Friday, July 31, 2009

The Man With The Stone

An older man was accompanying his wife to a hospital for some minor surgery. A nurse noticed something odd about this caretaker. He was carrying a stone in his hand. Just a small rock that appeared to be well-worn and smooth.

The nurse had to ask, "Why are you carrying a stone in your hand? Is it a good luck charm?" The man was obviously used to having this question posed to him. "I carry this stone wherever I go. I never let go of it and I always have it in my hand." The medical personnel inquired further, "How long have you carried the stone and why do you have it in your possession?"

The man took a deep breath as he repeated a story told many times. I've been carrying this stone in my hand for over twenty years. I turn it over and over in my hand throughout the day. When I first started carrying the rock, it was rough and had many jagged, rough edges. But now it is smooth and the rough edges are worn down."

The elderly gentleman proceeded to explain the story behind the rock. "in John 8 of the New Testament Jesus is confronted by the Jewish leaders who bring to him a woman who had been caught committing adultery. Under the Law of Moses, this woman is supposed to be stoned to death for her transgressions. But Jesus looked at the potential stone throwers and peered into their souls saying, 'he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.' Realizing their hypocrisy and their own sin, they dropped their stones and disassembled. Jesus looked at the poor woman hovering on the ground near his feet as she waited for the first stone to be cast. Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are your accusers? . . . Go and sin no more!"

Now it started to make sense why this man carried this stone. The once-jagged rock reminded him of his own sins and as God worked in his life to transform him, the stone became more smooth and the rough edge were worn away as he turned the stone over and over in his hand. The smoothness of the stone spoke of his humility before the Lord as he considered his own sins. The more the Lord confronted him with the truth about his sins, and he repented and sought forgiveness, the smoother the stone became.

I though this was a wonderful example of Christian thinking. Instead of being ready to throw stones, we should be hesitant due to the awareness of our own sins.

I carried the analogy a little further as I contemplated what takes place when two people are married. Instead of one stone, in a marital situation we carry an additional stone in our hand - our spouse. We carry our own rock with all its rough edges along with the stone of our spouse with his or her rough edges. The task of marriage is to keep those stones as close as possible so that through marital closeness and honesty, we are able to smooth out our differences and adjust to one another and show humility before one another. In addition, the two rough stones of husband and wife are being smoothed out by the Spirit of the Living God.

The problem with most marriages is that we uses the stones in our hands to throw at one another. We are quick to pick out faults or focus on traits that are not changing. Rather than humility to see our own transgressions, we hurl our stones using our words and actions to hurt each other. We are like the Pharisees who are quick to see the faults of the adulterous woman but we fail to see our own infidelities to God.

We have three choices: we can drop our stones and become one those people who refuse to discern the faults of others and repeat the false mantra of never judging one another. Second, we can act like a person who has no sin and cast our stones at other people to make ourselves appear to be righteous. Finally, we can become a person who sees the sins of others but remembers our own sins and remains humble before the Lord. This is the person who sees the faults of others and is able to point them out but in a gentle and kind way that leads them to repentance instead of just fruitless self-condemnation.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How To Fight Your Bank and Remain Friends

How many hours a week do you spend talking to your bank on the phone or at the customer service desk? I must have a great relationship with my bank . . . almost a marriage. We speak to one another several times a week. We're almost inseparable. We argue over issues that can't resolve. In response. In response I give them the cold shoulder at times and in anger they raise my finance charges or charge me extra service fees. I lose my temper and tell them they're incompetent and I'm sorry I ever hooked up with them in the first place and hang up the phone in disgust.

Yes, my bank and I are quite a pair.

This morning I told a customer service representative that he doesn't care about me as a consumer. I blasted him, "Come on, admit it. You don't care about me. You're cold and reading out of a manual like a robot. I'm a number not a person."

This kind of interchange takes lace at least a once a week . . . I'm sorry to admit. Me and my bank.

Today's conflicts started because I started receiving email notifications that my checking account is overdrawn. Here's their heartwarming message: "Unfortunately, on 07/21/09 your available balance in your Wells Fargo account XXX-XXX-XXXX was insufficient to cover one or more of your checks, Check Card purchases, or other transactions." Do you see how the bailouts have made the banks so much nicer than ever before? At least, they felt bad for me and said, "Unfortunately . . . "

I won't bore you with a long and complicated detais, but the short version is this: A few months ago my bank suggested I send them an authorization form to take $26.86 per month out of my account to cover a minimal loan modification charge on my Home Equity account. In previous months the bank was withdrawing the money without any hitch. Now they wanted to make this transaction more official. I complied and faxed them the form.

Somehow this form cancelled the loan modification agreement. No one told me and they informed me that I must pay them $2000 to fix it. That's when the relationship went south, "How can you make me pay you $2000 when I did what you asked me to do and now you're punishing me for it. You made a mistake. Admit it." The answer was robotic, "I'm sorry you feel that way, sir. However, for you to make your account current you owe us $2000." I traded blows with this rep for fifteen long grueling minutes. I kept repeating, "I did what you asked and your bank blew it. It's your mistake. Come on, admit you're bank is wrong. I know you won't because you could care less about your customers. It's all a show. Your bank should be ashamed of itself."

Then I realized I had it. "Let me speak to your supervisor." It's like trying to settle an argument with your spouse by discussing it with an older sister or brother. The supervisor was pleasant but handed me off to another department. At this third department I spoke with a more sensible gentleman whose name was J.J. I always get worried when a person doesn't have a name - just letters. What's he hiding?

J.J. was cool. He repeated back to me what he understood the problem to be and then admitted -the bank made a MISTAKE! I couldn't believe my ears. A warm, fuzzy feeling came over me, "How could I be mad at my bank. She's so nice when she wants to be. She holds my money and gives it to me when I need it. Gives me interest bearing checking accounts and waives my late fees"

We were friends again. Like a great marriage counselor, J.J. brought me and my bank back into a loving relationship. All I needed to hear from the bank were three little words, "We were wrong." I was shocked when I heard the confession but it was like a blanket of peace that came down from heaven. I wanted to shout it out to the people on the streets, "The bank admitted it was wrong!"

Will I speak to my bank again? Sure. Will we go at it and trade blows, "Yes, of course." Did they waste my time? They always do. At one point I said, "You made a mistake and you're taking my time to fix it. I charge $40 an hour so the clock is ticking. I will send you an invoice for the time you are taking out of my day to fix your mistake."

What's the key? Keep complaining until you get someone on the line who is not a robot and can objectively understand what is taking place.

Why am I telling you all this? Simply because as individuals we are getting less and less important and the corporations are getting bigger. They say they care about you. They don't. If you are against the wall with a corporation, push back until you get a real human to talk to you.

If Obamacare ever passes, these kind of encounters will be run-of-the mill. This time you'll be arguing with a government employee who most likely won't budge. For now, my bank and I are getting along quite well. When the day comes the government is handling your health care and you need immediate medical attention and they tell you that you can't see a doctor for three months, what are you going to do? Will you ever hear the words, "We were wrong" from a government operated heathcare plan that is running amuck ? You'll have to wait and find out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Is Your God Neatly Packed in a Very Small Box?

How can Israel's King David write, "O Lord my God, in Thee I have taken refuge" (Psalm 7:1) and then a few psalms later he pens, "How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?" (Psalm 13:1). Was David bipolar, having bouts with manic depression or just confused?

Actually, I believe King David was quite normal. In fact, he's almost too normal for many followers of the God of the Bible. Many religious people have grabbed on to the position that the true believer should never question God. Listen to Palm 22:2, "O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer." Even Psalm 28:1 can be a bit hair-raising, "To Thee, O Lord, I call. My rock, do not be deaf to me." Why would the psalmist entertain such a thought that God would turn a deaf ear to him, a man after God's own heart? Was there something wrong with David's faith?

If I wrote these verses in a letter or an article and made it seem the words came from my own heart, many Christians would wonder if I am still walking with the Lord. But because David said these words, we are caught in a quandary. Can a man who has faith in the Lord, ever doubt God or even wonder if God hears his prayers or whether the Lord is hiding from him?

To those who claim to have faith, never question God nor are ever disappointed with your circumstances in life and are too afraid to admit your grief, I maintain your faith is robotic and untested. Your faith is packaged in a small box in which God is neatly figured out and boxed in by a fortress of Bible verses that only show one side of God. You are too afraid to look at the verses where men and women of God have questioned Him and cried out in pain to the Lord wondering if He cares. Perhaps your faith is an immature faith, well supported with Scriptures, but with only select passages and only with life experiences that you choose to look at.

If your faith in God is wrapped up in a box where God does not allow harm to come your way - miscarriages, chronic pain, job loss, relational pain - then your trust in Him is very weak. Only a faith that stands before God that is honest, real and transparent is a faith that reflects the trust of a man with a heart for God. Think of it, as you go through the Psalms and read David's continual questioning and even complaining before God often followed by his restored praise in God, remember that David is called a man after God's heart. That's right. He's an honest man. A man who can't keep silent about the evil that comes his way even though he remains faithful to God.

If David were alive today and stood in the pulpit of many churches and gave a sermon in which he asked why does God allow the unrighteous to prosper or why the Lord remains silent (Psalm 35) while wicked people contended with David, I'd be sure David would not be asked to speak again. Why? Because David and his Psalms kick out the sides of the box we try to fit God into. David's relationship with God is too real for many of us.

The King of Israel utters words we'd be too afraid to ever speak. That is why, my friend, our faith is weak and often useless in confronting the evils of this world. Instead, we have a faith that can only survive in a Bible studies, worship services and small groups where "real life" does not often take place. Real faith only becomes real on Monday morning when we are willing to admit, "Why, O Lord, do I have to work with these people?" or "Lord, how long will I live without a job and struggle financially? Don't you care for your child's needs?" Those are the words God awaits to hear because it is in the midst of these words, God comes to our hearts. He enthrones Himself on the seat of an honest spirit not upon one which a God sits that does not reflect the God of the Bible.

Take your pick: either keep God in a small box or start becoming honest with Him and let Him define who He is to you even in the face of unresolved pain.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Early Bird of Retirement Doesn't Get the Worm

Thinking about retiring earlier since you turned 62, the age when you are eligible for early retirement and can collect social security? Well, you better take a hard look at the drawbacks of early retirement.

I visited the Van Nuys Social Security Administration office a few weeks ago. I appeared to be the only U.S. citizen in the room or at least, I thought so. I grumbled a lot about illegals coming to the US and going on Social Security and then asked the security guard whether all the people in the waiting room are Americans. She told me that as long as you can establish legal residence and have a Green Card, you are eligible for SS. I wasn't too happy to hear that. Of course, a person must pay into the system and put in a certain amount of money to qualify, but why should non-U.S. citizens benefit from a retirement package if they did not go through the process of becoming part of the red, white and blue? Even if they put money into the system, if they are illegal, how about the money they aren't paying in taxes and getting paid under the table?

When I was able to see my representative, I asked him the same question about illegals receiving Social Security Benefits. He asked me, "What do you want us to do, throw these people out on the streets?" I replied, "Yes, and then maybe they will either return to their country of origin or become U.S. citizens like my grandparents did when they came here over seventy years ago."

So if you're 20 to 40 years old and you are worried about receiving Social Security benefits, you should be deeply concerned. Youre paying for the retirement of people who are not citizens and no one knows how long they've even been in the U.S. They could have falsified Social Security cards and IDs. But no one in the federal or state governments wants to touch the sacred cow of illegal aliens. Therefore, the younger U.S. citizens will suffer. I won't. Why? Because I've been paying Social Security taxes since I was 16 years old. I've put into the system and when I am ready, I am taking my money out.

So what did I find out about early retirement? Well, you can retire at 62 years of age. I think my benefits are close to $1600 a month. However, once I make over $11,000 in any given year, my benefits are suspended for that year. I would have to wait until the next year, assuming I am not working or making over $11,000 to reapply for my early retirement benefits. I concluded early retirement is for people who can live for under $30,000 a year or maybe have some other money hidden away.

As for me I want to work as long as I can and if I can, I want to make more than $30,000 a year. If I wait until I am 66, I will make an additional $500 a month on my Social Security benefits and at that age I can work all I want without having my SS benefits suspended. Not bad. So I am waiting. Not that I'm looking forward to becoming 66. I dread it. But the supplemental pay is decent.

One more item i discovered is that if you take an early retirement, you are locked into that lower amount for the rest of your life just because you took out your money early. So if I took my $1600 a month, I would make that amount from SS until I'm deceased. No thanks. I'll always go for the higher amount because I worked for over 40 years and I want my full benefits.

A lot of people I've spoken to have taken early retirement and did not know this information and are kicking themselves for making a bad, misinformed decision.

On the other hand, we need a major Social Security overhaul to make sure illegals are prevented from tapping into the system. Friends have told me that they have gone down to the SS Administration office in their town and applied for SS and were never asked for ID. Once again, the illegals have found another way to rip off America-the country with it's hand out to anyone crafty enough to abuse the system and get away with it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harvey Milk Day Should Go Sour

Harvey Milk Day Should Go Sour

Still An East Coast Guy in LA

Still An East Coast Guy in LA

Guest Blog:Hear The Evil; See The Evil; Feel No Evil - Where's the Outrage Over Deadly Church Bombings? By Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Stunned survivors of terrorist bombings often speak of an initial eerie silence -- followed by the inevitable wailing and moaning of innocent people whose lives are forever shattered for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last weekend's deadly serial bombings of Christian Houses of Worship in Iraq -- Six Churches -- with four killed and 21 injured in one of the last bombings alone, is proof that when it comes to the media, governments and NGOs, the reverse is generally the case.

We can expect a loud CNN bulletin, a dramatic FACEBOOK, YouTube or Twitter message capturing the moment; sometimes even followed by official statements of concern or condolences. And then... Silence

This is bad news for Iraq's historic Christian communities -- including Catholics, Assyrians, and others -- who have been under siege by Islamic extremists for years. Neither President George W. Bush's 'gift' of democracy or President Obama's overture to Muslims in Cairo have brought any relief or hope of change for faithful Churchgoers who once numbered a million-strong. Most have fled or are looking to get out.

And it is the collective silence and failure to act on the part of governments, Interfaith leaders and NGOs that have been taken as a green light by extremists to eradicate religious minorities in Iraq. That goal -- if achieved -- will make a mockery of the vision of a future, viable, democratic Iraq.

But before anyone in Iraq rejoices at the brutal cleansing of Christendom from their midst, a cautionary note: such effective tactics can and will come back to bite you.

Evidence the history of Suicide Bombing. Between 1981 and June 2008, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point reports, there were 1,994 suicide attacks worldwide. Before Israel constructed its security fence, it suffered -- to the glee of many of its Arab and Muslim enemies -- 162 such attacks.

It was that attitude that doomed The Simon Wiesenthal Center's initiative to have the International community declare all suicide bombings, crimes against humanity (despite endorsements from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the late Pope John Paul II and even the Foreign Minister of Turkey).

But current statistics are staggering. In the year ending June 2008, 58.2% of suicide attacks took place in Iraq and 36.6% in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By the beginning of 2009, 12,000 Iraqis have been killed by 1,100 terrorists who blew themselves up...

The Internet guarantees we will all hear the Evil, see the Evil, but it cannot make us care about Evil. And as recent events in Iran proved -- Technology cannot defeat Evil -- only people can.

Please read Rabbi Cooper's original post by
clicking here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Out of A Job But Not Out of a Purpose

After two years of working with John Tesh Media Group, the company needed to downsize and I was let go this week. It's been a great two years learning more than I would ever imagine about the Internet, the usefulness of social networking websites and the music business. John gave me a lifetime of learning opportunities so I feel confident in being able to obtain another job-even in this rough economy.

Today I attended a job fair at the Woodland Hills Marriot Hotel. I wanted to check out the available opportunities that were on display. Only one of them even caught my eye-Salem Communications-the umbrella organization that oversees many different Christian and conservative talk radio all over the U.S. They were only offering sales jobs selling air time to advertisers. Several other companies accosted me at the fair all with the same job opportunity-selling stocks on commission or offering money management services to potential customers . . . and then hit them up to buy insurance. I would rather eat a live snail crawling on the sidewalk than sell insurance. Just being honest.

Yes, I need a job to support myself and to fulfill my many financial responsibilities and obligations. However, there is something even more important than making a living and that's finding your purpose. In other words, "Life is really all about answering one question, 'Am I doing what God wants me to do?'" He put me on this earth for a reason. If my purpose here is to be sell insurance, then I better be the best insurance salesperson I can be in order to fulfill my godly calling.

I am at a time in my life when it is not safe to try to fulfill your dreams. The economy is tanking. I've got debts to pay off. Who in the world in his right mind has the freedom to think about fulfilling his or her dreams. Many people believe this kind of thinking is for kids. When I was younger I wanted to be an FBI agent, a detective, a Navy frogman or anything that smells of danger.

Now that I am grown, most people would tell me to stop dreaming. Settle down. Get a real job. Yet here I am with all these new media oriented skills and I am excited about what I've learned. But I still have to answer the question why am I here on this earth? And I know the answer-to serve God and to impact the lives of other people. Regardless of I did sell stocks, raised snails or found creative ways to use my Internet skills, I must use what I am best at doing and serve others.

It is God who has given me my past, my experiences, my skills and my passions. It's now up to me to take what He has given to me and use them wisely. How am I using my life to serve Him? So as I seek work, not only am I looking for a decent wage (I'm not that stupid), but I'm also looking for an opportunity to be the person God created me to be. I am seeking a place where I can take all that God has given me and put them to good use for His glory.

I haven't lost my purpose or drive to serve the Lord. I am now looking for where that special place is supposed to be. You are not any different. If you're out of work, perhaps this is your time to finally be in the place where God has always wanted you to be.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My name is Louis Not Luis

I've had it. And it all started with my birth certificate. I actually possess two proofs of my entrance into this world. One says "Baby Boy Lapides" and it includes my foot prints, someone's thumb print (probably my mother's) and a photo of Newark, New Jersey's Beth Israel hospital where I was born.

The other birth certificate identifies me as Louis Sherwin Lapides. I was never wild about my middle name and complained to my mother that she named me after a paint company, " Why not Dunn-Edwards, Mom?" But notice the spelling of my name L-o-u-i-s. Of course growing up, my name went through a few variations depending on what neighborhood my friends were from. The Italians called me Luigi. After the song "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen dropped in the 60s, I was Louie. My name actually became
cool for a few years. My brother would call me "Lou" and other friends would follow suit. When I broke 21 windows on mischief night, my name was "LOUIS" to my Dad after he got off the phone with several irate neighbors.

In the U.S. Army I was called "Louis" and "Jew-boy" and "Lou." When I heard Jew-boy then an equally harsh racial slur would be my response. Use your imagination.

Lately, a new phenomenon has taken place. It all started with Starbuck or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. I would place my order and the clerk would ask my name. I would respond with "Louis. L-o-u-i-s.' Even if a mistake was made and my name was spelled Lewis, I would not complain. No big deal.

Today . . . forget about it. A transformation has taken place. This young man once born in a Jewish hospital in NJ, bar-mitzvahed at age 13 and a strong pro-Zionist has now taken on the name "Luis." All of a sudden I am a Hispanic person. It would be okay if I was Hispanic. But I am not. I once visited Tijuana for an hour and left because it reminder me of some scummy village in Vietnam. I love Mexican food. But my name is not Luis.

Our culture has become Hispanisized. When I call a business, I am told to press #1 for English. No, the Hispanic person should press #1 for Spanish. This is America-an English speaking country. I never took one class in Spanish though I have studied at least 7-8 different dialects-mostly ancient Semitic offshoots.

But I am not Luis. I don't look Hispanic-despite my olive complexion. I don't speak Spanish and I am at a point where I resent the name "Luis" written on my coffee cup. What am I going to do about it? Probably make the cashier cross out "Luis" and replace it with the name on my birth certificate.

BTW-my Hebrew name is Lechem. But I don't go around telling people to start calling me by my Hebrew name. I am in America, an English speaking country, surrounded by English speaking people and I will not allow any one culture-many of whom are illegals-to start rearranging the English language, Maybe my name is the rallying point . . . the much needed lightning rod that can bring about change to take back this country as an English speaking country.

Oddly enough, when I meet an Hispanic individual with an Hispanic name like Jorge, I would never think of calling him George. I would never speak of New York Yankees catch as George Posada. So don't change English names into Spanish names.

One bumper sticker said it all, "Welcome to America. Now speak English!" May I add . . . . and my name is Louis! Please!