A Pastor’s Legacy

A Pastor’s Legacy

It’s been a month now since the tragic accident and loss of Ralph Benson. Today, June 10th is Ralph’s birthday. Despite not being that close, I have thought of him, the church he pastored and his family every day since receiving the shocking news of his sudden passing. I’ve been considering the legacy he has left his congregation and family.

Some of his own words that were shared at his funeral made me realize just how significant an impact he had. What he told his grandchildren is deeply insightful: “Poppy is never going to die.” What a counter-cultural thing to say. Thousands watched his funeral while his family and church had to come to grips with the immense loss. There seems to be a clear contradiction here between what he told his grandchildren and what happened on May 9, 2021. We all need to understand this more clearly.

Do you Really Believe John 3:16?

The most recognized verse in the Bible reveals significant truth that is so easy to overlook.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 NLT

Will not perish” – that’s the truth Ralph told his grandchildren, but the fact of his death has been established. So how are we to reconcile the fact of death and the truth that he would “not perish?” Many believers understand that you have to die (this life must end) and then your eternal life begins. Or is life a continuation and we simply transition from life on earth to life in eternity? The real question is when do we receive eternal life – when we believe on Christ, or when we die physically? Our perspective is more important than we might realize. It is pretty clear from Ralph’s words to his grandchildren that he had already received eternal life and death was not part of his future. Ralph lived most of his life based on a biblical worldview and had received eternal life in his twenties.

June 10, 2020

Think about birth for a moment. You had life in the womb months before your date of birth and after your birth, life continued in a different realm outside the womb. I believe Ralph understood that his death would be similar in some fashion to his birth – death was not the end of his life but rather, like another birth into a different realm. Ralph revealed his eternal perspective when he said “Poppy is never going to die.” Let’s face it, most Christians don’t speak with an eternal perspective like he did. Most would say something like, “Poppy is going to die, but then he is going to heaven.” This statement is a half-truth and has some sense of eternity but contradicts the words of John 3:16 (shall not perish). We have eternal life now and we are not going to die – we are simply being birthed into a new realm.

Is your Tombstone Accurate?

Think about it for a moment: a tombstone records the date of your birth into this world and your exit from this world (for Ralph Benson June10, 1955 – May 9, 2021). The truth is that you existed before your date of birth and your belief in Christ means you continue to exist after your date of death (based on John 3:16). Having an eternal perspective matters and how we communicate this is more significant than we realize. Ralph communicated an eternal perspective to his grandchildren because he was a steward of eternal truth. We are all called to be stewards of truth!

We are called to live as citizens of heaven!

Here’s what Jesus said in the parable he told about the unrighteous steward:

The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

Luke 16:8-9 NLT

If you read the complete parable, this manager is being fired because he did not steward well what was given to him to manage. Since he is losing his job as steward (like when our life on earth comes to a close), with his time remaining, he quickly decides to use the relationships that he has for his own interest by making deals that favour the people owing the master. He reduces the amount each of them owe which serves to secure his own future. They would treat him favourably by “welcoming him into their homes.” The shock of the parable is the master praises this steward even when he comes to understand that he will now receive less from these people. Why?

It is important to note that “the actions of the steward are not upheld as models in the parable.” He acted with his own self-interest in mind and is still referred to as “the unrighteous manager” yet he is “more shrewd than the children of light.” This explains why he was praised: he acted according to his worldview. We are citizens of heaven and therefore, should live with an eternal perspective in view, but we often communicate only as citizens of the earth. Ralph communicated a biblical worldview by telling his grandchildren he would not die. At this point, it seems very confusing but he communicated the truth of John 3:16 in a way that many Christians fail to understand: Ralph Benson did not perish.

The Legacy

The legacy Ralph left is the challenge we face daily: to live as stewards of biblical truth and treat others according to this worldview! The message of this parable is encouraging us to align our speaking and our management of relationships and resources with the interest of the owner in mind. This is the task of the children of light.

The unrighteousness manager’s actions were consistent with his worldview more than the actions of most followers of Jesus are consistent with their worldview. The instruction of Jesus is “store up treasures for yourselves in heaven” and we can do this in our present day by the way we use our “worldly resources.” Let’s not limit the stewarding of our worldly resources to our finances only, but understand that how we communicate with others on a daily basis will result in praise from the Master (or not).

How are we doing at managing and communicating our biblical worldview? Have we, as children of light,” become more shrewd in the use of our worldly resources to benefit others? Are we living and communicating based on an eternal perspective?

I Call Her “Mother”

I Call Her “Mother”

Everyone seems to have a special and unique attachment to their mother. I don’t typically call my parents “Mom & Dad” anymore, but when I do, it happens in that order. Since the early 80’s I began calling them, “Skipper & Mother” in that order, although I’m not certain why the order is reversed; just a fun fact.

The Coupons

When I think of “Mother,” a few things come to mind: the first being coupons. She is the coupon queen! She has always been very frugal with money and in many cases, it was out of necessity. I grew up as a PK (Pastor’s kid) and didn’t realize that we did not have much in the way of financial resources during those times, but we did have our needs met. We have often joked that she would not purchase any grocery items without a coupon to get a discount.

The Year – 1970

5th Birthday – Dec. 31, 1969
5 lifesavers on my cake!

The second thing that comes to mind is her testifying about my healing that happened when I was five years old. They pastored at Brighton, which in 1970 was a small island. One particular Sunday in April, I was very sick with what they assumed was the flu, so they went to church that night (as usual) and we three kids were at home with a baby-sitter (Lily Rice Ledrew / I like to think this experience influenced her career choice).

When they got home, I was worse and my head was all drawn back, so they realized this was more serious than they thought. It was the spring of the year when the ice was becoming dangerous to cross but there was no choice – we had to get to a doctor. I remember my parents sharing about seeing the pain on my face as the komatik (sled) went over the bumps on the snowmobile trail.

Summer of 1970 with my Aunts!

The hospital staff quickly determined that I was suffering from meningitis and immediately took action to medicate me. My parents were told the grim news, that if I survived, I would “be like a vegetable (a person with a dull or inactive life), likely not knowing them and unable to communicate.” It would take a few days for the medication to take effect, so they were advised that there was no point in returning for at least two days.

I recall how she shared about Dad going to the corner of the room and crying out to God and saying something like, “I was on that island preaching for You, declaring a message of healing – if you take my son, I can do that no longer!” As a father now, I can only imagine the anguish in the hearts of my mom and dad in those hours.

Despite the instruction from the doctor, my parents returned the next day inquiring about me. They were told that I was awake and so active that they had to strap me into the bed. (I’m guessing it was difficult to keep a 5 year old from pulling out the IV and any other monitoring devices).

Mom said when they came into the room they asked if I knew who they were and I responded, “Yes.” They gave me my Kindergarten “reader” and asked me to read. I responded with, “Run Dick, run. See Dick run.” (I still remember those Dick and Jane books). I recall none of this, but hearing Mom testify about it was such a powerful memory.

The Boat

Brother Roger (7) & me (5)

Just a few months later, I was chasing my uncle and older brother to the wharf to get aboard our parents boat. My uncle jumped onto the boat, my older brother jumped onto the boat, so I jumped too. However, with movement of the waters, the boat had moved away from the wharf at that moment, so I slipped into the water and was about to drown when someone pulled me to safety. I remember thinking as a teen that God must surely have a purpose for my life, otherwise, I would have died one of those times.

The Bible

Ten years later (1980-81), I remember standing in the front of the church sensing God’s presence so wondrously that there are no words to really express it. I recall looking under the pew that was on the platform (where Mother usually sat during the service) and there was her Bible. All I could think was “Preach the Word – in season and out of season.” That’s when I felt God’s call. During my first year of Bible College (1982), my own Bible sat open on my desk often to that passage. The words, “do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” really stood out to me.

The Preacher

Mother was quite an anointed preacher. One sermon I recall her preaching was when she compared the facts with the truth and she made a great distinction between them. She has often told the story of my healing, and I can tell you that her speaking infused faith into my heart and the hearts of the people.

Mother Preaching in 1994

She would say it something like this: “The fact is Lorne was very sick, the fact is the doctors gave no hope of a complete recovery, but the truth of God’s Word can have an impact on the facts. The facts of your situation do not change the truth of God’s Word. The truth is very different than the facts. The circumstances of your life (present facts) can change, particularly if you stand on the truth.” Wow, I have never forgotten the power of those words or the anointing on her ministry.

In a recent survey, Shaunti Feldhahn asked, “What do YOU like most about being a Mom?” Fifty-six percent responded: “Watching my children grow and the journey to becoming their own person, with their own unique, God-given personality.”

Mothers have immense influence and thanks “Mother” for the lasting impact you have had on my life!

Becoming a Shrewd Manager!

Becoming a Shrewd Manager!

Jesus often spoke in parables and fulfilled the prophecy that he would speak things that were hidden (Matt. 13:34, 35). The parable of “The Unjust Steward” or “The Shrewd Manager” in Luke 16:1-13 is possibly one of the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings to understand. Interestingly, it precedes a very familiar and often-quoted verse (13) which says, “You cannot serve two masters…You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” This shrewd manager, despite his unrighteousness, was “praised” by his master which is the shocking part of this parable . There is a powerful truth about eternal perspective revealed in this parable.

The facts are important and need to be clearly understood:

1. The main character has the job of stewarding the assets of "a certain rich man."
2. There is going to be an audit of the books because of the steward’s poor management.
3. The steward’s days in his role are numbered because of the "squandering of his (the owner’s)possessions."
4. The steward uses the relationships that he has developed to re-negotiate the debt that is owed his master.
5. Despite being “unrighteous” or “unjust” he is praised for his “shrewdness” in his handling of the circumstance. 

What principles can we apply to our own management of money and possessions? Here are some of my conclusions:

1. The main thing that we need to understand about this life is that ultimately our role is to be a steward over what is put into our hands.

We are each given talents “depending on each one’s ability” (Matt. 25:15b). My goal is to invest my gifts with the time I have to bring glory to God. We have also been given resources (or treasure) to manage. The Lord also gives us relationships which is often an overlooked element of our stewardship responsibilities. The requirement of a steward is to be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).

Understanding that whatever we have in this life belongs to another is a very deep concept. We work and earn money so it is easy to assume it belongs to us. The Israelites had the same thoughts but in Deut. 8:18 it is made clear that it is God who gives us “the power to gain wealth.” This parable teaches that we are called to be faithful in what belongs to someone else (Luke 16:12). Considering what we have been called to manage, it’s definitely a high calling.

2. At some point, the books will be audited. 

As followers of Christ, our lives will be examined or judged by God with the goal of providing a reward. Paul describes how our works will be revealed or become obvious; “the fire will test the quality of each one’s work” (1 Cor. 3:13b). What we do with the resources we have been given may have no eternal consequence (they are burnt up or consumed) or they remain after being tested.

Some of the final recorded words of Jesus are these: “I am coming soon and my reward is with me to repay each person according to his work” (Rev. 22:12). This is likened to a settling of accounts (Matt. 25:19) and the goal is to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21).

3. We must understand that we have a limited time to accomplish the goal.  

This adds a significant level of urgency to the management of the resources we have been entrusted with. To realize that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” is a very sobering thought. Are we completing that work or are we squandering the opportunities that present themselves during our days? There is a reason for the instruction: “Teach us to number our days” (Psalms 90:12).

For this manager, the loss of his job made him think more deeply about his options. He knew he had a limited time to act, so he called the clients for a final meeting. This is certainly one of the reasons he is considered to be shrewd.

Shrewd” is not necessarily negative – to call a businessman shrewd is generally a compliment, meaning “taking advantage of hidden opportunities”.

Until he was faced with this personal crisis, this opportunity was hidden to him and not a consideration. In a similar fashion, we do not have unlimited time and we all could use more wisdom that comes by numbering our days. Maybe the difficult things we face (like job loss) in life, have the purpose of growing wisdom within us.

4. We need to understand that the relationships that we have with others are truly a gift from God. 

“When you are with people, they are his people, relationships he’s given you, people whom you can serve with eternal values at heart.”

Ken Boa, Rewriting Your Broken Story, p. 15

This may require us to intentionally focus on those relationships strategically in order to accomplish all that God intends for us to produce from that relationship. Consider that God actually has a plan for each of those relationships and he positions us at the right time in that person’s life.

What happens next is most interesting: he calls “his master’s debtors and reduces their debt, thereby engendering their friendship.”

Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions & Eternity, p. 142

From the point of view of the debtors, the steward will have used his last moments in office (though they will only learn later that these are his last moments in office) to show generosity to them on a grand scale. The ancient world ran on the basis of a reciprocity ethic: good turns given and returned. The steward’s move gave him a claim upon his master’s debtors that was much more secure than any contract. Public honor required that they make some appropriate return to their benefactor. The steward had secured his future!

John Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34, vol. 35B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 796–803.
5. The results that will bring praise from the master is when the impact reaches beyond this temporal life and extends into the eternal.

What the steward is praised for is not his unrighteousness but his “shrewdness” or “prudence.” This is the key that unlocks the parable. He is indeed a “son of this world,” but he is more prudent in planning for the only future he is concerned about than the typical religious person is in planning for his eternal future with God.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentar

The “worldly wealth” can be used strategically to invest in relationships with people. Only then can it be transformed into “true riches” (v. 11). The parable ends in verse 8 when the steward accomplishes his goal. What follows is the instruction to use “worldly wealth so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings.” Why was this steward “more shrewd than the children of light?” It might be because he acted according to his worldview (securing his future).

The natural inclination is to view all of the resources as our own (just as the children of this age do). This parable demonstrates the importance of managing prudently the relationships and resources on behalf of the owner or master (the task of the children of light). Instead of squandering the “worldly wealth” we ought to seek out hidden opportunities, likely relationships we already have. We are to become “faithful in the use of that which is another’s …” (v. 12).

The unrighteousness manager’s actions were consistent with his worldview more than the actions of most followers of Jesus are consistent with their worldview. The instruction of Jesus is: “store up treasures for yourselves in heaven.”

We can accomplish this by our “shrewd” use of “worldly wealth.” To be shrewd means to find hidden opportunities to live according to our worldview, as citizens of heaven. This means we make investments that are long term … really long-term, as in eternal!

How shrewd are we in handling the resources that are placed in our hands? Are we looking for hidden opportunities to use “worldly wealth” to establish “true riches?” (cf. v. 11) Are we living as citizens of heaven, while we are citizens of this earth?

Can You Be Thankful for Tough Times?

Can You Be Thankful for Tough Times?

A common question during Thanksgiving is, “What are you thankful for today?” I would have to say I am thankful for the people who have come into my life, even for a brief time, to say something significant to me. It is so good to be able to revisit those monumental moments. I am, of course, grateful for the family and friends who have walked with me through many difficult, life-building experiences. In fact, I have come to realize that I am even thankful for those who have been a source of pain in my life and may have helped create some of those difficult experiences. All of them have shaped me into the person that I am today.

I remember one challenging season during my Bible College years (1982-1986) when I was desperate, ready to quit and do something else, rather than do what my heart truly desired. Thankfully, a pastor prayed with me and said I would be a “David and a Gideon.” It’s quite interesting that both of these men felt pretty insignificant (both were considered the least in their families). In May 2019, I was fortunate enough to meet that pastor again and thanked him for his words to me so many years earlier; those significant words that continued to resonate with me through some of the toughest times in my life.

As a young pastor just starting out in my career, I felt rejected by the denomination that I grew up in and where I had trained to be a minister. I was filled with questions and no answers, disappointed because life was not supposed to be this way. That’s when the Lord provided an opportunity for me to enter the financial services industry (1991). I felt this was just a temporary move until the Lord would open another door of ministry for me; after all, God had called me to “preach the word.” I am thankful for the tough times and for those who have rejected me, because without them, I would have never made the decisions I did.

I’m grateful for my wife who documented our journey together these past 34 years (on Oct. 25th this year). She wrote these words that another pastor shared on Sept. 20, 1992, “An open door is coming for Lorne, but he’s not yet ready for it. There will be some frustrating and trying times but we are to look at it as preparation time. We are to cleave to one another and look back at this night.”

Nine years later, I heard these words (Nov. 25, 2001): “Lorne will travel Canada and his ministry will be endorsed so strongly that people won’t be able to question it.” I’m grateful for closed doors because only God knows when and which doors should open. Trusting that God will do this is most difficult in your dark times.

One of my darkest periods was in 2008 after I had run in the Federal Election (and lost), plus the stock market had crashed. I was striving to open doors and get away from this pressure but despite my knocking, the only door that opened meant continuing in the financial services industry. I recall speaking with a counsellor during this period and she said, “You are suffering from rejection.”

I concealed my pain as much as possible but I was hurting in a way I felt no one else could comprehend. I’m grateful that Cathy was so understanding and allowed me to process, yet, pray me through this period. It was during this time that I began studying the topic of biblical financial stewardship in a book by Randy Alcorn, called “Money, Possessions and Eternity.” I am so thankful for men like Randy, Larry Burkett and Ron Blue whose writings have helped transformed my life and have given me much more of an eternal perspective in so many areas.

I’m so thankful that God’s ways are higher than my ways. What I thought was a temporary career in financial planning has turned out to be the work He had prepared in advance for me to do (see Eph. 2:10). I am grateful for the years I spent creating strong relationships with amazing clients who shared things with me that they would never share with a pastor. I was able to guide them financially and personally. Those years actually prepared me to become the National Director of Kingdom Advisors, a ministry to financial professionals to whom I can easily relate because of my own experience in the industry. It’s ironic that when I was asked to consider this role in 2013, my immediate response (without even thinking) was, “I feel like David out in the field shepherding the sheep (my clients), while so many others are more qualified.” It wasn’t until further reflection that I realized those words that the pastor shared with me in college were very true 35 years later.

The fact is when things don’t go according to our plans, we need to be thankful and willing to trust that things are going according to His plan for us. God can use any circumstance or people! It can appear to be anything but good at the time. Even if meant for evil, God works for our good and conforms us to His image (See Genesis 50:20). Are you facing tough circumstances and/or difficult people? Be assured that behind the scenes, God is using these situations and people to help transform you.

Wisdom for Financial Advisors

Wisdom for Financial Advisors

Financial advisors have a special call and what the Apostle Paul shared with Timothy in 1 Tim 6:17-19 is totally relevant for advisors in our current times as they instruct the rich: Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others, (NLT) storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life. (CSB)

The rich are not told to take a vow of poverty. They are told to take a vow of generosity.

Randy Alcorn, Money Possessions & Eternity, p. 291

The ultimate achievement of a financial planner is not just putting together a financial plan, but helping clients take hold of what is truly life.

Every advisor and every client has a plan or purpose in life that needs to be discovered. Often this is hidden and can be difficult to discover. This verse is majorly important: A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out (Prov. 20:5 NASB). The financial advisor must be “an advisor of understanding” who will have deeper conversations that probe beyond “the numbers” such as rates of returns, etc.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:36 ESV – Remember the purpose of all we do is to bring God glory. It is something we all fall short of (Rom. 3:23) personally and professionally but our goal is to hear: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matt. 25:23 ESV)

As I consider one advisor leaving the financial services industry (semi-retiring or retiring) and passing his/her business along to a younger advisor, I cannot help but think of Elijah and Elisha. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” (2 Kings 2:9 ESV) If there is a secret to a successful transition, it is to have the younger advisor receive “the spirit” of the senior advisor because that is truly what has created this business in the first place.

Often, money is viewed as something we can trust, particularly the more money, the easier it is to have confidence in wealth. The rich think of their wealth as a strong defense; they imagine it to be a high wall of safety (Prov. 18:11 NLT).

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23,24 CSB). This verse is challenging because Certified Financial Planners understand based on their Code of Ethics and particularly Principle # 1: Duty of Loyalty to the Client. “The duty to act in the client’s interest by placing the client’s interests first.” If we truly see our work as being done for the Lord, this is a higher standard and one that ensures we will have placed the client’s interest ahead of our own and all other interests.

Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! (Ps. 90:17 ESV) This prayer asks the Lord to make our efforts on earth permanent, meaning the advice we provide will have an eternal impact.

May this be the prayer of every Christian financial advisor.

(Mis-)Understanding God’s Call

(Mis-)Understanding God’s Call

This summer I listened to a very moving and appropriately titled audio book called Fire Road. It is the story of Kim Phuc Phan Thi which is written as A Memoir of Hope. The book cover shows the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken on June 8, 1972 in South Vietnam. The nine-year-old child is running from low flying planes to escape the napalm bombs dropped that day.

Her story is one of physical pain from the burns and multiple surgeries over the years that followed. The book also describes how the government used her story as propaganda for their own benefit, in essence “putting their own words into her mouth” through interpreters. The “Napalm Girl,” as she became known, journeyed through the horrors of war which has given her a platform to share her journey of faith, forgiveness and peace. Her suffering and pain was intense and brought tears to my eyes as I listened. The impact of her life and faith will only be measured in light of eternity. I was struck by the thought of how God could take the horror of her experience and use it to bring redemption to so many.

She was born the year before I was and that day in June shaped her future in a way that she could not have imagined. I honestly have no idea what I was doing on June 8, 1972 but I believe God also allowed things to come my way that were not pleasant. We all face events that determine who we become and what we do in life.

I can recall when I was 15 years old standing in a church that my Mom and Dad pastored. I had an indescribable holy experience in God’s presence. I stared at my mother’s Bible and I could not escape the instructions of the Apostle Paul to Timothy: “Preach the word … do the work of an evangelist and fulfill your ministry.” That time was so impactful that when I was asked about my goal in life for my graduation yearbook, I said “to be an evangelist.”

It was obvious to me that I should study the Bible and enter full time ministry. Little did I know that after less than 4 years into “full-time ministry,” my life would take an unforeseen twist and I would enter the financial services industry. The Napalm Girl can look back at a specific day that changed her life, and I look back at this period of time because it was like a course correction that I could not fully understand. How could selling insurance and investment products help me “do the work of an evangelist?”

God must smile when we ask these sorts of questions. Fast forward 25 years when I am asked if I would consider leaving my financial planning practice to become “a pastor to financial professionals across Canada.” Now that’s something I did not see coming! In the past 5 years (since making this transition), I have met hundreds of Christian financial professionals who desire to better share biblical financial wisdom with their clients (because it works).

Here’s my point: as a 15-year-old sensing God’s call to “preach the word” and “do the work of an evangelist,” all I could visualize was Billy Graham, and possibly doing something like that. I think God was saying, “Maybe not.” It is so easy to misunderstand what God is calling us to do and accomplish in life because we have our own ideas of what life is supposed to look like.

What I know is this: God can use a napalm bomb for ultimate good. Or He can use a job loss that no one could have predicted to bring us to a destiny that we could never envision. His ways are simply beyond our ways. We can trust God even when things seem to be going opposite to our plans.

A very wise man offered this advice that I have paraphrased: With all that is in you, trust in the Lord. Do not rely on what you can understand. In all your ways know him, and he will show you which path to take.

It seems to me that trusting is more important than understanding. Where do you place your trust? Your own abilities? Or God’s ability to position you where you are supposed to be? Do you spend more time trying to understand or learning to trust?

Five Years Free!

Five Years Free!

As I awoke this morning, I thought about where I was 5 years ago on this day, Friday, July 24, 2015. Looking back, I realize that was a year of significant change. I had just stepped away from a 24-year career as a financial planner and was about to leave the province where I was born and had lived in for half a century! What would this next chapter look like?

What most people did not know at this time is that I had a lump on my left shoulder that just would not go away. After a few visits to the doctor, a biopsy, an MRI and CAT scan, I was simply told, “This has to be removed.” I quickly realized I would never be able to pronounce or even remember the term for Cathy, so I asked my doctor if I could take a picture of it. Once home, I explained that I needed surgery and Cathy googled the term: dermatofibrosacoma protuberans –  a rare type of skin cancer!

SURGERY
When the bandage was removed just days after surgery, this is what we saw.

How could this be? Just at a time of leaving my place of security at my work and now this. On this day 5 years ago, I found myself lying face down on an operating table with nurses all around me when the surgeon entered the operating room. I had seen him just a few minutes earlier when he had described the procedure and drew marks on my shoulder where he was going to cut me open. He said, “This is called a ‘Keystone flap‘.” For those who wish to see how this is done, watch the surgery  to get a better understanding (including the drawing that I was obviously unable to see at the time). Thankfully, no chemo or radiation was necessary.  The medical professionals who have looked at my shoulder since then have always commented on the admirable job by my surgeon in Newfoundland.  It helps me wear my scar proudly!

Interesting side note: the church that I co-pastored for 14 years was called Keystone Assembly of God (the years when I also started in my career as a financial advisor). Those years were not easy but now, I have a Keystone carved into my shoulder. It’s almost like the Lord was saying, “Those years were foundational in building your character and preparing you for the future; I’m placing this permanently on your back but at the same time something is being removed.  I’m stretching you so you will trust me more.”

In the past 5 years, my faith in God has definitely been stretched and growing. I never dreamed that regular visits to the Ottawa Cancer Centre and other hospitals would become part of my yearly routine, without “costing me an arm and a leg.” (pun intended) I also never dreamed I would become connected with hundreds of financial professionals, many of whose lives are being transformed through the ministry I’m involved with. The journey has been well worth it, my friends, and I’m happy to be CANCER-FREE today for five years!!

… In Whom I Am Well Pleased

… In Whom I Am Well Pleased

When I woke up yesterday morning, on Father’s Day 2020, I reflected back on a message that I had shared a few years ago. I wrote a blog about it at that time and I really wanted to do a “Father’s Day Reversal” – I wanted to send a very special message to my kids instead of them just wishing me “Happy Father’s Day.”

How can we ever live up to the greatest example of fatherhood? As Dads, we need to express to our children that we are pleased with them. Here’s what I understand from the baptism of Jesus: the Father being pleased with the Son was not based upon what Jesus had accomplished in his life. Yes, Jesus was a great carpenter and was skilled in relationships but I believe that God was pleased simply because Jesus was on the earth. He existed as a man and was positioned to accomplish the Father’s will for His life.

Let’s face it, we tend to be pleased with our children when they accomplish something: they get good grades, they land a great job or get a promotion. That’s when we express our praise, when we have reason to be proud of them. It’s interesting the Father’s expression that He was pleased didn’t come when Jesus had healed the sick, fed the hungry, or turned the water into wine. It came before Jesus had accomplished any of these things.

Father's Day June 15, 97
Father’s Day 1997 No Accomplishment Required!

I have realized as a Dad that there are times when it is important to just tell our children that we are pleased with them simply because they are on the earth. When we base our “being pleased” on behaviour or accomplishments, we are placing conditions on the acceptance of our children.

Yesterday, I shared this with my kids: “I’m pleased with you, not based on what you have accomplished in life, but simply because you are on this earth.” What I realized is that this statement was very freeing for my children because they know they are accepted by me and do not have to earn that acceptance in any way. This is also a process for me as a Dad. I have had to let go of my expectations and what I desire for my children and simply rest in the fact that God is able to direct each of their lives in ways that I can never do. They are free to walk into their futures without sensing the need to gain my approval.

The fact is I don’t always agree with my kids; they have their own opinions that do not align with mine, but in spite of this, our relationship as a family is stronger than ever. I do not need to agree with my children to be happy or satisfied with them! My children are far from perfect, as am I, but thankfully, that’s not what is required to be a strong family. What is required is simply accepting our children … because they are our children.

My prayer today is that more Dads will not only tell their children that they are pleased with them but will also tell them why. Are you satisfied with your children? Have you told your son or daughter that you are pleased with them simply because they are your son or daughter? Isn’t that reason enough?

 

Without a (Financial) Vision …

Without a (Financial) Vision …

I was challenged at the 2020 Kingdom Advisors Conference! One of the highlights for me was the idea of having a vision, particularly as it relates to finances. Dr. Henry Cloud spoke about vision and pruning toward that vision. He talked of “pruning the good” in order for the best to be possible. Upon first hearing this, my thought was “I’m happy when my life bears good fruit, (rather than bad)” but the truth is that good is often the enemy of best. We must prune the good to allow the nourishment to be directed to the best.

As financial advisors, helping people accumulate money is certainly the norm and represents what is good. Clients desire to save tax efficiently and utilize TFSA’s or RRSP’s for short term or long term goals. When you meet with your financial advisor, particularly this time of year, the conversation usually goes toward saving enough to maintain the desired lifestyle for the rest of your life. That’s good, but is it the best?

Have you ever considered what your vision is for your finances? What is the ultimate purpose for the funds accumulated? Until my thinking was challenged, I never realized that a vision for finances was even worth my consideration.

We’ve probably all heard this proverb that references vision: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained …” Or “Without revelation people run wild, but one who follows divine instruction will be happy” Prov. 29:18 CSB. It is often quoted from the KJV where it declares that “without vision, the people perish.”

The Hebrew word paw-rah’ means “to perish”. Paw-rah’ was the word used in a biblical proverb where a woman’s hair was let flow out of its covering (hairband). Unconstrained in the wind her hair is directionless and blown in all directions.

The word means “to let loose” or “to ignore, reject” and in another sense “to let slip through the fingers.” If you make the connection to your finances, you begin to realize how important a vision is because without it, the discipline to manage finances is lacking. In other words “where there is no vision (revelation from God), ‘the people are undisciplined/get out of hand’.”

When the purpose for your wealth lacks vision, it becomes directionless and ends up going everywhere (like the example of hair in the wind). If you don’t have a vision for retirement, you won’t save in RRSP’s and money can slip through your fingers. On the other hand, when you want to make a major purchase (like a house), you begin to set aside funds for a down-payment, simply because you have a vision.

The natural thinking around money is that what you earn is for you and your family. In other words, you earn to provide for your family, which includes pleasure and enjoyment (vacation). I’m sure you would agree that this is good because your funds are being directed to align with your vision. However, is there a greater vision? Dr. Cloud challenged me deeply and now a year later, I’m still considering how I should “prune the good” so nourishment can flow to the best.

In Randy Alcorn’s book Money, Possessions & Eternity he tells this story:

At the end of the movie Shindler’s List, there’s a heart-wrenching scene in which Oskar Schindler – who bought from the Nazis the lives of many Jews – looks at his car and his gold pin and regrets that he didn’t give more of his money and possessions to save more lives. Schindler had used his opportunity far better than most. But in the end, he longed for a chance to go back and make better choices. This life is our opportunity.

Perhaps this is as good a time as any to take the advice of the Old Testament prophet:

Write down the vision and inscribe it clearly … so that the one who reads it may run. (Habakkuk 2:2 NASB)

Have you ever thought about the consequences of not having a financial vision?

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?