God’s Bottom Line Chapter One
God’s Bottom Line
Mentoring with the Spiritual Challenges in Business
(A fictional adventure)
By Tim Bock & Jon Trott
Jacob looked up again from his table toward Everybody’s Coffee front door, wondering where Tim was. “Not an auspicious way to impress me,” the dark-haired thirty-seven year old told himself. “Late for our first meeting.”
A pretty, dark-skinned waitress approached, but Jacob’s shake of the head sent her on past.
Why had he agreed to this? A meeting with Tim, a guy he did not know, who had been introduced to him by his pastor, Ramey Alvarez.
Jacob’s personal faith in Jesus Christ, only a year and a half old, seemed at first to comfortably fit with his Oak Park Company’s operation. Even before embracing this new faith, Jacob operated Corevex Software with a sense of ethical responsibility to both his customers and his small group of employees. He paid taxes and tried to be a good neighbor. He contributed to local causes and even a couple overseas philanthropic outfits, including one that reconstructed homes in Haiti. Regardless, his faith didn’t suggest adding much, other than his occasional personal contributions to Chicago-area evangelism efforts and those small overseas missions.
But as time went on, something nagged at him. Jacob questioned the pastor about what the Bible, what Christianity itself, really had to do with business. Or, to put it another way, wasn’t there something more to doing business as a Christian than merely ethics? Don’t cheat. Be a good neighbor. Okay, but where was the meaning in it? The mission? Or was there nothing more?
The pastor’s response proved that, despite a sincere desire to help, he had no idea how to answer. Maybe in part because Jacob himself barely knew what he wanted! But to his credit, Pastor Alvarez did come back to him later and suggest the meeting with an inner-city acquaintance, Tim Burlingame. “Tim runs a business. It is part of an intentional Christian community in Chicago. He might have something you’re looking for.”
So Jacob had made the phone call. And here he was, waiting. The sun-shaped neon clock above the waitress’ head read 10:25 – almost half an hour late. He pulled out his iPhone and began futzing with the daytimer.
“Jacob?” He looked up to see a tall, gently grinning counterpart. Tim pulled up the chair across the table from him. “Sorry, I have an employee whose wife has terminal cancer. He came to work today but I had to send him home. Anyway, again… sorry I’m late.”
Good excuse and directly communicated, but Jacob’s irritation didn’t subside. He tried to work past it by explaining why he’d come and that Pastor Alvarez seemed to think Tim had answers. He then digressed into explaining his business. “What is it that you want, Jacob?” Jacob had no words for the sudden question. “I mean, what is it that you want, and how far are you willing to go to get it?”
“I want my faith to influence my business.”
The waitress leaned toward the duo. “On me,” Jacob said to her. “I’ll take whatever your house blend is… and leave room for cream, please.”
“Zatha, I’ll take the Ethiopian Blueberry. Black. Thanks. Oh Jacob, I wanted to introduce to you Zatha, she belongs to my church and is the resident scholar among us. “Zatha shrugs off the comment.
“She is always helping us when we have any celebration at our church with amazing skill and great coffee and treats.” “Now the great coffee part I can agree with, I am a coffee geek.” She admits.
“Nice to meet you and I look forward to some tasty treats here.” States Jacob
“Now… where were we? You want your faith to influence your business. Okay. But at what cost?” Tim moves on.
Jacob shook his head. “I don’t exactly follow.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so blunt. But didn’t Christ say something about building a tower after first examining the cost? Otherwise when the builder can’t finish, he is open to ridicule? *Luke 14:28-30, NRSV
That’s good business sense on Jesus’ part, right?”
Jacob nodded, his irritation again rising. “I don’t mean to be rude, Tim, but this doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for me. You’re dealing in spiritual vagaries. I’m asking for specifics.”
Zatha returned with their coffee. “Tell me when,” she said, pouring thick cream into Jacob’s stoneware mug.
“When.” Jacob winced as he took a draught from his coffee cup, which was hotter than he’d prepared for even after the cream. “I want to know how to implement my faith in a deeper way. My life is my business; just ask my ex-wife. But since I decided to follow Christ, I don’t really do anything that differently. So how can I count the cost when I don’t even know what tower I’m trying to build?” Tim laughed, lines along his eyes proving that laughter was something usual for him. “You’re right. What is the tower we’re trying to build? Well?”
Jacob, still irritated began to find himself somewhat amused. Tim seemed to be gently playing with him, provoking him. “Look, I am finding out all the time new stuff about Christianity that I didn’t know. I’m new at this, as Pastor Alvarez probably told you.” Tim nodded. “So no, I don’t know what tower I’m trying to build, except that I want it to honor God.” “That’s good,” Tim encouraged. “No, I mean it.”
Jacob leaned forward, feeling the rush of an emotion he barely understood. “I want more. I want way, way more. Inside I feel so totally changed. My business used to be my life and now it sometimes seems more in the way. I’m frustrated. I want the way I feel about Christ to somehow find expression. I’m selling people drafting and schematic software but my mind is a thousand miles away. There just has to be more to following Jesus than selling software.” It was all coming out in a rush, and Tim seemed content to let Jacob continue.
“Jesus says to Peter and the other fisher guys, ‘You, and you. Come and follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.’ My heart feels like he’s calling me. But I don’t know what he’s calling me to. I want to say, ‘Yes,’ but to what?!” He moved his coffee cup’s handle aimlessly with a finger. “Sorry, but now you know how I’m feeling.”
Tim looked at Jacob and again smiled. “I have a lot of respect for you. I heard how you started this business a few years ago with no money and only one employee, and now you have 20 people working for you and that you give them a good living wage. I read that your company won an award of excellence a couple of years ago too.”
“But you know, God isn’t in the habit of letting people know ahead of time what his plans for them entail. A friend of mine wrote a song with this line in it: ‘Whatever one can ask of faith, obedience will give.’ God typically doesn’t answer all our questions immediately, that’s where faith comes in. But He is not a negotiator when it comes to wanting total commitment and obedience from us.
Zatha walked by, glancing at the men and at their still-full cups.
Jacob sighed. “Look, maybe you can tell me about your business. Pastor Alvarez says you sell roofing materials.”
“Alright. But it is an odd story, or I guess you might say out of the ordinary. Ever hear of the Jesus movement? You know when some of the hippies in the late sixties and seventies became Christians?”
“You mean like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’?” Jacob was very foggy on the idea of the Jesus movement.
“Not exactly. During that time, spirituality was all over the map. And a lot of the hippies were searching hard for meaning beyond money and profit – “
“Though they weren’t afraid to spend their parents’ money, I’ll bet!” Jacob laughed, provoking another smile from Tim.
“Anyway, many of the hippies started communes, experiments where they tried to live for relationships instead of stuff. Because they didn’t even know what they didn’t know, almost all of those experiments failed. In this revival of Christianity among the hippies, the community of Jesus People USA, was born. But for reasons only known to God, He kept us together for over 4 decades, serving the poor and creating a welcome place for believers to heal and grow in their faith and other stuff.”
Tim stopped to swig some of more of his now-cooling coffee, allowing Jacob to slide in a question. “What were the reasons for living together, and what was the other “stuff’.
“Simply put, in Acts 2:44 it stated that the newly found believers in Christ’s time, had all things in common, that by doing this they were able to meet all the needs of the group the best.
The other “stuff”, well long story short, we found that serving our neighbors where we lived, meant caring for them by opening four shelters, one for single men, one for women with kids, another for intact families and one for single women. We also have many bands that share the gospel in many different types of styles. “
“Who paid for all this stuff.? “And HOW did you make the money? Who organized all this?”
Jacob watched Zatha refill his cup. Distracting. Again, he poured his cream and refocused on the discussion. “Something worse. Let me guess. Somebody got elected dictator.”
Tim nodded. “Exactly. One extreme or the other; the communes tended to fold due to disorganization or turn into personality cults led by one self-appointed guru. Most of the Jesus communes followed the path of disorganization or at least of disintegration. And maybe in some ways that was good. Some folks ended up in the mainstream churches, which helped revitalize them.
The communities that went for a plurality of leadership seemed to make it. Jesus People USA adopted this after they too endured a one man show for a short time. The deacons at the time removed this leader and set up what is current today; a 7 person leadership team.
And where, Jacob wondered aloud, did Tim’s story connect with the roofing supply company he manages now?
Tim continued, “This Jesus People USA began back in 1972. They lived communally, landing in Chicago on their bus in 1973. And to make a really long story short – they survived. They joined a larger denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, in 1989. And –“
“But how did you end up at Jesus People USA? And what about that roofing business? And how does that work in a commune, anyway?” Tim smiled at the barrage of questions, but that didn’t stop Jacob from adding another. “And just how can I use things you do in a commune to further what I’m doing in the suburbs as a – well, more mainstream – American businessman?”
Tim looked up at the clock. “You know, I have a proposal. Let’s meet here again next Thursday. We’ll discuss it then.”
This seemed less than ideal to Jacob. He wanted his questions answered now but he said nothing, merely nodding.
“One more thing,” Tim added. “How about each of us pray and think about that question of yours, ‘What tower are you trying to build?’ We can talk some more about that, too. And I’ll try to block out a bigger chunk of time, say two hours?” Again, Jacob nodded.
Tim breezed out. Jacob, having a warm cup of coffee still sitting in front of him, stayed.
“You need a refill?” asked Zatha.
Jacob thought about the way Tim’s Ethiopian Blueberry had smelled. “How about I buy a new cup of what Tim had?”
Zatha laughed. “Sure. I have some fresh poppy seed muffins, just out of the oven. Want one of those?” Again, Jacob nodded, and watched as she walked back to get his order.
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