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Go to the ant, you sluggard…

"Go to the ant, you sluggard consider its ways, and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provision in summer and gathers its food in harvest."  – Proverbs 6:6-8 ***** Often when we go shopping on Tuesdays we pass men who stand at intersections at various parts of the city of Kitchener. Usually wearing a hat, mittens and some sort of great coat, often a dog seated at their side, these fellows are shamelessly panhandling. With their hands they display a sign which reads something like "No Job - Anything will Help," or "Hungry and Homeless, Thanks so Much." One of my daughters sometimes takes a lunch bag with her in her car prior to going out. She will put a sandwich in there, a piece of fruit and a tract and will hand that out. On December 12, 2016, the Dallas Morning News published an article about a new initiative to recruit panhandlers for day labor. The job program which was being proposed would pay people $10.37 an hour for cleaning up litter or working in parks. This particular program, however, did not work out, the article went on to say, because some panhandlers were reportedly making more than 50 dollars an hour just by begging. The city of Bloomington, Indiana recently installed 28 signs downtown that read, “Please help. Don’t encourage panhandling. Contribute to the solution.” The sign has a large "no panhandling" symbol in the middle and a web address at the bottom that links to a webpage which lists several organization combating homelessness. One of these organizations is Shalom. Shalom Community Center is an all-inclusive resource center in Bloomington for people who are living in poverty and experiencing hunger, homelessness, and a lack of access to basic life necessities. Last year, Shalom's re-housing program helped nearly 200 people, a third of whom were children, move off the streets and into homes. Although concerned with bodies rather than souls, Shalom's effort to help the homeless, does seem to be a laudable effort. Work is a blessing There have been both workers and sluggards throughout history. British Field Marshal George Wade, (1673-1748), was an enterprising man and one who would have been ashamed to stand on British street corners for a hand-out. An officer who served in several wars, he worked hard to attain the rank of Field Marshal. (The rank of Field Marshal has been the highest rank in the British army since 1736.) Between 1725 and 1737 Wade oversaw the construction of some 250 miles of road, plus 40 bridges. Roads linking Perth, Inverness, and Fort Augustus appeared where previously there had been tracks suitable only for single file passage of men or horses. Wade was popular with the British people and is the only person mentioned by name in the English national anthem. It's not a stanza with which people are familiar or one that is often sung. Lord, grant that Marshal Wade May, by thy mighty aid, Victory bring. May he sedition hush And, like a torrent, rush Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the King. Field Marshll Wade did have a sinful weakness. He loved gaming, which is a polite way of saying that he really enjoyed gambling. When he was occupied in this pursuit, he was not greatly concerned about the company he kept and could so totally lose himself in the moment of concentrating on his cards, that he became oblivious to all else. Gaming houses, or casinos, for that matter, are not mentioned in the Bible. God does, however, warn against temptations associated with gambling. There are numerous verses which warn against the love of money. One evening as Wade was totally absorbed in a card game, he noticed that his valuable gold snuff box was missing. Snuff, a smokeless tobacco, is made up of pulverized tobacco leaves. It is inhaled or "snuffed" into the nasal cavity, delivering a shot of nicotine. These pulverized leaves were usually kept in a snuff box. As Wade absently reached for the box in his pocket, his fingers could not detect the coveted container – a container which had diamonds set into its frame. "Stop the game!" he cried in a booming voice, suddenly very much aware of his rank and military prestige, "and no one shall leave this room without being searched!" Every eye was on him and quiet descended on the gaming room. There was a rather destitute gentleman seated next to Wade at the table. Dressed very shabbily, he was a soldier as well. The man had lost several times at the games and with great politeness had asked that Wade back his bets. When the problem of the missing snuff box emerged, and Wade insisted that everyone be searched, he alone objected. "You will not search me," he repeated several times rather vehemently, "I'd rather fight a duel to defend my honor or die in the attempt." His challenge was accepted with alacrity by Wade, who thought to himself that the fellow was obviously the thief. The two men retired to an anteroom with two other men who had volunteered as seconds and the duel was about to take place. Upon reaching for his sword, however, Wade suddenly detected the snuff-box in a secret pocket compartment – a compartment he had completely forgotten to check while searching. Stopping short, he walked over to the other soldier. "Sir," he began, and his voice did not boom quite as loudly as before, "Sir, I have every reason to believe that I need to apologize to you and ask your pardon. And I hope that in the morning you might do me the honor of having breakfast with me." The other man looked surprised, but agreed to the arrangement. The next morning, as they were eating together, Wade posed the other man a question. He was intensely curious. "Why, friend, did you refuse to be searched?" "Because, sir, being upon half-pay and alone, I am obliged to watch every penny. Yesterday I had little appetite; and as I could not eat what I had already paid for, nor could afford to lose it, the leg and wing of a chicken were wrapped up in a piece of paper in my pocket. I would have been mortified had these been found on me and I preferred fighting a duel rather than facing that embarrassment." Wade stared at the man opposite him at the table, weighing him, before exclaiming: "Enough said! You, sir, will also dine with me tonight. And afterwards we will talk about what to do regarding your dilemma." That night Wade presented the shabby-looking soldier who had been reduced to penury, with a commission, and a purse to enable him to join the regiment. The man who had attached such a great value to his dignity, received the commission with gratitude and began work immediately. How best to help? For Christians, work ought to be a great blessing especially when it is pervaded with gratitude to the Creator God. Work alone, however, will not open the gates of heaven for someone. Only the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ can do that. Nevertheless, Christians have a working God. In creation God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Our days, which have for the most part been reduced to a five-day work week, should reflect God's work ethic. We see and read of many people who are unemployed. There are those who truly want to work and can't find employment, but there are also welfare recipients who prefer to remain welfare recipients. The Biblical welfare system, as described in Lev. 19:10 and Lev. 23:22, was a system of work. Panhandling was never prescribed for Israel. The Bible is quite clear in its condemnation of those who are sluggards – those who are lazy. The Christian work ethic is straightforward. In I Tim. 5:8 we are taught: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Should we give money to panhandlers? The desire to give is a good one. Generosity is a virtue and should proceed from a heart which knows it has been given all by Jesus Christ. To give money to someone on the street is a personal decision with both positive and negative aspects. Perhaps satisfying an immediate relief that you have helped someone, the truth is that you will not know whether or not your gift will be used for alcohol, tobacco or drugs. It might be better to search for a Christian organization, so that you can be assured that your money will go towards definite needs. Or it might be better to take the panhandler out for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. It is true that we presently labor among thorns and thistles and in the sweat of our brow. Yet our attitude should be the same as that of our Lord Jesus, whose food was to do the will of the Father Who sent Him and to finish His work. Someday, in the new heaven and the new earth, the sweat, thorns and thistles will be gone. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being "Katherina, Katherina," a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at here....


What if speeding tickets were paid to charities?

As Kuyper said, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’" And that applies to photo radar too. ***** In Colorado efforts are underway to put a very unusual initiative on the ballot that, if passed, would require fines issued by the government no longer go to the government. Instead, if a citizen gets a speeding ticket, a parking ticket, or a fine for smoking, he would pay it by making a donation to any registered charity (though, presumably, he wouldn’t get a charitable receipt). That might have some charities excited, but that’s really beside the point. The ballot initiative’s organizers aren’t as concerned with where the money would go, as they are with where the money wouldn’t go anymore. To say it another way, the goal of the initiative is to take away any incentive the government has to, as’s Jay Stooksberry put it, “fine and collect” rather than “serve and protect.” This initiative comes after the media reported some Colorado municipalities were funding a large part of their budget via fines. The most extreme example was the small town of Mountain View, population 518, whose 10 police officers issued 3,624 traffic tickets in 2014. In 2013 traffic fines raised over $600,000 for the town, which accounted for more than half the municipal budget. It’s hard to find such egregious examples in Canada, but here too this strange incentive is in place. So, for example, Edmonton’s Anthony Henday Drive is a ring road around the city with smooth wide lanes, and no stoplights. The speed limit is 100 kilometers per hour, but even the city’s police chief Rod Knecht thinks the limit could be raised to 110 km/h without any serious safety concerns. So why doesn’t the city do it? We can’t read minds so we don’t know. But the city does have a financial incentive not to raise the limit: the revenue from the thousands of photo radar speeding tickets issued on this stretch of road each year. Some might not see the problem. So what if the city makes a little money from the fines it issues? Do we really think they will be corrupted by such sums? There are two issues here: does such a system encourage corruption, and whether it does or not, how does the public perceive it? Consider what we would think if a judge received the money from all the fines he issued. Every time he found someone guilty, he’d make money, and the bigger the fine, the bigger the judge’s bank account. Would the public perceive such a judge as being impartial? Or would they question his every decision? The judge might still be impartial – such a system doesn’t require corruption, it only encourages it – but that’s not how he would be perceived. The man behind Colorado’s ballot initiative describes himself as a libertarian, and it’s not clear whether he is a Christian. But his proposal lines up well with what we see Paul doing in 2 Cor. 8:20-21. There, the apostle, when he was entrusted with money from the churches to Jerusalem, outlines steps he was taking to prevent even suspicions of wrongdoing. He wanted to ensure that there would be no way his actions could be misperceived. This ballot initiative is a great way of addressing the perception that photo radar, jay walking tickets, red light cameras, and other fines are simply “cash cows” for government. Law enforcement should be about protection and justice, and we should do all we can to ensure that it also perceived that way. That's why such an initiative would help foster respect for our officers and government. Of course, if you and your lead foot have just been caught exceeding the posted limit then there is a very different way you can foster respect for those in authority: you've done the crime so don't complain about the officer issuing the fine. Or, to put it in more biblical terms: you shouldn't concern yourself with any perceived speck in their eyes when you've got that log to deal with in your own....

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.                  ...