Monday, October 27, 2014

Finding Hope In The Disappointments Of Ministry

Photo Credit: Long CHUNG
I really appreciated these words from Mandy Smith in Christianity Today:
"A former student of mine just left the ministry. Totally walked away. I understand why. She had been doing good but hard work in a place where she rarely saw results. It’s only natural to be discouraged. 
It has made me think about the times I want to walk away. 
Strangely, it’s my imagination that usually brings on the discouragement. Things are never as wonderful as I imagine they could be. I see the brokenness of the world. I believe God cares about it, and I believe God is powerful to do something about it. So I set out to fix it, making grand claims on God’s behalf, imagining all the miracles I’m about to see. I’m like a child—throwing myself fully into what I’ve dreamed up. But the outcome is often less spectacular. So I put away my dress up box, and decide it’s time to grow up. I go small. I stop imagining. And then the depression sets in as the brokenness and limitations overwhelm me. I stop talking to God, stop hoping. 
This is one of the hardest ministry skills: finding that somewhere-in-between where I can trust in God’s power but at the same time not be discouraged when it doesn’t show itself in the fullness I had imagined. 
The Stockdale Paradox has an interesting application here. You may have heard the story of James Stockdale, who spent 8 years in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp where he was tortured over 20 times. Unlike many of his fellow prisoners, he survived the experience emotionally and went on to be an influential leader. When asked what made him different, he pointed out that often the ones who didn’t make it out of prisoner of war camp were the optimists: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be,” (Jim Collins, Good to Great, p. 85). It’s not our call to be pessimists or optimists but realists. Especially if reality and truth are the same thing. Our reality is this: God is good and all-powerful and the world is not as it was created to be. These together are truth. These two realities co-exist, at least for now. 
I wonder if James Stockdale was familiar with the book of Revelation. The lamb looks slain—but he stands. The two witnesses seem to be overpowered—but then they rise again. Like the little scroll that John is told to eat, life is sweet in our mouths but turns sour in our stomachs. We can never lose the faith that we will prevail in the end. But that doesn’t remove the most brutal facts of our current reality. 
Life is a sweet and sour sandwich. 
This is living counter-culturally in a way much bigger than the morality of the movies we choose to watch. This is choosing to see the world through God’s eyes, as broken but ultimately redeemed. And living into that reality although it’s not yet fully true."
To read the rest of this article please click here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Richest Americans Donating Less, Poor Give More To Charity

Photo Credit: Tax Credits
"In the wake of the Great Recession, the richest Americans are donating less to charity, while the poorest are giving more, according to a new study. 
In a report released today, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that Americans who earned at least $200,000 gave nearly 5% less to charity in 2012 than in 2006. 
Higher-income people tend to give proportionately less during tough economic times, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. 
“The downturn was a shock to so many of them, and they’ve been nervous and cautious,” she says. 
The shift has likely meant less money flowing into universities, hospitals and cultural institutions, which the wealthy tend to patronize. Lower- and middle-income donors often give to social service organizations, Palmer says. In part because these groups have had fewer dollars to give, those organizations have still faced a squeeze. 
Unlike their wealthier counterparts, low- and middle-income Americans — those who made less than $100,000 — gave 5% more in 2012 than in 2006, the Chronicle found. The poorest Americans — those who took home $25,000 or less — increased their giving by nearly 17%. 
“Lower and middle-income people know people who lost their jobs or are homeless, and they worry that they themselves are a day away from losing their jobs. They’re very sensitive to the needs of other people and recognize that these years have been hard,” Palmer says. 
Religiosity is another factor driving up giving among low- and middle-income Americans, she says. 
Wealthier Americans still gave more in absolute terms, increasing their donations between 2006 and 2012 by $4.6 billion, adjusted for inflation, to $77.5 billion. In that period, the collective wealth of Americans on The Forbes 400 soared by $1.04 trillion. 
Those who earned less than $100,000 gave $57.3 billion in 2012."
To read the rest of this article please click here.