A recent note on the business page of our daily newspaper sent my mind racing back across more than 50 years to Vacation Bible School. Among the character stories I heard was one about James L. Kraft. It went something like this. In 1903 Kraft, then 29, moved to Chicago with the intent of becoming rich as a wholesaler of cheese. He rented a wagon and a pony, Paddy, to pull it. He bought cheese at the farmers’ market and set out to sell it to grocery stores and restaurants around the town. At first things did not go well. Discouraged, one day he said to the Paddy, maybe I need to stop worrying about getting rich and start working to please God.
The story continued that he carried through with this, and he was blessed. He later said that the most important job that he had was as Sunday School Superintendent at North Shore Baptist Church. Ever since those VBS days I have generally sought out Kraft products in the grocery store. Even after I knew that the corporation had become a part of a large food and tobacco conglomerate, I continued this practice.
The note in our paper said that Kraft Foods was making significant cuts in their work force because they wanted to “please Wall Street”. When I pulled up the Web page for Kraft Foods, I found that the story of the conversation with the pony had been expurgated. The explanation of the success of Kraft was not that he sought to please God, but rather that his customers were pleased that they no longer had to make a trip to the market for cheese. (Of course, they had to go there for other items, I would guess.) A sanitized secular explanation had replaced the faith story.
Is this not a commentary on our present day world? For example, Enron, Worldcom and Health South were all run by evangelical, church-going men. Apparently, they were focused more on pleasing Wall Street than on finding God’s favor in their accounting practices and excessive lifestyles.
The entertainment industry majors on violence and sexual immorality. And it makes money for Wall Street because Christian people seem more interested in exciting their emotions than they are in pleasing God.
The food industry loads its products with fats, salts and additives which harm our bodies. This is making money and pleasing Wall Street. But it is killing us. And Christian folks, myself included, seem more interested in pleasing their pallets than they are in pleasing their God by caring for their bodies.
But Wall Street is not the only false god of our culture. Politicians sell out to the special interest groups instead of asking what policies and practices would please God. Further, politicians squander and misspend the public treasury to ingratiate themselves to the voters, rather than seeking to do what is in compliance with the will of God. Most of us join them in one way or another in worshiping at the shrines of economic success, public acclaim, physical pleasure.
It is apparent that, unlike James L. Kraft, the pleasing of God is not in the equation when we make decisions about the purposes and directions of life. This is true personally, nationally, and corporately.
What a difference a century has made. We began the 20th with the hope that it would indeed be The Christian Century. Men like Kraft worked to make it possible. We opened the 21st, after a long struggle with Communism, with a society in which Christ has been pushed to the edges. It seems that the talk about Christianity focuses more upon its benefits for us than upon knowing and doing is pleasing to God.
If you are wondering what, indeed, pleases God, a good starting point is with Micah 6:8.
–And walk humbly with your God.
Can the laying off of employees to please Wall Street be harmonized with this? Can “cooking the books” be harmonized with this? Can lying about weapons of mass destruction be harmonized with this? Can exploiting the natural environment, or producing pornography, or using pornography? The list could be extended greatly.
It seems to me that Christians would do well to revisit the commitment made by Kraft as well as their own commitment when they became a Christian. If pleasing God is what life is really about, then we need to conduct our lives in ways that seek to do just that.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.