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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Radical Changes to my perspective on business

Long before the summer of '99, I had realized that there was no scriptural distinction between "clergy" and "laity", no scriptural distinction between "full-time Christian workers" and "part-time Christian workers". (Does God call any one to be a "part-time Christian"??!!) But I was about to be challenged concerning the distinction I had always made in my own mind between "sacred" and "secular" occupations!

For many years a "pet peeve" of mine had been people who were involved in "Christian ministry" who charged big bucks for their "ministry"! (Christian singers, writers, musicians, preachers and teachers who demanded remuneration for their recordings and books, their concerts and speaking engagements.) "Red flags" were always raised in my mind when I encountered such money-making ministries! Had not the Lord Jesus clearly taught His disciples in Matthew 10:8, "Freely ye have received, freely give"? The Lord Jesus never charged for His ministries of healing the sick, raising the dead, or teaching and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom! And the apostle Paul ministered in the very same way. In I Corinthians 9:18, he wrote, "What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel."

But, in my mind, there was a big distinction between those people in "Christian ministry" and my own involvement in "secular business"!

For nearly 14 years I had been a "self-employed" businessman. I took pride in the fact that I was "in control" of my own business: I determined the hours I worked, the territory I covered, the services I offered, and the prices I charged for my services. But the God who resists the proud was about to shake my world!

I had a list of all the clients I served and, each month, I would contact the ones who were most likely in need of my services. The number of those who needed me to come for service calls that month determined the amount of work I had. Usually I was kept relatively busy full time. But, by the end of the first week of July of '99 I had serviced all my clients who needed service that month!! It was like my business had suddenly dried up and I didn't know what I was going to do the rest of the month!

But only a couple of days later, our 19 year old son, Rob, was diagnosed with cancer! There was a huge mass growing all through his abdomen. It was growing so rapidly that it put such pressure on his kidneys that he was in need of immediate dialysis. The doctors' did not hold out much hope for Rob's recovery and, realizing the seriousness of his condition, we were expecting an imminent funeral!

In the midst of this sudden turn of events, it seemed that the Lord was quietly speaking to my heart and patiently asking some very pointed questions. Since I had prided myself in being "in control" of my own business, the first question he brought to my mind was this, "Bruce, of how much do you think you are in control now? Just in the previous few days, it had been made painfully aware to me that I could not control my own son's health, I could not control which clients would need my service in any given month, and, if there was no need for my services, I could not even control the hours I worked or the amount of income I would have!

So I responded to the Lord, "No, I'm really not in control of anything!" Almost immediately His next question came completely unexpectedly to my mind, "If you are not in control of anything, are you qualified to be "self-employed"? I immediately wondered, "Where are you going with this, Lord?" But there was no response, it seemed he wanted an answer to His last question first. So I pondered the question for a while and at last acknowledged, "No Lord, since I am not in control of anything I am not qualified to be self-employed, BUT what am I to do, I've got this business to run!"

It was then that the Lord quietly reminded me that He had already shown me that there was no distinction between "clergy" and "laity" (all believers are His inheritance and His people), that there was no scriptural distinction between "full-time" and "part time" Christians (all are called to lives of holiness 24/7). Then He challenged me on my "sacred versus secular" distinction by asking, "Are the lives of New Covenant saints divided into two compartments (the holy and the common)as were the lives of the children of Israel under the Old Covenant?

That was a question I'd never pondered before but it compelled me to face the fact that my "sacred/secular" distinctions had indeed sprung from God's own ordained ways for His people under the Old Covenant which was given them at Mt. Sinai! They had holy days and common days, a holy priesthood and the common people, a holy building and their common homes, there were holy garments and common clothes, there were holy foods and common foods. In fact every area of life was clearly divided between that which was holy and that which was common! But then I realized as never before that all such distinctions have been done away with for us who are believers in the Lord Jesus on this side of Calvary!
-We are not instructed to observe holy days (Romans 14:5,6) but rather to live holy lives! (I Peter 1:14-16)
-There is no longer
a distinct class of priests for every believer is a priest! (I Peter 2:5-10)
-God does not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48 & 17:24) but rather in all of His justified people!(Eph.2:20-22)
-We are never instructed to "dress up" to "go to church", for we are the church where ever we go and are to dress modestly at all times.
-Nor are we ever taught to eat "holy foods" or a "holy supper", on a "holy day" in a "holy temple" which is administered by a "holy priesthood".... but as new covenant believers we are to remember the Lord as often as we eat and drink.(I Cor.11:24-26) The Lord's Supper is a meal, not a snack!

Thus, my ingrained distinction of things sacred as opposed to things secular was challenged to the core! Webster's Dictionary defines "secular" as "worldly, profane, heathen" and defines "secularism" as "a system of doctrines and practices that disregards or rejects any form of religious faith or worship"! Basically, to think of something as "secular" is to regard it as if God is not in it! So I began to realize that I had been entirely wrong to think of my own occupation as one which was "secular"!

I had long professed that all believers, myself included, were ordained (John 15:16), were clergy/God’s inheritance (I Peter 5:3), were ministers (I Peter 4:10,11) and servants of the Lord (I Cor.7:22; II Timothy 2:24) but the practical implications of these things had not filtered down into my own daily life! But now the Lord was again quietly asking me another question, “Bruce, rather than being a self-employed business man, would you be my servant?

Intuitively I knew that He was calling for radical changes in how I worked and conducted business but I had no idea what that would look like! So I asked, “Exactly what do you mean, Lord? So He responded, “Rather than you being the boss and doing business your way, are you willing to work for Me and do business MY way?” Then I knew that what I had always expected of those who professed to be “servants of the Lord” or involved in “Christian ministry” , (i.e. that which they had freely received from the Lord, they were to freely minister to others) was exactly what the Lord desired and intended for me!!

I had freely received from the Lord good health, my talents, skills, abilities, resources and the time that was at my disposal. But I immediately thought that, if I freely offered my talents abilities, skills, resources and time to others, I would soon go “broke” and my family would starve! This was just “good common sense”, I thought! You cannot expect to survive in business by simply offering your services freely and without charge, it just doesn’t work that way! Then it was just like the Lord responded, “You are right! In the secular world (the imaginary/fairy tale/fictional world where God doesn’t exist), it doesn’t work that way! But I’m not asking you to work “in some “secular world” where God doesn’t exist” , I’m asking you to be my servant in the real world which I have made!

Can you imagine the turmoil in my mind at that point? I’d been self-employed, charging for my services, writing invoices, keeping track of “accounts receivable” for 15 years in a world where supposedly “God didn’t exist” and now He was inviting me to be His servant and do business His way in the real world which he Himself had made! I don’t know what you would have done, but I was not at all eager to take Him up on His offer!

(To be continued in another post…)