Curve Ball

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kind. James 1:2

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “curve ball”, it is a pitch in baseball which curves to the right or left and is intended to confuse batters. It often works, and there have been great hitters in major league baseball over the years who were never able to hit the curve ball successfully.

It also is an expression I use as to events of life.  Just when you expect something, God throws you a curve ball and you have to react to something unexpected.  This past week is an example of a COVID curve ball to our family.

My youngest son took his family skiing out in Montana. On one of the last runs down the mountain, his wife, Lanie, fell and broke a bone in her foot. They returned to their home in Washington, DC where she went to an orthopedic doctor who took X-rays.

The doctor confirmed that she had a broken bone in her foot which needed surgery. Just putting the foot in a cast would not fix the problem.  That was Monday and surgery was scheduled for Friday.  

As part of the protocols for the surgery, the hospital required the family (Richard and three children) to be tested for COVID. 

Early on Wednesday morning I texted my son, Richard to check on things. He replied that they were getting an MRI of the ankle at that moment, and Lanie’s parents were coming to help in her recovery.  Everything lined up and looked in place. So far, so good.

When I returned to our home around 10 am, my wife was on the phone with Richard and put him on speaker phone

Lanie and their children’s tests came back negative, but Richard’s test came back positive. This was a real curve ball. If Richard was positive, he would have to quarantine himself for up to 14 days. He couldn’t help his wife who was in pain and needed surgery and she couldn’t help him. And neither of them could help their three kids. 

Richard said: “Mom, my head is spinning.  I don’t even know where to start to deal with this.”  That statement comes from a person who has an abundance of common sense and is quick to solve problems. Not this time.

Lanie’s parents had not been vaccinated yet. That meant Lanie’s parents couldn’t come, but we could because we had been vaccinated. After a small discussion, we decided that Sis (my wife) would fly to Washington to help out.  I put her on a plane in the early afternoon. Sis needed to be in DC and that was paramount.  You drop everything for someone in need if you can.

In the middle of all of that chaos, I reached out to close friends to start praying for our situation. Until you have had COVID invade your life, you don’t realize how quickly the world can turn upside down. 

I now appreciate how disruptive a positive test can be. For example, Sis couldn’t fly home because one of the questions they ask at the airport before you board a plan is “Have you been in contact with anyone who has COVID?”  If the answer is “yes”, you don’t fly.

In hindsight,  we were grateful that we had gotten our vaccinations early. We had planned to go skiing with my daughter the following week. That went out the window.  

I called the airlines to change our ski trip flights with hat in hand to see what could be done. When the representative came on, she asked how she could help.  I said: “I have a COVID problem.”  She laughed and said: “We get a lot of those”. Tickets got cancelled and changed and we collectively decided that I should stay on the ski trip with my family. .

On Wednesday night, I got a chance to talk to Sis and said: “I’ll bet they are glad you came.”  She said Lanie cried when she arrived, which actually made me tear up.  That’s a picture of gratitude 

Several people suggested Richard get a retested for COVID, because there is a 30% chance that his test was a “false” positive. He got retested as soon as he could but quarantined himself in their house in the interim. 

The next morning, he got the test results which were negative.  Just to be sure, he took a third test which came back negative on Friday morning.  Things were looking up.  Lanie’s surgery went fine, but she must stay off her leg for 12 weeks, so she will need some help for a while.  

Not all stories turn out as well as ours (except for Lanie’s broken foot), but it’s an important lesson on dealing with a curve ball in life. It is also a lesson on how we can help another in need when they cannot do it themselves. Having friends and family to rally around you is important.

In this day and time, the next generation have had a lot of curve balls thrown at them.  Lockdowns and COVID protocols have limited normal interaction with their friends. They feel isolated and lonely.

We need to rally around them and let them know that they aren’t facing life alone. Family and friends are a key to solving the curve balls of life, even if they just pray for you.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: When your mentee gets a curve ball in life, you can come beside him and help him (or her) make good decisions.  We need one another.

WORSHIP:  More Than a Hallelujah – Amy Grant

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Happy Socks

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Genesis 18:13

Many of my recent posts have covered serous topics that affect our world, culture and the next generation.  Scripture is full of human emotions, but we often don’t emphasize laughter and joy. Even Sarah and Abraham got the joke when she got pregnant at age 90.

But life isn’t all serious all of the time.  I identify with the picture above, because I have a lot of socks that are colorful and made by a company called “Happysocks”.  

I was delighted to find out they actually have stores where they have a huge selection to choose from. I wear them to church, and people come up to me so see what I have on that day. The colorful socks make a quiet statement that I am not all that serious. 

When it comes to humor, I have always wondered where the name funny bone originated. For one thing, it is not a bone, but something called the ulnar nerve in your elbow. For another, if you are unfortunate enough to strike that nerve, it is anything but funny. It can be very painful.  

In this day and time, when the pandemic has so affected our daily lives and routines, it is hard to maintain a sense of humor. There is a lot of humor in the bible, but much of it is obscured by cultural subtleties and the Hebrew language which don’t translate well. 

Mark Biddle wrote a book several years back called A Time to Laugh: Humor in the Bible which takes a look at six bible characters who did unexpected things. His book breaks through the language and cultural distinctives to show readers how they can actually “get the joke”. 

But we don’t need to look at bible humor to get a laugh.  I believe people need to lighten up and not lose their sense of humor, even when things get difficult.  I interact regularly with people around the world who live in much more difficult life circumstances than I do.  I make a point to try and get them to laugh, even if it is at my own expense.  

On a Zoom call with my friend Sam Sundersingh in Chennai, India, a couple of weeks ago, I asked how he was doing.  He said he was suffering from tennis elbow.  Now, I know Sam well enough to know that he doesn’t play tennis, so I replied: “Stop playing tennis!”. Sam wrote back “I love your sense of humor.”  I made him smile, which made me smile.

There used to be a section in the magazine Reader’s Digest titled “Laughter is the Best Medicine”.  It contained humorous stories – many of them true.  They still have a section devoted to funny and humor.  

I always loved to read their jokes and stories, and am a firm believer that laughter is good medicine for almost every occasion.  Our family get-togethers with kids and grandkids are full of laughter.  It makes life go a lot better. Certainly more fun.

Some of my humor is self-directed at stupid things I’ve done or said or because I  forgot something.  My wife is a great list maker so she can mark off things and not let them slip through the cracks. She actually volunteered to keep a list of things to do for me when I retired.  I declined, of course.

Recently, we went together to the grocery store.  Instead of bringing a list, she turned to me and said we only need to get two things, so “help me remember to get item A and B”. “No problem”, I responded. We got to the grocery store, and quickly found item A and she turned to me and asked me what item B was. 

I totally blanked out and couldn’t remember. We laughed at each other. The result was that we bought a lot of other things hoping we could remember, or if we didn’t remember, we might get it by accident.  We still don’t remember what item B was, and that’s pretty funny to us. Humor is where you find it, even in mundane circumstances.

For the next generation, which has endured a big recession and more recently a pandemic, humor may be hard to come by. Life can be very serious at times, but it is not serious all the time.   Passing on your humor to others can be infectious, even if it means just wearing Happy Socks.

Both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God told them that she would conceive, and she would be the mother of all nations. It’s a good example to all of us.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Life is serious enough, but easier to take with a little humor. Your mentee will appreciate it when you lighten his day.

FURTHER READING:  A Time to Laugh: Humor in the BibleBiddle

WORSHHIP:  I’m Going Free (Jailbreak) -Vertical Church Band

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The Great Reset

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. Romans 8:13

For the past 50 years, there is an annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.  It is the goal of the forum “to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.”

The list of attendees is an annual “who’s-who” in the world – leaders of business, technology, political leaders all mingle and exchange ideas. These are the movers and shakers in the world.  Many are billionaires.

They are the global elite. They are also current day pharisees who were the religious elite in biblical times. Instead of extolling outward religious appearance, the new brand of “pharisees” advocates eliminating fossil fuels in the world. An example is John Kerry, the new Climate Change Envoy of the Biden administration and a speaker at Davos. 

Last month, Kerry was questioned on why he flew his private jet to Iceland to receive a climate change ice sculpture award. He defended emitting 40 times the amount of carbon emissions per person had he flown on a commercial flight, saying he was entitled to fly private jet because he needed to get things done for climate change.  

In other words, rules for thee, but not for me. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites. Reminds me of the saying that if a shoe fits, wear it.

Not all are enamored with the Great Reset. I never thought I would agree with Putin, the President of Russia.  Putin realizes that eliminating fossil fuels will decimate the Russian economy which relies on exports of oil and gas. He spoke at Davos via teleconference and said “not so fast”.

Klaus Schwab, the founder of WEF, says that the goals are to revamp “all aspects of our societies and economies” from “education to social contracts to working conditions.” They avoid using the term socialism”, but to me, rose is still a rose even by another name. 

Increasingly, the agenda has taken on progressive issues like gender equality, inclusivity and climate change. Included in their tasks is what has been called The Great Reset which was adopted in 2020 as a response to COVID 19.

One has to look behind the curtain a bit to see where this is going.  WEF uses terms like “social justice” and changes to our social system to be more “fair, resilient and sustainable”. Sounds good, but let’s look at it from a biblical worldview. 

According to the WEF, climate change requires us “to decarbonize the economy” and to bring human thinking and behavior “into harmony with nature.” The aim is to build “more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies.” 

Under the covers, one can see the move to socialist ideas propounded by Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Cortez, et al, including the Green New Deal Plan.  The latter would cost an estimated $32 trillion in the US alone. Mind you that until 2019, our annual federal budget was $3 trillion.

In order to pay for these grandiose programs, one has to adopt Modern Monetary Theory which has its own flaws.  On top of that, it sets up radical goals including being carbon neutral and using only renewable clean energy in 10 years.

The world cannot run on renewable green energy alone through windmills and solar panels. Texas and California are suffering from over reliance on renewable energy – 25% of Texas electrical production comes from wind turbines in the western part of the state.  Both have mothballed fossil fuel plants that are reliable. 

A series of winter storms has shown the fallacy, and the result is that people are dying in Texas because of power outages. It is a complicated issue, but it is clear that the failure of the system was partly caused by unreliable green energy like wind power. 

When snow covers the solar panels and wind turbines freeze, energy production stops. There is inadequate backup from fossil fuels to fill in the gap. This is happening in Germany, too, where renewables are now 40% of its supply of electricity and they have been closing fossil fuel and nuclear plants. With a harsh winter, they now have rolling blackouts of electricity.

The Davos summit also included thousands of members of the Global Shapers Community who are trained youth from 400 cities around the globe. Many have received training from the Al Gore founded Climate Reality Project.  These are activists like Greta Thornbergwho are well-intentioned but misguided. 

At the January session in Davos,  Xi Jinping called on the world to be “inclusive” and to “uphold the common values of humanity”,  ignoring the fact that China is committing genocide of the Uighurs and people in rural Tibet.  Religious persecution of Christians and other minorities is ongoing in China.  Somehow, the term “inclusivity” doesn’t mean what I thought it did.

The Great Reset is frightening in many ways, not the least of which it is the enemy of capitalism,  personal freedoms and Christian values.  The pandemic is a crisis that was perfect storm for them to advance a radical transformation of our world. As one writer put it, “the consensus has emerged at the annual Davos meetings that the world needs a revolution, and that reforms have taken too long.”

In Romans 8:21, Paul describes a biblical form of reset – a time in the future where creation will be liberated from decay and bondage.  But that will be done by God, not by human hands.  Only He can reset creation as he has promised.

This short post cannot adequately detail how radical the Great Reset is for transforming the world and society. I have provided additional resources below. I would ask that you educate yourself, because many influential leaders in government and business are already advancing the Great Reset agenda on many fronts. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  The next generation are very concerned about climate change. They need a dialogue with a mentor to provide reality to aspirational green energy goals which are not realistic.

FURTHER READING: The Great Reset: A Dystopian Future? Williams

The Great Reset for Dummies – Lena 

Stakeholder Capitalism – Rosenwald

From Lockdowns to the Great Reset – Mueller

Introducing the Great Reset: World Leaders Radical Plan to Transform the Economy -MSN

Five Questions Christians Should be Asking About the Great Reset – Gospel Coalition

Church Leaders and the Great Reset – Culture Watch

Texas Freeze Raises Cost of Charging a Tesla to $900

Great Reset? Putin says, “Not so Fast”

WORSHHIP: Awesome God

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The Gold Standard


Divide your means seven ways, or even eight, for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.  
Ecclesiastes 11:1

Gold has been the currency of choice going back to 600 B.C. in what is now modern day Turkey.  Many countries, including the United States have had a gold standard at one time which means that paper currency is backed by gold reserves.  

The U.S. went on a gold standard in 1830.  Winston Churchill, in his storied career as Chancellor of the Exchequer, brought England back to the gold standard in 1925. It was controversial and he was widely criticized for his actions.  

Churchill later said that the “world” thought he was the worst Chancellor of the Exchequer ever. Looking back in 1930, he noted that he agreed with them, so “now it is unanimous”.

America printed its first paper currency in 1861.  In 1900, The Gold Standard Act made gold the only metal for redeeming paper currency and gold’s value was set at $20.67 and ounce.  European countries followed suit in the 1870’s printing money which was backed by its value in gold.

When World War I broke out, the U.S. and European countries abandoned the gold standard so they could print enough money to pay for the war cost.  Post-war, countries returned to a modified gold exchange, but when the Great Depression hit, the United States again abandoned the gold standard.

On April 20, 1933, President Roosevelt ordered Americans to turn in their gold (including jewelry) in exchange for dollars in order to prohibit hoarding and the redemption of gold by other countries. My mother was 24 at the time and remembered this event. 

Since America held the majority of the world’s gold,  most countries simply pegged the value of their currency to the dollar instead of gold. President Nixon terminated the ability to convert dollars into gold in 1971 and changed the fixed price of gold.  

Currencies in the post gold standard are now exchanged based on free markets, with the dollar still the primary reserve currency of the world. That may change in the near future.

The departure from the gold standard is important because now countries can print money without the being limited by how much gold reserves they own. 

Fast forward to today where we face what is called MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) which is a supercharged version of government fiat money. This is the new paradigm.

MMT argues that countries can print as much money as they want without concern of consequences.  While governments should have budgets, they don’t worry about debt because there is no limit to how much money they can print.

You have to understand the gold standard in order to see how far “out” the MMT paradigm is.  Sadly, it is upon us, both in the US and in Europe.  The European Union and the US have reacted to the COVID pandemic by enacting trillion-dollar stimulus packages to prop up their economies. They are literally printing fiat money.

The amount of national debt doesn’t seem to concern politicians – either here or abroad. Mind you this is happening during a time of unprecedented low interest rates and low inflation.

But what happens when inflation returns and interest rates increase?  Under normal circumstances, higher interest rates would cause a reduction in other parts of the federal budget.  

MMT advocates like Larry Summers of Harvard suggest that the new paradigm is that we should ignore the federal deficit and that “government borrowing for the right purposes is prudent.”  It assumes low interest rates for a long time in the future.  I am not so sure.

We didn’t foresee 9/11, nor how the world economy would be devastated by COVID.  Higher interest rates will eventually happen and could be a wrecking ball to the world’s economy.

While there are scholarly articles praising MMT, this is an untested economic theory and a departure from Keynesian economics and its effect on the developing world

What should a Christian do in uncertain economic times like this?  The answer comes from Solomon (above):  Diversify, for you don’t know what disaster “may occur on earth”.  For the next generation, some of whom are caught up in the Robinhood stonk frenzy, they need to learn prudent financial habits to survive in changing economic times.

Millennials, in particular, are caught in the crosshairs. They were recovering from the 2008 recession when COVID changed the job markets almost overnight. 

They need to save for retirement more than earlier generations because their social security benefits will not be the same. The Social Security fund is due to run out of money in the next 14 years. They need to plan for greater resources to get them through a longer life expectancy.

Motley Fool  has an abundance of free information about financial planning, retirement and investing basics. It is a great unbiased resource for the next generation to get sensible advice to help make good financial decisions. As mentors, we can be a Nehemiah in their lives helping them fill holes in their financial walls. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   You don’t have to be a professional financial advisor to help your mentee learn to budget and make sound financial decisions.

FURTHER READINGThe Gold Standard – Loudis

What is Modern Monetary Theory – Likos

World Debt Clocks

5 Facts About the National Debt

5 Problems with MMT

The Upside Down World of MMT –Murphy

Addressing Social Security’s Shortfall – Motley Fool

Millennials Need to Save More if they Want to Retire Like their Parents and Grandparents

If I Could Do It Again: Retiree’s Investing Advice for their Younger Selves – Motley Fool

WORSHHIP: Crowns – Hillsong

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Goliath

God, who delivered me from the teeth of a lion and claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine. 1 Samuel 17:37

Everyone likes an underdog story, particularly where someone has no chance at succeeding.  Lots of movie and novel plots have been written using this simple storyline.  One of the first such story comes from the Bible where the outmanned Israelites face off against the Philistines.

The Philistine “champion” was named Goliath. He was huge, standing nearly 10 feet tall. His armaments – a spear weighing 15 pounds and body armor weighing 126 pounds – were intimidating.  He was THE man, and he challenged the Israelites to “Give me a man” to fight. He did this for three days.  The Israelites cowered in fear.

Enter David, a shepherd, who left his flocks to visit his brothers in the Israelite army. While there, David took up the challenge but refused body armor. He was armed with a shepherd’s staff, a sling and 5 smooth stones. The battle didn’t last long – just one stone to Goliath’s head and he was done. 

We have a modern day David vs. Goliath story that came up in the investing world. It has surprised many.  The Goliath in this story is Hedge Funds that have used the tactic of shorting stocks – literally betting that the company’s stock value will go down.  These are big entities worth billions of dollars and their investors are limited to the ultra-rich. 

A little background first. In the investing world, taking a short position in a stock is not uncommon.  I won’t describe all the means to do that, but for the normal publicly traded stock, it is not unusual to have a “short position” of 1 to 3% of the total shares outstanding. These are investors who believe the price of the stock will go down, not up.

In a short transaction, an investor “sells” stock he doesn’t own by “borrowing” it from institutions who lend it.  The investor’s plan is to buy back the stock at a lower price, replace his loaned stock, and take a profit.

This short information is tracked.  Enter Robinhood, a no cost way to buy and sell stocks that mimics social media by giving you prompts on its App just like Facebook or Instagram.

Investors who use shorting are sophisticated. But what happens if the stock goes up, not down?  Good question.  It’s called a “short squeeze”. In order to limit losses, the short interest investor has to buy back the stock at higher prices, which, in turn forces the price up more.

When the pandemic hit, people had time on their hands and quickly figured out that investing is fun, particularly in a market that is going up. Robinhood became very popular. Social media also brought another feature – chat rooms and other forums where small retail investors band together and share thoughts about investing.  

Forums appeared on Facebook and Reddit, including WallStreetBets, which quickly grew to a million users. Founded in 2012, the site morphed into a powerful force of amateur investors.  The forum realized hedge funds were predators, often making outsized bets that a certain company will fail. 

One such company was GameStop, a struggling retail store that sold video games. Hedge funds raised the short interest in the company to a staggering 140% of the outstanding shares. Then something happened. A lot of amateur Davids showed up with their sling and started buying the stock, sending the price up by 500%.  

It was a massive-short-squeeze. You could say the hedge funds got caught with their shorts down. One estimate of the damage was around $19 billion in losses just on GameStop alone. Two hedge funds almost collapsed because of the losses.  Small amateur investors took on the hedge funds. 

Not sure where this story will end. Everyone on all sides is pouncing on this – some calling for more regulation (not less). Under pressure, Robinhood stopped the ability to buy GameStop in the middle of the day – you could only sell it. Lawsuits will abound. 

Many of these amateur investors are millennials and Gen Z and their motivations for being involved are varied. Some want to pay off debt, others to make a statement, and still others are in it for the lulz

This story is fascinating to me on many levels.  This is not about investing, by the way.  It is a form of speculation. None of these amateurs looked at the financials on GameStop to see whether it is a good company.  Eventually, GameStop will return to normal trading levels. Some small investors will get hurt

It is also a demonstration of the power of social media and the internet to change institutions in ways never thought possible.  The latest story shows the power of people to band together to cause something to happen. I picture in my mind an image of a large school of small fish in the ocean that collectively can turn on a dime as if they were choreographed.   

The next generation is using “the tools they have to upend the status quo” according to Tim Elmore. They are leveraging the power of numbers against the power of status which they believe needs a day of reckoning. They now have a voice and feel empowered to use it and possibly in things other than stonks.

The challenge is that the next generation may overdo the movement of the crowd. They haven’t learned that the market has its own “gravity”, and the price of a stock will return to a normal after being artificially increased through speculation. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  If your mentee is following the GameStop pack, be sure to caution him to be careful with wagering on the stock market in big amounts which results in big risks. Risk and reward go hand in hand.

FURTHER READING:  WallStreetBets Founder Reckons with Legacy – WSJ

Freewheeling Millennials and Gen Z Are Starting a New Side-Hustle Career – Forbes

What the GameStop Market Surge Teaches Us About Gen Z & Millennials – Elmore

The Real Force Driving the GameStop Revolution – WSJ

A Long Cynical Post – Taibbi (R rated language)

WORSHIP: You Make Me Brave – Amanda Cook

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Nineteen Eighty Four

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. Romans 15:4

The year 1984 had its share of historical highlights, among them an agreement by the United Kingdom to turn Hong Kong over to the Chinese.  Homosexuality was declared legal in Australia. USSR boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles because of anti-Soviet “hysteria”. 

1984 is also the title of George Orwell’s dystopian novel about what totalitarianism might look like 25 years after it was written in 1949. 

I read 1984 in high school in the 1960’s, and I remember the plot well.  I thought it was fanciful and far-fetched at that time.  No more.  Sales of the book soared several times – the most recent in 2017 when the phrase “alternative facts” was used on national television. Orwell used the phrase “Big Brother is Watching You”, which, in 1949, was not possible with available technology.

What makes Orwell’s book interesting is that the word “totalitarian” didn’t exist before the 20th century.  It replaced the word “tyranny”. Aristotle defined tyranny as the rule of one person or a small group of people to advance their own interests according to their will without any restraint.

Totalitarian governments employ the tools of science to control the totality of things, even one’s thoughts.  Today those tools are being used more than ever before to control thoughts of others.

Thought control goes back to the 5th Century BC when the historian Herodotus described the folly of the Persian Empire to make illegal thinking about something illegal.  In 1984, Orwell describes the Thought Policethe organization that surveils the populace through telescreens, hidden cameras and microphones. 

Farfetched?  One only has to look at China today where there are cameras everywhere doing facial recognition, and anything done on the internet or social media is monitored. They have algorithms to assign each person a social credit score to reward or punish citizens.

And it’s not just in China. It’s here in America where big tech companies track your digital footprint so that they know in advance what people will do. They use your information as a means to manipulate your thoughts and decisions.  

A US Senator warns that ‘Communist-Style Social Credit Scores [are] coming to the US in the form of ‘Cancel Culture’. His book was blacklisted by a publisher, not because of its content but because he had challenged the electoral results in Congress. 

Given recent incursions into what you are able to see or not see because of cancellation of opposing voices, you are being controlled. Big tech has become a modern day thought police. 

In 1984, a man named Winston Smith’s works for the state, and his job is to rewrite history. If anybody is deemed against the state, he puts their record into a memory hole, and it is gone forever. He searches for every written record in media or books and makes it disappear.

America has its own version of 1984:  destroying statutes of historical figures because of wrongs in their past, such as being a slave owner. Winston comes to realize that history is being rewritten so that there is no past, only the present which has been sanitized. Today,  a Vice-Presidential past controversial record is being erased.

In 1984, there were three levels of society:  the elite were called the “Inner Party” – they are those in control.  Winston was part of the “Outer Party” who are the bureaucrats.  The last group is the “Other Party” who are the unwashed masses who live blue collar lives. Does this sound familiar?  

Winston becomes disillusioned with erasing history and escapes to an area where he believed safe from surveillance.  He begins writing in a diary and meets a woman in secret.  

Winston gets caught and, instead of the usual fate of death, is sent to be de-programmed by torture. He has to learn doublethink by which things that are obviously wrong are true. As Christians, we know that no lie is truth.  

Logic works this way: If A is heavier than B, and B is heavier than C, then C cannot be heavier than A.  That’s how the law of contradictions is supposed to work, but now we are told that C is heavier than A. Or, that objective truth is false. Winston’s torturer works for the Ministry of Love where the slogans include things like “War is peace.”

Today, in China, the Uighurs, a minority Muslim group, have been rounded up and sent to “re-education” camps which is a euphemism for de-programming.  In America, some have called for “de-programming” supporters of a former President.  

In the recent COVID pandemic, we were told that it is too dangerous to hold church services, but protest marches were fine.  Protests are essential and religious services are not. We are also told under the new gender guidelines that a man can declare himself a woman and vice versa. Gender is now only what one wills it to be. 

There is an unrelenting effort to rewrite our history, and the Woke culture has taken the helm in public debate.  They are destroying what patriotism looks like and our freedoms of speech and religion are in jeopardy. 

In his farewell address, President Ronald Reagan worried about whether we were properly educating children about America and world history. He warned that the eradication of history could result in “an erosion of the American spirit.”

We are facing an Orwellian world where erasing history and surveillance have become commonplace and the media and Big Tech has been complicit. As believers, we need to be on guard for these kinds of intrusions on our freedoms because they can lead to religious persecution as in China.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Your mentee may not know history or what it means to our culture. One task is for you to take the time to provide historical truth. 

FURTHER READING:

Law of Contradictions – Phillips

How China is Using Facial Recognition to Control Human Behavior – CNET

How I Survived Chinese Re-Education Camp for Uighurs – Guardian

China’s Social Credit System- 15 Bad Behaviors – FEE

Can Trump’s Cult of Followers be De-Programmed – Vanity Fair

1984 and Today –  Hillsdale College Imprimis

The Christian and Totalitarianism – Christian Post

The Terrifying Now of Big Data and Surveillance – Ted Talk

WORSHIP: Truth Be Told – Matthew West

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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No Fear

What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true. Job 3:25.

My wife has an outsized fear of snakes. It’s technically called ophidiophobia.  I have assured her that there are good snakes like black snakes that help control the rodent population. It hasn’t helped. As she says, “the only good snake is a dead snake”.  I think it is funny; she thinks it is very unfunny.

Young children have a fear of the dark (nyctophobia). As a parent, you know that the dark isn’t something to fear, but your child isn’t convinced, which is why you put “night lights” in their room.  They grow out of it. 

Fear is an emotion. Everyone has it within them to be fearful. It’s part of the package of being human.  On a recent Zoom, a friend of mine said: “The biggest problem we have is fear.”  That says a lot.  

We live in unusual times where a pandemic disrupted our lives overnight, not necessarily for the better. We have learned to social distance, wear masks, and stay isolated from others to avoid getting COVID. Family events like holidays and vacations were postponed and normal activities altered. Many have lost jobs.

Another friend said that fear was basically a concern of losing control.  The next generation already was highly anxious before the pandemic, more so than previous generations. Millennials joined the job market in the 2008 recession. Not good timing. It took them a long time to get jobs and move out from their parents’ homes.

Millennials were often brought up by parents who protected them from difficult things, and they were shortchanged on developing resiliency.  They haven’t faced adversity which is a valuable commodity today. They fear failure.

Gen Z is learning to live with school restrictions which often means virtual classes instead of in-class teaching. They were already isolated due to social media. Social distancing and virtual classes only have made it worse.

They are watching world events unfold in ways not imagined by previous generations. It seems that events and trends are happening at warp speed instead of over decades. The pace of change has increased.

When I talk to my friends, both Christian and others, all have described a sense of fear, often the fear of the unknown or of circumstances that they can’t control. It’s epidemic today and it may last beyond the pandemic.

As believers, we actually have an antidote. We have the ability to paint a picture of what your life is going to look like. It’s a form of self-realization, and studies consistently show that it works. 

Paul even suggests it in Philippians where he exhorts us to fill our minds with positive thoughts – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” “Think on these things.”  Not a negative thought in the list.

A friend of mine used to call negative thinking (including fear) “stinking thinking”. He had a point. Most of our fears are about worldly things – our physical self, our finances, our health, our success (or lack thereof), or a challenge that we face. 

As believers, it is easy to let yourself be afraid of life.  I faced fear head-on several years ago when financial setbacks took me to the brink of bankruptcy. I feared financial disaster and the loss of possessions.  Even more, I feared the scorn of my peers for my failure. I was afraid of what others might think.

A watershed moment occurred when I sat down with my wife who put it in perspective. She asked me: “What is the worst thing that could happen?”  My list of “worst” cases included losing our house, our possessions, bankruptcy, etc. 

She nodded her head and said no matter what happens to us financially, we had our faith in God, each other, our kids, and our friends. No financial set back could take those away. 

I began to rely on God to get me through it.   I was unable, in my own strength,  to solve financial problems.  God wanted me to get to a point of dependence on Him, not on myself. 

When a financial bump in the road hit such as getting a letter from the IRS that I owed money beyond my ability to pay, it became a game to see how God was going to solve it. I remember praying “OK God, this one is in your court to solve because I have no chance to do it on my own.”

We got through the tough times, sometimes with some almost miraculous events which provided resources from unplanned and unexpected sources. I learned to visualize a positive result but only because I could see God’s hand in the outcome.

It was a lesson in overcoming my fear of losing control.  That’s where many are today. If that is your situation, you can learn to depend on God in ways you haven’t expected.

The challenge is that losing your fear and depending on God may be harder said than done.  But if you are willing to let go and let God work, you will be in a better place. As the Proverbs 3:5 notes, lean not on your own understanding.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  The next generation is consumed by fears – often of the unknown. They need help in seeing that being in control all the time is impossible, and that reliance on God is one solution that they may not have thought about.

RESOURCES:  A Bible study on overcoming fears – Zach Williams

WORSHIP Fear is a Liar – Song by Zach Williams

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The Prodigal

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:24

One of the most familiar stories in the Bible is that of the Prodigal son.  The son demands his inheritance from his father up front so he can go “find” himself in the world.

While gone, the son blows his inheritance and finally hits bottom.  It doesn’t end well, unless you think living in a pig pen is good. The son comes to his senses in his brokenness and returns to his family. His father runs to greet him, which is frowned upon by the culture of his day.  Instead of getting an “I told you so” from his father,  the son is welcomed with a celebration. 

There are a lot of prodigals out there today, but with a twist. Today’s prodigal is part of the next generation and likely to be on drugs, alcohol or other substances.

Over the holidays, we learned that the 36-year-old son of a friend had died of an overdose. We had no idea. What we learned was devastating. The son had been an addict for 20 years, and had managed to turn his family against him, not because they didn’t love him, but because they were protecting themselves from more emotional trauma.

We learned this from through the eyes of a mutual friend whose son has been an addict for many years. She knew our friends’ family and their 20-year journey of dealing with an addicted child. 

She told us that the story of every addicted child is the same. Their families experience dishonesty, theft, car wrecks, lying, imprisonment, rehab and back out again. Rinse and repeat.  Only the name of the child is different.

Siblings of an addict become protective of the parents, often trying to insulate them from further emotional hurt. Parents have distant hopes that their child will be like the prodigal son in the bible, but after years of failure and disappointment, they realize that they cannot trust their child. My friend said that a counselor told her that “if their lips are moving, they are lying.”

She knows the prodigal story well but is steeling herself from getting the call that her child is dead or in prison. She fears that he will hurt other people in an accident.  She is trying to numb her emotions because, unless nothing else changes, she knows she will eventually get a call.

She is not alone. Addiction and substance abuse increasingly affects the next generation – mostly millennials. What is sad is that this is too commonplace but it is not being discussed.  I recently asked a group of 23 people on Zoom if they knew of someone dealing with addiction (either the person or their family). Almost all raised their hands. It is the elephant in the room.

Families that have an addict don’t talk about it preferring to keep it to themselves, whether from embarrassment, hurt or other reasons.  Statistics reveal how widespread the problem has become.  One commentator said the numbers were “astounding”.

COVID-19 has obscured and worsened the addiction problem.  Because of social distancing, isolation has increased addiction and relapses.  For context, San Francisco reported 621 people deaths from overdoses but only 173 died from COVID.  The lenient drug policies in cities like San Francisco have only made things worse.

What was a problem before is now even greater because access to recovery treatment has been limited to virtual meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymousand other in-person rehabs.

Statistics are impersonal to families dealing with an addicted child. Their story is personal and up close, and often heartbreaking. I mentored a young man who narrowly escaped from becoming an addict. He started with friends on marijuana and then graduated to other drugs.

My mentee interrupted his life to get straightened out under court supervision. He is a lucky one. Most are not lucky – either the addict or their families. One thing he told me was that, contrary to popular belief, marijuana is a gateway to other drugs. Yet we have state after state legalizing marijuana.

Recently, huge amounts of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, Molly and other drugs were sold on nearby college campuses by dealers connected to the Mexican drug cartels on the west coast. The drugs were distributed through college fraternities. Eleven of those arrested were current or former students.  Access to drugs is not hard, even on prestigious college campuses.

This has been a hard post to write. This is not an uplifting topic. While my family has been spared this problem, many families have not.  My friend whose son is an addict estimated that 25% of the people in our own church have experienced or know of those who are dealing with addiction.  

There are good resources for addiction, including rehabs, but all too often relapse is commonplace.  As friends and Christians, we can do little else other than provide support and prayer for families dealing with an addicted child, and to oppose the legalization of marijuana from making addiction even worse. We must pray for the prodigals to return permanently.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be vigilant with your mentee who might be experimenting with drugs. It is hard to detect as I learned from my own experience. 

FURTHER READING:

The Pandemic has Hit Addiction Recovery Hard – NY Times

Opioid Crisis Compounded by the Coronavirus Pandemic – Archer

Addiction is a Disease of Isolation – KHN

Drug and Alcohol Abuse During a Pandemic Detox/South Florida

Drug Dealers Sold Mass Amounts of Cocaine and Other Drugs through Fraternities – WaPost

San Francisco’s “Progressive” Drug Policies are Killing Hundreds Annually – Hoover

Best Practices in Dealing with Substance Abuse – US Dept. of HHS

WORSHIP:  Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone– Tomlin

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Hiding In Plain Sight

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,[ …..] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19,20

In 2021, I want to affirm the commitment to help others mentor the next generation through this blog.  This is the time of year where people make resolutions, usually about making yourself better, losing weight or reading the Bible through in a year. 

All that is good, but often it becomes personal navel gazing. I have a suggestion.  Consider focusing not on yourself but invest in someone else’s life to make them better. We are consumed by our need for self-improvement and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

But we often ignore that Jesus last command on earth was a call to disciple others. It’s a call to an outward, not inward focus. Sitting in church worshiping (or virtually these days) and Biblical learning are good disciplines.  But becoming a discipler of others is equally if not more important.

The next generation is starved for mentors.  One of the things I’ve had to do over the past several years is study millennials and Generation Z.  If you’re going to help the next generation, you need to know where they are, or often where they aren’t.

So, if you want to get into their minds, why not listen to what they are saying.  The following is from a Quora post by a 16-year-old girl and was titled “What We Won’t Tell Our Parents.”

Sixteen year old girl here. Woo, this is going to be an interesting answer. Possible trigger warning.

  1. Relationships – if we know that you (our parents) are going to disapprove of the person we’re seeing, then we’re likely to hide it from you. We can be crafty in hiding messaging and time together.
  2. Friendships – basically same as #1, except no romance involved.
  3. School – I might be a straight A student, number 4 (out of around seventy students) in my class, but does that mean I will share everything about my academics with you? No. Some of it is embarrassing (like not doing great on a test I studied my behind off for), and [it] shall remain in the confines of my thoughts.
  4. Bullying – If we’re being bullied at school, we’re probably not going to say anything because we think either you’ll handle it in a way that will embarrass us, or you simply won’t care.
  5. Mental health issues/conditions – Variety of reasons for hiding these. Maybe we don’t feel we can talk about this with you, we don’t want to burden you with our problems, or we don’t want to change the way you look at us because of the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. This ties in with the next couple.
  6. Eating disorders – These can be hard to recognize for the affected person, and also, we may hide this for reasons above.
  7. Self-harm/suicidal thoughts – We want you to think we’re fine. We want you to believe you have the happy child you always dreamed about.
  8. Social media – If you don’t think we should have it and everyone around us does, we’re going to want to fit in.
  9. Sexuality – I’ve never had to deal with this so if anyone has, please add on to this. You might have beliefs against being LGBT but since we’re not you, we could be.
  10. Religion – I’ve been raised in a Christian home. Church every Sunday, yadda yadda yadda. I walked the lines of apostasy for almost two years before anyone found out. Now I’m somewhere in between deeply devout and an apostate.”

Those 10 topics cover a lot of waterfront. It makes you wonder what they do discuss with parents. I’m pretty sure it is very superficial. 

If you are not familiar with Quora Digest, you should know that it is a hangout for many in the next generation. It is instructive to what they are thinking or feeling, but not telling their parents.  

I have often said that parents can tell the actual moment when their children become adolescents. That moment is marked by their turning deaf overnight.  It’s a humorous way to say that at some point in time, your kids will tune you out. 

But they may confide in someone else.  Someone they trust.  Someone they have developed a relationship with, like a mentor.   I have had mentees open up about topics like those above with me. One even said that he would never think of discussing certain issues with his own parents. 

So, if you are looking around for someone to invest in, you don’t have to look very far. They are all around you and hiding in plain sight.  Their parents would love to have you involved in their lives as a mentor and positive influence in this day and time where social media is a pervasive influence.

Below is a list of some topical mentoring posts from the last five years. 

MENTORING RESOURCES:

Influence – a model for mentoring.

Moses – the first Mentee – Part I – Biblical principles of mentors

Moses – Jethro Principles Part II

Selfie-Esteem – The impact of social media

Spirituality – a look into the spirituality of the next generation

Communication – how to communicate with the next generation

Millennials – a profile

Fine – asking questions to get beyond pat answers

Gen Z Distinctives – Gen Z profile

Fingerprints – a strategic view of mentoring.

Why Not? – a call to get off the sidelines

Pay Attention – the impact of shortened attention spans

Gen Z Trends – more insights

Google GIGO – the next generation getting wrong answers from the internet

WORSHIP: Overcomer – Mandissa

MentorLink: For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Reflections

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:24

The old saying is that Hindsight is 2020 (watch the video).  That may be more accurate this year than any other. Normally, we celebrate the coming New Year. Instead, many will celebrate the end of 2020.  

Each day I get up in the morning and go into the bathroom.  I am greeted with a face in the mirror.  The mirror doesn’t lie.  I usually look sleepy and in need of a shave. But it is the face of today.  I remind myself that today is yesterday’s tomorrow.  I can’t change yesterday, and tomorrow has yet to come, but I can work on today.

Another mirror is your car’s rear view mirror. It reflects what is behind you, not what is in front of you.  It is an important tool for a driver because keeping an eye on what is behind you helps you anticipate problems.  So, what does 2020 look like in our rear-view mirror?

This past year is one for the books. But according to history, it was not the worst. That distinction goes to the year 536 AD when a mysterious fog covered much of Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.  A fog blocked the sun during the day for 18 months. It was a literal “Dark Age.”

The cause?   A huge volcanic eruption in Iceland which was sufficient to cause climate change for years. Temperatures, on average, dropped 35 to 37 degrees, causing crop failure in Ireland, Scandinavia, Mesopotamia and China. Famine ensued leading to the Bubonic plague that wiped out 25 to 50% of the Roman Empire’s population.

That would be, in my estimation, a bad year. By comparison, how does 2020 stack up? 

For many, it was a difficult year which started well, but took a quick turn when COVID-19 showed up. We learned terms like “flatten the curve”, “lockdowns”, “quarantining”, “Zoom” and “social distancing”.  School closures became the norm, stunting the academic growth of our next generation with long term consequences. 

We learned a geography lesson.  No one had heard of Wuhon before, but now most recognize it as a large city of 11 million people in Central China and the epicenter of a pandemic.

Life was disrupted to a scale not seen before in modern history. Despite extensive research and national planning on coping with a pandemic, the world’s health systems were taxed, sometimes beyond capacity. We will learn from those mistakes, but they cost lives.

Economies shut down; businesses closed – particularly those that were deemed “non-essential”, often an arbitrary political decision. The economic toll will be felt for years. In America, most businesses that were damaged were small businesses – restaurants and Mom and Pop businesses which cannot operate “virtually”.  

The small entrepreneur got crushed by the pandemic, and sadly, this will have a larger impact on those in the lower economic strata of our culture. The most vulnerable are the ones that will suffer the most. 

Vacations and family get togethers were cancelled or postponed. Plans for the year were abruptly altered.  Some things will never be the same again. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so missing a family reunion impacts my family as he continues to decline.

For those lucky enough to have a job which can be done remotely, “going to work” took on a new meaning. Bricks and mortar offices in large cities remain empty today, which does not bode well because I doubt that they will return to normal capacity any time soon. 

Companies will retool their office needs downward resulting in a huge dislocation from city centers. Already, cities like New York are seeing an exodus of population. Those leaving are often a large part of the tax base, and they will not be replaced any time soon meaning that the quality of life in those cities will suffer.  

We are not sure when there will be a return to “normalcy”, whatever that looks like. How do you face an uncertain future, even as a believer?  For the Christian, it is simple. For a non-believer, not so much.

The answer is contained in a poem from my son-in-law’s favorite author and poet, Wendell Berry, titled “The Peace of Wild Things”:

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be.

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

This poem is a reminder that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. When we feel afraid or in despair, we can turn to Him in simple places like nature because he is Immanuel or God with us.  

I wish each of you blessings in the New Year.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You have the ability to shape your mentee’s perspective on life. It is an incredible opportunity. Don’t miss it.

FURTHER READING:  Hindsight is 2020 – Video by Tom Foolery

 The Worst Year in History:  Is 2020 a Contender?  Discover 

Why 536 Was The Worst Year to Be Alive  AAAS Science

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

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