Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Shunning the ‘inexpensive Gospel’.


Recognizing Their ‘Bad’.
Exodus 33:4-6: When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now therefore put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I will do with you.’ So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onward.
To call the decision from God not to accompany His people a “sad word” is in my opinion a great understatement to those Israelites who were true believers in the Almighty and relied on Him for direction on a daily basis. It is no wonder then that the text says the people went into mourning. And this wasn’t just an attitude of the mind and heart for the people as it is for many of us who may ‘be in mourning’ after a loss of a loved one today – this was a mourning that involved visible changes to those looking in. The people stopped wearing their various ornaments for the loss they sensed could only be equated to how they felt when they laid a relative to rest.
And yet this action was not all self-induced for which we may have given the people much credit. No, in fact God had told Moses to put off their ornaments while He had time to think about what He would do with them. Commentator Robert Jamieson writes this:
In seasons of mourning, it is customary with Eastern people to lay aside all gewgaws and divest themselves of their jewels, their gold, and every thing rich and splendid in their dress. This token of their sorrow the Lord required of His offending people.

I do not believe ‘mourning’ qualifies as ‘repentance’. But it can lead to it. Certainly when it comes to salvation, true repentance is definitely needed but often nowadays it is downplayed in the steps of one coming to Jesus Christ. We must shun the ‘inexpensive Gospel’. We must do our best to help potential converts to Christianity know that Jesus died for our sins first and foremost as compared to dying to ensure that we have an eternal home. It is the weight of those sins (both those we see as ugly and those we tend to overlook as just human nature) that His death has lifted from off our shoulders; sins that otherwise had marked us all as dead men.
In this case, here in our text, God wants the people to mourn. Also, this gives Him a chance to think about what He will do with them.
Matthew Henry points out that if people were willing to give up their ornaments in order to fall into sin, it made sense that they would be willing to put off their ornaments in an attempt to regain God’s favor. This is God Who because He was so angry with them, He could have easily destroyed them on the spot. But He didn’t. As an always caring Father-God, one Who is always willing to provide a way out for His children, He says, “Just mourn; know what you have done; and give me a chance to subdue My anger against you.” They (like us) deserved a much greater punishment, but He wanted to find a way out for them that would be acceptable to Him. And that is what His Son Jesus Christ did for us several thousand years later.
All they had to do now was obey in order to show God a change of heart.  And then we come to the last sentence in this portion. Reading it at face value, we understand that the people got rid of their ornaments going “onward” that is, from that point forward. It seems, at least outwardly, they were prepared to pursue a change in life. But we’ll soon find out what kind of impact that decision had on their hearts.


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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

God Says You’re Traveling Alone For Now



Exodus 33:1-3: Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants, I will give it’: “And I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite – to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way.”
The Israelites were given instructions to move camp and head towards Canaan to the land that God reminds Moses He had sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We are reminded again that He promised it to their “descendants” and not specifically even these generations. God was basically implying, “Look, I’ll keep My promise even though these people have sinned again me.”
Here’s the good news. God promises that He will send an angel before them for their physical protection.  He promised them that they will have no problems with those they meet on the way or in the land of Canaan and names all the various tribes He will drive out to facilitate their travels. The Israelites as a whole (but perhaps not individually) are guaranteed safe passage to the land of milk and honey.
Now here’s the bad news. God tells them that He will not go with them as before when in Exodus 13:21 we read, “The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” Now, I believe this was a really big deal for the Israelites. They had always counted on God’s accompaniment. Now they have to go it alone. Perhaps the best way to relay this feeling is to think of a young child who has been disobedient and their parents say, “Sorry, you’ve blown it. Now you have to do it alone.” We’ll see how the Children of Israel react in the next section of the chapter. Right now, we note God’s rationale for His decision.
In the last part of this text, God tells His People that He won’t go up with them to Canaan – He won’t be in their midst. First of all, we need to consider how much that decision hurt or caused sorrow to God Himself. I remember when our young children had defiantly disobeyed one of their parents and I had to spank them (yes, that was okay in my days and, in my books, still is). I would always end up saying, “Now this is going to hurt me more than it does you.” And I’d end up with just as many tears in my eyes. I’m sure God felt somewhat like that when He was sharing this news.
And His reason for taking such action is that they are an “obstinate” people. Try looking up some synonyms for that word. You get stubborn, pigheaded, inflexible, adamant, unmoved, persistent, and tenacious among other possible substitutes. Can you imagine feeling that way about your own children? God was so angry with them that He realized if He joined them on their journey, He may have come to the point of destroying them along the way.
We do not very often think of this but this passage indicates that God knows Himself well. It’s almost as if God has to fight His own emotions at times in order to stick with His promises. He withdraws temporarily to save His children and get them to their destination.
It hit me as I studied this that God also remains silent and at the sidelines of our lives today when we too are obstinate in one fashion or another. He certainly holds back His anger from us and He remains patient with us because He loves us to no end.
In this world of ours today, it is very difficult for many to imagine what I call a “real relationship with the one and only real God”.  And yet, for those of us who are believers, that’s exactly what you and I have – a “real” relationship with the “real” GOD. And it’s a love relationship – certainly on His part.  But that’s all the more reason why we can’t just keep on being obstinate – being lukewarm, being apathetic towards Him. We have a choice – call it quits or see it as the greatest investment for our eternity. My prayer is that you and I will find ourselves on the same side of the line having chosen to love Him back dearly.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Special Announcement: GPS Seminar Toronto

GPS – God’s Plan for Your Significance – Seminar

What is it? : A 2 Saturday seminar
When is it? : April 30th and May 14th
Where is it? : People’s Church, Toronto
 Learn More By Clicking on this link:   http://scainternational.org/gps/ 

Register By Clicking on this link:  http://scainternational.org/gps/

Course is limited to 10 participants for maximum effectiveness.
For more information contact Devika:
Toll-free: 1. 877.474.2689 
Email: devika@scainternational.org

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

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Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Moses: "I Don't Make the Rules, God Does."


Godly Leaders Are Willing To Die For Their People
Exodus 32:30-35: And it came about on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou has written!” And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.  But go now, lead the people where I told you.  Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.” Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.
Three thousand Israelites had just been killed in the camp and Moses had instructed the Levites to dedicate themselves to the Lord in order to gain a greater blessing. That is something we need to notice here – greater blessings come with greater dedication to God. When you think about it, there’s no other just way to have it. Sometimes it seems that God blesses those that are not dedicated to Him more than He does those that are. Two things to keep in mind: First, we don’t have the inside scoop on who really is or is not sincerely and deeply dedicated to God. Second, we may often mistake what appear to be temporal advantages in life as God’s blessings when in actual fact they may simply be things that He allows in the lives of others for His own reasons. I always used to wonder why several of my cousins always had more than me when I knew that they dropped out of school at the earliest legal age and also were not followers of Christ. Fast forward forty years later and I know that I would never change my blessings in life (especially in my loving family) with any one of them. But it took me a while to accept what I thought was unfair treatment.  Do not let yourself fall into that trap.
So it was that Moses now “on the next day” knew he had more work to do with respect to this situation. He could have stopped worrying about it ‘yesterday’ but he didn’t.  He knew that a leader’s job was to be thorough in the execution of the strategy. So Moses went to those who managed to survive the previous day’s massacre (for that is what it was) and told them outright that they weren’t off the hook – they too, regardless of not being killed the day before, were still guilty of having committed a great sin before God.
And now Moses puts his own life at risk. He first tells the people that he is going up to the Lord again with the intention of personally making an atonement for their sin. And that is exactly what he did. He went the extra metaphorical and to a point, literal, mile up the mountain, to seek forgiveness for someone else’s sin. That’s what true leaders do.
Look at how he approaches God this time. First, he tells God what He already knew. The people had committed a great sin, he admitted. Sometimes it is important to verbally confess what we have done and even to confess what our family has done. We have the right to go before God on our behalf and also on their behalf. Unfortunately, we do not avail ourselves of that as often as we can or should.
And then, that short three-letter word used often in Scripture to indicate what God did or what, as in this case, He could do if He wanted to shows up in the text.  Moses says to God, “But You can forgive their sin.” Moses understood clearly and believed what many deny today – God can indeed forgive our sins.  Have you gone to God lately on behalf of your loved ones?
And look at what else he said. “God, if you don’t forgive them (note: not if you can’t, but if you don’t), then please blot me out of your book of life.”  Wow. That’s a leader for you. Moses was basically saying he didn’t need the benefits and the perks if his people could not participate in them. How many CEO’s do you know that actually say that to their Chairman of the Board? That takes guts and Moses certainly had that. But I believe that everything he said to God at this time, he sincerely did so because he truly not only understood his people, but also deeply cared for them. At the same time, he realized that sin had been committed and only God could forgive it.  Moses could not do it, the Levite priests could not do it. Only God can forgive the sins of people.
[And yes, there is a book of life and God does write in it.  This is not the book of the law, but rather a place where God records those that He grants salvation to. We hear about this book again in Psalms, Daniel, and Malachi in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament, we read about it in Philippians 4:3, and again in the last book of the Bible, Revelations in chapter 3, verse 5.]
So how does God react to Moses’ plea on behalf of his people and his willingness to give up having his name in the book of life? God basically says, “Look it is not your call as to who I keep in the book and who I take out. I will only blot out those who have ‘sinned against Me.’” Moses was nicely being told he was going beyond his jurisdiction as leader as admirable as his desire may have been. What’s the lesson for us? As a father and a grandfather, I believe it is simply this: We have a responsibility to bring our sins before the Lord, as well as those of our family, and to ask Him to forgive them. We may also want to convey to Him how important that is to us, but we overstep our bounds when we start negotiating about who gets saved and who does not – that is strictly God’s domain. [For me, it is not unlike my position on abortion or euthanasia – we are not here to replace God’s sole authority in those matters.]
And lovingly, God does not punish Moses for his efforts, but instead God points him to his continued responsibility – “go now, do your job, lead the people how and where I told/tell you to lead them”. And furthermore, God sends His angel to go before Moses as He sends His angels to go before us when we are following His instructions and calling. That is incredible reassurance from the Commander in Chief.
At this point God distinguishes between Moses and those that committed the great sin against Him. He says, “nevertheless there will come a day when I choose to do my punishing in this regard, then they will be punished for their sin.”
Some versions of the text talk about God “plaguing” the people somehow as compared to fully “smiting” them at a later date.  Which account you adopt will depend on whether you see God doing this right away or in His own good time. Robert Jamieson says about this last verse, “No immediate judgments were inflicted, but this early lapse into idolatry was always mentioned as an aggravation of their subsequent apostasies.”
Finally, we turn to Matthew Henry, on this troublesome last verse, who writes,
For the present, the Lord plagued the people, probably by the pestilence, or some other infectious disease, which was a messenger of God's wrath, and an earnest of worse. Aaron made the calf, and yet it is said the people made it, because they worshipped it. Deos qui rogat, ille facit-He who asks for gods makes them. Aaron was not plagued, but the people; for his was a sin of infirmity, theirs a presumptuous sin, between which there is a great difference, not always discernable to us, but evident to God, whose judgment therefore, we are sure, is according to truth. Thus Moses prevailed for a reprieve and a mitigation of the punishment, but could not wholly turn away the wrath of God. This (some think) bespeaks the inability of the law of Moses to reconcile men to God and to perfect our peace with him, which was reserved for Christ to do, in whom alone it is that God so pardons sin as to remember it no more.
I will leave to you to ponder on what you believe happened. What we do know is that people were not immediately smitten right after this and that indeed the Israelites had their difficulties in the wilderness for years to come. And some would say, still do. The lesson for us is not to take lightly the fact that sin against God has to be addressed – either forgiven through Christ or punished. As one police officer of New York City implies in the book Humans of New York, “I don’t make the rules, I just have to communicate them to those that break them and see that justice is done. I don’t like them any more than you do. Don’t take it personally.” Perhaps, someone else said it better when they said, “Please, don’t shoot the messenger.”

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Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

When Being On God's Side Means Breaking Bonds With Loved Ones


3,000 Israelites Killed – by Israelites!
Exodus 32:25-29: Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control – for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies – then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’” So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. Then Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves today to the Lord – for every man has been against his son and against his brother – in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.”
There is no way to avoid this passage of Scripture even though I do not recall ever hearing a sermon on it; I am sure there have been many.  Either way you cut it, it’s a difficult passage to deal with. Let’s dissect it carefully.
The human author (Moses) sees the people out of control.  In fact, some versions of this text actually say “naked” rather than “out of control”. There are different opinions as to whether this referred to the fact that the people were indeed reveling in a way that was not controllable or descent, or they were in fact stripped of their clothes mimicking those non-Israelites who used to perform some of their religious rituals naked, or whether it meant they had been made ‘naked’ of their adornments (ear-rings and such) as they had given them to Aaron to make the golden calf. [I remember, humorously, the days of my youth when I always wanted my wife to wear earrings as I felt that a woman was never fully dressed without them – I never knew then that my subconscious thinking on the matter may have come from this verse.]
Aaron had let the people get out of control “to be a derision among their enemies”. The word derision can be translated as mockery or ridicule or victim of disrespect. Other versions translate this phrase as “shame, weakness, amusement, laughingstock”. Of course, Aaron did not have this outcome in mind, but the consequence of what he abetted certainly pointed to that kind of possible reaction from the Israelite enemies. We, too, often engage in, or lend our hand to, activities for which we do not in advance consider the consequences. How many times do we say to our children or other adults in our lives, “Did you ever stop to think of the implications of that action before you did it?”  And often the sheepish answer is “No, I did not.” I think that one of the marks of maturity both as simply a human being, but especially as a Christian, is that we take the time to stop and consider the implications of not only our actions, but our words. And admittedly, we cannot do that easily by ourselves and without practice and even correction from the Holy Spirit. Henry Kissinger in his 2015 book, World Order, refers to the fact that, in this age of technology we live in, we seem to be missing the wisdom in all the knowledge that we possess or have ready access to. As people of God, we need to realize and take advantage of the fact, that this true ‘wisdom’ that others lack, is available to us.
So Moses stood at the ‘gate’ of the camp. Some may wonder why the Israelites in the middle of a desert had a ‘gate’ to their camp.  Commentator Robert Jamieson answers that for us by indicating that the camp is supposed to have been protected by a rampart after the attack of the Amalekites who are mentioned in Numbers but relating to events prior to this one recorded here in Exodus 32.
If you are a leader and you have a declaration to make, then you have to go to a place where you will be heard – you have to get to the gateway of the community. Interestingly, the word ‘gate’ occurs 275 times in 220 verses in the New American Stand Bible (NASB). This makes for a most interesting study. Much of Biblical history takes place at the various city or camp gates. And Jesus Himself in the New Testament speaks metaphorically of His people entering His Kingdom and gaining our salvation by going through a “narrow gate”.
So at the gate of the Israelite camp, Moses instructs them to go towards him if they are truly for the Lord and to stay away from him if they are not. Can you picture the scene? Can you sense the feelings of the ringleaders? Perhaps it was anger. Can you imagine the shame of the those that were truly sorry for what they had done? Can you feel the confusion of those that were caught in the middle of the argument, not knowing now which way to move? This is indeed a position that many have found themselves in over the centuries – circumstances in which they have to choose between one leader and others, between one thing and another, between a friend and a brother, between a parent and sibling, and so on.  There are seldom any easy choices. The only thing we have going for us is to stick to the higher principles involved – to our beliefs about God and His characteristics which He etched into our hearts at creation.
And yet somehow, many manage to push those higher moral values aside at times like this, and opt for what is immediately more convenient, easier, safer, more socially acceptable. And so it was with the Israelites.  Of the twelve tribes in the camp, only the Levites gathered towards Moses. All the others kept their distance. It seems to be a common theme in life that only a minority get it right no matter what the issue is. Those who are indeed on the Lord’s side are almost always fewer in number.
[The thought occurred to me that had Moses asked, “Who is on my side?” instead of what he did ask, “Who is for the Lord?”, he may have had more people join him.  It is easier for people to gather around a human leader they can see and hear, than God who is Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit. So it is with political leaders today – people rush to vote for them because of how well they come across in their personality rather than the principles they stand for. This was the case of Dr. Ben Carson in the 2016 American Republican Nomination race – while his ideals for America were perhaps the godliest of the bunch, many people, while liking him as an individual, felt he did not have the personality to be president. Calling men (and women) to follow God is a most difficult task; one in which Christ Himself did not score one hundred percent as many rejected even His message.]
And now we come to where one can be greatly flummoxed by the text. Moses tells the Levites to go throughout the camp with swords at their sides and kill their brothers, friends, and neighbors – assumedly those that did not declare being for the Lord. Wow. It seems when God’s laws have indeed been violated, there is a time to take up the sword figuratively if not literally. One example of this is Franklin Graham’s speaking out boldly against the decision by the Charlotte, North Carolina council to push transgender washrooms in the city and indicating that the fight is not over yet. He called the ordinance ‘wicked and filthy’ – strong words for an evangelist these days, yet exactly what needed to be said.
Robert Jamieson suggests that in actual fact the non-Levites were separated into two divisions, and those who were the boldest and most obstinate in vindicating their idolatry were put to death, while the rest, who withdrew in shame or sorrow, were spared. The great number of Israelites that were in the wilderness gives some credence to this possibility. In support of this, commentator David Guzik adds, “It seems that the sin of Israel at the golden calf involved more than these 3,000 people. Yet these were undoubtedly those most flagrant in their idolatry and immorality, or these were the leaders of the sinful conduct.”
Nevertheless, as Jamieson points out the “zeal and courage of Moses was astonishing, considering he opposed an intoxicated mob”. Guzik says, “In this case, siding with the LORD meant siding against some people. Those who were more interested in siding with all people could never do what these Levites did.”
Moses chose to deal with the sin of his people publicly as a testimony against such sin. And as Matthew Henry believes, whenever the issue came up again with respect to the Israelite sin of worshipping a golden calf, at least they could say justice was executed on the evildoers. Henry also goes on to say that this difficult task of killing their neighbors and brothers was given to the Levites as a punishment to them as well for not stepping in earlier to prevent the sin. Guilty by association is sometimes indeed the case.
The question may arise as to the number that were actually killed that day – why only 3,000 when many more were likely involved in the ‘golden calf reveling’? Matthew Henry suggests that the key to that question is that Moses directed them to go “through the camp” implying up and down the streets of the camp, and not in the actual tents the Israelites were living in.  He posits that “it might be hoped that those who had retired into their tents were ashamed of what they had done, and were upon their knees, repenting.” The implication being that those who are marked for ruin and punishment are only those who persist in their sin and not ashamed. An interesting thought, but the fact is that we do not know for sure if that was the case or not.
The other thing we do not know and some may wonder is how did the Levites manage to pull this off against a crowd that may have been so enraged at the idea of their ‘golden calf idol’ being burned as it was by Moses? That is indeed a valid concern.  Why did they not fight back and why was there no record of Levites being killed in opposition? Again Henry theorizes that “a sense of guilt disheartened the delinquents, and a divine commission animated the executioners.” The Levites may have been charged up by Moses’ direction to “Consecrate yourselves to day to the Lord, that he may bestow a blessing upon you.” This Henry contends, intimates to them “they now stood fair for preferment and that, if they would but signalize themselves upon this occasion, it would be construed into such a consecration of themselves to God, and to his service, as would put upon their tribe a perpetual honor.” All they had to do was rise to the opportunity given them to claim it. And we remember too that the Levites were the ones who were to assist in the offering of sacrifice to God and now this included services of divine justice. Henry concludes, “Those that are to minister about holy things must be not only sincere and serious, but warm and zealous, bold and courageous, for God and godliness. Thus all Christians, but especially ministers, must forsake father and mother, and prefer the service of Christ and his interest far before their nearest and dearest relations; for if we love our relations better than Christ we are not worthy of him.
There is no doubt that being a true servant and worshiper of the Almighty sometimes requires us to break bonds with those that are otherwise very close to us. We need to remember that God did not intend it that way nor does He rejoice in the need for this to happen. He would much prefer all mankind – including those brothers, friends, neighbors of yours and mine – to love and serve Him. But with our free will, mankind is free to choose to do so or not. And when others make the choice to be ‘contrary’ or ‘anti-God’, we as believers are required to be on the Lord’s side. All of us, at various points in our lives, and with varying degrees of intensity, will be required to set aside relationships and even perhaps take action against those that, in the absence of our godly responsibility, we would prefer not to oppose.
How does one prepare for that? The concluding part of the passage, provides the answer. We are to dedicate ourselves to the Lord. We are to be aware of our responsibility and service and loyalty to Him. We are to see such occurrence not so much as what it means for those who oppose God, but what it means for us and our own relationship to God. We are to see this is an opportunity to serve God; perhaps a test about our own faith and preparedness for greater service and in preparation of a greater blessing to be bestowed upon us. And at the same time, because we now live after the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are to take any such action with love towards those who do oppose Him. That’s a tall order, but it is doable.

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Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.