April 16, 2014| 0

Staying the Course (Proverbs 11:3)

The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.

There are a thousand ways to go off-course. That’s why aircraft, rockets, and ships have internal guidance systems to help correct for the buffets of wind and current. People likewise are buffeted by unforeseen circumstances, distractions, and temptations to stray. In business we face a constant stream of pressures to veer off-course. Some of the most dangerous moral hazards come in the form of opportunities to make a “quick buck”—short-term gains that can have long-term repercussions.
curiosity

Most scandals begin with very small deviations from a true course. A thousandth thousandth of a degree off-course, and the Curiosity spacecraft never would have reached Mars. Similarly, small miscues in business or relationships can lead to ruin if not corrected.

The biblical word for sin (ἁμαρτάνω) means, “to miss the mark;” in other words, to veer off-course. What keeps us on the right course? How do we know when we are straying?

We might think of integrity as the “internal guidance system” that keeps us on the right path, keeps us moving in the right direction. Integrity is like a gyroscope that helps us maintain our bearings. The gyroscope’s stability comes from its large, angular momentum, oriented around a central axis. Similarly, integrity gains momentum when a person lives a life in alignment with God.

The test of any moral choice is to ask how it aligns with God’s will: Does this decision point to God? How will it demonstrate righteousness? How will it bear witness to God’s purposes? Does this decision bear witness to the self-emptying love of Christ? Each time we take a step in the right direction, we build momentum in the right direction. That’s how integrity grows and keeps a person on the right path.

Integrity is therefore relational. It cannot be reduced to a code or a method, as it depends on discernment of God’s will. Integrity is rooted in prayer. Practicing the habits of the heart that bring discernment helps us to maintain alignment with God’s will. Integrity is the capacity to see each choice in the greater reality of God’s will for us as individuals and as a community of work. When this sort of spiritual discernment grows in us and gains momentum in our lives, we’ll stay the course. That’s why the psalmist says, “The integrity of the upright guides them.”

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© by Bruce D. Baker, 2014

 

April 9, 2014| 0

A Worthy Boast (Job 31:6)

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” [Job 1:8]

“Have you considered my servant Job?” With this opening gambit, God puts Job to the test. Satan is permitted to torment Job, the “blameless and upright” man, to prove his mettle. It’s a challenging tale, raising the age-old problem of evil as Job and his friends argue and struggle to understand how God can permit bad things to happen to good people.

Though Job’s friends try every conceivable explanation for his suffering, they never really put the question to rest. Through it all, however, Job’s gaze remains fixed on God’s responsibility and power to save and redeem. [vv. 19:25, 26]  Job never gives up on his claim to stand on his own integrity.

The theme of integrity runs through the story from beginning to end. God boasts of Job’s singular integrity, calling him “blameless.” The Hebrew root תֹּם (pronounced like “tome”) used in the Old Testament is the same as that for the word “integrity,” and means blameless, complete, sound, whole, or innocent. In other words, it means "to have integrity." Job and God agree on this point, for Job demands to be judged on the basis of his integrity. He even challenges God:

“Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!” [v. 31:6]

How's that for boldness? Who among us would argue with God on the basis of our personal integrity? Dare we confront the Almighty as Job does? And yet, when it’s all said and done, God praises Job and rebukes his friends. [v. 42:7]  Apparently Job was right to stand on integrity and call for God’s recognition.

The turning point in the story, however, is Job’s confession and repentance. [vv. 42:1-6]  He admits that he cannot comprehend the mysteries of God, and immediately thereafter God blesses Job and restores his fortunes. This is not a recipe to gain material blessings, but a lesson teaching that we (like Job) may boast in our integrity only it is well-grounded in faith.

Faith is the soil in which integrity grows and bears fruit. Without faith, integrity has no rudder, no direction, no compass, and no destination. But when integrity stands as an expression of faith guided by the Holy Spirit, it is neither self-serving nor prideful; it is fidelity of character worthy of boasting because it bears witness to the goodness of God. This is the true source and test of integrity that can be weighed in the balance.

For reflection: Try a prayer that boasts of God’s good work in and through you.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

April 2, 2014| 0

Integrity is a Long Walk (Psalm 26:1)

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

We can’t walk in two directions at the same time. That’s why the proverbial “fork in the road” serves as a metaphor for life’s important decisions. We have to choose a direction and walk in it. As Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

The Psalms and Proverbs speak nine times of “walking in integrity,” and Psalm 26 is essentially a prayer reflecting on the meaning of integrity. [1]  It's a bold prayer in which the psalmist boasts of faithfulness, truthfulness, innocence, and good deeds before closing with an appeal for God’s redeeming power and grace:

But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord. [vv. 11, 12]

We know we are saved by God’s grace and not by our good deeds or integrity. Nonetheless, a righteous passion for God produces integrity of character, and this is cause for boasting. “Integrity” is the biblical term describing the habits of a heart dedicated to blessing the Lord. While the motives of the heart cannot be seen, they become visible by “the walk” they inspire, and lifelong steps of faith flow from a pure heart. Eugene Peterson wrote of this in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, as did Kierkegaard in his tome on ethical integrity, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.

Integrity is a long walk in the right direction. Integrity is not achieved in a single heroic feat or smashing victory, but in the accumulation of countless steps. Integrity is the unwavering, lifelong walk powered by a heart that wills one thing—to be a living, breathing, daily blessing in the eyes of the Lord. Integrity is the long walk of obedience inspired by love.

Just as a long journey is comprised of small steps, integrity consists of the countless decisions made in the face of opportunities to waver or stray off course. In business terms, integrity is a deal negotiated for the sake of the common good; a promise held in spite of loopholes; a product recalled at the manufacturer's expense. To act with integrity is to be single-minded in the pursuit of God’s purposes, and to trust God to save and redeem the steps we take as expressions of our desire to bless him.

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[1] The Old Testament Hebrew word is תֹּם (pronounced like “tome”).

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

March 26, 2014| 0

Love and the Law (Psalm 119:174-176)

174 I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. 175 Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

The longest psalm in the Bible (119) extols God’s laws, precepts, rules, and statutes. It’s a veritable A-to-Z of praise for “the law of the Lord.” [v.1] With 176 verses (eight for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet), it seems the psalmist could go on forever, stopping only when he ran out of letters in the alphabet.

From the first line, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!” [v. 1] to the last, “I do not forget your commandments” [v. 176b], God’s laws are admired for their beauty, righteousness and salvation. Such an inspiring, beatific vision of peace and wholeness can be found only in the faithful obedience of walking in the law of the Lord.

The psalmist even seems to boast in how perfectly he follows God’s commandments:

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments.
My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.
I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you. [vv. 164-168]

There’s just one problem—he’s failed. No matter how well he knows the laws, he can’t save himself. Nobody can. No matter that the first 175 verses of the psalm are filled with praises for the law of the Lord; the final verse is a confession: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” He’s lost and knows he can be saved only if God seeks and saves him.

This conclusion points to a Gospel of Grace greater than all other laws combined. Grace is the Law behind the laws, and the only way to fulfill them. God’s decision to rescue means that the lost can be found. It’s sola gratia—only grace, all grace, all the time.

This goes against the grain of most ethical thinking. So often the first question is, “Is it legal?” Wrong question. Knowledge of the law does not equal ethical behavior, and there is no end to loopholes, carve-outs, and special cases. The right question is not, “Is it legal?” or, “Can I get away with it?” The right question is, “Is it right?”

Yes, rules matter and we need to obey laws. But a contrite heart aligned with God’s will is our only hope for walking the path of real righteousness. It's a matter of being infused with the greatest Love, not reciting statutes and codes. We must have creeds and codes of conduct in our businesses, and train people in moral reasoning, but these are flimsy reeds in the wind unless we are anchored by disciplines of the heart.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

March 19, 2014| 0

Storm Warning for Rainmakers (Numbers 20:10-13)

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

This is a puzzling passage. What did Moses do wrong to earn God’s stiff rebuke and be denied entry into the Promised Land? He responded to the people’s outcry when they had no water to drink in the desert, and feared they were going to die of thirst [Numbers 20:2]. Moses presented this need to the Lord. He and Aaron “went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses” [vv 20:6-7a], telling him to bring water from the rock. Moses did as the Lord commanded: he brought abundant water from the rock, enough for all their livestock to drink [v. 11]. The Israelites were saved—again.

And Moses? He was rebuked—denied entrance into the Promised Land. Instead of enjoying the ultimate reward of the mission God had given him, he had to settle for viewing it from afar, on Mt Pisgah, above the Jordan Valley [Deuteronomy 3:27; 32:48-52]. Where is the logic in this rebuke? Moses was the greatest leader Israel had ever seen. God spoke to him personally, and he spoke to the people as though God was speaking. Even so, he clearly crossed a line somewhere with respect to God’s commands.

It's a good bet that Moses was frustrated and angry with the unruly people; he cursed them and called them “rebels.” He also appeared to take credit for the miracle (“Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” [v. 10]). God had said, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” [v. 8]. Bringing water from the rock was clearly God’s plan, but Moses’ mistake lay in how he did it. God had told him to speak to the rock, but he struck it—twice. God never instructed Moses to strike the rock, nor to speak to the people as he did.

Moses' behavior is not uncommon for “rainmakers,” those who bring in the money, land the clients, and deliver the goods. Was Moses on a power trip? Did his frustration get the better of him? We can’t say for sure, but it seems to fit the pattern of power’s corruptive influence in the leadership mix. Leaders—and especially “rainmakers”—face a constant temptation to let power go to their heads, as though power is a personal gift, and its exercise their personal prerogative.

It’s not. Power flows from God, to be directed by his will and used for his purposes. Power is given for serving, not grandstanding. It’s a lesson Moses never forgot. He remembered and taught it until his dying day [Deuteronomy 33], and prayed (in the closing line of the psalm that bears his name):

     Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
     and establish the work of our hands for us;
     yes, establish the work of our hands! [Psalm 90:17]

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014