Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Body, Mind, Spirit" -> Do You Know Where You Are Going

Life has a series of one way streets, and I observe that most people don't even know it.

Have you ever been traveling on a freeway, and passed your exit? If you are pressed for time, it is almost a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize that it would have been so easy to simply take the right exit. However, now that you are past your exit, there is no getting off.

As older adults, we try and tell our children about these exits, and they may or may not ignore us the same way that we did or didn't ignore our parents.

Exodus 20:12 (King James Version)

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Ignoring the truly dysfunctional families, I believe a great majority of kids ignore good advice from their parents. The commandment with a promise is a dual promise: get advice from your parents because God will bless you, but also because it is a good idea.

So perhaps you stumbled across this blog late one night, and your looking for some advice. I want to spend some time writing to you about some one-way streets and that you need to be aware.

These are words for my own children, but they help you also.

Now, before we start, we need to understand how we will do this.

We need to navigate our path into the future. Now how do we navigate our path? We have have a map. Only in this case, we have goals to navigate by. As my pappy said so many times, "Son, if you aim at nothing, you're going to hit it." So for you to have a life that is happy, content, and worth while, you need to do the following:

1. Think about where you are aiming. What does success look like.
2. Commit to a target or "a goal"
3. Shoot and see the results. This means that you discipline your self to action.
4. Reload, think, commit to a target, shoot again.

Perhaps, you think "well that doesn't sound like trusting God," but this is not the case at all. The goals that we construct should be based around our communion with our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Once you have this tuned in, the rest of the goals will fire just fine.

1. Christianity

For the non-believer in Christ: Fire Insurance.

If you are a non-Christian, I would spend quite a bit of time researching hell, since so many people seem to believe in it. If you think Hell is just an illusion or a fable, I'd like to challenge you to find another fable so well believed.

Personally, after searching the Bible, I don't know if Hell will be a place of physical torment or mental torment. People that claim that they've read the Bible and know exactly what Hell will be like, are simply not reading the scriptures, the future is always described perfectly, but often different than we first might read it.

(I lean toward CS Lewis's interpretation of Hell: it is a place where we get everything we want, and by getting everything we want, we longer can live with ourselves or anybody else. And no, I don't believe Lewis was becoming less evangelical in his later years. I think this is wistful thinking by those that didn't understand the grief he had seen in his life.)

However, we don't need to know the finer details of Hell. I believe the Bible is 100% true and inerrant, and the words used about Hell are the perfect words that describe what it is going to be like to be separated from God.

Hell won't be heaven, and you'll be missing out. Regardless of the physical torment, a little or a lot, it will be a place of profound sadness, grief, and regret. The negatives of missing on your final resting place is so enormous that you don't want to gamble this eternal outcome on a hunch or whim (this idea is pointed out in Pascal's wager). Since this is such a big outcome, you need to spend serious time thinking it through.

Some goals for you: Read the Gospel of John. Read CS Lewis's Mere Christianity. Read Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ." Finally, read the wild men over at Tekton. (They may be a bit arrogant, but they are definitely bright.)

For the Christian: Don't Be A Fool

If you become a Christian for the fire insurance, guess what, the Lord can use this. If you then stop at fire insurance, you very possibly are damned. If this is shocking, it supposed to be. The Bible is not about fire insurance. The Bible is about a path back to relationship with your creator. It is about following a path that is difficult. It is about giving up yourself, so you can become more than yourself. If you are a Christian, and yet have no goals, then you probably don't understand what you signed up for.

You should have a goal to grow strong. Here some ideas:

Here some thoughts on potential goals:

Reading through the Bible every year; giving no less than 10% of my salary to the work of the Lord; finding a prayer meeting one night during the week; doing family devotionals; spending a set number of minutes in prayer on your knees every day (Danial had the open habit of three times per day, and he was blessed of the Lord).

The issue is that you need goals.

One caveat on God goals: The very moment that you tell these goals to somebody else in a bragging way or you believe that you're going to get a material blessing, you have just jumped into legalism. So, goals are great, but they must happen from the Love of God.

2. Getting the right wife.

If you take my route, you simply meet a beautiful girl in college, get married, have her spoil you for all the years you are married, and have four children. In my life, I basically won the Lotto for marriage. Maybe somebody else should fill in this section other than me because this doesn't happen to most people, but I do think that I have a couple ideas that can help. I will guaranty that a poor marriage will be misery and will go a long way to destroying whatever wealth you were thinking you could gain.

Goals on getting the right wife: Arrange a time of prayer with your parents to pray that God sends you the right woman (I believe there is no greater or faster path to a good marriage and this is shown in the story of Rebekah and Isaac, where they mated for life). Read multiple books on what makes a good marriage (I had read 7 or 8 before I got serious); hang out with Christian fellowships and meet as many women as possible and make a covenant with your eyes not to judge a woman by what she looks like but by her love for our Lord Jesus Christ; make a list of things that you want in a wife that are exclusively tied to character traits.

The one other thing, once you find the right mate, you need to convince her to marry you. To "close this deal" you need to take a very calculating approach. If you are looking to just romance as your guide (not that a little bit of romance is bad), you are building your house on sand. The agreement to get married is very much like a business deal.

a. You need to figure out what you want. What does the other bring to the table. If you say, "man, she's good looking, and she's popular," I wish you luck, but you will be profoundly unhappy all your years.

I hope you have criteria like: she loves the Lord; she is incredibly loyal to her mother and father; she helps the poor; she is diligent in her work; she refuses to swear; she goes to church, prays like crazy, is happy all the time. These are the criteria you should have.

Am I serious? My answer is as follows:

I don't care if she is 300 lbs, blind, a different race than you, with one leg. All of those others things don't matter, don't matter, don't matter. What you want is real criteria that match a life mate. Everybody wrinkles and gets overweight. (Well, I would check out if the weight is a bit tied to the lack of self control, but you should know what I mean.)

b. You need capital to buy this wife. Make a list of items for yourself that would make you attractive to a mate. Do you show spiritual leadership? Do you go to church? Do you read your Bible? Do you have your heart broken for the poor? Are you of good cheer? Have you save enough money to buy a house where you will both live?

c. This is another great opportunity to drag out the goal book your've been making. You then need to see if you can have similar goals. For instance, things for me that would be a flag for disaster, and I'll speak for me only:

*She couldn't save a dime to save her life. Her goal is not to save money.

*She believes that schedules are for people that are uptight. Her goal is to be relaxed.

*She wants 4 dogs and no children. Her goal is to be childless.

*She wants to have "girls night out." Her goal is to have fun with others.

*She expects me to bring home all the money and then come home and entertain her. Her goal is to find a man that is entertaining for her.

*She doesn't work, and I need to get up and take care of the kids. Her goal is to get sleep.

*She is really into having the latest fashions, and the clothes budget comes before the food budget. Her goal is to always be attractive to other men and have other women be envious of her.

As you can probably tell, my wife is the exact opposite of the above. Some men could handle the above. I know my own limitations, and I simply couldn't.

Now listen. Now read. This next section is very important. Above, I have listed a bunch of things, for better or for worse, than I can't stand. You need to sit down with your mate and have this conversation. You need to say, "Honey, if I'm working and you are at home, I am not going to wake up in the middle of the night to change the kids. I need to be rested to make money to keep the lights on."

If she comes back and says, "Okay, I agree, but if I'm the primary bread winner, then I want you to change the kids in the middle of night." You know you have a winner. Here is a woman that is thinking it through. Even for even. Give and take. If you are the type of man that answers, "but my Mom always changed the diapers," as your answer, I want you to stop reading my website. I don't have anything more to say to you.

Marriage counseling found out a long time ago that asking question early in the relationship like:

1. Who's cooking if both are working?
2. Who's changing the kids?
3. Do you think a budget is important?

is the difference between happy marriages and sad marriages. You either need to give up your expectations before getting into a marriage, or you need to say, "well, if I get married I am going to fight for the next 50 years on who's cooking dinner, so I need to try again."

As an example, in our marriage, my wife actually works many more hours than I do. I will even say that she works harder. However, I make more money by myself than if we could double her salary (if she worked). I, however, am a guy that sprints like crazy in my work, then I need to unwind or I blow up. If my wife made major demands of me at home, I wouldn't be half as successful.

We call it "our bargain," and, as far as I can tell, we are one of the happiest married couples around.

3. Don't let your weight get out of control

Here the facts Jack. If your weight ever goes up high, your setpoint will get reset to that higher weight and chances are you will struggle to ever be at a lower weight. Do some people lose weight permanently? The answer theoretically is yes, but from a real world viewpoint, the answer is no. Regardless, never put the weight on, and you'll have a much easier life.

Goals on the right weight: Weigh yourself every day. Buy fat calipers and use them every day. Read and follow my posts on high protein diets. Read books on nutrition.

4. Don't wake up a slave

I've already posted on this, but why be a slave to your job, your credit cards, or your mortgage payment? You can get free from you slavery in 20-25 years. Get saving and get free.

Goals: Be financially free by 45 years of age. Own your own house with no payments at 65. Commit to a budget. Become frugal and read books on frugality for inspiration.

Final thoughts:

The Lord didn't put us on this earth to be deliriously happy about living on this earth. As you read the Bible, you will see that we are to have our minds set on heaven.

However, we are to use our brains and the gifts that God gave us. Trusting in these brains would be stupid. However, trusting in God and using our brains are not.

Don't pass the exit on the freeway.

Anticipate them.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"Body & Spirit" -> Retirement

I want you to retire in 25 years, and I'm going to assume you are average. To do this, you need a nest egg that grows every year.

Here is the vision: By the time you are 45-46 years of age, you are still young and vibrant. You have good health, and the ability to create and be strong. After all, Carlos Lopez set the world record for the marathon when he was closing in on 40. So, this is just a few years after your prime, and you'll still be strong.

Think of the freedom of not needing to work. If the Lord wants you to spend the rest of your years teaching children, you can. If you decide to continue to work and give away your salary, you can. If you get into a work situation that you feel is displeasing to the Lord, you can quit without a worry. You will have freedom to do whatever the Lord would have you do.

In the time of Paul you either worked for yourself (fishermen, tent makers, farmers), you were a temporary hired hand (field worker), or you were a servant or a slave. In today's world, we have become servants and slaves of who we work for. While we should serve our masters as unto the Lord, Paul also said to get free if you can.

1 Cor 7:21-24

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

There is no shame in being a slave or a servant, but if you can get free, isnt' this better?

Sounds great! How do you get there?

Let's say you work hard, and graduate with a business degree. The average business degree job out of school will pay you roughly $40,000 per year. This is also the average salary in the USA, so having a degree is a smart investment.

If you want to retire in 25 years, with the average USA salary, you will need to have funds inflate over time. In this case, let's say the average salary increase 3-4% per year. This means that in 25 years, the average salary in the USA will be $100,000 per year.

To finance this, you need about $1M in funds if you can make 10% on your money because you're a smart investor.

So how do we get there?

Very simply:

Save $5,000 per year.
Make 14% interest per year
Wait 25 years.


Save $9,500 per year.
Make 10% interest per year
Wait 25 years


Save $20,000 per year.
Make 5% interest per year
Wait 25 years

Clearly, a little more interest helps you a lot. This is why I am keen on doing things like covered calls. If you are careful, you can save $5,000 per year. If you are very frugal, you can save $9,500 per year.

I don't know how you can live on $20,000 per year and save half your salary. Afterall, the poverty level in the USA is roughly $20,000. While the USA poverty level is better than many "rich" people in many countries, it is really going to be difficult to be functional in our society.

However, you can figure out, by hook or by crook, you can figure out how to save $5000 per year. Maybe this means that you live in a smaller apartment. Maybe this means that you give up Starbucks and lunches out. Maybe this means that you figure out how to buy a second hand car.

The second thing that you need to do is figure out how to invest that money. If you put it in the bank, you'll be pull 3-4% interest per year, and that is never going to allow you to retire. While strictly speaking, I can't help you learn all you need to learn, you can learn by hard work.

Good luck.

"Body" -> Investing $$$

I can't figure out why there are no decent investment books.

Oh, we might state that Benjamin Graham's "The Intelligent Investor" is one of the better ones, but I don't think that most people will slog through all 600+ pages.

So, with all the disclaimers attached that you shouldn't listen to me, and if you do, you may risk losing all your money, let's me "brainstorm" some ideas with you.

If you have no time, you can put your money in a bank. However, most banks do not pay a handsome return. Instead, you need to do enough investing to figure out how to get a bit more out of your money.

I will warn you right off the bat. I am attracted to dividend stocks. To quote Mr. Graham from the aforementioned book:

It is our belief that shareholders should demand of their managements either a normal payout of earnings--on the order, say of two-thirds--or else a clear-cut demonstration that the reinvested profits have produced a satisfactory increase in per-share earnings.... However, dividends are sometimes held down by relatively unprosperous companies for the declared purpose of expanding the business. We feel that such a policy is illogical on its face, and should require both a complete explanation and a convincing defense...

My first bit of advice, go spend .33 per day and subscribe to Investment Quality Trends for at least one year. To make a long story short, IQ Trends is basically one of the best ways to insure you survive "bad" markets, which are called bear markets. Once you get the hang of investing, you may want to get away from this, but by in large, IQ Trends will return around 10-12% per year.

Once you have a few nice stocks, then learn how to write "covered calls." If you combine covered calls and dividend stocks, there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to make another 2-3% on your money per year.

Let us spend just a minute on what a covered call is.

First, let's pick a stock off the last issue of Investment Quality Trends. They think that sooner or later McDonalds stock may go up. If you bough McD's stock today, they are paying a 2.4% dividend or exactly $1 per stock per year. This means that every year, for $100 worth of stock, they will send you $2.40. Many stocks don't pay you anything, they just expect you to buy the stock and sell it later on at a profit. Generally, over the long run, dividend stocks outperform non-dividend stocks if you count both the dividend and the appreciation of the stock.

This means that your stock portfolio can send you money every quarter (which is the normal payout for dividends) with you doing nothing! If you have a real good company, they will often keep upping the dividend. If you bought McDonalds stock in 2003, you could have bought it for just $12-13 dollars per share. Thus $100 dollars worth of stock would be paying you $8 today! (Plus the stock would have also gained $30 per share.)

However, in the short run, you have no idea if you have a winner or not. So, one way of getting more short term reward is offer to sell the stock to somebody in the future at a set price.

So here is the example:

On Friday, McDonalds Stock was $41.47 at the end of day. Let's say you bought 100 shares (which is the minimum size if you want to sell the right to buy the stock to somebody in the future). If you are starting out, this will be a lot of money. Roughly $4200 with an online broker. (Because they'll charge you roughly $13 to buy and store the stock for you.) However, you are pretty happy because you know that you are going to get a dividend from this stock. Since McD is paying $1 per share, you know that they'll be sending you $100. (Unless they drop their dividend, which has happened with bad companies!)

If you check the "option chain," you will find out that you can sell the right to somebody else to buy your McD stock to somebody in March of 2007 for $45 for .65 per share. If you are willing to do this, somebody will pay you $.65/share today, or $65 for the right to buy your 100 shares.

Let me say that again to make it less confusing:

1. You buy the stock today for $42 dollars
2. You offer to sell it to somebody in 5 months for $45
3. They give you $.65/share for this right.

So now let us go forward 5 months. The stock is at $47 dollars. Your broker will call you up and say, "well they want to buy the stock from your at $45." (This isn't exactly how it happens and they can exercise the option earlier, but it is close enough since most options are never exercised before the close date unless people can pick up a big dividend.) So you sell your stock to them at $45. Sell the stock at $45 isn't too bad, because in just 5 months, you made almost $4 per share. (A return of almost 9% in just 5 months.) So while you didn't get the maximum out of the stock, you ended up doing pretty well.

The other thing that may happen is that the stock is still at $41 per share. Nobody would want to buy the stock at this level, so they let their options "expire," and you get to keep both the stock and the .65 per share.

If you sell the options twice during the year (and there are many ways to do this), you are going to make another $1.30 per share (if you can get .65 the next time also). Now add this to the $1 that you'll make from the dividend, and you'll make $2.30 per share per year.

So rather than just making $100 per year, you've figure out how to make $230 per year off of your stock. This means that your stock, even though you haven't sold it, is bring you 5.5% return per year.

Now if you remember the stock with dividends was paying you around 2.2% per year. Here is the difference over ten years:

2.2% growth on $4200 = $5300 roughly -> Increased your money by $1100
5.5% growth on $4200 = $7200 roughly -> Increased your money by $3000

Now the only question is "why wouldn't I want to do this?"

There are two reasons:

1. If the stock is dropping like a rock (can be called catching a falling knife), then the options may keep you from getting out of the stock because you know that you need to sell the stock in 5 months. There are strategies to minimize this by "putting a collar" around your options, but this goes beyond the scope of this post. Therefore, I suggest that you start off small and learn a bit about options every day. There are ways to minimize this risk.

2. You might not be able to sell the stock at the top. Remember that if the stock would sky rocket to $100 per share, you would not be able to enjoy this because you are selling all your stock at $45.

The psychologists tell us that #1 is a bigger issue for most people. So, I will offer 3 strategies for handling this, and you may want to research them.

1. Portfolio diversification. You want to own a bunch of stocks. If McD craters, and this is all you own, then life is very miserable. However, if McD is only 5% of your stock, then all you could lose is 5%. As a general rule, you want to own at least 20 different stocks in different areas.

2. Buy reputable companies. Generally, if a company pays a dividend, it is pretty healthy. The very act of paying out money ever quarter makes them unable to hide a lot of problems. If the world wasn't sinful, you wouldn't want a company to pay dividends because it is a very poor way of distributing profits. However, as a fundamental check, it cannot be beat.

3. Put a collar around the option. Generally, I don't like this because it sucks up a lot of your profit. However, if you thought the stock was shaky, but you really wanted to hang onto it, this is the best way of dealing with a bad situation and getting some money out of the stock.

Now, I have heard some ignorant Christians say that the stock market is nothing more than gambling. This is clearly not true. In our modern culture, we are faced with a lot of things that the Bible speaks to, but cannot be directly translated. For instance, if you use paper money, you have strayed from a system that the Bible talks directly to. Since all of our money is money by fiat. This just means that our money is not tied to gold or silver, but is simply a piece of paper. In the times of the Bible, money was gold, silver, camels or grain.

So what principles apply to the stock market? If you read the principles on "fields" in the Bible, you will understand that the stock market is nothing more that the modern equivalent of a field.

You buy your field (stock), you plant your seed (your money), and you reap a reward (dividends and money).

And don't forget. Grain (money and dividends) are to be your tithes.

The Lord gets the first fruit.

"Spirit" -> John Wesley On Discipline

By all descriptions, John Wesley could be both irritating and gracious. He could be tolerant beyonds all expectations, and he could be severe in his approach. However, he was a Holy Man of God, and he is the closest thing that we have to the apostles that we have seen in the last 300 years. To ignore Wesley and his thoughts is to miss one of the greatest spirits this world has ever known--and you will be poorer (pun intended) for not studying him.

Wesley was somewhat tortured later in life by what he saw as the failure of Heaven on Earth. He had the belief that through Christian discipline, we should be able to change the world. By in large, Wesley always started from personal Holiness, and if you cannot understand this, you cannot really understand his worldview. For him, we first get ourselves right with God, then we go to do God's work.

There are a series of Spiritual disciplines that Wesley expected his followers to adhere to. What we think are our disciplines (going to Church once a week, trying to read the Bible, giving some money to the poor) are a far shout away from Wesley's expectations.

I would say his expectations would shock virtually any Christian today.

Let's us look at his expectations on fasting:

And I fear there are now thousand of Methodists...who..have entirely left off fasting; who are so far from fasting twice in the week...that they do not fast twice in the month. Yea, are there not some of you who do not fast one day from the beginning of the year to the end? But what excuse can there be for this?...; but for any who profess to believe the Scripture to be the word of God. Since, according to this, the man that never fasts is no more in the way to heaven, than the man that never prays.

Wesley says that if we do not fast, we will not make it to heaven. Wesley wanted to see his flock fast twice a week and commitment themselves to prayer.

Let's look at Wesley's personal example of dealing with the poor.

Wesley had his heart broken by seeing so many of the poor of England in horrible conditions. Similar to the conditions that we might see in Africa today, was the conditions of the poor in London.

One of my favorite stories about Wesley came when he was over 80 years old, which he tells in his journal.

Tuesday, 4.--At this season we usually distribute coals and bread among the poor of the society. But I now considered, they wanted clothes, as well as food. So on this and the four following days I walked through the town and begged two hundred pounds in order to clothe them that needed it most. But it was hard work as most of the streets were filled with melting snow, which often lay ankle deep; so that my feet were steeped in snow water nearly from morning till evening. I held it out pretty well till Saturday evening; but I was laid up with a violent flux, which increased every hour till, at six in the morning, Dr. Whitehead called upon me. His first draught made me quite easy; and three or four more perfected the cure. If he lives some years, I expect he will be one of the most eminent physicians in Europe.

So clearly, Wesley had high expectations about the Christian disciplines. I this light, he was disappointed that those that he reached for Christ did not seem to remember where they came from, and how they should act toward others in the future. Because of this, he started to wonder aloud if Christian could create Heavan on Earth.

John Wesley, Sermon #116 talkes about the ironic nature of Christianity.

Does it not seem (and yet this cannot be) that Christianity, true scriptural Christianity, has a tendency, in process of time, to undermine and destroy itself? For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. Now, if there be no way to prevent this, Christianity is inconsistent with itself, and, of consequence, cannot stand, cannot continue long among any people; since, wherever it generally prevails, it saps its own foundation.

This refrain should seen familiar to you, if you've read my previous posts. John Wesley is describing nothing more than the hedonistic treadmill. If we accpet Christ, explore the Christian disciplines, we then run the risk of being swallowed up in the results of living a good life and the good things that come from this.

So somewhere, as we start our journey toward what will be a better life for ourselves, we need to draw lines. We need to determine where we will stop. Every person, before he builds a house, determines how big of a house that he would like to build. If you don't do this, you will never make the right investments, and you'll never know when to stop building.

So the question for all of us: What are the goals that you have for your mind, your body, and your spirit.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Spirit" -> John Wesley On Money

One of my heroes is John Wesley, who had a depth of understanding of the scriptures that all of us should strive to emulate.

I won't call out Wesley as perfect, and I personally grieve when I think about his rocky marriage, his moves toward legalism, or his acrimonious fight with George Whitefield, but yet there is much in his life that I wish that I had in my own life.

One of the things that I think Wesley knew better than most was how those under the regime of Jesus should handle money.

To quote Wesley:

Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then "give all you can."

This is commonly quoted as the following:

Get all you can
Save all you can
Give all you can

What I think is interesting about this Wesley process is that the three steps he describes gets harder and harder.

1. Get all you can

Most people don't have too much of a problem with this. They look for the better paying job. They often will work a few more hours to get a few more dollars. They are motivated by money. Now, I have met a few people would say that they don't try and get all they can, but I often observe that the people that often have this attitude also dislike hard work. Many times, they simply have figured out how to sponge off others or the system. It is because of these people, Paul states, ""If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thes 3:10)

2. Save all you can
Wesley was cheap. He encouraged those he preached to to be cheap. Save you money. Don't spend it on wine. Don't spend it on wasteful things. Only spend what you need to spend. The key, for Wesley, is reducing your expenses until whatever you had coming in for a paycheck would allow you to save money.

3. Give all you can

Again, according to a Christianity Today article, Wesley was unbelievable. He was able to live on 30 pounds per year, although he had an income level of 1,400 pounds per year. He simply would give away the rest.

Wesley's core philosophy is the core of what I believe. I will modify his words and thoughts with one other principle, which is "get free." I'm going to save the principle of "get free" for a later post, a concept that I believe that Wesley would have struggled with and fought with me about, but one that I believe in none the less.

In this life: Get, Save, Get Free, Give.

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Spirit" -> Investments

The core of this blog is really about investment.

I believe that you need to have all the following:

a. Investments in your body.
b. Investments in your mind.
c. Investments in your spirit.

We talked a bit about how monetary investments can lead to heavenly returns. The Bible is not shy about this. To the opposite, the Bible is very clear, as it basically says "Listen up knuckle heads, you can get in on the ground floor by investing your wealth in a heavenly kingdom."

This is better than buying 10,000 shares of Microsoft in 1985. You only get one chance to invest in this way, and now is the time.

The only reason that any reasonable, rationale Christian would not be thinking about this is:

1. They don't know what the Bible says.
2. They don't believe what the Bible says.

Either way, if you don't pay attention to these words, you simply are not thinking clearly.

To repeat a previous post. Paul told the rich (which we found out was virtually every person in America and Europe due to our income compared to the rest of the world) to invest in gifts to the poor so that we can build up a reserve in heaven.

The call to help others is not limited to the New Testament. Indeed, some of the most beautiful words come from Isaiah.

The following always cut me to the quick when I read them:

Isaiah 58:

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Are there difficult words in the Bible? Sure there are. As Christians we have to explain a few difficult deaths of whole cities. We need to explain a few difficult stories with unsavory characters. However, most Christian don't fail to win others because can't explain the difficult parts.

We fail because we don't explain the beautiful parts.

This section from Isaiah is so beautiful that it almost takes my breath away. It is such a pure, clear call for justice, and alms, and charity. Why don't we call our neighbors and talk to our friends about this type of beautiful scripture.

We are called by the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, to let justice roll down, to feed the hungry, to cloth those that have no food.

I am always moved when I see dedicated Christian Brothers and Sisters have their hearts broken by the suffering of others, and feel compelled by the Love of Christ Jesus to do something.

One of my friends, Terry McGill (and his wife) started Sister Schools because of a visit to Africa. There isn't any phony stuff behind the McGill's, and I don't think that many will ever understand how they have materially taken a step down because they made the decision that something must be done to feed and cloth the starving.

Now, my wife and I support Terry because we think that it is the right thing to do, and we would like to sock away a few treasures in our heavenly 401K plan.

If we end up nice condo in heaven. I just hope that Terry invites me over to his mansion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Spirit" -> The Love Of Money

I Timothy 6:6-10,

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

As I am reading my way through the Bible this year, I am just making it through this section in Timothy, and it really grabbed me. As I've already posted before, for practical purposes, everybody that has a computer and that can read this blog is rich. Generally, anybody in the USA is far better off than most of the world's population that has gone before.

Look at what Paul tells Timothy, and thereby us, to do:

a. Be content. Even though I've started to touch on the hedonistic treadmill, I don't feel that I've fully explored the depth of our uncontent. This is worth another posting of its own for a later date.

b. If you have clothes and food be happy with that. (Note: he didn't say a camel, house, or automobile.)

c. If you want to get rich you have fallen into a temptation. Note, he did not say "could fall" but have fallen. This point alone will distinguish us from those around us. Let us be clear, we are called to "not wanting to be rich." Now, if you happen to become rich, and yet didn't want it, then this is okay. (Impossible you say?) Just this section of scripture would indicate that we should not play the lotto. For why do we want to play the lotto? Well to get rich. Unfortunately, Paul tells us that this is wrong for Christians.

d. Paul recognizes that there are rich among us. He does not say "give up your riches" or "become a pauper." Paul doesn't even question how they became rich. While he does not condemn these already rich people, he does appeals to them to be generous because it is an investment. Paul is so bold to claim that this is "laying up treasures."

Paul's brilliance is the ability to translate from culture to culture. If you have wealth, the one thing that you always are looking for is an investment. Investing simply means to put in money to get a return. Paul knows that the best way of bridging the gap to a rich person is to call out the gift as an investment.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"Spirit" -> Favorite Verses 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17

1 Thessalonians 4

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Mind you, I love my kids. I love my wife. My life has been exceptionally blessed with so many riches that it blows my mind. I am sure that when many look at my life, they would change places with me in a heartbeat. And if I had a life to pick to live on this earth, I would gladly pick this one over again.

During, a recent business trip, my companions and I were talking about what we would do differently in life. I stated that I would want to meet my wife earlier. They asked when I met her. When I said that I met her as a freshman in college, they laughed at me.

"How much earlier did you want her?" one asked.

The point is that I couldn't ask for much more.

So with all of this, I have a longing, a desire for heaven. CS Lewis called this joy. It is a gladness and yet an ache for something more. For something that you almost remember like a song that is sweet and desired, yet you just can't quite remember the tune.

The section from 1 Thess 4:16,17 makes me feel this ache. I can almost feel the event in my bones. I am in the grave, or my house, or several years down the road. For me, when I read this, I can almost remember the event. I know that it happens in the future of what I am writing now, but somehow, when I read the verses, I can feel a part of my soul that is not bounded by time feeling the event. I can't feel my time beyond this, but I can feel the pull of this scripture painting a picture that my soul knows is happening, will happen, and has happened in a future day.

In a second, all time slows down and the people stop around me.

Then I hear a sound. A sound that I hear but a sound that is not coming to my ears. Then with all my soul, I realize that the sound is Gabriel's horn. I feel the pull, and I leave this shell and something wonderful happens. As Paul calls out, "and we will be changed."

I long.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Body" -> Diet And Losing Weight

If you want to lose weight and not feel as much hunger, you need to eat around 150-200 grams of protein per day. This is a lot, and if you have problems with your kidneys, it will NOT be healthy. However, if you don't want the short version, then you'll want to think through this for yourself.

Okay, hang onto your hats, we are going to dive into some research. The first thing that you want to do is go here, and have this paper handy.

David S Weigle et al, did a very interesting experiment.

To describe what happened:

1. They fed the 19 individuals 15% protein for two weeks. (This period is call from zero to CRC1 on the graph below.) The folks didn't gain any weight. They were eating around 2300 calories.

2. They fed them 30% protein for the next two weeks at "maintenance calories." (This period is CRC1 to CRC2 on the graph below. Maintenance calories mean the subjects were fed by the doctors around 2300 calories, because they didn't want them to lose weight.)

3. They then asked them to eat 30% protein ad libitum (which just means whenever they wanted), which caused them to drop under maintenance caloric intakes, thereby losing weight. In essense, if you eat a lot of protein, you don't feel as hungry.

So let's look at the first graph:

You can see the periods on the graph. For the first two periods, the researchers fed people enough calories to keep them pretty much at the same weight. If you draw a line through the little circles, you will see they were eating around 2300 calories per day to keep their weight.

Now, after the CRC2 time, they sent the people home but told them to eat 30% of the calories from protein. What happened is that people stopped eating as much! If you look at the first chart, you can see their weight as a line. During the first two sections, the line is pretty flat. However, as soon as they went to eat 30% protein on their own, the line starts going down very quickly.

The question is "why did they stop eating so much?"

The next graph answers the question.

This graph shows the same time period, but the subjects were asked "are you hungry or are you full?" (This is a bit oversimplified, but good enough for us.) The little circles are "hunger" so when the little circles go down, you are less hungry. Now, one of the things that is important to note not being hungry is NOT the same as being full.

In the first phase, the little hunger circles were around 25-30.

In the second phase, the little hunger circles dropped to 10! They were never hunger. They even felt a bit more full.

In the final phase, you can see that people naturally went back to 25-30 on the hunger circles. Interestingly, this actually made them eat less than what they need to eat to maintain their weight, and they started to drop weight.

On a high protein diet, the individuals did not "feel stuffed." Yes, the little triangles went up, but not as much as the little circles went down. Therefore, the didn't have hungry, but they didn't feel full as much as they felt lack of hunger.

In the third phase, the individuals were sent home and told "eat a lot of protein."

Since they weren't as hungry, they simply stopped eating as much. This in turn caused them to lose weight. Where they were eating around 2300-2400 calories, they dropped to 1900 calories.

According to Weigle, "Only one long-term, controlled ad libitum feeding study by Astrup et al (10, 30) has been designed specifically to investigate the effect of increased dietary protein content on spontaneous energy intake and body composition. In this study, both the reduction in caloric intake and magnitude of weight loss at 6 mo in the subjects who consumed a 25% protein diet were significantly greater than the values observed in subjects who consumed a 12% protein diet (10)."

This is not to say that some research hasn't been done on a short basis. For example, Westerterp-Plantenga, who was an author on the following, experiments with the high protein interactions with a short stint in a respiration chamber.

Ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide 1 concentrations, 24-h satiety, and energy and substrate metabolism during a high-protein diet and measured in a respiration chamber.

* Lejeune MP,
* Westerterp KR,
* Adam TC,
* Luscombe-Marsh ND,
* Westerterp-Plantenga MS.

Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands. m.lejeune@HB.unimaas.nl

BACKGROUND: The mechanism of protein-induced satiety remains unclear. OBJECTIVE: The objective was to investigate 24-h satiety and related hormones and energy and substrate metabolism during a high-protein (HP) diet in a respiration chamber. DESIGN: Twelve healthy women aged 18-40 y were fed in energy balance an adequate-protein (AP: 10%, 60%, and 30% of energy from protein, carbohydrate, and fat, respectively) or an HP (30%, 40%, and 30% of energy from protein, carbohydrate, and fat, respectively) diet in a randomized crossover design. Substrate oxidation, 24-h energy expenditure (EE), appetite profile, and ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) concentrations were measured. RESULTS: Sleeping metabolic rate (6.40 +/- 0.47 compared with 6.12 +/- 0.40 MJ/d; P < p =" 0.05)." r2 =" 0.49,">CONCLUSION: An HP diet, compared with an AP diet, fed at energy balance for 4 d increased 24-h satiety, thermogenesis, sleeping metabolic rate, protein balance, and fat oxidation. Satiety was related to protein intake, and incidentally to ghrelin and GLP-1 concentrations, only during the HP diet.

PMID: 16400055 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

If you want to assume a man needs around 2400 calories, a protein consumption of 30% would be approximately 180g or a littel over 1g per lb, which is a lot of protein. Interestingly, bodybuilding athletes will often push closer to 2g/lb. In this case, you'd be at 360g of protein a day. This is roughly 400% more than the recommended protein levels. And, as I stated before, if you have kidney problems, this will be bad on them. However, a lot of bodybuilder have done this for extended periods, and we haven't heard of them dying all over the place. So high levels of protein can be sustained.

Finally, there may some speculation that an extremely high protein diet can be hard on the lower colon and may set up an environment that would foster colon cancer. It would appear that the use of fiber could limit this problem, especially something called resistant starch, which comes from beans. In generally, eat lots and lot of fiber.

Fiber is a big subject, and I'll try and get to it in a later post.

However, high levels of protein in the diet seem to be the best way of dumping the appetite. While the research is a bit spotty, it is promising.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Spirit" -> Cool Tools For Your Personal Bible

To the side is a picture of my handheld personal digital assistant (PDA).

Frankly, one of the best purchases that I ever made for it was the electronic Laridian Bible. You can buy it for your Palm PDA, your Windows PDA, and now even for your cell phone (if you have a Treo or a Windows Smartphone).

Imagine this: you can have a Bible that you can slip into your pocket. You can search it from one end to the other in about 20-30 seconds. With the right sub-packeage from Laridian, you can have the Bible served up in nice daily chunks to help you read through the Bible in a year. You also can buy study Bibles, so you can look up footnotes while you are reading.

For instance, I was playing 20 questions with the kids. I was thinking of Gabriel as my hidden thing. The kids figured out that I was thinking of something in the Bible, and they were trying to guess the book. Since I couldn't remember all places that Gabriel appeared, I did a quick search, and in 20 seconds I had all four times in the Bible his named is mentioned. (Daniel and Luke are the two books by the way.)

You can also search by section of the Bible. For instance, what is mentioned more in the New Testament: Grace or Love?

A quick search: Love = 232 times. Grace = 123.

You can also highlight sections and or add notes. However, I haven't fooled around with this in my own use.

You can buy many different versions of the Bible, and you can have them all on your PDA at once. I have the following: King James, New International, Revised Standard, ASB, The Message, The New Living, and the NIV Study Bible. It is easy and quick to switch versions.

If you have a newer Palm with a higher resolution screen, and your eyes are pretty good, it is easy to open up two windows at once. The picture for this post shows just this. You may want to compare different versions, say NIV and KJV, or, as I show here, list both the scripture and a commentary. Laridian gives away their compile of Matthew Henry's commentary, and this is shown on the lower half of the screen.

All in all, a great tool.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Body and Spirit" -> Friends Can Decrease Stress

The picture in this post shows my kids and my wife's parents enjoying fireworks in Seattle from my Dad's property. As you can tell, they are having the time of their lives. One funny thing that I've noticed with my kids: they often end up in similar emotional states. I won't say that certain kids don't have problems worse than the rest, but, generally, they all work toward the same emotional state. I think my wife and I can see more of this because we homeschool them, and a good attitude can be caught and passed around. On the other hand, a bad attitude can also be caught.

Yesterday we talked a bit about stress hormone call glucocorticoids. If you listened to radio lab, you will have a much better idea of what these stress hormones do to your body.

In Radiolabs program, they discussed some things that you can do to control stress, and these include:

1. Go beat on somebody else
2. Go chew on a piece of wood
3. Pretend you have control over the situation

Now, the program was highly slanted toward trying to look at animals and their behavior then extrapolating this to humans, which is many times a very bad idea. I will suggest that the first step in lowering stress is the following:

Prob 22:24,25

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man,
do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn his ways
and get yourself ensnared.

Who we hang out with influences our character and our worldview. The influence of our friends cannot be stated too strongly. If you want to be positive, hang out with positive people. If you want to be angry, hang out with angry people.

In the same way that my kids influence each other, your friends, your school mates and your work environment will rub off on you.

For my wife and I, this is why we are living outside of the system with our kids. We have a happy marriage that saturated with our faith. We want this environment to rub off on our kids. It seems to be working. I cannot tell you the number of times that we have been told that our kids are "special" and "some of the best kids I've seen." One babysitter said, "I have never had a job as easy as taking care of your kids." How many families with kids ranging from 5 to 12 have each one giving each other hugs and telling the others how much they love them. To many families, this seems like science fiction.

Now I won't say that there aren't days when life is on the verge of utter collapse because having four kids in one house will challenge anybody. However, I think we are passing around more good attitudes than bad.

The choice to lower your stress is yours. You make it every time you go out to lunch with your friends. The right friends will lower your stress. The wrong will give you a lousy attitude.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"Mind & Body" -> Stress And Dr. Robert Sapolsky

One of my all time favorite books on stress is "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers," by Robert Sapolsky. I think everybody sort of knows that stress is bad, but quite frankly, the subject goes very, very deep with a lot of discovery over the last 50 years.

The culprit in this act is a group of stress hormones generally called glucocorticoids--so named because they elevate blood sugar levels. Now glucocorticoids are great for a short time because they allow you that "extra burst of energy" to do whatever you need to do. However, your mind can get stuck in stress situations, and you can flood your body with too high of levels. This, in turn, turns highly distruptive to your system. Really, chronic stress looks like it may just blow your body apart.

If you have an hour, listening to Radiolab's interview with Dr. Sapolsky will be a great introduction to the principles in his book. Radiolab is really a wonderful series of programs, and while the stress program is good, many of the other programs stand up just as well.

Then reflect on Luke 12:22

22Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[b]? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Our Lord is telling us to stop worrying. As most of the references in the Bible, we are given this command for our own good. If properly applied, the principles in the Bible allows to live by our Savior's words.

And these words are for our own good.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Body" -> Cool Tools For Lifting

Here's the next cool tool in the arsenal.

In the photo to the right, we have my set of Powerblocks. Powerblocks are nothing more than dumbbells. I happened to get these at about 1/3 of the retail price since I got them used. However, while I'll talk about the blocks in this posting, you certainly don't need Powerblocks to lift some weights.

As the human body ages, we start to lose muscle. This is called sarcopenia. This loss of muscle mass is true for virtually everybody, and it is why old people get so frail and fragile. If you are in your 40's, chances are that you are fighting the early stages of sarcopenia.

Our flesh has some nasty tricks about how it is put together. You can take two people, and with their clothes on, and they may look built exactly the same. However, if you could x-ray them, you could find one that is composed of a lot of muscle, and the other is composed of a lot of fat.

Now, I don't have a good online reference photo, but I've seen pictures of the aging human, and as we age, we are the two people I spoke of above. Let's say that when you were 20, you were 165 pounds. Now that you are older, you are still 165 pounds. However, unless you've fought sarcopenia, you will find that the muscle has been replaced with fat. You may even look like the same body type.

The exercise physiologist call out that we must look at the Lean Body Mass (LBM) or the Fat Free Mass (FFM) of any individual to really figure out what type of shape that they are in. As you age, the FFM goes down as a natural effect. Now, even worse, our bodies may put on even more fat than fat free mass, and your dwindling muscles must put up with the insult of carrying more of a load than when you were young.

Generally, this is a bad thing as less muscle mass lead to many things including reduced immunities, more brittle bones, and greater chances of fractures.

So how do you fight this?

The wonder drug is "lifting weights."

But obviously, you need to be young, right?

The answer is no, as this study, featuring elderly (mean age 80 years old) and frail individuals, state. As a matter of fact, the more that you read the studies, the more you'll realize that lifting weights is the one thing that every old person should do. Shame on us, in many ways, for telling our parents to "sit down and take it easy." If our parents or grand parents stop getting up, they will find out that at some stage they can't get up at all. Taking it easy means not taking it at all.

Now, mind you, the older you are, means that you are not lifting to gain muscle mass, but keep from losing it. Although, almost everybody will gain some mass if they are starting up after being inactive. Generally, the younger you are, the more you will gain.

There is a lot of evidence that as you age, you should also think about taking it slow and easy into the routine. You can really hurt yourself if you go at it fast or too hard. Tendons and bones increase strength, but at a much slower rate than muscle. So spend a year toughening your tendons.

Finally, back to the Powerblocks. I love them, because it has a very cute pin assembly that allows you to instantly change the weights from 5 lbs to 85 lbs. (See the photo to the side.) Simply slip in the pin, and the right number of plates will be picked up. Now the plates come in 10 lb increments, which is fine for me, but with just little more work, you can slip in a round weight to increase 5 lbs at a time. You will also need a lifting bench.

If you really want to go on the cheap, you can pick up handles and plates down at Wal-mart and build whatever weights you need for your routine.

And speaking of my simple routine, well that will need to wait for another post.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Body" -> Cool Tools For Running

I have a couple of cool tools for helping me stay in athletic shape. I thought we could cover one that I use for running called the Forerunner 201.

I used to run in college for a coach who was both in the Olympics and coached Olympic athletes. One of the key things that she taught me (and your'll hear this from any good coach) is to log your runs." If you want to stay in shape, there is very few things more powerful than using a log book. I used to keep a calendar stuffed with my runs, but now I use a little Palm app called "The Athlete's Diary." I'll try and describe the app in a later posting, but first I want to talk about how to figure out how to get the data you need to put in your log book.

For a log book, you should record:

1. When you ran
2. How far you ran
3. How fast you ran
4. How you felt

In the old days, we used to go out with a bike or a car, and we would mark our running paths with spray paint at each mile. This way, we could see what our mile splits (pace) was. However, marking just one running route was a bit annoying and slow. If you deviated, you couldn't even tell how far you ran.

So what are some tools you can use?

Getting just distance is probably the easiest cheapest thing to do. The first way is to get a $4 pedometer at Walmart, and go set the number of steps you take while running. I've done this, and if you are willing to work a bit at it, the pedometer is amazingly accurate.

However, if you have more than $4, and you want even better data, I would suggest a 201.

What is a 201? Well just look at my wrist.

It is one of GPS units from the Garmin series of Forerunners. The cost for the least expensive one with download capability is the 201, but your computer has to have a serial port. Otherwise, spring for the 301, which has a USB port.

Better yet, you can pick up the new 205 or 305 series for $100 more. They track better and get the satellites faster. But anything over the 201 really isn't necessary. However, there has been a couple of colder (as Southern California goes) mornings that I wished that I could pick up the satellites faster rather than standing around. So if you have the extra $100, I would suggest splurging for the 300 series. However, you can tell that I have not, so life is still very good with the older cheaper models.

The Garmin comes with a utility for a log book. It does a bunch of cool things. It will record how far you ran. It will record your mile splits. It will even allow you to figure out how many calories you burned during your run. However, if you are willing to install another package, you can have the ability to download your runs to Google Earth for free.

The company that will allow you to export your runs to a map is called Motionbased, and their website is here. You can keep posted your ten last runs for free. For $100 per year, you can post all your runs, which is a fair hunk of change, but probably addictive.

Want to know what I did this morning?

Here is my run this morning from home exported through Motionbased to Google Earth. I've tilted the view and you can see that I live in a development in a valley that is centered around a golf course.

(Click On Picture To Get Clear Image)

The actual path of my run is in red. I have also put some yellow arrows on the picture so you can tell the direction of the loop I take.

However, this is not all that you can do. If you pull up your Motionbased software you can also pull up several different maps, and you can also see the elevation of your run.

The elevation graph is one of my favorite things to do, and the elevation changes for my morning run is attached below.

I will tell you that the earth is not flat, and it certainly isn't like the treadmill in the gym. I think that one of the reasons that people run on a treadmill is that they want to see what they are doing. How far have they run? How many calories have they burned. What is their pace. Well with the Garmin Forerunner, you can get all that information.

So let's look at my run today from an evevation vs distance graph.

Our house is around 480 feet above sea level (and GPS aren't exact, so don't get too worried if it is 20-30 feet off because it'll be close enough.) I have a little dip in my run at about 1/2 mile, then it is the big climb. 150 feet up in a space of a mile. And my pace really slows down, but that's okay because with my graph I know that I'm running up a big hill.

(Click On Picture To Get Clear Image)

The elevation peaks around mile at about 750 feet or 300 feet (30 stories) above my starting. Then it is all down hill!

Can I figure out with the GPS? The answer is "yes," but not as well.

Get one of the Forerunners and use it.

You'll like it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Music" -> Artist Thomas Newman

Really, where have the composers gone?

Perhaps, you can handle the atonality of Arnold Schoenberg, but I can't. So if you want to listen to some half way decent orchestrated music, and you want to listen to something from this century, what is a person to do?

Welcome to the world of music soundtracks.

The music of soundtracks often have to support emotion in a quite yet satisfactory way. It has to frame the circumstance and set the stage. A movie without music is half a movie. And a good composer is paid very nicely because everybody knows how important he is to the success of the film.

So why not enjoy it straight?

With this in mind, one of the most satisfying soundtracks of the last few years is Thomas Newman's score for Lemony Snicket's: A Series Of Unfortunate Events. I have worn down this soundtrack listening to it while I read or while I do work. I find myself subtly changed and amused by the background that his songs set.

Particular favorites are:

The Reptile Room
Taken By Surpreeze
The Letter That Never Came
Drive Away (End Title)

I find myself playing the Drive Away song multiple times as I go through the track.

It is as if I wished it would never end.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Christianity" -> We Are The Rich In The Eye Of The Needle

What is rich?

Here is one answer for 2001 from the US Census.

In Current Dollars:

20th percentile upper limit $17,970
50th (median) $42,100
80th percentile upper limit $83,500
95th percentile lower limit $150,499

In the previous posting, we talked a bit about the hedonistic treadmill and how it impacts our happiness. The net of the post is that we are never satisfied with what we get, because we look at others and want even more for ourselves. If we find out that our immediate neighbors aren't as well off as we are, we look to more to a new neighborhood where we can compare to a better sort of people.

It would be easy to call out that the rich, the truly rich, must be in that top five percent of wealth. I will guaranty you that the vast majority of the people in the top 5 percentile of wealth do not say "Wow, I make a lot of money." No matter what level you are at, people believe they don't get paid enough. If you are in the top five percentile of wealth, then you simply compare to the people even with more wealth than yourself.

Now, let me hit you with a thought: in the USA, virtually all of us are materially rich beyond our wildest dreams when compared to history. The Lord has given so much to us that we must redefine the way that we are to relate to the words of wisdom about riches in the Old Testament.

Remember our friend Dr Firebaugh?

In this book The New Geography Of Global Income and Inequality, he cites Francois Bourguignon's and Christian Morrisson's calculation that in the early 1800's, 90% of the world's population made less than $2 per day in 1985 dollars. (In today's dollars, this would be $3.63 dollars per day using the CPI for 2005.)

Let me repeat that: 90% of the world's population made less than $1340 per year. Today, the world's average salary is around $7000-$8000 per year. So the whole world is far better off, and America is a shinning land of wealth.

I don't think that our Lord was grading on the scale when he talked to us in the scriptures. So ask yourself, are you the rich he talked about in the New Testament? Would you rather be a rich Jew at the time of Jesus Christ, or would you rather be lower class today?

If you were upper class in the time of Christ, you would have:

1. No fresh fruits during the winter
2. No health care of any type
3. Dirt every where, and no showers or baths
4. Schooling which pales in comparison
5. Only dim lamps and no television.
6. No refrigeration and no cans
7. No toilets

Should I go on? Living in this century means that you are living with the elite.

What Does The Bible Say About the influence of riches?

Deuteronomy 31:20

20 When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant.

So here we are, the richest of the rich, and we are not satisfied. We are unhappy. If we came from the time of Christ, we could not fathom the wealth of riches even our "poor" have in this country.

So, let us relook at this scripture above:

..they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant

How much more could this describe us?

1. We have grown fat in our Western culture
2. We have turned to other gods

So next time you read warning words of the scripture about weath, realize that those words apply, if you are reading this, to you. You can't hide behind the fact that there is somebody in your neighborhood with more money, because God sees down the corridors of time not only the confines of our local block.

So what is left other than we should prepare for the provoking of the Lord?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"Christianity & Brain" -> Thou Shall Not Covet

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Thank you Dr Firebaugh for your report. I just wish that you could have pointed out that a lot of people could be happier if they just followed the dictate that "thou shall not covet." Dr. Firebaugh relates a common fact that the happiness psychologists have been calling the hedonistic treadmill. Once we start getting stuff, we can't keep ourselves from getting stuff.

There is no satisfaction to our appetite. The Bible talks a bit about this, and when I first read the following, it cut me to the quick:

Isaiah 5:8 (New International Version)

Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.

We as individuals want to buy every house in the land. We want to own every piece of land, until we alone own everything. Only this will make us happy.

But back to Firebaugh, this is old news, and this fact has been around forever. We, as human beings, feel better when others have it worse. The chart here shows that the income rises, people feel happier. So, yes, wealth does make you feel better.

However, wealth tends to be intracountry for individual wealth. So USA citizens only feel good in comparisons to other USA citizens. If a poor USA citizen is richer than a middle income Mexican, it doesn't help them feel better at all.

Now, some of this is a bit different on a country level. Countries that have a great amount of forward progress have higher levels of happiness than countries that don't have forward progress. So if you live in China, India, or Brazil--with the economy taking off--overall the levels of happiness should be higher. Some countries like Russia, which have had a mix bag with the capitalistic system--have less aggressive levels of happiness. You can see this in the chart below. Once again, this shows the hedonistic treadmill, only on a country level.

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Now here's sage advice from CNN's story.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, is attempting to pin down just what it is that the especially happy do differently. She has found that they don't waste time dwelling on unpleasant things. They tend to interpret ambiguous events in positive ways. And perhaps most tellingly, they aren't bothered by the successes of others. Lyubomirsky says that when she asked less happy people whom they compared themselves with, "they went on and on." She adds, "The happy people didn't know what we were talking about." They dare not to compare, thus short-circuiting invidious social comparisons.

Now Ms. Lyubomirsky graduated with a Summa Cum Laude, Harvard University, for her undergrad. Then went to Stanford for her Ph.D. Interesting, she rediscovers what scripture tells us. Even more interesting, she ran a very interesting experiment where she determined the following:

Indeed, the fact that activity changes require considerable effort to enact is more consistent with the Puritan version of the American dream, rather than the ‘‘easy living’’ or the ‘‘quick fix’’ ideals that have partially supplanted this foundational vision. In other words, our data suggest that effort and hard work offer the most promising route to happiness. In contrast, simply altering one’s superficial circumstances (assuming they are already reasonably good) may have little lasting effect on personal well-being.

What was the core of the above? If you decide to change something in your life--your weight, your muscles, your skills--you happiness relates to if you had to go and work for it. Having something handed to you doesn't matter.

Thus we are left with the core of happiness:

1. Ignore those around you
2. Work hard at what you do

Colossians 3:17 (New King James Version)

17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Research supports the Bible once again.

"Christianity" -> Men Of Blood

God is unchanging, but he progressively reveals more and more of himself through the Bible. As time goes on, we start to realize that the early scriptures don't necessarily give us the whole picture of God. It is only in Jesus where we see YHWH as he truly is.

However, we can see progressive lines drawn in the Bible, where God reveals more and more of his nature and what he will and won't allow.

When David asked if he could build a temple for the LORD, the LORD answered:

1 Chronicles 22:8 (New International Version)

8 But this word of the LORD came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.

When you read the Old Testament, you need to read all of it, and all of it will give you insight. We can see from this verse that the blood that David shed kept David from doing what was his desire, to build a temple to the Lord.

David did many things to worship the LORD:

1. Wrote part of the Bible
2. Was a prophet
3. Was a musician to the LORD

Yet, with all of this, his trail of blood kept him from doing all that he could for the LORD.

Up to the time of Saul, violent acts of the Bible were recorded where whole cities or people groups were wiped out at the LORD's command. However, after David, a line was written in the scriptures. Men of blood were limited in what they could do.

We will never, as Christians, have the perfect answer for why the LORD commanded genocide for a time in the Bible, but we do know that it stopped once Israel was established under David. My own personal belief is that the LORD allowed the genocide, but he did not seek the genocide. For he could have simply removed whole peoples group by the wave of his hand.

Perhaps, all that was happening was the LORD allowing Tit for Tat behavior. Israel was not the only one with a genocide trait, and I believe that if we could travel back in time, we would find the Israelites as orders of magnitude better than the people of the land. We know that that others had this practice even beyond David and may well have been common practice at the time as the Mesha Stele (Moabite history) states:

And Kemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel." And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had put it to the ban for Ashtar Kemosh. And from there I took the vessels of Yahweh, and I presented them before the face of Kemosh.

Perhaps, if we know that all the people of that time practiced selective destruction of whole cities, it is a little more acceptable and understanding that the Israelites were of the culture of the land. What was horrible to us today was simply common at the time.

What is certain, in this early stage of the Bible, God allowed more wideness in allowable behavior, in the same way that he allowed multiple marriages, but by the time that we get to the new testament, we are told that this was not the plan of God from the beginning.

What is clear, by David's time, is that men of blood could not build the temple. I hope that all Christian's take comfort in this fact.

For additional apologetic thoughts on the genocides of the Old Testament, please look at Glenn Miller's Christian Think Tank, for example this article, this article, and this article.

"Body and Spirit" -> The America Gets Fat

Here is a frightening link to do some research on. I showed by wife, and she kept saying "You're kidding me, right? What are we doing to ourselves?" In the map below, all the areas that are not blue have an obesity rate of 20% of higher. 20 years ago, all of America was under 20% and the "worst" color on the map would be the best color on the map of 2005.

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There is no way around it, America has put on the pounds over the last 20 years. If you look at the map, it shows the number of people that considered obese. Again, they also show data from 20 years ago, and basically every registered state only had an obesity rate of 10-14%. Any many had less. Today, the lowest state has an obesity rate of 10-14%, which is the dark blue.

In Europe, they are on the same trend:

The International Obesity Task Force estimated that Finland, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Malta have exceeded the United States figure of 67% for overweight or obese males.

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Now, I wouldn't go into a total panic, because we are dealing with a grayer population, as the bar chart shows. However, the gentle change in population clearly doesn't account for the total change in fatness. So while fatness does increase with age, and we are getting older as a nation, we still can't account for all of the changes.

For me, I think that the USA challenges is tied to:

1. Wrong eating habits

2. More stress, which makes you fatter

3. Lack of sleep, which makes you fatter

4. A systemic move challenge with our dopamine system, which may be related to the way that we've cross circuited our Christianity.

I hope that you have started to understand through this blog, that fatness comes from the brain, it does not come from the body.

I now tease you with ideas that I have been mulling about for 6 months, after I read Phantoms In The Brain by VS Ramachandran.

Dopamine, which I'll discuss in more depth in a later post, is a key neural transmitter. To make a long story short, it is associated with pleasure.

Did you ever see a fat Methamphetamine user? No, it is often called "Jenny Crank" because you don't need food to stimulate your dopamine if you have crank. (Meth does blow your brain a part directly though, albeit, you'll have a skinny death.)

We are in a culture that is addicted to dopamine. Those that in take all this culture has to offer will find that their brains burned out on a tingle of dopamine overload. If your dopamine receptors are strong and vibrant, it is linked to not needing as much food.

Our brain is not simple, but the answer is out there. Some how, but without understanding the common thread, there is something askew in the way that we are working the dopamine centers of our brain.

What things impact dopamine?

a. Religious experience
b. Food
c. Music
d. Sexual stimulation
e. Violence

If you go through the Bible, you will see that we are commanded to tie three of these together:

Praising YHWH through music and in feasts.

The last two have their place, but they are never, ever tied to religion. Somehow, I think that our lust for sex and violence (see television) has cross circuited us.

Time for research later, but it is an intuitive hunch that will be proven correct in this life or the next.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"Music" -> Artist Paul Anka

Rock and Roll obviously is the land of rebellion and strife: living your own life and living the artistic expression. Even with my conservative nature, I enjoy it when somebody stands up and does something new and rebellious.

I just never thought it would be Paul Anka.

Paul Anka is known as an artist of years gone past. His heyday was with songs like "Puppy Love," although he did come back in the 70's with a Carpenter like song called "Having My Baby." Ah, take your pick between sugar or saccharine because they both describe how I remember this man.

But here the other day, I was searching for "Black Hole Sun," and what name pops up, but Paul Anka? What would this Bubble Gum guy be doing with the Seattle grunge standard?

It turns out that Mr. Anka has taken 14 rock standards and brought swing band sensibility to them (think of the rat pack ala Frank Sinatra). I must admit that Mr. Anka does have strong musical talent. His voice is good. Finally, he knows his way around a swing band.

So I turned to Amazon to see what the listeners had to say, and I was surprised. There were 141 reviews and it seems as if they were either all 1 star or 5 stars. When I started to read the reviews, it was simply clear...

Paul Anka had stuff a dagger into some of the hearts of the Nirvana crowd. I really liked the following comment:

He murdered "Smells Like Teen Spirit" because he knew nothing about the song. He merely read a lyrics sheet. The song is all about teenage angst, anger and depression.

Obviously, this poor gentleman's feelings were hurt. He simply couldn't handle the fact that a grown up had shown up in his room and turned on the lights.

The fact that rock songs that have hit quality also have strong melodic components. The songs transfer wonderfully to the swing genre, and the truth is that music is no one's bailiwick.

The truth is that since the coming of hip-hop, there is nothing new. The music that is accessible to the kids of today can be accessible to their parents and even their grand parents. Kids will just need to find a new way of rebellion because music is no longer a good hiding place.

And by the way, I enjoyed Mr. Anka version of Black Hole Sun very much.

"Music" -> Ear Training Part III

I've already advised a bit of software for ear training, but it is worth it to spend a little more time on the mainstream way of teaching ear training.

If you recall, there are two types of ear training:

1. Functional ear training
2. Interval ear training

Let's spend a little bit of time on interval training, #2, method today.

If you have ever done ear training in the past, you probably learned the "interval" ear training method. What is this? You listen to two sets of notes on the piano, or the keyboard, and then you name the number of spaces they are apart, or the interval distance. Normally, these intervals are associated with songs that help you "hear" the interval.

Let us give an example: it just happens that the first two notes of Amazing Grace is a perfect fourth apart. If somebody plays the first two notes of Amazing Grace, it is really quite easy for us to recognize "hey, that's the first two notes of Amazing Grace." Now, any time that you hear a perfect fourth, you can recognize it because it is now always associated with Amazing Grace.

So let's look at the interval method a bit more.

Chris Aruffo in his website on perfect pitch spends some serious time thinking about relative pitch (this is just another name for what I have been calling ear training). If you want a lot heavy thinking, you should read his phase 7 page. He points out that when you do the interval method of listening, most people can get quickly to the point where they can identify instantly up to a 3rd or a 4th. However, beyond this, it becomes more difficult and suddenly they need to use the "song" method as a crutch. Why do I say a crutch? Because it places one more step in the path of getting to the note. Secondly, in our age, we don't have songs with strong opening intervals. For instance, if you are going to know a major 7th interval (M7), I hope you've learned "Bali Hai" because I seriously doubt if you'll recognize any major rock songs with this interval.

If you remember my Mom? She never used songs to get the intervals in her mind. We simply gave her the tune, and she could just play it. It was as if she could just pick the notes out of the air.

Some people have stated that if you do traditional ear training long enough, the translation will just become automatic, and you won't be struggling through an intermediate "use a song" method. Perhaps, this method will become natural and make you as good as my Mom. I'm a bit skeptical, therefore, I am using the functional method, which I'll describe later. However, interval training is the method taught by a 1000 universities, most high schools, and most music teachers. If the majority is right, then you should be using this method.

If you want to get started, you'll need a couple of tools:

1. Good software for intervals can be found here. This excellent peice of software is call "solfege," but I would argue that the software is not really solfege based. (More on this in a later post.)

2. Secondly, you'll need a good list of songs with key intervals. The best that I've found is listed below.

Here are some of the common used intervals to help you transfer an interval into a song to identify the step. For example the folks here, via Laura Krzyston, have the following as their suggested songs for interval recognition:

Interval Ascending Descending
m2 Jaws
What's New?
Nice Work if you can get it
San Francisco (Left my heart)
I Remember You
I'm Getting Sentimental over You
Bye Bye Black Bird
Stormy Weather
It's Been a Hard Day's Night (Beatles)
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Joy to the World
The Theme (M. Davis)
Sophisticated Lady
Stella by Starlight
The Lady is a Tramp
Solar (M. Davis)
Shall We Dance (The King and I)
Fur Elise
Hernando's Hideaway
M2 Happy Birthday
Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer
Silent Night
There Will Never be Another You
Tennessee Waltz
My Funny Valentine
Body and Soul
They Say, Ruby
Frere Jacques
Doe, a Deer (Sound of Music)
Mary had a Little Lamb
Deck the Halls
Away in a Manger
Yesterday (Beatles)
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Freddie Freeloader
Three Blind Mice
Whistle While You Work
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Blue Moon
Satin Doll
Tune Up
My Girl
The First Noel
m3 Work Song
Georgia on my Mind
A Foggy Day
The Impossible Dream
Somewhere my Love
O Canada
Oh Where, Oh Where has my Little dog Gone?
Brahm's Lullaby
So Long, Farewell (Sound of Music)
Frosty the Snowman
What is This Thing Called Love?
500 Miles High (C. Corea)
When Irish Eyes are Smiling
Hey Jude
Peter Gunn
You're a Grand Old Flag
This Old Man
Jesus Loves Me
Star Spangled Banner
M3 Oh When the Saints
I Can't Get Started
Kum Ba Yah
While Shepherds Watched
Sweet Hour of Prayer
Well I Come From Alabama
From the Halls of Montezuma
{Big Ben Sounding the Hour?}
Beethoven's Fifth
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Good Night Ladies
Giant Steps
Come Rain or Come Shine
Bessie's Blues
P4 Here Comes the Bride
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Oh Christmas Tree
'Round Midnight
Maiden Voyage
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
All the Things
Song for my Father
Love me Tender
Auld Lang Syne
Aura Lee
The British Grenadiers
Amazing Grace
Someday my Prince Will Come
Day is Done (Taps)
Shave and a Haircut
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
Valse Hot (Not Intro!)
Yardbird Suite
Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise
I Didn't Know What Time it Was
Almighty Fortress is Our God
Baseball Chant
Bizet's "L'Arsienne"
Make New Friends
Bizet's Farandole
Born Free
I've Been Working on the Railroad
TT Maria (West Side Story)
The Simpsons
Blue Seven (Sonny Rollins)
European Siren
P5 Twinkle, Twinkle
Theme from 2001
Whisper Not (Benny Golson)
Theme From Peanuts
Bags Groove
Lavender's Blue
Hey There Georgy Girl
Blackbird (Beatles)
7 Steps to Heaven (M. Davis)
Have You Met Miss Jones?
The Way You Look Tonight
Mozart's Minuet in G
Bring a Torch Jeannette Isabella
m6 Love Story (third and fourth notes)
The Entertainer
Morning of the Carnival
Go Down Moses
The Entertainer (third and fourth notes)
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
Love Story Theme
Please Don't Talk About me When I'm Gone
You're Everything (C. Corea)
M6 My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
Theme from The Sting
Dashing Through the Snow
You're a Weaver of Dreams
Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen
O-ver There
Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield
m7 There's a Place for Us (West Side Story)
Old Star Trek Theme
Have You Driven a Ford?
Somewhere (West Side Story)
I'll Close My Eyes
Watermelon Man (H. Hancock)
Theme from American in Paris
Little Red's Fantasy (Woody Shaw)
M7 Cast Your Fate to the Wind
Theme from Fantasy Island
Bali Hai (South Pacific)
I Love You (?)
Hee Haw
From the Grand Canyon Suite
P8 Somewhere Over the Rainbow
A Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)
Let it Snow!
McDonald's Commercial (?)
Del Sasser
Blue Bossa
There's No Business Like Show Business (Notes 2-3)
Weep for Me
I Love You (The Other One)