My writing

Kanye Dig it?

Obviously, from the pun above, you can tell that this post is going to be about Kanye West. Let me apologize in advance for saying that, and I’ll explain my apology later. Much has been made about Kanye’s conversion to Christ and, with the dropping of his latest project, Jesus is King, his situation is being debated by Christians and non-Christians alike. The dirty little secret about Christians, and I’ve made no secret that I am a Christian, and what happens when a celebrity converts is that most Christians cheer it immediately, but then we put them under the microscope and any mistakes they make are magnified. We don’t give them time to grow and then we attack them for being immature Christians. Or, we assume that they’re “converting” for ulterior reasons. So, when my pastor mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Kanye West had professed faith in Christ, I raised my eyebrows and smiled. Then, I did some research.

Maybe I was behind the times in hearing about Kanye’s conversion, but as I researched, I got the impression that what my new brother did to ground himself in the faith was amazing. He’s spent time with his pastor. He’s been having private worship services at his ranch. He’s worked to grow in the faith and get a strong grounding in God’s word. I was flabbergasted. While I hadn’t followed Kanye much, I can tell you that he didn’t impress me. But what I’ve read about how he’s responded as the grace of God has moved in his life puts tears in my eyes. While my opinion isn’t worth much in general, if someone were to ask me how a celebrity should respond once they come to Christ, I’d have given a road map much like the one Kanye followed.

Many of the people who’ve been negative about this conversion have brought up sins from his pre-conversion days to make the case that this conversion couldn’t be real. I guess because God can’t forgive sinners who go over a certain threshold? Perhaps they forget Paul’s claim to be the chief of sinners? So, if we accept Paul at his word, perhaps we could make Kanye’s pre-conversion days the lifestyle of the second worst sinner of all time – which would then force us to acknowledge that if God could forgive Paul, maybe He can forgive Kanye? Does Kanye have a checkered past? You betcha! I don’t think I’d want people to go back and listen to his old music, for example. That being said, all those past sins are forgotten by God. They’re thrown away as far as the east is from the west. He’s forgiven. His sins, like mine, were nailed to the cross and God’s mercy is more than enough to bring forgiveness.

A friend of mine, Lori Twichell, wrote an excellent post about this story and included some great videos. She noticed two things about him that caught my attention: 1) This man had peace that radiated in his face and through the answers to questions. He had no trouble with tough questions and seemed to welcome them; and 2) Kanye used to be all about himself and now he describes himself as a servant of God. He talked about Jesus and about what God had done in a couple of interviews Lori mentioned and included links to in her post. And that’s why I apologized earlier. I think Kanye, were he to be sitting here commenting on this post, would chastise me for saying so much about him. So, any of the praise I’ve given to him, make sure you realize that Kanye would probably deflect it to Jesus.

So let’s get down to his recent project released the other day: Jesus is King. I’m going to be honest. I’ve listened to most, if not all, of the album and I’m not a fan. It’s not bad in any sense of the word, it’s just that my ear isn’t tuned to the cadences of rap/hip hop and I have a hard time making things out. From what I could understand, it’s on solid ground theologically. I’ve had one friend who noted that it’s very sound theologically, moreso than many worship songs we all seem to enjoy. I’ve had another friend say it’s the best Christian album of the year. It may be, but it’s not my cup of tea. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be. From what I could understand of the music, I wouldn’t be ashamed if anyone found out I listened to it, and will listen to it again. I wouldn’t turn it off if it came on the radio. That being said, though, Kanye will reach people I could never reach with this album. A number of people commenting on his songs mentioned their need to go back to church. I hear a lot of paise for Jesus coming through the music. I would have no problem recommending that someone who likes that style listen…and I would add, old geezers like me need to be willing to listen to it and hope to understand that God can use music like that to reach people I could never reach.

The conclusion of all this is that I believe that Kanye’s conversion is real and that he’s already exhibiting a vibrant faith that some of us older people can learn from. I also believe that somewhere along the way, Kanye will stumble and sin – which sin will be magnified beyond measure because of who he is and the number of spiritual vultures waiting for him to fall. When that happens, I hope and pray that i’m the first one to extend God’s love and forgiveness to him as he gets back on track wth his growth. And, even though Kanye would never read this let me just say, “Brother Kanye, welcome to the family! Walking with Jesus is an amazing ride that will never boring and will never get easier. I’m excited for this change in your life and I pray that as you go forward and grow in your faith that you’ll experience God’s presence and grace in the best of times and the worst of times.” I praise God that Jesus is being preached.

Daily Work

“We love China. We love playing there. … They show us the most important love.” (For the love of money.)

Earlier this year in June the NBA ran into problems because some of the players mentioned that the word “owners,’ referring to the people who had rights to the team franchise and paid them their pittance each month, made them uncomfortable because it made them think of slavery. I had to stop to think about that. Slaves were literally owned by their masters. NBA players are free to sign a temporary contract or not. Slaves had to work without pay pretty much until they died. The pittance the NBA players get is somewhere in the millions of dollars and no one forces them to play this game at all. But hey, if that makes you worry about slavery, fine. The NBA responded by noting that the people who had rights to the teams were called ‘governors” and the board of governors set the rules. 

I remind you of that to set the background for the latest clash involving the NBA. The China Clash. The NBA has some kind of arrangement with China. Some teams were apparently over in China for some good will, exhibition type games. (Please correct me if I’m remembering wrong.) Then, the GM for the Houston Rockets tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Immediately, Chinese television stopped broadcasting and streaming the game and Chinese companies cut off all sponsorship of the team. China is a big market. The NBA stands to make half a billion dollars in their partnership with China. The NBA folded like a pup tent in a Cat V hurricane.  

The GM was reprimanded, although a slight nod was given to the idea of freedom of speech. Players were aghast that someone would say something bad about China because they’re treated well there. Although, as pointed out in an NPR article, James Harden, one of the Rockets stars, wouldn’t be allowed to wear his beard if he were living in China, since “abnormal” beards have been outlawed. No matter, Harden supported the Chinese government because they treat the players nice there. 

Lest we forget what’s going on, while Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese rule a number of years ago, the people there had more freedom than the rest of the country. In recent days, China has been working on bringing this “abnormal” colony into the communist fold. Hong Kong has been rocked with protests as the people there are fighting for freedom. The Houston GM reminded people that we should stand for freedom and the people of Hong Kong.  

It goes without saying that the Chinese government is a brutal, repressive communist “paradise.” The beard law mentioned earlier is part of the government’s crackdown on Muslims in the western provinces. Muslims are imprisoned in re-education camps because their faith is considered a form of dissidence. (And while the government’s reaction to Christians isn’t part of this story, they get similar treatment.) Remember the slavery concerns mentioned earlier – well, the Chinese government practices slavery and there are reports of organ harvesting where prisoners are killed, organs are harvested for transplants, and then the bodies are cremated. 

Maybe these NBA players have focused so much on throwing that round sphere through a hoop with a slightly bigger circumference so much that they don’t understand that slavery’s happening in China, or maybe they figure that they can get a cut of the blood money that the government takes in from their oppression and slavery, so that makes it ok. Still they do seem to have a very keen understanding of America’s problem in regards to issues of brutality and oppression. They speak out, as they should, but their silence on the issue of China’s oppression is deafening – and scandalous in its hypocrisy.  

The NBA had a chance to make a stand. If they had any integrity or ethics, when the Chinese government reacted to the Houston GMs tweet, every single NBA official, team official, and player should have retweeted those words: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” even if it cost the league a half a billion dollars. They gross around seven billion dollars a year right now. I think everyone in the league would still be able to have a roof over their head and food on the table. I think, though, in the long run, China wants the NBA so much that they would have backed down in the face of this show of unity. But they didn’t. The NBA knuckled under to their Chinese overlords without even a fight. If there’s any justice in this world, NBA revenues ought to drop by at least a billion dollars this year as people show their disgust with their wallets. Sadly, I think the NBA is a product of the culture, and most people wouldn’t let the NBA’s cowardice affect them.  

Daily Work, personal

Is Ramsey As Good or Bad as People Say? (Part Two)

The second part of Dr. Barrett-Fox’s critique of Dave Ramsey deals with issues of faith. She notes that Ramsey stresses personal responsibility when making financial decisions at an everyday level, but also points out that if he were consistent, he wouldn’t dismiss socially responsible investing. 

“But he also doesn’t ask you to be responsible for anything beyond your own financial situation. For example, he is pretty condescending about and dismissive of socially responsible investing (the idea that your investments should align with your values).”

She quotes from Ramsey and provides Ramsey’s exact words in the link from her article. Ramsey seems to be saying that 1) it’s too hard to track every part of your investment and 2) when you buy stock in a company, you aren’t handing the company a check, you’re paying the guy who had it before you – unless you buy in an initial public offering. Dr. Barrett-Fox makes an excellent point that by buying the stock, you do support the company and she borrowed from Ramsey’s example of buying a used car: Ramsey said that the original car company doesn’t get any of that money; Dr. Barrett-Fox pointed out that by keeping the resale value high, you support the company. She also noted that there are people who track their money and keep track of where they shop . 

While she exposed a weakness, a contradiction actually, in Ramsey’s philosophy of responsibility, it’s hard to do values investing when using mutual funds. As Christians, we can be diametrically opposed on critical values issues. Just to give one example, while many Christians oppose abortion, many Christians support it. If you’re opposed to abortion, you’d have to be concerned about stocks that might aid or abet abortion. Even if the company doesn’t participate in providing supplies for abortion, what if their company charities allow employees to support abortion providers. Meanwhile, if you support abortion, you could easily invest in a company that provides equipment or support for abortion, but they might also povide the drugs for states that do executions by lethal injection. 

SmartAsset described the dilemma this way:

It isn’t always easy to determine which investments are strictly socially responsible. For instance, a company could practice ethical manufacturing processes, only to dispose of waste in an irresponsible way. Some companies boast that they support female empowerment, but don’t have any women on their board. It’s important to do your homework to be sure you’re investing in actually socially responsible institutions.”

I should add that the article I just referenced does contain the names of some mutual funds that practice socially responsible investing, so read the article and check them out. I guess that means I want you to be responsible for your investments.  

I should add that this quote from Dr. Barrett-Fox really slams home her point:

“So I see Ramsey preaching personal responsibility when it comes to how your financial decisions impact your life but not when it comes to how your financial decisions impact the larger world. I think Christians should have a broader vision.”

The next thing Dr. Barrett-Fox deals with is Ramsey’s materialism. 

Ramsey … likes what money does for him and is well-known for his massive house and car collection. He isn’t a critic of having too much.

He points out during his teaching that there’s nothing wrong with having stuff, as long as you pay cash for it. However, in railing against the materialism of a society that needs everything now, so put it on credit, he fails to ask himself the question “How much is enough?” Is materialism acceptable if you pay cash? 

In a society where materialism is based on credit, is it enough to say, “Oh no, don’t put things on credit; use cash,” or do we need to reject the accumulative ideology of the world and seek ways to live more simply and use cash to help others? I believe Dr. Barrett-Fox would say that we should live more simply and help others. Ramsey would say we shouldn’t deny ourselves, but we should also give to help others. D. Barrett-Fox recommends a book to think about how that question should be answered. “For a perspective on how to live with joy with what you have, I recommend More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess.”

Dr. Barrett- Fox keys in on one of Ramsey’s pet phrases: “Live like no one else so that later you can live like no one else.”

One of his favorite slogans is “Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else.” This seems to me to be a paraphrase of Luke 12:13-21, in which a man saves us his riches and then is able to relax and “eat, drink, and be merry.” For a Christian, I think, the purpose of money shouldn’t be to store it up now for later; it should be to use it now for what you value and use it later for what you value. For Christians, this should be to care for others and creation.

To be fair to Ramsey, in his climactic lesson, he changes that to “Live like no one else so that later you can GIVE like no one else.” That being said, this attitude of Ramsey’s concerns me. Not that we should live more simply, which is what he means when he uses that phrase, but that giving should be delayed. We read stories occasionally of people that you would least expect leaving millions dollars to various charities. That kind of gift makes a big impact, but any charity that depends on such big gifts will soon die. Charities must depend on the small, regular gifts that come in every month. This is the major adjustment my wife and I have made to Ramsey’s system. We find ways to give to people in need and important causes now. We get great joy out of doing it and being able to do it. 

I don’t mention that to have you say anything about me, but to remind you that one of the perks of being debt free is that you have more freedom to give to support other causes and people right now. 

The only quibble I have with Dr. Barrett-Fox in part 2 of her critique comes from this comment: 

I also find him very insensitive to poor people. Ramsey encourages people to pare down their expenses, even if it means “beans and rice, beans and rice”–that is, even if they have to eat the food of the world’s poor. Simple, low-cost meals are considered to be a punishment for your past financial sins or a sacrifice for your future wealth.

I think Ramsey understands poverty to a degree, having gone through it himself. His encouragement to eat beans and rice isn’t a punishment for past financial sins so much as it’s a call to do whatever you have to do to get out of debt. He would say that if someone was willing to do that, they were serious about getting their financial house in order.

Dr. Barrett-Fox and I have differing views on the effectiveness of the Ramsey program for getting out of debt, but I think we both agree that we should do our best to keep our financial house in order. She’s studied many different systems, including Ramsey’s, and can point you to different approaches that may work for you. ‘Ve worked the Ramsey system and I can tell you that when it comes to finances, it’s been the absolute best thing for me. 

But once you get out of debt, now what? I think Dr. Barrett-Fox and I would think along similar lines that we should think about a simpler life so that we can use the financial blessings we receive from God to help others. As she so wisely pointed out earlier, God doesn’t call us to store up wealth so that we can indulge ourselves, instead, He gives it to us so that we can help others. 

My pastor told a story tonight of a scholar who was asked what he might say to God when he got to heaven. His response is stunning. He said that he’d look around and say, “If I had realized how beautiful it was up here, I’d have made a bigger investment in the place.” Choose your investments wisely. 

Blog Administration, personal

Can’t We Start Again, Please

This is a repost of my blog on my devotional page: Daily Enduring Truth. The devotionals I write daily, re-starting tomorrow, July 1, will appear there. I just wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned here, also.

The end is near! No, that’s not an apocalyptic statement, that’s a commentary on my self-granted three-month sabbatical. I stopped the daily devotional writing to do some self-reflection, to think about the process of writing the devotionals, and to think about their worth. What did I learn in three months?

The first thing I learned is that I need to write these devotionals every day to hold myself accountable for reading God’s word daily. There were many times in the last three months when I let my daily Bible reading slide because I got involved in doing other things. Usually, those things were non-productive. In the past week, I’ve played a lot of catch-up on my daily reading because of the number of times I’d let the day pass me by instead of giving God control of the day from the beginning. When I re-start tomorrow, it’s with the goal of making sure that I don’t fritter time away on unimportant stuff because I start each day by reading and reacting to God’s word.

I need to write these devotionals in the morning. I started off the year trying to write devotionals for the evening time – for people coming home from work. This brought about some of the same problems of letting things slide and then rushing to do a less than quality job, in my opinion. My character and writing style don’t suit an evening devotional (only) style. I may do research in coming months and years and try something like that again, but it would be an additional thought each day, not my only writing. While the idea excited me at the beginning of the year, it never succeeded in my mind because I wasn’t ready to do that just yet.

Part of what I was doing during this time was working on marketing. I did a few things to drive people to my books. I offered the July-August eBook version of the devotionals as a free giveaway on bookfunnel. I advertised. While I gave away a few free eBooks, and I sold a few more books than normal, I can tell you that three years ago when I retired, I thought I’d make enough to supplement my income in a small way. This is definitely not happening. To be honest, I’m not sure how to market devotional books. Someone asked me about doing an autograph and meet the author table and I told him I didn’t really see something like that. How do you autograph devotional books when the idea is to get people to focus on what God is or can be doing in their lives? I’ll put the bookfunnel link at the end of this post I case you need it.

One thing I started long ago was doing what I could to help other authors share links or comments about their books. I celebrated their successes and recommended books and/or authors through my social media. While I didn’t have anything for them to share at the time, I made a few comments about how I expected similar considerations in the future. Apparently, what I thought was a quid pro quo kind of marketing was more of a quid pro no situation. Perhaps these friends didn’t see my posts on social media, but for the most part, with a few exceptions, those I supported in the past were conspicuous by their lack of support for me. I understand that many of my author friends are not Christians, but they could have said something like, “If you’re a Christian, you may want to check out these devotional books by a friend of mine.” The lack of support and the lack of response from people I might expect to download a free book was disheartening. That being said, I’ll need to find better ways to spread the word about these books.

Why do I want to spread the word about these devotional books? One of the things I realized is that these books are my ministry. The call that I am answering through these books (the devotional series) and through my daily articles is to build up the body of Christ. I should have realized that at the beginning of the year in an exciting way. A pastor with great integrity contacted me and asked about using these devotionals for his church this year. He could easily have just put them up on his church site and I would never have been the wiser; instead, he contacted me and asked what it would cost to do that. In these days where lack of integrity runs rampant, I honored his integrity by giving him the rights to publish them on his website at no cost, because it would allow me to fulfill my ministry of building up the body of Christ. I take this ministry and this writing seriously, and I’m grateful for those who respect the work I do, hopefully under God’s guidance.

I’ve run into friends and people I’ve supported who haven’t seen this as a ministry. They’ve rejected my offers to speak about the need for spiritual growth. They’ve blown me off when I suggested that what I had to say might be important to the people that they work with. These are not strangers who’ve done this, these are friends: people that I’ve known and supported for years. One of my goals in the days and years to come is to help people understand that the work that I do as I write to build up the body of Christ is an important part of helping the body of Christ to grow.

What will devotionals look like starting tomorrow? I don’t know right now. I’m trying to find ways to be more succinct in my writing, but, as might be obvious, I tend to go on. All I know is that I will continue to share what God teaches me daily for anyone who wants to read. I may add a few wrinkles to the way I do things, but I will try to keep things substantive. If you still haven’t downloaded the July-August eBook version yet, you can download it without costing you a thing by going to this link:
https://dl.bookfunnel.com/4nw47oq9cd