Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FAILURE!

It had been a good day. I'd been diligent. I faithfully did the work I needed to. I even noticed when I was getting distracted at one point and chose to repent and get back to work. Success!

Then it came time to make some support calls. I had a list of names that I'd prayed over and begun calling.

...ring...ring...ring...

...ring...ring...ring...

Ninety minutes later, not a single one of those people had picked up. I could understand a few people not being available. Maybe even most of them. But ALL of them? I stared at my phone pondering what this meant. Was something wrong with my phone? Or the cell network?

Or was there something wrong with me?

That's a perfectly honest question. But before that question had even fully formed in my mind, another thought - no, not a thought, a truth - slammed into my brain with unbelievable force and startling clarity: FAILURE.

In the next minutes I frantically tried to cast that thought - no, truth - aside. I wracked my brain for things I'd done that day that proved that I wasn't a failure. I searched my office walls for evidences of success. I wondered whether a few kind words I'd say earlier that day could somehow count. I envisioned myself on the witness stand and felt compelled to defend myself lest I be rightly condemned and justly sentenced.

Yet no relief came. Try as I might, there was no legitimate way to counter that thought. That truth.

Then it hit me. I was going about this all the wrong way. I was trying to counter truth by calling it a lie. But it wasn't a lie. It was truth, plain and simple. Inasmuch as my objective was to make support calls and raise funds, I had failed. By definition, that makes me a failure.

But here's the funny thing: nothing had changed.

Yes, I AM a failure. I'm nowhere near what I should be. Like a fish in water, so I am in sin. It's around me and inside me. I live and breathe sin; it's all I've ever known. And because sin destroys, even my very best efforts are caked in failure. Sometimes small "successes" shine for a moment, but they are quickly eclipsed by thick layers of failure once again.

So... why was I getting so worked up about being a failure? I was a failure yesterday and I'll be a failure tomorrow. The problem was not that I had been a success before and that it was now in jeopardy. The problem was that at some point that day I had begun to think of myself as more than I am. Success has a strange way of blinding us like that. 

I didn't need to fear becoming a failure; I already was. And I didn't need to fear being sentenced and condemned, either - because Jesus already was.  Two thousand years ago, with full and complete knowledge of who I was and what I would be (a failure), Jesus willingly died on the cross so that I would become something more (a son). So now, until the day when Jesus returns, I will always simultaneously be a failure and a son. And by God's grace, He's okay with that.
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:6,8
So I had failed. I didn't reach a single person that night. But nothing had changed. I was no more and no less a failure than I was in the hours and years before. And I am just as much a son of God then as I am today - and always will be.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Life as a two-talent fundraiser

I've been raising funds for over twelve years. During that time I've met some truly phenomenal fundraisers.

It takes those fundraisers under three months to raise what took me almost a year and a half. They fearlessly call through their contact list and get appointments while I'd spent countless nights leaving messages and wondering if I'd have anything to do next week. They walk out of a new church with dozens of phone numbers and appointments - and maybe a verbal pledge from the missions committee! I, on the other hand, walk out of a church thrilled if I'd engaged in at least one non-awkward conversation.

There are some truly phenomenal fundraisers out there. I am not one of them.

Yet here is something truly remarkable: I'm 100% funded, my donor base is stable and I've found that I actually enjoy fundraising. (I even have a blog on the topic!)

How is that possible?

It's because I've learned to be content with life as a two-talent fundraiser.
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master . . . I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours'’ But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! . . . Take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' (Matthew 25:14-24, 26, 28-29 ESV, emphasis mine)
Jesus intended that we'd read this parable and group the three servants into two groups. Here's how I usually do that:
  1. Successful: Mr. Five-Talent
  2. Unsuccessful: Mr. Two-Talent & Mr. One-Talent
But that's all wrong! Here's what Jesus actually intends:
  1. Successful: Mr. Five-Talent & Mr. Two-Talent
  2. Unsuccessful: Mr. One-Talent
The reason I get this wrong is because I tend to buy into the idea that being the best is acceptable but being anything less is pathetic. Isn't God worthy of our very best? Shouldn't all His people excel in everything they do? In one sense, yes. But when we consider the story above, Jesus clearly doesn't think that way. It would appear that He's far more interested in faithfulness. Did you do what you were able to do according to your ability? That's how He measures success.

Can you imagine how discouraged the two-talent guy would be if it were otherwise? What if he actually had to raise five more talents from his two? The parable clearly says that he's only able to handle two! How deflating it is to be held to a standard beyond your ability!  If I compare my speaking ability to John Piper, I'll be discouraged. If I compare my batting ability to Albert Pujols, I'll be discouraged. If I expect to raise support like those phenomenal fundraisers, I'll be discouraged. But if I seek to preach God's Word faithfully, I can't fail. If I get up to bat and swing away as best I can, Jesus doesn't count that against me. If I fumble over my words but faithfully do the "ask" anyway, I'll still end up fully funded by God's grace.

So I've slowly realized over the years that I can be quite content with my two-talent fundraising ability. That's not to say that I shouldn't strive to improve. But I'll probably never speak like Piper or bat like Pujols. And that's okay. I'll do what I can, rely on God's grace and enjoy life as a two-talent fundraiser - all in the joy of my Master.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

RUN!!!

The Apostle Paul is a manly man.  He's the kinda guy you'd love to have as your fundraising mentor.  Not only does he regularly preach the gospel, but he also calls us time and time again to do hard things:

  • "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." -1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV
  • "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." -Galatians 5:1 ESV
  • "Fight the good fight of the faith." -1 Timothy 6:12 ESV
  • "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." -Ephesians 6:10-11 ESV

But there is one place where Paul says to RUN:
"Flee from sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." -1 Corinthians 6:18-20 ESV, emphasis mine
These are the words of the same man who told us to be strong, stand firm and fight.  This is the same man who triumphantly declared that "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37)! Yet when it comes to sexual immorality, Paul says to RUN.  When the heavyweight champion of Christianity turns tail and runs, we'd better pay attention.

But wait... why write about fleeing sexual immorality on a blog about fundraising?  It's because fundraising can easily leave you feeling weak, defeated and alone. These are perfect conditions for temptations to grow and thrive - and in a culture that is hyper-obsessed with sex, you can rest assured that sexual immorality is already crouching at your door, ready to pounce.

It was a huge temptation for me during my initial fundraising - and it was a battle that was regularly lost. But those battles didn't have to be lost!  The problem was that I didn't RUN.  I tried to fight, on my own, in a very ill-equipped way.  I didn't regularly seek God, I didn't regularly seek community, and I kept trying to fix the problem myself.  I was sure that I could contain it somehow. But it never worked - and it resulted in great pain to both myself and others.

Thankfully, Paul offers us a better strategy in the passage above.  After telling us to RUN, Paul reminds us of the gospel: that we were purchased by the blood of Christ and that our bodies are now temples in which God's Spirit dwells.  That's incredible!  Though our holy God should have utterly destroyed us in our sin, He instead chose to rescue us and live with us forever.  Pondering that thought alone does wonders for removing temptations to sin!  It winsomely encourages us to run from sexual immorality and run to our Savior.  The message of the gospel inherently draws us to seek God, to seek community and to rely on God to provide.  It frees us to confess our inadequacies, to depend on God's ever-present grace and, in so doing, to glorify God in our bodies.

So when you see temptations to sexuality immorality during your fundraising, don't believe the lie that it's something that can be tamed.  You can't keep it in a box or cage any more than you can hold fire in your hands (Pr 6:27-29).  Don't try to master sexual immorality.  RUN!

Fundraising is hard.  Overcoming sexuality immorality is extremely hard.  That's why you ought to work diligently at the former, but RUN as fast and as far as you can from the latter.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Our responsibility vs God's responsibility

In Paul David Tripp's best-selling book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, we're shown a helpful diagram that helps us understand how fundraising (and many other things!) works:
Here we see two concentric circles:
  1. The Inner Circle of Responsibility represents our responsibilities: things that God has called us to do.  We ought to faithfully serve in these roles.
  2. The Outer Circle of Concern represents God's responsibilities: things that God has NOT called us to do, but rather to trust Him for. 
If we keep these circles in the proper proportions, we're rightly trusting and obeying.  However, our tendency is to inappropriately expand or shrink our Circle of Responsibility.  When we expand our circle of responsibility, we find ourselves worried or angry about things that we can't control; we're not trusting God to do His job.  When we shrink our Circle of Responsibility, we fail to steward well what God has given to us.  We may become lazy, disconnected or spiritually stagnant.

What does this look like in fundraising?  


Your Inner Circle of Responsibility probably involves things like making phone calls, sending emails, practicing and giving presentations, faithfully asking for large financial gifts, asking for referrals, meeting new people at churches and small groups, sending thank you notes, studying Scripture, praying for God to provide, praying for your donor team, planning out your day/week/month, talking with your fundraising coach, reporting on progress to your sending organization, sending newsletters, eating well and going to bed on time.

Your Outer Circle of Concern (aka God's responsibilities) includes things like meeting the right people, contacts answering their phones/emails/etc., contacts having time in their schedule to meet, God stirring hearts to give financially, people giving faithfully over time, God providing income for each donor, your car [not] breaking down on the way to an appointment, your health being sustained and reaching your financial support goal in His perfect timing.

If you inappropriately expand your Circle of Responsibility, you're trying to control things God has not called you to control.  You'll become angry when people don't respond the way you want.  You'll become jealous of other fundraisers who may be finishing quicker.  You'll lay awake worried about where the funds will come from.  You'll seek alternative solutions apart from having to trust God, such as lowering your support goal and/or standard of living.  Ironically, you'll believe that there's nothing more that you can do (emphasis on the you) and so you'll give up for that day/week/month.  Though you'll feel like a victim, you'll actually be struggling with pride.  And through it all, God will be graciously but firmly opposing you (James 4:6).

If you inappropriately shrink your Circle of Responsibility, you'll probably not notice it right away because it looks and sounds very spiritual.  After all, you have faith that God will provide!  How could that be wrong?  In truth, however, you'll miss out on the opportunities God has given to you (emphasis on the you).  Perhaps you're regularly sleeping in until 10am - but you could reach quite a few businessmen if you called at 8:10am.  Perhaps you're not spending time praying for God to provide.  Yes, He is sovereign, but He also hears our prayers and responds.  You may find yourself in the position of the unfaithful servant who fearfully waits for his master to return - and who has even the little that he has taken away from him. (Matthew 25:26-29)

Now, if anything, this blog focuses more on encouraging and challenging those who expand rather than shrink their circles.  That's because, in my experience, most fundraising missionaries and pastors are tempted to expand more than to shrink.  But I've personally been guilty of doing both at different times.  Perhaps I may doing one right now!

Each of us must consider where we're at.  Consider your own tendencies and emotions.  Ask trusted friends for feedback.   Perhaps pick up a copy of Tripp's book!  And ultimately, seek to find the Biblical balance between your responsibility and God's responsibility.  Seek to honestly and humbly say with the Apostle Paul:
"I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." (1 Cor 15:10 ESV)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Give them hope

On a recent fundraising trip, I noticed a recurring theme among those I met with: hopelessness.

"I can't believe that the supreme court allows _________..."

"My kids aren't walking with the Lord anymore..."

"My siblings/parents/coworkers/friends refuse to accept Jesus..."

"It's been so hard to change ____________ at my church..."

"I feel like no one understands what we're going through..."

Each of those statements - and dozens more I heard - come from hearts wrought with hopelessness.  In the midst of such pain, it's really hard to see clearly.  It's hard to reach beyond the hopelessness.  It's hard to remember that above the dark storm we're experiencing is a beautiful, sun-drenched cloudscape.

This is where you, the fundraiser, come in.



We often think of ourselves as beggars, but in truth, we are givers.  Wherever we go, we freely give the fantastic news that even though the world is ruled by the prince of the power of the air and that rebellious sinners have a great deal of authority, God is not worried.  He has absolute power over Satan and all demons.  He sets up kings and removes kings.  He is unfazed at the defiance of the most rebellious of sinners.  Indeed, He is at work in the world winning those very sinners to Himself.

Consider how David expresses his hope in Psalm 3:
O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
"there is no salvation for him in God!"        Selah
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.       Selah
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
                                         Psalm 3:1-6, ESV
Friends, like David, we are hope-bearers.  We proclaim that no matter how many foes rise up against us, there IS salvation for us in God!  He is our shield when we're under attack.  He is our glory when our country's glory is fading.  He lifts our heads when they are weighed down by discouragement and despair.  He sustains us when sleep robs us of our self-awareness and self-protectiveness.  Though thousands are against us, those who are with us are more than those who are with them. (2 Kings 6:16)

As I heard each fear and understood each hopeless phrase while on my recent trip, I purposefully sought to lift my friends' eyes above the clouds.  I told them about lives transformed by Jesus.  I took them to Scripture that shared of God being with us in the midst of despair.  I shared about how dark Good Friday was... but how beautiful Easter Sunday became.

Fellow fundraiser, you are spending these difficult days raising money in order to give the world hope.  Don't be fooled into thinking that that mission doesn't begin until you're at 100% of your support goal; it starts right now!  It is your great privilege to lift your donors' eyes above the clouds.

Give them hope!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Not done fundraising? That's a good thing.

When the support is flowing in, it's easy to see God's goodness in your life.  But when things slow to a crawl - or even a standstill - do you still believe He's good?


King David is a man well-versed in enduring hardship, and God often had him wait.  Yet consider David's perspective:
I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you."
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
    You hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.          (Psalm 16:2,5-6, ESV)
David is convinced that God has given him good, satisfying provisions.  David's "chosen portion", "cup", "lot" and "inheritance" are all pleasing to him.  In fact, he has no goodness at all except what comes from God.

Honestly, there are plenty of times when I'm not so sure I believe that.  When I spend a night making calls that don't yield any fruit, those lines don't appear very pleasant at all.  It feels like they've fallen on dry ground while the lush, green grass I yearn for is off in the distance.  If God is holding my lot, why won't He hand it over?  I agree that have no good apart from God, but He's obviously keeping it to Himself right now.  What's going on, Lord?

Perhaps the problem is in my definition of what is "good".  See, I think I know where I want the lines to fall.  I can't see how anything else could be as good.

But God does. 

He holds our "lot" (other translations say "future") and from His perfect vantage point, He's putting the lines in the best possible place that He can imagine.  (And He's pretty imaginative!)  In fact, if we could see everything as God sees it - and if we were as good and loving as He is - we'd put those lines exactly where He did.  And we'd call it beautiful.

Jesus knew this, which is why He could say, "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).  He could also ask, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) while also declaring "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46) as He hung on the cross.  Jesus knew that things didn't always feel good or look good, but He had no good apart from His Father.

And neither do we.

So what would it mean for you and I to believe this?  Consider:

  • Is fundraising taking longer than you wanted?  God is holding your lot and your future is secure.  And He'll pour it into your lap in His perfect timing.
  • Did your networking opportunity not pan out as you'd hoped and prayed for?  The lines have still fallen for you in pleasant places.  Your prayers did not go unanswered; rather, you'd have made the same choice if you were so wise and good as God is.
  • Did a donor stop giving?  Your inheritance is still breathtakingly beautiful.  It hasn't changed a bit.
  • Is it tempting to ignore the Lord and look elsewhere for satisfaction (Ps 16:4)?  Sure it is!  But don't bother.  You'll find no good apart from Him.

Friend, if you're still in the middle of a difficult season of fundraising, don't fret. Though it doesn't feel like it, that's actually a good thing; it's a chosen portion for you from your Creator.  And one day, when you get a full view of the inheritance He's prepared for you, you'll have only one word to describe it:

Beautiful.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Funding ≠ approval

I'm all for large numbers of people attending Christian events.  I enjoy hearing stories about hundreds of people coming to Christ at revival meetings.  I'm especially excited when ministries get major donors and receive enormous special gifts that allow their ministries to thrive.

Yet if that's all I have to go on, I remain skeptical.  You can get huge numbers of people at events by offering free beer and pizza.  Jesus held revival meetings too, but everyone except His twelve eventually deserted.  And I've seen well-funded preachers utterly contradict God's Word.

Having lots of support come in doesn't mean you're pleasing God.  Having little support come in doesn't mean you're displeasing God.

That seems counterintuitive, doesn't it?  God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6), right?  Yes!  However, in His perfect wisdom, He also allows the proud to thrive and oppress others for a season.  Even Satan is permitted to have authority, with permission, in this present age.  Thus, results don't necessarily indicate God's approval.  They may!  But don't assume it.
Why should I fear in times of trouble,
  when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth
  and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
  when the glory of his house increases.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
  his glory will not go down after him.
For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
  —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
  who will never again see light.
Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish. (Ps 49:5-6,16-20)
This Psalm, along with many, many other passages, assume that the wicked have some degree of power, wealth or ability.  In this instance, wicked men are prospering.  They're cheating the psalmist and boasting in it.  Here the wealthy man's attitude is considered pompous and he is "without understanding"; his destiny is death with nothing to show for it.  He's no better than a beast that perishes.  He is not approved.

What does this mean for us, the fundraisers?

Don't compare yourself to other fundraisers

It won't do you any good.  God has a plan for them just as He does for you - but it's almost always a different plan.  Just because you have little and they have much doesn't mean God is more pleased with them.  To the watching world, Herod had far more wealth than Jesus did.  Yet he was eaten by worms - just like the beasts that perish (Acts 12:20-23).  He was not approved.

Pray for humility at least as much as you pray for support

Once you start assuming that you're humble and that God is pleased, you're well on your way to not being humble and not pleasing God.  In Psalm 49, God granted riches even to the proud.  Their end was not good.

I remember a time when I was struggling to raise a relatively small amount of support.  Despite my best efforts, I just couldn't get it in!  Or when I gained some amount, I'd lose about the same from another donor.  In those times I wanted compassion and understanding from others.  Yet not long thereafter I gained not only what I needed, but an excess!  I was horrified by my sin a few days later when I found myself saying of a struggling fundraiser, "He's obviously not trying very hard!"  Blech!!  I began praying for humility immediately and, unsurprisingly, soon lost some support.  I thanked God for that.  Sure beats dying like the beasts.

Ask trusted friends for their assessment

It's easy for us to be blind to our own motives, fears and sins.  Especially when we're doing especially well or especially poorly.  If the support is pouring in, that's a perfect time to ask others to hold you accountable to prideful boasting.  If the support is trickling in, that's a perfect time to ask others to hold you accountable to prideful complaining.  Wounds from a friend can be trusted (Pr 27:6).  If you don't have someone who will ask you hard questions and call you out on pride and other sins, make that your first order of business.  Don't be caught in your pomp without understanding.

Remember who's doing the work

If you keep in mind that every donor and every dollar comes in by sheer grace, you'll be on much firmer ground than if you assume that you're the one doing it. Yes, God uses you to accomplish His fundraising purposes.  This is to the glory of His name.  But if the glory of your house increases, you'll soon be no better than the beasts that perish - and God will not approve.