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 commitment to 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 The Harvey Girls (1946), which illustrated 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 to please cranks.
Why did that line sound familiar to me, I wondered as I read past that little story? Perhaps because 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 tax-gatherers 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; in greater detail in Luke 6:27-38)
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.
After all, said our Lord…
–“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”
–“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
–“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. We give to those who are trying to rob us, bless those who are cursing us, and do good to those who are intent on destroying us.
It’s what Jesus did.
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; He 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 only the few can praise the Lord when told to clean out their desk, the doctor orders them back for more tests because the first ones “don’t look too good,” the wife and kids ignore them, and the bank is threatening to foreclose.
Only the few can rejoice in persecutions and be faithful in hard times.
It’s our business to rejoice at all times (First Thessalonians 5:16).
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 to the poor when they have an excess. It’s our business to give when we are in great need. The believers of Macedonians in Second Corinthians 9 and the poor widow in Mark 12 are the gold standard in this.
The 19th chapter of Leviticus is largely unfamiliar to 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. “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 needy and dependent. “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 stumbling-block before the blind, but you shall revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 13-14).
–Strangers (foreigners) 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, but it’s the business of God’s people to bless the poor, show justice to the defenseless, deal fairly with the alien, and to respect the handicapped among us.
No doubt you noticed the tag at the end of each of these statements: I am the Lord Thy God. That was a reminder to God’s people that this was serious business, 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!”
Our Lord Jesus would preface a statement with “Amen, amen, I say unto you.” (“Verily, verily” in the KJV). He was making the same point.
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 take the easy path or to “do what comes naturally.” His way is often hard, frequently making no sense to the outside world or at times even to us.
We will obey Him by faith or we’re not going to make it in this life.
When we select leaders who do not understand faith or appreciate the hard commands of the Lord Jesus, our church is in trouble from the start.
No bank or commercial business that I’ve ever heard of would try to operate this way. The next time you hear someone say, “The church is a business,” I suggest you answer with a good hearty, “Ha.” (That’s as eloquent a response as that silly statement deserves.)
Faith by its very nature means we’re missing some evidence, some pieces of the puzzle, have more questions than answers. But with the evidence we do possess, we confidently stand and do our job.
Our Lord once asked, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Great question. The answer is not so much words but the actions we are taking at this moment.