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 Remember Ralph

I Remember Ralph

The last few weeks have been very difficult for Cathy and I; we have gotten a glimpse of the “valley of the shadow of death.” Yes, death touches us all, but the closer it comes to us, the more challenging it can be. Maintaining an eternal perspective is the key when walking through these times.

First, our friend and former neighbour, Marlene Baker, lost her physical battle with cancer. When we last visited home (Newfoundland), we spent some time with Gerald and Marlene and they were actually the last two we saw because we have not been able to return due to the pandemic. It was difficult to lose such a good friend.

Speaking of the pandemic, two days after Marlene’s passing, Cathy’s first cousin, Mitch Ball, only 48, took his last breath after being on a ventilator for two weeks. I had never met Mitch but it’s a shock when someone younger than yourself loses his life without really having the ability to say good-bye to his parents, wife or children.

A week later, Cathy’s Aunt Flo, who was 88, had a heart attack but thankfully, was able to say good-bye to her family. When our kids were younger, we would visit during the summer and we have so many fond memories of her over the years.

One day after Aunt Flo’s passing, the tragic accident of our friend Ralph Benson occurred. I graduated from Bible college with Ralph in 1985 but we were more classmates than friends. Almost 10 years older than me, he was a married student living off-campus. We both went into pastoral ministry, had seen each other through the years and most recently, enjoyed a few deep conversations. I respected Ralph because I saw in him a heart after God, truly caring for people.

Ralph & Paulette at Ministry to Missionaries in 2016

Honestly, in his death, I gained more respect for my friend and his ministry. At the funeral, his son, Adam, told how his own three-year-old son asked the question, “Why did Poppy have to go to heaven?” The response provides such an eternal perspective: “Poppy’s work for God on earth is done, now Poppy’s work continues in heaven” (my paraphrase).

I appreciated hearing from Ralph’s children and in-laws. One described him by saying despite his being a pastor, “he was not a subscriber of religion.” That explains to me why he was able to accept this son-in-law into the family, who had fathered a child before meeting and marrying Ralph’s daughter. He displayed not only a father’s heart but also a pastor’s heart by welcoming not only a new son, but also a grandson. That is more of a challenge when a pastor is subscribed to religion. How many relationships have been severed or hindered because of religion?

One of the things shared at the funeral was how he accepted people even when they messed up. The words shared by Evangel’s Administrative Assistant was, “He helped me understand grace.” Ralph demonstrated the love of Christ, shared the truth of the good news, but he led with grace in order to infuse life-changing truth. Generally, the church is more known for “preaching the truth” and if you don’t line up with that truth, you are an outsider and remain that way until your behaviour lines up with that truth. When a pastor leads with grace, the church learns to accept people as they are, with all their failures and mistakes. Grace provides the time needed for the truth to penetrate lives providing the opportunity to change.

Thank you Mike Freake for sharing your heart at the celebration of Ralph’s life. He said Ralph “was stubborn about people – he gave people a chance and God did the work.” In that regard, he refused to institute policy because situations were so different. Mike, you revealed so much about his heart as he pastored Evangel in Gander for the past 19 years especially that he preached grace for the first 6-7 years!

“He wanted to rebrand the church – A heart for people.” Ralph clearly understood that the church was not meant to be only a place that believers gather to worship. “He wanted this building to be constructed not for a congregation, but he wanted this building constructed for a community.” The church building is a place of worship but this was never meant to be the limit of its work. Its energy, focus and resources are to be on meeting needs in the community: a furniture warehouse, a place to meet socially, to exercise, even to provide housing for many who may have financial difficulty. It was refreshing to hear that while believers may be gathered for worship, others are also in the building for different reasons. “Everyday of the week there are classes happening, sports, community exercise groups, people of all faiths and no faith in the building.” How cool is that? This is not a typical Sunday morning in a church building, because the church is clearly not subscribing to religion either.

Let the church be the church! If church buildings are only being used for religious activities like Sunday gatherings and mid-week prayer, are we really being the church? Our buildings should function for the community as much or more than it functions for its members.

I have to be honest, I felt a profound heaviness over Ralph’s passing; it was certainly a most unexpected death, but after watching his home-going service, my spirit was truly lifted, especially when I saw what became his favourite t-shirt – “65 and fully alive!” He explained to his grandchildren that he was never going to die! The accident on May 9th shifted Ralph from the land of the dying to the land of the living. He is now truly alive! We may feel that his work on earth is complete but I get the sense that it will continue on through countless others who have been well equipped with the same spirit that Ralph Benson possessed.

Is There Wisdom in Losing Wealth?

Is There Wisdom in Losing Wealth?

I read the story of the prodigal son this week. Considering the context of this chapter in Luke’s gospel, the focus is on the things that are lost: the sheep, the coin and the son. The other consideration around loss that is seldom spoken about is the loss of wealth.

What a challenging decision it must have been for the father when the son asks for his inheritance. I expect the father may have known or would have at least suspected how the son was likely to handle the amount he agreed to transfer to his account. Parents usually have some idea about the path a child may choose to walk, especially when they ask for money. Did he know that the son was, in many respects, already lost since he was discontent and felt receiving these funds would answer this discontentment? I have never considered before that maybe the father knew that the only way for his son to truly “be found” and “come to his senses” was to give him his inheritance.

At the time of writing this blog, the verse of the day in the Bible app is this:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 

1 John 2:15
https://www.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/1JN.2.15-16/6032?version=116

I have never connected these verses with the prodigal son before, but there is an alignment. There is a competition in each of us for our hearts. What the prodigal saw in front of him was pleasure and possessions; without realizing it he being pulled from the love of the father. Jesus revealed the greatest competitor for our hearts.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus – Matthew 6:24 ESV: English Standard Version 2016

In some sense, maybe the father was actually choosing to invest in his son’s future by giving the inheritance. The story reveals that the wealth given to the son would be completely consumed, so in that sense the return on investment (ROI) was not that great. However, the son hits rock bottom and decides to return to the father. It seems the father was willing to take a loss on the financial side in order for his son to come back to who and where he was supposed to be. The money was lost but the son was found and the rejoicing begins. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son were recovered, but likely the lost wealth was not found. It seems the father was ok to sacrifice the wealth to save the son.

Ron Blue shared a story about parents completing their will and interestingly, their son had a lifestyle they did not approve of. They were thinking because of this they might “cut him out of their will.” Ron asked an important question: “What is the likelihood of your son returning to the Lord if he receives nothing when you pass on?” They had to admit that the chances were nil. Then Ron asked, “Well then, what’s the likelihood of your son returning to the Lord if he IS included in your will?” The fact is, his heart would be more open to the Lord if he was included in their will. I believe that is the heart expressed by the father of the prodigal.

It seems clear to me that one of the overlooked messages that can be taken from prodigal son is this: It’s more important to pass on wisdom to your children than it is to pass on wealth. We need to practice the wisdom principle.

“If you pass wisdom to your children, you probably can pass wealth to them. If they have enough wisdom, then they may not need your wealth.”

Ron Blue, Splitting Heirs, page 70

When discussing the transfer of wealth to children, Ron recommends asking yourself three questions:

  • What’s the worst thing that can happen if I transfer wealth to ___________?
  • How serious is it?
  • How likely is it to occur?

Preparing the next steward to receive any wealth we transfer is a significant part of a parents responsibility.

Is it possible that the prodigal gained enough wisdom to be a better steward in the future? Are you intentionally passing on wisdom to your children? Sometimes more is “caught” than “taught” and our children pick up our wisdom unintentionally.

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?

2020 Vision – Do You Have a Clear Eye?

2020 Vision – Do You Have a Clear Eye?

At the beginning of this year, many referenced 2020 using the analogy of 20/20 eyesight – an ability to see clearly. In hindsight, did anyone see what the year would actually bring?

It’s interesting that two people can view the same circumstance yet, have two very different perspectives. Even reflecting on the US election in November, it has shown a nation that is divided by so many issues whether political, racial or religious. Without a mind shift, we are typically unable to see or understand a different perspective. The fact is our vision is often not as clear as we might think.

Jesus made this statement:

The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.”

Jesus – Matt. 6:22

The context of this verse is about storing up treasures in heaven, and not storing up treasures on the earth (Matt 6:19-24). The reference to “the eye” (in verses 22 & 23) almost seems to be out of place and off the topic of storing up treasure, whether on the earth or in heaven. If we examine more closely, we will see more clearly.

The word clear can be translated healthy or generous which helps us understand better what Jesus meant. He was really saying that generosity (or lack of generosity) is more impactful than we realize. He was helping us make a connection between what we do with our money here on earth so it can help us store up treasure in heaven. If our eye is generous, we have a longer term perspective.

Jesus described the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 20 by explaining how a landowner hired labourers for his vineyard. He hired them for an agreed amount for the entire day and also hired others throughout the day, meaning they worked less hours than those hired in the morning. The landowner paid all of them a denarius (equivalent of a days wage). Those who were hired first then complained when they discovered that others who worked less hours received the same pay as they did for working the entire day. After hearing the grumbling, the response of the landowner is most interesting:

“Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?”

Jesus – Matt. 20:15

In other words, Jesus was saying your eye is not healthy or generous, but rather jealous. Why did Jesus reference the eye? Take a look at Proverbs 28:22, “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth …” which explains what Jesus was referencing when he shared this story. He said they had “an evil eye” or were jealous because of their perceived wage discrepancy. Through this story, Jesus was teaching that having a generous heart is preferred, rather than a heart focused on greed. None of us would be quick to admit we are guilty of greed, but the message of the kingdom of heaven is always toward generosity. “He who is generous (has a good eye) will be blessed …” (Prov. 22:9).

Regarding the phrase in Matthew 6:22, “your whole body will be full of light,” means that if your eye is generous:

“all (your) actions will be influenced by this noble principle;
(your) whole life will be illuminated, guided and governed by it;
(your) mind will be cheerful and pleasant, and
(your) estate and condition will be prosperous and successful.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

Generosity extends beyond finances.

When considering social media, it is not difficult to find an “evil eye” or lack of generosity when it comes to our words and interactions with one another. I’ve read how one person accused another of being like an ostrich with their head stuck in the sand as it relates to a particular issue. These people have never met, yet, the words are anything but generous toward the other and the exchange does not focus on trying to understand the other person’s perspective.

Back to the story of the landowner; it ends with: “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. In the kingdom of heaven, the focus is on generosity, on putting others ahead of ourselves, the opposite of greed or an evil eye. Proverbs 22:9 says, “He who has a good eye will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” A bountiful or generous eye is the great differentiator!

I read a post that said, “Our Lord describes the eye as a lamp which lights the entire body. Our eyes are the entrance to our hearts and minds and, as such, they provide a doorway to our very souls.” It goes on to say “The Bible tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. That’s his great deception—to make people think they’ve found the light when in fact it’s the darkness of false light (2 Corinthians 11:14). His intention is to blind us to truth and corrupt our minds, and he uses our eyes to gain entrance to our hearts.”

Photo by: Terry Grimes (Reminds me of the star of Bethlehem or the Christmas star)

The goal of Jesus telling this story is to expose the darkness that is often present in our hearts. One of the reasons we celebrate Christmas at this time of the year is because it is literally one of the darkest times of the year (the shortest days of the year are in December). Light is most visible in the darkest of times. We can be a source of light to those around us if there is a light that is within us. We can only share what we possess.

“The lamp of the body is the eye …”

May we display that light when others look into our eyes. When people look into your eyes, do they see light or darkness? When others read your posts on social media, do they see generosity or not? Are we focused on the accumulation of wealth here on earth or riches toward God?

These are very sobering questions and the answers reveal that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Have You Hit Bottom Yet?

Have You Hit Bottom Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 4.34.40 PM

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

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

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

 

 

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?

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?