Category Archives: money

The Unfairness of God

During our Sunday morning gathering today, the discussion wandered into the subject of the unfairness of life. I don’t know about you, but even though life has been good to me, it has not been fair.

Many years ago, when my mind was quicker and my decision-making ability keener, I was hired to work in communications at the police department in the northern suburbs of Denver. It was the place where they answer the 911 calls and talk on the radio to police and other emergency responders. They were desperately seeking someone with my skill set and experience, so to entice me to leave the job I already had, they offered me more money than normal. That kind of opportunity does not come around very often, so I took the position.

However, it created a rather awkward situation where I was making more money than my supervisor. I was sworn to secrecy, and I did my part to keep my salary to myself. After several months, somehow, she discovered how much I was being paid and, needless to say, she did not take the news well. For some reason, she chose to take out her frustration on me.Unfairness of God

Her salary had nothing to do with me. Before I arrived, she was content with her wages. When she discovered that I was making more money, all of sudden she felt that she was being treated unfairly. Although she and I never discussed the situation, it was not a good environment. She blamed me for the fact that she was treated unfairly.

I have thought about this experience many times over the years as I have seen how people like to compare their income with the incomes of those around them. Many of us like to determine our value by the wages we earn, so when someone makes more money, they must be a better person in some way. Jesus told us that money is a powerful force.

However, the real issue for my supervisor was fairness. It was not fair that she was paid less even though she was in charge and had seniority. We like to speak of being treated fairly. That is all that we really want – just give us our fair share. The word “fair” means to be just, reasonable, or impartial.

Jesus spoke a parable about this kind of fairness (see Matthew 20). A landowner hired a group of laborers to work his field all day for an agreed upon price. The task was larger than first thought, so he returned every few hours to secure more laborers. This process continued all day, until the eleventh hour, just sixty minutes before the end of the day. The early morning crew must have been curious all day long, wondering how much the late arrivers were going to be paid.

They did not wait long to find out since the ones who arrived late were the first to be paid. The early risers must have been very excited to note that the late arrivers received a full day’s pay. That must mean they would be paid extra, the only fair thing to do. However, their excitement turned quickly into despair and then anger when they realized they would only receive the agreed upon price they had negotiated at the beginning of the day. Those who worked one hour were paid the identical amount as those who labored all day. That does not seem fair!

However, what the laborers defined as “unfairness,” the landowner called it “generosity.” He was completely fair since he had kept his word and paid them as promised. Their problem was his generosity toward others.

If you have lived more than a few years with your eyes open, you have discovered that we do not live in a fair world. We are all distinguished by a unique set of physical characteristics, mental capabilities, and life experiences. I have been blessed with abundance in many ways, but it is not fair that I have never been able to simply stand up and walk across the room. As long as we reside in this world, unfairness will be a part of our experience.

An equally important truth is that we really do not want fairness from God. I don’t want God to give me what I deserve; what I earn. I hope and pray that He is generous. That is why we should never begrudge His generosity toward others.

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My Inability to Mind My Own Business

Does anyone really know what LinkedIn is all about? It’s kind of like Facebook with less stupidity as near as I can tell. It seems that members are people who are either really proud of their occupation or else looking for an occupation that could be proud of. I set up an account years ago and only occasionally click over to see what’s happening.

I frequently get notifications of congratulations for the anniversary of my job, but I don’t know what that’s all about. The last few jobs I’ve had I just kind of gradually made a change from one job to the next that I have no idea what the anniversary would be. I feel like a married couple celebrating a wedding anniversary even though they lived together for years prior to the wedding. What’s the point?Gateway_Church_114_Campus

The other day I clicked on the LinkedIn site and at the top of the Home Page articles was a video posted by a young man on the subject of stewardship. Because of my long history of work on that subject, I gave it a view. He spoke of a book he was writing based on the stewardship teaching of Jesus. While reading through the Gospels, he was marking every verse that applies to stewardship and the book will be called “Jesus on Money.” He has 1,000 verses highlighted, and the plan is to categorize them so he can present them us in a way that help us understand stewardship.

The young man is an Executive Pastor at a megachurch in our city. Nearest I can tell, stewardship education is a part of his assignment. The church has a deep history of stewardship. Years ago when I was responsible for teaching stewardship to the 5,000 Baptist churches in Texas, I met with this man’s predecessor. One of the surprises was that he had a larger staff than I had and he was responsible for one church.

I know a few things about stewardship. The first book I ever wrote was on the subject, and it sold more than 300,000 copies. I also wrote numerous other books and material over the years. For a short time, all of the stewardship resources developed by the Southern Baptist Convention had evidence of my influence. However, it’s no secret that my views on church stewardship have radically changed over the years and what I believe now is nothing like what I believed then. But I do know what I’m talking about.

Given my stewardship background and my inability to ignore an opportunity to speak up, I typed a comment about his video: “An interesting first chapter for your book would be on what Jesus might say about churches that spend millions of dollars on buildings and staff salaries rather than giving to the poor.”

Not surprising, he responded: “If a church is only self focused then I’d say it isn’t very healthy. Terry Austin, have you written anything on this subject? I’d be interested to hear your personal generosity story and the exciting things God is doing through you to serve the poor.”

Of course, I had to say something: “I’ve written a great deal of material on Christian stewardship and my stewardship theology has evolved significantly over the years. I developed a capital fund raising program that generated a quarter of a billion dollars for church buildings and another that focused on church budgets. However, much of that theology has changed for me. My two latest books on the subject are “Authentic Stewardship” and “Why I Quit Going to Church” can be found at Amazon. Don’t let the title throw you off as there is an important emphasis on Christian stewardship.”

Before he could respond, I added: “Something else to think about. I have no idea how much money you give to your church but try to figure out how much of it makes its way to the poor. Last week, I gave cash and several large bags of clothes for refugees from South America and made a cash contribution to a woman in our neighborhood needing money for surgery her insurance won’t cover. It wasn’t a large amount, but probably more will go to the poor than what makes its way through most churches. The typical church spends 50% of income on staff salaries and 25-30% on building costs. The rest is used for things like childcare, youth activities, curriculum, denominational expenses, etc. Some churches have a food pantry, but most of those are stocked by non-profit money, not church donations. If you’re serious about wanting to help the poor, the church is not the place to go.”

His response was to invite me to come to his church and see all the great stuff happening. Obviously, he was not understanding what I was trying to say. If I’m misunderstood, I always assume it’s my fault.

So, I tried to make it clearer: “I’ve been to Gateway and 100’s of other churches just like it around the country. I met with the guy who I assume was your predecessor years ago when I was doing church stewardship. I’m not looking for a church doing “healthy ministry, many people coming to Christ and giving generously…” I know tons of generous givers, there is no shortage there. My concern is what the church is doing with their generosity. The church approach is to teach people to be generous and then turn around and use their generosity on themselves. Church are not giving to the poor, they are spending it on their own comfort. How many lives could be impacted with the millions of dollars Gateway spends on buildings and salaries each year?”

At this point he got angry and accused me of attacking his church and wanting him to quit his job. For some reason, he later deleted this comment.

In reply I said: I think you’re jumping the shark here. I began the conversation to encourage you to take biblical stewardship seriously and hopefully learn something that took me 30 years to learn. You’re the one who brought up your church. I have no reason to attack your church nor do I care if you quit your job or not. Neither do I have any interest in closing down churches. I simply think there might be a way to be the church that doesn’t require massive amounts of money. In your video, you expressed interest in identifying all the biblical passages about stewardship in the Bible, a concept that was first done by Larry Burkett. I worked with Larry for many years and when he came to the end of his life, he also came to the point of believing the way churches do things with stewardship needs serious alteration. If you stick with God’s Word long enough, you’ll probably come to that same conclusion yourself someday. My intent was to plant a seed and give you a head start. I apologize if you are offended, however, I’m not sorry for challenging you to think outside your own box.”

He admitted that he might have overacted but ended his part of the conversation with an additional statement about the greatness of his church.

The irony of all of this is that his church recently built a $35 million building in addition to multiple sites where they broadcast their Sunday services around the city. I don’t know for sure but I’m confident the number of paid staff members is in the hundreds if not more.

What will this young Executive Pastor find in the words of Jesus that speak to this use of money given by God’s people?

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Gullible Christians

There have been far too many articles written explaining why Christians have thrown their support behind Donald Trump. There’s nothing about his lifestyle, attitude, demeanor, language, or actions that should be appealing to anyone who professes a commitment to the “narrow way” Jesus called us to follow. Yet, polls make it clear that it was Christians who provided the margin of victory in his election and even today polls show that the majority of Christians continue to stand with him.

Why?

There are many reasons but let me offer one that I’ve not heard from anyone else. I’m not professing to any political brilliance or unique insight. In fact, I’ve always lived by the concept that if you espouse an idea no one else holds, then it’s probably wrong. But I’m going to throw caution to the wind, as they say, and put it out there anyway.

The first thing I need to say is that Donald Trump is nothing more than a con man.

A con man like Victor Lustig who lived in the early part of the 20th century. He is known for selling the Eifel Tower to a scrap metal dealer for $70,000 (a handsome sum in 1925), a box (several of them, actually) that printed genuine hundred-dollar bills, and even conned gangster Al Capone out of thousands of dollars.Snake Oil

Lustig has long been considered at the head of the list of con men. But now, Donald Trump has taken the art of the con (pardon the pun) to even greater heights. Rather than scamming a scrap dealer out of thousands of dollars he is scamming the entire country (probably even Russia at the same time).

He won the election with promises to accomplish whatever people wanted to hear. If health insurance was your concern, then he was going to replace Obamacare with a plan that would cover everyone for less money. If jobs were an issue, then he promised to reinvigorate the coal industry, bring foreign jobs back home, and provide money for big companies to invest in employees. If worry about safety kept you awake at night, then he promised to eliminate terrorists, crack down on drug dealers, and throw more people in prison.

“Step right up, folks, I’ve got the miracle cure for whatever ails you.”

You can hear the medicine man hawking his elixir every time Trump holds a rally or press conference.

Everyone knows he lies incessantly. He tells people what they want to hear, and they leave happy, and he forgets he even had the conversation. He tells people what they need to hear in order to give their support.

Unexplainably, Christians are his most passionate supporters.

I think it’s because Christians are the most gullible people in the world. The dictionary definition of gullible is “easily persuaded to believe something.”

Let me provide examples of Christian gullibility.

  • Jim Jones. The infamous cult leader who led 918 of his followers to commit suicide, began as the pastor of a Methodist Church. Many of his followers thought they were following a Christian teacher, even to the point of killing themselves.
  • Joel Osteen. Tens of thousands of people gather to hear him preach every week and hundreds of thousands buy his books. Osteen is nothing more than Norman Vincent Peale on steroids. He has taken the notion that everything is good because God is good and turned it into a multitude of devoted acolytes who line his pockets with gold.
  • Prosperity Preachers. They twist Scripture to support some cockamamy doctrine that God wants all of us to be prosperous. They then use that teaching to sucker people into sending them millions of dollars, even though they spend it on private jets and luxurious houses. The real doctrine they preach is that God wants them to be wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
  • Christian Businesses. I learned years ago not to do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business. It is often used as a gimmick to make people feel like they are doing something spiritual when they buy their product or utilize their service. Over the many years of my life, I’ve been cheated more times than I can count. However, the clear majority of those times it was by a professing Christian. Even in the work I do now, I have a policy of not doing a job until I’ve received payment primarily because I’ve been cheated by Christians I wanted to help.
  • Amway. This company deserves special consideration because they turned soap distribution into a multi-billion-dollar business with the help of a Christian-infused pyramid scheme. When I was a teenager, I was recruited by a man to sell Amway. I paid the fee, ordered some soap, and got to work. He wanted me to contact all the women in the church where my father was pastor and get them to sign-up. It was one of my first lessons about doing “Christian business.” I’ve heard folks describe Amway meetings as revival meetings, complete with Christian testimonies and altar calls. However, I’ve never met anyone who actually made money as an Amway distributor, but Christians keep signing up.

The reason I know Christians are most gullible is because I’ve been one of them. It’s built into our beliefs. We want to be giving, help the underdog, minister to the needy, and care for the poor. Those are all good things. But in doing so, we have allowed ourselves to be gullible.

Neither am I suggesting that Christians are the only ones who are gullible—there are gullible people all over the place. It’s just that Christians seem to excel as this skill.

Every pastor has a file cabinet filled with stories of people who came to them or the church for assistance only to learn that they are running a scam. It happens every day. The reason is because we are gullible. We fall for con men often.

Donald Trump understands this as well as anyone. He knew if he promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion, Christians would flock to his side. He allowed preachers to gather around him with anointing hands because it made a great photo opportunity that would make its way to churches around the country.

He’s selling snake oil and Christians are drinking it by the gallon.

Victor Lustig convinced Al Capone to give him $50,000 to invest in a sure-fire project that would double his money. Lustig took the money, stuck it in a closet for two months never intending to invest, and then returned it to Capone explaining that the investment failed but he wanted to return his money. Impressed with Lustig’s honesty, Capone gave him $5,000.

Trump is running the same con on Christians, and they are so gullible that they praise his honesty and continue to provide support.

I have little hope that things will change. At this point, Christians are so far out on the limb in support of Trump that they would have to swallow too much pride to turn away. In fact, in order to cover the fact they were scammed, they say things like pastor Robert Jeffress recently proclaimed that Trump’s immorality doesn’t matter. I can’t think of one previous pastor of the church he pastors who would have said anything resembling that remark.

We should all be aware of the danger. Sons of some of the most influential moral Christian leaders of the past, i.e., Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, have become some of the most gullible.

The phrase “snake oil” originated with Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. They brought a medicinal product that was made with oil from a Chinese snake, and it actually had beneficial properties. However, an entrepreneur, Clark Stanley, used rattlesnakes to create his own medicinal oil which was eventually proven to be useless. In fact, his product didn’t have a drop of snake oil. Before he was exposed, he sold thousands of bottles to gullible customers.

P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Baily Circus reminded us “there’s a sucker born every minute.” After more than 100 years, the Barnum and Baily Circus folded the tent last year. Yet, the circus didn’t really shut down, it simply moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Con men always leave bruised and battered people in their wake. Our country will survive, and we’ll find a way to regain our integrity and reputation in the world. However, I’m not so confident the American church will be as fortunate.

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Why Are You Giving Money to Your Church?

It is probably safe to say that money is the most thought about subject. We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy thinking about how to get money, what to do with the money we have, how to survive without money, and myriads of other questions. Money is not only the “root of all evil,” but also it is one of the factors that control our lives. If money guides much of our lives as individuals, then it is equally correct to say that money guides much of the life of our churches.

I’ve never done a survey, but I suspect the biggest complaint people have about the church centers around the issue of money. You’ve heard people say, “All that church wants is my money.” We frequently hear stories about church leaders abusing money given by members and living extravagant lifestyles.

I have an extensive background in studying and teaching biblical stewardship. Even though my views on the subject changed over the years, the importance of the relationship between the church and money is something I still strive to understand.church and money

The ability of a church to raise funds is strictly dependent upon the intended use of the money. For example, in the matter of capital-fund raising, everyone in the business knows it is easier to raise money for a new sanctuary than for a classroom building. The most challenging capital fund project for raising money is debt elimination. It seems that paying off debt doesn’t excite church folks nearly as much as getting a new worship center.

When it comes to raising money for other needs, missions tops the list. Inspiring people to give to share the Gospel, especially in the far corners of the world, is not that difficult. Another good fund-raising project is children. When I was a pastor if we had children who needed money to attend camp all we had to do was make an announcement, and the money would be quickly provided.

Once again I will pose the question of what your church would look like if you took money out of the equation. In other words, if your church had no money, zero income, what would happen?

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The Unholy Use of Money

An entirely unsurprising announcement came out this week that a mega church in the Dallas area has decided to escrow their mission money. I’m not going to identify the church, but if you type these four words into Google it will pop up quickly – Dallas, church, escrow, money. The reason cited by the pastor is that he felt disrespected. That’s correct, a leader for the Southern Baptist Convention said something he didn’t agree with, so he has instructed his church to hang onto the one million dollars that would have probably been given this year.

At first thought, it sounds like a reasonable decision. After all, why should we support someone who disrespects us, or give to an organization that doesn’t share our values and opinions?unholy-money

What causes me concern is the use of the word “escrow.” The dictionary definition is “a bond, deed, or other document kept in the custody of a third party, taking effect only when a specified condition has been fulfilled.” What this church is doing by escrowing money they had originally intended to give to the Southern Baptist Convention is to allow someone else to hold the money until the issue has been resolved. (I seriously doubt if the money actually goes anywhere other than the church’s bank account.)

In this case, it appears the use of the term “escrow” suggests a threat—if you don’t change we are going to punish you by withholding our money. This money, a significant amount, is being used as a financial club to get their way.

I don’t have any problem if this church decides the Southern Baptist Convention does not represent your values and beliefs and then simply stops the support. Quit giving—plain and simple. However, once they use the term “escrow,” it suggests the money will still be there whenever the Southern Baptist Convention sees things your way.

Don’t try to force a mission agency to do things your way. Go find someone else you can support. Find someone who shares your values and is already doing the things you desire.

The concept of escrowing money intended for the Southern Baptist Convention has been a favorite among churches for decades as they have sought to gain and control power. The big irony for me is pastors get extremely upset whenever church members do the same thing to them. Have a significant contributor to the church walk up to the pastor after a Sunday sermon and say, “Pastor, I didn’t appreciate what you said this morning. I’m not going to give another offering until you apologize.” We would learn quickly if that pastor believed what he preached.

Using money to manipulate people is not right. Money is a tool to help others, to provide for the needs of others. It is not to be a source of power and control. That is exactly why money is so dangerous.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is next to impossible for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. It makes me wonder if the same can be said about a rich church.

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