43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Nathanael’s conclusion is so startling, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” [John 1:49], that it seems to amaze even Jesus. He playfully mocks Nathanael, saying, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?” [v. 50]
How could Nathanael possibly have known Jesus was the Son of God? It was the first time he had seen him. What could he have seen that led him to conclude so abruptly that this ordinary Palestinian Jew was the Son of God? I don’t know what Nathanael saw in Jesus, but I envy his vision—the ability to see the truth in people and events, the ability to see more than meets the eye.
What a gift this vision is in business! How often do we praise the visionary leader who appears to possess a superhuman ability to see what’s happening before others can? Leaders live or die on their ability to see the new realities facing their enterprises.
How can we cultivate this type of deeper vision? Jesus names a seminal prerequisite in saying of Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” [v. 47] “No deceit” is the key. No guile, no tricks, no posturing, no ulterior motives, no deception—those are failings that cloud vision. Those are snares that trip up schemers. Visionaries have no use for deceit. Their vision is pure, and they are willing to risk their reputations to live into it without fear for self-preservation. True visionaries avoid duplicity and double-mindedness. As Kierkegaard said, “purity of heart is to will one thing.”
To cultivate this gift of vision, we need to train ourselves to cast aside any self-serving posturing or scheming. We need to be guileless, like Nathanael. Then we can see clearly what’s before us, and develop the ability to see at a deeper level.
What fears or doubts might cloud your vision?
What do you see that others may be missing? How can you convey it with purity, speaking the truth in love?
 Cf. Psalm 32:2; Zeph. 3:12-13
© Bruce D. Baker 2014
22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
When John D. Rockefeller was asked, “How much is enough?” he answered, “Just a little bit more.” That’s the answer of a hungry soul, a soul that will never be satisfied, because “just a little bit more” is never enough. “Just a little bit more” is a recipe for heartburn and restless nights. The writer of Ecclesiastes ought to know; this book was reputedly written by King Solomon, the richest, most powerful man on earth.
Solomon discovered that no amount of toil or riches could bring meaning to his life. He learned that riches cannot satisfy the longing of the human heart. And yet he says work (toil) should bring enjoyment, being from the hand of God.
How so? What turns the hardship of work into a blessing? The answer is given in verse 24—work is mentioned in the same breath with eating and drinking. Like food and drink, work is nourishment. Work is enjoyable when it’s good for the soul. It’s soul-food. This soul-nourishing aspect of work becomes clearer when we give a more literal translation of the Hebrew text —
“There’s nothing better for a person than to eat and drink, and to see that his work does his soul good—this also I see is from the hand of God.” [verse 24]
Work does a soul good. That’s the point. It doesn’t mean that the work is easy, or fun, or carefree. No. But it does mean that healthy work is good for the soul. Work done for the sake of living a godly life is a gift, and it nourishes the soul just as healthy food and drink nourish the body.
This brings a profound understanding to the meaning of all kinds of work—not only physical labor, but business and finance as well. A satisfied body enjoys food and drink, and is filled. Likewise, a satisfied soul is one blessed with good work to do. A well-fed soul does not need to strive unceasingly for “just a little bit more.” Solomon’s wisdom here is the right answer to, “How much is enough?”
 As told by John C. Bogle, Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life. (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009), p. 238.
© Bruce D. Baker, 2014
15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
“It always feels very good when people say that they love you and they want to talk to you,” says Joe Tsai, the “most sought after executive in the world,” according to this week’s newspaper. Mr. Tsai ought to know what it means to be idolized. After all, he’s the man at the helm of IPO plans for Alibaba—the Chinese Internet and social networking company that dwarfs Amazon in sales and seems set to launch at a higher valuation than either Google or Facebook did. We can only hope that Mr. Tsai and his colleagues will not be victims of their own success.
Phenomenal success puts leaders at risk—the risk of believing they have earned their success based on their personal talent. The glory of success can go to a leader’s head and make one believe they are better than other folks. That’s a risk not only to the leader, but to the entire organization. This is why Jim Collins, in his best-selling book Good to Great, identifies “level 5” leadership as a dominant trait in the most successful companies. Level 5 leaders do not let success go to their heads, nor are they defeated by their success; when they receive praise, they re-direct it to others.
It would be hard to imagine a greater temptation to believe in one’s own power than Paul and Barnabas faced after delivering miraculous healings with a mere word [Acts 14:8-10]. People treated them like gods [vv. 11-13] and wanted to worship them [v. 18]. To accept that praise, however, would have been to snatch death and defeat from the glorious success of the gospel.
Every good and life-giving power, including the creative power to generate wealth through business pursuits, finds its source directly in the grace of God. Leaders who stay true to the source of this power and bear witness to God’s grace, will bless their organizations and will continue to be conduits through which God may pour out his grace to bless others around them.
 Andrew Ross Sorkin, “The Man Behind a Global Behemoth’s Eventual I.P.O.”, New York Times, January 14, 2014.
© Bruce D. Baker 2014
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Faith is a verb. Faith is alive. It’s something we do, not something we only think about. It could not be otherwise, because faith is embodied in a relationship with the living God. Living faith is the only kind of faith there is. Faith is alive. It's active and busy; it moves and works in the world. This is why James exhorts, “Show me your faith!”
“Show me your faith!” is a clarion call to do business for God’s sake. “Let me do business in such a way that it shows my faith,” I pray. Let my business show productivity for the sake of others, creativity for the glory of God’s creation, and justice for the sake of those on the margins. Let me do business in such a way that people notice a concern for justice, creativity, and service. Let me do business in such a way that I trust God to take responsibility for the outcomes. That’s the kind of faith that speaks louder than words. That’s a working faith — a faith that works.
This is nothing like “works righteousness.” We do not earn salvation by doing good works — far from it. James’s exhortation in this letter is a charge to let our faith live and breathe and work so that it becomes fulfilled, not stunted or — even worse — dead or dying. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” [James 2:26]. Living faith is working faith, and is made visible and fulfilled by doing works. James uses the word teleioō (to mature, complete, succeed, and gain perfection) to describe this sense of fulfillment. The same sense is expressed in verse 22: “[Abraham’s] faith worked along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.”
Work takes on a new kind of meaning when we see it as the out-working and working-out of a living faith.
© Bruce D. Baker 2014
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Tidings of joy and frantic shopping. What diverse sentiments the gift-giving season brings! We are occupied with buying and selling, and that’s a good thing for our economy. But God’s economy is fueled not by our buying and selling but by our gift-ing! Christmas is the season of giving because giving is God’s signature. Christmas celebrates the greatest gift - “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” [Is. 9:6]
Underlying all the shopping there flows the sustaining power of… not money, but grace! Grace - the power of giving - sustains every healthy business and every healthy economy. Take away genuine concern for the well-being of the “other” in financial transactions, and the economy will collapse. Grace is essential to sustain trust and health in society.
The Christmas story brings us a poignant reminder of this basic truth. The magi (wise men from the East) brought gifts from far away to celebrate the first Christmas (Matt. 2:1-12). Their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh give precedent for big spending. But gifts are made great not by their market value, but by the value of the recipient. The baby in rags reminds us that the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40) are prized children of God. When we give to the least, we give the greatest gift of unmerited favor. And the poor baby Jesus received these gifts in a manger on our behalf, then gave his life so that we might live abundantly and give generously.
We keep our business aims high by concerning ourselves with the lowest. Give the greatest gift, in both business and personal giving, by including “the least of these” in the grace-filled economics of God. By doing so, we join the ranks of the magi and our gifts convey more than gold.
© Bruce D. Baker 2013