Reading through the Stewardship Study Bible

About 4 months ago I purchased the Zondervan NIV Stewardship Bible. The idea of stewardship comes from the realization that at no time throughout scripture does God relinquish ownership of anything. Operating our lives from this standpoint is vastly different than the idea that God gives us ownership of what we have or who we are.

One of the most profound readings I’ve read is a commentary on Pride being one of our biggest obstacles to good stewardship. Pride puts us in the owner’s seat. It is impossible for God to be the Lord of our lives and for us live pridefully at the same time.

Pride of: Accomplishment, intellect, possessions, appearance, elitism and influence. Each one vies for us to create subjects, and each one gives Satan a foothold in our lives. He is the prince of pride. His reason for falling was pride. Pride in our lives gives birth to other sins, and ultimately to death.

Our lives are a struggle between master and mastered. Understanding our place helps us to submit our flesh to the one who owns our very being. This is what I’m wrestling out in myself… I’m dragging me out of myself. What do I own? Nothing. God is offended when I take any part of creation as unto my own. The Stewardship Bible is helping me to understand my role in stewarding my relationship to God, self, others and creation.

One of my favorite quotes is from Watchman Nee. “That strong self-assertive will of mine must go to the Cross, and I must give myself over wholly to the Lord. We cannot expect a tailor to make us a coat if we do not give him any cloth, nor a builder to build us a house if we let him have no building material; and in just the same way we cannot expect the Lord to live out His life in us if we do not give Him our lives in which to live. Without reservations, without controversy, we must give ourselves to Him to do as He pleases with us.”

This study Bible has quotes and commentaries from Larry Burkett, Dr. Scott Rodin, Randy Alcorn, Chuck Colson, John Piper and many more. It also provides an incredible index on savings, charity, the poor, debt and more. I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of this incredible resource, but it is already doing more than just scratching the  surface of me.

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Discerning God’s Will

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am just a believer, working out my faith. Your rebuttals are always welcome in the comments section.

Back in high school, I got into a conversation with my friend Luke Draeger about whether or not we need to pray about everything we do. On one hand, we are told to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17) and on the other hand we are admonished to use scripture as our guide (Psalm 119:105).  As high school students are prone to do, we threw out our best semi-educated guesses and left it at that. It is a question that, for me, needs continuous attention.

J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God, Chapter 20, “Thou Our Guide”, that there is a hyper-spiritualism in believing that God speaks directly to us more than he uses his Word. Why would he continue to whisper in your ear when he’s written down what He has for us? Our lives are best when guided by the Word of God. Packer shares some pitfalls that await those who pursue signs, supernatural insights and “open doors” in order to guide our lives. For the sake of brevity, here are four of those pitfalls:

  1. Unwillingness to think. There is a pseudo-spiritual persona lived by those who refuse to be wise and discern facts. So much of scripture guides us to sharpen our minds and get wisdom. Why? Because with wisdom, we make wise choices.
  2. Unwillingness to suspect ourselves. I had a wise teacher years ago who helped me to understand the importance of not trusting myself. My problem is that nobody can lie to me as well as I can. That’s where I have to constantly align my actions with Scripture in order to defeat deception that may exist internally. My senses and instincts seek gratification, sometimes at the expense of other senses and instincts. Psalm 139:23-24
  3. Unwillingness to discount personal magnetism. The more I depend on my own charisma to sell the Gospel, the less Gospel I am selling. Humility is the only way to counterbalance the pull of power and fame in a Christian’s life… especially a pastor.
  4. Unwillingness to wait. Prophets and evangelists have a very difficult time not saying anything. What happens when the Lord doesn’t answer? What do you say when there is spiritual silence? The human temptation is to fill in the dead air with a person’s educated guess. If God isn’t in a hurry, then neither should we make haste.

On several occasions, I have had visions or direct revelations from God about his will. When these insights come, they have to run through my filter:

Does it contradict the Word? If so, it’s more likely indigestion than revelation.

The concept of living life wholly dependent upon God to direct your every step distances us from the reality that we are called to live wise, disciplined and discerning lives. Hyper-spiritualism would have us believe that we are paralyzed until we hear from the Lord. This paradigm is sometimes evidenced within Pentecostals. On the other hand, we are completely dependent upon God for our every breath… he is the sustainer of life and the ultimate authority.

Vocational and familial choices can be difficult to discern because the Scripture doesn’t tell each reader which job to choose or which spouse to marry. These are decisions we make based on our understanding of God’s written will; His principled desires for our lives. He created us with a certain personality, at a specific time in a geographic location in order to pick our life choices, with the Holy Spirit working through us, and the Scripture in front of us. Our personality is who we are; character is what we do with it. If there is anything good in our character, it is because the Bible is working that good within us.

Tenacity

I Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In eighth grade I had my first encounter with a tenacious spirit. I was a heavyweight wrestler, better than some and less than others. My desire was to get in shape, not to beat anybody up. We had a great team, and one of our top wrestlers was a seventh grader who seemingly weighed about a hundred pounds less than me. He frequently bested wrestlers 20 or 30 pounds more than he.

“I could take him”, I thought. We were in practice, so I jovially stepped up when it was time for him to wrestle with the big boy. My 190 lbs to his 110 or 120. He wiggled, wormed and fought with every ounce of energy he could muster. Once when he was on his butt and I was fighting up his torso, I knew I was going to pin him. I was wrong. His tenacity… not just during that match, but, in every practice, gave him an advantage that my weight and muscle couldn’t overcome. I don’t remember the exact outcome, but it certainly wasn’t a feather in my cap.

Faith is like a muscle. Faith should be tenacious. This concept is often a business principle, but it is primarily a theological tenant. Jim Collins wrote a lot about tenacity in “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”, and leaders like Rudy Giuliani and Jim Sinegal have codified the executive tenacity we expect to see in leaders. Collins, Giuliani and Sinegal have something in common… the belief in disciplined exercise of faith.

The biblical principle is found in Hebrews 10:35-38 describes a relentless, unprecedented and supernatural faith. Likewise, James 1:2-4 tells us to grow our faith. It is the practice and application of faith that is beyond our own mustering that enables us to do more than we can do on our own.

I am going through a season of growth right now. My belief in God’s call in my life is greater than ever. I tenaciously believe in what he is working in me for his purpose. And yet, there is not a reason for my faith OTHER than the fact that I am called. I stand on the precipice of the unknown. But it is known, because the Lord doesn’t lead us to places where he doesn’t want us. Hindsight faith would be easy… like 20/20 hindsight vision. I look forward to telling the stories of God’s faithfulness in the year 2011 as He has provided everything we need, at the right time and in the right way.

This week we hosted an event at College of the Desert where we were able to evangelize to over 120 people. We boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus in a place that is filled with hurting people. Faith is the conduit for evangelism.

This week we partnered with a top medical professional who has incredible connections that will benefit the children of Rooftop 519. Only God could orchestrate these things. Faith is a catalyst for action.

This week I have taken inventory of the things that matter most. I am blessed beyond what most people will ever imagine. Faith is not fueled by external circumstance.

I would not trade this last year for anything. We have had more struggles, more pain and more loss (I am afraid to count how many friends and family members have died this year). Cheryl and I are growing in our faith. We are becoming tenacious about the things that matter, even when we can’t see answers to problems. We are more resolved, more determined and more patient than ever before. Faith does that. God creates that resolve within us when we fight the good fight of faith.

Asking for Money for Your Nonprofit

In this short blog, I’ll share an introduction to some of the things I’ve learned in my years of working with donors who have a passion for the work of nonprofit organizations. Whole books are written on the subject, but I will address just a few fundamentals in my blog. This is fresh in my mind because our board at Rooftop 519 just asked me to share a presentation on how to appeal to a donor or potential donor for funding. Today’s post relates to my recent article on Starting a Nonprofit.

The population of the U.S. is far more generous than other people groups. This isn’t because of our wealth, as we have had a history of compassion and philanthropy for centuries. I believe our biblical foundations for philanthropy as a Christian nation has created an environment for blessing, and we are currently reaping the benefit of our forefather’s stewardship.

Americans donate more each year than Portugal, Greece, Finland, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Italy, Spain, Netherlands and China combined. We contribute exactly twice as much as the next most generous population: Germany. There are other statistics that show we have drastically declined in our generosity (percentages of per capita and GNI giving are both on the decline in the U.S.), but we are still a very generous people. We have contributed in excess of $300 billion each year for at least the last three years.

People give to their passions. The key to helping advance an organization or cause is connecting people to that organization around their passions. For instance, it’s easy to ask a carpenter who loves his church, his community and his children to volunteer his time and talent to build a swingset for the children of the church to use. It probably creates a lot of joy for the pastor or lay leader to ask the carpenter to donate some or all of the work necessary to complete the project. Couple his work with other people of complimentary passions (a gardner, a concrete worker, a sign maker and a landscape retailer), and you have the makings of a wonderful “barn raising” party that will create a tremendous amount of synergy and accomplishment.

In the same way, financial resources can combine to do something synergistically that cannot otherwise be done. This requires someone to present a case for support to a donor for a financial contribution. An appeal like this is never singularly minded (we never just want money). The best appeal is to someone who would fulfill their passions and receive joy and purpose in their gift, as well as their giftedness. Money should never be the central theme of any relationship.

The process of determining who to ask should always start with careful understanding of your organization’s Guiding Principles. Trying to connect a potential donor to something that does not match their passions is a miserable thing to do. Asking our hypothetical carpenter to design a flyer for the local kenel club, assuming he doesn’t use Photoshop and care much about dogs, is a totally unrealistic appeal. Likewise, philanthropists are limited in their investment interests.

Here is the Board of Directors Presentation I gave this Friday that explains the roles of directors and the CEO as it relates to funding your organization. The introduction is borrowed heavily from Dr. R. Scott Rodin’s “Four Theological Foundations for a Capital Campaign”.

Whether you are raising money for a mission trip or a youth sport, you have to understand that people give to people for people. The power of matching passions is usually connected to a story that gives a compelling illustration of your mission in action. In the powerpoint above, Dr. Rodin shares the five rights of an appeal: The right person ask the right donor for the right amount for the right project at the right time.

One of our core values at Rooftop 519 is “Relationship is the Prize”. Understanding the relational nature of fundraising helps to break away from transactional thinking. Fundraising is an essential part of any nonprofit, but it is never the primary reason for a relationship.

I would love questions about nonprofit fundraising in the comments section. I’ll do my best to respond quickly.

David Sokol and Worldview.

David Sokol is the heir apparent to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. I recently read several articles about this astonishing executive. He’s smart, wealthy, driven and intentional; not the type of person that wastes energy or time.

The most interesting thing to me was how Sokol touts his organizational values. Several years ago he laid out his principles in Pleased but Not Satisfied, a short self-published book about his management beliefs. Sokol’s six laws are: operational excellence, integrity, customer commitment, employee commitment, financial strength and environmental commitment.

These are wonderful values, but in and of themselves they are powerless. What gives them power is the imposing personality of a leader who tirelessly drives them home. I don’t know how effective David Sokol is in helping to create workplace environments that aren’t dependent upon his powerful confidence and charisma. What I believe with all my heart is that without people who believe in the “why” you do what you do, the “how” and the “what” do not bring significance to the work.

The best description I have seen of this concept is found at TEDx. Worldview is critical to aligning values for people who are connected to an organization; whether it is a family, business or church. The Biblical Worldview Institute uses this same premise to develop an understanding of how worldview (why) drives values (how) that determines behavior (what). Go back and click the TEDx link above. You’ll be glad you did.

Stephen Covey writes about the why in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, see habit #3, “Begin with the end in mind”. He also addresses the “why” in The principles of Leadership. They’re both great reads and I highly recommend them. Covey drives home the fact that if we’re not intentionally principle-centric, then something else in our center (core purpose, or “why”).

If I met David Sokol, I would love to find out why he is driven to do what he does. Seeking money is not innately meaningful. It is a behavior (what) sculpted by values (how). One of his principles for business gives us particular insight into his how, but gives no indication of why. “Environmental Commitment” can be motivated out of a biblical stewardship theology, a monetary incentive, a personal affinity for creation or nature, or peer pressure. There are more potential “whys”, but of the four I listed, only one that does not change over time (biblical stewardship may manifest itself differently within a culture, but it does not change based on what people think).

What happens when principles are in conflict with each other? C.S. Lewis wrote, “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest.” In Sokol’s case, his ethical instinct became in conflict with his financial strength instinct, when the Waxman-Markey Bill was making it’s way through Congress in 2009. Sokol helped to lead the effort to lobby in the senate to kill the bill in the Senate.

The instincts and principles of the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy and more were firmly opposed to Sokol’s environmental ethic. Their principle of conservation and protection of the environment is rarely subverted by a financial principle. On the whole, people I’ve met from those organizations are living primarily for the purpose of the environment (what). That may sound like a worldview, but the actual “why” of their existence is peer pressure that leads to situational ethics. There is a strong emphasis on collaboration, shared learning and synergistic relationships. Those are all noble efforts (how), but the core purpose of their organizations is, on the whole, poorly defined and feeble-founded. An exception within the environmental movement is The Evangelical Environmental Network,  claims to operate from the “why” of “tending to the garden” (a reference to the Genesis story of God entrusting Adam and his descendants to steward creation).

Why does David Sokol run businesses for Berkshire Hathaway? I’d like to know. Why did he (seemingly) oppose his environmental values by fighting the Waxman-Markey Bill? Because the “how” of his life was in conflict. I don’t know if his instincts were even at war with each other. Maybe it was such a simple financial decision that he never explored the environmental commitment that he claims to live.