January 2006

Business Thoughts and News30 Jan 2006 10:47 am

Jury selection starts today in the trial of former Enron Executives Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog has a full roundup of the kickoff to the trial. I have followed this case closely, as it coincided with Worldcom, where I knew people who were convicted, and where friends worked.

Make no mistake about the temptations inherent in the halls of the powerful. Million dollar CEO packages seem outrageous, but the power that these men and women yield is enormous. The money, power, and ability to significantly influence others is a powerful drug that lead many astray.

In the movie Wall Street, Michael Douglas plays a tough financial baron named Gordon Gecko who coldly declares “Greed is Good”. On the face of it, this seems plausible, even admirable. Without ambition to find new frontiers, new drugs, or new technologies, where would we be. Is ambition wrong? Does power corrupt?

Ambition is a word that I have struggled with. Certainly it would be nice to be financially comfortable, and the ability to lead others is something that is always exciting. I have been blessed with skills useful in leading teams, and helping businesses grow. My answer to the ambition dilemna came when I realized that the key idea is purpose. Why do you want to grow, to progress, to do more? It is similiar to money. The love of money is the root of all evil, not the money itself. We accept money in exchange for our services. The more valuable those services, the more money we accept. How we use that money, reflects how we viewed our service, and where our hope and future lie.
My grandmother was a school teacher, and a sweet lady, who in her last years saw her mind become clouded. She would move between lucidity, and darkness, but she would always remember to send us off with the admonition: “There’s good and there’s bad. Be Good”.

As Business Leaders, we must work to make sure that we are on the right team. The world has seen selfish leaders, who enriched their own coffers, while leaving shareholders with the bill. We cannot continue business as usual and expect different results. We must Be Good!

UPDATE: 2:40pm and Exxon announces record profits, the largest in US Corporate History.  Certainly glad to see profits being made, but I am having trouble reconciling this with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when 2 and 3 hour waits for gasoline were routine.

Business Thoughts28 Jan 2006 10:25 am

In an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel – Some Christian Retailers Left Behind (registration required), a christian retailer laments the fact that after investing a significant amount in the Left Behind book series, he was unable to compete when Wal Mart began carrying the books at a lower price. From the article:

The success of best-selling Christian titles like “The Purpose-Driven Life” and
the “Left Behind” series has unexpectedly hurt Christian bookstores by
attracting the book chains and discount retailers.

The Wal Mart effect comes to the Christian arena. Like most American’s, I have mixed emotions about Wal Mart. The great Wal of China, does offer low prices which have been tremendously helpful when we were in tight spots. Having tried to compete with Wal Mart I have seen the force of the dark side.

In 2003, part of the merchandise in my online store was card shufflers – those handy tools which automatically shuffle playing cards for you. About that time, there was a spike in poker playing, and all of a sudden my sales in card shufflers tripled. I couldnt keep the shufflers in stock. About three months later, the buying stopped cold. During a scouting trip to Wal Mart I discovered why- Wal Mart was selling a similiar shuffler for lower than my cost!

In the book “Ambient Findability” by Peter Morville, the concept of the Long Tail is discussed ( The concept was originated in a Wired Magazine article). The Long Tail is the phenomenom of how the internet makes obscure items findable. From the Wired Magazine article:

The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication… the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are.

The implication for retailers, especially Christian retailers is that findability – the ability to be recognized as “the source” for Christian life products, plus excellent customer service – the ability to go beyond answering questions and checking the customer out, are key to brand differentiation. I think this quote from the Knox News Sentinel article is right:

Bill Anderson, president and CEO of the Christian Booksellers Association, said independent retailers need to emphasize their strengths: wider selection, more knowledgeable employees and partnerships with local churches.

Encouragement27 Jan 2006 01:43 pm

I talked with a friend on Monday, who taught me a good lesson about managing failure. Mike, whose father was an alcoholic asked if I knew how alcoholics kept up with their progress. I had no idea.It seems that there are two popular methods. The first method was the Alcoholics Anonymous method which says that I am an alcoholic and I took my last drink 300 days ago. Obviously this reinforces the idea that you have walked away from it. The other method was I am an alcoholic, and I have failed 10 times, but I have gotten up 10 times. The focus is not on failing, but learning to get up when you fall.

That is a good lesson for me. I have a high tendency for guilt, and the act of falling down is almost as traumatic for me, as the failure itself. Mike suggested that I begin making a checklist for when I failed. Not try to walk a tightrope hoping not to fail.

I had never thought about giving myself the opportunity to fail, and I welcomed the chance to not feel so nervous about failing.

The first thing that I need to put on my checklist is to ask for forgiveness from God, and then to accept it. I cannot keep going back and not forgiving myself. This leads to loads of guilt. Next, I need to surround myself with the things that keep God real to me in my life. The kids laughter, the smile of my wife, the smell of a fall morning, the roar of the crowd at Neyland when a touchdown is made.

I can fail. In fact, I am one of the best ‘failers’ that I know. I am ok at getting up. I most always get up. It takes longer than I would like, and I feel it necessary to have a pity party first. I will work harder at being the best ‘getter-upper’ that I can be.

News27 Jan 2006 08:55 am
“They just had a heart for the love of children that no one else wanted, the ones that no one else would have taken.” – Wanda Lewis, director of children at Fellowship Baptist Church in Raiford

By now most everyone has heard about the terrible tragedy in Lake Butler Florida. Not much that I can add to this horrific story. Our prayers and the prayers of many will be for the families in this tragic accident. Foster Care agencies have such a hard time trying to find a home for older children, and the article seems to indicate that the Mann’s welcomed these children into their lives.
I imagine it had to be tough bringing these children in. There were probably financial, emotional and spiritual challenges for each child. They were faithful in giving all of their parenting skills to God. I am sure he will be faithful in providing his comfort in this time of mourning.
Encouragement26 Jan 2006 10:16 pm

The last few weeks I have been doing a lot of Geographic Information Systems work. More specifically, the work has been using maps to find relationships within data. It has been amazing at the levels of data that are available, as well as the possibilities of future growth. Cell Phones that can track your location, RFID tags that track product movement, Video Surveillance systems that can recognize facial features. We immediately think of the privacy concerns – and wonder who is watching.

Location has played an important part in my life over the past couple of years. I have struggled with how and where I fit in. I moved “home”, only to find the intense sense of longing for another place.

Isn’t God Fantastic though. Like the Big Brother cameras that we fear, he is constantly watching and hearing. He knows when we mess up. He hears the unkind words that we say below our breath, and the impure images that we see.

More importantly though, He see’s the challenges that we face. He is there with us, to overcome those challenges. He walks with us, urging us on when the path is tough, and when our faith falters.

Encouragement and Tunes25 Jan 2006 12:15 am

I travelled to Abingdon this past week to help install some computer equipment. I was excited about the trip, but was apprehensive about the flight segment from Johnson City Tennessee to Charlotte. This segment was on a propeller plane. I have flown a good bit, but have never gotten adjusted to the “puddle jumpers”. Even before I left for Abingdon, this segment from Johnson City was on my mind. Leaving for the airport, I decided that this would need to be a two dramamine trip.

Needless to say, God had different plans for this flight segment. My terror gave way to an incredible peace, and some fantastic pictures. I was reminded of the hymn Trust and Obey:

When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Encouragement13 Jan 2006 11:15 am

When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened, and when thou runnest, thou shall not stumble. Proverbs 4: 12

Growing up I often dreamed that I was running, but my feet were heavy as if they were lead. I struggled to run, while others kept up quiet easily. Most often in my dreams, I was running from some faceless terror.

When I started running, I wondered what it would be like to have heavy legs. There were a few days when we went out, and my legs were a little stiff, and it was just as horrible as I had imagined. Slow moving, pain in the calves. The remarkable thing was that it rarely ever happened.

The verse in Proverbs refers to knowledge –

Hear, ye children the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. Proverbs 4:1

When I was running, I really didnt worry about ‘dead legs’ because I had faith in my muscles, I exercised them each day. So it is with the knowledge of God. Each day that you use and exercise it, the less likely that you are to have ‘dead spiritual legs’.

The runner stumbles, but he does not fall, for he has prepared. Let us prepare for our challenges with a study of wisdom and understanding.

Encouragement10 Jan 2006 11:19 am

James 5 1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

¶ James 5 13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil Mk. 6.13 in the name of the Lord:
15 and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
17 Eli’jah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 1 Kgs. 17.1 ; 18.1
18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, 1 Kgs. 18.42-45 and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Payday is Friday. Today is Tuesday. Between the two days sit numerous expenditures. I was lamenting the lack of funds this morning as I contemplated the day. The kids were starting their performance tests at school, and they would need a good breakfast. Cereal was gone, as was bread. I decided that I would go get bacon, eggs and flour for biscuits. This would last us all week.

I simmered all morning about the financial situation. After breakfast, I prepared the budget for the next month, and saw that once again, we would be tight on funds all month. God directed me to read James 5. James 5 was not a passage that I had consciously read before.

The first verses condemn the rich and those that covet material things. That was me, guilty as charged. The second passages however offered support for those that struggled, and called for a strengthening of patience.

I am taking these words to heart.

God, please help me to seek your words for answers, and to find comfort in those answers.

Family Thoughts03 Jan 2006 10:32 pm

On January 1 2006, I watched as my son and daughter were baptized. The baptism service at the start of the new year, was a way to show their rebirth. The events which surrounded the baptism, and the service which followed, have pushed me to start this site. Let me explain.

Thomas and Elisabeth, our twin children were born in Knoxville Tennessee in 1994. Through the years, work and life had taken us from Knoxville to Abingdon, Virginia and finally to Brandon Mississippi. The move to Brandon was tough on the kids, as they were fourth graders when they entered the school system here, and because they moved from a school of approximately 100 children per grade, to a school with approximately 350 per grade.

Last summer the children went to summer camp with our church, and they both accepted Christ as their savior. This was an exciting time for April and I as parents, as we have seen the kids mature so much in the last years. Thomas and Elisabeth are both great kids, well mannered and the like, but their salvation brought a change that was noticeable. Both children showed more caring, and both were more aware of their witness to others.

Our church held a membership information class, over the course of several weeks in the fall, and baptism was scheduled for a week before Thanksgiving. We had planned a visit to Knoxville to see friends, and were out of town that weekend.

Simultaneous to the camps and classes, the church was losing it’s senior pastor to retirement. Brother Gene who had been the pastor for many years was retiring to pursue a mission ministry. The church had identified a new pastor, and he was coming to speak the weekend we were headed to Knoxville. Little did we know, that we would pass him on I 59, somewhere in Alabama, his source Knoxville and his destination Brandon. Brother Scott was called practically unanimously, and would start during the Christmas season.

Two additional baptisms that were scheduled before Pastor Gene left were cancelled, and Elisabeth especially was disappointed, as she was excited about being baptized. When we received the letter about baptism on the first, it just seemed as though it would be a great fit.

Brother Scott noted the irony in the fact that the first person he should baptize in Brandon, was someone born in Knoxville. “Born in Knoxville, reborn in Brandon” he said. Indeed.

For a couple of kids who still identify the mountains of East Tennessee as home, Brother Scott’s words, and encouraging sermon brought a sense of acceptance, and comfort.