The Theological Framework for Faith-Based Investing (Kingdom Advisors 2019)

Listen to Dr. Ken Boa’s speak at the 2019 Kingdom Advisors Conference in Orlando, FL, on faith-based investing from a biblical viewpoint:

Edited Transcript:

Thank you. Good to be with you all. And the idea of a theological foundation for faith-based investing, to me, is absolutely needed in our time. Two of the greatest qualities to have in life are patience and wisdom. That is a skunk. So, when you see the skunk there, the dog now is being very prudent. It’s waiting, it’s being patient, but it knows that its time will come. So, there’s a point of view that we have to have together as we kind of think our thoughts through together to consider the purpose to facilitate discernment. Keyword here is discernment. And there’s a text that comes to my mind, and it’s Hebrews chapter five. And the author to the Hebrews really wants his readership to grow into maturity. But at this point, though, they still are requiring the milk of the Word.

And he says, “everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, but he is an infant” (Hebrews 5:13). Now notice this: “solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice”—training, habituation—“have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The discernment that we need to have is to discern the things that are excellent, and it’s one of my favorite prayers in the New Testament. I love—I call them Paul’s four life-changing prayers. In Ephesians 3, he prays about this whole idea that we would be strengthened so that we would discern the whole process. In fact, that life-changing prayer is the one in Philippians, I believe. Let me just get that for you because I have a list of these. Let me find it for you here.

I’m sorry I’m bouncing all over the map, but I want you to see this. It’s worthwhile. So, if I pull out this card here—it’s a little card that I have for Paul’s four life-changing prayers, and one is in Ephesians 1; the other is Ephesians 3. The one I have in mind is this, “That your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that we may be able to approve the things that are excellent” (Philippians 1:9–10a). See, the good is the enemy of the best. And you need to discern, then, there’s only so many best things, so many things that are excellent, and you need to be able to discern, “to approve those things that are excellent in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10b). So, given this understanding of discernment, we want to train ourselves—and, I believe, also train our clients, so that they can consider plausible solutions to develop tools for the decision making requirements that they’re going to be having and to discover principles and to also implement process and practice.

So, you’re really a kind of practitioner, but you’re also helping them think things through, pulling ideas out of them, and actually helping them by asking good questions. “What is it that you seek to do?” “What are your purposes in investing?” “What is your desire?” Then by that skillful series of questions and answers, you can then help them kind of give birth to their own understanding. The most effective method I know for doing apologetics is really interacting with people, because what you’re doing is asking a question, and then you listen to their answer. And based upon that, you ask another question, and based upon that, another, and what you’re doing is actually forcing them to think things through further than they would ever do on their own, until, at the end of the day, they have to give birth to an idea, but they have to own that baby because it’s theirs.

So, I find myself to be a cognitive obstetrician. I’d like to help people birth ideas, but they have to own that baby because I didn’t make it up; I pulled it out of them. You see the concept there? In the same way you want to help your clients by listening carefully and helping them to discern the good from the best. And that is my opinion: it’s very critical for us to process together. Now when we consider a number of areas, I consider the concept of money, sex, and power. I have a little chart here that illustrates this idea. Kratos is the Greek word for a power and Plutus is the world for wealth and Aphrodite… these interesting images of the Greek gods—power, wealth, and lust; Mars, Mammon, and Eros. It’s interesting how they kind of go together, because everybody gets it.

They understand that these three powers are so universal, so gripping, that people will often be defined by their response to power, wealth, and money. And my own view concerning all three is that none of them is neutral but rather all have a downward pull that would tether us to the earthbound understanding of what the world’s about. And you’re either going to get your signals from the world, or you’ll get them from the Word. Now, as I like to say it, the world will define you by default; do nothing, and it’ll tell you what value systems to pursue. The only way the Word will define you is by discipline. You see, any dead fish can float downstream. Anyone can go with the flow; anyone can go with the current. You’ve got to be alive to go against the current of the culture, and the only way we’re going to do that is to actually renew your mind with truth.

You’re either going to get your signals from the world, or you’ll get them from the Word.

And if you can actually be an agent who helps and encourages people to facilitate a more robust vision of what the flourishing and fruitful life looks like—what the good life looks like, not as the world defines the good life (power, prestige, possessions, performance, popularity) but, rather, as the Word defines it (the pursuit of what is true, beautiful, and good—because God is the wellspring of those things, intimacy with Him, a flourishing life in relational abundance and richness)—and how then can these resources namely, the whole idea of money, how it can be used and leveraged for good—even though it has a downward pull, you can overcome that and use it for good.

The same is true with sex and power. These are not things that have to define us, but we get to define them. But we will not define them properly unless we, in fact, embrace a biblical vision. And that won’t happen accidentally. That requires, in my view, a very real process, a real process of discovery, a process of investigation, a process of thought. So, our approach to money, I do believe, will play a defining role in our inner lives. In our world, our financial decisions will always have some kind of a spiritual component. And if we can instruct clients to begin to think more biblically—now, you cannot impart what you do not possess. So you yourself need to really work this through and think it through carefully, think it through well process this, so that your own embrace of a biblical vision of what a fruitful, flourishing life looks like comports, then, with what God’s mandate really is. This book, this Bible, is indeed God’s blueprint for living. It is His instruction manual and we ignore it to our peril.

So, we need to be people who are tethered in the Word so that we have a growing sense of a spirit of truth and a spirit of error. And as we do that, then, we can then begin to realize that we can actually be agents of change in this world. Because when we think of the whole idea of stewardship, we well know that stewardship, the typical approach to stewardship is usually the three t’s that we see: time, talent and treasure. And we know that as stewards, that means that you are managing the possessions of another. You have that biblical understanding and you recognize that even what you give away or even what you keep is still God’s. You own nothing at all. And by the way, we’re also called what else? What’s another metaphor for our work in this world besides being stewards? We’re ambassadors, and an ambassador is on the King’s business.

What this means, then, is that you don’t own anything, and you don’t even own your time. You’re on the King’s business. You’re a servant for Him. That gives us a particularly rich and robust understanding that while we cannot contribute anything to the work of God, we surely can participate. Huge difference. You can participate, and if you choose not to, He’ll accomplish His purpose in another manner, but you miss out on the joy of being involved in something which will have eternal consequences, rippling impact, bearing fruit that will endure. So, we get to choose that, but we will not be able to really have an effective theology unless we are being shaped by the Word. And that means that you need to continue to renew your mind because it’s so counter-cultural. It goes against the current of our time. And it’s been my observation that even people who will call themselves followers of Jesus are becoming more and more sloppy in their thinking.

I won’t go into that discussion; I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m planning to do a series on our culture: How did we get where we are? What’s happening now? How did it move from being linear to exponential, and where are we going ahead? And when we consider these processes, it’ll probably put people in paroxysms of despair when they begin to realize how it really looks. Back in 2005, I did a presentation called the “Decline of Nations.” It’s available as a DVD. And I did a 10-point comparison between the United States and Rome before its demise. And it was depressing then, but on those 10 points—for example, government debt, entertainment, morality, education, and so forth—it was bad then, but who would have thought, only 9 trillion in government debt would more than double since then? So it’s not going to be a pretty picture to see on all these metrics.

And even at that time, I said we’ve gone past the tipping point—but that’s another discussion. The point that I’m saying, though, is that unless you are constantly showing up before God and renewing yourself—and I regard that as being a minimal requirement for you to be an effective agent of informing and instructing and helping people process financial decisions—if you’re not tethered in the truth and in the Word on a regular basis, you’re going to really, in my view, become increasingly shallow and more subject to the spirit of the times, to the zeitgeist. And then you just become an imitator, a parrot of that. I’ve observed as well that people are not thinking as they used to do; their opinions are not based upon reason and evidence, let alone common sense, but upon the autonomy of the subjective self—and that’s another discussion.

But the fact is that when we are looking at time, talent, and treasure, all these powerful understandings, then, are there. But I believe there are two other components of stewardship that are equally ultimate, that are rarely talked about: the stewardship of truth, “to whom much is given much will be required” (Luke 12:48); and the stewardship of your sphere or arena of influence in which God has sovereignly planted you. And so, effectively, it’s required of a steward not only that he be faithful, but that this person will give an account at the Bema of Christ. Thank God, “there’s therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1, but we will give an account.

And to be honest with you, I both look forward to it and I’m terrified of that event. I look forward to it because it’s going to deal with getting rid of this downward pull, what Paul calls “the flesh” in Romans 7. It’ll be good to get rid of that. But on the other hand, it’s easy to lip sync in the chorus of life, but each of us is going to have to sing solo before Jesus, and that’s going to be a daunting prospect as well. But another discussion, living in light with that in mind.

So, in my mind, then, I think if we are wise, we will actually be prudent enough to leverage the time, talent, and treasure that God has given us, you see. And we’re going to leverage those. And those are gifts and things that are temporal and will pass and to invest it in those two things which will endure forever. So, in this understanding, then, of what stewardship is, of what our relationship with money is—to communicate that and to convey that, and to understand as well, we need to give them a more robust, more positive vision of what they want to pursue.

We should stop being known by what we’re against and become more known by what we are for, what we love—and that, in my view, is critical. We often are dealing with sin-screening and this whole idea of separation from sin as opposed to the pursuit of virtue. To be perfectly frank with you, I would far rather pursue intimacy that with Jesus than to try to avoid sin because, indeed, if I have a sin-avoidance strategy, it ironically will be the same result as if I try to attain humility. I’ll become humble and proud of it. My humility will cry out for recognition. You know how that works. We’re subtle creatures. By the same token, if I pursue intimacy with Jesus to the degree to which I know him and am following him, then the sin takes care of itself. You see, pursue what you want, not to avoid what you don’t want. And most people make this fatal blunder.

So how do we pursue that? How do we overcome that? Because people who are so into legalism are often defining themselves by what they’re against. And in this respect, then, it reminds me of the whole idea of the filthy five, the nasty nine, the dirty dozen. “I don’t smoke or drink or chew, nor associate with them that do.” And people love to quantify and count, you know, because we’re creatures of this; we want to somehow quantify spirituality, you see, and we try to do that by comparison. We want to compare, count, compete, control, quantify, because then we don’t have to live with ambiguity. But you see, when you’re an immature believer, you’re looking for clear and definable answers, and effectively you become more binary in your thought process.

But I think we have to begin to realize as we grow in maturity that a lot of the things we thought were either/or’s are both/and’s. And we become, then, more nuanced in our thinking. And you live with ambiguity. So, first you’re looking for answers, but you learn when you mature to live with ambiguity, but you still hold the essentials as such. Rupertus Meldenius is the one who came up with this wonderful statement: “In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” It’s a brilliant idea. And Richard Baxter popularized that expression.

Consider, what are the essentials of the faith? What are the things that you would give your life for? There are some things that are absolutely nonnegotiable. And we’re talking about the discernment between those things which are essential and those things that can be, in fact, considered as optional or possible. So, “in the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials, liberty.” You see, give people an option; there are some things that just aren’t worth living and dying over. The mode of baptism, your view of eschatology, a wide array of things, the age of the earth.

And I have my views, but even with some of these things, even with, for example, the age of the earth, I’m a “both/and-er;” I’m a “middle-earther”—but that’s another discussion. The fact is that I wrestle with these things, and it’s good to do that, to hold them at arm’s length. You do well, you want to be a person who thinks clearly. In fact, I love the idea of us being people who learn what it means to be people who actually embrace the heart, the head, and the hands. And what I mean by that is that it is a matter of being and of knowing and of doing—or another way of seeing it, it is a matter of loving well, learning well, and living well.

That’s what I would want for you. I want you to be a full-orbed follower of Jesus who thinks clearly, who loves well, and who knows how to have practical application so that you then impart that component to the people that you’re working with. So, we’re too quick, I fear, to look for lines to divide, and therefore we need to recognize again “in the essentials”—what was it? Maybe this is not the same group that was here 10 minutes ago. And there is a definite group amnesia that I often encounter. “In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials, liberty, and in all things”—You didn’t hear that, but charity is the word—you already heard it. It’s a very well-known phrase. So, show love.

When it comes down to a tension point between being right and being kind, choose kind. I’d rather err on the side of grace every time. I’ll never regret that, but I would regret if I just get so wrapped up in “This can’t be right; that’s wrong.” So, we need to help people at least think through a more interesting understanding. I find it fascinating that Jesus used parables. He used stories in these parables to really slow down the process so that people could recognize stories that’ll change us, but only when we’re ready to hear them. Consider the parable of the unrighteous steward in Luke 16 and then follow that by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And they are actually—Jesus is almost tweaking his listeners, you see. these are hard sayings, and they get our attention, but they can change us. They’re like time bombs.

And one of the things I’d like to suggest for you, then, is this contrast of three kinds of things. So, on the one hand, you have the concept of those things that are commanded. You have commands in Scripture, very evident. And on the other extreme, the other side, you have things that are condemned. There’s some things we’re told that we should do, and there’s some things we’re clearly told we must not do. Very evident. But there’s a third category, and I would call this category that realm of convictions or conscience.

And so, when we’re dealing with convictions, now we’re dealing with another level, or conscience, we could say, because now we’re dealing with the whole area of what’s called adiaphora, doubtful things. And that Greek word means “middle things.” It means things that are optional. Paul discusses those principles in Romans 14, and also he discusses that in 1 Corinthians, chapters eight and nine. What do we do? How do we approach it? What’s the stronger brother? What’s the weaker brother? What is the responsibility of the person who has faith to do certain things that the other person does not have faith to do? But you see, Paul says in Romans 14:23, “whatever is not of faith” is what? He says it’s “sin.” So, if we go and consider Romans 14 for just a moment, this is a critical text for our consideration, because, after all, the “Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

So, he says, let’s “pursue the things which make for shalom, for peace, and for building up one another.” So, peace, edification, relational flourishing is the key, because, after all, at the end of the day, the Bible is all about relationships, is it not? When we consider the whole idea of what relationships look like, we realize that we are called in the spiritual life to love God completely, which means we are called to love Him with all our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength (cf. Mark 12:30), which is inside-out. It has to do with all the components of your being. But we’re also called to think clearly, to know certain truths, to love self correctly. I define loving yourself correctly as choosing to believe to see that what God says about any matter, including you, is true, in spite of your feelings and experiences to the contrary. You see the concept here?

Many people find it very difficult to believe that God unconditionally accepts them and loves them in Christ, and there’s filters that take place. So, to love self correctly—and doing is to love others compassionately. My point is this: if we’re called, after all, “to love the Lord your God,” and then how “to love your neighbor as yourself”—if you loath yourself, you cannot love your neighbor. So, the concept is very simple. The more you allow God to define you and not the world, the more secure you become, the more significant you realize you are in Christ—it is a matter of identity—the more satisfied you can be. It’s a process; not an event. The more you apprehend that, the more secure you are to serve other people. And so, the process is a beautiful one; which whatever begins with the love of God will end up with a love of neighbor, and then that will return back to God. So, this is a process that we’re invited to see.

Whatever begins with the love of God will end up with a love of neighbor, and then that will return back to God.

So, I’m just kind of describing this understanding of the things that Paul is telling us in Romans 14 and so he says, “do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food” (Romans 14:20). And he’s talking about, of course, those things which are offered to idols; the stronger brothers able to do some things that the weaker one cannot do. So, he says effectively that “it’s good not to eat meat, or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Romans 14:21). In other words, he says, you may need, in this context, to choose to limit yourself; even though you have the faith to do it, you choose to consider the needs of the person who’s weaker.

But you notice, then, he’s not talking about the legalist being weaker. He’s talking about the one who has more possibilities, the legalist being stronger; rather, we’re talking about the one who knows him to have that conviction. “Happy is he who does not concern himself in what he approves. He who doubts is condemned if he eats because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” So, this is a critical notion, then, that even stronger brethren have difficulties in processing this. It’s training and discernment, who by habituation and practice have their senses trained. And that’s a lifetime journey, a lifetime process. And my desire for all of us is that we would be agents of that process. So, we want to follow Jesus. Basically, the whole idea of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, rather than laying down the lines. To follow the Lord and to be known for what you love more than what you hate.

I love that phrase that Rob just used of the idea of convicted civility. I like that concept because you see it’s a both/and, not an either/or. You can have your convictions, but you hold them with civility, and you nuance them according to the needs of the other person. And in that process of working with those people who need to make informed decisions, you can more effectively help them to discern what are things that make sense to them and what are things that they would not be able to do.

Because when we’re talking about investments, of course, we’re talking about three categories of investments, as you well know: investment for wealth, for our protection, which is always the biblical principle of diversification. The second is investment for wealth generation. And that is another matter because now the generation of wealth—and that will change according to your seasons of life as well. The third is investing for kingdom impact. And the ROI1 on kingdom impact doesn’t need to be measured in an actual money as much as it needs to be measured on kingdom impact. You see, you must be aware that the metrics of this world are not the same as the metrics of the Kingdom of God.

I like the way Dallas Willard puts it.2 He talked about these three words that he would use, and he would talk about the whole idea of ABCs. So the “A” was “attendance,” you see, and the second was “buildings.” And you can guess the third one, “cash.” May I tell you that the metrics of the kingdom are not those. What impresses people does not impress Him. Indeed, when the crowd got too big, He actually sharpened the edge of His teaching to actually let people fall further back away from that. Because, if you’re not ready, why should you do this? So, it’s very remarkable. He would do things like spending time and going to a party thrown by Levi and hear the worst of them all—the tax collectors were regarded as sellouts to their own people. And then the prostitutes—it’s an astonishing thing. He was called a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). He goes beyond our understanding of what life is really meant to be like.

So, I’m just giving certain principles that I think we need to follow that are clearly mandated by Scripture. When we deal with adiaphora, those doubtful things, then we need to understand that some people will be able to do certain things that other people cannot. And so, it’s not a question, then, of discerning, well, what is the nature of this publicly-held corporation, and what are they investing in? But, you see, at the end of the day you cannot separate yourself from some kind of complicity in this world. We are in a fallen world. At the end of the day, there’s always going to be a trail. I don’t care what product or service you use, there’ll be a link to something that is not actually going to be biblically warranted. And that is why you have to discern that. Don’t come up with these simplistic rules, you know, when in doubt, do this and do that the other way. It’s not so simple.

Each person then needs to discern based upon this matter of conviction and conscience what is appropriate for them to do, whereas another person might be able to invest in a corporation that the first person cannot. So, we’re dealing with principles, we’re dealing with a way of seeing that’s much more, in my mind, robust. It’s a matter of understanding our culture, understanding our times, because in my view, this is critical. We live in a time that is so essential. We live in the most remarkable time this world has ever seen.

There are processes such in the last few decades that have accelerated, that are beyond our comprehension. 2007 was the magic year according to Thomas Friedman. All these convergences of technology, about six of them, merged together to make it possible for such things as Uber and Airbnb to be even possible. We now take them for granted. I call it the Blade Runner syndrome. Back in 1982, when that movie with Harrison Ford came out, it was predicting what events would be like in the year 2023. We’re getting close to 2023, but I remember, wait a minute, wasn’t there a pay phone in there? And, sure enough, I saw it again and there was. Oh, it was a fancy payphone; it had a big screen—but you get the idea, they didn’t have a category for the worldwide web, for the Internet and so forth. And you don’t have a category for what’s going to happen in the next two to five years. You can’t imagine it. But I’m suggesting to you that it may well be that the new Tower of Babel is technology because now we are back to a universal language—that’s another discussion.

So, in my mind—I’m going to stop with these four C’s3 and then open it up for Q and A and interaction. I love this text in Philippians chapter two, and it’s in verse 15 and 16. “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach…” That is your character. So, you are called to be in this world right now, a person who has character that’s beyond reproach. Secondly, “…in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” That was Rome in the first century, and I believe we are more like that than ever before, than any other civilization. You’re immersed in a crooked and perverse generation.

But here, third, “among whom you appear as lights in the world holding fast the word of life.” That is your calling. Every one of us has a calling. You are an agent of the Light of God, and “the light penetrates the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it” (John 1:5). So, you are graced with a message that the world cannot grasp. And if you can convey this so that you can give them a picture of biblical possibilities rather than what you’re against, you see—nuances, options, possibilities, both/ands—then we are moving in the right direction.

But the fourth C, “holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I didn’t run in vain or toil in vain.” So that is living each day, each today, in light of that Day, the Day that will come. So, in my thinking, that’s really a critical way of understanding it. One last thought I have before we open up for Q and A, we just posted this little thing here just today, finished it: “Biblical Economics & Finance Part One—An Introduction to Wealth.” And so there’s a whole article on that. And then part two goes from there, and it’s really kind of interesting. We’re looking at a whole array of risk and reward. The whole idea of part six, “The Bible on Money and Saving”; part [three] would be “Balancing Investment and Consumption,” and so forth. It’s found there on the website in case you’re interested. So, we just posted these things, and I think you might find that to be of interest.

So, let’s just open it up for Q and A and see what you have in mind. Yes. Well, that was good. It was clear as mud. I can see that.

[Inaudible Question]

The idea here is that it doesn’t mean by having this nuanced approach that there are some things that there are some things we could possibly embrace. There are certain things whose purpose, whose function, whose essence is along the lines of that which is counter to the biblical mandate of what a fruitful life looks like. So, this is more than sin-screening: this is discernment. It’s discerning certain things that are inimical, antithetical, basically opposite of a biblical vision of life. That said, though, you’re never going to find a company that’s absolutely perfect. Even a Christian company, you’re not going to find that. And you understand that. But there are going to be some things that are no-brainers. So, for me to invest in certain activities that involve a culture of death is not the way to go.

It’s because really it is a culture of death. And you’ll notice it’s encroaching on both ends, both at the beginning and now at the end. And you can see where that’s heading as well. So, we’ve observed our culture is more interested in the idealistic idea of humanity as such rather than the person. But the biblical vision tells us that people really are greater. At the end of the day, you never met a mere mortal.4 And at the end, it’s people that God died for. Not countries, not civilizations, you see, that Christ died for. So, I’m just suggesting, then, that you need to help people know what it is to have a worldview, a biblical vision of what matters, what makes sense. So, in all things, if it’s possible, you want them to move in the area of those positive convictions to help people think that through so that there are certain things that really are robust and worthwhile pursuing as a range.

And each client has to discern where is that cutoff point. There’s no hard, fixed line. “Oh, this isn’t sin, but this one is,” you see, because it also has to do with attitudes and intentionality. It’s far more nuanced as we really know we are, as people who are bearers of the Imago Dei. Because you are a being who is fearfully and wonderfully made on all levels because you’re a spiritual being; you’re a relational being; you’re a nurturing being; you’re a rational being; you’re an aesthetic being; you are a being who can grasp a creation, a creative being; and so it goes, all these facets.

And if you’re married, you’re married to a mystery. I figured this one out after a long while, I’ll never exegete my wife. But you see, God loves people because the possibilities are boundless. And in fact, it’s my view that no two people will reflect and refract the glory of Christ in the same way. In fact, the more you become like Jesus, the more unique you become and the less you are defined by the elementary principle of the world, nature and nurture, heredity and environment—that’s another discussion. So yes, I take that point.

No two people will reflect and refract the glory of Christ in the same way. In fact, the more you become like Jesus, the more unique you become.

[Inaudible Question]

Yes, that’s a big area of interest of mine. I wrote a book years ago called Conformed to His Image and it deals with 12 facets of the spiritual life. And one of those components is the devotional spirituality. And it deals with what does it mean to have a contemplative life. The problem is that there’s a lot of contemplatives that are often in Cloud-Cuckoo Land, you see, so again, what do you mean by that? Why should the devil have all the best tunes? As long as you define your terms, you’re fine.

I do believe in meditation and also contemplation. When I tell people to read the Scriptures, for example, I have a book called A Journal of Sacred Readings that invites them to do four r’s. They take the Scripture and they read, and then secondly, they reflect upon what they read. And then third, they respond to the text in a prayer of their own, and then fourth, they rest. And that’s the hard part for people. That’s the part that they were uncomfortable with.

Pascal was right when he said, our basic problem is we don’t know how to sit quietly in our rooms. People hate that. They love distraction, and they love indifference. And those are ways that prevent them from thinking about the hard and really fundamental issues of life. So, what you want to do, then, is to create a culture. And, by the way, you need to have a place. you’re not going to find time for solitude and silence and stillness. You have to make time. The heart has an awesome ability to make room for what it treasures. And you become, at the end of the day, defined by that to which you aspire.

When Jesus asked that fundamental question in John 1:38, “What do you seek?”, it’s the most important question you could ask because it’ll define your answer to everything else. I have a little thing called a Reflections Teaching Letter and it’s discussing this right now, in fact. It’s not a newsletter; it’s a teaching letter, and I have a little signup if you’re interested. But what I’m trying to do is help people think biblically. I want to help people to realize that you’ve got to have shabbat. You have to have solitude and silence. Without that, you will be living on the surface of life, and you will not sink your tap roots deep into the soil of God’s truth in word. You just will not do that.

I use this analogy, if I go to this picture here—these live oak trees in Louisiana are fascinating me, if you’ll notice the root system. And they’re amazing. When I went to New Orleans after Katrina, the devastation was beyond comprehension. But one thing I was amazed about, in the city park, the live oak trees were doing just fine. They’ve weathered this before. Why? Because of this [root], because of that [root], the key is not what’s visible. It’s what’s unseen. The most important thing about you is not what appears to people, but who you really are when no one’s looking. And at the end of the day, you have to send your tap roots deep into the soil of God’s word. And without shabbat, there’s no shalom.

The most important thing about you is not what appears to people, but who you really are when no one’s looking. And at the end of the day, you have to send your tap roots deep into the soil of God’s word.

You must make a place for true shalom. But if you do not sink your roots deeply, you’ll be like this, a tree in front of my friend’s house, a white oak tree that looked great. But then, if you look at the root ball, it was not so great. It appeared robust, but it was not. You see, appearances are systematically deceptive, and we understand that. And so, given this understanding, then, we realize that in this world you have to sink your roots down and be tethered to the Word. And that requires a daily choice.

Consider this idea: a chapter a day for the rest of your life. The average chapter in the Bible takes 3 minutes and 45 seconds to read. Now, of course you can drown in a river whose average depth is one foot, and there’s a big difference between Psalm 117 and 119, I understand that, but at the end of the day you can read these chapters and then have time to do those four levels: read, reflect, respond, and then rest. And that’s the hard part, because here you stop doing the talking and you start doing the listening. And very rarely in people’s prayers can the Holy Spirit get a word in edge wise. You’re “Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap.”

You know, if you have an interview with a critical person, a great person that you’d love to meet with, what’s the dumbest way to spend that hour? Do all the talking. And that’s what we do with God. Do a little listening; and here, your listening is based upon what the text told you so that you are chewing on an image. And it might be something as simple as the “Lord is my shepherd” and the image of a shepherd. And you chew on that, and what you do is just dwell on that and allow the Spirit to prompt you. And so it’s powerful. Most people don’t do this. And I think if you begin to become a man or a woman of the Word, who is defined and shaped by the Word, who sinks your roots deeply so that what’s below the waterline, what’s not seen by others, is authentic and real. Then what will be manifest in the visible will be evidently superior to what would have been if you were just merely following the followers.

[Inaudible question]

Because what we want to do—that’s why we call it the theological foundations. You can be a practitioner without the Word, but you are limiting yourself to the wisdom of this world, the wisdom that comes from below. Consider James 3 and wisdom that comes from above is pure, righteous, righteous, and peaceable (James 3:17). And there’s a radically different wisdom. And at the end of the day, if you don’t embrace the wisdom of the Word, by default, you will embrace the wisdom of the world. And you’ll have maybe a Christian patina, a little veneer that you put on the agenda of the world, and suppose that’s Christian and being prophetic—nonsense. So, it is good for us to think about that because, after all, your work matters to God and what you do is your ministry. This is your service to these people that you’re working with—it’s your service to Jesus. And so, the more effectively you can serve them—but you’re going to be aware of the practical matters. So there are going to be understandings of the pros and cons of different instruments and different investments. We understand that. But contextualize that practice in the dynamic of being, that’s what I’m seeking for you.

[Inaudible question]

That’s a good word because it’s a kind of attention to interplay, isn’t it, between that which is profound and that which is simple, because the Gospel of John is a perfect example of that. It’s deep enough for an elephant to drown in and shallow enough for a child to wade in.

So, it has to do with the way in which you craft your presentation, the way in which you craft and convey—here it is—a vision, because that’s, at the end of the day, what we’re talking about. How do you convey a vision for a better way of living that affects the family, that affects society on every level? That’s what you’re looking at. Now, when it comes down to the technique, that’s when it’s going to be more nuanced. I’m suggesting more nuanced understandings and being a practitioner of truth so that, in that regard, you can have a simple vision, but your praxis will indeed consider the multiplicities and complexities of this world. So, it’s not, I think, one or the other, but there’s a simplicity of devotion to Jesus, but at the same time, it’s a mystery beyond our understanding. So, I think what Ron is talking about is a compelling vision of how this country can be affected, shaped by that.

And it starts on the local level. Then, in terms of the way in which you then help people think through in your practice, then you are aware it’s not just this or nothing. You see, then that’s where the nuance comes in. The vision is clear and simple. But the practice should be more nuanced. In other words, it’s called wisdom. Wisdom, as you know, is not just doing the right thing. Wisdom is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons in the right way for the right purpose, and the right timing. All those things connect together. And there are other aspects. So, it’s not just doing the right thing. It’s to do it in the right way, in the right power, and the right purpose.

[Inaudible question]

I like kingdom investing in many ways. “Kingdom Advisors” is not a bad name; you might want to consider that. At the end it’s about the Kingdom of God, and the kingdom is that place where He rules and reigns in all spheres. And so that was Jesus’s first word, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). That was John the Baptizer’s first words as well. Again, the Kingdom of God, powerful image, but faith-based is good too. But the idea is biblically based or faith based or based on that wisdom comes from above. But to me, being an agent in this world for the Kingdom of God, you in this world, wherever you go, the idea—and I just realized I’m out of time. But wherever you go, you should be spreading the invisible geography of the new creation. You see, you are an agent of that which is not yet visible, but that time will come. And when that occurs, then all things will be made known. The temporal versus the eternal is the most fundamental thing that Jesus spoke about—even more than money. Money was used as an illustration of the temporal versus the eternal. I’ve enjoyed being with you.

Listen to Ken’s other talk at the 2019 Kingdom Advisors Conference:

“Biblical Risk Taking: Leveraging the Temporal for Eternal Gain”


  1. Return on investment
  2. Dallas Willard spoke on the ABC’s of the popular model for church success, arguing instead that church leaders ought to look to the spiritual formation of their flock rather than to material indicators of success.
  3. The four C’s are character, culture, calling, and the coming of Christ.
  4. Taken from C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. The original quote is, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.”