Try Trusting

Try Trusting

We are in unprecedented times and honestly, it is very disheartening to listen to the news, yet, we are compelled to do so in order to keep up with things that are changing so quickly. We are told we must self-isolate in order to protect ourselves and the people we love. Governments are having emergency meetings in order to deal with not only the health pandemic but also to provide sufficient stimulus to stabilize stock markets yet, recession seems inevitable. 

There seems to be no easy solutions and we are constantly being bombarded with bad news. Our measure of peace and contentment ultimately depends on what we are trusting in. If our sense of peace comes from the money that’s been accumulated, then it is understandable that you have less peace today than a month ago (because if your investments are connected to the stock market, you have less money than a month ago).

The wisdom of Proverbs (18:11) says,

“The rich think of their wealth as a strong defence; they imagine it to be a high wall of safety.”

This reveals the greatest risk around money – when we accumulate it, we begin to trust it & when we lose it we lose our peace.

“Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.”  Proverbs 23:5

I wonder if it says it “flies toward the heavens” because that is where the wealth came from in the first place? After all, God gives us the power to make wealth (Deut. 8:18).  It’s interesting that the Bible also says, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27). Maybe a situation like Covid-19 is meant to redirect us back to the true source of our health and even our wealth – heaven! 

Portfolio loss creates fear naturally. We do not want to see loss and it causes anxiety, but consider this – what if the money is not actually ours in the first place? What if it is just entrusted to us to manage? We may feel like we are not doing a great job in our management roles in the midst of this, but we must understand that what is happening right now is beyond our control. We need to realize that God owns it all and He desires that we be invested (particularly our lives, but also our money). We cannot control what’s happening in our world and we must focus on what we can control, which is how we respond to all that is happening.

Many ask, “Where is God in all this; doesn’t He care?” Interesting that most places of worship are now closed and forced to go online in this crisis. That allowed me to hear a message this past Sunday that I would have otherwise not heard. What was shared was a most familiar story from the Bible when Jesus was asleep in the boat and a vicious storm arose, seemingly out of nowhere. There was a sense of panic in the disciples, likely very similar to what many are feeling during these days. The disciples felt helpless and completely powerless to deal with this situation (after all it was out of their control). Our situation now is beyond our control in a similar manner.

In this story, Jesus is sleeping and the disciples are full of fear. The disciples wake Him up and his response to them is to address their level of fear and speak to the storm to calm it. Let me quote this pastor friend of mine: “We are in unprecedented times and it may be unprecedented for you to even consider calling on Jesus, but we need to wake Him in our lives.” The Bible says that God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psm. 121:1), but it may seem that He is asleep and not caring for us at times like these.  In many cases, the storm may rage around us but we can have a peace in the midst of that storm. The calm that comes within us allows us to face the storm that is around us.

Realize this: God is someone you can trust, especially in the storm, so look to the heavens. Your faith can sustain you through this pandemic.

 

Have You Hit Bottom Yet?

Have You Hit Bottom Yet?

It is hard to believe what is happening in our world these past few weeks. Conferences, major international sporting events, schools are cancelled and even our country’s borders are being restricted. Provinces have declared states of emergency while most people are now working from home where possible. Many businesses are shut down to guard against infection of Coronavirus which is wreaking havoc on the economy.

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 3.37.57 PMThe end of February saw the sharpest 7- day decline in the history of the stock market. Markets go through downturns, corrections and even crashes for many different reasons. In 2008, it was the housing crisis, prior to that, we had the technology bubble and 9-11, so a 30% loss is not really anything new. Ron Blue, the founder of Kingdom Advisors says, “Fear is a normal human response to economic uncertainty.” I have heard it said that “It’s different this time and what we are experiencing now is unprecedented,” but the fact is, “Economic uncertainty is certain.” The reasons for the uncertainty are always different, but the response is the same every time: fear and panic.

The Bible instructs us to “Be anxious for nothing” yet, fear and panic is the typical and natural response. It was even this way in the time of Jesus. Think of the disciples in their boat in the midst of the storm – they were in panic mode, “But Jesus was sleeping!” (Matt. 8:24b). Jesus was in a different place, yet, he was in the same boat as the disciples who were fearful. He was emotionally and spiritually secure, resting despite being tossed by the wind and waves just like the disciples. Jesus said they had “little faith.”

Back to the markets for a minute: Bob Doll, Chief Economic Strategist, said on March 16 in his commentary, “We think stocks are bottoming, but that process will take some time.” I recently heard him say the market making a bottom is not an event, it’s a process. I expect the same is true for us; when we are in the midst of fear and panic, the move from there (place of fear) to faith and confidence is a process, not an event. 

Phil. 4:6-7 instructs us to “bring everything through prayer & petition, with thanksgiving.” I believe this is the process that moves us from being anxious about everything to the peace which surpasses all understanding, where our hearts and minds are guarded and we can sleep in the storm.  Part of that process is thanksgiving. How are we thankful today? If you have suffered a paper loss on your investments in recent days, you may not be happy about it, but you can certainly be thankful that you have those investments (many have no investments and would love to have your losses because it means they at least have investments).

It is easy to quote a Bible verse and feel we get it, but in reality, getting to that place of rest and peace is a process, a journey. Being thankful is part of that process and it seems that crisis is often part of that journey, at least from my experience. 

Please look at this graph below. Where would you graph yourself today?

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 4.34.40 PM

Now go back to early February 2020, when things were much more stable, markets were making new highs and there were just whispers of Coronavirus. Would you graph yourself differently?  Our circumstances tend to shift us from faith into fear, then we tend to bottom out and the process of making a bottom (like in the markets) begins. That typically means we bounce from “mostly fearful” to “some fear,” maybe back to “mostly fearful” until some truth enters our hearts and we move to “neutral.” Then more toward “some faith,” maybe back to “neutral” but the more truth enters, the more “faith-filled” we become. That process in the market is very much like the process of shifting us away from “mostly fearful” and closer to that place where “the peace of God which surpasses our understanding will guard our hearts & minds.”

If you are a financial advisor, you have the opportunity to walk with your clients through this process. In the midst of self-isolation, pray for opportunities to strengthen and encourage others to move away from the fear that so easily fills our hearts. Once you get to that place of faith, circumstances tend to have less and less of an impact and we can remain strong. This is what it means to “walk by faith and not by sight,” (or the circumstances around us). Getting to that place is a process!

Where are you in the process? Closer to “mostly fearful” or “faith-filled?”

 

 

Generosity and a Clogged Pipe

Generosity and a Clogged Pipe

Last weekend was a little frustrating at our house since the kitchen sink would not drain. My first instinct was there must be something clogging the pipes directly below the sink. I purchased a 15-foot long snake or auger that I could put into the 1 1/2 inch line. I was feeling confident that this would solve the issue. After using the auger, we ran the water and there was absolutely no change; the sink still did not drain. I plunged the sink several times but with no success. With the pipe being more than 25 feet long,  I reluctantly decided to cut the line, use the 15-foot auger in either direction which would, no doubt, reach the blockage. A joiner could be used to reconnect the line.

I knew this was going to be messy! I cleared the area, put down plastic and had a few buckets on hand. I began the cut knowing the line was filled with water that was bound to spill from where I was cutting. I’m sure a plumber would have been able to do this more efficiently but I was determined to solve this problem myself.  As I cut the line, the water began to squirt out and as the cut went deeper the smell and food particles coming out was absolutely gross.

Sure enough, as I put the auger into the line, I could feel the resistance; the line was clogged right at the very end. The line had a very gradual slope over the last 14 feet which would easily cause debris to build up. Time to rejoin the line and hope for the best! Run the water; how could this be? It still was not draining! After a few plunges and to my great relief, the line opened up and the water began to flow freely.  What a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

That got me to thinking about the purpose of that pipe; it was to have the water from the sink drain flow through it. The clogged line defeated the purpose of the pipe! We are all meant to be like a pipe or conduit where things flow through. In other words, what comes to us like gifts and talents, wealth and resources are meant to flow through rather than be stored up. The more we hold things and keep them for ourselves, the more there is an opportunity to have our pipes become clogged. Just this week, there was a financial need that we became aware of and I thought about that pipe; we could choose to keep the money in our account or we could help someone else by giving.

Think about the Dead Sea and compare it to the Sea of Galilee (which is just North of the Dead Sea).

Both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea receive their water from the river Jordan. And yet, they are very, very different. Unlike the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee is pretty, resplendent with rich, colourful marine life. There are lots of plants.  And fish too. In fact, the sea of Galilee is home to over twenty different types of fish.

The river Jordan flows through the Sea of Galilee but the Dead Sea has no outlet!

The Dead Sea takes the same water from river Jordan as the Sea of Galilee; and just holds it. It does not give; and hence, there is no life there at all.

The moral… Life is not just about receiving. It is about receiving and giving.

Randy Alcorn in his book, Money Possessions & Eternity describes the purpose of the church this way:

Whereas the Old Testament temple was a storehouse, the New Testament church was a clearinghouse, a conduit of gifts to help the needy and reach the lost.

It is so easy to focus only on ourselves and think that what comes into our hands is meant only for ourselves (for vacations, pleasure or retirement) and not for others. As I reflect on my clogged pipe, I do not want my life to become clogged where nothing is flowing through.

Money is a blessing, but it is also a burden when we’re given more than we need. Giving produced freedom 100 percent of the time – freedom to be a conduit of blessing to others.

Why did my pipe get clogged? I suspect because there is not a sufficient slope for that length of pipe and the water is not flowing as well as it should.  Compare that to money flowing to us, the question becomes, “How much is flowing through us?”

Canada Helps did a study of giving levels from 2006 to 2016 and determined that higher income earning families saw the sharpest declines in giving (in these 11 years).  It seems that the higher the income, the less the money flows through or there is more likely to be a clog in the line. Here’s what I found interesting from the study:

The lower income families that do make donations have increased the amount of their income spent on donations from 3.3% to 5.5% in the past 11 years. In the meantime, families making $250K or more has consistently given around 2% of their income over the past 11 years.

One of our goals is to increase the percentage of giving each year going forward. The reason, as I reflect on the clogged drain, is to avoid that clog from happening in our personal financial affairs. Author John Piper put it this way:

The issue is not how much a person makes. Big industry and big salaries are a fact of our times, and they are not necessarily evil. The evil is in being deceived into thinking that a $100,000 salary must be accompanied by a $100,000 lifestyle. God has made us to be conduits of his grace.

May I suggest that as your income increases, consider increasing your standard of giving instead of your standard of living.  As Randy Alcorn so aptly put it,  “Giving is the safety valve that releases the excess pressure of wealth.” Are you releasing the build-up that wealth brings?

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.

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?

Can I Please God In How I Use Money?

The Bible has much to say about so many important things in life but it says more about money and possessions than it does about heaven or hell or faith and prayer. John Piper said, Jesus spoke more about money than he did about sex, heaven, and hell. Money is a big deal to Jesus.

Why is the issue of money so important? Maybe because it is the greatest competitor to God … Jesus said there is no middle ground, “You cannot serve God and money.” It’s one or the other.

The fact is none of us set out with a goal to serve money and most would likely prefer to serve God rather than money. We want money to answer our needs and grant our desires and oddly enough, God is interested in doing the same for us. The choice becomes whether we will look to God as our supply or to our finances. The lines are so easily blurred because as we earn money, we begin to see it as our source.

How, then, can we please God with money? Hebrews 11:6 states very clearly: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” To be honest, I have never really connected this verse with how I use money, but we need faith in every aspect of life in order to please God. If you jump back to verse 4, it reads, “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did.” This verse explains Abel to be “a righteous man, because God approved his gifts.”

The story of Cain and Abel is challenging because they both made an offering to God from the labour of their hands. Cain worked the ground and produced crops while Abel became a shepherd. Cain presented some of the land’s produce and Abel presented some of his flock. Some have said the animal sacrifice was more pleasing because it foreshadowed the Temple sacrificial system as well as Christ’s sacrifice to take away sin. This explanation hardly seems fair though, because they both offered to God from their produce.

Hebrews 11:4 provides the answer: it seems Abel’s offering was “by faith” and Cain’s offering lacked faith and was, therefore, not pleasing to God. If you read the story in Genesis 4, this is actually confirmed. It says of Cain (v.3a), “In the course of time Cain presented …” but regarding Abel it says he presented “some of the firstborn (v. 4). One offering did not require faith because it was offered once there was a sufficient supply. For Cain, there were many crops when he offered; no faith was required because he waited until there was plenty before he offered to God. For Abel, the priority was completely different. He offered to God first, which required faith that more would follow the firstborn. He was trusting God for his provision by offering the first to God. This pleases God.

This is a powerful lesson in financial priorities. What is our top financial priority? Do we give only when we have plenty and can afford to give? The big question is this: Does our giving include faith or does our giving lack faith because we are confident we have enough?

Let’s face it, most of us are not necessarily living by faith because it seems to make more sense to “walk by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). What a journey it is to live and give by faith. It means having sufficient confidence in God that we can set giving as a priority above the other things we can use money for.

How do we acquire faith? Here are the steps:

1. Faith (in regards to money) comes by hearing (biblical principles of finance).

2. Hearing creates thoughts and an understanding in our minds

3. As we mediate on biblical principles, it begins to shape what we believe.

4. Believing leads to a deeper knowing or a conviction (a confident trust).

5. Only then are we able to live by faith, acting and doing based on the convictions that have now been forged within us.

Think about these five biblical financial principles:

1. Spend less than you earn

2. Avoid the use of debt

3. Build liquidity

4. Set long term goals

5. Give Generously

Please watch this video about a kind hearted lady who was saving for a car that she needed. When asked how she was doing with her savings fund, she said she had given it all away. She gave $5000 to a widow that she felt needed the money more than she needed a car. What an amazing story and example of living by faith.