Thursday, December 24, 2015

Year End Book Review 2015



For those of you who read this blog post every year...you know the drill.  For those of you who are reading it for the first time, well it's pretty simple.  I read some books over the course of the year.  And then I provide a brief review so you can decide if you would like to read them. Let's get down to business.

Benjamin Rush by David Barton - No, this is not a book about a dude who ages backwards.  This book is actually a very well written biography of one of the foremost founding fathers of this country and it is written by a fantastic American historian in David Barton.  I have recently really desired to read about our nation's founders from their own writings, letters, and other publications because I don't think textbooks give you a real picture of who these men were.  I had only heard about Benjamin Rush because of some prior David Barton information that I had read.  But truthfully, after reading this book, he is probably one of the most influential and important founders.  This man was the catalyst behind Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense."  He served both as signer of the Declaration of Independence and later as as signer of the Constitution.  David Barton writes this book in categories ranging from Benjamin Rush's thoughts on education, religion, politics, medicine, etc. So each chapter is dedicated to that topic and includes many letters, essays, and other publications of Benjamin Rush himself.  He is a prolific founder with a deep love of God and timeless wisdom.  In addition, I appreciated this book because Benjamin Rush was also a physician and is considered the father of American medicine.  It's a fantastic book and this man has become somewhat of a role model in my life in how he conducted his faith, life, family, and medical practice.

Kingdom Man by Tony Evans - This book was actually not on my preliminary reading list but the men in my life group wanted to get together and read it so I joined in.  It was a good book.  Tony Evans (who shamefully I didn't really know about) has an easy readability and he uses many analogies and metaphors to drive home his points.  Basically, his focus of the book is for Christian men to step up and be who God created us to be - leaders, providers, societal changers through the power of the Gospel in our lives, marriages, families, and work places.  He provides many fascinating statistics on men in society and the importance of fathers in the home all with the challenge to lean in to Christ and, by His power, fulfill what God has called us to be and to do.  As I said before, it is a good book with a great point and challenge but my one critique would be it becomes a little repetitious in thought and principle.  Nonetheless, one would walk away with renewed energy to man up!

Knowing God by J.I. Packer - This is a gem.  This book was for me this year as George Muller's Autobiography was last year.  I read a short book by J.I. Packer last year and loved it.  This is probably his most well known and most prolific writing and it doesn't disappoint.  On the outset this book is for believers and the author's aim is to again capture who God is as he is revealed in the Bible.  It is a great comfort and provides incredible clarity to any believer.  Basically each chapter explores an attribute or doctrine of God from God's grace to His love, to His wrath, to His judgement.  No aspect is left untouched and Mr. Packer does an exceptional job of linking everything to give you a grand and complete picture of our God.  I listened to this as an audio book and several times driving down the road I was almost in tears worshiping God.  Clearly, worship is not about creating an experience or a certain music style.  It is simply marveling at who God is and what he has done for me and you. But that is a discussion for another time.  The entire book is most excellent but my favorite chapters were those on God's love which was immediately followed by God's wrath.  The juxtaposition of what His loved saved us out of is verbally painted in a magnificent fashion.  I also really really liked the chapter on our adoption.  You need to read this book.  It should almost be mandatory for every believer and I hope to read it every few years to be continually reminded by one of the greatest theologians of our day, just how awesome is our God.

Counter Culture by David Platt - I love me some David Platt.  His passion and zeal for God's glory and God's kingdom is contagious and it flows out of this book as well.  Essentially, the author makes the claim that in a culture focused on justice and social justice Christians sometimes focus on one, say global poverty, and turn a blind eye to another, say sex slavery.  Mr. Platt argues that that mentality, to care about what is en vogue, cannot be true of believers because the Gospel impacts all areas sin and injustice.  With that foundation laid, you will read through ten chapters each dealing with a major crisis issue within the world and within our cultural context.  David Platt expertly, poignantly, and yet lovingly threads how the good news of Christ not only can free someone from an injustice but also explains how the Gospel impacts our personal hearts and lives to make a difference.  This is a fantastic book and quite honestly a challenging book because it forces you to be practical and begin to ask how can I begin to make a difference by advancing the Gospel message.  I mentioned it was practical.  It's very practical.  He includes at the end of each chapter agencies and ministries that you can partner with that are carrying out work in each of the areas described which ranges from abortion, to race relations, to poverty, to sex slavery etc...yeah, all in one book.  This book packs a wake up punch that we all need and I highly recommend it.

Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary by Jason Duesing - That was a mouthful.  It's a long title but basically it's a biography of Adoniram Judson.  It's interesting how I came across this book because I probably never would have read this book.  But originally in the early part of this year I was scheduled to go with a medical mission team to the country of Myanmar through an organization called the Christian Medical/Dental Association (CMDA).  It's a great organization and yes, the have a physical therapy wing.  But as I was going through the process the team leader wanted us to read a biography of this guy named Adoniram Judson.  Low and behold the next day (I don't think it was chance at all) there is a Kindle deal for this book for .99 cents so I buy it and read it.  And I am really glad I did.  I learned so much about not only Mr. Judson but also William Carey, who is considered the father of modern mission.  I learned about the early mission agencies in America and the ties to English mission agencies, which was all happening around the time of the American revolution.  I learned about the theology of America's most prolific early missionary in Adoniram Judson and how great Puritans like Jonathan Edwards impacted him.  I learned about the sacrifices, hardships, setbacks, and near failures that this man went through to bring the gospel to the people of Burma, or modern day Myanmar.  Mr. Judson is an inspiring figure, but also very real as he suffered through some dark depression on the field and went through hell on earth losing multiple spouses and many children all to advance the Kingdom of God.  I ended up not being able to go on the trip due to changes in my family life but I was truly informed and inspired by Adoniram's life.  Hopefully, I will be able to go with the team in the future.

Prayer by Tim Keller - I loved this book.  I really like Timmy-K in general but I really appreciated this book.  I think if we are honest we all would admit that our prayer lives are lacking.  Maybe in consistency, maybe in depth, maybe in focus.  It just seems that something so vitally important seems to be so elusive in our daily lives.  And Tim addresses that in this book.  He explores the theology of prayer, the necessity of prayer, and ultimately the supreme importance of prayer.  He does this by drawing from some great teaches of the past including Jesus with the model prayer, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.  But what I really appreciated are his honest struggles with prayer and his exploration and study of prayer to improve his own prayer life.  Mr. Keller includes prayer examples and even prayer plans in the indexes of the book.  This book challenged my prayer life but it also renewed and re-energized my prayer life.  I would highly recommend this book to read in the coming year.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman - This was a fascinating book.  It was not necessarily what I expected but it did not disappoint. This book was really an application of Luther's theological mind to different areas of the christian life.  The author focused mainly on church life and teaching.  In the beginning of the book you learn briefly about Martin Luther from one of the leading Luther scholars in Carl Trueman, but he is quick to point out that this book is not a biography but an exploration of Luther's theology applied to the life of a believer within the medieval worldview lens of Luther.  The meat of the book boils down to Luther's view of people either as theologians of glory (man centered theology/law/works based belief) or theologians of the cross (follower's of the gospel message).  The author highlights that being a theologian of the cross is counter logical in that there is strength in weakness, and life in death.  Mr. Trueman uses citations from Luther's major works in the book that really highlight Luther's beliefs.  Topics range from pastoral teaching, to church life, to family life.  I learned some good lessons for teaching and leading my life group.  My one critique is that this book was much more academic then I expected it to be.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the author uses many words that could be found on a GRE and I could see being assigned this book in seminary.  Overall, though, it was a good book.   

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen - Finally...the last of the books that I read this year.  This book is a fast forward about 150 years from Luther's time to the time of the Puritan's.  I do love the Puritan's and the more I read them the more I love them. John Owen is among some of the most famous Puritan teachers and his writings on dealing with sin in a believers life in this book are very applicable to believers today.  Essentially he reiterates what the Bible says that we are to be holy and to throw off sin.  But then he provides some practical means in which believers do that starting with the obvious, surrender to Christ and reliance on the Holy Spirit.  It is a very encouraging read as you explore his insights and thoughts on killing sin in your life.  It is also a great challenge to be holy and to hate sin.  However, John Owen's writing can be a little difficult because he uses really long sentences and it's written in an outline form.  But, it is a fantastic book and one that I would highly recommend because it is not very lengthy.  Best line from the book: "Do you mortify [sin]? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you."  



So Laura said this book doesn't count because it was a daily devotional and I didn't read the entirety of it.  But, Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotional is fantastic.  There are two devotionals per day, and I read about half of them.  They are challenging, worshipful, thought provoking, encouraging and just fantastic. Spurgeon continues to be one of my favorites and these collections of writings are just awesome.  I highly recommend this devotional for the year ahead if you want a daily reading.




Get caught up by browsing reviews from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014




  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Our Budgeting & Debt Payoff Story


I recently wrote our budgeting/financial story for a friend's blog and thought I should share it here too. Budgeting has been VITALLY important to my husband and I throughout our entire marriage. I want to share our testimony about not only how budgeting has helped us, but also how God has provided for us financially.


Financial Backgrounds

Jason and I grew up with different spending habits. I had a fair amount of spending money because my parents paid for all of my needs and then some, then whatever I earned at my job was mine to spend as well. They taught me the importance of saving and giving, but I chose what to do with the rest. What I chose consisted mainly of clothes and entertainment. Jason grew up and entered college with more of a mindset that he didn't need a whole lot of spending money, and that most of his earned money would go to more important long term things, like college.


Newlyweds

When we got married (right out of college), the main area of adjustment was money decisions. I had a few credit cards, and had no issue with signing up for new credit cards if it meant saving some money or getting some perks when I signed up. Well a few months into our marriage I carelessly forgot to make a payment and got a late fee. Jason was pretty unhappy about this and told me that we didn't have the money to be paying late fees. He thought that we needed to buckle down on our finances, write down every purchase that we made, budget, and rip up some credit cards. I was pretty shocked at first and put up a little bit of a fight. But I knew he was right. We were making very little money since I was finishing up school and working part time and he was only able to intern before entering Physical Therapy school. We didn't have a choice. We had to be SUPER careful about how we spent our money or we would burn through our savings in no time flat. I will give a shout out to Crown Financial - we did that Bible Study in a group together before we got married and it gave us a lot of groundwork information that we built on.

Luckily, I am a huge Excel nerd and once we set up a very basic budget in Excel and did it a few months, I actually enjoyed seeing for the first time a bigger picture of where our money was going. I suddenly felt in control! We could decide that we were only going to spend "X" dollars in groceries that month and actually accomplish that goal! Yes, it meant not buying fancy foods, and eating out of the pantry for the last week of the month, but we weren't dipping into our savings! It was time consuming to look at all of our statements and reconcile the amounts and enter them into our budget, but it also empowered us because we would catch funny charges or things that we didn't recognize. There wasn't ever a charge to any of our accounts that we didn't see. Every charge got entered on our budget as the month went along.


Budgeting during Physical Therapy School

I believe that the Lord guided us through our experience with Crown Financial, our budget, and also the good "live debt free" example set by our parents to help get us through the next period of our marriage. As soon as Jason started PT school, our budget became extremely tight. I got a job and the money I earned had to be enough for both of us. We made it our goal not to take out ANY additional debt beyond school expenses. You see, in Medical School, you can take out tons of debt, not just for school expenses, but for living expenses as well! Trust me, it was very tempting to take out debt so we could go on a vacation or two, go out to eat more, buy more clothes, fix up our house, etc. But living on a tight budget taught us (mainly me) one very important lesson - PATIENCE! I learned that if I wanted to paint the kitchen or wanted a new outfit, maybe I couldn't do it that day - maybe I'd have to wait for birthday money, or Christmas money. It was a tough lesson, but I learned that God eventually provided for those desires - even when I didn't really "need" them. Our budget allowed us to cut every unnecessary expense so that we wouldn't have to take out more debt. One expense we didn't cut was tithing. It was a blessing to witness how God provided for us in this time. At the end of the year we were both SHOCKED that our savings account hadn't changed.


Paying back the Debt

When Jason finished PT school, passed his board exam, and got a job (Hallelujah!) - we purposely chose NOT to live on the glorious two paychecks that we suddenly had! We chose to live on his pay, and for my pay to go 100% to paying off his school debt - our total debt was approx. $43,000. Now at this point (3 1/2 years into our marriage), we had just had our first child - Lucy. I had always had a strong desire to be a stay at home mom, but I realized that if I did that, we would not be able to afford our living expenses plus the new monthly payment on Jason's school loans that we would soon have. It was a HUGE sacrifice for me to take Lucy to a nanny or daycare almost every day for her first two years of life to pay off that debt - and boy did it make me thankful that we hadn't let it balloon any larger during our first 3 years of marriage!

Quick Side Note: We are Dave Ramsey fans and believe in the "pay it off with a vengeance" mentality. Jason's medical school loan didn't require us to make any payments for 6 months and also didn't collect any interest for 6 months! We took this as a challenge and aimed to pay off the debt as quickly as possible so that we would pay very minimal interest. When all was said and done, we paid less than $500 in interest - PRAISE BE TO GOD!

Another Side Note: When Lucy was born, the Lord enabled me to get a huge pay raise at the exact moment when we started paying off the debt. Coincidence? I think not! I believe that God was rooting for us to pay off the debt to reach our goal of debt freedom and our ultimate goal of being able to afford for me to be a stay at home mom.

We paid off all of our debt in about a year and half. I kept working for another 6 months for the sole purpose of building up some savings.


Budgeting throughout Life Changes

We have continued with the same Excel spreadsheet budget for the last 6 years! We have (Praise God!) more money coming in each month, but the number of transactions and amount of money spent each month has also skyrocketed! (think babies, diapers, kids clothes, etc.!) I'm not going to lie, it is a time commitment to enter each transaction that we make. However, it makes us literally think about every purchase twice. It helps us see what each purchase does to our bottom line, and it gives us a goal to shoot for. Are we perfect at budgeting? Definitely not! I'll be the first to admit that we rarely make budget 100%. But the goal is that some months we have a little extra, and some months we spend a little extra, and thats okay! Life is unpredictable sometimes! We are currently investigating budgeting software like Quicken that will make the process more automated, so hopefully that will mean less time with the budget with the same ability to see where our money is going.

We are now "Living the Dream" - with no debt except our house and our rental house. I'm a stay at home mom and we have savings as a cushion. Sometimes I still worry about future finances, but I love looking back at the ways that God has provided for us. He is the same God now as He was then, He still has the ability to provide for all of our needs, and He will do just that! If that means one day I need to return to work, that's fine. I'm just thankful for the testimony he has given us, and thankful for this opportunity to share our story!

-Laura

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