May 28, 2009

This Week's Sermon

We continue our look at the Lord's Prayer. This week, "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

05.24.09_Forgive Us of our Debts.mp3

The Duke of Hazard

Moral hazard is the prospect that a party insulated from risk may behave differently from the way it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk…Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not take the full consequences and responsibilities of its doings, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it alternately would, leaving another party to hold some responsibility for the consequences of those actions. (From Wikipedia)

Moral hazard is a term particularly used by economists, although it can be applied to all sorts of situations that are not economic. It has become one of the favorite ideas floating around in my head. I am now seeing it everywhere I look. Let me explain it a little so you can join my insanity.

Imagine I am teaching my children to play Monopoly. As their turns proceed, Madelyn makes some bad choices. She mortgages Boardwalk and Park Place to buy Baltic and St. James Place. Because of the loss of rental income she decides to sell a couple of railroads to get some quick cash rather than sticking with the steady flow of money they produce. Meanwhile, the other kids are methodically building houses on property to increase value. Then Madelyn lands on Pacific Avenue. It’s got three houses. She can’t possibly afford to pay, game over. But wait, as the banker I step in and give her a couple thousand dollars. Think about how this upsets the game (not to mention the other players). I have rewarded risky and stupid behavior. Now Madelyn will expect this every time. So she will continue with the type of thinking that got her in trouble in the first place. Even worse, what if I don’t offer this type of financial help to every player? What if I only give it to those who spend lavishly and without care? Or only to those who own extremely valuable property (Boardwalk and Park Place) but not to those who stayed within their means and bought St. Charles. I have so disrupted the rules of the game that it becomes impossible for anyone to know what they should do.

This happens in real life all the time and it is extremely destructive. It teaches a lack of personal responsibility and rewards idiotic behavior. For instance, you can go try and climb some impossible canyon out in the Mojave Desert. When you get stuck all sorts of rescue personnel are dispatched to save you. This is good, because you live. But it costs the tax payers thousands of dollars. Why should everyone else have to pay for your stupidity? And besides, by not placing the financial responsibility at your feet, we only encourage you to do it again next weekend. The rescued person should have to pay not only for the benefit of society, but for their own long-term growth as well.

This occurs with athletes who have been passed from grade to grade regardless of their academic standing. They come to believe that they are above the normal consequences and therefore responsibilities of life. It happens with children who are allowed to behave in whatever way they see fit, and whose parents seem held hostage by this behavior. Eventually, when a teacher or employer brings severe consequences for such behavior the child is enraged. They thought the rules didn’t apply to them.

And of course it happens financially. If I know you are going to bail me out, then why worry about how well I perform? When people are allowed to commit stupid or risky acts, and then someone else shields them from the consequences, it often creates an environment that only perpetuates that behavior.

The rub for Christians is that we have been shielded from the ultimate consequence of our actions. This is wonderful, yet also creates a moral quandary. Paul asks the Romans “should we keep on sinning so grace will abound?” That’s the moral hazard. Since Christ’s love and forgiveness and grace are offered in place of our sin, then by sinning I get more of God’s grace. Of course Paul’s answer is “certainly not.” We should not continue the behavior even though our experience of God’s grace is a good thing.

So we must wisely meet the dilemmas of our day. We extend God’s grace. But we also recognize that to allow people to continue in risky or stupid or sinful behavior is detrimental to them and everyone around them. It is not grace to pass a kid on to the next grade even though they can’t read. Nor is it Christian to allow people to starve because of a stupid mistake. Wisdom is not easy.

May 26, 2009

Best Restaraunts In Abilene (no arguing)

In my last post I mentioned the first time I ate at Perini Ranch Steakhouse. Someone asked me if that was my favorite restaurant. Honestly, I'm not sure. But it got me thinking. So here are my top ten favorite restaurants in the Abilene area. (Abilene area meaning someone could call me to go to dinner at six and I could be at the restaurant by seven. So, while I love Underwoods in Brownwood, it is too far to make the cut.)

10. Farolito- Good Mexican food in with an old style feel. The first Mexican food restaurant I remember eating at was the old Monterrey House in Tyler, TX in the late seventies. Farolito stole their decor.

9. LaPopular- Three words: Dollar Burrito Day.

8. Harold's- There is probably better barbecue in Abilene. But nothing can top their chopped beef sandwich. Everything else may be terrible, but I don't get anything else.

7. Sonic- How could a greasy fast-food place make the list? Simple. Lemon-Berry slush, the official drink of Damon Parker

6. Beehive- When I need chicken-fried steak.

5. Clyde Pizza House- Food is good. Entertainment is amazing. Can go from wonderful to topping the unintentional comedy charts and back in just a few minutes.

4. Szechuan- Don't get me wrong, I love Chinese buffets. But the best cuisine is to be had at this order off the menu joint.

3. Los Arcos- Becoming my favorite Tex-Mex in Abilene. I just wish they were open on Monday evenings.

2. The Homeplace- Amazing way to spend an evening with friends and family. The food is tremendous, the atmosphere wonderful, and on a nice evening there is nothing better than to sit outside after dinner and talk while the kids run around. If the dessert was better, this would probably be number one.

1. Perini Ranch Steakhouse- Only been there three or four times. It's a little bit of a drive, and it's not cheap. But the ranch roasted rib-eye...good gravy we will be eating that in heaven.

May 21, 2009

Book (and movie) of the Week

After my sophomore year in college I interned at a little church in Canton, Texas. I somehow convinced the church that they should send me and a bunch of high school kids mountain climbing in Colorado. So a van-full of us headed to Wilderness Trek. As we made the long journey, somebody popped in a CD they recently purchased. It was not the music you would expect from a teenager. It was the soundtrack to the movie Last of the Mohicans.

This music became our theme music for the week. It felt like "in the woods adventure music" (which is probably what the music was intended to feel like). We latched onto the soundtrack even though most of us had not seen the movie, and I'm pretty sure no one had read the book. So the day after we returned from Colorado, we gathered to watch the movie, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
(you can listen to a song from the soundtrack while you read the rest, go ahead, it's really good)

Hadn't really thought about it since, until a couple of weeks ago when I started reading Last of the Mohicans. The book is a great adventure novel, with wonderful dialogue, and an extremely interesting philosophical perspective. If you love history, or need to learn a little, the book provides a glimpse at a formative time in U.S. development. There is also a priceless exchange about the desirability of christian virtue. The book is almost worth reading simply for that moment.

The most interesting part of reading the book was that I had already seen the movie. This is a rarity for me as I make a point to read a book before catching the film. However, I saw this movie some fifteen years before reading the novel. Yet it still colored my reading of the book.

I expected the book to be somewhat different, but was blown away by how far afield the movie actually went. As I read the book I kept waiting for a particular character to die a heroic death (he never did) and was utterly surprised by the death of another character who survived the movie. The love interests were even different. Reading the book after seeing the movie had no effect. I went in truly knowing nothing. Or even worse, being completely misled.

Now, a movie that I thought I really liked, I am repulsed by. They shouldn't even be allowed to call the movie "Last of the Mohicans." It should be something like "A Movie Using the Character Names from the Novel Last of the Mohicans."

The point being I liked the movie, until I read the real deal. How often does this happen in life? Growing up my family never really ate steak. A couple of times I had some "steak-like" thing at home. Then I went to Perini Ranch. Holy Cow! (No I mean it, I believe the cows they are serving at Perini Ranch are set apart and unique, and the first time I went there was definitely a religious experience.) We think we've had good chocolate cake, and then discover The Great Wall of Chocolate. Or closer to the heart, I thought I was busy with a lot of responsibility in college. Then I had children. I had no idea! Or we date somebody and think they are pretty great. Then we meet the one, and we immediately wonder what we were thinking.

Now, all this can be skewed to mean the grass is always greener, or don't settle, or there is no contentment. But really that's not the truth. The truth is that we often do settle. We become unwilling to try something new, we stick with the same old routine, and we never experience amazing things right around the corner. Now, we all have our comfort zones. But renting the same movie again and again means that we miss the possibility of something great. Sure, we avoid renting a stinker, but is that really worth it?

We have no idea what we can accomplish, if we would just try something new. Why not try the sushi, try a different kind of book than we typically read, go for it at karaoke, attempt the job our self instead of calling in a repair person, rent a movie we never heard of? Or even better, send in the resume for the job we think we can't possibly get, go back to school, give up our job to be a missionary, or open our hearts to an adopted child. If we would give up the fear of failure, how high could we sore?

I remember when I was young my Dad decided to take our family to a movie. This was unprecedented. I can count the number of movies I've been to with my father on one hand. This is one of two I believe he suggested. So we were really excited. But he was taking us to some movie none of us had ever heard of. I know that I griped about this, maybe others did too. But I was overruled. So we went and watched the movie. Turned out, it wasn't bad. Good plot, good acting, good directing. I enjoyed it so much I have probably seen it twenty times since. It was a little movie called "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

May 18, 2009

This Week's Sermon

We continue our study of the Lord's Prayer. This week the focus is "Give us this day our daily bread."

Click the link below to listen or download.

May 8, 2009

Two Kinds of People

Is there anything better than a great vacation? The only thing I can think of is gloating about it to people who have to stay behind and work. So allow me a moment of self-indulgence. What a great week!

Spent the week on the Carnival Ecstasy. Would get up (whenever we wanted) and head to a glorious breakfast where I ordered pancakes with sausage and a side of Lucky Charms. Spent the morning by the pool, cavorting with the kids on a huge water slide, and hopping in the hot tub. Then there was the lunch buffet.

In the afternoon we would take a dance lesson, play bingo or trivia (won at trivia, lost at bingo), and even gamble. That's right, I took twenty bucks to gamble. I played blackjack, which I never have before. Walked away after an hour and a half with seventy-one dollars.

(This brings me to an aside: there are certain people you don't want to go on a cruise with. The first is the party pooper-someone who complains about it being too hot by the pool, gripes constantly about the service, spends much of their time in their room watching TV. The second is the moralizer-they constantly point out the drinking, gambling, and old men in Speedos, as if they didn't know this was a cruise, and don't tell them about the twenty dollars you brought for blackjack. Finally, there is the financial analyst-every activity, meal and moment is compared and contrasted with the amount of money spent to determine its' value and a constant judgement is rendered about whether you are getting your money's worth. I'm not saying these aren't good people, or can't be great friends. These are simply the kind of people that could turn a wonderful cruise into a complete drag. So pick your cruise buddies wisely. This is the kind of stuff you think about when ordering the complimentary room service at midnight and eating your fourth dessert of the day.)

In the evenings our kids went to these really cool activities with other kids while we enjoyed an elegant dinner. Our good friends Chuck and Lauren Sparks joined us for many of these meals. The waiter we had was wonderful because he always brought me extra appetizers and a second dessert. Then we would enjoy a show, or karaoke, or live music. By the way, all of my description leaves out most of what we did as I am only trying to paint a picture.

Sounds wonderful right? The only problem was we couldn't get off the boat. Our cruise was to take us to Progresso and Cozumel. But we happened to have cruised during international swine flu week. The height of government fears about this disease occurred right as we were headed into ports in Mexico. So, we were forced to stay on board.

Now, I didn't like this for two reasons. One, my natural distrust of media and government "crisis" talk was going off like a siren. I knew this couldn't be as bad as they were predicting, and sure enough the week we return, swine flu goes from a "crisis" to barley being mentioned. The second and bigger reason was I wanted to go to Progress and Cozumel. I wanted to walk the beach and eat authentic Mexican food. I wanted my kids to have their first visit to a foreign country. I wanted to barter for little trinkets and vanilla. But it was not to be. The cruise line refunded our port fees and any shore excursion you may have purchased. And we sailed out to find sun and good weather in the gulf of Mexico.

On board there appeared to be exactly two reactions to the news that we would not be landing in Mexico. One group of people were upset. The wanted to get off. They felt disappointed. Then they moved on and made the best of it. They enjoyed the great weather and all the amazing food. Visited the midnight buffet, learned to line dance, and generally had a really good time.

The other group was also upset. However, they never got over it. They yelled at the cruise director, almost as if Carnival had intentionally infected Mexico with swine flu simply to ruin their vacation. They constantly mentioned that we should be getting off the boat. And when we ported back in Galveston a few hours early, they got off rather than enjoy the remaining meals and entertainment (which they had already paid for).

A basic principle of life was writ large on that boat, a lesson for which I need constant reminding. We are not in control of many of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but we are always in control of how we respond. Swine flu did not ruin any one's vacation. We were not sick, we were safe, and the closest we came to swine was some smothered pork chops and bacon. But many people's vacations were ruined, but only by themselves.

Imagine if I told you that I had planned for you the week described above. Most people I know would say "sign me up". But how many things have to not go perfect to ruin it for us. The only disappointment comes when what we want, and especially what we think we deserve, doesn't come to pass. Then we become selfish, rude and pretty sorry to be around.

But what did I do to deserve any of this. Do I deserve this wonderful family? Did I invent and design and build a cruise ship for myself? What did I do to even merit an extra dessert? Nothing. So I should be thankful, grateful, pleased as punch with what I got. Could the cruise have been better? You bet. But it could have been worse. Rather than being on a cruise enjoying myself, I could have been in a hospital in Mexico watching someone I love die from a mysterious illness.

So this week I sail on in life, a little more tan, a little bit heavier, and a lot more grateful.

May 6, 2009

This Week's Sermon

This week is a look at the first line of the Lord's Prayer. Our Father in Heaven.

Just click on the link below.