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?

The Best Christmas Gift Ever!

The Best Christmas Gift Ever!

Entering this Christmas season was probably the most uncertain of any in the past 50 years. The reason: our daughter-in-law was “with child” and due to give birth on Dec 29th, so we were not sure where or when we would have Christmas dinner this year.

Christmas Eve at 1:30 AM (so technically Christmas morning) we received the message that the pains being experienced this time may prove to be labour (not false labour). We got up and made the 50- minute drive to our son’s house to care for our grandson, Ernest.  Eleanor Beatrix was born at 6:55 AM, weighing in at 6 lbs and 15 ounces, on Christmas morning, the day we celebrate the birth of Christ.

Holding that child in my arms gave me such an amazing sense of the miracle of birth. I could feel my little granddaughter breathing as she lay on my chest. She is so tiny and completely dependent on someone else for pretty much everything, except breathing. Lorne w EllieThankfully, she is breathing quite well on her own. As she lay on my shoulder, I could not help but think about Christ who created all things, yet came to the earth as a baby completely dependent on someone else for pretty much everything, much like this baby in my arms. He gave “the breath of life” at creation and is Lord of the earth yet, at Christmas, we celebrate how He came as a baby. The baby Jesus now received the gift of breath that we all take for granted. We breathe without giving it a thought.

In the book, Whisper, Mark Batterson says something very interesting about every breath we take.  Incidentally, a whisper is defined as using one’s breath, rather than one’s vocal chords.

According to Jewish tradition, the name for God, Yahweh, was too sacred to pronounce. But there is another tradition within Judaism, that believes that the name for God, Yahweh without the vowels—Yod, Hei, Vav, Hei—is synonymous with the sound of breathing. So on one hand, the name is too sacred to pronounce. On the other hand, it’s whispered with each and every breath we take. It’s our first word, our last word, and every word in between. We speak the name of God about 23,000 times every day! It’s in Him that we live and move and have our being. He is the breath of life!

What an amazing thought: “We speak the name of God” with every breath we take. Our life has a purpose which is to bring glory to God. My prayer is that my life in 2020 will reflect God’s glory!

My wish for you is that you are grateful for the breath given to you and also that you use it to bring glory to your creator in 2020! Happy New Year!

 

Re-Thinking Retirement

Re-Thinking Retirement

When I consider the many people I know in their retirement years, I can see there are multiple views about retirement. Some who were fortunate enough to have a sufficient pension plan retired at the point of eligibility, while others, despite having enough to retire, have actually continued to work. Even some of those who retired with a pension went back to work, and in many cases, it wasn’t necessarily for the money.  There are many different perspectives about when a person should retire and it is important to consider what shapes that viewpoint.

I recall one conversation with a financial advisor a few years ago now and he spoke to me about how he was challenged in this area. His plan was to retire from work ASAP and after sharing this sentiment a friend asked a significant question, “So you don’t like your work then? (If you want to get away from it ASAP.)”  Let’s face it, our desire to retire is typically determined by our view of our work. If work is stressful, physically challenging or emotionally draining, then retirement obviously looks pretty attractive. However, if one has a sense of fulfillment and pleasure from their work and they have the health and mental capacity to continue, should they retire just because they reach retirement age?

The basic understanding of retirement is ceasing to work. For many, this means retiring as soon as possible and enjoying a life of leisure. I read an article in The Financial Post earlier this month which published the results of a recent survey. Interestingly, the title was “Canadians finding retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be: survey.”

The 2019 Sun Life Barometer, based on an Ipsos online poll, found that many Canadians don’t seem to be financially prepared for retirement, with 23 per cent of retirees describing their lifestyle as a frugal one that involves “following a strict budget and refraining from spending money on non-essential items.”

If that doesn’t sound like much fun, consider the gloomier alternative: almost half of working Canadians (44 per cent) expect they’ll still be employed full-time at age 66. Among the “frugal” retirees still working after the traditional retirement age, 65 per cent say it’s because they need to work for the money rather than because they enjoy it.

The article quoted paints a gloomy picture if you are still working at age 66 but I would like to challenge that paradigm. This perspective assumes that work is burdensome and something you do not enjoy. In my experience, I know many people who are well past age 65 and still working, not because they have to (financially), but because it’s the life they’ve chosen.  If work brings you a significant level of fulfillment then why stop, even if you are past the normal retirement age?

Preparation for something as important as “the rest of your life” (that’s how long retirement typically lasts) must involve more than finances, don’t you think? I turn 55 in a month’s time and I can’t imagine retiring in 2020; I’m just not ready to stop working. To be honest, when I look at some of my peers who are 65+ and are not yet retired, it doesn’t seem to be a gloomy a prospect at all. Continuing to work appeals to me more than ceasing to work because it is an opportunity to fulfill what I see as God’s call on my life.

Culture tells us that retirement should occur at age 65 or earlier, if at all possible. As a follower of Christ, isn’t Scripture meant to be more of a guide than culture? Have we even considered what the Bible teaches about retirement?

The one reference to retirement in the Bible is an instruction from the Lord regarding the Levites who were to serve from age 25, “but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer” (NIV). The next verse clarifies that “After retirement they may assist … but they may not officiate in the service.” (NLT) 

It is difficult to build a case for retirement, especially as culture positions it, based on one verse alone, but you can easily build a case for rest. Strong’s Concordance has a full page of references for the word “rest.” Maybe the biblical approach of rest is a better way to view retirement. In the October 2019 issue of “The Investment Executive,” financial advisor, Sterling Rempel suggested working 24/7, meaning in retirement years, one can work 24 hours per week and 7 months of the year. That’s a neat rhythm of Sabbath rest, don’t you think? If you think about rest, it means resting from something, usually work. I believe incorporating more rest into our work lives may be a better alternative than a complete life of leisure.

This month’s Kingdom Advisors Study Group poses a few questions worth asking when approaching the retirement years of life:

– Do you have a vision for these years? (Without a vision … Prov. 29:18)

– How can your unique skills, talents, or networks be leveraged for greater purpose in these years?

– How can your life experiences benefit others?

Rather than being inherently good, work is often referred to as “a necessary evil” or something we have to do to make ends meet. Maybe we need to view work as an opportunity to fulfill our purpose in life, so that may mean working into what is typically the retirement years. I have been challenged this past month to see work as a means of reflecting the image that I was made in. We all know the creation account of God working and then resting. Maybe we should consider the different seasons of work and rest over a lifetime. Think about that: it means as you age, you will likely work less and rest more but you will continue to find pleasure in both work and leisure.

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?

 

 

 

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.

Money & Motorcycles: My Financial Advice Journey

Money & Motorcycles: My Financial Advice Journey

I often joke about the first piece of financial advice I gave to my wife after only 6 months of marriage. During her first year of teaching and before we were married, she had been counselled by her Credit Union to start saving in a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). Just starting out, we didn’t have many other resources and we, (actually, more like I), desired to have a motorcycle. We did not want to borrow to purchase, so unknowingly, we did live by one Biblical financial principle which is to “avoid the use of debt.”

My financial advice as a brand new husband was to cash in the RRSP so we could enjoy some time together on our motorcycle. I had no idea that there would even be a tax consequence to this redemption, so this was not part of my thinking. The other thing I failed to consider was the time value of money. That original investment (more than 30 years ago), would now be worth 15 to 20 times more than the value at that time. I did not know or understand the biblical financial principles shared in my last blog. As a young couple, building liquidity or setting long term goals were not on our list of priorities.

While this financial decision may not have been the best, it did bring us much enjoyment, which is one of the things money can accomplish. In 1 Timothy 6:17b, we are instructed not to trust in money, but have confidence in God “who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”

The irony is amazing because this same Credit Union that gave good advice to my wife (to invest in an RRSP) later became my employer. As one of their financial planners, naturally, my advice was based on industry standards. As a Christian, I acted with integrity and provided good counsel to clients, but the focus of my advice did not intentionally incorporate biblical financial principles.

A condensed version of my financial advice journey.

If you watch my story that I briefly shared last week at the 2019 Kingdom Advisors Conference, you will learn that I became an advisor out of necessity, not purpose. You will also begin to understand that the level of fulfillment as a financial planner increased tremendously once I realized my work was not just a job but a calling. My role was to educate people in financial wisdom, which in reality, is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission by teaching them.

Once I realized my unique position where I was able to use my competency as a Certified Financial Planner® and incorporate the wisdom gained as a Certified Kingdom Advisor®, my career became my calling. I was finally in the sweet spot and was able to build deeper relationships with clients than ever before.

In my current role, I connect with many advisors across Canada who are very much like I was, enjoying their career and client relationships, yet sensing there is another level of fulfillment that can be reached. My experience is that you can flourish in your work when you realize God has called you to do that work. When you apply wisdom that is timeless (James 3:17) to the advice you share, the results are heavenly and you can enjoy the ride!

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.