The Prison Called Greed

The American gospel has some problems. The gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t have any problems, but the American translation and application of that gospel certainly does. Here is how the American gospel is written and spoken by a few prominent popular preachers:

“Come to Jesus and all your problems, including your financial problems, will disappear. Give $100 for this prayer towel and God will bless you with wealth and all that you need (and want).”

Of course, most believers recognize the prosperity gospel, the name it and claim it gospel, for what it is. It is a poor example of selective reading of the Bible, ignoring the parts that might be unwelcome and focusing on the welcome parts. Unless they are telling you that giving them money will help you out of a trial, you don’t see many prosperity gospel preachers preaching on James 1:2-4:

James 1:2-4
2  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
3  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
4  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Nor do they quote John 16:33.

John 16:33
33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I have never heard one prosperity gospel preacher speak on Hebrews 11:32-40 about many saints who suffered enormously, were commended for their faith, but did not have their promises fulfilled on earth. More often than not, the prosperity gospel preachers are telling anecdotal stories, some of which may have a few elements of truth to them, while either saying or at least implying that if you do the same – give heartily to his or her ministry – then you too will overcome your trials.

The prosperity gospel, what I sometimes call the American or the televangelist gospel, focuses on God’s generosity and man’s tendency toward self and greed. They don’t offer the true Jesus; they sell a partial gospel. Then comes the request for you to be generous to their ministry and for you to give until it hurts. Frankly, televangelists and preachers who act like that sound more like Gordon Gecko of the 1987 movie Wall Street when he said,

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind …”

That, simply put, is a lie. It is a lie scientifically, because now even evolutionists are coming to realize that generosity is woven into the fabric of human nature. We were made generous; it is in our genes. See the secular article The Science of Generosity, written by scientists at UC Berkeley, indicating, “sure enough, a host of studies have uncovered evidence that humans are biologically wired for generosity.” What those scientists do not understand is that nothing has really changed; God has been where He always has been. Now, science is finally proving God has been right all along. For more on that topic, see Can Generosity Be Contagious?

Furthermore, and far more importantly, greed is sin in a pure form. Rather than make the “upward surge of mankind,” Gordon Gecko’s greed takes mankind to its lowest depths. Greed, and the love of money, are to be feared, not welcomed into your home and your life. 1 Timothy 6:10.

What are the causes of American greed? It is easy to blame marketing, and many accusers do just that. Modern American marketing is a marvel of psychological application as retailers seek to use every trick to catch and then hold your attention.

One of my favorite comments is to ask people to finish two sentences. One is “Hold the pickles …” and the other is “Two all-beef patties …”. It is amazing how many people can finish those two sentences. The McDonald’s ads were a part of an advertising campaign starting in 1975 and last aired in 2008. The Burger King ads started playing in 1974. The reason they are so memorable is that many Americans have heard those commercial songs thousands of times. In fact, the songs are probably playing in your head even as you read this!

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun”
“Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don’t upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way!”

Those ads sold many millions of Big Macs™ and Whoppers.™

Pick up any magazine and, on the average over the past 50 years and you will find 50% or more advertising space as opposed to content. Many are well drafted to create an urge to eat, wear, or drive, meaning buy, their product. By well-drafted, I mean they use serious and scientific psychological tricks to create a buying urge. I recently read an article The Intersection of Psychology and Marketing. The dramatic increase of Internet shopping has only speeded up the pace of research into how to make you want to buy.

But it isn’t the fault of Burger King, McDonald’s, or any of the retailers’, it is ours. Greed is so human and so comfortable. Paradoxically, generosity is also deep in our human nature at the same time. Our choices determine which will win.

A good question to ask

There is a question everyone should ask himself or herself at an early age, “How much is enough?” We do have to buy food, clothing, housing, and transportation. But what and how much food, clothing, and housing is determined by the heart. Does the food have to be fine dining out many times a month? Does the clothing have to be personally tailored and fill a large closet? Does the house have to be in the finest, gated neighborhood, isolated from most of humanity, especially the poor?

None of those marketing tricks would work as well if Americans were spiritually aware of greed and its danger, disciplined in their handling of money, educated in the tricks of the advertisers, and oriented away from greed. The hard part is becoming and staying oriented away from greed.

God never tells us the answer to the question, “How much is enough?” He also never says that having wealth is a sin. Instead, God says:

Luke 3:10-11
10  “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11  John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Acts 20:35
35  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Romans 12:13
13  Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Hebrews 13:16
16  Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

See also Deuteronomy 24:14, Psalm 9:18, Psalm 41:1-3, Proverbs 19:17, Isaiah 58:6-11, Matthew 5:42, and 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

We can hardly ignore the clear call of God for us to share what He has given us.

Proverbs 21:13
13  Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor
will also cry out and not be answered.

2 Corinthians 9:11
11  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

In light of God’s call for us to share, you really do need to ask yourself, “how much is enough?” That question requires a personal answer after a careful heart search and time alone with God. We have not been given wealth for our comfort or security; we have been given wealth to share and to bring glory to God.

So, we fight greed. How? We have to see our present wealth in terms not of today and our comfort, but in the light of eternity and God.

Be on your guard

First, we are told repeatedly to be on our guard.

Proverbs 4:23
23  Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

See also 1 Samuel 12:20-21, Proverbs 4:13, Luke 6:45, and Colossians 3:1-2. I especially love the passage “for everything you do flows from it [the heart]” How very true that is.

The Bible contains many stories telling people either directly or indirectly to guard their hearts. Guarding against greed is directly addressed many times, including the verses preceding the parable of the rich fool.

Luke 12:13-15
13  Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14  Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”
15  Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

In the parable that follows, Luke 12:16-21, Jesus focused on the fact that money and possessions without God are foolish.

Luke 12:21
15  Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

21  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Greed is so deceptive and such a liar that no one is ever safe, not even people who have been faithful servants for years. In 2 Kings 5, the prophet Elisha healed Naaman of leprosy. Naaman offered a great gift after being cured. Elisha refused the offer. But Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, a man who had given faithful service, was gripped by the opportunity and received silver and clothing, lying that it was for others. The result was a confrontation with Elisha and a lifetime of leprosy for Gehazi.

There is another way you can tell how deceptive greed is – Jesus, Paul, and Peter warned against greed repeatedly. See Matthew 23:25, Mark 7:22, Romans 1:29, Ephesians 4:19, Colossians 3:5, and 2 Peter 2:3, among others. Jesus and Paul warned against greed more often than against other sins. Why? Because greed is one of those sins that can sneak into a person’s life slowly and quietly; greed requires constant vigilance, much caution, and many warnings.

Examine your heart

Second, examine your heart. Jesus and Paul warned against greed many times because greed can sneak into even a guarded heart. Had Gehazi examined his heart and his actions, he would have realized he was lying and gripped by greed. But the heart is deceitful and wicked, Jeremiah 17:9, and even the best can fall. That leads to the next thought.

This is where that question, “How much is enough?” can be helpful. If you answer that question early enough in your life, there will be a financial benchmark to catch your attention whenever you pass that mark.

Measure future purchases, giving, and actions against the benchmark standard you have set in saying how much is enough for you. But still we have a problem. Our hearts are deceitful and we can even fool ourselves. That is why an additional step is necessary.

Be accountable

Third, have someone with whom you share and have full accountability. Pastors need this as much as lay people. Satan loves to cause a Pastor to fall. The impact on God’s church is great and people fall away or stay away, thinking that such failures are proof of wide-spread hypocrisy. Every believer needs someone who will address weaknesses and failures by calling for repentance, just as Nathan called for David to repent after his sin with Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12.

Sharing finances with an accountability partner is hard, but sharing the answer to the question, “How much is enough?” and where you are now can help keep you in line.

The best accountability partner is someone who knows you well (well enough to spot a lie or soft answer) and someone hard and bold enough to confront you and ask the hard questions.

The cost of failure is too great to risk

Fourth, recognize that failure is not an option because the consequences of failure are horrible. Ask the rich fool. Ask Gehazi. At the same time, weigh the option, treasures in heaven. Gehazi just accepted the pleasure of riches that would last only a short time, giving up his treasures in heaven as well as his health on earth.

When Elisha confronted his servant Gehazi, he asked him two questions, the second of which seems odd at first glance. After Gehazi lied about having gone to Naaman, Elisha asks rhetorically, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves?” Elisha wasn’t looking for an answer, he was instead directing Gehazi’s attention to what really matters, to what Gehazi had lost sight of, to the kingdom of God. Elisha listed earthly wealth and pleasures to demonstrate Gehazi’s mistake. Even the loss of his earthly health paled in comparison to the loss of eternal treasures. That loss is so great, no one should ever consider risking it.

Submit to God

Finally, submit to God. It isn’t a change in your direction with great effort, it is a transformation of who you are. Romans 12:1-2. You are putting on a new life with new practices. Colossians 3:9-10. Allow God to work and bring you to maturity. Part of that submission is beautifully set out here by Paul in Colossians 2:

Colossians 2:6-7
6  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,
7  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

We received Jesus as Lord through grace and faith, not through works. We are to continue to live in that grace “just as” we received Him when we were saved. We are saved by grace, through faith, Ephesians 2:8, and that same grace that saved us will continue to build us up and keep us strong in Him. Acts 20:32.

May that grace keep and sustain you against the challenges of the world, especially against the prison called greed.

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.

Make This A Legacy Year for You

There is a song I love that was sung by Steve Green, Find Us Faithful. It is a great encouragement as he beautifully sings,

We’re pilgrims on the journey
of the narrow road,
and those who’ve gone before us
line the way.
Cheering on the faithful,
encouraging the weary,
their lives a stirring testament
to God’s sustaining grace.

Surrounded by so great
a cloud of witnesses,
let us run the race
not only for the prize,
but as those who’ve gone before us.
Let us leave to those behind us,
the heritage of faithfulness
passed on thru Godly lives.

It is the chorus of that song I especially love,

O may all who come behind us
find us faithful;
may the fire of our devotion
light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
lead them to believe,
and the lives we live
inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
find us faithful.

What a great expression of Christian legacy. Legacy is a topic I have written about several times because I have heard interest from readers and people I speak with on behalf of The Idlewild Foundation. Don’t wait until “next year,” “next month,” or even “next week. Start today and make this a year in which you focus on how you will be known and remembered. May those who follow in your footsteps find you faithful!

Here are a few ideas to start your legacy.

Think about your family. As only four of an endless number of possibilities:

  1. Can you help provide a Christian education for grandchildren? 
  2. Is a family member considering adoption but struggling with the cost?
  3. Is there a family member with special needs who could use some support? 
  4. Is there a family committed to foster care, serving as foster parents –  opening their homes and their hearts to children at risk.

Spend a few minutes and think back to the last missions conference you attended. At Idlewild we call them Global Impact Conferences.  Think of a booth you visited or a story you heard that excited you and warmed you heart about someone’s special service. Now write that name down. Call someone in that ministry and find out how you can offer support that will be meaningful and that will hit the sweet spot in that ministry that caught your attention. Consider joining in that ministry with more than financial support. If you are short on cash, I don’t know of many ministries that couldn’t use more prayer support, “feet on the ground” in terms of short-term missionaries, or even local administrative support.

Meet with your financial advisor or a representative of The Idlewild Foundation to learn how wise estate planning can create a tax-wise series of gifts for family and ministry and, in doing so, increase the net donation and the impact of the estate with a gift of highly appreciated assets such as real estate, traditional IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, or appreciated stocks or bonds to Idlewild or to the Foundation.

Consider giving to an endowment, or permanent fund, such as The Idlewild Foundation’s Permanent Fund. Such a fund can support Idlewild or the ministries of your choice indefinitely. Read more at The Idlewild Foundation Permanent Fund.

A donation to The Idlewild Foundation’s scholarship fund can ensure that your money will help educate an Idlewild member who is active in the ministries of the church and in a small group, and who has a financial need to complete college or attend technical or vocational training. The Idlewild Foundation has given out hundreds (more than 400) of scholarships totaling over $1.1 million in ten years and will continue to do so as long as faithful people give to this worthy fund.

Or make an impact in the life of a child and donate to Fund 1:27. That fund, starting by the Foundation in 2021, is for the foster care ministry at Idlewild Baptist Church and the surrounding communities. Not one dime of any donation goes to a Foundation salary or overhead. We are almost fully volunteer and work hard to make sure that donations go 100% to ministry. Foster children (and there are over 8,000 in the Tampa Bay region) face special challenges. Many came from a substance-abusing or abusive environment and they can have special (often expensive) needs. We support Trust Based Relational Intervention® therapy for families with a need, help with respite care, have a support group, help the families build Care Communities and otherwise provide a range of support to try to interrupt the cycle of abuse – hurt people do not have to hurt people! To learn more or to donate, go to our website for foster families.

Please consider a legacy gift that will demonstrate your faith and light the way for those who follow you. In this very difficult world, your display of your faith, your legacy, may make an eternal difference for many.

To learn more, contact us at The Idlewild Foundation at (813) 264-8713. It is our ministry and legacy to help you find and support yours.

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.

Idlewild’s Widow Ministry Restored

In July, The Idlewild Foundation and the Idlewild Women’s ministry combined to bless the widows of IBC. Before the pandemic Idlewild had a widow ministry, In His Image, that held monthly luncheons. But the pandemic and its seemingly never-ending health issues put an end to in-person meetings like that, even ones so important to good spiritual and emotional health.

But time passed and by mid-2022 it seemed overdue to offer some help and encouragement to our widows. So, we reached out to the Idlewild women’s ministry and got the ball rolling.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do,
but encourage one another,
especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

There were several factors that called out that this was God’s timing:

  •  There was a generous donation given to the Foundation for widows.
  •  The previous head of the widow ministry had stepped down after 20 years of service and God provided a new volunteers to head it.
  •  All of the facilities and support needs fell into place with the incredible cooperation and hard work of the Idlewild special events team.

The only problem with the luncheon timing was that it fell ten days after John Campbell, the Executive Director of the Foundation, was to return from a mission trip to Atibaia, Brazil. But that seemed like enough time to deal with the final details and preparation. Satan worked to make things harder. The return flight was delayed by a day and John returned home with a mild case of Co-vid 19, but enough to keep him quarantined right up to July 8.

Still, with the extraordinary effort of Jodie Montgomery, Director of the Idlewild Women’s ministry, her volunteer helper, Keira Rinchuse, who made literally hundreds of phone calls, and the Idlewild Special Events team led by Nancy Reed, the luncheon happened and was a blessing. Also helping was the chairman of deacons Chris McNeal and a number of deacons who drove the cart from the parking lot, greeted the widows, and sat with them for a Carabbas meal and a dessert choice from Wright’s Gourmet Deli. Take-home treats were put together by the special events staff with an extra treat by the Fox family

Jodie led the luncheon and did a short devotion. But the best part of the luncheon was the fellowship with a deacon at each table and the widows spending precious time together.

The luncheons will resume regularly now, led by Terry Gilbaugh and Meredith Wester. The widow ministry will bear the new name, Silver Linings. Additionally, the widows will continue to be blessed through the generous gift to the Foundation which will also help support widows with particular needs that they cannot handle. This community effort shows the church at work in a big way. The church is not and should never be a building. Instead, the real church is a body of believers living in the rescuing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church is what just happened.

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”
Helen Keller.

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.