Book Review: We’re Pregnant

This book will be released next Tuesday (April 24). I was excited to be contacted by a new publisher (or publisher’s agent) to request a review. Obviously, that means I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

We’re Pregnant! The First-Time Dad’s Pregnancy Handbook

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy book. Reads much shorter than the roughly 275 pages.

Summary
If you are looking at it, I’m sure you’ve figured out it is a pregnancy book. It is definitely more ‘handbook’ than most other pregnancy handbooks and guides out there. The book is broken into four parts – the three trimesters and what he calls the ‘fourth trimester’. Within each part is a chapter for each month, and each month is broken into weekly subsections.

Each part has an intro to the trimester and a summary checklist for things to have accomplished for the trimester at the end of the part. Chapters (months) likewise have a shorter intro with a stats page with things like size comparisons and ‘new gear’, which is things the baby will develop that month (lungs, toes, etc.). The write-up for the week is about a page and has a separate text box with info such as baby stats, mom stats, and not-to-miss appointments.

The remainder of each sub-chapter is ‘family goals’, which include things like ‘plan ahead’, ‘budget savvy’, and ‘home CEO’. In the intro to the book, Kulp explains each of the 13 family goals that come up. However, each week only has two to four.

The ‘fourth trimester’ is a section devoted to the first three months of the baby’s life. He follows the same format as the other trimesters, which leads to funny comparisons as fruit no longer does the job (for 2 month old, he reference a house cat or Thanksgiving turkey).

My Thoughts
As mentioned above, the is the most handbook style pregnancy book I’ve read. I’d recommend buying the book as soon as you are pregnant and reading through the whole thing. Then, as each week comes up, flip back through and review the stats pages and text box, as well as family goals sections. The trimester checklist at the back of each part is incredibly useful, though it really should be in the front. As you enter each trimester, skip to that end and make yourself aware of the checklist and things you need to accomplish.

Kulp’s writing style is funny and quick, I had never heard of him before, but apparently he is big in the dad blogosphere. The book is a useful guide, the strength is probably the family goals. I didn’t like the names of two of them, because I don’t like the word ‘doula’ and I really dislike ‘daddy daycare’, because the implication being that a dad is not a caregiver. I would just call this parenting. However, the phrase was likely chosen for the alliteration, as Kulp is a stay at home dad with four children, I doubt he sees himself as being stuck on ‘daycare duty’, as I’ve heard to referred to before.

The ‘fourth trimester’ section is a novel concept, most books take you to a few weeks, maybe a month, after birth, if they don’t stop with birth itself. Similarly, the sub-chapters for weeks 41 and 42 are pretty funny, especially if you’ve had a child (or no of one) that stayed too long and the overwhelming feeling of the mom who just wanted to get the baby out of her. I like that he mentions the heartbreak and struggle of miscarriage, telling his personal story; this is a topic often skipped in most pregnancy books (and really life in general, as I found out when we went through one). I also appreciated his focus on keeping an eye on your wife after the birth for signs of  post-partum depression that can be much more serious than the typical ‘baby-blues’.

When I found out we were pregnant, I think I bought six books. I’ve since read and reviewed another four or five, and probably have to put this as the top two or three. Overall, it is a good book, and well written, and I particularly like the guide style, which makes the book very practical with useful tips. There is nothing in there about pre-pregnancy or trying to conceive, so if that is your focus, look elsewhere. He has geared the book to those dads who just found out there are pregnant. So, if that is you, put this on your list.

Book Review: Real Love in an Angry World

Real Love in an Angry World: How to Stick to Your Convictions without Alienating People

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy read; short book

Summary
A good, quick summary of this book is somewhat hard to do. Bezet’s main idea is that there are unhappy people out there who are mad and/or judgmental towards Christianity. Additionally, these people come from both ends – those opposed to Christianity, and Christians (or at least those who would call themselves as such, like Westboro Baptist) themselves who think your Christianity isn’t good enough. He spends a little time on Christian who have drifted away from historic Christianity, i.e. denying the validity of the Scriptures, miracles, etc. However, most of the time is spent on the two more angry sides, the non-believers and judgmental believers (for instance, he relates a story of taking his wife to see a Celine Dion in Vegas, and losing a few church members once they found out he was in Vegas).

The book is broken into nine chapters that kind of bounce around on different topics. Everything from picking our battles to loving your neighbor (and just who is your neighbor) to then loving you enemy, to a little bit of history on the Bible. He touches on politics a number of times, but not necessarily specific topics or policy points, mainly just that Christians can disagree with each other while still be Christians, and Christians can disagree with non-Christians while still showing love and understanding. I don’t know how long he has been working on the book, but as it was published near the end of 2017, I assume it is at least partially motivated by the rise and election of Trump.

My Thoughts
Overall, it is a good book. Bezet is a good writer, very personal, and I thought, very humorous. I struggle with exactly who should read this book. For most Christians, it is probably worth your time to read, especially because it is so short. It reads quickly and is funny, his points on how to listen to people and how important it is to really listen, and his continual emphasis on the need to truly love others, are great reminders and points weakness for most of us. I especially like his point about loving others being the second great commandment. He points out that on the liberal Christian and non-Christian side, there is often the comment that we just need to love each other because that is what Jesus said and that is all we need. Bezet rightly points out, this is the second great command, this first is to love God. Part of that love means being faithful to God and His Word.

While all is helpful, I think the best use could be for those Christians on the extreme end of the non-loving judgmental side. Those who are the most angry and often express hate. The problem is, of course, I don’t think the people who need it the most would actually read it, and if they did they’d likely just disagree. I guess you never know how the Spirit will move some people, but I remain skeptical. Either way, it might be helpful for you to recognize some issues in your life, and if you see some of these issues in others, it might help you in reaching out to them and helping them to show the love of Christ, while retaining the love for God.

*I received a free copy of this book for an honest review

Easter 2018

He is risen!

We celebrate Easter today and commemorate the Resurrection of Christ. Jesus isn’t dead, and did not stay in the grave, but instead we worship the living Son of God whom is seating at the right hand of the Father. He conquered death, so that we will never truly die, but will one day be brought up with him. There is no sting in death, no victory for the grave, as Christ is victorious, and we will now live.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Mystery and Victory

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

 

Good Friday 2018

Matthew 26:36-42

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

 

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch[a] with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 

 

Propitiation of our sins and Substitutionary Atonement, means that Christ took the Wrath of God for us. Every sin of every person, past, present, and future, was laid to rest on Him that day. The sky went dark and the Son was separated from the Father. We call today Good Friday because it was good for us. He took on death, that we may live. However, we should remember, on this day especially, the seriousness of sin and the wrath of God. Jesus even prays, in the verses above, that if there is any way other than to drink the Cup of God’s Wrath, to please let that happen, but if not, He will do God’s will. He consumed that cup for us, taking the full measure of wrath, that He who never sinned, would become as sin for us, so that we would become as righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

 

He was distressed until it finished
The pain endured was not diminished
Until the vict’ry’s sound and was won
“Not My will but Yours be done.”

He drank it all, the cup of God’s wrath

Book Review: On Pills and Needles

On Pills and Needles: The Relentless Fight to Save My Son from Opioid Addiction

My Rating: Put it on your list

Level: Easy, moderate length (250+), but reads quickly

Summary
A detailed summary of the book is difficult to do. The subtitle more or less says everything you need to know about the book. Van Warner writes a first hand account of watching is his son struggle with addiction to opioids, starting as a teenager and extending through his mid twenties. The book is broken into 25 broad chapters that generally follow a chronological pattern of thought, but not always. There are a few bits of information regarding the pandemic that is the opioid crisis, but these are mostly scattered throughout the narrative of his son’s life. If you seeking answer to the problem, or even just the ‘Christian response’ (the publisher is Baker Books, after all), you will not find any in this book. However, if you are somehow lucky enough not to know anyone with this addiction, it is worth the read, if for nothing else than to gain an understanding of what happens, what addiction look like, and the impact of family and friends of the addict.

My Thoughts
Van Warner is a great writer in a narrative sense, and I found myself compelled to keep reading this book just to see what happens next. It is an emotionally enthralling book, and if you have normal level of empathy and emotions, it is likely you will not get through this book without crying multiple times. That being said, be aware that there is little else to this book than the story of his son. I’m not really sure what I expected when I ordered it, but there isn’t really any resolution or response to the issue. No ‘warning signs’ or way to prevent this from happening. Nothing along the lines of, how to help those hurting or what we should do as a church. All of  which is fine, it is clearly not the intention he had in mind while writing this, but be aware if that is the type of book you are looking for.

Outside of the lack of resolution, the only thing I didn’t like about the book is the typically evangelical hypocrisy of being anti-government, while blaming the government for not doing enough. While he rightly attributes the initial problem to the Pharma Companies, specifically the one that falsely claimed Oxcy was non-addictive, he does lament the government hasn’t done enough. He also point out that Florida is ground zero of the crisis, with an astonishing 93 of the top 100 opioid prescribing doctors working there. Of course, FLorida is notoriously lax in government regulation and I’m sure this and the low tax (meaning less government) environment is partly what brought him there from New York. He himself doesn’t necessarily rant that much against government in his book, but it is odd to read from the perspective of evangelicals, knowing that most of us are heavily pro-business and anti regulation, inexplicably claiming that the free market couldn’t lead us astray, and then, when they inevitably do, we wonder why the government didn’t help. Those critiques are a little past the realm of this book review, but if you become aware of them while reading, it tends to gnaw at you.

Likewise, he blames ‘bureaucracy’ for his son spending two months in county jail, while he supposed to be transferred to another county jail. All this happens in context of his sons possession and intent to distribute charge being dropped. Being dropped. He doesn’t seem to realize how lucky he is that his son is well off and white. Poor people and minorities don’t tend to have felony drug charges just ‘dropped’, but instead spend years in jail.

I’m hesitant to leave that in for just a book review, but the author does seem to be misguided often. Regardless, his story is revisiting, if lacking insight in to solutions. I have a colleague whose son is currently in the grips of heroin addiction, after starting with Oxcy. The things the author writes about, the stories, the pain, the interactions with counselors and police, could have come from her. There is a shocking amount of similarity. I’m sure that is the same for many others out there. If you are looking for a story to help you internalize the crisis, this is a must read. It is probably helpful for anyone in pastoral ministry, counseling, or youth/child workers. There isn’t a list of things that parents/teachers can look for as far as signs of drug abuse, but there are gleanings from the detail of his story. For those with any interest in the epidemic that is currently among us, this is a book you need to add to your list.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Christians and Money – Money in Marriage

I’ve been rambling for a few weeks about Christians and money, it started when I was flagged on my taxes for giving ‘too much’ money to charity, then I jumped to budgeting and how poor most of us are as stewards of what God has given us, before finally getting to my originally planned post about what to do with an abundance or living with plenty. The logical next step in the progression is to talk about Christians and retirement (as it is practiced in most of America), as that is kind of the end of money. Instead, I’m going to take a bit of tangent and talk about money in marriage.

I listen to a few personal finance podcast, and one of them has a recurring type of episode called, ‘Ask Paula’, where the host respond to emails, voicemails, etc., often with a guest host to help weigh in. On this particular episode, the guest was a relationship expert and one of the callers had a question about handling money with her boyfriend. She was a pretty high earner with a good savings rate, and he was a low earner with student loan debt. They had no religious or cultural reasons to get married, and didn’t plan on having kids. They lived together and planned to spend the rest of their lives together. Her question was, should she pay off the remainder of his debts.

Astoundingly, neither of the host thought it was a good idea (well, with some caveats; one of the way in which the caller suggested to help pay off debt, the host said she wouldn’t recommend doing that in general, let alone this situation and the guest hosts recommended against paying off the debt, unless she had some sort of contract or at least realized that she might just be throwing money away, but it if felt good, then do it.) Now, the host, as far as I can tell, is non-religious and it didn’t seem the guest host was either, regardless, this was a personal finance expert pairing with a relationship expert to give advice about money in a relationship. So, my point isn’t they should be married, covenant, lack of commitment, blah, blah, blah, because the fact is, many married people, even Christians (you know, those who are ‘one flesh’) have this separated view of money.

As a quick aside, I will say I disagree with the hosts, but from a practical reason. If you really do spend your entire life with someone, and you both hit 70, it isn’t actually like one of you has saved well while the other is broke. When he doesn’t pay is part of the rent, what will you do, kick him out? If you have savings, but she is debt, and you want to take a vacation, but she can’t afford the plane ticket, are you going alone? That would be the logical conclusion; I really don’t understand what people are thinking.

However, I see this is marriages, and with Christians, constantly. It just happened this past Sunday, I was telling a guy about the general rule that you should save 15% of your income. His first question, ‘is that 15% each, or just one of you?’ Well, you each want to retire, right? But the bigger issue, is he had the focus on each. The income between the two of you is your income. You are supposed to be one. If you have an income of $100K, you need to save $15K total, period. It doesn’t matter if one person makes three fourths of that, all of it, half of it, or none of it. Like I said above, what good is it for you to save and your spouse have nothing? The money needs to be viewed as one, not two pots contributing to one. We have a situation where Mrs. MMT doesn’t have a 401(k) at work. We make similar incomes, so I save almost 30% of my check, while nothing is taking from her. It doesn’t matter, though, all our paychecks go to one account and we pay all the bills from it, and we have a monthly budget based on that income.

Not everyone sees it that way. A guy at work is in the same situation. He was asking me about investing one day, and mentioned he only did 7%, as this was what was required to get the match. As I tell everyone, I told him he needed to put in 15% and his wife needed to be doing the same. After telling me his wife doesn’t have access to a 401(k), I told him he needed to double up. His response was, ‘and then she just gives me some of her money, so I have something to spend.’ I told him, you are married, there is no ‘his’ or ‘her’ money. See, they had two different bank accounts, and they split their bills. I think she paid for their rent, and he would transfer money to her to ‘cover his share’. That is a roommate. That isn’t marriage, at least as we see it from a Christian world view.

If you look at the relationship and finance expert opinions, they typically see three different ways to handle money in relationships. One is the roommate plan, where you have two different bank account that ‘your’ paycheck go into and one person pays bills with the other person ‘paying them back’ or splitting up the bills. My parents actually do this. They’ve been married 30 something years, and I’m pretty sure they’ve never had a joint account. On the other end of the spectrum is having just one account. All the paychecks and money go in, and all bills are paid out.

The latter is clearly preferable, as you really need to look at everything as one. However, there is middle ground approach, that might be alright, depending on how you use it. The third option people talk about is a hybrid, where you have a joint account and your separate account. Practically, that is one idea, but I’d split it up as to how you use it and it all depends on that joint account. If you have your own paychecks go into ‘your’ account and then move money over to pay the bills, you are just technology efficient roommates, you still aren’t one. However, if you have a joint account where everything goes in and out, but have separate accounts that are individual spending accounts, I think that can be alright. Sometimes this just happens practically.

When the Monday Morning Wife and I were first married, we had already been working and had out separate accounts, so we went to the bank and set up one joint account. The original individual accounts acted something like an allowance, but mainly we didn’t want to close accounts before buying a house, because you need credit history. My account consistently had problems after Wells Fargo bought out Wachovia, so we did close it, but Mrs. MMT’s old account become her music business account.

I can see the appeal of keeping the one pot with the two original, but eventually it gets to complicated and if you don’t need the credit history, you might as well fully merge. We are just an individualistic society that it is hard to not want to have our own money. Once we moved to one account, we budgeted an ‘allowance’ for each of us, that way we could have some free spending that we didn’t have to think about. We eventually dropped this practice as well, as after a few years, her budget was negative on near monthly basis and I had, well, about a few years’ worth of the budget there. Actually, in the interim, we just made a budget line called Mrs. MMT, but we’ve left that as well.

In the end, if you are married, you should have on account and not view things as ‘mine’ or ‘yours’. God says have become one flesh, so there is not more his and hers, there is just your family budget. You need to budget together, plan your spending, saving, and giving together. Not only from the practical standpoint of what will you do 50 years from now, but from the spiritual element as well. If you are committed to your family, you need to be 100% committed, and act as one.

Book Review: Talking with Your Kids about God

Talking with Your Kids about God: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have

My Rating – If you have time

Level – Easy; reads quickly, moderate length (just under 300 pages)

Summary
The title of the book is a bit of a misnomer. This isn’t really a parenting or family book. This might be just because I have a three-year old, but when I see ‘kids’, I think children under 10 and skew even younger. This book is really a basic apologetics intro that can also be used with maybe high schoolers or fairly knowledgeable middle schoolers. There are discussion questions after each chapter, broken in to two parts ‘open the conversation’ and ‘advance the conversation’. The former could be used for middle school or newer Christians, the latter for high school, but also for discussion in a small group or other Bible Study. Very few people have much knowledge of apologetics, and this book would likely be new to most parents, let alone ‘kids’.

The 30 conversations are grouped into five equal parts – the existence of God, science and God, the nature of God, believing in God, and the difference God makes. There is an introduction to each part, then the six topics of conversation. Each topic is then summarized in ‘key points’, followed by the ‘conversation guide’ which consist of ‘open the conversation’, ‘advance the conversation’, and ‘apply the conversation’.

My Thoughts
As stated above, this isn’t really a book for kids. Maybe the first two parts would work to discuss with middle schoolers, but the discussion questions certainly seem more advanced. Those two chapters seem to be the strength of the book, as far as a parent is concerned. As parent, it would be worthwhile to read through these, so that you can know the discussions to have with your children as the move on through school and start to learn about so-called conflicts with the Bible and belief in God. I can’t really see reading through this book or using the advanced conversation questions with a child that is first learning of the conflict, but reading through as a parent, it would be a good reminder of the conflicts they will face and if you’ve never learned much in the way of apologetics, this will certainly move you in the right direction.

Maybe I’m underestimating people too much, but I think this book is much more suited to a small group/Sunday School/whatever you call it, discussion than something to read with children. In that sense, I can’t really recommend this for parents, but I think it is worth checking out as a group leader. The book is fairly basic, but I just don’t see that enough adults have ever learned these ideas, so you need to start with them first. Especially the part, ‘the nature of God’, as this moves out of apologetics and into more of a systematic theology.

Two other criticisms I have are that the existence of God, is a pretty good over all part of the book. There are convincing arguments of the existence of a God, but Crain never steps into the realm of the existence of our God, the God of the Bible. Which leads to the most glaring omission in the book, the Bible. There is no major section devoted to ‘the truth of the Bible’ or ‘how do we know the Bible is true’ or something else along those lines. For me, this is where apologetics or knowledge of God has to start.

One surprising strength of the book, is the final part, ‘the difference God makes’. Again, this really lends itself to a discussion group, as it more or less a group of discussion about the impact our knowledge of God should have in our lives. I really enjoyed this section and will likely use it, if not the whole book, with the group that I lead.

Overall, a pretty good book. I’m not sure it met the stated goal of discussion with kids. Catechisms are still probably the best thing for that. However, I do think it would work really well as an intro to apologetics, a basic primer on the knowledge of God, and could open up great discussion on the impact this knowledge has on our lives. With the ‘key points’ and ‘discussion guide’, I think this book could be repurposed into an interest group study.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Why Nations Fail

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Moderate, you’ll need some basic familiarity with economics, politics, and history; Long (462 pages before acknowledgements, notes, etc.) overly repetitious and a bit tedious.

Summary 
As I start to write the review, it dawns on me that perhaps the title is a bit misleading. It isn’t so much about why they fail, as to why the never even get off the ground. Some nations seem doomed from the start, however, other become wildly successful. Ultimately, I think, the point of the book is who are the ones that are successful and how does that happen? Acemoglu and Robinson pin it two factors, which taken with their opposites form something like a matrix or quadrant, and you need to overlap with the positive of both. These are whether or not you nation is politically inclusive and, and perhaps more importantly, the whether or not you have extractive institutions.

The politic aspect is fairly straight forward, are you in a dictatorship (or other controlling, top down government) or in a democracy (or other form of responsive government)? If you have no say in politics, and government is controlled by a few or just one person, it is fairly easy to see why that wouldn’t work. The more complicated and impactful side is the extractive institutions. These can take many forms, such as contract law or heavy taxation, but a good example is property rights. If you know you have solid and secure property rights, you are more likely to invest and build up your business. If you fear that an institution may step in at any moment and take your land or business from you, why bother?

The book itself is broken into 15 chapters, with an interesting preface about Mubarak and Egypt. The first chapter compares Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora; the two cities have similar culture and geography, so why is one rich and the other poor? The chapter serves as the intro to the book and leads into the second chapter where the debunk the reasons for poverty being related to genetics or weather, among others. Chapters 3 through 12 are basically case studies where the authors look a different political situation throughout history through the lenses of responsiveness and extractiveness. In 13 and 14, the authors discuss nations that fail today those that have become successful. The final chapter looks at our attempts to help impoverished nations and how understanding the causes, as the have proposed, will help us to better understand why those attempts have failed and how we can do better going forward.

My Thoughts
First, about the book itself – the authors are both academics, and the book certainly reads that way to an extent. The book could have been much more concise, dropping at least 100 pages without missing any case studies are points. I think part of the issue may come from the publisher/editor, in that instead of setting up most of the chapters as case studies that then looked at their points each time, it might have been better to make their points, and then touch on case studies as proof. Instead, each chapter could almost be read independently, meaning there is too much repetition of their point.

To the content of the book – it was fascinating, anyone with interest in economics, history, or politics, this book is a must read. One of the the more interesting points of history to me, was the impact of the Plague on serfdom in Europe. Eastern Europe reacted one way, England another, which would then impact America (as it was founded with this change as part of history), which ultimately effects me today. Had the reaction in England been the same as the Austria-Hungary reaction, who knows how different the Western World would look, perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this review right now.

Another point the spend some time on that is worth considering is looking beyond just economics. The point to growth of the economy under Stalin, but that the nation still failed. It is also helpful to see and understand how the impacts of colonialism, which was not inclusive but very extractive, still effects those countries and peoples today. The point was driven home a little more for me because I live in the South, which they actually spend some time on. The impacts of slavery on the economics of white people is still being felt today, though less so than a few decades ago. The discussion centers on the fact that obviously slavery is extractive and was horrible for black people, but it also never would have worked politically because it included so few people in the institutions. Most white people were shut out of the economy and wages and this impact lasted a long time. They point out the that median income in the South was about 40% of the median income through the rest of the nation as recently as 1950.

All of this works back to a reminder that part of why life is good for me today is pure luck. From serfdom in England, to the Civil War, on through today. If Lincoln had let the South succeed and be it’s own country, it clearly would have failed, based on the theories of the authors. Meaning, I could be living in a failed state right now, instead of America. They call it ‘small differences and critical juncture’ in history, but it is basically an accident of history; it is somewhat sobering to consider.

Overall, and interesting and challenging book. It could certainly be a bit shorter and cleaner, which is why I didn’t rate it higher, but a book that is well worth the read and one to put on your list.

Christians and Money – Plenty

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written two post related(ish) to money. The first one, was about giving/charity and the IRS, as I had just finished doing my taxes and was giving a warning that my donations were suspiciously high. The second one, was supposed to be about what to do with excess money, but I felt I had to start with the fact that most people are bad with money and inexplicably, very few people budget. So, today, I’ll jump back on track with what to do when you have plenty.

Before discussing plenty, you have to figure out, what is enough? My granddad is old enough that he was never caught up in the religious right or Republican Christianity, and therefore takes the Bible seriously about money, believing that greed is a sin. Growing up, he always told the story of a reporter asking the richest man on earth how much money he needed, and the rich many responded, ‘just a little more’. The exchange is attribute to Rockefeller, but I couldn’t actually find anything that confirms this.

Either way the point remains, the concept of enough is a moving target. As I wrote some last week, it is also almost impossible to discuss with some people. I know people, who make more than I do, who eat out 4-5 times a week, have a $150 cable bill will also having Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and still go out to movies. He tells me they are almost paycheck to paycheck, and don’t have enough. No, they have enough, they are just wasting it.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say that enough is covering the bills/expenses of living, saving 10%, giving 10%, with some emergency savings and then a little extra cash every month for fun (this is a category for going out to eat, booze and expensive dinners are not bills). So, you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, and you are doing the right things with you money and have some left over, that is enough/more than enough. I know this is a basic and peoples’ living expenses can vary dramatically, some places have a high cost of housing, some people buy too much house, many people have car loans they shouldn’t, and of course you can always lower your bills (you don’t have to keep your house at 72 degrees year round).

Certainly, if you have a decent sized discretionary or misc. portion of your budget you have enough. I guess a quick and easy definition of plenty would be if that section of your budget is larger than your saving and giving; definitely plenty if that budget item is your largest.

Maybe you’ve never bothered to budget and when you do, you end up like my buddy at work or other people I’ve talked to and find out that discretionary part of your budget is quite large, hundreds to even over a thousand dollars is what I’ve heard of from people ‘finding’ money in the budget when they actually put it on paper. Alternatively, you have the scenario like the Monday Morning Wife and I had where we both have new (promotion) jobs at new companies, so we received a substantial bump in salary. Or finally, say one spouse had been laid off or taken time out for babies and is not back to work. For these last two scenarios, you were already responsible and smart, so you had a budget and are now, clearly in the plenty category.

So now what?

I’ll admit I have no idea. I’ve struggled with this and have been wanting to write about it for almost a year. I’ll confess I’ve spent too much time thinking (obsessing) over what to do. In some ways, it is simple, right? For example, you have the raise/new income/’budget find’ scenario discussed above of say, $600 month. There are only three places it can go, savings, givings, or discretionary. This even works for just a one time bonus or tax return, as well. If you start budgeting an extra $60 a month to giving, that still leaves you with over $500 in new money and no particular place to go. Say you save have of it, now you are down to an extra $240 a month. Should you really spend all that on yourself?

This is the kind of thing that I struggle with, not the spending so much, because I just don’t buy many things, but can you justify saving 50% of new money, will keeping giving to 10%? Especially as your income and plenty grows? Dave Ramsey recommends saving 15%, and giving 10%, as a starting point. However, if you get that big bump, or just expect a good amount of growth in income over time, how much do those two numbers need to align? Can you save 30% and keep your giving at 10%? Should it be 25% and 15%? I actually had this discussion with someone yesterday. I told him I do feel compelled based on God’s blessing, to give more. He points out that Paul tells us to give what we decide and not from compulsion because God wants a cheerful giver. That makes sense on the one hand, but on the other, I don’t really want to give any money. Right? That’s the problem most people have, I’m selfish and would much rather keep all my money.

I want to quickly discuss two solutions I’ve heard that takes you away from the percentage focus I’ve discussed. I’m sure I overthink all of this and focus too much on the percentages because I’m such a strict budgeter. I’m sure many of you reading this might say, give your 10% and if there is an additional need, give to it. That’s where my obsessive compulsive nature comes in and says, yeah, but it isn’t in the budget. Back to the two methods, they are both numbers based. One number, is your income, you pick the number you want to hit, then give away 100% of every dollar thereafter. The second is your savings, same deal, pick a number you want to hit, then give away everything else. All this assumes a solid budget that already accounts for a 15/10% savings/givings.

First, income, this one is interesting, probably more Biblically sound, but harder to follow. This one should be pretty relevant for anyone who expects large growth in income over life times. Assume you and your wife make about $50k, but know in 20 years, you each could easily be making $100k (well keep all money in real dollars for ease), which isn’t that far off a scenario. You set your budget at the combined $100k mark, leave room for some growth in savings, income, and discretionary, and then pick your number. Call it $150k. When you hit this point, you’ll be giving 10% already, but will then give 100% of ever new dollar. By the time you hit that $200k line, you’d be giving away an incredible $65k (well, I guess less taxes, so call it $55k), somewhere around 25-30% of your income.

I like this idea. It is simple, and I can’t really think of any reason from the Bible to not do so. However, it is scary. It would be incredibly hard for me to give away that much, and keep savings at the relatively safe rate of 15-20%. While, I’d be sure that I’d probably be fine in the future, it seems much easier to trust money than it does God. You never know what emergency may hit – housing, job layoff, or especially in America, a medical issue. But clearly that is trying to serve two masters, it seems.

So, that leads to the other method. I heard about this from a friend who was a financial adviser and it is something he recommended. Unfortunately, he died last year and we never had the chance to discuss further. The idea is straight forward, you save/give your 15/10%, then as income rises you increase your savings rate, then once you hit your target number, you stop saving and give the rest away. I really like this idea, because it plays in to my need for safety and comfort coming from something I can ‘control’. However, I can’t think much about the method without feeling like all I am doing is ‘building a bigger barn’.

Obviously, there is some nuance to each of these situations (if you are going with the nest egg method, but you are offered a 401(k) match, do you keep saving a little?), but as general guidelines, I find them compelling. This has gone long, so maybe I’ll do yet another post, but I haven’t even touched on some even more compelling and interesting situations such as financial independence, moving to ministry/changing careers later in life, and the craziest of all, retirement (having a pension is simple, you can give off of your income, but if you only have a nest egg, how do you give?). Admittedly, I overthink it, but how about you? Do you under-think it? See any major pros or cons for either method, or thing focusing on percentages is the way to go? Please leave comments if you have them, I’d love some input.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion

This is the second book in a series, check out my review of the first book – Hyperion.

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read; fairly long at over 500 pages.

Summary
This is a continuation of the first book, Hyperion, so the story line of the Pilgrims in continued, but there is also the introduction of another main character story line. To avoid spoilers (if that is a think for a book published over 20 years ago), I’ll say the Pilgrims all meet the Shrike, all have their stories (more or less) meet a resolution, and find out that their stories are even more intertwined than they knew.

The additional character is Joseph Severn, a Cybrid for the personality/memory of John Keats. Much of the book takes place from his vantage point. Not only his own story, but he is inexplicably tied to the Pilgrims and view what is happening to them in his dreams. CEO Gladstone puts him up in TC2, so that he can keep her apprised of the Pilgrims.

Severn/Keats and the Pilgrims stories also mix together, as does the Ousters, for a few twist and turns you don’t expect coming, including a few new back stories.

My Thoughts
One quick thought, that I didn’t put together form the first book, but become more apparent in this one, why does the cover art show the Shrike with only two arms?

As for the actual content of the book, as much as I enjoyed it, I have to admit, it wasn’t as good as the first. However, if you’ve read the first, this is still a must read. If you haven’t read the first, go read it, then come read this one. This is still a great work of fiction. He is writing during the early days of the internet, but his future thoughts on what it could be come are frightening and a little ephemeral, and in some parts could best be described as ‘trippy’. Smart phones were more than a decade away when the book was published, but the equivalent he uses, sure sounds like them, especially if we were to lose them now; from page 480

“After seven centuries of existence and at least four centuries where few citizens existed without it, the datasphere…simple ceased to be. Hundreds of thousands of citizens went insane at the moment – shocked into catatonia by the disappearance of senses which had become more important to them than sight or hearing.”

The Pilgrim story conclusions are interesting, though some are unsatisfying, and at Severn is not an interesting character. However, the book touches on some of the wildest ideas of AI and has so many intertwined stories and crazy new back stories, it is well worth the read.