What inspires generosity? Only one thing…

medium_11975144065

The apostles, following their baptism in the Holy Spirit, went about proclaiming Christ in Jerusalem, and every day more were added to the church. God the Holy Spirit was bringing men, women, and children to faith in Jesus, regardless of social class. Those who saw what was happening were left in awe at miracles that were taking place. But there was something else—genuine community began to form. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” Luke wrote (Acts 2:42-43).

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47; see also Acts 4:32-37).

So strong was the bond between these believers that they had a great desire to meet one another’s needs. Nothing was off-limits. Homes and lives were open. People were giving away what they had, exchanging their earthly treasures for treasure in heaven. It’s amazing to consider, possibly because the whole concept is so foreign to those of us living in the western world.

What’s going on in this picture of the early church? Was it some form of proto-communist experiment? There is no record of anyone suggesting, much less commanding them to do this. Despite what some proponents of poverty theology might suggest, personal property was not seen as wicked or sinful in the early church. Indeed, even during this time, many believers continued to own homes where they would meet (see v. 46)—in fact, Acts 5:4 indicates that the believers were under no obligation to relieve themselves of all their earthly possessions.

So, why this outpouring of generosity? It was motivated by the grace of God. It was a spontaneous response to God’s lavish generosity toward them in not holding back the most precious treasure of all— free and unmerited salvation through the Son. No command or guilt trip can inspire the openhanded lifestyle.

Awaiting a Savior, p. 84-85


photo credit: Zoriah via photopin cc

Three tips for choosing a charity

medium_11975144065

How do I choose a charity to give to? 

This seems like it should be a no brainer in some ways. After all, the Scriptures show us that in the heart of every true believer is a deep desire to be generous to others with their time, talents, and treasures. Maybe not all in the same ways or all the same causes, but if we’ve seen the richness of Christ, we will not be people who withhold from those in need.

Which takes us back to the question: How do you choose what charity to give to? In Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty, I shared three factors to consider:

Do they share the gospel?

First and foremost, give to organizations that demonstrate Christ’s love, not only in practical ways but also by explicitly sharing the gospel with those they serve. “Deed ministry” and “Word ministry” cannot be divorced. It is not enough to give a child clean drinking water; that child also needs “living water.” (cf. Jer. 2:13, 17:13; John 4:10; Rev. 7:17)

Are they trustworthy?

Equally important is an organization’s ability to prove its trustworthiness. How do they handle money? Can they prove that what they say they do actually happens? This is ultimately a wisdom issue.

Do you align with their values?

Finally, consider whether or not their goals and methods resonate with your values. If what you really care about is giving people clean water (along with the gospel), then do it. If you care about seeing a little boy or girl go to school, do it. If your heart is for training pastors in the developing world, do it. Get involved in whatever cause you find motivating.


photo credit: Zoriah via photopin cc

Links I like

The 5 Gossips You Will Meet

Tim Challies:

Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows that when the book of Proverbs uses the word “gossip,” it does so in the noun form, not the verb form. In other words, the Bible is concerned less with the words that are spoken and more with the heart and mouth that generate such destruction. Words matter, but they are simply the overflow of the heart. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Here, drawn from Mitchell’s book, is a gallery of gossips, five different gossiping people you will meet in life.

Pastors, how do we respond to brothers in error?

Denny Burk:

So here’s the question we have to ask and answer anytime we are refuting error. What are our motives in the confrontation? Are we just being pugnacious? Or is there a more biblically formed motive for the controversy? If all we’re trying to do is put red meat before the congregation or drive up blog stats, that’s not really a good motive. That’s the sign of a person who’s self-promoting through public pugnacity. Everyone can smell that rot from a mile away, and it’s not very becoming of a man of God (Rom. 12:18).

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Get The Prince’s Poison Cup in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul (hardcover) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Don Carson on The Hole in our Gospel

…some studies have shown that Christians spend about five times more mission dollars on issues related to poverty than they do on evangelism and church planting. At one time, “holistic ministry” was an expression intended to move Christians beyond proclamation to include deeds of mercy. Increasingly, however, “holistic ministry” refers to deeds of mercy without any proclamation of the gospel—and that is not holistic. It is not even halfistic, since the deeds of mercy are not the gospel: they are entailments of the gospel. Although I know many Christians who happily combine fidelity to the gospel, evangelism, church planting, and energetic service to the needy, and although I know some who call themselves Christians who formally espouse the gospel but who live out few of its entailments, I also know Christians who, in the name of a “holistic” gospel, focus all their energy on presence, wells in the Sahel, fighting disease, and distributing food to the poor, but who never, or only very rarely, articulate the gospel, preach the gospel, announce the gospel, to anyone. Judging by the distribution of American mission dollars, the biggest hole in our gospel is the gospel itself.

The Real Heroes of Social Justice

I’ve been home now for a little over a day and have been thinking about how to wrap up my thoughts on this trip. There’s so much that I could write about. More experiences with children and families, why writing letters actually does make a difference… But the thing I keep coming back to is social justice.

Social justice is a weird animal.

Why? Because there is always a question of “who is the hero?”

Photo by Yuri Fortin, Compassion Honduras

There are a number of answers one could give; more often than not, though, the answer will be (overtly or covertly) a way of saying, “We are!”

It’s a real challenge for every organization.

Who is the hero of social justice organizations? The program? The supporters? The fundraising model?

You?

Want to know something that’s really, really freeing?

NGOs are not the heroes in the lives of kids like these. Neither are the programs, the supporters or the funding model.

So, who is then? [Read more...]

Being a Small Part of God’s Plan

Friday was the day that we got to visit with our sponsored children.

For a lot of people on the trip, there was a great deal of anxiety. Meeting your child is a big deal. So few children and sponsors ever get to meet, so I can understand why it means so much.

I met Jocsan almost four years ago, when I first came to Honduras. He was shy, a little withdrawn, but a really sweet kid. After we parted ways last time, I’d hoped I’d get to see him again someday.

Friday was that day.

This time, though, it wasn’t just Jocsan; it was his sister, Loren, too.

Loren is nine years old and she was very shy. She was quiet almost the entire time that we were together. Not that I blame her; the experience is incredibly overwhelming.

“Here’s the Canadian who sponsors you! Be excited! And… Go!”

That’s not what happens.

photo by Yuri Fortin, Compassion Honduras

Armin (my interpreter) and I met the two kids and their mom at the Wonderland water park in San Pedro Sula. They’d travelled all the way from Tegucigalpa, roughly a 4.5 hour drive (with a lot of winding roads). They got permission from their school to take Thursday and Friday off for this, but their mom, Bessie, said that even if they hadn’t, they still would have come. [Read more...]

Thinking Beyond Today

Did you know that if you ask the average child in this area what he wants to be when he grows up, he won’t be able to answer?

It’s true.

During Tuesday’s visit to a church in the Copan Ruins, the project workers shared with us that most of the kids have never really given it any thought.

They’re too busy just trying to get through the day to think about what the future might hold.

That’s why it was really encouraging for us to see “My Plan for Tomorrow,” a resource in Compassion’s curriculum designed to help children ages 12 and up to figure out what direction they want to go with their lives.

[Read more...]

Tiny Smiles and Big Hearts

On Monday we had our first “official” visit to a Compassion partner church, The Ark of Salvation in San Pedro Sula. The children meet in the church while they’re building a new classroom facility.

This is one of the little faces that greeted us today. This girl, and all the children her age, were making puppets.
[Read more...]

Private, Precious Moments

Sunday, we began the first “official” day of our tour with Compassion. Today, we spent the bulk of the day at the Jehovah Jireh Church, one of Compassion’s partners in the country.

During the Sunday service, the pastor shared a short message, encouraging us to continue to be a blessing (Ayax translated for us).

Shortly before we’d arrived at the church that morning, Ayax told us that of the 41,000 children supported by Compassion in Honduras, at best, 180 receive a visit from their sponsor in a year—that’s such a small group of kids! But for those kids, it’s when, for the sponsor and for the child, the relationship really becomes “real.” There’s actually a flesh and blood person writing and receiving letters.

It’s a very special time, Ayax said. I had no idea just how special that moment would be for one of my team members.
[Read more...]

Selling Ointments and Stealing from Moneybags

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there.

Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:1-8

This passage has been rattling around in my head since it was preached through this past Sunday at our church. I just can’t shake these words:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

John doesn’t mince words, does he?

Judas Iscariot puts on a holy front basically so that he can steal money.

He is a thief, using piety to support his own agenda.

I wonder if there isn’t something we should be paying closer attention to here?

Years ago, I heard a sermon by a certain pastor from Michigan. He spoke about poverty. How if resources were distributed equitably, there would be no more need in the world.

How if America spent a tiny percent of the money it was spending on the war in Iraq to alleviate suffering, extreme poverty could be completely eliminated.

$74 billion dollars is what it would take, according to some sources.

And this is true.

If the problem were simply a matter of resource distribution and money. If it were even a matter of changing our priorities.

Unfortunately, it’s not. [Read more...]

They have Jesus. And He is everything.

If you haven’t been following the latest Compassion Bloggers tour, you really should. Molly Piper, Heather Whitaker and Kelly Stamps are sharing their first-hand experiences visiting with Compassion-assisted families and it’s alternately heartbreaking and awe-inspiring.

Molly shares the story of Maricella:

maricella

Maricella. Mother of Blanca (picture #1). This is her in her home. She welcomed us there, even though she was nervous. Jesus came and met us there, though. She told us of her history of gang membership and the tattoo on her forehead because of it. And she now can’t find work because she won’t be trusted. Even though in Christ, she is a new creation…. My heart broke for her.

My first day of interacting with people on the receiving end of Compassion has been nothing short of amazing—their stories, their homes, their openness to our presence, their excitement for Compassion and the effects it’s had on their families. My heart is somehow broken and full at the same time. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. [Read more...]

The Difference is Jesus

For those who may not know, I sponsor two children through and work for Compassion International. Compassion connects you and your church to the church in the developing world to bring the eternal solution to poverty to children, families and communities: The gospel of Jesus Christ.

And I am exceedingly pleased to announce the launch of The Difference is Jesus.com.

There are many organizations that do a wonderful job serving as Christ’s hands and feet around the world, doing what they can to make a difference in the lives of children. Education, water projects, mosquito nets, AIDS intervention, food… I praise God for all the organizations that are caring for the poor. And as a sponsor with Compassion, I know that these initiatives are incredibly valuable (because we do them, too).

But our passion goes beyond these.

As important as these things are, I don’t sponsor with Compassion because I’m passionate about water. I don’t work there because I’m passionate about food distribution.

I’m passionate about the gospel.

And that’s what Compassion is passionate about, too.

Children and parents hear the gospel from volunteers from their own communities—their own neighbors. The gospel is proclaimed in word, and it is lived out in deed, as the church ministers to its community. Thousands of children who are served by the Compassion’s church partners find hope for a better future every day. One with opportunities instead of despair. And every year, thousands of children find hope in the salvation offered only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because the reality is that poverty won’t end because of education or food distribution. It takes more than any human effort can to forever end poverty.

Jesus is the one who will bring an end to poverty.

We created The Difference is Jesus.com because we want you to know about our passion—and, honestly, it’s one I hope you share.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Kiva, Coffee, and Bono

Willow-Creek

jessicaflannery_2_smallJessica Jackley, Kiva

The micro-lending phenomenon that is Kiva.org intrigues me a great deal, because I’ve honestly never been sure how exactly it works and if it’s really making a difference in the lives of people. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it’s cofounder, Jessica Jackley, was part of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. If you don’t know, Kiva‘s mission is connecting people through lending to aleviate poverty. By providing microfinancing to entrepreneurs in developing nations, those entrepreneurs have the funding they need to make their business a success.

It’s a very interesting concept, because it’s very different from what we typically see. It’s not about aleviating poverty for people, it’s equipping people to do it themselves. I am very much a believer in development vs. aid (in the sense that we just throw cash at a problem and hope it goes away), and it’s refreshing to see that, so far in Kiva‘s case, it’s working really well. To date, more than 48 million dollars have been loaned through Kiva by ordinary people, and so far, 98.6% of this has been paid back in full. The secret, Jackley believes, is trust. “When you’re trust-based, you can get a lot more done. We believe if people are treated like we trust them, they most likely will [follow through.]” What Kivaand Jackley have seen so far is that entrepreneurs really are following through. Parents, now with a thriving small business, can buy clothes and pay their childrens’ school fees. It’s lead to improved health and better living conditions. It’s very exciting stuff.

Jackley is definitely a young lady who believes in the innate goodness of people—and that people actually want to give sacrificially (“It’s where a lot of our joy comes from,” says Jackley). I really have no comment on that point, sufficed to say that she has a very charitable attitude, and that it’s wonderful that Kiva‘s experiencing such phenomenal success.

What I see in something like Kiva is a great potential for those of us here in the developed world to love our neighbor in an exceedingly practical way, and one that we might not have otherwise.

andrew-rugasiraAndrew Rugasira, Good African Coffee

Andrew Rugasira’s session was Thinking Forward: Aid vs. Trade. The Founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, Rugasira, a graduate of the University of London (where he received an honors degree in Law & Economics from the School of Oriental and African studies), is incredibly passionate about seeing Africa taking a strong position in the world economy. He wants to change the perspective the world holds about Africa. And that means ending changing our mindset from aid to trade. Because, as Rugasira believes, handouts don’t develop people and nations.

“There is no country in the world that was developed by handouts—so why is Africa different? Africans are looking for the same opportunities as an American, English [or] Indian entrepreneur. [We're] not looking for a handout.”

The statistics are startling. Between 1970 and 2000, Africa received $400 billion in aid. And during that time, the GDP dropped and conditions worsened. Rather than making the situation better, it actually made it worse. 

“[Aid] creates a culture of dependency. It undermines the  integrity and dignity of recipient countries,” says Rugasira.

“Integrity is being truthful about what you need to do to get out of a situation.” Aid (in the sense that Rugasira is speaking of) completely undermines this. “People have lost faith in themselves. [They believe] that they can’t do anything. That help only comes from outside… [And we want] the opportunity to bring quality products to the market and help Africans help themselves.”

Rugasira’s message is refreshing. I often struggle with the question of how much good are we really doing by doling out billions of dollars a year in foreign aid. When some countries have as much as 40 percent of their budget coming from aid, you know there’s something wrong with the system. I think aid in the sense of emergency, life saving assistance is incredibly important and necessary, which is why I’m grateful for organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision and several others. But I think it’s necessary that we look to assisting the poor around the world develop the skills required to not only aleviate poverty, but transform their society. That’s why it’s good that organizations like Good African Coffee and even Compassion exist.

bonoBono

We all know who Bono is, love him or hate him. And depending on the church, you won’t be the least bit surprised to hear at least one or two U2 songs in the worship set.

Honestly, for Bono’s part of the Summit, I’m not sure even how necessary it was. It didn’t really add anything except a bit of Bono. There was one great line thrown out in his interview with Bill Hybels, though, so perhaps that’s the reason he was there. In speaking about the Church’s sudden ramp up to assist the poor, particularly with HIV/AIDS treatment, Bono said, “As a person who’s really giving off about the Church, you have completely ruined it for me, because the Church has done incredible things, and… I’m taken aback. I think we referred to it [the Church] as the sleeping giant, but I didn’t know the giant could run that fast. And there’s no doubt in my mind that had the church not woken up on the issue of AIDS, we would not have two million Africans on retro-viral drugs. That simply would not have happened.”

That was a nice, albeit backhanded, encouragement, I suppose. It was enjoyable to see Bill Hybels get a few digs in at Bono for not being involved in a local church.

And that is my big take-away from Bono’s session at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.