PASTORS: Watch Out for This Scam

Internet and Email scammers have been around for years now and unfortunately, many have lost money and some have been "catfished" through the process. It makes for interesting stories on news programs and talk shows.

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Photo credit: BioDivLibrary via Visual hunt / CC BY

Last week, I received an email (actually the second time I have received such an email) that on the surface looks somewhat legit, but ultimately is a scam designed to play on the egos of pastors (yeah - I said it) and the opportunity to preach the Gospel in an international venue.

This email seemingly originated from the United Kingdom. Take a look below:

Screenshot 2017-01-21 15.40.33

When I first read the email, I was suspicious. Primarily because I received a similar one a couple of years ago, but the names of the church and pastor were changed. However, I do have friends who serve as pastors and missionaries in the UK, so there was this slight chance that this was authentic. I even shared the info with one of my friends, but approximately five minutes after asking him if he knew the church, I discovered what I just knew to be true - THIS IS A SCAM!

Pastoral Catfish Scheme

Things that made me question the authenticity of the request:

  • I have never met Pastor Sherard Wood and know no one who knows this man.
  • Passion Conference is a strange name for a local church's event in that Louie Giglio founded and hosts the Passion Conferences annually. Sometimes these are international events and most local churches would see the problem in naming their event the same thing. 
  • The website included in the email for Victory Church is authentic and actually goes to the church in Wales. However, there is no one listed on the Leadership Team named Sherard Wood.
  • Most churches now have email domains that match the church website, so the Gmail account was strange. It's not unheard of for a church to use Gmail. It is not even a bad thing, but it did look suspicious.
  • Under "Events" on the church tab, there is no indication that a "Passion Conference" is scheduled this spring.
  • Since I have many friends in Wales, where this church is located, it does seem strange to call the church Victory Church UK in the email. Most of my Welsh friends actually indicate "Wales" as their home and location. Just as my friends in England tend to say "England."

I did a quick Google search of the story and found that many have been scammed. It seems that when pastors respond, another email is sent with PDF documents attached which must be completed to allow the church to pay honorariums. The documents are actually authentic, but the rest of the story reveals how the scammers work.

This is the same strategy that King from Nigeria uses to get you to send money as well as all the other "Send money" emails people get from other sources. It seems there is a fee due to process the forms and yes, that needs to be paid, so just wire the money to the church's bank account and all is good.

Right.

That's the deal.

There's no conference in the UK paying thousands of dollars to American pastors who are mostly not known outside their region. It's flattering and it's a lie. 

Be careful. Be smart.

Here are a couple of sites where others have broken down the scam just in case you may think your email is legit:


The Marketing of Generosity

Last week, as we celebrated Thanksgiving with family and those in our community, I was once again reminded of the strangeness this week now holds.

  • On Thursday (Thanksgiving) people gather with friends and family and pause to reflect on how blessed we are and offer thanks to God.
  • On "Black Friday" people fight and scrape to get into shopping centers to buy things they otherwise wouldn't just because the deals are so good. In other words, just 24 hours prior we're content and thankful and then...BOOM! WE HAVE TO HAVE MORE!
  • On Saturday, people go shopping at smaller stores for "Small Business Saturday" to encourage them to stay in business even though they struggle competing with the big box stores.  Then, everyone goes back home to watch college football rivalry games that create division among family members and friends.
  • On Sunday, people (well some people) go to church.
  • On "Cyber Monday" people get more great deals online. This is basically Amazon's version of Black Friday.
  • Then, when all disposable income (a term that has never resonated in my home) is gone, it's time for "Giving Tuesday" where charities and non-profits seek to gain donations to help end-of-year expenses.

And some people wonder why Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday?

As Christians, there are many commentaries on all these marketed, hashtag days. First of all, thanksgiving should never be relegated only to one day a year. Greed should never be celebrated. Worship should never be just during one hour on a weekend day and generosity should be natural for all followers of Christ.

Giving tuesday

Yet, today is #GivingTuesday and every non-profit and ministry out there seems to be taking advantage of the moment. To be honest, I don't blame them and in fact, there are many groups we sponsor as a family and ministries we support as a church family that could use a boost in donations. Yes, this day is a marketing strategy. Yet, when compared to "Black Friday" and the like, this one focuses not on self, but on others (unless you give so you can brag about giving, which then makes it selfish.) While not an extensive list, here are some options (in addition to your local church, which BTW is a non-profit as well) that you may wish to prayerfully consider giving generously to on this day.

There are many others. Before dropping that coin or sending a donation to a non-profit, do some checking. Ensure that the organization is legitimate and if a religious or Christian organization, it would be wise to discern the theology or teaching your donations support.

Happy Giving Tuesday. Oh and if you don't get to donate today, you don't have to wait another year. Generosity isn't bounded by calendared events.


"New and Improved" Cooperative Program Giving

We all seem to want the latest version of everything.

Whether it's the new iPhone, new car, latest version of Madden or maybe the latest fashion...we like "new." Even better than "New" is "New and Improved." Ever see that plastered on a product in the grocery store that you've used for decades? Makes you wonder what was wrong with the version you used to use? Just because the word "New" is attached to something does not mean it's better. Remember "New Coke"?

Nevertheless, I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to liking the shiny, new version of stuff.

Sometimes, new is better.

Sometimes improved is a true claim, not just a marketing strategy.

When it comes to church and missions engagement, there are always newer options available. With the advent of internet, mission engagement globally can take place through an uplink to Skype or FaceTime. Emails and newsletters are sent digitally and immediately received. Even trips to far away, exotic mission fields are little more than a drive to an airport and a half-day flight away.

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We truly do have some "new and improved" options when it comes to missions.

Of course, when we speak of missions engagement as evangelicals, and especially as Baptists, we know that funding is needed. Prayers, provision, and people are the three elements churches offer to missionaries in the field. Prayers are paramount. That is first in the list for a reason. Can we have new and improved prayers? I believe so. When prayer life becomes stale, we need to be like the disciples who came to Jesus and asked to be taught to pray. I go back to that passage regularly for insight into prayer and use the template offered in the Model Prayer to keep me focused.

Provision is a nice, alliterative way to say money. It takes money to send people onto the mission field. It requires money to build facilities, provide food, water, resources and other elements needed on the mission field. Those who look down their noses at requests for funds when it comes to mission engagement miss the practicality of sending. Don't spiritualize it and say that no missionary should seek funds. That's not spiritualization. That's just stinginess disguised as religion. Generosity is godly and when funds and resources are provided with a generous heart, the kingdom increases and all play a role.

Sending people could be in the form of support teams or short-term mission teams or the sending of long-term, career missionaries. All are vital.

As Baptists, we have cooperated in our mission giving for decades through a system known as the Cooperative Program (CP). When you study the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, the initiation of the Cooperative Program is pretty amazing. There were other names for this considered, but Southern Baptists landed on Cooperative Program. The compiling of funds together enables missionaries to serve on the field, seminaries to educate pastors and ministers, agencies to function and denominational work to take place.

Over the years, collective giving to CP has gone down. 

Perhaps it's the name. To be honest, Cooperative Program sounds old. You know why? It is. Yet, old doesn't mean non-functioning. In fact, for decades CP giving has enabled the SBC to engage a lost culture more effectively than we ever could have done alone. As Baptists, we celebrate our autonomy. Yet, even in our autonomy, we affirm the value of cooperation.

While SBC agencies face difficult issues regarding funding and ministry engagement for the next generation, we (my church - firstFAMILY Church of Orange Park, FL) have continued to give through CP. In fact, we increased our collective giving to 11 percent of total receipts. Now, I readily admit there is no calling for local churches to "tithe" to denominational entities. Yet, there is a mandate to live generously. Living with the end in mind and with wide-angle glasses so we can attempt to see the larger picture, we understand the value of giving.

So, we give.

Unapologetically.

Faithfully.

Sacrificially.

As God leads.

In 2015, we gave over $264,000 through our Florida Baptist Convention to the Cooperative Program. I'm not bragging. In fact, I'm pretty amazed at that amount and there is a part of me that says "Do you know what we could've done with that amount of money to our property? With our staff? For church programs?" and then I shake my head and come back to reality. We have been able to do so much more through giving than we ever could have through keeping.

Now, in Florida, we have a "new and improved" version of CP giving. For the first time in SBC life, a state is sending more out of the state than is kept. We now give 51 percent of all CP giving out of our home state. This is what some may call "radical." 

New and Improved? Well, not so new, but improved. 

We're honored to be a part of a larger story.

Watch this video to see how Florida is engaging the world for the Kingdom through CP gifts:

 

 

 


Broken: Part 13 "Broken Finances"

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Yesterday, I presented a message from 2 Corinthians 8 regarding the calling to live generously. I also expressed how the prosperity "gospel" has infected western Christianity to such a degree that false hope and lies disguised as truth have made it difficult to discern the true Gospel for many. I normally do not post my sermon transcripts, but am posting most of it today for the sake of clarity.

As we continue through our series in 2 Corinthians, today we talk about the reality of broken finances – or at least a broken view of finances.

God unveils some amazing truths about himself through Paul’s writings, both to the church in Corinth, and amazingly to us today.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. - 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 (ESV)

As a lead in and foundational statement regarding a life of generosity, there’s this concept of grace. This is an amazing thing, when you contemplate it. Paul says “We want you to know about the grace of God among the church.”

I heard a story Pastor Tim Keller shared a while back about a woman in his church who came to have a discussion with him.

She said, “This grace thing – that’s a scary idea! She said ‘It’s good – scary, but it’s really scary.’”

Keller responded, “What is so scary about unmerited, free grace?”

She answered, “If I was saved by my good works, there would be a limit to what God could ask of me. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. But, if it’s really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace at God’s infinite cost, there’s nothing he can’t ask of me. And, that’s scary. Good – scary, but scary.”

You know, that’s why some of us are more comfortable being legalistic. It’s why Christians want to come to church and hear a “Just tell me what to do” sermon. It’s easier, isn’t it?

Yet, God’s grace – that overwhelming, unmerited, amazing grace, is the fulfillment of law, and is so very freeing.

Here’s the deal – we must see the act of giving as not bound in a legalistic setting, but freed by grace as God intended.

This is a major shift for many, for when this happens in your life, you will no longer be asking “What do I have to give?” when it comes to God and His church. You will begin to enjoy – yes, enjoy – the freedom of living with a generous, grace-filled heart.

This is what had happened to the Macedonian Christians. Look here – in their testing, their affliction, the severity of the persecution they were facing, their identifier became the “grace of God” that resulted in what? Abundant joy! Their extreme poverty didn’t define them. Their joy overflowed at such a level they were identified from there on out by their generosity.

You know, whenever a pastor or church leader begins to speak about money or giving, there always seems to be a collective groan that appears. You know why? Because the grace of God does not abound where legalism resides. Even if the church as a whole isn’t legalistic, or at least pushing against legalism intently, many of us find ourselves struggling with individual legalism.

Why? Because it’s the enemy’s strategy and legalism is EASY.

But, grace is greater.

These Macedonians appear to be the type of people that do the right thing, not looking for accolades – and yet, here we are two thousand years later, bragging on their obedience and longing to be like them.

For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. - 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 (ESV)

  • The legalist asks “How much do you want?”
  • The hoarder asks “This is all mine. What do you want now?”
  • The cheapskate asks “What’s the minimum payment?”

Yet, the generous giver lives on a different plane apparently. The generous of heart begs for the opportunity to give.

I wish I could say that I’m guilty of that. I’m not. Why? Because, like you. . .I don’t think like that. Oh, there are times, maybe after a winsome video showing a hungry child needing a few bucks a month to eat and be clothed, but even then it’s a marketing strategy that begins with “Only so much a day. . .”

But in this passage we see something different. Something weird.

It’s the grace of God that abounds and changes perspective. There’s also something here that is often overlooked in messages focused on giving.

“They gave themselves first.”

Sometimes, we get this out of order, or miss this step entirely. This is where the truth is seen. This is the answer to the question “Does God really care about my money?”

You see, of all the Ten Commandments, which we all break easily, there is one that is broken most often, if not universally. It is this commandment that many feel they’ve done pretty well with, but in actuality have failed to obey. It’s the one about “not having any false idols.”

Richard Halverson once stated this “Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles his money.”

It’s about idolatry.

Tweet: God cannot be enthroned as primary in our lives until we dethrone the little gods that take our time, effort and even worship. @davidtarkGod cannot be enthroned as primary in our lives until we dethrone the little gods that take our time, effort and even worship.

It’s interesting that when Jesus met the tax collector named Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus said that he would give back money he had taken wrongly and even pay back interest, Jesus replied “Today salvation has come to this household.” Yet, when Jesus encountered the rich, young ruler who would not dare part with his goods, Jesus lamented that the young man had missed the larger story.

It’s about the money, but it’s not really about the money.

It’s about the throne. It’s about the worship. It’s about the heart and a heart bound with legalism will create a pseudo-Christianity that is both unattractive and ungodly.

But, what about the prosperity gospel? You know, the one that says if you give, God will give back and make you rich and give you favor?

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor/martyr from Germany stated, “The figure of the crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”

Tweet: The prosperity gospel is a man-made, manufactured, manipulative pile of excrement concocted by the enemy. @davidtarkThe prosperity gospel is a false gospel. It is a man-made, manufactured, manipulative pile of excrement that the enemy has concocted within the church that offers a lie as a truth.
  • "Give to God and He’ll give you a Mercedes."
  • "Give to God and your kids will be successful."
  • "Give to God and you’ll get a promotion."

That’s not gospel – that’s idolatry.

That’s using God for one’s own good.

That’s selling God and his grace to those who will buy into anything if they think there’s a tangible return on investment that will give them money, power, influence, or some such status. 

When we come to God for what we can get out of him, the gifts received are therefore elevated above the giver of good things. It’s like the kid who sees his parents not as protectors, nurturers, providers, but simply as human ATMs useful only for cash and “stuff.”

While that offends us, the prosperity gospel abounds.

And, it’s subtle, isn’t it?

It’s dangerous.

Ultimately, a powerful passage that speaks so strongly about heart issues and attitude, is often mis-read and falsely applied to say that which it doesn’t say:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." - 2 Corinthians 8:6-9 (ESV)

This is a calling out passage. The church in Corinth had said they’d give. They understood the need and for a moment – though just for a moment – the generous heart abounded there in Corinth.

Then, they stopped giving.

They forgot their brothers and sisters.

They changed their minds.

Paul is subtly, or not so subtly reminding them of their promise and he gives warning.

This is not a name-it, claim-it passage. This is an affirmation of the generous heart that results from the grace-filled giver.

We give because he gave.

We are free from slavery of that which we “own.”

Here in the states, our money still says “In God we Trust” but it seems to be a lie, doesn’t it?

What do you do with this? What does this change? Cheerful heart? Grace filled giver? Generous?

"He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."

Forever – that’s a legacy. That’s eternity. Generous disciples live and give in such a way that eternity is impacted for the Kingdom of God. Now, I love animals, but I just cannot fathom why a Christ-follower would give more to an animal shelter or cause than to the church (and not even this church) or ministry that is on the front-lines for eternity’s sake? People leave money in their wills to their cats? Really?

  • Legalism keeps us thinking that “what’s ours is ours.”
  • Prosperity gospel keeps the idol of self on the throne of life.
  • Love of creation over Creator leads us to invest in that which does NOT matter.

Let’s refuse to allow the enemy any more footholds in our lives.

The full audio version of this message is available in this posting, as an iTunes podcast, on the Stitcher Radio app and on opfirst.org on the "Sermons" page.

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We Can Be Debt-Free By 2020

As of March 31, 2015, the First Family (i.e. the membership of First Baptist Church of Orange Park) owes just over $1.5 million on our facilities. Now, to be honest, when I see numbers like that, I am overwhelmed. Yet, after we (the Leadership Team & Finance Committee) looked at the breakdown of what this amount actually means, I was excited. I have an excited feeling of anticipation as I can see us paying off this debt in just a few years. 

VISION 2020
After crunching numbers and looking at the principal and interest owed to our mortgage holder, and counting the almost $16,000 given monthly through our budget offerings toward the payoff, it is clear that if just a portion of those who gave any amount toward the BUILDING PROGRAM last year would commit to give JUST $20 monthly toward this effort, we would be DEBT-FREE BY 2020.

$20 A MONTH
That's a workable amount. I can do this. I imagine most of us can. Just imagine. That's only $5 a week for the average month. That's one cup of coffee. That's one lunch at a restaurant. That's just $5 and yet, if we all did this, we'd erase this debt together.

FOR A CAUSE
I fully understand that there's little excitement from many by just paying off debt. However, when you think of the ministry that could be accomplished and the causes for Christ that could be funded if we just broke free of the debt, it's overwhelming. . .in a good way.

IF YOU ARE A PART OF THE "FIRST FAMILY," WILL YOU CONSIDER GIVING AT LEAST $20 A MONTH TOWARD THE BUILDING FUND?
Being set free from our debt will happen, but will only happen if we do this together. God has been so faithful through the years and He has blessed us with facilities that have been used for His glory to show His love to His church and the community at large. 

DESIGNATION FOR BUILDING FUND 
Our online giving option through our website and app give you an option for direct donations toward our Building Program. You may also use the provided giving envelopes in the Worship Center and in the FMC on Sunday mornings to designate funds toward the Building Fund. Be sure that any gifts given toward this are over and above your regular tithes and offerings.

Give here


Quit Smoking or Give Me $100

One of our church members came by the office today with a check from his doctor. The check was made out to the church in the amount of $100.

SmokingIt seems that earlier this year the church member went to his doctor with a challenge. His doctor smokes regularly (seems odd to me, but hey, that nicotine is addictive.) His doctor had told him previously that he was trying to stop. So. . . the challenge was laid down. The gentleman from our church said, "You have one month to stop. If you haven't stopped by the time I come back for my next appointment, you owe me $100 to the charity of my choice." The doctor agreed.

Apparently, today was the the date for the "next appointment." Our man went to the office, met with his doctor and asked the question, "So. . .have you quit?"

The doctor said, "Not yet."

The response was quick and clear, "Then get your checkbook out. You owe me $100."

The doctor obliged and said, "To whom do I make it out?"

"First Baptist Church."

So. . .thank you doctor for your gift. However, we think you should put away the cigarettes, too. Cigarettes are expensive, but the extra $100 a month makes them outrageous. Oh, and according to most doctors. . . smoking isn't healthy. Try gum.

(The $100 was placed in our Global Missions Fund.)


When Two Million Dollars Doesn't Seem Like Much

Now, I know $2 million is a large amount. However, for our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) this amount is actually something to be celebrated.

Debt-pictureI have been on pastoral staff at this church for almost twenty years. When I arrived here on January 1, 1994, we were in the midst of a construction project that would lead to the completion of our current Worship Center and Music Suite. The amount of the numerous loans necessary to build these facilities was over $3 million. Then, just about ten years ago, we added our current Family Ministry Center and Education/Administration Suite. The loans were combined and the amount was significant.

From the numbers that I see on our monthly financial statement, we had loans of almost $5 million over the years.

So, when does $2 million look small? When you realize from where you've come and can finally see the end of the road.

I remember just a few years ago when discussions on paying off the church loans was simply stated as "pay the monthly bill" with the inference understood that we (our generation) may never see it paid off.

However, and this is a BIG DEAL, if we continue to give as we have, with our newly restructured bank agreement, we can conceivably be out of debt within EIGHT YEARS!

EIGHT YEARS!

That's not some pie in the sky idea. That's a reality. It's good stewardship.

Now, while debate continues as to whether a church should ever take out a bank loan, our reality is that we have a debt and now, must pay it off. Can you imagine the Kingdom work we can fund even better when we have over $22,000 each month freed up? That's our current monthly mortgage payment.

According to our financial statement of June 1, 2013, we owe $1,980,530 on our loan.

Thank you for your faithfulness to give. Thank you for your generosity. As we (and I mean we, not just you) continue to give our tithes, offerings and gifts toward the "Building Fund" regularly, we can be released from the burden of this debt.

I can't wait for the day we "burn the note."


Blessing Church Planters & Missionaries

Once again God has blessed First Baptist Church of Orange Park with a "surplus" of giving. There are expenses that have come up, but even after unbudgeted expenses and funding needed things, we are able to bless three church planters/missionaries with gifts this month. So, after meeting with our Finance & Stewardship Committee, we are proud to share the following.

When opportunities come to help increase the Kingdom, we must step into that story. These three men and their families have sacrificed much to ensure more people hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

Pray for them please.

Pray regularly.

Here is who we have blessed this month:

Allan Covington
Pastor Allan Covington and RiverEdge Church in Baldwinsville, New York (near Syracuse) with a gift of $1,500. Allan is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. RiverEdge is a Southern Baptist Church using the NorthPoint Church model that Andy Stanley has developed in Alpharetta, Georgia. There are no strategically evangelical churches in the area where RiverEdge is being planted. The SBC shows that only five to six percent of the population considers themselves evangelical Christian. RiverEdge is focused on the other 94-95 percent.

 

Jessups
Missionary and church planter Bill Jessup is serving as missionary in Reykjavik, Iceland through the Iceland Project. Bill is pastoring a small gathering now with intent of helping them plant numerous churches throughout the city and nation. Bill is also working to help them become self-sufficient with prayers that an Icelandic pastor would rise up and be called to lead the congregation. We were able to gift them with $1,200.

 

Tim Larson
Pastor Tim Larson of WaterMark Church here in Clay County. They meet weekly at Tynes Elementary School. We offer Tim an office here at First Baptist and the WMC staff meets here weekly. The financial gift of $1,200 will give them some flexibility financially as they continue to connect with people who have no church home and most likely will not connect with a traditional church.


The Church Modeling Stewardship & Generosity (or "Why We're Giving Away $36,000?")

Churches and pastors are good at promoting the message that people should tithe and give generously, cut up credit cards, eliminate debt and save accordingly. The only problem is that while the message is true and right, often the church doesn't actually model that very well.

Hands lightThat's why I am so excited to share once again that the financial leadership team of the church (made up of laypersons) continues to lead us to a place where ministry continues to be done and missions is supported, at increased levels, while saving, giving and eliminating debt is being modeled.

As the church models this as a whole, it is much easier for me and you to see how it should be done in our individual lives.

So, here we are once again. A surplus of funds from regular tithes and offerings from the past six months allows us to worship God through our actions. Like I said Sunday, talk is cheap. This is more than just talk.

We shared at our quarterly meeting last Sunday evening the details, but let me explain them here.

A net "income" has accumulated over the past six months. This was carried over from 2011 and now we are at a place to distribute funds accordingly.

The total amount to distribute is $143,504. From this, per the distribution scale developed last year, the following is happening now:

  1. We are "paying" our accrual accounts a total of $23,673 to bring us up to where we should be as of 3/31/2012. The accrual accounts are new and designed to provide funds for replacement and upkeep of high cost items (i.e. A/C units, roofs, transportation).

  2. This leaves us with $119,831. Of this, the distribution is as follows:

    1. 40% for capital improvements and/or debt reduction. The total amount is $47,933. Of this, $16,016 was spent in January for the purchase of our needed new sound system in the Worship Center. That amount will be applied to the Music Ministry Budget to put it back in order for the remaining ministry needs for the year. The remaining $31,917 is available for capital improvements and/or debt reduction. Most likely this amount will go towards new signage around campus and the stage rebuild in the Worship Center. These things will take place over time this year since they will cost more than $31,917 and we will not spend money we do not have.

    2. 30% will go in our Emergency/Opportunity Fund. The total is $35,949. This fund is being filled to provide us "rainy day" funds. These are for real emergencies such as fire, hurricane, etc. that may cause us to close for a number of weeks.

    3. 30% of the funds will be given away to Gospel-centered ministries. This is our church being generous and aiding in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. The total amount is $35,949 (however, we have been told by one individual that they will give $51 to make it a nice round $36,000.) Here's who we are blessing this month:

      • $5,000 to Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, North Carolina and church planter Andrew Hopper.

      • $5,000 to Caleb Crider, church planter in Portland, Oregon.

      • $5,000 to Sean Benesh, church planter in Portland, Oregon.

      • $5,000 to Matt Jolley, church planter in Portland, Oregon.

      • $5,000 to Anthony Harris, church planter in Vancouver, Washington.

      • $5,000 Clay Holcomb, church planter and pastor of Trinity Church in Happy Valley, Oregon.

      • $3,000 to the Clay County First Coast Women's Services.

      • $3,000 to Living Water International to provide clean water and the message of life through Jesus Christ in Guatemala.

It's an exciting time to be at First Baptist. I've never experienced anything like this. I pray that we remain faithful and focused and continue in this story.

When you see these numbers, in addition to what we were able to do last fall, it's astounding. Also, this is in addition to what we do regularly through our giving to the Cooperative Program, Associational Missions, the Orange Park Clothes Closet, the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, the benevolent gifts distributed regularly through our Deacons, and more. 

Some may not fully understand why we do this, especially the giving away of funds to ministries not in our own backyard and not seemingly benefiting us locally. It's the Acts 1:8 model. We aren't forgetting or ignoring the local mission. We are just living obediently to reach "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world" at the same time.

Whether we all get it or not, I truly believe God is smiling on us.

We are blessing ministries that focus on women and children, orphans, the least of these, and church planters and missionaries. Sounds very biblical, doesn't it?

As we model what godly stewardship looks like, I pray that we (me included) will begin to make the changes necessary to get our own houses in order. Let's get out from under the debt that keeps us in bondage. Let's live unselfishly and generously.

Oh, by the way, for information on personal stewardship as well as helpful resources for you and your family, go to this page on our website (it's more than just the portal to online giving.)  - http://www.fbc-orangepark.org/giveonline.html.


Becoming a Debt Free Church. . .Seriously!

I know that we live in an era where finances are the major stressors for many. Just a little over a year ago, we were considering how to cut salaries and ministries just to pay bills. We were sinking into the red at a pretty alarming rate.

Well, at that point, I laid out the financial circumstances to the church and after and through much prayer, God moved us to a place of ministry as a church where finances were no longer the biggest worry.

Now, just a little over 16 months later, we are in a real position to truly practice what we preach (or at least tell all good Christ-followers) regarding finances. 

The following is the text from an email being sent to all church members tomorrow, but I felt that sharing it here was appropriate. 

I want this to be clear. I share this information for these reasons only:

  • To the glory of God and God alone. That means, there is no glory here for anyone else, not me, not First Baptist Church, not the bank (definitely) but God alone.
  • To show that we cannot proclaim a biblical truth as a church and refuse to ever acknowledge that we, as a church, must also seek to live by the same truth.
  • To encourage those (other churches, families and individuals) going through difficult financial circumstances.
  • To express our desire to not only proclaim freedom, but to experience it. In this case, the freedom from debt.
  • To share my personal doubts and publicly repent for not believing.

I fully recognize that what I'm sharing here for some may seem like "putting the cart before the horse." In truth, we're not there yet. However, for the first time in my ministry I feel that we have a good, prayed over, biblically based, strategic plan as a church to become debt free in an amount of time that is actually very exciting. It's exciting because there's a good chance (unless God calls me home or elsewhere. . .no I'm not interviewing or seeking to go elsewhere) that I will be able to celebrate this future event with the people of God here at First Baptist.

So. . .here's the story:

Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel (Becoming a Debt Free Church)

 

Debt-free

It has been a pretty amazing year for First Baptist in so many ways. One way that God has blessed beyond our understanding has been financially. As you know, we were able to bless some incredible ministries and church plants last fall as well as pay off the loan on our bus and use some funds for capital improvements. As we move through the beginning of 2012, we continue to seek God's leadership for His church here as we strive to be the very best stewards possible of His resources.

 

We have proclaimed for years through messages, emails, blog posts and financial classes that the goal is to avoid debt. We are reminded of Solomon's wisdom in this area. . .

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)

Yet, the reality is that most of our church members carry much more debt that they (i.e. we) should. While most of our debt is often wrapped up in our home mortgages, there is often added debt in the form of lines of credit, credit cards, car loans, etc.

My wife and I are doing what many of you are. We are systematically and intentionally working to pay off outstanding debt. Why? Because "the borrower is the slave of the lender." Debt keeps us from being able to use the finances God has blessed us with to do more ministry.

Remember when I read the list of stressors last Sunday showing the stressors that many in America face today? The top three had to do with finances (personal finances, work and the economy.)

As a church, we have collectively fallen into the pit of debt. While I am very pleased that over the years the church saw fit to purchase the property we now have and build the facilities we use each week, the truth of the matter is that the monthly payments keep us from using our funds to their fullness.

So, I'm excited to share with you that not only are we advocating as a church that people (especially Christ-followers) work toward being debt free, but we are modeling this.

Here's how.

Over the last seven years, we have focused on paying off debt and God has blessed with the ability to do so. We paid off a loan we came to call "The Giant" (i.e. the imagery was of David and Goliath), we paid off loans for homes on our property that are being used for the Korean Church and the Haitian Church. We were able to pay off the outstanding bus loan last fall. All in all, that's been very relieving and has moved us strategically to the place we are now.

Currently, we owe approximately $2.2 million in loans for our facilities. This is the total payoff for the worship center/music suite complex built in 1994 as well as our education/administration/gym facility built in the early 2000s.

Our loan currently has a 7.5% interest rate and is up for renewal on April 15.

Due to the economic state and lower interest rates now, our Stewardship & Finance Committee went to three banks to see if we could negotiate for a lower rate. The end result has us refinancing a 15 year note beginning in April for a little over $2.2 million at only 4.5% interest. We will keep our loan with our current bank (Well Fargo) and only pay somewhere between $600-$1000 in closing costs. There is no prepayment penalty.

That's a savings of 3% on $2.2 million. In layman's terms, "That's a chunk of change!"

Not only that, our current monthly mortgage payment is $22,262.83. With the new loan, our monthly payment will be $17,178.45. However, our plan is to continue paying the $22,262.83 rate. Here's why.

By paying the higher amount (which is what we're used to paying now) plus the extra $4,000 or so that is given monthly by church members designating a portion of their regular offering (over their tithes) toward the "Building Fund," we can pay off our remaining debt in about 8.5 years.

Let that sink in a moment. . . .8.5 years.

That's 7 years before the loan will come due.

The amount of money to be saved in interest alone is astronomical. It's six to seven figures, literally.

While 8.5 years may seem like a long time for some (mainly those who are about 10 years old) it truly isn't. As I think about how long I have been serving here at First Baptist (17+ years) it really comes into focus as being a short time. I never thought I'd see the day when these millions of dollars in loans could be paid off, but I believe God is leading us to to this and providing us the way.

This means that we are working to not add any more debt during this time. Though houses come up for sale (one is for sale right now) that could be used by our church for a variety of things such as staff housing, missionary housing, classroom space, storage, etc., we do not plan on purchasing any homes if another loan is needed. In other words, if homes come available and church members wish to come together and purchase a home or fund the purchase, we will see that as God providing the means. If we have to take out a loan. . .well, God will have to give us very clear instructions to do so, otherwise we will pass and wait upon the Lord.

One other thing - our Stewardship and Finance Committee has put in place an accrual account where we "pay" ourselves as we can into savings to fund the future replacement of church facilities and vehicles. This will, hopefully, put us in a place to not have to take out other loans for "emergency" upgrades and replacements.

This is the plan. We plan to work the plan and stay on course. I pray that as a church, we will all continue to give faithfully. As the church moves from being a "slave to the lender" so too can we as individual Christ-followers. It takes time. It's takes steadfastness. It means we must stay the course. We will not stop or slow down in the doing of ministry, but as we have seen in the past twelve months, as we serve and live and give faithfully, God provides all that we need for His sake.

To God be the glory!

I'm really looking forward to that day when we can "burn the note" and celebrate God's faithfulness and our obedience in this. Then, the $22,000+ that has been used monthly for mortgage payments can go directly to ministries and Kingdom growth. Oh, in case you need perspective, the monthly mortgage payment is larger than our preschool ministry annual budget. It's larger than our children's ministry annual budget. It's larger than our student ministry annual budget. It's larger than our senior adult ministry, single adult ministry, men's ministry, and women's ministry annual budgets combined. It's larger than our music ministry annual budget. Did you catch that? The monthly payment is larger than the annual budgets mentioned. Just think of the ministries we feel call to fund now (adoption, church planting, missionary placement, etc.) that could be done with the available funding. Well, I know, God always provided the funding for the work He is doing. It's just that the practical numbers side of me sees this and becomes excited about what God is going to do next.

I said it earlier, but let me repeat this - To God be the glory! Just want to make sure we don't think we deserve any of the glory here.

Keep praying. Keep serving. Keep giving. Keep doing ministry. . .for the glory of God.