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?

Can You Be Thankful for Tough Times?

Can You Be Thankful for Tough Times?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom for Financial Advisors

Wisdom for Financial Advisors

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

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

Randy Alcorn, Money Possessions & Eternity, p. 291

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May this be the prayer of every Christian financial advisor.

(Mis-)Understanding God’s Call

(Mis-)Understanding God’s Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Waste This Crisis

Don’t Waste This Crisis

In his weekly commentary released on March 23, 2020, Senior Portfolio Manager, Chief Equity Strategist, Bob Doll states:

We think stocks remain in a bottoming process. Bottoming is a process, not an event, meaning this could take some time.

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blog.afraidto trade.com

As a financial advisor in 2008, I, too, experienced the painful process of the market bottoming out. It seemed like the drop in the market was also reflective of my life. In the months (even years) leading up to 2008, I was struggling to understand my purpose and God’s call on my life. That fall, I was asked to put my name forward in the Federal General Election and despite my slim odds of winning, I became a candidate. (The steepest drop on the chart highlighted in yellow represents the bail-out vote failure and also the time period that I was campaigning). My political career was short! After the loss on election night, I was back to facing the reality of significant financial loss in clients’ portfolios and the stress of a more difficult work situation. My emotions paralleled the chart of the stock market crash at that time.

 

This time of crisis caused me to question everything. Through a deep time of soul searching, I began to see what was previously hidden to me. I had imagined my work only to be God’s provision when in fact, it was God’s providence in a much deeper way than I had realized. He had always been part of my life but I had not made Him part of my practice. Through this process of bottoming, my practice became more than just a job; this was a mission, a fulfillment of God’s purpose for me. I was walking with clients through some of the most difficult times in their lives.  I was able to bring focus and provide a perspective that they needed in this financial storm. My life wasn’t to be a search to find God’s call but rather a living out of that call where God had already placed me – in a financial planning career!

There is a spiritual purpose when crisis happens.  I had to run to God, and nowhere else, as a refuge during my ‘perfect storm” of 2008.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are protected. The wealth of the rich is his fortified city; in his imagination it is like a high wall (Proverbs 18:10-11 CSB).

This proverb reveals that the greatest risk of wealth is “spiritual risk.” Most believe the greatest risk is the potential loss in value from our investment choices; that’s investment risk. However, the spiritual risk of trusting the security of money rather than seeing the Lord as our strong fortress is dangerous. We can begin to trust it more than God. Oftentimes, we imagine money to provide more security than is possible. Crisis has a way of refocusing us like nothing else.

Coronavirus is invisible, yet, we see the effects of it in our world today. What if the purpose of this crisis is to cause us to spiritually see the invisible? Dr. Tony Evans said, “If all you see is what you see, you do not see all there is to be seen.”

Maybe a pandemic and economic crisis is meant to open our eyes to the invisible.  Wisdom teaches that instead of imagining money and even our jobs, as our security, we should run to the only true refuge; the name of the Lord.  We must allow the invisible to affect us, especially in crisis. Don’t let this crisis go to waste. If we come through this and are able to see what was previously hidden, then this crisis has an eye-opening, spiritual purpose.

How are you feeling in the midst of this storm? How will you use this crisis ?

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?

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?

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!