Happy Birthday to the Land of the Free

Happy Birthday, America, land of the free and home of the brave! July 4 is called the day of independence and is as close to a birthday as we have for our country. We use this great holiday to celebrate our freedom. 

But there is a problem.

The word “freedom” includes the word “free,” but freedom is certainly not free – ask any veteran!

Looking at the price of freedom for our country requires a step back in time. At a time when the foundational truths of our great country are being attacked, it is especially important to look back, reflect on what this country really stands for and defend it. In this age of continuous attacks upon religion and freedom, this is a journey in time well worth the effort. Many of the colonists had come to this new land to gain freedom from what they viewed as foreign government control in many areas of life, including their political, financial, and religious lives. Is it really that different when the government controlling your life is not foreign, especially when the values of so many in government are antithetical to Christ??

Political and financial freedom

Most people are familiar with the words spoken in the days before the American revolution, “no taxation without representation.” Those were the words of the protest against the lack of political input the colonists had in the decisions being made by the British, specifically the authority to tax. The colonists lacked any meaningful input into those political decisions being made in London, decisions which included what would be taxed and how much would be paid in taxes. However, their lack of real political input went far beyond just taxation. They had little meaningful input on any political decision involving even their own lands.

The colonists faced multiple assaults upon their personal and financial freedom. British troops could be quartered in their homes with no compensation.  Taxes and tariffs could be imposed or raised with no meaningful way for the colonists to have input or object.

Religious freedom

Freedom of religion was a reason many people had come to the new world. Europe was a continent of state religions. The religion of the king or queen was the religion of the people. Throughout Europe, there were restraints upon people worshiping freely and as they wanted. They wanted a nation where people could worship God freely and as they chose – and they wanted a nation founded upon Christian principles. One of the greatest statements about the Christian foundations of the United States was made by John Quincy Adams, our 6th President, when he wrote,

“That kingdom of the just, which had floated in the virtuous visions of John Adams, while he was toiling for his country’s independence, – that kingdom of our Father in Heaven, for which his son taught us to approach him in daily prayer, – has it yet come; and if not, have our advances towards it been as pure, as virtuous, as self-denying, as were those of our fathers in the days of their trial of adversity? … The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this–it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity.”

     — John Quincy Adams, Letter To An Autograph Collector, April 27, 1837

How could anyone with any knowledge of history – any at all – possibly suggest that Christianity was not at the heart of our Declaration of Independence (with four distinct and obvious references to God and Christianity) and our Constitution? Read on to see even more evidence of this truth.

The foundations of the United States of America

Our nation was founded by a rebellious and independent bunch of people who risked everything, their land, their families, their wealth, and even their lives to gain independence and freedom.

One freedom they fought for and gained was religious freedom, and their chosen religion was Christianity. People who deny the reality of the Christian roots of America are uninformed or prefer to ignore the facts. That can be seen in the earliest words of independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

   — The Declaration of Independence (italics added)

“In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by secret machinations and open assaults…it becomes the indispensable duty of [Patriots], with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publicly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God…that we may…through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies…that it may please the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies, to animate our officers and soldiers with invincible fortitude, to guard and protect them in the day of battle….”

   — Proclamation by the Continental Congress, 16 March 1776

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

   — The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Or this statement from John Adams, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Second President of the United States:

“[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

(Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), Vol. IX, p. 401, to Zabdiel Adams on June 21, 1776.)

Or this wisdom from John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the U.S.:

“There are three points of doctrine the belief of which forms the foundation of all morality. The first is the existence of God; the second is the immortality of the human soul; and the third is a future state of rewards and punishments. Suppose it possible for a man to disbelieve either of these three articles of faith and that man will have no conscience, he will have no other law than that of the tiger or the shark. The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy.”

(Source: John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), pp. 22-23.)

Or, for those who still doubt, perhaps it can be seen in early judicial decisions of the state courts such as:

Whatever strikes at the root of Christianity tends manifestly to the dissolution of civil government.

   —- People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns 545 (Sup Ct N.Y. 1811) and Rex v. Woolston, Str. 834. Fitzg. 64.

By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing.     

   — Runkel v. Winemiller, 4 Harris & McHenry 276 (Sup Ct. Md 1799)

Or it can be seen in the statements of the founding fathers, the patriots and colonists who fought the war for independence. On the eve of the Revolutionary War, after a British major ordered John Adams, John Hancock, and those with them to disperse in “the name of George the Sovereign King of England,” Samuel Adams gave this famous reply:

“The right to freedom being the gift of God, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.”

   — Samuel Adams (1722 – 1803)

Or perhaps the written truth of James Madison, principle architect of the U.S. Constitution would help:

“I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus as more pure, correct, and sublime than those of ancient philosophers.

(Source: Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Assoc., 1904), Vol. X, pp. 376-377. In a letter to Edward Dowse on April 19, 1803.)

Alternatively, doubters of our Christian heritage might want to consider these words from George Washington, the man considered to be the father of our nation, who, is quoted in his biography written in 1835 (page 209) as saying:

“It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being.”

Almost all of the 55 founders of the Constitution were members of the established orthodox churches in the colonies. For the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the cost of that declaration and the freedom it demanded was extraordinarily high. See The Sacrifices Made By The Declaration Signers…

Five signers were captured by the British and tortured. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in poverty. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Our freedom as Americans was anything but free. Freedom never has been free and, except for our freedom in Christ Jesus, it never will be. But even as Christians we should know we were bought with a price. 1 Corinthians 16:20. That price wasn’t paid by us. Our freedom as Christians came at a very high price, the life and death on the cross of Jesus, the Son of God.

Freedom is our right and our choice

Political and physical freedom are our right and our choice, even if they aren’t free. However, there is a more important and lasting freedom, and that is our choice to be spiritually free through Jesus. There is no work or effort done or price that can be paid to become a Christian, a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a matter of the heart and a faith in Jesus as Savior. Jesus said so Himself:

John 6:28-29
28     Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29     Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Believing is a matter of choice. There is one life (and death) choice we each get to make. We can choose Jesus or we can chose death and hell. I have heard people make the argument against Christianity that a God of love would never send people to a place of eternal damnation and pain, hell. They are right! God doesn’t send anyone there; people chose to go there by rejecting God as well as His Son and His love.

Hell doesn’t exist because God does not love us. He does love us – with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3. Hell exists because some people choose anything other than God. Hell exists because some people choose to say to God, “I don’t want your love, I chose anything but your love, God.” God has observed bad choices like that by people ever since sin separated mankind from Him. Isaiah 59:2.

Matthew 23:37-39
37  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
38  Look, your house is left to you desolate.
39  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Jesus was sent to give us the opportunity to chose God again. But it is a choice we have in freedom; we can choose Him or reject Him. It isn’t love if God forces us to love Him. If God did not honor our free will, He could force us or manipulate us to make us love Him. Some people think He does that anyway, “Turn or burn.” But “burn,” or hell, is a reality, it is not a threat. It’s like gravity. “Jump off the cliff and fall.”

Hell is hell and it exists simply because some people choose eternity without God. God has made the truth known. He is life and love. When someone chooses anything other than God, the choice is death and not life. It is a choice to have a very bad future over having infinite freedom.

Jesus, who could force His way in any door, stands, knocks, and gives us the choice to open the door of our hearts to Him, or stay locked inside our shells.

Revelation 3:20
20   Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Do we give up freedom when we chose Jesus? Not anymore than we lose freedom by choosing America. In Christ, we gain immense freedom, just as in America, we have freedom unmatched anywhere in the world.

The Psalmist said it well,

Psalm 119:45
45    I will walk about in freedom,
        for I have sought out your precepts
.

Paul wrote of the freedom to come,

Romans 8:18-23
18    consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 
19    For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 
20    For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 
21    that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22    We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 
23    Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

We are free to do as we want and should, 1 Corinthians 10:23, and in the Spirit we are free, 2 Corinthians 3:12-18. See also Galatians 5:1 on our freedom from the restraints of the law.

These are freedoms we should celebrate this 4th of July – with joy. Those who disparage or try to re-write the history of America are constant reminders to us of the words of Daniel Webster:

“God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it.”

   — Daniel Webster (1782 – 1852), U. S. lawyer, politician and orator

Celebrate your country, your freedom, and your faith this 4th of July! Stand proud on a heritage of faith and freedom that makes our United States the best place in the world in which to live.

 

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus.  He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016.  He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.

Consistency in Saving is the Key

Experience says that saving money is hard. There are so many good things to spend money on. The call of modern marketing is stronger than the sirens’ calls that lured Odysseus’ ship onto the rocks, and the cost of living keeps increasing. But it is that last comment about the cost of living that makes the need to save a “need” and not a an option. Social Security is not a retirement program, merely a supplement. And no one should expect Social Security to keep up with the cost of living – the most we can realistically hope for is that it keeps paying benefits at all. See Social Security Can’t Do It All – A Primer. Planning ahead, starting early, and developing a “saving ethic” is a wise path.

Are you average or better than average?

The average American retiree has saved a bit less than $100,000 for retirement by the time retirement is reached at about age 66. Taking the current life expectancies into consideration, that means each retiree can expect to add to planned retirement spending less than a whopping $4,170 per year! While that is not a meaningless amount at all, it also isn’t exactly a retirement supplement capable of treating a retiree to a great trip overseas or even around the state for long.

But how can I make saving possible?

But how can you save? We know it is hard, but start by saving a little bit at a time. See Ideas for Living Better Through Stewardship, 7 Steps for Financial Progress, It’s Time to Start Saving, Planning Your Financial Future and …, and Save More, 10% Isn’t Enough for a few ideas and examples. A little bit here and a little bit there add up. The key to making it work is one word – consistency. Make a commitment and keep it! Make the word “commitment” fulfill its dictionary definition:

Constantly adhering to the same principles, course, form, etc.

There is it – constant! Try starting at $25 a week. If you think that doesn’t add up, you are very much mistaken. Between the consistent saving and the investment of the money where it can beat inflation, you may be surprised how quickly it can add up. See 8 Financial Moves to Make in Your 20’s for a chart that shows how compound interest adds up over time.

Another way to illustrate this point is through a graphic illustration by CalculateMyWealth.com that can be seen here. That site proposes a simple means of saving. Save $6 a day by forgoing an expensive daily latte. $6 per day comes to $180 a month and over a work life of 45 years that is $97,000. If, instead, that same $6 a day was invested in a savings account at 2% interest, it would become $157,000 in the same 45 years. If, instead, it was half in savings and half in the stock market at the 10% (which is above the average rate of return for the past 20 years), you would have $494,000. If, instead, you invested only in the stock market and made a 10% return, you would end up with $1,848,000! Given the more likely return of 7-8%, closer to the true average over recent years, the amount would be less; “only” a little over $1,000,000. Regardless, let me ask, “Would you rather have a few hundred thousand dollars (or about a million dollars) at retirement or all of the pounds the calories in those lattes put into and onto you?

Is that all I can do?

You can even do more and much better. Take it a step or even two farther towards saving for your future. Increase the amount saved and you will find that compound interest will work as well for you in investing as it does for the credit card companies as they make money off people who don’t limit their spending. Instead of $6 a day, save $12 a day by finding another common expense you can cut. That adds up to $360 a month or $4,320 a year. The same figures enable you to end up with over $3 million at the end of 45 years.

But don’t stop there. When you get your next raise, allocate the increase to savings. If you get a tax refund, allocate it to savings. If you receive a cash gift, allocate it to savings. You may end up retiring early!

You also need to recognize that if your employer offers a match for 401(k) contributions, you should take maximum advantage of it and contribute at least the amount necessary to get the match. It isn’t “free money” because it is an employee benefit your employer is providing to you. But if you do not take advantage of a match, you literally are giving up an employee benefit that has real financial value; you are giving money back to your employer.

What’s the catch?

Here’s the catch. None of this works very well at all if you are inconsistent or if you withdraw money from your savings and investments. You must always remember that by decreasing your savings and investments or by not consistently saving and investing, you are stealing from someone – yourself in the future!

If you would like to discuss this and get more information, or discuss how budgeting can make this possible, give us a call at the Idlewild Foundation, (813) 264-8713. We would love to help.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus.  He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016.  He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.

Giving Wisely in a Confusing World

The 2019 alleged scam on GoFundMe by a homeless man in Philadelphia and a New Jersey couple has highlighted one problem with generosity; there are a lot of liars and cheaters out there. That is nothing new, just an additional example of a well-established fact.

Avoiding that type of scam is relatively easy – avoid impulse giving. Scammers like that prey upon compassionate people, a lot of them, and hope that enough people respond with a little money to make it worth their effort. In the case of the Go Fund Me scam, over $400,000 was donated, mostly by small gifts. It isn’t hard to imagine a weak justification based on the small amount of most donations; “Hey, no one lost enough to hurt themselves financially.”

So, avoid impulse giving. Is the problem solved so we can just give when we want? No, because there are many other ways cheaters work and there is another underlying issue about generosity that needs to be addressed. The underlying issue that makes careful attention important is that generous people want their donations to make a difference. Actually, even most small donors want their donations to make a difference.

No one wants to give money, a lot or only a little, to a scam or to benefit undeserving people. On the other hand, many people want to give and help people in need. After all, that is what we are directed to do as Christians. See Deuteronomy 15:11, 1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 82:4, Proverbs 14:31, James 2:14-17, among many other verses and passages.

So how can we avoid scams and also do good with what we give? Here are a few ideas that may help.

Define your giving interests

Defining your personal values and setting your priorities based upon those values helps you give with the impact you want. If you have a few defined and identified charities where you feel donations are secure (or you have researched them and are comfortable), you are far less likely to be tempted by an unknown charity or scammed by a fraud.

What charity or ministry or cause has touched your heartstrings? Is it lost people in general or is it a missions destination with many lost souls to be reached? It is a ministry involving music, recreation, men, women, children, adoption, foster parenting, mentoring, human trafficking or any of literally hundreds of ministry opportunities at a large church like Idlewild? For everyone there is a wrong that is cared about, a social injustice to address, or some need to be met. If you are in doubt about yours, give us a call at (813) 264-8713 at the Foundation and we can make recommendations. Alternatively, we will sit with you and help you find the ministry where your passion lights up.

For most of us the goal isn’t a building with our name on it but rather a certain knowledge that we have given and helped those in need and we have walked hand-in-hand with the Lord in His mission. Let’s see how to do that effectively.

Know Your Charity or Non-Profit

Research matters. It isn’t fun, but it allows you to make a difference. There are a few relatively simple tools that can allow you to give with an impact and avoid the scams.

First, let’s learn the language of wisdom and research on the topic of charities and non-profits.
501(c)(3) is the tax code section number referring to the tax-exempt status of a nonprofit organization as qualified under IRS rules. 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to receive tax-deductible donations from donors. A gift, no matter how charitable in nature, to a non-qualified person or organization is not deductible as a charitable donation. If an organization has that 501(c)(3) status, it has a determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service and can show that letter to you.

It may be helpful to know that there are different kinds of 501(c)(3) organizations, public charities and private foundations. They are each governed by different rules and laws.

There are a few websites you can check on to begin the process of investigating a charity with which you are not familiar. But there may be an easier way even than checking a few websites. If you give using a giving fund of the National Christian Foundation, they have already reviewed the authenticity of the charity and the 501(c)(3) tax code status of thousands of charities. All you have to do is attempt to make a grant and look up the charity on NCF’s grant website. If they are listed, they are legitimate. If they are not listed, you can check with NCF because they might be a good charity, but they just have not been reviewed yet.

Do not assume a charity unknown to you is legitimate; take the time to verify it. A donation to a fake charity is not only a waste of your good money, it is not deductible if it does not have its 501(c)(3) determination letter. Don’t just take the charity’s word for it.

You can check on the charity’s 501(c)(3) status by going to the IRS website for that purpose. Under Select Database enter Search All. Under Search by, enter Organization name, then under “Search Term” enter the organization’s name, city and state. Sometimes persistence and multiple efforts are required. For example, The Idlewild Foundation comes up only under Idlewild Foundation and not The Idlewild Foundation.

That’s only a start, though.

Perhaps the best help is Guidestar. The Guidestar site allows a search and provides information on the charity or non-profit, including the organization’s EIN, address, principle officer, and even the mission statement, if the organization has one.

The Better Business Bureau has a search site that may help you spot a problem charity. Go to that site and type in the charity’s name and see if there is a report. This is a limited site, but still a good neutral source that may help you spot a problem charity.

The American Institute of Philanthropy maintains a charity watch site with the purpose of helping donors make informed giving decisions. The Institute rates charities pursuant to a number of criteria, as well as publishes helpful articles about the charitable sector. Unfortunately, the site is only accessible to the general public on top-rated charities, meaning that many fine but smaller charitable organizations cannot be checked.

Charity Navigator has a site that allows the public to search by charity name. You can also narrow the search by keyword. However, they do not rate many fine organizations because they limit ratings to organizations with annual revenue above $1 million.

Florida has laws aimed at protecting potential donors from scams, but enforcement is hard due to Constitutional protections for charitable organizations. All charitable organizations and sponsors must register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) before engaging in any solicitation activities in or from the State of Florida. Those registrations must be renewed annually with the state. If an organization is not registered, that is a concern. You can receive a copy of the registration and financial information of any particular organization soliciting in or from Florida by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español. Many other states have similar laws to protect against fraud and abuse.

There are a few general rules you can follow to protect yourself against charities that do not comply with the law. Start with these:

  • Avoid any charity or fundraiser that won’t show you its letter of determination of its 501(c)(3) status;
  • Be cautious about a charity with a copycat name, a name similar to or mimicking a well-known charity;
  • Check on a charity that calls you about or sends you a thank you for a donation or pledge you did not make;
  • Do not donate when high-pressure tactics are used such as the need is urgent and immediate;
  • Never send cash, a pre-paid card or wire funds and never give money to a “charity” that sends a courier or pick-up service;
  • Do not fall for the “chance to win” some special or outrageous prize in exchange for your generous donation; and
  • Stay away from any charity or non-profit that won’t give you information about its costs including its percentage of donations going to actual charitable use, fund-raising expenses, public education, administrative expenses, and overhead expenses and won’t tell you how the donation will be used.

You worked hard for your money; don’t give it away to a charity that pays a large percentage of all donated dollars to overhead, management, and fundraising. Some charities reach 97% overhead and only 3% of donated funds goes to help the cause supposedly supported. In checking, on an organization’s expenses, be aware that education can be an important part of an organization’s mission, but that some charities use that expense as their excuse for more donated funds not going to the cause.
Give with a goal

To give well and effectively, you should give with a passion and a goal. You have already found your passion because you have defined your interests as written above, but now you need to know what you hope to accomplish with your donation. The goal you have ties in closely with your passion. Look for some of the following:

•  The specific needs of the charity or ministry you want to support are important. Are those needs immediate? Is the need a program that is important to you?
•  Have a realistic and objective goal. Have a goal that is S.M.A.R.T., especially a goal that is specific and measurable to give your generosity a kingdom impact. Look for an organization with similar objective goals. For example, if your goal is salvation for nonbelievers, look for an organization with results and stories that show it is making an eternal difference for the lost.
•  Is the need for a new program or to continue or expand an existing program? Is the program well-thought out and planned? Will it accomplish what you want?
•  Look at the long-range plans of the charity or organization you want to support. i.e., is it a viable organization that will be around to continue to serve your passion into the future?
•  What is the mission of the charity and is it fully aligned with your faith and passion?
•  Know the management of the charity. Is it well-staffed with caring people whose passion aligns with yours?

There are a few final thoughts before you make a sizeable donation to a charity. These final thoughts include:

•  Will the donation you are considering will have a negative or harmful impact on your personal finances, your financial future, or your estate plan and your desires to give to your family?
•  Have you considered using life insurance to make a final gift to a charity or ministry that matters to you? Life insurance may allow you to make a far-larger charitable gift than may otherwise be possible. You can re-name the beneficiary of an existing life insurance policy. By making a charity the beneficiary of the life insurance policy, the charity may receive a larger donation than if you had just donated the cash value of a policy or donated the annual premiums.
•  If income on the money you want to donate is important, have you considered such giving methods as a charitable gift annuity or a charitable remainder trust. These legal means of giving generate life income to the donor as well as a tax benefit. For more details on this complex but often used means of giving, give us a call at The Idlewild Foundation, see Planned Giving – A Blessing for All or discuss it with your financial adviser.
•  It is often tax-wise to give other appreciated assets such as retirement accounts, real estate, stock, a business interest to a charity rather than cash. See Tax-Wise Charitable Giving for more information.
•  Have you sought advice from your family and your financial adviser?

One of the best ways to give and impact a charity or ministry is so simple it is often overlooked, and that is regular committed giving. Many charities and ministries receive small one-time donations. Those matter a lot and are often the life-blood of a charity. But the donation that allows a charity to build a sustainable program of help or relief and meet the long-term goals and purpose of the charity is the donor who commits to a monthly donation that the charity can rely upon.

You can automate your donations through either a regular automatic check from an online checking account or from a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). Another terrific advantage of a DAF is security. A DAF like the DAF of the National Christian Foundation (NCF) is easy to set up and NCF checks on the charitable institutions to which you wish to donate. They have a huge list of great charities to which donations can be made if you are still looking. If you make your donations a part of your monthly and annual budget, you allow the charity to make that income a part of its budget. That makes planning and growth a lot easier and more effective. To learn more, click here

Celebrate success

No, you probably won’t “save the world.” But you can and should celebrate when you reach a giving goal and do your part in God’s kingdom work. The way to celebrate success is to define success so that it can be objectively measured. Aim for it and stay committed.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.

Save $ in 2022

Saving money is a challenge. The money seems to (and does) build up slowly and the temptations to cheat and spend rather than save are like dieting temptations, easy to find and hard to resist. Here are a few practical ideas to keep your savings increasing and to help you hold the line on spending. When you save on one of the ideas here, save the money toward an emergency savings account, your retirement or a special trip and vacation.

Try these ideas and save:

1. Your car insurance rises every year even though your car is older and is worth less. You would think at least the collision coverage would decrease since your car is a year older and worth less. No! But it will, if you decide to shop around at least every three years. You may not want to decide based upon premium cost alone, because there is a lot to be said about receiving good service; but if money is tight, shop around. 

2. If you have emergency savings, go with high deductible collision coverage. You can save a lot that way. I will admit it may cost you if you have an at fault accident, but if you go several years without an accident, your savings will far exceed the amount of your deductible. If you don’t have an emergency savings fund, start one now.

3. Shop your homeowners coverage as well. Those premiums tend to rise more than the value of your home. Home insurers, like car insurers, count on your not wanting the hassle of changing carriers.

4. Drop your magazine subscriptions. Check and you may find the very same magazine is available at your nearest public library. Or, alternatively, spend a quiet evening at a local bookstore, reading your favorite magazines for free.

5. Hold a garage sale. Go through your closet and find clothes you have not worn in a year. The chances are you will never wear it if you haven’t worn it in a year. Pull the junk out of your closets you never use and out of the attic that you stuffed up there and see if there is someone else who wants your junk. You won’t make a lot, but you will make more than doing nothing will make for you. Alternatively, try eBay or sell online. A second alternative is for you to donate what you have to a Christian thrift store and take the deduction on your tax return if you are able.

6. Check your Internet, cable and phone plans. You can almost always improve your plan and save money if you check once a year. Ask yourself if you really need that landline. We dropped ours over a year ago and discovered we received fewer junk calls during dinner.

7. Get a free energy audit from your power company and see where your electric use can be trimmed. Consider adding attic insulation if your house is old, many types of older insulation settle and lose R-value, costing you money every month. Alternatively, you could do something really radical and turn off the lights when you leave a room.

8. Drop your gym membership and take up walking. It is easier on the knees and hips than jogging, can be done well into your 70’s, and is free!

9. Keep your tires properly inflated, put the right gas in your car and maintain it based upon the manufacturer’s recommendations.

10. If you use AAA for emergency roadside service, go to an AAA location and check out their available gift cards. You get a 3 to 5% credit in AAA dollars towards your next year AAA bill. If it is a card for a restaurant you are going to eat at anyway, a store you will shop at anyway (or even Amazon Smile), or a gift card you would give as a gift anyway, you will save an annual AAA fee in a fairly short time, certainly less than a year.

11. While I am on the topic of gift cards, buy them at a discount from a discounter like giftcardgranny.com. You can at times find meaningful discounts on hundreds of gift cards including Walmart, Target, and many large retailers.

12. Buy used, not new. A used car, if checked out carefully, is a great savings over a new car. New cars lose thousands of dollars almost the same moment you drive the car off the lot. If the car isn’t too old, you may still have some warranty left – always check. If buying a used car, always check the obvious things such as the tires. Many dealers will put new tires on a car if you spot a worn or repaired tire.

13. Used books are readily available at thrift stores, or, even better free books, magazines and videos are available at the public library.

14. Buy an Entertainment Book and eat out for 50% at many restaurants. Try Entertainment Books and see what restaurants and services are covered in your area. In the Tampa Bay area there are over 150 restaurants and services offering substantial discounts. You quickly save the cost of the book, try new places and then save a lot more.

15. Save without the hassle of coupons. There is a rather remarkable website worth checking – Savingstar. You can go to their free website, check the products you want to buy from a store and get cash back after you shop. You can link your store loyalty card or upload the receipt and save. The stores available can be seen from the site and include Publix, WalMart, Target, CVS, Walgreens and literally hundreds of other retailers.

Saving just requires that you try. The problem is that we tend to get so busy, that time is a commodity that is hard to find. But if you can find the time to try a few of these ideas here, you can save a lot. If you have additional ideas, call or email us and we will pass them on.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.

Aren’t Stocks a Risky Investment?

Life has risks. We weigh comparative risks constantly. Do I have enough gas to skip this crowded station and make it to the next one? Can I make it through the intersection before the light turns red? Is it safe to cross the road? Do I dare drive in Tampa during rush hour?

Similarly, investing involves risk assessment. But here is a thought you may never have had: doing nothing with your money involves risks as well! Putting it under the mattress risks fire and theft.

But putting money in a bank doesn’t involve risk, does it? Yes, it does. In fact, putting money into a savings account involves more than just a risk; it involves a virtual certainty of loss! Money in a bank, a credit union, or money market fund will earn negligible interest income. Typically, you might get, at the very most, 1 to 1 ½ percent. Inflation currently is above 2%, guaranteeing a loss if your money earns only 1% or 1 ½%. If you have $1,000 earning 1% per year, you earn $10.00. But if inflation is 3%, your money lost $30 in value over that same year, making your net loss for the year $20.

Putting your money in a Certificate of Deposit (CD) only reduces the loss a little bit because, except for rare times of deflation, CDs typically earn less than the rate of inflation. At the time of writing this article, the only rate available above 3.0% was for a 5-year CD, which is generally not considered to be a wise investment choice. because interest rates may rise (and they are rising when this article was being written).

So yes, putting your money in a bank has risks. All decisions about money involve risk. The only questions are, (1) “How much risk is there?”, (2) “How much risk should you take?”, and (3) “How much risk is acceptable to me?”

The answer to those questions involves a blend of thought, planning and guidance. The only way to fully answer those questions is to factor in these variables:

  1. Where are you in life, including your age, health, and employment future?
  2. Where do you want to be financially and at what age?
  3. What will be the likely effect of inflation in the time between the answers to #1 and #2?
  4. Are you willing to settle for less?
  5. Are you willing to work more or longer or risk more to have more to reach the goals you have set?

Five “simple” sets of variables? No, there is nothing simple about them! The answers you give to the variables determine what is realistically possible and what may be out of reach. By way of a simple illustration, if you are 60 and have no savings, your options are very limited. If you are 25 with a professional degree and a good job, there are many options. In between those two extremes there is a wide range of unclear options, each and every one of which involves some risk.

You need to have savings for several different reasons; you need an emergency fund, you need savings for your retirement, you need savings for education, for travel, and for your senior years when medical care and assisted living may cost astronomical amounts.

The problem is that to make wise choices takes a level of skill and knowledge that may require professional help. Regardless, here are a few ideas.

Stocks are often a necessary investment option

If you are starting early enough, in your 20’s or 30’s perhaps, some of your end goals, such as retirement, are far off. However, the amounts needed are great, so you should start as early as possible. Even then, if all you do is put money in the bank, you will actually lose some of your savings to inflation. As a practical matter, the best and most reliable way to stay ahead of inflation over the long haul of 30 to 40 years is in the stock market. It has been far more volatile since 2000, but historically it has averaged 10%, by one source and slightly less by others (depending on the time frame used and how costs are factored in). Regardless of the source and data applied, the market has averaged well above inflation and far more than average savings account or CD rates over lengthy time-periods.

Understanding how the market can potentially make early retirement possible is necessary to allow a person to determine if it is personally worth the risk. One way to get some estimates is from a website calculator such as calculatemywealth.com. If you input your information, it will calculate how much you could have at your desired retirement age. For example. If you are 30, want to retire at 66, have saved $25,000, and can save $100 per month, the calculator tells you that you have a range of possibilities (based upon assumptions shown on the website), as follows:

$114,523 if you just put your cash in a bank savings account,

or

$365,496 if you put half your cash into a savings account and half in stocks,

or

$1,290,286 if you put all of your cash into stocks

How you save makes a huge difference in whether you can retire, when you can retire, and the quality of life you can have during your golden years.

There are alternatives

Some advisers do say there are alternatives to the stock market – and they are correct. However, those alternatives all have their own risks and uncertainties. See, for example, Top 5 Alternative Investments for 2018, 3 Ideas to Build Wealth Outside the Stock Market, and 7 Alternatives to Investing in the Stock Market.

Alternatives include the following:

  • Real Estate. This has had its own dramatic ups and downs such as during the recession in 2008. Real estate is not a liquid investment, meaning you can’t be sure of having cash when you need it. Owning real estate includes buying units to rent. That adds significant work as well as risk of loss due to bad or no tenants.
  • Gold and silver bullion and coins. Precious metals have significant market risk.  Most commonly, the stock market increases in times of economic growth and stability while precious metals benefit from times of financial distress.
  • Owning your own business. Needless to say, this approach typically takes money to start, requires a lot of effort, and has high risk,
  • Equity crowdfunding. This is a high-risk new investment scheme with no long-term history of success.
  • Peer to peer lending. This is another relatively new high-risk investment scheme with no long-term history.
  • Antiques. They are difficult due to valuation and liquidity problems. How people value old items has a huge degree of uncertainty.

Perhaps the stock market doesn’t sound so bad now.

Controlling the risk

There really is no eliminating risk, but there are steps you can take and ways to invest that can help reduce the risk. Things you can do to reduce risk include diversification, index funds, and index Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). On what to do while you are still young, see 6 Ways to Reduce Market Risk, which will give more information on index funds and ETFs as well as additional ways you can reduce risk.

Read 8 Ways to Lower Your Stock Market Risk in Retirement for ideas on reducing your risk further as you reach or are near retirement. Part of what the author is proposing is that your risk should drop as your get closer to retirement because you have less time to make up for losses. That is typically a wise decision.

You need diversification and perhaps more than just stocks

The idea of diversification is often oversimplified to mean just having different stocks. However, real diversification means holding investments in different companies, sectors, markets and types. The idea of diversification is that if one investment drops, the losses may be offset by gains in a different investment. But to be truly diversified, your investments can’t be all in one company, one sector, once market or be of the same type.

  • Sector diversification involves different market sectors such as manufacturing, financial, energy, or technology. The hope is that when one sector, such as energy stocks, have a bad year, those losses may be offset by gains in other sectors.
  • Diversification in markets is another strategy of diversification.  Losses in international stocks hopefully will be offset by gains in American markets.
  • Diversification in investment type means you have some bonds, real estate investment trusts (REITs) along with stocks, perhaps some real estate and other investments.

You need time and patience

The greatest market trick you need is one you can’t control – time. The worst client for a financial adviser is the investor who watches the markets daily and wants rapid adjustments. Studies have shown that this increases the work and cost but not the return, just like guessing at market timing has proven to be an unsuccessful way to beat the market.

The stock market is best with time and patience as you can see in this 90 year chart.

The last 5 years show a steady upward trend. 

Dow Jones Industrial Average 5 Year Historical Chart April 2016 to April 2021

There will be bad days and more. But time has shown the stock market offers the best opportunity to make long-term gains so long as the investor has a diversified portfolio and does periodic adjustments to keep investments balanced.

Over a period of years, stocks have a tendency to out-perform other means of investment and do it with less effort and time. Yes, those dips on the chart can be terrifying, but the market has no losing periods over any 25-year period. It looks volatile day-to-day or week-to-week, but over longer periods, especially over decades, the market smooths out and gives meaningful growth over inflation. In other words, start early and stay steady!

Conclusion

That is only the beginning and it is a lot. I highly recommend a qualified and capable financial adviser to help you with these decisions. Will there be a cost to you? Of course, but a good adviser will often give gains greater than the costs. If you would like help locating a good Christian financial adviser, please feel free to call us at The Idlewild Foundation, (813) 264-8713.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus.  He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016.  He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.