately, the Cheneyites want to make fighting Al Qaeda our Sputnik. Others want us to worry about some loopy remark Senator Harry Reid made about the shade of Obama’s skin.

Well, what is our national project going to be? Racing China, chasing Al Qaeda or parsing Harry? Of course, to a degree, we need to both race China and confront Al Qaeda — but which will define us?

“Our response to Sputnik made us better educated, more productive, more technologically advanced and more ingenious,” said the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. “Our investments in science and education spread throughout American society, producing the Internet, more students studying math and people genuinely wanting to build the nation.”

And what does the war on terror give us? Better drones, body scanners and a lot of desultory T.S.A. security jobs at airports. “Sputnik spurred us to build a highway to the future,” added Mandelbaum. “The war on terror is prompting us to build bridges to nowhere.”

We just keep thinking we can do it all — be focused, frightened and frivolous. We can’t. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the time.

What I Read Today - Monday January 18, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

It Is My Business

READ: Leviticus 19:11-18

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge . . . , but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. —Leviticus 19:18In 1955, when the South was still highly segregated, Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, visited relatives in Mississippi. After Emmett “dared” to talk to a white woman, two white men brutally murdered him. An all-white, male jury found the two “not guilty”—after deliberating for barely an hour. The two men later confessed to the crime in a Life magazine article.

Following the verdict, Emmett’s mother said, “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to Negroes in the South, I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.”

Making another’s concerns our own is what Leviticus 19:18 calls us to do: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus quotes this verse and interprets it as not placing any limitations on loving those around us (Matt. 22:39; Luke 10:25-37). Our neighbor doesn’t just mean someone close by; it’s anyone who has a need. We are to care for others as we care for ourselves.

To love our neighbor means to make the persecution, suffering, and injustice of our fellow human beings our own. It is the business of all who follow Christ. — Marvin Williams

For Further Thought
How can we be a good neighbor? Be respectful to all. Lend a hand. Volunteer. Join a neighborhood association. Speak up when others are treated unjustly.

Compassion puts love into action.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday January 14, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread
The Sin Buildup

READ: 1 John 1:5-10

We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. —2 Corinthians 4:7For hundreds of years, windmills around the world have been used to pump water and to process grains. But in the last few decades, as wind turbines producing electricity have become more prevalent, a “fly in the ointment” unexpectedly occurred.

Researchers discovered that windpower generators worked fine at slow speeds, but at high-wind velocity, bugs on the blades reduced power output. Operators found that it was necessary to regularly wash off the buildup of dead insects to avoid having them slowly decrease the turbine’s power.

A buildup of sin in a Christian’s life can be a problem as well. God has provided a way to clear the accumulation of sins from our lives. First John 1:9 reminds us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But unless we do that often, we’ll be running on diminished power. That’s because the power for living comes from God and not us (2 Cor. 4:7). When we try to live the Christian life in our own strength, we’ll feel defeated—like windmills robbed of their energy.

God’s power can be more easily seen and experienced in our lives when we get rid of sin’s buildup every day. — Cindy Hess Kasper

The power in our Christian life
Will be diminished by our sin;
Confession will restore our strength—
When we’re forgiven, cleansed within. —Sper

Sin drains our spiritual power; confession restores it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday January 12, 2010

From: The New York Times

The Tel Aviv Cluster
By DAVID BROOKS

Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.

Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.

In his book, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based.

Most Jews gave up or were forced to give up farming in the Middle Ages; their descendents have been living off of their wits ever since. They have often migrated, with a migrant’s ambition and drive. They have congregated around global crossroads and have benefited from the creative tension endemic in such places.

No single explanation can account for the record of Jewish achievement. The odd thing is that Israel has not traditionally been strongest where the Jews in the Diaspora were strongest. Instead of research and commerce, Israelis were forced to devote their energies to fighting and politics.

Milton Friedman used to joke that Israel disproved every Jewish stereotype. People used to think Jews were good cooks, good economic managers and bad soldiers; Israel proved them wrong.

But that has changed. Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic reforms, the arrival of a million Russian immigrants and the stagnation of the peace process have produced a historic shift. The most resourceful Israelis are going into technology and commerce, not politics. This has had a desultory effect on the nation’s public life, but an invigorating one on its economy.

Tel Aviv has become one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial hot spots. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.

As Dan Senor and Saul Singer write in “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” Israel now has a classic innovation cluster, a place where tech obsessives work in close proximity and feed off each other’s ideas.

Because of the strength of the economy, Israel has weathered the global recession reasonably well. The government did not have to bail out its banks or set off an explosion in short-term spending. Instead, it used the crisis to solidify the economy’s long-term future by investing in research and development and infrastructure, raising some consumption taxes, promising to cut other taxes in the medium to long term. Analysts at Barclays write that Israel is “the strongest recovery story” in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Israel’s technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.

This shift in the Israeli identity has long-term implications. Netanyahu preaches the optimistic view: that Israel will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. And, in fact, there are strands of evidence to support that view in places like the West Bank and Jordan.

But it’s more likely that Israel’s economic leap forward will widen the gap between it and its neighbors. All the countries in the region talk about encouraging innovation. Some oil-rich states spend billions trying to build science centers. But places like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv are created by a confluence of cultural forces, not money. The surrounding nations do not have the tradition of free intellectual exchange and technical creativity.

For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the U.S. Saudis registered 171. Israelis registered 7,652.

The tech boom also creates a new vulnerability. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has argued, these innovators are the most mobile people on earth. To destroy Israel’s economy, Iran doesn’t actually have to lob a nuclear weapon into the country. It just has to foment enough instability so the entrepreneurs decide they had better move to Palo Alto, where many of them already have contacts and homes. American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the U.S.

During a decade of grim foreboding, Israel has become an astonishing success story, but also a highly mobile one.

What I Read Today - Tuesday January 12, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread
Finishers

READ: 2 Timothy 4:1-8

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. —2 Timothy 4:7When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming a black belt in karate. Several years ago, I began training and came close to fulfilling that goal. However, two belts away from my goal, I quit. There were two reasons—my teacher changed styles in the middle of my training, and I got so busy that I could not devote adequate time for training.

Almost every week, I am nagged by the thought that God wants me to be a finisher in all aspects of my life—but especially in my service for Him.

As Paul spoke of the conclusion of his life, he did not have any nagging thoughts of unfinished business about his ministry. In this final farewell (2 Tim. 4:7), Paul used imagery-rich words to talk about finishing his service for Christ. He described his life and ministry in terms of a fight: “I have fought the good fight.” The fight was good because he had engaged in it for God and the gospel. Then he used the imagery of a race as synonymous with his ministry: “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul affirmed that by God’s grace he had finished all that God had given him to do.

As followers of Jesus, let us strive to be finishers, persevering in our service for Jesus Christ. — Marvin Williams

For every follower of Christ
There is a race to run;
And when we cross the finish line,
We’ll be with Christ, God’s Son. —Fitzhugh

Run the race with eternity in view.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What I read today - Monday January 11, 2010

From: The Wall Street Journal  Saturday January 9, 2010

Nurse Outduels IRS Over M.B.A. Tuition


How One Woman Went to Tax Court and Won Deduction.ArticleComments (61)more in Education ».

By LAURA SAUNDERS

A Maryland nurse accomplished two rare feats in her battle with the Internal Revenue Service: She defended herself against the agency's lawyers and won, and she got a ruling that could help tens of thousands of students deduct the cost of an M.B.A. degree on their taxes.

The U.S. Tax Court handed Lori Singleton-Clarke her victory last month, saying the 47-year-old Bryantown, Md., woman had properly deducted nearly $15,000 in business school tuition. The Tax Court ruling should make it easier for many other professionals to deduct the expense of a Master in Business Administration degree.

After getting word of the court decision, "I nearly yelled the roof off the house," Ms. Singleton-Clarke says. "I still can hardly believe it."

The IRS's rules on deducting work-related tuition are complicated and onerous, ultimately preventing most students from deducting their tuition. But this case clarifies the rules and will likely lead to more taxpayers taking the deduction, tax experts say.

Few taxpayers decide to go toe to toe with the IRS as Ms. Singleton-Clarke did, arguing her case without a lawyer. For good reason: In 2009, individuals won only about 10% of about 300 such cases, according to data from Tax Analysts. Ms. Singleton-Clarke fought her case in Tax Court, a venue where taxpayers don't have to pay the contested tax before going to trial. The court has a special procedure for small cases.

Some of the losers, such as several dozen tax protesters who defended the filing of frivolous returns, were tilting at tax windmills. Others were simply on the wrong side of the law, including a horse enthusiast who wanted to deduct his hobby losses, an unsuccessful comedian who tried to classify his expenses as business losses, and an attorney who claimed over $100,000 in medical deductions for his visits to prostitutes.

Of the few who did prevail against the IRS, nearly half came to court on a single issue: requests for "innocent spouse" treatment that decouples a spouse from a partner who is a tax cheat. This provision has been used mostly to protect unknowing wives against their husbands' tax misdeeds. One of the spouses granted relief last year was formerly married to an investment banker who didn't pay his taxes after his bonus didn't come though.

Ms. Singleton-Clarke's encounter with the tax system shows what it can take for one individual to prevail over the IRS against the long odds: favorable facts, obsessive organization, and fearlessness. She says she didn't have a lawyer because she couldn't afford one.

Her odyssey began in 2006, when she filed her 2005 return. It showed just over $50,000 of income, several smaller deductions, and one large one—for $14,787 of expenses for an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix, an online school. Ms. Singleton-Clarke deducted the tuition because her tax preparer told her she met the law's narrow definitions.

When the IRS audited the return in late 2006, she conceded all the IRS's challenges to her deductions but one. She dug in her heels on the tuition deduction because, after looking at a complex diagram in IRS Publication 970, she believed she qualified for it.

The audit process first involved several rounds of confusing IRS correspondence. "At one point I had three requests for the same records, each with a different contact name. I had to spend hours calling to figure out who needed what," says Ms. Singleton-Clarke, a steely but soft-spoken woman.

After that she was summoned to an IRS office in downtown Washington where she had to provide more copies of her résumé, a job description, and other records. She felt overwhelmed and intimidated.

Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal Lori Singleton-Clarke, in her battle against the IRS, was lauded for her meticulous record-keeping.

Both the IRS's actions and her reactions are typical, says Christopher Bergin, president of Tax Analysts, a group that fights for tax-system transparency and since l972 has won a series of freedom-of-information cases against the IRS. "Without doing anything illegal, they muscled her. That's what they do. The pressure can be terrifying," he says.

A spokesman for the IRS says that it never comments on issues with specific taxpayers.

As Ms. Singleton-Clarke held fast to her conviction that she deserved the deduction, she drew on skills she developed as a nurse responsible for dealing with doctors who may have infringed hospital rules. That was why she studied for her M.B.A., she says: "I didn't want to feel outmatched by surgeons who didn't want to talk to me."

When the IRS again denied her deduction by mail after her meeting with the agent, Ms. Singleton-Clarke wound up going to Tax Court to set a trial date. But when she came to court in November 2008, it seemed that everyone else had settled their cases: "There was just me by myself at one table and the [IRS] tax team of at another in a big courtroom."

The tax team consisted of a two attorneys and several assistants or paralegals. Ms. Singleton-Clarke had been told to bring copies of her documents in triplicate, including a time line of her career. Judge Stanley Goldberg questioned her closely and complimented her on her record-keeping during the hour-long trial. "The whole time," she says: "I was thinking, here is this god-like man who is going to make an important decision for me. But he wasn't a bully. I had met with the bullies before."

Reached Friday by phone, Judge Goldberg said: "I remember the case well because Ms. Singleton-Clarke was so articulate and well-prepared. Too many taxpayers are not."

Ms. Singleton-Clarke's victory came when the ruling was issued a year later. It is unusual in that it helps not only her but others as well. Decisions in small cases aren't allowed to be cited as precedent. "But everyone uses them," says Melissa Labant, a tax expert with the American Institute of CPAs. "This case definitely provides a road map others can use, especially M.B.A. students."

Write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com

What I Read Today - Monday January 11, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Following Our Example

READ: 1 Timothy 4:12-16

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers. —1 Timothy 4:12Alyssa, who is 6 and just learning to read, often saw her parents and grandparents reading their Bibles in the morning. Early one day, she woke up before everyone else. Grandma found her sitting on the couch, with her Bible and a devotional booklet on her lap. She wanted to follow the example of spending time with God at the beginning of the day.

Timothy, a young pastor, faced heavy responsibilities in the church at Ephesus—training believers, leading in worship, countering false doctrine. The older, experienced apostle Paul gave him instruction on leading the church in these areas, but he also mentioned the importance of personal conduct. He said, “Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

Paul challenged Timothy: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (v.16). If he paid attention to his own spiritual life and to solid doctrine, he would be a godly example to the church family.

We all have others who are observing us. Even little Alyssa has younger siblings watching her. Let’s live our lives in such a way that those who follow our example will help others in their walk with God. — Anne Cetas

Lord, help me live a godly life
Of faith and love and purity
So those who follow what I do
Will grow in their maturity. —Sper

A good example has more value than good advice.

What I Read Today - Monday January 11, 2010

From: The New York Times

January 10, 2010


Who’s Sleeping Now?

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Op-Ed Columnist

Hong Kong
C. H. Tung, the first Chinese-appointed chief executive of Hong Kong after the handover in 1997, offered me a three-sentence summary the other day of China’s modern economic history: “China was asleep during the Industrial Revolution. She was just waking during the Information Technology Revolution. She intends to participate fully in the Green Revolution.”

I’ll say. Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

O.K., that was a cheap shot. But here’s one that isn’t: Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, liked to say that companies come to “strategic inflection points,” where the fundamentals of a business change and they either make the hard decision to invest in a down cycle and take a more promising trajectory or do nothing and wither. The same is true for countries.

The U.S. is at just such a strategic inflection point. We are either going to put in place a price on carbon and the right regulatory incentives to ensure that America is China’s main competitor/partner in the E.T. revolution, or we are going to gradually cede this industry to Beijing and the good jobs and energy security that would go with it.

Is President Obama going to finish health care and then put aside the pending energy legislation — and carbon pricing — that Congress has already passed in order to get through the midterms without Republicans screaming “new taxes?” Or is he going to seize this moment before the midterms — possibly his last window to put together a majority in the Senate, including some Republicans, for a price on carbon — and put in place a real U.S. engine for clean energy innovation and energy security?

I’ve been stunned to learn about the sheer volume of wind, solar, mass transit, nuclear and more efficient coal-burning projects that have sprouted in China in just the last year.

Here’s e-mail from Bill Gross, who runs eSolar, a promising California solar-thermal start-up: On Saturday, in Beijing, said Gross, he announced “the biggest solar-thermal deal ever. It’s a 2 gigawatt, $5 billion deal to build plants in China using our California-based technology. China is being even more aggressive than the U.S. We applied for a [U.S. Department of Energy] loan for a 92 megawatt project in New Mexico, and in less time than it took them to do stage 1 of the application review, China signs, approves, and is ready to begin construction this year on a 20 times bigger project!”

Yes, climate change is a concern for Beijing, but more immediately China’s leaders know that their country is in the midst of the biggest migration of people from the countryside to urban centers in the history of mankind. This is creating a surge in energy demand, which China is determined to meet with cleaner, homegrown sources so that its future economy will be less vulnerable to supply shocks and so it doesn’t pollute itself to death.

In the last year alone, so many new solar panel makers emerged in China that the price of solar power has fallen from roughly 59 cents a kilowatt hour to 16 cents, according to The Times’s bureau chief here, Keith Bradsher. Meanwhile, China last week tested the fastest bullet train in the world — 217 miles per hour — from Wuhan to Guangzhou. As Bradsher noted, China “has nearly finished the construction of a high-speed rail route from Beijing to Shanghai at a cost of $23.5 billion. Trains will cover the 700-mile route in just five hours, compared with 12 hours today. By comparison, Amtrak trains require at least 18 hours to travel a similar distance from New York to Chicago.”

China is also engaged in the world’s most rapid expansion of nuclear power. It is expected to build some 50 new nuclear reactors by 2020; the rest of the world combined might build 15.

“By the end of this decade, China will be dominating global production of the whole range of power equipment,” said Andrew Brandler, the C.E.O. of the CLP Group, Hong Kong’s largest power utility.

In the process, China is going to make clean power technologies cheaper for itself and everyone else. But even Chinese experts will tell you that it will all happen faster and more effectively if China and America work together — with the U.S. specializing in energy research and innovation, at which China is still weak, as well as in venture investing and servicing of new clean technologies, and with China specializing in mass production.

This is a strategic inflection point. It is clear that if we, America, care about our energy security, economic strength and environmental quality we need to put in place a long-term carbon price that stimulates and rewards clean power innovation. We can’t afford to be asleep with an invigorated China wide awake.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What I read today - Thursday January 7, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

God Loveth Adverbs

READ: Colossians 3:8-17

But we have the mind of Christ. —1 Corinthians 2:16The Puritans wisely sought to connect all of life to its source in God, bringing the two worlds together rather than dividing them into sacred and secular. They had a saying, “God loveth adverbs; and careth not how good, but how well.” Adverbs describe verbs—our words of action and activity. The proverb implies that God cares more about the spirit in which we live than the concrete results.

Pleasing God doesn’t mean that we must busy ourselves with a new set of “spiritual” activities. As the Puritans said, whether cleaning house or preaching sermons, shoeing horses or translating the Bible, any human activity may constitute an offering to God.

We spend much time immersed in the mundane. “But we have the mind of Christ,” Paul reminds us (1 Cor. 2:16). That truth is to guide everything we do. Caring for an elderly parent. Cleaning up after a child. Sitting on a porch with a neighbor. Fielding a customer’s complaint. Filling out patient charts at a nurses’ station. Sitting in traffic. Sawing lumber. Reporting tips. Shopping for groceries.

We need faith and the mind of the Lord Jesus to recognize something of lasting value in even our most ordinary tasks. — Philip Yancey

In the common round of duty
Lift thy heart in praise;
For the Lord hath surely promised
Strength for all thy days. —Tovey

The world crowns success; God crowns faithfulness!

What I Read Today - Thursday January 7, 2010



Sent to you by sperrycpa via Google Reader:





via TaxVox: the Tax Policy Center blog by Howard Gleckman on 1/5/10

Nice to hear the IRS is finally going to regulate tax preparers. For years, fly-by-night tax prep outfits have been doing, how shall we say, a less-than-stellar job filling out returns for the confused and vulnerable. But cracking down on those seasonal shysters who abuse the system is only attacking a symptom of the real disease, which is our insanely complex tax code.
Making preparers register with the IRS and take a test is a good idea. But it isn't going to do very much to close the tax gap, as Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-Mont) and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) seem to believe. And, surprisingly enough, it may not even result in more accurate returns.
Last October, TPC visting fellow Larry Lokken noted in TaxVox that unregulated preparers hardly have a monopoly on errors. In fact, one study showed that highly-trained and registered enrolled agents often make more mistakes than other preparers. The truth is, no one can agree on the "right" answers for an even moderately-complicated return. Give 10 honest and highly-trained accountants or lawyers the same information, and you are likely to get back 10 different returns.        
   
The real solution, as Baucus and Grassley well know, is a tax return that people can understand and does not scare the hell out of them. And they don't need to create the proverbial return-on-a- postcard to fix the problem. A few simple changes could make filing vastly easier for many low-income people who are frequent victims of ill-prepared (and worse) preparers.
For instance, my TPC colleague Elaine Maag suggests Congress could drop the asset test for the Earned Income Credit. The child credit and the dependent exemption are based on income. There is no reason why the EITC should not be as well. Similarly, a few years ago Congress simplified the definition of a child. That was a big step, but it did not go far enough. A child qualifies for the EITC and the dependent exemption if she is under 19 or under age 24 and a student. But she qualifies for the child credit if she is younger than 17. Want to protect low-income filers from being abused by bad preparers? Make it easier for them to do their own returns.
Congress could also stop adding above-the-line deductions for those who don't itemize. This has become a troubling fad lately, and it only does more to complexify life for those taking the standard deduction which, after all, was supposed to make their lives easier. 
We are all appalled at the way taxpayers are abused by tax prep. But even outfits such as Mo Money Taxes, started by a jewelry wholesaler and a FedEx worker, are not the real problem. The tax code is the problem. And Congress should fix it.   




Things you can do from here:



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday January 5, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Locked In

READ: 2 Timothy 2:1-10

I suffer trouble . . . even to the point of chains; but the Word of God is not chained. —2 Timothy 2:9Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, describes his life after a massive stroke left him with a condition called “Locked-In Syndrome.” Although he was almost completely paralyzed, Bauby was able to write his book by blinking his left eyelid. An aide would recite a coded alphabet, until Bauby blinked to choose the letter of a word he was dictating. The book required about 200,000 blinks to write. Bauby used the only physical ability left him to communicate with others.

In 2 Timothy we read of Paul experiencing a different kind of “locked-in syndrome.” Under house arrest, the apostle learned that his execution might be imminent. With this in view, he told Timothy: “I suffer trouble . . . even to the point of chains; but the Word of God is not chained” (2 Tim. 2:9). In spite of his isolation, Paul welcomed visitors, wrote letters of encouragement, and rejoiced at the spread of God’s Word.

For some of us, circumstances may have isolated us from others. Lying in a hospital bed, serving time in a prison, or being a shut-in can make us feel that we are experiencing our own “locked-in syndrome.” If this is true for you, why not prayerfully reflect on some ways you can still reach out to others. — Dennis Fisher

Give me to serve in humble sphere,
I ask not aught beside!
Content to fill a little place,
If God be glorified. —Anon.

No deed is too small when done for Christ

Monday, January 4, 2010

What I Read Today - Monday January 4, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

The Review

READ: 2 Corinthians 5:1-11

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done. —2 Corinthians 5:10Imagine going to work one day and being greeted by your boss, who says, “Come by my office at 9:30. I’d like to talk to you about how you’re doing on the job.”

This could be a nervous time for you as you think about what your supervisor might say. You wonder, How does my boss think I’ve been doing? Could there be a promotion with a pay increase? Or could I lose my job? Am I going to hear, “Well done” or “You’re done”?

As important as this kind of meeting is, the Bible speaks of another, far more significant review. After this life is past, we will stand before our Lord. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). We will not enter that future evaluation fearful of losing our salvation, nor will we desire personal benefit or human approval. Instead, we will be eager to hear the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).

The challenge before us as followers of Christ is to serve Him with excellence now so that we can hear His words, “Well done” then. Based on the way I am living today, what kind of review will I get when I see the Savior? — Bill Crowder

The day will come when we will stand
Before our Judge, God’s Son;
Have we so lived that He will say,
“Well done, My child, well done”? —Sper

Service done well here on earth will receive a “Well done” in heaven.

What I Listened to Today - Monday January 4, 2010

Friday, January 1, 2010

more of What I Read Today - Friday - January 1, 2010

From:  The New York Times - January 1, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist

The God That Fails

By DAVID BROOKS

During the middle third of the 20th century, Americans had impressive faith in their own institutions. It was not because these institutions always worked well. The Congress and the Federal Reserve exacerbated the Great Depression. The military made horrific mistakes during World War II, which led to American planes bombing American troops and American torpedoes sinking ships with American prisoners of war.

But there was a realistic sense that human institutions are necessarily flawed. History is not knowable or controllable. People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates.

That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished. Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.

After Sept. 11, we Americans indulged our faith in the god of technocracy. We expanded the country’s information-gathering capacities so that the National Security Agency alone now gathers four times more data each day than is contained in the Library of Congress.

We set up protocols to convert that information into a form that can be processed by computers and bureaucracies. We linked agencies and created new offices. We set up a centralized focal point, the National Counterterrorism Center.

All this money and technology seems to have reduced the risk of future attack. But, of course, the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that. Bureaucracies are always blind because they convert the rich flow of personalities and events into crude notations that can be filed and collated. Human institutions are always going to miss crucial clues because the information in the universe is infinite and events do not conform to algorithmic regularity.

Resilient societies have a level-headed understanding of the risks inherent in this kind of warfare.

But, of course, this is not how the country has reacted over the past week. There have been outraged calls for Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security to resign, as if changing the leader of the bureaucracy would fix the flaws inherent in the bureaucracy. There have been demands for systemic reform — for more protocols, more layers and more review systems.

Much of the criticism has been contemptuous and hysterical. Various experts have gathered bits of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s biography. Since they can string the facts together to accurately predict the past, they thunder, the intelligence services should have been able to connect the dots to predict the future.

Dick Cheney argues that the error was caused by some ideological choice. Arlen Specter screams for more technology — full-body examining devices. “We thought that had been remedied,” said Senator Kit Bond, as if omniscience could be accomplished with legislation.

Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.

In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, “Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.” But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways. The original line out of the White House was that the system worked. Don’t worry, little Johnny.

When that didn’t work the official line went to the other extreme. “I consider that totally unacceptable,” Obama said. I’m really mad, Johnny. But don’t worry, I’ll make it all better.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has to be seen doing something, so it added another layer to its stage play, “Security Theater” — more baggage regulations, more in-flight restrictions.

At some point, it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t the centralized system that stopped terrorism in this instance. As with the shoe bomber, as with the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., it was decentralized citizen action. The plot was foiled by nonexpert civilians who had the advantage of the concrete information right in front of them — and the spirit to take the initiative.

For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action. We’ve done this in many spheres of life. Maybe that’s wise, maybe it’s not. But we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do.

What I Read Today - Friday January 1, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Treasure Hunt


READ: Proverbs 2:1-9

If you seek [wisdom] as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord. —Proverbs 2:4-5On January 1, 2008, Keith Severin and his 7-year-old son, Adrien, agreed that they would spend at least 15 minutes every day that year searching together for treasure. Carlos Alcalá’s article in the Sacramento Bee described how they went out each day in every kind of weather to see what they could find. A year later their collection of coins, golf balls, recyclable bottles and cans, and various other items had yielded more than $1,000. In the process, they enjoyed many hours of companionship and fun.

If we decided to spend 15 minutes a day searching for treasure in the Bible, what would we find? Solomon wrote: “If you seek [wisdom] as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. . . . Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path” (Prov. 2:4-5,9).

Growth won’t happen all at once. But gradually, day by day, we will be changed through reading God’s Word and obeying Him. And think of the privilege and pleasure of spending time with our heavenly Father.

It begins with a willing commitment, continues with exciting discoveries, and leads to the treasure of wisdom and life. — David C. McCasland

Search the Scriptures’ precious store—
As a miner digs for ore;
Search, and you will surely find
Treasures to enrich the mind. —Anon.

Rich treasures of God’s truth are waiting to be discovered.