Generosity and giving for believers

Focus on becoming financially healthy so there is freedom to give

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

It’s a big topic, figuring out how to plan well for the future and give generously in the here and now.

But the underlying truth is really simple, said Barry Bledsoe, president of The Baptist Foundation of Alabama. It’s not either give now or have money later, he said — it’s both.

And it’s accomplished by examining your lifestyle and determining whether you’re hoarding or helping.

“Just spend less on yourself, because you feel compelled to be a good steward,” he said. “Make decisions about your lifestyle beforehand so you can make good decisions in the moment. Don’t let yourself get boxed in financially or you won’t have freedom to give.”

A lot of great books and websites are out there to help Christians work through what wise financial planning and generous giving looks like in their own lives, Bledsoe said.

One is Generous Giving, the company for which John Cortines (see story below) works, which aims to help Christians have meaningful conversations about how they spend their resources.

Another, Bledsoe said, is a book by Randy Alcorn called “Money, Possessions and Eternity.”

In the book, Alcorn tackles the topic of good stewardship in planning for retirement.

Examine your savings

“We must ask the same question about our retirement savings as well as all savings. Is this reasonable planning, exercising foresight as Proverbs commends? Or is it an alternative to trusting God, a backup in case God doesn’t come through?”

Alcorn goes on to encourage Christians to examine how saving for retirement lines up with the story of “the rich fool storing up for his later years to live out his life in comfort and security” in Luke 12.

“We know what Jesus thought of that man’s retirement plans,” he writes. “Why should we assume He thinks differently about ours?”

When in doubt

Where is the line, Alcorn asks, between reasonable saving for retirement and greedy hoarding? If someone were to take his or her retirement savings and invest them in meeting needs, would God say that was jeopardizing retirement or investing in eternity?

Alcorn quotes financial guru Larry Burkett: “When in doubt — give, don’t hoard.” Help hungry neighbors. Meet present needs.

“If God commended the widow for giving away her last two pennies, wouldn’t he commend” people who use their resources to help others?

Alcorn writes that he believes the answer is “yes.” He wrote that he personally has given away a portion of his retirement savings and is praying often about how much to keep and how much to give away.

“If the countless billions of dollars now invested in earthly accounts were freed up and poured into helping the needy and fulfilling the great commission, what eternal impact might result?”

Bledsoe said he believes it’s vital that all Christians spend time understanding how to be financially healthy and reorder their lives so that they are free to give generously.

Desire to be generous

“You have to be objective and realistic and deal with real numbers and have a desire to be generous,” he said. “Using money well always starts from your perspective of money and God’s directions regarding it. It’s good stewardship. It’s good spiritually and practically to work through that. And it leads to a more fulfilling life.”

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Biblical truths of stewardship, generosity learned disciplines that must be taught, Fenton says

By Jennifer Davis Rash
The Alabama Baptist

There’s something that happens in a church when it starts to give its money away,” Gary Fenton said. “It will revitalize the church if the church is a good steward.”

Fenton — senior advancement officer at Samford University and retired longtime pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, both in Birmingham — led two sessions during the June 3 “Small Church, Big Responsibility: How to be Financially Savvy No Matter your Size” workshop.

Presented by Samford’s Ministry Training Institute and co-sponsored by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), The Alabama Baptist (TAB) newspaper and The Sterling Group financial and life planning service, the workshop focused on a biblical understanding and how-tos related to teaching and preaching on stewardship.

SBOM’s Jim Swedenburg shared information on budgeting, increasing tithing and basic financial management. He also shared information about e-giving for churches in a followup interview with TAB.

Both workshop leaders agreed stewardship and generosity are learned disciplines that must be taught.

Fenton said, “Generosity is not a personality trait. It is a spiritual discipline.

“Paul’s last instructions to the Ephesians, his last quote of Jesus to this group, involves stewardship,” Fenton said. “Lack of stewardship is not lack of faith; often it is rejection — ‘I don’t give because I don’t believe.’

“Teaching stewardship is not something you do to help your church do what it wants, it is something you do to help Christians grow deeper in their faith,” Fenton noted. “It is helping a person become what they ought to be.”

God as creator, owner

Almost all Old Testament stories have some type of offering connected to them, he said, noting the focus is on God as creator.

“In the Old Testament stewardship was commanded and not voluntary. It was created for the good of the community.”

In the New Testament, the focus is on God as owner rather than as creator, Fenton said.

“There are at least 20 parables that discuss stewardship,” he said.

“In the Old Testament, the idea is that you use everything for God. In the New Testament, you take what you have and you enlarge it for the glory of God.

“Whatever we have we are not just to hold on to it but we are to use it,” Fenton explained. “One of the things that stymies Christians is to become selfish. When we start thinking possessions are just for us, then we start to grow smaller.

“When we start thinking money is just for our church, then we start focusing just on us,” he said.

Fenton described stewardship as using one’s resources for God’s glory. And to be a generous person is to give with the right attitude.

“Believers are commanded to be stewards and managers of material wealth,” he said.

“We are accountable to God for the stewardship of our possessions. We are accountable for how much and the spirit for which we give it.”

For more information and resources on stewardship and generosity, email Fenton at gdfenton@samford.edu or Swedenburg at jswedenburg@alsbom.org.

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Resources

Books:

  • “More than Money: Being a Steward of All God’s Given You” by Calvin T. Partain
  • “Leading a Generous Church: Making Disciples without Chasing Money” by Todd McMichen
  • “The Money Challenge: 30 Days of Discovering God’s Design For You and Your Money” by Art Rainer
  • “The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving” by Randy Alcorn
  • “Money, Possessions and Eternity” by Randy Alcorn
  • “Jesus’ Terrible Financial Advice: Flipping the Tables on Peace, Prosperity and the Pursuit of Happiness” by John Thornton

Website:

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Bellingrath family continues to serve God, man through garden, estate in Theodore

By Carolyn Tomlin
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

From the northern highlands to the Gulf Coast, Alabama is a unique and interesting state. And within this southern state, remarkable families left their mark on history. Some of the most noted were the Bellingraths — Walter and Bessie.

Many Baptist church groups in Alabama tour the Bellingrath Gardens and Home, located in Theodore, about 20 miles south of Mobile. Within the 65 acres of gardens open to the public and the 10,000-square-foot home, visitors may view the beautiful plants, flowers and grand estate. However, they may not be aware of the lasting legacy of the Bellingraths that continues today. This is the story of how one wealthy Alabama family served God and man while living and left a provision to continue this giving after they died.

The grand estate has been called the “House that Coke Built.” That’s because in 1903 Walter and his brother, William, began Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottling operation. The franchise territory was divided and Walter took Mobile, joking that he liked to fish. As an entrepreneur, Walter’s leadership with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company became one of the most successful in the United States.

In a letter to his mother, Walter wrote, “I want to make the world better and brighter by my being here.” As a member and deacon of Central Presbyterian Church, he wrote checks to cover annual financial shortfalls of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce on at least two occasions.

Marrying Bessie Mae Morse of Mobile in 1906, the couple lived in that city for several years. Bessie’s azalea garden was considered one of the city’s largest and drivers often took visitors to this address.

Meanwhile, because of the stress of his work, Walter started to develop health problems. On the advice of his doctor, Walter was advised to “learn how to play.” Buying an abandoned fishing camp on Fowl River, called “Belle Camp,” the Bellingraths soon started spending time at this location but travel was a problem because of the distance and poor roads between Theodore and Mobile. They sold the house in Mobile and lived in a small house on the property of Fowl River.

But wherever Bessie went, she wanted to bring the beauty of God’s creation. Transplanting some of her beloved azaleas and camellias, she found the climate on the Fowl River ideal. In a few years, she wanted to expand the gardens and realized the need for professional help. George B. Rogers was hired to turn the primitive fishing camp into a grand estate and gardens. Included in the original design were flagstone pathways, fountains, a formal rose garden and conservatory.

Wanting to share their garden with others, the couple placed an ad in the Mobile newspapers where they opened the gardens to the public. On an April Sunday in 1932, more than 4,700 people accepted the invitation to visit Bellingrath Gardens. It was said the road between Mobile and the gardens became one long traffic jam. For a Depression-weary public, a day of wandering through the gardens brightened their day. With this phenomenal response, the Bellingraths decided to share their garden with others.

Three years later, in 1935, a 15-room home was designed by Rogers. Blending in with the landscape, antique local bricks, cast iron galleries and mossy flagstones add character to their estate. One unusual feature of the house is that the original furniture and collections the family added are still in the home. A small chapel was built for the family and guests.

Bessie and Walter had no children of their own but they provided education for others. Employee’s children were often the recipient of cash and college scholarships.

Helping during Depression

Realizing the poverty of local people during the Depression, Bessie would hear of a family in need. She would knock on their door, ask about a “rare” plant in their garden and pay them several hundred dollars for a cutting. It was known she kept numerous businesses from losing their shops by paying top dollar for merchandise — never asking for a lower price. And she always paid in cash.

Bessie died in 1943 at the age of 64; Walter in 1955 at the age of 86. After Bessie’s death, Walter dedicated himself to maintaining and caring for the gardens his beloved wife started. At the age of 80, Walter created the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation, a privately owned nonprofit to perpetuate the existence of his beloved home and gardens for future generations to enjoy. Through their generosity, Bellingrath’s Gardens and Home is one of the top attractions in Alabama.

For more information about Bellingrath Gardens and Home, visit bellingrath.org or call 1-800-247-8420.

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A closer look at the foundation’s earnings:

Two-thirds of the current operations are financed entirely by admissions and donations.

Three Christian colleges and two churches receive 85 percent of the foundation’s earnings:

  • Huntingdon College in Montgomery
  • Stillman College in Tuscaloosa
  • Rhodes College (formerly Southwestern University) in Memphis, Tennessee
  • Central Presbyterian Church (Walter Bellingrath’s church)
  • St. Francis Methodist Church (Bessie Bellingrath’s family church)

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Social Security remains relevant, part of plan for many looking ahead

The season of assuming Social Security would not be around for those younger than the Boomer generation may have passed. A May 25 Gallup report indicates Americans planning on Social Security as part of their retirement is rising from the previous drop in confidence. Of those age 18 to 29, 25 percent expect to rely on Social Security. This is nearly twice what that age group reported in 2007, the Gallup research finds. (TAB)

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Harvard business school alumni find freedom, joy in ‘audacious’ giving

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

If you found $1,000 lying on the ground somewhere, what would you be excited about doing with it?

Would you save it? Spend it?

Or would you give it away?

A few years ago, John Cortines knew exactly what he would’ve done with it — it would’ve gone straight into his savings account. He’s been a lifelong saver — he finished high school with $10,000 in the bank from mowing lawns.

“I grew up in a Christian home learning to give and save and be responsible with my money, but the message I really internalized was the message of saving,” he said. “I was really passionate about building wealth.”

Fast forward a few years, and Cortines was a petroleum engineer going for an MBA at Harvard University just so he could move overseas and make more money faster.

“I got my dream job offer and was planning to move overseas with my wife, save all we could and retire early,” he said.

But then something happened before he graduated — he and his friend, Gregory Baumer, took a class that changed their lives. In the months leading up to the course, the two had been meeting weekly with a small group of business students to study the Bible and talk about wise stewardship.

‘God and Money’

Baumer said, “John was a saver, but I was a spender, and up until then I’d thought of my tithe as my price of admission with God and I could spend the rest on myself. But I began to have more questions about how to handle money the way God wanted us to.”

And as the two started going to the class — called “God and Money” — the saver and the spender both saw God begin to turn their point of view upside down.

“When the final paper assignment could be on any topic we wanted, we chose to do ours on how we could be good stewards if we were ever to receive more financial resources than we needed,” Baumer said.

They interviewed 200 Christian Harvard business alumni about their wealth management and spending habits, and the response “astonished” them and drove them to reach a conclusion they never saw coming, he said.

‘God wants something for us’

“There are wise people out there who have come to the conclusion that God wants something for us, not from us, when He draws us to a life of audacious generosity,” Baumer said.
Cortines agreed.

“We met people who were living incredibly generous lives, and through seeing their lives and stories we kept seeing ourselves challenged,” he said. “They seemed to have a greater sense of freedom, purpose and joy than we were expecting to see.”

And both Cortines and Baumer knew they wanted to experience that.

So they started on a journey of giving their money away, and they wrote about it in a book called “God and Money: How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School.”

“If you boiled the whole book down to one point,” Cortines said, “it would be that we learned that we should not ask God, ‘How much do I need to give?’ but rather ‘how much do I need to keep?’”

He explained that there are two key principles of this lifestyle:

1. Understand that all we have belongs to God.

“In 1 Chronicles 29, King David gives a huge gift to the temple, but just after that, he says to God that he had nothing to offer God that wasn’t God’s already,” Cortines said. “I think that’s the foundational idea — all we have belongs to God and comes from God.”

2. Use what God has given us for His purposes.

“The independent American spirit says, ‘OK, I’ve earned this salary, so I’ll use it how I see fit,’” Cortines said. “But living generously says, ‘God has given me all that I have, and God has a mission and a plan for the world, so I should use what He’s given me for that mission.”

Prayerful wisdom is involved in deciding how much you should keep — “that includes being responsible, putting a roof over my family’s head and not letting my kids starve,” Cortines said. “But should I consume everything He’s given me to live a greater and greater lifestyle when I know that His mission is for the gospel to go out?”

There’s a higher calling, he said, than consuming it all ourselves.

But there shouldn’t be a sense of guilt and obligation, Cortines said. “It’s more of an invitation to walk in line with God and His purpose.”

Fulfilling God’s kingdom

But it’s not an invitation that everyone accepts, Baumer said.

“If you polled 100 Christians, 45 would be spenders, 45 would be savers and only 10 would have figured out the generous life of serving through your money,” he said. “The life that those 10 have is a unique opportunity to step alongside God in the fulfillment of His kingdom.”

And it’s something Cortines, now chief operating officer of Generous Giving in Orlando, Florida, said he’s glad he’s found.

“We have experienced so much joy through this lifestyle,” he said. “For my wife and I, it has been much more than writing a check. When the Holy Spirit prompts us, it’s been really exciting for us to invest in others.”

It would be selling the wrong idea to say that if you give generously, it will all be good in your life, Cortines said. At times, he said, they’ve felt the “pinch” in their lifestyle from dying to flesh and giving sacrificially.

“But to get to walk with Christ in that way — we wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “It’s brought joy. It’s been life giving.”

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Find out if e-giving makes sense for your church.