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

July 2, 2014| 1

Truth: The Sustainable Strategy (Luke 12:2-3)

2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Dirty secrets die painful deaths. A quick search on the word “scandal” in the business press proves the point. The sad tale is repeated over and over again, week in and week out. This week the list includes SAC for insider trading, BNP Paribas for laundering Iranian wealth, Chinese mining companies for lying about stockpiles, and the continuing saga of GM’s cover-up for the ignition switch defect.

Like all scandals, these dirty secrets sprouted in the darkness common to all ill-begotten schemes. Their end is certain. They will be exposed. Sooner or later, every scandal stumbles into the light of day and unravels, bit by bit, as the truth comes to light.

Truth is the only sustainable strategy. Falsehood inevitably fails. So why then do schemers continue to imagine they can hide dirty secrets? This can only be a false pride, a misplaced hope in the power of mammon, or a risky gamble that one can “take the money and run” before the truth catches up with them. Such scandalous gains are fleeting.

Looking for a surefire test for the ethics of any stratagem? Ask whether it will receive praise or condemnation when shouted from the rooftops. Remember that God sees all. Even if a secret is kept for many years, a day of reckoning will come when the whispers will be shouted and God’s truth will be proclaimed from the roof-tops.

Some secrets deserve to be kept: it is honorable to preserve a trade secret for the sake of a noble venture; and there is honor in protecting the sanctity of intimate relationships. But secrets which deserve no praise are best avoided altogether. They are never a good foundation on which to build a business. They are not only dishonorable, but foolish, because they contain no sustainable truth. The “newspaper headline test” is a good test of ethics: Would you like the newspapers to report your words and plans?

Truth is the ultimate sustainability paradigm—in business and in life.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

June 26, 2014| 0

He Shines in All That’s Fair (2 Corinthians 4:3–6)

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

When it comes to sharing the gospel, little has changed in twenty centuries. St. Paul’s assessment rings as true today as it did in the first century: “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.”

Religious faith has become taboo in the workplace and in the marketplace. And yet, in spite of living and working in a culture that says, “Leave it at home,” we know we are called to share the gospel with a world that needs it desperately.

How do we proclaim the gospel in a culture that trains people not to hear it? St. Francis offered this wise counsel: “Proclaim the gospel loudly. Use words when necessary.” Lives that bear witness to a greater reality are the loudest and clearest proclamations of the Good News. Every good and true endeavor which flows from a heart of love for God and neighbor testifies to the gospel—with or without words. The light will shine out of the darkness, giving light to the knowledge of God [v. 6].

The choices we make, the priorities we consider, and the hospitality we bestow all point to a greater reality behind our words and deeds. Some of us might share the gospel though preaching, but a compelling life raises the kinds of questions that only Jesus can answer.

One of the great blessings of a career in business is the continual opportunity to let light shine out of darkness. Decisions made in light of the larger reality of the gospel push back the darkness. What better witness than to treat persons as souls? What better witness than to bestow hospitality where it was not expected? What better witness than to build a corporate culture that embodies the fruits of the Spirit? Such goodness speaks for itself, and leads to meaningful conversations about faith and truth.

In a secular culture, these actions speak louder than words. The words to explain will bring joy when the question is asked.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

June 18, 2014| 0

Working on the Sabbath (John 5:9b-17)

9b Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Sabbath-keeping is difficult in a 24/7 culture of activity and connectivity. We find ourselves hard-pressed to observe the Sabbath commandment to rest while still meeting the demands of our round-the-clock, “always open for business” society. The information era steadily ratchets up working hours as constant availability is now the norm in more jobs. Many Christians find their Sabbath rests eclipsed. So how do we honor the Sabbath commandment in the face of these pressures?

Some businesses have taken the simple step of closing on Sunday and giving workers the day off. Chick-fil-A, for example, boldly takes this stand on biblical grounds. However, such firms are usually exceptions to the rule and are invariably privately-owned companies; their leaders are shielded from the norms of secular culture. How do those of us who work in other businesses handle the dilemma of Sabbath-keeping in a 24/7 environment?

First, let's hear the word of grace spoken by Jesus. He also worked on the Sabbath, and there is a lesson here about its true meaning. He explained, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Jesus performs the work of the Father—he does the creative work that fulfills God’s good design for creation. Rather than breaking the Sabbath, he fulfills it! This is his mission, his work. Jesus healing the lame man breaks only the literal, legalistic rule of Sabbath-keeping that restricts human activity. But he fulfills the greater spiritual rule of honoring the Sabbath by giving healing to the man and glory to God. By restoring what was lost, Jesus fulfills God’s good design for human life. This is why Jesus says on another occasion, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”  [Mark 2:27–28; cf. Matt. 12:1-14]. Jesus takes Sabbath-keeping to a higher level.

We may not do miraculous works of healing, but we may nonetheless take confidence in Jesus’ promise to be lord of the Sabbath, resting in his grace and forgiveness that transcend the practical necessities of our jobs.

Let us note that we are not free to ignore the Sabbath command. Far from it! Each of us must do our part to honor the Sabbath and bear witness to the transforming grace of God among us. At the same time, let us also note that the Sabbath is more than merely an individual expression; it is a community act, a practice of the worshiping body of Christ. Sabbath rest does indeed refresh our individual spirits and bring rejuvenation, but its stated objective is larger: its primary aim is to remember - as a worshiping community - God’s saving grace, and to ascribe holiness to his creative acts and salvation [Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15].

We do well to worship God in community and to ascribe glory through Sabbath-keeping, whether or not we find ourselves in a job that demands work on the first day of the week. Even in the most demanding jobs, we can find ways to carve out time for worship, community, and family in weekly Sabbath practices. Furthermore, we can look for ways to give rest to our employees, whether we work in the marketplace or in a religious organization.

Whatever our situation, we can rest in the confidence that Jesus is lord of the Sabbath, and he bestows more than enough grace to be shared every day of the week.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

June 11, 2014| 0

Setting our Sights Higher (Psalm 121)

A Song of Ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

In the wake of the senseless violence that took a life and injured others on our campus last week, this psalm offers comfort and wisdom as a touchstone for the closeness of God, and it remains in our prayers.

This is one of the “Psalms of Ascent” (Psalms 120 through 134), traveling songs for the journey up (the ascent) to Jerusalem for the annual liturgical holidays. As people walked they shared their hope in God by singing and reciting these psalms. We read Psalm 121 in a communal prayer of shared hope at the beginning of our journey together here at SPU this past week.

Times like these remind us that our hope is in God alone, the God we know as Father through the Son who gave his life for us. He is the one source of hope that will not disappoint [Romans 5:5].

During the ordinary “in-between” times, we can easily become lost in our work. Deadlines, budgets and objectives are important, but they have no lasting significance in-and-of-themselves. They make sense only within the context of the greater reality that imbues all of life with meaning. The ultimate meaning of our work is found not merely in its financial value, but rather in the joy we bring to it [Ecclesiastes 2:24-25; 8:15].

So as we get back to business, and pay attention to the practical necessities of life, we do well to remember to lift our eyes daily to the higher source of hope. When we raise our sights to the maker of heaven and earth, life has meaning, work has a purpose, and the pressures of daily life become strangely subdued as they take a backseat to the higher source of hope in every circumstance. We celebrate this greater reality and the bond we share in the Psalms of Ascent.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014