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JOE LAGUARDIA: Jesus never saw charity as optional; neither should you

Joe LaGuardia

Joe LaGuardia

Over the last year, I have been solicited by three friends who are in the mission field. These days, denominations do not fully fund missionaries, so many who are called to spread God’s Word rely on individual support.

Although there is a debate about tithing in church, there is no doubt that giving is a religious mandate. Jesus never saw charity as an option. He once said, “When you give,” not, “If you give” (Matthew 6:3).

Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, as well as a benchmark in Jewish social ethics. Giving has actually increased in the last year by over 4 percent, so we know it’s important.

I was, however, disheartened to provide my friends with only a one-time gift. It’s not that I don’t want to give, but my family and I have already met — and in some places, exceeded — the “giving” portion of our budget by providing for other missionaries and institutions.

I’m sure that I am not alone in my charity conundrum. With so many needs and so many people who ask for our support, choosing where to put our own limited resources can lead to long nights and severe headaches.

The real question is not whether we give, but how to give and to whom.

Over the years, I’ve found that there are three simple rules that can help a person discern where to put resources.

The first rule is to know your own core values. If you were to list all of the social needs that you are passionate about, what three would top the chart?

If you are like me, you cannot fund every cause for which you care about, but most people can pinpoint about two or three in which they have a deep connection. Focus your extra donations to those causes, and learn to say “no” to the rest.

Second, do research on the individuals or the organizations you seek to support. This begins by researching where your church tithe goes. Sometimes if a church gives to one cause as a result of a tithe, then you have the freedom to use extra money to give to another cause.

In my own context, my church gives 10 percent to a variety of non-profit organizations and ministries. I don’t double my giving by giving to those ministries, so I use resources to support ministries that my church does include in its budget.

I have spent time researching the organizations and individuals I support. In some cases, I know someone in the organization personally, or I have been affected by the ministry in some personal way.

A last rule of thumb is to keep extra money or resources on hand to give something when some missionary, ministry, or organization asks for your help.

Although you may only have $10 or $20 to give, it’s better than nothing in many cases. Every dollar counts.

There are some situations in which I cannot help someone with a monetary gift, but I will try to provide for them in some other significant way — like getting them connected to a network or individual who has like-minded goals.

Sure, I may not be able to give something, but I may be able to connect them with someone who can give more than I can ever dream of giving.

In a tight economy in which many people need support and even more people need non-profit organizations and ministries to help them along the way, solicitations will not end any time soon.

We all need to chip in and give to those causes for which we feel passionately, and we all need to make decisions that can make the world a better place, even if it’s only in our immediate neck of the woods.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinityassociate@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.