Tag Archives: Ministry

Making a difference as a Christian doesn’t mean doing dramatic, reckless things

Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek
Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek (10/12/2015)

What’s the ideal balance between work and missions? In this post, I will argue against going abroad to do full-time missions.

Do apologetics ministry in your spare time, and work full-time

A full-time job and part-time ministry makes the most sense from a cost-benefit point of view. I have friends who are software engineers who studied enough science, history, and philosophy part-time, who are able to do public debates with atheists, which influence many more people than one-on-one interactions. One of my friends has several Masters degrees, and is in a PhD program, but his full-time career is in software and network management. He is 100% self-funded. He has worked in a successful apologetics career with a full-time career in technology, and he is debt-free. This is the best option . Your debts get paid off. Your resume stays gap-free. You bring a nest egg to your future spouse. You can afford to have children. You can afford a stay-at-home mom. You can afford either homeschooling or private schools, should you decide to go that route.

You have to start saving and investing early if you want to be independent in your old age. With full-time work and part-time ministry, you still make a difference for Christ and His Kingdom over time, while avoiding a financial crisis that could cost you your family, your friends, and even your faith. This is an especially wise way to proceed, given the economic struggles we are likely to face from housing bubbles, student loan bubbles, rising interest rates, entitlement crises, state pension underfunding, environmental regulations, the ever increasing national debt, demographic crisis, etc. Read the culture and be cautious about the future.

Use the Internet to make a difference in other countries for free

One cost-effective way to make a difference is by using the Internet to reach other countries. You can work full-time, and then use your spare time to blog. This blog gets an average of 24,000 page views per week. About 45% of that traffic comes from NON-USA countries. If you keep working full-time and just start a blog for free, then you can maintain your gap-free resume and have a much easier time marrying and raising children.

The university next door is a great place to have an influence

I do think full-time ministry is OK in two cases: if you don’t go abroad, or if you go abroad with a full-time job or full-ride scholarship. My friend Eric Chabot was able to host Frank Turek at Ohio State University last night (see photo above), for example. He got a great crowd. He is donation-driven, but he runs a lean operation since he lives near the campus where he serves. When it comes to having an impact, the American university is the place to make a difference. We have enough trouble in our own country, especially in the universities, where so many young people lose the faith of their childhood – there’s no need to travel and incur heavy expenses.  I think it also makes sense financially to go abroad for missions, if you get a scholarship that pays your way or if you have a job offer where you can work full-time and do missions part-time. What does not make sense is sending an unskilled missionary to a foreign country at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars that could be used much more efficiently in smaller, effective Eric-Chabot-style operations.

Your feelings and desires are not God speaking to you

Now some people who want to go into overseas missions will tell me that they feel led to go. This method of decision making is not Biblical, as I explained in one of my previous posts. If you believe the Bible, then feelings are a pretty poor way of determining what God wants from you. In fact, left to themselves, humans typically choose what feels best for them, not what does best for God. If God really calls you to do something, like he called Jonah, then you probably won’t feel like doing it. Missionary work is especially suspect when God is supposedly calling you to go to a country that you always dreamed of traveling to while you were a non-Christian. Normally, conversion causes you to have different desires – not the same desires you had as a non-Christian. Unless you hear an audible voice, like an Old Testament prophet would, then it’s best not to think that God is speaking through your feelings and desires. A good book to read on this is “Decision Making and the Will of God“, by Garry Friesen.

Don’t go into missions in order to have fun or go on an adventure

I am suspicious of people who try to turn Christianity into a mechanism for achieving the same goals that non-Christians want to achieve. These days, it seems as if everyone wants to travel to exotic places. If there is evidence of hedonistic, fun-pursuing, thrill-seeking behavior in your past, then consider that you may just want an “adventure”. I have a friend who went to Russia for a year just after graduating college, and she admitted to me that she just went “to have an adventure”. To me, that’s not a good reason to spend thousands of dollars, and put gaps in your resume. It’s not a cost-effective way to make a difference, given the other alternatives. Your goal should be to make yourself defensible so that you can put out a sustained effort that lasts, not burn out and then be ineffective for the rest of your life. Think about what J. Warner Wallace says about living wisely and prudently so you position yourself to make a steady contribution in the second half of your life. Don’t wreck your long-term impact for short-term fun. God will not honor that.

Don’t go into missions to make up for an immoral past

Anyway, if you look in your past and see lots of wild behavior – drinking, drugs, premarital sex, cohabitation, abortions, gambling, divorces, etc., then consider that you may be interested in missions for the wrong reasons. You don’t need to go on a missions trip to dramatically declare to everyone that you are now completely reformed from your wild party days. I actually managed to talk a friend out of a short-term missions trip who felt that it was a good way to do something meaningful to “make up” for her past. By being responsible with her job and saving money, she’s managed to avoid burning out, and to instead put out a steady stream of effective activities. And she was financially stable enough to get married and have children, as well – another excellent way to make a difference.

Do not go into missions if your resume and balance sheet do not demonstrate maturity

We already talked about the need for sound planning in the Bible study we did with Wayne Grudem.  The Bible praises hard work, stewardship, prudence and wisdom. And this is especially true for people who are getting older and need to be thinking about marriage, children and retirement. It’s not a good witness for Christians to be financially unstable. When you are able to stand on your own two feet financially, and help others from your earnings, you gain credibility with non-Christians. We don’t want people to think that we are doing this for the money. The best option is to be self-funded, like Paul and his tent-making-funded ministry.

By the way, if you’d like to read a related post by Eric Chabot, this one is a good one.

Sean McDowell explains how to make Christian apologetics into a career

Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS
Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS

Sean McDowell has managed to integrate apologetics pretty tightly with his career, and in this recent blog post, he offers some options to others who might want to follow suit.

He writes:

We live in a golden age of apologetics. There are more books, curricula, blogs, conferences, academic programs, and people interested in apologetics than ever before. As my friend (and boss) Craig Hazen says, “Apologetics is a growth industry.”

Part of the vision of our Biola M.A. Christian Apologetics program is to train apologists to be a resource for the local church. In fact, our dream is that churches would consider the need for a “Pastor or Apologetics” as important as a men’s ministry leader or a youth pastor. Until this dream becomes a reality, here’s a few ways to make a career in apologetics (If you think I have missed any, please let me know):

He has several options listed in the post:

  • Professor of Apologetics
  • Ratio Christi
  • Author
  • Blogger
  • Speaker
  • Christian School Teacher

At least one personal friend of mine does each of these six options! They are all doable, but you really have to be the best at what you do if you want to pursue them, simply because of the lower demand. People don’t value truth these days as much as they value fun and entertainment.

Let’s look at number 6 in particular, because this one seems to me to offer the most linear, low-risk, option:

6.Christian School Teacher. Before accepting a teaching position at Biola University, I taught theology and apologetics full-time at a private Christian school in southern California. Since teaching high school involves grading and disciplining students, it is very different than writing or speaking. But it is a valuable way to help Christian students think deeply about their faith, and also to critically engage non-Christian students (I had many atheist, Buddhist, and Muslim students in my classes). If you want to teach at a Christian school, you will need both apologetics/theology knowledge (an undergraduate degree or M.A. is probably sufficient) as well as training as a classroom teacher.

Of course, there is a rival view to the view of doing apologetics full time, and that view is that you should do your regular job full time, and try to have an apologetics ministry on the side. J. Warner Wallace calls such people “tent-making apologists” because, like the apostle Paul, they fund their ministry by working a normal job (Paul made tents to drive his ministry).

Air Force TACPs confirm target locations with their map
Air Force TACPs confirm target locations with their map

Wallace lists 10 reasons why tent-making apologists are effective, and this is one I have personal experience with:

Tent-Making Christian Case Makers Reach a Skeptical Audience
As an atheist, I was very skeptical of Christians when I thought they were trying to sell me something. In fact, this was a major stumbling block for me. As a high school student, I used to watch local televangelists with scorn if they repeatedly asked their viewers to send them money. Don’t underestimate this disdain on the part of skeptics. As a tent-maker, I’ve had many conversations with skeptics who have given me a hearing simply because they respected my position as a volunteer Case Maker. One told me, “At least I know you’re not in this for the money.” Tent-making Case Makers are uniquely positioned to reach a skeptical world.

This blog has no ads, because I pay wordpress to have them removed. I do post Amazon links in the What I am Reading section, but that’s only to recommend to people what I am actually reading, not to make money.

And these two are near and dear to me:

Tent-Making Christian Case Makers Thrive in Any Economy
I started thinking again about the power of tent-making Case Makers after reading Lydia McGrew’s fantastic post, “An Army of Tent Makers.” Lydia is a brilliant Case Maker who continues to have a powerful impact even though she’s not a vocational apologist. In her post, Lydia discusses the current financial climate and the limited opportunities for people seeking full-time employment as apologists. While it’s often difficult to find full-time employment in the field of Christian apologetics or start a donor-funded apologetics ministry in a challenging economy, tent-making Case Makers aren’t limited by bad economic climates. In addition, as Lydia points out, “In the end, if we can have this army of tentmakers, there will be (Lord willing) money to allow some people to work in full-time ministry. But it’s going to be quite a small proportion of those who are interested or would ideally like to do so.”

Tent Making Christian Case Makers Survive in Any Political Climate
Times are changing and our politicians and judges are less and less friendly to non-profit organizations. A federal judge recently struck down a law giving clergy tax-free housing allowances, and atheist groups continue to challenge the tax exempt status of religious non-profits.  If the non-profit status of apologetics ministries is someday successfully abolished, vocational Christian Case Makers will have to rethink their strategy. Tent-making Case Makers will already be standing in the gap. Tent-makers are flexible enough to survive, even in difficult political environments.

My regular readers know that I follow current events and what I see worries me. Earning and saving is my way of weakening the fear of the future, so that I can make a small difference today without being paralyzed by worry about tomorrow. It really is important for Christians to earn and save so that they can do ministry today without crashing and burning tomorrow when things get difficult. Although some silly people think that the height of Christian ability is to disregard the future and do wild, adventurous things today, those people are wrong.  A Christian ought to be wise about balancing ministry and finances, so that they aren’t an embarrassment to the Kingdom, or a financial burden to others. Any of the young Christians who I mentor regarding college and careers and finances will tell you that I am an absolute bully when it comes to making young people study useful subjects, get early work experience, and curtail spending on fun and thrills in favor of saving and investing.

Wallace wrote another post where he listed the occupations of a bunch of tent-making apologists, including me. I think the important thing is that you have to earn money and you have to do apologetics. Finding the right balance is your decision, but whatever you decide, make sure you are effective and make sure that you don’t starve now, or in the future when you are older. We all have to retire some day, you probably don’t want to be working full time in your 70s at a job you don’t love, just to put food on the table.

Should a man go into full-time apologetics ministry if he intends to marry?

Congressional Budget Office: Debt to GDP ratio
Congressional Budget Office: Debt to GDP ratio

Lydia McGrew has a post up at What’s Wrong With the World blog that is just excellent.

Excerpt:

Apologetics is wonderful and incredibly important. It’s a wonderful thing that a revival of specifically evidentialist apologetics is happening in the United States and even, to some extent, in the Anglophone world at large.

Unfortunately, this revival of interest in apologetics and in being Christian philosophers is coming at a very bad time, economically. Even if you are a genius, your chances in 2013 and following of getting a stable job by the route of going to graduate school in philosophy (or almost any area of the humanities) are pretty darned slim. If you’re not a genius, fuhgetaboutit. Nor were there ever all that many jobs in philosophy. It was always an iffy proposition, but it’s much worse now than it was even twenty years ago.

As for starting ministries, a poor economy makes it extremely hard to do that, too, because people don’t have as much disposable income to donate. Moreover, even in a more robust economy, if all the eager young apologists were to flock to start apologetics and/or campus ministries, they would be competing among themselves for a finite number of available dollars from donors. So that’s not the best idea either.

Let me speak very bluntly here: In my opinion, God doesn’t need a whole raft of impractical idealists out there getting themselves into debt or half starving (or really starving) with no idea of how in the world they are ever going to support even themselves, much less a family, out at the other end of their education. That just burdens the church with a large number of able-bodied but needy Christians who are in a seemingly unending stage of transition, “getting an education for the kingdom” or “hoping to do work for the kingdom” without a viable plan in mind or any fiscal light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead, I believe that we need an army of tentmakers. If you have a job or a marketable skill, for heaven’s sake (literally), don’t quit that job and join the ranks of starving students. Keep your day job, but enrich your mind and prepare yourself to answer people’s questions about Christianity by studying on your own time. If you have entrepreneurial abilities and the capital, start a business. That will support not only yourself but others you employ, and if successful, you will have more money to give to Christian ministries.

But even if you aren’t the entrepreneurial type or don’t have that opportunity, at least make sure (to the extent that one can in today’s world) that you can pay the rent and put food on your own table as well as supporting whatever number of additional people you plan to take on. (In other words, if you are a guy who would like to get married and have children, bear that in mind.) This will inevitably mean spending time at all that distasteful stuff like networking and making a resume. Bookish types don’t enjoy that stuff, because it seems bogus, but it can’t be helped. It will undoubtedly mean, for most people, not being full-time students beyond the undergraduate level, especially not in the humanities, not trying to become full-time academics as a life work, and not going into full-time ministry, even if you would ideally like to do one or more of those three things.

In the end, if we can have this army of tentmakers, there will be (Lord willing) money to allow some people to work in full-time ministry. But it’s going to be quite a small proportion of those who are interested or would ideally like to do so.

[…]Inevitably, the course of action I am suggesting will mean a bifurcation for many between their day job and what they are most passionately interested in. So be it. Indeed, so it has ever been in the world. What proportion of people at any moment in human history have been blessed enough to spend most of their time working on what they are most passionately interested in? The question answers itself. So I think that bifurcation has to be accepted by a great many people and that doing so will lead to what I might call a healthier “Christian economy” among committed Christians than what we could otherwise end up with.

So let’s see her advice in bullet-point form:

  • The job market for philosophers is very bad
  • A bad economy means less support money is available
  • It’s important to have a plan to fund your  ministry
  • Leverage your full-time job to fund your ministry

So I want to make two comments.

Making bad decisions because you think God is telling you to

I often find that when I talk to Christians, there is this sort of hyper-spiritualized way of deciding what to do, and I’ve written about this in one of my favorite posts. Hyper-spiritual Christians read the Bible, which is good, but then they don’t tend to also look at practical things like economics, science and public policy when making their decisions. The Bible doesn’t say much about what to study or what job to get, but there is an example of Paul working at tent-making in order to fund his ministry. So there is precedent for the idea of learning a trade and working to earn enough money to support our families, our ministry and even other people’s ministries.

I think we have an obligation to take the Bible seriously when it tells us what we can do to please God, but coming up with a plan to please God most effectively is our job. We have to make the plans to serve God. Our plans must be within the bounds of Biblical morality, but they should also reflect our knowledge of how the world really works, too. We’ll be more successful with a good plan and some hard work. It’s very easy to be deceived by our feelings about what we would like to do with our lives. And many people who listen to their feelings and find other impractical people to echo and affirm those feelings make many mistakes in life. I would advise people to be very careful about calling their feelings the voice of God speaking to them, then getting into trouble when their lack of wisdom blows up in their faces.

Christian men who want marriage without having to get a job

So that brings me to the concern that I have that I’ve been thinking about for the last week or so. I have been thinking about a couple of Christian apologists I know who are interested in marriage, but unwilling to prepare themselves to prepare for a wife and children. They are both very unaware of the economic and political challenges that they are likely to face, which makes the need to prepare financially even more pressing.

One of the Christian men is getting a BA and is in his early 30s. He says that marriage would have to come second to his ministry. He has never worked a full-time job his entire life, and considers getting a full-time job to be beneath him. The other one is in his late 20s and is in a PhD program. He wants marriage right away, but he has never worked in a real job his entire life, either. Both of these Christian apologists are in debt – they have zero assets and negative net worth. How can it be that they can even be considering marriage? Don’t they realize what a man’s role in marriage is? He is the provider, and that means that he has to have a record of steady work, saving money and being generous at sharing with others. Neither of these men have shown any ability in those areas. Neither of them seems willing to get started on a regular, full-time, private sector job. And neither seems to want to take Lydia’s advice and finance their ministry / marriage from a regular, full-time job. Neither of these students can even afford a wedding or even a wedding ring. Do they even understand what a woman needs from her husband?

So what’s the problem? I talked this over with a wise friend and she said that feminism has become so widespread in this society that a lot of men think that they can contemplate marriage without having a record of earning and saving. They don’t see that men have any distinct “provider” role in a marriage. They sort of expect to get the benefits of marriage with none of the “provider” responsibilities. Many women have also been taken in by feminism, and cannot evaluate men to see which ones are able to work and save and provide, and which ones aren’t. I don’t think young people are being taught how to apply the Bible to the practical challenges of marriage, or how to recognize the challenges of the times we live in.

Making a difference as a Christian: advice on fundraising, ministry, and missions

Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek
Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek (10/12/2015)

What’s the ideal balance between work and missions? In this post, I will argue against going abroad to do full-time missions.

Do apologetics ministry in your spare time, and work full-time

A full-time job and part-time ministry makes the most sense from a cost-benefit point of view. I have friends who are software engineers who studied enough science, history, and philosophy part-time, who are able to do public debates with atheists, which influence many more people than one-on-one interactions. One of my friends has several Masters degrees, and is in a PhD program, but his full-time career is in software and network management. He is 100% self-funded. He has worked in a successful apologetics career with a full-time career in technology, and he is debt-free. This is the best option . Your debts get paid off. Your resume stays gap-free. You bring a nest egg to your future spouse. You can afford to have children. You can afford a stay-at-home mom. You can afford either homeschooling or private schools, should you decide to go that route.

You have to start saving and investing early if you want to be independent in your old age. With full-time work and part-time ministry, you still make a difference for Christ and His Kingdom over time, while avoiding a financial crisis that could cost you your family, your friends, and even your faith. This is an especially wise way to proceed, given the economic struggles we are likely to face from housing bubbles, student loan bubbles, rising interest rates, entitlement crises, state pension underfunding, environmental regulations, the ever increasing national debt, demographic crisis, etc. Read the culture and be cautious about the future.

Use the Internet to make a difference in other countries for free

One cost-effective way to make a difference is by using the Internet to reach other countries. You can work full-time, and then use your spare time to blog. This blog gets an average of 24,000 page views per week. About 45% of that traffic comes from NON-USA countries. If you keep working full-time and just start a blog for free, then you can maintain your gap-free resume and have a much easier time marrying and raising children.

The university next door is a great place to have an influence

I do think full-time ministry is OK in two cases: if you don’t go abroad, or if you go abroad with a full-time job or full-ride scholarship. My friend Eric Chabot was able to host Frank Turek at Ohio State University last night (see photo above), for example. He got a great crowd. He is donation-driven, but he runs a lean operation since he lives near the campus where he serves. When it comes to having an impact, the American university is the place to make a difference. We have enough trouble in our own country, especially in the universities, where so many young people lose the faith of their childhood – there’s no need to travel and incur heavy expenses.  I think it also makes sense financially to go abroad for missions, if you get a scholarship that pays your way or if you have a job offer where you can work full-time and do missions part-time. What does not make sense is sending an unskilled missionary to a foreign country at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars that could be used much more efficiently in smaller, effective Eric-Chabot-style operations.

Your feelings and desires are not God speaking to you

Now some people who want to go into overseas missions will tell me that they feel led to go. This method of decision making is not Biblical, as I explained in one of my previous posts. If you believe the Bible, then feelings are a pretty poor way of determining what God wants from you. In fact, left to themselves, humans typically choose what feels best for them, not what does best for God. If God really calls you to do something, like he called Jonah, then you probably won’t feel like doing it. Missionary work is especially suspect when God is supposedly calling you to go to a country that you always dreamed of traveling to while you were a non-Christian. Normally, conversion causes you to have different desires – not the same desires you had as a non-Christian. Unless you hear an audible voice, like an Old Testament prophet would, then it’s best not to think that God is speaking through your feelings and desires. A good book to read on this is “Decision Making and the Will of God“, by Garry Friesen.

Don’t go into missions in order to have fun or go on an adventure

I am suspicious of people who try to turn Christianity into a mechanism for achieving the same goals that non-Christians want to achieve. These days, it seems as if everyone wants to travel to exotic places. If there is evidence of hedonistic, fun-pursuing, thrill-seeking behavior in your past, then consider that you may just want an “adventure”. I have a friend who went to Russia for a year just after graduating college, and she admitted to me that she just went “to have an adventure”. To me, that’s not a good reason to spend thousands of dollars, and put gaps in your resume. It’s not a cost-effective way to make a difference, given the other alternatives. Your goal should be to make yourself defensible so that you can put out a sustained effort that lasts, not burn out and then be ineffective for the rest of your life. Think about what J. Warner Wallace says about living wisely and prudently so you position yourself to make a steady contribution in the second half of your life. Don’t wreck your long-term impact for short-term fun. God will not honor that.

Don’t go into missions to make up for an immoral past

Anyway, if you look in your past and see lots of wild behavior – drinking, drugs, premarital sex, cohabitation, abortions, gambling, divorces, etc., then consider that you may be interested in missions for the wrong reasons. You don’t need to go on a missions trip to dramatically declare to everyone that you are now completely reformed from your wild party days. I actually managed to talk a friend out of a short-term missions trip who felt that it was a good way to do something meaningful to “make up” for her past. By being responsible with her job and saving money, she’s managed to avoid burning out, and to instead put out a steady stream of effective activities. And she was financially stable enough to get married and have children, as well – another excellent way to make a difference.

Do not go into missions if your resume and balance sheet do not demonstrate maturity

We already talked about the need for sound planning in the Bible study we did with Wayne Grudem.  The Bible praises hard work, stewardship, prudence and wisdom. And this is especially true for people who are getting older and need to be thinking about marriage, children and retirement. It’s not a good witness for Christians to be financially unstable. When you are able to stand on your own two feet financially, and help others from your earnings, you gain credibility with non-Christians. We don’t want people to think that we are doing this for the money. The best option is to be self-funded, like Paul and his tent-making-funded ministry.

By the way, if you’d like to read a related post by Eric Chabot, this one is a good one.

Three ways that generosity makes sense in the Christian worldview

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

First, let’s look at a few passages from the Bible that show the importance of sharing generously with others. I also want to emphasize the need to work and to not be a burden to others, and to emphasize that the goal of sharing with others is to build them up.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-11: (Paul speaking)

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.

Acts 20:32-35: (Paul speaking)

32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.

34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said,‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Philippians 4:14-18: (Paul speaking)

14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;

16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.

17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.

18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

Luke 21:1-4: (Jesus speaking)

1 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.

And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.

And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;

for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

So in an effort to keep this post small, I’m going to be brief. And practical.

Make as much money as you can

The first point I want to make is that it is impossible to share with anyone else unless you have your own financial house in order. Don’t borrow money. Don’t ask for money.  Study hard things (STEM and useful trades) so that you always have work and are always earning money. In the 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 passage, we learn that able-bodied people need to be working. That is a practical pre-condition of sharing with others. The more money you make the more you have to share. If you want to advance the gospel and build up others, money is absolutely vital. Don’t study crap subjects in school, don’t take useless jobs, don’t neglect the need to build a gapless resume of increasingly more challenging work, don’t get tied down by worldly goods and recreational dating early – so you can finish your education as much as you can. Be practical – charitable giving doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from a person who is ordered and disciplined. Unless you are some sort of skilled Christian scholar, don’t be flying all over the world willy-nilly on expensive mission trips, either – there is plenty of work to do right where God planted you. Be a good steward of your money, and the donations of other Christians.

Partnering with others for the gospel

The second point I want to contrast is the giving I prefer with the giving I do not prefer. The giving I prefer is to give to another Christian who I know personally who is involved in ministry that advances the gospel by arguing for the truth of the gospel using apologetics. So, I like to give to groups like Ratio Christi and to Christian scholars who have ministries or who are doing useful degrees. My goal is to spread the gospel in the only way it can be spread – by demonstrating the truth of it using arguments and evidence. I do not give money to anti-poverty groups like World Vision or to unskilled missionaries who just want an extended vacation in order to satisfy some childhood fancy animated by pride and/or vanity. When I give money to another Christian, my goal is to partner with them, not to feel good about myself. I am trying to get something done for the Lord, not to feel better or to make people think I am nice or to “balance the books” with God (which is heretical).

Building your rewards in Heaven

The third point I want to make is to emphasize that this is not a pointless exercise. Everyone who is a Christian accepts that reconciliation with God is achieved not by human efforts to be good, but by acknowledging and conforming your life to a free gift that was offered by Jesus Christ. Christ died in order to pay the penalty for every individual person’s rebellion against God the Father. That atoning death is the basis for our reconciliation with God, and our eternal life with him. However, the passage in Philippians makes clear that our experience of Heaven after we have been saved by grace is affected by what we do here and now. So often, what you hear in church is do this, do that, and there is never any rationality to it, no emphasis on long-term planning or wisdom in decision-making. It’s all just ad hoc emotivism. But I am telling you something different today. You have a few years on Earth to understand the example of Christ, to follow him, and share in his sufferings as you imitate his obedience. You better have some sort of plan to produce a return on God’s investment in you, and it has to be a good plan. Not one that makes you feel good, but one that is likely to achieve results. Plan your charitable giving like your life were an episode of Mission Impossible, and focus on outcomes, not feelings. That doesn’t mean that results are the measure of success, because that’s God’s job. But it does mean that you should prefer the Thomas Sowell approach to the Disney Princess approach.

The soul-making theodicy

The fourth point I want to make is that one of the reasons why God allows evil and suffering in this world is to allow us the opportunity to be active partners with him in demonstrating the love of Christ to others. God’s goal for us is not to make us safe and happy. God’s goal for us is to get us to freely enter into and sustain a relationship with him – a relationship that includes an accurate knowledge of who he is, and a free response of love and obedience to him. With respect to that goal, God is fully justified in permitting all kinds of evil and suffering, which in turn provide opportunities for us to 1) enter in to his plan of love and redemption for others and 2) demonstrate his character to the watching world through our actions as his agents. The situation is identical to what parents do in allowing their children to be hurt while learning – God holds back from annihilating some evil and suffering so that we have an opportunity to step into the breach. This advances our relationships with him through shared purpose and shared experiences. This is fellowship with God – not just reading devotional, pious-sounding bilge, but active partnering and dangerous action in some non-trivial enterprise. Give him your best – the same best you bring to your work or anything else in your life that really matters.