Few topics have drawn as much attention recently as investing. Record amounts of money have been lost in the stock market. Millions of people are fretting over retirement resources or the lack of them. Multitudes are looking for new investment strategies. I am part of that group, and since I believe the Scriptures are our best guide, I have been looking to them for instructions.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 16:1-9 that has some insight for investment strategies. In the story, a master hears that his manager is wasting money and notifies the manager that he is going to be fired. The manager then gets creative. He gives discounts to his master’s debtors in hopes that they will give him a place to stay when he loses his job. He is commended for his shrewdness (though not vindicated for his wastefulness or disloyalty). Jesus concludes the story with these instructions to his disciples: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
If Jesus was, in fact, referring to our life beyond the one on this earth, he was saying that management here and now affectslife then and there. We are all going to lose our management jobs here relatively soon. The average lifespan still hovers around 70-plus years. It is not a matter of if but when we will no longer be in charge of the stewardship of things here. We should be as shrewd as the money-manager in the story and use what we have now for eternal benefits. It is the epitome of foolishness for older men and women to continue to collect and hoard those things they will soon lose. Younger people who think they need to accumulate for their envisioned long life, are also being deceived by the temporal nature of monetary wealth.
Notice the way the manager in the story focused on establishing relationships. He used money to build relationships that would benefit him later. He knew he would soon lose the money and the job, but the relationships would last. Any sound investment should ultimately be about strengthening relationships. Exchanging money for the sake of gaining more money is missing the point. Knowing God and his people is the greatest wealth there is, and it will last forever. Investments that enable others to become all that God designed them to be are the investments that get recorded in heaven.
So what should we buy into during these days of uncertainty? Listen to a very wise and wealthy sage: “Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Proverbs 23:23).
In a day of “spin,” truth is valuable if you can find it at all. We are being told that truth is all relative to what one chooses to believe. Don’t buy that! Truth is ultimately found inrelationship with Jesus Christ (who said he was THE TRUTH). Don’t buy the religious pitch that truth is simply information or propositions. Get the real thing! Set your life’s goal to know him. Any investment of time and money in reaching that goal is very good. Only the truth will guarantee real freedom.
Buy wisdom! The wealthiest among us are the wise. Money without wisdom is first dangerous, then fleeting. If you can find people of wisdom and understanding, use your resources to establish close relationships with them. Don’t buy the celebrity bit. The unwise think they are significant if they associate with celebrities. The humble look for the sage.
What is wisdom? It isdivine perspective. None of us can see as broadly and clearly as God himself, but some have greater perspective than we do. Wisdom is both a gift and the result of living with God’s guidance. Wisdom produces God’s order in each situation. It cuts through the fog of confusing information and turns on the light. It counsels the mind, while comforting the soul.
It is sad to watch young pastors and ministry leaders ignore the wisdom of those around them as they build teams of young and energetic but inexperienced visionaries. They want to appeal to the younger mindset of the culture and seem afraid to access the wisdom of the older patriarchs. There are many older men and women who have walked with God through many exploits, yet now they sit alone watching their replacements struggle for lack of wisdom. We have bought marketing but sold wisdom. There is room in the budget for children, youth, men, women, missions, and marketing, but none for consulting with the wise.
Like in the parable, the people of this generation are wiser than the sons of light. Those in the business community have increasingly seen the value of consulting. They want someone from another perspective to evaluate them. They are willing to pay big money for wisdom. It is a good investment. It is interesting that when churches decide to enter a building project that will require lots of money, they will hire financial consultants to help raise the money. Or, if they want to increase the numbers of people coming to their programs, they will hire church growth experts. However, in theology, philosophy of ministry, personal holiness and disciple-making, they think they can do it alone. So, most churches end up housing large numbers of hungry people who never get the benefits of true discipleship, while those who have paid with pain for the experiences that lead to wisdom sit alone and watch.
It isn’t the corporate church alone that has neglected to buy wisdom. We as individuals are guilty as well. We spend for training in our vocation. We spend for our kid’s education. We spend for our retirement. We help fund church programs. We chip-in on mission ventures. However, a relatively small amount is spent buying the wisdom available if we only knew better how to communicate with God through his Spirit and the Scriptures. Make a list of the wise people you know. Set your goal to know and bless them. Listen to what you hear, and you will be miles ahead.
Buy time! It is a terrible commodity to waste. We only have so much of it, and then it is gone. We watch the terminally ill body fighting for just one more breath, and we see how precious time is. I plan to get ruthless toward those activities and habits that rob me of my time. Since each moment has the opportunity to see God, I want to be unencumbered in embracing that moment. It is time to stop whining about being busy. We have the privilege of being intentional with the most valuable asset we have—our time. It should be spent with joy and expectation. Being busy does not give us a badge of significance, but being intentional with your time will yield a rare satisfaction. No one is buying that your busy-ness means you are important. Stop it! Redeem the time. Use it for the most important purposes, and let the rest go.
Buy into the gospel! It alone can change people. When you invest here you are joining the purpose of history. God has always been about magnifying his Son. He has guaranteed the success of this project, and he will supply the resources for getting this done. You can’t make a more certain investment than promoting the supremacy of Christ Jesus. The dividends come now and forever. It is the ultimate relationship investment. Only through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ can mankind be reconciled to God. Only those reconciled to God will ever be reconciled to each other. Those who really care about world peace should invest heavily in the gospel.
“But there are so many ministries who ask for my help. How can I know which ones to help?” First, we must know what the gospel is. Lots of ministries claim to be proclaiming the gospel. It is our privilege and responsibility to know for ourselves what the New Testament teaches as its gospel. It is a large issue, but vital. Those who promise you pleasure, plenty, and painless living are suspect. Those who manipulate you with guilt should be avoided. Those who use the plight of the poor to fill their coffers should be despised. Those who suggest you can stimulate God by your actions are wrong. Though the gospel is too grand to fully explain, it certainly includes these foundational aspects:
- It centers on Jesus who fulfills the promises and hopes of the Old Testament.
- It includes the forgiveness of sins because of the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Christ.
- It excludes any other way to the Father.
- It offers the life of the Spirit who produces an ethic of love in those who believe. The life in the Spirit is primary, and the structures that grow up around it are secondary. The Bible is interpreted in light of Jesus and is the authoritative word of God for believers.
Don’t buy methods. Buy into message. Our society has conformed us into consummate consumers. We like that which caters to our comforts and conveniences. We like to be left alone, yet we want the benefits of the body of Christ, which demands interdependence. We too easily depend on media (which allows detachment) to define and declare the message. We tend toward large congregations where we can be informed and sometimes inspired without involvement in other’s lives. We appeal for contributions on the basis that we are successful in getting people to attend. The message is often massaged in order not to offend those who would attend and increase our numbers.
Have we forgotten that the natural man is not capable of knowing what only God can reveal by his Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-3:8)? If we dumb the message down to where the natural get it without faith, then it is not the gospel.
Buy into people but not personalities. Of course men and women lead ministries. We don’t just throw our investments into the air and expect God to keep what he wants. We invest in the message that is proclaimed by a particular ministry lead by physical people. Trust and respect are vital. They are imperfect and incomplete, but they must be knowable, believable, and approachable. Remember it is the message that will endure. All the people will pass away. But God processes his message through the lives of the people who proclaim it. Get to know them.
Buy into the kingdom of God and refuse to invest in the kingdom-building of men. God is invested in the whole creation, not just the church structures. He is more interested in the transformation of the marketplace than in the demands of those who turn his church into clubs with benefits. Even if no “church” sponsors the project, God likes for his people to get involved with blessing the community. Invest where Christian men and women are seeking to bring the order of God to the segments of society that need it.
There are plenty of opportunities to invest. Let’s get busy and refuse to whine. It is our time to reveal our distinctives. We are stewards of treasures more valuable than money, but money is one tool we must manage aggressively and accurately. If we ignore its power, it will rule us. How tragic to be set free by the death of Jesus only to become slaves of mammon. We are investors.
We will not be distracted or dismayed. We live in this earth while being people of heaven. It is time to stand up and make a difference.