Sermon: "Tough Choices, Tough Consequences"


Third in the Series "God and the Workplace"
Delivered May 9, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3

Theme: In business everything comes down to the bottom line. Well, life has a bottom line as well. Jesus says that there is a big issue of profit and loss in life. You can gain the whole world of riches and yet lose a soul, and a soul is eternal. And that should be somewhere on our bottom line.

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Psalm 1 and Ephesians 5:1-7

Clip from the movie Office Space:

  • Alright, so when the subroutine compounds the interest it tries to use all these extra decimal places that just get rounded off, so we simplify the whole thing and we just round them all down and just d rop the remainder into an account that we opened.
  • So, you are stealing?
  • Uh, no. No, you don't understand. It's very complicated. It's aggregate, so I am talking about fractions of a penny here and over time they add up to a lot.
  • Oh okay. So you are making a lot of money, right?
  • Yeah. Right.
  • It's not yours?
  • Uh, well it becomes ours.
  • How is that not stealing?
  • I don't think that I am explaining this very well. A 7-11 right?
  • Uh-huh. You would take a penny from the tray? From the crippled children?
  • No, that's the jar. I am talking about the tray that you know the pennies for everybody.
  • Oh for everybody, okay.
  • Well those are whole pennies. I am just talking about fractions of a penny here, okay? But we do it from a much bigger tray and we do it a couple of million times. So what's wrong with that?
  • I don't know. It just seems wrong.
  • It's not wrong. Inatech is wrong. Inatech is an evil corporation".

In the work place we face all kinds of decisions. Some of them are clear-cut. Some of them are a little foggier. I want you to envision a situation with me. This one has to do with relationships. Imagine a situation where you recently have become a Christian and as you have expressed your faith a little bit in the work environment. Some of your friends have started to take a little bit of offense because you are not as interested in cursing anymore and you are not participating as much in all the sex talk, and some of these friends who were close to you are starting to actually get angry at you at times and start saying some rude things. And so one day you are having lunch and you are sitting at your locker at lunchtime and you are reading your Bible and you are listening to some Christian music right there by your locker. All of a sudden your manager comes up and the manager says that he has had complaints that you were religiously harassing some of the people in the workplace and that the company has policies about these things. And your manager asks you then to stop playing your Christian music and to take down some of those Christian stickers that you have on the inside of your locker. How would you feel at a time like that? And how would you respond?

Now let me give you another situation. This time you are not an employee, you are a manager and you are a manager in a corporation that's large enough that they have some central policies about things and there is a real concern right now within your corporation for harassment of any kind and so you have sexual harassment memo's. You have special training sessions about how to deal with racism and to be tolerant in the workplace. And in this sort of environment you are getting all kinds of policies and all kinds of suggestions about how you are supposed to handle certain events in the workplace. And then you have all of a sudden something happened among your people that two people who normally don't complain much are complaining to you that they are being harassed by someone else, that there is a religious fanatic in the office and he is making life miserable and they want you to do something about it. And they are calling it harassment.

Now the thing is neither one of these situations are made up. They both happened. In fact, they both happened to people that I pastored at another church. In fact, it's the same event. Both were Christian. Both went to the same church and yet they had very different experiences about what was going on.

How would you handle yourself in a situation like that in the workplace? Because there is a lot of tough choices out there. There are a lot of foggy things. There are a lot of difficult things that come our way in the workplace and we as Christians are called not only to be effective in our jobs, but also by God we are called to be Christians as we do it.

So there's the relational stuff. People say inappropriate things and they expect us to join in. There is back stabbings and vendettas. There are all kinds of office politics and some of that we feel uncomfortable with.

And then there is the area of the ambiguity that comes with the fact that in the workplace there is all kinds of rules and regulations and some of them seem antiquated, out of date, and they aren't very clear, and you can find yourself in trouble pretty easily. There are conflicts of expectations and maybe there is also some unreasonable schedules that people are imposing on you in the workplace. There are all kinds of pressures there, but these are perhaps not the worst. Perhaps the worst pressures are the times that someone actually is looking for you to do something immoral or illegal, for you to say one thing and to clearly and intentionally do something else entirely, under the table agreements, bad accounting practices, things that are legal but not moral, things that are immoral and illegal as well, but still somebody wants you to do it because they think you can get away with it.

These pressures come on us in the work environment. And the pressure seems all the greater because there are times that everybody is saying; well you know everybody is doing it. We've got to do this to compete. Everybody is doing it and you know they might be right. At least it seems that way sometimes because think of the scandals we have had in the last few years; with Enron, Arthur Anderson, World Com, Tyco. All of these are corporations we know because their leading executives have been involved in fraud and these are the people who set the whole context for their companies and there are a whole host of other companies who have corrected their financial statements to prevent their own scandals. And so there are a lot of people who say we can't even have confidence in the stock market because you can do your homework as an investor and yet still be deceived because people are flat out lying on these legal documents. Across the years the amount of paper required to get a loan has expanded exponentially. A banker at a former church talked about the fact that there were now four pieces of paper to cover one aspect of a loan that used to take one sheet of paper, simply because people have found so many ways to swindle people that they had to cover each specific aspect and have you sign on the dotted line. And what's sad is that it doesn't seem that churchgoers are always a whole lot better at these things.

A number of years ago gallop poll came up with the results that when it came to certain kinds of issues, churchgoers were no different than the rest of the population. For example, when it comes to calling in sick, even though you are not sick and you just want a day off, churchgoers and non-churchgoers did it at the same rate. When it comes to stealing things from the office environment, churchgoers and non-churchgoers did so at about the same rate. And God is not pleased. I want to read to you two passages from scripture. The first comes from the Old Testament in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 1.

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore this wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."

Now from the New Testament. The Book of Ephesians. Chapter 5, Verses 1-7.

"Be imitators of God, therefore, is dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or course joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a man is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes upon those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them."

Let's pray for a moment. God we pray that your Word would just touch our hearts that you would help us hear what we need to hear and everything else Lord we pray just fades in the background. In Jesus' name. Amen.

The whole perspective of the Bible is that we live in a moral universe. There is such a thing as right and wrong. Some things are right and some things are wrong. Now there is a lot of tough calls in life, when it's hard to get enough facts to make a decision or when it's clear and it's not a decision between right or wrong, but two kind of rights or two kind of wrongs. I mean there is plenty of grey area in life, but there are times when it's clear that there is something right and there is something wrong. And the Bible talks about the universe being this way, that there is right and wrong and it also talks about the fact that there is more to life than just what's here and now. There are eternal consequences for decisions that we make in life now. And there are spiritual things happening around us, and not just physical things. There are things that we don't see that are real. And it also asserts that we're here more than to just please ourselves or even please our families, or even please our friends, or even please our company, or even please our country. We are here to please God and that puts a unique call on our lives. And so that means that there are some choices that are going to come at us in life that only make sense in the light of eternity, when we take God into account. So the right of Psalms here talks about righteous and wicked people. The righteous people are those people who read the word of God, who hear it and who make the choice to obey it. Paul, when he writes in the Book of Ephesians has a long clear idea that there are some kinds of behaviors that do not please God, that there are things that can stand between us and God and that God's wrath actually comes against certain kinds of behavior in life. And so it is very clear to both the Psalmist in the Old Testament and Paul in the New that there are some things that are a serious problems in our relationship with God and other things that reflect the will of God and bears God's blessing in life.

And so if we start to think this way, that means that there are times that we are going to be going against the flow in our workplace, because we are starting to say that there is some things at stake more than profit or more than what profits us. But most people don't think this way. Most people when they are out to make some decisions, they really think on about three levels about a choice. When making an important decision the first thing that most people in our culture will ask first is, do I or don't I want to do it? In other words the first issue has to do with whether it's going to serve me, whether I am going to benefit from it, whether it will make me happy, we are not about to face decisions that don't do that. That's one of the first things that comes to mind.

The second thing that will come to mind is, is it legal or illegal? As people make decisions, they will consider this, but there are two other parts to that decision and that is, am I likely to get caught doing it, if it's illegal? And if I am caught, will it be strictly enforced? This is part of what people think about when they think about decisions. And the third thing is what will my friends and family think? In other words, our peer group, our friends, our fan club, how does this play with them? Those are the three areas that primarily come to mind. When we thought on these levels we are pretty much done with moral thinking. But a Christian can't stop with that because we always have to ask the question, is this right in God's eyes? That is always a part of our situation. We believe that there are things that we want to do, things that we could probably get away with doing and things that all of our friends do as well that are still wrong, that we shouldn't do because God has said they are wrong. And that is a different way of thinking, whether it is at our homes or in the workplace. And so if we believe that, then that means there are times when we are going to get out of step with the people around us. We will be asked to do things that we believe are wrong and we disagree and we take a stand, we buck the system and if we do that it can be costly and there can be some tough consequences.

Now in today's New and Views, if you haven't look at it, there is an article by Phil Manger and he talks about a situation that his son faced and that situation turned out well. I want to tell you about a different person, a guy named Ken who faced some tough decisions. Ken was an architect. He worked for a fairly large corporation that had a lot of business that came from state bids and contracts. And at one point during this very messy and competitive process of getting these contracts, his boss asked him to do something that was illegal. It was not only something illegal, but it was something that was probably going to be unfair to taxpayers. Even so, there was a very good chance that he would never get caught. It was a low risk issue. Ken agonized over that, but it was clearly wrong, it was clearly illegal and so he told his boss no and like that (snaps fingers) he was fired. In the minimum amount of time that you can legally do it, he was laid off. So here's Ken now, he's got a wife and kid to support, he's got a mortgage, he's got car payments and insurance and no income and so I want to ask you a question. Is Ken a hero or is he a chump?

In business everything comes down to the bottom line. If it doesn't help with profits then there is every good reason not to do it. That's what drives so many decisions. Well, life has a bottom line as well. There is profit though and loss that has nothing to do with economics. Jesus was talking about this when he said in Matthew 16, this is what Jesus says, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Jesus says that there is a big issue of profit and loss in life. You can gain the whole world of riches and yet lose a soul and a soul is eternal. And that should be somewhere on our bottom line. This is the kind of worldview that Paul has when he says that there are clearly some kinds of behaviors that we should avoid because God is displeased. This is the kind of worldview that the Psalmist had when he talks about the fact that there are certain kinds of behaviors that God blesses and there is an enduring fruit from it and there is other kinds that God will blow away and will not stand God's scrutiny. Right and wrong really does matter because it matters to God, and since we answer to God it has to matter to us. And so adding this consideration of what does it mean before God, is the part of any mature decision making process.

Now, a company can ignore ecology for a while, but in the long run more and more corporations are recognizing that in the long run you have to take your environment, your ecology in mind so that it won't come back later to hurt the bottom line. Well, there is a spiritual ecology as well, that we need to take account of. Ignoring our spiritual ecology will come back and haunt us. Psalm 1 talks a little bit about this spiritual ecology. It talks first about warning the wicked. What's the environment they find themselves in? These are people, who succeed for a while, but the moment comes that is blown away and it disappears. Sometimes that moment happens in front of us, in this life, but the promise and the threat is that it will happen because God judges these acts. So all of this seeming success will disappear for the people who have ignored some of the fundamental things about what God has said is good and bad in the universe.

But there is also a promise here about those people who do the right thing. It talks about these people being trees being planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and leaf doesn't wither and whatever he does prospers. It says across the long haul when you see all the repercussions of something, the person who chooses to do what God wants them to do will prosper. When the tough times come, their leaves will be green and they will still bear fruit and sometimes we see that happening right before our eyes. Let me go back to Ken for a moment. Well, Ken is financially successful now. He has his own business. And by the way, the people who were telling him to do those illegal things, well the state did some housecleaning and some of those people lost their jobs. But Ken is now financially successful, but more importantly he is spiritually successful. And spiritual profit bears interest eternally, because that's the big picture of what it means to prosper. God's view of prosperity has more to do with just amassing a certain amount of wealth now and living well off and being fairly healthy now, God's view of prosperity has to do with eternity. It has to do with a relationship with himself and it has to do with a world that hasn't even begun to be seen yet in it's fullness. That's God's view of what a prosperous life needs to be. So when the Mercedes has turned to rust and the house that you have invested so much in, when the day finally comes that it is sold and another family decides to knock it down because they want a different kind of house there. And when all the money you have amassed across your life is given away and has been stripped away from you because you have died,and it's given away to someone else, when that day comes, what the scripture says is that for the righteous person at that point, he or she is just beginning to prosper. We need to live. We need to make decisions with eternity in mind.

Let's pray. God we know that there is so much, so many ways that we fall short. We thank you for your Word that shows us what is right and what is wrong, but we thank you for your grace that provides us forgiveness when we fall short and we pray now for the work of your Holy Spirit that you might work in us in such a way that we might live lives where again and again our decisions will be right in your eyes and will bear fruit for eternity. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

© 2004, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org