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?

 

 

 

It’s Labour Day Weekend!

It’s Labour Day Weekend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Money Talks, What’s it Saying?

If Money Talks, What’s it Saying?

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

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

Winston Churchill

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

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

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

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

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

Think about how you can use money:

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

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

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

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

My Work and Easter

My Work and Easter

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

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

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

How Easter Changes Everything About Your Work

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

1 Cor. 15:14

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

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

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

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

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

NT Wright ends with this statement:

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Terry Grimes (Divine Design)

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.