Book Review: Faith for This Moment

Faith for This Moment

My Rating – Must read

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary
The premise of the book is that the US has changed, we are now a post-Christian nation, and so the question that we currently face is, what do we do about it? He points to a turning point (this moment) in his life, and one he thinks had a larger effect on the nation. To him, things changed after the Pulse nightclub shooting back in 2016. He specifically mentions an NPR interview with a local Orlando pastor, who has asked ‘how do Evangelicals respond to his crisis when it is clear politically that Evangelicals are anti-gay and pro-gun.’ Apparently the pastor had no answer. I suppose you could quibble with the anti-gay statement, but perception can become reality, a notion only made stronger with the 81% support of (self identified) Evangelicals for President Trump.

After the Intro, where he points out how proudly nonreligious Portland is, McKinley spends his first chapter discussing this moment as well as other broader trends in US culture. The following 12 chapters answer his question of what to do now. He compares modern Christians in America to ancient Jews in Babylon. That is to saw, we are exiles, which means that we will not fit nicely in to current norms of society. He challenges us to embrace this notion and spends a few chapters each on things like giving, Sabbath, vocation, and hospitality which on the one hand will will differentiate us even further, but on the other, are all commands from God for us to follow.

My Thoughts
I was originally going to rate this book a little lower, but as I wrote the summary, it made me realize how potentially important this book could be; if for nothing else than an intro into thinking about ourselves differently. In the age of political Christianity, where a large number of self described conservatives look solely to government for their source of comfort and strength, McKinley challenges the efficacy of these practices. On page 24 he states, ‘from gay marriage to gun control, these efforts have backfired.’ He goes on to point out the ways in which this is true as well as the lasting impact of the ‘Culture Wars.’ He comes back to this in a later chapter and discusses the fact that our efforts have gone here instead of teaching people the Bible and for this reason, ‘people have put down the Bible, and picked up self-help books.’ He doesn’t discuss this idea too much further but the sad fact is that this has had a double impact as self-help and inward, selfish focus have come back around and are now effecting the church more than the Bible.

A final thought I liked as he challenges political Christianity is in his chapter titled ‘Babylon.’ He discusses empires and the power of nations and reminds us that in the Bible the might nations (Babylon, Assyria, Egypt), where never the good guys. Instead, they were used, by God, to punish his people. This should make every Christian, especially those of us who pursue political power for the sake of Christ, to stop and think for a few moments. I think his challenge to Christian norms of political power might alone be worth reading the book, but if not (or if you are already there) the remainder of the book serves as a valuable intro practices that will help us live out our life in exile.

Many Christians haven’t even heard of some of the practices he touches (mentioned above), and certainly only a few really follow them well. Vocation might be the trickiest topic, especially for a generation who’s idea of career has become so converted. There are many other books to dive deeper into this topic if your interest was piqued. His strongest chapters were on hospitality, some Christians probably fail at most, and Sabbath. Really focusing in on Sabbath and rest and separation is cultural norms is an idea regaining prominence recently; I’ve seen few different books dive a little into it.

My only critique, really, is that the intro was too short. As someone born and raised in the South, I would’ve liked to hear a little more about the life of a Christian on the other end of the spectrum, the Pacific Northwest. Overall, I think it is an interesting, if short, book that hits on some big topics, from our interaction with our current moment, the concept of exile, and reforming some of the ancient practices of God’s people. The breadth of ideas and challenge of this book make it a must read.

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

Book Review: Practicing the King’s Economy

Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give

My Rating- Must Read

Level – Easy read, medium length

Summary
The book basically tries to answer the question of what would it look like if we worked, ran businesses, spent money/time, and gave money/time in a way that was entirely shaped by a Biblical World View. After the intro the book is broken into 12 chapters that are based on the six ‘keys’ to practicing ‘the King’s Economy’. One chapter will introduce the key and the next is a shorter chapter that gives examples of how that key works in the real life, with examples of people/organizations that the authors know.

The six keys are – Worship, this is about who we worship. Is it God or money and how does that look in the way that we give. Community, the focus here is about having a broad community of all types of people, particularly those from different economic classes. Work, why do we work and what is the point of work? Also, what does the Old Testament concept of ‘gleaning’ look like in a modern world? Equity, based on the command that their be no poor among us, this isn’t necessarily just about making sure everyone has money, but that every one has a job and kind provide for themselves (or help to give to others), even further, it is about making sure that those jobs are enough. Creation Care, this is about environmental stewardship. Finally, Rest, and this is a call to bring back the practice of Sabbath.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. It was probably the most thought provoking and in some way challenging book I’ve read in a long time. Sadly, it isn’t often you read a book targeted at a popular Christian audience that makes you think, even rarely does one challenge the way you should live.

I’ll get the two nit-picky things I didn’t like out of the way first. I didn’t really like the intro, and this was due to their misuse of stats that is a pet peeve of mine. In the intro, they are trying to show that we are richer now than ever, but more unhappy. Unfortunately, they use GDP per capita, which is a useless statistic, because it ignores income inequality and the fact that middle classes wages have been stagnant for decades. It also ignores cost like tuition and healthcare that have risen more rapidly than anything else. However, I don’t disagree with their premise, if nothing else, we are at least more materialistic than ever and constantly surround ourselves with distraction. Second, and I think this is more on the editors or publisher, they only ever refer to Jesus as King Jesus, and this is done to reiterate the title, and it is just awkward and I wish authors/editors wouldn’t do that.

No back to the good part, if you are modern American Christian, especially on the conservative or Republican side, this book will be a challenge. I’d suspect many hardcore Republican’s won’t finish this book as it challenge the assumption that making money is the most important thing in life. It also encourages people to pay living wages, which Republicans generally oppose vehemently. Of course, there are aspects that all sides of the political spectrum will like and dislike, which is a great reminder that neither political party works from a Biblical worldview and we ought not act like they do.

The first chapter, about putting God first and showing that by how we give should challenge the way we all handle money. American’s like to think of ourselves as generous, but in reality we give about 2.5% of income. The Community, Equity, and Rest were interesting chapters that should make you think, and if you take take it seriously, will affect your life. And of course, it should right? The Bible calls us to be different, and especially the chapters on Community and Rest are reminders of just how different we should look. The Creation Care chapter was good and I agree with all of it, I’m a big advocate of environmental stewardship. However, it was probably the weakest on a Biblical basis, and I’m not entirely sure it fit well with the rest of the book.

The best chapter, and worth the price of the book alone, is the Work chapter. For one, many of us, especially white-collar workers who have a lot of options, struggle with what work should look like in out lives, but the crazy part is gleaning. In the Old Testament, the Jews were not allowed to fully harvest their own fields. God required that they leave the edges unpicked so that the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners would have something that they could eat. Obviously, we are not a majority subsistence agricultural community anymore. So the authors dive into what it could look like and the ideas are fascinating and in some ways pretty radical to the way we view life in America.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of their options, or at least the way that they would work out in most places, but they are thought provoking nonetheless. It is certainly something I’ve never thought about before, but it has been on my mind sense I finished the book a few weeks ago. If you really want to be challenged and forced to think and try to rethink the way we view the economy today, and how we should view it as as Christians, this is a book for you. It is probably my favorite so far of 2018, and is definitely a  must read book.

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

Top post of the first half of 2018

I noticed many other bloggers do something like top post/most read of X year or the more prolific ones do a top of the month, or even week. I always kind of wondered how they knew, and that’s when I discovered the depth of the stats pages blogging platforms provide. I brought this up to Mrs. MMT and she thought it was stupid…that I didn’t know this was a thing. To be fair, she is an accredited PR professional, and my desire in life is to be a monk, but with sex, and fishing, and college football. Wait, where was I?

So I dug into my stats, and up until a few months ago, my most viewed overall (and winning by far and away for most views the day it was posted) was the time almost two years ago that I hosted the 2016 August Biblical Studies Carnival. That has since been passed by what is also my most read post of 2018 so far. My top five most read of 2018:

  1. Book Review: Sapiens
  2. Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple
  3. Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Man
  4. Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life
  5. Tie – 10 Year Anniversary; Book Review: Four Views on Hell; Book Review: Darkness is My Only Companion

Why these posts? I have a few ideas, we’ll start from the bottom. Interestingly, Darkness is the only book review to make the list that I actually posted this year, so it’s probably there just due to recency. Similarly, Anniversary was post two weeks ago, and probably brought more of my Twits than book reviews due to the pictures of me and the Monday Morning Wife. Not sure about Four Views, other than Hell is weird and people have questions about it. Feels pretty cool that people found me from that.

My guess is that Imperfect, and the two disciplines books were popular searches due to Lent. I’ve already stated, I don’t know how to do Lent, but I do have two thoughts to help. First, you are probably looking up Lent because of fasting. I’ve heard nothing better than this Theocast podcast on fasting. Their idea that it isn’t necessarily about giving up food (Protestant view), but more about reclaiming time is fascinating. Second, if you are deciding which book to read, I can help. Imperfect is not about spiritual disciplines, but is still awesome and you should read it, and I’ve already written a post about why you should read Godly Man over Christian Life (though, if you are a woman, it’s still a better book).

So, this brings us to Sapiens. Why? Well, my stats pages tell me the terms searched that led people here, and basically, it was people searching for a ‘Christian review’ of the book. I was shocked/proud to find out that if you google this, I’ll be one of the top 5 or so (it changes) links shown. That’s really cool, but people were probably disappointed in what they found. I didn’t write a ‘Christian’ review in the sense people were probably searching. I mean, I am a Christian and I did review the book, but I think what people were look for was a Christian response. So, as a man of the people, I plan to write a Christian response to this book based solely on my guess what people were actually questioning (off the top of my head, it’s evolution).

Two final thoughts – I do Advanced Review Copy book reviews for a few publishers, but of the six book reviews that have brought the most readers this year, only one (Imperfect, from Baker Books), was one of these. Second, the May 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival is up over at 5 Minute Bible.

That’s it, those are my top five as of June 1, 2018. I plan to do an end of the year post for the most read of 2018, so stay tuned I guess. Thanks everyone who reads or follows me and I apologize in advance to anyone who found my by accident. I’ll try to do better next time.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Christians and Money – Budgeting

Last week, I wrote a long rambling post specifically about giving and what the IRS might flag when you do your taxes, but also generally things related to money. One of the tangents I veered towards relates to what we would do with our money, specifically as it relates to getting new job, or some sort of other large bump in salary. My somewhat rhetorical point being if you salary goes up 10%, your expenses shouldn’t. Your mortgage/rent, groceries, other bills, are what they are, so you should have surplus, what should you do?

I think before diving into that, we need to point out that, for the most part, we are terrible with money. As I point out, American’s only give about 3% of their income, and this article shows, we save less than 5%, and finally, this article says the average federal tax rate is 13.5%, but a little nuance (see chart below) shows that no one pays double digit taxes rates until the make over $200K, so for the purpose of this post, I’ll call it 7%.

Put all those together, and are only talking about 15% of income. Throw in 33% for housing, 10% for food, another 10% for transportation, and lets call it 7% for misc., you get 75%. Or you can also take a look at this article, which goes over the average American household budget. I also took a look at Mint, there is a comparison tool to see how my spending stacks up against other in my metro area. Four big categories stuck out to me:
Shopping  – $5,873
Personal care – $1,148
Misc  – $2,506
Fees and Charges – $1,175
To note, shopping is a separate category from groceries. The income, from which the use data came, was around $67K, so this shopping category is close to 10% of pre-tax income. I’m not entirely sure what people call personal care, but $100 a month seems high. The Misc category is a little hard to judge. That might be unexpected expenses, not too sure as it looks like people are already spending $500 a month on shopping. The Monday Morning Wife and I use the Misc as a giant catch all for shopping, eating out, unexpected expenses, haircuts, etc. So, it was a little harder to compare how we stack up exactly. Finally, it appears people are spending $100 on fees and charges. I interpret that as people are spending $100 a month to not pay attention. I understand things happen, but I can’t imagine how you get hit with so many fees if you are actually keeping on top of paying bills and monitoring you accounts.

Which I guess brings me to the point I want to make in this post. Not necessarily the original point I was going for, but here we are. We are just not effective stewards of our money. Mainly, because we are too lazy to pay attention. I talked with a guy over a year ago. I mentioned with the new jobs, we were thinking of possibly trying to pay the house off earlier. As we were talking, we realized our incomes and expenses were roughly the same, but he wasn’t in a position to have extra money. I asked him about budgeting and tracking, and he wasn’t doing it. This is a smart, high educated guy, who is a committed husband and loving father, but was just failing to pay attention to his finances.

I found this to be pretty consistent last summer when our pastor did a series on money, our small group discussed what people were spending on what and how people track and budget. Out of the five of us, only one other family was seriously tracking. Some people were saving, but not giving, some were giving but not saving, some were doing both, but couldn’t tell you how much they spent going out to eat, or where their money went, so they were falling further and further in debt. Many of the guys have great salaries, or large bonus, and one had recently started a new job with a big pay raise. So, they are paying their bills, but spending the rest, neither increasing their giving or saving. This is a huge problem for most Americans called Lifestyle Inflation were you end up matching you spending to your income, so that is you receive more and more money, all you do is spend more and more.

So, it ends up with people being highly compensated, but live paycheck to paycheck and do not feel like they are actually blessed by God, despite their obvious abundance. I was talking to a coworker the other day. He and his wife combine for an income that likely puts him in the top 10% of all earners, and despite their being in their 20’s, with two incomes and no kids, he was wondering how it is possible to ever retire. I asked him, well, how much are you saving, he wasn’t sure. We just cannot use what God has given us, unless we actually know what we are going with it. If you aren’t tacking, you really need to start and get your spending under control. If you don’t know where your money is going, it is a safe bet that not enough of it is going back to God.

I had intended for this post to go a different direction, but I realized as I researched and thought back to my conversations with people that you can’t really talk about handling abundance until you know what that even means in your own spending and how most people don’t even respond to God’s blessing enough to know what they are even knowing where it is going. So, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, next week I’ll try to get back to abundance, and two different solutions I’ve seen heard of as a response.

Payday Lending and the Church

A week or so ago, the small group I lead watched this video at the suggestion of some of the pastors at my church. I had planned to write a little more about it, but haven’t really found the time. This is an industry that preys on people’s poverty and need, and there is a lot of hesitancy to do things to regulate it, mostly because so many politicians have been bought off by the industry.

I especially appreciate the irony of the one Texas city councilmen who said he wished the Federal government would do something (as his excuse for doing nothing).  I figured saying the Federals should tell local cities how to run things would get you kicked out of the Republican Party in Texas.

Another difficulty seems to be that there aren’t great solutions. There are many other issues associated with poverty and emergencies and other reasons people may need more or lack access to traditional credit. I like the attempt here, to cap how much you can take from people and to require more transparency.

I was very happy to see some churches taking the lead in helping to care for the poor. For one, we are literally told to do this in the Bible. Not just the ‘love your neighbor’ type Gospel message, but there is much in the Old Testament, especially the Prophets about fair treatment and wages for the poor. Also, this issue of high interest rates has been something the church has been against for at least 500 years. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote about the problems of high interest rates. Luther called people who take advantage of those in need through high rates as bad as the worst people on earth. Calvin considered the maximum allowable rate to be around 6% (while debatable, the 400% or so payday and title lenders charge now is clearly wrong.)

Check out the video (just over 30 minutes and pretty well done) and go look into rule in your state. See if there is something you can do to curb the abuse.