Sunday, April 27, 2008

More compassion, more Gospel

I've just finished reading the latest of the “Barna” books, this one by their new President, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The book really had an impact on me and I also had the opportunity to meet David Kinnaman recently and hear his heart on what the latest surveys are saying and what this means to the American church.

The Book, “Unchristian” (so named because that’s what outsiders think of the way we act) says that Christians have an image problem. The latest report card issued by the Barna organization is that outsiders (and even some insiders) describe Christians as “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” and “judgmental”. Evangelicals even have a poorer image with comments like “right-wing” “bigoted” and “anti-homosexual” being used as descriptives.

How did it get this bad? Well, we did it to ourselves. One of the most embarrassing pieces of survey results found that the perceptions of 16-29 year-olds (the focus of the study) was not based on TV or movies or some third-party source but from human experience. Most of this younger generation that considered themselves “outsiders” to Christianity could relate story after story of how poorly they were received, or judged or ignored.

I thought Christians were to be known by their love. It’s time to take back the gospel and pastors need to bring a very liberal dose of compassion into their sermons and their ministries. Regular every-day believers that are determined to become more like the “Matthew 25” bunch and not the political bunch or the boycott bunch will advance the gospel and the Kingdom of God more than a dozen, well-organized conservative religious groups put together.

“Matthew 25” got you stumped? Here it is in paraphrase:

And Jesus said, enter into the Kingdom, for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I needed clothing and you found clothing for me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:35)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Morning Manna

The Psalmist says, ‘In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice, in the morning I lay my request before you and wait with expectation. (Psalm 5:3)

Recently, I’ve again been reminded that God continues to provide Morning Manna.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the expression, in the 16th Chapter of the Book of Exodus, the entire Israelite community is complaining. While God had miraculously rescued them from Egypt and Pharaoh’s army, their bellies are rumbling and the rumbling causes them to grumble, “you have bought us out into this desert to starve”.

They sound like a modern day financial reporter talking about the US economy!

In this week’s “World Magazine” there is a cartoon of a plane scene. The intercom announces, “The pilot has indicated we are going to experience a little turbulence, please fasten your seat belts”. Hearing the news, a financial reporter exclaims, “We are all going to die!”

While true life-and-death issues are rarely the focus of our daily prayer for many of us, I’m sure we can learn from the lesson of the Israelites in the desert.

First, the manna was provided every morning.

We all need to be reminded of the cycle of God’s daily provision. When Jesus was asked to teach his disciples to pray, He gave them what we know as the “Lord’s prayer”. This simple, heartfelt, and model prayer asks, “Give us this day our daily bread”. In many ways, a child-like request for our basic needs.
Second, the manna was available to all who would but bend down and gather what the Lord provided.

It was generously and freely given regardless of whether the individual was worthy. The Bible says that those that tried to gather too much found that the manna spoiled. However, those that paid attention to the instruction, ‘he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.”

Third, when a double portion is needed, a double portion is provided.

Since the Sabbath was not a time to gather, the previous day’s portion was doubled for the Israelites, and none of this double portion spoiled.

I’ve been reminded time and time again that when God knows we need a double portion of His blessings, he will provide. Again, it’s not about whether we are worthy, only if we are willing to bend the knee and gather.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Americans Generous? Not a Myth!

Recently the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an opinion article (a larger, more prominent, “letter to the editor”) by the title of “Americans Generous? Not Really”. This article by a senior fellow at Georgetown University took issue with the often repeated comment (because it is true) that the Americans are the most generous people in the world.

I wouldn’t have minded so much if the criticism was along the lines of something accurate or perhaps Biblical. Perhaps, 1 Corithians 16:2 - Let each one of you give according to how the Lord has prospered you." Given that standard, Americans, one of the most blessed people in the history of the world, would need to be even more generous than they presently are.

Unfortunately, his criticism was that much of the largest donations from the 50 most generous donors went to colleges and universities. For some reason, colleges and universities that have healthy endowment funds have been under attack. In addition, it seems like tax-incentives were given for the reason for the generosity (sure…an easy way to get 30 cents back for every dollar given!) Some in Washington are trying to figure out how to shake loose some of that money because of course the people in Washington think they know how to spend money better than anyone.

I thought I would take this opportunity to take issue with some of the giving myths that are heard often, particularly at conferences and seminars attended by those involved in the nonprofit industry. The information I’m quoting is taken from “Giving USA 2006-released in 2007”

Myth 1: Giving in the US has been in decline
Fact 1: Giving in the US continues to increase

Giving in the last year was up 4.2% and in current dollars, before inflation adjustments, estimated giving has increased by $279 billion since 1966. Much of that growth has been in the last ten years.

Myth 2: Adjusted for inflation, giving in the US has been in decline
Fact 2: Adjusted for inflation, giving in the US continues to increase

Giving in the last year was estimated to be $295 billion; the change has been an increase of more than 200% adjusted for inflation in the last 40 years. In the last ten years, fully adjusted for inflation, giving is up 65%

Myth 3: Corporations and Foundations make up most of the giving
Fact 3: Individuals give the most

Charitable giving by individuals and households reached an estimated $222.9 billion in 206, approximately 76% of the total amount of giving

Myth 4: Giving to Religious Organizations in the US has been in decline
Fact 4: Giving to Religious Organizations in the US continues to increase

Giving to religious organizations was estimated at $96.82 Billion, an increase of 4.5% over the previous year. Giving to religious organizations represented 32.8% of all giving and has increased an average of 4.7% each year for the past ten years.

Myth 5: More and More Charities are chasing Fewer and Fewer Dollars
Fact 5: Giving, even adjusted for inflation has increased much more than the number of Charities

This myth is rarely challenged. The facts are however that since 1995, registered 501(c)(3) organizations are up 67% while total giving is up 185%. The rate of registered charities rose by 3.5% between 2004 and 2005 (the last year reported) the slowest rate of increase in a decade. The number of registered charities includes some but not all churches. Some believe there are between 300,000 to 400,000 additional churches that would be included making the official county approximately 1.4 million charities.

Myth 6: Giving by percentage is a smaller piece of the economy
Fact 6: Giving as a percentage of the total economy is above the 20 year trend

Total charitable giving as a percentage of the GNP was 2.2 percent in 2006. Other than 2000, when the giving percentage reached 2.3 percent after several years of rapid stock market growth, the average growth has been typically around 2.0%

Myth 7: Giving by percentage of personal income is declining
Fact 7: Giving as a percentage of personal income is increasing

The 2006 individual giving as a percentage of personal income was 2.0 percent and above the 40-year average of 1.8%. While down slightly from 2.1 percent in 2005 it is up to the more recent highs experienced in the late 1960’s.

Finally, just some interesting other changes since 1965 (the base year for most of the above analytical study). Adjusted for inflation, the DJIA is up about 132%, a new house price is up about 118%, a newspaper is actually up only about 62% and a new car (take an Impala…please) is up 51%. Meanwhile giving in the United States is up 203% fully adjusted for inflation.

Americans generous? Yes, really!

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