Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2003
Dear Friend in Christ,
I am an investor; that is, I am willing to take a calculated risk in order to produce an increase. Most of us are investors in some way. Since I am not a qualified financial advisor, I will not offer any “hot stock tips” this month, but I will offer some biblical counsel on how to discern between a good investment and a bad one, and what should motivate us.
Jesus is not only the Son of God; He is the smartest person who ever lived. The dividends on His investments keep on piling up, and they will do so forever. Now lest you think that I am about to launch out on a “religious” tangent here, stay tuned….
A young executive asked an older executive for the secret of his success. “Good decisions,” the older man replied. “How do you make good decisions?” the young man asked. The older man thought further and answered, “Experience.” “How do you get experience?” the young man pressed on. “Bad Decisions,” the old executive responded.
Both our good and bad decisions serve to confirm what Jesus taught; and He certainly taught us much about investing. If we pay careful attention to His teaching, we can invest wisely with great returns (see Matthew 25:14-29, Luke 16:10-12, and Matthew 20:25-28).
INVENTORY & MOTIVE
We all have resources: time, energy, ability, and money. While we all have the same amount of time, other resources vary. Money is the value that society places on goods and services. In order to invest wisely, we need to know how much we have to sow into a particular opportunity. There are those who can help us assess our resources. My pastor and my accountant are two people who have helped me to know my spiritual and financial abilities.
A good knowledge of your resources will help you to avoid over-extension, or misuse of your abilities. Taking inventory will also help you to avoid starting a task that you cannot complete (see Luke 14:28). Taking inventory may also help you discover a resource that you might fail to recognize earlier. The five loaves and two fish were found by the disciples when Jesus told them to go look and see what they had available. This small resource was invested, and it fed 5000 people!
Increase is part of a true believer’s mentality. God’s first command to creation life was to be fruitful and multiply. Isaiah 9:7 says of the kingdom of God, “There will be no end to the increase….” Jesus told His disciples that true disciples would bear fruit. We should all seek to increase our resources and multiply our lives. But why?
Greed and selfishness also seek increase, but for the wrong reasons – power and self-fulfillment. Our spiritual enemy understands fallen human nature and often uses selfishness to destroy us. “This will make you rich quick,” is frequently the beginning of a sorrowful journey. The fact that you were going to use your wealth to support some good cause does not mitigate the disaster. Suppressing the desire for quick gain is a protection against bad decisions.
So what are right motives? Since our resources belong to God and we are accountable to Him for how we use them, here are some good questions that help us to assess good long-term investments:
Will this investment of my life, time, ability, and money benefit all who are involved?
Is it honest and straightforward? Does everyone know all the facts?
Do I know the “track record” of the parties involved?
Do I have enough resources to complete the project, or will it demand more than I can afford?
Will this investment potentially harm my own credibility?
Good investment partners do not mind answering questions, nor do they mind you getting advice. I once called a friend about a potential oil drilling investment. After investigation; he called back and said, “It seems like these people are making money off of investors instead of oil.” It was a good assessment and I heeded his advice.
So if Jesus is the smartest person who ever lived, what did He invest in? In a word: people. Yes, I know that it sounds like a “religious” answer, but look at it more closely. It is simple, but we often do not “get it.”
No matter how many ways Jesus tells us to focus on people, we often miss the point. In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus said that non-believers are seeking authority over people, but to be truly great, one must serve people. Of course, Jesus Himself gave His life. In another place, He stated that greatness is measured by breadth of service – to be “servant of all.”
Jesus served people at a personal level, healing, delivering and teaching. He often touched them. He is the greatest because He ministered to humanity’s greatest needs, to the greatest number of people possible.
INVESTING THE SERVICE
All kinds of service are the basis for investment. For example, computers were a great investment in recent years, because they served so many needs (of course greed sometimes diminished the quality of those investments). Someone said, “If you want to be wealthy, find a need and meet it.”
John Beckett is a successful entrepreneur and businessman, and a personal friend. He wrote an excellent book entitled, Loving Mondays. The subhead for the book is “Succeeding in business without selling your soul.” The essence of the book is integrating spiritual principles into work-related life. John not only instilled the service ethic in relationship to his customers, but into his work force as they learned to serve each other. It began with John setting an example of serving his employees on a personal level. He served them and they understood that principle as they served each other and their clients. The example at the top permeated the entire business culture.
True spirituality is both pleasing to God and it is practical. This kind of spiritual investment in service produces solid and sustained growth.
IMPORTANCE OF CULTURE
We are all affected by the culture in which we live, and we have the opportunity to affect culture. We have a serious stake in society. There is a current cultural war between a variety of spiritual and economic forces. We cannot be passive in this war, nor can we expect the Church to fight this battle alone. Many churches have already become victims of the wrong focus and bad theology.
The three primary world systems that battle against Judeo-Christian belief seem to be Secular Humanism, “New Age” pantheism, and Islam. Each of these has different ethical systems, economies, and outcomes. A major problem in the Church today is that many Christians are unclear as to the issues and outcomes_or, they are asleep. The impact upon the Church, family, business, and professions is very significant. Recovery of our basic cultural foundations is vital to our future. We must establish a stable environment for investment.
The creation of an environment of trust will be necessary to the public’s willingness to invest their resources. Serious conflict and uncertainty are the enemies of progress and prosperity. But how can we do this?
For the past sixty or more years, our culture has depended more and more upon institutions; and to create our culture, we have invested heavily in these institutions. The government, the educational systems, corporations, labor unions, and churches have been the focus of our energy and resources. In my view, many of our vital institutions have failed to serve the culture and the public. Corporations such as Enron, WorldCom, and Health South have demonstrated corporate betrayal. I would also include much of the American educational system (not the teachers themselves, but the overall system) as an example of betraying the public trust. The philosophy of much of our national education today is anti-Judeo-Christian in principle. While they seem to talk a great deal about “tolerance,” they are often very intolerant of Judeo-Christian teachings or displays.
The cost of drifting into relativism, removing ancient moral landmarks, rewriting history, and ignoring Divine counsel will be incalculable – and none of us can escape the taxation that it will exact.
If we cannot rely on institutions to maintain a culture of service, how can we change culture? For one thing, we can take another look at the smartest man who ever lived: what did Jesus do? While He addressed the institutions of His day, changing them was not His focus. He saw the future and invested wisely in people.
Jesus gave His life to serve individuals; in ministry, and on the Cross. He came to deliver us from ourselves into the service of God. How do we serve God? The answer is in Matthew 25:40: Serving “the least of these” is serving Him. Investing in human need is an investment in His purpose. It begins with the Gospel, but it doesn’t stop short of care and service. The disciples are examples of this transformation from self to service; they wanted power, but He wanted service. They learned His way and became truly great. They changed cultures across the world, and they are still influencing countless multitudes. In much of the world, their influence is growing.
Serving the practical needs of others is serving Jesus.
Serving must get to the personal level in order to be practical.
True spirituality is practical.
When our motive for investing is service, it means we understand what Jesus said.
If we take care of His business, He takes care of us (see Matthew 6:33).
The great thing about His approach to changing culture and investing is that we can all do it. We can all serve someone else’s personal needs. We can serve our family, our church, our employees, or employer. We can even serve a stranger. We can know what Jesus meant when He said, “It’s better to give than to receive.”
A giving culture is a serving culture composed of serving people with a serving ethic. If we lose this clear teaching of Jesus, we could lose more than our 401K’s and I.R.A.s. We could lose our marriages, our children, grandchildren, and our future. We could lose our souls. Service is good for business_God’s business and ours.
Scripture References: Matthew 6:33, 25:14-29, 20:25-28, 25:40; Luke 16:10-12; Luke 14:28; Isaiah 9:7