Puh-kah anyone?

Ben and Abi’s new favorite snack is pickles — called “puh-kahs” by Ben, when he opens the fridge door and demands one.
This is unfortunate, because when a pickle is left dried up on the floor, it looks disturbingly like a turd.

Lighten things up around here

Birthday Presents
This weekend we celebrated Abigail’s first birthday. Nic’s family came over and we had cake, made by Nic, and slightly burnt burgers made by yours truly. Abi opened a present all the way from Malaysia, and Benjamin spent most of the time “helping” Abigail play with her gifts.
There’s lots more pictures and video on Vimeo and Flickr, via the sidebar.

The Emerging Church

I usually try and wait until my thoughts on a subject have fully percolated before I blog on them. I’ve been told that I’m rather direct in the communication of my thoughts and opinions, so if I come across loudly, I try to make sure I’ve at least thought through what I’m shouting.
However, this post contains some thoughts that aren’t fully percolated, and as a result, may not be totally articulate or well-formed. Nonetheless, I feel a sense of urgency in communicating something on the subject.
There is a movement of young Christians happening right now. If you read my blog, and only my blog, you’ll have caught pieces of it. But there’s lots of other people out there who are much better equipped to lead and communicate this movement. If you think I’m alone in my desire to move away from a useless unChristianity, toward something that better resembles the life of Christ — something that is acted out in tangible ways — you should probably find some other (better) blogs to read on the subject.
The reality is that for my generation, Christianity is not an issue of denomination or tradition or strict rules. Its about whether or not Christ’s message of grace and redemption makes a difference. Ours is a world where absolutes are rare, and where social responsibility is almost a religion of its own. If there are two-dozen faith-based systems, all apparently offering a path to eternal bliss, then what sets us apart? And if your local homeless shelter is run by agnostics, and not Christians, then what are we demonstrating about love?
So if there’s an emphasis of late on new methods, new styles of worship, new activities or venues, a renewed interest in community and relationship, on meeting people where they’re at, instead of demanding that they change first so that we’re comfortable around them, I don’t consider that a bad thing. In my opinion, its about time.
However, there’s a danger that comes along with that. In an effort to make Christianity more “relevant” — or more palatable, there’s also a significant movement to strip our faith of anything that might be offense to someone who doesn’t believe what we do. At the forefront of that movement in North American culture is something called the Emergent Village.
Emergent VillageThe Emergent Village is a loose organization of young professing-Christian leaders having “conversations” about what they really believe. Asking questions like “do we really believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven?” or “Is hell really real?”
Now, I love asking questions, and debating the mysteries of our faith. And the Bible leaves some things up for debate — I think God left some questions unanswered so we could pursue Him intellectually. But some questions He’s already answered very clearly for us. His Truth is there to accept, or deny. And if we accept Christ, then we have to accept what He says was true.
Cause here’s the thing: if we make Jesus a liar, then what we offer is a lie. The point of Christians demonstrating grace in their communities — helping the homeless, reaching out to those in need — is to point toward God’s Grace in sending His son as the ultimate sacrifice for us. If we decide to paraphrase Christ, or the absolutes that He delivered through His words, then our actions are hollow. They cease to be communicating a love greater than ours, and simply become ways for us to feel better about ourselves.
If that’s the extent of our pursuits, that’s fine. But if there really is hope beyond the human condition, then the Truth that leads to it has to have been established by someone beyond the human condition. Us humans are way too good at rationalizing truth into any shape that pleases us.
As Marc Driscoll says (much more eloquently than I) the methods go in the open hand, the message in the closed hand. Paul the Apostle said, “I become all things to all people that I might win some.”
The point is, the church needs to change. The members of our churches need to change. We need to be real and relevant and impactful in our communities. We need to demonstrate Grace and Truth in ways that are meaningful to those around us. Our methods must be timely.
But the message? It hasn’t changed, and it cannot change. Our message is timeless. And those who attempt to twist it into something more comfortable, or leave out the parts that make us conscious of our need for Jesus, are deceivers and false prophets.
Religion means finding something better than yourself to believe in. Not following blindly, but not changing things to escape changing yourself.
PS: Here’s a completely secular video that takes a look at the Emergent Movement. Please note the link, above, to Driscoll’s talk on the same subject to understand the differences within this movement — some are actually good. One is clearly from the Deceiver.

unChristian

unChristian BookIn our small group we’re studying a book called unChristian. Its one that rings true with me, and challenges me on many levels. On the surface, its about un-Christ-like behavior in the Christian community — especially in North America. It was written by a researcher who has collected hard data that clearly illustrates how miserably we are failing to communicate the love and message of Christ.
On a deeper level, though, the book is about discipleship. About how even in the people we do manage to “win” despite our flawed approach, we are then failing to disciple them. That we teach Christianity as a decision, and miss the relationships — with our savior, with each other, and with those we are called to love. And the result is a superficial, useless unChristianity — one that tarnishes the name of Christ and His followers.
Here’s an excerpt (with emphasis by yours truly) but if you have any desire to share what you believe, you should get and read the whole book. It will challenge you no matter where you’re at…
What difference does transformation make? It changes our ideas of spiritual effectiveness. We should measure success not merely by the size of our church or the number of baptisms, but also by the depth and quality of spiritual growth in people’s lives.
When Christians live out what the Bible teaches, we have an influence on our culture… We are actively representing Christ to a needy world. As we go about our daily lives, God’s words and actions flow out of us.
Christianity must reverse its current image and become dynamic, genuine and real. If we can prevent the message from being watered down by causal Christians, outsiders will begin to experience believers who are being transformed by their faith and who are working in humble and respectful ways to transform the culture.
How does this relate to outsiders? Shifting the get-saved perception happens when we learn that relationships are the key — not just in leading people to Christ but also in helping them be transformed.

1 year

Since there seems to be some confusion, I went back to video I made and double-checked. Poor kid — her dad doesn’t even know when her birthday is! Well, it’s today. On March 25 last year, our Abigail was born. Now she’s a walking, close-to-talking little princess, determined to keep up with her big brother.

Abi's "Hunh?" face “I can’t believe you don’t know when I was born, dad!”

There’s a video of her in the sidebar, pretending to wash dishes. Happy birthday, sweetheart!

Technological Dissonance

LaserDisc LogoIn the late 1970s an incredible new video technology debuted. Originally called Discovision, it delivered high resolution movies on an optical platter roughly the size of an LP. Although it was an analog medium, movies frequently included a digital audio track (typically 3 channel DTS) along-side the stereo analog track.
LaserDisc was significantly more expensive — and delicate — than VHS and BetaMax, with which it competed, but until the DVD format came out commercially in 1996 (in Japan, ’97 in the US and Canada) it was unrivaled for video quality. Although it mostly disappeared by the 90s, it still had a niche with serious videophiles — and karaokee bars.
Laserdisc
Pictured here is a 2009 model Blu-ray player, the great-grandchild of the LaserDisc, sitting atop a late-model LaserDisc player. They’re connected by a late 90s DTS stereo receiver and a mid 2000s LCD HDTV, controlled by a Harmony Universal Remote control. 3 decades of cutting edge home theater technology working together beautifully.
A geeky tear might have welled up in my eye when it all started talking to each other.

Due East

Turns out the easiest way to get your tax refund from your American bank to your Canadian one is just to drive to the States, get a money order made out to yourself, then drive back…
So we’re off to Buffalo tomorrow to do just that. And since we’re there we figure we might as well hit a Target (accent on the e) and Best Buy. Most of our tax refund is going to good, worthwhile endeavors, as discussed earlier. But we did so well this year, that we’re going to get a toy or two with a little bit of it ;o)
Samsung BDP-2550
I’m getting us a Samsung BDP-2550. Blu-ray disc, and NetFlix streaming playback, here I come! Alas, this is the end of my relationship with HD-DVD as well. I’ll keep a couple as collectors items, but I guess I’ll dump the rest.
Which reminds me, I now have an XBox 360 Pro for sale if anyone’s interested. Drop me a line!

Financial Goals

Its our goal, before we turn 31, to have zero debt (aside from our mortgage), 3 months salary in the bank, an actively growing retirement savings fund, about 10% of our mortgage paid off, and disposable monthly income we can use for our adventures.
This year, after a few long years of hard work, catapults us forward drastically in reaching those goals. Our combined student debt will be paid off by May, and assuming all continues to go well with tax season (in two countries), my credit card debt will be gone — never to return, if we have anything to say about it.
So with those victories on the horizon, I’m feeling confident enough to write a blog post about the steps we’ve taken to reach those goals. We’re still learning about finances, so maybe some of you can add some ideas or suggestions. Or maybe some of what we’ve learned can be useful to someone out there!
Marry an Accountant
OK, maybe not everyone can do that, but seriously, its good if you (or one of you in a relationship) has a gift for, or can teach themselves the gift of, managing money.
Use Quicken
Or Microsoft Money, or Mint, or whatever product you like. The key is to have a system in place that can give you reports of where your money is going. This is critical. Developing the discipline to record your spending has an immediate benefit: you’re forced to re-visit your stupid purchases as you enter them in, and the chagrin you feel discourages you from spending like that in the future. Downloading your transaction history from your bank website is not the same as typing it in (using receipts, when possible.) This also has a long-term benefit for the next step.

Expenses Chart

Reports like these make it clear how your expenditures break down. Once you have a couple months of data in there, you can get a very realistic picture of how you spend money, and identify areas where you might need to cut back, or become more disciplined.
Budget
This step comes after Quicken. To think you can make a realistic budget without knowing where your money is going is folly. The easiest way to become disillusioned with budgeting is to set goals you can’t really keep — in a couple weeks you’ll realise your budget it useless and throw it out.
Use Quicken (or a similar program) first, to understand what you actually spend, then set achievable goals based on those figures.
Nicole uses an in-depth, complex Excel spreadsheet where she can predict 10-12 months in advance what our financial situation will look like, based on the budgeting figures she has entered there. There’s no way we could have pulled off two international moves without the crystal ball she built in Excel.
Use Cash
You probably don’t need to do this your whole life (although we have wealthy friends who do) but at least until you can make and stick to your budget, its a great help in developing that discipline:
Every pay period, Nic takes out cash according to the budget. Then she puts it into buckets: groceries, entertainment, allowance for Jon, etc… And that’s all we spend in those categories. When the cash is gone, that’s it. The bank account is used to pay bills, and the credit cards aren’t used at all.
Tithe
When you trust God with a portion of what He gives you, He will bless you for it. That’s a guarantee. Every significant financial event in our lives, whether its a good tax season, or a raise at work, can be tied directly to obedience in this area. Also, it makes for a really great tax return. A couple practices we’ve adopted:
Don’t tithe on debt. Student loans or consolidation loans aren’t income. They’re debt, and God hates debt. That money is poison in the long term, just pay it off as soon as you’re making real money.
Do tithe on income, even when you’re in debt. If you wait until your debt is gone before you begin tithing, you may be waiting for your whole life. Set aside the tithe and the debt reduction payments first, then budget your life. God will honor your obedience and stewardship.
(Combining these two principles means if you’re a student living solely off student loans, its not the time to develop this discipline. However, if you work during the summer, tithe during the summer.)
Tithe where you’re passionate. Churches love to teach about tithing. And that’s great — its a Biblical truth. Bring your blessing to the storehouse! But that’s not the only place to tithe. We carve out a percentage of our tithe for our church, but the majority of it goes to missionaries. We’re passionate about missions, and our friends who are on the missions field. Tithing to God’s work through them is exciting, and gives us a way to be a part of that effort.
If you’re passionate about some other Godly ministry, tithe there! That doesn’t mean you can tithe to Starbucks or Best Buy (or even United Way, sorry!) Your God-portion should go to God‘s work. But there are lots of expressions of that work. Find one you can get excited about, and be obedient there!
And look for opportunities to tithe above-and-beyond. Doing so unlocks blessing above-and-beyond what you’d expect!
Let the Government Help You
Set up your taxes to err on the side of caution. Its better that they take too much from you on each pay check and owe you money at tax time, then the other way around.
Let Your Employer (or Bank) Help You
The only reason we have retirement savings is because my employer takes a little chunk off each pay check, partially matches my investment, and tucks it away into a savings program. Since we never really “see” that money, its not painful when it goes away, and before long there’s a nice, growing balance in that fund.
If your employer doesn’t have such a program, your bank can probably help you there (although I doubt they’ll match your investment.)
Either way, if you’re done college/university, start saving!
Other Stuff
Don’t buy designer clothes, or name brand food (unless the no-name equivalent is really bad). Guys, don’t be metro. I tried living like that for a while — my wife didn’t think I was any hotter, but we were a heck of a lot poorer. Be a man — a daily shower, some deodorant, and comfy old jeans will do just fine 99% of the time, and your bank account will look a lot sexier.
Don’t make major purchases without discussing them with someone first. One friend we know has her credit cards frozen in a baggie of water in her freezer. If she wants to buy something, she has to wait for the baggie to thaw before she can buy it — which gives her time to cool down and think about her purchase.
Don’t drive the nicest car of anyone you know. I know having a nice car feels really good, and man there are times when I wish we had cool features (like cruise control!) But I’d rather be a debt-free, cheerful giver, then rollin like a pimp.
Don’t “treat” yourself — except if its something you can afford out of your allowance (see budgeting, above.) No, you don’t really deserve it. If you did, someone else would see that and buy it for you! Live below your means, its better for you!
Buy a house as soon as you can afford it. Ya, I know we resisted this for a long time, but it really, really is a good investment. Our mortgage payments are less than we were paying in rent a year ago — and this place is ours!
Cut back on cable TV, cell phones, and other monthly expenses you probably don’t need as much as you think you do.
That’s about all I can think of. Nic could probably come up with more, but while she’s the family accountant, I’m the family scribe, so this is all I’ve got. Anyone else have any suggestions for how to achieve financial freedom? (Other than CutCo…?)

Spring is Springing

And with it comes colds. I’m finally over mine, and have my voice back at full hollering strength, but its working its way through our kids now.
Ben seems to be mostly recovered — Nic woke up one night to check on him, and he had a fever of almost 104. The poor guy was miserable yesterday, sitting in his chair, mouth hanging open, eyes drooping, barely holding his head up to watch TV. Today he’s pretty much his normal self.
So now its moved on to Abi, who can’t nap today because she can’t breathe — she insists on having her soother (paci, nuk, whatever you call it where you are) in her mouth, and her nose is too full of snot.
Nic, as usual, thus far remains immune. Alas, none of these inflictions have ever hit Daisy…
As reported, the last 10 days have been very busy, but things will be slowing down a bit by next week, so we’re hoping the weather continues to be beautiful and we can enjoy some time outside of the house together. We’re itching to start our outdoor home improvement projects!
Note the new video, and pictures on the sidebar…

The History of the Modern Mac

NeXTOK, that was fun. My voice barely made it, but I managed to talk for the better part of 2 hours, about nothing but geek stuff.
In the mid 90s it was very hard to be a Mac fan. But this group of people, like many other faithful users, did it anyway. They bombed down to Boston every year in a van and rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in tech — in the 90s anyway.
Sign of me!Talking about the company Steve Jobs created after he left Apple in 1984, and how what that company pioneered changed computing, and in particular, changed the Mac into an entirely new beast, was giving this group the back-story to the history they experienced. A chance to re-live the glory years, when the Mac was anything but glorious.
For some of them it was a bit technical, and I could see their eyes going square on me, but over-all I think it went pretty well. I got lots of nice compliments on my presentation, as well as the subject matter. In fact, they kinda treated me like a special guest speaker, and I kinda had a lot of fun with it…