Thursday, May 24, 2007

financial manana

Years ago, my pastor came back from a visit to Mexico with a very important language lesson: The dictionary definition for manana may be tomorrow but in actual use it means not today.

Everyone has weaknesses and issues but what amazes me is that these weaknesses usually exhibit themselves in how people handle finances. For some it is overspending; for others acting before they think. With me, it is procrastination. It is not what I do, so much, as what I don’t do that I should.

My financial problem, also a general personal problem, is what I call my manana things. Things I don’t do, my not today tasks.

One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.
~ Proverbs 18:9 (NIV)


A basic, common sense concept in economics is opportunity cost. Whenever you make a decision, the cost is what you decide not to do. Here’s real world example. I knew last fall that I should transfer from our savings account all but a small amount into a money market mutual fund (MMF). It takes 20 minutes to do this on the internet; the MMF company will send me free checks to draw on the account; and it pays four or five percentage points higher in interest. It was a no-brainer. It was also a manana thing: no big deal if not today.

However, by deciding manana, then manana again and again, waiting six months to set up an account, I gave up a few hundred dollars in interest. My slacker behavior was the twin brother of wasting, or destroying, enough to support a number of youths on their summer missions trips.

That’s right. I’m living proof of the truth of Proverbs 18:9.

I know of a couple in another community who signed up and paid for the materials for Financial Peace University, but never got around to going to the course either time it was offered by their church. When they finally sought individual help, their financial coach ended up having them do what they would have done earlier if they took FPU. They do have a sizable emergency fund in a bank account but not in a MMF. They have destroyed hundreds of dollars in potential interest payments. They have substantial investments in low-yielding assets and have lost thousands of dollars in potential yields in the past several months. In fact, they have lost at least a thousand since canceling an appointment to reallocate their wealth. They had a very good reason for canceling but the problem is that it became their manana thing to meet again to reallocate.

Doing nothing is really deciding not to do something. There is a cost. As for me and other slackers, we can take no comfort in manana. We are brothers of those who destroy.

Be blessed!
RB

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

trail mix, cheese curls, tater tots and pigs

A handful of banana chips, yogurt-covered raisins, dried papaya and cashews sounds like a tasty afternoon snack. Some people get a pretty good price per pound on trail mix if they buy the one-ton box.

Monday’s Wall Street Journal had a front-page article explaining how farmers are feeding their pigs trail mix, cheese curls, tater tots, broken cookies and other surplus products from food processors. Why? Federal legislation requiring bioethanol use in gasoline has caused the price of corn to double. One farmer saves $8 per ton on feed costs switching away from corn. This works out to $40,000 per year saved. Plus, the pigs like sweets (1).

Corn farmers are ecstatic about doubling prices but other farmers raising chickens, turkeys, heifers, and pigs, as well as those who milk cows and anyone in the food processing industry, are not pleased (2).

This past year there were demonstrations in Mexico protesting the steep rise in the price of tortillas, a local food staple. Of course, the cause was the rise in the world price of corn caused by the U.S. ethanol-from-corn fetish. What is so crazy about this is that ethanol from corn produces only 1.3 times the energy it costs to produce. Sugar cane produces ethanol with as much as 10 times the energy used to produce it (3).

Unfortunately we don’t grow much cane in Iowa.

I study economic development. As I often tell my students, few nations in the world are rich enough to get away with such insane policies.

Is this a great country or what?

Be blessed.
RB


Notes:
(1) “With Corn Prices Rising, Pigs Switch to Fatty Snacks,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 May 2007, p. A1.
(2) “Ethanol's Bitter Taste,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 May 2007, p. A16.
(3) “Twisted Economics of Ethanol,” The Wall Street Journal, 6 January 2007, p. B14.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

economist quick quip

From the Washington Post:

Perry Day Quick, 61, a senior staff economist for the Council of Economic Advisors during the Carter and Reagan administrations, died...May 1 at his home in Washington.

Asked how he could serve such different administrations as those of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Dr. Quick said Democrats and Republicans generally treated sound economic advice the same way: by ignoring it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

38 seconds of politics as entertainment

I have not been paying much attention to politics even though I have a student, a former advisee and North Country kid, working for Sen. Brownback in Iowa.

I read about the following video and checked it out. It is funny, only 38 seconds long, and the ending is wonderfully ambiguous. Before viewing please read this description that came with the video on YouTube.com:

As Fred Thompson has criticized Michael Moore for his trip to Cuba and visit with Fidel Castro for his documentary on health care, Moore responded by challenging Thompson to a debate on the topic of health care. Moore also made a reference that Thompson smokes Cuban cigars and is violator of the trade embargo. Thompson responds with cigar in hand. If this is a future glimpse of a Thompson political campaign, it is going to be formidable and really tough to beat with material like this.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

hurricane hoya

Hurricane Hoya blew into town for six days, leaving a trail of devastation and debris in her wake. Since her departure on Friday, we have been able to reclaim most of the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom. We are still waiting for Governor Spitzer to declare a particular bedroom a disaster area. It will be awhile before FEMA (Fixer of Excessively Messy Areas) can go in and make it inhabitable again. Actually, I’d settle for being to able to walk into the room.

Hurricane Hoya is away for the summer, living here in Colorado Springs with them. While he is away, she gets to drive this to her internship here in Denver.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

the mystery of communion

Once a month at our local church we partake of the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. Communion, Eucharist). Our church’s teaching on communion is that it is merely a memorializing, a remembering Christ’s death and sacrifice. Communion is a very important public act that is spiritually symbolic. There is no spiritual element to it outside of the symbolism. Memorialism or the Zwinglian view is the label put on this theology of the Lord’s Supper; a view held by Baptists and common among many Evangelical churches.

This is what I was taught. However, it never really seemed right to me. Although not incompatible with Scripture, it did not hang together or seem convincing to me. I could never put a finger on it but it did not seem to me a remembrance was the whole story.

Watch people take communion in a modern Evangelical church. They tend to partake of the elements in a manner that indicates that this is something more important than just remembering. Could it be that there is some witness in their spirit that there is, or should be, more to this?

The alternatives to memorialism presented were the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation or its cousin consubstantiation. Transubstantiation implies that the bread and wine literally become the blood and body of Jesus and implies another sacrifice each performance of the mass. It is obvious that this view was incapable with Scripture. Even the consubstantiation view that the physical presence of the Blood and Body are in the elements seems strange; you’d think it could be verified with physical analysis of the Elements. (Consubstantiation is often associated with Lutherans but their official doctrine is a quite similar and called “Sacramental Union.”)

Our local church also teaches a restoration view of church history. That is, God is restoring His Church to what it was before the apostasy. That is, the Church should be returning to its NT roots of the first century.

Sorry, but that just does not jive. Memorialism is not compatible with the beliefs and practices of the early church. That is, you can have the restoration view of church history and you can view communion as a merely a memorial, but you cannot have both.

The early church took the Lord’s Supper far too seriously for it to be merely a memorial. First, communion was an important part of every Resurrection Day (Sunday) service. Second, only leadership could bless the bread and wine – and the elements needed to be consecrated. Third, communion was closed and only those known to be believers could partake, and only those who were baptized. (In fact, visitors would have to have written certification from their home church in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper.) Fourth, the task of the deacons every Sunday was to take communion to those absent from the meeting.

Can you imagine the deacons in a modern Evangelical church going around to visit and administer the elements to everyone absent on a communion Sunday? Why do that if it is just to remember the death of Christ? Today, we would view all the necessary running around by the deacons to do this as ridiculous. However, the early NT church viewed it as important and necessary.

Could it be that the early NT Church had a different view of the Lord’s Supper than modern Evangelicals? Unless we dismiss the church leaders of the first and second centuries as stupid or superstitious, their practices concerning communion are clearly at odds with memorialism or the Zwinglian view.

I have been mulling this over for a couple of years. The more I learned about the early church, the more I suspected that we who hold that the Lord’s Supper is merely a symbolic memorial were missing something quite important.

As the semester wound down (as well as being inspired by a communion Sunday at my local church), I made time to do some studying. I discovered there is another view of communion called the Doctrine of the Real Presence. That is, there is a real spiritual presence of Christ in the elements; what John Calvin called a ghostly or pneumatic presence. The presence is real but not physical. This is the traditional doctrine of most Reformed, Calvinist, and Presbyterian churches. It is also the view of John Wesley and traditional Methodism; what Wesley called “The Holy Mystery” of Christ’s real, spiritual presence in the elements. Many Anglicans/Episcopalians also hold this doctrine but you will also find the other doctrines represented as well.

Thus, there are four main views or doctrines of communion: 1) Transubstantiation, 2) Consubstantiation, 3) the Real Presence, and 4) Memorialism. All four recognize the obvious symbolic significance of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial, as commemoration. Only memorialism denies the spiritual reality of communion. The first three views recognize that something real is going on in the spiritual realm. These three see the real presence of Christ in the elements.

The Doctrine of the Real (Spiritual) Presence is mainstream theology! Here Holy Communion is remembrance, but remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. There is something real, some spiritual transaction, taking place. It avoids all the pitfalls of doctrines involving physical presence. This doctrine answers all my nagging doubts; it clears up all the historical and spiritual contradictions inherent in the Zwinglian view taught by my local church.

This also makes the Lord’s Supper much more significant. It validates the feeling that we share in our inmost spirit that communion is more than intellectual ascension to the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. I can now understand why the early church called it the Eucharist (literally, the Thanksgiving).

This is really opening up blessings for me in ways I am only beginning to understand.

Be blessed!
RB


P.S. If you view this as a merely minor theological issue, please be mindful of the implications. Not only may you be missing significant spiritual blessings, but you are also implying something about the early church leaders. They viewed the Lord’s Supper as exceedingly, fundamentally important. Are you wiser, more spiritually insightful than they were? If so, I'd like to know why.

Friday, May 18, 2007

marriage as idolatry

Yesterday I wrote about Proverbs 30:23 and the tragedy of an unloved woman marrying. When googling this verse I ran across an interesting article that deals with ungodly attitudes toward marriage. In fact these attitudes are so embedded in our culture that Christians commonly buy into them as well. The following is abridged from Soul Mates or Sole Mates? by Gary Thomas:

Our culture has embraced a rather absurd notion that there is just one person who can, in the words immortalized by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, "complete us." This is a disastrous mindset with which to approach a lifelong marital decision.

The notion of a "soul mate" is actually pretty ancient. Well over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato surmised that a perfect human being was tragically split in two, resulting in a race of creatures sentenced to spend the rest of their lives searching for that missing other who can complete them.

The real danger in this line of thinking is that many people mistake a storm of emotion as the identifying mark of their soul mate. How else can you identify "destiny"? Such individuals marry on an infatuation binge without seriously considering character, compatibility, life goals, family desires, spiritual health, and other important concerns. Then when the music fades and the relationship requires work, one or both partners suddenly discover that they were "mistaken": this person must not be their soul mate after all! Otherwise, it wouldn't be so much work. Next they panic. Their soul mate must still be out there! Such people can't get to divorce court fast enough, lest someone steal their "one true soul mate" meant only for them. When we get married for trivial reasons, we tend to seek divorce for trivial reasons.

There is no indication that God creates "one" person for us to marry. This is because Christians believe that God brings the primary meaning into our lives. Marriage — though wonderful — is still secondary.

Consider, for example, Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 7:1-9. He clearly leaves the choice of marriage up to us; there are benefits to singleness, and benefits to being married. If you're unable to handle sexual temptation as a single, Paul says, then by all means, get married. There is no hint at all of finding "the one person" that God created "just for you.” It's far more a pragmatic choice: do you think you'll sin sexually if you don't get married (1 Corinthians 7:2)? Are you acting improperly toward a woman you could marry (1 Corinthians 7:36)? If so, go ahead and get married — it's your choice, and God gives you that freedom.

The reason it is so crucial to adopt the Bible's view of "good and bad choices" over your destiny of finding "the one" is that the former attitude allows you to objectively consider the person you marry. There is no objective measurement of "destiny." Powerful emotions can blind us to all sorts of clues; when we adopt the biblical attitude of making a "wise" choice, we can use all that God has given us to arrive at a solid decision....

The search for "the one" is often an idolatrous pursuit. As Christians, we must believe that our primary meaning comes from our relationship with God: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness...” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV, emphasis added). Thus, a Christian should not consider any marital union that would not feed this primary relationship with God. You'll bring great misery into your life if you ignore this command.

But also — just as importantly — we mustn't enter into a marriage expecting more than another human can give. If my wife looks to me to be God for her — to love her like only God can love her — I'll fail every time and on every count. I'm trying, but I fall short every day. Tragically, I see too many young people wanting to get married in order to find this God-acceptance and God-love. Infatuation can initially feel like it approaches this God-love, but eventually it fades, disillusionment sets in, and the once "fabulous" relationship soon becomes an excruciating prison.

Can I suggest a more biblical pattern? Instead of following Plato in a wild pursuit of our soul mate, we should seek to find a biblical "sole mate.” A sole mate is someone who walks with us as together we apply biblical love. The most accurate definition of true love is found in John 15:13 (NASB): "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

This love is not based on feelings, but on sacrifice. The Bible calls men to act like martyrs toward their wives, laying down their own lives on their wives' behalf (Ephesians 5:25). Love is not an emotion; it's a policy and a commitment that we choose to keep. Such a love is not based on the worthiness of the person being loved — none of us deserve Christ's sacrifice! — but on the worthiness of the One who calls us to love: "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

A "sole mate" appreciates that marriage is a school of character. Clement of Alexandria, an early church father (ca. 150-215), captures this thinking marvelously when he writes, "The prize in the contest of men is shown by him who has trained himself by the discharge of the duties of marriage; by him, I say, who in the midst of his solicitude for his family shows himself inseparable from the love of God."

Clement asks, who wins the prize? Not the couple displaying the most emotion, with the biggest smiles on their faces, or who can't keep their hands off each other; but rather, the women or men who, through the duties and sacrifice of marriage, have trained themselves to love with God's love. They live out the gospel on a daily basis, forgiving, serving, and putting others first in the most ordinary issues of life in such a way that they see themselves in training for godliness.

As Christ's follower . . . I’m called to take his example and his definition of love and apply it to my spouse. It really doesn't matter whether my spouse is a "soul mate," as much as it matters that I choose to love her with Christ's love. That means a sacrificial mindset marked by generosity, kindness, and mercy — for she certainly is my sole mate, my precious sister in Christ.

A biblical sole mate who walks in this truth, who daily travels God's journey of sacrificial love, and who willingly goes "into training" for godliness is a far more stable foundation upon which to build a lifelong partnership than the philosophy of Plato. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” This may not sound like the most exciting or emotional love, but it is certainly the truest love.


Marriage is a school of character? I don't know about you, but when I see something referred to as "character building" I translate it as "not being at all enjoyable."

Being self-centered and wanting my needs to be met, I wish I had known this stuff a long, long time ago!

Be blessed.
RB

Thursday, May 17, 2007

proverbs 30:23

Under three things the earth quakes,
And under four, it cannot bear up:
Under a slave when he becomes king,
And a fool when he is satisfied with food,
Under an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
And a maidservant when she supplants her mistress.
~ Proverbs 30:21-23 (NASB)


A couple of weeks ago I was reading at breakfast when Proverbs 30:23 caught my attention. It very clearly implies that it is a horrible thing when an unloved woman gets married. This made no sense to me. Isn’t it a good thing when the unloved find love?

With classes over and grades in, I had some time this week to study this verse. After looking up the original language in Strong’s, googling the verse, and searching Christian sites, I came up empty. There apparently isn’t much out there on this verse.

What to do? Since I doubt God got it wrong, maybe I should try to find out how it is true and therefore how I had it wrong?

Look around and you will have no problem finding unloved women. Often emotionally abused, and therefore very needy, they are very desirous of love. The problem is that when one marries, her husband never seems to be able to love her enough. In fact, she is unable to believe that she is loved. So when her spouse falls short of perfection, and of course, it is inevitable that he will, she will feel unloved and betrayed. As a victim of emotional abuse, she often becomes emotionally abusive herself, demanding works of love and respect but viewing every shortfall, real and imagined, as confirming evidence that she is unloved. Of course, this can set off a vicious cycle where she becomes even more abusive and more demanding, doing whatever she can to coerce her husband to love her.

If the earth cannot bear up under such a situation, few spouses will either. Marriage becomes a living hell. The tragedy is that the unloved woman cannot see this happening and cannot accept that she may be at fault. Everything makes perfect sense to her and she has no doubt that she is the victim in the marriage.

An unloved woman, or an unloved man for that matter, makes marriage something to fulfill one's own needs. Rather than looking for God to fulfill and meet needs, she feeds a cycle of disappointment by looking to an imperfect spouse to find perfect love.

This is not a Christian marriage; this is idolatry.

More on that next time . . . .

Be blessed.
RB

Note: Click the underlined for more on emotional abuse and the symptoms of abuse for female victims and male victims.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

typical

The grades are in and it is senior week at St. Lawrence. It has now turned out to be a typical senior week: cloudy, cold, and often rainy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

500 miles one way

Last Saturday we were on I-270, heading south for inside the Beltway and Hoyaland.

Strange: In rural Maryland, an eight-lane interstate, with the two center lanes HOV or diamond lanes, and the speed limit was only 55 mph.

Stranger: A police car was in the diamond lane going 75 mph in a 55 zone.

Strangest: A another vehicle was tailgating the police car going 75 in a 55 zone.

Best quote of the weekend: On the way home, Offspring #3 wanted to disconnect Offspring #4's Ipod Shuffle from the van's sound system in order to listen to the radio. Offspring #4 queried, "Can you explain to me just why we would want someone we don't know to play music we don't like?"

Monday, May 7, 2007

you don’t have to be smart to be wealthy

From the Wall Street Journal's Robert Frank's blog, Wealth Report:

Aren’t today’s rich more likely to have higher IQs than the general population?

Apparently not. At least not according to a new study by Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at the Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research, which found that the wealthy aren’t more likely to have higher IQs than the general population.

Yet the most-fascinating part of the study is the disconnect between wealth and income as it relates to IQ. Wealth and income are fundamentally different measures: Someone can have a high income and low accumulated wealth (if they don’t save) or they can have a high net worth and low income (if their wealth is tied up in a business or illiquid assets, for instance).

Previous studies have found a tight link between people’s intelligence and incomes: i.e., smarter people are more likely to have higher incomes. In Mr. Zagorsky’s research, each point increase in IQ scores was associated with an additional $202 to $616 of income per year.

But the link breaks down with wealth.

Why? Mr. Zagorsky’s not sure. One reason, he says, may be that smart people are just as likely as others to make bad financial decisions with their money, like taking on too much debt or failing to save. So just because people have high incomes and high intelligence doesn’t mean they are better at managing their money.



This is entirely in tune with simple math of compound interest shared in any financial planning course. Regular saving over a long period of time can make even people with modest incomes millionaires. This is also the implication of the research in The Millionaire Next Door. Anyone can build wealth.

Having a higher income or a higher IQ does not make someone less susceptible to credit card debt and overspending.

It doesn't take brains or special knowledge to build wealth. Do not believe the lie that it does. It takes self-discipline and a plan. No, I take that back. I can show you how to do it even if you don't have a lot of self-discipline.

It just takes a plan.

Be blessed!
RB

Sunday, May 6, 2007

four times in two days

It being another beautiful spring day today, I rode my bike over to SLU. Nationally ranked #6 Saints beat Skidmore 16-3 in lacrosse to win the Liberty League Tournament. Clarkson baseball also was visiting for a double header. Yesterday the Saints swept the Knights in a double-header in Potsdam, 6-1, 6-5, eliminating Clarkson from possible play in the Liberty League tournament.

Today, SLU swept them again, 6-1, 13-6. It was a pretty day but the second game was not pretty (Knights had six errors). It was an enjoyable game though. In addition, SLU’s ball field is the nicest college field I have ever seen.

Sunny spring day.

Baseball.

Beating Clarkson four times in two days.

Can it get any better?


Be blessed.
RB

P.S. Saints lacrosse won an automatic bid to the NCAA's. Saints baseball finished second in the Liberty League regular season and go to RPI next weekend for the league's tournament. They will have to wait and see about the NCAA's.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

free software to make pdf files

I have Adobe Acrobat at work and on my laptop, but not on our desktop at home. I have gotten into the habit of creating pdf files for anything that I once printed out. It is a lot easier to store and transport. If I ever want a hard copy, I can print out the pdf file and it will look like it would if I had printed out the original. Yesterday, I emptied out papers in a three-foot drawer in one of my file cabinets at work. It was full of scholarly articles I had photocopied or printed out over the years. I realized that I can get any of these online and print them to a pdf file. In fact, the important ones I had already done so.

While the Adobe Reader is free, Adobe Acrobat is a bit pricey. It is not worth buying for home use. I have been looking for an alternative for a while but even the off-brand software isn’t free.

This week I finally found free software that prints to a pdf file: PrimoPDF. It is easy to use. Like the pdf creator sold by Adobe, this software just sets up another “printer.” If you want to print to a pdf file you just hit ctrl-P and select the printer titled PrimoPdf. It will store it to where and under what name you select.

To check out and download click PrimoPDF.