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The Storm Clouds Gathering from COVID-19

The Storm Clouds Gathering from COVID-19

For years now, many in our nation have been warning of the coming collapse of our nation’s economy.  The signs were easy to see.  But most were unaware, or didn’t take the time to understand them. I’ve written a lot over the last number of years about the coming economic collapse.

At the same time as many were warning about the economy, others were warning about the potential of a pandemic.  History teaches us that pandemics are a reality of our fallen world.  Sooner or later these global events appear, and when they do, many lives are lost and the entire world is disrupted.  

Whether this pandemic and the associated disruptions are natural, or self-inflicted, is beyond my ability to know for certain.  While I may have my own views, at the end of the day, my little place in this world is of such inconsequence to something as pervasive as the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching effects, that my theories about it’s origination are meaningless.  Furthermore, you and I have zero potential to redirect the path our nation and world are speeding down. 

But that’s not what I wanted to discuss today.  Rather, I wanted to address the principle that is taught in a verse from Proverbs, the book of wisdom in the Bible.  Note what Solomon had to say:

💡”A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”  Proverbs 22:4

Approximately 1,000 years after Solomon penned the above principle, one of Solomon’s descendants, the King who will ultimately sit and rule the world from the throne that Solomon occupied, had this to say about how we know when storms are threatening:

💡”Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right.”  Luke 12:54

When you look out your window and see dark clouds gathering, the wind picking up, animals scurrying about, and other such signs, you can normally predict that there is a storm coming.  From the place where we live, up atop a hill that sees miles off into the horizon, we regularly see this happening.  It’s quite easy to predict what will occur in the next few moments when we see the band of rain headed our direction.

In a way, I believe the responses that we take when we see a physical storm is coming, can be applied to the current COVID-19 crisis.  Let me explain.

If you could go back 90 days, prior to the escalation of the COVID-19 crisis, and you knew then what you know now, would you do anything differently then?  I have no doubt you would, just as I would.  I’d be willing to speculate that you would have at least purchased more toilet tissue, or some other consumable.  Right?  But there are probably other steps you would have taken then, that today you are incapable of addressing.

So let’s look at where we are today and then try to fast forward a few weeks or months into the future.  Are there any dark, ominous storm clouds on the horizon that warn of some difficult times ahead?  Are there signals that the worst could still be yet to come?  Do you believe that opening up the economy is just going to magically bring back to reality what we might have been enjoying just a few short months ago?

The answers for me to all of those question are resoundingly clear.  Additionally though, my gut, along with so many of the reports I read, are warning that the clouds are bringing an even more ominous storm.  Is it possible I could be wrong?  Absolutely.  But when your smartphone alerts you to a “Tornado Warning” and you take cover, are you angry afterwards if the tornado did not materialize?  Or are you simply thankful that the plan you put in place was sufficient to protect you, had the tornado destroyed your home?

From an early age I was taught that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  In this case, “a prudent person forsees danger and takes precaution.”  There are strong indications that what is to come in the remaining chapters of this COVID-19 crisis, and beyond, could be worse.  If so, what should you do?

Well, only you can decide what are the appropriate steps that you should take for you and your family.  But at the very minimum, consider what you wish you would have done 90 days ago.  If you have not yet addressed those steps, then what about starting there?  Is it possible that over the next 30-60 days you could formulate a plan to check off those items?

Beyond that though, here are a few other ideas that I shared previously, in another article I penned four years ago.  In this article, I offered a number of practical steps you and I can take and should be taking immediately, to respond to the storm clouds we all see.

If the last 60+ days should convince us of one thing, it should be that the unimaginable can in fact occur.  To delay today is to be sorry tomorrow.  Today you can act.  Tomorrow may be too late. 

Noah, The Ark, & a Rowboat

Noah, The Ark, & a Rowboat

As I was reading the story of Noah recently, a few verses jumped out at me as to why God used Noah to build the ark. Note what God had to say about this man, who would build the most famous boat ever, one that was much larger and more capable than the Titanic: 

“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” Genesis 6:9 

Imagine having the above said about you. But wait. There’s more: 

“So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.”  Genesis 6:22 

When God saw all the evil that filled the earth, He gave Noah very specific instructions on what he should do to save his life, his family, and a remnant of God’s animal creation. Noah’s obedience was critical if they were all to be protected from the impending flood that would soon cover the entire earth.  

Noah obeyed God. Period. But Noah’s obedience wasn’t just for a few weeks, or a year or two. Rather Noah’s obedience was for many decades, as Noah and his sons labored to build the vessel that would save their lives… and ultimately yours and mine. (Think about that for a minute. Aren’t you glad Noah was obedient?) 

So you may be wondering, where does the rowboat come in to Noah’s story?   

Well, God gave Noah an ark-sized mission, because the “master ship builder” had proven to God over time that he could be trusted, that he was “righteous and blameless.” 

But what about you and me?  Or maybe I should just say, what about me?   

Is there a reason my mission hasn’t risen to the size of an ark, or even a yacht?  Is it possible that God is still waiting for me to complete the mission of simply constructing a rowboat?  I believe this may be true for many of us. Until we’ve proven ourselves as ready, reliable, or consistently obedient in the little things, we can only dream about building an ark.  

God needs faithful servants first and foremost. And only then will He elevate the mission He has for us. The parable of the three servants that Jesus relays in the Gospels affirms the concept that connects increasing opportunities to faithful stewardship. The servant who proved he was capable to handle greater resources was given even more. Meanwhile, the servant who was unreliable was given less, and even had those resources eventually taken away altogether.  

So, if you and I want to build an ark for God, we must first prove we can build the rowboat He’s asking us to tackle. And the only way we can build the rowboat is by simply obeying the Truth God has already revealed to us. When we do so, we will be given more.  

So let’s go build a rowboat today. Who knows, maybe God will use our rowboat to simply save some folks who are struggling to keep from drowning in the lake of life. And if so, we will have served an eternal purpose for God.  

“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.’” Matthew 25:23 

The Sands of Time

The Sands of Time

The sands of time
So quickly pass
In the slender neck
Of our hour glass

Our life ahead
At two score and five
With dreams intact
We feel so alive

As life grows busy
The sand keeps beating
But we pay no thought
To the years now fleeting

We’ve known others younger
Whose sand drew still
Their premature death
Briefly testing our will

But our own life plans
We are confident yet
Will align in due time
With our diminishing grit

For surely our grains
Will continue to fall
Until the time of our choosing
Has arrived with a crawl

But when will we realize
That it’s God who allows
For the number of grains
That remain in our vials

May we refocus our thoughts
To what really will count
When the sands in our glass
Do finally run out.

 

Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days…”

 

Tennessee Republicans Tout #FakeTaxCut

Tennessee Republicans Tout #FakeTaxCut

This last year has been a year in which the term #FakeNews gained prominence in America.  It seems that everywhere you turn, false reports are regularly popping up as fact. Amazingly, Wikipedia even defines #FakeNews as this:

Fake News is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. It often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news-stories. They have no basis in fact, but are presented as and believed to be factually accurate

Pathetically though, Republican politicians are now getting in on the #FakeNews trend in Tennessee and here’s the background.

The Background

Republican Governor Bill Haslam proffered a bill he entitled the IMPROVE act (Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy).  The bill, as modified, would increase gas taxes in Tennessee over $300 million per year to fund road repairs across the state.  However, in order to “offset” the tax increase that Tennesseans will see at the pump and feel in their wallets, the bill would also reduce taxes on groceries, but not by an equivalent amount.  In fact, less than half of the increase is offset by the grocery tax decrease.  

To make up the difference, Haslam, bolstered by Republican “yes-men” legislators, cobbled together a tax decrease via two other taxes.  The first decrease is in the Franchise & Excise Tax, exclusively a business tax.  The second decrease is in the Hall Income Tax, a tax on certain investment income, that only a very small percentage of individuals in Tennessee pay.  Furthermore, legislation was passed last year, before Haslam’s 2017 Gas Tax proposal, that agreed to phase out the Hall Tax over several years, with a full repeal by 2022.  

So, if you consider the details of Haslam’s proposal, it’s clear that the vast majority of hard-working Tennesseans will never benefit from the F&E Tax decrease or the Hall Income tax phase out.  And the marginal decrease in their grocery tax will not even come close to offsetting the increase they will see when they fill-up each week at the pump.  So the truth is most Tennesseans will see a drop in their disposable income if Governor Haslam’s IMPROVE “Gas Tax” bill is passed by the Tennessee legislature.

The Surplus

As a backdrop to the whole debate over Governor Haslam’s Gas Tax is the fact that Tennessee has enjoyed a record $2 billion budget surplus this last year.  Additionally, the surpluses are projected to continue for the next several years.  Consider though that the source of government receipts is predominantly from taxes.  

So, in simple terms, Tennessee overtaxed its citizens $2 billion last year, and it projects to continue overtaxing them for the foreseeable future, upwards of at least another billion dollars.  But worse, rather than use those surpluses, Governor Haslam and many Republican legislators want to raise taxes even further via Haslam’s Gas Tax bill.

As a result of these surpluses, a number of alternate proposals have been offered to simply divert for road repairs a portion of the surpluses in a similar amount to what Governor Haslam is requesting.  This would not only replace Governor Haslam’s proposal but it would also eliminate any need for a tax increase.  

The #FakeTaxCut

But here’s where things cross the line from just a bad policy decision to a purposeful act of deception. Governor Haslam’s “yes-men” in the legislature have been pulling out all the stops to push the Governor’s IMPROVE bill through, by hook or crook.  But because of the constant efforts by grassroots activists to expose the truth that the flawed bill will raise taxes on most Tennesseans, according to the Tennessee Star, Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Barry Doss (R-Leoma) and Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) led the effort to rename the IMPROVE act to the “Tax Cut Act of 2017.”  

Yes, you read that correctly.  By falsely applying tax cuts that 1) apply solely to businesses (F&E Tax), and 2) were agreed to in a prior year and do not apply to the majority of Tennesseans (Hall Income Tax), Rep. Doss, Rep. McCormick and a host of other Republican Representatives are deceptively pronouncing that a bill that increases taxes on hard-working Tennesseans, will actually cut taxes on them.

Can someone say #FakeTaxCut?

What’s next?

So is this #FakeTaxCut a foregone conclusion?  Not hardly.  If there is a lesson in Trump’s victory in November, it is that the People can still determine the outcome of their government.  But Trump only won because people showed up and let their voices be heard.  And that’s the only way that Haslam’s #FakeTaxCut will be defeated — if Tennessee voters pick up their cell phones, and take 60 seconds to let their voices be heard.  If you’re willing to do so, then the price of gas at the pump may not go up.  But if you won’t invest a minute of your time, then you can count on Republicans, the party of “lower taxes,” to raise your taxes.

The choice is YOURS.

Click here to contact your Tennessee State Representative and Senator

Is $10 Trillion in New Debt Coming as Republicans Take Control?

Is $10 Trillion in New Debt Coming as Republicans Take Control?

As Donald Trump readies to take the oath of office next week, he will not only assume charge of the most powerful nation in the world, but he will also oversee the world’s largest economy.  And Trump will be aided in his oversight of our economy by a Congress controlled by a Republican Senate and Republican House. 

It’s been ten years since our nation was led by a Republican-controlled trifecta (Presidency, Senate & House). The last time this occurred George W. Bush was President.  When the “conservative” Bush left office in 2009, with Republicans having controlled the Senate and House for half of Bush’s eight years in office, our 43rd President had doubled the national debt to just over $10 trillion with his deficit spending policies. 

Eight years later though, as Barack Obama is leaving office, our published national debt is on the verge of surpassing $20 trillion. (I say “published” debt since our unfunded liabilities exceed $100 trillion, a topic that I discussed in my previous article, American: The Point of No Return?)  If ever there was a financial house that is spinning out of control, it is ours.  

Many in America are hopeful with our new President about to take office.  Trump’s no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is attitude attracted tens of millions of voters to support him.  His willingness to say what many were thinking no doubt won him the election.  Further, Trump’s 50 year track record in business convinced many voters that he was the man to turn around our economy and create a thriving, fiscally sound America.

Donald Trump: The $10 Trillion Man?

But this last week, Senator Rand Paul took to the Senate floor to rail against his own Republican colleagues as seen in this powerful video.  According to Paul, under the plan to repeal Obamacare, Republicans will likely be voting in favor of a budget that would increase the nation’s debt by another $10 trillion over the next ten years, matching Obama’s own dismal performance.  This slide from Paul’s presentation illustrates the point the Senator was making.  

Senator Paul began his speech with the famous lines, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  And he could not be more accurate.  For all the talk of “draining the swamp” in Washington, what may stay the same, based on Republican’s track record, is the unwillingness of Republican politicians to stem the growth of our dangerous national debt.  (To be fair, some are suggesting that this “shell” budget will be replaced with a second one in the not too distant future, which will bring spending down and ultimately balance our nation’s budget.  But that remains to be seen and should be viewed with extreme skepticism.)

Republicans were fond of lobbing threats of government shutdowns, making incessant demands for balanced budgets and excoriating Obama and Democrats for their own deficit spending during the Obama era.  And rightly so.  But now that they are in the drivers seat, is it actually possible that Republicans will do no better?  Will they maintain the fiscally ruinous course upon which our nation is set?

Where are the Tea Party & Fiscal Conservatives?

Eerily silent as the Republicans take control of Washington, are the groups that heretofore have been the voices of fiscal reason, and have historically led the way in demanding that our elected officials spend no more than they collect in revenues.  And their silence is deafening.  

The tea party movement, of which I have been an active part since its founding in 2009, all but abandoned its defense of fiscal soundness, during the general campaign in 2016.  Tea Party Patriots, the nation’s preeminent coalition of tea party members and groups, and many other conservative watchdogs, said nothing about Trump’s calamitous economic plan.  This despite the fact the new President’s plan could add up to $20 trillion to our nation’s debt, according to a recent study by Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.  Their report revealed that our nation’s federal debt would soar to $39.5 Trillion by 2026, double the current debt.  

But now the day has arrived and Donald Trump and his Republican allies have been handed Washington to them on a silver plater by frustrated and angry voters.  Those voters elected Trump because of their disdain for politicians who consistently promise one thing but deliver something altogether different.

A Call to Action

We’ve all been told, “it matters who governs.”  But it will only be true if grassroots Americans do more than simply vote.  They… or we must remain engaged.   Our voices must be heard in an unprecedented, unmistakable, and unambiguous manner!  Trump and our Senators and Representatives must know that they were not elected to maintain the fiscal status quo.  

The Tea Party, and all fiscally conservative Americans, must, like Rand Paul, call out Republicans and Donald Trump. We must warn them that they were not elected to put the final nail in our fiscal coffin.

Trump cares not about the media, the social elite, the Hollywood snobs, or the connected wealthy, as he once again reaffirmed this week in his most recent press conference and barrage of tweets.  But I do believe there is one demographic to whom Trump will listen: the grassroots, the blue collar workers, the forgotten middle class, and the traditional American, who still believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will be rewarded.  

So it is incumbent on you and me to reach out… once again, to an elite ruling class.  It is necessary for us to remind them that we sent them to Washington to repudiate the status quo by restoring fiscal responsibility; honoring the Constitution; and empowering the free market.  Reestablishing these three pillars, which are the core values of the tea party movement, will enable our great ship of state to slowly but surely reset its course in the direction of real prosperity, the kind that our Founding Fathers envisioned.  But as we do the work to reshape our nation, let us never forget that fiscal prosperity will only flow from men and women of decent, moral character.  And we will only “Make America Great Again” if we first Make America Good Again, as I discussed in my previous article of the same title.  

So will you join me in engaging with our elected officials?  Will you pick up the phone and call, or fire off an email to Donald Trump, your Senators & Congressman to express your views about the upcoming budget battles?  I trust you will.  (Click on the highlighted links for their contact info.)  

The Tyranny of the Dot

The Tyranny of the Dot

the-tyranny-of-the-dot

There’s a quote that is attributed to President Eisenhower that asserts, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”  His quote mirrors this more popular saying: “the urgent is enemy of the important.”  Both quotes speak to the fact that too often many of us focus our resources and time on matters of an urgent nature, which invariably leads to ignoring or devaluing the important.

dot-arrowTo illustrate the concept graphically, I have diagrammed a dot and an arrow.  The dot represents the urgent, and the arrow signifies the important.  Consider that a dot is short term and finite while an arrow is long-term, and even infinite in some instances, which we’ll explore further below.  

This dot and arrow issue is a problem that is seen in human nature across time. Yet, as much as we struggle with this, it’s very difficult to elevate the priority of the important.  There’s one story in ancient Jewish history that illustrates this point as well as any.  

You may recall the story of Esau and Jacob, twin brothers who were polar opposites, and frequently seemed to be at odds with each other.  One day, after Esau had been out hunting for an extended period of time, he returned home famished.  In fact, he was so hungry that he was willing to sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.  In Jewish tradition, the birthright was reserved for the eldest son and offered significant prestige, the carrying on of the family name, the largest portion of the family inheritance and much more.  But Esau, living in the dot of the here and now, devalued his birthright, the arrow, and bartered it to his brother Jacob, for a fleeting meal.  While he eventually regretted his decision, there was no reversing the course on which he had set his life. His urgent choice permanently sacrificed the important.

As I’ve thought about the tyranny of the dot versus the arrow, I’ve contemplated how often the urgent trumps the important, as reflected in the following examples.

Daily Routines

How often have you set out to complete a number of tasks in a given day when all of a sudden an “urgent” matter appears, out of left field?  As quickly as the urgent new priority presents itself, the important tasks that you had committed to completing take a back seat.  All of a sudden the important is displaced by the urgent, the end of the day comes, and few, if any, of the important goals are realized.  The tyranny of the dot, the urgent, replaces the arrow of the important. 

Business

Have you ever been tempted to shortcut quality in favor of quantity in your business or job?  This is one of those choices we often face in our business or careers, where the urgent can crowd out the important.  The demand to meet a quota, or the need to achieve certain quarterly goals can put us in the predicament of choosing the dot versus the arrow.  Will we sacrifice the long-term results to realize some short term gains?  If so, we will succumb to the tyranny of the dot.

Politics

If ever there was a profession that was known for its short-sightedness, it is politics and politicians. It seems that short term wins are all that a politician cares about, at least the vast majority of them.  

How will the next vote benefit me?  Can this constituent contribute to my campaign?  What position can I take on an issue that will most benefit me?  But in asking all of these questions, the professional politician reveals he has very few laudable values or principles that guide him.  His dot is the urgency of self-promotion, always seeking the most advantageous path to further his position.  Sadly though, whenever this occurs, the arrow, which could be campaign promises or resolute principles, can so quickly be sacrificed.

Eternity

While all the aforementioned examples are significant, they do not begin to rival the importance and priority of eternity.  Perhaps the graphic of the dot and arrow best illustrates this when we compare the dot of our “three score and ten” years on earth with the unending arrow of eternity.  Too often, for most of us, we are so easily distracted with the urgency of living in the dot during our short years here on earth, that we tragically short-sell the importance of living for the arrow of eternity, an era when 70 years will seem as a few short seconds and a thousand years will be like a few hours.  

There is a verse that warns, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”  Yet the sad reality is that too many will do exactly that.  We will live for the here and now, for the dot of our earthly existence but in so doing, we sacrifice the arrow, the opportunity to experience an eternity with our Creator, who wills that all mankind join Him.  

The Christmas season is a time when many of us take some moments to review the past year, our failures and successes, regrets and achievements.  And with the New Year just around the corner, it is also a time when we set new goals, and establish plans to achieve them.  As we spend this time of reflection and goal setting, I pray that we will resist the tyranny of the dot and commit ourselves to living for the arrow.  In our daily routines, resist the temptation to fall prey to those urgent demands.  In our businesses or careers, I trust we will never lose focus on the long-term and excellence.  If you’re a politician, recommit yourself to your guiding principles and resist the temptation to self-promote, truly seeking the good of others.  

But most importantly, regardless of whether you are a millennial, a baby boomer, or somewhere in between, I trust that you will live your life for the arrow of eternity. If you’re uncertain how to do this, I would encourage you to check out this website:  Are You a Good Person?

The dot will soon be over for each of us.  Will we be prepared for the arrow?  I pray we will.  Merry Christmas!

Mark