Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Do you have a generosity plan?

But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity (Isaiah 32:8, NLT).

He who fails to plan, plans to fail. - Proverbs quote

You need a plan - an overarching generosity plan. If you desire to grow and excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:6-8), then you need to couple that desire with a plan of action. With the technology and online resources available to us today, it's now easier than ever to take consistent action in giving back to God and others.

This plan does not need to be complicated at all. In your plan, you should consider:
  1. Consistent, regular tithing and giving. A generosity plan begins with faithful giving from your weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly income. Most churches today offer a way to give online, and you can setup a regular giving schedule in which money is deducted from your bank account automatically. If you prefer the low tech method of cash or checks, then you will need to remember to bring your gift to the church each week and place it in the offering plate.
  2. Giving to the poor. In order to give to others in need, you might consider carrying some "walking around cash" for on the spot giving. You could also setup online auto-payments to your church's benevolence fund or favorite charity(s).
  3. Missions giving. This most likely can be accomplished by giving through your church budget, but you might consider giving through other missions entities as well. Also, be on the lookout for students and adults going on short-term mission trips. You can be a blessing to them and be blessed at the same time.
  4. Large gift, special occasion giving. If you have been a wise steward of God's money, than you will probably have an emergency fund with a substantial cash reserve. You can use some of these funds to give over and above the tithe for special offerings.
  5. Estate giving at death. The reality of life is that we are all going to die one day. When we do go home to be with the Lord, there will most likely be a lot of stuff that we will leave behind - property assets (homes, cars, boats, jewelry, etc.), retirement accounts, life insurance, and bank accounts. Why not plan ahead by giving a percentage of these assets away to your church or select charities through your will or trust.
  6. Foundational giving. For those with have been blessed with extreme wealth, a foundation is a great way to give through investing large amounts of money which will grow consistently and throw off a continuous stream of money to give to those in need.
Once you have your plan in place, stand firm in your plan. Be consistent in your giving. Enjoy the benefits of a generous life.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

God's will for you is a process

When it comes to discerning God’s will for our lives, I think we often have a mindset that we will have some epiphany moment when the sky opens up and stone tablets descend from the heavens revealing His perfect plan for the rest of our lives. Although that would certainly be a wonderful way to know with complete certainty what He wants us to do, this is not how it works in real life.

Are there Christians out there who can look back to a specific time and place where they know without a shadow of a doubt that God called them to be a pastor or missionary? Sure, I know of many people who have experienced God’s call to ministry, but they never really knew the specifics of that calling. They heard the call and then became obedient to following Christ’s journey for them.

I recently heard a great analogy to discovering God's will. Think of it in this manner - headlights on a car. If you are driving down a dark road at night, your headlights only illuminate several feet ahead of you. At that specific point in time, all you can see is what is directly ahead of you, but as you keep moving forward, your headlights begin to reveal more information. God's will often works in a similar fashion. 

God desires obedience with what you understand today. As you begin to understand, obey, and take action, you make progress along the journey and God reveals a little more. You are obedient to this new knowledge, take action, and make more progress on your journey. This process will continue on your life journey as long as you continue to be obedient with what God has revealed to you in the present. It all starts with obedience. You don't need to concern yourself with what is going to happen 5 miles down the road. You need to make sure you are on the right course 50 feet ahead of you.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much... (Luke 16:10a).

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Parents from the Bible who screwed up

For a number of years now, I have read through the Bible using The Daily Bible. Every year that I read through God’s Word, I am always amazed by the godly leaders of the Old Testament who failed miserably as parents. These men are some of the most celebrated heroes of the faith, men such as Aaron, Samuel, King David, and King Hezekiah. These men had very close, intimate relationships with God, but they failed to transfer their faith on to some or all of their children.

Aaron was God’s first anointed high priest for the nation of Israel, and yet his two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, disobeyed God’s instructions by offering “unauthorized fire” in tabernacle worship (Leviticus 10:1-3). As a result of their disobedience, God struck them dead right on the spot. I wonder if their disobedience was partially a result of watching their father create two golden calves and leading the Israelite people in worshiping them at Mount Sinai?

The prophet Samuel was the last judge of Israel before the time of the kings began. He was God’s special messenger to the nation as well as the one who anointed its first two kings – Saul and David. The Bible speaks negatively of Samuel in only one area – his two sons, Joel and Abijah. 1 Samuel 8:3 says, But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. Samuel is not blamed in scripture for the failure of his adult children.

King David was anointed king of all Israel because he was “a man after God’s own heart.” The Lord loved David and blessed his leadership in many powerful ways, but his family was a mess. Due to the consequences of David’s sin with Bathsheba and cover-up with the murder of Uriah, his family was plagued with one problem after another. David’s firstborn son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar and as a result, his brother Absalom later killed him. This same Absalom was David’s third born son who committed a political coup and became king over his father for a brief time. One of David’s officials later killed Absalom in battle. David’s fourth son, Adonijah, attempted to interrupt the succession of the kingship from David to Solomon, and Solomon had Adonijah executed. Finally, King Solomon himself started out as a wise, godly king who ended up following after idolatry in his final years. As a result of his sin, God permanently divided the nation in two - Israel and Judah. And you thought that your family had issues!

King Hezekiah of Judah was perhaps the godliest king the nation had known since King David. Hezekiah had such a powerful prayer life that God spared Hezekiah from an early death (2 Kings 20:1-11) as well as spared the nation of Judah from the destructive forces of Assyria (2 Kings 18:17-19:36). After 29 years of godly leadership under Hezekiah, his son Manasseh became king. Manasseh was Judah’s most ungodly king. I wonder what happened?

So, what can we learn from these parental screw-ups?
  1. The failings of our children are not always our fault. Each and every one of us has a sin nature and a free will. I’m sure that we have all known incredibly godly parents who have watched in horror and devastation as their teenage or even adult children have rebelled against God. At this point, all we can do is love them to the best of our ability without accepting their sin and pray for them on a daily basis. Then, we must put our hope in God to work in their lives.
  2. When you are tempted to sin, remember David's one night stand. King David's family paid a very high price for his one night with Bathsheba. When the temptation comes, be sure to run in the opposite direction. Be like Joseph, not David.
  3. Our children are always watching us. You know the old saying that “actions speak louder than words.” It’s vitally important that our Christian walk lines up with our talk. We must live out our faith in front of our kids because they are looking to us as an example on how to live.
  4. Quality and quantity time with our children is extremely important. These four men had extremely demanding ministries. Their free time was most likely limited due to their various leadership responsibilities. I’m sure that they all desired their adult children to follow after God, but desire is not enough. You must work hard at it. You must spend a lot of time with them and love on them.
  5. We cannot rely on others to raise our kids. Just taking our children to church a couple of days a week and having them involved in other spiritual pursuits is great, but it’s not enough. We have to teach them our faith on a consistent basis while we are with them. Be on the lookout for teachable moments and insert Biblical truth into your conversations.
  6. Fathers must be engaged in the parenting process. Dads are supposed to be the spiritual leaders in the home. Unfortunately, due to the high demands on our time and energy in the workplace, we end up many times sacrificing our families on the altar of success. The price is a high one that will affect both parents and children for a lifetime. Sometimes, we need to make hard choices and sacrifice the good for God’s best.
  7. Intention is not enough. Having a goal of raising godly children is a noble one, but it’s not enough. Every day, you must be moving in the direction of that goal. Advanced thought, planning, and action are required.
I don't know where you are today in your level of parenting. Perhaps you are right at the beginning with a newborn baby, or maybe your children are already grown and gone. It’s never too late to make a fresh start. Be real with your kids. Admit your failures. Love them. Ask the Lord to help you on your journey.
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    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Discernment by nausea | God's will

    In my previous post, I mentioned that I recently heard a sermon preached by Pastor Adam Hamilton at The Church of the Resurrection. In his message, Adam also mentioned an interesting concept of following God's direction in ministry that their church affectionately refers to as "discernment by nausea."

    The concept of discernment by nausea is simply this:
    As Christians, we "play it safe" way too often. It's so much easier to take the less risky way in any situation, because God's way always seems like the more difficult, challenging choice. The very thought of taking this risk makes us sick in the pit of our stomach, but due to this "feeling," we are able to discern the correct course for our lives.
    Jesus addressed the difficulties in the journey of following Him in this manner:
    "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37-38, NIV).
    "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man" (Luke 6:22, NIV).
    Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man [the rich, young ruler] heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:21-26, NIV).
    Even though our Lord never promised an easy journey for His followers, He promised that His grace would be sufficient for us. He also promised eternal rewards for those who refused to play it safe and give everything to follow Him!
    But he said to me [the Apostle Paul], "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV).
    "And everyone who has left houses or bothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (Matthew 19:29-30, NIV).
    "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets" (Luke 6:23, NIV).
    So, do you feel sick to your stomach, today, regarding some decisions you need to make in order to follow Christ in a deeper way? He will walk with you on your journey, supplying you with the grace and strength you will need, and you can look forward to an awesome reward that awaits you in heaven!

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    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Growing in righteousness | The 6 levels of generosity

    I was recently blessed with the opportunity to visit another church while on vacation. For church staff members, I think it's a good thing to get out of the "bubble" of our own churches, just to get a fresh perspective on how other churches are doing ministry. I chose to visit the largest church in the Kansas City Metro area - The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

    Their senior pastor, Adam Hamilton, was preaching the final sermon, the story of Noah and the Ark, in a 3-part series entitled Children of Eden. In his sermon, Adam referenced an ancient Jewish, Old Testament teaching on growing in righteousness, also known as the Levels of Tzedakah. Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for charity.

    So, according to Hebrew, Talmudic teaching, there are at least 6 levels of charity or generosity:
    1. Giving begrudgingly.
    2. Giving less than you should, but cheerfully.
    3. Giving after being asked.
    4. Giving before you are asked.
    5. Giving when the other person knows you are giving.
    6. Giving when the other person doesn't know you are giving.
    As you can see, each level builds upon the next. The starting place is reluctant giving, then moves to cheerful giving, and the generous spirit grows from there.

    So, where do you find yourself on these six levels of generosity? Are you at level one, level six, or somewhere in between?

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    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Delay as an effective strategy to save money

    Over the last several weeks, I have been delaying or putting off certain purchases in order to save money for other needs. My delay of these purchases has really risen out of necessity more than as an experiment to save money, but I have found it to be very successful.

    Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines delay as:
    1. put off; postpone.
    2. to stop, detain, or hinder for a time.
    3. to cause to be slower or to occur more slowly than normal.
    Here are some ways I have utilized a delay strategy in order to save myself some budget cash:
    1. Grocery shopping. How many times have you gone to the grocery store at a set day and time each week because you have a chore schedule? I know that I do this with a fair amount of regularity, but what if you were to delay and offset this chore by going every 8, 10, or 14 days? I have found that by eating extra food stored in my pantry and fridge and delaying a trip to my local grocery store, I can stretch my grocery dollars over time. For example, let's say you go to the grocery store once a week and you spend an average of $100 each week. In a year, you will have made 52 trips at $100, equaling $5,200/year. Now, what if you were to offset that by just one day, and go every 8 days? Then, you will make only 45 trips at a cost of $4,500/year. That's an estimated savings of $700. I do realize that the net savings will tend to be lower than this because you will probably need to buy a few extra groceries each trip to cover extra days, but you will also save yourself time and gas money. For me, this is a win-win strategy.
    2. Gasoline purchases. I will admit upfront that you have a 50/50 shot at saving money on this purchase delay. With gas prices in flux as much as they have been in the last several years, you are taking a gamble on how much prices will change each day. I've seen regular fluctuations upwards of $0.10 to $0.15 overnight in the past. I've also been pleasantly surprised to find prices drop as well. Obviously, if you need gas, you can't wait for your tank to run completely dry, but you can keep half an eye and ear open to see how prices are trending in your area.
    3. Clothing purchases. Have you ever realized that about 80% of the time, you only wear about 20% of your wardrobe? Hey, what about all those other clothes in your dresser or closet? You may be pleasantly surprised at what clothes might be buried in your room. Do you really need to buy more clothing, or is it really just a "want."
    4. Big ticket items. Recently, I have had the "fever" to go out and buy an Apple iPad. As an information junkie, I can really see the benefits of this incredible piece of technology. Before the iPad, it was the Amazon Kindle that I really had a crush on. I have not only delayed these purchases to save some cash short-term, but I am also waiting for the technology to be refined as well as come down in price.
    Many times, we get ourselves into financial problems because we rush into bigger purchases, but our day-to-day needs outlays can also be a source of regular overspending. We can often save a few bucks if we will just wait a bit.

    Have you ever used the delay strategy on making purchases, and what were your results?

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    Monday, July 12, 2010

    Looking for financial success stories

    I'm breaking my blogging sabbatical today because in the course of my research this past week, I have discovered that I'm in need of some financial success stories.

    Specifically, I'm looking for stories that speak of individuals who didn't have a clue financially, but through the process of educating themselves, either through reading books and blogs, or participating in small group studies such as Crown Financial or Financial Peace University, they have achieved financial freedom.

    These stories might read something like:
    Hi, I'm Joe Blow. Five years ago, I was clueless about how to manage my personal finances. I was $50,000 in debt and going deeper each day. But one day, I woke up and said enough is enough. I started reading every personal finance book I could get my hands on, and in the process of implementing what I learned, I was able to pay off all my consumer debt, build a $15,000 emergency cash reserve, and give back to God like never before. I'm so thankful that through educating myself in personal finances and with God's help, I was able to become a better manager of the money God has blessed me with.
    If you have a really great financial success story that you would like to share, I'd love to hear it, and I'm sure the blog community would be encouraged by your story as well. You can leave a comment below or send me an email at larryjones[dot]biz[at]gmail[dot]com.

    I look forward to reading and sharing your stories. Thanks!

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Blogging sabbatical

    I wanted to let all my loyal fans of Rich Christian, Poor Christian know that I'll be taking a much needed break from blogging for the next 2 weeks. It's not so much that I need a break from the blog, but I do need to rest, recreate, and get some odd jobs done around the house. The first 6 months of 2010 have been extremely busy for me and now is the opportune time to take 2 full weeks to rest and relax before I gear up for another busy fall season.

    While I sign-off for this period of time, I do plan on doing some blog research and writing, minus the tight deadlines that 3 posts a week bring to my schedule.

    Look for my next post exactly 2 weeks from today on July 19. I look forward to resuming our conversation then.


    Friday, July 2, 2010

    Optimistic determination | Jackson and Crocker's automobile journey across America

    Have you ever embarked on a difficult journey, abounding with unknown challenges that you may not be able to overcome? And, in spite of these challenges, have you traveled on your quest with optimistic determination?

    On May 23, 1903, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson and his co-driver/mechanic Sewall Crocker set out from San Francisco, California, to drive by automobile all the way to New York City, a quest that had been attempted but never achieved.

    The obstacles on their trip: bad roads (in 1903, there were only 150 miles of paved roads, all within city limits), no good path through the mountains, no gas stations, towns that were far apart, a car that broke down frequently, and car parts had to be transported to them via stagecoach and railroad. Nipping on their heels were 2 other teams of cars trying to make the journey and beat Jackson and Crocker to New York.

    Here is the account of their trip as told by acclaimed film director Ken Burns in the PBS documentary Horatio's Drive:
    His car, which he christened the Vermont in honor of his home state, splashed through streams, got stuck in buffalo wallows, bounced over railroad trestles to cross major rivers, and frightened horses on the dusty trails. And as he moved eastward, his quest slowly became a national sensation, with huge crowds (tipped off by the telegraph of his approach) lining the streets of town as he whizzed through at 20 miles per hour. "It Startled the Natives," one headline proclaimed; another announced "A Real Live Auto." 
    This was America's first transcontinental road trip, and like all road trips that would follow it included the usual mix of breakdowns and flat tires, inedible meals and uncomfortable beds, getting lost and enduring bad weather — and having a truly unforgettable experience crossing the nation's vast landscape. Throughout it all, Jackson's indomitable spirit and sheer enthusiasm was as indispensable as the fuel for his car. 
    Partway through his improbable journey, Jackson learned that his spur-of-the-moment trip had turned into something of a race. First the Packard company, and then the Oldsmobile company dispatched their own autos from California in the hopes of passing him and gaining the publicity of being first across the nation. Sixty-three and a half days after leaving San Francisco, Jackson arrived triumphantly into New York City and claimed the honor for himself. 
    This cross-country journey by horseless carriage had been attempted a few other times in the first three years of the 1900s, but Jackson and Crocker were the first to accomplish the feat. Why? I believe they made it because Jackson had an incredible "never give up" attitude. In spite of all of the difficulties and all of the break downs, Jackson displayed optimistic determination. We can see his optimism in the letters he wrote to his wife on the journey. As you read the following samples, note that Jackson acknowledges all of the challenges and problems, but because he is so optimistic, he thinks that once they make it past a particular hurdle, all will be smooth sailing to New York City after they can get back on the road.
    Monday, June 1st.
    Well Old Girl,
    I am rather provoked over our delay... I have lost 5 1/2 days. This is a bad start for our first eleven days out. Just as soon as I can get decent tires we will make a record run. I feel more confident that I can make New York. Crocker is more interested than ever & is keeping the machine up in good shape.
    Hotel Burgoyne, Montpelier, Idaho. Wednesday
    Darling Swipes --
    Just a line to say that everything is alright with your wandering boy. I can’t write much, as we sleep, then work. We arrived here at 12 o’clock this noon with the running gear of one of the front wheels gone. We have it patched up & shall leave in the morning hoping that it will take us to Cheyenne. 
    When you hear that we have reached Rawlins, Wyoming, you will know that I can make the trip a go -- so bet all the money you have got on it.
    ... Well old girlie, I can’t say any more -- you know how I feel. I shall make up for lost time. 
    H. Nelson Jackson
    (Letter 17 from Horatio to Bertha, June 17, 1903)
    As you can see in his letters to his wife, every problem he is encountering with his 1903 Winton is just a slight setback. He's frustrated, but he has every confidence that they will indeed make it to New York in record time. He has no doubt. He is a visionary. He has optimistic determination.

    So how about you? Do you let every major or minor problem cause you to just throw in the towel, or do you have the same outlook on life as old Horatio? Be an overcomer through Christ.

    for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John  5:4-5).