Archives For Giving

Preaching Christ Crucified

Corey —  May 11, 2010 — 19 Comments

       I want to apologize.

       I want to apologize for anything I have taught that did not point to Christ crucified.

       If I have written about giving without emphasizing that giving does not make you righteous, I have missed the point. If I have ever implied that your generosity will please God, I have been wrong. If I have suggested that you can find contentment through your own power, I was in error.

       All too often in “Christian” personal finance (and Christianity in general), we fail to emphasize the fact that Christ accomplished all on the Cross. We can put heavy burdens on readers and listeners because we may teach that your choices and your determination will glorify God.

       There is a choice you must make. But that choice is not to change your heart of greed to a heart of generosity, your heart of laziness to a heart of diligence, or your heart of covetousness to a heart of contentment.

       The only choice you must make is to accept the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that Christ offers us through His death on the Cross for our sins. Until you accept that Gift, nothing will make you right before God – in your finances or any other area of your life.

       Tithing will not make you holy. Generous, sacrificial giving will not make you righteous. Contentment will not bring you salvation. Diligence cannot save your soul. Only Christ can.

       The evidence of a Christ-filled life is not in your choosing to be generous. Generosity flows out of your choosing to follow Christ. Contentment does not come by your choosing to live simply and reject consumerism. Contentment comes from your choosing to focus solely on Christ and the rich Gift He gives.

       If I ever teach that you will glorify God through your finances by doing certain things, living a certain way, or giving a certain amount, I am wrong. You will glorify God through your finances as Christ lives in you and pours out His love through your life. Contentment, diligence, stewardship, and generosity will result as you look to Jesus’ example and follow Him – not as you make specific choices and fulfill certain objectives.

       Do not be misled by what I am saying. Faith without works is certainly dead. How can our response to Jesus be anything other than contentment, diligence, stewardship, and generosity? But neither are we saved by our works. And it is not our power that produces these good things within us. It is Jesus who saves us and the power of God’s Spirit that produces whatever good we see in our lives. This does not relieve us from responsibility for our actions. We are called to seek holy lives in light of our new life in Christ. If we are not following and obeying Jesus, how can we call ourselves His disciples?

       I ask you to keep me honest to this truth. If you see me teach anything other than Christ crucified, call me out on it! If I teach that you will please God by doing specific things, remind me that God is pleased when we listen to His Son and follow Him. Yes, this requires action on our part. But it is action that flows out of faith (faith that works) – not action that precedes faith or salvation. Show me my error and refute it. Do not allow me to continue in a lie or lead others in it either. I pray that we may all remember how powerless and fallen we are and that we will learn to rely only on the salvation Jesus gives and the example He taught and lived.

       22 For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (WEB)


       A few weeks ago, Michael Covington and I had an email conversation about giving. Michael had been thinking about how we should respond to solicitations from charities, but we ended up discussing giving to everyone who asks as well.

       Jesus was quite clear that we should give generously. He taught us to give to the poor & needy – even if they are our enemies. And in Luke 6:30, Jesus tells us to give to everyone who asks:

       Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask him who takes away your goods to give them back again.

Luke 6:30 (WEB)
Also found in Matthew 5:42.

       Note: “Ask” can also be translated as “beg” and it often is translated that way.



       It’s quite clear that we should give to everyone who asks. The question, then, is how do we apply this in our lives as we seek to follow Jesus? Does He mean that we should give to every charity organization that sends us a postcard or letter or calls us on the phone? Does He mean that we should give exactly what a person asks from us? These are important questions.

Charities & Organizations

       We do not have a special and clear Biblical obligation to give to every charity or organization that writes to us, calls us, or otherwise asks us for support. While many charities are indeed doing great work to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the injustice of the oppressed, we must not feel guilty for refusing to support some charities and not others. In fact, many of the fundraising phone calls you may receive are run by telemarketers who take a cut of your donation (sometimes up to 80%!). Your donations can be more effective by diligently searching for responsible organizations and giving directly to them.

       Neither should we ignore requests from charities or organizations. God could be using that opportunity to raise our awareness to a need He wants us to meet. When it comes to charities and organizations, our approach should be one of prayerful, intentional, planned, and Spirit-led giving. Following such a pattern can help us remain confident that we are fulfilling God’s will for our giving and allow us to refuse giving to those organizations God has not laid on our hearts.

       However, we should remain open to new or different needs and revisit our giving to organizations often. When you are presented with a need from a charity, tell them you will consider their request and pray about God’s desire for your giving. Let them know you will contact them if you feel God calling you to give to their organization. Then seek God in prayer for wisdom and discernment.

Individuals

       In stark contrast, the Bible is quite clear that those who wish to follow Jesus and honor God must always be ready to help a person in need. Jesus’ teachings revolved around compassion and care for each other – but especially for the poor. The Old Testament clearly lays out that even under the Law Jews were to give to the poor & needy, the orphans, the widows, and strangers (foreigners in the land). We should not be surprised that Jesus requires the same from His disciples. Compassion and mercy are trademarks of God’s love.

       So when individuals ask us to give to them, our first response must be one of generosity and compassion. However, there may be times when it is not wise to give exactly what someone requests. In those cases, we must seek discernment through the Spirit. A few examples will illustrate my point.

       1. The person is not needy. Should we give to the rich? The Bible is clear that giving to the poor is commendable – not the rich. Those who are not truly in need should not be given whatever they ask. A simple scenario makes this point clear. Your teenager asks you for a new iPod. Should you give it to them based solely on Jesus’ words in Luke 6:30? Or someone who has all his needs met asks you for $100. Should you give it to him even when you know there are others who need it more?

       2. The person will cause harm to themselves. Should we give money to an alcoholic or drug addict who will very likely use it to fuel their addiction? This does not mean we should not give. It merely means that money may not be the best gift. Which is more compassionate? To give $20, or to give 2 hours? We can give our time by becoming the person’s friend, meeting their needs directly (taking them to eat, getting them a place to stay, etc.), or taking them to a ministry specializing in breaking their addiction and helping them recover. Compassion doesn’t blindly throw money at those who ask. Compassion seeks to alleviate suffering.

       3. The person is being dishonest. While there are dishonest people out there panhandling and begging for money, we must be very cautious about refusing to give based on this idea. However, it is often easy to separate the honest from the liars. Simply ask a few questions about what the person needs. If they’re asking for money, what do they need it for? Then see if they’ll let you fill that need directly (buying gas at the gas station, eating a meal with them, taking them to a shelter or ministry, etc.). The con men will not let you do this (most times). They want cash and cash only. Those who are truly in need will not refuse your help.

Your Take

       I know I may sound like I’m ignoring Jesus’ teaching. He said to give to anyone who asks. He did not give us any qualifiers. However, to ignore the rest of Scripture and the rest of Jesus’ teaching would be quite foolish. I fully understand the idea that we should err on the side of generosity, and that is the approach I try to take. But we must not trade feelings of righteousness and being good with our responsibility to carefully handle what God has given us. By blindly giving to those who are not in need we steal from those who truly need help. Wisdom, discernment, and generosity can work together quite well – and they must.

       Giving does not always mean money. But when we refuse to give (for one of the reasons above or others), we must ask ourselves “What is my motive/reason for not giving to this person?” If we are refusing out of selfishness or greed, we are clearly at fault. If we are refusing because of a Biblical teaching, we must consider whether love and mercy should triumph in this case.

       What are your thoughts on the issue? Am I just stingy? Did I miss the point of Jesus’ teaching? Bonus: I’ll even give you some ammo for opposing my ideas. In Luke 6:35, Jesus says to do all these things because God is kind toward the unthankful and the evil. Does that mean we should give without any “qualifications” at all? Let me know what you think in the comments!

       I recently discovered Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme. I’m not sure how I got there – maybe from this post at Monevator – but I’m glad I did.

       Jacob is a bit of an anomaly in our culture – he’s a retired 34 year old, but he’s not rich (based on typical standards). He was able to retire early by saving 70-80% of his income for five years. He did not make a ton of money during that time. I think his salary was around $40,000-50,000/year while he was saving. He simply lived very frugally and saved the rest. Now, he still lives frugally but no longer needs to work to cover his expenses. Despite the fact that he doesn’t need to work, he does – and he makes enough to cover his expenses.

Cheap Living

       Jacob lives on about $7,000 per year. He’s able to do this because he’s learned to live cheaply – especially when it comes to the major areas of most budgets (housing, transportation, food, etc.). He doesn’t have a car, finds cheap/free forms of entertainment, and eats healthy meals with little to no meat. He currently lives in an RV with his wife, but he admits it’s not a necessary choice to duplicate his results.

Should We Retire Extremely Early?

       I don’t highlight Jacob as an example to be followed for extreme early retirement. I don’t think early retirement as a goal in and of itself as admirable or desirable for a Christian. (I also don’t dismiss it as a goal because I can see how God could use a person in this situation for full-time volunteer work or missionary work – a self-funded missionary if you will.) I’m highlighting Jacob and his choices because he offers insights that Christians can use to question the cultural norms and make choices that can lead to extreme generosity.

       For example, Jacob’s views on housing, insurance, and “sacrifice” greatly coincide with my own. (I don’t really agree with him on investing, but that’s irrelevant.) He doesn’t see money as necessary to have fun or live comfortably. He avoids waste. He learns new skills so he can make and do more stuff himself. His approach to living cheaply so he could retire extremely early can be adapted by Christians who want to give generously.

       If you want to get a better feeling for what Jacob did and why, check out his frequently asked questions, about himself page, and about Early Retirement Extreme. You can also see his best posts of 2008 and 2009.

How Can We Use Jacob’s Examples to Honor God?

       What I ask is that you read his articles from the perspective of how they can help you better serve God in your finances. Unless God has a specific purpose for you retiring early, that’s probably not a goal that will glorify Him. But we can use the same ideas Jacob used to enable extreme generosity in our lives by reducing our expenses and questioning the cultural norms. If you find something particularly insightful or helpful on his website, please feel free to share it in the comments below.

Are You Giving Sacrificially?

Corey —  April 2, 2010 — 2 Comments

       Does your giving require sacrifice on your part? Or are you only giving what is easy?

       I read a post at Free Money Finance a couple Sundays ago asking “Where Did All the Givers Go?“. In that post and a few of his others, FMF seems to criticize those who believe in “generous giving”, “cheerful giving”, or “grace giving” because the average Christian in America doesn’t give very much (2.6% of income). He sees a philosophy of “generous giving” or “New Covenant giving” as weak and an excuse to give less. He’s a proponent of tithing for Christians today.

       However, you should know by now that I don’t believe Christians are under the law of tithing. I believe in generous, sacrificial giving that models Christ’s life and sacrifice. If you’ve read my thoughts on the matter, you’ll realize it’s not an excuse to give less – even though I do believe you should be caring for your family’s needs first and paying what you owe.

       However, my beliefs about giving shouldn’t lead to giving less than 10% (especially in America). That’s because those beliefs about giving are closely tied to my beliefs about contentment in Christ. When Christ meets all of your needs, you find that you don’t need much in this life to be satisfied and happy. Your needs become very small. And that frees you to become extremely generous.

Sacrificial Giving

       When you begin to live in a way that values Christ and people above material wealth, you choose to make “sacrifices” in the world’s view. You don’t buy a large, extravagant house. You choose to drive an older vehicle. You don’t eat out all the time. You find alternatives to the typical entertainment options. You spend money thoughtfully and carefully – questioning the necessity of the item and seeking God’s will instead of mindlessly following our culture of materialism. You are no longer defined by what you buy. You are defined by who you live for and what you give.

       So my question for you is this: What are you sacrificing today in order to give more? Are you making conscious choices to question the lifestyle that the American culture teaches you to follow? Are you praying for God to guide you as you budget and spend the money He has blessed you with? Are you laying down your life to meet the needs of others?

       How are you following Jesus in your giving? It doesn’t matter if you’re giving 10%, 20%, or 3%. Considering what you have, how is your life reflecting the love of God? How is your budget testifying to the fact that Christ lives in you?

       If you can’t answer those questions, then now is the time for you to seek God’s will for your giving. I don’t care if you believe in tithing or generous giving. What you believe doesn’t matter when you answer those questions. What are you doing? How has your life been changed by the power of God’s Spirit working in you? How is that evident in your giving?

Tithing Is So Old Testament

Corey —  March 30, 2010 — 28 Comments

       If you’ve read my articles on tithing, you might begin to think that I hate tithing. (In fact, I almost titled this article “I Don’t Hate Tithing”.) Or maybe you think I’m just stingy. Although that conclusion would be difficult to reach after reading my thoughts about New Covenant giving. But the truth is there’s a deeper reason behind why I teach against tithing as a giving standard for Christians.

       Tithing is the Old Testament example and standard for giving. It was part of the Law of Moses given specifically to the Israelites through the Old Covenant. But Christians today are no longer under that covenant. We’re under the New Covenant. And you see an interesting trend when you look at what the early Christians were taught about giving.

       Keeping in mind that the New Covenant began after Jesus’ death on the cross, consider the teaching you find in the New Testament about giving. Can you find any passages where tithing is used as the example that Christians should follow for giving? I’ll wait while you look.

       I can already tell you that you won’t find any. I know because I’ve looked. I’ve searched long and hard to find all the verses in the Bible that talk about personal finance. And you know what I’ve found in the New Testament about giving? The only example ever used to explain how much Christians should give is Jesus. Not tithing, not the Old Testament offerings – only the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

       That’s a significant statement. We’re supposed to give like Jesus did?! That sounds so difficult. How can I ever be that generous? How do I even calculate that for my budget??? But He is our example for giving as Christians who want to honor God. No, it’s not as easy to figure out as 10% of your income, but there are some general giving guidelines we can glean from the New Testament. New Covenant giving requires a deep, intimate relationship with God and demands that you spend time in His Word and in prayer seeking His will.

       Recently, I did a personal finance Bible study at my church for our winter Sunday school elective. When we started talking about tithing and giving, one person brought up the statistic that Christians only give about 2-3% on average. I also brought up the fact that only about 6% of Christians tithe to their churches (though about 27% of evangelical Christians give at least 10% of their income to charities). With statistics like that, why would I even try to teach something beyond giving 10%? We can’t even get to a tithing standard. How can I expect Christians to give generously and sacrificially???

       But I think that’s our first mistake. We think that by teaching tithing we’re giving Christians a simple, straightforward guideline that they can follow for their giving. It’s clearly taught in the Old Testament and even comes with curses and blessings. Surely that will motivate people to give generously. And that’s the problem.

       The reason I teach so strongly against tithing is because we have a much greater example and motivation for giving. Tithing never suffered for us. Tithing did not die for our sins. Tithing will not grant us eternal life. Tithing does not love us.

       But Jesus did suffer and die for our sins. Jesus will give us eternal life with God in Heaven. Jesus does love us – extravagantly, generously, sacrificially – even to the point of death!

       Brothers and sisters, why would we choose to continue using a lesser, weaker example for giving? We wonder why no one is motivated to tithe. Why don’t we teach giving based on Jesus’ life and sacrifice? How can our response to His gift be anything other than love, which will then produce generous, sacrificial giving in us? We can dismiss tithing and come up with excuses why we can’t afford it right now. But we cannot dismiss the gift of Jesus – the gift of His death for our sins so that we can have eternal life. The Holy Spirit will compel us to give if He is our focus.

       So if you wonder why I teach against tithing, that’s it. I don’t care if you disagree with my thoughts about why tithing no longer applies to Christians. I’m not here to debate the Law versus Faith (or Grace) ideas with you. But can’t we agree that teaching a giving standard based on Jesus’ gift to us will result in more generous, more sacrificial, and more cheerful Christian givers than teaching based on tithing? Let me know in the comments.

       I don’t ask this question in order to set strict guidelines for how all Christians should live out their final years. I ask it to prompt us all to examine how we will live out our faith during retirement. I’ve talked about why I was rethinking my views on retirement and whether or not Christians should even retire. What I want to look at today are the things we should be considering when we’re planning what we’ll do in retirement and how much income we’ll need in retirement. Then, I want your help. (Oh, and this isn’t just for retired people. Young Christians should be thinking about this too because it will affect how much they should be saving for retirement.)

What Should We Do?

       Assuming we agree that God does not call Christians to a leisurely, luxurious retirement where we sit around and do nothing all day, we have to start looking at what we should be doing during retirement. Let’s compare and contrast with typical retirement goals:

  • Pursuing Hobbies – Many people plan to pick up new hobbies or spend more time on their favorite hobbies in retirement. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, Christians must be looking at how much time they’re spending focused on themselves and how much of their money they’re putting toward their own wants. We must look for a balance – and we must look to God to find that balance.
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  • Travel – This is a major goal for many retirees. As Christians, we need to look at recreational travel versus missional travel. I’m not saying vacations are sinful, but we have to consider two things. First, our desires to spend on ourselves while others are in desperate need. And second, we must listen to God’s unique call for our lives. For some Christians, this will mean limiting travel in retirement so they can give more or spend more time volunteering. For other Christians, this may mean allocating more than they would have to travel so they can take or fund mission trips. (This is not to say that you should ignore God’s call for you to be a missionary until retirement. If He’s calling you now, you should go now.)
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  • Volunteering – Volunteering is a great way for both Christians and non-Christians alike to spend their time in retirement. Besides transportation costs, volunteering requires little money but can provide great rewards. The caution here is to avoid volunteering to every cause or postponing volunteer activities until retirement. Seek God’s will for where you should serve now and in retirement.
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  • Entertainment – It’s easy to spend more on entertainment during retirement because you’ve got so much free time. But for Christians, again, we must look at how we’re using the money God has entrusted to us. Some entertainment is fine, but we need to seek God’s guidance for what we should plan on in this category.
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  • Spending Time with Family – Another noble pursuit regardless of whether you’re a follower of Christ or not. However, we still must seek God’s will and be sure to balance this activity against the other things God wants us to be doing. Strong families are encouraged by the Bible, but we must not become so focused on our own families that we ignore God’s family.


How Should We Spend in Retirement?

       The decisions we make in the “What Should We Do?” category will greatly impact how much income we’ll need in retirement. But there are a few other areas we should consider as well:

  • Housing – Will you stay where you are now, move to a larger place, or choose to downsize? Also, will you buy a second home (vacation home)? Again, I challenge you to pray for God’s will on this matter. Many retirees dream of owning a vacation home in the Bahamas, but Christians must be looking at how such a decision fits in with God’s call to care for the poor. Should we be building a larger house or buying a vacation home while people are starving? Maybe that sounds ascetic, but it’s a legitimate and serious question for those who wish to follow Christ.
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  • Shopping – Shopping for the sake of shopping excites some people. How should we approach this issue? Again, I’m not advocating an ascetic lifestyle where you never buy anything for yourself. But we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Should we deny some of our wants so we can give more? I feel like that’s a definite yes. But where we draw that line can only be determined through communion with God. He calls some to deny many or all of their wants while others only a few. (Personally, I think that call to deny yourself increases more as our faith and maturity increase.)
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  • Insurance – Overinsurance can indicate that we are placing our trust in money and not God. Underinsurance can be a sign of folly. We must seek God’s will on this matter, as all others, and perhaps help from others. Health insurance is likely a necessity, but what about life insurance, long-term care insurance, homeowner’s/renter’s insurance, etc. There can be legitimate needs for these during retirement, but we can also buy them out of fear or ignorance.
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  • Health Care – While some or most of this may be covered by health insurance, there’s another aspect I want us to think about as Christians. Where do we draw the line between pursuing health within God’s will and pursuing longevity for fear of death? Should we fear death as much as our society does? Indeed, part of the reason health care costs so much is because we try so hard to stay alive. I’m not saying we should kill ourselves, but it is something we should think and pray about (even when we’re young). The world seeks after eternal life but will not find it. We (Christians) already have it promised to us in Heaven – so why do we seek it so much on Earth?


What’s Your Take???

       What did I miss? What did you think about my thoughts? What do you think a Christian retirement should look like? What are your plans? Please, please, please share your thoughts in the comments. I’m hoping we can all help each other think about these issues from a Biblical and eternal viewpoint rather than the American/worldly ideals.

This is a guest post from the Editor of VoucherCodes.co.uk, a site offering voucher codes and printable vouchers to help you save more money.

       In the current climate it is hard for many to get by. All of our budgets seem to have been slashed, and what’s left over for the end of the month for luxuries has all but disappeared. Giving to charity each month can therefore seem a bit of a hardship, but it is ironically at this time that it is needed so much. The recent earthquake in Haiti has provided an all too clear signal of the need for charitable donations. With a few personal finance tips, you can put aside a large part of your monthly budget therefore freeing up more resources for charity.

Budget!

       The first thing to do is to know exactly where you stand. As has already been pointed out on Provident Planning, a site such as Mint offers free financial software that can show you exactly where your money is going each month. This can be an excellent tool, but it can be difficult to work with this as a household tool. In a dual income household, communication is especially important. The whole family will have to sit down together in order to work out their expenditure and to plan for the months ahead. If you have children this can be a great chance to educate them on how to manage money and to set a great example.

Save on Groceries

       To help with the family planning further you can log on to Netmums, a UK community of mothers and download their weekly meal planner – this is just as applicable for a US family. Any shopping trip can then be more focused around what is essential. Supermarkets are designed to bombard you with information encourage you to make impulse purchases. They have become very sophisticated in their marketing (ever noticed how the premium brands are at eye level?). If at all possible, it can be better to leave the kids at home when shopping – they are usually much more persuadable to making unnecessary purchases and are no doubt very adept at persuading you as well!

Cut Back on Your Energy Bills

       It is also essential to cut the amount of energy you are using in your home. With just a few tricks you can save lots of money. Head over to the Energy Savings Trust website and take their free home energy check to ensure you are not frittering away your hard earned cash in wasted energy each month.

Use Coupons

       Coupons have also become an online phenomenon in 2009 – and if you’re not using them in 2010 you will really be missing out. Ever been prompted when buying online to enter a voucher code (or promo code or something along these lines)? Well a simple Google search for “Coupons” will provide a huge collection of coupon sites where you can find the correct text to enter to get the relevant discount. These can usually knock $20 off the weekly shop. [Paul's note: I like RetailMeNot for this. I've saved a lot with that site.]

Don’t Waste Money When You’re on Vacation

       In the end we all deserve to have to have a break from counting the pennies, but this does not mean we want to be ripped off when going on holiday. If we easily reduce the amount we fritter away, it means we can spare a little more from the holiday fund. A little local knowledge can be found in the online Time Out guides – they provide comprehensive schedules of the events coming up in most of the major world cities. Booking in advance you can usually make huge savings and avoid inflated “at the door” prices. You can also find great advice on non-touristy restaurants to save further. These combined can cut your travel budget by almost half painlessly.

       I hope these tips show that with a small bit of thinking we can be more charitable each month without breaking the bank!

This has been a guest post from the Editor of VoucherCodes.co.uk. Be sure to check out their site if you live in or will be visiting the UK. I’m sure you’ll find some ways to save money!