A Biblical Approach

When I read and study my Bible related to giving I find instruction related to tithes and free-will offerings.  A tithe is the giving of a “tenth” of what God entrusts to you.  I’ve written and preached about tithing on multiple occasions.  I believe that Christian giving is first and foremost a voluntary thing but every year I challenge and encourage every member of the church to make a commitment to tithe or give over and above the tithe.  I do this, not because I believe that we as New Testament Christians are obligated to tithe but because I believe that the tithe represents an eternal principle, that the tithe demonstrates that God has first place in your life, that the tithe is an antidote to greed, that the tithe keeps your giving proportional, that the tithe produces good works and that the tithe proves and strengthens our faith.  Resource: “30 Days to a More Generous Life” Part 3

 

In addition to the giving of the tithe we read often in the Scriptures about “free-will” offerings.  A free-will offering is a gift given at the impulse of the giver (Exodus 35:21-29; 36:3-7; Leviticus 7:16).  The distinctive mark of the free will offering was the “stirred hearts” and “willing spirits” of the givers. The tabernacle, for example, was constructed using materials given as free will offerings (Exodus 35:29).  In this example, the people’s desire to give was so great that Moses was compelled to ask that no more gifts be given (Exodus 36:3-7).

 

My prayer is that our church family will recognize the needs created by our growing ministry and be stirred to give generously in a free-will offering on the weekend of April 20/21.  This offering will be in addition to or over and above our regular giving (tithes).  I believe this is a biblical approach and one that I am fully committed to.  In fact, as Sandy and I looked at 2013 we recognized several financial needs and made a commitment to make this the year of “extreme savings” for us.  What does that mean?  It means that we are approaching our budget from a different perspective.  We have had a budget (spending plan) in place for sometime.  It includes a commitment to give over and above a tithe to the church, covering all of our living expenses, saving money for the future, etc.  But our budget has always been more of a guideline than anything else.  During our “year of extreme savings” we are operating with more of a “zero-sum budget” which means every dollar is spoken for.  By doing this we will be able to save even more money to meet the financial needs of the year including our special one-time “God at Work” offering.  This also means that we will say “no” to many of our normal spending urges.  It may sound like a year of “extreme living” but it’s not, it’s just a year of “extreme savings.”

 

Here’s my question for you: “What can you do between now and April 20/21, to prepare for this special one-time free will offering?  There’s no denying that God has created the need for more parking (our attendance is larger than it’s ever been before…this past years Christmas service brought over 6600 people to our campus and we’ve had well over 3,000 in attendance in the first two weeks of this New Year), our growing service to the community in the area of food and clothing has created the need for a larger distribution center, our desire to offer a focused discipleship ministry has created the need for more classroom space and a sprawling campus has created the need for a new maintenance building.  Any one of these things on its own is a worthy cause but together they should stir our hearts and create a willing spirit of generosity.  We need your help and support to underwrite the cost of meeting these needs.  Pray about what you can do, make it a matter of discussion among your entire family.  What can you give up, what can you sacrifice, what can you change in your daily, weekly and monthly spending habits to free up money for this offering.  It’s a one-time opportunity for faith and faithfulness that will result in eternal rewards.

 

Jesus cares,

 

Pastor Chris

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Resolve to be Financially Fit in 2013

I 1397030_HiResknow a lot of people make New Years resolutions every year.  I also know that by now (January 3rd) many of those resolutions have already been broken.  But if there’s one resolution that is an absolute must is the resolution to be financially fit in 2013.  But the million-dollar question is, “How?”  Here are a few suggestions (we’ll start off slow and easy):

  1. Determine where you are.  Very few people ever take the time to assess the reality of their financial condition.  This is a huge mistake.  Proverbs 13:16 says, Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly.  (NIV)  Until you know how much is coming in and how much is going out (and where it’s going) you can’t take the necessary steps to become financially fit.
  2. Develop a spending plan (budget).  Many people have a negative reaction to the idea of a budget, uh I mean “spending plan,” but a spending plan simply tells your money where it’s going to go instead of wondering where it went.  Proverbs 21:5 says, The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.  (NIV)  NOTE: If you’re new to budgeting, uh I mean “spending plans” then my suggestion is you spend the first three months of 2013 keeping a record of every single cent you spend…every cent.  Nothing will give you a financial wake up call faster than reviewing this information.  Then, based on that information (after you get over your shock), create a budget you can live with.
  3. Find a way(s) to trim your expenses.  Proverbs 21:20 says, In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.  (NIV)  Many people say that it’s impossible for them to save money because they have no money left over after their expenses.  This is rarely the case.  Do simple things to save like pay your bills on time to avoid late payments, balance your check book regularly ad only use in-network ATM’s to avoid overdrafts and unnecessary banking fees, raise the deductibles on your insurance policies.  Another suggestion would be to eliminate expenses like dry cleaning or cable or you fill in the bank.
  4. Eliminate debt.  Proverbs 22:7 says, The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.  (NIV) Make a list of all your debts and corresponding interest rates.  Make the minimum payment on all your debts except the one with the highest interest rate. Pay as much as possible each month until the debt is paid and then move to the next highest rate account and so on.  Oh yeah, and STOP USING CREDIT.
  5. Start an emergency fund.  Remember Proverbs 21:20?  Read it again (see number 3).  Everyone needs an emergency fund to handle…wait for it…emergencies.  About two weeks before Christmas, this past year, Sandy and I found out we needed a new furnace.  We already knew that our air conditioner was on its last leg but didn’t expect this news with the furnace.  By installing both at the same time we saved 20%.  This was a 6,000 expense we didn’t expect but it was one we planned for with an emergency fund.  If you have no money saved in an emergency fund even the smallest of expenses can set you back on your path to financial fitness.  My advice is to determine an amount you can afford to set aside weekly or monthly and then make it automatic.  NOTE: Check out The Solomon Foundation Demand Account (www.thesolomonfoundation.org).
  6. Think long-term.  Begin to think and plan for a future that will include replacing cars, paying for college, taking a vacation, buying a home, retirement, etc.  You may not have a lot of money to save today but it doesn’t take a lot if you start early enough and use the miracle of compounding interest to your favor.  Proverbs 13:11 says, Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers little by little makes it grow.  (NIV)
  7. Give.  When it comes to financial fitness, nothing will be more important than giving back to God.  From the world’s perspective it makes no sense to think that you can get ahead by giving away.  But God’s ways are different.  Proverbs 3:9-10 says, Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine.  (NIV)  When we make giving back to God a priority we open the door for God’s blessing in our lives however it may come.  In God’s kingdom, when we give we end up receiving far more than when we keep.  I can’t always explain how it happens but this is a God-thing.

I know that sticking to New Years resolutions can be a difficult thing to do.  But making the effort to become financially fit in 2013 will pay of big-time down the road.  Make the commitment today and enjoy the benefit tomorrow and for years to come.

Jesus cares,

Pastor Chris

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A New Investment Strategy

GodAtWork2-01On the weekend of April 20th and 21st we will be collecting a very special one-time offering for our new “God at Work” expansion plan that’s taking place here at Mount Pleasant Christian Church.  As I write this blog we have already added 185 new parking spaces and various levels of site work have been completed for a new two-story adult education wing, a Community Ministry Center to house our food pantry and clothing ministry (Living BreadIn His Name) and a new Maintenance Building that doesn’t sound very exciting but is desperately needed.

I thought and prayed long and hard about this one-time offering.  In the past our normal approach to a project like this would have been some kind of capital campaign.  Those of you who have been around a while know what a capital campaign is (For Such A Time – The Dream Continues).  But this time I wanted to do something different.  This time I genuinely believe that a commitment to weekly generosity and a one-time offering will do the trick.  That doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be a need for sacrifice.  Sacrificial giving is a part of every growing church.  The only real question is, “Will you be willing to make the sacrifice?”

In Randy Alcorn’s book, The Law of Rewards he talks about how Jesus, in the greatest message he ever preached, addresses he subject of a Christian’s proper relationship to money and possessions (Matthew 6:19-24).  The strongest part of the teaching comes when Jesus tells us to make sure we don’t waste our time storing up treasure on earth but instead focus on storing up treasure in heaven.  Then Jesus says in verse 20, For where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.  (NIV)  You can’t read that passage without being confronted with the question, “Where is your treasure?”

I strongly encourage you to demonstrate that your treasure is in heaven by beginning to pray and plan for this special “God at Work” offering that’s coming in April.  What would you be willing to sacrifice to help make sure that this ministry continues to have the opportunity to feed and clothe needy people, to open the doors to a deeper level of discipleship and involvement and help us deal more effectively with the day-to-day operational needs of the church?  What purchase or trip or worldly investment is more important than the eternal benefit of supporting this offering?  In another section of Alcorn’s book he writes, “Christ’s primary argument against amassing material wealth isn’t that it’s morally wrong, but simply a poor investment.

How about beginning 2013 with a new investment strategy…one that demonstrates that your heart is completely sold out to eternal things?

Jesus cares,

Pastor Chris

Follow us on Twitter @goodsteward

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End of the Year Generosity

Did you know that in America, 25% of all charitable donations come in the last 40 days of the year?  With that in mind, I wanted to take a minute to let you know what donations are actually Tax deductible.  So here is a list based on the kinds of questions we receive every year.

Cash gifts are often not tax-deductible. Cash gifts are only tax-deductible if they have been put in an envelope with your name on it so the gift can be properly receipted by the charity or church.

Checks dated December 31st are not tax-deductible if given on January 1st or later.  If Sunday falls on January 1st, 2013 or later, checks dated December 31, 2012 but put in an offering plate or mailed in after the first of the year are not legally tax-deductible for the 2012 calendar year.  But any donations made to a church or charity online on their website on December 31st, 2012 are tax deductible for the 2012 calendar year.

Volunteer hours are not tax-deductible.  No matter how much time or service a person donates to their favorite charity or their church, their time is not tax-deductible as a donation.  But if you document miles driven in service of charitable organizations you can deduct your mileage (check IRS publications for latest mileage rates).

Products purchased from charities are not 100% tax-deductible.

Many charities and churches sell books, magazines, CD’s, etc.  One cannot deduct the full amount paid to a charity or church for products.  If the charity or church charges $10 for a box of candy that normally sells for $8, only $2 can be claimed as a charitable donation.  Some charities and churches will accept donations for products, but will issue you a receipt you can use that displays the value of the product and how much can be claimed as a donation.

Any money given to individuals is not tax-deductible.  While it’s a good thing to help a family in need or religious workers, no cash or checks made out to individuals are tax-deductible.  Only gifts that are given directly to an IRS registered organization and their official programs are tax-deductible.  Also, you can give money to a church’s benevolence ministries to help people in need, but you cannot mandate who they give it to and expect a tax-deductible receipt from the church.

Gifts-in-kind are not tax-deductible without a form or letter from the charity that they received the items.  Also be aware that charities are not allowed to issue a donation receipt for any stated “value” of gifts-in-kind.  For example, if you donate furniture to a homeless shelter, you cannot ask them for a receipt saying the furniture is worth $500.  They can only give you a form or letter saying they received the item(s).  It is the donor’s responsibility to document how they arrived at the value of the donation for the gifts-in-kind they gave.  When donating items to Goodwill and Salvation Army, make sure you get one of their donation acknowledgement forms so you can calculate the value of what you donated.

I hope this information is helpful to you as you consider any year-end gifts to charitable organizations or the church.  I thank God continually for the generosity of the people of MPCC.

Jesus cares,

Pastor Chris

Source: Brian Kluth (www.maximumgenerosity.org)

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The Solomon Foundation

I want to take a minute to tell you about my personal involvement and our church’s partnership with a new ministry called The Solomon Foundation (TSF).  The Solomon Foundation is based in Englewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.  In December 2010, I was invited to join some other leaders of Independent Christian Church mega-churches for a meeting to talk about the beginning of a new church extension fund.  From that time on, God opened doors for my involvement on the Board of Directors of this new extension fund, as well as our church’s involvement as a strategic partner.

Check out the website for The Solomon Foundation: www.thesolomonfoundation.org

The Solomon Foundation exists to provide financing for churches to help them grow to the next level in their ministry, thanks to the many individuals and churches that invest in one or more of TSF’s savings and investment plans.

What do you need to know about The Solomon Foundation?

-       TSF began with and will always have the oversight and accountability of two of the most dynamic churches in our “brotherhood” of churches (Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, TX, and Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, AZ).

-       TSF is committed to core values that are simple, biblical, and inspirational: (1) Honor God, (2) Help people come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, (3) Help investors get a great return on their investments, (4) Help churches get to the next level in their ministry, and (5) Have fun!

-       TSF has a board that consists of some of the most trusted and respected Christian leaders in America.  The board is a unique blend of some of the top pastors in America, along with other gifted leaders with ministry, finance, and business experience.  Check out these board members at www.thesolomonfoundation.org/board-of-directors.htm

-       TSF is committed to providing financing to churches to help them grow and move to the next level in their ministry.  TSF will only make loans to churches and will not make loans to any church that has not submitted a written plan for paying off the loan as expeditiously as possible.

-       TSF offers savings and investment rates that are beyond competitive with other financial organizations.  TSF is actually an industry leader.  Check out the current rates at www.thesolomonfoundation.org/rates.htm

-       TSF has a vision to partner with Christ in building the kingdom of God by helping churches get financing to purchase land and build facilities so that more people can come to know Jesus Christ.

I want you to know that I consider it a great privilege to be a member of the Board of Directors of The Solomon Foundation.  And I’m thankful that our church is a strategic partner of a ministry committed to excellent interest and eternal impact.

Jesus cares,

Pastor Chris

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Rule One

Sometimes the best financial advice is the most simple.  That’s certainly the case when it comes to the single most important principle for good money management – spend less than you earn.  Every good thing you want to experience when it comes to your finances – getting out of debt, creating wealth, being generous – can be traced back to this one simple rule: spend less than you earn.  If you do everything else wrong, but do this one thing right, you can experience financial freedom.  In contrast to that, if you do everything else right, but get this one thing wrong, your finances will be a disaster.

Spending less than you earn is the only way to stay out of debt and the only way to build any lasting wealth.  It doesn’t matter if you make $10,000 a year or you win $10 million from the Hoosier Lottery, if you can’t discipline yourself to spend less than you earn, you will always be in a hole.  And it doesn’t matter how much money you make.  Everyone likes to think that if they only made more money, all of their financial problems would go away.  Not if you don’t spend less than you earn.

So how do you do it?  What’s the secret of spending less than you earn?  I can think of three things.

First, take the time to develop a spending plan (budget).  A spending plan (budget) is the best way to tell your money where you want it to go instead of wondering where it went.  Studies show that people who do not live by a spending plan (budget) consistently spend more money than those who do.  Proverbs 21:20 says, In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has  (NIV).

Second, eliminate the temptation to spend.  Do whatever you have to do.  Cut up credit cards, stay away from the mall, put away your computer, whatever you have to do.  Romans 13:14 says, Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (NIV). Do whatever it takes.

Third, learn to be content.  I Timothy 6:6 says, But godliness with contentment is great gain (NIV). What would happen if we spent as much time pursuing godliness as we do pursuing “things?”

One of the fundamental rules of life that I always try to remember is, “don’t make it harder than it has to be.”  This certainly applies to your finances.  Spend less than you earn.  Spend less than you earn.  Spend less than you earn.  Spend less than you earn.

Jesus cares,

Pastor Chris

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Materialism

This past weekend we talked about the divine cycle associated with sowing and reaping.  We give (sow) and God gives back to us (reaping) so that we can give even more (sow again).  That’s God’s expectation, according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11.  The problem is, our natural inclination is the more we receive (reap), the more we consume for ourselves.  One of the ways we can avoid our natural inclination and live up to God’s expectation is to do all we can to avoid materialism.  Let me give you four reasons from the Book of Ecclesiastes why materialism is a dangerous thing.

1. Materialism causes you to think that you never have enough. Ecclesiastes 5:10a says, Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income (NIV, 1984). We all know intellectually that money can’t buy happiness, but many of us think that we could be the one exception to that rule. We think that money might not buy happiness for everyone else, but it could buy happiness for me.

Here’s one of the most common and most dangerous lies that we believe. “If I had just a little bit more, I’d be happy…just a little bit more.” Orange County in Southern California is one of the most affluent counties in America.  Yet a few years ago, when the residents were surveyed with the question, “What do you need most?” the number one answer was, “I need more money.” If we were to ask this question in our community, the answer would likely be the same. Yet when we compare our standard of living with the rest of the world, we find that we have comforts and luxuries most people only dream of. Materialism makes you think you need more, no matter how much you already have.

2. Materialism causes you to make bad decisions. Ecclesiastes 5:13-14 says, There is another serious problem I have seen in the world. Riches are sometimes hoarded to the harm of the saver, or they are put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost (NLT).

Anyone who has invested money has lost money at some point in time. It’s part of the process. If we’re honest, however, we would have to admit that oftentimes those shaky investments were motivated by greed. Have you ever noticed that con men don’t promise you a 12% return on your money? They always offer 300% in the next 90 days — or something like that. That’s how they get takers. And that’s why someone came up with the saying, “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

Greed doesn’t just cause you to make bad investment decisions. It causes you to make spending bad decisions, too. It causes you to want things you shouldn’t have. 1 Timothy 6:9 says, But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction (NLT).

3. Materialism causes you to think primarily of yourself. Greed in its ugliest form causes us to think only of ourselves, with no thought at all to those around us in need. Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 says, Don’t be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land! … Even the king milks the land for his own profit! (NLT)

These words are a sharp contrast to the words of the Apostle John in I John 3:17. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion — how can God’s love be in that person? (NLT)

4. Materialism causes a lot of pain. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, The rich are always worrying and seldom get a good night’s sleep. Why are the rich always worrying? Because too often we’re leveraged to the hilt. It’s a simple fact that the more money you make, the more likely you are to live a little beyond your means. Even living at the extent of your means is stressfulespecially when it comes to putting yourself in debt.

This is why Paul wrote in I Timothy 6:10, … And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (NLT).

One of the main ways materialism causes pain is that it leads people into debt. For most people, debt is an annoying inconvenience. But for others (maybe you), debt has turned their lives into a nightmare, and almost every dollar they earn today is already spoken for, because of unwise purchases from the past. I’m not writing this to make you to feel guilty; I’m writing this because I want to be clear about the danger of debt.

We overcome materialism when we learn to be content.  We learn to be content by making the choice to be content, by being willing to embrace a simple lifestyle, and by being willing to give.  Nothing breaks the power of money (materialism) in our lives faster than giving it away.

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