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).

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Image credit: Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Random Dad Thoughts…

Here’s a collection of random, recent thoughts and observations I’ve had as a dad.

The cat plays with the baby’s toys and the baby plays with the cat’s toys. Seems about right.

My son unties my shoe and then crawls into the other room. I’m pretty sure he knows exactly what he’s doing–trying to slow daddy down. Sorry, son, it still didn’t work.

One does not have to be a preteen to be a “know it all.” It starts as soon as they learn to communicate.

I am now 99.9% convinced that boys have a gene that predisposes them to gross things. Never, before having boys in the house, did I think I would have to so often say, “Stop licking… [insert: the door, the house, your arm pit, your brother, the table, etc.].” (And I think I blocked out this part of my own childhood.)

I must be getting older. I’ll never understand the fascination kids have about watching people on YouTube playing video games they could be playing themselves. In fact, their obsession with this whole YouTube thing… Oh, wait, somebody shared a video on Facebook about a dog being funny, give me a minute. Okay, what was I saying?

Babies blowing raspberries are adorable. Until it is your own baby that you taught to blow raspberries doing it while you’re feeding him.

Farting is not as funny as you think. Why are you laughing? No, stop. Do not… *sigh* Did you just fart again? Now, repeat twenty times. Sixty, if school is out. I do not get paid enough for this.

It’s always best to watch a movie first before you show it to your children. Yes, that way you know what’s in it and whether or not it is appropriate. But more importantly, so you can have enjoyed it yourself before you get inundated with a string of questions that lasts the entire run time.

When a 6 year old asks you why something is, you can try to explain it to them, only to have them ask again and again. Or, you can simply say, “Because of magic from Narnia,” and they’ll accept it the first time. Lesson learned.

In all seriousness, though, I wouldn’t trade the dadding thing for all the riches in the world. (Except maybe in that lingering moment, right after a child has passed gas beside you for the tenth time in an hour.)

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Image Credit: Photo by Andrik Langfield 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.