Supreme Court Rules “Money is Speech”

 

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Recently, the Supreme Court struck down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle.  Court reporters and news commentators summarized the ruling by explaining that the court was, in effect, stating, “Money is speech.”

I cannot speak to the correctness of the Supreme Court’s ruling but I totally agree with the commentator’s summary, “Money is speech.”  In fact, few things tell more about us than the way we spend our money.  “Money is speech” affirms the old adage, “Money talks.”  I take it a bit further and say, “Money is a Blabbermouth.”  Money is a tattletale that often speaks more loudly and more accurately than our words.

Several years ago, a member of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. and a member of the Brookings Institute taught me how much we communicate through our spending.  He said, “We are always telling others how much money we make.  We communicate it with the neighborhoods where we reside, the homes we live in, the clothes we wear, the vacations we take, and the schools we send our children to.  And, then, we come to church and we go to great extremes to protect the confidentiality of how much we give.”  The Saturday Night Live skit would ask, “What’s up with that?”

Jesus would explain it this way, “Wherever your treasure is, there will be your heart also.”  Our money and our hearts are inseparably linked.  Like a litmus test, money reveals what is truly in our minds and in our hearts.  Spending money reveals our interests, our commitments, and even our loves.

Perhaps this is why Jesus spent so much of his ministry talking about our relationship with money.  Spending money is a physical act that reflects our spiritual values.  Do our cancelled checks reflect our espoused values?  Would a stranger know we are people of high spiritual value and commitment simply by reviewing our check register?  Our cancelled checks can be used as a personal assessment tool to reveal the congruity (or incongruity) between the spiritual values we espouse to hold with those we practice daily.  Sometimes, the checkbook tells us as much about ourselves as does the our Bible.  Does our talk match our walk?  Money may not speak louder than our words but it probably speaks more truthfully.

 

 

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Gold Treasure Discovered!

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I am fascinated with the recent news story of the couple in northern California that found a treasure of gold coins estimated to be worth over $10 million. The gold coins were in mint condition and had been buried in tin cans over 100 years ago.  The couple was awestruck to see the gold glinting through the rusting cans at the base of a tree on their rural property, a tree they had been walking by for years.

During my childhood I was fascinated with buried treasures, on land or in the sea.  As a small boy I would occasionally pry the “gemstones” from my mom’s costume jewelry, place them in a box and bury it somewhere pretending to have a buried treasure.

This story of the discovered golden treasure has reignited my fascination.  I’m wondering, “How would I react to find a stack of gold coins?”  “What would it feel like to find such a treasure?”  “Who would I tell (the IRS for sure) and what would I do with this discovered wealth?”  And then, of course, I ask the inevitable question, “Why couldn’t I find a treasure like this?”

Bringing my imagination back to reality, I remind myself that I do have a secret treasure.  I’ve never seen it, have no idea of its balance, but it has been accumulating through the years of my life.  Some day I will discover my own hidden treasure.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break through and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  (Matthew 6:19-20)

Apparently, God has create investment accounts for us.  Jesus encouraged us to make deposits in our heavenly account and to give it preferential attention over our earthly portfolio.  The Apostle Paul confirmed the concept when he commended the Philippians for their financial contributions to his ministry.  He said that their generosity would be credited to their accounts.  (Philippians 4:17)

We lay up treasures in heaven when we give generously to good and godly causes on earth.  I cannot imagine what significance or meaning these “accounts” might have in a heaven where grace abounds and no needs exist.  Who needs gold coins when the streets are gold?  Perhaps, Jesus and Paul were presenting an underlying (buried) message to help us understand that our generosity is noticed, our generosity is important, our generosity makes a difference, and our generosity affects eternity. If so, that will be good enough for me.

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The Silent Killer of Church Ministry

Boxer_000019777165_MediumThe boxer returned to his corner after the first round of his bout.  He slumped on his stool, looked up at his trainer and said, “Throw in the towel.  I’m finished.  He’s killing me.  He’s beating me to death out there!”  The trainer looked at his boxer in astonishment.  “What are you talking about?”  Your opponent hasn’t laid a glove on you!  Now, get back out there and fight like a man!”  As the fighter slowly rose from his stool and started into the ring for the second round, he looked back at his trainer and said, “Keep your eye on the referee.  Somebody out here is beating me to death!”

Many churches cannot launch or sustain important ministries for lack of funding.  A review of their balance sheet reveals why.  They have a line item that is silently draining off a high percentage of their operational budget.  That line item is debt service.  Debt can be restricting a church’s ministry with nearly no one’s notice.  God-inspired vision and missional opportunities come and go while the church is financially frozen.  Debt is killing them but no one sees it.

Rightly used, borrowed funds can enable churches to make giant strides in achieving and fulfilling their important missions.  However, if the debt service becomes too high a percentage of the church’s budget, then the debt becomes a limitation instead of a stimulant.  The red line may vary from one church to another but the rule of thumb is that it lies somewhere between 25% to 30% of the budget.

If you determine that a debt is quietly killing your church’s ministry, then it is time to launch an initiative to remove the debt, relieve the stagnation, and release your church into it unrestricted future.

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Don’s Story: I’m Glad My Church Needs Money!

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Sparking a Generosity Revolution

After guiding hundreds of fundraising programs in churches, I see that, nearly without exception, God will find someone to provide the “spark” that ignites a campaign’s success.  I should have realized it from a simple reading of Acts 4.  God used Barnabas’ sacrificial gift to ignite a contagion of giving in the impoverished early church.  The phenomenal result of that early church’s generosity was that “there was not a needy person among them.”  (Act 4:34).  Barnabas was the spark that ignited the flame of generosity in the hearts of others.

A wealthy gentleman in Atlanta offered a gift of $2.4 million to his church’s capital funds initiative.  Someone said, “How good it must feel to be able to give that much,” to which the contributor wisely replied, “I’m not the biggest giver.  There are many here who are giving much more than I.”  Of course, he was referring to those many families of much lesser means whose generosity would affect their lives more significantly than his large gift would affect his.  That comment was rumored throughout the congregation and God used it to teach that giving is not about wealth but willingness; not about the size of the gift but the heart of the giver.  It was the spark that opened the minds and hearts of the people and started a giving revolution in the church.

The four-year old daughter of a young couple in Richmond, VA was fighting what would be a losing battle with leukemia.  The young couple commented to friends that they realized they would never be free of the hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt they had incurred to prolong their child’s life.  The young couple, spiritually mature far beyond their years, said, “We continue to give to our church because our personal experience has taught us that our church, too,  is trying to save lives.” God used this struggling young couple to help the congregation understand that giving and living are inseparably linked.  Christian giving is essential to redeem, heal, restore, and save.

Through the years, I have seen the principle repeated over and over.   God ignites, moves, and transforms an intransigent congregation into a mighty force of generosity with the real life demonstration of inspired sacrifice.  I mentioned this principle to a friend who is an engineer with the aerospace industry.  He paused thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “Don, that just what happens to get our rockets into space.”  I was totally lost and said something intelligent like “Huh?”  He explained, “A rocket is loaded with tons of highly combustible fuel but it just sits there on its launching pad.  It will sit there motionless until one thing finally happens.”  “What’s that?” I asked.  He explained, “There is a small sparkplug deeply embedded in the heart of the system and all the power and potential of the rocket waits motionless until that sparkplug fires.  It is that small spark that unleashes the power that thrusts the rocket into space.”

All the pent up power and potential of a church’s resources so often remain motionless until someone responds to God’s mysterious touch and becomes the spark that ignites another great act of God.  Sometimes that spark comes from a highly visible leader or from a highly resourced person but, more often from an unnamed, unknown someone who recognizes the Spirit’s prompt, trusts the Lord who owns all, and responds with a simple act of trust.

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Increase Congregational Giving Overnight! (well, nearly)

 There is much talk today about changing a church’s culture of generosity.  A church’s culture is built up over years, embedded with heritage and history, and is not easily or quickly changed.  Identification, diagnosis, strategy, and focused implementation are essential stages required to effect real cultural change in any organization. However, I know from years of experience and observation that a church’s giving can be quickly and dramatically upgraded with no more than three very simple and easily implemented steps of action.  These first steps can be foundational for the long-term process that can lead you and your church to be as generous as you want to be.

 1.     TALK ABOUT GIVING

Some congregations only hear about giving/stewardship/generosity on a one-Sunday a year emphasis or when the budget if being presented.  This is a serious mistake on several levels.  Most significantly, it categorizes giving and excludes it from every day life.  This violates the teaching ministry of Jesus and the content of the New Testament.  Jesus talked more about money than he did about heaven, hell, and prayer combined.  A full one-third of his parables deal with wealth-related issues.

 Sensitive, caring, and intentional discussions about financial stewardship must become a consistent and normative part of the congregational conversation.  Failure to do so will be to:

  • Obviate a major portion of God’s Word.
  • Deprive the people of the opportunity for true spiritual growth and transformation.  Jesus asked, “If you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?”  (Luke 16:11)
  • Weaken the ministry.  A ministry that matters must be adequately funded.  The more the ministry, the more the funding required.

 The churches that are hurting most in today’s unusual economy are those who have, sometimes for very noble reasons, failed to talk about giving.

 2.    FOLLOW THE MONEY 

 As families need to know where their money comes from and where it goes, so does the church.  Church leaders must have awareness of their source(s) of revenue.  “What demographics define our revenue?”  “Who is supporting the ministry?”  “Who isn’t and why not?”  But beyond the leadership, the church at large must know where the money is going.

 Many contributors have little idea where their money goes once they donate through the offering plate or online giving.  It goes from their account to the church’s account and disappears as if into a black hole.  That can be fixed easily and quickly with two simple steps.

 First, “show and tell” them where their dollar is going.  Give them more than a pie chart; give them a name and face.  Instead of saying “We gave $10,000 to missions in India,” introduce them to the family whose life was changed.  Give them names, and faces, and personal stories.  They don’t have to be “tear-jerkers.”  They just have to be authentic.

 If the money goes to the children’s ministry then let the children demonstrate their ministry and make the appeal.  Whether the money is needed to fix the bus or pay the electricity bill, it must be linked to people.  If you can’t put a human face on it, then you might need to reconsider your cause.

 The second quick fix to eliminate that black hole of the disappearing dollar is to acknowledge and appreciate every gift.  Find creative ways to express the church’s appreciation for the support it receives.  Mail letters, send emails, tweet messages, use the website and the worship offering time to show the direct linkage between people’s contributions and the church’s ministry.  Demonstrate what their dollar does.

 Send an acknowledgement letter to a first-time giver.  Hey, they have just taken a first step in a vital Christian discipline.  Encourage them.  Tell them they are on the right track.  How about a cute thank-you card to a student or child who gives?  How encouraging would that be for a child just learning to be generous?  (Heaven knows they are getting plenty of messages encouraging them to be selfish, greedy, and covetous.)

 Show and tell people where their money is going, who and how it is helping, and thank them for making a difference in the world.

 3.    DEMONSTRATE GENEROSITY

 Giving, like most disciplines, is best learned by example.  The disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And Jesus prayed.

Nothing teaches better or most quickly than a true-life example.  I learned it many years ago.  Without going into the complicated details, I once found myself in a situation where I truly needed to announce publicly what I was giving to a special church offering.   This wasn’t for the purpose of boastfulness for I was only giving $25 although, at that time, that was significant me.  It was just an awkward occasion and my only recourse was to announce that I was giving a $25 check to the cause.  No big deal.  That Sunday afternoon I asked our church treasurer how much the congregation had contributed to the cause.  He mentioned that it was a good offering but then added, “There is something unusual about the offering.”  When I asked what he meant, he explained, “We got an unusually large number of $25 checks.”

 People want guidance in their giving and the best way to do that is with personal examples.  Not only do people need to see the personal examples of their peers learning to give, they must also have the corporate example of a generous church.  Is your church generous?  Do you give to those from whom you will never see a return?  (Luke 6:34)  Has your church ever promoted a one-time cash offering that would be given away to an important need for which it would receive no headlines, no credit, and no anticipated return?

 Jesus was generous with himself every day.  He gave away good every day of his ministry.  When the stricken woman touched the hem of his garment he felt the good go out of him.  (Mark 5:30)  Is our generosity that touchable?  Are we that available to those next to us?  Who are those straining to touch the hem of your garment?  Or, your church’s garment?  Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)

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I’m Glad My Church Needs Money!

“I wish we didn’t talk so much about money,” is a comment I have often heard while working with churches to raise funds for their important purposes.  I understand the sentiment but hold an opposing viewpoint.  In fact, I hope my church always needs money.  Here is why.

My son, Lance, was born before it became acceptable for the father to be present in the delivery room.  (A fact for which I have always been grateful!)  I waited in the hallway just outside the delivery room.  At precisely 4:13 p.m., I heard the unmistakable cry of a newborn baby, Lance’s first sound.  The nurse emerged with a smile and said, “You have a baby boy.”  Only a new father can know the wonder of those words!

The wonderful glow of fatherhood was soon dimmed, however, when I was asked to visit the business office of the hospital.  They wanted me to pay for Lance!  In fact, it seemed to me that my child might be held hostage until the hospital bill was settled.

I wrote the check paying all the expenses in full, freed my family, and we made our escape. That check turned out to be only the first of hundreds, maybe thousands, I would write on Lance’s behalf.  Children are expensive.  There was formula and food to buy.  Doctor visits and vaccinations assaulted my banking account.  Diapers and toys took their toll.  And clothes were a constant drain.  Just when he would get a good wardrobe, he would grow a smidgen and we would have to start all over.

As Lance’s age and size increased so did the expenses.  Soon it was baseball gloves, Nike shoes and uniforms.  Then he needed glasses for his eyes and braces for his teeth.  And then, disaster struck.   Lance became a teenager!  Now it was cars, electronic gadgets, and cool clothes.

Then came college.  Lance had always, and only, wanted to be an architect.  To me it seemed he would be in school until he was forty‑two years old.  Expenses soared!  Tuition, books, and drawing tools led the long list of essential expenditures.

But, of course, just like loving fathers everywhere, I was happy to be able to help him and I did all I could to support his growth and his dreams.  I never thought of these expenses as “sacrifice.”  I was his Daddy and was prepared to give everything possible toward his life and dreams.

And then, one day, Lance died.

On a bright, beautiful, and horrible Halloween Day, twenty-one-year-old Lance was buried in his church’s little country cemetery.  That afternoon I walked away from his grave and since that day I have never spent another nickel on Lance.

That is how I learned it. Death is cheap.  Death can be sustained without expense.  It is living that is costly.  It is growth that is expensive.  Our dreams, visions, and hopes require resources.  Death doesn’t!  And that is why I am glad my church needs money.  A living, growing, thriving church will always require the continual, consistent, and conscientious financial support of its members.  And that’s the church I want to belong to.

 

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The Miracle of the Muscle Shows How to Increase Giving

I’ve been recovering from tendon surgery in my arm.  Surgery and immobilization allowed the bicep muscle to atrophy.  The muscle became so flabby it quivered like jello.  Ugh.  Then came the therapy.  Once the flexibility was restored I began working on rebuilding the muscle.  I created resistance to the muscle by lifting a very light weight.  Once I could comfortably lift the lightest weight I began using a slightly heavier weight.  As I gradually increased the amount of weight I witnessed the miracle of the muscle.

An exercised muscle becomes weary and weak.  When the fatigued muscle is rested its energy is renewed but something else happens.  The muscle grows a bit stronger than it was before the exercise. Thus, if you want a muscle to grow larger you do it by repeatedly wearing it down, resting it, letting it rebuild, and then repeating the process.  If you can lift 100 pounds but want to lift 200, you start at your ability and incrementally add weight until you have achieved your goal.  It is the miracle of the muscle.

This miracle of the muscle works in the spiritual realm too.  The Apostle Paul complimented the Christians at Corinth for their effective ministries.  He told them that they excelled in many areas of Christian service but then he encouraged them to grow in their giving (2 Cor. 8:7).  Their generosity was atrophied.  They were neglecting their opportunities for the financial support of Christian ministry.  Paul encouraged them to grow in their generosity in order to become more complete as followers of Christ.

 How does one grow in the area of giving?  Mimic the miracle of the muscle.  Begin giving at a level at which you are comfortable but don’t plan to stay there.  Add more weight.  Find ways to incrementally increase your giving and build your generosity.  There is a miracle to be experienced.  As you give more, your joy in giving increases as well as your desire to give more.  The miracle of spiritual growth is at work.

Paul used an example to show the Corinthians how to do it.  He said, “Let me tell you about the Christians in Macedonia.  In their extremely dire circumstances and deep poverty, they gave even beyond their ability.”  (2 Cor. 8:2-3)  How does one give beyond ability?  I have seen it happen hundreds of times.  Individuals and families have grown from giving nothing, to giving something, to giving more, to giving more than they ever imagined possible.  They started the journey toward generosity and they experienced the miracle of the muscle.  Can’t explain it.  Just happens.  That’s why it’s a miracle.

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“Lifestyle Stewardship”

“Lifestyle Stewardship” is a term I have used for years to describe a level of giving that affects one’s living.  Always with us is the temptation to give in such a way that it makes little impact on how we live.  The challenge of Lifestyle Stewardship is to find ways to do just that–let our giving touch our living!

A successful Christian businessman commented, “My accountant tells me I have given all I can to the church this year.”  What he was saying, of course, was that additional gifts to the church would be too costly because there would be little or no tax benefit.  A close acquaintance of the businessman, humorously pointed out, “Come on, you’ve given the government’s money, now give some of your own!”

A wealthy Christian woman responded to her church’s request for financial help with the statement, “Here is my gift.  This won’t hurt me much!”  Her words indicated that she had sought, and found, a way to give that would make little difference in her life.

King David declared, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24) David understood that the value of the gift presented to God is determined by its value to the giver.  The greater the gift’s personal value to the giver, the greater its worth before the Heavenly Father.  The gift that would touch the heart of God must first touch the life of the giver!

This is the Spirit of Lifestyle Stewardship.  “If it is for my God, my gift must have meaning and value to me.”  Jesus said, “Many that were rich cast in much, but they did cast in out of their abundance.”  There it is!  Their gifts had a lessened value because they would never miss them.  It is not our gifts Jesus is focused on, is it?  It is our lives, our hearts, our values, and priorities.

Lifestyle Giving is a level of giving that affects me: my plans, my activities, my attitude and my approach to life.  Lifestyle Stewardship requires a measure of self-denial.  It means denying myself in one area so that I can give more of myself in another.  If I am to give more to God, I must take more from myself.  The difficulty for me lies, not in saying “yes” to God, but in saying “no” to myself. It is not the giving that discomforts me; it is the giving up!

 

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How To Take Your Fundraising Effort To The Moon

One of the several reasons that the USA beat the Soviet Union to the moon was the American decision to use multi-stage rockets.  To reach the moon using only one rocket would require too large an engine, too much fuel, and too much weight.  American scientist determined that the most efficient and effective approach would be to use a three-stage rocket.  The first stage would use five engines for lift off and, upon reaching the desired altitude, the first stage equipment would fall away.  The second stage rocket, now lightened, would thrust the payload even higher into space.  Finally, the second stage would burn out, fall away, and the third stage would take the astronauts to the moon.

Successful fundraising efforts typically employ a similar three-stage rocket. The first stage consists of the organization’s leadership.  For a church, that would be pastors, staff, and campaign leaders.  For other organizations, it would be officers and board members.  These are the people who must “ignite” first.  They must overcome inertia, generate momentum, and get the campaign off the ground.

The second stage is typically about 20%-30% of the organization’s membership.  These are people who have demonstrated their commitment and loyalty to the organization with their past performance and support.  These are willing participants who will become involved in the campaign organizational structure and will contribute financially to achieve the campaign goal.

The third stage of the rocket represents the remainder of the organization’s constituency.  Many in this third stage will be eager to participate.  Some will need to be won over to the campaign with the campaign message and meaning.  And, of course, there will always be some who will choose not to participate.

Ideally, this is how it works. Stage one, the campaign leaders, get the campaign off the ground and take it as high as they can with their own effort and financial commitments.  Then, the second stage leaders “ignite” and they add to the altitude achieved by stage one.  The stage two leaders take the campaign to the highest level of which they are capable.

Now, it is time for the people, stage three, to participate.  The leaders have put the people in a position where they can achieve success.  This is what leadership is all about, putting people in a position where they can succeed. The altitude that has already been attained is a great encouragement to the people.  They can see the goal that had seemed so far away is now in sight.  Even those who were doubtful in the beginning now know that the goal is achievable.  They can win.  With their participation they can take their campaign over the top.  Or, better yet, they can take your campaign to the moon!

 

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