Part 10: Ministries (People in Need)

“It doesn’t matter how much we give but how much love we put into our giving.” Mother Teresa

If God’s heart is fully revealed in our finances, many will be touched by kindness and generosity. Sometimes that comes through our church community, but often times is is through our personal acts of kindness and the extension of alms. These are beyond the gifts we give to our church as we discussed in Part 5. We have many opportunities to join God in what He is doing in diverse situations. Alms are hard to budget because they depend so much on the specific need, but I think we can outline the broad general categories:

1. Helping specific individuals.
2. Helping Christian ministries.
3. Helping society.

Helping Specific Individuals.
The New Testament is full of examples of Jesus and his disciples directly helping someone in need. Often, these occasions involve little money. We see Peter approached by the lame man in Acts 3:6, where Peter declares “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Rise and walk.!” These acts of kindness, on the other hand, may involve people we do not know (as in the example just given) or people with whom we know well.

Often I am approached in my car at an intersection by what appear to be professional con men. They likely are homeless, often alcoholic, but clearly in need. I try to keep a supply of small trail mix bags with me for such occasions, and delight to see the smile that comes when I extend something they can actually enjoy – without getting them further in trouble.
But with a world in economic turmoil, we will have frequent opportunity to help those within our church community or beyond. Beyond prayer and Godly advice, there are three general ways your money may be helpful. Let me say before I go any further that spiritual discernment is important, and like all other expenditures, prayer and seeking spiritual direction are necessary to have a sense of which of the three ways is best.

First, you may feel called to make an outright gift to an individual or a family that comes to you for help getting over a rough patch. John the Baptist encouraged this very type of generosity, and actually ups the ante by directing his followers to give more than they are asked.

Second, you may feel called to loan someone in need money. Proverbs 112:5 says “Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely.” Lending is a special opportunity in the Christian community. When you lend to someone who is part of the “Household of Faith,” i.e. the Church, you do not charge interest. There are a lot of Old Testament references to this type of lending, and my favorite is Deuteronomy 23: 20: Do not charge “a brother Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to.” Further, when a Christian makes a loan to a brother or sister Christian, they must do so expecting NOTHING in return. In other words, they have to be prepared to not get their money back. And should have a good attitude if they don’t! And for those of you with children, remember Psalm 37:26: “They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed!”

Your third option is to offer to have the one in need provide a service for which you can give compensation.

Helping Christian Ministries.
There are a remarkable number of Christian based initiatives in the world today, and we can be involved in many. But since there are so many options, my rule of thumb is to stick with ministries where I am investing in a specific individual – that is where I have or someone in my family has an actual connection. I don’t always follow this rule (there are several local charities I give to where I feel an important service is being rendered), but on the whole I do, and feel it is a good guideline for me personally.

Helping Society.
There are many non profit organizations that are working for the general welfare of the community in which we live, and depending on our insight and opportunity, we may feel called to give “of our treasure, our talent or our time.” Our schools, governmental institutions, redevelopment agencies, ad infinitum, need all the help they can get. But from my perspective, this comes last in my set of ministerial support priorities.

Alms are a blessing to deliver and a blessing to receive. Let’s just remember Mother Teresa’s admonition: “It doesn’t matter how much we give but how much love we put into our giving.”

2 Responses to Part 10: Ministries (People in Need)

  1. fran bloodworth says:

    I was wondering what your thought was on buying gold and silver? Should I buy some or let my money depreciate?

    • Great question, Frances! Here is the core issue related to our savings/investing. We need for our investments to grow in value over time in excess of the rate of inflation. Over a decade, all world currencies almost always lose value, that is a dollar will have less and less buying power. So one important issue is how to invest in such a way that the buying power of what you purchase as an investment vehicle actually increases. Historically, there have been several inflation hedges that generally have kept up with inflation. One is a well run business. I would site Berkshire Hathaway as a good example. In 1982, a share of Berkshire was valued at $500 a share. Today that same share is valued at over $120,000. It has not only retained its buying power – it has greatly increased in value. “Real assets” that don’t depreciate in value are one strategy. An example of a commodity that we expect to get more valuable over time is oil. Oil is being deplenished at a rapid rate while the world’s demand for oil increases. Precious metals have done well in times of inflation since they are “real” and many advisors recommend having 3 to 5 percent of ones savings in the form of precious metals.
      Now a caveat: you must be very careful on the acquisition side. What I mean is that what people will may for various “real” assets often fluctuates wildly. Just three years ago oil was selling for over $125 a barrel. Then it plunged to around $60 a barrel, and now has recovered to over $100 a barrel. Over the short haul, you will be much happier if you can buy real assets when others are ignoring them (i.e,. the price will be relatively low). But for people with a long term horizon (like forty years), even short term differences of in pricing will appear insignificant because of the erosion of the buying power of the dollar. We will talk about this in a later module in more depth, but great question!

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