Friday, October 30, 2015

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice by Bill Browder (2015) - Book Review

Follow this link to Bill Browder's web site and get the book

My younger brother Todd (MBA from the University of Minnesota) highly recommended this book to me. It was an absolute page-turner; I couldn't put it down. And the amazing thing is that it's completely true! By the end of the book I was crying. (I suspect Hollywood will make this into a movie someday.)

Bill Browder (MBA Stanford Business School) was one of the first western investors in Russia after the fall of communism. He gave up his American citizenship to become a British subject, ostensibly because of his family's ill treatment by the U.S. Government. (His Grandfather, Earl Browder, was the head of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and 40s and actually ran for President of the US a couple of times.)  Although, I suspect Bill Browder's decision to give up his American citizenship had more to do with taxes than anything else. Be that as it may, his business venture into Russia was undoubtedly motivated by greed. But over the course of the story, he has to face the Russian version of "Profit At Any Price" and learns first hand the meaning of the words of Jesus, "For what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" In the case of Bill Browder, he found his soul and calling in life.

The Parable of the Lost Son

The Parable of the Lost Son

LUKE 15: 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger!18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet;23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

My Thoughts

Like the previous two parables, this parable is about losing something extremely valuable - a child! There's a progression of value in these three parables. The poor shepherd loses 1 of his 100 sheep (1/100, 1%, or 1:99). The poor housewife loses 1 of her 10 wedding coins (1/10, 10%, or 1:9). Here a wealthy father loses 1 of his 2 sons (1/2, 50%, or 1:1).

In the culture of Jesus day, for a shepherd to lose 1 of his 100 sheep was disappointing but understandable as sheep tend to go astray; for a poor housewife to lose 1 of her 10 wedding coins was more disappointing but still understandable as we all lose stuff on occation; but for a wealthy and prominent father to lose 1 of his 2 sons would have brought shame and disgrace on his family for generations to come!

The illustration below shows the relationship of these three parables and the progression of value.  

Normally (even to this day), children don't inherit their parent's wealth until their parents pass away. And in Jesus' day, it was usually the first born son who'd inherit the parent's wealth. In this case, it was the younger son who'd asked for his inheritance even though he wasn't entitled to one. 

Can you imagine the gaul of this ungrateful son who goes to his father and essentially says, "Father, I just can't wait for you to die. So give me my inheritance now so that I can get out on my own?" Well the father still has to support himself and his other son, his oldest son is the rightful heir, plus he still has a business to run with hired servants. Given this, his prodigal younger son only asks for half his father's wealth (very reasonable)!

As a parent, if one of my children were to do that to me, I'd have some pretty choice words to say to them, plus I'd probably disinherit them completely! But in the case of this father he's different from the norm. In fact, the father in this parable is God. God gives us free-will. If we no longer want to live at home but get out on our own and do our own thing he's not going to stand in our way. God loves us enough to let us make our own mistakes and learn the hard way.

The prodigal son in this parable represents each of us. We were the one sheep that went astray; we were the one coin that was lost; and we were the rebellious child that left home and squandered our inheritance.

The father in this parable not only lets his son leave home with his inheritance, but he also welcomes him back home with open arms after he's squandered his inheritance and repents.  And then he restores him to his previous status as his son and throws a huge party for him to welcome him back. Absolutely incredible!

There's so many layers of meaning in each of these parables that only with the proper theological credentials could one decipher them. Consider the following: the parable of the lost son could allude to the fall of man in the garden of eden where we initially lost our inheritance; the parable of the lost coin could also allude to a lost wedding ring, the symbol of a covenant relationship with God; the parable of the lost sheep could allude to the first passover lamb or to the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (see Psalms 23).

From my point of view, all these parables illustrate God's incredible love for us (lost mankind) and the ends He will go to save each of us.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Parable of the Lost Coin

The Parable of the Lost Coin

LUKE 15 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”


My Thoughts

Like the previous parable of the lost sheep, this parable is also about something that was lost - a coin.  In the culture of Jesus day, the coins (each worth about one days wages) could have been the woman's dowry often worn as ornamental jewelry. (In the picture above you can see the jewelry coins on the bed with one missing.) It would roughly be equivalent to a woman today loosing her engagement or wedding ring; there's sentimental value there. Also, a wedding ring (or in this case, the ornamental coin jewelry) represents the covenant relationship of marriage. The Jewish people had a covenant relationship with God. (The coins also could be the family's emergency savings.)

Once again, I was struck by the math: the fraction 1/10, or the percentage 10%, or the ratio 1:9.  In the parable of the lost sheep, it was only a 1% loss; in this parable it's a 10% loss! Now that's worth looking for. 

In the culture of Jesus' day, for a shepherd to lose one sheep from his herd was disappointing yet understandable as all sheep go astray. But for a woman to lose one of her ten wedding coins in her own house was even more disappointing yet still understandable as we all lose stuff from time to time. But think about it for a moment, why would a housewife humiliate herself by telling anyone that one of her wedding coins were lost? Most likely she wouldn't. She'd say to herself, "it'll turn up sooner or later." Why would a housewife completely clean her house just to find one coin? Most likely she wouldn't. It's only worth a days wages and you have to look at the cost/benefit return on investment. One's time would be better spent elsewhere. But this housewife is different. 

Notice how Jesus gives an example for men - the lost sheep, and then an example for women - the lost coin? Interestingly, the shepherd in the first parable represents God; in this parable of the lost coin, the poor housewife represents God. We were the insignificant lost sheep in the first parable, and we were the insignificant lost coin in this parable.

So there's a progression of value here: the shepherd loses 1% of his herd; then the housewife loses 10% of her dowry. I'm not sure of the comparative value of one sheep to one coin. Because sheep were so plentiful during Jesus time, maybe one coin would buy 10 sheep. Notice that when the shepherd found his lost sheep, he called his friends and neighbors to celebrate. Similarly there is great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. In this case, the woman called her friends and neighbors to celebrate her finding her lost coin. Similarly there is great joy among the angels over one sinner who repents.

When the housing and stock market crashed in 2008, people lost large percentages of value in their homes and retirement savings. Like the shepherd and the housewife in these two parables, we too were upset with our losses. And when the housing and stock market eventually bounced back, we celebrated with our neighbors and friends over regaining our lost wealth.  Like this woman in the parable, we too know what it's like to lose and to find.

God feels the same way about each us when we're lost. To God losing any one of us is like losing 1% of our sheep herd, or like losing 10% of our life savings. Each of us is worth diligently searching for. And when He finds us He's so happy that He calls for a big celebration in Heaven and among the Angels! These are just two examples of God's incredible love for us. 

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