Archive for May, 2011

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The Red Bull Gospel | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders

May 31, 2011

 

 

 

The Red Bull Gospel | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders.

Are you bothered as I am that kids all over America are enjoying Youth group pizza nights, but the majority of them will not attend church once their youth group days are over? Here is an article you need to read if you care about teens at all.

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How to Read a Christian Book

May 31, 2011

Years ago, I read the biography of David Brainerd. Brainerd was the son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher of the Awakening and President of Princeton University. Brainerd was also a missionary to the native peoples of the Northeast and was a prodigious prayer-warrior. He mentions in his journals that he would rise at 4:30 most days and pray until noon . As I read this, I was struck with my own prayer-less life. So I devoted myself to begin rising at 5 a.m. to pray.

I distinctly remember the first time I did this. I answered the call of the alarm eagerly, bringing my list of prayer items to the place where I would pray. My wife rolled over and went back to sleep and I felt a certain sense of accomplishment having arisen to pray as she slept. Okay, there was a degree of pride there as well. I went into the room I had set aside as a prayer space (it was our storage closet. Since we had only been married for seven months, we didn’t have a lot of stuff to store). At 5:05 I started to pray Read the rest of this entry ?

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Greatest Kids Books for Adults

May 30, 2011

Just as Sesame Street had as much appeal to adults as to kids, so too there are many books written for children that cannot be fully appreciated until one has reached adult years. There are perhaps three reasons there are so many of these. First, all these books are written by adults and therefore have at least some adult thought patterns built into them. Second, it is almost impossible for an author to think concretely (as a child does) when your brain has entered the abstract world. Third, nothing grips the mind of an adult more than the realization they are seeing more than is there. Notice the fascination with “Hidden Pictures” and listening to music backwards and this will be obvious.

This list is not in any particular order. I get annoyed by book lists that try to put their findings in any kind of order, because the subjectivity of it all just screams for renovation. So this list is purely a group of children’s books which most adults would admire and enjoy.

1. The House at Pooh Corner: As much as the other Winnie-the-Pooh books are wonderful, this book deals with interesting themes the others don’t. Tigger, the ADHD child bounces into our hearts. Homes are lost and found as are friends. Christopher Robin shows the first signs he is about to leave childhood behind; a realization that only an adult can note with wonder and sadness.

2. Charlotte’s Web: When Wilbur asks, “why did you do this for me?”, Charlotte’s answer informs the reader of one of life’s greatest motivations – Sacrificial Love. Though humans are interlaced with the story, we feel more for the animals and their dilemmas. Even a rat and his thieving, hording ways is not without pathos.

3. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day: if you have not read this book, then you are in for a treat. Every book by Judith Viorst is a classic, but none more so than this beauty. Alexander is petulant and angry because every thing that can possibly make his day go badly is happening to him. What adult has not thought there was a sign on his back that says “Kick me”. Alexander shows that these signs exist….even in Australia.

4. Where the Wild Things are: Max doesn’t get dinner and he imagines himself running away and being carried to a world where someone must care. Except they don’t. In reality, Max is dealing with much deeper pain than anyone suspects. But through this even wilder world, Max learns that all living beings deal with pain and he shall not ever see himself the same way again.

5. A Wrinkle in Time: The Austin family sees the world a little differently than the rest. But that’s okay because we view the end result with wonder and delight. Since reading this, I have wondered what it would be like to Tessaract and fold reality to my bidding. So far I have only added wrinkles to my face in the folding process, but I will get there.

6. The Bridge to Terebithia: Another book where children face the sense of loss and grief that come to most children when they are least ready for it. Yet in the midst of pain comes the wonder of discovery. A charming book so well written that it may be put in the category of Classic Literature (with Charlotte’s Web of course).

7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: I vowed I would abstain from Roald Dahl. He has a dark demented side that I cannot fully reconcile with children’s stories. But the unconquerable Charlie stands for all time as the childhood hero with flaws and emotions of real people. For this reason I include the book as the only Dahl novel to make my list.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia: Are they for children? I am not sure they qualify since the themes which dominate cannot be truly grasped by anyone under the age of accountability. But there is an innocence and wonder to Lucy which grabs the child-like reader and won’t let go.

9. The Secret Garden: What child doesn’t go looking for secrets, passageways, things that go bump in the day. It seems this list of children’s books have themes as dark as mankind and as bright as heaven. This book explores all of them and ends where a children’s book ought to end: At Truth.

10. Alice in Wonderland: This book was never intended as a children’s book. It was political satire and leaned toward the drug culture when that culture was almost unheard of. Yet Disney brought it to a child’s eyes and perhaps they were right. In any case, Tim Burton probably was closer to the original intent of its author.

11. The Giver: What child can discern the difference between an ideal world and a false Utopia. Yet this book desires to do just that. And if the child is precocious enough, they may see glimpses of reality shining forth.

12. Holes: “If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, you will make him a good boy.” This reform school classic will never go out of style. Although after reading this book (or the first part anyway) I did convince my wife it would be a good punishment for the kids. After reading the end, I changed my mind.

13. The Cat in the Hat Comes Back: The spreading stain is just the first thing that sticks to everything. The characters and wording of this book are monumentally stupendiferous.

14. Love You Forever: Other than the disturbing break-and-enter scene, this book touched my heart just as much as the kids. Maybe more. They wanted it read over and over, and I always acquiesced.

15. Island of the Blue Dolphins: This is the first book I read more than once as a child (A Wrinkle in Time was second). This is really a coming of age, Robinson Crusoe and discovery of California book all wrapped up together. I never got enough of wanting to live where she did. And now I almost do.

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My Tribute to Phil Jackson

May 9, 2011

For non-basketball fans, Phil Jackson is the just-retired coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. For basketball fans, he retires as the most successful coach of all time – winning 11 championships and having the highest winning percentage of all time. He rarely if ever lost his temper on the court, perfecting the gracious annoyance look. He had a lot of chance to practice that last night. But I digress.

My tribute to Coach Phil comes from my only encounter with him. As very few people know, he began his coaching career at a little high school (Bigfork High) in Northwest Montana. It just happens to be a few miles from where I lived for many years. In the summers, after basketball was retired for the season, he would retreat back to that pristine area and enjoy himself with his wife and five kids.

1996 marked what may be the pinnacle of Phil’s career. His team, the Chicago Bulls won an unprecendented 72 out of 82 games. They went on to beat the Seattle Supersonics in 6 games to win another NBA title. Then, several of the Bulls went on to anchor the USA Men’s basketball team in the Olympics that summer.

During the Olympics, I was working out at the gym connected to the hospital where my wife worked. After my workout, I went upstairs to get a smoothie. As I sat watching the previews for that night’s basketball game, I heard this deep-throated chuckle beside me. It was Phil Jackson, getting a kick out of something his guys were doing on the screen. I figured if he was sitting out in public like that I could at least say something to him. But I didn’t want to faun all over him or say something stupid, so I adopted Workout Casual as my approach.

“So are you going to watch the guys play tonight?” I asked. It seemed casual and yet “with it” enough for banter.

He looked at me with a wry Phil smile and took a big gulp of his drink. Then he laughed. “Nope. I’ve watched WAY too much of all of them this year.”

I like a guy who takes his work seriously and then leaves it behind when he goes home. Have a happy retirement Phil.

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Economics for Life #2 – MONEY

May 3, 2011

Last year, I had a friend come over and work on my house. He did this because I had done a series of marriage counseling sessions with he and his wife. The problem was, he had to fit in my “free” work with the work he did to make a living. After he groused at me about the hassle of coming over to our house, I reminded him of how much money he saved not paying me for counseling. I don’t think I made him feel better.

This bartering agreement is why we have money. Money is a way to trade commodities with other people. Bartering sounds wonderful, but it is almost always inconvenient. Plus, I may not have anything you want, but you may have something I want. To solve it, we would have to involve a third person.

Money is a way to barter with others. We trade our skills with an employer and they give us money. We take that money to the grocery store, electric company, cell phone company, clothing store, restaurant, furniture dealer, toy store, Internet provider etc. and trade our dollars for their goods and services. The money is the way we exchange our services.

But how does money work? Where does it come from? Where does it go? Money is printed by a group called the Federal Reserve. They loan that money out to banks, who loan that money out to other banks, who loan that money out to other banks. Then the banks begin loaning the money out to businesses. Those businesses pay for raw materials, wages, goods and services, utilities etc. Those people and businesses pay their employees. The money continues to circulate until it is put back into bank accounts and then the banks pay back what they borrowed from the Federal Reserve.

But what about countries that don’t use our dollars? How do we buy from them? If we buy a lot of stuff as a nation from another nation like China, there are all sorts of people who keep track of it all. Why? Because if we buy more things from China than they buy from us, then we owe them money. It is called a Trade Deficit. So the Federal Reserve allows China to buy things like land, companies, our Federal debt and on and on. Right now, China bought almost half a trillion dollars in our land, debt and companies last year. This is because we buy more stuff from them than they buy from us. So more dollars go to them and then they use those dollars to buy our stuff.

Every country trades their money back and forth. When a country is buying more stuff than they are selling to other countries, their money is worth more. That makes the stuff from other countries cheaper for the rich country. The United States has always had money that other people wanted. That is starting to change. Why?

The question rises up: how much money are we allowed to print? The answer is: as much as we want. We are printing more American dollars than ever before. As I said in the last article, that makes each dollar worth less. It used to be that we could only print as much money as the value of the gold our country owned. This was called “being on the gold standard”. If we owned a trillion dollars worth of gold, then we could print a trillion dollars worth of money.

We went off the gold standard in 1971. Why? Because we wanted to print more money so we could get cheaper stuff from other countries.

Eventually, other countries figure this out. Eventually, they don’t want to buy our land and companies and debt because it isn’t worth as much as it used to be. That means that people don’t want our dollars. The long term effect of that is the stuff we buy from other countries will cost more.

I can see someone thinking…”well, that’s good. Then we’ll just buy stuff we make here.” Great idea…if it would work. But it won’t. Not for a long time. We don’t make much stuff here any more. We sold most of our factories and made movie theaters and sub-divisions and parks out of that space. We don’t make clothes and MP3 players any more. So right when we can least afford it, we are going to have to build factories again. Except we can’t afford to do that so we will have to invite Chinese companies to come and build them.

Meanwhile, because each dollar is worth less but there are more dollars we have to spend more of them to get the same stuff. Now we’re back to inflation that we talked about last time.

So someone will say “let’s save our money then.” Too late. The banks don’t pay interest to someone who saves money. You will find there is no bank paying more than 1.5% interest on savings. Most pay less than that. And if the real Inflation rate continues at 6-7% each year, your money in the bank loses almost 5% of its value every year.

So money in our near future will be worth less, will buy less and because interest rates are so low, won’t make you much in simple investing. Is there an answer to this? Yes, but it’s not an easy one. More next time in our series as we look at “Investing”.

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Economics for Life – #1: INFLATION

May 2, 2011

I am not an economist, but I am a voracious reader and I have two courses in Economics in my learning pedigree. At the same time, I have one primary ability: I am good at taking complex subjects and breaking them down into understandable chunks.

During May, I am devoting this space to explaining to my friends and readers the basics of the world economic situation. We are in dire straits, much worse than most people think. We are actually within a decade of total world collapse. Even as I say that, I know most of you will be scoffing. If it was that bad, I would have heard it on Good Morning America, or certainly from someone on Facebook.

So make up your own mind. But how will you do that unless you are well informed.

So to help you understand why we are in such a mess, let me take a week or two to give you the basics of all economic theory. One concept each day for now and then for the rest of the month, I will put it all together into our current situation.

For today, let’s talk about INFLATION.

There is a committee in our country called the Federal Reserve. They are in charge of three things. First, they print our money. Second, they set the interest rates that banks pay to get the money that will be circulating as dollar bills. Currently, that interest rate is effectively zero. That means that banks don’t have to pay the Federal Reserve anything for the money they borrow. Then, they lend it out to people, banks, businesses for more than zero.

They make lots of money. Don’t believe me? Look at the profits many of our leading banks are making at the moment. I will address the third thing they are in charge of a few days from now.

But, back to inflation. The Federal Reserve (called “The Fed“) prints money and lends it to big banks for a certain interest rate. The more money the Fed prints and lends out, the more money is in circulation. The more money in circulation, the more inflation.

Wait, Mike. I thought that inflation was prices going up? I mean, the big problem with inflation is when I go to buy a loaf of bread and it costs way more than last month, right?

What you are describing is higher prices. Higher prices are the result of inflation. The word “inflation” means to make something bigger. In Economic terms, inflation is the result of making the money supply bigger. When the Fed prints more money, there is inflation. We associate inflation with higher prices because that is the logical result of printing more money.

How?

Let’s say we’re little kids. You want to ride my bike. I tell you that you can ride my bike if you give me a baseball card. Little kids don’t have many cards, so they are precious. I charge you one card. But in the next couple of weeks, we both get hundreds of baseball cards given to us. They no longer seem that valuable because they are no longer that rare. So the next time you want to ride my bike, I figure “he has more cards now, so I can charge him two cards.” And, because you have more cards, you are willing to part with two cards.

That’s inflation. The inflation of the amount of cards has made the value of each one less. It works the same with the American Economy. The value of any given dollar is measured as a simple math formula. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the value of the entire American economy at any time. The GDP divided by the amount of dollars printed by the Fed is the value of each dollar.

If the GDP doesn’t grow, and we print more dollars, then the value of each dollar goes down.  In the past three years, our GDP has not grown very much. But, the Fed during those three years has printed 50% more dollars.

That’s called Inflation. So why aren’t the prices going up?

They are! The Fed plays a little trick on all of us. When they figure inflation, they leave out the cost of food. They leave out the cost of health care. They ignore the cost of interest on debts, the cost of gasoline, the cost of heating oil, the cost of insurance, the cost of renting an apartment. They leave out the cost of college.

What do they measure? Most of the things that get measured are items that rarely change price, or do it slowly. Why? The government has all pensions, Medicare, Social Security indexed. If prices go up, then they have to pay more for all those things.

So they stop measuring things that are going up and tell us we don’t have inflation. But we do. Have you looked at your food bill lately, your health insurance or your gas bill?

That’s because the Fed is printing more money. Next time, we’ll talk about the meaning of Money.

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