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90 Minutes in Heaven, Eternity, Relationships and Observations about Life

I recently read this book (via Kindle), 90 Minutes in Heaven. Being a Christian, it intrigued me that someone had died, gone to heaven, then returned to tell us about it. I found his story to be credible and have no reason to doubt his experience. It aligns with other books I’ve read on this topic. I also saw his interview on ABC News, Beyond Belief. Again, I thought he was credible.

Anyways, I’ve found myself viewing life from a more eternal perspective since reading the book. Some of the tougher decisions in business take on new meaning when you look at them through the lens of eternity. And many personal decisions, desires, hopes and dreams take a different perspective when you’re viewing them in light of eternity. There isn’t much that matters on this earth, frankly. While I desire to be the best business owner I can be (and I have a loooooonnnnnng way to go on that front <sigh>), most of what I do is temporal in duration. Yet how I do it is eternal in nature. Will it matter 100 years from now? Most of what I do probably won’t matter. So, what does really matter? I would submit that the organizing principle of our lives should be our personal love for God.

When Christ transforms our lives, we have the unique opportunity to connect what we do and who we are on this earth to our eternal life. Beyond what we do for God, the core of the Christian life focuses on our personal love for God. It’s not that I love God in a generic sense, but in a personal sense. This is one reason why a personal relationship with Christ is so vital to the Christian faith and to our eternal destination: I finally get to be with the one I love the most on this earth throughout eternity – a love that was birthed and nurtured on this earth, but is fully fulfilled in heaven.

You can’t love someone without knowing them. Intimacy isn’t created on facts and knowledge. It’s created on a personal love and a deep risk of letting someone know you, warts and all. Before we do anything for God, we should first love him. This is why, I think, in Matthew 7 Christ said to those who had done wonderful things for Him on earth – “depart from me, for I never knew you”. It wasn’t about the doing – it was (and is) about the loving and the intimacy.

I have a number of good friends who are either divorced or are contemplating divorce. It’s painful and sad. In every situation, there exists a loss of intimacy and love. The reasons for this loss are varied. But all of them involve common characteristics. When I was a psychologist, I used to say that there are 6 “A”s that lead to divorce: Affairs, Abuse, Addictions, Abortions, Anger and Apathy. I observed that relationships could survive any one of the A’s (if both parties wanted it to survive and were willing to work hard) but two or more, and the relationship would eventually fail. It was predictable. I didn’t like it, but it was predictable. Then there were the 6 “C”s that lead to intimate relationships: Christianity, Character, Communication, Compatibility, Commitment and Chemistry. (I had thought about writing a book on this, but never got around to it.) If both persons in the relationship had a personal relationship with Christ, that would develop character which would lead to their ability to communicate and then they would learn about their areas of compatibility which would give them the opportunity to decide if they wanted to commit which then allowed for the chemistry to flow. What I learned is that relationships could be destroyed by what one party did – their actions could destroy a relationship that had taken two people to build. But a relationship built on love and intimacy could not be built by one person – it took both people to build it and maintain it. And the building of the relationship was not based primarily on what they did, but on who they were.

This is one of the reasons why Christianity makes so much sense to me: it is built on two people loving each other: the love God has for me and the love I have for him. And because Christ transforms us, He gives us what we need to enter into a relationship Him. At its’ core, Christianity is not a set of theological beliefs, but rather a relationship between the believer and God. And that relationship is personal, real, vibrant and dynamic.

You know, life’s greatest pains come from our relationships. And our greatest healing comes from relationships too. This is another reason why a personal relationship with Christ is so important – to have a relationship with God brings the deepest and highest levels of healing and peace, even if our life is stormy and uncertain. And that is why, in the midst of running a business, making tough decisions, facing uncertainty in our economy and political structures, that I can look past all of that with a peace that doesn’t make earthly sense and be able to have hope and joy for the present and the future: The one I love the most I get to spend eternity with. Very cool. Very exciting.

Yes, I want to be successful in business. I have a stewardship responsibility to do the best I can at being a CEO – which is not as easy as people think. But in the long run, what really matters in eternity is the quality, intimacy and love you and I develop with God Himself. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart….” Look, am I the poster-boy for how to love God? Are you kidding me? Hardly. But my imperfections don’t take away from the truth that loving God with a view to spending eternity with Him should be the organizing principle of our lives.

My encouragement to you today is that if you’re world is spinning out of control, if you’re finding yourself constantly worrying about tomorrow, if you’re uncertain about your future, then find your anchor in Jesus Christ. Give your heart, soul and mind to Him. Give Him your affections and learn to love Him personally and intimately. And you’ll find a peace and a visceral anchor that can transcend this world’s tribulations. And you’ll find yourself yearning for the day when you get to see Him “face to face”.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Poll on Wealth and Oppression

I’ve recently had two different conversations offline with individuals who staunchly believe that those who are rich have gained their wealth by oppressing others. They also believe that those who are rich were often lucky in life’s lottery.  Neither person found a strong connection between hard work and wealth.  That got me to asking myself if others think the same way as my two new-found friends, so I thought I’d publish a quick, non-scientific poll on this.  What do you think?  Have most people who are rich gained their wealth through the oppression of other people?

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Friday Five for August 19

Because I’m leaving for vacation early this week, I’m posting my Friday Five early as well. Enjoy the articles and wish me a great time away! J

This is where the Pros go to see how the economy is doing and where it is headed. Good article on this from WSJ.

So you want to be a business owner? Check out this short article from the WSJ.

Here are Five online steps for managing your business reputation from Wells Fargo Business Insights.

NCPA Policy Recommendations on how to get more jobs created in this economy is a good read and aligns with my thinking. If Warren Buffet wants to be taxed more, he can always contribute to the national debt.

The 11th Circuit Court strongly rejects the individual mandate for ObamaCare while upholding the rest of the law. Because the individual mandate is the foundation for ObamaCare, it stands to reason that the entire law will not work pragmatically. I think everyone agrees that this is headed to the Supreme Court. The summary by Avik Roy at Forbes.com is a good read on their decision.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

Debt and Lending

This is one of the most difficult subjects to adequately address. We need to realize that borrowing money does not violate any Scriptural command. What follows is rather lengthy, but if you take time to read through it, I believe you’ll have a better idea about what the Scriptures command concerning debt and lending.

 

What is Debt?

R.C. Sproul has written one of the best books I’ve ever read on economics. Coming from a theologian, this is remarkable. I’ll quote from his chapter on debt, because I can’t say it better than he:

 

“Debt, whether you are buying hamburgers, books, CDs, or a car, is the practice of consuming today the fruit of tomorrow’s labor. It is consuming more than you produce. It is the pathway to poverty for individuals, for families, for businesses, and for governments. And, given our own Wimpy-like addiction to debt, it may soon lead to the economic destruction of our nation. There are at least two reasons why debt can be so deadly, wherever it rears its head. The first is the most obvious. If you consume today what you will produce tomorrow, what will you consume tomorrow? If you happily concluded, “What I’ll produce the day after tomorrow,” cut up your credit cards before you turn the page. If you see that you have already placed yourself behind the eight-ball, you can continue reading about the even bigger problem. This scenario of consuming today what you will produce tomorrow assumes that you will in fact produce tomorrow. Such is not a safe assumption. The Bible warns us against assuming that we know the future, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14). We are not the masters of the universe.

 

The bigger problem, however, is not what we pay today to service the debt, but what our children, and their children will pay to pay down that debt. Debt is the ability to consume today, and produce tomorrow. What you produce tomorrow, therefore, has already been consumed. When our children produce tomorrow, they will receive nothing for the fruit of their labors, for we have already eaten that forbidden fruit. Rather than leaving our children with a heritage, an inheritance, as a nation we are leaving our children a debt such as has never been seen in the world.”

 

Sproul Jr., R.C. (2010-08-11). Biblical Economics: A Commonsense Guide To Our Daily Bread (Kindle Locations 1304-1313). Tolle Lege Press. Kindle Edition.


Biblical View of Debt

First, we are all in debt to God for our existence and salvation – 1 Co 4.7, Gal 3.13, 2cor 8.9. Let’s not forget that whatever happens with our businesses, we really owe everything we have to the Lord’s goodness and graciousness. Just the fact that we were born in the United States in this era is a gift from the Lord.


Secondly, It is not wrong to borrow money, otherwise, the Scriptures would have expressly forbidden it. But you do become a servant to the lender when you borrow money (Prov 22.7). I believe that many, many Christians are in bondage to debt and are significantly hindered in their service to the Lord by their debt. They are simply unavailable to the Lord for any type of significant ministry because of their debt. Whenever you think about taking on debt, understand that the more debt you have, the less money you have available for the Lord’s work.


Thirdly, debt can cause social ills: Ne 5.3-5, Job 24.3, 9, Mt 5.25-26, Ez 18.12-13. Many of our countries’ problems can be traced to either the government, organizations or individual being in debt. For example, it is common knowledge that high debt levels can lead to high stress levels. Sustained stress, in turn, can cause physical and relational problems that may not be obviously tied to debt. Having come out of a life of debt personally, I can attest that once the debt is removed, it is like having a weight lifted off one’s shoulders.


So, here are Three Principles for us to follow from Scripture:

  1. Luke 12.58-59: Avoid borrowing unless absolutely necessary
  2. Proverbs 6.1-4, 20.16: Avoid signing surety for a loan
  3. Deuteronomy 15.1-3, Mt 5.25: Avoid long-term loans (Best Practice: have an asset that offsets the loan, such as a house for a mortgage)

If you don’t pay attention to cash flow, it is easy for your business to fall into a slow, insidious slide into more and more debt. If you don’t have a clear idea as to the following, then you need to increase your knowledge of cash flow in order to be a better steward of what God has given to you:

  1. Fixed expenses each month
  2. Variable expenses each month
  3. Break even point each month
  4. How growth is managed

Nearly all managers can manage expenses. Very few can manage growth and income. Godly stewards know how money comes into the organization and how to manage that growth for future income. They know how to manage cash flow to ensure their debts are paid on time. Failure to do this can result in a sudden, unexpected need to declare bankruptcy.

Following these principles may be difficult to do with assets that devalue over time but yet are necessary, such as a car. But not striving to follow these principles because it is difficult to do so is not wise.

When it comes to paying your debts, here is what I believe the Scriptures command us as Christian business owners:

  1. Paying your accounts on time is expected behavior of every Christian, regardless of whether it is a person or business expense
  2. Be prepared to pay all outstanding debts of your business, even if this means personal loss
  3. Best Practice: never borrow more than what you can realistically liquidate and pay back

Biblical View of Lending

If it isn’t inherently wrong to borrow, then it isn’t inherently wrong to lend. Besides, Christians are commanded to give to those who ask: Mt 5.42, Dt. 15.7-11, Lk 6.35, 11-5-8.

Here are the Biblical principles of lending:

First, never put up security for your neighbor: Pr 11.15, Pr 6.1-5, 17.18, 22.26-27. If you’re neighbor is in such a bad financial situation that s/he needs to borrow money without collateral, then it is better (if the Holy Spirit leads you) to simply gift the money to your neighbor as opposed to being the one responsible to pay back the debt.

Never lend more than you are willing to lose. This is just common sense. Ex 22.14, 2 Ki 6.5, Isa 24.1-2, Pr 19.17, PS 112.5

Get to know the personal situations of those who owe you money: Matt 12.7, Prov 22.1. When you loan someone money, you are loaning God’s resources to that person. A faithful steward will not loan money easily or in haste. God will hold you responsible for lending money in an unwise or hasty manner. Best practice is to get to know the personal and business situations of those who will owe you money before you lend them money.

What if they don’t repay? You must be willing to forgive their sin against you: Matt 18.21-35.

Extending Credit to Customers

As a Christian business owner, when you extend credit to customers, you are (essentially) lending them your products and services. Realize that extending credit is the same as making a loan – be very careful about lending money or lending services. You’re a steward of God’s business and avoiding bad debt is an act of stewardship. If you think there is a reasonable chance that you will not be paid, then:

  1. Offer to do some or all of the work pro bono or give your products away, not because of any tax advantages you might experience, but because giving is more emphasized in Scripture than lending.
  2. Ask for a down payment sufficient to cover your expenses
  3. Ask them to secure financing from a third-party source if you can’t afford to offer free services
  4. Decline the work if neither (a), (b) or (c) apply (remember that contracts, purchase orders and the like are simply instruments to inform you how the customer intends to pay, they are never a guarantee of payment)

Biblical View of Bankruptcy

First, Christians must pay their debts Ps 37.21, Lev 19.13, 2Ki 4.7, Rom 13.7-8. These commands in the Scriptures are difficult to explain any other way. IF you go bankrupt because others didn’t pay you for your services, you are not “let off the hook” from paying your debts. Too many bad debts usually indicates a lack of stewardship of your services and that customers were not well evaluated. Best Practice is to not do any work rather than doing work and incurring a bad debt that causes you to become a bad debt to another person. For example, if you must purchase goods or services to complete your work for a customer and that customer doesn’t pay you, then it would have been better to not do the work at all and not incur the debt.

Collecting from Christians Who Owe You Money

First, what do the Scriptures teach about suing others? Well, your hands are really tied. The Scriptures forbid you from taking them to court, pure and simple. You cannot sue your brother – 1 Co 6.7. Why? Because lawsuits among Christians indicate a state of unrighteousness – Is 59.4. Furthermore, you are not to demand back that which has been taken from you – Matt 5.40, Luke 6.29-31.

If you need to seek a third-party to remedy your financial situation, then your differences with other believers should be settled among the brothers and not in front of unbelievers – 1 Co 6.1. So, what if your brother doesn’t pay you? Then, we should be content to be wronged instead of bringing a lawsuit against a Christian brother – 1 Cor 6.7. If we sue our brother, that is a sign of spiritual defeat. The American court system is setup to divide and separate parties, not bring them together in unity. Rarely does a Christian fight another Christian in court where both find their relationship with the Lord and each other is enhanced, where love is abounding more and more and where true justice and forgiveness is attained. Instead of suing, we should (and need) to forgive our brother: Col 3.12-13.

However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to collect monies that are due to us from our brothers. Here are some possible methods of collections:

  1. Appeal to them as brothers to fulfill their duty – Matt 18
  2. Take a brother with you to appeal to them to fulfill their duty – Matt 18
  3. Appeal to their church leadership for personal (not financial) assistance or your own church leadership if both attend the same church
  4. Ask them to work out a payment plan
  5. Ask them to secure financing from other sources
  6. Ask them to give you an asset that you can sell
  7. IF you don’t receive resolution, God may be calling you to suffer financial hardship

Now, let’s turn our attention to collection methods with Christian organizations or businesses – does the command to not sue your brother apply to Christian organizations or Christian-run businesses? Well, first, the concept of a corporation was not present when the Bible was written, so the Scriptures are silent on this question. In American law, corporations are treated as separate individuals and non-profits carry additional responsibilities because of their assumed public trust. To the extent that we treat corporations as a separate entity, we could consider the corporation as a separate, neutral entity that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of Scriptural commands. Yes, because the corporation takes on the values and persona of the owners, I believe it should be considered an extension of the owner’s personhood and should fall within the Biblical commands about not suing your brother. Not suing, however, does not preclude:

  1. Placing a lien against another’s property until the debt is collected
  2. Using the services of a collection agency who will help you collect the debt without resorting to legal action
  3. Reporting no-pay or slow-pay clients to proper authorities, such as D&B
  4. Stopping services mid-stream if milestone payments are not received in long-term contracts
  5. Reporting possible illegal activities to the proper authorities – this may be an act of discipleship
  6. Asking the brother’s church elders to intervene
  7. Choosing to forgive your brother and live with the pain of their sin against you

Note: Non-Profits hold an additional public trust in addition to their obligations before the Lord. If you have real reason to suspect mismanagement of funds, state or federal laws may require you to report as much in order to avoid personal, criminal liability

Advisors and Intercessors for Your Business

Throughout my time as a Christian Business Owner, I have come to realize how important it is for businesses to have a group of intercessors and an advisory board. Each group serves a different purpose, yet each is essential to the operation of any business or organization that wishes to honor the Lord.

 Intercessors

Intercessors are people who love to pray and intercede with the Lord on behalf of others. No matter what type of organization it is, if the organization intends to move forward for the Lord (especially in the marketplace), then Satan will oppose that organization’s efforts. According to Ephesians 6, one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to combat the schemes of the enemy is prayer.

 

After having had a group of intercessors for my business, I have come to count on them to run spiritual interference for myself and the business as a whole through their faithful prayers. At our company, we have built a group of people (12 at the time of this writing) who we ping intermittently with prayer requests. Sometimes there are 2-3 months between emails, and other times, just 2-3 weeks. But as we inform them, and as they pray, God moves in our business.

 

Advisory Board

The Scriptures make it clear that advisors are needed in many important efforts, from waging war to running a business. Counsel is also praised in the Bible, showing its necessity to Christian leadership. We have come to believe that privately owned Christian businesses should seek to establish an advisory counsel that meets 2-3 times each year. This Board would be compensated, and it would be available between meetings for particular questions. Further, the board should give sole proprietors or business owners a place to bounce ideas around, a group to pray with them and a set of trusted friends whose advice might hurt, but that they can rely on. In this section you’ll find a couple of Scriptures that are representative of literally dozens of Scriptures on planning that have led us to conclude that taking counsel is a directive from the Lord, and those who wish to obey what the Bible has to say about running a business will follow them closely.

  • Proverbs 27.6: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Even though the counsel may hurt, if it comes from trusted friends, you’ll know their counsel is coming from a heart of love for you.
  • Proverbs 27.17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We need interaction with others to “sharpen” us, to build us up and to help us learn.

 

Some have asked us what our job description is for our board members. It is as follows:

  1. Be available to meet two times per year for a full day each time
  2. Hold everything you learn about our business in confidence
  3. Participate and offer suggestions and ideas on how we can improve our business as it relates to:

What we really look for in our advisory board are Christian Business leaders who know how to run a business. We try to find a mix of at least fifty percent who own their own business and are successful in their own right, defining “success” as consistently turning a profit year after year. But we also look for business leaders who are not business owners to fill the other half of the board. Within these two broad categories, we look for people who bring different foci to the board. For example, in our board we have the following:

Name Current Position Unique Contribution
Board Member #1 ​Business Owner ​Strong marketing and branding experience
Board Member #2 ​Business Owner ​Strong technology background and teaches in local MBA program
Board Member #3 ​Chief Operating Officer ​Has held both CEO and COO positions in the Long-Term Health Care field
Board Member #4 ​Chief Operating Officer for distribution company ​Has held CEO position in the building and construction field
Board Member #5 ​Business Owner ​Strong international business background
Board Member #6 Federal Reserve Economist ​Strong understanding of how business works
Board Member #7 ​General Manager of a Marketing Firm Strong experience in running a business similar in size to mine

 

Be sure that not all of your board members are your good friends, otherwise you might not always get the truth, and your time together may devolve into a social engagement. You need to come to the meeting with an agenda, and then you need to stick to it. We do compensate our board members—usually $800 per day. While this doesn’t begin to cover their true value, it does give them a stipend for helping out.

 

Now, be ready—if you get a group of talented, smart and honest people in the same room and ask for constructive ways to improve your business, you will get what you ask for. Be prepared that their insights and challenges may be more about your person and work as opposed to your business model or financial condition. If you can’t handle the personal criticism, then go to the Lord and ask for the healing you need to take on this type of direct yet necessary criticism that will surely come from an advisory board.

 

Bill English
The Platinum Group
Bible and Business

Thoughts on Screening New Employees

In reading Ecclesiastes 10.5-6 the other day, I was struck by how this directly talked to business owners who hire people in their business. This verse reads as follows:

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions while the rich occupy the low ones.

It’s not a far stretch to equate the ruler with the business owner and fools as (potential) employees. What this passage clearly teaches is that hiring a fool for a position of management and/or influence in your business instead of a non-fool (called “rich” in this verse) is an “evil” and an “error”. This is not to say that all or even most employees are “fools”. They are NOT. Most are fabulous people who are hard working, loyal, dedicated and anything but a fool. But there is the occasional individual who will fit this profile. Knowing how to spot such an individual during the interview process can help you avoid frustration and costly mistakes down the road.

So, what is a fool? Well, a brief reading of Proverbs tells us the characteristics of a fool:

  • Despise wisdom and discipline, 1.7
  • Hate knowledge, 1.22
  • Complacent, 2.32
  • Spread slander, 10.18
  • Lack judgment, 10.21
  • Do not listen to advice, 12.15
  • Quickly show their annoyance, 12.16
  • Mock at making amends for sin, 14.9
  • Hotheaded and reckless, 14.16
  • Full of talk, but they don’t work hard, 14.23
  • Do not accept advice, 17.10
  • Love to give their opinions, 18.2
  • Quick to quarrel, 20.3
  • See danger, but they don’t change course, 27.12

While there are many more verses about fools in the Scriptures, this list gives us a starting point for characteristics that you *shouldn’t* hire on your staff. Hiring a fool represents poor stewardship for your business.

Now, does one need all of these characteristics to be classified as a “fool”? No. Do we not all have these characterstics at one time or another? Yes. But the point is this: the more one has these characteristics, the more likely it is that one can be discerned as a “fool” in Biblical terminology. So, the question becomes this: How do you assess for these characteristics during the interview process?

Well, I’ve listed out some questions and ideas to use to help screen against these characteristics:

Characteristic

Potential Screening Question

Despise wisdom

  • Who do you go to for mentoring?
  • What are the guiding principles for your life?

Despise discipline

  • Tell me about the last person you worked for. What did you like and not like about your last manager?
  • Do you have any authorities in your life that you submit to?

Hate knowledge

  • What are the last three books that you have read?
  • What have you accomplished in the last three years to grow professionally?
  • Would you rather read a book, watch a movie or work with your hands?

Complacency

  • Are you satisfied with your character development at this stage of your life?
  • Have you ever spent money knowing that you really didn’t need to spend it? If so, did you do it again?

Spread slander

  • Tell me about the last co-worker that you worked with that you didn’t get along with – what were they like and how did you handle it? (The substance of their answer is irrelevant: the point is that if they keep talking about it, giving more details, if they start getting angry, reliving the experience, etc…, then they will likely spread slander to you during the interview)

Lack judgment

  • Give them a scenario in your business and ask them how they would handle the decision
  • If you were to be given $10,000, what would you do with it? (look for how they would manage their money)
  • Run a background and credit check – how they handle money will indicate strongly what kind of judgment they have

Do not listen to advice

  • Ask their references how well they were at listening and heeding advice – be sure to call those with whom they worked that they *didn’t* list as references

Quickly show their annoyance

  • Do something annoying and see how they handle it
  • Ask them questions in rapid succession and see if they show any annoyance
  • Ask their references about this
  • Do you like driving in rush hour traffic? (Even for this question, they might show their annoyance quickly about rush hour traffic)
  • What kind of people annoy you? (See if they display annoyance when they answer this question)

Do not make amends for something they have done wrong

  • Ask them to describe a situation in which they wronged someone and then describe how they tried to make amends
  • Ask them to describe the last business mistake they made and what they did to correct it

Big talk, small work

  • Ask their references about this

Love to give their opinions

  • Ask them about a hot-button issue and see if they proffer their opinions strongly – in an interview, this would not be considered good judgment to give strong opinions on hot button issues

See danger coming, but don’t change course to avoid the danger (most likely because they believe they can overcome the danger or they minimize the danger’s “dangerousness”)

  • A DUI would be a great indicator of this
  • Ask them to describe the last three business decisions they made. Listen for the risk/reward elements and discern accordingly

Bill English

Wealth, Humility and Business Ownership

As I read through the Bible and grow in my business ownership role, I’m find that much of the Scriptures teach about wealth and business ownership is found in the Old Testament. This passage in Deuteronomy is one of the main, core, foundational passages that a business owner must bear in mind and follow if one is to run his/her business for the Lord based on Biblical principles. In this post, I’ll outline my thinking on this passage and pass along some pragmatic ideas on its’ application.

8.10-11: When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.

Note that our tendency to forget the Lord and wander from His ways occurs after we are fully supplied and satisfied with material goods. Part of our wandering is failing to observe his commands, laws and decrees. People often feel that hardships are times of testing and I don’t disagree with that thinking. However, success is often a strong, more difficult test for a number of reasons, but one pragmatic reason is that when a person is successful in business, there is usually an increase in income. With that increase comes the ability to spend money on one’s affections. This is where Matthew 5.21 becomes so relevant: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If you’re earning an increasing salary + bonus because the profits in your company are on the rise, then understand that how and where you spend those extra dollars reveals what is in your heart and where your affections truly reside. If you spend it on cars, cabins, boats, memberships, bigger houses, or other big ticket items, then that is where your heart is. If you spend it on building the church – Kingdom investing – then that is where your heart is. Some can do both – given away large sums of money while purchasing big ticket items. Knowing how/where to spend this cash is best brought before the Lord, in a spirit of stewardship, asking Him how you should spend His money. Success can reveal a heart that easily wanders and the money that comes with the success often allows the heart to wander from the Lord while enjoying the trip.

Notice that God does not condemn his people for having these material goods. His warnings in this passage are really about affections and pride: forgetting what the Lord has done for us. Setting aside our dependence and relationship with him because we foolishly believe that our success is a direct result of our efforts, energies and intelligence is what his coming warnings are all about. This passage does not teach that we should remain poor or live at the lowest economic level possible.

8.12-14: Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

How many of us in American have fine houses in communities into which we’ve settled down? How many of us business owners have “herds and flocks” that are growing along with retirement plans and savings accounts that multiply all that we have? For many, many business owners, this is the case. The description of these people are that they have everything they need and want materially. Their physical and economic needs have been surpassed and most, if not all of their desires have been fulfilled. This is a description of ultimate “success” in American terms. But look at what this success leads to: pride. Those who are given success will be tempted with pride: “I did this or that”. Pride forgets what the Lord has done for us. It forgets that each of us were rescued by the Lord Himself. The reminder for the Israelites was their escape from Egypt and it’s slavery. This is a metaphor for us today: We have been brought out of sin and it’s bondage and are no longer slaves to anything the evil one can offer us. Paul says as much in Colossians 1.13, when he writes that “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins“. Pride forgets the past, forgets the goodness of the Lord, places itself as the proximate cause to all it’s success and places it’s affections in itself.

This is one of the reasons that we tithe 1% of the gross dollars in our company to non-profit organizations. Tithing helps us remember who gives us our success and the abilities to earn an income. Tithing helps us to recall the past when we nearly had to close our doors due to high bills and lack of sufficient income. We have been though salary cuts and layoffs in the past. Any success we experience in the present is a direct result of the Lord’s goodness to us. Yes, we must work (and often work hard) to achieve success. But let us never forget what the Lord has brought us through.

8.15-16: He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its’ venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end, it might go well with you.

It is interesting that the Israelites needed to be reminded about that which the Lord did for them in the past. He took them through a period of little success that was difficult and long. It had elements that could sting and perhaps kill. But he also provided in ways that were simply unnatural – so unnatural that they defined any natural explanation. He did this to humble them and test them, to prepare them for their future success.

8.17-20: You may say to yourself, My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

This is an expansion of the temptations listed earlier in this passage – to become prideful and to wander from the Lord as our affections for him are replaced by an affection for ourselves and our material goods. The meaning of this last part is obvious: what we mistake as a direct correlation between our success and our effort is the truth that our effort could not have existed had it not been for God’s kindness in giving us the ability to create the wealth in the first place. Boiled down to common English, while one may take pride in pulling himself up by his own boot straps, one cannot deny that is it God who gave him the ability to pull in the first place. Ability precedes results and those who forget that it is God who gives us this ability will surely fall into the sin of pride.

I take the phrase “ability to produce wealth” to encompass not only skills, talents and intelligence, but more generally, also to encompass opportunities, ideas and the entire economic system of capitalism in which the wealth is produced.

Summary

What can we learn? Here are the lessons that we can learn from Deuteronomy 8:

  • Having wealth is not condemned by God
  • Pride is the core temptation for a person who has experienced material success
  • Forgetting how the Lord has brought you through difficult times is a second temptation to material success
  • It is God who gave us the ability to produce the wealth in the first place and thus, we have little room (if any), to take pride in the results of our efforts
  • Humility is the attitude of the heart that is dependent on God for all that one has

Saying “Thanks” on Thanksgiving Day

I wrote this for another blog on Thanksgiving Day, 2009.

I’m usually up before the rest of my family. This morning is no exception. They are sleeping right now, enjoying a morning where they don’t need to get up and get going on a busy day. The house is quiet. The table is set. And in a few hours, this place will be transformed into a place of laughing, hugging and conversation when 16 of our relatives come over for noon dinner today.

I’ve heard that those who work for Microsoft in countries other than the United States enjoy Thanksgiving Day too – not because it is a national holiday for them – but because the sheer number of emails emanating from Redmond slows to a dribble. Email fatigue gets a rest and for two glorious days, they don’t get bombarded with the normal 300 – 400 emails. I suppose, for them, they are thankful for what they don’t receive.

In America, it’s traditionally called “Thanksgiving Day”. The day was originally set aside early in our culture when survival was – literally – a life or death matter. It was first celebrated by the pilgrims in 1621 to thank God for His provision in giving them what they had needed to survive their first year in the new world.

Today, it’s a national holiday. We eat, watch football (American style), spend time with family and talk about what kind of shopping we’ll do on black Friday. But rarely, do we actually take any time to express gratitude for what we have. I’ve always wondered about this: if you don’t believe in God, then who do you thank on Thanksgiving? Being thankful is the act of acknowledgement that someone else has helped you in some way and you thank them. Another word for this is being grateful. I’ve always wondered how one could be thankful if there wasn’t someone to thank.

In America, we live in the most rich, the most luxurious, most technologically advanced society this world has ever known. For many, today isn’t a day to stop and thank the Lord for all of His goodness and mercy to us. It’s just turkey day or perhaps a day off from work – which for many, is enough to put a smile on their face. I recall how Senator Barry Goldwater (back in the ’60’s) was asked why he didn’t vote to approve another national holiday in honor of someone that I can’t recall now and his response was this: “The average American doesn’t give a damn about who the holiday is for, they just want another day off from work!” Because Thanksgiving Day falls on a Thursday, it’s really a two-for-one: Get the holiday on Thursday and most businesses will also give you Friday off as well. Not a bad deal, eh? I fear that many in our country like this day simply because they get two days off from work.

So, with a little counter-culture flavor, I would like to express my thanks to the Lord for that which I have and for that which He has given to me. Note that I didn’t deserve any of this and it’s only by His grace that I can say thanks for:

  1. Salvation: his forgiveness of my sin and his gift of living with Him in heaven. I quite literally was “rescued from the dominion of darkness” and was “brought into” a personal relationship with Him. Anyone reading this can have this gift – you simply need to ask God for it and He will give it to you. It will cost you nothing and yet, paradoxically, it will cost you everything you have
  2. I thoroughly enjoy being a business owner and am thankful to the Lord for the business He has given me.
  3. My family – I have a GREAT family. My wife and children love me. This is a huge blessing that I don’t deserve
  4. My church – we’re settling into a new church for us. We’ve been attending for roughly 2.5 years and are just now starting to feel at home in the church. We’re making some good friends and getting know our extended family.
  5. Community: I’m so thankful to live in Maple Grove, MN. I know most reading this from the south will think I’m crazy – all that cold weather, snow, ice, etc… But the truth is that you cannot find a better place on the planet to have summer and fall than Minnesota. We have a safe town that is clean and well-kept. We have a good balance of retail and professional services. And we have a good infrastructure to build on. For all of this, I’m thankful.
  6. American Military – I’m very grateful to our servicemen and women who voluntarily join our military to help protect and defend this country, both here and around the world. While our country has made mistakes in foreign policy and our military has made mistakes too, I remain proud to be an American and deeply grateful for those who defend our country. This isn’t to say that I agree with all that the politicians direct the military to do, but it is to say that I support those who serve our country.

Today – I hope you take some time to get alone and thank the Lord for all that He has given you. God has been more gracious, kind and giving to us than any of us have ever deserved. His generosity and grace deserves our “Thanks!”.

Bill English

How Wealth Impacts Abraham and Lot

The last half of Genesis 12 and all of Genesis 13 illustrate several important truths on how God views wealth and how we should too. In short, here is what happened.

Abraham goes to Egypt due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Because his wife, Sarah, is rather beautiful, he decides to lie to the Egyptians and tell them she is her sister rather than telling the truth that she is his wife. He fears they will kill him for his wife. So, in exchange for taking Sarah into the palace, they gave him all kinds of wealth – sheep, cattle and servants.

Once they found out via a dream from the Lord that she was his wife and not his sister, they were indignant with Abraham. So they sent him and his wife away along with his wealth. At the beginning of Chapter 13, we’re told that Abraham went to the Negev and that Lot was with him. It is assumed that Lot went through the Egyptian experience too.

Because both men had grown rather wealthy, they found that their “wealth”, which consistent of animals and servants, was not getting along. So, because of their wealth, they decided to part ways and live apart. Lot chose the plane toward Sodom and Abraham stayed in the land of Canaan.

Now, in these series of events, we can exegete several principles about wealth. First, in spite of our sin, God can bless us materially. This is precisely what happened when Abraham lied about Sarah. He received much wealth from the Egyptians in exchange for his wife. The material blessings that we receive are directly related to the generosity of God. The entire notion that if we live righteously, God will bless us materially is directly contradicted in this passage. God, in His sovereignty and wisdom, decides whom He will bless and not bless. The only promise in regards to wealth is that He has promised to supply enough material goods to meet our needs.

Secondly, Abraham sacrificed that which was second most important to him (Sarah) to save his own life, which one can reasonably discern was most important to him. In an ironic way, this fits with Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, which says that we’ll sacrifice nearly anything to meet our most basic needs, such as food, shelter and security. Note that security is the second level of need, only ahead of basic physical needs. Giving away your wife to preserve your own life is equal to acting in one’s own interests for level 1 and level 2 needs. I’ve met several people who have lost everything in business or through a medical situation that drained them financially. In every case, they were happy to give up their wealth in exchange for basic physical and safety needs. It’s not that they enjoyed losing their wealth – they didn’t. But when push came to shove, they were more than willing to forego their wealth in exchange for their basic needs being met.

We can sit here and criticize Abraham for his decision. I’m not going to excuse it because he did sin and he did lie. But he likely found himself in a difficult position of having to choose between several “evils”. He has left his home through no fault or decision of his own – he was forced to go to a land with food. That’s a level 1 need. He knows that by doing this, he’ll likely lose his wife, or so he believes. He thinks the Egyptians will kill him for his wife. Preserving his life is also a level 1 need. But losing his wife is also gut-wrenching. I doubt very much that he enjoyed watching them take his wife into the palace. I bet this worried him sick and caused him all sorts of emotional distress. While the Bible doesn’t tell us this, it is reasonable to assume. The fact that he got a lot of wealth in exchange for his “sister” likely didn’t mean much to him. Look at the movie Indecent Proposal and you’ll see what I mean.

Thirdly, those who are wealthy are usually those who take up more space than those who are not wealthy. It just stands to reason. One of my friends who has found new freedom in being poor has told me that he wants to get down to where he can live in 500sf. Note he’s not married nor does he have children. But still, 500sf in American is a rather tiny spot to call home. Chapter 13 is mostly about Abraham and Lot deciding which space they will take with Lot being given first dibbs. When people become wealthy, they accumulate more material goods and thus take up more space. Abraham and Lot part company because of their wealth.

Lastly, God’s generosity to Abraham is once again demonstrated at the end of Chapter 13. He tells Abraham to look up and look around. All that Abraham can will be given to him by God. Abraham did *nothing* to deserve it. Nothing. And yet God gave him a firm promise of future wealth for his future family. That which is most precious to us in life is given to us by God. That’s why Deuteronomy 8.18 can say that it is God “who gives you the ability to produce wealth…”. Our talents, abilities, connections, education and a host of other elements which contributes to our wealth creation is something that comes from God, not from us.

The most precious thing we can have is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing that our sins are forgiven and our future secured with God in heaven is more precious than even our level 1 needs. This is why people are willing to die for their faith – it is worth more than gold (says 1 Peter) and is worth more than the life of Jesus Christ. Why should Christians be generous? It’s not just because we are told in Matthew 5 to “give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you”, but it’s also because the most precious thing we have been given was just that: a gift to us totally undeserved and one that we could have never worked hard enough to earn. We give because God first gave to us.

Our generosity toward others should mirror or mimic the generosity of God. To whom much is given, much is required. If God is blessing you materially, then you have a sacred obligation to steward that money well and to manage it on behalf of God. It’s not your wealth – it’s God’s wealth. He gave it to you as an entrustment to be used for the accomplishment of His agenda on this earth.

For those who are very rich – go to God and ask Him how you are to steward the wealth He has given you. For those who are not rich, note that nothing in this passage indicates God is on the side of the poor vs. the rich. God isn’t on one side or another – He is His own side and both groups rich and poor, had better get on God’s side.

Bill English

What the Rich and Poor Have in Common

On Christmas mornings, after my family is up and ready to open presents, I’ll take a few moments to read the Christmas story out of Luke 2 – something I do every year. In this story, we have a number of elements to learn about who Christ is and who we are in relation to Him. I’ll focus only on one single point and it is this: Christ came into this world to draw all men to Himself, both rich and poor. When you look at who came to see the Christ child, you had the polar opposites come to visit him. Among the poorest in those days were shepherds – men who watched sheep and protected them. They were likely hired by the sheep’s owners and endured all types of weather and little pay to look after their master’s sheep. Among the richest in those days were men who travelled on camels with entourages. The wise men represented this class. They were well educated, well-funded, and certainly important men in their day.

Both the rich and the poor came to Christ at His birth. And the rich brought gifts – expensive gifts – to give to Christ. Both bowed down Christ. Both were informed about Christ’s coming in unique, God-initiated ways and both travelled to see Him. The shepherds travelled a very short distance while the wise men travelled a very long distance to see Christ.

Even in His birth, Christ showed us that His life was about drawing men to Himself. As Christian Business owners, what are we drawn to? Is it Christ or our profits? Is it His forgiveness of sin or the growth of our business? Before all else, we must allow Christ to do that in our hearts and minds that only He can do: a transforming work that we cannot do within ourselves. Some Christian Business owners are so successful that they have forgotten all that Christ has done for them. They walk a good game, they give money, they serve on boards in their churches, they say all the right things, but their hearts are far from God, having forgotten Deuteronomy 8 in which we learn that it is God who gives us the ability to create wealth.

I pray this morning that you are not one of them. Take time to submit your heart to Christ. Like the wisemen, worship Him and Him only. Listen to the voice of God – the voice that is initiated by God to direct you and me into paths of righteousness. And do not forsake the study of the Bible. In it, you will find joy, wisdom and strength as well as learning how the spiritual world really works. God can speak to you through His word. May his word and righteousness rest on you today – this Christmas day.

Bill English