Thinking Out Loud

October 26, 2012

Harvest Bible Chapel Debt Crisis: The Real Elephant In The Room?

I’ve had three people send me the link to a website that purports to show that James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in The Word are deeply in debt in a situation similar to that which brought down the Crystal Cathedral; a site titled, The Elephant’s Debt after MacDonald’s two Elephant Room video conferences. However, a quick scan of Alltop blogs and search engine blog searches would seem to indicate not all bloggers are taking the bait on this one.

Perhaps people don’t find MacDonald all that interesting. I found that out with the Crystal Cathedral story; search engines sent everybody here because the dominant generation of Christian bloggers didn’t have Robert Schuller on their radar. Perhaps MacDonald’s influence is even more regional.

Furthermore, I often wonder what motivates people to put up this type of exposé websites. The documentation is thorough; they definitely did their homework. And they do address the question. And I’m all for encouraging churches and ministry organizations to operate frugally and within their means; not like some giant corporation. To be sure, financial stewardship matters to God; it’s a virtue He regards highly. And when any church goes down, it tends to take a lot of innocent people down with it; trusting people; people of weaker faith.

Although I grew up in Toronto’s Peoples Church when it was Canada’s only megachurch — before the term existed — the first U.S. megachurch I connected with was Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana, California. Spending time there on five different occasions and getting to know some of their people, it was apparent that Chuck Smith was all for spending money when the money was already there. There is no greater joy than for a new facility or expansion to open completely paid for.

What a sex scandal cannot do to destroy a church, a financial crisis can. (No accident this subject comes a day after a book review dealing with the spiritual warfare we fight against unseen forces.)

Today’s pastors are in a rush to build bigger and better. To go multi-site. To add new media. To host conferences. We’ve been corrupted by the way the world does things and how success is measured; and I didn’t use the word “we’ve” there by accident. Certainly, if this road is full of pitfalls, it is important to put up a giant “danger sign” and warn others traveling the same road.

But I wish that authors Scott Bryant and Ryan Mahoney had ended The Elephant’s Debt website with a call to prayer, because that’s what needed here more than anything.

Here again is the link to The Elephant’s Debt. Each page ends with a link to successive pages. You be the judge on this one.

And here is what one reader sent as a possible response that was recently posted by the elders board of Harvest Bible Chapel.


Isaiah 30 (NLT) verse 21 is the theme verse for Walk in the Word.

19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem,
you will weep no more.
He will be gracious if you ask for help.
He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food
and suffering for drink,
he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
21 Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left.
22 Then you will destroy all your silver idols
and your precious gold images.
You will throw them out like filthy rags,
saying to them, “Good riddance!”


UPDATE: Be sure to read the comments section for more…

May 15, 2012

Book Review: Love Works

Love Wins. Love Does. Love Works.  Lots of books right now on the market with titles that will inevitably confuse some. I’m considering writing a set of four: Love Hurts. Love Scars. Love Wounds. Love Mars. But I am digressing big time.

Love Works (subtitle: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders) is most appropriately titled however, because this is a book about going to work, or better yet, taking principles with you to work. The principles are based on the “Love Chapter” in the first few verses of I Corinthians 13.

Author Joel Manby knows these principles can apply at the place you earn your paycheck, though it took him quite a while to finally arrive at a place of reorganized priorities. After a successful career in the automotive industry, he now works for a chain of theme parks, Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation, which owns many properties, run the operations for others, and have a consulting role in still more.

Though published under the imprint of Zondervan, a company better known for Bibles, Bible study guides, Christian living books and Christian fiction titles; this is really a business book; with a chapter organization scheme that management types will relate to, and a review section that will bring you back to the book months or even years later.

But because most of in the Western world have been to Christian weddings where “Love is patient, love is kind…” was part of the ceremony, this makes a good bridge title to give to someone who might not yet consider cracking the pages of anything else Zondervan publishes.

And the ‘gold’ of this book is that a hands-on, caring management philosophy is infectious and can have a positive influence on the bottom line.

With Father’s Day just weeks away, I can’t think of a better gift for the aspiring CEO, COO or CFO in your circle of contacts than a copy of Love Works, even if the workplace in question is family-run or even home-based.

While Love Works is light on scripture and not at all preachy, read an excerpt from a later chapter of the book at Christianity 201.

A copy of Love Works was given to Paul Wilkinson by HarperCollins Canada

April 1, 2012

Would/Should Your Church Accept Lottery Winnings?

I threw this question out in 2008 but there is now a stadium’s worth of new readers here on a regular basis, so I’m hoping for a better response.

The Mega Millions Lottery on the weekend drew a lot of attention to lotteries in general, with people interviewed prior to Friday night’s draw — which yielded three winning tickets — proclaiming the prize was simply too big and would necessitate some sharing or charitable giving.  But if the charity in question was your local church or Christian parachurch organization, would the money be accepted?  Should the money be accepted?

In the 2008 item, I quoted this story from that summer about a church which received a winning ticket anonymously and was set to receive $150,000 annually for 20 years.  The church’s immediate desire was to build a bigger church building.  Sigh!  But a little over three years later, their website shows the new building, and announces they are holding four Sunday services.

BTW, I also wrote on this topic in May of 2009.  At that point, I argued, as I still do, that there should be cap on lottery winnings.  Friday night’s $640,000,000 could just as easily been 2,000 prizes of $320,000; 4,000 prizes of $160,000 or even 8,000 prizes of $80,000.  To this writer, saying “There will be 8,000 prizes” has more attraction than saying, “There will only be one number drawn, and the odds are better of being struck by lightning than winning.”  But lottery experts say the gigantic prize is the big lure. Sorry, but people are stupid.

But we’ve gotten waaaaay off topic here.  If someone in your church won a lottery prize and wanted to donate some winnings to your church, should the church accept?  What about someone in the community at large who wants to share some of their winnings with the church?  What are your reasons/grounds for accepting or refusing?

January 9, 2012

Our Post-Christmas Credit Card Crisis

Each year we say that instead of giving gifts to each other, we’re going to do something significant to help the third world, and a couple of years ago we got more serious about this and began a Christmas tradition of donating to water projects — the repair and restoration of fresh water wells — through the organization Partners International.

This year Partners sent us a catalog containing a variety of projects to which we could donate, and I decided to let the family have greater input into this than in previous years.  The various needs  in the Canadian organization’s mailing called Hope in Action were divided into different categories such as,

  • Children and Education
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Justice Issues
  • Women’s issues
  • Christian Witness
  • Health and Wellness

while Partners in the U.S. has a greater variety of potential giving themes in their catalog called Harvest of Hope.

The family seemed especially interested in projects which keep young women out of the sex trade overseas, or projects which help them not end up there to begin with.  One of these is listed on my receipt as item 8007C — Mahima Home — A Refuge for Girls Rescued From the Sex Trade — $300.00

We selected three projects that were certainly more expensive than our previous investment in water wells, and then added one more to top it off to an even number, a number that was larger than I expected when we first sat down around the computer.  “Oh well, it’s only money;” I remember saying at the time.

But then, like so many other families that overextend themselves over the holidays, we got a credit card bill which contained both our Partners projects and our regular expenses, not to mention the Christmas gifts that we actually gave.

And it’s all due on Friday.

“I think we need prayer;” I said to my wife when she read me the bill.

I then told her, “I think we should ask the pastor for prayer because I’ve run up our credit card on prostitutes.”

It would be funny if it were funny.

It got me thinking however, what about the person who does find themselves with an impossible credit card bill because they did spend too much on hookers?  You’ve got the sin of fornication combined with the sin of overspending, and they don’t cancel each other out.

I might just leave the prayer request at our church’s prayer email address anyway.  We’ll call it increasing global awareness.

January 1, 2010

Bottom Drops Out of Donations at Saddleback: $1M Debit Crisis

The bigger they are, the harder it gets during a recession,  as USAToday reports:

Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Community Church

Evangelical pastor Rick Warren appealed to parishioners at his California megachurch Wednesday to help fill a $900,000 deficit by the first of the year.

Warren made the appeal in a letter posted on the Saddleback Church website. It begins “Dear Saddleback Family, THIS IS AN URGENT LETTER.”

“With 10% of our church family out of work due to the recession, our expenses in caring for our community in 2009 rose dramatically while our income stagnated,” the letter reads.

Still, Warren said the church managed to stay within its budget, but “the bottom dropped out” when Christmas donations dropped. “On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive…”

[continue reading the story at USAToday Religion]

Related story at Godvertiser blog discusses the announcement — just one day earlier — that Warren’s magazine is discontinuing its print edition and going digital.

June 2, 2009

General Motors: Not in Deepest Sympathy

General_MotorsWe were an hour from home in Toronto picking up a large order from a Christian book distributor when the car simply failed to do anything at all when the ignition key was inserted.    After consulting a local dealer by phone, we were told that the ignition system had ‘locked up,’ but to keep trying, which we did, eventually producing success.   We drove the car to that dealer where they told us — for free — what needed to happen at our local dealership when we got home so that we wouldn’t be stuck again.

We booked the car in the next day to the closest General Motors franchise.   They were less than pleased that the Toronto dealership had “diagnosed” the problem.   There is a fee for that now, which is usually a minimum of a half-hour at normal shop rates.   Because the Toronto people had already “diagnosed” the problem, they had to fix it locally without being able to render the extra charge.

An hour later, the car was returned to me, but as soon as I started it, something was wrong.   The CD/radio was not displaying anything.   No FM station frequencies, no CD track numbers, and most importantly, no time of day, a feature I have come to depend on in a car.

Their argument?   How do we know it was working when you brought the car in?    A nice Catch-22 style stalemate.    However, I was not to be trifled with on this.   So they agreed that they would put the car back into a service bay and then determine if they could fix the radio.

But none of their service guys would open the hood.   In order for them to be paid, there has to be chargeable work being done on the car, which then goes on their timecard.    This type of goodwill investigation was not part of the shop service schedule.    Again, I was not about to be messed around, so some kinder, gentler mechanic pulled the radio and did some checking.

In the end, they couldn’t fix it.   An independent, local mechanic found a compatible CD/Radio at a wrecker, and $250 worth of parts and labour later, I had a working clock and music system.    The local representative for General Motors of Canada said they didn’t break it, they weren’t going to fix it, and they weren’t going to pay for it.

That was many, many years ago.   I have never set foot in a GM dealership since, and I currently have no intention of ever owning another GM vehicle.

…At this point, you may be wondering where this fits into the Christian theme of this blog, or the idea of grace in general.   “I’ve always enjoyed this blog;” you’re saying, “But today you seem pretty angry.”

It doesn’t fit.   Being a Christ follower means that I probably restrained myself from other forms of protest.  It also means that while I harbour nothing against the the individual service manager and his mechanics,  I can disagree violently with the ‘system’ that they represent on the basis of the Biblical concept of justice.    (I would extend the argument and suggest that I’m not sure that any Christian can carry on employment in a workplace that has unfair trade policies.)   It means that, in terms of that car, I am “forgetting what lies behind.”

gm_10bil_moreSo how do I process the news of this week concerning General Motors?  I know a number of people who are GM employees, who have enjoyed a unique, special, privileged opportunity to work with wages and benefits others can’t begin to imagine.   It bothers me to think those same employees possibly wouldn’t pick up a tool to check a vehicle that arrived in a service bay working and is now not working, but in fact, we’re dealing essentially with the same company.   The parent company establishes the rules. I know these people socially, but in their workplace, they would have had to tow the company line.  The end of that unique opportunity for those employees is a consequence of the company’s overall attitude.

I don’t want to see people unemployed, but those employees had a great ride, and are now dealing with the impossibility of the economics they enjoyed.   There were a number of flaws in the GM model, not just as I experienced in the service bay, but in sales, marketing, product development and of course compensation paid to its staff.

No matter how iconic a company is, if the model isn’t working, eventually, the chickens will come home to roost.  Do you bail out Coca Cola or Kelloggs or — perish the thought — WalMart because they are American icons?  At a certain point you have to let the company die, or else nobody has learned anything.   You end up with — and this is where traces of morality enter — economics without consequences.     Companies can take all kinds of risks even if the model won’t hold together in a tough economy because, when the dam breaks, the government will be there with a rescue and bailout.

Sorry.  If you offer that to GM, you have to offer it to everyone.   On Monday, June 1st, 2009, the governments of the United States and Canada should have simply let General Motors die and then let market forces rebuild an new auto industry from scratch.

No, there’s not a lot of grace in that.   But there is a lot of justice, even though it would have hurt.    As of now the taxpayers of both nations own ‘stock’ in a monster-sized company which may or may not succeed long term.   This had better be the greatest comeback story on record, but I fear history will record it differently than that.

May 8, 2009

Lotteries: Winning Has a Price

Filed under: economics, ethics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm

lotteryA month ago The Toronto Star carried an article about a man who won the $14M (CDN) grand prize in a Canadian lottery and how his life since then has become increasingly complicated.   [see From Jolly Butcher to Disillusioned Millionaire.]    It’s a frequently echoed them among lottery winners.   One suspects that — like various other contests — coming in second or third might be a safer option.

Most people who read this blog are Christians, so the odds are — pun somewhat intended — that fewer of us actually play the lottery and therefore there isn’t a lot of connection or emotion attached to this particular topic.   It is, as Mrs. W. often says, “SEP;” which stands for “someone else’s problem.”

But when I read the story, I wrote a letter to the editor at The Star. Most bloggers have enough creative outlet online that writing letters to newspaper editors is probably considered somewhat passé.   I gotta admit, it takes a lot to get me worked up enough to write one.    However…

There needs to be a cap on lottery winnings.

Furthermore, you don’t have to play the lottery to be concerned about an issue like this.    Finally, you don’t have to feel that an issue like this abandons all connection to one’s faith.   If pharmacies are selling a pill that can be harmful, Christ-followers should be among the loudest calling for its withdrawl from the market.

Doing justice.   Loving mercy.    Protecting the weak.   Highlighting truth.   Warning the naive.   Helping the hurting.   Etc.  Etc.  Etc.   Forty people winning $350,000 instead of one winning $14M.    Changing the “we need big prizes to attract more players” mentality.   Being willing to temporarily set aside the addiction issue to address the fairness issue.

Here’s what I wrote:

Saturday’s front-page piece on lottery winner Jose Lima reinforces the need for there to be a cap on lottery winnings.  There is only so much one individual can enjoy before that same “good luck” turns into a negative force.

Lottery companies will insist that it’s the large amounts that attract players, but that’s simply how the public has been conditioned.    Clever marketers could just as easily stress the potential number of winners rather than the size of the big prize.    The charity lotteries have been doing that for years.

There hasn’t been a lottery ticket in our home for about fifteen years — and that one was a gift from a customer.   But I think you’re allowed to feel passionate about things affecting the larger society, even if they aren’t part of your personal routine.

If you got here from a “lottery” tag, you may have sensed already that this is one of those “Christian” blog pages.   Lottery ticket buying can definitely be a form of addictive behavior.   Don’t be afraid to get help if you need it.     Sometimes, it’s easy to think that the only hope for a change in our personal situation would be something like winning a lottery.    Christ-followers often don’t play the lottery, not because we’re more holy or more righteous, but because we’re learning to trust in God to meet our daily needs and help us through lean economic times.

We believe that God has revealed a lot of who he is and what he’s like in manifesting his presence here on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, who, while he was fully God, also lived here as fully human.    And we’re told in his human situation, he was “tempted in every way that we are.”   Hmmm.   Do you think Jerusalem had a lottery or a casino?

Truth In Advertising

Filed under: Christianity, economics — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:44 pm

Found this at the blog, Digging The Word.

calf4gold from diggingtheword dot blogspot

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…Okay, so it’s originally from Sacred Sandwich.

January 24, 2009

A Visual Representation of the Economic Slowdown: The Auto Industry

Filed under: economics, issues — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 pm

nissan-test-track-used-for-storage2This Nissan test track is intended for test driving cars, not for storing them bumper to bumper.

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Below, an outdoor storage facility in Sheerness, UK.

sheerness-auto-open-storage1

These pictures plus eleven more from The Guardian

via: Jordan Cooper’s blog

January 17, 2009

Lots to Think About from Gapminder.org

Filed under: economics, issues — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 pm

I was reading this post tonight at Solar Crash.   Check it out!   Lots to think about the more you study this.  When you get there, click on the chart to see it fullscreen; then go to the source website if you want to see more.

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