A little about me as told by my wife...

We are not certain precisely when my husband became a believer. We know that it occurred sometime during our first year of marriage. We also know that it was very hard for him to surrender himself into God's loving care, because of anxieties that my husband had acquired while a child.

During most of his childhood, my husband was poor. He told me that they liked to believe that they were lower middle class, but now he knows that they were just plain poor. He never was sure when he'd have enough clothes, or shoes that fit, or food on the table. As a result of this past, my husband didn't want to live his adult life in want.

Also, now as an adult, my husband was hearing Christians say: Trust in God...He wants to save you from your sins and have a relationship with you. My husband kept on holding back from God for months because he wasn't sure if he could trust this Jesus to truly take care of him....all his needs,.., spiritual as well as physical. Finally, the scripture Matthew 6:25-34 broke through the wall of his fears and my husband surrendered himself completely into the Lord's care. And he was excited; excited about living the Christian life. He wanted to follow Jesus' leading in life. He had sold out to Jesus completely.

During our first year of marriage, my husband was learning his profession. And as "the new kid" he was assigned to run the work and deliver it when it was done. Quite often these deliveries took place in the late night hours. And he usually had many stops each night. In order for me to even have time to talk with him, I often chose to ride in the car with him while he made his deliveries. It was during one of these evening delivery trips that an interesting event occurred.

We were downtown and finishing up to go home. It was cold that night and the sky looked like some snow flurries could be expected. Since we hadn't had snow yet that winter, the sidewalks were clear, but everything was so cold and gray. Our car had just turned the corner when my husband saw a man walking on the sidewalk toward a wide doorway and my husband pointed this man out to me. The man was dressed poorly; very inadequately for the weather. And his shoes, if you could call them that, were split in so many places that they could not possibly keep out the elements.

Almost as quickly as we drove past this man, my husband pulled over to the curb, put on his flashing lights, and announced that he was giving that man his shoes! I really had no time to protest because my husband was already out of the car. I watched as they talked and after some discussion, the man accepted the shoes. My husband came back to the car in his socks and we talked as we drove toward home.

I was concerned because my husband had only two pairs of shoes that were decent enough for work and here he'd just given one pair away! But my husband said that the scriptures said that if you have more than enough and someone was in need, then the Lord wants us to share. He also explained that he could only wear one pair of shoes at a time anyway, so now this simplified things. We closed the conversation with the thought that when my husband needed another pair of shoes, the Lord would provide them.

Time passed, and we could have used that extra pair of shoes, but we got along. Occasionally we talked about the incident and wondered if the Lord had ever intended to give my husband that second pair of shoes.

Approximately 18 months after my husband gave away his shoes, we were visiting at a friend's apartment. Midway through the evening, our host got up and told my husband that he had something for him. He brought back a pair of brown loafers. They fit perfectly. He went on to explain that for more than a year the Lord had been prompting him to give these shoes to my husband, be he just hadn't gotten around to it. We mentioned that my husband had wanted another pair of shoes, but didn't go into any details. We looked at each other and we couldn't wait to talk about it on the way home.

We decided that the most important issue in the "shoe incident" was the way in which the Lord used people to convey his blessings. But the people were always "allowed" to function within their own free-will. My husband was a vehicle for blessing for the man with no shoes because my husband was so willing to obey without question. Our friend withheld a blessing that the Lord intended for us because he was unwilling to obey without question. And the Lord never made our friend obey, he only prompted and let our friend choose to obey. This was an exciting revelation to us because we were able to see both sides of a blessing and how a man can choose to be a part of it.

10 types of people...

There are only 10 types of people in the world:
Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

God at work: Business embracing faith

God at work: Business embracing faith

More companies nationwide find benefits in promoting a religious context in the workplace.

Published August 1, 2004

Digital Lightbridge started with a few scribbles on a Denny's restaurant napkin. Richard Hayes and Jeffrey Damm had been friends for 13 years. They worked in marketing. They went to the same church. About three years ago, they sat down at the diner to sketch out a business plan that would merge their careers with their Christian faith.

Today, the company has about 50 clients, including J.P. Morgan Chase, the University of South Florida and Simdag Investments. It's a private, for-profit company with five employees who work out of an office building at 102 W Whiting St. in downtown Tampa. Hayes is vocal about the role of faith in the business.

"Ultimately, everything we do has some kind of Christian base," Hayes said.

Although the owners are quick to emphasize their employees don't have to be Christian, their faith is a vital part of their business practices. Digital Lightbridge volunteers its services to ministries that cannot afford pricy marketing firms, including the Tampa Port Ministries, a nonprofit group that ministers to seafarers. It also shells out several hundred dollars each month so Hayes can attend sessions with other Christian company presidents through a national group called the Christian 12 Group, or C12.

Digital Lightbridge is not an anomaly. The joining of companies and faith is a growing trend throughout the Tampa Bay area and the country. Prework prayer meetings, corporate retreats to discuss faith-based business strategies, chaplains hired to minister to employees and other faith-based programs are sprouting up in businesses that range from mobile home park management to high-tech companies.

"Hopefully, it's a trend that's positive both here and around the world," said Jerry Key, a senior chaplain with Corporate Chaplains of America and executive director of Tampa Port Ministries. "Employers are beginning to realize their employees have lives outside the office door."

Just 12 years ago, there were about 25 faith-based organizations in the workplace in the United States, said Os Hillman, president of the International Coalition of Workplace Ministries, an Atlanta Christian nonprofit group that tracks faith in the workplace. In 2004, International Coalition identified more than 1,200 such organizations.

The organizations vary widely in size and product. Coca-Cola has a group called the Christian Employee Fellowship. The owner of Sign-Age of Tampa Bay in Clearwater, a company that manufactures promotional signs, belongs to C12 and holds a weekly prayer meeting. ChurchForce Inc. in Tampa links Christian companies and job seekers online.

"People are looking for more in their jobs," Hillman said. "Everyone has a God-shaped vacuum in their life."

Groups such as C12 are determined to fill that void. Founded in Apollo Beach in 1992 by Buck Jacobs, C12 has swelled to 206 members in 29 groups throughout the country, including seven groups in Florida. Membership costs depend on the corporate revenue, ranging from $450 to $850 a month.

Jacobs, who moved his headquarters to Atlanta last year, said he fields calls and requests from businesses around the world, including, most recently, Nepal and Zimbabwe, that are interested in developing faith-based programs.

"The separation of our work life and our faith life is becoming more unusual," he said.

He attributes the interweaving of the corporate and religious worlds in part to the Internet. Technology links people around the world, bypassing traditional church hierarchies, he said.

"Business is all about relationships," Jacobs said. When employees are treated as if "they all have something to offer," productivity increases. If a business doesn't see increases in profits, they don't have to stick with C12, he said.

The trend does have potential pitfalls, though, Hillman warned. "The danger can be when any CEO goes beyond the limits of what the government allows us to do in terms of religion in the workplace."

The introduction of religious practices and beliefs in the workplace is meant to improve business ethics and help employees, he said. When employers cross the line and begin to hire based on religious beliefs or exclude people whose beliefs differ from their own, their practices negate the intent of the movement, he said.

"America is a place of freedom," he said. "But there are limits of certain expressions in certain areas."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is a national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. The group also cautioned about the influx of religious beliefs into the business world.

"These types of programs can be a healthy aspect and a nice benefit for employees," said Ahmed Bedier, Tampa-based spokesman for CAIR. "However, it's like a double-edged sword. You have to be careful not to alienate your workforce by not giving a diversity of religious beliefs."

Bedier worried that many nondenominational programs tend to espouse Protestant Christian value systems. Vulnerable employees in search of help may not critically evaluate the advice they're given, he said.

"At the end of the day, they're still a Christian perspective," he said. "How are they going to help a Muslim or Jewish person?"

Mark Cress, president of Corporate Chaplains of America, oversees a staff of about 70 full-time chaplains. Companies pay a flat fee based on the number of employees in exchange for the chaplains' services.

Cress is optimistic about the increasing number of programs such as his. He bemoaned the lack of scientific research into the trend but said it's clear that faith in the workplace is gaining momentum, increasing interest in his business. "As they say, "The trend is your friend,' " he said.

He cited President Bush's openness about his Christian beliefs, marketplace downsizing that has left employees wanting someplace to turn for support, and the increasing stress level for baby boomers who now are caring for aging parents as a few explanations for the trend.

Some say it's a trend that has been forming for decades.

Each Thursday morning, about 10 men make their way through the lobby of the Sheriton Suites Hotel near Tampa's Jefferson High School. They sit at the bar, but God is on their minds. They are Tampa's Christian Business Men's Committee, a group whose mission is to minister to other business people about Christianity. The origin of the committee's Tampa chapter dates to the 1930s.

When Bill Martin joined the group 20 years ago, he owned a cable television company in Bradenton and was looking for a way out of $2.5-million in debt, he said. He met a member of the committee, who introduced him to "the manufacturer's handbook," more commonly known as the Bible.

"When you're not familiar with what to do as a businessman, you get a handbook," he said. He figured it worked that way with religion, too.

He thought employees at his cable television company could use it, too. He said the other committee members helped him find solutions to cut down his debt and pay back what he could. Now, he tries to help others.

"We try to touch people in such a way that their primary focus is not business," said Martin, now a financial adviser and no longer in debt. "What is it worth if a person gets ahead but misses out on the most important thing - going to heaven?"