Inspire CEO Answers A Reader’s Questions About Biblically Responsible Investing

The Christian Post recently published my article “Financial Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice“, which deals with the idea that God cares about the morality of the source of the money that we give back to Him as an offering, as taught in scriptures such as Deuteronomy 23:18, and the implications for investors regarding the profits we earn from our investment choices.

In reply to this article, one reader posted a comment under the name “Christian Commenter” and expressed some thoughtful questions that I have found to be very commonplace among believers when first presented with the scriptural teaching around investment stewardship and biblically responsible investing (BRI). I know there are more Christian investors out there with these same questions, so I thought it might be helpful and informative for others who are just starting to explore God’s call to holiness in the area of finances and investing to share this conversation.

Following are “Christian Commenter’s” questions and my own responses. I pray these thoughts help you catch the vision and join the BRI movement along with our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe who are investing billions of dollars of God’s money for God’s glory and their joy in the biblically responsible investing movement.


“Christian Commenter”: While I agree with some aspects of this article, I continued to read with the following question in my mind: What connection does the author have to this topic? Finally, at the end, we see that the author is the CEO of a company that would benefit directly from what he is proposing. That is self-serving and becomes a written advertisement for his company’s services under the guise of a Biblical mandate.

Robert’s Answer: Yes, I certainly have a conflict of interest as I run a biblically responsible investing (BRI) company, and as you mentioned I am not trying to hide that fact in any way. However, I got my start in this industry at Wells Fargo Private Client Services with a rather cushy job serving high net worth families and was completely oblivious to the concept of BRI. It was only after the Lord hit me with a “road to Damascus” moment that I began investing completely according to BRI guidelines – at much personal cost and risk, I might add, as it required me to leave my position and all my income and job security without much to go on but a clear calling and conviction from the Holy Spirit. (You can read about my story here if you want to learn more about my journey). 

I would also add that just because I have a conflict of interest does not mean that the biblical teaching I am sharing is incorrect. Pastors preach the biblical mandate to give money to the work of God, which is clearly a conflict of interest as it benefits them directly, but that pastor is fulfilling his duty to preach faithfully the word of God and the Bible does in fact command us to give joyfully to the church. I would encourage you to examine the scriptures I mention for yourself in relation to investment stewardship and decide if what I am saying has any merit, despite any conflict of interest I might have.

“Christian Commenter”: Beyond that, though, let’s continue with the author’s reasoning and ask him this question: If it is wrong to invest in companies that hold to anti-Christian views, isn’t it just as wrong to work for those companies? Shouldn’t Christians be told not to work for them as well because their wages would be the same as the profits from investments?

Robert’s Answer: Great question! And the answer is “sometimes”. 

Should a Christian invest in a chain of strip clubs? Certainly not. 

Should a Christian work at a strip club? Certainly not. 

Should a Christian invest in an abortion drug manufacturing company? Certainly not. 

Should a Christian work at developing and manufacturing abortion drugs? Certainly not. 

I would hope there is no disagreement on these points. However, what about a more nuanced situation, like should a Christian work in the accounting department at Netflix, even though they sell a lot of pornographic movies? I believe there is no clear scriptural mandate that would prohibit a believer from working there, as long as their work was not directly related to the production or promotion of the “adult entertainment” that is widely available on that streaming service. (For the scriptural basis of this position, please read my discussion below of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10).

But should a Christian invest in Netflix? Certainly not, because as an investor you are profiting from all of the activities that company is involved with, both good and bad, family friendly and “adult entertainment”, as opposed to an employee who is paid based on a limited scope and responsibility within the company related to their specific job. So, in the case of most businesses, Christians are free to work at those companies so long as their work on the products and services are not entering biblically immoral territory.

“Christian Commenter”: And, if it is wrong to invest in and work for those companies, isn’t it also wrong to purchase those products or services as well since Christians would be using their money to benefit ungodly positions? I’m interested in hearing the author’s position, or anyone else’s, concerning these questions.

Robert’s Answer: As mentioned above, it is not wrong to work at a company as long as your position does not directly involve you in biblically immoral activities. Likewise, Christians are free to be customers of companies such as Netflix, so long as the products and services they are purchasing are not immoral. Keeping with the Netflix example, Christians are free to be paying customers of their movie streaming service if they limit their viewing to good, family friendly content, including the many faith-based Christian films and shows on Netflix, but if they are streaming pornographic content, then clearly they are in the wrong.

In contrast, as an investor you cannot tell Netflix to only send you profits from the good movies and not the bad ones. So if you are an investor in Netflix, you make yourself an accomplice who is sharing in the profits of ungodly, sinful movies that lead people into sin and ensnare them in a wicked bondage to lust and adultery. The Bible clearly condemns profiting from immorality (see Deuteronomy 23:18, Proverbs 16:8 and other scriptures I referenced in the original article), which makes investment in such companies a no-fly zone for Christians.

The Bible Says

A good scriptural framework for this conversation is found in Romans chapter 14 and 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10, where Paul discusses the topic of food sacrificed to idols. Paul makes the point in these chapters that believers are free to purchase and eat the meat sold in the marketplace, even thought it was derived from idol sacrifice, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8). But at the same time, he denounces idol worship, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21), with the obvious implication that those who are responsible for actually sacrificing the meat to the idol and selling it in the market are involved in a sinful act of idolatry.

Similarly, Christians have liberty to be customers of businesses with murky aspects to them, as long as what they are purchasing does not involve them directly in biblical immorality (as in the case of adult entertainment, abortion, or other inherently sinful products and services). Likewise, it is problematic for a believer to invest in a company that sells immoral products because they are no longer the innocent consumer, but a guilty producer and profiteer of immorality.

Caveat Of Conscience

One additional caveat that Paul addresses in this regard is the issue of personal conscience. He states that even though Christians are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he acknowledges that some believers “through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (1 Cor. 8:7). For these believers, eating that meat would be a sin, as Paul states in Romans,  “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

With this in mind, we should remember that for various reasons God may place a conviction upon a believer’s conscience that should govern their personal behavior, though that conviction would not extend to all believers in the way that a biblical command would.

For example, a Christian who has a personal history with alcoholism or with alcoholism in their family tree may have a strong conviction not to drink alcohol. They also might have a conviction that they could never work as a waiter who serves alcohol or be employed at a winery, brewery or distillery, or could never invest in a company that derives any revenue from alcohol sales.

That Christian should abide by those convictions, but also acknowledge that their personal convictions do not apply to all believers. And more to Paul’s primary point in the Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 passages, we believers who do not have such convictions should still be mindful of our “weaker” (Paul’s word, not mine) brothers and sisters who do have those convictions and should refrain from any activity that might cause them to stumble on their own personal convictions of conscience, even though we are free. We should never express our Christian liberty in a way that causes others to stumble, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9).

Love Above All

It is for this precise reason that at Inspire we exclude alcohol (for instance) from our portfolios. Personally, I have no problem drinking a beer or a glass of wine or investing money into a winery or craft brewery or something of the sort. However, I know that some of my brothers and sisters for personal reasons mentioned above do not want anything to do with the alcohol industry, and so we remove alcohol from our portfolios, among other things.

But while alcohol is an example of an industry that Christians can be free to invest in, the same cannot be said for other industries which are inherently sinful, such as abortion or pornography. Those areas are not up to individual conscience but rather are expressly prohibited as immoral in God’s word, and as such all believers should take care not to profit from or otherwise be involved with them.

The teaching of the Bible is rich, deep and clear in regard to the expectations God has for believers as stewards of His investment assets. At the same time, much of the depth in that scriptural teaching is aimed at fleshing out the nuance between God’s command and personal conscience. This complexity should not be cause for us to freeze up and disengage, but rather serve as an invitation to lean into God’s truth and learn more of His character, His glory and His plans for your joy as you seek to honor Him in all you do, including how you invest His money. As Paul himself concludes his treatment of this discussion, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

financial obedience is better than sacrifice

Financial Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice

God doesn’t need your money, but He does command your obedience.

Droves of Christian investors are discovering biblically responsible investing (BRI) for the first time as the BRI movement continues to gain momentum around the country and around the globe. These investors are learning the hard truth that they have been investing God’s money – and it’s all God’s money, right? – into businesses directly profiting from and supporting some of the vilest forms of depravity that the human mind can conjure.

It is currently the norm for the portfolios of millions of Christians around the world to be invested in abortion drug manufacturing, pornography sales, LGBT activism, human trafficking infested supply chains and the list goes on.

And then we give that money to God on Sunday morning and expect that He is pleased with our offering.

Hear me right, my heart bleeds with compassion for my brothers and sisters and echoes the prayer of Christ on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), because not long ago that was me. I know the sting and sorrow of that conviction personally as it was only by the mercy of God that He caused me to stumble across the ugliness of what I was investing His money in, and what I was profiting from.

The Israelites in the Old Testament had the same problem. Over generations, the covenant people of God had lost their way. For some Israelites, theirs was a deliberately defiant disobedience. They knew the commands of God and they purposefully chose not to obey.

For others, like me and many Christian investors today, they simply were unaware. They had been “conformed to the pattern of the world” (Rom. 12:2) and were ignorant of what God expected of them as His people. Even though these Israelites were still adhering to the sacrificial system of worship with varying degrees of faithfulness, God was not pleased with their sacrifices. They brought their bulls, their rams, their doves and grain, but that wasn’t what God wanted. He wanted their heart and the obedient life that flows from a dedication to loving God above all else.

Hear God’s word to His people through the prophet Samuel, “’Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams’” (1 Samuel 15:22).

The danger for Christian investors wrestling with a newfound conviction over their investments is to seek to justify their investment in companies that profit from pornography (such as Amazon, Netflix, Roku, Dish Network and others), promote abortion (such as Pfizer, Intel, Bank of America and others), and sponsor LGBT activism (such as Wells Fargo, Target, T-Mobile, AT&T and others) by dedicating the returns from these investments as gifts to the Lord.

More than once I have heard well-meaning Christians declare that they have decided to continue to invest in companies involved in immoral activities so that they can give the profits to God. Their logic is that by doing so they are operating like a modern day Robin Hood of Christendom, profiting from the evil and giving to the holy, like some sort of spiritual money laundering scheme.

But there is a problem with this approach: God doesn’t want tainted gifts of sacrifice, He wants holy gifts of obedience. These believers confuse sacrifice with obedience, just as the Israelites did in Samuel’s day.

God makes it very clear He detests money earned from immoral activity and forbids His people from offering such ill-gotten gain to Him saying, “You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both” (Deuteronomy 23:18). And elsewhere the Bible teaches that it would be better to earn lower returns than to support injustice, “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice” (Proverbs 16:8).

Brothers and sisters, we must pay very close attention to what God is saying here. He would rather us give Him nothing than give Him an unholy offering. Better yet, God would rather us “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17) with our finances and with our entire lives, and give Him the fruit of those good works, to the praise of His glorious grace.

It starts by learning what you are actually invested in from a biblical morals perspective, and you can find out for free at inspireinsight.com. Once you discover what issues are lurking in your portfolio, you can prayerfully make the changes necessary to transform your investment account into a God-glorifying financial engine that pursues righteous revenues instead of ill-gotten gain.

Let’s give Him holy gifts of obedience that are as worthy of His holy name as we possibly can by His grace. Such offerings are truly a pleasing aroma to our Lord.


 
 
 
Robert Netzly

Robert Netzly

Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.

Follow Robert on Twitter and LinkedIn and get inspired!
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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Good News of Great Joy

Good News Of Great Joy

How biblically responsible investors are partners in declaring the good news of God’s sovereignty over all creation.

When Christ was born, the angels declared that it was “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). What was this good news? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Christians today recognize and rejoice in this good news. We certainly count it great joy that God has made a way for the salvation of sinners like us through the death and resurrection of Christ, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone. This is very good news!

My question is, if Christ’s birth was “good news of great joy” and if it was “for all the people”, then why were so many people upset about it? Herod wasn’t happy about it. Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes weren’t happy about it. The Roman Empire wasn’t happy about it. Why didn’t the angels declare “good news that some people will count as great joy”? Or, “good news of great joy for those people who believe”?

The answer is that Christ’s birth was truly “good news” and “great joy” because it made a way for salvation for all who would call upon His name. All people now had a way to be at peace with God and receive forgiveness from their sin, even if not all people would embrace or act upon that good news, or celebrate or even appreciate that great joy.

And Christ’s birth was an announcement of “great joy” because it means that we are not abandoned to the hopeless task of ascending to God through perfect holiness because He has descended instead with His perfect holiness to invade our unholy world and offer to us His righteousness in exchange for our sinfulness through faith in His name! “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” (Philippians 3:9).

The birth of Jesus is good news and great joy because it proclaims the sovereignty of God over all creation, that He is in control, that He cares about us (whether we believe it or not) and that He is living and actively working for His glory and our joy among us on planet Earth.

You see, the goodness and joyfulness of the news of Christ’s coming is not relative based on an individual’s subjective interpretation of the news. The goodness and joyfulness of the news of Christ is an objective fact, an indisputable truth that stands above human opinion.

In a similar way, we all have the opportunity to join in proclaiming this good news of great joy for all the people by making every decision with the glory of God in mind. When we order the actions, intentions and decisions of our life in submission to the will of God and for the glory of God we proclaim that He is sovereign, that He reigns and rules and He alone is worthy of all honor and glory and praise!

Even seemingly innocuous decisions such as choosing which investments to include in your portfolio can and should shout the praises of our God, declaring that Christ has come, the rule and reign of our God extends over all of creation now and forevermore, and that He is worthy of our worship and obedience in every area of the life He has allowed us to live.

Will you celebrate the good news of great joy and make every decision shine for the glory of God, joining with the angels’ song and with believers everywhere, ascribing “glory in the highest” to our Immanuel, God With Us?

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ “(Luke 2: 13,14)

Shine for Jesus, Christian.


 
 
Robert Netzly

Robert Netzly

Robert Netzly is the CEO of Inspire Investing and frequent contributor on FOX, Bloomberg, New York Times and other major media. Read more from Robert in his #1 bestselling book Biblically Responsible Investing, available at Amazon.com and other major retailers.

Follow Robert on Twitter and LinkedIn and get inspired!
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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

What's the Purpose Image

What’s the Purpose?

“You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you.”

Isaiah 26:3-4

“What’s the purpose?” is one of the most important questions we can ask in life. To this central subject, the Bible provides the answers for us . . . in Matthew 22:37, Jesus says that “the great and first commandment” is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In Ephesians 2:10, we see that “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works”. While as to what is required of us, Micah 6:8 instructs “but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”.

On this question of purpose, Pastor Rick Warren has taught and written extensively on the importance of living a “purpose-driven life”. His best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold 32 million copies and been translated into 85 different languages. Millions of lives have been impacted as they have come to more fully understand their life’s purpose in relationship with God. Knowing our purpose is everything.

Just as the question of “What’s the purpose?” is imperative for our life’s journey, it is also critical to our investment journey as well. When investing, there are many important, sensible questions for investors to consider, incl. “What’s the state of the economy?”, “What are the prospects for growth?”, “Is inflation a significant risk?”, “How do valuation levels look?”, “What about global trade?”, “Will the Central Bank be adjusting monetary conditions?”, etc. However, the first and most important question investors need to ask themselves is “What’s the purpose of the investment?”.

Over the course of my career, the biggest mistake I have seen investors make is by not first asking themselves “What’s the purpose of the investment?”. By not asking that question first, oftentimes investors will miscalibrate their investment strategy with their financial objective(s). If the purpose of the investment is for a short term (less than five years) goal such as a planned major purchase or expenditure, then a lower risk strategy, maybe even a “savings” strategy rather than an “investment” strategy is likely the best course of action. However, for those financial goals that are long-term (more than five years) such as young children’s college funds, retirement, a vacation home, estate plans, charitable bequests, etc. a longer term investment strategy is prudent. The other questions about the economic, market, and political environment while important, are all secondary to primary question of the purpose of the investment. Too often, investors make the mistake of focusing their attention on the prospects for the coming days, weeks, and months while their financial goals are oftentimes measured in years, decades, and even generations. This disconnect can lead to dire outcomes.

Knowing our purpose is very important as we go through life. Regularly recalling that purpose can help to guard us against the idols, distractions, and temptations of this world that call out to us every day. Likewise, knowing the purpose of our investments can help to keep us from the behavioral traps and temptations that afflict all investors to one degree or another. Knowing purpose is foundational to faith as well as to investing.


 

 

Dr. Erik Davidson, DBA, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, DBA, CFA

Erik Davidson, DBA, CFA, is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.

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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Go ye into all the world - Mark 16:15

Go Ye Into All The World

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Mark 16:15

I once heard an interesting observation that many people who live in rural areas can be very afraid of the perceived dangers of a big city…crime, traffic, strangers, etc. And as a corollary to that, many city dwellers can be exceedingly fearful of the risks to be found out in the country…wild animals, getting stranded, isolation, etc. This idiosyncrasy of human behavior is known as “familiarity bias” in that the risks with which we are most familiar appear less threatening to us while those risks with which we are less accustomed can be quite terrifying.

In investments, one of the most well-researched examples of this familiarity heuristic is what is referred to as “home country bias”. Home country bias is the condition by which investors show an excessive preference for investments emanating from their home market over those opportunities found in other parts of the world. With this behavioral predisposition, domestic risks generally seem relatively tame because they are more familiar when compared to those perils coming from overseas which are less well understood. While instinctual, home country bias could cause suboptimal decision-making by investors with possibly detrimental effects on their long-term investment results.

These days in particular, the flames of investors’ home country bias are reasonably being fanned by a litany of worries that are coming from outside our borders…China trade disputes, Brexit, Hong Kong protests, slowing Chinese economy, stagnating European economy, declining Japanese population, Middle East tensions, terrorist threats, etc. Add to that the recent outperformance of the US stock market versus the rest of the world and it is quite understandable that US investors are currently beset by home country bias. However, because of this familiarity bias, investors may be making the behavioral mistake of focusing on the risks of investing internationally while overlooking the opportunities that can be found abroad. Consider the following:

  • 96% of the world’s population is outside the United States.
  • Amidst concerns for the greying US population with a median age of 38.2, the median age for the other 7.2 billion people on our planet is much younger at 29.8.
  • While the US population growth is only 0.8% per year, the population outside the US is growing at 1.1%.
  • 85% of the world’s economic production (Gross Domestic Product) comes from outside the United States.
  • The US may have the world’s largest capital markets, but nevertheless 70% of the world’s securities (stocks and bonds) market value is found outside the United States.
  • The US economy (real GDP) is likely to growing around 2.3% this year, but the overall global economy outside the US will grow about 3.5%
  • The US stock market is near its all-time highs, however International Developed as well as Emerging Market stock market indices are both still 20% below their 2007 all-time highs.
  • While there is growing concern that US stock market valuations (Price/Earnings, Price/Book, etc.) may be getting a little lofty, valuations of International Developed and Emerging Market stock market indices trade at least a 25% discount to their US peers. Relative interest rate differentials make these even more attractive.

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Standard & Poor’s, MSCI, and Factset

While we do not know for sure, it is possible that the Disciples were also wrestling with their own home country bias as they pondered what to do next with their lives as their physical time with Jesus came to an end. Could that be why Jesus had to remind them several times about the importance of venturing into foreign lands? Once, with the Great Commission (Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24) and again just prior to ascension (Acts 1), we see Jesus’ instruction to go outside of their homeland. Even more so in today’s global society, the Bible’s instruction to go out into the world still applies. And as scary as it can be at times, the admonition probably applies even to investing!

Therefore, getting practical, as a general rule, it makes prudent investment sense to allocate between 25% – 50% of one’s equity exposure to International Developed and Emerging Market stocks. For example, if an investor’s overall portfolio allocation to equities is 60%, then 25% – 50% of that 60% should be allocated to international and emerging market stocks, i.e. 15% – 30% of the entire portfolio.

Go ye therefore into all the world!


 
 
 

 

Dr. Erik Davidson, DBA, CFA

Dr. Erik Davidson, DBA, CFA

Erik Davidson, DBA, CFA, is the Chief Economic Advisor for Inspire Investing. Previously, Dr. Davidson served as the Chief Investment Officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, overseeing more than $200B in assets. Dr. Davidson holds a doctorate degree from the DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business with his research focus in Behavioral Finance.

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*Advisory Services are offered through CWM Advisors, LLC dba Inspire, a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for educational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Blessed are the Risk Takers

“He who watches the wind will fail to sow, and he who observes the clouds will fail to reap.”

Ecclesiastes 11:4

As human beings, our capacity to worry is quite exceptional. In a worldly sense, this predilection towards fear is very understandable as bad things do happen in our lives and in the world around us. In fact, at times our worry has likely kept us from danger or harm. Personally, I know that even as the years have gone by, I have found it very difficult to break the grip of fear in my own life. If anything, I can take some small comfort in the fact that the nature of my worries has changed as time has gone by. These days, I find myself still worrying, but about different things than I did in my earlier years. That probably does not count as progress though!

Given our very human predisposition to worry, it should be no surprise that fears are especially heightened when it comes to investing. In fact, the foundational theory in the area of behavioral economics, Prospect Theory, by Noble laureate Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking Fast and Slow) and Amos Tversky showed that humans are so overcome by fear that we instinctively weigh loss and gain prospects unevenly thereby causing suboptimal decision-making. Especially in the wake of the trauma of the Financial Crisis of 2007 – 2009, investors are predisposed to see danger lurking around every corner. These days, the list of fears that investors face is quite long: trade disputes with China, Brexit, domestic political divisiveness, Hong Kong protests, inverted yield curves, recessionary concerns, etc.

Nevertheless, despite the enticing self-preservation benefits of fear, the Bible is filled with admonitions against it (Isaiah 41:10, Luke 12:22, etc.) because of the obstructive effect it can have on our God-given destinies. Many times in the Bible, the challenge is put forward to “fear not”. Both the Old and the New Testaments have numerous stories of ordinary people overcoming their fears and taking significant risks with extraordinary, even miraculous results (think Moses, Esther, the Disciples, et al.).

In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), it is illuminating to read of the master’s praise, “well done, good and faithful servant”, for the two employees who took risks with the funds that had been entrusted to them. Yet, maybe even more instructive is the scorn directed at the servant who was afraid and went and hid the entrusted funds in the ground . . . “You wicked and slothful servant.” and “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness”. If this isn’t a call to guard our hearts against acting out of fear, I don’t know what is!

Carrying over this Biblical call of risk-taking to investing, it is important for investors to be on guard against getting wrapped around the wheel of whatever the “worry of the day” may be. Rather, investors should undertake prudent risks aligned with the timeframe of their financial objective. Certainly, for short-term (less than five years) financial objectives such as planned major purchases or expenditures, risk-taking should be minimized. Actually, these sort of short-term financial goals are better viewed as “savings” rather than “investment” strategies. However, for those financial goals that are long-term (more than five years) such as young children’s college funds, retirement, a vacation home, estate plans, charitable bequests, etc. a spirit of prudent risk-taking is necessary in order to grow the funds while outpacing inflation and taxes.

The history of the stock market shows the wisdom of the Bible’s guidance on fear and risk-taking. Going back to its inception in 1927, the S&P 500, the benchmark U.S. stock market index, despite dramatic corrections and crashes, has had a total return of approximately 10% annualized. During this very long time period, despite prior generations’ “worry list” including wars, rise/fall of Communism, recessions, famines, assassinations, political discord, etc. there has never been a 14-year holding period in which the total return of the S&P 500 has been negative. Prudent risk-taking pays off over the long-term. Source: Standard & Poor’s

Obviously, “blessed are the risk-takers” is not actually one of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). Nevertheless, investors who believe that the Bible has wisdom applicable to contemporary life are well advised to consider its guidance as it relates to fear and risk-taking as they make investment decisions.


 
 
 

 

Is Practical Or Biblical More Important In Your Financial Life?

Looking To The Bible

Millions of people look to the Bible for advice on financial matters. And they should. God has provided for us eternal, perfect wisdom through His infallible Word that instructs us in “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), including wise principles for managing money.

But sometimes I wonder, how many of these people are coming to the Bible just because it is practical? How many financial advisors and how many ministries provide guidance that is only utilitarian in nature, exhorting adherence to biblical truth simply for the utility of the thing?

This is not wrong by itself, and certainly scripture is vastly utilitarian. Indeed, the salvation of my soul is extremely utilitarian! However, if my only concern and motive in believing in Christ is to receive the practical benefit of the salvation of my soul and escape from hell, then it is doubtful that I have ever really been saved at all!

If all my care for the things of God subsist in the practicality of what I receive, and not in the joyful worship and adoration of the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6), then my so-called faith is without power to save and I am in danger of hearing those chilling words, “away from me you evil doers, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).

Burning With Zeal

And so it is with financial discipleship. It is the glory of God which compels the true believer to apply biblical truth to their financial life, and not simply the utilitarian benefits of a budget, appropriate use of debt, wise saving and investing.

Are we compelled to apply scripture to our finances only for what we receive? Or does our heart burn with zeal for God’s glory and joyfully seek every opportunity to honor Him, whether financially or otherwise, regardless of our personal gain?

This is the great purpose and call for every Christ-following financial advisor, every Christian ministry of money, every Christian with influence over financial decisions: To fire the believer’s heart with a vision of God’s glory in their financial life that compels them to submit to His supremacy in and over their financial matters, completely, joyfully and without reservation. We are to be teaching Christians to rejoice in and worship the Lord through their every financial decision because He is worthy, not because of the worth He can provide.

Oh, God, give us such grace!

Supreme Center

Anything short of this is missing the mark and, while the believer may benefit practically in an earthly manner, they are left spiritually bereft and without eternal significance and blessing. Without the glory of God as the supreme center of our message, we are in perilous danger of teaching our clients and congregations to store up treasure where moth and rust do destroy and thieves do break in and steal, instead of laying up treasure in heaven, leaving them only a pittance at best in their heavenly investment accounts.

Why do you look to the Bible for financial advice?


 
 

Inspire CEO’s Letter To The LGBT Community

Dear Neighbors in the LGBT Community,

Since Inspire Investing’s high-profile and broadly sensationalized media exposure began in 2017, there has been much contention about our exclusion of LGBT activist companies from our biblically responsible investing portfolios. In the spirit of fostering civility and understanding amidst our disagreements, I wanted to write this letter to clearly communicate our heart and position on LGBT matters.

As Christians who follow Jesus and believe the Bible is the word of God, we love our neighbors in the LGBT community as Christ taught us to do, and we actively seek the good and flourishing of all people, whether they identify as LGBT or straight, are Muslim or Christian, black or white, friends or enemies, or whoever they may be. All people are created in the image of God, are loved by God and deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and love. The Bible teaches this and we strive daily to live this out, both in our personal lives and in our investment methodology.

God’s Design Brings Highest Joy

We also believe the Bible teaches that God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman, faithful for life, and that this pattern of sexuality offers humanity the highest and best joy in this life. As such, our calling as Christians is to treat all people with dignity, respect and love, while upholding the moral law of God for His creation, and in our view the two are not in opposition.

One way this translates into our investment methodology is that we actively seek out companies who are excelling at providing all of their employees with safe, tolerant workplace environments, above average employee benefits and generally an inspiring employer/employee relationship. For instance, in relation to this particular issue, we encourage our portfolio companies to provide high quality, equal employee benefits for LGBT employees and all other employees.

Excluding LGBT Activism

We also have an exclusion criterion which avoids investment in companies which are taking active steps to advance the issue of gay marriage, using their corporate clout and investor dollars to advance a political and social issue that is unrelated to their core business. An example of this would be a corporation which gives corporate dollars to sponsor a gay pride parade or signs on to a legal document to put pressure on local, state or national government to push LGBT marriage policies.

We acknowledge that LGBT issues are a hotbed of contention in our society today, and we understand that not everybody believes as we do and that our investment methodology may not be a fit for all people. We respect investors who desire to invest in pro-active support of LGBT marriage, and we ask for the same respect for our investors who are investing according to their faith-based convictions to invest in support of what they understand as the Bible’s teaching and advocacy for one-man, one-woman marriage.

Sticks And Stones

We also acknowledge that some are quick to apply the label of bigot or other such terminology to anyone who believes that heterosexual marriage is God’s singular design for human sexuality. We believe that is an unfair categorization, just as it is equally unfair for those claiming the name of Christian to call names and use derogatory labels for our neighbors in the LGBT community.

We hope that despite deep-rooted disagreements over the rightness or wrongness of certain expressions of sexuality, that we can all treat one another with the dignity, respect and love that we each deserve as those created in the image of the living God.

May grace and peace be yours in abundance,

Robert Netzly
CEO, Inspire Investing


 

 

Magnify Messiah

What has God done for you this year?

As Christmas is upon us and year winds to a close, it is proper for us to reflect on the year behind. Often our reflections lead us to major crises that we endured, or possibly narrowly avoided, and hopefully some major accomplishments and joys that we have celebrated. But do our reflections take us deeper than just the “what” and lead us to the “why” and, more importantly, the “Who” that is behind every detail both great and small of our life?

Fleeting sorrow, everlasting joy.

If you are celebrating the joy of a new birth, or a successful year in business, or a breakthrough in your personal life, do you recognize that it is God who has done these things? Moreover, that it is God who has done these things for His glory and your joy? How much greater is our joy when we remember and rejoice in our God, who has blessed us by His grace! How greater is our gratefulness when we realize that our own hands have not done these things, but God’s hands!

If you are suffering the sorrow of a lost loved one, personal or professional failures, or any number of trials and temptations that surround us in this life, do you recognize that it is also God who has allowed these trials and sorrows to come? And that it is He who has sustained you through them and drawn near to you in them as light in the darkness? How great is our joy, even in our sufferings, because of the glorious mercy and comfort of our sustaining Savior! And what confidence we find in knowing that no hardships will ever befall us but that which is allowed by our good Father, who is faithful to also deliver us through and from them!

He who is mighty has done great things!

So, as we reflect on the year past and dream of the year to come, may we magnify our Messiah as did Mary, when caught in a rapture of praise declared,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:47-55)

Grace and peace be yours in abundance this Christmas, and joy immeasurable in the year to come as you place all your hopes in our only real Hope, Christ the Lord!

Blessings,

-R


 
 

 

Black Friday Lightens Up

Black As Night

I have a love-hate relationship with Black Friday.

On one hand, the deals are great and it certainly helps with the Christmas present budget. But on the other hand, Black Friday has also become our unofficial “National Day Of Covetousness” where we bow down to the United States’ favorite idol, the Almighty Materialism.

The crescendo of our idolatrous revelry comes sometime in the wee-hours of the morning as millions of the faithful storm into our retail temples, trampling the tender, shoving the slower and celebrating the gospel of the “first shall be first and the last shall be last”, gleefully laying down our cash sacrifices upon the altar.

Those images of stampeding shoppers they play on the news every year kind of turns my stomach. Massive herds of people, eyes wide with materialistic hysteria, driven to the edge of madness by the insatiable desire to get more for less before anyone else does.

There are just all kinds of things wrong with that, but that is not the point of this article.

Lighter Shade Of Black

The point of this article is the encouragement I have gotten this year that perhaps the darkest hour of night has passed and we are seeing a lighter shade of Black Friday dawn upon us.

As I tuned in to my preferred news sources the morning of Black Friday to take the temperature of the retail sector in relation to the sky-high expectations the industry was prophesying for this holiday season, I was taken aback not by the usual mobs and mayhem, but by the relative calm and orderliness being seen in stores around the country.

As reported by Bloomberg, “Many malls reported a late-arriving crowd on Friday. And shoppers that did show up early were pleasantly surprised by the relative calm…The frenzy of Black Friday as we knew it is over…We are watching the next edition of Black Friday, a more civilized and opportunistic edition.”

Well, hallelujah!

Now, I’m not wearing my “today-only sale-price 89% off rose-colored glasses”. I know the absence of mobs and trampling incidents does not necessarily equal a diminishing of national covetousness. Nonetheless, I am thankful for such a development and consider it a very positive sign, and even a shimmer of God’s common grace and mercy upon our collective consumer culture.

Buyers, Not Shoppers

And, despite the smaller and more civilized crowds, retailers are still posting record numbers as they see increased online transactions and more focused “buying” rather than “shopping” in their brick-and-mortar locations. In other words, the shoppers coming in the doors know what they want, buy it, and go home, rather than shoppers who show up, stick around and walk out hours later without anything in their bags.

“They’re not just shopping, they’re buying — they’re on a mission,” said Craig Johnson, president of research firm Consumer Growth Partners.

And more people are choosing to buy online rather than get up early, brave the cold and dark, wait in line and fight the crowds. I can’t say that I blame them!

All this to say that while American Materialism is still alive and kicking, as evidenced by the record sales numbers at retailers such as Kohl’s, who registered an all time spending high on Thanksgiving Day, and massive online numbers north of $6.5 billion on Black Friday, which is bigger than last year’s Cyber Monday online spending stats, let alone last year’s Black Friday online haul, we are perhaps seeing a turn of the tide.

Perhaps the subduing of materialist mayhem this Black Friday is the first glimmer of a brighter future for the hearts of our nation’s consumers. Maybe the masses are seeing the danger and damage that comes from exalting stuff and self above others and honor.

Or maybe people were still just digesting their Thanksgiving turkey.

So, to you, the “rich in this present age”, I echo the words of Paul and charge you “…to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for [yourselves] as a good foundation for the future, so that [you] may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).

May God grant you (and me!) the grace to seek Him first this Christmas season, to give more than we get, to spend ourselves for the gospel instead of spending our dollars for stuff, and to treasure Christ above all else.

Blessings,

-R