Saturday, October 15, 2016

This American Lives on $20 a Day - By Choice

To the majority of my readers, $20 a day is a pittance.  To the majority of people in the world, $20 a day is extravagance.

A few months ago I wrote about the correlation between income and life expectancy, and how Americans could dramatically trim our spending levels without much decrease in our lifespan. 

Then I heard from a reader who has been doing this for the last 8 years.  70-year-old American John Hostetter lives on $20 a day.  Because of this, he gives away enough money to provide clothes and blankets to 200 orphans in Kumasi, Ghana, along with supplemental food when their supply runs low.

A few of the children John's gifts help
You’re probably curious how he does it.  I’ll tell you in a minute.  But first, let me ask you a more important question: are you willing to sacrifice, even to suffer, in order to help those who are already suffering more than you?  As 1 John 3 says, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” 

When we have the desire and zeal to be generous and compassionate, the “how” usually solves itself pretty easily.

Here’s how it works for John. 

His total annual income is around $12,400.  He lives on about $7000 and gives the rest away.  He drives an older car (’02 Venture) and rents the lowest price housing.  He has a friend at the supermarket who gives him blemished vegetables and outdated canned food. 

A typical breakfast would be oatmeal, grits, rice, or quinoa, along with eggs.  For lunch, John might have fresh veggies such as tomatoes, onions, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and/or peppers.  And then supper is rounded out with veggies and sweet or white potatoes, sometimes with chicken, ground beef, gravy, and rice. (I share all those details to show that living inexpensively does not mean eating junk food.)

He still does a little mechanical work.  In his spare time he gives away Christian books and encourages people by email. 

I asked John how he combats spiritual pride.  He said the Lord keeps his pride down through constant pain from a broken back suffered in a work injury 25 years ago.  His energy levels are low.  So rather than feeling exhilarated at what he’s doing, John is hungry to serve the Lord more.

Do you feel the Lord calling you to adjust your standard of living, so that you have more time and/or money to give away?  I’d like to hear from more readers.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Would Your Year Be Better if You Lived on $9733?

"What is a man profited, if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Luke 9:25)

Globally, the median household income is $9733.  The average life expectancy at birth is 71.0 years. 

Here in the US, the median household income is $51939, and the average life expectancy is 79.3 years. 

In other words, although there is a correlation between income and life expectancy, the correlation is not proportionate.   If you want to dig into this topic more deeply, Google "Preston curve". 

Here's my question: is it worth our trouble to earn that extra $42K a year, to add another 8.3 years onto our lives?  In trying to gain more years, are we wasting our days?  What if our families voluntarily chose to live on $9733 a year?  There would be more lasagna and motorcycles and mobile homes and fewer Brussels sprouts and SUVs.  But although our lives would be shorter, we would either have a lot more time for serving (if we chose to work less) or a lot more money for giving (if we continued working the same amount). 

Have you already taken steps in this direction?  I would love to hear your story!  Wrestling with a particular aspect of your expenditures?  Share your quandary, perhaps someone will have an idea for you. 

(Footnote: household income stats are from 2014; life expectancy stats from 2015.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Help Create a Culture-Changing Shirt!

In the early days of Skype, you could set your Skype status to "Skype Me". "Skype Me" meant, "I'm bored, and I would love to talk with anybody." You could search the list of people in Skype Me mode, and strike up a conversation with them. I had a number of great conversations this way before Skype discontinued this feature.

But I realized that it's not just people who are online who are bored and hungry for human interaction. What if we could create a shirt (or hat) that these people could wear when they are out in public to let others know that they would be interested in meeting and talking with new people? The shirts would simply express availability for conversation.  So, for example, you go to Walmart, you see a person wearing one of these shirts, and you instantly know, "Oh, I could go talk to that person even though we've never met before."  Or, if you want to meet new people, you could put on one of these shirts, go to a public place and wait for people to come up to you.

But I am struggling to come up with wording for a shirt that would succinctly explain this idea. I'll bet some of you are still confused about the idea even after everything I've just written. The shirt has to explain it quickly. Here are a few ideas:
  • Help make me an extrovert. Come talk to me! 
  • Recovering introvert. Come talk to me!
  • Ask me why I'm wearing this shirt. 
  • Don't be a stranger. Meet me!
  • Break free of Facebook.  Come 'friend' me!
Please contact me if:
  • You have ideas for wording.
  • Or, you would be interested in testing different shirts to see which wording attracts the best conversations.
Can you imagine how the world could be changed if people rediscovered the blessing of face to face conversations, and the thrill of breaking through social fear?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Apps for the Spiritual Race

Technology can easily distract us from Jesus.  But it can also be used to help us pursue Him more faithfully.  In this post, I'd like to show you the apps that help me.

 For Bible reading and study, I use several free apps.  The Lumina app has the extensive notes from the NET Bible.  WORDsearch and Logos offer a lot of free books.  For the other three free apps, I'll give separate info and screenshots below.
 Blue Letter Bible has the best features for Bible study.  Great tools for investigating the underlying Hebrew and Greek, multiple English translations, and extensive commentaries (including Matthew Henry).

The ESV Bible app is a fast app that requires no internet access.  But it has lots of tools including cross references and free access to the Global Study Bible notes.
YouVersion makes Scripture a community project, by allowing you to connect with up to 150 friends and share verses and comments with each other.  It also has an amazing selection of Bible reading plans (I like M'Cheyne's) and a huge number of Bible translations in hundreds of languages.

 I learned about PrayerMate from this article by Tim Challies. In addition to helping me be more systematic and faithful to pray for people, it also has live feeds from missions organizations like Operation World and the IMB, and some great ways to integrate Scripture into your prayers.

Scripture Typer is a wonderful tool for practicing your memory of Bible verses.  I paid for the Pro version (it was worth it).
The Psalms app has the complete text of the Book of Psalms for Worship, and sheet music and MIDI files to make learning the tunes easier.   This one costs $9.99 (and again, it's worth it).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

My Favorite Feature Films

What a person loves, enjoys, delights in, and likes reveals the kind of person he is and will become.

As Henry Scougal wrote:
"The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love. He who loveth mean and sordid things doth thereby become base and vile, but a noble and well-placed affection doth advance and improve the spirit into a conformity with the perfections which it loves."
This applies even to the kind of movies a person enjoys.  So, for what it's worth (or perhaps I should say, for what I'm worth) here are my ten favorite feature films. 

10. Jesus.  The most translated, most viewed film in human history.  Available online for free in over a thousand lip-synced languages.  Unlike most Bible movies, this one is quite accurate.

9. The Runner from Ravenshead.  Cute child actors deliver a message that even adults need to hear.

8. The Woman Who Willed a Miracle.  The wonderful true story of May Lemke and her son Leslie.  (Whom I got to hear perform in person when I was a child.)

7. Pamela's Prayer.  Beautiful portrayal of what a Christian courtship can look like. 

6. The Appointment.  Tense, sobering reminder that it is appointed for men to die once, and then comes the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

5. Audacity.  How do you share Jesus with a homosexual?  Watch this!  (Complete movie is online for free.)

4. Fireproof.  My favorite of the Kendrick brothers' productions, because I feel the gospel is presented most clearly in it. 

3. Treasures of the Snow.  A story of costly forgiveness set in Switzerland.

2. Time Changer.  Is belief in Jesus necessary for society to have morals?  Professor Carlisle finds out, with the help of a time travel machine!

And my all time favorite film?

1. Behind the Sun.  The story of a young Muslim man who becomes a Christian, and must decide how much he is willing to lose to follow Jesus. 

P.S. Luke, I hope you like my list! :)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Write In Jesus!

I plan to write in Jesus for President on my ballot this November, and I hope you will also.  I'm not joking. I realize that some people still think that the Messiah is named Hillary or Bernie or Donald or Ted.  But this year Christian Americans should realize there is no moral majority, there is no political solution, and there is no hope for improvement unless God intervenes.  So this year let us throw away our vote as a public plea for Jesus to save us from ourselves.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Putting the "Awe" back in "God"

Despite regular practice of spiritual disciplines, I frequently get into a rut in my relationship with God.  It's dangerous when God becomes routine and the Bible becomes boring and we hunker down to try to simply remember what we already know.  The "o" in God begins to be pronounced "oh" instead of "awe".

A friend recommended a Bible study.  Behold Your God is a 12 week curriculum consisting of daily workbook exercises and a weekly DVD lecture.  It was produced by a guy I never heard of.   After looking at the web site I decided it was probably yet another case of someone taking a few great doctrines, pre-digesting them to remove most of the flavor, putting them in a slick media package, and charging way too much.

Fortunately my parents are not as "discerning" as I am.  They bought a set.  We started the study as a family.  Within a few days, I began realizing that this "guy I never heard of" was actually presenting meaty truths about God in a very penetrating, insightful way -- as if he did not merely know the truths, but had experienced them.  He navigated through precarious theological concepts, where many another teacher has wandered into error, with remarkable precision and fidelity to Scripture.
The study left me with a new level of wonder about and joy in God.  I have discovered more facets of His character that I have not yet explored.  And it is clearer than ever how His character should affect mine.

Buy a set, find a few Christian friends, and dig in together.  If you can't afford it, sell something!  Seriously!

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Best $1.50 I Ever Spent

I may lose some heavenly rewards for telling you about this, but hopefully it will result in you getting a few of your own.

Recently I was in Safeway, checking out.  The bedraggled-looking guy in line behind me was holding only a bag of chips.  I remembered reading a Mark Cahill* newsletter four months ago about using random acts of generosity to honor Jesus.  As the cashier finished scanning my items, I told her, "I'll buy his chips."  She was stunned.  So was the man.  I told him, "Jesus said, "It's more blessed to give than to receive.  I've found that to be true."  (I wish I had said, "He's been so generous to me by dying to take the punishment for my sins."  Hopefully next time.)  He looked me square in the face and said, "Thank you for living out the gospel."

I only regret that I took so long to try Mark's idea.  Don't be so slow!

* I recommend reading the newsletter I linked to, but this does not mean I endorse everything else Mark Cahill has written or said.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Samsung, Muharrem, and Jesus

This video is well worth your three minutes.

If non-Christians can do something so wonderful simply to promote Samsung, why can't Christians do stuff like that to promote the glory of Jesus?  I mean that.  It would be wonderful for Jesus-followers to conspire together and go to great trouble to bless specific people who haven't earned a blessing. 

In fact, Jesus Himself is already doing that.  He plans intricate timings, complicated sequences of causes and effects to bless specific people, and not just for a month in advance like this one.  Some of Jesus' plots take hundreds or thousands of years to come together.  And while Samsung showed kindness to a gentle man unable to hear, Jesus shows mercy to His enemies -- rebels unwilling to hear His voice!

Let us go and do likewise.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Don't Waste Your Acne

My school photo in 1994.  I don't have many photos of myself from this period of time, because I was not eager to get my face in front of a camera. 
Dear young person with acne,

I can relate.  I can count on one hand the number of people I've met whose acne was as bad as mine.  For a period of 5 or 6 years I scrubbed my face three times a day.  I still love the scent of witch hazel.  And I still remember the social awkwardness that acne fostered in me.  If I could step back and give advice to the person I was 25 years ago, I would say something like this:

Be friendly, not shy. People are more understanding and sympathetic than you might think.  They aren't thinking about how terrible you look.  So stop thinking about it yourself.  Greet people warmly and be interested in them.  A smile covers a multitude of blemishes. 

Appreciate your friends.  If any people actually start avoiding or mocking you because of your appearance, it shows that they weren't your friends to start with.  Acne filters your fans and weeds out the ones who love you just for the way you look. 

Don't worry about facial scars.  Acne is not going to make you look like an ex-con.  Becoming an ex-con will.  Two weeks of chicken pox when I was 18 left far more scars than 6 years of acne.  (And even the chicken pox scars receded with time.) 

Treat the cause, not the symptoms.  Generally acne is a sign of a more serious hidden imbalance.  Drugging yourself with tetracycline for 5 years may prevent acne but allow the underlying cause to worsen.  After 6 years of acne, I learned that the acne on my face was caused by eating soy, and the acne on my shoulders, by eating gluten.  I eliminated those from my diet, and the acne went away.  (I also learned that flax oil, 1 Tbsp per day, was very helpful.) 

Think long term.  This too shall pass.  If you don't follow Jesus, you will go to hell, in which case your body will be destroyed by something far more terrible than acne.  If you turn from your sin and trust in Jesus, you will go to live with Him, in which case you will get a new, perfect body (and you'll be more interested in His scars than in yours).

Worship Christ, who relinquished beauty - for sinners like you. 

Jesus gave up beauty when He came to earth:
He has no form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  
(Isaiah 53:2, NASB)
And even more when he was crucified:
His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.
(Isaiah 52:14, NASB)
I discovered these verses while I still had acne.  It amazed me, and still does, that Jesus chose to come in a wrapper that was not appealing.  And He did it for evildoers like me.

I'm indebted to John Piper's "Don't Waste Your Cancer" for the title of this post. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Antonin Scalia: So Close, and Yet So Far

I thank Jesus for the political influence of Antonin Scalia.  Not that I agreed with all his rulings, but for the most part, he did his job well, a sort of lone prophet crying out against a political world gone mad.

A friend gave me a copy of the eulogy delivered by Justice Scalia's son Paul, who is a Roman Catholic priest.  For me it is heart-wrenching.

On the one hand, there are some incredibly beautiful thoughts, such as these near the beginning:
We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.
It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of him. because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.
Those words are among the best I have ever heard at a funeral.  I hope someone says that at mine!

Or these, a quote by Paul from something Antonin had written:
 "Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God's inexplicable mercy to a sinner."
Or these, toward the end:
Finally we look to Jesus forever, into eternity. Or better, we consider our own place in eternity and whether it will be with the Lord. Even as we pray for Dad to enter swiftly into eternal glory, we should be mindful of ourselves. Every funeral reminds us of just how thin the veil is between this world and the next, between time and eternity, between the opportunity for conversion and the moment of judgment.
So we cannot depart here unchanged. It makes no sense to celebrate God's goodness and mercy to Dad if we are not attentive and responsive to those realities in our own lives. We must allow this encounter with eternity to change us, to turn us from sin and towards the Lord.
But then sprinkled heavily throughout the eulogy there are also tragic evidences of the Roman Catholic Church's departures from Scripture.  In particular, the belief in purgatory, and praying for the dead and indulgences as a way of leaving purgatory more quickly.
Thank you also for allowing us to have this parish funeral Mass here in this basilica dedicated to Our Lady. What a great privilege and consolation that we were able to bring our father through the holy doors and for him gain the indulgence promised to those who enter in faith....
He was a practicing Catholic, "practicingin the sense that he hadn't perfected it yet. Or rather, Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter heaven. We are here, then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God's grace, in freeing Dad from every encumbrance of sin....
We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: That all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.
This, in turn, is rooted in a view that Christ's atonement on the cross was insufficient, and required the additional aid of participation in the sacraments:
Further, we give thanks that Jesus brought him to new life in baptism, nourished him with the Eucharist, and healed him in the confessional.... He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation as Christ working within him for his salvation.
This is heartwrenching to me because all of this indicates that at the end of the day and the end of his life, Antonin believed he would go to purgatory, not heaven; that additional perfection and purification would be necessary in his life before he could enter Christ's presence.  Apparently he did not claim to have the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:9).  He could have gotten it with no need for suffering in purgatory, no need for sacraments, no need for people to pray for his departed soul.   Like the tax collector who beat his chest and simply cried, "God be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:9-14) Antonin Scalia could have gone home declared righteous by God. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Don't Waste Your Business

Recently a friend made a purchase online from Alpha Automotive, in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He forwarded a copy of his receipt to me.  I dare say you may never have seen a receipt like this before!  The red highlighting and blackouts are mine.

Here's a closeup of part of the bottom:
Life is too short and eternity is too long to wear a muzzle for 40 hours a week.  Don't let fear of loss of money cause you to be silent about Jesus!  (And then, back up your words with impeccable service and integrity.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hymn: Facing a Task Unfinished

I recently was introduced to the hymn "Facing the Task Unfinished", by Frank Houghton.  You can sing it to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation" (Aurelia). 

Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known

Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life, and love, and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night

We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers

O Father who sustained them
O Spirit who inspired
Saviour, whose love constrained them
To toil with zeal untired
From cowardice defend us
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Got Gospel?

Some subjects are inexhaustible.  Five local churches, including ours, are joining together on Saturday, January 23, to hold a conference about the gospel.  The conference is free, including lunch!  I would love to see you there.

Here are the details:
Where: Cottonwood Bible Church, 1020 S. Camino Real, Cottonwood, AZ 86326
When: 9 AM to 4 PM, Saturday, January 23
Cost: free (includes lunch)
Topics: What is the gospel?
How do I respond to the gospel
How does the gospel make me right with God?
How do I live out the gospel?
How do I proclaim the gospel?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

R. A. Torrey, the Busy B

Reuben Archer Torrey did not have the folksy warmth of his mentor D. L. Moody, nor the intellectual depth of Edwards, nor the eloquence of Whitefield, nor the theological precision of Spurgeon.  Compared to these giants, he was a grade "B" preacher.  But he was a busy B, starting both the Chigago (now Moody) Bible Institute and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University), conducting worldwide evangelistic tours like an early Billy Graham, and spearheading the conservative response to theological liberalism through the publication of "The Fundamentals".  The man was driven.

Torrey does not get as much press as the giants in whose shadow he followed.  And rightly so.  Nevertheless, when I learned that Fred Sanders had compiled a biographical portrait of Torrey using Torrey's own sermons and that Moody Press would give me a copy for free in exchange for an unbiased review, I quickly clicked okay.

How God Used R. A. Torrey contains thirteen complete sermons by Torrey, interspersed with short biographical bridges.  These sermons are sometimes bland, a tad repetitive, and occasionally wrong.  Nevertheless, they reveal the sincere heart of a man burning with burden to point his listeners to Jesus.  His "Found Wanting" contains an exposition of the 10 Commandments that sounds like something straight from Ray Comfort.

But Torrey was more storyteller than expositor, and the Lord blessed him with some amazing life experiences to tell about. His sermon "Why God Used D. L. Moody", while containing only one verse of Scripture, is jammed with powerful stories of his mentor's love for Jesus.

Should you buy this book?  If you don't read much, my recommendation is that you stick with reading more substantive dead authors such as Spurgeon.  But if you are a bookworm and enjoy biographies of Christian leaders, you will enjoy this book.  Most of the sermons contained in the book are available online, so you can read some to get a taste for free.  I also have a copy I'll give to anyone who will pay the postage for me to mail it to you!