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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Radical Changes to my perspective on business (Part 3)

September of 1999 marked a major turning point in how I "did business"! Exactly 14 years previously I had started "Woodford's Sharpening Service" and had been "self-employed" since September 1st,1985. In response to the Lord's dealings with me (see the two previous posts) I shut down the business which I had started and purposed (with fear and trembling!) to provide the same services but on radically different terms. I explained these changes in the letter which I sent out to all my former clients.

Here is a portion of that letter:
"During Rob's illness I have had almost no income from our business and no unemployment insurance. Yet, from the first day Rob was in hospital, our needs have been met. Hundreds of people have prayed for us, scores have sent cards, letters or flowers, and others have helped with meals and yard work etc. We have received incredible support by way of monetary gifts from Christians of about 30 different congregations from about 20 different denominations!! During this time, my personal concepts of how I provide service to others have also radically changed!

The following is a brief summary:
(1)Before, I viewed myself as the self-employed owner of my business. I assumed I had direct control over the work I did and the fees I charged! Now, I realize I am simply a steward of God-given talents, abilities, health and even time which He has entrusted to me. I've realized that, while I have choices for which I am responsible, I have no actual control at all! (I had no control over Rob's illness, my responsibility to him, my lack of available time to work, my inability to draw an income, or the means by which our needs would be met!) My Employer has been in full control!

(2)Before, I considered myself the producer of goods and services which I sold to you. Now, I realize that physically I have absolutely nothing (health, strength, abilities, talents or resources) which I have not received from Another and which cannot also be removed at any moment! So I'm not a producer, but simply a channel which receives and is designed to transmit what's been entrusted to me for the benefit of others.

(3)Before, I considered that you were a client of my business. Now, I'd be wiser to consider myself a servant of your business.

(4)Before, I charged you what I decided was best for me. Now, I no longer charge for my work so that your best interests may be served. (See #5.)

(5)Before, you were obligated to pay what I charged regardless of whether you felt it was too much (some feel this way) or too little, (some also feel this way!) Now, you are at liberty to give (and I will be happy to receive) what you choose to offer. (You will be free to make that assessment based on your estimate of the value of the service and on your ability to give.)

(6)Before, I wrote an invoice as proof of an obligation connected with your business which was to be paid by cash or cheque. Now, I write no invoices. So, whatever you decide to give, by cash, cheque, products or services is fine by me. (If you require a receipt, I will be happy to write one for whatever you choose to give.)

(7)Before, I kept records of "accounts receivable". If a client didn't pay, couldn't pay or forgot to pay an invoice of mine I would get uptight and remind them of their obligation and then they might get uptight! Now, since I don't charge, I keep no records of "accounts receivable". Therefore, If someone I serve doesn't pay, or cannot pay, neither of us need get uptight!

(8)Before, I was a businessman who made sales and charged for goods and services. As a direct result, the government required me to charge taxes to my clients. Now, since I am simply a steward who gives goods and services, the government will allow me to charge no taxes at all!

I trust this new service arrangement will be more enjoyable and beneficial for all concerned! Which do you prefer: receiving gifts and giving them OR receiving bills and paying them????

If, for any reason, this arrangement of not charging is unsuitable for you I'd be happy to refer you to companies which do.

So, you are likely asking, "How has this arrangement worked out in the long run?"

Well, obviously, after ten years my family and I haven't starved yet! But there were a number of changes which became immediately apparent during those first few weeks:
(1) A number of corporate stores (in-store bakeries) which I had previously served refused to do business with me anymore since they required invoices in order to make payments.
(2) Some bakeries were happy with the arrangement and enjoyed receiving the service without obligation to pay and indeed some have not given anything. Others who thought I had charged too much were happy to be able to give less than I had formerly charged.
(3) Most continued to give the same amount which I had formerly charged. But a number of bakers immediately started to give considerably more than I had ever charged before and have continued doing so and have even given me periodic "raises"!

But the greatest observable change that I experienced was an entirely new working relationship with the bakers that I served:
- I immediately discovered that a number of bakers I served or employees in their stores were Christians!
- Many, even unbelievers, expressed a longing to be able to "do business" in the same way as I had purposed, but could not see their way clear to do so!
-Folks in almost every bakery I entered asked immediately how our son, Rob, was doing and many told us they had wept when they read the letter we had sent! To this day, ten years later, we are regularly asked in quite a few bakeries we serve how Rob is doing! (We’ve been able to tell them he has been cancer free all that time and that he and his wife Ada have just recently had a healthy big boy, Brayden!)
- Because of all of this it has been much easier to speak to many of these bakers about the Lord, His goodness and our relationship with Him. How we thank Him for that!

But regarding our finances, we can definitely testify to the goodness of our God to keep His Word to provide for all of our needs as we have been obedient to follow His directions. Many of the store owners whom we serve were very curious how this system of not charging could really work for us. So I explained it this way, “How are the needs of your employees (your bakers, clerks) supplied? They serve your customers freely and don’t expect paychecks from any of those people whom they serve, they simply look to you, their employer, to pay them. They do what you tell them to do: i.e Certain customers are charged retail rates, others are given wholesale rates or discounts, in other cases you may give your products to certain people freely according to the arrangements you have personally made with each client. So it is in my relationship with my Master. I look to Him for the provision of all my needs, I do not look to those whom He instructs me to serve. What those people give is not my business but is entirely between them and my Master. If He says “Their service is free to them,” that is OK by me for I am not looking to them but to Him for my supply. If He says to them, “You are to give generously for the service you have received,” that too is OK by me for it is Him to whom I look and not them for my supply.

So these last ten years of seeing the faithfulness of God to meet our needs apart from charging anything for our services, Psalm 123:2 has become very precious: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.

I have learned by experience that a servant looks to his master for at least two things:
(1) He looks to his master for his daily assignments (what work he is to do and whom he is to serve.)
(2) He looks to his master for the supply of all of his needs.

I have found by experience that the Lord Jesus, whom I serve, is the Very Best of masters!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Radical Changes to my perspective on business (Part 2)

(Continued from previous post....)
While our son, Rob, was receiving treatment for High Grade Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma during the summer of '99, the Lord continued to quietly but persistently challenge my thinking about how I did business. He had brought me to acknowledge that...
- I was not in control of anything and therefore I was not qualified to be self-employed,
- My life, as a New Covenant believer, was not divided into 2 compartments (the holy and the common) as were the lives of those who had lived under the Old Covenant. Rather all of my life was to be lived as unto Him!
- As a believer, I had never had a "secular occupation" (i.e. one in which God was not involved!). Rather, as a believer, I was in Christ and Christ was in me 24/7!

I also knew that the Lord was calling me to relinquish my "self-employment" in order to be a servant of His and to do business His way.

While there was much I did not understand about doing business His way, the one thing which I clearly understood and which (I must be honest!) scared me, was that it would mean never again charging for my services but offering them freely and without obligation!

By this time, it was the first week of September of 1999. I was in the mental process of arguing with the Lord that this arrangement would never work and that if my family and I were to continue to eat and pay our bills, we just had to do business like any other business in the world! But it seemed like the Lord just wasn't listening to me!!! He simply continued to quietly ask, "Are you willing to be My servant and to do business My way?"

I'd never dreamed that God would speak to me through a "secular" song on the radio which was sung by a country singer, but I've found He has unique and unexpected ways of getting my attention! I rarely listen to music on the radio and country is not my favourite style of music. But one night early in September of '99 I was alone and driving the car when the words of a country singer, Clay Walker, caught my attention. The story of the song "The Chain of Love" has been etched in my mind ever since that night over 10 years ago. The words of that song which the Lord used to bring me to tears, to break my rebellion against Him and finally to surrender to His call upon my life were these:

He was driving home one evening in his beat up Pontiac

When an old lady flagged him down, her Mercedes had a flat

He could see that she was frightened, standing out there in the snow

'Til he said, "I'm here to help you ma'am, By the way my name is Joe."

She said, "I'm from St. Louis and I'm only passing through.

I must have seen a hundred cars go by, this is awful nice of you."

When he changed the tire and closed her trunk and was about to drive away,

She said,"How much do I owe you?" Here's what he had to say:

"You don't owe me a thing, I've been there too.

Someone once helped me out just the way I'm helping you.

If you really want to pay me back, here's what you do...

Don't let the chain of love end with you."

Well a few miles down the road, the lady saw a small cafe.

She went in to grab a bite to eat and then be on her way.

But she couldn't help but notice how the waitress smiled so sweet

And how she must've been eight months along and dead on her feet.

And though she didn't know her story, and she probably never will,

When the waitress went to get her change from a hundred dollar bill,

The lady slipped right out the door, and on a napkin left a note.

There were tears in the waitress's eyes when she read what she wrote:

"You don't owe me a thing, I've been there too.

Someone once helped me out just the way I'm helping you.

If you really want to pay me back, here's what you do...

Don't let the chain of love end with you."

That night when she got home from work, the waitress climbed into bed.

She was thinkin' about the money and what the lady's note had said.

As her husband lay there sleeping, she whispered soft and low,

"Everything's gonna be alright, I love you, Joe."

That September evening was the only time I have ever heard the song "Chain of Love" on the radio. But that night it seemed to me to be an effective illustration of a number of scriptural principles upon which every servant of the Lord must learn to rely:

-"Freely ye have received, freely give." Matthew 10:8

-"For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time you abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack." II Corinthians 8:13-15

- "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;)" II Corinthians 9:6-10

-"Be not deceived, God is not mocked for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Galatians 6:7

- "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." Galatians 6:9,10

It was these scriptures which encouraged my heart and strengthened my weak faith to step out in obedience to the Lord's call. But in the midst of the trial of Rob's illness and his chemo and radiation treatments in the hospital and at a time when my business was at a standstill while we spent all our time at the hospital with Rob, the Lord had been graciously providing for all of our needs! The very first day that Rob was in the hospital, we received $500 in cash! Then during the next three months the Lord maintained us through gifts of cash that were handed or mailed to us from His people. In July, August and September of '99 we received gifts of cash from believers representing over 30 different congregations of over 20 different denominations! So as the Lord had been challenging my thinking and urging me to trust Him more, He had also been demonstrating how very practically and generously He could arrange to meet our needs!

So on September 9th, 1999 I sent a letter out to all my former clients telling them of Rob's illness, the Lord's miraculous provision for all of our needs, and of the radical changes that would be made in my business. I wrote that "Woodford's Sharpening Service" was being shut down but that I would continue to offer the same services but on radically different terms. I would be providing the same services as before but would be making them available freely and without charge or obligation of any kind. I would be writing no invoices and would no longer be keeping track of "accounts receivable". Also, since I offered no products or services for sale, I would be charging no taxes. If these new arrangements were not suitable to them, I also offered to refer them to other businesses which would be happy to charge and invoice them for their services.

I was enabled by the Lord to send that letter out with a deep sense of joy in my heart which sprung from having been obedient to His direction. But I must admit that it was also with fear and trembling! My faith was so weak and I still wondered what the outcome would be in the weeks and months that would follow!

But for “the rest of the story” I’m sorry, you’ll have to wait for the next post soon to follow!