Click below to listen to Episode 74 – Dealing with Fear & Uncertainty During COVID-19

Dealing with Fear & Uncertainty During COVID-19

Learn about the psychology behind fear.

Bob interviews Dr. Andy Ward, who breaks down fear, what causes it, and the brain’s reactions to feeling fear. In the midst of COVID-19, almost all of us are facing emotions like fear, grief, and anxiety surrounding the uncertainty following this pandemic. This is the first time an epidemic of this proportion has occurred since the Spanish Flu over 100 years ago.

Dr. Ward is a licensed psychologist who specializes in clinical and neuro-psychological services that Bob heard speak about FEAR on a webinar. He has been helping individuals, couples, and families for over 21 years while providing therapy from a faith based perspective.

We are truly hoping that what he has to say about fear and uncertainty will help you during these times of unrest surrounding the coronavirus epidemic.

GUESTS: Dr. Andy Ward, Licensed Psychologist
HOSTED BY: Bob Barber, CWS®, CKA®

Mentioned In This Episode

Christian Financial Advisors
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Bob Barber, CWS®, CKA®
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Dr. Andy Ward
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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

[INTRODUCTION]

Welcome to “Christian Financial Perspectives”, where you’re invited to gain insight, wisdom and knowledge about how Christians integrate their faith, life and finances with a Biblical Worldview. Here’s your host Christian Investment Advisor, Financial Planner, and Coach Bob Barber.

[EPISODE]

Bob:
Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Do not fear. I will help you. You notice, fear appears a few times in that scripture. So, today’s podcast, we’re going to be talking about fear and dealing with all these uncertainties right now that we’ve seen in our lives with the Coronavirus epidemic going on, and unless we’re just over a hundred years old, this is the first time an epidemic like the Coronavirus has happened in pretty much 99% of our lifetimes. You know, by far, this is the first time in history for most of us, but it’s not the first time for history, and it won’t be the last, but when it happens to us, you know, fear can grip us about the uncertainties of what could happen. So I’ve invited Dr. Andy Ward, a licensed psychologist who specializes in clinical and neural psychological services. I asked Andy before I said that, make sure that word, I said that right. Did I do that good, Andy? And he’s gonna speak to us today about fear. I heard him a couple of weeks ago on a webinar and he was so good. I wanted him to be a guest on our podcast. So Andy, tell us about your experience and I know we’re going to talk about fear today, but tell our audience about how you’ve been helping people with this for a long time.

Andy:
Yeah. Well, thank you Bob. It’s a real pleasure to be a part of this today. Well, by way of introduction, again, I’m a licensed psychologist. I’ve been operating a clinical practice for 21 years. I also run a separate relational leadership consulting firm, so that keeps me busy. I also do some work in the family office arena. It’s not uncommon for me to work alongside various financial planners across the country and working with high net worth families, dealing with some very complicated family dynamics when there’s wealth involved and there’s generosity involved and I just help provide another voice of reason so that people are functioning at a much higher capacity within the family system. So, that’s just a little bit of overview as to my background. In light of what’s happening in today’s world, boy, this is near and dear to my heart because I am seeing it. The impact that is across so many layers personally, in my own family, and my friends, in my employees. As a business owner, I have to think about cashflow and providing for their needs. And then certainly just with the families I work with, there is not a context of my life that has not been affected by what’s happening.

Bob:
And you’ve been married a long time. I think you told me 21 years and you have three boys. How old are those boys that you’ve got?

Andy:
Yeah, well 14, 11, and 7, and they are all boys. I mean, I can prove it by the ER visits we’ve had and all the scrapes and bruises and bumps, and they keep me on my toes, that’s for sure.

Bob:
So those of you with boys at home, and three boys, and it sounds like they’re full of a lot of energy, so you’re really getting to experience this big time at home.

Andy:
That’s right. Well, you know, idle hands is what we’re dealing with right now because they’re doing school from home, but it doesn’t occupy the whole day. And so just the other day I walked out into my garage and my second son had the gas tank out, all my tools strewn about the garage, and I asked, I said, what are you doing? He’s like, I was thinking about trying to build a bomb. I said, good luck with that son. If you need me, I’ll be in the next room. And I just slowly shut the door. No, he was actually just having some fun working on our go cart. But nonetheless, yes. It’s been interesting actually even observing the effect of all this anxiety and fear, even within my own children.

Bob:
We went to the grocery store the other day, and I saw these children with these masks on and these gloves and I was thinking, my goodness, this is so different than the world I grew up in and now they’re having to experience this.

Andy:
Yeah, we are leaving indelible memories. They’ll never let go of some of these memories. I hope that, at least certainly in my family, they can walk away saying, although there was fear, it was some of the richest time relationally because we really reconnected on some deep levels. That’s my hope as a parent.

Bob:
Yes. And through all this that Jesus Christ will be glorified and people will come to know him. And so Andy, we’re speaking about fear today. And in speaking of that word fear, I mean there’s fear for our health. Fear for our family members. I’ve got my elderly mom here. She’s 86, and she lives in a little town about 15 miles from here. But we went and got her and she’s been with us now for about three or four weeks and that’s just real different for my wife and I. So we’re concerned about our family’s health, our friends’ health. There’s a lot of fear of uncertainty in the economy, as well, and our own finances. So, can you share from a psychological perspective, since you’re a psychologist, what fear is and what it can do to us?

Andy:
Absolutely. There are a few definitions out there, but I like this one which says fear is a powerful and unpleasant reaction caused by the belief that someone or some thing is dangerous or threatening. And one of the reasons why I like that is that the word belief is the key word. Two people can experience the exact same thing and one person, although a little concerned or worried, they’re not folding or caving. Another person who experienced the same thing is absolutely paralyzed by this thing called fear. And so we are the moderating variable, meaning what we believe will determine usually how strong that emotion is.

Bob:
Wow. I wrote this down. It’s a belief that something will happen. Did I say that correctly?

Andy:
Belief that someone or some thing is dangerous or threatening. But typically for people who are really struggling with paralyzing fear, often in their mind they’ve played out a worst case scenario thinking and it’s almost happened internally. There’s some interesting research out there that suggests the brain has a hard time distinguishing between what’s imagined versus what’s real. That’s why you can literally just think of something awful and your body literally experiences some of the emotional and physical consequences of just visualizing it, and if you have already pictured something that was catastrophic, can you see how fear can only just balloon and grow? It is a natural consequence of what we visualize and what we believe internally.

Bob:
So really, our fear and our belief system, they’re intertwined, right? Speak into that.

Andy:
Well, this is one of the most well known and researched psychological concepts, which is just the power of framing something, the power of belief, what you choose to think on. Said another way, what’s the narrative you hold in your head, your mindset? Because that will absolutely determine the emotions you experience and then your behavior. In fact, this is a biblical concept that goes well back to the Old Testament. Proverbs 23:7 says, “So as a man thinks, so is he.” Meaning you are determined not so much what you feel or behave. And some cases, thank goodness for that. It’s what you believe. And in the New Testament, the apostle Paul took this concept and furthered it when he said, ultimately we have to take our thoughts captive. He didn’t realize that he was being an excellent psychologist. Left to our own devices, we tend to want to think negative, cynically, pessimistically, fatalistically, and it’s also why he said we are transformed by the renewing of our mind. I’m telling you, our mind, what we think, what we believe, how we frame something is absolutely pivotal in determining whether we are paralyzed with fear or we’re resilient.

Bob:
Because God is not fear. I mean that’s the way I think of it when I’m thinking about this. It’s like why am I fearing if I really believe God is in control of everything.

Andy:
Mm Hmm. That’s good. Yes.

Bob:
When I heard you recently, you shared that there is some uniqueness to this situation that we’re facing today with the Coronavirus. Ans you shared five points about how our current fears are unique to this situation. Can you share that with our listeners?

Andy:
Yeah, absolutely. I think the one thing that is unique is that everybody’s facing it. This isn’t regional. This isn’t just something that’s happening in the South or in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone is facing it in this country and now the world globally. So there’s this interesting collective consciousness that’s happening that we’re all in this together. I think another reason why this is unique is that being that it’s a pandemic, we have a 24/7 news cycle that’s just reinforcing, not just an information standpoint, but it’s reinforcing and driving home fear and what we need to be scared of. Hear me out. I’m the first one to say that fear in and of itself isn’t wrong or bad cause sometimes it can be protective and help us to think on things we should pay attention to. But if all we’re getting is just this bombardment of messages that’s negative and it’s just of all the misery and suffering. That will affect us emotionally.

Bob:
I want to add in something here. You know what I always tell people? Turn off Fox news and turn on the Andy Griffith Show.

Andy:
Well, you know, it’s interesting you say that. We’ve been exposing my children to the Andy Griffith show as well as The Brady Bunch over the last several weeks and it’s just kind of interesting to have them park their mind on something a little bit more lighthearted. Here’s a personal boundary I’ve set for myself, Bob. Last week I stopped watching network news. I just stopped it altogether. Every single time I was watching it, I would come away feeling more anxious, worried, and fearful. So I’ve decided I’m going to consume all of my news media through reading, and the advantages of that are I get to start and stop when I want. I also get to gloss over the things that are a little more sensational rather than factual. And that’s really helped me manage this emotion called fear.

Bob:
You know what? I’ve done that same thing, and I’m getting my information off the internet. Of course, the internet is always right and true as we know. But anyway, I’m just getting mine directly as reading myself because you know, when you see it and you hear it, it tries to get into your soul, and I’ve done the same thing and it has helped me so much. We’re taking care of our elderly mom, as I said, and we’ve just stopped. We’re not going to watch this in the living room right now, and it has helped. It has helped a bunch. So I’m glad you shared that. When you said we’re bombarded, you think about the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago, they didn’t have this.

Andy:
That’s right. That’s right. Something else that makes us unique. Again, we are in a global economy. We’re also connected globally. So what happens here happens around the world. We just hear about it. I think that’s unique in light of something like the Spanish Flu. I think this is one of the biggest ones though. The disruption that we’re having in our daily life really reinforces how serious this is. I mean, think about it. We’re not just washing our hands more. We are self quarantining. In some cases, mandated to quarantine. We’re changing the way we shop, the way we do business. I mean, even in my business, my service delivery, I’m having to do everything from my basement at my house. Not a single area has been untouched by this, as I mentioned previously. And so that just really reinforces that this is a big deal that can grow our sense of fear. And then I think just lastly, kind of to a point you alluded to a moment ago, with the Spanish flu. We just think that today in our modern world with all the technology and science that we’re somewhat immune to these kinds of calamities and catastrophes. But if you think about it, it’s only been a few generations out that we’ve actually had things like indoor plumbing and things such as having heated and cooled environments and having the medicine that we have. I mean, we’re relatively not far removed from living in a world where danger was ever present. We just seem to be insulated from that. We think we are, but I think we’re learning in this process that just because we live in a modern world, that doesn’t mean that we’re generally immune to things that can hurt us.

Bob:
Thinking about disruption in our daily lives. And I think one of the things that just, as Americans, and especially, you know, this is on Christian Financial Perspectives, Christians love fellowship and the one thing that comes with fellowship is eating.

Andy:
Yes, yes.

Bob:
We can’t go out to eat. We can’t get together in church and have fellowship. I was listening to our church service yesterday online and then my mom’s, and everybody is talking about when we all come back together, this is going to be one gigantic, big, potluck dinner. Because of the fellowship and that is what’s so different. I remember we’ve had economic downturns but we’ve never had it where we could not get together and shake hands and high five and give each other hugs. I am a people loving person. We we’re sitting on our porch last night and we live in the country on 17 acres. I was just telling my wife, I miss people. I mean, I said, I love you baby, but I miss people and just being around all my kids and my friends. That’s where this is really disruptive. Extremely. And then that fear, it starts to get into our feelings. So, you have the fear and the feeling part of it and how all that’s related. And I know there’s a lot of feelings that are related to this economic impact too. You shared there’s 10 common feelings, there’s five points that are unique about this, and then you have these 10 feelings. This is going to take us a while. So, if you’ll go into those 10 common feelings related to this economic impact.

Andy:
Yeah. And that’s what I’ve been hearing specifically related to the economic/ financial piece of this. Certainly insecurity and worry. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Uncertainty is another one. Also, a general sense of unsettleness. In some cases, anger. Anger has been an emotion I’ve heard from colleagues and friends and even the clients I’ve worked with. They’re just mad it’s just come to this, and they’re mad that they can’t, in some cases, business owners I work with, that they can’t keep their employees. Certainly as we’ve said, fear, but you know what? Fear can also morph into downright panic. I do know of some people who are having panic related symptoms. This is an interesting one. Another one is grief. I’ve actually heard a colleague of mine state that all this general feelings that we have and even the irritability that we might have with our family members is actually a mild form of grief. We are grieving the loss of our life the way it was. And then that can go into sadness and depression. Impulsivity is another one. Boy, that can really happen when it comes to trying to manage our money. I do have permission to share this, but one of my business partners, he liquidated all of his holdings and he went to a strictly cash basis and that was because of fear. I know the recession in ’08 just really impacted him in a negative way, but it can lead to that general sense of I have to do something. I have to do something, but that can lead to impulsive decision making too. And I think this is one of the most powerful ones we can feel. It’s that general sense of powerlessness. In fact, we know this, due to research, that a subjective sense of I have no power triggers that sense of acute stress, excuse me, chronic stress more than anything else. And the one of the things I like to encourage people when I’m working with them is you always have choice. Always. Even if you’re just choosing your attitude in the midst of difficult circumstances, you’re never fully powerless. And so just helping them try to understand where they can make choices to engender a sense of empowerment is very important.

Bob:
You know, as you were going through these, I was thinking about myself because you went to security, uncertainty, unsettleness, anger, fear, panic, grief, sadness, impulsivity, powerlessness. I think of myself and I don’t hit many of those, but I do hit the part about being sad. That’s where I was just saying I’m sad that I can’t be around my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I just love so much and that I’m powerless. I mean, I can’t do anything about it.

Andy:
I just can connect with that feeling. I want to reach out and hug some of my cousins, my inlaws, some of my other family members, and I just can’t do that. You know, I know the extroverts in the world are really taking this hard. I almost want to do some social research. How are the introverts doing? Because I would imagine at first, you know, feeling sequestered may be a little bit easier. I’m being presumptuous about that, but…

Bob:
No, you’re not because, as you know, opposites attract. My wife is an introvert and it hasn’t been hard on her.

Andy:
I’m just curious when are they going to actually hit that wall and realize, all right, enough’s enough.

Bob:
Yeah, that is interesting, isn’t it? So as you were going over these and you talked about the impulsivity, impulsiveness. I shared with you a chart that we always give to people. It’s called the “Cycle of Market Emotions”. And there’s some books about this too. This cycle of market emotions really goes through what people go through during this. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this cycle of market emotions chart that I shared with you.

Andy:
Yeah, I loved looking at this because to me, what does this reflect? It reflects human psychology. It reflects how our emotions are emblematic and part and parcel of even our financial strategy. You know, there’s some interesting, again, research out there that suggests even people who pride themselves in being analytical and numbers driven actually make more emotionally derived decisions than they realize. And boy, that shows up in this cycle of market emotions. Just like the numbers go up and down, so do our feelings. All right. From optimism, excitement, there’s a thrill. And then when the market begins to tank or at least begin to slide down, anxiety is not long to follow. In some cases there’s even denial. Yet, all the trending is going down and now fear sets in and then the sense of desperation and panic and that’s when we really need good advisors to come alongside and give us wisdom and perspective. Because I’m just a firm believer in this statement – you can’t know yourself by yourself. We need people outside of us to speak into us, even in love and respect, call us out on some of the ways we might have blind spots and that’s what a good advisor can do.

Bob:
Well Ecclesiastes says that two are better than one and you know and over in Proverbs, I think it’s 15:22 that says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” And you know, if you noticed on my chart here, by the way, it will be on our financial perspectives podcast website, which you go to Christianfinancialpodcast.com. So, you can see this chart. But it’s interesting, when everybody’s depressed and saying sell, sell, sell and get me out. That’s when the guys like Warren Buffet are going, buy, buy, buy.

Andy:
Absolutely.

Bob:
Because that’s your successful investors. That’s when they’re wanting to get in, but at the top of these market cycles, when everybody wants in, the markets up, everybody’s thrilled about it. They’re excited. They all want to get in. It goes the exact opposite of what we’re supposed to do as investors because it causes you to buy high and sell low instead of buying low and selling high.

Andy:
Absolutely. Absolutely, and a related issue. I really think that when even the market’s down, one of the ways that we can feel better is to actually think about increasing our generosity. When it says in 1 John, perfect love casts out fear, I not only think that’s love we’re receiving, but love we’re giving. And so there are ways we can just, through love through the vehicle of generosity, really help mitigate our own fear by generosity in that time when it doesn’t make sense.

Bob:
Andy, as Christian financial advisors, we believe so strongly in what you just said because we believe in using biblical principles in good and bad times because we know that biblical principles, they’re rooted in wisdom. When you emotionally feel like selling out of a well thought out investment portfolio that goes along with a longterm financial plan and strategy at the worst possible time, that’s where we, as Christian advisors, will come beside you, walk beside you, and help you make those wise decisions based on the longterm outcome, not days or months, but longterm outcome. As we get to the end of today’s podcast, I want you to share some practical advice. I know you have like five pieces of practical advice that you shared recently in the webinar that you did for us financial advisors, but let’s do it from the perspective of our listeners and how they can take this practical advice and apply it.

Andy:
Absolutely. Well, number one, I do think we need to move people away from fear to concern. Now, I’m drawing a distinction between those two emotions. Fear usually tends to have forward momentum that’ll make it worse, but I do think there’s something very wise about being concerned about your current state of affairs as well as what it’s doing to you emotionally. Concern can lead to action. Concern can lead to proactive movement in a way that can maybe hedge risk, but when you’re just stuck in fear, that almost always gets worse. So, that’s one of the first things, and that’s more of an internal choice. But again, that’s where it all starts. Behavior starts with that internal decision that I can make a choice here to frame this in a way that’s not so paralyzing. I think number two, and this is a related one, but we have to be very cautious against worst case scenario thinking. This is so important. And I’m speaking to myself, frankly, in all of this, but we know that the human brain tends to want to look at situations in a more negative light. We want to see the negative things. It’s considered, on one hand, an advantage to know how things can go wrong, but this is a cascading effect. The more we just see this worst case scenario thinking it’s going to impact us physically, psychologically, relationally. And I think practically a way to combat worst case scenario thinking is to now think about best case scenario thinking or at the very least mixed case scenario thinking. This reminds me of one of my all time favorite quotes by Mark Twain and he said this near the end of his life. He said, “I am an old man and I’ve known a great many trials and tribulations in life, most of which never came true.”

Bob:
Yeah, that’s good.

Andy:
I think what he’s saying to us, Bob, is that sometimes the things we fear happen, but most of the time, most of the time, the things that we project into the future and we fear doesn’t tend to happen.

Bob:
I like to speak into that too because I was raised, you heard me saying this earlier, my dad was a big Norman Vincent Peale fan and a lot of people don’t know who that was. He was a very positive thinker. So, my dad was always looking at everything positively. And I see this, when we come out of this to pin up demand of going to restaurants and going to ball games and going on vacations. I think of a, and this is the country boy in me, I’ve been raised around rodeos and ranches. It’s like a bull wanting to come out of the pen and he hasn’t gotten to come out for a long time. And I think that we’re just going to see this amazing pinup demand all of a sudden hit our economy that’s going to be good for the economy. So I’m looking at that as man, I can’t wait.

Andy:
I’m so with you on that. But as the apostle Paul says, we have to take those thoughts captive. We can’t let them grow. You either feed them or fight them. Let’s choose to fight them. Right? You know, I think a third thing is just to remind people of history. Guess what? All pandemics up until this point have ended. Markets do come back. Economies do rebound. Jobs come back. I just think it’s really hopeful to just get a lesson from history that our current circumstances aren’t necessarily now the rest of the story. History informs us things get better. Boy, we need that reminder.

Bob:
Well, after the Spanish Flu, we had the roaring twenties, didn’t we? It ended in 1929, but we had the roaring twenties. Hey, I’m thinking that of history too. I think we’re going to have a baby boom in about 9 or 10 months.

Andy:
You may be right.

Bob:
Well, I hope so. I’ve got one grandson and I want some more of those, you know?

Andy:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, another thing to say just practically, I think it’s helpful to just have people accept the challenges that they’re in rather than resist them. There is a tendency for us psychologically to deny, suppress, repress, avoid, and the research is clear on this. For those who want to be resilient and get out of these negative feelings that they’re struggling with, you just have to accept them. For those who deny them, they last twice as long. And so it may not be the reality you want to be navigating, but there really is something powerful of just accepting here I am and the Lord will get me through it, but I’m going to accept this rather than just avoid it. And perhaps this last one goes without saying, but I’m a firm believer that one way to just navigate this with more success is be more empathic and empathetic to those around you. Maybe even to yourself. I like the saying that says people don’t care what you believe until they believe that you care. And I just think this is a way to show that “1 John Love”. Perfect love casts out fear through the vehicle of empathy. Instead of just jumping in and telling people what they need to do, can we care about their hearts and the human aspect? I think we can. It helps us with our own sense of fear.

Bob:
This is the greatest time in history in our lifetimes that we as Christians can shine God’s light on others.

Andy:
Absolutely.

Bob:
Well, Andy, thank you for being on the podcast today. I want to conclude – and we started off with Isaiah 41:10 – that says, “Do not fear for, I’m with you.” But I want to end up with a couple of scriptures also. And one of the ones that we’ve been putting everywhere is 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of love and power and self-discipline.” Another one I’ve really been focusing on a lot that’s helped me is Ecclesiastes 3:1-7. I’m not gonna read all seven scriptures, but I would invite you to go to Ecclesiastes, but I’m gonna read a few of them, “For everything there’s a season, a time for every activity under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to harvest, a time to cry, and a time to laugh.” Now this one really got me, Andy, in the fifth verse. “A time to embrace and a time to turn away.” That’s true right now, isn’t it?

Andy:
Yes sir.

Bob:
“A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.” By the way, remember that one too, in our families if things can get tense? And this is an old saying, but I remember my grandma just would really always say this is, “This too shall pass.” This is not going to last forever, and try to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Not in the darkness, but focus on the light and get into God’s word and prayer because God does not want us walking around with that spirit of fear. Andy, you’ve done a great job today and I appreciate you coming on. You’ve shared so much. I’ve got a piece of paper. I was writing this down when you were talking about this, and you’ve shared so much. I don’t know what would be the golden nugget, but is there a nugget that you would want to share before we’re done with the podcast today?

Andy:
Only a reiteration of what you said previously. When it says in the beginning of the verse you quoted “fear not”. I just love the fact that it points to the fact that we don’t fear not because it’s bad to feel fear, but why? Because the Lord is with us.

Bob:
Amen. Amen. Well, that’s going to do it today for Christian Financial Perspectives, and I hope this has really helped you in dealing with what we’re going through, and I want you to know we love you. God loves you. If you want to talk to somebody, pick up that phone. We’re available during normal business hours. That’s (830) 609-6986 and if you want to email, you can just go to our website at ciswealth.com and hit on contact us. We’ll email you right back. We are here for you to help you walk through these times. That’s all for today. God bless you.

[CONCLUSION]

That’s all for now. We invite you to listen to all of our past episodes covering many financial topics from a Christian Perspective. To make sure you don’t miss any of Bob’s upcoming episodes you can subscribe to Christian Financial Perspectives on iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify, or Stitcher. To learn more about integrating your faith with your finances, visit ciswealth.com or call 830-609-6986.

[DISCLOSURES]

Comments from today’s show are for informational purposes only and not to be considered investment advice or recommendations to buy or sell any company that may have been mentioned or discussed. The opinions expressed are solely those of the host, Bob Barber and his guests. Bob does not provide tax advice and encourages you to seek guidance from a tax professional. Investment advisory services offered through Christian Investment Advisors Inc. DBA Christian Financial Advisors, a registered investment advisor.