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How to get rich–the Biblical way

Money is a controversial topic in Christian circles. On the one hand you’ve got people who say money is the root of all evil. The other extreme says if you do the right things, God will reward you with health and wealth and who knows what else.(This was the topic of my Bible study last night, in case you’re wondering. And I’m short of material, so I’m recycling. I’m also mixing in some insights people shared.)

For the record, 1 Timothy 6:10 says money is a root–not the root–of all kinds of evil. That’s somewhat less of a strong statement than saying it’s the root of all evil. So, money causes problems, yes, but it’s not the cause of every problem in this world.

To see some other causes and symptoms of evil, see 2 Timothy 3:2.

Isaiah 55:2 asks why we spend our money on what is not bread (when the Bible says “bread,” it’s frequently referring to the necessities of life such as basic food, clothing, and shelter) and on things that don’t satisfy. The main reason we do it is because we’re surrounded by messages that say this product or that product will change our lives. And while some products have changed lives, let’s think about it for a minute: Those kinds of things tend to come along once a generation, if that. I’m talking about things like the airplane, the automobile, and before those things, the railroad. Computers belong in that category. But the soda we drink is not going to change our lives, at least not for the better. Drink soda instead of water and it could make your life worse–regardless of what that 7up commercial with the bear says.

The American Dream is to give the next generation things the previous generation doesn’t have. Some have said that dream is dead, because we’ve become so affluent that we can’t think of what the next generation can possibly get that we didn’t have.

But it’s not working. Our kids have entertainment centers in their room that give a more life-like experience than the movie theaters of 20 years ago. They’ve got videogame machines that play better games than you could find in an arcade a couple of years ago. They have everything imaginable, and yet they’re all on ritalin and prozac. Meanwhile, their parents are both working, to pay for those two luxury SUVs and the next big home improvement project and all the toys and all the drugs that are necessary to keep themselves and their kids afloat in the miserable life they’ve built together.

My dad wasn’t always there for me. It seemed like most of the time he wasn’t. But it’s safe to say that when we ate dinner together 5 or 6 times a week, it was unusual. Most weeks we ate dinner together 7 times a week.

My American Dream is for my kids to have two full-time parents. Screw the luxury SUVs and the $300,000 house in the suburbs. My Honda Civic has more ameneties than I need. I’ll drive it for 15 years so I can have more money when things that matter crop up.

I told you how the Bible says to get rich. And maybe you’d argue I haven’t answered that question yet. I think Isaiah 55:2 can lead one to wealth that’s very enviable, but, yes, the Bible also tells how to gain material wealth. Check Proverbs 13:11. It’s especially relevant in the era of dotcom billionaires.

You’ve seen stories of wealty people who nickeled and dimed themselves to the poorhouse. What Proverbs 13:11 says is that you can nickel and dime your way to prosperity as well.

What the Bible doesn’t say is how, so I’ll share the concept of opportunity cost, which is one of two things I remember from Macroeconomics. I don’t know how many other people in my class picked this up from the dear departed Dr. Walter Johnson at Mizzou, so I’ll do my best to make my examples clear.

Opportunity cost says a 13-inch TV does not cost $99. That’s the amount written on the sticker, but that’s not the price. The price is about 30 lunches at my company cafeteria.

The monthtly cost of driving a new car every three years is about half my mortgage payment. But my mortgage will be paid off in 28 or 29 years and my house will be worth more then than it is now. In the year 2031, I will have absolutely nothing to show for the car I’m driving today. Those people who buy a $2,000 used Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla every few years and drive it until it dies have more money than you think they do.

Assuming you work about 240 days a year, two cans of soda every workday from the soda machine at my employer will cost you $240. But not really. What happens if you invest that money in what’s called an index mutual fund, which follows one of the major indices, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Historically, you’ll gain about 10% per year on your investment, which means you’ll double your money every 7 years investing that way. (That’s taking into account times of bad economy, like today, or worse.) Anyway, I just grabbed my calculator. If you take that $240 and dump it into an index fund, in 35 years you can reasonably expect it to be worth $7,680.

The real cost of a can of soda is sixteen dollars. Unless you’re not going to live 35 more years. But unless you’re going to die tomorrow, the real price is considerably more than 50 cents.

There are a total of 118 verses in the NIV translation that use the word “money,” and considerably more talk about the concept without using the word. Of those, Matthew 6:24-34 is poignant, as is Ecclesiastes 5:10-20. What I take from them is this: If you build your empire 50 cents at a time, you’ll never be as wealthy as Bill Gates. But you’ll have more than you need, and you’ll be happier than Bill Gates, and you’ll sleep a lot better.

And if your name is Jackie Harrington, I suggest you start selling autographed 8×10 glossy photos of yourself. Sign them, “Bill Gates just stiffed me for 6 bucks! Jackie Harrington.” Sell then for $10 apiece to people like me. Then put the money in an index fund. Then in 35 years, when you’re a millionaire, write a thank-you letter to Bill Gates.

E-scape from the Hotel California…

Escaping Microsoft’s Hotel California. For lack of any other available alternative, I started using Outlook Express for mail about 18 months ago. It’s a decent mail client, does most of what I want–I don’t want much–and doesn’t do too terribly many things I don’t want it to. But it’s Microsoft. It runs on Windows. Its file formats are proprietary. It forces me to read my mail with the same workstation all the time. Migration makes me leave the mail behind. Most of it I want to leave behind, but do I want to sort it? NO! OK then. What to do?
Make an IMAP-enabled mail server out of a deprecated old PC and move all that mail over to it, that’s what. I tried to do this with TurboLinux but none of my mail clients wanted to talk to it. Since all of the books I have talk about Red Hat, I went with it, and it worked.

Here’s what I did. Install basic Red Hat. Include sendmail, procmail, fetchmail, imap. I pulled out all the XFree86 stuff. GUIs are for workstations. Command lines are for servers (and for workstations where you expect to get any work done quickly). Actually, I also pulled out just about everything else it would allow. A secure installation is a minimalist installation. After installation, edit /etc/inetd.conf. Uncomment imap line, save and exit. (I like pico, but you can do it with vi if that’s all you’ve got–find the line, delete the comment character, then save by hitting ZZ.) Bounce inetd with /etc/rc.d/rc3.d/inet stop ; /etc/rc.d/rc3.d/inet start. Create a user account with adduser [name] ; passwd [password].

Connect to your new IMAP server. For now, just use your ISP’s existing mail server for outgoing mail; use your IMAP server for incoming. Your username and password are the name/password you just created. After a brief delay, you should see your empty inbox, and you can start dragging stuff to it.

It went great for me. I created a new IMAP folder, opened one of OE’s folders, dragged all the contents over to the IMAP folder, and bingo! They moved. Read status and date were preserved too. (I’ve seen IMAP servers that wouldn’t do that.) I switched to another PC that had OE loaded and connected to my new mail server via IMAP and read some messages. Fantabulous.

Theoretically, I can go to my DSL router and forward port 143 to my mail server and read my mail from the outside.

Now, if you want to actually use your mail server to send mail, that gets trickier–you’ve gotta configure sendmail for that. The out-of-box setup is too secure to just use. Open /etc/mail/access and add your LAN to it, like so:

172.16.5 RELAY

Of greater interest is the fetchmail/procmail combo. You can use fetchmail to automatically go grab mail from the 47 mail accounts you have, then use procmail to sort it and filter out some spam.

To configure fetchmail, create the file /root/.fetchmailrc and chmod it to 0600. Here’s a very basic configuration:

poll mailserver.myisp.com
with protocol pop3
username myname password mypassword is my_name_on_my_linux_box

And finally, what’s the point of running your own mail server if you don’t spam filter it? There are lots of ways to go about it. I’m experimenting with this method. It uses procmail, which is called by sendmail, which is called by fetchmail. See how all this works?

If you want to get really smooth, you can even block mail before you download it with a program called Mailfilter. You probably don’t want to get as fancy with Mailfilter as people do with procmail, but you can use Mailfilter to search for certain key words or phrases like (checking my spam folder) viagra, mortgage, “fire your boss,” “lose weight” and delete them before you waste time and bandwidth downloading them. I’ve read estimates that spam traffic costs ISPs an average of $3 per month per user. Mailfilter won’t save your ISP very much, since the mail’s already been routed through its network and is just on its very last leg of the trip, but it’ll save them a little, and it’ll save you some bandwidth and time, so it’s probably worth it.

So if you’re looking to leave Outlook and/or Outlook Express all behind, or at least give yourself the option to use a different client, here’s the way out. It’s not too terribly difficult. And you gain an awful lot in the process: mail in a standardized, open format; redundancy; ease and versatility of backup (just schedule a cron job that tars it up and does stuff with it); the ability to very, very quickly search all of your mail with the Unix grep command (just log in, type grep -r [search string] * | more, and find what you’re looking for instantly) and far, far better mail filtering options.

And it’s infinitely cheaper (and more secure) than Exchange.