Month: November 2013

Thankfulness, John Piper and John Eldredge

I am a huge fan of John Piper.  I was sad the day he left the pulpit, as I loved hearing his message each week.  Yet, I know God is going to do something fantastic with his full-time ministry at Desiring God.  He speaks such truth of the gospel, and with such clarity… and I think this is probably why I love him the most… with such passion.  His book, Desiring God, touched my heart and soul in a way that not much else has in this life.  [Disclaimer:  I have not finished the book.  It sits, half-read, on my shelf, along with 100 other books that I have treated the same.  I am not a strong finisher.  But more on that in another blog.]  When I’ve felt discouraged in life, oftentimes I’ll go to an old sermon about pursuing God, battling unbelief with the supremacy of Christ, replacing all those tiny, little pleasures with the ultimate hedonistic pursuit of Christ.  It stirs my soul.
I am also a huge fan of John Eldredge.  I first read Wild at Heart about 10 years ago and my eyes were opened to the deadness of my life.  It didn’t answer a lot of questions on how to change, but it certainly stirred my soul to want to change and to know that change is possible.  Since that time, he has continued to stir my soul with his writings, his passionate pursuit of Christ and the “sacred romance”.  His view of Christ is sometimes unorthodox, some may even say heretical.  I don’t think so.  But I won’t argue that here.  One of my favorite books, Beautiful Outlaw, spoke of the beauty of Christ that we sometimes miss because of all the religious baggage we bring into our view of Christ.  An incredible book.  Oh… and did I mention our youngest son’s middle name is Eldredge.  Seriously.  Eldredge has had a profound impact on our lives.
So, I noticed something a couple of years ago as I started talking about some of Eldredge’s writings with some folks at church.  I was very excited about sharing some of what I was reading in a small group, and I noticed people kind of looked at me curiously, and questioned whether it was a good idea.  The deeper I got into it, the more I realized that some people just really don’t agree with Eldredge and find that the theological strength of his writings is… well, pretty light.  He sometimes misappropriates Scripture to prove a point, or he’ll make a point based on a more humanistic view of life rather than on Scripture.  These same folks, who I know really adore and agree with much of what John Piper says… well, they don’t like nor agree with John Eldredge.
This was difficult for a while.  My wife and I would be embarrassed to admit we gave our son the middle name of Eldredge.  We would hide that fact that we have 10 Eldredge books on our shelf (we have almost the same number of Piper books too!).  It was tough.  But the more I looked at it, the more I realized why I like both authors so much.  They’re saying the same thing!  The meaning and purpose of this life is to HAVE MORE OF CHRIST!  Piper approaches it from a strict biblical perspective and does a fantastic job with it.  Eldredge approaches it more from a “life experience” perspective, backs it up loosely with Scripture, and makes his writings shine with his very comfortable and conversational writing style.  But both really are saying essentially the same thing.  The answer to the problems of this life is not more duty-bound, religious activity.  The answer is to have more of Christ.
So, as I said in my blog on accepting my humanity, I am accepting today that my humanity can speak into the meaning of life, as a pointer to something greater.  Sort of a shadow of things to come.  The foreshadowing in a movie when you know something really good or bad is going to happen.  The sparkle in someone’s eye that tells you some great joke or wonderful news is about to come.  I am to embrace my humanity today.  God made me human.  And at the same time, I am to long for something greater.
Speaking on what life might be like when we get to heaven, Eldredge questions the often-held belief that we will all stand in front of the video of our lives for everyone to see how we’ve messed up.   He writes:
“One evangelistic tract conveys the popular idea that at some point shortly upon our arrival in heaven the lights will dim and God will give the signal for the videotape of our entire life to be played before the watching universe: every shameful act, every wicked thought. How can this be so? If there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), how is it possible there will be shame later? God himself shall clothe us in white garments (Rev. 3:5). Will our Lover then strip his beloved so that the universe may gawk at her? Never.
However God may choose to evaluate our lives, whatever memory of our past we shall have in heaven, we know this: It will only contribute to our joy. We will read our story by the light of redemption and see how God has used both the good and the bad, the sorrow and the gladness for our welfare and his glory. With the assurance of total forgiveness we will be free to know ourselves fully, walking again through the seasons of life to linger over the cherished moments and stand in awe at God’s grace for the moments we have tried so hard to forget. Our gratitude and awe will swell into worship of a Lover so strong and kind as to make us fully his own.” [John Eldredge, Sacred Romance]
So, I leave you with this on Thanksgiving.  Be thankful for your humanity.  Be thankful for the hurts, the pain, the joys, the trials, the average moments.  Be thankful for the little and big things.  Life is short.  Be thankful.  I plan to do this today, however imperfect.  And remember, whatever we are thankful for now, it will be pale in comparison to what is coming in eternity.  And we can really be thankful for that.  I am.
Happy Thanksgiving and God bless!

Why you need a budget (and how to save $6)

I realize that I’m probably breaking some rule about blogging.  This is my second post in the same day.  I’m sure I’m supposed to spread it out or something.  I’m sure I’ll learn this over time.  But for now, I had to share this.

Four and a half years ago, my wife Carol and I began using a new personal financial package called YNAB (You Need a Budget).  We have aligned ourselves with the Dave Ramsey principles for many years, but have never been able to find a good software solution that merged my nerdy tendency to put our finances on the computer with a solid cash-based budgeting process.  We used Microsoft Money for several years, but the time it took to keep my own “cash flow statements” was too much.  So, in 2009, I began a search that led me to demo (and in some cases purchase) various solutions until I finally landed on YNAB.  And it has changed the way we do our personal finances.  Let me tell you a little about it.

Methodology

First and foremost, YNAB is a methodology… an approach… to solving the personal finance challenge.  Their process urges you to stop living paycheck to paycheck, manage money like it should be managed using cash flow and budget category tracking, and does so with 4 principles or rules that are taught:

Rule 1 – Give every dollar a job.  Dave Ramsey refers to this as “Zero-based budgeting”.  Every dollar that you bring in must go somewhere that you tell it to go.  If you decide to spend $400 on eat out each month, that’s fine.  Just decide to do it intentionally.

Rule 2 – Save for a rainy day – It is not a matter of “if” it will rain, but “when”.  So, save for it.  On purpose.

Rule 3 – Roll with the punches – Look at each month as a learning opportunity.  You’re getting smarter every month you budget, as you see things you left off.  Adjust the current or next month’s budget accordingly, and move ahead.

Rule 4 – Live on last month’s income – This is where the magic happens.  A process is defined by which you work toward having enough money set aside at the end of a month to “fully fund” your expenses for the next month.  YNAB calls this the “buffer.”  And it is wonderful!

Feature Highlight – Cloud sync

So, YNAB started as a Windows/Mac “desktop” application.  All data entered is kept on the machine you’re working on.  With YNAB version 4, “cloud sync” was introduced.  Using Dropbox, you now can sync the YNAB data “in the cloud”, and seamlessly use it on other computers and iOS and Android devices.  And this is where the magic happened for our family.

Though we certainly have not yet arrived, YNAB has finally providing a digital personal finance platform that my wife and I could work on together.  Now, we can both enter expenses as they occur (in the grocery checkout line, at the gas pump, etc.), and these are synchronized automatically.  So, as I spend out of the “grocery” budget, Carol has a nearly up-to-the-minute picture of what is left in the grocery budget.  It is AWESOME!

We believe we are to be good stewards (managers) of the resources God has given us.  YNAB has helped us really become accountable to ourselves in terms of managing the monthly budget.  Another fantastic feature of the methodology and one that had a huge impact on our finances has been the monthly buffer.  For years, we always had a bank account “buffer” that allowed us to cash flow the entire month without requiring our paychecks in advance.  However, eventually, through family expenses, medical bills, and other financial challenges, that extra reserve dwindled down, and we began having cash flow challenges.  The buffer has allowed us to really change this and change our way of thinking about it.

How to save $6

So, this software is not cheap.  There is a one-time software purchase cost, and another for major upgrades (I paid for YNAB 3, then again for YNAB 4 – but there were a significant number of free incremental updates provided for both versions – they work really hard at making this a great software solution).  This one software license allows you to run it on both Mac and Windows machines (which we do at the Raetz’ home).  The cloud sync service is free.  AND… because I am a licensed customer, I am able to share a link with people I know.  By purchasing through this link, you will save $6 on the full cost of the software.

I hope this is helpful to you.  ‘m happy to answer other questions you may have about it.   I hope you find it as useful to your finances as we have.

Accepting my humanity

I am human.  I know this.  There are many things I don’t know in life, but I know this.  Everything in my life confirms it.  I get hungry and thirsty.  I am prone to being tired when I don’t get enough sleep.  (go figure that one out).  It hurts when I stub my toe into a chair that I know was right there, but I did it anyway.  And I feel loneliness sometimes when life gets so busy that I can’t slow down to enjoy it with those I love the most.

And yet…  there are days where I actually think that with my best efforts, I can change something about someone that if I were in their shoes, I would likely feel was impossible to change.  And then… I am noticeably surprised by my inability to change that person.  In fact, I am shocked that I can’t change them.  So, I go into a hyper-drive mode of trying to fix them, to no avail.

Now, before I start any rumors, I’m not talking about a specific person, like my wife.  This tendency applies in every area of my life – work, home, friends… you name it.  But the interesting thing is that I’m… surprised by my humanity.  You see, I want people to like me.  I want people to notice me and my ability to do great things.  I want people to say “that Ken Raetz… he sure is somebody.”  And when it doesn’t happen…  I’m surprised, hurt, angry… you name it.  I’m not a happy, joyful person to be around.  So, then what?

Well, my only conclusion leads me full circle to the beginning.  I’m human.  And this is where I could easily feel hopeless were it not for the loving, merciful, grace-filled hope that I have in Jesus Christ.  I could say “God” and it would feel better for some reading this.  But my hope truly is built on nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse me from the worst of my humanity and redeem and bring out the best of my humanity as God intended it.

So, I cling to the promise of 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Translation:  the most human I can be is to admit I’m human, and place my hope in the forgiveness Christ has offered me through the cross.  And HE WILL DO IT!  Period!  He is faithful!  What a glorious feeling that is.

So, I cling to that promise today, turn to those I love, work with, am friends with, and say “God is changing me day-by-day.  I pray you will eventually see this as well.”  And I do my best to stop fixing everyone around me.

That is relief.  That is real hope.

My first blog post!

My first blog!  Sort of.  I’ve been writing some blogs, articles, etc. in a work capacity for some time now.  I’m also notorious for writing mile-long e-mails, “text mails” (long text messages), and making extremely long Facebook posts.   So, the idea that I would simply write something that people might come to and read it seems crazy to me.  And the idea that I might write something no one reads is terrifying.  But here I am nonetheless.

So, what will I write about?  I’ve thought about that a lot.  And I’ve decided I’ll simply write about life.  Sometimes that might be my family life, as I seek to live out my life as a man of faith in Jesus Christ, a husband and father.  Other times, my life as a friend, Sunday School teacher, and finally, in my profession, as a Microsoft Business Intelligence Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence architect and manager of a team of professional services consultants.

How often will I write?  Not sure.  Probably once every week or two.

For those that have been in this world for a while, I welcome any guidance and feedback!

So, here goes nothing.  Look out world!