Giving Flows from Gratitude

Giving-Flows-from-GratitudeThanksgiving is a fitting time to look back and consider our national heritage in the Pilgrims and how this devout group of Christians overcame a harsh first winter, where almost half died of starvation and sickness, only to respond the next season by generously giving thanks and sharing their harvest with their neighbors: the Indians. Despite difficult circumstances, out of gratitude toward God, they gave.

Think about it… Less than a year earlier half of their community died of starvation and sickness; a prudent man could argue that a feast would be wasteful and that a wise steward would store up as much as possible for the coming winter. I’m sure they did save a healthy portion for winter, yet they gave. They gave back to those who helped them, and they acknowledged the source of their provision: God.

Interestingly, in America charitable giving traditionally happens at the end of the calendar year during the months of November and December. Many charities receive as much as half of their annual gifts between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Of course, that is primarily tax driven and has little to do with the holiday of Thanksgiving; however, let’s take a look how and why we give.

Why we give
The Pilgrims celebrated God’s provision and gave out of gratitude toward God. It is a supernatural thing that occurs when Christ enters our lives; “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Rob Kuban, author of What Does The Bible Actually Say About Money puts it this way. “In the flesh, in sin, we are takers. Since the Garden of Eden, we are out to get whatever we can for ourselves. Even our very acts of giving can be corrupted by self-serving motives. Christ’s life in us reverses this trend… In Christ, we begin to see the water start running in the opposite direction, away from ourselves. We actually begin to see our heart and soul believe ‘It is better to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). Instead of a sponge, ‘He who believes in Me… From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). As Christ gains the victory in the hearts of men, their desire for generosity, to bless others before themselves, cannot be contained. Christians give because Christ is in them. Simple as that.”

How we give
In 2012, Americans gave $316.2-billion to charity as reported by the “Giving USA,” annual survey of philanthropy. That represented 2.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the June 2013 Chronicle of Philanthropy. However, Atlantic Monthly reports, “One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans — those with earnings in the top 20 percent — contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid — those in the bottom 20 percent — donated 3.2 percent of their income.”

The article went on to conclude that “Wealth affects not only how much money is given but to whom it is given. The poor tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities, while the wealthy prefer to support colleges and universities, arts organizations and museums. Of the 50 largest individual gifts to public charities, not a single one of them went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed.”

The biblical model
This statistic is significant when you consider James 1:27, which reminds us that “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (NLT). From the outflow of our hearts, God calls us to care for those in greatest need.

Jesus clearly illustrated this when he described the last days. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom … For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me … when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me’” (Matthew 25:31-40 NLT).

Maximized giving
Ideally, charity should be practiced year round not just at the end of the year in preparation for a tax refund. But whenever you give, it is wise to make the most of the funds you have as a good steward, and there are ways to maximize your giving that allow you to give more to charity and less to the IRS. After all, even Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21 NLT).
One way to do that is through a donor-advised fund set up through the National Christian Foundation. Focused on serving high-capacity and middle-income givers, they help you leverage tax-advantage tools that funnel more resources into your charities of choice while maximizing tax benefits. If you write checks to a local church or ministry, but have appreciated stocks or mutual funds in a taxable investment portfolio, you likely have a significant opportunity to pay less tax, give more, improve your personal cash flow and simplify giving through this type of fund. By using tax savings to give more, you also increase your charitable deduction.

If you are not sure where you want to give, a donor-advised fund also allows you to set aside the resources now and receive a tax deduction this year while granting the money over time as you feel led. It also enables you to give non-liquid assets such as property and stocks or a share of your business to set up your giving fund without hurting your cash flow.

Choosing where to give
Whether you give cash or set up a giving fund, determining where to give can be a daunting task as there are literally people with their hands out at the corner and appeals for funding flooding the mail. As much as we may like to, we can’t give to every cause; however, there are certain causes, as outlined in Matthew 25 above, that Jesus spoke of specifically.

And while we can’t test the motives of every person or organization looking for a handout, it is important to research the charity first. Learn about the organization and whether or not it produces the results you would like to see. Find out exactly how your donation will be spent and determine if the charity has any financial accountability in place.

Many non-profit agencies now subscribe to financial overview organizations such as the Evangelical Council for financial Accountability (ECFA). Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™ for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising and board governance.

Charity Navigator, founded in 2001, also examines non-profit organizations to determine if they excel in financial accountability, transparency and results, helping people make informed giving decisions regarding both secular and faith-based organizations.

A meaningful holiday gift
Where and how you give can be highly personal and should be led by prayer. Rather than jumping into the commercialism of the holidays by hitting the malls on Black Friday and showering loved ones with over abundance, this year consider a few charities that provide creative ways for you to give in a loved one’s name while providing for social needs and worthwhile causes at the same time.

The Food for the Poor Gift Catalog lists items such as providing a water pump for clean drinking water, a goat to produce milk and cheese, a home with sanitation or food a child for a year. Food for the Poor feeds millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. Visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

In the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Catalog, you can give clean water, emergency relief supplies, emergency shelter or medicine, lifesaving food, support for missionary doctors and much more. Modeled after the example of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine. Visit www.samaritanspurse.org/our-ministry/gift-catalog-2014

Through Operation Christmas Child, an initiative of Samaritan’s Purse, you can pack a personalized shoebox of inexpensive gift items and a personal note for delivery to a needy child somewhere in the world. This is a great way to practice the value of giving with your own child. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered some 69 million gift-filled shoe boxes to boys and girls in more than 130 countries. Visit www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child.

Compassion International, a Christian child sponsorship organization provides food, shelter, education, health care, and Christian training to children in poverty. They help more than 1.4 million babies, children and students in 26 countries through a holistic program of Christ-based child development. Visit www.compassion.com  to sponsor a child and send a life-changing Christmas gift.

Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship, connects parents in prison with their children through the delivery of Christmas gifts. Volunteers purchase and deliver gifts and the Gospel in the name of their prisoner-parent. They share Christ’s love by helping to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the families of prisoners who often feel abandoned. Visit www.prisonfellowship.org/programs/angel-tree.

Others to consider locally
It is impossible to list every charity that is doing worthwhile work. Here are a few more local organizations to consider when giving.

Cross International, based in South Florida, is a Christian relief and development organization that serves the poorest of the poor internationally by channeling aid through existing churches or church-based ministries. They provide food, shelter, water, education, medical care and emergency aid to the poor in over 36 developing countries across the globe. Visit www.crossinterational.org/takeaction.

HOPE South Florida partners with the Christian community and other agencies to serve homeless and hurting individuals and families in South Florida. Through these partnerships they are providing housing, mentoring relationships and community one-stop service centers to see broken families renewed and lives restored. Visit hopesouthflorida.org

4KIDS of South Florida is committed to providing a home for every child in crisis whether they are living on the streets, in group homes, or in foster care. Through a partnership of committed individuals, churches, corporations, and government agencies, 4KIDS has brought HOPE to over 18,000 children in 17 years. Visit www.4kidsofsfl.org.

The mission of Sheridan House Family Ministries is to honor Christ by serving the needs of children and families in South Florida. They provide marriage and family seminars, a Parenting on Purpose radio show, a counseling center, single parent ministry and residential care for boys and girls with behavioral and emotional issues. Visit www.sheridanhouse.org.

Photo credits: Food for the Poor

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