Saturday, December 26, 2009

$7.50 for a matinee

I like going to the movies, but I don't go often. Why? Exhibit A: I went to an afternoon movie this weekend and a matinee cost me $7.50. That's seven dollars and fifty cents. The big 750.

That's a lot of dough.

It's not funny.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas to all......

Luke 2:1-20 (NIV): In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Tiger by the tail

The crumbling personal life of professional golfer Tiger Woods has been a prominent story in the media for several weeks now. Only a person living under a rock somewhere in the Amazon jungle could possibly not know his story.

Beginning with an auto accident outside his home on Thanksgiving weekend, his life has been in a constant state of turmoil. His infidelity toward his wife and the many women coming forward to claim relationships with him are reminiscent of the ‘bimbo eruptions’ that often plagued former President Bill Clinton.

In many respects, Woods had cultivated an excellent image. A great golfer, the image he projected with his beautiful wife and children was that of a man who had it all under control. He appeared to have the perfect life.

However, as we all know, nothing related to mankind can be termed ‘perfect.’ Woods, like all of us, has his flaws, and they have been exposed for the world to see.

Obviously, Woods has done wrong so I won’t spend time elaborating on the obvious. The one fact we must all remember is that we all have failed in major ways. True, most people have not made the mistakes Woods has, but if we are honest, we must acknowledge that we have come up short at some point in our lives.

It is our good fortune that our mistakes have not become tabloid fodder. We do not have to suffer through the pain of turning on the television or picking up the newspaper and seeing ourselves getting ripped to shreds.

Of course, Woods has nobody to blame but himself. He made his mistakes, and the consequences have been severe. Besides the damage to his family, his reputation is becoming lower than mud.

He is learning a hard lesson. He is an idol to millions and has been exalted in their eyes. Unfortunately, a common trait in our society is that in the same way we build people up, we also seem to enjoy watching people fall.

And as Woods is learning, when a person gets knocked to the ground, this is when people start kicking.

For the time being, Woods has announced that he is taking an indefinite leave of absence from professional golf so he can concentrate on being a better husband, father, and person.

Hopefully, this is a sincere move and not just a temporary act that is meant to help rehabilitate his image. At this point, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has been publicly humiliated in a way rarely scene, especially for somebody who treasures privacy.

Whatever the coming months hold in store for him, we can be sure that he has a rough road ahead. It is thought that he and his wife may go indefinitely to her homeland of Sweden to get away from the glare of the spotlight.

I think that is a good idea. I am sure he will still be under scrutiny there, but it will not compare to what he would go through here. In the United States, he will be nothing but a solitary figure stuck inside his mansion.

In the end, Woods' mistakes are a cautionary tale for us all. Throughout history, we have seen example after example of powerful and popular people who gave into the carnal temptations that were around them.

This is nothing new. However, our human nature being what it is, we keep seeing the same mistake being made over and over.

Maybe Woods' mistakes will be enough warning to keep people from going where they should not.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

As the smoke clears, the Titans and Steelers are at the same place

In September, the Tennessee Titans opened the season at Pittsburgh in a game that was billed as a battle between potential Super Bowl teams. Of course, it is likely neither team will sniff the big game, but the arc of the teams this year has been interesting.

As we all know, the Titans lost that first game to the Steelers and then lost five more in a row to begin the season 0-6. After getting humiliated by the Patriots 59-0, Tennessee regrouped and has now won six out of seven. With a 6-7 record, the Titans are a very long shot for the playoffs, but the late season rally has taken the bad taste out of most people's mouths.

As for the Steelers, they used their opening game win against Tennessee as a springboard to a hot start. Half way through the season, Pittsburgh was 6-2 and indeed looked like a team that was Super Bowl worthy. Since then, the wheels have fallen off. They have lost five in a row, including back-to-back losses to the Raiders and Browns. Their record is also 6-7 and their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.

Both teams have taken different roads to reach the same place.

That is part of why the National Football League is so interesting.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Let's have us some peace

As we proceed through the holiday season, a common prayer heard is for the world to become more peaceful and that people would show more goodwill toward each other.

Of course, there are many places where it is not peaceful. Our soldiers continue to bravely serve our country in hot spots around the world. Though our effort in Iraq may be winding down, it appears our activity in Afghanistan is ramping up.

Additionally, there are other countries that are not technically at war, but the people there suffer with a way of life that is very different from what we enjoy.

For example, Cuba is not that far away from the United States, but it might as well be a million miles away when comparing it to the freedom we enjoy. Don't buy the propaganda; the country is an oppressive place and anybody who would sugar coat what has gone on there in the last 50 years learns its history from Hollywood.

However, when considering peace and goodwill, it is vital to focus on a person-to-person level. Don't get me wrong. The strife going on in the previous examples is very important, but how we handle the pressure of the holidays when we deal with each other is also critical.

Let's face it. During the holidays, we often find ourselves surrounded by people we do not see that much during the rest of the year. While that can be fabulous in some ways, it can be challenging in others.

For example, I was recently talking with an acquaintance, and she spoke about how she just learned that her sister and her four children were coming to stay with her for two weeks over the holidays.

Though it was obvious that she loves her sister a lot, she was also clearly stressed about having so many new people in her house. Considering that she also has several children, I think we can all get a feel for the challenges she is going to face.

With that many people under one roof for such a long time, peace and goodwill may not be so easy to maintain. Still, when we find ourselves in similar situations, it is critical that we go the extra yard when accommodating those around us.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a family at each others throats during the Christmas season. If there were ever a time when people should call a truce with each other, it is during this time.

When people cannot do this, it causes activities that should be joyous to be a lot more somber. Christmas is set aside to recognize the birth of Jesus who is the Prince of Peace, but if we cannot put our own disagreements to the side, it makes a mockery of Him.

This does not mean that the disagreements we have with others are not legitimate. Sometimes we are wronged in meaningful ways, and it is tough to work with the other party to resolve the situation.

However, when these unresolved conflicts spill over and taint everything that goes along with the holiday, then the problems become even larger. This is because not only are the two parties who have the problem still in conflict, but it often causes others in the family to be impacted.

Sometimes, people feel like they have to choose sides, and that makes it all worse.

The bottom line is that we should all ease up and keep in mind why we celebrate Christmas. This should bring more perspective to our lives and maybe our conflicts won’t seem that bad after all.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesus showed we can all serve

One of the things that I believe holds people back from serving God is a feeling of inadequacy. A feeling that they are unworthy to serve God. Perhaps they have done something in their past that convinces them they are unworthy to step out and do a job He needs done. Whatever the reason, feelings of inadequacy are a major weapon Satan uses to stymie the spreading of the Gospel.

However, as the Bible shows us over and over again, God does not choose people for important roles based on their past mistakes, but based on the potential in their heart. Throughout the Bible, we see examples of how God chose people who seemed like unlikely choices. Fortunately for us, God has a lot more open mind than we usually do.

There are numerous examples of this. The story of how Jesus called Matthew to join His ministry is especially interesting. Matthew (also known as Levi) was someone who was near the bottom of the social order during Jesus’ day. However, Jesus saw his potential and the fact that it upset the established order did not cause Him to sway. Jesus did not see who Matthew was but what he could become.

When Jesus called Matthew to service, Matthew worked as a publican, which we would call a tax collector today. Though there is nothing recorded that showed Matthew was dishonest, his profession was well known for being crooked. Today, we all know plenty of IRS jokes, but during this time, tax collectors actively shook down people for extra kickbacks on top of the taxes they collected for Rome. The Roman Empire ruled Judea at this time. In this situation, people were helpless because if a person did not give the tax collector a little extra money that he could pocket, the collector would report them to Roman authorities. It is no surprise that people viewed tax collectors with such scorn.

Additionally, Matthew was Jewish, which intensified the Jewish culture’s scorn toward him. So not only did he work as a representative for the Roman government, but he was also a member of the same faith of those who the Romans oppressed. For example, if another country invaded and occupied the United States, how would you view your next door neighbor if he joined the new government and worked with them to make your life worse? It’s the same principle. Jewish society viewed Matthew as a turncoat who joined the enemy.

However, in Mark 2:14, Jesus said, "Follow me," and Matthew did. The fact that Jesus wanted Matthew to help Him was scandalous in most parts of the Jewish culture. This was further compounded when Matthew asked Jesus to dine with him and his friends at his home. This meant Jesus had not only asked a person of poor standing to join Him, but He was now going to dine with a group of them. Socializing with them had Jewish leaders up in arms.

In Mark 2:16, the Pharisees (leaders in the Jewish culture) openly questioned Jesus’ character and asked Him why he was doing this. Jesus responded in Mark 2:17: "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Any past illegal actions committed by the tax collectors who dined with Jesus could not be changed. Anything we may have done in our past cannot be changed. The past is the past. However, God can use anything in our past for good if we let Him. Sometimes our life experiences can make us more qualified to do a good work for God simply because that experience provides us with a point of view that most people may not have. Matthew had the ability to help spread the Gospel to those in his social circle because of his past. His past became a tool to reach people in ways they only understood.

If you feel like God is reaching out to you to work on His behalf, do not let the past be a stumbling block. We all carry the baggage of past hurts, and it is difficult to deal with those sometimes. However, remember that God has a purpose, and if He is leading you somewhere, always remember that he will never dessert you. Perhaps your past provides you insight that will allow God to reach somebody through you.

The bottom line is tomorrow is always a day of new beginnings. We can use experiences that hinder us for good or for bad. It is always difficult to take that first step, but remember, you are not alone.

Resource material: The Holy Bible; 'Love in Action: The Gospel of Mark' by the David C. Cooke Ministries; 'The Glorious Journey' by Charles Stanley

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spending may falter

The holiday purchasing season is under way, and many nervous business people are hoping the next few weeks will rescue them.

Depending on which statistics a person goes by, approximately 40 percent of retail sales take place during the Christmas shopping season. If businesses can not reach that level, then many will greatly suffer heading into 2010.

This is true under normal circumstances, but conditions are especially dicey this year. The national unemployment rate is 10 percent and is at its highest point in the last 26 years. More people are out of work at perhaps the most important time of the year when it comes to supporting the economy.

Predictably, many shoppers are saying they will tighten their belts. According to a recent Associated Press poll, 93 percent of those polled said they will spend less or about the same as they did last year.

Half of the responders to the poll said they were feeling some debt-related stress, while 22 percent said they felt debt stress greatly or quite a bit.

Because of this, 80 percent said they will mostly use cash to pay for their Christmas purchases and avoid credit cards. This is bad news for businesses. As financial guru Dave Ramsey has pointed out many times, people tend to be a lot more disciplined about spending when they are paying with cash.

There is something thought provoking about plopping cash down on a counter for a purchase when compared to using a credit card. When using a card, the purchases are a little less painful, at least until credit card statements arrive the following month.

So, while businesses may take it on the chin in this respect this month, consumers will benefit in the long run. There will be no January hangover when confronted with a credit card account that was used to finance Christmas.

At some point, consumer spending was going to have to become more disciplined, and unfortunately, for the economy, it is coming at a really bad time. However, we have nobody to blame but ourselves because we have become over-reliant on easy credit over the last quarter century. It was only a matter of time before consumers and the economy pushed it too far.

The typical household currently has $46,000 in debt when considering mortgages, credit cards, and other types of loans. This compares to $14,000 in debt in 1982 when that amount is converted into today's dollars, according to the AP.

Abuse of easy credit has gotten a lot of us into big trouble. In a sense, we have become a nation of penthouse paupers. We have used credit to get items and a lifestyle that we craved. Unfortunately, too much reliance on credit has caused many to keep digging a deep financial hole that is proving very difficult to escape.

So, despite the hardship many of us are suffering, perhaps good can come of it in the long run. Maybe we all will learn the folly of overextending ourselves whether it is in finances or other aspects of life.

Also, maybe we will understand that life is a lot more enjoyable when it is simple. We have spent the last 25 years embracing materialism so that we can buy 'stuff' we do not really need.

When this mess is complete, maybe we will understand that a quiet evening with the family is better than working two jobs just to pay the bills.

Like many important lessons, we often have to learn them the hard way. Let's hope we learn these current lessons well so we do not go through them again.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Late autumn snow

It is not often that Middle Tennessee gets measurable snowfall in autumn, but people in Manchester woke up to about an inch of snow this morning. Winter is still more than two weeks away. Does this mean we will have a snowy winter? We'll see...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Overall, Tennessee's football season was a mild success

The Tennessee Volunteers were a mystery team in early September, but the team showed progress as the season unfolded. Though a 7-5 record is nothing to have a parade about, it was an improvement on last year's 5-7 record. We are going to a bowl, and the coaching staff has shown it can recruit and develop talent.

The best example of talent development was the growth of quarterback Jonathan Crompton. After wandering in the wilderness in 2008 and struggling in September, he blossomed beginning with the Georgia game and was a top-level SEC quarterback the rest of the season. He threw 26 touchdowns, and I will take that every year from a quarterback competing in the toughest conference in the country.

Running back Montario Hardesty remained healthy enough to stay on the field all season, and he delivered big time. He gained more than 1,300 yards, but perhaps more importantly, he was a good mentor for young runners like Bryce Brown and David Oku. Hardesty showed them the amount of hard work and commitment it will take for them to succeed in the SEC.

The season itself had moments of greatness and frustration. The 45-19 waxing of Georgia and the 31-13 win over South Carolina were the best performances of the year. Some will point to the narrow 12-10 loss to Alabama as a high point, but I disagree. When we start looking at moral victories as high points, then we are heading down the wrong path.

The most frustrating game was the 19-15 loss to UCLA. The offense had no mojo, and it cost us the game. There is no question in my mind that if we had played them in late October we would have won by two touchdowns. I know; I'm experiencing the bitter taste of sour grapes.

So, 2009 was a small step forward for the Volunteers. Let's hope a larger one is coming in 2010.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If the Secret Service can't protect the White House, what can it protect?

Last week, Michaele and Tareq Salahi crashed President Obama's dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and greatly embarrassed the Secret Service. They were uninvited, but somehow got inside the White House and even posed in pictures with some attendees like Vice President Joe Biden.

Incredible. I don't know what kind of story they used to talk themselves into the building, but it must have been a good one. Of course, the big issue is that President Obama could have been at great risk if they had meant to do him harm. While it is true attendees had to go through metal detectors to get in, it doesn't mean that they couldn't have used something like anthrax to hurt him.

However, there is no evidence at all that they meant ill will. It appears nothing more than a publicity stunt for them. Mrs. Salahi is apparently in the hunt to appear on a reality television show (big surprise, right?). If the goal was publicity, they succeeded.

Still, this makes me very uneasy regarding the president's security. If something like this can happen, the Secret Service needs to re-think its policies and procedures. And fast.