Archive | May, 2013

Live to Give

27 May

Image[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.]

Where should we direct our giving? Surrounded by so many needs and opportunities it’s difficult to know where to start. Is there any priority or principle by which to choose whom to give to?

Giving is the Christian way of living. It involves more than money for we give ourselves to the Lord and to each other as we use the gifts that God has given to us to serve one another. We give our time, energy, interest, concern, prayers and hospitality—anything we have that could be used for the benefit of others. However, it does include giving money and that is what I am writing about.

Giving is an attitude of heart and mind that is expressed in actions. We do not wait till there is need before we look for opportunity to give. Last week I wrote: “generosity lies at the heart of the Christian message… We are saved by grace to be gracious, saved by generosity to be generous—not just with our money but with our very selves”. Giving is therefore second nature to Christians—it’s something we normally do, expect to do, plan to do, even look forward to doing.

Having crossed into this world of grace, we have a new form of the old economic problem. No longer is it “limited means and unlimited wants” but now “limited means and unlimited giving”. Paul expresses our limitation: “as we have opportunity, let us do good…” (Gal 6:10). We cannot solve all the problems of a fallen world. We always have the poor to be generous to. So we have to make choices in directing our giving as we ask: “What does God want me to do with the money he has given to me?”

Here are some starting principles for the direction of Christian giving:

  1. Our commitment to God does not excuse us from our obligations. Jesus was critical of the Pharisees for using religion to avoid their obligation to their parents (Mark 7). Failure to provide for our own family is a denial of the faith and makes us worse than unbelievers (1 Tim 5:8). Parents provide for children, and in due time children provide for their aged parents (2 Cor 12:141 Tim 5:4). We pay taxes to whom taxes are due and we must not be an indolent burden to other people (Rom 13:72 Thess 3:12). Because we are God’s people we will play our part in family and society’s obligations.

    The Christian person is also obliged to give to those who serve them with the word of God. Paul quotes the Old Testament law: that you shall not muzzle the ox while treading out the grain; the labourer deserves his wage; those who serve in the temple or at the altar as getting their food from the temple (1 Tim 5:171 Cor 9:8ff). The Lord himself commanded: “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Paying for ministry is a Christian responsibility; we do not look to outsiders to pay for it, for money must not be an obstacle to hearing the gospel (3 John 7ff.; 1 Cor 9:12). Rather it is a reciprocal relationship: those who benefit spiritually from the word of God should share all good things with those who teach them (1 Cor 9:11Gal 6:6).

  2. Christian religion is caring for those in need. So James wrote: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas 1:27). To claim we love God but fail to love our neighbour is to lie, because such love is impossible (1 John 4:20).
  3. Though we are concerned for all people, our priority should be with the household of faith: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).
  4. We should use wisdom in our giving. We give for a purpose, but some giving will not achieve our purpose but will, if anything, create larger spiritual problems. 1 Timothy 5 discusses helping widows, but not all widows are to be helped. Paul directs help to the ‘deserving’ widow, over a certain age, who has no relatives to support her (1 Tim 5:3-16). It is like his ‘tough’ love: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Today it is possible to meet human need by persuading non-Christians to give, governments to legislate, and corporations to contribute. This allows Christians to concentrate our giving on those projects that only Christians would give to e.g. evangelists, church planters, theological teachers, missionaries.
  5. Our giving should reflect our values and beliefs. Paul commends the Philippians, not for repeatedly sending him money but for their partnership with him in the preaching of the Gospel (Acts 18:52 Cor 9:11Phil 4:14-17). We believe the problems of this world flow from people’s rejection of God, and the solution starts in Spiritual rebirth that comes with gospel preaching. We expect corruption to be a main factor in third world poverty, and family breakdown, gambling, substance abuse, covetous ‘get rich quick’ schemes to factor in first world poverty. Thus we invest in gospel ministries that change people’s lives and build societies.
  6. People matter more than things. By investing our gifts in people we see long term benefits in what they do over their lifetime. It’s like the wisdom of teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish.
  7. Giving by compulsion or for self interest is not giving. There is nothing wrong with taxation, or charging people entry fees, or even using a public relations or advertising budget to do good things. But they are not Christian giving. Christians give in response to the grace of God, not under any social constraint or requirement, other than the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts. That is why we do not charge people to come to church, but ask of our members to give freely.

This list is a conversation starter about where to direct our giving. An action plan has two steps: (1) Determine how much to give; (2) Determine where to give.

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Beg to give

26 May

Beg to give

Here is a link to the giving video we saw at Church in the Bank last Sunday Night if you want to see it again.  Below is a link to a Phillip Jensen blog on the topic.
 
 
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[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.]

Because ministers are the recipients of congregational giving they are hesitant to raise the issue of money. It is a hesitancy felt by both the congregation and the clergy.

Some ministers are concerned about church budget and press the issue too often and too hard. Others feel the apparent self-interest of raising the issue and so avoid it altogether. Some congregations are never taught about giving and others feel bombarded about money every time they come to church.

However, this tension confuses the subject of our giving with the object of our giving—or the gift of giving with the recipient of the gift. It confuses the questions of why, what and how we give with the issue of where best to direct our giving. It is the confusion of the long-term principle of gracious giving with the short-term immediate need for financial assistance.

It is important that we regularly discuss the whole issue of the Christian use of money rather than only mentioning money when we want to address the current needs of a financial crisis. So, while there is a current financial need within the Cathedral ministry, this article is not about that need. Rather it is about the much more important principle of Christian giving.

In the Old Testament, God’s people gave a tenth (a ‘tithe’) of all their produce to God in response to his blessings to them. The idea of the tithe is first seen with Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 14 and 28) and is then made explicit and obligatory in the Law of Moses. While required of the people, it was to be given generously with much rejoicing, not with begrudging legalism (Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 12, 14, 26, 2 Chronicles 31, Malachi 3). These tithes were collected to provide for God’s work—for the priests, Levites, widows and orphans.

New Testament believers also responded to God’s blessings with generosity. We have received God’s ultimate generous gift in the death of his Son, who though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor, so that through his poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). And we respond to his love by loving him and our neighbours.

The Philippians were the model Christians in this response of generosity. They begged for the privilege to give. Though not wealthy, they gave out of their poverty, not only their money but also themselves (2 Cor 8:1-7). They gave to the poor of the Judean famine, but also to the apostle in his preaching ministry. Paul wrote of their gifts to him as an offering acceptable to God (Phil 4:18).

Their giving was “the grace of God”. It is this act of grace that Paul commends to the Corinthians (2 Cor 8:7). This is why ministers must teach on the subject: not to raise money but to bless the congregation. For generosity lies at the heart of the Christian message. The gospel is all about God’s generosity—his grace—given freely to us. And it is to be met by our response of generosity—giving ourselves “first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us”, wrote the apostle (2 Cor 8:5). Grace befits the Christian as do love and forgiveness. We are saved by grace to be gracious, saved by generosity to be generous—not just with our money but with our very selves.

Christians are, and are not, under compulsion to give. Our compulsion is spiritual not social. We are not under a social or legal compulsion to give but we are under a spiritual compulsion. So Paul can write to the Corinthians, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Yet he knew of the “love of Christ” that compelled or controlled him to give his life for Christ and for others (2 Cor 5:14-15). The Christian obligation to give is not a tax—but a gift. Our obligation to give does not come in terms of law or punishment for failure but in response to Christ’s love for us. We do not give to be seen by others (Matt 6:1-4) but because we are the children of the God of all grace.

So, “How much should we give?” is a strange question for a Christian to ask. In terms of our regular income a tenth is a good starting point. But that is just the starting point rather than a legal figure we must absolutely stick to. Generosity goes way beyond tithing. A more fundamental question to ask is: “How much have we received from the Lord?” For Jesus’ principles are, “Every one to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48), and “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully  will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6).

A better question is, “What does God want me to do with the money he has given to me?” The fact that I have “earned it” does not exclude it from God’s gift to me or from my opportunity to use it generously for the benefit of others. The Christian thief is to stop stealing and start honest working with his hands “so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph 4:28).

So far I have not addressed the questions: “Where should I direct my giving?”, or “To which needy cause should I be generous?” That’s in my next article. In the meantime, it is more important that Christians give than which cause they give to.

And it is important that ministers teach about giving so as not to rob the congregation. For the real beneficiary of the gift is not the minister but the Christian—the donor is also the recipient. As Jesus himself taught, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In giving we become like God—the God of all grace who loves the cheerful giver.

Equality not the issue says Archbishop

22 May

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Archbishop Peter Jensen has publicly disagreed with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has done a turnaround and now says he supports same sex marriage.

Dr Jensen says Mr Rudd’s comments “do not grapple sufficiently with the question of what marriage is and what it is for”.

In a blog post on his electorate website, Mr Rudd said that after a conversation with a political staffer who he described as a pentecostal ‘god botherer’ he came to the conclusion that “church and state can have different positions and practices on the question of same sex marriage”.

Although disagreeing with the christian viewpoint that homosexuality was wrong, as would be same-sex marriage, Mr Rudd said “I believe that this change should legally exempt religious institutions from any requirement to change their historic position and practice that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman”.

Prime Minister Gillard and Opposition Leader Abbott maintain their positions against same-sex marriage.

Dr Jensen told the Australian newspaper “I respect Mr Rudd and have always enjoyed my conversations with him on all sorts of subjects. He is an interesting and thoughtful man. On this matter, however, I am unconvinced.”

The Archbishop said “His discussion of the bible is historically shallow and he may be too confident about the state of current research” – referring to claims by Mr Rudd that children in same-sex relationships suffer no disadvantage.

But Dr Jensen said the main issue was that the statement and thinking outlined by Mr Rudd did not fully grapple with marriage and its intention.

“Equality is not the issue. The consummation of a marriage by a man and a woman is unique and cannot be replicated. The precious differences between men and women, likewise cannot be replicated in any other bond”.

Dr Jensen went on to tell the newspaper “Marriage is too important for all of us – it is not a church-state issue – to redefine it for the sake of an illusory equality. What cannot be done should not be attempted”.

Muslim and Jewish leaders quoted by the newspaper also supported the institution of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Budgeting for Babies

21 May

I watched with interest on Tuesday Night as Treasurer Wayne Swan handed down his budget.  One of our governments major ‘structural saves’ as they are now called was to downsize the ‘Baby Bonus.’  The bonus for first children will now be $2,000 instead of $5,000.   Aside from embarassingly exposing my own self-interest (one of my first thoughts was ‘Ahh it doesn’t matter we’ve had our children …’), the change got me thinking about the language we use to talk about children.

 

It seems to me that just about everything we speak of these days is measured by it’s impact on ‘the economy,’ children included.   Of course this is especially true on budget night but I’m sure you’d agree that just about every government proposal we hear about these days is measured primarily in ‘economic terms.’    It’s impact on ‘the ecomomy’ is our major concern.  Now don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-capitalism.  After all, history says that the free market economy we are a part of can trace it’s foundations to John Calvin’s Geneva.  Not only did Calvin preserve the doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith’ but he also, many argue, laid key foundations for how our free market ecomony operates in the Modern West.  Though that’s a story for another day!  My point here is to ask … is there a danger in thinking about children and the having of them using ‘economic terms’?

 

When talking about the birth of children what’s the best word to use?  Bioethicist Leon Kass underlines the importance of this point when he writes”

 

“Consider the views of life and the world reflected in the following different expressions to describe the process of generating new life.  Ancient Israel, impressed with the phenomenon of the transmission of life from father to son, used a word we translate as “begetting” or “siring” [meaning creating the same moral value as the begetter].  The Greeks, impressed with the springing forth of new life … called it genesis, from a root meaning “to come into being” … The premodern Christian English-speaking world, impressed with the world as given by a Creator, used the term “pro-creation”.  We, impressed with the machine and the gross national product (our own work of creation), employ the metaphor of the factory, “re-production”.[1]

 

The language we use says a lot about how as a society with view our little ones.  Of course there are very real ‘economic’ realities to having children which all parents and would be parents no doubt realise.  As a single income family we are certainly very thankful for the assistance we receive from both our church family and from the government.  The generosity of God through our church and the various family tax benefits we receive enables us to do what we do.  Yet, although having our children involves very real economic considerations – viewing our children through the lense of ‘the economy’ is never how the bible encourages us to imagine them.  Babies are always a bonus whether they come with an economic bonus or not!  Our children are a ‘gift’ not a ‘commodity.’  We don’t produce them they are given to us.

 

When Lenore and I welcomed Hannah into our family we were students at Moore Theological College.  Funds were tight.  Sharing $6 Thai for dinner and getting the leftover bread from Bakers Delight that they gave to students was part of the fun of life in Newtown.  We welcomed Hannah to join us in the fun.  Sharing meals in community at college with other students and their young families was such a joyful experience and was also a great way to help each other have enough money to get by.  Now, if Lenore and I were ever tempted to complain about our lot in life as the money to do what others our age were doing just wasn’t there, all we needed to do was walk down King Street in Newtown and see the men who’s life was dependent on the generosity of those who walked past their bedroom on the street.  I started to think that perhaps some of the bonuses we received to have our Hannah would have been better directed towards those men.  Regardless of our views on these things it did help me at least to not watch budget night with such a sense of ‘entitlement,’ but with a hope that God would grant great wisdom to our government to govern justly as they distributed the enormous resources at their disposal.

 

The ‘economic’ considerations of having children are many and yet the bible teaches us to keep other things in mind well ahead of the dollars and cents. It teaches us that each child conceived is uniquely made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:26-27) and by Him.  When they are born we welcome another person into the creation to share together with in the priviledge of ruling God’s world under Him (Gen 1:28).  It reminds us that it is God’s ‘eyes [who] saw my unformed substance’.  It suggests that, biologically speaking, from the moment of fertilization another human has come into being whose days ‘every one of them in [God’s] book has been written’ (Psalm 139:16).  It is clear that God has planned the lives of our children even before we knew they were there.

 

In our culture the reasons many give to have children usually include things like:

–  to continue the family line

–  to look after us when we are old

–  for self-fulfillment

–  as a physical representation of your “one-flesh”

–  to help in the family business

 

It’s true that the desire to have children is very strong for many of us, and it is often terribly painful for those who are unable to fulfil that good desire.

 

Yet, as Megan Best says in her fantastic book, our reasons for welcoming children as Christians ought to be different.

 

“Christians see child-bearing not as a way to find self-fulfillment so much as to raise up “Godly offspring” (Mal 2:15).  A new generation must learn how to exert responsible dominion over the creation, and while we are waiting for Christ to return we are called to proclaim the gospel. […] The Bible does not suggest we possess our children, but we receive them as a gift[2]

 

              “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD;

              the fruit of the womb is a reward.”

              Psalm 127:3

 

It’s why as followers of Jesus we often welcome children when ‘economically’ it just doesn’t make sense.  It’s why we stick up for their ‘rights’ and not only the ‘rights’ of those who exercise influence over their very existence.  Our little ones are part of the ‘creation’ not the ‘economy.’  We don’t welcome children into the world for our sake, but for their sake, so that we can serve God together in His world.

 Luther

 

[1] LR Kass, Toward a More Natural Science, The Free Press, New York, 1988, p. 48.  Cited in M Best, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Matthias Media, Sydney, 2013, p. 53-4.

[2] Best, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, 63.

Glorifying God

12 May

What is the centre of what we do as a church?  What should we devote our lives to, both collectively and individually?

Over the last year I’ve drawn together a group of people we call our Ministry Coalition and one of the things we’ve done together is try to come up with some things that describe what we’re on about as a church.  In the past St George North has had big all encompassing visions and mission statements, but this is a bit different. What we were trying to do was to distil down a description of what are the things that are the centre of what we do?

In particular we wanted something to speak to two audiences. Especially we wanted something that said to someone joining our church – “This is what we’re on about. Come on board with us because this is what drives St George North.”

At the same time we also wanted something to remind all of us regularly of what is our centre.  It is so easy to get distracted when church is really so simple.  All too often churches and individuals get distracted by good things instead of focusing on the best things.

After much studying the Bible together and batting around ideas, we discarded a lot of important things and said that we want our church to be a church that is on about Glorifying God.  We saw at the Big Day Out that that is why we exist. (if you missed the talks please make sure you download them and listen to them).

More than that, we saw that glorifying God is most fundamentally expressed by Proclaiming Jesus to our world, Serving Together and Growing Disciples of Jesus.

This term I will be spending three weeks at each of our congregations speaking about each of these three prongs of our mission as a church and inviting everyone to commit ourselves to making these things our priorities in life.

It’s my prayer that together and individually we will all commit ourselves to living a life that is focused on:

 

Glorifying God

Proclaiming Jesus

Serving together

Growing disciples

 

 Phil Colgan

“Something more desirable than gold”

11 May

“Happy is the man who possesses a Bible, happier still is the man who reads it!” JC Ryle 

I love talking to older saints who have grown up with good Christian teaching.  There are many reasons why I love that but one of the main reasons is that they really know God’s word.  When I say ‘know’ I don’t mean they just know the ideas, the really ‘know’ the Scriptures so that they can bring God’s word to bear on any topic or conversation.  In past generations Christians worked hard at memorising Scripture, but this habit has been lost for many of the generations that followed.

We teach our children memory verses, but do we learn them ourselves?

In fact, I wonder if for many they ever actually applied themselves to memorising verses at all?  Instead, I wonder if it is just a wonderful side effect of regular quiet times – spending time in the Scriptures each day.  Perhaps the reason people of my generation don’t seem to be able to quote the Scriptures is that we have got out of the good Christian habit of daily Bible reading?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful it we were a church full of people like King David in Psalm 19:

The instruction of the LORD is perfect,

            renewing one’s life;

            the  testimony of the LORD is trustworthy,

            making the inexperienced wise.

The precepts of the LORD are right,

            making the heart glad;

            the command of the LORD is radiant,

            making the eyes light up.

            The  fear of the LORD is pure,

            enduring forever;

            the ordinances of the LORD are reliable

            and altogether righteous.

            They are more desirable than gold—

            than an abundance of pure gold;

            and sweeter than honey,

            which comes from the honeycomb.

            In addition, Your servant is warned by them;

            there is great reward in keeping them.

 

Phil Colgan

KYCK 2013

10 May

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If you’ve been on Facebook anytime within the last two weeks, chances are you would have seen a member of Ignite posting about the amazing time he or she has had at KYCK 2013. Please allow me to fill you in on what was a great weekend.

KYCK is a conference held each year at Katoomba Christian Convention for high-schoolers.

The theme at KYCK 2013 was “This Is Love”. Two faithful men, Dave Miers (St Faith’s Narrabeen) and Jeremy Dunne (City Light Church Balmain), preached through the book of 1 John.

The memory verse consisted of the following verse set to a popular Taylor Swift song (with the help of some goat-shrieks – ask an Igniter):

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:10

From God’s word Dave and Jeremy challenged us to know the love of our heavenly Father better and so respond by calling sin for what it really is; by loving God through obedience to him; by knowing our identity as Christians; by changing our desires though tasting God’s goodness daily; by relating to God as our heavenly Father, not our drill-sergeant; by letting the love of God transform our ears and mouths as we listen to and talk to one another; and by being sure of our salvation as we believe in Jesus, obeying him and practically loving his people.

The biggest highlight for me was during the Saturday night session, when hundreds of teenagers flocked out the back of the building, having just become a Christian, or having made a commitment to love others like Jesus has loved them. This included one of our own! Praise God for the work he is doing in Ignite!

Parents, please take the opportunity to read through 1 John again with your teenager, and talk about the ways they want to grow practically in their love for their brothers and sisters at Ignite.

In fact anyone else who bumps into an Igniter can ask what he or she learnt and how he or she is going to live out the love of God in their life!

Troy Munns

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