Time is Short

As Christian Business Owners, we evaluate our businesses within predictable time periods: months, quarters and fiscal years. We compare and contrast performance from one period to the next. Our measurements are usually grounded in time, a concept that we take for granted.

How the writers of the Bible view time and how we view time are the same – and yet vastly different because of the context into which they place time itself. When you take a long step back and look at key passages in the Bible, you’ll find that our current concepts and experiences of time are accepted as is, but interpreted in light of an eternity with or without God. In this post, I’ll argue that:

  1. Time, as we know it, has not always existed
  2. Time, as we live in it now, is passing
  3. The Bible’s view of time gives us Christian Business Owners a strong reason to engage in activities that are not considered normal by American business standards

When Did Time Start?

If everything that exists was created by God in Genesis 1, then time was also created by God. Most assume that time has always existed or that it was present from the beginning, which most assume to be Genesis 1.1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

Most believe time was present in Genesis 1.1 or at the very least, was inherent in the work God did in Genesis 1.4. I’d like to suggest that time – as we know it today – didn’t commence until Genesis 1.14-19:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Why is this important? Well, because the interpretations of an old earth of millions or billions of years just might be true when measured using our current concepts of time. We already know that applying current time measurements to eternity leaves us with the comparison that a thousand years is like a day (1 Peter 2.8-9)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

We don’t know how long the Spirit was hovering over the surface of the deep or how long God let the raw matter he had created exist when measured by our current concepts of time. But what we can realistically say is that days 1-3 in Genesis 1 were before time and days 4-6 were within our current time dispensation. I know my Bible scholars will rebut this by saying I can’t use the word “day” in two different ways in the same passage. My response: Really? You mean to tell me that you have never used the same word in two different ways in the same context? Knowing that the Hebrew word yom can mean either a literal 24-hour day or an undefined period of time – the word itself leaves us with plausibility on saying that we have an old earth, but we have a young experience of time as we know it.

When Will Time End?

We’re not told this in the Bible. Most assume it will end when then new heaven and new earth are created. I don’t have a dog in this race because the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that time will end. It is indicated that it will end with verses like Revelation 22.3, where the time for curses will be over, but one can’t say that verses like that mean that it is certain time will end. But this is not a huge point in Scripture and shouldn’t be one that consumes too much of our attention.

How Does the Bible View Time Right Now and Why Does it Matter?

The key passage I want to focus on is 1 Corinthians 7.29-31:

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

The obvious comparisons that Paul is making are not to be taken literally – instead – they are written to illustrate (in a bit of an absurd way) his opening and closing “bookend” statements: “…time is short…….this world in its present form is passing away.” Paul is making the point that everything – everything – is temporal and should be interpreted in light of eternity.

Our entire system of business – our country – our world systems – our profits – our businesses – our relationships – everything is temporal. Focusing on that which will carry forward into eternity should be characteristic of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, eternity has already started while we live on this earth, but it is not fully realized or experienced until we pass and go to heaven.

Interpreting our current events in light of eternity leads to passages like 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Whatever trials we’re facing are “light and momentary” says Paul. I’m not trying to be glib or minimize the pain that millions live with around the world. But in the context of eternity, they are momentary and they are light when compared to the affliction facing those who reject Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Re-interpreting the present in light of the future is common practice in business. But reinterpreting the present in light of eternity is unheard of. But I am suggesting that we, as Christian Business Owners, do just that.

What Does This Mean for the Christian Business Owner

I believe that interpreting the present in light of eternity leads to two things:

  1. When the Bible says “the time is now!”, the Bible isn’t kidding. If you’ve not accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord, the day will come when those opportunities will no longer present themselves, so please answer God’s call while you can
  2. We are freed up to not accept this world’s assumptions and definitions of success. When we postulate that there are four core purposes of business and that fulfilling those purposes are the pinnacle of success for a Christian Business Owner, we’re not kidding. Those four purposes – products, passions, profits and philanthropy – cannot be fulfilled in tandem without an eternal perspective on our present trials. To make the kind of decisions required to fulfill these purposes will depend on an eternal perspective of money, people and work. These perspectives don’t exist in most MBA programs – including those at prestigious Christian institutions. So don’t go looking for them in current literature or education classes – you won’t find them. Instead, look for them in the Bible and then take your cues from the Holy Spirit.
  3. We are freed up to give to others in abundant generosity. Hanging onto the things of this world – even while we live in this world – need not be characteristic of us as Christian Business Owners because we know that our wealth, our businesses and our very lives will one day pass and we’ll be with the Lord in heaven for eternity.

Time is short. Everyone knows this. For the Christian Business Owner, this isn’t a problem because there is a glorious eternity that awaits us. The present is passing away, the future eternity is what we live for now.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

The Poor and Christian Business Owners

No matter what economic system is tried, there are always some who are considered “poor”, meaning that materially, they barely have enough to “get by”.  In socialistic or dictatorial economic/political systems – those that are “extractive” in nature where political power is vested in the hands of few individuals (here and here) – the vast majority of the population is poor because those with power take most of the country’s wealth for themselves. (This is, incidentally, why the cause of freedom and the federation of political power is so important to the core principles espoused on this site. The four core purposes of business cannot be performed in a political environment where freedom, private property and the rule of law are not found.)

Who are the poor? Well, there are some who are perpetually poor, meaning that year after year, they have little to live on. The reasons for this vary and won’t be discussed in this post. But some move in and out of poverty rather swiftly. Based on our economic system here in the US, a person can be “rich” or “poor” for relatively short periods of time. For example, a farmer who has earned little throughout his life might choose to sell his land to a housing developer. In that year, the farmer is thought to be “rich” according to the IRS because he sold his land for a high price and he’ll be taxed at the same rates as the rich. By the same token, a business owner whose business once brought in considerable income can swiftly become “poor” if sales dry up due to market, regulator, technology and/or competitive changes. In both cases, you may not be able to discern who is “rich” or “poor” in a given year by looking at the clothes they wear, the house they live in, their behavior or mannerisms or other external factors. Our long-term economic trajectories usually have more to do with how we “look” than our present financial state. The larger point is that people can move in and out of “poor” categories – sometimes rather swiftly. Let’s bear this in mind as we work through this post.

As Christian business owners, we are not exempt from understanding and following the passages discussed in this post. A proper interpretation of these passages will help us all understand our broader role in the Christian community as well as our unique status of being stewards of businesses that God has entrusted to us.  This post is intended to help us understand how to relate to those who are poor in our roles as Christian Business Owners. We have unique stewardship responsibilities because of our opportunities to create vast sums of wealth. Each section will tackle a different relationship/role and each section (except the last one) is founded in Scripture.

It is to these passages that we now turn.

Destitution of Some is a Collective, Moral Failure of Society

In Jewish thinking, having people who were materially destitute was a moral wrong and a collective failure of their society. Deuteronomy 15.1-15:

At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you [emphasis added], for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

In this chapter, the Old Testament Jewish law discusses the regulations for cancelling debts every seven years.  The cancellation was applied only to a “brother”, meaning a fellow Israelite.  The cancellation of debts was not applied to “foreigners”, meaning a non-Israeli person.  By analogy today, we would interpret “brother” as a fellow believer in Christ and a “foreigner” as one who does not believe in Christ (i.e., is not trusting Jesus Christ for his/her salvation).

But why would these debts be cancelled?  Very simply stated, in verse 4, the Lord tells us: “…there should be no poor among you….He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God….”.  Within my spirit, I sense that us Evangelicals have a long way to go when it comes to financially helping our fellow believers who are Christians and who are poor by giving them what they need to live a decent life. One of the elements that should characterize the Christian community is that we have no poor among us. We take care of our family.  Mind you, this community is world-wide and there are Christians in other countries who are totally destitute. Giving to some might be nearly impossible given political realities, but we must try. Christian business owners have a responsibility to create wealth through profits.  Out of those profits, we have a responsibility to give to those who are in need.

There are two sides to this: good stewards notice the plight of others and step in to help. But if they are unaware, those in need can also ask. Good stewardship doesn’t require us to give simply because someone asks, however (notwithstanding Matthew’s “give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you”). Not all who ask will use the assistance wisely. I recall one man who literally had no food for his family, so his church gave him a sum of money which was intended to help him feed his family for a couple of months. Imagine their dismay when he showed up at a church function a few weeks later with an expensive video camera he purchased with their funds. Wise stewards don’t give to irresponsible people like this, so first ask God how His profits should be spent and then follow the Lord’s leading.

Some Christian business owners give only to organizations, rather than to individuals. I was once in this camp. Go to the Lord and ask His leading on this, but it seems to me that the flavor of Deuteronomy 15 has a more personal touch than simply writing a check to an organization.

Who’s Responsible?

What I’m arguing here is that destitution is a failure of society, but the institution responsible for fixing it is the church, not the government. Perhaps we can have collaboration between the two, but with our hyper-insistence on a high firewall between government and the church, it appears that our society will not allow the two institutions to work together in any meaningful way.

I don’t support the government mandating fixes to these things that I’m talking about. Living out these principles is a discipleship issue, not a political issue. These are matters of the heart, not politics. It’s the church’s responsibility to ensure that our society has these values baked into our culture, not the governments’. Once the government gets involved, then the discussion pivots from obedience to God to who is getting “their fair share” and “what’s legal” and the rest. Church members by the millions retreat from their stewardship and discipleship responsibility once the government gets involved. The reality is that forced charity is not charity and governments are incapable of “caring”.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, surely we can find common ground among most religions to support the notion that we should not have destitute people in our society. But again, it is the churches, synagogues, mosques and so forth who should collaborate to eradicate our deepest social ills – including poverty. And frankly, one of the best ways to ensure we eradicate poverty is to teach people how to start and grow healthy businesses. But with our recent losses of small businesses in America, one wonders if this can be achieved without significant government reform. Governments cannot start businesses – but governments can shut them down and discourage new business start-ups through onerous tax and regulation policies as well as creating an uncertain legal environment.

The macro solution is to make the government’s efforts at combating poverty irrelevant by:

  1. Collaboration among churches, synagogues and other religious and community institutions
  2. Robust teaching and support of small business, where nearly all new employment is generated – poverty cannot be eradicated without a strong, growing business environment
  3. Getting the government out of the business of micro-managing every aspect of our lives – freedom is essential to growth and problem resolution at the micro level

I realize this notion of working with those who do not believe as we do is appalling and offensive to some who read this blog. I get that. I’ll leave this to you and the Lord to wrestle with. I won’t try to convince you otherwise.

Do Not Oppress the Poor

Those who have money have power, status, and access. I’ve seen it time and again where the rich collude with each other and the politically powerful to create opportunities for themselves that further extract wealth from the poor. This is sin. In some cases it is legal. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean that God is pleased. In the Old Testament, whether a man’s poverty was due to his own sin or to someone else’s, poverty was seen as an evil to be combated, and the law made many provisions for the relief of it. God cared for the needy, and expected his people to do the same:

Exodus 22.21-27: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Leviticus 19.9-10: ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 24.10-22: When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God. Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin. Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

Isaiah 10.1-2: Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people

Jeremiah 22.13-14: Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.

Ezekiel 22.29: The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.

Amos 2.2-4: For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.

Amos 5.22: You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

Amos 8.4-8: Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”— skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The LORD has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt.

The temptation of the rich to oppress the poor is ever-present. Corporations – often in league with governments – oppress the poor on a regular basis. And yes, even governments can oppress their own people – including the poor. While the Republicans extol the virtues of business and the Democrats extol the virtues of government, neither sees their own as part of the problem. When big business gets in bed with big government – watch out. No one is safe.

For example, many reading this post have had money extracted from them by the force of government to pay for the offices and ball fields of billionaire owners and millionaire players. When the government agrees to subsidize an NFL franchise (mind you, the NFL rakes in over $9B in profits each year even though they are organized as a non-profit) by levying taxes on the general population so that the billionaire owners and millionaire players can have higher salaries and profits and a new stadium in which to play, this is the rich and powerful oppressing the poor. When certain corporations gain tax breaks or access to coveted licenses or waivers from the government that small business owners can’t get because they are, well, too small to matter, this is the rich and powerful oppressing the poor. When high-paid ministry leaders use guilt-tripping manipulations to (essentially) extract (even though it is in the form of an “ask”) more money from people who are struggling to survive, this is the rich oppressing the poor. When colleges accept gifts from large donors to pay for museum artifacts while cutting the positions and wages of their staff, raising tuition rates and turning away students unable to the education that supports their call to ministry, this is the rich oppressing the poor. When politicians use their position to gin-up one constituent group against another and then use that group’s anger as a basis for fund-raising, this is the rich and powerful oppressing the poor. I could go on – but you get my point. Incremental oppression occurs every day.

Christian Business Owners need to closely walk with God to ensure we do not engage in oppressing the poor. As Christian business owners, there are at least three ways in which we can oppress the poor:

  1. Oppressive pricing of our products and services that are considered inelastic. When it comes to pricing our products and services, that pricing must be fair and should take into account the poor who are among us.  While you may not take this principle into consideration if your business is selling yachts to millionaires, you should take a look at this principle if your business is selling insulin. This is why it is entirely Biblical to have pricing for non-profits and for Christian organizations that include deep discounts.  Part of supporting the church and our fellow believers who are poor is to help them obtain goods and services with pricing that meets their economic needs. You might even go so far as to offer free products and services to those under a certain income. That would be honoring to God.
  2. Unlivable wages: we pay as little as possible to ensure we create as much profit as possible. This is the American way of doing business, but it is not always the Lord’s way. When we hire someone, we should pay them, in part, based on what they need to sustain themselves. If we require a full-time commitment, then we should be willing to ensure that they are not dumpster diving for food or having to live out of a car. Christian organizations are especially guilty of this. In nearly every church, Christian school or non-profit, I’m constantly amazed at how little people are paid – and as a result – valued. For example, I know of one Christian college here in the upper mid-west who starts their full-time theology professors at $28,000/year while the President of the college makes well over $100K/year. I know I’m stepping on toes here……
  3. Not giving to the poor when the Spirit tells us to do so is hoarding and a form of oppression.  In John 16, we are told that the Spirit speaks only what He hears from the Father.  To not obey the Spirit’s leading is to not obey the Lord.  When we are prompted to do so, we should give to others – even to the point of sacrifice. Remember, wealth is a renewable resource.

Is Poverty a Sign of Righteousness or Sin?

The short answer: its’ neither. If you want the long answer – the read on.

There are some who believe that poverty is a sign of righteousness. Others believe it is a sign of sin. One can argue from Scripture either direction. Life experience would say it’s not one or the other: it is more complicated than that. Let me quote at length from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible:

This thought—that so far from being prosperous, the good man may often be poor—is sometimes curiously inverted. The righteous may be poor, but Scripture sometimes appears to reckon that to be poor is to be righteous. Of course it is not automatically so (Prv 30:8, 9), but such references are frequent enough, especially in the psalms (e.g., 9:18; 10:14; 12:5; 34:6; 35:10; 74:19), to deserve careful consideration. And on reflection they are not so strange. As God is specially concerned about the poor, so the poor may be specially concerned about God, for two good reasons. If there is poverty in Israel, it is because those with power are misusing it; so the poor will claim God’s help first because it is his rule which is being flouted, and he must vindicate himself, and secondly, because in the circumstances there is no one else to turn to. In this way “poor” becomes almost a technical term. “The poor” are the humble, and the humble are the godly (Ps 10:17; 14:5, 6; 37:11; Zep 3:12, 13). Just as being rich can foster self-indulgence, self-confidence, pride, and the despising and oppression of one’s fellows, so being poor should encourage the opposite virtues.

Instead of being an evil to be shunned, poverty thus becomes an ideal to be sought. Following the OT use of “the poor” and “the pious” as almost interchangeable terms, personal property was renounced by many Jews during the period between the Testaments. Among them were the sect of the Essenes, and the related community which was set up at Qumran near the Dead Sea. The latter actually called themselves “The Poor.” This tradition continued into NT times. Possibly “the poor” at Jerusalem means a definite group within the church there (or even the Jerusalem church as a whole; Rom 15:26; Gal 2:10). Certainly there emerged later a Jewish-Christian sect called the “Ebionites” (from a Hebrew word for “poor”).

The NT teaches clearly, of course, that what really matters is the attitude of the heart. It is quite possible to be poor yet grasping, or rich yet generous. Even so, with the OT background outlined above, the general sense of these words in the Gospels is that rich = bad, poor = good. On the one hand, the Sadducees are rich in worldly wealth and the Pharisees in spiritual pride, and men of property are selfish, foolish, and in grave spiritual peril (Mk 10:23; Lk 12:13–21; 16:19–31). On the other hand, it is devout and simple folk like Jesus’s own family and friends who generally represent the poor.

In truth, therefore, the two versions of the first beatitude amount to the same thing. Matthew’s has the depth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3). But Luke’s has the breadth. When he says simply “Blessed are you poor” (6:20), he means those who in their need—in any kind of need—turn to the Lord (6:17–20). It is to bring the gospel to such people that Christ has come into the world (Mt 11:5; Lk 4:18).

Christ himself embodies the same ideal, showing in his earthly life what it means to have nothing to fall back on except his Father’s loving care (Mt 8:20), and finally allowing himself to be deprived even of life (Phil 2:5–8). In this way both lines of teaching converge on a passage mentioned earlier: “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Our helpless poverty is an evil from which he comes to rescue us; his deliberately chosen poverty is the glorious means by which he does so.

(Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.)

Clearly, then, we can surmise that being poor is neither a sign of sin or righteousness – it’s really a matter of the heart. Some who are righteous are wealthy – some are poor. Some move between being the two. Some filled with wickedness prosper financially – usually because wherever you find vice, you’ll find money. But some wicked do come to ruin. There is no hard and fast rule – no “always” in this area. So don’t use the existence of wealth or poverty to infer righteousness or wickedness. Get to know the person and you’ll find out where their heart is.

As Christian Business Owners, we walk a fine line in which we must closely follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. If poverty is a result of sin, but repentance is evident, then it’s my belief that we should give. If poverty is a result of sin and there remains a hard heart, I’m much less inclined to give. We don’t support sinful activities and lifestyles with God’s money. But there’s no hard and fast rule here – just principles that we apply as we sense the leading of the Holy Spirit.

What Should an Owner Pay Him/Herself?

It seems to me that Christian Business Owners should use the following three principles – either in tandem or individually – to set their salaries and living standards:

  1. Go to the census bureau and find out what the average salary is for your neighborhood or town and pay yourself that. Adjust your living standard to live within that salary and give the rest away.
  2. Do a survey of other businesses in your vertical that are roughly your size. Find out (if you can) what the other owners pay themselves – average it out and pay yourself that.
  3. If possible, find out what the average salary is for those who are members in your church. Pay yourself that amount and adjust your living standard accordingly.

The point is that we should strive to live at an average level – not the levels of the rich and famous. People are dying every day of hunger, malnutrition and other elements that are beyond their control. We have a responsibility world-wide to these individuals – not just those in our back yards. So instead of indulging in self-pleasure, let’s enjoy the gift of giving to others. Much of what we do and all of what we own won’t matter in 30 years or even 10 years. But giving to those in need is one of the few things we can do right now that will have eternal effects.

Frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that living the “high life” is a form of selfishness and hoarding – both of which are clearly condemned in Scripture. Our hearts need to be bathed in generosity, not selfishness.

If you’re a Christian Business Owner – take these matters to prayer and see what God would have you do in response to this post.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

Comparative Value of Money and Faith

I was reading through First Peter 1 the other morning and was again struck by how our faith is worth more than precious gold:

6In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

This idea is echoed in later in First Peter 3.3:

“3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

The Christian Business Reference Architecture – which starts with who you are as a business owner – stresses the importance of a life lived in faith and obedience to God as a prerequisite to running a business God’s way. These verses extend that concept to say that within the value system of a true Disciple of Jesus Christ – even if they are business owners – is the notion that money is less valuable than faith in God.

What crossed my mind is that and abundance of either Faith or Money bring us similar things, though highly differentiated. Here are four comparative examples of what I mean. Asked another way – what does one have when they have money vs. faith? Both are valuable – but in the macro – money is valuable in the temporal world and faith is valuable in the eternal world. What we’re asking Christian business owners to do is to flip those realities: value faith over money in this temporal world as you look toward living in the eternal world. At any rate, here are four comparative examples of what I’m trying to express. In the first row, both money and faith bring us power – but very different kinds of power with different effects and different results:

Element Money Faith
Power The more money one has, the more power one has to make decisions, enter into advantageous relationships, tell others what to do and ensure one’s personal comfort. The more righteous one lives and the more mature one’s faith is in God, the more powerful are one’s prayers to God (James 5.16) and the less bondage one has to sin.
Treasures Lots of money can buy lots of things – usually large and expensive: houses, cars, positions, influence, membership, thrills, experiences and so forth. But the treasures purchased with money are temporal and fleeting. (Luke 12.14-21) Our faith is worth more than money, so a mature, deep faith in God brings about a “richness” that is stable and eternal. The “treasures” of faith never spoil or fade (Matthew 5). They are fully enjoyed in heaven, partially enjoyed on earth.
Access High amounts of money brings access to political and business leaders and sometimes access to religious leaders too. Faith is always noticed by Jesus and honored. Look at how many times Christ responded to even the smallest of faith in the Gospels. When you have faith in God, you get access to God
Giving People with large sums of money usually give away enough money to look good, but they don’t give sacrificially. Giving money rarely involves giving of one’s life too. They will give their money, but will lose their soul. (Matthew 6.33) When your faith is deep and mature in Christ, you’ll happily give away your life because you know of God’s provision and purpose for your life. And you’ll save your soul in the process (Matthew 6.33)

 

As Christian Business Owners, all God asks is that we value what He values more than what our American system of business says we should value. The four purposes for business – products, passions, profits and philanthropy – represent four core values that cannot be held in balance and then lived out without a deep and abiding faith in God and His work in our lives.

The comparative value of money and faith is essentially this: money brings us temporal, but substantial power, treasure, access and opportunities for philanthropy. Faith brings us power, treasure, access and opportunities to give of ourselves. The question is this: which do you desire more? You cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 5). As a Christian business owner, I ask you this simple question: which do you value more? Money or faith?

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

Leadership Lessons Part IX: The Test of the Broken Vow

If you’re in leadership, chances are good that you have had someone lie to you and perhaps even break their promises to you. This is as aspect of Christian Business Ownership which many who get into business ownership don’t anticipate: a few employees will take purposeful actions that they know will hurt you and the business. In essence, an employee or partner will break their promises to you. Sometimes, these employees are in key positions which gives them significant opportunity to inflict real damage on your business. But in most cases, when someone close to you breaks their vow to you, it doesn’t also involve their attempts to kill you. In David’s life, the person who broke his vow to David was his Employer and King – King Saul. And yes, the broken vow meant that David’s life would be in real danger.

In 1 Samuel 19.1-18, we read:

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.” So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before. Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him.

But an evil spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre, 10 Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.

11 Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.

14 When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.”15 Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” 16 But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?” Michal told him, “He said to me, ‘Let me get away. Why should I kill you?’ “

18 When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him.

What is a Vow?

A vow is a more intense form of a promise and they are taken seriously in the Scriptures (Num 30.2, Deut 23.31, Eccl 5.4-5). In Matthew 5.37, we’re instructed that our speech should be as serious and abiding as an oath/vow: “let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.  A Christian Business Owner should be known for fulfilling his/her promises and commitments. We should not be known for saying one thing and then doing another. Unfortunately, Saul was known for not keeping his word.

Saul’s Vow

Saul made a vow to not kill David after Jonathan had reasoned with his father. In turn, Jonathan told David about Saul’s vow and how he would not attempt to kill David again. One can surmise what was going through David’s mind:

  • It is the King making the vow
  • It is made in the name of the Lord
  • I can trust it!

But as in previous scenarios, we found that Saul couldn’t stomach David’s success. Note the pattern that leads to Saul’s intense hatred of David and his deep desire to kill him:

  • War breaks out
  • David is successful
  • Saul become jealous and scared
  • Saul tries to kill David

It is no small thing for a leader to break his/her vow. When we don’t keep our word, we lose the respect of those around us and we don’t ensure that our organizations are run well. This was one of David’s core faults as a leader: he didn’t pay attention to his staff and correct them when needed. As a result, two of his sons attempted a coup on his throne – one drove him from Jerusalem.

Saul is unable to discipline himself. His heart is filled with such evil that an external vow spoken (perhaps rashly) cannot stop the inner drives which compel his actions. This is one illustration of why external disciplines do not change a man’s heart. Much like the demon-possessed man in Mark 5 whose evil could not be constrained by physical chains, we find Saul’s inability to keep his vows as revealing of the depth and breadth of the evil that was in his heart.

Incidentally, this is why Christian Business Owners need to persistently and consistently confess their sins to God. Before we attempt to run a business God’s way, we must first be people of righteousness. One outcome of living righteously before the Lord will be a heart that is transformed by God and that will enable us to keep our vows.

Results of Broken Vows

As a result of Saul breaking his vow to David and attempting to kill him, David is forced to flee for his life (with the help of his wife). A proximate result is that David was not able to fulfill his vow to Michal for a long period of time, so he turned to the Lord for support and help: 1 Sam 6.17-23. David also broke his vows and married other women. It didn’t turn out well for either of them to have broken their vows.

Test of Broken Vows

Leaders sometimes find that trusted partners or employees break that trust. It usually occurs within a context of conflict. Broken vows will test your personal maturity and reveal your character to you. Who we are in the conflict is more critical than what we do because what we do depends on who we are. I think this is the great principle of this entire site and the Christian Business Reference Architecture: who we are and what we believe dictates how we will run our business.

When someone breaks their vow to you, essentially you’ll have two choices: A) become bitter and let it destroy you or B) turn to God and let it be the best thing that has ever happened to you! You’ll need to forgive the other person for their sin against you. You’ll be entrusting them to God’s system of justice.

Nearly everyone will disappoint us at one time or another. As a Christian Business Owner, you need to remember that God will be with you and will provide a means and the grace to handle the pain and disappointment. When people do betray us, we’ll have a choice in how we react and it’s the reaction that is the larger issue for us. How we handle ourselves in the midst of the pain and conflict will be more important than the resolution itself.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group

As Markets Change, We Must Reinvent

Running a business would be much easier if our customer’s tastes, needs, desires, competencies and decision-making processes never changed. And it would get a whole lot easier if our competitors never came up with new ideas and better, more efficient ways of delivering products and services. However, life would also be dull, boring, predictable and rather routine – all of which would drive entrepreneurs to insanity. Reinvention CartoonSome entrepreneurs are more competitive than others. But all of us are driven by what could be and the reasonable possibility that we can improve the lives of those around us while bettering our own lot in life as well. Unfortunately, what happens to some business leaders is that they fail to see the changes in the market and adjust their businesses accordingly. For example, at a recent CEO group to which I belong, I was a bit surprised to learn in our last meeting that every CEO was diversifying and branching out into more product lines as the core product line which gave rise to us forming the group in the first place was rapidly changing in its’ delivery methods and value to the customer. But recognizing when to “move on” to other product lines because the current product lines are dying due to market forces is one of the core elements that every business owner must face. I was having lunch with my family in Famous Dave’s last night. Their décor is “in the past” as they try to take you back to times you might remember as a kid. I recall seeing a Borden’s Milk sign on the wall. I drank their milk growing up. You can’t find it in the stores today – at least not in the stores here in Minnesota. The leading brands of yester-year are rarely the leading brands of tomorrow. I’m writing this in 2014. Go back 50 years – who were the leading brands 50 years ago? It’s a different list than we have today. Some of the brands that were Fortune 500 in 1955 are out of business today, I would submit, either because they failed to change with the times or they failed to run their business ethically. In order for a business of any size to remain strong, they must also be reinventing and renewing as they enter new product line areas and find better ways to provide products and services to their customers. Ministries must reinvent too. Schueller’s Crystal Cathedral is a prime example of how a television ministry that was so powerful in 80’s and 90’s lost support because their donor base died off and the younger generation wasn’t interested in giving their money toward a bunch of television shows where, in essence, the church was just talking to themselves. I recall going to a service there one Sunday morning in the 2006 timeframe. The cameras were rolling. The singers were performing – and I mean performing, not worshipping – and Schuller was still doing his thing, offering positive thinking and doing his interviews. But the pews were essentially empty. The main floor was probably 30% occupied and the entire upper balcony was empty – except for the television cameras. He looked at and spoke to the cameras most of the time. I could tell he was also performing. His performances lost market value and market share after the dot-com bust and his ministry declared bankruptcy in 2013. What he and many others in evangelical Christianity failed to realize is that their financial excesses of the 80’s and 90’s had a boomerang effect on the younger generation. They weren’t (and aren’t today) looking for a comfortable religion – they were and are looking for a real religion in which people sacrifice for their brother and live without the financial and sexual selfishness found in their parent’s generation. Young people want to invest in something, but they want it to be real, they it to work and they want it to be authentic. The Biblical word for reinvention is regeneration. When Christ is invited into our lives, through the power and work of the Holy Spirit, He regenerates us into, literally, a new creation. We get a new nature. The old stuff passes away and we become something we were not. We can’t do this on our own – we can only experience this through His regenerating power. Reinvention – becoming – transforming – growing – this entire cluster of words that refers to newsness coming out of that which is dying is foundational to both good business and good Christianity. If you’re a Christian Business Owner – then today, take a look at your business. Consider how you might grow it through new product lines or through better delivery of your products or services. Don’t waiver on this – keep growing your business and let it “become” even as Christ does His daily work of regeneration in your life. Bill English CEO, Mindsharp Associate, The Platinum Group

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