For those who might be visiting my blog for the first time, some background. I grew up in the Church, The Episcopal Church specifically (although for the record I was baptized in a Lutheran Church, but since baptism is a universal sacrament, one is not “bound” to a specific denomination in baptism; one is baptized into Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church). After graduating college, my initial plan was to go to law school, but having worked as a paralegal for a few years with some large law firms, I had discovered that, at least in the litigation departments in which I worked, there was more an emphasis on billable hours as opposed to the “quest for truth and justice” my youthful idealism lead me to believe “the law” was all about. So in 1993, following in my father’s footsteps, I entered the financial services industry as a registered representative with A.G. Edwards and Sons. Edwards a the time was the 6th largest brokerage firm in America, the largest not headquartered on Wall Street. They were a family business, run by the descendants of Albert Galatin Edwards, in 1993 that was Benjamin F. Edwards III. Passing my NASD exams (Series 7 and 63) and completing the Edwards training program, I was off and running, My dad was a broker on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody and Co,, the firm he started with after graduating college in 1959. He had built a successful practice and was an expert stock picker. Dad loved to dive deep into annual reports, loved reading corporate balance sheets and income statements. He was a disciple of Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett, and would make one of the highlights of dad’s year was to make the pilgrimage to Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in May. A few times I had to remind dad, as he would preach the gospel of value investing to me, the it was Jesus who died to save him, not Graham or Buffett.
In 1994 I convinced dad to leave Kidder and join me at A.G. Edwards in Princeton, NJ. Kidder had been bought and sold, was owned by GE in 1994, and dad did not very much like how the culture at Kidder had changed. Plus mom was battling cancer, and eliminating a two-hour round-trip commute to NYC would help mom and dad in mom’s cancer fight. So dad joined me at Edwards, and I was fortunate to work with him for a few years at Edwards. Until God got my attention. God really got my attention, upending my life. God, you see, is the ultimate disruptor, and while my plans might have been to continue working at Edwards, God’s plans were for me to enter the ordination process in The Episcopal Church. So in August 2001 I moved with my family into New York City and enrolled as a seminarian at The General Theological Seminary of The Episcopal Church. Three weeks after moving into the City I started classes on September 10, 2001. The next day was a glorious Tuesday, September 11, 2001. We lived a mile and a half from the World Trade Center when two fuel-laden jets struck the Twin Towers. Life was changed (again.)
After graduating seminary on 2004 I served congregations in New Jersey for eighty years as a priest, the last four years at a truly dysfunctional church that should have had yellow police tape around the exterior warning people not to enter this “crime scene.” It was a church that had been through a series of disasters involving alcoholic clergy, sexual misconduct, and a fire that destroyed the church building in the years prior to my arrival. So I served there for four years, tried to lead this scattered flock back to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, but all along the way there was too much conflict, too much division, too much dysfunction (we even found that someone had hidden a small brass demon statuette in the parish library behind a bookshelf!). Crazy stuff. So after four years, I left the full-time exercise of my ordained ministry. We moved to South Carolina. Within a year of our move to the South, I was back again serving in the Church, at a small rural church in Chester, SC. They paid me what they could, which wasn’t a living wage. So in 2016, the Lord led me back to financial services.
So that’s a “little” background. In my practice now I work with individuals, families, and business owners helping them to align their faith and values with their financial plans and investments. And especially for Christians, it is vitally important that we understand that how we handle and manage the money God has entrusted to our care is a vital act of worship. We proceed from the understanding that God owns it all. Regarding Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit working through the apostle Paul wrote, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” God owns it all, even the money in our wallets, bank accounts, mutual funds, 401(k)s and so on. It is God’s money that we save and invest.
The Scriptures speak frequently about money and possessions. Over 2000 verses in the Bible address the issues of money and possessions. Why so many words or ink spilled about money and possessions. Because as sinful human beings one issue with which we all wrestle is idolatry. During the Exodus God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, and in God’s directions to his chosen people He instructed Israel, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Well, for many, many people, money and possessions have essentially become gods. The accumulation of wealth and possessions for many Americans is their primary goal in life, the reason they get out of bed in the morning and head off to work. Yes, we say we’re doing it for our family so they can “have a better life,” but the reality is that we are trying accumulate as much money and as many things so that we win the never ending contest: He (or she) who dies with the most things, wins! And the altar at which we worship is the altar of the god mammon.
Jesus warned us about the idols of money and possessions. “No one can serve two masters,” our Lord warns, “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 (Matthew 6:24).” Put another way, using the words of Bob Dylan, “it might be the devil, or it might be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” So we are faced with a challenge: who (or what) is our god? Who are you going to serve?
For anyone I’d encourage choosing serving the Lord. God has provided us with everything we need, and with our wealth, we are called to care for and provide for our families AND be a blessing to others. In his letter to his protege Timothy the apostle Paul wrote, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Americans are rich people. We might not think so, but if you travel outside our country and visit Third World countries, for example, you will see even how the relatively poor in America are rich in comparison to the residents of Malawi, for example, or Haiti. Our challenge is management or stewardship of what God has entrusted to our care. Do we live for ourselves alone, storing up wealth for ourselves, or do we heed the call of Jesus to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?
Additionally, when we invest our money–or rather, when we invest God’s money–do we do so in such as way as to glorify God? Or are we focused solely on generating above-average returns at whatever cost? Working with clients I help them uncover or discover what they own in their portfolios. Is Mr. Client a devout Christian opposed to abortion? Is his portfolio invested in companies that manufacture abortiofacient drugs? Or did his mother die of lung cancer after years of smoking–and his portfolio holdings include tobacco product manufacturers? As stockholders, you see, we are owners of such companies, not just customers. We therefore are responsible as owners for the products our companies manufacture and distribute. And do those products glorify God? Do they create blessing, or do they impede human flourishing. One mutual fund company that does a great job of promoting faith-based investing has as their tagline, “Investing that makes the world rejoice.” It’s a great tagline. Its also investing that honors God.
How we handle our wealth and possessions–sorry, God’s wealth and God’s possessions–are a vital act of worship. God cares deeply about how we steward the resources He has entrusted to our care, which includes money and possessions but also the entirety of God’s Creation, including the earth and each other. I encourage you to consider that God owns all that you have and all that you are. Live your life in such a way that you bring God glory, and that YOU make the world rejoice.