Christianity 201

December 25, 2010

A Christmas Consideration: Who Are You Giving To This Year?

With Christmas 2010 now consigned the realm of “memories,” and with most people feeling “tapped out” when it comes to giving, it’s time to think of another aspect of giving; the donations we make in the area we generally refer to as “tithes and offerings.”

Oh no!  Not that topic!

decemberBeing self employed and in retail means Christmas isn’t a lot of fun. We are about to put the last of our supplier payments in the mail. If there wasn’t going to be any further December activity and the amounts were low, we’re paying all the current invoices as well. We don’t pay ourselves a salary, so just getting bills paid is a major goal.

So this is a good time to start thinking about our personal finances, and in particular, our charitable donations. Not knowing exactly what our income is going to be makes it harder to figure out what we should be giving, but I don’t know anybody who, at tax time in April, looks at their receipts and says, “I should have given less.

Giving shouldn’t be done in December just to get a receipt. We give because we’ve been blessed, and because God commands it. But December is a good time to take stock of our personal finances and see what we can do to help others

So who can we bless this year? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Our first responsibility is to our local church, the place we call our spiritual home, where we receive teaching, prayer support and fellowship.
  • If there’s a “second” on the list, for many this year it is giving to relief and development in the third world, especially projects which are bringing fresh water wells to areas that don’t have potable water.
  • Has there been a natural disaster somewhere in the world this year that you watched on television but didn’t actually respond to?   Find out if your denomination or churches in your area know of people who are actually “on the ground” working alongside people in devastated areas.
  • Locally, who is actually doing ministry where you live?  There are always examples of people doing really exemplary work among people in need; people in prison; people dealing with addictions.   Find out what these people need and what avenues of support exist to help financially.
  • Is there someone in your area who does student ministry who is lacking in financial support? Consider urban missionaries and youth workers with Youth For Christ, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and YWAM.
  • What about camp ministries? Is there a Christian summer residential camp that is in need of funds for capital projects or to sponsor children in the summer?
  • What about your local Christian school? Do they need money for capital projects;  are they operating at a deficit?
  • Do you have a local Christian radio station? This isn’t limited to the “preacher programs,” the stations themselves often need additional support to pay staff and overhead.
  • Who is working with the poor in your community? Who provides meals, or transportation or moral support to people who are disadvantaged economically?
  • The very fact you’re reading a Christian blog means that means you love the written word. Consider those who are putting the scriptures in the hands of people who don’t have them, such as Wycliffe Bible Translators or the various Bible Societies.
  • And speaking of Bibles, this book is illegal in more than 50 countries.  Consider helping organizations that work with the persecuted church around the world.
  • You first considered your local church. Is there another church in your community that is doing good but struggling financially? This year we heard a story of one church putting another local church on their missions budget with a sizable donation. We’re all playing on the same team, and what a wonderful witness this is to those who think we’re competing.

Also, there may be a family in your community, or in your extended family, or someone you work with who cannot provide you with a tax receipt but needs a blessing this Christmas. Consider also directly donating to someone who is in need.

‘…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’  ~ Matthew 25:40

June 28, 2010

What it Looks Like From Their Perspective

My wife and I met at a medium-sized Christian camp.

Camp life — especially in summer — is like a city in miniature.   We’re no longer part of the action, but when we drop our guys off (one serving on staff for ten weeks, the other taking a 4-week leadership program) we probably see the place a little differently than some.

There were little conversations going on between camp people doing camp things.   Conversations that a few years ago we would have been part of.   (Maybe we tune-in more than others.)  Details that must be firmed up.   Things coming together at the last minute.   All good, all necessary, but all of it very internal.

I wondered this time if that’s how outsiders see us when (and if) they visit our churches.   Conversations about upcoming programs.   Discussions about people best suited to fill particular needs.   In-joking about something that happened in the previous worship service.

In other words, church people doing church things and talking about church activities.   All good, all necessary, but all of it very internal.   And all of it about the maintenance and operation of the institution.

I’m a rebel.  I just want to walk up to those people (the church people, not the camp people, who are younger, and given more grace) and even though they don’t me, just cut right into the conversation and say, “Hey, so what’s God been showing you this week?”

I think this is the ultimate conversation starter (and stopper) in any church lobby.     But it’s the question we need to keep coming back to.

What’s God been showing me today?   That we need to be a little more external in our conversations… because we never know who is listening.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.   (Col 4:6 NIV)

Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation. (Col 4:5-6a The Message)

Digging Deeper:  The passage from the Message discusses “living and working with outsiders” which may seem diametrically opposed to what we do in church.   But a recent sermon by Bruxy Cavey reminded me that many times non-believers and even people from other faiths attend our churches to check out how we fare at “doing life together.”

If our preoccupation is the next bake sale or the youth car wash, (or worse, the price of dog food at Wal-Mart) then they will pick up on this, and question the authenticity of our faith.   I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you can guage the spiritual tone of a church by its lobby conversations.

So what’s God been showing you this week?