Friday, August 31, 2007

And . . . We're Back

Well, myself and the fam have been gone for the past two days, camping at the Wilderness group use site at Camp Morton. I highly recommend it; it's super private for a group use site with trails everywhere and a beautiful and private beach. We had a great time as a family and my soul found solace in the beauty of God's creation. It was nice having a break from the internet as well. More updates and thoughts on stuff soon . . .

May Light increase!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Does God Want You Rich?

I recently read with interest this article about the topic of Christian's believing God wants them to be rich. The topic of money is actually addressed by Jesus much more then other topics but in the corners of Christianity that I cavort in, money is rarely discussed. I see two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to riches. On one side is the health and wealth Gospel; God wants you to be rich - you just need to have faith. Far on the opposite side is that money is evil; a pragmatic necessity that is constantly ready to consume your soul - stay away from it.

I'd like to think I avoid either extreme but I do lean more towards the second side, so it is difficult for me to really even understand how some people can believe that God wants them to live in material abundance. In the article above, the author's scepticism also come through; doesn't Jesus say the opposite - that choosing to be a Christ follower may bring you trials and tribulation? I do believe that God wants to bless us - he is the Good Father after all. Yet to presuppose that blessing will be of a material blessing seems difficult to find in the Bible (well, at least the New Testament). On the other hand, I don't see why God wouldn't bless someone with wealth - especially if they could handle it. I know a couple of wealthy Christ-followers who seem to keep wealth in its proper place and I aspire to be have their balance for myself.

Personally, knowing how to be a Christ follower in a wealthy country is a struggle for me. I am constantly tempted to let money be my master instead of God. The ironic thing is that money can be your master even if you are poor! The love of money is not exclusive to the rich - they just happen to actually have what many are wanting. One of the questions I like to use to test myself where I am in relation to God and money is this "Would I be OK if I lost all my wealth and material possessions today?" I mean of course it would be horrible, but if I just lost it all (or God asked me to give it up), could I? When my spirit says "no" then I know I have personal work to do between me and God.

Do I think God wants me to be rich? Absolutely. Rich in faith, love, wisdom, and the fruit of the spirit. Does God want to be have lots of money? You'll have to ask Him.

May Light increase!

Monday, August 27, 2007


I'm really, really out of shape. So last week I decided to try and have some discipline. I ran two or blocks everyday this past week. It's not much, but its something for me (I usually hurting by the end). I plan to increase it by a block every week or so until I can run a respectable distance again. Apparently the jarring motion of running is actually good for one's bones (moderate running) as it helps to build necessary strength in one's bones. I've heard that professional cyclists sometimes have dangerously brittle bones because cycling is great for the heart/muscles but is too gentle on the bones.

When I was in high school I was in pretty good shape and even when I was a youth pastor/camp director I was OK. But now . . . it's not pretty. It's not like I'm overweight or anything like that, my body just doesn't feel great. I'm tired alot, my muscles get sore easily, and I'm not as limber as I used to be. I still do push and sit ups a couple of times a week, but I need to them more consistently.

I challenged Jobina to try running and she tried it the other night. I was discouraged when afterwards she told methat she ran farther then I did and felt like she could have done more! Doh! I like running too, because it reminds me to pray for my friend Cole Choken (who I've posted about here), who's running from Calgary to Winnipeg this summer to raise money for diabetes (see this story). Yeah, the picture for this post is him, not me! Anyway, if Cole can run from Calgary to Winnipeg, I can run a few blocks everyday. And so can you! Why not start today? I dare you . . .

May Light increase!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Kiddy Pool Death Jump

I didn't think it was possible to jump 35 meters into a kiddy pool with only 12 inches of water in (and survive) but this guy does it. You gotta love the Japanese commentary (especially as the the voices get more and more excited nearer the jump attempt). Happy Sunday everyone!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mother Teresa's Dark Night of the Soul

"Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?"
- Mother Teresa to the Rev. Lawrence Picachy, August 1959

When I read Phillip Yancey's "Soul Survivor" I found it both encouraging and disturbing. It was encouraging to hear some of the accomplishments and faith of Christianity's greatest figures. I was also disturbed because Yancey also writes about their weakness and sinfulness. This intellectual and emotional reactions are similar to what I'm going through now after reading this article about Mother Teresa's disconnect with God during her most fruitful years of ministry.

What's your reaction?

May Light increase!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Blogging, Discipline, and Laziness.

It's funny, but I almost never get writer's block when it comes to blogging. Usually (like every day), I instead get what I call "writer's laziness." This is very different. I find that I have lots of topics that I could write upon - things that are happening in my life, things that I'm learning about, interesting things I've seen on the news or on the web - but it still takes hard work to sit down and actually do it. This desire to avoid hard work is what slows me down - not writer's block.

I see blogging as a hobby, but also as a discipline. It takes time, energy, and creativity to post something every day! Here's where discipline comes in. The reason I've recently taken to blogging daily now is to prove to myself that I can be disciplined at something (as my summer has not gone well in this area). I wanted to do 4 courses, work full time, fix my rental property, fix my house, spend lots of time with my family, read some books, etc, etc. Sadly, because of a lack of discipline (coupled with procrastination), I find that I will only have done 3 courses, barely fixed my rental, and spent only a few precious days vacationing with my family. I may have bit off a bit more then I could chew but if I had been more disciplined I could have done almost all of it. This knowledge makes me sad.

I'm reading through "The Way of the Wild Heart" and the author talks about how one of the aspects of God is the Warrior (for all my ultra-pacifist friends, sorry it's true: "The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name" -Exodus 15:3). One of the traits of the warrior is discipline, he writes, the kind of discipline that allows a man to endure suffering, a bad job, a difficult marriage, etc. I'm thinking that if I would reframe discipline as a warrior trait, then perhaps I will have more of it. Wish me luck . . .

May Light increase!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Real Friendship: Part 3

“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”
- Tennessee Williams

“True friends are the ones who never leave your heart, even if they leave your life for awhile. Even after years apart, you pick up with them right where you left off, and even if they die they're never dead in your heart.” - Anonymous

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friendship is something that is obviously important to everyone. Without friends, we begin to wither inside. We innately desire to share our experience with others, what Bill Hybels calls fellowship; "doing life together." So how do you know if someone is really your friend? I suspect it is different for each person. For me, it is involves four things:

1. Commitment/loyalty to the friendship.
2. Authentic sharing of how we are really doing.
3. Shared experiences.
4. Genuine caring for each other's welfare.

I was going to say chemistry too, but that is so subjective. It is important though, perhaps it is more of a prerequisite. Sometimes you meet someone and you just know that you'd like to be friends with them. So anyway, that's my list. What's on yours? By the way, the picture is of my son Riker and his good friend Calvin.

May Light increase!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Real Friendship: Part 2

“As iron sharpens iron so one friend sharpens another.” - Proverbs 12:17

Who you choose as your friends (and of course if they choose to be friends with you) will greatly influence who you become. For instance, who you are friends with will determine your income. Statistically, one’s income will usually not be more or less then 10% of one’s core friends. People tend to change themselves to be like those they hang around with. If you choose to become close with lazy people you will become lazy and if you choose to become close with hard workers, you will become a hard worker. The same goes for addictions, faith, political persuasion, sexual morality, personal health, etc. Truly we do sharpen (and dull) each other.

This is of course a generalization as it is possible to be rich and have poor friends or be on fire for God and yet be close friends with atheists. But such is always the exception and not the rule. Choosing friends wisely is important. What do you wish to become? Can you remain close friends with someone who is the opposite of what you wish to become? Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made on this front. One must see themselves honestly and ask themselves if they are strong enough to be true to themselves and their ideals and still remain friends with someone. If not, one must be willing to let that close friendship go.

This is problematic of course because two of the traits of friendship are loyalty and acceptance. How could you be a true friend and let the close friendship go? People go through stages of course and what if the friend is just going through one? I think this is valid and should be considered. But if after time you find the friend is not changing and you feel like you are sliding down to a place you don’t want to go, radical action is needed. It doesn’t always mean abandoning a friendship completely but it may mean moving a relationship from close to more casual. This is of course incredibly painful, but may be the necessary lesser of two evils.

Hmmm . . . this post got long. Am I making sense? Think I’m too callous here?

May Light increase!

Feedback Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Rod who is the winner of my feedback contest! Rod, let me know which of the fabulous prizes you would like and I will let ship it out to you ASAP! Thanks to everyone who entered, I really appreciate you taking the time to give me your impressions of my humble site (and it’s not too late if you would still like to). I will respond to some of that feedback on the original contest post and most likely you’ll see some changes on the site over time as I experiement with new looks and different content. In the meantime, would you prefer this template for my blog or the one I have now? Thanks for your two cents.

May Light increase!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Real Friendship: Part 1

I was talking to long lost friend at a wedding this past weekend. This guy was extremely authentic and though we don't know each other super well, was pretty real with me about how he was feeling towards God, people, and life in general. One of the things he said was that when it comes to friends he used to make the mistake of looking for quantity instead of quality. Now, he is looking for really good friends. Currently he's unsuccessful. I was touched by his open statement of longing for something good, but something that he doesn't have. It reminded me of talking to single people who have a real desire to find that special someone. They are ready and willing but that person hasn't appeared yet. It's beautiful and sad at the same time.

Anyway, this got me thinking about friendship. What is a truly good friend? When I say someone is my friend, what do I mean? At Olive Garden I hear people throw that term around quite a bit. But I wonder if there is huge lack of real friendship out there. Lots of acquaintances (quantity) but few people who you really know/let them know you (quality). Ask yourself (honestly) this questions: What is a true friend and do I have any? I think this a truly vulnerable place to go with oneself, it takes a lot of courage I think.

May Light increase!

Monday, August 20, 2007


"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." - Karl Barth, renowned theologian, responding to a question about what is the Gospel.

I am doing a course on the New Testament right now where you have to read through the entire thing twice, reading entire books of the NT in one sitting. At first, I didn't like doing this - I like to chew on a verse or phrase for awhile and this is something that doesn't work when your read one book at a time. After reading through each of the Gospels in one sitting though, I've changed my mind. This kind of reading can be very useful. Sometimes, I think we (Christ-followers) can get so wrapped up in the details that we miss the forest for the trees when it comes to faith. I was struck by the simplicity of the message as presented in the Gospels. The basic message of Christ is simple, a child can successfully understand it.

This was further brought home to me this week as I attended some of the last day of Avalanche Ranch, the vacation Bible school program that my kids went to last week. The messages that were shared were refreshingly simple and I found my own heart soaring as I heard them. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing I like more then to get into a deep, intense, and satisfying discussion on theological topics. But when it comes down to it my soul takes more solace in the most simple aspects of faith. Simplicity can be powerful stuff.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Russians Sponsor "Conception Day"

Apparently the governor of Ulyanovsk,a region on the Volga River about 550 miles east of Moscow, is concerned about the birth rate. He is so concerned that he has sponsored "Conception Day," a day that everyone has off and is encouraged to stay home and make babies. Literally. Not only this, but prizes are awarded! Here's the story:

Russian Governor Sponsors Conception Day

Also, I'm still looking for feedback on my blog (contest ends Wednesday morning). Leave your thoughts here and be entered to win stuff.

May Light increase!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Argument Clinic

This is classic, Monty Python - wordy, dry, and totally British wit. Enjoy!

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Live With A Chef

"There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden."
-Proverbs 30:18-19

When I got engaged, it was pretty exciting stuff. I was marrying the woman of my dreams; a beautiful, mysterious, fun girl who I was very attracted to. Basically, my attraction to her was my main concern at the time!

It's cool though when you marry someone and then later discover incredible gifts about them that you had no idea existed. For me, one of the big ones was discovering that Jobina was an absolutely incredible cook. I am so lucky! Honestly, I get amazing cooking all the time. Like the other day, I came home from work and was hungry and looked in the fridge. Jobina had made this apple pork stuff with some vegetables that I'm not exactly sure what they were. But as I ate it, I was like, "Wow, this is incredible!" It was so fantastic that I ate it as slowly as I could to savor it. Then I told her that I would be lucky to get such an amazing meal in a fine restaurant. It was like something that you would expect from the best place in town . . .

Sometimes it seems like a tragedy that Jobina's fine culinary gifts are wasted on one as unworthy as me. Really, she should be a chef in some famous restaurant or perhaps a celebrity's personal chef. The fact that she goes to all the trouble to make such amazing culinary creations for me and the kids doesn't seem right. What's worse is that I often get used to her high level of cooking and either just come to expect it or even worse forget to thank her for it. Maybe her cooking is one of the examples of how sometimes you just get something awesome that you don't deserve and you should just smile and accept God's blessing on you. But in case I forget to say it tonight honey, "Thanks for making us such amazing meals!"

(Full disclosure: I can also cook, though not to Jobina's level. My homemade macaroni and cheese is famous in our house. Of course, that is about all I can make, but truly it delights the senses.)

May Light increase!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Deep Thought: Everyone Is Beautiful

One time when I was waitering I was hit with this incredible thought. Literally, I staggered, as if my eyes had been opened to something completely new:

"Everyone is beautiful."

It sounds simple, but what does it mean? Here's what comes to my mind. In our society we consider some people to be beautiful and some to be ugly. Some are gorgeous and some are hideous. It's amazing really how we can reduce people to such terms - beautiful . . . or not. Like most people, I do this all the time. Whether the beauty is physical or in some other way, we forget that we are made in the image of God. When I go to tables now, I try to see people as God sees them - beautiful people made imago dei (in God's image). When I do this, I find I am much more pleasant, patient, and caring. There is literally beauty in everyone and once you accept this precept, you can begin to see it. By the way, the image today is the Chinese character for "beauty."

If you have a moment, meditate on that thought for awhile or if you can for a whole day. Write it down somewhere see how it affects you with your family, job, or church. And in case no one else tells you today: "You are beautiful" Whether you can believe it or not.

May Light increase!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blog Feedback: Suggestions Wanted

According to Blogger, this will be my 138th post! I started this blog as an experiment to share my thoughts on whatever I found interesting and enlightening. I suppose it has kind of evolved; not only is it about ideas but it's also become a personal journal and record of my adventures in life. It's also a daily discipline. When I first started it I wanted it to be pure, I would write what I wanted and I wouldn't care what anyone else thought. Lately I've really appreciated the conversations and interaction with others that I've been able to have and now consider my readers to be an integral part of the blog. Thank you! And on that note . . .

I've been thinking about changes to the look and content of Random Enlightenment. But I'm curious. Whether you are a regular reader or this is your first time stopping by, I'm wondering how you experience this site:

What do you like and not like?
What were your favorite and least favorite posts?
What would you like to hear/see more of?
What did you appreciate? Has anything impacted you?
What annoyed you? What doesn't work for you?
What would you do to improve the look of the site?
Any other suggestions?

Be as honest as you wish, I take rejection well! As a bonus, for everyone who comments, I'll put you in a draw for a prize (your choice of either Mark Twain's "Roughing It" or box of 12 packs of Excel gum). I'll hold the draw next Wednesday morning.

May Light increase!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is Brainstorming A Bad Idea?

When I was a youth pastor I used to love getting our leadership team together and brainstorming. I always assumed that this was the best way to come up with lots of great ideas. I was wrong. Apparently there is a scientific evidence that virtual teams (individuals working individually to come up with ideas for their team) perform better then people participating in face-to-face brainstorming. Marc Andreessen quoted Frans Johansson's book The Medici Effect:

Brainstorming [is] used in nearly all of the world's largest companies, nonprofits, and government organizations. And the reasons seem obvious... "The average person can think of twice as many ideas when working with a group than when working alone."... But is it true?

In 1958... psychologists let groups of four people brainstorm about the practical benefits or difficulties that would arise if everyone had an extra thumb on each hand after next year. These people were called "real groups" since they actually brainstormed together. Next, the researchers let "virtual groups" of four people generate ideas around the "thumb problem", but they had to brainstorm individually, in separate rooms. The researchers combined the answers they received from each [virtual group] individual and eliminated redundancies... They then compared the performance between real groups and virtual groups...

To their surprise, the researchers found that virtual groups, where people brainstormed individually, generated nearly twice as many ideas as the real groups.

The result, it turned out, is not an anomaly. In a [1987 study, researchers] concluded that brainstorming groups have never outperformed virtual groups. Of the 25 reported experiments by psychologists all over the world, real groups have never once been shown to be more productive than virtual groups. In fact, real groups that engage in brainstorming consistently generate about half the number of ideas they would have produced if the group's individuals had [worked] alone.

In addition, in the studies where the quality of ideas was measured, researchers found that the total number of good ideas was much higher in virtual groups than in real groups.

Go figure . . . does this mean that we should abandon face-to-face brainstorming? Not necessarily. First of all you can't equate quantity with quality. Secondly, brainstorming has other benefits besides idea creation (these include human connection, increased awareness of individual's progress fot the team, accountability, team spirit/unity, etc. Perhaps then the best way is to combine virtual and face-to-face brainstorming together by assigning team members to think on their own first and then bring a list of possible solutions/ideas to a face-to-face meeting afterwards. Then you get the benefits of both approaches.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Awkward moments

Me: Hi folks, welcome to Olive Garden. My name is Mark and I'll be taking care of you. How are we all doing tonight?

Guest 1: Um, not bad.

Me: That's good to hear. So . . . are we celebrating anything special tonight?

Guest 2:. Well, (pointing at guest one) she just got out of prison!

(awkward silence)

Guest 1: Don't worry, there was a good reason I was there.

(more awkward silence)

Me: Want to hear about some of tonight's special features?

My friend Jay (a former waiter) tells me a good story about when he referred to man at his table as "sir" but then found out that he was actually a she. Very awkward. Had any awkward moments lately?

May Light increase!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How The Lord Of The Rings should have ended

This made me smile a bit when I saw it. A well done parody is a beautiful thing!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Perfect Pastor

Imagine the joy you'd feel if you could find the perfect pastor? One lucky congregation did . . . until they realized he was dead. Read the story here:

'Perfect' pastor found to be dead

May Light increase!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Deep Question: Oppression

Deep Question: "Is it still oppression if I don't care that I'm being oppressed?"

Today I was reading in the Winnipeg Free Press an article ("I Am Not Oppressed) by an educated Muslim women who says that she wears the hijab (traditional Muslim head scarf):

Twenty years ago, when I was recently married and a graduate student at the London School of Economics, I, too, started to wear the hijab. I took this step with no pressure from my parents or my husband. It came after years of hesitation, years during which I held back out of fear that I would look ugly in a head scarf and that my progressive friends would make fun of me.

But I had so often gazed with longing at the girls at university who covered their hair, and I wanted to be like them. To me they seemed romantic, feminine, wrapped in some kind of mystique. I liked the look, but it was more than that. I was persuaded by the religious argument for the veil, which stresses modesty. I wanted to take a step in the right direction.

Recently, Muslim progressives have softened their stance against the veil. In some countries, the hijab's widespread popularity has made it almost the norm, rather than a gesture of defiance by a minority. Also, the veil has turned out to be a red herring; it has not stalled Muslim women's advancement, as was feared.
Oppression, it is true, is in the eye of the beholder.

Jobina and I got into an animated discussion about oppression yesterday. We were talking about how feminists get upset because they see oppression everywhere and sometimes when they see it and try to point it out to these women, the women don't can't see it (they disagree). Other times, something unique happens - these women simply don't care. This realization came to us when I hypothesized to Jobina that the women in the Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty were being oppressed because they were being objectified (just like any other female model) and that really this was low level oppression against the models and against the women who viewed the models as well. (I'm not sure if I agree with my own thought, but I like to throw crazy thoughts out to my wife and see her get upset!) Later in the conversation Jobina said, "Is it still oppression if I don't care that I'm being oppressed?" I thought that this was a very humorous and thoughtful question! Sometimes we genuinely accept or even embrace being oppressed and I find that fascinating. Can you think of an example where you know you are being oppressed but you accept or even embrace it?

May Light increase!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia: Part 2

Hmmm . . . no comments on my last post. I've thought a bit more about the topic of fantasy and Christian faith recently. When does fantasy cross the line for me and become something either unhealthy or unwise? Is it when I make it something it's not supposed to be? Here is where things get subjective again. I decided to try "brainstorming" a list of things that might get me to avoid a movie, turn off the TV, or close a book or comic. However, when I started to write a list, I found it extremely difficult. So I put the question out there (and see if anyone else has the courage to attempt an answer), what makes fantasy acceptable or unacceptable to you? I await your thoughts . . .

May Light increase!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia: Part 1

I had an interesting conversation with one of my camp staff a couple of years ago. I overheard him discussing Harry Potter with someone and listened in. For a few minutes this man passionately let his companion know everything that was wrong with Harry Potter. Harry Potter is evil! Harry potter is idolatry and darkness and witchcraft and magic all rolled up into one! I have heard this viewpoint many times of course (though recently a lot less) but I was curious.

"What about Lord of the Rings?" I said.

"What about it?" he replied.

"Is Lord of the Rings evil too?" I asked.

"Absolutely not. Lord of the Rings was written by a Christian, has Christian themes, and is not as nearly as dark as Harry Potter."

I thought this was interesting and asked him if there were not black magic, wizards, monsters and evil in Tolkien's books. He agreed there was, but that somehow "Harry Potter is different." I'd like to think I put a little bit of doubt in him that day, but I'm not so sure. Sometimes we can get so impassioned about something that we forget to look at the facts and miss our hypocrisy, even as we are judging something that we accept quite easily elsewhere. When I was in college I reflected similar negative views about Tolkien to my quad mates who were avid Tolkien fans. They knew I liked the Chronicles of Narnia and when they pointed out the similarities I couldn't accept them. "Narnia is an obvious allegory written by a Protestant," I said confidentally, "but Lord of the Rings is just dark fantasy written by a Catholic!" I feel pretty sheepish about my discrimination and lack of reasoning, but hey, I was young.

Once when we lived in Mennville I started a small group that was formed around a book club. Everyone in the group could pick a book and we'd read through it in two weeks and discuss it. One of the books Jobina chose was Harry Potter, Book One. One of the men in our group was incensed. "We can't read that book, it's Satanic!" "How do you know if you haven't read it?" we asked. Grudgingly he agreed and he reluctantly purchased the book. It was quite the discussion afterwards I'll tell you! He never changed his mind (which wasn't the point anyway) but at least he was an informed critic.

I grew up with the Narnian Chronicles and find them very uplifting for my faith. As for Lord of the Rings, after College I decided to give them another chance and now I find them totally inspiring. Harry Potter has never really interested me, and if I'm honest I'd say I've not been totally been comfortable with them but I know I'd be a hypocrite to definitively label them as "not good." Maybe I'm tentatively saying that they are "not good for me?" And truthfully, there are elements in Tolkien's and Lewis' books as well that do sometimes bother me as well. How much fantasy is OK when it involves sorcery, magic, gods, etc? I wonder if the average Christian really lets themselves consider all of the implications of what they are reading/watching when it comes to the occult? Or is it all subjective; as long as one's conscience isn't bothered, it's OK? In some ways I'm jealous of either those who say all wizard/occult fantasy is wrong or those who say that all fantasy is just fantasy so it's all OK. Life would certainly be simpler if I chose one of those views . . .

May Light increase!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

I Actually Won Something!

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
- Seneca (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)

“I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
- Thomas Jefferson

Check this out! I entered a contest on nakedpastor to win a copy of Bill Hybels new book A Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire that Ignites Personal Vision and I actually won. Will wonders never cease. With my luck increasing so much, I may have to start playing the lottery and plan my next vacation for Vegas. Also, if you'd like to get some of my luck to rub off on you, feel free to bask in my presence for a while. Hmmm . . . maybe this luck thing is going to my head? Nah!

May Light increase!

Seinfeld's Productivity Secret

It's not everyday you have the the chance to get productivity advice from Jerry Seinfeld, but here it is:

Seinfeld's Productivity Secret!

May Light increase!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Keeping in Shape Spiritually

One of the core ideas of evangelical Christianity is that you don't have to "work" to be saved. Salvation is a free gift, given to all those who believe in Jesus Christ. But just as being alive is better then being dead, being spiritually "on fire" is better then just being "saved." There are many ideas out there on what constitutes being on fire. I'm not sure how to define it, but I certainly know what it is to feel it - and not to feel it. Recently I was reminded of a principle that is found in this verse:

"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." - Romans 12:11

I think that is ironic that so many of us (including myself) are praying for zeal, waiting for zeal, and seeking it in spiritual experiences when the key to getting it is action - serving God. What exactly is serving God? I think of two components - obedience and ministry. When I was a teenager I took karate. Karate is a demanding art, you need to be in great shape to do well and it helped me to be in the best shape of my life. By constantly being in shape and feeling the good effects of exercise, I felt more and more "zealous" about karate. I think that it's kind of the same thing with spiritual fervor. Being involved in ministry and using our gifts to serve God produces zeal - we can't help but get excited about it. Just like exercise produces a natural physical high, so ministering according to one's gifts produce a natural spiritual high. This realization hit me again as I realized that in all of my busyness I've been neglecting my ministry muscles quite a bit - and am feeling the effects of it. It's time to start working out again!

(By the way, just as you can under-use physical/spiritual muscles, you can overuse them as well. Some people may actually need to rest or cut back on their ministry before they burn out. I have been there as well.)

May Light increase!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

"The Worst Thing I've Ever Seen In My Life"

From Gizmodo:

What caption would you put below this picture?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

When Pigs Fly

I've always thought that I would never get a minivan. "When pigs fly," I said to myself. I'm just a SUV kind of guy, or possibly a truck or sporty hatchback type. But "minivan-guy?" No, not remotely. Jobina has been working on me for several years now, but I have always been strong about this. Until now.

We've decided to sell our car and get a van. There, I said it.

Though this is not an easy journey that I find myself beginning, I think it is the right one. With a family who likes to carry around lots of stuff and with a rental property that occasionally finds me needing to carry around large items, it just makes sense. Also, it should be good for my outdoor pursuits - I could fit two kayaks on top of a van if needed. I'm sure I'll adapt and eventually even embrace a minivan, but for now it seems dramatic - like I'm changing my "automotive orientation" (or something like that). I look forward to my mid-life crisis when I will purchase something completely expensive, impractical, and fun.

Our good friends Mike and Rayna are looking for a new vehicle too, wish us all luck!

May Light increase!

Friday, August 3, 2007

House Wisdom: Part Three

Here's our house story: For few years Jobina and I had been looking for a 2nd house to buy as an investment. In October of 2006 we made an offer on an older 5 bedroom home in Transcona for $95,000. We settled on $97,000 and I got a mortgage on the home for $100,000 so that I would have some spare money to make repairs. We got a 25 year mortgage (2 year term) at 4.89 percent which has monthly payment of $575 a month. Because the home is in Transcona (which doesn't have a lot of rental space), and since the home is about 1600 square feet and has a nice garage, we were able to lease it out (for year) for $1150 a month. Here's what it looks like on paper:

Cash Put Into Property

Down Payment $0
Closing costs paid by me $2000.00
Repairs Paid by me $1000.00
Total: $3000.00

Monthly Cashflow Analysis

Rental Income: $1150.00
-Vacancy Loss (5%) $57.50
Total income: $1092.50

Monthly Expenses:
Taxes $143.94
Insurance $75.92
Repairs/Maint (6% of rent) $65.55
(5% of rent) $57.50
Manage. Fee (5% of rents) $57.50
Mortgage Payment $575.00

Total Expenses: $975.41

Net Monthly Cashflow: $117.08

Annual Cashflow $1405.05

We actually pocket about $176 a month from our property since we manage it ourselves. Anyway, as you can see it's important to put money aside for repairs/maintenance and a reserve. We also have a vacancy loss of 5% just in case we eventually have a month or two when we are between renters. I conservatively estimate that the house is worth about $120,000 now, a profit of $20,000 grand in less than a year! Now if we can do it, what's stopping you?

May Light increase!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

House Wisdom: Part Two

If I could tell you how to buy a second house with almost no money and minimal work, would you do it? Let's say you buy a house that appreciates $10,000 a year. In ten year's you could sell it and pocket $100,000 (before taxes)! There's several ways to do it, but here's a simple way that worked for us:

1. Buy your own house. If you haven't bought one yet, you'll have to get your first and then wait a couple of years. During this time, start looking at properties and getting an understanding of your local housing and rental markets.
2. After you've owned your house for a couple of years, get it appraised. So if you bought it for $200,000, let's say it's now worth $275,000. That means you have an extra $75,000 in equity (more if you've paid a lot of the home off). This equity can act as a kind of "psuedo-down payment" which you can use instead of cash as a downpayment to purchase another property. Banks generally require 25 or 35% downpayment which means you could potentially purchase a 2nd property for $300,000. Go in and talk to your bank (armed with your appraisal) and let them know you'd like to be pre-approved for a loan for up to $300,000 to buy a 2nd house.
3. Now at this point, the bank will want to know that you have the income to cover the monthly costs of your property. To get this money, you'll need to rent or lease out the property. The rent money needs to cover at least the following:
-monthly mortgage costs
-utilities (if you are paying them)
-management fees (if you get a company to manage your property)
If the bank thinks you can rent out a property for what you say you can and everything checks out, they will pre-approve you for the loan. Not all banks are as open to this kind of investing, so if your bank isn't, find another bank (or better yet a Credit Union - I highly recommend Crosstown Civic Credit Union here in Winnipeg - they are real estate investor friendly).
4. Go house shopping. I suggest finding a realtor who is themself a real estate investor - they will put good properties your way and find out potential rents for you. You must make sure you purchase a home that will at least cover (or better yet exceed) the monthly costs you anticipate from the home out of the rents. I have a simple spreadsheet which acts as my real estate calculator and I can size up a property and know if is viable in about 5 minutes. Contact me if you are interested in getting it.
5. Purchase the property. Make sure you factor in closing costs (sometimes 2-4% of the purchase price) and repair costs too. Then rent/lease it out the property or get a management company to do it for you.
6. Keep your renters/leasers happy and hold onto that property as long as you can!

This is a simplified explanation of the process. There is definitely work and risk involved and you need to buy wisely, but the key is that it doesn't take much money down. I think our investment property cost us about $2000 all together and that's cause we didn't put our closing costs into the mortgage. I hope this all makes sense, feel free to ask me questions. The cool thing about doing this is that you are using the equity in your house now to purchase another house which will also rise in value meaning in a couple of years you can do it all over again with a third house (using the increased equity in both of your other houses). Tomorrow, I will show the details on our own rental property so you can see how it works in reality.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

House Wisdom: Part One

“Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.” - Henry David Thoreau

As soon as one is able, one should buy a house. A house is a fantastic investment though it does cost a bit more then renting and it will take time, energy, money, and occasionally stress to maintain. I feel blessed to own a house. I'll tell you why - because every night while I'm sleeping, my house is making me money. How you ask? Because it is appreciating in value.

Houses almost always appreciate in value. Occasionally they will plateau or even decrease for awhile during a bad market (unless you bought it in a one-industry town), it will eventually go back up in value. Almost everyone can buy one. When we bought our first house Jobina felt sick but I felt like it was the smartest thing I had ever done. I felt sick (literally) about renting for 7 years! Renting may be convenient and occasionally necessary but its also like throwing away money. Renting gets you nothing in the end.

So here's the kicker; owning one house doesn't really get you anywhere. True, it's better then getting nothing (throwing away your money renting) but think about it. Let's say you buy a house for $100,000 and two years later sell it for $130,000 (that's what appreciation has been like in Winnipeg). You think, "Wow, I just made 30 grand!" But, if you want a new house to live in you need to go buy another one which has also been appreciating. Thus buying a new home cancels out the appreciation profit of your old one.

The solution: buy at least two houses. Getting a first home is a lot easier then you think. Then when you buy and eventually sell a second house, there will actually be real profit. Jobina and I are economically challenged but we have two houses and will hopefully some day buy some more. This may seem impossible, but if you already own one house, you almost certainly can get another. Think I'm crazy? Tomorrow, I will share some simple ways to do this.

May Light increase!