How I Got My Basic Education About Money

CoinsMy pal Basil and I were 15 years old when my older brother, Wilfrid, hired us to work in the back room of his store in Estevan, Saskatchewan. It was one of the two “large” grocery stores in town but large in 1940 would be considered small measured by the size of today’s massive supermarkets.

Back then, many items, like candy, sugar, potatoes, and even peanut butter, came from the factory in bulk. Candy was delivered in 45-pound boxes and sugar in 100-pound sacks.

For $1 a week, Basil and I came from school each afternoon to weigh and bag these various items. We put the candy in cellophane bags, since plastic was not yet in use, and scooped sugar into five- and ten-pound paper bags, sealing them to avoid spills, and readying them to be put on store shelves.

I looked forward to payday each week. I usually had something in mind I was eager to buy. One dollar was an intoxicating amount of money to me, but by next payday I was always broke.

After we had worked for more than half a year Basil startled me one day by telling me that in his bedroom he had a roll of 35 one-dollar bills held together with an elastic band. He had not yet spent any of his earnings. The shock was that I had nothing to show for my work.

To what extent this experience tempered my spendthrift impulses I cannot tell. It was surely one influence among others that pushed me toward a wiser use of money. I do know Basil’s disclosure arrested my attention enough that I remember clearly the exchange with him these 75 years later.

Earlier, when I was perhaps twelve years old, my mother had explained to me that when you have a dime you set aside one penny for the Lord. She told me as though she was sharing a secret. A dime, and even a penny were “real money” in the 1930s.

At sixteen years of age I made a serious decision to give my life to Christ and follow him. One result was that I started to incorporate the “one tenth” principle into my new faith as my earning power increased.

But adolescent intentions can easily be shaken. When devotion was warm I was diligent about the ten percent; when devotion cooled I became negligent. In spite of some early vacillations, by the time I was twenty the practice of tithing had become a fixed habit.

Throughout my upbringing, my parents had been dropping their tutorial hints, sometimes strongly, about how to manage slim resources. As immigrants to Canada from coal mining poverty in England, and upon surviving the Great Depression on the prairies of Saskatchewan, thrift and frugality were fundamental virtues to them, regularly emphasized and practiced around our house.

My father said to me from time to time, “You should put a little aside for a rainy day.” I knew he meant “Don’t blow every penny you’ve got today.” I heard him say several times, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and “Look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves.”

By the time I was twenty, much of what I had learned from Basil’s arresting disclosure, and my mother’s privately shared information, and my father’s borrowed proverbs seemed to stick. Sparse funds were under control.

Who can say how many other subtle influences entered my consciousness and stuck, completing my Money 101 course? However many I’ve forgotten, in reflection I believe it was my settled purpose to follow the Lord made at 16 years of age that provided the best and most enduring motivation.

Then I met Kathleen. She was one of seven children raised by a widowed mother, and she had developed early skills in managing the money she earned by cleaning house for neighbors or working summers in a factory. In fact she was more skillful than I with resources.

We had $300 between us when we married and we tithed the first money we owned together. By then we understood clearly that to do so was to acknowledge that God was the owner of all things and we were his stewards. We also learned by experience that tithing prompts generosity, and it protects from greed.

Now Kathleen and I are living out our 69th year together, supported most of those years by the income of a pastor or a church overseer. I look back with appreciation on Basil’s startling revelation and the coaching of frugal parents and the managerial skills of a deeply committed wife, and the truths we’ve been served often from the Bible. I see all these fundamentals as provided by God’s bountiful mercies and plentiful grace, and give thanks!

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Is Religion Good for Growing Kids?

4934176625_fd548deea7_m“Religiously aware adolescents who feel connected to a higher power are 40 percent less likely to abuse substances, 68 percent less likely to battle depression, and 80 percent less likely to engage in at-risk sexual behavior.” It surprised me recently to read this information on RealClearReligion.com.

The statistics come from the work of Lisa Miller of Columbia University. She is quoted in an article, “Spiritual IQ In A Secular Age” by Betsy VanDenBerghe, and carried on Real Clear Religion during the last week of April, 2016.

My experience makes this information seem plausible. Still I was surprised to see it because up until the 1970s or thereabouts adding spiritual aspects into this human developmental research was viewed skeptically if not with outright hostility. In particular, influences from “the Christian church” were dismissed or denigrated.

And, today in some respects, the resistance to religion as a positive force in human development seems even stronger. Think of calls for the removal of “In God We Trust” from American currency and the Ten Commandments from public spaces; the prohibition of prayer at public events; the legalization of abortion; and the widespread claim that morality is relative and only subject to personal choice.

It is no wonder that Millennials and others are falling away from the church in significant numbers when such negatives are arrayed against their training five days a week. The above article does not, however, promote any particular religion. Specifically, it does not stump for Christianity. In fact, the article’s studied neutrality in that regard makes it all the more interesting.

Lisa Miller writes, “It is scientifically plausible that human beings, particularly teen agers and young adults are wired for transcendence and possess inborn spirituality that must be used – or lost.”

Christians can correlate such insights with theological beliefs the Christian church has held through the ages. For example, the Apostle John writes of the incarnation of Jesus, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Every person! Methodists and others would call this “prevenient grace” – the grace that goes before and is actively drawing each person toward God even before the attraction is personally recognized and saving grace is offered.

But how should this prevenient grace be nourished in children? Blessed are the children who hear their first prayers at Mother’s knees, or sit on father’s lap even before understanding develops to hear the Bible read daily with the family. Also blessed is the teenager who is sent off to school day after day with a short parental prayer recognizing that God is over all.

Even doubly blessed are single parents who must shoulder the load of the religious training of little ones alone but who do it resolutely.

And blessed are children and young people who receive the benefits of regularly meeting in a company of Christians who gather weekly to worship God. We might say in secular terms, “to feel connected to a higher power.”

Add to these bedtime prayers and easy discussions at meal time. These practices will develop easily with parents who have a heart for God. “Out of the heart the mouth speaketh”.

It’s encouraging to be reminded from outside the Christian community that children and adolescents have an easily-awakened sense of the transcendent. For Christians it’s an encouragement from a secular publication from work at Columbia University to nurture in children a Christian awareness of God in Christ, and his call to salvation and discipleship.

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The Day the Christian Church Was Born

508302228_ae37586ce9_mChristians observe the birth of Jesus at Christmas; his resurrection on Easter (which is also the Jewish Passover) and this year, Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016. In doing so they will celebrate again the birth of the Christian church.

The New Testament reports on the original day of Christian Pentecost in Acts 2, written for the church by physician and historian, St. Luke.

To set it up, Our Lord’s crucifixion at the time of the Jewish Passover left his followers distraught. They did not yet understand that he had died as the Lamb of God, sacrificed to atone for sinners. The brutal death appeared not only tragic, but also unjust and pointless and it vaporized their hope for themselves and their nation.

Then on the third day after that horror Jesus was resurrected. But at the outset his followers seemed incapable of believing that he had actually come back to life.

So, for 40 days after his resurrection the Lord appeared repeatedly among his followers, restoring their confidence by giving evidences of his living presence. On one occasion he appeared to more than 500 followers at one time. By these appearances his followers came slowly to believe and their joy and worship grew.

Then, when the doubts and uncertainties held by this small circle of believers had been replaced with joyful certainty, Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives. The apostles witnessed this ascension.

After the ascension there were then ten additional days during which Jesus’ convinced and renewed followers were often together in an upper room in Jerusalem or at a gathering place in the outer court of the temple. The major activity of those gatherings was prayer.

Thus 40 plus 10 added up to 50 days. The long celebrated Pentecost of the Jews came 50 days after Passover. Now, the Christian revision was to be celebrated.

Then, on this first Pentecost after Jesus’ sacrificial death, when Jerusalem was filled as usual with visitors from many places in the world, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the gathering of disciples.

This was accompanied by heaven-sent signs – “the sound like the blowing of a violent wind” and tongues of fire (that) “separated and rested on each of them”.

Winds on occasion symbolize the Spirit of God (John 3:8). This demonstration of divine power seized the attention of the gathered throng and signaled God’s purpose: The news of the Gospel would travel across the world (like the blowing wind) by the power of his Spirit.

Fire, like wind, symbolized the divine presence. Recall that God spoke to Moses out of a bush that burned but was not consumed. On that inimitable Pentecost the wind could be heard and felt and the fire seen.

Then came the third miraculous demonstration of God’s power: the apostles and other worshipers began to speak prophetically and those from other nations heard them proclaim in their own languages. This gift of languages perplexed and amazed the worshipers.

Then Peter stepped forward and began to address the crowds. He reviewed the history of Jesus and proclaimed him to be the Messiah. He explained the miraculous events as fulfilling the predictions of the prophet, Joel. Passionately, he called the listeners to repentance.

We can call his address the first Christian sermon. In fact, we can say this miraculous Pentecostal occasion symbolizes the birth of the Christian church.

There can only be one original Christian Pentecost. But God’s power as seen on that day can be tapped into by prayer because the out-poured Spirit is the universal Spirit of Christ promised to live in us and to help us do the work of the church for all time. Wherever the church wholeheartedly seeks the Spirit’s power the church is preserved and renewed.

The mission of the Spirit given to us at Pentecost is unchanging. It is to awaken us to sin, call us to repentance and the fulness of new life in Christ, and to help us serve through the church in her mission to preach the Gospel to every Creature and serve as his gracious hands to a hurting world.

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Re-post: In Our Struggles, How Much Does God Care?

2670919541_28ec98cbae_mOn my walk one morning recently I came upon a dead sparrow at the edge of the sidewalk. I knew that none of its relatives would come forward to mourn this sparrow’s death and no kind hand would provide the honor of a decent burial for it. How much value then does it have?

I have since recalled Jesus’ words about the value of sparrows. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29).

A penny in Jesus’ times set a sparrow’s value at next to nothing. Yet Jesus said that no sparrow’s death was beyond the knowledge and care of the Father who rules the universe.

His point was to declare with a picture that even the most common and insignificant things in our world are within God’s purview and care. He is all-knowing and everywhere-present, and he is engaged.

For Jesus to make his point even more compelling he added, “And even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:30) What feature of our lives could be less consequential? Yet this daring word further underlines vividly our Lord’s assurance of God’s care even over our life’s slightest detail.

It is called Providence, which means “God governs and guides in all the affairs of his universe.” He is not only sovereign over all; he is actively engaged in all. Thus his assurance to those who believe and submit to his will: “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).

Jesus’ words are bracing when grasped in faith. Our God is not an absentee landlord who has set the world in place but leaves it to run by itself. The world is not ruled by Chance, nor governed by the Fates. He takes note of its every detail, though we don’t always understand his ways.

Yet, for some sincere believers who aren’t always sure of God’s care, can we further outline the path of faith?

Remember that God is the “maker and sustainer of all things”. The Psalmist affirms: “He sets the earth on its foundations; / it can never be moved” (Psalm 104:5). And “The lions roar for their prey/ and seek their food from God” (Psalm 104:21).

Still more, remember Calvary. Our Lord’s physical suffering was brutal. Even beyond this, however, was the suffering of being separated from the Father as he bore the sins of the world. He cried out: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Bystanders could be excused for thinking God did not care.

But, the Father did not forsake him. In due time he resurrected him from death, bringing him forth from the grave triumphant (Acts 2:25-28). And God’s care is just as certainly there for us, whatever troubles afflict us — even unto death!

Jesus assures us that God our Father sees every sparrow that falls. “So don’t be afraid;” he says to the beleaguered, “you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).

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Re-post: God Knows Everything

Image credit: woodleywonderworks (via flickr.com)When we were little children in Sunday School seventy years or so ago we used to sing a chorus that went like this:

He sees all you do, He hears all you say,
Our God is writing all the time, time, time.

Sometimes, in that simple little one room church in a prairie town in Western Canada, the superintendent would add a few words of earnest counsel. He wanted to be sure we understood. We would gaze up at him wide-eyed. God knows everything. It was a heavy message for little impressionable minds.

Choruses like these formed an early chapter in our moral training. The bottom line issue was that God knows us altogether and we can’t hide anything from him so we should keep this in mind when we go about our daily activities. I thought of those early lessons this morning as I read about the outrageously wicked King Herod the Great, and the innocent little Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

They called him Herod “the Great” for good reasons. He built the seaport at Caesarea and wisely named it after the emperor. He built a theater in Jerusalem and an amphitheater outside the city. He set in motion the rebuilding of the temple which became a magnificent structure for the Jewish people. Herod was an exceptionally skilful administrator and diplomat.

But power was his issue, and he used it ruthlessly. His police were everywhere. Purges were frequent. His own wife, Mariamne, was marched off to execution because he suspected her of plotting against him. Her three sons also, and five others of his children from various unions met the same end. He even had all but two members of the ruling council of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, murdered. Herod’s viciousness was about on a par with the viciousness of a Saddam Hussein.

So, when some mysterious figures called Magi arrived in Jerusalem coming from a land as far away as Persia, the word spread through the city fast. The place must have buzzed. And when Herod learned these Magi claimed to have been divinely guided by a heavenly light to come to the birthplace of a baby born to be King of the Jews, his paranoid tendencies flared.

No matter that the child the Magi sought was a miracle baby sent by God to be the redeemer of the world. How could such an infant be safeguarded against the murderous jealousy of a powerful sovereign who would stop at nothing to keep his shaky throne secure?

Here’s how: God in Heaven knew what was in Herod’s mind. God knows everything. He sent a warning to the baby’s human father, Joseph. He sent it by means of a dream in the night: Get up right away and get out of town; head for Egypt; the murderous Herod intends to find and kill the child. Joseph obeyed and the child’s life was spared.

Today we have a more sophisticated word for the belief that God knows everything. We say he is omniscient. But he can’t be omniscient unless he knows the end from the beginning, and the whole sweep of history down to its minutest detail. The psalmist, David, wrote, “Before a word is on my tongue/ you know it completely, O Lord.” (Ps. 139:4) Jesus said his Father sees the insignificant sparrow fall. He also said that his Father alone knows the future date for the end of human history.

The little choruses sung in Sunday Schools 70 years ago may not fit our present cultural moods. Times have changed. But the truth has not changed. It is still a cornerstone conviction of orthodox Christians that God knows everything. And when we operate on that conviction we handle the crises of life better and our daily walk is more stable.

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Holiness is Not Optional

7343174816_9d67d74f5a_mEvangelicals speak often of the forgiveness of sins (justification) as the fundamental element in God’s gift of salvation. And so they should.

Justification is a legal term and it represents our acquittal as abject penitents before a holy God. Our forgiveness is assured by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He paid our sin debt on his cross, so that by faith we can be pardoned of all our sins. Justification stands for what God has done for us. Christ’s atoning sacrifice is the focus.

But evangelicals do not speak often enough of the companion doctrine – the doctrine of sanctification. If justification borrows its language from the law court, sanctification borrows from the terminology of the temple and its holy rituals. Justification stands for what God does for us, while sanctification stands for what he does in us in his setting-us-apart ministry.

Justification means that we are pardoned–and thereby saved from the judgment because the shed blood of Christ makes possible acquittal for all our sins. Our sin record is erased.

Sanctification means that God begins to transform our characters. To sanctify means to make holy — to set apart and form the life of God in us. In the original languages the two words – sanctification and holiness — come from the same root.

The two elements – justification and sanctification — can be considered separately to help us in our understanding, but they cannot exist or function separately, for in the moment we are justified, our sanctification begins. That is, the moment we are forgiven in a genuine conversion experience, in that moment in an evangelical sense the Holy Spirit imparts Christ’s life in us.

I find the call to sanctification clear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 4:25—32). First, he exhorts these “born again” members of this young church to participate in a full transformation. Using the analogy of changing one’s clothing, he exhorts them to “put off” the badly soiled old life in its entirety and to “put on” the new life. That is, dress in the fresh clean garb of Christ’s holiness.

This can only be possible by energy made available by the mighty Spirit of God, but Ephesian believers are required to cooperate, though not as a means of adding virtue to the process. All is of grace. Yet the Apostle Paul’s appeal is for their response.

Then he mentions some characteristics of the old life they should guard against: They should put off falsehood, anger, stealing, and unholy speech. The suggestion is not that these are still rampant in the church but that such remnants of the old life are sure to be hanging on in some cases because awareness has not yet been awakened that such conduct does not fit the new life.

Paul’s list might leave his readers thinking that only sins committed that others can see are at issue, so he adds, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with all malice.” The work of sanctification confronts sins of the disposition, too.

Because it is only by the energy of the indwelling Holy Spirit that such transformation of character is possible, nestled in amongst these exhortations Paul makes another appeal: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

The Holy Spirit does not seal us as God’s possession by stamping some detached insignia on us; he himself and his indwelling presence are our seal. We are to avoid grieving him by our disobedience because he is real, personal, and the one who now graciously owns us.

It is clear to Paul that good can be expected from all this and it will manifest itself in the church. For one thing, holy relationships are sure to form between believers, as the Holy Spirit enables and supervises the church. In the words again of Paul, we will — “Be kind and compassionate to one another.” What a gracious result to expect!

But with this concern for God’s sanctifying work, Paul, does not forget that our grounding is in our justification. He writes: “Forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”

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Re-post: Glimpsing the Heart of Peter

Simon Peter is a major figure among the personalities of the New Testament. He was one of the first to be introduced to Jesus, and later one of the original twelve chosen and appointed by Jesus to be his apostles. He is the first named in each of the three lists of apostles given in the Gospels.

Moreover, on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached the first sermon properly called a Christian sermon — centering on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. And he’s the primary figure in the first 12 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. It was Peter who carried the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Beyond all this, his two letters written to Christians suffering from persecution are included in the New Testament.

Yet, his performance was on occasion less than stellar. With Our Lord’s crucifixion hours away, at one point Simon Peter declared his never-dying loyalty to his Master and only a short time later, now in a hostile environment, he denied that he knew him. From this lapse, however, he recovered in a burst of penitential tears.

But in that same general period of time there’s another moment in his life when, in spite of his dismal failure, Peter’s responses show the depth of his heart’s commitment to Jesus.

It’s Thursday. The Lord and the twelve have arrived at a borrowed room to celebrate the Passover Feast together. For the customary washing of the feet before the meal, a bowl and towel are there, but no servant appears. Jesus assigns himself the task. However, he comes on his knees to Simon Peter and the big fisherman says in surprise, “YOU wash MY feet? To him that would be unthinkable. Jesus was his leader and leaders don’t do such menial tasks.

Jesus responded: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” The pronouncement must have rung in Peter’s ears, and his reply shows the depth of his heart’s commitment to his Master: “Not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.”

It was as though he cried out, “Being severed from you would be like death. The most important thing in my life is to belong to you.”

That response was not entirely new. Earlier when Jesus asked the twelve if they would leave him as some of his other followers were doing, Peter blurted out with the same depth of feeling, “To whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” His love and connections were real!

Jesus’ words to Peter have two levels of meaning. At the material level they have to do with the washing of the feet as a social propriety. At the spiritual level they have to do with what really connects one with Jesus – called “the washing of regeneration.” It stands for an inner cleansing, the washing away of our sins, the cleansing of the soul by the blood of Christ.

To return to the account of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus adds a word about the ongoing life of true discipleship, saying, “if you’ve had a bath, you need only to wash your feet.” It’s as though he reminds them that that very day they bathed for the day and that need not be repeated. But after walking the dusty, soiled streets their feet may need attention.

Elsewhere the same John writes, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He writes this to believers.

We can never forget Brother Peter. Tradition says that he spent his closing days in the city of Rome where he was crucified under the emperor, Nero. When it came time to die, some believe, he asked that he be placed on his cross upside down because he was unworthy to be crucified in the same position as his Lord.

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