Monday, January 31, 2005

courage, freedom & the Cross

I don't care who you are or what your politics might be, but there has to be a heart-pang of interest in what's happened in the past few days in Iraq. You can't escape the images from any news outlet. People voted, most for the first time in their lives.

Are they free? Obviously not just yet. But they're closer than they have ever been. I tried to put myself in their shoes and ask "If I thought I might be gunned down by an insurgent or in the path of a suicide bomber just for going to my local polling place, would I still go?" Not a question I've ever considered, and one which I hope to never face. But millions of Iraqis faced that same fear, yet managed to seize their right for a small chunk of democracy.

Ambrose Redmoon said that "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

Their courage throughout this ordeal has been overshadowed by the realities of war. A war that will always be debated and questioned, and perhaps rightly so. But my memory will include the long lines of Iraqis waiting to cast their ballots, and the thousands in the streets with ink on their thumbs (the proof that they had voted.)

It's one step in a process toward freedom. A process that is costly - both in dollars and in lives. I live in a place that makes it easy to forget the price paid for my freedom. I take it for granted, until I'm reminded by what I see happening in places where freedom is more the exception than the rule.

My freedom has been paid for more than once. Yes, by the millions who have served to defend & protect that freedom.

But even more important is the freedom I experience because of what took place on the Cross. A price that was paid for the millions that were to come. We can only hope, pray and trust that the price being paid today will generate and lead to a reality of freedom for generations of Iraqis to come.

One of many links with news about Iraqi elections.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Both Here AND There

"Why are we spending billions for that disaster when our own country has so many problems?"

That was the question, for the most part, that I overheard today at my local gym. The reference of course was the Tsunami relief effort in Southeast Asia. Relief and humanitarian groups are reporting record contribution amounts. The world is responding in a big way.

But was the question from 2 treadmills over in reference to the average person opening their checkbook to help, or to the US Government's contribution and involvement to date? Not sure (I assume it was a shot at the government...), but I'm not sure it matters either. It's clear that the devastation has stirred something within us unlike anything else in recent history, and for many the only thing we know to do is give. And we've done so to the tune of $600 million dollars thusfar (worldwide totals for major relief organizations).

Where I grew up, I always heard that there was more than one way to skin a cat. (I know, "as long as the cat gets skinned, does it matter how its done?" etc...fill in your own joke here, and please know I'm not advocating cat skinning, so hold your comments...) But the bottom line is this: help is needed, and its coming from both the private sector (you and I) and our government, as well as other nations and individuals around the world. And the bottom line will hopefully be accomplished - others are helped.

But that brings us back to home. What are we doing on our own soil, whereever that might be, to help those that need it? Sure, there are government programs in place that help people. But is the task being accomplished? Certainly not.

The Church should be stepping up to the plate. We've done a fair job of staking our claim and telling people that "Jesus is the answer." That may put people's problems in a new light, but does it alleviate them? Does it pay childcare costs for the single mom who desperately needs to keep her job? Does it put food on the table for the millions of Americans who go without? Does it provide shelter for those who have no place else to go?

I believe that Jesus IS the answer. But I also believe that the Church being the Church, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, etc. is the way that people experience Jesus being the answer!

It's both here AND there. The Church should lead the way in meeting needs and ministering to people both here and abroad. "If anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help -- how can God's love be in that person?” (1 John 3:17, NLT) “When you did it to these my brothers you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40, LB) “If you feed those who are hungry and take care of the needs of those who are troubled, then your light will shine in the darkness, and you will be bright like sunshine at noon." (Isaiah 58:10, NCV) I looked; these verses have no geographical limitations.

(I know these pics have been published & seen widely, but they are a fascinating testimony of the power of the Indian Ocean tragedy...

(Looking to give to the Tsunami relief effort? Lots of good agencies. I'm a big fan of World Vision. They were in Indonesia and affected countries long before the devastation, and will be there long can contribute on their site at

(Looking to give to help folks here? Check out Christian Center Rescue Ministries, an inner-city ministry that is doing some great work to help people; you can contribute on their site, or send donations to a listed address-

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Rebate Mania

I'm a consumer, just like most of you.

I'm also cheap, frugal, and try to be a good steward of my hard-earned income. So I look for the best deal I can find on most items of import or reasonable cost. The Sunday ads are a favorite pasttime of mine, combing the pages for items of interest and pondering the price tags that are listed.

Electronics and office supply stores are a magnet for me. Not sure why...perhaps its because I use a lot of gadgets and office supplies in my life, like to look at audio-visual equipment that I will probably never be able to afford, or just have this notion in the back of my mind that I'll walk in one of these mega stores and bells and sirens will go off and I'll be announced as the 5 millionth customer and win my pick of stuff! Or not. Whatever the case, I occasionally enjoy browsing through the aisles of these types of establishments and just looking for stuff I might need, want, or otherwise admire. A good sale price is always an eye catcher for me.

Gone, however, are the days when something is just "on sale." Oh, no, that apparently was too easy for me the average consumer. Somebody in a marketing meeting somewhere dreamed up an idea that no longer makes purchasing an item the end result of the shopping experience. Welcome the sick, twisted, demented notion of "The Rebate."

No longer can you simply buy a widget that normally costs $40 for the on-sale price of $25. You pay the $40, and then embark upon a "rebate redemption" journey that sounds good up front (the store's task is to make sure it sounds good...they're getting their $40 after all), but may drive you to the point of frustration where you just ignore the rebate after all. "Besides, isn't my time worth something? At least $15?" Good reasoning on our part. Underhanded, sneaky, and coniving business practices on the part of the store.

Of course, I'm on to them. They're hoping I'll forget, blow it off, or miss the deadline. That the rebate will just seem like too much work, and after all, I'm busy - I bought these products to make my busy life more efficient. Why take the time to sort through the paperwork? I would guess that a lot of folks don't follow through on the small rebates. By the time you put a stamp on an envelope and send it in, your $1 rebate is almost cut in half! Its doubtful that many of these companies will openly admit how much they're raking in from the rebate system (remember, they don't have to put anything on sale any longer...just throw out a rebate price). But I'm willing to wager that its generating an enormous amount of cash.

Case in point: yesterday, I stopped in my local office mega store to purchase a tax software package, something I do every year. But guess what? If you purchase a tax package, you get a truckload of stuff "FREE." So I got the software, a "free" ream of paper, a "free" paper shredder, and a "free" additional software package. There was even more "free" stuff I turned down, mostly software that I already have or don't need.

Last night, I sat down to fish through the rebate forms. It turned into a process that rivals my entire tax preparation process for 2004! I have rebate receipts, the orginal receipt (only have to make tons of copies of that), UPC codes (some of these products have multiple codes...which ones do they want?, etc.) For me to get these items "free" and to get my $5 tax software rebate, I have 7 envelopes to mail for 7 separate rebates. My favorite part: the shredder isn't one's two! You have to send in two forms, both to the same address, and you get two checks in return! Oh, and once I finish my taxes and file electronically, I have yet another rebate to prepare so I can get my electronic filing free!

But I have an announcement to make. The companies doing this stuff will not win at my house! If there's a rebate to be had, I'm on it. I'll make copies of receipts, cut out UPC's and box tops, fill out forms, download PDF files, key in codes through satellite uplink, or whatever hoops they invent to jump through. Bring it on - I'm getting the best price you offer!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Is Blogging Better Than Dieting?

So this is it. I'm officially typing my first blog.

I wish I had a nickel for everything I've started in life but never completed. Habits I tried to start (or stop) that never materialized. Diets I've begun only to come crashing to a halt at the first give-in to chocolate, or some sort of fried something.

I guess that's what makes this part of the fun...the notion that starting something new might just stick. That what I have to offer, say, or muse might actually be interesting. That others might stumble across my thoughts and be stirred in some way ("hmmmm," "this guy is a waste of valuable blog space," "Nobel prize in blogging for him," etc).

The beauty of not following through on pursuits we begin is that there is many times a second chance. Sort of like when you fall off that bike for the first time the training wheels are removed, you can climb right back on. Second chances.

I live for them...second chances, that is. As a chronic rollercoaster dieter, exerciser, reader, prayer, or whatever, I know all about second chances. The folly is to miss them entirely. To assume that one slip off the bike is the end, that one missed workout equates to throwing in the towel, that one high-calorie meal which roadblocks all the hard work you've done to drop those extra lbs (you get the picture), its not the end! No need to follow one blunder with another - the blunder of missing the second chance.

God gives second chances, too...aren't you glad?

I'm not sure the symbolism to this, but it occurs to me that setting up my first ever blog has already brought a glaring mistake to the forefront. I thought I would call this "Thoughts about life." I apparently typed (as I now see clearly) "Thoughts about live." Who knows, maybe I'll just keep it that way. Hopefully, that will give me reason to come back and keep feeding the blog with thoughts. One day, I may change the title.

OK, so on day 2, I couldn't stand it anymore, and I changed the title completely. Hope you're happy! (added 1-26)