Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Life of Significance

Many historians have determined that the life and in particular, the death of Jesus was likely the most significant event of history. Christianity was the cultural context for much of what we know as western society. From the rise of modern science, to the means of social change, Christian philosophers that were firmly grounded in the teachings of Jesus Christ and had a profound reliance on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus provided the means of social change and much of what we know as civilization.

Here is a quote from one of my favorite historians, R.R. Palmer who wrote “the History of the Modern World” in 1950 and which has been continuously revised and reprinted since. “it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the coming of Christianity. It brought with it, for one thing, an altogether new sense of human life. For the Greeks had shown man his mind; but the Christians showed him his soul. They taught that in the sight of God, all souls were equal, that every human life was sacrosanct and inviolate. Where the Greeks had identified the beautiful and the good, ..the Christian sought out the diseased, the crippled, the mutilated, to give them help. Love, for the ancient Greek, was never quite distinguished from Venus. For the Christians held that God was love, it took on deep overtones of sacrifice and compassion." - R. R. Palmer

Significance in the light of Jesus.

Pastor Rick Warren, in his best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life", said that each of us wants our lives to have purpose or significance. Each of us must decide what that means. Each of us must decide what will be the measuring rod of our life. Is it material things, power, influence, how good we look at age 50? Or is it faithfulness to God’s statutes? Are we measured by our response to “who is our neighbor” or having the most expensive house in the neighborhood? Rick Warren defines success as “fulfilling God’s purpose for your life” and many have found similar definitions that are also Biblical and meaningful.

As we see Jesus in this week of the passion; it’s clear what Jesus regarded as the true measure of a life. For three years, in the face of opposition and death threats, Jesus had pursued His mission of bringing God’s kingdom to all people. Jesus was the “Emanuel”, God with us—all-powerful and all-knowing. He knew of the danger that awaited him in Jerusalem, but He also knew that there was significant purpose in His mission. Jesus knew that He would be betrayed or abandoned by His chosen followers. He knew that He would be arrested, that He would be mocked and whipped and that ultimately, he would die a horrible death on a cross between two thieves.

Do we know who we are? We are children of the king. We are the redeemed and as Psalm 107 encourages, “Let them say so that have been redeemed by the Lord, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy: and gathered out of the countries.”
Our purpose and our significance is first and foremost who we are in Christ. Let us live the life that is significant, fully dependent on the Lord and faithful to His Word. Our identity is in Christ, our purpose is in Christ, our security is in Christ and our future is in Christ.

God’s richest blessings to you this Easter!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Integrity and "Victimless Crimes"

It didn't take too long after the Elliot Spitzer scandal broke to have a gaggle of talking heads on television speaking about everything except the actual scandal. The breach of ethics and integrity and the troubling moral recklessness of one of our Nation's top elected officials seemed to be only a starting point and excuse to talk of "victimless crimes", "entrapment" and an "overly aggressive prosecution".

On a personal note, I'm truly sorry for Governor Spitzer and his wife and teenage girls. Moral failure hurts everyone connected even remotely to this family and it definitely becomes a significant and unfortunate defining moment for a brilliant career.

Has anyone noticed that integrity is actually quite resistant to a liberal press, a godless social agenda and a permissive society? Why was it apparent to everyone from the onset that the once proud Governor of New York would have to resign from public life?

The answer to the question is found in Romans 2:12 where Paul says, "For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law". The Bible has a number of very clear messages and one of them is that those things that are honorable and right and true are naturally known to all of mankind. Doing that which is morally right and true creates blessings, harmony and peace, both now and for eternity.

Despite the efforts of many in society to redefine integrity, the vast majority of people in the United States still thankfully understand the basic difference between right and wrong. Regarding this effort by some to redefine integrity, I find it not coincidental that the organization that has grabbed the use of the IntegrityUSA URL is in fact a website that promotes, "A witness of God's inclusive love to the Episcopal Church and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender". community.

Regardless of the efforts by many to redefine integrity to mean something that may be more convenient for various permissive and quite frankly sinful lifestyles, integrity is entirely about the development of a character that is based on Biblical principles. These principles are many, including avoiding improper sexual conduct, faithfulness to one's spouse and also strong admonitions about being very careful in judging others "less you yourself are judged" and "getting the log out of your eye before you mention the speck in your brother's eye".

There are very few "victimless crimes". I can think maybe of jaywalking on a deserted street or talking on a cell phone while driving in Washington DC (I confess I've been guilty of the latter) but typically the laws of the United States reflect the mores, standards and the Biblical principles that are known to be appropriate for society.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Right-Sizing" Your Ministry

I believe the term “right sizing” is really under appreciated. The word is attributed to a General Motors’ personnel manager who was trying to come up with a better word than “downsizing” back in the 1980’s. Too bad, because all organizations need to be “right sized” and it doesn’t have anything to do with downsizing.

As organizations grow, they need to embrace the same policies, practices and procedures that other organization of the same size must have in order to avoid financial, personnel and ultimately accountability and integrity issues. All too often, nonprofits tend to believe that because they are mission oriented, they don’t really need to have all of the professional and business practices of for-profit organizations. These professional business practices are actually the keys to long-term success.

Nonprofit organizations and churches get into trouble when they grow in size without paying sufficient attention to implementing the policies, practices and procedures that are commensurate with other organizations of the same size. At the ECFA, we spend much of our time and oversight within the financial realm; we speak often of financial controls. However, human resource practices and the appropriate policies dealing with a nonprofit’s employees are also often underdeveloped in nonprofits especially as they begin to grow and have more personnel, both full and part time.

There has been a lot of media attention paid to the growth of the mega-churches. These churches are now found in all parts of the country. They also tend to be independent and not aligned with a particular denomination. There are also the six television ministries that have been the subject of both government and media inquiry. I’ve had the opportunity to provide some perspective into these inquiries and have expressed the opinion that integrity issues are likely related to this issue of rightsizing. I don’t believe that there is anything inherent about a particular Christian movement or type of ministry that leads to integrity issues but actually the problems are more likely a matter of size and not having a healthy attitude towards professional business practices.

As many ministries grow they are more than likely very personality driven and the founder/leader is likely a very charismatic individual that is able to powerfully propel the ministry forward. These leaders typically are not trained in the professional skills and best practices that need to be embraced in governance, financial accountability, internal controls, and issues of taxes and employee compensation and benefits.

While the vast majority of nonprofits and churches are relatively small (75% of nonprofits have less than $500,000 in annual income according to the IRS and the average church attracts less than 90 adults per weekend according to Barna), organization of size need to right size their policies, practices and procedures to ensure that they are literally “taking care of business”. Organizations that try to run their business via a “seat-of-the-pants” approach are looking for trouble.

WHY A NON-DENOMINATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH?

Our small Christian non-profit ministry recently requested and received approval from the IRS to be re-classified as a ‘church’.      ...