August 13, 2014| 0

Best Biblical Career Advice: Serve colleagues and mentors (Genesis 41:9-15)

9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.” 14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

Joseph’s “career path,” if we may call it that, was full of unexpected ups and downs: he was thrown in a pit, lifted out again, sold into slavery, and made chief of staff in his master’s estate, only to be imprisoned on a false accusation. While in prison, the captain of the guard recognized Joseph’s talent and put him in charge of the prisoners' affairs.

Then Joseph got his big break: Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker were sent to prison and placed under his supervision. Joseph predicted the cup-bearer’s release and return to Pharaoh’s house, and also foresaw the baker’s unfortunate demise. Joseph begged the cup-bearer to lobby Pharaoh for his release from prison [Gen. 40:14]. It was his chance to get out of jail, and he gave it his best shot. He appealed to the cup-bearer’s empathy and sense of justice: “For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit” [Gen. 40:15].

In short, Joseph seized the moment to ask a favor. Unfortunately, the cup-bearer forgot all about Joseph for two full years. Only when Pharaoh was troubled by a dream did the cup-bearer remember the “talented young Hebrew” still in prison. When Joseph finally got his chance to see Pharaoh, he made no appeal for release, no speech about injustice. He merely did as Pharaoh asked and interpreted the dream. Afterwards, he recommended a wise plan to manage Egypt's agricultural policy.

Joseph’s example is instructive. Wherever he was, he served the people around him. He earned the respect of the captain of the guard, who became his mentor and later put Joseph in charge of prison affairs. Joseph served the cup-bearer, who became a colleague and [eventually] mentioned him to Pharaoh. Finally, Joseph had the opportunity to serve Pharaoh, the supreme ruler, who became Joseph’s greatest mentor and promoted him to Egypt's highest rank, second only to Pharaoh himself [Gen. 41:40-45].

Joseph’s story demonstrates the old adage that “nobody gets anywhere without a mentor.” The corollary is that nobody gets a mentor without earning the respect of the people around them. Joseph did this by serving those around him well, developing colleagues and mentors in the process.

There is no way to predict the “big breaks” that may present the next opportunity to take on more responsibility. God directs those events and sets those times. But the best preparation for those pivotal moments is to serve faithfully and well. Find colleagues and mentors. Make friends. Develop relationships. Trust God to bring the right opportunity at the right time, and seize the moment when it comes.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

August 6, 2014| 0

Best Biblical Career Advice: Think above your pay grade (Genesis 41:15-36)

15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” … 25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. … 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

“Career” is not really a biblical concept, as I discussed in the last Business Parable. The Bible has much to say about faithfulness, but very little to say about how to seek personal gain, status, or earning potential—the sorts of things we tend to think of with respect to career.

If, however, we think of career in terms of walking in faith—discovering and following the path of our calling in business or any other pursuit—then the Bible has much wisdom to offer, as in the story of Joseph.

Joseph, the most-loved son of Jacob [Gen. 37:3], followed a tortuous path filled with unexpected dangers and opportunities (could that be a definition of “career”?). Though he was sold into slavery and falsely imprisoned, he rose to become second only to Pharaoh as ruler of Egypt. Joseph's faithfulness and perspicacity saved Egypt and many surrounding nations from a devastating seven-year famine.

Hearing that Joseph had the gift of interpreting dreams, Pharoah asked him about a particularly troubling one. Joseph risked delivering a very unwelcome prediction of famine—news which Pharaoh might not have wanted to hear. But Joseph went beyond being the bearer of bad news and devised a plan to save Egypt. He spoke out of turn; he thought—and acted—“above his pay grade.” Along with the bad news, Joseph offered a plan and told Pharaoh, who held the power of life and death over him, what to do. Pharaoh responded by putting Joseph (undoubtedly the smartest hire Pharaoh ever made) in charge of implementing the plan, thereby saving his own kingdom, surrounding kingdoms, and even Joseph’s family back home in Judah.

Joseph’s example illustrates the value of being able to think “above your pay grade,” and of having the savvy to know if and when it is time to speak. We can also note that wise bosses are likely to promote such people. Why? The person who speaks up, offers a constructive plan, and provides a good solution demonstrates good thinking and a concern for the greater good, the higher aims, and the overarching vision for the enterprise. In Joseph’s case, this meant concern for the nation of Egypt and for Pharaoh’s rule.

Regardless of our role, it pays to think in terms of the larger enterprise. It’s more than a good career move: it’s an act of faithfulness to offer the best thoughts and efforts we can and let the chips fall where they may. When we offer our best and speak the truth in love, we can trust God with the outcome.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

July 23, 2014| 0

Best Biblical Career Advice: Start at the bottom, and make yourself useful (Genesis 39:20–23)

20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.

The Bible is not a “how to” book for career advice if you are thinking of “career” as an orchestrated, planned road map to success in terms of professional responsibility, expertise, and pay. In that sense, “career” is not really a biblical concept at all, and there aren’t any examples of that sort of “career path” in the Bible. Instead of career advice, we find stories of people who are called to perform challenging tasks through many hardships. Their examples illustrate faith and God’s providence. Some of them saw great worldly success; many of them didn’t. But their lives are never presented as examples of a career path or resume building.

Perhaps Joseph is the one biblical figure whose story comes the closest to what we might think of as a “career path.” His story fills roughly nine chapters (Genesis 37 – 45, a very large portion of the history of the patriarchs).

Joseph’s “career” (if we may call it that) begins with his brothers throwing him in a pit to die, then changing their minds and selling him to foreign traders as a slave instead. He eventually becomes the overseer of a wealthy Egyptian’s household, then is thrown into Pharaoh’s prison on a false accusation of adultery. After receiving a miraculous pardon from prison, Joseph enters Pharaoh’s service at the age of thirty. He rises to become the prime minister of Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth, and saves the nation from a crushing drought and ensuing famine.

Joseph’s path is an epic story of rising from the bottom to the top. In terms of vision, management, and public service, he must be considered a standout success. But is his story an example of a career path? Not really. He never planned a single career move, wrote a resume, cultivated references, or applied for a job. The one thing he did over and over again was respond faithfully to whatever came his way, and that appears to be his key to success—“the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” [v. 23].

Joseph’s "career" teaches us to respond faithfully, trusting that God is at work, and that he will bring whatever success he will.

However, this is not an excuse to “sit around and hope for the best.” Sure, we trust God to be at work. But he trusts us to be at work, too! He expects us to show up and do the task set before us. In this sense, we can indeed gain some practical career advice from Joseph. We can do what he did: he started at the bottom, looked around to see what needed to be done, and did it. He made himself useful. Joseph made himself useful to the slave traders, to the Egyptian who acquired him, to the prisoners and prison guard, and ultimately to Pharaoh and the entire nation. At each step of the way he looked to see what needed to be done and made himself useful to the people around him.

That’s pretty good advice after all. The best careers grow out of a heart to serve the people we meet along the journey, and trusting God with the outcome.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

July 16, 2014| 0

The Ultimate Orienteering Course (2 Corinthians 13:4-5)

4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

A map is one of the “ten essentials” for any wilderness experience. Yet even the most perfect map is worthless unless we know how to align it with true north. Getting the map properly aligned is the first step in orienteering.

Life is the ultimate wilderness experience. We are always at risk of losing our way, constantly bombarded with tough decisions, and trying to make righteous choices in the midst of confusing circumstances. Just as we can’t find our way with a disoriented map, so we can’t make right decisions when we are out of alignment with God’s will. Paul admonishes, “Test yourselves!” In other words, “Check your bearings!” “Check your alignment!” “Check your aim!” Our aim will be tested by the tough decisions, and this is one test we do not want to fail.

What's the secret to passing this test? Is it a matter of strength, skill, or intelligence? No. The secret is to trust in Jesus Christ, and to live with him by the power of God. Based in this trust, we make decisions that align with God’s will. Based in living faith, whatever strength or skill or intelligence we have can be put to best use.

Passing the test is a matter of orienting ourselves to the truth. We begin by confessing our weakness, examining our motives and seeking to obey the Lord, not following our own selfish desires. This is why Paul can say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Cor. 12:10]. Recognizing our personal weakness unleashes the true source of power: “Christ in you” [2 Cor. 13:5; cf. Col. 1:27].

A Case Study:

Scott, an investment banker, faced a test at the close of a big deal he had negotiated. The acquiring company’s attorneys had inserted a clause in the closing documents that would not have an immediate effect on either party, but would have seriously obstructed the seller’s future business plans. Scott could have sealed the deal, told his client to sign, collected his fee, and shaken hands with all parties in happy celebration of another done deal, but he saw the misalignment and felt it in his gut. To close that deal would have been to wield his own power rather than to trust in God’s power. So he walked. He told the buyers “no,” and explained to the seller why it was not a good deal. He trusted God with the aftermath, eventually found another suitor, and struck a deal in alignment with right and proper aims.

To pass the test of faith is a matter of trusting God to be at work in all things. His power will prevail. Always. His grace is sufficient. Always.

How do you study for this test? By practicing the gift of Christ-in-you: confession and love for God and neighbor until it becomes an irrepressible habit.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

July 10, 2014| 0

Abundant Blessing: The Virtue of Business (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

Paul's impassioned appeal to the wealthy church at Corinth implores them to give generously to the struggling church in Jerusalem. He pulls out all the stops, even quoting the Exodus story of God’s provision of manna to eat in the desert: “As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack’” [2 Corinthians 8:15].

This passage is chiefly concerned with generosity and cheerfulness in giving. “God loves a cheerful giver,” as Paul says [2 Corinthians 9:7]. Yet before there could be giving there must have been earning. Business people—farmers, craftsmen and merchants—must produce goods that result in an abundance out of which to give. Charles Wesley put it this way: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

The Corinthians must have been good business people, as business can create honorable wealth that supports righteous and generous giving. Unless the Corinthians were good stewards of their time and talent, there would not have been an abundance to share in the first place. The virtue of business lies in its ability to create and provide goods for a healthy society, thereby contributing to shalom, which is prosperity and well-being for the sake of the common good. It takes business to do that, and it's what business does best.

Paul recognizes the necessity of business to provide honorable wealth, and points out God’s grace at work in the gift of fruitful business: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” [v. 10].

God’s concern for the poor is matched by his concern that the rich share their resources for the sake of the common good and for their own spiritual health, through obedience to the command to love God and neighbor. However, God’s claim on abundance is not intended to be a one-way street. God does not mandate a perpetual cycle of redistribution that creates dependency. Paul is clear that his appeal for aid is temporary: “[Y]our abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness [2 Corinthians 8:14]. The overarching aim is that the poor also will be engaged in fruitful work that lifts them out of their present circumstances, and the virtue of business can be seen in the provision of meaningful work so that none should be poor.

By God’s grace, this virtue of business is meant to “increase the harvest of your righteousness” for all people.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014