My main emotions in regard to money at Bethlehem are gratitude and hope, not anxiety. God has always met our needs. I would insult God if I fretted over his timing. So, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, for your giving. For 21 years now I have watched our merciful God meet all our needs. Thank you for your part in that mercy.
I also write to encourage those of you who are still struggling with how to handle your finances in relation to the church. Please think and pray about several things:
1. All your money is God's. Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the LORD's, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it." You have your money and possessions and life on loan. As a trust. You are the manager of Another's trust fund.
2. How we disburse God's trust fund (i.e., our income and inheritances) should reflect his values and priorities. We will all be held accountable for managing his money according to his word. Luke 16:12, "If you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?"
3. God will see to it that you have enough to provide for your needs and for "every good work," including those appointed for your church (worship, teaching, outreach, missions, mutual care, etc). I know no stories of people who have given so generously that God did not meet their needs. 2 Corinthians 9:8, "And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work."
4. Expenses always expand to fill the income. This means that almost all of us "just get by" no matter what we make. Which means that discretionary giving which is put off to the end of the pay period will usually not happen. We won't give because we don't think we can afford it. But if you write the check to the cause of Christ first, then you will, as always, still "just get by." I encourage you to "seek the kingdom first" by writing the ministry check first (Matthew 6:33).
5. The Bible encourages both spontaneity and discipline in giving. Remember the overflowing generosity of the widow: "Out of her poverty [she] put in all that she had" (Luke 31:4). But the usual way is to give in a disciplined, regular and proportional way: "On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper" (1 Corinthians 16:2). I urge you to build this regularity and priority into your giving. Tithing (10% of your income) is a good Biblical starting point (Matthew 23:23). Go for it. God will not let you down.
6. The need at Bethlehem is great for increased giving. We voted last December on an aggressive, God-exalting, ministry-expanding, mission-driven budget. As with Gideon we are aware that we are making this even more challenging by calling for the pledges of $6.5 million in the next 20 months (half of it by later this fall!). Here is our situation after 23 Sundays (44%) in regular Church/Missions giving:
2000—41% of budget
2001—36% of budget
—3% growth in contributions based on the same number of Sundays, about $250,000 behind our budget goals
7. Would you pray with me and the elders that, according to his great mercy and firm promise God would, "meet all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" Philippians 4:19).
God can turn this shortfall around. I believe he will. I love you and I love the ministry here, and I love our great God. Thanks for your support of the vision to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.