Book Recommendation: The Money Challenge

God designed us not to be hoarders, but conduits thorough which his generosity flows.[1]

Generosity is part of the heart of Christianity. God overflows with generosity toward us through Jesus, as he replaces our debt of sin with the infinite wealth of his righteousness. As God is generous to us, so a heart moved by the love and grace of Jesus longs to be generous toward others.

The problem is, many things often hinder us from being as generous as we want to be.

If you feel like you struggle with finances or that your money controls your life more than you control it, then The Money Challenge (TMC) by Art Rainer is a book that will help you immensely. If you are familiar with Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace program, then some aspects of TMC will feel the same. However, one advantage of TMC is its compact nature. At less than 150 pages, Rainer aims to set you on the path of financial health and generosity without all the bells and whistles of other programs.

Rainer lays out his book as a 30-day challenge to learn God’s design for money–to make a positive difference in the world for him. This challenge has three main parts, learning to (1) give generously, (2) save wisely, and (3) live appropriately. After this, Rainer tackles four main generosity killers: (1) keeping up with the Joneses (our neighbors), (2) debt, (3) disorganization, and (4) financially-separate marriages.

Finally, TMC recaps eight milestones we should aim for in order to make the best use of our wealth: (1) start giving, (2) build a basic emergency fund, (3) max out retirement matches, (4) pay off all debt but mortgage, (5) save for an extended living-expense emergency, (6) put 15% to retirement, (7) pay off mortgage or save for college expenses, and (8) live generously.

With each chapter along the way, Rainer closes with two or three days worth of a “money challenge” before you move on to the next chapter. Some are as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee and spending time with the most generous person you know. Others are as practical as mapping out your plan to get debt free.

If you want to live more generously but need help getting there, take the money challenge. Rainer’s book is available on Amazon in both print and kindle formats.

[1] Art Rainer, The Money Challenge (B&H Publishing, 2017), 82.

Those Quiet Moments

Dear H,

You’re 8 months old, now. That still seems so young, but it has come so fast. In a blink that “months” will become “years.” You’re growing big. Eight months, but wearing size 18 months. Yeah, you’re going to be tall like your dad. Get used to bumping your head.

At eight months, one thing is for sure. You don’t like slowing down, not even for a cuddle. There’s too much to do. Too many places to explore. Too many ways to be ornery. Too many temptations to pull the cat’s tail.

Sure, now and then, you’ll stop and want to be picked up. You raise your hands now when you do. It’s cute and a sign that you’re learning new ways to communicate. But even then, you want to walk around and see what there is to be seen from a height you’ll have soon enough–eighteen brief years, give or take.

But there does come a moment in the day where your eyes begin to grow red and glazed. You yawn, showing off your two sharp little teeth. You slow down and take a pause, for once in the day.

Then we make a bottle, carry you to your room, and get ready for bed.

It’s in those moments, when the room grows quiet and still in the dark, and your bottle runs empty that you finally decide it’s time for a cuddle. You shift in my arms, wanting me to hold you against my chest so you can lay your head on my shoulder as I rock you in the small green chair.

There you close your eyes and start to drift off. Content–both you and me.

I love those quiet moments, holding you, wishing they would last forever but knowing they can’t. Soon enough, I lay you in the crib. Too soon, you’ll be too big. That’s life. That’s how things are meant to be as you grow.

Still, I’ll cherish the cuddles now, while I can.

Love,

Dad

(header image credit: Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash)

What Makes for a “High Quality” Spouse

I saw a tweet the other day from some guy attempting to instruct women on what “high quality men” look for in a partner. His list can be narrowed down to fitting his definition of attractiveness and unblemished past. On the one hand, the things on his list weren’t bad things. On the other hand, when they are used in a Pharisaical manner to impose a universal standard and to imply that those who don’t measure up are “low quality,” well, that’s just wrong.

To universalize his list is to exclude many who can, will, and have made wonderful spouses.

Why does this matter so much? Well, being a #boydad, and, as a foster dad, being a momentary dad to several other boys, it makes me look inward to ask: What am I implicitly and explicitly teaching my sons about what qualities to look for in a wife?

And there are two main things that I hope I teach my boys…

First, worry more about being a “high quality man” than looking for a “high quality woman.” Or, work on your own character before being a critic of another’s. And how do we begin to become “high quality”? By realizing that we can’t be.

That’s part of the point of the gospel story–there has only been one high quality man (Jesus) and the rest of us don’t measure up. We all fall short of the perfect standard that God requires of us. That is why we need Jesus. It’s either gaining his perfect righteousness by faith and a grace-gift of God or it’s nothing.

Grace is the key word here. When we realize that we need the grace of God in Jesus in order to be pure and righteous before God it humbles us. It humbles us as it enables us to keep growing in character as the Holy Spirit works in us. It also humbles us as we realize that the same grace we have received we need to show toward others.

The simple truth is, as a man, I will never be a perfect husband. I can strive to be the best husband that I can be, but I will never be the husband my wife truly needs and deserves. I trust that she will be gracious to me and my flaws as we walk the road of life together. This also means that no woman will ever be a perfect wife. One of my roles as a husband, then, is to show the same grace that I constantly need.

Second, I can teach my boys to look for the one great quality in a spouse that matters more than any. I can teach each boy to look for a woman who loves Jesus more than she loves him. I want my boys to marry into a partnership where they pursue God together. That means that above anything else there must be that deep love for Jesus. That’s the great command that Jesus gave, after all–love others deeply, yes, but love God supremely (Matthew 22:35-40).

Certainly, I want my boys to find wives who love them deeply. Indeed, who love them more deeply than they love anyone else on earth. But I also want my boys to find wives who understand that marriage is only temporary for our season on this present earth. While it still matters greatly, the eternal matters more (Matthew 22:23-30).

couple 01 (unsplash 02152020)

Image credit: Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

I thought about naming this post…

So, A received a chess and checkers set for Christmas. He asked the other day if I wanted to play a game of chess. I told him that I had another idea. We set up the board chess on one side and checkers on the other. It was fun, though he played the chess and I played the checkers and he kicked my rear.

Trying to think of a name, I thought, “What would you call a game like this? Chesskers, of course.” I thought about naming this post that and writing about how we made up this crazy game.

I decided, though, to google the term first. And sure enough… There is nothing new under the sun.

There is an official Chesskers site with rules and all (slightly different than what we came up with). Chesskers it out if you want to know more. (Sorry about that, um, attempt at a bad pun.)

But here’s the thing: Even if you later find out your game and name already exist in some form, take time to play some crazy games with the kids, even if you lose.

(I did get my revenge, 7-2 tic-tac-toe on the back of the board, not counting the ties.) 😉

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

To see great things, we often have to step outside of our comfort zone.

In May 2010, a friend and I planned to spend a week storm chasing, something that isn’t as crazy as it sounds when you actually hold a degree in meteorology. But when the weather proved to be too nice, we made a last minute change of plans–a 3000+ mile round trip from Missouri to Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and back. All in seven days.

The pace was a bit grueling. We stayed in a different hotel every night and didn’t have them booked until we were on our way, since we were never quite sure where we’d stop at the start of the day. The hotels didn’t prove that bad, except for one in Denver, but that’s a different story…

Along the way, we made stops at Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Rocky Mountain parks. All were beautiful. All deserved more time than we were able to give.

My favorite among them was Zion.

We hiked several trails at the park that day, but we started with the mother of them all: Angels Landing. The trail to the landing is a 2.5 mile one-way trip that doesn’t sound bad until you include the 1500 foot change in elevation that involves a series of steep switchbacks.

The greatest challenge, however is the final half mile. There, you climb along a spine formation with a narrow path and sheer drops. For most of the climb, you have chains to hold onto, but also many places where you look to your side and see straight down.

It is breath-taking and exhilarating as it leads to the landing–the tall overlook of the canyon carved by the Virgin River below.

Oh, and did I mention: I’m scared of heights.

I don’t like climbing ladders. I hate crawling into attics. And it’s rare situations that I will set foot on a roof. I like roller coasters because I feel safe strapped in. But I stay away from most Ferris wheels.

Needless to say, I’m one of the last people who should probably be making a hike like the Angels Landing trail.

My friend and I even reached one part where he encouraged me to join him for a glance over the side. My chest gets a little tight even thinking about it, and in the moment I did have a mild breakdown. After a few minutes of panic and stating that I was done, my friend said he was going to go on. I could join him or wait for him to return.

My mind raced. I weight the benefits and risks (a beautiful, maybe even once-in-a-lifetime view vs. falling to a horrible death). I reasoned that very few people had fallen to their deaths compared to the numbers who completed the hike, that I may never have the opportunity to do the hike again, that I would likely be okay so long as I didn’t try to tap dance on the ledge, and that if it was my time to go then it could be as easily through a bite by a rabid chipmunk as a fall.

So, I called to my friend to wait, swallowed my fear, got up, and made the hike.

And it was worth it.

Thinking back, I’m still in awe of the views. (Although, I recently watched a video another hiker shot of the final leg, and I wonder how I actually convinced myself to get up and press on.)

The hike was one of the greatest challenges to my comfort zone that I’ve faced. Part of me hopes one day to be able to do it again before I get too old. But even if I don’t, I’m glad nine years ago in that moment I took the risk I did.

(Pictures below all owned by me; you can find the video by that other hiker I mentioned here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jy6K0KoMrco) (note: the “other hiker” is not my friend that I mentioned; I found his video on youtube but have no other connection)

 

The Simple Joys

I love watching my two-month-old son. Truth be told, there is a lot he still doesn’t do. He eats, he sleeps, he poops, he cries… Though he’s begun to make various sounds, the first of his “baby talk,” and he smiles and grabs, and he’s starting to hold his head up a little more.

But there’s one thing he does that seems to be his favorite. When he’s not tired or hungry (i.e. he’s in a good mood), we can lay him down and he gets a content look on his face as he swings his arms wildly and kicks his legs.

The blur means he’s happy.

Now, we would think it strange if we walked up on an adult doing the same. As we grow, there are childish things that we, rightfully, leave behind. At the same time, watching my son is a reminder of the contentment and joy that can be found in the simple.

It’s an idea contrary to our consumer culture. The whole point of most commercials we see on TV or pop-up ads online is to create within us a sense of dissatisfaction. “Oh, you think you’re happy–well check out this new car, home, toy, restaurant, computer, exercise bike, whatever–you’re missing out!”

If those behind the advertising are good at their jobs, then at the end of the commercial we are less happy and satisfied than when it began. Jealousy kicks in at what our neighbor has and we don’t. The seed gets planted and we can’t get it out of our minds until we purchase the new thing.

And it satisfies, at least for a minute, until the next commercial airs with the next model of whatever we just bought.

Truth be told, though, there is more lasting joy in the simple things; a sense of satisfaction that can be found walking a trail, sitting by a lake, staring at the stars, or watching a two-month-old wildly swing his arms without a care in the world.

He looks like me…

We first saw our son on the ultrasound at 6-weeks. A tiny human being developing in what looked like a speck. Yet, his heart beat as a rapid flash on the screen, pumping blood to what would soon be arms and legs, a mouth, eyes, and a brain. We didn’t even know he was a he, but my imagination still soared–who would this child look like? What would his personality be?

We saw him again at 13-weeks. It was still too early to know his gender, but he looked clearly more like a human should. We saw his head and nose, and little arms and legs. Two months passed and we learned we were having a boy. A tiny person jumped and spun in black and white on the screen. Still, I wondered, What will he look like?

Nine months of wondering as he grew in the womb. When he was born, from the moment I first laid eyes on him, it was obvious: He looked like me.

This is not unusual, as many sons resemble their fathers. It’s still weird at times, though, staring down while I hold him in my arms, seeing a face that looks so familiar, sans age and a beard, yet belongs to someone else.

He looks like me and now I wonder how much he will act like me.

I ponder four decades, and there are plenty of highs yet also some deep lows. There are things I have done well, yet things I could have done much better or said better and people that I should have treated better.

I want him to have my strengths and avoid my mistakes.

Although, I know, even if he does, there will be plenty of mistakes he will make on his own.

But this is what fathering is, right? Guiding a child toward adulthood, my boy as he grows to be a man, trying to direct him to wise choices, to love people well, and to think more of others than he does of himself. Yet also seeing him stumble and fall, seeing him make mistakes–some that are new and some that seem all too familiar. But then offering him a hand to help him back up and keep pressing on to become the man he is meant to be.

He looks like me. At times, I’m sure, he’ll act like me for better or worse. My hope is he ends up a much better man than me.

landscape mountains sky water

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Photo used with permission: https://www.pexels.com/photo/landscape-mountains-sky-water-110573/

That Helpless Feeling

A few weeks ago, we faced the unexpected: Our not-even-three-week-old baby spiked a fever that wouldn’t break. A trip to the emergency room was followed by being admitted into a children’s hospital for a three-day stay. Fortunately, the problem proved to be a virus that simply needed time to pass.

But in the midst of the wait, there was one feeling, for me at least, that was strong: helplessness.

Life is precious. Life is also vulnerable. You learn both as a new parent.

We like to think that we are strong and in control. We like to think that we can provide safe spaces for our children where no harm will befall them. But then things happen in life and our illusions of strength shatter.

I watched as they poked, prodded, and drew blood and spinal fluid from my baby boy. I listened as the doctors explained how they would aggressively treat his condition as they waited for test results, in case their worst fears were realized. I sat awkwardly in a chair and held my son with wires and tubes running from him to machines.

I was present but I was helpless. I couldn’t make his fever break. I couldn’t speed up the clock for answers. I couldn’t make my boy better.

I could hold him. I could sit with my wife as she held him. And I could pray.

One positive that came from that helpless feeling was the reminder that even though I’m not in control, God is. That reminder deepens the reality of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done.”

Not every moment in life resolves positively, at least in a way that we can see in the here-and-now. Thank God for those moments that do, but the fact they don’t is part of the reality of living in a broken world. Yet, in those moments of deep helplessness, however they resolve, God is there for his children and God will carry us through.

That is the essence of Psalm 23, after all. There’s quiet plains and still waters but there’s also the dark valleys of the shadow of death, yet, God is there.

baby child father fingers

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Photo used with permission: https://www.pexels.com/photo/baby-child-father-fingers-451853/

Impactful Reads: Death in the City

Death in the City by Francis Schaeffer is one of the most impactful books that I have read (in fact, I’ve read through it three times now). The title might sound a bit head-scratching. It is based on a series of lectures by Schaeffer in the late 1960s derived form the biblical books of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Romans. He draws the title from Lamentations 1:1 which speaks of Jerusalem after the inhabitants were either killed or exiled to Babylon and then sat empty, hence “death” in the city.

Ultimately, Schaeffer was writing a critique of western culture as it was shifting (and continues to shift) from an overarching Judeo-Christian worldview to one that is post-Christian. But his critique is not so much aimed at the culture at large but rather the Christian’s and church’s response.

I first read Death in the City as a college student in a time where my faith was being greatly shaped and coming into its own. Three main things stuck out then and still stick with me today.

First, building on the Westminster Catechism, Schaeffer considered what it means that humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Christianity is not a cold religion or a dispassionate intellectual exercise. Christianity is not about escape from life but pressing into true life with excitement. It’s about finding whole-person fulfillment “in relationship to the God who is there.” In other words, Christianity is about finding joy and satisfaction that never fades but finding its source in Christ and not in the offerings of the world and culture. (Pg. 25-27)

Second, Schaeffer warned that Christianity becomes ugly when it divorces itself from compassion. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to speak some difficult truths but he did so with tears. Yes, the Christian Gospel is a message of holiness, a sacredness devoted to the ways of God that often run contra the ways of humanity, yet at the same time it is a message about love. The two cannot be divorced nor set against each other. As followers of Jesus, witnessing to the world, we must speak of every person’s significance as an image-bearer of God, we must not shy away from the wrongfulness of sin and rebellion against God, but we must do so with compassion and a heart that loves others by seeking to meet their various needs. (Pg. 68-74, 118-23)

Third, Schaeffer encouraged to “go on” speaking about Jesus and Scripture, even if it seems those who listen, believe, and turn to Jesus are few and far between. It is the encouragement to be faithful and not worry about “the world’s concept of success.” At the end of one of his lectures, Schaeffer passionately said: “My last sentence is simply this: The world is lost, the God of the Bible does exist; the world is lost, but truth is truth, keep on! And for how long? I’ll tell you. Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on, and then keep on!”

The above pagination is from the third printing of Death in the City by Inter-Varsity Press, 1970.

selective focus photo of road

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Pursue All Things Good

I have heard about Eugene Peterson for years, a longtime pastor and author who died recently. I’ve even used his The Message paraphrase of the Bible for personal devotions. But only more recently have I picked up some of his other works, including, the considered-classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Within its pages I have found words that cut to the heart. As he ponders the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134), he spends time reflecting on various topics they portray. He assigns repentance to Psalm 120, and in words that are also reminiscent of Philippians 2:14-15 as well, he writes:

Psalm 120 is the decision to take one way over against the other. It is the turning point marking the transition from a dreamy nostalgia for a better life to a rugged pilgrimage of discipleship in faith, from complaining about how bad things are to pursing all things good.**

I think of social media, Facebook and Twitter and the likes that we all seem quite addicted to. How much of it is complaining about others? And complaining about others complaining about stuff? (And, then, semi-ironically, could this be complaining about others complaining about others complaining about stuff.)

We turn on the news, and most stories are about how bad things are across the globe and in our neighborhoods. Our coffee table or water cooler gossip carries a lot of complaints.

Complaining about people and things seems woven into the fabric of life. Including my life.

But Christianity is inherently optimistic. Yes, we should not gloss over a world of hurt, war, and disease, all brought on by the corruption of sin. But if we’re well known for complaining about how bad stuff is, then we’ve essentially have missed the point. Jesus rescues us from sin and he one day will make all things new.

Thus, for the Christian, the future is ultimately always better.

This, I think, is the reminder that Peterson sought to share: Christianity is about looking forward and upward. Complaining about the world isn’t going to change a thing.

But pursing all things good–pursing Jesus and all he offers will.

I hope to remember that the next time I feel the urge to complain.

**Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 28.