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Hand Outs or Hand Ups?

Unless you have been living in a cave, you are probably well aware that our economy isn’t exactly in great shape these days.

Or so we are told.

In fact, a cascade of greed, poor judgment, bureaucratic meddling, sweet deal pay offs to key politicians, defaults on home loans and a cackling chorus of  “The sky is falling!” from the media has transformed our financial climate from boom to bust.

Immediately we were informed that unless we hooked key financial institutions up to a billion dollar I.V. , a second Great Depression was about to fall.

This mass cash infusion courtesy of our tax dollars wasn’t a hand out, but a hand up we were told.

Assurances were given that only those banks and investment firms that were teetering on the edge of extinction would be helped, and every penny scrupulously accounted for.

At least that’s what we were told.

But as the old saying goes, “Loose lips sink ships.”

Harvey Levin, the head honcho at the celebrity gossip site TMZ, got wind that certain well heeled people were bragging that they were going to be wined and dined at an upcoming golf event sponsored by Northern Trust.

And that the taxpayers were going to foot the bill.

Northern Trust had laid off over 450 employees (almost 4% of its work force) and had received nearly $1.6 billion in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the so called TARP bailout.

So Levin dispatched a team of reporters to get the low down.

What they found was an event that has sparked outrage.

Northern Trust, a Chicago-based bank, sponsored the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in L.A. We’re told Northern Trust paid millions to sponsor the PGA event which ended Sunday, but what happened off the golf course is even more shocking.

Northern Trust flew hundreds of clients and employees to L.A. and put many of them up at some of the fanciest and priciest hotels in the city. We’re told more than a hundred people were put up at the Beverly Wilshire in Bev Hills, and another hundred stayed at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Still more stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey and others at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica.

– Wednesday, Northern Trust hosted a fancy dinner at the Ritz followed by a performance by the group Chicago.

– Thursday, Northern Trust rented a private hangar at the Santa Monica Airport for dinner, followed by a performance by Earth, Wind & Fire.

– Saturday, Northern Trust had the entire House of Blues in West Hollywood shut down for its private party. We got the menu — guests dined on seared salmon and petite Angus filet. Dinner was followed by a performance by none other than Sheryl Crow.

There was also a fabulous cocktail party at the Loews. And how’s this for a nice touch: Female guests at the Chicago concert all got trinkets from … TIFFANY AND CO.

Including the sponsorship of the PGA golf event, Northern Trust spent well over $7 million on this one weekend.

When asked about the inherent problems of a company on the bail out list throwing this kind of bash, a company spokesman pointed out that Northern Trust hadn’t asked for the government money and had actually turned a profit last year.

So will Northern Trust return the $1.6 billion, which the TARP program allows them to do?

Stay tuned.

When I thought about this controversy, I couldn’t help but think of another difficult issue that confronts both churches and individual believers, and is front and center during tough economic times –

How do you help the needy while not enabling the greedy?

There is no doubt that the Bible tells us that we are to be practically involved in showing God’s love in tangible ways to hurting people.

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:16-18)

God wants us to help the truly needy.

Did you catch the two operative words here?


In my experience as a pastor I have found that one of the least effective ways of helping people is by simply giving them money.

At our fellowship we ask that anyone who wants to receive financial help first commit to financial counseling.

We talk about the factors that lead them into the situation and the biblical principles that can keep it from happening again.

(A great resource for those who need scriptural insights into honoring God with our finances  can be found at

The second word?


Unfortunately there are many in our society who confuse only having basic cable and a non HDTV monitor on their computer as a financial crisis.

There are also those who want to receive money in order to finance an addiction.

That is why when I see someone with a “Will Work For Food” sign, I will offer to buy them a lunch.

Or give them a nutritionally balanced energy bar and a bottle of water.

And when I offer these things, it’s easy to see the difference between the needy and those who have other motives.

We don’t want to become hardened or cynical.

There are people who are genuinely in a tough place and we need to help them.

Unfortunately there are also those who are looking for a way to scam their way through life.

We shouldn’t enable them.

May the Lord give us wisdom to discern the difference.

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