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The Importance of Vision

August 14, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine
MoneyWhere should I give? Several years ago the sad case of a 92 year old UK woman made the news. She had come onto the radar of a range of charitable organisations, who would ring and mail requests for donations to potential donors. I am not suggesting that there is necessarily anything wrong with this, but in the case of this lady, she was receiving so many calls and requests for money from so many different organizations that she felt completely overwhelmed. The tragic consequence was that due to these and other pressures, the poor lady took her own life.

On the other hand, there was an influential layman at the church I pastored in Wollongong who in his youth, just after World War 2 in England, had courted and married one of the maids at an aristocratic household. He told me that they even had to get her lady’s permission to walk out together. The mistress of the house, another elderly lady, was very generous, but in a discerning way. She had certain charities that she supported and would steadfastly say ‘no’ to any other supplicants.

So where should you be generous, and how should a minister address a congregation on this subject? There are so many causes and so many are worthy causes: Life line, World Wildlife Fund, Lifesavers, Hospital and University support. My daughter-in-law used to work for the McGrath foundation. As a cricket lover, I felt that saw that as an excellent cause: cricket sponsoring breast cancer nurses!

For followers of Jesus, the bible gives excellent general pointers about where to give.
    1. Christian ministry: There were women in the New Testament that gave their money to support the ministry of Jesus. (Luke 8:1-3)
    2. Gospel Projects: King David raised resources for the temple to the glory of God. (1Chronicles 29)
    3. Alleviation of poverty: Paul raised money so the Christians in Jerusalem would not starve. 2 Corinthians (8 and 9) The collection forms a thread that runs through other epistles and Acts.
    4. Mission projects help ensure people in other places may come under the transforming word of Jesus.

As the senior minister of Figtree Anglican church, I knew that I could not dictate where people should give. That would not only be wrong, but certainly counterproductive. Australians don’t like being dictated to, especially with regards to money. So my approach was to give a lead. People looked to me to give guidance from the scriptures on a wide range of topics and money was no exception. My wife Helen and I always made sure we were on the same page with our giving and the general handling of money. Thus after speaking about general biblical principles when preaching I would say something like this.
First, we give to the local church. That is number one on our agenda. The local church gets a very bad press today. That is mainly because the media highlights the relatively few rotten apples and remains totally silent on all the love and care and fellowship and support that you find in the local church. It is the engine room of the Christian faith. I am asking you to give to support the ministry here. But at the same time I am doing all I can to make this ministry one you will be very happy to support.
Second, we give to other causes that proclaim the name of Jesus and are motivated by his love. These will include para-church ministry, missions and mercy ministry that aids the poor and underprivileged, and Christian projects over and above our local church support. Evangelistic work and church planting have a special urgency today.
Third, we give to secular projects as they touch our heart. This is third on our list because we believe our major support should go to Christian ministry, because if Christians don’t support the church and Christian ministry and missions no one else will. Yet there are some very worthy community projects and it is good to consider them. I hope you will find these points helpful as you consider your own giving or the way you might lead others. For more on giving and generosity see my book Giving Generously.

The Importance of Vision

June 9, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine

Cultivate a Joyful Attitude of Generosity In a former article, https://givinggenerously.com/2018/07/  I looked at the fascinating book, ‘The Paradox of Generosity’ by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. It showed the extent to which a generous attitude to life counts towards happiness. The key is being open-hearted in general. Just one-off acts won’t cut it. The sort of one-off acts I mean are, for example, giving blood occasionally, or donating once to a forest fire  or an earthquake appeal, or occasionally supporting the Salvos.

These are great to do but according to Smith and Davidson, that sort of giving doesn’t correspond to any blessing. What is needed,  they suggested, is a character that loves generosity that values it and integrates it into your life as a whole.

One of the threads that runs through the New Testament in the bible, is a collection in the form of an offering. The believers in Jerusalem were in famine and the Apostle Paul, who was always concerned for the poor, was gathering together a sum of money to help with famine relief. Now there is a special appeal in the second letter to the Corinthians.

Paul says (and I paraphrase), ‘take up an offering. Get it ready. When I come I want you to hand it over freely and willingly. I don’t want to have to twist your arm. I don’t want to see you groaning. I don’t want to have to hold a gun to your head’. Paul wants it to be a generous gift not a grudging gift.

Notice the two contrasting Gs:  Generous not Grudging.

Here is food for thought and action. Check your heart when there are appeals at church. Never get cranky with ministers for asking. Putting the needs before us is part of their job. You can decide whether you support this appeal or that appeal, but remember it’s good to give and it’s good for ministers to give you the opportunity to give.

St Paul further says

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cur 9:6-7)

 He talks  about sowing and reaping. You get out what you put in. This is precisely the same concept which Jesus spoke about. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:38

They are pretty dumb farmers who complain about a miserable harvest when they hadn’t planted anything!

But Paul emphasizes, ‘not reluctantly or under compulsion’ No one should squeeze your arm. No one should manipulate you. No one should put pressure on you. My wife Helen received a call from a fund raiser that included,

‘Please Helen, Please. We desperately need your help’. Maybe this was an over enthusiastic volunteer but Helen certainly felt manipulated.

I used to say to my congregation in Wollongong,’ if you feel manipulated, don’t give. I want you to give because you love Jesus and you love people and you want to see the message of the gospel going out and transforming people’s lives. That’s the reason to give, not because I am some clever salesman’.

On one occasion I was visitor at a church on the day they were having a special appeal for their new building. They took up the special offering. Then after a couple of songs they took up the regular offering: two offerings in a row.

Then, just as the service was about to close, the senior minister said, ‘I know you have been very generous but as you know once a month we take up a special offering to support our missionaries overseas.  That time of the month just happens to be today. And if we skip our offering they will be in a very hard way, They depend on us’. So the church took up a third offering and no one seemed to blink. They gave again, not grudgingly but freely. Now that’s a generous church with a generous attitude!

For more on resourcing church ministry with the right attitude see my book, Giving Generosly.

Joy

The Importance of Vision

November 20, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine

KnightThe apostle Paul on one occasion urged his hearers to be generous, to share, and to remember those less fortunate. He quoted some famous words of Jesus:

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

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ is a very famous saying. You will notice why Paul uses it: so you can bless others.

If you consult the serious bible scholars, they will tell you that what Jesus is saying is that ‘it is better to give than to amass’. It is better to give out than to store up for yourself. It is better to have a giving attitude than a getting attitude. It is better to have a gracious heart than a greedy heart. It is better to be generous than grasping.

This emphasis comes from the word itself. Consider the classic version of the bible, the King James Version, which was translated in 1611, over for hundred years ago and was the standard version in English for three hundred and fifty years. If you do a word search, you won’t find the word ‘generous’ in it. The concept is there but the term they used was ‘liberal’.

A famous generosity verse, Proverbs 11:25, is thus translated: ‘the liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.’

‘Liberal’ in this context doesn’t mean the name of a political party or a progressive movement. The meaning is the same as when we say, ‘he put a liberal amount of tomato sauce on his scrambled eggs’. I do that and my wife Helen hates it. She says,’ you shouldn’t drown the eggs in sauce. It is just not right’.

I hope you get the meaning of ‘liberal’. The reason they didn’t use ‘generous’ in the King James Version is because four to five hundred years ago ‘generous’ didn’t mean what it does today. Back then it meant ‘noble’ such as being a member of the aristocracy, having birth and breeding to the manor born. A ‘generous’ person wasn’t a peasant. So if I described you as generous I would mean you were probably a lord or a lady, and I would doff my cap or curtsey to you.

But as the centuries wore on, 1300 1400 1500 1600 etc., the meaning of ‘generous’ changed from describing your noble birth to describing your noble character. If I call you ‘generous’ today I mean that you’re open hearted, friendly giving of your time, helpful. You will be happy to give to your church and needy causes. That is a wonderful thing.

Despite having written my book Giving Generously I struggle in this area but I would love it if you said, ’Rod. He is just a generous person’. That is something I desire to be. Consider the opposite for a minute. The opposite is miser. I don’t want to be thought a miser. The miser hoards, grasps, doesn’t give, doesn’t share. Misers are not just careful with money but tight, skinflint, cheapskate. I would absolutely hate it if you thought that of me.

Further, the miser is not happy. Did you know our word ‘miserable’ and the ‘word’ miser come from the same basic root? They come from the Latin root that means ‘wretched’.

To add weight to this, social science research indicates that generous people are happier, healthier, have more friends, enjoy more benefits, are more prosperous, and thrive in life. The ungenerous miserly ones are poorer, have less purpose, live for themselves, are sicker, and lonelier.

Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’

So practice generosity. Your giving will be good for you. It will give you great joy. It will bless others but most importantly, it will give God glory.

 

The Importance of Vision

August 11, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
Many writers and speakers point out how vital it is for a church or indeed any organization to have a clear vision of where it should be going under God in the future. The vision brings clarity and coherence. In a former life I used to study physics. You might not be a big physics fan but please bear with me as I always remember a physics explanation that gives a good idea.
Metals conduct electric current which is a flow of electrons along a wire. This is because in metals the outer electrons are loosely bound to their atoms. So when a force is applied, those electrons can move along the wire, jostling around like a crowd moving along a tunnel at a railway station. Because the crowd is jostling it doesn’t move as efficiently as it could. Now there is another phenomenon called superconductivity, where, when you cool the metal down to nearly absolute zero all the resistance decreases dramatically and the electrons flow much more freely and you get more current for the same force. What is happening is that instead of jostling around, the electrons effectively link their arms and march steadfastly down the wire in lock step. It would be the same in a railway tunnel if everybody stopped bustling around, joined arms and moved freely.

This is what vision does for your church. Instead of spinning wheels or squabbling with each other it as if the church or most of the church links arms and works towards a common kingdom goal. A vision is very powerful. However often ministers search around for a scripture to support this concept. And the one that is often used is Prov. 29:18a which in the King James Version reads:
Where there is no vision, the people perish…

This sounds great but my friend and former colleague Bruce Clarke pointed out to me that this verse could not really bear the weight that people were placing on it. There are a number of issues to be considered here. First, the verse is sometimes quoted only in part. It continues

but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

This makes it seem less likely that the verse really can be directly justifying the importance of an organizational vision. This concern is only magnified when the verse is considered in more modern translations.

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.(NIV)
or
Without revelation people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Now the verse was originally written in Hebrew .Thus to get a clearer idea of the meaning I consulted the classic nineteenth century commentary on the Hebrew text by Keil and Delitzsch. Their translation is:
Without a revelation a people become ungovernable; But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

But just as interesting is Keil and Delitzsch’s comments on the meaning of the verse. They write:

‘While on the one hand, a people is in a dissolute condition when the voice of the preacher, speaking from divine revelation, and enlightening their actions and suffering by God’s word, is silent amongst them; on the other hand that same people are to be praised as happy when they show due reverence and fidelity to the word of God, both as written and as preached. ‘

In other words, this text doesn’t really bear the weight placed on it by ministers trying to run vision meetings. It is far more that when any people don’t listen to the word of God they become a rabble.
So it is appropriate to use this verse to justify a vison process? Yes. However the way to do it is not to point to this scripture to justify vision per se, but to use it to ensure that the vision for your church and your life is in accord with Holy Scripture. That gives a far more powerful and more accurate application. For more physics there are lots of great videos on line!!! For more on Vison in the parish life see my book: Giving Generously. : photo-1571069057711-7f3b008cc2c4

The Importance of Vision

July 24, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Consider this verse.

A generous person will prosper;  whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Prov 11:25

Now maybe you are thinking, that’s crazy. How can giving stuff away be a good thing? How could that be a bright idea? Won’t that diminish me? If you are thinking that you are in very good company. However it a biblical truth and it is a universal truth. It is also found in the writings of sages, philosophers, wise men and women and religions throughout the ages.

There is a recent secular book called ‘The Paradox of Generosity: Giving we receive, Grasping we lose’, by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. the paradox of generositySmith leads the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S and Davidson has close involvement in the work. The study draws attention to the paradoxical, counter-intuitive nature of generosity. Here is the essence of it:

‘Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward greater flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching, it is a sociological fact.’

This is a book worth buying. It is based on two thousand surveys followed up with sixty focussed interviews with real people, Americans, some generous and some and some self admittedly far less so.

They examined generosity over five dimensions.

  • Giving money away.
  • Volunteering
  • Being generous in personal relationships
  • Being a good neighbour and friend
  • Personally valuing generosity

A life of generosity is a life where you are a giver not a taker, you are open-hearted with an open wallet. The result: generous people were happier, healthier, had more purpose in life, more friends, less depression, more opportunities and experienced more personal growth. And what’s more, the relationship of generosity with blessings was causal. Generosity was not just associated with blessing; it actually caused it. This point, being controversial, was examined in some detail.

The authors stress that the positive effects of generosity flow to those who value generosity and make it a habit of life. Making a one-off gift in some emergency, performing some incidental community service like giving blood on occasion just doesn’t cut it. The blessing of generosity accumulates to those who have internalized generosity so it is part of their DNA. Consequently it cannot be faked and does not accrue to those who give in order to get or to acquire some perceived advantage. Generosity is more like love: the more you give it away the more abundant it becomes.

They also examined the effect in the negative: the effect of lack of generosity on those who kept things for themselves.

The ultimate opposite is the miser. I certainly don’t want to be thought a miser. The miser hoards, grasps, doesn’t give, doesn’t share. Misers are not just careful with money but tight, skinflint, cheapskate. The miser is not happy.  Our word ‘miserable’ and the word ‘miser’ have the same basic meaning. They both come from the Latin root that means ‘wretched’.

The Paradox of Generosity study found that generous people were happier, healthier, had more friends, enjoyed more benefits, were more prosperous, thrived in life. The ungenerous ones were poorer in spirit and often financially, had less purpose, lived for themselves, were sicker and lonelier.

Jesus  said’ It is more blessed to give than to receive’ and it is obvious he knew what he was talking about.

To investigate this topic further see my book Giving Generously: Resourcing local church ministry.   https://givinggenerously.com/

So here is my point from the scripture, tradition and reinforced by modern sociology

Be generous. It’s good for you. It will give you great joy. It will bless others and the bible adds that it will give God glory (2 Cor 9:11).

The Importance of Vision

January 2, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Recently I attended a church service for Volunteer Sunday. On this day the minister suspended the normal preaching programme to design a service and preach a sermon celebrating the many volunteers who week in week out exercised a faithful and fruitful ministry in the church and on behalf of the church in the community. I had been to such services before and with the writing of this post in mind I was especially looking forward to this service.  I was not disappointed. This church goes all out. It is never a half- hearted afterthought such as: ‘Hello everybody thanks for your ministry. Now let’s return to normal business’.

On the day the church and foyer were festooned in a celebratory atmosphere. The service and sermon had a theme of ‘hundreds and thousands’. This was meant to embody the idea of hundreds of volunteers ministering to thousands of people. Fairy bread covered with ‘hundreds and thousands’ were distributed in the foyer after the service.
volunteers-hundreds-thousands

The preacher used a very, very large adhesive board and to it, attached dozens of coloured dots which represented people in ministry and reinforced the theme. The bible passage was Romans 16 where the apostle Paul greets a galaxy of otherwise unheralded ministry friends. These are people who were highly significant in Paul’s ministry and had laboured long, diligently and effectively in gospel work but don’t get the attention that we naturally pay to figures like Peter, Paul, James and John.

The connection is easy to make. Congregations are naturally aware of the ministry of the preacher, the music director or people who pray, lead singing or read the bible. Their ministry is prominent and visible. Volunteer Sunday gives the opportunity to thank not only the prominent people but also those who humbly and faithfully serve behind the scenes. At Figtree Anglican Church, where I ministered for many years, there was an unobtrusive lady who had been folding the church bulletins, midweek, since the 1940s! What fantastic devotion and how appropriate it is to thank such a servant.

During the sermon the preacher invited people in the various ministry groups , pastoral care, missions, service, children, youth, mentoring, men’s women’s ministries to come onto the platform where he prayed for them and the congregation celebrated their service with acclamation. Many hundreds came forward and crowded the front. They were invited to stick a coloured dot to the adhesive board indicating their ministry and giving them a tangible participation in the message. Apart from the virtue of thanking God for his goodness and thanking his people for their ministry the celebrating of volunteers has other benefits in the life of the church.

First, it introduces a sense of real joy. The entire atmosphere of the service was one of delight in the Lord and his goodness. This congregation loves their church and this service is just one reason why. Second, Volunteer Sunday always acknowledges the vision and mission of the church. The ministry is not being done as a chore but for the glory of God. Celebrated leadership author Peter Drucker says that ‘Volunteers work for a cause’. Volunteer Sunday gives ample opportunity to remind everyone of the gospel imperative by which we live.

Third, it makes raising money so much easier. I discuss in detail raising money for ministry in my book, Giving Generously. It is a simple fact that people who serve in the ministry of the church in a practical way also give more money to that ministry. Volunteers are involved, invested and they are committed and are consequently more likely to be generous regular donors and respond to special appeals for financial support.

The church I refer to is a large, healthy church of very generous givers. It has over 1000 volunteers in ministry and given the way the church thanks them and celebrates their ministry, it is easy to see why.

You can find the sermon “Volunteer Sunday” by Andrew Sercombe from Gateway Baptist Church here.

The Importance of Vision

November 9, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

In August 2017, 53 year old Massachusetts hospital worker Mavis Wanczyk won the biggest undivided lottery jackpot in history, a massive $US 758.7 million. She immediately quit her clerical job and looks forward to her new life. Will it be a happy one? For her sake I certainly hope so. However the odds aren’t necessarily in her favour. It is not just that lottery winners can get preyed on by hungry friends and family or even worse criminal elements; It is that lottery winners don’t report getting much happier after the initial buzz wears off. In fact one classic study reported on marginally more happiness with the enjoyment of everyday life experiences than people who had suffered catastrophic accidents.
happy-money-giving

Part of the problem is that we tend not to spend money wisely. Generally the new house, new car, extra gadgets or luxury lifestyle on which lottery winners and others who came into money indulge themselves very soon pall and lose their lustre.

I read recently a fascinating book by authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton called ‘Happy Money’.  Its thesis is that there are ways that we can spend money that will bring increased happiness.  They list five.

  1. Buying an experience that we can anticipate share and reflect on later. I can think of a number of wonderful  holidays whose memories still give me pleasure.
  2. Treating yourself with small pleasures, such as a trip to the movies a dinner out.
  3. Buying time. I am not very handy and  recently hired a tradesman to construct some shelves in the garage. In a fraction of the time I would have spent he erected shelves far better than I could have imagined. Every time I look at them I feel a glow of pleasure and think, ‘happy money’.
  4. Paying for an item or service ahead of time as opposed to putting it on credit. There is a pleasure in anticipation rather than the groaning associated with debt.
  5. Investing in others. This is giving to someone or a worthy cause outside yourself. God’s people don’t find this surprising. Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35. This is probably best understood as meaning giving rather than accumulating.

The follower of Jesus has a cause and a kingdom to invest in that will not only be a blessing now but will count for eternity (Luke 19:9). This is why ministers of the gospel should never be timid in asking people to give to Christian ministry. Not only is it godly to give, if the request is made boldly and sensitively people will respond to the appeal and enjoy doing it, and joy will not fade.

It is too early to tell how much joy Mavis Wancyk is deriving from her windfall, but I do hope she avoids predators, reads ‘Happy Money’ and invests in worthy causes that will benefit others and glorify God.