The Cooperative Program & Missional Living

Earlier this week I wrote about our church's increased giving to the Cooperative Program through undesignated gifts. This has spurred some interesting conversations. 

One question asked was "How does an individual's giving through CP help connect them to the field?"

It's a great question and deserves more than a simple "It just does!" answer.

In fact, even an answer that sounds more like "Well, that's what we're supposed to do as Southern Baptists," isn't valid.

As a church who has intentionally and strategically shifted focus to living missionally, the traditional CP gift must also be explained and understood. As one pastor shared "It's a new conversation." This new conversation must clearly explain and define how CP giving and all that entails the Cooperative Program equates to living missionally.

So, how does CP giving connect people to the field? In a broad sense, through the funding of missionaries and other ministries, the field workers can actually stay on the field longer. In this sense, the giver (i.e. the local chuch member) is connected to the field through support. Of course, portions of CP monies go toward theological education and denominational budgets, but these must be viewed as essential as well. No one desires to see a top-heavy beaurocracy develop that keeps funds from the field. I imagine that the denomination-wide Great Commission Resurgence has brought this to everyone's attention. Our (Southern Baptists) desire to be good stewards of God's resources.

Though I espoused support of CP and even shared why we as a church are increasing our percentage giving, just giving to CP is not necessarily missional. It can be, and in our case is, a portion of our missional strategy.

BB2I love basketball, and one of the most popular and effective basketball plays of all time is the "give and go." I won't go into the finer points of the give and go here, but I do believe this is a good strategy for the local church and for leading into missionality.

Give and Go!

To give financially and do nothing else is inefficient and ineffective. Sure, the finances can be used for Kingdom work, but a deeper connectivity of the individual to Kingdom work is forsaken.

Our strategy is to lead God's people to "give" generously and cheerfully as an expression of worship. While doing this, we are to be "going" to the field and serving Him there.

The Great Commission reminds us that as Christians, we are to go. As we go, we are to make disciples. This is not up for a vote. It's our mandate.

Matthew 28:19-20(ESV)
19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in£ the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We believe that all Christians are to be on mission and serving missionally in our community and on the field. For some, this means participating in a global mission trip. For others, it may be volunteering at one of our local schools as a mentor. It may be numerous other missional activities such as disaster relief, serving at the Clothes Closet, even raking a neighbors yard. For the few who are truly homebound, their act of service may be writing cards, making phone calls and as with all other believers, praying earnestly for the lives and eternal destinations of those in our community and world. All this work, which is an outgrowth of our faith, is done solely for the glory of God and with a Kingdom focus.

It's my belief that each Christian must not only give faithfully and generously, but go as well to the field.

To go without giving is incomplete.

To give without going is ineffective.


Why We Are Increasing Our Giving to the Cooperative Program

In Southern Baptist life, the Cooperative Program has been a mainstay for decades. From our beginning as Southern Baptists, the idea of being "on mission" and fulfilling the Great Commission together has existed. It wasn't until 1925 that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) launched a concerted giving partnership to fund missions, education and denominational work. This effort was, and is called the Cooperative Program (CP).

2011-2012-CPBudgetThrough the collaboration of donated gifts from SBC churches, the CP funds missions through the International and North American Mission Boards (72.99 percent) theological education through the six SBC seminaries and historical archives (22.16 percent) the operating budget of the SBC (3.2 percent) and Christian Ethics and Religious Liberty ministries (percent)* CP also funds the missions and ministries of the Florida Baptist State Convention, including church planting, theological education, compassionate ministries and other efforts of Florida Baptists.

I have been a Southern Baptist all my life. While growing up, my family claimed membership in numerous Southern Baptist churches. Oh, we were not church hoppers. My father was in the military and so our moves were determined by the Department of the Air Force. However, regardless where my father was stationed, we would find a Southern Baptist church to unite with and serve in.

In those days, most Southern Baptist churches were similar. Whether we were in Alaska or Alabama, Texas or Tennessee, the SBC churches we united with had similar floor plans (from the Architectural Department of the then Baptist Sunday School Board,) the same bulletins (complete with the image on the front, devotional story on the back and the little missionary picture and bio as well which we. . .well I. . .used to embellish with added sunglasses and mustaches.) We even had the same hymnbooks - The Baptist Hymnal (though there was the radical change from the older blue ones to the newer 1975 maroon editions.) 

The aesthetic similarities were there, but more importantly, each church we united with was an active giver to the Cooperative Program.

Times have changed, and I'm not complaining. I actually like the new, creative floor plans that many churches have. The "cookie-cutter" churches weren't very creative. I'm even a fan of churches that meet in schools, theaters, homes and strip-centers. I've never really been enamored with facilities. Church bulletins are more announcement sheets now and hymnals? Well, we have them in the worship center, but we don't use them. Our songs are projected on the screen. I'm sure some don't like this, but I love it. People sing louder and better when they're looking up rather than staring down into a book.

However, not all changes have been good or progressive.

It seems that there are more SBC churches who have chosen to decrease their Cooperative Program efforts. In Florida alone, CP giving has decreased from a peak of $39.6 million four years ago to $32.6 million in 2010, with a budget of $31 million for 2011.

While there is no biblical mandate for the church to "tithe" to the Cooperative Program in giving, I believe it is a great model for good and proper stewardship.

As a church, we have consistently given 10 percent of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program for years. I remember a discussion within the church years ago about reducing this percentage. That discussion was quickly squelched. It seemed then that 10 percent would be the floor for our giving through CP.

I am proud to share that pending approval of the 2012 budget this coming Sunday, First Baptist Church of Orange Park will be increasing our giving to CP to 10.25 percent of undesignated receipts. Our intent is to systematically increase by one quarter of one percent over the next four years so that by 2015 we will be giving 11% of undesignated gifts to CP.  However, I don't want to make it seem that even 11 percent is the ceiling. Our giving may increase beyond that. I just don't know, but am seeking God's lead in this.

We are also increasing our giving to Jacksonville Baptist Association missions. 

The truth of the matter is that you cannot out-give God. 

As Southern Baptists, I pray we do not forsake the unique cooperative efforts of the CP. I fear that many Southern Baptists have no idea what the Cooperative Program is or what it does.

I know many churches have shifted funds for numerous reasons. Some reasons are based on economics. Some are based on wanting to fund church plants, satellite campuses and provide support for individual missionaries and mission efforts. Regardless the reason, I'm just not convinced they're good enough.

As a pastor and church, we have had to make some hard decisions regarding church finances. The economy affects all organizations.

We believe in supporting church planters and missionaries as well as mission trips, mission efforts and missional expressions locally. Each requires funding and we have committed to do these at different levels.

However, we have decided that at this point, Cooperative Program giving is an "untouchable" line item in our budget when it comes to decreasing. 

This is not a gimmick. It's not a game. It's about being faithful and trusting God. 

Throughout the state of Florida, SBC pastors and churches are being challenged to recommit their efforts of giving to CP. We have taken the challenge (Actually, we made the decision to increase our giving before we knew of the state-wide challenge. It's good to be early adopters. ) and are committed to the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptist churches and entities.

I would encourage all Florida Southern Baptist churches to take the challenge to increase CP giving. You can pledge to do this here.

Why do this?

Not to brag about the SBC.

Not to draw attention to our church.

Give because together we can reach more men, women, boys and girls throughout the world in the name of Jesus Christ. We do not want to miss what God is doing in His Kingdom.

As one friend told me, "We can run faster alone, but further together."

This is Kingdom work. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

*These are percentages for the 2011-2012 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

Some May Never Get It. . .But We Must Follow God's Lead

It has been two weeks since I shared about the financial situation at my church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) We have experienced some incredible things this year - unlike any time in the past. At the close of September, we found ourselves with approximately $190,000 of surplus funds. Surplus may not be the best term. We aren't too sure what term to use, because we normally are saying "deficit" or "in the red." Basically, we received through tithes and offerings $190,000 more than we spent since January 1, 2011.

Given this great opportunity, I have been praying for God's lead along with members of our Stewardship/Finance Committee. God revealed, over time, that this was a test.

Rather than just hoard the funds and stow it all "away for a rainy day" we discerned that He desired us to live out what we teach. We teach what the Bible states, that God loves a cheerful, generous giver. This was a great opportunity to live out and model this teaching.

Generous Therefore, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our church's finance team developed a plan that I felt was just perfect. Honestly, this committee has shown great discernment and leadership. The church body selected them and affirmed them to serve in this capacity and they have gone above and beyond. A portion of the "extra" money was to be placed on the debt that we carry as a church (Proverbs 22:7) and for capital improvements and upgrades. Another portion was to be saved, up to a certain amount, as funds for unforeseen emergencies (Proverbs 30:25). A final portion was to be set aside for a very special purpose. This final portion was to be given away (Proverbs 11:24-25, Proverbs 22:9, Romans 12:13).

The response from church members regarding this plan has been overwhelmingly positive. I have had numerous conversations, emails and notes that have affirmed this plan. Brothers and sisters in Christ at other churches have shared with me as well how this is the model for godly stewardship. Our financial secretary, Bert Gates, shared with me as well that the response she has received has been so very positive. 

People are excited about this. The prospect of paying off debt, preparing for the future and blessing others has moved us to a place of good stewardship that previously we have either never considered or have not been able to see due to financial stress.

However, not everyone understands. 

I knew I would get these calls. I even warned the other pastors and the members of the Stewardship/Finance Committee at the time. Some just don't "get it."

One of my friends just couldn't understand why we did not put all the extra funds toward debt reduction. He asked this question honestly and with no agenda. I appreciated his spirit. We talked and I explained that God had led us to pay off debt, but at the same time to invest in Kingdom work in such a way that we would receive no "return on investment" this side of heaven. As we discussed the eternal ramifications of the donations, he began to understand. In fact, he stated that he now agreed that we must give this away. 

Another friend,  just could not get his mind around why we would donate funds to ministries and church plants outside our county when there is so much within our own community that could be done. He referenced one particular community organization that provides food and clothing for the poor and needy. He was pretty passionate about this because of his love for the organization. He and I talked for a little while. I explained that the lead of the Spirit as discerned by the Stewardship/Finance Committee and me was to donate to Gospel-centric church plants and ministries that extend our reach to areas we could never impact here in Clay County.

I also reminded him that we, as a church, have been and continue to donate money, food, clothing, housing goods and other items to the local organization he referenced. In other words, we already are giving to his desired organization and will continue to do so. 

I believe that some will have have a hard time ever understanding this. Most have never been a part of a church that ever been able to do this. Most often, churches focus on funds to cover bills, debt and fund new buildings. I'm not saying those things aren't important, it's just that we have never been able to think beyond those things.

God's reach through First Baptist Church of Orange Park is extending. We are not forsaking the community or the city here. In fact, we are able to do more now locally and globally than ever in the past. 

Our discussion was cordial, but it was clear he just "didn't get it." 

There are most likely others who do not "get it" either.

At this point, that's OK. However, I pray that more and more will begin to "get it." What do I mean by "it?" I mean a Kingdom-mindedness that extends beyond our own little silo of ministry, whatever it may be. 

I believe the plans for these funds are more than just "good ideas." I truly believe they are "God ideas."

Our church does not receive glory for this. We, as members, do not receive glory for this. God alone receives the glory.

So, as of today, the following has occured:

  • Five Gospel-centric church plants and/or ministries have been mailed checks for $11,410.19 each. They should have them in hand by the end of the week. These include the following: Legacy Church of Tucson, River City Church of Dubuque, a ministry to internationals here in Jacksonville, China Nest of Hope orphanage and As Our Own Ministries in India through Passion's Do Something Now initiative.
  • We paid $59,610.46 on the loan for the church bus. This closed out this loan. We now own a bus.
  • We transferred $57,050.97 to our Money Market account (our emergency fund) to bring that to a total of $209,064.54.
  • The remaining $16,517 will be used to replace flooring in a portion of the Worship Center.

I have talked with the leaders of the minsitries we are blessing. Each is overwhelmed and so very grateful. One has shared that they are donating a portion of the gift to other ministries. This investment in Kingdom living is already paying dividends.

I'm so very excited about where God is leading us. 

In addition to this act of generosity, our Stewardship/Finance Committee approved the recommendation from our Missions Committee to increase our donations to the Cooperative Program in 2012 from 10% of receipts to 10.25% with an intent of increasing by .25% each year for the next four. In addition to this, our donations to the Jacksonville Baptist Association for the purpose of Engaging Jacksonville with the Gospel will increase from 2% to 2.1%. These may seem like small percentages, but they add up. It moves us to continually see outside ourselves.

To God be the glory!

I mean that. It's not just a "Christian" way to end a post. Seriously. . .To God be the Glory!!!!!

Why We're Giving Away Over $50,000

For the past few months we have watched something amazing happen here at First Baptist. In a time when many churches and ministries are suffering economically, as are the members of the fellowship, God has provided over and above for our needs.

This is in stark contrast to where we were as a church in 2010. If you remember, we came to a place of shutting down the church facilities for the final two weeks of the year and telling all staff members that pay would be cut accordingly. In simple terms, we were in the red by thousands of dollars and some very hard decisions were to be made. Just to refresh your memory, you can read my blog post here from October 27, 2010.

This year has been much different.

We now find ourselves in a position, that in my tenure here (17 years) we have never experienced. In fact, some of our longer-tenured staff and church members say it has never been like this - even when the economy was booming.

What's happening?

We're believing.

We're giving.

We're beginning to live sacrificially and from generous hearts.

Some fear that by sharing this many will say "Well, if the church is doing so well, they don't need my money." I'm sure some will say that, but that's a statement about the individual's spiritual immaturity and lack of understanding of stewardship and generosity.

Our Finance & Stewardship Committee has been monitoring the giving and expenses this year and we now find ourselves as of today about $190,000 in the black. Expenses have been pared down and giving has increased. We truly are seeking to be the very best stewards with all that God has blessed us.

Many say "What a blessing!" That's true, but there's another aspect that we must address. Not only is this a blessing, but it is also a great test.

I believe that we as a church are being tested by God at this moment. The test has to do with practicing what we preach. We preach that giving and generosity and stewardship and planning ahead, and blessing others are all good and biblical. Now, we get to model this.

The Finance & Stewardship Committee has developed a very wise plan, in my estimation, of how to use the funds accrued over our expenses. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction, this team of men and women, along with me, have been praying for godly wisdom regarding this money. In simple terms, we dare not fail this test.

Seeking God's direction for our church is always our desire. It's been interesting sitting in meetings where the discussion has been centered around "What do we do with this money?"

After much prayer and discussion, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our Finance & Stewardship Committee has developed a great plan for these funds, which will become the template for future instances. I thank God for these men and women you have chosen to lead out in this area of financial stewardship.

Simply put, extra monies accrued throughout the year will be placed into three (and eventually two) areas twice a year (End of September and end of March):

  1. 40% will be used to pay off debt and for facility/property enhancements and upgrades.
  2. 30% will be placed in savings to be used for emergencies, with a maximum amount determined. At this time the maximum amount will be approximately $300,000. (Basically, this money is to keep the lights on and the ministries functioning for at least 3 months in the event of dire straits.)

  3. 30% will be given away. Seriously - given away!

Under this plan, the following things will happen here in the next week or so:

  1. Approximately $76,000 will be used in this area for debt reduction and  facility/property enhancements. That means we will pay off the note on the church bus this month. That's approximately $60,000. The remaining $16,000 will be used for either carpet replacement in the balcony foyer of the Worship Center, roof for the Music Suite and Azalea Street home or other immediate needs. This will be determined soon.

  2. Approximately $57,000 will be added to our current $150,000 money market account in savings to be used for emergencies.

  3. Approximately $57,000 will be given to Gospel-centric ministries seeking to grow God's Kingdom globally. The ministries being blessed this month are listed below. This portion of funds seems to be God's test of our church regarding living generously. We could certainly hoard this money and save it all for "a rainy day." We could use it to enhance our buildings and things here on campus. We could even donate it to ministries locally that benefit us. However, I just don't see those options as "passing the test" in this instance. After hearing from the members of our Finance & Stewardship Committee, neither do they.

We have been talking about leaving a legacy as men and women for the next generation. What about leaving a legacy as a church? What about leaving a legacy not just in Clay County, but globally?

China kids That's what God is leading us to do. This is so powerful and based upon the teaching in the Word related to stewardship, taking care of widows and orphans, sowing Gospel seed and living out the Great Commission.

Therefore, the following ministries will receive a financial gift from First Baptist Church in the next week or so. Each one is Gospel-centric and lives are being transformed through their respective ministries. Two are church plants in areas of the country where evangelical witnesses are not plentiful. The soil is being tilled now, and seed is being planted. We want to be a part of this. Two center around the rescue and help of children and orphans. One is a global-impacting ministry based in Jacksonville that impacts people from dramatically different cultural and religious backgrounds with the Gospel.

  1. Legacy Church of Tucson, Arizona. This church plant led by Pastor Chase Delperdang and sponsored by the North American Mission Board is reaching people in one of the most highly humanistic and liberal areas in our nation. Tucson is a difficult place to minister, but seed is being planted and fruit is developing. Go to read more about Legacy. You can follow Chase on Facebook here.
  2. River City Church of Dubuque, Iowa. This church plant is led by Pastor Josh Dryer. Josh served on staff here at First Baptist a few years ago as our Community Missions Pastor. He has since served as the Interim Pastor at Ancient City Baptist Church in St. Augustine and was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Josh has followed God's call back home to Dubuque in order to plant a Baptist church there. Josh shares of the hardship of planting in an area where many do not attend church, most classify themselves as Catholic (yet, are not active,) and lostness prevails. You can read about the plant here and follow Josh on Facebook here.

  3. "A Ministry" in Jacksonville, FL. (For security reasons, I am not naming this ministry in this posting. Those who attend First Baptist know the ministry and why it is not being named.) The leaders of this teaching and outreach ministry came to our church not too long ago to share of their work. I will not share details here of all they do, but as many of you know because you volunteer there and you were here when their stories where shared, this ministry impacts entire unreached cultures for Christ.

  4. China Nest of Hope in China. This foundation provides orphan care for unwanted children in China. Their mission is deeper than just caring for orphans physically. They have educational programs as well for those who need training. Many in our church have traveled to assist with the orphans and to train adults. They do so much more than orphan care. You can read more about them here.

  5. As Our Own Ministries in India. This ministry, based in Chicago, but working in India rescues girls sold into sex slavery. We are donating funds through "Do Something Now," an initiative through Choice Ministries (also known as the Passion Conferences with Louie Giglio.) Click this link to see the goal and progress of this initiative as well as a description of the rescue. Also, I challenge you to watch this three minute video of what happens to these young girls in India. Click here.

We talk about leaving a legacy. This is part of it. Some will read of these gifts and ask "What do we get out of this?" That's the point! We don't get anything this side of heaven out of this. There is absolutely no tangible return on investment this side of eternity! That's what we, the church, have been telling members of our fellowship for years. Now, we together will model this.

That's radical! And, it should be considered normal.

To God be the glory!

Our desire is to bless other ministries in March 2012. Continue in your faithful giving. Live sacrificially. Live generously. Outlive your life.

Sometimes We Just Don't Get It (Churches, Christians & Stewardship)

Last night we once again studied one of the foundational elements of our Baptist Faith & Message. Unfortunately, the recording did not work, so there's no audio link. 

The subject of the night was "Stewardship." For starters, here's what the Baptist Faith & Message states:

God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer's cause on earth.

It's a good statement. Though accurate, it lacks something. Perhaps it's because it sounds like it was edited by a committee who wanted to ensure that every key phrase and buzzword ever used in sermons relating to stewardship was included.

Uhaul hearse - color - web I began last night by just asking the crowd what the word "stewardship" means. It's interesting that whenever you ask a question in a church setting, people seem to think the answer must always be "churchy". While it's true that Christian stewardship has to do with trusting God and evangelizing the world (both answers given last night) the point is that the word "stewardship" has meaning outside the church.

So what does it mean?

One person answered "Good management."  That was a good answer. It led to another responding "Good management of items that don't belong to you." Wow. Now, we're getting somewhere.

The word comes from the term "steward" which is defined as follows:

  1. a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others.
  2. a person who has charge of the household of another, buying or obtaining food, directing the servants, etc.
  3. an employee who has charge of the table, wine, servants, etc., in a club, restaurant, or the like.

So, it's not that difficult. It's about managing something that doesn't belong to us. For believers, it's understood that God owns everything. The problem is that church culture has so messed up this concept that whenever a pastor or leader begins to speak about stewardship, people eventually think "He's talking about needing more money for the church."


How have we (Christians and the church) become so messed up when it comes to stewardship? Here are some reasons I believe we've landed here. . .

  • We equate "stewardship" with a capital fund-raising campaign. Isn't it interesting that the only time many churches ever talk about stewardship is when money is needed (or wanted) to fund the construction of new facilities? We have had at least two of these campaigns at First Baptist since I've been here. Though promoted by godly people in consutation with legitimate ministries, I have always come away feeling uneasy. I remember one campaign we were in about 15 years ago where we were required to make home visits to all church members to see how much they would commit to give "over and above their tithes" to the new building program. One church member said to our visiting team "Wow. This is the only visit I've ever received from people at the church. I haven't attended in a while, but when you come, you're asking for money?" Ouch. I wanted to crawl under a table. Sometimes these capital funds campaigns reek of typical self-centric, marketing strategies. Now, I'm not throwing everyone under the bus here. We were required, as many churches are, to have these campaigns in order to secure the loans necessary for new construction. (BTW - this leads to the question "Should churches even take out loans?"  Another topic for another day.)
  • Stewardship emphases always seems to be solely focused on the message of "You better start tithing." Don't get me wrong, I believe in the tithe. I know this is up for debate among some Christians, but not for me. I like Randy Alcorn's description of the tithe as "training wheels" for generous giving. It's the floor, not the ceiling for generous giving. Since all we have belongs to God, we cannot just tithe the first ten percent and then spend the other ninety any way we like and be obedient. Nevertheless, stewardship is not just a "get out the tithe" campaign. Stewardship is about so much more.
  • Pastors speak on giving only when the budget isn't being met. We have experienced this in the past few years. I have even had to put out the "reality check" regarding church expenses. The problem is when these are the only times that stewardship is discussed. Oh yeah, why is stewardship only discussed when the financial state demands it? What about the dearth of volunteers to serve in different ministries? What about those who are gifted and talented and are not using those gifts and talents for Kingdom growth? Shouldn't all that be discussed as part of stewardship?
  • Stewardship is shared as something everyone should do, yet not many practical examples are given. The "tithing" testimonies are good, but they only go so far. They're inspirational and help you see what should be done. The stories of those who have given away millions of dollars to ministries and churches are inspirational, but the vast majority of people will never see a million dollars so there's a disconnect. Stewardship is promoted as something that some people can do, but not something that everyone can grasp. There are great classes to help and these are offered, but most people will not attend. So. . .stewardship becomes something that "really radical Christians" get. Hmmm. There we go equating "radical" with what should be "normal."

Shame on us - pastors and leaders - who have allowed the concept of biblical stewardship to be muddied by cultural norms. No wonder those in our churches have a disconnect when it comes to faith, finances and service. We will be held accountable for our teachings in this area.

So, what are we to do regarding stewardship. For me, the first step was understanding that I don't own anything. Everything I think I own really isn't mine. Everything I think I own (whether money, material possessions, talents, skill sets, gifts, etc.) actually belong to God. He's entrusted these things to me for one purpose - to bring Him glory. This is humbling. Why? Because I realize quickly that I have wasted so much. I have used so much for my own glory and desires and wants. If my giving and serving is truly a natural response of the grace that God has shown me, then, oh my, I have fallen so short. It's embarrassing to note this.

Stewardship is not a program. It must not be relegated to a select few who "get it." It's not about raising funds for a church, ministry, program or mission. It also cannot be segmented out of the "normal" Christian life.

It's not about coming up with a checklist of giving.

It's not about just doing better.

It's about total surrender and continually removing self from the center of the equation. It must be taught and modeled. The pastors, deacons, teachers and all leaders must model this. The church as a whole (regarding the church's finances, property, and giving) must model this as well.

The question is "What or who do I love more? God, me or my stuff?"

When we begin to understand what it means to be a steward and live our lives with the understanding that our giving is a direct response to God's grace, freedom ensues. This isn't propagating a "name it and claim it" or "prosperity gospel" theology (which I believe are anti-biblical and sinful.) This is about landing at a place where freedom truly exists.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Questioning God

I have often said that God is not offended by our questions. In fact, He encourages them and definitely can handle them. I believe that honest, heart-felt questions can deepen our understanding of God and His will. You'll notice in Scripture there were numerous times when God's children questioned Him - and even asked for specific things. 

While standing by the oaks of Mamre, Abraham asked the Lord, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Genesis 18:25b)

At a very important time in his life, David asked the Lord two very specific questions:

After this David inquired of the Lord, "Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?" And the Lord said to him, "Go up." David said, "To which shall I go up?" And he said, "To Hebron." 2 Samuel 2:1-2 (ESV)

Now, most often in life, the types of questions that come to mind have to do with tragedies. Questions like "Why has my loved one been diagnosed with cancer?" or "Why did so-and-so have to die?" These are serious questions and God does not shy away from them, so ask. There are other questions that come to mind regarding direction in life. Questions like "Which college should I attend?" or "Should I even go to college?" or maybe "Should I take this job or that one?"

I remember questions I would ask as a child that were really serious like "Is the Loch Ness Monster real?" Still haven't received an answer on this one. Perhaps it's because the question isn't really that important.

Why-1 As you know, if you've been reading recent postings, I've been reading Randy Alcorn's book The Treasure Principle. It's an incredible little book all about realizing God's plan for being glorified through our lives. This book addresses how we often view giving. I believe Christians often have a worldly view regarding giving. In truth, some churches and minisitries operate on a worldly plan as well. In some cases, there are churches and ministries who should never receive gifts, based on their teaching and financial practices. However, rather than just present another book or teaching on why everyone should tithe, Alcorn addresses the core issue regarding grace and giving and materialism.

At the end of the book, he has a listing of "31 Radical, Liberating Questions to Ask God About Your Giving." This is not just another "You need to tithe" study. It's not even based on guilt, which is incredible especially since most sermons and teachings in the church seem to be guilt-motivated. (BTW - guilt-motivated giving never lasts long and I'm not really sure it's even God-honoring.) This is about experiencing God's grace fully and living our lives in His honor, for His Kingdom. I've summarized these questions below. I highlighted many portions of these questions in my book, so I thought I'd highlight them below as well. Guess these are the ones that really get me. Get a copy of the book here to read and to get the expanded questions with biblical references.

Questions to Ask God About My Giving (The Treasure Principle, 99-120)

  1. Time and again in Your Word, Lord, You make a direct connection between experiencing grace and expressing grace through giving. Grace is your lightning, and giving is our thunder in response. So here's my question: Has the degree of my giving suggested that I have recognized and embraced the full extent of Your grace in my life? Or does it suggest I need to recognize and respond to Your grace in deeper and more heartfelt ways?
  2. Could it be You have rased me up - with the financial assets You've entrusted to me - for such a time as this?
  3. Is my life revolving around You? Since money and things have mass, and mass exerts gravity, and gravity holds us in orbit, what can I give away that will bring me greater freedom?
  4. Have I been acting as if I own the store and You work for me, rather than recognizing that You own it and I work for You?
  5. Where in my community - or in the whole world - do You want me to go, to see and participate in meeting physical and spiritual needs through Christ-centered ministries?
  6. Why have You entrusted me with greater financial blessings than I once had? I guess I've assumed You've done it to raise my standard of living. But now, I'm asking "Is it instead to raise my standard of giving?"
  7. Have I overaccumulated? Have I allowed unwise spending and accumulating debet to inhibit my giving to You?
  8. I've wondered why You haven't blessed me more financially. Could it be that I've been spending money myself first, rather than giving You the firstfruits of what You've provided?
  9. Is it ever irresponsible for me to give to You now - no matter what my situation - rather than wait until later?
  10. Would it honor You if I determined a basic level of income and assets sufficient to live on, then simply gave away whatever You provide beyond that?
  11. Will the assets, accounts, and holdings I've stored up on earth be wasted if You return in my lifetime?
  12. Doesn't the fact that You've entrusted Your money to me, not others, indicate that You want me - during my lifetime - to invest in eternity, rather than passing along that responsibility to my children?
  13. How can I be sure that the assets You've entrusted to me will serve You after I die? If my children are adults and independent, should I just give away now what I can and, when I die, leave most of what remains to my church or missions or ministries that are close to Your heart?
  14. What's the eternal downside in giving as much as I can give to You now? What's the eternal downside of minimizing my giving or delaying giving until later? Is there a real danger in giving too much too soon? Or is the true danger in giving too little too late?
  15. You've prompted me to give now. If I delay that giving - for whatever reason - is it possible I may die before I get a chance to give it later? Or, might the money disappear before I get around to giving it?
  16. By postponing giving, will my heart become hardened to Your promptings to give?
  17. Since I have no choice but to leave money behind when I die, is it really "giving" to designate through my will the distribution of my estate? Will I rob myself the joy and reward and rob You of my trust by holding on, until death, to significant assets I could have joyfully given to You while still alive?
  18. Why are my eyes so often focused on temporary, earthly investments with such pitifully small returns? Who could match Your promise of 10,000 percent (a hundredfold return)?
  19. Help me see clearly when it comes to where I give Your money. Am I giving to causes You truly value most? Opera? Art museums? The Humane Society? As good as those things may be, are they as close to Your heart as evangelism, discipleship, church planting, or helping the poor, the disabled, the imprisoned, and the unborn and their mothers?
  20. Since I make twice as much money as most people do [globally], might giving away half of what I have be a reasonable Christ-honoring option for me?
  21. If I'm not putting everything on the table and asking You what You want me to do with it, am I really Your disciple?
  22. Why do I hang on to my possessions with a white-knuckle grip? Am I trying to prove something? Is it about pride? Power? Prestige? Selfishness? Insecurity? Fear? Without realizing it, am I making money my God-substitute?
  23. Am I living to hear others say of me "He's a great success!" - or to have You say to me, "WEll done, My good and faithful servant"?
  24. Is my fear of health-related catastrophes and old age causing me to hold back my giving? When it comes right down to it, am I hanging on to excess as a backup plan in case You fail me?
  25. Are my material assets competing for lordship in my life with You?
  26. What specifically am I hanging on to that You want me to give away?
  27. How can I better communicate and pray with my spouse and children so we can walk together down this exhilarating road of giving?
  28. What am I doing - and what should I be doing - to train my children to regular, joyful and generous givers?
  29. Have I been missing out on blessing and joy by not excersiging the gift of giving?
  30. If I am a giver, who have I been teaching and mentoring in giving? Are you calling some to be examples who show others how to give and stir them to raise the bar of giving?
  31. Five minutes after I die, what will I wish I had given away while I still had the chance?

These are incredible questions and force me to think about my concepts of giving and grace. I love the concept that God's grace is the lightning and our giving is the responsive thunder. Wow. That, and the concept of my material possessions having mass and the gravity from that mass holding me too tightly.

I choose to experience God's grace and freedom and do not want my "stuff" (which really isn't mine anyway) keeping me from this. How difficult in the affluent nation we live in where being patriotic and pursuing the "American Dream" is the driving force for many, is it to live as fully devoted followers of Christ? 

God is really working in me through this study. It's a study centered around shifting from self-centric living to God-centric living. It's about understanding that my salvation is not just a one time event, but continues throughout my lifetime through His sanctification. 

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" In the Church

When I hear the phrase "Don't ask, don't tell" I immediately think of the attempt to sustain the ban on open homosexuality in America's military. While reading Randy Alcorn's book The Treasure Principle, I came across this sentence. . .

When it comes to giving, churches operate under a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. (Alcorn, 84)

We say that what is celebrated is replicated. This is true in so many venues. Many churches really push for their members to give in order to pay off debt or to "make budget." I think every pastor thinks this way at some point, especially after the monthly financial reports come out. Just as many businesses and families are struggling financially in this economy, so too are churches. One of our problems here in America is that we have built our local churches on a business model that does not have solid footing in biblical principles.

Why does Alcorn state that we have a "don't ask, don'te tell" policy when it comes to giving? This is because in most cases, churches do very little, if anything to educate and model, and consequently celebrate handling money and possessions God's way. Many pastors and authors are talking about this nowadays. David Platt shares his concerns in his book Radical. He is especially challenged as a pastor of a mega-church in a very affluent area of Birmingham. 

The church, not just First Baptist, but "the" church, has lacked communication, accountability, and modeling. How does a young believer in Christ learn to give? We offer financial courses here as small group studies, but normally the ones that attend the courses are those who are already "getting it" when it comes to giving or are in panic mode due to personal finances. Where can a believer go to see what giving is supposed to look like in the life of a believer totally surrendered to Christ.

I shared Sunday that the marks of a "radical" Christian are actually those which should be considered normative.

A generous heart and giving is normal for the growing believer.

All churches have folks to get this, those who do not draw attention to themselves, but give sacrificially. The challenge is celebrating this without creating prideful givers.

Alcorn says that just as the Hebrew believers were challenged to "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24) we should also spur one another on toward giving biblically.

Some object by stating that we must not set up a program or system that compares each other's giving. This is true, but we need to remember that Paul used the Macedonians generosity as examples of how Christians should give, not to embarrass or talk down to other believers (namely the Corinthians) but to motivate them.  Remember, Scripture says not to give in order to be seen by men (Matthew 6:1) but Christians are to "Let your light shine before men, that they may se your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16.) These passages aren't contradictory.  We have, however, misinterpreted this over time and now biblical giving and management of our "stuff" is often "hidden under a basket."  The result is Christians do not understand fully how or why to give and therefore lack the joy and purpose of it. The fact is that the only sermons most Christians hear regarding giving come across as guilt trips focusing solely on tithing.

God is doing a work on me in this area of sacrificial giving. I know it is more than just an issue of money and possessions. It's about having a heart like God's.

We, the church, cannot afford to continue with this flawed "don't ask, don't tell" practice regarding giving.


When Pastors Talk About Money

It's a common reason from those who do not attend church - "All they do is ask you for your money." We've all heard it. In fact, some reading this may have said it. Sometimes it seems that way. In some cases, it may be true. I've seen some "pastors" on television that seem to always be asking for more faith offerings. Most often the funds are needed to "Keep this show on the air so that many will hear the Gospel." In many cases, their asking for funds to propogate a ministry that teaches and preaches a half-truth prosperity gospel (and we all know the definition of a "half-truth.") Nice, but if all they're doing is asking for money to fund the show, is the show really promoting the Gospel? OK, that's a posting for another day.

Today, we're finally going to wrap up our study of the book of Philippians as our Sunday morning preaching series. It has been a challenging and eye-opening study. We have covered such things as

  • soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) 
  • standing firm in a world opposed to the Gospel
  • how to discern false teachers
  • how to keep two women in your church who are mad at each other from splitting the church
  • how valuable visiting those in the fellowship is
  • how to be content in all circumstances

And now what it means to give generously, even when you don't have excess funds. The Philippian Christians modeled this so well. Just take a moment and read the second half of Philippians 4. There was something about these Macedonians. You see their generosity spoken of throughout Paul's letters.

So, here we go this morning, driving head-first into another message about money. Some will be attending for the first time and will leave saying "See, all these churches do is beg for your money." The reality is there is a biblical way to talk about money and according to Scripture, how we think about our "stuff" says much about what we believe. If you look deeper into the passage, you discover that it's not really about money. It's about freedom. It's about life.

I found an article on the Generous Church website that shares interesting information on the barriers to giving that many Christians face.

Ron Blue, a Christian financial planner has authored many books on finances and investment planning. He has a way of taking complex issues and simplifying them so that people like me can understand them. For years, he has been sharing the "Five Uses of Money": give, spend, pay taxes, save and eliminate debt. Simple, right?

In his book Generous Living, Ron uses a graphic to outline seven reasons he believes many Christians do not give. The image shows the foundational element that is the major barrier to giving, then as you work up the pyramid graphic, the barriers become less and less of a factor.


The list is simple, but comprehensive. 

Most pastors would tell you that after consulting with their financial secretaries and Finance Committees, the sad reality is that the vast majority of church members and attenders give nothing or very little to ministry through the local church. There are a myriad of excuses, and we have heard them all.

Some get caught up in the concept of the tithe, wishing to argue ad nauseum that it is an Old Testament teaching and therefore, we are not held to it any longer. The argument has some validity and I am definitely not wishing to slide into legalism.

I like what Randy Alcorn has to say about this in his book The Treasure Principle:

I have no problem with people who say "we're not under the tithe," just as long as they're not using that as justification for giving less. But in my mind the current giving statistics among Christians clearly indicate most of us need a giving jump-start. If you find a gateway to giving that's better than the tithe, wonderful. But if not, why not start where God started His First Covenant children?

According to some statistics over fifty percent of church members give absolutely nothing to the ministry. 

Another large percentage give two to five percent. These are the "tippers," but in truth, that's a pretty sorry tip. Just ask any waiter or waitress.

There is a small percentage that give ten percent or more of their income. This is the group that often gets audited by the IRS because it's so strange to see people giving so much to their church.

While I'm not ashamed at all to talk about finances and generosity, I want to ensure that people get the entire picture. We continue to be working our way through a financial downturn in our nation. There are indicators that it will get worse before it gets better in our economy. For most people, the best indicator is the price of gasoline. This is causing people to worry and wonder how they're going to make it financially. Even Christians, who previously separated their financial life from their spiritual life, are discovering that the two cannot be divorced.

This is not about the church getting more money. Truly, it's not.

I don't get paid on commission, so I have no agenda here, other than seeking to ensure that my financial life is fully baptized and that we all begin to live from a generous heart that is transformed.

I encourage you to get a copy of Randy Alcorn's little (and I mean little - it's about the size of a postcard and only 120 pages) book The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving. Read it and pray over the principles outlined. We need a change of perspective when it comes to finances. It's not a new perspective. In fact, it's an ancient perspective. It begins with realizing that God owns everything and He allows us to be His money manager. Not only that, it reveals the lie that even many Christians have bought. The lie is that earth is our home and that's why so many of us work to gather more "stuff" here rather than store up treasures for eternity.

More on this later.