Fred Harvey was a name almost every American knew in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This son of Britain had come to America and made his mark in the food industry. Working with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, he built a chain of restaurants across the great Southwest which became legendary for their insistance on quality and their devotion to the customer.
In his book, “Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West,” Stephen Fried says Harvey originated the first national chain of restaurants, of hotels, of newsstands, and of bookstores–“in fact, the first national chain of anything–in America.”
You may be familiar with the Judy Garland movie on the Harvey Girls, another innovation of Fred Harvey’s. He recruited single young women in the East, then sent them to work in his restaurants from Kansas City to California. In doing so, he inadvertently provided wives for countless westerners and helped to populate a great segment of the USA.
All of this is just so we can relate one story from the book.
Once, in the short period before women took over the serving duties for his restaurants, Harvey was fielding a complaint from one of his “eating house stewards” about a particularly demanding customer.
“There’s no pleasing that man,” said the steward. “He’s nothing but an out and out crank!”
Harvey responded, “Well, of course he’s a crank! It’s our business to please cranks. Anyone can please a gentleman.”
Anyone can please a gentleman.
It’s our business.
Why did that line sound familiar to me, I wondered as I read past that little story. I know. It sounds so much like the Lord Jesus.
Think of it.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….for if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even taxgatherers do the same?”
“And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-47)
It’s our business to love enemies; anyone can love his neighbor.
It’s our business to greet strangers and welcome them; anyone can be friendly toward his brother.
Jesus repeated this theme in another place….
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”
“And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
“And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount.” (Luke 6:32-34)
It’s our business to love those who hate us, to do good to those who do us wrong, and to give to those who will never be able to repay us.
Anyone can love the nice guys, do good to the gracious and lend to the wealthy.
It’s our business to do the hard thing, the unexpected thing, the good thing.
This theme is found all through Scripture.
Do you recall the incredible ending of the Old Testament prophecy of Habakkuk? If not, you’ll enjoy discovering it and then incorporating it into the fabric of your faith….
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food;
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet, I will exult in the Lord.
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet;
And makes me walk on my high places.” (Hab. 3:17-19)
Anyone can praise the Lord when the money is in the bank, the business is flourishing, the boss has given you a good review and a raise, the kids are doing well in school, the report from the doctor was good, your wife adores you, and your team is winning.
But let’s see you praise the Lord when you’ve been told to clean out your desk, the doctor orders you back for more tests because the first ones “don’t look too good,” your wife and kids ignore you, and the bank is threatening to foreclose.
Anyone can praise God and rejoice in the good times. It’s our business to praise God at all times.
It’s our business to rejoice.
After he had lost everything precious to him, most importantly, his beloved children, Job was told, “Why don’t you just get it over with–curse God and die!” He answered, “Oh no. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am; I know how to get along with humble means and I know how to live in prosperity. I have learned the secret…. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Anyone can give when you have an excess. It’s our business to give when we are in great need. See the Macedonians in II Corinthians 9 and the poor widow in Mark 12.
The 19th chapter of Leviticus is hardly known by God’s people today but contains a wealth of insights on this higher standard He expects of His children.
–farmers were not to harvest the corners of their fields nor return to reap what they may have missed the first time, but “you shall leave them for the needy and the stranger. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:9-10).
–they were not to take advantage of the less fortunate. “The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse a deaf man nor place a stumblingblock before the blind, but you shall revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 13-14).
–strangers were to be treated as well as neighbors. “When a stranger resides with you in the land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:33-34).
Anyone can be fair, just, and law-abiding when dealing with his own people.
It’s the business of God’s people to bless the poor, show justice to the defenseless, deal fairly with the alien (whether legal or illegal, mind you!), and to be mindful of the handicapped among us and respect them.
I hope you noticed the little addendum at the end of each of these statements: “I am the Lord Thy God.” That was a reminder to God’s people that He was not trifling. The Lord was saying, “This has the strength of law. It’s not a suggestion and not a hint. I mean this. Do it!”
In the New Testament equivalent Jesus would preface a statement with “Amen, amen, I say unto you.” (“Verily, verily” in the KJV) Same point.
In His resurrected body, the Lord Jesus said to the apostle Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed? Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe” (John 20:29).
Anyone can believe when they see. It’s our business to believe when we do not see.
Later, the Apostle Peter was to write, “…and though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8).
Anyone can serve the Lord when He answers all our prayers. It’s our business to serve Him when Heaven seems shut up, God seems indifferent, and our prayers seem to rise no higher than our heads.
Anyone can witness within the congregation. It’s our business to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.
Anyone can praise in the daylight; let’s see you do it in the darkest night. It’s our business.
Anyone can sing in the sunshine. It’s our business to sing in the prison. See Acts 16:25. It’s our business to testify in the courts. See Matthew 10:17-19.
Anyone can forgive when the offender repents and comes to you with a humble spirit. But let’s see you love him when he’s still hostile. God did. See Romans 5:8. We are to feed our enemy and give him a drink (Romans 12:20), to love him (Luke 6:27).
It’s our business not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
Anyone can worship when he feels the Lord’s nearness and is overdosing on joy. (Luke 24:41) But it’s our business to worship Him not only then but also when He seems far away. (Psalm 40:1)
Any church can be unified when no issues arise to divide the people. It’s our business to deal with conflict in a Christ-honoring responsible way. (See Acts 6)
Jesus did not send you and me to “do what comes naturally.” His way is often hard, frequently making no sense to the outside world or even to us.
We will obey Him by faith or we’re not going to make it in this life.
Elect leaders who do not understand faith or appreciate the hard commands of the Lord Jesus and your church is in trouble from the start.
No bank or commercial business that I’ve ever heard of can operate this way. The next time you hear someone say, “The church is a business,” you might want to answer something like, “Ha.” (That’s as eloquent a response as that dumb statement deserves.)
Faith by its very nature means we’re missing some evidence, some pieces of the puzzle. But with the evidence we have, we confidently stand and do our job.
I’d like to apologize to a young pastor who probably meant well but provided me with a dozen illustrations by something he said in a letter.
In the months following the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought upon our part of the world, when so many of our churches were erased from the earth and the ones that survived were struggling to get vertical, a young pastor in another state wrote me a letter. In essence, he said,
“I’d like to move to your area to pastor a church. But I don’t want to come to one filled with immature people who demand their own way. I want to come to a church poised for growth.”
I wrote him back.
“Hey friend, wouldn’t that be nice. Wouldn’t it be great not to have to deal with disciples who bicker and complain, who want their own way and think everything should revolve around them? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to walk into a church where everyone is like Jesus, everyone loves each other and welcomes strangers, and are just sitting there waiting on us to tell them how to spread the gospel? But we don’t have any of those churches.”
I doubt if one has ever existed.
I told him our churches were made up of Christians of all kinds and all degrees of maturity, but mostly people who were trying to get their lives back together after the hurricane. And I wished him well in his search for the perfect church.
I was probably guilty of overkill. Having long since forgotten his name, there’s no way I can check back on him and encourage him.
When I told our pastors in the New Orleans area about that letter, we all laughed at the absurdity of it.
Anyone can pastor a church ‘poised for growth.’ It’s our business to pastor the Lord’s people no matter what they are poised for.
Our Lord once asked, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Will He find us taking care of business?