Time to Take Off the Mask

Time to Take Off the Mask

Today is one day in the year where people dress up, put on a mask and try to look different. I have done this a few times during the year and it usually brings a smile to  the people who see me wearing a mask. They clearly know the face they see is not me. My personality doesn’t change really, but people see a bit of a hidden part of me – the part that enjoys a good laugh.

My wife has dressed up as a Newfoundland fisherman for many years in order to entertain people and not just make them smile, but have them burst into laughter. I am convinced that when she dresses this way for her comedy routine, she changes and becomes a different person. The more I think about it, the more I realize that when she  dresses up this way, it actually allows the lighter side of her personality to be exposed. IMG_0267She is fun-loving and loves to lift the spirits of people. One of her favourite Bible verses states that a merry heart is good like a medicine. Truth is, she doesn’t need a mask to do that; it really is who she is.

How often do we put on a mask hoping it transforms and makes us more acceptable to others? News Flash! Transformation happens from the inside out, not by changing our exterior appearance with a mask or funny costume.

What is the evidence of a changed life? I grew up attending Sunday School and a song we often sang was about this little man named Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to see Jesus. All the people complained that Jesus was going to the house of a sinner until Zach defended himself by saying that he had changed, and was not the same person. He declared that he would “give half of his possessions to the poor” and for those he had cheated (which was typical of the tax collectors of that day), he would pay them back “four times as much” (see Luke 19:8).

True transformation is evidenced when the heart becomes more generous to others.

Jesus confirmed this by saying, “Salvation has come to this house” –  in other words, true change had come.

What I learned about Zacchaeus in Sunday School was that he climbed a tree, but I have since discovered “why” he climbed the tree. It was about true transformation and a changed life. Maybe it’s time we become more like the little man who climbed the tree. Selfishness had shaped him to be a man who was willing to do people wrong financially for his own gain. When change happened to him, he rose to a different level, not by climbing a tree, but by removing the mask of selfishness and greed. He gained a new perspective on money. When you hold your wealth with open hands as he did, you will begin to experience true riches.

Are Your Financial Decisions Guided by the Bible?

Are Your Financial Decisions Guided by the Bible?

It seems pretty natural for Christians to desire to be guided by the wisdom found in the Bible. However, as I have worked in the financial services industry for close to 30 years, I have discovered that often what guides many Christians is not significantly different than non-Christians; culture is often a greater influence than scripture.

James 3:15-17 makes it very clear that there is a vast difference between wisdom that is earthly vs. wisdom from above. The basis of all financial decisions should be wisdom from above, but as Ron Blue, the founder of Kingdom Advisors states, “Traditional financial planning is based on earthly wisdom.” Earthly wisdom contains such things as jealousy, selfishness, and an unspiritual focus. The Contemporary English Version clarifies:

Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things.

For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. (Christian Standard Bible)

This passage is often not considered in relation to finances, but the truth is many Christians are financially motivated by selfish ambition and have thoughts of envy when comparing themselves to others. We cannot really escape the truth that what guides many Christians is “earthly wisdom,” and not “the wisdom from above.”

But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.  (James 3:17 Good News Translation)

Lives that are lived based on non-traditional financial planning, “wisdom from above,” or guided by the Bible will produce a harvest of good deeds which comes from being filled with compassion.

Consider your perspective on retirement and what shapes that view. Retirement is often seen as the opportunity to focus more on pleasure and leisure; therefore, the major purpose of financial planning is to get you to a place where you can afford to do exactly that. Our culture has positioned retirement as a time of ceasing from work for a life of leisure; however, this lifestyle will likely be a lot less fulfilling. No doubt, leisure is meant to be part of our lives, but I am not convinced it is to be all-consuming.

Please reflect on “the wisdom from above” around retirement. May I suggest that producing “a harvest of good deeds” should not be limited to our working years but  extend into our retirement years.

Mitch Anthony, in his book “The New Retirementality” shares this wisdom:

For the past 15 to 20 years the institution of retirement has been morphing into something other than what we are familiar with. The idea has been evolving slowly toward something other than a playground for senior citizens. The revolution taking place is that many are seeing this stage of life as just the opposite – the most fertile period of life for meaningful pursuit.

Consider this biblical wisdom: “There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand.” (Eccl. 2:24 CSB) This verse seems a perfect description for retirement, but one thing on the list doesn’t seem to fit … work. Is it possible that culture has developed a distorted view of work?

Culture today positions work as something that defines who we are. When we meet someone for the first time we usually ask, “What do you do?” It is as if our job or position defines us. Work is often referred to as “a necessary evil,” or drudgery and simply a means of earning income. The general thinking is: the harder I work, the greater my income because work is the source of income. If work provides no more meaning than this, it makes perfect sense to work toward retirement and leave our place of employment as soon as we can. Maybe we have allowed culture to shape our thinking around work and retirement more than discovering biblical wisdom on the topic.

It is of vital importance to live our lives intentionally seeking out wisdom (from above) to guide us. Look at Eph 2:10 (CSB):

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

From this verse we learn:

  1. We are a product of God working in our lives, so in essence, He defines us; it is not our work that defines us.
  2. We are created to work (work is normative and expected).
  3. Our work is to be good work (completed with excellence for the good of others having eternal impact).
  4. God has prepared us and equipped us with skills, intelligence experiences, etc. to complete the work He planned for us.
  5. The focus and motivation of our work should not be income. God is the source of our income and uses the work He gave us to do as a means of supply for our needs. Refer to Matt. 6:32-33 (NLT) where unbelievers’ thoughts are dominated by worry for future supply of needs, but those who seek the Kingdom above all else are given all they need (God is their supply). The personal income of believers is linked to trust in God and their focus is not earning that income, but simply doing the work that was prepared for them.

Simply seeing work as something that God has prepared for us to do should shift our thinking. If God has prepared us for this work, how can we retire from it?

Mitch Anthony often says,

“Don’t retire from something, retire to something.”

The point is that you may very well retire from your job or career, but retirement should become an opportunity to continue in your calling, maybe in a different form. You may or may not be paid for this “work” but it will be very meaningful. Anthony stresses the importance of “extracting the most meaning from the means you possess.”

As a Christian, what influences your financial decisions most –  earthly wisdom or wisdom from above?

 

 

 

It’s Labour Day Weekend!

It’s Labour Day Weekend!

Photo taken in my office in Corner Brook, NL in 2015

The long weekend is here and on Monday, we will celebrate Labour Day, a statutory holiday in Canada since 1894. What better time to write about work and our view of it.

For many, work is considered a necessary evil, a drudgery, something we are compelled to do in order to make a living.  We may have all felt that way at times, but surely, life was not meant to be that way.  Why not take some time this weekend to settle your reason to labour.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

I have heard it said that your job is what an employer pays you to do; your work is what you were born to do. I first published this statement (defining the difference between a person’s job and work) in a blog post a few years ago. One reader wrote saying, “In a few weeks I will go to neither” meaning they would be retiring. The point I was making was that you certainly finish a job or change careers, but I question if you can really retire from your work, especially if it is what you were born to do. Maybe your work (or calling) is something that takes you an entire lifetime to complete.

The term “calling” has often been reserved for members of religious organizations, or people in public ministry, like a member of the clergy or an overseas missionary, for example. However, becoming a politician, lawyer, doctor, fire fighter, police officer, mechanic etc. has been considered more of a career choice and not typically connected to calling at all. It seems that calling, therefore, is “sacred” while the other careers listed are more “secular.”

Dr. Ken Boa in his book, Conformed to His Image says,

“Our primary calling is to know and love God. Our secondary calling is to express this relationship in everything we do and with everyone we encounter.”

As a teenager, I felt a “call” on my life and the best way I could interpret it at the time was to become a pastor. I attended Bible College to earn a theology degree and during my first year, my Bible was open on my desk to 2 Timothy 4 as a daily reminder to: “Preach the word; be ready in season …” but I felt for most of my life my calling was more “out of season.”

Most of my career was in the financial services industry providing insurance and investments. My perspective was that my work as a financial advisor was my job (secular) and I believed my “calling” to ministry was my true work (sacred). As the years passed, I questioned if I had “missed my calling” or was it possible that I could live out my calling by being a financial professional?

My problem was that my secondary calling (as a financial advisor) was somehow disconnected from my primary calling. Ken Boa explains that “If the secondary is not related to the primary, we slip into the error of dichotomizing the “spiritual” and the “secular” when they should really be integrated. When this happens, our relationship with the Lord is disconnected from the everyday activities of our lives.”

Wow! Looking back, I realize that I kept my primary calling separate from my secondary calling. I certainly felt I was serving the Lord but somehow allowed the everyday activities of my work to be completely separate from my relationship with the Lord.

For many years, my focus as an advisor was on building my business, which included developing relationships and serving clients. While my focus was good (and typical of this industry), my secondary calling lacked the perspective that only comes by incorporating my primary calling. My work as an advisor (secondary) needed to be an expression of my primary calling. Dr. Ken Boa explains it this way:

“Secular work becomes spiritual when done to the glory of God. Spiritual work becomes secular when done to please and impress men.”

When I recognized the opportunity to bring glory to God (primary) through my practice (secondary), my work was transformed and took on new meaning.

My level of fulfillment reached new heights because the secular and the sacred were merged after many years. Dr. Ken Boa sums this up perfectly: “When we keep our primary calling first and seek to express it in and through our secondary calling, we become more holistic in our thinking and practice.”

What about you? Are you living out your calling everyday through your work? Is your time at work fulfilling because it is a true expression of your calling?

Recalibrate Your Heart!

Recalibrate Your Heart!

Recalibrate is such an interesting word, especially when it comes to a persons life. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the verb this way: to make small changes to an instrument so that it measures accurately. 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary helps clarify the term further by putting it into a sentence:

… these systems gradually drift off course so that the navigator periodically needs a fresh point of reference to recalibrate the navigation system.— Stefi Weisburd 

When it comes to our lives and our hearts, we all need a reference point if we are to recalibrate properly. In a blog posted in 2011, Mark Mallett stated, “The heart is a finely tuned instrument. It is also delicate.” He goes on to say, “… all the bumps along the way can throw the heart out of calibration.” Life has a way of knocking us about and we need recalibration to our point of reference from time to time. Recognizing the proper reference point for our lives is the key to recalibrating our hearts. For me, the reference point is my Creator. “Remember your Creator” (Eccl. 12:1a) is a verse that comes to mind. The idea here is to intentionally  focus or meditate on, which is an inward mental act that leads to external acts. The purpose of remembering is really to align our thoughts, or to recalibrate our hearts so they are properly aligned with our “point of reference.”

This is necessary because we tend to lose our focus. Deut. 8:18 is a prime example where the instruction is to: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth …” When we fail to recalibrate regularly, we begin to believe that we have attained this wealth with our own abilities and we even believe that we own any wealth that is accumulated. Recalibration allows us to see that everything we have (wealth & possessions) comes from our Creator (see Col. 1:16) and belongs to Him (Psalms 24:1). When we recalibrate our hearts, we no longer think too highly of ourselves.

It is clear that we all need to be intentional and take the time necessary to recalibrate or “set our hearts.” Here are a few examples of these instructions in Scripture:

If wealth increases, don’t set your heart on it (Psalms 62:10). This becomes an issue because “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, they imagine it a wall too high to scale” (Prov. 18:11). Why is recalibration of our heart so important? Without it our imagination gets the better of us and wealth quickly becomes our false security.

Then there is an example of King Rehoboam who “did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the Lord” (2 Chron. 12:14).  Failing to recalibrate our hearts allows us to focus on things that only seem to be important. Remember when Jesus rebuked Peter? It was because he did not set his mind (heart) on God’s interest, but man’s (Matt. 16:23). Peter’s focus was on the earthly kingdom that he thought Christ was establishing and potentially his leadership role in that kingdom rather than the the eternal (thus the rebuke and that he was being influenced by satan). In other words, Peter needed to recalibrate, as he had just previously done when it was revealed to him, from heaven, who Christ really was, prior to this rebuke. That demonstrates how much we need to set our minds on things above (Col. 3:1-3) or recalibrate our hearts.

Don’t be alarmed when you realize that you have to recalibrate your heart often, or that you have gone for hours without even thinking of God! Rather, use this as a moment to humble yourself and acknowledge that you are maybe not as in love with God as you thought you were, that you seek your kingdom more than His, and that there is still much conversion left in your life. 

The purpose of recalibrating our hearts is to be able to hear from heaven, to hear from the One who calls us with purpose. We need to have times where we simply re-focus in order to gain the right perspective. Maybe that’s a time in the morning and/or the evening. Maybe it is setting aside a day in a month, or a few days in a quarter, or even a week or weekend in a year that is set aside for this purpose. We all need to have these times where we recalibrate our hearts, otherwise we will gradually and surely drift off course. 

I recently set aside a few days to do this myself and write my thoughts. It helped me realize that my Creator’s thoughts are higher than mine and if I don’t take the time to align my thoughts with His, I will just walk in my own ways and fail to seek His ways (which again are so much higher). Can I challenge you to set aside time to simply reflect in silence, worship and learn, in order to recalibrate your heart?

Can you set aside an hour to make this a priority? Or maybe a day just to slow down and stop to recalibrate? When you do, you will most certainly become more effective.

Stewardship Defined

Do we even understand what the word stewardship means? After all, it can have such a vast meaning. The dictionary defines a steward as “a person who looks after someone on a ship, aircraft or train.” It is also defined as an official who supervises a public event, or one who manages or looks after another’s property.

The final definition seems to be the most accurate. Think about it for a moment – what exactly does this mean for each of us? For many, the immediate thought is that we need to be better stewards over the earth. In other words, we must care for the environment.

Let’s make it even more personal than that. Think about what we have all been given daily to manage.

What We Are Given in Equal Measure – Time

We all have the same amount of time, 24 hours in every day. How well are we managing our use of time? If we are completely honest, we must admit that we are at times less productive than we could be because we have not invested our time as well as we would like.

What We Are Given in an Unequal Measure – Talent

I am amazed when I see the different interests and gifts in so many people. For some, the ability seems to be natural and God-given and can often be improved when developed further, like the gift of music, singing or dance. Sadly, rather than develop their talents, some people bury them, believing it’s really nothing special or unique.

What is Buried – Treasure

If you combine what we are given in equal measure (time) and use it to invest in what we have in unequal measure (talent), we will discover what is often buried (treasure or what we are meant to do).  There is a quote that comes to mind about finding something you love to do and then you will never work a day in your life. The key is to “find something you love to do,” then your work won’t feel as much like work, but instead, it becomes your passion.

The Heart of a Steward

If the definition of a steward is managing another’s property, then the heart of a steward must be to know who the owner is and what that owner desires. For followers of Christ, God is the owner and life is about managing what we are entrusted with. Think about your life: aren’t you most fulfilled when you give your time to someone else? Isn’t your greatest pleasure felt when your talent is used for the benefit of another, when others are moved as a result of how you used your gifts?

If all we do is use our time and talent for ourselves, we are really missing what it means to be a steward. Time can be wasted, spent or invested. The same can be said for talent and treasure.  If you invest it well, the owner is pleased and we are paid or rewarded for our use of each of these.

Our Mistake …

…is thinking that what we possess is ours to do with as we please. If you ask most Christians, “Does God own everything,” most will quickly agree, yet living this out proves to be more of a challenge.

The time we have been given needs to be managed well and the talent should be developed and utilized. When we use our time and talent to invest in others, we will discover true treasure. To invest in others, it also means you actually have to take some time for yourself. Your personal growth and development results in a greater ability to serve. Remember, we are managers, not owners, so things like time, talent and treasure are to be used for the interest of the owner (which benefits others). We make a mistake when we simply spend money, time or use our gifts without considering what the owner desires.

How well are you using the time each day? Do you feel your talent is under-utilized and is there a place that you could use your talent more? When you receive your paycheque, do you view it as your own to do with it as you please, or do you consult the owner before you make spending decisions? 

If Money Talks, What’s it Saying?

If Money Talks, What’s it Saying?

If you have money it can be used to get the things you desire and it seems the more money you have, the more you spend. I have often quoted this:

You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.

Winston Churchill

So what are you most focused on: Making a living or making a life?

Deep within most Christians, there is a desire to please God, but we typically do not relate pleasing God with money? My initial thought about pleasing God is considering my behaviour, just doing what is good and saying what uplifts others. I desire to please God in every area of my life and especially with my use of money.

In a recent blog, I referenced the key to pleasing God being faith and the Bible makes this so plain: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Some might look at this and ask: What does that have to do with how I use money? A great question. Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the faith chapter, which reviews many of the faith heroes and how they invested their lives. They looked to something better, something invisible (requiring faith to see it), something eternal.

The first example given is Abel, who made an offering to God, which was acceptable because it involved faith on his part (see Hebrews 11:4). The point being that he gave first without knowing if there would be a second-born or a third-born. Compare this to his brother Cain; his offering was in the course of time and was rejected. The difference: Abel’s offering involved faith and Cain’s lacked faith and was rejected by God. It seems that Cain only gave when he saw the supply of his crops, or when he could afford to give (in the course of time). I am challenged when I think about this because it causes me to question my own financial priorities. Do I give in the course of time, when I have enough, or is giving a top priority?

One point that is easily overlooked is that Abel “still speaks through his faith.” In other words, his offering in faith is talking to us if we will listen. What, then, is being said? Could it possibly have anything to do with our use of money today?

Think about how you can use money:

  1. To Live – Probably the greatest priority and where the majority of a person’s or couple’s money goes is toward lifestyle. Often when a raise or bonus comes, an increase in lifestyle is the result!
  2. To Give – in my experience, I have found that giving is probably the last on the list of priorities, especially when a person is starting out, with so many other financial commitments.
  3. Owe (debt) – using debt to purchase a home or car is often a priority, which creates an obligation to repay. In a sense, debt is really an extension of lifestyle (when we don’t have enough money we borrow to get the things we desire). Maintaining a good credit score is important so on-time repayment becomes a definite priority.
  4. Owe (taxes) – Most have taxes withheld from their pay, so in that sense the government makes taxes the top priority.
  5. Grow – Saving money can be a challenge and people often consider a mortgage (debt) a forced savings plan, but saving little by little is one of the secrets to wealth.

Is it possible that Abel is “still speaking” about our priorities in this life and that in order please God, faith must be a priority in all our dealings, especially in our financial dealings? It is imperative that we set priorities around how we use money.

Here’s a question to consider: Are these priorities around money sequential or simultaneous? It would be nice to see them in a neat order of 1-5 and always keep the proper order, but the truth is these uses of money pull us in different directions daily, often shifting these priorities. We want to give more and save more but the amount we have to pay in tax and debt or just our chosen lifestyle hinders us from reaching these goals.

Please take a few moments to consider your financial priorities. Does your faith and pleasing God fit into your spending decisions? Could your financial priorities use some adjustments?

My Work and Easter

My Work and Easter

For many, the greatest impact of Easter is a few extra days off from work. I have to be honest, until this year (2019), I have never drawn a connection between my work and the resurrection. However, this is absolutely exciting for us all to consider. We tend to limit our thinking around Easter to spiritual matters only because it is a religious event on our calendars. I believe that Easter is meant to impact every part of our lives!

As I started my Good Friday, I read an article entitled: How Easter Changes Everything About Your Work and it was an eye-opener for me. I gained a new perspective and this fresh focus allowed me to see something I had previously missed. Let me explain.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection at Easter is the very cornerstone of the gospel. Without it, nothing else matters.

How Easter Changes Everything About Your Work

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

1 Cor. 15:14

You may have heard some of 1 Corinthians 15 read at a funeral, but what does it have to do with our lives today, particularly our work? The gospel is meant to impact every area of our lives, not just the spiritual. The resurrection power is to be effective in our lives now, not just at death. We make a grave (pardon the pun) mistake if we read these verses and limit the application only to the dead being transformed with resurrected bodies to live on the new earth.

At the end of this incredible chapter on the resurrection, what does Paul say? “Since there is a resurrection, look forward to this glorious future?” No. He says something quite different:Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

When we read “the work of the Lord” we tend to immediately think of something spiritual, in the church, but our labour refers to all our work. It could represent our volunteer work or our vocations. Here’s the part in the article that grabbed me. Paul’s encouragement is to remember that what we do in this life is directly connected to our life in eternity. The resurrection is the key! Easter gives new meaning to our work! NT Wright in his book, How Then Shall We Work says,

Everything you do in the present life, in the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, everything that flows out of love and hope and grace and goodness somehow will be part of God’s eventual kingdom.”

The resurrection is the key to all of this. Just as our bodies are changed and we are given new bodies, so too, is our work for the Lord. Everything about us will be changed. It’s part of the mystery but the truth of Paul’s message is that “… your toil is not in vain.” If we read this on its own, we get the message that everything we do for the Lord is important in this present age, so we must do our best. Reading it in context makes this verse so much more powerful. Our work “is not in vain in the Lord” because our labours on earth somehow matter in eternity. Everything about us will be redeemed – not just our bodies, but the work we did through those bodies.

NT Wright ends with this statement:

The resurrection is your new body in which you will be gloriously, truly wonderfully you. The resurrection means everything you’ve done in the present through your body – works of justice and mercy and love and hope – somehow in ways we don’t understand will be part of God’s new creation.

When I think of my life, I truly want to see it as a masterpiece of God (although, on most days I don’t feel anything like that), where I am doing good works. If you read Ephesians 2:10, you will find that these works are what God prepared beforehand, or in advance, for us to do.

Think about it for a moment; God prepared works for us to do before we were born and because we are His workmanship, we walk in them. When that happens, our work is “not in vain, in the Lord,” but becomes part of our future through the resurrection. We live in the present, that is what we know and understand. Paul, however, describes a mystery concerning our future beyond our life on earth. I honestly think we should spend more time meditating on that mystery. God prepared work in advance of our present and the resurrection transforms that work so it can be part of our eternal future. This explains clearly why Paul exhorted us to:

… be stedfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Psalm 90:17b says, “…confirm (give permanence to) the work of our hands.” Have you considered that the work you do every day is having eternal significance? Will you allow this perspective to bring a new meaning to your work life?

Photo by Terry Grimes (Divine Design)