Monthly Archives: January 2006

A Sobering Fact About Generosity

I study the issue of generosity a good bit. Since my own ministry depends upon the generosity of Christians I need to understand how to respond to issues that relate to charitable giving. Thus, I confess that I was a bit surprised when I learned a few weeks ago that the year-end IRS statistics about giving in America reveal that the poorest in our society are in fact the most generous givers.

Each year IRS compiles statistics about household giving. The most recent figures, for 2003, show the following:

1. Households with adjusted gross incomes of $10,000 to $15,000 gave 11.6 percent to charity.
2. Households with incomes of $50,000 to $55,000 gave 4 percent.
3. Households with incomes of $200,000 to $500,000 gave only 2.5 percent.

Regardless of what you how you break down giving among other income levels what is most surprising is that the families in the lowest income levels are the ones that gave a tithe or more, on average.

The second amazing thing I noted in this data was that there is

By |January 31st, 2006|Categories: Donors and Funding|

How Should We Respond to Growing Income Inequality?

A national report, issued on Thursday (January 26), shows that the gap between the nation’s top wage earners and lower- and middle-income families is growing over the past two plus decades. This gap began to grow in the 1980s (slowed from 1996-2002) and continues to increase off and on since. Liberals and conservatives view the gap very differently. These difference allow us to think about social and economic policy seriously.

Consider, for point of reference, that the study shows that the richest 20 percent of families had average incomes 6.8 times as large as the poorest 20 percent in the early 2000s, up from 5.4 times in the early 1980s. And the highest incomes in the early 2000s were 2.5 times as large as the middle 20 percent, up from 2 times twenty years ago. Average incomes for the richest people were up 51% overall and only 21.5% for middle income families. Average incomes for the poor rose by 20.5% during the same period!

So, what are we to make of this data? Ah, there’s the problem. Liberal economists see

By |January 28th, 2006|Categories: Economy/Economics|

Praying and Working for Christian Unity

The real Lord’s Prayer, that is the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples (John 17), makes it abundantly plain that he desires the unity of all believers. The simple point made in the text is beyond serious doubt (John 17:21). There are many ways Christians have approached this text, and several major explanations have been offered and accepted, but the basic direction of the prayer cannot be in doubt. When we are in a relationship of oneness, or unity, with fellow Christians the world will believe our message. The key word here, I am convinced, is relationship. What Jesus desires is our relational oneness. The problem comes when we seek to apply this to macro issues like the unity of the whole visible Christian church. (In reality, most Christians have the real problems in how they handle everyday relationships with other believers in the same congregation!) Most evangelicals tend to give up when they get to this issue and believe they are safe by making no real effort to pray for, or concerted attempts to experience, this God-given unity. God is teaching me

By |January 24th, 2006|Categories: Unity of the Church|

Joseph F. Girzone on the Trinity

ACT 3 exists to advance the missional mandate of Jesus Christ through Scripture and Tradition. We seek to do this by means of three core commitments that we have prayerfully established. The first commitment is to advance worship. We put this commitment in the following way:

To advance worship in culturally accessible forms, through orthodox theology that is deeply rooted in the classical doctrine of the triune God and through humble collaboration and cooperation within the whole Christian Church.

I think about each of our three ministry commitments nearly every single day. It helps me focus my life on the purpose we believe God has given to us as a ministry. One thing it also does is direct my reading and writing on a regular daily basis. When I recently picked up a little book by Joseph F. Girzone, titled simply Trinity, I was drawn to it with profound interest. (It was on sale for $4.99, which surely helped my interest!) Girzone, for those who do not know, is a bestselling author who is retired from the active Catholic priesthood

By |January 23rd, 2006|Categories: The Trinity|

How Should Government Deal with Poverty?

A regular argument made, at least from some evangelical political voices from the political left, is to cite numerous Old Testament texts about poverty and then suggest that one of the central concerns of a just government is to solve the problems associated with poverty. Republicans are heartless promoters of bigger business while Democrats care deeply about the little guy and people’s needs.

No one who has an ounce of compassion disagrees that Christians should care about poverty and its associated social ills. The issue here is not "Should we care about poverty and the problems related to it?" Rather, the question is, "What is the best way to respond to poverty?" The evangelical left, expressed through voices like that of Jim Wallis of Sojourners, often acts as if they alone hold the high ground in this debate. They care deeply about the poor and conservatives do not. Frankly, I believe it is time that we smoke this myth out into the open for what it is, nonsense.

I confess that Ronald Reagan, and what he stood for, has had

By |January 19th, 2006|Categories: Poverty|

The Religion of American Teens

There is a lot of back and forth among various pollsters about the beliefs and religious practices of modern young people in America. The evidence is quite strong that an increasingly large, and growing, number of young adults between 18 and 29 do not go to church at all. Some say it is less than 10% nationally. But what about teens, in particular, who are religious and do attend church?

The best summary that I have seen, rooted in extensive recent research by reputable social scientists, states that the religious faith of modern teens could best be summarized as: "moralistic, therapeutic, Deism." Kids have been taught that they should keep laws that are important to their well-being and that a vague god of some sort wants to make them happy and healthy, thus the therapeutic Deism reference. I think this sums up the bad news about much of what has been taught in our churches and in garden variety youth ministries. Keep the kids out of trouble and keep entertaining them so they will have a positive self-image.

The good news

By |January 18th, 2006|Categories: American Evangelicalism|

The 300th Birthday of Benjamin Franklin

Some have noted that this is the 300th birthday of a truly great American, Benjamin Franklin, born on January 17, 1706. Franklin played an immensely important role in the early history of this nation. But who was Benjamin Franklin, really? Better yet, what did he believe and what difference does it make now?

Franklin was most certainly not an orthodox Christian in the confessional sense of the word. Like many of the founders he had confidence in the principles of right and wrong and most assuredly believed in a God of providence. Franklin often wrote down these principles and certain ideas he was considering at the time. He once wrote what he called "The substance of an intended creed, containing as I thought the essentials of every known religion, and being free of every thing that might shock the professors of any religion." This creed listed the following beliefs of Franklin:

That there is a God who made all things.

That he governs the world by his providence.

That he ought to be worshipped by adoration, prayer and thanksgiving.

By |January 17th, 2006|Categories: History|

A Very Bad Idea in Illinois

A few days ago a devastating fire destoyed a historic Chicago landmark, the southside meeting place of the Pilgrim Baptist Church. It is still being determined if the walls of the old church are structurally sound enough to allow them to remain when the church is rebuilt. This historic church has been the religious home of a number of famous people. Before the building became a church, about seventy-five years ago, it was a historic Chicago synagogue.  This particular tragedy has struck many Chicagoans deeply and the outpouring of public response has been nothing short of amazing as financiers and friends have pledged large sums of money toward the rebuilding project. 

Following the devastating fire Governor Rod Blagojevich promised one million dollars of state funds to the rebuilding of the church. (He also promised a personal gift of $1,000.) Not only is the governor’s pledge of Illinois funds surprising, since he is a Democrat, but it appears to me to plainly be unconstitutional. The Illinois Constitution (Article 10, Section 3) states: "Neither the General Assembly nor any county, city, town, township, school

By |January 15th, 2006|Categories: Separation of Church & State|

When the SBC Mission Board Stayed at a Holiday Inn Express

You’ve seen the television commercials. A man falls from his bike. A man stops to help and begins to examine the guy’s injured leg as if he were a physician. In another commerical a man is in a science lab working on a major experiment and is asked by the attendants, "Where did you go to school doctor?" He answers, in both cases, "I am not a doctor but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night." The idea is simple. Those who stay at a Holiday Inn Express will have judgment that allows them to go well beyond their normal abilities and expertise.

I thought about this when I noted last week the decision of the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, by a vote of 50-15, to no longer appoint candidates for overseas missions who speak in tongues in their private prayer life. Several years ago the IMB voted to not appoint a missionary who practiced tongues, or encouraged this practice, in public. Now they have decided to go even further and stop any new

By |January 13th, 2006|Categories: Southern Baptists|

Munich

The Steven Spielberg film "Munich" is, in my judgment, as good as any film Spielberg has ever produced. I went to see it with very mixed emotions, thinking it might unfairly represent Israel’s position regarding swift response to terrorism. I am quite sure that I am not able to appreciate every political nuance, or the intricate issues of intelligence as carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of our CIA. Several related issues raised by the film struck me as well done. In the end I saw Munich as a brilliant film which powerfully posed the very hard questions raised by modern terrorism.

For those who do not know, or were not alive in 1972, the film Munich is about the story of the suicidal assault undertaken by eight Palestinian terrorists who captured and killed eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team who were living in the Olympic village in Germany in September of 1972 during the summer games. The killings, and the way the Germans handled this assault in particular, all led Israel to a harsh and determined policy of retaliation.

By |January 10th, 2006|Categories: Film|
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