set aside year-end donations early
If you do not plan ahead, you could unintentionally allow this year's Black Friday to give your church a black eye. You love your church, and you believe in the work that the church is doing. You sincerely want to see it thrive, and you believe God is blessing. Even if you are someone who is not easily lured into impulsive bargain snatching, despite your best intentions, if you do not set aside funds now for your year-end donations, those donations will likely be weaker if they happen at all.
A little less than a third of all tax filers itemize deductions, but we give to God's work for reasons beyond the Internal Revenue Code. For Southern Baptists, December is the month we emphasize international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. There are many opportunities for charitable giving, and I love what one speaker from the NC Baptist Foundation set forth awhile back. Christians should give to Christian causes; who else is going to do so?
Pray about an amount God would like for you to give, and go ahead and give those funds or set them aside if you can discipline yourself not to spend them later. By taking care of what is most important first, you avoid the possibility of accidentally omitting your church from the cash outflows of the season. Remember, whatever you do, don't give out of compulsion or obligation. Give out of a cheerful heart, because you want to - not because you felt guilty after reading this blog post.
I recently shared this devotional with the men of Grace Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC where I serve as pastor.
Probably all of us know of several examples where guys grew up working so hard to gain their father's approval. But no matter how hard they tried, they can never remember a time when Dad said, "I'm proud of you, son," or "Good job." As far as they can tell, they never gained their dad's approval. That may even be your own story. We understand that this reality can have a devastating impact on a young man with ripple effects that last years.
The Bible makes clear that we have a heavenly Father. Gaining His approval is all that truly matters. If we have His approval, it does not matter who else may approve of us. He is #1. And He makes very clear how we can meet with His approval.
Jesus told the story of a man who left town for awhile. Before he left, he gave three of his workers some measure of responsibility. Two of the three multiplied the value of their responsibility while he was away. When he returned, he said to each of those two, "Well done, good and faithful servant." As Christians, we strive to live our lives in such a way that, when we go home to heaven, we hear those words of affirmation from our heavenly Father - "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Here's the thing, though. Jesus taught us that there is none good but God. No one is faithful like God either. So, how can we get to a point where the one who alone is good labels us "good and faithful?"
This is the life of grace. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul tells of a thorn in the flesh that was given to him lest he should become boastful. Three times he asked God to remove this thorn from him, and three times God said no. Instead of removing the thorn, God said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." We understand that the word "perfect" here is interchangeable with the idea of being "made complete." If I am trying to live the Christian life in my own strength, I am not experiencing the fullness of God's grace and strength that is available to me. He must increase; I must decrease.
My strength to be good will quickly dissipate. My strength to be faithful will run out just as quickly. For me to hear my heavenly Father say "Well done, good and faithful servant," one day, I must give up operating in my own strength and surrender control to Him. Then He works out His own goodness through me, His own faithfulness through me, and works toward making me holy, good, and faithful as He is holy, good, and faithful. The sooner I come to the end of my self, the sooner I will see the strength of God made perfect in my own weakness. And when that happens, I will hear my Father say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."