The Builder-Developer as a Steward of Godís Resources

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Perry Bigelow - Spirituality of Sustainability Bringing God's Kingdom To the Marketplace and Inner City

Perry Bigelow - Spirituality of SustainabilityThere are two ways to connect faith and work. One can integrate faith into work, in which case faith is secondary to work, or one can integrate work into faith, in which case faith is primary. I have tried both ways. For me integrating faith into work resulted in compartmentalization; integrating work into faith is holistic. All work done in Jesus' name and done for Jesus (Col. 3:23-24) is part of the good work that God has created me to do-whether it is work in the marketplace, in the community, at home, or at church.

The Incarnation: the Central Mystery

I shall never understand fully the mystery of the incarnation. First, God's Son was incarnated in me (Rom. 8:9-11; Eph. 1:1-14). Third, in a way that only God understands, He is incarnated and present in the poor and needy person. When I reach out and provide shelter to the stranger, a drink to the thirsty, or something to eat for the hungry, I am providing that to Jesus (Mt. 25:31-46). This puts an incredible awesome significance on reaching out to those in need. In some mystical way I am also the incarnation of Jesus to the poor; He serves the poor through me. And he who is poor at any given time is the incarnation of Jesus to me.(1) As a result, in each encounter with any person, I have the opportunity simultaneously to be Jesus the rich person, as a giver of God's grace, and Jesus the poor person, as a receiver of God's grace. Lately, I also have come to realize that I am often the poor person, therefore, if I want to receive the full blessing of Jesus' incarnation for myself, I must be humble and vulnerable to allow other people to be Jesus to me.

God's Image: The Dignity of Making Decisions

Jesus fully respected the image of God that each person carries; from His encounters with people it is evident that an essential element of that image is the freedom and ability to make responsible choices. Therefore, in all my interpersonal relationships, I must not participate as a person of power but as a person who offers to another God's gift of decision-making ability. In our company we have a concept of leading people and managing assets. It is almost impossible to manage people without falling into the trap of treating them like an "it" instead of a "thou."

Jesus never exerted His supernatural power over people against their will or against what they perceived to be their own self-interest. Primary examples are Zaccheus (Lk. 19:1-9) and the Rich Young Ruler (Lk.18:18-25). Both were wealthy but one accepted His call, the other rejected it. I must allow people the same dignity of decision. Since I am not naturally people-oriented, it has become a difficult, but wonderfully exciting life-long journey to learn to try to provide everyone I encounter with that God-given privilege. I am not even close to doing this consistently.

Inverted Megacultures:
The kingdoms of God and This World

As followers of Jesus, we are participants and citizens of two opposite megacultures. The kingdom of God is where God reigns; the kingdom of this world is all that has not submitted itself to God's rule. Because evidence of our vertical relationship with God is not yet visible, His kingdom has its own economic, social, and political systems that are almost always totally upside down to the relational systems of God's kingdom and culture. At this point I have a great deal of difficulty as a Christian business owner. For example, laws are written so that everyone is treated the same, but God loves diversity and makes each person unique. It is often difficult to respond to each person's uniqueness in a legally-bound business environment. Also, whereas the state says that Christians own their own businesses, Christians view themselves as merely trustees or stewards of God's kingdom assets.

Biblical Perspectives on Work

In the Roman social and economic system, slavery was the primary employer-employee relationship. Stewards or managers were often highly educated, well-trained slaves who were completely entrusted with their owner's property. There is a close correlation between the way these people handled their master's wealth is Jesus' parable and the way a business owner should handle the assets of the company, as well as between the way masters and slaves related to one another and the way employer and employees should operate today. (2)

We are God' workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which god prepared that we might walk in them (Eph. 2:10). This is an extremely important truth because it defines what I am to do as a result of the gracious gift of salvation that I have received from God (Eph. 2:8-9). In Greek, "workmanship" has the connotation of a complete piece of woven fabric or a work of art. I am God's good, complete, divine work of art. Due to God's ability to see the end at the beginning, I am already viewed as the perfect likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). The good works that occupy me form the substance of my "doing" and "working" day in and day out.

Just what are these? (3) They include all kinds of work-physical, social, and ethical. They involve general behavior (Tit. 2:7), providing for daily necessities (Tit. 3:14), and sharing of wealth. (1 Tim. 6:17-19) (4) So good works are the totality of what God has prepared for me to do. They include my professional calling as an entrepreneur and homebuilder; my treatment of employees, customers, and suppliers; my reaching out and touching the poor; and activities that result from my being part of Jesus' body, the church. There is no compartmentalization between secular work in the marketplace and Christian serving. All of a Christian's life and work is ministry; all is to be done in the name of Jesus, as to Jesus, and for the glory of Jesus.

My Personal Journey

God's Invasion of My Life

I have not always had this understanding of work. For many years I had a very compartmentalized idea of faith and a highly secularized view of work. On the one hand, people needed to be saved, and I had a responsibility to witness to them. On the other hand, people were factors in capital investment and potential productivity, and I had to manage them to maximize my economic return. I became a master manipulator. I stared the business to make money, not to build the capital base of God's kingdom. I even had the audacity to invite God to be my partner-who would get a share for blessing me. I spent a lot of my spare time ensuring that I had a secure future by acquiring and growing my real estate investments, placing my confidence in these, rather than God. At the same time I taught Sunday School, was the church trustee board chairman, and directed the construction of some of the church buildings. There was little connection between my Sunday faith and my Monday work.

What changed? Four things happened. First, God graciously used a severe depression in the housing industry to show me that there is no lasting or real security to be found in owning a business or owning investments. As a result I developed a strong desire to know God better, to trust God more, and to feel loved by God. Second, just as this desire was intensifying, in Sunday School we studied Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline. For the first time in my life I began to practice seriously the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, meditation, and prayer-typically one half hour in the morning, and fifteen to thirty minutes in the evening. (5) Third, I read James Sheldon's book In His Steps, a story about a spiritually shallow pastor and his congregation and how their lives were revolutionized in one year by asking one simple question before anything they did: "What would Jesus do?" Fourth, I read Charles Colson's autobiographies, Born Again and Life Sentence, and was shamed by the realization that he was much close to God after being a Christian for only a few years than I was after thirty years.

As a result of this confluence of events and intensive study of the Bible, I realized that it was spiritually dangerous to be economically rich. (6) I also realized that I had to make a choice between God and money (Mt. 6:24). I became so horrified of the spiritual risks of being wealthy that I told God that if is was just the same with Him, I'd like never to be rich-the risk was just too great. Before, I feared God and loved money: having decided to really love God I developed a healthy fear of money. I sold all my investments; I have nothing left except my house-no stocks, mutual funds, or other retirement-type accounts.

I also came to realize that Jesus deeply loved and showed proactive concern for the poor, so much so that in His only story about who is allowed to enter the kingdom, it is only those who have directly and personally fed, clothed, and entertained the poor who will be welcomed (Mt. 25:31-46). This was truly shocking because I didn't know any poor in my cloistered, affluent suburban lifestyle. I began looking for ways to touch Jesus by touching the poor. I began to understand how much God hates oppression and loves justice. (7) Finally I concluded that I was a de facto oppressor. I was not proactively for justice like God was; I was doing nothing to provide just opportunity for victims of structural oppression.

I toyed with the idea of closing the homebuilding business so that I could become heavily involved with the poor; ultimately I decided to grow the homebuilding company as a means of support. I gathered around me highly competent leaders who could manage the business on a day-to-day basis. This has provided me with the financial support and personal time necessary to become involved in a wide range of activities that come alongside people in the city, with those who want to help themselves.

 

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