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.


The Importance of Vision

June 13, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

In 2014 my wife Helen and I did a trip to England and one of the places we visited was Glastonbury. No we were not there for the famous rock festival. We wanted to check out the church of St John the Baptist dating from the 15th century and where Helen’s great-great grandparents were married in 1854. Close by were the ruins of the famous Glastonbury monastery. As we drove out of town we passed the spectacular green conical hill of Glastonbury Tor, adorned by a medieval tower. The tor is a geographical feature, 158 metres in height, that that shows evidence of Neolithic human activity and legend associates it with King Arthur.

As interesting as all these were to a person of antiquarian tendencies, it was the sign that said ‘Tithe Barn’ on the road driving east that grabbed my attention. So turning off past the aptly named Abbot Way, we found the medieval structure.

At that time I was in the process of writing my book ‘Giving Generously’ and I knew I would have to tackle the topic of tithing at some stage. I was not particularly looking forward to writing a tithing chapter for a number of reasons. First I knew the topic was controversial, with passionate defenders and detractors. Secondly I had preached on the topic over a number of years and thought I had a reasonable understanding of the issue. However I was somewhat nervous that in undergoing the more in-depth analysis that a book would demand might reveal gaping flaws in my original understanding, invalidating my previous sermons: an embarrassment at the very least. So anything about tithing, particularly if it was unusual or obscure, grabbed my attention.
Pilton Tithe Barn

I discovered that this barn at the village of Pilton is one of four surviving tithe barns whose tithes of agricultural produce serviced Glastonbury Abbey. It had suffered fire damage in the 1960s and was recently restored with the aid of a heritage grant. The abbots of Glastonbury ceased receiving the tithe in 1539 when the monastery was dissolved  and the last abbot, the 78 year old Richard Whiting, was gruesomely hung, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor.

Now in my book I do not advocate the imposition by the secular authorities of a mandatory tithe on all the citizens. However my research did mellow me a little as I gained a new perspective.

As the Christian faith spread across Europe in the first millennium, kings such as Athelstan in England, who took their faith seriously looked for models on which to base their kingship. They found it scriptures such as 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament. They also were keen to banish pagan religion from their realm and encourage and support a strong church with monasteries that would be centres of learning, alms giving, prayer and evangelism. They made laws mandating the tithe to support these institutions. Now history teaches that many monasteries became lax, corrupt, and centres of privilege making them easy targets for Henry VIII’s rapacious dissolution. Glastonbury at least under the pious Richard Whiting was not one of them.

So pondering tithe barns I can see some interesting sermon illustrations emerging, but I can’t see the tithe barn or any twenty first century incarnation making a comeback and wouldn’t want to see a return to a state mandated tithe. The downsides are too great. However I do want to acknowledge the impulse that lay behind them; the desire of a ruler who loved God, supported the church and wanted to assist it with its kingdom work by providing the financial resources to equip it. Would that our secular leaders today be moved by the same desire.

On a personal note, I sent the picture to my family.  One of my sons noticed, in the right of the image, a man rolling a beer keg into the barn. Suddenly the idea gained a little more traction but not for reasons of theology!!!!