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Economics - Home Finances

Simple steps for living generously

Jesus says: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). It should go without saying that our giving is a reflection of our devotion to Him. God calls on us to share His wealth, for all you have is in fact His. And if you don’t, might that mean that you don’t belong to Him in the first place?

In today’s climate of “earn more to buy more,” it can be hard for Christians to focus on any other uses for their time, talent (skills) and treasure (material resources). Regardless of this challenge, Scripture clearly calls believers to a life of giving and living generously.

“Do we have to?” misses the point

In the Old Testament, the tithe was introduced as a 10% minimum for Israelites to give back to God to show their thankfulness and dependence on Him. This practice is shown in both Abraham and Jacob’s life (Gen. 14:19-20 and 28:20-22), and then introduced into Israelite law in Leviticus (27:30). Additional giving – the freewill offering – was also encouraged (Lev 22:18 and Num 15:3). Giving at this level would have been very difficult at times; the Israelites frequently went through seasons of war and poverty.

The word tithe literally means “a tenth” and denotes the minimum amount that Israelites were required to give to God. The nature of the type of gift God desired is described as the first fruits (Prov. 3:9, Lev. 19:23-25). Giving of the first fruits was meant to be a gift of the first and best that God provided.

It is important to understand that giving of the first fruits is an exceptionally sacrificial act. It is the small harvest at the beginning of the season that follows a long winter and spring filled with the sweat and labor that goes into the growing season. There was often hunger and self-denial involved in this sacrifice. The Israelites would have had a strong recognition that the rest of the harvest, the part that would provide for their family’s daily food and provisions for months or maybe even the remaining year, was still pending and not at all guaranteed. This required much trusting in God for His provision.

Whether tithing is mandated today is a hotly debated topic in Christian circles. But what should not be in question is the discipline and sacrificial nature of giving that the tithe and first fruits promoted, and the generosity Christ put on display by giving up His life for us. Making regular giving a natural and normal part of your financial routine is critical to promoting a life of generosity. Also, the recognition that God has blessed you with what you have, and you are entirely dependent on His provision, is a difficult but necessary reality for Christians to live within.

Getting giving going   

Many have good intentions to give regularly and generously, but often those intentions are not fully acted upon. Sometimes all that is required is the creation and implementation of a good financial plan. Practically speaking, this includes the application of sound financial principles, such as:

  • Spend less than you earn and do it for a long time. This requires you to know where your money is going, to communicate effectively with family members, and to be a disciplined spender.
  • Live in a home you can afford.
  • Do not presume upon the future. God provides for your needs, but He does not guarantee you a smooth journey.
  • Be very careful with your use of debt and avoid it if possible as a form of slavery (Prov. 22:7).
  • Strive purposefully to provide for your family’s needs (1 Tim. 5:8).
  • Build into your life financial accountability, especially in areas where you may struggle.

To give deliberately and sacrificially, some practical steps to implement might include:

  • As soon as income is received, remove a portion to give. This could mean transferring it to another bank account, immediately writing the check for Sunday’s service, or even e-transferring to your church if that is an option.
  • Take regular (quarterly or annual) inventory of your personal and business net worth and give on the growth. This includes a portion of the return on your investment portfolio, inheritances received, and dispositions in property and business.
  • Devise and implement a plan to give of your time and skills as well as your material wealth. If you have a spouse and children, get them involved and make it a family plan.
  • Teach your children to give with paper money and not with coins since God is not a God of leftovers (Mal. 1:8; Luke 6:38).

Consider the challenge contained in the concept of the first fruits. What will you give to feel the sacrifice of the gift? Would you still give at the same financial level if a tax incentive was not offered? Is your lack of intentionality and organization preventing you from giving at a level that is truly worshipful? Consider including your time and your talents as part of your giving plan.

Do not offer God worthless gifts. Give deliberately, sacrificially and excellently.

This has been a father-daughter collaboration: Rev. Hank Van der Woerd (MDiv) is an emeritus minister (URCNA) and past president of the Mortgage Brokers Association of BC; Maria Dawes CIM CFP is a Portfolio Manager for Capstone Asset Management (

Economics - Home Finances

The Lord loves a cheerful giver

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 *****  The subject of “giving” is one that must be approached with a certain amount of caution, and respect. Our giving is, in one sense, a private matter. Jesus spoke of “not doing your charitable deeds before men,” and “not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3). We should avoid seeking public accolades for our giving, and in that sense giving is a private matter between us and our Lord. For others, avoiding the topic of giving might simply be a way of hiding their greed and selfishness, and their lack of generosity. In another sense, giving is very public matter. How so? Well, whether we are giving for the right reasons or wrong, or not giving at all, giving is always spiritual matter. In the 2 Corinthians 9 passage quoted above the Apostle Paul (speaking by the Spirit of Christ) makes it clear that this is a topic that is not “off limits” – it is once that Christians can and should discuss. In this article, then, we want to reflect upon the command in verse 7 to be “cheerful givers.” We will look at what that means, what should motivate us, and some practical application. What it means to be a “cheerful giver” Interestingly, the Greek word translated cheerful is the same word from which we derive our English word, hilarious. When we think of hilarity we think of laughter, joy. The sense of Paul here, then, is that we are to give joyfully, with gladness, happily. Stinginess, covetousness, greed, selfishness are to be far away from us as God’s people. This principle of cheerful giving is already set out in Deuteronomy 15:7-8 where Israel is told that if there was a poor man among them, they were not to “harden their hearts or shut their hand” from him. Instead they were to “open their hands wide to him and willingly lend to him sufficient for his need, whatever his needs” (NKJV). God’s people, then, are to be generous, gladly giving, blessing as we have been blessed, giving our first and best to God. The opposite of this would be a giving solely because we have to; to merely keep the elders off our backs. Paul condemns (v.7) giving “reluctantly or under compulsion.” We are not to give out of grudging obligation. The sense of Paul here is that of giving because we have to but we don’t really want to. It betrays an attitude of “What I have is mine, and the more I give means less for me.” One scholar says that, “we give because it’s wrung from our hands.” It’s an uncaring attitude for others because we care more about ourselves. Far from this kind of a sinful, despicable attitude is the Biblical attitude: giving cheerfully. It’s not to be merely a matter of obligation or legislation. We’re to give from a heart that is eager to serve the Lord; that sees how privileged we are to be used in God’s work of establishing His kingdom; that believes that our cheerful giving pleases the Lord. What should motivate us to give cheerfully? Here are four motivations for us to give with joy. 1. IT'S ALL HIS Why should we be eager to give? Simply put, we should want to give because we understand that it is the Lord who gives first. All that we have belongs to Him! “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1). He says, “The cattle on a thousand hills is Mine” (Ps. 50:10). 2. IT'S OURS TO USE HERE We are but stewards. God allows us to use His possessions while we are on earth. And one day we will leave all that we’ve pursued and accumulated in this life. And how we use our monetary blessings is quite often an indicator of our comprehension of these simple truths. And, sadly, the state of our hearts. 3. HE ASKS IT OF US Also worthy of consideration is the command of God to “Bring an offering and come into His courts” (Psalm 96:8). That is, we’re to come before God (to Church in our context) with a gift in hand. Deuteronomy 16:16 says it even stronger: God’s people “shall not appear before Me empty-handed.” And so, undoubtedly what we call “The Offering” is a very significant part of worship. Based on such verses we could go so far as to say that if we have not given to the offering we have not worshipped well. And if we are not contributing to “The Budget” there is a failure to recognize that every one of God’s children is involved in kingdom work. 4. CONSIDER WHAT HE HAS GIVEN US! But of course the greatest motivation to us giving cheerfully is that the Lord Himself has given the best and greatest offering. He “gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). He “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Hebrews 9:28 speaks of Christ as being “offered once to bear the sins of many.” We might say, then, that God our Father has set the greatest example of giving in all of history for us. He freely offered up His most treasured possession, the One whom was dearest to His heart: His own Son – the Spotless Lamb. Some practical application Practically speaking, cheerful giving it’s a matter of preparation. It ought not to be that we think of the offering only when it’s announced. A child of God ought not to be digging around in his/her wallet or purse seeing what they have handy or can spare. We ought to come prepared, and decided about what we are going to give to this cause. In our congregation the deacons give us lists of the offering causes in the upcoming months. They include blurbs about the causes for that Sunday. And they remind us what the causes will be for next week. And so no one has any excuse to show up unprepared. These causes should have been discussed as a family, and prayed about beforehand around our tables. In 2 Corinthians 9:3ff Paul reminds the Church in Corinth that he was planning to visit them to collect the generous gift that they had promised. But he had sent some brethren ahead to ensure that the gift was ready. There was always the chance that some would simply forget; some would put their money to other uses; maybe some were just procrastinators. And so they needed a little nudging – so they could begin to give, maybe a little at a time, but always moving toward their goal. Maybe the brethren would remind the Christians of the principle taught by Paul in 1 Cor. 16:1-2: Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. He says to “lay something aside” on the first day of the week. Out of their earnings there was to be a portion that was given to the work of the Lord’s Church. Based on the principle taught here we could apply this to ourselves this way: each Sunday we are to ensure that we bring an offering to the Lord – an amount we have thought about, and prayed about, and given with thankfulness. Worthy of our attention is what Paul says in v.2 of that passage: “let each of you lay something aside.” He’s addressing every member of the Church – young and old, rich and poor. It doesn’t matter that we belong to a large congregation; and that others do very well and can afford to carry the expenses of the Church. God says, “each of you.” No one is excused. No excuse is valid. Every member is to give. Notice as well the words, “storing up as he may prosper.” Another way of saying that is, give according to how much God has blessed you. Some earn more than others. Some are only able to give a fraction of what others give. It doesn’t matter to God that we match the other people. What does matter is that we give cheerfully! And the more we prosper the more we’re to give. It’s not just a matter of “giving 10 per cent.” Maybe we’re actually able to afford 20, or 25 per cent. In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney speaks of a lady who realized that she could live on 10 per cent of her income. So she gave 90 per cent to the Church. Not everyone can do that. And the Bible is not saying you have to. But we are to give in proportion to what we earn. Again, from the heart. Conclusion If we struggle to give cheerfully, the question we might want to ask ourselves is this: do I trust God to provide for my needs? Listen again to 2 Cor. 9:6: “he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” And so let us not be afraid to give generously. If we give to God with a thankful and generous heart He will provide for us. This is not to promote the “prosperity gospel.” We don’t give to God, as the heretics teach, so that He will in turn make us rich. We give because we trust that He has always, and will always, provide for us His children. David wrote: “I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor their children begging bread” (Ps. 37:25). Think of the widow that Jesus observed – who put all she had into the temple treasury. That’s trust. And if that is our attitude – generous, thankful, and cheerful giving we will be blessed – with a greater joy than we could ever have keeping it all to ourselves. We will be growing and rejoicing in the fact that we are storing up greater treasures – in heaven. Indeed, we will be learning the truth of what Jesus said: that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Rev. Mitch Ramkissoon is the pastor of Parkland United Reformed Church of Ponoka, AB, a congregation in the United Reformed Churches in North America. In 2016 Rev. Ramkissoon preached a three-sermon series on cheerful giving, which can be found here: Sermon 1, Sermon 2, & Sermon 3.                  ...

Economics - Home Finances

“Honey I blew the budget!”

A FEW THOUGHTS ON GETTING BACK IN THE BLACK AFTER TAKING A PLUNGE IN THE RED “Honey I blew the budget!” Do those words sound familiar to you?  Were you one of many Canadian couples that made a New Year’s resolution to build a budget and live according to it?  And February 14th came along and you blew it?  Or perhaps the budget was blown before you even started because your Christmas spending made the budget a non-event? Or perhaps it is a much less dramatic event that got you off to a bad start: you just can’t seem to stay within the amounts you had agreed on. How to start: prayer Let’s see if a frank discussion of some potential issues can benefit us all.  Before we do that I believe that everyone should begin their budget process with prayer.  Pray that God would grant you the courage you need to be honest with yourself and your spouse as you build the budget. Also pray that God will grant you a sense of satisfaction with the gifts He does grant. Pray that God remove the sense of covetousness from your heart. Pray that God would forgive your sense of entitlement if that is something you struggle with. A sense of entitlement? What do I mean with that last line?  In my business I often hear the following excuse when a couple comes to me and they are having serious difficulty making ends meet. Often it is because one or both of them have what I call “a strong sense of entitlement.”  They say things like, “We deserved that one-week vacation in Mexico because we both worked very hard these past three months.” Or, “I deserve that new dress or new suit, because I have not treated myself to anything new for a long time now.” Or perhaps you blew it on Valentines Day; you dropped in at the flower shop on your way home and purchased a dozen roses for your wife and then, when you got home, you told her, “Honey, I am taking you out for dinner tonight!” So you take her to that very special (read expensive) restaurant downtown.  The dozen roses are $25 and the dinner was $100.  But your entertainment budget for the month was $30. So what do we do now? Well, the temptation now is to reduce your contribution to the church for the month because the church, after all, has lots of other people that can pay. No easy way, but there is a way So, how can we deal with these kinds of blown budgets?   Discipline.  One word only. Discipline. There is no easy way to deal with this temptation.  Once again, let me urge you to pray.  In John 15 Jesus encourages his disciples to bear good fruit and He also says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (verse 7).  You see! Jesus clearly says it.  Of course we need to keep this in its context. Jesus is saying this in light of His other comments regarding the bearing of much fruit.  I take this to mean that there is a relationship between what we are to ask for and bearing fruit. So, pray that God will help you in your struggle with covetousness.  Or ask God to grant you His peace and satisfaction so that you are truly at peace with what He gives you and you don’t just use that Visa credit card that makes it so easy to grab “stuff” that God has not granted you. Looking at the grocery budget But let’s move on, because there may be other ways we can help you with your budget. Let’s take a hard look at your grocery budget. Do you really think $800 per month is what it takes to provide a family of five, two parents and three children, with all that is needed? Perhaps we can find a way to do this for $500. This is not always the most fun part of running a household but perhaps you can make it a little more enjoyable. First, it’s vitally important that you plan a menu for every day of the week. If you know that Monday you are going to have chicken and rice and a vegetable for dinner, then the two weeks before you can keep an eye on the flyers and purchase that chicken when it is on sale at one of the grocery stores.  If you put together a planned menu for the entire month, you have a great weapon that you can use in your battle with the budget.  If pork comes on sale this week and you know that there is pork planned for next Thursday’s dinner, buy it now when it is on sale, and freeze it. Or if your family regularly has oatmeal for breakfast, (I know, oatmeal is old school, but it’s healthy and it’s cheap) then find a store that sells oatmeal in bulk - leave the individual packages on the shelf and buy it in bulk. You will easily save 20 per cent. As I said earlier, grocery shopping is not always the most fun, but what you can also try is to band together with one or two of your friends. I know, for example, that here in Alberta one of the grocery outlets will give you a $25 gift card when you buy $250 dollars of groceries.  So join forces. Go to the store with two or three of you. Make sure you all have a list - impulse buying is dynamite on grocery budgets (it blows them up!). When you go through the check-out, ask the cashier to sub-total at each person’s purchases. That saves you the hassle of having to total it up at home.  And then share the gift card on your next trip. Try to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season (when possible).  In the summer and fall, find a farmer’s market and buy some extra beans and carrots and freeze them. Don’t improvise In my experience though, it is not the grocery dollars that destroy a budget; it is the impulse buying. It is the idea that I must have a new 40 or 50-inch television, even if that means it goes on a credit card. Or, it is the new stereo for the car or the new cellphone with all the latest technical stuff. Or even just the cellphone plan that we just have to have - the one with unlimited texting! - or the cable plan that has all those sports channels. or the new chesterfield and chair that we just have to have. The unexpected expenditure Some other things that can blow a budget are things like a hot water heater that bursts, or a furnace or a refrigerator that packs it in. Now these truly are valid items that need to be dealt with. But once again, a few tips may be beneficial. Check out the nearest used furniture and appliance outlet or go through the local free “buy and sell” magazine. You may be surprised at how often you can find a very good used furnace or a refrigerator (I have a used hot water heater stored away just in case).  The wealthy in your town or city often will be replacing perfectly good mid-efficiency furnaces for a high-efficiency furnace and often you can buy their used one for as little as $200. Insurance There are some other areas in which we can save money as well.  One of the areas I often look at with my clients is the cost of all their insurance.  Call to a few other brokers and see if the premium you are paying to insure your home really is the best premium available. If you are not in BC or Manitoba, check the rate on your car insurance as well. Another high cost is the cost that many young people pay for life insurance.  The life insurance industry will go to quite some lengths to show you why you need a million dollars of life insurance and a further $200,000 critical illness policy.  But I would suggest that you look at that more carefully.  Also look at the type of life insurance that you have.  Ask the insurance salesman why he might be recommending whole life or universal life insurance when a 20-year-term policy at less than half the price may be all you really need. You won’t live like your parents Another mistake we often make is we compare what we have to what we had when we were still living with our parents.  But remember, our parents have been working for 20 plus years and are often at the top of their pay scale while we are starting at the bottom of the pay scale.  Once again, at risk of sounding repetitious, be satisfied with what God grants you. Greed and covetousness are sins that are spoken of in many places in God’s Word and these are sins that we need to fight against daily. So, if we go back to our initial statement, “I blew the budget,” don’t despair. Ask God to bless your attempt to start the process again. And do not be afraid to start a third or a fourth or even a tenth time.  Living within a budget is a tough thing to do and it does require some determination.  But when it works it works well....

Economics - Home Finances

Do we need to tell our mortgage banker about our school payments?

BEING CHRISTIAN AT THE BANK A reader recently sent in an interesting and somewhat difficult question about home purchases, school fees and tithes. Now most people in Canada don’t pay school fees, and don’t tithe to their church so the question I was asked was how these “obligations” might impact the affordability of a home and whether we, as Christians, have a duty to tell the banker about these “obligations” when we apply for a mortgage. Just to be sure that we all understand the question, let me rephrase it with a more concrete example. Joe and Mary Joe and Mary have 4 children, one of whom is beginning school in September. Joe earns $4,700 per month. Joe and Mary have been renting a duplex or what is also known as a side by side. They have managed to save $40,000 for a down payment for a home purchase and have found a house that they would like to buy. It is an older home but one that has been well maintained and appears to be well built.  The house is for sale for $260,000. They have offered $240,000 and their conditional offer has been accepted. Now they will need to qualify for a $200,000 mortgage. Joe has done some research and knows that the banker will want to know what his total monthly debt payments are, or what could be called his “obligatory payments” and the banker will also want to know what the monthly costs to run his home will be. And of course he needs to be within the banks ratio in these two areas. Debt service ratios Now what are these bank ratios? There are two, known as the GDSR and the TDSR. The Gross Debt Service Ratio (GDSR) is the percentage of gross annual income required to cover payments associated with housing (mortgage principal and interest, taxes, secondary financing, heating, and 50 per cent of condominium fees, if any). The GDSR should not exceed 32 per cent of gross annual income. The Total Debt Service Ratio (TDSR) is the percentage of gross annual income required to cover payments associated with housing and all other debts and obligations, such as payments on a car loan. The TDSR should not exceed 40 per cent of gross income.   So the important thing for us to remember is that the TDSR must be less then 40 per cent and the GDSR must be less then 32 per cent. If either of these two conditions is not met then Joe and Mary do not qualify for the $200,000 mortgage they require in order for them to be able to buy the home they have found. So let’s crunch some numbers and see what sort of situation our couple is facing. Joe earns $4,700. A $200,000 mortgage requires a payment of $1,190 per month (at 5.25% amortized over 25 years). The property taxes on the home they would like to buy worked out to $150 a month. The average heating bill was $150 per month.  So $1,190 plus $150 plus $150 equals $1,490 for housing costs. His monthly housing costs of $1,490 divided by his income of $4,700 gives us a GDSR ratio of 31 per cent. So, he qualifies here. The TDSR is a different matter. According to the banks guidelines he needs to include all debts and obligations in his calculations including any car loans. Joe and Mary do not have a car loan. But we should add the church and the school into this total, right?  Church and school add an additional $870 per month to the total.  So $1,490 plus $870 equals $2,360. $2,360 divided by $4,700 is 50 per cent. Now here is where things become interesting.  His application as it stands now will be rejected. However, does the banker consider the donation to church as an obligation or just a desire or a hope? What is our responsibility here? If we do not include the $470 to church the total becomes $1,490 plus $400 or $1,840. Divide that by $4,700 and the ratio becomes 39 per cent. Now we qualify. What should we do? The ethics of this question are one part of the equation. The other is, can Joe and Mary make ends meet if they were to qualify? If the banker grants the mortgage because he does not consider the donation to the church as anything more than a hope or a wish, where might this leave Joe and Mary? First the ethics. We might be tempted to hide the truth of the situation. Maybe we neglect to tell the banker that we consider the contribution to church as an obligation. I think we can all readily see and agree that this would put us outside of the Ninth Commandment. That's the one that deals with bearing false witness. So it should be obvious that we would tell the banker about the obligation to church. If the banker grants the mortgage anyway because he considers the payment to the church as a donation that has no legal obligation tied to it, what should Joe and Mary do? Bankers have years of experience that suggest that when the TDSR is more than 40 per cent homeowners often get into financial difficulty. So maybe Joe and Mary should decline the mortgage and save for a few more years so that they have a bigger down payment. Now before we go into all the argumentation about rising house prices, the effects of inflation and the fact that I may be asking the impossible here, let’s just go back to a few other principles that we have learned.  In an earlier article (“Budgeting Basics: Everyone needs to budget” July/August 2009) I tried to make the case that we all should have a budget. We should not just have a budget but we should run our household within that budget. So, if Joe and Mary have been living within their budget and their budget has allowed them to save the $40,000 they needed for the down-payment, then I am sure that their budget (and the records they have kept which illustrate that they actually live within the budget) can easily be used to satisfy even the most conservative banker that they can make all their obligatory payments, because Joe and Mary also have learned to live prudently and economically.  Mary is an avid “coupon collector.” She is known as the queen of collectors at the grocery store.  She also has learned to dress her children very well, even though they are not always wearing the “name brand” items.  Joe and Mary do not have cable television and they do not have a cell-phone either.  They manage with one car. They enjoy reading and the entire family makes excellent use of the local library. The only two pieces of reading material that come into their home at a cost are the Clarion and the Reformed Perspective.  Both Joe and Mary have the reputation of being hard workers and also of always being aware of the specials on anything they might need to be buying. So, I would conclude by saying that yes, we must honestly tell the banker about our obligations, also our obligations to the LORD, and we should also have lived prudently, within our budget, maintain good records of our prudent living and then trust that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and He will continue to maintain His promises to His covenant children....