Category Archives: Business

Who’s your builder?

Psalm 127
For Sunday, November 11, 2012
Proper 27

My Dad was very successful in his business career as a banking senior executive in the days before “banker” became a pejorative. Yet as a college student I was concerned for him because I sensed him becoming a hostage to his own pride. I started praying for him the first line of this Psalm: “Unless The Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” I prayed, “Lord, let my Dad see that unless you become his builder everything he’s building will come crumbling down.”

My sophomore year at Indiana University (Bloomington) I had returned home over Thanksgiving break. At 10:00 am in the morning Dad’s Allen Edmunds dress shoes announced themselves on the kitchen’s linoleum floor. I knew immediately something was wrong. Dad was never home mid-morning of a workday. I asked, “What happened?” He said, “Well. . . I was just fired.” I thought to myself, “Lord, I wanted you to break his pride, but I didn’t want to get him fired!”

Then God gave me a word for the moment. “Dad, I’m so sorry, but maybe this is a great opportunity to do something else. What would you really like to do if you could?” Over the next few months he gave this question serious thought. He also realized that his heavenly Father ought to become his builder. He bought a business named Tekra and over the rest of his career profoundly blessed many other. I know this because so many of them sought me out at his funeral to share what a profound blessing he had been to them both personally and professionally.

To each of us Psalm 127 puts this question: Who’s your builder? If you are content with a slumping sandcastle as the product of your life’s construction please feel free to carry on. If on the other hand you would like home that is an eternal legacy to the true, the good, and the beautiful, God is ready and willing to start construction immediately.

be careful what you ask for

Mark 10:35-45
For Sunday, October 21 
Proper 24

James and John were competitive guys.  They really liked being close to Jesus and his influence.  They worked out a plan and came to Jesus with a proposal: “Jesus, we think we’re well positioned to be your right and left-hand men, respectively.”  What Jesus didn’t say was, “You know, I’m impressed with your performance, so here’s a piece of the brass ring.”  What he said instead was, “Be careful what you ask for.

Being a leader in the Christian sense means not assuming a place of privilege but rather putting others before yourself.  It means giving your life away that others may live and thrive.  This applies to leaders who are Christians regardless of where they are found, whether in business or on their hip anti-pulpit bar stools.

A Christian in leadership is not chief but servant.  What do you really want?  To become a tyrant who lords it over everyone else or to follow the Lord who gave his life literally that we might live and thrive where we are today?

Where’s the beef?

Rembrandt, “The Apostle Paul”

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
For Sunday, June 24, 2012
Proper 7

Where’s the beef?  In a nutshell, this is what the Apostle Paul is asking the Corinthians in this passage.  He says, “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain” (v. 1).   For Paul the gospel was everything.  He had himself received the grace of God deep within his person and understood its significance.  This is what propelled him forward in “troubles, hardships, and distresses” (v. 4).

As I’ve heard my friend and pastor Steve Sonderman puts it: “The greatest gift you can give to another person is your own spirituality“.   Paul could point to the reality of the gospel as made manifest in his own life.  No one could ask of Paul, “Where’s the beef?”.  He was 100% Ground Sirloin.

Can we say the same?  Are we just playing at Christianity or maybe just pursuing it professionally?   The validation of Paul’s ministry was not in the title “Senior Pastor” or even “Apostle”.  The validation of his ministry was the extent to which he opened wide his heart (v. 11) in a ministry of service to others.   As we live today in our families, in our workplaces, and in our churches, may we experience the blessing of doing the same.

Reader’s Corner:
Based on this passage is the Apostle Paul someone you would enjoy meeting?  Why or why not?

betrayal and the purpose of God

The Apostle Matthias. Workshop of Simone Martini.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
For Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seventh Sunday of Easter 

Often it is the betrayal of those closest to us that hurts the most. Imagine how the original twelve disciples must have felt when one of their own, Judas, turned out to be a traitor to their cause. This wasn’t just any cause: this was Jesus, supposed Savior of the World.  “Judas, how could you do it?!”

In these verses the Apostle Peter offers some helpful guidance for dealing with betrayal.  First, says Peter, recognize that betrayal will happen.  Peter quotes Psalm 69:25 which speaks of a place being deserted.  The discerning reader may ask, “But how does Peter get from a place being deserted to Judas deserting Jesus?”  Peter is not suggesting that Psalm 69:25 predicted Judas’ betrayal.  What he is suggesting is that Psalm 69 in its entirety speaks to how to find God when one is in over one’s head.  The Psalm teaches that whilst we may find ourselves in such a predicament God is still there, still sovereign, and will show the way forward.  Betrayal will happen but God is still present.

Second, says Peter, remember that God’s purpose is bigger than betrayal.  Peter now quotes Psalm 109:8.  Just as with the quotation above Peter is not thinking of this verse in isolation.  He is thinking of the Psalm as a whole.  David Gooding notes in his commentary on Hebrews (one of my favorites on Hebrews and one of my favorite commentaries period) that quotations from the Psalms often function like prophetic icebergs.  One verse is visible above the surface, but there is a lot more going on in the depths beneath.  Psalm 109 speaks of wicked and deceitful men and what to do about them.  What should be done?  “Let another take his place of leadership.”  Men may betray God’s purpose, but God’s purpose is bigger than betrayal.

The betrayal of Judas was a volcanic explosion yet it is just such upheavals that produce the richest of soil in which future growth can flourish.  Matthias took Judas’ place. He flourished as the gospel flourished in the rich soil created by a terrible betrayal.

Stinging from a betrayal?  Remember, God is still here, and his purpose is bigger than whatever betrayal has befallen you.

Reader’s corner
Have you been blessed by this blog?  Might you then take a minute to contribute to it?  My ambition is to serve and bless others through this ministry of writing and feedback of would be a blessing to others and feedback of both a reinforcing or constructive variety is invaluable.  Thank you!

Who builds the house?

The Annunciation
Sandro Botticelli 1489

For Sunday December 18th, 2011 
Year B, Fourth Sunday of Advent (2 Sam. 7, Psalm 89, Luke 1, Romans 16)

I’ve always enjoyed the scene of King David settling into his house.  God has given him rest from all of his enemies and suddenly it occurs to him: “I’m living in a palace of cedar while God is living in a tent!”  David’s first impulse is to bring God’s dwelling up to the standard of his own.  God’s response reveals much about our own ability to presume upon God and simultaneously be blinded to his intention for us:

I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you.  Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. . . When your days are over . . . I will raise up your offspring to succeed you . . . and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. . . (2 Sam. 7:8-16).

Who would be God’s son?  The mystery was first revealed by the Angel Gabriel to a woman named Mary in a town on the wrong side of the tracks, in Galilee, named Nazareth.  It’s as if God promised to send his son to save the State of Illinois and then did  so by making a promise to a woman in Milwaukee who would eventually give birth in the City of Kenosha.  Gabriel says:

You will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:29-33).

Where is the place for God’s people that God promised to David in 2 Samuel?  According to Gabriel and Luke, it is in the kingdom of Jesus.  Where is the kingdom of Jesus present today?  Wherever God’s will is being done.

This is a community into which Jesus invites each of us to enter, not because he needs us (which we might presume) but rather because he wants to bless us.  How would you like to be part of a kingdom that will never end?    If you are part of the community of Jesus you already are.


Point to ponder:

What do you most appreciate about the community of Jesus of which you are a member (a.k.a. your local church)?  How might God be calling you in this next year to further his kingdom through your involvement  there?

buried treasure?

Woodcut of the Parable of the Talents
From Historiae celebriores Veteris Testamenti Iconibus representatae (1712).

Matthew 25:14-30
For Sunday, November 13, 2011
Proper 29

Have you heard the the Parable of the Talents before?   A master is going on a long journey and entrusts his estate to his servants, of which there are three.  He gives five talents to the first, two talents to the second, and one to the third.  After “a long time” (v. 19) he comes back and discovers that the servant who had five talents now has ten, the servant who had two now has four, and the servant with one now has… oh… still one.  


The master is understandably pleased.  He received 100% return on his investment from servants number 1 & 2.  Servant 3, whom everyone already knew was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, only had 1 talent anyway, and at least he didn’t lose it.  No harm, no foul, right?  


Wrong!  Servant 3 suffers withering criticism.  “You did what?!”, the master asks?  “You buried my money in the ground.  The least you could have done was take it to the bank for a a Certificate of Deposit!”  The master then takes Servant 3’s lone talent and gives it to Servant 1, who is now known as  Mr. Ten Talents Plus 1.  Servant 3 is then earmarked for the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Wow, that seems a bit harsh,” we say in response.  Then we think about it some more.  “Wow, that seems incredibly harsh!”  How can the master, known as a “hard man” (v. 24), demand that the dullest Servant in the drawer suddenly become a successful entrepreneur?  It wasn’t even the Servant’s money!


What, though, was the Master really angry about?  Was it that he only got a 90% return on his investment instead of 100%?  No . . .  what he was angry about was that Servant 3 squandered the opportunity given to him.  A talent was equivalent to 20 years’ wages.  At $40,000 per year, that would have been $800,000.  Rounded up (to keep things simple) that’s a million dollars.  


Servant 3 was entrusted with a million dollars but he never engaged: he just buried his treasure in the ground.  How many of us do the same thing with our faith?  We’ve been given something far more valuable than one million dollars: we’ve been given eternal grace and peace that is intended to transform not only our own lives but everything around us.  


The important question this parable asks is this: “What are you going to do with your million?”  As a child of God, you have been entrusted with the kingdom of God.  God’s plan for the redemption of the world is you.  Don’t fear: engage.  


“But where do I start?” you ask.  Pull out a piece of paper.  Take 5 minutes to write  out brief answers to these three questions (Would you mind turning off the TV while you do this?  Thank you so much):

  • How would I like to engage today?
  • How would I most like to engage this month?
  • How would I most like to engage this year?
Now go, and don’t forget, you are worth a million bucks.  

iSurrender

For Sunday, October 16, 2011
Season After Pentecost – Proper 24

Steve Job’s aspiration was to make a ding on the universe.  The dimple on the bottom of my iPhone suggests he succeeded.

I’m personally saddened by his loss.  I admire his genius for fusing technology with design.  I thoroughly enjoy using both my iPhone and my iMac.  I’ve felt affirmed as a person when I interact with his company for service.  Recently, rather than fighting through layers of automated menus only to be asked verbally for the phone number I had just provided to a computer prompt, the Apple representative I was on the phone with said, “Rather than calling the local stores yourself, would you like me to do that for you?”  Thank you God!  

My condolences go out to his family.  I watched my brother die of emaciating cancer.  It is difficult to see the vitality of a person’s life inexorably drain away.  My condolences also go out to the company as well: it’s hard to lose your visionary.  I saw the picture above flashed on a billboard on the way to work here in Milwaukee this past week.  It seemed fitting: well done Apple.  Yet it was sad.  iSurrender.  

Andy Crouch published an extended essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal called “The Secular Prophet“.  He highlights Mr. Job’s 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford University as a means of summing up Steve’s philosophy of life:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart, and intuitionThey somehow already know what you truly want to become (emphasis mine).

Steve was a Zen Buddhist and an Existentialist.  This gave him a firm grasp on the first two stanzas of Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.”

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  

What Steve may not have grasped was the wisdom of the next two two stanzas: 

Trusting that you will make things right if I surrender to your will, that I might be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next.

Steve Jobs surrendered to death but maybe not to the One who claims to have created us and to understand us better than we understand ourselves.  We indeed ought to listen to our “own inner voice, heart, and intuition“.   Yet do these not tell us that we are profoundly lost and in need of something outside of ourselves?  Could it really be that in Jesus there is a way to avoid surrendering to death by instead surrendering to life?  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16).

iSurrender, yes, but not to death.  iSurrender to the love of God for me.  I was indeed naked but now I’m clothed with forgiveness, grace, and peace.  While I’m still very much a work in progress, I hope for something better and humbly invite you to join me on this journey.

Reader’s Corner:
Philippians 4:8 says this: “… Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  What do you most admire about your iMac, iPhone, or iPad?  What in this material reality might point to a deeper spiritual reality running both around and through it?  

Image credit:  www.apple.com

the generosity of grace



Matthew 20:1-16
For Sunday, September 18, 2011

Imagine  you’ve been unemployed, and finally through Manpower you get a chance to do a day’s labor landscaping for a small business owner for $100.  You work from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm under a 90 degree hot sun only to find out at the end of the day that another guy who waltzed in only an hour before also got $100. “What’s the deal?!  You mean I could have sat around for 11 hours, waltzed in here at 5:00 pm, and still picked up $100?  That’s not fair!” you say.


You are now in a teachable moment.  The kingdom of heaven is like this small business owner.   “Well, if that’s the case, then I guess the kingdom of heaven is an idiot!”  


That’s one way of looking at it. . . but here is another.  You earned your money, yes, but why did you even have the chance?  Because there was a small business owner who gave you the opportunity, not because you were entitled, but because he was generous.  


No one enters the kingdom of heaven because they are entitled.  The only reason any of us ever have our sins forgiven is because our Heavenly Father is generous.  


Have you been blessed materially?  If so, why is that?  Because you’ve worked hard, or because your Heavenly Father has been generous with you?  You know the answer, and it’s going to change the way you live.  You are going to stop working merely to pad your bank account and feed your ego and you are going to start asking yourself, “How can I be as generous with others as God has been generous with me?”  This is the generosity of grace.

blessed are the poor in spirit

Claude Lorrain, “The Sermon on the Mount” (1656)
The Frick Collection, New York



Matt. 5:1-12
For Sunday, January 30th, 2011
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  



These are such familiar words but what do they really mean?  What does it mean to be ‘blessed’?  What does it mean to be ‘poor in spirit’?  What in fact is the kingdom of heaven?


‘Blessed’ means “to be favored”.  God’s favor rests on believers.  While ‘happiness’ is merely an internal feeling experienced inside a person, ‘blessedness’ is an objective reality as seen from the outside looking in.  Ultimately, believers are ‘blessed’ because we are part of God’s eschatalogical plan to restore every good thing to the way it was intended to be (EBC).


‘Poor’ refers to both material and spiritual poverty.  This is why Luke can say ‘blessed are the poor’, Matthew can say ‘blessed are the poor in spirit‘, and yet both point to the same ultimate meaning.  Poor people aren’t troubled by the trappings of wealth and are therefore more inclined to be aware of their own vulnerability and brokenness.  Their blessing is not their poverty but rather their nearness to entering the kingdom of heaven.   The poor in spirit, those aware of their own vulnerability and brokenness, are precisely those most likely to let God in.  


The ‘kingdom of heaven’ is a place where Jesus the Messiah reigns and in which his subjects are blessed.    As Christians we experience a joy that we know innately is not of this world but rather anticipates something far better to come.  This is the kingdom of heaven being manifest within us and among us.  


What is so hard for the rich to understand is that all of us are vulnerable and broken.  This is why it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  Are you feeling vulnerable?  Broken?  Then don’t despair.  It’s going to get better.  God is going to redeem the pain, suffering, and loss.  Ours is the kingdom of heaven.