December 2013

Can we reverse giving trends?

December 30 2013 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

I learned the value of tithing and giving very early in my Christian life. My dad was an alcoholic. He had lost his job and was deep in debt due to his alcohol problem. When I was 10 years old, I saw my father give his life to Christ and abandon alcohol forever. I made the decision to follow Christ on the same day.
 
My dad got a new job. But something he did got my attention. He read in the Bible that the tithe is the Lord’s, so he tithed on the first paycheck he received from the new position. He could have said, “When I get out of debt, I will tithe or give to the Lord.” He made no excuses. Out of the joy of his salvation, he began to tithe. It took him two years to pay off his alcohol debts and other bills, but he made tithing a priority.
 
God not only honored my dad’s commitment, He also taught a valuable lesson to a boy who was intently watching his father’s behavior. My brother and I had a paper route. We started tithing also. More than 50 years later, that commitment remains unchanged in my life.
 
We can argue all day and night about whether tithing is “scriptural.” Frankly I am amazed and grieved at the passion of some in their pursuit to keep people from practicing the tithe. Some believe they are delivering believers from a legalistic practice. Some have issues with anyone suggesting they should do anything with “their” money. They want no restraints on their financial hedonism.
 
I’m convinced most believers are scripturally untrained in this matter. They simply do not know the joy of scriptural giving or the freedom from the pressures of this world’s self-centered financial schemes.
 
Books on tithing and giving abound with ideas that are all over the map. Sadly, many sacrifice the truth in order to magnify the prosperity gospel. But some honestly present a biblical model of both the tithe and the grace-giving lifestyle.
 
I am thankful that in my lifetime God raised up Larry Burkett (now with the Lord), Dave Ramsey and other men of wisdom and faith who have grounded their teaching in an honest view of scripture.

There are some scriptural foundations I hold to be indisputable on this subject:
  • In the Old Testament the tithe was God’s plan for the ongoing support of His work among His people. It was 10 percent of God’s total provision for your needs.
  • In the New Testament Jesus never spoke against the tithe. He never condemned it. He never cancelled it. On the contrary, He affirmed the tithing pattern of the Scribes and Pharisee’s while correcting their negligent activity in other areas. In Matthew 23:23 he said, “These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” That is hardly a rejection of tithing, as some imply.
  • I affirm that “grace giving” is a superior level of generosity beyond the tithe. It is a New Testament model that advances tithing beyond a requirement. It expands – even completes – the joy of tithing.
  • Tithing is something we do together, and I am always in favor of believers working in unison. Being a “team” is critical to our mission. We need to be “one” in every way possible, just as Jesus prayed in John 17:11. This is easy, if we just get free from our bondage to the world’s material demands. Together we can channel our God-given resources into Kingdom goals and accomplish God’s Great Commission.
  • Tithing is like “kindergarten” for the believer. It is a great place to start, but not where we want to spend the rest of our life. We should aim to grow to the measure of Christ’s extravagant generosity.
  • It is my conviction that the tithe is not mine to designate or play games with. I believe it goes to the local church of my membership. I give to special offerings in the church and ministries beyond the church, but never at the expense of compromising the tithe.
Churches are struggling financially. Cooperative Program ministries at the state and national levels are hurting from the trickle-down effect of church financial woes. Charitable gifts have dropped significantly in the last 10 years. Giving in churches is now at its lowest level since the Great Depression. We need to reverse this destructive trend.
 
I believe 2014 is a pivotal year for churches in the matters of tithing and giving. We can continue the downward slide, or we can put on the brakes and have the resources to reach the world with the gospel.
 
We must do something!
 
The shortfall of ministry dollars at every level can be traced to the lack of tithing and giving in the local church. Local church leaders must abandon the fear of discussing this critical issue. God’s people must be discipled in the godly management of material things.
 
I’m a team player. I believe the concept of teamwork is quickly eroding. Let’s act now to change that sad state and commit ourselves to giving to our local church. Then we can give together to Great Commission ministries through the Cooperative Program and special offerings like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
12/30/2013 3:08:59 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 1 comments



Willing hearts and radical generosity

December 16 2013 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

An abundance of rich words can be used to describe the God of the Bible. One can draw on the beauty of words like holy, faithful, loving, merciful, patient and many more, including words that represent His extravagant grace. 
 
God’s character defines radical generosity. The pages of scripture are saturated with examples. His generosity is both the foundation and the pattern for the giving habits of His followers.
 
When Moses received God’s instructions to build the tabernacle, he assembled the entire Hebrew community and called for an offering. The response of the people is an inspiring model for us.
 
Moses said, “Take up an offering among you for the Lord. Let everyone whose heart is willing bring this as the Lord’s offering: gold, silver, and bronze, ...” (Exodus 35:5, HCSB). The offering was described as “free will” giving. The people who had a “willing heart” were invited to give. No legal or moral obligation was tied to the offering.
 
Their giving reflected the radical generosity they had experienced from God. “Everyone whose heart was moved and whose spirit prompted him came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its services, and for the holy garments. Both men and women came; all who had willing hearts ...” (Exodus 35:21-22a).
 
The conclusion of this offering is the dream of every church. Moses had to tell them to stop giving. Imagine that! “After Moses gave an order, they sent a proclamation throughout the camp: ‘Let no man or woman make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ So the people stopped. The materials were sufficient for them to do all the work. There was more than enough” (Exodus 36:6-7).
 
Give your attention to some key elements of this event. The people gave together. The people gave willingly. The people gave generously.
 
These giving patterns are very important ingredients for the New Testament church. Southern Baptists have experienced great effectiveness in missions and ministry at every level through shared giving.
 
Special mission offerings, the Cooperative Program and associational mission support have been successful because we have worked together, we have done so willingly, and we have given generously.
 
Giving has become the focus of Christmas. To be honest, some of that emphasis may come from our greed and materialism. But the story of the first Christmas includes the giving of gifts. The second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel tells about the Magi from the East who brought gifts to Jesus. This may be the launching point for our modern Christmas tradition.
 
One of the Magi gave the gift of gold. In his book, Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, Ace Collins reminds us, “To give gold to a baby would have been all but unheard of, unless, of course, that child was a king.” The extravagance of that gift was certainly appropriate.
 
But is it appropriate for us to give each other such gifts while we celebrate the birth of the Savior? Is Christmas a celebration of Jesus, or is it a celebration of us? I believe the answer is pretty obvious when we look at American giving patterns.
 
Christmas is the biggest commercial holiday of the year. Spending is the order of the day. I heard one retailer say that 70 percent of his annual sales happen in December.
 
I gathered these statistics from several sources:
  • This year $6.5 billion will be spent on Christmas cards.
  • This year $6 billion will be spent on Christmas decorations.
  • Americans will spend an average of $800 per person on Christmas presents.
  • Given the population of 314 million people in U.S., we will spend $251.2 billion on each other.
Is there a gift for the King of Kings?
 
Our gifts should express the reason for the coming of the babe in Bethlehem. Here is that reason in His own words: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, NKJV). I should ask, “Does my gift define the reason for the Savior’s coming?”
 
What would be an appropriate gift of extravagance for the Savior? Let’s start with the amount we will give each other, approximately $800. There are 16 million Southern Baptists. Since we can’t find half of them, let’s just assume there are at least eight million of us.
 
If eight million Baptists gave $800 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO), our gifts would total $6.4 billion this year. That is 36 times greater than the 2013 goal of $175 million.
 
We can do that. Some can do more; others will give less. But we should try extravagant giving for His glory. It will change us. But more significantly, it will change the world.
 
I hope that every Southern Baptist would have a “willing heart” to hold hands with our international missionaries by giving generously to this offering. This is something we can do together – and I believe we should give together.
 
A church member once said, “Pastor, one of our members explained to me that they support individual missionaries. You don’t expect them to give to the Lottie Moon offering do you?” I said, “I certainly do. None of us is forced to give, but there are some things that are of such magnitude that we should do them together. This is one of them.”
 
Gifts to LMCO are not going to a bureaucracy. Every dime is directly supporting more than 4,800 missionaries and their children who have chosen sacrificial living for God’s glory.
 
If we gave with radical generosity, there would be more than enough. Wouldn’t it be great if Tom Elliff, International Mission Board president, had to send out an urgent plea to ask churches to stop giving because we have more than enough to support all of our existing missionaries and a thousand more?

We’re not there yet. So, I am praying that God will begin with me and develop willing hearts across the fellowship of Southern Baptist churches.
12/16/2013 12:34:29 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



Too big for us!

December 2 2013 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Taking the gospel to the whole world is a big assignment – too big for all International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries together. We’ll need serious multiplication – not addition – of this current mission force just to make a dent in the task of proclaiming Christ to the world. And that’s not going to happen at Southern Baptists’ current rate of giving.

Statistics show that Southern Baptists are giving about $7 per person to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO). Can we pause here and let that embarrassing figure sink in? Our Savior has a mission for every believer. In describing that mission we use words like “all,” “everything,” and “whatever it takes.” This year’s theme reflects those absolute words: “Totally His” – His heart, His hands and His voice. I’m having a hard time reconciling our giving habits with this theme.

I’m not implying that there is something wrong with the theme. I am suggesting that some major obedience, major generosity and major cooperation needs to surface among Southern Baptists. Like Lottie Moon, our current mission personnel are serving in places that are sometimes uncomfortable, potentially unsafe and always challenging. It is important that we pray for them, stand with them and serve beside them in their assigned field.

As a pastor for 35 years I was privileged to serve churches that were heavily involved in fulfilling the Great Commission. Occasionally I am asked what made those churches mission-focused fellowships. I share the following observations with the hope that this will strengthen the missions vision of our churches and move us beyond $7 per Southern Baptist to LMCO.

1. If giving to the LMCO is important to the pastor it will be important to the church. The pastor sets the tone and gives leadership to every aspect of church life. If he is passionate about missions all year long, it will not be difficult for the church to respond generously in December.

I did not wait until December to talk about international missions. Most sermons throughout the year contained information or illustrations about God’s work around the world. Underscoring the scriptural foundation for missions was always on my agenda. Keep talking about the Father’s passion for His glory to be known among the nations.

In addition, missionary guests stood before the congregation all year long. Some were invited guests who were given a few minutes in the Sunday morning service, or they were given the entire service. Others were missionaries who just came to worship with us, but they were recognized as honored guests.

It is not difficult for the congregation to discern if the pastor genuinely believes the Great Commission is important, or if he is following a denominational obligation. When December rolls around, they are ready to hear more specific stories that the IMB provides to tell the work of our international missionaries.

2. If the pastor demonstrates sacrificial giving to missions, the church will follow. When I began my first pastorate, my family gave sacrificially to LMCO and many other missions offerings.

A few years later the Lord convicted me that my giving was based on my reasoning rather than God’s revelation. We determined that instead of calculating what our family could afford to give, we asked God what He wanted us to give. When He gave us the figure of $1,000, we knew it was beyond our ability. But He said, “You have not, because you ask not.” So, we asked God to allow us to give $1,000 to the LMCO. He provided, we gave, and it set a pattern for the rest of our lives.

I know people who have asked God to allow them to give an amount that would support one IMB missionary each year. This year, that amount is $51,000. They asked, God provided, and they continue giving by the same pattern. That’s radical faith. What are you asking God to provide through your family this year? Is it a reflection of your ability, or is it worthy of God’s ability?

3. If Baptists are informed about the work of the IMB, they will respond generously. It has been my practice to use a variety of IMB materials. Posters, envelopes, prayer guides, videos and a host of other materials are available to encourage and inspire.

4. Giving to missions increases as a church becomes personally involved in overseas missions. Nothing inspires as powerfully as a personal visit to another country. Walking the streets with a missionary in a foreign land is a life-changing experience. As more church members participate in mission trips, awareness of the need becomes very real. Their contagious spirit spreads like an epidemic among the fellowship.

Frankly, the involvement of volunteers is an essential element in multiplying the missionary force. Some will receive a call to career mission service. Many others will want to get more deeply involved.

5. I had a habit of reminding our church that we are a missionary training center. We don’t gather each week simply for worship, Bible study, fellowship and other activities. We are training missionaries! Some will go overseas; others will be missionaries in “Jerusalem.” I often said, “We are not just Anytown Baptist Church.* We are the Anytown Baptist Missionary Training Center.”

These are just a few thoughts. I hope they are helpful. There are thousands more to be added by other pastors and church leaders. Share your suggestions with us. We look forward to telling stories of how God used your church to support our IMB missionaries.

Please use the prayer guide in the Nov. 23 edition of the Biblical Recorder and available at imb.org to pray specifically for international missions and for generous giving among Southern Baptists. (At the IMB website choose the “Week of Prayer” under Quick Links on the left-hand side of the screen.)

*Insert your church’s name here in place of Anytown Baptist Church.
12/2/2013 3:45:51 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments