Thursday, September 29, 2005

What Was God's Purpose?

While listening to our preacher last night in class discussing the fall of man and God's intent for us in the Garden, I formed a question about three things that God did that contributed to the fall.

1) God created free will. 2) God created the tree of knowledge. 3) And the kicker: God then told Adam and Eve not to eat of its fruit.

Satan was not involved in these three things. What was God's purpose? Number 3 really gets me sometimes. It is like a test.

For those that will argue that the creation story is just a metaphor for the nature of man, the question stills hold. God created free will. This I don't wrestle with. What meaning does a relationship and love have if the participants don't have any choice? But if you go with the metaphor, what does the tree represent? Why did God provide a temptation mechanism? What was the purpose--to give us something to choose other than Him?

This led me to another question. If this was a test of choice, and God knew the outcome and had already planned for Christ to be the rebuilder, then was the purpose to provide for a fall so that man would completely depend on God? That is, that man would have to either realize His complete dependence on God or he would have to utterly reject God?

Your thoughts please.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Questions on the Nature of Man

Last night in class, the question, "Who brought sin (evil) into this world?" was asked. My first thought was humans. Satan tempted, but it was woman and man who were weak (naive), and in that weakness (naivete) exercised their free will to succumb to temptation. So man brought sin into the world. Satan has no power over man unless one of two entities let him: Man himself or God. The premises are Genesis 3:13, "Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?'"; Job 1 and 2 in which Satan must be given permission by God to harm Job; and John 19:11 when Jesus answered Pilate, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above."

So, discussion point one. Satan has no power over man unless given that power by God or man. Agree? Disagree?

This led me to think of the question that will be my second discussion point. Was Satan just an accelerating catalyst to the fall or was he an instigating agent? That is, would man, in his free will, have eventually turned from God anyway without any temptation from Satan? I am trying to delve into the weak parts of our nature, which may not be very pleasant, but is necessary for growth and dependence on Christ.

I know this is a more theological question than a discipleship question. However, gaining a better understanding of our own nature and the enemy's nature has to aid our discipleship.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Ongoing Epilogue and Katrina pics

I know I said I had finished the series, but I just had to share this today with all those who have followed the series and my path to Ingram.

Wednesday night, I met a woman and her two children who just flew in from being rescued in New Orleans. They are staying with one our church families, Jerry and Sandra Collins. The family was trapped with others for several days in the balcony of their church in New Orleans. Her two young sons would wade through the flooded church to the kitchen to bring them water and food. A window in the balcony overlooked one of the overpasses that was crowded with stranded victims. Those in the church would sing hymns to weather their plight. The people on the overpass, feeling comfort from the songs, would call out requests. That in itself is a beautiful story. But how does it relate to my journey?

Well, Jerry called me today. The husband, Charles, wants to stay in Nashville and they are trying to rebuild their life here. Jerry called to see if I could help Charles. It seems Charles was a mate on a fleet boat in New Orleans in the barge industry. Jerry knows I work for Ingram, the largest barge company. I told our HR person about Charles. He says they are in desparate need of experienced mates and can put him to work on the Cumberland (meaning he can be based out of Nashville). Also, they need pilots and captains in training and would help him work toward his pilot's license. Pilot and captains are the highest levels on the boat.

We are trying to get a hold of Charles to get him to come in and talk with us.

You know that I believe God put me at Ingram for a purpose. I am choosing to believe that this is part of that purpose.

I will keep everyone posted on this development.

Below are some pictures of the power of Katrina and how high the storm was. Keep in mind these barges are steel masses 200 ft. long by 35 ft. by 15 ft. high. If they are loaded, it is ~1500 tons of product. The barges on the bridge and the boats are not Ingram's. Even though we had our fair share of barges beached on the bank. Most important Ingram had no human casualties, althoug we had over 300 employees directly affected by Katrina.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Faith Walk: Epilogue

This epilogue completes the series that began from journal entries made during my second Gethsemani visit.

September 7, 2005

Ingram Update
One year and 3 months have elapsed since I accepted the job at Ingram Barge Company. I have no problems saying it is the best company for which I have worked. Ingram is a high quality company and very well run by the family placing a premium on its people. An immediate impression that Ingram made on me was that everyone was busy, working hard, but everyone was calm, almost relaxed. No one was frenzied despite having plenty to do. My third day on the job was one of the most incredible days in my working career. The company tries to get shore side new hires a visit to actual river operations very quickly.

So, my third day on the job I am flying to the NOLA on the company plane. Once we arrive one of our customer service managers and our company CEO drive me north to catch one our boats. On the way, we stop for a wonderful Cajun lunch. They visit the boat and then leave to head back to NOLA. I am to ride the boat ~30 miles south down the Mississippi and then be picked up at our Triangle fleet. The pilot of the boat, second to the captain, lets me drive the tow. Under his direction of course. We are pushing approximately 35 barges; 5 barges wide by 7 barges long. Each barge is 195 feet long by 35 feet wide and carries ~1500 tons of cargo. Including the boat, we are a floating island over a quarter of a mile long, weighing over 105 million pounds, sliding down the river at 9 mph. Ocean going ships pass within shouting distance headed north to unload their cargo. We are about 100 miles up river from the mouth of the Mississippi River. This was a kid’s and an engineer’s dream.

Kaj, who was a tough interview, is a great boss and one of the smartest people I have worked with. I was thrilled because there was much I could learn working with him. My friend Chuck, the one who helped get me the job, tells me I made a good impression with Kaj, especially with the way I handled his tough questions and direct challenges. During my first few months, Kaj gave me some very frank but helpful criticism that made me a better professional. Very few managers have the courage and skill to be direct, but not insulting, while delivering tough, yet constructive criticism. Unfortunately, for me, Kaj was promoted just six months after I started. However, my new supervisor and I get along well and have become friends.

I am respected at Ingram. I work with talented people. I am able to make real contributions, and Ingram enables me to perform with a high level of quality. God put me at Ingram. I continue to pray for guidance so that I may accomplish His will here.

What happened to CIC
Doug, my confidant and spiritual brother, is working in Nashville for a healthcare company as a software developer and is doing great. The only downside to this whole transition in my life is not working with Doug everyday. I really miss our conversations and work together.

The on again/off again, and last I wrote off again, saga of my former employer finally concluded. When all appeared dead, a deal was reached for a song. CIC became part of a St. Louis based company called DCSI. My boss, Mark, and his wife, moved to St. Louis. Ritchie, the only other employee at CIC that went with the new company stayed in Nashville and works out of his home. From what I hear, he is on the road constantly.

After a couple months and several emails, Mark finally had his wife return my Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road book. I think the day before they moved to St. Louis. You will remember that a very disappointing point for me was Mark leaving early my last day without saying a word to me. Things were always weird with Mark. Mark hired me, but he never really seemed to like me all that much. He was very cold to me at times. He rarely engaged me in friendly conversation as he did with others, although when we were forced to be together on trips or the rare after work camaraderie, he was pleasant. I knew he respected my work, but I felt he did not like my personality. Others in the office noticed this behavior as well, which kept me from feeling too paranoid. As Mark was fond of saying, “Just because your paranoid doesn’t mean I am not out to get you.”

A few months after he moved to St. Louis, I received an email saying he was going to be in Nashville on business and would like to have dinner. He wanted to make sure everything was okay between us. He told me how much he respected my abilities and me. I wrote him that I would love to get together. He said he would confirm once he got his schedule nailed down. Mark ended up canceling our dinner saying customer commitments would dominate his time in Nashville. Within a few days of this, he transmitted another email.

The outsourced manufacturer of the product I managed for CIC was having continual problems with product fallout on a test fixture, although the product performed fine in final burn-in. This situation was causing major headaches for production, and DCSI had just placed a large order with a tight delivery date. Mark wondered if I could provide some consulting, maybe even involving a visit to the manufacturing vendor in Minnesota. We agreed upon a consulting rate at $100 per hour. A fair rate considering my expertise, my situation, and market consulting rates. Mark and DCSI seemed happy with this arrangement.

Mark was traveling to Minnesota to work on the problem. He would be calling and emailing with information. The first call was short with Mark describing what he was witnessing. I suggested a few tests and things to look at. He called back the next day with the results. Another brief call. I said it seemed as if there were a short on the printed circuit board (PCB), but the design had been in production for two years so it might be a PCB fabrication problem or a test fixture problem. His next call was elation. A bent pin on the test fixture was causing an intermittent short during testing. They fixed it and everything was great. “How much do we owe you?” Mark asked.

This problem had been plaguing production for months. It was costing them hours of waste effort. However, it was not until under the pressure of a big order did fixing the problem become a priority. Fixing this problem saved the company and the vendor thousands of dollars in time and an equal amount in product rejects. I told Mark that we had spent less than an hour talking on the phone, so technically, they owed me $100, but that I trusted Mark and DSCI to be fair. He said they would be. I did not include any time I spent thinking about the problem while driving, etc.

After a few weeks, I had not received any money or correspondence, so I emailed Mark, “Mark, have you decided on my renumeration? What is the status?” I received this response back. “Your remuneration is being processed now.” Mark was critical about spelling and grammar although often his writing was full of errors. This was a common theme with Mark: he was very critical of the work and effort of others, but did not hold himself to the same standards. Anyway, within a week I received a check for $100! No note, just a check. I had been used. I doubt Mark ever intended to have a reconciliation dinner, he needed to open the door for my help. What is sad is that he would have gotten that help without the veiled attempt. I have not had any correspondence from Mark since. No offers for a make up date, no thank you—nothing.

Update on Nathan
On to important matters. Nathan, the boy who had his foot amputated in the accident, is doing great. He has a prosthetic foot. He runs and plays without limitation. He is amazing. The boy is a strong too! He will run up behind you and grab you, just about bowling you over. Mom and Dad are doing well although it will take them longer to heal, and there will always be issues to deal with. One downside to Nathan’s amazing recovery is that he is growing faster than doctor has expected. He will have his first follow-up surgery to take care of the growing bone sooner than anticipated. This will be hard on the family as they revisit this traumatic event. In addition, we know that emotional scars will remain for everyone and will take time and counseling to heal. Bailey cannot be ignored, as what she witnessed will have profound affects that must be managed. We continue to pray for them. They are a wonderful family. Nathan and his sister Bailey are important to our daughter Maria, as are the parents to Anita and me.

Girl diagnosed with cystic fibrosis
Recall in Chapter 3 that I had prayed for a family whose daughter was exhibiting symptoms of cystic fibrosis. I was convinced through my prayers that she would test negative. When she was diagnosed with CF, it was very hard on me and on our church. Although our prayers for her younger brother were answered with negative test results, the family was struggling emotionally. We continued to pray for healing as the family investigated treatment options. I had prayed, and forced myself to continue praying, as directed in Mark 11: 23-24. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” I forced myself to ignore the implications of a no answer and pushed aside the fear it brought. I thanked God every night for healing her. I became more convinced the girl would be healed. I kept this feeling between my wife and myself.

The girl’s mother, who is a nurse, was very persistent. She researched and learned everything she could about cystic fibrosis. She found one specialist who was breaking new ground. He felt that several cases had been misdiagnosed. Standard testing had a high rate of accuracy, yet it was not foolproof. She petitioned to see the doctor and undergo his new testing method that was not accepted by the majority of CF experts. Local medical personnel warned her not to develop false hope. She ignored them. They traveled to North Carolina for the days of testing. The results were negative! The experts there did not believe Julia had CF. After ceasing CF treatment and seeing no worsening of her conditions, even the local doctors acknowledged this was one of the rare false positives under normal screening. I wept with joy. The family and I know that this was not a misdiagnosis.

Another Prayerful Situation Update
In Chapter 3, I also mentioned that my men’s group had been praying hard for one of our members, Randall, concerning his alcoholic daughter and her children. This situation had been a burden on the family for years and continued to worsen rapidly. It seemed that the harder we prayed the worse things got. Randall and his wife who were in their retirement years had already adopted one of their grandchildren, and they were the active caregivers for the others as well. The daughter continued to struggle attempting suicide several times. Eventually she found some ministries that helped. She became sober and seemed able to sustain this sobriety. However, her mother, Randall’s wife, developed cancer. In July 2005, Jayne passed away at home. This was a devastating event for the family. Despite this pressure, the daughter has so far remained sober and we pray she has really turned a corner. This situation was very tough for many of us because our prayers were never answered in the way we had hoped.

Update on Legal Case
I have tried to find out the outcome of the arbitration, but I have gotten no responses to my inquiries. I have no idea how the case ended.

Spiritual Update
Our college life group was special and joyous last year. Communion together was sweet in the context of a parting that did not happen. I have continued to grow spiritually and my experiences through this trial are a catalyst for this growth. As God kneaded the bread of my life with the yeast of this experience, I truly believe He was softening my heart and my independent nature to be more open to His will. Further, God was preparing me to be open to the next level of growth. This tier was introduced in the form of Lee Camp teaching at our church; his book Mere Discipleship; and my developing a friendship with Lee. Thanks to Lee, I am I gaining a new understanding of the Gospel of Christ and the real nature of discipleship. I am shedding the brainwashing of my religious heritage, and the cloudiness of man’s will, to see clearer what it is that Christ is asking of me. I can see my whole life now as preparation for a more demanding understanding of Christianity. God is also placing new opportunities to serve in front of my family and me. I have accepted the request to be a Ministry Coordinator at our church (in place of deacons, we have ministry coordinators). Anita and I have also expanded our leadership role with the college ministry as part of this new assignment. Besides this aspect of serving Him, God used this trial to bring about some needed change in my behavior and thoughts. I am a more humble and patient person now. A transformation that was desperately needed. I am also no longer concerned about how my career is progressing, whether I am I getting what I deserve, or worrying how I am doing compared to my piers. What a freedom this is. I could not shed this consuming behavior until I was humbled. I now realize that the less material things I have the simpler my life is and the happier I am.

What I have Learned?
What have I learned? To lean on God, to trust in His mercy. I am continually learning to be dependent on God. In addition, I am learning to be comfortable, moreover joyous, in that dependence. It is funny how the old hymns from my childhood come to mind. “My hope is built on nothing less ….” [1]

Psalm 63:1-8 [2]
1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Author's Note: If I have left any issues unresolved or if a reader has any questions, please ask and I will address them. Again, thanks for reading. This completes this series. I will now resume my random thought blogging.

[1] Hymn The Solid Rock. Words: Edward Mote, circa 1834. Music: William B. Bradbury, 1863.

[2] Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. The NIV and New International Version trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.