May 14, 2014| 0

Banking on Grace (Luke 19:12-27)

12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant!'"

Great news for entrepreneurs! Who wouldn’t like to be given money, earn five- or ten-times on investment, receive the Lord's commendation, then be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams?

Of course, this parable isn’t just about the money. It can be read on many levels, as Jesus is teaching here about God's kingdom. In this instance, he responds to his disciples’ expectation that the kingdom of God would break out at any moment and disrupt the ruling political powers of the day [Luke 19:11]. The story of the nobleman’s departure could foreshadow Jesus’ imminent death, resurrection, and ascension. In that sense, “Engage in business until I come” might well be symbolically interpreted as an exhortation to remain faithful until the Lord returns.

Even so, the literal interpretation of the story also makes sense as a call to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is about risking capital, time, and energy for the sake of a better future. It has more to do with taking on a worthy project than it does with making (or losing) money. Entrepreneurs are driven by a passion to create, to do something new in a way that solves real problems. The prospect of building a company of people who share a worthy mission drives entrepreneurs to risk their time and money. Dave Packard, co-founder of HP and an icon of Silicon Valley, put it this way:

“I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists solely to make money. … We have to go deeper and find the real reason for our being… [P]eople get together and exist as an institution that we call a company, so that they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately—they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.” [1]

Jerry Sanders, another Silicon Valley giant, explains:

“It wasn’t a quest for fame and fortune that drove us in those early years of isolation and struggle. It was passion—a passion to develop, proliferate, and evangelize technology to empower people everywhere to lead more productive lives.” [2]

Of course monetary wealth rewards business success, but both Packard and Sanders reveal that money is not the primary motivation. Entrepreneurs tap into deeper passions. In the parable, the entrepreneurial spirit that invites risk-taking has a deeper source because Jesus is teaching a bigger lesson about trust.

The difference between the good servants and the wicked servant lies in whether or not they trust their master. The good servants trust him. They receive his capital with open hands and put it to work. They believe their master will take responsibility for the outcome of their labor, and they act in good faith. The wicked servant, however, believes his master to be an evil, dangerous taskmaster. In order to protect himself from failure, he calculates that avoiding risk and hiding the money is the best plan.

The parable works as a principle of business as well as a picture of following Jesus wholeheartedly. In a biblical sense, to be an entrepreneur is to live under the presumption of grace and trust the Lord with the outcome of our efforts. Knowing that God is gracious and kind frees us to act as good stewards of his gifts, investing them wisely to create useful products that meet needs and bless others.


[1] David Packard quoted by Charles Handy in The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism: A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World. New York, Broadway Books, 1998, pp. 70f.

[2] Jerry Sanders quoted by Michael S Malone in The Valley of Heart's Delight: A Silicon Valley Notebook, 1963-2001. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

May 7, 2014| 0

The Source of Courageous Leadership (John 5:16-17)

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.”

In management we are always under pressure to satisfy someone else’s desires. This is especially true for executives in public companies who manage expectations and feel the pressure to “hit our numbers.” Financial performance often dominates discussions with analysts to the exclusion of other topics.

Courageous leaders, however, are more far-sighted and see beyond the one-dimensional measure of market capitalization. They have other values in mind, and work toward higher aims. And this can mean bucking the dictates of conventional wisdom.

Jesus certainly did this—and made a lot of people angry—when he healed the lame man by the pool at Bethesda on the Sabbath [John 5:2ff]. According to the religious and economically powerful experts of the day, he should have left the lame man there and walked on by. After all, he had been an invalid for thirty-eight years already [v. 5]. Why stir up trouble, especially on the Sabbath?

Conventional wisdom tells us, “Don’t go looking for trouble.” If Jesus had valued the world's wisdom, he would not have told the invalid to get up and carry away his bed [v. 11]. But Jesus didn't care much for conventional wisdom. He was intent on doing the job he was sent to do. He models courageous leadership for us when he says, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Jesus knows what he was sent to do, and he answers to the Father, not to peer pressure. His identity and his work are completely defined by his relationship with the Father. Jesus said, "...the son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." [John 5:19, emphasis added] Courage (and direction) are rooted in our relational identity and in staying true to our highest calling in the face other pressures.

Paul O’Neill, CEO of Alcoa, showed courage in 1987 when he began his first speech as CEO, “I want to talk to you about worker safety.”[1] His audience was taken aback and the room grew tense. They expected him to talk about profits and sales forecasts. When someone asked a question about inventories, O’Neill said, “I’m not certain you heard me. If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures.”

O’Neill stayed true to this higher calling for thirteen years. His devotion to workers’ safety turned out to be well-aligned with the interests of stockholders. By the time he retired in 2000, Alcoa's income had quintupled, and market cap increased by $27 billion.[2] Alcoa became one of the safest workplaces in the world, with injury rates asymptotically approaching the goal of zero.

We should not be surprised to find stakeholders’ interests falling in line with our higher aims. The source of courage is simply remembering whose we are, in Christ, and keeping a steady hand on our priorities, doing the work of the Father always, and disregarding the voice of conventional wisdom—as Jesus does—whenever necessary.

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[1] The quotations and details in this paragraph are from Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House, p. 98ff.

[2] Duhigg (2012), p. 100.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

April 30, 2014| 0

The Life Force of Leadership (Titus 2:7-8)

7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Ask a parent what they most wish for their child. Is it wealth? Popularity? Goodness? The answer is easy: To be good, of course! To have integrity. To be truthful, loving, and faithful. These are the highest aspirations we can hold for our child, for ourselves, or for anyone we care about.

Paul shares that aspiration in his short letter to Titus, the young man he left in Crete to lead the church (v. 1:5). Paul writes to encourage and exhort Titus to lead with authority and get results in the face of rough politics and quarreling among the people.

In effect, Paul is empowering Titus to be an effective leader. His advice is short, sweet, and to the point. The essence of Paul’s message? Show integrity. Be a model of good works. Speak with dignity and confidence. That’s it. Integrity is the key to leadership. This biblical lesson has been taught (and its importance proven) over and over throughout history. Integrity may not always be enough to bring victory against trenchant opposition; but a lack of it certainly brings failure. It’s just a matter of time.

As Warren Bennis says, “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.”[1] Management often suffices; but when circumstances get tough, leadership is essential. Leadership requires moral integrity, and is exercised when character strength prevails over circumstances.

Because leadership is defined in contexts of dissent and disagreement, a leader’s integrity is always being tested. Leaders who are swayed by ill winds or who succumb to temptation in order to gain popularity, success, or power, will eventually be defeated by more powerful and sinister forces. Jesus taught this lesson during his testing in the wilderness [Luke 4:1-13].

It takes faith and confidence in God to be this kind of leader—to stay true to God’s purposes, to rely on his grace, and to trust him with the outcomes of our actions. As Paul advises Titus, God is at work, and our job is to model good works with integrity, dignity, and sound speech.

A leader’s character is rooted in and nourished by a faith community. Like a growing plant, integrity will wither and die without the nourishment of life-giving faith. Modern culture saps the strength of leaders when it tries to sever the roots of faith, and denies the spiritual foundation of integrity. As C. S. Lewis says, we cannot raise up “men without chests and expect of them virtue.”[2]

Moral integrity is the life force of leadership. Paul shares this empowering lesson with his apprentice Titus, and with us.

[1] Bennis, W. (1989). On Becoming a Leader. New York: Basic Books, p. 42.
[2] Lewis, C. S. (2001). The Abolition of Man. New York: HarperOne, p. 26.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

April 23, 2014| 1

Investing for the Long Term (1 Corinthians 15:51-58)

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Life is the ultimate long-term investment. Indeed, life outlasts everything else.

This is the message of imperishable, resurrection life. The resurrection changes everything, including our approach to our work. That’s why Paul closes this powerful chapter about the resurrection in exhortation: Know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. In other words, our labor (toil and effort) has meaning when we do it as an act of faith in the Lord.

Everything eventually dies unless the Lord of Life is in it. Everything. Products and proposals, profits and losses, jobs done or half-done—all things wither and are gone unless God sustains them. Work done as to the Lord, however, has life. Products built and delivered, services rendered, jobs done—all are full of eternal life when they are born of faith, when they are given as a free-will offering of confidence and hope in the resurrected Lord.

Here is a message of tremendous freedom: Death no longer holds power over us. At the end of the game there is no “score” based on money, market share, or trophies. No profit or loss statement stands as the final tally. No material success or failure can define us. Thankfully, life is not in those things—it is in the Lord alone. We need not fear temporary pressures to manipulate the score. We are free to make decisions based on faithful obedience—the ultimate long-term investment strategy—because all the struggles of daily competition have been swallowed up in victory. What remains is life-giving labor, working for God's sake.

This labor is not in vain. Nothing can drain the life from our faithful efforts to become the person God intended. On the job, at home, at leisure, with strangers, with friends—everything we do as “work in the Lord” has life in it.

Behold, I will tell you a mystery: you and I are built to last. We are made to be raised imperishable. This is the message of Easter in which we celebrate the amazing good news that death does not get the last word. Work has ultimate meaning when we invest for the long term. Life is the ultimate long-term investment, and Life gets the last word.

What a joy it is to know that our labor is not in vain!

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

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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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014