“The works of hands are faithful and just; his precepts are trustworthy”
– Psalms 111:7
Abraham Lincoln left his family at the age of twenty-one and became a store clerk in Salem, Illinois. He earned a reputation as being honest and sociable. To help defend this frontier outpost, he joined the local militia. To his surprise, after one year he was elected by the other members of the militia as their captain. A remarkable achievement for a twenty-three-year-old who was new to town. In a very short time he gained a reputation as a man of integrity, and his famous nickname, “Honest Abe,” was given to him during this period of his life.
Many of us from the marketplace are faced with the question of integrity on a daily basis. How do we handle a client’s money? Do we reveal everything or hold back important information? Do we consider ourselves justified because everyone else does it? We ponder and debate. We look for answers from within our hearts. We’re under pressure to complete a deal, to give our boss the right answer. We are constantly besieged with these crossroad decisions.
I was recently confronted by a supplier to pay for more work than had actually been completed. I knew he was wrong, but I paid him anyway. His attitude was that of entitlement. I had noticed that over time he had become more difficult in his billing practices and a little more forward in his requests. After I handed him the check, I decided to end our relationship and began to use other suppliers. After a while, the man complained that I wasn’t giving him any business. I advised him I had found another supplier. He never asked why; he just got angry and stormed off.
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”
When we view our relationships from only one side, we find it harder to be honest. We begin to feel entitled and justified. We cross the boundary of fairness. Our short-term gains turn into a crisis of reputation. It happens slowly. Customers leave without telling us why. People begin to avoid us. Our reputation becomes a hidden curse. Proverbs 22:1 reminds us of this, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”
When we treat our neighbors with respect and honesty, we may suffer short-term financial setbacks, but we build long-term relationships. Recently, I needed a moving company and asked around. I was told to use Company X, they were the best and most honest. I called them, and in our conversations, I asked, “Why don’t you advertise?” The company representative’s response was “We have more than we can handle from our referrals.”
What are the questions we ask ourselves about fairness?
How do we resist the temptation of the short term?
How are your referrals?
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
One of the most dangerous things for any business to get caught up in is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy happens because you had feelings it will happen, and our subsequent action supports our beliefs. In other words, without the use of facts or truth, we feel something will happen, and then it does, mainly because the actions we take ensure our feelings happen.
So how does this happen? During the Great Depression of the last century, many previously solid banks failed because their customers thought they would fail. The bank’s customers believed they would fail and withdrew all their money, resulting in a catastrophic capital loss. Thus, causing many banks to fail, sending the country deeper into an economic morass.
Fortunately, in my business career, I worked with a number of great CEOs who were adept at gathering facts before deciding what to do next. For example, when people would gather to discuss a problem, these CEOs would insist on getting the hard evidence and push away guesses or feelings. The reason is facts aren’t based on feelings or opinions. Instead, they are based on concrete and well-researched information.
For instance, someone might propose a solution based on just one incident out of very many and offer a solution. Ignoring the multiple times, the event hadn’t occurred. They were essentially selecting one isolated incident to support their feelings or opinion.
This is dangerous because a solution based on feelings and opinions doesn’t solve the problem. The problem will still exist and likely get worse. The right solutions require the right facts.
Sometimes, these feelings or opinions circulate and are accepted because people with alternative agendas push their agenda, regardless of whether it is suitable for the company. This makes it harder to get the facts. Instead, they will point to an isolated incident that supports their agenda and convince people their feelings are a universal truth.
This behavior creates an uphill climb to convince an organization to take a different course for the person who knows the real truth and facts. In some cases, the person trying to give the facts will become isolated or beaten down. As a result, they will likely either go silent or go along.
Jesus had this problem early in his ministry. Many of the religious leaders tried to change the minds of people about Jesus. They used skillfully crafted words to convince the local population to condemn Jesus. They weren’t interested in if Jesus was telling the truth. They were more interested in getting rid of a person that threatened their power base.
The facts, in this case, were clearly on Jesus’ side. He was the Son of God and sent by God. He cured many. He spoke clearly and was always faithful to the words of God. He counseled the downtrodden and showed compassion. Certainly, no one knew the scriptures better than Jesus. Many times using the scriptures against the religious elite.
The dilemma for Jesus was that even though he did what he said and said what he did, it went across the grain of those in power. Instead of using facts, his detractors used feelings and misguided opinions to prove him wrong. To them, it wasn’t a question if he was right or wrong. Instead, it became a quest to eliminate his influence.
Jesus didn’t respond to the religious elite. He simply said to the masses, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. A simple message, stick with me, and you will discover what is real. And we all know Jesus did fulfill his mission. He was crucified and rose on the third day to save us from sin.
To prove the point, not much is known today about Jesus’ detractors, but much is known about Jesus. That is the issue with feelings and opinions. They don’t last long but can cause a lot of problems. It is always the facts and the truth which survive.
The same is true with our faith lives. Stick close to the message of Jesus. We should test everything we feel or hear against the words of Jesus. If it matches, likely, we are hearing or feeling the truth. Otherwise, we are reacting to either our misguided desires or falling for someone else’s agenda.
The truth will always set us free.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned
Augustine, the great doctor of the early Christian church, famously said, Give me chastity, but not yet. An amazing statement when you consider his elevated status as a great ancient leader of the church. Augustine had a significant influence on many church doctrine, especially the Doctrine of Original Sin. Yet as a wild youth he stole fruit because he was told he shouldn’t! As a young adult, he enjoyed the illicit pleasures of life. This statement and his actions as a youth make us wonder; How did this man become the great leader of the early church?. The answer is complicated, but when we know the back story of his life, we will know why.
Augustine was born in Algeria, in 354AD. His father was moderately wealthy and was a pagan. His mother, Monica was a devout Christian and likely a Berber. Because of the family’s wealth, Augustine was well educated. In fact, the family only spoke Latin at home and not the local language. He was a brilliant student, who excelled at both mischief and his studies. Later in life, he was so skilled in reading and writing he was recruited to Milan to teach oratory.
As a youth, Augustine was prone to explore the seamier sides of life.
Which left his mother praying for his soul. In one particular incident, as mentioned before, Augustine and his friends stole the fruit, not because they wanted to eat the fruit, but because they were not permitted to take the fruit. This particular event would significantly shape his views on sin.
At the age of 21, he had a relationship with a woman from Carthage, but would not marry her. Further aggravating his mother Monica. Instead of Christianity, he followed a pagan religion called Manichaeism. A form of religion that existed only from the 3rd to 7th century. What attracted his interest was that it was more reason-based and less faith-based then Christianity. Believing in something he couldn’t see, or touch seemed illogical. He remained a follower for around ten years.
He was in constant pursuit of the origin of life and how we fit into the universe. His mother constantly told him that he would find the answer through Jesus. Not surprisingly he resisted all her attempts and focused on philosophical and physical explanations.
Later, through a contact, he was asked to go to Milan and teach.
He left, with his mother Monica chasing after him, still pleading with him to convert. While in Milan, he was introduced by his mother to Bishop Ambrose. Over time they became good friends, but Augustine resisted any attempt to convert. But still searched for an answer. His heart was unquieted.
Eventually, the graciousness of Ambrose overwhelmed him. One day sitting desperately tormented in a garden, he heard a child’s voice say, take up and read, referring to the Bible. To which Augustine did and providentially opened to Romans [13:13] which said; Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
A message he could identify with and in that moment he committed his life to Jesus. And his heart rested with Lord and became quieted.
As the story unfolds, Augustine goes back to Africa and becomes ordained, and eventually becomes the Bishop of Hippo.
In his role as Bishop, he worked with his compatriots on many church doctrines, because of his skill in a language he could easily decipher and explain critical aspects of the Bible. By nature, he was a leader and was soon leading numerous theological discussions.
One doctrine in particular, that he is credited with is, is the formulation of the thoughts of Original Sin. Essentially, it states that all humankind is inherently sinful, as a result of Adam and Eve’s eating the apple in the Garden of Eden. That it was inherited by us through them. However, what is not quite agreed to is the severity of the inherited sin. Augustine believed that humankind was much enfeebled by original sin. A few didn’t take it that far. However, in many quarters, notably the Catholic church and many segments of Protestantism, adopted Augustine’s point of view on Original Sin.
So let’s go back to the fruit that Augustine stole as a youth, his view of human nature and sin were derived from this moment. He believed that the total depravity he showed in this instance was universal and that all humankind shared this characteristic. He didn’t take the fruit because he needed it, but because he was told he couldn’t have the fruit. Thus became the center point on his and the later church thinking about original sin.
So here is where I disagree.
I don’t believe that humankind was enfeebled as Augustine decreed. I have seen many acts of kindness in my life to buy into his viewpoint. Frankly, I am in more agreement with great saints like Julian of Norwich, who didn’t see sin as so disabling. It’s not that I don’t agree with original sin, I do believe we all fall and fail, but no to the extreme of complete depravity proposed by Augustine. I have seen too much kindness in my life to agree.
My own belief is that Augustine saw the whole world as he saw himself. What I mean by that, it is to be expected that people with good self-images have a healthier view of humanity. Augustine’s stolen fruit and his love of pleasurable things affected his viewpoint and in his assignment of the severity of sin.
But I must also admit, this goes against two thousand years of Christian thought. And I know there will be people who write and will vehemently disagree.
But remember Augustine who stole the fruit and was the one who said, Give me Chastity, but not yet.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
One of my favorite things to do is to give talks on college campuses. I especially like to hear the students’ points of view. Always unique and insightful conversations that belie the students’ relative inexperience in the business world. In these talks, I do two things. First, give the students real-life insight into what their future lives will look like. And secondly, talk extensively about Christian ethics. Both of these topics are designed to help arm them for the next step in their lives.
After I have given my presentation, I always allow for an extensive question and answer period. Inevitably I will always be challenged about my too simple view of Christian business ethic. I tell the students that Christian Business ethics always boils down to; what ought I to do. And the answer of what I to do is found in Colossians [3:17], where it says, And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The students believe my point of view is too simple and doesn’t consider the complications or dilemmas of ethics. Like, what about cultural differences? Or weighing truth versus loyalty. Next, they will ask what about long-term versus short-term decisions. Then there is always the question about the individual versus the community. And finally, what about justice versus mercy? These are great questions and represent the five classical ethical dilemmas taught in theirs or any ethics class.
But the everyday world’s view of ethics is very different than Christian ethics. While similar in answering the question of what ought we to do?, Christian ethics uses the perspective of the Bible and, more specifically, what Jesus would do.
There is a trap here as well. Many of these dilemmas exist as very minor exceptions and not the general rule. Indeed, the exceptions must be considered, but not at the expense of the broader issue of morality. In other words, too much time can be spent on the five percent versus genuinely understanding the overall point of ethics. Many of these discussions of the exceptions can overwhelm the real value of ethics. Specifically, in Christian business ethics, knowing what Jesus would have us do is a far more critical question.
The answer to knowing what Jesus would do is more straightforward than we might think. First, we have the ten commandments, which contain things like not stealing or committing murder. Secondly, Jesus tells us in Matthew 22: 37-40, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
So this seems pretty simple to understand, follow the ten commandments, and love God along with our neighbor. However, the more challenging test of Christian ethics isn’t just with this knowledge; it is in the execution. This is where more time should be spent than talking about the exceptions or dilemmas. Temptation is the hardest part of Christian Business ethics. Temptation is what breaks down our ability to execute great Christian business ethics.
Throughout our careers, we will be tempted by money. We will perhaps stretch the truth to get our way or even a benefit we don’t deserve. We might even be tempted to spread rumors about a co-worker. So my advice to the crowd is to spend more time on two things, be clear about our understanding of what Jesus wants and giving in to temptation.
However, the five dilemmas of ethics will still always pop up in these discussions. Take the dilemma of truth versus loyalty. Suppose we know of a corrupt situation in which a friend is involved. The dilemma is we expose the truth and hurt our loyalty to our friend. When we use Christian business ethics, this is really a question of truth and loving our neighbor.
First, Jesus always wants us to tell the truth; yes, always! But, secondly, Jesus also wants us to love our neighbor. In this case, it means talking to the friend quickly and telling them you have to disclose the truth. And this is loving your neighbor, even if it could be viewed as being disloyal. But, in reality, you are helping your neighbor not to get involved any deeper and perhaps helping them be part of the solution. So to allow a friend to continue down a crooked path is not really loving your neighbor.
Dilemmas may be valuable in the discourse of understanding ethics. But for Christians, it is more important, as it says in Colossians, whether in word or deed, to do it all in the name of Jesus. And secondly, watch out for temptations. Dilemmas aren’t our real problem. It is with the ability and commitment to following the path of Jesus.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
Now it may seem a little strange, and over the top, for me to say, I love going to the Dentist. But it is true and let me explain why. It is not fun to have a toothache or to need a root canal—all of which I have had to experience recently. And anyone who has had a toothache can attest it’s not a pleasant time. For me, I knew I would find a caring and compassionate answer at my Dentist’s office.
As a person who studies businesses, I get great joy when I discover a company that is well run. I have found this with my Dentist, Dr. Heath Lefberg.
A week before my youngest daughter’s wedding, I developed an infection in my front tooth, which had a root canal long ago. So, needless to say, this event was very untimely. On top of this, I was to be the minister at her wedding. So I called Dr. Lefberg’s office and was immediately and sympathetically given an appointment that day.
Dr. Lefberg quickly assessed the problem and told me my situation was very complicated and would require a complex procedure to fix. He could not perform the procedure, and I would have to go to an endodontist specialist. But first, he wanted to get me comfortable and able to complete my daughter’s wedding. So his goal became to get me through the following week and my daughter’s wedding, which he did with a required course of anti-biotics and Advil.
After a few difficult days, it worked. Finally, I was able to be pain-free and perform the wonderful task of marrying my daughter. In the meantime, Dr. Lefberg stayed close in following my progress, as did the office staff.
When I returned from the wedding, I went to Dr. Lefberg’s office for a follow-up. As I entered the waiting area, the receptionist and office manager immediately asked how was I doing and how was the wedding? These questions weren’t superfluous. Instead, they were sincere expressions.
I have found this whenever I call the office as well. They are people who care about their patients and go out of their way to make them as comfortable as possible. But, like any cultural attitude that exists in any business, it starts at the top.
When I watch Dr. Lefberg interact with his employees, I find a person who cares about their opinions and talks to them respectfully. In turn, it is reflected in how we, the customers/patients, are treated. Their efforts are always sincere and warm towards those of us who visit the office.
Dr. Lefberg himself asks me about my work as a Christian author. To my surprise, I have found he is a great student of the bible and its history. Most of the time, during my appointments, we talk a little about my work during my visits.
As I have thought about the business model for Dr. Lefberg’s dental practice, it’s centered on excellent customer service. And I have concluded that for any company to have excellent customer service, two things must be aligned; the leader’s desire to have a great customer service culture and have positive employees whose mindset matches the leader’s. Both must exist, or one side will doom the culture.
Indeed, I find both sides working harmoniously in Dr. Lefberg’s office. When I think about the Good Samaritan story, I see an excellent example of two sides working together. We all know this story of a Samaritan person finding a person in need on the side of the road. Two religious people pass him by. While the Samaritan man stops his journey and tends to the person’s wounds. Then takes him to an inn to rest for a few days while he goes on his journey for a few days.
Here is where the story takes an unusual twist. The Samaritan man asks the innkeeper to help out. Certainly, taken care of a person wasn’t on the innkeeper’s to-do list. But, likely, inspired by the compassion of the Samaritan man, the innkeeper takes on the role of helping out. Many miss this part of the story, but there are many times another person exists in most efforts to help out.
Providing great customer service is similar. First, there has to be a leading example of being empathetic to customer needs to the point of stopping to help the customer out. Second, like the innkeeper, positive employees must exist to carry on the task of helping the customer. To have excellent customer service, it starts at the top and is finished by the employees
Jesus uses this example as a lesson on what loving thy neighbor means. It also applies to any business. It is a message of worrying about the customer first and not our scripted to-do list. Positive people always find a way to both provide excellent customer service and their to-do list. Like Dr. Lefberg’s office, they still get their job done and provide excellent customer service.
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