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!

Truth for the Troubled

Truth for the Troubled

When I went to school, I naively thought the idea was simply to memorize many facts for exam time. Little did I realize that an isolated fact is like a stray piece of a puzzle. It’s an object, an article, a fragment of information, a bit of trivia. Truth, on the other hand, is all about meaning. To put it another way, discerning truth is a matter of interpreting the facts.

Facts are obviously an important part of education and learning, but may lack meaning. Truth is more about the application of those facts. Our goal as parents is to have our children love learning and discover truth that will help them navigate life with purpose.

The fact is this: truth has been more impactful in my life than the facts I learned in school. Truth has guided me in a way that facts never could.

Photo by Terry Grimes (Divine Design)

As a professional, I desire the people I work with to discover principles that can guide them in their careers. In most fields of work today, “continuing education” is required because we are not designed to stop learning. Facts can change but truth is constant and becomes the foundation for our lives.

Life can be very difficult at times when we examine the fact of a particular situation that is facing us. We need truth to guide us through these times. I was reminded this past week about how challenging it can be for a person to find direction in life; it can truly be a struggle. Here is some wisdom and advice that has helped me:

  • Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established. (Advice from Proverbs 4:25-25 HCSB)
  • God is capable of “making my footsteps firm” (Psalms 40:2) giving us a sense of security for the way forward.
  • God is able to establish us (Psm. 37:23) and keep our feet from slipping (Psm. 66:9).
  • When we find ourselves in a dark place, in the midst of despair, God can rescue us if we cry for help (Psm. 30: 2,3).
  • Sometimes God doesn’t seem to hear us or speak to us and we “become like those who go down to the pit” (Psm. 28:1 NASB). We need communication with God or we can shift to a dark place (down to the pit). There is a sense of despair among this group because they see themselves “as good as dead and completely helpless” (Psm. 88:4 CEV). We are not actually without strength but are made to feel like we have no strength, then we begin to believe we have no strength.
  • We need to pray: “Answer me quickly … or I will become like those who go down” into that dark place (Psm. 143:7 NASB).
  • When it seems there is no one who can help us out of the pit (a dark place), we can still pray: “Don’t stay far off when I am in trouble with no one to help me” (Psm. 22:11 CEV).
  • Remember, “he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help” (Psm. 72:12 NIV).

When we isolate and focus only on the burdensome facts surrounding a situation in life it can lead us to a place of despair. The truth is we have a God who cares even when there seems to be nothing but darkness. The truth of God’s Word gives hope that light can shine in the midst of any darkness and deliver even when no one else can!

Have you ever or are you now in a dark place? Have you ever felt disconnected from God, like He is not hearing your prayers and you are not hearing his voice?

“Where Was God?”

“Where Was God?”

8090B62D-A050-4801-AF8D-A6311B72E04F“Why did this happen? Where was God?” These are the two major questions that were posed by the team pastor at the Humboldt Broncos vigil.

Humboldt Broncos vigil: Team pastor delivers tearful and powerful address

The beautiful part of his answer is that He is with us, that He is with the broken hearted. The more challenging part of his answer is when he said, “God is on the throne.” The thought that immediately follows is that if God is on the throne, He is, therefore, in control. As these thoughts were being expressed, the camera was on a tearful young lady who was shaking her head as if to say “No.”

Rejection of this kind of thinking at a time like this is understandable. “How can a loving God allow such a tragedy to happen?” If you look closer at the Scriptures, you will find that God is more accurately pictured as sovereign, which is actually different than being “in control.” As a matter of fact, the Scripture says, “that the world around us is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Can I suggest that this tragedy had  more to do with the “evil one” than the God who is sovereign? Why did this happen? The evil one is said to have a purpose of stealing, killing and destroying (John 10:10). Why not bring the evil one a little more into focus for the responsibility of these types of circumstances or even just human failure?

Read a previous blog to help answer the question: Is God Really in Control?

In this blog, I use the example of the Queen, who is considered the Sovereign over Canada, but she does not control the decisions or even influence the government of Canada. Interestingly, the Queen sent a message of condolence which is definitely a positive thing. My concern is more about the message the Sovereign God is trying to send.

The fact is, we experience hardship in this life and the primary reason is that satan and sin are still at large in this broken world. During times like these, we certainly shake our heads “no” and may be tempted to think that God is not there and is not sovereign or reigning. He is, however, very much interested in your brokenness and can somehow bring good from the evil that has happened. That can be very difficult to comprehend at a time like this. In fact, He can take these awful events that satan intends for evil and turn them around, and bring eternal good out of them.

Maybe instead of asking, “Where was God” we should ask, “Where is God now?” God’s promise is this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Pastors may not have all the answers during such difficult times, but we can all have the confidence that, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We can all have the assurance that God is with us in life’s darkest valley.

Estate Planning vs Legacy Planning

Estate Planning vs Legacy Planning

I have been very intrigued by the content in this month’s Kingdom Advisor’s study group centring around legacy and the importance of having an impact beyond my lifetime. Everyone was challenged with the difference between estate planning and legacy planning. In particular, legacy planning not only represents a change in terminology, but it changes the lens through which we see things. Specifically, estate planning has a one-generational focus (transferring wealth to your heirs) while legacy planning looks to impact 5-7 generations (transferring values to multiple generations). That requires a bigger vision and a broader perspective than advisors or clients typically focus on.

Financial professionals are uniquely positioned to invest in the lives of clients. I know as an advisor my discussions focused more on Estate/Wealth Planning rather than Legacy Planning, so this study stretched me to expand my thinking.

Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 10.31.44 AM

My parents are presently visiting with us and this past weekend our son and grandson visited, so we had four generations in our home. My Dad shared stories with us about how his faith and relationship with God were developed as a young minister and also the impact his own father had upon that faith. Most of these stories I had heard before but my son and daughter-in-law listened intently while baby Ernest slept through it all. I thought how important this time was and wondered if generations yet unborn would benefit from hearing the same stories. To see how God was active in the lives of my parents and grandparents helps to inspire my faith so I am sure it can impact others.

4generationsThink about the business of family for a moment – isn’t it truly about legacy planning?

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past–stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wonders. For he issued his laws to Jacob; he gave his instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them–even the children not yet born–and they in turn will teach their own children. Psalm 78:2-6

These verses instruct families specifically to focus on legacy planning which is clearly beyond one generation. I encouraged my Dad to write these things down so the events of his life could be passed on to the children not yet born. That way, his life reaches beyond his years lived on this earth. Many people may feel estate planning is just for those who have wealth, but legacy planning is for everyone.

Ron Blue provides some excellent advice in his book “Splitting Heirs,” when he describes the “Wisdom Principle” which is to “transfer wisdom before wealth. Wealth never creates wisdom. Wisdom may create wealth.” If you think about it “wealth” is the focus of estate planning, while “wisdom” is the focus of legacy planning.

We need to think deeper about the time we are each given. We all have 24 hours per day, and 168 hours per week. On the topic of stewardship Ken Boa says,

“What differentiates people isn’t the amount of time available to them, but the manner in which they exercise their gifts and talents within the available time. We can waste time; we can spend time; or we can invest our time wisely. That’s what stewardship is about: faithfully developing and using our gifts, talents and resources within the amount of time God has allotted to us.”

We have time in an equal measure, but we must be intentional about how we spend it or invest it. The fact is that we often just spend our time when we should be investing it.  Talents are not in equal measure to everyone. We are unique and each has different gifts. Our focus tends to be more about using these gifts to grow wealth and much less  about the growth of our heirs.

Thinking beyond our life can be very challenging because it stretches us outside of our normal pattern of thought. Maybe our perspective needs an adjustment so we consider more the impact we can have upon “the children not yet born.” That takes intentionality and a shift of focus. Our efforts must move toward transferring our values and wisdom  as a guide to govern future generations and less effort on accumulating and transferring wealth. It seems if we get the legacy planning right, the estate planning will be so much easier.

The accumulation and eventual transfer of wealth is a major part of financial planning. If we fail to give proper attention to the legacy planning, we have truly missed the reason that we were entrusted with the wealth in the first place.

Are we spending our time creating something that will only benefit one generation? Can we be more intentional in our investment of time and leave a legacy that extends 5-7 generations?

Are You Hearing But Not Understanding?

Are You Hearing But Not Understanding?

Just over two years ago, I had surgery on my shoulder and I now visit a specialist every six months. Recently, I had another visit and I usually take my wife with me to help me understand since the doctor has a very strong French accent. Even though he speaks English, it can be very difficult to grasp the meaning of his words. During the appointment, he asked a question, but we just looked at each other bewildered because neither of us understood a word. He repeated it with the same result. He was saying “Ohh-ta-wah” in such a way that when it was placed in a sentence, we just couldn’t understand. After stating it the third time, we both realized he was asking if my surgery had been done here in Ottawa.

Have you ever heard someone but not understood what they said?

yesbymagnet_1Sometimes, language or dialect can be a barrier to understanding. I recall when we had friends from Ontario visit us in Newfoundland and we had a conversation with some locals. Our friends heard us speaking, but did not understand. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked because the very tone of the common phrase, “Yes b’y,” actually changes its meaning.

The effort required to hear a sound compared to the effort required to process it, is exponential. Understanding is logically the step that follows hearing, unless, of course, it involves a politician.

prime-minister-trudeauPoliticians typically only say what they want us to hear and we have to dig deeper if we desire to get the entire meaning; otherwise our perspective remains limited. For example, the Trudeau government often claims it has cut taxes for middle-class Canadian families. A recent article helped me understand that while it did reduce the second lowest federal income tax rate (from 22 to 20.5 per cent), it also eliminated a number of tax credits, thereby increasing income taxes for Canadians who previously claimed such credits. Result: 81% of middle-class Canadian families with children are paying more in personal income taxes.

The Liberals quickly speak of reduced tax rates, but the elimination of tax credits enlightens our understanding of the issue. What we comprehend about any issue or even a person, depends on what we hear (and read).

perspectiveIf you think about it, the perspective from which you see things can be the very obstacle that prevents you from seeing another point of view.  (Doesn’t this graphic resemble a political debate? It totally depends on which side you are on).

The Bible has some interesting things to say regarding understanding:

  1. One instruction is to not depend on your own understanding. Maybe one of the reasons is that our own understanding limits our ability to understand others.
  2. Also, “By understanding He (The LORD) established the heavens.” What did God understand?  Was it an understanding of the power of sound and what is formed from vibrations? Maybe the reason God spoke was to cause vibrations to form the earth. What did He establish? Heaven represents an eternal dwelling place for believers. If God is an example for us then, the purpose of understanding is to establish something that is eternal and meaningful to others.
  3. Mankind has the capacity to understand the deeper things that are buried within a person. The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.  If you think about your work, it may be important to understand others to bring clarity to them. Financial professionals can actually be a key to help clients see their inner purpose, why they have so much, or even why they have faced some troubles in life.
  4. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, so that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. Faith is not the opposite of reason, but actually a higher dimension of understanding. Think about the dreams within a person; they are actually unseen until exposed. If it is a dream of writing a book, it exists only in the mind of the author and only becomes visible when written.

In our work we should:

  1. realize “our own understanding” can be limited and should not always be relied on
  2. know we are called to establish something eternally significant through our lives
  3. understand others to expose the purpose that is often hidden deep within a person
  4. identify that faith can add a higher (or deeper) level of understanding

UnderstandingIn a conversation, an accountant told me he keeps his antennas raised when in discussion with clients. Since mankind is spiritual, our spirits are meant to be active and sensitive, which leads to an understanding of others. It is the spirit in man … that makes him understand. This depth of understanding is the requirement to draw out purpose.

In our efforts to understand others, how often do we simply rely on our own thoughts?  By ignoring our inner person (not having our antennas up), are we missing the greatest opportunities to explore the deep waters (purpose) hidden within others?