Christian Retirement

Defining a problem and developing a consensus


Have you ever noticed that sometimes there is a solution looking for a problem to solve?  Usually, it is the other way around and there are lots of problems looking for solutions.

The problem with problems is that they are “squishy." They are hard to grab, challenging to get your arms around, and definitely slippery rascals. Just when you think you’ve “got it” they slip away, morph into something different, or disappear entirely.

At least one wise person must have said, “If you can’t define your problem, you don’t have one.” That may be correct in a strict sense. However, instead of not having one, you may have a host of them masquerading under the cover of darkness.

A reasonable question to ask when a problem arrives on your plate is, “What problem are you trying to solve?” I’ve noticed that when asked that way, the problem messenger often stutters and spends considerable time and effort trying to describe it. They feel the pain of an issue but cannot detail its cause. They are convinced that a major challenge exists but do not understand it well enough to then proffer a solution.

A long time ago, an individual - I can’t remember who to give the credit to - opined that most problems are just symptoms. Symptoms that are masking the real issues creating conflict, pain, suffering or just confusion.

I remember deciding to live for a week using that perspective in virtually all conversations and interrelationships. Any action, activity, or observation I experienced, I mentally conformed it into a symptom and looked, probed, or investigated the issue searching for the real problem. What an amazing experience. I learned so much about myself, others, and the world we live in.

When you assume that everything has a root cause, the world explodes exponentially.

When told that someone could not make an appointment, it prompted the question, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Typically, the actual reason for the cancellation emerged.

When a staff member asked me to speak with a client, I asked, “Give me the background that leads to your request." Often there was an unstated problem that needed solving or a lack of knowledge that our training programs had not addressed.

Try it. Assume that the next issue facing you is a symptom and dig for the real issues before you even begin to address the surface symptom. I’d love to hear your stories.

Here is the bottom line on problems: If you can’t state them accurately or clearly, the proposed solution won’t solve the problem.

There is an interesting reverse issue. You develop a way to do something, a solution to a problem without knowing exactly what the problem is. Then you start casting around for the issue you can solve, and you find there is no clear problem available. Confusing and disconcerting, isn’t it?

Here is an example: 12 plus years ago I figured out a way to set up a retirement plan for workers outside the United States. Quite simple in some respects because all you have to do is set up an off-shore investment account and then record-keep the information according to a pre-agreed upon plan or formula. Easy, right?

Here was the problem: first of all, I could not find anyone to do the recordkeeping. Even more frustrating was that I could not find a consensus among any groups that desired or indicated they needed such a service.

Twelve years pass and I remember the solution conceived so many years before. Interestingly, I now have the answer to the record keeping part of the issue. Has anything changed about the issue of need?

On a recent speaking engagement in Greece, a mission organization leader asked, almost out of the blue, “Could you put together a retirement plan for the Foreign Nationals affiliated with our Mission?” Voila! The need surfaced and I already had the outline of a great answer. The problem slid into the solution, rather than the solution surrounding the problem.

Now the challenge is to determine if any other mission organizations have a similar need. In preparation for another missions conference, I contacted a number of mission leaders and posed the question. I then asked them to gather at the conference for a quick review of the topic and input from many into the subject.

Initially, the response was that there was very little need for such a program although it would be nice for the few people that would use it. What happened next was interesting. The group grasped the solution and began to dig into the pieces that made up the problem.

Should US mission organizations be responsible for funding the retirement plan for Foreign Nationals? Quite a spirited debate took place and out of it came the consensus that no, they were not responsible but that they would still be held accountable for the moral liability.

The dialogue then morphed into an understanding that there was the obligation to make sure the issue of long-term funding was understood and addressed by the non-US entities and their leadership. Along with that understanding came the realization that bringing an issue to the forefront of conversations creates the responsibility to provide, at the very least, a workable solution. Problem identification without solution leads to blame for the problem identifier.

We are in the process of now building a consensus around a newly recognized and understood problem using an operational solution 12 years in the making.

I thought you’d enjoy this somewhat unusual perspective about problems, their solutions, and building consensus together.

If you have input or further insight into this issue or anything related, please do not keep your light under a barrel. Comment below.


Life's next junction


I was standing on the platform of the Northern Railway station in Whitefish, Montana.

My memory is sometimes challenged but it looked the same as it had 50 years before. With all the air travel I do, being at a train station is amazing. 50 years before my wife and I had taken the family on the Northern route from Seattle to Chicago. The scenery was stunning and I got off at Whitefish to absorb the beauty of the station and the mountains beyond. If you have not been to Glacier Park and its vicinity, it needs to go on your bucket list.

50 years ago, I was at a key juncture in my life. The train trip, and even the stop in Whitefish, were times of prayer and reflection about my future. I’d worked hard, had my MBA, and a resume that included Ford Motor Company and Boise Cascade, Corporation. At Boise, I’d moved through two product management positions, a brief stint as National Accounts sales manager, and was now the Assistant to the Divisional VP. From an outsider’s perspective, the world was my oyster and moving up in the organization was a virtual certainty.

Yet, I was unsure. Are you familiar with this feeling?

Often, we move or change jobs because we have to. This was somehow different. I was not yet a mature enough Christian to have developed the listening ear to what the Holy Spirit was saying. At the same time, I knew there was something more, or maybe just different that I was supposed to be doing. It was a major juncture in my life.

Perhaps the fact that railroads have junctions is what prompted my connection with that particular time in Whitefish and the issues of life transitions. Those times come up often enough so we know they are important, yet seldom enough to remember how important they are.

It is the decisions we make at the junctions of life that are so important.

They direct, or re-direct, our life’s journey. Often, they are the points in time when we change direction. But they can also be times of affirmation for our current course. I like to think of our life’s journey being represented by a river - the river of life.

Rivers continuously flow but the speed of the flow is not always constant. On the train from Durango, Colorado to Silverton you shadow a river most of the time. While it is all beautiful, you can’t help but notice how the river changes. It becomes narrower at points and speeds up dramatically. The fast flow opens up to a wide spot where it slows down and becomes peaceful. The color of the water also changes depending on the color of the rock, the sand, and the sun.

Our lives are similar to that river.

It is at the points of transition, the junctions with the streams that feed it fall into the depths, that symbolize the action of life. There are key points of beginning and ending, coupled with the junctions of change.

Was I going to leave the “safety” and certainty of the big corporation or not? There was a restlessness inside of me as I paced the Whitefish train station so many years ago. It is amazing that I can remember the event, the feelings, and the emotions from that brief moment nearly 5 decades in the past.

Standing there now many of those same feelings came back. I’m at another junction, another point of transition. While there are junctions that seem to pop up every 10 years or so, this one seems like another important one. Another Whitefish moment. Fortunately, I’m much further along in the experiences of life and my spiritual walk. I’m both more patient and both able and willing to listen to the promptings of God’s whisper in my ear. Another junction in life for me. And in many ways similar to the one of 50 years ago, and yet so much more satisfying.

Understanding that listening to God’s call, allowing me the privilege of deciding that His will is mine, certainly makes this junction easier and less stressful. But no less important.

The call this time will not uproot my family nor even require a move. It just requires obedience and taking each indicated step one at a time.

I speak with so many that are in their late 50s and 60s who are looking forward to that time of transition called retirement by some. Some are nervous, some are oblivious, and some are excited about the journey ahead. For most, the realization that the journey ahead may encompass 30 years is a bit of a shock. “30 years is a long time!” is the normal response to that realization. The most common observation made is, “I haven’t figured it out yet”, or, “I really don’t know.”

We can easily understand and highlight life’s junction that occurs during the 60s. It is helpful to realize that there will most likely be at least two more major points of transition still ahead, not just the one that occurs in our 60s. Coupled with the anxiety of transition, we’d like to get our lives figured out and then just get on with it. It just does not work that way.

It makes sense then to develop some skills at navigating those intersections.

Of knowing how to recognize which track to take and what it’s going to require of you when you take it.

God uses these changes to help direct our lives. Being in tune with his plan for your life, at each stage and during each transition is important. When we are in tune it gets easier. When we are not, it gets harder.

This reminds me again of the seat mate on a recent flight. When asked what he had done during the prior 6 years of retirement, his answer was “Nothing with meaning!”

Think about your life’s next junction. Hopefully you too will have a Whitefish train station where you can pause, reflect, listen and decide.

Oh yes, my junction: God is calling me to reduce the number of things I am doing, and to focus on just three: serving Envoy Financial as CEO and expanding the number of lives touched by the ministry, bringing the message of the Retirement Reformation, changing the way we think and act during the last 30 years of life, and encouraging the growth of Business for Ministry, a key to the future funding of many ministries.

When I write it down, it still seems like a lot. So, I’ll keep listening. I may even take another trip back to Whitefish. Want to join me?


What's in your future?

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I pulled into the Envoy parking lot and there it was - a 426 HP, bright orange, 2013, Camaro that existed in my friend’s dream. Now a reality! He confided in me a month or so earlier that he’d finally convinced his wife that “they” should have the car of his dreams. How much fun is that?

Interestingly, parked beside it was another Chevrolet...60 years older. A 1953 rebuilt farm truck with 70 HP. Not only were they years apart but they went from functional to fantastic. It took me back to my college years selling new Chevrolets at Mahlon Maxton Chevrolet in Worthington, Ohio. It got me through college and a good part of graduate school. I guess it proves you do not have to be an expert to sell a lot of cars. How thankful we were!

Dreams and reality, function and fun, are all key parts of life.

The Chevy truck was built before most reading this blog were even born. So, think out a decade or more, what will you be driving? What will you be doing? Will you be active in your current ministry or vocation, or called to whole new activity? Will it be more like a 1953 Chevrolet Pick-up or a 2013 high-powered Camaro?

Whatever your future calling, it will certainly cost money. It will have a financial component.

My friend was so excited that he could afford to purchase his dream car. If he, they, could not have afforded it, the dream would exist, but with no reality in sight.

Being able to live a dream creates the foundation for another one. Experiencing the dream, seeing it come into full-throttled fruition is energizing. It also provides the fuel for a powerful future.

When we are open to God’s plan for our future, particularly after retirement, there are two action steps to take:

  1. Connect with His vision for your future and the dream he places in you.
  2. Prepare for it financially. We call this a Future Funded Ministry.

What would you put in your picture? Think about it…and be glad you’re not buying the gas.

Let me know your thoughts and comments. Our dialogue continues.

Living with Trusted Advice together


Your work: a reflection of the nature of God

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John Calvin believed that work is as much a part of worship as giving. 

In the Christian community, we talk about work as worship, work as ministry, and work as stewardship.

We often think of the work that we are required to do in order to earn a living. We then separate that work from our spiritual life and role as one of God’s stewards. Stewards of what? Well, steward of everything is the most inclusive definition. Stewardship requires work, yours and mine.

 So work is so much more than expending the time and energy to "earn a living."

Not only do we work, but our work is a reflection of the nature of God. We are made in God’s image and we know that He worked to create the world and works today in our daily lives.

Let's take an even closer look at "work." It is comforting to know that each of us is both chosen to be a friend of Gods and called to roles in His Kingdom. There are general roles for all and then specific roles for each of us in His kingdom. To put it another way, God is at work in both of those areas, choosing and calling, being chosen and being called.

First, we have to respond to the "choosing" with a step of faith. After that, we  go to work and carry out the "calling." So both God and His creation, you and me, are in fact working together. 

While we are in the process of working at our calling, God is also at work in our circumstances. He prepares us, strengthens and upholds us. This is how He enables us to carry out our stewardship mission.

How comforting is that? We are not alone. We have His wisdom and power to support, strengthen, and uphold us. It sure makes a difference in those tough circumstances and difficult situations….you know, the ones that totally get you down.

Nothing gets done unless someone does something….that something we call "work." Work for which we are either already prepared or tasks we are working on that will, in fact, prepare us for what is next. The next step in carrying out God’s call on our life. By the way, those next steps extend for a lifetime, not just a season. 

So here is the rub given our current culture's perspective of the last quarter of our life....retirement. The rub is that our culture embraces the perspective that at retirement we will stop working. Stop working and focus only on satisfying ourselves. In other words, we will do nothing but focus on our own desires and pleasures. 

On the other end of the spectrum is the supposed Christian mantra that “I’m never going to retire."  "I will never stop working."  The assumption that goes along with this life view is that the work will provide an ongoing income too. The back story is that this mantra presupposes never stopping earning. Work for pay becomes the lifetime annuity. That is unrealistic for sure. I just can’t envision hiking to the office at 90.

So what is a God-honoring perspective of work and of retirement? 

What you do in retirement, your work during retirement, is, in fact, your response to the opportunities God puts right in front of you and has uniquely prepared for you.

Pretty cool. You are prepared for a lifetime of service to carry out a uniquely called mission extending not for a season, but for a lifetime. This also presupposes that you have prepared financially for this strategic time of service. 

I take great comfort in knowing that regardless of my age or circumstance, God is at work preparing me for a lifetime of service….service for a lifetime. We will explore the three stages of retirement in another blog. The great comfort comes from knowing that there will always be meaning and purpose in my life fulfilling God’s call which always means “changed lives."

All this is true if you are spiritually prepared and the results of your financial stewardship give you the freedom to respond to God's call. 

Love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Work is a sacred activity and when done to His glory fulfills our mission to the world.