Those who follow Jesus know and can testify that we have so much more than just an empty “religion”. We have an intimate personal relationship with the living God, Jesus Christ! As I’ve noted many times before, God often speaks to me through his word. I speak to him in prayer. He brings many things to my mind during prayer. He leads me throughout my day. He reveals things to me and reveals himself to me. He is constantly teaching me things, encouraging me, strengthening me, guiding me, and molding me into the man he wants me to be. This morning provided a good example of this active relationship, so I decided to share it with readers.
Lately, I suppose over the last week or so, things have been getting more intense for me. Bankruptcy appears to be a very real risk for many of the stocks in the portfolio. For example, the market is pricing BEBE, LF, NADL, and BTU as though there is a very high chance of bankruptcy (or in the case of NADL, a similarly negative event such as an absorption by SDRL at an extremely low price) in the near future. In other words, most market participants are viewing those stocks as though bankruptcy is inevitable. The market is pricing EXXI, ORIG, and PACD as though there is a fairly high risk of bankruptcy. Of course, ACI is basically treated by most to have already declared bankruptcy, though I would expect the stock has a good bit further to fall (percentage wise) upon any official announcement. Even several of the other stocks such as CLD and WTI are priced fairly low as to denote a significant degree of bankruptcy risk.
This is an extremely high risk portfolio. Most investors would consider it to be foolish… speculative… gambling. I’m aware also that it looks like I make a classic investing mistake of selling winners quickly and stubbornly holding onto losers. That is a common mistake, and I think generally it’s good to be aware of common mistakes and to try to combat them. But as I’ve mentioned several times lately, I’m no longer relying on human wisdom. I’m not saying I’m not aware of human wisdom and analysis. It’s just that I’m not relying on it, which brings me to the point of this post.
Lately, I’ve been getting attacked with thoughts of “human wisdom” that tell me that my God can’t or won’t deliver me from these situations. I often read financial website articles that are written about the stocks I hold, especially on Seeking Alpha. I especially enjoy reading the comment section. The comment section is full of a lot of things, some worth reading and absorbing, some not. As with the articles themselves, if one has sufficient discernment, the comment section can be full of good information and insight. Lately however, the articles and comments written about the stocks I hold have been mostly extremely negative. For a great example, just take a look at this headline, which reads, “North Atlantic Drilling Looks Doomed”. Alrighty then!
For the record, though I generally enjoy that author's articles and find them very useful, I don’t personally agree with much of the views expressed in that particular article. But first of all, my views mean very little, if anything. Second of all, many of the negative comments and articles about the stocks in the portfolio, I would agree with, according to human wisdom (that is to say, according to what we can see). On top of that, I seem to be getting thoughts thrown at me throughout my days such as the following:
“You know, a whole lot of toymakers have gone bankrupt or otherwise disappeared over the years. Anyone who has watched Pawn Stars or American Pickers knows that! What makes me think LeapFrog is going to survive? They’re burning cash at an astounding pace over the last year, and now they’re drawing down on their revolver!”
“Mall retailers who burn cash? They NEVER come back from that! It’s a downward spiral! What in the world am I doing?”
“Weaker hands in the energy sector go bankrupt all the time. The charts of the ones who didn’t survive prior downturns don’t show up in screens. When we look through charts and see all those companies that have come back from the brink before, we’re only seeing the survivors. What in the world makes me think these companies are going to be survivors?!!??!?”
Those kinds of thoughts have been coming hard at me over the last few weeks. There have been many other attacks and I'm not going to list all of them. Suffice it to say that at times lately, I have been very weakened by the battle. I’ve been crying out to God throughout this entire time of trial and testing. I’ve continued to cry out lately. Friday and Saturday I cried out especially hard at various points in the day. This morning, I woke up and said, “God, I’m desperate for encouragement today. I’m being attacked and I’m weak. I’m scared. I don’t know any more what to do. I’ve been trusting you this whole time, but it seems like it’s getting to a point where I can’t take anymore. It seems like it’s getting to a point that my faith is going to fail. It feels like I’m going to be overwhelmed. I need you to help me today.”
At that point, I opened my eyes and already had my Bible open in front of me. I keep a folder with my Bible that contains notes and various scriptures. Last night, I had apparently opened the Bible randomly and stuck the folder inside. So, as it lay open in front of me, it was opened to the page where I had randomly stuck the folder last night. I figured that was as good a place as any to begin reading. It began in about the middle of 2 Chronicles 30. There were some good revelations in there. For example, when I read verses 18-19, I realized that God was always more concerned about what was in the heart versus following the letter of the law, even when the Israelites were still under Mosaic law. In Chapter 31, there were some things that spoke to me about a personal situation in my life. But it was Chapter 32 that God used to strengthen me today in regard to this trial and testing that I am going through.
I was already familiar with the story relayed in Chapter 32. I’ve heard sermons on it, and I’ve read it myself in the past. However, today God spoke loudly and clearly to me through this passage. He used it to impart peace and strength to me today. Readers really should stop and read it for themselves before going on, but I will try to recap and highlight it as I go. I was reading from the English Standard Version.
King Hezekiah is a righteous king of Judah. We learn starting in Chapter 29 that as soon as he takes office, he starts setting things right before the Lord. God's people have largely turned away from the Lord and toward following false gods, practicing unrighteousness, and ignoring the Lord’s commands for them. Hezekiah corrects these things and the people, under his leadership, turn back to the Lord.
We should note before going on that God’s people have an enemy in the spiritual realm (i.e. satan and the fallen angels). Whenever you see an enemy come against the people of God, satan is the force behind that. He is the true enemy. As often noted in the Know Your Enemy series put out by The Fuel Project, satan doesn’t have any new tricks. But he doesn’t need new ones, because generally, the old ones keep working on us gullible and sinful humans. Anyway, he’s been using an old trick to fight against me. He wants me to look at this situation through eyes of flesh. He knows that the lens of flesh will tell me that the situation is hopeless, and that I am foolish to think God can and will save me from any of this. Those are exactly the kinds of thoughts he has been using to attack me. There are even many comments on message boards where people deride other investors for using “hope” and “faith” as an investment strategy. There are many comments which mock anyone invested in these companies as “hoping for a miracle”. Generally, according to human wisdom, the comments make sense. Investors can’t see the future, so they should try to think in terms of probabilities. When there is a high likelihood of permanent loss of capital by going down a particular path, it is generally foolish to pursue such a path.
However, hope and faith are the exact investment strategies I am using! The difference is that my hope is in the living God! The Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The God who is mighty to save! My hope is in the one and only God who acts on behalf of those who wait for him!
Of course, I know all of this and it’s why I’m doing the things I am doing. However, it’s important to note that I didn’t just decide to walk down an extremely dangerous path, and then ask God to save and deliver me from the danger. Rather, to the best of my ability, I followed him as he led me down his path. It just so happens he led me down a path that appears to be very risky and dangerous. It's worth noting that before he began to lead me down this seemingly higher risk path, I had been praying that he would be glorified through my work and through this website. I still pray for that each day.
Okay, so back to Hezekiah. He and his city are surrounded by a vastly superior army. Sennacherib is a brutal king who has conquered many people and lands. So far, no one has been able to stand against him. The first thing we read about Hezekiah in the 2 Chronicles account of this story (another account with more detail appears in 2 Kings 18-19), is that he does all that is possible according to what little human power he has, to defend himself and his kingdom.
Then, we see the enemy taunt him, mock him (mocking is a very common tactic of the enemy of our faith but the truth is that we are blessed when this happens), and try his best to cause him to doubt God. Just look at his words (from 2 Chron. 32:9-19) and notice the similarity to the thoughts with which I’ve been getting attacked:
“After this, Sennacherib king of Assyria, who was besieging Lachish with all his forces, sent his servants to Jerusalem to Hezekiah king of Judah and to all the people of Judah who were in Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, ‘On what are you trusting, that you endure the siege in Jerusalem? Is not Hezekiah misleading you, that he may give you over to die by famine and by thirst, when he tells you, “The Lord our God will deliver us from the hand of the king of Assyria”? Has not this same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, “Before one altar you shall worship, and on it you shall burn your sacrifices”? Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of other lands? Were the gods of the nations of those lands at all able to deliver their lands out of my hand? Who among all the gods of those nations that my fathers devoted to destruction was able to deliver his people from my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand? Now, therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you in this fashion, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!’”
And his servants said still more against the Lord God and against his servant Hezekiah. And he wrote letters to cast contempt on the Lord, the God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, “Like the gods of the nations of the lands who have not delivered their people from my hands, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver his people from my hand.” And they shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city. And they spoke of the God of Jerusalem as they spoke of the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of men's hands.”
You see, God has impressed it upon me clearly over the last couple of years that most people in this area (investment management) are trusting in idols. They trust in science, technology, models, financial analysis, research reports, business managers, etc. They continually put their trust in man's wisdom even though it continually lets them down. Perhaps most importantly, they tend to put trust in themselves and their own views about the future. Man is constantly duped into thinking that through superior research and analysis, he can see clearly into the future. But look at what God says about that:
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
‘I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
who frustrates the signs of liars
and makes fools of diviners,
who turns wise men back
and makes their knowledge foolish,
who confirms the word of his servant
and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’;” - Isaiah 44:24-26, ESV
Okay, but back again to the words the enemy threw at Hezekiah and the Jewish people through Sennacherib (our true enemy is not made of flesh). He is trying to get them to think according to human wisdom, rather than according to the word of God. The enemy of our faith always wants us to doubt the word of God. He is trying to appeal to their flesh. He is trying to appeal to all their fears and doubts using “rational” thinking as his weapon. At least, it’s what we like to call rational thinking – i.e. believing in what we think we can see. Personally, I now find it much more rational to believe the word of God because I have always found it to be 100% true! But back to the enemy’s tactics, he is relentlessly attacking them with fear and doubt. He is telling them that the odds are against them, and that it’s foolish to believe that their God is going to save them! He's basically saying to them, “You better look at and think about and strongly consider what has happened to all the others who have gone down this path! Their ‘gods’ couldn’t save them!” Ah, but there’s the deception. You see, the enemy is speaking about my God as though he is just like false gods. But the God I serve doesn’t remotely resemble any of man’s false gods.
I don’t pray to a false god that isn’t really all that interested in humans in the here and now, but ends up being like a nice old grandpa who invites everyone into heaven after they die (as long as they aren’t a murderer, right?). If you believe in that type of god, then you believe in a god who does not actually exist. That god cannot save you from the death sentence hanging over you. I don't pray to that god. He/she/it is a false god. I don’t pray to a god that does not have a name. I don’t pray to a god who hasn’t even had the concern or decency to introduce himself by name to us humans. My God has a name. It is the name above all names! I don’t pray to some generic god that I have created in my own imagination. I don’t pray to mere humans who have died before me. I pray to the one who conquered death and the grave! I pray to the one name in all of creation by which men are saved from their sins, Jesus Christ!
Yes, I cry out to Jesus Christ, the living God! The God I serve is mighty to save. He cannot fail. No purpose of his can be thwarted. He will not leave me nor forsake me. He cannot forget me. He has engraved me on the palms of his hands. He confirms the word of his servants and fulfills the counsel of his messengers. He frustrates the signs of liars. He makes fools of diviners. He turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish. He raises up ruins. He makes pools of water in the desert. He makes a way when there doesn’t seem to be any way at all. He does the impossible! He rescues the weak and needy! When I am weak, he is strong! I can testify to you that I am weak!
The God I serve does things like come down out of heaven, walk among sinful man, and surrender himself to those sinful men to be mocked, beaten, and crucified so that we can be forgiven of our sins. The God I serve cares deeply for me and for you. If you don’t know him, ask him today if he is real. Ask him if Jesus Christ is really his son. Humble yourself. Pray to Jesus and ask him if he actually died for your sins. Ask him if he is really is the only way to the Father. If that is true, wouldn’t you like to know it? So, what is the harm in asking? The God I serve answers sincere prayers. Cry out to him today and live forever! Reject him and experience eternal death! The choice is yours!
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” – Joshua 24:15, ESV
Well, you might think I would end on that note, but there is more to Hezekiah’s story:
"Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies, and he provided for them on every side. And many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem and precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.” – 2 Chronicles 32:20-23, ESV
That bears repeating:
"So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies, and he provided for them on every side."
The God I serve answers prayer. I’m going to keep praying to him. I’m going to keep crying out to him. Because I already know that he’s a God who saves! Therefore, trusting in him and crying out to him is the only rational thing to do!
In Christ's Name,