Cents per Therm

Last month I renegotiated the annual agreement with our natural gas provider. No need to name the company—let’s just say it’s an electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia.🙂

Natural Gas FlameIn 1997, Governor Zell Miller signed a bill deregulating natural gas in Georgia. Politicians hoped to encourage greater competition among companies and lower prices for consumers. Each household now picks a supplier among a handful of choices.

The companies provide the same product—natural gas is a commodity that does not vary in quality regardless of provider. However, the prices can range greatly.

Consumers must choose between a variable and fixed rate. Variable rates . . . well, they vary! The cost goes up and down based on supply and demand. Fixed rates remain the same for a period of time typically ranging from six months to two years.

Companies charge for natural gas per therm. Don’t worry, I looked it up on the Internet. A therm equals 100,000 British thermal units. So there you go. A therm also provides the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas. NOW we’re getting somewhere!

When first faced with this incomprehensible equation, I thought we might need a handful of therms to make it through the winter. However, the gas company doesn’t sell them by the dozen. A nifty little meter outside the house measures the flow of gas.

Last month my gas provider (the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia) sent a reminder that our twelve month contract would soon end. If we wanted to avoid a variable rate, we could renew the contract at $.49 per therm.

It sounded like a really good deal—even better than last year. However, we had received a postcard from another company offering the exact same product for $.34 per therm. I called the current provider to inquire about the difference. The clerk on the other end immediately agreed to match the other offer.

Wait a minute.

I’m a good customer and pay my bills on time. We currently have THREE—count them, THREE—different utilities with the same company (the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia), including electric, gas, and home security monitoring.

Call me naïve, but I assumed the company would offer its current customers the best possible rate from the start. Instead, we haggled over the price like a merchant and buyer in a Middle Eastern marketplace.

I’ve discovered a similar phenomenon with companies providing Internet service, satellite TV, and other utilities. The practice amazes me. The gas station doesn’t bargain over the cost per gallon of unleaded. The grocery store doesn’t haggle over the price of milk. The Bible doesn’t offer an introductory 8% tithe. Yet this is an accepted practice for some industries.

If the officers of the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia happen to read this blog, here’s an idea. Treat your good customers better and offer them the best possible deals. It will make you money in the long run–and save me an annual phone call.

Click!

Adam Sandler starred in the 2006 movie Click. Sandler played the role of a workaholic architect named Michael Newman who struggled to balance work and home.

One evening he visited a Bath and Beyond to purchase a television remote control. Newman Remote Controlstumbled into a backroom filled with gizmos and gadgets. An eccentric clerk sold him a remote control with unusual powers.

The architect discovered that the universal remote actually controlled his universe. The pause button caused everything around him to freeze. Rewind allowed him to revisit past events. Fast forward enabled Newman to avoid unpleasant or boring moments.

Without spoiling the plot, let’s just say the use of the remote led to unintended consequences. What initially appeared to be a blessing ultimately turned out to be a curse. The main character eventually realized that he had willfully skipped over the most important parts of his life.

I am not an Adam Sandler fan. However, the movie’s previews intrigued me. I eventually saw “Click” on network TV. Despite an interesting premise, I found the plot disappointing. A less charitable part of me thought that Sandler’s character got everything that he deserved.

During the movie, I pondered the uses of a universal remote that really controlled the universe. One could skip over television commercials, dental procedures, graduation speakers, political campaigns, committee meetings, in-law visits, sick days, and other disagreeable events. (Note that I did NOT include Sunday morning sermons in the list!)

If Click ended with a moral to the story, then the movie’s message reminded viewers about the importance of everyday life. We tend to recall the milestones of our years; however, most of life’s journey occurs between the milestones. Ordinary, boring, same-old-same-old, everyday living is when and where real life occurs.

Even the painful parts of life play a role in shaping our character. ESPECIALLY the painful parts of life play a role in shaping our character. An old Arab proverb declares: All sunshine a desert makes. Trials, troubles, tribulations, and tragedy help form our character. With the perspective of hindsight, we realize that we have become the people that we are today because of all our yesterdays.

The ultimate irony of the movie—perhaps lost even on the film makers—is that escapist Hollywood entertainment also fast-forwards us through a segment of time. Viewers disengage from reality in order to enjoy fantasy. I am not railing against popular movies and books, but perhaps we could more profitably use such time in the actual living of life.

  • If we are not careful, real life slips past without notice.
  • Click.
  • A spouse’s words go unheard.
  • Click.
  • A chance to help a neighbor vanishes.
  • Click.
  • Time to play with your child disappears.
  • Click.
  • Days slip past with no time for prayer.
  • Click.
  • Money slips away.
  • Click.
  • Healing words remain unspoken.
  • Click.
  • A sunset, moonrise, and star-spangled night go unnoticed.
  • Click.
  • Life is over.

Each day God gifts us with the precious present of life. We dare not waste a moment. Hit “Play” and enjoy every second.

This IS the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Driver’s Education

In 1974, Coach Henderson taught the Driver’s Education course at Cherokee High School in Canton, Georgia. Perhaps he possessed a first name, but we all called him “Coach.”

Driver EdHis real job was managing the football team’s offensive line. During the school day, however, he also taught teenagers how to drive. Fortunately, he was better at the latter than the former since the Warriors went 2-8 that year.

Students spent time in the classroom before graduating to an actual automobile. We learned the rules of the road and traffic signs in preparation for the driving exam. Decades before computer simulators, novice drivers practiced in mock-ups of car interiors. A battery of tests checked visual and aural acuity.

The local Ford dealership in Canton supplied the school with a fleet of cars. Coach Henderson would pile four students in the car, and off we would go. Little wonder that the hair he had not already pulled out turned prematurely grey.

I learned many valuable lessons in Driver’s Education. Most primarily pertained to operating a motor vehicle; however, a few lessons possessed a wider life application. I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in Driver’s Ed, but some of the lessons have continued to inform me over the years.

Coach Henderson always stressed keeping one’s eyes on the road. Over and again he would recite: “The car will go wherever you look.” This dictum applies both on and off the road. Vision determines life’s direction. Fixing one’s sight on a higher goal guarantees personal growth. Glance to the side and you can end up in a ditch. Look backwards too long and no progress is made at all.

Another Henderson adage warned: “Where there is a ball, there is a boy.” If a ball bounces into the street, then a child is almost always in close pursuit. Several times I have slammed on the brakes moments before I actually saw a child darting out into the road. The coach’s advice has saved more than a few lives over the years. If we pay attention, most trouble can be avoided before it begins.

When in danger, Coach Henderson drummed into our heads: “Use your brakes AND your steering wheel.” Most drivers react to danger by locking down the brakes. Following Newton’s Law of Inertia, however, cars in motion tend to stay in motion. Even in an era of antilock systems, braking alone is not always enough. Coach taught us that many accidents can be avoided by steering around the obstacle. His words have saved me on more than one occasion. If you’re headed for a collision in life, consider taking a new direction.

Coach Henderson taught us that defensive drivers look a long distance down the road. Both rookies and pros make the mistake of focusing on the car immediately in front of them. At highway speeds, however, reactions occur in split seconds. Good drivers anticipate situations by glancing further down the road. Cultivating a greater perspective is always a good idea.

Teenage drivers think they know it all; and I was no exception. I did not appreciate the lessons Coach Henderson taught our class forty-some-odd years ago. However, these basic rules continue to inform my driving and life.

  • Watch where you’re going.
  • Most accidents can be avoided.
  • Consider a new direction.
  • Maintain your perspective.

Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!

School Days

Back to SchoolSummer vacation has disappeared like morning dew in the dog days of July. Family trips to the beach, lake, and mountains are nothing more than distant memories. Area students and teachers are already preparing for school to start.

During my childhood, students enjoyed a three-month summer vacation before returning to class around Labor Day. Teachers gathered one week beforehand for a mysterious rite known as “pre-planning.” During Open House, we excitedly perused the student rosters posted outside the classrooms. Then we received a list of required school supplies.

My father worked for Sears-Roebuck and Company, so his employee discount guaranteed our customer loyalty. We rode in the family station wagon to the local mall for back-to-school shopping. In those days, Sears strategically placed snack bars in the center of the stores. I still associate the start of school with the aromatic mélange of Spanish nuts, popcorn, and fruit slices.

My mother and sister spent interminable hours looking at new clothes. I could have cared less. Three pairs of blue jeans and a few shirts met most of my fashion needs. The Sears’ brand “Toughskins” jeans featured double-layered knees for active boys. The new denim stunk with chemicals, and the stiff fabric chaffed in unmentionable places until softened by a washing machine.

The only apparel item that really interested me was a new pair of tennis shoes; but not just any tennis shoes. I insisted on wearing Keds—“the shoes of Champions.” The commercials promised that the sneakers enabled the wearer to “run faster and jump higher!” With my laced-up tennies, I could race the wind and win while leaping broad canyons with ease.

School SuppliesAfter enduring the ordeal of clothes shopping, we would visit the school supply section. We selected three-ring binders with heavy-duty denim covers. The rings snapped shut with the force of a mouse trap. Many an unwary child bore the scars of such encounters.

Our writing utensil of choice was the Ticonderoga # 2 lead pencil. No doubt Moses employed the same instrument while inscribing the Ten Commandments. We used the pencils until they were one inch nubs that became lost with the turn of a pencil sharpener.

Discriminating students only used Blue Horse notebook paper. We saved the Blue Horse labels and dreamed of exchanging the accumulated points for neat rewards. Looking back, I do not recall ever actually redeeming a prize with the coveted labels. Nevertheless, they formed the stuff of many a school daydream.

Each year we bought plastic rulers marked off in fractions of an inch. This was long before the metric system had been invented. A zippered pencil container snapped into a notebook. We filled it with pink erasers the size of Matchbox cars. On one memorable occasion, I also got a miniature stapler complete with a box of micro-staples. I immediately mutilated a fingertip with the device.

Other supply list standards included a compass and protractor. I had served a tour of duty in the Cub Scouts and could not understand the need for the former. Knowing the direction of magnetic north seemed useless in a classroom setting. Only later did I discover that a compass was the pointy thing with a golf pencil that drew circles.

The school provided everything else deemed essential for our education. The most important items, however, never appeared on any supply list. My best teachers supplied me with a love of learning, thirst for knowledge, and belief in self. These dedicated educators invested their hearts and souls into their students; and the return on their investment proved to be invaluable.

Christa McAuliffe, the elementary school teacher who lost her life on the space shuttle Challenger, once said: “I touch the future—I teach.” At the beginning of a new school year, I am thankful for those men and women who are teaching a new generation of students in our classrooms. May God supply their every need.

Morning Thanks

Woman turning off alarm clock

Our attitude in the morning shapes the entire day. We can awake by saying Good morning, Lord! or Good Lord, it’s morning! Consider starting each day with a cup overflowing with thanksgiving. Thank God for

  • A good night’s sleep

Children effortlessly enjoy peaceful slumber, but adults count sleep as a precious gift. Like many blessings, we only recognize the grace in hindsight.

  • Electricity  

Flip a switch to turn on the lights. Adjust the thermostat to make it more comfortable. Turn on the TV to check the weather. We take modern conveniences for granted, but recall the last thunder storm or winter blizzard when the power disappeared.

  • Water

Twist the faucet and limitless water flows from the tap. In contrast, I visited a Honduran village where the people carried water from a community well. However, Americans don’t bother to turn off the spigot while brushing our teeth.

  • Potable Water

Americans can travel across the United States and drink pure water without a care. Overseas travelers quickly discover this is the exception rather than the rule.

  • Hot Water

God bless the inventor of the water heater! (Note to readers: it’s an exercise in repetitious redundancy to say HOT water heater. J) Back in the day of heating water on wood stoves, people considered warm baths an indulgence. What were once occasional luxuries are now daily necessities.

  • Coffee

Maybe coffee shouldn’t make the list, but many people cannot face the day without a shot of java. One Christian author called caffeine the “Christian drug,” socially acceptable and readily available at church. I must confess to sipping a cup of joe while writing this blog.

  •   Food

Ever grumbled “There’s nothing to eat” while staring into a full frig or packed pantry?  For most, this is an exercise in hyperbole; for some, this is a reality of poverty.

An old hymn encourages God’s people:

Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Starting each morning with an attitude of gratitude can transform the entire day.

Stories and Stands

During a contentious debate, the moderator shared this wisdom: “I encourage you to share your stories before taking your stands.”

Humans who live east of Eden’s gates tend to be a quarrelsome and cantankerous people. Name a topic, and we possess a fiercely held opinion. Ask, and we’re glad to share it . . . and most times, we don’t have to be asked.

Name the subject, and we’re ready to take a stand.

In the process, we cast the debate into a binary polarity of right and wrong, good and bad, yes and no, me and you. No middle ground can be found because none is recognized.

For example, here’s a line I occasionally use in the midst of a heated discussion: “I’m not trying to argue with you. I’m just explaining why you’re WRONG!”

Hear again the advice: “I encourage you to share your stories before taking your stands.”

What would it look like in our lives if we took the time to share our personal narratives before a heated debate? Maybe knowing the other person’s backstory would change our perspective if not our mind.

  • The antiwar pacifist lost his son in Gulf War 1.
  • The pro-life demonstrator endured a backroom abortion as a teenager, and the physical and mental scars remain decades later.
  • The guns rights’ advocate survived three home burglaries during his adolescence.
  • A mother doesn’t discipline her out-of-control children because her father physically abused her as a child.
  • The homeless beggar on the interstate ramp suffers PTSD from his years serving in the United States’ military.
  • The gay rights activist’s daughter came out of the closet last year.
  • The gay rights opponent’s son came out of the closet last year.
  • The person picketing for prayer in school sees the nation sliding into irreligious society.
  • The person picketing against the Ten Commandments in courthouses treasures the separation of church and state.
  • The Hillary-loving-yellow-dog-Democrat believes his party represents the down and out.
  • The Trump-make-America-great-again-Republican believes her party emphasizes individual responsibility.
  • The woman with the shaved head and blue dots just finished her second radiation treatment.
  • The ‘tatted, pierced, and gauged young adult volunteers as a mentor at the local elementary school.

Share your stories before taking your stands.

You might be surprised by what you hear before you speak.

Building a Worship Service

clockHow much time does it take to build a worship service? The answer depends on location, style, and setting. However, the number of hours might surprise you. Consider a typical 11:00 worship service at First United Methodist of Lawrenceville.

The worship team plans months in advance. For example, we have already planned each Sunday through the end of the year and have begun discussing 2017. It’s a very soft number, but put down 10 hours for conceiving a worship series along with its component sermons.

The Worship Team meets on a weekly basis for at least an hour. We spend time prayerfully reviewing the past week’s service, asking one another about “God moments” and lessons learned. Then we consider in detail the upcoming services for the next three weeks. So figure 3 hours per service in the planning meetings.

The Sanctuary Choir sings at our 11:00 worship services. The members spend about 2 hours over a 4 week period rehearsing an anthem. 50 members typically sing on any given Sunday morning. So 50 people x 2 hours = 100 hours per anthem.

Smaller groups and ensembles often perform at the services—men’s or women’s choirs, the children’s chorus, the hand bell choir, and others. One could easily add another 25-50 hours for these pieces of special music.

It’s difficult to guesstimate a time value for trained musicians. A lifetime of education, practice, and experience is represented in every worship service.  Each musical piece distills countless hours. For the sake of this blog, say 20 hours per week.

I’ve never clocked how much time it takes to prepare a “normal” sermon because no sermon is normal! Sometimes the sentences flow like the Holy Spirit’s hands are on the keyboard. Other times the words sluggishly pour out like molasses in January. Also, I tend to do research and writing over a period of weeks. For the sake of this conversation, say 6-8 hours of composition.

Then there’s sermon practice. I read over the manuscript repeatedly before rehearsing in the sanctuary. If you’re ever bored, drop in some Wednesday or Thursday morning for a preview of Sunday’s homily. Then I preach it for our Yorkshire Terrier, Sam, several times at home on Saturday. I recite the words while falling asleep Saturday night and go over it again on the way to church Sunday morning. Maybe a total of 3-4 hours.

So many others also invest time in the worship service. Liturgists prepare prayers, creeds, responsive readings, and more. Audio/visual technicians and volunteers operate lights, PowerPoint, and video. Custodial personnel open the building, turn on lights, and check thermostats. Volunteers serve as greeters, ushers, acolytes, altar guild, etc.

I’ve described a typical 11:00 Sunday morning worship service at our congregation; and we have five worship services weekly. What’s the final total? God only knows. Each hour in a worship service represents literally hundreds of hours in preparation.

Cost for a Sunday worship service: countless hours.

Worshiping the living Lord: PRICELESS.