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Archive for the tag “James”

4 Things to know about Non-profits, or Why World Vision’s Change is not about you

After having worked in a variety of roles at various non-profits (both Christian and non-religious), I’ve noticed some misconceptions most of us seem to have about non-profits, including ones to which I sometimes fall prey. Also, and let’s be clear about this, I am very clearly writing this post in the context of the World Vision controversy. If you are unaware, World Vision formally announced that it, as a parachurch organization, was deferring the decision about hiring gay World Vision Logoand lesbian individuals who were married to the churches. For those unaware, employees of World Vision must be endorsed by a church. Some churches marry gay and lesbian couples, others oppose such an act on biblical grounds. World Vision works with both types of churches. They expressly state that they are not theological, but are focused on action. [Complete disclosure, my reading of the bible is that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman] Still, there some common traits of non-profits of which we need to be reminded that are certainly pertinent in this situation.

Update: Just yesterday, World Vision reversed its position and now has stated expressly that it will not hire gay or lesbian individuals.

1. Non-Profits and Charities are Not-For Profit

Really this should go without saying. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Ok, so we know this in theory. Yet often times our actions don’t match up. If it is not-for-profit then that means there are no shareholders, there is no owner. If a non-profit does really well, no one pockets the extra money. All funds raised go into the work of the non-profit.

This is important when we look at World Vision in light of the recent events. Without using the term, many evangelicals engaged in what can only be described as a boycott. They began stop payments on pledged donations, they urged others to do the same, etc. Here’s the problem with that: there is no CEO feeling the pinch. There were no board of directors who were upset by a loss in profits. Instead, without really meaning to do so I’m sure, they were putting the pinch on kids. World Vision does amazing work with impoverished children around the world. Again, I don’t think any one thought of their actions in this way, but the fact is, that people were using children to make a political point (or possibly a religious one) against someone else.

As a certain Ethicist noted a few centuries ago, it is always immoral to use another person as a means only and never as an end in themselves. Why? Because people, all people, are inherently valuable. Kant is also not the first person to make this claim; the bible precedes him by quite a bit. That’s what it means to be in the image of God. That’s the primary argument that James gives in his epistle that’s in the bible: don’t think you can speak ill of someone and then turn around and praise God because those people are made in the image of God. You can’t worship God without regard for other people. All people are integral to your worship regardless of how you feel about them. (James 3:9-10, loosely and wildly paraphrased).

Picture of Immanuel Kant looking wryly at the viewer.

You Called? — Immanuel Kant

In general boycotts are a perfectly acceptable way to indicate dissatisfaction with the policies of a company. After all you’re going to hit them where it hurts: by going after their bottom lines and pocket books. Sometimes they work, other times they won’t (ask Disney how the SBC boycott worked out). But when you are dealing with a non-profit, especially one whose central mission you do not oppose, things get a little bit more complicated. Here a boycott sends a very different message, especially when that central mission is help and aid to children. You’re going to hit them where it hurts: by going after…the children?

That can’t be right. I don’t think anyone thought of the issue on those terms. People who called for a boycott looked at the issue and saw what they perceived to be another step in the gradual erosion of biblical authority and genuine followers of God. This was not motivated out of homophobia, nor would these individuals necessarily stop supporting other charities that help children. However, it does send a very clear message: we will do whatever it takes to make our theological point and our voices heard. Anything. Even holding children hostage.

That may sound harsh, but that’s basically what happened. It may not have even been your intention, but lack of clear intention does not make the action that much better. World Vision changed not because they agreed or disagreed with anyone. They changed initially because they thought they could work better if they widened the pool of applicants and let churches handle the theological issues (which they totally should). They switched back out of concern for the fate of the children. Not you. Not anyone else in comfortable middle-class America. The children. They paid a ransom to hostage takers. And it was wrong of us to take hostages. Nothing justifies that. This doesn’t mean you have to be happy about the decision, it doesn’t mean you have to keep supporting them indefinitely, but the manner in which the fallout took place was just unambiguously, morally wrong. You aren’t going after the people who work there because…

2. Non-Profit Employees aren’t in it for the Money

People work at non-profits because they believe in the non-profit. Very few individuals (though I’m sure there are some) work at non-profits because it’s the only job they can get. There are other reasons to work: a sense of calling, intangible benefits (like flexible schedules, nice people to work with), and the feeling that you are making an impact, not just doing things for a paycheck. I work at a non-profit (a college) and could certainly make more at a for-profit, but I choose not to do so. Why? I really believe that what I do makes a positive impact in other people’s lives and I like being able to see my family. I don’t make more money or get a bonus if I somehow generate extra revenue. In the unlikely scenario that I did (somehow) generate extra revenue, that money would be put right back into the mission of the college. Most people who work at non-profits aren’t really greedy, we’re not doing it for Pennies, Nickels and Dimesfame, or acceptance, or anything else. We believe we are making a positive and lasting impact, usually in people’s lives. That’s why we do what we do.

3. Non-Profits do not have Customers

We don’t. The customer may always be right, but we don’t have customers. If you pay something, whether a donation or tuition, or whatever, that does not entitle you, necessarily, to a product or a service. Now, in general, tuition will get you a seat in the classroom and provide the opportunity to improve your knowledge or skill set (and if successful in doing so to get a degree), but you don’t buy knowledge or skills or credentials. You still earn them. We provide the setting for it. The same applies to a charity. Sure you may receive a nice letter, a picture, a statement of where the funds went. At certain charities (not World Vision as far as I know), top donors get special perks like meetings with famous people or fancy dinners. These are not things you have bought. They are part of a strategy to keep you engaged, to be sure, but they are not items to purchase. The overwhelming majority of the money you send to a (reputable) charity goes to support it’s mission. In the case of World Vision, it goes to children. It does not go to gay propaganda, it does not go to anyone’s salary, it goes to children. To cut off funding so abruptly displays a consumerist mentality at best, and callousness or genuine disdain and disregard at worst.

This is not to say that we don’t value those with whom we work. Of course we do. I want every student I meet to succeed, to excel in classes, to graduate quickly with his or her degree, and to find a fulfilling and great career. I love that kind of thing. But no, you don’t buy your college credits, and no, you don’t buy a right to decide how the HR works. (Sidenote: Please don’t ask to “escalate” a call with me. I don’t work at a call center, and I do want to find a workable solution to any problem you may be having.)

4. A Non-Profits Goals are not necessarily your Goals

This follows on from the previous, but is a common misconception. The fact that you give money to a non-profit, in whatever form it takes, does not give you the right to dictate the mission of that non-profit. If you want to do that sort of thing, you are free to start your own. There are other voices besides yours, and not every voice is equal in this. Someone who has studied poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa for twenty years has a stronger voice than me and my friends do when it comes to making policy decisions for a charity that deals with global poverty. That’s true, even if me and my friends each give ten times more to the organization than the lone researcher. That’s also how it should be. I’m not a customer. I’m a donor in that scenario. I agree to donate because I trust that others know better than me about the central mission of the organization. Also, they know how to achieve that central mission better than I do. If something is a peripheral or minor issue, I should probably leave well enough alone. Once it starts to affect the core mission and goal of the organization, or that goal begins to drastically change, then I may need to pull back (preferably slowly) from donations. But I accept, going in, that I do not control how an organization is run, no matter how much money I give to it.

 

But what do you think? Do you believe non-profits should be run more like a corporation? Do you think some are already run too much like corporations?

Also, if you are able, consider donating to either World Vision (they will never get some of their donors back), or a similar organization with less controversy around it, like Compassion International.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are entirely my own and in no way reflect the position of any of my past or present employers or other individuals who work there. Second disclaimer: Not everything I’ve said here applies to politically based non-profits, they are a whole different beast

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James 5:19-20 (Lent Readings)

This is the last of my James series. I’ll update the Calendar link to hyperlink each section to the appropriate reading as I have time. Let me kn0w in the comments if you’ve appreciated the series or what you would change.

Text

KJV Below (Link to NIV)

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Comment

In the book of Genesis, immediately after the sin of Adam is the incident of the first murder. In that account, the question is posed, one that presses us more than any question except the one concerning our relation with God and what to do with sin: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The response given here by James is: YES! Part of living in community, which is what the church fundamentally is, is watching out for others while they are in the fold, but even more so when they wander from it. We don’t give up on each other because the church is not a holy club, it’s a family. We are our brothers’ keepers, and they ours. We do not work alone. The priesthood of believers means that all Christians are (under the Great shepherd) simultaneously sheep and shepherd. And what we do now, how we act that out, has far reaching consequences.

Question

Have you ever failed in your duty to brothers and sisters who have wondered far? Have you asked for forgiveness? Have you tried to do anything about it since?

James 5:17-18 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Comment

As an example of what I spoke of yesterday, James points to the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. He prayed, and something happened. The implication is that his prayer, in some way, had an external and not merely internal impact. Now, in light of yesterday’s passage and the reality of our life, it should be noted that, being a righteous person was because he was following God’s will. It was God’s will to cause a drought and end it, for a very specific purpose. God was calling his children back and they needed to be woken up. Does this mean that if Elijah had prayed no such thing would have happened? I don’t know. I think either God would have worked in a different way, or found a different person, but my hunch is that to ask such a question is a mistake because this is the episode that marks the beginning of Elijah’s entrance into Scripture. We don’t know anything else about him before this. My hunch is that, if Elijah had not prayed, we would simply never have heard of him. That’s not to say that doing God’s will makes you famous, in fact it very often does quite the opposite, but it does mean that being in the will of God means our prayers have a real impact.

Question

Have you ever personally prayed, or known of someone who prayed, for something that seemed near impossible only to have it happen anyway? Who gets credit for it? The person praying or the One to whom we pray?

James 5:13-16 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Comment

The main thrust here is that no matter what our circumstances, happy or sad, troubled or free, we should be in communication with God because it “availeth much.” However, this passage does raise some issues. What about the times I prayed in faith and the sick weren’t healed? Do I simply have to wait until they are “raised up” on the last day? On the one hand it is tempting to say that our prayers merely change us, but not God (I think C.S. Lewis said something similar), but that doesn’t seem to be the case with this passage. Here, it seems that our prayers do accomplish something. That it is important to bring others into the prayer and fervently pray. So how do we reconcile the disconnect? I don’t know for certain, but I have an idea. I think of it like I think of my relationship with my (still very young) children, after all, Jesus taught us to think of God as our Father. Now, when my kids ask me for something, I will do everything in my power to get it for them (or do it for them), at least most of the time. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have other plans, I very well may have and they were good plans, but there are certain aspects of those plans that can be done other times, or the particular aspects of which may be open to change (you want Strawberry Jelly instead of Grape? no problem). Yet, other times it is not in my children’s best interest for me to fulfill their requests. If they want another cookie at dinner, sometimes I need to say no because the sugar makes it hard for them to sleep, and they’ve really had a large meal. Sometimes it’s even trickier. For example, my daughter likes to get herself stuck in places and ask for help. Sometimes, I leave her there for a bit because a) she really can get it out and its good for her problem solving skills, or b) she needs to face (at least briefly) the consequences of her actions, or c) sometimes I’m doing something else. Now, I’m not suggesting God is ever busy doing something else, but I am suggesting that, in some way, perhaps a way we can’t see or even begin to comprehend (my kids don’t understand the complexity of sugar and how it affects sleep and future health issues), but that doesn’t mean it’s not for their betterment. Remember, we have a full eternity with God coming up, that’s the ultimate benefit of prayer. Sometimes, it may be in our best interest, in a way we can’t begin to fathom yet, for God to say “no,” even for our fervent prayer. Yet in that prayer, the “no” is still for our betterment.

Question

Have you ever had God say “no”? What might that situation look like if you put it in terms of a young child to a parent who says “no”? Do you think that our relationship with God can still be improved through the “no” answers that God gives to our prayers? In what ways?

James 5:10-12 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Comment

Now, near the end of the letter, James reminds those to whom he writes that the end of days is near (in light of the resurrection we are always in the last days). And in light of the eminent presence of Christ we are encouraged to endure in the midst of persecution, just as the prophets who were each intimately acquainted with God in the Old Testament. And that even Job, who may not have enjoyed the same intimacy as even the prophets, could endure, so much more should we. The final verse, which at first glance looks out of place, is an attempt to make it more practical. Rather than a legalistic rule to follow (as some do, particularly those who have problems with pledges and oaths in court), this is a principle in the face of persecution. All too easily those being persecuted could have found ways to avoid their persecution by deceiving those who were against them, only they thought it was not sin if they did not technically lie. Rather, James is encouraging them to be courageous. They need not hide who they are (as this ploy would likely be discovered), or make odd oaths as certain Pharisees and Sadducees were (swearing by the gold of the alter rather than the alter, etc) whom Jesus criticized. Instead, the Christian should be marked by integrity in all things, particularly in the face of persecution.

Question

Do you experience persecution? How does it compare to that of the prophets, most of whom were killed? If they can endure theirs, does it help you to endure yours? Have you ever been tempted to hide your faith to avoid persecution? How did you feel about your actions if you gave into the temptation?

James 5:7-9 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

Comment

James here now makes another appeal. This time he is appealing on the basis of the nearness of God. Because God is near, we are already in the last days. Because we are in the last days, we should be patient. This is the hardest part, between when the work is done and the harvest time. Christ has done the work. It is only ours to wait for the harvest.

Question

Do you sometimes get impatient waiting on God? What can we learn from how a farmer has to wait for a good crop yield?

James 5:4-6 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Comment

Simply put, don’t use people. Other people are not a stepping stone for your personal gain. The Kingdom of God is about God first and about others next. It’s not about you, at least not you at the expense of others. And the cries of the ones whom our excess oppresses reaches God’s ears. The people of God, at least some of them, have moved from the slaves in Egypt to the Pharaohs who oppress. This applies to us now too. We cannot be ignorant of our responsibility in the things we buy (or refrain from buying) and should be generous in our charity. We do not live in isolation and should always be on the side of those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”

Question

Do you think about where the money you spend goes? Do you try to consider the needs of others before your personal comforts? Today is World Water Day. 1 in 5 children lack access to clean water. To find out more about water shortage, or what you can do to help, go to water.org or similar organizations

James 5:1-3

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Comment

In case you’re wondering, in all likelihood you are one of the rich people to whom this is addressed. I am too. At least when we think about the global church. However, all is not lost. The issue is not money per se (though that does make things more difficult), but rather the way in which we go about accruing wealth. There is a call not to focus on accruing things here (treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy as Jesus said), but to focus on treasures in heaven. We need to be single minded and focused on God and his kingdom, not on temporary wealth here.

Question

To whom do you compare yourself? There is always someone more wealthy, but there are lots more without near the wealth you have. What do you think James means when he says that the decay and rust of personal possessions will be a witness against us?

James 4:13-17 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Comment

A lot of times in the past, I’ve read verses 13-15 here without verses 16 or 17. However, I think it’s important to keep these together. Too easily this could fall into a legalism or “magic charm” we say before we make plans. That is to miss the point. James is simultaneously calling us to remember the meaninglessness of a life lived for this world only and the higher calling upon the Christian (a life not of this world, but of a coming Kingdom). Thus our actions should not be about ourselves, but about God and his Kingdom. It’s pretty hard to not take God’s Kingdom into account with our actions when we firs acknowledge that our very lives are continuing only by God’s will.

Question

On a daily basis do you think first about how your actions are part of God’s plan, or how they are part of your plan? Do you make plans that fail to take into account others, or do you try to honor God by loving Him and others?

James 4:11-12 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

Comment

There is a difference between exhortation and judgment. One is motivated out of love, while the other comes from a felt sense of superiority (or a desire to assuage a lack of that feeling). It’s the difference between talking to a family member about their direction and “going off” on a stranger. I’m the middle of five kids. I love my brothers and sisters. Sometimes, though, they do things I don’t agree with or at least wouldn’t do myself. Now, I don’t step in and tell them how wrong they are when they do things like this generally (yeah sometimes I butt in when I shouldn’t, but I strive not to). Why? Because it’s not really a core issue. We can have differences and still love each other as family. We can even have discussions. In the end, though, it’s their life, not mine. I want them to succeed and think I know how best to do that (I am human, after all), but I recognize that I may not be correct, and so I don’t tell them they are wrong (even if I think they are). The exception would be if one of them did something really wrong. Then, I’d have to speak up. However, even then, my approach would be more measured by love than anything else. I approach it differently. I’m not in their face. When we act that way we are pretending to have some authority over the other person, but only God has that kind of authority. He is the Father of our faith family.

Question

How quick are you to judge someone else? When we judge, is it even something that we should judge about? Is it a core issue or something on the peripheral? Do you approach disagreements from a point of love as you would in a family, or from a point of supposed authority?

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